House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca is not present to move the motion for second reading of Bill C-428, an act to amend the Canada pension plan, as announced in today's Order Paper and Notice Paper. Pursuant to Standing Order 94, since this is the second time this item has not been dealt with on the dates established by the order of precedence, the bill will be dropped from the order paper.

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Accordingly, the sitting of the House will be suspended until noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:13 a.m.)

The House resumed at 12 p.m.

The House resumed from April 1 consideration of the motion 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

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and address Bill C-30. I want to start by reminding the House how hard Canadian taxpayers work to make their money. I think it is appropriate to talk about this given that we are talking about how the government spends a lot of the money that people make and work very hard for.

I want to begin by reminding the House that in the last number of years the government has driven spending to record heights. I know for a fact that we have never seen spending this high in the history of the country. Today in Canada the government spends more money per capita than it has ever spent in the history of the country. There is a tremendous amount of money that is being spent, supposedly on behalf of taxpayers.

I also want to point out that today in Canada the big problems that face this country are as big as they have ever been or, in many cases, bigger than they have ever been.

I have been here for ten years. I came here in 1993. At that time, I can tell members, the issue of health care was not nearly as big a problem as it is today. Despite the fact that this government and this Prime Minister have said that health care is his number one priority--and the government has talked about all the spending announcements it has made for health care--the problem has only become worse. Today people are waiting on waiting lists for all kinds of vital surgery and treatment. Despite the fact that the government has said this is its number one priority, the situation has only gotten worse and worse.

When I came here in 1993, the military was in a lot better shape than it is today, despite the fact that the government has said that it is a big priority. The Prime Minister made a big deal of going to speak to our troops in the last couple of weeks. His claim is that the military is a top priority for him. If that is the case, why are our troops so overstretched and under-equipped?

We must remember that he was the finance minister for nine years. He has been the Prime Minister for a number of months now, and certainly he was preparing to be prime minister for a long time, but the situation with respect to the military has only gotten worse in the decade that the Liberals have been in power.

When it comes to an issue like student debt, I can tell members that many of us in this place have children who are going to university. I have a son who is in university and many people are in the same boat. Over the last while many of us have had student organizations in our offices talking to us about the problem of student debt and the fact that not only are students going into debt, but there is just not the capacity in universities and colleges these days to accommodate all the people who want to go to university. As a result, we have universities placing very high standards on allowing people into university. A lot of people who do not have great marks cannot get in, and those from low income families probably cannot afford to get into university.

The Prime Minister has said that this is a top priority for him, but he has been here for nine years. He was here for ten years, nine of them as finance minister. Now he is the Prime Minister, but we are actually in worse shape today when it comes to the issue of accessibility to higher education than we were when the Liberals came to power ten years ago.

I could go on and on about the areas where there has been an actual decline, where the ability of people to have access to government services has gone down over the last ten years. Why is that? I want to argue that it is because this Prime Minister has no vision. He has absolutely no vision when it comes to addressing the big problems that face the country today. Frankly, I think we saw that reflected in the recent budget and of course Bill C-30 has to do with implementing the particular provisions of that budget.

I will argue that the government has done a terrible job of addressing these big priorities. I want to argue that taxpayers who pay 50% of their incomes to taxes--the average family pays something like 48% of its income to taxes these days--deserve better. When taxpayers pay half of their incomes to various levels of government, including a federal government that taxes way too much, they expect to get services when they need them.

They expect their military to have proper equipment and to have enough troops to address some of the hot spots in the world that Canadians have typically addressed and to fill the role as peacekeepers that they typically have filled in the past.

They expect that when it is time for their children to go to university those children will actually be able to get in: that there will be a spot for them in university and that tuitions will not be so high that they will be in debt for the rest of their lives. This is what people expect and it is not an unrealistic expectation.

I think I have laid out what some of the problems are and now I want to talk about what the government has been doing to address these things. Has it come up with some visionary plan to address an issue like health care? No. It says it is going to do that, but down the road. It will get together with the premiers down the road, and by the way, the government says, it will probably be after an election, so we should re-elect the government and then it will address that problem.

What about the military? The government has no plan for the military. In fact, in the budget all it had was some spending for particular missions that our troops are involved in right now in Afghanistan and in Haiti, but it has no plan to address the problems of the military, even though we all know how important that is, especially these days when we are fighting a war on terror.

When it comes to the issue of student debt, I think everyone would agree it had some very impractical ideas in the budget, things that really do not come close to addressing the issues of student debt, accessibility and all the problems that face higher education today. The budget did not address those things.

