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
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am going to take advantage of the opportunity given to me because it is a rare occasion in our institution when we allow ourselves and, maybe more important, Canadians, to see a side of us that is very seldom in evidence. It truly makes me proud on a day like today to be a member of the House of Commons.

I am going to do something that I never let anyone else get away with and say that people like Grant McNally give politics a good name. The House of Commons' loss, our loss, will be his wife's and his family's gain. We are happy for him and wish him the very best.

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-30, which implements the last Liberal government budget. This budget was passed on Tuesday, March 23.

This week saw the tabling of a budget in Quebec and several provinces, and budgets will be brought down in other Canadian provinces in the coming weeks. Obviously, it is not always easy for the public to make the distinction between the provincial budget and the federal budget. However, there is one thing the public must understand and that is that Canada generates a surplus and the provinces are having a great deal of difficulty achieving balanced budgets.

When a government presents a budget like the federal Liberal government did, with a surplus of nearly $7 billion, one would expect to see some sort of attempt to help each other out in this budget, in this fiscal federation, or what is left of it. The problem with the federation has become a fiscal problem.

Of the 57% of taxes that go to the federal government, 43% come back to the provinces for jurisdictions that are divided in the Constitution, yet shared fiscally. It is not uncommon to see the federal government getting directly involved in provincial jurisdictions. We saw this in the budget.

What is worse, this budget is strangling Quebec and the provinces, the sick, students, the unemployed and seniors.

I will conclude by talking about what might happen to the riding that I represent, to the constituents who have put their trust in me in Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

Why are we talking about strangulation? Because the federal government has a monumental surplus. Let us not forget that it has raked in $7 billion. What has it decided to do with this money? It has decided to keep it and pay down its debt. It does not care if the provinces go into debt. It does care if citizens, seniors, young people or families go into debt, as long as it can pay down its debt. That is called fiscal imbalance.

That is why I am saying that the budget tabled on March 23 is strangling Quebec. I will give a few examples, because it is not easy to talk about so many numbers in a concrete way. The one image that people remember is the infamous equalization condemned by Quebec's finance minister and premier. All the parties, including the Parti Quebecois and the Liberal Party, have spoken out for many years now about the distribution of wealth.

Equalization payments from the federal government to the provinces are a way to redistribute the wealth among the have and have-not provinces. It pains me to say this, but Quebec is considered a have-not, in this redistribution, although this seems hard to believe. The economic reality is that, in real life, Quebec's primary resources, such as aluminum and magnesium, are processed in other provinces, especially Ontario.

This was a harsh reality in the Laurentians and Lower Laurentians region, with the closing of the GM plant in Boisbriand. Quebec is one of the largest producers of aluminum and magnesium in the world, and these primary resources are processed in another province, Ontario, which provides better-paying jobs. Obviously, this generates wealth in Ontario and poverty in Quebec.

When it comes time to give us a share of this wealth, Quebec is told it is getting a gift. Equalization payments are made, and Quebec is supposed to quit complaining. These payments are made according to a formula which, once again, was condemned by both the Quebec Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois, when it was in power in Quebec. The distribution of wealth is not equitable.

The government decided this in a unilateral fashion. It decided to unilaterally amend the most recent equalization formula, which expired yesterday, March 31. Clearly, the government did not fully listen to Quebec.

With the new formula, even though decisions were made on the basis of provisions previously put forward over a year ago by representatives of the Government of Quebec—regardless of political party—the federal government decided to take a chunk. I am using a metaphor.

Moreover, compared to the amount Quebec was expecting for next year, there will once again be a shortfall of close to $400 million for the equalization formula alone. The problem is that this formula was adopted unilaterally for five years.

Why did the government not want to sit down and negotiate the formula? Because this would have cost it more money. It is as simple as that. So, this is a unilateral decision that hurts Quebec and that will strangle our province for the next fiscal year. We saw the immediate impact of this with the difficulties encountered by the Quebec government in making its own budget which—as those who have been following this issue know—will end up with a deficit, which means that the debt will increase over the coming year.

The March 23 budget is also about strangling, metaphorically of course. But the sick will suffer because, once again, despite its anticipated surplus of $7 billion, the federal government did not invest in health the required amount, which the provinces were counting on.

