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.


Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Business Of The House
Oral Question Period

March 26th, 1998 / 3 p.m.


Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is not often that a minister from Alberta likes to come and listen to all this across the way.

My questions for Thursday is to the government House leader. We would like to know the nature of the business for the remainder of this week and for all of next week leading up to the break in the House of Commons.

Business Of The House
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.



Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the minister from Alberta must have been tired of listening to the heckling from across.

Today we will hopefully complete the CHST bill, Bill C-28, to increase the transfers to the provinces. The backup items are Bill S-4, the marine liabilities legislation; Bill C-12, the RCMP superannuation amendments; and Bill S-3, the pension benefit standards bill.

Tomorrow we shall consider second reading of Bill C-26, the Canadian grain legislation.

On Monday we hope to complete second reading of Bill C-25, the defence legislation. This would be followed by Bill C-37, the Judges Act amendment.

On Tuesday we will complete second reading of Bill C-36, the budget implementation bill. Next Wednesday we shall call legislation not completed previously, to which I have just referred, followed by Bill C-31, the surveyors legislation, Bill C-30, the Mi'kmaq education legislation, and other bills that may be reported from committee.

In order to assist members interested, I wish now to designate Monday, April 20 as a day for consideration of the standing orders as provided in Standing Order 51. That is the debate on amending the standing orders of the House of Commons. I thought I would give an opportunity for all parties to prepare for that debate.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know very well that the committees are the masters of their rules, but this freedom in Parliament does not permit committees to circumvent the rules of the House and all precedents, all past forms of parliamentary usage.

This is what I wish to bring to your attention for a ruling from the Chair.

Today I attended the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is examining the cases of members who spoke against the Chair before a ruling was made in the flag matter. The committee chair, without any sort of a motion, and in contravention of Standing Order 116 and Standing Order 1, decided to limit the appearances of witnesses to 20 minutes—5 minutes for a statement by the witness and 15 minutes for questions.

There was no motion before the committee at that time. That is the first thing that happened.

Second, the allotted time, unilaterally decreed by the Chair, picked up later by the government party in a motion, is 15 minutes. Before deciding to set a time for a mandate as exceptional and specific in nature as this, where the statements of persons who have, according to some “offended” or “pressured” the Chair, it seems to me that it would have to be the judgment of a good parliamentarian to establish a sufficiently long period of time for questions and discussion. All parties were accorded a total of 15 minutes for questions, which means that our party will have about 5 minutes to question the witness who will appear.

The only precedent we have from the previous Parliament is the Jacob case, where one of our MPs appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to respond to accusations made by another MP. I have checked this out. In the Jacob case, the committee, quite by chance, in its great wisdom and with the support of the Bloc moreover, agreed that Mr. Jacob, the former member for Charlesbourg, would have five to six hours to answer questions from House members. We felt this would be sufficient to clarify his behaviour.

The committee worked on the case for three months. During that period, it questioned a large number of people regarding the issue, and our former Bloc Quebecois colleague spent five to six hours answering respectfully the questions asked by his fellow parliamentarians.

Today, how could we justify, based on any precedent, limiting the questioning to 15 minutes in the case of the Liberal and Reform Party members who are before the committee to be judged?

Mr. Speaker, I am asking you whether the committee chairman grossly overstepped his mandate by deciding on his own, without any motion, that these members would appear for 20 minutes. I am asking you whether the committee had the right, given what is at stake, to overlook in such cavalier fashion the existing precedent, and to go from an appearance of five hours in the case of a Bloc Quebecois member, to five minutes in the case of a Liberal or Reform Party member. I am asking you whether the committee, in acting like this, respects the spirit of the mandate it was given by us, which is to review the very serious matter of a member whose comments may have offended, threatened or pressured the Chair.

With five minutes for questioning, is our party—which condemned the situation and wants to get to the bottom of the matter—in a position to even begin the work that it was asked to do by the House? I call upon your judgment and your sense of fairness in comparing the treatment of a Bloc Quebecois member, who answered the questions of his peers for five to six hours, and the treatment of the Liberal and Reform Party members, who will spend five minutes answering questions from the Bloc Quebecois.

The issue is not any less serious. On the contrary, these are people who may have threatened the Chair. Had we accepted the decision made, which unquestionably defies any logic, it would have meant that, in the future, anyone in this House—including me—could have threatened the Chair and made statements such as “If the Speaker does not rule this way, the Bloc Quebecois will do this or that”.

The result of all this is that one would have five, six or perhaps ten minutes to answer questions from the other parties and yet be able to evade questions or to stall for time, knowing that the ordeal will be over after ten minutes.

This is not right. For the sake of justice and considering the mandate given by the House to the committee, for the sake of parliamentary intelligence and given the only existing precedent in the recent past, I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to make a ruling, to review the issue and tell us whether Bloc Quebecois members are being unreasonable by demanding that these members spend more than five minutes before the committee.

Considering that the former member for Charlesbourg, Mr. Jacob, spent five or six hours, is it too much to ask that 30, 35 or even 60 minutes be provided for questioning the members involved in this matter?

Again, I call upon your good judgment. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to look at the issue with all the wisdom that parliamentary law gives you under such circumstances.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.



Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I think it might be useful if I described the process the committee is undertaking because the inquiry is still ongoing.

We received the reference by motion from the House of Commons. As soon as possible thereafter we convened a meeting where we heard and were able to question an expert on general matters concerning privilege and contempt in the House of Commons. Based on that meeting our steering committee met and decided that first of all we should invite in our colleagues who were cited in the article which was part of the reference to us from the House of Commons.

We decided at that meeting that they would be invited to a meeting today, that they would be asked to make a statement of up to five minutes and that would be followed by a question and answer period.

At the meeting today there was a discussion on the nature of the questioning. It has been agreed the members would appear one at a time. There was a general agreement in the committee that for the first round we would confine the questioning and the statement to a total of about 20 minutes. It was made clear at the beginning and the end of each witness presentation that he might be invited back either later in today's meeting or at future meetings of the committee.

The intent of this approximate time period the committee provided and for which there was a formal agreement which the record will show was not to cut off questioning. The intent was to show fairness and equality to each of our colleagues who would be appearing before us.

It was made clear that this was not some sort of gag, gag order that is. The purpose of it was so that each member as the hearings unfolded would be faced at first with the same period of time for questioning.

On the matter of the motion and the unilateralness of the decisions as chair, I believe I was following the clearly expressed wishes of the committee. The 20 minutes was not a time limit in the sense of questions. Questions can be put at later hearings, no doubt. It was intended to show fairness to the members concerned.

This plan was developed properly through the steering committee at which all members were represented. As in other meetings, as chair I have two purposes. The first is to show fairness to our colleagues. I think that is very important. The second is to deal with the reference that the House of Commons has given to us and keep to that discussion.

Mr. Speaker will find that the record will show all parties had equal time. All members where they asked to speak had equal time within the limits set by the committee. I stress the guiding principle of our meeting was fairness to our witnesses.

As I have mentioned, this is not a question of pressure on any party or individual on the committee. The next meeting of the committee is next Tuesday when we will continue these hearings. Thereafter, once we have considered the evidence we have received, we may well call members back or proceed in some other fashion.

This is an ongoing set of hearings. There was absolutely no intent to limit questioning of one party compared with the questioning by another.

Points Of Order
Oral 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 Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.


Chuck Strahl 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 Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur 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 Order
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey 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 Order
Oral 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, 1997
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis 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, 1997
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.


Antoine Dubé 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, 1997
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis 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, 1997
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.


Keith Martin 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?