House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nova.

Topics

Language used during oral question period
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, he said one thing when the mikes were on and another when the Minister of National Defence was answering at the far end of the House. However, people around him heard these comments and will not tolerate disrespectful comments about the Minister of National Defence or any other hon. member in this House.

For this reason, I am calling on the Leader of the Bloc Québécois to apologize and withdraw the comments he made about our Minister of National Defence.

Language used during oral question period
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, given that we do not know which comments he is talking about, could you explain to the member for Lévis—Bellechasse that, when one asks a member to withdraw comments, it is important to know exactly what they are?

Language used during oral question period
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, do you not find that there is enough mud-slinging going on in this campaign without starting to repeat people's nonsense?

I am calling on the leader of the Bloc Québécois' sense of honour and I am asking him to withdraw his comments. As a parliamentarian, he should rise and withdraw his comments.

Language used during oral question period
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair will review today's Hansard. If unparliamentary language is found within, the Chair will certainly comment thereon.

Is the Minister of Finance rising on the point of order raised earlier?

Language used during oral question period
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Minister of Finance

If I may, Mr. Speaker, in reply to the comments made by the Liberal member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I was referring to the quotes in the press that he planned to vote for the budget.

I am sorry to hear that I gather he has been intimidated by the expulsion from caucus of the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North who was exercising his independent view as a member of Parliament.

I am sorry that the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca values his membership in that caucus more than the independence of his vote in the House.

Comments by Members for Palliser and Winnipeg South
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I also rise on a question of privilege. Several comments were made to me last night during the adjournment proceedings in which I find a great deal of offence.

I was speaking specifically to the Ile-a-la-Crosse boarding school not being recognized as part of the compensation package for the students that are typically going to be compensated for the current residential school agreement as it is presently structured. I have some documents I would like to table in support of that argument.

My privilege that is being denied to me is the ability to sit in the House of Commons without having baseless insults thrust upon my character as a standing member of this House.

Many in Saskatchewan and Canada know that I won my riding by a small margin in a tough fought campaign. I have the greatest of respect for all the candidates that took part in that campaign. I openly and without reservation encouraged a call for two separate recounts, the first by Elections Canada and the second by a Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench.

Several allegations were made on my win, which ranged from attacks on my character to the voting process in the aboriginal communities, specifically first nations communities. These allegations were all refuted by a thorough investigation by Elections Canada, which I also submit clearly absolved me of any of these alleged wrongdoings.

Despite this my reputation and character is still being attacked. During the proceedings last night, the member for Palliser began to insult me and my standing in the House. He referred to me as a “vote fraud artist”. This comment was picked up by the microphone of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and is very clear on the taped proceedings of last night.

As far as I know, when an allegation to that extent is made, it is an offence. The member was accusing me of committing an offence.

I am sure outside the House those types of allegations would carry a different recourse than when they are said in the House. Some people just have to say what they have to say with the protection of the House.

After making this disgusting personal insult, the member then attacked the aboriginal communities that the former MP had made allegations against and which were also refuted.

First nations people were denied the right to vote in this country during more than half of the country's existence. When they come out to vote and are told that they are frauds and there are unscrupulous accusation that they are not entitled to vote, that is a shame to this parliamentary system. We have people in this country who were denied the right to vote and did not get it until the 1960s. Then, when they start to participate, they are attacked because the government opposite does not like the turnout now.

The parliamentary secretary decided to engage in the practice of smearing my reputation as well. He said in response to my second question last night:

Mr. Speaker, to comment on the assertions of the member opposite, I do find it somewhat dubious for him to make the claim that there was any sort of tampering with the electorate in terms of this approach that was taken. Of course, he would know nothing about tampering in elections.

This is disgusting. Elections Canada and the courts validated the Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River--

Comments by Members for Palliser and Winnipeg South
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. member may have had a point of order in respect of the language used about him, or a question of privilege about his character.

I think he is going on on a subject that may be of interest, but I do not think constitutes a point of order. If it does, he had better tie it in very quickly because he seems to be getting rather lengthy on a subject that I think has little to do with the privilege of the hon. member or a point of order in the House.

Comments by Members for Palliser and Winnipeg South
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I guess the nub of it is that the member for Palliser opposite stated out loud, to be caught on tape last night, calling me a “vote fraud artist”.

If the Speaker finds, on a prima facie basis, that there is evidence to support my claim, I would be prepared to move a motion.