The federal government promised $2 billion. That commitment was made under Jean Chrétien. It was repeated twice by the current Prime Minister. But it is the same $2 billion that the federal government is giving to the provinces, the $2 billion that was announced in February and was included in the budget in March, but that is not a recurrent amount.

For the benefit of those who are listening to us, this means that this amount will not be paid from year to year. What can a health minister do with funding that is not recurrent? He cannot invest in personnel. He cannot hire more public servants. He cannot give salary increases to doctors and nurses. He buys equipment. This is what the government will do in Quebec. It will buy equipment.

Even if $2 billion have gone to the provinces, the provincial advertisement points out that the federal level is paying only 16% of the costs. That was the figure calculated for fiscal year 2003-04. With the $2 billion anticipated because of the Prime Minister's promise in February, when we get to the 2004-05 budget for each province, and the approximate 7% increase in health budgets in each province, that percentage will be only 14.5%.

That is why we are saying that the sick are being strangled once again. There was more funding, but for a single year, and in comparison with the total costs of health care in all provinces of Canada, and in Quebec, there will be a drop in the percentage the provinces receive from the federal, from 16% to 14.5% .

Before next year's federal budget, we will be seeing new provincial ads saying that only 14.5% of health care costs are paid by the federal level whereas, when the system was created in the 1960s, the provincial-federal split was 50-50.

Students are also being strangled. It is true that bursaries are being increased, as are loans, or at least their weekly amount. Caution is needed, however. Rather than injecting money directly into the educational system so that fees will not be raised, the money is going to the students. As a result, student fees will go up in every province. That is where we are headed: a hike in tuition fees.

Rather than transfer money directly to the provinces in order to pay its fair share of the educational system, the federal government has decided to send the money directly to the students. I have no problem with that.

Where I do have a problem is that the students will be faced with fee hikes as a result. So this is no way to strike a balance in an area under direct provincial jurisdiction, that is education, where once again the federal government, whose only contribution is financial, is as we speak paying only 12% of the cost of education in Quebec. That is the reality, as it is in all the provinces.

As for the unemployed—

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, but before he moves on to another subject, the Chair would like to know if the hon. member intends to share his speaking time.

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

No, Mr. Speaker.

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There appeared to have been some indication of that. I just wanted to make sure.

Therefore, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be using the 20 minutes available to me.

When we talk about strangling the unemployed, I think of what my learned colleagues have done during the three and a half years I have been in the House. I know that the Bloc Quebecois has been leading the fight against the federal government's grab of the funds invested by employers and employees in the employment insurance program.

Sometimes, it is difficult for the audience to understand that a government collects money from outside entities and keeps it for itself. That is the truth. In 1996, under a Liberal government, with this Prime Minister who was finance minister at the time, the federal government decided to withdraw from involvement in the employment insurance fund.

Since 1996, the federal government has not put one more cent into the employment insurance fund. It has reduced the number of weeks of benefits and increased the premiums paid by employers and employees. The result is that it has accumulated a surplus of over $45 billion. The federal government has received more money than it has paid out. Then it took that money to invest in its day-to-day operations. That is why we say, once again, that for the year just ended, out of the $7 billion surplus, $3 million comes from the overpayment of premiums by employees and employers into the EI fund.

Once again, what is the federal government going to do? It is going to pay down its debt with that money. Rather than helping families pay their debts or helping provinces whose debts are growing, it will decide to reduce its debt with the money that does not belong to it.

Many terms have been used in this House, but there is only one reality: the federal government has not contributed anything to the employment insurance fund since 1996. That was a decision by the then finance minister, the current Prime Minister. The number of weeks of benefits was reduced. Weekly, monthly or other contributions by employees and employers were increased. A huge fund was created with more than $45 billion in profit, which the federal government has appropriated. That is the hard reality.

All the Bloc Quebecois is asking for is improvements to the employment insurance program for seasonal workers. It is not their fault. It is not the workers who are seasonal, but the work that it seasonal. We are asking that people who work 20 weeks be able to receive 30 weeks of benefits, or if they work 16 weeks they be able to receive 34 weeks of benefits. This adds up to 50 weeks because there is always a two-week penalty. It is probably the only insurance system that people pay into and get penalized when they need it. Nonetheless, employment insurance takes away two weeks in penalty.

