Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-48, which concerns primarily the fiscal arrangements for gas and oil companies.
In preparing my speech for debate at third reading, I found a very convincing article in the chartered accountants' magazine by Neil Smith, Senior Tax Manager of the core tax practice with Ernst & Young in Calgary. I just want to read one sentence from this article, which refers to the bill before us:
The release came on the heels of a significant lobbying effort by the resource sector for federal corporate tax rate reductions.
Clearly, in relation to this bill, the big winners are the oil and gas companies. They have recorded significant profits over the past few years. As a result of this legislation, they will be able to pocket even more money since the government has decided to lower their income taxes. This is quite mystifying because, at the same time that the Minister of Finance is telling us that he needs money and that he might not be able to provide the provinces with the promised funds for health care, he is giving away $250 million in tax cuts to the oil and gas companies.
Here are a few examples of what the oil and gas companies are experiencing, to prove that they are not living under the poverty line.
Petro-Canada's quarterly report to shareholders for the second quarter states:
Petro-Canada announced today second quarter earnings from operations of $455 million, which include a positive adjustment of $96 million for Canadian income tax rate changes.
This is an initial impact of this new legislation, because it was implemented by a ways and means motion. Petro-Canada has already saved $96 million in the first quarter. As a result, Petro-Canada's taxes went down by $96 million. Petro-Canada is not about to go bankrupt; it does not have a problem with profits.
The oil and gas sector has recorded phenomenal increases in profits as a result of price increases. In early winter 2003, it was not certain that low-income and middle-income earners would be able to afford home heating oil. But Petro-Canada gets a little reduction in income tax worth $96 million.
In the case of Shell Canada, the quarterly report to stockholders for the second quarter, that is, the same period, says this:
Shell Canada Limited announces second-quarter earnings of $178 million... Earnings included a one-time benefit of $54 million from a future income tax revaluation following announced income tax changes.
In the case of Petro-Canada, there was talk of $96 million; for Shell Canada, it was $54 million less in taxes. The quarterly report of Esso Imperial, another company that is certainly not suffering, reads as follows for the second quarter of 2003:
—tax rate reductions enacted by the Federal government and the provincial government of Alberta and settlement of various tax matters benefited results, mainly in the resources segment, by $109 million.
Therefore, the three largest oil companies are declaring future additional profits of $250 million. During this time, there are people who will have trouble paying their basic expenses.
Today we heard a little good news: the federal government has decided to extend the transitional employment insurance measures for the Lower St. Lawrence and the North Shore. It has taken a year of struggle by the Bloc Quebecois to win on this point, which will enable people to have two, three or four additional weeks of benefits.
As for the oil companies, they do not face this kind of struggle. The government gives them, in a public bill, an extraordinary advantage.
That is why the Bloc Quebecois thinks that, in the end, there is no choice but to vote against this bill. The oil and gas industry will see its tax rate decrease significantly, while the federal government did not tax this decrease enough. There is no economic incentive for such an action. This industrial sector is in good shape.
In the meantime, the mining industry in Quebec is being penalized. It will be penalized by this same measure. People in the mining industry are not satisfied with the bill, because certain measures are not to their advantage.
The federal government implies that the new tax structure will be simpler because it will rationalize the way it is observed and applied, encourage investors and make the Canadian mining sector more competitive. But the mining industry, which is going to have to operate under this structure, does not feel that the tax reform program is fully achieving those objectives. Spokespersons for this sector indicate that the provisions for gradual reduction announced in the 2003 budget are too complicated and will be hard to implement.
In other words, the government is ramming this bill through so that the oil industry will get its money as soon as possible, while the mining industry—this affects Quebec in particular—is coming up empty handed. We are not prepared to vote in favour of such a bill. We need to be able to study it in more detail and try to find amendments that will satisfy this industry.
The planned 21% tax rate will apply to revenues from non-resource activities in 2004, while for resource-related activities it will run until 2007. This is complicated, but what is important to note is that the mining industry is not satisfied and that this plan will not provide the desired advantage.
The Mining Association of Canada believes that the difficulties arising out of the 2003 budget and Bill C-48 demand a prompt solution, involving the federal government along with the provincial and territorial governments.
The text I read earlier on royalties and energy said that the publication of these documents followed intense lobbying by the resources sector in favour of reducing the federal corporate income tax rate, and clearly showed that this would be profitable for the oil companies. However, for the mining industry, the comment to note is the one about how from a federal tax perspective there will be winners and others who are neutral over the phase-in period.
