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House of Commons Hansard #81 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was finance.

Topics

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I do not want to get into a debate on this because I think that what we are trying to deal with here in the House is a matter that should be dealt with in the committee. It is up to the committee to decide if its president was within parliamentary practices. In any case, it has been the longstanding practice of the House not to intervene until we have a report from the committee.

I would prefer that this matter be dealt with in committee. From what I am getting from the interventions so far there may have been an idea that there was to be a limit of time. I am just repeating what I seem to have heard here. If that is the case, perhaps it can be worked out.

I do not want to get into a debate but I am prepared to listen to a few more interventions providing that we give pertinent information on this specific point of order.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with your analysis that committees have consistently been the masters of their own destiny and I think that is the way this place has always run.

There are a couple of things you may want to know about what happened today in committee. Eventually the members of the Bloc Quebecois stormed out of the meeting and things ran much smoother after that. But before that you should know that there was an agreement among the parties, an informal agreement as has been mentioned. I thought it was all agreed to. As usually happens in a committee where members take turns going from the government side back and forth and so on, I stood up on my first intervention and said we may want to have these witnesses back if we are not satisfied with the conclusions we reached today and so on.

The Bloc Quebecois House leader came in about three-quarters of the way through the meeting, not having taken part in the earlier discussions whatsoever. He decided he did not like the rules of the game and decided he wanted to change them.

The committee then moved to formalize and sustain the ruling of the chair. There was a motion, do we sustain the ruling of the chair. That motion passed easily, of course. The Bloc stormed out and so on.

Perhaps it was a Freudian slip earlier that this was not a gag order on the Bloc, this whole thing is a gag.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am an associate member of the committee that is considering the matter. I was also on the committee looking into the Jean-Marc Jacob question. I can tell you the committee works in black and white.

I do not want to repeat the remarks of the House leader of the Bloc Quebecois. I think he put his case very responsibly and fairly. I would like to add, however, that you have made a prima facie ruling. The matter appeared serious enough to warrant being referred to committee, so the members of the committee could consider it seriously.

We have heard from an expert, Joseph Maingot. He stated before the committee that the matter raised by the referral to committee was very important and that the context needed to be analyzed.

You are a reasonable man, Mr. Speaker, a man of parliamentary experience. You will understand that we parliamentarians cannot do responsible and consistent work if we are cut off by the chair, if he fails to recognize us or if he intervenes in the question we have asked.

If points of order are continually raised on all sorts of things, because the members of the Bloc Quebecois raise a matter that does not suit the Liberal or Reform Party witness, you will understand that we cannot do our parliamentary duty.

Furthermore, as you will understand, when someone comes to testify before the committee, we cannot limit ourselves to 20 minutes to question the witness and we cannot say “It does not matter, they will be back”.

If we are going to get to the bottom of things and show the member contradicted his own words, because Mr. Maingot the government expert said to consider the context the statement was made in, we cannot limit ourselves to a single newspaper article from March 8. All that has to be checked, which cannot be done in 20 minutes.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, when this crisis was raised in the House, we felt as a party that it must not be treated lightly. After several days of watching what you have had to go through, we felt it was important that a motion be proposed in the House to refer a case as serious as this to the committee on procedure.

I know that, generally, the chair of the committee is a reasonable man. The important point to be raised is that they want to restrict us to very specific statements. I believe we must take advantage of this debate to try to broaden the scope and to draw conclusions from these actions. The Reform Party and the government party both tend to want to treat this reference to the committee as something superficial.

I believe we must take advantage of this opportunity to draw constructive conclusions for the benefit of our country's future. Certain behaviour must be stopped. We know that there have been provocations for the past 25 years throughout the country, and this has contributed to a growing discontent that threatens to break this country apart.

Conclusions must be drawn from these events. I therefore wanted to speak this morning in order to ask some of the witnesses whether they considered attitudes like theirs—flags in the House—and statements like those they made to be of such a nature as to bring Canadians closer together. Unfortunately, the Chair rose, interrupting me, and stated that this was not part of the reference.

If something positive is to come out of these events, all of our colleagues responsible for these actions and words should realize what they have done. This is serious, as we have been saying for the past 25 years.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

I have heard the interventions of four or five members on this point of order. My view is that when we set up a committee of this House, it is set up by the House to carry out the orders of the House. My predecessors have ruled time and time again that unless there is a report before the House, the Chair does not intervene.

If this is a misunderstanding of some kind, it should be worked out in the committee with the committee members. I hope it can be worked out.

I will leave this point of order where it is. I suggest that whatever points of order are brought up here in terms of extra time or whatever is needed can be brought up in the committee. They should be dealt with there. I will leave this right here, right now.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, the Income Tax Application Rules, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Pension Plan, the Children's Special Allowances Act, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, the Customs Act, the Customs Tariff, the Employment Insurance Act, the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the Income Tax Conventions Interpretation Act, the Old Age Security Act, the Tax Court of Canada Act, the Tax Rebate Discounting Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act, the Western Grain Transition Payments Act and certain acts related to the Income Tax Act, be read the third time and passed; and of the amendment.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

March 26th, 1998 / 3:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue addressing very serious matters relating to Bill C-28, particularly the implications that this bill has for the future of our health care system in Canada.

It is very important for all of us in this House to send a clear message to Canadians that we are working and using all our energies and all our resources to preserve medicare.

