Mr. Speaker, I am tremendously relieved, as I am sure most members of this House are, to actually get on with what you were just referring to, that is, democracy.
The government House leader deserves a great deal of credit for recognizing how important this is, and that is what my speech today will be reflecting, the fact that this is indeed very important. We heard many interventions this morning and again this afternoon suggesting that this was not important. My suggestion would be to tell that to the provincial leaders, to tell that to the elected members of the Ontario legislature, the elected members of the British Columbia legislature. British Columbia is actually debating this now. They need confirmation, they need assurance. Businesses need to know what the taxation system in their province is going to be. Provincial governments need to know with assurance how they will be collecting their taxes in the coming years. Therefore it is indeed very important, and this House and this government is absolutely seized with that.
Therefore, thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to begin this debate on this very important motion. The motion begins a process that would allow the federal parliament to affirm a fundamentally straightforward principle, that provincial taxation is a provincial responsibility and, as such, that provinces should have the freedom to choose the model of taxation they decide best suits their province. It is that simple. It is a motion allowing the federal Parliament to demonstrate basic respect for provincial autonomy and to facilitate provincial choice, including a move to a harmonized value added tax.
Presently in Canada different provinces have adopted different models with respect to their sales taxes. Currently, five provinces have sales taxes; four provinces have a value added tax or a variation thereof; and one province has neither, that being my own province.
What is important is that these provinces have the freedom to choose what model suits them best: a sales tax, a value added tax, or neither. We support that freedom and we believe that all provinces should be treated equally. All should have the right to make their own decisions with respect to provincial taxation, including the right to adopt a harmonized value added tax.
I note that the previous Liberal federal government, under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and then finance minister Paul Martin, first facilitated that decision of the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador to harmonize new value added taxes with the federal value added tax in the 1990s.
We believe that all provinces should have similar freedom to make their own decision.
Recently, two more provincial governments, specifically, British Columbia and Ontario, decided to make a similar decision and to replace their sales taxes with a harmonized value added tax.
Again, as all members of this House should know, let me underline that at the end of the day, provincial governments alone make this decision.
As the current Liberal member for Vancouver South, a former premier of British Columbia, recently noted:
Ultimately it is the decision of the provincial government whether or not to do HST.
Or listen to the current Liberal member for Toronto Centre, a former premier of Ontario. He noted that it was up to provinces to decide whether they wanted to proceed with a harmonized tax. He said:
It's a decision for them, not for us.
Let me repeat and emphasize that last part: “It is a decision for them, not for us”, referring to the federal government here in Ottawa.
Indeed, let me quickly read into the record statements underscoring that very sentiment that were made recently by both current premiers and both current finance ministers of the provinces in question.
The Premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, said:
This is a matter of provincial autonomy. It is simply saying that British Columbia and Ontario will get the same kind of opportunities they have had for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.… This is important to our future as a province. When I hear leading economists across the country saying this is the most important thing we can do for our economy in British Columbia, for our forest industry, our mining industry, and they've defined this themselves, not me, as the most important thing we can do as they move into the 21st century, I'm willing to stand on that.
The Finance Minister of British Columbia, Colin Hansen, said:
The question MPs have to ask themselves is not whether they like or don't like the HST, it's whether or not they will honour a request from the provinces of B.C. and Ontario.
The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, said:
The people of Ontario aren't so much interested in the interplay between the various parties on Parliament Hill, they're interested in their future....
I am counting on all members of the House of Commons...to understand how important this is to the people of Ontario.
The Finance Minister of Ontario, Dwight Duncan, said:
I fully expect and hope the parliament of Canada will honour the wishes of the duly elected governments of Ontario and British Columbia
To summarize what both premiers and both finance ministers are requesting is very straightforward. It is clear that they simply both endorse the commonly accepted principle that provincial taxation and changes made to it are indeed a provincial responsibility. Moreover, provinces must be allowed the opportunity and freedom to adopt whatever model of taxation they deem fit. This is not complicated, and we fully support and recognize, as does the Liberal Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois, their provincial autonomy in this matter.
If any member of the House, specifically the members of the NDP, do not fully recognize or respect that concept of provincial autonomy, I believe the proper course of action for them is to follow the lead of their former NDP colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, Dawn Black, or their former NDP colleague from Elmwood—Transcona, Bill Blaikie, and run provincially in their respective provincial legislative assemblies.
Again, we fully support the right of a province to adopt whatever model of taxation it chooses, including a harmonized value added tax. However, as was the case when Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador decided to make the transition over a decade ago under the Chrétien government, a technical legislative change was required to support a move to a harmonized value added tax.
To facilitate such a transition in a fair and consistent manner, we will be proposing technical tax legislation to implement a provincial choice tax framework, to be equally available to any province that chooses to move to a fully harmonized value added tax. This technical legislative change to recognize provincial choice will require parliamentary approval. As British Columbia and Ontario are currently undertaking a significant restructuring of their economies on the basis of that, this federal Parliament must act quickly. Uncertainty and delay are not an option.
Unnecessary delays would be unfair to business, unfair to provincial governments and their employees, unacceptable to consumers and unhelpful to Canada's international competitiveness. Again, this is not a difficult decision: either Parliament supports the right of provinces to choose their own model of taxation, including moving to a harmonized value added tax; or it does not.
This motion will allow Parliament to make the decision in a timely manner and confirm the right of provinces to choose freely without federal intervention. A timely decision will provide certainty for businesses and provinces, certainty they deserve and that we can provide them.
Before concluding, let me turn my attention to the federal New Democratic Party. We will hear some strange things from it, I might argue, and I think we already have; but in the days going forward we will hear some more about their record on taxation and their opinion of taxes.
From the start, let me set the record straight. The NDP does not and has never believed Canadian families should pay less tax. The NDP has voted against, criticized and mocked every single tax cut our Conservative government has ever introduced. That is the NDP record.
Unlike the NDP, our Conservative government believes that leaving more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians is the right thing to do and we have the record to prove it, unlike the NDP. Since coming to office in 2006, we have, in fact, cut over 100 taxes, reducing taxes in every way government collects it: personal, consumption, business, excise taxes and more. We have removed almost 950,000 low-income Canadians completely from the tax roll. We reduced the overall tax burden to its lowest level in almost 50 years. That all translates into substantial tax savings for individuals and families.
As an example, families with incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 will receive tax relief in 2009 on an average of nearly $650, while families with incomes in the $80,000 to $100,000 range will receive on average a tax reduction of over $2,200. The NDP voted against these Conservative measures and protested every single step of the way.
Let us review the actions we have taken to reduce taxes on individuals, families and businesses by an estimated $220 billion over 2008-09 and the following five fiscal years. We ensured all Canadians, even those who do not earn enough to pay personal income tax, benefited from the 2% reduction in the GST rate. The NDP voted against that.
We ensured all taxpayers benefited from personal income tax relief which included reducing the lowest personal tax rate to 16% and increasing the basic amount that all Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax. Again, the NDP voted against that.
We introduced the new tax free savings account to improve incentives to save through a flexible, registered general purpose account, a policy initiative generally heralded as the most important tax measure included in this area since the RRSP that allows Canadians to earn tax free investment income. Once again, the NDP voted against that.
The recession fighting, job creating home renovation tax credit introduced last January, guess what? The NDP voted against it. We introduced significant tax relief to position Canadian businesses for success--