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.

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The House resumed 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, and of the amendment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

April 19th, 2004 / 3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

We are resuming debate with the hon. member for Calgary East. I should advise the hon. member, in case he is unaware, that he will have a limit of 10 minutes for his remarks. We are into 10 minute speeches with no questions or comments at this point in this debate.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, yes, I see that my time was stolen by the Liberal member so I could not make a 20 minute speech with questions and answers. I was going to put the record of the Prime Minister in front of Canadians when he stepped into office. In the Speech from the Throne he talked about a new Canada, a new vision and how he would provide a new vision. Subsequently, in his first budget presented in February, we see that the vision he talked about was priorities for everything and priorities for nothing.

The Prime Minister has been saying that every issue facing Canadians is a national priority. I agree. Issues are important and they must be discussed broadly. However, health care is the national priority. Job creation is the national priority. Farmers are the national priority. At the end of the day what is left is no priority. The government is walking around in a daze. Its members do not even know what to do.

In one of the corridors in Parliament we have a committee inquiring into the biggest corruption scandal ever in the history of Canada and the biggest corruption scandal in which the government has been involved.

The government says that it has a vision to present. I have been here for seven years. When I look across the way, I do not see any new faces. I do not hear any new ideas. I do not see anything new. All I see is recycled stuff coming back, over and over again.

I was in Toronto last week. In group discussions a gentleman asked me a point blank question. He asked what I would do for him. He asked what I would do for his community. I looked at him straight in the face and I said that I was going to do nothing for him or his community. He was taken back. I said that we did not do things for communities. Rather we did things for Canadians.

This is the vision we should have for Canada. We will provide the tools to go and fight. Those tools will give people the education to help them get ready to enter the workforce.

Let us look at the government's record on education. It promised to help 12,000 graduates per year. How many has it helped up to now? Only 2,000. Average student debt was $21,000, but recipients received an average subsidy of $509 in interest relief despite the fact that there was the prime minister's scholarship millennium fund.

None of the targets were met on promised interest relief to student loan recipients. If we do give the tools to our future generation, and they do not necessarily have to be university graduates, they can be tradesmen too, then we will be left behind. In today's globalized world there is competition. If we do not seize the opportunities, someone else will and we will be left behind.

The second point I told the gentleman was that we would create an economic environment where jobs would be created. We will not tax Canadians to a point where they cannot reinvest in the country. We will not create conditions where economic conditions are such that innovation, entrepreneurship are contained. What we need to do is create this environment, and we can do that by reducing taxes.

The government's record on reducing taxes is absolutely abysmal, despite the fact that it has said that it has been reducing taxes. About an hour ago, one member over there said that this was the greatest tax reduction ever. As far as I know, when talking to Canadians, nobody feels the tax reduction is helping their pockets. If they do not feel it in their pockets, I do not know what kind of tax reduction it is. Perhaps it is cooking the books only so the government can stand up here and talk about tax reductions.

If we do not create the economic environment for entrepreneurship or the creation of jobs, then where will the students and everybody else who is learning work? Creating an environment where jobs can be created should be a national priority.

Third, we would create laws to ensure that every Canadian who applied for a job would never discriminated against. Canadians can feel free that their education, skills and experiences in life are put to full use in Canada.

When we look at these things, then there is a vision. It is a vision that Canadians can look forward and can stand and say that they will fight the other countries and that they will fight for their rights. They can say that they have the tools to be a prosperous nation, the number one nation in the world.

However, what has happened in the budget? Nothing. There is a band-aid here and a band-aid there. Most important, there is a disconnect between the vision of the government and the Canadian people because of the way the Liberal government has been ruling the country.

I have a list, which was printed in the National Post , on how Liberal members of Parliament are given money for their little pet projects so they can get elected. There is absolutely no regard as to why. There is absolutely no regard as to transparency or to the value of what will help. They use taxpayer money as if it were a gift given to them to spend, not understanding that it is a trust given to them by Canadians for transparency to ensure that the things Canadians want are taken care of such as health care and all the other areas that have been crying for attention.

Now we see the same Prime Minister talking about the same area. Where was he all the time when he was the finance minister of Canada? Now the government talks about defence spending. It is the same old recycled dollars going into defence. Nevertheless, we still need it. We will wait and see. Please give the dollars, not just talk about it.

Now the government is talking about a health first ministers conference in July. The Prime Minister wants to ensure that there is a deal. What was he doing all the time he was the finance minister? How come there was no deal with the provinces at that time? He was the one who was responsible for cutting funding for health care. Even now there is nothing in the health care accord that says that there is stable funding. It is still left to the government to decide how much funding it will give and which funding it will cut. Then it will expect the provinces to do it.

Let me tell the government, there is only one Canadian taxpayer. If it is going to shift the burden to the provinces, it does not shift the burden off the shoulders of Canadians. The main thing Canadians are telling the government is to get off their shoulders and take its hands out of their pockets.

The ad scam and abuse of our tax dollars is just amazing. Now the government says that we have a public inquiry. When we go to the polls, Canadians will speak on the record of the government on fiscal management.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-30 and talk about some of the spending issues that are involved in the bill as well as the vision that it puts forth.

I have received a number of concerns, as a member of Parliament, from my constituency as well as from several hundred Canadians who have already e-mailed, phoned, faxed or provided some documentation to me about what has been pronounced by the government.

I want to first say that there are some good provisions for some things in Bill C-30. To get up and say that absolutely all of it is bad would not be right. One of the things that I do want to point out is the fact that there would finally be the elimination of environmental fines as tax deductions or business write-offs. That is one thing that we could not believe was happening. It was causing a national embarrassment.

I was getting correspondence from American elected officials about pollution coming from the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River and other areas, that spilled out from Canadian factories and other sources. At the same time, companies were able to apply for a tax deduction on that, let alone the cleanup and the effect that it was having upon our American neighbours.