As I indicated earlier, this bill, with its pretence of reinvesting new money into health care, does a great disservice to Canadians and to our beloved national program, medicare.

This bill creates a pretence of allocating new money to medicare while in fact it does nothing but maintain the present floor of cash transfer payments for health care. It was $12.5 billion before this bill and it is $12.5 billion now.

This creates very serious ramifications for health care. It means that this government has not shown any commitment to start to reinvest in health care now that it has a surplus, to deal responsibly with the health care crisis we are facing in every single part of this country and to show true co-operative spirit in dealing with the provinces around this very serious issue.

This is not only a question about the false pretence of reinvesting in health care. This debate is also about the fact that actual dollars for health care on a per capita basis continue to drop.

It is a situation very much parallel to the dilemma, to the problems, to the situation caused by the former Conservative government.

It is meaningless to suggest that we have a floor, a bottom that will always be there and will not fall below that floor, if our population grows, if the needs of our population grow and if the economy grows. If all those factors are taken into account, in reality cash transfer payments to the provinces will continue to fall on a per capita basis.

That puts more and more pressure on our health care system, more of a squeeze on the provinces and more difficulties for all of us to work together toward ensuring medicare is preserved and we are able to enforce the principles of the Canada Health Act.

This bill is in effect a misrepresentation of the facts. It neither puts new money into health care nor ensures that we will continue to allow health care dollars to meet the needs of the population as they grow, as they become more intense and more serious.

What does that mean? It opens the door even further to privatization and Americanization of our system. We often hear from the Liberal government that it is totally opposed to a two tier system of health care.

The bad news is we are already there in many ways because of the underfunding by the federal government, because of the lack of national leadership, because this government refuses to work co-operatively with the provincial governments to meaningfully reform our health care system from the current institutional, illness based models to a community based, preventive, holistic wellness model of health care.

Let me cite the serious situation we are already in and why we are so concerned about the Reform Party policies to actually move even further more quickly to a parallel system of health care?

The facts are as follows. The ratio of public-private health costs in Canada has changed significantly over the past 20 years with public expenditures shrinking and private spending increasing both through group or individual health insurance plans and direct out of pocket payments.

In 1975 the spending ratio was 76.4% public and 23.6% private. By 1986 it was 73.3% public and 26.7% private. By 1995 it was 68% public and 32% private. By the year 2000 the ratio is projected to be 60% public and 40% private.

Let me raise another important fact. The cumulative loss to the provinces of federal revenue for health care between 1985-86 and 1995-96 was $30 billion. Imagine what it would be if we rolled into that the dollars taken out of the health care system by this federal government since 1995. The federal share of total health care spending has actually shrunk from 30.8% in 1985 to over 25% today.

Contrary to the claims of many, especially those critics of medicare, that Canada's health care system is among the most expensive in the world, it should be noted, and this fact is often distorted and misrepresented, that Canada actually ranked 16th among 24 OECD countries in 1994 in terms of public financing as a percentage of overall health expenditures. However, we know the situation has actually deteriorated since that time. Canada has fallen further and further behind other countries in terms of leadership.

The great pride we once held because we had such a model to offer the world has been dashed. Our hopes for holding on to medicare and showing it to be a shining light for all the world has been dashed because of the failure of federal leadership.

I suggest to all those present that the solution is not an agenda of negligence as we see from the federal Liberals. It is not an agenda of privatization and Americanization as we have seen from the Reform Party. What is required is a commitment to medicare, a commitment to the five principles of the Canada Health Act and a determination to begin to reinvest dollars taken out of the health care system into a single payer, universally accessible, publicly administered health care system.

Canadians have indicated loudly and clearly that if there was going to be a surplus, which did happen, that the first priority for them was to have money reinvested in health care and money reinvested in the cash transfer payments to the provinces. As I have said in previous debates, that shows an amazing understanding and sophistication among Canadians about how this complicated system around health care works.

Our job in this place is to respond to that belief, to that set of values and to show leadership. This bill does not do that.

An amendment was proposed that would have at least made it possible to have a better system to monitor funding for health care, to involve Canadians and to involve members of Parliament in monitoring the system and in providing a medicare watchdog, a medicare alert system for this country. That amendment was defeated. It was with great regret that we were not able to at least accomplish that tiny step forward through this Chamber.

The Liberals spoke loudly and clearly to their own government. They clearly stated in resolution after resolution that the present system of health care is underfunded. They begged the government to make increased funding for a modern and sustainable health care system its highest priority. They presented a resolution that was identical to our amendment to Bill C-28 in demanding that the federal government develop a process to continuously measure and ensure the quality of health care in Canada.

The Liberals sent this message to the government. Canadians have said with one voice that this is their priority. All provincial governments have said that the first matter of business for this government should be to begin restoring transfer payments so that it can ensure quality, publicly administered, universal programs in areas of vital importance to Canadians.

Canadians have been let down. The spirit of co-operation has been hurt deeply by this government's actions. It has not been enhanced nor helped by the proposals of the Reform Party. I would urge all members to rethink their positions and to support our efforts to convince the federal government that reinvestment makes sense. It is feasible. It is the only way we can guarantee medicare continues as a model for all the world to see.

This is a question about moving to a more cost effective health care system. We know it is through leadership and co-operation both federally and provincially that we can actually start to shift our expensive institutional based health care system to one that is community based, that provides home care, that addresses continuing care needs and that ensures a balanced drug pricing policy. All of that will lead to a much more cost effective policy in the long term.

