House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was country.

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(Bill C-376. On the Order. Private Members' Bills:)

Second reading of Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts--Mr. Ron Cannan.

Criminal Code

November 30th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations with all parties and I believe you will find unanimous consent of the House to propose the following motion. I move:

That the order for second reading of Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be discharged and the bill be withdrawn.

Criminal Code

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Criminal Code

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Order discharged and bill withdrawn)

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on debate today with regard to the fiscal update.

When the Liberal government came into power in 1993, we had inherited a debt of $42.5 billion. There was no question that this deficit of $42.5 billion was given to us by the previous Mulroney government. Under great fiscal management by the Liberals, we were able to eliminate the national deficit and pay down the national debt. The present government has inherited a very strong fiscal framework, all due to good Liberal management.

The one area that the Conservative government has failed on, and I am glad to see that the minister is here today, is the urban community agenda.

In 1983 the Federation of Canadian Municipalities proposed an infrastructure program to deal with decaying infrastructure in Canada. However, in 1984, the new Conservative government let it lay dormant for 10 years. I know something about this because I was president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities at one time.

There seems to be a pattern here. When we came into office, we brought in a national infrastructure program. We dealt with cities and provinces. We had a true partnership with them. We were moving the urban agenda forward, particularly the agenda dealing with infrastructure.

Regrettably, the Conservative government does not understand the urban agenda and it does not understand infrastructure. Comments have been made by ministers of the Crown, the Minister of Finance being one, suggesting that they are not in the pot hole business.

This is not about pot holes. This is about being competitive, both at home and abroad. It is about making sure that we have the right infrastructure to deal with it. I would have expected the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to have been more sensitive to this issue given his previous life. However, maybe he has forgotten.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Miramichi and I know that he is sensitive to these particular issues.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities just commissioned a study which found that there is a $123 billion infrastructure deficit. The government's response is that this is basically not its problem. It was the Liberals who eliminated the GST on goods and services for municipal governments. At the time, we inherited a 57.4% rebate that came in when Mulroney was in power. In 1989 Mulroney quietly brought in this additional charge. We were able to eliminate it and the municipality of Richmond Hill saved $1 million a year.

The Liberals also came in with a new deal. This new deal was about dealing with this order of government, and that order of government being, of course, the municipal sector.

We know that on Monday mayors from across Canada will be coming here. They are going to make it very clear to the government that it will get an F. It could receive lower than that, but on the scale only an F is allowed. The Conservative government has not addressed the issue. The real sad part is that the Conservatives do not understand the issue, and that is rather disappointing.

We know that if we want to compete in the world, we need to have the kind of infrastructure that can move goods and services. We have to be able to deal with businesses and communities and universities and post-secondary institutions in general. The funding gap is there.

The Conservative government is a failure on the environment. However, it does like to recycle old Liberal programs. It likes to recycle moneys which we had set aside over the past while. We on this side of the House will never take any lectures from the Conservative government on municipal infrastructure or on how to deal with cities and communities because we were the leaders on that and we continue to be the leaders on that.

Our party has formed a cities and communities caucus because we have great bench strength when it comes to that issue. We understand those issues. There is absolutely no question--

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10:05 a.m.

An hon. member

That's kind of late don't you think.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

They can talk all they like over there, but again it is the reality. The reality is that the president of the FCM was here last week and said that the government does not understand the issue.

In order to address an issue people have to understand what it is about. The government does not get it. I do not think it will ever get it. The government did not get it when it was in power under Mulroney and under the present government it is not understood either, which is of course a failure. That failure means that we are seeing bridges collapse. We are seeing infrastructure that generally is not keeping up.

That report which was dismissed by many members of that government is an important report. It talks about where we need to be dealing with these issues. Whether these issues be roads, sewers or whether they be dealing with waste treatment plants, these things need to be addressed, not only for the environment but for health and economic competitiveness which is extremely important. It is rather disappointing.

In this budget the government fails to invest. It seems to think that investing is not a good thing. We need to be investing in these issues. The Minister of Transport might think that this funny, but I have to say that the members of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are rather shocked at the insensitivity of members of the government on this issue.

