House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rural.


Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, my question for the minister is a very simple one. He speaks of the nine million Canadians who live in rural Canada. I think he has tried very gallantly to revise the biggest single omission in the throne speech and that is the fact that there was no mention of agriculture.

I represent the riding of Kings—Hants which has 50% of the agriculture output for the province of Nova Scotia. The fact is that many of the farm aid programs currently do not meet the needs of farmers either in my riding or in western Canada. The AIDA and NISA programs simply do not meet their needs. Some of those programs are based on 70% of the last three years' earnings. In my riding the last three years have been disastrous due to the drought. Of course, 70% of nothing is nothing. For farmers who are facing this crisis and bankruptcy there was absolutely nothing in the throne speech.

The minister speaks about rural issues. One of the most pivotal and important issues for rural Canadians is agriculture and food output. The throne speech did not address that.

The minister did not speak of the seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada and my riding. Seasonal workers have been devastated by the EI reforms and the cuts by the Liberal government. Many seasonal workers who did work periodically and who did contribute and participate in the economy are now forced on provincial social assistance. They have gone from working seasonally to not working at all. That is a significant concern.

The minister did not speak of the concentration in the food distribution business which increasingly is forcing producers to effectively deal with one or two major purchasers. It is denying the producers any ability to control price or have any control over their own business affairs. The minister does not address that.

The minister spoke at length about e-commerce, the growth in the high tech sector and the importance of connectedness in terms of technology in rural communities. I share with him in his optimism that in the long term these may play a role.

However, does he really believe that the government's focus on e-commerce and on Internet connectedness for rural communities is going to help? Does he really believe in the short term that a 50 year old farmer who is facing bankruptcy is going to be turned into a computer programmer or a high tech worker and suddenly will be transported back from the edge of the abyss of poverty, despair and into some new e-world of prosperity and future potential?

I believe he is being very naive and that the government is being very cold-hearted in turning its back on rural Canada and particularly on the agricultural sector, both in the west, in Ontario and in the east.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Madam Speaker, part of what we see here, from the comments made by the hon. member who represents the Tory Party, is a good example of how its inability to deal with two separate issues at the same time led to an administration in the country from 1984 to 1993 that resulted in record deficits, increased unemployment and lower economic growth.

The reality is that we are dealing with all the issues that the hon. member mentioned. He talked about nothing being done in terms of the farm income prices.

Let me make it very clear for the hon. member, who seems to have missed it, and for other hon. members in the House and obviously for Canadians, that there was $900 million, when combined with provincial contributions of another $600 million, meant there was a $1.5 billion package to assist Canadian farmers through an income crisis they are experiencing right now. That work is ongoing and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has indicated his willingness to continue to work with his provincial counterparts, with the industry and with others to do the things that are necessary to help.

Beyond just simply helping in the income crisis, as important as that is, we must also ensure the long term viability of rural Canada. That is what the hon. member and his party have missed. We cannot just simply deal with the issues of the day, although we must and it is important. We must also ensure the long term viability of rural Canada and rural Canadians.

We must make sure that there is a future for rural Canadians. We must make sure there is a future for our children so that they can choose to live in rural Canada. It means more than simply identifying or dealing with one specific industry. It means more than just simply identifying with any one specific problem. It means dealing with the broad issues that face rural Canadians. It means understanding that rural Canada has separate challenges and separate needs and to respond to them.

That is what the government committed to do in the throne speech. As the minister responsible, I will attempt to ensure that those commitments come to reality and fruition.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


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

Madam Speaker, I have listened carefully to the speech by the new Secretary of State for Rural Development, and I wish him good luck, despite my belief that the federal government has no business whatsoever interfering in this area.

I would invite him to speak to the Minister of Human Resources Development. With his responsibility for rural areas he is surely aware that, since employment insurance reform, there has been a serious problem that has to do with the rule of intensity. Seasonal workers are penalized by the deduction of 1% of their benefits every time they have used 20 weeks of employment insurance, which means that after three years, instead of receiving 55% of potential benefits, they will receive 50%.

Yesterday, the Minister of Human Resources Development gave an interview to a Moncton newspaper. She thinks that the rule of intensity must not be done away with, nor the period of benefits extended, because that is no solution. More employment must be created, and seasonal employment must be enabled to last longer.

I say to the secretary of state and to the minister “Why not do both at the same time?” When they state that the industry's season must be lengthened, it is as if they were telling people “You are not working longer because you do not want to.” The Secretary of State for Rural Development must surely know, and I hope he agrees with that view, that there is no one in Canada who does not want to work. This is not a situation where, contrary to what the Prime Minister said in the past, the unemployed are beer drinkers. That has been demonstrated. There are no more cheaters among the unemployed than there are in multinationals or elsewhere. Generally speaking, people do want to work.

It is not by hitting them on the head or by imposing unacceptable rules regarding minimum income that things will change. In rural areas, when a person works 15 or 20 weeks, if that person does not collect enough benefits, even if he or she has a job, even if he or she is among those who worked during the year, that person will still get poor because we do not have a good employment insurance program.

So, will the Secretary of State for Rural Development make representations to the Minister of Human Resources Development to have that situation changed, and is he not deeply upset that the throne speech says nothing on this issue?

