House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was world.


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12:40 p.m.

An hon. member


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12:40 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

A $9 billion surplus is very attractive to them.

His speech made us aware of the importance, the relevance and the rightness of the motion and the debate put forward by the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean. How can anyone remain insensitive to so much nonsense, inconsistency and madness in a 10-minute speech? Perhaps this would deserve a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. I don't know, but I never heard such thing.

First, about eliminating child poverty, Canada signed an agreement in New York on the elimination of poverty. They were there in New York.

Second, in their red book, they talked about eliminating child poverty. He is a member of the Liberal Party.

Third, I would like to ask him if the number of poor children has risen or fallen since he has been sitting here. Why is he shying away from his role as a parliamentarian and refusing to let a parliamentary committee be set up to deal specifically with these matters?

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12:40 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is quite clear what this government has done in relation to the economy. Our recent budget set out how we have the country on track. We have eliminated the deficit of $42 billion. All that is vitally important to the success of programs that will help eliminate poverty. It will create jobs. That is how we are going to eliminate poverty.

Unlike the members opposite, who appear to be social democrats or socialists en français, we believe in working in partnership with the provinces, with the territories, with the private sector, with trainers and with educational institutions to ensure there are job opportunities for all Canadians. That will eliminate poverty.

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12:40 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on this motion. It calls for “considering Canadian parliamentarians' ability to narrow the gap between rich and poor in the new context created by the globalization of markets”. Why have we come to this?

One of the main movers behind this debate is the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean, who spoke from the heart when he said “I am an elected representative. I want to act, I want to be able to have an impact so that my fellow citizens can have a voice in this transformation we see going on throughout the world, where we hear continually of dollars, of effects on investment, of effects on cost-effectiveness”.

But his question was this. “Are these changes good for the people of my country? Are they aimed at improving the collective well-being? Am I, as an elected representative, capable of exercising enough influence to harness globalization?”

Everyone favours increased trade. We know that the number of wars in the world is decreasing, which makes it possible to have broader economic markets and allows small countries to also benefit. Wide political room is no longer needed, just wide economic room.

How, though, can we ensure that certain people do not get hurt by this globalization? I will ask two questions to illustrate this. First, is it or is it not true that the total annual income of the more than 250 million poorest people on earth equals the net worth of the six richest people? The answer is that this is true. This is not surprising, considering that close to one-third of humanity lives in abject poverty and earns less than 1US$ per day.

Second, is it or is it not true that, as the world gets richer, the gap between rich and poor is widening? This is false. It is not narrowing. The gap has more than doubled in a little less than one generation. Why? Because out of each $100 in economic growth, $86 goes to the richest 20%, and only $1.10 goes to the poorest 20%.

These are questions and answers that are food for thought. This situation is not the result of chance. It is the result of people looking after their own interests, people seeking to have their economic interests taken into account and promoting the increase of trade. We have had agreements such as NAFTA, the creation of agencies such as the WTO, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund. All these organizations look after their interests.

As parliamentarians, what is our duty? Our duty is to be the democratic hope of people. When someone in Saint-Alexandre-de-Kamouraska, where there is a hog slaughterhouse, tells me: “It seems to me that suddenly there are fewer jobs. What is going on?” Well, this is linked to globalization. Somewhere in Asia there is an economic crisis going on. It has an impact on the marketplace, on the sale and consumption of pork for example, and in turn it results in fewer jobs in a village in my riding.

These are issues I must, as an elected representative, find ways to rectify, change, modify. It may not appear like much but, for instance, Bill C-36 contains a clause providing for an increase in the amount of money the federal government can give the International Monetary Fund to deal with international crises. It looks perfect at first glance, but is it not a way to invite speculators to provoke crises because to cash in and, in the end, force the states and the Monetary Fund to make up the difference and find their way out of these crises?

These are important questions and the motion sets them out. Now that the private sector is responsible for creating wealth, we assume the equally important responsibility of distributing it.

In that regard, the performance of the last few years leaves much to be desired. In the motion, there is a historical reference. In 1989, the House adopted a motion calling for the elimination of child poverty by the year 2000. We have our work cut out for us if we really want to do it before the year 2000. This morning, the National Council on Welfare submitted a report to the Standing Committee on Finance in which it says that “There are about one and a half million poor children in Canada. About two thirds of them, roughly one million, live in families on welfare”.

If the Canadian Parliament had to be evaluated today on its performance in its fight against child poverty, it would be judged to have failed miserably. It would not get a passing mark, because it is not living up to its commitment.

Given the apathy of the Liberal majority in particular, and given that it does not want to support this motion, what will it take for parliamentarians to act on this issue?

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean rose to the challenge. He is asking parliamentarians from all political parties to commit to finding solutions. We have not yet reached that stage. We are merely asking parliamentarians to commit to finding solutions, and we cannot get this commitment from the Liberal majority. We will have to come up with an even more compelling way to get results.

We set an objective. We mentioned 50,000 signatures on the petition being circulated to ask that these positions be considered. The Liberals are silent on the issue. They are not even prepared to have a debate and to allow a parliamentary committee look at it. We will counter their silence with thousands of signatures opposing it. We already have 50,000 of them and, if more are needed, we will get them.

