MPP moves to ‘Plan B’ on cigarette tax issue

Tory MPP Toby Barrett says he is already working on another line of attack against the burgeoning trade in contraband cigarettes after his private member’s bill to cut tobacco taxes was shot down after spirited debate in the legislature.

Barrett, who represents Haldimand-Norfolk riding, which includes the heart of Ontario’s troubled tobacco growing sector, said Monday he was not surprised at the heavy rejection of his bill late last week by Liberal government MPPs who are averse to changing government tax policy.

Still, he is encouraged by the debate to bring forward another resolution that will concentrate more closely on enforcement questions surrounding illegal sales.

“I’m moving to Plan B,” he said.

“That my bill didn’t pass was understandable and predictable. What I found heartening, though, is that for the first time in five years we had a serious debate in the house about illegal tobacco. I got the sense from that debate that more MPPs have recognized we must deal with this problem seriously.”

Barrett’s ill-fated bill attracted just the kind of discussion and political activity that he had hoped for when it came up for second reading last Thursday.

The bill sought to cut the provincial tax on cigarettes by 33%, to 8.23 cents per cigarette from 13 cents, and to 37.7% on a cigar from the present 56.6%. It also called for the change to be done in conjunction with the federal government’s tax policies.

Barrett had forwarded a package to MPPs of all parties detailing the problem of smoke shops that have proliferated on Highways 6 and 53 at the edge of Six Nations, sustained by a trade that completely skirts federal and provincial tobacco taxes, and a nationwide loss of 2.5 billion in tax revenue by Ottawa and the provinces.

He said the rampant problem of smoke shacks and sales out of car trunks is killing the Ontario legal tobacco growing sector and convenience stores that carry on legal selling with taxes included.

Liberals lined up to speak in the debate and later swamped the bill.

Brant Liberal MPP Dave Levac argued that Barrett had logical flaws in his argument that lowering the tax would curb the problem of cigarettes being acquired by youth.

“Would the member tell me why moving the price from approximately $80 to $60 (per carton) will stop those people filling up their trunks and bringing them in front of schools?” Levac said.

“They’re still getting them for about 25 bucks. Quite frankly, that’s just not a logical explanation. And you drop the tax altogether; that would be good. Then we don’t have any tax revenue for health care that we’re trying to spend money on.”

Parkdale-High Park New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo didn’t buy the argument that higher taxes are the main factor that have led directly to an explosion in contraband activities.

“Ontario and Quebec already have the lowest tobacco taxes in Canada, and yet we have the highest amount of contraband cigarettes. So, that fact alone speaks against this bill,” she said.

DiNovo also suggested that it would be better for Ontario to help tobacco farmers directly with an incentive program aimed at getting them out of the industry.

“Another bill needs to be forthcoming, something that’s going to help those farmers transition to producing crops that don’t kill people. That’s what’s needed here, not lowering taxes on cigarettes.”

A group called the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco is sponsoring a meeting at the Best Western Brant Park Inn on Oct. 7, from 7 p. m. to 9 p. m.

The coalition, founded by the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, is dedicated to fighting the spread of illegal cigarettes in Canada. Other members include the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The meeting is part of the coalition’s tour through several Ontario cities to spread its message about contraband tobacco and crime.


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