Debates of March 29th, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.
- Older Adult Justice Act
- The Budget
- Research and Development
- Whistleblower Protection
- Vince Ryan Memorial Tournament
- Montréal Games
- Government of Canada
- Union des cultivateurs franco-Ontariens
- François Bourque
- RAI International
- Government of Canada
- The Environment
- Softwood Lumber
- Social Housing
- Recreational Fishing Awards
- Natural Resources
- Student Loans
- Sponsorship Program
- Sponsorship Program
- Older Workers
- Sponsorship Program
- International Aid
- The Environment
- Sponsorship Program
- St. Lawrence Seaway
- Sponsorship Program
- Airline Industry
- Sponsorship Program
- National Defence
- The Budget
- National Defence
- Sponsorship Program
- Ways and Means
- Government Response to Petitions
- Criminal Code
- Income Tax Act
- Copyright Act
- Breast Implant Registry Act
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 45
- Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
- Question No. 36
- The Budget
Older Adult Justice Act
Private Members' Business
Having completed private members' business at the moment, I will suspend the sitting of the House until 12 o'clock when we will resume with government orders.
(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:32 a.m.)
(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)
The House resumed from March 25, consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, and of the amendment.
March 29th, 2004 / noon
Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the 2004 budget. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Red Deer.
More than three years ago I stood in the House and delivered my maiden speech which was a response to the Speech from the Throne. During that speech I promised the constituents of Crowfoot to respectfully and truthfully represent their views and concerns here in the House of Commons, a place that some realize is far removed from rural Alberta. I pledged to work hard with the same diligence and honesty that people in Crowfoot demonstrate daily as they go about their various activities and business, especially during this difficult time in this predominantly rural riding. The budget provides little to no relief for cattle ranchers and cattle producers and the farmers who have been hit so hard by successive, unprecedented droughts. I have done my best to uphold that promise to the constituents of Crowfoot and I sincerely hope they would agree.
Unfortunately, Liberal members cannot, given their government's track record and the recent budget, claim the same.
In regard to the 2004 budget, it was, as the National Post headlines screamed, “a farewell to tax cuts”. Another headline read “In the spirit of prudent management of public money, we are not getting any”.
The finance minister tried in the budget to convince Canadians that the Liberals can be trusted to manage their money. The budget promises that they will try harder the next time, that they failed last time and the time before that, but that they will try harder next time. I would suggest, given the government's past record, the finance minister was not very convincing. I hope Canadians will remember and will let the government know in the next election that they did not buy the malarkey that the Liberal government was trying to sell.
Many millions of dollars have wrongfully been diverted or funnelled into the hands of Liberal friends. The government's track record speaks for itself. For the finance minister to think that he can stand in this place and convince voters otherwise is an insult to Canadians' intelligence.
The Auditor General's shocking revelation regarding the sponsorship program was a sorry indictment of the government's control of the public purse. The National Post characterized the Auditor General's findings as:
This is the mother of all Canadian political scandals. Yesterday's Auditor-General's report revealed a situation in Ottawa so serious, so shocking as to be without precedent in our country's history. Previous scandals--and we've had lots of them--pale by comparison.
I could stand here today reading headline after headline chastizing the government but, quite obviously, we would be here forever.
Basically, the Auditor General concluded that the sponsorship program broke every rule in the book. Millions of dollars were funnelled from crown corporations and other crown agencies through ad firms that collected lucrative commissions, in many cases for doing nothing other than forwarding the cheques. Notably, but not surprisingly, these ad agencies were all firms with strong ties to the Liberal Party of Canada.
The Prime Minister has unsuccessfully attempted to deflect criticism and refuses to accept any of the blame for this scandalous affair but the reality is that the buck must stop with him. As finance minister, he signed the cheques and red stamped the $250 million of taxpayer dollars for the sponsorship program. If the former finance minister knew that taxpayer dollars were wrongfully used and if he refused to do anything about it, that makes him complicit with those types of actions. If, however, he knew nothing, as he claims, then in some ways it is even more worrisome. It shows a level of incompetence in that department and in the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister naively believes that his announcement of a public inquiry will placate the opposition and other critics. We are not that naive. Canadians are not that naive. They know that this is nothing but a futile attempt to sweep this scandal under the carpet until after the widely anticipated spring federal election.
