House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was finance.

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Her Excellency the Governor General transmits to the House of Commons the Supplementary Estimates (A) of sums required for the public service of Canada in the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2002, and, in accordance with section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867, recommends these estimates to the House of Commons.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Miscellaneous Statute Law Amendment Act, 2001
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Cardigan
P.E.I.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay for the Minister of Justice

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-40, an act to correct certain anomalies, inconsistencies and errors and to deal with other matters of a non-controversial and uncomplicated nature in the Statutes of Canada and to repeal certain provisions that have expired, lapsed or otherwise ceased to have effect.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, September 26, in relation to Bill C-15B, an act to amend the criminal code and the Firearms Act.

The committee requests a one week extension to December 6 to report the bill back to the House of Commons.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Pursuant to an order of reference dated Thursday, May 10, the committee has considered Bill C-10, an act respecting the national marine conservation areas of Canada, and agreed on Tuesday, October 30 to report it with amendments.

Canada Health Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-407, an act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality).

Mr. Speaker, the bill we give first reading to this morning will add a sixth principle to the Canada Health Act so that the provinces, which administer health services, will respect linguistic duality.

Official language minorities in Canada have limited guarantees in the area of health services. The provinces must therefore show a willingness to offer health services to their minority, which is a poor guarantee, as the case of the Montfort hospital in Ontario recently revealed.

Anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the other provinces and territories are entitled to receive health care in their mother tongue, English or French, when they are at their most vulnerable, especially since the Canadian Constitution recognizes both languages as the country's official languages.

I hope we will soon have the opportunity to debate this bill in the House of Commons and then in committee.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to the supplementary estimates, which were tabled in the House of Commons just a few minutes ago, and vote 10 of Environment Canada and vote 10 of Natural Resources Canada.

I am rising at this time because of a reference of Marleau and Montpetit, at page 734, which states:

--members raise questions about the procedural acceptability of Estimates as early as possible so that the Chair has time to give “intelligent” consideration to these questions.

There is no doubt that the issue I am about to raise is quite serious and deserves the appropriate consideration.

Speaker Jerome also said in a ruling on December 7, 1977, at page 184 of Debates :

--supply ought to be confined strictly to the process for which it was intended, that is to say, for the purpose of putting forward by the government the estimate of money it needs, and then in turn voting by the House of that money to the government...legislation and legislated changes in substances are not intended to be part of supply, but rather ought to be part of the legislative process in a regular way...

Mr. Speaker, I also refer you to the remarks of Madam Speaker Sauvé on June 12, 1981 at page 10546 of Hansard when she said that it did not matter whether the amount spent was a large sum or simply one dollar.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I maintain an interest in the estimates and the financial procedures of the House and I continue to be concerned that parliament has lost control of the public purse. Parliament must remain supreme, and when the government undertakes actions that I will now explain, it causes me a great deal of concern.

I also want to refer you to a motion tabled in the other place on June 14, 2001 at page 1192 of the Debates of the Senate of which I am sure you are no doubt aware. It states:

The actions of the Government of Canada in creating a private sector corporation as a stand-in for the Foundation now proposed in Bill C-4, and the depositing of $100 million of taxpayer's money with that corporation, without the prior approval of Parliament, is an affront to the members of both Houses of Parliament.

The Committee requests that the Speaker of the Senate notify the Speaker of the House of Commons of the dismay and concern of the Senate with this circumvention of parliamentary process

The Auditor General of Canada has expressed serious concerns with the events surrounding a $100 million grant to the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology of which $50 million has actually been paid out. These concerns were contained in her observations on page 1.34 to 1.38 of the Public Accounts of Canada for 2000-01, which were tabled in the House on September 27.

In March 2001 a not for profit corporation named the Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology in Canada was established by four Canadian citizens under part 2 of the Canada Corporations Act. Later the same month a funding agreement was signed between the Government of Canada and this corporation.

On March 22, the treasury board approved a temporary transfer of $25 million to vote 10 of Environment Canada and $25 million to vote 10 of Natural Resources Canada. The funds were to come from the government contingency vote, which is vote 5 under the treasury board's vote 5.

On April 5 the treasury board advised Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada that they each had the authority to transfer $25 million to vote 10 from the treasury board's vote 5. On April 9, $25 million was paid to the corporation and charged to Natural Resources Canada vote 10. On April 11, $25 million was paid to the corporation and charged Environment Canada vote 10.

