House of Commons Hansard #157 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Business of the House

10 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 81(14) to inform the House that the motion to be considered on Monday during consideration of supply is as follows:

That this House acknowledge the existence of a fiscal imbalance jeopardizing the quality of social programs, such as health care and education, in Quebec and in the other provinces.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot, is votable. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

The House resumed from March 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on December 10, 2001, be read the third time and passed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will continue the speech that I commenced two days ago in this place.

We were terribly disappointed by the way the government handled the air security issue with the budget. Clearly all Canadians are concerned about the issue of air security. No one in the House and no Canadian would argue with the importance of that issue.

The government is putting a $2.2 billion tax on Canada's most vulnerable industry, the airline industry. This is an industry that has seen a remarkable level of consolidation in the last couple of years, the disappearance of almost all competition to Air Canada, a reduction in the level of services and a commensurate increase in the price that Canadians must pay for those reduced services.

We have seen what has happened to the CanJets, the Canada 3000s and Royal Airlines. At a time when some of these entities are trying to finance a return to air spaces the government is putting a $2.2 billion tax on this industry and forcing airlines and airline passengers to bear the complete responsibility in terms of paying for the air security tax. As many members have articulated on the floor of the House and in committee the benefit of secure air travel is received by society in general. There is a collective benefit to secure air travel. That is why in the U.S. there is only a $2.50 charge per flight as opposed to the $12 charge per flight that the government is putting on air travel.

It is a competitive disadvantage from a tax perspective for Canadian businesses and individuals compared with the U.S. The long term trend of the government relative to its management of the Canadian dollar may mean that at some point in the future $2.50 U.S. would be approximately equivalent to $12 Canadian, but we ought not to wait for that form of equalization to occur.

The fact is the U.S. recognized there was a collective benefit and while user charges and fees would cover some of the cost, there was a recognition that these fees should not be used to cover all of the costs, particularly at a time of economic tumult that impacted the airline industry more so than perhaps any other industry right now.

It would be bad enough if the government was simply charging Canadian air travellers and passengers to cover the complete cost of air security, but the government is going one worse. The government is charging $1 billion more over the next five years than that which would be required to cover the basic cost of security.

Finance officials have provided their methodology for having come to the $24 round trip fee and it is based on highly specious data. It is based on data that reflects a passenger count that is considered far lower than what would be the case over the next several years. This was based on an almost immediate post-September 11 passenger count and some extrapolation of that reduction which occurred after September 11, but certainly does not reflect what most observers and analysts of the travel industry feel to be a more realistic assessment of air travel in Canada over the next several years.

The government seems to be exploiting fears around September 11 to create a $1 billion tax grab in order to pad the books to improve general revenues in other areas. Not only is this bad public policy, it is morally reprehensible that the government would take such a terrible tragedy and use it as another way or means by which to wring an increased surplus out of Canadians. It is clearly wrong.

This is like EI surplus two which was an income security package or program designed to improve labour market flexibility and help unemployed Canadians by providing a cushion during bad times. The government used that program to pad the books of general revenue. Now it is taking an air security situation that emerged out of a tremendous tragedy and is using this situation to extract more tax revenues out of Canadians for general revenue and Liberal spending in other areas.

When we think of that Liberal spending in other areas, nobody in the House would argue with increased levels of health care spending or transfers to the provinces for health care and education. Under the government we have seen a dramatic reduction in health care transfers and transfers to the provinces. In fact fiscal restraint for the government means tightening the belts of the provinces by cutting back on transfer payments. It rarely means tightening its own belt and its own program spending.

Those cutbacks to transfers have resulted in a health care and education crisis in every province in Canada and a growing gap between have and have not provinces. Certainly some wealthier provinces, Alberta for instance, have the tax base to, in some cases, pick up the slack when the federal government makes such draconian cuts.

In a province like mine, Nova Scotia or, for instance, the province of British Columbia with the difficulties that province is undergoing from a budgetary perspective, we simply do not have the tax base to pick up the slack when the federal government makes such draconian and unilateral cuts.

That is why the whole issue of fiscal imbalance between the provinces and the federal government is gaining such importance and why there is so much agreement across Canada by the premiers that this has to be addressed.

There has been a growing fiscal imbalance in Canada. The provincial governments have as their ultimate responsibility the providing of health care and education. The federal government has reduced its role in terms of the funding in those areas so the provincial governments in some ways have what Mark Twain would refer to as a bad job. They have all the responsibilities but no authority. The provinces increasingly lack the ability to have tax levers to raise the type of revenue necessary to cover growing costs in education and health care.

The federal government, by pulling back, has created a situation whereby it can then re-enter national programs like the millennium scholarship program or the Canadian foundation for innovation and some of these other programs and appear like a hero. It provides the cheques with the maple leaves on them and takes credit for returning with a teaspoon some of the money it previous took out with a backhoe.

It is offensive to see this type of destructive federalism, this brinksmanship of provinces by the jurisdictional power grab of the federal government. There has been a trend by the government to again take over a lot of the traditional jurisdictional areas of the provinces by starving the provinces of the revenue necessary to deliver the services and then reappearing like some sort of fiscal super hero with giant federal cheques.

This is bad politically for a country that depends on maintaining constructive federalism on an ongoing basis. It is also bad public policy, because ultimately the provinces and municipalities, as the government levels closest to the people being served, are in many cases better able to assess the needs of those individuals and of those constituents to ultimately deliver services.

Medicare evolved out of a provincial experiment in Saskatchewan. A visionary premier saw a way to approach health care in a more egalitarian and thorough way and in a way that has come to define us as Canadians. Over a period of time and working with the federal government and with the support of parliament, medicare evolved to a national program. In some ways the provinces represent the best laboratories to experiment with and to develop social policies which ultimately will make better policies in other provinces as well as nationally.

When a province experiments with health care and is faced with significant federal cuts and is put in a position where it has to do something to maintain some reasonable level of service delivery and tries to be creative about it, the federal government brings in politics by doing public polling. Instead of working with the province to ensure that the principles and values we treasure as Canadians are met in potentially new, creative and cost effective ways, the government fights the province.This is constitutional brinkmanship at its absolute worst.

There are so many areas the government ought to have focused on in its budget. In recent days we have read statements by the Deputy Prime Minister blaming Canadian businesses for not being competitive enough. He is the same individual who as industry minister said that high taxes were good for business because they make businesses work a little harder. The only other person I can think of in the House who exemplifies economic buffoonery as much as the Deputy Prime Minister is the Prime Minister. Perhaps that is why they are getting along so well these days.

Instead of the government blaming the private sector for not doing enough, it should acknowledge its role in helping the private sector do more. May I suggest a couple of modest initiatives the government could undertake to help the private sector do more.

One initiative might be the elimination of capital taxes in Canada. We are one of the few industrialized nations that taxes companies simply for having capital, not for profit, but for capital. When capital is taxed, it pummels investment. When investment is pummeled, initiative is pummeled and this defeats and destroys productivity. That is one modest example of what the government ought to do and something I am offering constructively to members opposite.

Another initiative would be the elimination of the capital gains tax. Canada did not have a capital gains tax before 1971. There is no other tax that has a more pernicious impact on the growth of individual and family capital in order to ensure savings and growth of investment required for individuals and families, but also entrepreneurs, many of whom have their entire net worth tied up in a business. Reducing further capital gains tax with the ultimate goal of eliminating it would make a great deal of sense.

I have heard the government claim that our capital gains tax is lower than that of the U.S. This is a patently false statement. The fact is the inclusion rate and the ultimate effective capital gains tax is still significantly higher than that of the U.S. It would be an affordable area of taxation. We could not only equalize our level of taxation with the U.S., but for once we could be ahead of the U.S. if the government chose to eliminate personal capital gains tax in Canada.

I suspect that very little in the way of revenue is collected from personal capital gains tax given the tumult in the capital markets over the last year. Even during the bull markets the year before last, only about $3 billion was collected in capital gains tax.

The government can send $500 million worth of cheques to dead people, rich people, prisoners and students who do not heat homes with heating oil. If it can blow $500 million in a pre-election spending spree designed not at heating homes of Canadians but at trying to heat up Liberal prospects in ridings across Canada, I would suggest it could go a little further. It could give Canadian investors, Canadian families, Canadian individuals and Canadian entrepreneurs an advantage over the U.S. by eliminating the capital gains tax.

There is one other statistic with which I suspect most members may not be familiar. Over 60% of personal capital gains tax in Canada are paid by individuals who make less than $50,000 per year. The degree to which individuals in Canada from a wide range of income levels and socioeconomic areas now participate in the capital markets has never been as great. Part of this is mutual funds as a vehicle through which to ensure diversification with fairly small levels of investment, but the long term trend is that more Canadians than ever before from a wider range of income levels than ever before are investing. Canadians are making these types of investments. It would make a great deal of sense to assist Canadians a little more. A further capital gains tax reduction would make a great deal of sense.

When we hear the discussion of productivity, clearly it is not just tax levers and tax reform that are required. It is not just tax reduction that is required. I would argue that we need significant broad based tax reform in Canada focused on productivity. We also need regulatory reform. We need to work with the provinces across Canada on a national agenda addressing productivity issues in our tax system and in our regulatory system.

Beyond that we need to address issues of government spending. Clearly when taxpayers' money is spent on items that do not necessarily reflect the values of Canadians, the needs of Canadians or the long term best interests of Canadians, that money being wasted as such can actually have the perverse impact of reducing productivity. It encourages individuals to pursue activities that may not only not be in their best interests, but also may actually foster worse productivity.

I mentioned earlier the issue of fiscal imbalance. We have to readdress the issue of equalization in Canada. Equalization is an extraordinarily important social program. It is the only constitutionally enshrined social program in Canada. As it is now, our equalization system is broken.

The original goals of equalization in 1958 were to provide approximately equal levels of taxation and services across Canada. Clearly with the growing disparity between provinces both in services and in tax levels, that needs to be addressed. We should address it by reconsidering our economic development strategy as well. We should develop more effective tax based levers as other countries have utilized to develop more effective economic development strategies which would ultimately address some of the fiscal imbalance issues.

I have tried to cover a fairly wide range of issues, those which the government covered in the wrong way, but also those that the government ought to have covered but failed to cover. I hope that during questions and comments members of parliament will ask questions that will allow us to discuss some of the other issues we may share an interest in but which are difficult to cover in such a short period of time.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, probably my colleague and I share the concern about the effectiveness of the committee on Bill C-49. I would like to have the member state his position on this issue.

The committee at some expense had a number of witnesses come before it, both in the prebudget consultations and also on Bill C-49 specifically.

During the prebudget consultations there were numerous witnesses who said that the donations to private charities should receive the same tax treatment as those to public charities. The witnesses were unanimous in their statements on that. The committee recommended it to the finance minister, but it is nowhere to be seen in the budget implementation act.

During the discussion on Bill C-49 witnesses unanimously said that the structure of the security tax would be devastating to the small carriers. Again, the committee in this case chose to ignore it with highhandedness from the Prime Minister's Office. Other coercive tactics were used as well.

I would like the hon. member to comment on that. I hope he is as angry about that as I am.

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10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. angry young man from Elk Island for his intervention. We all have effective ways of dealing with anger and I would be willing to sit down with him for counselling any time.

The member is an extremely effective member of the House of Commons finance committee. He shares with me a concern that the committee process is becoming less and less functional as we see the executive branch of the government and the Prime Minister's Office exercise control. I would add the cabinet as well but I do not think even the cabinet has much to say about how things are going on that side of the House any more. I think the Prime Minister's Office increasingly is exercising control over members of parliament on that side. It is also trying to exercise control over committees which by their nature are more effective and functional when they operate in a more co-operative non-partisan way.

I was very disappointed that the concerns about the air security tax which were raised by every single witness who appeared before the committee were ignored. They were not really ignored by the committee. There were Liberal members of parliament, including the member for HIllsborough, who expressed concerns.

In fact the hon. member for Hillsborough had said at committee that he was not going to vote for the air security tax without amending it. He supported an opposition motion to reduce the air security tax by 50%. Of course the chairperson recognized that if a vote occurred at that particular moment, the air security tax would have been reduced by 50% by the committee. As such she recessed the committee briefly and miraculously 30 minutes later when the committee reconvened the member for Hillsborough was not there. He had disappeared. I moved at the committee that we send him a get well card.

The member came back about 20 minutes later looking like he had just lost his puppy, with a florid face after having been taken into the whip's torture chamber. He expressed that he had changed his mind, that he saw the ways of the government on this one now. He said that he had received reassurances from the Minister of Finance that this issue would be revisited in the fall and the minister would reduce the tax if it was taking in more revenue than what was required.

I did not just fall off a turnip truck. The Minister of Finance committed to scrap the GST and did not. The Minister of Finance has benefited from building a surplus on the backs of workers and small businesses with the EI fund. Are we supposed to take him seriously when he says he is going to reduce the air security tax if it takes in too much revenue? The Minister of Finance is a taxaholic. We do not expect the government or the Minister of Finance to make good on that commitment.

It is unfortunate that we are seeing an increased level of control of committees by the Liberal whip as an extension of the Prime Minister's Office and the dysfunctionality which is inherent in that. Committees need to work effectively for parliament to work effectively.

I know the hon. member for Elk Island and I will continue to go to those meetings and do our best to make the committee functional and effective but it sure does get frustrating sometimes. I know some of the Liberal members opposite are just as frustrated with it as we are.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, while the hon. member across the way outlined all sorts of issues, he failed to mention a few.

I would like to point out that we are the only G-7 state that is balancing its books. This year we are paying down the national debt. We have paid $36 billion over the last four years on the national debt. We have had five consecutive budgets in a row in terms of balancing the books. We have a stimulus package and a tax package that will be greater than that in the United States given the size of our economy, and it is front end loaded. We have ended 28 years of deficit. Those are the things the member did not point out.

I would also point out that under the strategic funding initiatives, $9 billion this year, $11 billion next year and $7.7 billion over five years will go toward enhancing personal economic security for Canadians. We will spend $2 billion on strategic infrastructure projects and $1.1 billion over three years to support skills and learning.

I would also point out that personal income taxes are down. I am sure my colleague did not deliberately neglect these facts but that he simply overlooked them.

It would seem that the member on the other side is not the best in terms of listening sometimes even though we were attentive to our colleague across the way.