The Prime Minister has attempted to do the same thing with a number of other files. He has attempted to do the same thing with the Maher Arar case. The commission of inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar and his deportation and detention in Syria will certainly not be completed by the time voters are called to the polls.
Whether the election is called in weeks, months or even a year from now, Canadians will not forget the scandal and they will not forget this weak-kneed budget that tries to prepare Canadians for an election call.
Canadians will not forget the many broken promises given by the government. They will not forget the budget of 2004 which purports to eliminate the $40 million national unity fund, or secret slush fund for Liberal members of Parliament. The national unity reserve, dubbed the “honey pot” by one government official, was only exposed last week in the finance minister's budget speech.
Although the Prime Minister is defending the fund as normal government practice, the Auditor General in her remarks seems to be unaware of its existence. Both the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health have said:
...it is being axed because it does not meet the new government's standard of transparency, financial management or its new approach to national unity.
Ms. Fraser said:
I was aware of the government's national unity strategy but I am not sure what they are referring to when they talk about this particular reserve,"
Although I know the Auditor General has been extremely busy with an unprecedented workload as of late with the government, I would strongly suggest that the Auditor General audit this fund. I think Canadians deserve to know what specific programs or events this fund has been used for.
Tomorrow the Auditor General will release another report. This report reviews the efficiency of spending of $7.7 billion on national security.
In a pre-emptive strike against the Auditor General's report, last week the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness announced that she was creating a secure government-wide communications system.
The minister's speech last week to the Canadian Club in Ottawa, according to news reports, was arranged by one of her own officials who had been looking for a venue for the minister to give a speech on national security and government initiatives. This was a perfect illustration of an arsonist returning to try to put out a major fire.
In a 1996 review of the national security information systems and cooperation between agencies, the Auditor General discovered “a pattern of inadequate information to support front-line officials responsible for national security”. The Auditor General found that there was a lack of coordination and communication between the 17 federal departments and agencies with national security responsibilities.
The government has had eight years to make a difference. Given September 11, there was a lot of justification to address the deficiencies that the auditors general in years gone by have come forward with, and yet it has done precious little.
The government has offered no solutions until now. Less than a week before the Auditor General brings out her new report and the minister finds herself scrambling to do damage control and trying to put out what she knows will be a fire.
Once again the Liberal government is trying to scam Canadians but I am glad to report that Canadians are not buying it.
Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I want to question the hon. member on a couple of statements he made in his speech. I know he is trying to be fair, honest and forthright in his comments and he is not being too political about his stance, and I say that with tongue in cheek of course.
In his speech the member repeated a factual myth. I am sure he was not trying to mislead Canadians but he very clearly said that as finance minister the current Prime Minister signed all the cheques. He knows that ministers in government do not sign cheques. He knows that hardly any public servant out there signs cheques. Perhaps he could correct that on the record for us.
Also, in quoting a publication the member indicated that there were no tax cuts or the end of tax cuts. Would he acknowledge the fact that this coming fiscal year we are entering into either the fourth or the fifth year of five years in sequence of tax cuts yielding the largest tax cut in Canadian history? He did not mention that.
I hope, just to set the record straight, that he could perhaps clarify that. Are we not entering the fifth year of tax cuts, the largest in Canadian history? Will he please acknowledge that the finance minister does not sign the cheques to which he referred?
Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB
Mr. Speaker, we need to change the system. We do not simply need a change of face of who sits behind the Prime Minister's chair. We need a change in the system.
I think all Canadians were greatly troubled last week when they heard Mr. Alfonso Gagliano at the committee saying that he was not in control of his department and that he did not know what was happening in his department.
One of the promises the Liberals made in their 1993 red book was that there would be more ministerial accountability. We have seen less and less accountability in the government than we have ever seen before.
How many ministers have ever been fired because of misconduct? We have seen misconduct. We have seen them being shuffled out of one role or another role and switched departments. Ministerial accountability has seen sorely lacking in the government.
