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

The Budget
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

It is absolutely amazing. This was a promise in the health care accord. There is no one in the land, no prime minister and no one from any party who could be a prime minister, who would have gone into another election without giving that $2 billion.

It is absolute nonsense for the government tried to trump it up and play a sleight of hand on this again, re-announcing and re-announcing the $2 billion. This was $2 billion as one-off money. Actually it was not one-off. It had already been announced in the health accord last year. I would challenge this government not to do this with health care dollars with the provinces. No wonder they are so upset about the dollars and cents in health care.

The budget says that $34.8 billion will go into health care over the next five-year period. However, we have to understand, which the provinces do full well, that those dollars were re-announced and re-announced. A good part of that money was announced in the 2000 budget, just before an election. That was playing politics with health. That was a five-year commitment, and we are just into the third year now. Now the government is re-announcing that $2 billion as part that $34.8 billion.

When the provinces look at the federal government and its lack of commitment to health care, they say that it may be able to fool the guy on the street, but it is not fooling them. They know the dollars and they know the numbers. They say that the government is absolutely false in what it says because its fifty-fifty commitment to health care is no longer there, and it is still not there. Stable funding is still not in place for this government.

Nonetheless, we can argue about whether the commitment is there. Last February an agreement was reached with the provinces. For the first time in a decade, provincial governments and the federal government came together and decided on a five-year agreement. Even in with that agreement, the government did not fulfil its commitment. Significant time lines were in the agreement, significant things that had to be done in that first year.

We agreed with a lot of what was in the accord. It said that provincial governments would be given flexibility to deliver on health care; it would reform the primary system. By September it would have the primary system indicators to tell us how we were doing, good, bad or indifferent, with regard to health care. The government has totally missed that deadline. It is not there today. It is not even being worked on. When the ministers met with the Prime Minister, just before the throne speech, there was not a word of that. Not only that, the bottom line indicators for a national home care program, which is part of the accord as well, were not there as well.

Therefore, we have a tremendous disconnect with what was agreed to by both orders of government last year to what has been happening and nobody is talking about it. It was not talked about in the throne speech. It was not talked about in this budget. In fact health care was scarcely mentioned in this budget.

What was talked about in this budget was what would be done with the public health agency.

It has been almost a year since we had the massive outbreak of SARS. SARS taught us some lessons, but the lessons should have been learned long before SARS hit. There were many warnings over the last number of years about the problem we would have if we did not look after the public health and protection of our nation. Diseases such as SARS, the avian flu and so on have ravaged many countries. Now we have firsthand experience of that, and we had been told it would come.

In fact we have been totally vulnerable from learning the lessons of SARS and actually dealing with it. We still do not have a chief public medical officer of health, somebody who can take the bull by the horns and play quarterback on a massive outbreak like SARS. That is really the job of the health minister, but if the minister will do not it, then we need somebody else who will. We are still sitting vulnerable on that. We still do not have a public health agency. Although it was mentioned in the budget, there have been no time lines for either one of those.

It is frustrating to see exactly what is in the budget and what is not. Why do we have to delay and delay? In fact the big discussion on the agency is the location of its headquarters, which is really interesting. It should either be in Vancouver or in Winnipeg, but my guess is it will be in Ottawa, not because of anything other than politics. It is unfortunate when we see governments playing politics with health care because it is too important.

We absolutely cannot be playing the politics of putting health care on a sustainable path and waiting until this summer to do it. The Prime Minister has had a decade of waiting for his time to become the prime minister. The answers for health care should have been foremost in his mind. It certainly is top in the minds of ordinary Canadians. Instead of coming forward in his first budget and first throne speech and giving real answers to health care, they have been absolutely ignored. It is a shame and an absolute disaster.

The government has tried to play sleight of hand with money. It has tried to convince people that it is fiscally prudent, yet there has been scandal after scandal. This government has to be replaced. The corruption goes from the top to the bottom. There is only one answer. Canadians will judge the government accordingly in the next election.

The Budget
Government Orders

March 25th, 2004 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was following attentively the comments made by the critic for the Reform, Alliance, Conservative Party of Canada.

I have to remind hon. members that this is the seventh consecutive budget with a surplus. Canada is the only country in the G-7 nations that has done so. The government has given approximately $36.8 billion toward health care. It has also provided an additional $665 million to deal with health emergencies, such as SARS, so we will be ready for the future.

I wonder if my colleague read today's Globe and Mail headline which read, “PM seeks 10-year medicare plan”. The article states that the Prime Minister has asked the Minister of Health to prepare a sustainable 10 year plan for our nation in time for an upcoming meeting of the premiers in August.

