House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was social.

Topics

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12:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier the member for Drummond mentioned the Canadian Medical Association. I would like to know whether she agrees with the CMA's proposal to earmark part of the CST for health care since, as we know, it currently includes health care as well as education and social assistance.

Our friends in the Bloc Quebecois forgot to mention education, but I am sure it is an area close to their hearts.

Would the member agree to an initial transfer payment formula that would guarantee a certain amount for health services in order to avoid the kind of situation she mentioned? And if so, what percentage of the transfer would she like to see guaranteed for health care?

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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I think it is very difficult to determine what portion of the transfer payment should be earmarked for each province.

The federal government cut the cash portion of the Canada social transfer to Quebec. It is extremely difficult to calculate which portion goes to education, social assistance or health care. In my speech today, I wanted to urge the federal government to restore the $2 billion it savagely cut from the Canada social transfer to Quebec. That is what I wanted to ask the federal government.

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12:40 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for recognizing me. I am very happy to rise today in the House to tell you why I do not agree with the assumptions made in the Bloc Quebecois' motion concerning the Canadian social union.

In fact, I am glad to have this opportunity today to explain to our fellow citizens throughout Canada how the motion before us is linked to previous federal-provincial-territorial discussions where there are winners and losers and where everyone tries to see where everybody else fits in.

With social union in Canada, there should only be winners, no losers, and these winners should not be one level of government or the other, but the people of Canada themselves. In this respect, social union in Canada has made huge progress which I would like to address.

But first, I want to talk a little bit about our public finances, since the hon. member for Témiscamingue stated earlier that Quebeckers would rather pay their taxes directly to the province of Quebec which could, in turn, use this tax revenue to support health services and education.

I want to point out to the hon. member for Témiscamingue that the taxes Ottawa sends back to the province of Quebec are much higher than the taxes collected in Quebec. For instance, with only 25% of the population in Canada, the province of Quebec gets 31% of the Canada social transfer. As far as equalization goes, Quebeckers, who account for 25% of Canada's population, receive 47% of the equalization budget, which means $4 billion each year for the Quebec government to spend as it pleases to make sure that Quebeckers have access to quality services.

If Mr. Bouchard's government, whom the members opposite are trying to defend, has chosen to make more cuts in health care than in other areas, that is its problem, its responsibility, and it will be accountable for that to the voters of Quebec. But I do not like it when the members opposite use the House of Commons to support Mr. Bouchard's campaign, saying that the health care situation has absolutely nothing to do with mismanagement by Quebec's health minister and by Mr. Bouchard's government and with the bad choices they made.

In the area of manpower and active employment measures, Quebeckers pay 23% of the employment insurance envelope but receive 31% of the budget under the manpower agreement that we have signed. It is another area where Quebeckers receive a lot more than the federal taxes they pay.

I will say a few words about the ice storm, which gave the Canadian social union concept a very tangible meaning in our cities and villages in Quebec. The government of Canada will pay 90% of the costs.

I know the funding we owe to the municipalities is being withheld by the Quebec government. This subject comes up constantly at Treasury Board. But I would like to say how useful the Canadian social union is for Quebeckers, who receive a substantial share of federal funds. As the member for Papineau—Saint-Denis, I benefit from the social solidarity that we enjoy in Canada and I am very proud of that.

I want to tell members about five improvements that were negotiated with the provinces in recent years, including the national child benefit. The two levels of government in this country wanted to do something about child poverty. This is why, in the current three-year period, we will be allocating an additional $1.7 billion to fight child poverty, through the national child benefit system that was negotiated with the provinces, which are partners of the federal government regarding this initiative. This shows the flexibility displayed by our government to renew Canadian federalism, while helping solve the problem of child poverty.

The Quebec government will benefit from a budget increase of $150 million to implement its family policy and day care program, thanks to the increased flexibility provided by the federal government's national child benefit.

The labour market agreements helped us settle an old dispute, while the new Employment Insurance Act enabled us to better help the unemployed get back to work. In the next five years, will give to the Quebec government an annual amount of over $500 million to help its unemployed get back to work.

The Canadian social union is working very well, and I should repeat that while Quebeckers make 23% of the total contributions to the employment insurance fund, they get 31% of the budget spent through active employment measures and training funds. This means a net gain for our fellow Quebeckers. We are pleased about this because this is what Canadian solidarity and the Canadian social union are all about.

