Debates of Feb. 1st, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.
- Board of Internal Economy
- Civil Marriage Act
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Points of Order
- Member for York West
- Tsunami Relief
- Normand Maurice
- Canadian Forces
- Dartmouth Work Activity Society
- Oxfam-Québec in the Eastern Townships
- The Environment
- Task Force Kabul
- Foreign Affairs
- Médecins du Monde Canada
- Black History Month
- Shawn Sawyer
- Sponsorship Program
- Parental Leave
- The Environment
- Parental Leave
- Sponsorship Program
- National Defence
- The Environment
- Technology Partnerships Canada
- National Defence
- Internet Pharmacies
- Social Development
- Foreign Affairs
- Aerospace Industry
- Aboriginal Affairs
- International Cooperation
- Transportation Safety Board
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- Sponsorship Program
- Presence in Gallery
- Points of Order
- Canada Elections Act
Paul MacKlin Northumberland—Quinte West, ON
Mr. Speaker, the recommendations are very important and I certainly hope they find their way into the budget process in some respects.
The way in which we influence the public is a question that is continuously before us. What types of incentives do we use? Do we use the carrot or the stick? What method should we be using in order to encourage people to be more sensitive and concerned about our environment? Obviously it is a combination of both.
The recommendations that have been brought forward give us some tools to use. If we use those tools effectively, more of the public will be engaged in the process. In the end we should be able to make our environment better. Those are the steps we should be taking.
I certainly hope the Minister of Finance will look seriously at the committee's recommendations. The committee's work is very important. It is a representation from selected members of Parliament. It is important that those members be listened to. It is important that each and every one of those recommendations be analyzed appropriately.
James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's commitment to changing people's behaviour with regard to CO
gases and being nice to our environment might not ring quite so hollow if the Liberal government were committed to not having its cabinet ministers' limousines sitting outside chugging CO
into the air for hours on end while the ministers were in meetings themselves. Perhaps if the Liberals walked their talk it might go a little bit further in adding some credibility to their cause.
I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Nepean--Carleton on this issue. I will be speaking principally in my role as the transport critic for the official opposition and making some comments with regard to transportation.
In mid-February the Liberal finance minister will be tabling a budget in the House, which will be the first budget of a minority government in more than a quarter of a century. It may be more closely scrutinized than any budget in my generation's history. It is a chance to meet the real needs of a growing and prosperous nation. It is a chance to fulfill the promises of elections and speeches past. It is a chance to look ahead.
Today I want to talk about the federal government's obligation to invest in transportation infrastructure and how the Liberal government has frankly failed that task over the past decade.
Improved transportation means a cleaner environment. It means efficient economic growth. It strengthens the quality of life in rural communities. National transportation initiatives have a proud history of uniting and forging unity across our vast nation. One might think that the Minister of Transport understood this. His past speeches and statements including one on December 10, 2004 reported a commitment to freeze airport rents for 2005 and to permanently reduce them thereafter. Presumably he listened to foreign airlines like El Al of Israel and Olympic Airlines of Greece, both of which cited a recent 64% increase in landing fees at Toronto's Pearson airport as reasons to drop service to Canada. A month earlier the same Minister of Transport promised to reach a gas tax agreement with the provinces by Christmas 2004.
Both were good ideas in rhetoric but follow through continues to be a real challenge for the Liberals when it comes to making commitments and promises. Sadly the finance minister has embraced neither proposal in action. It would seem that Canadians either need a more persuasive Minister of Transport or a hearing aid for the Minister of Finance.
Contrary to popular belief, the problem is not a lack of money but rather a lack of political will and leadership. In mid-January the finance department admitted that the Liberal government had received between April 1 and November 30, 2004 fully $10.7 billion more in taxes than it needed to meet its spending obligations. In other words in the eight months following April 1, 2004 the average Canadian, every man, woman and child, overpaid his or her federal taxes by $334.
The Liberal government likes to make promises and then indefinitely postpone their implementation. By talking at length about the problem, the Liberals are able to create a sense of crisis and then position themselves as the saviours by promising and then postponing some concrete action. We have seen it in the past with medicare, the environment, child pornography, Canada's armed forces, and promises to help big cities pay their bills. This is cynical and opportunistic politics at its worst. The only thing it really produces in the end is a growing public mistrust of politicians during election campaigns.
