For immediate release:
Apr 15, 2008

TOBACCO CONTROL

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Pursuant to standing order 37, the member for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock has given notice of her dissatisfaction with the answer to a question given by the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services concerning the collection of cigarette taxes from the smoke shop located on government-owned property on Argyle Street in Caledonia.

I'm pleased to recognize the member for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock.

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Ms. Laurie Scott: My reason for this request, pursuant to standing order 37(a), is that I'm unsatisfied with the answer received to the question I posed yesterday in the House to the Minister of Revenue, who then sent the question over to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Mr. Robert Bailey: Dodged and weaved.

Ms. Laurie Scott: Dodged and weaved again.

The question related directly to the Minister of Revenue's responsibilities, and I quoted from the Minister of Revenue's news releases in the Legislature here and referred to the Minister of Revenue's public website. The question was certainly not out of the minister's realm of responsibility to answer. It's relating to a vendor operating on government-owned land, selling illegal cigarettes to children and young people and not collecting or claiming their share of tobacco taxes.

In the Ministry of Revenue, there are no less than 17 members who are employees who get paid salaries well over the $100,000 list. Their job titles are focused on tax appeals, tax revenue collections, tax advisory, tax avoidance specialists. So she has a large group of people working for her that could have supplied the answer.

Why she didn't answer the question, I don't know. I hope it's not a trend for new ministers, that they avoid the questions and pass them off to other ministers.

Is there any coincidence the member from Parry Sound-Muskoka just did the late show? He wasn't happy with the question to the minister of small business and he asked for the late show there.

In the past two weeks, both myself and my colleagues have asked a number of questions with respect to the no-smoking laws, as well as the regulations and the effects on small business. We provided clear examples of where there are serious violations for those regulations-no response from the government on addressing these issues, which is why we're here tonight. We've heard excuses, unrelated statistics and rhetoric, mostly from the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

The reason for my question to the Minister of Revenue yesterday, along with my colleague from Thornhill, was to clarify: Is there a double standard? We're asking, is there a double standard when it comes to enforcing the Ontario revenue regulations?

Her own ministry lists numerous examples of revenue officers seizing illegal tobacco products, including fines to convenience store owners and vendors across Ontario for not filing the proper taxes on the tobacco products they sell. Yesterday, she couldn't pass the question off fast enough. The Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services quoted all these statistics again that didn't have any relation to the question.

My question is, why is the Minister of Revenue allowing an illegal smoke shop selling illegal cigarettes to young people without identification? It's a hazardous product. They're not paying their fair share of provincial tobacco taxes. They're operating on government-owned property. It's unbelievable that they are-an illegal smoke shack operating on government-owned property.

Mr. Robert Bailey: Say it isn't so.

Ms. Laurie Scott: It is so; close to both an elementary and a secondary school. Where's the minister of infrastructure renewal on this? He's responsible for the Ontario Realty Corp, the crown land. There are quite a few ministers involved here. No one's answering the question. Is the vendor, is the owner of the illegal smoke shop actually paying rent to the taxpayers of Ontario? Because Ontario Realty Corp, the province, owns the property.

On April 3, I asked the first opposition question ever to the Minister of Health Promotion. She's the minister responsible for this health promotion, a children's Smoke-Free Ontario Act. We've spent millions of taxpayers' dollars on this.

She was asked the question-l ots of posters, but "Do as I say, don't do as I do," is it? Yes, I think so. That would be the term. So duck and pass the buck is the theme that has gone through here, in not answering the questions. Thirty per cent of cigarettes sold in this province are illegal, amounting to about $600 million a year that the government should be taking in taxes.

The Minister of Health Promotion refuses to protect young children in places like Caledonia from the evils of smoking. The Minister of Revenue refuses to ensure that the smoke shop on crown land selling illegal tobacco products to young people without proper identification-she refuses to have those products seized and ensure that a vendor is paying proper taxes, like the thousands and thousands of hard-working, law-abiding convenience store owners and business owners in this province. Add to this that you have the minister of small business, who never ceases to be out in left field on this entire issue. He refuses to stand up for these small businesses and the double standard that they are faced with.

Let me quote a recent article in the Cornwall Standard Freeholder with respect to the question from my colleague from Thornhill last Thursday-I guess I can't because I'm out of time, but my point has been made.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I recognize the member for Ottawa Centre to reply.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: I want to thank the member from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock for her comments.

Our government is committed to combatting the problem of illegal cigarettes. Since October 2003, Ontario has taken many steps to attack illegal, contraband cigarette sales, including the Tobacco Tax Act. Convictions under that act doubled between 2005 and 2007.

Over the past two years, Ministry of Revenue investigators have seized 28 million contraband cigarettes, 177,000 untaxed cigars and large quantities of fine-cut tobacco.

In reality, our government strengthened enforcement against contraband tobacco in our 2004, 2006 and 2007 budgets and, if passed, our 2008 budget. Both parties sitting opposite voted against increasing enforcement by voting against our budgets.

The role of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, through the Ontario Provincial Police, is to ensure that the community and its residents are safe. In fact, last week, near North Bay, in one instance alone, the OPP confiscated-

Interjection.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: If the member opposite is not going to hear the answer, then I don't know why we're doing the late show, so I'll go back.

Last week, near North Bay, in one instance alone, the OPP confiscated 15,000 cartons of cigarettes, valued at $450,000; and the week before that, the OPP seized $410,000 worth of contraband cigarettes in two stops along Highway 401.

Don't tell us that the OPP isn' t doing its job. Our government is proud of the work being done by the fine women and men of the OPP.

It is nevertheless true that our government does not interfere with the operational decisions of the OPP or any other police service in Ontario. We take the recommendations from the Linden report very seriously. We are very clear on recommendation 71: The minister's role is clear-cut and " does not include directions regarding specific law enforcement decisions in individual cases." All members of this Legislature are fully aware of this well-established division between public policy and operational matters.

We have full confidence in the police across the province, and we would hope that the opposition shares this confidence.

Let me remind the members that it is the primary responsibility of the federal government to protect Canadians from cross-border smuggling, including tobacco smuggling.

The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency are the two federal agencies responsible for matters related to cross-border smuggling.

The RCMP is the lead agency that manages Canada's international border enforcement teams known as IBETs. The OPP is a strong partner in the work of these teams, targeting cross-border criminal activity like tobacco smuggling. These teams enable law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada to ensure that our borders are secure and open for legitimate business. These teams are a major enforcement success.

In addition, last week, law enforcement officials in eastern Ontario announced they are joining forces to crack down on speeders, contraband tobacco smugglers and impaired drivers on the region's roads and highways. This partnership will consist of the OPP, the Ministry of Transportation, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.

We know that enforcement and tax policies alone are not enough. We know that smoking cessation is key to long-term success. The McGuinty government has been aggressively implementing smoking cessation programs since taking office. The Smoke-Free Ontario Act has been hugely successful.

Our colleague Minister Best confirms that tobacco consumption in Ontario fell by 31.8% from 2003 to 2006. That equals over 4.6 billion fewer cigarettes.

Our government believes that reducing the demand for tobacco is crucial. Although some people may be concerned about lost tax revenue from illegal cigarettes, our government is concerned about lost lives from all cigarettes.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): There being no further matter to debate, I deem the motion to adjourn to have been carried.

This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.

The House adjourned at 1819.