House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Question No. 122
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

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

Question No. 122
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 122
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I have received a notice of motion pursuant to Standing Order 52 from the hon. member for Mercier.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, these are extremely tense times internationally. What is more, this morning we learned that the United States and Great Britain had withdrawn their resolution, which was opposed by 11 members of the Security Council. Instead, they served an ultimatum to both the Security Council and Saddam Hussein.

Under the circumstances, and given the announcement made in the House by the Prime Minister and the dangers involved in an attack in Iraq, and given that this intervention will be both illegal and illegitimate, it is important that members of Parliament have the opportunity to make their views known.

My hope is that we will also have the opportunity to vote on this matter, and I hope that, somehow, this hope will become a reality. However, this evening we must be able to make our views known, at least. We know that back in our ridings, where we have spent the last two weeks, people are worried, men, women and young people. They want to know what the consequences of a possible war are, what the link between this war and the fight against terrorism is. They want to know what the humanitarian repercussions will be.

And parliamentarians must be able to make their views known on these issues. I am sure that all members have heard from people who have expressed their concerns and who are just as worried as people in my riding and my colleagues' ridings.

For all these reasons, I ask that the House hold an emergency debate this evening, or whenever the Chair sees fit, but as soon as possible.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for her suggestion. Pursuant to Standing Order 52, I cannot hear from other members on this topic. The hon. member for Mercier was the one who submitted the motion and she is the one who has the right to speak at this time.

I have decided to allow the debate requested by the hon. member. This evening, pursuant to Standing Order 52, there will be an emergency debate on the issue that she has raised.

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

Budget
Government Orders

March 17th, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was supposed to be sharing my time with the hon. colleague for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. However as you know, committees start at 3:30 p.m. Therefore, my colleague will not be able to address the House today. However, I would like to express his commitment to his community and his riding, which has a high rate of poverty and many people who live below the poverty line, as is the case in some areas of my riding.

Commenting on the budget involves taking stock of the various measures implemented by the federal government and the impact they have on everyone. In terms of budgetary initiatives, we must also keep a constant watch on the federal government, which is forever trying to interfere in provincial jurisdictions or to implement inflexible programs that are ill-suited to the needs and realities not only of Quebec and the provinces, but also of regions and—by extension—communities.

There needs to be decentralization, and this suggests flexibility, which is certainly not part of the federal initiatives. The Liberals changed minister, but not mentality. The mentality of hiding surpluses, underestimating revenue and overestimating spending continues to prevail in this Parliament. Clearly, the minister has changed, but not the mentality. This mentality of the Ministers of Finance is entrenched with the federal Liberals. We can see it in all the initiatives that were proposed by the federal government in the provincial jurisdictions.

The primary objective of a budget is to announce significant measures to improve life for the public. Many stakeholders with an interest in public finances, including the media, have summed up this budget as a scattering of small handouts in all directions and a lot of interference. These are measures that were taken without any regard for the various challenges facing communities in Quebec and other provinces.

There has been a lot of criticism. I will share some from my riding and my region. The mayor of Quebec City, Mr. Allier, said the budget was a handful of goodies.

In terms of the infrastructure program, we need to look at what was announced. The federal government has had a propensity for the ten years we have been here to announce measures not only over two or three years but over more than ten years. Figures can, for example, be pulled out of a hat, like one billion or two billion, but when we look at the annual breakdown, it works out to little goodies or small crumbs.

With regard to infrastructure, Jean-Paul L'Allier, the mayor of Quebec City, felt that the federal government was not living on the same planet as other elected representatives. He recalled that both the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Union des municipalités du Québec had, however, made representations to Ottawa with regard to the urgency of doing significant repairs to Canadian infrastructure.

This meant, therefore, looking at the needs in different regions. The situation is disgraceful, all the more so because the federal government is stockpiling its surpluses without knowing what it intends to do with them.

The federal government's initiatives under the infrastructure program are considered, therefore, largely insufficient. Other stakeholders at other levels have made their positions clear. Richard Dagenais, of the ACEF du Québec, also agrees that the budget is filled with overly weak measures. Increasing the RRSP limit is good for one class of the population, but who can afford to save more than $18,000 in RRSPs, which is the limit? Clearly, when it comes to the most economically disadvantaged, the federal government just will not agree to try to help them.

