House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.

Topics

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Peterson Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the employment insurance program we have made major changes to it.

One of the most important and fundamental changes we made was that people who were working for shorter periods of time could accumulate employment insurance benefits. That is something which is going to help ease the burden for those who may lose their jobs at this particular time.

In terms of actual job losses, I am not taking credit for this but looking realistically at what has happened, one of the most exciting things that has happened since we started to put this nation's finances in order has been the huge increase in the number of jobs. Over two million new jobs have been created by the private sector here in Canada. This is critical because the best social program is a job.

The member is right in that we have seen the rates go up slightly from a low of 6.8%. The increased benefits that are available under the EI program are helpful to those people who have lost their jobs. Whenever anyone loses a job, it is the most difficult thing that anyone anywhere has to face because it does have human consequences.

The member mentioned the EI premiums. When we took office in 1993, the premiums were at $3.07 and were heading toward $3.30. They have come down every year since then, saving employers and contributors to that fund a total of $6.8 billion a year. I do not take a back seat to anyone when it comes to what our government has done to cut employment insurance premiums.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca suggested in his speech that government backbenchers were afraid to utter constructive criticisms of their own government programs. Not so. Many, many backbench MPs have constructive suggestions for the government. The member from Esquimalt when I challenged him on that suggested that I, who is well known for making constructive criticisms of government programs, was relegated to this corner of the House as some sort of punishment.

Well, I wish to reassure all members of the House of Commons that I am over in this corner of the House of Commons in order to give me more speaking room, in order to speak to the government members, to speak to the opposition members and to speak to even the Conservative members in the corner here. I consider my place in the House of Commons, the location of my seat, an honour. Now I will proceed to criticize a government program.

I really actually appreciate the opportunity this opposition motion does afford those in the House who monitor various government programs and have reservations about them. The program that most disturbs me and will be the main focus of my remarks is the non-insured health benefits program run by Health Canada for Canada's aboriginals, all those covered by the Indian Act.

This is a program that now costs the government treasury $578 million a year. It is a program that is not mandated in legislation whatsoever. It comes out of the blue. It was inherited from the previous Conservative government and it was designed to provide Canada's aboriginal citizens with free drugs and free vision care equipment like sunglasses and eyeglasses. It was designed to give free transportation to aboriginals.

The program was introduced by the former Conservative government under Brian Mulroney. At about the same time, a couple of years after that same government brought in a bill called Bill C-31, which extended Indian status extensively. It extended it mainly to women who had married non-Indians and had moved off the reserve. Consequently over the last 15 years there has been a tremendous expansion of people who qualify as aboriginals for the various programs that exist for aboriginals. This applies to the non-insured health benefits program, so what we have is a program that began costing the government a couple of hundred million, has risen exponentially and now costs $578 million a year.

The difficulty is it is a program that is based exclusively on race. It is not based on the economic disadvantage of individuals. It is not based on whether they are on reserve or off reserve. It is not based on income. One of the problems is that an untold amount of money in that program is going to people who have their Indian cards who are taking advantage of the program and have no need to take advantage of the program.

I know of at least one instance where the individual is earning about $300,000 a year and yet he qualifies for the program. That is a very extreme example, but in Canada's urban centres there are literally tens of thousands of individuals who qualify for the free drugs which run into seven million prescriptions a year. There are stories where they go out and their kids can get free sunglasses and so on and so forth.

This is a classic case where parliament needs to intervene and draw parameters around this program focusing on people who are in need rather than simply on race. I would suggest that the savings could be a couple of hundred million dollars.

We have heard a lot from the other side on how in this time of recession we should be doing everything we can to cut spending and lower taxes, but I submit that we have not had a lot of constructive suggestions. I would suggest that if the government were to come into the non-insured health benefits program, put it under legislation finally and make it income relevant as it should be directed to those in need, there would be a tremendous saving and I think there would be a tremendous benefit to the people involved as well.

The other program that I am very critical of that I wish the finance minister would pay attention to is in the context of Canada's national debt. The member for Elk Island spoke considerably on this. My disappointment is that it is certainly true we have reduced the debt by $36 billion, but looking at the public accounts and looking at the report of the auditor general we could have reduced that debt by another $7 billion. We can still reduce it by $3 billion or $4 billion just like that. The way is to take the money back from the foundations, the nine foundations that were set up with government funds to undertake various programs.

For instance, there is about $3 billion locked up in the Canada foundation for innovation. I have no problem with the idea behind this foundation, which is to try to improve Canada's technological competitiveness, but it is an evasion of public responsibility when taxpayer dollars are given to an arm's length organization that then invests it. Rather than having a foundation invest taxpayer dollars, it should have been reduced from the debt because what you have, Mr. Speaker, is $7 billion in various investments in these arm's length foundations that would actually, if the money had been held back until needed, have reduced the debt by some $7 billion.

