House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, given the comments the member has made on the bill, what do his constituents say about the priorities of the federal government, which would benefit the residents of his province? The federal and provincial governments say all the time that they do not want to be like the United States and have to hand pick and designate the technologies that we choose, that they want to leave it to the market and corporations to choose what to invest in for the future.

The International Energy Agency said very clearly two years ago that the way out of the economic recession and the climate crisis was for governments to make major investments in stimulating the new green economy. The government has chosen to put all its eggs in one basket, carbon capture sequestration. We now hear it is highly questionable whether it can work at all or is affordable.

What do his residents say about where we should put the money? Do they support the idea of perhaps putting more money into furthering our renewable energy and retrofit sectors for homes and small businesses?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her excellent question. When the people of Quebec talk to the Bloc Québécois, we realize that the priorities set by the current government in no way respect their desires and goals. The public needs more direct assistance in terms of social funding, like that provided to seniors, and the current government is ignoring that.

For some years now the Bloc has been introducing a bill in the House that would improve the guaranteed income supplement and it has always been rejected. The Conservatives rejected it, alleging that it would cost too much. Yet, they spend billions of dollars on weapons and fighter jets. Money does not seem to be a problem for the government when it comes to that. The public can make these comparisons right now. People are starting to understand that the government, far off in Ottawa, is not really looking after them.

There is also the issue of social housing, which is inadequate in my own riding of Laval, in Quebec. That is likely the case in many regions of Canada. There is a serious need for social housing in this country. The current government is not responding to this need and is not allocating this money for the public good.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague, who has just admitted that the province of Quebec is poor, because it does not have the money it needs to develop. I would like him to explain what the government did when it increased equalization payments and Quebec received over $8 billion.

How could he, his party or his colleagues in Quebec generate that kind of wealth in Quebec? They have never been able to provide any explanation for that. I would like him to explain how they could.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I am hesitant in thanking the member opposite for his question. Saying that equalization shows that Quebec is poor compared to the rest of Canada is not an admission of weakness on the part of Quebec. It is an admission of how poorly things work in the Canadian majority, when it creates poor provinces. Quebec is not poor because it lacks wealth and skills, but because Quebeckers do not see an adequate return on the money that they invest in the government.

Earlier I compared the automotive industry, which received billions of dollars in subsidies, to the Canadian forestry industry, which is so important to Quebec, even in the riding of the member opposite. This country does not help the forestry industry. Then it is surprised when calculations show that Quebec is in need of equalization payments to keep up with the Canadian average. Quebec wants out of that situation. We are tired of being poor in a supposedly rich country. We want to conserve our own wealth and use it for our own development, so that we can be proud of our country.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-47, which is part of the budget process of the government.

It is no secret that at this time in the history of Canada we are facing a particularly difficult time. Things are changing very rapidly. We are not out of the recession and people are looking for help. The middle class and the very disadvantaged are looking for help.

Ultimately budgets, including this one, are about choices. Governments make choices, they put them in budgets and eventually they get judged on those choices. It is useful when discussing anything to do with the economy of the country to know what Canadians are thinking about the economy, their own position and the lives of their family.

I want to share a few facts with the House.

From RBC Economics: Today the typical Canadian family must devote 49% of its income to own a standard two-storey home while mortgage rates are at their lowest point. That means people on average are spending half of their income to own their home, and they know if interest rates go up that will only go higher.

From the BMO Financial Group: 64% of parents worry they will not be able to afford the rising cost of post-secondary education. I am sure CASA and CFS would echo that.

From the Canadian Medical Association: 80% of Canadians fear that the quality of their health care will decline over the next three years.

From the Canadian Cancer Society: Canadian families are concerned about the cost of caring for a terminally-ill loved one, which is currently $1,000 a month, excluding the loss of income from taking time off work to provide care. I will come back to this later.

From the Canadian Institute of Actuaries: 72% of pre-retired Canadians worry about maintaining a reasonable standard of living in retirement and maintaining a reasonable quality of life.

