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House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was students.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

You are doing it because you want to give it away in the NDP. They want to jack up the prices, cut the taxes, help the wealthy. That is all they want. They are absolutely off base.

This is balanced. This is good government policy. It is receiptable and it is going to help build a great dynamic country for your children and mine.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for rescuing the member opposite who, near as I can tell, did not take a breath for almost 10 minutes. It was an impressive sight. It is like the old saying when a preacher dropped his notes and someone said when you are unsure of what you are saying, just speak louder and maybe someone will believe it. I think the hon. member opposite was probably a case in point. Lots of volume, lots of rhetoric, no facts and I am not sure he is even convinced of his position.

On the budget implementation act it is a shame we cannot question one another during this period. It would be so much fun to debate with a member who relies so much on rhetoric and so little on facts.

For example, why has the bill taken so long to come to the House of Commons? And why now is there time allocation? Every single bill that is brought into the House is brought in by the government as it sees fit. If it does not want to bring the bill in until June, then it will run shy of time before the summer holidays. It has had three months in which to run the bill, every day since the budget announcement if it had wanted to.

This bill and the budget have been botched in several ways right from the word go. On the grouping we are talking about on the millennium fund the minister appointed the person in charge of the millennium fund before the legislation was passed in the House of Commons.

Imagine something this big. As the member opposite has said, this thing is practically as big as sliced bread. It is almost as miraculous as getting the milk inside the Caramilk bar. It is so huge it is practically a memorial fund for the Prime Minister in years to come. It is such a big thing you would think the legislation would come before the House to be debated. Once it was debated the minister would move ahead and enact the legislation as it was passed. But no, the Minister of Finance chose to appoint the person in charge of the millennium fund before parliament had a look at it.

Reform raised that in the House. We have this funny little quirk on this side of the House. We think that perhaps democracy in parliament should have a say in things, not just ministerial departments. The member set an alarming trend on behalf of the government and an alarming tendency to ignore parliament to legislatively put the cart before the horse. That was the first mistake on this.

The second mistake is in the budget itself in its entirety. The focus of the budget was that the government could probably continue to tax Canadians at this rate. Canadians are long suffering and fairly patient. They are not prone to dementia. Perhaps the government could continue to tax Canadians at a rate that would make most sane people cringe and business people cry and they will just put up with it.

That is exactly what happened. The budget continued the time honoured tradition of Liberal parliamentarians that the only good taxpayer is a well taxed taxpayer. With this bill we continue to have the highest personal income taxes in the G-7.

Today during question period there was a little bit of a kerfuffle and a point of order to straighten out the facts by the Deputy Prime Minister who was trying to decide whether Italy was the fifth biggest economy in the world and Canada was seventh, or was it the other way around. What he did not get into regardless of which way it was, and of course Canada is the seventh, is that we have the distinction of being number one when it comes to personal tax levels in the G-7. We get taxed higher than anybody else, including Italy and the Americans. That side of the House just cannot seem to understand that it affects people's business decisions.

I just heard talk a minute ago about Ireland and some other bright spots in the world for investment. Business people look at the education levels. They look at the political stability. They look at lots of things. One of the factors they also look at is the tax rate in the economy they are going to build their business in.

You only have to come out to British Columbia. Even within a small jurisdiction like Canada we can see with a high tax rate like that in British Columbia, which is a provincial problem, that the people in British Columbia are voting with their feet and are moving to Alberta to start up new businesses there. I can tell a litany of sad business stories of people from my riding, including people in the farming community who have given up on the high taxes in British Columbia and have moved to Alberta where there are the lowest taxes overall in Canada. There is no PST and Alberta has the lowest income taxes.

Taxes were botched right from the start. The attitude was that there was no tax relief needed for Canadians because after all, they can take it. They have not revolted. There is no rioting in the streets, so let them get by on what they are getting by on and we will just continue to spend the money.

It has long been my belief and the belief of the Reform Party that what taxation means at the federal level is the government takes our money, deducts 50% for handling and then gives it back to us in services we never asked for and it generally goes to the people who did not deserve it or want it to begin with. But the government makes sure that everyone is taxed. It is almost biblical in nature in that all must go to be taxed. It has been going on for a long time. The Liberal government has perfected it. The Liberals never met a taxpayer they did not like. They make sure that taxpayers are well fleeced so that they feel as lucky as any other Canadian I guess because they are treated equally that way.

That is unfortunate because dollars left in the hands of people in the community, in the hands of homemakers, in the hands of business people and students now and in the future are dollars that are more likely to be well spent than when the government gets its sticky little fingers on it.

In a previous speech about the tax system in Canada I mentioned the long chain of books that the tax collector, the hon. Minister of Finance has lying out behind him, the long catalogue of thousands of pages of tax laws, income tax increments and the broken promises of Christmas past, present and future. It kind of streams out behind him like a dead weight on the economy and forever must be pulled around like a chain while saying “Woe is me and woe is you because this thing is going to drag us down”.

Imagine if some of the tax burden was relieved from people. Imagine if some of that weight was taken off their shoulders. Imagine as we discuss this millennium fund if students had the prospect that as they earned money they would be able to keep more of it.

Canadians do not have to make a lot of money to start paying a lot of taxes in this country. I met with someone on Sunday who goes to the same church as I do. This fellow is in his mid-fifties, has been on and off social assistance and has held down a steady job for the last couple of years. He is working at a machine shop doing clean up and basic chores around the place. He makes $17,000 a year which is his total income. He said “What is it about our tax system that I have to send $3,000 a year to Ottawa? What gives in a system that taxes me, a $17,000 a year guy, and asks me to send money to Ottawa so they can take it, deduct 50% for handling and give it out to other people who get the services and are just a selected few?” I did not have an answer for him.

We could point out the following. On the millennium fund, who does not want to see our children educated? My goodness sake, I have four of them at college age. I would love to see them all educated with somebody else's tax dollars.

Why is it this millennium fund is going to affect 7 out of 100 students? And this is going to turn the world on its ear. A student who happens to be one of the seven blessed, a student who happens to be chosen will be a happy camper. But for the other 93 students, what are their prospects? Their prospects are to continue to pay GST, continue to pay income tax, continue to pay road taxes, tariffs, fees, customs duties, hidden user fees. Those students will continue to pay all of that and the government will take their money and give it to the 7 out of the 100 who will receive a benefit. The other 93 will pay and the 7 will receive a benefit.

I do not think that is the way it should be. There would be a lot more students with a lot more smiles on their faces, 93 at least, saying “Thank you, Mr. Minister, for reducing my taxes. Thank you for reducing my debt load. Thank you for giving me some prospect for hope for the future”.

I think that is the way we could get general support for any kind of millennium fund or scholarship fund because that would benefit all Canadians equally.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec East, QC

Mr. Speaker, many members spoke to Bill C-36, a bill aimed at setting up a $2.5 billion millennium scholarship fund to help students.

A lot has been said about this bill. As far as I am concerned it clearly shows that Canada is a failure as a country because, with Bill C-36, the government is trying once again to interfere in education, which comes under Quebec's jurisdiction.

Canada's history proves that education is critical to Quebec's survival. It is at the heart of Quebec's plan for the future. If Canada had learned to respect Quebec, the federal government would not be pushing pieces of legislation such as Bill C-36. Since Duplessis and Lesage, Quebec premiers have been fighting to preserve the integrity of Quebec's jurisdiction over education. It is essential that Canada recognize the importance of education for Quebec.

We know that throughout history one of the ways Canada has been trying to assimilate francophones has been to attack the education system. This is what every province outside Quebec has done. They challenged the use and teaching of French, thus speeding up assimilation. This is one of the reasons why today the assimilation rate is 40% in Ontario and up to 70 % in the western provinces.

As a matter of fact, just out of respect for Quebec, proposed legislation like Bill C-36, which interferes in a field as important to Quebec's future as education, should not even be introduced. One can see, once again, from this bill, that motions that are moved in the House to recognize Quebec's distinctiveness are not respected. A motion was moved shortly after the last referendum to have Quebec's distinctiveness recognized and it was passed in the House. But the government introduced Bill C-36, which ignores Quebec's uniqueness or distinctiveness yet again. It is to be expected that the Calgary declaration will not change much either.

