House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was need.


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12:20 p.m.


Cliff Breitkreuz Reform Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend to you belated congratulations on your appointment to the Speaker's chair. I wish you well as you and your colleagues guide the debate in this, the highest tribunal in the land.

I thank the people of Yellowhead for their support on October 25. I will endeavour to serve my constituents well.

In my comments I will be touching on two matters: first, a few observations about the riding I am privileged to represent; and, second, I will attempt to show what happened to countries that have attempted to spend themselves into prosperity. If we do not bring spending under control in this country, be it social or other spending, we may well find ourselves going down the same road.

First, I have a few comments on my riding. Yellowhead is a huge riding, the third largest federal riding in Alberta. It is interesting to note that geographically the configuration of Yellowhead is similar to that of the state of Texas. In addition, both are rich in oil and beef cattle.

Yellowhead also has huge deposits of gas and coal and an active forest industry.

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains is the jewel of the Rockies, Jasper. Our nation's most spectacular park, Jasper National Park, attracts tourists from around the world every day of the year.

The 90,000 plus people who live within the borders of Yellowhead are generally an independent lot. Business deals are still clinched with a handshake as entrepreneurs engage in the time proven activity of human endeavour, the free enterprise system. In general, unemployment is not the concern that it is in other parts of the country.

I am at once proud and humbled in the opportunity to represent and serve these people in this place. These folks are saying to me, as other Canadians are saying to their elected people, that enough is enough; enough spending on programs they do not want, they did not ask for and certainly do not want to pay for. Increasingly, people are realizing that government spending is taking us all down a dead end road to the precipice, to the brink. The brakes must be applied so that this nation can edge back from the brink of economic disaster.

I commend the government for this social affairs debate. I am confident that it will seriously consider suggestions made in this House and elsewhere when the restructuring of these programs begin.

Overspending is not just a phenomenon of the 20th century. For centuries countries have overspent. History is littered with examples of great empires that have been reduced to shadows of their former greatness.

For centuries, economists, historians and observers have documented what causes dominant countries to experience economic decline. We need not go back to ancient civilizations, to antiquity for examples. We only need to go back to the early modern period, to the time of the gun powder revolution which set in motion some of the more profound changes in modern history.

There is no better example of a nation that underwent an economic crisis by spending itself into oblivion than Spain itself, the great power of the early modern period.

Leadership of the Spanish government was dominated by out of control spending on the military, the bureaucracy, the church and the nobility. Today in Canada, the tax consuming interests find their equivalent in big government as well as transfer payments and subsidies to businesses whether they are private or crown corporations. Long after it became obvious that the Spanish economy was in trouble, Spain's leaders resisted every effort to cut costs.

Like many American and Canadian politicians today they could not believe that the money would ever run out. Each new setback to the economy was treated as an occasion to launch a brand new program. Taxes were tripled between the years 1556 and 1577. The great country of Spain descended into bankruptcy and has not really recovered.

Holland which escaped Spanish rule followed a similar pattern of decline. The historian Jan de Vries wrote:

Increased costs, particularly in the last third of the 17th century, robbed Dutch trade of its dynamism.

That observation should ring familiar as should another. I continue quoting:

And as so often happens in societies when new conditions threaten their leadership, an inflexibility permeated Dutch institutions.

As Holland went into decline, Great Britain ascended to global dominance. After two centuries at the pinnacle of the world economy this empire too went into decline. British leaders like the Spanish and Dutch before them responded to the crisis not by cutting costs but by proposing new expensive spending ideas. As a result taxes and spending increased dramatically.

As he watched his beloved country facing ruin, Winston Churchill observed:

I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little further on there are our only flagstones, and a little further on still even these break beneath your feet.

After World War II the country that exceeded any other country in the world by any measurement rose to unprecedented heights in terms of economic and military might.

The superpower age was thrust upon the world with the United States leading the way. After almost half a century of unparalleled economic growth and world leadership, America now is showing symptoms of decline. These are high taxes, high prices, high budget deficits, a rapidly increasing crime rate, strong special interest groups, failures in motivation, a decline in education and everyday competence, a high tendency to import, moral breakdown, loss of civic spirit and an increasing diversion of energies to non-productive pursuits.

Is Canada showing similar symptoms? The question begs the answer.

Thousands of people, business people and professionals, are putting forth their ideas to bring our financial house in order. Perhaps more important, there are millions of Canadians, ordinary people who get up each morning and go to their respective places of work. They are the people who carefully and prudently manage the affairs of their households and communities, who pay the bills, who pay to all levels of government. After all, there really is only one taxpayer. These Canadians in a growing tide are asking governments to take bold action.

My home province of Alberta is once again leading the way as it has done in the past. Alberta's provincial government, to its credit, has recognized the folly of uncontrolled spending and program proliferation. Alberta is taking action now. Yes, there is and there will continue to be some pain as adjustments are made. As expected the special interest groups are protesting. As Margaret Thatcher observed a few years ago, they have the usual socialist disease. They are running out of other people's money. However the majority of Albertans, the people who pay the bills, agree that excessive spending had to stop.

