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.

Topics

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, in light of his remarks, it seems we have two completely different answers: one from the minister of the Privy Council and his ally and one from Huguette Tremblay. These two answers are diametrically opposed. Somebody is lying in this, and I trust Huguette--

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I trust the matter will be delved into. It is a committee hearing that the hon. member for Edmonton North is referring to, and committees are masters of their own proceedings, as I have said many times. The committee can ask questions of witnesses. That is what happens. I am sure that the hon. member, who has perhaps not had the experience and trials that some other hon. members have had, tribulations maybe but not trials, knows that sometimes evidence in trials is conflicting. That is what these inquiries are for, so we will let the course of justice proceed.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on a point of order raised on March 10 by the right hon. member for Calgary Centre concerning the transcription in Hansard of remarks by the hon. government House leader on March 9, 2004.

The right hon. member for Calgary Centre alleges that Hansard does not accurately reflect the words of the hon. government House leader where, at page 1259 in the French version, it states:

Je regrette que cette obligation n'ait pas été remplie, [...]

He contends that the phrase “à cause d’une erreur administrative” has been excised from the minister’s remarks. The hon. government House leader states that the Hansard entry is accurate.

I have looked into the situation and it appears that there has indeed been an error, though not the error that might originally have been suspected. I have obtained from Hansard records a copy of the document containing the draft notes of the government House leader. As members will know, it is common practice to make such notes available to our interpreters and later to the Hansard editors to assist them in their work.

A perusal of the minister's draft notes shows clearly that the phrase “à cause d'une erreur administrative” was indeed in the original text, but these words were crossed out, one assumes by the minister, and were not ultimately spoken by him when he rose in the chamber. However, it would appear that the simultaneous interpretation, relying on the draft text that had been provided, and not on the words spoken, erroneously included that phrase when translating the minister's remarks into English.

I am satisfied that this explains the discrepancy that concerns the right hon. member for Calgary Centre and that Hansard is a faithful reflection of what was said in the House. I thank him for his vigilance with regard to the accuracy of House Debates and I thank the hon. minister for his contribution in clarifying this matter.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I am also prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. members for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock and Scarborough—Rouge River on March 11, concerning the recording, disclosure to the media and subsequent publication of the confidential proceedings of a meeting of the Ontario Liberal caucus which took place in room 253B of the Centre Block on February 25.

I would like to thank the hon. members for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock and Scarborough—Rouge River for having raised this very serious matter.

In his submission the hon. member for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock deplored the fact that Sun Media had published a tape of a confidential meeting. He argued that this action was not only a breach of his privacy and that of his constituents, it was also an event that adversely affected his ability to speak out in private on behalf of his constituents.

Noting that the facilities used for the meeting he attended are multi-purpose and often used for many different types of confidential meetings by members of all parties, the hon. member for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock asked the Speaker to look into the matter to ensure the protection of his rights as a member.

In his remarks, the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River asked the Chair to consider three aspects of this matter. First, the hon. member argued that the disclosure of the February 25 meeting by the Ottawa Sun newspaper constituted a breach of privilege. Second, he submitted that an offence under the Criminal Code may have been committed. Finally, he brought to the attention of the Chair the relationship between the conduct of the media in and around Parliament, the special privileges granted them by the House, and the media's violation of House rules about the confidentiality of private meetings.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River concluded by indicating that he would be prepared to move the appropriate motion should there be a finding of a prima facie breach of privilege.

As I indicated on March 11, the Chair takes such matters very seriously. Mr. Speaker Bosley, faced a similar situation on January 30, 1986, involving alleged electronic eavesdropping on a caucus meeting. Just as Mr. Speaker Bosley stated on that occasion, and I refer hon. members to the Debates of January 30, 1986, at page 10336, I can assure hon. members that whenever the Speaker receives such complaints, they are acted on as quickly as is humanly possible.

In the current case, even before the hon. members raised the matter in the House, I had asked for a full report on the leak of this meeting. That report has revealed that there was indeed a human error made. Specifically, during their verification of equipment prior to the meeting, staff responsible for the room set-up inadvertently left the equipment in lock-in rather than lock-out mode. This mode makes it possible to broadcast the proceedings in a room and for anyone receiving the broadcast on an FM receiver to record the broadcast.

It is important to note, however, that in order for the broadcast to take place, someone had to activate the broadcast button on the console in the meeting room. How that function came to be activated and by whose hand remains unclear. However, I can assure the House that I have asked my officials to take all reasonable administrative precautions to guard against this situation being repeated.

