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

Topics

Documents regarding Afghan detainees
Points of Order

10 a.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order related to a motion adopted by this House on December 10 relating to the access to documents.

The government acknowledges that it is appropriate that decisions on the disclosure of information in these circumstances be reviewed independently from government. This will ensure that parliamentarians will have as full and complete access to government information as is necessary to perform the function of holding the government to account, but no one wants to cause injury to Canada's national defence, international relations or national security.

The security of the nation and the conduct of international relations are fundamental to the constitutional duties of the Government of Canada.

Members will understand that there are matters which governments must keep confidential in order to protect the public interest, even in the freest and most open of societies.

Nonetheless, as I have stated, the government acknowledges that it is appropriate that decisions made by officials on the disclosure of information in these circumstances be reviewed independently from government.

I am pleased to inform the House that the government has engaged an eminent jurist and legal expert to undertake an independent, comprehensive and proper review of the documents at issue, including the information that was proposed to be withheld from release.

The Hon. Frank Iacobucci, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, needs of course no introduction to the members of this House. He is one of the country's pre-eminent jurists; his integrity is above reproach; and he possesses specific experience and expertise in adjudicating document disclosure in national security cases.

Mr. Iacobucci will report to me on the proposed redactions. He will report on whether proposed redactions genuinely relate to information that would be injurious to Canada's national security, national defence or international interests.

In the case of injurious information, he will report to me on whether the information or a summary of it can be disclosed, and report on the form of disclosure or any conditions on disclosure.

Mr. Iacobucci will prepare a report, in both official languages, that I will table in this House. That report will include a description of his methodology and general findings.

I am sure that all members of the House will join me in welcoming this independent, comprehensive review by such an eminent jurist.

Documents regarding Afghan detainees
Points of Order

10 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, obviously from the perspective of the official opposition, we welcome the remarks that the Minister of Justice has just made. We will obviously want to take some time to consider the content of his statement.

I wonder if the minister is in a position to make available to the House the correspondence between him and Mr. Justice Iacobucci so that we can understand the full formal legal terms of his engagement and the assignment that he has been asked to undertake. The minister has summarized those matters. It would be important for us to know the detail and exactly when the review will be undertaken, and when we can expect the report the minister has referred to.

Documents regarding Afghan detainees
Points of Order

10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not have with me all the details of this. We are putting this together in our discussions with Mr. Iacobucci. This is something that has just come together in the last little while. I will continue to report to the House and make available any information that I can as quickly as possible.

I welcome the hon. member's comments and I will get back to him.

Documents regarding Afghan detainees
Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the minister has addressed the subject in the House today; had he not, someone else might have.

There are two or three things missing and I think the House should be aware of them. I realize we are not in a debate, but I want to point out to the minister and the government that at no point in his remarks today, as far as I could tell, has the minister acknowledged the power of the House to subpoena these documents, to send for persons, papers, and records. At no point did the minister acknowledge that.

Second, in asking a third party to do the government's work, no one could take objection to that, but I would have thought the government would already have people capable of determining which documents needed protection before or after a parliamentary procedure.

The government has not asked Parliament to do this. The government has not asked Parliament to ask Mr. Iacobucci to do this work. There is a very important element missing in this. I invite the government to come forward with something that has a bit more permanence and is more parliamentary.

From my point of view, the minister's statement this morning does not address the fundamental problem of the government having failed totally to acknowledge the power of the House and its committees. If the third party doing this administrative review of the documents that are in need of protection is not informed of this, and it is not made part of his mandate, members will end up having the same problem during and after the exercise.

I invite the minister even now to rise and acknowledge the full, unabridged power of this House to send for persons, papers, and records, the way it has always been for over 300 years.

Documents regarding Afghan detainees
Points of Order

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the interest the hon. member has taken in this subject. As a matter of fact, it goes back many years. For a couple of decades the hon. member has taken on this challenge. I have read with interest a number of the comments he has made.

One of the things all members agree on is that nobody wants to do anything that would in any way endanger public security or indeed put in danger individuals who are serving our country, be they in Afghanistan or in another place.

