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

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

December 4th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order as a result of an unfortunate incident that took place during question period today.

While the Minister of National Defence was responding to a question from me, it was clearly heard on the microphone and should be in Hansard that the Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board made a very disparaging comment about me.

I would like to put the matter to rest by having the minister apologize for the comment. That would end the matter.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair did not hear a remark that I recall which was disparaging so I am afraid the Chair is unable to assist the hon. member at this point. I will examine the blues and get back to the House should that be necessary.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order concerning the content of the appropriations bill that would enact the contents of Supplementary Estimates (A)

I draw the attention of the House to Vote 36a under Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the amount of $2 million. The explanation in the estimates is: “Payments to compensate for the transferred liabilities to the corporation from the government in respect of export development employees who have contributed to the public service death benefits account”.

At the moment there is no statutory basis for this transfer. The transfer would be authorized by what now exists as Bill C-31, which passed the House on October 30. Alas, Bill C-31 has not yet completed its metamorphosis from a bill into the full majesty of statute.

The bill was sent to the Senate, but it would appear the Senate has not yet passed the bill. It would be inappropriate for the House to include vote 36a in the appropriations bill since at the moment there is no other legislative authority to transfer the funds to the EDC. Nor can the House assume that Bill C-31 will be passed by both houses in the form in which it was passed by the House of Commons. Presumably there is still an opportunity for amendments to occur in the other place.

You will be more familiar than most, Mr. Speaker, with the statement of Speaker Jerome on March 22, 1977, when he stated that a supply item ought not be used to obtain authority which is the proper subject of legislation.

The House has already indicated through its passage of Bill C-31 that the transfer is in its view the proper subject of legislation, but the draft legislation has not yet been passed by both houses of Parliament. I therefore reluctantly invite the Speaker to strike this item from the appropriations bill.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I must say I appreciate the hon. member's vigilance in examining the bill with such care. It is one of the advantages of circulating the bill in advance. I know that the Chair will want to take this matter under very serious consideration and of course reflect upon the hon. member’s horror at finding this kind of provision in a supply bill.

We will look at the matter and get back to the House, I hope later this afternoon before the bill comes to a vote at 5.30 p.m. under our rules. I thank the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough for his diligence.

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

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Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, when speaking to the debate on the Canadian Alliance motion before question period, I was talking about the government having to set the right priorities. The government must reallocate spending to national security from low priority areas such as corporate welfare, Canadian Heritage, regional development and the CBC, to the high priority areas like national security, the RCMP, CSIS and so on. Protection of Canadian sovereignty and safety has not been a government priority.

The tax and spend Liberals are back to their old tricks now. They have overshot budget spending promises by $40 billion since 1997. Each year, March madness spending averages $2.6 billion. With the lowest interest rates in 40 years, a prudent fiscal policy can contribute to economic recovery. Accelerating tax cuts can provide the stimulus to bolster consumer, business and investor confidence in the Canadian economy.

Recently I was in Hong Kong where I talked with members of the Canadian chamber of commerce. Investors say that punitive EI premiums and capital taxes, a tax on innovation, are a drag on the Canadian economy. Canada and its economy can no longer afford that.

Unlike the government, the Canadian Alliance feels that government waste is a problem which seriously threatens Canada's short term economic potential. The government has continued to pour hard earned Canadian tax dollars down the drain of failed regional development programs and corporate welfare for its Liberal friends. At the same time it has blamed the provinces for the crisis facing health care, education and so on, and for deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

The truth is that the government has failed to provide adequate transfers to the provinces to meet the needs of Canadians. Mike Harris is the latest provincial premier to take the federal Liberals to task regarding how they are starving Canadians of the services they have come to expect. While our provinces are crying out for more money to fund their programs, the government's priorities continue to be badly misplaced. It is all a question of priorities.