It is important for the secretary of state to get the bureaucracy moving and force the government to stop viewing the employment insurance program strictly as a surplus generating scheme; this could have a positive impact in an area of federal jurisdiction. The EI system is also a tool for economic stabilization.

Will the secretary of state do that in the years to come?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity as the chair of the natural resources committee to author a report called “Think Rural” which outlined many of the issues in rural Canada. Even though the hon. member was not a member of that committee, he took the time, effort and energy to provide input into the development of that report. He is committed to his rural area.

In terms of the issues in HRDC, I know that he and the minister have had debates in the House and that they continue to have discussions. The member forgets to talk about the other parts of the HRDC regime. He forgets to talk about active measures and all the other labour market adjustment type of initiatives that are undertaken by HRDC and which certainly help rural areas.

I had the opportunity not too long ago to travel to his part of the country. Their concern was not particularly over jurisdiction. There was not a concern over nationalism in Quebec. There was a concern about improving the quality of life of rural Canadians no matter where they live. That is what I am trying to, that is what the government is trying to do and that is what we will accomplish. We will improve the quality of life for all rural Canadians.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


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

Madam Speaker, I, like some of my other colleagues, will begin by pointing out to Canadians and to the members of the House an issue that was not addressed in the Speech from the Throne: the state of Canada's airline industry.

We were all inundated over the summer months with positions both for and against changes in the airline industry but the government remains silent. There was absolutely no mention in the throne speech of the crisis in the airline industry. It is very clear that major changes will be coming. These are the questions I have. Where is the government's vision for the future of the Canadian airline industry? Where does the government feel Canadians want to see the airline industry go?

It is the government's apparent lack of vision that causes concern. The government seems to always be responding or reacting to situations rather than working out some of the problems or finding solutions in advance. Unfortunately its history of popping up into the issues and trying to influence the private sector is usually done for the wrong reasons.

Once the dust settles over the current airline industry situation, government and parliament must work together in a non-partisan fashion. We must work together with the stakeholders to develop a clear blueprint for Canada's airline industry in the 21st century.

I do not think there is a Canadian who has not heard of Onex, Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International. Canadians accept the fact that Canadian Airlines International is in trouble. I think everyone is aware of the Onex offer to merge the two airlines to stabilize Canada's airline industry under one major airline.

I do not think there are many Canadians, and I am one of them, who are aware of what Air Canada's counterproposal may be. However, I would suggest that one way or another it looks like we will only have one national airline in Canada. More importantly, parliament must play a role and it must be done in a non-partisan fashion.

The Reform Party believes that the role of government should be to facilitate a private enterprise solution to this problem. That means less government regulation not more. It means that the government must establish the priority of protecting the interests of Canadian consumers at both the national and regional levels, the interests of the Canadian taxpayer, the interests of the airline employees and the interests of those who invest in Canada's airline industry.

Maybe a starting point would be a comparison with the airline industry in Australia. It is interesting that in Australia where the demographics and the geography is very similar to Canada and where it has similar concerns and issues that Australia can have two profitable national airlines. Maybe there is something that we can learn from Australia's airline industry.

We also have to look at what role this government and previous Liberal and Conservative governments played in bringing our airline industry to the point where it is today. More importantly, the issue we have to address is how to fix the problem.

I will move on from the airline industry because there are other transportation issues in the country that must be addressed. Canada is on the brink of entering a new century. We can either enter the new century boldly or we can enter it timidly and in response to other situations around the world.

The brief mention of infrastructure programs in the throne speech leaves a lot of questions in the air. It mentions that the federal government will work with the provinces and the private sector over the next year to develop a new five year plan for improving the infrastructure. I think that is very short sighted of the government and of our country.

We have to take a much larger and longer vision of where we want to go with our infrastructure and on how we are going to get there. We would be remiss if we were not looking in ten 20-year cycles as opposed to only looking five years down the road. Not only is that true for our infrastructure program but it is also true for our national highway system.

Government has studied the problem of Canada's highway system for years. It really is time to quit studying and to do something about it. It is time for the government to implement a national highway strategy program. It is also time for the government to invest more than the 10% it collects in gas taxes into our highway infrastructure. It is time that the government started recognizing that highways and the ability to move people and goods is very important. It is important for rural Canada, it is important for urban Canada and it is important for the well being of all Canadians that our transportation networks are sound, well planned and certainly in good condition.

One of the issues that is very dear to my heart is the issue of trade corridors. A large part of the reason for Canada's economic improvement over the last years is due to the massive increase in trade, mainly with the Americans. I do not know that Canadians understand or realize that over $1.5 billion worth of trade happens across the Canada-U.S. border every single day of the year.

I am really pleased to see that the Liberal government has decided that trade is good for Canada, but if this growth is to continue, if we are to continue to maximize the future of our trading partners on the North American continent, our infrastructure must grow to accommodate that trade.

It is not just good enough to have trade agreements. It is not just good enough to have agreements among countries and documents that are signed between the leaders. We have to be able to move the goods that we have agreed to trade. We have to make sure that the movement of those goods is done in an efficient and timely manner.

I do not think we can ignore rail transportation, particularly the movement of grain across our country. That has been an issue for a number years and it remains an issue that has to be resolved. Two reports have been produced for parliament to consider, the Estey and Kroeger reports. I look forward to the coming years and seeing this happen.

