Debates of March 25th, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- National Veterans Funeral Honours Act
- Department of Industry Act
- Bank Act
- Criminal Code
- Citizenship Act
- Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
- Question No. 27
- Questions on the Order Paper
- The Budget
- New Horizons Program
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Gérard Paradis
- Ordre de la Couronne
- Renfrew County
- Dominic Agostino
- Jean Vigneault
- Greek Independence Day
- Arts and culture
- Employment Insurance
- Greek Independence Day
- Adverse Drug Reactions
- Climate Change
- Employment Insurance
- Sponsorship Program
- Foreign Affairs
- Sponsorship Program
- The Environment
- Sponsorship Program
- Public Service
- Insurance Companies
- Foreign Affairs
- Sponsorship Program
- Government Contracts
- The Budget
- Child Pornography
- Sponsorship Program
- The Environment
- Federal Economic Development
- Sponsorship Program
- Gasoline Prices
- Canadian Forces
- Sponsorship Program
- Presence in Gallery
- Business of the House
- Points of Order
- The Budget
- Employment Insurance Program
Yves Rocheleau Trois-Rivières, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, for his proverbial fiery style.
Throne speech after throne speech and budget speech after budget speech, I detect a story line, a backdrop, theme developing within this government, this national Canadian State, which closely resembles the 1999 social unions framework agreement, whereby the Canadian State increasingly ignores the provinces, dealing directly with organizations and individuals instead.
In this case, the last budget talks about early childhood, students, people with disabilities and municipalities, as well as the creation of a national securities regulatory structure.
I would like to ask my colleague if, like me, he feels that the provinces, including Quebec, are now caught in a sort of funnel where, given Quebec's distinctiveness and its desire to form a nation, which was unanimously recognized by the National Assembly of Quebec, but trampled and scorned here a few months ago, Quebec will lose itself, unless the people of Quebec reflect on their future very soon.
Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my illustrious colleague from Trois-Rivières for his question.
We have been aware of this trend since 1993. Perhaps it started a bit before that, but let us say 1993, accelerating after the 1995 referendum. The federal government is constructing a unitary state in Canada, a state that is not either confederal or federal, but rather on the way to becoming unitary.
Quebec's difference is being undermined. In Quebec, we are no better than the others, but neither are we worse. We have had a National Assembly for decades now. That National Assembly is more than just a place, or a label. It is called a National Assembly because it represents a nation. That nation is the Quebec nation.
Here, the Quebec nation is trampled under foot. Quebeckers have got the message. The next election campaign will, of course, address federal files, but it will also address the future of Quebec. We are going to explain, over and over, at every possible town hall meeting and every other opportunity we have, just what the federal government is involved in, that is, building a unitary state. It is ignoring the very Constitution it claims to be defending.
As I indicated earlier, the federal government's intrusions were costlier in 2002 than its expenditures in its own areas of jurisdiction. Imagine that. The motivation behind these intrusions is not pleasure, but a strategy. The government is systematically demolishing the National Assembly and what makes Quebec different. It is building the Canadian unitary state, while in 1867 it was a matter of a pact between two founding peoples.
That pact between two founding peoples fell by the wayside a long time ago. Those who say that federalism deserves a chance must be convinced. It needs no more chances. Our nationhood is being destroyed little by little. The powers of the National Assembly, the only assembly over which we, Quebeckers, have full control are being drained away. Here, our control is only 24%. That needs to be explained to the people of Quebec.
More and more of them are getting it. If we look at the tenacity reflected in the polls on sovereignty in Quebec, 47% of Quebeckers—and there is not even a referendum campaign going on—believe in sovereignty for Quebec and believe it will come to pass.
We have outrageous examples of what has happened here. I am talking not only about the sponsorship scandal, but also about the intrusions, about the social union, where Quebec was left out once again, as during the patriation of the Constitution of 1982. I am convinced that, with such outrageous examples, people will have enough of this regime.
It would be so simple, and this is what we will be explaining to our fellow citizens in Quebec, whom we have been representing so well since 1993, while the federal Liberals from Quebec are flouting them through their involvement in the building of a unitarian state here. We will remind them that it would be so simple if we decided for ourselves what more we could do with the 50% of taxes that we send to Ottawa, to meet challenges such as demography, population aging, regional development, particularly in rural regions, social and economic development, the family policy and parental leave that the federal government is refusing to provide us. It has young families waiting for this, out of stubbornness, because it is not a Canada-wide program.
