House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I have probably read more of this particular document than the hon. member has because I certainly understand it a lot better than he does.

I have to respond to two issues, one of them being health care. I fail to understand how in 1993 this government could gut the health care system unilaterally without any consultation with the provinces at all, take those dollars out of the system so that the provinces are basically demanded to supply services with no support from this government, and then all of a sudden replace those dollars today, before an election, with the provinces' consultation. Why could that not happen in both?

Of course the provinces will agree now that there is something on the table when there has been nothing on the table before. If that is the spin this government is going to do in an election it had better come up with a much better opportunity to debate why it destroyed health care.

The second thing the Liberals talked about was the $42 billion in 1993. It is time that Canadians recognized and that this House be given the opportunity to know that the Trudeau years left $200 billion of debt. That is where it started. Of that $42 billion, $32 billion was debt servicing that was put forward by that government and not this government. They can take that one to the election and let citizens make their decision as to who are the best managers of the economy.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, as I was walking to the office this morning I passed by some newspaper boxes. A headline caught my eye on the newspaper box of the National Post . The headline said “Liberals Deliver Alliance Budget”. That headline just cut to the quick.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Order, please. The member who is addressing the House is next to me and I cannot hear him. Please take your conversations to the lobby.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I realize that the Alliance has come to the House to try to bring a better aura of decorum here, but the members really ought to give lessons to the Conservatives, who seem to have a little difficulty with that problem. Thank you for your intervention, Madam Speaker.

As I was saying, as I walked in to work a headline caught my eye in the newspaper box of the National Post . The headline basically said “Liberals Deliver Alliance Budget”. Of anything that any one of us feels about this budget, the one thing it is not is an Alliance budget. The difference between what the party on the other side does in terms of economic philosophy and economic proposals and platforms and what we on this side do—and even the Conservatives, in all fairness—is that we do not represent the kind of economic policy of basic selfishness that is reflected in the Alliance's economic platforms.

It is not just the flat tax. What we see in almost all the themes of the Canadian Alliance is that it believes that the fundamental thing that drives Canadians is the desire to keep their own money at all costs.

What makes us different on this side, I would suggest—and I will compliment the Conservatives over there who are busy engaged in a conversation and not paying any attention—is that they, like us, believe that government is in the business of providing services to Canadians that Canadians cannot otherwise get. The issue is not to reduce taxes to an absolute minimum so that all the people can selfishly get everything they have. What it is really all about is to try to give opportunities to all Canadians by using taxpayers' funds in a responsible manner so that all Canadians share in equal opportunities in this great land of ours.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

It is the Canadian way.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

It is the Canadian way, as my colleague says. It is certainly the Liberal way, but it is not the Canadian Alliance way. I am a little uncomfortable with them having the term “Canadian” because it really is not very consistent in these politics of economic selfishness. I really do not believe in that.

We actually had an example just recently in Ontario with the Walkerton crisis with respect to the water. There is an inquiry going on right now. This is a classic case in which a provincial government withdrew from providing services, in this case the guarantee that water quality would be first class. What we have, because it essentially privatized and downloaded the responsibility of the provincial government to ensure pure water, is that people actually died in that event there.

The other aspect of this budget is that the Canadian Alliance is very fond of saying it reflects the grassroots and the Liberals somehow pull economic policy out of some vacuum that looks only toward gaining votes in the next election. I can say that in this economic statement, which is not a budget but an extension of the February budget of this current year, what one will see are features that reflect the efforts of backbench MPs on this side of the House who have listened to their constituents and have lobbied and pressured the finance minister. He has listened.

I have to be a little careful because there are several other members of cabinet here, but I can tell the House that of all the members of cabinet here the finance minister has one of the most admirable records of listening to his backbench MPs and actually implementing their suggestions and policies.

I will give a couple of examples. One of the things in this economic statement that absolutely delights me is the fact that finally, after some years of lobbying, particularly by the member for Mississauga South, who was the real champion of this issue of supporting the nuclear family in our society, is the proposal that gives tax breaks to a family that has a stay at home parent. What we find for a family earning $40,000 a year with one parent working and the other parent staying at home with two children is a one-third break in their taxes. They will save $1,000 as a result of this initiative that the finance minister brought in yesterday.

I would argue that this is long overdue, but the reality is that on this side of the House we have all kinds of points of view represented. The member for Mississauga South championed the whole idea of supporting the ability of people to look after their children directly.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

The traditional family.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Yes, the traditional family.

The other side of the equation is that there is a lot of concern on this side of the House about looking after families where there is only a single parent. There is no doubt that for a long time a lot of the financial policy on this side of the House was directed toward helping single parent families. That is a very good thing, but now we finally have the balance. That is because of the efforts of the member for Mississauga South and others of us. I will count my colleague next to me.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

We all work together.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Yes, we all work together. We made progress. That is a very important thing.

Then there are other things, such as debt reduction. The Canadian Alliance would have us believe that they are the ones who invented debt reduction as some sort of good thing that governments ought to be doing.

