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
March 25th, 2004 / 10:45 a.m.
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
I have actually been asked if I would be interested in going over there. It is nice to be asked. It is nice to know that at least I am wanted somewhere in this universe.
Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB
You could sit here, Steve.
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
I would require an expansion of the aisle if I had to sit beside the member for Wild Rose and probably some body armour to protect me from time to time because we might find ourselves at opposite ends of a particular argument.
I have just gone through a nomination battle. I was unsuccessful at running for the nomination in Mississauga--Erindale. Having some experience in the fights that take place in here, in the cut and thrust that goes on across the floor, it is nothing, trust me, compared to what goes on in internal battles within the party. What we have actually seen is a bit of a transformation. For some time the internal battles seemed to be across the way. Now there appears at least on the surface to be some unity across the way and the internal battles are taking place within the Liberal caucus.
I do not say that out of bitterness. I made my choice. I knew what I was doing. I knew it was going to be a tough battle and I was not successful at the end of the day. However, it is a long road without a bend and we will see exactly where that road takes us.
This morning, since I am not talking under the pressure of an upcoming election, I seem to have some new-found freedom, some joie de vivre. I can almost say whatever I want. Those who want to attack the democratic deficit should lose a nomination. It is simple. Then they could come into this place and say whatever they wanted to say. There would be no consequences. What would the whip do to them?
I do want to leave some ideas in this place that may or may not be accepted, that may or may not last beyond my departure. I do not know when that is going to be. None of us know, except perhaps for one certain Prime Minister and I do not know if he knows, when that election will be. I want the House and my constituents to know some of these ideas. They are still my constituents.
I am still the member of Parliament for Mississauga West, although there was a friend of mine who went to get a passport and I signed the application. The passport office called to ask what riding I represented because the information in the passport office showed the riding of Mississauga West as being vacant. How soon they pull the plug and pull the lever. I assured them it was not vacant, that it was substantially filled and would remain so until the next election. Who knows what will happen after that, as I have said.
I do want to say that I do not go on to the next phase of my life with any sense of bitterness or any sense of regret. I go on with a sense of pride in having been able to stand in this place. It is such an honour to do so. I say to all who will return, and some who may not return under different circumstances than my departure, to always hold deep in their hearts the knowledge that they have been part of history, part of a place that is so steeped in the significance of nation building, steeped in the significance of world peace and the contribution that our country makes. It stems from this place.
There are 301 of us now and there will be 308 members after the next election. It is such an honour in a country of over 30 million people to be given the burden, the responsibility, the opportunity, the challenge to come into this place and to represent Canadians, in spite of the ideological differences that exist in this place.
Once we get away from the actual cut and thrust of question period or parliamentary debate and we get out into the community and work on committees and travel with colleagues from opposite parties, we get to know each other. Oftentimes we find that we really are not that much different, that all of us came here with the same kind of lofty goals.
When we run for public office, the first question people always ask us is why we are doing it. The standard answer is that we want to make a difference. It gets a little boring after a while, but it really is the truth for members on all sides.
I see the member for Edmonton North who is also not returning to this place, but it was her choice, and it was roundly applauded by people on this side who agreed with that particular choice. In spite of the fact that we have not been chummy or warm and friendly, I think she would agree that there are people on both sides who indeed can and do work well together, whether it is on a committee, a task force or in some other capacity other than the confrontational approach that occurs in this place.
It is not all about confrontation is what I am trying to say. I would like to leave a message for the young people in my community. All they see is question period and the scrums. They always wonder about all these empty seats. Is it because members do not enjoy hearing me speak? That is a possibility, but I would suspect they are not here because they are busy. They are working. They are in their offices. They are having meetings. They are at committees. They are in caucus. They are doing the job of a member of Parliament. The job of a member of Parliament is not simply to put bums in seats in this place all day long. There is too much to be done. The people in the community need to know that it is not all about that kind of approach.
There are some things that were not in the budget that I found a little disappointing. Obviously, as a member, even a defeated nominee for this party, I still support the budget. I support the government. So many good things are being done.
I particularly like the tax exemption for our fighting men and women when they are in harm's way. That shows some real sensitivity to the men and women who do the job on behalf of all Canadians. I can say that while the number one issue in the country may be health care, the number one thing we will hear from people is how proud they are of the men and women in Canada's military and the sense of pride they feel whenever they see what they are doing on foreign shores and in difficult places.
