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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.

Topics

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is no unanimous consent.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Point of order.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I do not know how there can be a point of order rising out this, but I will hear the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that earlier in the day we had this very point raised. My question to you, is the member allowed to continue to raise this and bring it up when we know, as a fact, not everyone in this House supports it? If they will go to—

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Shame, shame.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. Members rise from time to time in the House and seek unanimous consent to do various things. The fact that the same question may have been asked earlier is irrelevant. The question is whether there is consent now.

The member asked for that consent. There was no consent. There is no consent.

Questions and comments.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

Thank you Mr. Speaker. It is never too late to do the right thing.

Party politics aside, I would like to make a few comments and ask a question to the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

In this debate on issues which may enable the government to come up with a more rational budget, one that will better meet the needs of our fellow Canadians, the hon. member said a number of times that people told him this or that.

In the latest surveys, given that our colleagues in the Bloc continue to constitutionalize things here in the House of Commons and given that 86% of the people of Quebec are saying they have had their fill of the endless constitutional debates, does not, in fact, what we call Quebec's ambivalence concern the fact that what we put forward in the latest election campaign, the so-called Canadian pact, with the objectives of meeting the real needs of Canadians, not require us, rather than saying we are going to scrap one government and improve another, do people not recognize in this approach, in its ambivalence, which may not really exist, the fact that, when they find the two governments unsatisfactory, they can still, through their representatives define their priorities with one of the two governments and call for a consensus with the two levels of government to act in areas they consider important, such as industry, tourism, highway infrastructures and other urgent matters?

Quebeckers' common sense dictates that a balance be struck between the two levels of government. When 86% of Quebeckers tell us they are sick and tired of hearing about the Constitution left and right day after day, I think this means that we, as elected representatives, must try to act rationally, decide together what our priorities should be for each level of government and, if at all possible, put all available resources behind achieving objectives that they hold dear.

One can fake it only so far. In 1993, the Bloc Quebecois said it would get elected to hold real power. That is quite interesting. What is real power? Let us see the facts in two columns.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

You should talk, with your five members in Quebec.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

An hon. member

What about the Conservatives?

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

Let us talk about the Conservatives. I am not ashamed of the PC's record from 1974 to 1984, before we came to power. It could not be so bad if I got elected in Chicoutimi. That is reality.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague what is more important: to try to bring down one government or another or to try to set our main priorities together in such a way that we can meet them?

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, it seems funny, but it is sad, because the speech I just heard is what my father used to say to me in the 1960s. The Conservative slant, the new joint management slant. It is the same bloody system with the federal government running the show.

It is exactly what we heard from the Minister of Human Resources Development on the Canadian social union. This proves once again that the federal Conservatives and Liberals are one and the same.

I am one of the 80% of Quebeckers they say are tired of constitutional debates. We are tired of constitutional debates, but we want the choice of Quebeckers to be made democratically. We reached 49.4% last time, and we are carrying on the democratic battle. More and more Quebeckers understand that the federal system does not work.

There is going to be another two day federal-provincial conference, where the federal government's centralizing power, as soon as money becomes available, will again want to put it somewhere, which is the very same formula as the Conservatives'. The Conservatives' joint management approach was not, in the last election program, chosen by the majority of Quebeckers as far as I know. They have 5 members in Quebec, while the Bloc Quebecois has 44. That is the quantifiable and official result.

Mr. Speaker, I agree I must conclude my response, but the comment took time. I can tell you that the greatest service Quebeckers and Canadians can offer each other is to decide to resolve the constitutional debate so that in the future we can debate social and economic choices and no longer need to deal with the issue of the country's architecture.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time this afternoon with the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House today on the finance committee's report, an initiative in which I have been actively involved.

First let me say that I am very proud to be the vice-chair of the finance committee, one which worked under the direction of the member for Vaughan—King—Aurora and with Canadians from coast to coast to coast to ensure that the Minister of Finance has a clear presentation of Canadians' priorities, values and expectations for the upcoming budget.

This prebudget consultation is evidence that once again the Liberal government has delivered on its promise to provide Canadians with good government, to provide Canadians with a government that listens and then acts, a government that involves Canadians in the process so that the very people who are affected by government policies are actually there and choosing these new priorities for the economic realities and providing the very recommendations on how to achieve those new realities. This involvement of all Canadians in the decision making process ensures that we have the benefit of their knowledge, their experience and that we achieve the best possible outcomes.

