Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak once again in this great House of debate and innovative thought.
Our party is supporting Bill C-40. This bill is the natural evolution of a fiscal policy, the goods and services tax harmonized in certain parts of the country. It is a natural evolution as we gain experience with it. We find that it does not always cover every little contingency the way we would think is best.
I commend the government on coming forth with a number of amendments which harmonize and streamline, and deal with exigencies which could never have been envisaged from the very start. We must continue to always adopt this type of attitude to changes in the tax law because we can always learn from our experience as we move along, so that the tax code becomes a living organism, a living body of law.
There are some areas where I believe that the government could have gone farther in making changes to our goods and services tax. One is with respect to the exemption for housing. The original exemption was $250,000, but we have seen how prices have skyrocketed in some cities across the country such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.
The idea was that we would help new homebuyers overcome the difficulties of purchasing a home by exempting them on GST up to a certain level, and that level has never been changed. We should be adjusting it, not according to the ordinary inflation rules, which are around 2% a year or slightly higher, but according to the inflation rates for actual housing in particular markets across the country. I am sure the government will want to consider this type of change in the days and months ahead.
The hon. parliamentary secretary talked about a number of other tax measures. I have no hesitation in moving from Bill C-40 to the general fiscal policy of this government.
Let me just mention a few particular issues. The first is the government's treatment of the GST in general. The government has reduced the GST from 7% to 6%, costing about $5 billion. That money could have been used to pay down the debt, to invest in new productivity measures in Canada, or to help those most in need in our country. What is worse, the government did so by increasing personal income tax by .5%.
There is not one economist in the country, let alone the world, who would say that the tax cuts given on the GST sales tax consumption level are preferable to overall tax cuts to the personal and corporate income tax rates, cuts which would make us more globally competitive.
We are in a global competition for capital. Capital knows no borders. It flows seamlessly around the world. We have to be able to be competitive unless we are prepared to introduce capital controls and barriers. No sane economist would advocate that as well. Therefore, in order to remain competitive, why did the government give up this great chance to lower personal income taxes as well as reducing our corporate income tax rates so that we could attract that capital?
Under the previousfinance minister and previous Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the Liberal government took a very important step. Even when we were dealing with the whole issue of the deficit, we were looking at what we had to do to attract new capital investment and the best jobs to this country. One of those was to reduce the corporate income tax, and we did it.
We were headed on a course down to 30% combined with the provinces. That would have compared with 35% in New York State, 41% in Michigan and 41% in California.
That was a responsible way to attract jobs to this country. We have seen how under our leadership the unemployment rate in this country fell to a 35 year low. This is great because we all remember back in 1990-91 when unemployment hit 11.4%. The toughest thing as an MP was to meet with constituents who had lost their job, who had used up all of their savings, had used up all their RRSPs, had lost their home, their car, their self-respect, and often their families.
We must never be content with a system which allows that level of high unemployment and this is why we must on an annual basis check our global competitiveness. The cut to the GST did not do that. It was stupid. It was obviously done for short term political gain, but Canadians are not stupid. They know when they are being had. The Canadian electorate is very smart and they recognize that the best politics is always the best policy.
Let me go on to a second area where I am very dismayed with the government in terms of its fiscal policy, income trusts. It is not just the broken promise where the Prime Minister said he would never touch income trusts, it is the fact that the measures taken were totally without tax foundation. They were totally without study. Did the government know it was going to cause a $30 billion meltdown in capital of investors who had put their money in savings, a lot of them seniors, a lot of them retired, as a result of the measures that it took?
If the Conservatives knew that, then they have to be condemned. If they did not do the studies as to what the impact on the capital markets was going to be, then they must be condemned. Why can they not admit a mistake? We had numerous witnesses before the finance committee who showed that the tax leakage figures suggested by the government were totally exaggerated, totally out of sight. They did not have to go from a zero tax to a 31.5% tax on income trusts in order to kill them.
We listened to those witnesses. Some of them said the government was even making more money by having in place income trusts where the distributions were taxed usually at high personal rates rather than the same amount of money coming out of a corporation being taxed at about 6.2%. As members know, personal rates go up as high as about 45% in Canada and that is why the tax leakage was not there. It might have been there with respect to some non-residents, but if we take a 6.2% tax equivalent at the trust corporation and compare that with the withholding tax on dividends going to foreigners, often we would find there was no loss.
Then take the money going into the tax exempt such as the pension funds here in Canada. Granted that dividend going into the pension fund was not taxed at that time, or the trust distribution, but those pension funds were very quickly distributed to individuals in this country because retirement depended on them and were again taxed at the full corporate rate.
Our Liberal government looked at this after having talked to the experts and we were convinced there was a better way. We said leave the cap on no new income trusts being created for the moment. Put a 10% distribution tax on funds going to non-residents and it will more than make up for any tax leakage that there might have been, if there was any in fact.