From RBC Economics: 58% of Canadians are concerned with their current level of debt, averaging $41,470 per person, which is the worst among 20 advanced countries in the OECD.

From the Canadian Payments Association: 59% of Canadians believe they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque were delayed by a week. Think about that. More than half of all Canadians worry that they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque were delayed by one week.

This is a country with a lot of people who are very concerned.

I want to share a statistic that was brought to parliamentarians last week, I think, by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, ACCC. This is something that really outlines the challenge that faces this nation and why we need a bold and responsible government that can address this challenge.

Today 44% of Canadians do not participate in the labour force. That includes children, seniors and the unemployed. That 44% will rise to 57% by 2026 and 61% by 2031. In 20 years, 61% of the people in Canada will not be in the labour market.

This is a very telling statistic, which outlines the challenge that faces Canada right now and the absolute need for us to take advantage of the human resource potential of all Canadians. We must do whatever we can as a Parliament, and the government must do what it can to ensure all Canadians have an opportunity to reach the level of education and skills attainment that they should have. The problem is that the recession that is still lingering in Canada has disproportionately affected a group of people.

A dear friend of mine, the Hon. D. Scott McNutt who passed away just recently, used to have a saying that “A rising tide lifts all boats”, the idea being, in this case, that if an economy gets better everybody benefits. The fact is that not all boats are raised equally, and the poor and the disadvantaged are disproportionately hurt.

We heard this last year from the Citizens for Public Justice, who released a report indicating that during the recession the poverty rate in Canada increased significantly. In fact, the poverty rate in Canada had gone down over the previous couple of decades, particularly among seniors, although there were still many single women who were living in poverty. The poverty rates had gone down due to a decent economy and the fact that we brought in measures like the child tax benefit, guaranteed income supplement and things like that.

However from 2007 to 2009, poverty rates increased from 9.2% to 11.7% in Canada, according to the Citizens for Public Justice and their partner, World Vision. Child poverty went from 9.5% to 12%.

Those are pretty sobering statistics. They are not saying that the most in need in Canada suffered proportionately; they are saying they suffered disproportionately, that they got less than anybody else.

HungerCount, the report of Canada's food banks, last November indicated that the usage of food banks in Canada went up by 18%. That is pretty staggering.

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to speak to Feed Nova Scotia in my own province, and they are talking about similar statistics. Their annual report says:

Forty thousand Nova Scotians are hungry each month—mothers, fathers, grandparents and, perhaps saddest of all, children and youth. Hunger knows no barriers. It's in every community across our province and its impact is truly profound.

Hunger is going up in this country, and it is going up at a very concerning rate.

Social assistance caseloads for those 900,000 more Canadians who are living in poverty went up.

Food prices went up 5%, and in fact in basic dietary staples over the last couple of years, those things that everybody needs, prices have gone up 10%.

Average household debt is up 5.7%.

Bankruptcies are up 36%.

We do not have the social infrastructure to deal with this, and we particularly did not have the investments from the government at a time of stimulus that we needed. In fact, many economists can validate the fact that the best form of economic stimulus is to give it to people who need it the most, the unemployed, the people who are marginalized, because they actually spend the money. They get it and they spend the money. If there is one thing I would think all Canadians would want to do it is to help those who are most in need.

The good news on the poverty side is that people are getting active on this front. There is a national mobilization. We had the social forum organized by campaign 2000. We had the 20th anniversary, the unfortunate anniversary, of Parliament saying we would eliminate child poverty by 2000.

Parliament adopted a new motion and hopefully we will do better.

There is a private member's bill from the member for Sault Ste. Marie on anti-poverty. Most notably we have six provinces and a territory that have anti-poverty strategies.

The problem is that the government is not addressing these needs. It is not addressing these needs at all. We have seen that in a number of ways. In the stimulus budget of 2009, those measures that were permanent, things like tax cuts, did not really help people with the lowest incomes. It helped people like the members of this House and myself who make $150,000 and more. There is an economic argument for doing that, and I do not dispute that. However I think we would all agree that those who are making $30,000 and less should have gotten more out of a budget for stimulus than members of Parliament and senators.