What the government is doing here is terrible. This is quiet violence. There is no war, no quarrelling; this is a democracy, and so much the better. But what the government is imposing on an entire people is extremely serious. Through the fiscal imbalance, it is taking away the tools of the only assembly representative of Quebeckers. It is also undermining the morale of the troops by not providing adequate resources for health and education, and for families.
Only candidates and members of the Bloc Quebecois will bring the government to its senses and will convince Quebeckers that the way ahead is not to send a group of MPs here for a lifetime, but one last time, to pave the way for Quebec's sovereignty and make it a reality. This is our role.
Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.
The 2004 budget follows very nicely on the heels of the Speech from the Throne which was in my view a speech that addressed the needs of Canadians and social issues in our country. The budget does much the same thing. It addresses the issue of social justice, or the social deficit as I sometimes refer to it.
We have addressed the issue of deficit and economic deficit tax cuts, $100 million worth of tax cuts in the 2000 budget. I always felt that it was time that we needed to begin to address the issue of social deficit, as I call it, or social issues, because economic and social policies in this country to a great extent are one and the same.
This budget does that. It continues on investments that we have made in the past. It sets a road ahead that I think is very positive for us.
I will mention some of the areas that this budget addresses which are very positive. In the area of health, the budget flows $2 billion to the provinces as promised in the previous accord. That brings funding in health to $36.8 billion, which was provided in budget 2003.
It does not stop there. The Prime Minister will be attending a meeting with the premiers in the month of July. The ministers of finance are meeting to prepare for that meeting. They will be discussing the long term sustainability of our health care system.
Some critics have said that there is not enough cash provided right now. Even Roy Romanow said--and I have supported his report 100% and made representations to him when he was preparing his report--just recently that the system needs more than money. He said the system needs reform as well. We cannot make it sustainable without proper reform.
One example that I have given recently has been with respect to the issue of the reform of the primary care system in our country. I strongly believe that we cannot make our system sustainable without proper reform in the primary care area of our system.
I can give an example in my own riding of Beaches—East York. We have a good community health centre program which provides doctors. They do not have a fee for service. They are paid a good salary that I believe doctors should get.
At the same time, the doctors who are receiving the salary are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is also a nurse practitioner because not all patients have to see a doctor. There is also a nutritionist that deals with preventive health care and the importance of nutrition. We all know, based on recent discussions, about the problems of obesity and the need for physical activity. This is one area that needs major reform.
With the doctors being on call, it means that people are not going to hospitals and clogging up the emergency rooms. That saves the health care system a great deal of money.
It is important to reform the system to make it sustainable and to look at the issues of home care, supportive housing and long term care. That will help seniors who want to stay at home longer and will give them the dignity of being in their own homes. At the same time it will make sure that hospital beds are not taken up by the need for long term care. These are all areas that have to be addressed if we are to make our system sustainable, but the government has provided $2 billion.
We are not standing still. We are also looking at changes. The budget also establishes a new Canada public health agency as a focal point for disease control and emergency response and a new chief public health officer who will lead the agency. After the SARS situation which occurred primarily in Toronto but across the country, as well as West Nile and other preventive health care issues that we need to look at it, this is a very important step for the government.
The budget will immediately provide funds of $655 million in this fiscal year and over the next two years to improve Canada's readiness to deal with public health emergencies. This will include things such as increasing emergency response capacity, enhancing surveillance, establishing regional centres of excellence, expanding laboratory capacity and strengthening international coordination and collaboration. In addition, there will be $400 million flowing from the Department of Health into the public health system. It will be dealing with assisting the provinces and territories for the next three years in support of a national immunization strategy.
In addition, the budget provides improved tax fairness for Canadians with disabilities and for caregivers. Again it goes to addressing the broader need in the health care system. There will be increased funding of $30 million annually to support employment assistance programming delivered by provinces and territories for Canadians with disabilities. Again these are areas that address the broader issue of health. The government is taking some very bold steps in that direction.