What about initiatives since the budget? What kinds of initiatives has the government undertaken? We know that in the first two weeks of the fiscal year it came up with about $1 billion that it wanted to spend, basically on pork barrelling, on funnelling money into the ridings of Liberal ministers and candidates in a blatant attempt to try to buy votes. Was this for high priority things like hospital beds or more money for the military? No. In one case, it was money for an archeological dig in a Liberal minister's riding.

I am not going to argue that if we have money left over those kinds of things are not important. They are important, but we do not have money left over. We are seriously underfunding all kinds of very important things today, including, again, health care, higher education and the Canadian military.

Let us consider this. Instead of taking that $1 billion the government just spent on all kinds of pork barrelling, why not leave it in taxpayers' pockets? Why not allow the people who work so hard in supporting their families to keep more of that money?

Mr. Speaker, you have probably heard me say this before, and forgive me if I have already gone through this, but I always like to ask this question. What would people do if someone came to them and said they were going to be given $1,000, but the only proviso was that they had to spend the money in a way that would benefit their families? My question is, would they give that money to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to spend on their behalf to look after their families? It is more likely that they would say no. They would say that they know what their family's priorities are. They know that their son needs braces or they have to pay the bill to get their son into hockey, or their daughter into ballet or whatever it is, because families have a much better sense of their priorities than the government does.

Whenever the government is preparing to make a spending decision, it should ask itself, is this the best possible way to spend the money or should it be given back to taxpayers in the form of lower taxes so they can decide for themselves what their priorities are?

Today a lot of people have trouble paying medical bills. If parents have a sick child and do not have a great drug plan, they are going to be spending a tremendous amount of money out of their own pockets to look after things.

Whenever there is a question of whether this is a high priority item, why not leave that money in the pockets of taxpayers? I can guarantee the taxpayers will make better decisions about how to spend that money to benefit their families than a bureaucrat in Ottawa, or a politician. This pork-barrelling exercise of the last couple of weeks is a perfect example. We are typically seeing money going into all kinds of individual Liberal ridings to start to grease the wheels for an election campaign. Frankly, that is wrong and it should not happen. In fact not only is it wrong, it is exactly the same way Jean Chrétien used to operate.

The Prime Minister worked for 13 years to knock Jean Chrétien off and get him out of here. The expectation was he would come in and do things differently. However, he is doing things exactly the same. Jean Chrétien spent a bunch of money at the end of a fiscal year to buy a couple of Challenger jets. At the beginning of a fiscal year, this Prime Minister spends a bunch of money on things like archeological digs, because it is in a riding, or on some shelving for a library.

Again, those are well and good and they are fine things. Are they a higher priority than health care, or education or ensuring that our troops have proper equipment when they are putting their lives on the line? I do not think so. Those things are critical, and I think the Canadian public wants to see their hard-earned tax dollars go toward these vital projects.

I want to talk for a moment about the government's record when it comes to overall spending.

Right now down the hall a public accounts committee hearing is going on. To me this underlines not only how terrible the government has been when it comes to managing money, but in some case how corrupt it has been. We are in a situation where down the way we have a number of members of Parliament who right now are asking questions of executives from advertising agencies who were the recipients of $100 million in commissions for work that in many cases was never done or work that was of questionable value, to put it mildly.

I want to argue that this is a perfect example why the government cannot continue to come to the public and ask for more money. It is playing the public for suckers. It is basically saying that Canadians should give it their tax dollars and that it will take that money and line the pockets of a bunch of Liberal-friendly advertising firms. By the way, some of that money found its way back into Liberal Party coffers.

It is time for that to come to an end. When the government brings down a budget where it proposes to spend a bunch more money over and above last year, $4 billion more this year if I remember correctly, then we say no. What the government should do is go through the current envelope of spending, find where the waste and corruption are and get rid of that. Then at some point down the road, when it has gone through every department, when it has found all the waste and gets rid of the corruption, it might be justified to come to the public and say that it wants to have more money for a particular project.

Right now the whole country is watching as the advertising scandal unfolds in the room just down the hall. I think that is the most powerful possible argument there can be for not giving the government a bunch more money to spend on all kinds of projects that in many cases are simply not of very high priority. In fact in some cases they are completely wasteful and are things that the money should not be spent on at all.

It is not just the advertising scandal that saw $100 million paid out in commissions for things like delivering a cheque for public works to Canada Post. There are many other examples.

