Mr. Speaker, given that this is my first opportunity to address the House since the holidays, I would like to start by wishing you a happy 2007.
I would also like to wish my honourable colleagues and the citizens of my riding a happy and profitable new year.
I would now like to give an overview of Bill C-40, which is now before this House. I will first summarize the main reasons why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-40.
This bill addresses shortcomings associated with the GST and the excise tax. Bill C-40 removes taxes from certain medical services, which facilitates access to these services. The bill reduces the burden of taxation on charities. It also contains measures that help small wine producers. It tightens legislative provisions surrounding the sale and production of tobacco in an effort to counter smuggling. Bill C-40 reduces the air travellers security charge and will reflect the Quebec situation. That was required. For all these reasons, we will support this bill.
To briefly put things into context, this bill is divided into three large parts. It is aimed, first, at instituting corrective steps to improve and specify certain measures having to do with the collection of the GST. It also amends the act in order to zero-rate particular products and services. It turns then to the excise tax, laying out certain measures related to the taxation of wine, beer and spirits. Finally, it amends the rules on the air travellers security charge.
In the first part or the GST-HST-related measures, we find five categories or broadly distinct measures. The bill amends the rules on health, charities, business arrangements, and governments and contains certain provisions changing the way in which the GST is applied.
The first of these measures has to due with health-related rules. The bill amends the act so that speech-language pathology services are henceforth effectively zero-rated. This change confirms the tax-exempt status of these services. It will make it easier for young people with language problems to access such services.
This change will also help older people who have suffered strokes to access services that enable them to continue living in dignity.
In this same measure, the government also exempts health-related services provided in the practice of the profession of social work. This too will make it easier to access private social work services and permit people who have the means or have insurance not to pay taxes any more when they purchase the services of social workers.
Then the government zero-rates sales and importations of a product that can be used to some extent as a blood-substitute. Plasma expander makes it possible, for example, to inject a blood substitute during treatment for severe hemorrhaging, very serious burns or open fractures. Although it does not contain any red blood cells or the anticoagulants found in bagged blood, it provides an alternative during crucial treatments for seriously injured patients.
The government is also going to restore the zero-rated status of a group of drugs collectively known as benzodiazepines. These include medications such as Valium, Ativan and other similar drugs. They are used primarily to treat anxiety, for alcohol withdrawal or as a preanaesthetic medication.
Lastly, the government will offer a GST rebate on motor vehicles that have been used after being specially equipped for use by individuals with disabilities.
The second principal measure, which forms part of the same group, concerns charities. Some amendments will ensure that the exemption of supplies by charities of real property under short-term leases and licences extends to any goods supplied with such real property. This will mean less financial pressure on charities as they carry out their social mission.
The third measure concerns business arrangements. The amendment to the GST legislation provides transitional GST/HST relief on the initial asset transfer by a foreign bank that restructures its Canadian subsidiary into a Canadian branch. This measure will act as an incentive to foreign banks in Canada to restructure their subsidiaries as Canadian branches, which will promote more competition in the Canadian banking sector.
The bill removes technical impediments that hinder the use of existing group relief provisions under the GST/HST. This amendment simply clarifies the rules of application of the legislation that are already in effect. In addition, the bill simplifies compliance by excluding beverage container deposits that are refundable to the consumer from the GST/HST base. This will make it easier for businesses to manage collection and will lighten the regulatory burden associated with deposits, with a view to promoting more recycling and environmental protection.
This is not a very impressive measure from the current government, but it is a step in the right direction for the environment. We hope that this government will go a bit further and take a more serious approach to the environment. On the whole, this seems promising.
On a more technical level, the bill permits an agent to claim a GST/HST deduction for bad debts, and to claim adjustments or refunds of tax, in respect of sales made on behalf of a principal where the agent collects and reports tax.
Another measure extends the existing agent rules under the GST/HST legislation to persons acting only as billing agents for vendors.
Another measure will better accommodate special import arrangements between businesses in certain situations where goods are supplied outside Canada to a Canadian customer. We will also ensure that GST/HST group relief rules cannot be used to exempt from GST/HST otherwise taxable clearing services that are provided by a group member to a closely related financial institution who will then re-supply those services on an exempt basis to a third-party purchaser outside the group.
The measure also clarifies the treatment of the right to use certain types of amusement or entertainment devices, such as the playing of a game, when it is provided through the operation of a mechanical coin-operated device that can accept only a single coin of twenty-five cents or less as the total consideration for the supply. Finally, it confirms the policy intent and Canada Revenue Agency’s existing practice that no GST/HST or provincial sales taxes on a passenger vehicle are included in calculating the maximum allowable value for input tax credit purposes.
The fourth measure relates to governments. First, it will exempt a supply of a right to file or retrieve a document or information stored in an electronic official registry. That will thus allow municipalities and government agencies to supply information to citizens at a better cost, which in turn will increase access to information.
The new legislation will also ensure that a small supplier division of a municipality is treated in the same manner as a municipality that is a small supplier. Thus, the fairness of treatment will be respected.