There are also environmental concerns. If the Minister of Environment is concerned about vehicle emissions then I would suggest that he go to any major commercial border crossing. He could go down to the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit and see 100 trucks on either side of the bridge, idling for hours waiting to fill out unnecessary paperwork at customs. He could watch the fumes from their diesel engines billow into the air and check why Canadian and American archaic cabotage rules are forcing many trucks to travel on the continent empty. It is time to address some of these issues.

More important, the government's plan of talking with the provinces about highways is not just good enough. We need to develop a seamless transportation system involving our highways, our railways, our waterways and skies to move goods and people in the most efficient manner not on a national basis but on a continental-wide basis. Only then can we ensure that we are looking after the health, safety and economic well-being of all Canadians.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to represent the people of Selkirk—Interlake and to speak to the throne speech today. The government has been speaking about the good aspects of the speech so I do not have to go over those details again. They are few and far between, but it highlighted the ones it thought were important.

I have a couple of issues that did not get fully addressed in the throne speech. One of them was that Manitobans expected to see more in the area of health care. There was nothing in the speech but a reiteration of the fact that the government was putting $11.5 billion into health care over the next several years. That is totally insufficient. They would like to have seen something in that regard.

Also the government seems to have recognized that it has been fumbling the first nations accountability issue. The throne speech mentioned that the government wanted to foster accountability on the part of elected officials on our first nations. The Indian affairs minister has said in speeches privately in Saskatchewan that was one of the government's objectives. It is certainly worth recognizing that.

Physical infrastructure work was mentioned with regard to what I assume will be roads. This may have a benefit for farmers if the physical infrastructure it is talking about enables roads to be built sufficient to carry the large trucks which are now necessary to carry grain from the farmers field to the inland terminals and out to port by rail.

Those are all the items I saw in the throne speech which were directly pertinent to farmers. Certainly we needed much more.

A couple of points in the throne speech were scary for farmers. Certainly we are concerned about the government's intentions with regard to its Kyoto commitment and how they will impact upon the government.

Another thing that is bothersome is the Endangered Species Act. It will be implemented and passed in such a way that it will not have the negative impacts on agriculture that we found in the United States with its legislation.

An immense concern to my riding, to all of Manitoba and really to all Canadians which was not mentioned in the throne speech, involves an issue in the riding of Provencher in Manitoba. I am referring to the closure of the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited nuclear research station. The government is in the process of closing that research station. In fact it has virtually closed it now.

What it is leaving behind can only be described as waste and byproducts. The nuclear contamination from that site is still there. That is a natural issue which happens. However it is the government's responsibility to show some vision and direction with regard to atomic energy uses in Canada and to clean up that site. Manitobans want to use that site for private industrial development, but it is impossible to do so because the government is standing in the way of cleaning up the site and arranging for it to be used for industrial purposes.

The mayor of Pinawa, the town in which it is located, and the Hon. Darren Praznik, MLA for that area, have clearly brought to my attention that they need assistance to bring to the attention of the government in Ottawa that this nuclear contamination and the clean up of the Whiteshell site are of utmost importance.

I can only tell the resource minister that I will be raising this matter in the House over upcoming months. It should have been in the throne speech. We will make sure that it is raised and something is done about it.

I will point out one last thing about it. When hot cells, nuclear contaminated cells, in Tunney's Pasture in Ottawa were decommissioned a couple of years ago, they were completely demolished and the site was returned to a green field state. Why should Manitobans and the people of Selkirk—Interlake and Provencher expect anything less than what was done in Ontario?

As the chief agriculture critic I will devote the rest of my speech to agriculture issues. Our leader has spoken quite eloquently with regard to the lack of emphasis on agriculture in the throne speech.

For the last two years farmers across Canada have faced destructive drops in farm income. Realized net income in Canada fell by 21% in 1998 and is predicted to fall by another 15% in 1999. That brings the figure down for Saskatchewan in terms of realized net income to a negative $48 million for 1999. Farmers will be losing massive amounts of money in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan farmers are so desperate that they are actually involved right now in a tax revolt involving the education taxes on their properties. We are finding that these farmers are being pushed into doing anything they can do to reduce the cost of government in particular and other costs that are helping to drive them out of business.

I will use the gross figures for Manitoba. We talk about a realized net farm income drop in Manitoba to $64 million according to Statistics Canada figures. These figures are not something I made up myself. They are right from Statistics Canada. That drop to $64 million is $100 million below the $164 million earned by Manitoba farmers in 1998 and well below the five year average of $231 million.

The program the government brought forward to address the income crisis was AIDA, the agricultural income disaster assistance program. The government had the understanding or misunderstanding, really, that the situation with regard to farm incomes was simply a one year drop in income in 1998 but that the drastic drop may happen in 1999 also.

The government took the program that came to it from the safety net advisory committee, which involves a lot of farmers' groups, et cetera. The government changed that recommendation around to make the program fit the budget the minister thought he could get for it, instead of making the program fit the crisis and address the problem. That is exactly why AIDA has not worked.

I will just give a couple of examples of farmers who were applying for AIDA and receiving nothing. One story is that in May of this year two brothers who are farmers in Manitoba applied. Their application is still sitting in the review area of AIDA. The way the farm is set up, they expect to get approximately $70,000 back from AIDA. They have received nothing and they are on the verge of going bankrupt.