We did not put enough emphasis in the budget on what Canada can do in the world. It may be hard to quantify. We hear cries for more money for the military. What I would rather see is more money and more emphasis on diplomacy.
Let me take members back to the convention where the current Prime Minister was crowned. The Irish rock star Bono spoke to the throngs at the convention centre. Ralph Klein could not pronounce his name, saying he thought he was called bwana or something, poor old Ralph.
Bono made a statement that stuck with me and I think with everybody at the convention and probably with most Canadians. He said that what the world needs is more Canada. I have not seen that kind of leadership go far enough, frankly, with this government or any government: “what the world needs is more Canada”. That does not mean we need more military. That does not mean we need to go into every combat. That does not mean we need to agree with the United States and join the war in Iraq.
I want to say for the record that I wholeheartedly supported the government's decision not to go to Iraq in spite of some rumours that have been perpetuated around my community which would indicate that somehow I supported the war in Iraq. I did not, I do not, and I think it was a courageous decision on behalf of the former prime minister, one that I, along with most members in this place on this side of the House, was proud to stand behind him on.
But I think we could do much more. Let me talk briefly about the experience that people are feeling in the community about the war in the Middle East. We have terrible tensions. We have assassinations. We have suicide bombings. How could anyone ever understand how a mother could wrap a bomb around a child and then send that child onto a bus to detonate that bomb and kill people? It is not an image that most Canadians could even come close to understanding, but it is reality.
Why does it happen? It happens because there is no hope. It happens because there is no sense that anyone is coming to the table to talk about how we can resolve the differences between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. We know, all of us, that the long term, ultimate solution is an independent Palestine and an independent Israel living together in peace. But how do we get there?
There is a synagogue in one part of my riding. In another part of my riding, I have Palestine House. Believe you me, Mr. Speaker, the conflict is very much alive in the city of Mississauga, and I will say tragically alive in the city of Mississauga, because it is not in Mississauga that we should be resolving this problem. However, we as a government can set some standards. We could use a budgetary tool or a throne speech or a particular announcement from foreign affairs to say to those people, “Look. Stop the killing. Let us sit down and talk. Let us talk about the issue of the wall and the fact that there is a sense that a wall is needed for protection from terrorists”.
What we need is education. What we need is understanding. Walls crumble. Walls fall. History shows that. Walls do not solve problems; they create problems and they create fear. Of course the fear is understandable. The state of Israel worries every day about who is crossing its border points because those individuals may have backpacks laden with explosives.
Are we going to solve that problem here? I do not think so, but we can show some leadership. Perhaps Allan Rock, our ambassador in New York, could show some leadership. In fact, I am working on a delegation to meet with Ambassador Rock to discuss this kind of thing and to see how we can move the dialogue along.
This is about more Canada. Let us give the world more Canada. We do not have to be smug about it. We are different from the Americans, there is no question about that. We are sovereign and there is no question about that. We tend to self-flagellate ourselves all the time. Every time there is a slight problem, every time some nutbar down in the United States goes on national television and calls us “Canuckistan” or whatever, we tend to blame ourselves instead of recognizing the fact that these kinds of comments are coming from people who are unbalanced, frankly, and who do not understand the very nature of this country. I think we need to start looking outward as a country to see how we can work.
There was another thing that was missing in the budget. There was no new money for immigration. That relates to this issue, because this is obviously a nation that is built on immigration. If we take a look at my riding, we see that I have people from every single corner of the world there, and in large numbers, too, I might add. We should be celebrating the fact that they are in this country. We should be working with those people to try to find out how we can take more Canada to the parts of the world that they have come from. They have left there to get away from the wars, whether they are in Afghanistan or Iraq, or in Jordan, Egypt or wherever; it does not matter. These people have come here to get away from the tensions, the fears and the problems, but they still have strong ties to their homelands and that part of the world.
It seems to me that we should take the opportunity to work with these people to find out how we can arrive at some solutions to some of the problems that exist around the world. I might add that the motive can be a little bit selfish. The motive can be that we are creating new markets for ourselves, that we are creating new opportunities for Canadian technology; we punch above our weight so much in the area of technology and our exports around the world. We talk about the importance of the United States to Canada, but I might add that it is a two way street. Twenty-five per cent of everything the United States exports is exported to Canada. It is the largest single trading block in the world. It is one that is important not only for Canada but extremely so for the U.S.
