House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.


Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from November 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, an act to establish the Canadian Tourism Commission, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Tourism Commission ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 1999 / 4:50 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are now debating Bill C-5, an act to establish the Canadian Tourism Commission. In fact, the Canadian tourism commission already exists and it has a number of employees, some of whom even work outside the country, but Bill C-5 seeks to turn the existing commission into a crown corporation.

Indeed, the basic objective of the bill is to make this administrative but substantial change by taking the Canadian tourism commission as it currently exists and turning it into a crown corporation with all the changes that this involves.

Let me read the very short summary in which the objects of the Canadian tourism commission are defined:

This enactment establishes a Crown corporation to be known as the Canadian Tourism Commission. The Commission's objects are to a ) sustain a vibrant and profitable Canadian tourism industry; b ) market Canada as a desirable tourist destination; c ) support a cooperative relationship between the private sector and the governments of Canada, the provinces and the territories with respect to Canadian tourism; and d ) provide information about Canadian tourism to the private sector and to the governments of Canada, the provinces and the territories.

Later on in my speech I will get back to the last two objectives and to some issues regarding tourism and the roles of other players, including provincial governments.

In Quebec there is major activity by the Quebec government in market niches that could be different from those chosen by the Canadian tourism commission.

We should not forget that the Canadian tourism commission as we know it is relatively recent. It is a bit surprising that, in such a short time span, it should become a crown corporation. I have a hard time believing that this two step process was not planned from the outset. The first step was to give the commission its existing administrative structure, and the second one is to say that the obvious choice is to turn it into a crown corporation.

Right now, the commission's funding comes from the federal government, but also from various players in the tourist industry under special partnerships or in specific niches. We have no intention of condemning the work being done by the Canadian tourism commission. Our opposition to this bill stems from the fact that the federal government could very well use the commission, as it has other departments, to invade the tourism jurisdiction.

The commission now reports to the Minister of Industry, but its new status as a crown corporation will not stop the department from having programs and taking action in the tourist industry.

I am thinking of the Economic Development Agency, which is accountable to the Minister of Industry, in the final analysis. Particularly as it applies to us in Quebec, the Canada Economic Development Agency for the Regions in Quebec, formerly known as Federal Office of Regional Development for Quebec, has become involved in the past—and still is—in certain niches, to support tourism.

Nobody is against helping tourism, on the contrary. There is a lot of money to be made in tourism, which is very useful for economic development. We all want more visitors to come to Canada, as opposed to Canadians going to other countries. We want to reduce the tourism deficit in certain parts of the country. We all want to improve that.

Let us recall the plans and objectives the government set not that long ago, on February 27, 1996. We have to put things back in their context. At that time, we were at the beginning of the session following the referendum, which took place in October 1995.

In the throne speech, the government addressed the issue of tourism. I will read a few quotes from the throne speech describing the federal government's position concerning its approach to tourism development.

The speech included the following:

The Government is prepared to withdraw from its functions in such areas as labour market training, forestry, mining, and recreation, that are more appropriately the responsibility of others, including provincial governments, local authorities or the private sector.

In the following paragraph, we read:

The federal government will propose to the provinces a much strengthened process to work in partnership, focussing on such priorities as food inspection, environmental management, social housing, tourism and freshwater fish habitat.

I will not talk about the failures in areas mentioned in that paragraph, other than tourism. I am thinking of social housing, in particular. No later than last weekend, we saw many people demonstrating in front of the building where the Liberal Party was holding its convention to protest against the attitude and the role of the federal government in social housing.

Let us go back to tourism. The same government that said that it wanted to give the provinces the greater role they wanted did not do much to reach that goal. Instead, it became less and less of a partner.

By creating a crown corporation which, we expect, will receive more and more money and will be supported by other departments like the one I mentioned, Canada Economic Development, especially as Quebec is concerned, the federal government is clearly showing that it wants to decide for itself how it will be involved in tourism.

This brings to mind another motion adopted by parliament. The Prime Minister alluded to it today. It was supposed to be a major motion to recognize the distinct character of Quebec.

It is strange to see how little of this motion is reflected in the bills we pass, or even in the interpretation of existing legislation.

To me, it is obvious that Quebec, with its distinct culture and particular characteristics, is in the best position to sell its tourism product. The cultural niche is a very interesting aspect to develop in order to promote Quebec throughout the world and to attract tourists.

As members know, several regions organize numerous festivals and events that are the signs of great dynamism. With all great international events that occur throughout the summer, Montreal is in a very good position. I know that my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, will be speaking later. These events occur in his own neighbourhood; he will mention them.

All summer long, Montreal is alive with a wide range of activities that attract many tourists from all over the world. The Quebec City summer festival is also growing in scale. The tourism season is growing longer. The occupancy rate in the hotels is constantly increasing.

So, things are going pretty well. However, I think that Quebec is in the best position to do its own marketing, to sell what it has to offer and to let its organisers enhance the great talents that we have everywhere in our province to promote these events, instead of relying more and more on a Canadian tourism commission that will play an increasingly significant role and that will decide which are the best products to promote, from a Canadian perspective or under a Canadian strategy to sell tourism.

Obviously, partnerships will have to be developed. There are many partnerships that can be struck in the tourism field between Quebec and Canada, Quebec and some of the other provinces. It would, in my opinion, be wiser to let them define their strategies and forge their own partnerships for joint campaigns aimed at other countries, instead of having to fall in line with an orientation in which the federal government will, as always, be seeking to enhance its role and, ultimately, to gain a higher profile.

