House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Nay.

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 18, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

The House resumed from February 12 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

February 16th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to take part in the debate on the throne speech.

This is one of many throne speeches in my long career. The first one for which I was present was after the general election of 1974. In those 30 years a lot has happened, for the better I might add. When we ran in the 1974 election, the then prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, campaigned on capital assistance to cities, specifically urban transit, regional transit and help with all the infrastructure in our great cities. In Toronto, where I am from, that was particularly well received. However, the moment we got into office, the financial realities being what they were, we had to renege on all of those commitments.

For 30 years the federal government has taken a back seat to helping municipalities across the country. One thing I am most proud of in the last number of years is being able to work from the inside of government to try to change attitudes in Ottawa, attitudes, not just in the cabinet, but in the bureaucracy. There is an attitude in this town that says that somehow the municipalities out there, the great cities and their infrastructure problems, are not really the responsibility of the federal government. Time and time again at cabinet committee meetings I heard the argument “We do not want to own the problem”. That is an unacceptable phrase to use at any time.

I can remember that when we talked about helping the homeless some years ago there was incredible resistance within the bureaucracy, within government and within the prime minister's office to somehow deal with the problem. We had meetings and we found that each department was operating in a silo, that there was no one department that could look across government and really zero in on how we could help deal with one of the tragedies of our time.

No one in the House can be proud that in the year 2004, when we have a very prosperous economy, a well educated economy, we can leave Parliament Hill or go to Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver or smaller communities across the country and trip over people sleeping in the streets. That is not the mark of a great society and that is one of our great failures. When I say ours, I mean collectively, because the responsibility is not just in Ottawa, it is also at the municipal and provincial levels.

Our municipalities cannot deal with problems like the homeless unless they have funding. We fought in cabinet, in caucus, the Toronto caucus in particular, to get funding for the homeless. It has helped to some degree, but what has happened in the last year or so in our cities, particularly in Toronto, is we see an increase in the homeless despite the fact that we have put more money toward the entire problem.

My colleague from Peterborough just reminded me that I am splitting my time with him. I would not want to do Peterborough out. It is a smaller municipality and is a very important municipality which also needs the help which was signalled in the throne speech.

We made a start with the homeless, but it is not nearly good enough. There is something radically wrong with this society in this part of our history when we have such wealth and when we reduced income taxes by $100 billion over five years, yet we have potholes in the streets of Ottawa and Toronto. We have buses that do not operate in Toronto. We have subways and streetcars breaking down. We have people sleeping in the streets. We have waiting lists of people trying to get into our hospitals. If we bundle people up in an ambulance and try to get them to the hospital in Toronto, they will be turned away from hospital after hospital and they end up kilometres away from where they live. That is not the mark of a mature or prosperous society. We have our priorities wrong.

We could argue that perhaps we cut too hard and too fast in the mid-1990s. I do not want to get into that debate. We had that debate in cabinet. The fact is we are in a surplus position and we have to use our money wisely. We have to deal with some of these issues which are very salient, particularly to the large municipalities, but also right across the country in terms of hospital waiting lists, in terms of the homeless and in terms of the municipal infrastructure.

I was really happy to see the Prime Minister campaigning, when he was minister of finance, off and on. He rapped me on the knuckles a few times when I talked about the gas tax as minister of transport, but then he adopted that and I was very pleased. I went one further at the same meeting and said “Why stop there? Why not do something about the GST?”

Guess what? In the throne speech the Prime Minister actually has delivered. The government will work with the provinces to share with municipalities a portion of the gas tax revenues and determine other fiscal mechanisms to achieve these goals. Also, as of February 1, we will turn over the GST that the municipalities pay. That is a really good down payment. When we combine that with the infrastructure money we have made available in previous budgets, that is a good start, but it is not good enough. It should not get us off the hook.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

It won't.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Don Valley East, ON

It should not get us off the hook.

I grew up in Toronto. It is a wonderful city yet I see the infrastructure crumbling. I see holes in the streets and crevices in the sidewalks. I see the homeless sleeping in the streets. I see parks unattended. I see garbage not being picked up. Municipalities are really taking it on the chin. It is up to the senior governments to ensure that money flows through and flows through properly.