Why not have some free trade agreements with other parts of the world? I know what happens is that the Maude Barlows of this world would all come demonstrating and saying it is awful, that we are only trying to take advantage of the poor people. That is just nonsense. There is a way to help poor nations. There is a way to help South Africa.
I was once in Durban, South Africa, leading a team Canada trade mission. It was about roads, but because at the time I was responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing as the secretary of state, I did some work in the housing field. Durban is a city with a housing waiting list. We think we have problems here, but Durban is a city of 3 million people in South Africa, a modern, vibrant city, a very dangerous city, and it has a waiting list for affordable housing of 800,000 people.
Can we imagine that? Frankly, affordable housing in Durban is something like a 30 metre box with some decent plumbing and clean water. It is not what we would perhaps see as the standard here in Canada. They build 17,000 new homes a year in that community. The government does it. Why can we not do that? I do not understand. We have governments from sea to sea to sea and we as governments do not come close to building that, yet we have put in the money through Canada Mortgage and Housing.
Mr. Speaker, if I may, I will acknowledge Catherine Cronin from Winnipeg and Roberta Hayes from Saint John, two members of the CMHC board. They are here this morning. I know it is the Speaker's responsibility to acknowledge people in the gallery so I will not go any further.
I point this out just to say that we have an opportunity. It has been missed in this budget and, frankly, it has been missed in the government. I hope that it will show up in some form of a commitment in the next red book. That opportunity is to take Canada Mortgage and Housing and return it to its rightful place as a builder of affordable housing in this country. We must not simply leave it to the provinces and the territories, which then in turn pass it on to the municipalities, saying that the municipalities should build it, that the provinces and territories cannot do it, they do not have the money. They say they are under stress and under pressure and people should blame Ottawa.
The municipalities in Ontario blame Queen's Park. Whatever: let us knock it off. We have a company here, Canada Mortgage and Housing, that last year turned a profit of $500 million. It is basically an insurance company. It provides mortgage insurance. It turns a profit of $500 million and then puts, as it must by the laws of the Superintendent of Insurance, a large chunk of that into reserve, which it must do to operate competitively. Last year Canada Mortgage and Housing wound up with unallocated surpluses in the range of $200 million. Why can we not put that money directly back into housing? I argued that at the cabinet table but was unsuccessful.
Perhaps my colleagues, who will surely rise to the cabinet level after the next election, would be prepared to take that fight forward to the Prime Minister and to the cabinet. We have a tool that is there. It is called Canada Mortgage and Housing. We are not using it, we should be using it, and it should be here in this budget.
Let me say finally that I appreciate this opportunity. I cherish the opportunity to make a speech here because it means that I can share ideas I have on behalf of my community and my family, and I thank the Speaker for the honour of doing that this morning.
John McKay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
Mr. Speaker, over the period of time that we have been here, I have had the honour to sit beside the hon. member for more years than either he or I care to admit. I am somewhat sad to see that this might possibly be his last speech, at least for this particular term.
I know that the hon. member will not be running in the upcoming election, so I want to ask him a question with respect to this budget. This is a budget which, I would argue, has been pretty well received. I would be interested to know, were he going to be a candidate in the next election, whether he would have been happy to have run on this budget.
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will answer that by just telling a bit of an anecdotal story. Yesterday I was in the Pearson airport and I decided to get my shoes shined. As the gentleman was shining my shoes, he noticed I was reading the paper and said, “Is there anything in the budget for me?” I looked down at him and I said, “Actually, I see right here where they have eliminated income tax for shoe shining”. He of course did not believe me, and it is a good thing he did not.
I would run on more than this budget, were I running. Frankly, I would run on a record of 10 years under the former prime minister. I know he is taking a beating in the media right now on all of the various scandals, but I can say and will say to my children and my grandchildren that I was proud to be part of the cabinet, part of the team, and part of the caucus of that particular government under that particular prime minister.
I would run in the next election on the fact that we should celebrate the record. Yes, we had some problems. Yes, there were some mistakes. There appears to have been possibly even criminal activity that took place. This is a large institution. The current Prime Minister has said he will get to the bottom of it. I trust that he will. I trust him explicitly. I believe the Canadian people do as well. I would run on the overall package.
This budget, frankly, is a little what I would call typical of what I might have expected out of the current Minister of Finance, who is very small c conservative, careful and prudent. That is important, but let us run on the successes and let us stand and say we are proud to be Liberals, we are proud to have been the government of this great country, and this country has become great as a result of a lot of the work of the men and women who have been part of the last 10 years in this government.