A new Parliament represents a golden opportunity to change the way things are done. Now is the time to act. We must priorize spending to save our social programs.

I will close with this. For all the problems we face I believe this is the greatest country in the world, but let us keep it that way. By getting our spending under control, not only for our generation, but for our children and our children's children.

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12:30 p.m.


Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—Woodbine, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find the history lesson from the member opposite quite interesting. I must say that as a history lesson it is intriguing, but I do not see how the dying days of imperialistic England have had anything to do with the current modern economies, quite frankly. I think that imperialism was dying nonetheless because what people were saying was a whole other issue. The hon. member is comparing apples and oranges, with all due respect.

I quite often hear the members opposite talk constantly about giving money only to those in need. Who are they? Every time I read something or I hear the members of the Reform Party refer to that quite often I come away with the feeling that means giving alms to the poorest of the poor and forgetting the rest.

We have just heard a very eloquent presentation in this House from the member of the Bloc party just recently on the issues of

women which I support whole-heartedly as someone who has worked in this area for quite some time.

I want to ask the member if he could at the very least help me understand what his party really does mean by those in need. How would the member define those in need?

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12:30 p.m.


Cliff Breitkreuz Reform Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member opposite for the question.

I think I can safely say that there is no member of the Reform Party, let alone the Reform caucus, that would not deny assistance to anyone who really deserves assistance. However there are billions of dollars going to wealthy people, people who are making above average incomes. It is those people from whom we feel that payment should be withdrawn.

For example, the Fraser Institute and economists from all over have shown studies that 30 per cent of wealthy people receive 30 to 40 per cent of government assistance. That just is not fair. It is not fair to those millions of average Canadians who are earning $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 a year. It is not fair that the tax dollars that these people pay, and God knows they are paying enough, go to people in this upper strata.

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12:30 p.m.


Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the point that the debater makes. I too share his concerns with government spending. I share his concerns with making sure that government programs fall on those who are most in need.

I would like to ask him if he is familiar with a little bit of history called the depression of the 1930s in which the economy settled in to a long and profound period of contraction, serious unemployment and serious poverty. The great thinker John Maynard Keynes pointed out that this equilibrium had huge numbers of people suffering through no fault of their own, much like the recessions that we have had since and that it required government spending to increase aggregate demand and thereby increase employment numbers.

If we were to cut spending the way the Reform Party has said we should, balance the budget within three years, would that not make a bad situation worse by cutting aggregate demand and increasing unemployment and increasing poverty and thereby making the situation much more difficult than it is already?

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12:35 p.m.


Cliff Breitkreuz Reform Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. We have to remember that the depression occurred during a time when there was not the government involvement in the economies that there is today. Things went relatively quickly once the crash occurred.

All we are doing today by this overspending is procrastinating. We are charging it to the future. I suspect, and there are economists that say this as well, that when that day comes when we cannot spend anymore and when foreign lenders will not lend us money anymore, what happened in New Zealand will also happen in this country. We certainly do not want to see that. That is why we say we have to stop spending now and prioritize spending.

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12:35 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I might say in the beginning that embarking on this major comprehensive change to the social safety net is a bold and much needed move by the new government. I pleased with the process that the Minister of Human Resources Development has established which will involve people in terms of those discussions.

As well I might point out that in this initiative, along with the first budget of the new Liberal government, we must demonstrate to all Canadians this is a new government with a new agenda which places jobs and opportunities for all Canadians first and foremost.

While taking control over the deficit and debt is critical, we must not fall victim to the neo-conservative obsession of the past nine years which has directly contributed to the current crisis in Canada in terms of job losses, social unrest, increased poverty and disillusionment throughout the country.

It will be important for this government to outline to Canadians the limits within which we as government can work with respect to developing new made in and for Canada economic and social policies, especially so given the various trade agreements in which we now find ourselves.

For example, we have to address the issue in the very near future of the kind of federal provincial transfer system which will provide the critical social infrastructures for most provinces. As a nation and as a government we must ensure that all Canadians have equal access to programs under those economic and social policies that we implement.

Professor Tom Courchesne, a proponent of free trade, pointed out that an east-west transfer system does not square well with north-south economic integration. If Courchesne is correct, the future of our ability to provide for the means of our critical social programs throughout Canada could be at risk.

Our economy is still having to adjust to the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement and is now faced with both NAFTA and GATT. Canadians do not want this government to merely administer trade policies negotiated by the previous government, they want a proactive government which will ensure that policies emerging from these trade deals reflect Canadian needs, not just the economic and foreign interests of our neighbour to the south.

The Prime Minister has stated clearly that he will operate on these deals in the interests of Canadians.

As members in this House, we must be forever vigilant that economic trade agreements do not force us to the lowest common denominators in social programs under the guise of economic competition. We must work toward bringing up the social, labour and environmental standards of the United States and Mexico, our trading partners, and not buckle under to the pressure of reducing our own programs.