The fifth measure, always in the same group, deals with the change in the implementation processes of the legislation. First, the bill will provide the Minister of National Revenue with the discretionary power to accept late-filed applications for the GST new housing rebate and the Nova Scotia HST new housing rebate for owner-built homes, where exceptional circumstances have prevented an application from meeting the normal filing deadline. Second, the Minister of National Revenue will have the discretionary power to accept late-filed elections between closely related financial institutions for adjustments that they are required to make for the provincial component of the HST.
As for the exchange of information, the bill authorizes the Minister of National Revenue to exchange GST-HST information with foreign governments that are signatories to the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. Thus, the government will be better able to fight tax evasion.
Finally, the bill gives the Chief Statistician of Canada the discretionary power to provide statistical information concerning business activities to the provinces similar to an existing provision in the Income Tax Act. This new power will give provinces a better access to income statistics, which will allow them to better focus their public policies. This is the first group, which is quite technical, as is the bill as a whole.
Part two of the bill contains a series of measures dealing with excise taxes. Those measures amend the Excise Act 2001 to implement minor refinements that will improve the operation of the act and more accurately reflect current industry and administrative practices. They also implement related and consequential amendments to the Access to Information Act, the Customs Act, the Customs Tariff and the Excise Tax Act.
Since it is very technical and we do not have a lot of time, I will not go into detail. The first of the principal measures deals with tobacco and seeks to give greater precision to certain provisions contained in the Excise Tax Act in order to better defend against the smuggling of tobacco products and facilitate collection of taxes on tobacco. The bill includes measures to extend the requirement to identify the origin of tobacco products to all products, including those sold at duty-free shops or for export, consistent with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international agreement. It also specifies that cigarettes, tobacco sticks, fine-cut tobacco or cigars, but not packaged raw leaf tobacco, may be supplied to the export market or the domestic duty-free market.
The second measure concerns alcohol. The bill has two main objectives. First, it authorizes provincial liquor boards and vintners to possess a still or similar equipment, for the purpose of analyzing substances containing ethyl alcohol without holding a spirits licence. This measure aims to avoid the administrative burden and cost of requiring provincial liquor boards and vintners to obtain a permit. In addition, to encourage the growth of the wine industry in Canada, the government will defer payment of duty by small vintners who sell wine on consignment in retail stores operated by an association of vintners until the wine is sold. As a result, when small producers offer their products in a store operated by a producers’ association, they will not have to pay GST until the product is sold. This measure encourages our home-grown industry and the Bloc Québécois is very happy about that.
I would like to make a small aside concerning the wine industry in Quebec. That industry is represented by the Association des Vignerons du Québec. In 2006, the association was made up of 42 wine growers operating in the regions of Québec, de Lanaudière, the Eastern Townships, Montérégie and the Basses-Laurentides.
Unfortunately, as you can well imagine, no Quebec wine is produced in Montreal, in the region where I live and where my riding is located. To make up for it, we enjoy these Quebec wines that keep on getting better year after year. In any event, I try to do my part.
More than 100 hectares of vines are harvested annually. Nearly 300,000 bottles of wine are produced every year. The main products are white wine, ice wine and fortified wine.
As far as the application of the bill is concerned, as in the previous section, the new legislation permits the Minister of National Revenue to exchange excise tax information with foreign governments that are signatories to the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. The bill also adds a discretionary power for the Chief Statistician of Canada to provide statistical information concerning business activities to the provinces similar to an existing provision in the Income Tax Act.
Finally, the third part includes measures on the air travellers security charge. These were implemented a few years ago after the unfortunate events of September 11. These measures have to do with the air travellers security charge and are in part 3 of the bill. They include the announced relief measures and minor changes to the Air Travellers Security Charge Act.
There are two main measures. The first is tax relief. The bill relieves, in particular circumstances, the air travellers security charge in respect of air travel sold by resellers or donated by air carriers. From an administrative point of view, the bill provides authority for the Governor in Council to add, delete or vary by regulation the schedule of listed airports. Thus, the bill will change the status of three of Quebec's airports in order to ensure that standards meet market demand.
So the bill is going to remove La Grande-3 and La Grande-4, in Northern Quebec, from the list of airports subject to the surtax arising from the Air Travellers Security Charge Act. This measure reflects the very special nature of these airports. However, the amazing increase in air traffic at the Mont-Tremblant airport has meant that the minister has decided to include it in the list of airports now subject to the Air Travellers Security Charge.
This is a very technical bill and the Bloc Québécois supports its principles because of the various measures it contains. We are also glad that some measures concerning the GST act have not been included. These are some of the measures announced by the government concerning its intention to abolish GST refunds for foreign visitors. I have to say that we are very pleased that this is not included in this bill because we think that it is a bad measure and that it would punish the tourism industry in Quebec unduly. We hope that the government will have the wisdom to forget this measure entirely and that we never have to debate it in this House. It would be a huge problem.
I would like to end simply by saying that we are going to support this bill because it is designed to correct the technical shortcomings and differences pertaining to other laws, including the GST act and the one on Excise Tax. The tax is going to be removed from certain medial services so as to facilitate access to them and lighten the tax burden for charitable organizations.
There will be measures to support small wine producers; to tighten up legislation on the sale of tobacco products with a view to counteracting smuggling; and to adjust the Air Travellers Security Charge to the situation in Quebec.