Unlike previous years, this year's prebudget consultations centred around the fact that Canadians for the first time in decades will not be faced with a deficit. On October 15 the finance minister announced that no later than 1998-1999 fiscal year we would begin this new era which presents Canadians with new choices and challenges. The country cheered. This dialogue and this optimism carried throughout the provinces.

In each of our meetings in the provincial capitals and here in Ottawa I was encouraged to hear that Canadians are more optimistic about their own futures and the futures of their children and grandchildren.

As a result of our international performance we heard that Canadians have a positive outlook about our future as a nation and as a world leader. There is no doubt that this optimism is the product of the Liberal government's actions to set a new course for Canada, to eliminate the deficit and to restore Canada's fiscal health. This optimism arises from the fact that Canadians know that at long last they have a government that cares about their priorities and is working co-operatively to ensure that all Canadians have an improved quality of life.

As the committee heard time and time again, Canadians approve of the direction the government has taken and understand the decisions that have been made. Canadians have made sacrifices and they have supported the government's focus over the last four years on eliminating that deficit, on restoring fiscal health and at the same time making positive targeted measures to improve the quality of life for Canadians. They know that this renewed focus, this changed focus in fact will ensure that present and future generations have room to move and react to situations as they arise.

Canada was built on principles of sharing, caring, fairness and equity. These are the parameters within which we held our debate. In preparing the report the finance committee considered more than 500 witnesses and 450 written briefs. These appearances and submissions coupled with the town hall meetings held by many of my colleagues in this House make this the most extensive prebudget consultation session ever.

In my own riding of Burlington, Ontario more than 60 people joined with me for a good evening's discussion about the issues. I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and creativity with which they tackled this debate.

Perhaps most interesting to me is the reaffirmation of the sense of balance that Canadians have and want. Participants in Burlington and across Canada focused on the importance of decreasing the debt, ensuring that we have increased financial security and stability, and at the same time Canadians wanted increased investment in Canada's greatest resource, its people. They want the government to invest in research in preparing Canadians for the future economy. They want investment in health care and children. Children deserve to have every and equal opportunity to succeed in Canada.

The finance committee heard from Canadians on how to find that balance, to protect Canadians of today and provide for Canadians of tomorrow. In making our recommendations members of the finance committee dealt with three main options available to them, to use the surplus to further reduce the debt, to introduce a major tax cut as was done with mixed reviews in Ontario, and to increase spending on social programs.

Members of the House I am sure are interested to know that the answers from Canadians were that they feel very strongly about maintaining the programs we have which they have come to count on, but more often than not and in a very large measure Canadians lent their support to reducing the debt first and foremost.

In my own riding 87% of the people at our meeting were in favour of reducing the debt, leaving a small percentage of people who supported an across the board tax cut. In further discussing these ideas however it appears that Canadians wanted this investment and support in social programs for health care, for education, support for those in our communities in need, for fairness for seniors and those who are disabled.

These are the things that make us uniquely Canadian. Canadians supported our job creation focus, our emphasis over the last few years on getting the environment right so that job creation will occur and focusing on youth employment opportunities and on the infrastructure program. They hope this job creation focus will continue because too many Canadians still are lacking that opportunity which they need to make sure they can provide for their families and to contribute to our economy.

Four years of responsible government have produced positive results. As we all know the numbers, more than 1,012,000 have been created. Our commitment continues in ensuring that every Canadian who wants a job will have that opportunity.

Generally the finance committee's recommendations reflect the need to maintain fiscal prudence and at the same time to invest in those initiatives that meet the social and economic needs of Canadians, including enhanced debt reduction, continued targeted tax relief, increased investment in science and technology and health care, as well as the urgent need to reduce child poverty and youth unemployment.

Far too many very low income people in Canada are paying taxes. While we have delivered targeted tax relief, while we have enhanced the working income supplement, we must continue in this vein to take that pressure off. We have that recommendation on the surtax. While it was perhaps misunderstood by some of the people who reported on it, it was across the board that this surtax was being charged and we must begin to deliver that relief.

