House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ontario.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Immigration
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has received a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Vaughan. I will now hear his arguments in favour of this proposal.

Immigration
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, given Canadians' negative reaction to the Conservative government's proposed immigration reform, pursuant to Standing Order 52, I wish to request an emergency debate on the issue of immigration, specifically the immediate threat posed to Canada's global reputation as a nation that encourages immigration and welcomes immigrants.

This situation is critical. The Conservative government plans to reduce the backlog of visa applications by restricting the number and types of applications accepted. The measures in Bill C-50 would reduce the number of new immigration applications that the federal government processes yearly.

The amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that were tabled on Friday, March 14 were introduced in a manner that limits the study and examination of the proposed package.

While the inclusion and important changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Budget Implementation Act may be politically expedient for the Conservative government, it does a disservice to Canadians who want Parliament to deal with the issue of immigration in a serious and thorough manner.

Canadians understand the challenges that our country faces. An aging population, a declining birth rate and skills shortages in a globally competitive labour market all point to the need for intelligent analysis and not politically motivated manoeuvring and posturing. If Parliament is to work effectively for all Canadians, we must have a full and honest debate on this critical issue.

The bill puts too much discretionary power into the hands of a minister by allowing instructions to be issued as to the types of applications that are processed, the establishment of categories of application and the number of applications or requests accepted on a yearly basis. It should not be allowed for these controversial provisions to be forced through Parliament as a budgetary measure and stifle debate on the importance of immigration to this country's labour market needs and nation building.

Over the past two years under the Conservative Party's administration, 36,000 fewer landed immigrants have been allowed into Canada. We cannot afford to shut the door on immigrants.

Mr. Speaker, I trust you will give this request due consideration and I hope a positive response.

Immigration
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has heard the arguments of the hon. member and, of course, received his letter on this matter. In my view, the request does not meet the exigencies of the Standing Order at this time.

I note that the subject he has raised is one that will be the subject of debate when the bill that he mentioned is brought before the House for debate and, of course, consideration in committee, so there will be some opportunity to debate the matter at that point in time.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to continue on the theme of lack of accountability and a transparency with regard to the government, particularly on this issue.

We talked about the need to be cooperative in Confederation and the need to work collaboratively. There will be times when people will not agree on issues but I find it surprising that a finance minister from the province of Ontario would stand up repeatedly and basically say that people should not invest in the province of Ontario, the economic engine of Canada, when we have problems in the auto, manufacturing and forestry sectors.

There is no question that the minister may be fighting old battles. Maybe he wants to be leader of the Conservative Party in the province of Ontario but the job is currently occupied. I would suggest that going after the province and suggesting how it should run its budget and how it should address the priorities, and governing is all about priorities, is really not the concern of the federal government.

The federal government needs to get its own house in order. As we know, the government has spent like a drunken sailor over the last two years to the point, according to the ministry of finance, that it is at 0.7% of going back into a deficit, something which this side of the House and this party got this country out of when we inherited a $42.5 billion deficit in 1993. We became the only G-7 country to pay down the national debt and the only G-7 country not to have a deficit.

When we look at the expenses of the government we see that spending has gone up 14.8%, which was highlighted by no less than the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Government spending has gone up a record high. The reality is that we talked about and took action on corporate taxes as a government. We dropped them significantly from about 28% down to 19% and then the current government subsequently dropped them another half percent.

The reality is that it is about investment as well. Under the Minister of Finance, when he was the minister in the province of Ontario under the Harris government, they left a $5.6 billion deficit. Yes, it cut taxes but, unfortunately, it closed about 29 hospitals and fired 8,000 nurses and infrastructure problems became the norm.

We know about the 25% cut to the ministry of the environment. What led to Walkerton? Those kinds of things left Ontario in a sad state and, as we know, when an independent audit came in under the new McGuinty government, it discovered that the books were not as reported and it had a $5.6 billion deficit.

Why are the hon. members from Ontario not standing up for Ontario on that side of the House? Why are they not standing and saying that we need to invest in the auto and manufacturing sectors and that we need to be proactive in ensuring that people in Ontario who are losing their jobs are assisted in areas of retraining? We had a member of the government go to Queen's Park when the budget was announced denouncing the government, again not working in collaboration with them but denouncing them. It was sort of a big brother approach which, I am sure, is quite interesting given the fact that the Conservatives came into power suggesting that they would have a new era of cooperation with the provinces and territories.

The Conservatives have done nothing to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors. We are talking about people who are losing their jobs and who need retraining. They have even denounced the issue of retraining in the province of Ontario. We need to be investing. When they attack the Ontario government, regardless of political stripe, they are not doing any favours for the people who live in that province, not stepping up to the plate and asking how we can work collaboratively.

