Mr. Speaker, since question period I have been a little disturbed by the lack of attendance in the Chamber. I notice that a quorum is not present. I wonder if you might call for a quorum at this time.
Lost his last election, in 1997, with 28% of the vote.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act February 12th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, since question period I have been a little disturbed by the lack of attendance in the Chamber. I notice that a quorum is not present. I wonder if you might call for a quorum at this time.
Petitions February 12th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present, pursuant to Standing Order 36, a petition to the House of Commons signed by residents of my constituency from the city of North Battleford and other communities like St. Walburg, Cut Knife, Lashburn, Cochin, Wilkie and Marsden, Saskatchewan.
The petitioners note that 38 per cent of the national highway system in Canada is substandard. The national highway policy study identified job creation, economic development, national unity, saving lives and avoiding injury, lower congestion, lower vehicle operating costs and better international competitiveness as benefits of the proposed national highway program.
Therefore, the petitioners call upon Parliament to urge the federal government to join with provincial governments to make the national highway system upgrading possible.
Excise Tax Act February 10th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, I am here tonight to raise again the question which I asked on February 6. It is a question in which the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is very interested because he has said that he is interested in keeping grain moving. I do not think we have gone far enough in getting the grain moving.
The news last week had a number of people from the grain industry, including representatives of the Canadian Wheat Board, arguing that poor performance by the railroads is costing prairie farmers tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues and upsetting export customers. The Canadian Wheat Board has estimated that about $65 million will be lost in demurrage costs while grain sits on the prairies and ships sit in the ports because the grain is not moving to the coast.
I asked my question last week, but since then I have had a chance to look at CN Rail's numbers for 1996. I thought it important to put them on the record tonight in the light of this question.
Grain traffic was down 5 per cent in 1996 over 1995. Despite that drop in traffic, CN Rail reported a $1.2 billion improvement in net income in 1996. In a press release the CN president and chief executive officer, Paul Tellier, said at the end of the year that 1996 was the best year ever in the history of CN Rail. Revenues were up 1.5 per cent while operating expenses declined.
In terms of movement of product, industrial products brought $866 million to CN; forest products, $790 million; intermodal traffic, $710 million; coal, sulphur and fertilizer, $622 million. These are all more than grain and grain product traffic which brought in $570 million.
It is very obvious that CN in particular did a very good job in 1996 of moving all the product except grain. Now we are continuing to have difficulty in moving grain to port.
I first discovered the problem with grain movement around December 1 after elevator agents throughout my constituency had been phoning since mid-November to get cars spotted so that the grain could be moved to port. That was before the major snowfalls, before the major cold occurred. We were experiencing difficulty getting cars spotted at the elevator points throughout my riding, and I have since found out, throughout Saskatchewan.
Throughout November and December the railways were telling the elevator agents that cars would be spotted the next day. They would be told, tomorrow. The cars would never come. The agents would phone. "Tomorrow" they were told. They would phone me. I would be told the grain cars would be there tomorrow. They never arrived. As a result, the Canadian Wheat Board is now estimating $65 million in losses to farmers as a result of all of this.
Government policies over the last couple of years have contributed greatly to the ability of the railways to run their own show. Governments have lost the ability to put pressure on the railways. Everything from the privatizing of CN, the deregulating of the rail line industry, changing the car allocation policy, allowing the abandonment of rail lines and condoning the inappropriate downsizing within the railroads have all contributed to the problem that keeps grain moving to port.
We heard over the weekend the announcement from Manitoba that the CP double tracking from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay is being torn up. This is, to my mind, an absolute abuse of the privileges that we have given to the rail lines to move our product to port.
The minister and the government have the responsibility, indeed the obligation, to ensure that grain moves from the farm to the port. I would like to ask the minister to ensure that he exercises to the full extent of his authority everything that he can to get that grain moving again.
Petitions February 10th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition pursuant to Standing Order 36 from residents of my constituency, virtually all from the city of North Battleford, with a couple from Spiritwood, Speers and Radisson.
The petitioners note that the availability of a low cost energy source is the natural advantage Canadians have to set off the high cost of transportation because of the great distances required to reach markets, that Canadians are paying approximately 52 per cent of the cost of a litre of gasoline at the pumps in the form of government taxes, that over the past 10 years the excise tax on gasoline has risen some 566 per cent.
The petitioners request that Parliament not increase the federal excise tax on gasoline in the next federal budget.
