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House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debt.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider implementing a tax credit or tax rebate that would compensate parents for the substantial costs of enrolling their children in youth activities.

Mr. Speaker, my private member's motion which we are debating reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider implementing a tax credit or tax rebate that would compensate parents for the substantial costs of enrolling their children in youth activities.

The intent of this motion is to provide a tax credit or rebate to parents to help defray the costs of a variety of programs such as recreational and academic; summer camps; sports teams; fees for hockey, soccer, baseball, et cetera; music or band programs, theatre or artist programs; camping and outdoor clubs; scouts, girl guides, et cetera. Obviously it is only a motion. It is not a bill. Any particular tax rebate program like this might have to be more specific as to what was included and what was excluded.

The point I am making through the motion is that parents are under increasing pressure to be able to fund and to pay for the many programs they would like to have their children enrolled in. They are being hit from all sides in this respect.

Parents face new and growing costs to keep their kids in school and in community club youth programs. If we talk to people who have children, they say that one of the features of parental life these days is fundraising. Parents always have chocolate bars on the dining room table. Their relatives are afraid to come over because they do not know what they are trying to sell them next, whether it is chocolate bars or this, that or the other to fund various programs at school.

Kids are marketing things at the door such as Christmas cards and various other things in order to get extra resources to buy things that I frankly think should be paid for by the school through the public treasury and the funding of our public education system through the tax system. That is happening less and less.

Parents are being asked, either by the school or by the various other programs their children are enrolled in, to engage more and more in either the payment of extra fees or the raising of extra money through fundraising.

Schools are feeling the broad range of cuts by federal and provincial governments with respect to education and youth programs. There has been a lot of downloading from the federal government to provincial governments, to school boards and to municipalities. We see the elimination or the reduction of a lot of youth programming.

This is not a problem that would be addressed in particular by what I am speaking about tonight. For instance, I have learned that in my own community the city of Winnipeg wants the community clubs to take over wading pools. The community clubs are already volunteer organizations. They are already stretched, yet this level of government expects volunteers to take over a program that is very important to a lot of children during our hot summers. Even though it gets cold in Winnipeg, it gets hot in the summer and wading pools are very important. That is another matter which has to do with the reduction of program funding.

There is also the problem of extra fees which the motion addresses in particular that are more and more expected of parents. They are required to pay extra amounts to provide their children with these positive experiences. The government should look at a way to recognize the value of children being enrolled in these kinds of programs. We should not have a society in which any child is prevented from being enrolled in these programs by virtue of the fact that parents feel they cannot afford it.

We need to encourage youth to engage in these kinds of positive activities. In parliament quite appropriately we spend an awful lot of time talking about the Young Offenders Act and the more punitive dimension of how to deal with youth crime. We also need to spend more time talking about the other half of the equation, which is making sure that we provide opportunities for positive learning activities that play a preventive role in dealing with the root problems of youth crime, or at least dealing with elements of the root problems of youth crime.

The experience of many people over the years has been that involvement in an organization which demands of a young person a great deal of time, energy and commitment keeps them from having time on their hands. It keeps them from the temptation to become involved in other things that are less wholesome. Much is to be said for youth being involved in these kinds of programs and activities.

There is merit in the government looking at ways in which it might extend more support in this regard than it does now. We need to break the cycle of youth crime, and I believe that healthy youth programs contribute to the maintenance and development of cohesive and safe communities. The evidence on that is pretty convincing.

The motion will not pass because it is not a votable motion, but I hope the government would consider what members of Parliament have to say and will look to incorporating some of the suggestions made today, not just by me but perhaps by others, into any kind of comprehensive strategy for youth in Canada.

If the government were to implement such a policy, it might want to look at how the tax rebate could be designed to give a bigger break to middle and low income Canadians who need it more than others. There might be some kind of ceiling on it. It does not necessarily have to be available to everybody.

Such programs have been instituted in other jurisdictions. In Minnesota, for instance, an educational tax credit and deduction was brought in to assist parents in this way. It is not identical to what I have in mind, but I am just saying there are examples of how this can be done. I recommend that the government have a look at that. It may see elements of a solution in what has been done in that state.

It is time for all levels of government to look at how we can begin to rebuild our educational and recreational programming because they have taken a beating over the last 10 years or so. We need to begin to invest in our children's future again. I think this is one of the ways we can do it. We could recognize the expense many families have in order to provide these kinds of experiences for their children. This measure would go a long way toward doing that.

I have a few other points I would like to put on the record. I have been very disturbed, for instance, in my own riding by the way the community clubs have been treated by Revenue Canada.

A community club in my riding was audited, assessed and told that there had been certain hockey fees on which it was supposed to be charging GST. The club did not know it was supposed to be charging GST in this category of program. The next thing we know, it is told that it owed Revenue Canada something in the neighbourhood of $10,000.

This is a community club run by volunteers. I do not know how many other community clubs across the country have been affected in this way. It seems to me that if Revenue Canada wants to instruct the club by telling it that it has been doing this wrong and from here on it it needs to charge GST, that is fair enough.

However, for Revenue Canada to tell the club, a volunteer organization where people are working nights and weekends to help make that club a success, that it owes $10,000 and interest is not a very wise policy when at the same time we are talking about the Young Offenders Act and what we can do about youth crime. Here we have a community club that is doing its best to keep as many kids active in sports and on the ice instead of on the street, and it is being told it made a mistake and it has to pay through the nose. I think that should have been waived.

We have had some success in waiving the interest but personally I think the whole thing should have been waived. I believe we need to look for other ways to encourage community clubs and other groups involved in youth programming rather than make them vulnerable to the kind of situation Park City West Community Centre in Transcona found itself in.