A minority government should be the place for a full and honest debate on how much money the government needs from the average Canadian and what our spending priorities should be. Unfortunately the unique opportunity for a full and meaningful debate of these issues is being overshadowed by topics like same sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana. Clearly Canadians have strong opinions on these controversial questions, but however passionate our views may be, we cannot ignore the historic opportunity before us: a long overdue debate on what services and activities the federal government should perform and how best to pay for them.
We hear for example of the impending retirement of our aging population and rising health care costs. The need to grow our economy is obvious but the government seems stuck in the past. Its thinking is largely limited to corporate welfare and politically influenced regional investments, yet opportunities for creative thinking abound. I am going to ask the government to explore some of these new ideas. Consider the following news item.
During the Christmas break it was reported that the port of Vancouver has become so congested with freight from China that importers such as The Bay, Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire are bypassing the west coast and docking in Halifax. When everything is working normally it takes three weeks to move a container from Shanghai to Toronto or Montreal, but this can exceed six weeks when the system at the port of Vancouver is congested. For this reason an increasing number of shippers are bypassing Vancouver, paying 35% more and sending their goods on a 37 day trip through the Panama Canal to Halifax. I am glad that the port of Halifax is growing, but if shippers are bypassing Vancouver when sending their goods to Toronto, we can bet there soon will not be very many Canadians involved in shipments between Asia and New York via Vancouver.
Both of our major railways are competing for a share of the cargo traffic between Asia and the U.S. midwest and the eastern seaboard. Both have based their marine facilities in Vancouver. Therefore, the transportation infrastructure in Vancouver is not just important in facilitating Canadian imports and exports; it has the potential to play a crucial role in enabling U.S.-Asia trade, and dramatically stimulating both the Canadian and B.C. economies as a consequence.
We hear that the Minister of Industry is willing to provide Bombardier with up to $300 million in “research support”. This is presumably on top of the $772 million in grants and repayable loans that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the government has granted the company since 1982.
Every dime that Ottawa has paid Bombardier has been justified by the promise of Canadian high tech jobs. We might want to consider similar thinking with respect to some of B.C.'s transportation infrastructure. By improving Vancouver's overall international competitiveness as a transportation hub we create tens of thousands of high paying jobs in B.C. and other points across Canada.
Vancouver is the closest major North American port to Asia. We therefore have to have what Harvard professor Michael Porter describes as a sustainable competitive advantage. The government in the interests of long term thinking might want to examine how best to support the growth and sustain efficient operation of Vancouver and also perhaps Prince Rupert as Canada's contribution to a productive trade agreement between Asia and all of North America.
Let me share with the House some of the ideas that have been proposed and which are certainly worthy of consideration by all parties in this House. With respect to the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, it has been suggested that the Vancouver Port Authority have the ability to borrow money from financial institutions or capital markets, perhaps even with the ability to issue tax exempt bonds like their U.S. counterparts.
There is a real need to improve the north and south Fraser perimeter roads, the Fraser River rail bridges and other intermodal rail links. We should examine how best to ensure that U.S. west coast ports do not have financial, legal or tax advantages over Canadian ports like Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Nanaimo, Delta and Fraser ports.
There is a need for dramatically increased port security if we are to become a trusted gateway for U.S. customers. It is in our strategic interest to meet or exceed U.S. freight and passenger security standards. This type of security is a public good which should be publicly supported, not user supported. These increased security measures should not be to the detriment of continued efficiency at our ports of entry.
With respect to our rail industry, a recent study recommends that we “consider giving tax credits or accelerated write-offs of investments to double track and/or double stack rail lines so that CN and CP can add capacity and improve efficiency for United States inbound and outbound shippers”.
Again they are new ideas on which we can agree or disagree, but these are ideas that the Liberals have failed to consider, have failed to even put forward for meaningful debate in this House to dramatically increase the standard of living for Canadians.
We also need to look at ways to increase the economic potential of the Vancouver International Airport, to choose one airport. In 2004 the Vancouver International Airport Authority paid over $72 million in rent to Ottawa. This is significantly more rent on a per passenger basis than most other airports. Rent is the single largest cost of running the airport. As of January 1, 2005 that rent increased to $77 million.
