House of Commons Hansard #223 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying before this interruption, there are even members from Quebec in the Liberal Party of Canada who, following the budget of the Minister of Finance, travelled around Quebec to explain that Quebecers got the largest part of the budget, that they should be happy because equalization payments, over three years, would give us $1 billion. They were supposed to be happy as well because all the jobs were going to Ontario and because the formula for calculating the funds allocated under the Canada social transfer had been changed.

It takes people who have sold out and who are intellectually dishonest to go around Quebec saying that it had won it all in the budget, when there were three winners in this budget: Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. These three provinces were the strongest supporters of the social union framework agreement. The Minister of Finance in a way bought Mike Harris and company with the fine gift they got in the allocation of the Canada social transfer.

This is not the first time the minister has bought the silence and co-operation of the provincial premiers at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Members may remember when there was the harmonization of the GST with the provincial sales taxes in the maritimes. The federal government paid the maritimes almost $900 million to keep quiet and let it have its way. That is how the Minister of Finance and this government operate.

Quebec should be concerned. Each year it pays taxes to the federal government and the members opposite are not even fair-minded enough to see that Quebec gets a demographic share of the taxes it pays.

Quebec should also be concerned when it hears that 30,000 to 42,000 jobs will not be created in Quebec as a result. It should be concerned when it knows that, if the federal government were to return to a more equitable allocation of federal funding for goods and services procurement, for research and development, and Quebecers employed by the federal government in federal laboratories, Quebec's unemployment rate would drop by more than a percentage point. Better yet, these investments would have all sorts of direct and indirect effects.

Since the Minister of Human Resources Development, who is completely lacking in compassion for the less fortunate, shamelessly tightened up the EI rules a few years ago, Quebec's welfare rolls have jumped by almost 200,000 and the Government of Quebec has picked up most of the tab. If federal transfer payments were to return to former levels, the number of people living on welfare would probably drop as well. This should also concern Quebecers.

This should be a major issue, particularly for the Quebec members of the Liberal Party of Canada, who always laugh at or make fun of figures that, believe it or not, are provided by Statistics Canada and the federal government, and that clearly show—the data is not from us, we simply refer to it—the injustice done to Quebec.

There are also things that are not included in this bill. Ever since the Liberal government was first elected, in 1993, we have been asking for a comprehensive reform of the federal tax system, which has not undergone any substantial review since the late sixties, with the Carter commission.

We pointed out, among other things, some blatant injustices in the personal income tax system. Along with the Reform Party, we recently condemned a few of these injustices regarding double or single income families. But there are others.

There is one, for instance, that has existed since 1986. I am referring to the fact that the tax structure, including tax credits, exemptions, tax brackets and income categories, is not fully indexed.

This is extremely costly to taxpayers and will continue to be until full indexation, which was eliminated in 1986, is not restored. Under the current system, any inflation rate lower than 3% is not taken into account by the federal government. The tax tables remain unchanged if inflation is lower than 3%. And since inflation has been around 1% for the past three years, and was between 2% and 3% for seven or eight years before that, there has hardly been any indexation since 1986.

It is profitable for the federal government, a kind of hidden tax. Without the government having to lift a finger, every year the lack of indexation means we pay more taxes to the federal government.

Right back in its first year of application, in 1986, this measure brought $500 million into the coffers of the federal government. If we factor in economic growth, we probably get up to $600 or $700 million per year that do not remain in the taxpayers' pockets. And then we are surprised to see that the taxpayers are getting poorer in recent years, compared to previous generations.

Every year, their assets go down. So does their disposable income. Measures like these are what is impoverishing people. But they do not show. This is why the Minister of Finance does not want to do away with this provision. All he needs do is saunter about with his hands in his pockets, and $500 million, at the very least, drop automatically into his coffers, without his having to impose any unpopular measures.

This is not small change. Looking at the cumulative losses of disposable income for Quebec and Canadian taxpayers, since 1986 the average taxpayer would have lost $7,000, in today's dollars. Had that amount been invested every year, there would now be more than $7,000. I imagine the taxpayers would have liked to have had that much in their pockets.

We are not equipped to keep the taxation level that high. And this is only one example, because there is a whole lot of bias in taxation, which means that middle income taxpayers, that is, about 70% of Quebec and Canadian taxpayers are paying more than they ought to, had the Minister of Finance done his job correctly.

He took advantage of the state of the economy. He did not do much. I have often called him lazy, and I think he is. Had he wanted to, he could have changed the tax system.

Now he is developing a bit of an interest in taxes. How long has this been going on? Since all the opposition parties rose in the House and said “Enough. Taxpayers have had it. The tax system must be changed”.

So the government struck a sub-committee to tour Canada. It will take a number of months if not a number of years before the tax system is reformed, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

I have an example about the lack of fully indexed tax tables. The federal government could have indexed them long ago. It could have also established a parliamentary task force to review the tax system.

When the Bloc Quebecois published two analyses, one of personal taxes and the other on corporate taxes, our stand-up comic, the Minister of Finance, rose and said “Well done, you have done a good job. It contains some interesting proposals”. He said that in the House.

We were flattered. We figured we had not wasted our time. The minister seemed serious when he said that these were interesting proposals and that he would examine them. He congratulated the Bloc Quebecois for its two reports on taxation. Since then, what has the minister done? Nothing, except to set up a task force, which worked behind closed doors for several months and postponed by several months the release of its report.

Upon reading that report, one can see why the task force delayed its release. It focussed on corporate taxes, not personal taxes. Why was the release of the report postponed? Because there was not much in it. Moreover, it even contained measures that were detrimental to the growth of businesses. It was making the burden heavier rather than lighter in the area of corporate tax.

One can understand why the tabling of the Mintz report was delayed. There is no trace of that report now. My guess is that the Minister of Finance ditched it.

This is how serious this government and its Minister of Finance, who wants to become the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, are. It sure sounds promising.

This attitude is unfortunate, because a lot needs to be done in the area of taxation. With our small team, we were able to carry out an in-depth review of the tax system, particularly tax expenditures. We came to the conclusion that some of these expenditures have become obsolete and should be discontinued. There are also tax measures that are totally disconnected from reality, particularly as regards the labour market.