The hon. member asks whether the Prime Minister really signed those cheques. He was the minister of finance. He was the minister who knew where the dollars would have to be spent for departments. We had the supplementary estimates and budgets were proposed. There were $250 million marked for the sponsorship program. Did the finance minister not know that $100 million was being sent off to ad agencies, many of which did precious little?
The bucks stops here. I will read from the National Post today:
The business leaders polled were looking for more from [the Prime Minister]. In the past, they could always blame [former Prime Minister] Jean Chrétien for any budgetary limitations. This time it all falls on [the Prime Minister].
The article goes on and talks about the scandal:
“...they also recognize that he was a big part of the government that is at the centre of the scandal”, Mr. Winn said.
They went on to talk about what was happening in this budget.
I do not buy into that. I agree with him. Certainly anyone who has been in business knows that not every CEO signs every little departmental cheque but they are still responsible for the spending of the money.
The finance minister, the current Prime Minister, has failed the Canadian taxpayers and, I believe, he has failed Parliament.
When the government has ministers who stand in the House and say that they do not know what is happening in their departments, it is time we moved this group out and prepared for a new party to take over. The government has no control on what is going on in the country.
Bob Mills Red Deer, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on the budget today. Back at home, I attended banquets this weekend. I certainly heard an awful lot about the government, about the budget, and about what it is doing. People are disgusted. They said “Bob, you told us what Mr. Martin would be like. You compared him to John Turner and Kim Campbell, that he would be about the same, a huge disappointment”. It has borne true.
If we go back to his budget statement of 1995, the then finance minister said that the government had just introduced a new and much tighter system to manage its spending. If we go to his 1996 budget, he said that if there was one area where we must never let up, it was to root out waste and inefficiency. Then in 1998 he said that the battle to root out waste and inefficiency could never end.
The Prime Minister has totally failed in rooting out much of anything. Obviously, the whole responsibility issue is just not there. We have Mr. Gagliano saying that he did not know anything. We have the Prime Minister saying that he did not know anything and did not know what was happening. David Dingwall, the former public works minister, knew nothing. Mr. Chrétien of course is not responsible.
Is this about going after little guys? What about these big guys who are supposed to be responsible? People in my riding say that they should be responsible and fess up to exactly what they knew and when they knew it.
The chief of staff for the former finance minister, Terrie O'Leary, and the minister's legislative assistant, Karl Littler, said that in 1996 the finance minister knew there were problems in some of these departments and programs. The buck should stop there. That is where the responsibility is and this budget does nothing to address that.
Let us look at the other areas that it does not address. First of all, health care. Yes, the government is giving $2 billion, but does it have a vision? I suggest that it does not. It budgeted $665 million for the Canadian public health agency. To me, that says bureaucracy. We are going to have another whole bureaucratic organization. Will that help the waiting lists? Will that help our medical students who are underfunded? Will it help the infrastructure and the universities? Will it help to train specialists? Will it help in the emergency rooms? I say it will not.
The government again has failed Canadians in what Canadians see as the most important issue to them, and that is health care for themselves and their families.
What about education? The students at Red Deer College tell me that they are going deeper and deeper into debt. Tuition fees are rising. Infrastructure is decaying. Professors are getting older. We lose 22,000 graduate students a year in the brain drain.
As the House has heard many times, my own family has been forced to teach at universities outside the country. That is what is happening here. The budget does not address that.
It does not address the problems of those students who are trying to get their education. As the infrastructure collapses around them, the government has no interest in that, even though it claims that it does.
What about the debt? The NDP says that we should not deal with the debt, that it is not a problem. The reality is that we will be spending $12.7 billion in the next two years more than what we are spending now. How does that equate? Right now we spend $97.8 million a day on interest payments. That breaks down to $1,135.42 per second on interest payments for which we get no social programs, and for which we get absolutely nothing. The debt must be dealt with. This budget does little to do that.
On national defence, which is our pride, and the young men and women who are defending our country, what did we give them? Basically nothing. Do we as Canadians want them to do their job? Yes, we do.
We want them to be the very best and have the best equipment. We do not want them sent out there in the wrong coloured uniforms with 40 year old equipment. It is embarrassing. I have talked in the House about seeing them in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti, and seeing that old equipment that they are forced to use. In many cases it has even become life threatening.