We do have a federal poverty elimination act brought into this House, but we have no action from the government. In fact in June 2009, in response to the United Nations periodic review, which suggested among other things that Canada should have an anti-poverty strategy, the federal government turned around and said “No, that is not our problem; that is not our jurisdiction”, yet the six provinces and a territory that actually have anti-poverty plans are telling our committee, myself, my colleague from Laval, the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook and others that we need the federal government to step up and at least acknowledge that poverty is an issue that affects us all and we all have responsibility for that.

Poverty is not getting the attention it needs. People in Canada are suffering.

I want to talk about education. Let us look at that statistic again, that today 44% of Canadians are not in the labour force and that is going to rise to 61% by 2031.

Canada is a fortunate country. Canada has done very well, in many ways more by accident than design. We have a rich land. We have lots of natural resources. People do not come here and fight on our land. Because of climate change, we have more of the kind of natural disasters that other places do, but we do not have them in the same way other countries do. We do not have the massive tsunamis that have affected parts of the world. Those kinds of tragedies happen less in Canada than in other places.

We have been very fortunate and very blessed as a nation. We have also taken advantage of our wealth to educate our citizens, but we are slipping. We made great strides on research and innovation starting at the turn of the century, investing in CFI and Genome Canada, increasing grants to the granting councils, to NSERC, to SSHRC, to CIHR and to all those organizations. We went a long way.

However we are starting to taper off, and other countries have started to say, “We can do that here”, not only on research and innovation where they are now investing but even on where their students are choosing to go to school. In fact they are coming to Canada and want our students to go there. That is a good thing.

We want our Canadian students to travel the world. We want other students to come here. We also need to say we have a problem. We need to educate Canadian citizens. We need to take advantage of all the people in Canada we possibly can and make sure they get the education they need not only for their own benefit, which is important, but also for the benefit of the nation.

ABC Life Literacy Canada released a report indicating:

...3.1 million working age Canadians with IALS Level 1 literacy skills, the lowest level of literacy, are employed with an additional 5.8 million working-age Canadians employed with a Level 2 literacy level. These 8.9 million people represent nearly 50% of the entire Canadian labour force...

Many Canadians struggle with literacy. Four out of ten Canadians age 16 to 65 struggle with low literacy. This is a problem. We need to address this issue. We need to make sure that people who are not attaining the level of literacy they want can get that level of literacy.

One of the very sad moments in my career as a parliamentarian was when a gentleman sat down with me and said, “Look Mike, I have never really done very well in my job. I have done my best. I work hard. I was offered a promotion but a literacy test went with it”. He was afraid he would lose his first job if the literacy test showed that he could not attain the level of literacy he needed.

These are the people we need. For their benefit and for the benefit of all of us as a nation, we need to allow them to attain the level of literacy they want.

With regard to aboriginal Canadians, as part of our study on poverty in May, the human resources committee visited the Lac Simon First Nation in Quebec and the Kitcisakik Indian settlement. I want to read to the House some statistics we found out while we were there.

I will mention Lac Simon first. With regard to educational attainment, of the 705 residents age 15 or over, 555 had no certificate, diploma or degree; 40 out of 705 had a high school certificate; 45 had an apprenticeship or trade certificate; 20 had a college, CEGEP or other non-university certificate; and only 35 had a university certificate. I would like members to think about that. Of 705 residents of working age, 555 had no certificate, diploma or degree. The labour force included only 220 individuals of which 175 were employed. The employment rate in Lac Simon is 24.8%.

We then went to Kitcisakik. Let me give the House the numbers from there. In 2006, of the 170 residents age 15 and over, 145 had no certificate, diploma or degree; another 15 had a high school certificate; 10 had college or CEGEP; and 10 had a university certificate. Of the 170 residents, 145 had no certificate. The labour force totalled 85. The employment rate was 31.2%.