With a hundred or so specialists at its disposal, the federal government could have done the same thing, and it certainly could have implemented these recommendations for fairer taxation for everyone.

Already we can here the Minister of Finance and his faithful members telling us that the government is barely out of the woods, that it does not have the money, that it must be careful. Yes indeed, it must be careful. In fact, this is a very important issue for the Bloc Quebecois. We do not want the Liberals slipping back into their old ways of annual deficits. No more deficits.

In fact, that was the title of a paper we used last year as part of a province-wide consultation in Quebec of real people, asking them what should be done with taxpayers' money, what should be done with the huge surpluses the Minister of Finance is racking up at the expense of everyone but himself.

No more deficits: in fact, we were the only party to table a bill recommending that the deficit be reduced to zero and kept there, in other words, that the budget be balanced. We were the only party to table such a bill.

It is not true that the government has no money. The government has money coming out its ears. It keeps this very quiet, and certainly does not put it in writing. There were still zeros all through the Minister of Finance's last budget, and no sign of a surplus.

In the fiscal year that has just ended on March 31, 1999, the 1998-99 fiscal year, the Minister of Finance had a surplus of $15 billion. As well, he took $7 billion from the employment insurance fund. That is highway robbery, I repeat highway robbery, and it is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to do the same with the pension funds. There is talk of the President of the Treasury Board getting his hands on a $30 billion surplus, but that is another story. The figure for the last fiscal year was $15 billion.

In the present fiscal year, which runs until March 31, 2000, by our predictions the surplus will be $20 billion. The reaction may well be “Oh those predictions, oh those economists”. Certainly, economists do have their shortcomings, but they also have positive qualities.

One of the good qualities of economists, sometimes, ourselves included, is to be cautious. Since 1994, every year the Bloc Quebecois and its little team have predicted the deficit, as well as the surplus generated by the Minister of Finance, we have been no more than 2% or 3% off.

If a company specializing in predictions in Quebec and in Canada had such a result, it would be in great demand. The average margin of error in predictions is between 5% and 10%; ours was between 2% and 3%.

Every time we put our finger on the true deficit, which the Minister of Finance was hiding from us, we were dead on. Every time we started talking surplus, and came up with a ballpark figure for that surplus, we were dead on. So much so that the credibility of the Minister of Finance, where figures are concerned, is virtually zero, if not below zero, for most of the analyses. This is not something I am inventing.

The day after the budget is presented, you open the Globe and Mail , the Toronto Star , La Presse , any one in fact, you listen to the analysts on television; when the subject of the Minister of Finance's forecasts comes up, it is one big joke. People laugh. They double over, they twist themselves in knots, they roll around on the carpet.

And yet it is not all that funny. We have become accustomed to the Minister of Finance giving us a false picture of Canada's tax situation. Given such a totally false picture, Canadians were not aware of the real state of public finances and of the options the Minister of Finance and the Liberal government had to do things, move, help the most disadvantaged, lower income taxes.

It is a sad thing when the government knowingly presents false information, when six months later its figures are proven wrong. I remember once, two years ago I think, we had predicted there would be a certain level of surplus in February. The Minister of Finance criticized us violently, accusing us of throwing figures up in the air. He made fun of us. Six months later, our exact predictions had come true.

It is a sad thing to play with people like that, play with information, not tell people the truth and lie to their faces. It is beneath a minister of finance and a member of parliament. This is however what this Minister of Finance has done, half baked, since assuming his position. He literally and systematically hides the truth of the figures.

So, if the government had a $15 billion surplus in the last fiscal year and now has a $20 billion surplus, it should leave the current surplus of $7 billion in the employment insurance fund to workers and the unemployed. The government would still have $13 billion left to do things with.

The Minister of Finance could have done many things. As I said earlier, he could have done justice to Quebec and restored fairness in how the government spends money on goods and services, investments and staff in federal laboratories.

He could have done all that. He could have said “From now on, I will no longer use the surplus in the employment insurance fund, except to help the unemployed or to lower contributions”. The minister could have done all that. But in order to do these things, one must be honest, tell the truth and take action based on the truth. If one's actions are based on lies, one cannot do these things.

The last budget of the Minister of Finance is nothing but a wad of lies. All the expenditure and revenue items were cooked, and even the auditor general was surprised, since he has repeatedly asked the Minister of Finance to stop cooking the books like that. There are no longer any reliable figures in the minister's budget. There are zeros everywhere, instead of real surpluses of between $15 billion and $20 billion. This is terrible.

So, the minister could have done a lot. He could have done more to help children living in poverty. This is the minister's favourite theme. Every now and then, he gets up, puts his hand on his heart and starts talking about poor children. Child poverty has been on the rise since 1993, but he never mentions that. Since the Liberals have been in power and he has been Minister of Finance, child poverty has increased. People are poorer than before, children as well.

How can he rise in the House, put his hand on his heart, and talk about child poverty in Canada, knowing what he does? The Minister of Finance knows the figures, he knows how to hide them and how to make them say what he wants. He knows that child poverty has increased. How can he get up with a smile on his face and make jokes, then say that his government has done a lot for poor children and that it has worked tirelessly, with the means at its disposal, to reduce child poverty? How can he do such a thing, knowing all the way that it is not true?

How can he do such a thing and, at the same time, help himself to $7 billion a year from the EI fund? How can he say such a thing, when less than 40% of unemployed workers qualify for benefits under the new EI system? The other 60% or 70% are living in poverty, on welfare perhaps, as are the parents of these poor children the Minister of Finance says he wants to help.

If the public were to pay a little more attention to the debates in the House of Commons, it would soon be appalled. It is almost sickening to hear things presented like this when we have been fed this nonsense for six years, told that everything is fine, under control, that the Minister of Finance is working hard to put our fiscal house in order, when it is not true.

But he is making everybody else, the unemployed, the disadvantaged, those who can no longer draw unemployment, do the job. And that is truly shameful.

We in opposition will continue to fight until we drop in order to get this government to listen to reason and put into place some real measures to help those who are in greatest need, thus re-establishing justice and fairness in Quebec.

