House of Commons Hansard #166 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was atlantic.

Topics

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his rant and I have two words for him that he might like to recall. Those two words are: Bev Desjarlais. I will leave it at that.

The member talks about opposing the budget. What the budget does for the people of Nova Scotia is it restores fiscal balance and brings federal support to Nova Scotia to the tune of $2.4 billion in 2007-08, including $1.3 billion under the new equalization system, $130 million in offshore--

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Resuming debate with the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cape Breton—Canso.

I am quite pleased today to speak on the subject of equalization. I am pleased because this debate affords me the opportunity to speak about this important topic while raising issues such as fairness, justice, truthfulness and honesty. Some people might argue that terms such as these may be a bit flowery for the often arcane statistical language one uses when speaking about Canada's complex equalization formula. The precise details are well known to those of us who deal with the minutiae of government policy on a day to day basis, but these details may not be known to the average Canadian.

Regular folks do not have the time to pore over the thousands and thousands of pages of information on government programs produced by our country's hard-working public servants. Regular folks are more concerned with working hard, making sure that their children and grandchildren grow up with good values so that they too may some day contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.

Regular folks expect their elected officials to do the monotonous work of combing through the endless documents to make sure that nothing is lost in the fine lines and they expect their public officials to do this in a fair, just, true and honest manner. Regular folks in Saskatchewan in most instances probably could not quote the precise numbers of the equalization formula, but regular folks in Saskatchewan know that a promise is a promise and that the Conservative government has broken far too many of them.

While I am pleased today to speak on this subject, I must admit that I get no pleasure in seeing the way the Conservative government has treated Saskatchewan's share of equalization in the last budget. I would like to take a brief moment to quote Premier Lorne Calvert's testimony to the Standing Committee on Finance last week. He said:

I'd like to begin by reminding committee members of commitments that were made to the people of Saskatchewan regarding proposed changes to equalization, in a letter delivered to myself from the now Prime Minister of Canada.... He said to me, “The Conservative Party of Canada will alter the equalization program to remove all non-renewable resources from the formula, as well as move the program to a ten-province standard.

Mr. Calvert went on during this testimony to outline promises from the 2006 Conservative election platform which restate the same promises that he received in the 2004 letter from the then leader of the opposition and now our Prime Minister.

Whether here in Ottawa or at home in Saskatchewan, Mr. Calvert has been a tireless crusader advocating fairness for Saskatchewan in equalization at every opportunity. While I may not agree with the New Democratic premier of Saskatchewan and many of his ideological positions, as a proud resident of that great province I admire his tenacity and the way in which he represents honesty and integrity.

Some have argued that his campaign is to bring attention to the Conservative government's betrayal of Saskatchewan as simple posturing, an attempt to shift attention away from his own government's issues and place blame on Ottawa's politicians. Like some of my colleagues in the House, I certainly would not try to know the thoughts or motivations of Mr. Calvert, but I am proud to say that I agree with his logic on this issue 100%.

Simply, a promise was made to Saskatchewan and a promise was broken to Saskatchewan. It appears as though promises were made to Canadians and to the people of Saskatchewan simply to mislead for political gain. When a political party or a government misleads the electorate, the political games are short-lived. Canadians do not like to be used for a political party's or MP's personal gain.

I am disappointed in what I have heard coming from the Conservative Party's Saskatchewan members of Parliament when this subject is discussed. Never in my time in public life, whether here in Ottawa or in first nations government and education have I been a witness to such deceit and breach of trust when people are placed in a position of prominence whereby their actions could help raise awareness of a great injustice and yet decide to sit mutely and do as they are told. Indeed it is a great tragedy.

Promises were made to the people of Saskatchewan by the Conservatives regarding the equalization formula, promises that were wilfully not kept, promises to remove non-renewable resources from the formula, promises not to claw back resource revenues and promises to ensure that as Saskatchewan further develops its resources its residents are not penalized for their success.