I was happy when I was the regional minister for the greater Toronto area to work with my caucus colleagues to ensure that we made significant investments. We have seen a renaissance of the arts in Toronto with the construction of a new opera house, the construction of a new addition to the Ontario Art Gallery, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Roy Thomson Hall and of course the new National Ballet School on Jarvis Street, which not only is a cultural necessity for the entire nation, but is a big part of our urban renewal in that part of town. I have been supported by my colleague, the member for York South—Weston, on these ventures, and the former chairman of metropolitan Toronto has been a great tower of strength in all those deliberations.

We also put a billion dollars among us, the province and the municipalities into GO Transit. For those who unfortunately do not have commuter rail in their communities, GO Transit is perhaps one of the great resources we have in the greater Toronto area. It transports thousands of people everyday to and from their jobs using conventional rail, using CN and CP infrastructure. We are putting a billion dollars worth of infrastructure into GO Transit.

Part of that money will also help to build Canada's first dedicated rail link from the downtown core to the airport. Those people who go through Pearson International Airport will see one of the world's great airports when it opens this April. It is a magnificent piece of construction and it will be a gateway not just to the greater Toronto area and southern Ontario but to all of Canada. That will be linked with a 15 minute rail service to Union Station with a connection to the subway on the way down. That means people will be able to get to the airport. As the airport is built for 50 million people, it must have rapid transit. Canada cannot allow our car mentality society, our highway driven society to suck the lifeblood out of our ability to commute from downtown to the airport.

I am getting close to the end, but one thing that is not in here, when we talk about the new agenda for the municipalities, are ways in which we can use the tax system to encourage brownfield building. We have to stop, certainly in the greater Toronto area, the building of prime farmland and urban sprawl which is creating gridlock. It is unproductive and I think it is creating social division within the great Toronto area. We have to work as a federal government to ensure that we have measures in place to stop urban sprawl. We have to work with the province of Ontario and the other provinces across the country.

The throne speech was a good start, but a lot more work has to be done. I know the Prime Minister's heart is in the right place and I will ensure that I support him with further measures to deal with all these issues that I have raised today.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I was pleased to hear my colleague mention the city and county of Peterborough in his remarks. This is something, Madam Speaker, that you can relate to and which may be of interest to you: Toronto is somewhere to the southwest of Peterborough just in the same way, I understand, that Vancouver is somewhere to the west of Kamloops.

I believe that the downloading of responsibilities, as it is called, which has occurred in recent years generally has been appropriate. My colleague mentioned homelessness in particular. My riding is partly rural and partly urban, and I believe that the only way to deal with homelessness in my community is at the local level. What we have not done, until now with regard to the GST, as he mentioned, is also download the resources to deal with those local problems.

I would like to ask my colleague to comment on that, because I know that with respect to transit, my colleague supported VIA Rail to Peterborough. I would like his comments on that from the point of view of smaller communities in Canada.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am glad my colleague raised this matter because it is very important. In the throne speech, the politically correct title was used, “Great Places To Live--A New Deal for Communities”, and that was to keep smaller communities happy. I want to keep them happy; they do have legitimate needs.

But unless we have been born and raised in or have lived in one of Canada's large cities, I do not think we can fully appreciate the unique nature of that experience. The daily trade-offs that an individual has to make in a big urban area are not like those that would have to be made in Peterborough or other smaller communities across the country. I wish we could all live in those smaller communities, but larger communities have unique problems and that is why I put so much emphasis on the Toronto area and the other big cities in the country.

One of the issues we have to deal with is that in our desire to deal with the deficit, five to ten years ago we downloaded not only the responsibility but the financial obligations to those communities; I know that the City of Toronto is almost broke. We cannot have the big cities in this country on their knees. The last time that kind of thing happened was in the Depression and the federal government had to bail them out. What I am saying is that now is the time for the federal government to bail out our municipalities.

Smaller cities like Peterborough have unique needs, and that is why the GST rebate will help everybody, but let us not be so politically correct that we lump large cities in with everyone else. It is the large cities that are receiving thousands of new people every day, immigrants from around the world, and they are being stretched to the limit. They do not have the resources to deal with the problems being created.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I have a short question for my colleague in relation to the gas tax. The Liberal government has been in office for 10 years and all it had to do was to work with the provinces to share with municipalities a portion of its gas tax revenue.