Business is also concerned. It felt that the federal government had taken a piecemeal approach and invested millions and billions of dollars in expenditures that, in short, could be bad for the economy.

So, before moving on to more specific criticisms of certain measures taken by this government, I would first like to address the matter of encroachment into areas of provincial jurisdiction, and in this case on Quebec society.

First, this creates administrative chaos, wasted energy, and wasted time. It often delays application of various measures taken by the federal level, which all too often has not consulted the provinces. I recall the last budget with its announcement of a measure to help the homeless, a measure that was absolutely ill adapted to the situation in Quebec. We know what had to be done in order to adapt this funding to the way things were done in Quebec and to the urgent needs in Quebec, and it was not the way proposed in the last budget. Implementation was therefore held up, and the money was delayed in getting to those who had a crying need in this area.

This is a wall to wall approach that ignores regional realities, ignores the day to day realities of the population. It is, therefore, a centralist vision, and that has never been a winning formula in Quebec. It has, moreover, been highly criticized by all the parties in Quebec. It is an approach that is too centralist, and one that is evidence that Canada often ignores the realities of Quebec.

Another general criticism, as I have already said, is those fat figures, which they announce so proudly but which have no impact. The announcement of a $3 billion budget for the infrastructure program sounds good when one hears the figure. But the first impression soon fades when one reads further on that this is spread over ten years.

Broken down, this works out to $300 million a year for the ten provinces, or $25 million a province, which is a lot less generous than it seems. It is not $25 million but $1 billion that Quebec needed a year to update its water supply, sewers and highways. Knowing that one kilometre of highway costs $1 million, you can imagine how far we will get with this measly $25 million a province. It is not very much.

It looked like a generous budget for the provinces in terms of infrastructure but, in fact, the numbers tell a different story.

Employment insurance is another issue. We know how the Bloc Quebecois battled for employment insurance. We remember the debates in this House. All the members of the Bloc Quebecois and my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who was the critic on this issue, fought to have the employment insurance fund independently managed by those who contribute to it, namely workers and employers.

We know that this fund is the federal government's slush fund. Sums of money are taken from the employment insurance fund and put into the consolidated fund or invested in management funds where Parliament does not have control over the spending.

There will be a three to four billion dollar surplus this year alone. It is a disgrace. This manoeuvre will be used again this year to divert money to the Treasury Board. They will dip into the pockets of workers. In the meantime there are people who do not qualify for employment insurance because the eligibility requirements have been changed and too many workers are unable to contribute as a result.

The government is using funds from the EI account for other, much less transparent purposes. This is no longer an insurance scheme for the unemployed, and neither are government surpluses.

Those who pay into the EI fund feel they have been wronged by the federal government because of this practice. No independent fund has been announced. One would have thought the federal government could have established such a fund for the sake of transparency, to give the unemployed control over the management of the fund.

We have worked on this file. I worked along with my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. I was the deputy critic for human resources development, so I am aware of what has taken place. We have worked in cooperation with the various local groups, with the people who make contributions. We wanted this fund to be independently managed.

In this budget, the government could have shown audacity, responsibility and fairness to those whose pay into the fund, including businesses and employers, whose contributions are substantial. We know full well that the government is not paying a cent into the fund anymore. While not paying into it, however, the government reserves the right to manage the fund as it pleases.

I can understand why the public is fed up with politicians in general and those in power in particular. When in opposition, they claim rights, but once in office, it is well known that they do not have the courage to act on what they condemned when they sat across the floor of the House.

We can say that, in this budget, a 22 cent reduction was announced with respect to contributions to the EI fund. Given that a 20 cent reduction had been announced previously, the reduction is really only 2 cents. There is no reason to boast about a 22 cent reduction when that is not the reality. It is a 2 cent reduction.

We can agree to this reduction. But if the government is going to use it for other purposes as it pleases, it should also bear in mind that this fund was designed for workers who have the misfortune of losing their jobs. The only way to go through a difficult stretch is to be able to rely on an insurance scheme providing just enough money to live on and to fulfil one's obligations.