It is interesting to note that the government talks about improving relations with the United States. The first thing would be for our side to stop poisoning the water and to provide all kinds of progressive steps to clean the system up in partnership. The United States has actually been far more progressive in the Great Lakes by investing in their renewal in a couple of different fashions. It has been doing it, not only through its government, but through other means, for example, Robert Kennedy Jr. and his efforts have been through the legal system in order to provide some of the improvements that have been happening.

We have actually created some of those things on our side of the jurisdiction of the Detroit River with our river keeper announcement, from the public point of view, without the assistance of the government as an initiator of the project.

We saw the budget come out with basically an ideological attempt to reduce expenditures just for the sake of scoring political points.

The government did a set up here. It wanted to appear that it was shifting to the right to deal with the Conservative agenda but what it has done since then is to go out to the public to announce different projects in the multimillions after the actual budget was released.

It is a classic attempt to try to have it both ways. Quite frankly, it has been very good at getting it both ways until now because Canadians are starting to recognize that they each have different choices about things and they should be making those choices based upon principles as opposed to wishy-washy behaviour.

We are watching the privatization of health care. The New Democratic Party is really concerned about the fact that there were no new health care transfers.

The Prime Minister had plenty of time to address this as a former minister of finance and during the time of his leadership run-up. He talked about these issues a lot of times and said that it was very much a priority, but at the same time he did not actually have an action plan in his first official budget.

That is unfortunate because we believe that the Roy Romanow solutions that were proposed should have been specifically mentioned in the budget. There should have been advancement because Canadians are looking for accountability. They are looking for a single system of medicare that is not going to introduce a level of profit that will certainly mean a loss of service for people. It will make people who are vulnerable susceptible to longer lineups.

The lineup is important to note because I know of a community that is under serviced because the infrastructure has not been provided for the medical society to provide the actual services that are necessary on the ground floor. We are not getting the specialists and we have long waiting times.

That is important to note because specialists also relate to the quality of life and the productivity of the citizens we have in our community. If people are waiting for an exponential period of time to have their knees scoped or to have some type of minor operation, it certainly is a negative derivative when we look at the economy. We have more people who are off on sick leave. We have people who can further injure themselves and we also have family situations that become more complicated.

Whereas, if the investment were there, we would see the benefit of people returning to work earlier and have a healthier environment. I think that would be more productive for our economy and our country. We also have people who need those types of services in order to stay physically active in our society. The investment of that accountability and the investment in reducing waiting times would allow them to stay active and healthy.

I know of many seniors who have had to wait far too long to receive operations. It is unacceptable and unfair to them because their health deteriorates in the meantime. They have contributed a significant amount of money into the health care system over the years and they have certainly contributed to our economy. They have also been productive family members. To be in one's golden years and not have a required operation creates a lot of problems as it is stalled from month to month. That threatens their physical well-being as well as their mental well-being. The stress and the anguish that goes along with that is difficult as well.

I was out the other day talking with a constituent whose husband, a young worker, was waiting for a minor operation. He is now into his fourth week of waiting. He had to wait a series of days just to get an MRI done on his broken leg. If his leg is not treated properly, it could lead to a permanent injury. This is a result of long waiting lists.

A good investment for Canadians would be to have more money and accountability put back into our health care system in different ways such as those outlined by Roy Romanow. That would be a way of rebuilding this country.

I want to talk a bit about some of the things that could have been done in this budget and would have been influential in lowering the price of medications and eventually the costs associated with our health care system.

Last year, the industry committee spent a lot of time on notice of compliance, that is the evergreen that happens. Evergreening is when the 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry is extended by an automatic stay of injunction by the patent holder. This then delays the actual generic version of the drug being available on the market.

We saw delay after delay as these automatic injunctions compounded year after year. These injunctions prohibited generic companies from introducing a lower cost drug and which would have actually reduced the cost of medications in Canada. That money could then have been put back into health care and toward addressing other issues related to waiting times and services.

It has been quite amazing to see what has happened. A progressive Liberal, the member for Ajax--Pickering, sat on the committee. I give him credit for being so active on this case file. Some other sympathetic Liberals were also there. They were part of the Chrétien era, I suppose. After Chrétien resigned from his position, a new Prime Minister came in, and he has changed the committee. I am virtually the last member of that committee that is still talking about reducing the cost of medications, or at least trying to raise the issue.

It is unfortunate because a lot of time and taxpayers' dollars has been spent in having witnesses come forward and research done. A lot of time has been spent trying to get the Minister of Industry to respond. We have seen nothing yet. We are watching these studies become basically outdated. The studies that have been done are sitting on a shelf like so many other studies, even though the Romanow Commission noted that Canada should be doing something right away to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

It is also important to tie that in to the fact that we would like to see Bill C-9 passed. That bill would allow developing countries access to patent drugs, or generic versions of them, so they could address some of their horrible conditions of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS. It would also assist those developing countries in dealing with their poverty issues.

One of the things that was outright shocking in the budget that I was very disappointed about, coming from an auto town, was the fact that it did not contain an auto policy or at least some indication of what was going to happen. There was no indication in the Speech from the Throne either. I immediately asked questions about that as did my colleague from Windsor as to why the auto industry was not mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. There are one in 7.5 Canadian jobs affected by the auto industry and one in 6 in Ontario. That was left out of the Speech from the Throne which was very shocking.

Mayors of municipalities have formed a committee to talk about this. The Province of Ontario, even though it is drowning in debt and complaining about its costs, has had to come up with $500 million for an auto investment strategy because there has been no national auto policy. I want to acknowledge the fact that the government had to admit that it still has one-quarter of the border funds available.

A community like mine is waiting for announcements, waiting for those improvements like the truck ferry service, for example, that can take trucks off the city streets and move them across the border to help our economy and our trade. We want to have the grid-lock taken care of, something that can happen in a matter of months. The Liberals do not have any resources or support for that; only the projects for their friends and the lobbying that has been happening.