I look forward to the comments of other members on my suggestion.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

An hon. member

This will be good.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member across the way for saying “this will be good”. I hope he appreciates that.

I am pleased to speak to this private member's motion. It certainly reflects a concern for children and families, which is commendable and which the government fully shares. That philosophy was reaffirmed in last fall's Speech from the Throne which stated:

One of our objectives as a country should be to ensure that all Canadian children have the best possible opportunity to develop their full potential.

That objective may appear in harmony with today's motion which suggests that government consider providing tax relief for parents who enrol their children in youth activities. While the intent is admirable, I am afraid the motion fails some important tests both in terms of priority and practicality.

To explain, I want to begin by reminding the House that the federal tax system already provides significant assistance to low and middle income families with children through the Canada child tax benefit. It represents an investment of over $5 billion a year and is growing dramatically. In the last two budgets the government dramatically increased the annual assistance provided to low and middle income families through the child tax benefit.

Since July 1997 over 720,000 low income working families have received increased benefits as a result of restructuring and enriching the working income supplement. Overall benefits have increased by $850 million over three years.

Again, as announced in the 1998 budget, the government will add a further $425 million in July 1999 and another $425 million in July 2000.

I want to step back to Motion No. 306 and the issue of priorities. First, the government's dramatic fiscal progress and our capacity for new investment are still quite limited. We must make sure that investments including tax cuts meet the key priority of doing the most good for those with the greatest need.

The child tax benefit does this by targeting aid to low and middle income families. However, today's motion would represent a new and costly tax break and one that could provide the greatest share of the benefit to affluent families, in fact those who need it least.

Of course the cost of this motion would depend on the parameters applied such as the level of credit or the number of children for which it could be claimed. However, let me give a mid-case scenario as an example.

Let us assume for the moment a thousand dollar tax credit at a rate of 17%. In other words, a tax benefit of $170 for each eligible child is in place. If this was claimed by the parents of just half of all Canadian children, the cost would be about $570 million a year. That is a substantial amount of money.

A practical problem with this motion is the following. How should we define appropriate youth activities? Should the government be subsidizing golf or tennis lessons? Where do we draw the line between personal development and leisure?

Remember, parents of modest means can use the child tax benefit to help their children undertake youth activities if they feel that this is a good use of their family resources.

It reflects an important aspect of our tax policy and operating philosophy. We feel it is parents who are best placed to decide how the financial resources of their family should be allocated.

By creating a special tax break just for youth activities, it is the government that is determining family priorities.

Let me step back to the issue of what would qualify as an appropriate youth activity. Consider the administrative problems and costs of determining eligible activities requiring parents to provide receipts, and then processing these claims, all on top of a tax system which I am sure the hon. member opposite would agree most people already find quite complex and time consuming.

On the issue of what would be an eligible youth activity, there is a final point that I would like to make. The government already provides real tax assistance to many activities that would clearly qualify under the hon. member's motion.

Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, for example, are done through the tax exempt status of charitable or non-profit organizations. Because they are income tax exempt, they are able to offer their programs to members at a lower cost, making them accessible to the widest range of Canadians. It appears to me that this is an efficient, effective and fair method of meeting the same fundamental goal in today's motion.

In conclusion, it should be clear why this House cannot endorse today's motion. First, it would be a very costly addition to our already expanding program of tax assistance to families with children.

Also, it would provide assistance to many families that need it least without giving real aid to Canadian children and families in real jeopardy. Then it would be costly and difficult to administer.

Finally, the motion ignores the fact that there is a form of tax assistance, exemption for charitable and non-profit organizations, that already helps many youth activities and the involvement of children.

Considering this, we should have no hesitation in rejecting today's well intentioned but flawed motion. As I pointed out, government provides over $5 billion of assistance to families with children and is enriching that assistance.

This is a better way to help children than that proposed in this motion.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on Motion No. 306. I want to commend the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona for what is a well intentioned and commendable effort.

His objective clearly is to provide some form of tax relief for families in need to assist them in making choices for their families with respect to youth activities.

First of all, I see several technical flaws with the motion. For instance, the motion fails to define what constitutes youth activities, fails to define youth. There is no standard definition of youth in any of the tax statutes.

The cost of this tax expenditure is nowhere defined in the motion. Therefore while I think it is well intentioned, the motion itself has not been well thought out.

My principal objection is that the motion seeks to make choices for parents by defining exactly what kind of activities they can use to reduce their taxes payable. I think this is entirely the wrong approach.

The hon. member has touched on a very real problem. Families with children have experienced a shrinking disposable income now for over 15 years in this country.

Year after year they find there is less money at the end of the day in their bank accounts, in their wallets and in their cheque books to fund the kinds of important activities for their children and families, activities that supplement the basic education of children in the school system.

He is right in pointing out the plethora of fundraising activities which families find themselves participating in to finance recreational programs and other educational athletic programs and so forth. But the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona suggested during his remarks that instead of Girl Guides and minor hockey teams going out and raising these moneys by selling chocolate bars and cookies, the funding for these programs should come from the public treasury.

With all due respect to the hon. member, there actually is some value in young people learning that there is no such thing as a free lunch. To suggest that Girl Guides should apply to the federal government for a grant as opposed to going out and trying to sell their wares, to learn about the free enterprise system, to learn about charity and learn about the reliance on other people's good will is misguided indeed.

