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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was budget.

Last in Parliament April 1997, as Liberal MP for St. Paul's (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 1993, with 54% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canada Pension Plan February 18th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, I want to start at the beginning and go very slowly for the hon. members opposite.

These are not revenues of the Government of Canada. He misleads Canadians when he says that.

Standing Orders Of The House February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, the federal government is not trying to push a particular package of cuts to the CPP, including changes to indexing.

The federal government is trying to find changes which will ensure that the CPP will be there for Canadians when they retire, something all Canadians want and deserve. I must remind the hon. member that the responsibility for the CPP is shared among the provinces and the federal government. Therefore, changes require the agreement of two-thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the population. The federal government is, therefore, working with the provinces to find a package of balanced changes which all provinces, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the federal government can accept.

We cannot simply side with one or two provinces, as the hon. member suggests, and expect to obtain the support of the other provinces which are necessary to amend the CPP. That is not the way we will find federal-provincial consensus.

However, the federal government has acted clearly and decisively in its own jurisdiction for old age pensions, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement with the new seniors benefit, which when implemented in 2001, will continue to be indexed 100 per cent to inflation. It is a response to concerns about the sustainability of those supports. Most seniors, and most particularly senior single women, will be better off under the new system.

I therefore suggest that the hon. member take these matters into consideration.

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite, in response to what I said, has talked about this issue of adjustment assistance.

It is interesting because we have had this discussion several times in this House. I wonder if he is really aware of the manner in which the Government of Quebec harmonized with the GST, the number of years that it took and, as a result, the province of Quebec, I am sorry to say this but it is true, operated two parallel systems and as a result saw enhanced revenues in those years, not a decrease in revenues.

The formula that results in adjustment assistance being paid to the Atlantic provinces which are harmonizing states that any province that loses 5 per cent of its retail sales tax revenue during a transitional period as a result of moving to harmonization will receive this adjustment assistance.

The fact is if Quebec, under that formula, would not have qualified then it would not qualify now and that is just the way it works. If Ontario or British Columbia were to harmonize now they would not be entitled to compensation either but other provinces would be. It is a formula that recognizes that there are some adjustments in transitional costs that result when one harmonizes

overnight, April 7, 1997. Quebec took several years to harmonize, operated two systems in parallel and saw an enhancement in revenue, not a decrease. I wonder if the hon. member knows that.

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know if this means the Bloc member supports harmonization.

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

I would have a very brief question, Mr. Speaker. Strangely enough, remarks by Bloc members always include a reference to the fact that they are against harmonization.

I would like to know if harmonization is somewhat successful in Quebec. My question is simple: Does harmonization work in Quebec, yes or no?

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, I much prefer the discourse of the hon. member for Calgary Centre when he leaves the explosive words behind and gets back to the substance which he does very well.

I want to ask him one question on the substance of what is being done and the change that is taking place in Atlantic Canada. I wonder if he had any idea and would share with this House the amount of tax that is currently on business inputs in the Atlantic provinces.

Because I may run out of time and not have a chance to find out if he knows, I would like to share with the House the fact that businesses in Atlantic Canada spend $700 million paying retail sales tax on their business inputs. Interestingly enough, that will be returned to business, and will be available to business to pass on to consumers in lower prices and to offset any of the costs that some businesses may incur in moving to the new tax inclusive pricing system. Out of that, approximately 20 per cent or $140 million is tax on business inputs that is paid by retailers in Atlantic Canada.

I did hear the member opposite speak earlier about the cost to retailers in Atlantic Canada but I wonder if he knew about the $140 million in inputs that they are not going to have to pay and the $700 million the business sector in Atlantic Canada will be saving and passing on to consumers.

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, the hon. member for Calgary Centre, whom I have great respect for, would notice that when he stood up and said initially that he did not intend to use that word any more, I sat down and did not rise to my feet.

He has now gone on for another two minutes suggesting that is precisely what he intended to say, ending in his last comments a moment ago. I would renew, through you Mr. Speaker, my request that he withdraw the initial use of that word. I was prepared to leave it be, but not in light of his later comments. I renew that request through you, Mr. Speaker.

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt my friend, the hon. member for Calgary Centre, but I am sure he would want me to point out that he used a word in his speech that you have asked in this House just yesterday not be used in this debate, the word bribe. I would ask that he withdraw that word.

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the hon. member for Calgary Centre actually asked a question about this bill because prior to that it was very confusing. The member for the Block appeared to be talking about the Quebec provincial election. I have to remind him that this is the Parliament of Canada and we are debating federal legislation here not the situation in his riding for the provincial election.