Getting back to education, I checked out the promises that were made. In 1998-99 the government promised an extra $100 million in spending; it actually spent $73 million. In 1999 it promised $100 million and it spent $83 million. In one of the government's poorest years, it promised $120 million in 2001-02 and spent $67 million. This is not dedication to our troops or dedication to our students. Basically, the government has failed on all counts.
Let us go on and look at the tax situation. Why are we losing companies? Why are we losing many of our best trained people? Imagine people right now writing their cheques to Revenue Canada at a time when they see this place as a culture of corruption, where their dollars are being wasted by every department. Obviously, it is not very conducive to sending one's cheque to the government.
Agriculture received $1 billion. The farmers in my constituency are asking where the government has been for the last year and a half. It is too little, too late. They needed to have those borders opened. Instead of going and talking about the case in Washington, the Prime Minister has been touring the country from city to city on the taxpayers' dough, trying to build up his election profile. The farmers in my region certainly do not believe that the Prime Minister really cares about them very much.
Let us get to environment. I looked for a lot of things there as the senior environment critic. I did not see anything on invasive species. The Americans have three pieces of legislation; we have none. I did not see anything on smog control. I saw nothing on the international clean air treaty, nothing on the Great Lakes, and nothing on aquifer mapping. These are the issues that the people out there care about and this budget did not deal with them.
There is no vision. If we want a vision for the environment, it has to be long term. It has to go for 50 years if we really want to take care of our environment. We have an environment minister who runs around like chicken little saying the sky is falling, but there is nothing in this budget about that either. We have 8 out of 10 provinces now having serious doubts about the targets. I met with industry on Thursday and they said nothing is happening on the Kyoto file. Industry cannot achieve its 55 megatonnes targets and the government is just blowing smoke and has no plan.
Regarding the one tonne challenge, we have a beautiful brochure and we have some boy scouts changing light bulbs. It is a lot more serious than that to deal with climate change. I am saying we should deal with it, but I question the way the minister is doing it.
The battle goes on in their own caucus, where we have one minister saying that he is going to go after the automobile companies because they will not increase their fuel efficiency, and another minister saying, “No way, that is mine”. There is a turf war and nothing about the real environment.
The sale of Petro-Canada is a joke. We are going to get $3 billion and $1 billion will go to the whole environment package. We are only going to get $200 million now, and that $200 million is going to be at arm's length run by a Liberal friend. We were going to end all of that. And so it goes.
Yes, we should deal with contaminated sites, but we should prioritize them and come up with a plan.
Where is the support for alternate energy, transitional fuels, wind and solar power, and all of those things?
In conclusion, I am embarrassed by this budget. There is no vision, there is no enthusiasm, and there is no excitement. It is a tired old government, status quo. The public had such hope, but now that hope is gone because of the sponsorship scandal and all the other scandals.
The Prime Minister said he would help municipalities, the military, children, firemen, aboriginals, students and health care. He has done absolutely nothing. It is time for a change.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows, one of the items in the budget is the income tax exemption for our armed forces personnel who serve in a theatre of conflict. Right now, it is confusing to our men and women in the military, including their civilian counterparts, of who exactly would receive this so-called benefit. France, Holland, England, and the United States have already extended this benefit to their armed forces personnel, but I am not quite sure who in those various countries qualifies.
We in the NDP are of the mind that all armed forces personnel and their civilian counterparts who serve in a theatre of conflict, for example the Arabian Gulf, Bosnia, Haiti, or Afghanistan, should be entitled to the same benefits as everyone else.
Would the hon. member from the Conservative Party agree with us that this is the way the government should be going with this particular item in the budget?
Bob Mills Red Deer, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is pretty obvious what has happened here. We have created more conflict within the military. We should be sending a message to these men and women that we care about them and want them to do their jobs as best they can. We should be telling them that they are our ambassadors to the world. What we are in effect doing by singling out one group over another group is simply creating conflict.
I agree with the member that we should be taking care of them. Let us show some commitment and some vision. Let us ask Canadians what they want our military to do so they can do it the best they can. Let us finance them the best that we can. Let us give them the best equipment. Let us take care of their tax situation as an incentive.