Is the hon. member opposed to that plan? He said that he did not support the government nor the plan presented to Canadians in the budget. Everybody appreciates this plan with the exception of the hon. member. Could he comment on the points I have made?

The Budget
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me start with the plan my colleague mentioned. It is unbelievable what the government has done with regard to studying health care and deciding what kind of plan with which to come forward. How much money did the government spend over the last decade? We sent that question to the Library of Parliament and it came back with the answer of $243 million just to study health care. We do not need another study. We do not need to wait until summer to figure it out. We know the answer. What we need is some performance and some leadership, but we are not getting either.

Canada taxes higher than any of the OECD nations. When it comes to health care, Canada only rates 13th out of the OECD nations. As far as dollars per capita, Canada ranks third. If we look at the age of our population, Canada ranks first. Those figures came out of a study done by the Fraser Institute last year. That means Canada put in per capita higher than any other country. Just providing money will not solve our health care problems. We need to look at reforming it and putting it on a sustainable path.

Two weeks ago, the Conference Board of Canada said that health care in its present state was headed into a failure. It cannot be sustained in its present form. The board did not come up with those conclusions by accident--

The Budget
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Drawn out of a hat.

The Budget
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

The board did not draw those conclusions out of a hat at all. It formulated them from a very careful study.

If those conclusions are true, then we have to stop playing politics with health care. That is what the government has done, and this budget has failed to deliver on it. We have to start working with the two orders of government in a collaborative way. This appears to be impossible for the government to accomplish. It is unfortunate because the only way we will accomplish that is to change the government. Canadians are ready to do that.

The Budget
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a quick question about funding for aboriginal people.

A shortage of funding creates all sorts of problems. For example, along the border of Yukon in northern B.C. there are a number of first nations that are trying to settle land claims. However, B.C. is not providing negotiators for those claims and this is causing great difficulty for the people who want to move ahead.

In this budget and in the estimates, over $400 million in increased funding is being provided to aboriginals. Some of that money will go to land claims, some of it will go to programs, some will go to drinking water and some of it will go to aging rust. To help aboriginals get into the workforce, $125 million will be available to them for training.

One of the members of Her Majesty's loyal opposition suggested there should not be any increase in funding for aboriginal people. Does the member agrees with that?

The Budget
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what my hon. colleague is talking about with regard to that claim. Aboriginals are the unhealthiest population in the country. Some of the reserves are an absolute disaster.

The member has to realize that the provincial government is not responsible when it comes to dealing with aboriginal health matters. Only one government is responsible and that is this government. It has absolutely failed for a decade to deliver on health for first nations. It is an absolute disgrace what has happened to our aboriginals with regard to health care in Canada.

The Budget
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the first budget tabled by the new Minister of Finance, and the government's seventh balanced budget in a row.

I want to take the opportunity to thank all members of my non-partisan community advisory council, representing all segments of my riding, for its valued support and input.

Budget 2004 demonstrates prudence and financial responsibility, something that members of my community advisory council called for during our annual prebudget consultation meeting earlier this year.

The budget begins to address the goals outlined in the throne speech and reflects the priorities of Canadians, with significant investments in public health, education, our communities and research and development, while maintaining a balanced budget and paying down the mortgage.

Contrary to what the NDP is telling Canadians, paying down the mortgage is extremely important not only because we cannot leave our children and grandchildren an unbearable debt burden that will choke their ability to deal with future challenges, but because the millions of dollars that we will save on servicing the debt can and will be reinvested in the priorities of Canadians.

This too is something that members of my community advisory council have repeated to me year after year.

Budget 2004 strengthens medicare by reconfirming the $2 billion investment in Canada's health care system, bringing to $36.8 billion the funding provided under the health accord. This translates into an extra $778 million in health funding for Ontario.

It provides an immediate investment of $665 million for the new Canada public health agency to be a national network for disease control and emergency response. This is on top of the $400 million that will be transferred to the provinces over the next three years to support a national immunization strategy and to reduce stresses on provincial health systems.

The budget is also providing support for families and children with the introduction of a new Canada learning bond, as well as other grants targeting students from low income families and students with disabilities. It also proposes speedier implementation of the multilateral framework on early learning and child care.

I am pleased to see that the Minister of Finance has acknowledged the hard work of our men and women serving with the Canadian military and police in high risk areas around the world, by exempting them from paying income tax.

I have spent time on the ground with and under the same living conditions as members of our military. I can tell members that they deserve this tax exemption not only for their service, but for their bravery and for the tremendous toll their absence takes on their families.