With that, I want to say thank you very much for the opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne, subsequently the budget and Bill C-30. I look forward to seeing better progress. This was disappointing to building Canada which needs to happen now as opposed to giving it away.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Dufferin--Peel--Wellington--Grey on a point of order.

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties concerning the emergency debate that has been granted for later today regarding the crisis surrounding avian flu. I believe that you will find unanimous consent to have this debate take place tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 20, 2004. after the completion of private members' business.

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed 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, and of the amendment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-30, the budget implementation bill.

I have to say that some things never change. Obviously the opposition again does not like this budget and again fails to recognize the tremendous progress the government has made, particularly in the area of managing the nation's finances. We have had seven balanced budgets or better for the first time in Canadian history. It is unheard of.

This is the only government in the western world that is paying down the national debt, which colleagues across the way have again failed to acknowledge.

The fact is that the government has made it very clear that prudent financial management is critical and we have been able to do that with seven balanced budgets or better while still investing in the social foundations of this country: investing in families, in communities and in health care while making sure that our programs are cost effective.

However we do not hear these things from opposition members because they would say that if they were in power they would do it differently. They are absolutely right that they would do it differently. They would gut social programs.

They refer back to 1993 spending levels. I would remind our colleagues in the House of the fact that one-third of government spending in 1993 was borrowed money. We are not into borrowed money. We are making sure that we have the resources to enable us to move forward on programs that are important to Canadians. I do not like hearing about the 1993 levels because clearly it is a fallacy.

On this side of the House we have cut our credit card in half. We will not go on the basis of previous Conservative governments or, indeed, of previous Liberal governments. Over the last 10 or 11 years we have said that we would make sure the finances of the nation were well managed.

We are the envy of the western world. It is unheard of to have seven balanced budgets or better. We are the only G-7 country paying off its national debt.

We are also being prudent. We are making sure we have that contingency fund back. I would ask members to remember last year when we had everything from hurricanes to fires to SARS and yet we were able to respond effectively and not go back into the red. Again, that is extremely important.

We have established for the first time a target on debt reduction. Last year $3.5 billion was saved because of debt reduction. What did that mean for the average Canadian? It meant we were able to invest money in needed social programs and to respond to issues that came along, such as SARS, the forest fires in British Columbia, et cetera.

We put over $52 billion down on the national debt and we have now set a target of 25% of GDP within 10 years, which may in fact occur before that 10 years. We have made that commitment.

This government and the Prime Minister, who was able to wrestle with and eliminate the national deficit of $42.5 billion, have made that commitment. We cannot forget that it was the Prime Minister, when he was minister of finance, who said that he was going to do it and has done it. That is extremely important.

What is also important is that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said that we are the only G-7 country that will ever be able to again balance the books and reduce the debt, not only this year but next year and the year after. Again, other countries are looking to Canada and asking how we have been able to do this so successfully. We have done it because we have listened to the needs of Canadians.

What is one of those needs? One obviously is health care. We have heard criticism from the opposition about health care. The fact is that although we are responsible for the five tenets of medicare, the implementation is done by the provinces. What has happened over the years is that we have had agreements. Last year, as members know, we had a $35.4 billion investment, again over five years. We then added this year another $2 billion. The Prime Minister has now made it very clear that incremental actions like that are not the way to go.

What has the Prime Minister said? He has said that this summer we will meet as first ministers and we will get a funding agreement for 10 years and structural change. We cannot have one without the other. We cannot continue to put money into health care without making sure that the waiting lists are reduced and that those people who need MRIs get them. We will not do that by simply giving the provinces more money without accountability.

Therefore the Prime Minister has committed the government and has committed to Canadians that we will have that in place. He has told the first ministers that it will not be over lunch or over dinner. He has asked them to bring their bags because they will be there until we get it. This is what Canadians have said they want, what we have said we will do and what we will do this summer.

This will not be an incremental change. We will make real changes that Canadians will see. They will be measured, which is absolutely critical, so that every family that has a person who is sick, who needs to have an MRI or who needs to go to an emergency facility in a hospital, those needs will be addressed properly. That is important.

On the issue of communities, let us look at the record of the government on cities, towns and villages in Canada. There has not been a government, except for this one, that has responded so strongly to that agenda. Dating back to 1993, the establishment of the national infrastructure programs over the years, the strategic infrastructure program and the fact that the government said that it would give a 10 year commitment with $1 billion as a downpayment. It was in last year's budget. This year we have reduced it down to five years because we know that municipal governments and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities have been asking for that for many years. As a former president, I can say that it was certainly welcome news that we would be addressing those issues because cities deal in 5 and 10 year capital forecasts.

We have also said that there was an unfairness in the fact that cities, towns and villages pay GST. Yes, we negotiated with the Mulroney Conservatives when they were in. They wanted us to pay 100%. We were not happy but eventually we negotiated a 57.14% rebate.

The Prime Minister has listened and now cities, towns and villages will receive 100% rebate on any purchases that involve the GST. Again, this has a significant impact. It will be $7 billion over the coming year. It is extremely important in terms of a savings. My own municipality believes that it will save between $500,000 and $1 million a year because of that.

The Prime Minister has gone further. He said that we will develop a clear, consultative role with cities, just as we do with provinces, to ensure that if there is to be federal legislation that could have an impact on our cities, which we must remember is where 80% of our population lives, we will bring them into the process and work with them.

The Prime Minister has committed a portion of the gas tax or an equivalent. We should not forget that the gas tax is not a simple issue because we need to have the provinces involved. He realizes the important role the cities play, particularly our large cities in terms of the urban agenda and of being able to promote economic growth. He also has not forgotten rural communities. This will improve the lives of all Canadians.