On page 15 of a report the B.C. Progress Board argues:
Transport Canada should truly decentralize its mandate to provide for...global competitiveness. Transport Canada currently charges excessively high rents...for the [Vancouver airport] site. [This] inhibits the [airport authority's] ability to develop its full potential, and thus restricts Canada's ability to enjoy the benefits of a fully devolved, flexible and competitive West Coast Asia Pacific gateway airport. The federal government must develop a more reasonable and appropriate rent structure, one that acts as an incentive for [the Vancouver International Airport Authority] to accelerate its efforts and advance the airport's competitive position.
There are all kinds of great ideas out there, important ideas for Canada's transportation infrastructure. There are ideas to add more capacity and increased competitiveness with regard to our airlines; to ensure that grain is getting to markets efficiently so the prairie provinces can enjoy growth and prosperity; to ensure that we do not have traffic congestion at our borders with the United States; to ensure that our ports are operating efficiently and fluidly, so that we can expand our trading opportunities all across the Pacific Rim and to our potentially next largest trading partner, China.
We must do these things. Instead what we have is a Prime Minister who knows nothing but how to dither, a transport minister who cannot make a decision once he has the okay of a blind and deaf finance minister. The Liberal government is absolutely adrift when it comes to transportation policy.
We need new and big ideas. This is yet one more reason that the time has run out for the Liberal government to act. The only way to get these questions truly answered effectively is to kick out the Liberal government and get a new generation of leadership in office with the new Conservative Party.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House to raise with the member from Port Moody the issue of the pension benefits. I know that his colleague from Calgary Southeast, in the 1997-2000 Parliament, was quite adamant as an advocate on this issue of trying to redress this injustice to retirees who are receiving these social security benefits but being overtaxed by this government. I pressed the issue on a number of occasions in the 2000-04 Parliament, and we are continuing to do so.
Could he indicate on his behalf and that of his party whether they continue to support an initiative to redress this injustice and provide some fairness to the recipients of these benefits?
James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague from Windsor. When we have New Democrats and Conservatives agreeing on tax policy we know it is something that should be a no-brainer, frankly, but as I said in my speech, that unfortunately is the case with the Liberal government: sometimes something is so obvious and so clearly apparent that for some reason the Liberal government just cannot see it.
We see it with regard to the gun registry. Any Canadian with an ounce of common sense realizes that the gun registry is a mindless program that should be stopped and this is another example that my colleague from Windsor raises with a simple regard to tax fairness.
The Conservative Party is a pro-immigration party. We believe, and certainly as a British Columbian I strongly believe it, that Canada is helped by people with ingenuity, ideas and energy coming to Canada and making Canada a better place. We are not going to continue to have that if we have a tax regime that does not in itself encourage people to come to Canada.
What we see here specifically with regard to social security benefits in the United States is a clear example of Liberal tax policy discriminating against a group of people in a way that is totally inefficient. I applaud my colleagues from Windsor, Calgary Southeast and Essex for showing the leadership that the Liberals clearly have failed to demonstrate. This goes onto an increasingly long list of issues, and if Canadians want action on these issues they will need a new government in Ottawa. That new government will be a Conservative government.
Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is the transport critic and has taken on the big transport issues in this country. I want to bring one point to him on which I would like his comment.
We still today as it stands have one airline that dominates the skies of Canada and that is Air Canada. Even today as we fly on Air Canada's international and domestic routes, there is an old saying that if this airline can make your life difficult, it will continue to do so. The service level is still very poor, but that is because it has a monopoly. That is because it does not have competition in this country. In spite of the fact that there is WestJet and everything else, Air Canada still has international routes and it still has business class. It still maintains this and it is still under government control. It was quite surprising to see the CEO of this airline agreeing with the transport minister on what he suggested, thus telling me that there is collusion going on over there with the same old government interference in this thing.
Does the member not feel that we need to emphasize competition in this area so that Canadians, like everybody else, can benefit from the competition that comes about?
James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague that having increased air competition is very important in Canada and I actually would disagree with him in one respect with regard to Air Canada. In mid-2001, if my numbers are correct, Air Canada had 81% market share in Canada but it is now down to well below 70%. In fact, it is creeping down into the low sixties, if I recall.
Air Canada's domination of Canada's air industry is not quite as pronounced as a lot of people think. Yes, it does have monopoly runs on certain routes, but the dynamic is changing. It just came out of restructuring. It has just made a number of very important deals with a number of its labour unions. Air Canada is making a lot of the changes that I think the market forces are forcing it to make and I think that in the long term this will be in Canada's best interests.
