Mr. Speaker, it was only three days ago that I spoke in the House on the labour dispute between striking members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference and the Canadian National Railway. At that time, we were being asked to pass a motion that would expedite the passage of back-to-work legislation, legislation that at the time, we had not even seen yet. How can we do that? How can the House vote on something it has not seen, something it has not been able to analyze, something it has not been able to discuss in our party caucuses.
I suppose coming from the Conservatives, the party where independent political thinking is rarely apparent and never encouraged, that should not be surprising. The Prime Minister muzzles MPs in his own caucus and tells them what they can say, when and where.
In our caucus, though, we actually want to see the bills we will be voting on before we come into the House to debate them. All too often with the government, they contain poison pills that are not apparent from a cursory review. I do not need to remind members in the House about the purported economic recovery bill that included sections gutting pay equity, killing the court challenges program and other provisions that had nothing to do with helping us get out of the current recession.
Asking us to vote on something before we have even seen it is simply not on. In fact, it is contempt of our rights as members of Parliament, it is contempt of Parliament and it is contempt of the citizens of Canada who sent us here to give voice to their concerns and aspirations.
Here we are in a different context being asked to do the same thing again. Again we are in the situation where we have not had a chance to review the legislation or analyze it in detail, but we certainly know what is at stake. We may not know the details of the legislation, but we are fully aware of the devastating impact that the HST will have on hard-working families and seniors in our country. This is the wrong tax in the wrong hands at the wrong time.
The HST continues the pattern under successive federal Conservative and Liberal governments of pursuing policies that boost returns to a privileged corporate elite on the flimsy excuse that they will use those returns to benefit the rest of them. Three decades of growing income inequality in the country prove those premises false. Every person I have talked to in my riding of Hamilton Mountain understands that reality.
I have asked what they would say if I told them that the federal Conservative government was bribing the provincial Liberal government to raise their taxes by 8%. It sounds crazy does it not? That is exactly what is happening with the introduction of the new harmonized sales tax.
In the 2009-10 provincial budget, the McGuinty Liberals announced that they would be harmonizing the provincial sales tax with the federal government's goods and services tax, effective July 1, 2010. This change will hurt Ontario families because many items that we need and use every day, from gas and electricity, to cellphones and the Internet, will now be subject to a full 8% tax increase at the point of purchase.
Let me list some of the items that will now cost 8% more because of the imposition of the HST: gasoline, utilities such as heating, hydro and natural gas, vitamins, Internet bills, cellphone bills, snow removal, magazines, adult footwear under $30, camping fees, admissions to things like pools, taking pets to the vet, personal services like hair stylists, professional services like lawyers and accountants, membership fees for things like the gym, green fees, commercial property rentals, landscaping, postal stamps and courier fees, taxi fares, drycleaning, carpet cleaning, funeral costs, labour costs related to home renovations, motor vehicle services like towing or car washing, ice rink rentals and domestic air, rail and commercial bus tickets. All those things will now cost Ontarians 8% more.
As if this blatant tax grab were not bad enough, it may never have happened had the federal Conservative government not bribed its provincial Liberal counterparts to introduce it in the first place. Apparently, Dalton McGuinty was reluctant to introduce such an unfair tax during the recession, so the federal finance minister urged him along by offering the Ontario government an additional $4.3 billion of federal tax money to introduce the new tax increase.
That is right. The federal tax dollars from seniors and hard-working families are hard at work buying them a big, fat provincial tax increase. If the federal government thinks that it can do this with impunity and that the victims of its tax policies will not notice if it does it quickly, it is dead wrong. I have never had as much feedback on a proposed piece of legislation as I have on the HST.
I want to share some of those responses with members here today.
First, let me make one other point absolutely clear. This is not an issue where business is on one side and Canadian citizens are on the other. Thousands of business are also profoundly worried about the impact of this tax.
I had the privilege of being invited to an annual get-together by the Concession Street Business Improvement Association in my riding of Hamilton Mountain. This association represents small businesses on the oldest commercial street in my riding. I had barely been there five minutes when the president of the BIA made it absolutely clear that he is 100% opposed to this tax.
The additional cost imposed on his operations, on everything from heat and electricity to the cost of transportation, will make it increasingly difficult for his family-run business to survive. That sentiment was echoed by dozens of other businesses represented at that event. This tax spells trouble for small businesses.
It is not just on Concession Street that businesses are concerned. Let me share with the House just some of the emails I have received.
One says the following:
I am writing to you to raise concerns about the Ontario government's new harmonized sales tax that will be applied to savings.