I am not giving the Liberal government a very good mark with regard to the employment insurance fund. The criteria could have been relaxed and an effort made to see how to improve the lives of thousands of Canadians and Quebeckers.

There is a great desire for a fund that would belong to the workers. Our Minister of Finance took his cue from his predecessor, the future Prime Minister of Canada, who is the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. The new Minister of Finance is also dipping into the same taxpayers' pockets.

There is also another measure to fight the deficit, the imposition of a special gasoline tax. This tax had been anticipated. We had hoped that, in this budget, it would have been abolished, given the surpluses created by the employment insurance fund and the special gasoline tax. The decision was made to keep it. The government could still sit on these surpluses and help itself to the hard-earned money of the same taxpayers.

The workers are putting money in the employment insurance fund. The federal government is taking this money and giving it to the Treasury Board. It is the same thing with the gasoline tax.

At the same time, families are getting poorer, and it is very difficult for them to maintain a decent quality of life. We know full well that this tax has an impact on how they live. We know full well that many people live under the poverty line or work for starvation wages that barely allow them to make ends meet.

The cost of fuel oil is rising. It is twice as expensive as it was 18 months ago. It has gone from 39¢ to 62¢. That is why the gasoline tax, the fuel oil tax, really hurts taxpayers.

As far as I know, there has been no change in contributors' incomes. We know very well that people's earnings are not going up as fast as the cost of living, so they could have gone a little easier on people. We know how cold this winter has been. People's bills have doubled but their wages will not. Living conditions will not improve. Monthly budgets have felt the pressure of heating oil costs. People have certainly had to choose between food and heat. This winter has been unusually cold. This past month has seen particularly low temperatures of minus 40 degrees. At the end of the month, the bill has to be paid. The houses in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where these people often live, are poorly insulated, so heating is very expensive.

It makes no sense to keep draining off so much money; the amount of this tax is unacceptable. They have managed to reduce the deficit over the past four years, so they could have been more generous.

I have already referred to the federal government's propensity for invading areas of provincial jurisdiction. I have a whole list here with me, a compilation of the federal government's intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction: health information technology, early childhood education, day care—

The Canadian Learning Institute has just been created, and one of its key objectives is to broaden and enhance the data available on education and learning, and thus to remedy the shortcomings observed in the education field.

Consultations with the provinces, territories and other stakeholders are currently under way on the institute's mandate, structure and administration. If that is not trampling into areas of provincial jurisdiction, what is? Education is a provincial jurisdiction. They are showing just how generous the federal government is by using the money from the EI fund, the money from the gas tax, the money they have acquired by intrusion into provincial areas of jurisdiction.

This is an example of the kind of scattered approach we are talking about. There are other ways of helping the provinces through the social transfer. There are other ways that can be used, by being more generous with the overall tax base, so that provinces can meet their responsibilities, which as far as we are concerned at this time are education and health.

Therefore, there are 28 areas of provincial jurisdiction in which the federal government is interfering at a cost of $4 billion. There is health care in each community. Who provides health care if not the provinces? There is also the community action partnerships, strategic infrastucture: $2 billion over 10 years. I read various comments by different municipal representatives. They do not even know what this means. Not enough information was provided about this. There is the cost of research, northern science research, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation; that is a good one too. There is the National Research Council, the Canada Student Loan Program, the increase in the National Child Benefit Supplement, etc.

Why not give the money in a global budget? The provinces could perhaps be more generous in their administration of the funds and give them to their communities. It is too difficult for the federal government to understand that reality.

The public is also concerned. In any case, there is a concern with the federal government's propensity to infringe in other jurisdictions. It will take time before the public has access to all these programs. How many of them apply to the different regions was not considered.

Every time people come to see me at my office they say, “We are never entitled to federal programs because we never meet the right criteria”. Often it is very frustrating because very little money is given. There are also fewer people who are entitled to it. What this means is that we missed out on federal programs because we were not eligible for them. Yet the money was there. There were $300 million programs and some $20 million programs.