Let me turn for a moment to what is perhaps one of the greatest social tragedies in this country over the last nine to twelve years, the farm financial crisis.

I want to try and put that in some kind of context in terms of where we are coming from and where we are going and what we have to do to offer some hope for the future.

I maintain it is a real serious social tragedy in our rural areas. The farm crisis, to a great extent for political and global trade reasons, has become accepted to a great extent around the world. It has become almost normal in our society to hear of farmers going broke and governments really not doing much about it. This acceptance ignores the reality in personal terms in which farmers and farm families and farm communities find themselves.

Let me put that into perspective. In 1988, after eight years of farm crisis in this country, the House of Commons in its agricultural committee report talked about a debt of $22 billion. After implementing the Farm Debt Review Board, farm adjustment program and other subsidies, in 1992 we found ourselves after the loss of thousands of farmers still in debt to the tune of $23.9 billion.

How serious is this? It is very serious. It means that if we were farmers in this room, if you looked one person to your left and one person to your right, one of you would be in serious financial trouble, faced with the possibility of losing your farm. That is the kind of situation we find ourselves in today.

In my province of Prince Edward Island in 1991, according to census figures, we had 2,361 farmers, a decline of 16.7 per cent since 1986 and a 48 per cent decline of farmers since 1971. Are we any better off today because we have lost these farmers? No, we are not. We have deteriorating communities, a deteriorating base on which to base community programs, rinks, social affairs, educational systems and so on, a very serious matter.

How do we put a human face on these figures in terms of social problems? It is an issue that you really cannot understand unless you have experienced it. I call it economic violence, a loss of pride in terms of those farmers affected, a feeling of failure, increasing farm suicides, increasing family split-ups as a result of this very serious economic problem at the farm gate.

Even with these facts and figures we continue to see over the last nine years, coming out of Agriculture Canada and the Government of Canada, an acceptance that we must follow the trend that the market should make all decisions. We are seeing that increasingly so in the new era of globalization.

There are some who would say on the other side of the House that the free market should decide all things. I disagree very strongly with that and I hope we do as a government.

Some people will say let us be competitive. Let us look a little deeper into this competitive approach for a moment. What is the nature of competition? Basically, the nature of competition is that you get into an economic game and your objective is to destroy the competitor. In the current kind of trade and economic policy that we are moving toward in terms of these globalized trade agreements, the object of the game is to pit farmer against farmer in communities, between countries, between provinces, across borders, in a game of trying to lower your prices in order to access the market and in the process destroy that farmer in that other area.

That is not the answer. We must move forward with economic and social programs that bring in regulatory control, put in place marketing programs like the Canadian Dairy Commission, the Poultry Marketing Board, the Canadian Wheat Board, to implement agricultural policy in the interests of rural Canada and farmers.

The approach that has been going on for the last nine or ten years is leading to greater and greater exploitation and I believe to competitive poverty.

I do not believe it has to be this way. We must restore, as a new government, a sense of direction and a sense of purpose. As I mentioned a moment ago, we can introduce marketing programs. We can, through our power as a federal government, expand and strengthen farm debt review boards to deal with these cases that are in serious financial trouble.

This is one member who is going to work toward those objectives.

I do not believe we can allow the pressure to adapt and adjust to the blind blameless free market on a global basis to deter us from doing what is right in terms of the social and economic future of rural Canada and Canadians.

There are a number of other areas that I had hoped to speak on for a moment but I see that I am out of time so I will sit down and receive questions.

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12:45 p.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing up farming in relation to social support programs. As the member may know, I am originally from New Zealand where farmers were heavily subsidized to grow things like fat lambs and all sorts of products

that the world did not really need. Huge stocks of butter and lamb were put away in freezers for years and years.

As the member may also know, in New Zealand when there was a sudden debt crisis the subsidies ended rather abruptly, putting farmers on the same basis as other businesses. After all, farms are businesses.

I would like to give the member an example so that I can ask him a question. In New Zealand when the subsidies ended a lot of farmers initially went broke. It created a whole new climate for farming in which there had to be creativity and a look at where the market really should be.

All of the beans for beans and pork had been imported from the United States since the beginning of time. No one in New Zealand grew beans for baked beans. Today, because of the loss of subsidies and new creativity, New Zealand has become an exporting nation of beans to Australia and back to the United States.

There are more farmers in business today in New Zealand making more money than they ever did under the subsidy programs. I would like to ask the member if he agrees that there needs to be some responsibility taken by the farmers to look for new markets and new opportunities in new products instead of always relying on the government to bail them out.

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12:45 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question. I happened to be in New Zealand when the value added tax was brought in and I saw first hand the destruction of many of the rural communities as a result of doing away with the subsidies to the farm community.