I have enormous concerns about what the federal government might be tempted to do in future, even if this is a crown corporation. It might say “Well yes, it is, but it has considerable independence”. It must be kept in mind, however, just how its membership will be made up, the control the minister will continue to have, if only through the appointments he will be able to make.

The government does have a considerable amount of control. Looking at existing crown corporations, and I am thinking of Canada Post among others, and at the person it has at its head, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs here, Mr. Ouellet, how could one not conclude that there is considerable collusion with government in certain directions Canada Post has taken, although taken in an independent manner. When the friends of the regime are put into such positions, there are reasons, rewards are due and in certain cases political patronage. As well, in certain cases, there is the desire to retain a degree of control, and certain affinities, so the position goes to a member of the “old boys' network”.

This allows de facto control to be retained while hiding behind the theoretical independence of these corporations, so as not have to answer to us here. They do, of course, have to report to parliament. Their officers will appear before the committee, but this is a relatively simple exercise compared to a minister being accountable to the House on a daily basis.

There is still a link, but I can already predict that, if any problem occurs, in response to questions, the Minister of Industry will say that the commission is operating at arm's length, that it is a crown corporation and that the government cannot get involved. But in real life, when it suits its purpose, the government can get involved through indirect channels. In this case, it will have every reason to say “Listen, we cannot do that because of the commission's arm's length relationship with the government”.

The Minister of Industry tends to take this position with respect to CRTC rulings, a commission that makes fundamental decisions regarding the future of several key sectors, such as culture and telecommunications. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Industry can hide behind the independence of such organizations.

As for the commission per se, things are going relatively well right now, but I am very concerned about the future. It is difficult to trust the government, because it has been so obsessed with visibility in taking any action.

I am convinced that no department makes a decision now without worrying about the federal government's visibility. It is very clear that the Canadian Tourism Commission will meet the same fate, with this sort of additional autonomy they will get along with additional funding eventually, as is currently the case to some extent anyway.

The bill also provides that the location of the head office may be designated by cabinet through an order in council. The commission will remain in the same premises, but since the bill allows cabinet to choose the place, to group them where it will, it is a safe bet that the day is not far off when the government will say they have to be brought together in a single building, separate from the department, because it is not healthy for a Crown corporation to be located in premises belonging to the Department of Industry.

The day is not far off when, as the government did patiently in creating the commission and in making it a Crown corporation, the next step will be to give it its own facilities and to reward a riding or a specific region by sending this group of people there.

There is nothing explicit in this sense, but mark my words. I am convinced that one day there will be people wanting to take this Crown corporation and arrange it in some other way or take it some other place.

I come back to certain descriptions of the bill's contents. I am thinking, among other things, of the powers of the commission. The Canadian Tourism Commission is to be established as a corporation with all the accompanying rights, powers and privileges. It could therefore acquire property, such as facilities for its head office. However, the bill prevents the Canadian Tourism Commission from financing or owning real property or facilities related to tourism.

I would like to make an aside here. The mandate of the commission is to promote tourism products. It is not its role to finance infrastructure or to own it. But the government is making other interventions to this end rather than collect fewer taxes and leave the provinces that have to manage that a little more tax room.

In most cases, there are tourism offices in the regions. There are various players in the tourism sector. Regional development boards can have a back-up role and provide funding support, but government players can co-ordinate their efforts and support a whole industry.

Nothing prevents the commission from broadening its mandate, if it were tempted to do so in the future, but for the time being it is not doing so. Rather, it leaves it to other branches of the federal government, such as economic development agencies.

With regard to authority, it is obvious that, if the government is providing for the ability to set up facilities elsewhere, the day is not far off when it will happen.

With regard to the board of directors, it is supposed to have increased decision making powers over administrative matters on top of matters relating to activities and programs. The board will have greater autonomy than it currently does.

With regard to agreements, the Canadian Tourism Commission will have to authority to enter into agreements with one or several provincial or territorial governments to carry out its objects. With the approval of the governor in council, the corporation may, either by itself or jointly with any person or the government of a province or a territory, acquire shares in or assets of a corporation.

With regard to human resources management, it will be responsible for negotiating its employees working conditions.

So far, there does not seem to be any problem with unionized employees who are going to join the crown corporation. It seems to have been well negotiated; when the bill comes to the committee, we will have the opportunity to look into the matter closely to make sure the transition will go smoothly as far as working conditions are concerned.

With regard to reporting, it is said that the president of the Canadian Tourism Commission will present to the board of directors an annual business plan, an annual report, and performance reports whenever necessary. The annual activity plan of the Canadian tourism commission will be approved by the minister and Treasury Board. Each year, the board of directors will report on the results obtained to the minister, who will table them in the House. The chairperson will no longer report on administrative issues and other matters to the deputy minister”.

Therefore, a lot of reports and other documents will be submitted to the minister. But as I said earlier, chances are that the minister will choose not to be so accountable to parliament and hide behind the fact that we are dealing with a crown corporation.

In theory, however, the minister is still responsible, and I hope he or someone from his department will confirm it in committee. I hope he will reassert his role and his responsibilities towards the Canadian tourism commission, because if there are problems, he will be held accountable. But I do have a lot of concerns about this.

