Mr. Jim Hart (Okanagan—Coquihalla, Canadian Alliance)
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak to Bill C-25, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 1999.
It is said that the certainties in life are death and taxes, and that certainly is true. I will tell the House a true story about something that happened in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla.
I was elected in 1993. In 1994, while opening my mail in the constituency, I received a letter from a man who was living on the poverty line. I was shocked when I read his description of the desperate situation he was facing. The man was living on a very limited income in a hotel in Princeton, British Columbia. He was paying weekly rent. He had very minimal things in his life, no furniture, no excesses and no extravagances. He went on to explain that Revenue Canada was after him for back taxes. The letter went on to say that this man was going to end his life by committing suicide and that he was writing to his member of parliament in desperation.
I did not know for sure if what the man was saying was true or not, but I did what I felt was my duty and picked up the phone and contacted the RCMP. Several hours later the RCMP called me back and told me that the man was preparing to commit suicide. Thanks to my intervention, the RCMP prevented that from happening.
As I started off today, I said that death and taxes are the two certainties we face in this world, but I think it is reasonable that Canadians would expect that taxes should not be the reason for our demise.
I will open my remarks today by first giving slight congratulations to the Liberal government for eliminating bracket creep in its current budget by tying income tax rates to inflation. That is a very important step. This does protect taxpayers against automatic tax increases caused by inflation, and all Canadians do benefit from that action.
However, the reality is that the Liberals have only ended tax increases through stealth. Tying tax rates to inflation is not a tax break. It does nothing more than cancel scheduled tax increases that the finance minister and the finance department had planned.
Having said that, I have some other concerns as well. My first concern is the way the Liberal government continues to tax Canadians. My second concern is its refusal to tackle the massive national debt facing Canadians. My third concern is the way it mismanages the spending priorities, the priorities that Canadians are saying very clearly they are concerned about, things like health care.
These are the issues I will be dealing with in my remarks today. I will then leave Canadians with an alternative vision to that of the Liberal government, how Canadians should be taxed and that is through solution 17, the Canadian Alliance proposal for a single rate of tax.
The Liberal government claims that the 2000 budget proposes a five year tax reduction plan that includes the most important structural changes to the federal tax system in more than a decade. This was supposed to be a tax relief budget. In fact, the finance minister said “Today, we are setting out a five year plan so that individuals, families, small businesses and others will know for certain that their taxes will fall this year, next year and in years to come”.
The finance minister proclaimed loud and clear that Canadians could expect tax relief equalling $58.4 billion over the next five years. He even admitted that tax dollars were really the property of the Canadian taxpayer, something we do not often hear from Liberal members in the House. “It is your money”, he said, “after all”. Speaking to Canadians, he said that the tax dollars were their money. That is a significant step forward for the Liberal government.
Can Canadians really expect to receive $58.4 billion in tax relief from this same government and that same finance minister who made those comments?
The answer is clearly no, Canadians cannot. After all the hoopla died away, it became pretty clear that new spending initiatives, combined with tax increases from previous budgets, will wipe away the vast majority of this $58.4 billion tax cut.
Over the next five years spending on programs will increase by $7.5 billion. This brings the supposed tax cuts down to just over $50 billion. Then subtract from that $50 billion the whopping $29.5 billion payroll tax hike caused by the massive multi-year increase to the Canada Pension Plan premiums. Every January Canadians have to pay more of their hard earned dollars to bankroll a public pension plan that for all intents and purposes is broke.
Now the tax cut is down to about $20 billion, but $13.5 billion of this amount is nothing more than a cancellation of scheduled tax hikes. Again, I would ask, is cancelling scheduled tax hikes really a tax break? I do not think so, and judging from the response of my constituents they do not either.
That leaves a grand total of $7.9 billion for tax relief. To put it another way, $107.60 per year, or $8.97 per taxpayer per month. Or, a taxpayer can pop down to the local Tim Horton's, or whichever coffee shop, and use that tax break to buy a cup of coffee because it equals about $2.07 per week.
