House of Commons Hansard #211 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.


Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.


Patrick Gagnon Liberal Bonaventure—Îles-De-La-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed consideration of motions 23 to 45.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Bourassa has seven minutes remaining.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

3:10 p.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude my remarks on Bill C-76. It should be noted that the Liberal government has already reduced the net income of seniors by approximately $500 million with the tax credit cuts imposed in the 1994 budget.

The freezes and cuts imposed by the federal government since 1984 currently translate into a $9.7 billion shortfall in the funding of social programs in Quebec. We have more than 808,000 people on welfare in Quebec today; in Ontario, they are more than a million.

In 1980, about half of the social programs in Quebec were funded through federal contributions. By 1997, only 27 per cent of these programs will receive federal funding, while Quebec sends $29 billion in taxes to Ottawa every year. Since the Liberals took office in 1993, the number of welfare recipients has increased by 53,000 mainly because of UI cuts.

That is the kind of compassion demonstrated by the Liberals for the most disadvantaged segment of our society. These cuts fly in the face of red book promises and everything the Liberals stood for in the last election campaign.

The federal government only manages to increase the problem of poverty, instead of alleviating it. The Chrétien government is the largest producer of welfare recipients in Canada.

Close to 500 Quebec women took part in the march to denounce poverty and the plight of children, and also to promote a better world. The 200 kilometre march, which I enthusiastically supported, started from Montreal, Longueuil and Rivière-du-Loup, lasted 10 days, and ended yesterday in Quebec City with a demonstration, in front of the National Assembly, in which 15,000 people participated.

There are still too many women affected by poverty because of their family situation, their age, their training, or the fact that they are unemployed or on welfare. Yet, federal cuts to social programs only make the situation worse for these women.

I want to pay tribute to these marchers for their courage and for their cause, which also concerns men and the population as a whole. This march is a giant step in the fight against poverty in Quebec and in Canada.

I want to point out that Mr. Parizeau's government reacted positively to the claims of these women. For example, minimum wage will increase by 45 cents on October 1st, going from $6 to $6.45. At the federal level, minimum wage is only $4. It is a disgrace.

The federal government should know that the vast majority of minimum wage workers in Canada are women. This march had other positive results: housing for homeless women, training for welfare recipients and the automatic collection of child support payments.

In addition, the sponsorship period for immigrant women is reduced from ten years to three. As a result, immigrant women will be able to free themselves from abusive or violent husbands without too much trouble, I hope. At the federal level, however, this sponsorship period is still 10 years. This is a disgrace.

As far as the preventative withdrawal of pregnant women from work and parental leave are concerned, Quebec is way ahead of the federal government. The federal government must act quickly to improve its social legislation in order to protect women instead of cutting everywhere, except where necessary, especially in defence spending. I just found out that the Liberal government has decided to purchase 15 search and rescue helicopters and 32 helicopters for the navy at the astronomical cost of $2.6 billion.

It is outrageous that this government is spending billions on military equipment at a time when it is cutting social programs, UI benefits and social transfers. This decision is all the more disturbing since upon taking office in 1993 the Liberal Prime Minister cancelled the contract to purchase 50 helicopters that had been signed by the old Tory government. I am accusing this government of not keeping its word in this matter.

I am asking the federal government to withdraw Bill C-76 and enter into negotiations with the Quebec government. The federal government must withdraw completely from social programs, education and other areas under Quebec jurisdiction. In return, it should give Quebec full fiscal compensation by transferring tax points.

The time has come to end federal interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Quebec has the right to give itself job creation, manpower training, education, health and welfare policies in line with its own needs and priorities.

For all these reasons, I am against Bill C-76.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

3:15 p.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss the Bill C-76 motions that deal with provincial transfer payments and more specifically the Canada health and social transfer.

A number of Reform motions are designed to remove the government's ability to unilaterally decide what constitutes the violation of national standards, for instance in the Canada Health Act, and to unilaterally decide what the financial penalty should be.

The Reform Party has proposed amendments that would force the federal government to take provincial governments to court for alleged violations of national program standards and would subsequently allow the courts, not cabinet, to determine any penalties.

Our second goal is to prevent the federal government from imposing additional unilateral national standards like cross-country welfare rates without the consent of all the provinces. Clause 48, for example, uses the phrase "by mutual consent" in the context of additional national standards and criteria for services. This would in effect permit the Minister of Human Resources Development to proclaim new standards in welfare without the consent of the province of Alberta or Quebec, for instance.

In committee both Reform and Bloc members questioned government witnesses as to the intent of the mutual consent clause and how it would work. Would the government, for example, seek unanimous consent from the provinces when it changed national standards, or would it use the seven out of ten provinces rule representing over 50 per cent?

What does this mutual consent clause really mean? Mr. Speaker, with the bank of lawyers we have working for the government you would think this clause would be made more clear. I guess that is why we have a justice lawyer suing the government for boredom for lack of work.

The bottom line is that Reform's amendments ensure Canadians that clause 48 will not be brought in as an excuse by any cabinet minister to set out national standards unilaterally without the consent and co-operation of the provinces.

Another concern of ours is that the motive underlying many of these changes and the creation of the Canada health and social transfer is to provide the federal government with a bigger stick to whip dissident provinces into line. For example, in Motion No. 57 we propose to delete a section of clause 51 that would allow the federal government to withhold equalization payments and other provincial transfers for violations of the Canada health and social transfer conditions. In other words, this clause would allow the federal government to withhold cash from other programs even after the cash component of the Canada health and social transfer has been exhausted.

Reform wants to move in the other direction, toward unconditional provincial transfers. Let us move control over our social programs closest to the level that administers them. Let us rethink the way the federal government provides services to Canadians.

This Liberal government promised to provide a new blueprint for social reform. That promise, like so many, was broken when the Minister of Human Resources Development failed to deliver on his green paper. There was a promise not to increase the tax load on the long-suffering, overtaxed Canadian taxpayer. It was broken to the tune of $500 million a year with the imposition of a 1.5 cent per litre tax on gasoline and the elimination of PUITTA, the public utilities income tax transfer, also in Bill C-76.

There was a promise of a more open Parliament where MPs would be free from party discipline. This was broken when Liberal MPs who voted against the government's gun control bill were stripped of their committee positions.

Now we are debating a bill that continues the trend of breaking promises that have been made to Canadians. In 1960 Prime Minister Pearson promised the provinces the federal government would pay 50 per cent of the costs of national health care. This was the condition insisted on by the provinces and promised by the federal government. Without this promise the provinces would not have agreed to national medicare. For example, the 1966 medical

care act clearly states that "the amount of the contribution payable by Canada to a province in respect to a medical care insurance plan is an amount equal to 50 per cent". That is still in the act.

What is the state of that sacred promise today? Today the federal government's contribution to health care funding is not 50 per cent, as promised; it is now less than 23 per cent and falling. Because it is breaking its fundamental financial promise, the federal government is slowly undermining the other principles of medicare: it undermines accessibility as waiting lists get longer and longer; it undermines comprehensiveness as more and more health services are delisted from provincial insurance plans; it undermines universality as the system evolves into a multi-tier system with access to the various tiers being tied increasingly to ability to pay.

The fact is that Canada already has a multi-tiered health care system, which the Minister of Health chooses to ignore, access to which has been made more restricted by rising health care costs and declining federal support. The challenge is to reform medicare so that one of those tiers can contain all the essential health services required by Canadians, financed by sufficient federal and provincial funding so that no Canadian is denied access because of inability to pay.

Canadians are asking and will continue to ask when real health care and social reform are going to come, and from where? This is not going to come from this federal government under the current Prime Minister, Minister of Health, or Minister of Human Resources Development. They resist every proposal for change. They charge anyone who advocates change with being an enemy of medicare or in favour of social programs that favour the rich.

The Liberals were only dragged into the discussion of health and social reforms because their officials kept telling them that if they did not do something the system was going to collapse and they would carry the blame.

Like all previous governments, all they have done is study the issue. That fiasco held by the social reform people of the human resources development commission who went across the country loaded with paid people to show up and private interest groups presenting their points of view was a complete scam and sham. Nothing fruitful has come from that.

As well, the 1995 federal budget is a perfect example of the fact that the government has no real vision for our social programs and therefore picks the simplest route. It cuts funding to the provinces while at the same time failing to give them more flexibility in administering the lesser amounts it is granting to the provinces. What a simple solution: give less, say less, let the provinces handle the problem. That is not the kind of leadership the Reform Party feels Canadians want, nor is it the kind of leadership the Reform Party will provide when it becomes the government.

Quite simply, the Liberals want to have their cake and eat it too. The provinces are no longer buying this. In fact, I believe that if in 1960 the provinces and Canadians could have foreseen the monopoly Ottawa has today on setting the terms and conditions of health care services and financing, then the present medicare system would not have come into being in the first place.

The provinces need to be given more control over their affairs. If they do not then our social system will continue in a downward spiral to a point where fundamental programs like universal health care can no longer be afforded by or provided to Canadians by any government.