Over past months, certainly since last fall in particular and in fact right from 1993, the Reform Party has made many suggestions to the government on how it can increase the income of farmers. That is the subject of a minority report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture. It involved matters such as reducing the cost of government, reducing user fees and making the Canadian Wheat Board a voluntary board.

As a result, I would only suggest that the government review all the material we in the Reform have produced, take those suggestions and implement them immediately to help solve the crisis in western Canada and across the country.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I happen to represent a riding that has a lot of farmers in it, although admittedly the farmers in my area are more mixed farmers than grain farmers. We certainly are aware of the crisis that is taking place on the prairies with farmers. I would like to ask my hon. colleague to comment on a couple of points.

First, we lost the benefit of the Crow rate under the Liberal government. I am rather surprised at that because these days we are talking about the fishing rights of the natives, apparently based on an agreement which was some 200 years old. It is said to last in perpetuity and cannot be changed. It seems to me the Crow rate agreement was also an agreement in perpetuity, but the government just said with impunity that it would wipe it out and give them a bit of a cash payment which hopefully would cover it.

Could the member comment on to what degree the cash payment came even close to covering the long term costs of farmers transporting their grain to the ports?

My second question is with regard to transportation problems. When I was a youngster my dad used to ask “How come when I buy a combine or a tractor that is manufactured in Ontario I have to pay the freight to get it from Ontario to Saskatchewan, but when I sell them my wheat I have to pay the freight to send their wheat back to Ontario?” I would like the member to comment on those two points.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, in perpetuity are two words that have devastated western farmers and made them so mad. They are madder than a boiled owl when they hear the words spoken, so I hesitate to even use them.

That Liberal promise along with the promise of the Conservatives over the years assured western Canadian farmers that the Crow rate, which was a subsidy for exporting grain, would be kept in perpetuity. Western Canadian farmers certainly knew better than the Liberal and Conservative governments. They realized that the Crow rate was not allowing western farmers to diversify their incomes. As a result when the Crow rate went it was beneficial in that farmers diversified and have certainly improved the western farm economy in that regard.

The real devastation regarding the income problem and the cash taken out of farmers' pockets when the subsidy was not received anymore was that starting in 1993 with the trade agreement and in 1995 with the federal budget, domestic support for agriculture was drastically reduced by the government in an attempt to balance its deficit. In doing so it brought in user fees and all kinds of charges, increased taxes and all of the things that have taken away the meagre incomes farmers were getting from exporting their grain.

It is domestic support that is lacking from the government. We heard it today in question period. Farmers are asking for that support to be reinstated at least to the level where they can remain viable and on the farm, to provide Canadians a secure domestic food supply. It is in our national interest that that be done.

What do we see? Nothing is happening by way of money for the majority of farmers in western Canada in particular, and in Ontario, to keep them on the farm and keep the farms going. What will happen? It will end up that this country's farmland will be owned by absentee landlords.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, Peace River country has had a double whammy. It has had a series of very wet years that have caused farmers to have a low three year margin net income.

The government put together an AIDA program that said it would base payments on a three year margin net income. Guess what? It was so low that farmers do not have the income to get a payout. That is why they are failing again to pay—

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

We have to resume debate.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to represent Vancouver Kingsway and take part in today's debate. I am splitting my time with the hon. member for St. Paul's.

We are entering the century of the Pacific. It is very fitting, as the Prime Minister has noted, that a Canadian who came to the country as a young refugee from China should be the new Governor General.

That an individual who arrived in Canada as a refugee can attain the position of Governor General, a post deeply rooted in our tradition, is a symbol to the world. It is a very special appointment and symbol that Canada affords to all citizens the opportunity to participate fully in our society. It is a symbol that all citizens, whether born on Canadian soil or having arrived as migrants from other nations, can and do make meaningful contributions. It is a symbol that Canada is a nation that recognizes talent and diversity. Indeed over the last century our society has blossomed with migrants from the four corners of the globe arriving and contributing.

The appointment of the Governor General is a true reflection and celebration of cultural diversity in Canada today. I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on this important appointment. That such an appointment has been made under this government demonstrates its recognition and appreciation of the rich and beautiful cultural fibre that our nation has.

That so many aspects of this country are flourishing is a credit to our Liberal government, but we must continue to build on our strengths. We must strive to increase the quality of life of all Canadians. This government has proven it has the courage and the vision to do so. Concrete plans have been formed to help Canadians face the challenges of the new century.

Children are at the forefront of our investment in the future. This government is committed to ensuring that children receive the support and attention they need. Many studies demonstrate that the early years of a child's life are very important. Loving and involved parents are the cornerstone of the well-being, happiness and success of every child.

The government is to be commended on its solid commitment to extend employment insurance maternity benefits and parental leave. Maternal leave time will be extended from a current maximum to a full year, a year that will provide invaluable time for all our children.

The government has shown its insight in providing new benefits to accommodate the diverse needs of Canadian families. Those benefits will be more flexible, more adaptable to the wide range of realities that face Canadian families. This government wants to ensure that children are equipped with all the capacities they need to be ready to learn when they begin school and to grow into healthy productive adults.

As a government, as responsible citizens, we have no higher priority than our children. As our children grow they must be well educated in good schools and institutions that will provide them with skills that will prepare them for work and future challenges, that will prepare them to be successful in a global economy. That is why the investment this government has announced for our post-secondary institutions is so crucial.