The subsidy question has become a misnomer in that during the GATT talks the whole thrust of the negotiations was how to do away with subsidies. Subsidies became the issue when really subsidies are the symptom of a greater problem globally, low farm income, which is causing the destruction and the deterioration of rural communities and a loss of farms world wide.

Instead of just targeting subsidies we must look at the real problem which is a global agricultural policy creating lots of profits for the global corporations in terms of trade issues as they try and have farmers in one nation compete against another in order to access cheap supply to undermine producers in another area and profit in the process.

Therefore we have to look at this much differently globally in terms of looking at actually returning the cost of production to farmers for the products they produce wherever they produce them around the world. Certainly there are lots of hungry people around the world.

The other point the hon. member makes is with regard to farmers marketing their products. We have some great examples of that in this country. In fact farmers are doing that.

One of the best examples is the Canadian Wheat Board. Canagrex was a good agency which would use market intelligence and go out to sell farm products in the interests of the country and producers, but the previous administration canned it.

The Canadian Wheat Board is a tremendous agency in terms of pooling the resources of producers, acting as a single seller of export wheat and barley, accessing the marketplace in other countries, setting the delivery system in place and returning to producers the best return for the product available in that international marketplace.

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12:50 p.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, some hon. members may know that my riding of Rosedale is located in the heart of downtown Toronto. Its population encompasses people who are very fortunate and are members of the business community who are surviving in the present economic environment to those who are far less successful in the present environment, to the elderly and young people who are dependent upon the support systems which Canada has developed to create a better and humane society.

I am particularly conscious of the need to adjust our programs to achieve a decent balance for the need of job creation and also to protect the less fortunate members of our society.

If we were to go to Rosedale riding to areas like Moss Park, Regent Park or St. James Town and speak to the elderly people there they would find little comfort in the words from the former speaker from the Reform Party who drew an analogy to the collapse of the Spanish empire.

It was a very interesting analogy of several hundred years ago. It did collapse from a dependence on slave labour and importation of gold from the New World and a lot of other problems that were developed in the 16th and 17th centuries. However we live in a modern world with different problems. I would urge upon this House that we must approach our problems from a modern perspective and I am going to get to that in a moment.

Part of the modern way in which we must approach our problems is to understand what those problems are. Parachute Community Employment Centre in Rosedale riding has produced a very interesting report. I would be glad to make it available to all members of this House.

The survey was prepared among the people of Regent Park who are consumers of many of the services that are going to be the subject matter of the minister's task force and study when considering the way in which we go about reforming and

readjusting our delivery of services that are of need for Canadians to fit modern realities. That survey offers some very interesting statistics.

Seventy per cent of the people who were surveyed told us that they could make more money taking welfare than getting jobs. That is not an argument for lowering the amount of welfare payments. It is an argument for that which the hon. member for Malpeque was pointing out with respect to the agricultural community.

The problem is that the available jobs and the training people have for those jobs are not sufficient to enable them to take advantage of the modern marketplace. Therefore the people we spoke to in the survey were telling us that what they need are better training programs. For that they need English as a second language and for that they need literacy.

Many of them were young women. Evoking the words of the member from Quebec who spoke recently, 25 per cent of the women who were interviewed lost or left their jobs because of inadequate daycare. Once out of the job market it makes it very difficult to break back into it.

Therefore trying to get a more adequate daycare program going in this country is a very important part of the red book and an important part of the Liberal program.

I would like to turn to a different perspective on this issue. To some extent it echoes the words of the member for Malpeque. It is the perspective of the global economy.

We have to recognize that if we are going to craft a solution to our problems in Canada today whatever they are, whether we are speaking of social policy, taxation policy or other policies, we have to look at the reality of the world in which we live.

Today we live in a global economy world. It is one in which we have recently seen the GATT changes which brought much anguish to many members of this House when they tried to come to grips with the problems that is imposing on our agricultural communities. It is the world of NAFTA and a world of free movement of capital, of goods and more and more, of peoples.

Unless we take that fundamental fact into account when we are addressing this issue of social policy changes we will fail in what we adjust. We cannot craft and create solutions to problems which are and will always be uniquely and particularly Canadian but we must take into account the global realities of the world in which we live.

In that context I would like to draw the attention of the House to a report from the International Labour Organization which was reported in today's Globe and Mail . I would like to take the opportunity to read some of that report:

Thirty per cent of the world's labour force is either out of work or underemployed-a global jobs crisis gripping both rich and poor nations, a United Nations agency says.

"It is a crisis that in some countries could really explode and undermine the social fabric very badly," said Ali Taqi, chief of staff of the International Labour Organization.

The Geneva-based ILO estimates that more than 820 million people worldwide are either unemployed or working at a job that does not pay a subsistence wage.

This evokes the words of the hon. member for Malpeque who just spoke about the problems of our farm community. Further on in the article it states:

Mr. Taqi said the global jobs crisis is not just the result of the recession that has plagued the world economy in recent years.

It is something more endemic and longer lasting than that and reflects the rapid pace of technological change and increasingly fierce global competition.