My principal objection is that the motion seeks to apply a band-aid where radical surgery is needed with respect to the taxation faced by Canadian families. Canadian families on average now spend more on taxation than they do on food, shelter and clothing combined. As I have said in this place many times, I think quite frankly such a tax burden is morally questionable, a burden that consumes more than the basic necessities of an average family. The family tax index which calculates the total burden of all direct and indirect taxes on average families suggests that the average Canadian family spends over 40% of its annual income on taxation to the three levels of government.

Just last week the C.D. Howe Institute released a new study which suggested that the average marginal tax rate faced by Canadian families was over 53%. Essentially what we have done in this Parliament and in this country is create a situation where families are working harder and harder. We have more two income families leaving children at home alone in the young formative years in order to go out into the workforce to pay for the taxes that have been levied on them by politicians in this place.

The solution to that problem, the solution to the frustration faced by so many families in financing the basic needs of their children is not to use the tax code as an instrument of social engineering. It is not for politicians in this legislature or any other legislative assembly to pick and choose which activities are more deserving of exemption from taxation than others. Picking and choosing certain activities is a form of social engineering. What we ought to strive to do in this Parliament is to let families make the choices that they need to make according to their own priorities. It is the principle of choice, it is the principle of freedom which ought to animate all the decisions we make in this place, particularly with respect to the tax system.

The Income Tax Act was introduced in this place as a temporary war tax act in 1917 to finance the needs of the then Dominion of Canada during the great war. It was a temporary act which totalled 12 pages. It read 12 pages in length. Today's Income Tax Act now numbers over 1,300 pages and includes several hundred more pages of associated regulations which deal with the application of this hugely complicated tax code.

We now employ over 43,000 bureaucrats in the Department of National Revenue to administer that 13,000 page tax code.

It took 43,000 bureaucrats to administer a tax code so complex and so lengthy that no person in this country understands it. I dare say those of us here who write those tax laws have never read a substantial portion let along the entire Income Tax Act. I suggest that even the most expert tax authorities in this country do not have a comprehensive understanding of the behemoth, the monster we have created in the Income Tax Act.

The reason this tax code grows and grows is well intentioned but ultimately shortsighted efforts like the motion before us today. Parliamentarians and governments have sought to use the tax code as an instrument of social engineering, placing level on level and layer on layer of complexity to create innumerable deductions, exemptions, credits, write-offs and loopholes in the system. Each one of these creates new complexities within the legislation which requires more bureaucrats to administer it. This creates a greater need for private sector tax practitioners to interpret it and apply it. Meanwhile the poor bedraggled taxpayer at the end of the year is faced with an incomprehensible requirement.

It is interesting that we are discussing this as we approach the end of the tax year. Millions of Canadian families are going to be sitting around their kitchen tables late at night with their pocket calculators, pencils and their reams of paper trying to understand this byzantine, incomprehensible, opaque tax code we have imposed on them because of the innumerable regulations, exemptions, deductions and credits which have been inspired by motions like the one before us today.

What my colleagues and I in the Reform caucus propose to do is rather than carving out little loopholes in the tax code, as the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona proposes, we propose to deliver general tax relief to all Canadian families. This will enable them to make choices about how to dispose of their scarce income. We would do this by raising the basic personal exemption to $7,900 not for some families like this government has proposed but for all families. We would raise the spousal amount to $7,900.

We would convert the current child care tax deduction which discriminates against traditional families to a refundable credit available to all families. In sum, we would deliver $2,000 of tax relief for the average Canadian family. This would be appreciably greater for low income families with children at home. Let families make the decisions by allowing them to keep more of the money they have earned rather than taking it from them and using the tax code to engineer social outcomes.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the motion brought forward by the member for Winnipeg Transcona. I will repeat it so it is fresh in our minds: “That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider implementing a tax credit or tax rebate that would compensate parents for the substantial costs of enrolling their children in youth activities”.

I think an element is missing from our tax system, from our wealth distribution system, that could be useful to our society in that it could prevent certain tragic situations. Let me explain.

We are talking about youth activities. We can think of anything that can complement family education: piano lessons, violin lessons, participation in sports like judo, hockey, baseball, all those things that complement a child's education. The discipline that a child will acquire by taking piano lessons for many years, for example, the fact that he or she will learn that it takes a lot of work to become a good pianist and that results cannot be achieved without effort, all this will help that child through his or her whole life. I think the motion before us would help us reach that goal.

When the Liberals tell me that we cannot afford that, I say that we have a tax system that provides credits for professional hockey teams, and as long as businesses can benefit from tax deductions for that kind of thing, we should provide a deduction for parents who have to pay for their kids to take piano lessons, to play hockey or to participate in other types of educational activities.

The government cannot, on the one hand, agree to deduct money for professional hockey teams and, on the other hand, claim that it is not possible to change our tax system to meet such needs.

The other element is that these costs can sometimes be considerable. For example, a family with three children could spend several thousands of dollars per year on such courses. With a tax credit, the costs involved would be less for each family, and it could allow some children to take courses that their families would otherwise not be able to afford.

Earlier, the Reform Party member mentioned that this is the time of the year when people prepare their tax return and that they do not want to be stuck with an additional credit. I happen to see things very differently. There are parents who have kept receipts for such costs, for youth activities that are not tax deductible. These people would be very happy if they could get a deduction for such costs. These are positive and useful activities that benefit children.

Another important element is that it would promote volunteer work. In all these organizations, there are volunteers who put in several hours every week. In the municipality of La Pocatière, which is located in my riding, there is a judo club and some music schools where piano and violin teachers do a lot of volunteer work. If we could increase the number of students by reducing costs, it would promote and recognize the volunteer work done by these people.

