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.

Topics

Business of the House
The Royal Assent

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
The Royal Assent

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on this take note motion with respect to the budget. As my esteemed colleague, the hon. Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his remarks this morning, this budget has been far too long in coming.

In fact the budget date still has not been formally announced. The finance minister still has not come before this place to give us a date. All we have is a vague commitment that it will happen before the House rises before Christmas. However, if it is some time near the adjournment of the House that means that we will have waited some 650 plus days since the previous budget to finally get something approximating an accounting of the nation's finances from the hon. Minister of Finance. This is a complete contravention of the convention in this place and in every other Westminster style parliament.

Parliament came into being and exists as the voice of the commons to provide a check and a balance to the power of the crown, the power of the executive and particularly its huge power of the purse. The annual presentation of the budget and the estimates is historically the central legal role of parliament, yet it is a role which, like so many other traditions, conventions and privileges in this place, has been incrementally derogated by the government over time.

I see my friend the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, who says in public debates that this is a moot point, that it is not relevant when the budget is. It may not be for academics or wealthy big bank economists in their towers with gold leaf windows on Bay Street, but it is important to those of us who understand the purpose of this institution, namely, to provide a check and balance to the otherwise unchecked and unbalanced exercise of executive power and particularly its awesome power in matters of money.

I hope all members will join me in saying that it is about time and we hope that never again will Canadians have to wait for two years to finally see the state of their government's finances, not the minister's budget, but the budget of this country and this federation.

It is even more unfortunate that the finance minister has waited until the onset of a recession, a time of war, this moment of crisis, to introduce such a budget. He ought not to have waited. I stood in this place last spring, as did other colleagues, warning about the real, credible possibility of a downturn. I was then looking at the economic data and projections and it seemed evident to me, based on cycles in the economy, the situation in other jurisdictions and softening demand here in Canada, that there was a very good chance of us moving into recession.

I asked these questions last spring. I asked why the finance minister would not introduce a budget that would stimulate the economy to protect us from a potential downturn. He said then much what Michael Wilson and Don Mazankowski said when they sat in the ministry of finance in the early 1990's. They said “Don't worry, be happy, there's no recession, don't scaremonger, don't be a Chicken Little”. Just trust us, they said, the economy will continue to grow.

In fact it was only four years ago that the Minister of Finance told us that we had finally learned to beat the business cycle, that the future in Canada was one of endless, gold paved streets. We were just going to see growth endlessly as long as he was Minister of Finance, he implied.

We see now how wrong he was four years ago and how wrong he was four or five months ago when he refused to take action to prevent a downturn. Now we find ourselves in the middle of a recession. In the second quarter of this year the GDP growth in the country screeched to a halt. Unemployment began to tick up. Of course we have not yet received complete data from September but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that with negative growth in July and in September we will have a contraction in the economy in the third quarter. There is very little doubt in anyone's mind that it will follow through to the fourth quarter of this year.

That equals, technically and in every other sense, a recession, a Liberal recession, a recession that the Liberals have denied. It has happened. There is a recession which they still deny exists. It is here and it presents us with some very serious challenges.

I know it is tempting for members of the government to suggest that the Liberal recession is simply the fault of the tragic events of September 11. It would be factually inaccurate and politically insensitive to make such an argument, because as I have outlined, negative growth was well underway in the country prior to the events of September 11. Undoubtedly that day and its political and economic consequences have deepened the downturn here and abroad and made a difficult situation even more complex, but let us not let the government off the hook in terms of it taking the lion's share of the responsibility for the economic consequences of its policies.

It is very interesting. The finance minister, during the several years of growth we are just coming out of, was very quick to take full credit for any growth in the Canadian economy even though about three-quarters of that growth was driven by exports to the United States, which had been on the rise thanks in large part to free trade, a policy with which he was not associated. Those exports also were being fuelled by the depressed value of our currency, hence the lower cost of exports.

He had a bit of a free ride through the 1990s in terms of economic growth, but he still took credit for the easy ride. Now suddenly when the road gets bumpy he cannot take any responsibility for the government simply being adrift on an ocean of economic tides beyond its control. I do not buy it. He needs to be consistent. If he wants to take any share of the credit for the expansion in the 1990s, then he and his government must take their share of the blame for the downturn in which we now find ourselves and which has a very real, human cost. A recession is not just some statistical accumulation of data that economists look at. A recession is a period when real people suffer real economic harm in their lives through layoffs and uncertainty. We see this with thousands of layoff announcements every month, and in fact every week, in the country.

