Madam Speaker, before we broke for unanimous consent, I was responding to the Canadian Alliance and its new tax idea of a 17% flat tax. That was suggested by one of its spokespeople as an alternative to some of the taxes in the country.
This bill really deals with the goods and services tax and with a whole series of technical amendments to the GST that were introduced as a result of the budget that came into the House in February. It also makes permanent a 40% surtax on profits of tobacco manufacturers, and a number of things of that sort. We have in here a whole series of things, some positive and some negative.
What we should also be doing in this debate is going back over a bit of the history of why we have the GST in the first place. I remember very well back in 1990 when the idea was suggested by the Conservative government of the day led by the former prime minister Brian Mulroney. The GST became law in January 1991. It was a 7% tax brought in by the Mulroney government.
It was about 1990 when the Conservatives first suggested bringing in the GST and replacing the old manufacturers sales tax. My recollection is that this was never discussed in the federal election campaign of 1988. It was something that happened after the campaign. It is something that stirred a great deal of controversy and animosity in the country, as most Canadians were opposed to the GST. The GST in effect is a flat tax, with a 7% rate for everyone, regardless of whether one is rich or poor. If people are going to have a haircut or buy a certain product or a certain commodity on which the GST is applicable, it does not matter what their income is, they still pay the GST.
For the poor people there is of course the GST tax credit, but even with the tax credit it does not make it an equitable tax. When we get to the middle income bracket, compared to the wealthier income people, it becomes extremely regressive because it becomes in effect a flat tax. Everyone pays the same tax rate on the same commodities, which are in many instances necessities of life.
I remember very well the Liberal Party of Canada taking a strong stand against the GST. I remember the all-night committee hearing in the Railway Committee Room when the Liberals said that if they were elected and formed the government they indeed would abolish the GST. They said they would get rid of it. “Elect us and the GST will be gone”. That was part of the 1993 campaign. We all remember a couple of years after that when the then deputy prime minister, now the Minister of Canadian Heritage, resigned her seat because of a commitment she had made to the voters of Hamilton East that if elected the Liberal Party would indeed get rid of the GST.
That of course has not happened. The GST is still here. A campaign commitment that was made has disappeared. It is interesting that Brian Mulroney, when he made his first political speech on Friday, in addition to talking about the the Alliance being the Reform Party in pantyhose, talked about the present Liberal government accepting many of his policies, including the free trade agreement, NAFTA and the GST, policies that the Liberals had campaigned against, policies that they had opposed, policies that they had filibustered against in the House of Commons. Speaker after speaker rose in the opposition to say that if they were elected they would get rid of the GST. If they were elected they would not bring in a NAFTA-type deal. If they were elected they would certainly not go along with the free trade agreement with the United States. That is a bit of the history.
We also have the harmonized sales tax which was implemented in some of the Atlantic provinces in 1997. Before that, of course, Quebec introduced its harmonized sales tax in 1992. That is some of the background on the GST.
As I said, the Liberals promised to scrap the tax. They broke their promise. That is one of the reasons more and more Canadians are cynical of the political process, and are more cynical of politicians as every year goes by. Liberal politicians are seen as having broken their promises.
The whole tax system has to be made fairer and more progressive. I think the GST is among the most regressive of all taxes, except for the GST tax refund for some of the poor people in the country. It is a very regressive tax because it becomes a flat tax. Of course, as I have already said, the Alliance wants to carry it even further by having a flat tax of 17% right across the board.
In this country we have a long history of a progressive tax system. That tax system has gradually become less and less progressive with the passage of time. I remember before the Mulroney days that there were seven or eight different tax brackets on the federal side, which were reduced to only three brackets, 29%, 26% and 16%.
As announced in the last budget, we are gradually going to see that made a bit progressive within the narrow band where the middle bracket will eventually go from 26% to 23%, so we will have 16%, 23% and 29% brackets. What we have suggested many times is that we make the system more progressive. I would personally like to go back to about five different tax brackets so that we could have a more gradual scale, where we would tax people more progressively based on their ability to pay. I think that is only fair. If someone makes more money than someone else, the long tradition in this country has been that they should be taxed in accordance with their ability to pay.
We are moving away from that. The Reform Party wants to go the extreme distance by having just one flat tax in the country, which would be extremely unfair.