A number of things are also mentioned in the mandate. When this bill goes to committee, I do hope that the Minister of Industry will be among the witnesses heard and that the development agencies will get the chance to explain their vision of what they do for tourism and how it is in line with the strategies mentioned in the 1996 throne speech. That speech was supposed to highlight the main strategies of the government and deal, among other things, with tourism. That happened after the referendum, when the federal government wanted to show that it could be a little more flexible.

However, they were quick to change their tune, especially last week, when they showed how inflexible they are and unwilling to accommodate Quebec within their system. They prefer to threaten to change the rules and define the conditions if Quebec wants to leave. They will set the rules, they say. They are getting tougher than ever.

They no longer talk about accommodating our needs. Even if the minister is saying that he is reaching out to the Premier of Quebec and he is willing to co-operate and talk, in reality, all the speeches and motions on the distinct society do not contain anything substantial, and what they do contain are not necessarily the most basic things.

In the tourism sector, it would not be complicated to leave the money to the Quebec government and tell it to increase its support for tourism or to improve its tourism infrastructure since it has a distinct culture, even though the Prime Minister himself does not recognize that fact. He said before that there was no distinct culture in Quebec, but there are people around him who must realize there is one. We should sell our cultural products, sell what we are and what we do.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be part of the spirit in which the commission was established and in which it will be refocused. For these reasons, we cannot support this bill. However, we will raise questions and give the government one more chance. We will try to convince it to change its mind when we study this bill at the committee stage and then at the report stage.

We want to know if the government will be able to accommodate us and recognize the role of the Quebec government, among others, in the promotion of the tourism industry, particularly from a cultural point of view. We do not want empty promises, we do not want idle talk about discussing and co-operating, and so on; we want to see how the government will formally recognize this role.

I will conclude by stressing the great concern we have because, with all the money the federal government now has at its disposal, it is very likely that, once again, it will totally ignore the jurisdictions and priorities of the Quebec government and set its own policies.

Canadian Tourism Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Rahim Jaffer Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I wish to ask the Bloc member if those involved in trade and tourism in Quebec agree with the orientation of this bill, more specifically if they support the creation of a crown corporation.

Canadian Tourism Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, to be perfectly frank, we will have the opportunity in committee to hear the opinions of different groups, including the boards of trade.

There are two approaches now in Quebec. Some people say “They will create the structure, and we will try to get our share of the spinoffs from its mandate”.

But some others are clearly worried that the federal government, with the huge surpluses it now has, will launch all kinds of initiatives, and invest a lot of money to improve a myriad of programs.

Business people in particular, and I do not mean boards of trade as such, but numerous business people—during the weekend I attended a gala hosted by a board of trade in my riding—told me “We are worried that the federal government, with the huge surpluses it has announced, over $90 billion in the years ahead, will decide to spend this money right, left and centre in the form of all sorts of initiatives, which is what the Liberals were so good at doing in the past rather than helping us lower taxes. We will form partnerships ourselves, improve our own ability to step in, and we will have more money to develop our own projects, rather than let the government decide which project it will support”.

Clearly, there is a very strong feeling in Quebec's business community, and elsewhere, that what the federal government should be doing right now is giving far greater attention to lowering taxes, which are out of all proportion to the role and responsibilities it assumes on a daily basis.

Many members of the business community would like to see it stop throwing money around. They are also worried that a crown corporation will want to spend a lot of money and that the government will give it more and more funding, even if it is capable of generating outside revenue. So, there are two schools of thought.

As for the official positions of the boards of trade, we will have an opportunity to ask them during committee study. But it is clear that people are worried, but also cautious, because these associations also include representatives of the tourism industry, and they are going to want to allow their members to go after as much funding as possible, once the programs are in place.

But they would like more leeway to establish their own priorities, instead of it always being the government that decides what is and is not good for the development of the tourist and other industries.

Canadian Tourism Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my friend from Témiscamingue and must say that I support much of what he said. I also acknowledge that some of the concerns he raised were legitimate ones, particularly from his perspective.

Let us look forward with some vision in the next few years to a commission where the federal government would take its responsibility for introducing Canada to the world. I think we all agree that as a country we have an attractive tourism potential that is almost unique in the world. We are a country with pristine landscapes from coast to coast that are vast, open territories, to say nothing about a variety of enhanced cultural benefits to the landscapes.

Would my friend from Témiscamingue say that there is a place for the federal government to play a role in setting aside some large perspectives in terms of attracting people to come to Canada for a variety of purposes based primarily on tourism, that within that context provincial governments would take up the challenge to promote their provincial benefits to the tourism sector, and that within the provinces, the regions and the various boards of trade, chambers of commerce or tourism development companies would take it upon themselves to promote their own sub-regions in terms of tourist potential?

This would entail the Canadian government going out on a large, national campaign, leaving it up to the provinces and territories to do provincial and territorial campaigns and leaving it up to a whole set of sub-regions to promote the benefits of their particular areas. It would be the best parts of different levels of governments working together. Of course all of this would include the private sector in terms of the facilities for tourism they would be providing.

Canadian Tourism Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I understand my colleague's question. It is clear that it would be good if partnerships were established, either between provinces or between various organizations and governments to promote tourism and say “Look at all we have in Canada. There are different elements, different things”.