Comments by Members for Palliser and Winnipeg South
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I will take the matter under advisement and examine the tapes. It is not in the Hansard I notice, but I will examine the tapes and get back to the House in due course.

Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on March 1, 2007 by the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc in which he requested clarification of the rules applicable to the adjournment of meetings of standing committees of the House.

I wish to thank the hon. member for raising this matter in a point of order and I note for the record his courtesy in stating that it was not his intention to criticize in any way the actions of the members and staff of the committee.

In raising this matter, the hon. member stated that during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on Wednesday, February 28, the bells were rung to summon members to the chamber for a recorded division. Shortly thereafter, in order to allow members to proceed to the House, two motions to adjourn the meeting of the committee were proposed and defeated, the majority on the committee choosing to continue debate on the motion then under consideration.

The hon. member cited pages 856 and 857 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice which states that the chair of a committee must ensure:

...that the deliberations adhere to established practices and rules, as well as to any particular requirements which the committee may have imposed upon itself and its Members.

The hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc then called the attention of the chair to what he perceived as a contradiction between his duty to respect the decisions of the committee and his duty to vote in the House of Commons. Invoking the principle that “the House has first claim upon the attendance and services of its Members”, he expressed the view that in the event of a conflict with other parliamentary duties, a member's duty to the House should take precedence.

In closing, the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc sought guidance from the Speaker to assist committee chairs and members to address similar circumstances in the future.

In responding to the arguments made by the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc, I said that it appeared to me at first glance that the issue was a grievance rather than a point of order.

Having now had the opportunity to consider the matter further, I must return to the comments that I made at the time. Hon. members may recall that I made reference to a ruling delivered by Mr. Speaker Fraser on the same issue. I refer again to pages 9512 and 9513 of the Debates for March 20, 1990.

Mr. Speaker Fraser had observed at the time that:

Committees sitting at the same time as bells are sounded to call members into the House for a recorded division continues to be a problem in the eyes of some hon. members.

I noted as well that Mr. Speaker Fraser had referred to previous rulings from the Chair in 1971, 1976, 1978 and 1981 on this question.

Since Mr. Speaker Fraser ruled on this question in 1990, there have been no changes to the rules and practices of the House material to this issue. The Standing Orders clearly confer upon both standing and legislative committees of the House the power “ to sit while the House is sitting” and “ to sit during periods when the House stands adjourned”. I refer the hon. member to Standing Order 108(1)(a) and Standing Order 113(5). There is no provision elsewhere in the rules which might have the effect of limiting the exercise of these powers.

Furthermore, House of Commons Procedure and Practice on page 840 states:

While committees usually adjourn or suspend their proceedings when the division bells summon members to the Chamber for a vote, committees may continue to sit while a vote is being held.

The Chair acknowledges that the grievance brought forth by the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc appears to reflect a chronic and still unresolved ambiguity in our practice. As Mr. Speaker Fraser did when this question was raised some years ago, I would suggest that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs consider this matter and report to the House. In its report, the committee could recommend appropriate directives or changes to our rules.

In addition, I would like to remind hon. members that there is no obstacle to a committee adopting a motion setting out how it will respond to the ringing of the division bells. It might be helpful for committees to consider including such motions among their routine motions.

I regret that there is no relief the Chair can offer the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc at this time but I thank him for raising this important question.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition motion—Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Business

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal motion before us today is a perfect example of how poorly Canadian federalism is working. By making piecemeal agreements, by creating a patchwork of claims and promises all over the place, we completely lose sight of the essential element of this issue. What is before us now, among other things, is the equalization issue.

Let us review the fundamentals of the equalization principle. What is it all about? Equalization is a system that redistributes tax revenues from all citizens—Quebeckers, Maritimers, Westerners, Ontarians and everyone else. The government puts all those tax dollars together and then redistributes them to some provinces to give them similar fiscal capacity. That is the goal. The goal is that no matter which province a person lives in, the provincial governments can provide services similar to those offered in the other provinces. Each province makes its own choices, but they should all be able to count on having similar fiscal capacity.

Normally, the process should be pretty simple. Average fiscal capacity is calculated according to how much each province can collect in sales and income taxes and fees of all kinds. Then, provinces that fall below the average fiscal capacity are given enough money to reach that capacity, without penalizing the provinces that are above the fiscal capacity average. This system seems very simple and should work very well, but it is not working properly. Why? Because the government has lost sight of the essential elements of the system and has signed on to a bunch of piecemeal agreements for preferential treatment for various regions.