Obviously, the system has been improved in the past few years. Transitional measures were used. This year, these measures were abolished. Now, when someone works 20 weeks, they receive only 24 weeks of benefits.

What makes this so difficult right now? Seasonal work is often available in the summer. In our beautiful regions, we have four seasons. It is more in the summer that seasonal work is done in agriculture, forestry, tourism and, obviously, fishing.

When people have worked during the summer, they face a gap in the spring because they did not contribute enough or work enough. They receive only 30 or 24 weeks of benefits for working 16 weeks. There are between 6 and 12 weeks during which they receive no income and it is during this time of year.

We would have thought that because this money belongs to employees and employers, the government would have been able to do as the Bloc Quebecois and other parties in this House were asking and create an independent employment insurance fund. That way, workers would be able to set their own standards and ensure that when they work in a seasonal industry, they have enough income for the entire year.

People working between 16 and 20 weeks could be guaranteed between 30 and 34 weeks of benefits, so as to have an income for their families. This is not yet the case. That is why the Sans-chemise came this week, following an amendment by our colleague from Charlevoix calling for a review of this system to allow seasonal workers to obtain income for a full year.

Obviously, the government voted against this motion. It was clear in the budget, and it is even clearer after the vote on the motion by my colleague from Charlevoix.

Next, with regard to seniors, this budget should have increased old age security. Seniors have seen an astronomical increase in their housing, medication and service costs.

The government is swimming in a $7 billion surplus, not to mention the hundreds of millions lost in the sponsorship scandal, the firearms registry scandal and the HRDC scandal. I am not counting that money. I am talking only about the $7 billion surplus generated by the federal government in the fiscal year that just ended on March 31.

It did not decide to give seniors a decent income to prevent them from sinking below the poverty line. That is the harsh reality. Many of our seniors live below the poverty line. The government is swimming in billions of dollars in surplus funds and our seniors are being strangled to death. That is unacceptable.

My final remarks will be on the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. When Quebeckers hear the name Mirabel, they think of the huge sums invested in Mirabel airport. Once again, the Liberal government has allowed its administration, Aéroport de Montréal, to make one mistake after another: a five-star hotel was closed down and a terminal will be closed to all passenger service in November. Mirabel airport has ten times the area of Dorval airport. It initially was the largest airport complex in the world, yet Mirabel airport will be closed down this November.

While most industrialized countries are building airports and terminals outside urban centres, believe it or not, we in Quebec, at the direction of the Liberal government of Canada, will be closing down an airport that is in an extremely safe location, in order to focus all our air traffic on a totally built-up area in the midst of a city. This is anything but intelligent.

Once again, and far from the first time, a Liberal Party mistake. Why do I mention the Liberal Party? Because it has governed this country for 29 of the past 42 years. The worst possible mistake Canadians could have made was to give them the mandate to govern for so many years. We can see the repercussions of this, and they are major ones.

We might have expected the Prime Minister to announce a duty-free zone in order to give a boost to the air freight sector that will remain at Mirabel. This would have enabled industries to develop, particularly the all-cargo industry, and the airport facilities would therefore have been saved. All transport ministers, including the latest appointee, have told us that if Dorval were to close some day, Mirabel would take over again. They said that we will end up having to go back to Mirabel for safety reasons, so it must be preserved. They want to preserve it, with a useless hotel and a closed air terminal.

This budget does not include any decision to encourage industrial development around the airport, to allow maximum use of all cargo air services, and thus preserve and protect the facilities in preparation for anything that might happen in future.

Nor is there anything for Highway 50, or Highway 13. In any case, since I have been here, there is at least one thing of which the Liberals have succeeded in convincing me: that they never intended to finish the 50 and the 13. Their goal was to close Mirabel and concentrate everything on the West Island of Montreal. That is the hard reality.

Now that it has been done—now that there will be no more passenger traffic—I would like the Liberal government to understand that in order to promote development of the biggest land area belonging to the federal government within Quebec's borders, it must promote its industrial development by completing Highways 13 and 50. That is the only way. Without the highways, there can be no industrial park development.

As a former mayor and former president of the Union des municipalités du Québec, I can tell the House that it is impossible to do industrial planning without highways. That is a choice the Liberal party made—not to develop Highways 13 and 50. Now it has achieved its goal, closing Mirabel. There is no more passenger traffic there.

