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

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 43
Routine Proceedings

April 1st, 2004 / 10:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

With regard to the investigation and legal action involving the Business Development Bank (BDC), what is the complete list of all legal fees and disbursements: ( a ) billed to the BDC in relation to their lawsuit involving Mr. Francois Beaudoin; and ( b ) billed to or incurred by the Justice Department in relation to this lawsuit?

(Return tabled.)

Question No. 54
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

With regard to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) survey tests of domestic and imported aquaculture fish: ( a ) what drugs, chemicals, contaminants and pesticides were included in these tests; ( b ) what are the tolerance levels for these compounds under current Canadian regulations; ( c ) when were these tolerance levels last updated; ( d ) what scientific research has been conducted on potential impacts from PCBs since these tolerance levels were first established; ( e ) what is the number of fish tested annually in CFIA surveys; ( f ) what is the percentage of imported fish tested in these surveys; ( g ) what percentage of Chilean farmed salmon imports is tested for malachite green; ( h ) what percentage of Chilean farmed salmon has tested positive for malachite green; ( i ) what is the percentage of fish tested in relation to the amount imported/exported; ( j ) what are the Canadian standards for allowable residues of malachite green; ( k ) what percentage of Canadian farmed salmon and trout is tested for malachite green; ( l ) what are the Canadian standards for antibiotic residues in farmed fish; ( m ) what percentage of Canadian farmed salmon is tested for antibiotic residues; ( n ) how many times has the CFIA recalled farmed fish because of elevated levels of antibiotic residues; ( o ) what are the Canadian standards for levels of the therapeutant emamectin benzoate in farmed fish; and ( p ) what percentage of Canadian farmed fish is tested for emamectin benzoate?

(Return tabled.)

Question No. 54
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 54
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Question No. 54
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, the public accounts committee has been considering a motion to release the in camera proceedings of Chuck Guité. The advice of the Clerk has been sought, and he has concluded that it would be prudent for the committee to seek an order of the House. His conclusion is based on precedent.

I have two letters from the Clerk, one addressed to the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. I will not read that whole letter, but I will quote from the last paragraph, and I will ensure that the whole letter is available to you. He says to the member:

In view of the actions of the House in 1978 and in the absence of other precedents suggesting other options, it would appear to be prudent for the Standing Committee on Public Accounts to seek a House Order should it wish to make public in camera evidence from a previous session.

The Clerk also wrote to the chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and again I will just read the last paragraph that sums up his letter. He says:

--I have found nothing that would lead me to reconsider the advice contained in my letter of March 24.

The letter of March 24 was to the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

I am raising this matter before the committee votes on its motion to release the testimony because if I wait until it is adopted, it will be too late and the damage will be done.

I ask the Speaker to consider intervening because it can be argued that the committee is going beyond its authority. If precedent has been established that it is the House that has the authority to release in camera testimony, as the Clerk has pointed out, then the committee is in breach of the rules by deciding the matter on its own.

On June 20, 1994 and November 7, 1996, the Speaker ruled:

--while it is a tradition of this House that committees are masters of their own proceedings, they cannot establish procedures which go beyond the powers conferred upon them by the House.

Powers conferred upon committees take a number of forms: the Standing Orders and the practices of the House. While there is no standing order to guide us, there is a clear precedent. Therefore, that would form part of the rules of this House, and if it is a rule that confers or restricts a committee, then a committee, while being the master of its own proceedings, cannot establish a procedure, or in this case release in camera testimony because it goes beyond this restriction established by a precedent of this House.

This debate is going on in the committee in a vacuum. We have the Clerk's opinion but we need a ruling from the Speaker. It is the Speaker who must rule because, as I pointed out, we are talking about a practice of the House, not a committee. I am concerned that the rules of the House will be broken, and the matter is too important to wait until after they are breached. It is not hypothetical because the motion is before the committee; the issue of whether or not the matter can be dealt with at a committee has come up. The question is out there but there has been no formal request from the Speaker to rule.

