Speech on the Harmonized Sales Tax

I rise today to speak against the HST. However, before I do, let me take a moment to say it is an honour for me to stand in the House of Commons, representing the communities of New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody. I am humbled by the trust and faith that voters have recently placed in me. I am committed to building a sustainable community that is socially just, inclusive and economically vibrant. This is why I am so strongly opposed to the harmonized sales tax.

First, let me tell members about the community I represent and the concerns of the people in New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody.

My riding is made up of three unique communities, bordering the Fraser River and the Pacific Ocean.

New Westminster is British Columbia's first capital city and the oldest city in western Canada.

Port Moody is the home to the last spike of the transcontinental train track and is known as the city of arts.

Coquitlam, the youngest of the three municipalities, is home to one of B.C.'s first francophone communities, Maillardville. It is also known for its green spaces and quality education system. Coquitlam literally means “red fish up the river”, so named by the Kwikwetlem First Nation for the abundant sockeye salmon that historically travelled up the Coquitlam River.

The history of these communities is intertwined with that the Fraser River, through settlement, trade and economic activity, and bound by the environmental attributes of this great river and linked to the salmon.

The Fraser River sockeye salmon recently faced one of the most devastating collapses in Canadian history and are in jeopardy of going the way of the Atlantic cod unless immediate action is taken.

This is why I called for an independent public judicial inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye salmon. It is also why, as the New Democrat fisheries and oceans critic, I have been actively calling the government to phase out open-net fish farms and move to closed containment; to immediately move existing fish farms away from important wild salmon migration routes; and to invest in habitat protection and salmon enhancement programs to protect our wild salmon.

It is no secret that I am incredibly passionate about the fate of British Columbia's wild salmon. This is why I twice swam the length of the 1,400 kilometre Fraser River to draw attention to the negative impacts we have on this mighty river system.

I feel so strongly because the demise of our wild salmon is really an indication of the broader problems that my community faces.

Homelessness has nearly tripled in the tri-cities and more than doubled in New Westminster since 2005.

We have seen the closure of several mills in our community, and this latest recession has brought some of the highest unemployment in over a decade.

At a time when my community is struggling, at a time when British Columbians need us most, at a time when the world is calling on Canada to take a major role on the international stage in Copenhagen, the government is making life less affordable for students, seniors, families and small businesses.

The HST is more than a new tax on British Columbians; it is a tax shift from big business to B.C. families.

What is worse, British Columbians were not given a chance to vote on it provincially. Students, seniors, families, small businesses and working people were not consulted on this new tax, and they are furious with the government about it.

I know. I have talked with them. This was the number one issue raised on the doorstep. I have knocked on thousands of doors over the past six months.

For instance, I talked to a family, James and Patty, with two small kids and who live in New Westminster. James has recently lost his job and Patty is now the sole breadwinner in the family. If this tax comes in, they will now have to pay 7% more for clothes and basic items for the family. This means they will have to make tough choices in that household. It means they will have to cut things they need to thrive.

I talked to a student, Angie, who lives in Coquitlam and goes to Simon Fraser University. She told me that another 7% on text books, which are already very expensive, will affect her bottom line. She said that if she wants to do the right thing for the environment and purchase a bicycle, that will be another 7% impacting her bottom line that is already faced with some of the highest ever tuition costs.

I talked to Anne, who is a senior in Coquitlam. She told me that another 7% on her strata fees will impact her bottom line. She also said that 7% on taxis to get around will affect her daily choices about what she can and cannot afford.

These are just some of the impacts on hundreds of people I have met over the past month. The HST will hurt people in my community, and when given the chance to voice their opposition to this new tax, constituents in New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody have overwhelmingly rejected it. It will hurt small businesses. It will hurt students and seniors. It will hurt working families.

Having grown up in this riding, I have seen our community go through many changes. The mills were working at full capacity in New Westminster. My father worked in one. Young families were buying their first homes in Coquitlam, and residents were able to walk to work in Port Moody. All of that has now changed. Most of the mills in New Westminster are closed. Average housing costs in Coquitlam have spiralled to over three-quarters of a million dollars. Residents in Port Moody now commute across the Lower Mainland to get to work.

