Madam Speaker, I intend to share my speaking time with the hon. member for Brandon—Souris.
The debate today is not really about tax policy; it is about the response of the government to a growing crisis that is facing many Canadians and which is going without response right now. In fact, this crisis could affect the very lives of men and women across our country. It is not something to be casually put aside.
On Monday my colleagues and I took the initiative to raise this issue. We are pleased that there has been a follow through by the party formerly known as Reform. It is our intention to support the motion when it comes forward to a vote.
My colleagues and I had the opportunity through the last several weeks to meet with representatives of trucking associations, among others. Last night we met with the Greater Ottawa Trucking Association. I want to express my appreciation to that association for its decision not to resort to any kind of public protest. That is the appropriate way to deal with these issues at this time and is in stark contrast to some of the threats that were raised by the new gunslinger who hides out in the basement of the House of Commons.
There are two realities we have to face in this debate. The first is that Canadian citizens are facing fuel price increases which many of them simply cannot afford to pay and which are a very real risk to the health and to the lives of Canadians who are older or who are on low incomes. That is one reality. The second reality is that we have a federal government today that has billions of dollars of surplus money which is earning money from this crisis through the taxes that it collects. It refuses to take any leadership on behalf of the citizens of Canada.
Let us deal with the first reality. Let us deal with the question of the Canadians who are at risk right now. We need only go anywhere in the country and look at the gas prices at the pumps. They are rising regularly. More seriously, look at the person who is a trucker in an industry upon which the country counts. We see increases in diesel prices at the pumps from Corner Brook to Halifax to Yarmouth to Saint John to Quebec to Montreal to London to Red Deer to Vancouver to Whitehorse to every community in the country. The trucking industry is being driven steadily toward bankruptcy by these increases.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has said that fuel prices rose about 40% over the summer. In Ontario alone the average price of diesel fuel this year is 75% above what it was a year ago.
I had the opportunity on Saturday to meet Paul Easson of Easson's Transport of Berwick, Nova Scotia and a former president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. He confirmed that increase causes as much difficulty for truckers in Atlantic Canada as it does anywhere else in the country. The reality is clear. No business can operate with increases like that as its biggest single expense. That is the crisis the Canadian trucking industry is facing today.
The cruelest impact of these changes falls upon senior citizens, children and people on low incomes. The Consumers' Association of Canada has said “Low income families and the elderly could face winter without heating and car fuel as our oil prices skyrocket”.
Steve McIntosh, speaking on behalf of the Canadian Oil Heat Association said “We have already in Canada exceeded the price hikes that were experienced during the gulf war”.
The National Pensioners' and Senior Citizens' Federation said yesterday “Many pensioners cannot afford to heat their homes properly”. Obviously, living in the cold has very serious health implications. Senior citizens are being put at risk by the government's indifference to this issue.
The ones hardest hit by the far higher fuel oil and gasoline prices are older and low-income Canadians. They are getting ready for a long hard winter. Given their fixed incomes, these are the people least able to absorb sudden dramatic price jumps.
According to Statistics Canada figures for 1998, there were an estimated 752,000 low-income families here in Canada, that is households with an income below the poverty line for a family of their size in their community.
Households headed by seniors have not seen any increase in their net incomes.
The government must take steps to assist these people. Canada's northern climate requires people to heat their homes. On the average, heating and hot water costs are going to be $1,450. This is $950 more than last year.
The federal government must show some leadership and not leave people to struggle on their own.
General tax cuts do not help people who do not pay income tax. Yet these people pay the GST. With respect to home heating fuels, the most direct way to help them is to take the GST off home heating fuels.
The second reality has been the surprising but consistent refusal of the federal government to lead on this issue. It is an old story. The Liberals' habit is to duck tough issues. They ducked on free trade. They ducked on the Marshall decision. They ducked on the question of health care until the provinces forced them into an agreement. They ducked on the question of refugees. Their answer on the issue of refugees was to wait for the weather to change.
We cannot have a government that leads by waiting in this country. The Liberals' first excuse was that we have to wait for the world. The Minister of Finance said “Canada cannot act until Belgium does. Canada cannot act until Luxembourg does. Canada is waiting for Gabon”. That is entirely inconsistent with the traditions of this country. We are not some other country. We are a geographic giant. We are a strong economy. We are a winter country. We are a country with a huge surplus. We are a country with an obligation to our citizens who are facing a crisis right now.
I make the point that on other major issues that involved international co-operation Canada did not wait. We did not wait on acid rain. We did not wait on free trade. It is possible for this country to show leadership both to move the country forward and to help individuals who are struck now and are caught now in deep and serious personal difficulties.
The government's excuse is that we have to wait for the provinces. That is not leadership in a country like Canada. What the Government of Canada should be doing is causing the provinces to act. Give them reason to act. If the government will not give them reason, at least give them a telephone call.
Yesterday in question period the Minister of Finance had not even begun the consultations that might lead to a concerted action on taxes by the provinces and territories. This country has a health accord only because the provinces forced the Government of Canada to act. There is a clear duty of this parliament to force the government to act on this issue and there will be an opportunity in the vote on today's motion.
I want to refer briefly to the final excuse, that it is all the energy companies' fault. If the Liberals are concerned that the benefits of a tax cut would not be passed on, let them deal with that question. Let them act on this issue but do not hide behind it.
The present Prime Minister, in an earlier capacity as long ago as 1978 said to the Windsor Star , one of the bastions of the Liberal Party “We will be in touch with the oil companies and tell them we want the money passed on”. He was prepared to do that in 1976. What has happened to his resolve now?
Why is the Prime Minister hiding out behind the energy companies instead of calling them in, using all of the power of the office of the Prime Minister and saying that lives are at risk in Canada because of these high prices and it would not be acceptable for tax cuts not to be passed on to consumers? Why is he not using the moral suasion that sits in the office of the Prime Minister of Canada to get some action? Canadians are at risk. Truckers risk bankruptcy. Senior citizens and people on low incomes risk having a winter that will not only be cold, but could be fatal. This is the place from which action must come. Now is the time for action. Voting for this motion is a way in which the Parliament of Canada can force the Government of Canada to serve the people of Canada.