I think the finance department and the finance minister should examine the whole philosophy about setting up things like the millennium scholarship fund which is another one of these foundations that accounts for $2.4 billion. The millennium scholarship fund is an excellent program. I think it is excellent but it should be a charge as you go, not as a charge to the future. The final difficulty, Mr. Speaker, is of course if you put the money out to foundations and they invest it of course they become susceptible to what happens in the markets.

I have the annual report before me of the Canada foundation for innovation, but I regret I cannot get enough information from it to determine whether the billion or so dollars that it invested in various market instruments had gained or lost money. That is precisely the point: if it had been a debt reduction it would have meant that the Government of Canada would not be borrowing.

You see what happens, Mr. Speaker. By giving it to an arm's length foundation, $7 billion to a foundation, it means the government has to continue to borrow. I do not think this is acceptable, but I think $7 billion is a worthy saving.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank members of the opposition for giving me the opportunity to suggest to the government these two areas that I think it could address. I know it is too late for the budget remarks that are coming up very shortly, but to me it is parliament that is responsible for spending taxpayer money. It is parliament that should be accountable. I deplore situations where there is a $578 million program that is not legislated by parliament that is dispensing that amount of money. I deplore also where we offload our responsibilities to arm's length organizations when we should keep the money for our own purposes to keep the debt down and pay for these programs as we go.

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1:35 p.m.

Western Arctic
Northwest Territories

Liberal

Ethel Blondin-Andrew Secretary of State (Children and Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get some background information from my hon. colleague who takes great pride in the position he takes on many issues, some of which are controversial and sometimes unfounded.

I would like the hon. member to correct the assumption regarding these agreements with card carrying aboriginal people like myself. Many of them pay taxes, have always paid taxes and have not had the benefit of a status card. I was adopted and lost my status card because the family that adopted me was not status. I paid my way through university. I paid for everything and I have never reclaimed those expenses. Those arrangements are treaty arrangements. I would like my colleague to speak to that.

There is an assumption or at least an intonation that aboriginal people are irresponsible or the government is irresponsible in having struck those agreements. I have no issue with accountability, but I have an issue with the way in which this is expressed. It makes a target out of aboriginal people and I would like him to set correctly the historical basis on which these agreements, programs and services were put in place.

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, why the secretary of state actually defends the point. She makes $132,000 plus, and she is entirely eligible to have her drugs free and to have whatever is available in the non-insured health benefits program. I grant she may not do it. As a matter of fact I am sure she does not do it but there are many people in urban settings who do.

The program was never ever designed for people in urban communities. It was intended for aboriginals, Indians on reserves. It was primarily a program not based on and it was never intended in my view to be simply based on race. All I am suggesting is that the program should be re-examined. It should be an object of legislation and should be focused on those in need.

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1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is refreshing to hear some real debate in the House coming from the government side. I would encourage more of it.

Dealing with today's Canadian Alliance supply day motion, we hear members of the Liberal Party, the NDP in particular, the Bloc, and of course the PC/DR, say that the Canadian Alliance wants to cut this, cut that and cut spending. That is what say. That is what they are putting across. Let us examine the facts. They may not want to hear this but let us look at the facts.

We are saying precisely that the government should look at the existing budget and where it can reallocate moneys from to put into areas of higher priority spending. I have to refer to the supply day motion itself which states precisely that in the opinion of the House, the upcoming budget should reallocate--and I will say that again, reallocate--financial resources from wasteful low and falling priorities into higher need areas. That is exactly what the motion is today. It then goes on to talk about examples. The examples given of course are not all inclusive. We are talking about the whole range of federal government programs and initiatives as to where to reallocate from within the existing budget.

Earlier I asked the secretary of state about government budgets. I think he gave me an answer to the effect that the government actually takes in less money now than it did in 1993. I will have to go over Hansard to see just how he figured that out. My understanding is that this year it is a $173 billion budget. I know for sure that is not what it was in 1993.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my 20 minutes with the hon. member for Surrey Central.

I would like to deal with another issue that came up today, that of agriculture. Agriculture is absolutely vital to the country. It is a major part of our economy. I point out that of Canada's top five industries, one of them is agriculture. It accounts for about 8.5% of the GDP. Between $95 billion and $105 billion is generated by the agriculture industry which employs approximately two million Canadians. It is very much a part of today's supply day debate.

I would like to talk about what the Canadian Alliance has done since the 2000 election in regard to this major part of our economy and what the government should be looking at in terms of reallocating resources from other low priority areas into agriculture.

As I go over this, members will see there was a Canadian Alliance votable supply day motion where we asked all parties including the government to vote to give an additional $400 million to Canadian farmers. That motion was defeated. That was part of the Canadian Alliance initiative of reallocating resources from lower priority areas. Agriculture, as evidenced by that, is one of our high priority areas. We talk about agriculture.

