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 health.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in today's debate. It will not come as a surprise that we stand against the budget implementation bill. I have already expressed my concerns about the budget, just like the Bloc Quebecois has. We rejected the budget the very night it was tabled. Now that we have the budget implementation bill before us, we have to be consistent with our initial position and reject it, probably for the same reasons I mentioned when we were dealing with the budget.

I could raise a lot of issues, but we only have 10 minutes at this stage of the debate. Therefore, I will focus on four major issues, beginning with health care.

Health is a big concern for Quebeckers and Canadians alike. With everything that is going on, Quebec feels stifled. Everybody recognizes and acknowledges that health care is a provincial jurisdiction. At first, the government told us, “We will help you because we feel we have a role to play”. At the time, the federal government was providing the provinces with 50% of the cost of health care services, which means that 50¢ on every dollar invested was compensated by Ottawa through transfers. The government of Quebec could very well manage with that, as the rest of the provinces.

Unfortunately, as time went by, the federal government withdrew from health care, but started interfering more and more with the established conditions the provinces have to meet to get the money.

No later than last year we were at 16%, which means that the federal share of health care spending went from 50¢ to 16¢ on every dollar. The Romanow commission did a very good study of health care. We agree with it on some things, and less on others. However, regarding the federal participation, it recommended that it be increased from 16¢ to 25¢. I do not have to tell you that Roy Romanow is not a sovereignist, but a great federalist. The fact that he says there are problems is very significant.

Unfortunately, what happened with this budget is that we have gone from 16¢ to 14.5¢. The Romanow commission said that we were at 16¢ and that that had to be increased to 25¢. However, the finance minister came forward with a budget bringing it down to 14.5¢. For every dollar invested in health care only 14.5¢ will come from the federal government. We are heading in the wrong direction, and the provinces and Quebec are being strangled.

There is another point I want to stress, namely employment insurance. Employment insurance concerns people who are vulnerable. People who find themselves unemployed, who are told they no longer have a job, have a safety net they can rely on, namely the employment insurance plan. Unfortunately since the Liberals came to power in 1993 there have been several reforms and every single one of them has tightened up eligibility to employment insurance for those who lose their job.

Not only did they tighten up eligibility, but conditions as a whole have been restricted, reduced and rolled back. There was a time when unemployed workers were entitled to 60% of their salary. Now, it is only 55%. They were entitled to a certain number of weeks of benefits, but that number has now been lowered.

The federal government has accumulated a $45 billion slush fund since it introduced all these reforms. That money has not been used to help people or as a safety net. In fact, due to this tightening up of eligibility criteria, only four persons out of ten are now eligible to employment insurance whereas in the past seven or even eight were.

Thus, the government found itself with a $45 billion pot of money and paid its debt with this amount. Consequently, employers and employees are paying for the government's debt. This is a little unfair, because the government used to put 25% of the money into the employment insurance fund. It has withdrawn and no longer pays one cent. The only thing it does is legislate reforms that ensure there are more and more restrictions for people.

There is also another aspect relating to this issue. The CTC has conducted a study in each riding. In the riding of Saint-Jean, we have been losing $33 million a year since 1993.

It goes without saying that, when people receive their EI benefits, cash this money, get a little money from the EI fund, they do not invest it in Barbados, as the Prime Minister is doing. They buy food to feed their children and their families. They pay for housing and clothing. These are not rich people; these are middle class people who do not have any income.

Some have contributed to the EI plan their whole life, but when they go to the EI office, they are told, “We are sorry, but you do not have enough hours. You do not qualify, so you cannot have any benefits”. This causes losses in a region such as mine. It causes losses in all the regions of Canada, and the federal government is giving up to some extent, when it comes to supporting local economies.

We may say what we want, but $33 million is a lot of money in a riding such as Saint-Jean. It is too bad that these people have to rely on a service provided by the provinces, that is social welfare, where conditions are even more restrictive.

Thus, there is a major problem with the EI fund. It is the same for the guaranteed income supplement.