The weak Liberals are stuck in an old fashioned tax and spend mindset. As well, they do not address the other less visible drags on our economy such as wasteful spending. Under a Canadian Alliance government, the discussion we would be facing today would have to do with the reallocation of existing spending into priority areas that protect Canada's future.

Canada has continued to slip under the Liberals. The Canadian dollar has fallen 14 cents since 1993. That is a 20% drop in our currency. Our labour productivity relative to that of the U.S. has fallen by 7% since 1993. According to the OECD, Canada's standard of living currently ranks seventh while Ireland now ranks fifth, up from 19th position in 1996. We are going down the road in the wrong direction.

We have the highest corporate income tax rate in the OECD, over 42%. We have the highest personal income taxes in the G-7 countries, over 21% higher than the U.S. Today Canadians are only about 70% as well off as their neighbours to the south. While other countries race ahead, Canada is getting left behind in the global race in almost all major categories.

The Liberals have failed to improve our economic competitiveness. They have failed to spur investment and job growth. They have failed to improve our standard of living since they took office in 1993.

The government is not helping matters by maintaining personal tax levels and corporate taxes which are over 42%, the highest level in the OECD countries.

These are just the explicit taxes which show up directly on the books as costs of doing business.

The Fraser Institute highlighted another hidden tax in the form of the exorbitant compliance costs to the tune of $103 billion which Canadian businesses face in terms of regulatory burden. As a member of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations and with my business background, I understand the cumulative effect of the vast expanse of federal regulations affecting Canada's business community's ability to compete in today's global climate. These companies could have used most of this $103 billion to finance innovation or research and development instead of dealing with government red tape.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian manufacturers and exporters, the Fraser Institute and others have highlighted the need for regulatory reform. Many provinces have formulated red tape commissions and have effectively pursued red tape reduction, but the issue is not even on the radar screen of the federal Liberals.

While talking about the economic priorities of the government, I should highlight the messed up priorities in the following areas: infrastructure and highways; transportation and traffic congestion which the government has ignored; mismanagement of resources, including minerals, oil and gas, softwood lumber, fisheries and agriculture; the development of industry, technology and skilful labour. Those are some of the priorities the government has missed. There are more but I believe my time for debate is over.

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Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague for his excellent discourse on the business of supply and the official opposition motion. The motion is most pertinent as we are expecting a budget in about a week's time.

Unfortunately the Minister of Finance has been completely unaccountable to Canadians. We have not seen a budget in this place for almost two years, which is unacceptable in any democracy. I am glad the official opposition is taking the finances of the country seriously, unlike the government.

I would like my hon. colleague to comment specifically in an area where the government usually likes to take credit. When times are good the minister boasts about how the government has done so much to stimulate the economy, how growth is happening, how things are very positive. Yet, when things start to go downhill, especially as we are seeing currently with the country in a recession, the minister is nowhere to be seen to take responsibility on the chin for the government's fiscal policy and how it has led the country into recession.

My hon. colleague spoke about the idea of moving priorities from low areas to high areas. Maybe he could expand on that and give the government some lessons on how it could stimulate the economy during this Liberal-led recession.

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3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Edmonton--Strathcona, my seatmate, has asked an excellent question. He is absolutely right. We talk about government accountability but the weak, arrogant Liberal government, a lame duck government, lacks accountability.

The government has completely lacked the responsibility to present a budget in the House for 22 months which shows that setting the right priorities is not a priority for the government. It says it is not a priority. That is why it has not tabled a budget for 22 months. It has been operating without a budget for 22 months.

The economy is going downhill. The minister is held responsible for that but he is not showing any interest in sharing the responsibility for the downturn in the economy. I believe there is political background behind that. He is being touted as a potential candidate for the Liberal leadership and he does not want to take the blame for the economy. He does not want to share the responsibility which is rightly placed on him. He should speak to the motion and should be present in the House to highlight the importance of this issue and the federal priorities.

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Surrey Central made reference to the premier of Ontario which provoked me as I sat here in my chair.