That being said, in certain circumstances, the Chair might consider the matter to end there. Were this case simply to involve a complaint about House services that could be traced back directly to human error, then it would not involve a prima facie question of privilege. However, the situation before us is not so simple.

True, human error by staff has been identified. But that error does not explain the eventual activation of the broadcast function that made the leak possible. As hon. members have stated, this might have involved malicious intent by a person or persons unknown and an offence under the Criminal Code may have been committed. That is not for your Speaker to determine, though it is an allegation that members may wish to pursue elsewhere.

The crux of the matter for the Chair is not the leak of this information, but the publication of leaked information that was manifestly from a private meeting. The concept of caucus confidentiality is central to the operations of the House and to the work of all hon. members. The decision to publish information leaked from a caucus meeting is, in my view, an egregious example of a cavalier and contemptuous attitude to the privacy of all members and that privacy is something upon which all members depend to do their work. It is a situation in my view that cannot go unanswered.

Accordingly, having examined the situation in the matter of the publication of a leak from the caucus meeting of February 25, I find that there is a prima facie breach of privilege and I am prepared to entertain a motion at this time.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

March 25th, 2004 / 3:10 p.m.

Liberal

John O'Reilly Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your thought and wisdom in this matter. I am prepared to move the motion that:

This House refer the matter in question on privilege to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for study and report back to this House on its findings.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

The Budget
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, budget 2004 represents a continuation of our government's record of sound fiscal management. We have produced a seventh consecutive balanced budget, a first since Confederation, with more projected for the next two years.

We have gone from a deficit position of $42 billion in 1993 to a surplus of $1.9 billion for this year. Eliminating the deficit and reducing the debt is not an end in itself. Rather, it is about keeping control of the fiscal sovereignty of our country.

Debt financing is still our largest expenditure. Let us think of what we could do with this money if we had no debt and did not have to manage the horrendous $42 billion deficit and $520 billion debt left by the previous Conservative government.

The strongest testament to our progress is when we consider that in the early years of debt management we were in a deficit position and had a horrendous debt. As soon as we tabled a budget, our economic ministers would have to go to the financial capitals of the world, to London, New York, Paris, Bonn, and Tokyo, to plead our case to 28 year old whiz kids in red suspenders who set the rate for bonds so the cost of financing our foreign debt would not go up because of higher interest rates.

Not one of our economic ministers had to go anywhere once we brought the deficit and the debt under control.

Budget surpluses have reduced the national debt by $53 billion, which has saved Canadians over $3 billion in interest charges. From 1993 to now, there has been a drop in prime interest rates from 7.5% to 2.25%. The cost of servicing our debt went from 38¢ on every dollar in 1993 to 21¢ on a dollar today. There was a drop in our foreign debt from 44% to 16% of gross domestic product; what this means is that more of what Canadians earn is staying at home. There has been a reducing of the debt to GDP ratio from 68.4% in 1995 to 42% this year. The unemployment rate is down from 11.5% in 1993 to 7.4% today. There have been significant increases in employment with 271,000 new full time jobs created in 2003 and over two million since 1993.

Fiscal turnaround over the past 10 years exceeds that of all other G-7 countries, and we are the only members of this organization to maintain surpluses this year despite the global downturn. We expect economic growth of a healthy 2.7% this year even as we recover from significant shocks to our economy from SARS, BSE and avian flu.

Budget 2004 directly addresses the concerns that Canadians have regarding the management of their hard-earned tax dollars and provides concrete measures to re-establish their confidence. To this end, we have implemented a comprehensive plan to improve accountability and expenditure control. We have reintroduced the Office of Comptroller General of Canada, which the Conservatives eliminated, to oversee government spending. New corporate governance rules for crown corporations will also be implemented.

The expenditure review committee, established the day the present government took office, is dedicated to improving public sector management and ensuring that government programs are effective and affordable. To this end, it has begun a line by line review of expenditures with a view to generating annual savings of at least $3 billion within four years, savings that can be used in priority areas such as health care and education.

For 10 years I have been calling for a change in the way we do moving for the government so that we can save $30 million to $40 million a year. I fully expect that under this process the waste in government moving will finally be eliminated.

My riding of Kitchener—Waterloo is at the heart of Canada's technology triangle with Communitech and is an area that has shown exceptional employment growth and export activity. It is also the home of a community college and two universities, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. The growth in our high tech companies' exports and sales and the increase in post-secondary education research capabilities have been facilitated by government support.