In some ways Saskatchewan has had a rough go of it in recent times vis-à-vis its neighbours, especially Alberta and British Columbia. There was a time not so long ago that Saskatchewan was the third most populous province in this great country. Decades of stagnation, out-migration and systemic changes in the agricultural economy have led to Saskatchewan's designation as a have not province more often than not, but this does not have to be a sad story.

I am proud to report that Saskatchewan is on the cusp of a major comeback focused on two important factors: our wealth of natural resources and our emerging competitive advantage brought about by unique and exciting demographic factors in the form of our fastest growing youthful aboriginal population.

Unfortunately, the Conservative government in a remarkably short period of time has taken steps to slow Saskatchewan's comeback through these broken promises which will adversely affect the amount of fiscal benefit derived from our natural resources.

We spent decades struggling to transition Saskatchewan out of its have not status toward have status. It is very simple to understand that non-renewable resources are non-renewable. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. Saskatchewan wants to keep the fiscal benefit derived from its non-renewable resources to build a stronger Saskatchewan, a strong, vibrant and viable economy that would entrench Saskatchewan as a have province for decades to come and at the same time make Canada stronger.

What the federal government has done is put the long term socio-economic viability of Saskatchewan at risk. I know Saskatchewan very well and this deceit from the Conservatives is a huge blow. It is a huge blow that is compounded by another betrayal.

The cancellation of the Kelowna accord harms the potential of our other underutilized natural resource, our first nations and Métis young people. The Conservative government has purposefully disadvantaged Saskatchewan. I believe it does not even have a clue or even understand what it has done to hurt Saskatchewan.

The Kelowna accord was a necessary first step that would have worked toward closing the gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians in areas such as poverty, housing, education and health.

The previous Liberal government, the provincial and territorial governments and aboriginal governments all agreed Kelowna was a historic event and yet the Conservative government dismissed and betrayed first nations, Métis and Inuit people across this country.

Saskatchewan's lost share of Kelowna was projected to be in the neighbourhood of $650 million to $700 million over five years, coupled with the twin blow of the broken equalization promise showing that aiding Saskatchewan's return to greatness is not a priority for the government. I believe Saskatchewan will make it despite these challenges, but the government certainly is not making that situation any easier.

The silence of the Saskatchewan caucus is a shame. In only one year the Conservatives have dealt a $1.5 billion blow to Saskatchewan. Instead of fairness that allows a province to reap the rewards of its economic development, we are given a new formula with pitiful justifications for its implementation.

Instead of the justice that Kelowna would have provided, we are given inequality, prejudice and discrimination. Instead of truthfulness and honesty, we are given broken promises defended through clumsy talking points that are so embarrassing the speakers must quietly shudder to themselves every time they have to repeat them.

To conclude, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous courage shown by the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley on June 5. Similar to Saskatchewan, the people in Nova Scotia were subjected to promises and agreements that were arbitrarily and capriciously thrown away by the Conservative government.

Media reports make reference to a heated debate behind the scenes during the past few weeks between the courageous member from Nova Scotia and his colleagues regarding how this budget negatively affects equalization in his province. It appears as though the member in question was not the only one among his now former Atlantic Conservative colleagues to raise concerns. Irrespective of how his colleagues may have individually voted, it appears as though several of the Atlantic Canadian Conservative members at least tried to do the right thing for their constituents. At least they tried.

The comparison between the members from Atlantic Canada and their seatmates from Saskatchewan is not flattering for the latter group. We have yet to see one small example of backbone from the terrified 12 on the subject of Saskatchewan's equalization. I must admit, however, that they are well practised in the art of parroting the finance minister's talking points.

Meanwhile regular folks in Saskatchewan go about their business, saddened in the knowledge that so many of their elected representatives refuse to fight for what is right. It appears to me that they are either too scared to stand up for their province or they truly believe that breaking promises which damage and risk Saskatchewan's future is the proper course of action. I do not know which prospect is scarier.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.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. Speak, I have just one comment and then a quick question for the hon. member opposite.