Excise Tax Act February 6th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words on Bill C-70, the Group No. 3 debate.
Earlier today I had the opportunity to speak on motions in Group No. 2. As members will recall, I had spoken a lot about the political side of imposing the GST and now the harmonized sales tax in the Atlantic provinces.
I mentioned at the time that the public has had an opportunity to speak at the polls in Atlantic Canada on two occasions and the public has had the opportunity to speak to the government through the standing committee and through members of Parliament.
As was indicated by other speakers today, the public in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland in particular, because the committee did not travel to Atlantic Canada, did not have a direct opportunity to address the bill as it appears today.
I was impressed with the results of the two election polls that were taken with regard to this. To reiterate quickly my remark from this morning, in Prince Edward Island where the government had chosen not to harmonize but where the threat to harmonize remains, the public spoke loud and clear, defeated the Liberal government and elected a Conservative government in an election in which the harmonization was an issue on the doorstep.
In Nova Scotia in a riding known as Halifax Fairview where the people had a chance to put the harmonization effort to the supreme test, at the polls, not only did the government lose that but it lost it very soundly. New Democrats won that seat by 65 per cent of the vote.
As other members in the Chamber have indicated, Liberal members from Atlantic Canada have not been very vocal in this debate in the House on the harmonization matter. I think it is very clear that had New Democrats been sent to Ottawa from the Atlantic provinces the voices of those people would be heard in this Chamber. Never has there been a better example of how New Democrat representation is representation of the people. There is no question that the people of Halifax Fairview are being heard through the New Democrats in this House today because of the representation we are able to make.
On the matter presented here in the bill and through these amendments I have a number of additional remarks to make, including ones relating to some of the matters that were raised by the Liberal speaking prior to me. I think he is going to hear himself quoted back to him on many occasions. I was astounded to hear him say the best replacement for the GST is the GST itself.
Certainly the Prime Minister and other members of the Liberal Party have not used that kind of a representation of what it is that they are doing with harmonization, but certainly the GST and the HST in the public view are not the kind of promises that it thought it was getting in the last election when it chose the Liberals over the Conservatives at the national level. The public wanted to get rid of the GST, not to get it back renamed.
The member also talked about the benefit to business that the harmonization effort brings. There is no question about it. If we want to look at it from the banks' and the multinationals' point of view, the HST is a windfall for them. In fact, we have calculated that if the HST were applied across Canada, it would be a $6 billion windfall for business in this country, a transfer of money from the consumer to the corporations. That means absolutely nothing to this government, it seems, that the transfer is just a natural state of affairs.
We in the New Democratic Party reject that notion very strongly and we reject the harmonized sales tax because it threatens to transfer more funds from the already overtaxed consumer to the much undertaxed multinational corporate sector.
I think that instead of harmonization, which is the key word in the debate today, we should be talking about national standards and we should be talking about national standards not just in taxation matters, fair taxation right across the board for all Canadians, but also national standards in all the matters that fall under federal jurisdiction and within federal responsibilities.
During question period today I raised the issue of grain cars not moving from the prairies to the ports because the railroads have failed to live up to their commitments under the grain car allocation policy. The federal minister of agriculture refuses to accept his responsibility, even his authority in this regard.
It is time the federal government accepted its full responsibility on matters within its jurisdiction and started to move and set national standards.
In this regard, fair taxation or grain movement, we have to find ways to ensure that not only in the design and funding of programs but in maintaining and enhancing our standards of living right across Canada we have to develop and follow these national standards within the federal authority.
What about in the environment? It is something I have been very active in and I have done a lot of work here in the House of Commons and outside the House of Commons and is something Mr. Speaker is very interested in I know. Environment is an area where we are devolving power to the provinces and neglecting a strong national standard across the country, in transportation and the grain car situation I mentioned earlier and also a national railway policy, a national highway policy, a national airline policy, which gets us away from the deregulation and devolution powers that have made our country now a patchwork of poor transportation systems. We need national standards across the country which will serve to help eliminate poverty in all provinces of Canada.
I could speak about literacy and education, training and tuition fees. Just yesterday the province of Ontario announced another increase in tuition fees. They increased 20 per cent last year and will increase 10 per cent this year. These are massive increases for young people who want to pursue post-secondary education in the province of Ontario.
British Columbia, which recognizes the value of education to young people, froze tuition fees two years ago to ensure that every student that passes grade 12 or meets other eligibility requirements to attend post-secondary education has an opportunity to achieve that higher education.