Many presenters talked about the brain drain and the lack of research opportunities that exist for Canadian young people at home.

They also talked about the precarious position we are putting ourselves in as an economy vis-à-vis other nations in that we must ensure we are making the investment for the future in those high tech industries and businesses that are making way for all Canadians. The innovation fund has done great things but we have to enhance that culture of investment and research.

All Canadians have made sacrifices to ensure Canada's fiscal health and independence are restored. I want to thank them for that. I thank all the people who were involved in this process of prebudget consultation: my colleagues in the House of Commons, those on the finance committee, the staff of the finance committee, in particular our clerk and researchers and, most important, our committee chair, the member for Vaughan—King—Aurora. His staff deserves the credit for ensuring the report was co-ordinated, for ensuring the t s were crossed and the i s dotted.

I thank those Canadians who participated in the committee hearings in the cities where I had the pleasure of chairing the meetings, Regina, Winnipeg, Montreal, Fredericton and Charlottetown, and especially in Burlington. Presenters shared with us their very personal experiences and their incredible expertise.

To my colleagues from all parties who listened with great care in those meetings and who asked thoughtful questions, the pace was somewhat intense but the spirit of co-operation and of shared purpose was excellent. The results of the work of this committee speak for themselves. Canadians have a unique opportunity now. They appreciate that opportunity and they have told us very clearly what their priorities and values are. We encourage the minister to pay attention to the report and to implement those suggestions.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for the hon. member. On behalf of some of the constituents I have talked to I would like a little help regarding math. I used to teach math and I am having a problem with this one.

In 1993 there were 1.5 million people unemployed. In 1997 approximately 1.3 million people are unemployed. It sounds like we have had a net increase of about 200,000. We hear this all the time, we have created over a million jobs, aren't we wonderful? Could the member explain why we still have approximately the same amount of people unemployed today that we had in 1993.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I understood the member's question. Perhaps it was my interpretation of the math. I think he suggested that 1.5 million were unemployed in 1993 and that 1.3 million are unemployed now. Then he suggested that was an increase. Could he clarify that point.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, there were 1.5 million unemployed in 1993 and there are 1.3 million unemployed in 1997. That means 200,000 jobs have been filled. Not over a million, but 200,000 jobs have been filled. Therefore it has come down from 1.5 million to 1.3 million.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member clarified that point. Earlier he implied there was an increase in unemployment instead of a decrease. He needs to recognize that the economy has grown, that there are more Canadians in the workplace as we have more generations graduating from university and more citizens.

The numbers speak for themselves. Over one million jobs have been created in this country and there has been a decrease in the overall unemployment rate across the board for Canadians. In Burlington the unemployment rate is somewhere around 7% or better. There are opportunities at home and abroad. Burlington residents and many residents across Canada feel a willingness and optimism in going after new markets and new opportunities. This is demonstrated by the prime minister's terrific Team Canada missions and our focus on increased opportunity in the very competitive international market. These missions have demonstrated that Canadians can compete and will continue to do that.

I encourage the member to look at those numbers again and to keep that math straight.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say to my colleague that she must be living in a different country from the one the rest of us live in.

In the report that was obtained, and written up in Sunday's Citizen and yesterday's Le Devoir , it says that the government also knows that Canada is far from being the best country in the world as far as growth and development are concerned.

With research and higher education shown in this report to be extremely important for future development, how can the member explain that this government has made cuts to education and to research and innovation budgets? Their recommendation is for a gradual increase, when needs are acute.

What we learn from this study ordered from on high by the government is that, although Canada appears to have high growth, it is growth that does little to increase productivity. Even Canada is down in relative productivity, with the result that the standard of living is dropping. If radical changes are not made, Canada is going to find itself in an extremely difficult situation—

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time allotted for questions and comments has almost expired. The member for Burlington.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's comments.

There was definitely a call for increased spending on research. Canada needs to do more to focus on that innovative economy. We heard it in Montreal, in Toronto and all across the country. I firmly believe in that. Many people in my riding are dependent on that research. They are fulfilling the research requirements of the nation. They are encouraging the country to do more.