The comment is that during the 13 years his party was in power there were absolutely no changes made to the equalization formula that would have benefited Saskatchewan. In fact, had the changes that we made just recently been enacted back in the mid-1990s over a period of a decade, the province of Saskatchewan, according to the Department of Finance's own figures from the province of Saskatchewan, would have received an additional $4 billion. But the Liberals did nothing.

My question is a simple one. I have asked three other members on the opposite side this question and I have yet to get an accurate response. I asked the member for Halifax West, when he finished his presentation, if he could confirm the comments made by his leader who said in March of this year that, first, he did not believe that non-renewable natural resources should be excluded from the equalization formula and, second, he said that he believed that on top of that there should be a fiscal capacity cap.

Of course those two elements would result in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan receiving absolutely zero dollars in equalization. When I posed that question to the member for Halifax West, he said that his leader responded to that question in his comments this morning. He denies making those comments

Those comments were made on a television program called Mike Duffy Live. Not only do we have the transcript, but there is film available verifying that the Leader of the Opposition made those comments.

I will ask the question: was he misleading the Canadian public then or is he misleading Canadians now? Does my hon. colleague deny that his leader made those comments? In fact, does he stand by the comments made by his leader in March of this year?

Business of Supply
Government Orders

June 7th, 2007 / 4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that they try to deflect blame from the real issue here and not really talk about the promise to Saskatchewan that has been broken.

On June 5, the StarPhoenix called the Saskatchewan Conservative members “a group of political sycophants willing to bend the truth with constituents and try to convince them that black is white, instead of standing up for what they know to be true”.

I think they know what the truth is because on July 25, 2006, the Saskatchewan caucus wrote a letter to the finance minister and the Prime Minister, stating that “anything less than substantial compliance with our commitment will cause us no end of political difficulty during the next federal election”.

It is interesting that the truth is there. The promise has been broken. Saskatchewan people know this.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure Canadians are enthralled with this debate between the Conservative and Liberal parties as to who properly should have kicked out members of their caucus and who did not.

It seems to me that there is a longstanding tradition within Canadian Parliament that the actual idea of people casting votes for someone running for office is that this someone would represent them.

We have a very clear example here in the House. A Conservative member obviously wrestled with this issue for some time as to whether he could support this budget, which he saw as doing harm to his constituents and his province, and he was summarily dismissed by his party. The party then blocked computer records and access, which apparently have been restored, but as for even just the intention, I think that a lot of viewers who are watching and a lot of Canadians paying attention to this debate, if they can, do worry about the idea of sending someone to Ottawa and then having them tossed from a party because of a vote against a budget or not.

The Liberals do not have a clean record on this because they did the same thing not so long ago for one of their members. I have a question for my hon. colleague. Does he support what his party and the Conservative Party did? As for attempts to make any reference to what happened to a dear friend of mine in terms of what were her choices and what were not, I would recommend that he does not, because the continuation of these falsities does no service for any of us in this place.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

An hon. member

It's exactly the same.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

An hon. member

No, it's not the same.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the lecture from the pulpit on this issue by the hon. member across. Members being treated in the way they have been treated over the last little while is certainly an issue that Canadians are paying attention to and are watching very closely.

In my province, for example, I know that when it comes to representing our constituents and standing up for our province we have to do what is best for our constituents, because the people in Saskatchewan are busy doing their jobs, paying their bills and getting their kids off to school. They are busy with life.

It seems as though the Conservative government has taken the algebraic term “irrational numbers” to a new level and is simply not moving on its promise. It is unfortunate that we are having this debate. As the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley said, it takes a simple solution, and that simple solution is simply not one that the government is prepared to undertake.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in this debate on this very important issue. It is an issue that is important not just to the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador but also to the good people of the province of Saskatchewan. Really, as they see what is really at play here, we can say that it is important to all Canadians.

