House of Commons Hansard #164 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was peace.


Order in Council AppointmentsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table, in both official languages, a number of order in council appointments made recently by the government.

Battle of Vimy RidgeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Winnipeg North—St. Paul Manitoba


Rey D. Pagtakhan LiberalMinister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, today is as very special day in the annals of Canadian military history and in the life of our country.

On this day, 85 years ago, April 9, 1917 to be exact, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought and won by Canadians where all previous attempts by other allied forces had failed.

May I note at this juncture that Canada's veterans lost a dedicated and treasured friend with the passing of the Queen Mother. She was laid to rest this morning and I would ask members to join me in a moment of silence in her memory.

Battle of Vimy RidgeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB

The fateful battle: It was 5.30 in the morning. The ground would tremble and surely each man felt fear and thought of home. The assault turned out to be the swiftest and most complete victory of the war. Within three days Canadians had captured the entire ridge.

The Canadian success at Vimy marked a profound turning point for the allies. General Byng, commander of the Canadian corps and later a Governor General, would write:

There they stood on Vimy Ridge [on the 9th day of April 1917]...and there was forged a nation, a nation tempered by fires of sacrifice--

However the cost of nationhood was high. Three thousand, five hundred and ninety-eight would lie still forever on French soil. For the families of the dead, the price of victory would also be very steep.

Allow me to share some lines from one letter written by Percy Winthrop McClare on Monday, April 16, about a week and a half after his first exposure to battle.

My Dear Mother,

I can only write a short letter this I have been in the trenches for nine days.... You have no doubt heard...of the capture of Vimy Ridge. I was in the whole of that battle and it was Hell--

The letter went on to say:

--Mother Dear, please don't do any worrying as it does no good. But remember me in your prayer.... Your loving son, Winnie.

Thirty days later, Private Percy Winthrop McClare, age 19, was killed in action.

The story of Vimy is more than a major triumph for Canada. It was also the story of courage and valour of the families back home.

Those young men came of age under very brutal circumstances: in the tunnels and trenches and on the barbed wire fences.

It is these images, as awful as they are, that we must keep in our hearts and memories and pass on to succeeding generations. That is the promise of remembrance we have made to all our veterans.

At 11 o'clock this morning, a number of us will gather at the National War Memorial to honour that pledge of remembrance to all who served and to all who gave their lives in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

I had the honour this past Sunday to lay, on behalf of the Government of Canada, the wreath of reverence at the Canadian Vimy Memorial in France.

Thirteen high school students from across Canada joined me, as did veterans and many others: officials of Vimy and officials of the government of France.

Standing in front of the Canadian Vimy Memorial was truly an experience I will not forget. For truly the Canadian memorial at Vimy tells it all. It symbolizes supreme sacrifice and heroic deeds. Human values, peace, freedom, justice, truth and knowledge are reflected in the statues of the memorial.

These human values are universal in space and time. They are about life and dignity.

As we salute our Vimy veterans, let us also salute Canadians in uniform who have been called to take up arms to serve the cause of peace and freedom in a far away land.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge will continue to inspire a nation.

Battle of Vimy RidgeRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, as I left the coffee shop this morning I glanced down at one of the papers. It read “April 9, 2002, 85 years ago the birth of our nation”. As the hon. Minister of Veterans Affairs has alluded, this indeed was a turning point in the history of Canada.

It is hard to imagine that Canada was not quite 50 years old when the battle of Vimy Ridge took place. It was there that Canadians distinguished themselves in battle. On that day, very much like the weather today only it was colder with snow and sleet in the air, the order was given. It was hell but the Canadians three days later had performed what the other allied forces could not have done and were unable to do in capturing Vimy Ridge.

This day, April 9, 2002, is also a double remembrance day because, as the hon. minister alluded, today we buried our Queen. I would like to join these two remembrances together because they do have a commonality.

On this day we said goodbye to Queen Mum. I watched part of that on television this morning. I was reminded that as a boy, I stood on Dewdney Avenue in Regina and watched the Queen go by. That was in 1939, about 22 years after the battle. I remembered that trip. There was no pavement. There was a Model A. There was Mom, Dad and seven kids. All I remember about that was that my dad could reach through any part in that Model A and somehow find the back of my head. That day was revered in my memory because before the parade there was a line of veterans some who had experienced Vimy Ridge, so the two went together.

I would like to read into the records this morning a poem that I taught in school. I do not think it is in the literature books anymore but I remember this well. This poem is entitled “London Under Bombardment” and was written by Greta Briggs. It was the personification of the city of London. As we revere this day, this could well be the Queen Mum speaking. It reads:

I, WHO am known as London, have faced stern times before, Having fought and ruled and traded for a thousand years and more; I knew the Roman legions and the harsh-voiced Danish hordes; I heard the Saxon revels, saw blood on the Norman swords. But, though I am scarred by battle, my grim defenders vow Never was I so stately nor so well-beloved as now. The lights that burn and glitter in the exile's lonely dream, The lights of Piccadilly, and those that used to gleam Down Regent-street and Kingsway may now no longer shine, But other lights keep burning, and their splendour, too, is mine, Seen in the work-worn faces and glimpsed in the steadfast eyes When little homes lie broken and death descends from the skies. The bombs have shattered my churches, have torn my streets apart, But they have not bent my spirit and they shall not break my heart. For my people's faith and courage are lights of London town Which still would shine in legends though my last broad bridge were down.

This morning as we look at Vimy Ridge and at the passing of Queen Mum, I am reminded that on the day of the battle of Vimy Ridge our Queen Mum, who we laid to rest today, was 17 years old. Through all that noise on Vimy Ridge, they told me they could hear faintly in London all the guns, bombing and blasting of artillery.