We also re-established the employment ministers forum so as to work on, among other things, the matter of unemployment among young people, which is dividing the country and hurting us. We are determined to beat the problem of high unemployment among the young. This is a priority of the labour ministers forum. We meet regularly. This priority around our Youth Employment Strategy and the provincial programs where we co-ordinate our benefits much more effectively also represents significant progress in the Canadian social union to the advantage of our friends in Quebec, once again.

We also have a new employability assistance program for persons with disabilities. This employability assistance program replaces the former occupational rehabilitation program for persons with disabilities, a program that expanded from $168 million to $193 million.

And what about this assistance to help people with disabilities readapt? It is a framework agreement, a broad and multilateral one, that covers all of Canada, but within this agreement, we have signed individual agreements with each of the provinces so that the framework agreement applies differently within each of the provinces, according to the priorities each has set.

This then is the state of the Canadian social union at the moment. It represents real solidarity among Canadians. It is totally flexible and attuned to the needs of each of the provinces in Canada.

Last year, we also considerably improved the student loans system in Canada. The level of debt is very high in Canada, as you know, and we took major steps in the latest budget to improve the student loans system in Canada, a system that is receiving greater funding. To improve our system of student loans in Canada, we consulted with the provinces, the banks and student associations. I think we came up with a student loan system that will help to considerably reduce student debt.

We are modernizing the country and we are building real social partnerships. I would like today to thank all the provincial ministers I have had the opportunity of working with in recent years. Together, we have shown that, for children, for persons with disabilities and for students across the country, the two levels of government can rise above petty partisan squabbles and narrow debates over jurisdictional issues. What all governments really want in this country is to serve our fellow citizens so they may have a bright future.

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12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister began his speech with the old refrain. I have the feeling I have been listening to the same tape for a number of years now. It all sounds the same. He is even using the same figures, when in fact things have changed.

One of the things the minister mentioned was fluctuations in the EI fund. I would have liked him to tell us that, in Quebec's case, the fluctuations are all on the positive side of the ledger, with that province contributing $475 billion more than it receives in EI. Quebec contributes to the EI surplus but the government leaves it out of those programs where we receive more than we pay. This is simply not right, and he knows it. Quebec does indeed make a contribution, leaving us behind and the federal government ahead, with our money to throw around as it sees fit.

He cleverly avoided saying anything about the Saskatoon consensus. Nowhere in his speech was there any reference to it. Will he tell me which of the four principles in the motion about the Saskatoon consensus is not worthy of implementation? Which of the four components in the motion—which he probably has in front of him—is he unable to approve and support? I would dearly love to hear what he has to say about this.

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12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Papineau—Saint-Denis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Témiscamingue. I would invite him to carefully reread what I said from my notes just now. What I said—and he says my figures were wrong—is that Quebeckers contributed 23% of the employment insurance fund and were the recipients of 31% of the envelope in active measures.

What is extremely important is that these people, who are constantly complaining of not having their fair share, receive more than their share in several areas. The hon. member for Témiscamingue did not mention the $4 billion Quebec receives in equalization payments, close to $4 billion, which represents 47% of the equalization payment budget. That is a sum Mr. Bouchard could have invested in health or education, had he wanted to, for those $4 billion are given by the Canadian government with no conditions attached.

Last week, I followed the work on social union very closely, because my colleague, the Minister of Justice, was there representing the Government of Canada. I was very pleased that, at the end of the day, this federal-provincial discussion ended on an optimistic note.

I am confident that we will manage to modernize the Canadian social union for the benefit of Canadians. There has been concrete progress at the sector tables to which I have referred, namely improvement in measures against child poverty. The national child benefit that was negotiated with the provinces in a superb partnership.

We have a new employability program for the disabled, a framework agreement but one that is renegotiated individually with each province. I have already mentioned some of the others.

The progress already made in each of these sectors encourages me to believe that, where social union in general is concerned, we definitely have an agreement that will serve our fellow citizens, not to try to play one level of government against another.

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12:55 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I have two questions for the Minister of Human Resources Development.

The first one is he mentioned that the federal government's program is flexible and adaptable to the provinces. If that is the case, why have both British Columbia and Alberta been fined for being flexible in their programs?

