House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debt.


Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

December 11th, 1997 / 10:45 a.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague from the NDP while she was speaking about having a full employment strategy. The first thing that came to my mind is that government in general does not really create jobs. It in itself does not go out and hire everyone to work on the government payrolls. However the government creates a proper environment for job creation because the real engine of job creation is the private sector.

Frankly my head somehow was boiling and spinning at the same time. The member wants the government to stop fighting the mythical phantom of high inflation and to stop being obsessed with inflation. She thought that the government should have a full employment policy.

Suppose that inflation went above 3% or 4% and there was a downturn in the economy in two or three years and we begin to have the same problems we had in the 1980s of a high deficit, high debt loads, high inflation and high interest rates, is the member proposing that the government should hire all those people and put them on the public payroll?

I also want to say to my colleague that it is extremely important to put things into perspective. All of the economic indicators she is talking about are fair game. However, there are certain indicators that I as a member of Parliament totally disagree with.

For example, here in Canada we had a deficit. I want to congratulate the government for winning the war on the deficit. We used criteria that are very much different from the criteria being used by OECD members around the world.

When we talk about assets in Canada and somebody from the auditor general's office says that we have $50 billion in assets, in my view, Canadian assets are really in excess of $150 billion taking into consideration crown corporations and everything else the government owns in Canada.

We have to put things into perspective when we talk about shrinking wealth and economic indicators when comparing them with other countries around the world.

If the private sector does not really create the jobs she is asking for and the private sector is not meeting the target she is setting, is the member proposing that the government hire all those people who were not hired by the private sector?

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have to say in all honesty, and I intend no disrespect to the member opposite, but that is an absurd suggestion and a distortion of the position the New Democratic Party has put forward today in specific, concrete terms. It makes it impossible to even engage in a reasonable, sensible debate about fiscal policy, inflation, interest rates and setting targets and timetables for jobs.

I do not need a lecture from the member opposite on how important the private sector is in the creation of jobs. I will be going back to my office to meet with representatives from the chamber of commerce. They have come to Ottawa today because they understand what an important partnership there must be between government and the private sector.

Those representatives from the chamber of commerce want to talk to me and my colleagues from Nova Scotia about the completely irresponsible withdrawal of the federal government from providing and ensuring that the kind of infrastructure is in place which would allow the private sector to do its job to generate jobs and grow the economy.

The private sector is understandably concerned about the fact that the Government of Canada has gone pell-mell into the privatization of our ports without understanding that there must be a commitment from the government in the investment of the ports and make sure the infrastructure is there.

It is very concerned that the government will not make a commitment to ensure that our Halifax regional airport which serves as an international airport and is a very important part of our infrastucture, is in good shape. The government has been pulling back from its investment with the result that the entire business community in Nova Scotia is very concerned that our Halifax international airport is not getting the kind of support from government that it needs, deserves and absolutely requires if the private sector is going to be able to do its part to contribute to the generation of jobs.

In response to the question, if it was the view of the government that the federal government cannot do anything about jobs, then why in the name of heaven did the Liberal Party of Canada not tell the Canadian people the truth? It told Canadians that it intended to make jobs the number one priority, but that is not what the government did.

It is such a ridiculous question. That is exactly what engenders disrespect for government, engenders disrespect for Parliament. It is just a completely absurd notion. The member knows that when he stands on his feet and says, “Would you let inflation go up 3% or 4%”, he clearly was not listening when I said that allowing inflation to rise to 3% does not seem to be such a disastrous policy when that is what the United States has done and unemployment is below 5%. That is what the U.K. has done and their unemployment is 5%. Canadians deserve no less.

It is a very good illustration of why this government will not put its money where its mouth is and actually commit itself to making jobs the number one priority, and it went to the Canadian people instead in 1993 and again in 1997.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, briefly I want to commend the leader of the NDP for spending so much time on the subject of child poverty. It is certainly a subject matter on which all hon. members share her concern.

In my view child poverty is a political term which is intended to evoke sympathy. The real issue here is family poverty. The member articulated her reasons why she felt there were economic factors which contributed to this serious problem.

I would ask the member whether or not she would concede or maybe recognize that 42% of all children living in poverty come from lone parent families and that the rising level of breakdown of the Canadian family is a very significant contributing factor. Would the member care to comment on her party's position with regard to issues of strengthening the family outside of economic considerations?

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, what the issue of poverty is all about is the failure of government to put in place policies that will strengthen the family.

Nothing weakens a family more, whether there is one child or five children, whether there is one parent or two parents, than having a parent who simply cannot put food on the table, who cannot ensure that their kids get the best possible start in life.

To repeat, I think that should be our millennium project. It is the project that would matter the most to the future of this nation, to make sure that our kids do get a start in life.

It requires a comprehensive, co-ordinated strategy, an all out assault on the problem of poverty which has many faces. I completely agree and I commend the member for making the point that the issue is poverty, period. It is not child poverty as if it is completely separate and apart.

Let us be clear about where this decision came from, the one to somehow segment off child poverty as if it is not part of the failed economic system. That essentially has been this government's decision, to not face up to the fact that at the root of poverty are the kind of economic policies that have been pursued for a decade and a half by right wing governments, both federal and provincial.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak on this very important topic. Over the next two or three months there will be much debate. The directions we take will likely be debated frequently over the next couple of years.

The results of the finance committee hearings show this Titanic government has decided to chart a course that steers every Canadian right into the iceberg. The short sighting of the tip of the iceberg that resembles the deficit completely misses the massive danger of the submerged problem of the debt that is just waiting to sink the economy. As history sometimes ends up repeating itself, everyone will go down with the sinking ship. What is worse is that shuffling the chairs on the deck will not buy Canadians any more time.

This government does not understand that high taxes kill jobs. This government does not understand that “high taxes equal high revenue” is just recycled money that is borrowed and is not new. This government does not understand that everyone knows the bloated employment insurance premium is a tax on the backs of the working class.

This government does not understand that we are losing the battle with the U.S. regarding the brain drain. This government does not understand that Canada should not only end interprovincial trade barriers but that the Canada-U.S. economy is actually one big market made up of 330 million people. This government does not understand that Canada must be a global leader as we enter the next millennium.

This government does not understand that small business drives the economy and still faces unbearable payroll taxes and extreme bankruptcy statistics. This government does not understand the impact that part of the consultation process means actually listening to Canadians and rightfully respecting their interests and their recommendations. The captain of this government does not show any desire to scope the dangers of this massive debt, the ticking time bomb of the economy.