Indeed, as long as the government introduces legislation such as Bill C-36, which heaps scorn on something that is central to what Quebec represents, this will only be a further gesture, somewhat like what Pierre Elliott Trudeau did in 1982 with the constitution in an attempt, which succeeded, to reduce the powers of Quebec's national assembly in the area of education. It is since the Constitution Act of 1982 was passed that we have experienced so many constitutional problems in Canada. Since 1982, we have had a great number of commissions and some referendums in Canada to talk about national unity, and English Canada did not learn its lesson.

The government comes back, once again, with Bill C-36, which is a small copy, so to speak, of the bad gesture made by Mr. Trudeau at the time. However, the current Prime Minister probably wants to make the same kind of gesture, that is compromise the integrity of Quebec's powers in the area of education. In fact, this is what is being done.

No one is against better education in Canada. We heard the hogwash of Liberal members who told the House that a stand against Bill C-36 is a stand against better education. Naturally, that is sheer nonsense.

We want students to benefit from this $2.5 billion. Of course we do, but we would rather have the funds paid directly to the provinces, which would administer them. Our loans and grants system in Quebec is one of the best if not the best system in Canada today. The debt load of students in Quebec is one of the smallest in the country.

We do not need another federally appointed agency to come to solve problems we do not have in Quebec. We want Quebec to get back its share of the $2.5 billion, but not this way, not funds managed by individuals appointed by the Prime Minister, no doubt friends of the party, 12 directors who will sit in private, behind closed doors, manage the funds and distribute them as they see fit, without being accountable in any way.

Basically, the federal government will be putting money in the hands of a private agency that will not be accountable to elected representatives. That is contrary to democratic principles. After all, why appoint 12 commissioners or board members to manage these funds when each province in Canada already has a ministry of education managing education funds?

Not only does this bill dismiss the existing system in Quebec, but it shows once again that Canada does not understand a thing about the problems in Quebec and Canada. Once again, the Constitution is flouted. We know full well that this private agency appointed by the Liberal government will be duplicating services currently provided by the ministry of education in Quebec and the other provinces. This is a blatant case of duplication, which entails extra costs of course.

Take for example the millennium office to be set up in Ottawa in preparation for the year 2000 celebrations. It is estimated that the administration costs for managing the $166 million earmarked for celebrating Canada and the millennium in the year 2000 will amount to 10% of the total budget.

What does this mean, with respect to the $2.5 billion budget for the millennium scholarships? Does it mean that $250 million will be spent on managing these scholarships and not on those who should benefit from it, the students? Does it mean that new jobs will be created for the friends of the Liberal government? Are we creating a $250 million slush fund for the friends of the government?

We have the right to wonder, because there is no real need for these millennium scholarships. They will not necessarily help the students, because if we really wanted to help our students, we would give the money directly to the provinces, which would be a good thing. It would reduce the administration costs.

Who benefits from these millennium scholarships? It is pretty obvious that the Prime Minister of Canada is trying to create something to be remembered by, and in a rather arrogant way, too.

This scholarships program is to remind Canadians how much he cares about our youth, when, in fact, his primary goal is only to give his Liberal government more visibility at a very high cost.

Bill C-36 is another fine illustration of the fact that Canada is a failure.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill-36, the Budget Implementation Act, which is a culmination of the Minister of Finance's budget that he tabled back in February.

There are a couple of issues about the budget which I would like to discuss. Number one, of course, is that the minister announced a balanced budget. However, there was actually a surplus of $2.5 billion, because the minister charged $2.5 billion to this fiscal year to set up his millennium scholarship fund.

I take exception to the way he has been doing his accounting. The auditor general pointed out the previous year that the finance minister had made an $800 million charge for an expenditure that had not been made. I would have thought the Minister of Finance would have listened to the Auditor General of Canada who is the watchdog for all Canadians. He ensures that the books of the Government of Canada are clear and prepared in a manner consistent with normal accounting practices and that they do not contain misleading information.

The Minister of Finance has unilaterally decided to change the accounting policies of the Government of Canada to allow him to make a charge when he decides to make an announcement regarding a new program, and in this particular case $2.5 billion for the millennium scholarship fund.

That means that we have taken $2.5 billion out of the books for the year ending March 31, 1998 and have set the money aside. We have not spent the money. We have not even set it aside at this point in time. But the Minister of Finance has made this expenditure or charge on the financial statements with the idea that after the turn of the millennium, which is closer to the next election, the government is going to have $2.5 billion to spread around to young people in our country who will benefit by having assistance with tuition and education expenses.

We Reformers have never had a problem helping kids to get their education, but we do have a problem with this sleight of hand type of accounting that is being proposed by the Minister of Finance and being condemned by the Auditor General of Canada who says this cannot be the way.

I think that for the second time in a row the Minister of Finance should listen to the auditor general, rather than thumbing his nose at the auditor general, because we need to have integrity in our financial statements. We need to have integrity in our government. Surely, if there is no integrity in the financial statements being prepared by the government, then the government loses its integrity, and that is not in anybody's best interest.

I hope the Minister of Finance will take the auditor general's serious criticisms to heart, that he will recognize the error of his ways and will ensure that our financial statements are prepared in a manner that is acceptable to the Auditor General of Canada. That way not only Canadians but international investors can have faith in our financial statements.

While we have a balanced budget, we must remember that we still have a debt of almost $600 billion, which is $20,000 for every man, woman and child in Canada. That debt is being funded and financed by overseas investors, bankers and so on who look at our financial statement and if they find that it is qualified by the auditor general then we may end up having to pay higher interest rates on that debt. That is also not to anybody's benefit.

I have to laud the government for achieving a balanced budget. With prodding by the Reform Party it has finally got itself there. We take exception to the fact, however, that it got there by increasing revenues from taxation rather than by cutting expenditures and bringing the government down to a more appropriate size.

The employment insurance fund now has a surplus of almost $20 billion, which is far in excess of any surplus it has ever had before. It is ten times larger than any surplus it ever had before. The government has taxed employment and jobs to balance the budget rather than cut the size of government. Taxing jobs seems to be a backward way of trying to achieve economic growth so that the government can get its finances in order while everybody else has to pay through the nose and find out that their personal budgets are being squeezed to pay for extra taxes to the government.

That tax revenue comes with a potential price. We have now had seven years of economic expansion. We know economic expansions come to an end. When that happens, government expenditures go up by increased unemployment insurance premiums, reduced taxation revenues, additional welfare costs and all other government costs. Since we have relied on increased revenues to balance the budget, we run the risk of slipping back into a deficit if economic activity slows down.

Last weekend the Minister of Finance was in Kananaskis, Alberta, to enjoy the fine scenery and accommodation of my part of the world. He was at the APEC conference, the Asia Pacific Economic Council, dealing with economic issues in the far east. Things are not as rosy over there as perhaps they could be or even should be.

We are glad to see the resignation of President Suharto. However we have some doubts about his successor who may follow in the same vein. There is an economic crisis there that is already impacting on the province of British Columbia. Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, said over the weekend that the impact of the economic slowdown in Asia could have a small but not negligible impact on North American economies.

I read in the Financial Post today that the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi reported a loss of $10 billion. When banks start to lose $10 billion we should begin to take a look at what is going on in financial markets. Therefore I point out to the Minister of Finance and to all Liberals that although they may have a balanced budget today, it may not be as rosy as it could be or should be if they had taken this opportune time to cut government when the economy was chugging along quite nicely. When the economy turns downward is no time to squeeze Canadians with fewer and fewer services.

The government should be very cautious and careful about spending any money it has or any surpluses it has. It should still be vigorous in its efforts to root out waste. I publish a waste report periodically. I brought one out last week with all the different grants. For example, we gave some money to somebody to study dress in 19th century Istanbul. I wonder what benefit that is to Canadians.

The auditor general pointed out that in one of our embassies we had spent $3,500 a month to store furniture, but when we looked at the furniture being stored we found it was only worth $1,000. We have idiotic expenditures right across government. We have waste, mismanagement and incompetence in many areas. It requires accountability. It requires to be rooted out, and that is what the government has failed to do.

When we next see a Budget Implementation Act for which the government is asking the approval of the House to implement the recommendations of the Minister of Finance, I would find it very difficult to do so based on the fact that they have not put their own fiscal house in order.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charlotte, hepatitis C; the hon. member for Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, employment insurance reform.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate, but I am not delighted to rise today in this House to speak to Bill C-36.