The New Democrats are probably the worst ones for trying to compare themselves to others. I know that they have additional speakers coming up and I will give them something to use for comparison.

On December 13, 2000, the first day that Alliance MPs were back in Ottawa, our leader along with myself and other agriculture critics sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding help for farmers before Christmas of that year.

January 31 was the first question period for this session of parliament. We asked questions regarding an immediate cash injection for farmers during that first question period. Our leader was the first opposition leader to ask questions on agriculture in the House of Commons after the federal election. Where was the NDP leader at that time when it came to asking questions?

Since the opening of the 37th Parliament, which we are in right now, we have delivered over 100 statements and questions on agriculture in the House. Agriculture is one of the top five issues the Canadian Alliance has raised since coming here after the election in November 2000.

Our questions in the House have ranged over the whole area of agriculture topics. Of course, agriculture being an economic force in the country, they all had to do with this very supply day motion. We have spoken about and debated the ongoing farm income crisis. This includes improvements to the safety nets. We have suggested ideas with regard to NISA. There is the need for an additional $500 million. Of course our caucus voted for our finance critic to actually advance this as one of the areas for reallocation of moneys from lower priority areas in today's debate.

The Liberal backdoor attempts to circumvent supply management tariffs is another issue we have raised in question period. All of this is in Hansard .

We have raised the foot and mouth crisis. We have also raised the drought issue which was very predominant across the country but particularly in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta where absolutely nothing grew when there was no rain. We have supported the organic farmers.

We have noted also that there is Liberal hypocrisy in delivering help to large companies fighting foreign subsidies, like Bombardier, but at the same time ignoring agriculture. We have noted the impact on farmers of the cruelty to animals legislation if it passes this House. I can only encourage all members to oppose this cruelty to animals legislation at this time.

We have raised the U.S. ban on P.E.I. potatoes, which is still hurting those farmers in Prince Edward Island. It has never been satisfactorily resolved by the government. We have also noted the U.S. charges against our multibillion dollar tomato industry.

Once again, these are issues that we in the Canadian Alliance have raised time after time. They deal with hard economic issues. There is increased wealth to the country by bringing in foreign currency as a result of the exports of not only tomatoes but potatoes, beef and all other kinds of agricultural exports.

We raised the politics of the ban on Brazilian beef, the politics of the Liberal government fighting an economic battle for another sector of the economy, specifically the airline industry. In fact it caused problems in the agriculture sector in order to help what I guess it felt was a higher priority.

There is the ineffectiveness of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. We raised that in the House just the other day. That again is an economic factor which will impact very negatively on agriculture and Canadians as a whole if something is not done about it. It also impacts, as the health minister should know but does not seem to, on the environment. If his agency were operating properly, we would have new, safer pesticides and chemicals coming on stream and we would get rid of the old ones which are more toxic. What do we have? Inaction.

In addition to all of those things, on September 27 we sponsored an emergency debate on farm incomes. Through the use of a concurrence motion, I forced another agriculture debate on November 1.

Therefore, my question for the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP, the Bloc, for everyone in the House is, who has done more for agriculture than the Canadian Alliance?

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1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I will not argue with the member on the point but I think Hansard will show who has done more for agriculture.

Does the member think that a properly focused budget which puts money into our primary resources such as agriculture and the fisheries not only would help those industries but would also create a tremendous number of good, solid jobs?

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1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, when we look at some of the government spending that is non-productive, to say the least, certainly that spending could go into agriculture and would really increase the productivity of the country.

Our dollar is down to 62 or 63 cents which is a direct result of the wasteful spending identified in the motion, wasteful spending that does not generate wealth for the country. That is exactly what we are talking about, that is, using the resources of the country to make us all wealthier, not poorer.

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, an organization called Ducks Unlimited has been meeting with members of parliament in Ottawa. It has a proposal that would give farmers the option of converting marginal farmland into areas reserved for birds and waterfowl. There would be compensation associated with that. As I understand it, the program has worked quite well in the United States. It deals with the very serious problem of marginal farmland. Farmers would have the option of being compensated. They would take the land out of production and put those resources into more productive farmland.

Would the member for Selkirk--Interlake and his party support that proposal? I would appreciate his comments.

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1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, that proposal came to the agriculture committee from Ducks Unlimited. We are in the process of examining it from a party position. We do not have a party position on it at this time. It was deceptive in that Ducks Unlimited made its presentation without any mention whatsoever that Ducks Unlimited, the agriculture minister and Samy Watson had been working on this project for quite some time. It was as if it was something out of the blue.