We have had to make some tough decisions over the last few years, but we have still managed to have the best country for all Canadians to live in. We will—

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I regret to interrupt both hon. members, but the time for questions and comments has expired.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the federal representative of the constituents of Kitchener Centre and as a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, it is a pleasure to take part in the prebudget debate.

On November 13 I held a town hall meeting in Kitchener to gather input from my constituents. Throughout the months of October and November the finance committee held 42 meetings totalling 101 hours. It heard 514 witnesses and received 463 briefs on this subject.

In response to the chair's challenge to all 301 members of Parliament to hold public consultations, 35 town hall meetings were held as well as the one which I held in Kitchener Centre. In addition, we received personal comments over the website for the finance minister, as well as several phone calls and many letters.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work of my colleagues on both sides of the House, the fair hearing we heard from witnesses and the sincere and thoughtful participation by all members of the finance committee.

The message was heard loud and clear both at my town hall meeting and during the committee meetings we held across the country. We heard many things from Vancouver to St. John's. Some strong themes came through. We heard from a diverse range of individuals with different concerns. We heard from economists who told us that we needed to look at debt reduction. In Alberta we heard from a disabled woman who was forced to choose between food and medicine.

“Keeping the Balance” is a reflection of what we heard. This government is committed to maintaining a balance between the collective good and freedom while providing for those in need. This government has shown leadership in consulting with Canadians. There has been widespread support for the prudent estimates put forth by the Minister of Finance. Canadians would rather err on the side of prudence than find themselves in a situation similar to the one in which we found ourselves in 1993.

However we are now in a position, after having reduced our economic deficit, to address the outstanding human deficit.

As the Minister of Finance said during his presentation to the committee, this is not simply a question of budgets and their size. It is a question also of what government does and how it does it.

The debate should be about national priorities, about how best to build a strong economy and a strong society, one of both opportunity and security. Some see the discussion as a financial debate only, but it is not. It is also a debate about values.

Many recommendations were made to the committee which are reflected in “Keeping the Balance”.

There was an intriguing correlation that emerged from the remarks the minister made in Vancouver and the comments and concerns that were echoed to our committee as we travelled across Canada and also ones very similar to those that I heard from my constituents in Kitchener Centre. I would like to review a few of these issues. Time and time again, some of these themes rose throughout our process.

Canada is known worldwide for our health system and the integrity we have placed in maintaining the five principles of the Canada Health Act. Our treasured health care system was created because there was a need. Canadians are telling us these needs have grown due to our aging population among other factors. To address this need, the government should establish in co-operation with the provinces, health care providers and local communities new approaches to health care such as a national home care system.

This government has done much to address the needs of the disabled in the community. However, much remains to be done. I believe we must continue working with groups representing persons with disabilities to ensure that measures recently announced are effective and to find further ways of helping Canadians with disabilities.

We have been hearing cries for action to curb child poverty, to ensure Canadian children are not going hungry. This government has put in place a number of safeguards. However, we still have hungry children.

In partnership with communities, parents, provincial governments, private corporations, the agri-food industry and volunteer organizations such as the Canadian Living Foundation, we can create a national school nutrition program. This type of partnership approach could apply to other organizations and initiatives as well.

In communities across Canada, people are concerned about our youth. The ministerial task force on youth in 1996 made a number of recommendations which Canadians would like to see endorsed. The committee heard about them. We are pleased to recommend that additional funding be made available for the Youth Service Canada and student summer job creation programs, both of which provide opportunities for youth to enter the workforce and offer valuable work experience.

In keeping with improving the future of our youth, we have recommended a deferred credit formula for registered education savings plans which would offer student beneficiaries a federal grant calculated on a percentage of the total RESP contributions. This grant would be distributed in equal amounts in each year of the post-secondary program. This would create an incentive for parents to plan for their children's education.

The incredible debt burden weighing on the shoulders of many recent graduates from post-secondary institutions can take many years to pay, sometimes impeding their ability to enter the job market. That is why I support the recommendation that the federal and provincial governments offer students a debt repayment schedule that is based on income with features that would include interest relief, deferred grants and debt forgiveness. This would go a long way in reducing the burden on youth entering the workforce.

Very few individuals we heard from during our consultations called for income tax cuts at this time. Their priority lay in stabilizing our economy. However it was suggested that we increase the basic personal non-refundable tax credits amount, the spousal amount and the equivalent to spousal amount for the 1998 taxation year. I support this recommendation. In future when the fiscal situation improves and permits, I strongly support reintroducing indexation.

