House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Madam Speaker, because we are possibly on the eve of an election or at least an election within a year and a half, depending on what the Prime Minister does, I think the government has a responsibility to provide those answers to the questions laid on the Order Paper. As I said, we conformed to Standing Order 39 completely. I think it is important to lay those facts on the table before we go into a federal election.

We are allowed to have a maximum of four questions on the Order Paper. I only have one on the Order Paper. I want the answers to those very important questions sooner than 45 days. That is simply not acceptable on the eve of an election. Assuming the government is going to sit on that and other contentious issues for 45 days is completely and utterly unacceptable.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Madam Speaker, it is easy to get up and debate this and, apparently, it is allowable, but the Standing Orders are clear. It is 45 days.

The member has not identified the question. It is impossible to respond. However he has acknowledged that it is less than 45 days. He may not like it but those are the Standing Orders and he must live with them.

The House resumed from May 4 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 third time and passed, and of the motion that the question be now put.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

May 5th, 2004 / 3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the budget implementation act.

I would like to focus on a couple of major deficiencies in the budget and I will use this as an occasion to do that in speaking to the bill.

The equalization formula that we have has totally shafted the province of Saskatchewan from every standpoint. Incidentally, for provinces such as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, it is not a very good formula either.

What I would like to do today is point out some of the problems with the equalization formula as it pertains to Saskatchewan. I am shocked that the Minister of Finance, being a person born and raised in Saskatchewan and who had an opportunity to deal with this issue, did not address the issue in the budget.

The object of equalization is to ensure that all provinces can provide roughly equivalent public services. This is simply not happening in my province of Saskatchewan. We are facing a fiscal crisis that I have never seen in my lifetime in that province. Taxes are extremely high. Young people are leaving the province in droves. Opportunities are evaporating before our eyes. The health care system is in crisis.

What is the average wait time for an MRI in the province of Saskatchewan? The average wait time is 22 months. Thousands upon thousands of Saskatchewan residents leave the province every year to go to MRI clinics in Alberta and North Dakota.

A doctor in my riding, who was the former president of the Canadian Medical Association, indicated to me that he had just sent 22 people to Calgary to receive MRI scans. They cannot wait 22 months. I do not know of any disease that can wait 22 months. It is totally unacceptable.

The surgical waiting list in Saskatchewan is 30 weeks. Imagine, Madam Speaker, if your car broke down and when you took it to the shop the mechanic told you that he would fix it in 30 weeks. It is twice as long as the wait time in the province of Manitoba which is right next to Saskatchewan.

I would like to blame all the problems in Saskatchewan on the New Democratic government that we have in Saskatchewan, but it is only partially responsible for the accumulation of these problems that we have in Saskatchewan. A good deal of the problem I have identified is the gross unfairness in the equalization formula.

I want to point out a couple of those discrepancies. I also want to point out that the Conservative Party has clearcut policies on this matter as opposed to the government across the way.

Over an extended period of time, let us say the last 10 years, there have been high inequities in the equalization payments. Saskatchewan over the past 10 years has received a little over $300 million per year on average in equalization. Manitoba, with a population of one million people, basically a similar type province, has received on average something in the order of $1.1 billion per year in equalization payments. That is a huge disparity. It is a $750 million per year difference.

The obvious question for anyone who would be listening to my speech would be this. Is Saskatchewan a lot wealthier and better off than the province of Manitoba? That would be the obvious conclusion that someone might come to with that kind of disparity.

However that is not the case. Over the past 10 years the average earned income in Manitoba has been over $1,000 per person higher than in Saskatchewan on a per annum basis. The earned income in the past year has been approximately $1,500 higher than the average Saskatchewan resident. Therefore, if we look at statistical indicators, Manitoba has a higher standard of living and a higher fiscal capacity than the province of Saskatchewan but it receives $750 million more on an annual basis under the equalization formula.

How did this injustice come about? Quite frankly, it is the federal Liberal government's equalization formula. I guess it believes in equality, but some people are a lot more equal than others in this country.