Affordability is very important in education. We need national standards in that regard.
We need national standards for health care, as opposed to harmonized standards across the country. The national health forum this week talked about a national prescription drug program. It is very important not to devolve that or harmonize it with the provinces. We must have national standards.
We need national standards for child care. We need youth dental programs. We need home care programs. These all require a very strong national presence to ensure that the services are delivered effectively. We must ensure that all Canadians, whether in Newfoundland, Quebec, Saskatchewan or British Columbia, have equal access to the same care, programs and services.
There is a lot which should be said about these types of things. I am sorry there is not enough time to deal with them. I hope I will have an opportunity to continue my remarks when the next group of motions comes up for debate.
Agriculture February 6th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Wheat Board has asked the federal government to intervene in the disastrous grain movement situation in Canada, which is estimated to cost Canadian farmers at least $65 million in lost revenues and demurrage costs. We agree with the Canadian Wheat Board and would add that government policies such as privatizing CN Rail, deregulating the rail industry, changing the car allocation policy, allowing the abandonment of rail lines and condoning inappropriate downsizing within the railways have all contributed to this problem that keeps grain from moving to the ports.
My question is for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Does he not agree that the federal government has a responsibility
and the authority that is required to get the railways to make grain a priority, and that he should use the full extent of his authority to get that grain moving again?
Excise Tax Act February 6th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to say a few words on the report stage motions in Group No. 2 regarding some aspects of Bill C-70.
Bill C-70 is essentially legislation that gives the government the opportunity to enter into agreements with Atlantic provinces to harmonize the hated goods and services tax with the provincial sales taxes in the provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It is interesting to note that the province of Prince Edward Island is absent from that list. Prince Edward Island has just completed a provincial election. Its government changed hands and a new government is now in place.
There have been a couple of elections in Atlantic Canada since this harmonization deal was proposed. The results are certainly interesting to look at. The federal Liberal government should pay some attention to the results of those elections. I speak of the Prince Edward Island election and the provincial byelection in the constituency of Halifax Fairview.
Both election campaigns had tax fairness and harmonization as a key component. If the Liberals look at the results of those two elections they will see that they have a lot more responsibility yet to give to the people they have been elected to represent. With the government changing hands after the Prince Edward Island election, the former Liberal government was removed and a new Conservative government was put in place.
New Democrats are very proud that for the first time in the history of the province of Prince Edward Island, a New Democrat was elected to that provincial chamber; not only a New Democrat but the leader of the provincial New Democratic Party, Dr. Herb Dickieson, a medical physician, a practitioner who campaigned very strongly not only on taxation matters and representation but on health care as well. There is certainly a message this government should be taking from these results.
More important, in the province of Nova Scotia the new leader of the federal New Democratic Party, Alexa McDonough, served her constituents well in the provincial legislature for 14 years. She had to resign that seat in order to take the position as leader of the federal New Democratic Party, and we hope very soon to have her joining us here in the House of Commons so she can bring the views of Nova Scotian New Democrats and of all Canadians to this Chamber.
When we look at the election that replaced Alexa McDonough in Halifax Fairview, the Liberal government in the province of Nova Scotia said prior to that byelection that when the byelection was called it would put its all into it, that it would campaign on its record, that it would campaign on taxation, on how it was dealing with harmonizing the provincial tax with the federal GST. The people of Halifax responded very clearly to the challenge of the premier of Nova Scotia, a challenge that said "our record on taxation is on the line". Not only did the government get defeated in that byelection, but a New Democrat who campaigned on tax fairness was elected in that byelection with 65 per cent of the vote.
Everyone in Canada seems to think that New Democrats are western based, that the New Democratic Party is a party that defends western interests via small protest votes in the House of Commons. But 65 per cent of the people of Halifax Fairview said to the Government of Nova Scotia and to the Liberal members of Parliament in this House that this harmonization deal is wrong, they do not buy it, they do not accept it and they want a New Democrat representing their interests, giving their comments to government in this House of Commons. Those two elections in Atlantic Canada certainly indicate why it is necessary that more New Democrats are elected in the next federal election to this House of Commons, more New Democrats who speak clearly on behalf of Canadian interests, the middle class and working Canadians right across this country from coast to coast.
We are looking at a harmonization deal in Atlantic Canada and that is why I raise those two issues here in the Chamber today. There are other issues right across Canada that could come about as a result of the acceptance of this harmonization deal for the three Atlantic provinces that are signing on. All Canadians have a responsibility to examine this deal, check out this legislation and see what is happening in the Atlantic provinces so as to avoid similar things happening in the rest of Canada.