I agree with him completely that this government has failed to set up a regime in Canada which would properly and effectively encourage more airline competition. When there is more competition in any element of the economy, it gives people more opportunities and more choices on how they want to do things. This is why I believe in free markets and free enterprise and why I am a Conservative.
When we have free markets and choice, competition evolves. It gives people more opportunities and more choices on how they want to do things. That is why I believe in expanded modified sixth freedom rights to include more foreign carriers in Canada's skies. We could have more choice and more competition. If we have more competition, we get a higher quality of service at a lower cost to consumers. Throughout time that has always been in consumers' best interests.
That is the direction we should be going in, but again, these Liberals cannot decide to be for free trade or against free trade. They cannot decide if they are for tax cuts or for increase in spending. Liberals cannot decide anything and they have the perfect Prime Minister to lead them: Mister Dithers.
A Conservative government will fix a lot of these problems.
Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I confess I am new here and I do not know all the rules, but I always thought it was against the rules to bring pets into the House of Commons. I have just noted that in fact there is a big elephant in the room, an enormous elephant that we are not focusing in this debate. It is quintessential to the discussions surrounding the budget, this elephant is, yet no one seems to be discussing it.
Of course I refer to the Liberal plan to institute a national government-run babysitting bureaucracy, or what the Liberals call a national day care program. We might be hearing something about this elephant in the upcoming budget, but we are not yet sure. I would like to discuss this enormous elephant in my address to the House today with regard to the budget that we expect to see here at the end of February or in early March.
Let us start with the principles that the Liberal government says this elephant will be guided by. The first principle, of course, is one of the Liberals' catchphrases. They love using this word even though they are not quite sure what it means. They call it universality. They plan to put into place a government babysitting bureaucracy or an elephant that can universally carry every child on its back; that is what they are promising, anyway.
The Liberals have been promising this for the last 10 years. In 1993 they promised this elephant. In 1997 they promised this elephant. And in 2000 they promised it. Now they are promising it one more time.
It is not that I worry they will not keep their promise. I am actually worried that they will on this particular subject, because this elephant will be anything but universal. The social development minister has told us that the national day care program he proposes will only go to government sponsored day care facilities, which means by definition that this national daycare system will not be universal.
It will exclude parents who make the decision to raise their children in the home. It will exclude neighbourhood nannies or others in the community who give community based care to children. It will exclude synagogues, mosques, temples and churches in communities that provide child care throughout the day. It will exclude qualified professionals who operate private facilities where children are cared for throughout the day.
I do not have my dictionary with me, but as far as I know, if some program excludes 80% to 90% of potential recipients then it cannot be, by definition, universal. This is a universal program that excludes 85% or 90% of children. That is the first point. That is my first problem with this elephant.
Second, the Liberals say they intend to provide this program for 2,500 children. We know there are more than 2,500 within the specified age group, so once again, it will not be universal.
We should keep in mind that even those parents who do choose alternative methods of raising their children, who choose not to use the government babysitting bureaucracy, will still have to pay for it. That would be like forcing people to pay at my restaurant even though they do not like what is on the menu and even though they have not dropped by to patronize the facility.
So it is not universal and it will still make others who do not use it pick up the tab.
Let us discuss the cost of this elephant, because I can assure the House that it is going to be very expensive to feed this beast. The Liberal government says $5 billion over five years.
Can we have some common sense here for a moment? Do hon. members really believe that $1 billion a year, spread across this entire country, the second biggest nation on earth, is going to adequately finance a universal day care program? The Liberals are going to spread $1 billion across 10 provinces and 3 territories.
I suspect that in my province of Ontario we would get something in the neighbourhood of $300 million a year. Is it really realistic that the Liberals are going to bring in a universal day care program in the province of Ontario for $300 million? Of course not.
Then they are going to unionize all of the professionals who will work in these facilities and be faced with labour turmoil and potential strikes like the kinds we see in other sectors. And they expect us to believe they are going to be able to do all of that for $1 billion a year nationwide?
Excuse me, but I am a little bit skeptical of this elephant we have in the room today. Ultimately it is going to cost a lot more. We know what the Liberals said about the gun registry. They said it would pay for itself. It is costing us $2 billion.