Rather, the finance minister is too involved scoping the Prime Minister's job. Let us face it, working families have been crippled with the burden of creating such a so-called fiscal dividend. They have been taxed, taxed and overtaxed. In the event of the upcoming surplus, this government should feel obligated to return what is rightfully theirs. This means cutting taxes. All Canadians have paid long enough for the misconduct of the EI fund.

Canadians are no longer prepared to sit back and let this government set strategies without seriously implementing the suggestions provided during consultation. Canadians shared their frustrations and proposed solutions. This government did not listen. Why did we travel across Canada and hear from over 400 witnesses if we are not going to put their ideas to work?

The suggestion is clear. This government is not serious about creating the environment to reduce employment. It is not serious about cutting taxes. It is not serious about facilitating growth. This government did not listen. The report from the finance committee does not represent Canada's interests. It is merely a supporting document of the Minister of Finance.

Canadians are being held hostage by Liberal Party politics. The deathwatch on the Prime Minister has begun and the captain is the Minister of Finance. He is not willing to give anything of substance to Canadians until he is running for or is Prime Minister. It is a sad but true fact. One only has to look at his own cabinet colleagues to know this is what is happening. In the meantime working Canadians get poorer, unemployment remains a national tragedy and Canadians become less competitive.

In Jeff Rubin's 1997 Monthly Indicator named the “The Federal Fiscal Dividend: Who gets to spend it?”, Mr. Rubin discussed how personal income taxes as a share of GDP rank Canada the highest among the G-7 countries. Not only is Canada's personal income tax rate not internationally competitive but it has now saddled households with the largest tax burden in Canadian history.

Even a $13 billion personal income tax cut over the next four years would leave the income tax to GDP ratio well above its 1989 level. After some seven years of declining after tax real income per capita in Canada, a personal tax decrease could at least begin the process of restoring domestic purchasing power in the economy.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business told us that “One very important priority which is the cornerstone to building a better life for Canadians is meaningful job creation”. The CFIB said it and we have said it too.

Priorities should be placed on debt and tax reduction, not on new program spending. A recent survey revealed that 85% of small business favours restrained spending. The plan to allocate 50% of the so-called fiscal dividend to new spending and the other 50% to debt and tax reduction is wrong. It is the wrong blend. This mix will only create fiscal problems in the future.

Small business has called for the emphasis to be on strategies that lead to private sector job creation which will provide a solid foundation for the future of the Canadian economy, debt reduction, which will decrease the servicing costs of the debt, and reduced taxes.

We support these initiatives for the good of Canadian small business. No longer can we let the government make the wrong decisions for Canadians. Who suffers? Canadians.

We have a government collecting higher employment insurance premiums than necessary to fund the account for a rainy day. We know, of course, that the EI surplus is being used as a deficit reduction tax. Seventy-four per cent of small businesses polled said that the EI fund should be managed separately. The CP fund was privatized; why not the EI fund too?

Small business and the PC Party believe that a top priority is to substantially lower EI premiums for 1998. That will make a difference in the pockets of Canadians. Canadians have over-contributed in good faith to this fund.

It is time for this to stop. Working Canadians deserve to have their hard earned money back. The CFIB calls for a refund to Canadians and so do we. The increase set for 1998 of 66¢ per $100 in CPP premiums must be offset by at least this amount, if not more, in EI premiums. This is an achievable objective. After all, the EI fund has a surplus of close to $12 billion.

Canadians are rightfully upset about taxes, whether they are caused by too much government debt or spending. It is time Canadians had a say in their economic future. We are going to fight to give Canadians that freedom.

Clearly one of the greatest problems facing this country is the high level of unemployment. Is there really any doubt that high taxation in this country is the number one cause of this horrific problem? I think not.

For example, as we know, the province with the lowest tax rate, Alberta, has the lowest unemployment rate. Clearly the Alberta government has committed to a strategy and stuck to it. Why can the federal government not do this?

The U.S. unemployment rate is the lowest it has been for 50 years. This is not luck. It is the result of lower taxes, which means more money in the hands of the people.

We believe the debate on what to do with any surplus has focused too much on the traditional idea of “What should government do now?” This is an unacceptable starting point. Yet again we witness a responsive, knee-jerk reaction to a critical upcoming opportunity. What this government should be focusing on is the question of “What can Canadians do now?”

After all, it is income taken from working families which has led to the fiscal dividend. Canadians have caught on. No longer will we stand by and let unfairness happen. We demand that the government act responsibly with our money. Let us make the decisions on how to spend our money.

The projected fiscal dividend is an opportunity for government to redefine itself, its size and its role to the Canadian people. Canadians have earned the right to spend their own money. They have endured long enough. They have sacrificed to help eliminate the deficit. They have earned the right to spend their own money.

Any tax increase is wrong. Taxes must be cut. Again and again we hear the cry from working families and small businesses. Recent increases in CPP premiums were not offset by substantial reductions in other areas.

In Ontario, our provincial government has kept its promise. Personal income taxes have been cut and government revenues have grown substantially. In the last eight months Ontario has created 216,000 jobs in the private sector, which is roughly 70% of all the jobs which have been created in the country. Clearly there is a lesson to be learned here: high taxes cost jobs.

The federal government cut the CHST payments to the provinces by $6.8 billion in the mid-nineties. The message we have heard from provincial finance ministers and the public is clear. Extra dollars must be transferred back to the provinces so they can restore health, education and social programs.

The suffering has gone on long enough. These transfer cuts meant hospital lineups in the emergency rooms, hospital closings, lack of resources in schools, inadequate home care for the elderly and the mentally ill face closed community homes.

We are losing our future to the United States. Every day Canadian talent is drained to our southern neighbours, all because of high taxation levels and a lack of employment prospects in Canada. We are not willing to sit idle on this. In Canada we face a chronic unemployment problem at 9% unemployment compared to 4.5% in the U.S. This is totally unacceptable.

We know that taxes are also lower in the U.S. Employment opportunities in the U.S. are attracting our people south because of the jobs that they are creating. That is what it is all about. Canadians want to work. Young people want to put their skills and education to use. If this government does not facilitate the setting for job creation now, our talents will continue to turn elsewhere.

Just how do we expect to be competitive with the U.S. when our tax rates are so much higher? Think about it. In the U.S. if you make over $250,000, the tax rate is 36%. In Canada, if you only make $55,000 to $60,000 or over that, you are quickly at the top level of 54%. It does not take a rocket scientist to see where you would get the most money for your salary.

