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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.

Topics

Presence In The GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I invite members to a reception in room 216 to meet our special Olympians after the question period, providing of course they have time from their duties.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, prior to question period I received a communication from a resident of Edmonton Northwest, the constituency of the minister of energy. It had to do with the Canadian Paralympics and a communication that had been given to the minister of heritage over six months ago and not responded to by the heritage minister.

During question period the heritage minister broke my confidence and the confidence of the constituent of Edmonton Northwest by raising the issue, given to her under privilege, in the House of Commons. I request that the minister give me and her constituent an apology.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to engage in debate of when the information was shared and so on, but certainly and clearly to a good number of us in that exchange between the member for Edmonton Southwest and the Deputy Prime Minister I think you would find the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest used language which I will say was very unparliamentary. I hope he would take the opportunity to withdraw those remarks.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Before we get into a slinging match-and I do not want to get into a debate-I am not sure of the circumstances under which all of this occurred but surely it was an event that occurred outside the House.

I hope all hon. members would respect one another when they are speaking to one another. This is a point of debate. It is not a point of order. I would rule as such and I would say that this point of order is over for now.

If the hon. member has another point of order, I will listen to it.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, after the heritage minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, had betrayed my confidence-

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I have already ruled on that point of order. I would like the matter to just stay here for the time being.

On another point of order, the hon. member for Elk Island.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate just for the record that the member for Edmonton Southwest was not up in question period today and so what the whip said was inaccurate.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I have already ruled that the incident which took place is not a point of order. If the hon. member has another point of order, I will listen to it. However, if it is on the same point of order, I will intervene.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. government whip referred to a comment that I shouted across the aisle to the Deputy Prime Minister after the events to which you earlier spoke took place.

At that time I referred to the Deputy Prime Minister, the heritage minister, as a bitch. I did so-

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

With the greatest respect to my colleague, I ask you to withdraw the word that you just used. Will you withdraw that word?

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

April 22nd, 1997 / 3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, as you know, I have the greatest respect for the House, for the chair and for the person who occupies it. The reason that I did not use a descriptive adjective in front of the word I used was out of respect for the House, but I will not withdraw the term.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Sometimes we get ourselves into situations. I know I did just a little while ago when I asked a member to withdraw. We get into situations where, because of the need to

save face or whatever it is, we find ourselves unable to extricate ourselves.

My colleague, I address myself to you as the Speaker. As far as I am concerned your whole tenure here has been exemplary, a model for parliamentarians. I would ask you again to withdraw the word you used in your point of order.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, out of respect for the Chair and for this institution I unequivocally withdraw the remark.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member and I consider the matter closed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise this afternoon to speak on Bill C-93, the Budget Implementation Act, 1997, at third reading.

You will probably recall how proud the Minister of Finance was when he tabled his fourth budget, boasting about the fact that the deficit, which was $42 billion when the Prime Minister entrusted him with this portfolio, should have shrunk to a mere $17 billion by the end of the current fiscal year.

There is a difference between the current Liberal government, and the previous Conservative government. While the Conservative Party underestimated its deficits, the Liberal Party tends to overestimate its deficits, which means that, by March 30 next year, the deficit may actually be closer to $12 billion.

The minister is fiddling around with the numbers and using the communicating vessels principle, in other words interest rates, to his advantage. In Canada as in every other industrialized country in the world, interest rates are relatively low right now. On the more than $615 billion in cumulatve deficits or debt, one can understand that the Minister of Finance is saving a bundle each month by paying less interest than he would have to if we had interest rates of 8 per cent or 9 per cent.

However, and there is the rub, he is dipping deep into the employment insurance fund. This year, the EI fund will be generating a $5.6 billion surplus. Where does the money that generates this surplus in the EI fund come from? From the $2.95 premium paid by workers on every $100 of insurable earnings and $3.20 premium paid by employers, these premiums amounting to a payroll tax on employment.

By charging way too much, they get a surplus at the expense of workers. Indeed, this same government has decided to shorten the benefit period while at the same time increasing the number of hours-they count hours now-required to qualify for employment insurance benefits. Naturally, the benefit rate will be reduced by 1 per cent for every 20 weeks of benefits collected. After a few years, a worker who has collected employment insurance benefits for more than 20 weeks will see his benefits reduced by 1 per cent increments down to 50 per cent of his insurable earnings.

So, on the one hand, the Minister of Finance is keeping the employees' and employers' contributions to the employment insurance fund way too high while, on the other hand, he is making it extremely difficult for potential recipients to qualify for benefits. At this rate, within a few years, the fund will be overflowing.

However, this is another way this government can shift its deficit onto the provinces. The unemployment rate tends to go down because people are no longer on the list of those actively looking for work; however, meanwhile, the number of welfare recipients has been on the rise for some years in all of the provinces.

This is the case in Quebec, where the unemployment rate has gone down, while the number of welfare recipients has gone up because, in many cases, people are no longer eligible for employment insurance benefits and are still without a job. The result is that these people end up on the welfare rolls.

