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House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was taxes.

Topics

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting to hear the member going back into the past and drawing on the comments of previous NDP members. I guess maybe I should go back and draw on a few from Brian Mulroney and see where we end up with that one.

The reality is that this party opposed the implementation of the GST in the first place because a consumer tax hurts the poorest people in our country the worst. The reality is that those with disposable income have the opportunity to have a lot more money to set aside once they have paid their GST.

Now, as far as policies are concerned, our policy is quite direct. It calls for targeted tax reduction, and by “targeted”, we certainly do not mean corporate welfare.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Hamilton for bringing some common sense to this debate.

The amendment I have brought forward would essentially put the human face back on government policy. We do not see right now any problem in attracting investment to this country, but there is a problem in terms of where the investments are being made. It seems to me that what my friend from Hamilton is saying is not only logical but it is what is needed; that is, to invest in our seniors and our human resources.

The fact of the matter is that clause 181 is simply a gift to corporate welfare, to those who may invest in Canada but might not; it might go to excess profits.

I would like my colleague from Hamilton to tell me what should happen in his community in terms of the investment in human infrastructure, in other words, the services that are required for everyday people because clause 181 clearly gives the nod to corporate Canada.

I heard comments, from the government bench earlier in this debate, to the effect that corporations are the ones that create jobs. Last time I checked, I thought it was people and small businesses. I would like the member's comments on that.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek has one minute to respond.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things we hear repeatedly in this House is about 13 years of mismanagement. I am going to start using the term 15 years of mismanagement because it is still happening today. There are people in my community who are in desperate straits.

However, as the member for Ottawa Centre just said, if we are going to target tax reduction, there are a lot of small and medium businesses that need it far more than corporate Canada, and that is part of what we talk about. We have sustaining programs for new immigrants and for seniors that need to be funded. I spoke in this House about the National Anti-Racism Council that needs funding as well.

There are a number of areas if we had the opportunity, but one minute does not allow that.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate and I want to first of all say that government members often like to say that in 13 years the Liberals did not do this and did not do that which of course is utter nonsense, but the one thing that the government never says is that in 13 years we left them the strongest economic policies of any government in the history of Canada.

We inherited a $42.5 billion deficit in 1993. One-third of all of the money spent at that time by the Government of Canada was borrowed money. It was the strong economic policies of the Liberal government that created jobs that translated into an economic performance which was the wonder of the world.

I remember in 1995 it was suggested in the Economist that we were going to be the sort of basket case of the G-8 and that we might even have to go out and get a loan from the international development bank.

What happened? The Liberals came in. We re-organized and did the kind of things that needed to be done in those 13 years. When the election occurred and the current government came in, it inherited so much money it did not know what to do with it. So, it just spent it, but it has not invested it.

Look at its policies, the ones dealing with the GST. Any economists worth their salt would tell us the GST, which in this amendment I notice is missing and the NDP seems to cherry pick when it comes to dealing only with corporate taxes, costs the national treasury $5 billion to $6 billion a year. Think of the kind of money that we could be investing in terms of social programs and post-secondary education. The Conservatives are silent on that.

The fact is that they simply see the role of government being one of shrinking itself. It is not to be an agent of positive change in supporting people or giving them a hand up, not a handout as some of our friends in the corner might do.

The Liberal Party has a strong fiscal record. Let us look at the record of the current government. When it comes to universities, we have massive, growing debt for university students who come out after four years. We need to have a national conference and look at getting the provinces, the federal government and university organizations together, and look at how we can really tackle the issue of debt and investing.

When it came to the millennium, instead of building some monument, we decided on this side of the House to invest in the millennium scholarships. That was and continues to be one of the most positive programs for students across the country. We invested and created 500 chairs of excellence in universities across the country.

We kept and we brought back the best and the brightest. We do not hear those kinds of visions from the government across the aisle. That is a shame because we need to make sure that our students have the right equipment, that they are ready to compete not only at home but abroad.

In the area of corporate taxes, we were the government that reduced them from 28% to 19% and the Conservatives took a bold step of reducing them to 18.5% from 19% by 2011.

Our leader made it very clear that we need to continue to deal with the issue of corporate taxes because lower costs obviously help Canadian companies invest. We think that is very important, particularly now when the economy is starting to show some bumps on the road. We still have not heard about a national manufacturing strategy or forestry strategy from across the aisle. We certainly need to see that.

We see that unemployment is back up to 5.9% which is the latest statistic. We never hear government members talking about investing in our cities. I certainly have talked about that over the past. They say what a wonderful job they have done on cities. I guess FCM said that it was extremely unhappy about the fact that the government was recycling half of the so-called $33 billion from the building Canada fund and that in reality the mayors and councillors should be happy. We know that because the government told them to stop whining.

The federal government said it does not deal with potholes. I have not heard that kind of comment in over a decade. As a former councillor and former president of the FCM, I thought this was back to the future. I could not believe that we were hearing that kind of rhetoric.

Obviously, cities need to be vibrant. We need to invest in roads, bridges and sewers and deal with waste management and those kinds of things, but we also need to invest in those post-secondary institutions in our major cities. We need to make sure that we have an innovation agenda. Under the previous government, we had a very strong innovation agenda. We do not hear innovation from across the aisle.

