House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the question that comes back to the NDP is this. Why is the NDP not supporting budget 2011? It contains a lot of things for which the NDP asked. There is help for seniors. It may not be as much as what it has asked for, but there is help for seniors through the increase in the GIS.

The NDP has asked for more to be done for rural doctors and nurses. There is help in there for our rural doctors and nurses, but the NDP will vote against this budget.

The NDP wants to ensure we protect health care. Health care is protected in this budget by ensuring that equalization transfers and health care transfers continue to go out to the provinces at a rate increasing by 6% per year. In my province of Manitoba, that means that health care transfers are going to be over $1 billion this year. That is up almost 30% from when the Liberals were in power.

There are things in there like the eco-energy retrofit program for which the NDP asked. It has been renewed. The NDP members asked for the helmets and hardhats program. We worked with them co-operatively and it is in there.

There is compromise on both sides. Therefore, why is the NDP not supporting this budget?

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I am rising in the House since being back, and I would like to congratulate you on your election. I also thank the great people in the riding of Sudbury for putting me back in this place.

I used to sit a lot closer to my colleague, the member for Selkirk—Interlake, and we used to have a lot of conversations. Now we get to have this conversation from the opposite side of the House. It is interesting for both of us.

One of the things that you mentioned in your response to my hon. colleague for Burnaby—New Westminster is the budget addresses the doctor and nurse shortage in rural and northern communities. This side of the House thinks it does not go far enough.

I believe the budget sets out a $9 million in investment, but it does not do enough to actually create the doctors and nurses that we need, especially in northern Ontario and other rural parts. What you are doing is pulling doctors from larger urban centres and then hoping maybe they will—

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I have to stop the hon. member as there is not much time for a response. I will remind him to address his comments through the Chair and not directly at other members.

The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Sudbury for his re-election. I did enjoy sitting close to him when we sat at the other end of the House. We will still have lots of time for camaraderie in this place. We do enjoy each other's company.

What we are going to be doing for rural doctors and nurses, creating new opportunities in rural and northern Canada, is something that has not been tried before. Having a student loan forgiveness program of up to $40,000 for doctors and $20,000 for nurses and nurse practitioners is something we have not tried. It is a made-in-Canada solution, unlike what is happening right now. We were going all over the world trying to poach doctors, which is not sustainable.

3:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is also my first opportunity to be on my feet in the 41st Parliament.

First, with great humility, I thank my constituents in Hamilton Centre for returning me for a fourth term to this honourable place and for the support that they have shown for so long, going on 26 years, in three orders of government. I am truly blessed and very appreciative of the trust and faith that my constituents have placed in me again.

As well, Mr. Speaker, may I also add my voice to those who wish to congratulate you on your ascension to the throne and the history books, being the youngest Speaker ever. I wish you the best of luck. If you have a great term, we will have a great term, and I do hope you have that great term.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the budget. However, I do not have much time and would like to confine my comments to the party subsidies that are now being withdrawn as a result of amendments to the budget that are now before us.

My overarching thought about this reminds me of a phrase my mom taught me when I was very young: “Penny-wise and pound foolish”.

Penny-wise, there is $27 million to be saved. That always sounds good, particularly to ordinary Canadians for whom $27 million is an amount of money they can barely comprehend in their mind let alone the total budget that we have here.

It is understandable that at first blush the government is playing a populous card by saying to Canadians, “Well, why should your tax money go for those awful, horrible political parties? Let them go out and get the money from all their supporters. That is the way it ought to be and we ought to cut back on this. It will save you, taxpayer, $27 million.”

That is sort of the Coles Notes version of what the government is offering here and that is the penny-wise part. It sounds good to save $27 million and it does not sound like there would be any pain.

However, the reason it is pound foolish is that it is weakening our democracy. Anything that weakens our democracy weakens the value of Canadian citizenship because, so much of it is predicated on the beautiful democracy that we have. It is a democracy that is held up by many in the world as an example of a mature, advanced and modern democracy. Yet, it is my experience that we are about to lose that.