However, would it be possible—not in this budget, because after close examination it appears that there is no money for Highways 13 and 50—but perhaps in the future, in order to be able to promote the development of Mirabel? One day, air traffic must return to Mirabel and follow the pattern of all the other industrialized countries, that is, concentrating airport operations outside major urban centres. It is becoming increasingly dangerous to have airport facilities in major urban centres.

In Quebec, we are lucky to have this magnificent airport just 45 kilometres from the urban core of Montreal. We must be able to protect it, with all the investments that are necessary, including completion of Highways 13 and 50, so as to promote its development and, of course, we must provide rail access.

I was stunned by the latest proposal by Aéroports de Montréal to add an industrial component to Mirabel airport, taking advantage of the proximity of the rail system, a system that is a full seven kilometres away. That is truly mind-boggling.

Can the railroad at least be extended to the airport so that the whole industrial zone can be developed? There is not much potential in an industrial park without road or rail access. Yet, this is how the federal government develops its facilities.

The response to a question I asked in the House on February 6, 2004, is truly mind-boggling. I will reread both the question and the answer:

Mr. Speaker, Air Transat's recent decision to move its operations to Dorval means that Mirabel will lose at least 500 jobs. This announcement follows on the heels of the hotel closing and a series of bad news that continues to hit the region since the federal Liberals decided to abandon airport management to ADM.

Instead of hiding behind the disastrous decisions of ADM, which spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to get Air Transat to move, this government should show transparency and tell the residents of the Mirabel region that, ultimately, its goal is to turn the airport into an empty shell so that it can be later closed. Should it not?

The President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada gave us the following answer:

Mr. Speaker, I will answer on behalf of the Minister of Transport. My colleague is well aware that we have great respect for the agencies in place. ADM makes its own decisions. That is how this government wants to operate: to be respectful above all.

The government does not, above all, want to influence the decisions for which ADM, an independent authority, has been made responsible. The only problem is that it is the one appointing the members of ADM's board of directors, about which we were told today, “No matter what decisions are made, whether the hotel is closed, all the passenger flights transferred and Mirabel closed one day, we will never interfere, because independent authorities have been made responsible for airport management in Canada”.

I know that the Auditor General is currently scrutinizing the activities of all airport authorities throughout Canada. I mention this because this is going to be the next scandal uncovered by the Auditor General. Billions of dollars have been spent by airport authorities on behalf of the taxpayers, us, and as a result, such an important, beautiful and safe airport as MIrabel will be closed in November.

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for his thoughtful comments on a number of issues.

As the Conservative Party's critic on employment insurance, I was particularly interested in his comments in respect of the federal government's practice of repeatedly overcharging Canadian workers and Canadian small business people on their premiums to the tune of, I believe he said $45 billion. There are a couple of aspects of that which are profoundly negative to the country as a whole. I would like his thoughts on them.

The first aspect would be the approximately $6,000 that the government has taken, under false pretences by the way, out of each and every Canadian household in extra EI premiums. It has used that for other things entirely besides EI. What impact has that had on the people of his constituency and his province?

There is a second aspect of the EI overcharge I would like him to comment on. A considerable amount of employment insurance premiums are gathered up by the federal government from provincial governments and municipal governments as well. When the overcharge is to the tune of billions of dollars, that money is taken by way of what I would consider to be an illegal and unconstitutional transfer from the provincial and local governments. It is put in the coffers of the federal government which uses it for steamship subsidies and things like that, failed boondoggle gun registry programs and wasteful mechanisms that Liberals seem to be constantly developing.

I am curious as to what the member thinks about these aspects of the EI overcharge. I would like his thoughts.

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had started my speech by saying that with the last budget the government is strangling the unemployed. You are right. I see that my colleague worked it out for each household. It is therefore $6,000 that would be lost by each household. That is the reality.

There is an overcharge with respect to the contributions by employees and employers. Since 1996, the federal government has not paid a dime and has taken this money and put it into the federal government's consolidated revenue fund. Today we are paying Canada's debt rather than paying the debts of families, or allowing families to do something else with this $6,000.

