House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 176
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

For the past 10 years, can the government provide an annual breakdown of pilotage fees and any related fees on shipping companies in the St. Lawrence Seaway, and of new spending by the federal government on the Canadian marine system versus the amount of funds collected from users of the system?

(Return table).

Question No. 176
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

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

Question No. 176
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 176
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. Members

Agreed.

Question No. 176
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 39, it is my duty to inform the House that the failure of the government to respond to the following questions on the Order Paper is deemed referred to the various standing committees of the House as follows:

Question No. 177, standing in the name of the hon. member for Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, is referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

Question No. 179, standing in the name of the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster, to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 2003, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of Motions Nos. 13 to 15 and 17 to 19.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

May 12th, 2003 / 3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the report stage debate on Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 2003.

The theme of this year's budget is “money for everyone”. In fact it gives every appearance of being an election budget, with its focus on spending and its attempt to please every possible constituency. I call it an “ice cream budget”. There is something for everyone but by the time they taste it, it melts away before their eyes.

The budget announced $14 billion in new spending and a $25 billion increase in program spending by the year 2005. This year's budget increases federal spending by 11.5%, coming on the heels of 7% and 18% increases in the previous two budgets. By the year 2005-06, spending will have increased 46% from 1996-97 levels.

Government spending is growing three times faster than the economy. It can be said that for this government, the days of fiscal prudence are a distant memory.

Adjusting for inflation and population growth, this is the largest single year spending increase since the 1970s. The spending cuts introduced in the 1995 budget have now been entirely reversed.

While visiting Calgary during his prebudget consultations/leadership tour, the finance minister told his audience that Canadians did not want a laundry list of new spending. Canadians certainly did not want a grocery list either.

After all, these are Liberals. How can they ignore the urge to spend? The result is the worst of both worlds, spending too much, while at the same time spreading their money so thin, over so many areas, that it will have little positive impact.

We are now considering Motions Nos. 13 through 19, except Motion No. 16. Motion No. 13 was put forward by the member for Drummond. It seeks to amend Bill C-28 by deleting clause 64. The motion deals with the issue of GST on school buses.

While the Canadian Alliance opposes this bias against contracting out and privatization of services inherent in the GST rebate system for public service bodies such as school boards, the courts should not and cannot decide Canadian tax policy. That is the prerogative of the government and the House of Commons. Therefore I cannot support the motion.

Motions Nos. 14 and 15 are proposed by the member for Dartmouth. Motion No. 14 seeks to amend Bill C-28 by deleting clause 74, while Motion No. 15 seeks to delete clause 75. When speaking of the disabled, we are talking about the most vulnerable people in Canadian society.

It was an embarrassment last year when the government attempted to reduce its spending by removing resources from those most in need. This was yet another example of the misplaced priorities of the Liberals. We believe that 40% of Canadians with disabilities live in poverty and one-third of them are unemployed.

The Department of Finance announced amendments to the Income Tax Act that would make 30,000 Canadians ineligible for the disability tax credit. The Minister of Finance proposed limiting the tax credit to only those who cannot feed themselves. I strongly opposed these changes when I spoke in this place last November. The Canadian Alliance supports easing the definition of disability from feeding and dressing to feeding or dressing.

Motion No. 17 has been put forward by the member for Vancouver East. It proposes the deletion of clause 84. I am opposed to this proposed amendment.

The Canadian Alliance supports increasing the RRSP dollar limit more than the baby steps taken by the weak Liberal government. Increasing the allowable limit for RRSP contributions from $13,500 to $18,000 by 2006 would go a long way to securing the future of countless Canadians.

More and more Canadians are self-employed and do not have a company pension plan. Since they do not have pension plans, it is necessary for them to save for their own retirement. Needless to say, it would be foolish of them to rely on the Canadian pension plan for their retirement.

To understand the need for increasing the RRSP contribution limit, we should think of the situation facing realtors. Realtors are one professional group who rely mainly on RRSPs for their retirement incomes. Realtor incomes typically fluctuate from year to year. RRSP contribution levels are tied to income. If their income is low one year, their contribution level will be geared to that low level the following year. If their income rises substantially, their contribution is capped at $13,500 under the current system. This simply is not fair. I have spoken to many realtors and they tell me it is not fair to them.

