House of Commons Hansard #172 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Diane St-Jacques Progressive Conservative Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in the debate on Bill C-309, which calls for equal treatment of persons cohabiting in a relationship similar to a conjugal relationship.

I must congratulate the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve for this bill, the purpose of which is to guarantee homosexual couples in a common-law relationship the same rights as those conferred by federal legislation on heterosexual couples in the same type of relationship.

Before getting into this debate any further, may I point out that I am speaking for myself on this matter today. I am not claiming to be presenting the Progressive Conservative Party's position on this bill.

That said, I would like it to be known that I welcome the debate triggered by this private member's bill, because it provides us with an opportunity to manifest our openness to the changes that have taken place over the past 20 years in Canadian society.

Each of us can say that people's outlook has changed in this same period, to everyone's advantage. I will say right off that I see today's debate from the perspective of equity and human rights, principles I hold particularly dear because they form the very foundation of the society in which I grew up and developed.

In my opinion, the relationship of mutual obligation based on partnership is the most fundamental. We must therefore adapt our laws to the conditions of modern society. The principle of the equality of both parties and the right to the equal distribution of assets, the right to equal benefits and the right to share company and mutual respect have nothing to do with the politics or specific issues of sexual orientation.

On the strength of this principle, allow me to approach the subject before us today with a simple question: On what principle should we deny equality to homosexual couples living together?

After all, they pay income tax and contribute to the Canada Pension Plan like everyone else. I defy anyone to answer this question, because such a position is indefensible. It is a simple matter of equity.

We are living in a country whose highest court, national constitution and charter of rights have affirmed that homosexuals and lesbians are to enjoy equal treatment, respect and dignity. This court also stated that recognition of relations between homosexuals and lesbians is essential to this equality.

Several provinces have already taken steps to recognize the right to a pension, rights and responsibilities in the case of the breakdown of a relationship, and the right to adopt. However, much still remains to be done in the area of immigration and pensions, and in several other federally regulated areas, to end discrimination and inequity.

There is discrimination when the legislator refuses to grant a category of citizens rights that are available to another category of citizens. This is exactly what we are talking about when we refuse, as parliamentarians, to recognize same-sex couples.

I will therefore conclude by reminding members that I abhor all forms of discrimination, whether on grounds of sexual orientation or any other grounds.

I therefore urge my colleagues in the House to help advance people's thinking by rectifying this discrimination towards persons cohabiting in a relationship similar to a conjugal relationship.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve for his courage in continuing to fight for the rights of all Canadians.

I believe in family values. I believe that every member of this House and in fact all Canadians believe in family values. We do not recognize necessarily that family values have to be a euphemism for a discriminatory policy against any member of society. In fact if we actually believe in family values we should be defending and recognizing the importance of the family for all members of society and we should be encouraging all members of society to live in supportive relationships. I believe that is the intention of the hon. member in bringing forward this thought-provoking and important legislation, to encourage all Canadians to live in supportive, long term relationships. Society would benefit from that kind of change.

There are those who would argue that the extension of rights to one group will somehow diminish the rights of another. There is absolutely no historical precedent to that effect. In fact there are historical precedents to the opposite effect, that when we deny the rights to any group within society we threaten and jeopardize the rights of all.

I would suggest that the populism brought forward by the Reform Party is sometimes very dangerous. The civil rights movement in the 1960s in the U.S. would never have moved forward if we were relying on public opinion polls and populism.

Parliament and the Government of Canada should lead. The courts have been fairly consistent in their interpretation of the charter of rights. Governments need to lead. We should not be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Every member of this House should ask themselves the question periodically: Are we merely politicians or are we political leaders? Political leaders need to lead.

I would hope that the government sees fit to debate this issue. It should bring the issue forward and debate it in the House of Commons so that we can have a constructive debate about something that is going to be very important as we enter the 21st century.

I would like to quote in closing the Liberal member for Lac-Saint-Louis who said “rights are rights are rights”.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I must inform the House that, if the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve takes the floor now, he will wind up the debate.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Am I to understand, Mr. Speaker, that I have five minutes?