As the former minister of transport, my colleague had the opportunity to share with municipalities a portion of that gas tax, a portion of the $4.7 billion that the government raised through the 10¢ excise tax on gasoline, to address the potholes that he was talking about. Why has the government failed to act in the 10 year period it has been in power to truly address those infrastructure needs of our municipalities?

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Collenette Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not bound by cabinet solidarity anymore and the fact is that I agree with the hon. member. For the last 10 years I have been pounding away about this issue, but in fairness to the ministers of finance at the time, there were a lot of other priorities.

We know what it is like in government, though I am not sure the hon. member will ever know what it is like to be in government. If a party gets in government, it has to make compromises. We have to keep hammering away. We did receive money for the homeless and money for infrastructure and we put the whole gas tax issue on the map, but the former prime minister did not want to look at that. It was a source of disagreement between us. I am glad that the present Prime Minister is at least going down that road and has at least done this with the GST.

The Liberal Party is a very dynamic, creative group of people who enjoy the thrust and parry of debate. There is intellectual ferment. We give and we take, all for the betterment of the country. At least we are getting somewhere now.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to join in this debate on the Speech from the Throne. It is very special because it is the first speech of a new Prime Minister and a first speech for a new cabinet. Although all speeches from the throne are important, this one will be particularly important because it will be carried through to an election.

I want to speak particularly on the parts of the Speech from the Throne that deal with post-secondary education and research. In my remarks, I am going to be referring to the open letter that was published, long before the speech, by the government caucus on post-secondary education and research and circulated very widely in the country. It can be found on my website at www.peteradams.org.

Before dealing with the speech itself, I want to comment on the new cabinet and the way that it has been structured from the point of view of post-secondary education and research and the federal government's involvement in those things.

First, we greatly appreciate the division of the former department of HRDC into two departments, including the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. We believe and we hope, when we look at the vision statement of that new department, that it will become the depository for information and resources to do with lifelong learning as we know it today. It is not, by the way, that this department will take over everything the federal government does in lifelong learning, but it will become knowledgeable about what is going on and as a result make the federal programs, whichever departments they are coming from, even more effective.

We realize that post-secondary education in particular, as well as research, is a shared jurisdiction with the provinces. We are very conscious of that. We want the federal government to be much more proactive in dealing with the provinces and so we hope that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will in the future become the permanently designated representative for the federal government with the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada.

In the past, senior federal cabinet ministers have attended that particular council, which is the nationwide group dealing with education. I think they have been well received but they have been different ministers representing different departments. We think now that this one minister should be briefed on all those matters by all the federal departments and should be our representative on that council.

Second, we were delighted that the parliamentary secretary to the new minister that I have just mentioned has particular responsibility for the Canada student loan program and for student loans in general. We think this is particularly important. We have supported the development of the Canada student loan program to where it is and we would support further development of the program, but we, like many others, are concerned about student debt.

The time has come for us to wean ourselves away from heavy dependence on loans. We were delighted to see in the Speech from the Throne that there will now be grants for lower income students to cover their expenses in the first year of university or college. These will be grants and those grants will be added to grants that go with the RESP program. We are glad that there is now a parliamentary secretary doing nothing else but looking after student loans.

We know that in the new structure of cabinet there is also a parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister who is responsible for science and small business. From the point of view of research, this is extremely important. Having this person, one of our colleagues, reporting directly to the Prime Minister is very important for science, that is to say, science in the universities and colleges and other schools in Canada and science in the private sector.

For example, the R and D tax environment has greatly improved in recent years for small business and larger business. It needs to be even further strengthened so that the private sector is encouraged to participate in real research.

It also includes responsibility for in-house federal science. Groups like the National Research Council, which work with small business and maintain vital government labs, deserve support. Groups like the Geological Survey of Canada and researchers in Environment Canada and other federal departments need a voice to deal directly with the Prime Minister. This parliamentary secretary has been named and we hope that he--and perhaps in the future it might be a she--will deal with this.

I referred to our open letter. There were various sections in it. One dealt with the north. We do notice that the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs now has a parliamentary secretary dealing specifically with northern economic development and other matters related to the north. In research and development, we believe that the federal obligation in the north, both in the territories and in the near northern parts of the provinces, is particularly important. We hope that this new position will help with that.

