House of Commons Hansard #2 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was program.

Topics

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have thousands of names here petitioned in the House of Commons asking that government assembled in Parliament amend Bill C-23, allowing for retroactive inclusion of sex offenders serving a sentence or paroled for sexual offences and that sex offenders automatically be included on the national sex offender registry, removing the possibility of using the registry as a bargaining chip in going through the criminal justice system.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, in addition to that, I have another petition with hundreds of names. The petitioners are concerned about the definition of marriage and ask Parliament to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being a lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and I certainly concur with that.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I have another petition that asks Parliament to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to raise the age of sexual consent for sexual activity between a young person and an adult from 14 years to 16 years. This is highly regarded in my community.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to present a present a petition from several hundred members of my riding, specifically the Prince Rupert area, regarding salmon farming. In the petition, they ask that Parliament pass the necessary legislation to make farmed salmon a truly sustainable and healthy food choice.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.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

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

February 3rd, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

With regard to emergency debates, the Chair has received a notice from the hon. member for Huron—Bruce.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, as you will note, and as you will probably comment in a few moments, during the recess period I made it known to you and to others that I would encourage an emergency debate on the seriousness of the BSE issue, the mad cow disease issue.

I am trusting you will rule favourably that we will, at the earliest time convenient to this House, find it possible to be able to debate that on all sides of this House, because this is an issue that affects all Canadians and primarily our cattle producers in this country.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that tomorrow evening, at the conclusion of government orders, there will be a take note debate on this issue in response to the initiatives taken by my two colleagues and to questions that have been raised by other members of this House.

Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Under the circumstances, I assume the request for the debate for this evening is withdrawn.

The House resumed from February 2 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

10:10 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Canadian Alliance

Grant Hill Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer some remarks in response to the Speech from the Throne presented yesterday by Her Excellency the Governor General.

Before getting to the substance of my remarks I would like to take a moment, if I may, to make reference to the new political configuration in the House. The past year has been a tumultuous one for Conservatives everywhere in Canada. The bottom line, after all the tumult, is present here before us all today: a united Conservative Party of Canada.

This past year has been a very busy one for Conservatives across the country. The final result is before us today: the new, united Conservative Party of Canada.

I think I can say without fear of reproach that as parliamentarians, as politicians and as people interested in the welfare of our fellow citizens, we all owe a serious debt of gratitude to the member for Calgary Southwest and the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. These two men found a way to get over past battles and to focus on the future. They reunited the Conservative family in this country and, as I said a moment ago, I believe we are all the better for it. Parliamentary democracy functions best when there is competition, accountability and respect for the rules of fair play and political courtesy.

I am confident that now that the uncertainty is behind us, Canadians will witness a much more dynamic exchange of ideas here in Ottawa. Our friends who form the government will have to start taking more interest in what is going on here.

This will be good for Parliament and it will be beneficial to our democracy and our country.

As I listened to Her Excellency's remarks yesterday I must say I was more than a little disappointed. This was in fact the Prime Minister's first opportunity to address the nation. It was his day to put a road map on the table telling Canadians where he wants to go, what he wants to achieve and how he intends to achieve it.

Unfortunately, instead of a map we were shown a rather blurry set of directions that gave little indication where anyone was going. There were pages and pages full of carefully crafted claims that did little to tackle the challenges we face as a country, and , in the best tradition of the member for LaSalle—Émard, it made ambiguity appear to be a national virtue.

Her Excellency's speech yesterday spent a lot of time touching on issues dear to the hearts of Liberals everywhere. Unfortunately it had little of substance to say about the more prosaic, more important business of governing the nation and paying for the promises.

The pundits tell us we are going to have an election in the spring. Canadians might well wonder why. Why another election? After all it has only been three and a half years since the last one. We are told that our new Prime Minister needs a mandate from the people. He wants members and friends of the Liberal Party to vindicate him; to put their stamp of approval on his long and ultimately successful campaign to evict his predecessor.

That may well be true but I cannot help thinking that a hasty spring election will also be about rushing to re-election before some nasty truths emerge about steamship contracts, campaign dirty tricks and problems with drug laundering. This is probably the most important point. It will be about denying Canadians the opportunity to express their opinions about a host of contentious issues, from the definition of marriage to the actions of our security forces in the Arar case.