It would be good for certain people to market their products jointly under this banner. This is very true and I can also understand that some Canadians will say “We want to market our tourist attractions jointly”.

That could create some problems though. For example, if Quebec were to decide for one reason or another to focus on one particular form of tourism, cultural activities, summer festivals, etc. Montreal and its international character, we would of course want to promote those aspects.

But if suddenly the Canadian tourism commission were to decide that it is another product from Quebec it would like to promote, we would then have two different orientations, two priorities. When we want to sell or to market a particular product, we cannot have two priorities. It is very difficult for the industry to send a joint message on its priority.

The Canadian tourism commission could have priorities that differ from the ones established by other organisations like Tourisme Québec, which reports to the Quebec government. That could create tension.

I would prefer it if the various organizations and the provinces had a bigger budget and decided together which particular projects they will pursue and how they will promote their industry.

One must be realistic. When people come to see different things, whether in Quebec or Canada, they come to see some specific area. It is rare that anyone would visit a whole country. And in this case, it is two countries in one.

The west is known for the Rockies and skiing. British Columbia is a beautiful region. Quebec City is one of the most beautiful cities in Quebec, even in North America. Montreal is a very vibrant city where several cultures rub shoulders. Montreal is a city with a French atmosphere, even if we would like it to be more pronounced. There are many things to see in the various regions of Quebec.

In my region, Abitibi—Témiscamingue, there is so much to see. We like people to come to see our various attractions, our wide open spaces, our well organized events. These include the trucking rodeo, the international regattas. We also offer interesting cultural events and adventure tourism.

I would prefer to see our regional organizations with a bit more power, to see the Government of Quebec with a bit more, and then we will look at what we can do together, rather than the other way around always, saying “since we want to sell other countries on Canada, we will define it up at this level. Then later we will see what the lower levels can do to get some of it back”. I prefer initiatives to come from the bottom up, via natural and obvious groupings. That is the base from which we will market our tourist attractions.

I agree that there is a lot that exists. We can still do more than in the past to sell all the sights and activities available to tourists in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, and to improve the financial share we have of tourism, one that is not always to our advantage.

One thing has always been seen as a hindrance to tourism: our winters. Many people like to go south in the winter. There is a lot that can be done to sell the idea of winter tourism. A number of things must be developed further, in this regard. As well, investment must be made in the related infrastructures. We are still relatively new to this on the regional level.

Thinking of my own region, the oldest cities are barely 100 years old. Clearly there is still much to be done to develop more structured infrastructures to welcome tourists, to give more prominence to all the potential tourist attractions we have. This is not just true in summer; there is much to do in winter as well.

I do not in any way share the vision of my colleague. I understand his concerns, his desire to see a Canadian label on things. What I would like to see is for the Quebec label to be in the international eye, for people to be told that we exist, that Quebec exists. I want to see our own Quebec label, our own emblem, on Quebec tourism products.

Canadian Tourism Commission ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-5, the Canadian tourism commission act, but I would be telling an untruth if I did.

Given the grand scheme of the problems in the nation today such as child poverty which my colleagues from the NDP have been mentioning, homelessness that has come to the forefront today, high tax rates, the problems of our businesses, the fact that families are trying to make ends meet but cannot, and the collapse of our health care system, what is the government dealing with? What is on the agenda? It is an act to deal with the Canadian tourism commission.

What else was on the agenda today? It was an act dealing with the Canadian institutes for health research, an important issue in the aspect of medicine, but it pales in comparison when we consider how we could try to improve our health care system so that people can obtain the health care they need. Rather than dealing with the substantive problems in our nation today we are dealing wuth fluff.

Before I get to the substance of Bill C-5, I want to put into perspective what we should be dealing with rather than what we are dealing with today. I want to read a small vignette which I got from a colleague of mine, an emergency room physician, very recently. It shows what the House should be dealing with and what the government should be dealing with rather than what we are dealing with today.

He went to work yesterday at 7 o'clock in the morning to find the overnight guy looking shattered. He had been on his own from 5 o'clock until seven o'clock in the morning, and 21 admitted patients were in the department. There were no beds in the city.

The emergency medical services were on divert to other equally overcrowded emergency rooms. The very good and kind charge nurse, who desperately tried to keep her head above water and not let anybody die in the waiting room because there was no bed in the department, expressed her disgust at production line medicine. She said there was little time for compassion. The trauma room was full. The cardiac area was full. My friend was worrying about the complaint letter that was sure to follow.

He remembered a good friend in a rare moment of insight saying that we should never let the system take the compassion out of us. The sick deserve better. That is exactly what is happening today. We should do something before it becomes irreversible like is already happening to many of his colleagues who are retired, burnt out, angry and frustrated.

Australia wanted him. It made that clear and did everything it could to get him. He said that it was nice to be wanted, even if meant leaving his home. At least it meant that he would spend more time with his wife and family whom he loves dearly. They also deserve better.

That is a poignant, heart wrenching letter from an emergency room colleague of mine who is leaving for Australia because he cannot provide the care that Canadians deserve in the health care system.

Rather than dealing with the important issue that Canadians are suffering, we are dealing with Bill C-5, an act to establish the Canadian tourism commission. I would only hope that one day the government would wake up and decide to deal with something substantive, something life threatening, so that people like this gentleman and his wife, who is also a doctor, do not have to leave to go to a far away land because they cannot provide the care for patients that Canadians well deserve.