John McCrae wrote in his poem, which has been immortalized and which most Canadian students still learn by memory, the following:

To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high.

We have not always held that torch high. However this is not a day to deal with the negative. This is a day to deal with the positive. This is a day to deal with this great military day in our history. This is a day that we too can add with this remembrance our respect to the Queen.

November 11 last year was a great renewal. We noticed that across Canada attendance at November 11 services was up. I am very pleased, as a member of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, that the government recently moved toward funding work on the nation's cenotaphs, particularly that great white monument that stands in the sky, the Vimy Ridge monument. In the travelling society there perhaps is no other site in all the world that Canadians recognize so clearly.

I am very pleased that we hold this memory and we hold that torch high. We need to tell this story and we need to keep telling it.

Battle of Vimy RidgeRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, Monday April 9, 1917, at precisely 5.30 p.m. was a landmark moment for Quebecers and Canadians.

EIghty-five years ago, while still a colony of the United Kingdom, Canada engaged in the first world war, without the experience some other countries had already had with war.

On that night of bone-chilling cold, four Canadian divisions, that is 20,000 Canadian soldiers, including several Quebecers, surged out of the trenches and up the shell-strewn southwestern slope of Vimy Ridge. They succeeded in pushing a six kilometer segment of the front line back four kilometres. This mission, considered secondary when it was assigned to them, was transformed into a success that was all the more remarkable because it was unexpected.

Vimy Ridge was one of the dominant points on the plains of northern France. The German hold on it had already been challenged by the French and the British in 1915 and 1916. It constituted the main objective of these first offensives, but was not to be retaken until the third, in April 1917. In 1915, the French were nearly successful, but were beaten back by the Germans and sustained heavy losses. During the subsequent attempt, the British set off enormous mines within German lines in an unsuccessful attempt to open up a path for their troops.

The offensive by the troops from Quebec and Canada led to Vimy Ridge finally being taken and contributed to the Allied victory.

The losses were extremely heavy. VImy Ridge was taken at the cost of 10,000 dead or wounded. These were volunteer soldiers, it must be remembered. Conscription was instituted after Vimy Ridge. Quebecers were, it must be pointed out, unwilling to fight in a war they did not feel was theirs. They did not want to see conscription imposed. There were demonstrations in Quebec City which were harshly put down. Even Wilfrid Laurier took a stand against conscription. Several Quebec leaders, however, encouraged the Canadian effort and were in favour of Quebec's and Canada's contribution to the victory of France and Britain.

Even though a number of Quebecers were forced to take part in World War I, we can only be proud of the contribution made, first by volunteer soldiers, and then by those who were drafted. It was also following the capture of Vimy Ridge that Canada gained recognition and began playing a greater role internationally. In that sense, the battle in which Quebec soldiers valiantly took part had a much greater impact than those who gave their lives might have thought.

The strength and courage of the soldiers who fought at Vimy and in World War I must be recognized. We must ensure that the memory of those who gave their lives, who did not want to go to war but answered the call nevertheless, is honoured.

Canada's two nations both contributed in a very significant and painful way, through the loss of lives, to the allied victory over the German invader. The moral duty to commemorate the wars of the past century brings us to meditate and respectfully remember those who died during the capture of Vimy Ridge and in World War I.

The Bloc Quebecois wishes to pay tribute to the soldiers from Quebec and elsewhere who fought at Vimy and helped end World War I more quickly.

Battle of Vimy RidgeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to speak on behalf of the NDP today in commemoration of the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Ten years ago I was part of the pilgrimage to the Vimy Memorial on the 75th anniversary, at which time I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know the 14 Vimy vets who were part of the delegation. They ranged in age at that time from over 100 years old to 93 years old. The 93 year old, whom the others called the kid, was a man by the name of Frank Bourne who lived in Vancouver but was also at one time from Winnipeg where he worked for the railway and supported the CCF. We got along well. I especially enjoyed his recollections of Winnipeg just after the war, including his memories of the Winnipeg general strike in 1919.

I will always be grateful for the gift of getting to know him and the other Vimy vets who belonged to the generation of my grandfathers, one of whom served at Vimy Ridge but neither of whom was blessed with the same longevity as those who were able to mark the 75th anniversary of their participation in that nation building but nevertheless tragic event in which so many of their comrades died.

I note with sadness that, as the old hymn says so well, time like an ever-flowing stream bears all its sons away, and that this year there was for the first time no Vimy vets at the ceremony in France. At the going down of the sun we will remember them as I am now remembering my grandfather, Robert Nisbet Blaikie, Sr., who was a piper and a soldier, along with his older brother Jim, a drummer, in the 1st Canadian Montreal Rifles, recruited in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They were part of the 3rd Division, 8th Brigade.

By coincidence, the tunnels preserved at the Vimy Memorial Park are those that were used by this group, tunnels that would later be viewed by visitors from all over the world, sometimes guided for a time by a great-granddaughter of Robert Blaikie, my daughter Rebecca who worked there as a guide in the late 1990s.

Each new generation needs to be aware of the sacrifices of those who have gone before and I commend the government for taking young Canadians on the pilgrimage this year. The Vimy vets I knew would have been pleased.

On a final note, may I say what a coincidence it is that I should have this opportunity to remember my Grandpa Blaikie on this day, the day of the Queen Mother's funeral, who herself lost a brother in World War I. Twenty-two years after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in 1939, my grandfather played the pipes for the King and Queen as their train stopped in Biggar, Saskatchewan to meet with the assembled throng. As a piper myself, I note with satisfaction the role that pipes played today in bearing the Queen Mother, a descendent of Robert the Bruce, to her final resting place.