Six months ago, I launched a campaign to try to locate 1,100 people in Saint-Jean who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement and whom the government kept in the dark for so many years. Through contacts and newspaper ads, we managed to find 400. Another 700 are still out there. We have just launched another campaign to find these people, because seniors are an extremely vulnerable group. They no longer have an income. They depend solely on a safety net called the old age pension. However, it is not enough for most of them. If they earn less than the amounts set out in the legislation on the guaranteed income supplement, they should be entitled to it.

The problem is that the government is not telling them they are entitled to it. It would be so easy to tell them. The government could take their income tax return from the previous year and tell them, “Oh! You did not earn sufficient income, so you automatically get the guaranteed income supplement”. But, that is not what the government is doing. People have to realize they are entitled and apply to the government for it.

This causes certain problems, because not everyone in that generation went to university. Probably 1% or 2% of that generation was able to attend university, not because they did not want to go, but because they did not have the means and their families often made them work in the family business. That is how they spent their lives.

Since the government has kept silent and ensured that these people did not receive this money, it saved $3.2 billion over eleven years. I received calls from people we located. They cried into the phone saying, “For the first time, Mr. Bachand, I will be able to give my grandchildren presents on their birthday this year”. These people built our society, and the only thanks they get today is a meagre old age pension, when they could probably earn twice as much and have a better life.

Consequently, the same thing goes for the guaranteed income supplement. There is nothing in the budget. There is nothing about the possibility of retroactivity. On the contrary, there is total silence, the Silence of the Lambs .

The fiscal imbalance issue is another matter. It is estimated that Quebec is being shortchanged to the tune of $50 million a week because of the fiscal imbalance. Studies have been commissioned on this, and they have been done by none other than Mr. Séguin, who is now Quebec's finance minister. What does the concept of fiscal imbalance mean? It means that the provinces are receiving less money. In Quebec's case, the shortfall is $2.5 billion, and that amount goes right into the federal coffers.

If only the federal government ran its business properly. But no. We have just had the sponsorship scandal, where hundreds of millions of dollars were handed over to friends of the governing party. The government has just realized that money went missing in the EI fund at one point in time, as you will recall, Mr. Speaker, and no one knew where one billion dollars had gone. I was talking about that a minute ago.

We also have a gun registry program. Initially, it was supposed to cost $2 million a year, but we are now at $2 billion, and counting. There are plenty of examples of mismanagement by this government. It is often because the government has too much money.

The focus in this budget should have been to help the middle class. Tax reductions should have been targeted to these taxpayers. They are the ones in need of help right now. But there were no tax cuts. Government members keep talking about $100 billion in tax cuts over five years. Nobody has seen the colour of that money yet.

I will conclude the same way I started, by telling you this: it should comse as no surprise that the Bloc Quebecois opposes the content of this budget. Obviously, we will oppose the implementation bill as well.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we continue the debate, pursuant to Standing Order 38, it is my duty to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Sherbrooke, Environment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to make a few remarks regarding the budget. I should say that I am sharing my time with the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am not sure you can share your 10 minutes unless you ask for unanimous consent, because we are into 10 minute speeches. The hon. member for Blackstrap for 10 minutes.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, a budget was released recently in my Province of Saskatchewan. When I was reading about the provincial government's financial plan, I noticed a line written by one of our local columnists and it made a lot of sense to me. He said that budgets are all about choices. That is so true.

By making those choices, the government's preparation of a budget also sends a series of messages about its priorities, values and sense of responsibility.

The federal 2004 budget sent some very serious messages to the people of my riding in Blackstrap and across Canada. The message that the government wanted to convey was that its days of scandal and irresponsible spending were over, that taxpayers could rest easy knowing their money was in safe hands and would be monitored.

What Canadians heard was that program spending had jumped to record levels while we remained saddled with ineffective money pits such as the gun registry, EI surplus, and ever emerging stories of corruption, abuse and scandal.

In his address this morning, the finance minister's parliamentary secretary mentioned his government's commitment to helping communities overcome some of the challenges that they face: roads, affordable housing, public transit, safe neighbourhoods and ample green spaces. He said the federal government was starting to respond to those needs and yes, offering a full rebate of the GST is a beginning. It will put some money back into the coffers of communities large and small, but it is not nearly enough to help provide necessary infrastructure.

