House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

The Budget
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I always enjoy listening to my accountant friend across the way. He can explain things in a really good way so I am going to ask him for a really good explanation.

He lauded the move on the part of the government to go to accrual accounting. He said we now have to account on the public record for all of the liabilities we have. I would like to know whether that includes the liability for the pensions not only for members of Parliament but for all of Canadians, and whether it includes the unfunded liability of the Canada pension plan. We know there is much less money in the fund than the present value of the amount that could be collected from it. Is that going to be included?

He talked a little about our national debt per se. I would like him to explain how, by going to accrual accounting, magically we lost around $20 billion of our debt, just by adopting a new accounting method.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Madam Speaker, to answer the initial question, I believe that the CPP liability is included in those figures. I am less sure about the old age pension and some of those things. Maybe we could look at that another day.

I talked about the $30 billion that sort of disappeared from the debt. He said $20 billion; I get $30 billion. Be that as it may, it is a recognition that there are significant assets that the government has.

The problem with this issue is, what is the value of the House of Commons? It would presuppose that somebody would want to buy it for a hotel or something, I suppose, but that is the reality within those statements. Some people say that they are suspect. If we are never going to sell the assets what are they really valued at? That is the move toward accrual accounting.

One thing I did want to touch on is that our seniors have not been mentioned in this document nor indeed in many of our budget documents for years and years. I am concerned about seniors who are trying to live on the combination of the old age pension and the GIS. It is about $12,000 a year. It seems to me that they are the people we are ignoring constantly year after year.

It is time that we sat down, reviewed the GIS, and announced whether we should increase it. People are phoning my office. They are being hit with high energy costs, especially during this cold winter. They are the people quite frankly who cannot afford it. They are not the people who stand outside the House of Commons with placards and phone us on a day to day basis but I think it is time that we started to do something for our senior population.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, as you know, I am not one to dominate. I was looking around to see whether any other member wanted to ask a question and none stood, so here I am again.

The member mentioned the problem of our national debt. He talked about the fact that it is always bragged about. The Liberals love to brag that the debt as a proportion of the country's gross domestic product has gone down. That is due greatly to the fact that the economy has really taken off in the last nine years. The government keeps on saying it is because of the very fine government.

I contend that if it were not for the mismanagement in the government, our gross domestic product and certainly the taxation levels and everything could have been much more favourable to the taxpayers. We would have had a better economy, even better than it was. We could have had lower taxes but that never happened.

I would like to have the member's comment about the fact that the only time to pay down debt is when there is a surplus. Does he share my regret that the finance minister in this budget chose not to take a major portion of it to reduce the actual numerical value of our national debt?

The Budget
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Madam Speaker, I always enjoy answering the questions from the member for Elk Island.

He asked if we could not do it better. The reality is that Canada leads the OECD countries in economic performance. Can we do it better? I suppose we could, but the reality is we are doing pretty darn good relative to most other countries.

We have to look very closely at the budget papers that show things like contingency reserves and so forth. Some $3 billion a year will be applied to the debt. The estimates of revenues and expenditures of the Government of Canada are probably, and have been historically, on the conservative side. We are hopeful there will be more down payments made on the debt as we go forward.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I am sharing my time with the member for Cumberland--Colchester.

I am pleased to speak to a very important facet of what we do in the House of Commons and that obviously is putting budget numbers together to take us into the next budget year and in this particular case, into the next 10 budget years. I do not see any expenditures here that are not extended for a period of time upward of three to ten years.

There is no question that the budget is simply a matter of spend, spend, spend. It goes back to a Trudeau era budget where the Liberals found their left-leaning ideology and decided that instead of taking a focused approach with respect to the Canadian public's money, to shotgun this thing and try to hit just about every possible area of their desires. It goes back quite frankly to the 1993 red book. The Liberals were not able to put in place a very good financial situation.

The first thing that should be done in a budget of this nature when there is a potential for a surplus is to retire the debt. A relative of mine who is a farmer sometimes asks for my counsel as to what he should do when he has a little spare money left over, which in farming nowadays is almost nonexistent. My comment to him is very simple. The best investment anyone can make, and that includes governments, is to retire debt. If people retire their debt and can remove that yoke of debt from around their necks, then they have the ability to put in place the types of programs that the Liberals have identified in this budget.

