House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Before we resume debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, Public Service.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member and I must say that although he raised some very important issues regarding foreign affairs, I would have to say I understand why he did not spend a lot of time on the budget. He did not want to talk about the fact that the debt has gone from 71.5% five and a half years ago down to 44.5%. He did not want to talk about five consecutive surpluses or better. He did not want to talk about economic growth of 3.2% this year and projected growth of 3.5% for next year, or the fact that we contributed in a health care accord with the provinces $34.8 billion over five years, or the fact that the $100 billion tax cuts over five years are still going on.

Obviously there is the fact that with the finances of the nation Canada is the only G-7 state paying down the national debt. While our national debt is going down, Japan's is up to 130% of GDP, for example, so I can understand why, with all this good news, the hon. member did not want to talk too much about the budget.

But the reality is that the budget affects the lives of each and every Canadian here. It impacts on cities. It impacts on families. That, I think, is important.

The member talks about our commitment. Internationally, it is $2.2 billion over 26 months for the Canadian armed forces, our commitment in Afghanistan to help our American allies, to relieve them in the war on international terrorism.

The fact is that the government does not need to take second place to anyone when it comes to strong fiscal management and when it comes to prudence. The fact is, and I would point this out again, that the minister has dealt with a number of issues and particularly in terms of transparency and accountability in the budget. These are things that Canadians want.

If we want to have a debate on foreign policy I would suggest that it may be for another time. I would certainly like to engage on that in particular, and I would agree with his comments about Mr. Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Kim Jong-il of North Korea. I think the question, though, on that one would have to be that since all countries are governed by their national interests, in this case I would have to say that for the hon. member to suggest a policy of removal of anyone by any state, that is an issue which I think needs to be debated in the House.

Since we have outlined to the hon. member very carefully the good work that is going on and the positive things that have been happening in the budget, I expect that hon. member to stand in his place and support this budget, because it has helped his community and other communities across the country. I would appreciate his comments.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to say to the parliamentary secretary that he took quite a long time to get his government's propaganda out and that it was very good propaganda. I can argue each and every point of his propaganda, the good times and the good things that the government is talking about. We can counter argue and ask how many times he has increased the budget. The spending has increased, with a 22% increase in program spending. The member will not talk about all these things.

He talks about tax cuts. What tax cuts? Ask Canadians. He is the one who has refused to bring down EI premiums. His government enriches itself on the backs on Canadian workers. There is the Canada pension plan. It is his government that increased the Canada pension plan too.

What the hon. member did not mention is the fact that I alluded to in my speech. If his members continue putting a strain on our relationship with our largest trading partner, then his budget will have no wealth. The government will not be able to implement anything that it has stated because it will be facing a major crisis.

It is time that his Prime Minister and his people who are opening up their mouths see that it is not right for somebody else to jeopardize our prosperity. Otherwise he will have nothing to brag about in what the government is trying to do right now.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, the parliamentary secretary had some friendly criticism for the previous speaker, pointing out that he had forgotten to talk about various things in this budget. For example, he forgot to mention the alleged 7% reduction of the debt.

However, I could add that the hon. member forgot to say in his speech where the money to pay down the national debt came from. He forgot to say that some $40 billion came from the employment insurance fund. This money did not belong to the government but to the workers, including those from the forestry industry in our region, which is grappling with a system where the mills are closing due to the government's neglect and the agreement with the Americans.

He also forgot to say that, in terms of the money taken to pay down the debt, over $3 billion belongs to seniors, who are among the poorest members of our society and who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement that the government deprived them of for eight years. In fact, $3 billion of the amount used to pay down the national debt did not come from the wealthiest members of our society but from the poorest; they are owed this money.

I would like the member who had the floor to answer my question. Could he elaborate, for example, on these two subjects?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from the Bloc for bringing up a very good point. After listening to the government propaganda, what the government forgot to say was that a billion dollars went down with the gun registry. Let us talk about the GST fraud. Let us talk about the softwood lumber dispute that is going on where my colleague comes from and about the forestry workers who are facing this massive problem. These are situations the government will not talk about. My colleague is absolutely right. I have had seniors come into my office who have had piddly little increases in their Canada pension plan.

Let us talk about GST fraud for a second. Revenue Canada will go looking for seniors for $10 or $50, which may have been an overpayment or something, and yet GST fraud is going on through the back door. There is an old saying, “Don't let an ant go in the front but an elephant can pass in the back”. That is what the government talks about when it allows the gun registry to cost a billion dollars. Like the Prime Minister said, “What is a billion dollars? It is loose change”. Let us ask our seniors. It is not loose change. It is hard earned money for people who have to make ends meet.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

March 27th, 2003 / 4:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member who just spoke and of course his colleague from Elk Island, two Alliance members who are from the family values party, which we have heard about from that party many times, and who supported Bill C-206, a bill to offer compassionate care leave for caregivers in our country.