I have a real problem with this government overtaxing Canadians for the purpose of claiming a so-called fiscal dividend. I think it is important to note that the fiscal dividend is by no means a forgone conclusion. If we did not have the $7 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, the arrival of the dividend would be much later claimed by the Minister of Finance.

Let's get one thing straight. The Minister has factored the EI surplus into the fiscal dividend, a purpose for which EI contributions were never intended. In my opinion, this is totally unethical. We urgently need an amendment to the Employment Insurance Act to outlaw this kind of misuse of the EI surplus.

Just recently this government took $2.5 billion from the employee pension fund to service the deficit. This practice must stop. We must stop the government from continuing to treat this fund as a cash cow. Recently we privatized the CPP fund. Why not consider creating a separate fund for employee pension fund moneys?

We know Canadians want to reduce the debt, yet this government is planning to spend without a clear agenda. A return to uncontrolled spending is another fundamental problem and counter to Canadian culture. The failure to deliver on fiscal reductions promised in the past is becoming a recurring theme of this government. The spending reductions that the government promised in 1995 for the current fiscal year missed the target by roughly 43%, or $5 billion. The government's much vaunted program review exercise lost its effectiveness. It seems to have not followed through with this plan and lost sight of the long term gains this initiative holds.

There are risks that can derail this government from achieving a surplus. They include uncontrolled government spending, failure to deliver on fiscal reduction promises in the past and the dependence of recovering on low interest rates and a low dollar. These are the items that demand immediate attention. Ignorance of these issues will only set our economy back further.

With respect to this upcoming surplus, we have an immediate need for a balanced budget legislation. Committing to balanced budget legislation not only proves to Canadians that this government is serious about its role, but fosters growth in investment for the future. Clear and defined debt reduction targets and debt reduction legislation must be put in place. This would prove that this government is serious about its commitments to reduce the size of the debt.

The government's 50-50 formula is so loose it is almost meaningless, especially if it starts spending it and never has a dividend to split 50-50.

This government must stop acting paternalistically. Canadians have earned the right to choose. The Progressive Conservative Party comes at this debate differently. Our view is simple and effective. Lower taxes means lower government spending. Lower government spending means greater freedom for people to solve problems in the manner they see fit. This means working families are taking responsibility for their spending, their savings, their investments in the future. Informed, autonomous, independent Canadians foster a responsible society. We know what we would do.

This government has to create an environment so that jobs can be created for Canadians, lower their personal taxes and allow our talent to be competitive with the U.S. The government has refused to establish clear and measurable targets for debt reduction and debt-to-GDP ratio.

This is a weak kneed and short sighted response that ignores the calls the committee heard for urgent action on the debt. It also flies directly in the face of public opinion.

Recently the Angus Reid poll found that 84% of Canadians want the federal government to focus on reducing the accumulated debt and high taxes. We believe that one-third of the surplus should be devoted to debt reduction and that action to reduce the debt should start now. The government must reduce our debt to GDP ratio to 60% by the end of this mandate and to 50% by the year 2005.

Taxation levels in Canada remain too high. They penalize initiative. They depress investment that creates jobs. They force investment elsewhere. They encourage highly skilled entrepreneurial Canadians to seek their futures in more hospitable countries.

Despite the many calls for tax cuts heard by the committee, it is clear the government has no intention of responding to this need in the near future. We believe that tax cuts cannot wait until later in the government's current mandate. The next federal budget must send a clear signal that one-third of the fiscal dividend will be used to reduce the tax burden on Canadians.

The role of government must change. Before any decisions are made about the fiscal dividend, the federal government needs to answer some questions that are much more fundamental. What things should the federal government not be doing any longer? What things should the federal government be doing completely differently? What things should the federal government be doing that it is not doing now?

The severity of these issues will not go away. The government has not proven itself in its pre-budget document. We will continue to push for lower taxes, balanced budget legislation and debt reduction targets to be included in the February budget and see if we can get it right then.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely astounded to hear a Conservative accuse the government of failing to deliver on its promises.

I had the experience, which the member did not, of sitting through five Conservative budgets. They had to cut this and they had to cut that so they could reduce the deficit. I saw a Conservative government consistently increase the deficit and fail to deliver on a single one of the promises it made.

On the other hand I have sat through four Liberal budgets. I have seen them not only deliver but overdeliver on their promise to cut the deficit and in less than five years reach a balanced budget.

I heard the member talk about employment insurance premiums. He may not be aware of it, but he represents a party that increased employment insurance premiums consistently when it was in power because it failed to provide for a time when unemployment would rise, as it did to over 11% under a Conservative government. How dare he criticize a government that has consistently reduced employment insurance premiums and reduced the burden on both workers and employers.

Before the member comes into the House as a representative of the Conservative Party, perhaps he might want to check the history of his own party and of his own leader on the issues about which he talks. I suggest he might want to deal in his speech honestly with how the government has delivered on its commitments to Canadians on deficit reduction, on reducing EI premiums and on reaching a balanced budget. It is well ahead of target and is putting the economy on a sound footing which it has not been on.

He talked about reducing taxes. Is the member aware that when the party he represents was in government it was responsible for increasing taxes over 33 times? One of them was the 3% surtax on income, which I note the finance committee is suggesting we should be reducing and getting rid of eventually.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I recall the Liberal government in the 1993 election campaign promised to rip up the free trade agreement and to eliminate the GST. Two of those items are probably the fundamental reasons the country is doing so well. Tax revenues increased substantially over the last four years. Most of that is because growth has come from free trade and not from growth within the economy.

Back in the late eighties there was a worldwide recession and high interest rates. It was not just applicable to Canada. It was applicable to a lot of the countries around the world. Many governments, organizations and corporations have now cleaned up their act. They realize they cannot spend more money than they have. That is why we are seeing the growth we are seeing now.

It has nothing to do necessarily with some of the cuts that have been made. I commend the government for being the first government in 27 years to balance the budget. That is a novel idea. Now we must focus our attention on the debt. We must also focus our attention on getting Canadians back to work.

We must recognize that the neighbour to the south of us is a great opportunity for us. We have to get our country more in line with the neighbour to the south of us if we want to create the jobs and be competitive. Some 80 per cent of all our trade is going to the neighbour to the south.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech by the hon. member for Markham. I agreed with most of what he said, particularly when he used the analogy of the deficit being only the tip of the iceberg and the debt being the submerged portion that could very well sink the country in the event of an economic downturn. He also said that it was incumbent upon government to address the very important issue presented by the debt.