We have an amendment before the House that deals with only one aspect of taxes. We know about dealing with taxes because we brought in the largest tax cut in Canadian history in 2000, the five-year $100 million tax cut.

There is no question that we need to attract investment in this country. We need to have a vision and say to the world that we are open for business and prepared to welcome those companies that are on the leading edge. That is why corporate taxes are important.

I certainly believe in foreign investment. There is a difference, of course, between foreign investment and foreign ownership.

Sometimes across the aisle the Conservatives talk about the GST, the terrible tax. The reality is that consumption taxes, as any economist will tell them, are not the way to go. Even the Fraser Institute told them that. The CAW told them that, but they know better. When my constituents are buying a pair of blue jeans, I am sure they are delighted to get a 1% reduction, but not too many people are buying yachts or luxury vehicles, which is where they would actually save money.

Again, the government talks about economic vision. We have a Minister of Finance who brought Ontario to its knees with a $6 billion deficit when he was the minister of finance there. It is not surprising that we do not have the kind of vision that we really need when it comes to dealing with the economy and with real issues.

We have heard before about health care. We have heard about the lack of progress on wait times. Again, there is a failure to lead. The Conservatives talk about 13 years, but in the almost two years that they have been in office there has been a failure to lead and a failure to provide a vision to Canadians.

The Conservatives said that we would have peace in our time with the provinces, but now what do we have? They had more provinces angry with them after the budget than they did when they went in. Clearly, they do not understand.

It is a small government. It is a government that believes in reducing the role of the national government instead of saying that we can be leaders, not only at home but abroad, and work with our partners. The provinces are out there are saying they need to deal with these issues in a collaborative way, but for them it is the highway or no way. That seems to be what the Conservatives like to put forward.

The Conservatives spend all this money and yet they fail to invest. Canadians are not bribed: they know that these people do not have the ability to deal with crumbling infrastructure, nor do they have the ability to deal with the issues on innovation. Therefore, this is of grave concern.

When the next election occurs, whenever that occurs, we are going to see a very pronounced difference between this side of the House and that side of the House when it comes to leadership, when it comes to investment, and when it comes to understanding our cities, our communities and our rural areas. Again, there is a failure to lead.

Immigration is another issue. More and more of our workers will come from abroad, yet again there is a failure to lead on that issue. There is a failure to create that kind of collaborative role with provinces and municipal governments in order to integrate foreign workers. Again, it is a failure.

One simple example of just not being prepared is the passport issue. We saw tremendous lineups. Why? Because the government failed to prepare. The Conservatives knew they would need to have extra people to be online and to support the thousands of applications, yet again it was a failure to lead.

I get tired of hearing that side of the House saying that we did not do this or that. The reality is that we did a heck of a lot. The Conservatives need to look in the mirror. They need to look at what they have not done and at what they have not delivered. They continue to talk about the past. They are in government. They need to start leading, but maybe that is too much to ask of a government which really believes that we should be smaller and less involved in trying to promote this country, both at home and abroad.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am curious about how the Liberals keep changing their position on the GST over time. Now they are talking about what a great tax it was. In 1993 they promised to get rid of it. One of their leadership candidates, who is now their critic for foreign affairs, said things like this: that he would just as soon that the Liberals “got rid of the GST”. He said, “I have not given up on” the Liberals keeping their promise and “getting rid of the GST”.

Does the member support what Mr. Rae has to say about getting rid of the GST? I realize that one month the Liberals support it and the next month they do not, but what is their position today?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the member had checked the record, he would know that we talked about harmonizing the GST with provincial sales taxes. By the way, the government just tried to do that recently with the province of Ontario, but because of bad faith, unfortunately, it did not go ahead.

We talked about harmonizing the tax, not eliminating the tax. As for what would happen with harmonization, if the member were to read the record very carefully, he would know that this was and continues to be the position of the Liberal Party, and that when it comes to dealing with tax cuts, again, income tax cuts are the way to go. That party talks about wanting to reduce taxes, but the best way to go is obviously to reduce income tax and put more money in people's pockets.

Again, on the GST, $5 billion to $6 billion a year in the national treasury does not have that effect. The Conservatives should know that. They should see what other countries have done and which way they have gone. Clearly, it has not been by way of the elimination of a consumption tax.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not noted in this place for giving a lot of credit to Liberals, but in this case I am very impressed with the member's speech. He talked about the fact that there is a need for a manufacturing strategy. As for the way he spoke on investment, I found that very interesting too.

I have a question for the member. For reinvestment and for the income tax cuts he is talking about, we have an opportunity today with the motion to amend to get rid of clause 181, which will end these corporate tax giveaways. Will the Liberal Party be supporting that amendment today?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments. The simple answer is no. The answer is no because, again, we believe in the kinds of corporate taxes that create jobs. I know the member is very concerned about jobs in his community and in fact across the country. We on this side of the House think it is very important that these companies reinvest. In dealing with taxes, there has to be an overall tax management approach. We cannot just simply deal with one aspect, in this case the one in clause 181.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that our colleague is a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Certainly, Canadian cities have been crying out for the government to take serious action and deal with the infrastructure needs of our communities and cities, yet the government has failed.

