Is it agreed?
House of Commons Hansard #161 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.
House of Commons Hansard #161 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.
Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)
Is it agreed?
Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings
Some hon. members
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
April 22nd, 1997 / 11:35 a.m.
Scarborough East Ontario
Doug Peters Liberalfor the minister of Finance
moved that Bill C-93, an Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 1997, be read the third time and passed.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
London West Ontario
Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue
Madam Speaker, it is with enthusiasm that I begin the debate for third reading on Bill C-93, the omnibus bill implementing the budget for 1997. As we know, this legislation will ensure the implementation of a whole series of measures introduced in the budget tabled in February 1997.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance has spoken in support of the legislation on previous occasions prior to second reading and when the legislation was reviewed by the Standing Committee on Finance.
It must of course be remembered that before this bill was introduced for passage in the House, the issues it deals with were broadly discussed in the debate over the last budget.
Since these issues have already been discussed at length, my comments will be brief, and I hope my colleagues will pass this bill shortly.
As I have already said, the 1997 budget not only builds on the government's remarkable progress in putting its fiscal house in order but makes first class strategic investments for the benefit of Canada and Canadians. The bill before us today will allow these investments to be made.
It will invest in immediate employment and growth by enhancing the ability of small businesses to create new jobs. It will invest in long term jobs and growth by improving Canada's infrastructure for innovation. It will invest in a stronger society and improve support for children in low income and lower income families.
As I have said before in the House these issues should not be divided along partisan lines. On the contrary, they should bring us together with an urgent and truly national sense of purpose. I can think of no more worthy a national purpose than our country's children, particularly those children who are not getting everything they need for a proper start in their lives.
Bill C-93 takes an important step in advancing the welfare of these children now that fiscal improvement has given us some scope for renewed social investment. The bill will pave the way for a national child benefit system by launching an enriched child tax benefit. Under the proposed approach the enrichment of this federal benefit will enable the provinces and territories to redirect some of their spending to better services and benefits for low income working families.
The enrichment of the current $5.1 billion child tax benefit to create a new $6 billion Canada child tax benefit will take place in two stages. Effective this July the working income supplement will be enriched by $195 million or $70 million more than that proposed last year. This will directly translate into an increase in the maximum working income supplement from $500 per family regardless of size to $605 for families with one child, $1,010 for those with two children and $1,440 for those with three children. A further $330 will be paid for each additional child.
The second stage will occur in July 1998 when the working income supplement will be combined with an enriched child tax benefit to form the Canada child tax benefit. The maximum benefit for low income families will be $1,625 to the one-child family, $3,050 to two-child families and increasing by $1,425 for each additional child.
Overall more than 1.4 million Canadian families with 2.5 million children will see an increase in federal child benefit payments by July 1998.
The government is committed to doing more for Canada's children as the resources become available. In the meantime, I am confident that no hon. member can object to the increase in benefits for children proposed under Bill C-93. It is fitting that children be a priority of the government, not only because they are the most vulnerable in our society but because they are in a very literal way our nation's future, society's future.
Bill C-93 proposes other investments in Canada's future, including one of the most important initiatives we have seen in recent years for long term growth and jobs in the country. I am referring to the Canada foundation for innovation.
It has become commonplace to acknowledge that education, knowledge and innovation are keys to seizing the economic opportunities of tomorrow, but scientific knowledge and industrial innovation demand a commitment to research. The foundation will provide much needed financial support for research infrastructure at Canadian post-secondary education institutions and research hospitals in the areas of health, the environment, science and engineering.
What is more, the federal government's $800 million investment in the foundation could lead to as much as $2 billion in needed investment in research infrastructure through partnerships with research institutions, the private sector and/or the provinces.
The foundation for innovation has been widely hailed as an important measure to enhance Canada's longer term growth and job prospects, but Bill C-93 also includes initiatives that will help Canadians who want and need jobs. I am referring in particular to the new hires program which will provide employment insurance premium relief to small firms that create new jobs this year and those that create new jobs in 1998.
Under the bill eligible firms, those with less than $60,000 in EI premiums in 1996, will pay virtually no employer premiums for new employees hired this year. They will benefit from a 25 per cent reduction in premiums for new employees in the year to come.
The new hires program, together with the general 1997 EI premium rate reductions, is expected to generate as many as 20,000 new jobs in Canada.
Bill C-93 includes a broad range of proposed measures. Others in the Chamber have spoken about this legislation at earlier readings and I have confined my remarks today to those which carry broad significance for a large number of those of us living and working in this country.
However, the other elements of Bill C-93 are nevertheless important to the stakeholders they affect. They include measures that will discourage tobacco consumption, provide greater self-reliance and autonomy over taxation to First Nation bands and measures to help assure the continued viability of a national airline in a way that is fiscally responsible and, at the same time, competitively equitable.
I have outlined today an important and widely beneficial piece of legislation, good news legislation, whose merits are apparent and whose review by the House have been extensive. I urge all members, all colleagues on all sides of the House, to give support to this worthy bill, C-93.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Richard Bélisle Bloc La Prairie, QC
Madam Speaker, Bill C-93 is an Act to implement the 1997 budget. I will describe its major elements.
Compared to the billions of dollars cut from social transfers and taken from the unemployment insurance fund, the meagre $50 million spent this year on the child benefit sounds like a drop in the bucket. This is the extent of the compassion felt by the Minister of Finance for the poor children of this country. We will not see the $600 million announced until 1998-99, while we now have 1.5 million children living in poverty in Canada.
The Minister of Finance could have taken advantage of the present favourable conditions to lower UI premium rates by three or four times as much in order to really create jobs while spending the billions of dollars in the UI fund to increase the protection lost in the wake of the employment insurance reform.
The Minister of Finance could also have taken advantage of those three and a half years in his portfolio to undertake a real reform of corporate and personal taxation, as the Bloc Québécois has been calling for since the beginning.
We know, for example, that he could have used up to $3 billion per year from corporate tax expenditures to support small and medium size business which create jobs, as we demonstrated last November.
The minister could have done all this and more while getting the deficit down to zero by the year 2000 thanks to the government's room to manoeuvre, the extent of which the finance minister is trying to hide from us.
This budget is hiding the true face of deficit reduction. On page 7 of the budget speech, the minister claims, and I quote:
-we will meet our objectives, as in the past, by focusing on getting spending right-not by raising taxes.
The truth is the minister has hardly done anything to better manage government finances. The brunt of his deficit reduction has been borne by the taxpayers, who, in the last four years, have had to put up with $2 billion in tax increases and $14 billion in cuts, over half of which were made to transfer payments to the provinces.
Departmental operating expenditures were reduced by only $3 billion or 8 per cent between 1993-94 and 1997-98, while transfers to the provinces were cut by 27 per cent during the same period.
To stimulate job creation, the minister is announcing a scant $25 million-or one dollar per Canadian-in new money, including $15 million for tourism and $10 million to connect the region to the Internet, compared to the billions he can play with. I would say the budget the minister brought down is anti-jobs.
As I said before, this budget is full of misinformation, especially when it comes to the finance minister's forecast of the amount of money at his disposal.
He is hiding something. The deficit cannot have dropped by a mere $2 billion between 1997 and 1998 when it fell by $9.6 billion between 1996 and 1997. The minister is hiding behind a margin which he narrows deliberately to justify his inaction and the absence of true job creation measures. Most of all, he is hiding the real anticipated deficit for 1998-99 in order to avoid taking a stand on an extremely important question before the next election, that is, what to do with the eventual surpluses.
We should have commended the minister for the $800 million spent on setting up the Canada Foundation for Innovation, but we suspected all along that there was something fishy. Not surprisingly, transfers to the provinces for 1997-98 will be $800 million lower than anticipated in the 1996 budget, mainly because the economic situation has improved.
Instead of giving the money to the provinces, the federal government is using it to create a foundation which duplicates and competes with measures already implemented by the provinces. Finally, there is not a single word about compensating Quebec for the harmonization of the GST in 1991, even though it would be appropriate given the $1 billion paid to the maritimes.
This is clearly a pre-election budget. The minister does not shy away from repeating, in the budget, all the good news already announced over the last few months, but he keeps silent on the $4 billion in cuts to take effect this year. In our opinion, the Minister of Finance is showing a total lack of respect for the voters by offering them "electoral goodies" when he just cut social programs in a very unreasonable way.
All the new initiatives of the federal government really infringe on the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec, adding to duplication, overlap, inefficiencies and costs, naturally borne by all taxpayers. The game the government is playing is very simple: cut ruthlessly in social transfer payments and implement new initiatives, often partisan in nature, without any regard for the common good.
Having created new social programs, the federal government withdraws its financing unilaterally, but continues to insist on so-called national standards.
The Minister of Finance did not revise his deficit forecast for the next two years, he is keeping it at $17 billion for 1998 and $9 billion for 1999, although he was more than $5 billion under target for 1996-1997, that is $19 billion instead of the $24.3 billion forecast. Therefore, the minister is allowing himself considerable leeway and his measures for employment and the fight against poverty are ridiculous when you compare them to what could have been done while, at the same time, aiming for a zero deficit in year 2000.