I have been with our troops in both Haiti and Bosnia. I have been with them in many of these conflict situations. It is a tough job. They are doing a wonderful job as they build schools and hospitals and so on. We need to reward them for doing that. I do agree with the member.
Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK
Mr. Speaker, last week a program was announced that would put some money into the cattle herds in western Canada, but it fell far short of what is required.
A person with 200 head of cattle who kept back 20 replacement heifers was paid $56 for that exercise, and ended up getting $1,120. I told the Chambers of Commerce where I live that no money was flowing down the street from this government. The announcement that was made was slightly less than what farmers anticipated. As far as the individual cattle producer was concerned, he got little, if anything. I would like my colleague to comment on this situation.
Bob Mills Red Deer, AB
Mr. Speaker, a crisis occurred over a year ago and people in my constituency were affected as much or more than anyone else. Young farmers were trying to make a go of it, and they needed to know that a plan was in place. They needed encouragement. They did not need to hear bad mouthing of the Americans. They did not need to hear all of the stuff that went on in this place. They needed a plan so they could get their lives in order.
It is too late now. Many of the cow-calf operators sold their calves in November because the price was a little higher. They are not going to get anything. Many people have cows and bulls that are old and would normally have been replaced. They are not getting anything. Much of the money already budgeted never went out to farmers. Some did go out to some people, but much of it did not.
There is not much hope out in cattle country. Our only hope is our premier who has been to Washington and has talked to the Americans about opening the border in May. If that happens, Shirley McCLellan, the Alberta agriculture minister, will deserve a lot of credit along with the premier.
Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on the budget.
First, after listening to our Conservative friends across the way, or our “Alliance lite” friends, I want to say they really demonstrate that they are high on rhetoric and very weak when it comes to substance. In fact, I think they demonstrate more than ever why they should never be trusted to form a government.
The Conservatives, the Alliance lite over there, continue on a daily basis to say “spend”. They say to spend billions on this and billions on that with no accountability. Then there are days when they come in and say “cut”. They say to cut this and cut that without really analyzing the impact of those cuts.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, this is a party, a group, that when it came into office in 1993 inherited a deficit of $42.5 billion. That deficit was because of overspending and lack of accountability. This government came into office and said, “We are going to get the fiscal house of this nation in order”. We know that over the years it took a lot of work, a lot of hard work from Canadians, supportive Canadians, in order to eliminate the national deficit.
We know that the Conservatives really have not improved much since then. Their kissing cousins in Ontario left the incoming government of Ontario with a $5.6 billion deficit, this from a party that said it could in fact reduce taxes, spend less and deliver more. All it delivered in the end was a whopping deficit to Ontarians. The fact is, they could not manage the purse strings, and there is no indication from that party across the way that it has matured enough to be able to do it.
In fact, accountability is what this government has been all about. In fact, when the $42.5 billion deficit was eliminated we said we would not spend and we would not reduce taxes until such time as the fiscal house was in order.
It has almost become routine now, but the finance minister announced last week that this is the seventh consecutive balanced budget or better. There were times, I am sure, when we would have heard the opposition members telling us we were still in deficit. Now that we are at seven balanced budgets or better, we do not hear anything from them. In fact, the silence is deafening. Maybe it is because they do not have the words. They do not know what to say because they are dumbfounded that any government, the only government in the G-7, is able to balance seven years in a row. This is unprecedented in Canadian history. Again, the silence on the other side is deafening.
They are not deaf when it comes to saying spend in this area and cut in that area, but they have no fiscal plan. This government has a fiscal plan. We said we would get our house in order. We have done that with seven balanced budgets or better.
We have listened to Canadians. They said they wanted expenditure controls to make sure that when we spend a dollar we know where that dollar is going. They said to make sure we bring in smart investments. That in fact is what we have been all about.
Reducing the national debt used to be something that the Conservatives, the Alliance lite over there, used to talk about all the time. They do not talk about it anymore and again we hear great silence on the other side. Why? Because we are the only G-7 state paying off the national debt. In fact, we have now hit a target. We have now said we are going to go below 40% of the GDP. It was as high at 71.5% five years ago. Now we have said that the target in 10 years will be 25% of the GDP.