The Liberals have not done either. They certainly have not retired the debt, and they have not received the benefits of retiring that debt to put it back into programs. They have effectively budgeted for zero surplus going into the next budget year. That must be the legacy the Prime Minister has been looking for. It does not matter whether there is a surplus or whether the debt is retired, it is simply a position put forward by the Prime Minister. It is a matter of spending money willy-nilly so the Prime Minister can walk away from the House with what he thinks is his legacy.

There are a number of areas that have not been dealt with terribly well in the budget. I mentioned debt reduction and the accumulation of surplus. I would be remiss if I did not mention agriculture.

It was mentioned earlier today in some of the questions and comments that the agricultural section of the budget was very small. There was one particular clause. All it did was reinforce and re-announce the APF program in agriculture with dollars already in place over the past number of years and simply extended six years into the future. It allows for $1.1 billion for a range of particular agricultural programs. However it does not speak to trade injury, which has been brought to the attention of the House and brought to the minister's attention in the past, caused by Americans and Europeans in particular. It does not take into consideration the huge discrepancy between the safety net programs of Europeans and Americans and that proposed under the APF for Canadian agriculture.

I have one quote from the president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers of Manitoba. It speaks to the whole section on agriculture:

At best, this is an agriculture maintenance budget with very few announcements to help agriculture move ahead.

As we know, in agriculture particularly, moving ahead is what we have to do. Unfortunately, the budget does not speak to that.

Infrastructure is another deficiency in the budget. The government has indicated in the past when I have asked questions in the House that the infrastructure budget is to be acclaimed by all.

There is $3 billion for infrastructure in the budget. That in itself is a good step, but when we analyze it, we find that $2 billion of that has been allocated to special projects. In a previous life I had the opportunity to deal with special project dollars that came from the federal and provincial governments to the municipal governments, where the moneys really should be expended. Special projects have a tendency of being caught up in bureaucracy and politics. Unfortunately the dollars do not necessarily go to the right projects at the right time. That is a travesty because the country absolutely requires solid, well deserved infrastructure in order for us to continue with our economy on a positive note.

The other $1 billion is going to be over a period of 10 years. Here we go with this wonderful smoke and mirrors of the budget. We could have had $3 billion dumped into infrastructure but unfortunately in the first budget year of 2003-04 it is $100 million. The second budget year it is $150 million. I have experience with a municipal organization which says that somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50 billion is needed to put in the proper infrastructure that the country needs.

One hundred million dollars in the next budget year would fund one major sewage treatment plant in a major city. In all of Canada it would fund one. What we need is more dollars invested now as opposed to 10 years from now when the Prime Minister will not be here, and we hope beyond hope that the Liberal government will not be here.

There are other issues we have to deal with in the budget, one of them being security. There is very little, $50 million, for the next year, and $25 million in 2004-05 for a security contingency reserve.

The Canadian economy is based upon open borders. Two billion dollars a day move across the American-Canadian border so that our economy can continue with the strength it currently has in the world. Not to have addressed security issues more in this budget is a glaring omission by the government. If we cannot make sure that the border is an open border, as Canadians it is going to have a terrible effect on our economy.

Another glaring mistake in this budget was the employment insurance premium. It was 2¢, but with the smoke and mirrors of the government it says it is 12¢. It had announced a reduction in employment insurance premiums in the previous budget and that is included in this budget which means it is 12¢. The fact is that in budget 2003-04, it is a 2¢ reduction.

People in my constituency continually come to my office and say that this is not meant to be general revenues for the federal government. It is an insurance program that is meant to be an insurance program. That means it should balance itself. It should not have a $7 billion to $8 billion surplus on an annual basis so that the Prime Minister and his ministers can spend it on their little pet projects.

There are a lot of deficiencies. I cannot possibly deal with all of the deficiencies in the budget in the one minute and 24 seconds I have left. To sum it up, there is no surplus, no debt reduction, nothing for agriculture, an infrastructure program that is basically smoke and mirrors and spending in a timeframe 10 years in the future, and employment insurance that should have a much larger reduction in the premiums being paid not only by the employees but the employers, so we can get back to some semblance of what a real insurance program is.

I know the government members stand and say that they have done a wonderful job in the 2003-04 budget. What I really know is what people tell me on the streets of my city, my community and my constituency. They are saying that the government failed miserably. It has over 50 spending examples in this budget and not one dollar for debt reduction. It has over 50 spending initiatives in this budget, in a shotgun approach, and it has not focused on the real issues of the day that Canadians want the government to deal with.