When I visited the Vimy Memorial in 1992, I searched the over 11,000 names on the memorial for the name of a man known only as a name to a family in Transcona that I know well. His name was George Esselmont. He and his brother Bob built a duplex on Whittier Avenue in Transcona just before the war, to live in together with their families after the war. George would never do so. He was and is among those Canadians who were killed at Vimy and have no known grave. He grew not old as his brother who was left grew old. Age did not weary him nor the years condemn, but he never got to live out his dreams and live life to the full, like 66,000 other Canadians who died in the first world war.

May we always remember their sacrifice and honour it not only with courage in war, as Canadians have been ready to do when called upon, but also with the courage that it sometimes takes to fight for peace in a world given over to the temptation and the power of war.

May God grant that our remembrance today and in days to come be a source of wisdom and discernment as we make our way in a present and into a future that is still not free of the tragedy and the evils of war.

Battle of Vimy RidgeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the minister for his kind words of remembrance. I appreciate the opportunity to rise today to honour an important day in our national history.

We are not only paying our respects to those who gave their lives at Vimy, but also to the Queen Mother. Being in the House of Commons as the representative for Canada's first incorporated city by royal charter, the only one in Canada, it is very dear to my heart to be here today and go to the Vimy memorial service as well as to the Queen Mother's service.

Eighty-five years ago it was the military men of an emerging nation, a Canada still in its infancy, who obtained a crucial allied victory where the ancient powers of Europe had failed.

I had the distinct honour of going to Vimy to bring back the remains of the unknown soldier. I believe it was the most moving experience in my life when, as the hon. member from the NDP mentioned, we went down into some of the trenches. I could not believe that our men had to go there for you and me to be here today, Mr. Speaker, and for all of our colleagues and people of Canada to have the freedom that we have today.

I remember pieces of a YMCA mug that were found in the trenches dating back to those days. I took a picture of it because the young people who are there and look after all of the area around the Vimy memorial found those pieces in the trenches and put them together.

It was a moment that defined us as a people, where our men in uniform were once nation builders and national heroes. The victory at Vimy Ridge solidified our military credentials and gave clear notice that Canadians would be the guardians of peace and freedom in the world, and they still are. The territory seized and occupied as a result of the Vimy offensive gave the allies an invaluable tactical advantage. Above all else it is the courage of our Canadian soldiers that history has remembered most vividly, and rightfully so.

The same dedication to duty and selfless risk that was present on that battlefield 85 years ago has found itself repeatedly clothed in the uniforms of our armed forces in the decades that followed. Even today our soldiers, in the defence of those values Canadians share with the majority of the world's people, have been a source of grave and constant pride to all of us.

The debt we owe to our veterans is a debt we will never fully repay. The sacrifices they made in the great wars, both for us and for future generations, have left us in awe of them.

This past weekend I had an opportunity to visit our veterans hospital in Saint John, New Brunswick. It is amazing to see those veterans as they sit in wheelchairs. I always smile because when I come in they seem to know that I am there to see if there are needs to be addressed for them. God bless each and every one of them. They have earned our respect and they deserve our praise, not just on November 11, but every day.

When we brought back the remains of the unknown soldier the dominion president himself at that time was here. When the remains were placed in the Hall of Honour the next day we were told that the President of the Dominion Commander of the Royal Canadian Legion had passed away. It was he who fought to have the recognition for those who served and gave their lives at Vimy for us.

The spirit of that April day has been forever etched in the French countryside as the names of the fallen have been etched in the stone of that great white monument at Vimy.

In a moment I will leave this Chamber along with minister and other colleagues to join with a group of veterans at the national cenotaph to mark in a more formal way the accomplishments of the Vimy victory.

On this solemn anniversary we remember all who have offered their lives in the service of our country and we pray for those who are, as we speak, carrying on that great military tradition in the defence of liberty.

We will remember them.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present a petition signed by over 1,000 people in my riding which is the most recent manifestation of interest in Bill C-15B which the House is considering. This legislation deals with cruelty to animals, particularly pets.

These petitioners point to several recent highly publicized examples of animal abuse and neglect. Sadly, some of those were in the general Peterborough area. For example, the cruel drowning of a German shepherd which resulted in the establishment of the Lost Shepherd Society which is behind this particular petition, and a dog that was dragged behind a pick-up truck and badly injured as a result.

This petition includes the signatures of many frontline workers: veterinarians, people who work and volunteer in humane societies and so on. They know Bill C-15B is before the House and they call upon parliament to expedite Bill C-15B in the process of enacting it into law and ask all members to act in good conscience in voting for the legislation.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement government orders will be extended by 26 minutes.

The House resumed from March 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-47, an act respecting the taxation of spirits, wine and tobacco and the treatment of ships' stores, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Excise Act, 2001Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am continuing an interrupted speech. The speech was interrupted about two weeks ago when 1.30 p.m. rolled around on a Friday afternoon in the middle of my riveting presentation.

I do not know whether I hold the record on the interruption of speeches but I do remember one in which my speech was interrupted in early December. I do not remember which year but I completed the speech the following year in November. I remember that because it was an 11 month interruption of a speech.

The bill we are debating today is a bill on taxation. I am sure all members present have taken the time to read Hansard from two weeks ago Friday and have re-read the first part of my speech so they have the continuity. In case some have not I will reiterate again that the theme of my speech is the insatiable appetite of the government for tax dollars. Bill C-47 is about taxation.