One has to wonder just what the Prime Minister and his colleagues think they are going to talk about during this election campaign. What will they have accomplished during the month or two of this government that would be worth taking to the people? A bunch of promises.

The answer to what he will talk about certainly will not be found in the legislative agenda before the House. It is nothing but legacy leftovers and puffy promises. In fact, it is the stuff of Cottonelle ads.

The government would like Canadians to believe this throne speech is a document that lays out a vision for what the Liberal government intends to do for Canadians. This document is nothing of the sort. This document is no more and no less than an election pamphlet for the Liberal Party of Canada. Given this, it deserves a response worthy of an election pamphlet.

Yesterday's speech was a great pile of platitudes and promises that, if the past is any guide, the government has no intention of keeping.

Canadians remember well another election document, the so-called red book that was written by, guess who, the current Prime Minister. They remember his promises to scrap the GST, to renegotiate NAFTA, to create an independent ethics counsellor, to name but three. I am not quite sure whether they are expecting these current promises to be kept. Liberal election documents, it seems, have a very short shelf life, and with good reason.

The second thing about the government's speech that we need to keep in mind is that it has nothing to do with an agenda for Canada and everything to do with an agenda for the Liberal Party of Canada.

The promises and vision so clearly stated yesterday by Her Excellency on behalf of the government, are not intended to improve life for average Canadians, but are meant to improve the chances for Liberal MPs. This is nothing new.

Yesterday's speech spent quite a bit of time talking about social issues, as well it should. The Prime Minister has let it be known that health care will be a top priority for the government.

As a medical practitioner, who could disagree? I certainly cannot. However as someone who has heard the promises for a decade now, I am not going to hold my breath.

I believe we can all see that these promises to improve the health care system are nothing but platitudes and that, as with so many other promises, the Prime Minister and his colleagues have no intention of keeping them.

Last week the government promised to give the provinces an additional $2 billion to help fund their health care system; a laudable promise, but should we have faith? One week the government says that it will pay that amount and the next it claims it has no money. It is like a political yo-yo.

Speaking of yo-yos, the Prime Minister says that public servants play an important role in government and in the formation of public policy. I agree, they do, so why has the Prime Minister been playing games, playing games in fact with their lives?

Since coming to office he has ordered a hiring freeze, frozen salaries, except for his government's senior political staff, and has sent mixed messages to thousands of employees about their jobs and their futures in the public service. The public service needs stability to function properly. Long term planning means just that. It cannot be done properly if the Prime Minister muses publicly, as he has been doing, that he just might or might not make major changes to the public service.

In any event, let me finish my thoughts about the Prime Minister's promise to give the provinces another $2 billion in health care funding. The real story here is the $25 billion the Prime Minister cut as finance minister, not the $2 billion he is grudgingly giving back, strings attached and all. I admit that $2 billion is nothing to sneeze at, but when we are trying to fill a $25 billion crater it is not really that much. It is a little like trying to fill a bomb crater with a bucket full of sand.

The government also says that it intends to work with the provinces to develop co-ordinated approaches for disease control and to help reduce waiting times in hospitals and health clinics. The Prime Minister and his colleagues had 10 years to do these important things and for 10 years they have done little but cut funding and, frankly, play shell games where ministers promised: funding but not now; new equipment but only later; and more personnel but only after negotiations and endless collaboration. In the meantime, the hospital lists get longer, the number of Canadians seeking diagnostic equipment grows larger and the ability of our health care system to respond adequately to a rapidly aging population is diminished.

At the Orleans Clinic, where I am currently retraining to return to medical practice, I met a young woman the other day who told me how the Liberal approach to health care translates into the real world. Her doctor moved to an inconvenient location for her and she was not able to visit him any longer. When she saw this new face in the clinic she said “You haven't been here before. Are you coming here to practice, doctor?” I had to say that I was simply retraining and would be going back to Alberta. She literally begged me to stay so she could have a family physician. Here in this big metropolitan city of Ottawa this woman cannot find a GP who will take her on his roster.

Health care a la Liberal Party of Canada; that is an embarrassment and a shame.