We know about the massive overexpenditures that have happened in other departments. We are sure to see similar overexpenditures in this new bureaucracy, which will ultimately mean higher taxes for middle class families and parents with children. It will mean that parents who have the responsibility to care for kids are going to be paying more to the government in higher taxes, which means there will be greater stress on the family unit. It will continue to be more difficult for parents to raise their own children, thus defeating the purpose of having this elephant in the room in the first place.
Then the Liberals talk about quality. I wonder who believes that this government can be trusted with raising our children. Let us look at the way in which it manages other programs.
Consider the Canada pension plan. I am a young person. If I could invest the premiums I am forced to pay into CPP myself, I can assure members that I would be receiving a much higher rate of return than the 2% or 3% maximum, optimistically, the government managed program could ever pay.
Consider our military, with submarines that will not go down and helicopters that will not go up. This is a government that has horribly mismanaged our national defence. As recently as the catastrophe in south Asia, we were unable to transport our troops because we do not have heavy airlift capacity. It is another example of blatant government mismanagement.
Consider Technology Partnerships Canada, where the government recovers only 5% or 6% of all of the loans it gives out. And it considers this program a success. A recovery rate of 5% would bankrupt any of the major banks in the country, but somehow this government considers that to be a marvellous success. I guess it is the same kind of logic that would lead them to believe that a child care program which only serves 5% or 6% of the nation's kids is universal. But we will return to that in a moment.
I would be remiss if I did not propose an alternative. I believe in parents. I believe in the truism that civilization is passed on from parent to child and that our civilization exists today because parents have carried out that duty and responsibility. That is what we on this side of the House of Commons believe. We would take those same child care dollars that this government would give to a babysitting bureaucracy and we would give it to parents directly. That is because we trust families. We trust parents. We believe that no one loves a child more than its own parents.
In conclusion, I would like to announce that the colour of this elephant, of course, is white, and the only value-added it brings to this debate is that potentially it will carry on its back the Minister of Social Development and the Prime Minister to legacy land. Other than that it does not serve our nation's children and it goes clearly against the norms that have built our civilization and against the priorities of the Canadian people.
Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from the Conservative Party that the Liberal promise of a child care program, which he refers to as a white elephant, has not been followed through. The Liberals have promised it time and time again, like they have on numerous other issues.
Where I would disagree with him is when he referred to it as sort of the white elephant of Parliament. I suggest that his portrayal of child care in Canada, what he perceives should be the way children are looked after in Canada, would be along the lines of the dinosaur.
There has been a change in the way families live and work. To somehow suggest that parents who want a child care system are not part of the norm is not acceptable. Enough parents in this country want to see a good child care program put in place because there are some parents who choose to work for whatever reason and there are other parents who want to stay home with their children.
I will acknowledge there should be absolute recognition and support for parents who want to stay home and be with their children, but to somehow demean the needs of parents who have to work and who want their children to have a good, safe child care program is not acceptable. If he wants to use the white elephant analogy, then I suggest that he is back to the dinosaur analogy that often comes with some of the thinking from the Conservative Party.
Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would like to discuss this dinosaur analogy. This comes from a party that would force middle class families, whether they support the program or not, to pay higher taxes and face new strains on their own financial capacity to pay for a new government bureaucracy.
She would take away a woman's right to choose how to raise her own children by forcing her to pay higher taxes into a government run bureaucracy. I propose to give the family the right to choose. Perhaps there are some families that want to use day care alternatives. I do not have any problem with that. That is why the government should give the dollars directly to those parents and let them decide how to spend them properly.
Instead, the member across the way would coercively take those dollars in the form of taxation and force an option on that family. She calls us dinosaurs. That is one of the most retrograde ideas I have heard since arriving on the Hill.
David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK
Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to comment on one of the places where we have day care operating in this country and where taxpayers are being forced to pay for it and that is the system that is set up in Quebec right now. We understand that it is costing taxpayers somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion for the day care system that is set up there. Only 160,000 children are able to access that program. It is being used primarily by middle class and upper middle class families, so that the children who actually should be receiving the advantages from that system are not.
Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely correct in pointing out that the majority of parents who actually use the Quebec system are in the upper income level. Oftentimes it is upper income professionals with two incomes per family who use the day care system. We are taking money from working class families in Quebec. We are taking dollars out of the pockets of the assembly line workers to subsidize the CEO's child-raising at the government level. That is essentially what we are seeing.
I want to go back to the very simple principle here. This is about choice. When a government imposes a babysitting bureaucracy and forces everyone to pay for it, regardless of whether they use it, it is taking away a choice from the family. That is why I propose that we take the dollars the government is setting aside for this babysitting bureaucracy and give it directly to parents, allowing them to choose.
There is one more thing. If the government really believed in equal rights, as it claims to with this discussion over marriage, why does it continually discriminate against those families who make the choice to keep one parent in the home? Why are they in a higher tax bracket? A $60,000 a year family with two incomes pays a much lower tax rate than a family with one income. That is discrimination. It violates the very pretense of equality that the government is pinning its hopes on same sex marriage upon, and that is just plain wrong.
Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. Today, I have a new seat in the House of Commons, near that of the Speaker of the House, which you are currently occupying. The ridings we represent are almost neighbours. You are originally from L'Orignal, which is in my very beautiful riding, while I am from Hull. In my opinion, that city should retain its name, which, I might add, belongs to your riding. We find ourselves very close to one another today in the House, and it is an enormous pleasure for me to take part in this debate.
Before I address the expectations of the constituents of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, I want to take two or three minutes to comment on what the hon. member for Nepean—Carleton said.
In one part of his speech he referred to the Canada pension plan and said that the federal government forces him to contribute to it, or some such thing. I regret to inform him but that is not the origin of the Canada pension plan. Most people who will remember this will remember that pension plans were a provincial responsibility. Nine provinces got together and asked the federal government to administer on their behalf the pension plans that would have been in place in their respective provinces.
I am just trying to relate what actually happened for the benefit of the hon. member. When the nine provinces got together each one of them said that the premiums would be reinvested in their own province and at one point it was largely used as part of the consolidated revenue fund.
I sat in the provincial legislature of Ontario. When those funds were going to the province, the province was borrowing on them and giving back an interest rate of something like 2% when the interest rate was 18% in the right wing Ronald Reagan years that all of us remember. That is the kind of return on investment that a Conservative government was giving to the premiums paid by the public in the province in which the member and I both live. That is the history behind it.
Who fixed the Canada pension plan? It was this government under the present Prime Minister who was minister of finance under the previous prime minister. Both of them together raised the premiums of the Canada pension plan and made it solvent for years and years to come. It will be solvent at the time when it is the hon. member's turn to retire. That is the real history of the Canada pension plan, not what we heard a while ago.
I want to talk about daycare too, because I do not really agree when the member says that 85% of the population will be excluded. He has not even seen the proposal yet. The budget has not been tabled. He does not know what the budget will contain and even less what will be included or excluded.
He is using the Quebec model as an example, without even knowing it will be adopted for the entire country. After saying that, however, he claims that the program is not popular in Quebec. I do not know many Quebeckers opposed to this program.
I live in a border region. I was born there. The people in my region, in Hawkesbury for example, often lived in Grenville, Quebec, for a few years before moving to Ontario. In my sub-region, it is one of the most popular programs. People are drawn to this region because it offers this program.
When the member claims that this program excludes everyone but the rich—or something like that—that is not my experience in the border region in which I live. I must add, for the benefit of all parliamentarians, that the hon. member also represents a region a few kilometres from Quebec. Surely he is in no position to make excuses for not being more familiar with this reality.
I want to say a few words about the very beautiful riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, your native riding, Mr. Speaker, more specifically the region of Orignal, Ontario that I have the honour of representing.
During the last election campaign, I promised the voters of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell I would help implement a development program for Eastern Ontario. This program was indeed implemented thanks to the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. The representatives from the Mayors and Reeves Association of Eastern Ontario deserve a lot of credit. They all wanted this program and worked closely with me and my colleagues to come up with a framework that would be administered by the Community Futures Committees in our respective regions.
The program is still in its infancy. It is a pilot project that will end on March 31. In the meantime, it is working very well. What I am asking today is for the government to take the pilot project in its current form and make it permanent with essentially the same structure. There is no need to create more bureaucracy or anything like that. The Community Futures Committee—certainly in my riding—administers the program very well. I have also heard that the program is well received in the other regions of Eastern Ontario. I would like to see the Government of Canada make this program permanent.
The second item I want to talk about is agriculture. Farmers in my riding are still suffering. This has nothing to do with a Government of Canada decision—quite the contrary. The government has done everything it can to help, but the fact remains that farmers in my riding are still suffering because of the mad cow crisis, which has been going on for almost two years now. We know that at the beginning of the crisis, the animal infected with the disease was found in Western Canada, in Alberta.
After that animal was discovered, the borders of the United States were closed to our exports. The U.S. was our primary customer, and this created a terrible surplus of livestock in our country. Nearly 50% of our production was for export. Slowly, some borders have reopened, initially, of course, for certain cuts of meat. And even at that, certain organs have to be removed.
As of March 7, the American market will open to Canadian animals under 30 months of age, on condition that these animals are destined for slaughter. For example, it still will not be possible to export an animal intended for breeding to the United States. Only slaughter animals will end up in American abattoirs.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Mexico along with the Speaker of the House. Mexico is our second largest export market. This issue was part of our discussions. We must ensure that Mexico follows the American lead and allows our exports to enter. There are not many problems with Mexico itself. The Mexicans, at least all the legislators I spoke to, agree that their borders should be opened wider. The problem is not there; if the Mexicans were to go farther than the United States, restrictions would soon be imposed on their beef exports to the U.S. Thus, the Mexicans are between a rock and a hard place and cannot go farther than the Americans for now. I hope that they will go at least as fast, and that trade will soon increase.
In the meantime, the farmers are still suffering. Prices for the younger animals have begun to improve, of course. Things are not perfect, but they are improving. The area where there is no improvement is the cull cattle, that is dairy cows that have reached the end of their life cycle. These used to be slaughtered for low-grade meat, hamburger for instance. This is where there is still a serious problem. In the past, this was a good market with the United States, and the cattle were increasingly being exported on the hoof. As a result, our small local abattoirs gradually closed down, and almost all the market was across the border.
I therefore encourage the government to continue to promote its program and also to step up our slaughter capacity in Canada. The cull cattle problem is likely to take far longer to solve than the problems relating to other animals, for the reasons I have given. The border is starting to open up gradually, but there is still no light at the end of the tunnel as far as cull cattle are concerned.
I am therefore calling upon the government to continue to address this issue. I do, of course, recognize the work that has been done by the present Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food. His predecessor, Hon. Bob Speller did a very good job on this as well, and so, of course, did the minister at the time the mad cow problem began, Hon. Lyle Vanclief. I thank them for all they have done, but the work must continue. I hope we will once again have the ear of the Minister of Finance in order to enhance the aid package that is already in place for them.
I would like to take a few minutes to address the issue of the environment. It seems to me that this is a place where Canada can stand out internationally. We need to put measures in place that will reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, coal in particular.
In my province we have probably the biggest source of pollution in North America: the Nanticoke thermo-electric power station, southwest of Toronto. On a summer's day, the effects of pollution are evident in my riding and in yours, Mr. Speaker. This plant is the largest source of pollution in North America. Of course, it is not the property of the federal government, but of the Ontario government, and specifically, the hydro-electric company in my province. This nonetheless illustrates that there are serious problems in the province, and of course in the region that I represent.
I know that there are already incentives for Canadians to purchase hybrid or fuel-efficient cars, such as electric vehicles, for example. For vehicles that either are hybrid or operate on electricity only, I would like there to be a program whereby, for example, the GST on the vehicle would be fully reimbursed, as a kind of incentive. These cars sometimes cost thousands of dollars more than a vehicle that runs on conventional fuel.
I also think that after a period of time, once we have a critical mass of these vehicles and more service stations capable of accommodating them and so forth, the unit cost will surely go down. That stands to reason. In the meantime, we need incentives to encourage consumers to buy these vehicles. This would enable us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean up the environment, and of course increase the likelihood of meeting the challenge we have set ourselves with the Kyoto Protocol.
I would also like to talk about the national parks of Canada. People agree that they are among the marvels of the world. Those of my colleagues in the House or my constituents who have had the opportunity to visit them are amazed every time at the parks that we enjoy in Canada.
In southern Canada, we don't always have the chance to appreciate them so much. We know that a great many of the largest ones are to be found in the north of the country. In the region that I represent, we have a rather extraordinary natural phenomenon that is called the Alfred Bog. This is a wetland that is home to many species of birds and animals. I am told that it corresponds to a geological formation that is to be found in the far north of Canada, but exists locally exceptionally, in the Alfred Bog.
Unfortunately, the bog is much smaller than it used to be. It has been mined by persons who decided to extract peat or black earth and sell it, and so forth. Today its surface area is perhaps half what it was before. All the same, possibly 10,000 acres or more are left.
Now, thanks to the former Minister of the Environment, the member for Victoria, who really worked with me on this, the funds have been found to allow the purchase of a major section of the bog and also ensure public sector protection. The South Nation River Conservation Authority, a not-for-profit organization regulated by Ontario legislation, has also invested funds to purchase a section. Nature Conservancy Canada holds the title to the section funded by the Government of Canada. The United Counties of Prescott and Russell also hold title to another section. All this to say that much of the bog is now owned by the public sector.
Since this is a special property, with an extremely rare topography and incredibly rich in natural resources, I am among those who believe that the Alfred Bog should be turned into a national park. I have raised this point several times in this House. I am working with a group, in my riding, to prepare documents for a presentation to Parks Canada about turning it into a national park.
Naturally, creating a national park costs money. Consequently, I am taking this opportunity to raise this issue during this prebudget discussion, in the hope that the Ministers of the Environment and Finance will agree to turn the Alfred Bog into a national park, located in the riding I have the honour and privilege to represent.
Here are a few examples of things for my riding.
I do not want to let the opportunity go by without speaking briefly to the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program. This has been a truly amazing program. In 1993 when our government came to office we promised the Canadian public that we would have an infrastructure program. It was pooh-poohed by members of the Reform Party at the time, the same people who are today asking for infrastructure projects in their own area, but we shall not allow history to get into this because people tend to forget what they say themselves from time to time.
Needless to say, the program, for which the Federation of Canadian Municipalities had initially asked, has been a truly amazing success story. I think we are into the fourth Canadian province, in my case Ontario, infrastructure program now. Each one of them has municipalities asking more and more for a repeat of the same. I ask then that the government continue to invest in the infrastructure program because in rural Canada, particularly where I represent, this is still very much a need.
Those are some of the requests I wanted to put before the Government of Canada during its prebudget consultations.
In closing, I would not want, at any cost, to see Canada go further into debt. In my opinion, the balanced budget approach adopted by the Minister of Finance, his predecessor and, of course, the current and former prime ministers is a good one. We must gradually pay down the debt and get Canada out of debt. That is what we are doing. Our efforts in this regard have been very successful and we must not change our course.
Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to the speech by an experienced member of Parliament. He summed up his achievements which must be numerous, because he has been sitting in this House for some time.
There are some things I agree with and others on which I do not completely agree. Among other things, he talked about agriculture and the mad cow problem. If we recall the events of over two years ago, one mad cow was found in Canada's west, in Alberta, 3,500 kilometres from Quebec.
Quebec is home to 55% of the dairy herds in Canada. These are valuable herds, because they produce 55% of the milk in Canada. The result of finding one mad cow in the west has been the loss of huge sums by Quebec farmers, as well as those in Ontario. Canada is not a country; it is a continent. If the same problem had occurred in Europe, we would not have seen all the countries of Europe lose their markets. In Canada, however, there has never been any understanding that the situation was different. And so the producers of Quebec must suffer the losses caused by this mad cow crisis. We are still trying to understand why the federal government does not provide more assistance to Quebec farmers.
I ask the hon. member if he thinks this flagrant injustice toward Quebec agriculture is right. In my opinion, although he boasts about his government's achievements, this is one that should not be the subject of boasts. And I do ask his help in getting his government to understand that it should restore justice as quickly as possible for Quebec farmers.
Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON
Mr. Speaker, I shall begin by contradicting my hon. friend. When he says. “It is not a country; it is a continent,” I reply that it is both a country and a continent, and that I believe it will be so for a long time yet.
The hon. member says that 55% of the losses with respect to mad cow are being experienced in Quebec. That is not true. He knows that very well. It is true that some 50% of the nation's dairy herd is in Quebec, but not 50% of all the cattle in Canada. Such a figure is ridiculous. Perhaps he means to say 50% of the losses related to dairy herds, but not 55% of the losses related to mad cow.
Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC
That is what I said. I said 55% of the milk.