House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, my spontaneous response to the member for Edmonton North is that I want to thank her for her leadership by example, her humour and her personal strength, and I want to thank her for being such a role model.

From the time of Agnes Macphail, the first woman here, a bust of whom we pass every day, the member for Edmonton North has certainly lived up to this. She broken down barriers.

We must say that we hope for much more to come. She has been a vanguard of change and reform and has really made the House a better place. I wish to extend a big thanks and I say God bless her.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, both the hon. member and I will be retiring at the same time. I think both of us are well aware, as many members of the House are, I am sure, that in the final analysis we are not accountable to our electors. We are accountable to God. I want to thank the member for the way she has been accountable to her faith. She has done that through many trying times and perhaps when it was not the easiest thing to do.

On behalf of the Christian community in Canada, I wish to thank her for her witness, for her faith and for her stalwart perseverance.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Edmonton North may not appreciate it this the same way I am going to say it, but I want to thank her for actually giving women parliamentarians a good name. She was alone for a long time and showed a lot of the qualities of leadership that it is necessary to show. We all know that the challenges for women parliamentarians are a lot greater--in my opinion after having been here for 10 years--than they are for some of our male colleagues, without any prejudice to any of my male colleagues.

I also want to thank the member because I think she is a role model in very many ways. I hope that other women will follow in her footsteps because they are very good footsteps to follow. I wish to thank her very much.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

April 1st, 2004 / 11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I had no idea this was coming, that is for sure, but I am grateful. I want to thank my colleagues for talking about being skewered; I will continue to do that, maybe not from within these walls, but my colleagues know that I am an equal opportunity heckler. I heckle my own guys as much as I do anybody else. They understand that.

On my tribute to my mother, let me say thanks to the hon. member for Willowdale. She is deluxe and I appreciate her and my whole family. My colleague from the Island talked about 1867. I know I have been here a while, but in fact the only thing I share with our actual Confederation is that I was born on July 1. Although some days I feel like I have been here since 1867, in fact I share that anniversary with it.

I wish to thank my colleagues from the NDP and the Bloc so much. It has been just a great run.

Agnes Macphail was mentioned. She is one of my all-time heroes. Colleagues will know this and every now and again pages ask me about this. Every time I walk into the chamber through the foyer, I see that bust of Agnes Macphail there and I give it two pats on the head just to say thanks for what a wonderful job she did as the first ever woman in this place.

She was here in the 1920s when there were not the wonderful sound systems we have now. One of my favourite lines from my mentor, Agnes Macphail, is that some fellow, a parliamentarian, came up and asked her , “Well, Agnes, have you ever been mistaken for a man?” She said, “No, have you?” I will tell members there is a great way to get things across, is there not?

Mr. Speaker, let me just wind down because I know we have gone way too long, but I think what is important for us in life is to reproduce ourselves in other people, some physically; I have never given birth to children, although I may have grandkids some day through my stepchildren, Kari and Lane. I think it is important that we have the ability, whether it is in the House of Commons, physically, emotionally or spiritually, to reproduce ourselves. When I was first elected, Doug Campbell came to a banquet. He was one of the original Reformers, and a Progressive as well, and went on later to become the premier of Manitoba. Let me finish by saying for everyone who hears this that they should fancy themselves a reproducer of themselves in other people. This poem is called The Bridge Builder :

An old man, going a lone highway, Came at the evening, cold and gray, To a chasm, vast and deep and wide, Through which was flowing a sullen tide. The old man crossed in the twilight dim; That sullen stream had no fears for him; But he turned, when he reached the other side, And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near, “You are wasting your strength in building here. Your journey will end with the ending day; You never again must pass this way. You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide, Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head. “Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said, “There followeth after me today A youth whose feet must pass this way. This chasm that has been naught to me To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be. He, too, must cross in the twilight dim; Good friend, I am building the bridge for him .”

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would also like to join in congratulating the hon. member for Edmonton North. I do not know her very well, because I am from the class of 2000, but I think that everyone who meets her knows she has extraordinary energy and I am convinced that, as her life continues, she will have an opportunity to use it very productively for Canada and for her community.

