Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate at second reading of Bill C-72, an act to amend the Income Tax Act and to implement various measures announced in the 1998 Liberal budget.
Members will remember—and I will be pleased to remind it to those who do not—that, in 1998, when the Minister of Finance tabled his budget, we strongly criticized it. We particularly condemned the unfairness and the injustices contained in that budget, such as the fact that the Liberal government was using funds—and I am referring to the employment insurance fund—that belonged to workers and employers to finance inadequate measures, given what the Minister of Finance could do, in 1998 and this year, to help improve the well-being of Quebec and Canadian taxpayers.
That basic criticism still applies. What we had against the 1998 budget still holds true today.
At the same time, the Bloc Quebecois said there were certain measures in the budget that represented an improvement, given the unfairness and flaws of the tax system. Some of the measures announced in the 1998 budget had been promoted by the Bloc Quebecois since the 1993 election.
The bill to implement the 1998 budget, namely Bill C-72, which is before us today, does provide measures that are improvements. Take for example the $500 increase for the personal tax credit, the reduction in the personal income surtax, the home buyers plan, the RRAP for the disabled, and the tax credit for interest on student loans.
This was one of the first measures the Bloc Quebecois proposed to the government as a way to help students in a general reform of personal income tax. It has taken some time coming, but at least the government is vindicating the Bloc Quebecois.
There are also measures such as the educational tax credit and the child care deductions available to eligible part time students. We also encouraged this sort of measure, and it appeared in the 1998 budget.
The Bloc Quebecois also advocated deductions for child care costs in general terms. Although in Quebec, with its government's excellent policy on $5 daycare, the importance of the deduction will decrease. But Quebeckers and Canadians still currently benefit from this measure.
On the maximum $1,000 deduction for volunteer firefighters, we supported this measure following representations by volunteer fire brigades.
On the subject of raising the ceiling on investment in labour sponsored venture capital firms from $3,500 to $5,000, we would have had a hard time opposing it.
Let us render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. The Bloc Quebecois had proposed these measures as a step in the right direction. In general terms, however, and I will provide reasons later in my remarks, we found that the Minister of Finance did not do his job well and could have done a lot better had he not so brazenly hidden since 1994 the true picture of public finances and especially the operations surplus he could have used on measures much more consistent than these.
Nevertheless, these little measures following one after the other were positive and, in our opinion, remain so and therefore we are a little hard pressed to reject the whole thing saying it is a matter of the past, should be set aside, with the result that taxpayers who should be benefiting cannot.
We are not completely comfortable with the amendment moved by the Reform Party, which reads as follows:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-72... since the principle of the bill fails to address the federal tax system to end discrimination against single income families with children.
We agree with the Reform Party with respect to the content, but not with respect to the political approach they wish to take.
Just because one fundamental unfairness in the tax system has not been eliminated does not mean we should toss the whole bill out, that we should decline to go to second reading, even though the bill contains certain amendments.
If we were to support the Reform Party amendment, we would find ourselves in the situation of creating more unfairness than the Reform Party claims to be eliminating. This makes no sense.
If, for instance, we rejected the $500 increase in the basic personal tax credit, if we rejected the elimination of the surtax for individuals, if we rejected the tax credit for interest on student loans, would we be helping people in any way? Would we be helping single income or other families?
As to the content, an overhaul of the tax system is clearly in order. The Bloc Quebecois was among those who supported the Reform Party in its efforts to eliminate the astonishing spread between the amount of tax paid by a single income family with children and the amount paid by a two income family with children whose total income was the same.
There are also other inequities in the tax system. We will do what we can, as we have since 1993, to improve the situation.
But we cannot approve of the Reform Party amendment. We would be shooting ourselves in the foot, and only increasing tax inequities by rejecting Bill C-72.
That said, if this might have seemed to be bouquets for the government, now I would like to add some brickbats. Exactly like the 1999 budget, the 1998 one contained precisely the same fundamental defects for which we criticized the Minister of Finance when he brought down his latest budget.
The minister has hidden the true face of public finances. In so doing, he is not presenting the real possibilities there might have been for righting the injustices in the taxation system, for example by ensuring that the employment insurance surplus remains in the hands of employers and workers and goes to benefit the unemployed.
He could have done far more for students, for the disabled. Where the fault lies with this Minister of Finance, the same one we have had since 1994, is that he presents budgets to us that contain unreliable figures. He tells us that he done all he can do within the opportunities and the leeway available to him. The problem is that the leeway he refers to is false. He does not give us all the possibilities.
I would remind the hon. members of what we in the Bloc Quebecois said in 1998, before the 1998 budget, and again in 1999. We said it in 1997 and 1996 as well. Every year, the minister was out by about 60% in his predictions, between 60 and 150% in his predictions of the deficit and surplus, within six to eight months.
We gave him the right figures. As far back as 1998, we told him this, a number of months before the budget “You have the opportunity, all throughout fiscal year 1998-99, to solve a lot of problems, if you just tell us the truth, if you give us the right figures, if you give us the true range of possibilities offered by the actual surplus”.