I mentioned the Challenger jets. That was $100 million situation where at the end of the fiscal year the government went mad and decided to buy a couple of jets, even though our troops in Afghanistan did not have proper equipment.

I could point to the firearms registry of $1 billion, heading for $2 billion. This is a situation where the government basically made the choice at some point that the best possible way to protect the public was to pour money into a database that would record where the shotguns of duck hunters were. It was supposed to cost $2 million. It is now on its way to $1 billion and, according to many sources, it will hit $2 billion.

I would argue that the government has made a terrible calculation when it comes to using that money to protect the public. It has not put the money where it should go in a way that will protect the public. I would argue that when money went missing in Human Resources Development, that boondoggle demonstrated that the government was not capable of managing the public's money very well. This was a situation where an internal audit showed that the government had no idea where money had gone when it came to particular grants and that kind of thing.

Has the government learned any lessons from that? No, it is doing exactly the same thing right now in spending $1 billion in the first two weeks of the fiscal year on all kinds of pork-barrelling and handing out grants to friends. That has to end and the only way that will end ultimately is not to just change chairs on the Titanic . It is to elect a new government.

I want to argue that my leader and the Conservative Party could make some positive changes. Those guys have had their chance. They have been here for 10 years and all we have seen is mismanagement, waste and in some cases, I am sad to say, outright corruption. That has to end.

That is where the new Conservative Party can make some very positive changes. We are advocating that the government be much more careful with taxpayer money and that we trim wasteful spending. We would get rid of the firearms registry. We would get rid of the huge amount of discretionary spending that is used by Liberal ministers to reward friends. All the grants and outright gifts to friends has to come to an end. Huge bureaucracies for crazy programs like the firearms registry have to come to an end.

We have to take the savings and put it into things that really do make a difference in the lives of people like cutting the waiting list for surgery, ensuring that students are not in debt up to their ears when it comes to higher education and of course properly funding our military and ensuring that it has the equipment it needs when it takes on dangerous missions around the world.

My time has just about come to an end. I will simply wrap up by asking the public to consider what we have discussed. We are in a situation where an election will be soon. The two parties will trot out their election platforms, which is fine. However, one thing we will not find on an election platform is this government talking about its records when it comes to spending. I think we will find that the Liberals will try to dodge that issue.

I move:

That the motion be amended by replacing all the words after the word “That” with:

“this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004, since the principle of the bill fails to address the government's record of wasteful spending and does little to tackle the real priorities of Canadians”.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The amendment is in order.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to pose a question to my colleague. He has touched on a couple of issues that are of real importance to Canadians. One is the funding of secondary education, in particular the student debt load that we see many students taking on today to get through universities and colleges. The government has come up with a couple of ideas in the budget. One is a savings plan for low income families, which I think is fine. However, it is only for $2,000. We know full well that it costs a lot more than that to go to university. The other is because the government feels it costs more to go to university, it will just let the students go into debt more. I just find almost outrageous that it would consider that as a plan to get more people into university.

Therefore, could the member give us his thoughts on what really could be done to help student debt load?

He also has talked about national security and the fact that the government, through the firearms registry, claims that Canadian citizens are safer somehow. That is the real crime behind the billion dollars wasted on it. As well, safety and security of the citizens of a country should be the primary concern of a government. The government has failed, not only in the armed forces but in other aspects of security in Canada which need to be addressed. Could the member also touch on this?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me declare off the top that I have a son in university, so I know about this firsthand. It is a very expensive proposition to fund a student. I happen to be in a situation where I can help my son out a lot. However, a lot of people are not in that situation and they have to take on student debt. It is particularly difficult for people at the low end of the income scale. In fact studies show that if students are from low income families, they are far less likely to go to university or college, due in part that it is so expensive.

What do we do about it? Frankly, there are a couple of things. First, it is appropriate for students to bear some of the cost of their education. I am certainly not in the camp that advocates completely free education for students. I think students pick up about a third of the cost right now.

The issue here is twofold. First, there has to be an agreement with the provinces that the money which comes from the federal government ends up going toward post-secondary education. Right now we have a block transfer of funds. That money is what people call fungible, which means if that money goes to the provinces for things like health care and education, the provinces do not necessarily have to spend it on those things. They have their other priorities. Therefore, we need to come to some kind of an agreement with the provinces that any money that comes from the federal government should go toward these things which are clearly priorities in the minds of Canadians.

