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 cabinet.

Topics

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the other petition asks Parliament to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, we heard some questions on that crazy gun registry today where one of my colleagues said that it was now costing $2 billion. Unfortunately, I have several hundred petitions from my constituents who think it only costs $1 billion. I feel a little remiss because it has actually cost double what they think. It also is not supported by the provinces. They also petition that the gun registry actually has not reduced gun crimes.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to repeal Bill C-68.

I cannot see any good logical cost effective argument for why they are wrong. I think they are right. Bill C-68, the gun registry--

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Calgary West is an experienced member and he knows that in presenting petitions, he does not want to express any opinion in respect of the matter. That would be out of order. He can give a nice summary of the petition, which he has done. Beyond that, his comments are out of order.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, hundreds of citizens from Cariboo—Chilcotin have petitioned Parliament to immediately hold a renewed debate on the definition of marriage and to reaffirm, as it did in 1999, its commitment to take all necessary steps to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed 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 / 3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, those who were expecting to see a great moment in politics and the beginning of a new era with the Speech from the Throne of Martin I must have been very disappointed. Instead we had a long speech worthy of his predecessor, Chrétien IV.

The speech contains no big surprises, except for this decision to retroactively reimburse the goods and services tax to municipalities. The Prime Minister himself had already made commitments on a number of things. His predecessor had already promised a number of things as well. I will name one that we feel strongly about, that is the payment this year of $2 billion to Quebec and the provinces for health care. Thus, this government's work plan is a continuation of what has already been put forward and what has been going on since 1993.

Journalists and political analysts had to use a whole range of synonyms to ensure their texts were different from one another. We saw expressions like ambiguous speech, quiet invasions, vague game plan, mere formality, election opportunism, you name it.

The Prime Minister has not been able to embody change. In the continuity of more than 10 years of Liberal rule, the Speech from the Throne has left out the essence.

The most despicable and hypocritical thing about what we are hearing from the Liberal government and this Prime Minister is that, having caused the problems himself, he wants now to pass himself off as the rescuer. There are two terms that very aptly summarize this year's throne speech: meddling and hypocrisy.

The new Minister of Finance, who has learned his lessons well from the member for LaSalle—Émard, claims that the government's finances are tight, yet the Prime Minister is loosening the purse strings in favour of the municipalities. But, when the subject of health funding comes up, the government is incapable of honouring its commitments.

I do not know whether the Liberal member for Shefford has taken the time recently to look at what is going on in her own riding. Last week, the emergency room at the hospital centre in Granby reported a 400% occupancy rate. My question is this: Does she agree with her government's decision to fund the municipalities and not fund health?

Here is the situation: the government is committed to the tune of $11 billion for the municipalities and the environment, yet there is nothing for health. This decision comes at a time when the federal surplus for the current year might be as much as $7 billion.

Every year in the past ten, the strategy has been the same. In the budget, they downplay revenues and pad expenditures, so that in the end they end up with billions of dollars that were not forecast. As a result, they can put these billions of dollars into foundations and apply the surplus against the debt. I understand that the debt needs to be paid down, but the way things are going, it is going down all by itself.

Instead of creating foundations in order to duplicate areas of provincial jurisdiction, they should be investing more into areas where the present Prime Minister has made cuts. Hon. members will recall that, in 1993-94, there were drastic cuts in transfer payments to the provinces for health and education. There was also nothing for seniors, and they were not even informed about income supplement possibilities.

This new Prime Minister has changed absolutely nothing. He is doing exactly what this government has been doing since 1993.

In the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, the author of the text has used a term he took the trouble to place in quotes. On page 2, it reads, “This government does 'get it'”. One of the meanings of the word used in French, pige, is to help oneself. The government is certainly helping itself through a variety of subterfuges, scams, smoke and mirrors. The Liberal government has been helping itself freely to public funds to satisfy its craving for visibility.

There is the sponsorship scandal, the misuse of funds we have raised more than 441 times in this House and which is the subject of a scathing report by the Auditor General.

The Liberal government forgot to mention it. It chose to gloss over the whole thing. It also forgot its promises. Before and during the election campaign, all the regions of Quebec and Canada are visited and told that funding will be allocated here and there, that there will be help for the less fortunate. It is always the same thing.

With the Speech from the Throne, we are being told in advance. Yet there is nothing about the employment insurance fund, support for developing countries through international aid, the mad cow crisis, the softwood lumber crisis, compensation for seniors who have been unfairly denied the guaranteed income supplement, or help for older workers who lose their jobs. There is nothing for the people in my riding who work for a company called Denim Swift, that is going to close its doors because of the competition inherent to globalization.

