Bill C-44 (Historical)
Injured Military Members Compensation Act
An Act to compensate military members injured during service
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.
John McCallum Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
October 23rd, 2003 / 4:05 p.m.
Bras D'Or—Cape Breton
Rodger Cuzner Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to join in the debate today on this opposition motion. May I note off the top that I will be splitting my time with my very capable colleague from York West.
Certainly I will never pretend to have a vast or deep technical appreciation for the complexities of the procedures of the House. However, I assure members that any light that I would shed would be pale in comparison to the comments in the intervention that was made earlier in the debate from the government leader of the House.
I will not be quoting from Marleau and Montpetit or citing passages from Beauchesne's. I believe as far as the technical aspects of the motion, they were very much addressed during the presentation by the government House leader.
I would like to make comments about the current Prime Minister, but I will not reach back too far and try to celebrate the 40 year career of our current Prime Minister and his commitment to public life. I will leave that to the pundits and the biographers and let him take his rightful place in history, which I am sure will be smiled upon by all.
I would like to talk about events that have occurred recently and more, the recent initiatives shown by this Prime Minister, including some of the brave, decisive decisions that have been made while he has been on his watch. He has presented legislation, rendered opinions on everything in our day to day activities in the House that have really made Canada a better place to be and one of which all Canadians can be proud.
I must make note first of some of the comments that have been made on the other side of the House during the course of this debate. They would like to think of late that things have slowed down in the House and that the work of the government is not being done. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Since 2002, over 55 pieces of legislation have come forward. Of those, 22 have been passed by the House, the Senate and have received royal assent. We really should celebrate some of this significant legislation.
I look at Bill C-2, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act, Bill C-5, the act respecting the protection of wildlife species and species at risk in Canada and Bill C-12, an act to promote physical activity in sport. That is the first piece of sport legislation that has cleared this House since the late 1960s. Bill C-44, an act to compensate military members injured during service is legislation that addresses some obvious inequities in how we deal with members of the military who have sustained serious injury and debilitating injury.
Of late we have had a tough time as a country. We have to look at some of the things we have experienced over the last 12 months such as SARS, mad cow and the forest fires and floods in western Canada. My home province of Nova Scotia just suffered the effects of hurricane Juan. We have had our own array of difficulties and none through any cause of our own. We have been very fortunate. Because of our financial situation, we have been able to offer assistance. We have been able to move in and make decisive, benevolent moves to help in each of those areas.
The pain is far-reaching on several of those issues, but certainly the federal government has been there. Had we not been in good financial stead, then perhaps we would not have been able to assist as well as we did.
Obviously, on our financial house, everything comes back to the economy and what has gone on with it. Sometimes as Canadians we suffer from a short memory. It is convenient not to remember back to 1995 or not look back and remember when this country operated with a $48 billion deficit. The state of the books as of the mid-1990s was deplorable. We were close to being recognized as a third world nation. We just could not continue as a country.
Under the leadership of our Prime Minister, a vision was set. If we could get our financial house in order, then we could to reinvest in the social programs, those programs that Canadians hold so dear. That is what in fact took place. Cuts were made, and, yes, every Canadian shared in the pain of those cuts. However they were imperative. We had to lasso the deficit and gain control of our financial well-being. That was done in the mid-1990s.
Since then we have been able to reinvest. Our economy continues to grow and continues to strengthen.
Since 2002, 612,000 jobs have been created under the Prime Minister, two-thirds of them full time. While other members of the G-7 continue to experience huge difficulties with their national budgets, we are firm on the controls of the budgets here with the Government of Canada.
From 1997 to 1998, Canada became a deficit free country for the first time in 30 years. In the year 2000 the recorded surplus was $12.3 billion. In 2003 the government under, the Prime Minister's leadership, recorded its sixth consecutive surplus budget. In doing so we have applied $52 billion to the national debt. That alone this year will save the people of Canada $3 billion in interest payments on that national debt, which is significant and that has to be noted.
It is great to talk about the big numbers and about the national picture in terms of our financial position. Let us bring it down and let us talk about what has been accomplished at the grassroots for the average Canadian. How have they benefited from the leadership and the stewardship of the Prime Minister?
I remember that it was not that long ago, two or three years, when we all talked about the brain drain and the loss of our best and our brightest as they moved across the border to seek employment in the States. The government saw this as a problem and the Prime Minister saw this as a problem and part of his vision was to invest in innovation and research.
By doing so we were able to keep those students and professors in Canada, to have them study here and perform their research here. What we have seen is really a shift, where now the drain is coming from the States. These people are coming back to Canada or they are staying in Canada and we are attracting some of the best and brightest minds from other countries.
I can take that down to a personal level. I see the investments that have been made in the universities in my area, St. Francis Xavier and the University College of Cape Breton. They are benefiting from programs such as the national research chairs, the Atlantic innovation fund, those types of investments. We are keeping those kids here.
I see the reinvestment in health care of $34.8 billion following the Romanow commission. We have an MRI machine in Sydney. We have digital x-ray machines in Inverness and in Richmond County. People can get x-rays which can be digitized, then sent and read by specialists anywhere in the world. That was not available two years ago.
I see improvements in infrastructure in my home communities, in Birch Grove and in St. Peter's through the Canada-Nova Scotia infrastructure program. Tomorrow I will attend tomorrow the opening of a water treatment plant in Glace Bay, where a $10 million investment by all three levels of government will provide clean water to the residents of Glace Bay. I am very happy to be part of that announcement.
I could talk about species at risk legislation that is important to the people and Kyoto that will secure a healthy environment as we go forward to the future.
What I would like to finish on is the Prime Minister's guidance and leadership through the Iraqi crisis. He took a brave, strong and principled position throughout the Iraqi crisis, identifying that Canada stood as a sovereign nation, much to the criticism of the official opposition. When we look at the polls now, well over 70% of Canadians know that he did the right thing.
Our Prime Minister has provided great leadership in this country, and well beyond this motion today, he will continue to provide that leadership to the people of Canada.
Public Safety Act 2002
October 7th, 2003 / 11:45 a.m.
Don Valley East
David Collenette Minister of Transport
My colleague from the Alliance Party seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he said that his party is for Bill C-17 and “we should move on with it” and then he said that this motion, a legitimate motion in the standing orders, should not be used.
There is a time for decision in all parliamentary debate. We believe that the decision is now. In fact he seems to agree with that because we should move on with it.
Let me remind the House that this was a bill that came here originally as Bill C-42. Then Bill C-44 was hived off and then it became Bill C-55 and then Bill C-17. The bill has been before the House for a year in one form or another. It has been debated at second reading nine hours and 35 minutes, three hours and 15 minutes at report stage, three hours and 25 minutes at third reading. All told, there have been 38 hours and 15 minutes of debate. Also the committee studied it from November last year until May 2003.
