Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to my colleague’s bill, Bill C-342. He is certainly well-intentioned, as he demonstrated in his speech. However, when we take a closer look at the bill’s technical details and its application across the country, not just in Alberta and British Columbia, the provinces he always mentions, there are a number of problems with it. As a parliamentarian, it troubles me to be asked to support such a bill.
I will first discuss the problems with this bill, which are why I am personally opposed to it. The fight against climate change is certainly my first priority, as a certain Liberal minister likes to say, and I hope it is also a priority for the Liberal government and all parties in the House. This issue affects my generation and future generations, so we need to take it very seriously. I am therefore happy to talk about it.
This issue relates to the bill, since it deals with carbon pricing and the polluter pays principle. There must be a price put on consuming polluting products and activities, since pollution comes with a cost. There needs to be a cost to the environmental footprint of using or buying goods and services that pollute more, so that governments can offset our pollution by investing in a greener and more environmentally friendly economy.
I wanted to demonstrate just how important this issue is to me and my party, the NDP. I am sure that I speak for my colleagues when I say that the fight against climate change is very important.
Let us talk a little more about the details of the bill now. Although it is short, consisting of only one paragraph, when we look more closely at it we see that it could be difficult to apply. Each province may decide to put a price on carbon in its own way. For example, Quebec and Ontario have created a common carbon exchange. That is one way of putting a price on carbon and pollution. On the other hand, my colleague has often spoken about Alberta and British Columbia, which have chosen another way of pricing carbon and pollution.
Under the plan announced by the federal government, by 2018 all provinces must have a method of pricing carbon and pollution. Since each province is free to choose how to do that, this bill, which proposes an exemption from the 5% goods and services tax, will have the effect of deducting the carbon tax from the GST. However, if we consider how this bill would be applied in each province, we quickly realize that it would not apply where there is a carbon exchange or some other carbon pricing or carbon levy system. We therefore cannot be sure that the member’s good intentions would materialize in those provinces.
My colleague often refers to electricity or energy bills to support his arguments and his bill. In fact, however, it would apply to much more than energy bills, if we take the example of Alberta and British Columbia. The GST is paid on a range of goods and services, not just energy. It is important to make the distinction.
My colleague said just now that applying the bill could be complicated. The example he gives regarding energy would be relatively complex. However, in other situations and for other kinds of products, it would be a complex matter to determine what portion the carbon price represented, and then exempt only that portion of the product from the 5% GST. The increased complexity involved in applying the Excise Act could cause a number of problems to its implementation in a province where someone decides to make a trade on a carbon exchange and where pollution rights may be purchased.
For example, a company may buy pollution rights and trade them. This is a cap-and-trade system. At that point, it becomes even more difficult to exempt that carbon price, when it is applied in a carbon exchange where businesses have something a little more intangible, namely a right to pollute.
However, that will not necessarily appear on consumers’ bills. Consumers may be involved in the production of a good, since we might say that part of the production is connected with pollution, and thus also connected with carbon. However, it becomes complex to administer and to truly separate out the price connected with carbon in the price of a product, and then try to exempt it from the GST.
With respect to the simplicity of our tax system, I do not think the measure makes it a lot simpler, because it is quite complicated itself.
There is also the entire question of the polluter pays principle. I am not opposed to that principle. The Conservatives want to talk about the GST on the price of carbon, but I think behind that is an effort to defeat the carbon pricing plan.
In fact, we often hear the Conservatives flatly opposing everything associated with the polluter pays principle. That is unfortunate, but it is probably what is hidden behind the intentions of the member who is proposing this measure.
When the member talks about fairness, I would like to tell him about an interesting situation that parliamentarians could consider as the debate continues, namely a way to achieve the objective.
When a carbon tax was introduced in Alberta, they also introduced a rebate system to reimburse the consumers hardest hit by it. Thanks to the NDP government of Alberta, the people with the lowest incomes have been able to obtain refunds. They receive cheques based on a rebate system connected with the carbon tax, and this makes it possible to achieve one of the objectives mentioned by my colleague. What my colleague said was that people with the lowest incomes will be the ones hardest hit by this. In Alberta, they have managed to find a good solution. I encourage my colleagues to consider that measure.
In our tax system, we already have a way of giving a rebate on the GST, and people are thus able to get reimbursed for a certain amount connected with that tax. This would be an opportunity for the federal government to examine that option in more depth, as it prepares to put a price on carbon.
We may differ on the definitions, but a price on carbon covers all forms of pricing. We could therefore consider this option for compensating low-income people, as Alberta has done. We could also give them a refund on the GST, an option that may be more generous for low-income Canadians. This would be a way of finding a compromise so that our tax system remained as simple as possible, even though it is already very complex, and at the same time achieve my colleague’s objectives, that is, not to unduly affect low-income people.
I will be very happy to hear my other colleagues' comments on this bill, and I hope to hear opinions from all sides.