I do not say this to try to educate my colleagues in the House. We know there is an issue, but what are we doing about it?

There is both a social justice argument and an economic argument for this country; we cannot allow that to happen in Canada. That should not be the case in a country as rich as Canada. We need to make sure that by 2031 all these people are not part of the 61% who are not in the workforce. They do not want to be part of the 61% who are not in the workforce. They want to be part of the group that is paying its way and making a difference for Canadians. I know we all believe in that. It takes an effort, a commitment and a belief that we can get there in order to make that happen. We are not doing anywhere near enough.

It is about choices. The Conservative government has chosen to spend money on certain things, and we all use those numbers and statistics in different ways.

Let me mention the G8 and G20 summits with a cost of $1.3 billion. As a comparison I will give the House the costs of hosting other summits. Let me begin with security costs at the G8. In 2009 in Italy security cost $124 million. The year before it cost $280 million in Japan, and it cost $124 million in Germany.

I can recall, as I am sure the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's would recall, the beautiful days of 1995 when we had the G7 in Halifax. The total cost of that summit was $30 million. Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin and other leaders came to Halifax. It was a very positive experience. I thank former Prime Minister Chrétien and the regional minister at the time, David Dingwall, for their work in bringing that summit to Halifax.

Summits are where things get done and they do work if they are in an environment where things can happen in a positive way and we do not end up being badgered around by spiralling costs for fake lakes, gazebos and all those sorts of things.

A couple of headlines in today's Quorum read, “Commons to probe G8/G20 spending, security”, and “Dance floor, gazebo among stimulus waste...”. For the millions of Canadians watching on CPAC who may not know what Quorum is, it is a summation of headlines in the news today.

We need to decide what Canadians want. Governments, whether they be Liberal, Progressive Conservative or any others that might hope to be a government in this country, need be responsible for their decisions.

That brings me to the announcement this week made by my own leader, which fits into a discussion of the budget. It is fully costed, fully accountable and it is a clear choice for Canadians about what they would like to spend money on. Their tax money, after all, is what is used to fund the priorities of whatever government they elect. They now have a clear choice with the Liberal family care plan.

I have spoken before in this House about my own circumstance as a family caregiver. Like just about everybody in this House, I have had the opportunity to provide care to loved ones myself. In my case, I had two parents who passed away almost simultaneously, six weeks apart, from cancer. They both died at home and, while it was sad, the circumstances were a lot better than if we had not had the family resources and financial resources to care for them. Many Canadians do not have those choices. Many Canadians who take care of sick relatives, whether it is an autistic child, a disabled adult, a brother or sister, or aging parents, do not have those choices.

I mentioned before that one the saddest meetings that I have had as a parliamentarian was when a person with low literacy skills came to me and said, “I need the government to step up”. That was at a time when the government had cut $1 million out of literacy programs.

One of my happiest days was a bit unexpected. I, as were many other members, was visited on Tuesday by members from the ALS Society. A woman, who some other members would have met, sat in my office and thanked me. This woman had lost her husband at 45 years old in a very sad passing from ALS. She had 14-year-old twin daughters. She told me that she had visited Parliament last year and that she had been listened to.

The family care plan that our leader introduced is a reflection of what Canadians need. To look at the six month EI benefit and the family care tax benefit, one of the concerns people have had about compassionate care under EI for a long time is that the six weeks are not very useful. It needs to be longer. The other thing it needs to be, not just for ALS but for people dealing with multiple sclerosis, struggling with depression, going for cancer treatments and many other things, is more flexibility so that within that six month period people can choose to take it as they need it.

People are not generally sick for five and a half months and then get better and go on about their life. Quite often they need to the support of their family for a few weeks here and a few weeks there. It also needs to be flexible to allow family members to share that. At six weeks, that is not much of a choice. The family care tax benefit, based on the child tax benefit, is another measure that people struggling with making difficult personal choices have asked for. I have met with people in my riding, as I know all members have, who are dealing with circumstances that we simply wish we could do more for and, in some cases, we cannot. They need that kind of help.