It seems to me that we have had a lot of debate. I say to my friends in the Alliance that this is not a matter for procedural argument. We are dealing here with a crucial piece of legislation that flowed from the terrible attacks on September 11, 2001. We had Bill C-36 and then we had the bills which I just referred to, ultimately becoming Bill C-17.
It is absolutely crucial in the interest of national security and in dealing with the North American security environment, that this bill be passed. That is why the government House leader correctly in my view has brought forward the motion today.
Injured Military Members Compensation Act
June 13th, 2003 / 10:40 a.m.
Pursuant to order made on Thursday, June 12, Bill C-44 is deemed read a second time, deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.
(Bill read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in at report stage read a third time and passed)
Injured Military Members Compensation Act
June 13th, 2003 / 10:30 a.m.
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-44 this morning. This legislation will right a wrong that has been in place for many years, for 30 years many would argue. They would say 30 years because for colonels and above this lump sum payment coverage has been in place since 1972. It is indeed an embarrassment that it has taken this government this long to act on changing that.
I think one has to wonder where the government's priorities are. We get legislation coming forward in the House all the time that quite frankly does nothing positive at all, and in some cases just the opposite, and yet a change like this, which was desperately needed, has taken 30 years, or 10 years for those who served in the Balkans, where many were injured, including the person who was persistent enough on this issue such that the government could finally no longer resist, and that was Major Bruce Henwood.
In fact, this bill should be called the Bruce Henwood bill, because he has pursued this issue absolutely fruitlessly for 10 years until just recently when, with help from the opposition but mostly through his own efforts over the years, he finally forced the government to make this move. Why the government would resist for so long is almost impossible to understand, but finally he has been successful. Again I have to say that I think the bill should be called the Bruce Henwood bill, because it was through his courageous and persistent actions that it has come forward.
There are some problems with the bill. One is in the case of people feeling they are not receiving proper treatment. Under the bill, it is of course the minister who makes the decisions. If someone feels mistreated, there is an appeal, but who is the appeal to? To the minister. So we will have the minister appealing his own decision in cases where people feel they are being improperly treated. That simply has to be changed, and I hope it will be changed by the minister.
What we are proposing, in fact, is that there be an appeal to the military ombudsman. The military ombudsman would then make a recommendation to the minister. Should the minister support that recommendation, fine, it will go through, but should the minister refuse to support the military ombudsman's recommendation on an individual case, we are suggesting that the military ombudsman be given authority to make public both the minister's reasons for rejecting it and the ombudsman's reasons for supporting it. At least we would then have the court of public opinion to put pressure on the minister.
I am calling upon the government to do that. I would assume that the government can see it is improper to have the minister handling appeals for the minister. I hope clause 11 of the bill will be amended to deal with that.
As well, this legislation simply will not deal with cases of injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder. There is nothing in Bill C-44 to help deal with those types of cases. Also, there is probably nothing in the bill to deal with cases like that of Matt Stopford, who has been stonewalled by the government, and quite frankly by the military, for many years. He was severely injured, admittedly poisoned by his own troops when serving in the Balkans. This legislation does nothing to help him as far as I can tell, so there are some huge gaps in the legislation.
It is certainly going to be worthwhile legislation for the roughly 200 military personnel who will likely receive lump sum payments of up to $250,000, although many of the payments will be much less than that.
I commend the government for finally righting this wrong after 30 years, it could be argued, but certainly 10 years. It has taken 10 years, but I guess better late than never applies in this case. Let us move ahead with this and fix the things that have to be fixed, which I have pointed to. I would like to congratulate Major Bruce Henwood for the Bruce Henwood bill.
Injured Military Members Compensation Act
June 13th, 2003 / 10:25 a.m.
David Pratt Nepean—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in support of this measure, Bill C-44, an act to compensate military members injured during service. The bill would redress a disparity in the benefits provided to members of the Canadian Forces who have been seriously injured while on duty.
Under the Canadian Forces insurance plan currently, members of the Canadian Forces below the rank of colonel are not eligible for a lump sum payment when they suffer severe injury while on duty. Under this same plan, individuals at the rank of colonel and above receive payments of up to $250,000.
The Minister of National Defence first heard of this inequity last August through the efforts of Major Bruce Henwood. Major Henwood was a Canadian peacekeeper in the former Yugoslavia. In 1995 he suffered major injuries including the loss of both legs when his vehicle struck an anti-tank mine. Under the insurance plan, Major Henwood was not entitled to a lump sum payment for his injuries because, as I indicated, compensation was only provided to those of the rank of colonel and above.
Major Henwood has since made extraordinary efforts to have coverage extended to all ranks, and on behalf of the Minister of National Defence and, indeed, the members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, I commend him for his dedication to this cause.
When the minister heard of Major Henwood's story, the minister undertook to end this inconsistency in the insurance plan. On February 11 of this year the minister announced that the plan would be expanded to cover all regular and reserve members of the Canadian Forces, regardless of rank, for accidental dismemberment while on active duty.
At the same time, the minister promised to exhaust every avenue in an effort to make sure that a lump sum payment was provided to those who were injured before this new coverage came into effect. With this bill, the Minister of National Defence has met that commitment.
All members of the Canadian Forces, regardless of rank, can expect to receive assignments that may put them in harm's way. We certainly wish the Canadian Forces and the members of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment who are going to Afghanistan the very best, and we certainly wish that each and every one of them comes home safely.
Providing coverage only for senior ranks was, in the minister's view, and I think in the view of all Canadians, unacceptable. In a word, it was unfair. That is why the government changed the insurance plan and that is why the minister has introduced this bill, to help the 200 or so individuals who have found themselves in Major Henwood's position, to help those who have been severely injured in the course of military service but have been unable to claim the benefit because of their rank.
This bill would allow lump sum payments of up to $250,000 for current or former Canadian Forces members who suffered serious injury attributable to military service.
Before I conclude, I wish to thank the opposition parties for supporting this measure. It is heartening to see both sides of the House stand behind our men and women in uniform. They are the people who regularly put themselves in harm's way in the service of our country. With all that they give on our behalf, we must be prepared to give back. They certainly deserve nothing less.
Injured Military Members Compensation Act
June 13th, 2003 / 10:25 a.m.
Business of the House
June 12th, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among all parties in the House and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That, immediately after government orders are called on Friday, June 13, the House shall proceed to consider second reading of Bill C-42 and, after no more than one representative of each party has spoken for no more than five minutes each, the bill shall be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole and reported without amendment, concurred in at report stage and read a third time and passed, and the House shall then proceed to consider and dispose of Bill C-44 in the same manner as provided for in this order for Bill C-42.
Business of the House
Oral Question Period
June 12th, 2003 / 3 p.m.
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I usually answer about the legislative program in the House and that is what I will do now.
This afternoon we will continue with the business of supply, with votes scheduled for 8 p.m., pursuant to the arrangement made earlier.
The business that the government will put forward before the House tomorrow, pursuant to another agreement which I will be submitting to the House a little later this afternoon, will be Bill C-42, the Antarctic agreement, Bill C-44, respecting compensation for certain military personnel, and then Bill C-35, the military judges bill. If there is any time left, we will then consider Bill C-34.