I think the budget that is currently being considered has been met with general dissatisfaction by the public and by those who thought there could have been initiatives that were much more in tune with Quebec's needs.

Budget
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague talks about intrusion on provincial jurisdiction. I find it rather interesting that seven or eight years ago the Bloc never mentioned fiscal imbalance when we had a $42.5 billion deficit. Now that we have surpluses, we have fiscal imbalance.

The member talks about intrusion on provincial jurisdiction. The $2,000 scholarships for Masters or Ph.D. programs do not intrude on provincial jurisdictions since they go directly to the students. The fact is that people in Canada, particularly in the Province of Quebec, are interested in governments working together more co-operatively to solve problems, whether it be health care or anything else.

My question for the hon. member is this. The member talks about the fact that we should just bundle up all the dollars, send them to Quebec and it will know how to manage them. We saw problems with that, such as money for diagnostic equipment, like MRIs, was used for bedpans, et cetera. There was no accountability. We want to see accountability.

Could the member tell me how it is more accountable to bundle up moneys to a province rather than have it designated so we can see where in fact the money goes?

Budget
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member says there were deficits. That is because the budgets were poorly managed. As is the case right now, money was handed out right and left, programs were created and several millions of dollars were given to friends of the party who had not even worked on communications. Millions of dollars were handed out.

We have to look out for that. With respect to health, look at the billions of dollars that were cut from the Canada social transfer. I do not have all the figures with me but members will remember the saga. We were here in 1993. We saw the government cut funding to the provinces, who in turn were unable to meet their responsibilities.

Quebec set aside some money. Afraid of being unable to cover its annual commitments, it was forced to put some money aside to be sure to have at least enough for the hospitals and all the agencies that run the health sector in Quebec.

We should be careful about what my colleague just said. There are a great many details that need to be explained regarding his comments. Regardless, we know that health is an issue that everyone cares about. People are concerned. Everyone knows where the federal government fell short in terms of supporting the provinces.

The same thing is being done right now in education. A look at the programs outlined in the current budget show that the government wants to hand out millions of dollars. This means that more could have been put into the Canada health and social transfer. The government has enough set aside to hand out goodies. Why not increase transfers to some of the provinces so they can better meet their needs?

That is what is happening; the federal government is giving less and less, is cutting itself a bigger piece of the pie and making the provinces take the blame for not having provided enough funding.

There was quite a tug of war when it came to the program for health care funding. We won the battle, and came back to funding levels that the federal government had to provide for the provinces. The Premier of Quebec, Bernard Landry, was the one who led the charge. All of the other provinces agreed.

How dare the government say that the provinces were not able to deliver the goods, when they had no money.

Budget
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, from time to time in the House we hear about EI, as my hon. colleague just raised.

I am certainly not here to defend the government in the debate on EI premiums but I have been told that most of the people employed are employed by an employer who has around 10 people. My constituency is full of small employers and nobody in the House ever gives them recognition or any credit. They too contribute to EI and to CPP. I am not saying that the workers do not but why is it that nobody on either side of the House ever mentions the contribution made by the small town business person? It is a shame that we do not do that. We just talk about the contributions of workers.

I am not defending the government, because it was not unemployment insurance, it was an unemployment tax as it turned out because it went into general revenues. However let us not forget the small employers who employ 10 people or less and do not get any credit whatsoever in the House.

Budget
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for raising the issue. When I spoke earlier, I also spoke about the businesses and employers who contributed to the EI fund.

That is why we want a separate fund, a fund that would take into consideration those who contribute to it, which means employers and employees, the workers. I am coming at this from just about the same perspective as my colleague who asked me the question.

Therefore, we feel it is imperative that this fund be managed by all those who contribute to it. I agree that employers contribute a great deal together with employees and should be involved. This is a fund, and because of that, we feel it should be managed by those who have contributed to it.

Budget
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on the budget. I listened with great interest to what colleagues on both sides have said today.

I would like to talk about the education, training and research parts of the budget. However before I do that I would like to make it clear that I do understand that the budget is a very remarkable whole, that the different parts of it fit together in a very unusual way.