It implements certain provisions in the latest budget of the Minister of Finance including the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. I will return to this a little later in my speech.

Perhaps you would allow me right off to put all the nonsense in the latest budget into perspective. The government opposite is continuously heaping praise on the Minister of Finance for his work in balancing the budget.

Let us get things clear from the start. There is no question of congratulating a government so irresponsible about the job it has to do as to have others do it, namely the provinces. This, in my opinion and that of the Bloc, makes the entire budget operation totally unacceptable. The federal government achieved its zero deficit by scandalously dumping its financial obligations and responsibilities into the yards of the provinces.

To eliminate its deficit, the Liberal government has cut annually, since 1994, $7.2 billion in transfers to the provinces, which represents 52% of all the federal government's spending cuts. In its two terms, the government opposite will literally have chopped $42 billion in social transfer payments to the provinces.

In 1995, the federal government promised, through its finance minister, to cut departmental expenditures by 19% over three years. Once again, it did not do its homework, since it cut only 9%, proving yet again that nearly all efforts to improve government finances came from elsewhere.

What this year's budget neglects to say, and the public must be aware of this, is that there will be an additional $30 billion in cuts by 2003 to the health, education and social assistance sectors.

To give an idea of the size of the cuts, for Quebec alone, between 1993 and 2003, a cumulative total of $13 billion will be cut from the budget for transfers to Quebec. It is not for nothing that the Quebec minister of state for the economy and finance, Bernard Landry, told the federal government that its federalism was “predatory and abusive”. I will add “irresponsible, centralizing and creating poverty” to that.

If we examine the effects of these cuts in the daily lives of people in Quebec and Canada, we will see they are totally devastating. We must keep in mind that, when the Liberals took office in 1993, 61% of the unemployed were eligible for employment insurance benefits. Now, five years later, fewer than 40% of them are.

The latest employment insurance report states in black and white that young workers are the age group most affected by this drop in eligibility.

But what is most objectionable about the employment insurance situation is the surplus accumulated in the fund, which is up to about $14 billion at this point. It is expected to hit $25 billion by the year 2000. Imagine what could be done with all that dormant money.

Since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has been shouting itself hoarse about the budget cuts being made at the expense of the disadvantaged in our society, and here is proof of it. I would describe these budget practices as fraudulent and a real theft.

The Bloc Quebecois is therefore attuned to the problems of the population, unlike the government over there, which keeps its head buried in the sand. Proof of this is the number of occasions we have begged the federal government to stop using the employment insurance fund to balance its books. The Bloc has always maintained that these funds are there to support the unemployed and to help get them back into the work force.

In addition, the Bloc Quebecois, with the backing of the labour movement, businessmen and the general public, has fought constantly to get the federal government to substantially cut workers' and employers' EI contribution rates, which are currently far too high and hamper job creation.

The Bloc Quebecois has picked up on the signals coming from the public by proposing concrete and practical measures including a $3 billion overall reduction in contributions, which represents an additional cut of about 35 cents in the contribution rate. Compared to the present rate of $2.70, the planned drop to $2.60 by the year 2000, or a mere 10 cents, will have no significant impact on job creation.

In spite of the unprecedented room to manoeuvre it has in the current budget, the government opposite chose to do nothing to stimulate job creation. No tax reform geared to job creation, no special budget measure to improve the fate of thousands of unemployed Quebeckers and Canadians.

In short, when it comes to job creation this budget is a failure. And yet the unemployment rate is stuck at around 9%.

Instead of creating jobs, the government prefers to create new programs resulting in more duplication and interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, and keeps on doing what it knows best, namely how to spend somebody else's money.

A case in point is the hasty purchase of submarines to the tune of $750 million, a real bargain. After cutting billions of dollars from social transfer in the areas of health, education and welfare, the federal government is investing in youth and job creation by purchasing armament. These are the real priorities of this government.

Imagine what we could do with the $750 million it sunk into ships. I am asking the members opposite: Why not invest this money to feed the 1.4 million poor children we have in Canada?

This is one child out of five. Imagine all this money to help the five million Canadians who are living below the poverty line, which is 17.4% of this country's population. These are the priorities of the government across the way.

Another reason people in Quebec and Canada have been getting poorer since this government came to power is probably the $30 billion more they have to pay in taxes to the federal government.

In order to help stop this hemorrhage, the Bloc Quebecois asked the finance minister and other ministers to stop creating new programs. But of course, he did not listen and set up new programs including the millennium scholarships, a cornerstone of Bill C-36. This $2.5 billion fund, which will only come into force in the year 2000, is an unprecedented and blatant intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction, education.

The Prime Minister of Canada knows very well that, for over 30 years, we have had in Quebec the most comprehensive loans and scholarships plan in Canada.

Federalists, sovereignists and the education circles in Quebec have voiced strong opposition to this federal visibility campaign. This program does not in any way meet the needs of Quebec and its quite distinct education system. That is why Quebec rejects this program and wants to opt out with full financial compensation.

This is not a whimsical demand. It is part of a rational effort aimed specifically at meeting the immediate needs of the education system in Quebec and compensating for the $10 billion in federal cuts to transfers for education, with Quebec's share of these cuts amounting to $3 billion between 1993 and 2003.

This is outright hypocrisy. But students and the general public in Quebec will not be fooled. They know very well that these scholarships are a blatant effort to win the support of students in Quebec and in Canada. But sooner or later, the government will pay for these serious mistakes. Quebekers will understand once and for all that the only way out of this federal quagmire is Quebec sovereignty.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate Bill C-36.

I begin by expressing my regret that debate on this bill has been limited by the government's time allocation motion. I understand this is the fourth time in this parliament alone that closure or time allocation has been implemented. It was done on Bill C-2 regarding the Canada pension plan, on Bill C-4 with respect to the Canadian Wheat Board, on Bill C-19, the Canadian Labour Code amendments which we dealt with before parliament broke, and now twice on Bill C-36.

This is not a new trend. The Liberal government, the very same party when it was on this side of the House criticized the Mulroney government for its habit of invoking closure and time allocation, has done so 41 times since 1994.

Mr. Speaker, I know you have a particular concern for parliamentary reform and helped chair a committee dealing with reforms to ensure that the closure and time allocation powers of government were not abused as they were in parliaments previous to 1993. It is regretful, and I say this as a new member, that the government has failed to restrain its excessive use of what really should be a very rare lever to limit debate in this place.

This is parliament. The purpose of this place is to deliberate on legislation brought forward by the government. It is not to rubber stamp legislation brought forward by the bureaucracy or the executive branch. It is to deliberate, to debate, to amend, to consider, to ensure that those who pay the bills for the legislation we pass have their concerns fully and exhaustively expressed with respect to every single piece of legislation, particularly pieces of legislation like Bill C-36 which have such an enormous impact on the fiscal and economic condition of Canadians.

I came to this place expecting frustration as a member, knowing this parliamentary system is dysfunctional, knowing the way it has been abused by successive governments, that serious substantive debate and deliberation on legislation of this nature happens all too rarely. Even my low expectations as a close observer of this place and a keen observer of parliamentary history have not been met. My low expectations for democratic deliberation have been exceeded by the government's autocratic abuse of the sledge hammer of debate known as time allocation and closure.

I turn my comments to the substance of the bill. The part we are dealing with today deals with the establishment of the Canada millennium scholarship foundation. It is a quaint convention in democratic countries such as Canada that governments seek consent from the voters in an election before they embark on major new program initiatives. That is what the concept of a democratic mandate is all about.

When I review the election literature distributed by candidates of the Liberal Party in the federal election conducted a year ago I fail to find any mention of the Canada millennium scholarship foundation. There are all the usual bromides in that election literature about how the government is committed the future of young people, to education and so forth, but nowhere did I find this commitment to spend billions of tax dollars which would otherwise be used for tax relief and debt reduction on what amounts to a huge political advertisement project for this outgoing Prime Minister.

By invoking closure with this bill not only has the government run roughshod over democratic conventions of parliament by failing to seek a mandate from voters, not only has it disrespected a longstanding convention in our system that one needs a democratic mandate to proceed with major spending programs, it has also run roughshod over the principles of sound, transparent public accounting as articulated by the auditor general.