How is it that the government has contributed to the conditions of a recession which the finance minister must now address in his budget? It has done so by missing an enormous opportunity to finally get Canada's economic fundamentals right. As they say in the west, make hay while the sun shines. We ought to have been making economic hay in the country when we had a period of growth for eight years in the 1990s. We ought to have been moving quickly to deeply reduce our national tax burden and to structurally reform our tax system.

I see my hon. colleague, the member for Toronto--Danforth, a lonely voice for economic common sense in the Liberal caucus and for a single rate tax. His has been one lonely voice for tax reform and broad based tax relief.

It was not until the 11th hour before an election last fall that the government finally, after years of insistent pleas from Canadians, decided to come forward with modest tax reductions. What it did then, typically, was to overspin and overhype what were, relatively speaking, fairly modest tax cuts. It claimed $100 billion in tax cuts from the October statement of last year. One just knows that the finance bureaucrats were told by their minister and the PMO to come up with a six figure number, like $100 billion, so that they could be politically competitive with the Alliance, which was setting the agenda in terms of tax relief.

It played every accounting game in the book in order to rustle up the $100 billion bogus tax cut figure. In fact, $7.8 billion of its so-called tax cut was actually an increase to the Canada child tax benefit. It is a good program but it is not a tax cut. It is a spending increase. It is an entitlement program, a transfer to persons through the tax system. I know the parliamentary secretary will agree with me that it is dishonest to characterize it as a tax cut. Of the so-called tax relief, $29.5 billion has been eaten up by increases in the CPP payroll tax, which was increased phenomenally by the government in 1997.

Of its so-called tax cuts, $20.7 billion was the result of the reindexation of the tax system. Essentially the government said it would stop raising taxes, that it would stop the insidious hidden annual tax on inflation and would count that non-tax increase as a tax cut. It was totally bogus.

When we net it all out the actual tax relief was $42.5 billion over five years and most of that is back end loaded into the last year or two of the plan. I and many commentators are very skeptical that we will ever see all of that tax relief because of the fiscal imprudence and irresponsibility of the government.

That is why 76% of Canadians when polled say they have not noticed any federal tax relief, not because they are dumb or naive but because they have not had any tax relief. They are absolutely right to make that observation. We continue, as I said in question period, to have the highest level of personal income taxes in the G-7 and, according to KPMG and a study published in The Economist magazine, the highest level of corporate income tax rates in the OECD. There is all of this, together with the government's failure to meaningfully address our enormous debt burden of $550 billion, a higher debt to GDP ratio than all but two countries in the OECD. We have the third highest debt to GDP ratio in the OECD. We continue to have, I believe, the second highest level of foreign indebtedness in the G-7 and OECD.

All of these things are reasons for the continued lag in our productivity. As my leader, the Leader of the Opposition, pointed out this morning, Canada's lag in productivity has led to a falling behind, particularly relative to our American major trading partner. In Canada, personal disposable income after tax is now 22% lower than it is in the United States. That means about $7,400 per person or about $29,000 for a family of four. Just think about it.

If an average income family in Canada were to receive a $29,000 cheque tomorrow, that would represent the monetary difference in the standard of living between themselves and an average American family. That difference has been fuelled by our lag in productivity versus American productivity growth. Labour productivity in the U.S. has increased at nearly twice the rate it has in Canada throughout the decade of the 1990s. As I said, that has led the Chamber of Commerce and others to say that the 1990s was the worst decade for productivity in Canada since the 1930s.

The government has missed the opportunity to get its economic fundamentals right. We still spend, as the opposition leader said this morning, more than $40 billion a year on interest, payments that will go up as the dollar goes down because so much of it is denominated in foreign currencies. That is $110 million a day that could go to health care, to broad based tax relief for working families and to cutting edge innovation in scientific research or to education. Instead it is going to bankers and bond holders because the debt of the federal government today is $30 billion higher than it was when this government took office in 1993. The government has missed this tremendous opportunity to get the fundamentals right.