This has translated into higher profits for companies and higher personal income for their employees, which provide a real net return to government. A recent study in our region indicated that taxes paid by residents exceeded government grants and transfers by close to a billion dollars.

The success of my community is based on education, which is also the success of Canada. Education is a key factor in securing a higher standard of living, a better quality of life and Canada's success in the 21st century.

Social programs are important to Canadians. Early learning and child care are crucial to intellectual development, and we are increasing our significant funding in these areas by $150 million.

This budget makes access to higher education more accessible to Canadians from low income and middle income families, with targeted measures such as the provision of a Canada learning bond at birth to children of low income families as an incentive to encourage savings for post-secondary education. As well, beginning in 2005, the Canada education savings grant will be increased from 20% to a maximum of 40% for low income and middle income families.

There is also help for students, with new grants provided for 20,000 students from low income families to cover part of their first year's tuition. Student loan limits will be increased, parental contribution from middle income families will be reduced, and we will increase the threshold for eligibility for interest rate relief on unpaid loans.

Significantly, we have increased the advancement of opportunities for aboriginal Canadians, with $150 million going to support the aboriginal human resources development strategy and $50 million to support the urban aboriginal strategy.

Since balancing the budget in 1997-98, investing in research and development has been one of our top priorities, with research totalling $13 billion this fiscal year. Our government spending on research and development is the highest per capita in the G-7.

These investments will reap significant and ongoing rewards for Canadian companies, their employees and the communities they support.

One of the problems in giving a speech on the budget is that we do not have enough time to tell all the good news. One thing that is very clear is that this government, since it has taken office, has adopted a balance approach. We have again invested in health care for Canadians and it again is a priority of Canadians. The meeting that is coming up with the Prime Minister and the first ministers of this country is going to set the course for sustainable health care in Canada. It is a position that Roy Romanow supports.

We are going into the new millennium on a sound financial footing. It is the ability to manage our finances that enables Canadians to achieve their potential.

The Budget
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot sit here without correcting a misperception that is perpetrated constantly by members of the Liberal Party, that is, that they were the ones who were successful in bringing under control the debt that was left to them by the Mulroney Conservatives.

I remember in 1993 when I was campaigning that the debt was around $520 billion. I complained about it. I told people that was why they should vote for Reform; that is what we were at that time. In reply, the Conservative candidate said they in fact had a balanced budget on program spending, but the amount of the debt was simply and purely the accumulated interest cost year over year on the debt they had inherited from the Liberals nine years earlier. I did the math because I am a math type of guy. I found him to be correct and I stopped making that particular point in our all candidate forums.

In other words, starting with Mr. Trudeau, during the times when Mr. Chrétien was the treasurer and had record deficit budgets, that is when we accumulated this huge debt hole that we got into. It was accumulated by the Liberals. In nine years, I admit, the Conservatives did not in fact pay down all that debt, but they did simply inherit the Liberal debt and then they left the Liberals with the same debt, just with the accumulated interest. It is their own debt.

I also would like to point out that the debt right now--we have had an accounting change to a full accrual system--still stands at an amount greater than when the Liberals took over in 1993.

The Budget
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would be very pleased to respond to that. The reality, and I think it is important for members on the other side to understand this, is that they have inherited the previous Conservative government's legacies. They changed their name to Reform, then to Alliance and they finally got rid of the progressives in their party and they are back again as the Conservative Party.

The reality is that under nine years of Conservative rule preceding us coming into office, the Conservative government ran a deficit each and every year. The size of the debt grew from $200 billion to over $500 billion in nine short years.

What is important for Canadians to understand is that this is about sound fiscal management. In eleven budgets, this government has had seven consecutive balanced budgets, which turned into, in many cases, surpluses that allowed us to reduce the debt by over $50 billion, saving $3 billion each and every year on interest payments. This also means that this money can be better spent on expenditures such as health care, education and social services.

I think what is also very critical for us all to understand, and why it is so important to have the debt financing under control, is that it allows us as a country to maintain our economic sovereignty; in case we have a rise in interest rates, we can still manage the debt. The reality since we have been managing the fiscal affairs of the country is that our interest rates have been coming down and employment has been going up.

