Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address Bill C-47 which amends the Excise Tax Act. In my remarks today I will address a few short points.
The Canadian Alliance will be supporting Bill C-47, however it is qualified support. We believe that the interests of major Canadian industrial producers of wine and spirits will benefit from the bill and we recognize that the affected stakeholders were consulted throughout the drafting of Bill C-47. That is where our support for Bill C-47 ends. We are troubled by other factors in the bill: the increase of cigarette taxes; the failure of the government to address crippling tax levels on Canada's microbreweries; and the cloud of questionable ethics that once again surrounds the government.
The committee stage of the bill was quite ugly. Members of the opposition, in particular the member for Calgary Southeast and the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot, tried to move amendments that would immediately address the plight of Canada's microbreweries that are being driven out of business by onerous excise taxes. Rather than address the issue with a discussion, the committee chair in her abrasive manner ruled the amendments out of order and shut down debate.
These adversarial and arrogant actions led to members challenging her ruling and raising the question of a conflict of interest. The chair had a letter ready in hand from the dubious ethics counsellor clearing her of any conflicts. A note from the ethics counsellor is like a note in high school that reads “Please excuse Johnny from gym class, signed by Johnny's mother”.
The ethics of the committee chair would never have been brought into question if she had not trumped legitimate debate in such a dismissive and autocratic manner. This is yet another example of the members opposite using the tyranny of the majority to settle issues that deserve meaningful debate and co-operation. The government's short-sightedness, arrogant scheming and constant cover-ups cause the opposition and Canadians to assume the worst.
In the end the government got its way and yet another bill went through committee without amendment, fulfilling the facade of democracy. The plight of microbreweries has yet to be addressed. We will not let this issue go. I have a list of every member of parliament who has a microbrewery in his or her riding. I expect each of these MPs to push the finance minister to give microbreweries the tax relief they need to survive.
Back to the bill at hand, I and my Alliance colleagues have been contacted by several people on the west coast regarding clauses 422 to 432 of Bill C-47 which deal with the ships' stores act. Ships' stores relief is intended for ships engaged in international trade or facing international competition. B.C. Ferry Corporation complained about departures from this policy that favoured ships operating in the Great Lakes and lower St. Lawrence and sought remedy through the courts.
On May 10, 2001 the federal court of appeal ruled that the ships' stores act went beyond the scope of the enabling authority and would cease to have effect on October 1, 2001. The court ruling would have allowed all ships' stores in Canada to be entitled to duty and tax relief on their purchases of fuel with an annual loss of federal revenue between $30 million and $35 million. On September 27, 2001 the federal government announced the changes contained in this bill and amendments to the ships' stores act, which reverse the regulatory changes dating back to November 10, 1986.
As a result of Bill C-47, the only vessels which qualify for relief under the ships' stores regulations are tugs, ferries and passenger ships operating on the Great Lakes and lower St. Lawrence River that are engaged in international trade. The government went to great lengths to fight regulations which favoured central Canadian vessels over coastal vessels. B.C. Ferry Corporation won an appeal to finally strike down these discriminatory regulations.
The bill puts in place a phase-out period to aid the central Canadian vessels through that transition. The stated purpose is to allow these vessels to honour existing contracts and pricing. I wonder why.
The government has frequently passed bills that will retroactively penalize Canadian industry. Do we think it has anything to do with the fact that Canada Steamship Lines is the largest carrier in the region? Probably not, just like the way Halifax and Vancouver have to pay ice-breaking fees in harbours that do not freeze just to subsidize the same region preferred in the bill.
In closing I want to reiterate my opposition to the government's increase in excise tax on tobacco products. Bill C-47 seeks to increase the federal excise taxes on tobacco products and to re-establish a uniform federal excise tax for cigarettes across the country of $6.85 per carton. The stated purpose of the tax increase is to improve the health of Canadians by discouraging tobacco consumption.
The federal excise taxes on cigarettes will increase $2 per carton in Quebec, $1.60 per carton in Ontario and $1.50 per carton in the rest of Canada. This will bring the total federal excise burden on cigarettes to $12.35 per carton. Federal revenues will increase by approximately $240 million per annum through this tax hike.
We all want Canadians to live healthier lives, especially our youth. The reduction of smoking is a big part of that. My problem with this legislation is philosophical and based on the process. The past decade has proven that high levels of excise tax on cigarettes do not reduce consumption but only increase or create an underground market.
The role of government is to provide the information for consumers to ensure that citizens have an informed choice. Make no mistake, it is the right of an individual to choose whether or not to smoke. It is my belief that the government is increasing the tax levels simply to increase revenues. It is the only politically correct tax increase at its disposal. The finance minister has never found a tax that he does not like.
The truth is that while the federal excise revenues have increased, transfers to provinces for health care have decreased. What are Canadians going to get in return for this blatant tax grab? I challenged the government opposite to detail what its plan is for the revenue and no stats have yet been brought forward.
The Liberals have once again piggybacked meaningful legislation and political opportunism. Today they are hiking taxes under the guise of tax fairness and that is unethical.
Once again my colleagues and I will hold our noses and support the bill which just is not good enough for Canadians.