I suggest that part of the answer to our problems in our social programs and our social agencies lies in our need to see how we fit into this global context and the need to address an international answer to the problem.

We cannot go this alone. We need the International Labour Organization. We need to work with the social charter within NAFTA and our other trading partners if we are to have long lasting solutions to our problems.

On that subject, I would like to say a few words to my colleagues of the Bloc Quebecois who talk passionately about preserving social services in this country.

I know from experience that the world we live in today is not a place where it is possible to solve problems by acting as an isolated country, with an individual perspective; quite the contrary. The solution today is global. Take the European Community for example; more and more Brussels is the one to determine solutions. Why? Because Spain by itself cannot solve its problems; France alone cannot solve its own problems. Therefore, the European countries have to work together to find a solution.

I suggest we have the same kind of situation here in Canada. In order to solve social problems in this country and to face the difficulties created in a way by the United States, we must have a national policy. We will not solve problems by creating more tariff or non-tariff barriers between various regions of Canada but by working together to ensure our security. It is through co-operation and hard work leading to a strong economy that we will solve these problems.

Therefore, I ask my colleagues of the Bloc Quebecois to review this issue with the other members of this House and to co-operate with them in order to find Canadian solutions, efficient solutions which will apply to national and international problems alike.

On that point, Mr. Speaker, I see my time is drawing to a close. I would like to complete my remarks by going back to what I heard the member for Malpeque saying. I would to some extent differ from him on this. I am not sure that the solutions to our

problems are something we are able to construct by ourselves without facing the facts of the international world in which we live.

It seems to me that our duty as members of this House is to look and serve as a prism to the global world. If it is a world of greater competitiveness and greater free trade, then we must serve in a way in which that international world may be brought to our fellow Canadian citizens and then turn around and craft solutions to problems which are both local and global and take into account that global context.

I am confident that when the minister responsible, the task force which he sets up and the members of this House examine these questions, they will be looking for solutions which are both local and global, but will also take into account the need for a strong Canadian solution to our problems. That in turn will enable us to exist in a global environment, one that is more and more difficult but one which forces us to provide solutions for our citizens which will enable them to live with dignity in our own country.

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1 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I feel I must comment on what was said by the hon. member who was referring directly to my party when he asked us to forget about implementing solutions like a separate country that would be too small. I can inform him that there are small, developed countries with a vigorous economy and social programs and a standard of living that are enviable.

The globalization we are experiencing today will actually make peoples who may be part of several nations, and this is no mean task, want to defend their identity. Identity also extends to social security programs and how they are organized.

Many members have spoken to defend Canada's social security system, and I can understand that. I also heard them mention its defects and that it needs to be modernized. In my speech in reply to the speech from the throne, I discussed many shortcomings we in Quebec have noticed for a long time and have been trying to remedy in negotiations with the federal government. Although we saw what the problems were and wanted to make adjustments and save money, which is indeed a priority today, the federal government constantly objected to our proposals. I will get back to this problem, but it seems to me that although we should listen to what hon. members opposite have to say, they should listen as well and realize there are two social security plans in Canada at this time, a Canadian system and a Quebec system.

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1 p.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Rosedale, ON

Mr. SPeaker, I thank the hon. member for Mercier for her comments, and although my answer may not be entirely adequate because I have not had time to develop this aspect, I am sure that during this Parliament there will be opportunities for discussion to clarify our thoughts on the matter.

To get back to your comment on small countries, if we take, for example, the European Community, small countries which maintain their identity can do so because they have agreed to give up a certain amount of their sovereignty within a broader context. I can say that to the people of Ontario, there is no difference. Fine, we in Ontario could say that we want our own solution. Everybody wants his own solution, but we have to look at the facts. We have to be practical.

Everybody cannot have his own solution. The problems of GATT are a good illustration of this. Canada wanted to keep the supply management system we built up over the years, but we could not keep it any more. The other countries would not agree. We have to face the facts. It is not just a matter of saying what we want. The important thing is what we can accomplish.

In this situation we have to look at the global economic climate and our own resources. I believe that it will be much easier to deal with these problems as Canadians than as individual provinces.

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1:05 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I want to inform the Chair that, from now on during this debate, the speakers for the Official Opposition will use 10-minute periods, followed by 5-minute periods for questions and comments.

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1:05 p.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of being the critic on issues affecting seniors. This is probably because of a certain wisdom I gained along with my white hair. My field of responsibility includes issues related to andragogy, gerontology and geriatrics. These are issues which must be examined with a very human approach.

During the referendums and election campaigns in Quebec, the opponents of sovereignty for Quebec took advantage of the insecurity of some older people and tried to scare them by saying that they would lose their old age security pension if Quebec became a sovereign nation, arguing that the government of the province would no longer be able to pay for their pension.

Thank goodness, many seniors no longer believe those lies. The results of the 1992 referendum in Quebec as well as the election of 54 members of the Bloc Quebecois are obvious proof of that.