Could my hon. colleague comment on some of the concerns he has heard from his colleagues and from municipalities?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, with an infrastructure deficit of $123 billion, the member is absolutely correct. When the Conservatives were in office from 1984 to 1993, they had the opportunity to take the FCM program on infrastructure at that time and adopt it. They did not, so they have no credibility on infrastructure.

There is no question about it. We are seeing bridges collapse. We are seeing road problems. What the FCM has announced is just to deal with existing infrastructure issues. It does not even look at the future.

I think it is an important issue. This is why we are the party that understands urban Canada in particular and of course rural Canada because of our caucus members. We certainly want to work on this with people across the aisle, but they have to get it. They do not get it on this issue.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand today to speak to the amendment that my party has proposed on the economic update statement delivered by the government. Of course, our amendment speaks directly to one aspect of the bill, not all aspects. It speaks to the aspect of the bill that we find most troubling.

We are only being consistent. We were only being consistent in 2005. At that time, we saved the Liberal government from imminent defeat by forcing it to retract a corporate tax cut it was proposing. We had the money reinvested in many programs, some of which are programs that the Conservative Party has taken much credit for over the last while in regard to the few things it has thrown out to people in Canada in terms of housing and post-secondary education.

Our position is very consistent. It has carried forward over the years. It has carried through different governments. Why is it like that? One reason, quite clearly, is that it is different from that of the other two parties that sit here.

The other two parties that sit here represent corporate interests. In their desire to represent those corporate interests, they have been bidding down the tax system in this country over many years. They have been bidding it down in order to hold the respect and the support of the corporate system in their efforts to get re-elected and hold on to power in this country.

Recently, the leader of the Liberal Party said the Liberals would be moving to the left with a platform that would include measures to aid students in paying for post-secondary tuition, to combat poverty and to support seniors. In order to do that, we need revenue. As a person who came up through the municipal side, and having been a mayor for many years, I know that collecting revenue is the only way that we can institute programs to provide services to people.

The cuts proposed by the Conservatives in their last budget and in this budget update are massive. They stand next to the ones that we just heard about from my Liberal colleague from Richmond Hill, who spoke of the $100 billion that the Liberals gave up to tax cuts in the early part of this decade.

These tax cuts are in the order of $190 billion over the next five years. Of that $190 billion, where is it coming from? Our numbers show that with full implementation of the corporate tax cuts proposed by the government, by 2012 this figure would amount to $12 billion a year. Let us compare it to the GST cuts. The GST cuts now cost about $5 billion a year per percentage reduction, so we are going to see a $10 billion reduction through the GST cuts. On personal tax cuts, the estimate is that they will amount to only $8.4 billion over a six year period, so they are really not the issue that is of key importance here in terms of raising revenue for the government to deliver the services that Canadians require.

Therefore, when we stand up and say we do not support corporate tax cuts, we do that for a very good reason. Let us look at the profit in the Canadian corporate system, where one-half of the corporate pre-tax profits come from the financial sector and the booming oil, gas and mining sector. Half of the money that we are giving up here comes from two sectors in our economy that are not likely to leave. They are not likely to relocate to some other jurisdiction. They are essentially part of the Canadian economy. The rest of the corporate interests right across this country, from small businesses to large, make up the other percentage.

What we in the NDP say when it comes to providing incentives in the economy is that we need to send those incentives in the directions that are required. We do not need blanket corporate tax cuts that do nothing to answer the questions that our colleague from the Bloc raised earlier about the forest industry and the manufacturing sector. Corporate tax cuts do not do it. We are saying no to these cuts and we are hoping that others in the House will see the logic of that and join us in this effort.

Over the last six months, I took the time to look at the mining industry in the Northwest Territories because I felt it was very important to understand its impact. I also did it because the federal government has the final say on all mineral development in the north and makes the decisions about royalties and the direction of investments that may occur as a result of that.

Right now the diamond industry does not need tax cuts. It needs directed investment in infrastructure that can deliver more profit and royalties and can make a better deal for Canadians out of the resource being extracted in that region. Tax cuts will not accomplish that. Tax cuts will not build electrical transmission lines to the Slave Geological Province so we can reduce the costs of the fossil fuels burned to provide energy for the mines. Tax cuts will not build the highways required to get supplies to those areas. None of those will be accomplished through tax cuts. Those things will be accomplished through government investment in infrastructure that is required to produce more profit for government through increased royalties and taxation.

There is a role in this country for directed investment and I see it quite clearly in my area. When we looked at the opportunity for profits and to expand the diamond mining industry, we saw that there was a role for the federal government in establishing a national diamond strategy. The diamond industry needs a national diamond strategy. Diamond mines are being opened in Ontario and Nunavut. Opportunities also exist in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Mining diamonds represents about 10% to 15% of the value of this resource. The way things are going in Canada, we are letting the rest of the value in this very large sector escape the country. This is because the Liberals have a laissez-faire or marketplace attitude toward investment and the Conservatives have the same ideology going on. They are not allowing us as a country to maximize the return from our resources and allowing us to say that we have an interest in making that happen.

Corporate tax cuts will not do that for us. That is not directed investment. That is not what we need right now. Let us get serious. Let us forget the ideology that drives those two larger parties, which may not be so large after the next election, to continue the way they are going.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to a couple of things that the member said. He talked about ideologically driven parties. I think there is none more so than the NDP and particularly its unbalanced fiscal policies.