I talked about the three different ways in which the government can tax individuals and corporations. There are actually four different ways in which the government can earn revenue, directly and by taxation. The three different ways of taxation are: first, taking a portion of everything that a person owns, property taxes for instance; second, taking a portion of everything that we earn through income tax; and third, taking a portion of everything we spend, the much loved GST is an example of that. Many provinces have provincial sales taxes as well.

I live in a province in which there is no provincial sales tax. To my knowledge we have never had a sales tax in Alberta. Until that hated GST came in it was actually wonderful to go to a store. If someone bought something that had a price of $5.99 and gave $6.00 in payment, a penny was given back. There was no computation of a tax. There was no sales tax. I would propose that perhaps the lack of a sales tax was one of the things that helped to make Alberta so strong that it is now one of only two provinces that is a net payer into the scheme of equalization.

I went to school in Portland, Oregon for a year and was interested to find that at least at that time Oregon was one of only two states that had no sales tax. Somehow I am attracted to governments that do not have sales tax.

Economists tell us that sales taxes are a better form of taxation than income tax and that reducing income tax actually has a greater positive effect on the economy than the reduction of sales taxes. However, there is a huge psychological difference to that. When one earns money, especially if the income tax is deducted at source, one never notices it in a way because one just does not ever get to see it. If we pay too much tax at the end of the year at filing time, we find that there is a bit of a rebate and everyone is happy that they got money back.

I do not know how many people stop to think that it is money the government has taken away from them. It is part of their earnings. The government took more than it was entitled to and is now giving it back. We should be happy that it gives it back in the same sense that we would be happy if someone robbed us and gave us back the money.

It is our own money and it is important for us to never forget that when it comes to taxes the money belongs to the person who earns it. Governments who take part of that money away, either through income taxes or sales taxes, need to always be cognizant of the fact that they are trustees of the money, spending it on behalf of the public for the public good.

I am very incensed when I find the present government taking taxpayers' money and way too often spending it for the government's good and not for the public good. I will give the House an example of that. The Minister of Industry happened to be in my riding about a week ago, where he made a great speech and held a meeting at one of the new hotels. All the local dignitaries were there. Everybody was very impressed way out there in rural Alberta in the community of Sherwood Park, which is Canada's largest hamlet with a population of around 45,000. It is still considered a hamlet because it has never been registered.

At the meeting he made some announcements about federal government spending. What was curious was that these were not new announcements. They were announcements that had already been made in the budget. The government is great at announcing and announcing. It seems as if the government multiplies the use of these announcements for political reasons.

The minister basically said “Are we not wonderful?” because the federal government was giving out some money to be used for research. He said that this would be a great boon to our economy, our competitiveness, our creativity and our productivity. He used all the nice buzzwords. He gets a lot of mileage out of announcing $150 million. It takes just the snap of a finger for a Liberal to announce $150 million. A couple of Challengers and all sorts of other things can be bought with $150 million.

There he was announcing it, but I contend simply this: If that money is to be spent for the public good, why does he not just send a cheque? If the money is to go to the university, a cheque should be sent to the university along with instructions on how to use the money and how to report on its accountability. Instead we find the minister making a big announcement.

In another example, I remember the Prime Minister announcing the opening of a call centre in, I believe, Prince Edward Island. The government, through HRDC, helped to fund the introduction of this call centre. The reason I mention this is that we are talking of taxpayers and using their money in trust on behalf of the citizens of this great country of ours. There was the Prime Minister announcing to the people of Prince Edward Island that a grant would enable them to have a new call centre and would provide employment in their community.

On the surface that sounded pretty good, but the reason I remember it is that the response was incredible. I heard about it on the car radio when I was driving. The person who was given this money, and I cannot remember if it was the local mayor or the entrepreneur of the business, told the Prime Minister that he had come through for them when they needed him and they in turn would show the Prime Minister they would be there for him in the next election. That was the gist of the statement.

It ought not to work that way. If the money is needed, it should be spent. If it is not needed, it should not be spent. It is not right to tie it together with the expectation of votes in return. I think the Prime Minister would have been right on if he had told that individual that giving him the money had nothing to do with votes. This was taxpayers' money and for some reason it was taken away from people who earned it and brought there so others could earn some money. I know there is an argument there. We could say it created a new business and jobs for those people who then would generate revenue and pay income tax. They would be paying into the system instead of drawing out of the system.

I know we can make those arguments. Maybe some of them are even justified, but I object strenuously when taxpayers' dollars are used for political purposes, as in my riding with the Minister of Industry making an announcement that had nothing to do with Liberal politics or like the Prime Minister in Prince Edward Island making that announcement.

Here we are talking about increased taxation. Make no mistake about it. Bill C-47 increases the revenue of the federal government by about a quarter of a billion dollars. That is what this is about. It is about increased taxation. It is a rationalization of some taxation. In the case of cigarettes, for example, in different provinces the rates are increasing incrementally. As I said in the previous part of my speech, based on the amount by which those taxes were decreased previously, they are now being restored.

I think I have made my case very strongly. I am sure that all the members here, having listened to my argument, will now have a new resolve in their hearts to never, ever misuse the money that has been given to the government in trust by the taxpayers of Canada to be used for the public good. I hope that is true.

It may surprise the House to know that my present inclination is actually to vote in favour of the bill, a bill that would increase government revenue and taxation. My primary reason for voting in favour of it is that it will increase the price of and thereby hopefully reduce the consumption of cigarettes. I have given speeches on this topic in various contexts before. Whether it is my colleagues in the House, my friends back home or one of my staffers who may be watching this speech right now and who is currently on a quit smoking program, I encourage them to carry through with quitting smoking. Perhaps this tax helped that staffer to make that decision, although I have not actually discussed that detail with him. I would like to encourage him to carry through with that resolve for health reasons and for economic reasons. The best thing we can do is to discourage young people from smoking, thereby ruining their health.