I did rise on the point of order. As I indicated to the hon. member for Wascana with respect to the terms and parameters, I will make those available as quickly as possible.

Again, I believe I am among those who have a clear understanding of the power of Parliament and the responsibilities members have. I believe the hon. member and other members of the House will look at what the government is trying to do.

The government is trying to make information available, but at the same time it recognizes the legitimate interest we all have in the protection of the men and women who serve Canada in Afghanistan and also serve the public interests of the country.

I hope that is of some help to the hon. member.

The House resumed from March 4 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore
Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to take note of the remarks made by the hon. member opposite. Members will wait to see the terms of reference. The devil is always in the details and it appears that the government is at this moment working those out; that is, it appears to be improvising.

The Liberal Party notes with interest and with approval the nomination of a man who commands the respect of every member of the House, Justice Iacobucci. We hope that he will be given the terms of reference necessary to do the job, to re-establish the just authority of the House of Commons, which was referred to by my hon. colleague, and that we will get to the bottom of an affair in which the government's behaviour has displayed no credit at all.

The Prime Minister gave Her Excellency the Governor General some 6,000 words. I assure you that I will be briefer today.

We have seen a throne speech and budget that make up in length what they lack in vision.

There is nothing in this budget or in the throne speech that justifies the Prime Minister's decision to shut down Parliament for six weeks. Nothing.

Canadians are not fools. The Prime Minister bet on Canadians' disillusionment and lost. For Canadians, the reasons for the prorogation were clear from the start. The Prime Minister shut down Parliament so that he would no longer have to listen to questions about the Afghan detainee scandal. The minister just acknowledged that he is in an untenable position.

The Prime Minister shut down Parliament to skirt blame for a year of wilful blindness when the Conservatives had credible reports of torture in Afghan jails but did nothing.

We have called on the government to hold a full, independent, public inquiry into the detainee issue with a mandate to examine the whole length of the mission in Afghanistan. We will examine the terms of this proposed inquiry by Justice Iacobucci with interest to see whether it even begins to approximate what is necessary to get to the bottom of this sorry affair. However, the Conservatives had refused up to this moment, and then they shut down Parliament.

It was more than a cover-up; it was an attack on our democracy.

This Parliament is not the Prime Minister's house. It is the people's house. In shutting down Parliament, the Prime Minister threw Canadians out of their house. Canadians did not like that. They know that any prime minister is accountable to Parliament, and not the reverse.

We have put forward concrete reforms to limit the power to prorogue Parliament.

On Wednesday afternoon we asked for unanimous consent to establish a special committee to reform prorogation and prevent future abuse. That motion, which was a modest first step seeking common ground, was shouted down by Conservative members opposite. Shame on them.

The issue here is credibility. Canadians expect it; the government lacks it. It has no credibility on detainees, no credibility on prorogation, and no credibility on its own agenda. The throne speech and the budget let Canadians down. They expected vision and they got gimmicks. They deserved ambition and they got drift. This is a tired government, falling back on its laissez-faire instincts. It has left Canadians to fend for themselves.

Take pensions, an important issue. This budget has nothing to offer Canadians on the pensions crisis. Canada is already in a pensions crisis and it is not just a matter of catastrophic bankruptcies like Nortel.

One third of Canadians do not have enough retirement savings to maintain their standard of living when they stop working. Another third of Canadians have no retirement savings at all and will be totally dependent on what they receive from the government. Too many Canadians have too little savings to retire with dignity. Too often, the savings of those who have managed to save money are not secure. We saw proof of that last year.

Last year this party put forward specific proposals to improve retirement security for middle class families. We called for a supplementary CPP, for the use of the CPP as a pension fund manager of last resort, and for changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to protect the most vulnerable pensioners. We called for action. Canadians expected action. What did the Conservatives deliver? They delivered us seniors day. Seniors day will not be much fun and will not have much point if seniors cannot afford to take the day off.

It is not this side of the House that mocks seniors; it is the other side of the House that has done nothing for them.

