House of Commons Hansard #81 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

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9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Liberal Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. I certainly concur that we are very committed to helping the status of women and certainly through a number of initiatives that we have come forward with we will certainly be doing that.

I have gone into my riding and talked on many occasions in high schools, encouraging young women to get involved in science and technology programs, indicating to them that this is the future. We need to rely on training and providing incentives to women to participate in science and technology and certainly to give them opportunities both in the private and public sector to display the skills they have.

Certainly the Liberal government is committed to providing opportunities for women both through this infrastructure and in all other areas.

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9:10 p.m.

NDP

Audrey McLaughlin NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, there are two different kinds of infrastructure. One is the physical infrastructure of roads and sewerage systems and so on which are very important to the development of Canada. There is another kind of infrastructure program and that is our social infrastructure.

I would like to ask the member about that aspect of infrastructure because his government said in its election promises that when growth in the economy reached 3 per cent it would institute a national child care program.

This would provide I am sure quality child care for many children who are without it in Canada. It would also provide a number of jobs for people working in that sector. Can the member comment on that given that growth in the economy is now projected to be over 3 per cent in this year.

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9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Liberal Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see that the hon. member has read the red book and has read our commitments. Certainly as a Liberal Party we are going to meet our commitments.

The national child care program we are certainly committed to is outlined in the red book and that would be once the economy reaches 3 per cent. I understand that we would actually be initiating that one year after the growth in the economy.

We certainly do support the national child care program and we would be implementing this program one year after the economy reaches that 3 per cent growth.

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9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that a number of members still want to speak on several of these items that are left and that the time for debate will end in one hour. Therefore I would like to see if there is unanimous consent to cut the speeches to 10 minutes with no questions or comments from anyone, thus permitting more members on all sides of the House equally as per usual formula to get on.

Mr. Speaker, I ask you to put that proposition to the House and seek such consent.

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9:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The House has heard the suggestion of the government deputy whip. Is there unanimous consent?

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9:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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9:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

We are resuming debate on the amendment by the member for Fraser Valley West to Motion No. 2.

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9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Cowling Liberal Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to speak on full supply for the 1994-95 main estimates.

Many of us are participating in the consideration of the main estimates which are prepared in support of the government's appropriation bill for the first time. I would like to take this opportunity to summarize for members the significant features of the 1994-95 main estimates and to describe the relationship between these estimates and the government's expenditure plan which was presented in the February 1994 budget.

The 1994-95 main estimates set out details of $160.7 billion of planned government spending. This represents a decrease of 0.2 per cent over the 1993-94 main estimates. It is important to note that almost 70 per cent of the $160.7 billion has been authorized by Parliament through substantive legislation. These statutory expenditures in the amount of $112.2 billion include the following: major federal government social transfers to Canadians, including old age security, guaranteed income supplements, spouse's allowance and unemployment insurance benefits, transfers to provinces under the fiscal equalization program, transfers to the provinces for health, post-secondary education and social assistance and public debt charges.

Therefore through these estimates the government is seeking Parliament's approval to spend $48.6 billion for those programs which rely on annual appropriations. Planned expenditures for these voted programs represent a decrease of $330 million or 0.7 per cent from 1993-94.

What is the relationship between these main estimates in the amount of $160.7 billion and the total budgetary expenditure forecast in the amount of $163.6 billion projected in the February 1994 budget? Allow me first to identify those items which

are included, followed by a description of items we were unable to include for various reasons.

As the member for Dauphin-Swan River, I am pleased to note that the 1994-95 main estimates incorporate a number of significant expenditures reductions set out in the February 1994 budget which amount to $1.2 billion. These savings are comprised of reductions in areas such as operating budgets, $400 million; ministerial offices, $13 million; defence, $350 million; cancellation of the EH-101 helicopter program, $395 million; and international assistance, $91 million.

These reductions clearly demonstrate the government's ability to follow through on its plans and policies to restore fiscal responsibility. We are keeping our word.

Items not included which total $2.9 billion essentially fall into three categories: adjustments, reserves and allowances for lapses. With reference to adjustments, some elements of the planned spending could not be incorporated in the main estimates because of the timing of the budget decisions or because they depend on the passage of separate legislation.