The figures I have just given are not fabrications, but ones anyone can find in the Statistics Canada data. At the present time, there are between 30,000 and 42,000 Quebecers waiting for the federal government to restore justice and fairness to federal transfers, because then they will be able to work and earn their living with dignity.

The Bloc Quebecois will continue to work on their behalf, and I can assure the House that we will spare no effort in making this government listen to reason, because what it is doing no longer makes any sense.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:35 a.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to stand in the House today to make a few comments regarding the budget implementation bill. Budget implementation bills tell us a great deal about a government's priorities. They tell us about a certain value system that is reflected in the government and in its budget.

I will try to categorize my view of this budget and the government. I will use two or three examples to start with. Perhaps what we should be doing today is debating whether or not the Minister of Finance should be arrested and charged with theft. I think it is commonly assumed that the Minister of Finance has stolen billions of dollars from the EI fund in order to balance his budget. I think that is fairly—

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys has far more experience in this Chamber than I, but we cannot be attributing specific motives to specific individuals. We can do that with respect to the government, but not when it concerns a specific minister. I would admonish the hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys in that regard.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:35 a.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I accept that admonishment, which is probably well placed. I was going to blame an individual, but I suppose we have to blame the collective government or the collective cabinet and so on.

The truth is that over the last number of years while we have heard people applaud the government for balancing its budget and reducing the deficit, I think it is fair to say that part of that has been on the backs of the people who do not have a job, who are expecting some employment insurance benefits to come their way because they have lost their job, but in fact they do not qualify.

The worst case scenario concerns the young people of Canada. In the last 48 hours we have been told that only 15% of young people who lose their jobs actually qualify for employment insurance. The people who have been paying into the system do not qualify. So 85% of young people who lose their jobs are SOL. They are out of luck. They do not collect any benefits.

I say this is theft. I am not going to say that an individual should be charged. We cannot put the whole government in jail, so we have to assume that there is one person who has to take the hit, and we can speculate on who the most appropriate person ought to be. That is one example.

As we speak today to this budget implementation bill there is another debate going on in one of the committee meetings around the pension system for all of the public employees. Again the government is dipping into that particular pot to the tune of grabbing $30 billion out of the retirement fund of federal employees, members of the RCMP and members of Canada's armed forces. Now the minister is dipping into that to use the money for various purposes in terms of the federal treasury.

On this side of the House we have to shake our heads with a combination of disgust and perplexity. What on earth would a government be doing dipping into a surplus in the EI fund of $25.9 billion and $30 billion in the pension fund?

The government tries to give the impression that somehow it has done magical things and balanced the budget. Of course if we take money from other people we can balance the budget. I suspect, on a personal basis, that if we held up a bunch of people on Sparks Street this afternoon and took all of their money, we could say that we balanced our budgets as well. We could pay off our credit cards and our mortgages through robbery because we held up people and stole their money.

I suspect that people might be thinking this sounds far-fetched, but it is the truth. Whether this is technically theft I do not know. I suppose lawyers could argue this for some weeks. However, it seems to me, as an average citizen, that when we dip into places where we should not be dipping and take money that we are not supposed to be taking, that is a form of theft. That is the one point I want to start off with. This tells us a bit about where the government seems to be going.

I think it is fair to say that the last budget was sort of a wait and see budget for most folks. The millionaires in Canada do not have to wait and see. They got a nice tax break. I calculate that for one million dollars they would save about $8,000 in income tax. That is not much for a millionaire, but $8,000 is $8,000. They could go out and put a down payment on a nice car or something. However, did mothers or fathers who are raising children on social assistance get anything in this budget in terms of tax breaks? No, there was nothing for them.

We have a government that says it should give a tax break to a multimillionaire, but it should not give a tax break to mothers and fathers who are raising children on social assistance. There is something wrong with this picture.

I could go on to talk about a number of points. Let me make my case and I will tell members in a second where I am taking them. There is a very clear school of economics at work. First, should those people on waiting lists in our hospitals and those waiting for a major increase in support for hospital care across the country be cheerleading this budget? The short answer is no.

The government says it is going to restore funding to health care. To my Liberal funds opposite I say that is true. After a number of years it hopes it will have restored the level of funding to health care up to where it was in 1995. We are almost at the year 2000. It is saying that if we wait a bit longer the funds will eventually be up to 1995 levels. Is it a real commitment to health care and medicare that we have seen over the last number of years? The answer is clearly no. This is a bit of a shell game. The impression is that the federal government is playing its role once again, when in fact it is not. It is playing a very minor role.

What about all those Canadians who are looking for work? Did they see initiatives in this budget that will give them some encouragement? Again, I regrettably have to say that the answer is, by and large, no. Is there anything in this budget that will give some hope that the future is going to be better for those who are suffering hard economic times in the forestry sector, the fisheries, agriculture, mining; the resource sectors that essentially built this country? Regretfully, the answer is no. There is nothing in this budget to give those folks hope.

What about the homeless people? What about the people who are struggling to get their family into a decent home? We all appreciate the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people today who cannot afford decent accommodation. A lot of young people who are starting out in their careers cannot afford to buy a house, a condominium, a townhouse or anything. They have to rent because they simply cannot afford it. The housing market is priced out of their limits.

In the past we have seen federal governments, and I will give them full credit, say they would do something about the housing crisis. They did. Those governments introduced various programs and made various tax changes to encourage more rental accommodation, more co-operative housing and a whole number of programs that would enable ordinary working men and women to get into a decent house. Was there anything mentioned in this budget to assist those needing a home? No, to say nothing about the tens of thousands of people who are sleeping on the streets of our cities. If they are homeless or seeking better accommodation, or accommodation period, there is nothing.

I will not even talk about first nations accommodations. If there is a national embarrassment globally it has to be the fact that so many of our first nations people are living in absolute poverty and in absolutely disgraceful conditions. Again, did this budget do anything to assist those individuals in any real way? The answer unfortunately is no. Let us go on.

If there is one thing that unifies Canadians from coast to coast to coast of all ages, all cultures, all backgrounds, all economic strata, it is the concern about the environment. We listened carefully when the Minister of Finance delivered the budget as to what was in it that was going to give some hope to those people concerned about the future environment of Canada. Again there was nothing in this budget. We are supposed to be fulfilling the Kyoto protocol. We have a whole set of programs.