While the Appropriation Act No. 2, Bill C-29, received royal assent on June 14 providing Environment Canada for 2001-02 spending authority for vote 10 in the amount of $2.85 million for the grants listed in the estimates and Bill C-29 provided Natural Resources Canada with 2001-02 spending authority in the amount of $0.6 million for the grants listed in the estimates, these amounts did not include the two amounts of $25 million each since they were transferred from vote 5.

Today the President of the Treasury Board has tabled supplementary estimates which provide supplementary spending authority of $50 million to vote 10 for each of Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada. The full amount for the foundation, I believe, is listed separately in the grants section of these two departments. When the bill receives royal assent, I expect that treasury board vote 5 will be replenished for the $25 million advanced to the two departmental votes in April 2001. I also understand that $25 million is expected to be paid by each of Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada in January 2002 and charged to their respective vote 10.

Essentially, the government is appropriating money in one fiscal year, placing it into a separate account and spending it in future years. This is unacceptable. I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Marleau and Montpetit at page 741 which says:

The Chair has cautioned that an Appropriation Act gives authority only for a single year and is therefore not appropriate for expenditure which is meant to continue for a longer period, or indefinitely.

That is what we have here. A foundation has been created with money appropriated by parliament which is meant to continue indefinitely.

The auditor general states in her observation at page 1.37 of the Public Accounts of Canada for 2000-01:

However, I question whether it was appropriate for the Government to use a general contingency vote to provide $50 million in temporary authority so the departments could make the grant payments to the Corporation, all before Bill C-4 received royal assent

Bill C-4 was given first reading in the House on February 2, 2001. The bill proposed the creation of the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology and proposed that any corporation proposed under part II of the Canada Corporations Act continue as the foundation.

Bill C-4 did not receive royal assent as the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Act until June 14. Prior to the House voting on supply, with specific funds for the corporation, which subsequently became a foundation, the government and the corporation signed a funding agreement on March 26. The government then transferred $25 million to the corporation on April 9 and $25 million on April 11, yet the request for supply has just been tabled in the House today, November 1, which is almost nine months later.

Members of the House as far back as 1971 have repeatedly objected to the government's use of estimates and appropriation acts as vehicles to spend money on programs that have not received legislative authority. Your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, have struck votes from the estimates several times: March 10, 1971; March 22, 1977; December 7, 1977; March 25, 1981; June 12, 1981; June 21, 1981; March 21, 1983; and March 21, 1984.

I refer you to the ruling of Mr. Speaker Jerome on March 22, 1977 at page 4221 of the Debates which states:

--the government receives from parliament the authority to act through the passage of legislation and receives the money to finance such authorized action through the passage by parliament of an appropriation act.

The auditor general continues in her observation to state on page 1.37 of the Public Accounts of Canada:

I also question Government statements that the Corporation had to be established and the funds transferred to it quickly or the spending...would lapse. Parliament had not granted any spending authority for 2000-2001; therefore, there was no spending authority to lapse.

This is a typical way in which this government appropriates and spends money without parliamentary approval. Let us not forget that parliament is supreme. The Prime Minister and his cabinet have no authority to spend the tax dollars of Canadians without prior approval of the House.

Standing Order 80(1) of the House is clear: It states:

All aids and supplies granted to the Sovereign by the Parliament of Canada are the sole gift of the House of Commons,...

That is the reason why the Magna Carta was signed away back in 1215, to remove the arbitrary power of the monarch and to replace it with the representatives of the people, who either approve or reject the government's spending proposal. As the saying goes, no taxation without representation.

The auditor general states in her opinion that it is likely parliament will approve the supplementary estimates, but that is no reason or excuse for the government to assume that the House will respond to its beck and call. If we are to be a rubber stamp where whatever the government proposes, it assumes we will approve, and whenever the government acts without our authority it assumes it will get it, then we might as well all go home.

I have stood in the House before and said that you have the title of Speaker because you speak for all of us. If this place matters to anyone, then in my opinion you must rule these votes out of order.

I concur with the auditor general who stated:

Finally, should Parliament not approve the Supplementary Estimates and thereby not give retroactive approval of the spending authority for the $50 million already paid to the Corporation, my reading of Vote 10 for both Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada leads me to conclude that these two $25 million payments could not be charged to that Vote. This is because the grants to the Corporation do not fit within any of the classes of grants currently described in the Estimates of those departments.

Again, I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the auditor general's conclusion that there has been no authority granted by parliament for this expenditure, which already has taken place.