Bill C-47 is part of the budget and budgets are about choices. Are we reflecting the values of Canadians? Are we anticipating the needs of Canadians? Are we going where Canadians need us to go or are we simply going where we think we want to go, either for political or ideological reasons?

In my view, the budget that the government has brought forward does not do enough to help people who need help the most. Middle-class Canadians and low-income Canadians who, in most cases, through no fault of their own, need the help of a government. They need a government that will be on their side, that will be in their corner and that will provide assistance to them when they need it. We can do better as a country.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his passion toward poor people.

When I look at my riding of Newton—North Delta, it is a very diverse riding. Many immigrants came to this country to try to make a difference. I must agree with the hon. member that if we are to be competitive in the world on the global stage, we need to have a knowledge-based economy. We need to provide the necessary education for our young people. On the other hand, we also need to ensure that in the early days of childhood the children are well fed and are given all the support they need in the first six years of their life.

When I was talking to the firefighters in my riding of Surrey Delta, they told me that there were still a large number of kids going to school hungry and that they were providing them with breakfast to ensure they could focus on their education.

When it comes to all the social justice issues, whether it was the Kelowna accord which affected aboriginal children, or cancelling the landmark child care agreements that we signed with the provinces, the Conservatives have taken them all away. The immigration lineups are growing longer and longer. On the other hand, the deficit is the highest in Canadian history.

Could the hon. member tell me, so I can take it to my constituents, where the government is lacking and what can be done to take care of vulnerable people?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I visited with my colleague in his riding and I have some of the needs that he talks about and for which he advocates so passionately in the House.

On the issue of child care, I neglected to mention child care because there are so many other needs. However, the fundamental need in the education system is that we have some kind of standardized early learning for children. In terms of the OECD nations, we are tied with another country for last place out of 25 nations in terms of indices for how we are educating our children.

Children do not start learning magically at the age of six when they go to school. Children start learning before they are even born, but certainly as soon as they are born. In many cases, the parents want to provide all the care for them and, in most cases, these days they probably cannot. We need to ensure again, not only for the individual family or children but for the betterment of our society and for Canada, that we have some kind of a national early learning program for those children that provides those opportunities and gives the foundation. That will impact on things I referred to like rates of literacy and post-secondary attainment.

It all starts when our kids are very young. We know kids do not start learning at age six. They start learning even before they are born. My wife took my daughter to a Céline Dion concert three days before she was born and I think that is why my daughter was colicky eventually when she was born. Children learn at a very early age and, if we get to be the government, we will ensure they get that opportunity.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, we heard a lot from the government in terms of announcements of its vision for spending $9 billion expanding the prison system in this country, but we have heard very little from the government in terms of the green economy.

Government members should know that Germany is a very advanced country in terms of the green economy. Why does the Canadian government basically ignore best practices and new ideas from countries like Germany and instead concentrate on building prisons as its solution for the future?

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I think that Angela Merkel's government recently decided to look at corporate tax cuts and postpone them in the way that we are proposing here so they can invest in some of those things. We need to ensure we are investing in those things that keep people out of prison. That obviously is child care and schools. Again, it comes to choices. How do we take care of people who may be in trouble? We need to help them not get into trouble before they do, and that means education and schools, not prisons.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I know my colleague has done a lot of work on the EI file. He talked about the compassionate care program that we announced a short time ago. I know the compassion that he has for the people who are the most vulnerable in our society.

One of the sectors, among many, would be the seasonal worker and how in the past while we have been asking the government to make permanent the best 14 weeks. We started three pilot projects in 2005. One expired back in September and one is about to expire on October 23. That, in and of itself, is a very special program because 55% of what people earn during their time of work is based on the best 14 weeks of earnings. If this program expires people will need to use the last 14 weeks and the employers will be at a disadvantage. It is hard for them to hire people when there is a disincentive to work. It is human nature.