Having that other place here as an appointed body is an albatross we all carry when we travel the world on behalf of Canada and talk about democracy. Eyes light up when people find out that we have an appointed Senate. What, in the great democracy of Canada? Therefore, we still have work to do, but this was an improvement that did make our democracy stronger.

I have believed every minute that I have been in politics that the further away we keep politicians from political money, the better our democracy is. Reversing the public financing takes us right back to that world where politicians find it necessary to be snuggling up to people and asking them for money, when perhaps the real and only reason is to deal with a policy issue. However, there is that thing in the back of their mind that they constantly have to be raising money in order to run a campaign. I am not getting into the horrible things money can and does do to a democracy, I am just talking about the above-board stuff.

We all know that it is only a question of time before the current limits are going to rise. The table is being set. I do no think it would happen right away, but it will happen over time as the government makes the case, “We need the ability to fund these expensive campaigns, costs are going up, and we do not have the public subsidy any more.” Ergo, it makes sense to raise the donations.

I do not know about other members but in Hamilton Centre coughing up $1,000 for a political contribution does not happen easily or very often for the simple reason that most of my constituents do not have $1,000 to just write a cheque. They can do $50 or $100, and with enough like that, we can manage the campaign without me, as a member, an elected person, spending my valuable time going for money.

There was a study not long ago, and I stand to be corrected, but my memory tells me that U.S. senators in a six year term spent something like 40% or 50% of the time either planning, going to, being at, or returning from fundraisers all over the United States. Is that where we want to go? Is that the direction we want, that those with money more easily get the attention of hon. members? Again, I am talking about the honourable stuff, never mind how it starts to get us closer and closer to some of the bad stuff.

How many times in the history of democracy has money corrupted the process and individuals? Obviously, not everyone here will be corrupt, but it is taking us in the wrong direction, and that is our point, at a time when there is so much need for modern democracies, for mature democracies to be an example.

I have been on six or seven international election monitoring missions, trying to help emerging democracies. The ones I have been to are mostly in the former Soviet Bloc countries that are truly emerging democracies, struggling. They have so many questions about our system because they would like it.

One of the things they talk about is money and how we manage money in the political process. For them to find out that Canada, one of the great models, one of the great hopes, is going in this direction will be devastating for them because if we are not there, how will some of these emerging democracies ever get there themselves? How will that happen? That is part of our international role.

We are not the biggest economy in the world. We are certainly not the biggest military. We do not go throwing our weight around, but what we do have is a great reputation, or we had a great reputation and we are struggling to maintain it, notwithstanding current policy. That reputation is one that our predecessors in this place and Canadians generations before us built, earned and created for Canada. Now we are in the process of offering it away.

I need to split my time with the member for Nickel Belt, Mr. Speaker. There goes most of my speech, but that is okay, I think I made my point.

The fact remains that this is not a positive step. This is a retrograde step. This is taking us in exactly the opposition direction. I do not know when the political climate will be such that we will get it back, but I do know that our democracy is being weakened by this move. The ability of an idea, like a Tommy Douglas idea, to survive and be heard when now money is a bigger issue than before can only lessen the effectiveness of our democracy and, again, therefore the effectiveness of the citizenship that we are all so proud of having in this country.

We will not be supporting the budget and we certainly will not be supporting this. What we will be doing to modernize democracy is fighting to get rid of the Senate and bring in proportional representation. Now, that is a positive step in democracy.

3:35 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, because it is my first opportunity, let me thank the voters in Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission for the opportunity to be back here again.

I listened with interest to the enthusiastic comments made by my colleague. He said the move to change the political subsidies weakens democracy. However, I do not think he made his case. He kept saying it, but he did not ever make his case as far as I could hear.

He talked about the ability to do what he does in his riding in Hamilton, which is to raise money to run his campaign, and he seemed able to do that without difficulty. I think all of us have met that challenge.

