Madam Speaker, I would like to comment on the amendment standing in the name of the hon. member for Drummond. It represents an adequate response to the problem the Bloc Quebecois raised yesterday, actually, several weeks ago, concerning Bill C-47. This amendment is a six month hoist. We are moving this amendment to give us the time to correct unfair provisions in Bill C-47.
The legislation on excise tax and excise is comprehensive. It deals with wine, spirits, tobacco products, and beer. What is beyond comprehension is that Bill C-47 deals with all these products, except beer. It does not deal with beer, and it does not deal with the excise tax microbreweries have to pay.
How is it that this bill, which improves a general act that dealt with beer, does not mention it now? Even according to the brewers association, the situation is urgent. As I said yesterday, the president of the Brewers Association of Canada pointed out in a letter dated April 12, 2002:
We fully support a reduction in the excise tax for small brewers. It is a priority of the BAC and we want to point out that small brewers in Canada urgently need such reduction. We will support any measure aimed at attaining this objective.
Everyone agrees that it is urgent, for the beer industry and microbreweries, to have measures that would reduce the excise tax. Strangely enough, the only sector where it is urgent to make a decision is the one that has been excluded from Bill C-47.
With the amendment, we would have the opportunity to solve this problem for good within six months. This is urgent, and if we want to have a reasonable solution, it seems to me that the deadline that has been mentioned is really a maximum. I believe this is the spirit of the amendment, that is, to solve the problem as soon as possible, within six months at the latest.
Why must it be solved? This has been said before, but I think we must remind the House because the government side does not seem to be listening. In Canada, brewers, whether they are small, medium or large, pay an excise tax of 28 cents a litre. In the United States, large breweries pay 28 cents a litre and microbreweries pay 9 cents a litre. We immediately see the difference, which is huge. The American authorities collect three times less tax.
Of course, if we add to this the fact that, in Canada, a microbrewery is defined as a brewery that produces less that 300,000 hectolitres annually, while in the United States it is one million hectolitres, we realize that there are businesses three times as large as our Canadian and Quebec microbreweries that also benefit from tax reductions that are three times as great. This explains the catastrophic situation in the microbrewery sector, 38 of which have disappeared in recent years. There are only 48 left, including 19 in Quebec.
To illustrate what the loss of these microbreweries means, it is important to name some of them. I am convinced they will remind our listeners and most members of some brands they have seen or might even have tasted.
There is for instance Brasserie Massawipi, which was quite well known throughout Quebec, Brasserie Portneuvoise, Brasseurs Maskoutains, Beauce-Broue, Brasseurs de la Capitale, Brasse-Monde, microbreweries in the lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspe peninsula, Brasal, a German microbrewery, which was located, I believe, in the finance minister's riding, Aux-quatre-temps and Broue-Chope. These are a few of the microbreweries that have disappeared because of the government's inaction. The Brewers Association of Canada has said it, this is an urgent situation.
As I mentioned earlier, the only thing missing in Bill C-47 is the issue of microbreweries and the whole beer industry. Why? Because the big breweries do not want to talk about it. They decided to oppose it because they want to increase their share of the market. I mentioned it earlier, some microbreweries have disappeared over the last few years, but the others have seen their market share drop by 1.5% to 2%. So the disappearance of these 38 microbreweries benefited either foreign microbreweries or traditional breweries.
But this is not all. Not only are the big breweries hoping to increase their market share, but all of them are distributors for U.S. microbreweries. So they indirectly benefit from a higher excise tax on the production of Canadian microbreweries. They are taking advantage of the disappearance of the microbreweries to take over their share of the market. As we know, things are getting much more complicated in terms of consumption. With their American products, they are taking over the microbreweries' share of the market at the expense of our Canadian and Quebec products.
Despite what the letter sent by the president of the Brewers Association of Canada says, it is not in the interests of the major breweries to solve this problem. The government is helping the larger breweries to get rid of the smaller ones. This is unacceptable.
The microbrewery sector is extremely important in terms of regional development and cultural identity, especially in Quebec. What we drink and what we eat are part of our culture. Our microbreweries make us unique. And we are always delighted to taste products from other countries.
However, if the microbreweries were to disappear, no one would have the opportunity to taste these distinctive beers, for which we are well known all around the world. So, it is extremely important for regional development as well as cultural diversity, which is a clearly stated objective of the federal government as well as of the Government of Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois. The lack of provisions in Bill C-47 to promote the development and survival of Quebec and Canadian microbreweries undermines our cultural diversity. It also goes against the positions of the Liberal government.
Microbreweries are the victims of the collusion between the Liberal government and the major brewers. How did the government manage to avoid any discussion on this matter?
First of all, Bill C-47 just pretends to ignore the problem of beer and microbreweries. It does not address it, but it includes a definition of beer. Therefore, they initially had intended to deal with the problem.
When the government rejected the amendments proposed in committee by the Bloc Quebecois, and in particular by the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot, it met the expectations of the large breweries. I think many of us suspect that the government was mainly concerned with the Liberal Party fund when it made that decision. It is sad to say.
Yesterday, someone on the government side said that we were no longer interested in public funding. It is not true. The Bloc Quebecois does receive contributions from private businesses, but up to a maximum of $5,000. On the government side, it is like an open bar. In fact, the ethics counsellor had to ask the finance minister to return a $25,000 cheque given to him for his party leadership campaign. We are not talking about funding the party's activities or its election arrangements. We are only talking about a leadership campaign. Astronomical amounts are involved here, which have nothing to do with the kind of money received by the Bloc Quebecois from businesses. Unlike this government, we are truly at arm's length with the lobbies.
Discussions must resume, in the interest of the microbreweries, the regions and cultural diversity. That is why the amendment must be passed, so that the government can rectify the situation and do justice to microbreweries and the regions of Quebec.