The Liberal motion and their position on these piecemeal agreements that were already in place are a concrete example of how the government will try to sign individual, piecemeal agreements to show favouritism to various provinces over and above the principle of fairness provided for in the equalization program.

So much for the Liberals. However, we note that the Conservative's proposal in the budget also goes down the same road in that, regardless of the principle of equity, regardless of the principle of wanting all provinces to have a similar fiscal capacity, arbitrary rules will be established that will change the formula and benefit or disadvantage certain provinces. The rule found in the current budget excludes half of tax revenues from non-renewable natural resources.

That may seem technical, but really it is not. It is very, very concrete. The end result is that provinces that produce a great deal of non-renewable natural resources appear to be less rich than they are in reality. When their capacity is calculated, their ability to raise tax revenues is understated and their overall fiscal capacity is then changed accordingly.

For Quebec, among others, this represents billions of dollars in losses year after year. That would not be the case if all revenue from non-renewable natural resources were included. It should be noted that we were not asking for preferential treatment for Quebec.

We were only asking that the basic principle of fairness be applied so that all provinces have the benefit of the same fiscal capacity.

Why exclude non-renewable natural resources? Since the debate began no one in this House has been able to answer this question. The reason is simple: there is no rational reason; the only reason is quite arbitrary. It was decided, just like that, to exclude this area of tax revenue because it was in the best interests of certain provinces. Furthermore, it allowed some politicians to defend their provinces. And very well, indeed.

So why, for example, were renewable resources such as hydroelectricity not excluded? The Government of Quebec earns significant revenues from its hydroelectricity. Excluding this resource from the equalization formula would have generated much more money for Quebec.

Why not exclude revenues from the aerospace industry? As if! Why did the members from the Bloc Québécois not stand up and ask for that? Honestly, why did my fine colleagues not think of that? They should have thought of that. Let us exclude the aerospace sector from the equalization calculation. It just so happens that this sector is in Quebec. Well, that would be great! Why did none of the Bloc Québécois MPs ask for that? Because it is completely arbitrary. Why exclude sectors of the economy from the equalization calculation? There is no reason other than to unduly disadvantage one province. For that reason, I believe that the Liberal motion is off base.

Even though the government's proposal in the budget gives Quebec some supplementary money, it does not go far enough to fully respect the principle of equalization, which is to ensure the same fiscal capacity for everyone by taking into account all the revenues the provinces might benefit from.

There is another adverse effect to excluding non-renewable resources from the equalization calculation. When it comes to the Kyoto protocol and reducing greenhouse gases, there will be incentives for provincial governments to develop these industries at the expense of other industries.

We already knew there were incentives for companies, for the oil companies and so forth, but now there will be incentives for governments. A provincial government is better off developing non-renewable energies since the revenues the province earns from those resources will not be included in the equalization calculation. That government will therefore earn twice as much money.

This is not productive at all. It is unfair and should be changed quickly, in the next budget, I hope. In any case, the Bloc Québécois will continue to fight for all natural resource revenues to be included, whether the resource is renewable or not.

Some will say that this represents a lot of money for Quebec. Nonetheless, out of all the provinces that receive equalization, Quebec receives the least per capita. In this group of provinces that receive money under equalization, Quebec is by far the most populous. Therefore, the total amount of money should be greater.

Nonetheless, we must not be fooled by this figure. It is normal that, in all the transfers, the more populated provinces receive more in total than less populated provinces. That is the very principle of equalization. The principle aims to ensure that all provinces can provide the same services to their citizens. It is therefore only normal that more populated provinces need more money to provide the same services.

The question of equalization is only one aspect of the larger problem that is the fiscal imbalance.

The Bloc will support this budget because we see the beginnings of a move to correct the fiscal imbalance. The money is on the table and, since a good portion of that money belongs to Quebeckers, of course we will take it. However, the government must go even further.

Let us get back to the basics. The expression “fiscal imbalance” exists for a reason. In Quebec, the Séguin commission is the basis for a consensus that transcends all political parties. Everyone subscribes to it. When Mr. Séguin and the members of his commission decided to name this problem the “fiscal imbalance”, they did not pull these words out of a hat at random. They did not believe that, by putting together the words “fiscal” and “imbalance”, they would baptize the problem.