Already Mr. Speaker we have one member of the committee who leaked information from the in camera testimony. He said he did so because he was confident that the committee was going to pass the motion to release the information.

The other casualty in this matter is the chairman. The Prime Minister has lambasted him during question period, accusing him of blocking the release of the information. The chairman, Mr. Speaker, was only doing his job. He has interpreted the rules based on advice from the Clerk of our House. He wants to be cautious in this matter and rightfully so as the chairman of a very important committee of this House.

Despite his efforts, I do not think this matter can be dealt with at the committee level because it is a matter for this House to consider. If this House claims its authority to release that information, then the authority must be sought from this House.

That question needs to be answered before the committee releases that information. That is what the chairman is trying to determine. He is not the obstacle. It is the Liberals who refuse to follow the normal course to seek a House order. By attempting to circumvent the rules, they may be hampering their efforts and the efforts of everyone who wants to see this information released.

That is why they are in trouble with the sponsorship program. They did not follow the rules. Liberals feel that because they are the government, they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of the rules and maybe above the law. This is particularly problematic at committee where the tyranny of the majority can overturn a ruling of the chair who is only trying to keep order and follow the procedures and practices of this House.

If you need time, Mr. Speaker, to deliberate on this matter, I ask that you request the committee put aside its motion until you have clarified this very important issue before this House.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this is an extraordinary request put in the context of a political dynamic. I have heard the version from that side and I think it is unfortunate that on a matter of this importance this is being politicized in this place by such a speech.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I believe that the proper route on this matter is for the committee to report with respect to the motion. I am not aware of the motion, but I heard reference to it. When the committee reports to the House, you might then consider the matter brought by the member opposite.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

Having heard the arguments of the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast and the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House as soon as possible. I hope that will happen quite shortly. I will attempt to clarify the matter for all hon. members.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson for the Minister of Finance

moved that Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

John McKay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to lead off this debate. Before discussing Bill C-30, I want to briefly review the focus of the budget which was just presented.

As hon. colleagues know, the 2004 budget takes an integrated approach to social and economic policy while emphasizing the bedrock commitment to financial integrity.

The approach includes building blocks to promote the new agenda for achievement as set out in the Speech from the Throne. It is an agenda based on the principle of government living within its mean by balancing its books, controlling spending, cutting debt and improving accountability through stronger financial controls.

May I say that as the minister and I went across the country, one of the points we heard over and over again was that the government must live within its means and it must balance its books, so I am pleased that we have in fact done that.

Equally important and central to Bill C-30 is an agenda that aims to give Canadians greater means to advance their well-being by taking important steps in key areas such as communities, learning, health care and innovation. In other words, it is an attempt to respond to those other legitimate concerns of Canadians while living within our means. If I may, I will turn to some of those measures shortly, but in any discussion of government spending we need to note the fiscally prudent spending as set out in budget 2004.

This will be the seventh budget in a row, the first time since Confederation, that the Government of Canada has run a surplus. We achieved that in spite of a whole series of economic shocks: SARS, BSE, the Ontario blackout, B.C. forest fires and hurricane Juan, all of which in their own ways hammered the Canadian economy and reduced growth in our domestic economy by some considerable billions of dollars.

This performance--and our continuing commitment to balanced budgets in the better years ahead--underscores why the budget plan maintains the yearly $3 billion contingency reserve and rebuilds prudence in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

May I say that every one of these fiscal shocks ripples its way through the economy. Not only do they ripple in the fiscal year 2003-04, but they go into 2004-05. It is estimated that we in effect lost something in the order of $25 billion worth of economic activity, and that is economic activity that has just disappeared, that will never be replaced.

The government sets its budget based upon a series of assumptions. It assumes that there will be a GDP growth rate of x or y . In the last budget, the previous finance minister anticipated, based upon private sector economists, that the growth rate would be something in the order of about 3.5% of GDP. With all of these shocks it turned out to be about 1.7% of GDP.