Child poverty is present everywhere. Last weekend, I took part in various activities and I asked people about the appropriateness of the chair episode. No one questioned the fact that fighting poverty is the way to ensure globalization does not turn to our disadvantage. Everyone feels it is an important issue for which solutions must be found. I do not have these solutions. I do not know yet whether bank mergers are a good thing and I do not know yet how this ought to be done.

But I do want the debate started by the member for Lac-Saint-Jean to take place. We must ask ourselves these questions, otherwise the year 2005 or 2010 will roll around and we will still not have any solutions. We ourselves will no longer be in this Parliament, because we will have found another option, but the situation will not have changed.

In 1989, almost 10 years ago, the House pledge to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Today, there are still 1.5 million Canadian children living in poverty. We must not find ourselves in the same situation 10 years from now, or in an even worse situation.

I will conclude on this note. How can we achieve such a result? Some people say we are naïve. Being naïve can trigger change. One who is naïve and politically organized and who has the determination to do achieve results will put the issues on the table, will discuss them and will find effective solutions.

But we must never do what the Prime Minister did. After having almost strangled a protester, he is now heaping ridicule on the youngest member in this House because he asked this basic question “What can we do to narrow the gap between rich and poor? How can we make sure that globalization will not have negative impacts, but positive ones?”

The Prime Minister will have to live with the consequences of his actions. I think he knew very well what was happening. He knows very well that he is unable and unwilling to deal with this issue. The Prime Minister, the Liberal members and all members of Parliament should react by saying this “It is indeed an important issue that has been raised by the member for Lac-Saint-Jean”.

It is an issue of paramount importance and members of Parliament have a key role to play. It is on that, in particular, that the people in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada will judge them. Have they managed our country well or have they only been spectators who zap from place to place with their remote control while letting others decide in their place and waiting to see how things will develop?

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12:50 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member from the Bloc and I am wondering if the member could tell the House what aspect of globalization is hurting Canada. Is it the free trade agreement with the United States? Is it the NAFTA with United States and Mexico? Is it the World Trade Organization where we have negotiated with 132 other member countries or is it the MAI?

Could the member explicitly tell us what aspect of globalization is being hurt by treaties Canada signed?

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12:55 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, there is a concrete example that can be readily given, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. If we ever negotiate such an agreement without a basic exemption for cultural matters, it would be unacceptable and very dangerous for Quebec as well as for Canada.

If we were to close our eyes on how different countries treat their employees or environmental issues, we would allow the development of submarkets or situations where there would be undue competition. People will be treated unequally to attract capital and to meet requirements. These are elements of globalization that we must control.

There is no contradiction. And if there is anyone who can understand that in Canada, it is Quebeckers. We were the architects of the signing of the free trade agreement with the United States. We were in favour of signing the agreement, but we wanted to ensure that its conditions were acceptable.

When you go in with a considerable capital—as in the case of the MIA, for example—the people living in the countries to our south who profit from these investment projects must have an equal opportunity and these projects must be made undere acceptable conditions.

We must also ensure that productivity gains due to globalization are distributed among the country's citizens. If it is always the same people who are profiting from the revenues, there is a major problem.

We had the same problem at the end of 19th century, before the Industrial Revolution. Ten- to twelve-year old children worked in mines and textile mills. Some people said this did not make sense; it was the start of labour unions. They tried to humanize these attitudes.

Today, on the eve of the 21st century, we are faced with the same challenge because, in effect, if the annual revenue of more than 250 million of the poorest people on earth equals the net assets of the six richest persons, then something is not working in the system. As an elected representative, I am responsible, as are all other members in the House.

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12:55 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member talk about the need for cultural exemptions. I was trying to find out what area was the biggest concern.

The member stated that unless Canada achieves a cultural exemption under the MAI there are serious problems for Canada. We have an investment agreement and a treaty with the United States and Mexico called the NAFTA. We have a cultural exemption under the NAFTA but I wonder if the member recognizes that the cultural exemption also provides for the United States to retaliate in equivalent measure for any protectionist measure we take.

Given that most cultural people in the industry seem to think the threat is coming from the United States, I am wondering about the logic of this because the NAFTA is going to stay in place no matter what we do in terms of the MAI. I am wondering if the member is not giving a little too much credence to the MAI. The NAFTA is going to stay in place and it takes precedence in terms of the culture agreement with the United States in any case.

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12:55 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, we should not forget that one of our goals in NAFTA was to have a judicial body that could make binding rulings in certain circumstances.

We had the softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the United States, for example. There did not seem to be a way out of this problem through discussions between our two countries. The free trade agreement provides for a set of rules to make this kind of decision and includes consultation mechanisms so that we can use an arbitration process if appropriate.

That is but one way of reining in international agreements so that, in the future, decisions will be made in an appropriate and compassionate way.

Other conditions are equally important. It is crucial for Quebec to get a clause protecting provincial jurisdictions. For as long as we are a part of Canada, if an agreement such as the MAI is signed without such a clause, it will be an encouragement for members opposite to resort to the same practice the Conservative government used to encroach upon our jurisdictions. They could also justify these intrusions under international agreements and say that, because of these, they have to take action in education and other sectors.

This is essential for us. To conclude, we believe the assessment we will make of the impact of globalization will depend not only on the wealth that it creates, but also on the distribution of this wealth between the people who live in the various countries that are involved in different trade relations.

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1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We are a bit out of rotation, so will go to the hon. member for Quebec and then to the member for Laval West and then back to our normal rotation.

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1 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, work is a right, employment is a necessity, and poverty is an affront to human dignity, an injustice to our learned institutions and an infringement of fundamental freedoms.

It is in this context that the Bloc Quebecois supports the proposal by the youngest member in the House, the member for Lac-Saint-Jean, that a parliamentary committee be struck to look at the issue of the role and authority of governments with respect to the redistribution of wealth.

A debate on this scale cannot be partisan. It is therefore with confidence that I urge my fellow members in the House to take an active role in the Bloc Quebecois' proposal.

I would like to take a moment to read out the motion. It goes as follows:

That this House reiterate the 1989 commitment to eliminating child poverty by the year 2000, urge the government to act, and strike an all-party Special Parliamentary Committee with the main objective of considering Canadian parliamentarians' ability to narrow the gap between rich and poor in the new context created by the globalization of markets, because of the following facts:

(1) despite the economic growth of recent years, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen;

(2) the globalization of markets greatly affects governments' ability to develop their countries' economies in accordance with their priorities; and

(3) globalization and the international agreements that frame it, particularly the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) as now written, may limit some of governments' powers and consequently those of the representatives elected to this House.

I will begin by recalling the observation of one of this century's great thinkers, Fernand Dumont, who said, in Raisons communes , that “Problems do not go away because we have talked about them too much; they persist because we have not resolved them”. He was right, of course.

Indeed, in our ridings, we are constantly reminded of the increase in poverty by the very people who suffer because of that problem. Every day, the fact that poverty is on the rise is reported by the media and by members in the House of Commons. Since we came to the House in 1993, this issue has been a priority of the Bloc Quebecois. It is an ongoing concern among our members.

As for statistics, they leave no room for argument. They show that, despite economic growth, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow rapidly. A study from the national forum on family security concluded that, between 1981 and 1991, in the bottom 20% of the income scale, $25,000 or less, incomes dropped by $400 million. In the middle income group, between $39,000 and $54,200, incomes dropped by $2.7 billion. However, in the top 20% of the income scale, $74,000 or more, incomes increased by $6.6 billion.

What is the situation elsewhere? In 1992, the wealthiest 20% of the population in the United States had an income that was 11 times higher than that of the poorest 20%, compared to seven and a half times in 1969. Internationally, the wealthiest 20% of the population have seen their share of the world income increase from 70% to 85% between 1960 and 1991, whereas the poorest 20% have seen their share drop from 2.3% to 1.4%.

But beyond these statistics, there is pain. There are children who are hungry and parents who are desperate because they cannot give them what they need. There are young people who are reluctant to bring children into this world because they are in dire financial straits. Do we have the right to remain silent and to continue to include in our legislation what really amounts to the social and economic exclusion of an important part of our collective wealth?

People looking for a job must not be reduced to developing productive resources. They are human beings who want to take an active part in economic growth. It is in this perspective that we must reflect on the globalization of trade and, particularly, on the multilateral agreement on investment.

Globalization is more than a theory or an ideology. It is a reality we see every day. Whether we like it or not, rising to a changing and knowledge based international environment has become the main concern of industrial strategies and national economic policies.

The Bloc Quebecois is aware of this reality. That is why we agree with the MAI principle, which is aimed essentially at defining a legal framework for alleviating the uncertainty associated with investing in a foreign country by making it an obligation to implement the same measures for national and foreign businesses, to promote investment and, at the same time, economic growth.

But before we support this agreement, we must get right to the bottom of an aspect of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. I would like to raise one of the aspects that concerns me the most, that is the increasing impoverishment of people and the gap between rich and poor.

The social clause is the most important aspect for me today and I would like to stress it. I know there are others claimed by the Bloc and by the Canadian people, but the social clause is the one that would allow us to have a better control so that the gap between rich and poor would not deepen.

Since 1994, OECD union organizations have been calling for the inclusion, in all trade agreements, of a social clause committing countries to respecting the seven fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization. What is at stake here is the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the ban on forced labour and job discrimination, among other things.

With respect to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, I know that the preamble to the report does mention the attachment of signatory states to the 1992 Rio Declaration. But how can such an undertaking be taken seriously when it is known for a fact that the United States ratified only one convention out of seven and that Canada has signed only four of them?

Some may fear that this agreement on investment could be signed without a social clause. Instead, we would like the investment treaty to be negotiated under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, because it is more representative. At the moment, the OECD has only 29 member states, while the WTO has 130.

The Bloc Quebecois wants more transparency and I think it has the support of the people. We want more transparency because we know that the people are very concerned and did not have a say in this agreement which will probably be signed next fall.

More transparency is needed. This agreement must generate more local benefits and some guaranteed net benefits for the countries involved in increasing capital flow. The people must be the first to benefit from any increase in capital flow. We are well aware of the problems associated with some agreements that may not be complied with. Capital outflows could be catastrophic for some of the countries involved in this agreement. National economies would become more vulnerable.

Safeguards must be in place to avoid abuses and to ensure that this agreement benefits people. I strongly support the motion tabled this morning.

Since I was elected, child poverty and the impoverishment of the people have been at the heart of all my comments and speeches in this House.