The Budget
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Lethbridge, Alberta, who will be handily re-elected in the coming campaign against a fellow by the name of Ken Nicol, a provincial politician who thinks he may have a chance to defeat my colleague from Lethbridge. The fact is my colleague from Lethbridge is one of the finest members in this House and will be soundly re-elected in the coming campaign.

This budget was a great disappointment. When I sat in the House while the budget was being delivered, I looked at the finance minister and listened to him giving the speech and I looked over to the Prime Minister, sitting just to his left, and I thought to myself, what happened? What happened to the big, bold agenda, the brand new ideas, the passionate sense of need for the country that he was going to fulfill? What happened to the bold agenda that he had in mind? The idea of putting gas taxes into roads and all the other big ideas just absolutely were not there.

Canadians had very high expectations for the Prime Minister. Canadians hoped that they were going to see a new Prime Minister and a new agenda for Canada. In fact, what we saw was a bunch of stale, old hype that just was not fulfilled in any way whatsoever. The budget was a disappointment. Frankly, it was a hodgepodge and a jumble of projects that do not address the real needs of Canadians or Canada's economy.

With 46% of the income of the average British Columbian being eaten by taxation, we all expected more in this budget. Clearly, the Liberals are ignoring the emerging consensus in Canada that tax relief, including personal income taxes, business taxes, and reducing EI premiums has to be the priority in order for us to prosper economically and for there to be the job growth necessary for our future.

Under the Liberal government, spending has increased $41 billion over the past seven years. Over the next two years spending will increase by another $13 billion. Hardworking Canadians are sending more money to Ottawa than ever before, but Canadians still are not receiving the appropriate level of services commensurate with the level of taxation that they are paying. Hospital waiting lines continue to get longer, students continue to plunge deeper into debt, and our soldiers are stretched as thinly as ever.

What this means for the average Canadian is that they have less take home pay, which in turn means less freedom to choose how to live their lives and fewer opportunities, specifically for young Canadians.

The effect can be seen in British Columbia. The effect of this reality can be seen with regard to tax freedom day. Tax freedom day has moved, in British Columbia from June 9 in 1993 when the Liberals first came to office to July 2 today. Let me repeat that. When the Liberals came into power in 1993, tax freedom day in British Columbia was on June 9 and today it is July 2. What this means is that for the typical family in my riding of Port Moody— Westwood—Port Coquitlam, the typical family has to work 23 more days for the government than they had to in 1993.

This is a disgrace because Canadians work hard. My constituents work hard for their money. Businesses are sacrificing. People are doing what they need to do, yet year after year of Liberal government, they are having less take home pay, less money, fewer choices in their lives, and it is all because of the fiscal irresponsibility of the Liberal government.

What happened specifically to the promises of the Prime Minister when he was running to be Liberal Prime Minister? What happened to his promise for a new deal for cities by putting gas taxes into roads? In nine budgets over the past 10 years the current Prime Minister when he was finance minister said no to investing gas taxes into roads. Then on May 29 the Prime Minister said that the idea of putting gas taxes into roads would be among his very first priorities as Prime Minister. Ten months later he has still failed to act on his promise.

Even after he voted in favour of the official opposition motion in October last year, he has still failed to do that. Let us not forget that in October last year the House passed by a vote of 202 in favour to 31 opposed a motion that said:

That in the opinion of this House the government should initiate immediate discussions with the provinces and territories to provide municipalities with a portion of the federal gas tax.

Clearly, the Liberal government and the Liberal Prime Minister have abandoned their new deal for cities and they cannot be trusted to invest our gas taxes into roads.

There were essentially two pillars to his campaign as leader of the Liberal Party to become Prime Minister of Canada. On one hand, he said we needed a new deal for cities, and that has been abandoned in this budget. On the other hand, he said that we have to end the democratic deficit in the House of Commons. That has been abandoned by his failure to commit to fixed election dates and also his failure to implement the promise that he voted for, which is to initiate immediate discussions to put gas taxes into roads. He did not honour the vote in the House, 202 in favour to 31 opposed.

I see my colleague from Mississauga South is shaking his head. The fact is the member for Mississauga South, as all Liberal members in the House, voted in favour of putting gas taxes into roads immediately, but the Liberal Prime Minister and the Liberal government have again failed to deliver.

Every single year the Liberal government is missing opportunities. The government is spending more money than ever before. The government is spending over $183 billion this year, the largest budget by a government in Canadian history in terms of spending. It is spending more money than ever before, no matter how it is scored.

The Budget
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member

There is a higher population.