Let me move to another topic, the area of learning, something which is very close to my heart. I have for some time worked hard and pushed for the establishment of an early learning program and child care in this country. In the year 2000 the government announced a children's agenda of $2.2 billion for early learning. In this budget the early learning and child care will receive an additional $75 million this year and an additional $75 million next year.
This is a continuing investment in children which is extremely important. The learning agenda goes from cradle to retirement. I call it lifelong learning. The budget addresses early learning from zero to six, but it also addresses post-secondary education, as well as learning for people who are employed but want to upgrade their skills or people who want to re-enter the labour force. It addresses those areas very well.
With respect to another program for children in the budget, the Canada learning bond will be provided at birth for children in families with incomes under $35,000. The government will contribute over time to a maximum of $2,000 per child.
The Canada education savings grant was introduced in 1998. It was created to help parents save for their children's education. Budget 2004 proposes the doubling of the matching rate provided by the federal government, to 40% for families with incomes under $35,000 and to 30% for families with incomes between $35,000 and $70,000. These enhanced rates will apply to the first $500 contributed.
A fair number of aboriginal people live in urban centres, in Beaches—East York and elsewhere in Toronto. The budget addresses that, as well as the needs for aboriginal people on reserves under the rubric of education. For first nations children living on reserves, the budget adds a further $10 million over four years for early learning and child care, bringing our government's total investment to $45 million.
We will also provide some 20,000 students from low income families with new grants worth up to $3,000 to cover a portion of their first year tuition. This is a very big step in the right direction, in my opinion. I have been pushing for some time to have a grants system for students who want to attend post-secondary education but cannot afford it.
A new upfront grant of up to $2,000 a year will be introduced for students with disabilities while maintaining the existing Canada study grant of up to $8,000 per year.
The parental contributions expected from middle income families will be reduced, providing more access to student loans for 40,000 students.
Budget 2004 proposes to set aside resources to ease the eligibility criteria for interest relief, for increasing the income threshold used by determining eligibility for interest relief by 5%.
Effective January 1, 2004, the budget proposes to allow students to claim the education tax credit for education related to current employment, when not reimbursed by the employer. This means up to $400 per month for full time students and $120 per month for part time students. This again goes to the lifelong learning that I mentioned.
Looking at the long term, we are developing a workplace strategy. As an immediate measure the budget proposes to put in place a pilot project to provide matching funds for union based training centres with funding of $15 million over the first two years. There is a great deal more in the area of education which I will not go into.
For cities and communities, the government has followed through on its commitment to forgive the GST. For cities, that means $7 billion over the next 10 years, $50 million a year for the city of Toronto alone. In addition there are infrastructure dollars of $1 billion which goes from 10 years down to five years.
In summary, there is so much in the budget. I believe it is a budget for the people.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned that the government was not sitting still and then went on with a litany of all the wonderful things in the budget.
I have a few questions with regard to what was missed in the budget, things she said were there. She had a great dialogue on health care and the things that were supposedly being looked after, such as home care and catastrophic drug coverage.
A little over a year ago we had a health accord in the country. That was the February accord. Some performance indicators actually were in the accord. It said that they had to be in place by September of last year, that there had to be some baseline indicators of how we were going to go ahead with home care. There had to be some minimal criteria on a national home care strategy. On catastrophic drug coverage, the minister's own admission in early December was that absolutely nothing had been done on it.
When we look at what was really in the budget and what was not in the budget, why was the health accord completely missed? There was no mention of it whatsoever, no mention of any of the things that the government missed. There was not a mention of any of those things that it missed when the Prime Minister met with the premiers earlier this year.
Talk is cheap but where is the action and where is the performance when it comes to these issues?
Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is quite clear that the health accord is being respected. As we said, part of the accord was the $2 billion to which the government has kept its commitment.
I did not say that home care and catastrophic drugs were in the budget. What I said was that these are things, especially home care and the reform of primary care, which are important. The hon. member misses that. It is very expensive and it needs to be dealt with.
Part of the accord was to look at the reform of primary care as well, but that still has not happened in most cases. Reform does not always need cash, but what is needed is reform. What the hon. member does take into account is what I said very clearly, that the discussions will deal with home care and catastrophic care, but the reform of primary care means that within the provinces there needs to be some agreement between the provinces and the doctors.