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Yes.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will therefore share some concluding remarks with my colleagues.

A breath of fresh air has come from this side, which I welcome, as I know this is something that is being discussed within the Progressive Conservative Party. All this seems to be a good sign.

It must be remembered that, in 1990, when the first Egan decision was brought down, invalidating the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Conservative Minister of Justice, Kim Campbell, was the one who decided that the decision would be enforceable across Canada. I am certainly not mentioning this for any partisan purposes, but rather to point out that sensitivity to the promotion of human rights may be found in all political families.

We have become accustomed to being considered the lowest of the low by the Reform Party. I hate to say this, for I know there are some sensitive people on the Reform side. But as far as human rights are concerned, there is definitely much progress to be made.

It is unbelievable that the comparisons that have been made could be made. I come from a respectable family, whom I love. I love children. There is nothing to prevent me from forming a family, but when we refer to sexual orientation, we are referring to the preferred object of desire, which is what makes a person homosexual, or in the terms of the gay militants, that one is attracted to a partner of the same sex.

That has nothing to do with parenting skills. It has nothing to do with what sort of citizen one might be. It is the fundamental reason why we cannot accept discrimination. But we all know that the Reform Party is to this Parliament what silent films were to the movies.

I will close in the hope that we will have a real debate in future because, I repeat, it is the quality of citizen, it is people's commitment that is at stake.

I will give you an example in closing. When I came out as an MP in early 1993, I got a letter from a 16-year-old man, who was himself discovering his homosexuality. I would say that what gave me the greatest pleasure was the knowledge that I could help someone, because this person felt he was not alone, that people in public life are homosexuals and can perform their duties perfectly honourably, as is the case in many other sectors.

Let us hope we have a real debate and that we can put an end to the one remaining form of discrimination. It is very important for me. We still permit discrimination against two major categories of individuals: the poor and the gays. We as parliamentarians cannot accept this situation.

That everyone has not reached the same level, and that people wonder why one man loves another or one woman another, I can understand. We have a duty to educate people. I know that the most militant among us know there is an explanation and that we have to educate the heterosexual community. But, our challenge as legislators is to have these two great communities live together in respect, tolerance and the promotion of the values of equity.

I close by saying that, if tomorrow someone told me I could take a pill to become heterosexual, I would not take it, because I belong to a community that is great, beautiful, generous and committed. I know that in my life, it will always be a beautiful thing.

I seek unanimous consent to make my bill a votable item and to send it to the Standing Committee on Justice.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I regret to inform the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve that yesterday the House passed a motion preventing the chair from receiving any motion for unanimous consent of the House after 6.30 p.m. today. It is now past 6.30 p.m. and I regret to inform the hon. member that I am unable to receive such a request. Perhaps he could move his motion tomorrow.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, do you think that, if I were to seek unanimous consent tomorrow, I might obtain it, but that it is because we are in Private Members' Business that I am unable to obtain it now? I would just like to hear your interpretation in this matter.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

My interpretation is that the motion passed by the House yesterday said very clearly that the Chair shall not receive a request for unanimous consent for any purpose after 6.30 p.m. The request can therefore not be received at this time. If the member wishes to move the same motion tomorrow during routine proceedings, the House will perhaps give its consent at that time. I can do nothing. I hope this is clear for everyone.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

It is very clear.

Equal Treatment For Persons Cohabiting In A Relationship Similar To A Conjugal Relationship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Fine.

The time for the consideration of Private Members' Business has expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.

The House resumed from February 1 consideration of the motion.

FinanceGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to the special order adopted on Monday, February 1, 1999, the House will continue with the consideration of Government Orders.

The hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys will have the floor for a 10 minute speech, followed by the usual questions and comments.

FinanceGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity this evening to say a few words regarding the upcoming budget that we expect on or about February 16.

We all saw in the media in the last few days accounts from some speakers in Davos, Switzerland, where world leaders congregate annually to speculate and comment on the future of the world and the major issues of the day.