We have worked very effectively, whether it is on the homeless question or on the issue of dealing with infrastructure, transit or housing. We have been able to sit down and work collaboratively with the provinces and cities. That is extremely important because the Canada of 1867, where 6% of the population lived in an urban environment, is not the Canada today where 80% of the people live in urban areas. We need to address that. The government has and continues to focus on that as one of the most important issues. The budget addresses that.

I would have expected members on the other side to stand up and say that is what we need and that they support that. However, as I said at the beginning, the opposition never, no matter what budget it is, support the provisions.

It is important that we do this all within a strong fiscal framework. To have those strong fiscal anchors is absolutely imperative. No one in the House wants to work in a deficit position in their own household. I certainly do not and I know the government does not. That is so important and probably the cornerstone of any economic policy.

There are many other areas in the budget that address the needs of Canadians. We have listened very carefully to what Canadians were looking for and we responded accordingly.

Regardless of the rhetoric we hear across the way and regardless of the naysayers across the way, the fact is that again we have seven balanced budgets or better and we are the envy of the world. It is about time that side woke up and read the budget for a change instead of criticizing it.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to the budget implementation Bill C-30.

What the hon. member on the other side just said is, shall we say, questionable. He has indicated that we on this side are always against everything the government does. As a matter of fact, we have pressed very hard over the years for balanced budgets. We were the ones who first made it politically correct to even talk about stopping the endless borrowing.

Shall we say that we should praise the government for something. I will give the Liberals a reluctant nod of approval for the fact that they actually followed our advice and stopped borrowing money in order to top up the money that they collected from taxpayers in order to provide services to Canadians. We are glad the budget is balanced, absolutely. When the member says that we always criticize everything unequivocally, that just is not accurate.

Bill C-30 would implement some of the provisions of the budget that was handed down in the House in March. Some of the provisions are worth supporting and of course some we would somewhat criticize.

One of the things the bill would do is renew the equalization plan and make a few changes to it. I am sure we cannot persuade the Liberals to do this, but I would like to urge Canadians to write, phone or e-mail their members of Parliament and ask them for a copy of Bill C-30, the beginning pages that deal with equalization. If after having read these technical changes that are being made they can make heads or tails out of it, then we should recommend them for a Governor General's award, because it is a tremendously complicated and convoluted formula.

I will not waste my limited time talking about it but it talks about formulas: .016 times X1, times Y1, where X1 is the sum of two-thirds of the national per capita equalization. It goes on and on like that for about 10 pages. It makes fascinating reading.

I remember when I was on the finance committee we asked some officials from the Department of Finance to explain how the equalization worked, whereby the government collects money from all the provinces and then some of the provinces, currently every province except Ontario and Alberta, those provinces actually get money paid to them out of this equalization formula and it comes to the billions. Quebec, for example, typically receives around $10 billion a year out of equalization.

I am in favour of the principle of equalization. It is in our Constitution and I believe it is to the benefit of every Canadian and every province that the governments in the different provinces are able to deliver to their citizens comparable levels of services at comparable levels of taxation. If that were not done, then we would see a massive migration based totally on taxes and services. In other words, if a province were not able to deliver the services of health care and education, then clearly families would migrate to the provinces that could deliver them. So it is in our best interest to make sure that those services are delivered in every province.

Furthermore, if the provinces could only do this by massively increasing their rate of taxation, then again Canadians would react by migrating. It is just a natural human thing to move to areas or jurisdictions where the tax rates are lower, especially if people could not balance their household budget because the tax bite was so large.

We have learned this directly from our Prime Minister who, instead of paying the 40% to 50% that all Canadians pay in taxes in Canada, has arranged for his businesses to pay I think around 3% in Barbados and other countries. He obviously knows what it means to move to a better jurisdiction when tax rates are too high. Unfortunately, our farmers, business people and families cannot simply move their business interests and incomes to other countries and still manage to live here and enjoy the benefits of this country.

I would like to refer also to the fact that the bill deals with a number of other issues. One that is high on my personal agenda is EI. The bill once again gives to cabinet the sole right to set EI premiums. You have no idea, Mr. Speaker, how upset I am about this.

Just about all Canadian workers, because some are not covered, including our students who work in the summer, pay into the EI fund. Every dollar that is put in is matched by $1.40 by the employer. Can the students get their money back when they go back to school in the fall? No, they cannot. They are forced to buy this insurance from which they cannot possibly benefit. It is like forcing my mother to pay car insurance when she does not have a car. She can never collect that car insurance because she does not have a car. The same thing is true for students and many other people who pay into this, but because of their circumstances are unable to collect any money.

Bill C-30 gives to cabinet the right to once again set the premium rate. We know that it has been very high compared to the actual needs. As I recall, I believe with this budget and with the anticipated rates that the government will set, that fund probably will reach about $47 billion accumulated surplus over the last six or seven years. That was never the intent of the employment insurance fund. It was to be an insurance program to help people who had a temporary loss of employment, so they would have income while they looked for another job or while they were retrained. There are so many anomalies in this.

We hear many members, especially from this side of the House, draw to the attention of the government the shortcomings of EI in actually meeting the needs of people who become unemployed. They are either ineligible, the waiting periods are too long or the amount they receive is inadequate. Yet still people have to pay.

What does the government do? It rolls that money into general revenue. As a matter if fact, one could say that all of the surpluses that the government has enjoyed have come totally and solely on the backs of the employers and employees who blatantly are being overcharged on a program that is supposed to be self-sustaining.

The chief actuary of the EI fund has consistently recommended lower rates. The government has consistently overshot that target by a large amount in order to generate this money. Then the former parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance can gloat that it has balanced budgets. It is solely and totally on the backs of the members of the working public. I believe we need to correct that anomaly and we need to correct it very quickly.