If the House does not approve the supplementary estimates, the government would be required to obtain the return of the $50 million from the corporation, since no money may be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund without the authority of parliament. Yet the government is bound by its funding agreement with the corporation, and any action to recover funds would put the government in breach of the agreement. Quite simply, parliament has lost control of the public purse and $50 million of taxpayer money. Fifty million dollars is now outside the scope of the Financial Administration Act. This is completely unacceptable.

The auditor general concludes with strong language. She says:

I certainly hope that in the rest of my tenure...I will not see another such series of events carried out to achieve a desired accounting result.

I would also point out that the auditor general who was appointed this spring has almost 10 years left in her mandate. I am glad to see that the auditor general, an officer of parliament, is standing up for due process and proper control of the public purse in the country.

It is clear that the government has used smoke and mirrors to achieve its goal. In anticipation that the House would approve Bill C-4, it set up a private corporation with four shareholders, thinking that it could subsequently legitimize the foundation by having Bill C-4 approved and that this corporation, under the Canada Corporations Act, would be swallowed up by the foundation created under Bill C-4.

The government could not wait for parliament to speak and approve the legislation. It could not wait for parliament to speak and vote supply. Its arrogant, presumptuous attitude says that it will take this place for granted and whatever it wants, the members will do.

I ask you today, Mr. Speaker, to speak on behalf of all parliamentarians and state clearly and unequivocally that this place matters and that before the Government of Canada spends the money, we approve the request in the House.

Therefore I am asking that you rule both vote 10 of Environment Canada and vote 10 of Natural Resources Canada out of order and demonstrate once and for all that parliament is the guardian of the public purse.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I intend to speak only briefly on this because virtually the identical issue was raised in parliament some months ago by the member, almost word for word. I wonder whether this is developing into a tradition, almost, that every time estimates or supplementary estimates are tabled the same point is ruled on. The Speaker has ruled on this before and I am almost tempted to say see my previous speech and see the Speaker's ruling last time. That would about end the contribution there.

However I would like to take a moment to talk about the estimates process to indicate certainly the goodwill of the government in this regard. First, in regard to the integrity of the entire process, it is this government that has initiated pre budget committee contributions of members. As a matter of fact, the prebudget debate in the House will be held in the House today. What a day on which to talk about parliament being emasculated or whatever the words were that were used by the hon. member. They were words which I certainly do not agree with.

Also as further evidence of the commitment of all of us to have parliament in the loop, as it were, we have modified the standing orders under the modernization committee and its report, the result of which is that a number of estimates, where the opposition is dissatisfied, will now be discussed right on the floor of the House of Commons. These are all initiatives supported by the entire House, mind you, but initiated by the government in an attempt to make the estimate process more transparent.

Finally, the hon. member is referring to what he says are expenditures that are done without statutory authority and he buttresses his argument on the following quotation at page 735 of Marleau and Montpetit, which refers to a decision made by a previous Speaker:

--supply ought to be confined strictly to the process for which it was intended; that is to say, for the purpose of putting forward by the government the estimate of money it needs, and then in turn voting by the House of that money to the government...legislation and legislated changes in substance are not intended to be part of supply--

Having previously said that there was no legislation that existed for the scenario he had described, the hon. member only a few seconds later admitted that in fact the corporation was done pursuant to an act of parliament, namely the Canada Corporations Act. There appears to be a contradiction at least in that regard.

I will end my comments with that, because as I say I think it is quite clear that the Speaker has ruled on a virtually identical proposition in the past. If my memory serves me right, and I believe it does, he ruled that the standing orders of the House had not been breached.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Speaker

The Chair will certainly take the matter under advisement. I do not recall the argument being made before this Speaker, but it is possible that it has happened and my mind has perhaps allowed it to escape.

I will look into the matter and get back to the House in due course, looking diligently for the precedent referred to by the hon. government House leader of course.

I thank both hon. members for their intervention.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

November 1st, 2001 / 10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, a report concerning the future role of government in the grains and oilseeds sector, presented to the House on Tuesday, June 12, be concurred in. The member for Athabasca in Alberta, who seconds the motion, also has a real concern about agriculture issues in the House.

The interim report that the standing committee on agriculture put forward was based on the presentations of a number of farm groups and farmers, which set out the point that the safety net programs in place for agriculture at the present time in many of the provinces are not sufficient to take care of the financial problems and the other issues in agriculture that demand and need attention.

We have just heard a debate on a point of order in regard to the authority of parliament to maintain control of spending so that the Prime Minister and the cabinet do not just run off and spend money without the authority of parliament. In regard to agriculture, parliament should also maintain and be involved in this issue over and above what the minister of agriculture and the cabinet feel and deem to be the appropriate actions in regard to safety nets and what they deem to be the appropriate vision of agriculture for the future.

The last position of the minister of agriculture was simply that he would like to wait and see at some point down the road how the safety net programs are working. Then, if he sees that they are not working that well, he would try to take some action or go to cabinet to see if something can be done. That clearly is not sufficient.

In our report from the agriculture committee, just to re-emphasize to the members in the House how important agriculture is to the Canadian economy, we state things very clearly, and when I say we I am talking for all members of the committee on all sides, both government and opposition members, because we put this report through with full agreement. One sentence in that report states:

It is worth noting that the agri-food sector generates $130 billion per year and employs 1.8 million people.

We put that in the report because we wanted to emphasize to the House the importance of agriculture and to put forward to the minister the fact that his vision of the future of agriculture did not seem to be working for those farm families producing the food and in essence really struggling to make a go of it, particularly in the grain and oilseeds sector.

The report also refers to the fact that the farm income safety net has improved in recent years and is helping grain producers in Canada, but the slump in the grain and oilseeds industry seems to require more than one solution. With this in mind. the standing committee held hearings on the future role of the government in the grain and oilseeds sector.

That is the situation we are in right now. It has been exacerbated by the massive drought in Alberta and Saskatchewan in particular and by the extremely dry conditions that stretched from Prince Edward Island, where potatoes of course are one of the main crops, through to the other maritime provinces and Quebec and Ontario and also to British Columbia.

We need to continue to address agriculture in these times of security issues. The House has to spend the majority of its time on the war against terrorism but we cannot forget that we need to bring forward these other issues that are tremendously important to the average Canadian, to the average farmer and the average farmer's spouse and children who have to make a living in this country and who, by doing so, contribute significantly to the well-being of all Canadians. As we all know, food is number one after security.

I believe that to this point the minister of agriculture and the cabinet have not adequately addressed not only the drought issue but the issue of the safety nets. Farmers in every province are telling the minister that the safety nets do not work. They need improvement. Farmers see little or no action from the cabinet and the agriculture minister in making those improvements. Many suggestions have come forward and I will deal with a few of them in my speech.

I mentioned the impact of the drought. The grain and oilseeds sector, primarily based in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, has been impacted most by this drought situation. The safety net programs were not working for the grain and oilseeds sector before the drought and now we have the drought on top of that.

The minister already knows that the safety net programs are not working and that the time for action is now as opposed to waiting until Christmas or 2002 or 2003 before any action is taken in that regard.

The impact of the drought is of course particularly hard on the cattle producers of western Canada. The pastures have run out of grazing material for livestock. Ranchers have had to bring their cattle back from pasture early and are buying feed at very high prices, at $100 a tonne. That is a very high price for hay and that is what farmers and ranchers are paying now to keep their livestock alive.

With regard to the grain and oilseeds impacts, a Statistics Canada survey of 5,900 Saskatchewan farmers suggests that spring wheat production will fall by over 20% from last year. I think that figure is being revised all the time to show that it will be even worse. Canola production will be down over 38%. Durum wheat will fall by 49%. A lot of these crops are the very crops that are exported outside the country. They earn foreign hard currency which is then brought back into the country and makes us all wealthier. The grain and oilseeds sector is not simply circulating cash inside Canada and not creating any wealth.

The farm family in the grain and oilseeds sector that is trying to make a go of it on a zero net income or a net income of maybe $10,000 or $15,000 a year is creating wealth for the country and making all of us better off. I mentioned the figure of $130 billion a year in economic activity and the large number of jobs that rely on this sector.

In Saskatchewan alone the effect of the drought is estimated to be costing over $770 million. The province of Saskatchewan is asking for additional financing from the federal government. The Saskatchewan party is leading the charge in Saskatchewan to have the federal government shoulder its responsibility and do something that will keep the sector in Saskatchewan viable. There is serious consideration being given to the fact that many farms will go bankrupt.

That is not just a shallow statement. I was speaking with credit union officials in my riding. While we did not discuss individual farmers, we did discuss the overall situation on the farm. Massive numbers of farmers are having to go to their financial institutions to ask for restructuring of their lines of credit and mortgages on which they are no longer able to make payments. What they are doing is extending them over longer periods of time and trying to lower the amount of the payments.