For instance in Ontario, there was supposed to be a reform of the primary care system. The example I gave, which is in my own riding, is an excellent one of how it works in small numbers, but the Ontario Medical Association impressed on the government to use a different system altogether, which is much more expensive and not really a major reform at all.
In essence, the new health networks or community health centres are not even starting as yet. We cannot bring down the cost of primary care unless there is real reform and real buy-in on the part of the doctors, on the part of the provinces, as well as the Government of Canada. These are areas that have to be addressed.
In the budget, however, there is a great deal of spending that deals with the public health system, for which the Government of Canada is taking total responsibility. There is also the appointment of a public health officer.
As I said before in other speeches in the House, I continue to support the Romanow report. I continue to push for the implementation of a catastrophic drug program, a proper home care program and the reform of the primary care health system. That has to be done in partnership with the provinces. It cannot just be done unilaterally by the Government of Canada.
Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member across the way.
I have some very major concerns about the budget in what it has not said. It has not said anything about culture. I read it very carefully to see what it had to say about culture. There is some band-aid money for the Canadian television fund, and that is great.
The Auditor General's report that came out recently was extremely damning about the government's record around built heritage, around published heritage, about how we are in fact keeping the cultural record of this country.
I am not seeing in the budget a recommitment to the CBC, to public broadcasting, to the artists in this country. I would like the hon. member's comments on that.
Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON
Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member already mentioned the funds to Telefilm Canada which were announced in the budget. That is a commitment to culture.
The commitment to the funding for the CBC, which I have supported 100% and continue to push for continued sustainable funding for CBC, is not being diminished. The CBC has access also to the Telefilm fund and other funds as well. The budget continues to support culture in this country and I continue to fight for it as well.
Some people in the House do not support public broadcasting. In my view, public broadcasting is fundamental to our country to maintain and sustain the CBC because that is the only way we can reflect our nation back to ourselves.
Guy St-Julien Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Liberal member for giving me the opportunity to speak to the following measures that were announced in the 2004 budget and which will have a direct impact on Quebec.
We know that health care is the top priority. Of the additional $2 billion granted to the provinces and territories for health care, Quebec will get $471 million. When we talk about this additional $2 billion, it is important to tell people what Quebec will be getting.
Besides the $404 million that will be transferred through Health Canada, the government has set aside, in the 2004 budget, $665 million for this fiscal year and the next two in order to create the Canada public health agency and fund its main operations.
The money will be allocated, in part, to regional initiatives, like the creation of health-related emergency response teams in every region of Canada, including Quebec. Also, the provinces and territories will be provided with $400 million over the next three years to support a national immunization strategy, to help relieve the pressures on public health systems that were identified during the SARS epidemic, and to deal with their urgent capacity problems. What this means is that Quebec will be getting an additional $94 million.
I now turn to the issue of early learning and child care. The 2004 budget commits resources to the multilateral framework on early learning and child care to the tune of $75 million in 2004-2005 and another $75 million in 2005-2006. Quebec will be receiving $35 million for this initiative.
There will be new horizons for seniors. For a number of years, I have been asking that the New Horizons program, abolished some years ago, be revived. The budget thus provides funding for a New Horizons program for seniors to give these people opportunities to take part in social activities, lead an active life and contribute to their communities. All the golden age clubs and seniors in Quebec will take part in this program; that is significant.
As for renewing equalization, the 2004 budget proposes specific changes to improve its operation and ensure more stable and predictable funding. We know that the 2004 budget contains 435 pages. We do not have time to explain exactly what equalization is, but one thing is clear. The improvements to equalization described in the budget will mean that the receiving provinces will share $1.5 billion more over the next 5 years.
We have seen what has happened in the province of Quebec in previous years. We know that the program has been dangerously unstable. Since fiscal capacity varies with the economic context, equalization may be subject to periodic and spectacular adjustments. Bernard Landry, when he was Quebec 's finance minister, therefore received a $1.4 billion windfall because Ontario's economic growth was much stronger than predicted. At the time, Mr. Landry used this amount to achieve a zero deficit a year earlier than planned.