The throne speech has made significant mention of a new approach to providing modern AIDS drugs for underdeveloped countries. As a compassionate nation I support those initiatives, but let me contrast that with a domestic issue. It does remind me of a domestic issue that was handled so poorly by the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party. I cannot understand why individuals infected with hepatitis C from tainted blood were turned down for help from this government. They begged for help and the government cried that it could not hear them. I would like an explanation from this Prime Minister for that approach.

By the way, we did find $100 million. What was that $100 million for? It was for executive jets, Challenger jets. They can fly on Challenger jets while the hepatitis C victims, sorry, can do without.

Aboriginal people face some of the most pressing social problems of any group in our society. What does the government say about that? There will be a new cabinet committee on aboriginal affairs and a new aboriginal secretariat in the Privy Council Office.

We also heard that the government does not intend to reintroduce Bill C-7, the first nations governance act. We did not hear anything original, and that is the problem. There were lots of platitudes and process but no real substance.

Members opposite like to boast that the federal government spends billions of dollars every year on aboriginal issues, but money does not solve all problems, although I am sure we would never be able to convince our friends across the aisle of that fact.

At the risk of being castigated, what I think our aboriginal people need is hope. They need hope that the issues that are important to them will actually be addressed, not just talked about.

Let me tell the House about Skipper Potts, a young native educator from Pincher Creek. This is a man who gives hope to the students in his school. He determined that the kids were not graduating from grade 12 so he set about, with no funding, no big programs and no big help from anyone, to speak with the parents and talk about the school programs, the sports programs and the importance of education in their lives. In a few short years he took the one native graduate in that school to a dozen graduates this year. Skipper Potts gives hope to the kids.

Aboriginal people need improved health care. They need more opportunities for education and employment close to where they live. Like everyone else, they need affordable housing and support for their young people and local communities. They need, indeed they deserve greater recognition for the unique role they have played in Canadian history but, above all, they need hope and commitment. They need hope and a commitment from the federal government to actually do something. They need more Skipper Potts.

Yesterday's speech also referred to education, quality of life and allowing Canadians to develop the necessary skills that will permit them to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

Apart from the fact that education is not the domain of the federal government, I find all this talk from the other side about the plight of our university students most interesting. I wonder where the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues believe the problems arose from if not from their very own policies as a government over the past number of years.

Today our sons and daughters are graduating from institutes of higher learning with large and, in some cases, crippling debt load. Students in medicine, business and other such courses that demand years of extra training are particularly hard hit. They are coming out of school with thousands of dollars in accumulated debt.

Each year, more and more young people are finding that they do not have the financial resources they need for post-secondary education. Those who choose to go to college or university and take on the resulting debt load face an inflexible and outdated loan system.

It is not that there is no money available; there are a number of bursary and loan programs. The problem stems from accessibility, eligibility and flexibility in the repayment structures. The fact is that the whole student loan system should be reviewed, because education is of the utmost importance.

Education is the gateway to knowledge, career success and a rich, vibrant and successful culture. Young people thirst for knowledge. They are banging at the doors of universities and colleges everywhere. Surely we owe it to them to see that they can fulfill their dreams.

The Prime Minister has been making much ado about his so-called new deal for the cities. My question is: Why should we limit ourselves to Canada's large metropolitan areas? Yes, they are the home to a large portion of our population. Yes, their municipal infrastructure is in a desperate state of disrepair. Yes, they are engines that drive our economy.

However, if our cities are economic engines, then it is the farmers, the fishermen and the forest workers who provide the fuel. We on this side believe there must be a new deal for Truro, not just Toronto; for Vulcan, Alberta, not just Vancouver; and Mont-Joli, not just Montreal.

It is true that after years of federal neglect, the sidewalks in our urban areas are falling apart and traffic is clogged, sometimes becoming intolerable.

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canada's infrastructure deficit has now reached $57 billion—an alarming level.

The Prime Minister promised the cities he would help fix the problems facing these large cities by cutting them in on a portion of the excess federal gas tax back in September of last year. He was pretty clear on that promise. Everything he could do he would do to make that happen. Now just last month he did a small U-turn or a big U-turn, I am not sure. He has said his commitment remains to be determined. It now depends on negotiations with the provinces and the cities.

