Madam Speaker, thank you. As well, let me point out that claimants who qualify for the 60 per cent dependency rate prior to the coming into force of the new employment insurance act will not see a loss of that rate for their claims. To qualify for this rate, claimants must have dependents and show average earnings of $422.50 per week or less.
Allow me to digress to mention a housekeeping detail with respect to these measures. They were announced last December and tabled in Bill C-112. A companion bill, the proposed employment insurance act, was also introduced. It sets rates for 1997 and beyond.
Since both bills died on the Order Paper we have decided to set the maximum insurable earnings and benefits for 1996 in this legislation. As members know, the employment insurance act has been retabled as Bill C-12. This bill also amends the Old Age Security Act, the present bill we are discussing, to lengthen the period of time before newcomers to Canada become entitled to the full guaranteed income supplement or spouses allowance.
This is simply common sense. Under the current system, some immigrants obtain full benefits with as a little as one year's residence in Canada. Restricting this easy access will improve the fairness of the system and lessen the burden on Canadians.
With the new rules, eligibility will be phased in over 10 years for those who qualify for benefits through social security agreements with Canada. As well, sponsored immigrants from countries that have social security agreements with Canada will not be eligible for benefits for the period of their sponsorship since most older immigrants are allowed entry only because they have been sponsored by a family member.
Those who have already come to Canada will not be penalized. Individuals now receiving benefits or who landed in Canada before budget day and become eligible for benefits before January 1, 2001, will not be affected.
In continuing to address the content of the bill, which I hope members opposite would like to discuss some time during the course of this debate, let me address a number of measures in this bill which seek to further the agenda of getting government right, something they speak about a great deal.
These measures involve redefining and redesigning government programs and activities in three areas: grain transportation, student loans and radio spectrum licences. Today, in a time of tighter resources and taxpayer fatigue, there is no question that governments cannot act or think as they did in previous times. It must be recognized that in order to do a better job of meeting key priorities we should not pursue activities when others can do the job better.
That is why Bill C-31 will enable the Minister of Transport to dispose of the publicly-owned freight pool.
The government will consider any serious proposals that those involved may wish to submit and take into account the interests of producers, shippers and rail carriers in making a decision.
We will ensure that the required capacity for grain transportation is maintained. As well, freight rates can, on average, rise no more than 75 cents per ton to cover the cost of the acquisition.
We expect that over time the privatization of the grain hopper cars will make for a more efficient grain handling system with lower costs for the railways. This in turn will lower freight rates for grain producers.
Two other clauses in this bill will remove the 10-year ceiling that was imposed on the repayment schedules of students who borrowed money under the Canada Student Loans Act. Lenders will be able to more flexibly match the repayment period to the financial circumstances of borrowers. While the borrowers must certainly benefit, I should point out that the government may actually save money with these new rules since the rate of defaults will clearly be reduced.
Another measure in this bill will amend the Radiocommunication Act allowing the Minister of Industry to auction off valuable radio spectrum licences.
I should point out that competitive bids will not be used systematically for issuing licences. This is however a very convenient mechanism that can be used whenever it becomes impossible to accommodate everyone within the spread of the spectrum.
Finally, there is a measure in this that does not flow directly from the budget but from an announcement recently made by the Minister of Finance and that is with respect to the GST. Bill C-31 provides for the paying out of approximately $960 million to the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador as adjustment assistance for initial revenue losses under the integrated value added tax regime that they have agreed to with the government, a harmonized tax I should incidentally point out which the Reform Party supported.
This money will be paid for over a four-year period. It is in keeping with the firmly established practice of providing assistance when federal initiatives entail major structural change for the provinces. Under the adjustment framework this legislation puts in place, the cost of harmonization will be shared with all provinces which experience revenue losses in excess of 5 per cent of their current retail sales tax revenue.
In addition to the three provinces previously mentioned, this would also include Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Saskatchewan when they enter into harmonization.
However, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario would be excluded for a very good reason: their revenues would not be cut back enough to make them eligible to compensation under the formula.
Quebec of course has already harmonized its sales tax for the main part. But in light of the remarks made yesterday by the
opposition, I must point out that Quebec would no more be admissible to adjustment assistance today than it would have been in 1990, when it signed the memorandum of agreement with Ottawa, and this, to Quebec's greatest advantage, because harmonization was profitable to this province.
Returning to Bill C-31, the government firmly believes that given the benefits that will flow from harmonization, the total cost to the federal government is responsible and reasonable.
Under the formula, the federal government and the provinces will split almost half and half the cost of adjustment assistance over the four years. That is certainly a given. At the end of these fours years, the program will end, the provinces having had the time to adjust.
As the minister stated, the government has consistently acted on the principle that people and governments need to be able to plan and adjust to structural change. Where required the government has been prepared to provide help to those who face adjustment cost. For example, as members well know, payments were made to provinces to address revenue losses they incurred under tax reform in 1972.
Adjustment assistance was provided in each and every one of our budgets. For example, last year resources were provided to facilitate the adjustment flowing from elimination of subsidies under the Western Grain Transportation Act to the western provinces. I do not recall members of the Reform Party objecting to that. We also did the same with Atlantic freight subsidies to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, and I do not recall members of the official opposition objecting to that either.
Today the same precedent is being followed. I emphasize that this adjustment assistance will not jeopardize the deficit targets. They are secure.
I have taken up a fair amount of time because I wanted members to focus on the measures in this bill, not their pet peeves, and I hope members in responding and continuing the debate will speak to the bill before us and not something else.
Through the things that I have focused on this afternoon there is a common thread: fiscal responsibility and getting government right for Canadians. The actions we are proposing are those which Canadians are looking for and insisting on from this government. As their elected representatives we would be remiss if we did not do our part. With this in mind I have no hesitation in calling on my colleagues on all sides of the House to join with me in supporting this important legislation.