House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

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4:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Nose Hill for her speech and for the opportunity to speak about the issues that are facing our country, the issues that are grieving our country today. When we turn our television sets on and see parliamentary committees discussing the issues of the sponsorship scandal, it is a sad day in Canadian history.

I would like to ask the member from Nose Hill a question about ministerial accountability. One thing that grieved me the most, as I watched the former minister of public works, Alfonso Gagliano, speak at committee, was when he talked about not having control of his department. He was unable to realize that as a minister there were certain responsibilities that went with the post.

Could the member from Nose Hill tell us how we change the system? How do we put in place safeguards? How do we allow the public to know and to have confidence that the government is indeed wisely watching over the affairs of the nation?

I have one other question which the member might answer. I was not here in the House shortly after the 1993 election, but it is my understanding that the government got rid of many of the safeguards that departments had. That is they were changed so there were no watchdogs within departments to ensure things were going along in an ethical manner. I would pose that question for the member.

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4:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, on the matter of ministerial responsibility, last week we had the most amazing, shocking and disgusting display by a former minister of the Crown who actually told Parliament in a committee meeting, “I didn't run my department. I didn't know what was going on. I'm not responsible”.

Canadians do not buy that. They know very well that ministers are hugely responsible. For example, we know that every minister for ACOA spends most of the ACOA funds in his own riding. That is not coincidence. That is not because the minister does not have anything to say. It is because ministers do call the shots, and for government to try to pretend otherwise is just ludicrous, sad and despicable.

The first thing that a Conservative government would do would be to state very clearly that the buck would stop with the minister. If there is wrongdoing in the department, the minister will be held accountable.

By the way, that is the way it was in the former Conservative government. It gets a bad rap, but how many ministers resigned from that government when they were found to not be handling affairs in a way that the public thought was appropriate? How many ministers resigned from this government? None, not a one, in spite of all the things I just talked about in my speech, so that would restore trust.

We need to restore trust by making the office of the ethics counsellor fully, completely and totally independent, not what government members are now suggesting. Theirs is not independence at all. The Prime Minister would still call the shots.

We need to have a fully independent Chief Actuary of Canada who would oversee programs like the Canada pension plan and the health insurance plan.

I would end by saying the following. If we cannot trust the government to guard the public purse, to put a stop to fraud, to have an absence of deep corruption and if we cannot trust the government with our money, then we cannot trust it with health care, the environment or to help cities in a way that it should. If a government cannot be trusted with our money, neither can it be trusted with the other important things in our lives.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the Conservative Party member is trying to go some distance to differentiate her party from the so-called new Liberal Party, but on many issues there is really no difference at all whether it is like trying to put off a decision on equality for same-sex marriage, or $100 billion in tax cuts or supporting the government on national missile defence. What is the difference in terms of what the so-called new Conservative Party has to offer? It seems to me that the agendas have merged and blended. Therefore, the choice for Canadians from that point of view is not clear at all.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand an election is coming, and I understand that the New Democratic Party wants to make yards at the expense of the Conservative Party. We all do these things.

The fact of the matter is that two days ago this party chose a leader. We will be putting forward an agenda. It is pretty hard for the member, with all the will in the world, over there to criticize an agenda that has not been put forward yet.

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March 22nd, 2004 / 4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Art Eggleton York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for York South--Weston.

Today is the first sitting of the House since the Conservative Party chose its leader on the weekend. I hesitate to use the words new leader because he is the same leader that the Alliance Party had. In fact this completes the takeover by the Canadian Alliance, formerly the Reform Party. It completes the takeover of the word conservative.

What has that party done the first day in the House after its convention? It has put forward a motion asking the House to recognize that the current government is not new. It is asking the House to indicate that it has no confidence in the government.

The Conservative Party's time would have been spent far more usefully, this first day back after its convention, if it had put something positive forward in the House, something that would have indicated its vision for Canada, something that would have indicated what changes it would like to make and what policies it would like to see brought forward for the benefit of Canadians.