Coming from British Columbia perhaps he would not be fully aware of what is going on in Ontario. The premier of Ontario is trying to resolve his personal affairs and maybe not too successfully so he is taking some last parting shots. Maybe he will come to the House and take on the leadership of the crew on the other side.

He is taking shots at the federal government about health care. Maybe it is fed bashing at its finest but I am amazed at what the premier of Ontario can say. He cut taxes that will cost his government $18 billion per year by the year 2006. That is fine if he wants to cut taxes but he should not then shirk responsibilities and try to park the problems at the seat of the federal government.

Last year he signed an accord for $21 billion that would put $21 billion, and $8 billion into Ontario over the next five years for health care. Ontario's last budget put $1.2 billion into health care of which $1.1 billion was federal government money.

Is the member aware of what is going on in Ontario? Would he address the concerns that most Ontarians are raising with respect to the priorities of the premier?

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3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question but I am appalled that he, being from Ontario, would take a personal shot at the premier of Ontario. It was not appropriate and he should not have done it.

The motion is about the economy, and while this debate is going on about the budget, I would like to congratulate the premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, for putting Ontario's economy on the right track when he took charge of the government. The economy of the province was in shambles under the previous government.

The hon. member opposite should have the guts to stand up and congratulate the premier rather than trash him on his personal record.

The hon. member is also forgetting to look at Ontario's economy in a broader way. I congratulate the premier of Ontario on the progress made on regulatory reforms. It is the premier of Ontario who set up a red tape commission which did an excellent job in cutting undesirable regulations from the government books.

I would ask the hon. member to remind his government to put regulatory reform on the government's agenda. I close my remarks by stating that the premier of Ontario has done an excellent job.

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would have the guts to invite Premier Harris to come and debate--

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3:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. I might have been negligent in not rising earlier but I believe that the last term used, reflecting on someone's lack of or abundance of courage, and another term, are not really conducive to the type of debate that we traditionally have in the House.

I encourage members on both sides of the House to find better words.

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the premier wants to have a debate let him come forward and have a debate. He has asked for a debate. The facts are patently clear. Our government is cutting taxes as well, but we are minding our responsibilities. We dealt with the deficit first. We are cutting taxes for Canadians, but we are not laying blame and scapegoating others for any problems or situations that we have to deal with federally. That is what the premier of Ontario is doing.

Likewise, the Bloc Quebecois and the separatists, when they enjoined the debate earlier, talked about taking more tax points from the federal government. We know that the separatist cause is on weak knees. It has no support in Quebec so those members are looking for some galvanizing issue and taking more tax points from the federal government seems to be it, because they know the federal government would probably not do that. They are trying to find some rallying point in their hopeless cause. I think Quebecers will see through that and Canadians will see through that.

I do appreciate speaking today on the motion and will be sharing my time with my colleague from Durham.

As hon. members are aware, the budget is the main economic event in Canada. It is the tool by which the government signals to Canadians its plans and its priorities. This in turn helps consumers and businesses plan for the coming year.

Even before September 11, Canadians were becoming concerned about the state of the economy. The terrorist attacks on the U.S. only exacerbated these concerns. The events of September 11 have compounded the challenges facing the Minister of Finance in terms of what his budget will contain. These events have brought home the fact that we are indeed living in a global economy. The minister, in preparing the budget, must take these terrible events into consideration.

I would like to take the opportunity to point out that one thing that remains a priority with this government is its ability to listen to what Canadians want and to respond to their needs.

Consulting with Canadians remains this government's priority. Whether it be on reforms to the Canada Pension Plan, a new agricultural policy or prebudget consultations, we can count on a government that will listen.

If the measures put forward in the opposition motion meet the needs expressed by Canadians to the minister, if they are economically viable and if they respect a cautious budget management process, they could well be considered.

However, if they do not meet these requirements, then the government would not be able to include them in its budget.