Twenty minutes to talk about the scandal of this budget and Bill C-30 is not a long time. Bill C-30, the bill to implement certain provisions of the Finance Minister's budget, is actually the bill to institutionalize the fiscal imbalance. It is a bill that institutionalizes the state of affairs denounced by everyone in Quebec, whether federalist or sovereignist.

In my speech on the budget, I indicated that we had been victimized twice by the sponsorship scandal twice. The first time, obviously, we were the victims of the sponsorship scandal because public funds were used for purposes that were questionable to say the least.

The amount of $250 million was used to unduly increase the visibility of Canada—to sing the praises of Canadian federalism. At the same time, this federal government visibility campaign was accompanied by commissions paid to advertising agencies of about $100 million, or 40% of the total cost. With respect to that, I would say that the public reaction, particularly in Quebec but all over Canada as well, has been at least what this scandal deserves.

Yesterday, I was at the nomination of the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who is the candidate for the Bloc Quebecois in Rivière-du-Loup—Montmagny. It was quite interesting watching the people in attendance try to figure out what the three letters PLC meant. Of course, all of us here know they stand for Parti Libéral du Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada. But the imagination exercised by people at that nomination meeting was quite interesting. For example, someone suggested to me that PLC could mean “parti du libre copinage”, or party of liberal cronyism. We know what they are talking about.

In light of Jean Chrétien's remarks this week, with his barely veiled criticism of the Prime Minister, another person proposed that PLC might stand for “parti des longs couteaux”, or party of the long knives. And finally, the classic “parti libéral pour les commandites”, or Liberal sponsorship party, comes up constantly at our meetings across Quebec.

So, the first time we were the victims of the sponsorship scandal is well known. The judgment passed by the public is very harsh. Indeed, a survey published this morning in La Presse showed that 61% of Quebeckers are dissatisfied with the current government, the federal Liberal government, which is rather extraordinary only four months after the new Prime Minister came into office.

That was the first time we were victimized by the sponsorship scandal. The second time was when the budget was brought down. The budget was designed by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister in reaction to the sponsorship scandal. They wanted to project the image of a prudent and rigorous government. However, this image was fashioned at the expense of our fellow citizens, in Canada and in Quebec, especially the most vulnerable members of our society.

In reality this budget is not rigorous. It is irresponsible towards those who need health care, young people who need education, the elderly who need adequate income security, working families who need support, and the regions which also need to have the means to ensure their development.

This budget is irresponsible because there is nothing in it to meet the concerns of Quebeckers, and I believe the same is true of the rest of Canada.

This budget is not prudent either, because it fudges the numbers and does not give a true picture of the federal public finances. Once again, the surpluses have been underestimated. I know, it is sad to have to denounce that fact for the seventh or eight time, but we do not have a choice. When we are made to believe that, for the current fiscal year, starting today, 2004-05, the surplus will be $4 billion, we are being taken for fools.

Last year, despite SARS and mad cow, the blackout in Ontario and forest fires in western Canada, and the 20% rise in the Canadian dollar, in other words, despite numerous factors influencing economic growth, the surplus was still $5.4 billion. It will probably be more lie $7 billion once all the figures are known.

They would have us believe that although the economy is improving, next year, the surplus will be lower than it was this year. This makes no sense. It is truly scandalous. It is even more scandalous, as I said earlier, since this cover-up, this attempt by the federal government to hide the surplus comes at the expense of the most vulnerable members of our society, particularly those needing support and financial assistance, be they seniors or individuals unfortunately experiencing financial hardship or living in poverty, as well as young families and students.

We are paying a second time for the sponsorship scandal. Not only through the taxes we pay, but now as a result of this government's irresponsibility.

Obviously, the sponsorship scandal is the backdrop. But, this scandal must not make us forget all the other scandals during the overly long reign of the federal Liberal Party.

The employment insurance scandal resurfaces in Bill C-30. The government is once again institutionalizing the theft from the employment insurance fund: $45 billion was misappropriated for something other than employment insurance. In other words, $45 billion in contributions was not allocated as benefits.

We must not forget that, with the reform implemented by the Liberals, only four out of ten people contributing will have access to benefits, since eligibility requirements have been severely restricted, particularly for young people, women and new entrants to the labour force.