That is another flip-flop, and a big one this time. It was a solid commitment to the cities, repeated month after month as the Prime Minister sought the leadership of his party. It has now been downgraded to a long term plan, and not only that, a plan dependent upon negotiations with others. Now we know why the Prime Minister owns all those boats. He is an expert fisherman. He likes to dangle political bait and just see who might take a bite. Clearly the Prime Minister is in no hurry to fulfill this promise, and why should he be? Might I remind him, when he was finance minister he was totally opposed to that plan.

Speaking of the cities, I note that the government is promising to eliminate the GST from municipalities, and is doing so with a straight face. Need I remind the House that these are the same people who brought us “I will axe the tax?” These are the same people, including the Prime Minister himself, who were forced to apologize to the Canadian public for blatantly misleading it during the 1993 election issue. As the old saying goes, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Over the last seven years the government has increased spending by over 30%. At the same time it has failed to cut taxes, as the finance minister, now Prime Minister, promised Canadians he would. The member for LaSalle—Émard promised Canadians a $100 billion tax cut. What did he deliver? The great tax cut in fact was a great sleight of hand. It included such things as increased child benefits and promises to cancel future tax hikes, both of which the then finance minister called tax cuts. When we add it all up, less than half of the promised tax cuts will ever see the light of day.

At the same time the government continues to rake in huge amounts of people's money through a rise in Canada pension premiums, new taxes like the airport security tax and on and on.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

10:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Employment insurance.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant Hill Macleod, AB

I heard someone say “employment insurance”, and on and on.

We all remember how, year after year, the former finance minister, today the Prime Minister, underestimated the surplus. Every year he told Canadians that there was not enough money to provide them with real tax relief and carry out high-priority social spending. And every year, he did a U-turn, and presto: another surplus on the record, at least until 2001, when the extravagant expenses of the former finance minister began to catch up with him.

The Liberals call this little game of fiscal hide and seek good politics. Canadians call it cynical manipulation of their money for political gain.

This year again the government is at its Old Mother Hubbard routine and claiming the cupboards are bare, but if my memory serves me correctly, during his recent leadership campaign, the Prime Minister made almost $35 billion in promises. Where will all that money come from? Maybe he will tell us. I suspect it was just another case of platitudes, promises the Prime Minister has no intention of keeping. However, if history is any judge, we can be sure of one thing: any excess surplus will be spent before the next election is called, and we wonder why voter participation has fallen to record lows under this government.

The Prime Minister likes to talk about the need to reduce the debt. And yet in his last three budgets as finance minister he announced huge end-of-year expenses that transformed the billions of dollars in debt reduction into expenditures.

The Liberals talk a good game on fiscal restraint, but the reality is that spending at the federal level is rising faster than at any time since Pierre Trudeau, the granddaddy of profligate spenders.

Look at the whole issue of debt and taxation. Despite all the talk, our national debt is $32 billion higher today than it was when this Prime Minister first became finance minister. Why is this? Is it because the Prime Minister loves to spend money, at least other people's money? In fact over the past seven years alone, the government has increased annual program spending by over 30%. It now stands at an unprecedented $146 billion according to the government's own audited financial statements. How is that for a legacy?

The Prime Minister also likes to talk about investing in a 21st century economy. That is a very pithy phrase, but what does it mean? All this talk, these platitudes about the new economy coming from the government, is just a smokescreen for what is really happening, and that is the continuing escalation of corporate welfare. Clearly the Prime Minister needs to be plain and come clean on this issue.

Canadians need to be reminded that at the same time the Prime Minister cut nearly $5 billion annually from health care, he increased spending on business subsidies by $700 million a year: less money for hip replacements, more money for corporate friends. Welcome to Liberal Canada.

Now the Prime Minister wants to use the Canada pension plan fund for his new industrial strategy. That is like taking the workers' hard-earned money, intended for the support of seniors, and giving it to his corporate friends.

All I can say is that, when the government decides to choose the winners, we can be sure of one thing: Canadian citizens are the losers.

The government in its speech made abundant reference to Canada's place in the world. Indeed, to underline this, it has invited the former secretary general of the UN to address us next month. Personally, I cannot help thinking that it would have been more worthwhile, more useful, to invite the Japanese prime minister, given the problems we have selling our beef there. How about the U.S. President? I am sure the softwood lumber people, not to mention the agricultural sector, would have been happy.

