Mr. Speaker, I am glad to participate in today's debate on Bill C-48. I think it is important that we talk about the decisions made in the House which affect the actual economy of the country, not only in the short term but in the long term. That is what the bill is about. It is a very serious issue: a decision on how to spend our resources.
There is a series of things governments do to develop the strategies, the tools and the tool chest to move forward with pragmatic programs and services in developing the economy and our communities. Part of that is taxation. Another part is service fees. Another part is through assets we have acquired, and there is also revenue generation.
The bill is very important, because at a time when we are faced with so many different challenges and problems, we will witness anywhere between $1.4 billion to $2 billion in assets disappearing over the next five years. That revenue stream is so critical when we are missing the opportunity to participate in renewable forms of energy. Right now we are focusing on a tax cut for the oil and gas industry, and for others as well, but I will focus on that one. It does not take into account the planning that is so desperately needed.
It is frustrating to stand in the House and hear that there is not enough money for SARS, for the workers or for the economy in Toronto and other areas that were affected by SARS. Not just Toronto was affected. Tourism was affected in other places because they were tarred by the same image as Toronto. People thought all of Canada had SARS.
Then there are our war widows. Canada has 23,000 war widows and we do not have the resources to provide money for them, but we can have money designated as a tax cut for the gas and oil industry.
We all know about hurricane Juan in Atlantic Canada, forest fires in B.C. and Alberta, and BSE. They are all examples of very significant environmental issues that also require assets from the federal government, assets that have not been streamed to the people who need them.
But the government can find the time and the political will to move toward a tax cut to an industry that has serious repercussions on the people out there. It is a very good industry in the sense that all of Canadian society has embraced the oil and gas industry. We understand the effects it has. It has done some very positive things, but at the same time we are paying some prices. My community of Windsor and Essex county is. Because of environmental contaminants, many of them related to dioxins, toxic materials spewed out into the rivers and lakes causing environmental degradation and human health concerns, my community of Windsor and Essex country has some of the highest rates of cancer, respiratory diseases and birth defects.
Now here we are, giving an industry a tax credit when we know we still have some of the worst and dirtiest gas on the planet. I have used the example of the Oakville refinery. Petro-Canada is closing it down because it would rather produce dirty gas until 2005 and then import oil from Europe and distribute it under its flag. Even though it will be another company's gas, it will just re-brand it as opposed to investing in a plant to produce clean gas and energy products to make sure we have independence.
I believe that the recent Conference Board of Canada report card on Canada's health says a lot. The conference board itself is an organization that is not necessarily seen as being the most solid in terms of the environment. It looks at a multitude of different things. It very much takes a cautionary approach to the environment. The title of the actual Globe and Mail article about it was, “Canada's latest report card has disappointing marks”. I will quote a section of that article:
Compared with other leading industrial countries, Canada scores high marks on an economic front and does moderately well in areas of education and innovation. But its performance on a range of health and social measures falls short of many other countries and Canada is well down the list for its environmental efforts.
That is important to note, because right now we know that those social, health and environmental rankings can actually be improved with the movement to renewable energy, provided that we have the assets to do so. Without those assets, if we diminish our reservoir of capital and our ability to act, then we will have limited choice and limited options. I think a good example is the $250 million per year going into wind energy. That is deficient by far in terms of what we can achieve.
That is an interesting issue because when the wind energy project in Toronto was completed, it cost just over a million dollars for the actual wind generation capacity to be completed. However, it cost over $100,000 to ship that unit from overseas because we do not produce them here. There is an example to show that if we had an industrial strategy and a committed, strong sense of purpose and conviction on the part of the federal government, we could create that factory here in Canada.
We could create a commitment among provinces and municipalities and have other tax incentives that help consumers and help business by producing the renewable energy forms if we make it affordable. I believe that is where the incentive should be. If we really want to talk about how it can affect workers and how it can affect the economy, then this money could be used to lower other types of taxation, which we would all enjoy, and at the same time we could meet our national goal of Kyoto.
It is something that this country has put a stamp on in terms of the world. We were one of the last people to sign it. The government was dragged kicking and screaming into it by the Canadian public, but it was done.
We can actually be a leader. I think it is a positive thing to do, and not only for our current situation, because it gives hope and instills in people the idea that we can take control of our environment and have sustainability. We can also clean the air and provide an opportunity for our youth to have the things that we are so desperately losing. We are desperately losing in regard to some of the health factors and some of the pollution issues that we lack resources to fix. Once again, this is a significant loss to the federal coffers for an industry that is going to create some problems for all of us as its product is used.
That is something that I think is important to note. It is really critical when we have long term commitments to something that we have the resources. That is not happening with the government. I am concerned that the government will not follow through with the Kyoto accord in terms of providing the right resources to make it successful. This loss of revenue stream is very important.