What has it done over the past two or three years? It has gone back to being an old fashioned tax and spend Liberal government, and in so doing has begun to jeopardize the hardest fought prize of Canadians in our economy in the past 25 years, namely the surplus. Due to the fact that program spending has been growing in the past two years at rates of 6% and 7%, because every year in the past five years the finance minister has significantly overshot his spending projections cumulatively by over $20 billion, economists, including the former bank economist from the Royal Bank, have been projecting that there will be a planning deficit by the last year of the minister's fiscal plan. Some economists, including the Bank of Nova Scotia, have projected not just a planning deficit but an actual deficit of $5 billion next year.

In an article published in August, Andrew Coyne stated:

Make no mistake: If we do slip into deficit, it will have very little to do with a slowing economy (or tax cuts)...federal revenues in the current fiscal year should come in at around $176-billion: at worst, $174-billion. Interest on the debt will consume about $40-billion of that: at worst, $41-billion. Had program spending kept to the...track it appeared to be on as of the 1997 budget, we would today be looking at a surplus of $20-billion or more.

That is instead of the $5 billion the finance minister would have us believe as this year's surplus.

That is driving him right up against the wall to the point where he will be hoisted on his own petard. He must make some very difficult choices. This budget is all about priorities. It is all about whether or not the government can get its priorities straight.

The single largest expenditure cuts in Ottawa's program spending review was not in corporate welfare, or in job creation schemes that do not work or in subsidies for crown corporations or special interest groups. It was in national defence, by 23% in real terms. National defence, the protection of our security and sovereignty, should not be the last priority. It must be the first priority of a national, federal government. Under this government, it has been the last fiscal priority.

My leader detailed a number of measures which we believe would likely add up into the range of $3 billion or more in additional resources for national defence, CSIS, RCMP, the coast guard, customs and immigration, new acquisitions, high technology and new personnel to meet the challenges of the war on terrorism. That we must do. However, in closing, we must also fight the recession that we are now facing.

I submit we can do so prudently if and only if we reallocate spending from low priority program areas to the urgent necessities of national security.

We can accelerate prudently some tax cuts, such as the capital tax and employment insurance premiums. I hope that the government will finally get its priorities straight in this budget.

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I will be quite delicate, because as I said earlier today, my role here is to take notes and listen, not to enter into substantive debate. Nor will I respond to a couple of personal barbs.

Just purely on the question of facts, my difficulty with the finance critic is that he is on many occasions somewhat loose with the facts. I would like to just mention one. This is the notion that under the Liberal government we are back to tax and spend big government.

The fact of the matter is that the proper way to measure the size of the government is to take total federal program spending, that is spending on everything except interest payments, as a percentage of the size of the economy. That is, how big a slice of our total national pie do federal programs take. The fact of the matter is that we are lower today in terms of that slice of the pie than at any time in my lifetime. We have to go back more than 50 years before we find a federal government smaller than it is today.

My colleagues in the NDP will lament this fact. They would prefer to see a larger government. However, I am not talking about what is good or what is bad. I am only talking about facts.

How in the world can this member of parliament talk about us having a big government when in fact we have been shrinking to the point where today we are smaller, as a percentage of GDP, than we have been in the last 50 years?

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member gets it all wrong. He accuses me of saying something I did not. I did not make any comment about the program spending to GDP ratio.

I do not accept that as the appropriate measure. That is like taking a business budget and saying that the interest carrying costs will be excluded or taking out of the family household budget the mortgage and car payments. That is ridiculous. He wants to remove the $40 billion interest payment from the overall size of government in the comparison he is attempting to draw.

The Mulroney Tories made the same effort. They said in 1993 that they were actually running a program surplus if they took out the then $30 billion in interest payments. That is a completely bogus way of measuring it.

My comments were related to the recent increases, the recent slope in secular time over the last two years in program spending. The parliamentary secretary cannot deny that it has been going at twice the speed of population and inflation. Almost every economist and business group in the country suggests that CPI and inflation of about 2.5% to 3% constitute a good and prudent course for government spending to follow.

Instead of that good and prudent course, we have been following a track of 6% to 7%, which is twice as high. These levels of annual program spending increases have not been seen since 1979, when this Prime Minister was one of the most disastrous finance ministers in Canada's history, and helped to lead us into the debt from which we are still trying to crawl out from under today.