This year is the opposite. Ontario's growth has been slower than predicted and the Quebec finance minister, Yves Séguin, is receiving $350 million less. With such surprises, it is very difficult for the provincial finance ministers to come up with solid estimates. We can understand why Mr. Séguin spoke his mind publicly on this.
Because of these changes, the provinces will receive more than $50 billion over 5 years through equalization. But the system must be reviewed. There must be a more stable and predictable system.
It is important to mention another issue, namely the GST rebate for municipalities. This measure was announced a few weeks ago by the Prime Minister. Municipalities will enjoy GST relief, to the tune of $7 billion, over the next 10 years. They will then be able to use this money for critical priorities such as highways, public transit or clean water. For the first year alone, the GST relief for Quebec municipalities will exceed $129 million.
The 2004 budget also deals with infrastructures. There are $4 billion in Canadian funds for the strategic infrastructure fund. From 2001 to 2003, the government contributed to two highway projects in Quebec, namely highway 175 in the Saguenay region and highway 30.
As we know, Quebec municipalities will receive $195 million from the $1 billion committed to municipal and rural infrastructure. While this money was earmarked in the 2003 budget, the 2004 budget will accelerate the process. And this is important, because that money will now flow over five years, rather than ten years. The government is doubling the moneys for the province of Quebec and for my vast region of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.
As regards the environment and more specifically contaminated sites, Quebec will greatly benefit from this initiative. There are 3,828 contaminated sites in Canada. Quebec has the largest number of them with 765. These contaminated sites include the Cartier-Brébeuf national historic site and the Valcartier base.
There is also the indirect cost of research. The assistance provided in this regard will increase from $225 million to $245 million. Quebec's universities and research hospitals received close to $56 million of the one-time initial fund of $200 million, in 2000-2002.
It is important to mention this and talk about national programs. The Bloc members say, “The Liberal members do not rise in this House. The Liberal members are not present”. Some describe the members as ghosts, but Halloween ended a long time ago. It does not come every month. Nonetheless, I know one thing, that I was not here from 1993 to 1997 and that a Bloc Quebecois member was representing my riding.
We could compare the time Bernard Deshaies spent here and the time since 1997, when I came back, and look at what was said. We could make a comparison. Bloc members do not make comparisons. They simply rise today and say, “The Liberals never say anything”.
We speak up in the national caucus and in the Quebec Liberal caucus. We participate with motions, questions, interventions and statements. We deliver messages from our constituents to Ottawa.
As for the members, regardless of the political party they belong to in this House, they are still people. Even if some are absent, all members do good work, regardless of their political party.
Nonetheless, I must say one thing. In the programs, the mining flow-through shares and the tax credits are being kept in the budget. That is important. The softwood lumber program, which is a national program, was not cancelled. The money is there.
Agriculture is important. The Prime Minister announced $1 billion in the West, but Quebec farmers are happy now. However, we must ensure one thing: that this program does not have a fixed date. It should perhaps be kept next year and subsequent years.
We must really pay attention when the Bloc members tell us the members do nothing. Last year there was mad cow disease. The hon. members will also recall the wild ruminant problem. American and Ontario hunters spent millions of dollars at game outfitters in Quebec. They spent $200 million to $300 million on hunting and fishing activities. I remember last August that not one Bloc Quebecois member spoke out. I understand they may have been busy mowing their lawns, or perhaps they had gone fishing somewhere in Quebec.
However, it must not be said that the Liberal members are not doing anything. I was the only Liberal member from Quebec involved in the issue of wild ruminants and mad cow, and our efforts were successful. We were successful thanks to the Association des pourvoiries du Québec. This was an important issue given the number of outfitters; I represent a vast riding of 802,000 square kilometres and 96,000 constituents. So, it was important and necessary to take action.
We also get involved in other areas, such as parental rights. We are currently negotiating day care rates with Quebec. I am perhaps one of the only Liberal members who wrote Jean Charest in Quebec to contest the $2 increase. Why did I get involved? It is not just about $2. Someone had to say that Quebec should not increase the rate by $2 but rather return to the 1997-98 rate.
When the PQ government was in power, it introduced the change with regard to family allowances. It abolished family allowances. As a result, since then, each family pays between $300 and $600 more in taxes. Another $2 is being added, but we must also think of families who do not send their children to day care and who have lost their family allowance. They pay for day care. In any case, family allowances must be restored and day cares must also be maintained.
