Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-47 today, which, once again, is one of the budget implementation bills that we are dealing with before this House.
I have heard a lot of good speeches here today on this particular bill, and a lot of good speeches from the Liberal members as well. However, at the end of the day, the viewing public should know that the Liberal members, regardless of their criticism of this bill, the budget itself or in fact the government, will make certain that enough of their members are not here so that the government does survive. The Liberals have been doing this for the last couple of years, keeping the government in place.
It is great to hear some of the criticisms of the members but the reality is that when it comes time to actually stand up and vote in the House, the Liberals have not had enough of their members consistently here to vote and cause the government to fall.
Regarding Bill C-47, there are a number of implementation issues that are involved with this particular bill. I could get into them one by one, and I am sure there would be very interesting explanations, but I do want to give special attention to one or two items.
One of the big concerns I have coming out of this budget is the increase in the air travellers' security charge by 50%. Up until now, the air travellers' security charge was the second highest in the world, next to Holland. Now, with the 50% raise in the budget, Canada would be the highest taxed in the world for this particular tax.
It only stands to reason that if we are highest taxed in the world, there will be some resistance to that. I will get into what sort of resistance we are finding on the part of the consumers in Canada in a minute. I did want to state that the revenues collected through the tax over the last five years have exceeded the amount spent on security.
Over the last five years, the government has collected $3.3 billion on the taxes, and I think the public would understand if in fact it were spending the same $3.3 billion on airport security. However, that would not be true. The government is only spending $1.5 billion on security. Why would the government increase the tax by 50% when it is only spending a fraction of what it is currently collecting on security in the first place?
What is the result of this move on the part of the government? The result is that the government is turning out to be the best friend of the United States airline industry. We now have information that 50,000 Manitobans are streaming to Grand Forks to fly with United States carriers. I can assure members that 50,000 people are a lot of people.
A very recent article in the Winnipeg Sun detailed what was happening. I have been aware for probably two years now of people driving down to Grand Forks to take flights to Las Vegas and other places. They are finding that the airlines there are able to provide the service for a much lower price.
I have an example for a January 9 flight, a flight that has not even happened yet. The members can simply go out and check their computer and they will find, if there are any seats left, that they can fly from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Los Angeles on January 9, 2011 for $95.98. That is not just the airfare, because the common lead-in with airlines is to give us the low price and then whack us with the taxes. The air fare is $69.99 and the taxes are $25.69, for a total of $95.68.
The equivalent WestJet flight out of Winnipeg is $258 for the ticket and $83 for the taxes, for a total of $341. We can see that is a savings of over $200. If we multiply that for a family of four, we are talking about a significant amount of money. All people need to do is drive the extra two hours to the United States, park their car and fly to Las Vegas or, in this case, Los Angeles.
We are losing business to these carriers and we have a combination of reasons why that is. The strong dollar is certainly an issue here, but we have the issue of the increase in the air tax. Why we do this when we know our tourism is faltering?
We have a Conservative member here who has a bill dealing with a national hunting day. One of the reasons he presented that bill, which, by the way, I hope will get unanimous support in Parliament, is that the tourist operators were complaining. They are suffering. There have been reports of tourist camps that are practically going out of business after being in operation for many years, going through several generations of one family. Now they are having to close their doors because their traffic has dropped off considerably. This is as a result of, once again, the strong dollar, but also the taxation question on the air fares and the issue of passport charges.
This past summer, I happened to be at the Midwestern Legislative Conference. All of the American states are members of various conferences but this conference involves 11 legislatures from midwest states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin; and three Canadian provinces, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. I think Barack Obama was one of the delegates to this conference. I have been there probably six years now and in the first year or two, he was one of the delegates.
This group of legislators, composed of Republicans and Democrats, discuss and pass resolutions at their conventions. I was lucky enough to get a resolution passed this year dealing with a reduction in passport fees. We literally had it unanimously passed. As a matter of fact, one of the Liberal Party MPPs from Ontario was the seconder of the resolution at the U.S.-Canada committee of the conference.
When this resolution was introduced and it went through the committee of the conference, it received instant acceptance. It was the one issue of ten or eleven issues that they discussed in the committee that took up about half the time of the committee, with literally everyone there wanting to speak in favour of this resolution. We had legislators from the United States saying what an aggravation it was to have to go through the passport process and pay upwards of $500 for a family of four to be able to come to the conference. These are the legislators saying this. Can we imagine what the average citizen of the United States and Canada would have to say about this?
Through the security provisions that have come about since 9/11, we have continued to fortify the border and solidify the security around the border. Some would argue that it is questionable as to how more secure the border is as a result, but we certainly spent a lot of money doing this.
In a way, however, we have actually harmed ourselves because, when the Americans established the rule that their citizens needed a passport to get back into their country, they cut a lot of activity along the border. When I talk to the border legislators, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, they are of one mind on this. They accept that the bad guys do not stand at the border to try to get through legitimately. The bad buys simply smuggle whatever they are going to smuggle by going around the border, thereby thwarting these increases.