In addition to $45 billion having been stolen—I am forced to use this word—or misappropriated from the employment insurance fund, most of which was used to pay down the debt, the contribution rate is being held at $1.98 this year when, according to the actuary, it should be $1.80 to meet the needs of the system. Consequently, once again this year, there will be a nearly $3 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, which will be used for other purposes.

The government could have improved the system, but it did not, nor does it want to. This was proven yesterday when the member for Charlevoix, who will soon be the member for Manicouagan, proposed fixing the situation for seasonal workers—workers in seasonal industries who are currently going through the spring gap.

People from Charlevoix and the North Shore—my brother lives there—call me and say, “Do something. This makes no sense. Year after year we slip further and further into poverty”.

This situation has to be rectified. The member for Charlevoix made a proposal to fix the gap situation and the vast majority of Liberal MPs, particularly those from Quebec, voted against his motion. That said, during the election they will try to tell us, “Trust the federal Liberals. Once we win the election, we will come back to the House and correct the situation”.

We will not have a repeat of what happened in 2000, when the President of the Treasury Board went to Chicoutimi and promised aluminum plant workers, in particular, and construction workers that they would see a change in employment insurance. The President did not follow through on his promise. It is absolutely scandalous. Some $45 billion is owed to employment insurance fund contributors and claimants and this should be corrected as soon as possible.

Nonetheless, that is not what Bill C-30 will achieve. It institutionalizes the fact that it is the government that unilaterally sets the contribution rates. This year the rate is being held at $1.98, which will generate a surplus. Moreover, the government is giving itself the power to set the rate for 2005.

I remind hon. members that in 2001, on the eve of the election, the government gave itself the temporary right for two years to set the contribution rate in order to review the mechanism for determining employment insurance contribution rates. That was in 2002-03. In 2004, the government set the rate. The former finance minister set the rate. He promised that for 2005, the budget would include an announcement of a new rate setting mechanism.

It did not happen. Bill C-30 is telling us that for two more years, the government will take it upon itself to unilaterally determine the contribution rate. Even in 2004, this practice is questionable. How could the government set the contribution rate despite its own commitment and despite the fact the legislation allowed this just for 2002-03?

That is unacceptable. The contribution rate should depend primarily on the type of coverage we want from the EI fund.

We expect from the EI plan better coverage for workers who are temporarily out of a job by raising the number of benefit weeks and improving accessibility. Bill C-30 and the vote against the motion of the hon. member for Charlevoix by Liberals yesterday are not taking us in that direction. Voters from the North Shore area and all of Quebec and all of Canada, I hope, will remember this and will have the Liberals pay the price of the EI scandal.

Tax havens are another scandal. We would have thought that, at least in this budget, the finance minister would make an announcement about tax havens. We have been told a process was underway. Probably a process similar to the one for the sponsorship scandal. So, we have tax havens, particularly Barbados, which is the tax haven designated by the Canadian government for Canadians.

As a result of the tax convention between Canada and Barbados, Barbados has become the third ranking destination, after the United States—understandably—and Great Britain, for direct Canadian investment. If I remember correctly, the amount going to Barbados is around $25 billion or $30 billion.

Might I know what the Canadians who send those $25 billion or $30 billion to Barbados do with it? Is that small island capable of supporting such large investments in terms of manufactured goods or services? Certainly not. We are not fools, and neither is the general public.

This is money diverted from the income tax these people should be responsible for paying in Canada. They have been provided with a loophole. It has been made legal. This Prime MInister is the one who legalized it when in finance, and he has personally benefited from it. That is common knowledge.

The Prime Minister had at least 13 companies in tax havens, Barbados and Bermuda in particular. They no longer belong to him, but to his sons. We have traced one of these companies, Canada Steamship Lines Inc., headquartered in Barbados, and have been able to calculate that, in recent years, it was saved from having to pay $100 million in tax dollars to the Canadian government and the provincial governments concerned. This has never been denied by either the Prime Minister or Canada Steamship Lines.

This is absolutely scandalous, and there is absolutely nothing in the budget to close this tax loophole. The public will remember that as well. Most of us, most of the voters in Quebec—and this goes for Canada as well—have to pay their income tax. They have no such loopholes. They do not have the means to send their money to Barbados in order to avoid their responsibilities as citizens.