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1:05 p.m.


René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not repeat the figures just cited. They are correct and everyone can consult them. However, I am going to give a few examples from my riding.

Yesterday, I learned that two young people in Bonaventure killed a senior citizen. Many will say that is the way young people are, but that is not true. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility that we very often fail to assume.

Do we have to do what Martin Luther King did? Everyone is still talking about it years later. What did he do? He got directly involved. Do we have to do what Monsignor Romero or Terry Fox did?

What do we have to do? As parliamentarians we can see that although we are needed it is sometimes hard to get an idea across and to open hearts and minds.

My colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean, who I also congratulate, and of whom I am very proud, has raised a question. I would say it is a non-partisan question: Can something be done for young people? Can something be done for older people? Can something be done for the people in our ridings? That is what we are after. That is why we were elected.

I did not want to be passionate. I wanted to remain very calm today, for the subject to remain above partisan politics. It must appeal to our hearts and minds. We have to loosen the purse strings. Perhaps we should be the first to do so.

However, without a debate, if there is not an actual committee responsible for weighing the pros and cons, and especially possible approaches, what means do we have at our disposal in the next two years to ease the situation a bit?

The Prime Minister has often said that Canada is a rich country. It is. The wealth is there, but who holds it? Twenty per cent of the people who are starving come from our ridings, and it hurts.

My colleague spoke of the next ten years, I want to ask about the period up to 2000. How could we get people some help? There are petitions, of course, but is there anything else?

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1:10 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier, I said that globalization is more than just a theory or an ideology, it is an everyday reality. My hon. colleague talked about the sadness and despair he often sees among his fellow citizens, at least among those who do not have a decent salary, because there are no jobs.

Indeed, the fact that this issue can be addressed in the House of Commons, that we are having a debate and that the people can take part is indeed a good thing. I think we are about to sign an agreement the people have never heard of before and even us, as members of Parliament, have not had the opportunity to discuss it.

The people will have to be heard on this issue. I invite all my constituents to express their concerns about this agreement. We will have to further inform the people of all the issues the agreement will likely raise.

I talked earlier about the flow of capital. There could be flights of capital. It happens when, for some reason, agreements that have been signed are not honoured. In such cases it is the population that suffers the very serious consequences of a loss of investment.

Therefore this issue has to be taken seriously. I am glad to see that we can discuss the MIA. We could bring it up with our constituents. We will see, with the passing months, what the people think about the agreement and what are the reservations that the various countries could put forward.

We also have to respect the particularities of the various countries. Here, in Canada, we know that some of the provinces have particularities that are not mentioned in the agreement.

We have to live with the globalization of the markets, but we also have to take into consideration the capacity of the countries to evolve in tune with this huge globalization phenomenon.

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1:15 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in response to the Bloc Quebecois motion.

For the next few minutes, I will be emphasizing that, in its latest budget, our government has taken effective, targeted action to maintain and improve the situation of low and middle income Canadians.

The 1998 budget marks the beginning of a broad based tax relief effort comprised of two major initiatives and designed to maintain targeted relief for those who need it most and in areas where the greatest benefits will be achieved.

Over the next three years, the measures contained in the budget will translate into $7 billion in tax relief benefiting mostly low and middle income taxpayers.

Relief will be small at first, as the fiscal dividend it comes from will itself be small. We will not make tax cuts that risk compromising neither the fiscal health we have just restored nor the priorities identified by Canadians, including health care, education and public pensions.

That is why, in accordance with this country's priorities, the government will start by reducing the taxes paid by those who can least afford them: low and middle income Canadians.

The first of the two broad based tax relief initiatives consists in increasing the non taxable income of Canadians who earn a small income. Currently the basic personal exemption is $6,456, while the married exemption and the equivalent to married exemption cannot be more than $5,380.

The budget provides for a $500 increase of these amounts for low income Canadians, as a result the amount of income taxpayers can receive on a tax-free basis will be increased by $500 for a single person earning less than $20,000, and by $1,000 for families earning less than $40,000.

This measure, which is to come into force July 1, 1998, will take 400,000 low-income Canadians off the tax rolls and reduce taxes for an additional 4.6 million Canadians. The income tax relief will amount to $85 for single taxpayers, and to a maximum of $170 for families.

Moreover, the budget provides for the elimination of the 3% general surtax for Canadians with incomes up to about $50,000. This surtax, a tax on tax created in 1986 to help reduce the deficit, will be lowered for Canadians with incomes between $50,000 and around $65,000.

As a result of this measure, which will come into force on July 1, 1998,, close to 13 million taxpayers will pay no federal surtax in 1999, and another one million Canadians will see a significant reduction in their surtax liability.

These two measures provide for a very progressive distribution of tax relief since the biggest tax relief, as compared to current taxes, will go to taxpayers with the lowest income. For example, singles earning $30,000 a year will see their tax burden reduced by 3%, while singles earning $50,000 a year will receive a 2.4% tax reduction.

A family with an annual income of $30,000 will get a 31% reduction, while for a family earning $50,000 taxes will fall by 3.3%. As a result, a family earning $30,000 will see its total federal income taxes falling to about $300 or about 1% of its income.

True to previous budgets, the 1998 budget provides for targeted tax relief for those who need it most.