I noticed with interest that a number of the speakers referred to the unequal distribution of wealth in the world and the concern they had regarding the gap between the haves and the have nots, the increasing disparities and the pace of disparities occurring not only throughout the world between have countries and have not countries but within nations as well.

In the last few weeks in Canada we have heard a number of people comment on their concern regarding the gap between the rich and the poor. As a matter of fact I even recall the Prime Minister referring to the concerns that he had when evidence was presented to him on this growing gap.

It seems to me that as the finance committee toured the country and listened to Canadians from coast to coast to coast, one of the themes that came through loud and clear was that they wanted a level playing field not only for companies, not only for provinces, but for people so that Canadians, no matter what their backgrounds, no matter what their economic situation, no matter what their health and so on, would have an equal opportunity to develop into the citizens of Canada as they should.

Now that the government has surplus funds for the second time in many years, it is mandatory to take steps that would go toward equalizing and levelling the playing field for all Canadians. Whether youngsters are growing up in British Columbia, on an Indian reservation in Saskatchewan or in a small coastal community in Newfoundland, they would have the same opportunities in life to develop into the citizens they wish to be.

Another thing that became clear as we toured the country were the number of people who cautioned us as a finance committee about accepting a simple solution to the economic problems of the country. We hear that today. We hear in the House day after day what I think are simplistic grand or macro solutions to the economic problems.

I remember when it was felt that if inflation came down to 1% or 2% the economy would pick up and get really hot. We all know that did not take place. If we could just get the interest rates down from those high levels of the teens and even beyond and into 4%, 5% and 6% levels it was said that would kickstart the economy back into life. That happened and the economy continues along in its sluggish fashion.

Then the deficit was the problem. The Tories had it up to $42 billion and said that getting the deficit down to zero was the key point. We got the deficit down to zero and again the economy did not take off as in the Rostowian thesis. Now we hear that if we had mega tax cuts it would be the solution to kickstart the economy back to life. That is the new mantra.

I see the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Finance is here. He will remember how unsuccessful Ronald Reagan was when he tried that in the United States. He made massive tax cuts, but did the economy of the United States bounce back into high gear economically? No way. The debt went up and the deficit went up. It did not turn it around.

I know some colleagues have been guilty of saying that full employment would be the solution. The solution is to have everybody working. As Jesse Jackson from the United States reminds us, when they had slavery in the south everybody was working. Slavery was slavery but they had full employment. Is that the kind of solution we want? Let us be cautious about coming up with a macro solution to the complex economic world we have inherited and are living in today.

I want to make a quick comment on foreign investment. I know foreign investment coming into a country is something that cannot be spoken against, that it has to be good for the country. Statistics Canada indicated the other day that the hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment which came into Canada and actually resulted in a new plant, a new factory or a new venture, was only 1.5%. The rest came in and was used for takeovers and that sort of thing, which I might add often costs us jobs.

Whether it is foreign investment, tax cuts, deficit fighting, inflation fighting, interest rate fighting or so on, they are simplistic solutions. We must not be seduced into accepting them as somehow the way to deal with this issue. The Tobin tax is another one we hear about. We had a tax on international currency speculation. Therein lies a major solution.

The reality is that we need all these things together in some sophisticated matrix to create the kind of economic synergy that will get the economy moving again in the right direction so that people can have full employment with real, meaningful, sustainable jobs.

To do that there is one thing missing. I do not think a single person in the House of Commons today would say that as an individual he or she could have a successful life without any kind of plan, without any kind of goal, without any kind of strategy, and just bumble along day by day. Nobody believes that.

FinanceGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

An hon. member

It is called rolling targets.

FinanceGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

It is called rolling targets, as my friend said. Small, medium or large businesses need business plans before they can do anything. The first thing asked is whether there is a business plan and whether the elements of their old, new or renewed venture have been thought through. Organizations such as a boy scout club or the Red Cross and others need business plans. They need plans. They need goals and a strategy to meet those goals.