Would he not agree that these changes that are being suggested in the budget in terms of removing the subsidy over four years, that really, we are then going at the national level to the same system we already have at the local level, that EDAs have to raise the money from individuals to run their campaigns? Would he not agree that is where we are going, that it works pretty well at the local level and it will work as well at the national level?

3:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the member's interest and the question.

I want to ensure I understand. When he was talking about “local”, was he talking about municipal politics? Am I correct? Is that what the hon. member means?

No. Then I am sorry. I did not quite understand the point he was making with regard to the example because if we talk about municipal politics, there are many problems there too in terms of the wide open nature of money and the influence that it has.

I admit I would have made a better case if I had more time. I do get a little long-winded. I accept that. Not to worry though, I will have many more opportunities to be on my feet talking about this, so that the member will know 100% what the case is that I am making.

I am basically saying that the public subsidy was a reflection of the will of the Canadian people when they voted. The $2 only went to the party that got the vote. Therefore, that member's vote actually meant something because if one was a New Democrat or a Liberal or a Green member running in Alberta, the fact of the matter is that most of that member's votes did not matter because the first past the post meant that he or she could win with 40%.

Do not forget that we have a government in this place right now that has 40% of the support of the Canadian people, but because we have first past the post it got 100% of the power.

There are all kinds of problems. I say to the hon. member that this just exacerbates it.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to once again thank the hon. member for his usual passion in his speeches and for talking about issues that are truly important to Canadians and especially to the people in his riding.

I know you were specific on some of the things that we could be doing to enhance our democracy.

When we are looking at the budget, we are losing the subsidy. What do you truly think is the important thing we could be bringing forward here to make the changes necessary to bring forward the reforms that we can see in democracy without having to bring in the mighty dollar to ensure we can do that?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Just a subtle reminder to members to remember to direct their comments through the Chair. That keeps our deliberations civil.

The hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Sudbury for his support, for the real, positive changes that we could make to this place that quite frankly would make us prouder of the democracy we have.

I mentioned two of them. I would be glad to talk about them over and over, but the heading is to abolish the Senate. If we want to save money on wasted expense, there is $100 million that we can save with one little bit of surgery. Just cut off that house over there. It is $100 million. However, it really does not make that much difference except to those who get the cash for life lottery Senate appointment.

The other thing we can do is proportional representation. I started to get into that when I was mentioning that in our current system, the $2 per vote subsidy meant that every vote made a difference. It actually had an impact whether the member won that seat or not.

With our first past the post system, although the government received less than 40% of the vote of all Canadians who voted, it got 100% of the power not because it did anything wrong but because we have a system that does not serve our democracy as well as proportional representation would.

We will be making suggestions in that regard. We will continue to do that until those changes are actually brought about and we have true democracy in our House of Commons.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is going to be a hard act to follow.

I am honoured to rise in the House once again as the member of Parliament for Nickel Belt. I was born and raised in Nickel Belt. I worked for 34 years at Inco. I was married and raised my family in this great riding.

There is no greater privilege for me than standing in the House and defending the interests of my constituents. I humbly thank them for the confidence they have placed in me and for returning me to this great chamber with an even larger majority than in 2008.

I also want to congratulate all of my colleagues in the House for their election to this great institution.

I wish to congratulate my leader, the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, for his energy, for his commitment to the people of this great country, for his unwavering belief that we can make a difference for families everywhere and for his historic success on May 2. I am honoured to sit as a member of the official opposition under his great leadership.

During this election I had the opportunity to connect with constituents from Foleyet to Onaping to Chelmsford and Azilda, to Killarney and Garden Village, and to Noëlville and Sturgeon Falls. While these communities are distant and unique from one another, the voters of these communities share a lot of common concerns.

At doorstep after doorstep voters shared their worries over their jobs and their pensions. They spoke about the challenges of caring for their loved ones. Seniors spoke about the lack of adequate pensions and access to health care. Active and involved citizens told me they are quitting their volunteer work because they cannot afford to fill their cars with gas.