Our observations indicate that Bill C-5 moves in the right direction. It moves toward having a more private involvement in the way in which tourism is sold and, as my colleague from the NDP mentioned very eloquently, how we can sell Canada abroad.

We will oppose the bill because it will make the commission a crown corporation. We do not believe that crown corporations can do a good job. We believe that the facility selling Canada should be a private arm's length organization which can do a better job and be more nimble, rather than have the long arm of the government meddling in the affairs of the commission.

The particular commission will have a 26 member decision making board, predominantly comprised of private sector companies that direct an interest in establishing Canada as a preferred tourism destination. Essentially it is paid for half by public and half by private funds. We think that is moving in the right direction but it is not going far enough.

That is why we will oppose it. We can only hope that the government sees the wisdom in what the Reform Party is saying and that we move toward privatizing this institution.

If we want to really sell Canada let us look at some ways in which we could do that. Let us look at using our embassies as a tool for selling Canada much more than what they do today. There is a great capacity in our embassies all over the world. We could use the fine people who work there as great ambassadors in terms of selling Canada as a tourist destination.

We could also be more aggressive in how we develop private partnerships such as with Canadian Airlines or Air Canada so they too could be our representatives abroad in selling Canada. More people would be able to choose Canada as a destination in which to spend their foreign dollars.

The chamber of commerce could also be used. It has spoken eloquently on how we can improve our economy. It is an effective body with great ideas. It can be a tremendous help to various organizations around the country. It could tie them together to be an aggressive, proactive force for tourism within Canada.

Those are things the government could do rather than tinkering around the edges. It is taking little baby steps in moving the commission to a crown corporation.

The government has not been very friendly to tourism. There are things it should be doing but which it is not doing. In my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, the government's actions last year were devastating. For a purely political decision that ultimately would have saved some fish, the government made decisions on banning sports fishing that cost $20 million and up to 200 jobs in my area. The ban was not done in the interests of saving the fish. It was done on purely political grounds. It had devastating effects in my riding and in all of south Vancouver Island.

If the minister were truly interested in building a strong sports fishing industry and a strong commercial fishing industry, then the government would have taken a multifactorial approach in dealing with overfishing and habitat control and renewal. It would have determined ways in which we could have a sustainable fishery by dividing up the pie responsibly and determining how large the pie should be, rather than being very narrow minded and taking a short term solution that eventually cost sports fishing people in my area a lot of money and jobs. People are falling so far behind the eight ball that they are not sure they will get back on their feet in the future.

This has had a devastating effect on tourism in south Vancouver Island. If the government were truly interested in doing the right thing, it would look at how those decisions affect people in the tourism industry. It would reverse them where they are compatible with having a sustainable fishery that is congruent with a strong environmental concern, as in this case.

The government could also do some constructive things to build our economy. The reason people come to this country for tourism is largely because of our low dollar. That is nothing to be proud of. The low dollar is a double-edged sword. People come to Canada to spend their money because our dollar is low. On the other hand the low dollar has a devastating effect on our exporters and companies that rely on importing goods from abroad and which have to pay in a foreign currency. Furthermore it affects Canadians when they buy products that are from abroad.

There are various things the government can and should do in order to strengthen our economy. We have a strong tourism potential but we must also ensure that we have high paying jobs that are sustainable in the future.

Many ideas come from the Business Council on National Issues. It has put forward some very constructive ideas on how to improve our economy.

One deals with the level of public debt. The federal debt is about $570 billion. When that is combined with the provincial debt and other debts of crown corporations such as would be created with Bill C-5, the debt level approaches $1 trillion which every man, woman and child in the country has to pay back.

We are also losing a lot of skilled workers. This is not a figment of our imagination as the Prime Minister alluded to in one of his speeches. We only need to look at some of our educational institutions. The University of Waterloo is the backbone of our high tech industry with engineering, mathematics and computer science graduates. Almost 100% of the people graduating from co-op programs at Waterloo left the country. This is the backbone of our country's future ability to be internationally competitive. We are losing our best and brightest people as a direct result of the poor economic performance and poor tax structure in this country.

For years Reform has been articulating strong, constructive solutions to deal with the tax situation. Our finance critic and other of my colleagues have put forth constructive solutions. We have given the government a step by step plan on how to reduce taxes pragmatically and effectively. It would strengthen our social programs rather than compromise them. It would not compromise the poor. It would create jobs, not remove them. It would be a net benefit to Canadians.

We have given the government that plan yet a lot of games are being played. There has been a lot of obfuscation and inaction. That is not what Canadians want. Canadians want action now. We need only ask any of the small business people who are trying to make ends meet, and those who are making ends meet are just making it.

There are some solutions in order to decrease taxes. We could increase the basic spousal allowance amount. Reform has put this forward many times. By increasing it, we would get the poorest of the poor completely off the list. Reform's tax solutions would take 200,000 of the poorest of the poor off the tax lists.

That would dramatically improve the situation for the homeless and the poor. It would give them money to improve their standard of living. It would also increase the money in the public coffers. We know that by reducing taxes somewhat people will spend more money and more money will go into the public coffers. There would be more investment in Canada from abroad. That would stimulate the economy. The more money that goes into the public coffers, the more money there will be for the homeless, health care and to strengthen our social programs.