Some 600 jobs will disappear. Some 600 people will lose their jobs because of this closure. Some of these people are seniors or couples who have been working there for 25, 30, or 35 years. They are in their late fifties. There is nothing for them. The program for older worker adjustment was supposed to be reinstated. At present, there is a program that the provinces share. The major unions tell us that it is absolutely worthless and that it takes too much time to set it up. It takes months and is not worth the trouble. It does not help workers.

These workers have contributed to employment insurance for 35 or 40 years. They want the EI surplus to be used for programs that will help them cope or at least provide them with financial support until they are able to retire. After all they have given, they deserve some help.

Coming back to the throne speech, we can see that, on the sole issue of the bottomless pit that is the employment insurance fund, the Auditor General estimates that the accumulated surplus is close to $44 billion.

In 2001, just over half of the $15 billion paid into the employment insurance fund was distributed to the 2.4 billion unemployed workers. If you divide roughly half of $15 billion by 2.4 million unemployed, you get an average of about $290 a week. That is what was given back to those who lost their jobs.

For the year 2001 alone, $7 billion have just disappeared. We are being told that this sum has to be applied to the debt under various accounting principles. However, we know that several foundations have been established, but we never see where the money is going. We do not know what is going on with that. As several observers, journalists and others have said, it is robbery. The government is helping itself to the money in the employment insurance fund instead of supporting those people who need that money.

Here is my question. Do members find it acceptable that, at the same time, communications officers hired through the sponsorship program were making over $100 million, often without any real work being done?

Do members find that acceptable? People are preparing their income tax returns these days and find that they are sending a lot of money to the government. When they realize how their money is being wasted, do members think that they are happy?

I would have a lot more to say on this throne speech, but I know that I have only one minute left. I truly believe that, in the next election, people will pass judgment on what the government has done with their tax dollars.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Guelph—Wellington
Ontario

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speaker, the GST rebate has gone over really well in my community of Guelph. Mayor Quarrie is extremely pleased that her community will receive about $2 million in rebates. She has talked about doing great things for infrastructure and fixing some of the things in the city that need to be done.

The hon. member talked about a lot of things in her speech but she did not mention how much money the city she lives closest to will receive from the federal government. What kind of good things could it do for the community? I would be interested in hearing that.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the Liberal member that, first of all, the municipalities are creatures of the provinces. Provinces know the needs of the municipalities. These are two levels of government that can work together to develop infrastructure programs and to solve their problems.

It is true that municipalities are in great need of support and money. The promise that was made was to transfer the gas tax dollars or the GST to the provinces so that the provinces could support their municipalities.

What is regrettable is that the federal government is once again interfering in provincial jurisdictions. Eleven billion dollars is a lot of money. The provinces, and workers as well, need support.

The EI fund has now reached $44 billion, yet we do not know what happened to that money. Those who need it receive only 50% of their salary, and only for a few weeks. These funds should be transferred to the provinces to help our workers, as should the $2 billion, to help our health care system and support all those who are in hospital.

To solve the problems, Canadians have to suffer devastating effects, which do not affect only municipalities. Our health care systems from coast to coast are in shambles, and the provinces have to struggle to prevent the emergence of a new order that would allow rich people to get better services than the others.

This is not what we want. I know that the government and the member do not want a two-tier system. However, since 1993-94, the government has cut transfers to the provinces to the bone. Those transfers were meant to support the health system, the sick, education and the development of programs to support the municipalities.

The government is trying to help the medicine go down a little. It is saying, “We will transfer the GST. We will help the municipalities”. However, it is not its role to help municipalities that way. It certainly can help them, but through the provinces, whose jurisdiction it is to do so.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Guelph—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear an answer to my question in that. I heard a lot of complaints and a lot of “poor me” but the reality is that the federal government is giving a GST rebate to the member's nearest city. I would really like to know what that means in dollars. To my city it means $2 million.

It is easy but it is wrong to get up and continually complain when one receives money and help, as the federal government gives to communities in Quebec.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There is no time left but, with the indulgence of the Chair, I will give one more minute to the member for Drummond.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me a few seconds to respond to the member.

I find that kind of reaction somewhat disappointing and humiliating. I did not complain. Nothing could be clearer; the public which is noticing it and saying it.

Only those who close their eyes to what is going on in and around their own region make these kinds of comments.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka
Ontario

Liberal

Andy Mitchell Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to have an opportunity to debate the Speech from the Throne. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Guelph—Wellington. I will take about 10 minutes so that my colleague will have some opportunity as well.