There is an underlying reason for the expression “fiscal imbalance”. It is simple. They called it that because, first of all, it is an imbalance, and secondly, because it is a fiscal problem. they did not call it the “budget imbalance”, the “monetary imbalance” or the “financial imbalance”. They called it the “fiscal imbalance”. Thus, we are talking about a fiscal issue, a taxation issue, here.

The imbalance arises from the fact that the federal government takes too much in income tax to provide the services it is constitutionally bound to offer. And on the other hand, the provinces do not have enough tax revenue to be able to offer all the services they are bound to provide.

The problem continues to grow because the provinces’ independent tax revenue remains stable while federal government revenue increases significantly. At the same time, the provinces’ expenditures are steadily increasing because education and health account for a large part of provincial budgets. They cost a lot. The increase exceeds inflation, while the expenditures of the federal government are much easier to control and increase much more moderately.

What conclusion can we draw from this? Only a tax solution will make it possible to settle the fiscal problem once and for all. It means transferring some tax fields from the central government to the provinces. To my mind this is obvious.

This week the Minister of Finance said that the fiscal imbalance was over. My goodness, he has not understood what the fiscal imbalance is. He demonstrates perfectly that the presence of the Bloc Québécois in this Parliament is more necessary than ever. He claims to be solving a problem but he is showing clearly that he has not understood.

If he had not understood the word “déséquilibre”, I would have said to myself that, since in English the term is imbalance, perhaps the translation was not right. However, the word “fiscal” is written the same way in English and in French.

So there are no reasons to explain why the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister do not understand the meaning of the word “fiscal”. There is no reason for them not to understand that they cannot claim to have settled the problem once and for all as long as they have made any fiscal transfers?

And what would those be? What the Séguin commission most enthusiastically recommended was a transfer of the GST, probably because that would be the simplest thing. For example, the federal government could stop collecting the 6% tax in Quebec, and in return, the Quebec government would collect 6% more for itself. For the taxpayer this would have no impact, but it would have an impact on Canadian federalism. This would enable Quebec to have independent revenue, revenue it can control, that it can plan on and that is not subject to the vagaries of the federal government’s decisions.

Such is today’s reality: Quebeckers, even with this beginning of a settlement, remain dependent upon the federal government.

It is dependent because, on March 27, after the election, the government can change its budget if it wants to. It can change the equalization formula. The fact is that for the past five years, the equalization formula has changed nearly every year. It is time to escape from this dependence, and in the short term, under the current federal structure, that can only be achieved by a fiscal transfer.

I spoke of the example of the GST, which could be used. There could also be a transfer of income tax points. That has already been done in the past. The federal government could agree to a reduction in income tax for residents of Quebec, and, in return, the Government of Quebec could raise more income tax from its taxpayers. This was done during the time of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and René Lévesque. When the Prime Minister told us yesterday that he would not negotiate with a sovereignist government, he revealed the extent to which he does not understand reality and also how contemptuous he is of Quebec democracy.

In my opinion, there is a message that must be drawn from the Prime Minister's remarks this week. It is that this government believes it can get away with anything. He scorns Quebeckers when he says, “We have settled the fiscal imbalance. We have decided that the fiscal imbalance is resolved and those who are not happy can go back home”. Then he says, “From now on, we will negotiate only with those we choose. If the government that you elect—that Quebeckers elect—does not suit us, we will not negotiate with it”. That is intolerable and unacceptable because it denies Quebeckers the right to choose their own government.

I am convinced that the Prime Minister's remarks will arouse Quebeckers, because they know that having the Parti Québécois in power in Quebec will best defend their interests. That is certainly obvious and we saw it clearly in the reaction of the party leaders after the unfortunate remarks by the Prime Minister. Only André Boisclair stood up and said that no one can tell us whom to choose as our government. The choice will be made by Quebeckers and the federal government will have to accept that choice. That is all that we ask of it.

This is not the first time that the government has interfered in the decisions made by Quebeckers. It did so in the last two referendums, and in 1995 it did so in a particularly shameful way, spending millions of dollars during the referendum campaign to promote its option in violation of Quebec’s referendum law. So the federal government has obviously learned nothing. It is still the same dominating, centralizing, paternalistic government that tells Quebeckers what to think and do. It still does not understand the Quebeckers want to take charge of their own affairs. That is where I am headed.