A politician in South Dakota or North Dakota is getting complaints from constituents about the border issue and about not getting enough tourists doing business in their country. On top of that, on the Canadian side of the border we are getting the same complaints about businesses not getting support from Americans. Americans used to come to Canada regularly for many years and now they are not doing it. The dollar has been strong before. During the Diefenbaker years, the dollar was as high as it is right now.
It is a combination of elements that have come together and conspired to make life very difficult for tourism in this country. Rather than coming to grips with the issue and trying to deal with it, the government is throwing roadblocks in the way. Why would there be a problem with 11 American states, Democrats and Republicans who do not normally get along that well with one another on many issues, getting together in conference and passing a unanimous resolution? Coupled with that, there are Canadians from three provinces, Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats, all agreeing unanimously to call on the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States to do something about this.
This was in August. What has happened with this issue? Why would the Prime Minister not take a moment from his many important international trips and conferences to look at this file and pick up the phone and call Barack Obama? Both of them have received this letter from the legislators conference. It is tantamount to getting a letter from the premiers conference in Canada. I am sure when the Prime Minister gets a letter from the premiers conference in Canada, he does not ignore it. I am sure his office responds to it and tries to deal with the issue.
We have all of these legislators showing interest and passing the resolution. The question is why the Conservatives have not done something at this point to encourage the Americans to pull back on this issue. If they have not done it by now, when will they do something?
Many ideas came out of the conference, and it will be up to the governments to come up with whatever the solution might be, but one of the ideas that has been talked about is a two-for-one passport renewal process or two-for-one passport applications in a limited time. The idea is to get the number of passports up. Only about half of Canadians have passports, but only a quarter of Americans have passports. Unless or until we can get the Americans to respond positively to this, I think we will have this continual drag on business at the border.
There are many things the government could be doing. I recognize the strategy of the government is to marshal its resources in such a way as to give it maximum possibilities for a majority government at some time.
We in opposition know that the cupboard is bare, that the Conservatives are running a $56 billion deficit right now. The projections for the future are pretty bleak, and not only will they not be paying down the deficit anytime soon, they will be adding to it and accumulating an even bigger deficit in the long run to offer the Canadian people enough incentive to vote Conservative in the next election.
If the Conservatives plan to introduce a budget in the next few months, I do not really think they will introduce one that says, “Well folks, there is nothing here. We are not going to offer you anything in the election.” That will not work. It has rarely worked in the past. I would be very surprised if they used that approach. No, they will offer a bunch of goodies to the public to try to get their majority and they will hide the fact that the financial situation is worse than what they say it is. This has happened with many governments over the years. I think in one case it was called the “fudge-it budget”, where the government hides the true financial situation in the jurisdiction to get itself beyond the election, and then, surprise, surprise, things are not what they seem.
Let us look at corporate taxes. There are so many issues that one could deal with here with the government. I recall a Conservative member asking a question about tax reductions, and she is obviously a big supporter of them. She was asking a question of the previous Liberal member who spoke. She was talking about corporate tax reductions. I think she said corporate taxes made up 13% of the taxes collected and rest are personal income tax. I have news for her. I do not have the statistics here right now but I know they are available, and within her lifetime there was a time, not long ago, maybe 20 years ago or thereabouts, where the amount of corporate taxes collected in this country roughly equalled the amount of income tax collected. What has happened through successive Liberal and now Conservative governments is that the proportion of taxes raised by the government through taxes on corporations is actually being reduced, and of course, the shortfall is being made up by the public.
So we could forgive the working person in Edmonton—Strathcona or Elmwood—Transcona or any of our constituencies when they look at this and say, “Well, the government is talking about restraint”. Everybody knows there was a slight blip in the economy and a bit of a recession and we are trying to get out of it right now. I think the average member of the public is prepared to say, “I will give a little if you give a little”. But when the public sees that the initiatives of the government are to lower corporate taxes, what is that all about?
The federal government is just arbitrarily reducing corporate tax, phasing it down to 15%, when the Americans are in the range of 30%. For the Americans, I think it is almost double. What kind of studies were done? What kind of advice are the Conservatives taking that would prompt them to just arbitrarily say that they have to start reducing corporate taxes? We are already lower than the Americans, but we will go ahead and reduce them some more.
When my homeowner, my voter, looks at the statistics and sees that during a recession the banks where he is depositing his earnings made $15.9 billion, and then when he finds out that the bank president, the CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, Gordon Nixon, and TD Bank's CEO, Edmund Clark, earned $10.4 million, we have to forgive him for being a little bit confused in wondering what this is all about.
We see the same situation in the United States, where the taxpayers have begun to revolt because they see these big corporations being bailed out. The government likes to pretend that it did not happen but we bailed out the banks. We say that we did not bail out the banks. Yes, we did. We underwrote the mortgages. Remember back in the tough times in 2008 when the Prime Minister was campaigning in his sweater and suggesting that his mother treat the stock market downslide as a buying opportunity? At that point in time, the fact of the matter is--