It would also encourage new initiatives. Again, last year, a music teacher came to see me about starting a music class in a school in Saint-Alexandre-de-Kamouraska at the primary level.

There is the cost evaluation. Obviously this is not easy. Contributions must be sought from parents and from institutions. If there had been such a tax measure, it would have been an incentive for this new kind of initiative. I think that this sort of effort would be beneficial, and an investment in society.>

I think this is very important. We should be investing in these activities so that fewer young people get off on the wrong foot. The best way to prevent juvenile delinquency is to make activities available to young people that give them a chance to develop their potential so that they can decide what they want to do with their lives. If the traditional educational system does not give them this opportunity, this kind of activity can help them to discover interests and demonstrate their potential.

If we look at it in terms of investment, it is no longer simply an expenditure, as the Liberal member was saying earlier. I am extremely surprised, but this is becoming more and more of a reality: the Liberal Party and the Reform Party have similar views on this issue.

For example, the Liberal and Reform members tell us this will be complicated. They wonder how youth activity will be defined, and if it will not create additional bureaucracy. I think this is hiding behind the principle itself. What they are actually saying is that they do not want equalizing measures in our society. They want everyone to have fewer and fewer equal opportunities, when the member's very motion says:

—the government should consider implementing a tax credit or tax rebate that would compensate parents for the substantial costs of enrolling their children in youth activities.

The member for Winnipeg—Transcona did not have to write today's Income Tax Act. He is merely drawing the House's attention to the relevance of doing something along these lines. I would have expected the government's attitude to be more one of being willing to consider this motion, to see what can be done.

In today's society, what can we do to give everyone a more equal opportunity?

How, for instance, will we ensure that the children of parents with low income will enjoy this sort of benefit? This sort of consideration can be examined in committee. Legislation may have to be amended as a result.

We already have a tax credit for charitable donations. I think we could quickly and precisely link the sort of tax credit sought in the member's motion to the existing tax credits for charities. This way parents could be strongly encouraged to ensure their children will participate in such activities.

Parents who, at supper time, are organizing the week's courses and setting their own schedules up accordingly, will not say, as the Reform member did earlier, that this is not a matter for the government.

Under such circumstances, parents who have an opportunity to give their children more training will do so. They must also have equal opportunity, because in recent years there has been more pressure on taxpayers and particularly on parents in terms of family income. Would this not be a way to distribute wealth better?

Productivity in society has increased a lot in recent years. Banks for one are making huge profits. We are looking for ways to redistribute this increased productivity in society.

Would it not be a drop in the bucket, but nevertheless significant and valid to say that one way the government could ensure gains in productivity are returned to the people would be through this tax credit or a remittance of taxes to parents wanting their children to fully benefit from activities for youth.

I think all Canadians—children, parents or the agencies providing the services—would find that this was a fair and important act. I encourage the House to consider this sort of argument.

While the motion is not votable, I hope the government, in response to the arguments raised here, will pay attention and include such action in the next budget.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Diane St-Jacques Progressive Conservative Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part today in the debate on the motion by my colleague for Winnipeg—Transcona. As my party's spokesperson on policies for children, I am greatly interested in everything relating to children's lives.

I must, however, admit that I am confused as to the content and scope of this motion. First of all, I believe it is essential to know what age group is targeted. Young children or adolescents? The answer to this will certainly have an impact on the extent of the activities addressed by the motion.

I wonder also about the activities eligible for the tax credit. Is the NDP member referring to hockey, ballet lessons, piano lessons? I do not know the answer but I do feel more clarification is required.

Perhaps the NDP member could inform us as to how the institutions or organizations providing these activities for youth would be accredited. What, for example, are the criteria for determining that this or that body is accredited to issue tax receipts? Is it limited to not-for-profit organizations? Are private sector institutions included? What are the criteria for obtaining the status of a tax receipt-issuing institution? Once again, the answers will have a definite influence on the impact of the motion.

Just think for a moment about the efforts and resources required to set up such an initiative. Would the government structure be even more complex than at present?

As well, the additional costs institutions will have to meet in preparing and issuing tax receipts will have a negative impact on the charge for activities. Prices will go up, and fewer families will be able to take part. Is the primary objective of the motion not to encourage more parents to enrol their children in youth activities?

Unlike the NDP, our party seeks solutions that will lighten the structure of government, and cut down on red tape.

The Progressive Conservative Party believes that the top priority is to implement an economic growth program. We also believe that tax relief should take the form of substantial personal income tax reductions. Taxes are too high in Canada. They kill initiative, they slow down and divert potential job-creating investments.

Our priority is to put more money back into the pockets of taxpayers; they will know better than the government what it should be spent on, be it on registered education savings plans or what not.

The government must also develop a job creation strategy, not a strategy to subsidize piano lessons. This is a matter of priority. Instead of the NDP government-pays-all approach, we are in favour of a co-operative approach with the private sector.

For example, sports teams could have corporate sponsors taking on the costs associated with buying equipment in exchange for displaying their corporate logo on the players' shirts. This kind of co-operative approach has proven successful so far.

It is not a priority for the government to interfere in this area. Many others require attention. Eliminating child poverty and adequate funding for health care are priorities.

Public funding should indeed be restored to the level necessary to ensure health care. Other steps could be taken to alleviate the taxpayers' burden, including full indexation of the child benefit and personal income tax brackets as well as reducing employment insurance premiums.

As long as there are children living in poverty, sick people who are not receiving adequate treatment, needy seniors and unemployed workers, we in the PC caucus will be there to defend their interests.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to add my comments to the record regarding this very important motion by my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Transcona. It was a privilege to second this motion.