At that point, members no doubt recall, barely a few months previously, we had tabled an analysis by the Bloc Quebecois, well received by the Minister of Finance, of ways to reform the personal and corporate tax system.
We had told him that he could as of that point—in 1998—start changing personal taxes over a 12 month fiscal year by fully indexing tax tables. He could have done so.
In 1998-99, we had set the surplus he would realize in the fiscal year at a minimum of $10 billion. Here we are in March 1999 and we see that the surplus for this fiscal year will indeed surpass $10 billion.
He could have corrected these basic injustices, but he did not, and this is what we are criticizing today.
The measures set out in Bill C-72 represent some improvement, but it is minimal compared with what the Minister of Finance could have done, this minister who is too lazy and who lacks imagination and transparency when he reveals the true picture of public finances.
I will simply give the House an example of the unfairness of the tax system at the moment because it is not indexed. Let us take, for example, the basic personal exemption in federal income tax.
In the 1998 budget, the minister proposed the figure of $6,706. The amount that he proposed in 1999, in the last budget, is $7,131. If the minister had fully indexed that basic personal exemption, it would not be $7,131 but close to $8,100 per taxpayer. This is not negligible. The total figure for all taxpayers represents a significant shortfall for Quebec and Canadian families.
The same goes for the spousal amount. Given the proposed amount in the 1998 and 1999 budgets, there is a shortfall of about $700 in the basic personal exemption. Seven hundred dollars helps make ends meet, particularly if you are in the middle or lower income category and have made the greatest contribution to help this government puts its fiscal house in order. That money would be helpful.
But there is worse. The Bloc Quebecois condemned the unfairness resulting from having two different tax treatments, depending on whether there is one or two incomes in a family, and the amendment proposed by the Reform Party seeks to correct that situation. However, that unfairness is exacerbated and made worse by the fact that tax brackets are not fully indexed.
Take the case of single income family, which pays more taxes than a two income family with the same total income.
Let us assume that a single income family makes $36,500. That family pays $1,118 more in taxes than it would if tax brackets were fully indexed.
If we take a two income family earning the same total amount, $36,500, but with both spouses paying taxes, this family pays $272 more in taxes than it would if there were full indexing.
There is a terrible imbalance here. Whether we are dealing with a single income family or a two income family, the difference in the taxes paid for an equivalent income no longer make any sense.
If only the tax brackets were fully indexed, as we have been proposing since 1994, since we first set foot in the House. We went further still in our comprehensive review of personal and corporate taxes, but indexing has always been a sort of mantra for the Bloc Quebecois.
An examination of the tax rates for the various brackets shows how ridiculous this is. For instance, taxes are 17% on the first $29,590. With full indexing, and not just on the basic exemptions, the rate would have been 17% on the first $36,918.
Up to $36,918, the rate would be 17%, while right now, without indexing, it is 17% only up to $29,590.
It is the same for everything up to $29,591, and then up to $59,180. This second bracket is taxed at 26%. If there had been full indexation on this income level, the 26% tax rate would have kicked in at between $36,919 and $73,838, before going up another 3% to 29%.
It makes no sense that, even today, with the means available to the Minister of Finance and the government, we are still at the stage of not having given a minute's thought to satisfying the bulk of Canadian taxpayers by fully indexing income tax brackets.
Merely by fully indexing the $29,590 tax bracket at the 17% tax rate, taking it up to $36,918, 70% of Canadian taxpayers would be affected. This general measure would have beneficial results. All taxpayers would benefit, yet the Minister of Finance has not responded to our invitation to correct such an injustice, despite our telling him in 1998 that the surplus for the 1998-99 fiscal year offered him real possibilities for doing so.
Later this week we will be addressing 1999, and again he has not responded. He has preferred a few little measures relating to taxation rather than any overhaul, any overall planning.
I am beginning to agree with an editorialist at the Globe and Mail , who said the other day that the Minister of Finance was perhaps what it took to bring the deficit to zero with measures that were and are totally questionable. However, he may not be the right person to manage growth and surpluses.
When we see over the past two years what this man has done, when there are huge needs and wide open possibilities, I start agreeing with the editorialist at the Globe and Mail .
Let us talk about the unemployed. We were saying the same thing in 1998. Things are worse for the unemployed in 1999. In 1998, we rejected the budget of the Minister of Finance for one of the basic reasons we gave for the 1999 budget as well, which is that the unemployed are the real losers. Bill C-72 does not resolve this issue. The unemployed should benefit from the huge surpluses accumulating since 1996 in the employment insurance fund. They will total over $25 billion at the end of this fiscal year.
Every year, the minister takes $6 billion that should go to help those hit by the scourge of unemployment. As they are hit by this scourge it is not the time to make them poorer than they are.
Despite what the government said and the figures of the Department of Human Resources Development, only 43% of the unemployed benefit from the employment assistance plan. The CLC cites 36%. He preferred to keep these surpluses, set them aside, make himself look good, prepare his run for the leadership rather than help the unemployed.
Our basic criticisms remain. The basic criticisms of the Reform Party remain as well.
Unfortunately, the amendment is drafted in such a say that, if we agreed to it, we would be creating an even greater injustice for people with a disability and for students, among others, and we are not prepared to do that.