Only the Minister of Finance can follow-up on this question and, given the secret nature of the budget, the minister cannot provide the Alliance with what they are asking for at this time.

As in previous years, the Standing Committee on Finance, of which I am a member, travelled across Canada in what is referred to as prebudget consultations. We heard from individuals and groups representing all regions and all sectors of our society.

Members of the hon. member's own party were part of the process. Indeed, were he to inquire they would be able to tell him what Canadians asked for.

As hon. members may have heard, Canadians eagerly awaited this round of prebudget consultations. They sent a strong message to the minister about the nation's budgetary priorities. Canadians do not take the health of the economy for granted and they told the government what their priorities were. They prepared their briefs during the summer, setting out their prescriptions for sound public policy, but alas, we all have to wait until Monday to find out what the end result will be. I do not know, my colleagues on this side of the House do not know and my colleagues opposite certainly do not know what will be in the budget on Monday.

What we know for certain is that the Minister of Finance next Monday will continue to stick to his long term economic plan, the plan he introduced back in 1993, the plan that is working, the plan from which he will not stray. He will stick to prudence in the management of the nation's finances.

Another thing is also certain. Next Monday's budget will provide a full accounting of the Canadian economic and fiscal outlook and situation.

If I may, I would like to remind hon. members opposite that their premise in today's motion is too simple, as usual. In essence they are saying to introduce these measures and the economic difficulties facing our nation will be resolved. Finding solutions to the global economic slowdown is not that simple, I am afraid. If my colleagues opposite would sit back and think for a moment, they might realize that the prudent approach our government has taken and continues to take to the management of our economy is what works best.

Another point I would like to make is about the inappropriateness of the motion at this time given the tragic events of September 11, because of course our government policies must be carefully weighed in light of how the events of the global economy changed after that day. Granted, there has been a global economic slowdown, and I emphasize the word global, in recent months. These tragic events have added a new layer of economic uncertainty.

I suggest that no one should even begin to pretend they know what the intermediate or long term effects may be on the economy or what the immediate and long term answers will be after that tragic day, but it is guaranteed that Canada's response will be methodical, well thought out and, above all, cautious. Our government is realistic in knowing that Canada is not and cannot be immune to what is happening elsewhere in the world and especially in the United States.

I urge hon. members to think for a moment about Canada and where it stands vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Canada is a competitive nation in the global economy.

I would like to point out a few facts to the opposition members.

As I said, since last winter, the global economy has slowed down in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America, and especially in the United States.

The events of September 11 and their after-effects have magnified this slowdown.

This downturn, and the uncertainty it is causing among Canadians and their families, is of concern to the government.

Make no mistake, the economic welfare of Canadians has been the preoccupation of the government over the last eight years, through a number of tough global circumstances such as the Asian and Mexican crises. Indeed, one of the main reasons the government worked so hard to put the fiscal house in order was to be able to handle this sort of economic uncertainty. As a result, the government was able to introduce $17 billion in tax cuts this year alone, tax cuts that are supporting the Canadian economy and will continue to support the economy in the months ahead.

In addition, our much improved fiscal situation, combined with our inflation record, has allowed the Bank of Canada to reduce interest rates nine times this year for a cumulative decline of three and a half percentage points. As a result, the bank rate now is at its lowest level in 41 years. These interest rate cuts, half of which occurred since September 11, will help to support consumer spending and business investment in Canada in the months ahead.

Yes, there is no question that the global economic slowdown is having an impact here in Canada and Canadians are concerned about what this will mean for them and their families, but our Liberal policies and other initiatives are working, for example, the 7% corporate tax cuts. Contrary to what the member opposite said, by 2005 the average tax rate for larger businesses, including capital taxes to which this motion refers, will be about five percentage points lower in Canada than in the U.S., creating a Canadian advantage.

I would just like to finish by saying that our cuts in the EI premiums and our paydown on the debt are all having a very positive impact. I would ask members here to reflect on the motion put before the House today which calls for simplistic solutions.