Strengthening the economy is contained in the budget. My colleague just mentioned one aspect of it. For example, small business has been greatly strengthened by the reduction in the capital tax and by the changing definition of small business from $200,000 to $300,000. Small business people in my riding have complimented me on that. That is one example of the way the economy is strengthened through this budget.

The paying down of the debt has also been mentioned today. This is not something that I often talk about but I am pleased that we are approaching the paying down of almost 10% of this enormous national debt that we inherited from many decades of spending. I am glad the government is chipping away at that. I was particularly pleased to see in the budget that we have now patriated 82% of the debt. We only owe 18% of it overseas and we owe 82% of it to ourselves. If we are going to be in debt, it seems to me that the best way to be in debt is to be in debt to ourselves or to members of our family. That is a great improvement.

The economy is strengthened by those fiscal actions. It is that fiscal soundness that has allowed us, at last, as a federal government, to start doing some of the things that a national government should do, and that is to make investments in the important aspects of Canadian society.

Many people speak of this budget as a health care budget, not only because of the huge sums of money which are now being recommitted to health care after very difficult times, but also because of the vision that has accompanied that reinvestment, the vision that was generated by the Romanow report, which captured the views of the country and which this budget put into place.

For example, emphasis on supporting primary care is included in the budget, and that is extremely important. Also important is the emphasis on home care and the emphasis on the catastrophic cost of drugs where a family is simply overwhelmed by the cost of one drug that a family member has to have. I am not against investing money in the health care system but it is the way investments have been made. I think this is fine.

Improving the lot of aboriginal people is also in the budget. Despite the international situation, our economy is doing extraordinarily well and yet here is this identifiable group, the aboriginal peoples, who have been in Canada for 10,000 years and in some cases more, identifiable by their poverty, by the levels of certain types of illness that exist in their communities, by the low levels of education and the high dropout rate from high school and so on. I am pleased to see that we are investing in that area.

Improving the lot of children is also included in this budget. We have worked in recent years toward improving the lot of seniors and, goodness knows, we have a way to go in that area. Last year for the first time in Canada there was a tiny improvement in the index of child poverty. I believe that tiny improvement came from our establishment of the child tax benefit. In this budget we have increased the child tax benefit to $3,200 for the eldest child with less for further children, plus $1,800 in the case where a child is disabled. I hope that as that investment flows through we will see further improvements in the measures to combat child poverty across Canada. In a country as rich as this we should not have children in poverty.

The budget also moves toward improving child care. The federal government has put its money on the table and has asked the provinces to join it in developing quality child care across the country. I like that.

My colleague mentioned the EI and said that it was a tax of some sort. We tend to forget that the EI was used in previous budgets to develop our system of parental leave, where the parents of a newborn child, between them, can take extensive leave so that in those critical years of life the child can be properly looked after. I am glad the EI funds are being used for that.

This time, the further addition, a modest first step I would say, is the palliative leave under the EI program. Under the budget people who are taking care of relatives who are dying can take up to four weeks of leave under this program. They can take, for example, a week now, a week in a month's time or different weeks at intervals but they can also take the whole month. I am delighted with that.

We have the investments in the environment, Kyoto and climate change, and the extraordinary investments in the parks. I noticed last week that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced Canada's first real under-ocean park. People tend not to realize that we are responsible for 50% more of the huge land area we are very conscious of. In three oceans we are responsible for the under-ocean areas. In this budget provision is being made for marine parks, as well as an expansion of our wonderful system of national parks.

We also have the investment in foreign aid. I was so pleased to see us at this time, when people are viewing Iraq and thinking in terms of war, that we would once again, at last, increase our contribution to foreign aid, particularly to Africa, and to countries which have been devastated by AIDS.

As I said, my main purpose this afternoon is to talk about education, training and research in the budget. It is interesting that measures in this area of education and training and of research pervades most parts of the budget. It is interesting and perhaps surprising to some people but if, for example, we think of health care, it is important right now to deliver health care to the sick. However if we do not have research and we do not have proper education and training, in the end the system will founder. We have to keep training.

We have a shortage of physicians. One of the ways to solve that is to train more physicians. We have a shortage of nurses, particularly nurses of certain types. The way to solve that is through education and training. If we do not have research the diseases that face us will always face us.

