Mathyssen Speaks Out Against Unfair HST!

Hansard Record, House of Commons December 8th
Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

Madam Speaker, I believe it is essential for me to speak today, on behalf of my constituents, against this insidious new tax. I say this because when it became clear that the party in power was determined to inflict a new tax on the people of Ontario and British Columbia, I sent out a mailing to the residents of London—Fanshawe. I asked them what they thought of the HST, the new tax that Conservatives and Liberals plan to enact on July 1, their gift to Ontario and British Columbia on Canada Day.

I communicate quite regularly with my constituents and they respond in significant numbers. We have a good dialogue, and I always appreciate hearing from them.

However, the response to the HST survey was astounding. I received hundreds and hundreds of mail-backs, emails and letters. I have never had such a response.

Despite nearly four years of mismanagement by the members from across the aisle, four years of cynically telling Canadians that our environment does not matter, that child care can be had for $100 a month, that housing does not have to be affordable, that first nation children do not need a school, after four years of ideological agenda from this group that basically says that there is no room for the aspirations of Canadians or the values that we cherish, my constituents have responded with renewed and greater anger, greater than I have ever seen. Because of those nearly four years of bad government, my constituents said, with absolutely clarity, that they had enough. This tax grab was the last straw and they counted on New Democrats to defend their interests.

We have heard repeatedly from the Minister of Finance that this legislation is the will of the provinces, that this is democracy in action. The truth is we are fighting a bill, in the name of the Minister of Finance, to amend the excise tax and enable the HST.

The party in power insists it is innocent. According to the Minister of Finance, the bill is to accommodate the provinces. Despite his insistence that this is not a federal bill, despite his persistent attempt to wash his hands of this bill, it stands in his name. I would suggest he has much greater responsibility than he cares to admit.

I can understand his desperate need to distance himself from the HST because it is, quite simply, the wrong tax, at the worst of times. It will increase the cost of haircuts, home heating, gasoline, firewood, Internet, cell phones, snow removal, newspapers, magazines, camping fees, veterinary care, taxi fares, carpet cleaning, landscaping, utilities, commercial property rentals, postage stamps, courier fees, domestic air, rail and commercial bus tickets, funerals, all of these and more, by an additional 8%.

Imagine one earning minimum wage, trying to raise a family and, now, despite all the sacrifices, is hit with an additional 8% cost of living. Many women in Canada will face particular hardships due to this increase in the cost of living. It is well known that single women and single mothers face higher poverty levels than any other group.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, most anti-poverty strategies in Canada and elsewhere have concentrated on reducing child poverty, but other groups within the population are even more disadvantaged. In 2007, for example, 9.5% of young people under age 18, the child poverty measure, had low incomes and 23.6% of Canadian women heading lone-parent families had incomes below the after-tax level. In fact, the incidents of low income for female lone-parent families was almost five times as high as that of two-parent families with children.

At the same time, 14.3% of women aged 65 and over, who are on their own, had low incomes. Seniors living on their own experienced a low income rate almost 13 times higher than seniors living in families in 2007. The depths of poverty of these groups was significant. On average, the after-tax income of senior women on their own was $2,400 below the poverty level. However, the average after-tax income of women who had lone-parent families was $7,500 below the after-tax income level.

To a large extent, these groups of women might be described as the forgotten poor. They are generally not mentioned in budgets or stimulus packages, and with one or two notable exceptions, no specific programs are developed to address their needs.

Of course it goes without saying that children are poor because their parents are poor. Many poor children live in low-income lone-parent families headed by women, but it has become more acceptable to talk about child poverty than women's poverty.

I would like to make special note that according to CCPA, while many people seem to believe women to choose to work part-time or on a temporary basis so they can more easily combine their paid employment with family responsibilities, in 2008 among women in the main childbearing age group, 25 to 44, 27% of those who were employed part-time worked part-time because they were unable to find full-time jobs. About 38% of women in this age group were working part-time because they were caring for children.

Women in Canada still have unacceptably high rates of poverty, especially if they are on their own as lone-parent heads of families or as older women living alone. While we used to talk about the feminization of poverty, addressing women's poverty no longer seems to be a high priority among policymakers.

The HST is a policy that continues to ignore the feminization of poverty in our country. The worst of it is the tax is inherently regressive. It disproportionately hits those who have no choice but to spend all or a large part of their income and it favours those with income to save. This is doubly true in a recession where less than 50% of the unemployed qualify for EI, where social assistance rates are well below the poverty line and the cost of essentials looms larger and larger.

Those with the lowest income have no choice but to pay the tax and sacrifice consumption elsewhere. The HST is hitting those who can least afford it harder than anyone else. The tax is quite simply unfair.

The Conservatives have demonstrated a callous disregard for the plight of low and moderate income households. They cannot be trusted to apply the HST fairly. It has been argued a sales tax is bad for investment compared with a tax on profits. Then why is the removal of sales tax from inputs not matched by an increase in corporate income taxes? In fact, the opposite is true.

The HST is accompanied by corporate income tax cuts, both at the federal and provincial levels. In other words, the HST is part of a general and indiscriminate tax shift, shifting the burden from corporations to individuals and families without adequate compensation.

The claim that it will lower prices assumes businesses will pass along their savings to consumers. Studies show that much less than 100% of the savings are passed on to consumers. Price increases are virtually inevitable. Remember when the GST was introduced? Prices to consumers did not decline.

One of the arguments the Conservatives put forward states that because it applies to a wider range of goods, it is more efficient as a generator of revenue and hence, under progressive governments, provides support to high-quality public services. Scandinavian countries depend on HST for much of their revenue. This, of course, does not apply to the current situation because the party in power is far from progressive and it has done nothing but undermine services to Canadians.

It should be noted that I have refused to call this a government. A government leads with integrity and places the needs of people before its own. A real government would never have done what the Conservatives have done to undermine women's rights, deprive first nations, use the resources of government to mislead and create dissension among its citizens.

Finally, last evening the members across the aisle invoked closure to stifle debate, to force through its undemocratic and unfair tax. It wants, like its finance minister, to wash its hands of responsibility for the people of Ontario and British Columbia, just as it washed its hands of its obligations to this nation and to its people.

That is a group I cannot call government because, quite simply, it is not.