I think most Canadians noted in the Speech from the Throne the deep commitment the Government of Canada has to aboriginal Canadians and, in general, to the issues surrounding Canada and its dealings with aboriginal Canadians. This includes dealing with first nations, with the Inuit and the Metis. The Government of Canada has made a very broad based commitment to move forward on all the issues that impact aboriginal Canadians.

First I will talk about some general principles and then I will talk a little about the types of policies we intend to undertake.

In a very general sense, we are trying to close the gap that exists between aboriginal Canadians and Canadians in general when it comes both to the social circumstances and to the economic circumstances.

Today a significant gap exists between aboriginal Canadians and Canadians in general. I think it is incumbent upon Parliament and the government to take measures, in conjunction with aboriginal Canadians, to reduce or close that gap.

In going about doing that, I am reminded of a comment I heard once concerning the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results.

One of the things the Speech from Throne clearly indicated was the commitment by the government and the Prime Minister to take the issues at hand, to think outside the box, so to speak, and in conjunction with first nations people, the Inuit and the Metis, find creative solutions and new ways to achieve the objective of closing the economic and social gap that exists presently.

As the Minister of Indian Affairs, I intend to take what I would term as a collaborative approach with the first nations and Inuit to reach out to them to collectively work on solutions. It is absolutely imperative that we recognize that aboriginal Canadians need to be full partners with government in terms of developing the solutions.

The days where we could be in Ottawa, in a territorial capital or in a provincial capital and simply decide on the correct approach are long over. We need to approach things in a collaborative and consultative way to come together to find the types of solutions and the types of directions that we need to pursue as we try to deal with the challenges that we face.

It is absolutely essential that we work with aboriginal Canadians toward a shared vision, one that we jointly agree is the direction in which we need to go, that we treat each other with mutual respect and that, in time, we gain the trust and the confidence of the first nations and Inuit as we move this agenda forward. It is my intention to work toward achieving that type of relationship with the first nations people.

We must end an era where we do things for aboriginal Canadians, and sometimes that is read to aboriginal Canadians, and work more in terms of providing a set of tools that will allow first nations communities, first nations people, the Inuit, the Metis, the opportunity to develop in the ways that make sense for them, that make sense for their communities, that take into account the circumstances they face and that allow them to develop the solutions in a way that is most appropriate to them.

I believe that needs to be our approach. It is one that will result in achievements and in progress, and it is one that I am very committed to pursuing.

In doing this, there are two broad policy approaches that we need to deal with. The first one has to do with the whole issue of relationships. Relationships are an important part of how we will move forward in terms of the aboriginal file.

By relationships I mean a number of things. First, the relationship between the Government of Canada, first nations people and Inuit and my colleague, the interlocutor, in terms of dealing with the Métis. It is absolutely essential that we define that relationship, and that we move forward on that relationship as the Speech from the Throne indicated, recognizing the historic agreements that have been a part of that relationship.

Part of that has to be the issue of governance. We have had an opportunity to talk about governance extensively in the House. Although there may be some issues about process, I do not think there is any issue about the principles that underlie the initiatives in terms of governance, accountability, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency. I believe those objectives are shared by aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians together. We will work toward developing that relationship in its broadest sense of governance.

There is also the relationship that exists between the federal government, the provinces and the territories when we are dealing with aboriginal Canadians. That is absolutely essential because it deals with a number of specific issues about whether a person is a first nations person that lives on reserve or off reserve, or whether a person is status or non-status. We need to better understand those relationships. We need to work through those relationships to understand how the various governments, provincial, territorial and federal, are going to work in conjunction with each other and in conjunction with aboriginal Canadians.

Then there is the relationships within the federal government itself. There are a large number of departments that have responsibility in terms of aboriginal Canadians. There are probably at least 14. One of the things that the Prime Minister has committed the government to is to take a comprehensive and rational approach to the issues, so that we do not work in a series of stovepipes on individual departments, but rather that we work in a horizontal manner across departmental lines where we are focused on the issues and solutions.

I was pleased to see the Prime Minister establish an aboriginal affairs committee of cabinet, so that we could bring that horizontal approach. I was also pleased to see the Prime Minister establish a secretariat within the Privy Council Office and the appointment of a parliamentary secretary specifically responsible to the Prime Minister to deal with these horizontal issues. These are good and important structures that the Prime Minister has put in place to help better define that relationship within the government.

As I have mentioned before, it is absolutely essential that we create an environment within which aboriginal Canadians can seek and achieve the success that they are moving toward.

In that respect, there were a number of specific policy areas that were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne: early childhood development, the need to get a good start; education; economic development; the quality of life, particularly in terms of housing; and ensuring we have a safe water supply.

Those are our commitments as a federal government. We will work with aboriginal Canadians to achieve these important objectives.