I certainly remember those very dark days under the Conservatives when we could not get a meeting with the minister. The prime minister would never attend the FCM. Under the Liberals of course we had all of that. Now, of course, it is fashionable for government ministers to come, but again they are short on delivery. They are long on talk, but they do not deliver. Of course that is very unfortunate because again we are not addressing the issues.

I do not hear the government talking about the innovation agenda. I do not hear it talking about the productivity agenda. These are important initiatives. On this side of the House, we support tax cuts. We support the issues dealing with paying down the debt. We support those kinds of issues. At the same time we believe in investment, whether that is in health or in infrastructure there needs to be a balance. Unfortunately, the government does not understand balance. I think that is certainly something that Canadians want and Canadians expect from the government.

On the transit issue the government recycles Liberal initiatives. The GTA transit is a good example where again the previous Liberal government put money forth. The Conservative government cancels it and then it recycles. I do not know how many times the same program can be repackaged and then resold as the same thing, but apparently the government likes to do that.

We know what the government's shameful record is on the environment. We were going to work with the province of Ontario in closing down some coal-fired generating plants. The Conservatives came to power and eliminated that. Now the government is trying to get back and trying to recycle that initiative. That was another Liberal initiative.

The fact is that at the end of the day we on this side of the House understand these issues. It is unfortunate that on the other side the Conservatives have failed to listen and to respond effectively to the mayors and councillors from across this country on this whole range of issues.

Our cities and our communities are critical if in fact we are going to be able to take leadership on the world stage. We need to make sure that we are doing that. It is unfortunate.

At the same time, this budget also fails to address some other fundamental issues. I suggest that when it comes to partnership it is not my way or the highway. We see that in the provinces. The government promised peace in our time with the provinces. We had two angry provinces going in and of course we have had about four or five that are still very unhappy with the government. Again, it is about partners. It is about listening. We have not had a first ministers conference.

The government is now suggesting that it will have a first ministers conference in January, 22 or 23 months after assuming office. Again, this is rather shameful. The fact is that the government needs to talk with its provincial counterparts. The government needs to talk with the FCM. It needs to be able to say what it can do in terms of having effective leadership in this country.

Unfortunately, the mini-budget fails cities. It fails innovation. It fails the productivity agenda. It does not deal with some of the core issues and core values that Canadians have when it comes to these issues.

That is why on this side of the House we are very disappointed and unable to endorse what clearly was a very lacklustre performance by the Government of Canada.

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was truly amused by this speech. It is a good way to start a Friday morning to have, shall we say, a jokester on the hustings here.

I do not know, but these Liberals keep talking about how they inherited a $35 billion debt. First of all, it was not a debt. It was a deficit. Every year the government was borrowing more money than it was taking in. It was spending and borrowing money and putting us further and further into debt.

I remember that in 1993 when we were campaigning I had a computer clock set up at some of the trade fairs. It showed how the debt was growing and how we were going to attack the debt.

It is true that the Conservative government under Mulroney for those nine years made only one error, that is, it did not sufficiently address the issue of the debt it had inherited from the Liberals. That debt came totally from the years of rampant spending and overspending by the Liberal government.

I did the math at the time and was able to prove not only to others but also to myself that this was correct. The debt had simply grown, with compound interest, to where it was so huge that it was growing at the rate of $1,000 per second. It was totally untenable for us to put that kind of debt load onto our young people and our next generation.

We fought against that. I am very proud to be able to say that we were part of changing the culture in this place so that we stopped that interminable borrowing. The member says the Liberals did it. Yes, that is true, in that the Liberal government finally succumbed to the pressure and to the reality that they could not sustain that kind of borrowing, but please, let us remember that the debt was a Liberal debt from 1970 or 1972 onward until it had grown into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 1993 when the Liberal Party came in, 33¢ of every dollar was borrowed money, from the Conservative-Mulroney group. Therefore, it was because of strong fiscal management on our side that we were able to eliminate the deficit and pay down the debt.

No other government in the history of this country has ever inherited such a good fiscal performance as the current government has, because of the work we did. We were determined to work with Canadians, and Canadians understood that we could not continue to borrow money and live beyond our means. By eliminating the deficit by 1996-97, we were able to invest savings. When we pay down the debt, which obviously is still too high, we save about $3 billion-plus a year in interest alone. That again is due to the work of the previous Liberal government.

I commend my friend on the other side for recognizing the work that was done by previous Liberal governments. I would suggest to him, however, that the present government needs to invest in our cities and communities, because if the government does not do that we will continue to see reports like the one on the $123 billion situation. It is important. It is vital.

Again, I am very concerned. I do not want this way in which the members on the other side have been spending money in terms of the GST and all of those things, which costs the treasury $5 billion to $6 billion a year alone. We do not want to go back into a deficit. What if the economy slows down and we go into a deficit? Deficits are very easy to get into and extremely difficult to get out of. We do not want to see that again. We ask for some prudence on that side.

In terms of the government's little GST announcement, unless one is buying a yacht or some expensive vehicle I suggest that there would not be a lot of money saved. It costs the treasury $5 billion to $6 billion per year in order to take 1% off the GST.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly listened with interest when the former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was able to bring to the floor this morning some of the concerns that the federation and municipal governments have with this federal government of ours today.

Just over a week ago, the federation had its annual meeting here in Ottawa. I do not think I have ever experienced a meeting with more frustrated people in regard to how they came here to Ottawa to talk about the future needs of their organizations across this country and the response they got from talking with various members of the federal government.

In fact, when we look at their overall concerns in terms of infrastructure, infrastructure today has been put under the Minister of Transport, and I know he has a vital interest in this, but I am not sure he has the backing or the support of his colleagues in the cabinet to make sure that we have a viable and workable infrastructure program, so that not only the large cities but our smaller communities can benefit from the revenues we have here in the federal treasury.

With budgets, visions, directions and responsibilities, and with an attempt to look at the economy so that our people in the future can be prosperous, so that our country can benefit from the wealth of our nation, we have to assess what this present government is doing for our Canadian people.

We have to think about the many students who are attending our universities and who look for some source of relief in terms of the student loans they are accumulating from their years of study.

We have to look at research and development in this country in terms of what attitudes and what directions our government is taking.

We have to think in terms of productivity and how our government is encouraging our various companies in this country to invest in research, to look at forms of development and, above all, to see that we have a productive society from which all Canadians can benefit.

Members may say that our unemployment in this country is at one of its lowest levels. In fact, we are very happy to see that we are almost approaching the concept of a 5% unemployment rate, but we have to look at the types of jobs that we are creating in this country and at whether or not our people can get adequate incomes to support their families.

Too often in this country, we find that workers need to have two jobs, or that they need to have at least two family incomes and maybe three jobs to support a family. With that, we have to look at the transfer of jobs from one sector of the economy to another.

I speak in terms of our agricultural community. While some sectors are prospering, this past week we have had the pork producers and the beef producers here in our city looking for support. They are looking for help in terms of what those sectors are encountering.

We can think in terms of our forestry sector and what is happening there. The province of Quebec recently made some statements on that. We have certainly a lot of people with long term unemployment in our pulp and paper and long lumber industries. Only this morning, while looking in the paper, I noticed that a new company, AbitibiBowater, is closing a number of mills, and in fact one mill just across the way here in Gatineau, and another in my home province, in Dalhousie, New Brunswick.

This is not an easy fact to consider. Many of those people were earning some of the highest wages in this country. With this, the changes that are happening in our forest sector certainly will need to be addressed by the budgets and by the economic icons of the present government.

It is rather disappointing that when I look at the front bench I see a lot of former ministers from the Harris government. With that, I just wonder what happens in that big room upstairs when those people meet and as a cabinet attempt to look at our country and try to see what they can do to improve it and to make our Canadian society more productive.

Mr. Speaker, I know, certainly, that you are a resident of Ontario. You have experienced some of the frustrations of the previous government here in this province and I certainly hope that the decisions being made do not reflect the history of what happened in your own province.

The oil industry and the research and work being done in terms of exploring that oil sector in the west certainly is a very vital part of the Canadian economy. I am happy to say that in terms of even my own province we are seeing the results in the manufacturing sector back home in how it can compete and participate in Alberta and the great activity that is happening in that province.

However, we also have to consider other provinces and other sectors. Hopefully, with the surplus we have today, we can address some of the issues that are affecting people in other sectors.

The hon. member who spoke previously spoke at length in terms of 1993-94 and the difficulties we encountered as a government in the 13 years in which the Liberals governed this country. I think everyone can recognize the tremendous response that the Canadian people offered in terms of the sacrifices they made so that Canada today is the prosperous society that we enjoy.

It was not easy to look at the amount of debt, the annual deficit and the problems related to it. I know that all Canadians participated with our previous government in seeing that we reached a point where we had surpluses and annual balanced budgets and where Canadians could be proud of the fact that they were not accumulating more debt each year. It is interesting to note in terms of what has happened that we are approaching today the 25% ratio of debt to GDP which was the goal of our previous ministers of finance.

So today I express concerns in terms of what is happening with our surpluses. The previous members talked about how the HST or GST affects the future of our country. It is rather disappointing that we spend so much time trying to look at a 1% saving, which, for the average Canadian, saves a very small amount of money. In fact, the average worker probably would save only $100 or more per year, but somebody with a lot of wealth would save a great deal more in taxes.

We must salute the fact that personal income taxes have been at an all-time high, that corporations have been contributing to our revenues, and that overall the present government inherited a very sound and very stable fiscal arrangement from the previous Liberal government.

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10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I appreciate the comments of the member for Miramichi, I was quite surprised by the claims made by the member and the previous speaker with regard to a lack of support for municipalities. In the previous government, the support for municipalities was lacklustre at best.

In contrast, we now have a government that has pledged some $33 billion in support for municipalities and for small communities right across the country. Not only does that include an extension of the gas tax, which, by the way, the previous government back-end loaded so that under its previous commitments up to 60% of its commitment in gas tax has yet to be realized, but we have continued it for an extra four years, well out to 2014. I think in a lot of cases the municipalities forget to consider that.

This means billions of dollars. The two programs combined, the full GST refund commitment and now the gas tax commitment to municipalities, total some $18 billion, which is fully three times what the previous government committed in any case to municipalities.

The member's words ring hollow. I would ask the member to consider them and to respond in some way as to how he could make such a claim in light of what he now sees in this commitment by the government.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Simcoe North for bringing this to our attention. The federation believes very strongly that there is a situation of smoke and mirrors with the $33 billion.

As I said in my speech, a government has to plan for the future. My disappointment with the present Conservative government is the fact that not only is it failing to prepare for the future, but it is trying to destroy some of the past programs, which were so effective.

A child care program disappeared. We see little of an excellent program that attempted to help our university students. When the Conservatives talk about the money they are spending, or plan to spend, it is the idea, the vision for which we are looking. It is a vision of what we can offer to our municipalities in an attempt to improve their infrastructure. It is a vision to give them some sense that something is being done and that we are not looking to the past.

Further, I have to be concerned about the fact that we have had a lot of announcements, but only few programs are on the table. Many of our municipalities have said that the program is not ready yet, the announcement has been made but there is no money yet. They want to know we get things going.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am quite taken with all of the discussion about good planning. I saw an example of that good planning in the city in which I live, London. About three weeks ago, the street literally caved in, and the city of London has been desperately trying to address the situation that this huge sinkhole has created downtown, in the busiest part of the city.

Consequently, merchants and people who work and shop downtown are tremendously disadvantaged. Since it is during the Christmas period, this is creating a certain level of shock.

I have no faith in the planning, about which we keep hearing. The problems involving infrastructure just did not happen. The fact that the current government is not interested in helping municipalities does not change the fact that the previous Liberal government had no interest.

My question is about planning. It seems to me that in the last decade or so we have had a lot of news about Liberal surpluses and Conservative surpluses. Why could both governments not anticipate needs well enough to understand that these surpluses would be available? What on earth is wrong with their ability to calculate and tabulate the money coming in?