We get involved often in all areas. We are there for the people in our ridings.
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part in this important debate, perhaps the last budget debate until the election.
This budget, I dare say, can be described as being long on promises and short on delivery. There is an alarming shortfall when one starts to examine the actual impact that this will have on the day to day lives of average Canadians in their backyards and in their back pockets. There is very little the government has to crow about in this recent document.
It was a safe budget. It was something the Liberals obviously redrafted in light of the current atmosphere of scandal, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds that has been going on in the public works department and, frighteningly, perhaps in other departments as well. It is an issue clearly of mismanagement that the government is trying to sweep away with this budget and portraying itself as somehow being prudent and fiscally responsible.
The fact remains that the government has had 10 years to get it right. We know things are starting to slip and Liberals are getting desperate when they start to bring out the name of a previous prime minister, the former Conservative prime minister, and try to lay blame at his feet somehow, castigate programs that they try to attribute somewhere else, knowing full well that after 10 years in government any suggestion that this was somebody else's fault is a huge dodge, a huge distraction. The truth is that the Prime Minister and his predecessor are two sides of the same coin.
It is the hundreds of millions of coins that went missing that should alarm Canadians the most. The Prime Minister and his predecessor are inextricably linked. Our current Prime Minister was the finance minister during the overwhelming majority of the tenure of the Liberal government.
When the right hon. member was overhead musing recently about the previous administration, what kind of prime minister could actually expect Canadians to take that type of characterization seriously? He was part of that previous administration, clearly.
I remind the current Minister of Finance, who also held posts in that government, similarly has to be held to account. The intent to somehow distance themselves and slide away from their own record is not working and not sitting well with Canadians.
We see in this budget a lot of rhetoric, a lot of misdirection, a lot of attempt to somehow distance themselves and put a wedge between them and their own record but that will not work.
I want to get back to the issue of the budget itself. There is a great deal of disappointment that is now resounding across the land. I spoke to a woman indirectly through my office today who pointed out the obvious. Wanda MacLean said that some of these promises, which were supposed to impact in such a profound way on education, health care, military spending and other areas, really is a pittance. In the case of Ms. MacLean, who has a 10 year old son Jonathan who suffers from autism, this special needs child will receive no significant or substantive help from this budget.
I say that knowing full well that the government, with great ceremony and great aplomb over its special needs program, has come up far short of what people like Wanda MacLean were hoping for. In fact, she tells me that she will receive an additional $9.96 per month as a result of these budgetary allotments, barely enough for a happy meal.
Ms. MacLean and others are not happy that the government specifically earmarked this issue as something it would address and yet when we look at the numbers we see less than $10 in the pot for a mother with a special needs child. Sadly, part of the government's record is promising big but delivering little. There are many other areas to touch upon.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Yellowhead.
The current Liberal government has laid out very little in terms of its vision of where it wants to take the country. There appears to be no comprehensive plan. That is another overwhelming conclusion one draws when looking at this budget.
Regarding post-secondary education, we had students in the gallery yesterday, and this week in Ottawa there are many students here from the Forum for Young Canadians who are participating in that terrific program.
Again the government had a golden opportunity to buttress and support students who are struggling with massive student debt loads in this country. Many of them have the equivalent of a mortgage when they graduate, but no home, no car and often no job. The expectation is that they will start to pay back that money almost immediately. Many of them, because of lack of opportunity, will leave the country in order to be able to try to keep those financial commitments.
There was a chance to put clearly in place incentives for young Canadians, those who have gone back to school and those who are upgrading, to stay and work and afford an education. It is the spiralling costs of education tuition that are a direct result of the clawbacks and the cutbacks from social transfer payments for which the government has been responsible now for a decade.
Again, it is directly laid at the feet of the current Prime Minister, who as minister of finance balanced the books, supposedly, on the backs of students, on the back of our health care system, which has been totally undermined, and on the backs of the provinces, by downloading these expenses. As well, we have also seen other disingenuous slight of hand attempts to take money from the EI fund and put it into general revenue, and to take money away from our military, clearly, leaving them so stretched, underfunded and under-equipped.