High taxes are the enemy of the poor. High taxes are the enemy of our social programs. To be fiscally irresponsible is also to be socially irresponsible. Overspending kills jobs and social programs and hurts the poor.

We could complete the elimination of the 3% general surtax that began in the 1988 budget. That would stimulate companies particularly those in the tourism industry. It would enable them to be more effective sellers of Canada and Canadian goods.

We could decrease the EI premiums. Again, Reform spoke at length about decreasing the EI premiums. It is a tax. It is a tax on business and a tax on the people. It prevents businesses from being competitive and it takes away their ability to provide jobs.

We also dealt with decreasing the tax bracket. Increasing the 26% tax bracket threshold by $2,000 would eliminate or prevent bracket creep at the lowest level. We could increase the 29% tax bracket threshold by $4,000 which would reverse the bracket creep. We could further reduce the rate from 26% to 21%.

A lot could be done to decrease the taxes. By decreasing taxes our companies would be competitive nationally and internationally.

As I mentioned before, it would reverse that trend of people who are leaving. My colleague is leaving Canada because he cannot provide the medical and health care for his patients because the resources are not there. Nurses are following suit. It is very interesting to note that in the next 11 years we will have a deficit of 112,000 nurses.

Who is going to take care of us when we get old? Who will treat us in the hospitals? There will not be enough people. If we think it is bad now, wait until the future. Our population will be older. Baby boomers will be retiring. Technology will be more expensive. There will be fewer workers and less money in the public purse. That money is essential in order to deal with the challenges ahead in our health care system.

We also have to deal with global and domestic risks. The issues of Quebec separatism and treaty rights negotiations are causing incredible uncertainty within our country. The Prime Minister has opened a Pandora's box on separation. If the Prime Minister truly wants to deal with the issue of secession, he needs to afford all Canadians, including the people of Quebec, a plan on federalism.

We need to get the resources to the people more effectively and ensure that the provinces do what the provinces do best and that the feds do what the feds do best. He needs to delineate the responsibilities of both more clearly in order to reduce the overlap and make sure there is a more efficient and wise use of our dollars. It is not enough to merely throw money at a problem. There has to be accountability and an effective plan of action. One has to check up to make sure the plan is effective.

There is the issue of treaty negotiations in my province. The government and the House are dealing with the issue of the Nisga'a treaty. The Nisga'a treaty is the template for 50 other treaties which will be looked at in B.C. and in combination with the Delgamuukw decision will ensure that treaties signed in other parts of the country east of the Rockies are opened up. That is going to cause tremendous uncertainty. It is going to cost Canadians money and jobs. It is going to cost dollars. It is going to reduce our tax revenues. It is going to make it less effective for companies to sell our country abroad, to say “Come to Canada. We are a great country”.

We have to manage global risks too. In the last few years there has been great uncertainty in the international financial markets. The WTO is meeting in Seattle. It is hoped some element of certainty will come out of that, an element of fairness and rules for international trade.

We also have to look at international money markets. The rapid transit of large amounts of capital has an incredibly destabilizing effect on international currencies. We saw what it did in southeast Asia. We saw the impact on the Canadian dollar. We saw the impact on international markets. They plunged downward because of the rapid movement of large amounts of capital to various parts of the world. There has to be some method, some rules based system of ensuring that rapid movement cannot destabilize the system we have today.

As I said before, there is a need for the reduction of the debt. The reduction of the debt remains a top priority for us. Every $10 billion reduction in debt will reduce by $700 million the amount of Canadians' money the government spends on interest rates alone. That roughly $37 billion spent every single year by the government using the taxpayers' money, money people work for, is sent to the people who lent Canada the $570 billion that the feds owe. We need to deal with that.

In closing, Bill C-5 in the grand scheme of things should be low in the priorities of what the government is dealing with. The government should be dealing with homelessness. It should be dealing with taxes. It should be dealing with social program renewal. It should be dealing with saving our health care system. It should be dealing with the issues that are germane and important to the lives of Canadians.

We in the Reform Party are going to continue to push the government to deal with those important issues that can save Canadian lives. If we cannot deal with that in the House, the nation's prime legislating body, then where can we deal with it? Our party will continue to put forward constructive solutions.

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5:45 p.m.


Lee Morrison Reform Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a question and comment for my colleague. The comment concerns a remark he made about the views of the hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys with respect to selling Canada. I heard that member this morning make an almost hysterical speech with regard to what he views as the undesirability of selling Canada. I would love to correct that point.

I wonder if my colleague has given any consideration to the problems for tourism that are being created in this country through the collapse of our infrastructure, particularly our highway system which is an absolute national disgrace.

We have what is called a national highway system that is more like the national goat path. People who want to drive from Etobicoke to Banff jump in the car, hook the trailer on and away they go. But where do they go? They certainly do not follow the Trans-Canada highway. They go down through Michigan, cross through the northern tier prairie states and then swing back up as close to Banff as they can get without actually touching Canadian soil. This is costing us millions of dollars in taxes. It is not just tourists who are doing this. Even the commercial truckers are doing it. They are abandoning Canada because the roads are so bad. I wonder if the member would like to comment on that problem.

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5:45 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has spent a great deal of time as the former transport critic articulating solutions to deal with the important issue of improving our infrastructure. He was absolutely correct in articulating the problems that we have in our infrastructure.