During her speech earlier, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs indicated that what the government wanted to do was go back to a principled application of the equalization formula. It was to be based on principle, and I think it was framed fairly well today in the Globe and Mail, which reflected on the Groucho Marx line about principles: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others”.

The principle at play here is that the federal government made a commitment to the people of Nova Scotia and made a commitment to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and signed a contract. The government is walking away from that commitment. It is breaking the deal. That is the principle here.

I think it is important that we get back to what this meant to the people of Nova Scotia and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I can speak firsthand to the situation in Nova Scotia because I was there in February 2005. After many months of negotiation, the accord was signed by the premier at the time, John Hamm, and his minister, Cecil Clarke, representing the province of Nova Scotia, our fisheries minister at the time, the member for Halifax West, and our Prime Minister. The signing of that accord was monumental.

The people of Nova Scotia said that was the single greatest day in Nova Scotia since oil and gas were discovered off the coast. That is how important this was to the people of Nova Scotia.

It was a promise made by our former prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, and he went beyond the promise. He promised Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians full access to their offshore revenues, but he went beyond that and cut an upfront cheque for each province.

That amounted to $800 million for the province of Nova Scotia, a significant amount. As for the debt situation that we were in at the time, we carried more debt per capita than any other province. That debt was a ball and chain. It was weighing us down as a province.

Our premier at the time applied the $800 million to the $12 billion debt that the province of Nova Scotia was carrying. I totally supported the premier on that decision. In doing that right thing, he brought down the annual interest in the province of Nova Scotia by between $40 million and $50 million annually. That $40 million or $50 million goes into highways, hospitals and education. It benefits all Nova Scotians. That was the right thing to do. It was honourable of our former prime minister to do to make sure that money was issued upfront.

Just so members understand, what the accord did was make sure that the clawback provisions from equalization were no longer applied. There were no more clawback provisions through equalization because of the offshore revenues. It was meant to be a building block so that Nova Scotia could move from being a have not province to a have province. There is activity in the economy in Nova Scotia, but the accord was in essence the foundation, a building block, and then, with the equalization on top, suddenly the revenues started to make some sense. The province was able to start getting at that debt that we continue to carry and that continues to be a burden on the people of Nova Scotia.

However, what happened when the budget was tabled was that the rug was pulled out from under the feet of Nova Scotians. The foundation was removed with the pulling out of the accord.

The comments that are coming from the government today are about how “they can have one or they can have the other”. That was never the deal. This was both. This was the accord. This was equalization and no provision of clawbacks. Indeed, when we held government, we did increase the amount of equalization through a change in the formula. We increased the amount of equalization to the province of Nova Scotia and there was no impact on the accord. It in no way compromised the accord. This could be done. We know that this is not what happened in this case.

Numbers get bandied about in the House. In order for us to get a true view of it, let me mention that I read a great op-ed article a number of weeks back. It was from Peter O'Brien, the former Atlantic representative on the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. He was never a great friend of the Liberal Party of Canada, by any means, and when there was an issue he would take issue with the government.

However, in regard to his position on this aspect of the budget, the accord, he said that when it was first announced the message coming from the Minister of Finance and the regional minister was, “Hey, this is all good, there is no change, no cap, and no compromising the Atlantic accord”. He took it at face value. In the article, he goes on to talk about two of this country's strongest and most respected economists, Wade Locke, from Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Paul Hobson, from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Mr. O'Brien has been in a number of prebudget lockups with these gentlemen. He said that their work is exemplary and he trusts them completely. Mr. O'Brien said that by Wade Locke identifying and going through the process, and showing that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador will lose $11 billion with these changes and the province of Nova Scotia will lose a billion dollars with these changes, he knows that what he was getting from the Minister of Finance and the regional minister was nothing but spin. The truth is that both of those provinces lose with the changes that are made to this accord, and that is truly shameful.