The final two motions under consideration, Motions Nos. 18 and 19, are also proposed by the member for Vancouver East. Motion No. 18 seeks to amend Bill C-28 by deleting clause 85, while Motion No. 19 would delete clause 86. I support neither of these proposed changes. The Canadian Alliance wants to eliminate the capital tax. Reducing it does not go far enough, but it is a first step. The Canadian Alliance will oppose these amendments because they will do more harm than good to the bill.

The finance minister claims Canadians do not want lower taxes, so it should come as no surprise that his budget contains little in the way of tax cuts. There is no significant tax relief in the 2003 budget. The costs of the budget's tax cuts represent 12% of the total budget.

A Canadian Alliance government would create an economic climate in which businesses could thrive and grow, and with their success create quality job opportunities for Canadians. The Canadian Alliance would do so by providing deep, broad-based tax relief, ensuring a stable monetary policy, supporting essential national infrastructure in a non-partisan manner, and encouraging medical and scientific research.

The Canadian Alliance would create greater tax fairness for families by eliminating inequities between single and dual income families. The Canadian Alliance would move to more equitable treatment of choices in child care arrangements, including child care at home. We would integrate the tax system and social programs to better meet the needs of low income individuals and families.

We would ensure that taxes which are imposed for a specific purpose would be used for that specific purpose alone and would be removed once no longer required and not be allowed to be put toward general revenue, as in the case of the deficit financing tax of $1.50 per litre on gasoline. Once the deficit is eliminated, that tax should also be gone.

The government laid out its vision in the throne speech and then implemented that vision in the budget. The throne speech suffered from an old, tired vision. The budget suffered from that same flaw. If the vision is not right, naturally the implementation of the budget cannot be fair. The budget is yet further evidence that the government lacks vision and foresight.

The former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard and heir apparent to the Prime Minister, made it clear last week that, as head of the government, he would not implement any bills that he did not like. With that knowledge, it is legitimate to ask whether or not the budget implementation act that we are debating today has the approval of the former finance minister? If it does not, then the government may simply be wasting our time.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the report stage debate on Bill C-28, the budget implementation act.

When I was elected in 1993, Canadians were faced with a fiscal house that was not in order. Canadians will remember that there was a $42 billion deficit for that fiscal year during which the government took office. One can imagine how difficult it was for the government to implement new programs and provide for the needs of Canadians at a time when it was dealing with such a large deficit. The thing that makes me most proud as a member of Parliament and a member of the government is that we were able to get our fiscal house in order and work toward bringing forward a budget, as was the case just recently.

The government presented a balanced budget for this year, the sixth consecutive balanced budget, and for the next two fiscal years as well. Canadians will be very comforted by that fact. The budget would restore the full annual contingency reserve and economic prudence factors which have been part of our budgeting process since the government took office.

The government recognizes the critical link between social and economic policy. I remember the finance minister of the day appearing before the finance committee in which he made a statement which stuck with me for some time. He said that good fiscal policy makes good social policy, and good social policy makes good fiscal policy. There is an important relationship there which we must continue to strive for.

However, governments must also understand that they cannot be all things to all people at all times. Governing is about making choices. It is about making sure that the significant priorities of the day are addressed first. I have often wondered whether governments could ever be totally popular throughout the country if they simply dealt with the significant priorities to the exclusion of others which might be important. For example, for years I have advocated an additional investment in public education regarding health matters such as fetal alcohol syndrome. We have done some work there. I wish we could do more, but I understand that when there are limited resources and the priorities of Canadians have been made known, it is important that we proceed with those because it is in the best interests of all Canadians.

This budget plays a critical role in building a Canada that Canadians want. It does so according to three themes. The government recognizes the critical link between social and economic policy and continues its balanced approach to managing our finances.

This approach plays a critical role in building the Canada that we all want. First, by building a society Canadians value through investments in individual Canadians, their families and communities. Second, by building an economy that Canadians need by promoting productivity and innovation while staying fiscally prudent, which Canadians have also asked for. Finally, achieving the objectives of the budget by building the accountability that Canadians deserve by making government spending a more transparent and accountable process.

There are many provisions in the budget that I would like to comment on. The government recognizes that skills development and lifelong learning are critical to the country's economic prosperity. Between 1993 and 2001 the Canada student loans program assisted more than one and a half million full and part time students, an investment of approximately $11.4 billion. In the 2000-2001 fiscal year the Canada student loans program provided $1.57 billion in full and part time student loans at an average of $4,554 per full time student.