Hold it, I have to be fair to the Minister of Finance. There was something. He was going to give to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities $1.2 million over three years to study ways to conserve energy. Where the hell have we been for the last 10 years? We could go down to the parliamentary library in the next 20 minutes and probably get 50 publications on how to save energy and energy costs. It is not as though we need to find new solutions. We have all kinds of solutions.

As a matter of fact I remember a vote in the House not long ago where we all voted in favour by and large of an energy retrofit for all federal buildings to make them more energy cost effective. It makes sense to change the way we insulate our federal buildings, to change the way we heat and cool them. In other words, we should become a leader in the community in terms of making public buildings more energy efficient.

It is not as though we do not know what to do. We need some cash or we need some incentive. We need some direction and some leadership. All the Minister of Finance could say was “Let us study this for another three years” with the assumption that after that presumably we will see some action. The environmental issues were abandoned in this budget. Let us go on. I do not want to go on too long because it gets very depressing.

I think all Canadians were listening carefully in the last election. I know I certainly was. I know my constituents were wondering whether they should support me because the Liberals were saying “Elect Liberals and we are going to introduce a national home care policy. Not only that, we are going to introduce a national pharmacare policy, plus a national child care policy.”

A lot of my constituents looked at me and said “The Liberals are promising home care, child care and pharmacare. You are a member of the New Democratic Party, you are probably not going to form the government”. I was hopeful, but they are very pragmatic electors. They said “Why should we support you?” I said “You know something, I like my Liberal counterpart, a nice person, but I do not think he knows what he is talking about. I do not think the government will deliver on home care, child care and pharmacare”.

Just as in the last election they said they were going to deliver on eliminating the GST. Remember that? “We will eliminate the GST if you elect Liberals”. The Liberals were elected and they did not do it. It was very disappointing. I said “When you get to the home care, pharmacare and child care, do not hold your breath. You are going to blow up if you do because it will not happen”.

We are now two years into the new mandate and again we listen carefully.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:45 a.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I have been listening to this speech and I am really impressed. I think it would be very honourable for other members to come into the House and listen because there could be some lessons learned.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar requesting a quorum call?

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:45 a.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is what I am calling for.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Portage—Lisgar has requested a quorum call. We do not have quorum.

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We have a quorum.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:50 a.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is depressing when one is up giving a speech and there is nobody here to give it to, but now people are here and it is much more encouraging. I realize the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance is here and I know he represents a large cadre of other folks. Perhaps we can say one represents a group.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:55 a.m.


Herb Dhaliwal Liberal Vancouver South—Burnaby, BC

The important people are here. We listen.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

11:55 a.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

My friend the Minister of National Revenue indicates that the important people are here to listen. I know he listens to every word I say.

Let me get back to my theme. The original thought was that the RCMP should be brought in to charge the government with theft and take it to court because of the dipping it has been doing into the EI fund and the federal pension fund.

The second theme was that a lot of people had to wait because this budget was not going to do much for them. I am thinking particularly of those people who are looking for work, people who operate a farm, people who are in the ranching sector, the forestry sector, the mining sector and the fishery. Anything to do with primary resources is pretty light in this budget.

Restoring the funding for health care was not there. It was a bit of a shell game. The promise for health care, home care, pharmacare, none of the cares was represented in the budget. This was very sad for many people.

There were some selective tax breaks and I want to focus on them at the moment. Those tax breaks were intended to provide an incentive for certain people to do things. We have identified that some people need to be bribed into activity. They tend to be wealthy people. It is said that if we can bribe wealthy people or industrialists into doing things, this will eventually benefit the other folks. These are fancy words for an old-fashioned term called trickle down economics.

I know my friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance is well studied in trickle down economics. He graduated from that university. He knows trickle down economics probably better than most people I have ever met. It is like Peter Pan; if we believe we can fly, we will eventually fly. If we believe things are going to pick up, they will eventually pick up or trickle down better yet. If we feed a bit at the front, eventually the benefits trickle down to normal Canadians.

I want to say uncategorically here and now that Canadians are sick and tired of being trickled on for years and years and years. The trickling has to stop. We are almost drowning. The trickle down theme seems to have been introduced into this budget.

I have to identify two or three of the more general things that were missed. I would be remiss not to quote from two or three people about the budget. For example, the Canadian Federation of Students said that tuition fees continue to rise while the quality of education continues to erode.

The Minister of Finance on many occasions has talked about the importance of education and training for the future. As we approach the knowledge based economy of the 21st century, there is no question that education and training are crucial if we are going to have success in terms of economic growth and prosperity.

What was in this budget that would lend itself to support education? Was there a break on tuition fees? No. Was there some significant support for universities across the country? No. Was there any support at all for persons who are graduating from our post-secondary educational institutions with huge debt loads? No there was not.

What are we talking about here? What is going on? We need to have more support from the federal government for education across the country and we did not get it. That is what is so frustrating. I suspect people listening to this will reflect that frustration. I know students certainly do.

I challenge my friend the parliamentary secretary and I hope he will respond to this. Why not as a government be bold and say “We believe in education. We believe in a quality education. More important, we believe in access to quality education. We can take care of improving the quality but we have to do something about access. What can we do as the federal government?”

We can do what many other countries have done and abolish tuition fees from our colleges, universities, technical schools and vocational schools from coast to coast to coast. Wipe out tuition fees. My friend implies that this is some kind of a pie in the sky thought. Most countries did this years ago.

As a matter of fact the CEGEPs across the river in Quebec do not charge tuition fees. Everywhere else in Canada certainly does: $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 just for tuition fees, let alone the cost of books and laboratory supplies. As well the students have to stay alive; they have to borrow money to simply live.

Why does the federal government not say that it will wipe out tuition fees from coast to coast? How much would that cost? We have the money. It would cost the federal government about $3 billion. There is a $3 billion slush fund. It is called a contingency fund for special occasions. What better signal could the government send? What better suggestion could it make? What better leadership could be provided by the Minister of Finance and the government than eliminating tuition fees for everyone across Canada who wants to improve his or her education?

