I have been in this house
for six sessions and I have never yet listened to a budget debate in which so little attempt has been made on the part of the government or its supporters to analyze the proposals of the budget or to explain just what they mean or what would be their effect upon the people of the country. In fact, as regards receiving any enlightenment from members of the government as to these proposals, the debate might as well have closed the day following the delivery of the budget speech and the vote might then have been taken. I do not however think the time has been entirely wasted. Some very interesting speeches have been delivered and some constructive suggestions have been offered during the debate.
Personally I feel that this budget covers too much ground for me to deal with it in detail in the space of forty minutes. First of all the budget includes a financial statement of the country for the past fiscal year, as well as a statement of the public debt, the railway finances, et cetera. In addition it contains a proposal to reduce the sales tax, a further proposal to reduce the income tax and a proposal to strike out 122 items from the customs tariff schedules and to substitute 159 new items, as well as to strike out 4 items of drawbacks of customs duties and to insert 10 new items. I should like to suggest that it is not necessary that all these proposals should be grouped together and the house compelled to concur in all these matters. I suggest that the financial statement should be given to the house by itself; that the
The Budget-Mr. Coote
house should be allowed to go into committee of the whole to consider the statement, or that the statement be referred to the public accounts committee without our having to agree to a resolution which proposes a reduction of the sales tax, a reduction of the income tax and between 160 and 170 changes in the customs tariff schedules. I suggest that if the minister wishes to introduce a reduction in the sales tax, it should be introduced in the ordinary way by resolution to be followed by a bill. The same procedure should be followed in the case of reducing the income tax, and also. I think, in regard to the minister's proposals in connection with the customs tariff. If this procedure were adopted, we could decide each proposal on its merits and the votes of the members would be recorded upon each proposal. But under this budget system, members who are absolutely opposed to any reduction in the income tax are being forced into the position of either voting in favour of the reduction or of defeating the budget, which we all understand means the defeat of the government, to be followed by the dissolution of parliament and a general election. It is unfair to the members of this house that they should be placed in that position. To my mind the democratic and businesslike thing to do would be to introduce each item separately and let each one be decided on its merits. I think the principle which I am advocating underlies the rule which was quoted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) a few days ago in regard to the motion of the hon. member for Toronto Northwest (Mr. Church), which rule provides that papers shall be called for only on one subject at a time.
The speech of the Minister of Finance in delivering the budget was in my opinion much too short. He was not limited to forty minutes. He gave no reason for reducing the income tax; he dealt with that matter in a very few words. He gave no reason for reducing the sales tax; he dealt with that matter in less than two lines of Hansard. He did not say why the sales tax should be reduced; he did not say why it should not be abolished; he did not say whether it would not be wise to reduce it on the necessaries of life and leave it on the luxuries. I think the minister might also have given us some more information in regard to his tariff changes. As I said before, he has struck out 126 items in the tariff and inserted 169, with scarcely any explanation as to the effect of these changes. He dealt with that subject in one page of Hansard. I repeat, the minister was not limited to forty minutes like the rest of os, and I think he might have enlightened the 56103-684
house in regard to this matter-that is, if he knows just what the effect will be. As these changes have been made, I understand, as the result of the inquiries of the advisory board on tariff and taxation, I suggest that the minister might have the chairman of the board on the floor of the house to act as his deputy when these resolutions are being considered in committee of the whole. I think it as well to intimate to the minister now that the house will need a good deal of explanation in regard to some of these items.
Last year the minister gave as a reason for not making any changes in the customs tariff the fact that the tariff advisory board had not reported on the matters which had been referred to them, and he implied that he would make no changes in the tariff unless and until this board had reported on them. I should like to remind him that this is an advisory board on tariff and taxation, and if he takes the attitude that the tariff should not be changed until the board has inquired into and reported on the proposed changes, why does he take a different attitude in regard to taxation? Has the question of reducing the income tax or the sales tax been referred to the board? If not, why not?-especially as it seems to be the intention of the minister to eliminate both these taxes in the course of a period of years. I notice that when the hon. member for South Perth (Mr. Sanderson) was speaking he said he hoped that next year or the year after the income tax would be wiped out, and he hoped the sales tax would be wiped out entirely next year. I wonder why he did not, as a good Liberal, also express himself in favour of the customs tariff being wiped out, so that we should all be in the happy position of having to pay no taxes, except a little excise tax on liquors and tobacco, which the hon. member for Parkdale (Mr. Spence) wishes to have reduced; and it may be he is quite right.
Subtopic: DEBATE ON ANNUAL FINANCIAL STATEMENT OF MINISTER OF FINANCE