There were times when the other side used to say we did not have a target. Opposition members asked us why we did not have a target for debt reduction. Now we have announced a target for debt reduction and obviously it is too much for them to handle. There is no comment from the other side about the fact that we are now paying off over $52 billion in debt.
What does that mean? Our friends in the NDP say debt reduction is not that important. The NDP believe, I think, that the saving of $3.5 billion in interest payments is extremely important. Why is it important? It is important because social programs in this country can be and are funded because we are saving on interest.
To me, just those two areas alone demonstrate the fiscal management of the government: seven balanced budgets or better and the GDP going down to 25% in 10 years, something that could not even have been visualized 10 years ago and something that they still cannot grasp today, which only goes to prove that if one is a member of the opposition one's CV is very light. The opposition members clearly do not understand economics. They do not understand how to manage budgets. They are good at rhetoric but they are not good when it comes to the delivery of what Canadians want in terms of the fiscal management of Canada. We have delivered.
In fact, they do not have to take my word for it. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that Canada will do again this year what no other state has done: balance the books or better and pay down the debt. Again, we did this last year, which was a very difficult year: SARS, forest fires in British Columbia, hurricanes in the Maritimes, and the mad cow crisis. Yet because of the prudent fiscal management of the government, we were able to deliver a balanced budget or better for the seventh year in a row.
The fact is that we practice what we preach. We do not go out and spend moneys that we do not have. We again have shown the importance of the contingency reserve, that cushion against unforeseen economic circumstances. That $3 billion is important, and another $1 billion, again so important in terms of being able to set those moneys aside in case there are unforeseen circumstances that buffet the Canadian economy. We were able to respond in spite of all of those challenges of last year and we are still able this year to deliver a balanced budget or better. I think that is an impressive record.
Also impressive, I think, are the prudent investments we have made. Again, we have a resilient economy. We have the support of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, which again this year has applauded us for the work we have done in terms of dealing with debt and in terms of balancing the books.
Also, our friends across the way talk about the fact that we did not do enough in this or that area. Simply let me say that having balanced the books and having again reduced the debt, if that is not enough, what else did we do? We made an accord with the provinces. In that accord, we invested over $34 billion and another $2 billion, for over $36 billion, in health. This Prime Minister has said that in this particular case we are prepared to do more; in fact, we are prepared to give a 10 year commitment. But we cannot and will not continue to put in money without structural changes and, as we all know, it is up to the provinces, which administer the health care system, to make those changes.
The Prime Minister has said very clearly that this summer in a first ministers meeting he is prepared to go all the way in terms of making sure that we make those structural changes in cooperation with the provinces and provide the long term funding for 10 years, but the fact is we cannot continue to provide money to the provinces when the accountability is not there. Again, it is very important that there is accountability in terms of where those tax dollars are being spent. It is important to know that when it comes to the health care system the government supports a publicly funded health care system. We are going to continue to support it and we are going to continue to work with the provinces.
Of course our friends across the way, particularly the Conservatives, our Alliance lite friends, would like to see a two tier system. They of course are champions of Mr. Klein. In fact, that is not what Canadians want. They want to know that the system is there today and for the future.
In regard to the long term, we agree with Mr. Romanow, who has said not to put more money into it until there is a substantive agreement on the structural issues. That is what we are going to do. That what the Prime Minister has said he will do, and hopefully--not over lunch, not over dinner, and if it takes three or four days, whatever it takes--it is going to be done and done right.
One of the most interesting attacks we have had from our friends across the way has been on the issue of the urban agenda on the municipal file. It is absolutely unconscionable that the Conservatives, the Alliance lite party, would have this audacity. In fact, I cannot believe that they would even mention this issue since they have never supported this issue. Being a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I know what I am speaking about. I know that they used to say no all the time.
In fact, having been in the House over the last number of years, I remember Bill C-10. Bill C-10 was a bill in which we said we were going to deal with the issue of payments in lieu of taxes. What does that mean? In 1992, the Conservative government did a unilateral tax cut. It said that crown corporations would pay 10% less than private corporations. In theory, we could have had a CTV building and a CBC building in our city and the CBC would have paid 10% less. That was unacceptable. What did we do? The Liberal government worked with the FCM and municipal governments across the country and brought in Bill C-10.