I know that one good thing about the Alliance is that it allows free thought and free votes in its party and I support that. We have heard the words family values many times from the Alliance Party. I would like to ask the member to comment, if he could, as to how the leader and the former leader of that party could vote against the bill. Half the Liberals voted against it too, but I am just working on the Alliance right now.

How were Alliance members able to stand up in the House and purport to be a party of family values when all I asked was that this bill, which would offer assistance to caregivers, at least be debated in a committee? They did not have to agree with the bill. The member supported it and so did his colleague, but his front bench and the official opposition leader said no. All we asked was that it go to committee.

I know why the Liberals did not go for it, which is despicable in itself for half of them, but why did the leader of the Alliance Party and his colleagues vote against that great recommendation in regard to, again, one of the finest bills ever to enter this great hall?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I regret interrupting my colleague because I am sure he has a good answer to the question, but it seems to me there is a standing order which does not allow us to reflect on a vote that has been taken in the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. member raises a point of order on something that is new for the Chair. I will get back to the hon. member, if he will allow me a few minutes so I can check the Standing Orders. However, I will allow the hon. member for Calgary East to answer the question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, it was my understanding that the leader of the NDP had appointed another critic to look after Alliance affairs. I see that my other colleague has taken up that responsibility, which is very good.

However, I will say this. As far as I am concerned, I voted with the member's bill because I felt it had merit. As far as I am concerned I voted for his bill and he is more than welcome to ask the rest of the question when my leader is speaking. Let me tell him that my leader made it a free vote. He gave an opportunity for the caucus to address that issue. That is an excellent step, which he should appreciate.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today on the budget implementation act 2003. This bill, once enacted, will implement the measures of the budget that was delivered by the finance minister in this chamber on February 18. That budget built on the very fine work of the former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, as he built the economy into a sound footing. We got our government books back in order and eliminated the deficit. This budget builds on those successes and the contribution of all Canadians in dealing with a very serious fiscal situation which we encountered when our government came into office in 1993.

For example, by paying down roughly $46 billion or $47 billion on the debt, our debt to GDP ratio has fallen to 46.5% from a high of roughly 71% not too long ago. This will go to 40% within the next two to three years. That is saving Canadians $3 billion a year in terms of interest costs. The $3 billion is an annual annuity and those moneys can be reinvested in other priorities.

This budget does just that, $3 billion for example in sustainable development initiatives and in the environment. It also builds on the $100 billion tax cut that was brought in the budget 2000 and the mini budget of the same year. It also introduces some new tax measures which I will touch on later.

Economic growth in Canada is the best in the G-7 and is predicted to be the best in the G-7 again next year. Of course, it depends to some extent on the economy in the United States and the war in Iraq. We wish our American friends the very best of luck and the very best in terms of results in the war on Iraq. That will have economic consequences as well but so far the Canadian economy is predicted to grow at a very fine rate again this coming year.

I should have said at the outset, Madam Speaker, I am splitting my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.

We have made major investments in health care, $34.8 billion over five years. Our economy has created 564,000 jobs in the last year, the best again in the G-7. Unemployment, although we never like any unemployment, is at 7.4%. Although there are inflationary pressures, and inflation has risen somewhat, we still have a relatively low inflation rate. We also have good monetary policy that will manage that situation going forward.

One thing that the proposed budget implementation act will implement is the new Canada health transfer and Canada social transfer which will replace the existing CHST. The existing CHST was introduced by our government and it replaced established programs financing and the old CAP program. Now we are making another change. This is to ensure that the health funds are segregated, that there is a greater accountability in what the provinces do with the moneys that are transferred to them for health care.

As part of this transfer this new money for the provinces, the $34.8 billion over five years, there will be a greater accountability to Canadians on what the provinces do with that money. Frankly, I think we are moving to the day perhaps, and there have been pressures already from the post-secondary education stakeholders, to have segregated funds of that new transfer for post-secondary education. We have seen a deterioration there as well in terms of rising tuition fees and students with increasing debt. The provision that starts the process where the funds are segregated in the first cut. The health care funds will be separate and then the social funds will include post-secondary education and other social transfers.

We cannot forget also the tax points and the direct delivery that the government provides through Health Canada and other agencies and foundations.

The value of this most recent initiative is that the Government of Canada has said it wants to target certain health care initiatives like home care and prescription drugs. These are two areas that are growing considerably and need to be managed better. Home care can be a very effective, lower cost alternative to institutional care. To this point in time, the provinces have been slow to put the community care into the system. This targets those funds and says that we want to have more home care. It is a lower cost alternative and actually has a better patient care result as well.

We have also indicated that we are going to be putting more funding into equipment. This budget would implement $1.5 billion that would go into a trust to be used for acquiring diagnostic and medical equipment. I am assured by the government that this time around this fund will have a greater sense of accountability. We heard stories about lawn mowers being acquired under the previous $1 billion fund. In any large organization or fund there will be the odd story and the odd case of mismanagement. I am assured that this time around there is a much stronger regime to ensure that those accountabilities and funds are targeted and will go to the right places. I am very encouraged by that.