Has the government dealt with health care? Yes. I did not mention that because it negotiated that prior to even the tabling of the budget. In fact the government leaked so many things about the budget prior to the budget. I know that the parliamentary secretary would like to debate with me on infrastructure, so I will have an opportunity to speak again.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I have great respect for my friend across the way. He is a former mayor. He and I fought a number of battles together on the issue of infrastructure when we were on the FCM together. I am rather surprised to hear his comments. It is like a pyromaniac giving lessons on fire safety. That party over there of course, we take no lessons from them either.

My friend should remember that in 1983, when the FCM proposed the infrastructure program, his government in 1984 let it lie dormant for nine years. Since this government came in we have had three very successful national infrastructure programs.

The member says that it is not enough. Let us take a look at the facts. First, we have a commitment for the first time in history of a 10 year national infrastructure program. The member forgot to say anything about leveraging provincial and municipal dollars. He also forgot to say that the minister said this was a down payment. I am quite astounded that my friend would make such comments, knowing the struggles we had in the early 1990s when his party was in power and it refused to do anything.

I would like him to comment on leveraging and how, with co-operation and partnership, we will work with the provinces and municipalities to deal with national infrastructure issues.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I do not think the hon. member's government has anything to say with respect to provincial-federal co-operation. His government and his Prime Minister know not of any co-operative federalism. If anything, they seem to want to push programs down the throats of provincial governments, inclusive of health care, inclusive of education and now inclusive of infrastructure.

I should tell the hon. member, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, that the $100 million in this budget year for infrastructure for municipalities is nothing but tokenism. The Liberals say that they have the programs and the vision with respect to infrastructure in this country. That is absolutely not true because $100 million in this next budget year and $150 million in the following budget year for Canada is absolutely deplorable. What happens in the third year of the budget? Does that mean the new leader of the Liberal Party will simply walk away from the commitment of infrastructure? I would much rather see the long term financing program.

The member had one good thing to say. There should be a long term funding program. However the Liberals should put the numbers in place. They should not leave a dark hole with about $2.75 billion that nobody knows how it will be expended. Will it be expended in those areas where there are Liberal contractors and Liberal partisanship? Is that where it will be expended? Show me where it will be put in the municipalities where it is really meant to be. What the member just said right now is completely deplorable.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

Madam Speaker, I am practically out of breath listening to the debate back and forth. In fact it is questions and comments. Maybe the fellows should just grab a quick glass of water and they will have time to regroup.

Nonetheless, I was interested in what the member had to say and appreciate his input on infrastructure for sure, because he certainly knows about that as a former mayor.

I would like him to address the national debt situation. I think he agrees with me that if we have a few bucks in our pockets, why go and spend it all? Although I realize there is a $3 billion contingency fund in there, it seems to me that we have not seen spending like this for quite a while, since the last government was in place. I know the hon. member was not here but I was, and we watched that. However I will not get into a squabble about it.

The problem is we have an enormous national debt. Regardless of who rang it up that high, how will we solve it, rather than just saying that we have a fistful of dollars? What will we do about that in terms of the national debt?

The Budget
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question from my new best friend. I would certainly like to say that the Progressive Conservative Party has put a policy forward with that very issue. There should be, as there should be in infrastructure, an ongoing understanding as to how many dollars are there for what length of time.

We are saying that debt reduction should be a line item in the budget. The government has failed to do in that this budget year and it has put everything into general revenues to be expended. There should be a line item there and a long term plan. It should be a 20 year or 25 year plan. We did not get this debt in one day and we will not get rid of the debt in one day. We need a long term, well thought out, fiscal plan that says how the debt will be reduced over the next 20 years. We would like to have that line item in the budget where there always will be debt reduction.

Forget the possibility of $3 billion going into debt reduction from a contingency plan. The Liberals will spend the money and they will not put into debt reduction.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to participate in this debate. I will hone in on an area that came to my attention late last year, and that is the disability tax credit issue which affects people with disabilities.

The Government of Canada has a recognition system that allows people with disabilities to claim an extra expense against their taxes to reduce their cost of living. People with disabilities often have extra costs, perhaps for canes, ramps into their houses, hearing aids, low counters or whatever the disability may be. The Government of Canada alleges to have recognized that these people incur extra costs in their day to day lives that people without disabilities do not endure. This process is now in place.

However I think in November 2001 the government decided to reassess everyone receiving the disability tax credit. It sent 106,000 letters to people who had qualified for the disability tax credit in some cases for decades. Some of these people had lost their legs. Some people in my own riding, who brought this to my attention, had cancer or terminal cancer. All of a sudden after decades of qualifying for the disability tax credit, because of the new way the government looked at it, people were determined to no longer be disabled. Even though, for instance, one person had been run over by a train, had lost a leg and was still disabled, someone in the department decided that person was no longer disabled and in fact was now able.