If everyone did, we would not be able to have the public services to which we are entitled. As well, you and I are paying more taxes as a result. When the federal government needs money, it taxes those I call the captive taxpayers, those unable to take advantage of such loopholes.

So, one would have expected the budget to close this loophole, and particularly to terminate the tax convention with Barbados.

There is another scandal, the one that involves the guaranteed income supplement. I know that the hon. member for Champlain will talk about it later on, so I will not get into details. However, depriving people of $6,000 by not properly informing them of their rights is a very serious matter. Here again, the government targeted the poor.

Jean Lapierre, the Prime Minister's lieutenant in Quebec, reportedly boasted about sampling wines that cost $3,000 per bottle. So, the price of two of those bottles of wine is equivalent to the guaranteed income supplement that a significant number of seniors did not get, because they were not informed of their rights. And Mr. Lapierre has the nerve to brag about drinking two bottles of wine, or more, with Lafleur, who was the president of Lafleur Communications, one of the companies involved in the sponsorship scandal. So, there is also this scandal, but I will not elaborate any further, because I am sure that the hon. member for Champlain will address the issue.

Then there is the scandal of those Quebec families that do not enjoy the much needed federal support that they should be getting under two programs. There is the parental leave program, which Quebec wants to set up and on which there is a consensus. Indeed, all the parties in the National Assembly support this initiative. This is a more generous program than the one that exists under the federal employment insurance program; is also broader and more accessible since workers, particularly self-employed workers, are covered by it.

Nevertheless, the federal government refuses to transfer the $700 million to which Quebec is entitled. This amount also includes the compassionate leave, which is very poorly thought out in Ottawa at present. The taxpayers of Quebec are paying this amount and they ought to be getting it back, but the federal government stubbornly refuses to transfer it, even though it lost in court.

The Government of Quebec went to court, and the court found that it was within Quebec's jurisdiction and therefore the federal government had no business getting involved in that field. Consequently, it was obliged to transfer the money to Quebec.

But there are worse things in this budget. Day care is now at $7 because the federal government is not transferring the money Quebec needs, to provide the range of services that we want to have available. The $7 a day child care program loses $250 million a year for Quebec's families and taxpayers. Since it is partially publicly funded, the federal government does not allow the deduction, the total tax credit, for child care expenses.

The federal government is saving $250 million in tax refunds. Since the program has been operating, there has been a clear shortfall of $1 billion for families and all taxpayers in Quebec. We have been asking for a long time to have this situation corrected, to transfer this money back to Quebec, but the federal government says no; it will not listen.

In the budget, we were told they will invest $150 million all across Canada. Where does this amount—which is inadequate—come from? It comes from the $250 million of which taxpayers and families in Quebec have been deprived. The government will send back a few crumbs to Quebec—some $30 or $35 million—and it would want us to say thank you. We have $250 million stolen and get $35 million back, and we should be saying thank you? We will not say thank you. We will make our voice heard and demand a correction. The scandal of families, therefore, is another scandal for the Liberal government.

Let us talk about the gun registry scandal. This project was supposed to cost $2 million, but it has cost close to $2 billion. What I have noticed, and the Auditor General has shown this again this week, is that the federal government wants to encroach on every provincial jurisdiction. It wants to tell the provinces what to do and it always knows better than everyone else when it comes to health and education.

Just starting up the Canadian Learning Institute cost $100 million. That money could have been used for many other things. When we look at health, they want to set standards, and so on, and it just keeps adding up. Nonetheless, in their own jurisdictions, it is nothing but incompetence, inefficiency and waste.

For instance, we know that the $7 billion allocated for security after the tragic events of September 11, when the Prime Minister was finance minister, was spent in a completely inefficient and inconsistent manner. Border security, which is a federal government responsibility, is inadequate in Canada. It is porous.

This morning, all the newspapers in Quebec are talking about it in their editorials. It is a joke. It is a porous border. The means are not there. Where did the money go? Some have benefited from this $7 billion. Perhaps it was cronyism, perhaps some totally useless procurements were made but benefited friends of the government. I do not know, but I find it strange that this money did not produce the desired results.

An amount of $7 billion is not peanuts. It could be used to build 35,000 social or affordable housing units in Canada and in Quebec, since there is a shortage of such units. The lack of housing policies is another flaw in the budget.