This is a long term plan that our government is implementing. I certainly will not be supporting the motion and, as well, I would ask my colleagues not to.

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3:30 p.m.

Durham
Ontario

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to follow my colleague from Etobicoke North who gave such an excellent speech. It is a great honour to discuss the motion. For those at home I will deal with two aspects of the motion. These are the simplistic comments that the earlier speaker referred to.

The first states that we can solve the problems of our budgetary concerns if we simply:

(a) reallocate financial resources from low and falling priorities into higher need areas such as national security;--

It is a very simplistic approach to somehow identify the areas of low priorities and reallocate the money. Of course the opposition is not very specific and does not say what the low priorities are. It does not exactly indicate who would suffer because of those cuts. It is a very simplistic approach.

I will then jump to the bottom line of the motion, which is more of the same. It states:

(f) sell non-core government assets and use the proceeds to accelerate debt reduction.

Once again there is no discussion about what core Canadian government assets we are required to sell. However, in previous discussions the Alliance Party has been very specific in some areas. One of the things it talks about cutting is the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. In fact at one time it was very keen about cutting the department of agriculture. It does not seem to be so keen any more. Also there is CIDA, of course, which is the very agency now trying to do some underpinning in Afghanistan and other areas where we have some global problems. These are the kinds of things that the Alliance would cut and gut. As a matter of fact, others have suggested that we are not spending enough in the area of foreign aid and that we have not reached our UN commitments, but not so for the Alliance. The Alliance would spend significantly less. Finally, it talks about the Department of Canadian Heritage which the Alliance presumably also has no particular use for, more specifically the CBC. These are all the things that I understand the Alliance is in favour of getting rid of.

This actually starts to form a bit of a policy platform if we put it all together. The Alliance does not like things involved with Canadian heritage, but at the same time its members talk about creating this great North American perimeter.

By that they mean that they would like to mimic, indeed copy, immigration laws that exist in the United States. They would like to simply have common border points. What they mean by that is, why should we have Canadian customs officials on the border when we could have just one agency, perhaps one that is shared by both Americans and Canadians? I cannot say how we would deal with that because the reality is that the Americans will have always have the upper hand. We are debating softwood lumber, steel imports and so forth. It is not a mystery to me that the reality is that the Americans will control that process. It seems to me that the Alliance is very happy to have that.

I am not trying to belittle our American friends. They have obviously lived through some tremendous times recently. I was fortunate to go to Washington recently to study transportation security. It is surprising. The Americans themselves have no interest in having common border guards. They have no interest in a common immigration policy. I have never heard them refer to the argument of a perimeter for North America, or in other words, having a commonality of Fortress North America.

It seems to me that only the Alliance Party is convinced that by being closer to the United States we will be better off somehow. I do not think the average Canadian feels that way. As a matter of fact, I remember the great debate in the House about four or five years ago when the Alliance, in those days the Reform Party, wanted to put Canadian flags on all our desks. It seems to me what it wants to do today is put American flags on our desks because that is what it seems to represent, the American party.

There are some real problems that we must deal with in the upcoming budget. Some of them will deal with transportation issues. We have been spending a lot of time consulting people in the transportation industry in Canada and the United States.

There are some real problems and there are some lesser real problems. Americans are going through a period of reaction mode. They have a tendency to overact in some areas. The unfortunate part about that is it has a tendency to impact Canadians.

I would like to give the House an idea of the knowledgeableness of some Americans who are involved in the aviation industry. I was chagrined about a week ago when one of my colleagues asked a member from the Federal Aviation Authority just how many hijackers had come from Canada. The member from the FAA said he thought two or three. This gives a clear indication that Americans do not often understand what is going on and quite often do not understand what is going on in their own country.