I have been running a financial advisory business in your riding for over 10 years, serving more than 200 households in our community. My business not only contributes directly to the economy, but also helps local residents plan for and achieve their financial goals.
I'm very concerned about the HST because it is essentially a new tax on savings. The combined 13% tax will directly impact the savings of all Canadians who own investment funds. It will cost Ontario residents hundreds of million of dollars every year in extra taxes that otherwise could be put into their retirement savings.
I find it difficult to understand why this tax is being introduced when there is growing recognition that most Canadians will retire with inadequate incomes. With government looking to deal with this very serious issue, it makes no sense to be raising taxes for people who have taken the initiative to provide for their future. As a financial advisor, I know how hard it is for the average family to save, and they should not be penalized for it.
The GST should never have been applied to investment funds and the HST will significantly expand its harmful impact on Ontario citizens. I urge you to discuss this with the Finance Minister...and to support a fair solution.
Thank you for your attention to this issue. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
That is from Daniel, who works for L&A Financial Group FundEX Investments in Hamilton.
Here is another email. It says:
As a REALTOR in your riding, I'm writing today to express my concern about the possible implementation of a harmonized sales tax in the province of Ontario.
If that happens, it will have a devastating effect on the housing market, both new and resale.
I'm sure you've seen recent studies done by the Building Industry and Land Development Association indicating that harmonization would add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of new housing in Ontario.
But harmonization would also have a dramatic negative effect on the resale housing market as well.
For example, harmonization would result in provincial sales tax being applied to legal fees, appraisal fees, real estate commissions, moving expenses, home staging services, landscaping and more services usually associated with real estate transactions. In addition, harmonization would result in the goods and services tax being applied to items such as mortgage insurance premiums and title insurance fees.
As you know, the real estate market has been hit hard by the current recession, with unit sales dropping 25-50% in many parts of the province. Now is surely not the time to impose new taxes on the real estate sector when we need economic stimulus to grow the Ontario economy.
As an educated professional in the Hamilton area, I feel that it is my social responsibility to voice my opinion on matters that will have a strongly negative impact on our community! I do NOT understand how our government can pose such an unresponsible taxation policy like this one at such a critical time. As you know, housing plays a vital role in stimulating our economy...it is a major role in creating and maintaining employment. This harmonizing tax will continue to decrease consumer spending....AND THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR SUCH A STUPID AND IRRESPONSIBLE TAXATION POLICY...let's encourage spending in our economy!!!
...[H]armonization is bad for the housing market, bad for the Ontario economy and bad for consumers wishing to buy and sell homes in Ontario. If we continue to drive housing prices down through irresponsible and greedy policies we may soon find ourselves in the housing and financial CRISIS that our troubled American neighbours are in!
That is from Mike, who is a sales representative in the real estate industry.
Here is a third one:
My husband and I have fractional ownership in a resort in Muskoka.... We have found out that if the HST legislation is passed that the Provincial government is looking to collect taxes retroactive for the past 7 years, resulting in an additional $750. For those looking to purchase an interval, the HST will add an additional $10,000 to the cost of purchasing. This is totally unfair! For the current shareholders trying to sell these intervals and continue the expansion...the HST will slow or stop sales thereby potentially deterring the future development and putting the tax burden on a few.This tax will cause undue hardship on our desire to have a vacation retreat and a place for our children to use. The HST will also increase our maintenance fees by approximately $250+ a year.
...we are requesting that when the vote comes up in Parliment this week that you will vote No on behalf of the owners...and the people of Ontario.
We appreciate all you are doing for us in Parliament. Thanks for your attention to this issue and we look forward to a strong 'No' vote.
That is from Paul and Mary, also in my riding.
Echoing the concerns of small businesses are the voices of Ontario seniors. I quote:
We keep hearing that the present party in power of the Federal Government thinks that the H.S.T. for Ontario is a good idea. However we don't hear much from them on this subject only from McGuinty and his party, can you enlighten me on this subject.
If this is in fact the truth what are these politicians thinking at a time when the economy is basically in the toilet for a lot of people?
Adding this extra tax burden on necessities of life ie: heating, hydro etc. is a disgrace. I would like to know how they expect people on fixed incomes, low incomes or welfare are expected to come up with the extra money for this tax, some of these people are barely getting by now?
That is from Yvonne.
Here is another one:
I am a senior that must work part-time to be able to maintain my home and sustain a reasonable level of daily living and I am very concerned with regard to the blending of the two taxes.