Roads, sewers and waterworks are all large ticket items essential to maintaining our standard of living. A couple of thousand dollars in GST rebates will not buy a lot of waterline in a rural community. So we turn to the municipal rural infrastructure fund which will now be spent over five years rather than ten. This will provide some money in the short term, but it does not fit into a predictable, stable, long term plan.

What is not included in this implementation discussion today is the matter of the federal government sharing its gas tax revenues with municipalities. The billions of dollars in fuel tax collected by the federal government each year would go a long way toward helping communities achieve some of their infrastructure goals, certainly more than limited GST dollars. We have heard that transferring fuel revenue to other levels of government is a complex task, one that could not possibly have been implemented in time for the budget. Maybe so, but this is not a new request.

My party, and its predecessors have been calling for a fuel tax revenue sharing plan for a long time. Municipal leaders have been pleading for help, watching their communities crumble under the burden of increasing responsibilities, many of those downloaded from the federal level, without the proper resources and tools needed for their proper delivery.

Agriculture is another area of particular interest in my riding and it has been largely ignored by the budget. Farmers and producers in the west have been reeling from drought, grasshoppers, subsidy wars, trade disputes, BSE and most recently a financial hit in the provincial budget. Where has the government been?

A multimillion dollar package was thrown at the cattle industry to help cope with the BSE crisis, an on-going crisis I might add, but this money is long overdue. Farmers needed those dollars months ago, not just when the government thought it would be politically expedient to offer a handout.

What assurances can the government provide that the money will go to the people who really need it, to the farmers trying to hold on to their land, businesses, homes and livelihoods.

It seems that regardless of the intentions behind various packages the bottom line for farmers has not changed for the better. In Saskatchewan, in fact, we are dealing with huge negative farm incomes. Agriculture is the mainstay in the economy of the west and throughout Canada. Programs of funding must be managed wisely and effectively for all of our benefit.

The budget also dealt extensively with the future. One element of that future is the education of our young people. Unfortunately, post-secondary education is slowly becoming an elite only privilege in Canada. Lower income students who face the high cost of tuition, books and costs of living, emerge from school with huge debt, often as much as a mortgage and complete with interest.

Ideally, these new graduates would land a stable, high paying job immediately and begin the long process of paying down that debt. However, it is not an ideal world and in our economy graduates may find themselves out of school, out of work and out of money.

The government's initiative to alter the Canadian student loans program said it would be easier to borrow money. To borrow more money does not address this problem. On a more positive note, the budget allows for the creation of a learning bond to encourage low income families to save for their child's education and the enhancement of the Canada education saving grant that will be enhanced for low and middle income families.

I congratulate the government on these measures which, if implemented properly, will reduce some barriers for access to post-secondary education. At the same time I have to consider some of the other promises that the government has failed to fulfill, including providing only half of the $100 million a year promised for grants for needy students, and missing its targets on interest relief.

I have only addressed three components of this budget. We have heard about other parts today. The bottom line is that it is the government's right to implement the budget it has prepared.

However, it is imperative to remember it is Canadians who fund these initiatives and it is Canadians who will either benefit or be hurt by how their tax dollars are managed and how their tax dollars are spent.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

April 19th, 2004 / 4:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this debate because it is important on the opposition side to point out not just negatives in a document like the budget, but also positives even when those positives fall far short of what could be done by the government.

I would like to comment on the provisions in the budget pertaining to charities and draw the attention of the House to a very important rule change that has occurred in the budget pertaining to the 80% disbursement rule.

The House will recall that in 1996 I did an MP's report on charities called “Canada's Charities: A Need for Reform”. It was a litany of all kinds of shortcomings in the oversight of Canada's $90 billion charity industry comprising some 80,000 organizations. I regret to say that the government has always been terribly slow to respond to the great number of recommendations that I made in that report.

One of the most important recommendations was the observation that the 80% rule, as it existed up until this budget, was extremely flawed. What it said was that all charities had to spend 80% of their tax receiptable donations on charitable activities. That sounds wonderful, but what it really means is that only a tiny percentage of a charity's income--that income that pertains to tax receiptable donations--actually has to be spent on charitable activity.

In fact, charities and charitable foundations were transferring funds to other charitable organizations and those charitable organizations did not have to use any of that money whatsoever on charitable activity. Often there were situations where a charity would get the main portion of its funding from another charity, like the United Way for example. It would amaze members to know that up until this budget, charitable organizations receiving money from the United Way did not have to use any of that money on charitable activity, none whatsoever.