It is important for us to take a measured approach to how we change our security system so that it is effective. That is important. Canadians at this time want to feel secure in their airlines and in other places but they want to know that it works. They want to know the money that we spend in these areas will be effective in solving those problems. That is why we spent a great deal of time studying that very area.

I prepare my own analysis of the financial statements that the government presents after each budget. I put it all on one page when I present it to my constituents. It is like a report card. It starts back in 1993 and goes through to the 2001-02 budget. It shows a significant change. Back in the 1993-94 period total spending was at $120 billion. By the last budget it was at $121.5 billion. We paid $35 billion off the national debt during this period of time. This is a significant contribution.

I have young children myself. It always bothered me that we had this huge national debt which I thought we would leave to another generation. It is very important that this generation of Canadians deals with that problem and reduces our debt. I was happy to hear from the Minister of Finance that we would not go into a deficit.

The Alliance has been making a number of comments in the last two or three months. It wants to spend more money on defence, to spend more money here and there. When one adds those things up it would put us into a deficit. That is absolutely and totally irresponsible.

There are some people out there in the community, especially some economists, who say it would not be so bad if we were having a small recession. They say that we had a bit of a deficit because that is what government should do. That goes back to Keynesian economics which states that we should be spending money when times are bad.

I do not have to say that most politicians and governments in the west have forgotten the other side of that equation, that we should save during periods of good times. That creates an insatiable appetite among legislators. Once they get into deficit mode it is like printing new money, and they keep on going down that road.

It is imperative that we do not go into a deficit ever, that we try to hold the line. I should not say ever because if there were a national calamity or something of this nature it would obviously require government support.

However, in spite of the doom and gloom from the opposition benches that want to talk about the recession as if it were a depression, it is not. If it were a recession it would probably be one of the mildest recessions in history. As a matter of fact this is an unprecedented period of time of expansion of our economy. It has been the longest period of expansion since the second world war and we have learned to benefit from it.

I will be preparing an analysis of the budget on one page for my constituents so everyone can understand it. I must say that in the past I have given the government an A for its efforts to bring sobriety to our country. Fiscal responsibility will continue to do that, not the simplistic solutions presented by the Alliance today.

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3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am reluctant to go back to the flag controversy. However I want to set the record straight. The hon. member indicated that somehow it was this party that started that controversy. That is not true.

As a matter of fact it was a Liberal member who said that we should display these flags when the member from the Bloc came back. I am venturing a guess that he had a flag on his desk as most of us did on that one day of parliamentary insurrection.

I do not like the fact that he is only attributing that to us. The member from the Bloc who triggered it is actually smiling at me right now and I appreciate that smile. I was involved because when one of the separatists asked me to remove it I did not want to do it and that escalated things. I say that for the record.

I would like to talk about the comments he made about our plan to lead us into a deficit. That is not accurate. When I look back at our history I see that we were more accurate than the government every time in anticipating the results of the fiscal plan. With our limited resources in research we did better than the finance department with all its highly paid, expensive gurus and experts. When the finance minister in the last couple of years underestimated the income by up to $7 billion a year we were almost squat on.

In 1993 we had a zero in three plan which was for the government to stop borrowing within three years. The government had many things to say about that such as the country would fall apart. We projected accurately and indeed in three years the Liberal government had the books balanced as we predicted.

Then it boasted that it had done it. No. It had little to do with it. It happened despite the government. We were able to accurately read the economic direction of not only this country but our neighbours to the south who influence us so greatly. We saw what was happening. Our predictions were squat on.

One could argue that it does not matter whether we are on the government side or not since we can accomplish the same thing from this side. We could do much better than the Liberals on that side because we would have accurate predictions.

The hon. member is saying that this would take us back into a deficit. That is not so. The plan we are projecting repriorizes spending in such a way that the wasteful spending would be gone. Those new priorities for Canadians would be met, and there would be no deficit. There will be under the Liberal government if it keeps on allowing different pet projects to go forward and with spending on all sorts of projects.