The $60 million measures in the 2003 budget are expected to be implemented by August of this year. They include, first, putting more money in the hands of students by allowing them to keep a greater share of their income earned during their studies. The exemptions for income earned while in school would be increased to $1,700 annually, being a maximum of $50 a week, from the previous level of only $600 annually.

Second, extending access to interest relief, debt reduction and repayment measures would help student borrowers experiencing hardship in their repayments. As a result of these measures, borrowers in difficult financial circumstances could have their student loan debt reduced by up to $20,000 over three years.

I know how expensive it is for post-secondary education. I have three children. One has completed university, one is just finishing a master's program and the other one is in the middle of university studies. It is very important to understand that these programs do not necessarily give assistance to those whose family income is above certain levels. Those students will not qualify for student loans. However it is important that every person who wants to go to post-secondary and who has the ability to go to post-secondary should be there. The proof is clear: post-secondary education is an imperative, not an option for all those who have the ability.

I will complete my time by making a couple of comments with regard to health. Health and the well-being of Canadians has been the number one priority of Canadians. They have made that very clear. I think it is important for us to recollect that budget 2003 confirms $34.8 billion in increased funding over five years to meet the goals outlined in the health accord. Bill C-28 would implement these measures.

First, in terms of increased support through transfers, the budget builds on the significant federal support for health care already provided to the provinces and territories through the Canada health and social transfer.

Following the September 2000 agreements on health and early childhood development, the federal government provided provinces and territories with a predictable and growing five year funding framework to 2005-06 through the CHST. This established funding will be further increased by $1.8 billion and extended for an additional two years. As a result, the total yearly cash transfers to the provinces will rise to $21.6 billion in 2006-07 and $22.2 billion in 2007-08. Let me again emphasize that this is over $22 billion for that one year.

An immediate $2.5 billion supplement to the CHST will help relieve existing pressures on our health care system. This funding will be on a per capita basis to the provinces and territories to give them the flexibility that they require.

However the sustained renewal of Canada's health care system needs positive structural change as well as further financing. I think that goes for many government programs for which we constantly have to look at the accountability and sustainability of what we are doing.

When I first became a member of Parliament and a member of the health committee, I remember Health Canada officials coming before us to tell us what was happening within our health system. I will never forget that their suggestion at the time was that 75% of the spending on health care in Canada was for fixing problems after the fact and that only 25% was spent on the preventative side. They told us quite frankly back in 1993 that this was not sustainable. We know that is the case and, through actions such as those in the budget, we are making sure that we are continuing to invest in health care for all Canadians.

After listening to some of the debate by all hon. members, there is no question that Canada is on the right track. The fiscal strategy that we have exercised since 1993 has given us an opportunity to invest in the priorities that Canadians see are there, but we have also been able to deliver a program of $100 billion of tax reductions. We have reduced our debt to GDP ratio from over 50% to below 30%.

We have made very significant improvements, in addition to creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for Canadians because we have an economy that still has not reached its potential. I am sure members and Canadians will agree that this is yet another step toward moving us forward. It is built on those tough decisions we made back in 1993. I believe the government should be congratulated for yet again another responsible budget.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is with mixed emotions that we listen to the Liberals praising the budget. I say mixed emotions because they seem to be heaping praise upon their government and the Minister of Finance when we know that deep down they are just as concerned about what is happening in the country as the rest of us.

The member who just spoke talked about the terrible position the Liberals were in when they took power in 1993 with the huge deficit. What he failed to say was that when the Conservatives took power 10 years earlier from the Trudeau era, they were also saddled with a huge deficit. In fact, if we factored in inflation, almost the total amount was inherited from the Trudeau era. The interesting thing is that the minister of finance in the latter years of the Trudeau government was none other than the now Prime Minister.

The Mulroney government increased the deficit, which everybody will admit, but perhaps we might ask why. During those years they had a choice. Interest rates, as hon. members know, went to 23% or 24%. We can just imagine the amount of money that went to service the debt.

The government at the time was faced with two different options, perhaps the same options that always face government when it has to address the debt. There were two ways of doing it, and I will talk about what the present government is doing shortly.

The government at the time had the choice of cutting social programs, which is usually what governments do. However the Conservative government did not cut the social programs despite the fact that during those years times were extremely tough financially. It did not even attempt to balance its budget on the backs of the needy in the country. It used the other option, which was to put a plan in place to address the deficit. It came up with two major measures that increased the finances to a government and eventually balanced the budget.

One of measures that the Conservative government came up with was free trade, something which practically every party in the House, especially the governing party, but with the exception maybe of the NDP, lauds today.

The other measure it came up, which nobody was happy with then or now, was a tax called the GST. However desperate times called for desperate measures and that was exactly what the government did. It came up with a financing mechanism to address the funding needs it had during those extremely tough financial times.

However election time was coming near. What did the Liberals do? They campaigned against free trade and the GST. It was basically on the GST that the Mulroney government was defeated. What did the Liberals do then? First, they said that maybe the free trade agreement was not all that bad, and of course history will dictate the rest. Not only did we go with the free trade agreement with the United States, but we have increased it ever since, as we should. It has certainly boosted the economy of this country. We praise government for doing that. However we say shame on the Liberals for pretending to the electorate that they would not do it and then, once they were elected, they brought in free trade.

What happened to the GST, which was the real issue during the Liberal campaign? Did they get rid of it as the interim prime minister said? No, they did not. They inherited the GST. They have used it to collect all kinds of money over the years to help balance their budget.

The Liberals themselves were not without a program. They could not allow people to say that the budget was balanced thanks to two great Tory policies. The Tories set in place a plan to address the deficit without hurting the social fabric of the country.

What was the third plan that was involved? We had free trade and the GST, but the Liberals came in and said that they could speed up the balancing of the budget by cutting social programs. Even though times were getting better, the economy was improving because of free trade and the finances of the government were increasing because of the GST, they figured they needed to speed things up a little bit so they cut social programs.

The provinces, which were receiving 50% of the health and social transfer costs paid by the government, now the input into many of the provinces is around 14%. This is a complete and utter disaster.

The government did not stop there. Not only did it cut funding to the provinces in relation to the Canada health and social transfer payments but it started downloading. It downloaded on the provinces other costs, infrastructure costs and education costs. It also started privatizing or turning over to the provinces other assets, such as our airports.

When we talk about infrastructure, we are talking about the feds downloading on the provinces and the provinces then downloading on the municipalities. The municipalities are faced with the horrendous debt of trying to improve infrastructure, whereas they cannot take in enough taxes because the feds did not say they would give them a share of the taxes. The government gave them a share of the problems and a share of the costs but did not give them a share of the money.

I see my colleagues here from Quebec. I do not see the Prime Minister telling them that the government has downloaded 30% of its responsibilities to their province, so here is 30% more money. No, it has not been done. It has downloaded but it has not matched the burden to the provinces with similar funding.

In relation to our airports, we see that many of our airports have been taken over by the private sector or by boards operating at arm's length. There are different scenarios. Many of them are in trouble because our transportation system is in trouble for a number of reasons: lack of control by government, lack of putting proper infrastructure in place and lack of originality or vision by the government. It is always a reactionary government.

As the industry itself is in trouble, the airports, which are not taking in the same amount of money as they thought they would, find themselves in real trouble. Who pays the price? We have had several strikes across the country, including a couple in Newfoundland, because local budgets are being balanced on the backs of the workers, and that is unfortunate.

We can go on to the billion dollars that the government has asked departments to find. The government is passing out money on one hand and going back with the other and saying that it needs a billion dollars back. The government is taking money from departments that cannot afford to give it, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We could go on for hours and hours about the cuts there and the lack of investment.

It is great to be able to talk about how well we are doing. Maybe we should analyze why we are doing as well as we are and who is paying the price so that the government can crow about the fiscal position it is in right now.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to the report stage of Bill C-28, the budget implementation act. I have had the opportunity to speak to this budget bill over the last few stages as it has been going through the House. Today we are dealing with a few motions, Motions Nos. 13, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 19, and I will try to do my best to address them as I continue with my speech, but I want to try to address a few of the things I talked about just quickly in the previous stages and how this particular budget has failed Canadians.

We hear over and over again from the government that it has reduced taxes. In some areas I will have to admit it has, but overall personal taxes for Canadians are still far too high and they leave us out of the loop when it comes to being able to compete effectively, let alone leaving more money in the hands of Canadians at the end of the day. That is something more and more Canadians are getting frustrated about, especially when they see the amount of personal taxes they pay on their paycheques. It is still something that they really would like to see the government move on.

Because personal taxes are too high, let us look at certain areas where the government could have done more to help Canadians directly. The government could have looked, as we proposed, at reducing the GST. It is a tax that the government actually said it would kill, abolish and scrap before it came to power. Now it seems that the Liberals have not met a tax they do not like, because they surely have not done that. Reducing it would have been great. It would have helped Canadians, even in light of the fact that we have had rampant problems with GST fraud. We have dealt with that in the House and talked about it. We know that Canadians would like to see some of that money left in their own pockets, not the government's.

In the area of payroll taxes, the government has said that it has reduced its overall payroll taxes. Even though we have seen some reductions in EI, unfortunately those reductions have been completely offset by the increases in CPP. At the end of the day Canadians are finding that payroll taxes tend to kill jobs. At a time when we need to support the economy and do more to stimulate growth, clearly payroll taxes would be an area in which we could reduce the overall cost to businesses and employers.

We know that at the end of the day there is a huge surplus in the EI fund. It would have been great to have been able to leave some of that money in the hands of the workers who deserve to keep that money, and not, unfortunately, spend it on programs where the government has thrown it away, like the gun registry, sponsorship, and a number of other things where there has just been a complete management bungling on the other side of the House.

Also we have heard it proposed that RRSP limits be increased, although not as high as we would have liked. In the finance committee the suggestion was to raise it to $19,000 but in fact the government over the course of the next four or five years is slowly going to be raising it to $18,000. Clearly that is something we need to address in the future. It is unfortunate that the government has not done more for Canadians to be able to address that.

The last time I addressed the budget, I talked a little about the customs agents, about the problems that have affected some of our customs agents and officers and the challenges they are facing on a daily basis. I know that the minister disagrees with me and we often get into heated debate, but she has not treated customs agents the way that they deserve to be treated. It is almost shameful. We have had comments in this place where the minister actually has referred to them, and I know she denies this, as bank tellers; she has done that in the past. She has even said that if they were armed there would be 3,000 accidents waiting to happen. She has used that here in this place and she has even gone so far as to refer to me as Charlton Heston.

I do not mind being compared to Moses, and quite frankly, sometimes when I look across the aisle I do think we live in the world of Planet of the Apes , but her slurs continue. It is unfortunate that she does not step up to the plate, try to take care of the problems at customs and resource those customs agents the way they deserve to be resourced given the fantastic job they are going and being stretched to the limit.

I talked about that in great detail the last time so I will not go back down that road right now, but we still have problems at customs. We have not dealt with the 40% of border crossings that still do not have the proper resources for computers and that are unable to stop and detain people entering Canada who may be dangerous, and obviously there is the issue of firearms, with which we know the minister does not agree at all.

Today we are dealing with Motion No. 13, the issue of GST on school buses, Motions Nos. 14 and 15 that deal with the disability tax credit issue and Motions Nos. 17 and 19 that deal with some overall tax changes. I wanted to talk a little about the GST on school buses issue, especially seeing that Motion No. 13 calls for Bill C-28 to be amended by deleting clause 64. We are going to be taking a position against the motion, but I wanted to talk about this particular issue seeing that we had to deal with it most recently in committee. Some of my colleagues in the House today will remember that.

We on this side of the House are concerned about this. Obviously we do not want to have a bias against contracting out to private services, especially if it means more efficiency, especially if it helps school boards to transport and do a better job for the students using the services, but obviously we need a system that works when it comes to the GST rebate system for public service bodies such as school boards.

The courts cannot decide Canadian tax policy. We should get that straight. That is the prerogative of the government and the House of Commons. Unfortunately we are seeing more and more that the government defers to the courts when it should actually be dealing with the issues right here and we should be making changing to the tax codes in the House rather than tying up the courts in determining what in fact should be fair and what should not be.

As I said, the issue came up in committee. The amendment to the Excise Tax Act is basically an amendment that would clarify the amount of GST input rebate that school boards would be entitled to with respect to school transportation. The amendment was made in response to a 2001 Federal Court of Appeal decision that school boards or provincial governments that contracted out school bus services to private companies were entitled to a 100% rebate of their GST costs rather than the 68% they are entitled to under the legislation.