Under the Canadian Opportunities Strategy, for the first time ever, interest payments on student loans will be deductible.

This measure will be extended to all students and will benefit more than one million people. For example, for a student with a typical debt, this measure will mean a federal and provincial tax reduction of almost $530 the first year and of up to $3,200 over a ten year paydown.

The budget also proposes several measures that will allow Canadians to improve their qualifications, for instance the extension of the education credit to part time students. A part time student taking two eligible courses will be able to save $120 in taxes. This measure will reduce the costs associated with education and will facilitate continuing education for over 250,000 part time students.

In recognition of the expenses associated with education and to promote continuing education, the government will now allow part time students to claim the child care expense deduction. This measure, which will affect about 50,000 part time students, will allow a parent with two children who is taking two courses to save about $550 in taxes.

Together, these two measures will more than triple, from $300 to almost $1,000 a year, the tax savings for a typical part time student with two children.

To support continuing education, the budget also proposes to allow Canadians to make tax free withdrawals from their RRSPs to finance full time education and training.

Taxpayers will be able to withdraw, tax free, up to $10,000 a year, without exceeding $20,000 over a four year period. To preserve their retirement incomes, taxpayers will have to reimburse these withdrawals over a ten year period.

Support measures for families are also included in the budget. For example, there is an increase of the child care expense deduction from $5,000 to $7,000 for children under age 7, and from $3,000 to $4,000 for children aged 7 to 16. A parent with two preschool children will have his or her taxes reduced by $1,600. This measure takes into account the child care expenses paid by full time working parents and will benefit 65,000 families with children.

The 1998 budget contains another family support measure. It adds $850 million to the $850 million increase in the child tax credit announced in the 1997 budget, to come into effect in July 1998. This will be introduced in two stages. The first calls for $425 million more per year, starting July 1999, and the second the identical amount in July 2000.

The government also plans a credit for natural caregivers, which will decrease the combined federal and provincial tax by $600 for those taking care of an aged parent or a disabled relative. Some 450,000 natural caregivers, who would not normally be eligible for the disabled dependent credit, will benefit from this assistance. In addition, a GST and HST exemption will apply to expenses incurred in providing temporary assistance to a person whose self-sufficiency is limited through disability.

In order to encourage the hiring of young people aged 18 to 24, employers will pay no EI contributions for new jobs created for young people in 1999 and 2000.

I would like to add, before closing, that I will share my remaining time with the minister.

Along with the reduction in employers' contributions to employment insurance, which have been dropped to $2.70 per $100 of insurable earnings since January 1, 1998, this measure marks an important step in facilitating job creation for young Canadians.

In order to treat self-employed workers and limited companies more fairly, the budget proposes that Canadian self-employed individuals may, starting this year, deduct their contributions to health and dental insurance plans from business income.

In closing, I would like to add that globalization definitely poses considerable challenges to our society. The technological progress of the past two decades outstrips that of the entire last century. The 1998 Liberal budget reflects this phenomenon by proposing targeted tax relief and by building a solid economy—

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1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but her time is up.

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1:25 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised at what the member had to say. I thought we were talking about the MAI and its impact on the gap between the rich and poor. What I heard sounded like a budget being brought in. It was as though the Minister of Finance were making his budget speech.

This is the sort of self-congratulation we often hear from the members opposite when it comes time to hold a debate. They are always telling us how wonderful they are, as though we were living in the most wonderful country in the world and had no problems here in Canada.

Why has child poverty increased? It is certainly not because of everything the government has done. I will take my cue from the member opposite. If she wants to refer to the budget, I too can play at that.

What is her opinion of the non-indexation of the child tax benefit, of the personal tax tables, of the tightened EI eligibility criteria, of the cuts in the Canada social transfer that have taken a serious toll on the public? The end result is that the public is worse off. Not once did I hear the member expressing any concern over the agreement being signed. Is she not concerned about the various provisions. The member did not point to one provision that concerned her.

I have two criticisms of what she said. First, I do not think the government has anything to crow about. Second, I would have liked her to tell me which provisions in the MAI caused her the most concern.

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1:25 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the member's question. What surprises me in her criticism is that she does not seem to understand the role played by the Government of Canada.

The role of the government is to help people. How does it do that? It does it mainly through its budget. The budget is the most important element because, as we all know, it controls the allocation of moneys to the various departments.

What I have tried to demonstrate in the speech I just made in this House is how our government is responsible, how it pays special attention to the poorest, to young Canadians who need money to pursue their education. As a government, it is our responsibility to meet the needs of young people and low income families, those with very low salaries, and that is exactly what I have tried to demonstrate.

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1:25 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting debate today.

The Liberal member who just spoke used a lot of facts and in some respects was talking about the budget. We should examine that a bit.

The issue that has been brought up here is child poverty and globalization. In terms of poverty, would the member agree that something should have been done in the last budget for the over 2.5 million Canadians who are still paying taxes to the federal government and earning less than $15,000 a year? In fact the 1997-98 fiscal year which ended on March 31 would have had a surplus of over $4.5 billion if the government had not decided to spend it.

I see the member is getting some coaching from her colleague but that is all right. Maybe together the two of them can figure out something.