We are often preoccupied in this House dealing with very serious problems in our society, the high unemployment of young people, the lack of opportunities for our youth to use their talents to their fullest, the burden on families, parents and communities to address the recreational needs of young people. Clearly if we in this House intend to find meaningful solutions to the problems of unemployment among young people, to the problems of a sense of feeling hopeless and helpless, to the problems of pursuing less than desirable activities in the areas of delinquency and crime and membership in gangs, we have to provide the services and recognize the needs that will deter young people from undesirable activities.

My riding is probably no different from those of many in this House. It is an area of very high unemployment, very high poverty, with a crying need from parents everywhere for governments to address those issues. It is a cry for help, not for charity, not for handouts but a cry for parents to help themselves deal with the concerns they are facing on a daily basis.

My community is probably not unlike those of many others in this Chamber in terms of the lack of adequate recreational facilities and supports. It is interesting on every turn that those community centres that were providing opportunities for young people to be involved are being shut down, inadequately resourced, without responsible action taken on the part of any level of government.

My intention today in support of this motion is threefold. First, if we are serious about the issues that we grapple with on a daily basis then surely as members of the federal Parliament putting pressure on the government we can effect some changes at the fiscal level in our taxation system that will be a meaningful contribution to the debate.

The second purpose is to say that the federal government also has a role to support community efforts through co-operative financial efforts, through provincial-municipal co-operation in terms of recreational facilities.

There is a centre sitting idle in my community. It used to be the north YM-YWCA in Winnipeg. That organization ran out of the funds it needed to stay open. No level of government was prepared to fill the gap, to find a way to ensure that centre could be reopened. It would have given young people a meaningful place to fulfil their need for leisure recreation and to apply their talents. It was a project, an idea and a need that was not met by the federal-provincial infrastructure program.

We in this House tend to raise our voices about problems with young people involved in crime and gangs. Surely the federal government has a role to work, to listen and to address those needs. It can work hand in hand with provincial and municipal governments to find ways to open facilities that mean something to young people, not to close them. They can find ways to put programs in place which truly address the wishes and desires of our young people.

My hope today is for us to think in terms of the needs of families and parents who deal daily with the dilemma of trying to ensure their children are occupied and are busy enjoying life, that they are not lured on to streets into undesirable activities. We in Parliament can play a real role.

The motion proposed by the member for Winnipeg—Transcona is a very good place to start. It will help to deal with the tremendous burden families have of trying to find the necessary funds for their kids to participate in often costly recreational activities. Often the costs are beyond the reach of many parents. Certainly many parents in my own constituency do not have the economic wherewithal to pay for hockey equipment, to pay the fees, to drive their kids to and from activities. They must juggle their demands as workers with the need to be very caring and attentive parents.

It is a tremendous need which needs to be addressed. This is a good place to start. I ask all members to give serious consideration to supporting this motion.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak on this motion. It is put forward by an NDP member, although I do not like to say that because this is private members' business and when we deal with private members' business we should take the political designations out of it.

I have had occasion to get to know the member. I am impressed with his sincerity and his genuine desire to help families and to help people who are facing tremendous financial stresses and pressures in our country nowadays. I dislike having to say that I like this member, I like his ideas, I like his general principles and then immediately say that I am going to speak against his motion. I must do that for a very simple reason.

The member has proposed a motion that would selectively give assistance to families that are raising children. The motion states that the House “should consider implementing a tax credit or tax rebate that would compensate parents for the substantial costs of enrolling their children in youth activities”.

There is such a wide range of activities that our children engage in. Are we talking about summer camps? Are we talking about sports and music lessons, which have already been mentioned?

Another example of where the costs are tremendous is in providing an education for our children and teenagers. Are we going to extend a tax credit to people who choose to enroll their children in private schools, as my wife and I did? We had specific reasons for that and it took a considerable sacrifice on our part to do it. However, I do not regret it for a moment. It was money that was very well invested.

The truth is that we paid for those tuition fees with after tax dollars because the income tax system does not permit a deduction of those fees. If I were to speak in favour of this motion, then I would say that should also be included. For example, to pay an annual tuition of $4,000 a year for my young boys to attend the school of their choice and our choice, that $4,000 tuition required that I earn about $8,000.

My colleague from Calgary mentioned that the marginal tax rate is over 50% in Canada. This means I would have to earn over $8,000 in order to write a $4,000 cheque to the school. This would be a tremendously high proportion of a family's income. That extends to every area.

I then think of my children as young people on their way to university and college. It cost quite a bit of money to provide them with either transportation and room and board at home or with housing and tuition, the cost of books and cost of clothing, all of those costs, while they were students. According to our Income Tax Act, those costs were not deductible even though for us to help our guys, because they could not get a job or got a poorly paying job with few hours, we had to subsidize their education. It was fairly costly.

I would also like to commend my children for working very hard and very long hours in order to earn as much as they could. Here again, should that be with after tax dollars when we start paying $8,000 a year to educate a young person in college or university?

I would think that if we are going to provide deductions for hockey lessons and trombone lessons so that one day when they are prime minister they can provide some music, it should surely be acceptable to provide deductions to the parents or other relatives who are actually paying the fees to further the education of these young people.

I would like to propose something which is actually much better. Instead of introducing into the Income Tax Act new provisions, new categories where the items can be either deducted from income or entered as a tax credit eligibility, it would be much superior for us to simply try to get rid of our debt so that we can stop charging 30 cents on every $1 for interest. We thereby would provide tax relief to all Canadians at all levels with more disposable income. We could all use it.

