House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Question No. 98—
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 98—
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 98—
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from January 28 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

The Budget
Government Orders

January 29th, 2002 / 10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address the budget once again in the House. I congratulate my colleagues on this side of the House for articulating a number of issues we wanted changed in the budget. In many cases we did not achieve the changes but in any event we brought the issues to the focus of the nation.

I will talk a bit about a number of things that were not provided for in the budget. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the commitment of the Liberal government to a national sex offender registry, a commitment it did not undertake at all. It misled the whole country into believing we would have a national sex offender registry. A motion was placed before the House last May indicating unanimous consent by all opposition parties and the government that we would have a national sex offender registry. It is important for people to know that the government said it would complete a national sex offender registry by January 30, 2002. That is tomorrow.

The disheartening thing about this is that out of frustration with the federal government's failure to work on a national sex offender registry the government of Ontario implemented one of its own. Ontario is the first government with a 90% compliance rate on that. The other 10% consists of people who have left Ontario for other regions. The province almost has a virtual compliance rate. Some charges and convictions will occur for one or two people who have not complied.

Here we go once again with commitments. What does a commitment mean to a government that says it has all these things in the budget and will fix us up? That is not the case at all. The whole national sex offender registry was an important issue to the House last year. We have not said much about it because we thought it would be developed. However the government has reneged on its position.

It takes legislation to implement such a registry. This government has neither drafted legislation nor talked about it in any of its committees. On May 12, knowing full well that all it had to do was lie to the country and to members of parliament and get away with it, that is exactly what the government did. Anyone who believes the things the government puts in the budget will actually happen is not facing reality. The government does not intend to fulfill its promises.

There have been things in the budget about immigration. The country's immigration problems go far beyond what the government is portraying to the people of Canada.

I have been involved with a number of deportations of criminals from Canada. Recently three individuals were a case in point for the failure of the government in its refugee system. One individual I had been trying to get out of the country was ordered removed from Canada on May 25, 1999. The government ordered him removed in 1999. He is still here. Another individual was denied refugee status by the Immigration and Refugee Board on September 25, 2000. He did not exercise his right to appeal but is still here in Canada. Another individual whose case I had been working on was denied refugee status by the Immigration and Refugee Board in Calgary in March 2000. It was his second attempt to get refugee status in Canada. The file has apparently been transferred back to Vancouver for enforcement.

Why do I bring these cases up? The three individuals are unwanted in the country. They have failed in their refugee claims but are still in Canada. I asked the Immigration and Refugee Board for information. I asked what it had done and when it would remove them. The board would not tell me even though I was an intervener in all three cases. The reason the government gives for not telling me about the three individuals is that there is no evidence that disclosure in the public interest outweighs the obligation to respect the privacy of clients. It says disclosure in cases of this nature could set an inappropriate precedent.

What is not mentioned in the budget about immigration and refugee issues is that the government gives much more standing to the privacy of undesirable individuals ordered out of the country than to an intervener's right to know whether they have been removed.

Let us think about that for a minute. I know more about these people than I think they know about themselves. Each of them is undesirable in the country. I have fought the cases by myself in refugee boards. All I get from the bureaucracy is that it cannot tell me what happens after I have fought a case. It can only tell me if someone has failed a claim. It says it cannot tell me if someone has been removed from the country because it would violate the individual's privacy.

I have never heard such an absurd bunch of rubbish in all my life. This is from a country that proposes to look after the security of the nation as one of its highest priorities. It is rubbish. These people should not be in Canada. All the information I have says they are in Canada but the department of immigration will not tell me because it sees it as a violation of the rights of individuals who do not deserve to be in the country anyway.

Not much has been said in the budget about the prison system. I have been speaking about the prison system for nine years to the point where I am getting sick and tired of it. It is boondoggle after boondoggle. It is high time we had a public inquiry about how to fix the system.