My second question is he referred to his government as modernizing the federation, a true partnership. My understanding is that the Liberal government since taking office has cut transfers to the provinces by 23%. True partnerships are 50:50. He has reneged on his commitment of that partnership. When is he going—

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12:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The Minister of Human Resources Development, a very short answer.

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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Papineau—Saint-Denis, QC

Madam Speaker, if the official opposition had voted for the legislation, it would have helped the House a great deal in proceeding the way that she wants to go. But that is typical of Reform.

The flexibility I have described is absolutely remarkable. It is absolutely the way we have applied it to every program that I talked about. Whether we are talking about the national child benefit or employment for disabled Canadians, these are national frameworks which are adapted to the realities of each province.

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12:55 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, it has been interesting listening to the debate on the motion this morning. The motion is basically in support of the provincial premiers and the provincial governments that met in Saskatoon in drafting up the social union and then coming to an agreement.

The debate seems to have narrowed down to wanting more money for health care. I do not deny that is an important issue, however I feel this is far greater than just a debate on whether or not we get more money for health care. This is a debate on the future of our country and the relationship between the federal and provincial governments.

I suggest that the relationship we have had over the past 30 years has not worked very well. What we are looking for is a relationship between the federal government and the provincial governments that will be progressive, that will be futuristic and that will work in the 21st century.

It was interesting to listen to my colleague across the floor, the Minister for Human Resources Development talk about this government modernizing and being progressive. I suggest that just is not so. This government is dragging its feet. It is looking at the old way of doing things, the old way of domination. It is not looking at a new progressive partnership with the provinces. It is incumbent upon the government to listen to the debate today on how we are looking for a new progressive partnership with the provinces.

The Liberals are not showing leadership. They are not showing Canadians that they know what leadership is all about when they refuse to accept the premiers' outreach in changing the relationship between the federal and provincial governments so that it will work better in the future.

The Liberal government really should reconsider its opposition to what is being proposed by the premiers. I find it amusing that even the separatist party in the House of Commons, the Bloc, seems to be doing more for national unity than the Liberal government of the day.

I would like to introduce to the House some comments out of the new Canada act which the Reform Party presented to the House in the spring. This is an attempt by the Reform Party to deal with some issues to modernize our government so it will be ready for the 21st century. We suggested a few things and in Saskatoon the premiers seemed to agree with our intent.

We suggested that there should be limits on federal government spending power. The federal government should not just walk in and take over provincial jurisdiction because it has money to spend. We felt that the federal government should not be financing new programs unless there is support from the provinces. We used a figure of seven provinces having over 50% of the population. The premiers have agreed to a lesser mark than that. The premiers are being very generous in saying it just needs the majority of the provinces.

We feel that any province that chooses not to participate should receive a grant equal to the population of the province multiplied by the per capita spending of the federal government for that new program. The provinces have agreed to something even more controlling and more definitive than that. The provinces are being very generous in agreeing to this partnership with the federal government.

We go on to mention other things in this resolution. We mention a dispute resolution mechanism. We feel it is necessary to establish the parameters of how a disagreement is going to be handled up front before getting into that situation. Again we are far more stringent in our presentation than the premiers. The premiers have agreed to something that is more generous with the federal government.

I find it very interesting that the premiers seem to be reaching out. They seem to be willing to accommodate. The premiers are willing to be flexible, to use the minister's word. I find no flexibility in the federal government's approach. I find no flexibility in this old way of doing business with the provinces, this old concept that someone has to be in charge.

The government talks about partnerships. A partnership is when people work together on an equal basis, respect each other's authority under the constitution and respect each other's position at the bargaining table. That is missing from the federal government. It does not seem to be willing to be a true partner.

My colleagues have talked about the cuts to transfer payments and that is a fact. That is something the other side cannot argue. It is a fact that in the last four years this government cut 23% of transfers to the provinces.

I do not consider that to be a fair partnership. When the federal government originally got into the Canada Health Act, a fair partnership was an agreement of 50% funding. The federal government said to the provinces “We want you to do this; we agree to do this and we will fund you 50%”. Now the federal government is only funding 23%.