There are also the costs of smoking. I have related before how when I taught mathematics I encouraged my students, as part of the work they did in learning to use their calculators and computers, to compute how much they would have in the bank if instead of smoking they were to put that money into an RRSP over their lifetimes. I used to have them evaluate the mathematical formulas, math and finance exponentials and things like that.

After they evaluated that, which came to around $1.3 million as I recall, I asked whether they knew what they had computed. I went through it and showed them that the 45 meant 45 years from the age of 20 when one started working until 65 when one retired. The .1 at that time was 10% the rate of return that one could get on an RRSP and the $1.3 million was the balance in the RRSP on retirement. They could retire with $1.3 million in the bank if in their lifetimes they would put their smokes money into an RRSP instead of blowing it up in smoke, so the economic argument was strong. I am proud to say that I had a number of students who actually quit on that account. That is my primary reason for voting in favour of Bill C-47. I regret that my time has now elapsed, but I hope that the Liberals will hear my message and act on it.

Excise Act, 2001Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this second reading debate on Bill C-47. I will say in advance that the Bloc Quebecois is going to support this bill. We have two reservations, however, and, over the coming weeks, we are going to try to convince the government that we are right about two particular aspects of this bill.

Why are we supporting this bill? Because it simplifies matters in connection with wines, spirits and tobacco, specifically by harmonizing sales taxes, excise taxes with the general taxation system, and by creating compatibility among the commercial accounting periods. This is a clear improvement from a tax administration point of view. However, through you, Mr. Speaker, I wish to draw the government's attention to two problems related to this bill.

The first has to do with the beer sector, microbreweries in particular. The second has to do with small vineyards, which have been appearing in increasing numbers in recent years, such that in Quebec and in Canada, this has become a very flourishing industry which is winning international product quality awards.

In the case of beer, there is a major problem, a problem of fairness, as it were, internationally. In other countries, such as France, Belgium and even the United States, microbreweries are exempt from excise tax. Internationally, this is accepted under WTO rules. There is a special exemption for microbreweries so that they can perform, develop and support numerous regional communities, most of them small, as well as compete with large national breweries.

This is the case everywhere else, but not here. It is unfortunate that, in Bill C-47, the government has not taken into consideration the fact that microbreweries in Quebec and in Canada generate some 3,500 direct and indirect jobs; I would say that three-quarters of them are direct jobs and approximately 1,000 are indirect jobs. It is unfortunate that the government has not taken into consideration this important contribution by microbreweries. As opposed to the United States, for example, where the excise tax is 9 cents a hectolitre, in Canadian dollars, here there is still a tax of 28 cents a hectolitre.

Clearly, advocates of economic liberalism, even in the United States, are looking out for microbreweries and recognizing their contribution. Such is not the case here. But it is the case in France, in Germany, in Belgium, and in the United States. In Canada, however, microbreweries are treated the same as the big breweries that have much greater financial and technological resources to provide stiff competition for microbreweries.

Is this government able to understand that affirmative discrimination, permitted under trade rules, permitted in a world that is moving toward globalization, and permitted within the framework of globalization, could help microbreweries expand and provide fair competition for large breweries from virtually every country around the world? Would it not be a good idea for the government to get in line with all of the major industrialized countries and help its microbreweries?

We will be presenting an amendment to provide microbreweries with a partial excise exemption for the first 75,000 hectolitres, this is approximately the same level of taxation applied to microbrewery beer in the U.S. This would amount to a 60% reduction in the excise tax for the first 75,000 hectolitres produced by microbreweries, whether it be Unibroue or other microbreweries in Quebec and Canada.

This would be of great help to them and would constitute fair treatment. As I said, Unibroue's competitors benefit from this exemption, moreover. It is recognized and allowed under international rules.

So, as I said earlier, we are going to introduce an amendment to this bill at report stage, in hopes that the federal government, with its sizeable surplus accumulated over the past five years, could contribute some $15 million annually. This is not something that would cost the government all that much.

I would remind hon. members that the microbreweries contribute about twice as much in terms of taxes to the various levels of government, a little more than half of this to the federal level. Even with application of such a measure, the federal government would still come out on top. It would still be receiving net taxes from the microbreweries and would help maintain, even increase, employment in a sector that has undergone phenomenal expansion over the past 15 years. This measure would cost between $10 million and $15 million. That is not much to ensure that the existing 3,500 microbrewery sector jobs continue to exist, and even that this sector could become a promising and dynamic one in the years to come as far as job creation is concerned.

There are certain problems in this bill, including one concerning small wineries. As hon. members are no doubt aware—and some Liberal colleagues are involved in wine making, moreover—there has been a considerable expansion as far as small wineries are concerned in Quebec and in Canada over the past 25 years. When I was an economist for the Union des producteurs agricoles, I witnessed the birth of some of the great Quebec wineries. Back in 1986, investment in this sector was just beginning, for instance in l'Orpailleur, in Montérégie.

I was there in the early days of this sector, which has developed from its early, more amateur days to the respectability it enjoys today because of the award-winning, quality products to which I referred at the beginning of my speech. Quebec and Canadian small vineyards have been raking in the medals in recent years on the international scene for the quality of their vintages

Small vineyards are subject to a tax of 51 cents per litre. This is significantly more than elsewhere, including in France, Belgium, Italy and even in the United States. Again, we are asking that small vineyards be treated fairly.