I could go on and talk about a litany of errors in the prison system. I will explain a few of them, many of which I have been involved with. They go back from the golf courses at Ferndale prison to bringing in Colin Thatcher's horse to prison so he can ride it. They go into the latest foolish and irresponsible move to satisfy prisoners in Saskatchewan on New Year's Eve by giving them pizza and porno movies. Letting inmates, sex offenders, in a prison in Saskatchewan--

The Budget
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

An hon. member

What is wrong with pizza?

The Budget
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

What is wrong with pizza he says? What is wrong with porno he says?

The Budget
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

An hon. member

I did not say that.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

What is wrong with these people? The problem is there are many sex offenders in prison. Here is a government and even a warden that sanctions showing porno movies to inmates on New Year's Eve. Can hon. members tell me how that in any way, shape or form is called rehabilitation of our prison system?

I have run out of time but I will be back in the House on this issue and the issue of refugee determination until someone over there listens.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Winnipeg South.

Since taking office in 1993, the Liberal government, with the help of the Canadian people, worked hard to strengthen the fundamentals of the Canadian economy. With the 2001 budget we brought down our fifth balanced budget, a first in 50 years. We have had four consecutive surpluses including a record $17.1 billion surplus in 2000-01.

These surpluses will allow us to reduce the national debt by almost $36 billion, save $2.5 billion per year in interest payments, and to make $100 billion in broad based tax cuts over a five year period.

This prudent fiscal management will allow us to invest some $23.4 billion into health care and early childhood development. It will also allow us to weather the storm that we began to experience prior to September 11, 2001.

Budget 2001 is a balanced budget. The government expects to balance the next two budgets. However, because of the exceptional fiscal pressures our economy is faced with today, the government has decided to use part of the $3 billion contingency reserve this year and the next two years to meet some of our commitments. Any surplus in the 2001-02 fiscal year will be used to support programs like the strategic infrastucture foundation that will invest in communities across Canada.

The government's sound fiscal management has resulted in a falling debt to GDP ratio. Next year, for the first time in 17 years, it would fall below the 50% mark. At the same time the government increased program spending for 2001-02 with 75% of that program spending earmarked for health care, security, employment insurance and benefits for the elderly.

Prudent fiscal planning over the last eight years has prepared us to weather the current economic downturn and our long-term outlook is good. In fact we are faring better than any other G-8 nation at this time. Our economy would also benefit from the positive effect of the decline in interest rates announced by the Bank of Canada since the beginning of 2001. Canadians have taken advantage of low interest rates by buying cars and homes. In my riding, both the automotive and housing industries have benefited.

Budget 2001 would not only maintain existing programs and our $23.4 billion commitment to health care and early childhood development, it would commit significant new resources to initiatives that would benefit all Canadians and would protect our personal security. These initiatives would include: $6.5 billion over five years to enhance personal and economic security; $1.2 billion to make our borders more fluid and secure; $2 billion for strategic infrastructure projects; and $1.1 billion over three years to support skills, learning and research.

Overall, our government's investments, combined with tax cuts already made, will provide $26 billion economic stimulus equivalent to 2.4% of GDP. This will boost the economy and help Canadians get through these challenging times.

I would like to highlight some of the initiatives that will benefit our nation. Strong and sound infrastructure is an important foundation for any productive country. The maintenance and construction of bridges, highways and transit systems all contribute to a healthy and industrious economy.

Investments in infrastructure not only stimulate job creation and confidence in the short term but make our economy more productive and competitive. The Liberal government recognizes this and has announced $3 billion in infrastructure investment in budget 2001. This investment will go to four major areas: strategic infrastructure, affordable housing, government capital and border infrastructure.

A significant investment will be made into the strategic infrastructure foundation. Two billion dollars will go to the foundation for the construction of large infrastructure projects like highways, urban transportation and convention centres. This is a cost share initiative between the foundation and provincial and municipal governments.

There is a serious shortage of affordable housing in many cities across Canada. As urban populations grow, vacancy rates drop. This drives up the cost of rental housing reaching levels out of reach for many Canadians. My own community of Cambridge is a prime example of how a growing city finds itself in desperate need of more affordable accommodation.