Sophia Leung Vancouver Kingsway, BC
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Mississauga West and I entered the House in the same year, 1997, and I feel very sorry that he lost the nomination, but I am pretty sure he has many great plans and is going to do many exciting things for Canada.
The member mentioned his plan to go to the United Nations to try to seek some solutions regarding the future for peace in the Middle East. I would like to have the member expand a little more on that exciting plan.
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
Mr. Speaker, sadly, in the nomination and the reason I came to this plan and this idea is because a lot of the issues were fought on misconceptions. Frankly, lies were put out there about my particular position, that somehow I did not care about the human rights abuses and the problems in the Middle East. It is simply not true.
I strongly believe that an independent Palestine and an independent Israel living in peace together is the ultimate goal, but how do we get there? We will not get there by forcing some kind of solution from abroad, from Canada or from the United States. The road map was tried and it failed. How do we get there?
It is my view that we get there by putting more Canada into this issue, by taking advantage of the fact that we have a very strong individual, in the hon. Allan Rock, as the ambassador to the United Nations, and perhaps he can open some doors.
I am going to be pulling together a group from Palestine House and from Solel Synagogue to sit at the table in Mississauga and talk together because they are willing to do that. Hopefully, we can then take it to the next step, depending upon how much time I have left. If the Prime Minister would agree not to call the election for another six months or so it would be helpful. I can start this dialogue and get some advice as to who else we can talk to, to show the people at the United Nations and the world that in this tiny little part of Canada called Mississauga--Erindale we have some ideas and that we are living together in harmony.
It is perhaps a small step, but it is a contribution that I want to try to make before my days are finished in this place.
Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK
Mr. Speaker, I will miss this member. I found him a very good combative debater in the House. We probably did not agree on very many things, but I did respect how vigorously he advanced his position and would try to undermine our position, that I know was right in most cases.
However, I did come across a story and perhaps it was not accurately reported. It was the member's observation that Elections Canada should become involved in all the nomination meetings, I presume of the national parties, to ensure that abuses are avoided and so on. I was thinking, what would that entail? We have three national parties, 301 constituencies, and a lot of nomination meetings taking place and so on.
Would this not involve a huge expansion of the bureaucracy that we already have in place to supervise elections? I would appreciate his comments or enlightenment on that in any event.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
The question or the comment is somewhat out of context. We are supposed to be discussing the budget. However, if the hon. member for Mississauga West wishes to answer, I will let him.
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will at least hold up the budget while I answer, how is that?
It would have an impact on the budget, I do not deny that. However, the vast majority of nominations are not contentious. They are certainly not like the one we saw in Hamilton East--Stoney Creek or Mississauga--Erindale. The vast majority are even unopposed, where there is not a big challenge or an issue.
Therefore, I do not know. However, we should look at finding some way to bring forward better organization. The real problem is the loss of the democratic right of the individual. The real problem is not the candidate. It is always the loser in an election who wants to change the system, by the way. Therefore, I am not espousing it because of that.
I am espousing it because of the men and women who I saw, actually many of them with tears in their eyes, who were turned away from voting because of some irregularity in their membership. Yet, in a general election in that riding we would have ten times the number of people registered to vote. Virtually no one gets turned away in a general election. It is a democratic deficit and we should fix it to make it work better.
Janko Peric Cambridge, ON
Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for Mississauga West. I am aware that he has served his constituents at all three levels of government: municipal, provincial and federal. I commend him for that, and for being a very outspoken and active representative at all three levels.
I also want to commend him for mentioning the record for the last 10 years achieved by the previous leadership of the government and supported by a majority of Canadians. What caught my attention was that he mentioned the media bashing of the previous record. Could the hon. member expand from his own experience on that issue?
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I know you are giving me some leeway and I appreciate it. You will not have to give me leeway very much longer. I appreciate the question from my hon. colleague.
Some things go wrong in a ship of state, if you will, as large as the government. We are close to approaching $200 billion in our total budget expenditures so it is a big organization and some mistakes occurred. I am very disappointed at the stuff we are hearing and I know that my constituents are disappointed.
Perhaps people who have voted for the government in the past are thinking that maybe they will not this time. I am sure that is good news for those opposite, but why is it? It is because they are upset at what they perceive as criminal wrongdoing, as someone who did not perhaps watch the purse strings very closely.