Finally, there is this issue of the municipal GST rebate. Yes, indeed, all governments are cheering this. If one stops to think about it, it is only consistent with the principle that in Canada different levels of government are not to tax each other. The federal government has been taxing municipal governments through the nose for how many years and now finally it is going to stop doing it. Will I cheer that? Yes, indeed. Do I remind the Liberals about their promise on the GST in 1993? I cannot help but do it. They said that it would be gone for everybody, but it is still here.

My time has elapsed. I appreciate the privilege of being able to address this issue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak in this debate, since it gives me another opportunity to express the concerns of the people in my riding.

This eight-part bill would amend a number of existing statutes, such as the Canada Pension Plan and the Income Tax Act. Many of these measures are particularly bad, and my Bloc Quebecois colleagues have already pointed them out to the House.

Today I would like to voice the concerns of the agricultural producers in my riding, the riding of Drummond, located in the Centre-du-Québec region.

Last week in my office, I received a delegation of cash crop farmers from the Centre-du-Québec. During that meeting, they told me about the unfair trading practices they are currently suffering and the impact on them of the federal government's withdrawal. And yet in the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister boasted, and I quote:

The Government is dedicated to Canada’s farm economy and to taking the steps necessary to safeguard access to international markets and to ensure that farmers are not left to bear alone the consequences of circumstances beyond their control.

The government is a long way from making its words reality. There was nothing in the budget to support this intention and, consequently, nothing concrete in Bill C-30.

When I met with farmers from my region they reiterated that grain producers in Quebec and Canada are in a very difficult, not to say impossible situation. Why? Because the price of grain remains ridiculously low. They are unable to cover their production costs, which continue to increase. Add to that the interventions by the U.S. and European governments, which have been subsidizing their farmers for several years.

How has Canada reacted? During the past 10 years that the Liberals have been in power, during which the current Prime Minister was finance minister, Canada has increasingly failed to stand behind its farmers. That is the case for grain producers. Hon. members might be surprised to learn that funding for the agri-food sector in the federal budget went from 3.9% in 1991-92 to 1.6% in 2001-02, while Quebec grain producers posted negative net incomes.

The Liberals will probably respond by saying that transitional measures were implemented, but these are clearly inadequate.

The reality is that the federal government, and this Liberal government in particular—whether that of the former prime minister or the current Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard—has abandoned farmers.

The transitional measures totalled some $600 million in 2001-02 but no more than $250 million in 2003. Grain producers in Canada and Quebec expected the government to provide its share of support: $1.3 billion for the grain sector alone. The budget implementation bill falls short of their expectations because it offers nothing.

Meanwhile, the United States and Europe heavily subsidize their farmers. Here, it is frightening how our farmers are being abandoned by the federal government.

I can already hear the reaction from the Liberals and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, who will brag about their farm income stabilization program. Allow me to say that in a letter dated April 15, 2004, Mr. Werner Schur, president of the Syndicat des producteurs de grandes cultures commerciales du Centre-du-Québec, which is my region, said that the latest program created to support farmers will instead impoverish large-scale farms in Quebec and Canada.

The budget and its implementation bill could have provided an opportunity to meet the needs of the cash crop producers. The grain and oilseed producers wanted to see some leadership from the federal government. This was a missed opportunity.

Every year, may I remind you, foreign subsidies result in a drop of more than $1.3 billion in income for Quebec and Canadian grain and oilseed producers. When will we see some policies to lessen the impact of this foreign interference on world markets?

I hope the Minister of Finance and his colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, have taken proper notice of this situation. The producers, like myself, are waiting not just for answers but for concrete actions to remedy this situation.

In recent years, the Liberal government has been asking the public to help put public finances in order. The federal government, with its current Prime MInister, formerly finance minister, made huge slashes to the funding of a number of sectors, health among them. This disengagement was solely responsible for the strangulation of the finances of Quebec and the provinces. The present Prime Minister, none other than the father of fiscal imbalance, has but one objective: to create a single government in Ottawa, with administrative branch offices in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Yet, at the very same time, the Liberals were shamelessly wasting taxpayer dollars on what we have brought to light: the sponsorship scandal. Not only the $100 million lost in the sponsorship scandal, but also the billion lost in the Human Resources Development scandal, and another $2 billion for the firearms registry. Over the past ten years, the Liberals have made it patently clear that they are incompetent to handle public funds properly and effectively.

The present Prime Minister can repeat all he wants that he knew nothing about the sponsorship scandal, but he cannot contradict the facts. He was there, sharing the responsibility for the poor Liberal administration, and we will keep reminding him of that all through the coming election campaign, if there is such a campaign of course. What is the Liberal leader afraid of? What are the Quebec Liberals afraid of? Does their track record embarrass them?

The Liberals have always used the same tactic: over-estimating government expenditures and under-estimating surpluses. The present Prime Minister would have done well to consult the Bloc Quebecois critics, the members for Joliette and Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, whose forecast figures have been far closer to reality.

As a result, billions of dollars went to paying down the debt while funding to Quebec and the provinces was cut. We must not forget all the intrusions by the federal government in areas outside its jurisdiction, which complicated the job of finance ministers across Canada. These intrusions and all the ad hoc interventions, through foundations set up by the Liberals, made financial planning for Quebec and the provinces extremely difficult. This cannot go on.

These are the results of ten years under the Liberals. Confirmation of this is provided by the budget implementation bill. The Liberals are unconcerned by what our constituents are experiencing. They are out of touch with the reality facing the unemployed, older workers losing their jobs, seniors who are often the most vulnerable members of our society, low income families who are unable to find appropriate housing because they lack the means, farmers abandoned to their fate who must show extraordinary creativity to weather the storm.

Since the federal government is no longer of any assistance, since it has the finance ministers of Quebec and the provinces by the throat, since it is withdrawing and running from its responsibilities, there is only one solution to ensure a sustainable future; Quebec must become a sovereign nation.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the 2004 budget, a same as usual, nothing new, let us spend more money, let us not worry, let us all be happy type of budget. It is filled with many good things, many good promises, much the same as budgets have been filled with in the past since 1993.