Instead, what do we have today? We have a motion before us that simply says the current government is not new. That is silly. It is the same party, but it is a new government. What is the point of spending a whole day debating that? What is the point of spending a whole day debating whether the House has confidence in the government? The Conservative Party well knows the composition of membership in the House. The majority of people here are Liberals and will vote confidence in their own party. Conservative members know that. Why are they wasting this whole day?

We are not hearing any positive contribution from those members. They are not telling Canadians what they stand for. What we are hearing is petty rhetoric and a lot of mud slinging. It is very cheap politics that we are getting in support of their motion in the House today, and that is regrettable. Those members have wasted a lot of taxpayers' time. They have wasted a lot of time for Canadians when they could have been talking something more positive, that is if they have something more positive to put forward in terms of how they see Canada in the future, which might be different from what we as Liberals see.

The motion states that we have not put new legislation before the House. The House has been in session for about 6 or 7 weeks now and has in fact passed 12 bills. It has passed legislation dealing with a wide range of issues important to Canadians. We should not belittle that. That is what the House is here to do. We are here to try to improve the conditions under which Canadians live. Twelve bills inside of seven weeks is a pretty good record, but it does not stop there.

New legislation will be coming forward. One piece of legislation, with respect to a promise made by the Prime Minister to protect whistleblowers, was introduced today. He promised that legislation would be introduced by March 31 and today is March 22.

Not everything finds its way into legislation. The government has a wide range of responsibilities to Canadians to act on matters of urgency. One of them was today. It may not be legislation in the current sense, but I am sure it will get into the finance bill. The government announced today almost $1 billion to the agricultural industry, particularly beef producers. This is a big boost to that industry at a very tough time. That is an important thing for the government to do, and it has spent the time to do it. It may not be what those members call new legislation, but it is part of the government's responsibilities.

The government's responsibilities with respect to the sponsorship program have been quite clear. The Prime Minister acted very swiftly on the report of the Auditor General. He acted very swiftly by appointing Mr. Justice Gomery to hold a public inquiry to look into the matter. We keep hearing about the work of the public accounts committee day in and day out. The Prime Minister also appointed a special counsel with a mandate to pursue all possible avenues for financial recovery.

I know that people across the country are upset about what has happened here, but the Prime Minister has moved very quickly and very decisively in action on that matter. This again shows that the government wants to correct this problem and to get on with the business of government, to get on with the issues that need to be dealt with, the issues that in fact were part of the active agenda that was promoted in the Speech from the Throne.

The Speech from the Throne on February 2 outlined a very ambitious agenda in many different areas. For example, on the issue that most Canadians feel is number one, health, some $2 billion in health care transfers to the provinces was confirmed. Two billion dollars goes a long way when we consider the other money that over the last few years has been transferred to help improve the health care system. That is going to help a lot.

On top of that was the announcement that there would be a new Canadian public health agency established, with a new chief public health officer. It would be something along the lines of the CDC in Atlanta, perhaps. This kind of operation that focuses on public health would help overcome some of the problems and would put us on a very positive course for being able to handle anything like SARS or any other public health disaster that may be inflicted upon us. That is going to involve legislation and that will involve the action of the government, so I do not understand why the opposition is trying to get away with the argument that there is nothing new.

On aboriginal Canadians, the Prime Minister made it clear that we are going work with first nations to improve governance in their communities. We are not going to just foist something upon them; we will work with them to create it. This will expand our successful urban aboriginal strategy. In my case, in Toronto there are many people of the first nations and the urban strategy is very vital to us. I know that people at times seem to be focused on what happens on reserves, but there are more of our aboriginal people living in cities and facing many very tough challenges. That was outlined in the Speech from the Throne.

