House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

The House resumed from February 25 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government; of the amendment; and of the amendment to the amendment.

The Budget
Government Orders

February 26th, 1998 / 8:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

There are 10 minutes remaining for questions and comments to the hon. member for Medicine Hat.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:30 a.m.

Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I will make a few comments and ask my hon. colleague a question.

He mentioned yesterday that the millennium fund was a waste of taxpayer money and that it was overspending by this government. I would like the hon. member to comment on the fact that he does not believe that helping 100,000 young Canadians gain access to post-secondary education, skills training, vocational schools is a valuable investment for this country in order to pursue their education and their careers into the next millennium.

Also, on page 10 of the Reform Party's alternative budget it advocates federal spending to drop to 10.5% of GDP. In real terms that is another drop of $10 billion in spending cuts each year. I suspect that it has to find those cuts. It has yet to identify those cuts of $10 billion. I would like the hon. member to make reference to that.

Finally, I would like the hon. member to stand in his place and reiterate what was said to the Calgary Herald , that this budget, a balanced budget, is very hard to criticize: “It does make it hard to criticize. I am not going to argue a balanced budget is not good”.

Perhaps the hon. member for Medicine Hat can for once stand up and say a balanced budget is good, the government has made progress, and speak to Canadians in a very forthright way.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:35 a.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to respond. Obviously the Reform Party believes a balanced budget is good. We have been arguing for that since we came to Ottawa in 1993.

When we came to Ottawa in 1993 we were fighting a tremendous election battle in the months leading up to that point. One of the quotes I remember best was a quote from the Prime Minister on the campaign trail. He said “zero deficit, zero jobs, zero hope”. What a difference the Reform Party has made. We have convinced the Liberals across the way that a zero deficit is a good thing. We moved the government and we channelled a lot of the opinion of the public toward moving toward a balanced budget. I am glad that my friend across the way and his colleagues have had a change of heart and have realized that a zero deficit no longer means zero jobs and zero hope. It actually is a very good thing.

I would also point out that it was the taxpayers who really did balance the budget. Sixty-six per cent of the improvement in the government's balance sheet came from increased revenues which came directly out of the pockets of Canadian taxpayers. The other big chunk of that, two-thirds of the remainder, came from cuts in transfers to the provinces for hospital beds and higher education.

That brings me to my friend's point about the millennium fund. He suggested I said it was a waste of money. That funding would have been better used by the provinces to restore transfers for things like higher education. We pointed out that the millennium funds benefits 6% of students. What about the other 94%? Why not allow the provinces to lower tuitions so that all students can benefit?

Finally, my friend has pointed out that the Reform Party believes that we should reduce the overall size of government to 10.5% of GDP. I absolutely believe that. We think the government is too fat. I notice the government increased spending in this budget for the Department of Canadian Heritage; more money for TV production funds while it is closing hospital beds around the country. That is ridiculous.

We say trim spending in Canadian heritage. Cut the waste in Indian affairs. There is a tremendous amount of it. Cut funding for regional development which is simply corporate welfare. We know that the Chamber of Commerce comes before the finance committee every year and says please do not fund business anymore, it does not want subsidies for business anymore.

We also point out that we can make more savings in employment insurance. There are tremendous savings to be made there. We believe that we need to reform equalization. We are not afraid to say that. We think equalization formulas need to be changed. In a country as wealthy as Canada it is ridiculous that three provinces would support seven. That is where we would make some of those changes.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:40 a.m.

Kenora—Rainy River
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the Reform Party bash Indian and northern affairs now for a number of years. I want to ask the member a question. Seventy per cent of all transfers from this government to native people go directly to native people and to their bands. We all know that is a fact, those of us who have first nations in our communities.

The member says we should help the poorest of the poor, first nations people. Can he tell me where the waste is that he seems to think he can trim? If he goes to first nation communities he will see the worst housing in the country, he will see that in some cases there are no sewers or water, that they have the worst health and that there is more poverty there than anywhere else across the nation. If he is so convinced that there is a bunch of waste going on in Indian and northern affairs, we would like to know from this member and his party exactly where that would be.

In the 51 first nations I represent, I do not see that waste. I do not see that there is some native chief or some band running around, going to Vegas or driving around in a Cadillac, as some of these people suggest. We all know that is not factually correct. I would like to know from this member just where that waste is because I do not see it in the 51 first nations I represent.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:40 a.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are very concerned about the plight of natives in this country. That is why we want to reform the department of Indian affairs. Right now in Canada we spend over $6 billion a year to help natives. But in fact a great chunk of that, as much as 50%, is chewed up in bureaucracy.

The auditor general routinely rips the department of Indian affairs because of the complete lack of accountability. A lot of that money does get to the band level only to not get to the grassroots natives simply because there is no accountability at the band level.