It is also important to recognize the additional resources being made available to support Canada's participation in peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Haiti, as well as the further $650 million for security issues and additional capital funding.

The implementation of the government's commitment to fully rebate the GST paid by municipalities is great news to my riding of Cambridge. For Ontario, the additional benefit to municipalities will be $243 million in the first year alone.

Coupled with this is an acceleration of the $1 billion municipal rural infrastructure fund, vital to North Dumfries township in my riding. This means that our cities will have $7 billion in available money over the next 10 years.

In my own riding of Cambridge, federal infrastructure support has gone to major projects like the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, as well as critical priorities like road improvements.

The $8 million infusion and the annual $10 million to the new horizons for seniors program is welcomed news. The goal is to keep seniors active in life by providing them with a wide range of community based projects and social activities.

Just yesterday, StatsCanada reported on the composite leading index, an early measurement of economic performance, which rose in February as manufacturing picked up.

Another news report yesterday in my riding of Cambridge and the region of Waterloo, known as Canada's technology triangle, reported a 20% increase in exports from 2000 to 2002. That is $10.7 billion worth of products. The regions of Cambridge and Waterloo made up 5.2% of Ontario's total exports and 2.7% of all Canadian exports in 2002.

Our economy has remained competitive while others have faltered because the government recognized long ago that Canadian businesses and workers must have the tools they need so that they can build a 21st century economy. That is why I welcome the support in budget 2004 to increase commercialization of the research conducted at our institutions of higher education.

Many companies in my riding, like those in the printing industry, will welcome the increase in the capital cost allowance rate for computer equipment to 45% and, in the rate of broadband, the Internet and other data network infrastructure equipment to 30%.

With one in six Ontario jobs directly or indirectly related to the auto sector, more so in my own riding of Cambridge, and with the changing patterns of auto investment, the announcement to work toward a national strategic framework for the Canadian auto sector in the 21st century is very important.

I want to thank the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister for listening to the members of the auto caucus, as well as the national caucus on the importance of the auto sector.

As the chair of the auto caucus, I am pleased that all those voices were heard before the budget was announced. The budget's emphasis on research and development, commercialization of research, and other initiatives will help support innovative work in the next generation of smart, fuel efficient, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles and renewable fuels.

Let me provide some facts to the House on how important the auto sector is for the Canadian economy. In that sector we have presently 217,000 employees and they are employed in motor vehicle manufacturing, motor vehicle trailer manufacturing, and motor vehicle parts manufacturing. Of those, 97% are permanent workers. That sector's manufacturing GDP is 12% of Canada's total GDP.

Six assembly plants are located in Ontario and about 550 auto parts plants are located in Ontario, resulting in 97% of Canada's automotive production originating in Ontario. These facts are very important for many of us. That is why I am especially pleased that the auto sector is mentioned and that the Minister of Industry will take the next step in the very near future to fulfill the obligations that were mentioned in the budget.

This budget comes on the heels of a $1 billion investment to help Canadian farmers and beef producers, something extremely important to the agriculture sector in North Dumfries township of my riding.

Canadians recognize that unexpected challenges can and do arise and that the government must be prudent with its plans if it is going to be able to respond. That is why the Minister of Finance has emphasized fiscal responsibility and prudent planning.

The leader of the New Democratic Party thinks we should have spent more money. The leader of the former Canadian Alliance, now Conservative Party, said that we should give tax cuts and spend more money on health. However, they do not have an answer as to where they would get that money.

The government is investing in the priorities of Canadians in a moderate manner and that is what the people want. For the last 10 years, Canadians were telling us that we should be accountable as a government, that we should take care of finances, and balance our books. The opposition at that time, the Reform Party, promised that it would balance the books by the year 2000. We did it by the year 1998.

I have nothing to be ashamed of in being a member of the Liberal Party, a member on this side and a member of the team that listens to Canadians and balances our books. Even today, I am more proud to be a member on this side because I have full confidence that the present Prime Minister will listen to Canadians and respond responsibly.

The Budget
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to mention an item in the budget with which most Canadians agree, and that is the item that falls under the athlete assistance program. There will be a slight increase in that and I think Canadians in every province agree with that. Certainly, I know it is true in the Province of Saskatchewan.

I note that the government is spending roughly $1.75 million or maybe a little more now in monthly living and training allowances for these people because they are amateurs. We agree with that too. One thing that hits back home in my province is that a senior card member being trained gets an allowance of $1,100 a month for living and training expenses, and a junior gets $500 a month. The amateurs who play in the Saskatchewan junior amateur hockey league get zippo, but the federal government charges them. It charges these people who have no salary EI, CPP or other deductions. It is totally unfair and done only in Saskatchewan.