In the Prime Minister's address, he endorsed a plan to create 1,200 new chairs for research excellence in universities across Canada and more important, a plan for the financial support needed to make them internationally competitive. That was not an empty commitment: $60 million in the first year of the plan; $122 million in the second year; $180 million in the third year; and following that, a further $120 million will fund 800 additional chairs.

Canada needs those university chair endowments to compete for, to attract and to retain researchers of international calibre. Furthermore, those researchers will train our students to become the best and the brightest in the world. Such investment in post-secondary institutions ensures Canadians will have the resources and expertise to be successful in a highly competitive world. Those endowments will ensure Canada is at the forefront of the knowledge based economy.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation has already been created. That $1 billion endowment is helping to build a leading edge national system of innovation. Knowledge and technological innovation are the cornerstones of a higher standard of living and a better quality of life. The investment of the government will ensure Canadian institutions have the resources, the laboratories and the university infrastructure to carry out their creative work, but this is not all.

In January the Canadian millennium scholarship fund will begin to generate over 10,000 scholarships. The government's SchoolNet project has connected every public school and library in Canada. The community access program will have public Internet sites in 10,000 rural and urban communities before the end of this year. The government has and will continue to increase support for lifelong learning to ensure Canada has the most highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce in the world.

The previous commitments of the government and those outlined in the Speech from the Throne indicate the level of commitment this government has to ensure Canadians will embrace the challenges of the 21st century. This investment in education and research will fuel the Canadian economy of the next century. Our economy will continue to strive and to grow. Canadian families will benefit.

Continued tax reduction will foster an even more dynamic economy. Canadian families have already seen the benefits of tax cuts totalling $16.5 billion in the last two budgets alone. That trend will continue. The next budget will lay out a multi-year plan for further tax reduction. I am a member of the finance committee and we will be conducting prebudget public hearings to listen to Canadians for their ideas and suggestions for our next budget.

We are one of the leading industrialized nations in the world. The future will see great advances in business, government and society. The way to the 21st century is to invest in the cornerstones of our society. We will invest in our children, in our families, in our researchers and in our educational system.

Let us be clear. What this government will not do is sacrifice our financial health. Canadians from British Columbia and indeed from coast to coast to coast recognize this is the direction for Canada in the next century. The government is doing what Canadians want.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member.

She said that the 21st century would belong to the Pacific region. Will the hon. member be able to influence her government colleagues, so that they take a stand regarding the labeling of genetically modified products?

We know that the Minister of Agriculture took a stand when he said that such labeling was optional. However, the Asian market requires that genetically modified products be labeled.

May be the hon. member can influence her colleagues. I would like to hear her comments on this issue.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her very thoughtful question. It would be very interesting for our government to consider and I think a lot of study will follow.

In the meantime, very strict regulations will be set up. I thank her for calling this matter to our attention.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member's speech with great interest. I noted that she said repeatedly throughout her speech “We will invest. We will invest. We will invest”.

The problem I have with that is that what she and her colleagues in the Liberal Party do not seem to understand is that when they talk about investing they talk about spending taxpayers' money. Typically the Liberal answer is to set up more programs. She outlined a whole raft of them in her speech for which they are going to need taxpayers' money.

She also talked about providing a higher standard of living. She said “We must strive to improve the quality of life for Canadians”. Certainly, something like that we can all agree with. However, I wonder when she and her Liberal colleagues will get it through their heads that the easiest way to improve the quality of life for Canadians is to lift the oppressive tax burden which they face.

I do not want to hear the hon. member insult Canadians' intelligence by talking about $16.5 billion in tax cuts. Canadians know quite well that is more than offset by the $18 billion in tax increases over the past couple of years that the government has foisted on them. Really, they are worse off. That is very clear when they look at their take home pay.

I want the hon. member to answer very honestly and truthfully—and do not insult the intelligence of the Canadians voters who are watching this debate today—when her government is going to deliver real tax relief, not this bogus $16.5 billion they always talk about.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to remind my colleague that we very successfully eliminated the $42 billion deficit. Last year we not only reduced taxes, we also eliminated the 3% surtax. We all know that. It is on the record.

Now we are entering an era where we will have a balanced approach. There will be tax cuts, but at the same time we will not overlook the most important things, such as health care, social programs and the children's agenda. We are now spending under a very cautious, socially balanced program.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, the hon. member speaks again of investment, which is really spending, but the fact is that many Canadians are finding it difficult to invest themselves. While the government is currently in the black, at an unprecedented rate Canadians are in the red. We have the highest level of personal debt in the history of our country.

In the 1990s Canadians have seen an 8% drop in their personal disposable income because of the tax burden imposed by this government. During the same period Americans have enjoyed a 10% increase.

Would it not be better if Canadians were able to invest for their own futures as opposed to the government taking more money from Canadians and then trying to invest where it feels the priorities are?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, we do not just take from Canadians. We are also trying to create more opportunities for trade and we are trying to help medium and small business people gain more business so they will have more cash in their pockets.

We are doing both. We are meeting the social needs of Canadians and, at the same time, we are trying to help business and other sectors.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to reply to the Speech from the Throne.