A cheer would go up across the country if they were to say that. Who would say it was a rotten idea? Most OECD countries have done it years and years ago.

Let us be bold. Let us get out there and say we will do something completely different. However, what would we do? We all find frustrating at this time of the year filling out tax returns, those who can do it. Many people have to hire accountants or take them down to the little shops along the road for someone else to fill them out. We need tax reform, and it is time the Minister of Finance informs us of that.

In closing, a number of phenomenal forces are at work in the country that we must address. We did not address them in this budget but let us do it in the next one. We must come to grips with the forces of globalization and rapid technological change. Technology will change. I am thinking of the impact of electronic commerce on the way people work and the way business is conducted. There is also the tremendous changing demography of our country, the aging population, the major move into self-employment in terms of lifestyle for people, and the whole increasing urbanization phenomenon. The federal government has to provide leadership on these issues.

Unfortunately there is a growing gap between those who have and those who have not. On a local scale, a regional scale, a provincial scale, a national scale and a global scale, the gap between those who have and those who have not is increasing.

We are at a crossroads as we enter the 21st century. While this past budget was a bit of a disappointment, to say the least, let us look forward to a better and more timely budget in the year 2000.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders


Stoney Creek Ontario


Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I sat and listened attentively to the hon. member. He just made a comment about how mothers and fathers raising children on social assistance were in essence paying tax and that the budget did nothing to deal with that segment of society.

I caution the hon. member that as a result of the 1998-99 budget any Canadian family raising children would pay no net federal tax on an income of $30,000 or less. I am not saying that is in any way an achievement for which we would stand, pound our chests and say our job is done. We obviously need to do more in terms of helping families raise children and ensuring that Canadians have a better quality of life. However, with those two budgets, Canadian families who are raising children and earning $30,000 or less will be paying no net federal tax.

As well the hon. member made mention of the fact that health care funding was somewhat of a sham. I caution the hon. member that the restoration of funding to the provinces with respect to health care took two forms. One was the $8 billion over a period of time. The $3.5 billion immediately was meant to address what the provinces were saying and what Canadians were saying.

The member sits on the finance committee. He toured the country along with myself and other members of parliament. We heard from Canadians who said that they needed additional moneys put back into the health care system. The $3.5 billion allows the provinces to draw that down as they see fit. I understand Manitoba is drawing down its portion as quickly as it can. It can do so over a three year period. I caution the hon. member when he says it is a sham. I would tend to disagree. Hopefully the additional information I am providing will give him an opportunity to clarify his position.

In terms of trickle down economics, I am certainly familiar with the theory. It is a something the United States was very accustomed to following under Reagan and Reaganomics. However I would disagree with the hon. member. We have put in place a number of economic policies which deal with certain segments of society. We targeted our tax cuts initially. We took 600,000 Canadians off the tax rolls at the low end.

I go back to the elimination of the 3% surtax. As soon as we had the money we eliminated it for individuals who were earning $50,000 or less. We targeted our approach to those at the lower end of the income scale.

With that information I only hope the hon. member would say that he might not agree with everything the government does but he could agree with the thrust and the direction of the government and urge us to do more. I welcome the opportunity for the member to urge us to do more as Canadians are doing. We fully respect the priorities of Canadians and are committed to doing more.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:05 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, there he goes, the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance making sense again. I must say he is right when he says that there have been some good changes and some appropriate changes. I acknowledge that the elimination of the 3% surtax was a good step. Next we have to work on bracket creep, which I think he would agree was overlooked in the budget.

I think he would also agree that I said there was an increase in funding for health care which would eventually bring the federal portion up to the 1995 level. If we could clap with one hand, I suspect that is what we should do for that. It is a step in the right direction, but taking it up to 1995 levels is hardly something we should get too excited about. However he is correct on that point.

I challenge my hon. friend when he says there are no net federal taxes for people living on social assistance. The one tax change we have been advocating is a reduction in the GST. My friend would know that people on social assistance certainly pay the GST. They probably buy stuff with every dollar they collect. They buy services and they buy goods and therefore pay the GST. I realize they get some returns on that, but we can debate these issues in terms of the need for more refundable tax credits and so on.

Let me go on to a point my friend makes in terms of families making under $30,000 and not paying net federal taxes. My dad asked me to raise a question the next time I was speaking in the House of Commons, which I guess is today. My dad is 94 years old and he is on a pension, an extremely modest pension. He gets by, to be fair. He had to fill out his income tax forms. He could not see very well so he got my ex-brother-in-law to fill them out for them. He ended up paying a few hundred dollars in income tax.

He asked me to ask a question of the Minister of Finance who unfortunately is not here at the moment but will be here later. Why should a 94 year old man who worked hard all his life, paid taxes all his life and was never out of work, have to pay income tax on a very modest pension income? He was frustrated. I guess I am asking it rhetorically, but perhaps the parliamentary secretary could respond in place of the Minister of Finance in case my father is listening at the moment.

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12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words in this debate. When the bill is passed it will mean hundreds of millions of dollars to be used for the benefit of the country.

When I think about the country many words come to mind. I think about quality of life, security, prosperity, freedom, compassion, co-operation and many other things other countries do not have. Generally the very last thing we associate with Canada is poverty and all the suffering and loss that come with it. Most of us simply do not want to admit that the very real problem of poverty exists in Canada. I do not think the government has come to grips with it or wishes to admit it.

Nevertheless, the reality is that for millions of Canadians poverty is a way of life. As the poor become more vocal through various organizations in which they become involved, through the media and anti-poverty associations and whatnot, many Canadians come to realize it is a very real problem.

Governments at every level will not be able to ignore that problem much longer and will have to take action on it fairly soon. They will have to do a bit more than actually appoint a minister for the homeless. They will have to give that minister the resources to do the job that needs to be done to address the issue of poverty.

The issue of poverty is a very difficult one, as we are all aware. The government knows very little about the true state of poverty in the country. We have not developed an effective way to identify and to measure poverty. We have yet to identify all the causes of poverty. We still do not have an effective and complete strategy to eliminate poverty.

The issue is also complicated due to the large number of effects it has on many different social classes, whether it be women, children, the working poor, the unemployed poor, aboriginals or disabled persons. I am not sure if the bill does anything to address the plight of many people who are well below the poverty line.

We are all very much aware that back in November 1989 the leader of the NDP, Ed Broadbent, introduced the following motion in the House of Commons:

That this House express its concern for the more than one million Canadian children currently living in poverty and seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.

Jean Charest, the minister of state for fitness and amateur sport and the deputy leader in the House at the time, moved at the end of the debate that the motion be supported unanimously by the House of Commons, and it was.

I want to read some of the positions of members of the PC Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party at the time on the whole issue of child poverty. In the speech to the motion Perrin Beatty of the PC Party, then minister of national health and welfare, said:

We do not have to be afraid of the future. We have a prosperous and a dynamic economy which if managed well promises to improve even further. We have the tools to reduce the number of children living in poverty as we have for each and every year since 1984.

In a few short weeks we will be entering the new decade. This is a good time for us to reflect on the very real progress that we have made in the past and to think about what accomplishments we want to make in the 1990s. Any society that cares about its future must care about the plight of its children today. This government demonstrated that commitment and I can assure you it will continue to demonstrate that commitment.

In his speech introducing the motion Ed Broadbent of the NDP showed that child poverty had increased. He stated:

From 1980 to 1986, when the child population actually fell by some 4%, the number living in poverty in Canada at precisely the time that the rest of us were doing better increased by 13.4%.

He also pointed out that the rate of poor children in poor health is 150% higher than the national average.

Mr. Broadbent went on to explain how the cycle of poverty works. He said:

There is now in Canada and the United States a vicious cycle involving the poor. Poor kids are undernourished, underhoused, more sickly, more poorly educated, get the second or third rate jobs, and when the lay-offs come, they get laid off first. The same young people marry each other and then they produce children, statistically out of proportion, who go through the same cycle. We have a cycle of poor food, poor housing, poor clothing, poor education, poor jobs, poor spouses, more poor kids. This is a vicious cycle. It is a vicious cycle that can be broken and it is a vicious cycle that must be broken in this Canada of ours.

Ed Broadbent said that back in 1989.

This quote is truly the most interesting quote of all. It is a statement made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs who was in opposition at that time. In speaking to that motion, he said:

I never hear the Minister of Finance talk about the real deficit in this country, which is those one million kids in poverty. That is the real lack of investment. That is the real tragedy. In 10 years from now those are the children who should be tomorrow's teachers, business people, politicians or journalists. They will never get there because they will never get up to the starting line. When you have a million children living in poverty, that is the greatest lack of investment. That is the greatest deficit we face. That is the problem, and there is nothing being done to address that kind of issue.

This was the now Minister of Foreign Affairs who said that the greatest deficit we had in this country were our poor children.

Even though the child poverty motion was unanimously supported by all members from all parties in the House of Commons, very little has been done to take action on that problem. Even today we realize the governments of the past, and today's government in particular, have really not taken any action on that issue.

If we were to read the quotes with a few modifications to names and dates, we would realize that the words of a decade ago apply to the situation we face today. In fact the number of Canada's poor has increased and their condition has worsened.

When that motion was passed back in 1989, we had one million children living in poverty in Canada. Today, 10 years later, when we pledged that we would eliminate child poverty in this country by the year 2000, we do not have one million children living in poverty, we now have 1.5 million children living in poverty in Canada. That is a real tragedy and one for which all of us have to bear responsibility. It is not only this government but governments of the past that have to bear responsibility for the very glaring tragedy we have in our society.

Poverty statistics are debatable and very controversial, especially in Canada. An example of that is Statistics Canada's low income cut-off. The low income cut-off is the most widely used formula to establish a poverty line in Canada, even though Statistics Canada says it should not be used as the poverty line. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the statistics are useless and that we should not be using them. Most of them are very accurate. The point is that we need to develop a clear and widely accepted formula for measuring poverty in Canada. Only then, when we have the real hard facts on poverty, will we be able to effectively deal with the problem.

Hopefully, as the poverty task force travels the country, we will be able to, and I think we are, gather all of the good, hard evidence that the government will need to effectively deal with the problem, if it is serious about dealing with it.

There are hundreds of statistics on poverty in Canada. However, we have to make sure that we do not get bogged down in numbers and lose sight of reality. If we only look at numbers we might end up thinking that Canada is not a very good place to live in this world. That is not really true. That is not the case.

With these numbers we can see that there is a major poverty problem in Canada. However, we must not and should never lose sight of the fact that we are doing many good things in the country and that we are a very strong country. That is why we should be able to find ways to eliminate the whole issue of poverty in the country.

The issue of child poverty has always touched a very sensitive chord with most Canadians. The reasons for that are fairly obvious. Children are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They are helpless and are innocent victims of their environment and their socioeconomic condition. Needless to say, by eliminating child poverty, the aim is not only to eliminate child poverty, but to eliminate all poverty in Canada. Children are dependent upon parents. If we eliminate child poverty we eliminate parent poverty and people poverty as well. One of our goals has to be the elimination of not only child poverty but also parent poverty.

In 1998, the year for which we have statistics available, 1.5 million children were living in poverty in Canada. That is an increase of 21% since 1995, but it is an increase of 60% since 1989 when the motion to eliminate child poverty was passed in the House of Commons. It is a very real problem.

I wonder if the government is aware of the number of people using food banks in Canada. As travel go from province to province, many people have come before our committee to talk about how frequently they have to use food banks. It is heart-rending to listen to not only the unemployed poor but the number of working poor who come before our committee on a weekly basis to tell us their stories of the loss of pride and how they have to go once a month—and in most cases they can only go go once a month—to a food bank in a country that has the kind of resources and riches that we have.

It is a national tragedy that we have over 800,000 people per year using food banks in the country. It is a national disgrace. Forty-two per cent of people who depend on food banks for all or part of their food are children and people under 18 years of age. Can anyone imagine 800,000 people per year using food banks in a country that has our resources and riches? It is hard to imagine.

Statistics for 1994 estimated that 57,000 Canadian children under 12 experienced hunger due to a lack of food or money. We are now living in 1999 and I believe that number has probably gone up to 100,000 children under 12 who are experiencing hunger due to a lack of food or money. The majority of hungry children lived with lone parents and a high percentage of these children were aboriginal people.

As our poverty task force travelled from province to province, we had quite a number of women who came before our us to talk about their problems. Women are struck very heavily by poverty, especially single mothers. We do have a kind of arrogant and cynical attitude in some quarters today toward single parents. People tend to say, especially people in government, “they made their bed, let them lie in it”. We hear that very often, but that is not the way of a compassionate country.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Who are you hearing it from?

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12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite will have a chance to have a go at this as well.

The hon. member can criticize me all he wishes for making these points, but we have quite a number of women today, single mothers and others, who are living in poverty. Single mothers in particular have more difficulty getting jobs, and the jobs they do get are very often low paying. We hear that every day as our committee travels to various provinces. The lack of adequate low-cost day care services for instance is a real problem for some single mothers because it hinders their ability to seek and get employment.

Fully 92% of single mothers in Canada under the age of 25 live below the poverty line. That is a damning statistic. Getting single mothers out of poverty through education is very difficult. It is increasingly difficult as a result of provinces cutting off social assistance to single parents enrolled in post-secondary education. Every day we hear from single mothers who want to get out of the situations they are in but find it very difficult because the provinces have a tendency to cut off social assistance payments to a single mom who wants to get involved in post-secondary education. We perpetuate the problem by doing that instead of doing all we can to try to get these people off the welfare rolls, into a post-secondary education system and back—

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid I must interrupt the member. Time has expired.

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12:25 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member opposite for St. John's East. He made a very compelling speech.

I think he was very sincere when he spoke of poverty and single moms and children in terms of the Canadian experience. As he was speaking I was thinking that some of that sincerity is a little diluted when we start to think about the hon. member's party and former leader Mr. Mulroney and the kinds of things they did during their tenure in power.

For example, I think of the high employment insurance premiums. I think of the very high unemployment rate. I think of the kinds of things that were put in place that exacerbated the problem and the $42 billion deficit. This was the legacy that the Tory party left to us to clean up. The hon. member with some sincerity is trying to make his points but that sincerity is somewhat diluted.

We on the government side have been very consistent in trying to do the right thing in this all important area. We have worked very hard on this to ensure that we do the right thing for young people and for poor people wherever they may live in Canada. We have worked very hard. For example, there is the child tax credit and other income tax measures that we put in place to ensure that lower income people no longer have to pay taxes. Those are but just a few tangible examples of what the government has done in this very important area.

I used to be the chairman of the Waterloo Regional Police. When it comes to issues like poverty there are measures that communities, educational systems and groups throughout various parts of Canada need to do and pull together. There are justice and economic issues. Measures need to be put in place in a co-operative way.

It was my experience in my former role as chairman of the Waterloo Regional Police that if we spend a dollar now we will save $7 later. If we bring those kinds of measures into focus it will especially assist our young people who need that very important first start in life in terms of where they go and how they extend through their lifetime the kinds of things that are important to them and their families.

Would the hon. member for St. John's East agree with me that an investment of a dollar now for our young people is important? As an investment it will ensure that we save $7 dollars later.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

May 6th, 1999 / 12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, we would fools not to agree with the hon. gentleman that moneys invested today in youth and in society in general will certainly pay dividends in the future.

The hon. member talks about governments past and the fact that we are all to blame for the child poverty issue and the issue of poverty in Canada. I could not agree more. Members will never hear me defend any government, whether it is federal or provincial, on adequately addressing the poverty issue over the last 10 or 15 years in particular. They certainly have not.

Let me point out to the hon. member that the number of children living in poverty was actually going down right up until 1984. Since 1984 the problem has become more acute.

We can all blame governments past, the Mulroney government, the Trudeau government, or the current government for where we stand today on child poverty, but I do not think we solve the issue in that way. The numbers of people who have been forced on to the welfare rolls because of the EI policies the government has adopted is very evident.

As members of the task force go across the country many people come before us and say that a number of years ago they worked for seven or eight months of the year and they would get unemployment insurance. Employment programs have been all but eliminated. Thirty per cent of the people who become unemployed are the people who actually receive unemployment insurance. These people are forced on to the welfare rolls and the whole cycle of poverty is compounded even more.

Yes, governments have done a lot of damage, but I knowledge that they have also done a lot of good.

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12:35 p.m.


Lou Sekora Liberal Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what the member opposite had to say. The one thing about it is yes, Canada is a great place to live. Studies show that Canada is the greatest place to live.

The government has put $11.5 billion into health, $15 million into cancer research, millions into breast cancer research and millions into diabetes research.

While I am fairly new in the House, the fact is I do remember the years when the Mulroney government was in power and ran up a budget deficit of $43 billion. It was in power for nine years. Imagine if it had been in power from 1983 to 1999, another six years. That averages about $7 billion a year. The deficit would probably be in the $70 billion range.

The Liberal government has paid down about $30-odd billion in our deficit as far as debt load. I am very much interested in whether the member opposite is interested in having a balanced budget. Were there any food banks during the years when the Mulroney government was in power?

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12:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the problem is quite clear. We see some of the stumbling blocks that members throw up in dealing with this problem. They keep playing politics with people in poverty and that is not what the poor want. They do not want members criticizing each other for policies past and present. They want members to make a commitment to deal with the problem in a real and very substantive way.

Yes it is very important to have a balanced budget. We all know that. Through that we can bring in policies to eliminate poverty in this country. However, the government has not done that. The budget is balanced and the government again has made no commitment to the poor, except to appoint a minister for the homeless and not give the minister the resources she needs to deal with the problem.

Let me give the hon. member some statistics that were passed along to me by Statistics Canada. Back in 1987 the average amount of expenditure for a Canadian family was $33,000. The average income was $45,000. In 1987 a family had a $12,000 surplus of disposable income that they could use to help their children. Families needed that money. In 1997 expenditures for a family were $42,000 while the income was $41,900. This means that the average family is $100 in the hole instead of having a $12,000 surplus as they did back in 1987.