The Bloc Quebecois believes that the Minister of Finance has $8 billion to work with this year, 1997-98. He is one year ahead of his deficit reduction schedule. He will probably reach the $9 billion mark next year, instead of $17 billion, hence the $8 billion I just mentioned.
The finance minister refuses to reveal exactly how much money he can play with, because he does not want to be pressured by the provinces and by public and labour associations that would ask him to refinance social transfers to the provinces, which have been greatly reduced, as we have seen.
Thus, from 1993-94 to 1997-98, the deficit has dropped from $42 billion to $17 billion, a $25 billion reduction. To achieve this, revenues were increased by $22 billion and spending was cut by $14 billion.
Consequently, over 52 per cent of the $14.2 billion reduction in program spending between 1994 and 1998 comes from reductions in transfers to other government levels, mainly the provinces.
We know how the Quebec government's budget was directly affected by these transfer reductions. Between 1993-94 and 1998-99, the deficit will have fallen from $42 billion to $9 billion, a $33 billion reduction. In this case, to achieve this, revenues will be increased by $28 billion and spending reduced by $16.5 billion.
We may conclude that over 49 per cent of the $16.5 billion reduction in program spending between 1994 and 1999 comes from reductions in transfers to other government levels, mainly the provinces.
Since the Liberals came to office, personal income taxes have grown faster than the economy, than the GDP. This increase in the personal tax burden does not come from a review of the tax system, which the Bloc Quebecois had asked for in order to increase fairness. On the contrary, it comes especially from several subtle tax increases, such as the non-indexing of tax tables and credits.
The cuts announced in the 1994, 1995 and 1996 budgets will reduce the federal deficit by $4.6 billion this year. We may then talk about $4.6 billion in cuts and tax increases that were announced in the past, but that will come into effect this year. In 1998-99, the cuts announced in the past will reduce the deficit by $28.9 billion, that is $2.8 billion more than in 1997-98 and $7.4 billion more than in 1996-97.
The finance minister has gotten into the habit of putting off his bad news until later. But, in his 1997 budget, he bragged that he was announcing no new cuts or tax increases. Nevertheless, there
are $4.6 billion in cuts and tax increases being implemented this year, as announced in the three previous budgets.
An election year is no time for the Liberals to spend billions. By artificially increasing future deficits, the Minister of Finance has avoided setting off a debate on the use of possible future budgetary surpluses. Indeed, as long as people think we are still deeply in debt, the Liberals can go on saying that we must stay the course.
On the other hand, if a zero deficit had been announced for 1999, the next election campaign could have centred, for example, on the use of the surpluses created in the federal government's next budget, compelling the Liberals to commit themselves on this important issue.
These past few months, several economic forecasting firms commented on future deficits. Their estimates are quite different from what the Minister of Finance predicted in his last budget. The minister already had more than $1 billion in leeway this year, in 1997. Moreover, we are heading toward a $9 billion deficit in 1998, rather than $17 billion as claimed by the minister, which will give us the $8 billion surplus that I mentioned earlier. Finally, we will have a zero deficit in 1999, at least one year ahead of schedule, which will definitely allow a surplus that could even reach $9 billion.
There is nothing very original about the infrastructure program. The federal government is investing $425 million in a second phase of the Canada infrastructure works program. This amount is in addition to the $175 million remaining from the first phase, for a total of $600 million in 1997.
The budget provides that the funds allocated to the Canadian Tourism Commission will increase by $15 million a year over the next three years. This is very little, considering that the commission's partners from the private sector are already investing more than $65 million this year. An amount of $50 million will also be set aside for the Business Development Bank of Canada, so it can help finance tourist facilities in the private sector.
The budget also provides for a $7-million increase, in 1997-98, in the funds allocated to the National Literacy Secretariat. This is somewhat ridiculous, given the efforts required and already made by the provinces, which have jurisdiction over this area.
There is nothing original about the federal government's new job creation strategy. The government is dragging its feet and proposing an antiquated job creation strategy that lacks originality and dynamism. Here is a government which got elected under the slogan "Jobs, jobs, jobs", but which no longer has any idea on how to create employment.
There is nothing in the Liberals' election-minded budget for those Quebecers and Canadians who are looking for work. In terms of new money for active job creation measures, the government is only allocating $25 million for the coming year, that is $10 million for connecting the regions to the Internet and $15 million for tourism. This amounts to less than one dollar per Canadian and less than $20 per unemployed for this year.
Yet, as we showed earlier, the Minister of Finance has a financial margin of several billion dollars. For example, he could have undertaken a review of the corporate taxation system, free up $3 billion per year, and reinvest the money in the system, so as to concretely support job creation.
The budget announces a 10-cent reduction in employment insurance premiums, as of January 1, 1998. This will bring premium rates to $2.80 per $100 for employees, and to $3.92 for employers. Such an announcement is usually made in November. The finance minister will then have the opportunity to announce this good news twice. The 10-cent reduction is much less than what it could have been, in view of the annual surpluses accumulated in the UI fund.
The accumulated surplus is large enough to allow more flexibility in the insurance eligibility rules as well as a more substantial reduction in the level of contribution. You will agree that any additional yearly surplus is a hidden tax. The estimated cost of cutting 10 cents from the contribution rate in 1998 is $700 million. When this cost is compared to the annual surplus expected to reach about $5 billion in 1998 and to the accumulated surplus that should come to about $15 billion by the end of 1998, we see that the minister is not making much of an effort.
The yearly surplus in the UI account expected for the coming years will presumably come to between $5 billion and $6 billion, basically because of the new provisions that came into effect on January 1, 1997 and make it even harder to qualify for benefits in addition to decreasing benefit levels.
Here are some figures which illustrate how little effort has gone into reducing the level of UI contributions. Each percentage point change in unemployment rates could affect the cost of the program by some $1.2 billion a year. Likewise, each-10 cent change in employee contribution rates, such as a decrease from $2.95 to $2.85 per $100 of insurable earnings, means about $700 million in contribution revenues for the government.
The last recession has engulfed about $20 billion in UI costs. However, the chief actuary, Mr. Bédard, told the Financial Post on October 1, 1996, that because of the government's permanent cuts to program spending, the next recession would not be as costly. The current and projected surpluses in the UI account are outrageous. In fact, it is thanks to workers and employers that the finance minister is able to artificially reduce his deficit. The UI contribution rates are a hidden job tax. The surplus should go into a distinct account so that it cannot be used to artificially reduce the deficit. We agree
that there should be an accumulated surplus in the unemployment insurance fund, but it should not be excessive. Relatively stable contributions are needed if we are to avoid raising contribution levels during economic downturns. Unemployment insurance contributions are by far the most important of payroll taxes.
If unemployment insurance rules in 1996 had been similar to those in 1989, only $3 billion more would have been available for the unemployed in Canada. Eligibility requirements are increasingly restrictive for maternity leaves also.
While the Government of Canada, out of compassion, is about to spend a few hundred million dollars on poor children, it is taking billions out of their parents' pockets. In 1996 alone, UI benefits were cut by $3 billion, while the Canada social transfer for health, education and welfare, the cost of which the federal government is deftly unloading onto the provinces, fell by $4.5 billion over two years.
The government has undertaken to improve the child tax benefit by injecting $600 million in new money and reallocating $250 million already announced in the 1996 budget.
This will be a two-step process. First step: in 1997, the government will increase the working income supplement, which will now be calculated per child rather than per family. The maximum annual level of the working income supplement, now set at $500 per family, will climb to $605 for the first child, $405 for the second child and $330 for the following children. This will cost $195 million in 1997-98, $125 million of which has already been included in the 1996 budget.
Second step: more concrete measures are to follow discussions with the provinces. The current proposal is to merge the tax benefit and the working income supplement into a single benefit. The increase will be higher for low income families with many children.
The interim measure and the measures to be taken in 1998 do not affect families with an income over $25,921. Also, the bill does not provide for cost-of-living adjustments.
So, from all of this, we can conclude that, after making the parents poorer by cutting the social transfer and UI benefits and failing to create jobs, the Liberal government suddenly cares about the children and has cynically decided, five years later, to recycle the money promised in 1993 for child care.
Family policy and the fight against poverty are provincial areas of jurisdiction. Continuing interference by the Canadian government in these provincial areas of jurisdiction is unacceptable to us and is hampering the implementation of a truly consistent policy by the provinces.
Thus, after ripping their shirts on the non-indexation of benefits by the Conservative government, the Liberals have yet to remedy the situation.
The Caledon Institute and anti-poverty organizations estimate that an additional $2 billion a year is a minimum needed to start fighting poverty whereas the government will spend only $850 million starting in July 1998. Thus, this measure is quite unsatisfactory.
The Liberal government is using the fight against poverty as an excuse to slash social programs like unemployment insurance and social assistance.
The Liberal government broke its promise to create new child care spaces and the money that was supposed to be spent in that regard, that is, $720 million, vanished into thin air. Will the same happen to the amounts set aside for fighting child poverty?
Lastly, the Quebec government considers this new benefit to be another interference in Quebec jurisdictions. However, Quebec can hardly reject out of hand the federal proposal to inject additional funds into programs for children, since those funds can be reallocated by the Quebec government to other programs for children.