The purpose of the 68% GST rebate is to match the tax rate under the old manufacturers' sales tax. The federal amendment in Bill C-28 would ensure that a school authority's supply of transport to and from school for students is exempt regardless of how the supply may be funded or provided. This is a prudent move. If we had left the court decision to stand, it unfortunately would have discriminated against school boards that supply their own student transportation rather than contracting out and would have opened the floodgates for other public service bodies to claim 100% rebate on the GST they spend. There could be an unfortunate snowballing effect and that was raised at the committee.

Exempt supplies are supplies on which there is no liability for the GST and therefore the tax is not charged to the end user or collected from the supplier. However, the tax on the portion of a public service body's total expenses used in exempt activities would qualify for a partial GST rebate. There are different percentages that vary depending on the services that are being provided. I know that for hospitals it is 83%, for schools, as was mentioned, it is 68%, municipalities 57%, and the list goes on. There are different levels. We know that municipalities are currently trying to win in getting that 100% rebate on their GST as well. We know that there have been huge costs associated with municipalities even when it comes to their transportation systems. I know that in the end the Toronto Transit Commission pays, even after the rebate, close to $50 million in GST, I think, since the amalgamation in 1998.

These are the kinds of things the government could do more in trying to help, especially for the challenges the municipalities are facing when it comes to infrastructure. We have seen such a drop in investment on that side of things. If they can actually claim back these rebates and reuse them, then I think there is no doubt it would help deal with some of the challenges municipalities have.

On the other amendments, I will say quickly that I believe we will be opposing almost all of them that we are debating even though there are positive merits in some of them, such as specifically the motion trying to ease the definition of the disability tax credit from feeding and dressing to feeding or dressing. We do support a portion of that, but ultimately there still are concerns about how much that would open up and what sort of negative effect it could have.

To wind up, I want to mention the issue of capital tax. The government has moved on this particular issue and will be reducing capital tax. We on this side of the House have always believed that if more money is left in the hands of the economy it will do more good. We would like to be able to eliminate the capital tax completely. That would give support to a lot of businesses and people who invest and get the economy going. I think it has been proven that in the long run governments actually benefit from that because more economic activity results in more government revenue. That is something we wish the government would have moved on also; we know that it is reducing this over a five year period, but it would have been great to see that reduction right now, helping businesses, individuals and society to be more productive.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly did not want to jump ahead of one of my colleagues from the opposite side who I know have been following this legislation very closely and who I think have been contributing mightily to this debate.

I did want to involve myself on two points, Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, Motions Nos. 14 and 15 that deal with the disability tax credit. What the government was trying to do by sections 74 and 75 of the act was to clarify the eligibility for the disability tax credit in the context of individuals being able to feed and clothe themselves.

One of the things that was very noticeable when the government moved on restricting access to the disability tax credit was that quite a few people came into my constituency office and reacted negatively to it. There are two categories of these individuals. The first is that category of individuals who I could see really were unfairly affected by the tightening down of the definition of what constitutes eligibility for the disability tax credit.

For example, I remember vividly one lady who came into my office. She was arthritic and quite crippled. Her hands were completely twisted around. She had a lot of difficulty just moving, but this was an individual who had tremendous joie de vivre. She did not let this crippling illness prevent her from doing as much as she possibly could, but because she was perceived by the bureaucracy as being mobile and able to move around, she was declared ineligible for the disability tax credit. The reality was that because of the very twisted condition of her hands in particular, she genuinely had a real difficulty in feeding herself and she had to have assistance. So it was very important for her to be brought under the disability tax credit even though in every other sense she was mobile in society, or as mobile as she could be.

On the other hand, there were people who came in and complained that they were eliminated from the disability tax credit because they had a food allergy. This food allergy caused them to spend all kinds of time searching for the right foods, as a matter of fact, so much time that they could not effectively work or hold down a job and this kind of thing. Not wanting to categorize all of those people, there was a reality. One gets this sense when one is a member of Parliament in one's constituency office and deals with a lot of people. There was a sense that this category of individual was willing to surrender to their disability rather than fight it.

In comparison to the lady with the severe arthritis, these people seemed to be, to all appearances, very capable of moving about and contributing to society and contributing to their own care and looking after themselves. But there was a Federal Court ruling pertaining to the disability tax credit which basically suggested that people who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to look for the foods that they need in order to satisfy their allergies should be brought under the disability tax credit.

The government, in amending the legislation we see before us now in clauses 74 and 75, attempts to distinguish between these two realities, one a disability that genuinely does make it impossible to feed and dress oneself. I can assure members that it is very difficult, and I know this from experience, to do the most elementary things when one's hands are crippled.