The Budget
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

The member for Mississauga South said there is a higher population. The reality is this budget is the largest budget in Canadian history no matter how it is scored, per capita or gross numbers. The government is spending more money than ever before and it is spending it on things that are not appropriate. I will give a small example.

Every year the government spends $4 billion to $6 billion on corporate welfare, money that goes to companies that ought not to be going to companies. This is money that could go to some fantastic programs, that could go to tax relief, that could go to help students, that could go to health care, that could go to a number of projects that are badly needed in this country.

If Canadians want to appreciate the boiled down problem of Canada's fiscal reality, the basic problem financially is that two-thirds of the services that citizens enjoy from governments are provided by provinces and municipalities. The problem is that two-thirds of the taxes that Canadians are spending go to Ottawa. There is an imbalance in that two-thirds of the tax dollars go to one level of government but two-thirds of the services are supposed to be provided by another level of government. That is what is causing the vast majority of the strains that we have in our country.

At federal-provincial conferences the premiers and the federal government are duking it out over whether or not certain levels of government are doing their adequate share in terms of financing health care or post-secondary education. There are fights over whether or not certain projects are being met properly. There are fights over whether or not tax rates are proper. There are constant fights and political games. The 10 provinces and three territories have different election times from the federal government.

There is constant politicking between the federal and provincial governments. There is constant politicking and wrestling over this two-thirds and one-third imbalance between financing and provision of services. This chronic imbalance coupled with election cycles overlapping within this discussion are causing a real problem for Canadians. It is a real frustration because the needs of Canadians simply are not being met.

As we go into this election cycle, the question is now that we are the official opposition and the new Conservative Party has been created, what would we do? What would our alternative be? What would Canada look like if there was a new Conservative government?

As we go forward as the official opposition, as we go forward as the new Conservative Party, our watchwords are that we believe in a Canada with lower taxes, less government, more freedom, personal responsibility and democratic reform. That is what we are about. We would fix that imbalance of two-thirds of the taxes going to Ottawa with two-thirds of the services being provided by the provinces and municipalities.

The member for Kitchener--Waterloo spoke a moment ago. It is very easy for him to stand in the House and say that the federal government balanced the budget and that the Liberals have had seven balanced budgets. Frankly, it is very easy to do that if all they do is offload onto the provinces, cut transfers, increase taxes over 70 times, fail to keep their campaign promise of lowering or eliminating the GST and fail to give broad tax relief to Canadians. It is very easy to that that if they cut transfers to health care and put hospitals and universities in a state of crisis. It is very easy to do that if they gut our armed forces, not replace the helicopters, send the forces out in Iltis jeeps and give them camouflage that does not match the environment in which they are supposed to be engaged in combat for international security purposes. These are what the results are.

The Liberals can stand here and say that they have had seven balanced budgets. Well it is pretty easy to do that within the context of putting our troops in jeopardy, putting lives in jeopardy, having long waiting lists at the hospitals, putting university campuses and students into massive debt, and raising taxes over 70 times.

The new Conservative Party stands for fiscal accountability, fiscal restraint and putting more money into the hands of citizens. We believe that the sponsorship program, the gun registry and the HRDC boondoggle have shown time and again that a dollar in the hand of a citizen, a dollar in the hand of a taxpayer is far more efficiently used and far more appropriately allocated than a dollar in the hand of a federal bureaucrat, in the Liberal Party of Canada.

We believe in putting power, money, control and influence into the hands of citizens so that Canadians can choose how to live their lives, so they do not have to apply for government programs, so they do not have to get in line. We believe in doing that so Canadians do not have their choices of how they want to live their lives taken away by the leviathan Liberal state that is persistently overtaxing Canadians, diminishing opportunities, driving young Canadians out of Canada with the brain drain and all sorts of other things.

It is time for Canada to have a new beginning. A new fiscally responsible Conservative Party will provide that beginning.

The Budget
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the final comments that the member made, one of the things that I noted was the theme of lowering the taxes, letting Canadians keep a little more money, letting them take care of all of their problems.

If we lowered the tax rates, all of a sudden there would be fewer resources available to provide the programs and target those who most need them. I would cite for instance the old family allowance system where it was universal and was paid to all. That has been replaced by the Canada child tax benefit which is targeted and is basically income tested, so that it does target those in most need.

Another example would be the Conservative Party's policy of scrapping the Canada pension plan and telling people that they should just get their own RRSPs. This is kind of--