It seems to me it would have been an opportune time to have some tax relief for low income Canadians, to take them off the tax rolls altogether. What is required are good paying jobs. People who are not in the category of having high paying jobs should not have the extra difficulty of having to pay federal taxes on an income that is very low, $15,000 or less.

Would the hon. member agree with me on that?

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1:30 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to that comment by saying that poverty is a very serious issue and a basic concern of our government.

I will repeat what I have already said. Let us not forget that, thanks to our budget, 400,000 people will not be paying any taxes next year. Those are the very people referred to by the member, that is people with extremely low salaries.

I would also remind the member that our fundamental task and our first priority this year has been to reduce the deficit. Not only have we reduced it, but we have eliminated it completely. It was a monumental task, and I am very proud of our achievement. We would like to do more—

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1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry but the time provided for questions and comments has expired.

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1:30 p.m.

Western Arctic Northwest Territories


Ethel Blondin-Andrew LiberalSecretary of State (Children and Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate the hon. member's motion.

The hon. leader of the Bloc Quebecois has presented the House with a rather broad sweeping motion. I will direct my comments at the portion of the motion dealing with the elimination of child poverty which falls within my specific mandate.

While families have the primary responsibility to nurture their children, they are not alone in this critical undertaking. The healthy development of our children requires the attention and collaboration of parents with territorial and provincial governments and the private and voluntary sectors. The Government of Canada is most certainly prepared to do its part.

I assume the hon. member was in the House during last September's Speech from the Throne. If he was he would know that the Government of Canada is working with its provincial and territorial partners to build a comprehensive and effective national child benefit system. During the Speech from the Throne the hon. leader of the Bloc Quebecois would have heard the government reiterate its commitment to “ensure that all Canadian children have the best possible opportunity to develop their full potential”.

It should be noted that there is a real need to demonstrate this by one stark statistic. Eighty-five per cent of single parents are women and 65% of them live in poverty. Other groups are equally affected, such as aboriginal youth and disabled youth and children.

The throne speech went on to say that the government has already demonstrated its commitment to the well-being of our children in part by increasing our contribution to the Canada child tax benefit by $850 million during the course of this mandate. This was not hollow rhetoric.

It is unfortunate if some members find the budget to be something reprehensible. Most of the initiatives for human development are directed at children and families in need.

The government demonstrated its intent quite clearly in the budget by repeating its commitment to increase the child tax benefit by an additional $850 million. That is $850 million on top of the $850 million we committed to the Canada child tax benefit in the 1997 budget. This is already an increase in advance of what we had planned to do.

The government will live up to this commitment in a fiscally responsible manner. The $850 million committed in the 1997 budget will come into effect July 1 this year. Of the new funding, $425 million will be allocated in July 1999. The remaining $425 million will come into play in July 2000. That is a total Government of Canada commitment of $1.7 billion to try to help in part fight child poverty in Canada.

I say to the hon. member that this investment demonstrates quite clearly the government's commitment to do as much as it possibly can to move toward the elimination of child poverty in Canada. This in real terms is action. In the meantime, while we are working with our partners in planning these new strategies the government already has a number of programs in place to assist children and their families. I would like to bring a few of those programs to the attention of members.

The child care visions program was created in 1995. This national program for research on child care and development is administered by Human Resources Development Canada. The program supports research and evaluation projects to study current child care practices and delivery of services.

The 1997 budget increased resources by $100 million over the next three years for two existing community based programs that benefit children at risk. These are the community action program for children and the Canada prenatal nutrition program.

I am at the midpoint of a national tour on youth and children which will go to every province and both territories visiting and consulting with all stakeholders for children and youth. I have seen many, many wonderful programs, successful programs at the community level undertaken with the priorities as demonstrated by the people. Just yesterday I was in Quebec and Verdun visiting some stakeholders.

The community action program for children responds to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and helps community groups address health and social needs of at risk children up to six years of age. This program will allow communities all across Canada to design projects most relevant to the needs of children in their communities. It provides a variety of services such as toy lending libraries, infant stimulation, parenting education and support, and integrated services through family resource and child development centres.

Through the development of the national children's agenda and such programs as Health Canada's prenatal nutrition program, we can also begin to address issues such as fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects.

It would be most advisable to undertake the appropriate steps to ensure that we have some kind of capacity in the name of a national advisory committee for that, as well as to undertake a number of strategically appointed pilot projects that would deal with not only identifying but relating these to issues that affect things such as young offenders.

In my capacity as Secretary of State for Children and Youth, I have begun discussions with street youth, street youth workers and health care professionals on possible approaches to the issues of street youth.

One issue which affects street youth is that because they lack an address, street youth cannot enter any kind of training program. They cannot enlist in any kind of government service or program. This is very important. A mechanism should be instituted by which street youth will be able to give information that is satisfactory to various learning institutions which will allow them to participate.

We also need to be concerned about the security of these youth. These young people are someone's children and they are our country's children. While not being able to resolve this overnight, we should be able to provide some security for them, some kind of clearing house mechanism where they can have the time to make decisions. Some of these young people actually have children as well. Security is a big issue.

The First Nations and Inuit child care initiative helps to bring the quality and quantity of child care services for aboriginal communities in line with child care services available to the general population. The Government of Canada is providing $72 million over three years to help create 4,300 new child care spaces and improve some 1,700 existing spaces. We also have committed $36 million annually to maintain the program.