Building a higher quality of life for all Canadians is an ideal theme, as we are about to celebrate the new millennium. It is the greatest legacy that we can leave to Canadians.

It is about vision. It is about what kind of country we want to live in. It demonstrates a real understanding of the broadest determinants of quality of life. It recognizes that although we have been designated the best country in the world in which to live we cannot rest on our laurels.

Vision is statesman-like foresight, sagacity in planning. It means using our experience and our knowledge together with the power to apply them critically and practically. More than that, it is incorporating the core values of Canadians. Vision and values are the key ingredients to making a difference.

The Speech from the Throne was an extraordinary example of the positive role the government can play in people's lives. The tug of war is over. No longer is it possible for Canadians to think that good social policy is bad economic policy. We are now embarking on a new age where with good social science research we can demonstrate that good social policy is excellent economic policy and those who think that tax cuts alone will cure all are horribly misguided.

The tax cuts in Ontario resulted in the doubling of child poverty. We are embarrassed internationally because of this. The cuts to social services in Ontario have not saved money. Gina Browne, the fabulous researcher at McMaster and author of When the Bough Breaks , has now demonstrated that conclusively, with the help of Health Canada. The Ministry of Health of Ontario has turned down the study twice and now seems to be hiding from its results.

I would like to outline some of the highlights of the study to show that the failure to provide appropriate social programs does not save a cent because the people go elsewhere, generally to the medical system, and cost at least as much money there.

Gina took over 700 single moms. Some were left to self-direct their support generally by using walk-in clinics, emergency departments and GPs' offices. Some were directed to a variety of support: recreation, day care, social services and employment advice.

At the end of two years the control group had 10% less on welfare generally because the Harris program had cut them off. The group that had only received a recreation program for their kids over six, which included transportation, running shoes and snacks, had twice as many moms off welfare and huge savings to the system in parole, children's aid and the use of food banks. The kids now had friends from other neighbourhoods and were well on their way.

In the group that received all the support, over 25% had exited the welfare system and demonstrated huge savings in their use of the medical system. The interventions helped to identify the mothers with depression and got them appropriate and effective help.

As Gina has said to rotary club after rotary club, the Government of Ontario is kidding itself if it thinks it is saving money by its cuts.

What is exciting now is that we can fund research to show what instinctively we have known, that good social policy is good economic policy. With the social union framework we have an exciting tool with which we as a country can begin to share best practices and demonstrate that accountability and transparency are what Canadians need in order to feel that their taxes are well spent.

The commitment in the social union for all levels of government to report publicly on the effectiveness of their social programs in effect will continue to demonstrate this reality of good social programs being good economic policy.

The Speech from the Throne articulated the commitment of the Government of Canada to work toward removing all barriers for the mobility of Canadians with respect to their qualifications, student loans and essential services for persons with disabilities. It is clear that achieving full citizenship for all Canadians is good social policy as well as good economic policy.

The people of St. Paul's are big picture people. They understand the need for balance and accountability. They understand that we need evidence based practice. They understand that strict ideology is usually bad public policy because of the need for practical solutions based on proper evaluation and changing conditions. The pure tax cutting rhetoric is just that.

I believe the Speech from the Throne has touched the core values of Canadians. As my constituent Fiona Nelson pointed out, the big cold countries at the top of the globe decided a long time ago that we would have to look after one another. The countries in the middle with the warm climate, fishing and coconuts falling out of the trees have not had to be quite so progressive. Canadians decided a long time ago that they do not want people to have to mortgage their homes, and maybe even lose them, for their cobalt treatment for cancer.

The final report of the National Forum on Health eloquently articulated that the core Canadian values will remain even when opinions can waver or be seduced by the rhetoric of more money in people's pockets solving everything.

Canadians want fairness. They want the tax system to be made fairer. They know that increasing disposable income for the lower and middle classes is a good thing. They understand that the child tax benefit has been an extremely important measure for the working poor, and that extending it to the middle class will be extremely important to their children.

Last year at the prebudget consultations in St. Paul's some of the business people expressed their concern about the use of the word “investment” as the new code for government spending. Whether we call it smart spending, results based management or investment, it is becoming clearer and clearer that we can spend a little now or a lot more later.

The Minister of Labour, who is responsible for homelessness, has declared many times that investing in kids now will help us to close prisons later and that this is now becoming better understood. There are certain expenditures that, with a proper long range view, we cannot afford not to do. Governments can no longer present a little checklist of things that can be accomplished within their mandate.

As we look to the millennium it is imperative that we look forward to our future. It is our kids. It is our planet. We need to do the right thing now. It will be our legacy.

If 25% of absenteeism in children is because of a tragic increase in asthma, we must do something about air quality now. We must help the world deal with all aspects of the sustainability of our planet.

The vision articulated in the Speech from the Throne was a broad vision for Canada. Its focus on children as we move to a knowledge based economy is one of the best things we can be doing. Dr. Fraser Mustard said that there is substantial evidence that the quality of early childhood experience has long term effects on an individual's performance in the education system, their behaviour in adult life and their risk for chronic disease in adult life.

We know that this need is universal and that in many neighbourhoods the wealthy children are not doing any better because love is not the same thing as knowing how to parent.

I had the privilege of practising next to the fabulous Children's Storefront in Toronto where I watched parents, nannies and new immigrants come. With the advice of the early childhood educators they learned about conflict resolution, positive reinforcement, attitudes toward learning, cuddling and reading. I know that it works. I know that those children are better off.