I will return to the Conference Board of Canada and its spotlight on Canada and the environment as reported in the Globe and Mail . I note this in particular:
Canadians take pride in their country's beauty and resources, but have been “lulled into a false sense of security about the state of our environment”, the board says. Canada placed a dismal 16th among 24 countries whose data were examined.
“Yes, we have abundant resources...but we are not managing them well enough”.
That is the comment. I think that is clear. Because of the natural beauty we have in this country, the size of Canada, its diversity, not only of its people but its topography, and the ability to be on an ocean, on lakes, and in forest areas, I think we sometimes take for granted the things that we do not see.
This tax cut is for an industry which obviously has played a very pivotal role in creating jobs and in being part of the Canadian drive to be successful, but at the same time it has a byproduct that a lot of people pay a price for. That byproduct is the pollution that is created and affects human health.
Even the OECD has recognized that environmental pollutants and toxins and their effects on human health has become not only an environmental issue in itself but an economic issue. The OECD is actually rolling out some more policy platforms in order to have the confidence and also, more importantly, to address the issue. Quite frankly, an area like ours has the Great Lakes area of concern because of the pollutants and the toxins we have been subjected to. For example, that has caused a situation where we have higher rates of learning disabilities among children.
That ends up not only putting a health factor on a child, but it ends up putting a burden on the family to be productive in society. They have to deal more with those special family instances. If there are no social programs there because the programs have been cut back over the years, then it hurts their participation in the economy and it makes more people dependent.
We have to balance these things out. It is not about trying to gouge an industry. The industry has done well in getting support from the federal government over the years. It has had a successful history of lobbying for money and resources and actually was in a partnership as a crown corporation at one point in time.
That does not take away from the fact that we have to be able to mitigate the problems associated with it. That is what this money does. The money needs to be in the budget to mitigate those things. It is critical. The twilight of this industry is coming upon us. We cannot be burning fossil fuels forever. We do not have unlimited supplies, so we have to introduce more and different technologies.
Ford Motor Company was on Parliament Hill today showcasing its Ballard hydrogen fuel cell technology at the front doors of this building. That takes a commitment of resources from the government. A federal green auto strategy would be one of them. We just cannot do that without money.
If we know this situation is developing, we have to reintroduce new sustainable products that will offset that. Oil and gas is a very critical issue. We have discussed this issue at the industry committee. It is not a situation where we have an option about purchasing the product. Most people have to use this product in their daily lives, to commute to work, to do social activities or whatever it might be. We have a dependency on this product. It is part of our lives. It is part of our culture. If we do not introduce something else, or do not work toward that, we are going to be very vulnerable as a nation.
These funds that are being cut are going to jeopardize those opportunities. This is important to know because this is not like any other product; it is very different because of our dependency.
We all know the stories about gas prices going up. When I was a municipal councillor and gas prices went up, we did not have the money in our budget to pay the difference. Where could we get that money? We had to either tax more or cut other programs.
If we do not invest in a multitude of different environmental projects on sustainable energy, we will make ourselves more vulnerable to those fluctuations. Those fluctuations not only hurt municipal governments but they hurt businesses that need a sustainable price in order to predict what their costs are going to be. Reducing these tax measures in our budget will make us more vulnerable by not having the necessary consistency.
The Kyoto accord is tied to this. We send a poor message when we say that we are going to reduce our emissions, that we are going to look for cleaner fuels, but at the same time we say that we are going to reduce taxes on this type of industry which is going to have an impact.
We need funds to develop the alternatives, like a job to job transition strategy so that workers who are affected by a decline or changes in the industry will have other jobs, employment training, programs and services to make that transition. We need to have urban transit alternatives to ensure that we have mass scale transportation in the future. We need to plan for the proper infrastructure because this infrastructure takes decades to develop.
Our transit systems used to use electricity. The transit systems still in use in Toronto to a certain degree operate on the electrical grid but it was more commonplace before. In fact the city of Windsor had the first electric street trolley. Ironically the oil and gas companies actually purchased a lot of those systems and eventually put them out of business.
We need green tax reforms. We need incentives so that consumers can purchase products with reduced taxation. We need incentives that will get the cleaner technologies on the streets so people see those things. We do not need a big bureaucratic structure. What we need is a reduction in taxes or an elimination of different services.
We need to facilitate the introduction of green products into society. Another good example would be the home wind energy products. There are solar powered shingles which are not affordable right now because they are not in mass production. I believe these revenue streams should be dedicated to lowering those costs so consumers can get them on the street and they can make a difference.
We have done that to some degree with automobiles. Provincially there was a tax rebate for cleaner technology, hybrids. It is not enough because there is still about a $5,000 difference in price for a cleaner vehicle, so it is not close enough. We have to narrow that gap. How do we narrow that gap? We need to have resources.
That is why we should kill this bill. We should stop it from going through. We should send a message that these revenues will go to building a sustainable economy, one that is healthy. In that way we will send a positive message to the world that we are moving to cleaner technology.