The program for next week would be Bill C-7, first nations governance, Bill C-17, public safety, and Bill C-13 respecting reproductive technologies, as well as other legislation which has returned from committee, for instance, legislation such as the sex offender registry and bills like that.
Injured Military Members Compensation Act
June 11th, 2003 / 3:10 p.m.
Winnipeg North—St. Paul
Public Safety Act, 2002
May 27th, 2003 / 4:25 p.m.
Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to participate in the third reading debate of Bill C-17, an act to amend certain acts of Canada and to enact measures for implementing the biological and toxin weapons convention, in order to enhance public safety, otherwise known as the public safety act.
Our party will be reluctantly supporting Bill C-17 for two reasons. First, the events of September 11, 2001, have made legislation like Bill C-17 necessary. The United States, western Europe and most, if not all, of our major allies have adopted similar legislation as modern democracies attempt to deal with the terrorist threat from faceless cowards. To the extent that this type of legislation is necessary, I will support it.
Second, even as I support it, I must call on the government to adopt a higher standard both in the quality of legislation that it puts forward and in its willingness to be accountable to Parliament. In fact, it could be said that Bill C-17 and its predecessors are symptoms of what is wrong with the way Liberals govern our country.
If the true measure of a man is what he does rather than what he says, then the measure of a country must be in part its reaction to times of trial and stress. In the United States, 10 days after the September 11 attack, Senator Fritz Hollings was on his feet to introduce America's response, S.1447, a bill to improve aviation security, and for other purposes. With lightning speed, and despite an anthrax scare on Capitol Hill, both the house of congress and the senate quickly passed the legislation and President Bush signed it on November 19, 2001.
Members should think about this. Capitol Hill was under fire from all sides, yet dialogue happened. Politicians of different parties built a consensus on how a superpower would respond to a terrorist threat on its own soil and make its citizens feel safe.
In 1968, in his book Toward a Psychology of Being , Abraham Maslow identified his famous hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem and self actualization. The second of these is safety, otherwise known as security needs, and it is one of the few that the state can provide in a concrete way. United States governments of all political stripes have long understood that their first duty is to protect the safety security of their citizens and so when September 11 happened, Capitol Hill acted with a speed that was nearly dizzying.
A bill was proposed and amended. The house of representatives and the senate concurred and the President signed his approval. The whole process lasted a mere 10 weeks. During that same 10 weeks the Liberal government slept. In fact, it was a full three days after President Bush signed the U.S. law that the Liberal government tabled the first version of the public safety act, then called Bill C-42, on November 22.
Bill C-42 immediately drew fire from all sides. However, rather than seeking to build the kind of consensus that would allow a nation to respond quickly to a new threat, the government hid. The bill never went to any committee and was withdrawn April 24, 2002. Then, five days later, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-42's replacement, Bill C-55.
I have long believed that people in government should learn from their mistakes. One of Bill C-42's problems had been its complexity. It would have amended or introduced legislation affecting 10 federal departments. It was so complex that the portion giving airlines the legal authority to share reservations information with foreign governments had to be hived off into another bill, Bill C-44, so that some of the more useful clauses could get quick passage.
Bill C-55 showed that the Liberal government had learned little. It would have amended or introduced 19 federal statutes affecting some nine federal departments. In fact, Bill C-55 was so complex that a special committee was struck on May 9, 2002, solely for the purpose of studying it. That committee never met. Bill C-55 died on the Order Paper on September 16, 2002, when Parliament prorogued.
Given the speed with which the U.S. passed its legislation and given that most, if not all, of our major allies had similar legislation, one would think that passing Bill C-55 would have been a priority.
Certainly if we listen to the Minister of Transport he will tell us that Bill C-26, the transportation amendment act, is high priority. In fact, it is so high priority that he does not want the transport committee to travel when it studies that bill. The transportation amendment act is high priority, but on September 16, 2002 when Parliament prorogued, the public safety act was not.
Let me refer back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Safety is number two. Transport is not on the list, but transport rather than safety is a higher priority for the government.
The fact that Bill C-55 died on the Order Paper on September 16, 2002, almost a year to the day of the crises that spawned its creation, one gets a clear sense that while America was implementing tough new legislation to make its skies safer, Canada's Liberal government not only did not know what it was doing, but it had no idea of where to start.
In fact, the current legislation, Bill C-17, was not tabled in the House until some six weeks later, on October 31, 2002, fully 13 months after the September 11 attacks, and nearly 11 months after President Bush signed America's aviation and transportation security act into legislation as public law 107-71.
It is now May 27, 2003 and this bill is at third reading. Two things become evident very quickly. The first is that the government is under increasing pressure to be seen to be doing something, or in some case to be acting. The other is that it is terrified of real consultation and only accepts amendments when it has no other choice.
We see an example of the pressure that the government faced in the way it handled the sharing of airline passenger reservations systems information with various government agencies.
We are aware that part 1 of Bill C-17 introduces new clauses into the Aeronautics Act allowing the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the persons they designate, to require certain passenger information from air carriers and operators of aviation reservation systems, to be used and disclosed for transportation security purposes; national security investigations relating to terrorism; situations of immediate threat to the life or safety of a person; the enforcement of arrest warrants for offences punishable by five years or more of imprisonment and that are specified in the regulations; and arrest warrants under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Extradition Act.
The government has argued forcefully for these powers, yet it has dragged its feet in passing Bill C-17. In fact, the government has delayed for so long in passing the bill that some of the information-sharing clauses are now essentially moot.
Those clauses that would allow Canadian carriers to share information with foreign governments were contained in Bill C-44 which was introduced on November 28, 2001 and received royal assent three weeks later on December 18, 2001.
This timing was fortunate because one of the clauses of the U.S. law which was so quickly passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress in the aftermath of September 11 said that airlines would not be able to fly into the United States after January 18 unless they provided passenger reservations information to the U.S. customs service.
In Canada on October 7, 2002 the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency implemented its advance passenger information/passenger name record program that authorized airlines and passenger reservation systems to share information with various government agencies.
In the U.S. the government set an arbitrary deadline that this Liberal government had to scramble to meet. At the same time in Canada, a government department, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, essentially gave up on waiting for the government to act and used its existing and residual powers to implement its advance passenger information/passenger name record program three weeks before the government reintroduced Bill C-42 for the second time as Bill C-17.
If the passenger information issue shows the need for the government to act, the inexplosive ammunition component issue shows the need for the government to listen. The words “inexplosive ammunition component” first appeared in part 5 of Bill C-42, the first predecessor of Bill C-17, on November 22, 2001.
Within two months the Library of Parliament prepared a research paper pointing out the potential problems of regulating inexplosive ammunition components. Essentially as witnesses ultimately told the legislative committee on Bill C-17, regulating inexplosive ammunition components was tantamount to criminalizing brass and lead, or regulating little bits of margarine containers, little bits of cotton fabric and fishing sinkers.