My friend just alluded to this. I along with colleagues on both sides of the House probably recently saw an expose of what happens on some reserves where money gets to the band level but does not get to the people at the grassroots level. We saw an expose of one band in particular where in fact the chief was driving a Cadillac, going to Las Vegas, had a huge house, and that is not unusual. Unfortunately it was in Manitoba. Unfortunately my friends across the way are blind to this or they do not want to hear about it. They do not want to wade in and fix this problems. Reformers do.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:40 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Medicine Hat maybe to straighten up these misguided Liberals over here on a couple of issues.

The Liberals announced the other day that they were going to look after the debt, they were going to put a whole bunch of billions of dollars and shrink the amount of debt we have in this country. It is only about $588 billion. I believe they were going to put around $3 billion if they had that left over from a contingency fund.

I would like to ask the member for Medicine Hat, as many Canadians would like to know, what is the impact, the reality of this philosophy that they have brilliantly come up with?

The Budget
Government Orders

8:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member for Medicine Hat has 60 seconds to do this.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:40 a.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think I can do it.

First of all, I point out that the government blew the contingency fund last year. In three successive budgets it said it would ensure the contingency fund is only used for emergencies, for no policy initiatives. In this year's budget it blew the entire $3 billion.

Even if the Liberals did devote the entire contingency fund in debt repayment, it would take them 200 years to pay down the debt. It is a ridiculous plan and they are being beat up by all the analysts who know their plan is not going to help pay down that debt.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:40 a.m.

Vancouver Quadra
B.C.

Liberal

Ted McWhinney Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member opposite invited me, I will speak for British Columbia and for Canada. There is no dichotomy there.

Let us come to defining moments in our history as Canadians, and I think I can take note of two events of great interest. One is of course the role of the United Nations secretary general in the peaceful settlement of the gulf conflict. We will note here that the primacy of the Canadian policy of settling international differences by negotiation, quiet diplomacy, has been reaffirmed. It should be noted the foreign minister was very active in New York at the United Nations in the week before leading up to that.

I will take notice and with pleasure, because it involves the co-operation of an hon. member opposite, that B.C. spoke out for Canada, got rid of some of the old shibboleths. A British Columbia panel on national unity found that British Columbians have no hang-ups about understanding that Quebec does have civil law, that it does have a French language and culture and that a strong united Canada recognizes that fact. It is an interesting and total across the board expression of opinion in British Columbia without any demand for quid pro quos or reasoning arguments in return.

On the budget, it is a defining moment again in our history. It is not simply that after so many years the budget is balanced, but that it has been achieved ahead of the schedule that we projected when we first took office in 1993. From a $42 billion annual deficit, a disgrace, the budget we inherited, we are back to a balanced budget and that will be the reality of our times from now on.

Second, it has been achieved by using the theme which we campaigned on and I campaigned on in British Columbia in 1993, that the best way to balance a budget is to create new jobs, to create new meaningful employment. That is where we get more tax revenue. We tax the incomes. That is the way to do it and this is the way we are going.

Mr. Speaker, I forgot to say that I am sharing time with the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo.

I will say that the keynote in this budget is the emphasis on advanced education and research. That is a distinctive British Columbia contribution to this budget.

We fought the battle five years ago in support of TRIUMF, a pure research project. We had to face the inherited $42 billion annual deficit situation to make the case that pure science pays off. It is not simply some abstract ivory tower concept. The scientific ideas of today properly tested and properly applied mean jobs in industry down the line. With the German and Japanese syndrome the key to their economic recovery was to invest in higher education.

We took the minister for science and industry, one of our most imaginative cabinet ministers, to B.C. and we said that is a very distinctive laboratory. He said that it looked to him like a run down laboratory. We said that that was where the Nobel prize winner worked when he first came to Canada. He worked there and it is still in the same condition as it was 25 years ago. Something has to be done about scientific infrastructure. We cannot engage in advanced research, we cannot engage in research that is oriented eventually to production technology and everything else, without building up the infrastructure. The point was well made and in a period when we were still staggering economically because of that inherited deficit, the money was allocated to TRIUMF, $167.5 million.

We have basically been selling the idea that the next century is the knowledge century. Our universities, our graduate institutions have been allowed to run down in a real way by benign neglect by provincial and other financing authorities. It is time to correct it.

We see the response in terms of the grants for infrastructure, the Foundation for Innovation, to encourage medical research. By the way it should be known that British Columbia leads in areas of biomedicine and pharmacology. We lead in North America in these areas. We have already developed consortia style research arrangements with neighbouring American states. The networking of centres of excellence and the millennium scholarship foundation are other examples.