It would help our economy. It would help our students and young people. It would help all of the families if we had a reduced tax load. More of them would be able to have jobs. More of them would then add to the economy. They would have a higher disposable income and more money in their pockets in order to provide for the needs of their families, whatever those needs are, the actual explicit expenditures they encounter or indirect ones.

Many families nowadays are really struggling. We have heard many times in this House that in order to have a balanced budget in the home both parents must work. As a result we have the social needs of the children, their parenting needs and also the tax needs to provide for the ability to look for day care or whatever is needed for the children, many of these things. The government should be out of the tax picture.

I would love it if in this country parents could have a free choice as to where they use their money for educating, training, or providing recreation for their children. Certainly they should have the choice of whether or not they want to actually parent their children themselves or hire others to do it. There are too many people who because of our excessively high rate of taxation simply do not have that choice. We are slaves to our tax system.

The member for Winnipeg—Transcona mentioned in his speech, and I have had the same experience, that charitable organizations have to charge the GST on the different functions they do to try to raise money to behave in a charitable way in their community. I do not know how this government can do that and still have any collective conscience.

I do not know how the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and all those individual Liberal members over there can sleep at night knowing that what they are doing is wrenching every dollar they can from Canadians in order to provide for the things that they value. It gives them such a sense of power to be able to tax Canadians and then decide where they will give it back.

We have noticed lately that if these people are good Liberal members with a paid up membership they are more likely to be eligible to receive a government appointment and things like that. It is unconscionable.

Whenever I think of voting for a bill that spends money or of approving an expenditure of a committee, I like to think in my mind of any family back in my riding whose whole annual tax bill in some cases will go to provide for that expenditure. We need to become much more conscious here of the burden we are putting on people.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac will have two minutes.

TaxationPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour NDP Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me these two minutes. This is a very important issue.

I was a single mother for a long time. My son played hockey and it was always an additional cost in my budget. I always had to find ways to pay for registration fees, equipment, etc. All these things cost money.

I support the motion, but I am somewhat concerned by what the Reform Party member says about our taxes. It is true that Canadians pay a lot of taxes. We often hear that the government should reduce taxes, but the Reform Party never talks about the big corporations that do not pay their fair share. Reform always says that ordinary people pay too much taxes and it is true.

However, I was very concerned when I heard the hon. member say that the government should stop collecting taxes. This really concerns me. As we know, they want to give up our national programs, which are so important in this country, such as our health care program.

We invest in post-secondary education. We have social assistance for those who have nothing. We should think twice when Reform talks about taxes. What is its real objective?

We pay taxes for one reason: to get services. Americans may pay less taxes, but look at how much it costs when a mother delivers a baby, or when someone seeks medical help for a bout of the flu.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, on February 20 in this House I asked a pertinent question of the Hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food concerning the sheep disease scrapie.

Before proceeding, I would like to reassure all of the members of this House that scrapie does not cause any human health problems. The problem that it does cause is for the farmer, as generally the whole flock has to be destroyed.

In the few minutes available to me, I would like to touch on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, on carcass disposal procedures, and on compensation.

First of all, the new food inspection agency. It must be kept in mind that this agency was created out of thin air by this government. Since it began operations on January 1, 1997, barely 16 months ago—call it happenstance if you will—the number of flocks infected by scrapie has been rising to such an extent that one wonders whether the cuts affecting inspection do not bear a direct relationship to that increase. The reason I say this is that, when the flock at the Lennoxville research station in the riding of Sherbrooke was dispersed, the government saw fit to release sheep infected with scrapie into circulation. That is serious.

The agency must now be asking serious questions as to how the carcasses were disposed of on February 16, five weeks ago. An order was passed here in Ottawa to have the agency pay the costs of this disposal. I thought the carcasses were to be incinerated but I was wrong. Since the decision was made to pay, the carcasses are being collected by the thousands and deposited in regional landfill sites. Often this creates problems with runoff water, and our government tolerates or organizes this sort of animal disposal.

Finally, compensation falls far short. The government must sit down with the sheep producers. In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to the availability and especially the knowledge of three producers. They are Georges Pharand, Réjean Raymond and Giovanni Lebel, all from the lower St. Lawrence. They met in camera with the Standing Committee on Agriculture and were no doubt a valuable source of information for all committee members.

I am obviously impatient to hear the government's response to these three questions.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Simcoe North Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, scrapie is a naturally occurring disease that has been around for over 200 years.

The present scrapie program in Canada is one of the best in the world. It was launched in 1945. There is no known link between scrapie and human diseases. There is therefore no reason to alarm the public.

All animals that show clinical symptoms of scrapie or are felt to present a high risk of contracting the disease are ordered destroyed under the supervision of the Canada Food Inspection Agency. The carcasses of such animals are incinerated or buried.

Farmers are compensated for the animals ordered destroyed under the Health of Animals Act. In addition, recent amendments to the regulations now guarantee payment of compensation for the associated costs of disposal.

Compensation encourages owners to report diseases and to play an active role in the fight against them, as well as in the efforts to track down their origins. Responsibility for maintaining consumer confidence in access to international markets rests with farmers, the industry and the government.

Canada's scrapie program is recognized as one of the most rigorous in the world. We will continue to work closely with the industry to combat this disease.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to go into more detail about the question I raised in this House on March 10 regarding home care. I am hoping that this forum will finally result in some answers from the Liberals and some assurances that their government is standing up for medicare.

There is a clear sense of urgency about the issue of health care and about the need for home care. There is not a Canadian anywhere who has not experienced personally and directly problems stemming from the inadequacies of our health care system or who does not know someone who has experienced some horrible situation in our health care system. They know we have a health care crisis.