This proposed budget implementation act also implements important changes to the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. One particular aspect is very relevant in my riding, where I have a large number of convention refugees, many from Somalia. A lot of the young people are now at an age when they need to go to college or university. They were unable to access the Canada student loan program. This budget and this act would change that so those who had the convention refugee designation would be eligible to apply for Canada student loans. This is a major step because many of the refugees in my riding and their children were unable to receive a decent education, and this deals directly with that. I am very happy that is part of the budget implementation.

The budget implementation act also would implement a number of very important changes in the Employment Insurance Act. One particular aspect is the introduction of compassionate care benefits. These new provisions pay up to six weeks of special benefits to claimants who provide care or support to a gravely ill family member. Many of us in the chamber and many people across Canada have faced the situation of someone being gravely ill, either dying or in a very precarious position, who seek the support of their family members. Many family members work and this provides an opportunity for family members to support the ailing member of the family. That is a very positive thing.

The budget also sets the premium rate for the year 2004 at $1.98. Since the government launched this program, every year for the last seven or eight years it has reduced the employment insurance rate. That has saved employers and employees about $9 billion since we started this program. The Minister of Finance has also indicated his intent to come up with a new rate setting process, one that is more transparent and reflects the true cost of insurance. That has to be looked at over a business cycle because we do not want to be in a situation where we have to go back and increase the rate if the economy moves into a slower pace of growth.

That is a very important announcement and one that I think helps to clarify for many Canadians the fact that there is no employment insurance fund. I believe it was in 1984 or thereabouts when there was an employment insurance fund and it was in a deficit. At that time, under the previous administration, the government was in deficit. The auditor general said that the unemployment insurance fund, as it then was called, needed to be consolidated with the consolidated deficit of the government to paint a truer picture. Therefore the fund at the time was consolidated in with the consolidated accounts of the government.

That fund does not exist any more. In fact seven out of the last ten years or thereabouts that the employment insurance notional fund has actually been in deficit. The Canadian taxpayers have subsidized or supported that deficit in the notional employment insurance fund. It is true that over the last few years the surplus has grown quite considerably.

However I notice there is some business in the Senate and presumably I will be able to finish my remarks when we get back.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Unfortunately, I must tell the hon. member that he was at the end of his debate one minute ago. There is no time.

On the point of order raised by the member for Elk Island I would like to thank him. He has raised this point of order before. It is Standing Order 18 to which he was referring. For the benefit of most members, I will read Standing Order 18, which states:

No Member shall speak disrespectfully of the Sovereign, nor of any of the Royal Family,...nor use offensive words...No Member may reflect upon any vote of the House, except for the purpose of moving that such vote be rescinded.

Furthermore it is stated in Marleau and Montpetit, House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 495:

It is not in order for Members to “reflect” on (i.e., to reconsider or go back upon) votes of the House, and when this has occurred, the Chair has been quick to call attention to it.

The Chair unfortunately was not quick enough but I thank the member for Elk Island for bringing that to my attention. I caution members, especially the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, to please not mention the votes of members in the House. I thank the member for Elk Island.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, we really hear it all in this House. I just heard the previous speaker say that the government had invested in health. He failed to mention that the provinces suffered cuts in health care. The government eventually gave part of the money back, but not all of it. This is money that belongs to the provinces, and health is an area of provincial jurisdiction.

Moreover, he said they had made sure that the money would be properly spent. A system had been put in place to ensure accountability in how the provinces spend their health care dollars.

I think he forgot to say that the federal government is probably the last one who should offer advice on how to spend money properly.

I would like to hear him briefly on the sponsorship scandal, where money was paid for services that were never provided. I would also like to hear him on gun control, and the 11% or 12% increase over the initial budget.

Is this the example the federal government is setting the provinces. It wants to control the provinces and show them how to spend in health. I would like him to comment on that because I find that not only insulting but also completely wrong.

I think—and I take Quebec as an illustration—that we could give the federal government a few examples of proper spending. One good way, and the hon. member could address that as well in his comments, would be to withdraw from areas of provincial jurisdiction and stop this systematic duplication. I would like him to comment on these issues.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from the other side of the House very much for his comments.

With regard to the amount that was transferred to the provinces under the Canada health and social transfer, when our government faced a deficit in 1993 of $42 billion, everything was on the table. Everything had to be reduced or the government was faced with a very serious dilemma. In fact the amount that was cut from direct government programs, forgetting the transfers to the provinces, was significantly more than the cuts that were made to the provinces. The provinces were also given much lead time so they could adapt to those changes.

Once we returned to surplus, the Canada health and social transfer was increased significantly. As I said earlier, it is $35.8 billion in this budget over the next five years.

The other point I should highlight is that the Province of Quebec for example receives equalization. The equalization that the government pays to the provinces is approximately $10 billion a year. Of that $5, billion goes to the province of Quebec.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Deputy to the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber.

And being returned:

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Royal Assent

5:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Deputy Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-29, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2003—Chapter 3, 2003.

Bill C-30, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2004—Chapter 4, 2003.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 2003, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.