Just two days ago, splashed across the front page of The Sudbury Star was a report that read:

The high price of gasoline isn't just costing Sudburians at the pumps. It is hurting community service organizations that rely on volunteer drivers for vital programs to help seniors and others remain at home and out of institutions. Meals on Wheels has experienced a sharp drop in the number of volunteers delivering meals to thousands of clients in Sudbury every month since gas prices began spiking about a year ago. In some cases, particularly in outlying areas such as Rayside-Balfour, Valley East and Onaping, the shortage of volunteers is so severe, it could soon affect client service.

The reality of the north is such that people do not have access to public transport. Their cars are their lifeline to work, to their extracurricular activities and to their educational institutions.

These are some of the issues of foremost concern in northern Ontario, and these are some of the issues that are neglected in the budget.

Speaking of the budget, I want to start by noting that the government listened to New Democrats and Canadians by restoring the eco-energy home retrofit program. I stress that this program should be reinstated permanently, not just for one year.

I have met with constituents who were cut off when the government abruptly cancelled the program. These people had already signed contracts for renovating their homes, assuming they were going to receive support from the federal government. I ask the government: will these people be able to apply retroactively for this program?

I also have businesses in my riding that had to lay off employees when this program was cancelled. I was very pleased that my leader came up to Nickel Belt and held a press conference at the site of one of these businesses to bring much-needed attention to the consequences of the government's short-sighted decision to cancel this program. Let us make it permanent.

On another positive note, the budget extends the mineral exploration tax credit for flow-through share investors for an additional year. New Democrats have been calling for this measure and welcome it.

This week many of my colleagues have stood for the first time in this chamber and given their inaugural speeches on behalf of their constituents. After listening to their eloquent remarks about the short-sightedness of the budget, it is clear that whether one is from British Columbia, the Prairies, Quebec, Ontario or Atlantic Canada, the budget ignores Canadians.

The budget does almost nothing for improving access to rural health care. The loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses does not go far enough because it does not increase the actual number of doctors and nurses in the system, which is what we need.

The budget does nothing to strengthen CPP and does nothing to provide relief for the family budget. Despite Conservative claims, we still have 300,000 more unemployed since the recession, and of the jobs that have been created, an overwhelming majority are part time.

The number of involuntary part-time workers in Canada is now at 500,000. How are families going to pay down their debt, save for their children's education or put away for their retirement? They can barely pay their heating bills.

With respect to employment insurance, over the next five years EI premiums will exceed benefits by $15 billion.

During my first term as member of Parliament for Nickel Belt, my team helped over 1,400 constituents with various issues, but that figure does not include the processing of passports. Over 4,000 passports were processed with the help of my office.

Over one-quarter of the 1,400 cases had to do with EI. Workers who paid into the system were losing their benefits and could not access training. Let me remind the House that miners went through a strike almost a year long as a direct result of the government's refusal to protect the interests of workers and their communities from foreign takeovers.

I also wish to say a few words about the government's ideological move to pressure municipalities into public-private partnerships, also known as P3 projects. There are countless Canadians and international examples of failed or flawed P3 projects, yet the City of Greater Sudbury is planning a $40 million P3 biodiesel plant with $10 million of federal funding.

Here are just five of the failed P3 projects. There was the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. P3 project; the end result was that it was abandoned because it was inflexible and reduced access. The Hamilton-Wentworth water and wastewater treatment P3 project was abandoned in the end because of maintenance problems, legal disputes, high costs and poor risk transfer. In the case of the Royal Ottawa Hospital P3 project, the end result was that it was flawed with high costs, secrecy and bed cuts. In the case of the Timmins and District Hospital dialysis centre P3, the end result was that it failed because no bidders were interested. The end result of the Welland Community Centre P3 project was that it failed because the project was deemed not viable in the P3 format due to secrecy.

