Finance – Tariffs on Consumer Goods

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, as Senator Callbeck mentioned, on bicycles alone, the tariff is facing a 4.5 per cent increase. Canada imports $125 million worth of bicycles from dozens of countries, including from the group of 72 graduating from “developing” to “developed” status.

This is being done at a time when Canadian municipalities are promoting bicycles as an alternative to private vehicles and public transit. There is a serious disconnect here.

Worse than that, this week we learned that the leader’s government is misleading Canadians right down to the local bike shop owner. Jose Bray, owner of Joe Mamma Cycles in Ottawa in the Glebe, opened his doors to the Finance Minister, Mr. Flaherty, and his news conference. He was told the announcement was about a small business tax credit, something Mr. Bray was pleased to support. It turned out that Minister Flaherty introduced Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget bill introduced last year. Bray, who was there with all the media, was not given the opportunity to speak at the news conference. He has this to say now:

I don’t openly show support for any particular political party, but I do definitely feel strongly at this point that the Conservatives are not acting in the best interests of me as a person or of my business.

He added this:

I think (the Conservatives) were trying to use the bicycle shop as a backdrop because of a lot of their environmental policies… I just kind of feel that now there’s an opportunity to clarify things.

You have an opportunity, Madam Leader, to clarify things. Why did the government use this man? Will you set the record straight about these new tariffs and explain the government’s tax- tax-tax-tax-tax-and-spend agenda?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, the gentleman in question is certainly entitled to his own opinion. The fact is that the tax cuts we have already made include the reduction of the GST, which is very helpful not only to Canadian consumers but also to people trying to sell consumer goods to the public.

As I indicated in my first answer, we are simply trying to level the playing field. We have cut tariffs by over half a billion dollars per year every year since 2009.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, I guess that is not an apology. However, one would think the government would listen to the Senate and a Senate standing committee. We have had recommendations and we actually had a front-page good news headline story in many newspapers, including the National Post, on a day when some controversies were happening around here. It was a great story. All of us were working together with the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance on the Canada- U.S. price gap. It was a big headline. I guess some Canadians must have read it because the committee recommended a comprehensive review of Canadian tariffs to reduce discrepancies for certain products between Canada and the United States.

In fact, the committee’s news release about the report led with that very idea. There is good reason for this, honourable senators. Nothing irritates Canadians more — and the leader would know as well as anyone else — than when walking into a Shoppers Drug Mart, having forgotten someone’s birthday, you grab a Hallmark card, turn it over on the back and what does it read? It is $4.75 U.S and $8.75 Canadian. Nothing irritates Canadians more. The leader calls that a tariff. It is not a tariff, honourable senators. A tax is a tax is a tax, and Canadians deserve to know why the government is raising their taxes.

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, it is unfortunate, as I have also acknowledged in this place, that the great work of our Senate committee got blown off the front pages by other unfortunate incidents.

There is no question that the Finance Committee did outstanding work. I have said that in this place before. The budget consultation process was well under way and almost complete before the committee reported. Even at that, and we were talking about tariffs between Canada and the U.S., the Minister of Finance did take into account the recommendations of the report and made the first steps to implementing some of the recommendations. That is not to say that there will not be other recommendations of the committee taken into account. I thought it was a good first step.

What we are talking about here, in terms of these tariffs, is giving special breaks to countries like China. I do not think we should be giving special breaks to countries like China at the expense of Canadian businesses. All we want is to create a level playing field for Canadian business.

Senator Munson: As a supplementary question, honourable senators, if this is a good first step, as the Leader of the Government here in the Senate, would she support all of the recommendations in the joint Conservative-Liberal Finance Committee report?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, of course, that is not a decision for me to make. My colleague the Minister of Finance and other ministers who deal with the finance portfolio, I am quite certain, are looking at all aspects of the report of the Senate committee.

I have been on many Senate committees in the past. It is the responsibility of the government to pay heed to these reports and consider them when they are formulating legislation or, in this case, developing or working on a budget.

Many times in the past, under another government, I was part of a committee that made recommendations. Some recommendations were rejected outright, which is the purview of the government. Some were accepted. I was very happy to be part of the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee when it recommended a Canadian Commissioner for Mental Health. I am very glad to say that it was our government that fulfilled the recommendation made in that report from the previous regime, under the chairmanship of former senator Michael Kirby. As we all know, our government accepted that recommendation and made Michael Kirby the first chair of the Mental Health Commission.