I am pleased that the government will address this problem with the contribution of $680 million over the next five years to capital grants programs. Under this program funding for affordable housing will be provided for provinces and territories that could match federal contributions.

Another $256 million will help alleviate concerns about the health and safety of existing federal government infrastructure like government laboratories, veteran hospitals and fishing harbours.

Budget 2001 would allocate money for infrastructure projects along the longest undefended border in the world, the Canada-U.S. border. These projects would include processing centres that would speed up border clearance times and improving highway access to border crossings. These are very important measures for businesses in my riding that rely on cross border trade.

Budget 2001 would fully protect the government's tax reduction plan that would continue to unfold in 2002 and beyond. Corporate income tax installments for small, incorporated businesses would be deferred for six months, a measure that would impact significantly on the cashflows of many small businesses trying to ride out this current economic slowdown.

I am pleased that apprentice vehicle mechanics will now be able to deduct from their income the cost of new tools. My caucus colleagues and I have worked hard for several years to push for this change and I thank the finance minister for listening and acting on our recommendation.

Budget 2001 is a good budget. It is the budget to build confidence in our economy and personal security. It is a budget for a time when many of us are feeling anxious as a result of the events of September 11. The budget will help Canadians through the current slowdown and will position us to take full advantage of the recovery that is just around the corner. Had it not been for prudent fiscal management, we would be at a significant disadvantage.

Canadians remember the hard choices of the 1990s. The government will not play fast and loose with the finances of the nation but will ensure that all Canadians are taken care of.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member give his point of view on how the budget affected him personally in his riding. I would like to share with him how the most recent budget impacted the riding of Winnipeg Centre and ask for his comments on whether he still maintains the same point of view in light of what I am about to tell him.

Winnipeg Centre is the third poorest riding in all of Canada by whatever measurement. Nothing in the most recent budget did anything to alleviate the growing gap between rich and poor in this country. The most recent budget concentrated on many of the things that the hon. member quite rightly cited, but it did nothing to alleviate or ameliorate the urgent social deficit as exemplified by a riding such as mine that is going through such hardship.

This budget failed to reach the objective on many levels. I understood that one objective was for equality. Equality in this country used to be the basic premise of the very reason that we came here. It was to make the country a better place to live, to elevate the standards of wages and living conditions of the people who needed it most and to narrow the gap between rich and poor. In that light this current budget has failed dismally.

I will deal with one specific area, the EI program, and I will ask the hon. member to comment on that. In 1990, 63% of unemployed people in my riding qualified for EI benefits. In 1999, 23% of unemployed people were eligible for EI benefits. The changes brought in by the Liberal government that were not altered in the current budget pulled $20.8 million per year out of my riding.

The current budget tinkered with minor little details but did nothing to deal with the eligibility issue and the reduction in benefits issue. Would the hon. member not agree, seeing as the EI program is showing a surplus of $750 million a month, making up a great deal of the surplus that the government enjoys, that the time was right to restore the former EI program which allowed better eligibility and qualification for people who desperately needed it in ridings like mine?

The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his comments.

I believe that the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre would agree with me that we are a huge nation with a huge mass of land. The people of Winnipeg Centre are a part of the city of Winnipeg, the same as a person is a part of the city of Cambridge. The government is looking at a much bigger picture than only a small part of the city of Winnipeg or the city of Cambridge. My belief is that the budget is a balanced budget and the best budget that the finance minister could come up with.

If we are talking about unemployment we can go back to 1993. The unemployment rate was 11.1% and it dropped down. I believe that the hon. member from Winnipeg would agree with me that we dreamed just to reduce the unemployment rate to 9% which would have been a huge achievement. Today it is much lower than that.

All Canadians have helped the government to go through those bad times. We can thank the Minister of Finance and the government for putting our house in order so that we, and the next generation, could prosper in the future.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on the Christmas budget, the good news budget, a present from the government to all Canadians.

One thing on which people need to focus is the situation we were facing leading up to this budget: flattening revenues prior to 9/11; concern internationally about the slowdown of the global economy; and the terrible shock of 9/11 which at first threw everyone into no-man's land. I do not think there was a country in the world that had a good grip on what would happen as a result of it.

People were understandably worried throughout the fall as to what it meant. The message just before Christmas was that although some tough decisions had to be made we were still able to balance the budget, implement the decisions made in prior budgets regarding infrastructure and tax cuts and keep a focus on innovation and the growth agenda. It was a good news budget. The Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, all ministers and staff who worked on it and the thousands of Canadians who contributed to it should be congratulated.

I think people have not realized fully another part to the budget. It shows the fundamental wisdom of the finance minister, not just in this budget but in all his budgets. At a time when revenues are flattening and we are approaching what might be a recession, about which people in Canada are still wondering, what are the remedies? One of them is to cut taxes. The other is to increase investment.

A year ago we started down the road to a new round of infrastructure. We had infrastructure investments in place to provide some stimulus before we began to address the more serious concerns about the downturn so those projects could be up and running as unemployment began to rise. This was reinforced in this budget and we were able to put more money into infrastructure investment.

We also started down the course of tax cuts a couple of budgets ago and now we are into the implementation phase of that. Each year the tax burden is being reduced and the money in the pockets of people is growing.

The combination of the foresight of the finance minister and the government, as well as the ability to manage the finances, allowed us to continue to keep an eye on the larger agenda, which is helping Canada become one of the most innovative and creative countries in the world. I am one who thinks they have done a marvelous job.

As someone who has a great deal of interest in innovation, the fact that they were able to make investments in universities, assist the research councils and continue the path which had been established a while ago to enhance our capacity to create knowledge was important.

Having said all that, I still have concerns. I have concerns about the structure of the innovation programs in Canada. We are too heavily skewed to a few government institutions in Ottawa that suck up far too much of the resources. The way the Canadian Foundation for Innovation functions is wrong. The models used by NSERC need review.

Like any large organization there are still problems which is why we need the innovation agenda and why we need to see the white paper and get on with the work of building a comprehensive strategy for innovation which includes not just the five large universities in Canada but also all parts of the country.

I want to talk about something else in the budget. It is something in which members will know I have a deep interest. It is one of those areas that is tempting to cut when times get tough; that is the progress toward enhanced use of information and communication technologies by government.

There are several flavours of that. In the window right now is something that goes by the name of Government On-Line. Essentially it is the placing online of more and more information that citizens can access about government services and how government functions. It shares the information available in government, but also transacts business with government online in a fast, efficient and secure environment and accesses services quickly when they are needed.

However there is no democratic government in the world that has succeeded in doing this. Canada is at the front of the pack in making these attempts and it is progressing. In fact, in some ways we were very smart when we started to connect Canadians in the last decade. Canada is far more connected than some other countries. In some other countries the digital divide arguments are all about how they get connected. Canada has done that. It is now heavily into the systems design and the systems change issues.

When we look at the basket of issues that members deal with in the House, I would ask members to spend some time to get up to speed on these issues because they are at the heart of the change agenda that will affect every member of the House over the next decade.

As I started to talk about accessing information online, someone made a comment about the current concerns regarding freedom of information. I share the concerns of the member. There are serious flaws in the way the current freedom of information system operates and some of the recent decisions make those flaws worse.

However there is another aspect to that, which is the culture of secrecy that exists within all governments, but particularly within the Canadian government. We do not share shareable information in an efficient or effective way. At the end of the day, what is one of the big functions of this Chamber? It is to hold the government accountable. How do we hold the government accountable if we do not understand what it is doing and if we do not have comprehensive and complete information on the activities of government?

A lot of work has to take place in the next while to get both the access to information and the privacy legislation right, privacy being the companion legislation. The government collects involuntarily information about individuals and holds it. People have the right not to have that information shared publicly. Having a balance between privacy and access is important.

Also, we need to follow an investment curve. I am pleased that the finance minister saw fit to continue with the progress in GOL by giving departments the capacity to build competent online systems. It is time for the House to begin focusing on the issues around how the created information is used and how to turn government into a learning organization. How do we build an information infrastructure for this House that allows us to be part of the knowledge economy?

A friend of mine has suggested a title for one paper we have been writing, which is: In the knowledge economy is it possible to have a smart government? Is it possible for government to get up to speed and start to function at the same rate that the external community is?

I would argue that one reason there are concerns about the functioning of this Chamber is that the instruments of parliament have not been modernized. I am not talking about tinkering with a few rules. Rather how do members get themselves ahead in the information flow? How do they and the Chamber become informed about issues before they come crashing in on us with a very short deadline?

Members know the world has changed dramatically but we in the House have not. As a colleague of mine suggested, the decision making structures in the House are ones with which Sir John A. Macdonald would be very comfortable. We are taking the first step down a road that will change all that, but if it is to be done right it needs leadership and guidance from the members of the House. I encourage members to take some time to get themselves up to speed on these issues because they will be the leadership issues of the next decade.

With that I will take any questions, including the one from the member for Winnipeg Centre, if he wishes to get back to his discussion about the enormous amount of support the federal government is giving his riding.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Winnipeg South for an interesting speech. While I do not share his views nor his boosterism about the current budget, I am reluctantly compelled to acknowledge the work that he has done in the area of e-government and information technology and his efforts to bring that to the attention of the House of Commons, the subject of which occupied the bulk of his speech.

I would like to ask the hon. member one question dealing with an issue that he raised on information technology, privacy and access, and I will tie it to the budget.

The issue deals with the wrestling match that we have between information stored by government, a person's right to access to it and another person's right to privacy. The context in which I wish to raise it is the guaranteed income supplement.

Another issue in my low income riding of Winnipeg Centre is that we now know there are many senior citizens who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, have never applied for it and are who not getting it. As many as 10,000 people are being shortchanged in this way.

The government knows who these people are by virtue of their income tax returns. It knows their income levels and that they are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. We have challenged the minister of HRDC and the minister of revenue. We have asked these questions. If one minister knows who these people and the other minister is responsible to get these low income seniors the benefits they deserve, why does one department not tell the other department and share that information? The answer has been it would be a violation of the senior citizen's privacy for the revenue minister to tell the HRDC minister.

Does the hon. member think that is a bastardization of the interpretation of the Privacy Act? Does he think that would be a fair thing to do, in terms of juggling privacy and access to information?

The Budget
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a critically important issue. On the narrow question of putting information together today to solve an important problem today, the answer the member has received is absolutely right. Prohibitions in the current Privacy Act prevent that.

Some of the prohibitions were written at a time that predated the existing Privacy Act. If we look back at legislation through the last half of the last century, it is literally peppered with prohibitions on sharing information because of people's inherent fear of the combining of information. The image the public has about government's use of information technology is a frightening one. It is “big brother”. It is the malevolent, all controlling government.

I was in the state of Texas last week talking to the e-government folks there. Texas has 529 separate statutes preventing the sharing of information. That is an attack that has to be made, not to reduce people's right to privacy but to restructure it in light of what the tools enable.

I have said publicly in many venues that our current privacy commissioner is wrong. His approach to the privacy legislation is wrong. He does a disservice to our government and to Canadians in his approach to the delivery of privacy protection. It is outmoded.

We think of these tools as providing a bit of fast exchange. However what the knowledge economy is about is by assembling information it creates new understandings of how things work by bringing information together.

The big changes that drove the big movements in large private structure organizations were based on an ability to all of a sudden see the organization in ways they could not before. They could now assemble information about the organization and extract knowledge from it.

Government prohibits the assembling of the knowledge. How the heck can we build a comprehensive view of what government is all about to enable change? It is a huge problem, and the member is absolutely right.

Do I think that kind of combining should take place when it is in the best interest of citizens? Absolutely, but the minister is quite right. It is prohibited under the Privacy Act, which is why the House has to get its head around the changes that are necessary in that legislation.