Let us take the example of a vineyard that produces 200,000 bottles. This is not much, considering that, at the international level, large vineyards' production is 10 and 20 times larger on average, including in the United States. What the government could do—and we will again propose an amendment to this effect—is an provide exemption from this 51 cent tax per litre on the first 200,000 bottles.

Again, this exemption would be acceptable from a trade point of view and it would meet all the requirements of international treaties, including the one with the World Trade Organization. Such an exemption would also meet the requirements and provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and it would help small vineyards give additional momentum to their performance.

The cost of this exemption to the federal government would be ridiculously low, but it would really help small vineyards. It would cost the government less than half a million dollars per year, $350,000 in fact. This is very little, but for small vineyards in Quebec and in Canada, it would mean a lot. It would help them tremendously. Why? Because the competition is very fierce for small vineyards. It is very fierce with large international vineyards, and also with exports from small vineyards in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

Once again, we are going to bring forward an amendment so that small vineyards with sales under approximately $2 million annually could be exempt from this tax.

Small vineyards are now working hard on quality and the development of complex varieties of vine. They are making incredible efforts to break into the international market. The quality of wine in Quebec and in Canada is therefore good, and there has been incredible improvement in recent years.

In my view, even more could be done. I am thinking of l'Orpailleur; I mentioned l'Orpailleur, in Montérégie, earlier. I am also thinking of Clos Saint-Denis, in Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu. These are two small vineyards whose owners I know which have been making amazing progress, year after year, in research and development to improve the quality of their products. They enter all the international competitions and win awards.

It would be worth improving Bill C-47 by incorporating these two amendments. It would not cost the government very much, but it would give a tremendous boost to two flourishing industries of which we are proud. Throughout Quebec and Canada, people are very proud of the efforts being made by the microbreweries, of the quality of their products, and the same goes for small vineyards.

Again, we will be supporting Bill C-47. However, we hope that, at the various stages, the government will understand that it is to the advantage of all Quebecers and all Canadians to approve the two amendments put forward.

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11 a.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will say a few words about the bill before the House today as well.

Bill C-47 it is a technical bill. It is a bill we in the House support. It would impose a levy on spirits, wines and tobacco products. It would defer payment of duties on spirits and wines to the wholesale level, place domestic and imported products on equal footing, impose tight controls on possession of non-duty paid products and so on. It is a technical bill that would implement some tax changes. There has been a review of the bill. We in my party have no real problems with its technical proposals.

I will comment on a couple of things in the bill. One is the tax on tobacco. I agree that there should be a higher tax on tobacco products in Canada. The biggest health care expenditures we have in Canada are a result of smoking and all the ailments and health problems it causes.

There has been an unofficial agreement between the provinces to raise the tobacco tax. It has happened in Alberta. It happened in the Saskatchewan budget two weeks ago. I suspect the same thing will happen in Manitoba shortly and in other provinces across the country where the price of cigarettes is in roughly the $9 range. The revenues could be used to promote a non-smoking campaign to show the hazards of smoking, particularly for young people. In most cases high cigarette prices are a deterrent for young people to start smoking.

There is a problem on the other side of the issue. A lot of people who smoke are lower income people. When the price of cigarettes gets high it becomes a hardship on them because they are addicted to cigarettes and tobacco products. We get caught in a difficult situation. We are doing the right thing in terms of health and principle, yet at the same time we are catching people who are already addicted to tobacco.

It is a long term process. People need to be educated about the hazards of tobacco. We must make every effort to get people off cigarettes. This involves federal and provincial government campaigns through schools and the like. This is one of the things Bill C-47 talks about.

I will mention two or three things that are not in the bill but which are important when it comes to taxation policy. We have had a government over the last while that has decided to make lowering taxes a huge priority. Before the last election campaign in the fall of 2000 it brought in a budget that would lower taxes over five years by some $100 billion. That was an attractive thing for a lot of Canadian people.

On the other side of the ledger we have seen a tremendous rip-off of employers and employees through employment insurance premiums being much too high. We have seen increased restrictions on who qualifies for employment insurance benefits. The eligibility period has been reduced for those who do have benefits. We now have a surplus of about $43 billion in the EI program. The surplus is predicted to hit $50 billion sometime in the calendar year of 2003.

We are debating a tax bill today but at the same time we are turning a blind eye as a parliament to a great injustice. Workers are being taxed excessively for their employment. The $43 billion EI surplus goes into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The surplus is there to provide a balanced budget for the Minister of Finance. It is there to provide money for other programs. It is there to pay down the national debt.

Last year $17 billion was put toward the national debt. The $17 billion came directly from workers because of the excessive payments they made into the employment insurance fund. That is very unfair and actually should be a national scandal. The insurance fund should be roughly balanced at all times. I do not mind seeing a surplus of a few billion dollars because at a time when unemployment is low, we can build up a bit of a surplus and when the unemployment rate increases, without increasing the premiums or increasing them only marginally, we can have a deficit running for a while and come out balanced over a five or ten year period.

That was the whole purpose behind EI in terms of funding. Today about two-thirds of the surplus in the employment insurance fund is being generated by low income Canadians not by Canadians who make a lot of money. We tax the poor and people of modest incomes. That is not fair or just.