The hon. member talks a lot about tax rates. Does he think it is at all important to have in mind how personal and corporate tax rates in this country compare to other jurisdictions? Does that have any impact on the prosperity of this country and is that a legitimate thing? Does he know what our position is and our tax rate is versus

our major trading partner or anyone else for that matter? I would like to hear a comment from him about comparative tax rates and the importance of that.

I also wonder whether he might comment on some of his colleagues in Quebec City who said, during the last referendum, that if Quebec were to separate it would become a tax haven with extremely low tax rates to attract investment, both corporate and individual.

While the member rails against the government, I suspect he may not know much about comparative tax rates and certainly not much about what is in store from some of his colleagues in his own home province of Quebec City who talk about Quebec becoming a tax haven.

Excise Tax Act February 11th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open third reading debate on Bill C-70. This is landmark legislation. It will implement the harmonized sales tax in the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.

As of April 1, 1997 the harmonized tax will replace the GST and provincial retail sales taxes in those provinces. This legislation also proposes over 100 technical amendments to the Excise Tax Act. These technical improvements will serve the dual purpose of paving the way for harmonization while making the GST run more smoothly in those provinces that have not yet agreed to harmonization.

Why do I say that Bill C-70 is landmark legislation? That is because harmonization marks a bold and creative development in the field of federal-provincial relations. The bill is a tangible sign of the progress that can be made when different jurisdictions work together and resolve to end overlap and duplication. The significance of four governments agreeing to move forward on harmonization of retail sales taxes cannot be overstated.

Once this bill is in place, businesses in the participating provinces will no longer have to follow two sets of sales tax rules and regulations. They will no longer have to deal with two different bureaucracies nor file two sales tax returns for every appropriate and different period under both regimes, the federal and provincial. Under the harmonized system there will only be one set of rules and one tax administration, and registrants will only have to file one sales tax return.

Harmonization will make life simpler for companies of all sizes. They will spend less time doing the books and filling out forms and more time doing business.

As my hon. friends will recall, the structure of the harmonized sales tax will parallel that of the goods and services tax. The tax will apply at the harmonized rate of 15 per cent to the same goods and services that are already taxed under the federal GST. The new combined tax rate will be almost five percentage points less than is currently the case of the combined rates in Newfoundland and Labrador and 4 per cent less than it currently is in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. This will be a major cost saving for consumers in those provinces.

The rules for registering, filing returns and claiming input tax credits will be the same as those to which registrants across Canada have already grown accustomed.

As we moved to this system we were very conscious of the need not to saddle businesses with a whole new system, a whole new set of forms, a whole new set of rules to deal with a new tax administration, but rather, to the extent possible in moving to harmonization, to use forms and procedures, rules and regulations that businesses are already accustomed to and comfortable with.

One thing was clear as we travelled the country with the finance committee. When people in the country, consumers and retailers, said end this ridiculous anomaly of duplication, of double sales taxes, of ten sales taxes across this country and harmonize, they said "please, when you do that do not saddle us with an entirely new system. We have adjusted to the ways of dealing with the existing GST. When you harmonize, to the extent possible, let us use the same forms, the same rules and regulations", and we have responded.

In the participating provinces businesses will finally be able to recover all sales taxes they pay on inventory and other expenses. By contrast, in non-harmonized systems businesses have no way of recovering provincial retail sales taxes they pay. Any of us with experience in the complicated area of retail sales tax know that it is indeed costly to pay tax on those inputs and it is indeed complex to know whether or not particular inputs are subject to exemption certificates or whether tax is payable.

In the harmonized system this added cost will not be there. In the non-harmonized provinces, tax on those business inputs will continue to be passed on to consumers, both domestic and foreign.

Unrecoverable provincial sales taxes are buried at all stages as products move through the chain from manufacturer to wholesaler

to retailer. Those hidden taxes on inputs undermine the competitive vitality of Canadian firms. Clearly this works at cross purposes with our efforts to promote trade in this country, reduce deficit and foster a more competitive environment.

The integration of overlapping sales taxes with a single, value added tax structure will bring our tax system into line with other policies that promote competitiveness.

A key element of the harmonization agreement is tax included pricing. The pricing requirements will allow a shopper to be certain of the full cost of what he or she is buying before the cashier rings up the sale. To keep the tax visible to consumers, the amount or rate of sales tax payable will be disclosed on receipts. The suggestion that tax in pricing is just a convenient way for government to sneak in tax increases is simply and absolutely untrue. The tax will be clearly displayed on sales receipts and invoices for everyone to see.