The issues concerning seniors are partially dealt with by two departments: Human Resources Development and Health, as well as by the Seniors Secretariat, which is responsible for

providing to seniors information on federal programs and services, while also ensuring liaison with federal and provincial departments implementing programs for seniors.

Also, the National Advisory Council on Aging advises and helps the Minister of Health regarding the quality of life of seniors, either when the minister submits issues to the Council or when the Council itself decides to act on its own. Its role is to circulate information and, among others tasks, to publish reports.

So, why is there no secretary of state responsible for issues relating to seniors, since this is an area of vital importance?

Recent studies reveal that one person in eight is over 65 years of age. In the next ten years, the number of people over 65 will increase by at least 40 per cent.

The baby boomers are now in their forties. In 1981, 19 per cent of Canadians over 65 years of age were in their eighties. In 2001, that is 20 years later, this proportion will be 24 per cent. Life expectancy is increasing, along with related problems.

More and more people over 65 years of age will have to rely on the ability to pay of those workers aged 15 to 64. Around the year 2011, for the first time ever, there will be more older people than persons aged 15 or less. Moreover, this group of older people will be better educated than today's seniors.

All these factors show us the importance of planning for the future, starting today. Of course there are many programs to help seniors, but the isolation of seniors means that most of them are completely uninformed and unable to take the necessary action to obtain this information. We absolutely must encourage seniors to be independent, by letting them join society and not by keeping them apart.

Most seniors prefer to live at home, to take care of themselves and to make their own decisions about their life. According to journalist Monique Richer of the daily Journal de Montréal , there is a big problem among seniors: the suicide rate of people aged 65 to 80 has increased significantly in Quebec, since the suicide rate of seniors has risen from 10.1 per 100,000 in 1977 to 21.9 in 1987. Montreal has a service called ``Suicide Action Montréal'' but it seems to be little used, unlike other services for young people or other groups.

Seniors must also be given access to information on health services. Our health system is among the best in the world, but spending on health is growing faster than the population and inflation. Canada spends over $60 billion a year on health. Obviously, as people grow older, they have health problems and often lose independence as well.

Formerly, our ancestors kept old people at home with them, but today, with our new lifestyle, for both young and old, living together no longer seems possible.

We cannot improve seniors' quality of life by isolating them, nor will we save money by cutting benefits under the Canada Pension Plan, since these income changes would cost taxpayers dearly. We must not confuse old age security pensions with welfare benefits.

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1:10 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. May I ask for a quorum call.

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1:10 p.m.


Ronald J. Duhamel Liberal St. Boniface, MB

Why would you do that?

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

We have a quorum.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Argenteuil-Papineau may continue his speech.

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1:10 p.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to point out that half of our seniors receive income security benefits and are caught in a cycle where all they do is keep waiting for their cheques. Removing programs for the elderly, eliminating current services or lowering pension costs would not improve the lot of the elderly.

The elderly are not rich people. According to Statistics Canada, 1991 data show that almost half of retired seniors, 43.8 per cent of them, are living below the poverty line. This is a serious problem, and let us not forget that the seniors want to be a part of Canadian society.

Therefore, the government must ask one of its members to resolve that sensitive issue, because previous government measures only succeeded in keeping seniors inactive, isolating them and making them feel financially insecure.

So, to improve the quality of life of our seniors, we must make sure their living quarters suit their needs and allow them to stay at home, and lower the outrageous costs of seniors' residences, hospitals, et cetera, by providing, for example, home support, transportation services, recreational programs, and more.

We need to set up a 24 hours a day, seven days a week information system and to promote it. The federal government has released $3 million for the installation of new telephone equipment needed to answer inquiries about old age pensions. Seniors also need to be informed of the existence of such services and to be provided with other similar services related to their health, lodging, et cetera.

Additional resources are needed to reach incapacitated seniors, if necessary. As recommended by a Canadian seniors association, a standing national commission must be set up to protect the rights of seniors who want to keep on working.

Finally, I would like to remind you, Mr. Speaker, that every year seniors represent a higher percentage of our population and

that the government must take into account their active presence when it puts forward its new policies.

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1:15 p.m.


Ron MacDonald Liberal Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has put forward a number of points of view about how he thinks the interests of his constituents, residents of his province and all Canadians would be better served by this type of review.

Normally when you deal with wholesale restructuring any institution, any group of programs, any fundamental policies you would normally start out with certain parameters in mind, certain givens.

I do not want to say sacred cows because there are no such things.

We heard from the Reform Party earlier that what it wants is to cut, cut, cut and it is not so terribly concerned about the impact of those cuts. I have listened intently to members of the Bloc Quebecois, who are not interested simply in cutting, that is not what they are saying. They want to build a better system to ensure that those individuals needing help the most get it.

I would like to ask the member if he could give me a few ideas as to the parameters that this review should take place in and what should be the starting point. What should be the givens as to what we are trying to attain.