I also would like the member to comment on the fact that over the past while we have not heard a lot about pension securities. Many people are not so much involved in company benefit plans, whether they be through direct contribution or a defined benefit. What we are seeing now and what we hope to do is have pension plans that allow people the flexibility to move across the country. Perhaps they have a skilled trade that takes them to many places around the world and it would allow the government to help them contribute to their latter years.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor certainly knows this issue much better than I do.

I want to talk about the pilot projects because there has been a lot of misunderstanding about these. They are a double win. Just as education is good individually but also good for the country, these are good for employees and good for employers. These are economically responsible programs that recognize an essential fact of Canadian life, which is that we have seasonal workers. That is how it is, folks, and we need what they do. We need them to contribute to the economy. It is good for them and it is fundamentally good, sound business policy to extend these pilot projects.

As the member said, one of them, the best five weeks, has expired. The best 14 weeks and working on claim, these are important for both employees and employers. They are responsible programs that the government needs to extend and it needs to signal that very soon.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I would ask the member one final question.

He touched on another important issue, which is child care. What we have lost sight of along the way is what it takes for early childhood education. I was wondering if the member would like to comment on that as well.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, child care is very important, not only for all children but there are certain children who would have really benefited from the previous Liberal plan.

For example, autistic children, minority language children, new Canadian children and, in many cases, children in remote areas whose parents are not able to get child care because they get a $100 cheque taxable in the mailbox. That does not create child care. I am sure it is a program that families need but it does not promote early learning and child care.

If there is one thing Canada really needs to do to catch up with those in the world we consider competitors, the OECD nations, is we need to invest in quality early learning and child care.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-47, another of the budget implementation bills. In fact, the government wants to call it the Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act.

Certainly that is the difficulty of the situation, because on a macro basis, on a global basis, we are looking at some countries in the world that are having much more difficult times than we are right now. We only have to look at Europe to see what is happening in the country of Iceland, which had to declare bankruptcy in the last two years, and in the countries of Ireland and Portugal. We have to feel sorry for some of the measures that are being taken over there right now, because a lot of the workers in those countries are suffering a lot because of the restraint measures that are being forced upon them by the IMF.

We have not yet had to deal with that situation here, but our economic situation is much, much different in the sense that we are very tied to the American economy. As a matter of fact, it is only in very recent months, and I am not even certain whether we are past that point yet, that there is a recognition that there is $1.3 trillion in commercial loans coming due in the United States. In the spring, there was a freeze in credit for small business. Banks were classifying commercial loans as risky, so they were very conservative in their lending policies. Manufacturers were having difficulty getting lines of credit.

In 2008, the 400 largest U.S. contractors were doing 80% of their business in the private sector. Now, two years later, the 400 largest U.S. contractors are doing 80% of their work in the public sector, which will be running out, both in the United States and in Canada, over the next few months. The concern will be what will happen when the stimulus packages in both countries run out, what will happen with the unemployment rate. There should potentially be a rise in unemployment and the problems that will come with that.

The recovery is tentative at this point and there is enough concern to be passed around. The question is, how is the government responding to this situation and is it responding correctly? We would argue in our party that its priorities are somewhat displaced.

For example, we only have to look to Germany where Hermann Scheer, a German green politician, has been the catalyst, has been instrumental in propelling Germany into the future with green energy development. A number of examples have been covered in the press over the last year of the great advancements that have been made in Germany in terms of green energy development.

Here in Canada, we have a much more tentative approach to that. There was a company in Canada that was making solar panels. I believe it was called ARISE Technologies, based in Waterloo. The owner of the company, Ian MacLellan, was not receiving much encouragement in Canada, so he responded to the German government's offer to build a plant in East Germany. At this point, his plant cannot produce enough solar panels for the German market. I believe it is several years behind in its production. It is expanding so quickly, and I believe they are building more than one plant there to keep up with the demand. This is yet another opportunity lost, because now Germany has an advantage over Canada and will only increase that advantage over time.