Members would be interested to know that every one point reduction in GDP reduces the government's revenues by something in the order of $2.5 billion, so when we drop from 3.5% to 1.7% in the course of a year, members can do the math themselves and realize how much money that cost the government in terms of revenues that it anticipated and budgeted for but does not have.

Other assumptions are in the area of inflation. Just a simple drop of one point in inflation between what the minister sets the expectation at in the budget and what it actually turns out to be over the course of the year will cost the government something in the order of $1.4 billion in revenue. A drop in interest of one point actually will save the government about $800 million in costs.

These are all assumptions that are built into the budget. It is a fairly fluid set of assumptions and that is why the government retains the best and the brightest of private sector economists to give us advice in terms of what we can expect in the future.

Regardless of this, over the last number of years since running surpluses, the government has been able to pay down the national debt by $52 billion. That in effect has delivered savings in the order of about $3 billion on an annual basis, allowing this money to be freed up for use in communities and health care and other priority items of the government.

The government intends to continue down this path and run further surpluses, which will effectively reduce the debt to GDP ratio to 25% over the course of the next 10 years. We think this is a sustainable path, not only by virtue of our fiscal discipline but also by virtue of the anticipated growth in the economy.

In 10 years, the baby boom generation will obviously be 10 years older and the boomers will be at the front wave of collecting their pensions. Canada is the only nation, to my knowledge, that has a fiscally sound and sustainable public pension system. That will be a considerable relief for our children and our grandchildren.

There is another area which I do not think has been discussed very much in the House. If we do maintain this path of debt to GDP ratio going down to 25% over 10 years, the government's financial shape in 10 years will be arguably one of the best, if not the best, in the world.

I do not think that as a matter of principle we are wedded to the concept that we always have to run surpluses, but if we maintain this fiscal discipline over the next 10 years and realize that the front end of the baby boomers will be 65 and therefore contributing less to the economy, the government then will be in shape to provide those calls upon it for health care and other issues that this bulge in the baby boom demographic will create for government finances.

Thus, we are in a strong fiscal and financial position. As I hope I have pointed out in my remarks, that is simply not an end in itself. It is forward planning.

The budget also introduces measures that we will be debating today, measures designed specifically to ensure that we can meet the needs of tomorrow. As I have suggested, tomorrow is not just next year or the planning horizons of the political expediencies of the day. The planning horizons for this budget are upwards of 10 or 15 years.

One of the issues that came up over the course of our deliberations had to do with assistance to communities. For the vast majority of Canadians, communities are the nexus or the meeting place of personal, family and public life. That is where lot of people, certainly politically, get very involved: at the municipal level. It was clear that Canadians want affordable housing, good roads, public transit, safe neighbourhoods and abundant green spaces. If my constituency is any example, those are the concerns of Canadians. I expect other members' constituency offices reflect the same thing. That is why municipalities are facing increasing pressure to maintain and renew their infrastructure and ensure that the necessary social programs are available to residents.

Yet most of us recognize that there are real limits to the extent to which the property tax base, the single most important source of revenue for municipalities, can finance these spending pressures. Certainly Mayor Miller of Toronto and Mayor Murray of Winnipeg have made it abundantly clear to us that their own source revenues have their limitations. The federal government is starting to respond in a meaningful way to that.

We want to ensure that Canadian municipalities have reliable and predictable long term funding. We want to make sure that they can provide more effective program support for pressing infrastructure and social priorities in their communities, in other words, local solutions for local problems.

Prior to the budget, on February 1 the Government of Canada through the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance announced the GST rebate. One hundred per cent of the goods and services tax and the federal component of the harmonized sales tax will be rebated to the municipalities.