There are complications in this bill which disadvantage the mining sector. Corrections absolutely must be made and perhaps the bill needs to be returned to the committee to be put in proper form.
The proposed changes to federal income tax have some serious repercussions on many mining operations in Canada. This translates into heavier tax burdens, federal, provincial and territorial combined, at the expense of net corporate income.
A simple solution, proposed by the Mining Association of Canada, which benefits Canadian mineral and metal producers, would be to keep the resource allowance deduction, while dropping federal corporate tax rates from 28% to 21%. This would do away with the difference between the federal resource and non-resource income tax rates, without any need to change the provisions for revenues collected under the territorial and provincial tax systems.
While debating this bill, we have seen the new Liberal member for Témiscamingue announce—out of inexperience only, I hope, and nothing more—that he is in favour of Bill C-48, which hurts the mining sector. If there is one part of Quebec where mining is important and where there has been lobbying in favour of rules to accommodate the administration of this sector rather than the opposite, it is Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
The Liberal member has already taken on the behaviour of the Liberal members here, which is to act as the representatives of Ottawa in their ridings, rather than representatives of their ridings in Ottawa. One of his first such actions has been to vote in favour of a bill that hurts his own riding.
This bill also does a disservice to Quebec because of its unfair treatment of mining companies. As I said, it directly opposes the efforts by the Government of Quebec to revitalize that industry. Quebec has made efforts, and those efforts have just been cancelled out by Bill C-48. We have no more positive results, no advantages.
We now see a member representing this area who is voting for such a bill. I invite the new Liberal member for Témiscamingue to do his homework again, to reread the bill and to go back and consult the mining industry in his area.
When we vote on this bill at third reading, the member will have an opportunity to make amends, to change his behaviour, to really defend his constituents, here, in the House of Commons, and not simply be the federal government's mouthpiece, and to take measures that are beneficial for his region.
As a communiqué said, “this will give pause to those who believe that a Liberal member in Ottawa can defend Quebec's interests”, and, in this case, we have shown once again that it is not possible. It is as though when they get elected as Liberal members here, they lose contact with their region. And because of the bubble of Parliament, the bubble of government, the specific interests that they may have, their strong desire to maintain a good relationship with the government, with the government members, with the ministers, they start behaving in ways that do not serve their constituents. This is a clearcut example.
Bill C-48 gives effect to a legislated federal corporate taxation rate for resource income. This rate would be reduced from 28% to 21%. This is actually where the real tax reduction lies for the gas companies, and it comes at a time when we did not need such a reduction in revenues.
This bill also eliminates the 25% resource allowance, while the deductions for Crown royalties and mining taxes will be allowed as expenses. We are therefore readjusting or recalibrating the situation. From what we have heard so far however, it seems that the main result has been to allow the gas companies to collect an extra $250 million. During this same period, benefits were not passed along to the consumer in the form of lower gasoline prices. For the year as a whole, there was no significant reduction in the price of gasoline. The ultimate result is that the taxpayers' money was taken directly out of the federal government pockets. This creates an added pressure for the government to fulfill its obligations and we now hear the government say, for example, that it is not so sure if it will be able to meet its commitments for health care services.
We are noticing that in various areas of federal responsibility such as military equipment, soldiers are not being provided with adequate equipment. In the meantime, the oil companies are getting this great gift. In my opinion, that is simply unacceptable. That is why the Bloc Quebecois will be voting against this bill.
Allow me to quote again an excerpt from the official publication of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, which says:
From a federal tax perspective there will be winners... companies with high royalty rates, such as oil and gas producers operating in Western Canada.
However, in such provinces as Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and the Maritimes, the elimination of the resource allowance deduction for companies that benefited from the resource allowance results in an increase in the overall effective rate.
This basically means a tax reduction for oil companies but a tax increase for mining companies. That is what the bottom line will be, in reality, for our economy. That is dangerous indeed. It seems to me that the government could have taken the time to develop a tidier bill, because there are many ramifications in terms of provincial taxation. It varies from province to province. A balancing act will be required. At present, nothing guarantees that the system will provide an adequate balance that really meets people's expectations.
We have before us a bill that does not deserve to be passed as it stands. That is why the Bloc Quebecois will be voting against it. It is unfair to society and the balance of our tax system. It is also unfair to the resource sector because the mining industry is being penalized, while the oil and gas industry is benefiting. This is an incomplete job, which does not meet the objectives. For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will be voting against Bill C-48 at third reading.