House of Commons Hansard #157 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was businesses.

Topics

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this group of amendments today. I find it rather interesting that with over 150 Liberal members in this present government, none of them feel compelled to get up and defend why these amendments should not pass.

I believe that part of a debate is to put both sides of an issue on the table and to argue back and forth the merits of the case. What we have here today is a government which is totally abdicating its democratic responsibility. The Liberals not only do not want to debate this matter themselves, they just want to ram it through, but they have also said we cannot debate it. Both of these are rather insulting.

It is insulting that the government would use its majority to force through a closure motion, or time allocation as it is technically called, in order to restrict the length of time of the debate. It is also very insulting that the Liberals will not engage me in debate. I am really nonplussed by it. The silence on the other side probably says that they will support this motion.

When I am debating with someone, for example if I have a difference of opinion with one of my children, we debate things back and forth. I will say something and my son will say something else. We will go back and forth giving opposing points of view. Eventually we have to come to an agreement. I hope it does not characterize me as a soft father when I say that sometimes things go my way and sometimes my son is able to convince me of his point of view and things will go his way. That is what the process of debate is about. We do not have that here which is most regrettable.

Just as the government has used its majority to ram through the time allocation motion, it is also going to use its majority to pull the strings of the members opposite who will then dutifully vote against these amendments. These are good amendments. These are amendments which protect the taxpayer. These amendments protect businesses across the country. These amendments really are worthwhile. The government will not tell us its reasons for opposing them.

I do not know if this is parliamentary but I will be corrected if it is not. Is it because the government members are cowards? That is asked as a question so I hope the Speaker does not stop me. It is just a question. Why are the government members afraid to defend their position on this debate?

The government will go ahead and use this process and ram through whatever it thinks is right. We see this over and over in this government. We saw it big time when we were discussing the wheat board issue. This government was totally out of touch with the aspirations of farmers in western Canada. The government used time allocation, used closure debate and control of its members, even from the west, in order to do something which is diametrically opposed to what Canadian farmers need.

I know I am straying a bit from the specific amendments that we are talking about but I am using it to illustrate a very important point. The point is that democracy only works when we have true representation from the members who were sent here and elected by the people in their respective ridings. I wish that would actually occur. Instead we have another dog and pony show where the master in the centre of the ring snaps the whip and everybody else jumps through the hoops on cue. It is very depressing.

It is time for me to say a few things about the actual amendments. We should recognize a couple of things.

It is absolutely true that small business is one of the most important factors in a vibrant economy, and in Canada there is no doubt that is the case. We are told over and over again that the highest proportion of jobs are created by small business. The role of the government should definitely be to provide an environment in which small business can thrive.

I believe quite strongly in the principle of free enterprise. I believe very much in the forces of the free marketplace in determining who is successful and who is not. I have observed over and over in my short life that individuals who have been risk takers and hard workers very often have good luck. There seems to be a correlation there. Those who are timid and pull back say “I want everybody else to look after me”. In Canada we often think there is an inalienable right that “I do not have to work. I do not have to take any risks. Somebody else has an obligation to look after me and my family”. This has become a way of thinking.

I have genuine concern for the many who have absolute needs such as those who are disabled and cannot work. We will make sure they do not suffer. However there are many people who are able bodied. We now have a string of governments that has arranged the affairs of the country in such a way that the motivation for people to take risks, to do things that are unusual, to work hard, to get up early and to go to sleep late because they are working hard all day, has been somewhat taken away. A principle has been adopted that somehow it is an appropriate role of government to take away from the person who has earned it and to use it to subsidize the person who has not earned it.

Small business is important but we need to be careful the public policy we develop is such that small business can survive and thrive because it is successful, not because of having made the correct political donations to the correct party and thereby being eligible for subsidies from the government, which is a legalized form of taking away from the person who earned it and giving it to the person who did not earn it.

Am I opposed to small business loans? Absolutely not. I have had experience with loans. I was fortunate in the sense that my partner and I had a good business plan and good backing. We went to an ordinary bank, got a loan, got our business started and away it went. I wish I could say that it was very successful, but unfortunately it was in the farming industry and in the end it did not work out that well, again partially because of government policies.

I emphasize that some people have very good ideas but do not have the capital or have not accumulated capital in their lifetime to be able to access loans. In this amendment we are saying that perhaps there is a role to play. I know that my colleagues and I have had representations from some individuals who say the Small Business Loans Act and the small business financing act have some merit and have helped people to get on their feet who otherwise would never have been able to do so.

Let us make sure that we do not put the taxpayers at a huge risk that ordinary financial institutions are not willing to take. If the bank down the street is not willing to give an individual with a business plan a loan, maybe it is because the business plan is not workable. Maybe it is because there are too many flaws. Maybe it is because the individual has not demonstrated a record of financial accountability. For us to say that we should limit the value of the loan is a valid comment.