As a result of the number of constituents that came to my office with the issue, I carried out an access to information and found that the government sent out 106,000 letters to people who were already qualified for and received the disability tax credit. They were told by the government that they had to re-qualify and reapply under a new set of rules and a new dandy little form.

Of the 106,000 the government sent out, 36,000 of these disabled people did not even respond either because they were intimidated, or they could not afford to have the doctor perform the required assessment or for whatever reason. Right off the bat the government took them off the disability tax credit rolls. The access to information report also indicated that of the 70,000 who did respond, 22,000 of them were refused after having qualified in many cases for decades for the disability tax credit.

Every member of Parliament has people in his or her community with disabilities. Every one of us were approached by people who had always qualified for the disability tax credit. All of a sudden now, under the new rules and the new form, they no longer qualified.

A lot of pressure was put on the government, and I give full marks to the minister. She did stop the process when it was obviously wrong. I know in my case she met with me and went through the whole issue. She explained exactly what was happening, that they were reviewing process, that they were going to change the rules and perhaps address it again.

I was really surprised to see it addressed in the budget. It is obvious that much of it is as a result of the March 2002 federal court appeal decision. When it was rendered, it was interpreted as expanding the eligibility for the disability tax credit. It goes on to say that people who cannot feed themselves should be deemed disabled.

In the budget the government proposes to change the wording of the disability tax credit. It is going to replace the phrase “feeding and dressing” with the phrase “feeding or dressing”, which is a good thing. Prior to this, if people could feed themselves but not dress themselves, they were not considered to be disabled. It is one or the other now under the new proposal. If people cannot either feed themselves or dress themselves, then they are considered disabled. That is a little movement ahead.

Then right off the bat the government starts putting exclusions in saying that the act will exclude “the activity of preparing food, to the extent that the time associated with the activity would not have been necessary in the absence of a dietary restriction or regime”. In other words, if disabled people cannot prepare their own food, that does not count. The only thing that counts is if they cannot feed themselves. It seems to me that this is getting pretty specific and is not giving any disabled person the benefit of the doubt, even a little.

Then it goes on to state, “excludes any of the activities of identifying, finding, shopping for or otherwise procuring clothing”. If people are not able to shop, that does not count. If people are not able to identify clothing, that does not matter. They are still considered able. It is only if they cannot put on clothing.

It seems to me that the government is nickeling and diming and not giving any consideration to disabled persons. It is doing everything it can to disqualify people and still meet the criteria of the decision in the Federal Court of Appeal. It is unacceptable for the government to do this.

Another thing that continues to bother me is the government requires a disabled Canadian to get a doctor's opinion as to whether he or she is disabled. If the doctor says that person is disabled, the application goes into the office. However anybody can overrule the doctor. The government still has not changed this.

The government does not need a doctor to pass an opinion but the disabled Canadian does. That opinion can be overruled by a clerk, rather than a doctor overruling a doctor. If the government requires a disabled Canadian to have a doctor's opinion, then only a doctor should be able to overrule that opinion. That is not included and I do not think there is any intention to change that. How can we have this double standard where a disabled Canadian requires a doctor's opinion but someone else other than a doctor can overrule that opinion?

The other thing I have found in my experience as a member of Parliament in dealing with people with disabilities, is people with emotional disabilities have an extremely hard time qualifying because they cannot hold up an X-ray or a diagnosis that says exactly what is wrong. It is up to the doctor. Often the opinions of doctors are not considered, or trusted or accepted. Someone can overrule that doctor's opinion. That should never be allowed to happen. If a psychiatrist says that a person is emotionally disabled, then only a psychiatrist should be allowed to overrule that opinion, and then only after a second opinion.

We will be pressing for this to be dealt with on behalf of disabled Canadians. At least there is some movement in the budget. Because we have raised the issue so many times, the minister has at least acknowledged there is a problem and is reviewing the process.

However the government still has not gone far enough. It is still trying to nickel and dime disabled people. It is trying to prevent disabled people from qualifying. It is right here in the budget book, where it gets down to one word “feeding” or “dressing”. However it then defines feeding and dressing to ensure that it is difficult for a person with a disability to qualify. It seems to be an attack on the people with disabilities and an attempt to disqualify them from the disability tax credit. If they get through that, however, someone in the government can overrule the doctors. That is absolutely wrong. It is a double standard. If the patient requires a doctor's opinion, then the government should require a doctor to overrule the doctor's opinion.