The Minister of Finance also reduced transfers to the provinces, including social transfers for post-secondary education and health. This triggered a chain reaction whereby all the provinces had to make other taxpayers, particularly municipalities, school boards and hospitals, shoulder part of the burden dumped on them by the finance minister.

What is really serious is the inequity of the minister's approach to balancing his budget within three years. The most blatant examples are undoubtedly the abolition of the Western Grain Transportation Act, in the prairies, and the harmonization of the infamous GST, which the Prime Minister himself promised to abolish, to scrap, as he said so eloquently. To scrap means to tear up, to throw in the garbage.

The Prime Minister often said: "I will scrap the GST". Four years later, what has been the cost of scrapping the GST? It cost at least a byelection in Hamilton East, since the Deputy Prime Minister had pledged to resign in the first 12 months of a Liberal government if the GST was not abolished.

It took a lot longer than 12 months for her to resign her seat in the House of Commons, and the official opposition had to remind her for several weeks of the promise she had made, with the help of the media, which ran almost daily clips of her saying: "I promise to resign if we have not abolished the GST in the first 12 months".

Obviously, it took several weeks, several months, and in June of last year she handed in her resignation, because a promise had not been kept, a promise that can of course be found in the red book, which I note by the way has become as rare on Parliament Hill as Chairman Mao's little red book has in China; people made a point of learning Mao's book by heart. My colleagues in the Liberal Party also made a point of memorizing their little red book. What I would like is for my Liberal friends opposite to give me a few copies. I will need them for my next election campaign, and nobody wants to give me a copy.

I throw out an appeal to everyone, as they do on the quiz show Tous pour un : if you have half a dozen red books, I need them in the riding of Frontenac-Mégantic to give to my Liberal opponent, Manon Lecours, to read over again before she rushes headlong into the next election campaign that will be announced next Sunday.

I am certain that nobody will provide me with these books because they are so ashamed of them. I urge Liberal candidates in the next election not to lapse into the Pinocchio syndrome described in the book of the same name written by my friend, André Pratte, a reporter with La Presse . You must have read it, Mr. Speaker. He mentioned a number of famous comments made by our friends across the way. He gave examples of frequently lengthening noses on the faces of some of you, my Liberal friends, as the result of past untruths.

To get back to Bill C-93, I should point out that the Minister of Finance applies cuts sometimes unevenly, sometimes unfairly. I was talking about the GST, the harmonization with the three maritime provinces, three small Canadian provinces. To help them swallow the pill, he gave them $960 million. The GST has lost its name. Now it is the HST, the harmonized sales tax. The people in the maritimes will forget the GST in a few months or years. They will be calling it the HST.

In Quebec, the late Robert Bourassa, a federalist premier, with his good friend the former Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, another federalist, agreed to harmonize the GST and the Quebec sales tax. I recall very clearly, when I was a farmer, having to complete two forms for the GST and the QST.

In 1991, I was very proud, I even telephoned my MNA to congratulate him on harmonizing with the federal government, since we would be completing only one form. Quebec collects the GST for the federal government, and, at the end of the month, makes a cheque out to the Minister of Finance of Canada.

The only advantage the Government of Quebec receives is a split of the costs involved in collecting, whereas the maritime provinces get $960 for this same harmonization. Worse yet, the provinces do not do the collecting, the federal government does. It looks after the forms and the investigations and charges the provinces nothing for doing so. A double standard.

The Quebec department of finance fairly calculated the cost of having the same privileges in Quebec. The Minister of Finance's government would have to pay $2 billion if it were going to treat everyone fairly.

We in the Bloc Quebecois will pester all Liberal candidates in Quebec to be fair and to make commitments to the voters. As I said, it was utterly unfair of this government to use the WGTA to reduce its deficit. The Western Grain Transportation Act will save the Canadian treasury $560 million per year.

To sugarcoat it for western grain producers, the same finance minister paid $2.9 billion in compensation, including $1 billion paid directly to the producers, under the table. He sent them a cheque and told them: "You are not required to claim this amount on your next income tax return, and no TP4 or T4 will be issued to include with your return".

It is the same thing with bribes: one is not required to tell the tax man about them. The government paid producers under the table to sugarcoat a bitter tasting pill. It is appalling.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Our hon. speaker, for one, would not take it.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

I certainly hope not.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

At least I do not think he would.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

It is appalling. There is a double standard here, because 48 per cent of dairy producers are in Quebec, and the Minister of Finance told them: "We are cutting the milk subsidy to commercial milk producers". In 1994-95, the subsidy was $5.42 per hectolitre, that is to say that dairy producers were paid $5.42 per 100 litres of commercial milk. As we know, commercial milk is under Quebec's control.

The subsidy was cut by 80 cents in 1995-96 and by 82 cents the following year. In five years, it will be all gone. By the year 2000, it will be down to 76 cents, and by 2001, it will be all gone. By August 1, 2001, there will be nothing left.

Quebec dairy producers are taking a $168 million loss. This cut is made in Quebec, which is a big milk producing province as compared to the western provinces, without a cent in compensation being paid. Quebec dairy producers are not getting anything to make the cut more palatable, when $2.9 billion, almost $3 billion,

was paid to western grain producers when the Western Grain Transportation Act, commonly known as the Crow rate, was abolished. That is appalling and unjustified.

What will be the impact on Quebec farmers? It will bring up the price of butter or cheese. According to a comprehensive study, whenever the price of butter goes up 10 per cent, consumer demand drops by 7 per cent. And 48 per cent of the milk used to make butter comes from Quebec's dairy producers.

I see the hon. member for Pierrefonds-Dollard, who is a city dweller. He is not affected. However, his voters are consumers and they will pay 40 cents more for a pound of cheddar and 30 cents more for a pound of butter.

In a wealthy neighbourhood such as Dollard, this is not a problem. However, it is a different story in poor areas. It does create problems. Indeed, the reason the demand drops by 7 per cent is that the poor buy less butter, or no butter at all. They may have to use margarine, fat or something else.

The same is true in the case of cheese. When the price of cheese goes up 10 per cent, demand drops by 4 per cent. As the official opposition critic on agricultural issues, I look after the interests of dairy producers. However, I am well aware that, ultimately, consumers are the ones who will have to make up for this government's cuts.

I want to go back to the Pinocchio syndrome. Some years ago, I was in my living room, listening to the news. Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister and Statistics Canada announced that, the previous week, there were one million Canadians unemployed. Back then, the rat pack sat on this side of the House. Things were bad: "One million unemployed and the Prime Minister is not doing anything. We want jobs. We want our young people to find work. You are rotten. You do not work for Canadians".

Today, there are 1.5 million unemployed. There are three million children in Canada who live in poverty and who do not eat three meals a day. We are not talking about Zaire, but Canada. What is the Minister of Finance doing? What is the Prime Minister doing about these children living in poverty?

Last week, I met a teacher in Montreal who told me that several children in her class arrive at school without having had breakfast and that they barely have anything to eat for lunch.

It is sad to watch this government go about its business. After three years and seven months, Canadians will have the opportunity to elect a new government, and I hope they will. I hope that, on Sunday, April 27, the Prime Minister will hand in his government's resignation to the Governor General, so that voters can teach him a good lesson.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, having listened to the member over the last 20 minutes, he has mentioned a number of things, some of which I would like to comment on and which require some clarification.

I am going to talk a little bit about the GST. I am sure it is a subject we are going to hear an awful lot about in the next election.

In the last budget the Liberal government announced that there would be no tax cuts until we could afford them and we could sustain them. No tax cuts. In the next election there is no question that the Reform Party will be running on tax cuts. The Conservatives will be running on tax cuts. The Liberal government is going to say no tax cuts.

It is not enough simply to look at the bottom of the end result. The Reform Party and the Conservative Party are a little bit different; one is when it is balanced and one is immediate. There are conditions. The situation is there are conditions and some other matters.

The member must understand that we cannot use just one phrase or one word to say what represents the position. We have to look at all of the terms and conditions that are associated with tax cuts or no tax cuts.

The Liberal Party has said that we are going to have tax cuts when we can afford them. We are not opposed to tax cuts; we are going to have them. Having established that, let us talk about the word "scrap". Canadians are going to want to know more of the facts about what happened.

If we go back to the beginning of this Parliament, the finance committee was immediately asked to undertake a study of the alternatives to the consumption tax, the GST. I participated in this all-party committee. It held 35 meetings with hundreds of witnesses. It analysed and assessed for months and months at least 25 alternatives to the GST, including a modified GST or other forms of consumption tax. All members know that because all parties were represented in the finance committee.

Let us think about this. If in fact the government's position was to scrap the GST with no replacement, to just get rid of it the way those members have been trying to suggest, then why is it that the finance committee spent almost a year studying alternatives? Why did the public or the opposition parties not go ballistic about why we were breaking our promise of scrapping it with no alternatives? They did not do that. They did not complain when we were studying alternatives because they knew and Canadians knew that the undertaking of the government was to replace the GST with a revenue neutral-meaning not getting rid of the $18 billion-harmonized system with the provinces.

Some Canadians will say that they did not see the red book. I understand that because there were not enough produced for each and every Canadian. However, each and every member who ran on that platform included the extract in their literature. I did and I know my constituents saw it.

In addition, all of the media reported on the platforms of each and every party including in detail the proposal to replace the GST with a revenue neutral harmonized tax. It was reported in the press.

Did some members of Parliament use a word or a phrase to describe the whole platform? Yes, that is true. Even in this House I know there is at least one member of the cabinet who stood up and said that we would scrap it. However, to suggest that to use a word or a simple description of a platform policy is not to be taken in isolation, one has to also impute that it involves the full conditions and terms under which it was said.

I will conclude by asking the member a question.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My distinguished colleague has already said enough that it will take up the rest of the time allotted me to reply. You will understand that, without wanting to get into a debate with my colleague-

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

I would like to remind the hon. members that the 10 minutes are for questions or comments.