House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was million.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

March 3rd, 2008 / 3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise on a point of order, which I believe is a matter which not only undermines but challenges the fundamental authority of the House. I refer specifically to an action taken in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Thursday, February 29, at the meeting at 3:30 p.m.

I am reading from the minutes. There was a motion of the committee that was agreed to, and which I reported to the House on Friday, as follows:

That the Committee report to the House that it is finished with the witnesses and information gathering phase of the Mulroney Airbus settlement and recommends that a public inquiry be held forthwith.

I tabled that report on Friday.

However, following the adoption of that motion, there was a motion moved by the member for Dufferin—Caledon, which reads:

That pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a) in relation to the conflicting reports about the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party, the committee investigate the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party--

It goes on to say that it would potentially violate the Canada Elections Act. There are further details in the motion. I will table it at the end of my comments, Mr. Speaker.

This particular item I ruled out of order. My ruling was specifically that in the notice of motion by the member for Dufferin—Caledon, there was no mention of any ethical standards that may have been violated, nor was there any reference to the conflict of interest code for members. It also makes reference that there may be potential violations of the Canada Elections Act.

As the motion draws attention to the Canada Elections Act, I said to the members that Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vi) mandates that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is responsible to review and report on all matters relating to the election of members of the House of Commons. Accordingly, I ruled the motion out of order.

The chair's ruling was challenged by the member for Dufferin—Caledon and, indeed, the chair was overturned. As a consequence, that particular motion is now an order of business of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which I chair.

The committee also then passed a motion, which states, according to the minutes on the website of the committee, “That in relation to the motion adopted by the committee”, i.e., in regard to the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party adopted by the committee, “that the committee proceed with the study immediately”. Indeed, speaking to that, it was before any other business, and therein lies the problem.

Mr. Speaker, Standing Order 108, as you know, lays out the mandate of all the standing committees. It also lays out specific responsibilities and you will indeed see that in Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vi) the issue with regard to the Canada Elections Act is specifically a matter under the purview of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. You also know, Mr. Speaker, that that standing committee is having some difficulty dealing with another matter, referred to as the in and out matter.

It would appear to me that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has decided to pursue a matter of business which is not included specifically in its mandate, nor generally in the mandate of this committee and in fact is specifically in the mandate of another committee. As a consequence, the actions of this committee are effectively to disregard and ignore Standing Order 108 in its entirety, which lays out the mandates of committees.

The consequences of this are very serious. It means that any committee could effectively do anything it wanted to, notwithstanding Standing Order 108. What is the point of having Standing Order 108? To allow this order of business to proceed improperly in the ethics committee would be to admit that Standing Order 108 is moot and should be deleted from the Standing Orders. That is absolutely ridiculous. It is the House itself that made the determination as to the contents of Standing Order 108, for good reason. Any changes to Standing Order 108 must be made by the House or by special committee with the approval of the House.

There is substantial jurisprudence on this question and I would be pleased to table it with the Speaker.

There are two consequences I want to raise specifically with the House. The first, as I have mentioned, is that it would render Standing Order 108 irrelevant. The second consequence is very serious and it has to do with the Mulroney-Schreiber investigation.

Mr. Speaker, as you know, the committee has conducted its hearings. Last Friday I tabled a report indicating that we had completed our witness phase. The committee agreed that the House should recommend to the government that the public inquiry proceed.

The same day, however, there was an opposition day motion and there were speeches on this very item, that the government proceed with a public inquiry on the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. I quote from the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of Western Economic Diversification:

To insist on the one hand that the committee hold these hearings and then not take them to their logical conclusion is irresponsible.

Members should recall that the Prime Minister asked Professor Johnston to finalize his recommendations on the terms of reference for the public inquiry once the committee has completed its work.

The parliamentary secretary has basically said in his argument that the public inquiry should not proceed until the committee has tabled its final report to the House.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has adopted a motion, followed up by another motion, saying that this is the matter we shall deal with. Effectively, it has put a roadblock in front of me. I cannot bring a draft report of the Mulroney-Schreiber hearings before the House because of this matter. The government is saying on one hand that it does not want a public inquiry until it gets the final report, but in committee government members have prohibited the chair from arranging to have the report come before the committee and therefore, I am unable to report to the House. The committee is unable to do its job.

The Speaker himself issued a warrant to hold Mr. Schreiber from extradition until these proceedings were done. It was that important. I also issued a summons for Mr. Schreiber's attendance before committee. When Mr. Schreiber appeared before us on February 25, the last time, at the end of his testimony and the end of the meeting, I specifically noted to him that pursuant to the warrant and the summons issued by the Speaker and myself, he was not being released and in fact remains under the charge of the Speaker and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

The standing committee no longer has the authority to come forward to release Mr. Schreiber pursuant to the Speaker's warrant and summons because I cannot get the motion on the floor. The government is prohibiting it. It means that if the Supreme Court rules on Thursday that Mr. Schreiber's appeal for his extradition proceedings fails, then the government, particularly the Attorney General of Canada, will not be able to extradite Mr. Schreiber because the committee and the Speaker still have charge over him pursuant to the warrant issued.

This is no simple matter. Everyone wants to see that report come to the House with our findings and conclusions. Effectively, the conclusion is people are not telling the truth and we have to go to a public inquiry to find the truth. That can be the report quite simply, but the government representatives on that committee, in committee and in debate last Friday, have argued they cannot have a public inquiry and cannot go to Dr. Johnston until there is a final report. However, they turned around in committee and said that they are blocking us from ever have a final report by an item that is not even their authority.

Finally, I simply ask you, Mr. Speaker, to order the committee not to proceed with that order of business until you make your final ruling on this matter.

Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:45 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. Speaker, I will be mercifully shorter than the hon. member opposite who was making more of a speech than he was any kind of a point of order. Let me point out a couple of things which I know you are quite familiar with.

Number one, committees are the masters of their own fate and their own agenda. Two, I would point out that the chair of a committee is not allowed to interfere with committee decisions, but merely to adjudicate the committee itself.

What is quite clear, since there has been no report from the committee on the first matter that the hon. member talked about, and that is the desire by the committee to investigate the Liberal fundraising practices, the committee has not produced a report on that matter suggesting that they share the views of the member opposite as chair of that committee. Quite frankly, I would suggest that the chair has no relevance in this matter whatsoever, since he is speaking on his own accord and not on behalf of the committee.

Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

What about the Standing Orders?

Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I had the courtesy of not interrupting the member opposite during his long dissertation, and I would ask for the same courtesy to be extended to me, please.

Three, he talked about ruling a motion out of order, what was overturned by committee members, and somehow feeling that this was an infringement upon his abilities to conduct the meeting accordingly as the chairman. I would point out that in the procedure and House affairs committee, when opposition members decided to enter a motion requesting the committee to investigate the so-called in and out scheme of the Conservative Party, and on the advice of the Law Clerk of the House the chairperson ruled that out of order, the opposition members, in a combined vote, overturned the ruling of the chair. In that particular instance, members opposite felt that that overturning of the chair's ruling was quite appropriate.

Now, on the other hand, we find a chairperson speaking on his own volition, without the support of his committee, standing in this House and saying that the overturning of his ruling is somehow inappropriate.

Since committees are masters of their own fate and they set their own agenda and there has been no dissenting report or other report indicated in this House or reported back to this House, I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that your ruling and interpretation of this matter is quite clear: let the committee do its work as the majority members of the committee dictate.

Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say that to my knowledge the chair of a committee must make sure that the Standing Orders are respected. It is the role and duty of the chair to make sure that all committee discussions be respectful of the Standing Orders of the House.

Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the three members who have made arguments on this matter to the Chair. I will review the matter and come back to the House in due course with a ruling.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, and of the amendment.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities had the floor. He now has three minutes to wrap up his remarks.

The hon. minister.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, that is why we have abolished the federal capital tax and provided a financial incentive to encourage the provinces to eliminate their capital taxes as quickly as possible. That is also the reason we set out a long term plan last fall to reduce the federal corporate income tax rate to 15% by 2012. And that is why we are calling on the provinces to reduce their corporate income taxes. Our goal is to achieve a combined federal-provincial tax rate of 25% by 2012.

We believe in the free market, in competition, and in limited government intervention. But that does not mean we will ignore specific challenges that some individuals or economic sectors may encounter through no fault of their own.

For example, a year ago, it became clear that Canadian manufacturing and processing companies were having a hard time, due in part to the strength of the Canadian dollar. That is why the 2007 budget set out a temporary accelerated capital cost allowance, to enable manufacturing businesses to fully amortize their investments in machinery and equipment over two years.

Between now and 2009-10, this measure alone represents a benefit of some $1.3 billion for the manufacturing and processing sector. Last Wednesday, we extended accelerated capital cost allowance treatment by three years, which means an additional billion dollars for those sectors.