As we embark on the exciting new research chairs and the Canadian institutes of health research we have an opportunity to gain better evidence as we do research in evaluating the policies and programs to find the optimal solutions.

If we look at the commitment to aboriginal health alone, we know that we have to do something about the doubled rate of low birth rate babies, five times the suicide rate and six times the death rate from injuries, violence and poisoning. We need to look at the root causes of homelessness, the role of de-institutionalization, child abuse, substance abuse, learning disabilities and FAE/FAS.

This is an extraordinary time for Canada. The prospect of a surplus will ensure our ability to be able to deliver a truly balanced approach. This is a truly Canadian thing to do. As to the promises we made to Canadians who elected us—tax relief, debt retirement and prudent investments—we can all be proud that the vision and values articulated in the Speech from the Throne will indeed build a higher quality of life for all Canadians. Good social policy is good economic policy.

We want to build a stronger Canada and provide a better quality of life to our children and grandchildren. This is the best legacy that we can leave to them.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to direct two questions to the hon. member. The previous speaker talked a great deal about the importance of education, with which I agree. Being well educated people, our young people look forward to a good future in this country.

I am acquainted with many highly educated people from this land. In fact, one of them is my son, who went into a certain field, searched around and is now working in Georgia along with thousands of other Canadians who have left this country. Doing the same job down there, as compared to here, he puts $500 to $600 each month more into his pocket, savings because of taxes.

He is on a very good health program. He has benefits that exceed any that we provide to many of our employees in this land. Yet his heart is in Canada. He wants to be here, as do many of them, but because of economics and of high taxes they cannot afford not to take jobs south of the border with greater benefits, greater wages and lower taxes. When will the government recognize that quality of life does not exist here? It is fading away.

On quality of life the solicitor general, the justice minister and many of the people in the justice area have indicated that we need to empty our prisons, that we have too many people in jail. This month a multiple killer, a cop killer, walked away from a minimum security prison. There has been a 100% increase in people walking away from prison.

Is the placement of a person who has been convicted of taking a life, a police killer, into a minimum security institution from which they are walking away the right method? Is that a method of emptying our jails? It all adds up to the total incompetence of a justice system which would allow this kind of person to walk away from a penitentiary.

That is not ensuring quality of life. That is endangering lives in our land. The government's policies are allowing it. It is worse today than it ever was. Could the hon. member address these two issues?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

October 15th, 1999 / 1:30 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I remind the hon. member that most of the people moving to the United States are moving because of opportunities. In terms of salaries that are offered there, for example, there is the fabulous Howard Hughes grant of $1 million a year to a researcher. We have trouble competing with that. There is no good evidence that these people are moving purely because of taxes. It is opportunity.

When my patients moved to New York and had to spend $10,000 a year on their health insurance they understood what comes with the taxes in our country and a reliance on a public health care system, a fabulous public education system and a huge reduction in crime.

People do not want to live in armed communities. The kind of approach demonstrated in the Speech from the Throne will actually prevent the cop killers the hon. member talks about. We will actually be able to demonstrate that we have much smaller numbers of people who require being in prison 20 years from now if we do the right thing now.

It is not that we want more cops and more prisons. That is not an approach to crime. We have to deal with people who were abused as children, who have fetal alcohol effects, who have learning disabilities that were not recognized and then ran into trouble in the school system, dropped out, got into trouble with drugs and then later into trouble with the justice system.

This is a prevention problem. This has nothing to do with what the hon. member suggests is crime and punishment. It just does not work. We know it does not work. We have to prevent psychopaths before they are formed.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, let me say from the outset that the reason I want to take part in this debate about the throne speech is to stress how this government— which has major surpluses after cuts in transfers to the provinces, with the result that ordinary people in particular have felt the impact of these significant cuts in health, education and social assistance—is using these surpluses in an arrogant way, without any concern for the very real problems experienced by individuals, problems for which the provinces now appear to be responsible.

First, why did the government postpone the beginning of the session by three weeks? Did the throne speech really justify that three week delay? During those three weeks, Quebecers and Canadians could not get answers from federal ministers, nor could these ministers be pressured into finding solutions to issues such as the major problem in the airline industry.

In Montreal, between 5,000 and 10,000 jobs could be lost, yet no one was there to explain why the government was letting things develop in such fashion or, if there is an east-west problem in Canada, to let us at least talk openly about it.

Why was the speech postponed? Citizens were deprived of an opportunity to react in a timely manner to the supreme court decision. The government saw the Marshall decision coming; it should have been ready.

Who paid the price? I would like to point out that Acadians and natives were on good terms. Many times, Acadians would say, in French, that they were sad because the reason many people were still around was because the Indians had protected them after the 1755 deportation. The government's negligence has torn this community apart. It will take time for things to return to normal.

Why a three week delay? Here is what I think. First, the government wanted to install, with great pomp, a new couple to represent the Queen of England, the Queen of Canada. The government claims it wants to help Canada enter the 21st century as a leader.

In the meantime, what are the Australians doing? They are getting ready for a referendum on whether or not to become a republic. That is a debate that might perhaps lead to the 21st century. The decisive day is November 6.