Members will remember that when the Harris-Eves government was in power there were six out of eight deficit budgets totalling $28.4 billion. Those people claimed to be the fiscal managers and yet the same group that is now in charge is leading us down the same road, again, 0.7% away from a deficit. When it comes to fiscal management we do not need to take any lessons from that side of the House.

We are the ones, with the help of Canadians, who put the country back on the right track. We see the kind of situation today when the government is heartless and unwilling to help those most in need, which is a major concern to people in my constituency.

Not long after the Premier of Ontario came into office he said:

After eight years of Tory government, the bottom line is: our schools are worse off, our health care is worse off, our environment is worse off and we face a Tory deficit of $5.6 billion.

It's a devastating record, given that these have been years of often spectacular economic growth. Clearly, it was time for a change, and we are working hard to deliver that change.

That is clearly an indictment. We believe on this side of the House about a balanced approach in terms of dealing with personal taxes, corporate taxes but also to invest. I spoke earlier about the Federation of Canadian Municipalities identifying the $123 billion deficit with regard to infrastructure across Canada. The response of the government has been a pittance. It recycles money instead of saying that we need to ensure that Canada takes the lead when it comes to innovation. When it comes to investment opportunities, this is the place to invest and, obviously, not just in Ontario but across the country.

However, when we see this kind of negative approach by the Minister of Finance and by government members, it is not surprising that people look elsewhere in terms of investment opportunities.

What is the strategy? Why would a minister of finance from the province of Ontario attack his own province, regardless of political stripe? Either it is old battles or the Minister of Finance does not understand his own province, which would be quite an indictment not to understand its importance. He comes from an area of Ontario where issues of transit are absolutely critical, where moving people, goods and services are absolutely imperative and yet he has a very callous approach. I talked earlier about the pothole comment, not understanding that all orders of government, including municipal, need to work effectively together and yet we do not see that support at all.

We see a rail link from Peterborough to Toronto for 900 individuals, which is very nice, except when it comes to investing in the greater Toronto area and the extension of the Yonge Street subway up to Richmond Hill, which was one of the things the Prime Minister with the premier and others announced in June of last year, we see no money and no action on that. There is a need to move people in a growing area like York region but we have seen no action. Where are the Ontario members when it comes to those kinds of issues? They are silent.

On the issue of the environment, the government has dragged its feet on the coal plants and has delayed assisting and reducing those for over a year. We hear nothing but the blame game from the Conservatives who have been the government for two years. They need to take action in dealing with environmental issues and greenhouse gas issues. If they do not believe in the science and the fact that the environment and climate change is a reality, I guess this is what we get. We see that they did not believe that because some of the same players, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of the Environment, were in charge when we saw the cutbacks of 25% to the provincial ministry of the environment at the time they were part of the Harris government.

In the area of manufacturing, we have lost 100,000 jobs since January 2006, jobs that are very hard to recoup, but the government has made no approach to respond to that. We have 20,000 jobs lost since February 2008 alone. These are devastating numbers. These are a real concern to us on this side of the House. We have enunciated an action plan to deal with those kinds of issues on infrastructure and on job creation, but nothing from the other side.

It is a very great concern given the fact of the high dollar. We see a drop of 3.4% or $48.6 billion as of December last year in lost trade opportunities. These are concerns to us on this side of the House.

How are we going to address that? The government has put forth a series of budgets where it has spent and spent but has not addressed the key issues that Canadians are looking for and has had no impact in terms of addressing some of these critical issues.

We on this side of the House do not believe in deficit financing. We are the party that dealt with the $42.5 billion deficit and eliminated it. We do not believe that the approach of the government is a sound one fiscally because it is moving increasingly toward a deficit.

The government took away, for example, the $3 billion contingency fund, which was a fund that was absolutely critical. When we had the SARS situation and the mad cow situation we had a cushion. The $3 billion was there to protect not only the people of Ontario but people right across the country. That was very prudent on behalf of the government of the day. That elimination is of great concern to those of us on this side of the House and it shows the lack of understanding of what is needed to deal with these kinds of situations that occur.

We are very much of the mind that these things must be addressed and they obviously have not been addressed in the budget.

What is the government's strategy now in terms of dealing with the layoffs in the auto sector? What is its strategy in dealing with the forestry industry? We know it left $1 billion on the table with the Americans on the forestry agreement.

The government used to talk about health care but it has not done anything about it in terms of wait times. Some of those ministers were in the Harris government when 29 hospitals in Ontario were closed and 8,000 nurses were fired. Those are not things that we would consider to be progressive. They would not be considered to be thinking ahead in terms of an older population and what we need to be doing. It is not addressing those issues for the people of Ontario. If in fact the government were to take this same approach in Quebec I am sure there would be an absolute revolution.

At least the members from Quebec on that side of the House have been much more articulate when it comes to some of these issues. Where are the Ontario members? Why are they not standing up and saying that these issues need to be addressed?