How could the member justify what he says when the Conservative government was in power for nine years and increased the national debt $300 billion in that time period, which constitutes half the total national debt that we face?

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was not part of what happened then. There were certain circumstances going on, not only in the country but around the world at that point in time. The culture quite frankly was not there. We were not the only government in the world that was spending more than it took in. It was characteristic of a lot of the governments around the world.

Somehow some type of cultural shock happened in the late eighties or early nineties when people and governments started to wake up and say “We cannot continually spend more money than we have taken in”.

Many of the things that happened in the 1984 to 1993 timeframe set the pins in place to get the fiscal dividends or rewards we are getting today. I remember the opposition at the time, which is now the government, was totally opposed to free trade, figuring that it would destroy Canada. It has been the greatest bonanza or dividend the country has ever received.

Our future will be in free trade. Whatever happened in the past will never happen again. We have to put in place balanced budget legislation and firm debt reduction legislation to make sure that governments manage the economy and the assets given to them by the people and not just dole out money and create programs.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do not buy the argument that was the mentality or the culture of the time and they had to go along with it.

Do not we as leaders have a responsibility to be on top of the issues, to inform ourselves properly of the consequences of our decisions in this place and to therefore lead the country in that way?

If the people of the country had been properly informed by their leadership as to the consequences of running into debt and having to pay huge interest to support the debt, they would have gone along with any cost cutting measures the government would have wanted to put in place. I have a strong faith in the common sense of the common people. If they had been informed, they would have agreed with the government that we cannot overspend.

I have consulted with my constituents. They are opposed to many government programs that we continue to support even today: all the grants and tax concessions to special interest groups and corporations and all the money that is wasted on setting up a huge bureaucracy, for example in the Indian affairs department which does not benefit the aboriginal people on the reserves. When we tell Canadians about that they support any initiative to limit them.

I do not buy the whole argument that it was the mentality of the times. We have a responsibility and we should not abrogate that responsibility.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, between 1974 and 1984 the debt was multiplied by 10 by the governments that were in power during that time. Between 1984 and 1993 the debt was multiplied by two. We inherited high interest rates and the debt. We also inherited budgets that were being constructed that were not even covering the programs.

Shortly into the programs the cuts were made. The governments covered their programs and started eating into the debt or the servicing cost of the deficit. They recognized this and put in other things to create growth in the economy such as the free trade agreement and the GST. They removed the manufacturers sales tax and brought in the GST, one tax that allowed us to be competitive from a free trade standpoint. Goods now leaving the country no longer have the 14% additional tax on them and because of the low dollar we are seeing benefits today.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa West—Nepean.

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to make some suggestions with respect to the upcoming budget. Before I do so, I would like to make a couple of comments on the speech by the member for Calgary Southwest, the Leader of the Opposition. He made these remarks yesterday.

After he spoke another Reform member rose in the House on a point of order and complained that only two Liberal members on this side were listening to the speech of the member for Calgary Southwest. I was one of those members.

I have to spring to the defence of my colleagues. I listened throughout the 40 minute speech which dealt with a single point, the proposal to bring forward a child care tax credit in the next budget. I have to say that many of us on this side support that kind of initiative, most especially the member for Mississauga South who has championed the initiative for a very long time.

The problem was that the member for Calgary Southwest in developing this point read at great length letters from constituents. If we look in yesterday's Hansard we will see column after column, four letters actually, of closely packed type which was read by the Leader of the Opposition.

It is very difficult—and I was a captive audience—to watch someone read text. It is very difficult to maintain one's attention level when someone is constantly reading, is not making eye contact and is only developing a single point with a single illustration. Perhaps the other members were justified in their attention wandering, but because I was part of the debate I paid rapt attention.

For something like a prebudget debate, our responsibility as MPs is to bring real suggestions to the table. While the Leader of the Opposition did bring one suggestion, I would like to bring several suggestions in the time that I have.

I have been very concerned over the years with charities and non-profit organizations. There is a tremendous oversight by government of this type of organization which accounts for approximately $100 billion in revenues every year. I am afraid that a lot of the taxpayer money which goes into these organizations either from government or individual donors is not actually reaching people in need. I have commented at some length on this before.

Recently I submitted a second report to the Standing Committee on Finance. I suggested ways in which the government could bring in legislation that would address some of the problems of accountability and transparency in not for profit organizations and charities. I will run very quickly through these suggestions. If anyone wants to read them in depth, copies of the report are available in my office. I will make three points.

It is very important that government move as soon as possible to define what charities are in law. As the situation now exists, we rely on an Elizabethan statute of 1601 to define charities. It would be very helpful if we modernized the definition in law and consulted with Canadians.

Charities include this broad, sweeping collection of organizations that are constantly badgering the public for projects which sometimes have very little to do with human suffering, the problems of the poor and those in need. At the very least, legislation would be written which would narrow the definition of charities to those helping people in need, rather than organizations which may be engaged in the arts, preserving the environment, et cetera. Charities should have a real human component and should deal with human suffering. I would like to see that change.

Right now our concept of a non-profit organization, unlike a charity, is simply an organization which can issue tax receipts, but does not pay taxes. There are about 30,000 of these organizations and the tax deferral is in the many billions of dollars. These organizations encompass a broad range of purposes and are defined as whatever charity is not, as non-profit organizations. This is a tremendous problem because these organizations have no accountability to the community. Revenue Canada does not even keep track of their financial statistics.

The second thing I would propose is that government revisit the Canada Corporations Act and set rules and standards in legislation for non-profit organizations. It is possible to be a federally incorporated non-profit organization and not have to produce a financial statement other than for its members. There could possibly be only two members of a non-profit organization.

Non-profit organizations do not have to send financial statements to Revenue Canada. There are absolutely no checks and balances. The government does not oversee non-profit organizations, which embrace organizations such as the Canadian Automobile Association, the Better Business Bureau and various industry and manufacturer associations. This is deplorable because when there is no oversight by government, there is no oversight by ordinary people. Unfortunately this can lead to all kinds of problems.

To point out one very briefly, in the past year since my first report on charities was released, many people have written to me. One point that has been drawn to my attention is the fact that charities and other types of non-profit organizations do not have to seek tenders to buy goods and services.

When the government buys goods and services from the community it always tries to do it by tender or by some form of open bidding process. When we download responsibilities to charitable or non-profit organizations and they do not have a similar responsibility to contract out or to seek tenders, we run a terrible risk that there will be abuse of the system. It is especially bad with non-profit organizations where there is actually no coherent or meaningful reporting to the public at large.