What did I hear from constituents? No to HST. Instead, create jobs and increase infrastructure funding in New Westminster. No to the HST. Instead, implement a national affordable housing strategy and help families in Coquitlam. No to the HST. Instead, fund the Evergreen Line and help small businesses in Port Moody. No to the HST. Instead, increase funding for community policing and crime reduction programs. They said no to the HST. Instead, set meaningful targets to reduce emissions, stop climate change and protect our air, green spaces and our waterways.

Today, on day two of the Copenhagen summit on climate change, world leaders are meeting to discuss the most pressing issues facing the planet. People in New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody understand these connections. They see the changes taking place in our community, in our rivers and around the world and they know things are not right.

Not one penny of this new tax will make life better for their families. This tax takes money out of their pockets, the pockets of working people, and puts it right back in the pockets of big corporations. Today I am calling on all parties to listen to the people of British Columbia and, like our mighty Sockeye salmon, to swim against the current and vote no to the HST.

Mr. Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton—St. Albert, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome the new member and congratulate him on his maiden speech.

I know the hon. member recently returned from the campaign trail and his successful by-election, and I know his province of British Columbia had an election in May 2009. I understand the harmonized sales tax might have been an issue in that campaign. He certainly suggests it was in the byelection.

Does he not recognize that under a federal state such as Canada, it is up to a province such as British Columbia to decide for itself whether or not it wishes to have a harmonized tax? I come from Alberta, where we have no sales tax. Our neighbour to the east, Saskatchewan, has a provincial sales tax but does not harmonize it.

Therefore, it is really up to the legislature in Victoria. What is his comment in response to that suggestion?

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

Mr. Speaker, this harmonized sales tax was not brought up during the provincial election at all. In fact, it was brought up months after the provincial election. There was absolutely no opportunity for people to provide their input. There was no consultation. However, in the local byelection, there was an opportunity to provide input. When I spoke to people in New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody about the HST and the implementation, they were extremely angry over its implementation. They were extremely upset that they had not been consulted.

When they elected me, they overwhelmingly rejected the notion of implementing the tax framework act we are looking at today. This has not been handled well at all. Unfortunately most Canadians do not have an opportunity to debate on this. This is a lack of democracy and we need consultation on things like the HST.

Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I rise mostly to welcome the new member to the House. It is a great honour for all of us to be here and constituents have shown great honour to him. I wish him all the best for a successful career here.

However, he talked about fisheries which inspired a question from me. I am very happy there is another person knowledgeable about salmon. I am from Yukon. The king salmon and chinook salmon runs have been way down in the last few years. Would he support my calls for more investigation into the causes of this in the north Pacific, whether it is the Japanese fish, disease or climate change and also a reduction of the bycatch of the pollock fleets in the Bering Sea?

The Deputy Speaker:

I am not sure if there is an aspect of the question that touches on the bill before the House, but I will let the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam try to answer it.

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

Mr. Speaker, during the byelection, not only did I hear about the HST, I also heard about the collapse of the sockeye salmon and the call for a public inquiry into that matter. I welcome the judicial inquiry that has been called, however, there needs to be action on this important matter. Not only is the state of the fishery in British Columbia of concern, but right up and down the entire coast of salmon nation, including Yukon.

I welcome the question and the comment. I look forward, as a new member of the fisheries committee, to work on that issue in the new year.

Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I, too, wish to congratulate the new member for New Westminster—Coquitlam. I congratulate him on his inaugural speech, which was very well put. I know the rest of the House would join me in supporting him as he swims through the many hurdles that we face in trying to represent our constituents.

A lot of members, in speaking against the bill, have objected to the fact that there has been no opportunity for Canadians to speak to it. As a member representing residents of Alberta, what does the member have to say about the fact that we have also not consulted with people in Alberta and do they wish to shell out $6 billion, which could be spent on climate change and saving the fisheries instead of the—

The Deputy Speaker:

The hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

Mr. Speaker, this is a concern to all Canadians when decisions are made about harmonizing our tax and tax system. This question was brought up to me when I knocked on doors in New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody. Where will this tax go and how will it help Canadians? I think all Canadians across the country need to ask that question. Will this tax go to help with social programs, programs that help working families, students and seniors? When they look at that question, the answer is clearly a “no”. It will go to help big business and corporations in our country and that is not what my constituents hope to see done with the tax that will be generated.