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the amendments to the legislation. I want to give brief consideration to why I am a little concerned about the legislation in terms of dealing with funding to small business.

When funding businesses government does not often look at whether or not the businesses are new or whether they will be in competition with existing businesses that have not had government funding. People who have worked very hard, made sacrifices over a number of years, and built up businesses in communities often find themselves suddenly confronted with a government subsidized business that is working in competition with them.

To the business person who has worked for a number of years to establish a business it does not seem fair that the government is subsidizing someone to actually work in competition with them in an unfair and unequal way.

One has to ask what is the priority of government in funding small businesses and what the parameters of the decision to fund them should be. A colleague of mine has put forward an amendment that no two people in the same family can apply for a loan for the same business. This shows that the legislation has serious flaws.

If a business cannot get funding from a traditional source and goes to a government source of funding, it would only make sense that it be very controlled as to the risks of the taxpayer. It should be quite obvious although not explicit that the government should show due diligence in making sure that there is only one loan going to a particular family business.

Another motion under Group No. 2 talks about the level of funding that should be available. The amendment is suggesting that the level of $250,000 as set out in the legislation is far too extravagant. It is too great of a risk for taxpayers to put funds into a business that cannot get funding through a traditional source.

I will expand upon that concept. We have banks. As a matter of fact we now have a commitment from two major banks to establish a single bank responsible for lending money to small businesses. They have committed a substantial number of dollars solely to funding small businesses. If I remember a comment made by the CEO of the Royal Bank not too long ago, presently only a portion of that funding is used. I believe the number he mentioned was something like 70% to 80%. This means that 20% of the funds put aside for small businesses has not even been lent out.

The people who are applying for support from a government agency for whatever reason, and generally it is because the risk is too great, have not been given funding from traditional sources. When we start asking taxpayers to risk a maximum of $250,000 per applicant we are asking them to put at risk a fairly large sum of money.

It is interesting that the average size of loans made under the old program was only $65,000. We have to ask why the government would feel it should raise the maximum loan amount from $100,000 to $250,000 when the average loan is only $65,000. It seems to me that the $100,000 was plenty. It allowed some discretion on the part of loans officer or the people putting together the finance package. It allowed them a considerable amount of support. The fact that most successful applicants only get two-thirds of it shows that $100,000 was adequate.

We have to question why the government feels it is necessary to amend the legislation. Why does the government feel it is necessary to put that kind of financial support behind small businesses?

Having been a small business person I do not want to say that the government has no role to play. However I am not convinced through my experience with community leadership. I watched governments fund industries that had no hope of success. The government ended up having to eat the investment in industries that had no hope of success. I have seen governments do the same with small businesses. I have to ask whether it should be an area of federal government involvement.

The government has no business in areas of responsibility where it is not needed. This is one area where we have private institutions, banks, credit unions and other areas where people can get financial help. If they cannot it is often because their proposal is not solid enough. Maybe individuals need to be encouraged to make sure their business plans, concepts and ideas are solid enough to make their own sacrifice and not look to the taxpayers to make a like sacrifice for them.

I have great difficulty supporting the legislation although some of the amendments proposed by colleagues, particularly the amendment limiting the number of family members who can apply for a loan and lowering or keeping the level at $100,000 instead of $250,000, gives me an opportunity to say I can support it to a lesser degree. I question whether the federal government would be satisfying more Canadian taxpayers and Canadians in general if it were to put that kind of money into health care, education and those areas where Canadians feel the federal government should put its dollars.

That is all I will say on the bill and amendments. I want to take a few minutes to talk about the government's response to debate on the legislation. It is deplorable that the government has chosen one more time to seek closure on debate. I question that in any democracy a government should have the right to say, because it does not agree with what we have to say, that it will not allow us to be heard.

It is shameful the government continues to use closure to limit debate and to try to minimize any criticism on the legislation it brings before the House. If it honestly feels that the legislation it brings before the House is good, it should not have any problem with people challenging and debating it. If the government cannot defend it in the House of Commons perhaps it should withdraw the legislation and come up with something that is better and meets the needs of the Canadian public.

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Whelan Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the comments today I am a little surprised at what appears to be a lack of knowledge of Bill C-53. I say that with all due respect to my colleagues who have just spoken.

Members seem to think that there are no fees involved in this loan and that people who qualify for small business loans do not necessarily pay for them. The fact is that they pay administration fees and higher rates of interest. The loans are there to help those businesses which otherwise would not be able to get loans.

That being said, I want to speak specifically to the motions that were presented in Group No. 2. The first motion, presented by the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, proposes that persons not be related. Obviously he has not read clause 3 where it is already defined.