I made a request in the agriculture committee today. It is time the government came forward and told Canadian farmers and all of us what the five year plan is all about. We found out a little dribble about Ducks Unlimited the other day. It is time the agriculture minister came clean and told us what the big five year plan is. He already has released little details about it involving approximately 1.4 million acres of land being set aside, all of it expected to be in Saskatchewan with a few dribbles outside. What about all those people in Saskatchewan if there is a plan to sow Saskatchewan down to grass and have no production coming off it?

The final point I would make about that since we are debating this particular issue now is that when it comes to a private American corporation like Ducks Unlimited, we do not want to see its name on the land title, the caveat or agreement with a farmer on land set aside. We are not against the scheme of setting land aside but we certainly are against Ducks Unlimited having its name on the land title and on the caveat.

We would agree to the Government of Canada having its name on a land title but we certainly would not allow a big American corporation to have its name on it.

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1:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member did not spend much time on article (d) of the opposition day motion which deals with EI. He is from the same province I am from. The cutbacks to EI have had a dramatic impact on our province, maybe more of an impact in the inner city riding that I represent.

Is the member aware that in my riding alone the cutbacks to EI cost $20.8 million per year? Under the current rules, 1,400 fewer people are eligible than would be under the old rules. I would ask him to try and keep in mind that if a new business with a payroll of $20 million a year wanted to come to a riding, we would be very pleased and would pave the streets with gold to invite the company in.

Rather than bringing down the premiums as is contemplated in article (d), would the member not see the logic in increasing the eligibility so more people would be eligible for the benefits?

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1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, our employment insurance program must be available for workers but it cannot be available to the point where it becomes a disincentive to work. We are concerned with what the NDP is proposing. The benefits would be so high that people would not go to work. We know in Ontario and many parts of the country that foreign workers are brought in because we cannot get Canadian workers to do the jobs.

That is the case in our slaughterhouse plants, our greenhouses in southern Ontario and our vegetable fields in Manitoba. We want to ensure that the employment insurance program does not pay excess benefits.

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1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake for allowing me to share his time. I am pleased to rise on behalf of my constituents of Surrey Central to take part in the debate on the supply day motion put forward by the Canadian Alliance regarding economic issues and the upcoming budget. Pressure from the Canadian Alliance finally scared this lame duck government from its apathy and moved it to table a budget 22 months after the last one.

Canadians are concerned that this budget will be politically motivated and be similar to the Liberal pre-election mini budget. It is shameful that rather than solving the needs of Canadians and setting the right priorities, this budget will serve the needs of Liberal leadership hopefuls in the underground campaign for the leadership. This form of patronage by stealth should not be a surprise to Canadians since time after time the government has shown that it has a habit of rewarding its friends with taxpayer dollars.

The Canadian Alliance motion asks the government to address a number of vital measures in next week's budget. We are calling on the finance minister to reallocate resources from low priority spending areas into higher priority spending areas; to reverse unbudgeted spending increases to a maximum growth rate of inflation plus population, which is approximately 3%; to increase national security and defence spending by $3 billion; to reduce employment insurance premiums by at least 15 cents for next year; to continue reducing premiums until the break-even point is reached; to enhance job creation by eliminating capital tax over three years beginning with a 25% cut this year; to sell non-core government assets; and to use the proceeds to accelerate debt reduction. The motion appreciates and strikes a balance between the current and future needs of Canadians.

Canada is in a recession and the weak Liberal government is asleep. It sleepwalked into a recession and stumbled blindly into this situation. Our leader and finance critic tried many times in vain to awaken Liberal members but they refused to be awakened. The finance minister is a mere spectator and unable to influence Canada's economic performance at this time. The government took over a month to make the announcement of an upcoming budget after the events of September 11.

The weak government's priorities have been wrong. The government cut the CSIS budget by $50 million which is about 20% and in real terms a massive $76 million or 28% since 1993. It cut defence spending by $1.6 billion or 14% and in real terms a massive $2.9 billion or 23% since 1993. The same story continues with the RCMP budget, the immigration budget and the customs budget. The government--

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I regret to interrupt the hon. member but following question period when debate on this matter resumes he will have six and a half minutes remaining in the time allotted for him to complete his remarks.

Auditor General of Canada
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Auditor General of Canada for the year 2001.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(e) this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Employment
Statements by Members

December 4th, 2001 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Paradis Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, in Magog last week I took part in a press conference, which reported on the performance of the Mission compétence project made possible through the Youth Internship Canada program.

A great program and a great success. Eighty per cent of young people who took part in the Mission compétence program kept their job after the internship or found another job in the same field.

Thanks to these internships, young graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree got work experience and benefited from the expertise of the firms involved in order to make a successful integration into the labour market.

I wish to congratulate the Magog-Orford Chamber of Commerce and Industry on its considerable involvement in this project, along with the Carrefour Jeunesse Emploi Memphrémagog.

This important success reminds us of the importance and strength of partnership. When employers, regional organizations and governments work together, the result is often success.