That is the second point. Revisit the Canada Corporations Act. Write legislation for non-profit organizations that makes them transparent and accountable at least in the same measure as for-profit organizations.

The last change in legislation I would like to see would save a lot of money and bring a lot of discipline to charities and non-profit organizations. That would be to change the Access to Information Act and the Income Tax Act so that when charities and non-profit organizations are audited by Revenue Canada, those audits are public.

Right now when Revenue Canada audits a charity, the audits remain secret. The difficulty is that an organization can be audited and all kinds of things that are very wrong can be found. That organization is slapped on the wrist and if there is no public disclosure, it can carry on doing exactly the same thing as it had been doing hitherto.

One of the greatest disciplines for any organization whether it is government, quasi-government or business, is the exposure to the public view of mismanagement. When an audit comes along, if the audit finds mismanagement and it is exposed, then all those other organizations will step back and think very carefully about their management practices.

It is not a matter of auditing every organization. It is a matter that every organization ought to fear a public audit. If the organizations conduct themselves properly and manage their affairs well, they have nothing to fear.

It would be a major, positive step for the government to consider this as an option when the finance minister examines the budget.

Those are my three suggestions. They are very important because the non-profit and charitable sector accounts for about $100 billion in revenue. It is an enormous sector. A lot of charities are doing very good work but the sad thing is that because there is such little government oversight and there are so few standards written in law, we cannot tell the good charities from the bad charities.

I think the majority are good charities and at this time of year we need to support them. So when we talk accountability and transparency, indeed what we are talking about is helping those charities help the people who are really in need.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


John Nunziata Independent York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises some very interesting concerns with respect to the non-profit and charitable sector and how those organizations are treated in this country.

It seems to me that those concerns are of such a serious nature and I know the member has been an outspoken advocate on this issue. I wonder whether the member can indicate what progress the government has made in the four years it has held office with respect to these matters.

Could I also ask the hon. member to comment on the fact that hundreds of thousands, in fact millions, of dollars are going untaxed because of the tax system.

Would the member not be better served if, rather than going after charities and the concerns with respect to that sector, the government went after the major loopholes in the Income Tax Act that allow families to move billions of dollars offshore without paying their fair share of taxes?

Can the member comment on whether he believes the loopholes in the Income Tax Act that allow tens of thousands of profitable corporations to not pay any taxes at all is fair to the poor, working people in the riding of York South—Weston who every week have to write a cheque to Revenue Canada? These are people who can barely meet the mortgage or the rent payment. They can barely put food on the table.

Can he comment on the fairness and indicate why his government has not made it a priority to close those massive loopholes in the Income Tax Act?

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government has moved on some of the concerns I have raised with respect to charities.

Revenue Canada revised the T-3010 financial reporting statement that charities are required to fill out every year. It is much more stringent, more elaborate and less ambiguous.

In the last budget the government closed a major loophole in the charity system. Corporations were giving money to charities and borrowing it back. This major abuse was covered in the last budget.

In the last budget about $35 million more was allocated to the charity division of Revenue Canada and more people were hired to do audits and that kind of thing. Revenue Canada took very positive steps.

The problem with charities and non-profit organizations is so huge because of the lack of legislation. There is a limit to what can be done by regulation. The difficulty is in not having adequate laws and this exists particularly for non-profit organizations. There are guidelines set for them by Revenue Canada through the corporations directorate but it is unfortunate that without legislation those guidelines can be ignored. People cannot be sent to jail. They cannot be penalized because there is no law to that effect. I stress that the next major step must be legislation and I hope the government is listening.

To take up the member's second point with respect to closing tax loopholes, again that centres very much on non-profit organizations and charities. There is a lot of abuse with respect to the way money is put into charities and non-profit organizations as a method of tax avoidance and sometimes actual money laundering.

I hate to say it but the oversight is so loose and real problems have come to my attention. I will not bring them to the House now because I do not think it is suitable. I have raised these issues with Revenue Canada and it is investigating individual organizations. I do not think we should talk about that in an open session.

People have used some charities to produce their own perks. This is a major abuse and it is often done by the affluent. It deprives people in need and worthy of assistance and it deprives the very good charities of the type of support they need from the community.

The government would be on the right track to look into this area, in particular non-profit organizations. If you have not looked in a corner, you will find a lot of dust when you do.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to comment in this prebudget debate. It is an extension of one of the innovations of our government that I am most proud of, that of holding prebudget consultations. Hearings are held across the country to hear from ordinary Canadians, organizations, interest groups and business associations as to what Canadians feel should be in the next federal budget. As the House knows, the finance committee tabled its report on those consultations very recently.

We recognize that Canadians from all walks of life at all levels have made a major contribution to the fiscal success of this government over the last four and a half years. They have endured some significant sacrifices in the quality of their health care, in access to post-secondary education, in social services.

In a number of areas Canadians have very much been partners with government in achieving what by next year's budget will be a balanced budget for the first time in nearly three decades. It is important that we listen to what Canadians are saying now about the future for this country and the path for this government.

Health care is a major concern of my constituents. They see the stress on the health care system. They are very much supportive of the idea of assisting people with their pharmaceutical needs because that is often a good substitute for hospital care or replacement for hospital care. As we have an increasingly aging population, but a population that is also able to stay in its own homes, in its communities, they are very much aware of the need for a home care program. I encourage the government to proceed with both those initiatives.

One of the prime concerns of my constituents is the needs of our children and our young people. I would like to talk about that for a few minutes.

I certainly want to encourage the government to proceed as well with its national child program. It is important that we set up ways of finding out how effective are the measures that we are taking. We have numerous programs in government. We do not often enough stop and ask and put in place the tools for finding out whether they are achieving the objectives we hope they are achieving.

More and more young children in Canada are living in poverty. It is not an acceptable situation for one of the wealthiest countries in the world. As we start down a program to work away at the number of young children who do not have enough to eat, who do not have adequate housing, who are therefore disadvantaged when it comes to becoming properly educated, children who live in abusive situations, I think it is very important that we ensure on an ongoing basis that what we are doing is achieving the results we want and that we are able to shift course and shift those resources to things that will work if what we have started is not working.