From coast to coast we heard Canadians asking for a reduction in employment insurance premiums to balance the upcoming increase in CPP payments to ease the load on small business owners. This is one recommendation on which the finance minister has already acted.

On October 21, in co-operation with the Minister of Human Resources Development, the Minister of Finance announced the second largest drop in EI payments in 20 years, to $2.70 per $100 of insurable earnings for 1998, 20¢ below the 1997 rate. This is a savings of $1.4 billion for employers and employees. With a promise of lower rates when the economic climate permits and to take measures to ensure EI premiums are not raised during an economic downturn, this will offer Canadians greater stability.

An additional request from small business owners is to review the small business deduction and the appropriateness of the $200,000 threshold level. This is in keeping with the government's intention to offer targeted tax relief. It is important that we recognize this need to enable small businesses to grow and prosper in the future.

The last but certainly not the least of the recommendations I would like to cover today is the investment in the future of our research and development sector. In my mind this includes medical research, technological advancement, academic and cultural development. There are so many facets to our social make-up that require the support of continuing development.

Through the support and partnership of the federal government, I look forward to seeing our commitment to research and development grow. It is through these commitments that we will keep our knowledge based industries in Canada. The result will mean that our society will gain both economically and socially.

In conclusion, I have only grazed the surface of the results of the consultations. However, one thing is clear. Canadians are proud of the leadership of this government and the hard decisions that it has made. There is a widespread sense of relief that the deficit has been wrestled down. Canadians have told us that they are prepared to see strategic and responsible investments in areas where it will be demonstrated there is value for the dollars spent. This government aims to do that through our 50:50 plan of investment and debt reduction.

Many of the recommendations call for increased co-operation and partnership between levels of government and the private and voluntary sectors. I feel strongly about partnerships. This government has placed great value and energy in building and maintaining healthy partnerships which will enable these visions to become a reality.

The government is committed to working on restoring and keeping the balance. This document is one step forward in that process.

Committees Of The HouseGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

When debate resumes there will be five minutes of questions and comments following the hon. member's speech.

We will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Holiday GreetingsStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry McCormick Liberal Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to wish holiday greetings to my colleagues on both sides of the floor.

My riding of Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington is a rural riding. Holidays are important to each of us because they bring people together in celebration. In the countryside where people live in greater isolation, holidays often become community events.

In my small village of Camden East, we constructed a crèche near the river. At this time of year farmers bring livestock and the scene of the first Christmas is re-enacted and carols are sung by neighbours, friends and visitors.

I want to acknowledge the countless volunteers in communities right across HFL and A and indeed across the country who provide inspiration, leadership and organizational skills to make these events happen.

WestaimStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, Westaim is a successful corporation with a major plant in my riding. For 30 years it has been supplying Canada and many other countries around the world with high quality materials from which coins are stamped.

The company has had an exceptionally good working relationship with the Canadian Mint providing blanks for most of Canada's coins, including the $1 and $2 coins. But the Canadian Mint has now been authorized to spend $30 million to build a plant in Winnipeg to compete with Westaim.

The government's claims of savings are greatly exaggerated. Furthermore, when we were told that this will create 100 to 130 jobs in Winnipeg, no mention was made of potential job losses in my riding.

It is a mystery. Why would the government risk $30 million to get into a business which is in a worldwide state of oversupply and which could result in the loss of up to 100 jobs in my riding?

Tribute To Father Gérald MauzerollStatements By Members

December 11th, 1997 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Assad Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to Father Gérald Mauzeroll, a resident of Masson-Angers in the riding of Gatineau, who has been serving as a missionary in Brazil for a number of years and who is to receive tomorrow the award of the human rights defence council from the government in Sao Paulo.

His devotion to the disenfranchised of Brazil and his pastoral duties among prisoners promote the cause of human dignity.

Father Mauzeroll has also done special work in the parish of Vila Fatima, where he helped create the human rights centre. His work in Brazil is supported by a team of priests in the dioceses of Ottawa, Mont-Laurier and Gatineau—Hull.

Our congratulations and best wishes to Gérald Mauzeroll.