In short, the Bloc Quebecois has already expressed its opposition to the following aspects: federal meddling in an exclusively provincial jurisdiction; the non-indexation of benefits, which hurts families with children; and replacing a sound family policy with the fight against poverty.
In pretending to follow the recommendations of the National Forum on Health, the federal government has announced additional funds of $300 million for health care, including $150 million over three years supposedly to help the provinces launch pilot projects to provide home care or drugs; $50 million over three years to put in place a national information system on health; $100 million over three years to improve existing programs, namely the Community Action Program for Children and the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program.
It is difficult to imagine, at first glance, how the program will work. Will the health minister have a veto over how the funds will be allocated? Will there be new national standards? We can be sure of one thing: health being a provincial jurisdiction, the new funds announced amount to further federal interference in a provincial area of jurisdiction.
The government ignored an important recommendation made by the National Forum on Health that cash transfers for health and social services be set at a minimum $12.5 billion, the amount
forecast for 1997-98, instead of reduced to $11 billion, as anticipated.
The new funds concern activities which are a direct provincial responsibility. It will be tempting for the federal government to implement all these policies and continue to meddle in provincial areas of jurisdiction.
In conclusion, all these examples show without a shadow of a doubt that the finance minister is not making any serious effort to help the most disadvantaged in our society, to help small businesses to grow, which would help create jobs and ensure the financial independence of families and individuals. This is exactly the opposite of what the government has done in the budget tabled by the finance minister in February.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address Bill C-93.
This legislation and much of the legislation that passes through this place is remarkable not only for what is in it but especially for what is not in it. As we approach what probably will be an election call in the next few days it is very important to take a look at the agenda put forward by the government with respect to issues that are important to Canadians, particularly economic issues.
The government blew a wonderful opportunity in this year's budget. It had a chance to get its priorities in line with the priorities of regular Canadians. As someone who has been to many different provinces this past year I can say that the government simply does not understand the priorities of the Canadian people.
I was in Moose Jaw and Saskatoon last week. I was in British Columbia the week previous to that. I will be in Toronto this week. It seems that no matter where I go Canadians have a very different agenda from that which the government has proposed.
When I talk to people I find that they have some very modest expectations. They do not ask a lot. They have very modest dreams. When I talk to people they say things like "Would it not be nice to be able to find a job? Would it not be nice to be able to set some money aside so that I can buy a house or start a family? When we start a family, would it not be nice if we could set some money aside to put the kids through school? If we chose, would it not be nice if one of us could stay home to look after the children? Ultimately, would it not be nice to set money aside for retirement?" I do not think these are exorbitant requests. They are very modest dreams. What we have run into is a succession of governments which seem to have worked against the very modest dreams which people have.
On the one hand, people want opportunities. They want the chance to do those things. On the other hand, people want some security. If they become unemployed through no fault of their own they want to know that there will be some kind of a social safety net to help them. If they become ill they want to know that the health care system will provide for them in a timely fashion. Again, those modest expectations of security are not being met by this government and they have not been met by previous governments.
Husbands want to know that when their wives go out to a parking lot at night they will not have to fear for their lives. They want to know that when their kids go to school they will return home unharmed. Many Canadians do not have that sense of security. The government should be providing that type of security through a strong criminal justice system.
I do not see those types of priorities being met by this government. Certainly I do not see that happening with this budget. The government should be castigated. The principal role of the government should be to get its priorities in line with the wishes of the Canadian people. It is simply not happening.
I want to talk a bit about where the government should be going. Governments have completely reversed their priorities over the last many years. As I pointed out, people have very modest expectations. They are not asking the government to be involved in a lot of them. They just want the government to provide opportunities. If those expectations are to be met, the government must not tax the people to death. Obviously if a person wants to buy a house, go on a vacation or set money aside to put the kids through school, the more money that is left in the pockets of the taxpayers, the better chance they have of doing that.
Somehow that pretty simple truth has alluded successive governments, including the Conservatives. They raised taxes endlessly, 71 times. This government has raised taxes 36 times. Those governments have missed the simple truth. If people are to be able to realize their very modest dreams those governments must stop picking their pockets.
Right now in Canada we have three levels of government exacting about half the paycheque of the average family of four. That makes it virtually impossible to do the sorts of things that people want to do. According to a Decima poll, 74 per cent of two income families said that if they had their druthers, if they could afford to, they would have one parent at home looking after their children.
We should respect those decisions. We should do what we can to get government priorities in line with the wishes of Canadians. Unfortunately Bill C-93 and other budget bills and legislation which has come before the House have failed to recognize how important these things are to Canadians, whom this place is supposed to serve. Governments somewhere along the line went drastically off track with what they thought they were supposed to be doing for Canadians.
Somewhere along the way we had a group of people who, admittedly, were extraordinarily well educated but determined that they knew better than Canadians themselves what was good for Canadians. Somewhere along the line, I would say 30 years ago, that happened. Since then we have seen the Ottawa agenda rise to the fore in this place and in the Senate.
As a result, instead of Canadians expecting Ottawa to represent their views, they have come to expect Ottawa to bring forward an entirely different agenda from what Canadians want for themselves.
I point to some examples of exactly what I mean. A minute ago I said that Canadians expect the government to provide them opportunity on one hand and some security on the other.
Let us look at where the federal government is at today with respect to all the different types of things it does. Is it really providing Canadians with opportunity?
In 1995 we set a record for bankruptcies in this country, an all time record. In 1996 we eclipsed that record by 20 per cent. We set a new record for bankruptcies. At the beginning of this year we are setting more records, more bankruptcies.
The finance minister tried to put a good face on it but those are alarming facts that everybody should be concerned about. That is not all. We have record debt, $600 billion worth. That is a staggering amount of money, somewhere in the range of 75 per cent of our GDP.
We will have another deficit again this year. The deficit will come in probably around $15 billion. It has been 30 years since we had a balanced budget. That is ridiculous. I cannot believe that we have staggered on as a country for that long without a balanced budget.
It does not end there. Of course where there is a $600 billion debt there are massive interest payments of $46 billion, $47 billion a year in interest that we are paying; 37 cents of every tax dollar goes to pay interest on the debt.
Flowing from that, when there are interest payments that are that high, evermore we pay taxes. That certainly is the legacy of the previous government. The Conservatives raised taxes 71 times.
A Conservative government, somebody who believes in real conservatism, would never do that. They understand that money is much more valuable in the hands of taxpayers.
Somehow conservatism got lost for the Conservatives and they embraced some other type of ideology, some other form of thinking which this government to a certain degree has also embraced. That is why we have had a further $100 billion increase in debt under the Liberal government and another 36 tax increases.
We have had all that happen. It has not been without its repercussions. I mentioned a minute ago bankruptcies. I would argue very strongly that many increases in taxes could come only from one place, from taxpayers.
There will be more bankruptcies. It is a pretty direct cause and effect relationship. One of the most startling facts I have uncovered since we have been here is the one that comes from the Fraser Institute. It tells us that since 1993 when this government came to power the average family has seen its disposable income fall by $3,000.
That to me is a shocking statistic. We should all be very concerned about it. When there are those sorts of impacts on Canadian families, is it any wonder that we have staggeringly high levels of bankruptcies?
One of the other major repercussions of record high debt, taxes, bankruptcies and all those sorts of things is unemployment of over 9 per cent for 78 months in a row. It is the worst record since the Great Depression.
Economists tell us that our economy has been growing since the early 1990s, since about 1991. We have had six years of growth. I can assure the House that there are many Canadians who have been unemployed for a long time and who have not seen that growth in the economy. For them there has no been end to the recession. The recession has continued on and on.
We have seen almost one-third of a generation grow up in a very recessionary economy. Certainly the domestic economy has been asleep for a very long time and has never fully recovered.
This should give us all pause. We should be asking ourselves why this is happening. We should also refer back to what people have told us for a long time: is it not the responsibility of the government, with respect to our economic well being, to provide us with opportunity?
I would make the argument as forcefully as I can that the Conservatives failed miserably to provide us with opportunity. Their record is shameful, sorrowful and speaks for itself. I would also say, with great respect to government members, that the government simply has failed to fulfil not only its election promises but the expectations of Canadians who have been asking successive governments to create the opportunity for jobs, hope, prosperity and growth in the economy, the things that typically governments have done in this country for decades.
It was precisely because governments heeded what Canadians said with respect to living within their means. We took that for granted for a long time. It just seemed like such common sense. However, starting in about 1968, if I had to pick a date when former Prime Minister Trudeau came to power, we got some really strange ideas in our heads about what exactly an economy was capable of doing, especially when we continued to spend more money than
we brought in. We had some very strange ideas. I think those ideas have continued on even to this day.
I know that some hon. members across the way will make the argument that yes, but they have done better. They have slowed down the amount of money that they spend relative to what they take in. I accept that they have. I think that is true. However, if the past week is any indication of how this government reacts the moment it looks like an election is coming, I think we are in big trouble.
I have gone through the numbers. If we look at all the different things that could be construed as ways of currying favour with the public with an election pending, it amounts to billions of dollars that the government is proposing to spend.