I do not say that we need to be blind and so defensive that we should just ignore that. That is not what is happening. The Prime Minister has ordered investigations. The RCMP is investigating. There will be charges laid. People made mistakes, and I would not call them mistakes. Obviously, if there was criminal activity, it was done with intent and people who did that will have to pay.
At the end of the day, that does not mean that we should throw out all the wonderful accomplishments of the government under the former Prime Minister and in which the current Prime Minister will lead the government after the next election.
I still believe very strongly in the record of the Liberal Party in this country and will always defend it.
Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
Mr. Speaker, I was wondering how I was going to get back to the subject of the budget as I began my speech, but the hon. member for Mississauga West has given me my cue, because he has asked us to look at the record of the Liberal Party as a whole, after 10 years in government. I am looking at it, that Liberal Party record after 10 years in government, and I am not sure that the hon. member will be as proud as he is now after I have listed what that record amounts to. It amounts to a series of scandals.
There was an employment insurance scandal, where the government systematically stole the $45 billion employment insurance fund surplus, money that comes from employers and employees, thereby ignoring nearly 60% of the people who would normally have been entitled to employment insurance.
There was also a scandal at Human Resources Development Canada. When the current health minister was minister of HRDC, many irregularities were never clarified.
There was the Auberge Grand-Mère scandal. There was the gun registry scandal. That program, which should have cost $60 million, has now cost nearly $2 billion.
There was the sponsorship scandal and the fiscal imbalance scandal, which has become the health scandal. What people have to understand is that the fiscal imbalance leads to problems in the health care system and a lack of resources for taking care of the sick.
I do not know whether, after hearing the list of all these scandals that have blemished Liberal mandates since 1993, my hon. friend from Mississauga West is still just as proud to be a Liberal. He will not be present in the election campaign, unfortunately, but others will take his place. We will make it our duty to remind them that such has been the Liberal administration since 1993.
Let us return to the health scandal. Far from having corrected the fiscal imbalance in the latest budget, the government has made it worse. It has interfered and has not increased transfer payments for health, even though there is a consensus not only in Quebec but all across Canada: the increase is zero.
When we look at the budget charts, we think it shameful that in the supplementary expenditures for 2003-04, there is the infamous $2 billion that has been announced five times or so, which had already been committed by the Prime Minister's predecessor, Jean Chrétien.
There is no money for health under the other two columns, for 2004-05 and 2005-06. It is not because the government does not have the means; my hon. colleague from Joliette sets the surplus at around $9 billion or $10 billion for the next fiscal year. Should we not have met the public's basic needs? The response from coast to coast is unanimous: additional expenditures in health are needed because the system is under pressure. Why is it under pressure? Simply because the needs are increasing as the population ages. Health expenditures are said to be increasing by 7% per year.
Two weeks ago, I read that, in Quebec, 10,000 women with breast cancer had launched a class action suit against the Quebec government because they had not received treatment in time. But the Quebec government is not responsible, the federal government is. The former finance minister, now Prime Minister, was the one who decided again this year not to do anything to respond to the top public priority.
When the current Prime Minister was finance minister, he liked to beat records. He chose to beat the record with regard to the debt to GDP ratio of his G-7 colleagues. This is his focus, and therein lies his ambition. The rest is not important.
I was saying that this budget, instead of correcting the fiscal imbalance, does not contain any direct transfer payments for health to help the sick. However, federal interferences in exclusive provincial and Quebec jurisdictions have continued.
An amount of $600 million was announced for a new Canada public health agency, and $500 million for a public health surveillance system in Canada. There are already structures in place across Canada with responsibilities similar to those of these two institutions; Quebec, in particular, has the Direction de la santé publique. Nevertheless, nearly $1 billion is being invested to create structures that duplicate ones already responsible for public health surveillance. As for the new public health agency, its role, as outlined in the budget, is identical to that of the Direction de la santé publique.
Many people have been left out of this budget, and that is disgraceful. As I said earlier, one of the scandals tarnishing this government's reputation is employment insurance. Come election time, this government will be held accountable.
Some 40% of people entitled to receive employment insurance benefits are actually receiving them. The other 60% are being excluded because of the former finance minister, the current Prime Minister. This has not been resolved. The eligibility criteria have not been relaxed—far from it. Seasonal workers have been ignored.
It is not just the workers, but the seasonal industry that is affected. Imagine what an impact this has on the regions. Year after year, they are in a situation where workers are denied employment insurance benefits. They go through a gap—as it is called—during which time they do not receive any income. That might work for a year or two or three. They come back to the seasonal industry, but eventually the seasonal industry will be short on manpower.