What is our plan as a country? We do not have one. We are a plan-free zone. We do not have plans in Canada. If we asked Canadians from coast to coast what they think the federal government's plan for the future of Canada was, we would get the wildest mishmash of commentary imaginable because we do not have a plan. Surely therein lies a portion of our success, a reason for our success, if we could bring the major stakeholders of our country together and develop a plan.

With all due respect to the Minister of Finance, who is setting health care policy? Is it the health care business? Is it the health care sector? No. It is the Minister of Finance seeking advice from his financial advisers who are basically deciding some of the fundamental health care policies of the country. We are waiting for the budget to see what the health care policy of Canada will be. This is wrong.

The same is true of education. Crucial to the knowledge based economy of the 21st century is having a decent educational training system from coast to coast to coast. Who is deciding basically on the new thrust or if there is to be a new thrust in education? It is the Minister of Finance and his political and financial advisers.

With all due respect, he knows a lot of stuff but I do not think he knows that much about health care or education. Therein lies the reason we need to plan. By planning I do not mean the Minister of Finance planning everything for us. The appropriate people should be brought together to come up with a plan that people can accept and move forward with.

Let us look at the successful economies around the world today, those economies with growth rates of 7%, 8% or 9%. I guarantee the one commonality in all those economies is that they have a plan. They have come together in one form or another and have a plan in terms of how they will grow their economy to create employment.

Simply growing the economy does not necessarily help people. It might help shareholders but it does not necessarily help people. We have to grow the economy to help people.

From our point of view health care should be a priority. We want to see at least $2.5 billion put back into health transfers. Then we need a substantial down payment on repairing the damage done to social programs. I think all Canadians would agree with that. That is certainly what we heard during the finance committee tour.

The unemployment premiums must be spent on improving the employment insurance program, to say nothing of the aid package for the agricultural sector and the pay equity obligations that we must keep.

In terms of tax relief we are suggesting a 1% reduction in the GST as a way to provide tax relief for every citizen. Even children will benefit from a GST reduction. When kids go to buy their CDs or whatever they will benefit.

In closing, debt reduction is something we have to consider. We must not be overly aggressive at this point, but obviously it is something we have to pay attention to as well as a number of things on which we will comment later in the process.

FinanceGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, one of the nice things about this place of debate is that semi-occasionally we settle down and start talking about things in a rational way and putting forward our views.

I want to say publicly—and I know it is a little risky for me to do this—that I have a lot of respect for the member who has just spoken. He does a fine job in articulating his views. I do not necessarily agree with those views, but he has a fine way of explaining them and communicating them. I would like to commend the member on that.

I have a question for him with respect to the grand scheme of things. I grew up in Saskatchewan. That is the home of what is now the NDP. I remember it when I was a youngster as the CCF, the Canadian Commonwealth Federation. I remember well listening to Tommy Douglas on the radio when I was a kid, as my dad did. Dad has never told me this, but I would not be a bit surprised if from time to time he voted NDP. I know there are a lot of people in my riding who used to vote NDP and finally saw the light and voted Reform.

This member seems to have a good perspective because of his years as a legislator, as an MP and as a good thinking person. Exactly what does he think about the nature of our debt?

If we look back 25 years we had no debt. Now one-third of our government expenditures goes toward paying interest on the debt. The member said that we should not be too radical in cutting the debt. Yet the fact of the matter is that we could increase our spending on programs and on things we value by 50% if we did not have the interest payments.

Would the member expand a bit on the whole concept of debt and interest payments and what that does to the country?

FinanceGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to my friend's question in terms of the debt. I appreciate his mentioning the progressive policies that in a sense led the country in some ways over the years, coming from the province of Saskatchewan, to things like medicare and others.

When Tommy Douglas was the premier of the province he said they would not spend a whole lot on a number of programs until the debt was eliminated. That was a long time ago. Ever since Tommy Douglas said that there has been a pattern in Saskatchewan politics, and I think my friend would have to agree with me.