Yes, we have balanced the budget, but at what cost? We have balanced the budget on the backs of the poor. We have balanced the budget on the backs of the working poor. The government has to come to grips with that.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:35 p.m.


Claude Drouin Liberal Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, right off, I would like to say that I was not really impressed by the speeches of the members for Chambly and for Frontenac—Mégantic the day before yesterday in the debate on the Budget Implementation Act, 1999.

The remarks of the Bloc Quebecois members were all over the map, referring to points in the history of Canada's and Quebec's economy and interpreting the facts and events subjectively. In other words, these were half truths.

The pessimistic view of the Bloc members has only one purpose, that of promoting Quebec's separation from the rest of Canada, even though over 80% of those who pay their salaries want to remain in Canada. These same people said in the latest referendum that Quebec's separation was a matter for Quebec only without a trace of embarrassment at raising the subject daily across Canada.

The reality is something else. While it is true that the population of Quebec is comprised primarily of francophones, this is no reason to try, as the Bloc is doing, to turn them into the victims of some sort of machination, because Quebecers can stand up for themselves and with other Canadians build a country that is good to live in.

Francophones have always occupied their rightful place in Canada. They have proudly kept their language and their culture. They will always have to be vigilant, not only in protecting them but in promoting them, and they are working at it remarkably.

Francophones have acquired a confidence that enables them to say that they do not need to separate from Canada to enjoy their fair share.

The Bloc, and the sovereignists, are falling into the trap of paranoia. Instead of proposing to Quebecers a major challenge such as to continue to work to be competitive in Canada and in the rest of the world, the Bloc keeps whining about alleged injustices to Quebec.

The sovereignists are desperate to have people believe that Quebec's separation from the rest of Canada is essential to its survival. They are stuck in the past. They can no longer adjust their views and opinions to today's realities and tomorrow's challenges.

While they are talking about separation, the sovereignists are forcing municipalities and school boards to merge, which is an obvious contradiction. In short, the Bloc Quebecois is stuck, it is unable to propose solutions other than to impoverish Quebec from a political, economical and cultural point of view, at the expense of the one million francophones living outside the province.

The member for Frontenac—Mégantic had the nerve to say that there are two Ministers of Agriculture and that it is one too many. Let me give a quick example of what the federal Minister of Agriculture has done for Quebec.

Our province accounts for 24% of the overall population but 48% of the milk quotas. Among other measures, the federal government recently put in place a special assistance program for farmers who find themselves in difficult situations. This initiative complements the Quebec program, whose objective is to help the agricultural industry with problems relating to livestock production, seeds, and so on. Under its initiative, the Government of Canada will provide about $900 million. That amount could reach $1.5 billion if the provinces are interested in taking part in it.

Allow me to put our government's philosophy and initiative in their proper perspective. Let me give you a more realistic and accurate view of our last budget.

First, I would like to point out to the members of the Bloc that the structure has evolved in such a way that the Americans no longer have a hold over our economy. Quebec's economy is made up of thousands of entrepreneurs who invest in the various regions of the province, with the help and support of both levels of government, that have developed and implemented policies and programs, taking into account the needs of regional and local stakeholders.

Contrary to what sovereignists are saying, it is very much in Quebec's interest to be a full fledged member of the Canadian federation. In fact, sovereignists lack perspective and have a selective memory. The Liberal government remembers vividly that, in 1993, Canada had a huge deficit of $42 billion, which we have eliminated with the great co-operation of Canadians, who had to make big sacrifices.

But today, the new context created by the federal government's budget surplus, by the creation of 1.6 million jobs in Canada and by a thriving economy has restored the confidence of Quebecers. Their renewed confidence is also due to the fact that the government has been able to do things that were beneficial to them.

Confidence in the Canadian economy has been restored because we were able to create the conditions for investment and economic growth, which means, among other things, that unemployment has fallen from 11.4% to 7.8% in 1999. This economic recovery has also led to lower interest rates.

As indicated recently by the federal government, the Government of Quebec will receive about $7.4 billion in new transfers this year and over the next five years.

This sum represents 34% of all new federal transfers, whereas the population of Quebec represents 24% of the Canadian population. This is not bad, in terms of help and support for Quebec.

Our economic and budget choice was actually an easy one to make. Our government deliberately chose to no longer mortgage Quebec's and Canada's future. It was committed to a balanced budget.

In 1998-99, we balanced the books for the first time, and even had a surplus. This marks the first time since 1951-52 that Canada has recorded two balanced budgets or surpluses, back to back.

One last statistic: in 1995-96, when the debt to GDP ratio was at its peak, 36 cents out of every revenue dollar collected by the federal government went to interest on the debt. Last year, this amount dropped to 27 cents.

I will not have enough time to list the many positive actions by our government, especially the support and magnificent work by several federal departments during the floods in the Saguenay and during the ice storm, which hit Quebec especially hard.

Members will recall that the Premier of Quebec, Lucien Bouchard, was handing out $70 cheques to ice storm victims, even though 70% of this amount, or 63$, came from the federal government. The cheques were emblazoned with the fleur de lys.

The economic and budget priorities of our government are well known and shared by a majority of Canadians: strengthen our universal health care system; provide tax relief; fight child poverty, and invest in a more productive economy and a better standard of living by expanding access to knowledge, research and innovation. These are measures we took in the most recent budgets, and we will continue to promote them.

In conclusion, my message is one of optimism. It is one of pride in being a member of the Liberal team, whose primary concern is to do everything possible to improve the quality of life of Quebecers in Canada, the best country in the world.

My message is also one of pride in representing the people in the riding of Beauce who put their trust in me.

The riding of Beauce has an unemployment rate of about 4%, the lowest or the second lowest in the country. My constituents' priority, and ours, is to work and to improve the quality of life in Canada.

In conclusion, my constituents have given me a mandate that is straightforward and complicated at the same time. Not only have they asked me to represent them well in the House of Commons, but they have also asked me to protect their interests and make sure that their region, like all regions in Quebec, gets its fair share.

Their trust encourages me to redouble my efforts, for our children and the generations to come, for Beauce, for Quebec, and for Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Did the hon. member for Beauce intend to share his time?