This ruse that has been perpetrated by the current Prime Minister is something that is going to receive great scrutiny and further examination as we head into an election. According to the government's own numbers from its consultant firm KPMG, this strategy that has been put forward, again in a very deceitful way, attempts to justify some of the program spending that continues. According to the government's own numbers, the firm has set out that $150 million was spent on the gun registry this year. If we factor in how much it costs for a student to pay tuition for half a term at university, around $5,000 in most cases, we see that this money being wasted on the gun registry could have paid to educate or could have paid the first year tuition of 30,000 students in this country.
Again it is a clear question of priorities: a useless gun registry that does not work, that does not protect Canadians--the Hell's Angels will not register their guns--or money put into student education, which again was supposed to be highlighted in this budget.
The budget leaves a lot of questions unanswered for Canadians. The Conservative Party would certainly believe in greater accessibility to education. We believe in eliminating barriers to post-secondary education, for example, doing away with taxable status on scholarships. Provincial jurisdiction of course factors very much into what we can do in health and education, but I would suggest that if we had given an ability to pay down as much as 10% on student loans annually as a percentage of income tax, there would actually be an incentive to stay and work in this country and get credit for that towards a student loan.
Some of the programs like the millennium scholarship fund have been an abysmal failure. The promise was to assist 12,000 graduates, but we know now, upon calculating it, that only 2,000 received this assistance. There were many broken promises with respect to interest relief in the past for student loan holders.
This is a question, like many others, that will be examined in the run-up to this election. Who would do it better, more responsibly, in a costed way? The answer in my view is the Conservative Party. Under the new leadership, under the new direction, this Conservative Party is going to be offering Canadians a clear alternative in the next campaign.
The budget also announced the CHST supplement, which was promised in the previous budget, a $2 billion announcement. We are glad to see it coming. It is little, it is late, but still, there it is. It has been announced five times. That is not new. What the premiers and my own Premier John Hamm of Nova Scotia were looking for was a long term commitment to health care, to changing the equalization program.
Janko Peric Cambridge, ON
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
It is coming, the hon. member says. So is Christmas. What Canadians were looking for here was a clear sign of truth, a clear sign that this money was going to be there to help them through these tough times.
I know my time is at an end. I will turn the floor over to my colleague from Yellowhead.
John McKay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
Mr. Speaker, I caught the concerns of the hon. member about management. I wonder whether he has read the article by Bruce Little in the The Globe and Mail on March 18, “S&P gives Canada shining report”. It states:
Canada has been handed a glowing report card by a major bond rating agency, which praises the country's open economy, sound public finances and stable political system.
In a report that would have been almost unthinkable a decade ago--
That of course happens to be the last time there was a Conservative government here.
--Standard & Poor's Corp. of New York said the country's strengthening financial profile, “impressive debt reduction”, “successful inflation targeting”, “strong public sector balance sheet” and “policy stability based upon a wide political consensus [all] augur well for Canada's long-term growth prospects”.
I wonder what the member would say to the fact that the lower government debt has put Canada in a better position to meet the fiscal challenges of an aging population than many other countries. Canada now has a sustainable public pension system. The last time Canada was in a mess was when we were downgraded under the Mulroney government to a AA status. Two years ago we were restored to a AAA status.
I put it to the hon. member that those from outside the country think that the nation's finances are being managed very well, thanks very much, and they were managed very poorly under the previous Conservative administration.
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Here we go, Mr. Speaker. It was Sir John A. Macdonald's fault, if we want to go right back to the very beginning and blame it on some Conservative. That seems to be the ploy here.
Let us be factual. We could go out and find some third party endorsements and try to pat ourselves on the back. There is no getting away from the fact that this government has been mired in the most corrupt and scandalous behaviour that the country has seen arguably in its history. It has misappropriated funds. There have been police investigations going on inside government departments. A Quebec Superior Court judge excoriated the departmental officials of BDC for the persecution they perpetrated on the head of a crown corporation.
The hon. member opposite knows full well that his government has an absolutely abysmal record as a manager of taxpayers' money. We have seen scandal after scandal emanating out from under the cabinet door. We have seen all sorts of examples of how the government has no respect for taxpayers' money. It has no respect for hard-working people who are at this very moment filling out their income tax forms to send to Ottawa, knowing full well that this government has lost $100 million in one program, in one department.