The same gimmickry is in play in their treatment of veterans.

At the end of January, we organized a round table on veterans. We heard disturbing testimony about the difficulty they have in getting care or assistance to overcome a disability.

One in five veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder will attempt suicide. This is a troubling, deeply disturbing statistic and these great Canadians need our help. What do the Conservatives offer? They offer community memorials and Vimy Ridge Day. I am a firm proponent of Vimy Ridge Day but it is no substitute for concrete help for our veterans. Our families, seniors and veterans cannot live on symbols and gimmicks.

Five weeks ago, the Liberal Party put forward three specific proposals to create jobs and promote innovation and entrepreneurship. We urged the government to offer cash advances to make the accelerated capital cost allowance more effective. This would have helped manufacturers modernize, create jobs and improve productivity.

We proposed temporary financial incentives to make it easier to hire young workers. And we called for new tax incentives to better support our entrepreneurs and innovators in emerging sectors such as clean energy and life sciences.

However, instead of measures to create jobs, this budget has only freezes, cuts and gimmicks.

The Conservatives are also cutting $4.5 billion in planned foreign aid right when our focus in Afghanistan is shifting from military to humanitarian engagement. The government is making superficial tax changes to the universal child care benefit but they are changes that will not help low income families or single parents get the child care they need.

The Conservatives are ignoring the major issues that matter to Canadians. There is nothing for pensions or health care.

Climate change, nothing.

Culture, nothing.

The Conservatives also will try to claim that they are not raising taxes but everyone in the House knows that is false. The Conservatives are raising payroll taxes by $13 billion, a tax hike that will kill more than 200,000 jobs and hurt small businesses when they need help the most.

The government talks a fine game about innovation but it is not credible. It was not credible when it cut $148 million from the research councils last year. It was not credible when it let $160 million in approved spending for the Canadian Space Agency lapse, when it shut down the national science advisor and when it walked away from 50 years of Canadian leadership in nuclear medicine.

Investments in research and development as a percentage of GDP have been consistently going down since this government took power.

We have taken a step back in terms of productivity, Internet connectivity and innovation. And a significant number of government members continue to question the scientific evidence of climate change.

How can we believe this government when it talks about creating the jobs of tomorrow? Last fall, it scrapped the ecoENERGY program, the best Canadian program for promoting renewable energies.

The Conservatives are not credible on job creation because they are not credible on clean energies. Investing in clean energy is key to creating a future for our country's youth.

The Conservatives spend, but they do not invest.

The Conservatives have spent more than $56 billion into the hole but what did Canadians get? What is the return on investment?

If we start counting back, in October 2008, back when the Prime Minister was saying that there would not be a recession in Canada, we find that more than 300,000 Canadians have lost their jobs and are still out of work. Job creation is down, productivity is down, youth unemployment is double the national average and even the jobs the Conservatives promised in this budget will not make up for the ones we have lost.

It did not have to be this way. Where are the landmark investments in clean energy? Where are the investments in green infrastructure that would create jobs for our kids? Canada missed those opportunities because the government chose to ignore them.

The Prime Minister's spending came without a vision. It came with a whole lot of zeros and this budget does not make up the difference. The government, above all, is not credible on getting its record deficit under control. Let us roll the tape back and remember the real story.

The Conservatives make a claim to fiscal competence, which is entirely undeserved. They inherited a $13 billion surplus from this side of the House and what did they do with it? They spent it at record levels through 2006, 2007 and 2008 and they were on the edge of deficit before the recession started. Then they said that there would be no recession. Then they said that there would be no deficit. Then, suddenly, presto the deficit was at $32 billion and then at $50 billion and then at $56 billion. They cannot run a country if they cannot count.

The numbers are not the only problem. The government lacks a coherent plan to regain control over government spending.

The government says that it will freeze departmental spending beginning in 2011 but that is it. It will not tell us which programs it will cut, which services Canadians will lose and where it will find the necessary savings. That is not a plan. It is an empty promise.