There are 33 tax bases in this formula. It is a very complicated formula. Twelve of those tax bases are non-renewable resources, things like potash, oil and gas, and uranium.

I want to make it clear that this formula is grossly unfair to a province that has non-renewable natural resources. Today, for every dollar the province of Saskatchewan earns out of oil and gas, it loses $1.25 in equalization payments. It is not even a dollar for dollar loss; it is $1.25 for every dollar that the province makes. This is bad policy. It is terrible policy. It punishes provinces for attempting to do the things they are supposed to be doing: developing their own economies, developing their non-renewable resources.

If a province develops its non-renewable resources and grows its economy, all of the other tax bases improve. Eventually, the need for equalization would disappear. It would disappear if there were correct policies in place.

It is interesting to note that the formula also ignores, from what I can read and what I have studied, other important sources of revenue. In the nation of Canada, the most important tax base in the country is geographic location. Southern Ontario is blessed to be right near the heartland of the United States, surrounded by the industrial heartland of the country. There is no accounting for that fact in the formula.

Manitoba Hydro and Quebec Hydro, if I understand the formula correctly, make a lot of money out of hydro power in this country, but it is not included in the equalization formula. That is a renewable resource, not a non-renewable resource. Some day the non-renewable resources will run out. These are renewable resources.

Those are some of the other inequities that exist in that formula.

Last but not least, the other problem is that this is supposed to be a national formula for all of Canada, but it is calculated on five provinces. That is very distorting and very unfair. The formula should be based on 10 provinces.

I am really surprised by the Minister of Finance. He should have known about these problems. He has been in this town for more than 10 years. He knows the problems we have in Saskatchewan. Here was an opportunity to tackle something like that. If any questions were raised about equalization, he would come up with the Kim Campbell comment, “This thing is just too complicated to discuss and to deal with,” and would just shrug it off.

There are two reforms to the formula that would make it much fairer for all concerned. The first one would be to eliminate, or at least reduce the emphasis on non-renewable resources in a major way. This could be done over four or five years and implemented on that basis. The other would be to change it to a 10 province national formula, not a five province formula.

These two moves alone would at least put Saskatchewan on the same footing as her sister province, Manitoba. Maybe we could buy a few more MRIs and a few other things in our province. If Saskatchewan was receiving the $750 million extra per year that Manitoba has been receiving, what would that mean for Saskatchewan?

Saskatchewan has three MRI machines, which is not very many. I think Turkey and Syria have a higher ratio than Saskatchewan. We could buy about 250 MRIs for $750 million. Somebody told me that with $750 million we could train something like 20,000 nurses and we could hire something like 3,000 doctors. I am just using these as examples of what could be done with that amount of money.

We could probably drastically and permanently reduce property taxes in Saskatchewan. They are killing the farm economy. Our property taxes are at an unbelievable level.

Those are some of the things we could do if that formula were fair in any way at all. The Minister of Finance seems to be oblivious to these problems and does not seem to be prepared to even look at them.

When the budget was presented, this was certainly an issue I was looking at. I was very disappointed to see very little done with this formula, except for some minor tinkering. What does the minor tinkering mean this year for Saskatchewan? There were some measures put into the budget that deal with what the Minister of Finance called some inequities, some transitional matters.

This year the province of Manitoba, with one million people, is receiving $1.1 billion in equalization payments. Saskatchewan, without the changes that the Minister of Finance brought in, would have received $7 million. In what I think is probably the worst year I can remember in the province of Saskatchewan with the problems we have in that province, we get $7 million. After the tinkering, it goes up to $130 million. It is about an $850 million shortfall compared to our sister province of Manitoba.

When the Minister of Finance has been asked this question, he has said that it is too complicated to discuss with anybody. I guess it is Saskatchewan's responsibility to carry on its shoulders this flawed equalization plan for the benefit of other provinces. Is it any wonder when a poll is conducted about people's attachment to Canada and the degree of alienation they have toward the country, that Saskatchewan has the highest number of people who feel alienated about this country.

Nobody on that side of the House, quite honestly, including the Minister of Finance, seems to give two hoots about a very, very serious problem. This formula is unfair. It is shocking. I do not know what terminology I could use to describe the matter.