The member might want to comment on the fact that in terms of our party's record on the economy, it is much better than when his party was in power. Maybe he would like to comment on the fiscal situation that we inherited and how we have built upon that since 1993.

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10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, this will be like shooting fish in a barrel. First, I thank the hon. member for his softball question.

In terms of the deficit, according to German, U.S. and U.K. accounting standards, Canada is in a deficit right now. By Canadian accounting standards, we are cruise controlling to deficit. The only way the government narrowly averted that was by deferring some corporate taxes to next year. It was not a tax break but a deferral to try to avoid that. Don Drummond, the chief economist of TD Bank, referred to it as fancy bookkeeping.

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10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Arthur Andersen and the Canadian government.

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10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Yes, it is the Enron government accounting practices.

In terms of the U.S. tax package, the hon. member is simply wrong. The fact is we have and, after the full implementation of our Canadian tax reduction, will still have significantly higher personal income taxes, corporate taxes and capital taxes than in the U.S. That is one of the reasons the U.S. continues to be a magnet for capital and this country under his government continues to be a repellant.

Canada has among the highest income taxes in the G-7 and the second highest corporate taxes in the OECD. This is hardly a record to boast about.

I am glad the member mentioned the previous government's record. The government in 1984 inherited a $39 billion deficit, which, as a percentage of GDP, was 9%. Over a nine year period that government reduced the deficit as a percentage of GDP from 9% to almost half of that, to around 4%. At the same time it had the courage to introduce a free trade policy and used political collateral to leap ahead of the Canadian public and actually take a political risk in the 1988 election to introduce a free trade policy. It actually took the political risk of getting rid of a manufacturers' sales tax, which was pummeling investment and hurting productivity, and replaced it with the GST which was a more rational tax. It made more sense economically. Politically, it was about as popular as a skunk at a picnic, but it was the right thing to do.

Where was his party on all those issues? His party was vociferously fighting against every single initiative of that government, not just to reduce the deficit as a percentage of GDP but also to implement the types of policies required to guide Canada through the nineties as those policies have to a period of greater prosperity and success for all Canadians. That government planted the seeds and this government picked the flowers.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I think some of the flowers they picked were obviously dead. In any event, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-49, the budget implementation bill.

The bill would implement several measures of the 2001 budget. As hon. members will recall, the 2001 budget was introduced after the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11 in the United States.

While the budget builds on the government's long term plan for a stronger economy and a more secure society, it also addresses the immediate economic and security concerns of Canadians as a result of those events.

The government initially responded, and swiftly I might add, to the events of September 11 with legislation that takes aim at terrorism and enhances Canada's ability to identify, prosecute and punish terrorists, and measures to cut off sources of financing for terrorists.

The 2001 budget builds on these initiatives through a comprehensive set of security measures designed to keep Canadians safe, terrorists out and our borders open. It provides $7.7 billion over the next five years to enhance security for Canadians and make Canadian borders more secure, open and efficient.

Included in this amount is $2.2 billion in funding for air security and the creation of the Canadian air transport security authority which will deliver enhanced security services at airports and on board flights according to rigorous new national standards set up by Transport Canada.

Established under Bill C-49, the new authority is to be responsible for the certification of screening personnel and for providing pre-board screening of passengers and baggage, armed police on board aircraft and the acquisition and operation of screening equipment, including that used in searching for explosives.

An air travellers security charge that comes into effect April 1, 2002, will fund these new security expenditures. The charge will be paid by air travellers, the primary beneficiaries of these enhanced security measures, and will be collected by air carriers or their agents when airline tickets are purchased.

For travel in Canada, the charge will apply to flights connecting airports where the air transport security authority will be responsible for passenger screening. The charge on domestic travel will be $12 for a one way trip and $24 for a round trip.

The charge on a ticket to the continental U.S. will also be $12 and $24 for travel outside Canada in the continental U.S.

All proceeds from the charge will be used to fund the enhanced air travel security system and, if revenues exceed costs over time, the charge will be reduced. The government, as the minister has indicated repeatedly in the House, will review the charge in the fall.

This enhanced security system will assure air travellers that Canada's air transportation system remains one of the safest and most secure in the world.

Along with addressing the immediate security concerns of Canadians, the 2001 budget also addresses immediate needs through targeted investments designed to boost the confidence in the economy in a fiscally affordable way.

By investing in strategic infrastructure, skills, learning, research, health, aboriginal children, the environment and international assistance, the 2001 budget reflects the government's long term plan while providing important support now for the economy

One way in which the budget achieves this is through the Canada strategic infrastructure fund which would be implemented through Bill C-49.

The modern economy of the 21st century requires a backbone of sound fiscal infrastructure to sustain the nation's growth and our quality of life.

Previous budgets allocated funding to improve provincial and municipal infrastructure. The 2000 budget, for example, introduced both the infrastructure Canada program and the strategic highway infrastructure program.

The government recognizes the need for additional support for large strategic infrastructure projects which can bring lasting economic and social benefits while providing both stimulus and long term productivity benefits. To address this need and to implement other federal infrastructure initiatives, the government is creating the Canada strategic infrastructure fund with a minimum federal contribution of $2 billion in funding.

Working with provincial and municipal governments and the private sector, the fund will provide assistance for large infrastructure projects in areas like highways and rail, local transportation, tourism, urban development, and water and sewage treatment.

A moment ago I mentioned international assistance as one of the strategic investments in the 2001 budget. Canadians have not lost sight of their obligations to help less fortunate peoples of the world. At the G-8 summit in Genoa last July, African leaders presented their proposal for a new partnership for Africa's development and the G-8 leaders pledged to support this initiative.

Since then the Prime Minister has restated his commitment that the development in Africa will be one of the main themes in the G-8 summit that Canada will host in June in Kananaskis. In recognition of this commitment, the 2001 budget announced $500 million over three years for African development to help implement these objectives.

The new Canada fund for Africa, which would be created through Bill C-49, will establish a government program to provide funding for activities that will help reduce poverty, provide primary education and set Africa on a sustainable path to a brighter future.

The government is committed to providing every opportunity for Canadians to upgrade their skills. Whether through the education system, through on job training or through universities and other centres of advanced research, the government has long recognized the value of investing in people.

That is why we introduced the Canadian opportunities strategy in the 1998 budget. The 2001 budget further encourages the acquisition of skills and learning by Canadians.

For example, Bill C-49 provides tax assistance to help apprentice vehicle mechanics registered in a provincial program cope with extraordinary tool costs. Beginning in 2002, they would be able to deduct for income tax purposes the cost of buying new tools to the extent that these costs in a year exceed the greater of $1,000 and 5% of their apprenticeship income.

Another measure provides tax relief for adult students who receive government assistance for basic education at the primary or secondary school level. Bill C-49 exempts from income tax any tuition assistance for adult basic education provided under certain government programs, including employment insurance.

The bill also helps more students undertake lifelong learning by extending the education tax credit for people who receive taxable assistance for post-secondary education under certain government programs, including EI.

As hon. members know, the quality of life of Canadians is closely tied to preserving and improving our natural environment. The 2001 budget includes new spending and tax measures intended to ensure continued progress toward a cleaner and healthier environment.

One of these measures is included in Bill C-49 and concerns commercial woodlot owners who can currently be subject to income tax when transferring woodlots to their children. As a result, woodlots may have to be harvested prematurely to generate the revenues required to pay the tax on the transfer, which can be detrimental to the sound management of this resource.

Bill C-49 extends the existing intergenerational tax deferred rollover for farm property to intergenerational transfers of woodlot operations that are farming businesses managed in accordance with the prescribed forest management plan.

I should mention too that the budget initiatives with respect to renewable energy and energy efficiency are being implemented through the amendments to the income tax regulations which have already been released in draft form.

The 2001 budget also contained a number of other tax measures, all of which are designed to improve fairness in the tax system. The bill makes permanent the 1997 budget measure that provides special tax assistance for donations of certain securities to public charities, and the 2000 budget measure that reduces the tax on employment benefits for donations of eligible securities acquired through stock option plans.

Another measure improves the system for providing GST credits. Beginning in July 2002, GST credit entitlements for a quarter will be based on the individual's family circumstances at the end of the preceding quarter not at the end of the previous calendar year.

To provide a cash flow benefit for small businesses the federal corporate tax installment payments for January, February and March, 2002 would be deferred for at least six months without penalty. To make it easier for foreign investors to use limited partnerships in structuring venture capital investments, Bill C-49 would ensure their non-resident partners were not considered to be carrying on business in Canada solely because investment management or administrative services were provided by Canadian residents. The final tax measure would allow full deductibility for the cost of meals provided to employees at construction work camps where the employees could be expected to return home each day.

A remaining measure relates to improved parental benefits under the Employment Insurance program. The current 50 week cap on the combined amount of sickness, maternity and parental benefits an individual can receive under EI means women who become ill may not have full access to extended benefits. To enable a mother to receive her full entitlement to special benefits, effective March 3, 2002 the cap would increase by one week for each week of sickness benefits she took while pregnant or while receiving parental benefits. A second EI measure would improve on the parental benefits that could be claimed following the birth or adoption of a child. It would provide parents a window of up to two years within which they could claim.

I have given members a brief overview of some of the key measures of Bill C-49. I remind the House that the events of September 11 have not changed the government's fiscal resolve.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, the 2001 budget builds on the government's long term plan for a stronger economy and more secure society. It also responds to the short term concerns of Canadians. We will continue to invest in people, cut taxes, reduce debt and build a stronger economy. Above all, we will continue to pursue our long term plan to invest in the future without going back into deficit.

I will conclude by paraphrasing the Minister of Finance who said the 2001 budget was about dealing with the present so we could seize the future. The measures of Bill C-49 would help us achieve that. I urge hon. members to pass Bill C-49.

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10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I pretty well knew everything the hon. member would say in advance because I have heard it from the other side over and over. I will ask a question about one of the items. If no other members rise I will come back with a second question.

The Liberals seem to be experts at maximizing the political spin from the announcement of things which have little effect or in many cases no effect. One of these is the tool tax exemption for mechanics. As long as I have been here, which is more than eight years, we have had representations from mechanics who in some cases are required to invest up to $40,000 or $50,000 in tools to do their work. Other individuals who need to make investments to earn a living are able to claim exemptions. Doctors, lawyers and dentists can do this.

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10:45 a.m.

An hon. member

Liberals can do it.

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10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Liberals can do it. However mechanics have not been able to. The government says it is responding to this with a new exemption that would allow deductions for tools used by mechanics. Yet when we read the fine print we find it would only apply while they were in their apprentice year. That is unrealistic. First, in their early training and apprentice years mechanics have very low incomes and do not have enough money to fully fund the cache of tools they need.

Second, if we look at it we realize the exemption would only cover up to $1,000 worth of tools. If their income was greater than $20,000 that would be the cap. If it was less than $20,000 they could only claim 5% of their income.

The amount of tools required by new mechanics is not related to how much money they make. They need the money. Why the government would not give them at least a $1,000 deduction irrespective of their income is a mystery to me. It wants to milk the maximum out of an announcement that does very little for the people involved.

Can the hon. member stand and defend the government's answer as to why the exemption is so mediocre, inadequate and inept? I would like the answer on the record because I will make sure it is duplicated and sent to the people who have made representations to me.

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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague across the way knows the Canadian Automobile Manufacturers Association has sent a letter of support with regard to the announcement.

I do not disagree that mechanical tools are expensive. I hope I do not have a conflict of interest but my nephew happens to be a mechanic. I can tell members firsthand that mechanics' tools are extremely expensive. There is no question.

As the hon. member knows, this is the step the government has taken on the issue. It is a positive step. I think the majority of members in the House would support it. This does not preclude future initiatives in this regard. Other trades have been indicated as well. However there is an interest in this issue.

There is no question a mechanic's tools can cost $30,000 or $40,000. The reason, as many in the profession say, is that tools go walking. The onus has been put on mechanics to buy their tools. They do not get them all at once, as I am sure my hon. colleague knows. They buy them over time because they are extremely expensive. One piece can be extremely expensive. I therefore think this is a good beginning.

To put the issue in context, we want to ensure we do things responsibly and can balance our books. We and I am sure everyone in the House acknowledges that the measure was designed to deal with apprentices. We have representations in support of that. We have representations suggesting we should look at the issue further. With the support of my hon. colleague on the finance committee I am sure this will be an issue we can look at in the coming year.

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10:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely hope people watching us on television do not get the impression I am the only opposition member here. There are many others but I guess they are not ready to engage the hon. member.

I have a second question about the topic. If we look at making rules that follow certain principles, which is a good idea, it seems the Liberal government drafts so much hodgepodge legislation. When an issue comes along they make up a rule. They have no principles to guide them. The principle should be that a deduction, capital cost allowance or something like that should be available.

If the principle for mechanics is that we give them a deduction while they are in training, why do we not do it for dentists? Why do we not say dentists can deduct all the expenses they incur while buying equipment for their offices when they are in training but when the training is over we will end the deduction?

One principle should drive how we arrange deductions and capital cost allowances: they should apply equally to all Canadians irrespective of how they earn their living. The hon. member presumably created hope for the future by saying the government would go forward with the measure and possibly expand it. I must admit my expectations are not all that high. However we will continue to push the measure and work on it.

My next question has to do with the air travel tax. The hon. member did not dwell on it a great deal but he said the security tax for air travellers would fill an important need. I will pose a situation to him. I used to do a lot of my own mechanical work. I often worried while working on the transmission or something that it would fall on me and I would not be able to breathe unless it were quickly taken off my chest. I was always careful to use props and things that would prevent that from happening while I was under the vehicle. I was a Saturday mechanic and did not have all the fancy tools people have.

The government is looking at the airline industry and saying “We will drop a transmission on this guy's chest. We will come back tomorrow and if he is not breathing we will take it off.” That is not the proper way to look at the issue.

We have economists in the finance department who are supposed to be able to look to the future and estimate the effects of different measures. We were told in the finance committee that in this case it was not done. No study was done on the effects of the air travel tax.

I am concerned that by the time the finance minister looked at the issue in the fall to see if the government was getting too much revenue the answer would be no because many small businesses which attracted air travellers and paid the tax would have gone belly up or stopped their services. Revenues would go down on that account. The tax would not be reduced because there would be fewer people paying it. In the meantime we would have lost many valuable services.