The Conservatives say that they will freeze our salaries. Fine, they can freeze my salary but it is not a plan for deficit reduction. It is a gimmick. If the Prime Minister were serious about leading by example, he would start by cutting the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that he is wasting on partisan advertising and polling. He would cut management consultants instead of siding through the hard-working public service of the country. He would cut the size of cabinet. He would ban those ten-percenter mailings outside of MPs' own ridings, as we have called for, and he would stop increasing spending in the Prime Minister's own department.

Canadians and Canadian families are saving money wherever they can. The government should be doing the same thing, and that is the real issue, because the government does not listen to Canadian families. Reading a survey is not listening to Canadians. Dividing Canadians to gain a political advantage is not listening to Canadians.

I spent weeks, over the course of a year, on the road, visiting universities and colleges across Canada and speaking with Canadian families. I listened to young people talk about their worries and their hopes. They told me of their concerns about unemployment, and spoke about the need to protect the environment and fight climate change. I listened to a generation of young Canadians who are prepared to step up, but who have not gotten a chance to do so.

Among their various excuses for shutting down Parliament, the Conservatives said that they were consulting with Canadians. Who did the Prime Minister consult? When was the last time he actually took unscripted, uncontrolled questions from any Canadian at all?

That is what listening is. One cannot lead if one will not listen and the Prime Minister does not listen.

When I listen, this is what I hear. Middle class families are worried about looking after their parents when they retire. They are worried about getting their kids through school and about the jobs that will be waiting for them at the other end.

Canadian families want to know that their government is in tune with the challenges of tomorrow and that it has a real plan to make Canada successful. This budget fails the tests of credibility, vision and ambition. We cannot support this budget.

This budget fails the test of Canada's potential and therefore we cannot support it. We will vote against the budget motion now before us but we, unlike other parties in the House, will do so responsibly. We will not cause an election. Canadians do not want an election. What they are looking for is an alternative and we will provide them with that alternative.

The Liberal Party is taking part in the most open, transparent, inclusive and comprehensive process of public policy renewal of any Canadian party in the history of this country and one that will continue through the conference in Montreal later this month. We are engaging Canadians in a national conversation about the Canada we want and they want in 2017, the 150th anniversary of our federation. I invite all members to join us in that dialogue.

The alternatives in the Canadian political system are becoming clearer by the hour. The alternative the Conservatives offer the country is now very clear: year after year of austerity, cuts and freezes. The message they are sending Canadians is equally clear, “You are on your own, Canadians. Your government will not help you”.

Our vision in the Liberal Party is clear: using a positive, fiscally responsible vision of government to make Canada the best educated, the healthiest, the greenest and the most international society on earth. Those are goals worthy of a great people. Those are goals we can achieve.

We have done it before. I stand on a side of the House proud of the traditions that our party has represented since Wilfrid Laurier. We have done it before and we will do it again.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the comments by the Leader of the Opposition, I am astonished at the hypocrisy that the Liberal Party is showing.

The Leader of the Opposition can be forgiven a little because he spent more than 30 years outside of Canada and perhaps he does not know the legacy of the 13 years of Liberal government, a majority government I might add. When the Liberals had 13 years to do every one of the things that the Leader of the Opposition just said that we should be doing, what did they do? They did none of those things. They did nothing to return security to seniors and did nothing to expand the CPP.

This government has made the largest investment in infrastructure in this country in the history of any government. We have made the largest investment in the history of this country in young people so they can learn, get an education and job training, and in helping youth at risk obtain the skills to get jobs.

We have given the largest tax reductions in the history of any government to working Canadians all across this country. We have taken more people off the tax rolls in the history of any government of this country.

What are the Liberals talking about? It is too bad the Leader of the Opposition was away so long because maybe he would know a little about this.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, as someone behind me was saying, “Is that the best they have?”

I was amused by the member's account of my biography. He wants me to apologize for my biography. Perhaps he should ask Michael Fox, Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby to apologize for their biographies. I am proud of my biography as those distinguished people are proud of their biography. The minute we start to question whether someone is a Canadian because he or she lives overseas, our country is in big trouble.