One of the highlights of my life was a short conversation I had with Terry Fox in 1980 when I was involved with the Cancer Society in Peterborough. I asked him why he was so insistent that the money he raised go to research. He had no idea of the amounts that would be raised in his name following his sad death. He told me that he had good care when he had cancer in his leg and that he knew people would support everyone receiving good care. “However”, Terry Fox said, “money has to go into research because there will always be people with cancer like mine”.

We have been fortunate in Canada. We have been able to improve the health care system looking after people but at the same time we have had the Terry Fox fund putting money into cancer research.

It is education and research that puts sustainability in our system. The system depends on having educated Canadians. We are already the most educated country in the world by many measures, and that is the way to maintain our health care system, to improve our environment, to have the best agriculture and the best economy in the world. I am going to speak about education, training and research in the budget.

In one of the budget documents--I know, Mr. Speaker, you have read it from cover to cover--there is table 5.1. This is quite a remarkable table. I know we do not have visual aids here but I wish we did. In the place where I used to work we always used them but I know it is not allowed in the House.

Table 5.1 is very interesting. It lays out the years 1998 to 2005. For each of those years it shows what has been spent and what will be spent in various areas of research and innovation. Down the side it lists some of the examples of spending in that six-year period.

It shows what has already been spent and what will be spent by the Canada Foundation for Innovation which funds equipment particularly in research hospitals, colleges and universities.

It lists Genome Canada, which supports genetics research. Canada is in the top three in genetics research in the world.

There is also the Canada research chairs, 2,000 fully funded research chairs. There was a time when there were only 169 fully funded research chairs in Canada and then overnight, because of this government, that number became 2,169.

The funding for what used to be called the Medical Research Council, now the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has been doubled in recent years.

The table lists the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which funds most of the heavy science research; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which funds the invaluable social science work that we do; the networks of centres of excellence, something created by this government; the Atlantic innovation fund, which supports fundamental and applied research in the Atlantic provinces; biotechnology research; government online; and connectedness, which includes that wonderful program that puts every elementary school and high school in the country on the Internet.

That list is down one side of the table. Across the top are the years and the amounts of funding. During those years that I mentioned, the funding in those areas alone has gone from $400 million to $11 billion. This truly is an investment in the future of our country.

I see the members of the opposition sitting, waiting to ask me questions. This truly is an area that the Prime Minister himself has said there are no votes. In the crass sense, there are no votes in this. Even the professors across the country we give the Canada research chairs to will not vote for us for this reason, although they may well vote for us. This is something that a government should do. This is a far seeing thing, just like Terry Fox saying, “We need to look after the people who have cancer now, but we have to invest in cancer research for the future so people will no longer have it”. This is what the government has done, and table 5.1 is an extraordinary illustration of that.

I want to go through some of the areas, some which I have mentioned already and some which I have not. There are other investments in education, research and training which are not mentioned in that table.

First would be the granting councils and I summarized them before. I mentioned the former Medical Research Council. Funding in medical research has doubled in the last several years. Total funding for those councils is now around $1.5 billion. It is going into basic research in colleges, universities and institutes across the country. I am glad to see that gradually the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which does social science research which has often been neglected, is beginning to get more of its share.

One of my colleagues mentioned something which is not in that table but which was mentioned so clearly in the budget, the special announcement of the Canada graduate scholarships.

I mentioned the 2,000 Canada research chairs, which are extraordinary things. Trent University in my riding has eight of them. The federal government is funding eight full professors with their research at a tiny university, Trent University.

To follow through with that, if we think about research professors and highly qualified researchers in laboratories and hospitals across the country, they are at the top of the pyramid. It is true we could import people to take their places but if in the end we do not have a pyramid starting with prenatal, going on to early childhood development, going on to quality elementary schools, quality child care, quality high school and then quality undergraduate and graduate schools, if we do not have all of those in all the many areas concerned, in the future we will not have the system that we have now. It will not be sustainable.

With regard to the Canada graduate scholarships, a group of MPs with whom I am associated, the government caucus on post-secondary education and research, asked that the federal government consider scholarships for undergraduate students in addition to the millennium scholarships we now provide.