What we see here is an inability to resolve the fiscal imbalance and develop an equalization plan in keeping with the basic principles of a normal federation. That shows us one thing: the only way forward for Quebeckers is to take charge of our own affairs and have a country of our own, not because we do not like Canadians—I like most of my colleagues here with whom I have had a chance to go out, have a beer, and so forth—but simply because we are obviously bad for each other. We are bad for each other because in wanting as many powers as possible for our National Assembly, in wanting to make all our own budgetary choices, and in wanting to pass all our own laws, we Quebeckers prevent Canada from becoming what it really wants to be, that is to say a country with a strong central government that gets involved in education, health care and a multitude of other areas outside its own jurisdiction.

The choice that Quebeckers are going to make next Monday is to say that we are going to make the right decision, we are going to choose to pass all our own laws, to control all our budgets, to sign all our international treaties and to make our voice heard in the rest of the world. This choice means giving ourselves a country and achieving sovereignty, and that starts by supporting the Parti Québécois next Monday.

Opposition motion—Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Business

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's presentation. I sit on the finance committee with him and he is always well-prepared and well-spoken, and I normally disagree with him.

He began his discussion today talking about the motion before us, a motion from the official opposition, but then went on to other topics. I fundamentally disagree with him. For example, he talked about the need to have Bloc members in the House because they are the only ones defending Quebec's interests. That is absolutely not the case and is erroneous, in my opinion. We have a great team of members from Quebec on my side of the bench who do a great job in defending the rights and issues that affect Quebec directly.

I am a little confused by his presentation. I want to clarify something with the member as to where he was going. The budget states:

Fulfilling the Commitment to Respect the Offshore Accords

To respect the Offshore Accords, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador may continue to operate under the previous Equalization system until their existing offshore agreements expire. This fulfills and builds upon the Government’s commitment to respect the Offshore Accords and ensures that these provinces will continue to receive the full benefit that they are entitled to under the previous system. These provinces can permanently opt into the new Equalization system at any point in the future.

It is in writing in a number of spots. I know the member can answer this question because he is quite an intelligent young man. I could not tell, based on his presentation, whether the Bloc would actually be supporting what is in front of us, which I think is a disingenuous statement about where we stand with the offshore accords that have been signed.

The motion will go to a vote this evening. Could the Bloc member tell me whether the Bloc Party has decided to support the opposition motion today or oppose it?

Opposition motion—Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Business

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will begin with a simple answer. We will vote against the Liberals' motion because we do not support piecemeal agreements that violate the principle of equalization.

To get back to the issue of Conservative members from Quebec who are supposedly working in our best interest, one might ask why there are two levels for natural resources: 0% and 50%. Moreover, why is it that the level that would be best for Quebec, that is, 100% inclusion, is not in the budget? Why is it that in this budget, a province that would benefit from the 0% level can choose, and a province that would benefit from the 50% level can choose, but a province like Quebec, which would benefit from a 100% inclusion, cannot choose? Because it is not in the budget. Is that, perhaps, because the Conservative members from Quebec did not do their jobs? Perhaps they did not do their jobs, but there might be another possibility. Maybe they are not able to do their jobs. Maybe the Quebec members do not participate in making this government's decisions. Why? That is the problem with this federation. This federation was not created for minorities like Quebeckers.

The only solution open to Quebeckers is to take charge and get out of this dependency situation calmly, peacefully and with good will. They must understand that Canadians want to build a country in their own image that meets their own needs. Fine. Who can blame them? We, however, as Quebeckers, should do as Canadians, Germans, the French, Americans, Venezuelans, the Congolese and who knows how many others around the world have done: make our own decisions.

That is the choice we have. It all starts next Monday.

Opposition motion—Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Business

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that the member is not supporting the motion put forward by the member from Newfoundland and Labrador.

I would still like to offer a warning. The member and his party intend to support this budget because, in their opinion, it partly addresses the thorny issue of fiscal imbalance. I do not see anything in this budget that bears this out, that ensures that money collected this year will be collected in years to come. There is only a promise from the current government, the Conservative government.

In 2004, the same government said it fully supported the Atlantic accord. Now, it is asking the premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to play Russian roulette, and to think about accepting a few more equalization dollars, since all the promises made under the Atlantic accord are not being kept.

I can easily imagine that next year, or any other year in which the Government of Quebec is not holding an election and is not in an election period, the Conservative Minister of Finance would be less generous to the Government of Quebec than he was a few days before a provincial election.