I had people speak to me about the millennium foundation when the idea was first in circulation. They asked “Isn't that elitist? Is it only for graduate institutions?” We explained that first of all there is a constitutional issue. We have no doubt that we can constitutionally put the money into advanced research. It is getting beyond that. We need the co-operation of the provinces. We are trying to get it, but they are not as active in education in all parts of the country as they should be. Some provinces like to spend money which we think should go to education on highways or something else.

We are basically stressing in this particular issue the need for federal leadership. In the budget the finance minister used a very delightful phrase. He did not simply speak of our great universities which now have international status and they really are leaders. He also mentioned the community college in northern Alberta and the institute of technology somewhere in rural Ontario. It is reaching down. Frankly, our hope and our intention is, with the co-operation of the provinces, to get into the secondary education field.

Education is our investment in making sure that the jobs created are meaningful jobs. Look at the statistics. People without advanced education, without college degrees, have very limited chances of finding employment. The opportunity to grow is with the people who have diplomas. That is why we are investing in this area. It is a dramatic, radical doctrine in that sense. It reflects the inspiration of ministers like the science industry minister, his very bright secretary of state who is no longer with us because of electoral vagaries, the finance minister himself and the Prime Minister, who accepted the notion that it is the knowledge century and that is where this budget should make a breakthrough.

We have learned the lesson of the Germans and the Japanese. If we want to recover, we have to invest in knowledge.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance given to us by the university faculties, in my province the University of British Columbia, the science faculty and deans, and also the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the association of university professors and the community colleges who are coming to us. We want to reach out to the community colleges. They have helped to make this a very dramatic budget which will put us firmly into the position where we can lead in the next century.

When we took office, the reality was that we were lagging behind the countries with which we were competing in world markets.

The telling point concerning TRIUMF was that it was not simply pure research. We have already seen a $200 million export contract spinoff from TRIUMF. We are outbidding other countries in Indonesia and elsewhere. We have brought $200 million of business to British Columbia. That is where the link was made. I compliment my caucus colleagues and the caucus committee on higher education and research for the work they have done.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:50 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the Liberal member's comments regarding higher education. As many members of the House of Commons know, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra has been involved in education for his entire career. I am sure he understands as a former university professor the plight of post-secondary education students, in particular as it applies to their finances.

In my constituency there are many students who have $25,000 to $40,000 in student loans. Some of them are unemployed after graduation and are unable to meet their obligations to repay those loans.

I am wondering if the hon. member could enlighten us and provide us with his views as to whether or not the millennium fund will be of any assistance to the people I have described in his constituency, in my constituency and right across the country. How will they be assisted in repaying their loans when they are unable to find work?

As an educator, how does he feel about whether the government should be assisting students who are in university now who are unable to obtain appropriate financing for their education? I would like to know his views on that issue.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ted McWhinney Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for a very thoughtful question. I would take notice of the fact that he also has devoted a great deal of his life to higher education at the very low financial remuneration which we know that occupation offers in comparison to other professional fields. I congratulate him on what he has done.

The issue of student loans is a very vital one. My first executive assistant had a $55,000 accumulated loan because he had taken three senior degrees. This is a crippling debt and the obvious situation is that people with those sorts of debts will go down to the United States. We will have a brain drain.

We have addressed this in the previous budget and the pressures within the government will continue. I do believe that this is a necessary and inevitable follow-up to what we have done in terms of grants for education in this budget. It is the signal that higher education, all education is a matter of national concern.

We understand the constitutional divisions of power. We have made the necessary nexus in terms of higher education. We can justify that constitutionally. It becomes greyer as we get below but we want to work with the provinces. The key to federalism in the next decade, once we get rid of the constitutional battles of the last 30 years, is in partnership between the provinces and the federal government, and in education we are ready and willing.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:55 a.m.

Reform

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, as the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, I just wonder whether he would care to comment in that in the budget document the government talks about spending for foreign affairs at $2.2 billion and for health at $.9 billion. I wonder how it can justify those priorities to the Canadians standing in waiting lines at hospitals.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Ted McWhinney Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is always difficult as I have said before to the hon. member opposite to make invidious comparisons.

With what we spend on foreign affairs, we are already being criticized by the OECD and others for not spending enough. We try to get good value for our money in foreign affairs. That is why we use quiet diplomacy. We would not send off intercontinental ballistic missiles even if we had them.

On the health issue, it is certainly a high priority in my area. Within the government I am one who certainly is arguing for the increasing of expenditures in the medical field.

The Budget
Government Orders

8:55 a.m.

Reform

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, we hear from this government a commitment to education. Yet I remember in 1993 the Liberals attacked us for at least being willing to address these issues. They came in and cut $2 billion from post-secondary education in this country. Does the member not feel it is just a band-aid to put a couple of hundred million dollars a year back in a scholarship fund from what the government has cut?