My concerns are very simple. When this bill was in the standing committee on finance being reviewed, the officials and the minister appeared at that committee. We were discussing this very clause, clause 48. We asked the minister what his officials determined was meant by mutual consent. The Canada Health Act is in place. The five principles are there and they are a sacred trust. Everybody in Canada believes in those five principles. We are not going to quibble about those five principles. However, by denying the provinces the flexibility to determine how to pay for some of these, as I pointed out in my speech, the government is hurting them, not helping them. By insisting that we still need universality and by insisting that the provinces have to follow these rules and Alberta has to close some clinics that people pay for, it certainly means to me that the Liberals do not want solutions, they just want control, for no reason.

Now we have something called the Canada health and social transfer, which means downloading the problems to the provinces and giving them less money. The government can now cut its budget, solve its problems and look good. In the meantime, the provinces will struggle.

In the standing committee we pointed out that there will have to be new social programs in order to address our spending on welfare and unemployment because the needs of the Canadian people are important. When we do discuss those and the provinces then look at the money and funds they have available, what are they to do? Are they to then decide what they want to do, with one province doing this and another doing that, and then the federal government tells them it will not give them the money because it calls the shots and it decides what the principles are they have to follow?

If the government does not like the principles it does not have to give to the provinces. If the provinces breach any of the rules in the program, for instance in health care, it is not only not going to give that amount of money for health care but it will cut the provinces off on other programs. That is way too much power. It is ridiculous and unnecessary.

What the Liberals said in committee was that their intent of mutual consent was that the provinces agree. They will not force anything onto the provinces that the provinces do not agree to. Is that really what the federal government means and what it wants done? I asked this in the standing committee and the government

turned it down. Therefore, I question if that is really what this government wants.

This is what the government turned down. If verbally the government is promising to Canadians in a standing committee that nobody knows or hears about that mutual consent means that the provinces have to agree, then why not change the one word mutual to unanimous? If the government intends for all the provinces to agree, change the word mutual to unanimous.

With unanimous consent, now the government has the written agreement that goes along with the verbal agreement of this government and a solution to the problem. In this way, Quebec is happy, Alberta is happy, Ontario is happy, all the provinces are happy. But this government does not want to do that. This just points out to me that it will say something verbally, and a verbal promise is as strong as a written promise. It is on the record.

We voiced our concerns about that clause, that amendment. We will use the quotation of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance in which he promised mutual consent means the provinces must agree. In the future if the provinces do not agree and the government forces them, it will once again have broken another promise.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

3:30 p.m.


Jean Landry Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my duty today to denounce one of the worst incursions in the history of federalism into provincial jurisdiction. Bill C-76, an act to implement certain provisions of the last federal budget, opens the door to all kinds of federal interventionism in jurisdictions belonging to Quebec and the other provinces, and also widens the scope of its incursions.

As far as deficit-fighting measures go, we have seen better. All that the federal government could dream up was a merger of all of its transfer payments for health, social services and post-secondary eduction into one payment: the Canada social transfer. They hope to take on the deficit by offloading to the provinces.

For 1995-96, the transfer to the provinces will effectively be reduced by $2.5 billion; for 1997-98, it will be cut by $4.5 billion. If this transpires, Quebec's shortfall could be in the neighbourhood of $1.9 billion, if the distribution of the Canada social transfer is determined by the criterion of population. That, at least, is the criterion which would be most favourable to the government, as it would result in Quebec having to shoulder close to 42 per cent of the cuts in transfer payments for 1997-98. If the federal government were to continue using the current distribution method, Quebec's shortfall would still be approximately $1.2 billion.

The federal government would use these centralizing measures to relegate Quebec and the other provinces to a purely consultative role. At first glance it seemed as though the Canada social transfer would give the provinces the transfer money they needed to carry out their responsibilities, since the federal government would be withdrawing from areas of provincial jurisdiction, or so the government wanted us to believe.

In reality, the bill maintains the national health standards and provides for the addition of new standards in the areas of social welfare and post-secondary education. What happens if the provinces do not meet these standards? The government hits where it hurts, in the wallet. It will cut off their rations, like it did for our society's most disadvantaged: the unemployed and welfare recipients.

This is the point we have reached in this country. The government wants to impose national standards unilaterally in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The provinces-imagine that-will be consulted. Nothing in this bill requires provincial approval for the implementation of standards imposed by the federal government. This means that, in areas as sensitive as health and education, the federal government will be entitled to say to the provinces: "Your program does not meet national standards. If you do not arrange it the way we want, we will cut off funding". Not only is this government making unprecedented cuts to social programs, but it is imposing national standards in areas of provincial jurisdiction. I wonder whether Pierre Elliott Trudeau ever went so far? And this is no compliment to the current government.

Bill C-76 will enable the federal government to tell Quebec and the other provinces, at the end of unsuccessful negotiations, for example, that it is cutting them off if they do not accept its standards. It is just that subtle. In Quebec, the message will be understood as: "Toe the line or you are dead". Quebecers will choose this fall to suffer such humiliation or to form a country. Elsewhere in the country, people are not thrilled about the bill either.

Take for instance the Canadian Council which criticized Bill C-76 in these terms when it appeared before the finance committee: "If the federal government tries to impose national standards without giving the money that goes with it, it will simply get negative responses from the provinces".

This bill will have numerous deplorable effects. Let us take manpower development in Quebec for example. Bill C-76 will allow the Minister of Human Resources Development to go forward with his intention to grab the savings coming from his unemployment insurance reform in order to create a human resources investment fund.

And this fund will be used, among other things, for manpower training programs, a jurisdiction that Quebec has been claiming for many years under governments from all political allegiances. Students also will be hit. Since their grants will be reduced, universities will have no other choice but to increase tuition fees, which will force students to borrow even more.

I suggest that this government is a past master in the art of getting into debt. Yet, as far as I know, the federal government can no longer afford to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. Following the last budget, the government has made it clear that it intends to reduce its participation in the funding of Quebec social programs to about 28 per cent.

While footing only 28 per cent of the bill, the government still wants to assume the right to interfere in our business by imposing its national standards. Fortunately, by 1998, Quebec will have taken its own destiny into its hands. The Bloc Quebecois knows exactly what the Minister of Finance and this government are up to.

The bill has two objectives: first, to obliterate Quebec's claims in its own jurisdictions and, second, to hide from the people the truth about transfer cuts to the provinces and the effects that these cuts will have, especially two years from now.

Federal transfers to Quebec, and I want to specify here that this is Quebecers' money, taken from the $30 billion in taxes they sent to Ottawa, will be reduced by 32 per cent between 1994-95 and 1997-98.

The bill is a perfect example of what motivates us to want to become sovereign; this is plain interference, except that this time the government is going further than any other centralizing government has ever gone. We denounce that and the people will hear us.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

3:35 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the Reform Party member who allowed me to take the floor now, since I have to leave in a few minutes.

I am happy to address the House today on Bill C-76 at report stage. Since our arrival here in Parliament, we have seen this bill take shape. It reflects the whole approach of the government to transfer payments to provinces.

The government introduced over time a series of measures which affected and reshaped its approach. It started with a cap on equalization last year, which affects mainly Quebec. The amount has been estimated at $1.5 billion over the next five years.

Last year's budget contained cuts to unemployment insurance and also to what we call shared costs programs, that is post-secondary education and health. Cuts estimated at $2 billion had already been announced in last years's budget, and this years's budget brings further reductions totalling $7 billion, which will come into effect in the next two years, that is $2.5 billion next year and $4.5 billion the following year.

This year's reductions come on top of last year's cuts. The whole area of transfer or transfer payments to provinces has therefore been hit with massive cuts.

The government also tried to conceal the whole thing in the budget by presenting transfers to provinces, tax points and equalization payments all together. It mixed them all up in such a way as to give only global amounts and summarized data. From now on, the federal government will administer a new Canada social transfer that will combine all the amounts it contributed to CAP and the Established Programs Financing for post-secondary education and health. By these cuts, or the merging of these three fields in order to make one global cut, the government is hiding its true intentions.

The Minister of Human Resources Development had given some hints with his consultations and the rainbow series of papers he distributed. At that time, it was supposed to affect post-secondary education, among others. There was also mention of other sectors such as health, but that was still to come, since there were also consultations on that issue.

Now, in order to avoid debates such as this and not wanting to be seen as the culprit for having made all these cuts, the federal government says: "Let us add everything up and cut the envelope". This way, we can shift the blame to the provinces". We have a fine example of this in Quebec with the whole debate we are having about health care reform, which is aimed of course at improving delivery but is also motivated by cuts imposed by the federal government.

Because of these cuts, the provinces are forced to choose. The federal government did leave them some leeway. That is what they call decentralized federalism: "You must cut, but you get to choose where these cuts will be made". This is easier said than done, because at the same time the government is telling us: "You will required to comply with a number of principles arising from the Canada Health Act and, regarding social assistance, residency requirements will be excluded as grounds for denying assistance to an applicant". Basically, we are told that these are the only two conditions that will be maintained, the only two national standards that will apply to the Canada social transfer.