We will be pressing those issues as we go forward with this. We will ensure that we get as much consideration for the people with disabilities as we can. This is not a big request on behalf of Canadians. The government has already eliminated half the people who qualified for the credit for decades because 36,0000 people who did not respond to the form. Out of the people who did respond, 22,000 were refused, even though they had qualified for decades prior to that.

Right off the bat, the government cuts its cost of the disability tax credit by half and now it is trying to do it more by juggling the words around to ensure that it just barely meets the court decision but does not give the benefit of the doubt to disabled Canadians.

We will be watching this very closely. We want the government to consult with the disabled community and the disabled association representatives who know what these people go through. They know the hurdles and the road blocks they face every day. We want the government to ensure that these people are part of this process in developing the new rules and regulations in the budget.

Fredericton Boys and Girls Club
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Fredericton, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to congratulate the Fredericton Boys and Girls Club which has been awarded a grant of $32,000 from the Royal Bank of Canada Foundation to support its after school program for 2002-03.

The RBC Financial Group partners with local charitable organizations focused on meeting a growing challenge in today's society: keeping kids safe and positively engaged after the school day is complete.

The Fredericton Boys and Girls Club after school program gives a real boost to the skills and knowledge that participants gain in a formal classroom, offering a wide variety of activities that address the full range of what a child needs to develop fully.

These programs are truly a third watch, bridging the gap between school and home, helping kids, strengthening our families, enriching our communities and helping to ensure the future health and prosperity of Canada.

Child Pornography
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, recently the Toronto police arrested four more individuals in the investigation Project Snowball. In one case a dentist had over 50,000 images on his computers and over 2,000 home movies of children being sexually abused.

Child pornography is not a victimless crime. These images are of real children. Unfortunately, here in Canada very little is being done to find out who these children are and to stop the abuse.

In 1998 Canada was an observer to an international program that was pioneered in Sweden and has enabled investigators to determine the origin of these seized images, and thereby assist them in identifying the children being abused.

The technology is out there and it is affordable. When will Canada go from being an observer to a full participant in this program and stop the production of this disgusting material? When will we have our own national image database and catch up with the rest of the world?

Order of Canada
Statements By Members

February 25th, 2003 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Tirabassi Niagara Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to my constituent, Dr. Jacques Dubois, who has received the Order of Canada.

For over 50 years Dr. Dubois has been an important influence on various aspects in the City of Welland in the francophone community. A general practitioner, he has worked in the fields of health, education, culture and social causes. As chair of the public school board, he increased the number of elementary schools in the area. At the provincial level he chaired a commission of inquiry on health care delivered in French in the clinics and hospitals. As a volunteer, he contributed to the development of charitable organizations such as the Red Cross and Club Richelieu.

On behalf of the citizens from my riding of Niagara Centre, I would like to thank Dr. Dubois for his dedication to our region.

Marijuana
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, recently the Mississauga mayor's youth advisory committee considered the issue of decriminalization of marijuana. Extracts of their conclusion are as follows: “The decriminalization of marijuana fundamentally contradicts education programs that have been running for years that strive to prevent and to curb substance and drug use among youth. Decriminalization would encourage Canadian youth not only to use marijuana, but to move onto more dangerous drugs, which can pose a more serious threat. Decriminalization only makes drug abuse more accessible to a larger population”.

They conclude by saying “we would just be giving in and surrendering to drug addicts and illegal drug dealers”.

I want to thank Scott Norsworthy and the entire youth advisory committee for their constructive input. I fully support their position and I thank them for demonstrating yet again why it is so vital for the House of Commons and Parliament as a whole to fully consult with our youth on the important issues of the day.

Grosvenor Elementary School
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise today to tell the House about a memorable experience I had on Friday, February 21, 2003.

I was at Grosvenor Elementary School in Winnipeg South Centre for I Love to Read Week, reading to grade four students in Mrs. Gerry Daly's class. The students surprised me with a beautifully illustrated peace petition, along with letters to the Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, the peace petition is not in the prescribed format to be presented to the House. Be that as it may, I did want to make sure that the young voices were heard. In their petition they say with unrestricted candour that they despise war and want peace.

It seems to me that the young people in grade four at Grosvenor school are representative of children across the country. I would suggest that we listen carefully to those who will be the leaders of the future in this great country.