Let me talk a little about youth as well. Many children who start life in poverty become a risk at youth because they have not had the basic advantages that most of us take for granted. We certainly have as an objective that every Canadian child enjoys the right to be well fed, well housed, well cared for and well educated wherever we live in this great country. These become the youth who have an extremely difficult time finding and keeping employment and ever being responsible for themselves in life. I think the continuation and the strengthening of the youth employment strategy is vital to this country.

My own experience in holding a youth employment info fair in my riding just a few weeks ago was that young people and their parents and their friends are telling me they do not know enough about the programs that are out there. But I am also seeing cracks in the system, cracks for those very young people at risk who most need the help of our society.

I encourage the government, as the finance committee has done in its report, to give more attention to those community based programs that can work with young people and their families to overcome some of the disadvantages many of them have had earlier in life and to set them on a path in life that is going to be productive for them and for our communities.

I talked about poor children. The fact is in the vast majority of cases, well over 90%, children are poor because their mothers are poor. I urge the Minister of Finance, as he prepares to finalize his budget and present it to this House early in the new year, to take into consideration the different implications for women than for men of different measures he might take in that budget.

There is no question that in Canada, as in every country around the world, women continue to be economically disadvantaged. As long as that is the case, women will continue to be socially and politically disadvantaged.

Yesterday the minister for the status of women was asked in the House how good a job she is doing and how much co-operation she is getting from the Minister of Finance to be coached on how to do gender equity analysis of the budget.

I urge the Minister of Finance to look very carefully at that issue and to consider when he tables his budget outlining for Parliament how it affects women and many millions of children in this country differently than it affects men.

For example, the finance committee has recommended that we increase the limits for RRSP contributions. One of our problems in terms of equity is the major disparity in retirement between men and women. Most of the people in Canada who benefit from RRSP contributions are men. I ask the Minister of Finance to consider whether by increasing the RRSP levels he is contributing to reducing economic disparity or contributing to increasing it.

I also urge him to look at tax bracket creep. Because tax brackets have not been indexed for some time now, more and more people at the low income end of the scale who did not have to pay income tax before are finding that they now have to pay it.

Again this is an issue of equity. The majority of Canadians at the low income end of the scale are women. That has a direct impact on the children those women are raising. It has a direct impact on how those women provide for their children.

How well the economy does and how well Canadians do will continue to depend on the strength of the economy in various areas.

I want to speak about the high technology sector. This sector is extremely important to the national capital region, of which I represent a portion. This sector is also extremely important to the economic growth of the entire country.

I urge the minister to look very carefully at the need for a national human resources strategy to ensure that we continue to be one of the top performing countries in the world in information and telecommunications technology, rather than losing our place and losing up to 600,000 potential jobs in the next 10 to 15 years. There should be continuing support for the transition of research to actual technology and products in that sector. I urge the government to put in place much better means of measuring data in the industry, its performance in the international market and its human resources needs. That will enable the sector to continue to thrive in the economy and continue to provide good paying jobs for many Canadians in the years to come.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spoke about young people and the difficulties they are having living on the poverty line.

There are three young families in my riding, two with two kids and the third with one. These individuals earn $10 to $12 an hour. The only jobs available to them pay that wage. These three families have reported to me that they have been evicted from their homes. One family was trying to buy the home and the other two were renting. They were evicted because they simply could not make the payments.

A couple of the families managed to move in with their parents, which they are very dismayed about. I am not too sure what the other family did.

I believe that if we checked with every MP we would find that this type of story is not unique to my riding. It is happening all across the land. These young people are struggling.

Please do not get into this rhetoric about the Reform says we cannot cut taxes until we balance the books. No, we cannot have overall tax reduction until we balance the books, there is no doubt about that. But we can do things that will meet the needs of these people by saying they will not pay any more income tax because the $2,000 or $3,000 extra would have saved these homes for these young people.

In one case they cannot even afford a car. They are using bicycles. They cannot afford to buy gas, insurance, licence plates and all that. There is just too much they cannot do. That is at $10 to $12 an hour jobs. Mothers with young children choose to be home with the children because it becomes expensive to have them looked after if they wanted to take on a job.

Instead of spending $25 million for a flag program, that $25 million could do wonders for a lot of young families. Instead of spending $116,000 for a committee on seniors and sexuality, $116,000 would help a lot of young families. I am a senior and I should appreciate that, but I do not appreciate it at all. Why can this government not look at the dollars wasted in some areas? Maybe calling it a waste is not fair, but spending on things that we could do without when we could give these families an instant break on their taxes. Please stay away from that rhetoric that we cannot do it until we balance the books. That is not what I am talking about.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, initially I was going to compliment the member because I think he knows that, having observed me in the House for sometime, I do not normally indulge in rhetoric unless it is in response to rhetoric. He was avoiding that very nicely until his last few comments. Now he has tempted me to indulge in rhetoric.

The member has touched on things which I touched on my speech. It is extremely important that we look at those income tax brackets which are now putting many people, both young and older, into taxable situations who had not previously been because of their low incomes. That is extremely important. Our child tax credit program is extremely important. I will also defend the flag program because if this country does not stay united we are all going to suffer economically in such a dramatic way. We can argue whether something like the flag program helps national unity. I believe it does.

There are a number of things which I referred to in my speech which our government has done, is doing, or which I encourage be done which will help those young people. We all know of families where young people are having to move back into their homes. Parents who thought they were grandparents are becoming parents all over again. I know it is placing a lot of burden not only on the young people who want to be independent but on the older parents.

I hope I addressed some of those issues in my speech. Many of the things our government is doing will help that. There is more to be done as well.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Southeast.

I rise on behalf of the people from Okanagan—Coquihalla on this prebudget debate to express their concern over the tax and spend mentality of the Liberal government. When back in my riding I talk to my constituents, I communicate with my constituents and we do that through a variety of means. We hold town hall meetings. We publish weekly editorials in the newspapers. We ask for feedback. We get that feedback.

One of the messages that most often comes to me from my constituents, the message I try to relay in the House, is again and again people are saying the spending priorities of the government are out of whack with the rest of the country. That is evident in a recent public opinion poll that showed Canadians do not trust the government in the way it spends their tax dollars.

Canadians want a government that is going to look after the budget in a responsible and reasonable fashion.

They want balanced books. They want lower taxes so that we can create jobs in this country. With regard to the massive debt that has been built up, over $600 billion by Liberals and Tories for years now, they want to make sure that we start paying off that mortgage and look after that debt problem.

The reason is if we can tackle that debt problem and get taxes down, we can lay the course and the groundwork for a strong future for the country, for our children and our grandchildren.