The GST harmonization deal with Atlantic Canada cost $1 billion. That, in a way, relates to both the last election and this election. That was not something that was demanded by Atlantic premiers or the people of Atlantic Canada. It was done initially to get the government off the hook for its 1993 campaign promise but is now being done, I would argue, as much to prepare for the 1997 election campaign.
All of a sudden the government has realized that for all these years it has been wrong about pay equity. On the eve of an election campaign, seemingly or perhaps just a wild coincidence, the government has decided it needs to come up with a billion dollars for that.
The Pearson airport deal was causing the government tremendous grief. Its name was being dragged through the mud. What did it do? It produced $260 million to deal with that. It goes on and on. We have the armouries in Liberal ridings.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
An hon. member
You are exaggerating.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB
My hon. friend across the way is trying to interject, but I would ask him to let me make my point because I think it is important.
I do not see in this budget implement act money being set aside for armouries. I certainly do not see money being set aside precisely for the Prime Minister's riding, for the Deputy Prime Minister's riding and for the riding of the health minister. I am looking through Bill C-93 and I do not see it in here. I do not recall the reference to it in the budget speech.
I do not recall the reference in the budget speech to the $63.7 million for the sock factory in Montreal. I know Montreal has a lot of people and those people vote, but I am troubled because that is a lot money.
The government went out of its way to ensure that it met its promise exactly when it said it would cut health care spending and it did. The government cut big time. It cut $7.5 billion from transfers to the provinces for health care and education. It cut every penny of it. It made sure of that. It raises some questions when it comes to money for a sock factory in Montreal because there are a lot of people there and they have tended to vote in a certain way.
Bill C-93 talks about the Canada foundation for innovation. The idea behind the foundation is to pay grants to modernize and enhance infrastructure for research in Canada. Is the $63.7 million for the sock factory part of an initiative from the Canada foundation for innovation? Is this the type of money that the government is spending on research? I hope not.
Canadians have other priorities. Health care is 50 times more important to Canadians than spending money on sock factories. It is 50 times more important than spending money on armouries in the Prime Minister's riding, the Deputy Prime Minister's riding and the riding of the health minister. I am alarmed at some of the things the government spends money on.
It was not very long ago that we raised the issue of the federal government spending money on golf carts. I cannot believe it either but it is true. Canadians would much rather see that money put into opening up hospital beds that the government closed when it cut $7.5 billion to the provinces for health care.
In a round about way I am saying the government is off track with respect to paying attention to what the priorities are of regular Canadians. It is completely off track because way back when Canadians said-and I think they continue to say it-that they expect the government to provide opportunity. It has failed to do that. They also say they expect the government to provide some security. It has also failed to do that. I want to expand that argument a bit more.
If Canadians are asked, there are 10 or 12 things they think the federal government and only the federal government can do and should do extraordinarily well. In my opening remarks, for instance, I talked about how nervous many Canadians are about going out on to the street at night. They are concerned about crime. I think my hon. friends across the way will agree that is a fact today, especially in big cities around the country.
Instead of focusing efforts on putting money into sock factories or buying golf carts, instead of having the bureaucracy focused on doing those types of things, would it not make a lot more sense to take that money and those efforts and focus them on ensuring that we deal once and for all with our crime problem? Would that not make a lot more sense?
I would love to see a country that is known around the world for having the best justice system. That should be the goal of the government. The federal government should set as its number one goal the provision of the best justice system in the world. It should
ensure the rule of law is absolutely adhered to in Canada. The government could do it if it placed emphasis on it.
With the election pending we saw yesterday that the justice minister was desperate to get through the anti-gang legislation. Our party co-operated fully because we have tried to make criminal justice a huge issue in the country. We want to protect ordinary Canadians from crime. We think that should be the number one responsibility of the government.
It is not enough to try to rush something through in the last days of a regime. It is important the government make it a priority every day. Can we imagine if we focused all that government spending on fixing the criminal justice system?
My friend from Fraser Valley West told the House about a woman in his riding who was brutally raped for 90 minutes-and I will spare the House the details-only to have the offender go before the court and because of legislation the justice minister brought forward, Bill C-41, he was allowed to walk free without spending a day in jail. Can we imagine instead of bringing those examples forward the hon. member was able to say he has discovered that crime is no longer an issue in his riding? Can we imagine that? It would be wonderful. That is something the government should focus on.
Only when there are a couple of days left before an election campaign does the justice minister bother. He brought forward all kinds of stuff which, to be polite, are at the fringes of the whole idea of justice. Elementary things, the things most Canadians consider to be important, have been absolutely and completely ignored.
The members for Fraser Valley West, Crowfoot, Wild Rose and Calgary Northeast have repeatedly asked the government about a victims bill of rights. That is the number one responsibility of a justice minister and a federal government. Somehow the government has forgotten its priorities.
It fools around with legislation that deals with the fringes of criminal justice. Through Bill C-41 it provides judges with the opportunity and the latitude not to impose any jail time even for serious violent offences. That is what the government did. It saw it as more of a priority than giving victims the right to protection in the law. That is so wrong that it is unbelievable we should even have to discuss it.
The federal government is not in line with the priorities of Canadians with respect to justice. It is not in line with the priorities of Canadians with respect to internal trade barriers, for instance. One thing the federal government should do, can do and has the right to do under the Constitution is to say to the provinces that it is time to have the same ability to trade between provinces as we do with the United States. At the risk of sounding like I am talking down to members across the way, that is pretty much common sense. The people back home would agree it makes sense that Ontario should be able to trade with Quebec as easily as it can with Michigan.
That is not the fact. There are internal trade barriers. There is an important role the federal government should assume. It currently does not play much a role, despite what the government has said about these things in the past.
The government should focus on the military, something about which we have had a lot of discussion in the House. Approximately two weeks ago we celebrated the 80th anniversary of our great victory at Vimy Ridge. There are few veterans of that battle left but those who are left, and if others could return, are very concerned, if not ashamed, at the state of the leadership of the Canadian military today.
If the federal government spent as much time working on matters such as fixing the Canadian military as it does handing out ridiculous grants to all kinds of special interest groups, we would have a far stronger military and Canadians would forever be in debt to the federal government.
Many Canadians who served in both world wars, the Korean conflict and peacekeeping since then, and people who are currently serving today, are demanding that the federal government fix the problems in the Canadian military. They should not be put off. They should not wait for some other administration down the road to fix them. They should not be left to die a death of a thousand cuts. The government should find out what is wrong with it and fix it. We should be given the best military in the world for the size of our country. That should be the goal of the Canadian government.
If it focuses on doing all the things only the federal government can do, such as foreign affairs, international trade, the monetary system, and does them extraordinarily well, Canadians will say the federal government has done something wonderful by giving them excellent government and great service. It would also mean the government would not be spending near the amount of money it currently spends on all kinds of things at the margin and pretty frivolous.
If the government did that it would be able to balance the budget for the first time in close to 30 years. That would be a real step forward. If it were able to focus its spending it would also find that it had a big surplus, which is exactly what my party is proposing.
Bill C-93 is talking about spending more money. Our party says that the federal government should focus on doing those things only the federal government can do and do them extraordinary well. It should give the provinces and municipalities more respon-
sibility for some of the other things. It should allow families and individuals the opportunity they have asked for, for a long time.
If the government does that we will have a better country. It would make a lot more sense to ordinary Canadians who want to be left alone and have basic services provided. It would make a lot of sense for national unity to allow the provinces to play a bigger role.
We read in the newspaper about how it took 32 years to get a labour training agreement with the Quebec government. With respect, that flies in the face of common sense again. The provinces are closer to the people and can provide training better. They know what their people need and want. Why in the world did it take 32 years for that to happen? It is ridiculous.
Why not allow the provinces to do what they can do better and allow lower levels of government closest to the people to do as much as they can possibly do? That makes absolute sense. Instead of continuing to usurp powers to the federal government, powers that according to the Constitution do not really belong to the government, it should allow provinces, municipalities, families and individuals, the private sector, charities and all various groups that in the past have demonstrated they know perfectly well how to run their own affairs, to take a leadership role. That is something the government should do.
When the government does that it opens up some room. It gives it a big surplus. If it has a surplus the world is a much brighter place than when it has a deficit. It has a lot more options when it has a surplus. The government could heed the request of Canadians who say they would like more money to be put back into health care. The government took $7.5 billion out of health care and education. They want some money put back in. My party says that we should run a surplus, focus the government and give back money to the provinces for health care. It makes a lot of sense.
It should put $4 billion back. When there is a big surplus it only makes sense to pay money toward the $600 billion debt. We must start to reverse the trend. If we start to pay down the debt we will not have to pay big interest payments any more. They would get smaller all the time. That would free up even more money for things that are important to Canadians.
Let us take the rest of that money and offer it to Canadians in the form of lower taxes. I know what some members across the way will say. They will say one of two things. I have heard them say that Canadians do not really want lower taxes. They have also said they believe in targeted tax relief. That is fine. I accept that. After 107 tax increases in the last 12.5 years I would argue Canadians need more than a targeted cut. Canadians instinctively know they will have a lot of trouble competing with the rest of the world if they have a much higher tax regime than other countries.
My hon. friend from Prince Albert who sits across the way knows that personal taxes have gone up relative to GDP by about 15 per cent since the government came to power. Personal taxes have risen exponentially compared with other G7 nations. They have gone through the roof in the past many years.