Let us be clear. Bill C-36, by establishing the Canada millennium scholarship fund in this year for a public expenditure which will not be made for at least two fiscal years into the future, breaks every single rule and convention of clear, transparent and principled public accounting. That is not my view as a member of the opposition. It is not the view of partisans. It is the view of the non-partisan authority appointed by this place to review and comment on the accuracy of the public accounts.

The auditor general in talking about the change in reporting the millennium fund in the current fiscal year as opposed to the year in which it will actually be expended said: “I believe the change will open the door for governments to influence reported results by simply announcing intentions in their budgets and then deciding what to include in the deficit or surplus after the end of the year once preliminary numbers are known”.

He went on to say in a letter: “Indeed it is not possible to use the contingency reserve for new policy initiatives unless parliament has approved them and the amount is included in the main or supplementary estimates. In effect, unless parliament has voiced its approval neither a program nor an expenditure can exist”.

It is absolutely clear what the auditor general told parliament and told this government. It does not have the legislative authority to expend the money in two years but to book it on this year's budget. As somebody who has watched public finances very closely for a very long time, this is probably the most notorious instance of a government's cooking the books and misleading the public about how public money is actually being spent that I have ever witnessed.

Provincial governments over the past several years have made great strides in improving the transparency of their public accounts. I refer to the Government of Alberta which conducted an exhaustive review of what had become very problematic public accounts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1993 Premier Ralph Klein commissioned an independent review of the entire public accounts and budgetary practices by a panel of experts. That government adopted almost every single recommendation of the independent panel, almost every recommendation of its auditor general, and every recommendation of the chartered accountants of Alberta to reform the way the public accounts are presented and to bring them into compliance with generally accepted public sector accounting practices.

Even the Government of B.C., famous for its shell games with public finances, had an independent commission on public accounts. But the federal government really seems to believe that it can just design the books any way it wants and essentially mislead the Canadian public about how its money is being spent. That is shameful.

What are the Liberals doing with this $2.5 billion? They are creating the Prime Minister's millennium memorial fund. They have decided, in a country with 17% youth unemployment, to say we will help as a federal government to further subsidize your higher education but we are not going to give you an environment where you can work.

For instance, my brother went to a Canadian law school with a subsidized post-secondary program. It would be further subsidized by the Canadian millennium scholarship fund. Because of the taxes imposed by this and previous governments, he and tens of thousands of other talented Canadian trained young people have gone abroad where they can find better economic opportunities afforded by lower tax regimes.

We will vote against this bill to stand up for democracy. We will vote against time allocation, as we did this morning, and we will vote for tax relief to give younger Canadians the real economic opportunities they need and deserve.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réjean Lefebvre Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this important bill and to the group of motions we have introduced, which consist essentially in deleting any reference to the existence of millennium scholarships.

Why are we introducing this group of motions? Our reason is a good one. We are doing so because, with these millennium scholarships, the federal government is poking its nose into other people's business. During the three weeks of hearings held by the Standing Committee on Finance, 14 Quebec organizations appeared, all saying the same thing, which was that the federal government has no business interfering in an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. According to the very Constitution that these people claim to be defending, the federal government does not have the right to interfere and the organizations are asking for the right to opt out with full compensation for Quebec.

Those who appeared before the committee did so on behalf of organizations as important as the FTQ, the CSN, and university and college student groups. A group of former student movement leaders who presided over the reform in the education sector over the last eleven years came to deliver essentially seven messages to the committee, and more particularly to the federal government. The first of these messages is that, with these millennium scholarships, the federal government is revealing its complete lack of familiarity with Quebec's reality.

Once again, the government is demonstrating its bad faith. If it had wanted to do the right thing, it would have amended the Canada Student Loans Act. We know that all that was needed was to add the scholarships to that legislation and it would have possible to opt out with full compensation.

My first point is this government's bad faith. My second is this. The negotiations under way could have been given a chance, without this rush to pass a bill that, as we know, does not give the foundation authority to allow a province to opt out with full compensation if it so wishes.

Why? It is obvious, the Prime Minister said so himself, that the government needed to be visible. It therefore introduced a bill that does not allow opting out with full compensation.

The board of directors will not have the power to delegate to the provinces. That is why the Bloc Quebecois will be speaking to Bill C-36 today, and it is not in favour because the millennium scholarships do not reflect the reality of Quebec and of Quebeckers.

If there had not been pressure from the Government of Quebec, if there had not been pressure from the coalition in favour of Quebec opting out with full compensation, we would never have had the opportunity to speak on behalf of Quebec.

Forty one per cent of the witnesses heard. This means the committee heard 1.2 million people through their associations. It means 80,000 owners of small and medium size businesses.

As we know, the business world, including the Conseil du patronat du Québec, the Quebec chamber of commerce and the Quebec and Canadian association of manufacturers et exporters came and told the committee that Quebec should be allowed to manage its education sector, and that opting out with full compensation should be allowed, so that the money could be used based on Quebec's needs and realities. This is very disappointing.

Several student associations from outside Quebec came to tell the government to listen to Quebec. They said the federal government should, for once, listen to Quebec's demands. I attended a few meetings with various representatives, associations officials and witnesses, and I can tell you that several witnesses realized that the government was acting in bad faith on this issue.

The consensus in Quebec included stakeholders from the education sector and union representatives, but polls were also conducted. In one of them, 71% of the respondents were more supportive of the Canada social transfer. People said it had been very difficult for them to go through the period of austerity created by the cuts, and they felt that, perhaps, the surpluses were not being managed properly, since the government was giving $2.5 billion to a private foundation which, as we know, will have a rather wide mandate. I do not think we should expect a great deal of transparency from that foundation, and I am very disappointed.

Therefore, I ask the consent of this House to postpone consideration of this bill until we have seen the outcome of the negotiations between Quebec and Ottawa. Why not defer consideration of the bill? Mr. Speaker, I am urging you to ask if the House would agree to defer consideration of this legislation.

The government is acting in bad faith. We sovereignists know that many Quebeckers are not acting in bad faith, because they still had hopes that the federal system would undergo a reform. The millennium foundation, because it arrogantly encroaches on the rights of the provinces, has shown the true colours of the federal government. We hope that many Quebeckers who did not yet realize it will now understand that federalism—regardless of which party is in office—cannot be reformed. This government showed incredible contempt for Quebeckers when it thought that this would go through smoothly and that Quebeckers would quietly put up with it, because it is a monetary issue.

Just to top it all off, two weeks ago the three main employer associations in Quebec, the Conseil du patronat, the Quebec chamber of commerce and the Association des manufacturiers et des exportateurs du Québec testified before the committee. These are not exactly sovereignist people. The representatives of these three associations came to tell the government to stop the study of the bill until negotiations were complete. If an agreement is reached, it will be included in the law. If none is reached, the government will assume its responsibility and the opposition its. But there will be no pretence of democracy as is being imposed on us today.

This is why the Bloc has presented motions to eliminate everything to do with the foundation from this bill. Quebec will never allow the government to tromp all over a system it has developed, which is the best in the world. We will never let it happen. We will ensure it does it by gagging us at every stage, otherwise this bill will never be passed.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege again to be able to make some remarks on Bill C-36, the Budget Implementation Act, and specifically on the amendment with respect to the millennium scholarship fund.

There are four problems the government has created for itself, to a large degree, with the bill. Canadians need to know about these problems and need to recognize that the government has not handled the issue well at all.

These are the problems. The first problem is the whole business of the design of the fund. Not only was it designed in such a way that it contravenes a lot of the jurisdictional realties of our country but it also causes some heightened interprovincial tensions quite unnecessarily. The second problem is with the accounting that was used to fund this initiative. The third problem was the trouble we ran into with the legislation and then closure being put into place to cut off debate and ramming the legislation through, which is a typical Liberal tactic that is becoming more typical as time goes on. The fourth problem is that the legislation does not go very far in addressing the problems of students.

I would just like to touch on each of these problems a bit. With respect to the design of the fund, the government after it took office slashed funding by 35% to 40% to the provinces for programs like post-secondary education. It wasted the money that was to go to the provinces to keep post-secondary education services available to our citizens. That was the first act in this drama.

The second act in the drama began in February with the budget. The 1995 budget was the family budget, the child poverty budget. Liberals like to have a theme or a cause. They like to be able to say they care about something. The theme of the last budget before this one was poor children. There was much violin playing about poor children, mostly poor because of the terrible fiscal policies of the government.