Meanwhile, the issue should be studied. Do we really want to blow away investment instruments such as income trusts, which were providing a decent rate of return to our retired citizens? If they are investing in bank instruments or government bonds, what rate do we think they are getting, 4%? That is only 2% above inflation. How can retired people live on that and how can they live on it when the government caused a meltdown of some $30 billion to the value of their savings?
Do the right thing. We are prepared to study it further. Why is the government afraid to study it further? My God, is it a sin to be wrong? We all make mistakes. The sin is in failing to admit that one is wrong and doing something about it. Everybody knows the government is wrong on this thing. Everybody knows that the emperor is wearing no clothes. Why does it not just admit what everybody knows and be prepared to look at this thing and give it a second thought?
Another area where I have great concern with what the government is doing in terms of fiscal policy is this issue of interest deductibility. It has said that if a Canadian investor or company borrows money to buy a company abroad in order to expand its global operations, in order to be globally competitive, it cannot deduct the interest on the money it borrows to acquire the shares in that foreign entity.
This last budget was not the first time that we in Canada have seen that particular measure. It was a measure brought in following the Carter commission many years ago, brought in by a Liberal government, where we said if the dividends coming back into Canada are not taxable, why should there be a deduction for the interest to acquire those tax free dividends? We established that measure and found out how stupid it was. We very quickly reversed that measure.
Why is it stupid to do this so-called type of non-interest deductibility? It is stupid because our foreign competitors can deduct the interest they pay on money borrowed to buy up our companies and foreign entitles, to grow, to become powerful, to become Canadian and global champions in terms of the competition that we face. This measure was not thought out in terms of the practical realities of this world.
Again, why would the government want to handicap Canadian companies? Why would it want to handicap our competitiveness? Why would it want to divert jobs out of Canada? I can say from experience what will happen. This is what a government in Canada tried before and the result was that Canadian multinational corporations were not going to continue to exist. They would simply move their global operations and headquarters out of Canada.
This is what we need in order to have the high level, high paying, good jobs here in this country. We want Canadian head offices here. We want the global champions to be based in Canada because that is where the best jobs are.
If anyone needs an example of what has happened, let us take Hong Kong. In the early nineties it was going downhill because of the fear of what would happen when it would revert back to China. The cover of Fortune magazine said, “Hong Kong is dead”. At that time Hong Kong had an 80% manufacturing economy. Anything that anyone picked up had “Made in Hong Kong” on it.
Today Hong Kong is no longer manufacturing. It is an economy that is about 90% service, with all of its manufacturing operations in foreign affiliates in the Pearl River Delta in China. Hong Kong, by being the headquarters for the multinational corporations, is producing the great jobs and the great wealth. It is booming.
We cannot be afraid to change. We have to be open to change in this global economy or we are going to lose the best jobs here.
This is another blatant mistake in fiscal policy by the government. Again I say, my God, we are all human and we all make mistakes, but the government must admit it and do something about it. We will work with the government to do something about it. We will make it possible to for us to have a strong, competitive economy here in Canada, producing the best jobs, with Canadian champions that are reaching out around the world.
Are we not proud of our Canadian banks and insurance companies that have offices in almost every other country in the world? They are showing the Canadian flag and the Canadian name. They are helping Canadians invest there, acquire things there and do business there.
We want more of these Canadian champions. The measures that the government has brought in are simply going to drive those Canadian champions out of this country.
I saw that back in the days of Carter, when we wanted to tax all dividends from foreign affiliates. For foreign entities, a buck earned in a low tax jurisdiction such as Singapore would be taxed at the same rate as a buck earned in an affiliate in a high tax jurisdiction such as France, the United States or even Canada. That may be great economics if one is an economist, but if one is a business person, one has to compete with other entities where they say that the rate of tax one pays globally is the rate set by the country in which one earns the income.
It is the host country where the activities are carried on that sets the tax rate. If a big corporation from the United States could do business in Hong Kong, for example, and pay a 12% tax rate, and a Canadian company had to pay a 50% tax rate, who was going to win? Who was going to get the jobs? It was going to be the American competitor of the Canadian company.
Therefore, that tax policy brought in by a government many years ago had to be reversed. It meant that we stemmed the flow of Canadian-based multinationals leaving this country. I beg of the government, which knows it is wrong, to just admit it. We will work with the government to fix this.
In closing, let me say that the tax fairness bill brought in by the government was not a tax fairness bill. It was a wealth-stealing bill. I am very pleased that our finance critic, the member for Markham—Unionville, has taken such a vigorous stand in taking the tax fairness bill to task right across this country. We will continue to do so until we get justice for all those people who lost their savings because of the idiocy of the government.