Canadian taxpayers are getting no meaningful tax relief from the Liberal government's latest budget. Each Canadian is still paying over $2,000 more in taxes than they were in 1993 when the Liberals formed government. This is a real blow to an already shrinking disposable income. The disposable income of families who want to put some money away for retirement, a vacation or plan for their children's education, has shrunk under this Liberal government, leaving them unable to do those things.
The policy of high taxation of the Liberal government is also a blow to the economy of Canada on the whole. On Wednesday in Toronto a summit of 200 CEOs brought together by the Business Council on National Issues tried to come up with remedies for the poor economic performance of Canada compared with a number of other new economy jurisdictions. While Canada fell behind during the 1990s, Ireland, a nation that traditionally had a lower standard of living than the United Kingdom and much of the European community, has become an economic hot spot.
Why has Ireland and not Canada been able to draw in so much high tech wealth and talent when high tech companies in Canada continuously lose many of their best and brightest to the United States and other markets? The answer is clearly high taxation.
During the past decade, Ireland has acted decisively to lower taxes, creating a pro-business atmosphere. Ireland now has one of the lowest tax rates and, as a result, one of the most buoyant economies. The standard of living of its citizens has also increased dramatically vis-à-vis its neighbours. At the same time, the standard of living in Canada has dramatically decreased vis-à-vis the United States.
Ireland has achieved financial prosperity for its people partly through the conscious policy decisions of a government that is not afraid to cut taxes.
Canadians are not so fortunate. The modest tax cuts in the current Liberal budget will do nothing to stem the slide of our standard of living or the flow of skilled Canadians to lower tax jurisdictions in the United States. Like Ireland, Canada must act decisively through conscious policy decisions. This is what Canadians expect of their federal government.
The Liberals have gone out of their way to make it difficult for small businesses to conduct business in Canada.
On this year's tax form small businesses found something new. Any contractor who subcontracts work to others is now forced by the government to police them by filing what is called a summary of contract payments form with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. This is in addition to the burden that small businesses already face with serious fines attached to this of up to $2,500 for those who fail to file their summary of payment forms on time.
The Liberal's current budget also fails to make serious inroads into paying down the debt. Canada's current debt load is approximately $580 billion. This has remained steady for the last two years with only a minute reduction of $6.4 billion scheduled over the next five years.
At the rate we are going, it will take 100 years or more to pay off the national debt. Contrast that to the United States which intends to pay off its national debt in just 12 years. Without a feasible game plan to pay off our national debt in a timely manner that is consistent with our trading partners, the standard of living of Canadians will continue to decline. At the same time the lower tax, debt free U.S. market will continue to attract Canada's best and brightest. As we know, that is the brain drain that we all are so desperately concerned about.
To make matters worse, Canadians are deeply concerned about the way the Liberal government spends their hard-earned tax dollars. Just going through the clippings this morning, we read that the federal government handed out more than $85 million to Liberal ridings to fund projects for the millennium. This apparently, according to the press, is double what was received in opposition members' ridings.
An article from the National Post this morning said that the PMO tried last month to force through cabinet the purchase, at an inflated price, of a 10-storey building belonging to a financially troubled Liberal supporter. Imagine, the treasury board committee refused to approve the deal, but it would have seen this 38,000 square metre building with an estimated market value of $50 million being sold to the government for as much as $78 million.
We see in the clippings this morning another RCMP probe into the HRDC scandal. The federal government asked the RCMP yesterday to look into another job grant in the Prime Minister's riding that went to a company whose officers have personal, political and business ties to, guess who, the Liberal Party of Canada. It goes on and on.
Our two critics, one for the prison system and one for national defence, yesterday held a press conference and showed to all of Canada where prisoners serving time in our penitentiaries actually have better living conditions than members of the Canadian Armed Forces living in bases such as CFB Petawawa.
The problem here is that the Liberal government is using taxpayers' money, not as the Liberal Prime Minister said, that it was actually the people of Canada's money, but is using it as if it was its own slush fund to promote its own particular interests. That is what Canadians are saying must not happen.
The scandal surrounding grants and contributions for a variety of ill-defined and unproven job creation schemes clearly shows the Liberal government has no sense whatsoever of financial accountability. The scandal does not stop at the department of human resources. The auditor general has pointed out that numerous other departments mismanage billions and billions of dollars in grants and contributions.