Just briefly as an aside, I should say that I have some passing knowledge of this because on my 21st birthday my friend and I jumped the neighbour's hedge and I came down on my hands on a concrete sidewalk. While neither of my hands were fractured, all the ligaments on either side were strained. For about six weeks I could not use either hand, so I can sympathize with people who might have severe arthritis about how this makes it very difficult to do simplest things like feeding and dressing oneself.

While the original amendments in this section make this distinction, and they are good amendments, unfortunately the motions that are proposed would scrap both clauses 74 and 75 eliminating, in my view, this very necessary distinction between being physically crippled to do something that is essential and being what I suppose one could call emotionally disadvantaged or even emotionally crippled. Sometimes it is not wise to use the government's ability to assist people financially to address issues that are basically emotional. Sometimes it is better if these people delve into their own resources to find their own ways of dealing with these emotional disabilities.

I will leave that for a moment and take advantage of the few minutes that I have to comment on something else in the bill which I have not had an opportunity to comment on before. That is the introduction in this legislation of a first nations goods and services tax.

It is ironic because of course the goods and services tax is one of the most hated taxes in Canada. Although it is not being debated very much these days, I guess after almost 12 years in which it has been in place, people have given up on it and it is no longer the source of negative comment that it once was. However it is a very important method of raising revenue for the federal government.

Bill C-28 brings the goods and services tax into native self-government. It is a very positive step in that the government has been attempting, as a matter of policy, over the past five or six years, to bring in aboriginal self-government and make aboriginal communities as independent as possible. One of the ways to do that is rather than aboriginal governments, Indian governments and band councils being totally reliant on money coming from the federal government, they should be able to raise money by themselves within their own communities. This legislation introduces the ability among first nations to raise money through a goods and services tax within their own communities.

What is so relevant and so timely about that is the government has before Parliament, as we speak, a complementary bill called Bill C-7, which brings in self-government, provisions of transparency, accountability and standards of governance to some 600 Indian bands and communities across the nation. This legislation has been somewhat controversial because I realize some of the opposition parties are opposed to it. However most of the country, most aboriginals and anyone who has any familiarity with the problems that exist on our Indian reserves will appreciate this is extremely important legislation.

I point out that if one is to enable Indian bands and communities to raise money on their own, one has to have a coherent scheme of transparency, accountability and standards of governance in those band councils. It is all part of a package, Bill C-28 and Bill C-7. These are two very positive things on the part of this government.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Manicouagan, Fisheries; the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, Fisheries.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, as you see, all things come to those who wait. I am pleased to speak today, albeit a little later than I expected, to share my opinion on Bill C-28, on implementation of certain provisions in the budget.

I could summarize my speech by saying that the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared to what it needs. That is shocking, but also and particularly, unacceptable. Financially, the federal government has a lot of room to maneuver; $18.2 billion over two years, according to the present Minister of Finance, and $25.8 billion over two years, according to our calculations.

What is more, despite the fact that there is an 11% rise in expenditures, which is enormous, the Bloc Quebecois is of the opinion that the federal Liberal government is going to have a surplus of $14.7 over the next two years. This clearly illustrates the extent of the fiscal imbalance and clearly points to what I have already said in my summary.

I could also summarize what I have to say as this: the federal government is responding more to the needs of a Prime Minister in waiting than to the true needs of the public. It is doing nothing to correct fiscal imbalance, nothing to help the victims of the softwood lumber crisis, nothing to put an end to the pillaging of the EI fund.

The regions, which are dependent on the softwood lumber industry, the self-employed workers, whose existence is not recognized by the federal government, the aboriginal people, the unemployed, the workers paying EI premiums, are all part of the great forgotten as far as this budget is concerned. Middle-income taxpayers are totally forgotten as well.

Unions and employers are frustrated by the diversion of the EI fund, and are demanding an independent fund to stop the federal government from pillaging it, as well as for the contribution rate to be set by the contributors. This, of course, is what the Bloc Quebecois has been demanding for years now. We had even hoped that the federal government would create a stand-alone fund before the former finance minster becomes the future Prime Minister.

In addition to failing to create a stand-alone employment insurance fund, the budget announced a delay of nearly two years in the implementation of a new mechanism for calculating premium rates. However, employment insurance could generate a $3 billion surplus over the next fiscal year, according to our estimates, while the current Minister of Finance is promising, in the future, to strike a balance between employment insurance premiums and program expenditures. What a balance: $3 billion.