I conclude by saying this is a question about our values. It is about the faith we have in human life and about ensuring that the best health care is available for everyone. That is a matter of being a member of a civil society.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre on expressing her concerns in the area of health.

She is from Manitoba, and I realize her comments must be based on the cuts that had to be made in her province as a result of the federal government cutting transfer payments. I know it had a major impact in her region.

Before putting my question to her, I would like to remind the House that, in Quebec, cuts in transfer payments for health forced the Quebec government to cut back radically, to rationalize and move toward ambulatory care, which caused major problems to regional health boards and health institutions.

People do not always understand why that is. In Quebec, it is obvious to people that managing hospitals and CLSCs is the responsibility of the provincial government, and that of health minister Rochon in particular. People tend to criticize him. But Minister Rochon is really doing his best with what is left after transfer payments to the provinces have been cut.

I would like to ask the hon. member, who looked into this, to be more specific about the situation in her province, Manitoba. All the provinces are affected. Yesterday, I saw reports on RDI concerning the Atlantic provinces. Clearly, federal cuts have had an adverse effect on the management of health institutions in every province in Canada.

But I would like her to focus on the impact in her province, on what she has noticed, and to give us some figures if she can. I realize she is not a member of the Manitoba government but I am convinced she could give us a good idea so that the Quebeckers who are listening can see that the true reason for the provincial cuts is the cuts imposed by this insensitive federal government.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member from the Bloc Quebecois for his question. This is a very important question and I will answer it in English because of the complexity of the issue.

The member is right in addressing this whole question of provincial government responsibility vis-à-vis the federal government in this area. The problem we have seen over the last while is that the federal government has been able to get away with blaming the provinces for all of the crises and all of the problems we face in our health care system. The federal government has been abdicating responsibility for the developments at that level.

It is the federal government that has taken such a big bite out of the funding for health care. It has put every provincial government in a very difficult position. In most cases provincial governments are working very hard to try to make up for the sudden loss of federal dollars. They are shifting their health care systems almost overnight to make up for the dollars lost and to prevent a huge burden on their health care systems.

Some provincial governments, and I think specifically of Manitoba, seem to be interested in playing the same game as the federal government. One example is that the Manitoba Conservative government in its last budget promised to put $100 million into health care. It turned out that this again was smoke and mirrors. In actual fact it was $1.4 million, in real dollars.

Many times there is almost a collusion between the federal government and some provincial governments for offloading, for privatizing, for getting out of the field of health care and letting the markets dictate how consumers will be covered under health care. This is something which would happen if the Reform Party policies were actually implemented.

The main concern we have is that the federal government has been able to throw up its hands and say “it is not our problem”, when it has cut so much money out of the system. Our job today through this bill and through every measure at our fingertips is to ensure that the federal government is held responsible for the actions it has taken, and to require a return to federal leadership, a reinvestment of funds and a true co-operative spirit in dealing with the health care crisis in the country.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot let the hon. member go without making some comments.

She is an NDP member. She lambasted the Reform Party throughout her speech. There is nobody in this House, not a person who does not want to save our publicly funded health care system, even the NDP.

I want to draw attention to her close colleagues with whom she works, the British Columbia New Democratic Party. The B.C. NDP has engaged in what I would call the economic and social program destruction syndrome. The B.C. NDP has foisted it upon British Columbia.

In that province, they who profess, like the hon. member does, to uphold the Canada Health Act, willfully acknowledge, aid and abet certain people, if they have the money, to queue jump within the publicly funded health care system. They allow Workers' Compensation Board patients to queue jump within the publicly funded health care system. If someone gets sick on WCB, more money is paid and the person goes to the head of the line. If the person is not, too bad, they go to the end.

The NDP government, her colleagues, has given British Columbia the worst economic performance in the last two years in this country. This is a direct result of NDP economics, voodoo economics, destructive economics.

Where does the hon. member propose to get the money to pay for the health care needs which she described we have to come up with? Contrary to her NDP doctrine, money does not grow on trees. Where is the money going to come from? Who will pay for it? Do we have to raise taxes? Money does not grow on trees. Where will the member find the money to pay for the health care needs we want, given that we have the situation of a balanced budget and no extra resources?

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, some of the comments by the hon. member do not warrant a response but I will certainly attempt to answer the broad question he is posing today. In effect it is a question that should be turned back to that member and all members of the Reform Party. That party wants to talk out of both sides of its mouth.

Members will recall that the Reform Party, notwithstanding the remarks of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and the member for Winnipeg North, has called for a reinvestment in health care to the tune of $4 billion. That is fairly consistent with the kind of recommendation we have been making in this party.

We know that about $4 billion has been cut out of the system for health care since 1995. We have suggested that the government begin to reinstate that money. We have not said that it be done overnight. We know we have a surplus situation. It is possible, if health care is a number one priority, for the government to actually put money back into health care, into the cash transfer payment system.

The Reform Party made that a major recommendation in the last election and in response to the budget. It is clearly on record. The difficulty for us is that on the one hand it talks about putting $4 billion back into health transfer payments but then it wants to take $4 billion out of equalization, so they will cancel each other out.