We have seen what happens when the NDP comes to power. We have seen what happened in Ontario. We have a former NDP premier who virtually destroyed his province and then wanted to be the federal leader of the Liberal Party. We had an example in British Columbia where the NDP came to power and left that province struggling for years.

There is no better example than my home province of Saskatchewan. The question is often asked as to whether the NDP's fiscal policies have permanently damaged the province's ability to be what it should be.

Those of us in the federal Conservative Party take a much different approach and a much more positive approach than our NDP friends in the House here.

I believe the member was mentioning some of the tax cuts. I want to talk about some of the legislation that we have brought in and get his response.

We are all familiar with the income tax cuts that we brought in and the fact that those cuts will make a difference for every taxpaying Canadian. Everyone knows that we kept our promise on the GST by reducing it by 2%. We have reduced corporate taxes, which the NDP opposed. We have brought in the child tax benefit to benefit children across this country. We brought in a tax credit for working folks, which gives them an opportunity to benefit from the changes we have made. We have brought in capital gains exemptions. We have brought in an accelerated depreciation, which benefits our manufacturing sector.

Rather than the very narrow and limited financial ideology that the NDP has, we have one that actually reaches out to all Canadians. It reaches across the board and gives everyone a break from the overtaxation that was previously in place because of the Liberal government.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, there was not much of a question there but there was a lot of historical inaccuracies.

We have to look at what happened when the New Democratic Party took over in Saskatchewan from the most corrupt government that Saskatchewan ever had, a Conservative government that ran it into the ground, that is its record.

We can go back in history to look at the kinds of things that have gone on in government. However, what we are saying here is that the government will be taking $12 billion out of the system by 2012. That needs better emphasis. The government is taking that money, throwing it in the air and allowing it to fall anywhere.

We need to have directed incentives in this economy to help the industries that need help and to move the country forward with infrastructure that can build industry and support industry, rather than this laissez-faire market approach that has driven this country for 20 years. It has driven our energy industry to the point where by 2020 we will be importing natural gas to heat our homes. What kind of a strategy was that? What kind of effort was that? I think the shame of that should stand in front of this Parliament.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River should know that in one minute I will cut him off.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, some of us can say in one minute what many other members may take fifteen minutes to say.

A few minutes ago in question period I asked the government a question about what plans it had to address the issues in the beleaguered forest industry. Much to the chagrin of the House, the question was not answered. The hon. member read from perhaps some campaign literature or something extolling the virtues of all the good things that are happening, and, in spite of the fact that I was very specific about the mill closures in northwestern Ontario and throughout Canada, my question was not answered.

The government clearly does not have a plan for forestry. If we are going to get anywhere, the government must understand that when 1,100 families are without work this Christmas that is just this month's bad news.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, once again, I really cannot respond to questions unless I understand the direction that is being taken.

I appreciate the member's concern about the forest industry. I think we need a massive strategy in the forest industry to drive new investment.

Last night I met with the manager of Tembec. We had a very good conversation about how we could actually work within the industry.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The Chair would like to take a moment to provide some information to the House regarding the management of private members' business.

After a replenishment of the Order of Precedence, the Chair has developed the practice of reviewing the items there so that the House can be alerted to bills which, at first glance, appear to involve spending. The aim of this practice is to allow interested members the opportunity to intervene in a timely fashion to present their views about the need for a Royal Recommendation.

Accordingly, following the November 23 replenishment of the order of precedence with 15 new items, I wish to inform the House that one bill, Bill C-474 the national sustainable development act, standing in the name of the hon. member for Don Valley West, gives the Chair concern as to the spending provisions it contemplates.

I would encourage hon. members who would like to make arguments regarding the need of a royal recommendation in this case, that is Bill C-474, or in the case of any other bill now on the order of precedence, to do so at an early opportunity.

I thank the House for its attention.

It being 1:32 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that the motivation for this proposed legislation is highly laudable. My hon. colleague's intentions in pursuing this project so diligently are commendable.

What is also clear given all we know about the likelihood of labelling having the desired outcomes is that Bill C-251 will not achieve its intended results.

The evidence presented to the Standing Committee on Health in 2005, on a nearly identical bill, Bill C-206, is unequivocal in concluding that in the absence of a wide range of other strategies to encourage Canadians to engage in safer alcohol use, warning labels alone will not result in an overall reduction in hazardous alcohol consumption or specific risk behaviours, such as drinking and driving or preventing the dangers of FASD.

Today, I want to speak about the unintended consequences which will likely result from mandatory labelling. As has previously been pointed out in interventions before the committee, an organization in Quebec, Éduc'alcool, came to the following conclusion when it looked into the pros and cons of alcohol warning labels:

Reviews and primary studies concerning the impacts of the U.S. alcohol warning label experience, whether written by independent researchers or those employed by the alcohol industry, agree fairly closely that impacts on drinking behaviour are either non-existent or minimal.

What is particularly worrisome is that the legislation proposed might not just fail to accomplish its objectives, but it could actually produce unanticipated and unwelcome consequences that could inflict another form of harm on some of our constituents.