The care of our children is another area. Part of that is accelerating initiatives for more quality child care spaces. In Toronto we badly need child care spaces to help families in which both parents are working. We need quality child care and quality early childhood education. Those are all important parts of helping our children. Our children are our most important asset, as has been said on many occasions. They are the investment in the future. Quality child care was announced in the Speech from the Throne. This is again another new direction.

Creating opportunities for Canadians with disabilities was also touched upon, particularly in regard to improving the fairness of the tax system for persons with disabilities and their supporting families.

The democratic deficit, as it is often called, was addressed extensively. The Prime Minister has been very committed to making the House work better for all Canadians and making all of us an important part of the decision making. This is as opposed to having it all concentrated in the Prime Minister's office or all concentrated in the cabinet. It is important that we all be part of it.

Addressing this not only will benefit the people on the Liberal side of the House, but it will benefit the people on the opposition side of the House as well and it will strengthen our committee structure. It also will strengthen our say in who gets appointed to the Supreme Court or many other different boards and commissions, and there will be a greater opportunity to scrutinize the estimates, the budgets and the programs of different departments. Those things are all important as well.

Finally, there is the new deal for cities or the new deal for communities, something I as a former mayor of Toronto am very interested in. We announced in the throne speech that in fact the GST was being waived on municipal purchases. This creates some $7 billion over 10 years. We announced that infrastructure was going to be expedited and that more would be done in terms of transit and housing. I hope we will hear more about that in tomorrow's budget speech.

It is wrong to say that the government has not introduced new legislation or has not brought about new work. It is wrong to say that the House has lost confidence. It is a waste of time to go through that kind of endeavour. We would have been far better to have heard from the Conservatives what positive contribution they want to make. All they wanted to do today was sling more mud and engage in petty politics.

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4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hear what the hon. member across the way says about wanting to engage in supposedly serious debate about serious issues, but I hope he understands the frustration on this side.

The reason we on this side have lost confidence in the government is that we have brought forward a litany of motions, even in recent history over the last two or three years, and either they get short shrift from the government or, even when passed in the House, they get completely ignored. For example, when the member for Wild Rose brings forward a motion dealing with child pornography, the House passes it unanimously and the government completely ignores it.

He mentioned the case when John Nunziata brought forward the motion to abolish section 745 of the Criminal Code, the faint hope clause for first degree murder. It passed. The government ignored it.

When we brought forward a motion to create an independent ethics commissioner, the current Prime Minister and everyone on the other side voted against it.

When we brought forward motions on free votes, the government voted against us and said it was preposterous, that we could not have that.

When the government said just recently that it is going to have a whole new package to address the democratic deficit, the very first question I asked the House leader in the procedure and house affairs committee was, just as one example, whether the Liberals would allow their members to vote freely on the abolition of the gun registry, the billion dollar waste of money. His response was no, they could not vote against that because that has already been passed.

Is it any wonder that we have lost confidence in the government? I think Canadians have too. It does not matter what we pass here. The meaningful--

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4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for York Centre.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Art Eggleton York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are resolutions passed in the House, but it does not necessarily mean they are being ignored by the government. The government may not agree. The government may examine these resolutions.

In fact, some of the resolutions that I believe the hon. member is talking about are ones that ask the government to “consider”. The government does consider many of these issues but may not agree with the direction that some hon. members in the opposition want to take things in. We think they are a little too far out there, the Alliance or the Conservatives, whatever they are called, in many of the positions they take.

The ethics counsellor, okay, they were promoting that. They can take a bow because we had put it into legislation. I think it is something that we all agree is absolutely necessary and this Prime Minister gave it a priority that we would do it.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, one has to admit that we have a bit of a strange situation. On the one hand we have a motion from the official opposition saying that the government has lost the confidence of the House. That usually implies that we would go to an election, yet we heard today, as we have on other days, that the Leader of the Opposition does not want an election. He actually wants to wait until the fall; I saw a quote from him in the paper today. It is a bit strange.

Then we have the government side arguing that there really is a full agenda. I think the member for York Centre made a valiant attempt to put out the agenda, but one has to admit it is pretty thin. Other than what we have dealt with already, what else is there? Nothing else is coming forward.

Our point of view is that we should get into the election and let the Canadian people decide what their confidence is.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Art Eggleton York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think it is thin. Again I do not think there is recognition of the fact that everything that is done as an initiative of this government does not necessarily find its way into legislation. A lot of it does. There was one piece of legislation introduced today on whistleblowing, a very needed piece of legislation. I mentioned the ethics counsellor. There have been some 12 bills in 7 weeks, so there is work being done.

The government's announcement on the agricultural program today and many other announcements show that the government is working. The government has been working day in and day out since it came into power on December 12. There are various committees doing various activities to improve the quality of life for Canadians.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is widely recognized in the House that confidence motions usually occur as a result of financial questions. Ironically, they usually come as a result of a budget.

However, the opposition has chosen to pre-empt the budget debate by moving this motion of non-confidence, not pre-empting it in the terms that we will not have a budget or a budget presented or a debate but focusing attention at this particular time on this motion of non-confidence.

One would ask what the motivation of the opposition is, keeping in mind that it is using its time today, opposition time, to move non-confidence in this manner on the basis that the government is not introducing new legislation. That is the basis on which the opposition is moving non-confidence and, further, “that the current government is not new, but rather one that is intricately linked to the past decade of mismanagement”, et cetera.

It is ironic that the opposition is really wasting its opportunity to do that which really should be done in terms of engaging a constructive debate on those issues that are in fact related to a budget. Members of the opposition are doing it at a time which is on the cusp of a presentation that will take place very soon.

Again, without being disingenuous, it seems fair to ask why the opposition is squandering this precious time rather than focusing on questions of substance related to such things as international relations, health care, the present role of the UN with respect to the Middle East emergency, employment, or the economic state of the nation. The opposition chooses to continue to emphasize all that is negative, as implied in its motion.

In my time, let me put forward on behalf of Canadians an attempt to seek possible explanations for what appears to be a rather extreme obfuscation on the part of the opposition in dealing with substantive issues.

First of all, and most important on the eve of this budget presentation, why would the opposition not set the stage for debate on the budget? In other words, why would it not take the bull by the horns, to use an agricultural analogy, and focus attention from that kind of a point of view?

The reason could be that in the Speech from the Throne, which we have debated in the last few weeks, the opposition knows that the government has struck a resonant chord with Canadians and that in fact this resonant chord will be followed by a keen debate on the budget and will deal with the vigorous leadership that the government is taking in terms of international relations and a new environmental legacy and so on.

In fact, when we look at the throne speech, as my colleague has pointed out, we see there that we talk about those substantive issues: a healthy Canada, aboriginal Canadians and the issues related to them, a case for our children, opportunities for Canadians with disabilities, and a new deal for communities. What has the opposition offered up so far in that kind of debate? Opposition members have talked about corruption, a new generation based on reform of the democratic system, lower taxes and individuals taking more of the responsibility to look after themselves.

Is this the new vision? Charitably, it appears to this member that if the opposition wishes to engage in this type of navel-gazing concerning whether its government is old or new, it should really at the very least place its own vision, old or new, under that kind of microscope. In addition, it appears to me that when we talk about this vision, we should discuss the opposition's predilection toward the issue of corruption because it has said that is why there should be a discussion here with respect to non-confidence.

It must be obvious that without alternative policies and vision, the best defence is a good offence, but I would suggest that when we continue to talk about the corruption in the context that the opposition has, Canadians will find that tactic offensive.

The response to the Auditor General's report in the fullness of time will establish what the facts are with respect to all of the events that took place and what really is the truth.

What is the opposition afraid of that it would be so desperate to apply such tactics? Is the opposition afraid that the upcoming budget will implement a vision of Canada and hope for Canadians young and old that will convince them that the Liberal Party and its proven leader offer the only alternative to compassionate and progressive politics in a fragile world and society?

More serious is the old political sleight of hand, “Keep your eyes on the government because you can trust us”, without a vision and with the same shop worn kind of policies that appear to be put forward. Is that the kind of politics that we are actually playing here with respect to this use of time by the opposition?

I believe Canadians want to see us getting on with their business. They want to see us dealing with the substantive issues of these times.

There is a huge amount of turbulence out in the communities. People are concerned about criminal activity in their communities. People are concerned about the quality of their health care system and nursing care system. People have talked with their elected members about the future of employment, of growth and of competitiveness of their communities as compared to communities offshore. The people in my community have asked me what our policies are with respect to the environment. They want to know how we will assist the cities and communities to come to grips with the issues related to quality of environmental life and quality of social life. Those are the substantive issues that the throne speech dealt with and that the budget will deal with.

With this precious time and in parliamentary tradition, this is the opportunity for the opposition members to raise those questions. At a time when a budget will be presented by the government, it would seem that the opposition members, who seem intent on demonstrating to Canadians that the heart of their party and the capacity of their party is in the right place, would be using this time not to try to, in a sleight of hand way, direct attention away from the substantive issues of Canadians but to be using this time to set the stage for that debate. I can only say that the fact they have not is that they do not realize the great opportunity they have missed and one that will be picked up by the government in the presentation of the budget.

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish my Liberal friends would shred the spin sheet that they have had on their desks for the last 10 years about what the opposition should be talking about. “If only the opposition would talk about this, that and the other thing; if only they would talk about what we want them to talk about”.

When the governing party crosses over in the next little while and becomes the opposition party, when it has an opposition day I can guarantee we will not have that spin sheet on our desks and its members can talk about whatever they want to talk about.

It comes down to a matter of trust. At the heart of the issue in this debate today is a matter of trust and the government has lost the trust of Canadians. If the government does not have the trust of the people, all the well-intentioned programs and promises that have been in throne speech after throne speech and red book after red book do not mean a thing. If the governing party is squandering taxpayer dollars and, worse than that, funnelling them off to its friends, how can Canadians trust it to do anything? That is what this debate is about today.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear a question in that but I can assure the member that, first, I do not have a spin sheet in front of me, and second, the government is always a matter of trust. However the matters of trust will be dealt with in terms of the process that has been laid out by the Prime Minister with respect to the most recent accusations, allegations and situations that have arisen from the sponsorship program.

However a matter of trust is also a matter of balance; to talk about matters of trust on the one hand that are constants in our political and community lives, but also to talk about the other things that go on in our community life. Those are the issues that the government has been attempting to talk about and there has been no offering up, I would humbly suggest, of alternatives to that total setting of the stage so that we can be judged, not only on how we have been the custodians of the public trust but how we have taken the initiative to put forward the higher public interest in balance to all of those expectations that the public has a right to expect from us.

I would suggest that what we are attempting to present is that the government is attempting to meet the total trust and the development of policy with and for Canadians.

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4:40 p.m.

Guelph—Wellington
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a comment for the Conservative member of Parliament.

He asked why we did not talk about something that was different. The reality is that Canadians want us to talk about things like health care. They want us to talk about agriculture. They want to talk about BSE. They want to talk about infrastructure.

The reality is that the Reform member should talk about what Canadians want us to talk about. That is what the Reform member should be doing.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree that both sides of the House should be charged with the responsibility of bringing those issues to the floor of the House of Commons. The public is in a turbulent and volatile state and it is looking for guidance and leadership; the charts that allow us to steer our way through the competitive global waters.

There is no question that Canadians are looking for both sides of the House to be searching out, with good procedures and respect, differing points of view. There is no question in my mind that if we set the stage that way, in the matter that I have talked about in terms of using our time in a constructive way, we will achieve a higher degree of trust on both sides of the House and Canadians will be better served.