To ensure that these programs and any others that may be developed are effective, it is necessary to gather up to date information on the social condition of Canadian children. To that end Statistics Canada and Human Resources Development Canada are currently engaged in the national longitudinal survey of children and youth. This is a long term study which revisits individuals every two years from birth to adulthood. It presents an integrated picture of their lives. The data we are gathering is assisting us in planning future programs.

Besides the initiatives I have mentioned, we are collaborating with our provincial and territorial partners in working toward establishing a national children's agenda. The agenda will be a broad comprehensive strategy to improve the well-being of Canada's children. The agenda's impetus will ensure that all Canadian children have the best possible opportunity to develop to their full potential as healthy, successful and contributing members of society.

As part of this national agenda we will expand our aboriginal head start program to on reserve children. We will measure the readiness of Canadian children to learn. We will establish centres of excellence for children's well-being. Federal, provincial and territorial governments will work together to fully develop the national children's agenda, one of the most significant social policy initiatives in 30 years.

There are many other programs I could speak to. Yesterday in Verdun I had the opportunity to visit the children and youth centre Toujours ensemble. It is a wonderful centre. I encourage members opposite to visit it. It demonstrates the excellent initiatives people undertake when they are adequately resourced by various levels of government.

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1:40 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speeches by the member for Laval West and by the minister. I think anyone who defends themself for 20 minutes when no criticism has been leveled at them must have something to hide. We have not accused them of anything, but they defended themselves for 20 minutes. Something is not quite clear.

The minister said the Bloc Quebecois motion was all over the place and all muddled. I will help her out with a reminder. We want to create a special committee to examine the disparity between the rich and the poor. That is not so very complicated.

I have two very simple questions for the minister. First, has the number of poor children increased or decreased since the Liberals have been in government? Second, why is she opposed to creating an all party special committee to consider the problem of the gap between the rich and the poor?

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1:40 p.m.


Ethel Blondin-Andrew Liberal Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am not a person who is usually against very much. What I am in favour of is what the government has consistently been doing. That is, throughout all the successive budgets since 1993 when we became government, there are two areas where we have not reduced funding, where we have built programs consistently. We have enforced and expanded programs dealing with children and youth.

I must say that I did not state that that was confusing. I said that it was broad sweeping, that it pulled in such issues as the multilateral agreement on investment and the globalization of markets affecting the government's ability to develop the country's economies in accordance with its priorities. These are all broad assumptions and are broad sweeping issues that do not directly relate to my mandate. My mandate deals with les enfants et la jeunesse. In that mode I wanted to talk about something that is relevant to my mandate, the elimination of child poverty.

We look at the throne speech and the budget, the programs instituted, the prenatal nutrition program, the community action plan for children. I do not know whether the member opposite has bothered but I have gone to the grassroots level, to the various communities not just in Liberal held ridings but to various places. I have seen the programs. They are excellent programs. I advise the member to visit them as well.

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1:40 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the hon. member.

I would like to know how the member would respond to the government's failure to set goals for decreasing unemployment. How would she respond to health and education transfers that directly affect poverty? No one would argue that increased education is one of the greatest weapons against poverty.

How would the minister respond to the cuts to EI that greatly affected aboriginal seasonal workers who no longer meet the requirement and are forced to go on welfare at a time when they are fighting to increase their self-worth?

We cannot look at child poverty in isolation as her other colleagues have been mentioning today. I think everyone realizes this. How does the minister respond to only isolating child poverty from the poverty of all?

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1:45 p.m.


Ethel Blondin-Andrew Liberal Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her questions.

We are not in the practice of setting quotas or targets that we cannot meet. We put all our efforts into eliminating and trying to reduce unemployment. We have done that. We have gone from double digit to a single digit unemployment figure. That says something.

We have also created an opportunity for people by way of reducing and eliminating the deficit on top of trying to do what we can for poor people. We are not continually putting pressure back on the taxpayers of Canada. I think that speaks for itself.

We can talk about numbers but we cannot achieve anything if we do not put a concerted effort into something, which we have done consistently.

I encourage the hon. member to read the budget. It was an education budget. I do not know if she recalls but the media were calling the Minister of Finance the minister of education because of the budget he put before parliament. I encourage the member to look at all the granting systems and the millennium scholarship fund. Much debated they were, but they were necessary.

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1:45 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the motion today. I was somewhat amused when I looked at the television broadcast of this debate and saw the line underneath the picture indicating “elimination of poverty”. I thought some might say we have reached a point of arrogance to assume we in the House will eliminate all poverty.

I have some comments regarding the motion which I would like to share. The particular motion proposes to eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor and to eliminate child poverty through government intervention.

For some individuals these are noble sounding goals, but Reform would take issue with how the Bloc and others in the House propose to achieve these goals. Often the method and the determination of the outcome are more critical than just lofty sounding goals.

Some feel the answer to these problems is more megagovernment programs, more government make work projects, more protectionism, more bureaucracy, more taxes, more debt and a more unfocused federal government, more of the old vision of how a government should work.

It is because this has not worked that Reform takes a different view of how these issues should be addressed. Reform would point out that we have been through the age of megagovernment programs and it has not worked. It certainly has not eliminated the problems. The Bloc obstensibly says that this is an attempt to address the issue. Instead of eliminating poverty or the gap between the rich and the poor, what has been the result of megagovernment that the Bloc seems to wish to promote today?