We have to do something about that because it hurts our ability to compete in the world. It also hurts the ability of ordinary individuals and families to get the things they want. They are the priorities of Canadian families to which I referred earlier. They are people's fairly modest expectations. People want to set aside enough money to buy a house. That is not unrealistic. They want to set aside money to start a family which is okay with most people. It is okay to have money to go on a vacation. If the government is taxing half your income it becomes very difficult to do that. It is very difficult for a family to choose to have one spouse stay at home with the children if half your income is being taxed away.
In order to realize those expectations it is necessary to give Canadians lower taxes. In order to create an economy that produces jobs for Canadians we must have lower taxes. I have heard the finance minister say that payroll taxes are a cancer on job creation. I agree with the finance minister but I wish he would heed his own observation.
The EI surplus is building and building. It will be $10 billion or $15 billion by the time the government ever gets around to balancing its budget, if it ever does. Instead of allowing those premiums to stay so unreasonably high when unemployment is over 9 per cent, why not balance the budget quickly and start to lower EI premiums so the economy will create jobs and put Canadians back to work?
I cannot believe when I go to Newfoundland that we have a province with a 20 per cent unemployment rate. That is alarming. I come from Alberta where the provincial government has been very responsible with its finances. Taxes are the lowest in the country and as a result the level of unemployment is relatively low. I was staggered when I went to St. John's last September and saw the unemployment. It is a national tragedy. I was in Cape Breton a little over a year ago and I could not believe the situation that economy is in. It is horrible, a national tragedy. It speaks volumes about the need for the finance minister to come to grips with the deficit and to start to lower payroll taxes. That is a contradiction of where the government is heading with respect to payroll taxes for CPP, but I will discuss that later.
The government has gone really off track and does not recognize that Canadians have very legitimate aspirations. It has not been able to meet those aspirations, nor did the previous Conservative government.
My party believes we need a lot of tax relief. That is why we believe in a $2,000 cut for the average family of four by the year 2000 as a start toward tax relief. We want to bring about $15 billion in tax relief so that Canadians can take the money they previously gave to the government that very often spent it on things that I think are very unfortunate and quite wasteful in the worst instances and use that money to pursue their own dreams. That is what we would do with that money.
I will backtrack to the government's priorities and speak for a moment on the government's approach to health care when you have a balanced budget. I am on the finance committee. The president of the Canadian Medical Association was before us not too long ago. She made the point that today if someone is waiting treatment for breast cancer or prostate cancer, on average, the waiting time is 14 weeks. People have to wait over three months for treatment for those two virulent forms of cancer. The cancer does not stop because the government does not have enough money to put toward treatment. The cancer rampages on.
I cannot believe that the government has decided that spending money on interest payments for money it has borrowed around the world, which is what it does when it does not balance the budget, that spending money on sock factories, golf carts, armouries and any one of a hundred different things is more important than spending money on health care and preserving the health of Canadians. I do not understand why the government is being so obstinate about dealing with this problem.
Why does the government not recognize that health care is a priority? Why does it not get its agenda in line with the wishes of the Canadian public? Why will it not address the problem? Why are we being subjected to the Prime Minister lining up photo opportunities and giving out taxpayers' money for all these crazy ideas when Canadians have made it clear health care is the number one priority? It makes absolutely no sense.
I am going to conclude my remarks where I began. The role of the government is to recognize what the priorities of Canadians are. The role of the government is to serve the public. It is a pretty radical idea, I know, but the government should listen hard to what Canadians are saying about their priorities.
If the government listens hard it will come to the same conclusion to which the Reform Party came, which is that Canadians want smaller government and a government which focuses on the things that are priorities for Canadians. They want a balanced budget. They want to run surpluses and they want to reinvest in those things which are priorities. They want to take that surplus and give Canadians lower taxes. They want to use the surplus to pay down the debt.
Ultimately, if the government can do those things, the country will have an economy which will provide Canadians the opportuni-
ty I spoke of earlier, which is the opportunity to create the jobs which Canadians so desperately want.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to take part in the third reading debate on the Budget Implementation Act. It seems that this year's budget is not aimed at the real problem, which is unemployment, despite our numerous remarks on the subject.
The budget is aimed at the wrong target. People tell us to repeat our arguments again and again, but what use is it? We recently had the example of the American pensions which showed that by insisting, by constantly asking questions and making request upon request, we can get somewhere. Getting results on an issue like that gives us renewed energy to try to bring the government to recognize our arguments. The fight against unemployment was totally omitted from the Liberal government's 1997 budget, but I have some concrete measures to propose to create jobs because we need jobs on an urgent basis.
In my riding, be it the Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Témiscouata or des Basques regional county municipality, we need jobs to allow local workers to earn a living and to support their families so they can be proud to live and work in the area.
The first measure would be to plan the use of the surplus in the employment insurance fund because, right now, this surplus is used to hide the deficit.
Because the federal government did not have enough discipline to cut departmental spending significantly, it is using the surplus in the employment insurance fund to mask that reality.
In that regard, a concrete measure that could be taken would be to reopen the employment insurance reform to give control of the fund to the people who are paying for it, namely employers and employees. Right now, the situation is somewhat peculiar in that the people who are funding this insurance plan have no control over the way the money is used.
Usually, when there is a surplus in an insurance company, it is used to improve the quality of services, to reduce premiums and so forth, but we have seen no such concrete measure from the government. Yet, had the government decided to reduce unemployment insurance premiums significantly, this would have left more money in the economy, which would have helped to create jobs.
Another concrete measure that can be put on the table to stimulate job creation is to bring radical changes to the government
procurement policy. Last week, the Standing Committee on Government Operations tabled a report. I will read to you some of the conclusions contained in that report. This comes from both Liberal members and opposition members. There is a consensus on this issue. The problem is that it took three years to get to this point and, during those three years, the Liberal government did not do anything to make its procurement policy work in favour of regional development. We see no such trend for the future.
This is confirmed by what the report says: "The Treasury Board is not enforcing its policies, directives and guidelines for the approval and execution of contracts by departments, agencies and Crown corporations that fall within its jurisdiction".
In other words, the Treasury Board is not playing its role as a watchdog. The departments can pretty much do as they please. It also says: "There is a general lack of public awareness of the federal government's contracting process in many sectors of the Canadian economy, including the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME's) as well as a general lack of understanding of how to access it".
It is even more complicated for francophone businesses, because although government requests for proposals are themselves often bilingual, when more specific documentation is sought, it is not available in French.
In my riding, I have businessmen who have told me horror stories of their experiences with government procurement policies. One firm in Les Basques, for instance, went after a contract to manufacture fibreglass huts for the Minister of National Defence. This is one of the departments with the most impenetrable procurement policy. There is always a relative of somebody on the base, which is often located in Ontario, who wins the contract year after year; when a competitor turns up, there is no way to break in. This was one of the things we noticed.
The result of this in 1994 was to deprive Quebec of $1.3 billion in contracts. When you compare our share of the population to the number of contracts received, the economy of Quebec comes up $1.3 billion short. When we are calling for ways to ensure the development of the economy of each of our regions, this is one concrete measure, because $1.3 billion represents 22,000 jobs, or an average of 300 jobs a riding.
You can see that, with a policy of equitable regional procurement, 200 or 250 additional full time jobs in my riding would be a far cry from the situation we now have.
As we head into an election campaign, we must therefore make sure that, in its next term of office, the government implements the committee's recommendations as quickly as possible. It has taken three years, and it should not take until May 1998, as the committee is recommending, before we know what action the government is going to take.
During the election campaign, I think voters should ask each of the candidates the following question: What is your party going to do about procurement? The Bloc Quebecois's position on this is very obvious. It is essential that the government's procurement policy be amended quickly, that there be full and speedy access for small and medium size businesses, which create the most jobs in our society, in particular by making information available in French, thus allowing our entrepreneurs to win these contracts and eliminating the chance and often partisan nature of the current political decisions.
Another specific proposal we have to ensure preservation of jobs is to loosen the federal government's grip on transfer payments.
In health alone, the federal government has cut $750 million in two years in Quebec. If our health system in Quebec had had that $750 million available to it, would we not have been able to retain many more jobs in the health system? Could we not have carried out a reform that would have been both easier and more appropriate? Changes were needed, but with that money in hand there would have been far fewer problems relating to staff allocation and keeping jobs.
The federal government could have chosen to loosen its grip on transfer payments; it could have made cuts to government operations. The 19 per cent cut planned there ended up as only 9 per cent. The difference between the two can be seen in the cuts to transfer payments. This is very easily seen. The federal government is turning off the tap. The province has less money and is obliged to manage with what it has left. The bottom line is that the jobs cut are jobs in the health field, the main area of concern for Quebecers and Canadians.
It is important to understand this because, in each province where adjustments had to be made, the tendency is to blame the provincial government for not doing its job properly, for not making cuts in the right places. The provincial government's problems are connected to this cut in the federal government's transfer payments, in particular.
If the federal government really wants to implement an active job creation measure in the coming months, in the coming year, it still has time to loosen up on the transfer payments in order to ensure that each province will have sufficient funds. As well, it could re-examine the control of expenditures in each of the departments, in order to make sure that the mandate has been properly fulfilled, instead of just putting the cuts off to another day and never making them, while refusing to give an inch on transfer payments to the provinces. This is an issue that ought to be raised
in the next election campaign, and it is a major issue, one that could help create employment.
We have three proposals, therefore. First of all, the government could draw up a plan to use the employment insurance fund surplus, ensuring that there will be more money spent in the communities, particularly those where there is seasonal industry, as there is in the region I represent. Then, revise the government procurement policy, in order to ensure that Quebec gets its share, and the regions get theirs. Finally, loosen the grip on transfer payments, so that a satisfactory employment level may be maintained, particularly in education and health.
There are other suggestions as well. It has long been said that Quebec gets its share from the federal government. As an experiment, the Bloc Quebecois' presence has been very conclusive; because now that we sovereignists are in Ottawa, we can look into transportation and infrastructure spending, for instance, which have a bolstering effect on the economy, and we have discovered that there is much that has not been done.
This is another proposal to get the economy rolling. There is the infrastructure program which is interesting but port infrastructure also offers interesting solutions. Now that Bill C-44 has been passed, it is of the utmost importance that the Department of Transport divest itself of ports as soon as possible so that local companies can take over under good conditions.
It means, for instance, that in a riding like mine, Rivière-du-Loup, we must create as quickly as possible the conditions that will allow industry to take over the ferry wharf and ensure that the development corporation in Cacouna can actually take full control of the facilities during the next mandate.
It is the same in Trois-Pistoles. We have received financial support on an irregular basis, at election time. There has to be a guaranteed long term future for the ferry. Money must be invested there, money that would allow job creation.
We see the same thing happening in Témiscouata, a region that borders on New Brunswick. There is one highway, highway 185, where there has been a major increase in truck traffic for several years, ever since the railroad tracks were dismantled, and the highway badly needs repairs. We have to show some initiative in this respect. We can no longer expect the traditional ways of funding to kick in, so we suggested, as recommended in the report presented by the transport committee, setting up projects in partnership with the private sector in this country.
Liberal members and members of the Bloc Quebecois made this suggestion so that our national highway network could be renewed faster than would otherwise be the case.
We all know governments have less money than they did in the past. They had to find new and different ways to fund these projects. The private sector-public sector partnership works as follows: the government announces that it wants such and such a project to be carried out. The private sector responds to a call for tenders and says yes, it will take care of construction or renovation and maintenance over a period of 25 or 30 years, and the government awards a service contract for that period of time. The government continues to own the highway. The highway is not sold. It is not wholly privatized. The service contract is a way for the federal government or any other government to avoid having to provide funding during the first few years. This means the project can be fast-tracked.
This approach was welcomed by the mayors of municipalities along highway 185, and I can understand why. For many years they have been waiting for investments. Since the highway is part of the Trans-Canada highway, it is important for the federal government to do its share.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to know whether the proceedings will be interrupted.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Harvard)
In view of the sirens that are sounding, we will adjourn to the call of the Chair.
(The sitting of the House was suspended at 1.06 p.m.)
The House resumed at 1.25 p.m.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)
Resuming debate. The member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup may now continue.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC
Mr. Speaker, after this interruption that was quite beyond the House's control, I remind members that we are looking at Bill C-93 concerning certain measures in the budget.
Before the interruption, I was saying that this budget did not contain any real measures to combat unemployment, the major problem in Quebec and in Canada. I proposed several specific
solutions to turn the tide and promote employment in our various ridings.
The first was a plan to use the surplus in the UI fund not just to lower the deficit but to really create jobs, particularly in regions with a lot of seasonal employment. This would make it possible to diversify our regional economies.
For example, the number of weeks of work could be increased for forestry workers, as is done in our region, by processing forest products, in order to increase the number of full time jobs in the forestry industry in the future.
I also spoke about changing government policy on procurement, which has been sadly lacking in Quebec, among other places, in recent years. In 1994, Quebecers were short $1.3 billion compared to what they should have received, given their percentage of the population. That is 22,000 jobs for Quebec, or almost 300 jobs per riding. This would make all the difference between towns having trouble surmounting these difficulties and towns with an SMB that could win federal government contracts. This is a concrete way to do something about employment.
The other way to do something is to loosen the federal government's grip on transfer payments, to ensure the return of the $750 million in health cuts over two years in Quebec alone because of lost transfer payments. If it had really decided to make cuts in departmental operating budgets, this kind of cut could have been avoided and the money would be there for jobs. The provinces would not be stuck with the problems they are now facing.
There are also active measures under the infrastructures program. The federal government announced that it was divesting itself of ports and other infrastructures, that it was turning them over to the public, to interested groups. But when it does this, these facilities must be in an acceptable condition. Action must be taken rapidly. Market conditions are changing. Our economic stakeholders must, therefore, be able to take advantage of the best transportation infrastructures possible.
Shipping as well as road, rail and air transportation are all sectors in which prompt action must be taken. However, where ports are concerned, the federal government has already announced its intention of unloading them. Let it hand the money over to the communities concerned, so that they may take things over, as soon as possible, in order to breathe new life into these really important elements for job creation.
After Quebec became aware that it absolutely must assume responsibility for manpower, after 32 years of repeated demands-particularly in the past three years as the Bloc kept asking questions in the House in order to ensure that the money available for manpower was given to Quebec, which already had responsibility for education, which already possessed all of the tools necessary, and which was lacking only the necessary funds for these programs to be effective-it finally came to pass. In future, we will have to obtain the same type of responsibility for transportation.
We became aware in the past that, because the federal government was responsible for rail, air and maritime transportation, while the provinces were responsible for highways, there had never been any true connection between the governments in order to ensure effective intermodal transportation.
We have reached the point now where all means of transportation, and all infrastructures, must be brought in line with one another, so as to properly meet the new challenges of the North American markets created by the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Mexico and South America. This, then, is another step that must be taken.
Under the current system, it is certain that we will never obtain real jurisdiction, because the federal government has a sort of natural inclination to prevent such transfers. But at the very least we would need to obtain the same as for manpower, during the next mandate, so as to be able to act on the economic markets and to ensure that the economic strategy is consistent with a transportation strategy which takes all means of transportation into consideration.
I will give an example of this. A few years ago, the rail line linking Rivière-du-Loup with Edmundston was dismantled, with federal government authorization. Since that time, the highway system has been jammed with truck traffic. There is also increased economic activity between the maritimes and Quebec. Had there been only one government intervening in the two sectors, we would have realized that the solution lay not in making miserly savings by dismantling the railway system. What we needed was a more integrated approach which would have made it possible to put trailers on trains and move them by truck at the end of the line. There would have been economic choices, but they were not made.
Today we face a new reality. The federal government is responsible for this highway. It is part of the Trans-Canada highway. We proposed with the Liberal members a public-private partnership project, which would mean the early completion of repair work.
I think the federal government would do well in the next election to endorse public-private partnership projects and, as the Liberal and Bloc members of the Standing Committee on Transport recommended, pilot projects, with Highway 185 being an interesting example.
In short, the budget we got in 1997 was along the same lines as those of previous years. The Minister of Finance tried to fight the deficit. He had some success, but the number one problem governments are facing today is not the fight against the deficit anymore, but unemployment and how to help people in the regions.
If we want results, we cannot wait another year. Canadians will have to react quickly and tell the government, during the election campaign, that they want corrections to be made, that they want a budget to implement such corrections as soon as Parliament returns after the election, so that, in one, two or three years, we will see
results because something will have been about unemployment and about using the potential of all Canadians.
I am thinking in particular of those who have no specialized training. We must make sure these workers have jobs. When I am told there are no jobs available and when I am asked what to do about it, I say that we must make money available, we must make the employment insurance surplus fund available to allow these workers to gain more experience and to accumulate more weeks of employment. For example, why not use the employment insurance fund to promote secondary or tertiary processing of forestry products?
As you know, our softwood lumber exports to the United States are subject to a quota. However, when that wood is processed and given added value, it is no longer subject to that quota. This means that more wood can then be exported to the United States. We could use the surplus in the employment insurance fund to implement concrete projects and hire people who do not necessarily have specialized training, but who have practical experience in the forestry industry.
In conclusion, the government will have to go back to the drawing board very quickly in order to deal with the number one problem: unemployment. Given its performance regarding the deficit, the government has no reason to brag. Canadians want action now.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, the member from the Bloc mentioned that the time for deficit control was over, that deficit control was no longer the issue.
With all due respect to the member, in starting my speech today I really feel that is a bit of an irresponsible attitude to take toward the deficit. At $19 billion, and maybe it will get down to $10 billion, it is a little muddled about where the figures actually are, what an irresponsible attitude.
It still adds $10 billion to the $600 billion that the federal government now owes. The way to get meaningful job creation is not to have that deficit balloon upwards. That could easily happen anyway if interest rates go up two or three percentage points. Our deficit could easily balloon right back over $20 billion or $25 billion per year.
We really must get that deficit under control first. We have to start running surpluses. Perhaps the hon. member who spoke before me and maybe many members of this House have had no direct business experience. However, speaking as a business person on behalf of my colleagues in Reform, many of whom are business people with business experience, the way to create jobs is to get taxation down.
