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House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, that was a rant rather than a question. I will try not to respond in kind.

We heard from the member for Souris—Moose Mountain a diatribe about how much his party cares about what the farmers of Saskatchewan and the prairies are facing. Yet, this is the party that has blood on its hands when it comes to the federal Liberals' reasons for decimating support for agricultural programs.

When you go back over the seven years of this reform alliance, you can see the reason why the mini-budget introduced yesterday was so pathetic. It was absolutely silent on the question of agriculture support because the reform alliance has egged them on and egged them on to do exactly that.

What do we see in yesterday's mini-budget? What was the commitment to farm families facing bankruptcy, to farm communities that are having a desperate time surviving? What the federal Liberals said is we will monitor what is happening.

What that means is that they will be prepared to report to Canadians on how many bankruptcies have been caused by the Liberal government endorsing the reform alliance demands to shrink agricultural support programs to the point where they do not do the job.

What monitoring will mean is that they will tell Canadians, and I am not sure if they are telling the truth, but if they accurately monitor what they will be able to report to Canadians is the out-migration effect of their policies. Make no mistake about it, this is a rural depopulation policy that is being pushed and promoted by the reform alliance and embraced wholesale by the Liberal government.

As devastating as the budget introduced yesterday is for working families across the country, for farm families, for rural communities, for ordinary working people that are having to work harder and longer for less and less while their public services shrivel up, one thing is darn sure. It is that people can see how critically important it is for the New Democratic Party to be here with increased strength and greater numbers in the next Parliament of Canada to push back against not only the reform alliance, but the increasing dominance of the right wingers in the federal Liberal government.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time in this debate with the member for Brandon—Souris.

Traditionally a budget sets forth the goals of a society and the economic measures that are necessary to achieve them. To use a phrase which the Prime Minister's pollsters have told him to adopt, it is about values not just taxes.

Yesterday's statement does reflect the government's values. It offers no help to the poorest of our taxpayers. It shortchanges our health system by billions of dollars. It offers only token assistance to students who are driven away from the education they need by its high costs. The cynical symbol of this statement is its promise to help with winter heating costs. Help for how long? For one winter, an election winter. This statement is about elections, not about economics. Even the tax cuts are driven by polling. Tragically, typically, the statement sets no goals for Canada.

At a time when we are drifting behind a world we should lead, there is nothing here that will make Canada a leader again. The government has been in office for seven years. During this time extraordinary growth in the United States economy has propelled Canada forward. The singular Canadian initiative which had the greatest impact on our own growth was the negotiation of the free trade agreement which the Liberal Party opposed when it was introduced.

In a time when other countries were becoming more competitive, changing their tax systems, training their people to prevail in the new economy, the government let Canada fall steadily behind. Ireland, Germany and a growing list of other countries have tax systems which attract more investment and more innovation than Canada.

Other countries adapt much more quickly than we do to the new e-economy. Canada is suffering a real and severe brain drain of the best, brightest people upon whom we have to build our future. Even in health care where Canada should lead the world, we are ranked 30th by a report of the World Health Organization.

This cannot be called a budget. It is an election platform. It is political shortsightedness. The best proof of that is the promise to reduce the cost of heating for one winter only. It just so happens that it is the winter when an election is to be held.

There is no help for agriculture, no money for infrastructures such as highways, and not much for students. In our modern society, young people need to get the best possible education. It is the key to their future. But education costs are prohibitive. This budget provides some relief to students who are currently enrolled, but it does nothing for all the graduates who have a huge debt to repay. We can do a lot more to help our young people prepare their future.

This budget also ignores people who are in dire straits. The government could have changed the basic personal credit and have completely exempted low income Canadians from having to pay taxes. But it did not. We can do a lot more to help low income Canadians.

There is no long term commitment on debt reduction. The $10 billion debt reduction the government talks about is a one time payment. It is an accident because the government revenue forecasts were wrong. If the government was serious about debt reduction, it would have outlined a long term strategy.

There is nothing in this economic strategy on agriculture, infrastructure, equalization or regional development. There is very little help here for students. Nothing to address the issue of high student debt. Even doubling the education credit which students can claim will not help the average student today whose graduation present is on average a $25,000 debt.

Speaking of Canadian values, nothing was done to reduce the basic personal exemption. It is appalling that someone earning just over $7,000 has to pay federal income tax. A staged increase of the basic exemption to $12,000 would take two and a half million Canadians off the tax rolls entirely and provide an across the board cut of $800 to every taxpayer. That is what should have been done in this statement.

The government devastated the health care system and it crippled education with its unilateral cuts to transfer payments. Finally last month it was forced by the provinces to restore transfers for health and social transfers to 1993 levels. That full transfer will not occur until April of the year 2002. This is not an honest restoration of funding. It is at best a post-dated cheque.

The government proposes a very modest step on capital gains. By contrast, my party proposes the complete elimination of the personal capital gains tax.

Capital gains tax contributes greatly to the brain drain, because Canadians, particularly in the high tech sector, are increasingly being given stock purchase options.

The capital gains tax is a tax on savings accumulated once income tax has been paid. Capital gains are in a way subject to double taxation, because the same income is taxed twice.

