Ms. Val Meredith (Surrey-White Rock-South Langley)
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to debate Bill C-11.
Most of the elements of this bill are minor and insignificant. There is very little in Bill C-11 that will combat smuggling. The government believes it has eliminated the incentive to smuggle with the initiatives that were implemented by ways and means motion No. 3.
This may in fact be the case for cigarettes, but all it has done is change the contraband of choice. We already are hearing about increases in the smuggling of liquor. We know that guns, narcotics and illegal persons are also a part of smuggling organizations.
If the government were to follow the precedent it set with tobacco smuggling, we can assume that taxes on alcohol products will soon be dropped and that the laws against guns and illegal persons will be changed to remove the monetary gains. This is not a national action plan to combat smuggling. This is capitulation.
Do we solve the problem of smuggling cocaine and heroin by making them legal and selling them across the counter? It would certainly solve the problem of drug smuggling, but are we prepared to live with the social consequences of such actions?
These laws against smuggling are there for a reason and they must be enforced. Taking the course of action that this government is taking sends the wrong message. It tells Canadians that if enough people engage in illegal activity, the government will give in and change the law.
With regard to the elements of the bill they are for the most part insignificant. However there is one area of concern that I have with the bill. My concern is with the amendments to the Excise Act and the Customs Act that would allow seized property to be sold or destroyed even if the claim is still unresolved. We are told the reason for this is to reduce storage costs and will apply mainly to tobacco and alcohol seizures, but it will also apply to the seizures of the vehicles that brought in anything considered contraband.
I am currently assisting a constituent who recently won a Federal Court decision against improper customs seizure. Unfortunately for this individual the court decision came 10 years after the seizure. Unfortunately for the Canadian taxpayer a $200,000-plus award has grown to in excess of $400,000 with interest payments.
Rather than providing the minister with the authority to dispose of seized goods, it may be in the best interest of both the accused and the Canadian taxpayer to develop a dispute mechanism which is made up of an independent assessment authority which could hear such disputes and avoid enormous court costs resulting from lengthy court challenges.
As for other aspects of the bill the amendment to the Excise Act giving non-federal police forces the same seizure powers as the RCMP is probably long overdue. Removing bureaucratic barriers in enforcing the law is preferable to capitulation.
However it is with the amendments to the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act that the government is operating at its hypocritical best. It is trying to convince us that by making it illegal to manufacture or package cigarettes in packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes that smoking among young people will not increase. It is trying to convince us that by making it illegal to sell or offer for sale cigarettes in packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes that smoking among young people will not increase. It is trying to tell us that by prohibiting the importation of tobacco products by or on behalf of persons under the age of 18 that smoking among young people will not increase.
The government is not telling us about one important issue, that because it lowered the price of cigarettes that more young people are going to start smoking. We have all seen the graph and it clearly indicates that with a sharp increase in the price of cigarettes, there was a proportionate drop in the number of young people smoking.
I imagine that we will soon see a graph that shows that with the dramatic decrease in the price of cigarettes there will be an increase in the number of young smokers.
Will it be difficult to enforce these amendments to the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act? I do not think so. Why would tobacco companies want to make packages of less than 20 cigarettes today? Thanks to this government the price of a package of cigarettes is now about half of what it was last month. The amendment to prohibit the importation of tobacco products by anyone less than 18 years of age is redundant. Why would anyone go across the border to buy cheap smokes when they can buy them at the corner grocery store?
If these amendments had been introduced prior to the government capitulating in the ways and means motion No. 3 they may have had some meaning.
It is ironic on one hand to see the Minister of National Revenue talk tough about eliminating smuggling and the underground economy while on the other hand being part of a government that is quick to capitulate. I wonder if the government will likewise be willing to surrender to the ever expanding underground economy. With more and more Canadians involving themselves in the multibillion underground economy, and probably many more will be ready to join them after the budget comes down this afternoon, is this government prepared to reduce all of its taxes?
Given the government's philosophy that lower taxes will take away the incentive for illegal behaviour, it seems natural that the government would reduce the tax burden to eliminate the financial incentives for participating in the underground economy. Of course it will not. Where would it get the money to make up for lost tax revenue? Where is the federal government and those provincial governments which are participating in this joint program going to get the lost revenue from the cigarette taxes?
Taxes on cigarettes were high but they were there for a reason. The toll that cigarette smoking has inflicted on the Canadian health system is even higher. Now all Canadians will have to subsidize the increased shortfall.
I am afraid that what the government has done in this instance has sent a loud message that if enough people are ignoring the law, do not worry, we will change it. What the government should have done is enforce that law and enforce all the laws that were there. If a law has the support of Canadians it must be enforced. There was support from the community for higher taxes on cigarettes.
Calls to my office were six to one against lowering the taxes on cigarettes. If my constituents oppose the lowering of any tax we have accomplished something. They do not like taxes. They want taxes lowered but they want them lowered in a sane and reasonable manner across the board. The government should have concentrated on enforcement, not on isolating tax cuts to contraband cigarettes.
Unfortunately some Canadians need the occasional reminder that there are laws in the country and that they have to be enforced. There are laws against speeding in this country despite the fact that most of us speed. The mere sight of a police car on the side of the road is enough to slow must of us down.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Excise Act