The Auditor General in her reports on government policy said that what she found was shocking. She found the way the government handled other things was that all of the rules were broken.

As a resident of Saskatchewan, I am looking at a formula that does not serve our province very well at all. As I stated at the onset, in many respects it shafts the people of Saskatchewan to the umpteenth degree. What is the government's response to this very serious problem? The finance minister says that it is too complicated to discuss.

I want to close my objection to equalization with a few comments. Many people have said that the new Conservative Party does not have any policies. Well, on this issue it does. It proposes to change the formula to a national 10 province formula. It also proposes to phase out non-renewable resources as a component of that formula over a five year period. That would be very welcome news in the province of Saskatchewan.

It is what people in Saskatchewan want. They want a federal government that knows how to effectively and efficiently manage and spend taxpayers' dollars. This would be one way of doing it. They do not want their dollars spent on boondoggles, on firearms registries, on sponsorship programs, on unity funds, and goodness knows what else the government can find to spend money on here.

We are just asking for the things that count to people in Saskatchewan. We want the financial capacity and tools so that tax dollars can be spent in an effective and efficient way for all people in that province. It is just not happening under the present structure.

I would also like to point out that over the course of the federal election, when it does come, the Conservative Party will be announcing ways in which government can restructure and redirect government spending in this town that are far more efficient and effective for Canadian people. I know there will be Liberal friends and Liberal narrow interest groups and supporters who will not like this because they have been receiving a disproportionate share of the public purse. The Liberal government has been very good at taking care of its friends, pals, buddies and special interest groups while it neglects whole regions of the country, such as Saskatchewan.

My party will be addressing that. We are going to design fiscal policies which are good for Canadians at large, not special interest groups or Liberal pals and friends, but policies that are good for every single Canadian from one end of the country to the other. If we have the good fortune of forming government, we are going to try to dismantle this entire culture of incompetence and corruption that has built up in this town.

I want to quickly address another omission in the budget speech. The Prime Minister, in his run-up to becoming the Prime Minister and leader of the party, had much to say about the urban agenda. His government was going to get on to the urban agenda and address those issues and the municipal problems in the country. He met with mayors and all sorts of people and raised their expectations really high. There is not a whole lot in the budget on the urban agenda that the Prime Minister huffed and puffed about.

I want to raise a few questions about his proposed solutions to the urban problems. Number one, this country is both urban and rural. There is something inherently wrong with a federal government taking a slice of our society and creating a special department and bureaucracy to deal with it while the rest of the country, the rural area, has all sorts of problems as well. That is one objection I have. The last thing the people in Saskatchewan want in the city of Ottawa is another government department. The last thing we need in Ottawa is a department of urban affairs. That is more bureaucracy, more government and more taxpayer dollars.

Another thing we do not want is another three ring circus involving the federal government, the provinces and the municipalities. To me, three is a crowd. We do not need the federal government in there. They have always been difficult people to deal with at the local level so why in the world would we want to be introducing more of the federal government into our local decision making?

I just want to point out that the Conservative Party proposes a solution to this problem. We would take between 3¢ and 5¢ of the federal fuel tax, per litre of fuel, and rebate or transfer that to the provinces on the condition that the provinces would use it for two items: transportation needs and municipal infrastructure concerns. This would get the federal government entirely out of the picture. It would give the provinces the fiscal capacity to deal with their infrastructure and transportation problems in the cities and in the rural areas.

That would be a very simple way to deal with the problem. It would be an efficient and effective way to deal with it. I think most Canadians would accept this approach. We would be bypassing the creation of some federal government department in Ottawa and the creation of a three ring circus.

With that, Madam Speaker, I thank you for being a very attentive listener. I thought you would be taking notes during my speech, but I guess you will read Hansard tomorrow.

I think these are the sorts of issues that Canadian voters should be concerned about when we do get plunged into a federal election: really addressing the imbalances and problems we have in the country and getting the nation on the right track.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

Is the House ready for the question?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

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

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

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

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen: