House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.

Topics

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

When we were last debating Bill C-28, the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley still had 10 minutes and he now has the floor.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Independent

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, when I finished my first 10 minutes I was going through the contradictions in the ongoing discussions about the Atlantic accords and the different things that came up that confused Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders about the approach that the government has about the Atlantic accords and the fact that it just took them away.

In case there is any question about the accords being taken away, I would like to read from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, an independent think tank, that said:

The new program also reverses a pre-election commitment to exclude natural resource revenues, and includes 50% of these revenues.

It goes on to say:

The protection provided by the Accords is undermined.... In the authors’ view, this violates both the letter and the spirit of the Accord.

Just today the Premier of Newfoundland said:

Essentially, we are being railroaded into an untenable situation whereby we are forced to choose the O’Brien formula....

In the mail-out that he sent around to every Nova Scotian, Premier MacDonald said:

That budget effectively ripped up our Offshore Accord and all of the opportunities it is expected to bring to Nova Scotians.

Also in the mail-out, Premier MacDonald called on all Nova Scotians to join him and sign a petition “demanding that Ottawa honour the Offshore Accord and all agreements it signs with any province or territory”.

We would not think we would need to have a petition to get the Government of Canada to honour a signed agreement with anyone, whether it is a province, another country, a business person or a single person. However, the Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia felt compelled to call on Canadians, and Nova Scotians in particular, to sign a petition demanding that the government honour signed agreements.

We now have an agreement with Nova Scotia but it is not the Atlantic accord as requested in the petition that the Premier of Nova Scotia asked for.

I want to go on to another bit of confusion. I want to point out that when the Prime Minister came to Nova Scotia in 2005 he was very supportive of the Atlantic accords. I want to read a couple of things he said. In the Halifax Sunday Herald of February 6, he said:

...it was Mr. Hamm's leadership that brought home the agreement, which he described as the best opportunity Nova Scotia had in 138 years.

Why would he say that and then take it away? That is confusing to a lot of people.

The Prime Minister went on to say that the accords were “courageous and visionary”. I do not understand how he could say that and now the government refers to the accords as double-dipping, cherry-picking and double-stacking.

I do not know how one goes from courageous and visionary to double-dipping, double-stacking and cherry-picking, but somehow the exact same agreements, which were at one time, in the Prime Minister's view, courageous and visionary, are now double-dipping, double-stacking and cherry-picking.

It is confusing for the people of Nova Scotia to wonder how the Prime Minister and the government could zig and zag on this very issue.

When the government decided to break the Atlantic accord, it gave two reasons. One was that it wanted to have a single, principled base equalization formula for the whole country. It has done exactly the opposite with Bill C-28.

In Bill C-28, the government established an equalization formula for two provinces and a different one for eight provinces. Two provinces have a 3.5% escalator clause until 2020. Eight do not have that escalator clause. Two provinces have an agreement that goes to 2020. Eight provinces have an agreement that goes to 2013. The government has created exactly what the Prime Minister said he would not do.

I want to again read part 11 in Bill C-28, which states:

Part 11 amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to provide for an additional fiscal equalization payment that may be paid to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Previously the Atlantic accord was not an equalization payment. It was an offset payment, but now the government has established a different equalization formula, which seems to me to totally contradict the goal of the Prime Minister in establishing one equalization formula because now we do have two formulas. The ironic thing is that when we had the Atlantic accord and the O'Brien formula we had one equalization formula, which is exactly what he said he wanted.

The other goal was to eliminate any side deals. I do not know how we would describe the side deals in Bill C-28, but it is full of side deals as far as the accord goes. One is that two provinces would get the 3.5% escalator until 2020 and the other one is that at the end of each year the federal government may pay Nova Scotia an amount of money each year if the parallel calculation is more than the O'Brien formula. Each one of those is a side deal for each year.

That is the reason I will be voting against Bill C-28. I voted against it before and I will be voting against it again.

I am not arguing that the province of Nova Scotia has negotiated a new deal, and it may be a good deal, but we do not know because we have never seen the projections. Senators, members of Parliament and the media have asked for the projections to confirm what the government says when it says that the new deal is good for Nova Scotia.

We had the provincial projections but we have never had the federal projections. If any of the Conservative members do stand up I hope they will table the projections so we will know whether it is a good deal for Nova Scotia, not based on the federal government.

Officials have told us that they have done their projections. They have done the best case scenario and the worst case scenario, but as yet we have not been able to get them to share those projections with us so we can share their enthusiasm for this program if it is accurate. However, we do not know because we do not have the projections.

I will close my remarks with that but I will say that the Atlantic accord is still in effect. It is a two-page agreement and it is still there. It is just that the government has chosen not to honour or respect it and it has chosen to take a different route. It is a shame. It is a two-page agreement, nine paragraphs long and the Conservatives have decided to break the deal and not honour it. They have tried to come up three alternatives now, none of which are the Atlantic accord. That is why I will be voting against Bill C-28.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to comment very briefly and then ask the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley a question on Bill C-28.

I want to commend him not only on his consistent principled position in standing up for the Atlantic accord, but also for him making it very clear that standing up for the Atlantic accord requires voting against Bill C-28. I commend him for taking that position.

My colleague gave an excellent summation of the spectacular betrayal and flip-flop and double-crossing that goes on whenever we deal with this issue. Nothing could be clearer than what the then leader of the official opposition said on the campaign trail in Halifax, the city I am privileged to represent. He then did a complete and total reversal after he found himself in power.

In that sense, it is starting to look a lot like the more familiar pattern of Liberals who run on a progressive platform and then when in government, govern on the right. They are meanspirited and are quite prepared to throw Atlantic Canada overboard, which they have consistently done. When the Liberals were government, they threw Atlantic Canada overboard in the period between 1993 and 1997. That resulted in the 11 sitting Liberals in Nova Scotia being defeated. They were unceremoniously thrown out of office, which brings me to my two brief questions.

My first concerns the position of the premier. A very accurate summation was given of the premier's initial outrage at the fact that the Atlantic accord had been trashed. He pleaded with every Nova Scotian at considerable public expense. He put out what we would call a householder to every Nova Scotian, asking for them to petition the government to reinstate the Atlantic accord. So far so good.

More recent, the premier sent out a second householder in which he made a number of claims that turned out to be simply untrue. He made a number of claims about how Bill C-28 would fix the problem and that it justified his decision to abandon the fight for the Atlantic accord. The benefits that were promised are not delivered in Bill C-28. As far as he is concerned, he is off the hook. Many of the claims he has made in that document are simply not accurate. They are not substantiated.

What does the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley make of the premier's betrayal of his own commitment to fight to ensure the full reinstatement of the Atlantic accord?

What does he make of the Liberals from Atlantic Canada, who are cozying up to him when it comes to the full vote on Bill C-28, and then he is completely abandoned, thrown overboard, by every other member of that party with no intentions of supporting Bill C-28 changes, which would reinstate the Atlantic accord?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I remind the hon. member for Halifax that some people probably do not measure time, but I do. The comment came to me that we were under resuming debate and not under questions and comments.

If the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley takes as much time to respond, he will have burned the whole clock.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Independent

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

I would not burn the clock, Mr. Speaker, but I will answer the second question first about the Liberals cozying up to me. My caucus is not that big and I welcome the company.

As far as the Premier of Nova Scotia goes, I tripped on his presentation. The Premier of Nova Scotia came to the Senate and made a presentation. I read it the other day. He was told, in all fairness, by the Minister of Finance of the Government of Canada that “not one comma of the accord has been changed, and that it remains in its original, pristine form”.

I contend, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council contends and all Nova Scotians contend that this line is not right. I contend that the premier of the province was misled, the same way I was. I recognize those words “not a comma changed”. I was told exactly the same thing.

In all fairness to the Premier of Nova Scotia, he was given wrong information in the beginning, but in the end he did call on Nova Scotians to sign a petition to demand the Government of Canada honour all its agreements.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I have done before, I want to commend my colleague. We had the spectacle in the spring of the Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the regional minister for Nova Scotia, saying in the House in answer to a question from the member for West Nova, that no member of the government would be kicked out of caucus for voting his or her principles. That was before he realized one person over there had principles and he backtracked on that pretty quickly. That spectacle is known to Nova Scotian.

I want to ask my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley a simple question. The accord can be complex. Equalization is not easy to understand. It is my sense that Nova Scotians understood what the Atlantic accord stood for and they know it has been broken.

Is it the belief of my colleague and friend that the people of Nova Scotia actually understand the Atlantic accord and know what they have lost?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Independent

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, the first part of question was about the Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. I did not know he had said that until minutes before my vote, but it did not affect my vote.

As far as the people of Nova Scotia go, I believe all Nova Scotians know something went wrong. They do not necessarily understand the accords because they can be complicated. There are several accords, several accord agreements, several equalization formulas, but they know the Government of Canada broke the contract.

The contract is only two pages long, with nine paragraphs. It is very simple. The government decided, for whatever, reason to not honour it. It is still there. It is still an obligation of the Government of Canada. Even today, it chooses not to honour the accord.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here this evening to present our position on this budget. I say “budget”, because, clearly, Canada's extraordinary surplus gives us a golden opportunity. We are living in a country that has been presented with an incredible opportunity. However, the budget and the so-called mini-budget are devoid of any measures that take advantage of the opportunities we have. With such an extraordinary surplus, we could make investments that would meet the goals of average Canadians, our communities and our society, based on our shared values.

We really have two visions in front of us. One is the vision of the Conservatives, supported by the Liberals. It is a vision that would reduce taxes, give much more to the wealthy in our society, give more to the largest companies, especially the ones making big profits, like the banks, the big oil companies, the companies that are the biggest polluters. They will benefit the most from this approach chosen by the Conservatives and their friends of the moment, the Liberals.

We are here this evening because we witnessed an extraordinary event in the House of Commons a few hours ago. We saw the two whips walk down the aisle together, before the usual time, in order to hold a vote to consummate that union properly in front of everyone. The budget is the product of that union. It is too bad, because the vision behind it runs counter to the hopes of our constituents.

I am proud of our team, the NDP, because it is a party with principles. We are prepared to stand up because we have principles and values to defend. As we have said many times in this House during this debate, this budget is not at all balanced. It is continuing to take Canada in the wrong direction. It is not a balanced approach. There was an unprecedented opportunity to invest, but the government and its friends missed it. It was a perfect opportunity to give tax relief to the people who need it most, but the government missed it. It was an opportunity to reduce the imbalance and the growing prosperity gap in our society, but the government ruled out any possibility of taking action.

For these reasons, we will oppose the bill. It is the wrong direction for Canada.

It was a rather bizarre moment to watch as parliamentary rules were stretched to the limit, and I would say beyond reasonable limit, to the point of actually abusing the privileges of members to be present during a vote, to see the respective whips of the Conservatives and the Liberals walking down the aisle together, not quite hand in hand but metaphorically at least as much. The consequence of course is that democracy in this chamber was pushed aside. Why? In favour of massive corporate tax reductions for those who are already doing incredibly well in our society.

I have canvassed my constituents, as have our members of Parliament. We have yet to find one person, and I would challenge people to be in touch with us if I am wrong, who was calling for reductions in taxes for the big banks shortly after they posted record profits. It may be that there is someone there who was calling for it and could demonstrate that this is somehow for the good of Canada, but I have yet to hear that voice. The fact is that it is the wrong direction for the country. It is absolutely the wrong direction for the country.

I have yet to hear anybody tell me that the largest oil and gas companies in Canada needed a break. What I do hear is that people need a break from the big oil and gas companies in the way people get gouged every time they go to the pump.

When it comes to people trying to get access to their own money at the bank, they need a break from the banks and the bank presidents who stick out their hands metaphorically and grab some of that money back. That is unacceptable.

The fact is that the government took a very narrow-minded view of where we could go at this unprecedented moment in our history. I believe that our party has a very good idea about where we need to go, a sense of the vision shared by a great many Canadians. In fact, this debate has put these two visions before Canadians.

It is unfortunate that the debate is being cut short by those who share one particular point of view, the Liberals and the Conservatives, because frankly, we should have more discussion. We are talking here about billions of dollars that, over subsequent years, are going to be unavailable to invest in what we need. What kind of things do we need in our country today?

We need investments that are right for our families. This budget is wrong for families. We need investments that are right for our communities, our municipalities, our cities. This budget is wrong for all of those people and their communities. We need an approach that represents some sense of balance and common sense. This budget certainly does not do that at all. We do need some targeted tax help for those who are most in need. We do not see that here. In fact, what we see is a budget that would widen the prosperity gap that already is widening rapidly in our society.

That is why, if we talk to the average person today, the middle class, the working families, however we want to describe them, we are going to find people who are finding it harder and harder just to get by. It is not that they are complainers. In fact, Canadians are as far from complainers as we are going to find. The fact is that they are working harder.

Independent studies have shown that the average Canadian family is working 200 hours more every single year. That is the equivalent to five full time working weeks. They were already working hard. How is this happening? They are taking second jobs. They are taking third jobs. They are trying to get by. They are trying to cover the rent. They are trying to pay the mortgage. They are trying to put food on the table. They are trying to educate the young people in their family so that their hopes and their dreams can be accomplished. They are finding that tougher.

The students end up with more debt than they have ever had. Somehow we regard it as sensible as a society to load them up with more. I do not know any other species that would do that to their young. But we seem to think that throwing as many millstones around their necks at the very time they are supposed to take off and succeed and build our future, that dragging them down and pulling on the handbrake is the way we ought to treat young people.

Are we doing any better when it comes to seniors, the people who actually built this country?

It was an opportunity in this budget to correct a wrong with regard to seniors. The government has admitted that in its indexing of the payments to seniors, their pensions, something to keep them out of poverty, something they deserve after building our country and raising their families, it made a mistake in the inflation increase seniors were supposed to be getting. Their food costs are going up. Their rents are going up. Their transit costs are going up. The price of everything they do in their modest way in their lives as seniors in our communities is going up, but the government has failed to keep up with inflation, and the government admits it.

I will bet people have noticed how quickly the government is prepared to come after them, and I will say seniors here too, because I know a lot of seniors are frightened by this, if they have made a little mistake on their taxes. By golly, a $10 mistake, a $50 mistake and the government is writing letters telling people they must do this and they must do that, and the government charges interest, too, at rates that are not far from the usurious rates of the banks, I might say.

The government is very happy to reach out into seniors' lives and pull something back if they have made a little mistake on their taxes, but what happens if the government makes a mistake on seniors' taxes? It simply says that it is too bad and there is nothing it will do about it.

This could involve $1 billion or even more that should be in the hands of seniors. Here we have a surplus. We could have done something about that in this budget bill. It absolutely could have been corrected, and should have been corrected. Our seniors deserve it.

The fact is a lot of Canadians are one or two paycheques away from living in poverty. A great number of other Canadians already live in poverty, many of them seniors, single mothers, first nations, Inuit and Métis people. There are people who are living in abject poverty. Even the world organizations have come forward and pointed out how Canada is mistreating its own in so many ways.

This would have been an opportunity to do something about affordable housing in first nations communities. This would have been an opportunity to do something about affordable housing in cities so that we do not have the growing crisis of homelessness, where more and more people are dying on our streets. This winter could turn out to be the worst ever.

All we get from the government is the recycled announcements of funds that were put aside when we debated a previous budget two years ago. That is when the NDP insisted that corporate taxes should be cancelled and money should be put into affordable housing, including for aboriginal people, post-secondary education for our young people, the environment, public transit, foreign aid, the priorities of Canadians.

Now the government is making these announcements again, but the fact is, it has gone right back to the old practice.

The Conservatives already had a corporate tax cut planned. We know that. They made that clear. However, along came the Liberals and the leader of the Liberal Party who said that there should be an even deeper cut to corporate taxes. This was only a few weeks before he said that his biggest priority was dealing with poverty. Guess whose poverty he was apparently concerned about. It was the poverty of the struggling multinational corporations, the profitable companies. It was their definition of poverty that most concerned him.

That is why we saw the Liberals sit down on the job. When it came time for them to stand up for Canadians, they stood up for the privileged. That is what happened. It cannot be denied, because we all saw it, and we have seen it time and time again.

Now we see the marriage is being brought together in an even more intimate way. There may even be votes of support. We might even see a vote of support this evening. Who knows what will happen with the so-called official opposition, an official opposition that could not even muster the numbers of an official party in the House the other night on a vote, if I may make that comment.

We are here as representatives, 30 members of Parliament across the country raising these issues. We are raising them in the context of a very important moment in the life of any Parliament. That is when we decide how our taxation laws are going to work and how we are going to raise the funds from one another to put them forward in a common project to build the country of our dreams.

What we have chosen here to do, apparently, is to begin to deconstruct, to take apart the country of our dreams. In case there are any doubts, people should talk to municipal mayors about what is happening in their communities. I am here with the member for Outremont, who once represented in another place a community known as Laval, where a bridge collapsed and tragedy happened.

Right across this country there is over $100 billion of infrastructure deficit. Instead of investing in infrastructure the way we should, the government is saying it is not going to respond to the needs of municipalities, except for the occasional megaproject financed by one of its corporate friends, most likely in one of these triple so-called public-private partnerships for some sort of mega-enterprise that it can put its signature on. Clearly, the government has lost track of the need to make sure that communities have fresh drinking water when they need it, or that the infrastructure, the roads and bridges are sound, and the recreation centres for our young people are able to stay open in our communities.

A grave mistake is being made, a very grave mistake. We are not alone in believing this. Many across the country have said that it is time to invest. We have the opportunity in front of us to do that, just as families would do if they suddenly found themselves with the opportunity of having funds to invest. They would not sit around the table and make the kind of decision that has been made here. They would say, “Let us invest in our young people. Let us invest in our homes to make them more sound. Let us invest in our future. Let us make sure that we are leading in the investments that are needed and responding to the needs of Canadians”.

It is a question of being balanced. It is a question of representing working families, seniors, young people, people from coast to coast to coast who are counting on us to respond to their concerns.

I know a lot of members of Parliament will return to their constituencies over the weeks to come and they will talk about, for example, the few pennies that might go back into people's pockets by virtue of some of these tax cuts. What they will not talk about is how we have missed the opportunity to build. I think Canadians are builders. I do not think they represent the kind of self definition that seems to underlie the point of view here. They want to build something in common. They want to build a collective enterprise. They want society to work for every Canadian, not just for a few or just for themselves.

When we boil it down, there are two visions in front of us.

We have a choice to make. We have a golden opportunity, and we in the NDP will be here and will stand up to defend our principles, because they represent the values of the vast majority of Canadians.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Leader of the NDP for his speech. I have to say that the Bloc Québécois considered the issue of poverty and took action a long time ago. As the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, certainly one of the hardest hit ridings in terms of industrial obsolescence, I tabled a bill known as the anti-poverty bill on four occasions, and am about to do so again.

My bill contains four measures that I certainly hope will have the support of my NDP colleagues. My bill would add “social condition” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. My colleague for Outremont, who was a member of the National Assembly of Quebec, will remember that eight legislatures, eight provinces, added social condition to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in their human rights codes. It is unacceptable that the federal government has not. Had it done so, we could have successfully challenged certain measures. For example, Lloyd Axworthy's employment insurance contained restrictive measures for new applicants and that was unacceptable.

My bill also provides for a new contravention, by financial institutions, of the Canadian Human Rights Act. I am referring to the refusal by banks to provide credit to disadvantaged communities. I have studied what happened in the United States where, since 1977, the Community Reinvestment Act has provided access to credit for the most disadvantaged communities. I am thinking of black and Hispanic populations.

If adopted, my bill would require Parliament to hold a mandatory debate on poverty, on a regular basis. It would institute the requirement that the Canadian Human Rights Commission assess every bill and its effects on the impoverishment of citizens.

I know that the member and his political party are concerned by these matters. However—the member knows that I am very sensitive—I was somewhat hurt to discover that in Paul Martin's last budget, my NDP colleagues, whom I affectionately refer to—

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member for Hochelaga. He is a very experienced parliamentarian. He knows that when referring to another member, he must use the name of the member's riding and not his or her name. In any case, the question was long enough and I now give the floor to the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, regarding your intervention, I would like to say that I did not use the name of any colleague or any riding.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Hochelaga mentioned the name of the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is not generally in this House. Thus, we can forgive such a mistake from time to time.

I thank my hon. colleague from Hochelaga for his comments and his question. However, I must wonder about something. Why did the Bloc Québécois help the government move this bill along so quickly in committee and why did he vote today to limit the debate on such crucial questions?

Further debate would have allowed for the mistakes in this budget, in this bill, to be pointed out. The bill does not take into account the situation in the manufacturing sector and the forestry crisis. There are no references in this bill to the needs of businesses in those sectors.

Instead, we have tax cuts across the board for all big businesses that are already profitable. The most profitable stand to benefit the most, that is, the banks and oil and gas companies. The Bloc, by supporting an accelerated debate and a limit to democracy, is preventing the opposition parties from opposing this collusion between the Conservatives and the Liberals. I invite the Bloc to make an effort to join our efforts in order to reach a new level of accountability here in the House of Commons.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Hochelaga on a point of order.