More problematic for us is trying to rationalize the commitment of the Reform Party with the more recent statements of the member who has just spoken to actually set up a parallel, private, two tier Americanized system in this country. We totally reject that approach. We believe we have the wealth and a commitment from the people of this country. We have a history and a tradition that allows us to make health care our number one priority and we will actually be able to reinvest money in health care because of the balanced budget.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-28, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, the Customs Act, the CPP, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act—the works. It is quite a comprehensive bill, as other members have mentioned.

This bill nibbles around the edges. There was a great opportunity within this bill to provide Canadians with the economic ability to be as good as they can be, to save our social programs and to ensure that the Canadian economy, the health and welfare and the standard of living of Canadians could be much better than they are today.

Our high unemployment rate has been referred to many times in this House. It is the highest unemployment rate among the G-7 nations. There is no reason for this. If we look south of the border, the United States has a 4.8% unemployment rate. We have the situation where large numbers of our skilled people—economists, nurses, physicians and artists—have left Canada and gone to the United States.

From Wall Street to Los Angeles, from Hollywood to Atlanta, Canadians have gone to the United States and have dramatically improved the health, welfare and economy of Americans.

We need to keep our trained and skilled people in Canada. As my colleagues in the Reform Party have mentioned, there are ways of doing this. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to look at other countries such as the United States which has managed to drop its tax rate, which has resulted in an extraordinarily low unemployment rate and an economy that is booming.

Let us look at the measures that have been employed in the United Kingdom and New Zealand to ensure that people have the best opportunities. I will get into these opportunities in a little more specific way in a moment.

I first want to deal with one specific area. The member from the NDP, who spoke at length, castigated us for our views on health care. We have a situation in this country that is causing a lot of pain and suffering. The health care issue is being bantered around like a football between politicians for political gain, and all the while sick patients, who cannot defend themselves, are being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

We need a sensible debate on the issue of health care. Making utterly false statements, such as somebody wanting an American style health care system, is absolute nonsense. These kinds of comments polarize and poison the debate so the Canadian people do not have an opportunity to hear the intelligent arguments of both sides.

The situation is that we have limited resources, an aging population and more expensive technologies. Because of this governments have been forced to ration. What is happening right now is that the poor are being compromised. The rich always have a choice. They can go down to the United States, where they spend over $1 billion a year to obtain their health care needs. One of my colleagues in this party did that and it saved his life, contrary to what the NDP member said. It is a tragedy that any Canadian has to go south of the border to get the essential health care services they require to save their life. We cannot keep sticking our heads in the sand.

How do we solve this problem of limited resources and an increasing demand? Do we continue to uphold the myth that we are upholding a Canada Health Act which was a good act when it was devised in the 1960s, or do we face the facts and realize that the Canada Health Act is being violated in virtually every one of its five tenets?

I gave the example in British Columbia that if a person is injured and comes under the workers' compensation board the Government of British Columbia will ensure that person gets to the top of the line over somebody who does not come under the WCB. That is absolutely unfair. On the other hand, that government says it believes in a Canada Health Act and a system that is equal and single tiered.

Is it accessible health care for an elderly person who is in severe pain to wait 16 months to get a new hip? Is it accessible health care for somebody who needs coronary artery bypass grafting to wait six months? Is it fair for someone who needs a 20 minute operation on their wrist to wait nine months for that operation? Whichever way you slice it that is not accessible health care.

There are numerous examples in health care in this country today which demonstrate that we have a multi-tiered health care system. No one in this House, and particularly the Reform Party, wants a health care system that is like an American style health care system where under certain circumstances people need to sell their house. The purpose of having a separate, privately funded, tiered system where only private moneys are exchanged and not a dime of public money is used is to ensure that some people in the public system who choose to will get some of their services in a private setting which is separate and completely different from the public system. That is unlike what happened in the United Kingdom and unlike what happens in the United States.

In that system some people who are rich will get their services from the private sector. Then there will be more money on a per capita basis for the public sector. Therefore the people who do not have the wherewithal would have better access and better health care than what they have today. The only purpose in proposing this is to ensure that people who are on our publicly funded system will have better access. Is it unequal? Yes, it is.

I would argue two things. We have an unequal system now, but is it not better to have an unequal system that provides better access for all Canadians than the declining system that we have today which compromises the poor and not the rich? If a separate, completely independent and privately funded health care system is available, the rich will subsidize the poor. In this way resources can go toward the health care system without raising taxes.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Right now we are subsidizing the Americans.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Exactly. Right now we are subsidizing the Americans by spending over $1 billion down south. Why do we not have private services in private settings and get American patients to come to Canada? They would only have to pay two-thirds of the price for their treatment. They would create employment for health care professionals across the board, from our techs to our nurses, physicians, cleaning personnel, accountants and all the people who are involved in the health care system. This is not only doable, it is pragmatic. Above all, it would save our publicly funded health care system.

Our system is very distinct and different from the system in the United States. We unequivocally state that we do not want and would fight against that system to ensure Canadians get health care services when they are medically needed and to ensure those services are not dependent on the amount of money in their pockets.

We have to get away from the silly, senseless, absurd, poisonous, vile rhetoric that the NDP has been putting forward and have a sensible, constructive debate for the Canadians out there who are on waiting lists and suffering. We have to ensure that all Canadians, particularly those who cannot afford it, get health care when they medically need it. We must not leave them waiting, and in some cases dying, as is happening now in emergency rooms across the country.

In the Prince George Regional Hospital, where I work from time to time, it takes 14 months to get an orthopaedic consultation. It takes another six months to a year to get the service. It is not because the surgeons do not want to work, it is because the hospital does not have enough money to open up more hospital beds and more operating rooms, so surgeons cannot operate.

Imagine being a physician whose patients come in saying “I have torn the ligaments in my knee. I need a new hip. I cannot use my hand”, and having to reply “I am sorry. As we speak my waiting list just increased from 12 to 14 months because the hospital cannot open up the operating rooms, cannot open up beds and does not have the nurses to take care of you”.

It is a big myth that Canada has the best health care system in the world. It is bunk. But we could have the best health care system in the world. We need to have a sensible debate. We need to put all of the minds in this room together. We need to get the best ideas from the public. We need to look at what has been done well around the world. We need to reject what has been done poorly and make the best system in the world.

We should not take what the Americans have done. We should not emulate the system in the United Kingdom. We should not emulate the system in European countries. What we should do is take the best from all of those countries and make the best health care system to ensure that those people who need it will get it. I will end on that particular point.

With respect to the economy there are numerous things the government could do for labour market renewal. The right to work legislation that has been employed in certain countries has increased the amount of money in people's pockets by over $2,000. It has dramatically increased the amount of companies fleeing to areas that have right to work legislation. The government could work with its provincial counterparts to ensure this happens.

The government could also remove the egregious surtaxes that crush the living daylights out of our private sector.

The government could take the opportunity to streamline the GST.

The government could take the opportunity to work with the provinces to build national standards in education so that a child who moves from Newfoundland to British Columbia or from Ontario to Prince Edward Island will be able to integrate into that system and get the best education possible.

The government could work with industry and the provinces to ensure that the educational system knows what the needs of the private sector will be in the future. There is an enormous gap in certain areas that could provide high paying, interesting jobs for Canadians, but they are not filled because the education system has not been able to provide the skilled people necessary for those jobs.

My colleague from Medicine Hat and others have repeatedly mentioned the need for lower taxes.

During the era of Brian Mulroney one thing that was done well was that his government briefly lowered taxes. What happened? The economy was stimulated and government revenues increased. What did it do? It started to tax wildly. Government revenues went down and the economy had a clamp put on it.

The United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and certain European countries have lowered their tax rates and removed surtaxes. They have ensured that people have more money in their pockets by streamlining their tax systems. They have removed the egregious rules and regulations that put a clamp on the private sector. Those were removed, their economy improved, the social and economic situation of their people improved and their governments had more money to pay for social programs.

There are references to making amendments to the old age security system and the CPP in the bill. Instead of taking the Reform suggestion of ensuring people have a super RRSP and enjoy a greater rate of return, the government has stayed with the status quo and tried to buttress a system which economists who originally devised it said would fail. This system is like a pyramid scheme and will be an abysmal failure.

The CPP system today ensures that Canadians have about the lowest rate of return they can have. It does not ensure that young people will have that pension when they retire.

That is not a legacy any government wants to have. That is not a legacy we can be proud of. Why do we continually try to uphold sacred cows that compromise the very health and welfare of Canadians? Why do we not take these sacred cows, these social programs which in their very essence are good for Canada, and ensure that they are sustainable, that Canadians get the best rate of return, and that Canadians have the best social programs available to them within the context, confines and economic restrictions in our country?

The NDP put forth a budgetary plan during the last election campaign that ensured a $40 billion deficit. Money does not grow on trees. We have to face facts. We have to do what we can do within the context of our economic situation today. Instead of nibbling around the edges, the government could have taken constructive suggestions from around the world on taxes, rules and regulations, educational systems and social program renewal and truly built a better future for Canadians.

Except for trying to ensure that the government will look good in the eyes of Canadians, I do not understand why it continually tries to support sacred cows which compromise Canadians instead of help them. There are solutions out there. We must have the courage to have a sensible, intelligent, constructive debate in the House.

We have spoken at length about other things. Today my colleague raised the issue of the Delgamuukw case in British Columbia, the aboriginal treaty situation. If there is one social group in the country that suffers more than any other, it is the aboriginal community. Again, governments have again used it as a sacred cow: it is okay to keep paying billions of dollars into the system, closing our eyes and saying that we have done our duty while aboriginal people in the trenches are suffering from the highest rates of abuse, violence and social degradation suffered by any group.

It is an abrogation of the responsibility of any government to merely pay money without accountability. Under certain circumstances and in some areas those moneys are not going where they should be going. The best we can do for aboriginal people in Canada is to work with them to ensure their culture and their language will become viable and integrated parts of Canada. They should have the power and ability to stand on their own two feet and provide for themselves, their families and their children. We must ensure they have the ability to teach us about their fascinating culture and legacy that are as integral parts of the country as we can imagine.

Instead an institutionalized welfare state has been created which has ripped the heart and soul out of aboriginal communities. Some have managed to dig themselves out. They have become self-financing, self-sustaining and self-respecting.

One of the saddest legacies that we have given is that we have abrogated our responsibility in the House by ensuring that the institutionalized welfare state we have foisted upon aboriginal people continues. We have to work with them to ensure that they have the tools to stand on their own two feet, provide for themselves and ensure that their language and culture continue.

In closing, Bill C-28 had a lot of opportunity but sadly it was opportunity lost. The government failed to seize the day and it failed to do what it could have done to truly make the country as good as it could be.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Reform Party likes to talk about tax relief for ordinary Canadians. However, when we take a careful look at their proposals we see that the Reform Party actually wants to give much bigger tax breaks to the very wealthy than to the average taxpayer.

For example, its election campaign proposal to have the taxes owing on capital gains would give the stockbrokers working out of Bay Street and earning $250,000 a tax break of over $85,000.

Does the member agree with his party's platform that it is a priority to give someone earning $250,000 a tax refund of $85,000? Is he not afraid that as his party tries to win seats in Toronto it will be catering to Bay Street rather than paying attention to the grassroots in its own communities?

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, contrary to the New Democratic Party, we listen to our grassroots. We are not the party that has a top down structure.

I do not know where the hon. member is getting his figures from, but I would generously call them a flight of fancy. We as a party have repeatedly put forth constructive, economic solutions to get a balanced budget and to produce a surplus.

The reasons are simple. If we spend more than what we take in, like the NDP party said during the last election, we create an increased debt and increased interest payments and chew away at the ability to pay for social programs.

The New Democratic Party must understand this important rule. If we are fiscally irresponsible we are also financially irresponsible. We in the Reform Party live within our means. We created a plan that I am happy the government and the finance minister have adopted to produce a balanced budget. In so doing, we manage to ensure that there is even more money within the pie that can be spent on programs such as health and education.

I hope the New Democratic Party member will come over, see the light and try to help us ensure the government continues to have a balanced budget and a surplus budget. We could work together to ensure that there is enough money to provide health, education, pensions and other social programs to those Canadians who are most dependent on them and to ensure they will not be suffering.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague, who is a health professional. I was truly surprised to hear a health professional speak that way because, if there is one area in which all people should be equal, it is surely health. We cannot have two systems, one for the rich and one for the poor.

I remember a time when some people could not even go for treatment because it cost too much. The rich could go, but others did not and stayed home.

In Quebec, Mr. Rochon has, as it were, been forced to restructure the entire health system. Some people find this hard, and it is, but it had to be done. Even the former minister, Marc-Yvan Côté, congratulated Mr. Rochon on his courage.

I say that it is wonderful to invest in health. Cuts have to be made somewhere, as the money obviously does not come out of thin air. If anything has to be cut, let it be the Senate, the limousines, duplication, but there should not be cuts in transfers to the provinces. This has caused terrible harm.

Very often, people wonder why Mr. Rochon took a particular course of action. He did so because the federal government cut billions of dollars, leaving very little with which to manage.

I am going to ask my colleague a question. Can he tell us, in concrete terms, how the two systems he is proposing, a private one and a public one, could work?

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, many Quebeckers go to Ontario for medical treatment.

The reason for this is that the health care system in Quebec is falling apart in a dramatic, tragic and sad fashion. I feel very sorry for the people of Quebec and their health care system. No one in that system from the health care professionals to the people and I am sure the politicians want that.

The big myth that politicians and intellectuals like to push for political gain is that we have a single tier health care system. That is an utter and complete myth. I would like to use the l word but I will not.

Premier Bourassa of Quebec went to the United States to get health care for a malignant melanoma, a terribly malignant cancer. What a tragedy. If the health care system is so great why did Mr. Bourassa leave the province of Quebec to get his health care in the United States? At least he had an option. Most people in Chicoutimi and la ville de Quebec do not have this option. Neither do people in the rest of the country. They cannot afford it.

There is no single tier; there are multiple tiers in this country. There is an obstruction to getting essential health care services when they are needed because the government has to ration those services for the poor who do not have enough money to pay for them.

This is how it would work. If we had a separate private system where only private services are received, where only private moneys are put in, where there is no overlap or mixing of the private or the public system, we would be able to get more resources into health care without raising taxes. By relieving pressure on the public system and having some people going to this private system for some of their services because those people would access both, we would ensure that there is more money on a per capita basis for the public system. Therefore people would get their health care services when they need them, particularly those who are impoverished and those who cannot go to the United States for health care. That is the beauty of it.

It is not an abolishment of the Canada Health Act. It is a new made in Canada health act that will ensure all Canadians get health care services when they medically need them. That is the bottom line in health care.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I can make this brief. I am really disappointed. I had probably given the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca far more credit than he deserves.

As someone from the medical profession, I felt he would know in his heart and soul that nobody in Canada except the Reform Party wants to see a two tier system unless they can afford to get that other system. The bottom line is when you put public dollars into a system, the money is spread and goes a lot further. When you start to divide it a certain amount still goes to the private sector because it will claim it is unfair that it is not getting those public dollars, the same thing that happens with independent schools.

I am very disappointed that he would even suggest that. I will continue at some other point.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the bottom line is to ensure Canadians get their health care when they need it. I am a physician. I did not take any pleasure in telling elderly people who are in severe pain that they will have to wait 16 months before they can get a new hip.

The day that member or any other member chooses to go into a hospital and see what is going on for real is the day they will see we have a multi-tier system. We have a system where Canadians are not getting their health care in many cases when they need it. We see people suffering left, right and centre. The member should open up her eyes and understand we have a multi-tier system. The Canada Health Act is violated left, right and centre. It is the poor who are compromised.

We are trying to create a stronger publicly funded health care system so all Canadians can get health care when they need it, and not before.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Churchill—search and rescue; the hon. member for Delta—South Richmond—fisheries; the hon. member for South Shore—northern development; the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill—pensions; the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre—public buildings.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-28, sponsored by the Minister of Finance. Its short title is “Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997”. It was important to have a short title for this bill, because the full title of the French version is 23 lines long.

As for the bill itself, it is a document of 464 pages written in an obscure jargon that only tax experts or accountants can understand. I strongly suspect that, like me, a large number of members of this House did not manage to clearly understand the measures included in this legislation.

I am extremely concerned that legislators like us, most of whom have a good education, cannot understand the documents on which they have to vote. The Canadian Income Tax Act has so many thousands of pages that, by comparison, telephone books look like flyers. Moreover, these thousands of pages are written in a language that is just as obscure as that of Bill C-28.

The principle of tax equality now only exists in theory, because it is impossible for ordinary citizens to understand the act. The individuals and corporations that can afford to hire administrators, lawyers and tax experts are the only ones who can benefit from the multitude of clauses that provide tax breaks.

There is a reason why the Minister of Finance is presenting us with an omnibus bill that includes so many complex tax changes. The minister is quietly trying to make us pass provisions that will benefit the shipping companies he owns. He is even trying to cloud the issue.

My comments will primarily take into account the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, which reads as follows:

That Bill C-28, Income Tax Amendments Act 1997, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Finance for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 241.

In this omnibus bill of 464 pages, clause 241 includes two paragraphs dealing exclusively with shipping.

Clause 241 of Bill C-28 improves the tax treatment of offshore shipping companies held by Canadian companies.

As it happens, the Minister of Finance, who sponsored this bill, is the sole owner of Canada Steamship Lines Incorporated, an international shipping company with subsidiaries in Great Britain, Bermuda, Barbados and Liberia. The finance minister's company might benefit from tax advantages if this bill were passed at it stands.

In politics, this kind of coincidence constitutes an apparent conflict of interest, which violates the government's code of conduct. That is why we demand an explanation and a serious investigation of this matter.

In fact, the code clearly states that, on appointment to office, and thereafter, public office holders must arrange their private affairs in a manner that will prevent real, potential or apparent conflicts of interest from arising. The code has obviously not been adhered to, and we believe the Minister of Finance is at fault.

The government's own ethics counsellor, Howard Wilson, who works for the Prime Minister, finds this matter fishy. In his testimony before the finance committee on February 1998, he stated, and I quote “Mr. Martin sponsored this bill and questions have been raised by some members that this constitutes an apparent conflict of interest. Had I been informed in advance, before this bill was tabled, there would have been a discussion on how best to handle the tabling of the bill under the name of the Minister of Finance, who is responsible for all tax legislation. However, this prior consideration of our options did not take place as it should have”.

Mr. Wilson also suggests that the Minister of Finance was unaware of the contents of Bill C-28 before the Bloc Quebecois raised these issues in the House a few weeks ago. Could the minister responsible for the Income Tax Act so easily have shirked his responsibilities in connection with a bill he was sponsoring? And how does the public view a Minister of Finance who did not know what was in his own legislation? Is ministerial accountability not a fundamental principle of our parliamentary system?

For several weeks, the government has been denying that the Minister of Finance's companies can take advantage of this measure but Department of Finance officials, as well as the government's ethics advisor, have admitted that Canada Steamship Lines could do so in future.

Howard Wilson, the government's ethics advisor, stated that same day, February 5, 1998, on the CBC that:

The company—

—has clearly indicated to me that it has no intention whatsoever of making use of this clause.

The fact that the company has told the ethics advisor that it has no intention of making use of this clause clearly implies that it could do so if it wished. The fact that it does not intend to do so at present does not mean that it would not have the right or the desire to do so later on.

We had confirmation of this from the Standing Committee on Finance this past February 10, when Len Farber, the Director General of the Department of Finance's Tax Legislation Division, stated as follows:

“If the subsidiary or the parent of that company chooses to repatriate the management of that company to Canada and operates that subsidiary out of Canada, yes, these provisions could be available to that company”.

In short, if a company like that of the Minister of Finance or its subsidiaries were to reorganize its administration, it could take advantage of the tax benefits in Bill C-28.

Some important questions remain unanswered, and the parties in opposition are unanimous in calling for the creation of a finance subcommittee to investigate this matter thoroughly.

The Bloc Quebecois finance critic, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, with the support of the other opposition parties, moved five motions before the Standing Committee on Finance, so that various witnesses who could shed some light on this issue for us could appear before the committee.

These motions asked that people from Mr. Martin's company, representatives from the blind trust managing Mr. Martin's company, the Minister of Finance himself, and Howard Wilson, the government's ethics counsellor, be called as witnesses. The most important of these motions sought permission to call any other witness that might help the committee get to the bottom of clause 241 of Bill C-28.

Four of the five motions were rejected by the Liberal majority on the committee, and the only witness authorized to appear was Mr. Wilson, the government's ethics counsellor, an employee of the Prime Minister who is paid by Parliament and who reports only to the Prime Minister.

So far, by turning down our requests, the Liberal government has prevented us from doing our work as parliamentarians. The government's stubborn refusal to clarify this issue is doing nothing to lift the cloud of suspicion hanging over the minister, quite the opposite in fact.

In this murky affair, there even seem to have been contradictions between the versions given by the managers and the owner of Canada Steamship Lines, the Minister of Finance. On February 5, 1998, the company's vice-president, Pierre Préfontaine, said on Radio-Canada, and I quote “They [the company's foreign subsidiaries] are managed offshore. They are not subject to Canadian tax law”. On February 6, 1998, on page A5 of Le Devoir , the Minister of Finance, Paul Martin, said, and I quote “My interests will not benefit from this legislation. My interests are Canadian companies. They cannot benefit”.