I can tell the House that prior to 1997 for three years running I ran an opinion poll at the fall fairs in my riding in central Ontario. I had four jars and people would be given four beans, each one representing $1 billion. I would ask them if they were the finance minister how they would spend a $4 billion surplus. They had a choice of GST reduction, increased social spending, personal income tax cuts or debt reduction. For three years running the people who put the beans in the jars chose, first and foremost, debt reduction. About 45% of the opinion poll chose debt reduction as their number one priority. I presented those results every year to the finance minister and I told him that this was what people were saying.

It is no surprise to me to see in this economic statement that not only have we reduced the debt already by some $18.7 billion, but in this statement we are also undertaking to reduce the debt by another $10 billion.

The previous speaker really amused me. I can be amused occasionally in the House by some of the statements coming from the other side, Madam Speaker. The member complained that the government had no plan for debt reduction. What is amusing about that is of course any time when we have unspent surplus, the debt is reduced. That is all we have to do. We have to limit spending, control our spending, and automatically the debt is reduced. We have a government that is not only able to reinvest in the economy, reinvest in Canadians, but also has a sufficient surplus to bring down the debt by another $10 billion. The members on the other side ought to be applauding that.

Unfortunately, the House is adversarial and it needs to be adversarial. That is only right and proper. Sometimes I really do think that praise from the other side is warranted when the finance minister really does what is in the interests of all Canadians. The leader of the Canadian Alliance is always demanding forgiveness from this side, but I would suggest that what he really ought to do is stand in the House and give praise and congratulations where it is due. I realize that may be a bit too much to expect.

Another point just in passing. There are two other areas in the economic statement that reflect pressure coming from this side and to some degree from the other side and that is the rebate on fuel costs. It is quite scary, Madam Speaker, when we see what is happening with regard to fuel costs and how Canadians are worried. Quite rightly, on the other side there has been pressure to somehow relieve the burden, particularly on low income home owners facing substantial hikes in fuel costs. That concern is being acted on by this side.

We see in the economic statement that the finance minister is listening. That is an important point in the life of this parliament. The finance minister not only listens to the backbenchers here, but he also listens to the opposition when they do carry valid arguments and valid concerns. We are all concerned about what is going to happen to Canadians with the high cost of home heating fuel and the finance minister has replied.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that the finance minister provided for an increase in the educational tax credit for students. This is a very small thing in some respects, but a very large thing in others. There is absolutely no doubt that the investment for tomorrow is the investment of this government and this parliament in young people. I am very pleased that the economic statement reflects that.

I think that is actually precisely the point in many respects because what does make us different on this side and what makes us so different from the philosophy that we see, particularly from the Canadian Alliance, is that we believe as Liberals, and I think I can speak for the majority of us, that the role of the government is to provide services and encouragement in the country. Our role is to increase the equality of opportunity of all Canadians. That is a proper use of government money.

I deplore what I see in Ontario with the Harris government. I am uncomfortable with what I see in Alberta with the Alberta government. I am extremely uncomfortable with what I hear from the Canadian Alliance with this whole idea that you should retreat from government spending.

That is not the point. What you really need to do with government spending is when you do invest in the country, when you do invest in social services, when you do invest in helicopters or whatever it is the government is buying, you must invest well.

The important thing is to make sure that spending is as efficient as possible. That brings me to the more recent debate over the last few days about the auditor general's report and indeed the information commissioner's report about the need to reform the Access to Information Act.

A key point that the auditor general said which is so important is that even though there are all kinds of problems in effectiveness of spending and mismanagement in HRDC, he said there was no evidence of malfeasance. He said there was no evidence that any bureaucrat profited by any of the inefficiencies or mistakes that were made.

What is so important about that? That means that our job as a government, as politicians, is to build on the honesty of our bureaucrats. We have to give them the tools to more efficiently manage.

I believe one of them is to modernize the privacy legislation and the access to information legislation. I have to say in the context of a point of privilege that the Speaker ruled on today that there were problems that led to the government making an incorrect decision with respect to its opportunity to support reforms to the access to information bill that was proposed in my Private Members' Bill C-206.

I do not fault the government. I do fault messages that were received by the government, but that is another story. I do not dispute the Speaker's ruling, but I do stress it is important to all of us here to reform this kind of legislation so that the bureaucrats in HRDC and every other government department can operate with a better degree of transparency. When you have transparency, you have accountability. This is where we are headed with respect to HRDC and with respect to every government department.

You will recall that the member for Mississauga West, again a member on this side, chaired a committee in 1995 on grants and contributions. What she and the members who supported her did was they came out with a number of recommendations on how to improve the way government handled grants and contributions.

It was an excellent report and the government did act on it. The problem in a modern society and a huge government department spending billions of dollars is that we have to modernize. The member for Mississauga West in the report called on the government to implement better controls, to be more targeted in what organizations should receive money.

One of the most interesting suggestions in that particular report was that governments should always choose contributions rather than grants because the system of contributions requires accountability and performance review whereas grants tend to go out with no accountability whatsoever.