Do seasonal workers want to keep going through this gap situation for much longer? There is going to be a labour shortage and we are in the process of killing the regions that rely on seasonal industries.
The employment insurance scandal continues. Some $45 billion has already been stolen from the employment insurance fund. The government continues to help itself to the surpluses that come out of the pockets of employers and employees. The scandal continues.
There is also the softwood lumber issue. Workers and companies have been waiting for a long time—years. The current Minister of Health, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister responsible for Official Languages, who is very convincing in his speeches, sometimes departs dangerously from the truth in what he announces and says, particularly regarding equalization. I will come back to this later.
This minister has done nothing for them but deliver fine speeches. The softwood lumber industry has been left to fend for itself. Workers affected by this sector have been left to fend for themselves. The government has not so much as deigned to make the employment insurance rules more flexible to take into account a crisis that neither the industry or the workers have control over. They have been forgotten.
Social housing has also been forgotten. Sure, it looks good on camera for the Prime Minister, the former finance minister, who has never shown any concern for social housing, to be in the company of François Saillant of FRAPRU. The Prime Minister gave these people a lot of hope. This budget has dashed their hopes: there is nothing for social housing.
There is another scandal I neglected to mention earlier. This is my opportunity to return to it now. It is the guaranteed income supplement for seniors, which is intended for the low income seniors of Quebec and Canada. These are the least well off. It was kept from them for years that they were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement if their income came close to the poverty line. They were not informed.
When my Bloc Quebecois colleague from Champlain put his finger on the problem, revealing that the federal government was concealing this program so that the least well off seniors did not receive benefits, he began to tour Quebec to bring into the loop all the organizations working with seniors in any capacity. All my Bloc Quebecois colleagues were associated with that campaign to inform and support low income seniors, so that they might benefit from the GIS. This spurred the government to action.
It began to think it should start paying attention. After keeping this hidden for years, they now had to pay attention. Seniors, among the most disadvantaged, were fleeced out of $3 billion. In Quebec, 68,000 seniors were and still are eligible for the supplement. We contacted some of them through our actions the length and breadth of Quebec. We tried to contact all seniors, but were not wholly successful.
Was it not the responsibility of the government to help seniors, who are among the most disadvantaged, and to give them guidance so they receive up to $6,000 a year in supplemental income? That amount is the price of a magnificent bottle of wine, a Petrus or a Bordeaux Premier Grand Cru, such as Jean Lapierre says he shared with the people of Lafleur Communications of sponsorship scandal fame. He did remember drinking a Premier Grand Cru or a Petrus. That, I have said and repeat now, costs $5,000. With that kind of money, I would have helped a senior in my riding get out of poverty. This is shameful, particularly when that $5,000 bottle was the by-product of the sponsorship scandal. And Jean Lapierre boasts of it. That I find absolutely disgusting.
On the topic of aboriginal peoples, the government always wants to look good. There is never a throne speech without a reference to the first nations, respect for the first nations, respect for the treaties and respect for section 35 of the new Constitution of 1982, which recognizes aboriginal self-government and related rights. It looks good in speeches, and in the lovely Canadian mosaic.
But when it is time to take action, budget after budget, all there is left for the many problems facing the first nations of Canada is small change. For example, there is the housing problem. This year, 400 housing units will be built in Quebec and Labrador. To meet the urgent and dramatic needs of the first nations, 8,000 ought to be built. This makes no sense. There is no mention made of this in the budget.
Of course, there is a few tens of millions of dollars for education, and a little for health. It is clearly insufficient. First, funding has to increase to accelerate negotiations on first nations self-government. That is the only hope the people of the first nations, from east to west in Canada, have of one day getting out of poverty.
Instead of that, self-government agreements are signed once in a while. But there is never any political will to bring about what the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples asked for in 1998: to set the scene so that, in 20 years, all self-government problems would be solved. That is the only viable path to harmony of relations between the first nations and ourselves, and it would also be a way to provide them with development tools. There is nothing in here, just a mention and a few million dollars in order to look good.
With respect to day care, we can congratulate the government. They have put money into day care in the rest of Canada—$150 million. Since 1998, the year in which we established the $5 day care system, which has become $7 because of the lack of federal transfers, we have been demanding that the money that parents in Quebec have lost in income tax credits for day care be transferred to the Government of Quebec. This year, it will amount to $225 million. This would help finance $5 day care, which has become $7 day care.