Bill C-10 essentially said that we would pay our taxes on time, and that if there were a dispute it would go through the normal dispute mechanism available to the average taxpayer and we would pay interest if we were late. That party across the way voted against it and voted against it because that party was consistent in that it has never supported cities.
Lately, of course, that party goes on about the gasoline tax. It has discovered the gasoline tax, heaven forbid. These members are the champions of provincial rights and yet the party across the way, our Conservative, Alliance lite friends, ask why we did not bring in a rebate in this budget and assist the municipalities today. It is pretty obvious. Anybody who knows constitutional law knows that under section 92 the provinces are responsible for municipal governments, which are creatures of the provinces. Therefore, we need to get a tripartite agreement. We at least need to get the provinces on board, because we are not going to simply turn over money to the provinces and then say that hopefully it will go to the cities, towns and villages across the country. That will not work.
We have given a solid commitment. The Prime Minister gave a solid commitment that he will in fact work with municipal governments and the provinces in order to ensure that the moneys, either those from the gas tax or a similar amount of money, will go to our cities, towns and villages.
It was this government in 1993 that brought in the national infrastructure program. That party across the way opposed it. Those members are so shallow when it comes to the cities file. It is incredible to suggest for a moment that they are now the champions of the urban agenda in this country.
When it comes to the government, we implemented the national infrastructure program in 1994. Since then, this has been a very important and successful program for cities, towns and villages, over $25 billion of it. The fact is that it has helped the infrastructure in our cities, towns and villages across this country.
Going further, in 1991 when Brian Mulroney brought in the goods and services tax, he wanted municipal governments to pay 100%. The FCM, of which I was a part, said it did not believe that cities should be taxed, simply because the provincial and federal governments did not tax each other. In fact, we came up with an agreement, eventually and reluctantly, for a 57.14% rebate.
What has this government done? The government has now brought in a GST rebate of 100%, something for which municipal governments and municipal leaders have been asking for years. What does that mean? It means a $7 billion saving over a period of 10 years. My own municipality of Richmond Hill is going to save between $500,000 and $1 million a year. That is a significant amount of money, money that Richmond Hill can use for other projects. Again the fact is that the GST rebate is a very important initiative and again we are in consultation with our municipal friends.
We have gone further. We have said we are going to work collaboratively with cities, towns and villages in this country to make sure that if federal legislation comes in that is going to have an impact on them, we are going to have them at the table. We would like to have them at the table with the provinces and with the territories, or we will do it separately if in fact the provinces and territories do not agree.
We are committed to working with our cities because of course they are where 80% of Canadians live. The fact is that on the infrastructure file we had a 10 year program. We now have speeded it up to 5 years. We put aside $1 billion last year, spread out over 5 years instead of 10, because municipal governments of course have their capital works projects and devise 5 year and 10 year programs. This helps to assist them whether they are large or small.
A billion dollars has been invested in affordable housing, which is another important initiative. Even though some provinces have not picked up the ball on that, we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that needed housing is constructed. That is important.
To ensure that there is a strong voice, the Prime Minister has again said that he wants to start those discussions. He has been very open, as was the former prime minister with team Canada missions. Municipal representatives worked with business leaders and the federal government. We have continued to work in collaboration on this city file.
The former premier of British Columbia, a good friend of the NDP, Mr. Harcourt, has been brought on board on an external advisory committee on cities and communities to ensure that concerns of communities are heard. I know my NDP friends would be happy to see that. We do not talk about these issues; we deliver.
Contaminated sites is another important issue with which cities have been dealing. The government in the budget said that it would provide $4 billion over 10 years to do just that. That is very important. There are 3,800 federally controlled contaminated sites. We will respond to that, working in conjunction with municipalities, just as we did with the green enabling fund where we initially put $250 million in, then doubled it because it worked so well, showing a leadership in that regard.
On the issue of immigration and settlement for cities, $15 million annually was allocated there to deal with language training issues, another important incentive. Our friends across the way are silent on these issues because these are good initiatives. These are important things, but they are mired in the politics of cheap rebuttal. They want to talk about scandals. Yet they do not want to look at how this government has responded to expenditures and how we responded effectively.
