Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-47.
On the face of it, the Bloc Quebecois believes that the provisions in this bill were really acceptable and even necessary. We know the government is looking at changing the Excise Act and the Excise Tax Act. I believe the time had finally come to look at this change.
There is something rather incongruous however. The government claims that this bill is replacing almost entirely a good part of the Excise Act and the Excise Tax Act. The strange thing is that all the elements already provided for in these acts are in Bill C-47, except for a very important one, that is beer.
The problem is with microbreweries. In this case, the story began during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance, when it was asked, following requests from the Canadian council, that a tax reduction be included, which I will explain later.
Because of this nonsense, microbreweries here in Canada are currently paying 28 cents per litre of beer in tax, while in a country such as the United States and even in Europe, the microbrewery industry is protected with a tax of 9 cents a liter.
So it is very strange to see how the government could let this bill be introduced, which says nothing about the beer produced by microbreweries. We got to the Standing Committee on Finance and, through my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, we asked that this bill be complemented by an amendment to reduce the excise tax, particularly for microbreweries.
Yesterday, government members talked about various conflict of interest problems that could arise and they said that there could be no conflict of interest. Further on, I will refer to what happened with the chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, the member for London West. For the government, there is no conflict of interest because beer and microbreweries are not mentioned anywhere in the bill. There is absolutely no mention of beer whatsoever. Thus the amendment that my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot wanted to submit was rejected by the chair.
Clause 2 of the bill, which takes up several provisions of the Excise Act and Excise Tax Act, includes a definition of beer. However, there is no provision in the bill about beer. Is it an involuntary omission or worse, should the bill have addressed the issue of beer?
Under pressure from major breweries, they perhaps forgot to remove the definition of beer. Why would the legislator talk about something if he does not intend to go any further? Why include a definition of beer if no provision of the bill deals with beer?
More incredible still is the fact that my colleague and the Canadian Council of Regional Brewers are saying that the time has come to act. People have been asking the government to change the Excise Act and Excise Tax Act since 1997. We have been asking for this change for five years and, yesterday, we were told that results, more figures were needed before a decision could be made whether to go ahead or not. It is just unbelievable.
Five years ago, in 1997, there were 89 microbreweries in Canada. Over the last five years, 38 microbreweries have had to close down and many did so because of that huge excise tax. I mentioned 28¢ a litre. Foreign competitors, from the United States and Europe, pay 9¢ a litre, as I said earlier.
At last, this government has the opportunity to move instead of saying: “Yes we will review the issue; we will look at it; we are waiting for figures”. The government has been looking at those figures since 1997! Microbreweries are asking the government to include an amendment so that the Standing Committee on Finance can look at how to lower those taxes. As chance would have it we are not dealing with it. It is easy to understand now why the committee, chaired by the hon. member for London West, is not dealing with it.
That member was been appointed as chair of that committee a short time ago and we wonder why considering what happened. Her spouse, Mr. Barnes, is a member of the Brewers Association of Canada taxation committee. He is also a director of a multinational or a large national brewery.
Those large breweries say that excise taxes have to be lowered in general, but all the more so for microbreweries. However, I find it strange that the committee chair got a letter from the Brewers Association of Canada saying they do not agree, when we know that the chair's spouse not only sits on its taxation committee but is also its chairman.
The Brewers Association of Canada, of which the committee chair's spouse is a member, says it is in favour of a tax reduction, even more so in the case of microbreweries, but sends the committee chair a letter asking that beer not be included in the bill and tax reductions—indirectly—not be included either in the bill. Yet the association says it is in favour of that reduction. It is important to act immediately, but this association is now telling us not to do it.
Between you and me, when the president received such a letter, knowing that her husband is the director of a large national brewery, that he chairs the taxation committee for the Brewers Association of Canada and that she is the president of a House committee, it seems to me she should have said, and should still say, “I think there is an apparent conflict of interest, if not an actual one. I think it would be a good thing to tell each and every member of the committee that I will not be participating in any discussions on those amendments because, not only is my husband, John Barnes, a member of the association, but he is the chair of the taxation committee of that association”.
I think she should at least have told the members of the committee about that situation, but she did not. She only read the letter and played the game of the big Canadian breweries to harm the microbreweries.
Motion No. 2 gives excessive authority to a committee president. We voted against this motion at the beginning of the 37th parliament. It is already being misused, as we are told that the rules on conflicts of interests apply to ministers, to the Prime Minister, to secretaries of state and parliamentary secretaries, but not to a committee president.
Just imagine, the conflict of interest rules not applying to a committee president, and her actually having more authority than a minister. A minister would not even have the power to do what she did. She took upon herself to refuse to accept the amendments. These were not only amendments from the Bloc Quebecois. We are used to our amendments being constantly rejected at committee.