I would like to ask my friend from Cambridge, does he figure that this is an equality thing that is happening with Saskatchewan paying this price while amateur athletes chosen by the federal government get exemptions?

The Budget
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I partially agree with the budget and I do realize that there is a need for more financial support. I have in my riding of Cambridge a very well known gymnastic club. That club trained not only national but internationally known gymnasts who participated in the Olympic games. I believe there is room for improvement and we have to work together to improve and support athletes.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Guelph—Wellington
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the hon. member as chair of the auto caucus. I know how hard he worked to get that piece in the budget, and the strategy to move forward in the auto sector.

Obviously, in Guelph—Wellington I have quite a few car plants and manufacturing plants that are dependent on this industry so it is very important.

The thing I want to address today though in the budget is the new horizons program. That has been a program that the seniors have wanted and needed to be expanded federally for a long time. It is tremendous.

I can say about my own mom and dad, when they were alive, they were able to stay in their house because of programs similar to this. It really does make it better for people, and ourselves eventually who will have to stay at home and will not want to go to an old age home or to the hospital. It will help people to be able to do that.

I am getting calls from seniors right now saying how pleased they are with this in the budget. Has the hon. member any thoughts on this and is he receiving this good news as I am in Guelph—Wellington?

The Budget
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, the new horizons program and the $8 million in initial funding is great news for seniors. I believe that my colleague from Guelph—Wellington will agree with me that we must work together, not just on this side but on both sides, to improve that program and to get more funding for a program that will benefit seniors.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I should indicate that I will be dividing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Churchill.

It is a privilege to rise on behalf of the people who I have the honour of representing in Burnaby—Douglas and speak today to the government's priorities, because that is what the budget is ultimately about. It is about values, about priorities and about vision. On each of those benchmarks, the government and the new Prime Minister have failed miserably. Not only have they failed my constituents in Burnaby but they have failed all Canadians, and beyond that. They have shamefully failed to respond to the desperate plea of the international community for Canada to show leadership on a whole range of issues.

In the brief time that I have to speak to the budget this afternoon, I want to concentrate on two or three key issues. My colleague from Churchill will speak passionately about the shameful failure of the government to show any leadership whatsoever with respect to the concerns of the first nations people, the aboriginal peoples in Canada.

The Speech from the Throne held out the hope that perhaps the government might at last recognize the destructive impact of its policies on first nations and aboriginal peoples, both urban and rural, but there was nothing. Despite the call for additional resources for housing, for health care and a whole range of other issues, the government has miserably failed aboriginal peoples.

Indeed, in the area of aboriginal and first nations health, the throne speech called conditions on reserves shameful and acknowledged the immediate need for the federal government to remedy this problem. The reality is that this budget has done nothing whatsoever to respond to the health concerns of first nations people.

The government's non-insured health benefit program to provide health care to first nations is notoriously underfunded and is hindered by all sorts of Byzantine regulations, basically with Health Canada bureaucrats nickel and diming first nations people at every step and the regulations for providing travel services in isolated communities. I know my colleague from Churchill will be speaking to this, but the program is appalling and has become worse, not better. There is no hope whatsoever for aboriginal peoples in this budget.

As the spokesperson for my party on international human rights, I want to point out the personal betrayal of the Prime Minister with respect to Canada's place in the world. We all remember Bono standing up on the stage at the leadership convention arm in arm with the Prime Minister saying “look, we'll be there”, pushing the Prime Minister, saying “if you don't come back with some significant funding to meet Canada's global commitments in the fight against HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, I'm going to be a pain in the ass of the Prime Minister”. Those were his words.

Bono must be embarrassed and ashamed of the leadership of the government because there is not one new penny of funding above and beyond Canada's shameful current commitment to the global fund on HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The foreign affairs committee unanimously called for a tripling of Canada's commitment to meet our obligation. Bono pleaded with his friend, the Prime Minister, to show leadership. The answer we got on budget day was “forget it”.

Yesterday was World Tuberculosis Day and we heard from the representatives of the world tuberculosis society about how this government has failed there. The reality is that not one new penny went into the global fund for HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

It is in the area of health care that perhaps the government has failed most miserably. It is not as if it does not have a series of important recommendations as to how to move ahead.

I must say that one of the greatest needs is for ongoing stable funding and a government that is prepared to meet its commitment of 25%. I do not think that is asking too much. Not that long ago it was 50%, but we are just calling on the government to meet the 25% benchmark that Roy Romanow urged upon the government. It has fallen far short of that. There was a one time injection of $2 billion but nothing in terms of increases in stable long term funding.