Many people have lost access to the EI fund because of the tighter qualifying restrictions brought in by the federal government. About one million families have lost access to the fund since 1993 when the Liberal government took office. About 41% of the people who have lost access to the benefits make less than $15,000 a year. Another 23% who have lost access to EI benefits make between $15,000 and $20,000. That is 64% of the people who have lost access to these benefits make less than $20,000 a year. Although they have lost access to the benefits, they still pay into the EI fund. They have provided the federal government with almost a $43 billion surplus today and will provide $50 billion over the next calendar year. It is a very unfair tax from a government that calls itself liberal. That is of course something that is not referred to in the bill that we are debating today.

I want to talk now about the airport security tax which was debated in the House and went into effect on April 1. It was no April fool's joke. It is a tax that will not fly in this country. It is a flat tax of $24 on a return ticket. People will pay $24 tax whether they fly from Saskatchewan to Prince Albert, Regina to Saskatoon, Edmonton to Grande Prairie, Edmonton to Calgary or Toronto to Ottawa. The tax is the same if one flies from Regina to London, Paris or New Delhi. There is no relationship whatsoever to the price of the ticket.

The tax will hurt small communities and short haul flights. It will harm the small airlines such as Athabasca Air in Saskatchewan which has short haul flights between Regina and Saskatoon. The $24 on a $100 or $150 ticket is a huge percentage on a short haul flight. That is another example of a very unfair and unjust tax.

The tax will apply to everybody from the age of two and up. Infants up to the age of two who travelled with an adult could fly free and children between the ages of two and 12 received a large discount but not today. The $24 tax applies equally to every Canadian citizen from the age of two and up. I see that as an example of an unfair tax.

Another reason the tax is unfair is that it was supposed to be implemented to pay for enhanced security at airports. No one in the House would oppose the idea of increased security at airports after September 11 but the tax will collect $1 billion or $2 billion more than is needed to provide for security at airports. In some cases the tax will collect as much as it costs to run the airport. In Saskatoon the city and airport authorities who studied this security tax estimated that Saskatoon will raise some $5 million a year from passengers who fly through the Saskatoon airport. Meanwhile, it costs $5 million a year to run the entire airport, which includes the costs of heating, cleaning and everything else.

Regina will raise $4.5 million through the security tax paid by people leaving Regina. The cost of running the airport in Regina is about $4.8 million. The money coming in from the security tax is enough to run the entire airport but it is supposed to cover security. No wonder people get cynical of politicians and governments when we have this kind of a regime and this kind of tax.

The security tax was implemented without an economic impact study being tabled by the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Transport. The most fundamental thing we do in parliament is taxation. The whole philosophy of parliament is representation. We do not have taxation without representation. We have representation in the House of Commons from all the people of the country yet we have a bunch of puppets in the House of Commons who get up and say yeah to the Minister of Finance for implementing a new tax without tabling a study or a document in the House showing the impact it will have on the Canadian people.

It is like having a benevolent dictator sitting over there. Sometimes he is being very benevolent when he brings in the bill without a study.

What do we teach kids? Normally we teach them to do their research and their homework when they go to school. They need to have some data and facts on which to base an argument or write a term paper. However here in the House of Commons we bring in an airport security tax without an economic impact study. That does not make any sense. It would be like the member for Edmonton North going off and riding her motorcycle without learning how to ride a motorcycle.

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11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

That would be very unwise.

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11:10 a.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

That would be extremely unwise. However here we bring in an airport tax without an economic impact study to see what the impact of that tax will be on communities, on the country and on the travel industry. I do not think it makes any sense.

The last point I want to make concerns a new vision of taxation in the country or in the world. I refer to the whole area of the Tobin tax. The Tobin tax was an idea suggested by Professor James Tobin who passed away about four or five weeks ago. He suggested a very small tax on the trade of currency in the world. Today in the world we have about $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion a day of currency being traded and exchanged. About 90% of the currency trading that is going on is strictly for speculation and mostly done by the large investment banks.

What Professor Tobin had suggested was a very small tax of 0.1%, 0.2%, 0.25% which would slow down some of the speculation in currency that creates havoc in currency around the world. It was done with the Mexican peso and the Japanese yen and many other currencies of the world over the years.

As these investment banks play around with people's currencies they in effect play around with people's lives, throw people out of work and cause all kinds of poverty and despair in the world.

If we had some kind of small international tax it would not affect the ordinary people of this country at all. We could have an exemption on that of $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 or whatever we wanted. If we had a tax of 0.1% it would only be $1 out of $1,000. We would slow down some of the speculation and create a bit more order in the financial markets.

A consequence of this kind of tax would be to create a huge international development fund of several hundred billion dollars to fight world poverty, the AIDS pandemic in Africa and to do environmental cleanups. A lot of that money could go back to the countries that collected the tax to help pay for health care, social services and the fight against cigarettes and smoking that I referred to earlier in my comments.

Three years ago in March I had the honour to introduce a motion in the House of Commons asking parliament to endorse the principle of the Tobin tax or the tax on the speculation of currency in concert with the world community. It passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 164 to 83. We became the first parliament in the world to endorse the idea of a Tobin tax. We had people from all five political parties who actually supported the bill.

Since then we have seen a lot of movement in different parts of the world. The French have actually introduced legislation to participate in a Tobin tax or a currency tax regime once we reach a critical mass in the world community to make this tax effective. Studies are now going on in the European community. The idea of the Tobin tax is being endorsed by many different countries and politicians around the world. There is a growing movement for a global approach toward taxation.

We now have trade deals that are basically charters of rights for international co-operation or charters of rights for investment in the globalized world. These are now very lopsided. What we need is an international global vision where we also would have some rights for the ordinary people in terms of international labour and social standards and goals and objectives, environmental standards and financial institutions that would have the ability and the power to levy a tax against the speculation of currency.