Indeed, while members of the House have spoken about this issue and their concerns about hidden taxes, not one of them has complained about the current situation which prevails at the gas pump, where the tax is indicated on the receipt. As I have pointed out to the House on earlier occasions, in much of the rest of the world we do not see legislators or individuals standing up and railing against governments for hiding a tax which is clearly visible on receipts. We could choose any country in Europe and we will see taxes clearly indicated on sales receipts. Whether it is the VAT at a certain rate or the VAT at a certain amount, it is there for the world to see.

The fact that the taxes will be indicated on receipts in the harmonizing provinces clearly puts the lie to the suggestion that taxes are being buried or hidden.

Tax inclusive pricing will address a longstanding consumer irritant. It is something which the finance committee heard a great deal about as it travelled the country studying this matter. Consumers are always on the hook for a sum of money that is different from and greater than the price that is posted or marked. It does not matter if the person is buying a restaurant meal or a refrigerator. The point is that almost every time a cash register rings in this country we can be sure that a consumer is caught short, surprised, inconvenienced or embarrassed.

I stress that Canadians overwhelmingly related stories to us, as did retailers, of awkward moments at the cash register when they were confused as to the price of items because tax had to be added. In testimony before the finance committee of this House, a retailer said this to us when commenting on the prices of goods in his shop: "I cannot sell shoes in my store for $11.49, but I can sell them for $9.99". But the reality is that a consumer cannot buy those shoes for $9.99; they really cost $11.49.

While we may have some sympathy for the marketing needs of retailers and, as I will explain later we have gone a great distance in responding to their concerns about tax inclusive pricing with flexible guidelines, we have had very much in mind the need for consumers to know what things really cost, what they will really have to pay. The marketplace place will function better because consumers have that information.

Public opinion research has shown conclusively that tax inclusive pricing is favoured by the overwhelming majority of consumers. An Ekos Research Associates survey conducted this past month found that consumers in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador strongly support tax in pricing. When respondents were given a choice between tax included and tax excluded pricing, 80 per cent of consumers preferred tax included pricing, a finding that is consistent across all three provinces.

When asked about their intensity of support or opposition to tax in pricing, 42 per cent of consumers said they supported it and 37 per cent said they strongly supported it. Over 65 per cent of respondents said that it is extremely important to know the full price before reaching the cash.

The reasons stated by consumers for preferring tax inclusive pricing are compelling. Eighty per cent agreed that taxes should be included in the price so that the total price of a good is known before getting to the cash. Seventy-six per cent of respondents said that including sales taxes in the price displayed on the product is a more honest way of showing prices to consumers. Sixty per cent of respondents did not think that adding sales taxes to the display price would make things more complicated for consumers, an assertion we have heard from certain people.

While 69 per cent of respondents said that they pretty much know the total price of an item before reaching the cash, 64 per cent of respondents said that they are often unpleasantly surprised at differences between sticker price and total price at the cash. Remember my example of the $9.99 item that the retailer says he can move at that price but also the $11.49 actual price under the new system.

Participating governments in consultation with affected businesses have developed guidelines for tax included pricing. We have made and participate along with the other participating governments a concerted effort to ensure that the pricing requirements that accommodate the wishes and needs of consumers do not do so in a way that imposes an undue compliance burden on vendors. In this spirit of a fair and practical approach, the participating governments are continuing to refine the pricing guidelines which were released some weeks ago with a particular emphasis on the issue of price advertising in the harmonizing provinces.

The guidelines issued a number of weeks ago go a long way toward addressing retailer concerns about cost and inconvenience in moving to the new tax inclusive system. I note just two options that exist for retailers pursuant to the guidelines, namely shelf pricing or bin pricing. There will not be a need to go through and reticket every individual item. There are options to shelf price, to bin price items, to dual price so that price points can be advertised as long as the full tax inclusive pricing is also available. So there is a great deal of flexibility in accommodating vendor concerns.

The government has listened and has responded but it has never forsaken the desire of consumers in this country to know once and for all the real cost of items they wish to purchase.

During the finance committee's recent study of this legislation one of the main criticisms was that it might criminalize offences under the pricing requirements. The participating governments are certainly eager to encourage compliance with the new system. Consumers would expect no less of us, but I can assure the hon. members that failure to comply with tax inclusive pricing is not a criminal offence but a regulatory one. In addition to clarifying this point I would like to make the more general comment that the government intends to take a flexible approach to monitoring compliance with the pricing requirements.

While it is true that the new system will come into place in April of this year, monitoring, education and assistance will be available and compliance will only be effectively looked at six months later. In August, as the pricing guidelines indicate, is the time by which it is expected that vendors will have made the transition, with all the help that the guidelines provide and other help which relevant departments in the participating provinces will provide; a full six months to adjust to the new scheme once it is implement. That is in addition to the time which retailers have had and have spent consulting with government which has resulted in the very effective response to the pricing guidelines.