Naturally our party hoped when the Liberals brought back Bill C-42 as Bill C-55 on April 29, 2002, that they had read the Library of Parliament report. They had not. On May 9, 2002, roughly a year ago today, the member for Yorkton--Melville told the House that the definition would potentially criminalize tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens who load their own ammunition for their legal pastime sports.
When Bill C-55 died on the Order Paper and was revived in slightly modified form as Bill C-17 on October 31, there were some who hoped that the Liberals had listened. They had not. On Monday, November 18, 2002 the member for Yorkton--Melville spoke to Bill C-17 at second reading and essentially repeated verbatim his May 9, 2002 comments on inexplosive ammunition components.
It might make it easier on the translators or perhaps those who maintain the Hansard if a member repeats a speech, but for me it is a way of underlining the complete lack of attention on the other side of the House to the opposition members and indeed the concerns that average everyday Canadians face from time to time. Even after having given the same speech twice, there was some doubt as to whether the Liberals had received the message about inexplosive ammunition components. The only thing I can confirm is that the term was deleted from Bill C-17 by the legislative committee studying the bill.
To the extent that the term “inexplosive ammunition component” was of considerable concern to many Canadians, the fact that the legislative committee deleted it makes Bill C-17 much more palatable to Canadians. However the fact that such a controversial and frankly unnecessary clause could have been in Bill C-17 and its predecessors from November 22, 2001 until May 7, 2003 shows Canadians a government whose ears and eyes are welded shut.
Another area where the government has shown no willingness to listen or to be accountable is interim orders. A very significant portion of Bill C-17 deals with interim orders. Ten parts of the bill amend various statutes to provide a new or expanded power permitting the responsible minister to make interim orders in situations where immediate action is required. Essentially the thinking behind interim orders is “trust me”, in other words “give me various undefined powers and when there is an emergency trust me to do the right thing”.
First, we cannot forget that the very same government that has taken more than 19 months to react to September 11 is the one now saying “trust me”. Second, we should not overlook the fact that if the government really knew what it was doing, it would define both its responsibilities and its powers in very clear language.
In the United States the U.S. aviation and transportation security act was drafted just in 10 days after September 11. Even then, while a shocked America pondered the unthinkable crisis that had just happened, American legislators knew that “trust me” was not going to cut it with the American public.
The U.S. aviation and transportation security act is specific. It delegates powers but it also assigns responsibilities. It contains deadlines. It specifies the amount of money that may be spent on particular initiatives. It sets management objectives and requires regular evaluations as well as audits. There is a clear understanding of who does what, why, when and with what authority. Checks and balances are present.
The U.S.aviation and transportation security act is a planned strategic response by a superpower to a defined threat. Canada in Bill C-17 uses interim orders while the U.S. uses specifics. The interim orders all follow a similar pattern. They allow a minister under certain circumstances to make an order that would normally have to be made by the governor in council. Thus, when the chips are down and cabinet cannot meet, an interim order lets a cabinet minister take actions that would normally need cabinet approval.
In most cases, in Bill C-17 the interim order has to be published in the Canada Gazette within 23 days, has to be approved by cabinet within 14 days, and expires at the end of the year. Similarly an interim order must be tabled in Parliament within 15 sitting days after it has been made.
Before the special legislative committee on Bill C-17, members from the Canadian Alliance, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP all tried to propose constructive amendments to the clauses of Bill C-17 dealing with interim orders. In the case of the 14 Canadian Alliance amendments, each was motivated by the spirit of the Emergencies Act. Its preamble reads in part:
Whereas the safety and security of the individual, the protection of the values of the body politic and the preservation of the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the state are fundamental obligations of government;
And whereas the fulfilment of those obligations in Canada may be seriously threatened by a national emergency and, in order to ensure safety and security during such an emergency, the Governor in Council should be authorized, subject to the supervision of Parliament, to take special temporary measures that may not be appropriate in normal times--
We therefore thought the standard of parliamentary scrutiny laid down in the Emergencies Act might be applicable to the type of situations in which interim orders might be made under Bill C-17.
Section 61 of the Emergencies Act reads:
(1) Subject to subsection (2), every order or regulation made by the Governor in Council pursuant to this Act shall be laid before each House of Parliament within two sitting days after it is made.
(2) Where an order or regulation made pursuant to this Act is exempted from publication in the Canada Gazette by regulations made under the Statutory Instruments Act, the order or regulation, in lieu of being laid before each House of Parliament as required by subsection (1), shall be referred to the Parliamentary Review Committee within two days after it is made or, if the Committee is not then designated or established, within the first two days after it is designated or established.
Each of our 14 amendments was motivated by the same philosophy. If during an emergency the government can subject orders and regulations to parliamentary scrutiny within two sitting days after they are made, there is no reason that a lower standard should apply to Bill C-17.
The Canadian Alliance was not alone in this thinking. Both the NDP and the Bloc Québécois advanced a similar philosophy. It is my hope that the three parties might be able to agree on a common approach so that the higher level of parliamentary scrutiny may be offered to interim orders made by a government that wants us to trust it 18 months after September 11.
However, the Liberal desire to escape parliamentary scrutiny appears intractable. Rather than agree to any new restrictions on interim orders, the only interim orders amendment that the Liberal members proposed at committee was one adding new clause 111.1 to Bill C-17 so that interim orders would be included in the Pest Control Products Act in the event that the act would receive royal assent before Bill C-17.
Other countries use clear language to define its government's responsibilities and its powers. The Liberal government uses interim orders. Previous governments believed that the standards of the Emergencies Act applied when Canada was threatened by a national emergency. The Liberal government believes in a dramatically lower standard of parliamentary accountability.
I conclude that the government's continued use of interim orders instead of defining its roles and responsibilities in a very clear language shows its unwillingness to either propose better legislation or to be more accountable to Parliament. Even if Bill C-17 passes third reading, it is possible that it will not receive royal assent before October. Members should think about this carefully.
September 11 happened and the U.S. had a law signed by the president and in place on November 18, roughly two months later. Canada will not have its law in place until nearly two years have passed, which is simply unacceptable. If it takes a Liberal-dominated Parliament two years to react to a major crisis, that is a very strong argument for a change of government.
It is quite clear that the committee state version of Bill C-17 is a definite improvement over Bill C-42 as first presented 17 months ago. It is also clear that Bill C-17 type legislation is necessary today. We will therefore be supporting the bill while calling upon the government to hold itself to a higher standard, particularly when asked to show leadership in times of crisis.
Budget Implementation Act, 2003
May 12th, 2003 / 6:45 p.m.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to hear from the Liberal member that the member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok had worked on the committee studying the employment insurance program.
We must remember that the bill we worked on after the 2000 election is identical to Bill C-44, which existed before the election, that is before the member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok was elected.