That is the kind of international vision that I think more and more people are supporting, certainly the churches, many of the NGOs and many of the people who live in various parts of the world.

These are some of the things that I believe we should do. We need this new international vision, a new and a modern day global plan to develop many parts of the world that are today suffering from hunger and famine.

Sadly speaking, hundreds and hundreds of people have died of starvation in the last 15 minutes. I think about 20,000 people a day in the world die of starvation. Every hour of the day, hundreds and hundreds of people die of starvation, yet we have this great disparity of wealth around the world. We have the ability through a currency speculation tax to build up an international fund where people of the world could be fed, where there could be the development of agriculture, food production and processing around the world. The technology is there to feed the people of the world, to develop the world and to clean up the environment. We have those abilities. What we lack is the vision and the political will to make it happen.

When we debate a bill like Bill C-47, when we support a bill like Bill C-47, which I do, which I certainly do, we should also look at other parts of taxation such as the unfairness of the levy of employment insurance, the EI fund, which is sitting now with a $43 billion surplus of ordinary people's money. All the time fewer people qualify from the fund. Some 64% of the people who now do not qualified for the fund earn less than $20,000 a year, yet they have to pay premiums.

We should be looking at the unfairness of the airport security tax, this new GST that has been imposed on us and that the government now is using as a tax grab on ordinary citizens. We should look at some new vision in the future in terms of international stability and funding of international programs. The idea here, which is getting momentum around the world, is that of a small tax on the speculation of currency which is causing havoc in so many countries of the world.

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11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member and was quite interested in the fact that he spent quite a bit of time talking about the airport tax which of course is not in this bill. It was in a previous bill. The hon. member raises some important points with respect to taxation.

In pretty well every speech the member talks about the Tobin tax. I do not know whether he has thought through the idea of having a money movement transaction tax that would siphon billions of dollars out of the economy and put it into the hands of the government or the governments of the world to redistribute as they want.

Is the member really convinced philosophically that that is the way to solve the problems of poor people? Would it not be a lot better if instead we had entrepreneurs go into these areas, start up businesses, manufacturing plants and other things, give these people an education, help them to work in the knowledge industry or whatever and have them develop jobs instead of perpetuating the idea of a government taking money away from those who earn it and giving it to those for simple survival?

I would like to do so much more than just provide for survival for these people. His Tobin tax idea is really very short sighted. I would like him to comment on that.

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11:20 a.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I also want to do more in terms of international development. I want to make sure we have industries in all parts of the world including the developing world. I want people to have well paying jobs, security, food and agricultural development. It is all part of the vision of a new global society.

However we need to fund it in some way. One way is through a tax on international currency. It is not a radical idea. In Canada we have taxes that are based on the ability to pay. We have a progressive tax system. It is not as progressive as I want it to be but it is a progressive system. We have redistribution of income through the taxation system. We have transfers to people in terms of old age pensions. We have transfers to provinces to provide equal access to health care with national standards. We have transfers to the so-called have not provinces in terms of equalization payments. Equalization is enshrined in the constitution.

Equalization is enshrined in the Canadian constitution. It is a good Canadian principle.

We have all these things to try to provide equality of condition and equality of opportunity. We should start applying the same philosophy internationally. The question is how to pay for it.

There may be other ways of paying for it. We could impose other kinds of levies to pay for international development. One of the fairest ways is a small tax on the speculation of currency. It would not affect ordinary people. It would affect some of the huge investment banks and money traders. Some 90% of the money traded during the day is for international speculation.

I have spoken about the issue at conferences around the world. I have spoken about it in Brussels, London, Brazil, at the United Nations and at other conferences. The idea is gaining momentum around the world. The European community is doing a major study on the idea of a tax on currency speculation. France has passed legislation on the issue. Belgium is close to passing legislation.

Most currency trading in the world is done in seven huge centres like London, New York, Frankfurt and three or four others. We need a critical mass to make the idea effective. I hope the hon. member will take a second look at it. Members of his party voted in favour of such a motion in March 1999.

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11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for the hon. member for Regina--Qu'Appelle for whom I have a great deal of respect as a colleague on the House of Commons finance committee.

First, he ought to clarify that the Tobin tax has nothing to do with former industry minister Brian Tobin. We are all aware of that individual's capacity to promote himself. We do not want him taking credit for the idea. The support garnered for the Tobin tax by the Minister of Finance about a year ago when he supported the government's--

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11:25 a.m.

An hon. member

Three years ago.

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11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

It was three years ago. Time flies when we are having fun.

It was quite enlightening. I think the finance minister supported the Tobin tax at the time was because he thought it was a Tobin attack. He did not realize it was a tax. Perhaps he thought it was an attack on Tobin as opposed to a Tobin tax.

Second, there is a fundamental flaw with the proposed Tobin tax. It is a tiny tax that would apply to all currency traded. It requires speculation for a floating exchange rate mechanism to work. Not all speculation is bad. If we did not have some level of speculation we would not be able to have individual floating exchange rates at all.

The margins on the good kind of speculation on which we depend are so tiny that applying a tax to it would have a significantly negative impact, particularly on currencies like Canada's which have become increasingly marginalized as the U.S. dollar and the Euro have become more important.

The margins on the kind of negative speculation the hon. member would like to reduce are so great that a tiny tax would not reduce the incentive to pursue such speculation. It would reduce the incentive for the good kind of speculation on which we depend. I would appreciate the hon. member's feedback on that.

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11:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Respectfully, this will go under the category “to be continued”.

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11:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 11.30 a.m., pursuant to order made on Monday, April 8, the sitting is suspended until 2 p.m. this afternoon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.30 a.m.)