Every day we are hearing that this utility, (hydro, water, sewer rates, bus fares, garbage collection, etc.) or real estate taxes are going up and we are just expected to be able to find the money from our megre income to meet these new obligations. If we are able to drive a car the ever increasing cost of gasoline with the government taxes makes it almost impossible to utilize the vehicle without being required to sacrifice somewhere else in the household budget. With the cost of heating fuels going through the roof it is becoming almost impossible to heat your quarters without being deprived of some other part of your budget. Now !! the government proposes to blend these two taxes that will further increase the tax on heating fuels. Do these people have any idea what the average senior lives through each month just to get by. Where in God's name do they expect seniors to get the extra costs from - when the well is dry—the well is dry!! The government suggests the blending will make it easier and cheaper for industry to buy equipment, manufacture, operate, etc. In other words—seniors may not be able to make it through the month but, industry will—God help us all!! Oh!! but, in some instances we get a tax benefit at the end of the year to make up for the cost through the year. I would like one—just one—member of any government to tell me how this year end benefit helps any senior make it to the end of the year to get the damn benefit.
That is from Ms. Pattinson, also in my riding.
I have yet another email:
I would like you to add our objections to any petition or other document you may have in your possession in connection with the proposed harmonization of the GST AND PST. We are seniors and have seen our RRIF PORTFOLIO, as has everyone else I know, drop so that we are not sure it will be sufficient to cover our needs in the future.
From information I have been reading it seems to be that this proposed harmonization of taxes could affect our mutual funds inside of our RIFF Portfolio, but then again we are not sure if our understanding is correct or not. Also believe the intention may apply to home heating fuel or low cost meals.
Being a member of Carp we are kept pretty well up-to-date on the proposals being sought by the governments.
Thank you for your support to seniors in the past.
That is from Mr. and Mrs. Drumm in my riding.
It is not just seniors. The outrage goes to every part of my community. Here is another one:
This is no time to raise taxes when families are barely making ends now as it is! Shame on you!
That was from Rosa and Ken.
Please tell the Members of Parliament that the government already takes too much of our money they don't need this extra tax! Thank you.
Claire and Marion add:
This is just another tax grab. Leave the taxation system as it is now. We already pay too much.
Diane and Mike comment:
Here we have a situation whith many Canadians losing their homes and government's not taking a sympathetic action to help. All they want it to rip us off, yet again! Disgraceful!
Cyril mentions that:
Taxpayers were robbed to bail out the rich and corrupt. Now it seems we must give up our cash in case they want more. Call it what they like, HST or BST only changes the name of the animal not the odor.
Do not raise taxes on items every low income family with children needs. Raise the taxes on properties and other things that people spend money on when they have extra. We owe in Ontario approximately 24.5 billion—it has to be reduced and slowly paid back.
Tom, Betty and Bob believe that:
With Liberals supporting Tories on this tax, I hope more people will realize that Liberals are just small 't' Tories! They don't support average people!
Walter Young adds that:
I think or I know it is disgusting that the Conservative government and the Ontario Liberal government have lied and taxed people to the hilt and expect to get blood out of a stone with the Harmonized Sales Tax.
The quotes go on and on.
Someone else mentions:
We are taxed to death now. How can we buy anything new to help the economy along when this taxing never ends?
Finally, a family states:
Things are already too high. People are already finding it hard to make ends meet. This is a ridiculous and uncaring action towards the people of Ontario. What happened to helping and working for the people?
Madam Speaker, I see you signalling that my time is up. In essence, you are making the point for me. I said at the outset that Canadians are outraged by this new tax and that they must be heard. Yet sufficient time to do that in this House does not exist.
It does not exist because the government refuses to allow the normal parliamentary process to govern this debate. It refuses to allow a fulsome debate of the issues raised by taxpayers through us, their elected representatives, in the House of Commons. It refuses to allow taxpayers to speak for themselves by allowing for full public hearings on this important matter.
The government can muzzle their voices in this House, but the Conservatives will not be able to muzzle them at the ballot box. I can say with certainty that my constituents on Hamilton Mountain will not be silenced. They were the innocent victims in this recession. Their government promised them help. Now they are being played for fools by both the Liberal and Conservatives Parties in this House. It is outrageous, wrong-headed and unforgiveable.
As Dan and Judy wrote to me:
Just another perk for big business. Two less votes for the Liberals and Conservatives.
It is not too late for members to start listening to their constituents. There is still time for all members to ask themselves, which side am I on?
If we really represent the best interests of our constituents, we will be voting no on this regressive tax.