I have seen several budgets now and they are all promises, promises, promises. In a big percentage of cases we are still back to square one. Many of the same things are being professed and many of the same things are being talked about.

I remember in 1993 we talked about the poverty in this country. The 1993 budget was going to address the fact that one million children were living in poverty in this country and that was a shame. We all agreed there was no doubt it was a problem that had to be addressed. Now in the year 2004 we are not addressing the problem regarding one million children living in poverty; it is now 1.5 million children living in poverty. That is some progress. We started with one million in 1993, and now we are up to 1.5 million. We still get the same kind of rhetoric and the same kind of messages in the budget that this is all going to be addressed and taken care of.

There was quite a bit of hype going on in the announcement just the other day regarding new helicopters and new equipment. That is great news for the people in the defence department. We all want to hear these things, but what I heard from most of the people in the military with whom I talked was that they will believe it when they see it. Those are good points. How many times have we heard these great announcements about all the new equipment and the new things that are going to happen that are going to help our military and our defence? These are all great things to say in a budget and pronounce, but they never seem to come to light.

Once again the Prime Minister with somebody else was out somewhere in the country making this big announcement that it is all going to take place. We are cheering it, that it is what we want to happen, but it does not seem to get there. I can understand why the people in the military sitting on the front lines in places like Afghanistan are saying, “We will believe it when we see it. When they get here, we will believe it”. In the meantime, it is all words, but it is in the budget.

As far as having a balanced budget, we cheer that. It is something that we said in 1993 had to happen. We pushed and pushed and finally at least the Liberals listened to us and they did get the budget balanced. Of course the taxes are higher than ever so it has been done on the backs of taxpayers, on the backs of provinces by cutting transfer payments, and on the back of the health care program which they reduced significantly in the early years to get the budget balanced.

It did not have to happen that way, but at least it is balanced. We are glad for that, but boy, it ought to be balanced. If they cannot balance a budget with the taxes that we pay in this country, then there is really something wrong.

When we look at what is taking place, we can understand why taxes have to be so high. After all, an election has not even been called and I have a list of what has happened just in the last two weeks. Is it not wonderful. The deputy leader of the government is giving $1 million for official languages in Sudbury. An ex-Conservative member who moved to the Liberals, who ran for the leadership, was glad to pass out a $50,000 cheque in his riding to buy bookshelves for a library. All kinds of grants have been given to different Liberal members throughout the land for renovations to old buildings or old schools, to upgrade them and make them look better.

The natural resources minister has been busy turning over thousands of dollars for archeological digs in Newfoundland. There is another $156,000 for a unique archeology website online to promote the digs and other features of that particular region.

Another Liberal put $35 million into his riding when he was the minister of the ACOA. He announced that there is another $348,000 for two wharves in his riding. On April 5 an MP unveiled a $361,000 cheque to restore a historic railway building. A couple of days later the Minister of Labour gave another $400,000 to renovate a theatre in her home town, and another $432,000 for an Acadian festival.

Out west the Minister of the Environment provided $150,000 for the Victoria Symphony Society. The present finance minister gave $25,000 to fund the magazine Prairie North in Saskatchewan.

The ex-fisheries minister managed to find $159,000 to refurbish the historic Sinclair Inn in his riding. One colleague from Ontario was able to announce $385,000 for job creation grants in his riding. That is fine; job creation is good.

An Edmonton MP announced $130,000 for the Council of Indian Societies. That is great stuff. There is nothing wrong with that.

A member of Parliament from Ontario got $64,000 for the Friends of the Macdonnell-Williamson House to hire three people and landed another $166,000 from human resources to hire people at a food bank.

In Vancouver the former cabinet minister who in her wildest dreams saw burning crosses on the lawns of the people who live in Prince George announced $734,000 for a youth job creation program. I would be the last to condemn anybody for these kinds of things, but I have a problem with an announcement of $734,000 for youth job creation when I have a letter from the City of Airdrie in my riding which says that presently human resources has stopped the funding of the youth employment service program that had served the country for 20 years. The program that put young people to work every summer has been discontinued.

The city of Airdrie, one of the prettiest cities, if not the prettiest in the entire country, had 163 students and 120 businesses last year that were registered in the program. This year there is nothing because it has been cut.

I do not understand how ministers who live in these various select ridings throughout the country can pass out millions and millions of dollars for these fine things in their ridings, yet in my riding out west a program that had been going on for 20 years has been cut. Is it that the government is giving the GST money back to the City of Airdrie and now it is going to cut some other things to balance the books again? Is that what it wants to do? Does it want to give here, but take there?

The government cut the GST from the municipalities, something that never should have been there in the first place. Kudos to the government, but then it turns around and takes away this program. What is the City of Airdrie going to do? It is such a valuable program, it has worked so well to help young people to get enough cash together over the summer to continue their education that the city will fund it itself, because it is worth doing. That means a lot more money from the municipalities. How many more small towns and cities across the country are not going to be able to benefit from a good program that was once established? Why does the budget not mention that?

I am sick and tired of hearing about what we are going to do for the Indians and the reserves. We have heard for 20 years that we have to do something about the poverty and the situation on the reserves. Absolutely. Grassroots natives across the country have been crying for that for years, and this is a big announcement now in the budget about the wonderful things we are going to do? As some of the people who live on the reserves in my riding have said to me that they will believe it when they see it. It is the same old story.

I only have one minute left and I am going to get this one in if it kills me. I did not see anything in the budget about fighting child pornography, a national strategy or something that would put the police forces in this land on a good footing to fight one of the most evil things in this land, and that is child pornography. There was not one mention of it. The House unanimously passed a motion to put forward some legislation that would take care of child pornography once and for all by eliminating all defences, yet the government insists on continuing to push Bill C-12, saying there must be room for public good.