Budget Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wish to inform the House that after oral question period, we will resume debate with another hon. member. If questions and comments seemed brief, the speech was a little longer and it all amounts to the same.

Social Programs
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased that the throne speech and the Prime Minister committed the government to a strong social economy agenda and appointed a parliamentary secretary with special responsibility for it.

In Canada thousands of non-profit societies and co-ops are working to address poverty, and social and economic disadvantages. They are engaged in building the social economy and creating economic opportunity while at the same time addressing the social needs of people in communities.

Their focus is on increasing economic self-sufficiency, and full economic and social participation for disadvantaged groups. These organizations welcome the social economy agenda. Their priorities are laid out on the CCED website. I recommend this site to all members.

I urge the government and the Prime Minister to move promptly on the social economy agenda. Canada needs a strong social economy.

Liberal Party of Canada
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, once again the Prime Minister has made a mockery of democracy by hand picking and appointing three Liberal candidates in British Columbia.

Let me quote the Prime Minister. This is what he said during his first news conference as Liberal leader last November, “I really do believe that open nomination meetings are the best way to go”.

What has changed since last November? What is the Prime Minister's word worth? Why do his advisors in their ivory towers in Ottawa know better than the people of British Columbia?

There are a few instances where he actually does believe open nominations are the way to go. That is a way to get rid of those who did not support him during his leadership campaign, like the member for Hamilton East and the member for Davenport, the dean of the House, one of the most principled people.

The Prime Minister promised to respect and listen to British Columbians. How can he justify appointing his choices for Liberal candidates? We have the same old government doing things the same old way.

Cattle Industry
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Gilbert Barrette Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec for recognizing that applied research at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue is important.

This university has received a grant to develop a new kind of high quality veal not currently available on the market.

Given the numerous consequences of the mad cow crisis, our cattle producers need our support. I am proud to support the Boeuf eN'OR project, which will help develop a new market and assist our cattle industry.

The government's contribution to university research will allow the entire agricultural industry and the country to take advantage of technological advancements and remain on the cutting edge in this field.

Mining Industry
Statements By Members

April 1st, 2004 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the local population and the miners, the mayor of Matagami, Robert Labelle, and the municipal council have made representations to the Noranda group with regard to the Bell Allard mine shutdown and the loss of over 200 jobs set for October 2004.

Matagami has requested the following: that Noranda commit, at the very least, to maintaining the same tax effort during the shutdown as it has in 2004; that Noranda commit to maintaining tax peace during the duration of the current and next three-year assessment; that Noranda commit, as of now, to undertaking aggressive exploration in the Matagami sector and that Noranda contribute $200,000 per year to a development fund during the shutdown.

The aim of these requests is to reduce the impact from the closure of the Bell Allard mine and the delay in the Persévérance project in Matagami.

Taxation
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, the $100 billion five year tax reduction plan introduced in the 2000-01 fiscal year is the single largest tax cut in our history.

Three-quarters of this benefit flows to individuals, with most of the tax relief going to low and modest income Canadians. By the end of the 2004-05 fiscal year, the plan will have reduced federal personal income taxes by 21% on average and 27% for families with children.

Budget 2003 was built on the plan to provide additional support for families with children. Budget 2004 provides additional tax relief for persons with disabilities, caregivers and Canadians pursuing lifelong learning. It also builds on prior actions for families with children by helping them accumulate savings for their children's post-secondary education.

The actions taken since 2000 have removed about one million low income Canadians from the tax roles and this is great news.

Government of Canada
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, every day without fail new stories are uncovered that display the Liberal culture of corruption.

Despite the Prime Minister's claim, Canadians are no closer to knowing where the money went or who knew. All that we have is inconsistent testimony, missing hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds, and the financial mismanagement of our hard earned tax dollars. There is no new story here.

This is the same Liberal face that has plundered the trust of the Canadian people over the past decade.

What do I tell my constituents when they call about the neglected infrastructure in their national parks, the long hospital waits or the softwood lumber jobs? What do I say to the cattle industry and the hard working farm families or the small communities struggling with crystal meth and the message that the government continues to go soft on drugs? Again, there is no new story here.

Canadians have lost their faith in the ability of the Liberals to clean up their own mess. More importantly, the Liberals have violated the trust of Canadians and for that they will be judged.