Of course, that is not enough for the Bloc Québécois. Nothing is ever enough for the Bloc Québécois. Not enough. That is easy to say when they will never have to account for anything to anyone, never have a budget to balance and never have to guarantee any growth. The Bloc members are very imaginative when it comes to finding ways to spend taxpayers' money. But, in this budget period, one might ask the following: in 18 years, that is, since its inception, how many jobs has the Bloc Québécois created? How many projects has it completed? How many investments has it attracted?

We know the answer to all those questions. The answer is zero. And zero, as a record, is far from brilliant.

I would also very much like to summarize the position of the Liberal Party of Canada on the budget, but that is not easy. It is roughly as follows: the Liberals do not like our budget at all, but they are desperately trying to find a way to support it.

In closing, I hope my hon. colleagues will support our budget.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the remarks of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities on the budget. He also has responsibility for Canada Post. We have been raising a number of questions with him in the House but not getting many answers, I will admit.

There is nothing in the budget other than the regular funding for Canada Post and we know it is basically wasting $600 million to do a review of rural delivery and individual mailbox delivery in rural Canada. I would like to ask the minister, could that money not be spent more productively?

All it is doing is making rural Canadians angry. Canada Post is taking away individual mail delivery. The numbers, for which the minister has responsibility, are saying that there have been 1,300 safety concerns. That is using safety pretty liberally because 800 of those we now know are for ergonomic damage where the courier reaches across and out the window. They are not really to do with safety concerns on the highway at all.

When will the minister show some leadership, take on Canada Post, and tell it to stop this ridiculous policy of destroying individual mail delivery and using safety as an excuse? Strong direction from the minister would probably do it. He should tell Canada Post to stop wasting that $600 million while he is at it.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Malpeque, I hope, was here when this House put forward a directive and told Canada Post to henceforth ensure that rural mail delivery continues. That is exactly what Canada Post is doing. It is evaluating every individual rural mail box there is to ensure that it complies with safety and security, but at the same time respecting the directive that this House of Commons put forward last year.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the situation in the manufacturing and forestry industries, and specifically the situation in the forestry industry, we can see that it is the single-industry towns and cities experiencing major crises after a plant shut-down that would have something to gain from the insufficient amounts of money from the federal government.

At the same time, the federal government and the minister are bragging that the government will give greater leeway when it comes to amortization—but to whom? To businesses that have shut down.

Since the businesses have shut down in single-industry towns, since the businesses no longer exist and since the government only wants to give training to workers who have lost their jobs, could the minister tell me what kinds of jobs these workers will be able to find in their own regions, after they have been trained in another field, after losing their jobs?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer my colleague's question.

He knows that about four weeks ago, in this House, we passed the bill creating a community development trust. This trust was designed to help the municipalities, the communities, most affected by this worldwide crisis. This crisis is not just being experienced in New Brunswick, Quebec or elsewhere. It is obviously affecting many of our communities.

We created this $1 billion trust, which is allocated based on each province's demographic weight. For example, Quebec will receive $217 million, which will enable the Government of Quebec, as well as the federal government—in a spirit of federalism and openness and not in the spirit of centralization for which the Liberals are well known—to help these communities.

I urge my colleague to listen carefully to what his premier has done, together with the federal government, in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, to resolve this problem.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the budget today on behalf of my constituents of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission.

A famous politician in his day said that the budget should be balanced; public debt should be reduced. It is hard to disagree with that. In fact, the individual who made this statement lived about 2,000 years ago. His name was Marcus Tullius Cicero who died in 43 B.C. Of course, we agree with these things, the budget should be balanced and public debt should be reduced.

At the outset let me say that this is a good budget. A good budget must be more than balanced. Frankly, anyone can balance a budget if one has complete control over the revenue side of the equation.

A government budget is different in this way than a household budget where the income side is relatively fixed. One could go and get a different job, send one's kids out to work and that kind of thing, but it is relatively fixed or even in a non-profit agency. Many of us have worked in those and struggled with trying to balance those budgets when the income side is more fixed or even in a corporation.

That is why I am always somewhat amused by the NDP members protestations that they are all for balanced budgets. In fact, I think that is what should scare us as Canadians because anyone can balance a budget if one can control the income side by taxation.

To be a good budget I think it needs to be different in other ways. For example, we must understand the external realities. We need to know what the pressures are and the changes that are coming. I think the government has done a very good job of anticipating those.

We need to be able to assess the social realities as well and we have done that. To be a good budget it needs to accurately and fairly calculate the available resources. A good budget must prudently invest or allocate those resources in a principled way and it needs to have an overall plan.