Another huge concern is that the bill, if passed as it currently reads, would mean that all alcohol beverages currently on the market would be in violation of the new law once the bill would be enacted. The legislation would not allow companies adequate time to redesign the labels and implement the labelling requirements. The business community also stressed that Bill C-251 is inflexible in allowing different coming into force dates for small and large businesses. This is a major concern in my constituency as it could potentially cause unnecessary complications for my constituents.

What is vexatious is that interveners speaking on behalf of these regions and industries at the health committee in 2005 acknowledged that such legislation is well intended but misdirected. They worried that it could be detrimental to the economic well-being of people living in areas like mine.

Other points frequently raised are the implementation costs of the bill and its effectiveness. The costs associated with mandatory labelling would be significant, likely in the millions to make, pass and enforce regulations. It is valid to argue that this money could be better spent elsewhere.

The real concern is that the funds badly spent on warning labels might prevent the implementation of a more comprehensive strategy in the future. This House has been told over and over again by the provinces, the food and beverage service industry, as well as groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving that a comprehensive strategy is essential to have a meaningful impact on the problem of alcohol abuse.

The majority of witnesses who have previously appeared before the standing committee have said that many of the established targeted programs currently in place have a much better chance of success than warning labels. There were strong arguments against diverting funds from these proven programs to underwrite the costs of warning labels which have not been proven to have a measurable effect on drinking patterns.

There is also the issue of potential trade and charter challenges which could further impose costs on the government. A representative from the Department of Justice has indicated that a violation of freedom of expression protected under section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would have to be justified under section 1 of the charter, and justification requires evidence that labels work. That evidence is lacking.

Something else to consider is that Canada must ensure it respects its international trade obligations in imposing technical regulations, including labelling requirements, on imported products. These would apply to any regulations to implement the legislation. No such consideration has been made in the creation of this bill as it currently stands.

Mr. Speaker, do not get me wrong. There is no doubt about the dangers of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, and drinking and driving, nor does anyone dispute the detrimental impacts alcohol can have on individuals and their families. However, all of these are problems of abuse or improper use, and based on the evidence presented by an array of expert witnesses, those behaviours are not likely to be changed because of alcohol warning labels.

Furthermore, in its September 2006 report, “Even One is too Many: A Call for a Comprehensive Action Plan for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder”, the Standing Committee on Health did not call for the implementation of warning labels on alcoholic beverage products.

There can be no debate that the Government of Canada takes this problem very seriously with its annual investment of some $100 million in a vast array of prevention, education and treatment programs. There is no question that the health minister is determined to do even more.

The point I am making is that labels cannot solve every behavioural and health problem. It takes a complete, comprehensive plan, properly resourced, put into action.

I can also assure the House that I am not implying that the underlying goals of Bill C-251 lack merit. I have nothing but praise and respect for my hon. colleague's efforts to draw national attention to the problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption. I am simply pointing out that this legislation does not provide the airtight arguments needed for its adoption and that it could unintentionally produce unexpected and undesirable results.

For all these reasons, I am unable to support this bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my turn to rise in the House to discuss Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol).

Before discussing my colleague's bill, I would like to mention something. On Wednesday, as I was telling the House about the situation facing potato producers in my riding, my microphone switched off before I could finish listing the families who have been affected. I would like to mention Marius Messier, his wife, Réjeanne Jussaume, their daughter, Manon, and their son, Michel, who are among the 21 families affected and who are continuing their fight in the hope of finding a very special gift under their Christmas tree: some assurance that they can feel optimistic about the future. I urge them to continue their fight. If, perhaps, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has not yet contacted them because his office has lost their phone numbers, I invite them to call my office, and I will be happy to send their numbers over to the minister again.

And now, back to Bill C-251. I am the second member of my party to talk about this bill. If my colleagues and those listening would like more information about my party's position, I invite them to check the Hansard for the brilliant speech given by my colleague from Québec, the Bloc Québécois health critic. It is my great pleasure to sit with her on the Standing Committee on Health.

It is clear that drinking alcohol can be harmful to people's health. Several factors are involved, including the drinker's age, the amount consumed and the physical condition of the person drinking. Ignoring the guidelines can have a negative impact on people's health. However—and this is what I will try to show—federal and provincial legislatures, including Quebec's legislature, already have regulations governing the consumption and advertising of alcoholic beverages.

First, I would like to mention some restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Quebec, the provinces and the territories have passed various limitations on the sale of alcohol and have also created organizations that not only sell alcoholic beverages, but also control access to those beverages. They have also put in place a system to control alcohol consumption, by issuing licences to sell alcoholic beverages to establishments that meet a number of preset criteria. Quebec, the provinces and the territories have also set minimum ages at which individuals may purchase alcohol.

In addition to these restrictions on the sale of alcohol, there are also a number of restrictions on advertising. Quebec, the provinces, the territories and even the federal government regulate the sale of alcohol. Quebec has also passed a number of acts and regulations establishing rules for the display, promotion and presentation of alcoholic beverages.

As well, Quebec has introduced an approval process for alcohol advertising and education programs. In addition, the CRTC, a federal agency, implemented a Code for Broadcast Advertising, which regulates the presentation of alcoholic beverages.

Speaking of the CRTC, it is clear that this agency acts as a regulator for communications and telecommunications, and in the coming years, the CRTC should be allowed to continue playing this role. However, it seems as though the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages is planning on doing the same thing as her colleague from Industry, who last December issued an order changing the telecommunications rules. We must push to have the CRTC continue to act as a regulator. I would like to read from a speech made by the Minister of Canadian Heritage at the convention of the Association of Canadian Broadcasters:

[There must be] an increased reliance on competition and market forces—

She went on to say:

I challenge you to be open to change—because change will come...The status quo is no longer an option.

However, we should not make changes that will prevent the CRTC from providing an appropriate regulatory framework in order to preserve what our society has achieved in terms of broadcasting and communications.

Naturally, I am expressing an opinion on the specific situation in Quebec with regard to the control of alcoholic beverages. As with a good number of other matters, Quebec has its own mechanisms, different from those of other Canadian provinces, for creating awareness of and preventing the consequences of alcohol consumption. In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to Éduc'alcool, an independent, non-profit organization established in 1989 by the industry and parapublic organizations to set up information, prevention and education programs to help youths and adults to make responsible and enlightened decisions about alcohol consumption.

Éduc'alcool provides various programs with an annual budget of almost $2 million derived from contributions by partners in the alcoholic beverage industry, the Société des alcools du Québec and private donors.

With regard to Bill C-251, which we are currently debating, the Bloc Québécois acknowledges that alcohol consumption can have devastating consequences and that Quebeckers and Canadians must be made aware of the risks of inappropriate alcohol consumption.

However, the Bloc Québécois notes that preventive measures already exist in Quebec, in particular the Éduc'alcool awareness programs. Other measures include discouraging alcohol consumption by pregnant women, prenatal courses, and SAAQ awareness campaigns—particularly spot checks—to change the attitude of pregnant women and drivers.

The Bloc Québécois notes that several microbreweries and other producers of alcoholic beverages already invest respectable amounts in awareness and prevention campaigns.

The Bloc Québécois believes that it is possible to meet the same objectives, and even to extend prevention campaigns to other groups, by introducing more effective measures to reduce the incidence of unfortunate consequences of alcohol consumption without imposing a heavy burden on microbreweries, brewers and other producers of alcoholic beverages who already invest in programs for the prevention and awareness of the effects of alcohol.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-251, a bill that would place labels on bottles for substances containing 1% alcohol. I come from the Northwest Territories where labels have been on bottles for almost 20 years. Therefore, I feel somewhat enlightened on this issue in comparison to many other places in the country.

People in the Northwest Territories have struggled with alcohol issues for a long period of time. There are higher rates of consumption and incarceration. The criminal justice system is taken up with alcohol related issues. We can say what we want about other substance abuse, but the RCMP that polices us and the justice system that enforces penalties speak clearly with one voice. They say that alcohol is the substantive problem within the Northwest Territories.

In the last boom in the Arctic in the seventies, a boom that was artificially enhanced by the super-depletion allowance given to oil and gas companies to explore for oil and gas, we saw an incredible increase in fetal alcohol syndrome disorders in children. In some cases, schools were reporting that over 30% of children could be identified as perhaps having a fetal alcohol effect or fetal alcohol syndrome. This was an enormous problem and a heartbreaking problem in the lives of people. It created cost to society from birth onward. It caused family problems. It had an enormous impact on the population.

Therefore, 20 years ago we put labels on bottles to identify alcohol content for young women who may have drank for the first time or people who did not understand the impact of it. These labels would at least give women some indication that they were putting something very valuable and important at risk if they drank while pregnant. Over the years this action, along with others, has somewhat helped the situation with alcohol abuse in the Northwest Territories. It did not help completely, by no means.

We have also instituted rules that allow individual communities to ban alcohol consumption or to make decisions about alcohol rationing. We have done many things to try to combat the problem because we see the impact on society and in families, and it is still very much the case.

When it comes to supporting labels on bottles for the rest of the country, it is a great idea. The way it is done in the Northwest Territories is pretty simple. The bottles go into liquor stores and the owners and workers have a device similar to a device to put prices on a bottle but with a slightly larger imprint and they put a label on a bottle. It is a simple process, it is not costly and it is effective in providing information to people about the nature of the impact of the content in the bottle.

Six years ago the House voted overwhelmingly for a motion by one of my colleagues from Winnipeg North to put warning labels on bottles of alcohol. However, in the intervening years both the Liberal and Conservative governments have ignored the will of Parliament. I find that strange and unsettling. We have to take account when private members' bill and motions come forward and are supported by Parliament as a whole for the good of the people of Canada. We have to follow up on these things.

One private member's initiative, which I respect, was brought forward by a Conservative member. It took the material out of cigarettes that kept them burning after they were put in an ashtray or when it fell out of somebody's hands onto a bed, which caused so many fires and deaths in the country. We got that law and finally after years and years, we changed the system in our country to protect people. It saves lives.

Here we have another private member's bill that pleads with the House and with the government to follow through with things that are good for Canadians. Why are we not going with it? Why are we not making this effort? Why do we have this inertia in the system? Why can we not be more accommodating to the will of Parliament?

On the other side, we could put warning labels about drinking and driving. We could encourage educate people in this regard. We entirely support Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but let us help people understand that drinking and driving is wrong. They can look at the bottle and see, “When you drink this, do not drive, get a cab”.