In the city of Toronto that means to the budget chief something in the order of $50 million to $52 million that he was not anticipating as being available to him. I know he will be grateful. I know that the mayor will apply that to the most urgent needs of the people of Toronto. That story has been repeated over and over again throughout the municipalities across the nation.

To ensure transparency, the Minister of National Revenue will have authority to disclose the amount of the incremental rebate paid to individual municipalities. Over the next 10 years these municipal governments will receive an estimated $7 billion in GST relief, or approximately $580 million in the first year alone.

That was not the only response by the federal government. Again using Toronto as an example, members will recollect that this week the Prime Minister went to the 50th anniversary of the TTC. He joined with Premier McGuinty and Mayor Miller in announcing a further $1 billion available to the TTC, which is easily the largest rapid transit system in our country.

The budget also recognizes the importance of communities, but it is also built on the foundation of creating opportunities for individuals. Hon. members know that the federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, plays a key role in supporting the Canadian health care system.

The CHST provides support for health, post-secondary education, social assistance, social services, et cetera. The CHST will be separated into two categories effectively today. One will be the Canada health transfer and the other will be the Canada social transfer.

The upcoming social transfer supports social assistance and social programs, including early childhood development, early learning and child care services. They are impacted by this bill. Ensuring that all children receive the best possible start in life is clearly a goal of the government.

Over the years the Government of Canada, in partnership with the provincial and territorial governments, has developed a strong agenda in support of Canada's children. Bill C-30 increases funding to the provinces and territories under the Canada social transfer by $150 million over the next two years, implementing the multilateral framework on early learning and child care.

The member for Don Valley West has worked very hard on this issue for many years. I am sure it is of considerable satisfaction to him and others in our caucus to see that work being recognized.

The framework was agreed to in March 2003 by federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for social services. The ministers committed to improve access to affordable, quality and provincially regulated early learning and child care programs.

For this year and next, there will be an increase of $75 million per year over the previously committed funds. That would provide resources for up to 48,000 new child care spaces, or up to 70,000 fully subsidized spaces for children from low income families.

Members have heard much comment by the minister, the Prime Minister, members on this side and indeed members on the other side about the $2 billion announcement for health care. The federal government will follow through with its commitment. I am sure that hon. members realize that this cannot be repeated often enough.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

An hon. member

Or announced often enough.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough East, ON

Because hon. members opposite have memory loss from time to time.

This will bring our commitment to health care renewal to $36.8 billion. In the context of announcing that, the Prime Minister reiterated that he would like to meet with the provincial premiers in the summer to work out how health care will be sustainable over the short, medium and long term.

Clearly the government's commitments in health care are not sustainable. Of all our program spending, that money is going in at twice the rate of the growth in the economy. If the economy is growing at 4% and commitments are running at 8%, over the short, medium and long term that is not a sustainable position. I am hoping, as is the Minister of Finance, that the Prime Minister and the premiers will work out a sustainable path going forward.

In addition, the budget attempted to respond to the SARS outbreak, which showed some limitations in our public health care system. The budget takes this action by providing funding to improve Canada's readiness to deal with public health emergencies. It authorizes $400 million in payments to a trust to be provided to the provinces and territories over three years.

Of this amount, $300 million is targeted for a national immunization strategy. In my community that has been particularly well received. We were one of the sites of SARS. It was a very major strain on our hospitals and the people who worked in our hospitals. The new funding will build on the $45 million provided in the 2003 budget to improve the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, enhance coordination and efficiency in immunization procurement, and ensure better information on immunization coverage rates within Canada.

The $300 million will support the introduction of new and recommended childhood and adolescent vaccines as proposed by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. That advisory committee has recommended the introduction of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, varicella, which is the chicken pox vaccine, and acellular pertussis booster for all adolescents.

The other portion, $100 million, will relieve stresses on provincial and territorial health care systems that were identified during the SARS outbreak. It will help the provinces and territories address their gaps in the public health capacities by supporting frontline activities, specific health protection and disease prevention programs.