For our listeners, there is nothing new in Bill C-2 regarding employment insurance. It is the same bill. The member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok said, “I am making a heartfelt appeal to the minister to change the EI Plan”. Nothing has changed since he was elected and they are talking about his alleged performance on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.
The question I asked last week had to do with the crisis situation. I agree with the member that the government has given $90 millions to New Brunswick, but it also reduced employment insurance by $278 million a year. My question is this: What will the government do in a crisis? That is the question.
Public Safety Act, 2002
May 9th, 2003 / 12:55 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today as the Bloc Quebecois critic and a member of the legislative committee that analyzed Bill C-17, clause by clause, proposing amendments to it.
The Bloc Quebecois, which I represent, introduced 49 amendments to this bill. Believe it or not, the Liberals retained not a single one. I am therefore disconcerted to hear Liberals, including the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, who has been telling us that the Liberal members were the ones to ask the hardest questions of the RCMP, CSIS and Transport. With all due respect to that member, regardless of the questions she may have raised, the bill was nevertheless not changed. That is the reality.
They can say in this House that they were hard on the RCMP and CSIS representatives, who I am sure quaked at the questions asked by the Liberals. At any rate, we knew very well that there would not be any major changes made to the bill.
We in the Bloc Quebecois introduced 49 amendments and we did not just pull them out of a hat. They reflect the proposals made to us by witnesses before the committee. I am not referring to those from Transport, CSIS, the RCMP and the police organizations anxious to have a police state in Canada and in Quebec. I am referring to the representatives of civil society. I will reserve for the end the independent commission members, who are supposed to be independent individuals appointed to defend our interests, that is the Canadian Bar Association, the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Barreau du Québec and all the other civil organizations which came and told us that this was the greatest encroachment on civil liberties that Canada has ever known. That is the reality. I will read some of the comments and representations from the Canadian Bar Association shortly.
Nevertheless, I want this to be clearly understood. In the name of terrorism and the war on terrorism, subjects we all agree on, the RCMP and CSIS, hand in glove with the Department of Transport, have given us a bill that will threaten our civil liberties. That is the reality.
I am simply going to quote the words of the privacy commissioner, who is independent and appointed by the government explicitly to protect people's rights. He is not there to protect the rights of the Bloc Quebecois or the members of the Bloc Quebecois. He is there to protect the rights of the whole population. This quotation summarizes in two or three paragraphs what this bill is all about. Thus, the commissioner says, in a letter addressed to the government, and I quote:
In Canada, police forces cannot normally compel businesses to provide personal information about citizens unless they obtain a warrant. Section 4.82 would entitle the national police force and the national security service to demand personal information about all Canadian air travellers without any judicial authorization.
That means, as things stand, that when this bill becomes law, the airlines will provide information—Bill C-44, which was passed last year, already authorizes them to provide information and exchange such information with our neighbours to the south—but the RCMP and CSIS will be able to use it for other purposes. That is what those terrible questions that the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine says she asked of the RCMP and CSIS boils down to.
After my colleagues and I asked our questions and got answers, it became clear that finding terrorists is not the only purpose of this bill. At the same time, they are going to try to do what they cannot do now.
And that means those who use air transportation will be more closely monitored than travellers using any other means of transportation in Canada. Of course, this is the result of September 11, because that was a horrible event we never want to see happen again. Unfortunately, people travelling by air will pay the penalty and a databank on frequent flyers will be created.
That is what will happen. Information on frequent travellers will be kept in the data banks monitored by the RCMP and CSIS. That is why the Bloc Quebecois supports the recommendations of the privacy commissioner, who wanted to add the following to paragraph 4.82 (14). I will not read 4.82 in its entirety; the part that the privacy commissioner wanted to add is clear enough on its own. He wanted to add this:
—and a copy of this record must be provided within seven days to the PrivacyCommissioner of Canada unless the Privacy Commissioner waives this requirement inwriting to the Commissioner and/or the Director.
Given the nature of the information that will be kept by the RCMP and CSIS, for whatever reason, the privacy commissioner was saying that since there was injury to rights--and this is an historical precedent--there must be some guidelines. Businesses are not allowed give out private information on their clients. According to the legislation, the RCMP and CSIS can keep the information for seven days. After that, they may keep it longer if it is required for security purposes. The privacy commissioner simply said that if information is going to be kept longer than seven days, he would like a copy of the files to ensure that it was being kept for reasons of protection and security, to fight terrorism for example, so that he could determine that it was not being used for purposes not consistent with the legislation?
Believe or not, CSIS is against that, as are the RCMP and Transport Canada. The Bloc Quebecois amendment requesting that this be added to the act, as requested by the rivacy commissioner, was rejected.
A member of the Liberal caucus who was on the committee said that the members of her party had some very hard-hitting questions for RCMP and CSIS witnesses. In spite of their answers, I know very well that this legislation was drawn up by the RCMP and CSIS for their own ends and that the transport department did not have a say.
Of course, police organizations dream of turning Canada and Quebec into police states. This is terrible. It would be to lose the fight against terrorism when the very thing that terrorists want to do is undermine our rights as a free and democratic society. That is what the terrorists were trying to do.
Today, we are letting them win by allowing our police organizations, such as the RCMP and CSIS, to collect information on frequent passengers from independent data bases. It will be possible to use this information without the privacy commissioner being able to check the data.
Moreover, there is a clause that says that this information will not be subject to the provisions of the Access to Information Act. Certain provisions in this act say that, for security reasons, the information commissioner is not required to respond to certain requests. However, despite these provisions, the bill before us and air passenger information are totally exempt from the Access to Information Act. In other words, we will never be able to know the contents of a file kept by the RCMP or CSIS. It is even worse.
On this issue, I will let the information commissioner and those who will ask questions make up their own mind. However, the commissioner's report was very clear. To him, it was the worst decision, the worst bill or the worst recommendation ever brought forward in Parliament.
Again, I must point out that the information commissioner and the privacy commissioner are independent persons appointed by the government to defend the interests of Quebeckers and Canadians.
When the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec support the privacy commissioner request for access to information, it means that all of civil society is critical of this bill. Again, I am sorry that Liberal members did not understand civil society's message.
Canada Airports Act
May 7th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.
John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his intervention. I did read the clause on fees and I was impressed by the fact that there were parameters put on the way airport operators can impose fees. I think that is very positive.
As to the member's point, however, I think he raises a very important point. If memory serves me correctly, the way the port authorities are composed, and this is in Bill C-44, the marine bill that I alluded to, which changed the administration of harbours to port authorities very much like what we have here, certainly in the Hamilton instance it did require that stakeholders be represented on the board of the port authorities.
It may be a little bit more difficult in the case of airports in the sense that the carriers may not be in the same city; they may be based elsewhere in the country. I think the member raises an important point and that is something that should be dealt with and examined in committee.
I will make a further point. This is one of the reasons why we have debates such as this: so that we can hear constructive suggestions like that of the member.
Canada Airports Act
May 7th, 2003 / 4:20 p.m.