In Canada, the discussion over the east-west power grid has been raging now for probably 20 years, or maybe even longer. The concept is to build an east-west power grid so that we can transfer clean hydroelectric power from Manitoba, for example, which has only developed 50% of its hydroelectric capacity. Rather than sending that power to the United States, as is the case now because all the lines are running north-south, we want to be able to send it east-west so that we can help Ontario stop using its coal-fired plants and prevent the need for nuclear power plants to be developed in the next few years.

Once again, where is the initiative on the part of the federal government? Ten of the 14 members of Parliament in Manitoba are Conservatives. In fact, only one of them has spoken on this issue over the last year. The Minister of State (Democratic Reform) has spoken about this issue. Saskatchewan has 14 out of 14 Conservative members. The question is where they are on this issue. The 14 members in Saskatchewan and 10 members in Manitoba should be leading the charge to try to force the government to put a plan together so that an east-west power grid can be developed.

It is their predecessor, John A. Macdonald, who had a national dream for this country. The national dream was to build a railway from east to west uniting the country, as opposed to developing it on a north-south basis. In fact, if the railway had not developed, the Americans would have probably taken over the parts of the country that we now know as Canada.

If we fast forward to where we are now, where is that Conservative vision of John A. Macdonald? The government still follows the ideology that whatever the economics dictate, whatever is the cheapest and fastest, is what it is going to do, and if it means building all the pipelines and hydro transmission lines north-south, then so be it and forget about looking at a common national vision of an east-west power grid.

An east-west power grid would provide a lot of jobs in the economy that are certainly going to be needed after the stimulus package money runs out. I still hold out hope that the members in the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Conservative caucuses will actually get motivated to come onboard with this idea and push it along a little further.

We look to wind power as a good example of an activity that should be encouraged, but where are the initiatives for wind power by the government? I remember 20 years ago, in 1992, in Pincher Creek, Alberta there was a lot of development of wind turbines in that area. As a matter of fact, I went out to look at them at one time. Of course, today the wind turbines and their technology have changed. If one were to go there, it would seem almost like a museum, because one sees the little turbines from 1992 and then the progression to the huge turbines now.

Canada, once again, has squandered an opportunity at economic development, because there are a lot of jobs to be had in the manufacture of the turbines. We have seen that industry grow in Scandinavian countries. The companies that make the turbines are from Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and have only gotten bigger and better with time. We have looked at the construction of wind turbines, but to no avail.

We have looked into it in Manitoba. We are at the point where it just did not proceed, for one reason or another.

As a matter of fact, North Dakota and South Dakota have manufacturing set up there.

We are once again playing catch-up. We are not really even in the game. We had wind farm developments in Saskatchewan, at Gull Lake. There was 99 megawatts of power at Gull Lake. That was about 10 years ago or so. However, since then, we have seen the focus change to other parts of the country, and other parts of the country are taking up some of the slack in this area. That is another very big area that the government should be concentrating on.

What is the government's vision? The government's vision does not seem to be in these areas at all. As matter of fact, its answer so far for economic development seems to be developing more prisons. It has announced $9 billion for the expansion of our prison system.

As a matter of fact, in this bill the government has suggested that it is going to crack down on the TFSA program, the tax-free savings accounts that were set up in the last couple of years. Evidently a problem has developed where a number of organized individuals, I think higher-income individuals would be more to the truth, have been overcontributing to the TFSA program. The government, rightly so, is cracking down in that area. However, when will it be cracking down on all the people who are investing in tax havens?

Only last year we had a situation where an employee of a bank in Liechtenstein left that bank with computer diskettes. He actually sold the information on the diskettes to the German government. As a result, the German government has recovered quite a huge amount of back taxes from the people who were investing in the tax havens. Out of that, 100 names were given to Revenue Canada. We have yet to hear whether Revenue Canada has collected any back taxes from these people.