Let us put aside the question of funding for a moment and ask what the government's priorities really are. There is no doubt that the effect of starving the health care system of the resources that are desperately needed is to strengthen substantially the power of private for profit health care in Canada.

The Prime Minister has already appointed a parliamentary secretary whose responsibility is P3s, public-private partnerships. If we have any significant increase in public-private partnerships in this country that will lead to the erosion and ultimately the destruction of universal public health care. That is the slippery slope that the government has taken us down by its years of underfunding the health care system. We do not have to look very far in my own province of British Columbia.

In British Columbia we know that as a result of the provincial Liberal government there are already serious attacks on our public health care system. We have a False Creek surgical centre which clearly violates the basic principles of the Canada Health Act.

When the provincial, Gordon Campbell, government was actually going to take steps, amazingly enough, to deal with that, it brought in legislation, bill 92, under the former prime minister. What happened? The new Prime Minister became Leader of the Liberal Party and Gordon Campbell said “No problem. We are going to ditch that legislation because we've got a Prime Minister who understands the needs of private health care in British Columbia”.

I remember when the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca crossed the floor from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Party. He was thrilled. This was a member whose ideas on two tier health care were so out to lunch that even the Conservative Party said that it did not want to go there. He took his ideas over to the Liberal Party. What happened? He said that he was thrilled to be a Liberal because the Prime Minister understands that the Canada Health Act is not that important and understands that the Canada Health Act is not a sacred document.

No wonder the same Prime Minister hired the key lobbyist for private health care in British Columbia, Bruce Young, who was working for Hill & Knowlton, as his top adviser for British Columbia. What else do we need to know in terms of the priorities of the government when it comes to health care?

More important, where is the government's leadership on the issues of home care and pharmacare? How many times have Liberals promised there would be action? As we know, these were key recommendations of the Romanow commission in terms of a national drug agency. We know that drug prices are contributing greatly to the increase in overall health care expenditures in Canada.

Home care is an essential priority and yet what are the government's choices? It had a choice in the budget between putting money into home care and into pharmacare and into dealing with the concerns of young people, students who find the doors closed to them for post-secondary education.

I was door knocking recently in Burnaby on Spruce Street and met with a couple whose young son was told that there was no space for him in university because the average grade required to study sciences at U.B.C. was 89%. For those students who are graduating they are graduating with massive debt loads.

The government had a choice. It could have put funding into health care, into education or into reducing the ratio of debt to GDP. Not many of my constituents lie awake at night agonizing about the ratio of debt to GDP. If we had a choice between $3 billion going into health care, home care and pharmacare, into decent education, into the environment, into housing, or going into lowering the debt or going into corporate tax cuts, I can tell members that the constituents of Burnaby--Douglas would say that the government's priorities are totally wrong and they would send that message, in the next federal election, loud and clear.

The Budget
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened as much as possible to what the hon. member across the way has had to say. He made much reference to international matters. As you know, I was Minister of International Cooperation, and I must say that it is not for nothing that the government says the following on page 16 of the budget speech:

Canada has committed to double our international assistance budget by 2010–11.

The next sentence reads:

Today we are taking an important step toward this goal by increasing this assistance by $248 million for 2005-06.

So, starting next year, $248 million will be invested.

Two paragraphs later on the same page, there is again reference to our international commitment, but this time in connection with peacekeeping. For these remarks I am wearing a different hat, that of president of the Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas. We are all aware that Haiti is the most troubled country in the Americas and one that is so much in need of our assistance. The budget speech says:

This budget provides $300 million for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and for Canadian participation in a United Nations’ multinational force in Haiti.

Does the hon. member not support these measures, and does he feel, as he seems to have just implied, that they are inconsequential and unimportant?

The Budget
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, I support increasing the budget for international aid. Still, let us not forget that it was the Prime Minister who, when he was finance minister, made massive cuts in foreign aid funding. The cuts were so deep that we dropped to 17th place among OECD countries. The rate is 0.26%. That is shameful. The Prime Minister is the person responsible. It is as if someone stole your money and now says that he will give you a little back to make amends.

Obviously, we will support the increase. Still, the basic question remains. Why has the Liberal government, why has this Prime Minister, refused to accept the unanimous recommendation of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to triple our contribution to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria? That is the question. The hon. member did not answer the question.

There was this recommendation. At the leadership convention, Bono asked the Prime Minister to make a commitment to triple the contribution. There is nothing, not a cent. That is truly shameful.