It would appear that Canadians' tax dollars are there to be spent on make-work projects that are designed to re-elect Liberals, not to serve the best interests of each and every Canadian. The fact that real permanent jobs and economic prosperity can only be created through a combination of real tax relief and business friendly policies is of no consideration at all to the current government.
The Liberals are so out of touch with the average Canadian that just recently, not that long ago, the industry minister was talking about actually subsidizing NHL hockey teams. That was in January. Canadians were appalled at how a minister of the crown could be so out of touch with the rest of the country. While the government continues to mismanage portfolios and grants and contributions, it grossly underfunds portfolios such as health. Health care is the number one issue in Canada and the Liberal government continues to ignore the issue. It also continues to ignore the problems that we face with national defence.
The number one concern of Canadians is health care. By the year 2004 the Liberal government will have starved the provinces of $35 billion for health care at a time when the population is rapidly aging and new technologies come with a hefty price tag.
Since 1993, the Liberal government's contributions to health have been slashed by 28%. The Liberals claim they will put $2.5 billion back into the health care system every year for the next four years. That is a reality and yes, that is true, but this does not address the fact that they have cut $35 billion out of that very system. The provinces are upset about this and rightly so.
The only premier who seems to like what the Liberals have done is the premier of my province of B.C., Ujjal Dosanjh, who was in Ottawa last week to curry favour with the Liberal Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers. He looked like a whipped puppy in front of Canadians, his fellow premiers and members of all opposition parties, including the NDP in the House who have railed against the deterioration of health care in Canada and have unanimously called for the restoration of the money that has been cut out of health care.
All the provinces, with the exception of B.C., are rightly demanding that health care funding be completely restored to the tune of another $4.2 billion annually. The Liberals would rather funnel this money into the riding of the Prime Minister and other senior cabinet ministers while waiting lines in hospitals in my riding and right across Canada are growing with people waiting for needed surgery. This is unacceptable.
In my riding the Okanagan Similkameen Neurological Society, the Child Development Centre as it is known as, is a registered non-profit society whose mission is to promote the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of children in the South Okanagan and Similkameen regions. This centre is so underfunded that each and every year I hold a charity golf tournament to raise money. Last year we raised about $15,000. This year we hope to raise about $20,000. One hundred percent of that money raised goes to the children at the OSNS Child Development Centre. I will continue to do this.
It is a shame that an institution such as OSNS, which looks after the well-being and psychological and emotional needs of our children in this country is without funding. It has to look for funding from other sources. It has to be creative, and it is. I do my charity work willingly for the constituency and for the CDC and I will continue to do it.
The government should also do something. It should put its priorities in line with the priorities of Canadians who clearly say that health care is the number one issue. Yesterday we heard one of the former cabinet ministers of the Liberal government speak out on the issue of health care, saying that the Prime Minister and his current cabinet are out of whack with the rest of the country.
Let me speak for a minute on defence because this is another portfolio that is severely underfunded. Since 1993, the Liberal government has slashed defence spending by a whopping 23%, drastically reducing our combat capability in the Canadian Armed Forces. The drastic cuts have literally gutted the Canadian forces. Many of my Liberal colleagues on the defence committee would agree with this.
I would like to offer in conclusion that the Canadian Alliance and many Canadians are looking at solution 17, our tax proposals, as one of the solutions that we would like to put forward. In the next election campaign, we look forward to bringing this to the Canadian public. Every single Canadian taxpayer would benefit from a 17% single rate of tax combined with a number of progressive deductions. We would take 1.9 million people off the tax rolls completely, the low income people that I started my remarks off about today.
I am speaking about the man in Princeton, British Columbia, who is living week to week, who is desperate because of the taxation strain that the Liberal government has placed on people like him.
In a country like Canada there is no excuse. Those people should not be taxed at all. Tax freedom day in the United States has come and gone, yet Canadians still have two months to wait before tax freedom day arrives for them.
We want to see changes. The country wants to see changes. Is the Liberal government up to the challenge? I think the answer is no.
Subtopic: Income Tax Amendments Act, 1999