Why did the government delay the Speech from the Throne? So as not to muddy the waters for the International Forum on Federalism, which was supposed to show how wonderful Canadian federalism was. How wrong it was, because that was not what came out of the forum.

By the way, I would like my constituents in Mercier to know that I was there and glad that I was. What we saw were federations that said they were having problems and were trying to resolve them. That is not what we see in Canada.

Did the Canadians tell the forum that they were having problems, that they had imposed the Constitution on Quebec in 1982, and that it could no longer be changed, when change was what was needed? No, we did not hear that. Canada appeared as the model of a federation, but nobody was fooled, because Lucien Bouchard and Joseph Facal set out the problems. They said what we are saying in the House of Commons.

The conference revealed more than just the problems that Canada did not want to reveal. It also established that the issue of identity was important one. The speaker everyone there acknowledged as the best spoke of the importance of identity. Other federations said that they were trying to satisfy the needs of groups, specifically, the federations based on two or three nations trying to accommodate them so that together they may improve the quality of life of their citizens.

I could not ignore the fact either that the first person to point out that Canadian federalism had huge problems, was Ghislain Picard, who noted just how often native peoples had promises made to them put off.

Finally, we have the throne speech. I can't say right off that it was not worth forgoing the three weeks of session. For Quebec, this is a throne speech of a unitarian country recognizing increasingly less its mere existence.

The word is mentioned once to say that the government will be concerned with the issue of clarity, as if 94% of Quebecers who voted the last time did not know that their question was clear. Even Jean Chrétien realized it.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Yes. I think the hon. member realized that we do not name members in this House.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, I apologize; I meant to say the Prime Minister of Canada.

We have the Speech from the Throne. The mentality in it is the same as at the international conference on federalism. Canada is denying the problems. The Government of Canada is skirting the problems it itself created with the dramatic cuts to transfer payments.

I am speaking of Quebec, and I may perhaps speak as well of the other provinces, which are dealing with problems in health care and education. There are problems in postgraduate education, in helping the most disadvantaged. The government arrives and talks to us about the 21st century, applauded by the Liberal crowd. And what does it announce?

Does it announce help for the provinces in resolving their problems? No. It introduces new programs. Will it help the unemployed live during the time it takes them to find a new job? No, the government introduces new programs.

The terrible thing in this is that many people need money. These people find themselves in a situation created to a large extent by the federal cuts. They do not necessarily understand exactly how they ended up in that situation, because those who made the cuts and reduced services are those who manage the programs, that is the provincial governments. Nonetheless, the federal government will introduce new benefits for children, for example.

If children are poor, it is because their families are poor. We saw the situation of the families deteriorate, and that is the most serious problem at the moment. Middle income earners, the middle class, are those who paid most, and there is absolutely no chance they will ever get enough for their money back, since there will be no new investments in health or education nor any money to help the neediest.

I know that 1,200 new chairs were announced. I can talk about that because I was member of the industry committee. The main problem in postsecondary education comes from the context in which universities must operate. The creation of new chairs will not solve the problem. Of course, universities will gladly accept the money, but they are in dire need, like the hospitals.

If the government had had a real vision—and everybody will reach the new millennium at the same time, like Christmas and New Year Day—it would have started by working on the problems it created itself, to avoid becoming an outdated government, one that is out of touch, in spite of its desire to appear to be the best wired government in the world.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, ten minutes is a short time for a lot of people in this parliament, but especially for the member for Mercier who, obviously, had a lot more to say.

She opened a door at the very end of her speech. She had only one minute left when she raised the problem of funding for universities, a problem which was created in part by the federal government. Members will recall the drastic cuts in research and development, which had a particular impact on universities.

I would also like her to comment on the following: this morning, in a newspaper, there was an article about maternity leave. I was struck by the title of this article written by Jean-Jacques Samson, from Quebec City, with whom I do not always agree, but who really did put his finger on the problem. He pointed out that the federal government wants to show some generosity by extending maternity leave without changing UI eligibility rules but, at the same time, that we must not forget that it no longer contributes to the UI fund. Only employers and employees contribute to the fund.

Is the federal government not doing the same thing it did to the provinces, namely cutting transfer payments and using all kinds of schemes to look generous, trying to impress Canadians with other people's money?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague for the extra time granted to me. Ten minutes go by real fast. This reaction from a well-known Quebec journalist is sound and I was recently getting to the same conclusion although in a different way. Let us take for example the issue of maternity leave. I can tell you that most of those who phoned my constituency office had the simple reaction to say that the unemployment benefits are so low that instead of having a full year off, they would much rather have a shorter leave and get real benefits that would equal to much more than 55% of their salary.

We all know that working women often do not earn much more than minimum wage. They also often do not work many hours, which means that they earn very little money. Consequently, even if we allow those low-income women to take a whole year off, if they do not have a spouse with a good salary, they will not be able to take advantage of it.

It is a very simple way of answering to the government, by looking at ordinary people's reaction. If the government was really taking their problems into account instead of only reacting to the plans that the government of Quebec advanced and that it has a hard time to implement because of the lack of co-operation from the federal government, the government would grant real maternity leave. Real maternity leave is not one that only a few women can take advantage of. It certainly does not generate enough income, even if it is extended. There is a lot more to say about this Speech from the throne and the generous gifts that it contains, without taking into account the real situations and the problems that the government itself is responsible for.