However, let me reaffirm the government's intention to deliver on the fundamental policy reforms and expenditure reduction measures involved. Major items in this category, all of which are decreases, announced in the February 1994 budget and not reflected in the 1994-95 main estimates include: changes to the unemployment insurance program, $725 million; reductions in subsidies to businesses, $117 million; reductions in non-statutory grants and contributions, $45 million; suspension of annual salary increments for public service employees, $50 million; and a reduction in the House of Commons budget, $5 million. The total savings anticipated from these adjustments in 1994 are $942 million.

The second item which was provided for in the expenditure plan of the Minister of Finance but not included in the main estimates is reserves. Reserves are excluded from the main estimates because they are used to meet spending requirements which cannot be detailed but are likely to arise during the year and appear as supplementary estimates.

Supplementary estimates A, which were tabled in the House of Commons on May 27, 1994, are an example of the use of reserves, in this case to allow the government to deliver the Atlantic groundfish strategy. Reserves in the 1994-95 estimates amount to $4.7 billion.

The third and final item which was included in the total budgetary expenditure forecast presented by the Minister of Finance but not included in these estimates is the provision for an anticipated lapse of $875 million in spending authority; that is, spending authority that will not be exercised by departments and agencies.

Lapses can occur due to many factors which are difficult to predict, ranging from contractual delays with outside parties to weather induced delays on construction projects.

Thus far in discussing these main estimates I have focused entirely on the significant features of the government's planned spending and direct budgetary action to reduce expenditures. In addition, I would draw members' attention to the fact that main estimates documents also contain information on numerous initiatives which the government has under way to improve service delivery to Canadians and to make government more efficient. Highlights of these initiatives are provided in part I, chapter 5 of the main estimates.

Improving service delivery to Canadians can be accomplished without increasing expenditures through greater co-operation with other levels of government, redesigning service delivery mechanisms and establishing a regulatory regime that encourages competitiveness and economic growth.

For example, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister responsible for Public Service Renewal is co-ordinating and steering a process to examine overlap and duplication and to clarify federal-provincial roles and responsibilities through co-operative intergovernmental arrangements.

The federal government has invited the provinces to examine such areas as securities regulations, environmental assessment regulations, food inspection, access to government business programs and services, student aid administration, drug prosecutions, social housing and labour market programs.

Another initiative designed to improve service delivery to Canadians is the establishment of Canada business service centres. CBSCs provide a comprehensive access point for information, assistance and referrals on all government programs and service to businesses. CBSCs are also intended to improve co-ordination and co-operation among federal departments and agencies that offer programs and services that interest or effect the business community. Aside from start-up funding to offset technology investments, CBSCs are being established without new operating resources.

In conclusion, as the member for Dauphin-Swan River, I would note that the 1994-95 main estimates reflect the government's resolve to implement measures which it believes are necessary to restore fiscal responsibility while remaining responsive and innovative to ensure quality and efficiency in public services.

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9:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

On a point of order, the hon. government deputy whip.

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9:20 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been further consultations among the parties in the House and I think if you were to seek it you might find that there is unanimous consent to have 10-minute speeches and five minutes questions and comments starting right now so that we could accommodate more members on both sides of the House to participate in this important debate.

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9:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The House has heard the terms of the motion, the suggestion by the government deputy whip. Is there unanimous consent?

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9:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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9:25 p.m.

NDP

Audrey McLaughlin NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague's comments on the main estimates.

I would like to ask her a question about the cuts in the budget, and especially in the social programs envelope. As the hon. member said, the budget contains a number of cuts, especially in unemployment insurance, and in fact more than 50 per cent of the cuts in the budget affect social programs.

Does the hon. member agree with these cuts in social programs, especially when they attack the unemployed instead of attacking unemployment?

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June 8th, 1994 / 9:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Cowling Liberal Dauphin—Swan River, MB

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

I should remind the hon. member that we are going through a process of review for the social security programs and it will be up to the people of this country to make that decision. We are listening through that consultation process and I am assured that the people of Canada will tell us what they believe is the right thing to do with respect to social programs.

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9:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, to my colleague from Dauphin-Swan River, I am very much interested in issues that relate to the expenditures in the estimates and the budget.

Mr. Speaker, you will understand this being of the same bent, in the old hockey days I used to play in Dauphin. Dauphin is a small community very much the same as Kenora and places in my riding like Kenora, Dryden and Fort Frances. The thing that impressed me the most was the agricultural land that was available for production.

One thing in this budget the member could fill us in on is the issue of whether the government is listening regarding farmers. Farmers have had a very difficult time in the last few years. As I do not have a large agricultural sector and am not well versed in agricultural issues, I would like to know if she could tell me if we are on the right track as it relates to agricultural issues. Are there initiatives in the budget that she thinks are going to help the farmers in her area and across the west?

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9:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Cowling Liberal Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question with respect to agriculture.

I want to assure the hon. member that for those of us who come to this House from a farming background, we have a number of issues around agriculture that are going to keep farm families in this country alive and well. I would like to mention a few of those.

One is the whole farm support program. I believe that the hon. minister of agriculture should be congratulated for taking the incentive to listen to farm families through a consultation process again and bringing forward those issues which are dear and near to the hearts of farm families.

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9:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to participate in this debate tonight and to make a few comments, a few well-researched comments I might add. I have had a lot of time to prepare.

I listened with interest to a number of members who spoke earlier this evening. I was particularly concerned and tried to respond earlier in the form of a question and comment to Reform Party members who had been talking in the context of their remarks about the confidence convention in the House. I am very glad to have this opportunity to pick up where I left off at one point earlier.

I wanted to say and had an opportunity to partially say to Reform Party members that they should be a bit more humble about the whole tradition of advocating more free votes, less party discipline and less respect for the confidence convention in this House. I ask them to be cognizant of the fact that the special committee on reform of the House of Commons which was struck after the 1984 election and which was chaired by the Hon. Jim McGrath made a number of recommendations along the very lines the Reform Party members are in the habit of getting up and suggesting to the House.

I would suggest to my Reform Party colleagues that they read the McGrath report, if they have not already. Maybe some of them have. In there they will find recommendations about the confidence convention, about party discipline, about free votes. What they will find is a recommendation that there be a wider range of issues on which members of Parliament should feel freer to vote their conscience, or that of their constituents, or whatever they want to do, but that they not be bound by party discipline.

We received a lot of advice at that time from eminent constitutional and parliamentary scholars, like the late Eugene Forsey and others, that the confidence convention is given far too much weight in the Canadian political tradition. Even in the mother of Parliaments at Westminster will be found many more examples of backbench members of Parliament on the govern-

ment side for instance, voting against government measures. It means that the cabinet and the Prime Minister have to be much more sensitive to backbench opinion and that is a good thing.

I also want to say to Reform Party members that with respect to the rules of the House there is nothing more left to be done. As a result of the McGrath committee report all the technical language of confidence was taken out of the standing orders.

Prior to 1985, the word "confidence" did appear in the standing orders with respect to allotted days, supply days, et cetera. What that committee recommended was that all the language of confidence be taken out of the standing orders so that from that day forward nothing would be technically or procedurally a matter of confidence. The only things that would be matters of confidence would be things that were declared at the political level by the government to be matters of confidence.

There is nothing in the rules of the House of Commons at this point that prevents the government or any other political party from having free votes. It is all a matter of the culture of the particular government or the political party. As members will have noticed even among themselves this is a difficult thing to overcome.

As far as I know even the Reform Party itself has tended to vote as a party. You tend to have similar positions, but when you do not there should be the freedom to express the variety of opinion that exists within the caucus, particularly on the government side. I say that because it is harder on the government. There is no reason on earth why government should regard everything as a matter of confidence.

What the McGrath committee recommended was that unless the government explicitly declares something to be a matter of confidence, it is not. It is a matter of political culture in the final analysis. It is not a matter of procedure. It is not a matter of rules. It is related to the media and how they treat division within parties, et cetera. It is a question of trying to change our attitude around here. Procedurally we can lead the horse to water but we cannot make it drink. It has to drink by itself.

The government has to drink from the river of diversity within its own ranks, just as other political parties do, and that takes courage. It takes courage on the part of political leaders and it takes courage on the part of political backbenchers no matter what party they belong to.

In the final analysis, there is not a member of Parliament here who is not free to get up and vote differently than his party or his leader, or her party or her leader, any time they want.

Therefore I think there is a mistake in approach on the part of my Reform colleagues who keep insisting there is something the government must do. There is nothing the government could do. All the government needs to do is to set its own members free. There is nothing procedurally or legislatively or anything like that that needs to be done.

It is not clear when they are speaking. I am not making this up. Their argument sounds as if there is something the government should be doing. The thing they could do best, if they are really serious about this, is to demonstrate it in their own practices.

I just wanted Reformers to know that this call for less party discipline, for more distance from the confidence convention and for less domination by parties in the House of Commons precedes their arrival. I am sure it goes back a long time. It goes back to the non-partisan movements of the 1920s and 1930s to the Progressive Party and various other things. But its most recent incarnation here happened in the 1980s as a result of the McGrath committee report. Even before that there was the Lefebvre committee which was chaired by the late Senator Tom Lefebvre when he was a member of this House. That committee made recommendations on this.

There has been progress. When you come here as a member, you think things as they are are the way they have always been, but prior to 1985 we could not even vote on private members' bills unless there was unanimous consent. There are a variety of other ways in which individual members have been given more power to express themselves as individuals, not just in private members' business but in committees.

Prior to 1985 a committee could only study what the government asked it to study. Committees had no independent power to decide to study this or that. If I had the time I could go on and list a number of other things. I just say this because there is, I would say, a certain kind of hubris on the part of my Reform colleagues that there were no parliamentary reformers before they arrived.

There have been reforms and there have been a lot of us who have been advocating these kinds of reforms partially successfully and partially without success. Let us carry on, but let us not act as if nothing happened before we got here.

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9:35 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona's comments with interest and I agreed with very much of what he said. In fact his own party was born from a reform tradition. We in the Reform Party have made many comments about Canada's reform tradition not only in western Canada but in the province of Quebec, at that time it was Upper Canada.

Even in Atlantic Canada there were some Reform movements that have sprung up.

The problem is not the fact of understanding what reform is all about and the changes that need to be made. I think we all understand that. We even understand, in spite of what the hon. member said, that some changes have been proposed and adopted by this House that would relax the confidence convention. However, the Prime Minister has not seemed to relay that message to his caucus and that is what concerns us.

We have seen the same problem in provincial legislatures. In fact, provincial legislatures which are governed by the hon. member's party, the NDP, exercise extremely strict party discipline.

One other matter that needs to be clear, and I would like to get the hon. member's comment on, is that we are not talking about free votes as being free spirited endeavours on behalf of individual members. We are talking about the members' freedom to vote the wishes of their constituents. There is quite a difference between voting how I might feel I should vote as an individual and in fact voting the wishes of my constituents.

We in Reform have not come here and promoted just a bunch of free spirits voting however they please on every issue. We have been talking about difficult or divisive issues where in fact the party's position may differ from that of a member's constituents. I am sure it happens on the government side where the government has proposed legislation which individual member's constituents are definitely opposed to.

We know what happened in the last House with the GST where members were told not to support the GST and they came into this House and stood with the government on the GST. Through their hands they said to their constituents: "You don't count. We don't care what you say. We have to vote with the government", even though these reforms apparently were in place.

The matter is not that the reforms are not there to be used. The problem is in acting them out in this House. I would ask the hon. member to respond to that and in fact even with regard to the provincial legislature where his party is the governing party.

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9:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I said that I thought Canadian politics was dominated too much by party discipline. I mean that as an across the board comment.

I would point out to the member that there is a free vote in the Ontario legislature tonight sponsored by an NDP government. It is a counter example to what the member is saying. But I agree. When the McGrath committee recommended that there be a broader range of issues on which people should feel free of party discipline it meant that for all parties. When I signed that report I meant that for all parties.

With respect to the other issue the member raised-I see you rising, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps the House would just allow me to respond to the final point about what is the role of members of Parliament when we are freed up from party discipline. Are we then freed up from party discipline to vote our conscience, or to vote with the majority of our constituents, or perhaps they might overlap, or perhaps they might be in conflict.

It is a much more complicated matter than what Reform members tend to argue is the case because they argue that it is a question of respecting the majority view of their constituents.

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9:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I regret the hon. member's time of five minutes for questions and comments has expired. Is the hon. member asking for unanimous consent? Is there unanimous consent?

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9:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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9:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Is the House ready for the question?

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9:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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9:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The question is on the amendment.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

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9:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.