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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this morning with the hon. member for Calgary Southeast.
I am pleased to rise today to kick off this important debate in my new role as official opposition transportation critic.
I look forward to working with Canadians to address their needs in this important sector. In my brief tenure I have already met with several groups and individuals whose businesses and livelihoods are either hampered or threatened by the government's policies.
Today I will focus my remarks on the financial and transportation priorities of the Liberal government, the effect of these priorities on Canadians, the effect of these priorities on Canada's competitiveness and, as always, what the Canadian Alliance would do to rectify the situation.
The Canadian taxpayer is being taken advantage of. Canadians on the whole are law-abiding people who accept the fact that taxes must be paid to sustain a quality of life and to support the less fortunate. However the amount of taxes paid and the expenditure of tax dollars is where I would like to focus my remarks.
Yesterday the finance minister announced that the federal surplus for fiscal year 1999-2000 was $12 billion. That means that the federal government overcollected $12,000 million from Canadians, or approximately $400 from every man, woman and child in Canada.
We just spent the summer in our ridings. Many of us like our constituents took vacations with our families. For the average Canadian it is a struggle to save up to take a break from work and spend some quality time together. This year many Canadians had to cut back on their plans to compensate for the high cost of gasoline. I am fully aware that gasoline is a commodity and is subject to variances in the marketplace. We cannot control market prices, but we can control the level of taxation.
According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the federal government collected over $4.7 billion in gas taxes in fiscal 1998-99 and returned a paltry 4.1%, or approximately $194 million back to provincial transfers for road and highway development. On average, Canadian motorists are paying between 36% and 45% in taxes with each fill up at the pumps depending on the province. For the current fiscal year 2000-01 the federal and provincial governments will collect over $13 billion in gas taxes from Canadians.
In 1995 the finance minister increased the fuel excise tax by 1.5 cents a litre to help eliminate the deficit. The deficit is gone. Canadians are experiencing record high gas prices and the federal government is experiencing record high surpluses. One would think it is time the finance minister relaxed his stranglehold on Canadian wallets and reversed the tax hike. The Liberals have made choices and set priorities, namely raising taxes to reduce the deficit and spending only on those projects that will garner political rewards.
How do these policies affect Canadian families? This winter many will have to scramble to decide whether to cut from their food budget or kids clothing budget to pay for the increase in heating fuel and gasoline. What we are calling for today is a first step, a small step, in liberating Canadians from overtaxation. We are looking for a little fairness.
World commodity markets have caused the price of petroleum products to skyrocket while the government is collecting record surpluses. Removing the GST and a reduction of 1.5 cents per litre is the least the government can do. It would be the most practical social spending endeavour of its mandate. In fact the Liberal caucus endorsed it in its own report.
With an election looming the only reason members of the cabinet are not interested in pursuing this responsible action is that the reward is not high enough. It is not enough to loosen the burden on cash strapped households and small businesses. It is not good enough to keep truckers on the roads and farmers in the fields. They want a big political reward.
In question period yesterday the finance minister said:
—the government has made it very clear that the impact of any tax cut must be one that is significant and felt.
If he is about to commit the mortal Liberal sin and cut a tax, he wants the most political bang for it. The finance minister prides himself as a shrewd businessman. Maybe it is time he used some of his corporate smarts for the benefit of Canadians. On the farm we realized long ago that we have to spend a dollar to make a dollar.
I ask the government to make a break from raking in the cash and shovelling out the patronage dollars and listen to some common sense. It is imperative to invest in our infrastructure, not only for the safety and well-being of our citizens but to strengthen and augment our ability to move goods and services both inside and outside our borders.
The government has made a priority of investing billions of dollars in the information highway while all but ignoring our national highways. The two are not mutually exclusive. I ask the House not to take my word for it. Terence Matthews, founder of Newbridge and Mitel, recently stated that Canada's “economic boom could be jeopardized if it does not invest in infrastructure”. The Liberal government's priority has been to maintain high taxes and spend only on projects contingent on political reward. These short-sighted priorities are threatening Canada's competitiveness.
This realization has not been lost on our chief competitor and largest trading partner. In 1998 the United States passed the transportation and equity act for the 21st century. That bill invests $217.9 billion over six years into infrastructure, a large portion of which is roads connecting its borders to Canada and Mexico. Legislatively the bill guarantees that a minimum of 90.5% of the federal fuel tax receipts from each state is returned to that state.
The Coalition to Renew Canada's Infrastructure has been advocating a national highway program and is calling on the government to dedicate one cent per litre of federal fuel tax, the equivalent of about $500 million annually, to highway renewal. This is not a lot of money when we consider that after the water fountains, canoe museums, hotels and the rest of the shovelgate the Liberals still had $12 billion left over last year. If viewers would like more information on the national highway initiative, they can go to www.highway1canada.com.
The Canadian Alliance and its predecessor, the Reform Party of Canada, have had a longstanding policy on dedicated revenues from fuel taxes. They believe that the way to effectively maintain Canada's infrastructure is to reinvest the proceeds of fuel taxes back into the sector from which it is collected.
This is contrary to the Liberal government's record. As I stated earlier, the federal government only invests about 4.1% of gas revenues back into the roads. What is even more appalling is when we look at its record in the other transportation sectors. In 1995, under the leadership of then transport minister Doug Young, the federal government began a divestiture program of its ports and airports. One by one the department handed over control and expense of these facilities to municipal boards across the country.
These authorities work on skeleton budgets to try to maintain their infrastructure to provide essential economic lifelines to their rural communities. In some cases, like the airport in my home town of Fort St. John, the authority is collecting an airport improvement fee from all travellers departing from Fort St. John. These user pay initiatives are fair in that only those who use the service are required to pay for it. However the revenues collected by the federal government for aviation fuel go into general revenues, with a pittance being returned to the airports through capital assistance programs. The port authorities are experiencing much the same. Where is the fairness in this taxation? Where is the return on our tax dollars?
In conclusion, I will reiterate a few points. The federal government increased fuel taxes by 1.5 cents a litre in 1995, five years ago, to fight the deficit. The deficit is gone. So should the tax hike be gone. The federal government is collecting a tax on a tax by collecting GST on top of fuel excise taxes. World fuel prices are at record highs and so too are government surpluses. The only ethical thing to do is to lower taxes on fuel.
The government's choices and priorities are clear and so too are the consequences. The Liberals mount huge surpluses by overtaxing cash strapped Canadian families. The Liberals collect billions of dollars in fuel tax revenues annually with little or no reinvestment in our infrastructure.
What are the consequences? Canadians are put under undue financial strain so the government can turn around and try to buy their votes with their money. Liberals have made a priority out of buying goodies for the Prime Minister's riding while ignoring our roads, ports and airports, thus jeopardizing road integrity, traveller safety and economic viability.
I call on members opposite, in particular those in cabinet, to support this motion, thereby reducing the financial burden on Canadians. I also call on the government to make a genuine reinvestment in the future competitiveness of Canada by improving our transportation infrastructure.