So, the federal government is totally ineffective in its own jurisdictions. It gets a big zero in terms of effectiveness.

I will conclude by talking about equalization. The government would have us believe, with Bill C-30, that the equalization program is generous. In fact, it does not at all meet Quebec's expectations, as Minister Séguin said last week.

I will quote a few figures on Quebec's expectations. This is from a document entitled “Correcting Fiscal Imbalance” in relation to Mr. Séguin's 2004-05 budget.

For this year, that is 2004-05, Quebec was hoping that the federal government's contribution to health would represent $471 million. Quebec wanted the $2 billion to be a recurrent amount. Ottawa's response is zero dollars.

As for equalization, Quebec was hoping to get $2.872 billion. The federal government's response is $70 million, which is almost nothing. Next year, the Quebec government would like to get $814 million for health. The federal government's response is zero. As regards equalization, Quebec was hoping to get $3.009 billion. The federal response is $70 million, which is peanuts.

For all these reasons, we cannot support Bill C-30. Not only can we not support it, but we must strongly condemn it and tell voters that, very soon, they will have the opportunity to do some spring cleaning.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give my hon. colleague from the Bloc the opportunity to explain a bit more the Bloc's position on the abuse and the use of the EI fund.

As he knows, EI is paid for not by the government but by businesses and employees. For years now the government has been balancing its books and reducing the debt using employment insurance money for those things, meanwhile bragging about the surpluses and how fiscally responsible it is. The reality is that the government did it on the backs of the workers and businesses in this country.

I would like to give the hon. member the opportunity to explain the position of members of the Bloc. I would like to hear what they would do in terms of the EI fund for further training, better upgrades for workers, giving them more time, maternity leave benefits, examples of that nature.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I think that his party and ours are on the same wavelength with regard to the employment insurance fund.

We must be very clear, the federal government has not put a nickel into the employment insurance fund since 1990, almost 15 years now; employers and the workers' representatives should therefore be the ones managing this fund. We want it to be completely separate from the overall management of public funds by the government, since the former are the ones contributing to this fund.

We think that the government should negotiate an acceptable rate of coverage for workers. The employment insurance fund is not worthy of its name if only four out of ten people who pay premiums have access to benefits. This average must be improved to seven out of ten individuals, seven out of ten workers, who pay premiums and who, if they lose their job, can receive employment insurance benefits. That is a minimum. That was the way it worked before the Axworthy reform.

So, accessibility must be improved. We must also ensure that there is coverage during the period affecting seasonal workers. This means that the number of hours of employment needed to be eligible for benefits must be drastically reduced for most of the regions. This applies in particular to new entrants who must work 910 hours currently, when everyone else has to work just 400 hours. The number of benefit weeks must also be increased to 55 from 45. There should also be an older worker adjustment program, as in the past, a program that the current Prime Minister abolished when he was finance minister.

So, that is how coverage should be determined. The premium rate should ensure such coverage and provide a reasonable reserve. However, for the time being, a reserve is not even necessary. The federal government owes $45 billion to the employment insurance fund, and the actuary said that a reserve fund of about $15 billion was needed.

Consequently, the federal government needs to start paying back this money one day. In addition to its repayments, it needs to establish not only a reserve fund but also improve the system. It is totally unacceptable that this $45 billion be used for any other purpose than EI, especially since employment insurance premiums are a regressive tax, meaning that those earning the least are the most penalized.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to congratulate my hon. colleague from Joliette, an economist who helps maintain the reputation of the Bloc Quebecois with his fair and serious analysis of the situation, especially of the surpluses the Liberal government has been raking in for years. I commend him for his incredible expertise and knowledge about these issues.

My question deals with equalization. As you know, it gives me no pleasure to stand here and demand that Quebec gets its due in terms of equalization. The purpose of equalization is to share the wealth, and Quebec is considered a poor province based on some complicated calculations that the member will surely explain to us all.

One fact remains. Raw materials, like aluminum and magnesium, are produced in Quebec and then taken to Ontario to be processed. It happened in the region of Laurentides-Lanaudière and led to the GM plant in Boisbriand being shut down.

I would much rather see Quebeckers get jobs and our province be considered a rich province, pay more taxes and share our wealth with others than receive help from provinces who take away our raw materials in order to process them elsewhere--which is exactly what Ontario is doing in the auto industry for instance.