The theme of the last budget was education. Students were to be helped. If we listened to government speakers we could hear them going on and on about the value of education and how wonderful it was that we looked after our children and their training, et cetera. There was no mention of the fact that the Liberals had slashed education funding just shortly before this wonderful education budget. That was all forgotten, but this budget was to do something for students.

There are over one million students in the country, many of whom are in retraining or upgrading because the economy is changing. Yet this so-called program only helps 7% of all people who are trying desperately to gain the educational and training skills they need to compete in the emergent economy.

Further, the millennium scholarship fund has all the earmarks of a grand gesture by the Prime Minister. This was the Prime Minister's legacy. This was a memorial to the Prime Minister's generosity toward students and concern for youth. The fact of the matter was that the concern was kind of newborn. It came after the slashing of funding to post-secondary education. Now we are to wear education on our heart and the Prime Minister is to have a millennium scholarship fund for only 7% of our students.

Those 7% who get scholarships will find it taxed. They will give part of it back to the federal government. Their families may actually give a whole lot more back to the federal government if the student who qualifies for a scholarship loses dependant status in the context of the family tax structure. Here we have a few students getting a scholarship who will be taxed on the scholarship which may rearrange the family tax status.

Who are the students to be given the gift of a scholarship by the federal government? If the track record of the Liberal government holds true, the scholarships will be largely targeted as rewards to good and faithful Liberals and Liberal supporters and those who the Liberals want to court.

I do not think it is too unkind to say that this is how the Liberals have operated in a whole range of areas and how they are very likely to continue to operate. It will be a nice slush fund for Liberals to be able to help other good and deserving Liberals for political purposes. That is a genuine concern of the opposition in this whole matter. It also disrespects provincial jurisdiction in the area of education.

The constitution says that the provinces have control over the delivery of post-secondary education services, but the federal government as usual feels it knows best. Did the federal government go to the education minister of Manitoba? Did it go to the education minister of New Brunswick and say that due to thrift and good management, and maybe due to heavier taxation, it has some extra money to spend on education? Did it ask how someone responsible for delivering educational services in the provinces on the post-secondary level feel the money should be spent? Did the government do that?

The answer is no. There was not a word said to the provincial ministers responsible for these services. The federal government just decided it would spend $2.5 billion on this grand gesture to show that the Prime Minister was a fine fellow who cares about youth and students. That was the flavour of the day. The government must have done some polling to show that people were worried about education.

Another aspect of the millennium scholarship fund was the way it was put on the government books. The government said it was to spend the money and therefore deduct it right now from its cash flow. It was not to be spent until the year 2000 but it was to be deducted from cash on hand, from the revenue stream right now.

Let us think about this point for a minute. Suppose a farmer in Saskatchewan says his tractor is getting worn out but thinks it will do for a couple of more seasons. In the spring of 2000 he plans to buy a new tractor but he wants to deduct that capital expense now because he has already made up his mind that he will spend the money. What happens if he tries to count it as an expenditure in 1998?

Let us think of the response of Revenue Canada to the farmer who intends to spend the money in the year 2000 and would like to use it a capital expense today. The farmer would get a horse laugh from the government or the revenue department.

What about a business person who intends to upgrade facilities or any person who intends to make a tax deductible expense in the future and tries to claim it today? That would never be allowed, but the government thinks it is not subject to those reasonable rules of accounting and is cooking the books to hide a surplus so that at the end of the day it can make even more spending announcements close to an election.

I see you are cutting me off, Mr. Speaker, and rightly so since my time is up. The government uses closure and cutting off debate so that these badly designed measures can be rammed through. It is a shame. It is a disrespect of parliament. I ask the House not to support the measures the government is trying to push through.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Fournier Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member of the Bloc Quebecois for the riding of Manicouagan, I am pleased to rise today to express my party's opposition to one particular element of Bill C-36, namely the creation of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

That part of the bill provides for a $2.5 billion endowment. We are opposed to this unspeakable intrusion of the federal government in an area that is exclusively under Quebec's and the other provinces' jurisdiction. It must be noted that the bill contains two clauses that make it impossible for the Quebec government to get its fair share of the money.

Had the Liberal government wanted to show some goodwill, it would have respected Quebec's jurisdiction in the area of education by amending the Canada Student Loans Act to include scholarships. This would have allowed Quebec to exercise its right to withdraw with full compensation, as it is currently entitled to do under the Canada Student Loans Act.

This bill is specifically designed not to allow a province to withdraw with full compensation. Ottawa puts its need for visibility before the needs expressed unanimously by Quebec.

For more than 30 years, Quebec has had its own loans and scholarships system that is infinitely more sophisticated than that of any other province. The entire education community in Quebec is opposed to this plan. The only way to avoid duplication is to recognize the consensus that exists in Quebec and give the Quebec government the right to withdraw with full compensation.

Let us look at history since it shows clearly the federal government's bad habit of wanting to interfere in the area of education. In 1953, the Liberal federal government of Louis Saint-Laurent tried to subsidize Canadian universities through the National Conference of Canadian Universities.

The Quebec government of Maurice Duplessis killed the federal plan. It opposed the federal government, which wanted to replace with federal subsidies some financial powers that were essential to provinces and, thus, intrude into education, which was an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

In January 1957, in L'Action nationale , Mr. Trudeau wrote, on page 438, and I quote: “Consequently, if a government has such an overabundance of revenues that it undertakes to provide for a part of the common good which is not in its jurisdiction, one can assume that this government has taken more than its share of taxable capacity”.

Today, we can say that the Liberal government has done worse than taking more than its taxable share. It has found room to manoeuver at the expense of the sick, schools and the poor and by forcing provinces to do the dirty work.

The Liberal government intrudes into Quebec's jurisdiction and refuses to take its responsibilities by compensating all hepatitis C victims.

In 1964, the federal government led by Mr. Pearson proposed to offer loans to students and to repay the interest for them. Jean Lesage opposed the proposal because that repayment was a direct grant by the federal government to education.

In the statement he made at the end of the federal provincial conference held in Quebec, from March 31 to April 2 1964, the man whose election campaign slogan was “Maîtres chez nous”, Jean Lesage, declared: “As a matter of fact, we will have to go to court to ensure the constitutional rights of the province are respected, if they do not act on the comments we made”.

On April 16 1964, in a telegram to Jean Lesage, Mr. Pearson said: “The federal government intends to propose arrangements according to which guaranteed bank loans would be made to university students. If a province prefers to go on with its own loan program, it will be eligible to equivalent compensation”.

In short, the federal government made several unsuccessful attempts in the past to invade the education system, and neither the PQ nor the BQ were there to oppose this.

According to the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec, Bill C-36 illustrates the Canadian government's ignorance of the Quebec loans and grants system and of its priorities in the area of education.

According to the president of the Fédération des cégeps, which comprises 48 colleges, Bill C-36 totally ignores what Quebec has understood in the past 30 years with regard to student financial assistance.

The millennium scholarships are only an excuse. The federal government is using the establishment of the fund to encroach on the area of education, which comes under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction.

In doing so, it is not helping Quebec reduce student debt or fund universities and post-secondary educational institutions. It is just after additional visibility.

There are two major reasons why we strongly oppose the establishment of this fund. Politically, the Bloc Quebecois feels that the millennium fund is an unspeakable intrusion in a Quebec exclusive jurisdiction.

Moreover, the government has come up with such a confusing formula in order to deny Quebec the right to opt out with full compensation that its fund does not achieve the objectives that were set. It will only create inequity and confusion, while the problems of students and post-secondary institutions will remain intact.

Even though the federal government recognizes the tough financial situation of students, the solutions it puts forward ignore the source of the problem, that is the massive cuts in transfer payments. In addition, in the case of Quebec, the proposals put forward are ineffective, they overlap the measures put in place by the Quebec government and they are undoubtedly an intrusion in an area that comes under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction.

Given the societal choices that Quebec has made over the years, the federal strategy is penalizing it. Indeed, the budget penalizes Quebec, which over the years has made major efforts to keep tuition fees and student debt at reasonable levels.

In Quebec, tuition fees average about $1,700 a year whereas in the rest of Canada they average about $3,200. Likewise, the average student debt in Quebec is $11,000, whereas students in the rest of Canada owe between $17,000 and $25,000.

The government of Quebec suggested that its needs in the education area lie elsewhere and are not the same as those identified by the federal government.