After eight long years of billions and billions of dollars of abuse by many charitable organizations, the government has finally plugged part of the loophole in this budget. It has said that any transfers coming from one charitable organization to another charitable organization are covered by the 80% disbursement rule. So, when the United Way gives money to a small charity, that small charity must spend 80% of that money on actual charitable activity, not on paying salaries, not on administration, but actually on the charitable activity.

I regret to say, Mr. Speaker, that having taken a fine first step, the government did not take the second step. That second step would ensure that all transfers to charities are subject to the 80% rule because the majority of transfers to charitable organizations, particularly hospitals, for example, or any large charitable organization that is providing social and medical services, most of the money that they receive is from government.

The difficulty is, if the 80% rule does not apply to the money received from government, that large charities like hospitals, which are a classic example, could spend all kinds of money on salaries and administration rather than on caring for the sick and the injured or paying doctors salaries. Thus we have the situation where large hospitals like the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto pay a CEO $500,000. This is the kind of abuse that is possible because hospitals are not under the 80% rule when it comes to spending government money.

I would like to make the observation that the Prime Minister has suggested that he wants to put more money into health care and he wants to make it conditional on that money being used properly. All he has to do is to make hospitals subject to this 80% rule so that when they receive money from government, they have to use 80% of it on providing charitable activity.

Mr. Speaker, the other aspect of this problem is that there were many other opportunities that the government had to increase transparency of large and small charitable institutions. It is all part of a package. It has made one very important step.

It is providing in the budget access of the public to the financial statements of charities. Never was that opportunity in existence before. What would happen is that if we wanted to find out a charity's spending practices, the only access we had to any kind of document that described those spending practices was the T-3010 form, which can be filled out by anyone. There is no requirement that an accountant do it. It is a simple form that provides minimal information.

So the prospect, particularly with large charities where they have to present a financial statement to their boards of directors and their boards of directors demand that a chartered accountant or public accountant or some qualified person examine these financial statements, the fact that these are now going to be available to the public is indeed a very, very important step, and I am very glad to see it. But again, the government has failed to take advantage of the opportunity to spread the transparency around so that we can see into these large institutions that are spending mostly government money.

I proposed in 1997 that large, non-profit organizations and charities come under the Canada corporations act so that there are the same standards of corporate governance that apply to all charities, to all organizations that use public funds, particularly, again, large hospitals and large institutions that provide social and medical services.

I regret to say that there are no standards of governance across large institutions like the Cancer Society or any of the large hospitals. I would suggest that if they were committed to the same type of standards of governance and transparency that exists in the Canada corporations act for for-profit organizations, we would see enough into those organizations that we would be able to see the management inefficiency. We would see the kind of nepotism that must exist in any large institution that does not have oversight. And if we could see that, we would correct it and there would be a huge saving to the taxpayer.

We do not have to put more money into health care. All we have to do is put in a regime of transparency and accountability, a real legislated regime, not just hope and smoke and mirrors. This has been on the agenda. I have been talking about this particular issue for seven years now. Seven years and there has been no progress other than a small crumb: that the financial statements will now be available from large charities. This is not good enough.

I despair. We work very hard on these things and it does not matter what side of the House we are on. I tried very hard to get this agenda forward. I thought I was making progress a few years ago, but what did the government do? It went out to the charitable sector and asked them what they thought. And so the voluntary sector round table and various other charitable organizations and institutions, and sometimes the very people, the very individuals I criticized in my report for failing to live up to their obligations of transparency and accountability, became the advisers to government.

And so we see in the budget document that credit is given to the charitable organizations that advise the government to do the least possible.

Mr. Speaker, that is what it amounts to. Sometimes we really, really wonder around here, when politicians spend years working on a problem and develop expertise and they cannot be heard by their own government.

So yes, Mr. Speaker, progress has been made, and I am delighted to compliment any small move forward in this file, which is worth billions of dollars and affects the lives of countless Canadians. Any small move forward is a positive thing, Mr. Speaker, but this is yet another, another opportunity lost.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is the House ready for the question?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.