I would like to hear what my hon. colleague has to say about this.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel is absolutely right. I will give a figure that illustrates the situation very well. If Quebec had received its fair share of R and D expenditures over the years, we would be in a position to do secondary and tertiary resource processing. Quebec is known for its very rich natural resources. Here is that one figure: public expenditures in R and D in Ontario are 80% federally funded, while in Quebec the percentage is 39%.

This is a very revealing figure. If the public funding of R and D in Quebec were at Ontario's 80% level, we would be far more able to develop technologies and methods for processing our natural resources, particularly in the regions.

Such is the history of Canadian federalism. It is, moreover, also the reason why increasing numbers of Quebeckers have chosen the path of Quebec sovereignty. Through it we will be able to repatriate all of our means and all of our tax money so as to be able to have positive investments. Equalization payments are a lesser evil, but I would remind hon. members that equalization is included in the Canadian Constitution. I will read you the excerpt, and will close with that. It states that the provincial governments should have sufficient revenues

to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

That is what is written in the Canadian Constitution, but it is not what the federal government, the Liberal government, is doing.

The equalization formula therefore needs to be reviewed in light of what is stated in the Constitution. As long as Quebec remains within Canada—and we hope that is not for long—the federal government will have to respect its commitments. This is not the case with either Bill C-30 or the budget. I can assure you that the people of Quebec will make this government pay for its ineffectiveness, and then some.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Joliette spoke, among others, about the plunder of the EI fund. Together we toured the Haute-Mauricie to talk about the softwood lumber issue. I know he made suggestions that were welcomed by workers there. I would like him to tell us what the government should have done to help my area and other areas in Quebec that have been hurt by the softwood lumber dispute, instead of using the EI fund to pay back its debts, since that money belongs to the workers.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe the question is very relevant as the softwood lumber issue is one that was completely overlooked in the budget.

You will recall that a first aid package was announced by the then natural resources minister, and we were promised there would be a phase 2. Phase 2 was to comprise an assistance plan for workers, using the EI fund of course and other programs, and also assistance to companies to help them survive this crisis. Even if we win before international tribunals, be it the WTO or NAFTA, if our companies have gone bankrupt in the meantime, all we will be left with is winners without a job.

What we wanted to do was use the EI fund to help some of those workers find temporary work in other areas in their own region so they would not have to leave, which is often the case. Failing that, they should at least have received enhanced EI benefits taking into account the situation in their community. Help should have been provided through programs such as loan guarantees, for instance, so that companies could survive the crisis.

That is what was promised, but we got nothing. There is nothing in the budget. The softwood lumber dispute no longer registers on the Liberal Party's or the federal government's radar screen. The areas affected by the crisis will remember that at the polls.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, if I may be offered a little latitude before I get into my budget speech, I would like to compliment a very fine woman who will soon be leaving the House of Commons, the hon. member for Saint John.

One of the greatest memories I have is when we were in the defence committee and she had to catch an airplane. She wanted to have my speaking time so she could catch that airplane. I said that there would have to be a little trade off and she gave me an autographed book which she had in her purse. I think I got the better of that deal.

On a personal note, my parents were liberated by the Canadian military in 1945 in the liberation of Holland. It was her brothers and thousands and thousands of other Canadians who did that liberation. I personally want to thank her on behalf of the veterans of my riding for her tough stand, her courageous defence of veterans throughout the country and especially for merchant mariners. I just wish to say, Elsie, God bless you very much.

In terms of the budget let us go through what the government has done. On health care, does anyone honestly believe that the Liberal Party wishes to sustain public health care? We simply do not believe it. What the Liberals have done in this regard leaves the door wide open for privatization.

The New Democratic Party has said for many years what will have to happen if the government does not reach its goal of 25%, the Romanow gap as we call it. Let us not forget that its share was 50%. In the 1960s when the deal was reached with the provinces, the federal government's share of health care was 50¢ and the provinces' was 50¢.

The federal contribution to health care in the public system is probably around 16% on average. Mr. Romanow said that has to be brought up to 25% to offer some stability to the provinces. By not doing that, by ignoring the Romanow gap and continually saying there is $2 billion as a one shot deal only, all the provinces are now suffering under terrific financial strain. The NDP government in Saskatchewan, the Liberals in Ontario, the Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Conservatives in Nova Scotia are all suffering under a terrific strain because the federal government absolutely refuses to listen.