The Quebec share of the millennium fund could be better used if the Quebec government were at liberty to invest this money where the needs in the Quebec education system are more pressing.

The government of Quebec is clear about that: any extra funding for education, whatever the means used, must be directed to the Quebec government which will redistribute it according to its own priorities. The right to opt out with full compensation has existed since 1964 in the area of financial help for students.

Quebec has built itself an effective and efficient system of scholarships that is the envy of students in the other provinces. The government says it is creating this fund to address the problem of student debt.

In conclusion, I must point out that it would be up to the foundation, which, under Bill C-36, has not even the mandate to negotiate with a province, to determine Quebec's fair share.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to debate Bill C-36 although what is not such a pleasure is the time allocation aspect of this. I want to explain the problems with time allocation from where I sit. A lot of people who are watching and listening do not understand it.

Time allocation is when the government says “We are no longer interested in hearing what you have to say in opposition. We are going to limit the number of days and amount of time you have to speak on this issue”. In a democratic world that is probably as far away from democracy as we can get when time is allocated on such an important issue as the budget.

There is another thing I want to address before I specifically talk about Bill C-36. It is bad enough we have limited time to speak to this but when there are a limited number of people on the other side listening it makes it even worse. I have a good mind to call quorum but I will not. The real problem here is where is the audience? It is pretty sad indeed.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Three Liberals.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Yes, three. If they cannot stand the heat, get out of the Commons I would say.

One has to wonder why this government would call time allocation on a budget. Let us think about that for a minute. According to the parliamentary calendar we sit until June 23. We can extend days and so on and so forth. The legislation that is of priority to this government is now down to approximately three bills, not enough probably for five days work. We have to question why on earth the government would move time allocation when it has perhaps three priority bills and well over a month to debate them and get them in.

The answer to that lies in what has happened in this House in the last six months. Look at the Minister of Health and his hepatitis boondoggle and how this government mismanaged that whole issue. Look at the Minister of Justice who said that they are going to fix the Young Offenders Act but really it could take another two years when the government has already had five years and the media has now picked up on that. The heat is getting on the government which basically has no agenda.

The government is trying to get out of the House early by calling time allocation. I wish Canadians watching this truly understood what this is all about. It is not just about someone standing up here for 10 minutes and going on about an issue. This is really about the fundamental basis of democracy itself. It is too bad we live in these times when governments can essentially still do this to the opposition parties.

Let me get on to Bill C-36, budget implementation, and the implementation of what the Liberals proudly call the millennium fund. This millennium fund supposedly has approximately $2.5 billion so that we can provide scholarships to students. There is nothing about bursaries. I do not think the government knows the difference between a scholarship and a bursary but I will explain that in a few minutes.

The real question is where does the money come from. It came from the 1997-98 budget. The government said we have a balanced budget and charged to that budget was $2.5 billion. The fact is that the money will not be used until the year 2000 yet the government has charged it to the 1997-98 budget rather than the year 1999-2000.

To one of the three members opposite in the House—and for anyone out there watching, the government virtually has no one hear listening to this—it is pretty sick when the government says it can justify that. As an accountant, a CMA, a member of the Society of Management Accountants, I fully understand what the general accepted principles are in accounting.

Basically in government accounting one does not charge an expenditure in a year in which it is not expended. The fact is that the government should have charged the $2.5 billion to the millennium fund in the year in which the costs are to be incurred and that is the year 2000.

Why am I saying that? The fact of the matter is, the government said it had balanced the books. The real fact of the matter is, it would have had a $2.5 billion surplus, but it chose to second that money so it would not have to give the taxpayer a break and the public would not be able to ask why it did not write down the debt or lower taxes. The government said it had no money, that it had balanced the books to zero. The fact is, there was a surplus and the government chose to hide that surplus by seconding $2.5 billion into something called a millennium fund for which the dollars will not even be used until the year 2000.

Out of 175 government members, there are three in the House. It is really disgusting. I guess I will talk to my colleagues. Not only do they understand it a little better, there are more of them in the House.

It is not just the millennium fund show that the government is putting on here. It is not just the show that the justice minister put on with respect to the changes to the Young Offenders Act. It is not just the show that government members are playing out for hepatitis C victims. The fact is that the government's agenda is just show. There is no depth to it. It is a mile wide and an inch deep.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Where is the beef?

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Where is the beef, my colleague says. Where is the meat in all of this?

The justice minister the other day commented on the $32 million in the budget that the government is planning to spend on preventive measures for young offenders. There is not a red cent anywhere. The provinces do not even know about it, yet government members go to the media and say “Guess what we are spending on preventive measures for young offenders? We are spending $32 million”. They have not spent a red cent. They have not even planned to spend it. It is just amazing when people fall into that kind of lunacy, that kind of deceptive measure.

Now we are down to two. Since the Speaker is not listening to this I might as well say the number of Reform members we have in the House. This is really sick. I have a good mind to call for a quorum and get some of these people in here to listen for a change.

It is amazing. We have a multibillion dollar budget and the government has not reduced anything. It has not really spent anything on anything meaningful. It really has not done much at all, except that when a little bit of heat gets put on a whole bunch of issues it calls time allocation so nobody can really speak in detail to the bill.

I think that speaks very loudly to the concern of average Canadians. The Liberal government not only has a very weak agenda, but it actually does not have programs that are substantive and valuable to most Canadians. Finally, since I only have a minute and there are only two members opposite, I might as well tell them this—

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think the hon. member knows that it is improper to refer to the absence of members in the House. I know he may have been trying to cover it by that age-old tradition of referring to the presence of a few, but I, myself, have tried that technique and it has been ruled out of order. I know the hon. member would agree with the previous ruling.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will no longer say that there are only two Liberals in the House.

In summary, the issue of the budget and the issue of crime fall on deaf ears in this country because this is a government of press releases. This is a government of rumour, of show, but it is not a government of substantive issues. Meanwhile we are still waiting for a national victims bill of rights, for a young offenders act, for a real millennium fund. So those two members opposite ought to get with it.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are considering Bill C-36. Bill C-36 has a big problem, which is called the millennium scholarships.

The scholarships are for the students. In principle, everybody will agree that we must help our students complete their education while maintaining their debt level as low as possible. Therefore again, at first sight, the scholarships are a good idea. I will explain in a moment that ideas that are good for some people are sometimes bad for others.

I would also like to talk of the term “millennium”. Why the millennium scholarships? Because we will soon be in the year 2000 and our Prime Minister thought it would be a nice way to go down in history as the driving force behind these scholarships to be awarded starting in the year 2000.

You will agree with me that if Canadian students need scholarships, they need them now and not in the year 2000 and after, although they will still need them then. It is remarkable how the finance minister has deducted from this year's budget the $2.5 billion which he intends to spend on this scholarship fund in the year 2000. But between now and the year 2000, not one Canadian student will see as much as a penny.

I have said earlier that the scholarships are a good idea for some but a bad one for others. They are a good idea for Canadian students outside Quebec but a bad one for Quebec students. Why? A bursary program has been in existence in Quebec for more than 30 years, since Jean Lesage was premier. We care for our students and we help them financially through bursaries and loans. It is a system that works well for Quebec.

Elsewhere in Canada, such a program will not come into existence until the year 2000. The provinces are admittedly a few years behind Quebec. In fact, they are more than 30 years behind Quebec. Now, the federal government decides to directly infringe upon a provincial area of jurisdiction and offer these bursaries.

Although, on the one hand, I am happy for the students in Canada, on the other hand, I should point out that Quebec's money is being used to provide a service we already have. In other words, we are paying twice for the same thing.

Quebec, with its 30-year-old bursary system, is pursuing some very precise objectives. For 30 years, higher education at college or university level has been far less expensive in Quebec than in the other provinces. Why? Because we in Quebec decided—and this is a societal choice based on Quebeckers' values—to make higher education more accessible to everyone. Moreover, the number of college and university graduates in Quebec is much higher than anywhere else in Canada. In this regard, Quebec is a much richer country than Canada.

Let us come back to the scholarship fund. Quebec has its own scholarship system where money is given according to the needs of the students. Those in need may apply for and receive a scholarship.

What the Prime Minister proposes in Bill C-36 is to give scholarships on the basis of merit instead of need. The better the grades, the more chances of receiving a millennium scholarship.

