Debates of April 22nd, 1997
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.
- Sustainable Development
- Federal Court And Tax Court Of Canada
- Government Response To Petitions
- Ways And Means
- Committees Of The House
- Interpretation Act
- Divorce Act
- Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
- Canada Pension Plan
- Members Of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act
- Young Offenders Act
- Bank Act
- Bills Of Exchange Act
- Canada Business Corporations Act
- Canada Health Act
- Canada Shipping Act
- Canada Student Loans Act
- Canada-United Kingdom Civil And Commercial Judgements Act
- Corrections And Conditional Release Act
- Excise Act
- Extradition Act
- Government Employees Compensation Act
- Hazardous Products Act
- Canada Cooperative Associations Act
- Excise Tax Act
- Indian Act
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act
- Insurance Companies Act
- Land Titles Act
- Canada Transportation Act
- Pension Fund Societies Act
- Privacy Act
- Territorial Lands Act
- Wages Liability Act
- Sunshine Day
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Budget Implementation Act, 1997
- Banff National Park
- Bell Science Fair
- Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary
- Earth Day
- British Columbia
- Visit Of President Of Brazil
- Chinese Exclusion Act
- Special Olympics
- Rick Hansen
- Manpower Training
- Tran Trieu Quan
- Ubi Soft
- Earth Day
- Rights Of Victims
- Linguistic School Boards
- Government Spending
- Employment Insurance
- Young Canada Works
- Health Care
- Tran Trieu Quan
- Health Care
- The Environment
- Decontamination Of Military Sites
- Banff National Park
- Presence In The Gallery
- Points Of Order
- Budget Implementation Act, 1997
- Income Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 1996
- York Factory First Nation Flooded Land Act
- Nelson House First Nation Flooded Land Act
- First Nations Land Management Act
- Broadcast Act
Len Taylor The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK
Madam Speaker, I have the privilege and pleasure today to present a petition pursuant to Standing Order 36.
The petition is signed by in excess of 5,000 Canadians from coast to coast, all of whom are concerned about the future of Parks Canada.
The petitioners note that the federal government is making plans to "offload functions at Parks Canada through employee takeovers". This is a contracting out scheme that will have a devastating impact on many remote communities where national parks are located.
They also note that they care a great deal about the national parks system and the environment and state they will lose the integrity of the park system if it is privatized.
The petitioners request that Parliament stop the employee takeover proposal and work with the citizens and Parks Canada workers to develop cost saving ideas while at the same time preserve Canadian heritage.
Len Taylor The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK
Madam Speaker, I have a second petition today signed by a number of residents of my constituency, specifically from the city of North Battleford, the towns of Speers and Jackfish Lake, and a few others.
The petitioners note that 38 per cent of the national highway system is substandard and that the national highway policy study identified job creation, economic development, national unity, saving lives, avoiding injuries, lower congestion, lower vehicle operating costs and better international competitiveness as benefits of the proposed national highway program.
Therefore the petitioners call upon Parliament to urge the federal government to join with provincial governments to make national highway system upgrading possible.
Tony Valeri Lincoln, ON
Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 it is my honour to table a petition on behalf of my constituents in Lincoln.
The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that charitable organizations are being called upon to provide an increasing number of services for individuals in need.
Therefore the petitioners request that Parliament change the taxation formula so that an equal percentage of political and charitable donations are deductible.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)
I wish to inform the House that, due to the ministerial statement, Government Orders will be extended by 34 minutes.
Questions On The Order Paper
April 22nd, 1997 / 11:35 a.m.
Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue
Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
Questions On The Order Paper
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)
Is it agreed?
Questions On The Order Paper
Some hon. members
Budget Implementation Act, 1997
Doug Peters for 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, 1997
Sue Barnes Parliamentary 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, 1997
Richard Bélisle 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, 1997
Monte Solberg 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, 1997
An hon. member
You are exaggerating.
Budget Implementation Act, 1997
Monte Solberg 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, 1997
Paul Crête 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, 1997
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.)