What exactly is that? It is a sign of the ultimate decrepitness and decay taking place amongst things that the government ought to be interested in. The government ought to be interested in working with the provinces to ensure that we have a strong, safe highway system. The government should also be interested in having a competent railway system. It should also be interested in ensuring that we have competent social programs. All of these are things that the government should be interested in and should be determining ways in which it can most effectively spend the money available today.

My colleague mentioned that our highway system is falling apart. It is falling apart because the government is unwise with where it spends taxpayers' money. This is the central problem. The government tends to go on about spending money. It thinks the solution to a problem is defined by the amount of money it puts toward a problem and the more zeros behind that one, the more effective it must be in solving the problem. Wrong. That is not what it is.

We need a plan and we need to determine how to spend the money and how to spend it wisely. We must use existing experiences and the best ideas we have to build the best plan possible. If we do that we will have effective infrastructure. And some day my colleague, I hope, will be the Minister of Transport and he can enact his solutions.

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5:45 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my friend from Esquimalt make his presentation. The Gods will strike me down, but I actually agreed with a good part of it. There were some parts I did not agree with but I do agree with his sentiment.

My hon. friend for Cypress Hills—Grasslands makes the case for the need for highway infrastructure. Anybody with a brain would acknowledge that we are the second largest country geographically in the world. The cost of transportation is factored into everything we purchase. Having a national highway grid system ought to be a national priority. The federal government ought to take some pride in building, establishing and maintaining a major national grid system.

The reality is that although the federal government collects volumes of money from gasoline and other fuel taxes, it puts virtually no money into the highway system. The minister of highways is not a stupid person. The government is not made up of stupid people. It is made up of people with intelligence, many with university degrees and sometimes many degrees.

Could my hon. friend explain to me why it is that intelligent thoughtful people make such an obvious mistake?

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5:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from the NDP, the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, for his very eloquent and pointed question. The real answer is to get opposition members into government. We could then solve these problems.

He is quite right. The problem is that the government right now is in a state of inaction. All it feels it really needs to do is keep the opposition fractured. What a sorry state of affairs we are in. What a sad reflection on the House when all the government has to do is behave like it is made of Teflon and try to keep the opposition fractured. This actually keeps our country far below what it can be. We should be doing much more and Canadians deserve much more.

The member brings up a couple of very interesting points. I know he has been working very hard for the people in his riding and is very interested in infrastructure. I have a couple of points to make on the issue of rail travel.

We should be doing more to encourage rail travel, which would take the pressure off the roads and lessen the damaging effects to the highways. We should also discuss the issue of subsidies to VIA Rail. VIA Rail is a mess and needs to be cleaned from the top down. It is a bureaucratic morass and needs desperately to be restructured to make it more effective.

On the issue of gas and taxes, essentially the gas prices that we see today are in large part a tax grab. The majority of the money we pay at the pump is actually taxes that go to the provinces and the feds. The feds are taking the bulk of that money, putting it into their pocket and spending it on issues that have nothing to do with the highways. Quite frankly, one wonders where that money goes.

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5:50 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have one very quick question for the member.

We know that 14 cents is taken out of the gasoline price for the provinces and about 14 cents for the federal government. That is 28 cents. The price of gas is about 60 cents. How is that the majority? How does the member do his addition to get that into a majority of the gasoline price being tax?

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5:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thought the hon. member and I would disagree with our figures and with the absolute numbers that exist. The member should actually look at the taxes his government is taking away. The bulk of the money that we spend at the pump is a tax grab by the government and we do not know where that money goes. That is what the public should be complaining about.

We also have the issues of collusion and monopoly that exist between gas companies. There is no way that the price at every gas pump in the entire city should go up simultaneously, within minutes of each other, if there was no collusion.

What the Minister of Finance should be doing with his colleagues is immediately putting forth an effective task force—and I underline the word “effective” because most are not—to determine the collusion that is going on today and enact legislation as soon as possible. Members from all sides would like to support legislation that prevents the collusion that is occurring today so that the people at the pump are not paying the price and gas companies will have a level playing field where there will be fair competition.

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5:50 p.m.


Rahim Jaffer Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, my question is directed specifically to the area of jurisdiction. Maybe my hon. colleague has a particular comment to make on whether the province should be playing a larger role specifically in the area of tourism. Obviously there needs to be a combined effort. Our colleagues from the Bloc mentioned earlier this idea of having a stronger role for the provinces.

Where does my hon. colleague feel that debate should go in trying to strengthen tourism as well at the provincial level? What jurisdiction should that play?

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5:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know my hon. colleague has spent a great deal of time in interprovincial relations and has worked very hard on this issue for a long time.

The member speaks of greater co-operation between the provinces and the feds. What we have not seen enough of, in my personal view, on a wide variety of issues including tourism, is more co-operation.

The feds have an enormous leadership opportunity to bring together their provincial counterparts to a round table and say “Let us us work together. Let us find the best solutions, looking at the international experience, to making Canada the number one tourist destination in the world and to more effectively sell Canada internationally”. By working co-operatively, rather than in isolation, Canada and Canadians will receive greater justice on the international stage.

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5:55 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this bill, and I want to comment on the remarks made by the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Last Friday, the member said that the bill establishing the Canadian Tourism Commission was some kind of government plot to enhance federalism. The member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques said that the bill had nothing to do with tourism but everything to do with promoting federalism. It may be.