So the mystery deepens. The vice-president says he is running foreign companies, and the Minister of Finance says he has Canadian companies. So, are the finance minister's companies Canadian or are they foreign? Will they, or will they not, be in a position to benefit from the tax advantages flowing from Bill C-28?

What the public needs to be told about Bill C-28 is that the Liberal government's Minister of Finance is getting ready to pass a bill that he himself sponsored and from which he could very likely, one day anyway, benefit.

I remind you that in their 1993 red book the Liberals promised to restore parliamentary integrity. They wrote, and I quote “There is considerable dissatisfaction with government and a steady erosion of confidence in the people and institutions of the public sector. This erosion of confidence seems to have many causes: some have to do with the behaviour of certain elected politicians, others with an arrogant style of political leadership”.

The Liberal government cannot today allow its Minister of Finance to fail to meet the high standards of integrity required of people holding public office. It is deplorable to think the Minister of Finance is failing to honour the spirit and the letter of the government's code of ethics.

We in the Bloc will continue to demand that the government respect the people and honour its commitment to restore government integrity. This is why the Bloc Quebecois is calling for the removal of clause 241 from Bill C-28 until all aspects of this matter have been brought to light.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member ramble on and on about clause 241. I just want to put some facts on the table.

First, the amendment Bill C-28 puts forward is an amendment and a minor modification of a policy that has been in place since the 1920s. The Bloc asked, essentially when this all started, who asked for this amendment. The response it got and the correct response is IMC Vancouver asked for this amendment.

Who benefits? It treats all foreign shippers alike whether they hold their ships directly or through a wholly owned subsidiary. How much will this amendment cost Canadian taxpayers? The amendment will cost nothing. It applies to foreign companies operating in international traffic. They are not and never have been taxable in Canada. When she talks about the cost to the Canadian treasury, it is nothing.

Despite all the answers, the Bloc persists with these baseless allegations. It is pure politics. I hope the hon. member will at some point decide in her mind that it has gone far enough. It is completely baseless. Bloc members keep shifting the goal post whenever they get an answer.

They talk about what Mr. Wilson said in committee. I was present at that committee. Mr. Wilson said quite clearly that there was no conflict of interest, no appearance of conflict of interest. Len Farber from the department, using her words, said that the minister could actually reorganize his company in order to take advantage of this. If only the hon. member had the capacity to understand what it means to organize and reorganize a company. He would basically have to shut down his entire company and reorganize it all over again. It is highly unlikely and not the intent of anyone.

This kind of approach is one that I am sure hon. members in this House do not agree with, do not endorse, and certainly Canadians will have the final say. I would encourage the hon. member to please, if she would like to debate the bill and the contents of the bill, stay away from the baseless politics that she is encouraging us to engage in today in this House. I would be quite thankful. I am sure her constituents would like to see us get on with the issues at hand.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not comment on all the remarks my colleague made. Nevertheless, we agree with the fact that there is a marine policy, but it is lost in 464 pages.

If the Minister of Finance has absolutely nothing to hide, he has only to let the matter be examined as the opposition parties have unanimously requested. When opposition questions are not answered, there is something to hide.

My colleague opposite says he was at the committee meeting and Mr. Wilson did not say what was claimed. I was not present, but I read the minutes of the meeting. If the minutes do not contain the remarks of Mr. Wilson, someone who is a member of the committee should read the minutes and have them corrected if the secretaries or the clerks have made a mistake.

Not being a committee member, I am obliged to use the tools at hand. The remarks I quoted by Mr. Wilson are in quotes and come directly from the minutes.

Again, if they want to proceed with a real marine policy, they should introduce legislation, and we would willingly consider it. We want it. Canada needs it, but we do not want a grab-bag bill, a hodgepodge that will enable the minister to hide things, when it is out of the question. He should respond to the opposition's request. A subcommittee should be set up and the matter examined.

The people of Quebec and Canada are entitled to know if the Government of Canada is as honest as it claims to be day in and day out.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the response by the hon. member for Rimouski—Mitis, and find it very apt. I would like to give her the opportunity to add to it, because I know she is very concerned about a true shipbuilding policy.

There is shipbuilding in my riding of Lévis and this therefore concerns me a great deal as well. I know there are other shipyards, for example at Les Méchins in the Gaspé. The hon. member is right. The government tried to get clause 241 by us in a huge bill that deals with just about everything.

I will always remember how, in 1993, when I was a first-time candidate for the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals running in the Quebec City region—even the Prime Minister's present executive assistant— committed to holding a summit on the future of shipbuilding within a year of the election. Here we are five years later and still it has not materialized.

The Shipbuilders Association of Canada had made some representations, followed by some suggestions. The premiers followed up on this at St. Andrews last fall. Mr. McKenna, the New Brunswick premier at that time, chaired the conference and brought the matter up. At the recent Liberal convention, some young Liberals proposed a resolution on it.

So, everyone is calling for it, but no, they are trying to get a little clause 241 by us, one which the secretary of state says will change nothing and will not mean another penny. Very nice. Bills and clauses of bills that provide no one with anything. Are we going to swallow that story?

Would the hon. member for Rimouski—Mitis be so kind as to tell me whether we, the Bloc Quebecois, really want a shipbuilding policy in Canada.