Good grades are important for sure, but today, we need not only excellent but also decent students. Successful students all need financial support. It is not only the top students, the elite, that need financial support. Companies do not need only the students with the best marks. Of course, that is important and it is a very good thing, but companies also need adequate students.

In Quebec, students have access to scholarships according to their needs but this will not be the case in Canada. Canada may decide to award scholarships on the basis of merit rather than need. However, I cannot accept the fact that someone using Quebec money will try to impose on Quebec a system that is contrary to its convictions and its values, contrary to what Quebec has been doing for more than 30 years.

Do you know how much money Quebec will be forced to put into that foundation? In Quebec, everybody is against this millennium scholarship system. So how much more will be stolen away—pardon the expression—by this millennium fund? Just a bit over $600 million. That is a lot of money.

Six hundred million dollars is almost twice what the province of Quebec has been forced to hand over to the municipalities because the federal government has cut transfer payments. Those $600 million would solve a lot of health problems.

Six hundred million dollars is the amount that the people of Quebec will be forced to pay to fund these millennium scholarships which we do not need because we already have our own system. We end up paying twice.

Once again, here we are with a totally unacceptable duplication of effort. This is a total intrusion by the federal government into our affairs, forcing us into taking on something far less attractive than what we already have in place.

Such an attitude can only reinforce two feelings in me: first pride in being a Quebecker and in sharing these values that have been in place for 30 years or more, of encouraging our students through a scholarship system when Canada does not even have one of its own yet, not until the year 2000. I am proud to be a Quebecker because we are more advanced in a number of areas, this being one of them.

At the same time, I am proud to be a sovereignist, because sovereignty will be the only way to stop a federal government, a federal system that wants to use our money, my money, the money of all Quebeckers, for something we have no need of. Six hundred million dollars is a fortune.

The interest on that amount would pay for about $3,000 in scholarship money to some 250 Quebec students. But there is more to it than that. In Quebec, our bursary system is working fine, and so is our loan system. What we do need is money to put back into our cegeps, into our universities, so that they can provide students with the best quality education possible.

What is the point of having scholarship money in your pocket if your educational institution cannot afford to give you a top-flight education?

In recent years, the federal government has slashed transfer payments for post-secondary education and, as a result, our universities and colleges have to make do with smaller budgets. After slashing our institutions' ability to deliver very high quality education, it now wants to give money directly to students to enrol in educational institutions that are not as good as they should be.

Quebec's request, which is supported by the Bloc Quebecois, is quite simple: the federal government should give Quebec its $600 million and let it invest in high quality education. We can continue to look after our students as we have been doing so successfully for more than 30 years.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate Bill C-36.

What we are talking about here is the so-called millennium fund, about $2.5 billion set up for scholarships. I have to question this. No doubt many of us here in the House remember quite well, as it was not that long ago, when this same government decided to rip the provinces off to the tune of $7 billion right out of health and education. Now it turns around and says it will give back $2.5 billion in a millennium fund. That is like ripping your arm off and giving you back the finger. This government is very good at it.

I have news for the government. It is not its money. It is taxpayers' money. We are the most heavily taxed nation in the G-7. It is our money. It is not the government's money. When I see something like this put in place, I know for a fact it has nothing at all to do with education.

It has to do with trying to make the Prime Minister look good. It has to do with the members on the opposite side, the so-called government of this country, able to pat themselves on the back and say look what we have done for you, the people. We rip it out of your education fund. We rip it out of your health fund. But we will give you back peanuts. We will give you back enough that maybe one in seven of your children might qualify for it, and if they do we will tax it back off them.

That is what this government is so proud of. That is why this government has decided all of a sudden that it will put time allocation on this bill, a budget bill.

It was not that long ago when I felt sorry for the Liberals when they were in opposition and the Conservatives decided to put time allocation, closure, on everything. I can well remember the pleading and the whining and the crying from the Liberal caucus of the day. Not any more. These people well learned the fine art of dictatorship. It did not take a trip over to Cuba to learn that, I am quite sure.

We look at what is going on. I mentioned taxes. I would like to give a brief outline of where Canada sits now. Canada has the highest tax burden of all the G-7 countries. Our total tax burden is 28% higher than the G-7 average and 48% higher than our neighbour next door, the United States.

This government has a habit of standing up in this House and saying we are the greatest country in the world to live in. We are the sharing, caring country of the world. I have news for the government. It is killing everything in this country. It is running the entrepreneurs out of this country. It is forcing unemployment. Unemployment today is at an all time high. We have bankruptcies at record levels.

We have people who are truly suffering. What is the government's answer to this? A $2.5 billion millennium fund so it and the Prime Minister can feel good in case there is an election within a year after that. Shame on them.

I see from some of the people nodding on the other side that I must be hitting a soft spot. They know it is true. The people out there know it is true. They know they are being taxed to death to supply nothing. The auditor general has raised grave concerns about what is going on with this fund. What does the government do? Nothing. It pays no attention to the auditor general. It does not even address his concerns about how this is being funded, about the discrepancy and about the argument on how the bookkeeping has taken place in order to create this so-called fund.

I would say these boys make the James boys look like kids in the candy store. They know full well how to rip off the Canadian taxpayer and get away with it. They have had years of experience.

Let us have another look at what is going on. In 1993 when the Liberals took office the tax revenue totalled $116.5 billion or approximately $8,951 per working Canadian. This year this government will collect $160 billion or $11,335 per working Canadian. That is an increase of 26% in five years. I know many stock promoters who would love to have that kind of increase. I know many people who hold investments would love to have that kind of increase in their portfolio. That is what this government is doing, 26% in five years.

To put it into perspective, the overall result according to Statistics Canada is that any improved family earnings acquired largely to the government between 1989 and 1995, the real after tax income of the average Canadian family fell by $3,461. Are they not proud of that? It fell from $41,084 to $37,623. Are they ever doing a wonderful job over there. They are for themselves but certainly not for the law-abiding taxpaying citizens of this country.

This is a continuing process. It goes on. In 1977 in the midst of the Trudeau years the government collected $7,044 from every working Canadian. By 1986, two years after Mulroney, the take was $14,593. By 1996 after this government took over, it reached $22,792. That is a really a record to be proud of. It takes from the poor. It takes from anybody it can, it keeps on taking and it gives back a so-called millennium fund. Then it has the gall to say it is going to help our students.

Our students want jobs. They want to be able to work in this country. They want a better education. They do not like being taxed to death when they finally have it. They do not like the debt they owe when they get out. They have just cause to be worried about that. It is about time the government started to worry about what is going on and what is there for these kids when they get out. An education is fine, maybe one of the finest things there is. But if there is nothing out here when they come out it is of no use to anybody. We well know that. Maybe it is time this government started to realize that.

This is a total farce. It is a farce on Canadian taxpayers. It is a farce on the people who were elected to come back here and have a say when we have a government that decides you will keep your mouth shut, sit here and just be quiet.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to add my voice in praise of the visionary budget tabled in this House on February 24. On that date Canadians found a reason to have hope and faith in a better future. From that day forward we have begun to rebuild Canada from a blueprint based on opportunities.

Of all the remarkable achievements outlined in the budget, the Canadian opportunities strategy stands out as the hallmark of this government's plan for Canada in the 21st century.

The 1998 budget builds on progress achieved in previous budgets to provide Canadians with greater opportunities to acquire the knowledge and the skills needed for jobs both now and in the future.

Under the Canadian opportunities strategy, this government introduced and promoted measures to help Canadians make the transition from school to work, pay off their student loans, return to school to upgrade their skills or contribute to the education savings plan on behalf of the next generation of workers. This strategy takes comprehensive and co-ordinated action on seven fronts.

Arising from a commitment made by the first ministers to implement an action plan for youth employment, the Canadian opportunities strategy makes knowledge and skills more readily accessible and affordable.

The foundation of the strategy is the Canada millennium scholarship fund which will provide more than 100,000 low and middle income students with scholarships averaging $3,000 a year for each year of the first decade in the new millennium. Individuals can receive up to $15,000, reducing the debtload many recipients would otherwise incur by over half.

Up to 50,000 more students with children or other dependants will be able to take advantage of Canada study grants to help them cope with rising costs. These grants will help people who are in financial need to continue with their education, increasing their own and their children's prospects for prosperity.

The study grants, in addition to the increased child care tax credit that all Canadians now enjoy, will help young parents get their children off to a good start in life.