John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-27 because as the House is aware I have been a long proponent of increasing transparency and accountability in the financial administration of government and crown corporations. Indeed, it is a principle that I would apply to any kind of institution that is charged with looking after the public trust, whether it is a private corporation, a crown corporation or a government.
This business of transparency and accountability has come to be rather accepted in this day and age, particularly after the public collapses in the United States of large corporations like Enron. The idea that institutions should be foremostly transparent and accountable is somewhat novel in comparison to the situation of just 10 years ago.
When I first came to this House in 1993 and started this crusade to bring transparency and accountability to everything the government touched, part of that crusade was to reform the Access to Information Act and to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, and do a number of things including bringing transparency and accountability to charitable institutions.
I guess I was a voice in the wilderness originally but as time went on the government, I am happy to say, has bought more and more into the principle that there must be legislated transparency and accountability wherever taxpayers' money is being spent or wherever the public trust is being looked after in a way that involves finances.
In 1994, the first year of the government's mandate, the government took over a program that had been initiated by the former Tory government. It was the implementation of the national airport policy. That involved taking federal airports and transferring them through specific agreements to local authorities who in turn often hired or came into agreements with private operators to run these airports. This legislation deals with these entities. In the grand sense the entity that runs, for example, Pearson airport is an airport authority in this legislation. There is also a smaller category of airport operator which by and large applies to John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport in my riding in Hamilton.
When those agreements were struck across the country that basically semi-privatized the federal airports, the principle of ensuring that there was a single standard of corporate governance, a single standard of financial reporting, and a single standard of disclosure to the public was not implemented at that time. These airport authorities and airport operators were set up with different types of standards. Over the nine years since these airport authorities and airport operators have been operating, it has become apparent that the level of disclosure and the level of transparency has been uneven across the country. There have been some concerns expressed about the management of some of these airport authorities and airport operators.
In 1996 the government embarked upon a similar program to transfer the federal marine assets over to port authorities. In my riding the Hamilton Harbour Commission was replaced by the Hamilton Port Authority. The difference between 1994 and 1996 was that the government inserted into the legislation, creating the port authorities, excellent standards of corporate governance, transparency and accountability. I was very proud at that time because I would like to think I had some role in that because I was pestering the minister of the day about the necessity of bringing that type of standard in with the port authorities.
We now have Bill C-27 which, nine years later, is the logical step to take after bringing the regimes of corporate governance to port authorities and bringing them to airport authorities and airport operators. It is a good thing to do.
I have been following the debate in the House and I cannot fail but note that even on my own side there have been colleagues who have criticized Bill C-27 and have spoken against it. I must cite the member for Hamilton West who is a colleague of mine. On an earlier day of debate he gave a speech on the bill in which he castigated the government for this legislation. I must note that nowhere in his speech did he actually cite a single criticism of the legislation. He decried it in general but not in specifics.
It is important for people watching to know that even on this side of the House there is great freedom of opinion and we are able to debate openly. I do not begrudge my colleague's opinion about the legislation, but it was his remarks that prompted me more than anything else to set the record straight in my view, and remember, Madam Speaker, it is my view.
I would like to take members of the House through a bit of the legislation to give them an impression of what the legislation actually does and why I think everyone in the House should support it. There may be areas that could use some technical amendments, but by and large, I think it is excellent legislation.
I draw the House's attention to part 5 of the bill under the heading “Disclosure and Accountability”. Clause 120 would require all airport operators to prepare financial statements annually. In those financial statements there must be a statement of revenues and expenditures, a summary of capital expenditures, and a statement of revenues from passenger fees. This is important information because we must remember that these airports, even though they are operated locally, are institutions of the public trust. In other words, every airport is derived ultimately from the Crown, so the public would expect to have access to that kind of information.
Clause 123 would require every airport operator to submit a business plan for the upcoming five years. I am probably a bit fanatical about the need for financial disclosure with the public and institutions, including private corporations. The legislation would require that the airport authority or airport operator provide annual financial statements. The legislation goes into great detail about what is required in these financial statements. It says, for example, that financial statements must disclose the revenues derived from landing fees, terminal fees, other aeronautical fees, passenger fees, and from car parking concessions and general rental.
This is a very important part of understanding the success of an institution, a business enterprise in this case being operated in the public interest. It is very important because ultimately these airport properties are a resource of the nation. It is very important for the public to be able to see for themselves through audited financial statements how effectively the airport operator is carrying out its task. I submit that this detailed requirement is an excellent provision to put in the legislation.
This is not to say that many airport operators are not providing this kind of information already. The important thing is that it is a standard that goes across all airport operators including the one in Hamilton and many others. Therefore, it is a very positive thing.
A little further in the bill we would expect to see and indeed we do find that there has to be an auditor's report of the financial statements. That of course should be a given. I am sure it is in most airport agreements, if not all, but it is very important to put it in legislation.
There is also a provision for regular annual meetings. A very good idea, that was derived from the port authority legislation which incidentally was Bill C-44 in its day, is this idea that every so often the airport authority must submit itself to a performance review. That performance review of its operations and everything that it is doing and the way it is carrying out business is to be done by an independent agent. That again is a very positive thing to do. I think the public must be satisfied that there is transparency and accountability.
However, realizing that not everyone is going to be scrutinizing the financial statements of the airport operator every time they come out, we must assure ourselves that there is something built into the system to ensure that there is an annual independent assessment of how well management is performing its task.
It is something that the government is very used to. We certainly have a system in the government where the performance of various departments are subject to annual review and indeed we apply it to many pieces of legislation. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is a good case in point because it was just in the House this week. This is legislation that comes up for review every five years. The Lobbyists Registration Act is another example. In the operation of government itself various departments have mechanisms in place to review performance from time to time. Therefore, I think this is very positive.
There is also material here regarding the mechanism for setting airport fees. Again, that is very important because we do not want a situation where an airport operator can arbitrarily set fees that may help generate revenue but may have a negative impact on passenger travel or access to the airport or whatever else. Airports like ports are not simply business enterprises. They are enterprises that have great national significance and they cannot be administered totally in isolation of national policy. This is why Bill C-27 has come forward.
Obviously I quite support the bill and I would like to put it also in the context of another piece of legislation that is coming before the House; it is in committee. That is Bill C-7, which is a bill that will bring financial transparency and accountability to the administration of Indian reserves. Some 600 bands and reserves are going to be covered by this legislation. What it basically does is put standards where none existed before, national standards pertaining to the election of officers of bands, their requirement to disclose their proceedings to their band membership, the need for audited financial statements and so forth.
The reason why I mention it is that this is part of where the government has been going in the last few years and I am extremely pleased that it is going in this direction. More and more, we see the government moving toward patching up areas of the national fabric that have existed for many years without adequate oversight. Because when we talk about transparency and accountability, what we are really talking about is public oversight of enterprises that are in the national interest.
Bill C-7, Bill C-27 and the bill on the port authorities represent very important progress on the part of the government in this direction. That gives me an opportunity to encourage the government to carry on in this direction, because there is much more to be done. I remind the House that I have been campaigning very hard over many years to persuade the government to reform the Access to Information Act. That would bring greater transparency, accountability and scrutiny, shall we say, to the administration of government. This was pioneering legislation in its day. It needs overhaul very desperately and I hope the government will move in that direction very shortly. I would rather it did it immediately because time is running out on this particular government's mandate.
There is another area that I really wish the government would move forward on. It has been very slow and I find it very unfortunate. It is the whole idea of bringing in standards of accountability, transparency and corporate governance to charities. It is just like port authorities, just like airport authorities. Charities are large enterprises that spend billions of taxpayers' dollars.
I believe the charity sector in this country, which we can rightly call an industry, has revenues and expenditures in the order of about $100 billion a year. This is a huge amount. These charitable institutions, be they large hospitals or the small charity that gets on the telephone to us, or usually to our aged parents who cannot think very clearly for themselves, and solicit money and spend that money, these organizations are still not under meaningful, legislated standards of corporate governance and transparence. I know that sounds incredible. Canadians listening probably think it is absolutely amazing that a $100 billion a year industry should be without the basic standards of corporate governance that exist in this legislation.
Finally I would say in conclusion that the government is moving in the right direction. This is what Canadians want. This is what society wants. I think it is very clear from the catastrophes in the financial market, particularly in the United States, that we cannot rely on trust alone to ensure that enterprises that are acting in the public interest are living up to their commitments. So we must bring in legislation that defines standards of corporate governance and deals with transparency and accountability. I think Bill C-27 is a good step in that direction, but there is much, much more to be done.
February 19th, 2003 / 3:55 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is with a great sense of responsibility that I rise to speak on yesterday's budget presented by the Minister of Finance.
Yesterday, the government missed a golden opportunity to fundamentally change the state of finances and the state of the economy in Canada and Quebec.
The $15 billion in spending announced yesterday for the next two years shows that the federal government had ample leeway to respond to the concerns of Canadians, Quebeckers and the provinces with respect to some of the basic issues that have been debated for the past two or three years.
Rather than tackle the real problems, the government and the Minister of Finance, not unlike the Prime Minister, chose to take an all-over-the-map approach. I found 74 different areas of spending.
He chose to invest in provincial jurisdictions. Once again, he chose to create new initiatives, without really tackling the issues raised by Quebeckers, Canadians and the provinces, especially Quebec.
Although I am extremely disappointed to see that the Minister of Finance and the government did not take advantage of this golden opportunity, given that they had the means to correct a certain number of fundamental problems, I am nonetheless pleased to see that the public and the media, in particular, were not taken in.
In the headlines this morning I noticed for instance that the budget handed down by the Minister of Finance was described as a budget for everybody and a budget for nobody.
One newspaper indicated in its article on the budget that he is trying to please too many people. Another headline referred to hidden defects. A third was entitled, “Promises, Promises” and another, “The Urge to Spend”. Finally, there was one that I found especially striking describing yesterday's budget as a chicken with its head cut off. The government is running around in all directions and has produced a budget without a master plan.
The first thing to note in considering yesterday's budget speech and related documentation is that it has shown the extent of the fiscal imbalance. I think the federal government should have made it a priority to correct this imbalance, whereby this government has much greater financial resources than it needs to fulfill its responsibilities, especially those recognized under the Constitution Act, 1867.
There is also the fact that the needs are in the provinces and that, over time, the past few decades in particular, these needs have caused expenditures to grow, sometimes exponentially.
With respect to health, given the aging of the population, the new technologies and drug costs, we know that health costs are growing faster than the collective wealth, the gross domestic product.
So, the needs are in the provinces, while the money is in Ottawa. This became obvious yesterday when the Minister of Finance announced an additional expenditure of $6.4 billion to be made within a matter of weeks— we are not talking about years or decades here—that is by March 31. That is five weeks from now, six at most.
This goes to show that,unfortunately, the federal government has again kept information from the public, information on the real anticipated surpluses for the current fiscal year in particular. I will come back later to the fact that, for the next fiscal year also, we think that the surpluses will be much larger than those announced yesterday by the minister.
To illustrate this fiscal imbalance, since the Liberals took office, revenues raked in by Ottawa have increased from $123 billion in 1993-94 to $185 billion on 2003-04. That is a 50% increase.
We are not talking about several decades. We are talking about ten years at most, during which the federal government saw its overall revenues increase by 50%.
I think we all agree that this is a lot of money, considering the responsibilities of the federal government.
As I mentioned, for the current year, the minister had told us, in his economic statement, about a $1 billion surplus for strategic planning. Let us be generous and add to that $1 billion for strategic planning the $3 billion contingency reserve. This amounts to a $4 billion surplus.
Yesterday, not only was the minister able to maintain the $3 billion reserve, but he also announced, as I mentioned earlier, additional spending of $6.4 billion by the end of the fiscal year.
The minister himself admits that the surpluses will not be around $1 billion, if we exclude the reserve, or around $4 billion if we include it, but, rather, around $9.4 billion.
Based on the forecasts of the main Quebec and Canadian banks and financial institutions, we had anticipated that the surpluses would be closer to $10.4 billion.
Indeed, for the past several weeks, the Bloc Quebecois has been telling the public, through the media, and also here in the House, that the surplus would be closer to $10.4 billion.
Now, we must also take into consideration the changes tof accounting procedures announced by the minister yesterday, at the specific request of the Auditor General. Following these changes, this year's surplus will increase by $3.1 billion.
While the minister admitted yesterday that the surplus would not be $4 billion but, rather, $9.4 billion, I can assure the House that at the end of the fiscal year, once all tax revenues and expenditures have been calculated, the surplus, before the measures announced yesterday, will be around $13.5 billion instead.
The government is still hiding from the public the real state of public finances. This is totally unacceptable, particularly on the part of a minister who prides himself on being transparent.
This reminds me of a saying that has been around for generations in Quebec and that has to do with culture. We often say that culture is like jam: the less one has, the more one spreads it. It is somewhat the same thing with transparency. The less one has, the more one boasts about it.
I think that the minister and the current government are back up to their old tricks, incapable of acting with transparency and providing accurate information to the public. The best I heard was one commentator who said that it was true that the current Minister of Finance was underestimating the surplus, but not to the extent that his predecessor was. We could at least give him that.
This is not what Canadians and Quebeckers want to see. They want to know the true state of affairs.
As I mentioned earlier, we are projecting a surplus this year of around $13.5 billion. Next year, unlike the minister who has announced an $8.8 billion surplus, we believe that the surplus will be around $12.3 billion.
Yesterday in his budget, the Minister of Finance announced a surplus of $18.2 billion over two years, based on the spending and contingency reserve he indicated; however, we project a surplus of over $25.8 billion for this same period. That is a difference of approximately $7 or $8 billion.
Not only is this observation a sign that the government lacks transparency, but the size of this surplus is eloquent testimony—and no one on the government side can say otherwise—to the existence of a fiscal imbalance. Instead of spreading this $15 billion all over the map, they should have fixed the structural problem of fiscal imbalance once and for all.
Remember that, next year, 7 out of 10 provinces in Canada will be running a deficit. Only Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta will avoid this situation. There is something wrong when the federal government has doubled its revenues over the past 10 years, while most of the provinces, except Alberta, which is a very special case, are running a deficit. Even Quebec and Manitoba are just managing to keep their heads above water. A economic downturn could push us back into a deficit.
I was saying that except for Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, all the other provinces are running a deficit. Even Ontario will run a deficit next year.
It is the same taxpayer. It is not a taxpayer with a split personality who has one way of looking at the taxes he pays to Ottawa and another way of looking at the taxes he pays to Quebec City. It is the same taxpayer who pays in both cases.
As I mentioned earlier, we would have liked the federal government to withdraw from part of the tax base and allow the provinces to independently and democratically assume their responsibilities, especially in health, post-secondary education and income security.
The first observation we must make about this budget is the extent of the fiscal imbalance, which was once again demonstrated by the Minister of Finance himself.
The other observation is that since the government has too much money and not enough responsibility, it is inventing responsibilities. I think the second thing we must take from yesterday's budget is that a good portion of the money is going to the wrong priorities.
After the first ministers meeting a few days ago when the Prime Minister of Canada announced $2.5 billion in new money for the Canada health and social transfer, and with the size of the surplus now out in the open, although not news to us, we would have expected the federal government to have done a little more for health.
But it stuck firmly to the agreements that were reached barely ten days ago. As I was saying earlier, we have to use money we set aside for priorities that are questionable, to say the least. I will come back to this.
By the way, just in terms of interference in provincial jurisdictions, in Quebec in particular, with regard to the $15 billion that I talked about earlier, we identified $4.5 billion in new spending in areas that do not remotely come under federal jurisdiction.
This will result in squabbles, confusion and waste. The taxpayers of Quebec in particular, and those in the rest of Canada as well, agree that there was no need of it. The needs are so great, social needs in particular, that this money could very well have been used for more positive purposes, particularly, as I have already said in my first point, to correct the problem of fiscal imbalance for once and for all.
While they were busy invading areas of provincial jurisdiction, and funding a whole series of initiatives in a multitude of areas, many different segments of the population of Canada and Quebec who need immediate assistance failed to receive it.
I am thinking, for instance, of the workers, communities and companies that are victims of the softwood lumber dispute at this very time. There is absolutely nothing in the budget to address this dispute, which has now dragged on for over a year and half, almost two years.
I have asked the question of the minister, but he was not able to answer. He stayed in his seat and deferred to the Minister for International Trade.
We would have expected a number of measures for self-employed workers, particularly in connection with employment insurance. It is as if they did not even exist. We know very well that, within a few years, what is termed non-standard work, that is work that is not regular or not full time, will become the norm. As far as the federal government is concerned, however, it is as if it never existed. They are still living in the 1950s or 1960s, and have not noticed that the labour market has changed.
There is absolutely nothing for aboriginal people in this budget either. I will be told, of course, that there is plenty of money for health. That, however, will not make any fundamental change in the relationship between the federal government and aboriginal people.
In the coming year, the unemployed and the workers contributing to EI will again be having to make contributions that will be used for purposes other than protecting their income if they lose their jobs.
So, a lot of areas have been ignored. There are, of course, some measures that may at first seem worthwhile, in particular the higher limit for RRSPs, registered retirement savings plans. Despite the fact that the limit has been raised to $18,000, it must be kept in mind that only 1.5% of Quebec taxpayers are already contributing the maximum allowed amount of $13,500.
I noticed that several financial analysts have highlighted this initiative, but this does nothing to solve the problem of retirement savings. Approximately 80% of the population is unable to contribute enough to RRSPs. These people have no access to additional pension funds and they may end up in poverty when they retire. In response, the federal government preferred to implement a measure that, at first glance, seems to be good, but that will only help a small minority of people in the end.
I spoke of misplaced priorities earlier. We know that since 1998, the defence budget has increased 53% and there is an additional $1 billion in spending for next year.
Of course we are not against defence spending in principle, but we need to know what this money will be used for. There has not been a review of Canada's defence policy in more than ten years. The debate on Iraq only proves that we do not know what Canada will do; the position of the Government of Canada is unclear. Before throwing billions of dollars at defence, I think we should have had this debate.
And there are other priorities. Take the example of post-secondary education. Federal transfers for education have decreased 30% since 1996. I think that this is a priority need for Quebeckers and for all Canadians. This need could have been met immediately.
I do not have much time left, and a number of my colleagues will have the opportunity to touch on different aspects of the issue, but I would like to talk about the minister's proposal regarding employment insurance premiums.
The minister has made much ballyhoo about the drop in premiums, from $2.10 to $1.98 per $100 in insurable earnings. In fact, he already announced the greater part of this decrease last October during his economic statement, where he said that he would be lowering premiums from $2.10 to $2.00. Now he is announcing that it will not be $2 but $1.98.
In fact, what the Minister of Finance announced yesterday was a decrease in EI premiums of two cents more than previously announced. He will give up $100 million and continue to collect between $2.5 and $3 billion in excess premiums. Obviously, this is before holding consultations. We shall have to keep an eye on the government on this one.
I would like to read from a release by the Department of Finance issued on February 2, 2001—that was just two years ago—which said the following, with respect to the EI premium rate:
In December 1999, the House of Commons Finance Committee concluded that the rate setting process needed to be revised. When Bill C-44 was introduced in September 2000, the Government of Canada announced that it would undertake a thorough review of the EI premium rate setting mechanism.
The same promise was made two years ago by another finance minister, and nothing came of it. What is scary is that the then Minister of Finance could well become the Prime Minister in a few months.
Would it not have been better to immediately resolve the issue of the process to set rates by creating an independent fund? That is what the unions are requesting, as are a good many employers' associations, to ensure that those contributing are the ones managing the fund and making decisions about premium rates and coverage.
Instead, what is announced is a consultation process, which I can predict will go nowhere. Meanwhile, the government will keep dipping into the EI fund and using this money, billions of dollars, for other purposes.
This budget is therefore a big disappointment. It provided a golden opportunity to resolve, in Canada and Quebec, a number of fundamental problems such as fiscal imbalance, misappropriation of EI funds, infrastructure—for which municipalities are requesting huge amounts of money—Kyoto and many others.
As I said, in the next few days, several of my colleagues will have the opportunity to demonstrate that this budget is utterly unacceptable.
Accordingly, I wish to move an amendment to the amendment put forward by the leader of the Canadian Alliance.
That the amendment be amended by adding after the word “Minister” the following:
“that, among other things, deny that there is a fiscal deficit between the federal government and the provinces, and conceal budget surpluses to the detriment of democratic debate, and”.