Why is the government not doing a study prior to implementing such a devastating tax?

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to tools used by mechanics and dentists, dentists are self-employed. There is a greater risk and therefore they get the capital cost allowance rollover because of depreciation versus mechanics, particularly those who are employed by companies, who obviously have great expense as we pointed out earlier. This new measure in the budget would apply to those apprentices. One is a self-employed risk issue and one is employed by someone else. We are trying to address that issue.

In terms of the airport tax, I do not know that there is any definitive study that could be done on the initial devastating effects of September 11. We have seen changes in the market since then. We have seen Air Canada rehiring people. We have seen WestJet buy new planes and get new routes. All this has been since the budget was announced in December. They were aware back in December that the particular airport security tax was coming on board and yet they are rehiring, getting new planes and new routes. Obviously the market is bounding back better than expected. We are pleased to see that.

Taiwan
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, this week the Ingersoll Pipe Band and Oxford County Warden Dave Oliphant are in Taiwan for celebrations marking the 130th anniversary of Reverend George Leslie MacKay's mission to the city of Tamsui.

Reverend MacKay, a renowned Presbyterian missionary hailing from Zorra township in my riding of Oxford, gave remarkable service to the people of northern Taiwan from 1872 until his death in 1901 and is now considered a national hero.

The Ingersoll Pipe Band and Warden Oliphant are in Tamsui, invited by the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, in recognition of the official twinning relationship between Oxford county and Tamsui township. They will participate in the dedication of a park built to honour George William MacKay who carried on his father's work in that country.

I extend best wishes to the Ingersoll Pipe Band and Warden Oliphant as they represent the people of Oxford county and Canada at all of this week's events in Taiwan.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, the old adage that there is nothing certain except death and taxes is something every one of us as Canadians has been able to say in equal measure. Now of course there will be a qualifier: unless one is a native.

Once again the courts are driving a wedge between native and non-native people of Canada with their questionable decision making. The recent federal court decision to exempt one group of people from paying any taxation, at any level, is bound to be rejected by all other Canadians. An exemption for natives covered by Treaty 8 will further alienate our aboriginal people from the mainstream of society and marginalize the natives themselves.

Clear thinking Canadians realize that reasonable levels of taxation are required to provide services to all citizens. Why does the government not realize that we can never build equality by dividing people?

2002 Winter Paralympic Games
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to acknowledge the accomplishments of three great Canadian athletes who earned medals or top eight finishes yesterday at the Salt Lake City Paralympics.

I am referring, of course, to Karolina Wisniewka, from Calgary, Alberta, who won the silver medal in the women's giant slalom event. Karolina's achievement at these games is extraordinary. She has already won two bronze medals and, yesterday's silver medal.

Lauren Woolstencroft of Calgary, Alberta, brought home the bronze medal in the same event, the women's giant slalom. At 20, Lauren has proven herself to be a worthy competitor. With one gold medal under her belt at these paralympic games she had no problem winning a bronze medal in another challenging event.

Chris Williamson of Edmonton, Alberta, and his guide, Bill Harriot of Windsor, Ontario, finished 5th in the men's downhill event. Chris started in competitive skiing for people with disabilities in January 1998, and was chosen as a member of the Canadian team the next fall.

I congratulate these athletes for their great victories and thank them for making us so proud.

Social Programs
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Sophia Leung Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, last week I had the privilege of announcing $170,000 in funding for Vancouver's planned lifetime advocacy network institute for citizenship and disability.

PLAN is an exceptional program that is creating innovative ways to help people living with disabilities increase their well-being, safety and security. PLAN focuses on creating self-sufficient community organizations and self-reliant families to accomplish its aims.

We must continue working to build an inclusive nation where all Canadians have the opportunity to fully explore their potential and enjoy a good standard of living. The Government of Canada's support of PLAN is an important step in this process of self-development.

National Defence
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a startling announcement: Halifax has been invaded. Department of National Defence officials have informed me that the Granovikstan Revolutionary Army, the GRA, is intent on capturing the seaport of Halifax and moving further inland. This is an outrageous act of aggression and it must not be tolerated.

It is understandable that the GRA would want to invade Halifax which is, after all, home to many of the pillars of Canadian culture: Alexander Keith's beer, Rita McNeil, Thomas the Tugboat and finally,

This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

Second Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Jon Vance has been tasked with defending our brothers and sisters in Halifax. This battalion along with its supporting elements shall be victorious.

In all seriousness, military exercises conducted by the Canadian Armed Forces, including Exercise Royal Guard now under way in the maritimes, serve to remind all Canadians of the professionalism, courage and commitment of our military men and women.

I thank each and every one of them for their dedication to protecting our great country.

La Maison Le Baluchon
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I recently attended a celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of La Maison Le Baluchon, in Saint-Hyacinthe. This organization provides support services for youth experiencing difficulties, be they personal, social, or related to family or school.

However, it is mostly a place where adolescents who are going through a rough patch can come and feel that they belong and meet with welcoming and caring professionals who help them sort through their problems.

Countless young people who have gone through La Maison Le Baluchon over the past ten years have renewed their will to live, to take their lives in hand, and to build. This organization's contribution to the community in Saint-Hyacinthe has been invaluable.

I would like to thank Brother Lamoureux, founder of the project, who introduced me to Le Baluchon, the survival of which became my first cause as a member in 1993.

I would also like to congratulate the chair of the board, Claude Rainville, the co-coordinator and her assistant, Brigitte Sansoucy and Lucie Bilodeau, as well as all of the volunteers who do such admirable work for the benefit of our young people and all of the community.

Long live La Maison Le Baluchon.

Grants and Contributions
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the practice of farming out lucrative contracts to political friends is hardly new to government, but I think all Canadians would agree that the Groupaction fiasco set a whole new low.

Yes, we finally found the mystery document. The real mystery is not where it went. The real mystery is why we spent $550,000 on a ragtag stack of random data sheets in only one language advising government of upcoming sporting and cultural events.

In another separate contract to Groupaction worth $575,000, it was to have carried out two tasks and delivered only one. Then last year, with Alfonso Gagliano still at the helm, the firm received a $615,000 contract to evaluate the quality of its work as a consultant to the government.

Political campaign contributions worth $70,000 have yielded this company nearly $2 million in what appears to be corporate, make work projects. These are not contract awards, they are patronage rewards.

Middle East
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to deplore the killing of an Italian journalist by Israeli troops during fighting in Ramallah on the West Bank on Wednesday.

Freelance photographer Raffaele Ciriello was hit in the abdomen by a burst of fire from an Israeli tank as he and an Italian TV cameraman were covering the actions of Palestinian gunmen.

This, regrettably, was the fatal outcome of a number of incidents where journalists have come under fire in the Middle East and is a reminder that journalists put their lives on the line in their effort to keep the eye of the world on tragic conflicts such as that now ensuing between Israelis and Palestinians.

Natural Resources
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, until recently the silence from the Prime Minister regarding the softwood lumber dispute has been deafening.

On behalf of all Canadian families dependent upon the harvesting, manufacturing and marketing of lumber, I asked the Prime Minister on November 2 to immediately go to Washington to settle this issue. Apparently immediately to him means four and a half months or 130 days.

Nevertheless I wish to congratulate the PM for finally fully engaging the president on this critical file. With March 21 less than a week away hopefully it will not be a case of too little too late.

This reminds me of another crucial issue threatening the future of British Columbia's forests and economy, the mountain pine beetle crisis. I ask the Minister of Natural Resources to clarify whether he has received a commitment from the finance minister to provide the $600 million over 10 years as the federal government's share of the funds necessary to combat this epidemic.

Airport Security
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it has been said that the Liberal government has never met a tax that it did not like. It must be delighted now that it is on the eve of the biggest tax grab of the decade. I am speaking of the $24 airport security tax due to commence in 15 days.

Is it a good tax? No, there is no such thing. Is it a necessary tax? Again the answer is no. It is far in excess of what aviation experts say is necessary. It is far larger than what is being charged by the U.S. who the transport minister said was well behind us in airport security prior to September 11.

There are many initiatives the government can and must take before embarking on another Liberal spending spree. It has no spending plan, no budget, no impact study on small and start up airlines and it has no plan on the implementation of the collection of the tax grab.

The government should delay the new tax grab until studies are done, budgets are prepared and alternatives are developed and implemented. This is the responsible thing to do. To do otherwise is, well, Liberal.

Leo Young
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, a few days ago, the community of Laval lost one of its most prominent figures. After spending many years helping out people in need, Leo Young died at the age of 85.

Mr. Young, who was the co-founder, with his wife Cliffelene Horne, of the non-profit organization called Agape, spent time and energy helping out the poor.

Since 1976, Agape, which, in Hebrew and Greek means “love and sharing within a community”, has been working with poor families of Laval's anglophone and multicultural communities.

Through his work and dedication, Mr. Young succeeded in setting up an organization which has constantly expanded over the years, and which has shown the true meaning of the term agape.

On behalf of the citizens of Laval, I wish to offer my most sincere condolences to his family, his friends and his associates.

St. Patrick's Day
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, few people in Quebec do not know someone who is of Irish origin. In fact, close to 5% of all Quebecers can proudly say that they have some Irish blood.

Between 1825 and 1829, even before the great famine, there were already over 50,000 people from the Emerald Isle here. The Irish were courageous workers who were exploited, unfortunately, but they contributed to major achievements in the 19th century, including the building of the Lachine Canal. At the foot of Montreal's Victoria Bridge stands a monument in their honour.

On Sunday, at noon, the 178th St. Patrick's Day parade will set off in Montreal. It is with pride that we will join the Irish community to celebrate its roots. Its difference has enriched the people of Quebec and, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I am proud to thank the Irish community and wish them a happy St. Patrick's Day.

Wallace Shute
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to the life of a dear friend and a constituent, Dr. Wallace Shute. Dr. Shute was an exemplary Canadian citizen whose medical and literary contributions are recognized in Canada and throughout the world.

Dr. Shute began his lengthy and distinguished medical career in the field of gynecology as an army medical officer. His most outstanding accomplishment was the design and development of the Shute parallel obstetrical forceps. Designed to significantly reduce harm to both mother and child, the Shute forceps represented the first major change in forceps construction in over 400 years. In addition to his scientific successes, Dr. Shute was a true renaissance man as a published author, poet and painter. Dr. Shute was pre-deceased by his wife Betty.

I offer my sincere condolences to his son Christopher, his daughter Joan and his granddaughters Megan and Seonaid.

Taxation
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday in response to a question regarding the government's latest cash grab on blank CDs and MP3 players, the minister of heritage said the Liberals support copyright.

She must have problems with her memory. Her short term memory failed her when she forgot how the former health minister totally bypassed Bayer's patent for Cipro to help out Apotex, a company he had represented as legal counsel. Her medium term memory failed her when she forgot how she dropped the ball on the MMT file in 1998 and triggered a $13 million lawsuit by MMT's patent holder, Ethyl Corporation, under chapter 11 of NAFTA. Her long term memory must not fail her since she flip-flopped on the GST, is infamous for spending taxpayers' money, and is now making a nice try to rake in money on CDs and MP3 players.

What an MP she is. She does not care that intellectual property only applies to original ideas.

Airline Industry
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government has a history of imposing high taxes in order to accumulate surpluses to make itself look good.

First, it was the EI fund and now it is the airport security tax. The government starts collecting this extreme tax on April 1, even though it has not yet hired any staff or bought any equipment and will not for many months.

We understand that over the next five years this tax will accumulate at least $1 billion more than is actually required. How can the Canadian airline industry survive this unreasonable tax?

Will the finance minister reconsider this ill advised airport security tax immediately before it completely destroys the Canadian airline industry?

Arts and Culture
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to congratulate the recipients of this year's Governor General's awards for visual and media arts. This award was created in 1999 by the Canada Council for the Arts.

These seven talented individuals will be honoured at a ceremony at Rideau Hall next Wednesday. They each excel in arts ranging from painting to photography to video. This year's recipients are: artist AA Bronson; painter, photographer and filmmaker Charles Gagnon; aboriginal artist Edward Poitras; new media artist David Rokeby; video-artist and photographer Barbara Steinman; artist, printmaker and architectural artist Irene Whittome; curator and philanthropist Ydessa Hendeles.

I ask the House to join me in recognizing the lifetime achievement of these creative media and visual artists and in extending congratulations to each and every one of them.

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast
B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, the split in the cabinet over the weak dollar is widening. Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister again blamed our lack of competitiveness on a lack of investment by Canadian business, but the finance minister said that Canadian firms can compete even if the dollar rises.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that Canadian business could compete internationally if the dollar returned to the 76¢ level it was at before the Liberals were elected and started driving down the dollar?

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, it is not the policy of the government nor has it been the policy of the government to drive down the value of the dollar.

The fact that Canadian firms can and do compete internationally, not just in the United States but in markets around the world, demonstrates their competitiveness. Of course if the dollar were to increase in value then they would need to be that much more competitive. My belief is that they are making many of the efforts that are necessary to accomplish that.

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast
B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister does not believe his government has been driving down the dollar, but just look at it from the time they were elected until now. Who has been driving it down, the Canadian public?

If the Deputy Prime Minister now believes that firms can compete with a stronger dollar, then why will the Liberals not take steps to strengthen the dollar by cutting taxes, cutting debt and cutting wasteful spending?

Is it Canadian business that is uncompetitive or is it the Liberal government, which has lazily relied on a low dollar rather than taking action to improve our productivity and our competitiveness?

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, all the measures we have brought in over the years, including the creation of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, increased spending for research and development, support for the universities in doing research and development, investments in science and technology, that party has opposed.

These are the things that governments have to do, including investing in education, support for post-secondary education and support for training and skills development. These are the things that governments need to do. Likewise, businesses, as we know, have to make the investments that are necessary in technology, equipment, training and innovation.

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast
B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, this is amazing. Those members blame the Tories for everything that happened before they got elected and they blame everything on us since they got elected, but it is the government that has increased the debt by $34 billion, not the opposition parties.

In 1991 there was what the Prime Minister called his weak dollar policy when he was finance minister, and I will quote him. He said he used it to “bring Canada back into a competitive position”. The Prime Minister does believe in a weak dollar position. The Prime Minister and the finance minister have been making Canadians assume the position for the past nine years and we have not found it very competitive.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister admit that the weak dollar policy of the Prime Minister and the finance minister has been a failure that has undermined Canadian competitiveness?

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, this government has not had a weak dollar policy. This government has had a strong economy policy. We have seen a reduction in unemployment. We have seen the elimination of the deficit and the creation of surpluses. We have seen the reduction in income taxes, corporate and personal. We have seen an improvement across the Canadian economy, sector by sector, over the last eight years.

The history that we have of achievement and success on the economy is one thing that party wishes it could have had the ideas to bring about.

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, if the government calls that success I would hate to see its failures.

On Wednesday the Deputy Prime Minister claimed that Canadian industry was at fault for Canada's 30 year decline in productivity, but here are the facts. Under the government's watch, we have seen decades of growth in program spending financed by increased taxes and deficits. We have seen decades of decline in foreign investment in Canada, decades of growth in federal government debt and corresponding decades of decline of the Canadian dollar.

How is it that the Liberal government cannot see that its failed policies of high taxation and high government debt are the main reason for the dollar's decline?

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, we have the lowest level of government spending as a proportion of GDP that we have ever had, or at least in 50 or 60 years. The changes we have brought about, including the reduction in government spending, particularly after the 1993 election, have been dramatic, with the largest reduction in program spending since demobilization after World War II.

Where have these people been? The achievements of the last eight years did not happen by accident. The drop in the unemployment rate, the accomplishments we have had in turning deficits into surpluses, the drop in interest rates and the boom in the construction industry: these things have not happened by accident.

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, even alcoholics know that the first step to recovery is to admit that they have a problem.

Instead of blaming others, the Liberal government must own up to its failed policies of the last 30 years. For example, I want to quote that famous economist, our Prime Minister. “I have said many times that the Canadian dollar has to float downwards” he said in February 1978. In 1984 he said “I can personally live with a weaker dollar”. Now the Deputy Prime Minister is trying to blame Canadian businesses for the Liberal government's failed policies.

Why can the government not just take the first step to recovery and admit that the Prime Minister's policies were dead wrong?

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, he only wishes that our economic policies were a failure. He thinks by repeating the notion they are that somehow or another he will make it so. It does not work that way.

Furthermore, I do not accept the characterization of my remarks in the least. In fact, on the contrary, what I said was that as the Canadian dollar rises Canadian firms are going to need to make investments to ensure that they continue to be competitive. That is consistent both with an innovation strategy and with a stronger currency.

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Public Works said he was relieved by the production of an incomplete document, which was hastily put together and turned over to him by Groupaction yesterday. These bits of reports prove nothing about the services supposedly provided to the department at a cost of over half a million dollars. This report is nothing but a hodgepodge of motherhood statements.

Will the government admit that this document suggests that the contract awarded to Groupaction was no more than a conduit for getting half a million dollars to friends in exchange for their $70,000 contribution to the Liberal Party of Canada?

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the member is correct. Groupaction has located substantial portions of the report in question and has transmitted those to Communication Canada. Those documents also have been sent to the opposition critics for their perusal.

I want to assure the House that the minister continues to state that it is unacceptable that the report was not available and continues to be committed in a co-operative fashion to provide all documents to all hon. members.

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the parliamentary secretary has said, Groupaction says it provided the department with three copies. It was not just one copy which was supposedly lost, nor two, but three. Losing one copy is a concern, losing two is irresponsible, but losing three is pathetic.

Does the government seriously think that it has convinced us of its good faith with this scenario right out of a B movie?

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the minister again has declared to the House that it is unacceptable that these reports were missing from the files. He has undertaken to provide all hon. members with copies of this in both official languages as soon as possible.

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, Groupaction was given a $550,000 mandate to analyze opportunities related to the Government of Canada's visibility program. The documents released yesterday by Groupaction come up a bit short on this score. What was released yesterday was mainly an inventory of events.

How can the government still be defending its decision to award this mandate to an outside firm, which just happened to be friends of the regime, rather than to public servants, whose job it is to produce this sort of list?

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Public Works and Government Services has the responsibility on behalf of all departments in the Government of Canada to acquire such services. Nine companies were pre-qualified in accordance with treasury board guidelines. In this case, with regard to this contract, on a competitive bid basis this was awarded to Groupaction for fair and reasonable value.

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, is it really necessary to pay up to $225 an hour to have it confirmed that Notre-Dame-de-Paris was a much awaited show that received good press coverage, when 150,000 CDs had already been sold?

Public Works and Government Services Canada
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the particular contract in question was discussed at the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations on Tuesday. At that meeting it was disclosed to all hon. members that this contract involved the review of some 1,300 projects all across Canada, in every province in Canada. It involved some 3,300 hours of work.

The report details are available now for members. We will continue to provide them and to co-operate with members to ensure they have all the information they need with regard to this project.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of the Environment. There is a report in the Globe and Mail today that the government does have a report on the real costs of ratifying Kyoto, as opposed to the costs alleged by the oil industry, et cetera.

I wonder if the Minister of the Environment could tell us when this report will be available so that people who do support the accord could have the benefit of sharing it with our constituents, et cetera.

Will he, while he is on his feet, also clear up the confusion that seems to exist now among the positions of the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Prime Minister? There seem to be three different messages coming from the government as to whether--

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Minister of the Environment.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, on the first question, there are a number of international studies that are available publicly and have been over the years. These have been put together in a listing. Just as soon as it is translated, I will make it available next week to the hon. member and other interested hon. members.

With respect to the second part of his question, there is no contradiction. The government's position is clear on this. We intend to have full consultation with the provinces, with interested Canadians and with industry prior to any decision on ratification and of course to have a plan that would make sure there is--

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Winnipeg--Transcona.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but that sounds to me like a backing down on the part of the government, because now he is talking about prior to any decision on ratification. It seems to me that I remember spokespersons for the government saying they were going to ratify the accord by June or by the end of this year. Now we are talking about studies having to be done prior to ratification.

I ask the minister, is the government going to ratify the Kyoto accord and provide the information, the Canadian studies that would enable those of us on this side of the House who want to help the government ratify the accord? When is it going to ratify the accord and make the commitment to do so?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we appreciate the hon. member's offer of help and we will certainly be taking advantage of it. It is our intention to ratify. We wish to ratify. However the decision on ratification will depend upon consultation with the provinces, territories, industry and general public. That is one requirement. The second is to have a plan in place that prevents any unfair or uneven burden on the regions of the country.

That is our intention and the decision will be taken after the consultations in question and after the development of such a plan.

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the productivity gap with the U.S. continues to widen. The Deputy Prime Minister said in the past that high taxes help productivity, so we know he is not an economist.

With his government's record of reducing the Canadian dollar by 20% against the U.S. dollar and 15% against the British pound sterling, why is he so optimistic that the Canadian dollar will reach 80 cents U.S.?

What is his government doing to get it there? Does he think he can do a better job than the finance minister at implementing policies to strengthen the Canadian dollar?

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, the government's record of accomplishment and achievement in the economic area and of achievement that is reflected in the fundamentals of our economy speaks for itself.

Certainly the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and the Governor of the Bank of Canada have all indicated their support for a stronger dollar as we move forward, and the fundamentals are there to accomplish it.

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, one of those fundamentals is a Canadian dollar that has lost 20% of its value under the government's stewardship. The government does not have a weak dollar policy. It is a weak government creating a weak Canadian dollar.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that Canadian firms cannot compete while the finance minister said Canadian firms can compete. Does the government not realize that public spats between Liberal leadership rivals and ministers over Canadian competitiveness only serve to drive the Liberal loonie lower?

The Economy
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, what the public recalls is that when the member's party was in government interest rates were so high that indeed the Canadian dollar was higher. Jobs were lost. People were out of work and unemployment was over 11%.

That is the history of government by their party. I think most Canadians prefer the record we have established of management of the economy.

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, all week long we asked the government to repay for overcharging unemployed workers through subsection 19(3) of the EI act. The minister all week long said that these unfortunate employees are basically fraud artists and scammers.

Would the Deputy Prime Minister today at least admit countless millions of dollars have been stolen from part time, casual and laid off employees and at least commit to the House that he will have all those files investigated?

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Laval West
Québec

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is imputing us statements that we never ever made.

The minister was very clear. We were always referring to people who worked while collecting benefits and did not report their income, as required by law.

Throughout this week, we also made it very clear that we are only requiring the payment of additional charges when frauds have been proven.

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is categorically not the case. These people are not all fraud artists. Next week we will start tabling with the government case after case of this very instance.

Let me give the Deputy Prime Minister some quotes from the minister's own department: “We create overpayments that are unfair and very high. My staff are on the verge of revolt over this issue. Several offices have refused to follow the national policy”. Are all of the opposition and all the employees wrong?

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Laval West
Québec

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, again, the minister said this week that, with very few exceptions, people who made mistakes while acting in good faith are not required to pay back an amount greater than the unreported income.

Also, administrative penalties are not imposed on claimants who made a mistake while acting in good faith when they reported their income.

Games of La Francophonie
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, the IVth Games of La Francophonie, held in Ottawa-Hull, raised a number of questions regarding the remuneration received by the general manager at the time, Rhéal Leroux. In fact, in addition to his general manager's salary, his company made up to a 15% commission on sponsorships that he himself sought.

Today we learned that those auditing the financial statements of the Games' international committee were denied access to all of the books and supporting documentation necessary to make a proper assessment of compliance for the period.

Could the Deputy Prime Minister tell us—

Games of La Francophonie
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. secretary of state.

Games of La Francophonie
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Simcoe North
Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers Secretary of State (Amateur Sport) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, Canadian Heritage and the Government of Canada ensure at all times that the Games of La Francophonie are held in a way that is accountable.

The member raises a question that appeared in today's newspapers. We intend to follow up, to investigate whether the games were indeed held pursuant to Canadian Heritage's regulations.

Games of La Francophonie
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government must be aware that this type of situation can only tarnish Canada's reputation abroad.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister make a formal commitment to ensure that all of the documents are made available to the auditors, so that we can get to the bottom of these games' finances during the audit this May?

Games of La Francophonie
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Simcoe North
Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers Secretary of State (Amateur Sport) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, we are in the process of investigating, and we are confident that we will be able to answer all of these questions.

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday President Bush mused about a softwood deal by March 21. The Prime Minister said they were working on an agreement in principle.

All parties in the House supported a Canadian Alliance motion yesterday which calls for free market access for Canadian lumber and a dispute resolution mechanism capable of overriding U.S. domestic trade measures.

Will the minister assure Canadians that any agreement in principle will be consistent with yesterday's motion?

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

London—Fanshawe
Ontario

Liberal

Pat O'Brien Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, let me wish all Canadians a happy St. Patrick's Day on Sunday. The government had absolutely no problem in endorsing the motion yesterday. We congratulate the member for it. We are pleased to finally have him on side with what has been the policy and the efforts of the government for the past two years.

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, neither the minister nor the parliamentary secretary answered my question. The House of Commons spoke with one voice yesterday and our negotiators have their mandate.

There are provinces and industry stakeholders that want to ensure the U.S. department of commerce will announce its final tariff determinations on March 21. This forces the American hand. We will at least know the size of duty they want to impose in May while still keeping our WTO and NAFTA dispute resolution options open.

Will the minister assure Canadians that any agreement in principle will contain a dispute resolution mechanism that is equivalent or better than what we have at the WTO?

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

London—Fanshawe
Ontario

Liberal

Pat O'Brien Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister again had an opportunity to raise this important trade dispute with the president of the United States as he has been doing consistently for the last year.

The minister and the Prime Minister have been clear. No deal will be acceptable to Canadians long term that does not guarantee us unfettered, open access to the American market in softwood lumber.

Taxation
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Minister of Finance indicated that he was open to the possibility of placing the important issue of the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa, Quebec and the provinces on the agenda for the next meeting of finance ministers.

Will the government assure us that it will openly and honestly engage in discussions on this topic in order to come up with a solution to this problem, which is seriously jeopardizing the health and education sectors?

Taxation
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, as the minister said yesterday, the government is always open to talking with the minister's counterparts about matters of interest to them.

As for the fiscal imbalance, it is not just that these projections over 20 years are hypothetical; it is worse than that. Projections over two years are difficult, those over five are almost impossible, and those over 20 are ridiculous.

Taxation
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is why the secretary of state has not done any for a long while. The answer is cynical and insipid.

I call on the Deputy Prime Minister on behalf of the government, to give us an assurance that the issue of fiscal imbalance will be tackled seriously and honesty by the federal government, and that it will work together with the provincial finance ministers to find a satisfactory solution.

Taxation
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, as I have just said, the Minister of Finance is open to discussing these things.

However, as he has more than once said, the conclusion that there is fiscal imbalance is not at all correct for the first four or five years because the federal surplus will be less than the contingency fund. Therefore, projections over 20 years are worthless.

Veterans Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, for almost 30 years the government has known and has been warned that it could be held liable for not paying interest on the money being held in trust belonging to physically and mentally incapacitated veterans.

Earlier this week the Ontario court of appeal unanimously ordered the government to pay up. What can be gained by continuing to withhold this money from those who put their lives on the line for Canada?

Veterans Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Sault Ste. Marie
Ontario

Liberal

Carmen Provenzano Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the member for Souris--Moose Mountain is well aware that the decision of the court of appeal was given just this past Wednesday.

The government will consider the advice of the government lawyers and take a decision in due course. It is premature to indicate what action the government will take other than that at this time.

Veterans Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, we all have an obligation to pay debt: you and I and everybody else.

The government has an obligation. Each week that this obligation of the government is delayed it costs $2 million in interest. My question is simple. Does the government think it can disregard the court's ruling?

Veterans Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Sault Ste. Marie
Ontario

Liberal

Carmen Provenzano Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is not a question of disregarding the court's ruling. The ruling of the court is very important to the government.

I can assure members of the House that this case is not about interest. The government has been paying interest since 1990. It is about the way the government does its business. The case has implications for the government and the government will take a decision in due course upon the advice of its lawyers.

Access to Information
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the President of the Treasury Board. Often the minister has spoken about the importance of access to information and balancing that with the privacy rights of the individual.

Could the minister tell the House what the obligations of ministers are when it comes to their expense records and the release of those records?

Access to Information
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie
Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, the government is of the view that information about government expenses should be made public.

While respecting the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, the Prime Minister has asked all his ministers and their political staffs to release information related to their expense records.

Taxation
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the last time I asked the Minister of Finance why he was retroactively changing the GST act to squeeze an extra $70 million out of our schools, he gave the excuse that the law was never intended to exempt school boards from 100% of GST on the cost of transport. That may be the minister's interpretation, but it is not the courts'. The way the law is written, that money does not belong to the minister, it belongs to our schools.

The courts have ruled that the minister was not following the law. Will he do what the courts have ruled is the law and rebate all schools the money they are entitled to instead of legislating a retroactive tax grab?

Taxation
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member ought to know that the 70% rebate was always the intent of the law. An effort was made to find a loophole. It is the government's responsibility to protect its tax base for the benefit of all taxpayers, and the school boards will continue to have the 70% rebate as was always the intention.

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the consultation process on the first nations governance has been a failure since day one. The leadership of the AFN boycotted the process and hardly anybody came to the first rounds of hearings. Now we hear that, in an effort to get some bodies out, individuals have been offered financial incentives to attend these hearings. Worse yet, groups have been threatened with having their funding cut if they refuse to co-operate.

Just how much money has the government spent on this sham of a consultation process and is it true that individuals and groups are being bribed and/or blackmailed to take part in the consultations?

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Liberal

John Finlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague was present at the committee meeting yesterday, he knows we dealt with the matter regarding a couple aboriginal women's groups that came before us and indicated that there were problems on the reserves.

I think my hon. member would do well to study some of these rather than cast aspersions.

Grants and Contributions
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada paid over half a million dollars for half a report. Then guess what? It lost it. It has been scrambling now for the last week to come up with something to justify its wasteful incompetence. What it has come up with is a 300 page report out of Groupaction's computer hard drive. For half a million dollars, that is about $1,800 a page. What a deal.

I ask the government this. Where is the value for Canadians? What did they really get for their money? Was the report not important enough to keep or was this all just a shell game to shovel more dollars into a Liberal donor's pocket?

Grants and Contributions
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I think it is unfortunate that the member should make such an allegation here in the House. He knows that a political kickback is a criminal act, and I would ask him to reconsider.

With regard to the report, it was provided to the members. It involved an assessment of some 1,300 sponsorship arrangements. It also involved some 3,300 hours of work. We are continuing work on this matter and will be co-operating with the--

Grants and Contributions
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough.

Fisheries
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, if the government cannot find the report or an answer maybe it will find a conscience.

Yesterday the minister of fisheries denied the town of Canso quota needed to keep the Seafreez plant operating. Without that plant the town may die. The decision by the minister was a devastating blow to one of the oldest fishing ports in Canada. In his letter the minister said that access to redfish “would be contrary to Canada's international stance that this stock is being overfished”. Yet tonnes of that redfish are still in the water.

How can the Nova Scotia minister and his government deny access to a fish resource to save the very existence of a town, while ignoring the massive overfishing of Canadian fish stocks by foreign vessels?

Fisheries
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the minister and the government are very conscious of the extreme difficulty that the townspeople of Canso are facing at the present time. That said, we cannot revert to Tory policies of destroying the resource, as happened on the cod stocks of the east coast, simply for political reasons.

The hon. member should be ashamed of himself for suggesting that we should ignore the risk to the stock simply to satisfy the short term political considerations which his party and his government, and he supported, did consistently and which led to the complete collapse of the economy of most--

Fisheries
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Calgary Southeast.

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government's new $24 air tax is a disaster waiting to happen. The government wrote this policy on the back of a cocktail napkin. For instance, passengers who have to take more than one airline to get to their destination will have to pay the $24 tax more than once.

How can the government justify taking $48 or $72 from someone going from point A to point B? Why does it not have a plan to refund taxpayers from whom it is taking this money unfairly?

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, as the government has pointed out many times, we feel it is fair that the users pay for $2.5 billion out of the $7.7 billion cost of enhanced security. As we have also pointed out many times, the tax will be--

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham, ON

--or the charge will be reviewed in the fall. In the event we find that the projected revenues exceed the expenditure, the charge will be reduced.

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, congratulations, he flubbed twice. He admitted it is a tax and he did not answer the question. My question had nothing to do with whether the government would reduce the rate. It has to do with people having to pay it more than once. If a person has to go from Thunder Bay to Vancouver on three different airlines and three different legs, that person will have to pay $72 for only one security check.

Perhaps the minister of revenue can answer this question instead. Why does the government not have any plan to refund people who have to pay the $24 tax for multiple flights on multiple airlines? Will it come up with a plan to refund that money like the Air Transport Association of Canada wants?

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, I understand the hon. member is referring to the charge rather than a tax, but I will check into this. However it is my understanding that if a person goes from point A to point B and takes three different stages along the way, the charge is only paid once. I will check into it.

Public Service Commission
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, the percentage of persons with disabilities has gone down in 19 of the 40 federal departments, and only four of these departments meet the benchmark of 6.5% of the workforce.

In spite of these disturbing facts, the Public Service Commission has decided to shut down its Enabling Resource Centre as of March 31.

How can the President of the Treasury Board justify such a decision, when the Employment Equity Act is being reviewed?

Public Service Commission
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie
Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, the government is truly committed to employment equity in the federal public service, and particularly so for persons with disabilities.

Efforts have been made for a number of years and positive measures were taken precisely to promote employment equity within federal departments.

A centre had been set up to provide advice to the departments and create a momentum, so that this would truly become standard practice everywhere. We are now at this stage and will definitely keep pursuing the same objective.

Public Service Commission
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister did not understand. The centre is being shut down; it will close on March 31.

The Liberal government's decision is a real insult to the work of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.

Is the President of the Treasury Board telling witnesses, who travelled from all regions of Canada, and committee members, that the die has already been cast and that their work is not worth the paper that it is written on?

Public Service Commission
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie
Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, let us put things in perspective.

When we created that centre, it was for a limited period of time, to provide advice and opinions to the departments. Now, the departments will be responsible and will be guided by a policy.

Let us look at the results: progress has been made year after year for women, aboriginals and persons with disabilities. We still have problems with visible minorities, but we have an action plan that will help us achieve our objectives.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, tuberculosis is endemic in deer and elk living in Riding Mountain National Park. These animals have transmitted TB to local cattle herds on several occasions. One more case of tuberculosis in cattle before April of 2005 could result in Canada losing its TB free designation. Yet the heritage minister who is responsible for our national parks is doing nothing to control these outbreaks.

Why does the minister of heritage refuse to sign on to the disease control agreement proposed by the province of Manitoba and the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings
Ontario

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, we certainly are proud of the record and the fact that we are tuberculosis free in Canada. We are always monitoring the situation to do all we can to ensure that that continues to be the situation.

We are working with Heritage Canada. We are working with all the sectors of the bovine industry in Canada to ensure we have a plan and the surveillance in place so we can continue to have the status that we have.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, that answer does not indicate the seriousness of this issue. The agricultural minister better get thinking about the economic situation of farmers and agriculture in the country. Agriculture with livestock accounts for over $10 billion a year going into the economy and he virtually is ignoring it.

The president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association has referred to this very issue and the idea of setting up zones of containment for diseases. The minister of agriculture has the CFIA and full control of the zoning issue. Why has he not done anything about the issue?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Prince Edward—Hastings
Ontario

Liberal

Lyle Vanclief Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member had been paying attention at the standing committee when I was there not too many weeks ago, I explained very clearly that this was one of the approaches we were taking in the agriculture policy framework we were developing with the provinces to regionalize the country. If we ever get into the unfortunate situation of a foreign animal disease outbreak or tuberculosis, we will be able to regionalize it and continue to have the free status that we have at the present time.

Airline Industry
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, the situation in today's air industry insurance market is a worldwide concern. I would like to ask the Minister of Transport what action the Government of Canada will take to ensure that aviation services can be maintained uninterrupted when the indemnity for third party aviation war risk liability expires soon.

Airline Industry
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Don Valley East
Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, we addressed this rather urgently after September 11. Canada was one of the first countries that extended the war risk liability coverage, and I am announcing today that we will extend it for a further period of time because the insurance market worldwide has not yet recovered sufficiently to reintroduce acceptable commercial coverage.

We are involved in discussions with other countries, airlines and the industry to find a permanent solution, as the intervention of the government obviously will be temporary.

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, natives who are poor do not pay taxes because they have the same exemption that other poor people have. Natives who have higher income should pay taxes at the same level as their next door neighbours. This is not about on reserve treaty rights. It is about two businesses side by side in one of our cities or two families side by side in one of our towns. One pays taxes, the other is exempt.

When will the government begin implementing policies which treat Canadians equally and stop differentiating based on race?

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Vancouver Kingsway
B.C.

Liberal

Sophia Leung Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has mentioned a very important and complex issue. We think it requires more consideration. If he is referring to treaty 8, right now the government has filed an appeal on this matter.

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, in areas such as Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the new air security charge is going to have a major negative impact. The Minister of Finance is claiming that the security measures will be based on the user pay principle. The airport at Rouyn Noranda will be spending $50,000 a year on security. Yet, the costs to passengers are estimated at over $550,000.

Is this what the Liberal government means by the user pay principle?

Airport Security
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, the user pay principle means that, over the next five years, users will pay the overall cost of $2.2 billion.

It will not be the same every year but, over a five year period, that is the policy. If, in the fall, it looks like revenues will exceed costs, the charge will be reduced.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

Noon

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, the U.S. farm bill could have devastating effects on Canadian agriculture.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was going to take our serious concerns to the lawmakers in the United States. Last month he was going to meet with the secretary of agriculture, Ann Veneman. It did not happen. On March 4 he was going to meet with American congressmen. It did not happen. As a matter of fact, nobody seems to want to meet with the minister.

Unfortunately, the president of the United States wants to have the bill passed by Easter. How is the minister going to explain to Canadian farmers that he dropped the ball?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

Noon

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Even better still, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister himself raised it with President Bush at their meeting yesterday in very clear terms.

International Co-operation
Oral Question Period

Noon

Liberal

Stan Dromisky Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Minister for International Cooperation represented Canada at the 43rd annual meeting at the Inter-American Development Bank earlier this week in Fortaleza, Brazil. Could the minister inform the House what was discussed and achieved at the meeting?

International Co-operation
Oral Question Period

Noon

Essex
Ontario

Liberal

Susan Whelan Minister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, the Inter-American Development Bank plays a very important role in the social and economic development for both Latin America and the Caribbean.

I was very pleased earlier this week to meet with the president, Mr. Iglesias, to sign a formal agreement between Canada and the Inter-American Development Bank. Hopefully it will deepen our longstanding partnership and allow CIDA to have better investments to collaborate on specific projects and works in the Americas.

Grants and Contributions
Oral Question Period

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, you will be glad you have acknowledged me.

Canadians have been enquiring about the Groupaction report for over two years and have been told that it cannot be found. Suddenly, in a matter of days, the minister has cut and pasted a shoddy copy together for the House. However, producing the report is just the tip of the iceberg.

Will the minister table the report immediately without waiting for the translation? Will he have a computer forensics expert analyze the hard drive to make sure that the report was actually completed when the company claims it was?

Grants and Contributions
Oral Question Period

Noon

Mississauga South
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the member alluded that the government has pasted this document together. He is quite incorrect. The documents that were provided today to all of the opposition party critics were provided by Groupaction itself. They were located on the company's hard drives.

The member is quite right. It is important that we get them authenticated. That will be done. They will also be translated. We will continue to co-operate with all parties to ensure they have all the information available.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 48th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the selection of votable items pursuant to Standing Order 92.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Regarding the tabling of the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, is it possible to find out which items have been selected as votable items?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

The Speaker

Certainly. The list is available at the table. The hon. member will no doubt find it there.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Stan Dromisky Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present two petitions today.

The first petition from my constituents asks parliament to amend the Income Tax Act to include disabled people with extremely high medical expenses by a refundable medical expense supplement.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Stan Dromisky Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition has more signatures to add to the tens of thousands of signatures on petitions by constituents from Winnipeg to Toronto asking the government to work and co-operate with Canadian Pacific Railway and VIA Rail to consider very seriously the reintroduction of the VIA passenger service from Toronto on the CPR tracks to Winnipeg. This was discontinued in 1990.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Aileen Carroll Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition signed by over 3,000 constituents in my riding of Barrie--Simcoe--Bradford. The petitioners, who were assisted by my office, request a commuter rail service between Barrie and Toronto.

I join the petitioners in bringing to the attention of the House that the highways linking Toronto and Barrie and the points between are congested with traffic. Such concentrated vehicle usage produces high levels of carbon dioxide, pollutes our air and adds to greenhouse gas effects. Therefore, the petitioners call upon parliament to restore VIA Rail service between Barrie and Toronto, Ontario.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can hardly believe what I read in the report, and I am talking about the fact that Bill C-407 will not be voted on.

First, I wish to express my opposition to the adoption of this report and, second, I must advise you of my intention to raise a question of privilege at the next sitting of the House, because this is totally unacceptable.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I regret to inform the member that the committee report was deemed adopted immediately after it was tabled in the House pursuant to the standing orders of the House of Commons.

Therefore there is nothing that can be done concerning that committee report. As I said, it is already deemed adopted.

If the member has complaints about the committee report he should raise the question before the committee itself. It is there to make decisions on this issue.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I am not mistaken, when you were elected Speaker of this House you were entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the rules of the House would be applied appropriately.

I think you have before you a situation where the rules of this committee, or its subcommittee, have not been applied appropriately.

I intend to raise a question of privilege on this matter at the next sitting of the House after I have had the chance to look into it further.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 107 will be answered today.

Question No. 107—
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Following the 1999 Supreme Court ruling that businesses may deduct fines, levies or penalties as a business expense on their income tax if such penalties were incurred for activities undertaken for the purposes of earning income: ( a ) which, if any, Canadian businesses deducted fines, levies or penalties from their taxes in each of the years 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000; ( b ) what were the penalties and dollar figures each of those companies claimed as a deduction for said penalties; and ( c ) which, if any, Canadian companies have deducted a fine or penalty or levy incurred for activities in another country?

Question No. 107—
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Thornhill
Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Minister of National Revenue

The information requested in the hon. member’s question is exempt from disclosure as the confidentiality provisions of section 241 of the Income Tax Act preclude the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency from disclosing any information concerning the income tax affairs of specific taxpayers.