I am only a backbencher and I do not know if the government has an non-avowed goal. On this matter, however, I think he might be right, but he may be wrong too, for there are more forests, more lakes and more pristine locations in the beautiful province of Quebec than in Ontario. In fact, I think that Canada as a whole is the most tolerant country in the world, and another non-avowed goal of this bill is to promote the Canadian spirit around the world, not only to collect money from the tourism industry but also to selling the Canadian spirit all around the world.

In the summertime there are always many tourists on Parliament Hill, taking pictures and making videos. They come from Japan, France, Spain, and all over the world. I believe they visit Canada to see not only to see the scenic beauty of the countryside, but also a country that has achieved, in all its regions, the greatest spirit of tolerant in the world.

I say this is what being Canadian is all about, and it goes for people in British Columbia as well as for those in Ontario and Quebec. I will give an example. This afternoon, during question period, the Prime Minister answered questions from the Bloc.

He said that Canada was unique as a country because its Constitution contains no provision prohibiting separation. He mentioned that the Constitution of the United States makes it absolutely impossible to break up the country and that the same is true of France. Under the French Constitution, that the country cannot be tampered with, but here in Canada it possible to have a debate in the House of Commons on sovereignty, separatism, nationalism—

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6 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to know what bill the member is speaking to. I think he is making a speech on the Constitution, but that is not the point of the exercise at the moment. With respect to the rule of relevancy, he has been giving us a speech for seven minutes now on the Constitution.

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6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sure the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington, who has a lot of experience, would like to debate the bill before the House. Perhaps his speech was fairly long on another point, but he will come back to the bill before us, I am sure.

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6 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

I am speaking about a very important point.

I would like to say that many people around the world want to visit Canada to see this country, which is an example of extraordinary tolerance. Take the situation here in the House of Commons, where there are sovereignists, good Canadians in my view, separatists, also good Canadians in my view, and supporters of independence, good Canadians as well, because here in this country we can debate the most delicate of political topics.

This sets an example for everyone, and I think that the Canadian Tourism Commission is a good one, because, in my opinion, Canada has a duty to promote a spirit of tolerance around the world. I think that many people in the world want to visit Canada to see not only the countryside, but also this parliament.

During the last referendum campaign, I saw the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition debate the separation of Quebec. I think this was a very important episode in our history. It was also a good example of the spirit of tolerance of our country. The debate that took place in this House reflected the true Canadian spirit of tolerance.

It is important to have a federal tourism commission, not just to promote Canada's beauty around the world, but also its spirit.

It is true that there is Tourisme Québec and also a tourist office in Ontario. But it is not the same when the idea is to promote the best country in the world.

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6:05 p.m.

An hon. member

It is propaganda.

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6:05 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

That is not true. The member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques says it is propaganda. To tell the world that our country is the best one is not propaganda.

What is going on in Quebec, the debate in this House on nationalism and sovereignty is a good thing. But I want to explain something to hon. members opposite. The best view of Parliament Hill is from the other side of the Ottawa River. This symbolizes the Canadian reality. I am saying that because of this country's political tolerance the best view of Canada is from Quebec.

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6:05 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, while I have great respect for our colleague, I almost asked the page to take him a cold compress to restore his spirits and bring him around to the matter he should have been addressing, the Canadian tourism commission.

Although the member's outbursts have obviously left him incoherent, they make him no less endearing. I have three questions for him.

When he speaks of Canada and Canadian unity, when he speaks of democracy, does he have in mind the actions of the Prime Minister and his government at the APEC conference, the offhand, repressive and practically fascist manner in which they dealt with students who were within their rights to demonstrate against a dictator who was on Canadian soil?

When he speaks of Canada's tradition of democracy, where does the APEC affair and the Prime Minister's authoritarian attitude fit in?

Second, with respect to Canadian democracy, does he have in mind an incident the likes of which has never been seen in any other industrialized nation, and I am thinking of a head of government, such as the Prime Minister, behaving like a common thug and grabbing the throat of an unemployed worker, who had come to take part in a democratic protest, as we are permitted to do under the charter—

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6:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have considerable difficulty understanding the relation between this question and the hon. member's speech.

Perhaps the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve would ask the member for Wentworth—Burlington a question concerning his speech, or the bill before the House.

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6:05 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the utmost respect for your authority. You allowed the member to talk about these issues, and I would have a hard time understanding partiality on your part since you have always served the House so well.

For 20 minutes, you allowed the member to talk about these issues and I think I should have the right to do the same. You should have risen earlier or not have risen at all during my speech.

The member showed bad faith. He talked about Canada's democratic tradition, without referring to certain essential elements of such democratic tradition.

Yes, Canada has a democratic tradition, but there have been a few blunders. I would have liked the member to recognize that, if he wants to talk about Canada's democratic tradition, he must talk about APEC and about the action taken by the Prime Minister when he himself assaulted a protester here, on Parliament Hill.

I want to remind him that, if he wants to talk about democracy, his government is poised to trample one of the most legitimate rights of the National Assembly, which is to decide when it, as the only real representative of francophones with regard to their right to self-determination, will decide how Quebecers will be consulted.

So I ask the member, where is democracy in the case of APEC, where is democracy in the case of the action taken by the Prime Minister, and will he distance himself from the government when it gets ready to trample one of the National Assembly's most legitimate rights? And, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to be impartial because that is what is expected of the Chair.