If he would recall correctly from our discussions at committee, we had a very long and lengthy discussion on this very topic when we discussed the proposed regulations that will be coming down later. As a committee we wanted to ensure that everyone is entitled to apply.

We also wanted to ensure that one business is not beyond the aggregate amount, which I believe is already covered in the bill and regulations will further define it. As well, we wanted to ensure that if a husband and wife are in separate businesses neither one is prohibited from being able to apply for funding.

I also want to speak briefly to Motion No. 3. This is a proposal that would reduce the loan amount under the program to $100,000 from $250,000. Again I think it would be important for members opposite to go back and read the testimony that we heard at committee, the discussions that took place and to look at the groups that appeared, the witnesses and those who had benefited from the Small Business Loans Act in the past.

The fact is that even representatives of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said we should not go back. They suggested that it stay at $250,000. They suggested that it not be raised. They said that in the past they would have liked to have seen it lowered, but now that it is there we should not go back. They also suggested that we look at the types of businesses, and that is being done. They suggested that we look at who needs assistance and where the difficulties are in lending practices.

I remind my colleagues on the other side that the average loan amount is around $60,000 to $70,000 under the SBLA presently. Even though the limit is $250,000, the majority are falling much below that. There is no research at the present time which proves that larger loans pose any greater risk than smaller loans.

Several groups appeared before the committee. We asked the opposition for witnesses. The only groups that came before us to discuss the SBLA were those which had used the SBLA and were successful businesses. Some had borrowed to the tune of the $250,000 limit. Some of them told us that if the limit of $250,000 had not been there they would not be in business today. They have gone on to develop businesses that are worth $2 million or $3 million. Those businesses started with a small government assistance loan.

Let us remember that the assistance is paid for by higher than normal rates. If these businesses could go to a bank and get a regular small business loan without the assistance of the government or a guarantee then they would pay a lesser rate of interest. They are paying more money for this loan, but they are still doing well in their businesses. They were able to make it and survive once they got their foot in the door. If it was not for the government's guarantee they would not have been able to get that loan and they would not be in business today.

Motion No. 4 is pretty straightforward. Motion No. 5 is very much a housekeeping amendment because when the bill was originally introduced there were 85 loans under the Fisheries Improvement Loans Act that were still in existence. Those will soon be taken off the books, so we are just trying to ensure that the act and the legislation as it is written is as clean and understandable as possible.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about the successes of the Small Business Loans Act, the importance of continuing it, the new name for it—the Canada small business financing act—and the fact that so many businesses today will be able to get their foot in the door because it exists. The guarantee gives a little reassurance, when necessary; an extra push to get them in the door.

Many witnesses appeared before the committee, in particular from the restaurant sector, who said it is very difficult. We have spoken to the banks and we continue to speak to the banks at committee about the restaurant sector in particular, which has difficulty getting small business loans from banks. New people in business do not necessarily have long credit histories or long records of doing business and they need that extra assistance. We want to be there for them as a government.

The government knows that it is small business that is creating jobs. We know the potential that exists in Canada. We want to ensure that all small businesses have access to financing. That is what the Canadian small business financing act, Bill C-53, is all about.

I am a little disappointed by some of the amendments that are before us today because we had many of these discussions at committee. We discussed very thoroughly the size of a loan and the importance of it and the fact that individuals, to be able to have their businesses, need to be able to renovate, need to be able to open their doors and to run a good operation. We also discussed the differences between different types of businesses, about leaseholds, about existing businesses, about how people can move on and what people want to do.

It is a little disappointing that we are discussing loan limits. I really find it surprising, considering the fact that we have moved beyond $100,000 to $250,000. Evidence before us indicated that some people do need that much. Even the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, as I said earlier, said not to go back.

There are many, many success stories. We had people before us who talked about a building they had bought. They renovated it and leased out space. They were able to attract tenants and to become a centre for that community. If it was not for the Canada Small Business Loans Act, soon to be called the Canadian small business financing act, they would not be in business today. They would not have had that opportunity.

They put up a lot of their own dollars. The government guaranteed up to $250,000. That was it. In this case, in particular, each of the individuals matched that with their own personal money and put up their own personal guarantees as well. There is a lot of investment in making small businesses grow, in making small businesses happen and I think as Canadians we want to see this happening from coast to coast.

We know that different areas go through different times. We know there is difficulty in financing from time to time. We are trying to ensure that everyone has access and everyone has opportuntiy.

Some ideas are too new for the banks to feel comfortable with in the normal scheme of lending. Again, some people do not have a credit history or a credit risk history. It is important that we be there as a government and that we continue to deal with small business.