At the same time, the provinces are expected to develop other standards together. Upon further analysis, one realizes what the government means, and reads in the committee's report that it

recognizes the responsibility of the Minister of Human Resources Development to develop standards "through mutual consent". Also stated in the same report is the need to maintain an element of cash payment in transfer payments as part of the Canada social transfer because, in time, these could be reduced to nil. It says that a portion of the federal transfer payments must remain in the form of cash payments, so that it remains possible to tell the provinces how to apply these standards.

So, they have just confirmed what we suspected all along: there is indeed a strong desire to maintain national standards through this new Canada social transfer. The bottom line is that the federal government will reduce transfer payments and that there may be more federal standards than before, since the federal government may now impose post-secondary education standards.

We know very well what happens during these discussions, when 10 or 11 people sit around a table to try to define national criteria. There is often a lot of energy spent with few results and, at the end of the day, the federal government prevails through financial blackmail. Other decisions will have to be made by the federal government in coming years.

We are still waiting for the reform of the goods and services tax, the notorious GST. The federal government still leaves itself a way out and room to manoeuvre so that it can impose its vision in future talks with the provinces. I remember being a guest on a radio show the day after the budget. Since the Minister of Human Resources Development was interviewed just before me, I was able to hear what he said. He candidly told the host-who was asking him if he was sorry that the federal government would no longer exercise control and impose standards in sectors affected by transfer payments-that, on the contrary, they would have more control than ever. This shows that what Liberals say here in this House and what they tell other people are two different things. I tend to believe what the minister said on the radio, that he did want more control and that the federal government would have more control in the long run.

I want to link this to a number of things, to a speech by the Prime Minister that has been somewhat forgotten. I remember when the Liberal Party held its convention in Trois-Rivières, in eastern Quebec. At that time, the Prime Minister accused the Quebec government of not caring about poverty, once again using his old theme about how that government was only concerned about separation. The fact is that we care a great deal about poverty and we ask: Who will be affected by these cuts? Think about it for a moment. Who will be affected by these cuts to social assistance, to post-secondary education and to health care, which come on top of cuts affecting the UI program? We have to take a close look at this issue.

The government waxes eloquently about job creation, but it takes measures which will adversely affect people.

These measures will hit Quebecers even harder, because of a series of decisions made over the years by the federal government regarding spending in a number of sectors, including research and development. As we often said in this House, we feel that, because Quebec did not get its fair share in these sectors, it was forced to become more dependent on welfare assistance and unemployment insurance.

I am not proud to say that Quebec has the largest number of welfare recipients or unemployed. We are not proud of that, and this is not the kind of financial assistance which we seek from the federal government. If another approach had been used in the past, the situation might be different now.

But this is not the case, since we were adversely affected by a series of decisions on structuring expenditures. In the past, at least the federal government would say: "We know what we did to you, but we will compensate you for that". Now, this government says: "In addition to that, we will cut the compensation which you used to receive". This is not the kind of money which we want, without increasing the rest and without giving us the means to do something about it. Just think of manpower training and the fact, as was mentioned earlier today, that the federal government will simply not let Quebec assume control of that sector.

This is a strange approach. There are also other financial cuts which will have an impact. For example, in the first year, that is next year, transfers through the Canada social transfer will be reduced by $2.5 billion, which means that Quebec will be deprived of some $650 million. In the House, ministers and the Prime Minister himself said it would probably be $300 million or $325 million. Officials who came before the committee said it would be $625 million, which is much closer to the $650 million that has been mentioned since the beginning.

If that is another illustration of this government's mathematics, it is easy to understand why people are often suspicious of its management and decision-making processes. They have their own way of calculatiing things, as ministers and the Prime Minister showed when they talked about $325 million for Quebec, while everybody knew that it was really $625 million for the first year.

As regards the $4.5 billion in the following year, the criteria for the breakdown of these cuts are still to be negotiated. Otherwise, Quebec would have to contribute $1.2 billion. But we will renegotiate, and one approach that is strongly favoured is a breakdown according to population. Under this approach, Quebec's share would be $1.9 billion.

So, the criteria change will most probably penalize Quebec. It will certainly not favour it, given that the provinces requesting this change are complaining that Quebec is overcompensated in comparison to them, Ontario in particular, which will come to the

table, according to what is reported these days, with a Conservative government, whether liberal members like it or not, which could seriously complicate the picture. So, that is how things stand right now.

In short, I will resume my speech by saying that we will end up with less money, provinces will get less money, standards will be forced on them, some pretty high standards that they will have to observe under difficult economic conditions. No doubt about it, this is shifting the financial burden to the provinces.

When the taxpayer takes a look at the federal government's books, he will find at first sight that there is a slight improvement, but he will feel a deterioration elsewhere. Either he will have to pay more for some services, or he will be hit by the cuts made by provincial governments. The situation will be a real headache for the provinces because they will always be caught with this whole intractable approach imposed on them, the compliance with national standards.

That being said, I understand there is some concern in Canada because of the rise of the right in the area of social policy. We see it in Alberta, and even here in Ontario now. In Quebec, we do not have that problem, so people there are not afraid, and are not asking the federal government for national standards.

It this system were flexible enough, we would have an asymmetrical solution that would be different for Quebec than for the rest of Canada, but here we have a Canadian vision which does not give much recognition to the specificity of Quebec on that issue.

The time to decide will soon be here. Quebecers will be able to choose other models and other approaches in a public debate, even though our mind is already made up in that regard. The Prime Minister says he is concerned with the neediest, but if he wants to keep some credibility when his government tables its record, he will have to explain why he attacked mostly the unemployed, the welfare recipients and the students since he took office.

I can hardly believe he really feels any compassion. We have his words, and then we have the facts. Here, we are faced with facts; that is what we are looking at, and we are very disappointed.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

3:50 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the accommodation in switching the speaking order.

The motions I am addressing today relate to the Canadian health and social transfer. This transfer was one of the more controversial aspects of the latest budget as it transformed the whole system of federal transfers to the provinces.

The transfers were represented by the finance minister as being more flexible in approach. In his budget speech the finance minister stated: "Provinces will now be able to design more innovative social programs, programs that respond to the needs of the people today rather than inflexible rules".

When that statement is considered on its own, it almost seems as if anyone can identify that as being something positive, constructive, et cetera. The provinces will be allowed to be more innovative and will indeed have fewer rules, therefore becoming more flexible.

I wonder what definitions are meant by innovation and flexible and how they are actually applied. Does it suggest it will allow the provinces to have more control over management of the programs and be able to adapt programs to meet the specific needs of residents in their area? Of course, innovative would be to create the programs.

The minister goes on to state: "However, flexibility does not mean a free for all. There are national goals and principles we believe must still apply and which the vast majority of Canadians support. Our goal must be to combine greater flexibility with continued fidelity to those principles".

This suggests that the government will still be making and interpreting the rules and that the provinces will abide by the decisions and interpretations. Therefore, they will have to be flexible to adapt to less money because this is very suggestive that there will still be federal control over it. Yes, they will become flexible in that they will have to adapt to providing innovative programs on less money.

We cannot have it both ways, especially based on this approach. On the one hand the federal government says it will allow greater flexibility, but on the other hand it is going to enforce the national standards.

The finance minister continued his speech with a commitment to maintain the five conditions of the Canada Health Act: universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public administration. Then the minister proceeded to outline the cuts in the transfers to the provinces under the new Canada health and social transfer. This is an excellent illustration of how the federal government is failing to address the fundamental problem now facing health care in Canada: declining federal financing combined with a lack of provincial manoeuvrability.

Also in the red book there is the statement: "The Liberal government will not withdraw from or abandon the health care field". We are talking about semantics or the meanings of words. We talk about flexibility. Flexibility how? We talk about being innovative. How? Here we talk about withdrawal as well. Withdrawing or reducing finances can be interpreted as withdrawing

from the program as we knew it in 1993. Therefore, we have another broken promise if we interpret the word withdraw that way.

At this time I would like to provide a little background on the subject. Under the Canada health and social transfer, the funding to the provinces will be reduced from what it otherwise would have been in 1996-97 by $2.5 billion. It will go down to $26.9 billion. That tends to suggest to me a withdrawal of funds from health care. Of course, it is going to make the provinces innovative and flexible in trying to find programs which will meet the needs of the provinces based on less money. It is going to be further reduced from what it otherwise would have been in 1997-98 by $4.5 billion, bringing it down to $25.1 billion.

That is not a complete representation of the total effects of the cuts in the last budget. When discussing the value of the transfers to the provinces under CAP and EPF, the government decided to include the value of the tax points which were transferred in 1977. This component of the transfer is not and never has been a budgetary item. The value of the tax point transfer is not included in the budgetary expenditures, nor is the forgone tax revenue deducted from the budgetary revenues. We begin to wonder whether the tax point transfer was included in this whole process just to mask the depth and the significance the reductions which are proposed in this transfer to the provinces will actually be.