The budget has measures to ensure that the public health system has the information technology systems needed to deal with future public health outbreaks or epidemics. Specifically, the bill authorizes the payment of $100 million to Canada Health Infoway for its use to allow the provinces and territories to invest in software and hardware with the goal of assessing, developing and implementing a high quality, real time public health surveillance system.

When I did a tour of our local hospital the CEO pointed out that when an assessment was done on the $3.5 million that ended up in our local hospital, one of the weaknesses was that one machine could not communicate with another machine, which could not communicate with another central machine. I hope that this money will assist doctors and nurses and all of the other health professionals to communicate in real time so that information is readily available wherever they go.

The equalization program is renewed for a further five years. It has a very complicated formula involving 30-odd collection points of tax information over 10 provinces and each province has its unique interest. It is a very difficult formula. It is renewed and the objective is to do five year renewals.

The key changes include tax base changes, including a fundamental redesign of the property tax base. There is the introduction of a smoothing mechanism. Also, given the transition to the new system, there are payments of $150 million. The changes will mean an additional $1.5 billion over five years.

I see that my time is up. In closing, I recommend to hon. members opposite that they support Bill C-30.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to address an issue that is very near and dear to me. It is the equalization formula in the budget.

The province of Saskatchewan is receiving something in the order of $7 million in equalization this year. Its sister province, Manitoba, is getting over $1 billion. Statistics Canada indicates that the net average earning of a Saskatchewanian is $1,000 less than a Manitoban. We are faced with a fiscal crisis in Saskatchewan that I have never seen in my home province. The formula absolutely shafts Saskatchewan. I have talked to folks in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and they have the same view.

The formula has to be changed in a drastic way to a national formula, not a five province formula. Non-renewable resources have to be shifted or downsized in that formula. In all honesty, things like Manitoba Hydro and Quebec Hydro have to be brought into line on this thing as well to make that formula fair and equitable.

Saskatchewan does not have the fiscal capacity to meet its needs. The waiting list in Saskatchewan for MRIs is 22 months. The waiting list for surgery in that province is 29 weeks. There are problems all over the place.

The finance minister is from Saskatchewan. I thought that the finance minister would address this issue in the budget and we would get some real fairness in the formula. All we got in that formula was some tinkering and an answer from the Minister of Finance that it is too complicated.

It is a disastrous formula for the province of Saskatchewan. I ask the member, why did the Liberal government not address the serious inequities in that formula?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member looked a little closer at the proposals on equalization, he would find that there is some redress to the concern that he expressed.

The first point I want to make on equalization is that it is not a panacea for everything. Equalization simply is an averaging of fiscal capacities among the provinces. It tries to reduce those disparities. As I said, there is something in the order of 33 tax sources that are considered in the formula so that there is a recognition of that across the country.

Every province has a unique interest. Some very bizarre anomalies occasionally are kicked up. The hon. member actually raised one of them, which was the way in which resources are treated and worked into the formula. I think the hon. member will recollect that the Minister of Finance, who is obviously from Saskatchewan and is very seized with this issue, did make an announcement of a one time cash payment to Saskatchewan which would address specifically the anomaly that the formula brought up for Saskatchewan.

The hon. member said we should change the formula. That is easier said than done. There is virtually a continuous meeting between federal officials and provincial officials on how the formula applies.

The big objection here is that Ontario had a lousy year last year. Because Ontario had a lousy year, the provinces that receive equalization came far closer to Ontario's fiscal capacity. That is the way the formula works. When the chief contributor to fiscal capacity in this country has a bad year, it reflects on the rest of the provinces as well.

A couple of years ago we did not hear these complaints when Ontario had a really good year. There was a $2 billion bonus that the provincial finance ministers were not counting on which came in the year 2000.

The formula goes up and the formula goes down. Unfortunately, we had a lousy year and the formula did not work as well as many other ministers had anticipated.