Then again, agriculture has never been much of a priority for the Prime Minister and the government. In fact over the last decade, the largest spending cuts to agriculture came when the member for LaSalle--Émard was finance minister and the current finance minister was the man in charge of agriculture.

Sadly, the tendency of the government to ignore the plight of farm families is also reflected in the voting record of the current Minister of Agriculture. In March 2001, for example, the member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant voted against a motion calling on the government to provide an additional $400 million in emergency funding for Canadian farm families. I am sure that sends a positive message to farm families struggling with the fallout from the BSE crisis.

Canada has been too long in a cocoon. We have lost our place on the world stage. We no longer enjoy the respect we once had.

Today our fellow citizens in other countries are being imprisoned, tortured and killed. And what are we doing about it? Our government shrugs its shoulders and says there is nothing it can do. What a lot of comfort that is for the victims' friends and family.

Since the present and former prime ministers assumed high office together, Canada has pretty well gone back to the dark ages in terms of its international relations and commitments abroad. Soft power, quiet diplomacy, are all code words for doing nothing, for a lack of vision, for concentrating on getting re-elected instead of taking our rightful place as a leader in the community of nations.

Our armed forces are in a deplorable state. We have helicopters that will not go up. We have submarines that cannot go down. We have a government that sends its troops to a desert in jungle fatigues. If there was a political equivalent to the Keystone Kops, they would be sitting across the aisle there.

The government has starved our armed forces. It has humiliated them, ignored them, and turned professional soldiers, sailors and air force personnel, our finest, into international boy scouts sent abroad into war zones without weapons or with instructions not to use the ones with which they have been provided. National Defence headquarters has too many spin doctors and not enough warriors. Political correctness rather than military necessity has become the order of the day.

The Sea King saga says all that needs to be said about the government's attitude toward the military. If a picture paints a thousand words, I will never forget the picture of the battered, shattered Sea King helicopter on its side on the deck of one of our warships. That was worth a book.

Ten years ago, the member for LaSalle—Émard spent $500 million of the taxpayers' money to cancel the contract for renewing the helicopter fleet, $500 million just to bolster his boss's ego.

And since then? Years of inaction, year of games between entrepreneurs and public servants, years of playing with the lives of Canadian pilots.

And for what? To save the Liberal government from the ignominy of having to admit publicly that it was wrong.

The bottom line is that our armed forces need funding. Getting rid of boondoggles like the gun registry, the long gun registry and shot gun registry, eliminating corporate welfare, and tightening up advertising rules to prevent millions of dollars going to friends of cabinet would be good places to find some of those funds.

The government has also said that it will be putting the issue of improving our relations with the United States on the front burner. All we on this side of the House can say is that it is about time.

The childish anti-American sentiment that characterizes the government may go over well in certain constituencies and in the press, but at what price?

Our relations with the Americans are at an all time low. Boorish outbursts by undisciplined ministers have closed important doors to this government in Washington. Look at the BSE issue: it is a prime example.

Last year one cow was found to have the disease. The Americans closed their borders. Thousands of people's lives and livelihoods were suddenly thrown into upheaval. Billions of dollars in revenue were lost. Entire communities came under the gun, and the government dithered. For weeks it talked about dialogue with the Americans. It announced inadequate compensation packages. It blackmailed the provinces into signing an agricultural policy framework in order to gain access to further compensation.

On and on the crisis dragged until one thing became crystal clear: the U.S. border would remain closed and we had no power to force it open. We had no leverage. The Americans were not listening because they were tired of our insults. They had no respect for our plight or our pleas.

Let us not forget the softwood lumber issue. There is a powerful American softwood lumber lobby in Washington, and they are far from pleased that Canada has a 30% market share. Not surprisingly, there are constant attempts to reduce that share. So we go from one crisis to the next.

What we need is a plan. Instead of whining about the Americans and their tactics, the federal government should get together with the provinces and develop a strategy to hammer out the most beneficial deal possible with the Americans. It is not rocket science.