When a business' taxes are lower, when its employees' taxes are lower, both the business and the employees have more disposable income. When the business has more disposable income it is easy to reinvest and to create new jobs, to expand, to advertise. That is how jobs are created.
In addition, when the employees have more disposable income because their taxes are lower, they spend money on furniture, on cars and vacations, extra treats that maybe they would not have had before. This stimulates growth in the economy. It causes businesses in turn to reinvest the money that they have. That means massive job creation and that is the way to job growth. It is not by having the government spend money to create short term jobs, as it did with the infrastructure boondoggle where the auditor general calculated that each job created cost us something like $75,000. What a terrible waste of taxpayer money.
We could have used that infrastructure money to help pay down the debt. Then we would be closer to tax reductions and meaningful jobs.
A colleague of mine from the Reform Party, the member for Yorkton-Melville, brought in a private member's bill recently, Bill C-361, in which he proposed that there should be a people's tax form. The bill was called the people's tax form act.
The member proposed that when people fill out their income tax, in the income tax envelope there should be a one page questionnaire inviting opinions about specific major programs.
I suspect that defenders of the status quo would find three objections to the people's tax form act. First, they would say that too few people would be willing to fill it out. Second, too many people would fill it out and create too much work. Third, citizens do not know what they are talking about and should keep their noses out of the government's business. I do not suppose we will ever really know what the citizens think. I am certain the government would not have supported the bill anyway.
In the experiment that was run by my colleague in his riding, the overwhelming results from the 500 people who returned the questionnaires were that the federal programs endorsed in one form or another were the ones that all four major parties in this House support. They are old age security, health care, justice, the RCMP, the Canada pension plan, debt reduction, veterans pensions, universities, natural resource development, environmental protection and practical research.
Then there are the ten most strongly opposed programs. The budget we brought in last year could have dealt with them and saved taxpayers a bundle of money. The ten most strongly opposed expenditures were all the fat little Liberal pet ponies: official bilingualism, subsidies for special interests, gun registration, for-
eign aid, multiculturalism, that National Film Board, subsidies for business, subsidies for sports, Indian affairs and the CBC.
There are themes that are noticeable here. People want to retain public security for those who cannot afford it themselves. We have an obligation to help those who need our assistance. They want government to encourage but not interfere in the marketplace.
Unfortunately we cannot seem to convince this government to take a more businesslike approach to the running of government. The policies of this government really do affect the average person on the street quite dramatically.
I received a letter last week from a constituent by the name of Ms. Munday: "I am a registered nurse, so every year I am charged GST on my registration fee and every year I have to waste time on the telephone getting through to the income tax office to send me a GST rebate form". She describes in detail the process, the hassles, the number of hours she wastes to have a form sent out to her which she needs every year. She has made a suggestion which I hope the Minister of National Revenue will hear. Surely the revenue collection department can get its act together well enough to send out the appropriate form with the tax forms it sends to her every year, knowing that she will need them.
I am sure the minister will act on that suggestion, but the underlying theme of the letter is that if we did not have the GST there would not be a need for this lady to fill out the form every year. The whole exercise of filling out the form to get the rebate is a waste of taxpayer money.
There are a number of people involved in creating the refund and their time is not being used productively. First the tax has to be collected. It has to be processed and banked. Then a form has to be sent off to this lady, after hours of negotiation on the telephone. Then she has to fill it out using her time. It has to be mailed and processed again. Then there has to be a print run on stationery paid for by the people. It goes back to her. It gets processed through her bank account and out of the government account again. It is a wasteful process and the amounts can be very small. I am sure in many cases the amounts are extremely small. It must be a tremendously unproductive and costly exercise.
There are places in the House of Commons where we could save a lot of money and cut the deficit significantly. For example, a couple of weeks ago I brought to the attention of the House an issue concerning the heritage committee. It was proposing to spend about $214,000 for a travel junket around the country to define Canadian culture. Defining Canadian culture? It is like trying to define what makes a cat a cat or what love is. What a ridiculous thing to be wasting money on.
The heritage committee was not very happy with me. I know that because the chairman circulated a memo with a copy of my speech and complained bitterly about me at the subsequent committee hearing. Of course he did not invite me to the hearing. I found out about it by accident when I read the transcript.
I am glad the election will interfere with the plans of that committee. It will save taxpayers about $214,000. I give notice to the committee that if it regenerates the plan after the election I will ensure it gets plenty of publicity.
In terms of whether the government takes any notice of taxpayers desire to get rid of some of the waste, I saw a very interesting article in a local newspaper. It appeared in the February 24 edition of the Vancouver Sun . It was about a gentleman who decided he had a problem with the finance minister. He discovered that the finance minister had an E-mail address. He promptly sent off an E-mail. He received a personal reply, in both official languages, with a ``thank you for taking the time''. It went on to say that this would be the only reply he would receive because of financial constraints.
He was particularly impressed with the E-mail, noting that he had sent it at 1800 hours Vancouver time, nine o'clock at night Ottawa time, and within five minutes of sending it he had received the reply. He thought "my goodness, we have a lot of very overworked public servants in Ottawa in the finance minister's office answering E-mail at five after nine at night".
He thought that a bit suspicious. Right away he sent another E-mail on a totally different topic and he received the same E-mail message five minutes later, in both official languages, thanking him once again for his opinion and saying that this was the only reply he would get because of financial constraints.
More than a tad suspicious, he sent a third message to the finance minister which consisted entirely of "fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear, fuzzy-wuzzy had no hair". Five minutes later, sure enough, he received the same answer again, in both official languages, saying that this was the only reply he would receive because of financial constraints.
This is a very good example of how taxpayers' money is being wasted on meaningless responses to concerned taxpayers. The government has no intention of taking their input seriously.
I have another letter that was sent to me by a constituent who had written to the Prime Minister. This constituent received an answer from the Prime Minister's office dated March 27, 1997. This concerns input into the budget process. It reads:
Dear Mr. Campbell:
On behalf of the Prime Minister, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence of March 16 regarding.
Yours sincerely, Jill Bowerman, Special Assistant.
They forgot to even put in the topic. It just ends.
This is probably another example of nobody having read the input or could care less about the input from this person. He was sending suggestions about the budget process and received a standard form letter where the person answering even forgot to plug in the topic.
If there was a little bit more direct democracy in our system the people in this place would care a bit more about taking notice of the input they got on bills like this budget bill that is before the House. They would be concerned that the people would have power, if there was more direct democracy, to change the laws.
I will give an example. An article appeared in the Financial Post of Wednesday, April 9 about California's affirmation action ban being upheld. Members may know about the controversial proposition 209, which was put forward in California a few months ago to get rid of the affirmative action programs in California. They had distorted, with discriminatory practices, the job marketplace in California showing preference to specific groups not based on their skills but because they could fit into certain boxes. It so outraged the people of California when they could see the unfair distortions that were created by these programs that they started proposition 209. They were successful in overturning this politically correct legislation that had been introduced by their politically correct legislators. On a court challenge, the result of that proposition was upheld.
What a wonderful victory for taxpayers when they can take their legislators to task in that way and get rid of legislation which they see as improper that has been foisted on them because legislators think they know what is best for them.
The pressure for change to give more meaningful input to bills like this is building all around the world. There was an article in the Hill Times a week ago headed ``polls show that Britons have a clear desire to radically change Parliament and the voting process''. It is quite an interesting article and is very easy to obtain here on the Hill. I would recommend to all members to get a hold of it.
The article mentions that the British show a readiness for radical change in their system of government. Keep in mind that they are way ahead of us anyway. They permit free voting in the House of Commons. It is a commonly observed process for members to be voting on opposite sides. Yet they are still showing a desire to see even more change and more input into the process.
Specifically there is a strong and accelerating dissatisfaction with Parliament and the parliamentary system, but interestingly enough not with the local MPs. People feel that the local MPs listen to their concerns and perhaps even take them to Parliament. Much as happens in this place, the concerns can be expressed here but they end up falling into a big black hole and disappear.
Every day we present petitions, sometimes tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of names. I remember just after we came to this House after the election of 1993, Reform proposed that we have one day a month where we debate the major petitions so that we could get the government's position on these things. Our idea was defeated.
These petitions still, to this day, get presented and then just go down to the vault in the basement. I do not know if any member has been down there to see the petitions that are stored from the turn of the century. Can anyone imagine the millions of names that are down there on petitions asking for things and the government has never taken any notice? There really is no democratic part to the process. It really is a great shame.
Because of the lack of democracy, we get the type of examples I gave where letters remain unanswered, E-mails are answered with meaningless text and we get government dispensing money without requesting permission from the taxpayers.
The premier of Alberta has introduced legislation to make it necessary for the government to get permission from taxpayers to increase tax rates. What a wonderful sign that we are actually starting to get some improvements in the democratic process. What a radical idea, that taxpayers might actually be able to tell the government not to increase taxes. I congratulate the premier for doing that. I also congratulate the Ontario premier for seriously considering the introduction of meaningful initiative and referendum legislation to give the people the power to direct the government in the way it spends their money.
