Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for this thoughtful motion which draws on recommendations from government policy. I will read once again into the record the motion put by the member for Prince George—Peace River:
That given the record increases in the price of gasoline and home and diesel fuel, severely hurting Canadian consumers, truck drivers and businesses, and given the recent promise by the Minister of Finance to reduce taxes, this House call upon the government to give relief on fuel taxes, including repealing the increase in gasoline excise tax introduced as a temporary deficit elimination measure in 1995 and implementing the 1998 recommendation of the Liberal caucus committee on gasoline pricing in Canada to remove the double taxation of the GST.
That is the motion. We are asking the government to do two things that it has committed to doing.
The first is to eliminate a temporary deficit reduction measure. When I last checked, the deficit was history two years ago thanks to the hard work of Canadian taxpayers. Yesterday we booked a $12.3 billion tax overpayment for the last fiscal year. That is not a deficit. Let me explain the matter to my Liberal colleagues. That is a surplus. When we are in surplus territory, taxpayers should no longer be forced to pay deficit elimination taxes. That is simply a dishonest government policy, an approach to gouging people. It is a policy set for a certain time which has now passed.
That is the first thing we are asking the government to do, namely to keep its word. I know that is a high standard for the government to achieve given its failure to keep its word in so many matters: the elimination of the GST; its promise not to cut health care transfers and its failure to do so; and its promise to not raise taxes on Canadians. All of the basic Liberal electoral commitments from 1993 have not been kept. It is not surprising to see that the government has failed to do so in this regard.
The second thing we are proposing in the motion is that the government stop the double taxation of GST on the excise tax. Essentially the government now applies the 7% goods and services tax on top of not just the price of gas but also the excise tax on gas. It is taxing tax. That is so manifestly unfair that even the Liberal government caucus task force on this matter recommended two years ago that the double taxation of GST on excise tax on fuels be eliminated.
The motion simply asks the government to act on its own recommendations. I cannot understand why we are already hearing the typical resistance for government to simply keep its commitments.
Canadians are facing some of the highest fuel prices in our history when about 41% of fuel costs at the pumps for consumers is now federal and provincial taxes, excise taxes and sales taxes. Forty cents on the dollar of what people pay for gas at the pump go into the public treasury. That is up from about 30% of taxes on fuel in the early 1980s.
It is interesting, and I will add parenthetically, to hear our colleagues from the Progressive Conservative Party. We welcome their support for the motion and we are glad to see that they are new converts to the idea of moderation on fuel taxes given that it was their leader who proposed the single largest increase in fuel taxes in Canadian history in this place in 1979. It was their previous government that actually raised the excise tax on fuels from 1.5 cents to 8.5 cents during its term of government from 1984 to 1993. Even though the Conservatives are the world champions in increasing gas taxes, we are pleased to see that they have seen the light of day in this regard.
I have just seen some recent polling results which said that 85% of Canadians would like to see immediate reductions in the level of fuel taxes. That is as close as it gets to unanimity on any issue. Those Canadians know that we need to collect revenues to pay for our infrastructure, particularly our transportation infrastructure. They also know intuitively that the government fails to direct even a reasonable fraction of the revenues it collects from fuel taxes to the necessary transportation infrastructure, as my colleague the transport critic has demonstrated. Instead, the government takes those revenues and rather than direct them back to the roads used by those fuel consumers, it takes that money and adds it into its huge multibillion dollar taxpayer overpayment, an overpayment which in the first four months of this fiscal year already totals $11.4 billion. That, if extrapolated out to the balance for the fiscal year, implies a surplus of over $30 billion tax dollars.
The government at least so far has implied it cannot move on this because it needs the provinces to act first. The finance minister told us yesterday that he was willing to exercise leadership but he needed the provinces to go first. I took a first year logic course in college and that fails as a logical syllogism. That is not leadership, it is followership.
The federal government is the national government and the government always talks about national leadership. Maybe it should begin to exercise that because the very same finance minister certainly exercised leadership when it came to raising the excise tax on fuels in his 1995 budget by 1.5 cents a litre in his temporary deficit elimination tax. He did not consult the provinces. I rather suspect that none of the provincial finance ministers then had any shred of consultation about whether or not to raise the excise taxes yet he went ahead and did so. That is the same finance minister who failed to consult with the provinces before he cut their health care transfers by one-third in his 1995 budget. That is clearly a bogus argument.
Now we hear the Liberals trying to pass the buck to the oil companies and retailers. They shed crocodile tears in the fear that perhaps the corner gas station is not going to pass on the savings of a reduction in excise tax and GST to gas consumers.
This is the same Liberal attitude that says when we give working families broad based tax relief they will waste it on frivolous expenditures. Really what that says is the basic philosophy governing the Liberal Party—and I know as a recovering Liberal—is that government and politicians know better how to spend an extra buck or an extra 1.5 cents a litre than do the consumers. I have every confidence that given the profile on this issue, consumers would expect and demand of their retailers to see the full tax break delivered to them at the pump. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever. The official opposition would certainly add its voice to those of other Canadians in insisting that happen. That is a bogus argument.
Provincial co-operation is a bogus argument. But lo and behold, today we see in the paper that the finance minister is considering a virage on this issue. He is considering an about-face on the question. Why? No doubt because he is receiving enormous pressure from his backbench. Those members know what the right thing is in this respect. They recommended the right approach in their 1998 caucus task force led by the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, who continues to get credit from the finance minister for making recommendations the minister has failed to follow.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of Liberal backbenchers know what their constituents want and know what the right policy is and so they are trying to find a way to extricate themselves. We have presented that option in this motion. Next Tuesday when the deferred vote on the motion is taken, they will have an opportunity to stand and vote to relieve their constituents and gas consumers of the huge, unreasonable burden of double taxation and deficit elimination tax as well as to give the trucking industry and the transportation industry generally a tax break by cutting in half the diesel fuel taxes as we recommend, for the excise tax thereon from four cents to two cents. That is the option they have.
The Prime Minister has already suggested that the motion to adopt ostensibly government policy is a confidence motion and government members must vote against. Let us put members of the government on notice today that the official opposition, which has put forward the motion, does not regard it as a confidence motion. That is completely bogus. The passage of the motion would not be regarded by us as an indication of loss of confidence in the government or a need to call an election, as much as we would like to see one as soon as possible.
On all counts the way is clear for members opposite to vote in favour of their own recommendations and of their own government's policy and to do so freely. The failure to do so will once again be a victory for the whip and a defeat for ordinary working Canadians who are paying outrageously high taxes under the Liberal government.