Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a motion from the Canadian Alliance regarding the use of federal gasoline taxes.
I noted earlier in the day that the member for Erie—Lincoln said that we were chasing the parade on this issue. He has it backwards. The Reform Party was talking about this issue 10 years ago. The trouble is that his party is full of slow learners. They take a long time to get with the program and to understand exactly what are good ideas in this world.
All his blustering when he delivered his speech earlier today was simply a smokescreen designed to try to cover up the flip-flop that has taken place on the opposite side. In June of this year they voted against a motion that is almost identical to the one that we put forward today. In addition, I think he is trying to cover for the former finance minister, soon to be prime minister, who suddenly has stolen this Canadian Alliance idea and is out there peddling it as if it was his own bright idea.
Any researcher looking through the archives of the Hansard records of this House will see that what I am saying is absolutely correct. That side of the House has consistently argued against what the former finance minister, soon to be prime minister, is now promoting. We have always supported that approach.
However I am not sure that we can even trust the new prime minister to follow through on the promise, and I will tell the House why.
I was in Vancouver last week when he delivered his speech to the union of municipalities. I heard him say that he would give them a portion of the federal gas taxes, no matter how long it took. What exactly does that mean?
First, what percentage of the gas tax is he promising? He says a portion. That could be 1%, or .5% or 100%. We have no idea what it means. Second, he said, “No matter how long it takes”. What does that mean? Is it 10 years, 20 years or thirty years? We have absolutely no idea what that commitment means.
I have never seen so much ado about nothing. Everybody is excited. The media is charged up and the municipalities are charged up about this new promise that has been made by this soon to be prime minister without actually promising anything at all, not a single solid piece of concrete material of which we can use to critique or approve. There is no percentage, no amount and no time frame. Heaven knows what that might mean. It might mean exactly nothing. The new prime minister might find 101 reasons to never implement his promise. I will believe it when I see it.
In the meantime I will continue to promote the Canadian Alliance policy which is something I have been doing for the last 10 years. For example, earlier today I looked back in my files and found recent mentions I made of this issue in columns that I wrote for my local newspapers in North Vancouver. I found interventions I made in the House in the last few years. I can get some examples.
On November 3, 1999, I wrote a column for my local newspaper in which I pointed out that while the price of gasoline at the time was 57.4¢ a litre. It is amazing. In the Vancouver area it is close to 80¢ a litre today but in 1999 it was 57.4¢. Of that 57.4¢ price, 13.7¢ was going to the federal government. Unfortunately, the federal government, those Liberals, were returning less than 2% of that amount for our roads.
On September 18, 2000, I stood in the House and made the following statement:
Mr. Speaker, this year alone the Liberal government will take more than $350 million from the people of B.C. in the form of fuel taxes. That is an annual tax grab of $20 million more than the entire Vancouver area budget for new highways to the year 2005. Yet the Minister of Transport stubbornly refuses to return to B.C. a single cent of those taxes in support of our transportation network.
While greater Vancouver residents line up in gridlock on a four lane Trans-Canada Highway built back in the 1950s, the minister pumps our fuel tax money into election goody projects elsewhere.
Our taxed-to-the-hilt drivers have had enough. They are sick of topping up the minister's pork barrel every time they gas up and they are not going to take it anymore. They want their share of the national highways funding returned to B.C. and they want it now. When exactly is the minister going to deliver?
On September 27, 2000, I wrote an article for the local newspaper talking about the federal gas tax, much the same as the earlier one I quoted.
Then again, on March 14, 2001, I stood in the House and asked a question of the finance minister. The exact text is recorded in Hansard and I stated:
Mr. Speaker, there is a transportation infrastructure crisis on the lower mainland of Vancouver, but the government continues to suck $360 million a year in gas taxes out of British Columbia. That is more than five times the annual highway budget for B.C. How could the Minister of Transport justify this $360 million tax grab when he does not return a single cent of that money to B.C. for highways?
It is interesting that although I asked the question of the Minister of Transport, it was the then minister of finance who stood to answer the question. The then minister of finance, the soon to be prime minister, gave this answer in the House on March 14, 2001. He said:
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows that the government does not operate and no government can operate on the basis of dedicated taxes.
That is what he stood and said and now he is out there with our policy pretending it is his own, that he is going to give some of those taxes to the municipalities.
Then he said:
If we look back over the course of the last seven years, the fact is that the government has invested very heavily, whether it be in the Canada Foundation for Innovation or the national child tax benefit. A multitude of moneys is going to universities in British Columbia. Right across the board, we have reinvested enormous sums and ought to do so in British Columbia.
He completely ignored the highways question, other than saying that his present policy at that time was completely unacceptable.
There is some evidence just from my own files of the number of times that I have raised this issue since 1999. For government members to stand there and say that we have never raised this issue is absolute bunkum.
The member for Erie--Lincoln also went off on a bit of a tangent talking about low cost housing. I feel compelled to respond to some of the comments he made.
One of my colleagues in the House, the member for Edmonton Centre-East, has carried out more than five years of extensive research on this particular subject of homelessness. He has turned up some interesting statistics which I would like to put on the record in response to the member for Erie--Lincoln.
There is no shortage of federal money. We will acknowledge that. Presently, 780 million tax dollars are being spent on new or expanded shelters and $680 million is poised to go into the building of so-called affordable housing. That is $1.46 billion and is equivalent to $103,180 for every one of the 14,150 homeless persons identified by Statistics Canada in the year 2001.
We have already committed enough money to give every homeless person $103,180. There are many people in Vancouver who are not homeless and who are buying apartments for that price. There are plenty of other smaller cities in Canada where people can buy an apartment for a whole lot less than that.
How come the government cannot solve the problem with $103,180 for every homeless person? The reason is because, without any rules or guidelines for restraint, it continues to write cheques for extravagant projects that may be designed for low income, but they are certainly not low cost.
I will give one example. Don Mount Court on Dundas Street East in Toronto is a project completely off the rails. Heated sidewalks that were installed in the entrance to this building have been left running continuously for years. The hydro bills are so extreme in that building that taxpayers have had to bail out the cost every year since it was introduced. For the people who live there it is a very low cost, but for taxpayers it is absolutely outrageous. The fact is that the money is being wasted on hydro, and it is probably the money from this tax that is collected on gasoline in B.C. that is subsidizing heated sidewalks in Toronto.
The incompetence is unbelievable. It is time the government adopted more of our policies and got this country back on track.