We know Revenue Canada offers an amnesty to people. The question is whether these 100 people whose names were turned over by the authorities were given amnesty. For all we know, Revenue Canada let them off with just paying whatever taxes they owed and the amnesty was applied to them too.

Just in the last few weeks there was another example of an employee from, in this case, a Swiss bank, who made off with I think it was 4,500 names on diskettes and turned them over to the French government. Out of that, Revenue Canada got its hands on the names of another 1,800 Canadians who are investing in tax havens. Once again I would like to know what the government is doing to track these people down. Is it going to offer them amnesty to get them to file their up-to-date returns, or is it going to actually charge them for tax evasion, which is the proper way to proceed in this case?

We are getting no follow-up from the government as to the situation with uncollected taxes. Out of all the people who are putting money into tax havens in Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Panama and other countries, there are probably thousands of Canadians in those situations and the government does not seem to be too concerned about catching them. If the government can catch these people and collect a half billion dollars here or a half a billion dollars there of taxes owed, it would help a lot in terms of balancing the books here in Canada and paying for the roads and hospitals that we need.

Where is the interest? We have such lax laws in Canada for white collar crime. It is absolutely laughable. This is from a government that talks about being tough on crime.

This is the record of the tough on crime government on white collar crime. Over the last few years, the United States has successfully prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned 1,200 white collar criminals, including Conrad Black who committed his crimes in Canada. The record of the tough on crime Conservative government is two convictions against the same guy. The government does not have to pay $9 billion for prisons to house one person.

These are examples of the mixed messages we get from the government. On the very day the story broke in the Globe and Mail, in the Greg McArthur article regarding the 1,800 Canadians, the Prime Minister was being questioned in the House about that very issue. On that very day, the government's bill on the order paper for debate was a free trade deal with Panama.

In the case of Panama, we have 350,000 foreign companies hiding money there because it is a tax haven. The Panamanian government is making little, if any, effort to share the tax information.

As a precursor to signing on to these agreements, one would think the government would use some common sense and require that the Panamanian government sign on and honour the OECD rules and protocols on sharing tax information, not go ahead and reward it with a free trade deal. That is the backwards approach of the government.

In addition to regular companies doing business in Panama and hiding their money there, we have Mexican drug cartels laundering money through the Panamanian system. The government is only too willing to ignore that. It forgets the fact that Manuel Noriega, the former president of Panama, is doing time in a Florida jail because the Americans captured him for aiding and abetting money launderers.

Clearly the government has a very questionable set of priorities when it comes to dealing with economic development in our country.

One of the members opposite introduced a bill earlier this year to support a national hunting day, which is a great idea, and we supported the bill. In fact, Manitoba passed a similar bill just two years ago. I was at its annual meeting a couple of weeks ago. One of the reasons given for introducing the bill in the House was to encourage American tourism, to encourage Americans to come to Canada to hunt and fish and to help our economy.

The recognition by the Conservative member was that tourism was down. Partly as a result of my talks with him in the spring, and support in speaking to his bill, I was able to introduce a resolution to a legislators conference this summer, one I have been at now four or five years. This group includes 11 border states, from Illinois to North Dakota, and 3 provinces, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I think Alberta is on the verge of joining that organization.

The legislators meet every summer. There is a western conference and a southern conference as well, but this is the Midwestern legislators conference. This group has met now for 65 years. At that conference, I was able to introduce a resolution, which they passed unanimously. I will not read the resolution at this time, but I will if I get asked about it in a question.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, so the hon. member can finish his resolution, I will pare down my question as much as I can.

I want to paint a scenario about what is happening now with the economic action plan. My home community is for the most part rural. A town in that community wanted to fix its hockey arena for the coming year. It wanted to delay the fixing of the boards around the rink because it had used some of the money from the RInC program, the recreational infrastructure for communities. It wanted the delay it so the kids could play hockey right now. Unfortunately, because of the deadline of March 31, the kids will be unable hockey this winter.

Could the member comment on that narrative and on how these deadlines are perhaps a little too stringent? Perhaps he would like to finish his resolution as well.