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, the premise of the member's response to that last question is that the condition of Canadians was acceptable some years ago and compared to that we should keep it the same.

The member should consider the improvements and the additional spending in the government's spending program, if he would look at them, like improvements in the child tax benefit and improvement in seniors' benefits, et cetera. These kinds of things are investing in the citizens of Canada.

However, I want to ask him about the whole aspect of stimulative spending which the Canadian Alliance seem to favour. Given the current circumstances and the mandatory attention to safety and security issues, does the member feel it would be acceptable to the Canadian Alliance to go back into a deficit? Would he go back into a deficit as a result of more stimulative spending?

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the answer to the member's question is, no. I want to underscore that we believe the government must do everything within its power to stay out of a deficit. That is of enormous symbolic importance to the Canadian people and international markets.

The problem, from the Liberal mindset, is Liberals assume that when we talk about spending in one area it means an absolute overall increase in government spending. That is not so. It is possible, believe it or not, to set priorities and say that the $6 billion which the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Human Resources Development are looking for to finance pet projects and 1970's style programs should go to national security and defence instead. Instead of money going to corporate welfare, it should go into reducing the capital tax for businesses, which they would prefer by an overwhelming margin to the kind of handout programs which currently exist. No to a deficit but yes to re-prioritization of our fiscal resources.

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park
Ontario

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga South, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

I am delighted to once again rise in the House to let the House know about the results of my prebudget consultation. This is an exercise that I do every year and it always gives me a great privilege and honour to share with my colleagues on all sides of the House what my constituents are saying.

Every year the Standing Committee on Finance seeks input from members of parliament in its preparation of a so-called prebudget report. This year the stated aim of the committee was to recommend to the minister a budget plan that would address the following objectives: first, to ensure that Canada remains a major player in the new economy; second, to provide Canadians with an equal opportunity to succeed; and third, to create a socio-economic environment where Canadians can enjoy the best qualify of life and standard of living.

It is important to note that these objectives were drawn up prior to the apocalyptic events of September 11. While the committee's objectives still remain relevant today, it is indisputable that the recent tragic events brought new financial demands on the government, particularly in the areas of security, defence and transportation.

In fact, ensuring the security of citizens and dealing with the threat of terrorism on an ongoing basis has instantly moved to the top of all governments' priority lists.

As I have said, every year I hold annual prebudget consultations in my riding. However, as these consultations were scheduled and took place after September 11, in addition to seeking input to the finance committee's objectives, I also solicited recommendations from my constituents on the following issues.

The first question I asked was whether they would favour additional spending in the areas of security and defence in response to the terrorist attack.

The second question dealt with the state of our airline industry, especially Air Canada. I asked them what in general the government's approach should be to this industry.

The third question I asked dealt with the possibility of the government having discretionary funds or a surplus in the next fiscal year and what they thought the government's financial priorities should be?

The responses I received can be broken up into four major areas. First, my constituents felt that the budget should implement measures to stave off or minimize the effects of a recession.

Second, they felt that the government should provide extra funding for security measures.

Third, they felt that the government should target more assistance for the poorest Canadians.

Fourth, they felt that the government should find new means to provide assistance to charities throughout Canada.

With respect to stimulating the economy, there was some initial discussion about reducing the GST. I know this always sends shivers to my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. However I am pleased to inform him that there was also an acknowledgment that any such reduction or even a short term GST holiday would do little to stimulate spending. In fact, it may even assist certain industries, industries that are more based with their parent companies in the United States. I will use the auto industry as an example.

Moreover, we must remember that the GST presently accounts for government revenue of approximately $25 million and any reduction in that revenue would in turn lead to a reduction in any surplus or discretionary funding.

One of the business owners in my riding noted that if he actually held a sale and advertised 2% off, everybody would simply laugh.

The other notable comment that was made was that the government should not only focus on the new economy but also on ensuring that there is a climate for investment in and the promotion of all types of businesses, especially small and medium sized enterprises. Those are the bulk of the businesses that are situate in the riding of Parkdale--High Park.

Some of the local business owners noted that the banks still tend to be unsupportive of communities, small retailers and anything that is not high tech. In a sense they were blaming the government because we were not promoting small businesses enough. As a result, the banks are tending to look to the high tech industries and not to the old economy.