Public good in child pornography is a bunch of nonsense. That is a no-brainer. That is something that should have been done years ago. I cannot understand why we sit here like a bunch of idiots and allow child pornography to continue to exploit our children all across the world. It is about the sickest thing that we can see that is not happening.

We could all stand up and be cheered if we would look after our kids in that fashion. We are not doing it and I am ashamed of every one of us, to stand here and say yes to it in one day and never see it happen.

Do not tell me that Bill C-12 is going to fix it because it will not. There is still a defence in there called public good and that is a broad term. It is about time the government got off its duff and did something about it.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004. This legislation seeks to bring about the legislative changes that are necessary to implement several measures announced in the budget speech.

This morning, I was on the highway, on my way here, and I was wondering what I would tell my constituents who are listening to my speech today on the budget. I am afraid I will disappoint them. For one thing, these people, who are paying 50% of their taxes to Ottawa, expect some tangible content in the budget, and particularly some concrete measures from the government. Today, I am sorry to have to tell them that there is not much for our riding, or for Quebeckers, in this budget.

This weekend, I attended a nice event in Jonquière, a brunch where a number of people had gathered to provide help and financial support to the poor in our society.

Many people asked me what was in the budget for workers in the softwood lumber industry, for the unemployed and for those young people who want to stay in our region instead of leaving to settle in large urban centres. Again, I had no choice but to tell them the truth, namely that there are not many concrete measures in the budget to allow my beautiful region to create opportunities for the future. This would require some leverage, but such leverage is non-existent.

Health is a fundamental concern in my region, and that includes everyone, every class of citizens, every individual, regardless of their age.

Currently, Ottawa is only contributing 14.7% of the total costs. With the $2 billion that it is investing, its contribution will stand at 16%. Ten years ago, before the Liberals took office, the federal government's contribution represented 25%.

What has happened is that in recent years they have cut back on health transfer payments to Quebec. They have impoverished the province, which must now deal with its lack of money. Instead of reducing their contribution, I think it would be necessary to increase it, in order to continue to provide the public with health care and ensure a decent quality of life and a decent level of care.

Instead, what they are doing is interfering directly in Quebec's fields of jurisdiction, and I am not the only saying this. The provincial Liberals all agree that, in fact, the federal government is determined to interfere in Quebec's jurisdiction. Why? Here in Ottawa, they have a huge surplus, but it is Quebec that needs the money. Rather than being stubborn or creating all sorts of more or less effective schemes, let them take the money and give it to Quebec, which will know how to use it.

In our beautiful region there are three main economic sectors, forestry, farming and aluminum. Two of the most important of these are affected. Not only are they seriously affected, but some families are being driven into poverty.

Let us take the softwood lumber crisis as an example. This is a major industry in our region. The region most affected by the softwood lumber crisis is ours: 2,948 jobs are directly affected by the crisis right now. Ironically, the minister, accompanied by my colleague the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, talked about 200 jobs. He said that the Bloc MPs make the problem look worse than it really is. That is too bad, but right now 2,948 forestry workers are directly affected by this crisis.

Instead of trying to minimize this crisis, the government should be coming up with concrete solutions. I met with representatives of the forestry industry. What they want are loan guarantees that would enable them to replace their equipment in order to move from a primary manufacturing stage to a different mode such as an entrepreneurial one, using various materials, for example in secondary and tertiary manufacturing.

In addition, we must not forget that those affected the most are the plant workers. Today, these workers cannot survive from one season to the next because they find themselves without work and without employment insurance. They no longer have the money to feed their families.

The employment insurance criteria also need to be adjusted to allow these workers to benefit from the important leverage that employment insurance represents.

There is also agriculture. Over the past year in particular, there have been serious problems. Hon. members will recall the closure of the Chambord plant. Capital investment was shifted to other regions in Quebec. Many farms went up for sale when farmers reviewed their accounts and saw that their income had dropped dramatically. And just recently, the mad cow crisis hit a large number of farmers in our region hard.

Once again, in the budget speech, the federal government boasted about having allocated nearly $1 billion for the mad cow crisis. Do you know how much money was allocated for farmers in Quebec? Roughly $50 million, which is totally inadequate and does not meet industry needs.

There was no mention—I pointed this out a few moments ago—of employment insurance. This is an important lever. Over the past few years, nearly $50 billion, some $46 billion was accumulated in the fund. What happened to this money? It was withdrawn and put directly towards the debt. In his speech, the Minister of Finance bragged about Canada being one of the leading G-8 nations because it has paid down its debt more quickly.

While the government wants to project a good image internationally, there are workers who are unemployed and a region that does not have all the necessary financial means that should be available to it.

Let us look at a few examples concerning seasonal workers. In my riding the reality is that blueberries do not grow when it is 25 degrees below zero. Construction work comes to a halt as well at that temperature in our region. It is not the workers who are seasonal, but the work, the industry that is seasonal. The workers need a lever that will provide relief and allow them to make it from one season to the next.

What does this mean? It would give our region the ability to continue to pursue an industry. The federal government is telling us to forget about our blueberries and find other work elsewhere or find another industry. That is not realistic. We need a lever that would help us become economically stable.

Here are some other examples. The number of hours of work required in the case of students was increased from 425 to 900 hours. Back home, the major problem is that young people are leaving the region. They are leaving to settle in large centres and find work. The Liberal federal government has an important tool, but it is not using it in the community.

We could simply take this number of hours, allow students to qualify—by doing seasonal work—and thus ensure that they have a decent income until they gain experience and make a contribution to the economic development of our region. At some point, this work will become permanent.

It is the same thing with entrepreneurship. More effective measures would allow entrepreneurs to create seasonal work and promoters to develop tourism initiatives that would also allow communities to develop a year round economy.