A short list would include a $600 billion debt, the highest taxes in the industrialized world, one-third of every tax dollar going to interest on the national debt, job insecurity for many Canadians, almost one in five of our trained young people not finding work, and a brain drain of our brightest to better opportunities in other countries.

We could do better but more of the same and bigger government are not the answer. This megagovernment vision which the Bloc and others in the House seem to support has resulted in low and single income individuals and families paying higher levels of taxation with the hope of getting some back through some government program.

Even after the latest budget an individual starts paying taxes at approximately $7,000. Surely such individuals cannot be classified as rich, but the government still forces them to hand over their income to their megagovernment so that perhaps their megagovernment can think of some sort of bureaucracy growing program for them.

An individual earning $29,000 will pay about 20% of his income to the federal government in personal income tax, employment insurance and CPP premiums. This total does not include the Liberals' beloved GST or any provincial taxes.

A megagovernment comes up with megaproposals and megaprograms which are not easily tailorable to the needs of individuals. Given the diversity of the needs of the regions in Canada, the big brother approach does not meet people where they are at.

An example might be the child tax benefit. One can agree there is value in recognizing the increased costs of raising a child, but we can take issue with how it is recognized by the government. It is important to recognize the responsibility of raising children. In the words of supreme court Justice La Forest:

Marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of longstanding philosophical and religious traditions. But ultimately its raison d'etre transcends all these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that couples have the unique ability to procreate, that children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship.

The family is an important relationship. The child tax benefit essentially takes money from families with children through taxes today. Then one year later they are sent a cheque. This is a year after they filed and paid their taxes. Would it not be easier to simplify the process and simply reduce their tax bill at source in the first place and eliminate much of the bureaucracy involved in processing the program? Let the family have the money in the month it is earned and not a year later.

There is a family in my riding, the Lucas family, that shared with me a story of how there was an error in the child tax benefit the family received. Revenue Canada sent a cheque for $1,000 and said “We underpaid you on the child tax benefit”. This is a poor family that is just starting out with one young child and another one on the way. This was a windfall, $1,000 out of the blue. The family enjoyed the $1,000 by spending it on some immediate needs.

Three months later the family got a letter from Revenue Canada saying it was an overpayment on the child tax benefit and now the $1,000 had to be paid back. The stress it put on that family I cannot begin to fully articulate today. However after many calls and many appeals to the taxman the family was allowed to pay so much off a month. It put tremendous stress on the family. In researching the whole situation it was not the only family that had been ground up in this bureaucratic nightmare. In fact there were many families across Canada. It is the height of administrative bureaucracy when it loses touch with the impacts it is having on everyday people.

This kind of complexity adds to the burden of taxation and administration that families have to carry. Not only have taxes become the greatest expense in the family budget, but it has become a family expense just to file an income tax return because it is so complex. There are 600 pages in the act and 700 pages of special interpretations. The Income Tax Act and the special interpretations that go with it are thicker than most phone books and it started out as a 36 page document to fund the war effort. Bureaucracy has gone crazy and it is impacting on families. The bottom line is that more government intervention in recent years has worked against the family and their children.

What is Reform's vision? Reform has pointed out that the old vision of megagovernment just is not working. This is the vision which has us working half the year just to pay the tax bill. The old vision of the current government promised job creation and social justice. That is what it promised but it delivers chronic unemployment, chronic poverty and youth crime. It is a vision which promises national unity through national programs and national standards but delivers friction, disunity, non-accountability, duplication and waste.

Current government vision trivializes the individual, family and community contributions by implying that only through government programs, government spending and government propaganda can the country be held together.

Reform's vision is that of a country defined and built by its citizens rather than by its government. It is a vision of smaller government and lower taxes. It is a vision that reaches out to the initiative, drive and diversity of Canadians and calls upon individuals, families and communities to lead the way to growth, progress and unity. It allows families and communities to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

The best way to address child poverty is to address the needs of the family. This may be attained through jobs for parents or youth. This can be achieved through lower taxes and less bureaucracy. Children are members of families in the care of their parents. They are not disconnected free agents.

Reform believes that we can best help families by simplifying and reducing the burden of government on them and by showing that they make an important contribution to the health of our country. More than that, Reform would point out that we need to better respect the autonomy of families and not undermine these relationships by driving a wedge between parents and their children or between husbands and wives with greater government intervention in family relationships. That is not the answer.

These are not just my comments. These positions are written into the policies, statements and documents of the Reform Party. We affirm in our statements the duty of parents to raise their children responsibly, according to their own conscience and beliefs. We further affirm that no person, government or agency has any right to interfere in the exercise of that duty as long as the actions of parents do not constitute abuse or neglect.

Rather than saying we need bigger government and the higher taxes that go along with it, Reform is saying that we need smaller government. The money earned by families is best left in their pockets, the pockets of those who know how best to spend it to address their needs and those of their children. Children can be best served by those closest to them, that is parents and not governments. Parents know best how to address the needs of their families.

I refer to the publicity stunt we saw performed by the Bloc Quebecois member who carried his chair out of the House in protest. It is interesting that he did this to demonstrate the government's ineffectiveness in addressing child poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor—