Debates of Oct. 2nd, 2003
House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was municipalities.
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Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, since February 2003, certain Liberals have been telling us that the problem in health has been solved because an arrangement has been reached between the provincial premiers and the federal government. I would remind hon. members that this was accomplished because we had a knife held to our throats.
Does the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot think it is normal for the present finance minister to make use of thinly disguised blackmail, telling us that if the surplus exceeds $3 billion, then the promised $2 billion will go to the provinces for health services? If it is under that $3 billion figure, tough luck, the provinces will have to scrape up the money somewhere, perhaps through cuts in other areas such as the municipalities, in order to be able to deliver health services. Does he find this normal?
Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Joliette for his question. No, it is not normal. It is not normal that we have just heard the members opposite talking about stability in financing. I was listening to the parliamentary secretary, who was talking about stable arrangements and other things. There is nothing more unstable than federal transfer payments.
One year, they were $800 million. Two years ago, an envelope of $800 million was provided. Now they say for next year, “We'll see...”, because we do not know what the financial situation will be. How can anyone manage a country that way? How can anyone manage Quebec that way? How can anyone run a health system that way, knowing only that this year we have $800 million and next year we do not know how much we will have?
Doctors have to be hired; investments have to be made in medical equipment, which is amortized over 10 or 15 years; and no one knows if there will be enough money to maintain the contracts and invest the funds needed to finance the medical equipment. That is no way to manage. It cannot be managed from day to day, depending on varying surpluses. This is shameless blackmail. But we have to expect that this blackmail will become institutionalized.
They have money coming out their ears and they are feverish with the need for visibility, on the other side of the House. They want the minister to make an appearance when he hands out a cheque; they want the Canadian flag everywhere, and hospitals are nearly wallpapered with Canadian flags. They have now gone into the primary schools. It is amazing. But it is obsessive.
Services as essential as health and education cannot be managed on a day-to-day basis, or with a knife at our throats, which is what the finance minister tells us every day, when he says, “We will see, but we do not know”.
Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member seems more concerned about dogma and about a bankrupt philosophy than he does about the state of municipal governments in the province of Quebec. I use the example of the PQ in 1996 cancelling a 43% rebate to municipal governments without any consultation.
If he was really concerned about the state of infrastructure, concerned about the state of cities in the province of Quebec, he would be working with the federal government and with the UMQ and others in Quebec in order to make sure that we have stable funding, but he is concerned about jurisdiction. He is not concerned about the roads. He is not concerned about the playgrounds. He is not concerned about the sewers. He is concerned about ideology, an ideology which has been certainly repudiated in the fact that the treatment of municipal governments under the PQ was abysmal.
I would like him to comment.
Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
Mr. Speaker, is it dogma to be concerned about the sick, who do not have adequate care because of federal cuts? Is it dogma to deny young parents an adequate parental leave system, when we are perfectly entitled to $50 million from the employment insurance fund, the one that gets pilfered every year? This year, $3 billion will be stolen. Is it also dogma to denounce the actions of the federal government?
Is it dogma to say that all the provinces, except Alberta, are currently having financial difficulties because of the $25 billion in cuts, since 1995, to transfer payments for health, education and social services? Is that dogma? Is it not a question of being concerned about the well-being of others? The member's remarks are shameful. This is not dogma.
The Bloc Quebecois serves Quebeckers, and Quebeckers only. We lay awake at night worrying about them. We dream about improving their well-being.
I do not know what the member dreams about. In any case, his virtual country does not resemble the real one. The real country has an unacceptable poverty rate for a country like Canada. In reality, people, especially the elderly, do not have adequate care and do not receive a guaranteed income supplement because this entitlement was hidden from them for years. That is the real country.
Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure today that I rise to discuss and to support the motion to see a gas tax transfer to Canadian municipalities. It is one element of fiscal imbalance that exists. I agree very strongly with my colleagues from Quebec that the issue of fiscal imbalance in Canada between the federal government and the provincial governments is a reality and I agree with the provincial Liberal minister of finance in Quebec.
I agree with the Quebec finance minister, Yves Séguin. The fiscal imbalance must be addressed. It is not fair for the federal government to have almost all the powers to levy taxes and for the provincial governments to be responsible for providing all the essential services such as health and education.
It is wrong to have a government federally that has the power to raise money and has most of the tax levers, and then to have provincial governments with so much constitutionally enshrined responsibilities to provide the essential services of health care and education. These are growing costs. The cutbacks from the federal side in terms of the transfers to the provinces, combined with the rapid growth in costs of providing the essential services at the provincial level have led to a tremendous fiscal imbalance between the federal and provincial governments. I will be coming back to that later in my comments.
First, the responsibilities of municipal governments in terms of the expenses to provide necessary infrastructure and investment have grown significantly over the last 10 years or 20 years. The municipal governments have even fewer fiscal levers than the provincial governments.
When there are federal cutbacks which lead to provincial cutbacks and ultimately to less money for municipalities, the buck stops at the municipal level. There is really no place except for property taxes for municipal governments to turn to try to raise funds.
The infrastructure programs have been flawed by partisanship in a lot of cases and political interference. That is one of the flaws of it. We have municipalities that know exactly where their infrastructure investments have to be made and ought to be made but then we have the role of the federal government which is getting more involved than it ought to be in terms of the direction of infrastructure money. I do believe that partisanship has played a role in terms of the infrastructure programs that has reduced the ultimate effectiveness of the infrastructure programs.
With the infrastructure programs there is the issue of the candy toss approach. These programs appear every several years and there is a rush by municipalities to submit applications for funding. To have that sort of cyclical approach to important infrastructure funding and investment is simply wrong.
There should be an ongoing program or vehicle through which municipalities can obtain the funding they need to make the types of important investments that are required. It ought not to be cyclical in this sort of candy toss approach where there is a rush for the money every several years when these infrastructure programs appear. This would be a step in the right direction.
We also have to recognize that the municipalities and the municipal governments that are closer to the people being affected by these decisions have a better capacity to determine where to spend the money. There is a democratic accountability issue too, that the same government that has the responsibility to provide the service ought to have the ability to raise the revenue. Without that there is no democratic accountability. It is hard to hold a politician at the municipal or in fact provincial or federal levels accountable for the decisions being made.
I also believe we should work with the provinces and consider the idea of federal tax free or federal tax advantaged municipal bonds. These exist in the U.S. Tax free municipal bonds have helped municipalities across the United States raise billions of dollars for infrastructure investment. The beauty of that system is it represents an indirect transfer from the federal government to the municipalities because of the federal tax free nature of the bonds.
The power ultimately is with the municipal unit, the municipal government and the municipal leaders who can determine how much money they need and where the investment will take place. These bonds are regulated through bond rating agencies. It is good from a Canadian investor perspective. It provides another relatively safe and secure investment for Canadian investors.
These bonds would be good for the investment community. They would be good for municipalities and really good for all Canadians. Canadians would find that they would be well served by their municipalities having the capacity to raise the money and invest in the types of infrastructure requirements that they know are the appropriate ones for their unique situations.
That is an idea that we ought to study in this place and in committee. We could determine whether or not it would be possible and what the advantages or perhaps the disadvantages would be of a federal tax free or a federal tax advantage to the municipal bond approach here in Canada. It would be just another idea that we ought to be considering when we are talking about finding ways to address municipal infrastructure.
The infrastructure issue is extraordinarily important. We have had a tremendous deficit in infrastructure funding and maintenance across Canada. I do not think there is a municipality in Canada that has not faced significant problems in terms of meeting basic infrastructure. We are talking about sewage and water type infrastructure requirements. These are not the types of requirements that can be ignored.
The cost of not dealing with them on an ongoing basis from a preventive maintenance perspective and an ongoing investment perspective is compounded by a decline in the infrastructure. It is bad economics to let the infrastructure requirements of our municipalities grow, and in fact, to let the quality of Canadian infrastructure decline.
Whether we are talking about highways, sewage systems or water systems, it is simply bad economics not to provide a funding mechanism through which provincial or federal governments can raise the money they need to pay for the essential infrastructure that their constituents require.
I would like to return to the federal-provincial fiscal imbalance issue. It does not make a lot of sense to have a federal government that has not been very good at dealing with issues such as trade disputes, has yet to provide a coherent foreign policy that is in Canada's national interest, and has not been able to invest in or manage a military effectively. It does not make a lot of sense to have a government that has not been very good at those purely federal areas of trade, foreign policy and the military, just to give three examples.
To have a government that has not been good at those areas interfere in areas that are purely under provincial jurisdiction, such as health care and education, does not make a lot of sense to me. It does not demonstrate a respect for the constitutionally enshrined jurisdictional rights of the provinces.
Beyond that, it is bad economic policy because in the same way that municipal governments have a better ability to recognize their own infrastructure needs and the best way to meet those needs, provincial governments in many cases have a better ability to analyze their own unique situations and to provide unique and, in some cases, novel approaches to health care and education.
It should not be a constant battle between a federal government that wants to have the control over the constitutionally enshrined jurisdictional enshrined areas of health care and education. It simply does not make sense from a fiscal perspective to have that level of interference.
We need to provide more respect for the provinces. We must encourage the provinces to try new approaches, whether it is in health care or in education.
We must keep in mind that medicare, our national socialized health care system, evolved from an experiment in the Province of Saskatchewan. Provincial experiments, whether in health care, education or other areas of public policy, can lead to national policy. However, that can only happen if we encourage provinces to try new approaches.
We must respect provinces not just in terms of them being best able to analyze their own situations and make the appropriate investments in the right areas, but also to respect the potential role for provinces as laboratories in public policy, and to, in fact, harness that sort of entrepreneurial approach that can occur at a provincial level that is more difficult to emulate at the federal level, particularly in the areas of health care and education.
Therefore, I think we need a new approach in federal-provincial relationships. They should be based on respect and a recognition of not only what is the appropriate role from a constitutional perspective for provinces but from a functionality perspective.
We should look at how we can develop better public policy in a wide range of areas by working with the provinces as laboratories for new approaches in public policy and best practice approaches. We should encourage the sharing of information between provinces and where there is a role for the federal government, for instance, to help identify best practice models from around the world.
I would assert that there could be a role where the federal government identifies some of these best practice models from around the world, whether it is in health care or education or any other area, even in terms of new approaches to infrastructure investment and makes available to the provinces, on a pilot program basis, funding if the provinces want to try a new approach in a particular area.
That would be very different than ramming down the throats of the provinces grandiose federal schemes to address issues. It would enable provinces to try new approaches on a voluntary basis and to participate in or to utilize some of the great ideas that have been developed outside of our borders to address some of these issues. That is just another idea on how we ought to consider federal-provincial relations.
One of the things we should always consider is the principle of democratic accountability. I will give an example in terms of federal-provincial relations. Currently, say in the Province of Ontario, if an individual goes to a provincial MPP and complains about the health care system, that provincial MPP will say that it is not the fault of Ontario, that it is the federal government that cut the transfers to the province. The same constituent then goes to the federal government MP in the Province of Ontario and complains about the health care system and the cuts to the transfers to the provinces. That federal MP might just say that it is not the federal government's fault, it is the fault of the provincial government. There is endless finger pointing. At the end of the day, the constituent does not know who to blame or where the accountability lies.
The provincial governments that face electorates every three to four years--and God help the provincial governments that do not do their utmost to provide the best quality in health care and education because those are two areas of public policy Canadians are very demanding of--face electorates based on those issues.
Therefore, it stands to reason that they are going to do their best to provide the best quality education and health care to their constituents in those provinces. As such, if they were to have access to the funding to provide those services, I think we could have a lot of trust in provincial governments to do their utmost to provide the best services.
We must get away from that patriarchal approach of the federal government, that sort of nanny state, and the federal government knows best approach on a wide range of these issues. It is not only consistent with respect to provincial jurisdictional rights but beyond that, it is good policy and will result in better services, better infrastructure, better health care, and better education for Canadians.
For a variety of reasons, it makes sense to find ways to provide a better ability for municipal and provincial governments to raise the money they need to provide the services they require.
Another debate we can have at another time in the House is how we can change Canada's equalization system to get back to the original principles of providing equal levels of services with equal levels of taxation across Canada and change it from what it is today.
It is a static approach that needs to be updated. It is an approach that is designed to take recipient provinces and find ways for them to grow their economies and prosper. The objective is to grow from being recipients to being contributors to equalization as an end game as opposed to accepting that the equalization system will continue to provide these equal levels of taxation on services. Instead of being satisfied with that, provinces would actually focus on changing equalization so that we strengthen the ability of the provinces to grow their industrial base to go from being recipients to being contributors.
That is a debate for another day, but it is an important one, particularly in light of the recognition that tax levers have a greater impact on growth and prosperity than would have been the case 10 to 20 years ago.
This is about respect for municipal governments. It is about enabling municipal governments to raise the money they need to invest in the infrastructure their constituents require. It is good fiscal policy. It is good from a democratic accountability perspective and we are supportive of this motion.
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wish to seek unanimous consent of the House to revert to statements by ministers to permit the Minister of National Defence and a spokesperson for each party to comment on that which the Minister of National Defence will briefly describe to the House.
Is there unanimous consent to revert to statements by ministers at this time?
Some hon. members
October 2nd, 2003 / 11:55 a.m.
John McCallum Minister of National Defence
Mr. Speaker, I want to express my appreciation to all the parties in the House for promptly setting time aside today to deal with a matter that is close to the hearts of all Canadians.
It is my sad duty to inform the House and the people of Canada that casualties have been sustained by Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
While on patrol today, two soldiers were killed and three were wounded. All the details are not as yet clear, but I am told that the injuries are not life-threatening. It appears that casualties occurred as a result of a vehicle striking an explosive device.
The names of the casualties are Sergeant Robert Alan Short and Corporal Robbie Christopher Beerenfenger. The injured soldiers are Corporal Thomas Jared Stirling, Master Corporal Jason Cory Hamilton, and Corporal Cameron Lee Laidlaw.
I know that I speak on behalf of all members when I express great sadness at this news. I know too that our sadness is nothing compared to the pain being felt by their families and friends.
Our decision to deploy troops to Afghanistan was made in full and resolute knowledge that it would be a dangerous mission. The campaign against terrorism was joined from the beginning. Canada has been on the front lines, with ships patrolling the Persian gulf and troops on the ground in the troubled nation of Afghanistan, defending our values, and doing our duty.
The mission in Afghanistan is fundamental to Canada's security. Even though it is not immediately evident, when our soldiers patrol the streets of Kabul, they are also keeping the streets of Canada safe.
As they have done so many times before, Canadian Forces are helping to secure and rebuild a wartorn country. They are, quite literally, saving lives.
Sadly, today we have seen there is a price to pay for trying to help others. But it remains our duty to protect the Afghan people.
Even though we knew that our soldiers would be in harm's way, it does not lessen our shock as we try to absorb this terrible news. It is a painful reminder that defending our values and doing our duty as a nation can come with a very high price.
Earlier today, I spoke with Lieutenant General Hillier, Chief of the Land Staff, and he told me that the army has three priorities at this time: first, to return the deceased with dignity; second, to mourn with the families while supporting them in their grief; and third, to say farewell with respect.
I am certain that I speak for all Canadians when I say that we support the Canadian Forces, and that their priorities are ours too.
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the sentiments and the words of the hon. Minister of National Defence on behalf of the government.
Today is a national day of mourning. It is the second time Canadians have been killed in pursuit of a lasting peace in wartorn Afghanistan.
On behalf of the Canadian Alliance, as Her Majesty's official opposition, I wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and fellow soldiers of those who lost their lives this morning. I also wish to extend our sincere best wishes for a speedy and full recovery to those injured.
While we may have many questions surrounding this tragedy, today is not the day for them or for recrimination. Today is a day for mourning our loss.
When our Canadian forces personnel undertook this mission, they understood the risks and dangerous conditions in Afghanistan. However, no one can be truly prepared for the pain and grief felt by soldiers and the nation as a whole that they so proudly serve.
I want to close by once again offering the official opposition's most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families.
Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC
Mr. Speaker, we got the terrible news this morning during a session of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs. We had just begun to sit when we heard the news.
It brought back memories of the day we learned the bad news about the four lives lost in Operation Apollo. We always find such news profoundly distressing and are at a loss for words to express our dismay.
I am sure the families are hard hit by this terrible news, but I am relieved to hear that every effort will be made to repatriate the bodies with honour and respect.
Missions of this type are often seen as peacekeeping missions, but this mission to Afghanistan was far from that. It is in a way a mission of stabilization, but its main purpose is to help establish security. This incident proves that the situation in Afghanistan at this time is very dangerous. Our military personnel are over there to do what is necessary to restore security. In so doing, they are serving Quebeckers and Canadians. Sometimes we find it hard to grasp the fact that people need to go so far from home in order to help make this world a safer place to live in.
That task puts people in danger of losing their lives. And unfortunately, lives are lost.
On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I wish to extend our sympathies to the families of these soldiers, and to tell them how devastated we are by today's news. We must keep in mind that they fell in the service of justice and love on this planet. People like them are often needed in order to restore the security that is necessary if we are to live—as soon as possible, we hope—in a world of peace and love. They have made the supreme sacrifice to achieve that goal.
We in the Bloc Quebecois wish the families to know that we share their sorrow and that our thoughts are with them. We will never forget that their loved ones died in the performance of their duty in order to achieve love and justice on this planet.
Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy and saddened heart that I rise today to address the House after learning of the death of two of our Canadian heroes who were killed today, along with three others who were injured, as a result of a landmine explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan.
On behalf of myself, my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and indeed all Canadians, I want to pay tribute to those two fallen Canadian solders and their families. I also extend our collective prayers for a speedy recovery to the three other Canadian soldiers who were injured as a result of the explosion.
Our nation has sent over 1,800 brave men and women to serve in Kabul with the mission of bringing stability to this part of the world. The work is tough, the task is daunting and the job is challenging, to a point beyond what many of us can even imagine. The loss which we are all feeling today in the House is certainly a loss for all Canada.
Those who serve in our armed forces are the best of what Canada has to offer. I congratulate those who remain in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world, representing our great country abroad. I wish them all Godspeed.
To conclude, I once again want to pay specific attention to the two heroes we lost today. We are saddened, we are grateful and, most of all, we will never forget the loyal service these two soldiers gave to their country because in the end they gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my leader, Jack Layton and the federal NDP caucus, I want to join with colleagues in the House today in mourning the loss of Sergeant Short and Corporal Beerenfenger, and to extend to their families our sympathy and our respect for the sacrifice that their family members have made and for the ongoing sacrifice that they will make as a result of the events in Afghanistan today. We also of course wish a speedy recovery for those who were injured in this event and we hope that soon they will be back to full health.
We have a peacekeeping memorial and we have it because Canadian peacekeepers and peacemakers put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis when they take part in these kinds of operations. It is something we should show great respect for, and today we realize once again and very painfully that this is the kind of danger that attends this kind of activity on the part of Canada. However it is something these soldiers do willingly, something they volunteer for, and we should take every opportunity to pay our greatest respects to all who volunteer, particularly to those who have paid the supreme sacrifice.
Today we say, as we say on November 11 and on so many other occasions: at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.
I believe it would be appropriate if hon. members would rise to observe a moment of silence out of respect for those we have lost.
[Editor's Note: The House stood in silence]
I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement government orders will be extended by 11 minutes.