In fact, on the economic side our government is following our plan which we announced a while ago in “Advantage Canada” and we are following that. Those are the principles that we follow in this budget. Finally, those investments need to be based on priorities and that is what we have done here.

I know that goodness, when it comes to a budget, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the question that is always before me is: is this good for my constituents? Is budget 2008 good for my constituents of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission. I contend of course that it is. That is why I am supporting it.

It does a number of things that I think that my constituents want. For one thing it pays down the debt. On Fridays I have office hours in Mission. I am not always there because I am often here, but when I am in the riding I am there and I was there this past week.

I recall a constituent, an older gentleman, coming in during my office hours. He wanted to talk to me about finances. I asked, “Do you mean your own finances or government finances?” “No, the government finances”, he said.

He talked to me about this very issue of paying down the debt. He did not have the numbers exactly right but he had the principle right, that if we are not paying down the debt and we are investing a large amount of money, over $30 billion a year as it turns out in interest payments on that debt that we hold as Canadians and as the Canadian government, then what could we do with that money? In fact, this government believes in that. We support paying down the debt. That is why we have invested $37 billion in paying down our national mortgage.

I know some of the parties in the House, primarily the NDP, do not think we should be paying down the debt, but this government does. That saving of about $2 billion a year, as we pay down on the national mortgage, is passed on to Canadians through the tax back guarantee. In fact, my constituent was very pleased to hear about that.

We believe in reducing taxes. My constituents support that. The budget builds on our proactive fall economic update to lower taxes for people and business. It provides for this year alone $21 billion of economic stimulus for the Canadian economy and that is a good thing.

In fact, what we have done in reducing taxes is significantly greater than the stimulus package offered by the Americans. Theirs came later. As a share of the economy, ours is larger and it came sooner, and that is a good thing. We are pleased about reducing taxes and my constituents are happy with that as well.

They are also happy about the tax-free savings account. I had a couple of dinners, one on Friday night and one on Saturday. At both events, people came to me and said that they wanted to thank me the tax-free savings account. They had just heard about it during the week and they were pleased about it. It is important to them. In fact, it is important for Canada. It is the most important personal finance initiative for decades in Canada.

It will provide Canadians with an initiative to save up to $5,000 each year for Canadians over 18, and in my opinion that is always a good thing. I know I heard an NDP member ask, “Who has $5,000?” If a person has $50, why not invest it in one of these, or $100 or $150?

This will provide that kind of incentive for Canadians at all income levels to start to think about the value of saving on a regular basis. I encourage all Canadians to participate in this. As we do, we will see our investments grow and grow tax-free. We will have the ability to withdraw and take that money out without it affecting our tax situations and without it affecting, for example, our ability to collect the guaranteed income supplements in our later years, and that is a good thing.

Another thing that is very important to my constituents is the whole notion of infrastructure, particularly a public transit infrastructure. I am in a suburban community of Vancouver. I often have meetings in Vancouver, so I make that commute there. Sometimes I take the train if it is available in the hours that I need. When I have to go by vehicle, it gives me a new appreciation for thousands of my constituents who day after day have to make that trip into greater Vancouver to work. They are concerned about what the government id doing about public transit.

Members will recall that in budget 2006 we put in place $1.3 billion in support for public transit, and the public transit tax credit. In budget 2008, we have allocated $500 million for a public transit capital trust. That will support projects such as the Evergreen line, which was mentioned in the budget document and in the budget speech from the minister. This is an important project. The line does not run right into my riding, but it will be the closest to my riding than we have ever had before. It will allow people to get from my riding to there and get through the northeast sector and into Vancouver, all with public transit.

I and the member for Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam have been advocating for this for a number of years, and we believe this is very important.

When I speak to my municipalities, they are interested and concerned about their ability to make investments in infrastructure. I know they are very pleased about the announcement in the budget of the permanent gas tax fund. This would be long term funding for infrastructure. They would be able to plan and know it would be coming. There will be $2 billion in 2009-10 and more in later years. It is a permanent measure that comes year after year, allowing mayors and councils and their administrators to plan for this, and that is important to them as well.

There are many other good announcements in the budget such as the national crime prevention initiatives, support for Canadian students, funding for policing. All of these are important to my constituents.

One item not announced in the speech, but it is in that document, which I know my constituents will be happy about, is the fact that eventually we will go to a 10 year passport. We do thousands of passports in a year in my office. I know they have been talking to me about the possibility of having a 10 year passport, so I am very pleased about that.

I am very pleased to support the budget on behalf of my constituents. I encourage all members of the House to do the same.