Mr. Speaker, may I seek unanimous consent to split my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In terms of process, because we are in the first round, we have to seek consent of the House to split the time on the first round.

Does the House give its consent for the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore to split his time?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, let us go on to child care. Who could ever forget the fictitious novel of 1993, called the Liberal red book, in which child care was going to be a top priority for the government. Eleven years later there is absolutely nothing. Families, especially their children, are suffering because of that.

What greater tool can we offer society, besides being physically fit and healthy, than to offer them the chance and opportunities that an education can give them. There is not one province in the country that is not suffering under the huge costs of education, not only primary and secondary but post-secondary as well.

It is unbelievable that Liberals continue to say that is a provincial responsibility. The reality is students and their families do not agree with that argument. What they want is to have high quality education that is affordable. In turn they can invest their skills in the country, and not only become great citizens but also become productive members of our society.

Let us go back to pensions for moment. This is the same government that ripped billions of dollars out of the superannuation fund from retired public servants. Those retired public servants are retired police officers, judges and the very brave men and women of the armed forces. These veterans fought for our country and they will retire soon. These days many of them die in Afghanistan and Bosnia.

The surplus in the pension fund was taken and put into general revenues without the consent or authorization of the people who were supposed to benefit from that pension fund. Superannuates across the country and those people who have retired from the public service have approached all of us and said that has to change. That money did not belong to the government. It belonged to retirees. Some of that money easily could have gone into the VIP program.

As my colleague from Saint John and many others have said many times, a widow of a veteran is a widow of a veteran. It does not matter when that veteran passed on. They are entitled to that VIP program. They do not want to hear that there is no money. The fact is the government took the pension money, put it into general revenues. It also did other things with that money.

It is a sin when we hear the concerns of elderly men and women. They are asking for a little assistance, a little help. What happens? They are told no. They are told that the door is closed and that they should go somewhere else. The provinces and municipalities are blamed. The government does not want these people to bother it.

Years and years ago when I was a little kid I thought the word liberal meant social conscience. Boy, was I ever fooled. I have been so fooled since I was sent here in 1997. It is very obvious for what the government stands. It talks about reducing the debt. It is absolutely right. The debt must go down, but it must go down in a balanced approach.

People do not put every penny they have on their mortgage. If they have a leaky roof and need $2,000 to fix it, they have a choice. They can fix the roof or they can put the $2,000 on the mortgage. What the government has done is put the money on the mortgage. Now that roof has a big hole. It has created a lot of damage to the house. Now it has a $25,000 repair to the household, and the government says that it does not have the money to fix it.

We are asking for a balanced approach. Yes, we have to be fiscally responsible, but as just as important we have to be fiscally accountable. It cannot take money from the EI fund, which is from businesses and employees, and put it into something that gives tax breaks to multinational corporations. We simply cannot do that.

The NDP for example has been asking for a tax break on sport fees for people and their families who wish to become more physically active. If people sign up for a dance club, a hockey club or a gym and pay x number of dollars for the fee, they should be able to claim that as a tax deduction similar to a charity donation. What did the Liberals and Conservatives say yesterday? No, they could not do that. Yet a corporation can reserve a box at a big hockey arena like in Montreal or Toronto and it gets to write that off as a business expense.

It is very clear where the Liberals have gone. They are now focusing on one sector of society, a sector which is already extremely well off. Yet families, provinces and municipalities are left behind. They talk about a $7 billion investment of the GST into the provinces, not right now but over 10 years, which gives the facade that only if people elect the Liberals for the next 10 years, will they get this deduction. The arrogance the government displays to the Canadian people is absolutely unbelievable. Galling is what it is.

I hope that when we leave this great House on Friday, the Liberals have the courage to call the election. Do not hold it off, but call the election. We in the federal NDP are going to make a very clear choice. Under our leader, Jack Layton, we will tell Canadians that they have a clear choice. They can vote for the Conservative Party on the right side of the political spectrum, they can vote for the Liberal Party which is on the same right side of the political spectrum or they can vote for the federal NDP that stands up for today's families.