Over the course of my remarks I have offered a snapshot of the reality in the north, yet this budget offers nothing to help.

The government also could have given the north its own independent economic development agency. It could have made FedNor an independent agency.

It is no accident that my first act in Parliament was to table a bill to make FedNor a stand-alone economic agency. The minister from the riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka likes to harp that making FedNor independent creates a new bureaucracy, but nothing could be further from the truth. I ask the two ministers who are now responsible, the Minister of Industry and the President of the Treasury Board, why southern Ontario can get its own independent economic development agency, but not the north. Why is there the double standard? Is it too hard to relinquish political control?

It is clear that the negatives of this budget far outweigh the small positives. It is also clear that the government paid no attention to the 60% of Canadians who did not vote for it. If, as it claims, it is the government for all Canadians, then we should have expected the Prime Minister to back that claim with meaningful support for Canadian families in this budget. Unfortunately, he did not.

There are billions in corporate tax cuts that do not create jobs, and billions in planned service cuts. There is nothing for small businesses, nothing for improving access to rural health care, nothing for lifting seniors out of poverty and nothing for addressing the needs of Canadian families and their youth. Northern Ontario remains without is own independent economic development agency.

In summary, the concerns of my constituents remain unaddressed. I cannot support this budget. I will not support this budget.

June 8th, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise. I also would like to take a turn to thank my constituents of Scarborough—Agincourt for returning me for an eighth term.

I listened with interest to the debate. It brought me back to the debate when my colleague from, I believe, Hamilton Centre was talking about proportional representation. I am sure his colleague might want to jump in on this and let us know his views.

The figures for what happened in the last election show that nationally the Bloc had 6.5% of the vote, but in Quebec it had 23% of the vote. The Green Party had 3.91%. The Green Party, at 3.91%, has one representative, while the Bloc, at 6.5%, has four representatives. In some countries that have proportional representation, and unlike our country, which has first past the post, if the government of the day does not support the minority that a member represents or where the member is from, it takes that level of 3% or 4% and raises it to 10%.

I am speaking specifically of Turkey, where this upcoming weekend there will be an election. In order for a party to get a seat in Turkey's parliament, it must get 10% of the vote.

If that were the case and the Conservatives were all of a sudden to raise it to 10%, we would not have any representation from the Green Party and we would not have any representation from the Bloc. I wonder if this is the right move--

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

The hon. member for Nickel Belt.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not really hear a question in that statement. However, with regard to proportional representation, I think it would be the way to go.

A lot of European countries have proportional representation. With proportional representation, everybody in Canada would be represented. That would make their vote count.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, congratulations to you on your new job in the chair.

I also want to congratulate my colleague from Nickel Belt on his resounding victory. Like the victory of my other colleague from Sudbury, it came about because of their dedication, particularly to the steelworkers of Vale Inco, who, as we know, were on strike for a very long time. Their fight for decent-paying jobs and quality pensions has obviously paid off. I am delighted that they are back.

The member just gave an eloquent speech about what is positive in the budget. Yes, having the eco-energy home retrofit program restored is indeed a positive in this budget, and I am glad he talked about it.

However, he also focused at some length on the most vulnerable in our community. In particular, he had the chance to address the plight of seniors. All of us who were knocking on doors in this last campaign are very well aware that seniors were the innocent victims of this global economic downturn. They have worked all their lives and have played by the rules, and now everywhere they turn, with every bill they open, they are paying more and getting less.

The government missed an important opportunity in the budget to seize the moment. Instead of taking $700 million to raise every senior out of poverty, it chose to help only half the seniors or, alternatively, to give all the seniors half of what they need to be lifted out of poverty.

Mr. Speaker, you well know that in our province some of that $50-a-month benefit is going to be clawed back if they live in subsidized housing. Other parts of that $50 are going to be clawed back by the provincial government.

Would the member comment and tell us whether he thinks $50 a month is really enough for the hard-working seniors and pensioners in his community of Sudbury?