What is wrong with those kinds of instructions to society? For those who like their $20 bottles of wine, is it demeaning to see a label on the side of it? Have we wrecked the ambience of the drink by putting a label on the bottle? That is part of what we do.

When we put those rather obscene labels on packages of cigarettes, they were a good indicator. They show people what happens, what the results of the overuse of the tobacco product are. We do not argue about them anymore. They are there. Let us do the same thing with alcohol. Let us recognize that. Let us put the labels on the bottles. Let us do something for Canadians that is useful. Let us not get this caught up in the inertia of Parliament and the special interest groups and all those who stand against the will of the people of our country.

We put warning labels on kites so people do not fly them next to power lines. What a good idea, a little indication to somebody to keep the kite away from the power line. Does that hurt people? No. It is a sensible thing to do.

We put warning labels on coffee cups in case people might burn themselves. My goodness, a burn heals a lot faster than a fetus attacked by alcohol in the womb. A little burn on a leg from a cup of coffee does not match up to a lifetime of misery for a family and for the person who has the particular disease or accident of fetal alcohol syndrome.

I totally support the bill. It works in our territory. I ask the rest of Canada to follow suit.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2007 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging my colleague from Mississauga South for his commitment to this effort, which he continues to show in this important issue both in the last Parliament and in this Parliament. I applaud his efforts to raise awareness about the negative consequences of alcohol use in Canada.

I agree that as a society we need to be vigilant in protecting the most vulnerable from damage due to alcohol misuse, and there are no more vulnerable than our unborn children, and those born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, also known as FASD.

Throughout their lives, they will often be faced with and cope with the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, and these children can be condemned to lives of missed opportunities and, in essence, outright despair.

Among the common symptoms of the disability are a range of social and behavioural problems, which put affected individuals at an increased risk of dropping out of school and make them far more likely to be unemployed, victimized, homeless or to end up in prison.

As profound as the impact may be for the affected individuals and their families, the cost of FASD is also steep for society. Canadian taxpayers will spend approximately $1.5 million over the lifetime of each of these individuals in extra health, education, welfare, policing and criminal justice system costs.

Consider that given the incidence of 9.1 cases of FASD per 1,000 births, there are estimated 280,000 people in Canada currently living with this preventable disability.

As worthy as the goals are, studies have shown to date that alcohol warning labels do not reach or positively impact those most at risk.

There is very compelling evidence to suggest that alcohol warning labels would not result in a reduction of hazardous alcohol consumption or reach specific populations regarding risk-taking behaviours such as drinking during pregnancy or drinking and driving.

There have been other private members' bills on alcohol warning labels since 1987. For example, prior to Bill C-251 there was Bill C-206.

Bill C-206, like previous bills, was not supported by the House as the evidence presented to it was unequivocal. Warning labels on alcohol beverage containers are not effective in changing the drinking behaviours of at risk or vulnerable populations.

This was the resounding all-party consensus reached at committee hearings on Bill C-206, the predecessor to Bill C-251. While laudable, the objectives behind Bill C-251 are not likely to be achieved through warning labels.

I firmly believe that supporting alcohol warning labels would divert taxpayer dollars away from effective interventions such as prevention, awareness and education, to an approach that lacks real evidence of success.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight how the Government of Canada is currently working to reduce the negative consequences of alcohol use through proven prevention, education and awareness interventions.

Led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the federal fetal alcohol spectrum disorder initiative seeks to prevent future births of those affected by alcohol and improve outcomes for individuals and families already affected.

This work is accomplished in a number of ways.

First, by raising awareness and educating Canadians and health care and allied professionals about the harms related to FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Second, by developing a strong evidence base to inform decisions by relevant jurisdictions.

Third, by translating knowledge and producing tools to help build capacity within communities across Canada.

This initiative receives funding in the amount of $5 million annually. Of this amount $3.3 million goes to the Public Health Agency while the remaining $1.7 million is given to Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

We know that addressing FASD is a shared responsibility. I am pleased to report that the Public Health Agency of Canada has assumed a leadership role and is working with its health portfolio partners, other federal departments and agencies, the provinces and territories, first nations, as well as a host of community based partners.

I think real progress has been achieved to date and I would like to take a few minutes to highlight a few of the examples.

In 2005 national guidelines for diagnosing FASD were published following extensive consultation. These guidelines represent a crucial step for developing both capacity to diagnose FASD and standard procedures for FASD diagnosis.

In the long term it is anticipated that these guidelines will enhance the collection and reporting of incidence and prevalence data across Canada, so that we will have a much better sense of progress to reduce FASD rates in Canada.

Although we have meaningful estimates on the costs of FASD in Canada, work has begun on the development of a Canadian model for the calculation of the economic impact of FASD. In addition, a call for proposals for the FASD National Strategic Projects Fund was announced in January 2007.

These projects, being funded from this call, will build toward enhanced prevention and diagnosis and, eventually, the availability of incidence data.

Unfortunately, some segments of the Canadian population are more at risk of alcohol-related harm. For example, some first nations people and Inuit are at greater risk of experiencing some form of alcohol-related harm in their daily lives.

For this reason, Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch receives $15 million in annual funding from the Government of Canada's early childhood development strategy to support FASD programs. This amount is in addition to the $1.7 million in funding under the federal FASD initiative.