Since 1998, this represents a $1 billion shortfall in federal tax credits. So, the amount of $150 million that the federal government is providing for childcare in the rest of Canada was funded by Quebec parents. It was funded by the Quebec government, because the federal government refused to negotiate anything in terms of fiscal flexibility or transferring the money lost by Quebec parents to the Quebec government, to help fund the $5 a day daycare program.
There is nothing either for education in this budget. There is, of course, the student loans program. However, an enhanced student loans program will make things more complicated with the loan and scholarship program that Quebec has had in place since the early sixties. In 1964, Lester B. Pearson and Jean Lesage met for constitutional talks, and Mr. Lesage put his foot down. Letting the federal government get involved in the student loan and scholarship area was out of the question. This is a Quebec jurisdiction.
We find ourselves in a situation where the Canada Student Loans Program is enhanced, but without any compensation for Quebec. It is always like that.
We could make a list of all the injustices done to Quebec. Quebec is penalized because it goes further and faster than the rest of Canada with its policies. This is the case with the $5 a day daycare program, which is the envy of all industrialized countries and serves as a model all over the world. But we are penalized because we act more quickly.
As regards equalization, is it not scandalous to read, in documents accompanying the budget, that the federal government has unilaterally decided to impose a new equalization formula for the next five years? The Minister of Health used to tell us tales when he was the Minister of Human Resources Development. When he was Minister for International Trade, he used to put his foot in his mouth regarding the softwood lumber issue. Now, this same minister has the nerve to tell us that this new equalization formula meets all the requirements of Minister Séguin, in Quebec.
We have heard Minister Séguin on television and on the radio, and we have read what he said in the newspapers. He said that this formula was unacceptable to Quebec. The Minister of Health continues to tell tales. He continues to talk through his hat. Actually, one wonders why that minister is still there.
Where municipalities are concerned, do they not realize that they have announced the same policy ten times already? There is nothing new in the budget. We already knew about the GST rebate for municipalities, but we expected more than that.
We were expecting the government to do something about the fiscal imbalance, because it is the only route to go. The federal government, led by the Prime Minister while he was finance minister, never acknowledged this problem of fiscal imbalance. Until the issue is resolved and until there is a new reallocation of taxation sectors between the federal government and the provinces, including Quebec, we will continue to have a problem.
The underfunding of municipalities stems from the underfunding of provincial governments, especially in Quebec. Once that issue is resolved, municipalities will get more money. I would advise the municipalities to join together and come here to protest against the federal government. That is a key part of the solution to deal with the underfunding for the immediate needs of the public.
I have a lot of respect for municipal officials, because they have to cope with members of their communities and provide all the services required. But when Ottawa cuts transfers, it creates problems for the provinces and Quebec in particular which prevent them from transferring taxation sectors to the municipalities or generating new sources of revenue. That is a concept they need to grasp.
My eighth point with regard to the budget is federal interference. Jacques Léonard, who was President of the Treasury Board for many years at the National Assembly, chaired a committee. My colleagues from Joliette, Drummond and Lotbinière—L'Érable and I worked on what was known as the Léonard committee report.
There was a chapter on excessive spending. In terms of bureaucratic and administrative expenditures, we realized that, under the former finance minister, now Prime Minister, departmental budgets had increased dramatically. This increase exceeded 300%. This defied logic. This was the case, for example, for Communication Canada polls and also for Justice. Bureaucratic expenditures soared.
There was a second part to this report. It was the analysis of the situation since Confederation. This had not been done since Confederation, and allowed us to examine the evolution of federal interferences in jurisdictions recognized by the Constitution and the precedents as exclusive to the governments of Quebec and the provinces.
It was no surprise to us that, for the most recent year available, 2002-03, the federal government had spent more in provincial and Quebec jurisdictions than in federal jurisdictions. That is how things stand. Other than an important portion that went to paying down the debt, federal interferences accounted for the majority of excess spending.
This has continued. We see this today in this budget. We see this with the creation of the public health agency and public surveillance system. Health is an exclusively provincial jurisdiction. The federal government is haphazardly creating foundations, new institutions, to duplicate services and multiply the number of stakeholders, when there are already institutions and systems in place in each of the provinces, particularly Quebec, to meet the needs behind the creation of these entities.
Under agriculture, approximately $900 million, which may seem like a lot of money for the cattle industry, has been allocated, but Quebec still needs to get a reasonable share. Quebec's share is about $65 million.
Cull cattle have been forgotten. The former agriculture minister, who is now the Minister of Finance, promised that in compensation for cutting the 1998 federal subsidy of $6.03 a hectolitre, which gave $120 million to dairy farmers, prices would be increased. This promise was not kept. If that $120 million had been available to the dairy industry, it could have coped with the mad cow crisis.
I will raise one last point. Earlier I was listening to my colleague from Mississauga West talking about what was available in this budget for his shoe shiner. He should have told him that there was indeed something, but nothing good. The Canadian tax system is one of the least progressive in the world, one of the least progressive in the G-7. Federal taxes start at 20% of average income, while elsewhere they start at 30%. In Quebec it is 30%.
Here the poor continue to pay taxes, low income earners trying to reach middle income status continue to pay taxes, yet corporate taxes have not been cleaned up.
I could mention Barbados and the ships owned by the current Prime Minister, but that is a whole other scandal. We will have an opportunity to come back to that.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for his excellent speech and the ardour that forces him to catch his breath.
In my opinion, he has given us a fine demonstration of the fact that this budget is really out of touch with the concerns of Quebeckers. The motion that was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly about ten days ago asking the government to correct the fiscal imbalance is a good example of this.
Not only do we not find anything in this budget, but it does not even acknowledge the problem. Moreover, as the Quebec Minister of Finance, M. Séguin, a federalist Liberal, said, this budget is a real fiscal imbalance horror story.
I would like my colleague to explain to us why federal Liberals from Quebec are incapable of defending Quebec's interests, and why the reelection of a majority of Bloc members is the only way of ensuring that the voice of Quebeckers can be heard in this House?
Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my illustrious colleague from Joliette for this question. This is indeed very solid proof. I would be ashamed to stand as a Liberal candidate after all the scandals I mentioned at the start of my remarks: the sponsorship program, the HRDC boondoggle, the Auberge Grand-Mère scandal, the $2 billion spent on the firearms registry, and so on.
But on top of that, not a single Liberal member from Quebec has ever stood up in this House to uphold the consensuses that emerged on various issues in Quebec, or to promote the issues and priorities of Quebeckers. These are members we used to call doormat members. Maybe we should still call them that. They are just a backdrop in this House, and their only ambition is to become cabinet ministers. If you want to become a cabinet minister in a Liberal government, you had better keep your mouth shut and not rock the boat.
When they say, with the Liberals, the House will be more consensual, and that the Prime Minister's new approach will humanize government, it is just hogwash. Each Liberal member in this House is one voice less for Quebeckers to state their position on the fiscal imbalance, on the lack of transfers for health care and the resulting waiting lists.
Not a single Liberal member from Quebec stood in this House to speak out against the health care scandal, the lack of transfer payments, so that the sick in Quebec can get adequate care. Not a single Liberal member from Quebec opened his mouth or spoke out against the sponsorship scandal. I can understand that, because they have been caught in the act.
Not a single one of them condemned the employment insurance program, a program that is totally inconsistent and poorly managed, with the result that 60% of those who should benefit from it do not qualify. Has anyone heard a Liberal member raise this issue? Of course not. They keep repeating what their ministers are saying, because their only ambition is to become cabinet ministers themselves. They are not interested in serving the public. They are not interested in representing their constituents. The only ambition that most Liberal Party members have is to become ministers, to look after their own interests, not to serve the public.
If they had wanted to serve the public they would have condemned these scandals a long time ago, because they knew what was going on. They can say whatever they want now, they knew what was going on. They should have condemned a long time ago the lack of care for the sick, a situation for which the current Prime Minister and former finance minister is responsible, because he made drastic cuts.
But things are beginning to come out. Yesterday, I was listening to the hon. member for Hamilton East during a popular program on Télé-Québec. People are beginning to open up a little. Some may have a greater social conscience than others. However, this was not a federal Liberal member from Quebec. Federal Liberal members from Quebec are tight lipped, they are not saying anything, they do not talk about the consensuses that exist in Quebec and this is very sad.
People will remember this in the next election. Bloc Quebecois members are the only ones who can protect their interests in the House of Commons, promote our distinctiveness as Quebeckers and explain our different ways of doing things, including in areas such as the economy and social development. It is not Liberal members who will do this; it is Bloc Quebecois members. People will remember that.