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke very eloquently about the Liberal strategy and extolled the virtues of the Liberals' so-called balanced approach. Obviously—the flip side of the coin—he blamed the Conservative government. I certainly cannot blame him, because I agree with him about this government's lack of vision and lack of real action, for example, with regard to Ontario. The member talked about the auto industry; if he were from Quebec, he would also be talking about the forestry industry. He also talked about the fact that the government is not stepping up to the plate when it comes to environmental issues.

My question is very simple. Why did he and his colleagues not vote against a budget that they apparently nearly all reject?

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that this side of the House has been very aggressive and very vigilant when it comes to pointing out the shortcomings of the government. Obviously, when we return to power we will implement policies and strategies different from what we see.

The issue is timing. When we go to the people we want to go to the people on a number of these key issues and we will.

I know my colleagues on the other side are anxious to have an election because if the economy continues to have these bumps in the road they do not want to be responsible for them. If the Conservatives could not manage the province of Ontario when they were in power in good times, heaven knows what they would do in difficult times.

We are putting forth our views and our policies as to how we will deal with these issues in the future. I know that my friends from the New Democratic Party do not mind an election at any time because they are not likely to be in government in any event, but they are very good at being critical. However, it is more than being critical. It is actually offering specific policies in response to present legislation.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague from the other side haranguing about the various apparent misdeeds of this government.

However, my question to him is this. Where were Liberal Ontario MPs a year and a bit ago when we brought in budget 2007 with tremendous fiscal balance not just to Ontario but provinces and territories right across the country, something I would dare say again that Liberal members said did not exist? Here we were giving Ontario tremendous capacity to deal with the kinds of questions that he raises in his very questions today.

Also, there were additional moneys for infrastructure. Some $3.1 billion were put on the table for Ontario. These were all dollars that this government has pledged. Apparently, his party has missed that.

I wonder if he would remember and perhaps comment on why his previous government failed in that regard.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would point out to my hon. colleague that on this side of the House, when it comes to infrastructure issues, we were the party of infrastructure. Liberals did not wait for 10 years as the previous Conservative government did and let it lay dormant for 10 years.

In 1994, after being elected, Liberals brought in the national infrastructure program, in which all cities, towns, villages, provinces and territories worked collaboratively together. That was infrastructure. We understood that. I have not heard the word “infrastructure” from Conservatives for 10 years, so it is a bit rich now to suggest that somehow they are coming to the rescue for cities and communities.

When it comes to the issue of fiscal imbalance, it is very interesting. If we look at the days when there was a national deficit in this country, never did we hear a word in the chamber with regard to fiscal imbalance. Why? It is because when we do not have any money, nobody comes to ask for any.

Under the Liberal government when there began to be surpluses and it started paying down the debt, there was suddenly a fiscal imbalance. The question of fiscal imbalance is rather strange given the fact that the provinces and territories have the same fiscal capacity as the federal government, if not more, if they want to deal with those issues.

However, again, this is a government that eliminated the cushion of $3 billion, so that if there is a crisis tomorrow, we will be on the hook because of the incompetence of the government when it comes to dealing with fiscal management.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, to the member for Richmond Hill, it strikes me that the remarks we heard in the run up to the Ontario budget, the rhetoric from the finance minister, struck people as almost a provincial campaign.

I am wondering if the member might not agree that if the finance minister wants to run for the job of premier of Ontario, he should resign his seat to the benefit of the House and seek that job outside of this place where it is appropriate.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I totally agree with the member, although I would caution him that the last thing we really want is for the Minister of Finance to run in the province of Ontario given his dismal record when he was minister, such as the $5.6 billion deficit he left, the 29 hospitals that were closed and the 8,000 nurses who were fired. I would not want to wish that. I know the member does not.

The reality is that the finance minister wrought fiscal activity on this country. To bring it back to the provinces would definitely be back to the future. It would not be something Liberals would like to see.

Though I know the Minister of Finance may not be too happy with the present leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in the province of Ontario, he is actually a very good man. He is working hard for his constituents and maybe there is a little envy on the part of the Minister of Finance because he is actually doing a reasonable job due to the fact that he is more balanced than the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance is certainly not balanced. We know that.

The Minister of Finance only believes in one thing, which is how we can spend ourselves back into a deficit, and he has a good track record to prove it.

Opposition Motion--The Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I believe my colleague has articulated very well what is actually going on in the country, especially in his province, where we see a significant number of people now unemployed and record job losses over the last number of months, since January 2006.

We have seen the enviable fiscal position that the government was left in dwindle and its ability to seize any kind of opportunity for investment and research development to help in certain sectors has been handcuffed.

We have just spent two weeks in constituencies. I know my colleague from Richmond Hill works his riding very hard and has his finger on the pulse in his riding. I want to ask him this. What are the people saying in his riding about the collective kick in the teeth that was received by the people of Ontario from the finance minister when he said that Ontario would be the last place investors would want to place their money? What kind of responses did he get about that?