When we think about it, if the federal government is to intervene in the system, the quickest way to get results is near the top of the undergraduate program for research and for new positions and things of that type at the bottom of the graduate schools. Of the Canada graduate scholarships, 4,000 of them fully funded, 2,000 are for masters students and 2,000 are for doctoral students. Immediately as this money flows we will be strengthening the graduate schools and strengthening Canada's capacity to produce researchers and professionals, for example, veterinarians, medical doctors and the like.

I was delighted to see that 60% of those scholarships are going to the social sciences and will be administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. I am pleased about that. It is my hope that in future we will fund more undergraduate scholarships.

The indirect costs of research, which is not mentioned in the table, is something that is very critical for universities and colleges conducting research across the country. The indirect costs of research sounds a bit obscure but it particularly affects small institutions.

When a small institution has a wonderful, highly qualified, world class researcher and he or she receives a $1 million grant to conduct a project, the small institution has to find some rooms for the assistants and for the equipment for this person. The small institution receives the $1 million. It is kind of a white elephant because it costs so much to support that person. Indirect costs of research address that problem.

I am delighted that having tried it as an experiment last year, the federal government is now committed to three years with a good review at the end of the three years to cover the indirect costs of research. The allocation system that will be used for distributing those funds has a bias not toward the larger institutions which already benefit well from many of our programs, but to the smaller institutions. I am delighted to see it in there. It is a substantial amount of money.

Northern science is mentioned in the budget but not in the table. There is a considerable increase, $16 million, to northern science. My colleagues in our caucus and I are very pleased about that, but there are two things. One is it is not enough. The second is we believe there should be a more coordinated and focused approach to northern science, the way we are trying to be more accountable for example in health care and in our allocations to the provinces.

We believe the federal government has a special responsibility in the north, not interfering with the jurisdiction of the territories at all, but that it has a special responsibility for research and higher education there, and we should be more focused in our efforts. We hope the government this time in its increased funding to northern research gave additional moneys to the polar continental shelf research project, which is the aircraft support system for research in the Arctic islands. In particular, we are glad of that.

Next time the government should give consideration to the national scientific training program, NSTP. It is the program that supports undergraduates and graduates learning about how to do northern research. That goes back to my point about sustainability of the system.

I mentioned the Canada Foundation for Innovation. It is extraordinary. That foundation, set up by the government and as shown in the table, has given away over $3 billion to hospitals, colleges and universities. I am particularly pleased that from its inception it decided to deal with colleges and Cegeps. In the past the federal government has not done that.

The remarkable thing about Genome Canada is that it operates regionally. My regret is that we have supported Genome Canada and its various projects and it is my hope that in the future we will support animal genetics as much as we have supported research into plants and human genetics.

I mentioned SchoolNet. I mentioned aboriginal students. I am very pleased about that support.

Even though I look to our having a sustainable system of education, training and research, I am glad that the government is investing money in the more rapid and effective assessment and recognition of foreign credentials. Many immigrants come to our shores. They do not expect to walk into a highly qualified workplace and function straight away. However they find too many barriers and the budget is dealing with that.

Last, with regard to access to education, I am delighted with the improvements to the Canada student loans program.

Budget
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate. Like many members of the House, it was just moments after the minister brought down his budget, not too long ago, that many of us were called to the phone to give our opinion. I reacted very positively and I will explain why.

On page 4 of the budget the minister talked about the accountability that Canadians deserve. I will centre my remarks today on just that. On page 15 of the budget the finance minister said he had been across Canada and everywhere people told him they wanted the government to be more accountable and more transparent.

Finally, I want to quote from his budget speech when he said, “which is why we are making accountability a cornerstone of this budget”. I stand here with all honesty and I would to God, that could be true. This country, not just government, but in our larger business and so on, needs a healthy dose of an anti-toxin to get rid of some of the unaccountability that we have faced.

When I took the budget home and read it and I asked people what they thought of it, their response was, “Who cares?” They said all they read about was some corruption that was going on. That is a disgrace to the country. Just yesterday was typical. Every day, every week that goes by we pick up the paper and read about more fraud. There was an article in the Toronto Sun about the kickback on federal credit cards which were abused for over 20 years.

