House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was year.

Topics

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Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Small business people are struggling to handle all the complex accounting. Yet one year later, no plan, no proposal. The finance minister floated out the idea of a national 12 per cent sales tax. I can assure the Minister of Finance that a flat 12 per cent national sales tax will not fly in my home province of Alberta.

Canadians were promised good government and that Ottawa would hold the separatists at bay through their good government. We have 53 of them sitting here and through their lack of leadership we now have a bunch sitting in Quebec City which is bent on taking Quebec out of this federation. It is a national tragedy that through their lack of leadership and lack of direction they have allowed that to happen. If they had kept the separatists out of the provincial government in Quebec this country would be a lot better off today. We found out through question period in the last few weeks that they were caught flat footed and did not even get the documents and agreements all signed properly. Therefore the separatists were able to make political hay out of their lack of ensuring that paper work was done and getting an agreement signed on Collège Lac-St-Jean.

They promised that parliamentary democracy would be revived and we would have open government. Yet we find that the whip is applied as soon as one person wants to step out of line. Oh, no, that is not allowed. So much for their great statements on revived and open government.

They did promise us that there would be action on the deficit and the debt. By the admission of the Minister of Finance when he brought down his first budget, within three years he will add $100 billion more to our debt. He has not even told us or given us any idea when he will even attempt to get to a balanced budget.

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Reform

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

He does not know how.

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10:45 a.m.

An hon. member

There will be a royal commission.

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10:45 a.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

My friends are also upset. We want to know what the government is saying. What is the plan? There is no plan. They have been around for a year and we want to know what they intend to do. Canadians want to know. That is that they were elected to do, yet they have not been able to produce.

The Minister of Finance talks about the deficit being reduced to 3 per cent of the GNP within three years. It is the wrong target because the debt will continue to grow. He has not given us any idea how he is going to go beyond that.

To bring it down to $25 billion in three years is minuscule, timid and lacks any guts whatsoever to get the job done. Now we find by the Minister of Finance's own admission last week that even his own small and timid target of reducing the deficit to $25 billion is going to be out of his reach unless he makes more serious cuts. He has not given us a plan.

We need to know what the government intends to do. Canadians have their right surely because those members were elected on a red book that set action and we have had one year of inaction.

The Minister of Finance tells us about the $6 billion to $9 billion of additional cuts that are necessary to meet this target. Yet nothing in the two documents that he tabled last week before the finance committee, "A New Framework for Economic Policy" and "Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate", in any way shape or form gives us any idea how the minister is going to tackle this job of cutting.

He could have gone back to the plan that we laid out last year, our zero in three plan. We laid it all out there. It was quite simple. The advice was there for free and yet even that seems to be beyond his comprehension.

He did say last week that what we seek are jobs and growth. To get there we must stop the debt. Our ultimate goal is a balanced budget. He has said it. We want him to deliver. We want to know how he is going to deliver and we want to know when he is going to deliver on the commitment that he made before the finance committee last week.

The minister also said that the entire role of government in the economy must be rethought. I hope he has some kind of vision when he makes these kinds of statements, some plan or idea of

the role of government in this country and how it is going to interact with private industry to ensure that we get back together on our fiscal senses. Nothing has been produced.

The government has lost a clear sense of economic leadership in a vision of what the role must be in a modern economy and where it should leave the action to others.

Here is another quote out of the same publication. We see that the Minister of Finance really does not know. He is asking Canadians what they want. This is what I call leadership from behind. He says: "We have a problem. Everybody talk about it, please. If I can find that there is some consensus in the nation then I will go in that direction". That is not leadership.

That is leadership from behind. That accomplishes nothing. We are looking for resolute action now to resolve the deficit for the benefit of future generations. Six hundred billion or $650 billion in debt at an interest rate averaging 6, 7 and 8 per cent is completely and absolutely unsustainable by this country. The Minister of Finance seems quite willing to allow that to happen.

Canadians deserve to know what cuts are to be made, when they are to be made, how and when this government plans to balance the budget. The Canadian people deserve to know the vision of the Minister of Finance and the role that the government has for this economy.

I ask the Minister of Finance now to ensure that he eliminates all the waste in government, that he can reform the MPs pension plan. He can start here in this House. He does not have to go out in the street and talk to Canadians and say: "What do you want?". We in the Reform say and I know that all Canadians agree that it is time that we reform the MPs pension plan.

I looked at the public accounts. They were tabled in the House last week. The government threw in another $10 million just to bring up the level of money in the plan to cover the excess payments that are now going out because 200-odd MPs at last election are now out on the street. They are not out on the street but they are on their own. They are out on the street with a huge pension plan paid by the Canadian taxpayers. They are upset and they would like to see some reforms.

If the Minister of Finance needs any ideas we say he can start right here in this House.

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10:50 a.m.

An hon. member

Is he listening?

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10:55 a.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

I doubt it. What about unemployment insurance? We said last year that business and labour should sit down together and revamp the UI program in order for it to be a self-sustaining program. We hear some musings by the minister along those lines on this the anniversary of the election. It has been one whole year and he is just starting to get to the point where we were a year ago.

He could target social spending to those in need. Yesterday afternoon at the University of Alberta I was talking to people who are faced with substantial increasing costs in their education. As they are being asked to pay for more and more of their education, there are retired people who are sitting on the beaches in Hawaii or who are sitting in the sun in southern United States and Mexico collecting old age security on top of the whole wealth they have accumulated during their life.

I said during the election that we will cut off old age security to senior families which earn more than $54,000. All I got from the seniors was: "Why so high at $54,000? Bring it down. It is far too much".

They had never seen that kind of money before. Yet this government continues to pay almost $5,000 a year per retired individual regardless of their income. They may be millionaires. When we have fiscal problems why should we be spending that kind of money on people who do not need it?

Consider special interest groups which get half a billion dollars. Just cut them off. It is that simple. It does not take a lot of guts. Just do it. The Minister of Finance should start right away.

How about improved financial accountability in government? Treasury Board has a policy in place called program evaluation where programs are evaluated basically on four points. One, is it relevant? Are we still spending money by virtue of habit? Two, is it effective and meeting its objectives? Three, are we delivering the program efficiently and, four, is there another better way to deliver the program?

Program evaluation is a policy that is currently being used a small amount by the Treasury Board, but could be used much more in order for Canadians to find out how the programs are working and how they can be revamped and regeared to ensure we are getting maximum bang for our buck, that those in need are receiving the assistance and we are spending Canadian taxpayers dollars efficiently, well and wisely.

These are just some of the things we and the Minister of Finance could do, but unfortunately he is going to wait another six months until he tables his budget in February before we know what his next nickel of cuts is going to be. Even by his own admission he is already missing his target.

Let us take a look at some of the figures we have so far. The 1994-95 spending estimates show old age security costing $20.6 billion. Next year it will increase to $21.4 billion. Transfers to provinces were $26.3 billion last year, increasing to $26.4 billion. Grants to natives of $3.8 billion last year are up to $4.1 billion. Grants to international assistance remain the same at $2.6 billion. Other subsidies and transfers at $4.5 billion are going up to $4.9 billion.

There is not a single cut. We wonder why this country is in a mess. We wonder when this government will take serious, real, concerted action. That is what Canadians want. It is long

overdue. We call upon the Minister of Finance to table his plan and his vision now.

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10:55 a.m.

Broadview—Greenwood
Ontario

Liberal

Dennis Mills Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I looked forward to this opposition motion today because it gives the Government of Canada a chance to put on the record in a factual way not only the vision this government has in terms of putting people back to work and getting this economy going, but some of the specific initiatives that have been passed in the last eight months since we have taken power. It is important that we focus on the deficit and debt of this balance sheet for Canada and we are doing that. The Financial Post , which no one would ever claim to be a paper sympathetic to the Liberal Party, in the Saturday edition had a masthead saying we are heading in the right direction. The Reform Party should take note of that.

I want to be very specific. We need growth in the economy. As a government we have said pre the red book, during the red book, in the last eight months that small business represents the greatest hope of putting Canadians back to work.

I am not going to use this report from the industry committee called "Taking Care of Small Business" as a display, but I do want to say that the Reform Party, which worked on and supported the report, has to acknowledge that already the banks are acting on some of the recommendations we have put in the report.

At the same time I do not know how the member who was the lead speaker for the Reform Party could stand in his place and not acknowledge that our exports have been up four months in a row, our manufacturing sector is on the rebound. All the statistics and all the numbers show that. Our tourism deficit is coming down.

By the way, I am not standing here claiming victory. That is not the point. The point is that we have created an environment not only with specific actions but a psychological environment which is important in any economic equation. We cannot go around here cut, cut, cut without using our creative ability to cause growth specifically in the small business sector.

I hope the remaining speeches put forward by the opposition parties today will be a little more balanced. Confidence in the economy is an important factor in the equation. Reformers have to acknowledge, if they are going to be looking at all of the facts, that there are many good signals in the economy today. I believe that the government has assisted in creating those positive facts.

I would like the member of the opposition to stand in his place and acknowledge that manufacturing is up. Exports are up. The tourism deficit is coming down. House starts have been up the last four months in a row. It is a fact that 300,000 new jobs have been created in the last nine months. If he would just acknowledge those things, we could begin having a truly constructive debate here today.

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Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, the selective statements by the parliamentary secretary certainly seem to bolster his case. He talks about the masthead in the Financial Post at the weekend supporting his vision. It was from that particular article that I thought about leadership from behind.

The article talked about the fact that there is a consensus among Canadians that the Minister of Human Resources Development should move ahead and reform UI even though he has not laid a plan before us as part of his social services review. The survey said go and go now because the people want something done.

As for the psychological advantage, businesses want cuts, cuts, cuts. As I said in my opening remarks we could start by cutting the MPs pension plan. We would get applause from Canadians just by doing it right now. That is the type of demonstration which would send a strong signal to all people in Canada, not just small business people, that the members of Parliament are serious about reining in the deficit. If we are talking about austerity let us start right here. It is a wonderful opportunity that the government is missing.

He talks about vision. We have not seen any vision from the Liberal Party. We are asking for a plan. We hope the Liberals can deliver one very soon. I know that Canadians are getting fed up. They will run out of patience and find somebody else to do the job if the Liberals cannot.

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Liberal

Dennis Mills Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, let the record show that the Reform Party did not acknowledge any of the facts I put on the record in my previous comments.

I would like to show that we are prepared to debate the tough issues openly. As the Minister of Human Resources Development said quite clearly on many occasions, his document is not a fait accompli. It is a discussion paper. It is a debating tool. It is an instrument to get people involved as we restructure the government's social service programs.

Quite frankly that is the way to go. I know Reform Party members really think that is the way to go. They are known for their 1-800 numbers and their fax machines where they get their questions for question period. The point I am trying to make is that Reformers should go back to the way they started where they were going to be a bit more constructive about debate.

I want to acknowledge one area. It is an area in which I have a personal interest and it is the whole issue of tax reform. I was absolutely amazed at the opening speech today. The Reform Party campaigned vigorously on a single tax system to reform the tax system. All of us believe that the tax system of Canada needs reform. I would like it to show on the record that the opening speaker today never once talked about the single tax system or as they call it, the flat tax system.

In the whole year Reformers have been in the House of Commons they have done very little to honour the campaign pledge which they made that they were going to work diligently to reform the tax act of Canada. I hope the member today is not symbolic of the whole spirit of the Reform Party, that it has deserted its campaign on comprehensive tax reform.

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Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to confirm for the hon. parliamentary secretary that no, we have not abandoned or given up in any way, shape or form our desire to reform income tax.

We would not stop there of course. We want to reform many more programs, far beyond just the income tax system. We include elimination of subsidies to special interest groups, reform of the pension plan for members of Parliament, downsizing government, downsizing subsidies to crown corporations, bringing in competition to ensure that we have effective and efficient government. Why stop at just reforming the tax system? The whole system needs reforming from top to bottom.

The hon. member talked about the Minister of Human Resources Development's plan as being not a fait accompli. My goodness, he did not even get started, beyond saying there is a problem. We have said in our motion today that we are looking for a vision.

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11:05 a.m.

Winnipeg North Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

David Walker Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, it is very rare that as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance I actually want to jump to my feet to participate in a debate. After listening to the first half hour of debate, we have to bring a little intelligence and hard work to this debate, with the exception of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry whose interventions were both intelligent and thoughtful.

There is an obligation in the House of Commons when we have these debates that the opposition brings to bear a different perspective than that of the government and does it through research, through common sense and through bringing to the attention of the House the concerns of their constituents.

I happen to know the city of St. Albert and I know how intelligent its voters are. The member who preceded this member is a very intelligent person from the Conservative Party and a very wise man. I am sure the people of St. Albert would want their member to bring to the House some facts and figures to support their case and not just sitting here and talking.

My hon. colleague behind me from Peterborough can tell the House, as he too, like myself, taught at a university. From our history departments, we all know that if we do not learn history we repeat the same mistakes of an earlier generation. In fact, the opposition is repeating so many mistakes that the former Prime Minister from Alberta was quoted in the papers this morning as saying that he thinks it will be quite easy for the Conservative Party to come back. When a party of one person or two people think they can overtake the new opposition it just shows everyone how weak they think it is let alone how we think it is.

Does the parliamentary secretary realize that this is the first opposition day offered up by the Reform Party since we have come back this year?

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11:10 a.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

It is the first one you gave us.

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Liberal

David Walker Winnipeg North Centre, MB

What topic do they choose? They choose the financial structure and budgeting process of the country.

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Reform

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

That is what Canadians choose.

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Liberal

David Walker Winnipeg North Centre, MB

What is the great strength of this government?