Is it to make sure that income security for seniors is maintained? Is it to ensure that transfers to the provinces are maintained at a level that would allow the provinces to have services of equal quality no matter what the fiscal situation of the province is? Is it just to maintain transfers to provinces such as Quebec to administer provincial social assistance programs?

I just throw those ideas out. If he could give me some sense about what he would like to see maintained and built upon in this review it would be helpful to me.

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1:15 p.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the remarks of my colleague opposite. There is something I need to point out to him. When the Coalition des aînés met in Montreal, in the riding of my hon. colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, I had the pleasure of meeting, at the Golden Age, members of this organization which brings together various associations of senior citizens and retired workers in the province of Quebec. These people are very much afraid of seeing either their pensions or the services they receive cut. By the way, I want tell my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce that it is with great pleasure that I visited this huge centre where seniors can go to take part in recreational activities or to receive health care and other types of services.

I must tell my colleague opposite that we, members of the Bloc, do not want any cuts that would affect seniors. It is the same with transfers to the provinces. The amount of money transferred to Quebec must remain at the present level. We do not want any change in these transfers.

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1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The member for Calgary Southeast is seeking the floor but has a very little time. I would ask her to please keep that in mind.

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1:20 p.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, my question will be very brief.

I appreciate the member's comments regarding seniors but he and all of his colleagues have been directing their comments toward asking for continued federal and provincial support for programs. They have been asking the federal government to continue to fund the different and varied social programs within their provinces. They have also been talking about federal and provincial co-operation.

Given all that, how is the member going to meet his mandate for separation when he has expectations such as he has just expressed for co-operation between the federal and provincial governments?

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1:20 p.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer the question of my hon. colleague of the Reform Party. I have to admit that what I dealt with in my comments pertains more specifically to Quebec. But since I am the official opposition critic for all senior citizens in Canada, I would certainly not advocate anything detrimental to other provinces. Those things we suggest for Quebec, which is still part of Canada as far as I know, apply as well to the other provinces.

When Quebec is a sovereign nation, as I hope it will be in the coming years, we will stop paying taxes to Canada at some point. We will then be able to afford the same services our senior citizens get right now.

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February 3rd, 1994 / 1:20 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to take part in this debate on the funding and future of social security programs.

For Canadians and Quebecers, these programs include a set of services ranging from an income security policy to the Canada Pension Plan and a host of other services.

As I prepared this speech, I reflected that one could not engage in this debate without considering a number of circumstances that make this debate a rather painful exercise. The government that tabled this motion belongs to the same party which was elected nearly 25 years ago on a promise to build a just society that, at the time, under the leadership of former

Prime Minister Trudeau, would be based on the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty, principles that inspired me and probably inspired you as well, Mr. Speaker.

I reflected that after 25 years, it was time to consider what has been accomplished, because if we examined our social programs, we must also consider the people who at some time in their lives may need government assistance. And it is sad to have to conclude that 25 years later, poverty has not dimished. Not only that, it has started to affect groups in our society which were normally assumed to be immune.

Of course, when I talk about poverty, I use the term as defined by Statistics Canada. In other words, being poor means having to spend 56.2 per cent of one's income on food, shelter and clothing.

As parliamentarians, we are being asked to discuss restructuring social security programs at a time when Canadian and Quebec society are in very bad shape. Granted, poverty has changed. In the seventies, when the Senate did its wide-ranging study on poverty, being poor was associated more with the elderly in our society. This was so true that the cover of the Senate report showed an ailing, toothless, elderly woman, and that was more or less the image we had of poverty.

In the 90s and as we approach the turn of the century, poverty has changed. It now has a new face. It affects young people between the ages of 18 and 30 who do not necessarily lack training. Single parents are particularly affected. It is also a fact of life for those workers who, after spending part of their lives as active members of the labour market, are suddently excluded because of technological change. There are people who worked for 15, 20 or 25 years as part of the so-called labour aristocracy and who made a good living.

I think that the government's role is to provide these people with generous, accessible and transferable services, and I was delighted when I heard the Minister of National Health and Welfare announce her position during the reply to the Speech from the Throne. That is how she defined social security programs and that is also my understanding of what they should be.

What I find rather disturbing, and this is where I disagree with the government, is that for the past ten years, in any discussion on public finances and government policy, there has always been an attempt to reduce the debate to mere dollars and cents. For the past ten years the government has been proposing spending cuts as though that were the only game in town. Of course there are ways to save money and of course there is too much fat in the government administration, but I think we are asking the wrong questions.

If we are convinced that providing social security programs is not a matter of choice but a reflection of our level of civilization, the question should be how we can access additional sources of revenue.

Even in a zero deficit situation, we will need more resources to be able to fund social programs at the levels that will be required in the years to come.

We in the Bloc Quebecois realize there are several alternatives for obtaining additional revenue, and we think that this exercise is not just a matter of making spending cuts haphazardly without being overly concerned about the repercussions. One alternative that should be considered is that of tax reform. As we have said repeatedly, we are talking about a review of the corporate tax system. We know for a fact there are people in our society who are not doing their fair share.