Question No. 107—
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

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

Question No. 107—
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 107—
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has received notice of an application for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to be heard on what I encourage the Chair to adopt as an emergency debate application. As the Chair knows, this request is pursuant to Standing Order 52. In particular, I draw attention to paragraph 6(a) which refers to the criteria and which calls upon the House to consider “the matter proposed for discussion must relate to a genuine emergency, calling for immediate and urgent consideration”.

For the people of the small town of Canso, Nova Scotia in the riding of Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, this is perhaps the gravest emergency they have faced in a long time. That town is not unaccustomed to these types of emergency situations.

The decision taken yesterday by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to deny an application, a proposal for division 3O redfish, has left the town with very little hope. Its citizens were clinging to some hope that the federal, provincial and municipal governments would come to their assistance. Without the plant operating, the majority of the population of the town has no income, none whatsoever, because of the lack of industry, the lack of opportunity that exists for the town today. The people there have been struggling for generations to make a go of it in the fisheries. There was a time when a very prosperous and lucrative fishery existed in the town.

The mayor of the town, Frank Fraser, along with his counsel, MLA Ron Chisholm, the Canso Trawlermen's Co-op headed up by Pat Fougere, the union, the plant workers and everyone in that vicinity are looking to the government for some solution, some ability to keep the town afloat.

The town is completely reliant on that one industry. The people there are now entering a black hole, a period in time in which they have not worked enough hours. Their EI is running out. They have no access to any other government program. They literally have no means to support themselves and their families.

The small businesses that have existed in that town have closed their doors. Many citizens have already left for places where they can secure employment. Over 30 houses in the small village have been put up for tax sales because of tax arrears. Bankruptcies are looming. A majority of the children in town rely on a breakfast program that is offered by the municipality. It is truly a grave situation.

The responses to questions in the House by the acting minister of fisheries are insulting. It is pathetic to suggest that this is somehow a political issue. Time and time again we have seen Canso in many cases used as a political football.

This is a crisis situation for Canso and there appears to be no ability for the people to get out of it. They are looking to the federal government and to the Parliament of Canada to offer some solutions.

I suggest that by partaking in a debate on the situation it is also indicative of other communities in the Atlantic and Quebec regions, to which the minister referred in his letter. He said that there are other crises. I suggest there is none as serious or as grave as the one facing the town of Canso and its citizens.

Mr. Speaker, I very much urge you to please accept this application. If you need more consideration or more evidence to suggest that it be supported, I hope that at the very least you would hold your decision in abeyance until Monday. There is a town meeting scheduled for Sunday at which all citizens and all representatives will be present. I hope that the Chair will take this consideration very seriously.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Since the hon. member is inviting the Chair really to hold this request over until Monday, I would suggest to him that what he do is file another letter on Monday morning and we will deal with the matter on Monday afternoon.

There is nothing precluding him from bringing in another application in the circumstances if that is his wish. Frankly I think it is probably the better course. Might I suggest he refile his letter on Monday and we will deal with it on Monday afternoon. Is that agreed?

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Anything today is without prejudice of what may happen on Monday. I do not want to make it appear that the hon. member by withdrawing his request today and leaving it until Monday is in some way prejudicing the sense of urgency. I appreciate that he raised it today.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in parliament on December 10, 2001, be read the third time and passed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise I suppose on the bill. I am displeased that the bill represents the 75th time that the government has invoked closure or time allocation since it came to power in 1993, abusing that very significant power to limit and shut down debate in this place more than any other government in Canadian history.

This is parliament. Parliament is derived from the French word “parler” which means to speak. It is the place where the representatives of the common people speak to issues that affect the common good.

For the government to, for the 75th time, prohibit members from speaking on behalf of their constituents and to the national interest on matters of grave concern, such as the budget implementation bill, is yet more unfortunate evidence of the government's growing arrogance and contempt for our conventions of parliamentary democracy.

Bill C-49 seeks to implement the provisions announced in the budget of last fall. First, I will direct my comments to that budget, then to the bill and then specifically address the air transportation tax which I raised in question period moments ago.

The government seems to have no limit in its ability to pat itself on the back for its alleged self-proclaimed success in fiscal policy. However, as we see from even yesterday's contentious remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister, Canada's economy and our standard of living has not in fact made progress under the government in the past 18 months, nor indeed in the past nine years. Canada's productivity and standard of living, its tax rates and its public debt have all taken a turn for the worse. Taxes are up and productivity is down; debt is higher and our competitiveness is down; unemployment is twice the rate here as it is in the United Kingdom; labour productivity grows here at half the rate as it does in the United States.

Over the past 15 years we have lost 20% of our standard of living and the average Canadian family now has a standard of living one-third lower than that of an average American family. We are becoming poorer as a nation as a result.

This ultimately is reflected in the devaluation of our currency which has lost 25% of its value since the government took power in 1993, going from nearly 79¢ in 1992 to the current trading level of around 63¢.

What does the government do? Does it take responsibility? Does it provide us with an action plan for reducing taxes and reducing debt to increase incentives for capital infusion and productivity? Does it do those things? No. What it does do is blame the private sector, the very engine of economic growth in this mixed economy. It blames the private sector for not investing enough.

In the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, “It is up to them, it is up to the private sector, it is up to companies to increase Canadian productivity”. He said “They must make the investments”.

There is a reason Canadian companies are not making adequate investments to include productivity in areas of research and development. It is because we have created an entire economic structure that mitigates against those kinds of investments. We have some of the highest corporate income taxes in the developed world. We have the highest marginal income tax rates among the seven largest economies of the world, the highest income tax to GDP ratio in the G-7. We have the second highest level of public indebtedness in the G-7, federal and provincial debt, at about 80% of gross domestic product, and the third highest in the OECD.

All of these things mean that it is harder to raise capital, which ultimately is the fuel that drives a free market economy, in Canada than it is in our major economic competitor, the United States and many other emerging economies, like the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand, countries that used to be far down the list in terms of productivity and standard of living but which have in the past decade leapfrogged Canada.

I do not really think this is a partisan point because some of the senior members of the government opposite have admitted that there is a problem. The Deputy Prime Minister has been quite outspoken about this and even the Minister of Industry, in his recent innovation paper, has admitted there is a problem, but they do not seem to have a grasp on the solution. The clearest evidence of that was the budget, which the bill before us today would implement.

Remarkably, the government framed the budget at a time of economic and security crisis, post-September 11, a time of recession and drag in the economy. Instead of making the difficult decision to get its priorities straight and re-allocate resources from wasteful and low and falling priority areas to the urgently high priority areas of national security, defence and economic growth, the government did not do that. It failed when it came to getting its priorities straight. In fact it increased overall program spending in that budget by 10%, the largest program spending increase we have seen in the federal budget since the disastrous years of the mid-1970s, a government in which the Prime Minister was a senior minister.

We believe the government missed an enormous opportunity in that budget. It provided no plan for debt reduction over the next five years and eliminated the modest $3 billion to $5 billion contingency and prudence reserves it had originally established for debt reduction. It made minimal investments in national security, such that CSIS and the RCMP will not even be back up to their 1993 funding levels in real inflation adjusted terms after taking into account the cuts imposed on them in 1995. The defence department of course is left out in the cold while Canada will continue to have the second lowest defence expenditure as a percentage of national income in NATO, second only to the tiny duchy of Luxembourg.

Every organization, from the Conference of Defence Associations all the way to the NDP and the Auditor General of Canada in between, have called for an immediate injection of at least $2 billion as an increase in the base budget of the Department of National Defence to bring our military up to a minimal level of operational effectiveness. The government failed the test in its budget to provide for that in the new security environment and, unfortunately, missed the ball completely on tax reduction.

The government implemented some modest tax cuts 18 months ago but this year Canadians will be paying higher taxes than they did last year, particularly in payroll taxes because of the massive 12% increase in CPP premiums which far outstrip the measly 5% reduction in employment insurance premiums.

The decade of economic drift will continue because the government failed to get its priorities straight.

I will turn now to some of the specific provisions of Bill C-49 but I will come back later to the air transportation tax and the air transportation authority.

As I have said before, the official opposition supports the provisions of the bill that deal with extending employment insurance benefits to parents of ill children. We commend the government and the finance committee for having adopted our long standing recommendation to change the provision surrounding the gifting of stock shares to registered charities, and we support that.

However, we have very serious concerns about the Canada strategic infrastructure fund, a $2 billion potential pork barrel slush fund. We have seen in the past how the government has misadministered programs of this nature, how it has provided grants for bocce courts, canoe museums and luxury boxes in hockey stadiums that do not represent real, hard, meaningful infrastructure to improve our economy but rather represent pork barrel projects.

The infrastructure fund is a potential boondoggle of pork. We are very concerned. The finance minister had originally proposed a fund that would be arm's length from politicians but the Prime Minister's Office did not like it. It grabbed it back and now the strategic infrastructure fund will be operating under the direct influence of the government in the person of the Deputy Prime Minister. We have learned from the past that we should avoid politicizing funds of this nature.

On the Africa fund, there is very little in terms of scrutiny or accountability. While we support in principle effective foreign aid, we do not support programs that are not properly accountable to parliament, which cannot be scrutinized by the auditor general and which do not fall under the aegis of the Access to Information Act. We are very concerned about some of the enormous waste that has actually fuelled corruption in developing countries in Africa in the past.

I will now turn my attention to the most contentious element of the bill, the $24 return trip tax on air travel. Immediately following September 11, we in the official opposition called for additional airport security measures, in addition to a whole suite of national security policies. We applaud the government for adopting our recommendation for air marshals. Originally it was not going to do that, stating that it was not the Canadian way, but it listened to public opinion, and we appreciate that. We also understand there will be additional air security measures and costs associated to that.

However, the question is, what would be the most efficient way of paying for those costs? This is very serious. It is quite clear to us and anybody who has looked at this, including the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association, the travel agencies of Canada , the airlines themselves and the regional airport authorities, that this policy was designed on the fly without regard for the impact it will have on the airline industry.

Shockingly, at the finance committee, government officials actually admitted that they had not done an economic impact analysis of the consequences of the $24 tax. Imagine, a massive new tax on a specific industry already ailing, an industry without competition and an industry that has lost six airlines in the past seven years, is being assessed a new $24 tax which, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Air Transport Association of Canada, could result in a reduction of air passenger loads by as much as 6%, and the government has not engaged in an economic impact analysis.

This is flagrant irresponsibility. The government does not know how negative the effect will be. It does not know whether or not short haul, low cost airlines, like WestJet, Canada's only profitable airline and its principal hope for long term competition in that industry, will survive this discriminatory prejudicial tax.

The transport committee examined the issue at some considerable length and the government, in its typical arrogance, ignored the advice of those parliamentarians, including Liberal members, when they recommended that additional airport costs be paid for by all stakeholders.

Recommendation 14 of the December 7 report of the Standing Committee on Transport to the House stated:

All stakeholders--including airports, air carriers, airline passengers and/or residents of Canada--contribute to the cost of improved aviation security. In particular, the amounts currently spent by airports and air carriers should be continued, with appropriate adjustments for inflation. A ticket surtax could also be implemented, and any funding shortfalls could be financed out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

The transport committee looked at this and said that the only way the additional security costs could be financed would be through a blended approach with the airport authorities, the airlines, the passengers themselves and the government's general revenues because airline security was not just an issue for the passengers on those flights. As my colleague for Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam pointed out, most of the people who died tragically on September 11 were not aboard aircraft.

We are implementing these additional measures precisely because airplanes can be used as weapons of mass destruction against civil society. We have a collective responsibility to increase security. We should finance it collectively.

Every witness who appeared before the finance committee regarding Bill C-49 opposed vigorously its provision for a $24 air tax. Neil Raynor, director of the Canadian Airports Council, said the council believes the “current fee structure will create disproportionate price increases on short haul and regional flights, unfairly penalizing smaller carriers who provide these services.” Raynor maintained that “acts of terrorism were acts against the state and government bears a major responsibility to fund the essential costs of policing and security.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said:

The one-way cost of the Air Travellers Security Charge of $12, represents almost six per cent of the average price of a one-way domestic ticket sold in Canada in 1999...If a one per cent increase in ticket prices represents a one per cent decrease in passenger travel then the average air traveller security charge of six per cent will have a significant effect in terms of the number of air passengers.

The Canadian Air Line Pilots Association said:

The proposed legislation does little but create an expensive bureaucracy that will be unresponsive to the insights and interests of the people on the front lines of aviation security...it will be particularly crippling to short-haul domestic carriers such as Air Canada Regional and WestJet. We find it ironic, to say the least, that legislation intending to improve security of air travel in Canada could assist its very demise--

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada said:

This tax will hurt an industry still recovering from the September 11 terrorist activities and the economic slowdown...The traveling public does not support this tax. Combine this with the major administrative and logistical difficulties this tax will create for the air industry, travel agents...it is clear that a user-pay system to offset costs for security and policing is inefficient and a terrible precedent.

The Air Transport Association of Canada said:

The implementation of this new tax or charge...is frankly extremely complex. We've spent hundreds of hours trying to figure out how to do this. It's not going to be easy.

Mark Hill, the vice-president of WestJet, said it would be prejudicial to his airline. He said:

Once the tax is implemented, we believe the traffic will evaporate off the short-haul routes. Once the traffic goes, we'll have to back out of some of our short-haul flying, and once that begins, the genie is out of the bottle, and it's very hard to stuff the genie back into the bottle once that happens.

The Canadian Automobile Association said the current fee of $12 on a one way ticket appeared high when compared to the U.S. fee of $5.

Even the Liberal member from Prince Edward Island said he was not in favour of the $24 fee. He said he invited the Department of Finance on two occasions to come forward with a detailed analysis justifying the fee and that on both occasions it failed to do so.

The $24 tax would be prejudicial. It would not be sensitive to price. If one flew from Vancouver to Halifax on a $4,800 business class ticket the $24 fee would amount to a .5% tax. If one flew on a $100 ticket from Edmonton to Calgary on, say, WestJet one would pay a total tax burden of 86% after all airlines taxes were factored in.

I urge my hon. colleagues opposite to listen to the facts, listen to the testimony and hear the concerns expressed by their own members about Bill C-49. It could be the death knell for airline competition in Canada.

I ask the government to reconsider the bill. It should look at the constructive amendments we have brought forward to amortize the costs of new infrastructure. It should bring in a pro rata fee to blend the costs the transport committee has proposed. These are not partisan recommendations.

Before the government implements the tax I hope it will seriously consider the fact that even the junior finance minister was not properly briefed about elements of the bill which would be prejudicial.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague from Calgary Southeast reminds me of when we used to have long playing 78 rpm records. We would put them on and they would skip and go over the same thing again and again like some kind of obsessive compulsive thinking.

The point the member made was that the airport security fee in relation to, let us say, a $4,800 fare from Vancouver to Halifax would have a different impact compared to a fare from Vancouver to Kelowna or Calgary to Edmonton.

The hon. member failed to mention that if we travelled from Vancouver to Halifax or from Vancouver to Kelowna and went through security it would be a fixed cost. If we went through the machines it would be a fixed cost. To change the $24 fee and make it dependent on the price of the ticket would be cross subsidization. It would say to people travelling from Vancouver to Halifax “I am sorry folks but you must pay a disproportionate amount. The people going from Calgary to Edmonton will pay a disproportionate amount less”. It would amount to a cross subsidy. There is an argument for that. However the member opposite got so wound up in his own rhetoric he failed to mention it would be a fixed cost. It would be the cost of going through security no matter where we were travelling.

The hon. member knows full well that WestJet has a robust business model. He has talked about it himself. Is he trying to tell the House a return trip from Calgary to Edmonton would decimate WestJet's volume of traffic because of a $24 airport security fee? I doubt it. I would like to hear his comments on that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his questions. It is not me who is suggesting WestJet would be devastated on short haul routes like Calgary to Edmonton. WestJet is saying that. The hon. member should refer to the testimony of Mark Hill, the vice-president of WestJet, at the finance committee. He clearly said:

On our super short-haul routes, that is, Calgary-Edmonton, Vancouver-Kelowna, Hamilton-Ottawa...the flat tax is an enormous percentage of our low fares...Once the tax is implemented, we believe the traffic will evaporate off the short-haul routes. Once the traffic goes, we'll have to back out of some of our short-haul flying, and once that begins, the genie is out of the bottle, and it's very hard to stuff the genie back into the bottle once that happens.

That was his testimony. I do not think it was an idle threat. People who work at WestJet are concerned the tax could be devastating to them.

We are not only assessing a new $24 tax on the industry. On a flight from Edmonton to Calgary with a base fare of $100 there is already a $26 Nav Can fee, a $22 airport improvement fee and $10.36 in GST. There would now also be a $24 flying tax. That would bring the total ticket price to $182.36, 86% of which would be taxes.

The hon. member may not understand this, but if a couple going to Edmonton from Calgary to visit family were given a choice of driving three hours or paying an extra $48 in taxes, which would easily buy a couple of tanks of gas, many people would opt to drive.

The hon. member made a point that the security cost would be applied only once regardless of how far one was flying. That may be true. However the bill would also tax people who get little or no security.

People flying tiny six seat float planes from the south harbour terminal of the Vancouver International Airport Authority to, say, Salt Spring Island now pay $60 for a 12 minute flight. Because the south harbour terminal falls under the aegis of the authority, with the new tax they would end up paying $24 for security even though there is no security at the airport and no need for security.

We are not worried about terrorists hijacking six seater float planes on Salt Spring Island or the damage they could do to civilian infrastructure. Yet we would look in people's bags to satisfy the government the fee was being applied to everyone whether on flights from Toronto to Tel Aviv or from Vancouver harbour to Salt Spring Island. They would all be affected. It is a stupid policy. I am surprised to hear the member supporting it.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I think a few days ago a minister from across commented that the reform alliance had pushed the government into putting in place user fees for different things that happen within our society. My colleague just mentioned the numerous taxes on an airline flight. We have airport improvement fees. We have the NavCan fee.

The minister's comments would have indicated that these type of fees were in place because the reform alliance said that anybody who used these services should pay. Now what we have is a security fee or a security tax now being added on as well.

From my perspective, I do not believe there should be any security tax in Canada, not for individual persons. It just should not happen. We are not just talking about the security of the airline itself, or the airport or those passengers. We are talking about looking after our nation's security, not just those people who are on those flights.

I would like the member's comments in response to the minister's position the other day, that the government was doing these things in response to years of requests by the reform alliance to have people pay a user fee for the use of specific facilities and industries.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I really would be surprised if the government is doing things because we asked for it to do so. I only wish that were the case. We would all be paying much lower taxes in this country.

In principle, we support the idea that where an individual gets a direct benefit from a public service, there should be some user pay element in many instances. I support in principle the idea of allowing tolls to be collected on major new infrastructure projects.

This is not comparable to that. As I pointed out in my speech, this security is an advantage which redounds not only to the passenger but to all society. The fact that we have safe airplanes is a benefit to us in this building right now. We know we will not be attacked by a large civilian aircraft that has been hijacked. It is not just a benefit to the passengers flying right now.

The idea of airline security is a general social good which general society should contribute to proportionately. That is what the transport committee recommended.

We should have user pay where the user benefits solely and directly, but not where society as a whole benefits. I think a very compelling case has been made by all of the witnesses on this issue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, the member opposite in his question to my colleague for Calgary Southeast, the Alliance finance critic, used the fact that a round trip ticket from Vancouver to Halifax was about $4,800 to defend his perspective that the air security tax was a legitimate one.

The fact that a round trip ticket between Vancouver and Halifax costs $4,800 is a startling indictment of the government's air and transportation policy. It speaks volumes about the government's failure to maintain competition in Canadian airspace and to oversee the greatest level of consolidation in the history of the Canadian air industry, with a resultant diminution of services and an increase in the price for ordinary Canadian consumers and traveller. Does the Alliance finance critic agree with me?

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his leading question and I agree with his comments. Very briefly, the government has presided over the death of six airlines. It may with this bill be about to preside over the death of a seventh and the only competitive airline in the country.

People who take flights that cost $4,800 are on expense accounts, often government expense accounts. They are insensitive to the price and the increase of this tax. Average, ordinary, middle class families who fly on short haul low cost carriers are very price sensitive and they will scale back their demand. This means a net benefit to Air Canada and an attack on competition in the airline industry here.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the legislation as part of the overall government budget and overall government agenda.

When the Minister of Finance presented his budget to the House it focused on two elements: the economic security of Canadians and the personal security of Canadians. They are the themes of the budget because they reflected the priorities of Canadians. When Canadians were asked to define the two most important issues concerning them, they outlined the questions of economic security and personal security.

I do not want to spend too much time talking about the economic front because today we are dealing mainly with the part of Bill C-49 that concerns the security component of the budget.

The government predicted economic growth in 2001-02 in the vicinity of 1.1% to 1.3%. If we look at the international and North American climates our forecasts are very objective and very well balanced. From all economic indicators we have seen so far we are not doing that bad at all. In fact we are doing a lot better than we forecasted.

It is important to note that after 28 years of deficit year after year and government after government missing their forecasts, this government was able to end the deficit. We were able to post close to $17 billion in surplus in the year 2001-02.

As well we were able to pay in excess of $36 billion on the national debt. We balanced our books. We were able to free in excess of $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion on an annual basis, money which otherwise would have gone to pay interest on the debt.

In addition, the government was able to do a tremendously positive thing with regard to interest rates and inflation. Canada has the lowest interest rate and the lowest inflation rate in close to 40 years.

All this came about without hurting the government's commitment to our social programs. On top of what I have mentioned the government has committed in excess of $100 billion in tax reductions. Canadians can see the benefits of good, sound government policies.

Canadians have told us they are exceptionally concerned about their personal security. That is why one component of the budget dealt with this issue very directly. The government has committed close to $7.7 billion over the next five years toward enhancing security for Canadians. Another $6.5 billion has been dedicated to securities and to the Canadian military. More than $1.2 billion were for initiatives designed to make Canada's borders more secure and efficient.

Let us look at some of the specific things the government has clearly stated. The approach of last year's budget was to ensure that security is paramount for Canadians and to ensure that the government has put more emphasis on increasing intelligence in policing, enhancing screening of arrivals at Canada's airports and border points, and to ensure that our people, both civilians and military, are better prepared for cases of emergencies.

On the intelligence and policing side the government has committed in excess of $1.6 billion over the next five years. Some of that money will go toward equipping and deploying more intelligence officers and frontline investigative personnel. This funding will go to federal departments and agencies including the RCMP and CSIS. The government has also provided resources to improve co-ordination among different law enforcement agencies in different parts of the country including the territories and to ensure that there is more sharing of intelligence between national and local security agencies.

The government is ensuring that we have more resources for marine security through greater funding for coastal surveillance and to strengthen the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada so we can deal with some of the offshore terrorist financing.

On the other front, that of the screening of entrants to Canada, the government has invested close to $1 billion to ensure better and more accurate screening of people who arrive on our shores. We will have more resources for detention and removal of those who arrive illegally, a quicker determination of refugee claimants and a system that is fraud resistant when it comes to people wanting to obtain visas or those who arrive in Canada with fake visas.

The third front is emergency preparedness and support for our military. The government has invested, as I said before, close to $1.6 billion. Some of that money will go to doubling the capacity of joint task force 2 which is doing a marvellous job right now in Afghanistan. Part of that money will go toward military funding, including support for participating in the international war on terrorism.

We have put more emphasis on enhancing the different networks to improve on the types of equipment and infrastructure systems our security agencies use. We have put more emphasis on protecting critical national infrastructure such as highway and airport facilities for water treatment, hydro systems and other infrastructure systems across the country.

One of the things that the government came forward with in budget 2001 was a new approach to air security. That is where Bill C-41 comes into the picture. The government has committed to allocate close to $2.2 billion over the next five years to make air travel more secure and to ensure security for Canadians who travel.

Some of the money will go to new air security measures such as armed undercover police officers on Canadian aircraft. The other day members of the opposition asked questions specifically to find out how many armed personnel would be on aircraft. The minister rightly said he would not tell them because those operations were supposed to be undercover and would continue to be undercover in many situations.

Some of the money will go toward training personnel at airports, screening passengers and carry-on luggage, state of the art explosives detection systems at Canadian airports, enhancing policing in airports, replacing aircraft cockpit doors to make them more secure, and enhancing security zones at the aircraft handling facilities on the tarmac.

These measures will be funded by a new air travel security charge to be paid by air travellers effective April 1, 2002, for travel in Canada. The cost of that is $12. That is what this whole debate seems to be about today. It seems to be focusing on the issue of $12, not on the issue of the importance of having a system that responds to the needs of Canadians.

If Canadians were asked whether or not as travellers they would mind paying the additional $12 for peace of mind that they would arrive at their destination safely, the answer from the vast majority of Canadians would be an unequivocal yes.

The bill would provide key air transport security services that are consistent and wholly integrated across the country. As well, it would provide an enhanced security performance standard in services across the country. Bill C-49 sets out a comprehensive strategy that responds to the needs of Canadians.

Bill C-49 would also see the establishment of an authority. That authority would first be responsible for the effective and efficient screening of people and their belongings that access aircraft or restricted areas through designated screening points at aerodromes and regulations.

One responsibility of the authority would be to ensure a highly visible role to reassure all Canadians of the Government of Canada's commitment to security in the air transportation system. It would also be responsible for screening duties which would be carried out by a stable workforce of people with the right skills and equipment. Another part of its responsibility would be to ensure consistency and the seamless delivery of screening across Canada. It would also be responsible for carrying out other security functions as the Minister of Transport may assign on behalf of Canadians.

I do not really understand the fuss being made by my colleagues. Is it the $12 issue or other issues that are bothersome to them? Having heard what I had to say on this issue, it is my hope we will see unanimity in the House in order to pass this legislation as efficiently as possible so that it can go to the other house and become law. Then Canadians would have the peace of mind they have asked for and we would respond to the priorities they have identified not only over the past few months but over the past year or so.

Let us make no mistake about it. September 11 was a tragic event of great proportion. Through this legislation the government is merely responding to what Canadians have asked it to do. I am pleased to have added my voice to the voices of wisdom of my colleagues on both sides of the House and to support and congratulate the Minister of Transport on this wonderful initiative. It is my hope that it will be passed through the House as quickly as possible and become law.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his thoughtful remarks and ask him to comment on the following. One item he mentioned was investment in infrastructure.

As members know, in 1983 the Federation of Canadian Municipalities proposed a national infrastructure program. That program laid dormant until this government came into office in 1993. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister we have had a very successful national infrastructure program involving all three orders of government: federal, provincial and municipal.

The hon. member might be able to comment on how that program has worked in his community and how effective it has been in terms of responding to very real needs.

The member also mentioned the $2 billion plus strategic infrastructure fund which will deal with larger infrastructure programs. Coming from the Ottawa area I know the member is well familiar with issues dealing with transit, one of the extremely important areas the fund can deal with. I would certainly appreciate any comments he could make in terms of how this initiative has benefited his community and indeed Canadians across the country.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, that is a very interesting question coming from a colleague who also has a municipal background. Sometimes I wonder whether it is an asset or a liability having that municipal background. I am sure in his case as well as in mine it is a wonderful background to have because we know firsthand what is important to our constituents, and that is bricks and mortar: to have a proper transportation system that works; to have policing that provides us with security; to have social programs, whether it is housing or social services, that work; to have hospitals that work; to have emergency rooms that work. All of that is almost like a micro type of arrangement of what we have at the national level.

The member asked a question about infrastructure and the importance of specific programs. Members may recall that one of our colleagues from Nepean, Beryl Gaffney, and I co-chaired the 1990 infrastructure task force initiated by our caucus at that time. We were in opposition then. We criss-crossed the country and met with many mayors as well as councillors. We came back with a report that to a large extent formed the basis of our very first infrastructure program the Liberal Government of Canada put to Canadians. That program has created thousands of jobs across the country, has responded to the needs of municipalities and has really acted as an economic stimulant at a time when not many economic stimulants were around, aside from those that were in the works.

I would say that not only has the government put in an additional $2 billion this year for strategic infrastructure, as my colleague has stated, but also as part of our new strategy on national security we have put in an additional $600 million that will go specifically to infrastructure around border crossing points in terms of preparing highways, preparing bridges and other types of infrastructure activities that are required.