Canada needs to get beyond the crisis management stage in our relationship with the U.S. Rather than insults and hyperbole, we should be working on formulating a new strategic partnership with the Americans on a wide variety of fronts that will serve the interests of both countries. That would be the bright and proper thing to do.

What, for example, do we know about the new plan for continental missile defence? What deal has the government made in relation to this initiative in order to create some movement in other areas?

Our relationship with the United States is a close one, both by geography and necessity. Their worries, particularly when they are all consuming, become our worries. This is the case with terrorism.

Much has been made of the measures that have been put into place in the U.S. since 9/11. Some say there have been excesses. There may well be excesses. However, the Americans are determined to improve their border security. The longest undefended border in the world has become far less so since 9/11. Nothing we do will change that. Let us see how we can deal with the concerns being expressed by our neighbours in a way that will satisfy their legitimate fears, while protecting our sovereignty and the interests of our citizens.

The government's decision to create a department of public safety and emergency preparedness is one positive step, but we need to do more than merely create an administrative shell.

Is there a real political desire to make this into an efficient department, or is this just window dressing? Are we going to really do something, or are we just trying to put one over on the Americans? How can we seriously enhance our own public safety and our own national security system, while at the same time protecting civil rights?

These are just some of the most important and urgent questions that need answers. It is pointless to cut corners and just do some administrative shuffling. No major changes will come out of this, I am sure.

There is a further issue that the government has so far failed to adequately address and that is the question of validation and recognition of foreign credentials. This is an issue that affects not only skilled immigrants wishing to come to Canada but also individuals with foreign credentials who already live here. We have all heard stories of individuals with Ph.D.s driving taxis and engineers working as bellhops.

In last year's throne speech the government promised to do something about this. It promised to break down the barriers of foreign credential recognition, to fast track applications by those skilled workers with jobs waiting for them here, and to position Canada as a destination of choice for talented foreign students. So far it has failed to live up to these grand promises. The lines are as long as ever, the frustration as great, and the loss to Canada as important. In sum, the government has ignored the issue of skilled immigrants for as long as the Prime Minister has been in Ottawa.

We should be developing a more coordinated approach involving provinces and professional organizations as active partners. Canada needs skilled workers and other countries are producing them. Let us solve this equation by getting off our collective duff and figuring out how to meet the demand for skilled labour within the boundaries imposed by our social goals.

I should mention as well that it is not only those wishing to come to our country who have difficulties. I participated in surgery here in Ottawa two or three weeks ago. Observing with me was a Canadian medical student. He is studying in the Dominican Republic. His folks are both physicians here in Ottawa. He will pass his board exams in a year. When he passes his board exams, having studied in the Dominican Republic, he will be admitted to the U.S. There he will find a residency. When he asks in Canada if he can, with the same board exams, get a residency position here, the answer will be no.

There are 200 other Canadian students studying with him in that school. What sense is there when we take a Canadian from the City of Ottawa and force that person to go overseas to study, where the qualifications are good enough to get into the U.S. but are not good enough to get into Canada? The government says health care is its number one priority.

The last issue I want to deal with today is one dear to the hearts of all of us and that is the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that our democracy and our democratic institutions have gone into steady decline, a spectacular decline I think, some of it since the Prime Minister came to cabinet about 10 years ago.

I remember the Airbus scandal, the Pearson airport affair, the Somalia inquiry, Shawinigate, the HRDC boondoggles and the advertising scandals. On and on the list goes. Ministerial responsibility has now become a thing of the past. No one is responsible for anything any more. Another scandal? No one is responsible.

Did a minister pass on gossip to the RCMP that resulted in an innocent man, a former Prime Minister, being tarred and feathered in the media? Not my responsibility. Did a minister close down a public inquiry into military affairs because an election was forthcoming and friends of the Prime Minister were being asked uncomfortable questions? Not my responsibility. Did a Prime Minister involve himself in financial dealings in his riding that all agree failed the smell test? “You call who you know”, came the reply. Remember that line? It surely has to be a classic in Canadian politics.

The government's response to scandal has been to put the hand-picked ethics counsellor on speed dial. No matter how questionable the ethical circumstances, the Prime Minister and his cabinet could count on the ethics counsellor to exonerate them.

The Prime Minister has already publicly acknowledged the unacceptable nature of such a subjective appointment. He and his colleagues campaigned on the promise of an independent ethical watchdog. But, you guessed it, these were just more empty platitudes. What we need, what Canada needs, is an ethics commissioner who is chosen by Parliament and answerable to it.

It seems so simple. It has been promised twice now. Yet we are as far away from having a truly independent ethics counsellor today as we were a decade ago. We are as far away because the new proposal being put into place, being brought forth by the government, will leave members of cabinet free of real scrutiny. Where has the source of the real scandal been? The cabinet. Our House is ill and we need to find a remedy.

For a decade the Prime Minister sat in the House and said nothing as committees were neutered, free votes squelched, private members' bills ignored and democratic debate muzzled a record 82 times. Not a word was heard from him until his leadership ambitions became an uncontrollable lust.

Suddenly then, it was the democratic deficit here, there and everywhere. That he and his cabinet colleagues were the prime authors of this deficit phased him not a whit. He needed an issue to help destroy a Prime Minister and he found one in the democratic deficit.

The member for LaSalle—Émard tells us that things are going to change, that parliamentary secretaries will have more responsibilities, that committees, with members from all parties, will have more work to do, that there will be annual first ministers meetings, that Parliament will address patronage appointments.

That is all very fine on paper, too much so in fact. I share the opinion of many Canadians that this is just one more fake promise.

Since coming to Ottawa I have watched the Liberal government bamboozle, bully and ignore parliamentarians to a point where many say we truly resemble that famous description offered by former Prime Minister Trudeau some 30 years ago. Why anyone should believe things would change now is simply beyond me.

I do not intend to go into the bog that is the Prime Minister's dealings with his business holdings and the effect these may have on his ability to do his job properly and impartially, nor do I intend to dwell upon the clear lapses in veracity surrounding the Prime Minister's access to his blind trust.

I will note however, because it captures the essence of what many of us feel about this subject, that the issue of government subsidies to the Prime Minister's former shipping company has once again come to public attention and in a particularly egregious fashion.

As the House is no doubt aware, it was revealed last week that the Prime Minister's former shipping company and its subsidiaries received not the paltry hundred or so thousand dollars the government said, but millions upon millions of dollars. All of them from the public treasury, all of them from the taxpayer, doled out between 1993 and 2002 when he was the finance minister.

I do not intend to go any further on this for the moment, but I reiterate that the discrepancy between the two figures, the amount of that discrepancy and the fact this figure only came out now, give me and many Canadians great pause for thought.

For a decade now the Prime Minister and his colleagues, in this and previous cabinets, have presided over some of the most dubious practices in modern Canadian politics. They said nothing as the ethics counsellor turned into a lapdog for the Liberal Party. They opposed attempts to make government more transparent. They refused to support an inquiry into the HRDC grants and contributions scandal.

They refused to hold Alfonso Gagliano, or anyone else, responsible for the sponsorship scandal. Instead, they rewarded Mr. Gagliano with an ambassadorial appointment, and a pay raise to boot.

It is hardly a record most people would be eager to take to the people.

Speaking of elections, a new red book is no doubt soon to be hitting the bookstands. It will be chockablock with yet more promises and platitudes, swaddled in the vague and ambiguous language for which the Prime Minister is so justly famous. But this time things are going to be different.

There are big differences between the Conservative Party's vision for Canada and the realities of Liberal rule. While the Liberals feast on filet mignon aboard their new Challenger jets, we will be in the trenches fighting for the equipment so desperately needed by our armed forces. Liberals will be pork-barrelling by the millions. We will be working to allow hardworking Canadian families to keep their money. The Liberals will be adopting policies that undermine Canadian families. We will be toiling to strengthen our shared traditions. When the Liberals sit on the fence as our friends are attacked, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies. We will work to build our communities, strengthen our nation and stake out our role in the international community.

Canadians are great people and with the right leadership, I truly believe Canada can once again become the greatest nation in the world.

Mr. Speaker, I move that the motion be amended by adding:

And this House regrets that the Speech from the Throne is an advance copy of the Liberal election platform filled with empty rhetoric and promises that does nothing to address the very real problems facing Canadians.