The overall impression is that there are many disappointments in this budget for my fellow citizens. This is a budget that missed the target. It could have been receptive to the needs of small regions. This is a budget designed for large urban centres such as Montreal, Quebec City and others.

Once again, there is little in it that deals directly or concretely with the softwood lumber industry. What is there in the budget for employment insurance? Absolutely nothing. So, I have no choice but to tell my fellow citizens that the budget is once again a huge disappointment. Voters will remember that during the next election campaign.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to speak about our 2004 budget.

It is less than a month since the finance minister told Parliament what he would do for Canadians, but already it is a distant and fading memory for most of us. Why? Because it was so lacklustre, so uninspiring and so void of vision that it failed to set a new course for the Prime Minister.

Canadians had many hopes for this Prime Minister. They hoped that he would be different, better and more in tune with our needs and concerns, but it seems not. The budget failed. It failed to help those in need and it failed to provide a sense of direction for the government and for the country as a whole. In fact it only proved how much the change in the Prime Minister's office was merely symbolic. It has proved that the government, after a decade of absolute power, has become lost and ineffective.

The Prime Minister has proved that the budget was no more than a blank page as most funding announcements have come out in the weeks since.

Many of the problems highlighted in the speech are a direct result of mismanagement by the government. The government has made the mess and now it wants Canadians to crowd around it to watch it clean it up.

Creative funding schemes to students would not be necessary if the government had not gutted the education transfers to the provinces in the 1990s. Instead of creating bureaucratic programs that support students via a piecemeal approach, why not just restore the funding that was cut by this Prime Minister?

The same goes for health care. Instead of having photo op conferences, why not just restore significant health funding to the provinces to replace the $25 billion that the Prime Minister cut before?

The government has perfected the art of making simple into the complex. Unfortunately, it is the Canadian taxpayer who has to fund this short-sighted trial and error approach. Instead of cutting taxes for the working poor, the government wants to add extra layers of expense by sending out rebate cheques. Instead of making the hiring of additional employees affordable, the government taxes small business into bankruptcy.

The EI fund is perhaps the largest scandal we have, but it barely registers on the front pages. The government in every city on every day with every worker takes more taxes than it needs to. Then when those workers lose their jobs, the same government that has robbed them turns around and denies them the benefits they are forced to support.

Why did the finance minister not rise up and correct the overtaxation problem in his speech? The Auditor General has highlighted this overtaxation and so has the opposition and so have businesses, small and large, and so has every worker who has to pay into this over inflated program.

We have called on the government to correct this problem, but obviously all such requests are falling on deaf ears. The government has had 11 years of governing with a significant majority and still these problems exist. If it has not done it by now, we can fairly conclude that it never will. It has had 11 years with a majority government. What have the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance been waiting for? Why are they stalling?

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance personally have the economic means to wait for better government, but most Canadians do not. Statistics continually show that the poor, including the working poor, continue to become poorer every year. My colleague has mentioned that 105 million children are living in poverty in Canada. That is shameful.

The income gap is growing and those who are at the bottom cannot afford to wait for better government. They need help today.

Students struggling under a ballooning debt load need to see light at the end of the tunnel. They need relief now.

Dual income, working poor families need tax relief today, not on next year's income tax return. They need to buy groceries every week, not just the week that the GST tax refund comes in. Let us leave the money in the pockets of those who need it most.

Our seniors, for example, have been ignored and neglected for far too long. Their pensions should be indexed to keep up with inflation and to maintain their purchasing power. Our seniors need proper medical attention today, not in six months or longer. For someone with a shrinking life expectancy, two, three, four years of waiting is a cruel joke. By the time this summer's health meeting finishes, it will have been almost two years since the Romanow report was completed. Based on the government's record, we might be able to expect results no sooner than 2006.

We as Conservatives would fund health care in a responsible, transparent and accountable fashion that would lead to shorter waiting lists and better standards across Canada.

A Conservative government would bring the much needed reforms to the finances of the country. We would begin by ensuring that those needing help would be at the front of the line, not Liberal donors. We would focus spending on the core responsibilities of the federal government, instead of handing out ineffectual cheques on wasteful and dubious projects. We would heed the advice of the Auditor General and end the overtaxation of working Canadians in the EI fund. People earned their money and they deserve to keep it. We would stop playing favourites with regions and political friends. We would ensure government spending met with the higher standards of scrutiny and accountability.

A Conservative government would have a long term vision for Canada, which would focus on things like debt repayment and program sustainability. A quarter of all government spending goes to debt servicing. If 25% of people's income went to just paying interest on their credit cards, what would be one of the first priorities? Imagine how wealthy the country could be if we had 25% more money in our federal budget. Soon Alberta will be debt free and we will see what a difference that will make the lives of the citizens who live there.

A Conservative government would provide all Canadians with a predictable, stable, well planned future for Canada. When Liberal monetary policy basically consists of political favours and crisis control, we all lose. In my riding of Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, we expected more and were disappointed with what we heard. We expected more and got less.

Before I end my speech, I would like to comment on the post-budget campaign tour being conducted by our Prime Minister and his cabinet. These campaign announcements and photo ops are costing taxpayers ridiculous amounts of money. When the Prime Minister came to Saskatoon to save his party's reputation, it cost taxpayers approximately $22,000 one way. That $22,000 was the cost of the jet alone. It did not include staff, hotels, security, audiovisual equipment and other related costs.

The median family income in my riding is $36,000. It is easy to see why my constituents are not pleased or impressed with the presence of the Prime Minister. Just think about it. Several families in my riding work 50 weeks or more at one or more jobs, being paid low salaries for an entire year just to be graced by the Prime Minister for a few hours. I am betting they would have appreciated a reduction in their taxes a lot more.

One definitely cannot feed a family of four on a front page photo op. It is time our high flying cabinet acknowledged the real cost of its taxpayer funded pre-election campaign. Maybe it just needs to be reminded at the poll.