As for the record of the previous Liberal government on the issue that I raised at the beginning of my speech, pensions, he should think about what the former government did on pensions. Facing a very serious structural crisis in the future of Canada's pension plan, the previous Liberal government stood up and did what the present government has not done, which is face the future, re-invest, re-create and put the pensions of Canadians on a sound footing for the next generation. That is the kind of leadership we expected from the government but that is the kind of leadership we did not get.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his speech, the Leader of the Opposition said that he wanted to hold extensive consultations in Quebec. We saw how Quebeckers reacted to plans for the forestry industry. The government will be investing next to nothing, just $100 million in contrast to the $10 billion given to the auto industry last year.

The Conservative government decided to invest a portion of the money collected from Quebeckers in developing the nuclear industry. It wants to create an electricity provider that will compete with Hydro-Québec. Quebeckers are not happy about a lot of these measures. Columnist Jean Lapierre said that this Liberal Party leader is going to end up doing exactly what the former Liberal Party leader did: sit on his hands and do nothing. That is the truth of the matter.

I would like the Leader of the Opposition to convince me that he really is against the budget even though he and many of his fellow Liberals will once again remain seated and allow this budget to pass despite the fact that it is not in Quebec's best interest.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. However, I did not think as highly of his comments.

He is standing up for Quebec alone while I am standing up for a different vision of this country. That means a Canada that includes Quebec and wants Quebec to make a major and integral contribution to Canada, just as Quebec athletes did during the Olympic Games.

Our vision is of an optimistic and inclusive nation with Quebec and its courageous people anchoring team Canada. That is the Canada I am so proud of, and that is the Canada I want the world to know.

My colleague asked about our stance on various issues. I was perfectly clear when I said that his political party does not have the same responsibilities as mine. Bloc members will always be in the opposition because the Bloc Québécois will never be Canada's governing party.

We, the Liberals, have been Canada's governing party, and we will be again. As such, we have some serious responsibilities.

We will create an inclusive alternative that places Quebec at the centre of our vision for a renewed Canada. I am dedicating myself to the task of creating an alternative that Quebeckers can get on board with, that will get them out of the opposition and free them from a party that has nothing to offer them. We will offer them a vision of Quebec at the heart of Canada. When that happens, they will come over to our side.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the leader of the Liberal Party, for his rendition on the budget.

He said that there were two distinct visions in this Parliament. That suggests to me that he may be changing the fiscal policy of the Liberal Party as well. We see what the Conservatives are doing by continuing the corporate tax breaks, continuing the change in the basic revenue-generating capacity of the government onto the people, moving it away from the corporations, the banks and the people who are exploiting our natural resources that create profit.

Does this mean the Liberal leader's vision of the fiscal development of our country is somehow different than the Conservatives, that on the largest item within this budget the greatest difference between those two parties is no difference at all? Is that correct?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the differences are very clear.

We are faced now, it seems to me, with an increasingly clear alternative: a Conservative government that offers us and Canadians nothing but years of austerity, years of repentance for its own errors. Who got the country into this mess? We have seen this movie before.

The previous so-called Progressive Conservatives dropped us into a $42 billion deficit. The current government has dropped us into an even deeper hole of $56 billion. It has done so before the recession began, with imprudent spending that left us no reserve when the rains came, and the rains came. It did not expect nor predict the rains would come. It did not know the weather would change, then the rains came and it was not prepared.

We are now in a $56 billion hole. The investment did not even make us more productive, more competitive, it did not create employment, and we are where we are.

The other party does not have the responsibilities that we have. It does not have the experience of government that we have. It has never run a government at the federal level.

We have cleaned up the deficit left behind by the Mulroney failure. We will clean up the deficit left behind by the Harper failure.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Pontiac, QC

A little bit of class.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Class, I need lessons in class from the other side of the House?

The choices before this country are clear. They are the choices between a party that has had the responsibility of government, two other parties on the other side that have had no responsibility of government at the federal level and a Conservative Party that offers us a dark and endless downward spiral into austerity cuts, freezes and gimmicks.