On the government side, there is a consensus that Canada has done everything humanly possible to tax corporations. However, when we look at what Canada raises in the way of revenue, when we look at the tax rate for corporate profits and compare it with the rate applied in other countries, including the OECD countries which we often use as a benchmark, you would be surprised to hear that the tax rate for corporate profits in 1990, for instance, was 39 per cent in France, 50 per cent in Germany, 46 per cent in Italy and 50 per cent in Japan. Meanwhile, in Canada it was 29 per cent.

To me it is clear that if we want to discuss the viability of social security programs, we also have to talk about the tax treatment of corporations.

Furthermore, and at this point I want to recall some comments one of our colleagues made with a great deal of conviction, and although I did not agree with the substance, I must say it was very well said, I believe that the ultimate test for any changes that are made in the years to come will be that they will have to help people find jobs.

Putting people back to work has to be more that a few empty words with little backing: jobs, jobs, jobs. Some countries manage to have 80, 90 even 92 per cent of their population in the work force. Can you imagine having 92 per cent of the labour force actually working! And strangely enough, these are small countries. These are countries which decided to implement a full employment policy. Such a policy is not an irrelevant concept. To make it work, it has to become an obsession. The government must make the decision, get all the partners together-unions, employers, corporations, professionals, students-and ask them to endorse the choices made for our society and to help achieve them. Naturally, you are going to tell me that Canada has a special problem, because it has two levels of government and ten regional labour markets competing with each other, and I agree. This is why I am a sovereigntist. This makes it very

difficult to set up the elements, the goals, the main guidelines of a full employment policy.

I would say that in the years to come, we will not have a choice, we will have to aim for full employment, and this will mean more involvement of government in people's lives. What we have been hearing for ten years, and what the government side is still more or less advocating, is that the best government is the one that governs the least. I do not agree with that. I think a government has responsibilities and must take action. I am going to give you the example of an area in which it would be useful that the government not only did not cut its spending, but rather increase the resources, because it is an area which creates jobs and has a high rate of return, and that is social housing. When you build a thousand units, you create 2,000 jobs. This is a good investment with a high rate of return.

Yet, we are in situation-and this will be my conclusion, because my time is almost up and I would not want to break the rules-which shows that it is not true that the best government is the one that governs the least. I believe that the best guarantee we can give to people that we will maintain strong, accessible and generous social programs is to target government spending towards areas that generate large spin-offs because one of these areas on which we can bet for the future is social housing.

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1:30 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I extend my compliments to the member for his excellent address on social problems and so on in this country.

He seemed to think that the problem with social programs today is the problem of lack of revenue, not a problem of too much expenditure. Then he went on to elaborate on his thesis that we should have more corporate taxes and more income taxes.

The member for Calgary Southwest said the other day that we are close to a tax revolt in this country because taxes are so high. Corporate profits have plunged by billions of dollars. Tax revenues have gone down this year. The hon. member still thinks that we have a problem with not enough revenue rather than too much expenditure.

There is always talk about social programs as categories of having to pay money to seniors and to the unemployed. What about the need? There are some people who are elderly and have lots of money and are in no need of additional assistance. There are a lot of people who are unemployed making $50,000 or $100,000 in the same year who perhaps should not be eligible to receive unemployment.

My question to the member is when does he think that we should stop this idea that the problem is not enough revenue, that the problem is too much expenditure being directed in the wrong places?

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1:35 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, if we all thought alike in this House, your task would be much easier, but also less interesting.

What we have here is a good example of a fundamental difference of opinion. Of course, some expenditures could be reviewed; it is a premise and I understand that. But it does not seem to be the real problem. When I speak about reviewing taxation, I am not saying to my hon. colleague we should review personal taxes. I think there is a good enough consensus on this, except maybe in the case of the very rich, because Canada is the only OECD country not to tax wealth. I am sure the hon. member is aware of that.

What I am saying to him is that we will have to strive to find additional revenues because the pressure on social programs will not disappear, because our population is getting older and because there are social evils inherent to the type of society we have in Canada in 1994. And that type of society is one where 50 per cent of the people have part-time jobs. When you hold a part-time job, you have 7 chances out of 10 of becoming poor at one point or another in your lifetime. These jobs are precarious and poorly paid and they offer no security whatsoever. Since this is our reality, since this is what we have to deal with, there is no magic formula, there is no way we can close our eyes and just hope the situation will change.

There are a few possibilities though if we want to find additional revenues. Would my hon. colleague agree with me that, if we look at tax rates in the industrialized countries with which we usually compare ourselves, Canada has not yet tapped every source of revenue it would be entitled to? Would he not agree that there are sectors where, if the government wanted to act, it could put money back into circulation, it could leave more money so that people could take care of themselves and would not have to turn to social services? This would seem to be an interesting approach.