With respect to the need for increased spending on security measures, there seemed to be a general consensus that more defence spending was a necessity and that tighter airport security was needed necessitating increased expenses on airport security. The question is, who should supply the security? Should it be the government or should it continue to be the airlines?

It was also stressed that spending on tighter airport security measures should be implemented in two areas, what is known as land side and air side. Most of the measures that we have concentrated on right now have been on the land side.

I was also very pleased to hear that in my riding there is continuing widespread support for an open immigration policy but that there was an urgent need for additional funding to ensure more front line personnel and caseworkers to expedite immigrants and refugees. They wanted more people to be in places close to Afghanistan so that legitimate refugees could make their way to Canada as soon as possible.

I heard a lot of concern about the assistance we need to provide to the poorest Canadians. Many people noted that the economic slowdown has hit Canada's poor especially hard. Investing in programs to stimulate job creation was viewed as being very important.

I have to disagree with the hon. finance critic for the Alliance Party. He said that HRDC programs do not work. In my riding they work extremely well. The industrial adjustment programs rejuvenate communities and make communities safer and more prosperous. We cannot ignore the fact that there is a relationship between safe communities and prosperous communities.

Another thing I am sure a lot of members have spoken about is the recommendation that was brought forward by the Canadian Restaurant Food Services Association, which was a recommendation to implement a recommendation by the standing committee on human resources. It would establish a $3,000 yearly basic exemption in the EI program to reduce the cost on labour sensitive industries such as food service, retail and tourism. What was also noted in the association's briefs and presentations was the fact that it would also assist lower income Canadians.

What the people in my riding also noted, even though it is a provincial responsibility to a great degree, was the need for urgent child care and how we should deal with it. Do we increase the national child tax benefit or the child care expense deduction? It is especially difficult for single parent families. People need to work and provide for their children but sometimes they are unable to do so because they cannot find suitable or affordable child care.

One of the interesting recommendations made was that perhaps we should look at increasing the GST rebate which would again help the poorest Canadians and avoid provincial clawbacks.

What is extremely important, in light of the aftermath of September 11, is that while many donations were being channeled to the Red Cross, many other charities had noticed that donations had significantly decreased. The food banks were not able to provide food. There was a general malaise, a lack of desire to give. There was a call for this government to implement policies and programs that will promote more private sector giving. The government cannot do it all but it has to instill that sense of philanthropy in the sense of helping our fellow Canadians.

The Minister of Finance recently announced that capital gains exemption on the gifts of publicly traded shares to charities has become permanent. I would submit that is a step in the right direction. I know many friends and colleagues in my riding were glad see that made permanent but they would also like to see all capital gains tax taken off these types of gifts to charities. That is be something we will continue to speak about.

It was also interesting to compare the recommendations from last year and see that there was a significant difference.

I want to now address the importance of continuing to implement the government's commitment to reinvesting in the arts, as was evidenced by the May 2 announcement. The arts do make a difference.

I informed my colleagues in caucus that nine days after the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center an article appeared in the National Post quoting Mr. Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank, who so eloquently stated:

There is a level--in terms of music and the arts--beyond finance, beyond budgets, beyond economics, beyond politics, that is the inner resource that most of us don't talk about most of the time because it's sort of soft and because it's sort of luxury.

He went on to say:

It would be a terrible thing, in my judgment, for Canada to be one of the leaders in the world, as you are, in so many political and other things, without understanding, developing and giving visibility to your own culture.

I also personally believe we should not fall into a deficit. We should continue with our balanced approach. We should continue to stimulate the economy and to reinvest in the social priorities of Canadians. We should also continue to pay down the debt.

However we must never forget that the values of a society are reflected in the fiscal choices that we make. Let us ensure that Canadian values continue to be reflected in the fiscal choices that will be found in the December budget.

Ways and Means
Government Orders

November 1st, 2001 / 4:05 p.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I must apologize to my colleagues for interrupting this very important debate but I rise on a matter of some urgency.

Pursuant to Standing Order 83(1) I wish to table a notice of ways and means motion to amend the Customs Tariff and the Excise Tax Act to implement certain measures relating to tobacco products. We will be increasing federal taxes and, at the same time, a number of provinces will be taking complementary action. I am also tabling a backgrounder.