Even the Farm Credit Corporation is having to collect back only interest in some cases and is not even trying to get the principal repayment. This is the situation in the grains and oilseeds sector in particular. That is why the standing committee on agriculture put forward this interim report to try to get attention from the minister at an earlier point than when we finish our hearings.

In regard to the hearings, the chairman of the committee came to the House and asked for moneys to be appropriated in order to travel and get input from farmers across the country.

At this point it is still quite up in the air as to whether we will get any funding to hold the hearings. The hearings are necessary to bring farm issues to the House. We need to hear evidence from presentations in the cities or on the surrounding farms and bring the evidence back to the House for the benefit of the minister and cabinet.

I can only encourage the House and all members of parliament to make it known that the agriculture committee is important enough to receive funding to do the necessary work.

In regard to what must be done, we do not always need large amounts of money put into the agriculture sector in the area of subsidies. There are many things that could be done.

I will start with a provincial issue although we do not have any authority in the House to do anything directly about it. I will point out and provide moral support to the issue of taxes on farm land, the prairies in particular because I am the most familiar with them, but also across the country where education taxes are falling on the farmland bases.

The individual farm family is paying an awful lot more in property taxes in regard to the education tax portion than the family living in a town or a city. That is because farmers have had to have a larger land base and there are fewer of them. This unfairness is something I hope provincial governments across the country are looking at. I hope they can find a better way to finance education by doing it more on the idea that those who are able to pay should pay. That of course has to do with net income.

I have already pointed out that many farm families have a low or negative net income. Still, the burden of these taxes are on these families and they have no choice but to pay. If they do not pay their property and education taxes their land will be seized and disposed of and they will be totally out of business.

We must improve our existing safety net programs to ensure they meet the needs of farmers. Here are some examples of the needed changes.

The crop insurance program needs to be improved to ensure it covers all the costs producers incur in seeding their crops. Regulations surrounding natural disasters must be amended to ensure farmers can receive compensation for inputs lost due to natural disasters.

We saw what happened in southwest Manitoba and southeast Saskatchewan a couple of years ago when the massive rains came throughout the spring. The farmers were not able to seed any crops. They lost all the inputs they had put into getting ready to produce a crop that year. They received no compensation whatsoever under the natural disaster provisions of the federal government because their losses were not considered to be infrastructure. However they were every bit as costly as if a building had been torn down by a flood.

If a better system had been in place farmers in southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba would have received disaster assistance for their flooded farmland back in 1998.

The net income stabilization account must be made more accessible to farmers in need. For example, instead of requiring the government's contribution to be brought out when farmers first accesses NISA, why can they not take out the portion they contributed and already paid taxes on? The money is theirs. Farmers could take it back out and leave in the government portion that is taxable.

People may ask why that would matter if a farmer is not making any net income on the farm. Individual farmers are subsidizing their farms by working off farm. Many farmers and/or their spouses work off farm and use the money to support the farm. They therefore have a taxable income although the farm portion is in a loss position. That is one change that could be made.

In regard to NISA, the minister has been well aware for some time that the expenses farmers pay for grain handling and transportation costs, which they pay from the farm gate right to the export point, are not eligible expenses for the calculation of NISA contributions.

This is a thing the government could change. Up to this point the government has been arguing that it cannot allow those expenses because the farmer is not the shipper and the wheat board is not the shipper. That was cleared up in the last agreement among the wheat board, the grain companies and the railways. They agreed that the wheat board is the shipper of grains and that as a result there should be no impediment whatsoever to having these as an allowable expense under the NISA program. There needs to be a modernization of the grain handling and transportation system.

Representatives of the wheat board appeared before the committee today and we were discussing the issue of GM crops and how to produce them. GM crops have tremendous potential to be a boon to humanity and mankind. The question of how we modernize the systems of grain handling and production is being resisted by groups like Greenpeace and other NGOs that feel progress should literally be stopped in regard to GM crops.

As I have said, wheat board representatives are here talking about these issues and trying to find solutions. I give them all the credit in the world for that. However the government and the Minister of Transport sit there and continue to rely on big regulation and big government instead of having a modern transportation system. We know from past experience when the government owned CN Rail that big government regulation does not work.

It is time the agriculture minister, the transport minister, the minister responsible for the wheat board and the entire cabinet get their acts together and put agriculture in the priorities of the government where it should be.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That the debate be now adjourned.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.