Where is the commitment to that partnership, to that relationship? I would suggest it does not exist. Because it does not exist, because the federal government is fronting less than a quarter, it has lost the moral right to place demands on the provinces. The federal government has lost the moral right to have the controls it insists on. The government has no moral authority to be taking the leadership position when it is only a minor shareholder in that partnership.

It is time for this government to take some leadership, to recognize the fact that 10 provincial premiers met and discussed this social union and lo and behold all 10 of them agreed. That must have been a very momentous occasion, something we do not see very often in this country. Ten premiers, 10 provinces agreeing to look at the fundamentals of an agreement.

Ten provinces have recognized the need to work together not for power or control, but because that is the best way they see of providing services to their people. Like all of us, they have to seek election, seek the support of their electorate. They are accountable to the electorate for their actions.

Ten premiers have reached a consensus and what do we have? A federal government holding out and saying it does not care what the 10 have agreed on. It is unbelievable what our Prime Minister has said. To quote the Prime Minister, he said “If they”—the premiers—“do not want to take what I am offering, they take nothing”. For somebody who is negotiating and trying to get a partnership working, that kind of an attitude does nothing for co-operation.

The government has to change its attitude. It has to be more willing to change the way it does business with the provinces. If the federal government wants to show leadership to keep this country together, in developing new meaningful partnerships with the provinces not only on the social union but in other things as well, it will have to have the attitude to make it work. If it will not let it work and if it is going to turn its back on something that 10 provinces have agreed to, I do not consider that to be a partnership at all.

I would like to caution the Bloc members. I think that they are using this as an attempt to show that Canadians will not support them when the government, hopefully does not, but it looks like it is not going to be co-operative. I caution the Bloc because what I see here with the 10 premiers coming up with a consensus is that the process does work within confederation.

The process of negotiating for the best for our citizens does work. The problem is the players. The problem is people like the Prime Minister and his cabinet and the people on that side of the House who refuse to modernize their thinking and change the way of doing things, of governing the country.

I would suggest to the Bloc that there is a process. Canadians can work these things out within confederation. We can be equal partners. We can respect each other's positions and it can happen within Canada. We need to make sure that we have a government on the other side that respects that position and is willing to work within it.

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, the member spoke repeatedly about partnership and leadership. As I understand it what the 10 premiers agreed upon was that they would take no leadership from the federal government in the matter of how they would spend the social and health transfers.

I would suggest to the member that surely as we do live in a country that is an assemblage of provinces and territories we should expect leadership from the national government and the national government should demand to have representation in how the national government's money is spent. Otherwise how will we ever have high standards of health care that are universal across the country?

Would the member at least consider allowing that the Government of Canada should have a say in establishing standards of health care all across the country?

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1:05 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I think the member has it all wrong. That is not at all what the provinces are saying.

The provinces are saying that in a partnership there has to be a consensus as to where the money is going and that the federal government has no business buying its way into provincial jurisdictions. It has no business going into another social program, another health program, without the approval and the support of the majority of the provinces. That is a realistic thing to ask of the federal government.

The provinces are not saying they do not want the federal government involved and they will not let it determine where it is going to spend, but talk to the provinces and get some consensus at the provincial level so that they are on board. It is this dictatorial way of coming in, spending the money and telling the provinces where in their jurisdiction the money will be spent that is the problem. I will say that from my own experience, the provinces often have a better idea of where that money should be spent than somebody sitting here in Ottawa 3,000 miles away.

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1:10 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I suspect what we are really discussing here is a matter of economics, that at some point, the federal government look—

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I sought to be recognized by the Chair. The tradition in the House with respect to questions and comments is that if a person from a party other than the member who has spoken—

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid that is not a point of order. The hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

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1:10 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member will realize that you win some and you lose some.

It seems to me that this is a case of sheer economics. At some point the federal government looked at its piggy bank and decided it did not have enough money to pass on to the provinces. Its own fiscal house was not in order. It was in serious trouble, in debt and its budgets were not balanced.

There was no other recourse for the provinces. They knew they had to get the money from some place. What the provinces then have to do is tax the people even more with all kinds of ingenious taxes, ones we have never heard of.

If this is a problem of economics and it is the federal government that has caused this problem with its own fiscal mismanagement, could my colleague make any suggestions how the federal government could have taken care of this problem without putting the burden on the provinces? Could the government here in Ottawa have done something to change that?