Although this is called harmonization there is very little harmony in the way in which this legislation is being implemented or the way in which the idea is being accepted by people in Atlantic Canada. The consumers, retailers, interest groups, the clergy and others have not found much harmony in the way in which they respond to this legislation.
I think this is recognized in the fact that the name has changed several times during this process as well. You were in this House, Mr. Speaker, when the hated goods and services tax was brought in by the previous government. The GST was considered by a lot of Canadians, there was great turmoil in this House of Commons and elsewhere, and as a result of that turmoil we have a country that is divided over sales tax and the implementation of sales tax regimes.
Prior to the introduction of the goods and services tax, retail taxes were primarily the prerogative of provincial governments. Yes, there was a manufacturers sales tax levelled for the federal government at the wholesale level, the manufacturers level. But the retail prerogative was primarily the responsibility of provincial governments.
Provincial governments used that prerogative to establish social policy within the provinces as well as using the taxes as a source of revenue. Many provinces did not tax books. Virtually no province in this country taxed labour costs. No province wanted to tax children's clothing or food items. With the introduction of the goods and services tax there was a tax applied to some of those matters that the provinces had chosen not to tax in the interests of the consumers and the residents of those provinces. I forgot to mention home heating fuel and even the costs of funerals which many of our provinces decided should not be taxed.
As we move into the harmonization of the GST we are seeing that the provinces lose that prerogative to use tax policy for social purposes and to exempt certain income levels of people from retail taxation and to exempt certain classes of items from retail taxation. The GST and now the harmonization system has removed that.
It was originally called the manufacturers sales tax, MST. With the Conservative government it became the GST, the goods and services tax. The government in changing the system and wanting to blend it with the provincial sales taxes began calling it the blended sales tax, BST. It did not like the sound of BST so now the harmonized tax is called the HST. For those who like to think about these things remember the words of Alexa McDonough in a speech
recently. She said with regard to this new BS tax, now the HST tax "what have they got against horses?" I think this is a very interesting situation that we have happening in this country. While there are a lot of things to be said on these individual motions and on the bill itself, I am sure I will have other things to say on the next round of motions.
I hope to be able to put a few additional comments with respect to the motions and the harmonization deal on the record later in the day.
Petitions February 6th, 1997
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today pursuant to Standing Order 36 to present a petition to the House of Commons.
The petition is signed by residents of my constituency, including residents of the town of Cut Knife, the city of North Battleford and towns of Wilkie, Unity, Speers, Cando, Chitek Lake, Meota, Jackfish Lake and other communities in my riding.
The petitioners draw to the attention of the House of Commons that 38 per cent of the national highway system is substandard, that Mexico and the United States are upgrading their national highway system and that the national highway policy study identify job creation, economic development, national unity, saving lives and avoiding injuries, lower congestion, lower vehicular operating costs and better international competitiveness as benefits of the proposed national highway program.
Therefore the petitioners call on Parliament to urge the federal government to join with provincial governments to make the national highway system upgrading possible.
The Environment December 10th, 1996
Mr. Speaker, today the Minister of the Environment tabled the long awaited changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. As usual, what the government says about protecting the environment is very different from what it does.
CEPA used to be the supreme environmental law in this country, in that it could override other acts and other departments. The new act will now only apply if the substance of concern is not covered by any other act, and the minister can only intervene if a province fails to do so. This effectively downgrades CEPA from being the most important pillar and centrepiece of environmental law into a law of last resort when nothing else applies. This legislation will take us backwards, not forwards. It effectively forces Environment Canada out of the environmental protection business and allows the harmonization agreement with the provinces to take precedence over CEPA.
The environment committee last year called for the act to be strengthened and revamped, not weakened in the manner proposed by the Minister of the Environment.
Petitions December 9th, 1996
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to present a petition pursuant to Standing Order 36.
The petitioners note that Canada is currently undertaking to conclude the sale of two Candu nuclear powered reactors to China and in so doing will commit $1.5 billion of the Candu deal with China to be financed by the Export Development Corporation.
The petitioners also note China's record of military assistance to countries known to have clandestine nuclear programs and that China's human rights violations are notorious both at home and in Tibet.
The petitioners therefore request that Parliament cancel the planned sale of Candu reactors to China and immediately withdraw from all arrangements concerning financial and technical assistance to China for the nuclear reactor technology.