Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and join my colleagues in contributing to the debate on the motion before us, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should initiate immediate discussions with the provinces and territories to provide municipalities with a portion of the federal gas tax.
The issue raised by this motion is the extent to which gas taxes collected by the federal government do not find their way back to the provinces and municipalities, at least directly.
For example, in my home province of Saskatchewan, and I am here in its best interests, the federal government collects on average about $248 million per year in fuel taxes. Only about 10% of this or about $25 million is returned to the province each year. In contrast, the Saskatchewan provincial government commits to expenditures on transportation equivalent to between 90% and 100% of the fuel tax it collects. In the United States, 84% of federal fuel tax is earmarked for specific highway improvements.
Based on these figures it is fair to say that there is greater room for further contributions by the federal government. My contribution to today's debate will focus on Saskatchewan's infrastructure issues relating to roads. Such infrastructure is crucial in my province.
Saskatchewan has a small population. Our communities are widely dispersed throughout the province. We are served by 198,000 kilometres of road. Of these, 162,000 kilometres are in rural areas. Excluding those roads that are entirely within municipalities, there are about 100,000 kilometres of road to maintain on an annual basis.
One of the contributing factors to high road maintenance needs is that trucks, cattle-liners and other heavy vehicles are routed to rural municipal roads and provincial highways considered to have particularly thin membranes. As a consequence, numbers of rural municipal roads are in significant states of wear and disrepair. With the closure of smaller rail lines and general compressions in rail transportation, more is being transported from within and from Saskatchewan by truck, making maintenance of the road infrastructure all that more important.
Due to their perilous financial circumstances, Saskatchewan governments cannot easily fund the cost of maintaining provincial road infrastructure. In some years the government has simply said that it has no money to maintain road infrastructure.
For example, in April 1998, the provincial government advised rural municipalities that no further funding for municipal road construction and maintenance was available. In that year, the provincial government was only able to contribute roughly half of the $56 million considered essential to maintain Saskatchewan rural roads. It is circumstances like these that cause municipalities in Saskatchewan to seek some form of financial relief.
From the federal government perspective, the argument is that funds are returned to the provinces indirectly, through either federal-provincial equalization payments or other transfers. The problem with this approach is that infrastructure needs of provinces and municipalities differ depending on their geography and their ability to raise further revenue. In Saskatchewan, there are great infrastructure needs, yet the province is limited by its significant debt position from raising further taxes.
Transportation is vital to the economic health and prosperity of Saskatchewan, yet we see example after example of how the road system in particular is deteriorating. Last month, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation nominated a Saskatchewan highway as the worst highway in Canada. In fact, of the 100 or so highways nominated, 12 were in Saskatchewan.
The Saskatchewan director of the CTF said that some of the highways have deteriorated to a point where they are dangerous, and that the state of our highway system sends the wrong message to families and businesses interested in coming to the province. In fact, the roads are so noticeably bad that a long time American tourist was moved to write a letter to the editor of a major Saskatchewan newspaper saying that he probably would not be coming back to spend his vacations in the province.
Saskatchewan simply cannot afford to lose that kind of business. That is the message I hear from my constituents. They do not understand why Saskatchewan has such bad roads when they pay so much for fuel. I might add that I think Saskatchewan has one of the highest fuel prices in Canada. I will save that argument for another time.
Motorists know that they are being heavily taxed by the federal government each and every time they fill up at the pumps. Why is more of that money not coming back into the highway and road system? Why is the federal government not ensuring federal reinvestment in the transportation system at the provincial and municipal levels?
Those are excellent questions and are ones that could be largely resolved if the government followed the direction of the motion before us today. The federal gas tax plus the GST cost the average Canadian more than $220 last year. In 2001-02 Canadian motorists paid $4.7 billion in federal gas excise tax. They paid an additional $2.2 billion in GST on gasoline during the same period.
I would like to remind the House that there was a time when the Conservative federal government promised that the GST would be revenue neutral and in the unlikely event that there was an increase in tax dollars collected, the surplus would go toward debt reduction.
We all know what happened to that subsequently. The GST became such a major source of government revenue that our Liberal government, having promised to get rid of it, found it could not without significantly increasing taxes in other areas.
My point here is that governments often make empty promises as to how increased tax dollars will be used. We saw this again in the mid-1990s when federal gas taxes were increased as a deficit reduction measure.
The government is so proud of the fact that it has delivered balanced budgets, surpluses in fact for the past several years, yet the deficit fighting tax increases remain in place.
The motion serves to redirect gas tax revenue to where it is needed, at the municipal level, rather than to a purpose it no longer serves. As my colleague from Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam noted earlier this morning, Canada's road system is comprised of 900,000 kilometres of roads, highways and bridges and of those no less than 2% are federally owned.
Despite its nominal responsibility for roads, the federal government keeps nearly half of the revenue generated by gasoline taxation. Very little of that amount is reinvested into highways and infrastructure.
Canadian motorists and taxpayers deserve better than this. They do not want their tax dollars disappearing into federal government coffers never to be seen again. They want and they deserve a fair and accountable taxation system that supports a sustainable infrastructure on which we all depend.
I hope the federal government, in the vote on Tuesday, will consider that the motion is very important for municipalities and for Canadians. Municipalities are looking forward to perhaps the motion being passed. Then they can take care of their own infrastructures.
I would remind the House that motorists paid $4.7 billion in federal gas excise taxes in 2001-02. They paid $2.25 billion in GST on gasoline in that same period. Motorists paid $6.95 billion in gas taxes and GST on gas in 2001-03. The federal gas tax cost the average Canadian $149.21 last year. The federal gas tax plus GST cost the average Canadian $220 last year. Gas taxes vary between 35% and 45% of our total cost at the pump. In other words, the money from every second or third fill-up of gas is going to taxes. U.S. gas taxes in total are roughly 25% of the pump price.
That brings us to the federal spending on roads and transfers to provinces, $118 million. That is 2.51% of the amount the feds collect in gasoline taxes was invested into roads. That is 1.71% of the amount the feds collect in gasoline taxes plus GST on gas. Canada's infrastructure transfers to provinces, roads, conference centres and waterworks equals $800 million.
I am pleased to have joined this debate this afternoon. I sincerely hope we will see a successful, overwhelming support for this motion on Tuesday when we vote on it.