The hon. member opposite can try to pump up the stats and suggest that those outside the country somehow have some begrudging admiration for where our economy is, but the truth of the matter is that our numbers have been tumbling in world rankings in the United Nations. Our country is losing credibility every day because of the abysmal management skills of this government and this Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister somehow ran his own personal shipping empire the way he handled the government's finances, he would have a couple of ships tied up in an old harbour somewhere, rusting out like the economy is under his watch.
The member really has no credibility to stand here and try to read from some newspaper article about somebody who said something good about his government's management skills. The proof is in the pudding. Canadians sitting at home filling out their income tax forms know full well where their trust should lie when it comes to this government and the management of their hard-earned dollars. They look at the gun registry, the HRDC scandal, and this horrible waste of money under the sponsorship program. Those facts, not some chronicled response by some individual speaking on specific elements of the economy, speak for themselves.
The truth is there. Canadians know it. They are not going to buy this attempt to somehow roll back the clock and point the finger at somebody else.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and give my comments on the budget. I am really torn because I would love to jump into the debate that just went on, both with regard to who has credibility on the file and past budgets and when I see what the Liberal Party has done to this nation and how we could have been debt free if we had not decided to go into deficit budgeting.
I will not do that. I really want to stick to my theme, which is health care. I want to first of all explain to this House, because so many get it wrong, that we are a party that is firmly committed to universal health care. We are a party that is firmly committed to timely access to quality care regardless of a person's individual ability to pay. We are a party that understands Canada's health care system is the number one concern of Canadians.
I do not think we have a Prime Minister who quite understands that yet. He is an individual who has absolutely no credibility with regard to health care. What he has done on health care in the last decade over the tenure of the government has to be understood before we can truly get into an understanding of what happened in this budget with regard to health care.
I will quote his words of last November 9 in the Winnipeg Free Press . He said, “The best proof of what I am going to do in the future is what I have done in the past”. If that is indeed true, then it will be a sorry state for health care in the future, because what he has done in the past has absolutely destroyed it as far as pulling the dollars and cents away from health care and leaving it to drift over the last decade.
I know that full well. I worked in the health care system for 20 years. During that time period I remember going to Red Deer, Alberta, where we had to get the best minds in Alberta to decide what we were going to do to deal with the massive deficit of $900 million in one year. To make a long story short, the removal of dollars from the federal responsibility in health care ended up on the backs of those good, hard-working men and women in the industry who took a 5% rollback in Alberta to deal with that deficit.
It is unbelievable to see a government unilaterally pull the rug out from under health care. It never discussed the idea of taking money away from health care. It just did it. The federal government never sat down with the provinces, which have the joint responsibility of delivering health care, to try to discern how to come up with a better way of perhaps adding efficiencies in the system or how it could be done over a progressive period of time. None of that took place. It was just automatic that the money was coming out of health care. It just left the health care system to fend for itself. It downloaded the responsibility.
That is the sorrowful state of what actually happened in the health care system during those early years. To make it all worse, the government hid behind what is called the CHST, the health and social transfer payment, a grouping of dollars that went to social services as well as education and health care for the provinces. The government could hide behind it. It said the actual number of dollars was more, but it was not. It just went into three different areas and therefore it reduced the budgets. It was sleight of hand. We have seen sleight of hand even in this budget, sleight of hand on how the government is dealing with the actual dollars and cents.
However, before I get into the actual budget, I also want to talk about what kind of health care system we have left after that decade. We have a health care system where over a million people right now are on waiting lists for serious surgeries. Do members realize that the wait list period has doubled over the last decade? That is, during the last 10 years there was a doubling of the wait list in the country. Health care professionals have gone to greener pastures in the south to be able to find employment. That is what happened in the mid-1990s. It has continued to happen.
The sickest workplace we have in this country is the workplace within our hospitals. Our nurses use more sick time than any other workforce in the country. The shortage of doctors and nurses is acute and will continue to be acute.
This is the legacy of a Prime Minister who has neglected health care for the last decade. He has neglected health care in this budget.
It is interesting to look at the budget and see the dollars and cents that went into health care. There is a big to-do about the $2 billion that went to health care--
An hon. member
Over and over.