Budget Implementation Bill, 2017, No. 1—Third ReadingPublished on 21 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Terry Mercer
Hon. Terry M. Mercer:
Honourable senators, here we are again. At this time of the year, I give the same speech. The speech is a little different because of this bill, but I start off by chastising the Department of Finance for not understanding that every year this has to happen. Every year they back us up to where we are down to the last days before the sitting ends. Every year they and their cohorts down the hall do this to us, and they will do it again in the fall and when it comes to Christmas break. We will have more estimates and expenditures that we will have to approve and we will be given days to do that.
I do commend the committee for their hard work. I also thank Senator Day and Senator Smith. It’s an education for all of us, and I thank both of them for what they have said. But delays are unacceptable by the Department of Finance.
The borrowing issue that Senator Day has elaborated on this morning is extremely interesting. Perhaps someone should ask the lenders if they have done due diligence on their customer and has the customer followed all the rules, and if the rules say that they are supposed to get approval of Parliament, perhaps we are going to have to rely on the lenders to police this. If they don’t listen to us, maybe they will listen to the people they want to borrow the money from. I think the two successive governments have gone too far.
I do not want to speak very long today, but I do want to be on the record as supporting the amendments that were proposed by the Finance Committee and by the Senate.
We are now being asked to approve a budget bill at third reading which does not include the escalator portions. I fully support the move. It is our job to provide sober second thought on all bills, and I believe we have done just that. And we have every right to do so.
Honourable senators, the escalator clause in Bill C-44 presupposes the will of Parliament and future parliaments in determining future courses of action.
While I may or may not agree with a 2 per cent increase this year, what happens next year when market volatility would require us to hold off on an increase in order to protect the industry and the thousands of jobs that would be at stake. I will talk about those jobs in a few moments. Including an automatic tax increase without going to Parliament to approve such an increase is taxation without representation. It does not take into account future changes to the market and possibly threatens the ability of producers to remain viable.
As I said in my question to Senator Mockler the other day on this very issue, if you are going to increase a tax, then at least have the guts to stand in front of Parliament yearly and try to increase that tax instead of hiding behind an omnibus bill this year and setting it automatically. Have the guts to do it.
An Hon. Senator: No taxation without representation!
Senator Mercer: Yes. Are you from Boston?
I believe many of you share this opinion as well.
Honourable senators, is it the job of current legislation to determine how an MP or senator would vote on future increases to taxes, or on anything in the future for that matter? I don’t think so. What happens if Parliament wants to lower the excise tax next year? Would we then have to amend the escalator, stop the increase, and lower the increase the next year?
There will be an effect on industries across this country. Let’s talk about the wine and grape industry. The Canadian wine industry generates $1.7 billion in federal and provincial tax revenue. That’s across every province. We don’t have a full liquor store in the community I live in. We have a corner in our general store. They are generating this money.
More than 37,000 jobs are created in Canada as a result of the grape and wine industry. That’s a lot of jobs. As well, there are approximately 1,770 grape growers operating in Canada with a combined acreage of 31,100 grape-bearing acres. That’s important. As Deputy Chair of the Agriculture Committee, I’m concerned about the vulnerability that this government is placing them in.
The Canadian wine and grape industry contributes annually to the Canadian economy. This is revenue of $5.6 billion, tax revenue of $1.7 billion, and wages of $1.7 billion.
Honourable senators, to use a phrase from the Agriculture Committee, these are not small potatoes. This is important stuff.
The beer industry provides good middle class jobs, a very popular term down the hall. Domestic growers directly employ 13,000 Canadians at an average annual compensation of $71,000 per employee. Those are good wages in this country. There are more than 13,000 people in the brewing business, 60 per cent higher than the average of all food manufacturing. Brewers buy 300,000 tonnes of prairie-grown malt barley every year to produce a product consumers enjoy while supporting 163,200 full-time jobs in the brewing side. This is the risk they are taking by not having the intestinal fortitude to come to Parliament each year to have these increases. Would it be easier to decide that we have these increases yearly or leave it up to the future Parliament? It’s up to parliamentarians.
Some people are arguing about our right to talk about this. I would like those down the hall to realize what their right and duty is, and that is to do this yearly, not to pass a bill that will have an escalator clause in it. Senator Munson talked about the poor fellow at the Legion in Bathurst, New Brunswick, reaching into his pocket and realizing he might not have enough for that one pint because of the escalator clause. Remember, 2 per cent doesn’t seem like a lot, but with 2 per cent added to a case of beer, that goes on before the provincial tax. Now the provincial tax is calculated on the federal tax. So you can’t get away down the hall talking about just 2 per cent. To quote the president of the United States, that’s fake news. That 2 per cent is fake because it’s more than 2 per cent when you factor in the provincial tax that goes on top of a case of beer or a bottle of wine. Let’s deal with the facts, honourable senators.
I will be supporting this bill as it is amended. I hope all of you will join us in doing the same thing.