They want this government to provide more than words and more than election promises. They are desperately looking for federal leadership, for a role by this government to preserve and strengthen medicare. They do not want anything to do with the kind of leadership, if we can call it that, being offered by the Reform Party. They reject totally the Reform policy, articulated so clearly yesterday, to establish a parallel private, for profit two tier health care system. They reject absolutely that kind of system. They want to see this government act now and act quickly to prevent that kind of idea from gaining any ground.

Canadians deeply care about medicare. They want to see medicare preserved and strengthened. They believe in a universally accessible, publicly administered, single payer health care system. They know it requires certain things on the part of this government. It requires a reversal of the trend that we have seen over the last few years of government offloading and cutbacks. They know it requires a commitment to reinvest in health care, especially at a time of budgetary surplus. They know it requires new and innovative directions to health care like home care.

I submit to this government but specifically to the Minister of Health that his argument that we need more time to study home care before this government is prepared to act is completely misplaced and a fallacious argument. We have no shortage of studies, experience and examples about home care, how it can work and the kind of benefits it will achieve. What we need is action now. We need money on the table.

There are several reasons why home care is so critical right now. It will help to address the current crisis in our hospital system because if we do not have home care, people stay longer in hospitals. We know it is a cost effective method. We know that it is a responsible public policy responding to an aging population. We know it will take pressure off the families and particularly women who are left with the primary care of parents and aging relatives. We know it will stop the emergence of privatization in the home care field and we know that it will create jobs and create a boom for our economy.

In conclusion, it is absolutely clear that the best health system in the world did not just create itself. It took leadership and vision. We need that leadership and vision from the Liberal government now to preserve health care, to strengthen medicare and ensure that we have a national home care plan as soon as possible.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Pierrefonds—Dollard Québec

Liberal

Bernard Patry LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, some people are wondering why the government is not investing in home care today if it is so urgent.

The government knows full well that Canadians need help to provide care at home and in the community. That is why, in the last budget, it gave back $1.5 billion in transfer payments to the provinces for this year and that is also why, in the 1998 budget, it increased tax relief for caregivers, as promised.

Finally, it is why the government has invited Canadians as well as experts in home care from across Canada to meet in Halifax last week to discuss the measures that should be taken with regard to home care.

The message from the national conference on home care was very clear. Delegates agreed that a national approach is required in the area of home care. Participants at the conference have asked us to find the best solutions, not only the quickest. They want us to do things right.

The government started to work on that last year in response to recommendations by the National Forum on Health. We responded immediately by creating, for a period of three years, the federal-provincial-territorial fund for health services adjustment. Home care is one of four priority areas for evaluation and innovative projects.

We know that the provinces and territories provide home care services to their residents. However, we have a variety of standards, services, eligibility criterias, user fees and funding levels across the country. It is a complex situation.

There is a lot more work to be done. We have to form a partnership with the provinces, hold further consultations with Canadians, define priorities, develop a plan and make careful investments to reach our goal. We are planning to do that over the next 12 to 18 months. That is what we will do.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for its indulgence in permitting me to speak while seated as a result of my recent injuries.

It was on December 11, 1997, the day after international human rights day, that I posed a question to the Prime Minister concerning the role of the Prime Minister's office during the recent APEC summit in my home city of Vancouver, British Columbia.

I spoke of deep concerns about the events that took place in the time leading up to the summit as well of course as the events that took place during the summit itself.

During the lead-up to the APEC leaders summit which was held in Vancouver at the end of November 1997 it was very clear that the Liberal government refused to put human rights on the agenda of the meeting despite pleas from my colleagues in the New Democratic Party and NGO delegates across Canada to do so.

Its lack of funding for the people's summit for NGO delegates to travel from Asia demonstrated that the government was determined to stifle any dissenting opinions about the role of APEC in promoting human rights, environmental, labour and social standards.

For example, rather than bar Indonesian dictator General Suharto as a war criminal under Canadian immigration law, the Liberal government arranged to meet with him in Indonesia prior to the summit and assure him that his security concerns would be addressed.

We saw during the APEC summit exactly how that promise to General Suharto was kept. Who could forget the images on television of peaceful protesters being pepper sprayed by the RCMP as the motorcades with Suharto and other known human rights abusers drove by?

One of the eye witness accounts from a UBC student, Darren Lund, said it all. He said that it was blatant that excessive force was used against peaceful students. He witnessed as police emptied over 20 large canisters of pepper spray indiscriminately into the crowd. He thought it was a shameful way to show students how economic and corporate interest can supersede fundamental human rights.

There were many other violations. Protesters were detained without charge and forced to sign release conditions that abrogated their right to protest by saying they would not return to UBC during the APEC meetings.

There is the case of Jaggi Singh, who was arrested while walking with his friends to the student union building at UBC. He was forced to the ground by a plain clothes policeman, thrown into an unmarked car with tinted windows and driven away to a detention centre in the outskirts of the city. It sounds more like Argentina in the 1970s than Canada in the 1990s.

Women protesters were being singled out for strip searches in prison. Police forcibly removed the Tibetan flag that was flying at the graduate students' centre. Aboriginal Musquem Chief Gail Sparrow was prevented from speaking on human rights, and law student Craig Jones was arrested for peacefully holding signs that read “free speech”, “democracy” and “human rights”, even though they were posted outside the APEC restricted security zone.

I call today on our government to order an independent public inquiry into these very serious events. An inquiry by the RCMP Public Complaints Commission is not enough. Certainly it can look into the complaints against the RCMP, but we must look into the role that the Prime Minister's Office played, for example, in interfering directly in the agreement that was arrived at between the University of British Columbia and those who were involved in the RCMP in organizing this meeting.