What do the people out in my part of the country call this? They say that if it is going to continue, who cares about the budget? I would hope that every department, every bureaucrat and every person who has anything to do with cutting cheques, and those who are receiving them, can live up to being accountable. Canadians are totally fed up.

An elderly gentleman, a real scholar and who I think is getting close to his nineties, sent me a letter. He said that never before has there been a decade in the history of Canada that the government has been involved with more corruption and more fraud than this past decade.

He is probably right. Every year that I have been here we have had major fraud cases before us. I think the Minister of Finance truly meant what he said, that Canadians deserve accountability. Canadians are demanding accountability and they are losing faith with governments, provincial and federal. We can tell by looking at the percentage of people who turn out to vote. It is going down and down and down because of that disease called unaccountability.

My constituency has a lot of governments. I have been involved in governments of one type or another for 24 years. I have helped to prepare budgets and have put my signature to them. In all of those years, I remember only once that somehow we were out $24, not $24 million. Why is it that the present government cannot follow the paths of local governments with accountability?

I will be sharing my time, Mr. Speaker, with the hon. member who just came in.

Let me tell members about the people in the northeast corner of Saskatchewan. They came into this country just before World War I. They did not come from countries that had democratic governments. They did not come from countries that had organizations at the local levels. They came into a rural municipality with school districts and they accepted that type of accountability. They made the finest citizens, and many of them live in my constituency.

We see in the budget the idea that we will turn over more money to everybody but I do not see within the budget any mention as to how the government will control the money that is being handed out. Oftentimes we have $6 billion which is unaccounted. At the present time the Minister of National Revenue simply says that the money that has been taken in GST fraud will be written off as uncollectable taxes; $30 million, $40 million, who knows if it will go to $1 billion? That is not acceptable and Canadians are not accepting that.

I do not know what the people here say, but where I come from people are totally disillusioned when they pick up the paper every day and see another fraud, another scam. Some people say “So what? That is the basis of democracy”. Do members know how democracy started? They took old King John down to Runnymeade and said “If you don't start being responsible to your people, we're going to knock your head off right here”. That is how it began. Accountability and democracy go together but somehow we have let accountability go and in doing so we have let democracy go.

In the area that I represent, I have 45 rural municipal governments, 7 school divisions, 2 cities and 57 towns and villages. I would bet money today that come the end of the current fiscal year they will not be out one cent. We need to ask ourselves a question. Why does the government get involved with the GST fraud, the HRDC fraud, frauds and frauds? We need to take a good look at where those billions of dollars go. There is no machinery there to account for how this money will be spent. It is most common in my province.

I was pleased to hear what the minister had to say. I even believe what the finance minister said about accountability. I believe he knows what he is talking about and I believe he really wants that to be part of this budget. I think everyone in the House, particularly on the government's side, better say that we will come in with a fraud-free year and that we will not let this fraudulent activity, which has gone on for a decade, continue into another decade.

No one would be happier than the citizens out there. Instead of 50% and 60% of people voting, we could have 70%. That would be a great delight to everyone.

Budget
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his comments. I too agree with him on the issue of accountability.

The minister talked about a new culture of accountability and more transparency in what we do. Programs that are currently funded will not necessarily will be funded again next year. They have to account for that. They have to account to Parliament. There should be more accountability of foundations for the taxpayer dollar.

I appreciate my colleague's comments. That is very much what the minister has framed in the budget, the context of which is very important. I would agree with the member that Canadians are concerned with any order of government, whether it is federal, provincial or municipal. They want to see that. The new culture of accountability is ensuring that the bureaucracy, members of Parliament and the public understand that these dollars do not just grow on trees. It is very important that we do that. It is outlined, as my hon. colleague will know, in the speech and it details how that would come about.

To go one step further, I want to ask the hon. member a question with regard to the issue of accountability. Are there specific measures which the minister did not address that could in fact be helpful in terms of ensuring this type of transparency so that every dollar is better accounted for to the Canadian public?