The goal is to make sure that businesses have plenty of time to become more informed of their obligations and fully apprised to the various options available to them in fulfilling their obligations.

Tax included pricing is not the only benefit that will accrue to consumers under harmonization. They will pay lower prices on many items. For the sake of argument, let us forget for a moment about the layers of provincial retail sales taxes that are absorbed in business costs, the tax on tax, the tax cascading that consumers pay the price for, and consider only the nominal rate of tax that consumers pay directly. Even with this assumption Nova Scotia and New Brunswick consumers now pay a combined rate of 18.77 per cent on most goods that they buy. In Newfoundland and Labrador the combined rate is almost 20 per cent.

Under the harmonized sales tax consumers will pay only 15 per cent. This may mean a higher rate of tax on some services, as we move to the GST base, but in the rate debate the bottom line is what really matters. When all is said and done, I want to reiterate what we have said in this House before, the overall tax burden on consumers in the harmonizing provinces will decrease under the harmonized system. How could it be otherwise as the rate moves from 20 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to 15 per cent and from almost 19 per cent in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to 15 per cent?

The bottom line is overall tax will go down and consumers will see that as they reflect back on their overall purchases over the course of any year in the new system. This is a benefit that will be felt across all sectors of the economy.

I would now like to move away from the consumer related aspects of Bill C-70 and mention that several technical motions were adopted by the finance committee earlier. These were motions that have addressed witnesses' specific concerns.

I want to pause for a moment on behalf of the government to thank the finance committee for the very fine work it did in the hearings that were held here in Ottawa where it heard from dozens and dozens of individuals, interest groups, interested parties who came to speak to Bill C-70. In addition to that I would like to thank the individual members of Parliament on all sides of this House who held consultations in their ridings, town hall meetings, and reflected comments back to the government with respect to Bill C-70.

As the chairman of the finance committee said during the hearings here in Ottawa, there is not one witness who came forward to the clerk of the committee asking to be heard who was not heard, who could not be provided for if they wished to be heard here in Ottawa. In addition, members held individual hearings and town hall meetings in their ridings and there was a tremendous amount of input. In addition to the witnesses who appeared here in Ottawa, dozens of other witnesses provided written briefs to the committee and to individual members.

As a result of that consultation held by the committee, a number of motions were brought forward by the government to bring amendments to Bill C-70 at that stage which reflected concerns that had come to the government's attention. By pausing to speak about that process, it is to say that the system works. The committee deliberations resulted in very specific responses to precise problems that certain groups brought to our attention.

For instance, one group brought to our attention certain cash flow problems that they would have as a result of the new system. We responded to that. Individuals asked for clarification with

respect to the suggestion that failure to comply might amount to a criminal breach. That is not the case. Clarifications came forward. There were other examples as well.

I spoke about the cash flow issue to give an example. Under the proposed simplification measures originally reviewed by the committee, auctioneers would have been responsible at all times for remitting the tax collected on auction sales to the government rather than passing the tax back to a registered principal.

In response to concerns raised at the committee stage, these rules are being amended further to alleviate the cash flow burden that this measure would otherwise create for wholesalers selling large lots of goods through auctioneers. This will be accomplished by giving auctioneers and certain principals the option of making an election that would allow the auctioneer to pass the tax back to the principal.

I have been speaking about the process in responding to witnesses to debunk those who stand in this House and say that to propose amendments at the committee stage, or indeed at this stage in the House, is to suggest that the government has not done its homework or that there is something wrong with the legislation. This is how the system works in this House and in this country. If a government fails to listen to witnesses who come forward with compelling reasons why legislation should be amended to respond to particular inequities or to clear up certain anomalies or confusions, then it is a sad day indeed.

I find it somewhat remarkable to have people stand in this House and criticize that process when, if we presented a bill and entertained no amendments whatsoever at committee stage or here in the House, we would be accused of some sort of dictatorship. The system works. It works effectively and it works well.

The arguments in favour of sales tax harmonization are too compelling to refute. All stakeholders stand to gain from it. The participating governments have developed a framework for harmonization that is balanced and reasonable. Bill C-70 will reduce the tax burden on individuals in the harmonizing provinces. What could be wrong with that?

We have responded favourably to Canadians' desire to know the full cost of something before paying for it at the cash register. What could be wrong with that? We have responded to consumers who were afraid of not being able to know the tax if they need to know it. It will be there on the receipt for all to see. What could be wrong with that?