Also mentioned in the Speech from the Throne but existing before then is the appointment of a science adviser to the Prime Minister. This is the first time in Canadian history that such a person has been appointed. The actual individual involved is currently the President of the National Research Council, a very distinguished scientist. He will be reporting directly to the Prime Minister on science in general. My understanding is that he will start in April.

For those of us who are interested in research, whether it is within the federal system or whether it is within the colleges and universities or in the private sector, this appointment of a permanent person who will report directly to the Prime Minister and future prime ministers is going to be a major step forward.

As is known, our objective is that by 2010 Canada will be in the top five countries in the world as far as research and development are concerned. We believe that is quite feasible, but only if we coordinate better. By the way, there are many things we still need to do, but if we could coordinate better what we are already doing, it would be a major help toward achieving that objective.

In the open letters I mentioned, which we have had for a number of years now, we have always mentioned international studies and internationalization on the campuses of colleges, universities, high schools and so on across the country. We believe the federal government has a very special role in research and development in the international sphere.

We hear about the Canada corps that the Prime Minister is proposing. My understanding of it is that it will be as we have had in the past: a youth corps doing volunteer work and so on overseas. I think this is admirable and I look forward to that happening very actively again to reinforce Canada's roles overseas.

We also hope that this Canada corps will become a sort of repository of knowledge of what is going on in civil society, in high schools, in colleges, universities and in government departments, be they provincial, territorial, or federal, in the international sphere all across the country, so that in this one place, in addition to equipping teams that will help in developing countries, they will have some knowledge of what is going on in a particular developing country. Again, this will focus better what is happening already in the international sphere across Canada.

In regard to the Speech from the Throne, let me say that in our letter we mentioned other investments that happened before this. I would like to express our feeling of great relief that some years ago the government invested in a number of foundations, for example, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the climate change foundation, human Genome Canada. We invested money that will flow in millennium scholarships and graduate student scholarships over a period of years so that they are no longer subject to the economy or to the annual vicissitudes of the government. We think those early investments are going to stand Canada in good stead.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, it always amazes and surprises me when I hear members opposite talking about how to make programs more efficient and the good things we can do in the country and I watch in disgust as money is being stolen from taxpayers day by day by the Liberal Party and its members in the House of Commons. It really is disgusting when we think about it. Talk is pretty cheap when we are witnessing those kinds of actions.

I do want to ask a couple of questions concerning the education system, being one of the CEOs of a fairly large educational school district. One question concerns the foreign student intake in post-secondary facilities. Much of what is being done, even in high school today, is done because of the high student fees and the extra income that motivates educational institutes within Canada to bring in foreign students.

The consequence of that exercise, of course, is that the GPA for Canadian students to enter a post-secondary school goes up every year and it gets harder for Canadian students to get in because seats are being filled by those who are willing to pay a lot higher fee. It also drives up the fees for our Canadian students.

I would like to ask the member if any consideration has been given to looking into the situation to find out how we can get more of our students into our own facilities and to stop screening them out by requiring higher GPAs, because of other problems we are seeing in the country.

Resumption Of Debate On Address In Reply
Speech From The Throne

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague's interest in these matters with respect to international students.

As he knows, tuition is a provincial jurisdiction. I am sure he would join me in my support of the idea that in the transfer that we make to the provinces there be a designated transfer for post-secondary education that could only be spent on that.

He mentioned the higher tuition. In Ontario, which just recently had a Conservative government, tuition is the second highest in Canada. We just got rid of grade 13, which was an essentially free college or university year. We replaced it with a year in college or university, which has the second highest tuition.

In the adjacent province, the province of Quebec, as my colleague knows, it has two years of free college. This is with the same transfers to that jurisdiction as others. If we go to British Columbia we would discover that tuition has been kept low for a number of years.

I strongly support the lowering of tuition in the provinces where they have raised it to an extreme extent.

Going back to the international students, my view is that we benefit in at least two ways. We benefit from future contacts with those 200 or so countries around the world from which they come and our students benefit from them being on campus. I do think, though, that the federal role in those things should be better co-ordinated, in the way I tried to describe in my remarks.