There are certainly plenty of things we could do with direction here in spending taxpayers' money. The government has handed out vast sums of money to Bombardier. I have a letter from another constituent, Mr. Currie, that is dated March 27. It is actually addressed to the member for Waterloo. My constituent says: "On March 21 in reply to a question from the member for North Vancouver regarding Bombardier's apparent use of a federal grant of $97 million to increase its reported profit by $93 million-"
Bombardier reported a profit of $93 million last year but it received a federal grant for $97 million so it is very easy to see where its bottom line came from. I asked a question of the member for Waterloo about that. The member replied that it was a perfect example of a critical investment in research and development and that it was money we would get back with interest.
Three days later, on March 24, Bombardier announced it was moving its production of the Sea-Doo water craft to Benton, Illinois. After receiving $97 million from the federal government, it promptly closed down a plant and put 165 employees out of work. Adding 165 people to Canada's unemployment roll hardly seems like an investment we will get back with interest. The $97 million might have been better spent on transfers to the provinces to offset their increasing health care costs.
That raises an interesting point because the Liberals claim to be the only party-I have seen it in advertisements-that can be trusted to preserve quality universal health care. The fact is the Liberals have cut more than $7 billion from transfers to the provinces in support of health care and social programs.
During the 1993 election campaign, in response to public input, Reform's zero in three plan to balance the budget specifically exempted health care transfers and transfers in support of higher education from any cuts. It was in the plan because people had told us that those two items were their highest priorities. The Liberals have cut $7 billion from those transfers and have pretended they have not done anything. Reform's fresh start program for the 1997 election campaign states that we will restore $4 billion of the $7 billion that has been cut by the Liberals.
The Liberals also claim in some of their election campaign material that they have cleaned up federal finances and dramatically reduced the deficit. The fact is the Liberals have actually added $100 billion to the debt in the last three and a half years. That means taxpayers are paying about $8 billion more in interest payments than they were when the Liberals took office.
Reductions in the deficit have not come from cuts to federal spending, not to the government's special departments. Only $5 billion has been cut out of its $160 billion budget for federal departmental spending. The bulk of the reductions have come almost exclusively from huge cuts in transfers to the provinces, enormous increases in taxes and user fees and good luck in the form of lower interest rates.
Sitting on the opposite side of the House is a member who comes from the banking industry. He knows very well the effects that increasing interest rates have on the amounts people pay for their mortgages. He is probably also well aware of the amount of Canada's debt that is in short term securities, two to three year periods or less. He knows that we are constantly rolling over that debt, that if these interests rates shoot up three, four or five points, that debt will be renewed at increasingly difficult payment levels. The country could quite easily slip into a terrible crisis if interest rates jump dramatically, especially if it is necessary to defend the rather failing dollar we have right at the moment.
I can see that the other side of the House is getting a little bit antsy and that members would probably like to ask me a few questions which I always welcome.
I will wind up by saying that if we want to get this country back on track and create jobs, we have to get taxes down, spending under control and begin paying off Canada's $600 billion debt.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to this bill.
I want to address a couple of matters about government spending that need to be said. Each night as we grow closer to an election I watch the government throwing out its usual dollars to encourage people to vote for them.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
An hon. member
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC
Mr. Speaker, one of the Liberals says "not me". He may be the only one who says that.
I wonder just how Liberal members feel when in fact they are borrowing this money from other countries and selling it to the very taxpayers that are footing the bill for interest.
It is really alarming that we are overspending this year by some $19 billion-that is nineteen thousand million dollars-and yet the government believes that it can spend about $6.5 billion thus far just before an election. Why not take that money, try to write down the deficit or even pay down some of the debt? What is this preoccupation before an election of a government to think that people are standing there with their hands out waiting for money?
Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders
I know the member has just started his speech for today but as it is almost 2 p.m., I wonder if we could go to statements by members and he will have the floor when we come back.
Banff National ParkStatements By Members
Judy Bethel Liberal Edmonton East, AB
Mr. Speaker, Alberta welcomes the world to experience Canada's magnificent, majestic Banff National Park, confident that its future will be protected and enhanced by the Banff management plan.
The plan will be the basis for all decision making in the park for the next 10 to 15 years and will ensure the legacy continues into the 21st century.
In particular, the heritage tourism initiative will enrich the experience of all who visit. Parks Canada, the town of Banff and the tourism industry are developing a heritage tourism strategy that centres around the park's natural, cultural and historical resources. This strategy supports a common code of ethics for the local tourism industry and its partners. It promotes the orientation,
training and accreditation for employees in tourism related jobs, and it focuses on heritage tourism activities.
An annual round table, an open public forum to review the progress and to account for the action gives all Canadians an opportunity to be part of ensuring a sustainable future for Canada's national park.
In conclusion, the new Banff-
Bell Science FairStatements By Members
Gilbert Fillion Bloc Chicoutimi, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Quebec finals of the Bell super science fair was held this past weekend at Collège Jean-de-Bréboeuf in Montreal.
Among the many young men and women winners at this event, I would like to congratulate Catherine Martel and Hélène Hallé of Polyvalente Charles-Gravel in Chicoutimi for their project on polygraphy called "The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".
This accomplishment will send them on to Lyon, France to participate in the science fair at this year's Entretiens Jacques-Cartier .
My best wishes for good luck to the school administrators, the teachers supervising the team, Catherine and Hélène.
Their victory will surely benefit their entire school. I am proud to have been involved in education myself for over 30 years.
Congratulations to Catherine and Hélène and to everyone at Charles-Gravel.
Canadian Coast Guard AuxiliaryStatements By Members
Joe McGuire Liberal Egmont, PE
Mr. Speaker, one of our most cherished values is volunteerism. Every day our citizens freely and selflessly offer a helping hand to those in need.
Today I would like to say a few words about the work of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, a great Canadian story that seldom gets told.
Since it began operations in 1978 auxiliary members have participated with risks to their own lives in upwards of 28,000 incidents, 24 per cent of all marine search and rescue incidents annually, and 200 lives on average are saved each year.
Working closely with the Canadian Coast Guard and made up mostly of fishermen and recreational boaters, the auxiliary 3,400 members and their 1,300 vessels are an invaluable part of our marine search and rescue network.
The auxiliary's work also extends to prevention activities as members dedicate their time to conduct demonstrations of marine safety equipment, give lectures on boating safety, conduct courtesy examinations of pleasure craft and fishing vessels, and participate in boat shows.
These unsung heroes of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary deserve all the support the government and the Canadian public can give them.
Earth DayStatements By Members
Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON
Mr. Speaker, first celebrated in 1970, Earth Day highlights the link between our behaviour and the health of the planet.
In Canada over 3,000 events are planned, including the planting of seedlings and the cleaning of streams and rivers. Community groups and schools are staging events on the protection of nature, conservation of our natural resources, reduction of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, protection of our drinking water, importance of recycling, energy efficiency and conservation of energy.
Earth Day is a day for all Canadians to celebrate together with citizens in 100 other countries doing exactly the same.
British ColumbiaStatements By Members
Val Meredith Reform Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC
Mr. Speaker, last week Statistics Canada released the numbers from the 1996 census and revealed what British Columbians have known all along, that B.C. is home of the biggest population boom in Canada. B.C. grew by 13.5 per cent between 1991 and 1996.
In 1951 the first census that included all 10 provinces showed that B.C. had only 8.3 per cent of Canada's population. Today it has 12.9 per cent. Another indicator of B.C.'s growth is a comparison with the second largest province, Quebec. In 1951 B.C. had 25 per cent of Quebec's population. Today it has 52 per cent.
Despite these numbers B.C. gets only one-third of the amount of federal dollars that Quebec receives for each immigrant. It gets only 28 per cent of the money that Quebec got from the government's infrastructure fund.
It is time for Ottawa to realize that Canada is changing and to start acting like it is 1997, not 1951.
DevcoStatements By Members
Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, Devco has just sold the Donkin mine site to a private company without tender for the princely sum of $1 so that the private company could undertake engineering studies about the feasibility of operating the mine as a private venture in the future.
Devco employees want answers about this blatant pre-election ploy. Does it signal that the privatization of Devco is in the works? When the new mine is up and running will experienced miners at Devco be forced to leave behind their seniority and pensions and start from scratch with the new private company?
If private interests think that Donkin is worth developing, why did Devco not commission the engineering studies rather than giving the mine away?
Cape Bretoners whose livelihoods are most directly affected have been left out in the cold. Shame on the 32 Liberal MPs from Atlantic Canada for treating the miners of Cape Breton with such arrogance.
EarthStatements By Members
Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York—Simcoe, ON
Mr. Speaker, the green rug of the House of Commons symbolizes the village green where people gathered in the early days of parliament to bring their concerns to the speaker. This was a parliament with only the walls and carpet of nature.
We are all members of the earth community and even though we now sit in a building of stone, mortar and glass, we must remember our connection to the earth. Human activity is threatening the basic fundamentals of life on our planet. This can no longer be ignored. As parliamentarians we must legislate as if all life on this planet matters.
As we remember those early meetings on the village green, we are connected not only to the beginning of our parliamentary tradition but to the earth itself. This is an important lesson we can never forget. It is our past, our present and our future.