What I would like to do today with my time is talk a bit about the priorities that I mentioned earlier and a few of the programs. I am not going to say that this money should not be spent, but I am going to point out some areas where the government spends money and it seems to be out of sync with the rest of the country on how it would like to see that money spent.

For instance, I am going to talk now about the $26.4 million spent on a parole system in this country, a system that has proven to fail time and time again. I will give a specific example to the House and Canadians.

In my riding on September 7 there was a double murder, the murder of Cecilia and Tammy Grono. They were murdered by a person by the name of Kevin Machell who was on day parole in Calgary. The rules of Corrections Canada state very clearly that a person who is tardy or does not show up at his halfway house should be reported within 10 minutes to one hour.

This is a shocking case because it took 24 hours for any authorities to notify anybody of the non-appearance of Kevin Machell. In that 24 hour period he travelled to Summerland, my home town, and murdered Cecilia and Tammy Grono while Tammy's two and four year old children sat and watched in horror. It is a terrible case. Kevin Machell three months later is still on the loose in this country. Maybe he is not in this country any longer. We do not know but he is still on the loose. Those two preschool children will be spending their Christmas under police protection.

Where did the $26.4 million go to protect the Grono family in this country and all the other families who have lived under this type of system? It is horrendous that this could happen. It has been traumatic for the family, it has been traumatic for the people in my riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla.

The problem is not the $26.4 million. If we had a system that worked, I would say spend $30 million or $40 million. What is happening is that this is a system that is so bent on trying to rehabilitate the criminal, it does not look at the real fact of what a parole system is for. It is to protect law-abiding citizens in this country. The safety of Canadians is being ignored. That has to change.

I would also like to talk about another circumstance in my riding with the department of Indian affairs. We spend some $4 billion on the department of Indian affairs. With that money the government is responsible for certain objectives and responsibilities. Yet one of the responsibilities this government does not have is to provide assistance for individuals who are renting property on an Indian reserve.

I was shocked to find that in my riding there is a mobile home park situated on an Indian reserve. Two months ago the people living there received their eviction notices. They were told to move out just before Christmas. They are low income families. The $4 billion we spend on the department of Indian affairs does not protect them because there is no law in this land that says there is a level playing field for people who rent property on an Indian reserve.

If persons rent property let us say on an ordinary piece of land owned by a private citizen, they fall under the provincial rentals act but not if they rent property on an Indian reserve.

What has this government done to change that? It has done nothing, not a thing. The $4 billion did not help those people who live at Driftwood Mobile Home Park nor the other three mobile home parks where people are going to be evicted in the dead of winter.

Why has the government not taken up the initiative to make sure that there is a rental act federally for people who rent land on Indian reserves? There is no excuse for this. I will make sure, as a private member, that in the new year I will introduce such legislation in this House.

My time is short and there are a number of things we could talk about today prior to Christmas about how the government spends its money and the misguided way it does it. I have come to know many of the Liberal members across the way, the NDP members and Conservative members, all of the people in the House. They come here with good ideas and are good people in many respects.

However, what the federal Liberals are doing is inexcusable to the Canadian people. Time and time again public opinion polls show that Canadians do not trust this government and will not trust this government. I am not saying that the federal Liberals are stupid or bad people. They are just wrong in what they do with our hard earned tax money.

I will point out one more example which is the need for search and rescue helicopters. This is a debate that has been going on for close to six years when we take in the time that the Conservatives spent on it as well. However, here we have a federal Liberal government that is not concerned about the safety of Canadians when it comes to search and rescue from coast to coast. No, it is busy in the back rooms with its public relations folks sucking back cappuccinos and trying to figure out how it is going to explain the helicopter that it is going to buy.

Well, that is unacceptable. It was unacceptable last year in the pre-budget debate and it is unacceptable today. Our military needs the equipment when the government sends them out to do a job. I was in the military and they are good people. They do the best with what they have. However, a government is irresponsible when it does not give them the tools they need.

Just a couple of weeks ago we saw another example. A young man who went to Croatia in service of the country for peacekeeping was not given a helmet. It is outrageous that he was not given a helmet. His armoured patrol vehicle, which is not armoured at all, rolled down a hill and landed on top of him. He now has brain damage. We sent these people on peacekeeping missions without the proper equipment. That is inexcusable by this government.

I can see it is time now to wrap up very quickly and I will wrap up. However, I do want to say, for goodness sake, the Canadian public is sick and tired of the extreme uncaring positions that the government takes. It is time for a balanced and reasonable approach when it comes to the things that Canadians need and want. When it comes to social programs, criminal justice, the military or any department, make a choice, but let us start spending our money properly.

Canadians can laugh about it or cry about it, but for goodness sake let us not ignore the problem. Let us move into the 21st century on a reasonable footing for the future of Canadians.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Allan Kerpan Reform Blackstrap, SK

Madam Speaker, I sit here perplexed. This is the beginning of my second term in the House and in the last four years since I have been part of this House, I have often wondered why it is that members on this side of the House come up with those heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching examples like the Machell case or, as the member for Wild Rose talked about earlier, three young families who could not pay the bills.

Why is it that we never hear anything like that from the other side? Everything we hear from the other side is that everything is fine, everything is great, don't worry, be happy. It is really confusing when we hear those kinds of things.

My colleague used some examples. I would like to give another example about spending priorities. This is something my colleague talked about, the parole system, and obviously an area that I am working in. I want to ask the member a simple question. Would it not be better if we took that $100 million, $200 million or $300 million that it is going to cost taxpayers for gun registration and put it into real, meaningful programs such as expanding police forces? I worked for the city of Saskatoon police and they have had to shut down their community police station, cut back because they cannot pay the bills. Would we not be better to target those dollars to areas where they could do far more good?

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question. I think it is an important one about misguided funds. All of us in the House are concerned about the criminal justice system in this country. For goodness sake, we have had handgun control for many, many years and it has not prevented murders in this country.

When we are talking about rehabilitation and early detection programs, I think the Canadian public would honestly believe that instead of taxing duck hunters and law abiding citizens of the country, because that is who the government is going after with its gun registration, why not direct that money toward a criminal justice system that works. That is what we should do. That is what the Canadian public is clearly telling us as legislators to do.

My friend also raised the issue of the Machell case, the horrendous story of a person who was on day parole who committed a double homicide in my riding. I do not think I mentioned it in my remarks, but because of the lack of action by this government on the parole system in this country, I introduced a private member's motion dealing specifically with ensuring that there is a zero tolerance policy for those people who are tardy, who do not show up or report while on parole. Zero tolerance means that if they are not at their halfway house at the assigned time, there would be a Canada-wide warrant put out immediately for them.