With regard to infrastructure projects, we had asked that the appropriate funds be released so essential projects could get underway in Quebec. We had asked for substantial long-term commitments. However the increase in infrastructure expenditures is insufficient, and the government is delaying in allocating the needed funds. I will repeat here that the federal budget meets the needs of an outgoing Prime Minister and a future Prime Minister better than the real needs of the people.

The budget provides for additional investments of $3 billion over 10 years. These investments have resulted in an additional $2 billion for the strategic infrastructure fund. This fund is increasing from $2 billion to $4 billion. Although we demanded massive investments in infrastructure, only $100 million, of the additional $3 billion announced in this budget, has been allocated in fiscal 2003-04. This nowhere near meets the needs.

This amount is clearly inadequate, given all the needs. We might have expected, at the very least, that a fair part of this investment, or $300 million, would be allocated in fiscal 2004-05. However, after the next two fiscal years, only $250 million of the $3 billion will be provided. This is disappointing, but I said this at the beginning of my speech: the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared to what it needs. The simple conclusion is, therefore, that the federal Liberal government is not taking infrastructure needs seriously.

We have indicated that the Government of Quebec must remain in charge of the projects and allocating funds. However, the budget indicates the projects related to climate change will be eligible for funding through these infrastructure initiatives. Yet, it is very clear from the funding criteria for the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund that it is the Government of Quebec or the provincial and territorial governments that are responsible. Let us hope that the fund, bolstered by an additional $2 billion, will continue to operate in this way.

Another disturbing fact is that the budget mentions that $1 billion will go to municipal infrastructure. It is important to note that the federal government cannot provide money directly to municipalities. The Government of Canada must keep in mind that it must deal with the Government of Quebec, and not municipalities. Obviously, in counting on this $1 billion, Quebec will be able to better plan and coordinate spending on its own.

Even the Coalition pour le renouvellement des infrastructures du Québec was disappointed by this budget. According to the coalition:

It is unfortunate to note that, despite the intentions laid out in the Speech from the Throne, the priority given to repairing our infrastructure for roads, sewers and water is dangerously low. What is the point of investing in health if we are going to have less and less confidence in the drinking water infrastructure and roads? We are putting off repairs to basic infrastructure and what is worse, we are compromising quality of life for citizens and competitivity for business.

It is also important to mention the reaction from the office of the mayor of Montreal and the executive committee of the City of Montreal, which feel that the 2003 budget brought down by the government is disappointing. The chair of the executive committee said that the Liberal federal government's proposal was clearly insufficient, considering the needs of the City of Montreal to renew its infrastructure. The same is true for all municipalities in Quebec.

Once again, I submit that the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared ito its needs. The Bloc Quebecois is not the only one to say so, it is being said by many stakeholders every day.

Another cause for concern is that there is no mention in the budget of any form of assistance for self-employed workers. From day one, they have been the forgotten ones in connection with the EI fund, since they are uninsurable under the act. Yet self-employed workers account for 16% of the active labour force. The Liberal federal government should have taken advantage of this budget to establish a framework to extend the application of the EI system, with respect to both regular and special benefits, to self-employed workers. Once again, this clearly shows that the objectives of this budget do not reflect the needs of the people of Quebec and Canada.

We must not forget the latest health negotiations. An agreement was reached whereby $800 million was transferred to Quebec. After this amount was reinvested by the previous PQ government, the media, hospitals, and the health care community in general, are already reporting noticeable improvement with this $800 million received. This amount is only about half the $2 billion originally requested. Now imagine what could have been done with $2 billion, as confirmed by the report on health care; it would not be so difficult to make ends meet and Quebeckers and Canadians would have the kind of health care system they need.

It is wrong to blame the problem on a government, be it in Quebec or elsewhere.

There are huge surpluses which contribute to the fiscal imbalance. All the provinces in Canada agree on this, starting with Quebec, which is spearheading the demonstration that a fiscal imbalance exists, and all the provinces agree with the Séguin report. Moreover, every opposition party in this House also agrees.

In addition, I am convinced that many on the government side are aware of the existence of a fiscal imbalance. But we know how it is: the executive claims that there is no such thing, and everyone remains silent. These were my comments.