I must tell you that some departments reacted very strongly to the report, at least as far as I can gather. Industry Canada and foreign affairs both implemented a number of reforms of the way they put out grants and contributions. I know this because I have all kinds of representations from organizations that were suddenly being asked, in 1995-1996, to give better explanations and better accounting of how they were going to use the money. Many of these organizations ceased to get support from both Industry Canada and Foreign Affairs because they could not live up to this.

We made progress at that time. That progress came from the backbench. We really have to take the next step. I look to the other side to set aside partisan politics and work together on improving the way our bureaucracy operates, always allowing for the fact of wanting to do a good job, wanting to do the best job.

We should harness the Internet. We should put as much government online as possible so that when that middle level manager in any government department is considering a contract, considering making a contribution or executing some kind of program involving grants and contributions, we can see en route who it is that is receiving the money, what they are proposing, how the government is checking that it is actually delivering the services that it proposes.

That can all go on the Internet. This is crucial because this is what will make Canada more efficient than any other country in the world. In fact there is a race between Canada and the United States to implement this kind of bureaucratic efficiency because not only does it make more efficient government but it is a model for corporations. To come back to the original point, that is why, with some urgency, government has to review and modernize the Access to Information Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

I take a great deal of satisfaction in realizing and learning that even though my private member's bill to reform the Access to Information Act failed, the government has since undertaken a major co-operative endeavour between the justice department and treasury board to examine the whole issue of how to make government more open. I believe the government is going to report in the fall of next year.

I would prefer an open process that would have resulted had my private member's bill gone through and it had gone through committee stage debate. Nevertheless, this is a clear indication that this government is very much on the right track.

Finally, we must bear in mind that all government is like a huge vessel. I hate to think of it, but it is like the Titanic . We do not want it to hit an iceberg. We want it to continue to sail. If we are going to make sure that the ship of states sails on successfully, we have to make sure that it has the modern tools of transparency and accountability in order to achieve that target.

Madam Speaker, on this side of the House I can assure you that we already have the heart.

Economic Policy
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague's speech. I know he is a member who sincerely expresses what is on his mind and is well intentioned.

I do want to take issue with a few things he mentioned. I do believe this upcoming election is going to be all about trust, about who to believe and actions speaking louder than words.

People need to take a look at what my colleague said about debt. First of all, understand that it is the government and the legacy of the Liberals that have brought us to the point of an item mentioned in the economic statement. I would like to direct the member to that on page 31.

It clearly states that our debt level right now is $564.5 billion. That is the level of our national debt, our national mortgage. That was brought to us by the government over years and years of governance.

Now the Liberals are asking Canadians to trust them to be the ones to eliminate that. Their plan for doing that is mentioned on page 13. They have put a contingency reserve fund in place of $3 billion. It is a good idea and we congratulate them for that. It is not enough. That contingency fund is to pay down the debt only if money is left after Liberal spending has taken place at the end of the year.

I cannot believe that the new item about debt reduction introduced yesterday in the economic statement made it into the document. However each fall from now on we will announce whether a greater amount should be dedicated to that year's debt paydown. They will make an announcement on whether or not to pay some more debt down, rather than any kind of legislated paydown.

My colleague mentioned that debt paydown would happen with surpluses that were left over, that when they control spending and surpluses are left over it goes to the debt. New spending of $50 billion was mentioned in the document presented to this place yesterday.

How in the world could Canadians believe the Liberals are committed to legislated debt paydown when it is not here? They are the ones who introduced the debt. They are the ones who continued to spend. Whenever the member uses reinvest, we should read in the words a new spending initiative of taxpayer dollars.

I want to ask my colleague about the issues he raised. I also want to ask him about the point he made about a Liberal committee that looked into HRD and other grants and contributions in 1995. If that were such a good plan, how in the world did we get to the $1 billion boondoggle, with billions of dollars not being used appropriately? How is that possible?

That indicates to me that the report was put on a shelf and nothing happened. I would like my colleague to address those issues.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

October 19th, 2000 / 11:15 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been consultations among the parties and I think you would find agreement for the following motion which has been agreed to by all House leaders House:

That at 1.45 p.m. the present debate shall be adjourned; that Bill C-45 shall be withdrawn from the Standing Committee on Finance and referred immediately to committee of the whole, which shall consider the said bill and amendments to be proposed thereto; and that the bill shall be reported, concurred in at report stage and read a third time no later than 1.59 p.m.

I propose this particular item for the consideration of the House.

Also there is a matter that we want to bring to the attention of the House. It has to do with the private members business for today. The Chair will recognize that instead of having private members' hour this evening we had the private members' hour from 9 to 10 this morning. That did not assume we would have an hour more of sitting. I would like it, but I recognize that was not the agreement I made with other House leaders.

Therefore, to be totally consistent with the agreement that we negotiated, the House would in fact end at 5.30. If we wanted to extend the time beyond that, we would have to ask for consent because it was not part of the agreement.

Even though it was indicated that way on today's documentation issued to members, in fact that was not the agreement among House leaders. The agreement was that we would take the hour at the end of the day and put it at the beginning. Therefore government orders would end at 5.30 p.m.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Does the hon. House leader have consent of the House to put the motion?

Business Of The House
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.