Our government is particularly proud of the measures announced in this budget that will help our students gain the knowledge they need through strategic investments in science and technology, which are the driving force of the new economy and can be most attractive to young inquisitive minds. These investments are crucial to the competitiveness of our country.

The Canadian opportunities strategy will provide additional funding for advanced research for our graduate students as well as for the three granting councils in Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Medical Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The combined budget of these three granting councils will be increased by $400 million over the next three years.

Equally important, this budget increases funding for the Canadian network for advancement of research in industry and education as well as SchoolNet and the community access program to bring the benefits of information technology into more classrooms and more communities across Canada.

Another area of crucial importance to young people is helping graduates manage their student debtloads. Witnesses appearing before the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities were unanimous in their position that to ensure access to post-secondary education a positive system of student financial assistance is paramount.

The Canadian opportunities strategy provides tax relief on student loan interest payments as well as an education credit and child care expense deduction for part time students.

About one million Canadians will benefit from the improvements to the Canada student loan program which will help graduates better manage the debt they incur and which will direct grants to those in greatest need.

Countless more of today's children will be able to attend colleges, vocational schools or universities because their parents can now take advantage of federal incentives under the Canada education savings grants program.

These government grants will encourage families to start setting aside money early for their children's post-secondary education under the registered education savings plan.

The opportunity for Canadians to withdraw tax free from their registered retirement savings plan to enrol in full time education and training is another well thought out innovation that will help to ensure that Canadians have easier access to professional development. Canadians already in the workforce will be able to benefit from this continuous learning process throughout their careers.

Together, these measures will help Canada to develop a highly skilled and competitive workforce for the new world economy based on knowledge.

Whatever satisfaction I might get from these remarkable reforms, I am also very proud of the fact that our government will do everything it can to ensure that no one is forgotten. The preservation of social peace implies that everyone must have equal opportunity to benefit from what our society has to offer.

In addition to the Canadian opportunities strategy, the February budget strengthened other progressive programs which will help Canada's children and youth to succeed in the 21st century.

A major infusion of new moneys will support youth employment and participation in society. The government has doubled its funding for youth at risk, principally those who have not completed high school and who lack basic education and job skills. Through partnerships with employers, organizations and non-profit groups the new funds will be used for on the job training, career counselling, mentoring and literacy upgrading.

Governments have a role to play in tackling the issue of youth unemployment but clearly we cannot solve the problem alone. Many private sector employers are responding to this challenge by providing opportunities for young Canadians.

This government has taken measures to encourage a larger number of employers to create new jobs for workers. We will give these employers an employment insurance premium holiday for young people hired in the years 1999 and 2000. This means that, each year, employers will make savings of about $100 million in their payroll expenditures.

The 1998 budget speaks to Canadians' profound belief that we can build a strong economy by building a secure society. The two are flip sides of the same coin.

The balanced approach on which this legislation is based will result in sustainable dividends that will benefit Canadians now and for decades to come. This is the way to go for Canada, on the eve of the new millennium, to have the opportunity to live in a more prosperous society that cares about the well-being of all its members.

When Bill C-36 becomes law, it will be a moment of great pride, not only in the life of parliamentarians but of all Canadians.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today, because it is probably the last time. I have only ten minutes, but I could talk for an hour.

Naturally, you will understand that, on the subject of Bill C-36, I will be talking about the millennium scholarships. In this bill, there is some pretty strong language, I must say.

My colleagues have spoken at length today on various matters concerning the bill on the millennium scholarship fund. Canadians ask us what Quebeckers want. It is so simple. As part of its values, Quebec decided to establish a loans and bursaries system—not a perfect one, I admit—but one that met the expectations of many young Quebeckers. It has been operating for years, and a number of students have told me that it is one of the most effective systems in Canada.

When I say that Quebeckers have values, I mean their values. We have never tried to impose these values on the rest of Canada. If another province wants to do what it wants with its loans and bursaries system, that is fine with me.

At one point, faced with a growing demand probably from the rest of Canada, the Prime Minister decided, saying he wanted to do his share, to make a bequest. He is attacking the problem of student debt. A very commendable thing to do. I have no complaint up to this point. Except that where things start to get serious, we have to make sure they are done responsibly and efficiently.

Creating the millennium scholarship foundation means creating duplication. There will be a system of loans and bursaries in Quebec City and another in Ottawa. This spells a loss of efficiency right off, in my opinion.

In addition, I recall asking the Prime Minister at one point if there was not a certain element of visibility involved. I think the federal government is looking for ways to leave its mark on the cheques. I must say I have no problem with that. It can leave its mark everywhere, so long as the students get help. The Prime Minister answered my question by saying that visibility was indeed involved. He could have pretended he wanted to help students without mentioning he wanted visibility, but no, he acknowledged it in the House of Commons. I could not believe my ears.

There are many points I could talk about. I will discuss some which have not been mentioned as often as they should. The Millennium Scholarship Foundation will be managed by a board of directors. This arm's length body will not be accountable to the people. It is as if we, the democratically elected members of Parliament, were to say that we are not responsible enough to be entrusted with managing such a huge amount of money, that we had better bring in people from the private sector who will undoubtedly do a much better job than us. But if people do not agree with this concept, they cannot go through their MPs, the very persons they elected. I have a moral problem with this.

Another point. Not only are we delegating our authority to a board of directors, but we do not know who they all are. I feel like I am signing a blank cheque. I have serious reservations about that.

Another point, the issue of equal opportunity. This bill is attacking some very basic principles our society is founded upon.

It is said these scholarship will not necessarily be based entirely on need, but also on merit. Today I sat on the committee studying the bill. I found it ridiculous for the committee to review a bill which is not even complete. Today, a lot was said against the fact that part of these scholarships would be decided on merit and part on need. But what will the proportion be? Is it 10%, 50% or 90% of these scholarships which will go to the best students?

I have several friends who are going to university and who do not have much money and have to work. It is tough to work and go to university at the same time. Of course, working lowers a student's academic performance, but it is the last resort.

Students whose academic performance suffers because they have to work need more money, but our very good government came up with a plan to help only the best students. But the new reality is that our young people need to work to pursue their education.

We do not know what proportion of these scholarships will be based on merit and what proportion will be based on need. The government could have said in committee that, for example, 10% of the scholarships will be awarded to the elite, to the best students. It could have said that it chose to help the best students and to encourage them to go as far as they can so they can become the future leaders of our society. We could at least have debated this, but we cannot. Why? Because we do not know what proportion of these scholarships will be based on merit and what proportion will be based on need.

I have serious questions about our work here today, and that also goes for the members opposite. After all, as democratically elected representatives of the people, we are saying that it is not our responsibility to make societal choices, but the responsibility of a private board of directors. And we do not even know who is going to be on that board. Moreover, we do not know the essence and the intent of this plan. We can certainly change a few commas and make insignificant revisions but, overall, what is this leading to? And there is also the students of Quebec who, in the end, will see a reduction in the assistance they receive.

I met students from Alberta. Their system of loans and scholarships is not as good or perhaps not as generous as Quebec's system. They see that the federal government will intervene and they are very happy. If it wants to proceed in this way, I have no problem with that. But I do not want it to intrude into my values, in Quebec's values. Then people wonder why we want our own country. It seems quite obvious to me.

How would it have bothered the rest of Canada if Parliament had said “It is true that in Quebec you have a consensus and different values. We do not want to disturb you with that. We think this may not be bad in itself. We are giving you the money and you may use it as you wish”? But instead the government is imposing its rules. Then it wonders why there are sovereignists in Ottawa. It seems so simple to me. Then it asks “What does Quebec want?”

This is incredible. When I talk about Quebec's values, I do not talk about a political party that took a stand, but about a consensus among students and university associations and presidents. In short, everyone in Quebec opposes this measure, even the national assembly. The Liberal Party of Quebec said “No, this is not a good thing”. All this for the sake of the federal government's visibility. This disappoints me, because education is the future.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 6.15 p.m., it is my duty, pursuant to the order adopted earlier today, to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith all questions necessary to dispose of report stage of the bill now before the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I seek consent for the following motion. I move:

That all motions at report stage of Bill C-36, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 24, 1998, be deemed moved, seconded and read, and that a recorded division be deemed requested for each such motion.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Medicine Hat have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Budget Implementation Act, 1998Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.