The cash transfers to the provinces are scheduled to fall from their 1994-95 level of $25.2 billion to a 1997-98 level of $19.9 billion. Included in the cash transfers are two components: the equalization component and the CHST component. Over three years the equalization payment will continue to grow. It will actually grow from approximately $8.3 billion in 1994-95 to $9.6 billion in 1997-98. On the other hand, funding for Canada health and social transfers will be reduced by $6.6 billion, from $16.9 billion in 1994-95 to $10.3 billion in 1997-98.

When we get through all the jargon and the process of what is actually happening and try to figure out what the bottom line is, and when we consider the components of cash transfers, tax points, the CHST component, the equalization component, the CAP component and the EPF component, what is actually going to happen? I sat down and tried to pull this all together. It looks like this will represent a 39 per cent cut over this period of time to 1998 in federal cash transfers for health, advanced education and social assistance as they are now being lumped into a block program.

When we start to think of the diminishing cash contributions, the key question which comes to mind is: How does the federal government hope to enforce the national standards in health care if the cash contributions are diminishing every year and what will happen when they get down to zero? That is where clause 51 comes into play. It allows the government to withhold any transfers, such as those going to advanced education or social services, based on its interpretation of the province's behaviour in relation to health care, or whatever it is. That is a threat to the provinces.

In any given year, based on a judgment of the government, transfers can be withheld from the provinces. Again, it must be flexible because now it will affect the other two components as well. Of course, there will be more people upset, which will also apply pressure.

The whole process is totally unacceptable because the control is being kept by the federal government instead of being decentralized to the provinces and closer to the people who are actually receiving the care. That is why my hon. colleague from Lethbridge has introduced the amendments which would prevent these kinds of contradictions and I fully support them.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

3:55 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I usually start my speeches by saying that I am very happy to get up to participate in the debate, but I would like to begin my speech today by saying that I am downright annoyed. This is the worst time we could have in Parliament; we are given a limitation of time to speak about the things that are the most important to Canadians.

I was asked not long ago what is wrong with Quebec. I said nothing. I was asked if we have a problem with Quebec, whether it wants to leave. We really do not have a Quebec problem; we have an Ottawa problem. That is the essence of the whole debate today. The federal government is intruding on these areas of provincial jurisdiction by our Constitution and by its use of the spending power intruding on our freedoms right across the country in all provinces.

I even admire Quebec for bringing the issue to a head to this degree by saying Ottawa should wake up and listen to the people of Canada. We are being asked today to give formal assent to a budget which perpetuates the problems Ottawa has been imposing on Canadian citizens, taxpayers, for several decades now. It is time for this to be corrected.

Does not the Constitution clearly say health care is a provincial jurisdiction? I believe so. The history of health care shows that originally, undoubtedly with good motives, the federal government felt it should tax all Canadians and then give the money back to the provinces based on their populations. There was a new plan put out.

In the same year I was married Saskatchewan started a provincially funded health care system. At that time doctors in Saskatchewan were striking because they did not want to have government intrusion into the health care system. It started in Saskatchewan. On our marriage my wife and I moved to Alberta. At that time Alberta had its own private insurance which was inexpensive and

very thorough. We had moderate medical costs covered by medical services incorporated. We were very happy.

However, this virus of thinking that only the government can do things well continued to spread across the country until finally Canadians have now come to accept that we want to have government funded health care. Somehow there is a transition. When governments cause something to become legal and required by law, it then gains a certain degree of public acceptance.

Now we have accepted that all of us will pay through taxes, and in places like Alberta through health care premiums, for our health care coverage. We also expect that if we need health care it will be available for us, just like in the old days before the government was involved. Is that happening? No.

More and more we are hearing from our constituents about long waiting lists, certain procedures that are deinsured. The elderly, who certainly have paid taxes and participated in our country all of their lives, surely as contributors to that degree are now entitled to their share of what they have provided for others. They are now being denied even to the point at which there are some people suggesting older people ought to be put away because they are to much of a drain on the health care system. What a shame.

In this bill we find an intrusion by the federal government, thinking it can tax all of us and then limit not only what it is providing for us but also our ability as individuals in our provinces to do what we can with the diminishing resources.

Both those premises are wrong. Both fail the test of common sense. Both fail what Canadians want, an efficient health care system funded publicly but under the control of provinces. They would have better control.

I always say to people in Elk Island and generally in Alberta that whenever they want to favour government funding to think about the fact that probably-I do not have the exact numbers here-for many of these programs we are fortunate if we get back 10 or 20 cents on the dollar of what we send to Ottawa. We would be a lot better off without Ottawa intrusion. We would be a lot better off if Ottawa buts out of this problem. It is not solving the problem, it is the problem.

I strongly endorse the amendments my hon. colleague has promoted in order to fix the flaws in this bill. I am very concerned that in our society we need to meet the needs of those who cannot look after themselves. To a great extent that includes people who are ill. When people are ill or when they become aged usually they are unable to continue working. Many do not have a portfolio of investments to provide income.

I agree with the consensus of Canadians that we are a compassionate society and we will help to meet needs, whether social welfare needs or health care needs.

Certainly we can pull together in meeting the needs of those who are needy. It is an absolutely false assumption that the best way of doing that is to set up two, three and in some cases four levels of bureaucracy in government that eat into our tax dollars and deliver but a portion of that in benefits to citizens needing it.

We need to do this job much better. We need to become efficient. We need to reduce the amount of bureaucracy and control from the federal government. I am not convinced at all that as we decentralize things will get worse, as the Liberals claim. Things will get better because there will be a smaller financial drain on us in total, there will be closer control with more local politicians and more local bureaucrats basically forced to listen to the people. In total we will have a much more efficient system and the needs of people will be met better at less cost. That will also have a positive spin on our total economy.

I could continue to wax eloquent on this for some time because it is an issue that concerns me greatly, one that needs real changes by the government. I will not hold my breath waiting because I know if I hold it too long health care may not be there to help me.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill on the Canada social transfer calls up the image of an old spent horse on its last show. It has been very useful and appreciated in the circus, but it is on its last legs. Yet, the owner wants to keep it going a little longer with some garish costume.

Throughout the sixties and the seventies, the whole issue of interregional equity was at the center of the public debate. I think a very big mistake was made from the start, with the confusion between the provision of a safety net for all Canadians and the real need underlying the goal we should have had, which is to provide an adequate economic and social development so that all Canadians can have a decent life in their own regions.

Unfortunately, with the decisions we have made and the fact that we have been living beyond our means, we reached a point where the Canadian government had only two alternatives in a federal context. The first one, which was chosen, was to announce cuts and offload them to the provinces, while saying: "Let them handle the problem. They are on the front line. We are going to save our political hide".

Second, the Liberals have been unable to carry their argument to the limit and to say: "If we cut provincial transfers, we cannot set national standards, because we cannot reduce our financial assistance and still impose national standards". But the current government has not been able to come to that conclusion, because it is actually made up of many, many members who greatly miss

Trudeau and the years when the Liberal government believed that, by borrowing money right and left, it could solve problems throughout the country. We now realize that foreign lenders can no longer wait and they urge the government to take a stand.

So, in order to satisfy foreign lenders, the government is cutting its spending, even though it still argues, on a philosophical and political level, that national standards are needed. This would perpetuate one of the most significant costs of federalism, linked to all the quarrels and the bickering between the two levels of government. Some people say that the province of Quebec is always complaining about this situation, but look at what is happening in Alberta. Over there, the provincial government is making choices, even though its direction is controversial, and at this end, we have the federal government telling Alberta: "No, you cannot make these kinds of decisions; they go against the national standards".

The province of Alberta has a valid argument. It maintains that, since the federal government is investing less and less money, it does not have such a strong say in the matter any more. The federal government should realize this and change its attitude. The people who are watching and also the members of the government and of the other opposition party should carefully consider what the position of the Bloc Quebecois is.

The Bloc Quebecois suggests that the federal government withdraw from areas of jurisdiction in which it systematically intervened for many years by injecting large amounts of money and by creating false expectations. The federal government should withdraw, but, at the same time, it should fully compensate the provinces by means of a tax point transfer. This would be a positive incentive for each province to make the most of the little it receives, and keep some for other activities, thereby ensuring better regional development.

Of course, this suggestion is made with a federalist vision of Canada's future. If we wished to maintain this old federation, for a few more years at least, this is the type of solution we should adopt. I believe we should at least try to save something from the wreckage. In Quebec, unfortunately for the Canadian federal system, we have had it with these partial solutions and we believe that the real solution is for Quebecers to have full control over their tax money, which now goes to Ottawa but which, in the context of sovereignty, would go to one place only, Quebec City. With full control, the Government of Quebec would be able to develop much more structured programs better able to reach their objectives.

We are often asked this about the bills on which we vote: "You make beautiful speeches on policy issues but how are we affected by this?" I would like to take the opportunity-I feel compelled to because of the time allocation forced on us by the government-to draw the hon. members' attention to a rather treacherous aspect of Bill C-76, which is an omnibus bill. With clause 69, 3,000 resistance veterans will lose their eligibility to some pension benefits.

What is even more devious is that there will no longer be compensation for those who want to be heard by a review panel. Just imagine in what situation veterans will find themselves. Today, most of them are getting on in years and their physical and mental health has been seriously affected by their years in service. Their country wanted to give proper recognition to their contribution by trying to compensate them for what they did for the nation. But today, surreptitiously, the government is going after these people through an omnibus bill. Temember, they are not millionaires.

For example, I met elderly couples in La Pocatière or in Pohénégamook, in my riding. These people do not necessarily have access to a physician close to their home and often have to travel considerable distances when required to undergo a physical. The cost of a medical examination used to be covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But, when Bill C-76 is implemented, we will have a situation where these people will no longer be entitled to the partial reimbursement of some of these costs. It will become strictly a regulatory matter. Once again, Canadians who are in a somewhat difficult situation will have to pay for the financial pressures that the government is under.

I think that the government could have been more open-minded and could have realized that, on top of what they did for their country, veterans are in the last stage of their life. I find it very petty to put such a burden on these people who are not necessarily used to finding their way through the bureaucracy in which we work. It shows a total lack of respect for human dignity.

I wanted to use this example so that members would realize that Bill C-76 will have repercussions on the daily life of Canadians. And I am talking about ordinary people. I used veterans as an example, but the cuts that will be made with regard to the Canada health and social transfer-some $560 million next year in Quebec alone-will have an impact on all kinds of people. There will be repercussions of this kind on students, seniors, and social assistance recipients, because these programs were partially funded by the federal government in the past, and if the federal government cuts its contributions, the provinces will be forced to take a much more restrictive stance.

It is important for Canadians to know that the decisions that the provinces may have to make will only be the fruit of the mismanagement by the federal government, which opened up the floodgate for years, using borrowed funds, and imposed duplicate programs on provinces. The result of this today is that we must face a new, very simple reality, which is that Canada no longer has the means to support all of the social programs it used to offer, not necessarily

because the programs were inherently irrelevant, but because they were superimposed on programs that the provinces were already offering. Many useless expenditures on overlaps could have been eliminated had the federal government only reached an agreement with the provinces, ensuring that the changes were made in co-operation with them.

In conclusion, I would like to cite the example of the summit on health. This would have been a good opportunity for the federal government to ensure that the provinces would participate in the debates on health care, instead of imposing cuts and leaving each province ultimately to fend for itself. This is also an example of the current system's downfall. People are unable to pinpoint where their tax money is actually going. This is one of the reasons that I think that, after judging Bill C-76, Quebecers will see very clearly that their only solution is to opt out of the Canadian system.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:20 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Canada social transfer is the very expression of a budget that shows two faces: what it says and what it does. The government boasted that it had kept its spending under control. There was some applause, and some people said the government "showed courage".

In fact, the government merely made a couple of transfers-not money but budget cuts-and above all, it transferred its problems to the people. It has to be said. It has to be said that after all the speeches and boasting, what it comes down to is that there are people who will suffer as a result of these cuts.

So was the debate about finding out whether these were the right places to cut? No. The federal government looks after its own budget and leaves the provinces to look after theirs, with the results depending on whether they are rich or poor. This year, Quebec had the doubtful privilege of having the highest poverty rate, and it can look forward to being severely hit by the cuts in the Canada social transfer.

In what way? It will suffer the effects of more than $50 million in cutbacks for the coming year and the year after, perhaps at least $1.9 billion. Who will be affected in the long run? People will be affected because they are sick or have fewer social services. Because fewer services will be available, some people's education will suffer because it will cost more. People on welfare will be affected as well. And if a province does not want to transfer these cuts to its citizens because it feels they are too substantial, it may have to ask its people to pay more. That will be up to the provinces.

The Canada social transfer is typical of this budget because the central government can say it has done its share to bring down the deficit, while the provinces are stuck with the real cuts and their people are stuck with the problems. Meanwhile, the central government is making sure that the UI fund is running a surplus. The government expects a surplus of $5 billion, $5 billion more in premiums than benefits.

With its Canada social transfer, the central government, after cutting funding to the provinces to the bone, creates problems to the extent that individuals and the provinces will have no choice but to try and deal with the situation and then the UI fund can be used as a powerful tool by the federal government to intrude in provincial jurisdictions, because the provinces will be pushed to the limit.

This is why I say the budget is two-faced. The government says it is giving provinces flexibility. What flexibility exactly? I would like to know what sort of flexibility it is, when the provinces are forced essentially to slash all programs.

And I have yet to discuss national standards. I will conclude on this point. Not only is the central government cutting, plunging the most disadvantaged provinces into an utterly impossible situation, not only is it positioning itself to anticipate the next recession and force the provinces to come and eat out of its hand, it is quite simply announcing that it will continue to impose common goals and principles and that it will use these transfers to impose, to promote-and that is the word it uses-its common goals and principles.

When the government talks of promoting goals and principles under the Canada social transfer in federal legislation, legislation that will in all likelihood never come before the courts because it is short term, we can assume it has powerful ways of imposing standards.

What is more distressing is that, up to now, no conditions of any sort were ever attached to post-secondary education. It was so clearly a matter of provincial jurisdiction close the heart of Quebec that there had been nothing like federal standards, which seemed unthinkable, out of the question, impossible. Yet, this so-called flexible bill provides that the federal government will encourage the provinces to establish common goals and principles in health care, post-secondary education, welfare and social services.

What is not said is that, for these goals and principles to receive federal approval, they must be reached unanimously. The government has refused to say that unanimity was required, and we did ask repeatedly.

We find ourselves with a government which tells us that it will ask one of its ministers to bring together the provincial ministers to

try to agree on common principles and objectives and to use the transfers to promote these common principles and objectives.

When we say that, the government gets very emotional and argues that we are mistaken, that it simply wants to be flexible. Nobody can believe that it is flexibility that the government has in mind. Nobody believes it because each time the government has been blasted by the rest of Canada which wants national standards, its answer has always been: "Yes, we have asked Mr. Axworthy to meet with the provinces and we want national standards".

To conclude, I will say that this is a two-faced budget, that the government has two objectives: to smother the provinces and to dip deeper into the unemployment fund, which comes from the pockets of workers and businesses. The government claims that it wants to promote flexibility for Quebec in order to soften us Quebecers before the referendum, while in fact it is getting ready to use the Canada social transfer to promote its own principles and objectives.

In so doing, the government will reach both of its goals, which are certainly not aimed at decentralization but rather at the development of a new Canada, made in Ottawa and without any consultation. Step by step, bit by bit and bill by bill, even though it denies any intention of changing the constitution-it killed the Meech Lake agreement after all-the government is preparing a new Canada nonetheless. And, judging by what is happening in Quebec, where the Quebec government must make painful cuts in health care services, education, social services and welfare, in this new Canada, the central government will receive loads of money coming from unemployment insurance premiums, from the citizens in fact, and it will use this money against the citizens of Quebec.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Dick Harris Reform Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. We will speak for approximately 10 minutes each.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member, being a grandfather-to-be, may not realize that there is no sharing of time. They are 10-minute speeches. There is an agreement between the two parties to have two speakers from each party.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Dick Harris Reform Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

I stand corrected. I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-76 regarding the implementation of certain provisions of the budget tabled last February. The areas I want to speak to primarily deal with the motions we put forward concerning provincial transfer payments, the health act, social transfers and transfers in support of post-secondary education. They are contained in Motions Nos. 28, 31, 33, 35, 46, 49 to 55 and 57.

The motions are broken down into basically three categories. It is fair to begin by talking about the government's ability to continue to fund programs in the way it has in the past.

Unlike the Bloc Quebecois, Reformers realize that the government is having some severe cash problems. We are not asking the government to start borrowing a whole bunch more money to continue the funding of the programs at the levels we were accustomed to in the past.

We owe about $500 billion and our interest payments are far more than all the programs put together, but the government is cutting back its transfer payments in support of the programs. There is no doubt about it. Transfer payments in support of health care to the provinces have been declining. There is no reason to believe that sooner or later it will come to the point where there will be no federal money going to the provinces.

I suppose this would be all right if the provinces were allowed, as the funds were withdrawn or diminished, to have a say in how the health care systems within their provinces were to be run. That would include the provinces having some flexibility to come up with creative funding plans to make up for the moneys they will not be receiving from the federal government.

In some provinces, particularly Alberta, private enterprises have gone into the health care business. The most well known is the Gimble eye clinic in Alberta, a much needed service. It is a very busy place. People are going to the clinic because they cannot get the same kind of treatment on a timely basis through the public health care system.

Now the federal government looks at the private enterprise, this much needed and much used service, and says that it is against the Canada Health Act, that it cannot operate any more, and that if it does the government will cut back on funding.

In B.C. there are a few people making movements to provide portions of private health care in different areas. The federal government is pulling back the transfer payments and funding. I know it has to do it because it does not have any money. It disturbs me that at the same time, notwithstanding that it will not be giving the money, they cannot do anything about it to replace the services they will not have any more. This is grossly unfair to the provinces.

Another part of the bill that really disturbs me is that the government has decided to put itself above what we would consider a judicious procedure in determining whether a province has violated a portion of the Canada Health Act. In other words it is giving itself unilateral powers in the bill to determine whether a province is allowing something to go on that violates stipulations in the Canada Health Act.

It has given itself the unilateral power to decide what the financial penalty shall be. This is placing itself above what we normally would expect would take place in all fairness in a court of law.

Our amendments would force the government, if it believes a violation has taken place, to put the case before a court of law to let a judge decide whether or not there was a violation and if there was exactly what penalty would be payable.

I get concerned when I see such words in government bills, orders in council, governors in council and orders in cabinet. The Liberal government, as did the Tory government, introduced legislation that made it boss. Notwithstanding the arguments that could be put forward by the opposition parties representing their constituents and protecting the interests of the people of Canada against unfair legislation, and notwithstanding that this is supposed to be a House of debate, the government is constantly slipping in provisions in the bill that would allow it to unilaterally make decisions affecting all citizens of Canada.

Where there is no provision for the people of Canada to be protected against bad legislation or bad judgment on behalf of the government of the day, it is treading on democracy. We really object to the fact the government can make not only unilateral decisions but arbitrary decisions that in many cases may not be sound. The decisions may have a profound effect on Canadian people so we have put forth some amendments to deal with it.

We also have a problem with clause 48 that uses the phrase by mutual consent in the context of additional national standards and criteria. The bill would permit the government through discussions with some or all of the provinces to come to a mutual consent with some of them. It would allow them to create a national standard which could be imposed on provinces that did not provide mutual consent to the national standard.

We have introduced some amendments to prevent the federal government from imposing national standards, for example in the case of welfare, without the consent of all provinces. It is simply not fair that a government can arrive at an agreement with some provinces and impose the agreement on all provinces.

My last point deals with the creation of the Canada health and social transfer. The government has put all health funding, welfare funding, Canada assistance plan funding and post-secondary education funding in one basket. It is saying that it will be considered as a lump sum. It has done this for a particular reason. It knows the problems it is running into with the Canada Health Act. It knows the Canada Health Act is redundant at this point. It is simply not working because there is not enough money to fund the plan we have come to know and love and now cannot afford.

As funding for health care in Canada is diminished, I believe to a point of zero in the future, the government will have no stick left to impose a demand on the provinces that they stick to the Canada Health Act. Provinces like Alberta, B.C. and Quebec or any other province might want to be creative in raising funding to raise the quality of health care in their provinces to a level people want. With no funds left in the Canada health transfer payments the government cannot impose any penalties because they are not paying it any money.

It has taken the Canada health payments, the Canada assistance plan payments, the welfare payments, and the post-secondary education payments and put them all into one big basket. If a province wants to get a little creative and flexible in providing health care and in the eyes of the government violates the Canada Health Act in some way, the government makes a unilateral decision that the province is in violation of the sacred Canada Health Act which does not work any more in any event.

The government will have the power to withhold funds from the Canada health and social transfer that now includes post-secondary education, social welfare and the Canada assistance plan. In other words if the province violates a provision of the Canada Health Act in the eyes of the government, the government can hold back money for education and welfare.

We may wonder whether the government has any sense of fairness. We are hearing the same old story: the group wants to keep control in Ottawa and anyone outside Ottawa is considered an additional player and made to toe the line.

We really oppose the fact that the government has purposely put in these clauses in order to get a bigger stick to keep the provinces in line under the Canada Health Act.

We propose to delete a section of clause 51 that would allow the federal government to withhold equalization payments and other provincial transfers for violations under the Canada health and social transfer programs. In other words, the amendments we are proposing to the clause would take away this big stick that the government is so conveniently putting together.

I have spoken about the three areas of my concern on some of these amendments I am putting through. The thing I want to close on is the fact that our social safety net is in deep trouble in this country. The Liberal government under Prime Minister Trudeau introduced a social safety net that was the Cadillac of all plans. We started out driving a Cadillac in our social safety-

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The fault is that of the Speaker. I did not realize the time had expired. I am thankful that members reminded me that his time had expired.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:45 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on group four of the motions on Bill C-76, the report stage. A lot of this has to do primarily with provincial transfer payments for health care and education.

I would like to point out to the House something that is perhaps not recognized: we do have a serious problem in health care in Canada today. Recently in the news it was stated that medicare is essential to the identity of the government. That is good, because it is essential to the identity of all Canadians. Unfortunately, this government does not recognize that in this country health care is in dire straits.

Recently we have seen some tragic statistics of people dying while on waiting lists, waiting for essential health care services that this government and governments across this country should be providing to the Canadian public. Just this last weekend we heard about 25 individuals who died while on waiting lists awaiting surgery at the Ottawa Heart Institute.

In my province of British Columbia, if you have prostrate cancer you can wait over a year to get ultrasound therapy. As a result of this, patients in British Columbia go to the United States in order to get this essential service. In fact, what we see in the United States is a whole industry built up around Canadian people who cannot have their essential health care services met and therefore are forced to go to the United States. It is in fact the Canadian taxpayer, through the medical services plan of British Columbia, who pays for that.

This is completely unnecessary, as we have the skilled individuals in this country who can do this. It is just a question of changing our priorities.

One of the sad things that happened as a result of the last budget was that over $6 billion was ripped out of the heart of education and health care by the federal government. As a result of that, the provinces are now somehow going to have to make up the shortfall. The result is an impossible quandary. You simply cannot pay for what the taxpayers are asking for and the demands of health care in this country through the moneys that are now provided.

What we are going to see in the future are many more tragic cases of Canadians who are dying while on waiting lists, waiting for essential health care services to occur.

We in the Reform Party propose a number of motions relating to Bill C-76. First is that we remove the government's ability to unilaterally decide what constitutes a violation of national standards and to unilaterally decide what the financial penalty should be. To remedy this we have proposed amendments that would force the federal government to take provincial governments to court in order to determine what the violations are and whether there should be any penalties. Second, we have put forth motions to prevent the federal government from imposing additional national standards without the consent of the provinces. Last, we are trying to move towards a situation where we have unconditional transfers of health care and education dollars.

I reiterate that it is impossible for Parliament to unconditionally remove money from the provinces and expect them to meet the demands of their citizens. It simply cannot be done. Tragically, the Canadian people do not realize this. Unfortunately, in the next federal election this will haunt all of us, because people who are on waiting lists are going to die.

We propose a different solution, which will meet the needs and the objectives of having a medicare system for all Canadians and put it on firm financial ground.

We do not want to destroy health care in the country. We do not want to destroy medicare. We want a new Canada Health Act, unlike what they have in the States, unlike what is in the United Kingdom-one made in Canada. It would entail defining essential health care services and ensuring that all Canadians across the country will have their health care services covered, regardless of income.

Second, we must amend the Canada Health Act and allow the provinces to get their health care dollars under control. It is very simple. If we allow private clinics it creates a two-tiered system. But what happens if as a patient you want to pay for an MRI on your knee or your neck? You go to a private clinic and private dollars are exchanged into private hands. Not a cent of taxpayers' dollars goes into this. Sure people will get services perhaps faster than in the public system, but that would enable you to get off the public system into the private system. So those people in the public system would receive health care faster and more efficiently because they would move up the waiting list. There would also be more money in the system on a per capita basis.

This is not a threat to medicare. Rather, this an adjunct to medicare, which will help it. Would it be a two-tiered system? Yes. But is it not better to have an unequal system that provides better and more timely access for all Canadians than a relatively equal system that provides poor access to essential health care services? The choice is very easy.

Another aspect I would like to address is to ask the federal government to take a leadership role in health care in analysing the determinants of health care in Canada. We often put forward grandiose plans of studies on many things, but nobody actually takes the bull by the horns and tells us what makes up health care in the country.

I will give some solutions. One thing that is in greatest neglect is the fact that in early childhood education, children aged from two to five years, the pillars of a normal psyche are developed. The pillars of good health are also developed. We do not put enough emphasis on that area. The emphasis we can put on that area will actually pay off in spades later on in the health and welfare of the adults.

I would argue that we should put more emphasis on teaching children, at that age, not only their ABC's, but also teaching them about self-respect, pride, respect for other people, and appropriate conflict resolution. These things can be done. Although we take it for granted that many people know this, we would perhaps be very surprised to find out that in some dysfunctional families and in the lower echelons of the socio-economic groups, these things are actually unknown. Some children have not grown up with this, and some have grown up in very tragic situations indeed, where the givens of a normal psyche are not there. Many children and parents do not know this.

I would ask the government to look at an interesting experiment that was done at Columbia University. It took over an inner-city school board that was wracked by violence, sexual abuse, drug abuse, teen drop-out rates. It focused on the aspects of teaching self-respect, et cetera, in the early years and found out that it paid off in spades when the children grew up.

The other aspect I would like to focus on is something on aboriginal health care. I would seek to support some of the ideas I have had on aboriginal health.

We have created an institutionalized welfare state in many aboriginal reserves. By continually pouring money into the aboriginal reserves we have not succeeded in addressing some of the underlying problems that are actually behind the sexual abuse, violence, and the general malaise of the soul that we see on many reserves.

I would say let us focus on enabling the aboriginal people to take care of themselves. Let us put the responsibility for their destiny back on their shoulders. Let us help them to do that. Let us help them to call their own shots. Let us put an end to the institutionalized welfare state that we have set up.

More money is not the answer. Giving people the tools to help themselves is. I would strongly urge this government to do this in the name of health care for all aboriginal people.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of the adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Frontenac- bovine somatotropin.

Debate resumes with the hon. member for Quebec.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

4:55 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, the present federal government is obviously trying to lead people astray. To illustrate this, I will, if I may, quote from a statement made by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, on March 31, during Question Period.

Answering a question by my colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, on the Canada social transfer, the minister said this:

The Bloc Quebecois just keeps stating a position contradicted by facts, by the budget and by reality.

I can only repeat what I said earlier, namely that the budget is clear, that the requirements for social assistance have been reduced, that, if any standards are established, they will be established by mutual consent. It is very unfortunate that the opposition informs the people of Quebec soo poorly on such major issues.

Several aspects of this statement deserve that we go back to them. The first one is that the minister, the member for Hull-Aylmer, blamed the Bloc Quebecois for misinforming the people. Let us keep this in mind, as I will mention it again in my conclusion.

The second aspect is that requirements for social assistance have been reduced. The third one is that, if standards are established, they will be by mutual consent. Let us analyze these two points before we deal with the Canada social transfer.

As far as requirements for social assistance are concerned, the minister said that they would be reduced. Let us see what is happening under Bill C-76. Clause 48 is key to the bill as it creates the Canada Health and Social Transfer. It provides for the terms of application of the transfer. Under subclause (1), it states the three objectives of the Canada social transfer, namely: financing social programs, maintaining national conditions relating to health care, and maintaining national standards relating to other social programs.

It should be pointed out at this point that clause 53, which applies to clause 48 I just mentioned, states that social programs include programs in respect of health, post-secondary education, social assistance and social services.

The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs had the nerve to say in this House that requirements for social services would be reduced. This is what I call deceiving people. Far from being reduced, their number is increased. There are new constraints, new national standards being imposed, to be developed in accordance with clause 48, paragraph 3.

This provision clearly states, and I quote:

The minister of Human Resources Development shall invite representatives of all the provinces to consult and work together to develop, through mutual consent, a set of

shared principles and objectives for the other social programs referred to in paragraph (1)( d ) that could underlie the Canada Health and Social Transfer.

It could not be put any plainer than that. There will be national standards and these national standards will concern post-secondary education, social assistance and social services.

We already had national health standards; now, standards will be introduced in the other areas I just mentioned. This is what the minister calls a relaxation of rules or requirements. This is not an interpretation given by the Bloc Quebecois. The words were taken straight out of the legislation before this House, and there is a blatant contradiction between these and what the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs said. The Bloc Quebecois is not misinforming the public; the government is.

Let us look at the third question covered in the hon. minister's statement, namely the development of principles through mutual consent. I read you the third paragraph of clause 48, which provides for what was referred to as dialogue. That is certainly the finest euphemism I have heard in a long time. I repeat, the bill itself provides for a dialogue to be established between the provinces to develop objectives and principles through mutual consent.

Very few Quebecers will not shudder at this prospect. Quebec's history has demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt the pitfalls associated with interprovincial dialogue, especially when the federal government demands such co-operation and has the power to punish any province refusing to get along nicely with the others.

History is repeating itself. In terms of manpower training, social programs and education, Quebec wants full control over its programs. Yet the federal government is about to systematically invade these areas of provincial jurisdiction.

How can anyone reasonably expect Quebec to agree with this approach? How can anyone expect Quebec, which is calling on the federal government to simply withdraw from all sectors under provincial jurisdiction, to come to an agreement with the other provinces? Everyone knows that this is impossible.

History is repeating itself. Because of their majority, the English speaking provinces will decide what standards they want for all of Canada. These standards will then be imposed on Quebec, which will be forced to respect them because otherwise its share of federal funds will be reduced.

This is what they refer to as mutual consent? This is the kind of flexible federalism they are offering us? No thanks. In this case, it is not the Bloc Quebecois but the government that is trying to misinform the public.

My colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot is proposing that all clauses dealing with the Canada social transfer be deleted, and he has my full support. Instead of passing the bill before us, the federal government would do much better to withdraw completely from areas of provincial jurisdiction such as health, education, job training and social services.

It would be much better for the federal government to withdraw from this costly duplication and encroachment and transfer related tax points to the provinces, as the Quebec government demanded again very recently. A cleanup is in order.

Government officials must stop misleading the public on our intentions, which are always so transparent in the end. The Bloc Quebecois is saying no to the Canada social transfer as proposed by the federal government.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

5 p.m.


Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec-Est, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-76 is a direct attack on the poor. We already know that, and we said it several times in this House, but we must repeat it again: it is a direct attack on the most vulnerable members of our society.

The government wants to cut $7 billion, next year and the following year, in social programs. We are talking about a $7 billion cut in programs designed to help sick people, welfare recipients and students. This is in addition to all the other cuts made since the government took office. Over the last two years, these cuts have totalled $10 billion in Quebec alone. They affect the unemployed, as well as sick people, students and welfare recipients. The government even cut seniors' benefits.

This legislation targets the poor. The government does not take the issue of poverty seriously. On the contrary, the situation has worsened since the Liberals took office. Not only does the government target the poor, it also seeks, through this bill, to protect rich people, large corporations, etc.

If the federal government really wanted to save money, it could take some very simple measures. First, it could withdraw completely from social programs and transfer its responsibilities, along with the tax points, to the provinces. This would only make sense, considering that health, education and social programs fall under provincial jurisdiction. By insisting on remaining involved in these areas, the federal government violates its own constitution.

If the federal government were serious and really wanted to respect provincial jurisdiction, it would withdraw from health, education and welfare programs. Not only would it then abide by the constitution, it would also make astronomical savings. If the federal government really wanted to save money, it would simply withdraw from these programs, where there is duplication and overlap, at present.

Think about it. Operating costs at the federal Department of Health reach about $1 billion every year. By eliminating this department, we would save $1 billion a year. The same thing goes for the Department of Human Resources Development, where operating costs probably reach up to $2 billion a year. There are savings to be made in every duplicated program. The federal government would save a lot of money if it withdrew from such programs as health, social services and education. But also it would not interfere and prevent provinces from working properly.

For example, we know that the Quebec government has been asking for exclusive jurisdiction over training, but the federal government will not yield. Because of this conflict between Ottawa and the provincial government, training is not adequate, and losses could be as high as $250 million.

If the federal government were to withdraw from social programs, from provincial areas of jurisdiction, it would save a lot of money. If it really wanted to reduce the deficit, this solution would be the most logical one to opt for, particularly as it is constitutionally correct and takes into account the diversity of Canadian society. For example, imposing national standards across the country not only for social programs, but also for services, education and health, reduces flexibility and the capacity to adapt and to innovate in these sectors. If the provinces were given control of these areas, they may be able to find solutions to these critical and serious problems.

The very serious problems Quebec is currently experiencing in the health care sector are a cause of concern for many people. We are in the process of closing a certain number of hospitals in Quebec. In my riding, Québec-Est, people are particularly concerned. Last week, 10,000 people protested about what is happening at the Christ-Roi hospital.

These concerns and cuts are due to the fact that the federal government is reducing its transfer payments-to Quebec and to the other provinces as well-while trying to maintain national standards which no longer meet our needs.

The federal government is increasingly heading toward a form of bankruptcy. We already expect that, before the turn of the century, it will not have any money left to support social programs. It is already trying to maintain national standards, criteria that it imposes upon the provinces not because it worries about savings, obviously, but mostly because it wants to take over these areas of provincial jurisdiction.

It is unfortunate that the federal government did not care more about the poor because, clearly, the situation is deteriorating in Canada and in Quebec. Indeed, the federal government is playing politics on the back of the poor.

In Quebec, we would like to repatriate powers concerning social programs, because the provincial government is basically in a better position to deal with problems in health and education. The provincial government is in a better position to meet these needs. So far, the federal government has not properly met the needs of the people of Quebec; this is one of the reasons why we want to achieve sovereignty, because we fundamentally need those powers to create full employment policies and family policies, as well.

We need those powers to integrate all the elements of training, education, job creation and family policy, and to create a full employment policy in Quebec. Quebec fundamentally needs those powers. In fact, it is one of the reasons why Quebec wants to achieve sovereignty. Not only because it would save money but because we want to give young people and the not so young some hope of getting a job.

We also know that in Quebec we have the expertise. We have the know-how. We have certain projects we can develop that will help us do a better job than is now the case. In fact, we could hardly do worse, because as long as Quebec remains part of Canada, the situation is likely to deteriorate and surely will, because basically, the federal government has less and less money to contribute to social programs, while it tries to maintain national standards.

This patently absurd situation will make things increasingly difficult for Quebecers, and that is why Bill C-76 is a genuine attack against the vulnerable in our society and shows no real interest in saving money, on the contrary. The government wants to reduce its deficit but, in the process, it mercilessly attacks the poor, the unemployed, the sick, people on welfare, students and senior citizens, while it could save a lot of money by simply withdrawing from all social programs and giving these powers to the provinces, in compensation for tax points.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Jim Gouk Reform Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Mr. Speaker, some time ago a group of young children were standing in a small ball field. They were not yet playing; they were awaiting the arrival of little Lloyd and little Diane. These were the two kids, a brother and a sister, brats though they were, who had the bat and ball so the game could not start until they got there. The father of little Lloyd and little Diane was quite wealthy. In fact, he had got most of his wealth from the parents of the other children who were waiting to play ball. He took so much money from them that they could not afford to buy their own bat and ball.

Finally little Lloyd and little Diane showed up at the field and the kids were ready to play. Knowing all the positions and all the rules they were ready to start but little Lloyd and little Diane said: "No, just hold it a minute. We cannot play until we explain the

rules of the game to you". The kids said: "But we already know the rules of the game and we know how to play", to which they replied: "Yes, but it is our bat and ball, so you are going to play by our rules".

Sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution lay out the federal and provincial responsibilities. In the Constitution it is the provincial responsibility, not federal, to provide health care. It is the provincial responsibility, not the federal responsibility to provide welfare. This applies to many of the other areas as well that the federal government seems so anxious to interfere with. It is the old story of it is my bat and my ball and I make the rules once again.

The federal government recognizes it has absolutely no authority to interfere in the actual operation of the health care system for example. It has its own brand of rules it wants to place on the various provinces, so it says: "It is our money. If you want it, you will play by our rules". In essence it is perverting the very acts contained in the Constitution of Canada creating many problems in our social services.

Saskatchewan solutions are not necessarily the solutions for New Brunswick. Ontario solutions are not necessarily the solutions for British Columbia.

I would say to my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, some of whom I have talked to at length: Stop talking of and working toward separation. We have to make some changes but instead of changing the boundaries of Canada we should be changing the government itself. We should get rid of the last bastion of the old traditional political parties of the past that have neither served them nor any other province well in these areas.

For some strange reason members of the federal government seem to think they have this divine power, this extreme knowledge that in coming to Ottawa, they know better than the people in the provinces, that know better than the Canadian citizens. They think that Canadian citizens are not smart enough within their own provinces to tell their provincial governments what they want, what solution is going to work in their province.

We have the same old problem coming to the provinces. It is in the form of the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Health who say the same thing as those two spoiled brats with the rich father: "It is my bat and ball, so I am going to make the rules". Those rules do not work.

We agree with the concept that we have to have a devolution of many of the authorities from the federal government simply because we are not getting the solutions that work. We are duplicating the services. We are getting many problems that could be resolved better at the local level.

Last summer I attended the official opening in my riding of a new water treatment plant. As I stepped up to the microphone to say a few words of greeting to the people gathered, the mayor of the town was sitting beside me. As I went to speak he whispered to me: "Give us money, give us money, give us money". I said a few words and then said: "Your mayor is sitting beside me saying money, money, money. He sounds like Liza Minelli in an old movie".

One thing the mayor did not realize, and maybe some others at this point still do not, was that I do not see my mandate as going to Ottawa to try to get federal money for the riding. I see it as trying to get the federal government to stop giving so much money to other ridings and ultimately to stop taking so much of our money in the first place.

There is something inherently wrong with a system that takes away all one's money at the beginning of the year in taxes and then has one begging and pleading to get some of that money back. That is the way social transfers are working. It is not the federal government's money. It is our money. It is the Canadian taxpayers' money. The federal government takes it out of the pockets of taxpayers. It takes it away from the jurisdiction of the provinces which have the constitutional responsibility for most of these programs and then says the same old adage of it is my bat and my ball: "You still must play by our rules or we will not give you your own money back".

That is unacceptable. It does not work. It is leading to debt. It is leading to the erosion of the very programs the Liberal government would have us believe it is trying to save. It is not saving the health care system by overtaxing, making rules that do not work in various regions of the country. It is creating the very problem it claims to be trying to resolve. The sooner the government stops doing that, the sooner it gets away from the rules and regulations it is trying to entrench with Bill C-76, the better off all Canadians will be.

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Centre Manitoba


David Walker LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, as this part of the debate draws to a close, I would like to review some of the amendments supported by the Bloc and later supported by the Reform Party.

Dealing first with the motions of the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, these proposed amendments would remove all references to the Canada health and social transfer in the bill, in effect killing the Canada health and social transfer. The amendments would also keep in place the intrusive cost sharing rules of the Canada assistance plan that have limited the provinces' ability to innovate and improve their social programs to better meet the needs of Canadians.

The Canada health and social transfer replaces the Canada assistance plan, which currently contributes to provincial social assistance and social services, as well as the established programs financing, which currently contributes to health and post-secondary education. The CHST combines existing federal transfers into a single block fund. It provides the provinces with the ability to better explore the linkages and synergies between health, post-secondary education and social assistance. This completes the gradual evolution away from cost sharing to block funding of programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

The Canada health and social transfer provides the provinces with the flexibility they need to experiment and improve social programs. There are many concrete examples of what this greater flexibility could entail in practice.

These amendments would delete such clauses as clause 32 which repeals the Canada assistance plan. The effect of this amendment would be to leave in place the cumbersome and intrusive system of cost sharing social assistance and social services which has stymied provincial efforts to innovate and improve social programs. Moreover this amendment would perpetuate the administrative burden associated with cost sharing.

Another clause that would be deleted would be clause 48. This clause puts in place many of the building blocks of the Canada health and social transfer. It includes the process in which the Minister of Human Resources Development will invite all provincial governments to work together in developing through mutual consent a set of shared principles and objectives that could underline the Canada health and social transfer and thus allow all governments to reaffirm their commitment to the social well-being of Canadians.

The amendment would also derail the government's fiscal plan to reduce the burden of debt and put social programs on a more sustainable basis, a fiscal plan that has been designed to ensure the survival of social programs in the future. In this regard the proposed amendments would cost the government $7 billion over the next two years.

Turning now to the motions of the member for Lethbridge from the Reform Party, these amendments would have the effect of reducing the power of the government and this House to protect the access of Canadians to health care and the basic protection of social assistance. To this end, they must be defeated.

The main thrust of these amendments is to change the enforcement mechanisms that can be used to protect the criteria and conditions in the legislation, namely the five criteria and two conditions of the Canada Health Act and the condition that there be no residency requirement for provincial social assistance. The enforcement mechanism put forward in the bill is modelled on the Canada Health Act which has worked very well for Canadians over the past 11 years.

This enforcement mechanism requires the relevant minister, the Minister of Health in the case of the Canada Health Act, and the Minister of Human Resources Development in the case of social assistance, to determine whether a violation has occurred and to act. The legislation sets out exactly how these ministers should proceed in terms of notifying the province, making a report to the province within 90 days and if they are not satisfied that the violation has stopped that they refer the matter of penalties to the governor in council.

What the amendments put forward by the hon. member propose is to take the ministers and the cabinet out of the process and to give the power to the federal court. In spite of our respect for the federal court and its role, it is not the appropriate place for the enforcement of the criteria and conditions governing the Canada health and social transfer.

It is essential that these ministers, as elected members of this House and as members of the cabinet with particular responsibilities for the health care system and the social security system, have the discretion to determine whether the provinces are in compliance with the Canada health and social transfer.

One of the main purposes of the Canada health and social transfer is to encourage innovation and experimentation by the provinces in the delivery of their programs, for example to find more efficient and effective methods of helping people to find and keep jobs and to become more self-reliant. The determination of whether these new approaches respect the standards set in the legislation must be made by a minister with a broad perspective on policy and the ability to use discretion and diplomacy in order to protect the integrity of our health and social programs. The federal court is simply not the best place to do this.

Equally, it is cabinet that should use its broad perspective to determine the appropriate penalty in the case of a violation by the withholding of cash transfers. This bill will give the governor in council the ability to set the appropriate penalty having regard to the gravity of the non-compliance. The amendment would give this power to the federal court which would lack this broader perspective.

Finally, I will deal with Motion No. 46. This motion would drop the reference that one of the purposes of the Canada health and social transfer is to promote the shared principles and objectives that are to be developed by the Minister of Human Resources Development in consultation with provincial governments and with mutual consent. This is of central importance to the government's social policy. Canadians expect their governments to reflect their expectations for social programs, that they will protect the most

vulnerable, that they will improve the situation of people by helping them to help-

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The parliamentary secretary may not realize it but we are not dealing with Motion No. 46 at the moment. That will be part of the next grouping.

Is the House ready for the question?

Budget Implementation Act, 1995Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members