They are always rejected, and we get calls at our offices from people who say they are Liberals. Here is an example. With respect to Bill C-15B, people who support the bill concerning cruelty to animals and the protection of the latter call me at my office. They are aware of the amendments that were presented. I now send my speeches to all the people who write to me. They can then read the amendments proposed by the Bloc. The people who are in favour of the protection of animals tell us that the right position was to accept the amendments to Bill C-15B proposed by the Bloc. They even say “We will change party because of that”. These are people in the animal industry.
I simply wish to send the following message: through its committees, the government rejects all amendments, not only those from the Bloc Quebecois, but also those from any opposition party. It rejects those from the Bloc in particular because they come from Quebecers and are put forward by the Bloc Quebecois. What the Liberals are doing is incredible.
But there is worse still. Coming back to Bill C-47, how can the members of this House accept such important powers that allow a person to reject amendments coming not just from a political party, but from people affected by these rules, the existing taxation rules?
I will give figures. I said earlier that in 1997, when we started to examine this aspect of the taxation and excise duties, there were 89 microbreweries. Five years later, 38 of these have closed down. There are only 46 left. This is serious. Nearly 40% of the microbreweries have closed down. This has affected the diversity, the people and the jobs that are created in the regions.
The big breweries want to see the microbreweries disappear. There are reasons for that. In 1997, the microbreweries had 5.5% of the market. Today, they have only 4% of the Canadian market. This is 1.5% less. Let us look at what this 1% drop in net profits for microbreweries—a drop caused by shutdowns and by the inability to sell the beer—means for the big breweries. It is a net amount. That is a lot of money for the shareholders.
As we know, one of the big breweries, Labatt, just happens to be established in the finance minister's riding of Lasalle-Émard. It is a bit odd, but this is what is happening once again. This was better, because the big breweries make donations to the Liberal Party. The big breweries, whether Molson or Labatt, give a lot of money to the Liberal Party.
We know why. It is even part of the riding of the Minister of Finance. It is bizarre that the Brewers Association of Canada has written us to say: “Yes, we want a tax cut, but we do not want the amendment to be presented. We do not want any reference to beer, do not want any tax reduction on beer”. Nothing complicated about this; a 1% tax reduction gives them $17 million net in their pockets. Now it is at 1.5%. If you do the calculation, you will see how much money the shareholders are making now, simply by doing away with the possibility of including beer and the tex on beer.
This is not only happening in Quebec. For this reason, when the Bloc Quebecois makes its frequent representations to protect the interests of Quebecers, the interests of other breweries in Canada will also be protected.
Out of the 38 that have closed, 11 were in Quebec, 13 in Ontario and seven in B.C. As well, there were five in Alberta, one in Nova Scotia and one in Manitoba.
The government has told us already in its speeches during the debate: “Yes, they are the ones who asked us to wait before looking at the figures”. Five years is not enough. They still need longer. The calculations are not that difficult. In five years, 38 of 89 breweries have disappeared. In another five years, how many microbreweries will be left? How long will it take for this government to react and protect the microbrewery industry, not just in Quebec but everywhere in Canada, in their own interests? It is in the best interest of their party.
Democracy means respecting the will of the House of Commons. What the government wants is to line its pockets in order to get re-elected. Its interest is precisely this, to protect the big national breweries at the expense of the others, because this is in their best interest financially. Not in the best interests of the public, of society, and even less so of the House of Commons. How can we accept such a situation?
I am somewhat disappointed by the Canadian Alliance's position, which accepts a bill such as this. I agree, and the Bloc Quebecois agrees with what the bill contains. What is put down in black and white is good. Yes, the provisions regarding tobacco are good. We also believe that the changes are good. However, the problem that was raised is much more serious.
The member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca reacted last week by raising the Mace to demonstrate the government's lack of democracy in the House. He forcefully expressed to Canadians what is happening here. There is another opportunity to demonstrate what has happened, how the chair of the Standing Committee on Finance and member for London West could act in this manner.
We must stop saying that there is no conflict of interest because the word beer is not included in the bill. I already mentioned that is was supposed to be included, even in the definition. Why then is there no provision regarding beer in this bill? This bill contains nothing on beer because of the government. It did not want to accept the amendment introduced by my Bloc Quebecois colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot. It is rhetoric to say that there is no conflict of interest simply because the word beer is not written in the bill. The government prevented it from being written and it prevented us from studying this amendment, they prevented us from lowering the tax. It is unbelievable. This is their only argument of defence, to say that there is no appearance of conflict of interest.
To close, let me say that it is time that the code of ethics that applies to ministers, to the Prime Minister and to secretaries of state should also apply to chairs of standing committees.
This is important for democracy and out of respect for the opinions of Canadians.