We have heard about this throughout this debate since the budget was tabled. I remember the day it was tabled. We were on our feet on this side of the House questioning the government about the impacts on the accord for both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. We knew there was going to be a net loss to the citizens of those two provinces, but the government said no, that was not the way it was at all. It said that this is great, we do not compromise anything, and they end up coming out ahead.

Then, when there was a unanimous resolution that came from the legislature in Nova Scotia, an all party resolution that called for the government to reinstitute the accord, those guys stood up and said, “Hey, there's no problem, it's all good”.

The government sent its finance minister to meet with the finance minister for Nova Scotia. They had a six hour meeting. That is no reflection of us being slow learners in Nova Scotia. It is because the finance minister for the province of Nova Scotia knew what it had lost under the changes in the government's budget.

Then, of course, yesterday was the big day when this thing all came to a head. We saw what went on with the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. We saw the arm-twisting that went on. We know about the work that was going on behind the steel curtain over there.

The member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley took a principled approach. He chose province over party. He took a principled approach and he did the right thing, because he knows that this deal is not a good deal for the people of Nova Scotia and it is not a good deal for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

What I want to do is call on the government to make sure that it abides by this agreement that was signed between the federal government and those provinces and that it reinstitutes the accords so that the people can share in what is rightfully theirs.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will have some comments later, a lengthy comment, but my shorter comment to the member is this. I think it somewhat hypocritical for any member in any party in the House to criticize any party or individual for doing something. Parties and members do it because they have specific reasons. In this case there are reasons. There are reasons why members from the other side crossed the floor. To criticize one party or the other party seems to me somewhat hypocritical.

However, the member says there are some facts at issue. Some of the facts for Newfoundland are this. Does he not agree that restoring a fiscal balance to Newfoundland and Labrador, it will have approximately $1.5 billion more in 2007 and 2008 as a result of this budget? It will have $477 million in equalization, $494 million offshore accord offset, $347 million under the Canada Health transfer, $151 million for the Canada social transfer and $52 million for infrastructure.

How can this be a negative?

Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, let us make one thing clear. I, in no way, was criticizing the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. I was celebrating the courageous stand he took on voting against the budget. He knows it was hurting the people he represents.

What is shameful is the people on the other bench over there did not stand and vote with their constituents, and we should know that.

The member for Central Nova tried to make a few points when a motion was brought forward in the last Parliament by the then opposition. He said that the government members and the member for Halifax West voted against it.

We want to ensure that the people at home watching the debate know that the member himself, as a member of the opposition, voted against the budget that would ensure those accord moneys went to the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Let us get all the figures on the table and who stood for what. However, I in no way chastised that member. I commend that member and I think what he did was courageous.

Business of Supply
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is quite obvious, by some of the comments of our Conservative colleagues, that they have not even read the accord. That is why they divert the discussion to other aspects of the budget . If they want to get into the budget, there are many things that have been left out of that budget. However, I sure the Conservatives would not want to hear about all those things.

There is one thing I would like to ask my hon. colleague from Cape Breton—Canso. I have lived in Nova Scotia since 1988, having been born somewhere else but raised in Vancouver and Yukon. One of the things that I learned right away, and anybody who goes to Atlantic Canada will also learn this, is when maritimers or an Atlantic Canadians gives us their word, we can take that to the bank.

When the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency stood in the House to answer a question from a gentleman from West Nova, he said, “We will not kick anybody out of our caucus for voting their conscience. We will not flip or flop on the budget”. Basically, what he said very clearly to the people of Canada and to the people of the Conservative Party, was they could vote their conscience on the budget and their would be no reprimand in any regard.

What does my colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso, think about a maritimer going back on his word and betraying the people of Atlantic Canada?

Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would think that if the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley were waiting for the green light to stand up for his constituents without any repercussions from the caucus chair, I would think that would have been it. Maybe what he should have asked for was a form to write it down right on a napkin and sign it. Oh, no sorry, he does not honour those either. I'm sorry.