The NDP would come in, or the CCF before it, and would eliminate the debt. Then it would get on with delivering the kinds of programs to which he referred. As long as we are paying out those big premiums or debt payments to bankers or foreign bankers and others, we are not using taxpayers money to invest in social programs and the quality of life that Canadians want, or in this case Saskatchewan residents wanted.

His theory was to pay down the debt. For years and years there was an interesting historical sequence. As a Canadian historian I used to love telling my students about it in class. The NDP-CCF would be elected and would work hard over a period of time to pay off the debt, to get rid of the indebtedness. Then they would be kicked out of office and the Liberals would come in and bring the province under extreme indebtedness. The Liberals would be kicked out and the NDP-CCF would come in, wipe out the debt again, get all the books balanced, and then Tories and Liberals would be elected and whip up the debt again.

Today in the province of Saskatchewan we are debt free after we inherited a massive debt load as well as a number of other things from the previous Conservatives.

My friend is right. We have to pay down the debt. The question is how rapidly and this is where we may have a debate. I think my friend would say that we should put a fairly massive amount on debt reduction. With all due respect to my friend, because I know he is serious when he says that, when in our country, the richest country in the world, the number one country by the United Nations standard in terms of the quality of life, 1.4 million children have to live in poverty, that is something we cannot ignore.

It requires action and action requires some form of financial outlay. I say yes to debt repayment. But let us not be so overly zealous in our debt repayment that we forget the children who are living in poverty today.

FinanceGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Markham.

I rise tonight to raise concerns that we in the PC Party share in relation to the upcoming budget. As many of my learned colleagues know, we in the PC Party share a common vision of how the country should proceed. We know the foundation to a solid future for our families and our children is entrenched in a nation that is economically strong. But to have a strong economy, we have to have an economy that is business friendly, an economy that makes it easier in which to do business than it is not to do business.

When I talk to business people from coast to coast they ask me about our stand on taxes. They want to know why the government will not reduce the level of EI premiums to $2.00. They know the government is collecting approximately $7 billion more than it requires. Why will it not lower it and put more money back into the pockets of that little man and little woman and back into the pockets of business people?

Every time businesses get a tax break they try to expand and create more jobs. We feel very strongly, and so do the people across Canada, that they should have had a bigger tax break than just bringing down the EI premiums to $2.70. I have heard of saving for a rainy day but this is rather ridiculous when Canadian businesses are looking for a true sign from the government on tax relief.

As my colleague from the NDP has just stated, there is a growing trend in Canada which is very disturbing. That trend is poverty. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening more and more each day. I suppose many people wonder why. The real question Canadians should be asking is what is the government doing about it? What is its plan to combat the poverty gap in this country?

Many of us do not know and even more of us are concerned about the true facts. We live in a nation where children are going to school hungry. We have put so many programs together in my riding of Saint John, New Brunswick for these little children. Many volunteers are trying to feed the children. They cannot learn when they go to school hungry.

I remember when I was on the board of the Rotary Club. One day we were having a breakfast meeting at 7.30 in the morning. I heard a noise and went outside. A little boy was going through the garbage barrel looking for something to eat. I asked him “When did you last eat, dear?” He said “I did not eat this weekend”. We brought him in and we started a breakfast program right there at the Rotary Boys and Girls Club. It is still ongoing and it is growing. To think that we have to do this in Canada, that a child is going through a garbage barrel.

Youth unemployment is at an unacceptable level of 14.7%. Canadians are taking home $400 less than they did in the previous two years. The personal debt level of Canadians has grown faster in the past 10 years than it has in any of the other G-7 nations. Consumer bankruptcies have reached a crisis level in Canada with over 85,000 last year alone. This is an all-time high for bankruptcies in Canada.

It is one thing for this government to have things which look good on paper but when people are hurting, ask them what they want and people will say that they want action. They do not want lip service. And they do not want to hear how wonderful everything is and how great everything is. They want action.

Let us look at the shipbuilding policy and the shipbuilding industry. In my city it was the Liberals who first put money into our shipyard for the first frigate contract that we had. Then the Conservatives put the rest of the money in. We have the most modern shipyard there is in the world and it sits idle. We had 4,000 men working in that shipyard. Now those men have left our city. We have had 10,000 people move out of Saint John, New Brunswick since I came up here on the Hill in 1993. They have gone to the United States to find work.

I am in absolute shock at what is happening. I asked the Minister of Industry to please bring in a national shipbuilding policy whereby our people back home could bid and could compete around the world for contracts. They bid on over 50 contracts, but they cannot compete because we are the only country in the world that has still adhered to that old, ancient OECD shipbuilding policy that was entered into many years ago. All the other countries have laughed at it. They have gone away from it.

No, they are not looking for subsidies. What they are looking for is a longer return payment program. But the government will always get its money. There are other things that they are saying, but no, they are not looking for subsidies.

The Liberal Party at its policy convention in 1993 adopted a motion to implement a national shipbuilding policy because the Liberals stated that Canada urgently needed one. Here it is 1999 and we have not received any national shipbuilding policy from the government, nothing. No meetings were held. There were no consultations with the industry officials. The industry officials have come to the minister's office. They have asked for consultation and they have not received it.

We have to invest in our people. The government needs to put the people of this country first. It is done by cutting taxes and allowing this great nation to prosper. We need to increase the basic personal amount of indexed income to $10,000 and give our low income earners a little break. It is no secret that if people have more disposable income they will spend it. Just think about it. If all a person has is $10,000 a year, that person is not living in luxury, that is for sure.

The more we spend, the more money is put back into the economy and the more the economy grows, the more jobs will be created. The more the economy grows, more people are hired and more taxes are being paid in the system. The more the economy grows it is straightforward supply and demand economics. It is the way to go.

We in Canada are known for our kindness and compassion toward our people. I know it is difficult to govern, but when governing we must never forget about the little man and his family who works hard for an honest day's pay, and we never forget about the people who need the services that are paid for by all of us to use. We should never cut things unless the cuts are fair and equally distributed across the country.

Since the government took over in 1993 the Atlantic provinces have seen their transfer payments cut by 40% and we have only 8% of the country's population.

The government balanced its books on the backs of those who need the services the most. Perhaps that is why the Liberals were sent a clear message by the voters of the Atlantic region.

When it comes to health care those transfer payments that were cut have hit our hospitals extremely hard. We have heard about the horrors in the health care system in Quebec. Those same horrors apply to our people in New Brunswick and across the nation.

There is a need to bring back to those transfer payments those billions of dollars that have been taken away so we can educate our children, so we can keep our people here in Canada, not educate them and have them go into the United States, the doctors, the lawyers, the nurses, our people.

There is a great need here. We have to be responsible. I believe in good honest responsible government. I have always ran on that and I believe in it. I believe in people. I believe that when we are making cuts we have to look at the negative impact it can have on the lives of our people. I pray that that is what will happen when the budget comes down.

FinanceGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in the prebudget debate. It gives me a chance to outline on behalf of my constituents and as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party a series of realistic achievable solutions to improve Canada's economy.

Despite the rhetoric of the finance minister and Liberals such as the member for Vaughan—King—Aurora who chairs the finance committee, the present economic situation is far from ideal.

Canada's unemployment rate stands at 8%, nearly double the rate of the U.S., our number one trading partner. Meanwhile Canada's youth unemployment rate is almost twice the national rate.

Canadians took home $400 less last year than they did two years ago and their after tax income has dropped 7.2% over the past decade. Personal debt levels also grew faster in Canada than in any other G-7 country over the past decade. Last year consumer bankruptcies reached 85,297, an all-time high. Never in Canadian history have more people gone bankrupt.

Those are just the figures relative to individuals. When we examine several key economic indicators, more weaknesses in our economy are uncovered.

Canada's productivity growth over the past 20 years has been slower than every other G-7 country. Canada also has the second highest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7. There is nothing for the Liberals to brag about. We already know, thanks to credible publications such as The Economist , that any economic growth during the Liberal government's term is because of the policies of former Conservative governments.

What is the actual Liberal economic record? It is a record of less real disposable income since the 1993 election according to Statistics Canada. It is one of a government that collected 38% more in personal income taxes during the past five years. With statistics such as these, it is hardly surprising that Canada's taxes are among the highest in the industrial world.

High taxes come at a considerable cost. They stifle economic development. They kill entrepreneurial initiatives. They discourage investment. Perhaps worst of all, they cause a brain drain, a trend that results in Canada losing a lot of its best and brightest to more favourable tax jurisdictions.

The brain drain inflicts plenty of damage on Canada's economy. A recent study by the C.D. Howe Institute estimated that for lost managers and professionals alone, the net cost to Canadian society from 1982 to 1996 was $6.7 billion.

According to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, more than half of all permanent immigrants from Canada were admitted on employment based preferences. This means that over 8,300 highly skilled Canadians were granted permanent residence status so they could fill important jobs in the U.S. economy. Another 44,000 Canadians were granted temporary work permits in the U.S. This must sound like a drop in the bucket for Canada's labour force of 14 million people but these people by virtue of American immigration rules are highly skilled and well paid more often than not.

The C.D. Howe Institute study found that six managers and professionals went south in 1996 for every one moving the other way. This is a major loss to Canadian companies and governments.

It is more than a corporate problem. The departure of thousands of highly skilled and highly paid Canadians also weakens our tax base and endangers the services supported by that tax base. That hurts everyone indiscriminately.

Before my colleagues on the Liberal and NDP benches start ranting and raving about making the wealthy pay, I would also like to cite some figures from Revenue Canada.

In 1995 more than 800,000 Canadians earned $70,000 or more. This group represents just 4% of tax filers, 6% of taxpayers and 19% of total income, yet this relatively small group of Canadians contributes 31% of all federal tax and 35% of all provincial tax paid. This tiny group of Canadians paid more than $30 billion in federal and provincial income taxes alone.

For every 1% of our high income tax earners who leave the country, some 8,360 emigrants, Canada loses more than $300 million in federal and provincial income taxes.

Keeping in mind the U.S. government's immigration figures for 1996, that means the Canadian government lost more than $1 billion in income tax revenue that year alone.

In short, Canadians from all walks of life and all income levels are paying a heavy price for our high income taxes. By significantly cutting taxes the Liberal government could help fill the gaping holes in the Canadian economy. The weak half hearted measures contained in last year's budget do not qualify as significant tax cuts.

We have seen the benefit of reducing taxes in my home province of Ontario. When the PC government was elected in 1995, Ontario had an economic basket case thanks to a decade of Liberal and NDP misrule. Thanks to the provincial PC government's ambitious plan of tax cuts Ontario with a third of Canada's population has accounted for well over half of the job growth in Canada for almost two years now.

Not only did cutting taxes help create jobs in Ontario, it had a positive effect on the province's financial situation which was in disastrous shape after Bob Rae's stewardship. The economic growth that resulted from lower taxes increased the province's revenues. That fact should not be dismissed out of hand.

Yesterday in the House of Commons the member for Mississauga West, a former member of the Ontario legislature, mistakenly claimed that provincial tax cuts took money out of health care in Ontario. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is the Ontario government is spending $1.5 billion more on health care than the government did in 1995, even with the $1.1 billion cut in health and the $2.7 billion cut in the CHST payments.

The Ontario record is clear: more money for health care, more money in the pockets of Ontario taxpayers, more tax revenues in the province's treasury thanks to economic growth resulting from tax cuts.

Liberals like my colleague from Mississauga West try to mislead people into believing there is a choice between more money for health care and tax cuts. It is as if the Liberals were convinced of the impossibility of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Unlike the federal Liberals, the Harris Conservatives have made good on their promise with a stronger economy as a result. I can understand the Liberals and the NDP for that matter not wanting to discuss the economic successes achieved by the Conservative Government of Ontario. I would therefore cite an international example on the advantage of lowering taxes.

The chief economist of the investment dealer Nesbitt Burns, Dr. Sherry Cooper, highlighted the experience of the republic of Ireland, a country that cut taxes and saw its economy take off. Investors have been attracted to Ireland's low corporate tax rates that start as low as 10% versus Canada's approximate rate of 46%. Indeed the Irish economy is growing at almost double digit annual rates during the past two years. When was the last time Canada achieved such growth?

Another international case representing the benefits of low taxes is Finland. With the lowest corporate taxes in the OECD, Finland has real GDP growth of 6% and a sharply declining unemployment rate.

In case after case, example after example, the verdict is in. Tax cuts stimulate economic growth and economic growth creates jobs and generates revenue needed by governments to provide services. That is why we need real tax cuts in this budget. We need to reduce high unemployment insurance premiums. In 1995 the minister of finance called payroll taxes such as EI premiums a cancer on jobs. Yet the government insists on gouging employers and employees through the EI fund.

Perhaps my Liberal colleagues from the GTA should heed the warning of Elyse Allan, president of the metro council board of trade, who told the finance committee last fall that high premiums stifle private sector creation and reduce personal disposable income. The actuary of the EI fund stated that premiums can be lowered to a rate of $2 per $100 of insurable earnings without being fiscally irresponsible.

We in the PC caucus agree with this independent, non-partisan recommendation. I doubt the minister of finance would move in this direction. After all, according to finance department documents released by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, almost a third of the $39 billion in increased federal revenues is directly attributed to bracket creep. As with high EI premiums, bracket creep is one of the cash cows of the minister of finance.

I urge the minister of finance to use this budget to bring in the broad based tax relief needed to develop our economy, improve our standard of living, stem the tide of our best an brightest leaving this country and set a vision for this country for the next millennium.

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February 2nd, 1999 / 7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a physician in the province of Ontario I feel quite sensitive to the hon. member's comments in terms of the CHST having been the problem. We know the reduction in the CHST has had one-fifth of the impact on health care spending as the tax cut in Ontario.

At the finance committee we heard from the Ontario Hospital Association: “The underlying problem is thoughtless mechanic tinkering with the system in nearly every province. The crisis is rooted more in faulty planning than demographics, finance or technology. The good news is that this management crisis can be fixed”.

I suggest this upcoming election may be what we need in order to fix health care in Ontario. If you actually look at these so-called increases in the health care dollars that you are touting in the province of Ontario, a lot of that is actually the severance for fired nurses. You have to actually have a look at what you are saying. We know that we need accountability on this stuff. We actually need a real plan.

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7:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I remind everyone to address each other through the Chair.

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7:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where the hon. member is coming from. Let us look at the record of health care and what the Ontario government has done. Total health care spending for the fiscal year 1998 will be $18.7 billion. That is the highest in Ontario's history and an increase of over $1.3 billion since the PC government was elected. That is with a $1.1 billion cut in transfer payments to Ontario by the Liberals. This increase in health care spending in Ontario occurred despite the federal level cutting $2.7 billion in transfer payments to the people of Ontario. The Ontario government has put more into health care, education and social spending.

The federal government spends only $125 per person in Ontario for health care while the Ontario government spends $1,639 per person to meet provincial health care needs. In other words, for every dollar spent by the federal Liberal government on health care in Ontario, the provincial PC government spends more than $13. I find it despicable that the Liberals like to espouse policy but do not put their money where their mouth is.

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7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague commented on brain drain. According to a C.D. Howe Institute report, I do not think high tax is the only cause of brain drain. It is not a determinant. Environment and quality of life are part of the reason.

The cancer research institute in B.C. was very happy to announce recently that two leading cancer researchers will return from the U.S. to start a new project called gene research. That is happy news and it is not necessary to go the other way.

According to statistics Canadian researchers and scientists sometimes do go to other countries. The number is around 10,000 but we have about 20,000 newcomers to fill that gap.