The sum of this funding, nearly $17 million, is used to reduce the number of FASD births and improve the quality of life for those affected in first nations and Inuit communities.

With this funding, communities are supported to undertake various activities that build awareness, develop targeted interventions to support high-risk women to stop or reduce alcohol use while pregnant, enter collaborative work with communities to address the broader determinants of health, provide education and training for front line workers and health professionals, and facilitate access to earlier diagnosis. Progress has been made in all of these areas.

A recent opinion survey showed that 94% of first nations and 86% of Inuit were aware of FASD, and awareness is a start.

Community asset mapping has helped many communities identify their strengths and develop a plan of action. There are now mentoring programs for at-risk women in 32 first nations communities.

All regions have provided training sessions for front line workers and health professionals. For example, in Quebec, 90% of first nations communities participate in education and training activities related to the prevention of FASD in 2005/2006.

Community coordinator positions are being established, so that first nations and Inuit communities can increase family access to diagnostic health teams.

And our efforts do not stop there. Since 2000, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has invested approximately $3.7 million into research around prevention, treatment and diagnosis of FASD.

This action has expanded the knowledge base about the biological mechanisms underlying alcohol's adverse effects on the developing fetus and its long-term health effects.

Clearly, momentum is building across this country to address many of the challenges Bill C-251 proposes to resolve.

Taken together, these activities represent a comprehensive approach to reduce the risks and tragic consequences of alcohol abuse. As witness after witness told the Standing Committee on Health during examination of Bill C-206, that is exactly what is needed if we are to produce meaningful results.

The evidence presented before the committee at that time demonstrated that fully integrated and concerted prevention, awareness, and education interventions are the most effective ways to address challenges, and that was clearly indicated in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Health.

In closing, I would like to express again my sincere appreciation for my hon. colleague's commitment to this issue. However, I believe the evidence is clear. Alcohol warning labels will not bring about the results we all wish to achieve. For this reason, I am unable to support this bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-251 was inspired by a report from the health committee in June 1992 called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”, in which the committee recommended health warning labels on containers of alcoholic beverages to caution consumers that consumption may impair one's ability to operate machinery and equipment and may harm the fetus during pregnancy.

Members will note that Bill C-251 is only one clause long. I do not know where everybody gets all these intents that it is supposed to have; it is one clause long. It deliberately leaves all the details required for the label to be prescribed by governor in council. That means the precise wording, form, size and label, together with other details necessary to enact the bill, will be provided in regulations of the bill. In other words, it is entirely up to the Minister of Health.

The idea is to put on a warning label and that is it: to caution. Does it achieve its goal? Darn right. Does it solve every alcohol problem? No, but the members are arguing, for some odd reason, that it does not achieve what they want it to achieve rather than whether it achieves what the bill intends to achieve, which is to be a consumer lighthouse cautioning impending danger. That is what it is.

Beverage alcohol is the only consumer product in Canada that can harm us if misused and that does not warn us of that fact. That is the bottom line.

Each year, alcohol plays a role in thousands of premature deaths, preventable injuries and prenatal brain damage and is associated with increased risk of cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, homicide, suicide, motor vehicle, boat and snowmobile crashes, falls, fires, and drownings. Moreover, higher rates of consumption are associated with increased mental illness, increased crime, and reduced worker productivity.

These translate into human loss of devastating proportions and an economic toll of billions and billions of dollars each year in Canada. It is estimated that alcohol misuse costs Canada approximately $15 billion in health care, law enforcement and lost productivity.

I can tell members that I know the personal cost of alcohol misuse. Alcohol misuse took away my father at a very young age when his family really needed him. I do not need to have lectures from members about how important it is to deal with alcohol.

The fact is that we have not done anything in the last 12 years. That is why I have been fighting for this for the last 12 years. The members have absolutely no conception of the damage that alcohol has done to Canada over these 12 years. With all of the programs that have been run for the last 12 years, with all these programs that the beverage alcohol industry says it is doing, if we look at the numbers, we will see that the numbers have gone up.

It is getting worse in Canada, not better. It is time to do something different. It is time to act. Let us see whether parliamentarians are prepared to respond to what Canadians say. Health Canada commissioned the Environics study in 2006 and the parliamentary secretary knows it: 87% of Canadians approved of requiring warning labels; 97% approved of government sponsored advertising; 95% approved of warning messages on alcohol advertising; 85% approved of warning signs in bars and clubs; and 85% approved of warning signs in restaurants.

Canadians are overwhelmingly in support of health warning labels as a caution, just like there is for any other consumer product that can harm us if misused. That is what they are asking for. They are not asking whether or not a label is going to solve every problem related to alcohol.

Members have to get with it. It is time for Parliament to get with it if we believe that the carnage associated with alcohol misuse is worth looking at. There are 20 countries that already have this. Since the last time I spoke to this in May of this year, five more, South Africa, Ireland, Tasmania, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K., all also have said that they are now going to move forward with health warning labels.

If 26 countries are prepared to have warning labels on their beverage alcohol containers because of the carnage it causes, why is it that Canada is going to sit back and do nothing? It is not acceptable.

Canadians support it. I am asking parliamentarians to look in their hearts and send the bill to committee to find out why these other countries are doing it and we are not.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?