The other side of it is this. What can we do through tax policy to help parents so they can ensure money goes toward their student's education? Maybe we have to consider all kinds of different tax proposals such as if people are in a situation where they pay for their children's education, they get some more tax breaks to make it more viable for them to do that. Those are a couple of things at which we should look.

Other people have talked about other things such as remissions, where basically if students complete their studies successfully, some of their student debt is forgiven. There is merit to that idea. However, these things all cost money. It boils down to priorities.

That is why we have to eliminate the waste. If we are to fund these things, firearm registries that do no good have got to go because that money is vital for the types of things about which we are talking.

When it comes to some of the things the member has touched on, again, it boils down to priorities. If we are to ensure safe streets and safe borders, that means that we have to go through our spending with a fine tooth comb. We have to go to a government, which has driven spending up by 40 some per cent in seven years, and say that there is waste and mismanagement. We will go through this and we will find it because this government has done a terrible job.

I have touched on the sponsorship program, the Challenger jets, HRDC and all the things the government has done, including the billion dollars in spending over the last couple of weeks. These are examples of where the government can trim back, find savings and reallocate those toward things that actually make a difference in people's lives.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Liberal

David Pratt Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the hon. member's comments over the course of the last 15 or 20 minutes and I was struck by how many inaccuracies there were in his comments with respect to the Canadian Forces.

The hon. member is giving the impression that Canadian Forces in places like Afghanistan do not have the right equipment. I can say without hesitation, having been to Afghanistan, that our troops probably have the best equipment in that theatre of operations.

The same applies to Haiti. We do not take second place to anyone in that theatre of operations either. I have not been to Bosnia recently so I do not know what is happening there, but we do have some 600 troops still in Bosnia. I would fully expect that they are equipped to the same level as our troops in Haiti and Afghanistan.

Regarding the neglect of the forces that the hon. member speaks about, I really do not know where he is coming from because frankly, if he had been paying attention over the last few months, he would have known that we moved on the maritime helicopter project, a project that cost $3.1 billion. In fact, we moved on the MGS system for $700 million, we moved on the fixed wing search and rescue aircraft for another $1.3 billion, and just last week the government announced the joint supply ship at $2.1 billion, for a total of over $7 billion in capital equipment moving forward for the military.

The hon. member mentioned that we do not have a plan. When I was in the position of chair of the defence committee, we put together a report which indicated that the government should do a defence and foreign policy review. The government has decided to do precisely that. That report had the support of the hon. member's colleague, the hon. member for Lakeland. He signed off on that report. We are in the process of putting together a strategic plan which should be available over the course of the next number of months.

I would ask the hon. member, why does he feel it is appropriate to provide all of this false information to the Canadian public with respect to what is happening with the Canadian Forces.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, of course the member for Lakeland signed off on it, precisely because the government did not have a plan. It wanted to ensure that it did have a plan, so it signed off on this report so the government would actually go ahead and produce this paper so that there would be a plan. I guess what the minister is acknowledging right now is that it does not have a plan at this point, but that at some point down the road it will, once this paper is done.

He asked me about equipment. I have been to Bosnia. I was there just a little over a year ago. I rode around in an Iltis jeep. It was so rusted out we could see the ground underneath through the floorboards. If we had hit a mine with that, there would be nothing left of anybody. The Iltis jeeps are still in Afghanistan, or were until very recently. I think they are still there. In fact, the Iltis jeep is one of the jeeps that we lost one of our soldiers in precisely because it is like a tin can. The jeeps are so worn out, it is unbelievable.

I do not know if the minister remembers the images of Sea King helicopters lying on their sides on the deck of a frigate not very long ago as they prepared to go across the water to Afghanistan. The government cancelled the EH-101 contract in 1993 when it came to power 10 years ago. It was going to replace it. To this day, 10 years later, we do not have helicopters to replace the Sea Kings.

The minister says, coincidentally by the way, as we get closer to an election, that the government is going to do all these things in the future, that it is going to have some ships, that those submarines that are still getting fixed a couple of years after we bought them are going to be fixed pretty soon, and that there is more equipment coming down the road. Well, the government has had its chance. It has been 10 years. Why has it not done anything?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. chief government whip on a point of order.

Business of the House
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all chief whips and they have reached an agreement. I believe that you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That pursuant to Standing Order 45(7), the recorded division scheduled for Tuesday, April 20, 2004 on Bill C-25 be taken at 3:00 p.m. rather than at the end of Government Orders.

Business of the House
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the House give consent to move the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?