Harmonization represents a fundamental restructuring of the way in which sales taxes are levied and administered. It eliminates overlap and duplication. It is simplified in administration, it is simplified for retailers in compliance. What could be wrong with that?

There will be minimal potential for disruption and confusion during the transition period because of the pricing guidelines and the delays allowed to retailers to get on side. What could be wrong with that?

The legislation shows innovation and foresight for it leaves the door open to any province that may wish to harmonize in the future. What could be wrong with that?

In this country we cannot wait to move forward with important changes, for every province to sign on. Indeed it is the structure of this federation that often opportunities are presented for provinces to go their own way for a time. But the wisdom of this harmonization now being embraced by three provinces will be understood soon by other provinces because their consumers will demand it, their retailers understand it.

With the exception of one witness, every witness who appeared before the finance committee supported harmonization across this country and urged the government not to give up on trying to effect harmonization with the rest of the provinces. I might point out at this time that the province of Quebec is currently harmonized with the federal GST. The province of Quebec understands the benefits of harmonization. What could be wrong with harmonization? If it is good enough for Quebec, why is it not good enough for the Atlantic provinces?

Before closing, I would like to focus on an aspect of harmonization which has been much discussed and some might say yelled about in this House as it was a moment ago. It is the decision by the government to provide a formula for short term adjustment assistance to qualifying participating provinces when they face significant structural costs to enter the new integrated sales tax regime.

Under this legislation, this move to a harmonized sales tax, adjustment assistance becomes available to provinces that experience a revenue shortfall in excess of 5 per cent of their current retail sales tax because of moving to the single harmonized sales tax system. I repeat the formula is that adjustment assistance becomes available to provinces that experience a revenue shortfall in excess of 5 per cent of their current retail sales tax revenue because of moving to a single harmonized system.

This is the case for Newfoundland and Labrador. This is the case for Nova Scotia. This is the case for New Brunswick. Under this formula, Quebec would not have qualified for adjustment assistance when it harmonized, nor would British Columbia or Ontario if they harmonized right now.

In fact, while my friends opposite rail against this adjustment assistance, Quebec did not experience a loss of revenue when it

harmonized because of the way in which it harmonized over a period of time, not all at once as the participating provinces are. Quebec ran two parallel systems and experienced an increase in revenue, not a decrease.

There is another aspect of this adjustment assistance debate which needs to be repeated in this House. Our history is rife with examples where such assistance has been offered to provinces or regions. I hear little from members opposite about those other examples when they benefited their provinces. However they rail against this adjustment assistance to Atlantic Canada which some of them would not qualify for.

When the Crow rate which helped the farmers of the west respond to the challenge of distant markets was abolished, over $1 billion in adjustment assistance was provided to grain farmers. I did not hear any complaints from the members of the third party such as we are hearing with respect to adjustment assistance for Atlantic Canada in moving to the harmonized system.

In 1972 when the federal government instituted income tax reform, every single province received adjustment assistance, a total of $2.7 billion over a seven-year period. I did not hear anyone say: "No, do not give our province any of that".

When subsidies were scaled back for the agricultural sector, compensation was also provided. I did not hear members of the official opposition or the third party stand up and say: "No, we are not entitled to that. Do not do that".

It is curious. Those examples, the Crow rate and agricultural subsidies benefited particular regions and provinces and not Atlantic Canada. This adjustment assistance which is justifiable, which is justified, which is appropriate because of revenue losses in those provinces, is being criticized by people who stood silent in this House when adjustment assistance went their way. I think that says it all.

What I find disappointing is that there are Canadians who have attacked the entire concept of this adjustment assistance, but that is a mindset which ignores history, misreads the present, misunderstands the past and lacks vision for the future.

The assistance we have developed applies equally to all. There is no discrimination, no favouritism and no bribery. The participating provinces are joining in the harmonized system because it will make their economies more efficient, more effective, more competitive and consumers will benefit.

Some critics may view this bill as an easy target if their ambition in life is to grab headlines and score cheap political points in the short term. However, the legacy of this government is sound management, not sound bites.

As I just said in English, Bloc members are against harmonization, which is very surprising, because Quebec already has harmonization. Is it because they want to keep the benefits of harmonization for themselves, their companies and their consumers?

Could that be the reason? Do they want to keep a comparative advantage for themselves? Atlantic Canada wants that same comparative advantage. Its governments have decided that they shall have it and indeed they will.

As an economic policy and as a model of federal-provincial co-operation, the merit of this legislation is unassailable. Therefore in closing, I urge hon. members of the House to support Bill C-70.