The government has responded. The opposition is very weak when it comes to substance. It is high on the rhetoric. We are interested in ensuring, in listening to Canadians, that we provide not only a balanced approach, but also ensure that the investments made are made effectively for Canadians.
On taxes, our friends across the way complain. This is the $100 billion tax cuts, the largest in Canadians history. It is the fifth year in a row, and is assistance for small business.
In any event, I know members opposite do not like to hear the truth. I know it bothers them, and I am sure they will all get up ready to make comments which will have very little bearing on the budget.
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if this is parliamentary, and you will correct me if I am wrong, but that member and all the Liberal horde over there are full of hops. So much of what he has said about what we have stood for over the years is just totally false.
He talks about the urban agenda and the infrastructure program. He said that we were against it. What we are in favour of is an efficient application of taxpayer money in order to give the maximum amount of money to the people who are building the infrastructure instead of wasting it in this quagmire here in Ottawa.
He says that they will defend health care. The Liberals keep saying it. They hope Canadians will believe them. The fact of the matter is, they started out with 50%. They are down to 16%. One of my colleagues over here has said that they are now funding 14% of health care. That is a big deal. They say all the words, but there is no action. We do not believe them.
There is $1 billion down the hole for the gun registry. Has it done anything? No. Meanwhile we have people like one of my friends whose daughter was brutally attacked by a guy on parole. How is that protecting our citizens. It is a total wipeout in terms of efficiency.
The hon. member has said that we are anti-Canadian. Does he remember that in 1993 we had a thing called zero in three? It was a plan where we said that the budget could be balanced in three years. The Liberals said that was un-Canadian, that we would cut everything, et cetera. The Liberals balanced the budget in three years. All we did was figure it out. We said that it could be done. They happened to win the election and they did it, but he was against it.
Affordable housing is a joke. The Liberals have poured millions of dollars into it and there is very little more affordable housing for poor people right now.
Finally, every year in the budgets that I have heard in the last 10 years I have been here, the Liberals announced that they would clean up the Sydney tar ponds. I think they will never do it, because then they would not have anything to say in the budget.
Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON
Mr. Speaker, I did not hear a question, but I obviously hit a nerve over there. Let me respond to a couple of points.
First, on infrastructure, the Silverman report, the McGill University and U of T reports and the Auditor General all said that the infrastructure programs were well done, with 99.9% of the projects well funded and well thought out. Opposition members are fudging by saying that they want to ensure they get value for the dollar.
I want that member to go back to his riding and have the decency to talk to his mayors and ask any one of them if they do not think the program has not delivered important projects in their communities. Why is it important? A news flash for my friends across the way. They were not generated by this government. They were generated by the municipalities. They are the ones who made the proposals.
The party across the way, the Conservative, Alliance, has the audacity to stand in the House and mimic the provinces on the 14¢. It is utter nonsense. The party across the way should get it straight on how health care is funded. It is funded through cash and tax points.
If the members do not know, I can given them a little history lesson. The provinces wanted cash and tax points in 1977. Today, with cash and tax points, and if we throw in equalization except for Alberta and Ontario, it is between 30¢ and 40¢ on the dollar. Stop making those outrageous statements--
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
The hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House that I took great delight in hearing what I guess I could call stretching of the envelope by the hon. member over there. The reality is his entire speech originated from the south end of a north bound cow. He knows very well that NDP members are very concerned about debt and deficits as well, but we would like a balanced approach.
As an example, if my roof is leaking and it will cost $2,000 to repair it, I will have to make a choice. Either I will repair it for $2,000 or I will put $2,000 on the mortgage. Those guys would put the $2,000 on the mortgage. Meanwhile, the roof would leak which would cause great damage to the House. Now they would have a $20,000 repair job. Was the $2,000 an investment? Of course not.
We are asking for a balanced approach. The Auditor General said that the $100 million purchase for the two Canadair jets was a complete breakage of all the rules and regulations. She mentioned that to the previous cabinet and to this cabinet. The cabinet response was the same. It did not break any rules. How does the government spend $100 million on two jets that its own Department of National Defence said it did not need? Would the member to respond to that?