I speak from earlier days, before I was elected, when I was practising law and the administration of loans. I think it is important that people realize that the borrowers are paying a higher rate of interest. They are paying a fee. It is not a freebie. It is not that the government gives money and gets nothing back. The majority of these loans will be paid over time. Sure, there will be losses, but the majority will provide jobs, the majority will be successful. Many of these businesses will go on to hire people and will continue to develop.

One group in particular that appeared before us started very small and now has several tenants. They are collecting thousands of dollars in rent and they are able to continue.

I think it is important that we all participate in the debate today. I am sure that many of my colleagues will join me in reminding the opposition that the SBLA in the past has done a lot of good for small business and will continue to do a lot of good in the future. We need to ensure that the economy moves forward, we need to ensure that small business has access to this money and we need to ensure that small business can create jobs.

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That all remaining amendments at the report stage of Bill C-53 be deemed to have been read by the Chair and to have been duly moved and seconded and that, when the time allocated for debate has expired, the amendments will be deemed to have been put and a recorded division requested.

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. member have permission to put the motion?

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Do members wish to proceed in this way?

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 265
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I am going to recognize the hon. member on debate, but I am going to give you the option. I think you might get two minutes into your speech before I have to interrupt you. Those two minutes might give us time for a few extra statements by members. I will recognize you. You will be given the floor and you will have your full time right after question period.

Osteoporosis Awareness Month
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ovid Jackson Bruce—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House that November is Osteoporosis Awareness Month.

Osteoporosis is an insidious chronic disease characterized by bone loss.

This disease makes people susceptible to hip, spine and wrist fractures, often leading to reduced activity and quality of life. Long term hospitalization and nursing home placement can be the result.

Osteoporosis is most common among women 60 to 69, and 42% of women over 79 have this disease. Younger women and men can also develop osteoporosis.

The month of November presents an opportunity for all Canadians to “bone up” and protect themselves.

On behalf of the House, I commend the Osteoporosis Society of Canada for its efforts and wish the society a very successful Osteoporosis Awareness Month.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, RCMP Staff Sgt. Fraser Fiegenweld took the fall for the botched Airbus investigation. The extent of Fiegenweld's responsibility was never fully determined as he was allowed to retire from the force before his disciplinary hearing. As a result, Canadians do not know who is responsible for the Airbus fiasco.

It appears that history is about to repeat itself. Once again an RCMP officer has been singled out as a possible scapegoat. This time “Hughie” will take the fall.

If this is true, RCMP officer Hugh Stewart will shoulder the full blame for the pepper spraying of students at last fall's APEC summit, while any role the Prime Minister played may never be revealed.

For the sake of justice and the reputation of our beleaguered RCMP, I implore the Prime Minister to establish an independent judicial inquiry to ensure the complete truth is revealed and the integrity of the RCMP is maintained.

Oxford County
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, on October 30 I had an opportunity to visit telecommunications projects in my county with a number of distinguished international visitors. Visitors from Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, the Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam visited Oxford county.

The tour showcased Canadian expertise in rural telecommunications and provided the international visitors with firsthand insight into how groups in the county are using new information technologies to improve their services to our citizens.

Oxford County is a leader in rural connectiveness. In the first round of community access program funding Oxford County libraries received 25% of the total approvals in Ontario. Now we are building an integrated network across Oxford County.

I am pleased to see the county expertise shared with representatives of this international delegation. The visit was a success due to the hard work—

Oxford County
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Bourassa.

Lebanon
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday was Lebanese Independence Day. Tomorrow, Lebanon's new president, General Émile Lahoud, will be sworn in.

On behalf of the Canada-Lebanon Parliamentary Friendship Group, I would like to tell our Lebanese parliamentarian friends and the Lebanese Canadian community that we are committed to Lebanon and to the development of co-operative relations between our two countries.

As Canadian parliamentarians, we are fully supportive of the construction process taking place in that country. We are also in favour of the full and immediate implementation of United Nations resolution 425 regarding the integrity of the Lebanese territory.

On behalf of the chairman of the Canada-Lebanon Parliamentary Friendship Group, my colleague, the hon. member for Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies, who will be representing the Canadian government tomorrow at President Lahoud's swearing-in ceremony, in Beirut, I would like to wish every success to the new Lebanese president and express our solidarity with our Lebanese parliamentarian friends in meeting the great challenges ahead.

Health Care
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, when a Liberal government introduced the Canada Health Act and national medicare 30 years ago there was a commitment for the federal government to provide 50% of the funding. Under this Liberal government that commitment has dropped to 11.5%, yet it claims that health care is its top priority.

This government spends millions of dollars a year funding golf courses, ski hills and banks—not only Canadian banks, but foreign banks as well—yet it claims that health care is its top priority.

While the premiers are unanimous in requesting that this Liberal government restore some of the billions of dollars that it cut out of health care, the response is that it would be foolhardy to do so.

The only thing that is foolhardy is to believe that health care is this government's top priority.