Specifically for the $2 billion project that my colleague has spoken about, that will be absolutely marvellous for communities such as the one I represent. To cross from one end of this community to the next, it takes approximately 45 minutes at peak hours. That is a long time. We have a highway of only four lanes at best. There are six lanes in the middle of the city, but really it is only two lanes in communities outside the city. We are a community of close to one million people when we take in the suburbs. On the other side of the river we have an additional 700,000 people at least. In total it would be about 1.8 million people. Our communities would benefit greatly from a light rail system that would connect communities both east and west as well as north and south.

What a wonderful thing it would be if the communities on both sides of the river were to come together on this absolutely marvellous infrastructure program of $2 billion and submit one project for light rail in order to connect the communities east to west as well as north to south on both sides of the river, on the Outaouais side as well as the Ontario side. That would be a dream. I am sure that with the government commitment of $2 billion that dream could become a reality, therefore creating more jobs, responding to the needs of the community, protecting the environment and preparing the city to go into the next century fully equipped and energized in order to respond to the needs of its people.

These are the kinds of projects we see being repeated across the country. These are the kinds of initiatives the government has put before us and before Canadians. That is why I am exceptionally honoured and proud to be a part of this government and this regime and seeing those initiatives being implemented and being put before Canadians.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the member who defends this status quo budget. It is not much more than the status quo of what the government has been doing over the years, which is not much of anything.

I am curious as to how the member feels about the $200 million injection into the budget that is supposed to help our military when we have words from the auditor general saying that billions of dollars are needed and a Senate committee insisting that we put a $3 billion to $4 billion injection into the military immediately. That $200 million sounds very small. At the same time the government is prepared to inject $500 million into providing cottages for the criminals across our land to give them more comforts while they are incarcerated. People do not respond favourably to these kinds of things. He has taken a lot of time on his high horse about the wonderful budget, but these specific things do not resonate with Canadians at all. I am wondering how they resonate with him.

Second, I hope the people who live in his riding will take some time to fax the member copies of their paycheque stubs of a year ago and paycheque stubs of today. He will notice that there is quite a significant difference in the amount of take home pay, which is less now than it has ever been. The standard of living is going down. The government is gouging and taking more taxes. It is like a bunch of rats; it can smell out taxes from the most unbelievable places to make more revenue. It absolutely is not resonating with Canadians. The member may say it is, but it certainly is not. I would like to hear the member respond to that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, in fairness I want to set the record straight. The government has made an unprecedented commitment to our military that previous governments have not been able to do, for whatever reasons. In fact it was this government that recognized the need to modernize and to support the needs of our Canadian military.

Let me run by my colleagues some of the things that were in the budget. I am not sure my colleagues have read the budget properly. I have a summary here of some of the items. The member talked about $200 million and I am talking about $7.7 billion for security funding. Let me tell my colleagues what we have put in specifically in order to support the military. We have put in $510 million to support the military. I do not know if my colleague is aware of that. We also have expanded the anti-terrorist capacity of our military. We invested an additional $119 million. In terms of supporting our military so it can combat issues such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, there is an additional $513 million. For emergency preparedness we have committed $396 million as well as a contingency of $100 million. As far as we are concerned, that adds up to close to $1.7 billion.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I have only a few minutes remaining in this debate but there is enough time for me to give you a number of reasons you can share with the government as to why it should step back and reconsider its new air travel tax.

I listened with interest to the previous speeches made by the government members and I think it is far too easy to rely on the events of September 11 to justify this decision. The government says that it was forced after September 11 to hurry up and implement security measures. It is too easy to refer to a tragic event such as this to justify the quasi-insane government policy of levying a new tax in an industry that, even prior to the events of September 11, was already experiencing a downturn.

Years ago it was clear that there was an obvious lack of competitiveness. To demonstrate this, since the mid-1980s until last year the cost of air travel in Canada has increased by approximately 10%. Some might say that over 15 years, this is not so bad. Yet while the cost of air travel in Canada jumped 10%, over the same period in the United States it dropped by 43%.

Already, due to this country's geography, population density and the populations requiring service in remote areas, the airline industry in Canada does not have the levels of profitability and operating costs that would allow it to be extremely profitable.

A tax such as this one would only adds to this situation. The government is saying to the industry “You are having problems being competitive, you are already experiencing problems maintaining service to remote areas, in particular, well, now we are going to saddle you with a new tax”.

Earlier, members were saying that it was not that much, that is was not a heavy tax. Yes, but it is enough to jeopardize the profit margins of a number of airlines, especially small and mid-size air carriers. It is also enough of a tax to put an end to air service in remote areas. It will no longer be profitable. It is also enough to lead to several economic development projects being dropped.

This government slaps on taxes willy-nilly, without even carrying out impact assessment studies. The general director of the Tax Policy Branch, in Ottawa, was candid in admitting to us that there were no studies carried out on the levying of such a tax. These people would do well to visit remote areas.

It is all very fine and well to ask small communities to take charge of their own lives, to develop tourist attractions using what is available to them and what they have but without an air link, which is often the most effective link and the only link in certain areas, their development is threatened.

They can be told to take charge of their lives, to work together, to invest, but, without an air link which is maintained, or which in many cases could be improved upon, in terms of the lack of frequency of flights, these communities are not being given a chance.

It cannot be that all the people who were with the opposition parties yesterday, the people representing all aspects of the airline industry, are wrong.

Yesterday, at the initiative of the Bloc Quebecois, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association, the Air Transport Association of Canada, and the Association of Canadian Travel Agents, joined forces here in Ottawa. All these people stood behind the opposition parties, and behind the Bloc Quebecois' initiative calling on the government to cancel this new tax in Bill C-49. All were unanimous that this tax made absolutely no sense and that it would not encourage economic development or put the economy back on track.

It is rather outrageous to have a government that is juggling with surpluses, even during an economic slowdown. In a few days, the government will be announcing a net surplus of over $9 billion. While it is already squeezing out of the taxpayers' pockets more money than necessary, it has the nerve to introduce this new tax, which will not bring in $2.2 billion over a five year period, as the government claims, but $1 billion more than that. This tax will bring in more than $3 billion to the government, which is already juggling with surpluses.

As we are launching the debate on tax imbalance, the government is creating additional pressure regarding surpluses, by accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars more annually, under the pretence of improving security. Let us face it: this is outrageous.

What we are asking the federal government—and the coalition made it clear yesterday—is to use its surpluses to invest in security. It has enough money to do so. The Minister of Finance is juggling with surpluses. It is incredible. But the government is adding yet another tax.

In conclusion, the government must come to its senses and give up this idea of imposing a new tax. It is not true that this tax will be reviewed in six months. It may be reviewed in six months, but Canada's tax history tells us that when a new tax is introduced, it is very hard to get rid of afterwards. Once it is in effect, forget it. The personal income tax collected by Ottawa was supposed to be a temporary measure. It was meant to finance the war effort. We have been waiting 60 years to see it abolished. Obviously, once a tax is in place, it cannot be removed.

I am seeking the unanimous consent of the House to immediately withdraw this bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. member seeks unanimous consent of the House to immediately withdraw this bill. Does the House give unanimous consent?

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker

It being 1.15 p.m., pursuant to order made on Monday, March 11, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the third ready stage of the bill now before the House.

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

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

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

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Pursuant to Standing Order 45 the recorded division on the proposed motion stands deferred until Monday, March 18, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Devillers Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think you would find unanimous consent to see the clock at 1.30 p.m.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is that agreed?

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2001
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 1.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from February 5 consideration of the motion.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to my colleague's Motion No. 20. My colleague from New Brunswick Southwest moved the motion in reaction to a situation he found himself in where he had put a question on the order paper that the government failed to answer over a period of a year. That frustration has brought it to the point where it is now a debatable motion before the House.

The concern of my hon. colleague and all of us is that we are here representing the people of Canada to hold the government accountable. That is our job in opposition. It is to ensure that when the government makes decisions it is making the best decisions on behalf of Canadians.

The only way that a person can evaluate whether or not the government is doing its job, whether it is doing the best it can for Canadians, is to have access to information. When the opposition asks for information from the government and is denied that information it prohibits us from doing that which we are here to do and that is to ensure that all the facts are on the table, that all the information is out there for perusal, so that we can question the government on how it interpreted information and how it reached the decisions it did.

We in opposition are expressing great concern through the motion. We are trying to get the government members to understand that if parliament is to continue to hold the respect of Canadians we must operate in a manner that earns that respect.

I was confronted this week in the transportation committee with regard to the report that the minister of government services lost. I will not say that the minister lost it. The department lost a report. There was some concern that a good deal of money, half a million dollars, had been spent by government on behalf of Canadian taxpayers to have this report written. After the expenditure of these dollars, lo and behold, this report was not to be seen. One has to question how the government made the decision to hire the company to write the report.

Groupaction was the company that was contracted to write the report for the government. The contract was to propose ways to increase the federal government's visibility and was reviewing a number of programs the government was involved in.

In committee we asked the government representative who this company was, how it got the contract and what happened to the report that was the result of the work that it supposedly did. We were told that there were nine companies that were authorized by the Government of Canada to do this work.

Canada is a pretty large nation and I am sure there are quite a few companies that could do the kind of work that this company was asked to do. We asked for information about how the government picks nine companies from all of those across the country to do the work. We were told that it was the practice of government to preselect and short list companies that will do contract work for the government, not only in this department but in other departments as well.

Keeping that in mind, that it is a matter of practice for the government to short list or preselect companies that qualify to apply for these government contracts, we asked a few more questions.

It came to light, albeit through the media and the questions they were asking and the work they were doing, that three of the pre-selected companies were somewhat related to each other out of these nine. We are not talking about nine unrelated companies. We are talking about maybe six or seven unrelated companies. Three of them having the same president.

When there is some concern expressed about one of these pre-selected companies out of the nine, which really is down to six, who got the contract and then found itself giving money back to the government, it is not unrealistic for the opposition to say that something does not seem quite right. We need to see copies of the report and of the documentation around the report, and furthermore we would like to see some evidence on what criteria the government authored or pre-approved these nine companies. What kind of clearance, security or investigation went on to see whether or not these companies were related to one another?

It is because of incidents like this where Canadian taxpayers pay half a million for a report that gets lost, that was done in questionable circumstances by companies that were pre-selected by the government and that gave money back to the government, that the opposition must have access to documentation and to those things upon which government makes its decision.

If we do not have access to information, how is it possible for the opposition, those of us on this side of the floor, to do our jobs on behalf of Canadians? That is our role. In order for us to be able to do that job we need access to information.

If that was not bad enough, I just read something today, again in the media, where DND will not release the names of visitors or the money spent on them because of their rights to privacy. We heard that Treasury Board did not want to release the expense accounts of ministers because of rights of privacy. It is pretty hard to hold ministers and the Department of National Defence to account as to where tax dollars are being spent if that information is withheld from those people who are here to hold the government to account.

It is interesting that the government does not see the necessity of this function of parliament. Parliament is here, and the opposition is here, to check and question where the government is spending tax dollars. That is why we have estimates and a budget. That is why we have that process. However if parliament is not allowed to have the information where we can question the estimates then we are being denied the facility of doing our jobs.

The PC/DR coalition introduced a new concept in relation to the whole national security issue and anti-terrorism legislation that has been discussed over the last couple of months. In coming up with how we felt government should do business differently and how it should co-ordinate functions and create a new ministry, we recognized the need for a parliamentary committee to be established so that we would have access to highly sensitive information.

The reason we did that was because we saw the need to have parliament holding the government accountable. The only way we can do that is by access to information. We saw the need even in the highly secure areas of anti-terrorism and national security to have a parliamentary committee

It is not like it is not done anywhere else. In the United States information is shared and shared widely so that the opposition can do the job it is elected to do, that is, hold the government accountable.

I would like the government to recognize that and support the motion.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, the motion we are debating is crucial. It is one more symptom of what we in the opposition no matter which party we represent are trying to do. There are times when the only way we can hold the government accountable is to request certain information. Those of us who have been here any length of time recognize that the government has used many vehicles to preempt our ability to obtain information. During my career here a few examples immediately come to mind.

In my role as the critic for aboriginal affairs in the 1993-97 parliament, there were certainly times when the Privacy Act was invoked. There were obvious abuses of obligations that had been incurred by bands in contractual arrangements with people. The original funding which allowed the bands to enter into these arrangements was Canadian taxpayers' money.

In a case in Atlantic Canada, the supreme court of that province made a judgment against the band. The band and the department of Indian affairs were stonewalling. The eventual resolution I had to resort to was to take all the documentation to the auditor general. The auditor general exerted influence through the bureaucracy and, I am assuming, through the minister. That was the only thing that cleared up this financial obligation.

Another example is when members on the fisheries committee collectively wanted observer reports from Atlantic operations to be available from fishing operations out off the Grand Banks and so on. After a monumental Herculean effort, we were finally given access. In fact, had it not been for the amount of media attention focused on that, the government still would have had the levers available to deny those observer reports.

Over the course of time I have also had to use the access to information provisions which Canadian citizens and we as members of parliament are allowed to use to extract information from the government. That has not always been a happy exercise either.

When I wanted to obtain information on what on earth Transport Canada was doing in terms of devolution of west coast docks and wharf facilities, that exercise from start to completion took close to two years. I met roadblock after roadblock and basically had to persevere. It should not have to be that way.

When it comes to this current motion for the production of papers, it is apparent that the member for New Brunswick Southwest has the correct motivations and has shown much persistence. He has tried to do everything through the rules.

It would be most inappropriate if this votable motion were not given serious consideration by all members of the House, not just on the opposition side but on the government side as well. In many ways this is a litmus test for government accountability and government transparency. There is no earthly reason that the request should be denied.

I would hope that members of the House, when called upon to vote on the motion, will find it is the right way to go. I would urge them to do that.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Resuming debate. We will proceed according to Standing Order 97(2) by allowing five minutes to a minister of the crown.

There is no minister of the crown and the mover is not here either for another five minute reply.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Acting on behalf of the mover, would I get another five minutes?

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Definitely not.

The time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

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

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Questions in the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Pursuant to Standing Order 45, the recorded division on the motion stands deferred until the usual time of adjournment on Monday, March 18, 2002.

It being 1.35 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1.35 p.m.)