I feel that there is a reluctance on the part of the government and the House to accept such a policy. When we put the facts together about the two Grono family members who were murdered in cold blood by a person who was on parole, the government said: “No, we think our parole system should be geared toward the likes of Kevin Machell. ” It favours Kevin Machell over the Gronos. Now, that is wrong. It is just plain wrong.

If the government is to give the benefit of the doubt in any parole case, give it to the victims and the law-abiding citizens of Canada. Why does the government insist on giving the benefit of the doubt to the criminals, the Kevin Machells of Canada who murder and rape citizens of this country. It does not make sense.

For goodness sake, Liberal government, get your priorities straight.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to debate the prebudget motion with respect to the report of the Standing Committee on Finance.

I have had experience with the committee since I sit on it as an associate member and I have attended many of its hearings. I appeared before it in my former capacity as a taxpayer advocate. I know the kinds of people who generally appear before the finance committee tend to be special interest pleaders, people with a particular focus or point to make to the government and legislators. These people are all well intentioned, as are all members of the legislature.

However, it strikes me that all too often the people who appear before the finance committee in its prebudget hearings do not speak about the kind of real economic pain that is being felt by so many Canadians in a very personal and tangible way. Nor is that pain reflected in any way in the actual report of the finance committee which speaks about big issues. It talks about debt, government spending priorities and so forth.

At the end of the day that document and, I would suggest the fiscal and budgetary policies of the government, do not really reflect a compassionate view of the priorities of Canadians.

I have stood many times in this place, even though I am in my first term, to talk about the economic record of this government and to talk about the unemployment rate, the growth and the debt, the record high tax levels and referred to all the statistics. I could do that again but rather than repeat myself I will talk about some absolutely devastating tragic cases of how the fiscal priorities of this government and previous governments have led to so much pain for so many real Canadian families.

For instance, I think of friends of mine, Bernice Lee and her husband Philip, who are relatively recent immigrants to Canada from Hong Kong. Bernice and Philip have four young children and run a small mending and dry cleaning shop in downtown Edmonton in an apartment building where I used to live.

Bernice arrives at work before 6 a.m. North of Edmonton it is often dark until 9 a.m. in the winter days and it can get down to 40 below. She does not have a car. She gets there on public transport, arrives and opens up her shop. By 7 a.m. she is working away. One can walk by her store at 10 p.m. when the wind is howling outside in the winter and she is there alone, working away. Sometimes their children are there late at night, having come there from school because there is no one at home, because neither Bernice nor Philip can afford to stay at home.

Her husband Philip works on the side, I think about a $10 an hour job at a computer plant in Edmonton. He has to work the graveyard shift to add a little more to the family budget just so they can get by.

I asked Bernice one day how their business was going. They bought it the year before. I just noticed that she was working so terribly hard and had nobody there to help her. I asked her how it was going and she looked at me with almost tears in her eyes. I don't think she had really thought about that before. She said they were barely hanging on and she was so disappointed because she said they were working so hard but were hardly able to keep the business going.

The tragedy is this business represents the hopes and dreams and aspirations of this family in coming to Canada. The Canadian dream for them was that by making sacrifices, by working hard, by playing by the rules, they might be able to get ahead and make a better life for their children, but she said to me that she could not understand why a family in their circumstances had the kind of tax burden they had.

She said to me that if it were not for the taxes she had to pay, not just the small business tax and the income taxes and the consumption taxes but also the local property taxes and the provincial taxes, if not for the several thousands of dollars her very small one person business had to pay, she would be able to hire somebody to come in and help her, do the hard manual work of her business. That would allow her, instead of working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and beyond, six days a week, to maybe take a day off or to go home at a reasonable hour to spend the evening with her children and her husband. But she does not have that ability because her business does not have the disposable income.

There is a reason it does not have the disposable income. They are getting enough business to do that sort of thing, but they are not able to keep the money they are earning because of the fiscal priorities of the federal government. This is the human impact. People like Bernice are working well into the night. What were formally one income families have become two income families. Children who 30 years ago used to be able to go home to a parental home after school are now going home to empty houses. Why? Both parents are out in the workforce trying to run their businesses, trying to do their jobs to pay for the tax bill, to furnish the funds this government thinks are so absolutely necessary for all the programs and bureaucracy it operates.

I ask the members opposite one basic philosophical question. I used to be a Liberal. Liberals love to pride themselves on their sense of compassion.

Their sense of compassion is to take money away from Bernice Lee, transfer it through some hugely expensive Ottawa bureaucracy and spit it out in other things such as over $5 billion in handouts to major corporations like Bombardier, grants to special interest groups so they can plead here in Ottawa for more money to fuel their special interests, and huge programs that create disincentives to work, to save and to invest in parts of the country. That is what they take money away from Bernice Lee to do.

The question I ask in this debate is a very simple question but a profoundly important one. Do the members of the government really believe they know better how to spend a dollar that Bernice Lee earns than she does? Do they believe that what they would with an extra dollar out of her till will produce a greater social benefit for her and her family than that dollar left in her pocketbook?

Do they believe hiring another bureaucrat to administer another distant program in Ottawa is going to do more for Mrs. Lee than her ability to hire somebody to come in and help her take care of her business? Do they believe that another dollar in another grant program is going to do more for the economy and create jobs than Mrs. Lee can do in her own business? That is what this debate is about.

We can talk about the statistics and the numbers, the 9% unemployment, the 16% youth unemployment, the $100 billion they have added to the debt and the 73% debt to GDP ratio. We can talk about all the statistics and numbers we want and the Liberals are wonderful at doing that. However, when it comes to people, real people and the lives they are living in this country, why can we not afford to change our priorities and to let people like Mrs. Lee keep more of what belongs to them? That is ultimately what this debate is about.

It is about who the money belongs to. Does it belong to the government? Does it belong to the Liberal Party of Canada? Does it belong to politicians and bureaucrats who think they know better how to spend that money than the Canadians who earn it? Does it belong to the people who make sacrifices to raise their families and to leave a better life to their children than they had themselves?

I just want to say, in this debate as we prepare for the budget next year, I hope the members of the government will start to listen to people like Mrs. Lee and will start to put their priorities where they belong by letting people keep a little more of their own money. That really would provide the kind of hope that people like Mrs. Lee need to hang on a little longer to help their families get by.