I ask that an order of the day be designated for consideration of the motion.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, of the amendment and the amendment to the amendment.

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member's comments expressing the views of her constituents who wanted to see the economy stimulated and jobs being created. I would certainly agree with that.

I was surprised not to hear the member make any comment or give any suggestion indicating that one of the best ways to stimulate our economy is to put money into a housing program. If there were a federal infusion of funds into a national housing program, it would be a huge stimulus to the economy and it would meet a growing social need in Canada. For example, if the government decided that it was a priority to construct 30,000 new homes that would create 94,000 jobs in the next five years.

Is the member committed to the federal government making it a priority in the next federal budget to allocate money to a national housing strategy? I am not talking about the little bits and pieces that we have seen through the homelessness secretariat or from the minister of public works. I am talking about a real national strategy involving the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the federal and provincial governments where we would see a federal commitment to a housing program that would include not for profit social housing. If the government did that, it would provide very good jobs and the real social investment that is needed.

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the issue of housing and homelessness is very important to the people in my riding of Parkdale--High Park.

Prior to the $753 million announcement the Minister of Labour made a few years ago, the minister visited my riding and met with community leaders and social activists to find out what the best way would be to focus on the issue of homelessness and affordable housing.

One of the strategies that came about as a result of consultations was that money was provided to increase the youth employment strategy for youth at risk and to help with temporary housing, such as shelters. While the member may think that $753 million is a piddling amount of money, I cannot tell her what a significant impact those moneys have had on my riding.

The Redwood Shelter in my riding was a recipient of over $500,000. This money allowed it to expand its facilities to deal with the unfortunate abuse that women and children endure. The money went toward increasing the number of staff, toward improving the facility to make it much more pleasing and toward creating a garden which has had a tremendous effect.

My riding has another incredible project that was a recipient of additional funds under the homelessness program. I am speaking of the all-aboard youth ventures, the River Restaurant, which trains at risk youth in restaurant skills and life skills. I am happy to report that this HRDC program works and that 79% of the at risk youth who come through the program are successful. They are placed within the community. The program has had incredible successes.

We should not forget that the minister of public works has been in consultation with the provinces on the national housing strategy. Quite frankly, I am tired of hearing misinformation that the federal government can act on its own. It cannot. It works together with the provinces. The minister of public works has committed $680 million shared with the provinces, especially in Ontario, with ongoing negotiations.

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief.

I would like to know what the hon. member thinks of the response of the Minister of Human Resources Development to the unanimous report on the issue of employment insurance.

We know that in June all members from all parties agreed that major changes had to be made. There were 17 recommendations. In the context of the present prebudget consultations, it is important to know whether members share the minister's position that the solution is to do nothing, to change nothing and to put no additional funding into the system because it is apparently working very well.

Does the member share that position or does she agree with her Liberal colleagues who sat on the committee and who were still in the spirit of last year's election campaign, in which they all committed to making major changes to the employment insurance plan above and beyond the mere elimination of the intensity rule? The unanimous report, entitled “Beyond Bill C-2”, meaning beyond the bill passed by the government to eliminate the intensity rule, contained 17 additional recommendations.

Does the member agree with the minister or does she agree with the members of her own party and of all parties in this House who were calling for a fundamental reform of the employment insurance plan to enable us to deal with the crisis we are now facing because of terrorism, as well as the crisis in the softwood lumber industry and the overall economic downturn?

Would giving the less fortunate in our society the means to spend some money to meet their everyday needs not be a good way of putting money back into the economy?

Prebudget Consultations
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, I must begin by saying that there is no dichotomy between supporting my colleagues' part of the unanimous report and the minister. The minister stated her intention to work with all Canadians to ensure that the employment insurance system is there.

Today the minister said that she would continue to do so especially in light of the softwood lumber disaster we are having with the Americans right now. She is prepared to deal with that and said so quite clearly.

The member talked about 17 recommendations. We talk about changing times. There were questions put to the minister about the problem of EI claims not being processed quickly enough. The minister is working with Canadians and with the department to ensure that people who need employment insurance because of layoffs and temporary disruptions in the market, whether in the airline industry or the softwood lumber industry, receive those moneys. We need to ensure that those moneys and programs are there for the people who need it now and who may also need it in the future. I clearly support the minister and my colleagues on this issue.