In a rare move in favour of an opposition party initiative, the Conservative government said it will be supporting the NDP’s motion to remove the GST from feminine hygiene products.
Minister for the Status of Women Canada Kellie Leitch made the announcement over Twitter Friday after the House of Commons had spent about an hour debating the NDP’s opposition day motion calling for a menstrual product GST exemption.
The real question now is when, if ever, the Conservative government will follow through with the support Leitch committed to on Friday.
New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen has been pushing for this initiative since 2011, when she introduced a private member’s bill on the subject. Pressure to get menstrual products — pads, tampons, menstrual cups and the like — exempt from GST ramped up last January with the No Tax on Tampons campaign, spearheaded by the Canadian Menstruators group.
The campaign’s online petition has received over 72,000 signatures since it began earlier this year.
In the House of Commons Friday, Mathyssen said removing GST from feminine hygiene products is more than an issue of fairness. Taxes on these products is gender discrimination and makes life difficult for women, especially women living in poverty, she said.
“I’ve heard from women who cannot afford feminine hygiene products that feel compelled to stay home during their periods,” Mathyssen told the House. “I’ve heard from students who need to count out… their pads and tampons to make sure they last to the end of the month.”
The No Tax on Tampons campaign says Canadian women spend about $36 million a year from taxes on these products. Supporters of the campaign argue that feminine hygiene products are absolutely essential items for women similar to some health products, and not at all a luxury.
There are a number of other items exempt from GST that supporters point out aren’t really, technically, essential products — things like alcohol, cocktail cherries, chocolate chips, Viagra and wedding cakes.
“I’ve heard from women in shelters and food banks who keep a steady supply of feminine hygiene products on hand for women who can’t afford them once they’ve paid the rent and fed the kids,” Mathyssen said.
“The fact of the matter is that these items are essential. Women do not and cannot choose to have a period. Taxing feminine hygiene products is blatant gender discrimination. It is an injustice that can be quite simply rectified,” she continued.
“This House has the powers to amend the Excise Tax Act and deem feminine hygiene products as essential, and thereby removing the tax,” Mathyssen said.
Anyone listening to the debate in the House of Commons Friday might have been doubtful about the government’s stance of the motion.
Conservative MP Patricia Davidson spent most of her time during the debate discussing the government’s tax measures and tax cuts — its “tremendous record of tax relief” — which she said puts money back into the hands of people who need it the most, including women and their families.
She noted that if the NDP was very serious about reducing taxes they would have supported the government when it reduced the GST from 7 per cent to 5 per cent, and vote with the government on tax cutting measures.
When asked about the NDP motion in question period later in the day, Susan Truppe, Leitch’s parliamentary secretary, said the government supports the motion and will consider if in future budgets..