Finally, as former MP Marion Dewar said, in this, the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pepper spraying protesters is no way for Canada to demonstrate leadership.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, in response to the hon. member's question I would like to essentially put things in the proper perspective first.

The APEC conference and the security evolving around the APEC conference was one of the largest events in Canadian history. It involved over 3,000 police officers.

As international law dictates, it also involved Canada having a responsibility to protect the 18 heads of state who were attending the conference.

To that end, there were clearly defined zones for the demonstrators to freely demonstrate in public view of the 18 heads of state who were attending.

There were numerous complaints received since that incident and those complaints have been addressed directly to the Public Complaints Commission.

The Public Complaints Commission, as we know, is an independent administrative tribunal. It also has civilian members on it. They have the power to review all the complaints. They have the power to even conduct investigations and hold hearings. We look forward to those hearings.

On December 3, the Chair, Shirley Heafey, began the investigation into the RCMP's actions. On February 20, 1998, she also indicated that there would be a public interest hearing, which the member is calling for.

The hearings will start on April 14, 1998. We have every confidence that the Public Complaints Commission will do its job, that it will investigate everything it feels is necessary to investigate. We await the report.

In view of that report and the investigation that is ongoing, I would like to limit my comments at this stage.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour NDP Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, the minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is sacrificing Canadians' health, environment and economic well-being to benefit the activities of large oil companies.

The minister's weak response in the House last week was a pathetic attempt to answer the question I had put forth, asking if he would commit to implementing the Gold report recommendations and say no to retroactive fees.

By dodging this vital question, which affects the protection of Canada's waters from oil and chemical spills, the minister demonstrated to all Canadians why the problem associated with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not limited to the bureaucracy itself. This is a minister whose discretionary powers are used to circumvent the protection of fish habitat and ignore Fisheries Act regulations.

His decisions regarding the Cheviot mine and lack of action in the New Brunswick aquaculture are a testament to the minister's absolute disregard for environmental matters. The bottom line is that he is ignoring a panel of inquiry by not implementing the panel's recommendations.

Presently the DFO is determining the bulk oil cargo fee, which is designed to extract funds from oil companies to clean up their spills. A handful of major oil companies presently profit from the bulk oil cargo fee by laundering their fee through their own certified response organizations.

Moreover, the oiled wildlife response organizations subcontracted by the certified response organizations have no guaranteed funding to provide essential environmental and safety services, while the certified response organizations automatically receive the bulk oil cargo fee whether or not they perform the duties expected of them.

The Canadian Coast Guard is unable or unwilling to monitor the establishment, collection and allocation of the fee on an equitable basis. Furthermore, the DFO consistently refuses to publish reports on the fee structure and to consult the principal stakeholders involved in the bulk oil cargo fee.

What is worse, the certified response organizations receive guaranteed funding and make a great profit from it without providing the service. In some cases they state they can provide the service but end up utilizing expert organizations such as Maritime Atlantic Wildlife to carry out the service.

In addition, the certified response organizations claim that oiled wildlife response is not part of their mandate so they can pocket more money at the expense of both the environment and inevitably the taxpayer.

As a result of such activities, I propose that the DFO take immediate action toward the following three points: the creation of a non-profit, independent, national oil spill agency that would determine the fee structure, collect the fee, specify a fixed percentage for the other parties according to the need, such as oiled wildlife response organizations, and monitor the oil spill response organizations; forbid oil companies from owning any share in certified response organizations; and forbid non-Canadian owned response organizations from benefiting from the bulk oil cargo fee.

Over the last 31 months the fairness and equity of the bulk oil cargo fee have been well analysed. The overwhelming view of both government and independent studies demonstrate there are serious legal and viability problems. It is also the view of many including myself that it was the Tories who were responsible for creating this collusive, monopolistic practice by putting the interest of corporate greed ahead of fundamental principles.

Today I ask the Liberals to stop putting the interests of oil companies' pocketbooks ahead of the health of Canadians, our environment and our economic well-being.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Simcoe North Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the current oil spill preparedness and response regime was put in place by the previous government to supplement the Canadian Coast Guard's existing capacity to respond to a major oil spill anywhere in Canadian waters.

The hon. member can be assured that Canada's preparedness capacity has been significantly increased since the Nestucca and Exxon Valdez spills of 1989, with teams and equipment in place in all regions capable of responding to spills of up to 10,000 tonnes. That is more than 10 times the size of the Nestucca spill.

Further, in the event of a catastrophic spill, equipment and personnel would be moved in from other regions and from other countries to protect our marine environment.

The government strongly supports the principle that the potential polluter pays the cost of the preparedness system. This means that those who transport oil in Canadian waters must pay a fee to cover the cost of equipment and infrastructure that stand ready to combat a spill should one occur.

After extensive consultation, industry stakeholders agreed on the basic structure of a business based regime that would ensure that all potential polluters shared these costs.

Some major oil companies then invested approximately $50 million in response organizations in order to put this preparedness system in place. No other companies made that investment. However, all potential polluters have an obligation to pay their share of the system.

The gold panel made a number of sweeping recommendations on the governance of the regime along with a different approach for deriving fees. Taken as a whole these recommendations constitute a complete reworking of the existing regime.

The minister accepts the panel's concern but has an obligation to consult with the stakeholders who worked with the government in creating the regime rather than imposing the new system proposed by the panel. A decision by the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans on fees is now imminent.

Our goal is to create an integrated public and private sector system where prevention is encouraged, preparedness is required and the best possible response is available in all Canadian waters in the event of a spill.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.56 p.m.)