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Canada’s Tories Break Filibuster, Pass Hated Consumption Tax

December 14, 1990

TORONTO (AP) _ The ruling Conservatives broke months of procedural delays and a filibuster in the Senate to force passage Thursday of the consumption tax, the most reviled piece of legislation in recent Canadian history.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s progressive Conservatives, who outnumber opposition Liberals in Canada’s ″chamber of sober second-thought,″ easily carried the vote 55 to 49. The Liberals were outraged, calling the Conservative maneuver to force the vote illegal.

The goods and services bill now only needs the formality of royal consent to become law.

Allan MacEachen, Liberal leader in the Senate, charged that the speaker of the Senate, under instructions from Mulroney, changed the rules of the Senate illegally to end the 11-week filibuster and bring the bill to a vote.

The goods and services tax, known familiarly as the GST, imposes a 7 percent federal levy on nearly all merchandise and services beginning Jan. 1. The tax is added on top of provincial sales taxes, which range from 8 to 10 percent.

That means the buying public will have 15 to 17 percent tacked on to nearly all purchases, including such things as haircuts, music lessons and even postage.

The GST has been languishing in the unelected Senate since it was passed by the House of Commons in April. The bill was taken up actively with the opening of the autumn session of Parliament Sept. 25. The Liberals vowed to kill the tax, which polls showed was opposed by 75 to 85 percent of the people.

More recent polls show, however, that people favor getting on with the vote and ending the circus in the Senate. Tactics have featured hooting, catcalls, shouting, blowing kazoos, interminable reading of petitions name by name and other delaying measures.

Despite lack of a final vote, the government went ahead with plans to collect the tax. More than 1.3 million businesses are supposed to help them do it. Many have spent the last few months reprograming their cash registers and computers and adjusting their pricing in anticipation of the tax. Any delay from the original Jan. 1 deadline for implementation could throw much of Canadian business into confusion.

On Wednesday, the Conservatives made their long anticipated move to end the Liberal delays. Senate speaker Guy Charbonneau ruled a vote would be held Thursday. That ruling was upheld by a vote Thursday morning. The Liberals abstained, saying it was illegal.

The Liberals held a majority in the Senate until recently. In October, Mulroney used an obscure, never-before implemented section of the constitution which allowed him to ask Queen Elizabeth II to appoint eight extra senators. By filling vacant seats and getting the queen to appoint eight more, Mulroney succeeded in packing the Senate in his favor.

Waving copies of the Senate rule book, angry Liberals crowded around Charbonneau’s chair, calling the forced vote ″the worst example of dictatorship, parliamentary dictatorship.″

Sen. Lowell Murray, the Conservative leader, said he had taken the only possible action in the face of the Liberals’ determination not to let the GST come to a final vote.

″In order to get out of this unprecedented crisis, we have had to create a new precedent,″ Murray told reporters. ″We have had to ask the speaker to give the Senate the opportunity to decide.

″It’s a perfectly reasonable decision and it is completely in keeping with democratic and parliamentary tradition in this country. ″

The GST is supposed to replace the 13.5 percent manufacturers sales tax, which raises about $10 billion a year but is considered inefficient and levied on a very narrow base. The argument is that the manufacturers sales tax discriminates heavily against industry and hurts Canadian exporting firms.

One of the great fears of the tax-paying public is that once the GST is passed, it will be a great temptation for governments to increase the rate. With such a broad base, small rate increases can raise enormous amounts of revenue.

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