Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate.
Let me begin by saying that we have a lot of paperwork here. It is a big bill. There is the bill itself and the explanatory notes that go with it. The bottom line is, though, that most of this is indeed housekeeping. It happens in all parliaments and all governments that from time to time there is a need to bring things up to speed, to perhaps reflect an unfairness that has been identified that does justify its own bill. Often it is a matter of other changes that have been made and now we are catching up with the legislation, either with numbers or words. Primarily, that is what we found here.
Once we get into committee, we reserve the right to acknowledge that there may be problems that have not come to our attention. Certainly, we would encourage anybody impacted, any industry, any business, any individual anywhere who is affected by this in a negative way that we have not yet sussed out, by all means to give us a shout. It will go to committee and we will get a chance to deal with it there.
It would seem on the surface, as my colleague from the Bloc has pointed out, that this is indeed a housekeeping bill and by rights should not warrant us all getting ourselves twisted up in this minority government. We have bigger fish to fry and more important things to deal with. However, it does give us an opportunity to speak to what has happened so far.
I agree with much of what my colleague from the Bloc had to say. We view it very similarly in that some of the best things about it is what is not in there. The whole notion of cutting the rebate for tourists coming here and allowing them to apply for the GST rebate was a foolish suggestion, absolutely foolish. It is amazing it got as far as being announced in the throne speech that it would be put in the original budget document. It is a really dumb idea.
Number one, it is not that much money, and second, as has already been pointed out, not everybody applies for it. It is more a matter of being a selling point to say that it is available to people, particularly when conferences, conventions, trade associations meet with local officials to determine where they can get the best deal. If we are comparing Canada to any other country, this is an opportunity for our competitor countries to point out quietly that Canada used to be pretty good, but look at some of the things it has done now. That hurts. It hurts more than the reality of the money that is lost, actually.
Conversely, it has the ability to be used as a marketing tool to say to the world that we have a beautiful country, we are very fortunate, we are blessed, and we offer the world to come and enjoy. People should come and visit with their families. Whether it is for business, pleasure or a combination, Canada is a place that should be on the short list of convention destinations. Leaving the rebate in place is a part of being able to sell Canada around the world.
We should make no mistake, to a community like my home town of Hamilton, conventions are a huge part of our local economy, more than people might think. Again, it is because of the proximity to Toronto. I have nothing to say against our good friends in Toronto, but costs are a little higher there and we are able to provide some things that Toronto cannot at a lower price. It still provides us with access to Niagara Falls, a world renowned beauty, as well as all the media centre that exists in Toronto, so there are a lot of good reasons why Hamilton is an important destination, usually for medium sized conventions and conferences. For the truly large ones, it makes sense they would go to the larger capitals of the country.
However, it is important to Hamilton and it is important to Canada. It is good that it is not in here. Let us hope we never hear from it again. We do not want to hear about it because it is a bad idea.
It is interesting, when we look at the website of the hon. the House leader of the government, there is a news release dated September 6, 2005, which of course was before the election. I would just take a moment to point out that the government of the day, the Conservatives, had a lot to say when they were in opposition about taxes in terms of gasoline, stating all they would do, rightly pointing out that the Liberals were not doing anything, but making all kinds of commitments.
I will read it in part. It states:
Part of the gas price is a series of provincial and Federal taxes. Two components of the Federal Government’s taxes on gas are actually quite offensive. For some time, we have been calling on them to be eliminated. The first is best described as a “tax on a tax”. The feds impose both an excise tax (the gas tax) and they also impose the GST, just like they do on everything else. Fair enough, so far. But unbelievably, the Feds actually charge the GST on the excise tax portion of the gas price, as well as on the commodity. You actually pay the GST on the provincial and federal excise tax as part of the gas price, a tax on a tax.
It goes on and on. It makes another point about the evils of what is in place right now. It condemns the Liberals further for doing nothing, which is accurate, and then it goes on to say all the great things a Conservative government would do. Well, they are not in here. The Conservatives are good at the promises when it comes to gas and taxes, and like usual, they make a much better argument on paper than they do in law and this is another reflection of that.
I might also add that the big economic move, the last big real supposedly huge change that the government made was to cut the GST. The Conservatives are going to talk about that in the upcoming election, whenever that is. They are going to go on and on, but what is surprising for the average Canadian is that it cost us almost $5 billion a year. A tax cut is a tax expenditure. When we make a choice to have a tax cut, it is exactly the same as saying we could spend the $4.5 billion on health care, on child care or cleaning up the environment.
When we put a tax cut in place, it is a trade-off for a whole host of things that would impact Canadians' lives. That is not going to happen. I ask any Canadian watching to think about how many times in his or her life since that change was made has the reduction in the GST made a noticeable difference in his or her disposable income. I would say that for the most part, unless one made a really big major purchase, one is not going to see it.
If one is in the position to make a purchase like that it is not for the most part where we need the stimulation in the economy. That is certainly not where we need extra money. We need more money in the hands of ordinary working Canadians. Those who do not have jobs need some means of having money in their pockets to survive.
The close to $5 billion could have been far better spent on investments that would really improve the quality of life for all Canadians, not just the select few who are going out to replace their 50-foot yacht with a 60-foot yacht.
When the government talks about planning to do that again, I remind colleagues in the House that they are planning to do another cut sometime. Just remember, that as appealing as it might sound at first, taxpayers should ask themselves as citizens whether that last tax cut really improved life in any noticeable way, put any extra money in their pockets or allowed parents to give their kids a little extra money for what they need. These are the priorities for Canadians.
The next time we start talking about the second round, we intend in the NDP to ensure that we talk about not just how much it costs for this GST tax cut that is supposed to be coming but to also put beside that the alternative of what could be done with $4 billion to $5 billion a year at a time when so many Canadians are facing so many challenges. That money could be much better spent, much more along the lines of the NDP budget that we brought in a year and a half ago where we diverted money from profit-making corporations into investments in housing, education and in terms of environmental cleanup. Those are the priorities.
When we talk about this innocuous bill, it is important to talk about what is not in it that is both good and bad unless and until we get into committee and somebody points out to us a huge problem that we have not yet identified. And that could be, I say that very openly. Unless that happens for the most part, we have a bill that need not tie up this minority government and keep us away from the priorities that we have all identified, not the least of which is cleaning up the environment in Canada and ensuring that we have a national agenda that addresses properly greenhouse gas emissions.
Those are the priorities. The government has our support in principle at this point. However, on the notion of another GST cut, if there is $4 billion or $5 billion available in the budget, that money can go to more important priorities than just making sure that the very well off in the country get yet another tax cut.
That is not what is needed. What is needed is investment in the areas that we have responsibility for that can actually improve the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That should be the priority of the House. To that degree, we intend to move forward with that understanding on Bill C-40, unless of course things should change. As we all know, in a minority Parliament they could.