In the new economy, businesses give stock purchase options to all of their employees: receptionists, designers, software engineers or technicians.

Taxing capital is bad for investment. It prevents investors from obtaining a better yield by changing their type of investments. No other form of taxation is worse for the economy than the capital gains tax.

Today the government is proposing to bring the Canadian system in line with that of the United States. Yet what Canada needs is a better system than the American one. Our economies are not of comparable size. The capital gains tax on individuals must be done away with.

Some of the measures announced yesterday will take effect immediately. Others may never see the light of day, because they require action by parliament and the Prime Minister is closing parliament down.

This government was elected in 1997 with a 60 month term. It is now in its 40th month with a long list of urgent public business awaiting action. Instead of the government doing its job, the Prime Minister wants to call an election.

The Prime Minister has taken election positions on economic issues before. He opposed free trade and he broke his word. He promised to kill the GST and he broke his word. On the cold, hard record, this is not a government Canadians can trust.

What we have here is an election platform, not an economic plan. Its tax measures will be debated in the weeks to come. The real message is that this is a short term, get through the day government. It has no sense of purpose, no sense of compassion and certainly no plan to respect and assert Canadian values.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate the right hon. member for Kings—Hants for a very compelling speech. He has proven time and time again, since his return to the House of Commons, that he is a great Canadian who understands the difficulties and hardships faced by many in this country today.

We have heard a great deal from the government in the past days and, of course, we have come to expect that most of the information that comes out in a budget has been leaked to the press prior to hearing from the Minister of Finance or any government official here in the House of Commons. That lack of respect is something, sadly, that has come to be expected by members of the opposition and further marginalizes parliament.

What this budget is not about has become quite obvious. What the budget is not about is helping farmers. What the budget is not about is focusing in on the issue of student debt and the crisis that many students face when they emerge at a time in their lives when they should be filled with optimism, with hope and with some sense of purpose. The first thing they have to face is the government knocking at their door, coming to collect on a student debt. This is the type of situation that leads our best, our brightest and our most ambitious young people to leave the country or to leave regions of the country where opportunities are not as great, as we see in Atlantic Canada.

Another issue that this budget does not deal with, in fact it is a shell game, a facade, is the issue of a rebate on the cost of heating oil. What it does is it raises expectations. It is so pathetic it is like holding a little chocolate bar out to a child and then pulling it back. The indication is that people will be given a small rebate on the cost of heating oil. Yet that cheque, if it ever does arrive, will not get to these needy people until January. There are a lot of cold months between now and January. I do not know what people in Ecum Secum or Canso will do if they need to fill their oil tanks or if they need gasoline to get into town so they can get such luxuries as food. What this government has chosen to do is to give money back. Of course there is this insidious little promise that perhaps they should vote for the government if they really want that cheque to arrive on time. This is the crass type of electioneering we have seen engineered by the government in the lead-up to this campaign.

With some of those inadequacies which members of the Progressive Conservative Party and other members in the opposition have pointed out, my question to the right hon. member for Kings—Hants is, what should we be doing?

What is the government in waiting, the Progressive Conservative Party, going to do for the poorest of the poor with respect to those who are still making as little as $10,000 annually? What should we be doing in terms of changing our tax laws to address that situation?

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, there are several things that can be done. Let me list them quickly.

First, we should be changing the basic personal exemption. It is simply unacceptable in a country like ours that low income Canadians earning around $7,000 a year have to pay tax. We propose to take them and others like them completely off the tax rolls in a staged process of raising the basic exemption to $12,000 a year.

We cannot just help the rich, as the Liberal Party always does. We need to have concern for low income Canadians who are trying to make their way and trying to improve their communities where they live.

The hon. member mentioned the issue of agriculture. I have just come back from western Canada, a region that has been doubly devastated. It has been devastated by nature, but it has also been devastated by the absolute refusal of either the government or the party now in official opposition to take any serious interest in the plight of agriculture.

We had a statistic last year from my native region showing that some 22,000 farmers have stopped farming in the last year and have moved off the land. That is a 10% drop in the number of people taking part in one of the basic industries in western Canada. That is a terrible thing to have happen. If it had happened in Ontario, the Liberal government would have responded very quickly, but it did not. It happened in the west so it gets ignored. However, it cuts into our capacity to be a competitive country, building upon the multiple strengths that agriculture can bring us if agriculture had the kind of support today that it had when a Progressive Conservative government was in office.

Finally, let me speak to the question of students. There is a tiny little measure in this budget for students now in school. This budget does nothing at all to help students who are leaving school with a massive debt, a debt averaging $25,000 per year.

What the government does in the name of Liberal values is say that education in Canada is for the rich, and if one is smart and able but not rich then one cannot get into our education system. That is not the kind of Canada we believe in. That is not a value worthy of the name.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, it is very difficult, almost impossible, to follow my leader, the right hon. member for Kings—Hants, being the statesman that he obviously is and the passion with which he speaks to issues affecting this country and Canadians as a whole. However, I will attempt, in my fashion, to speak to the economic statement that has been put forward by the finance minister.

First, it must be said that if this were after the writ was dropped, the government would have to claim this as an election expense. This in effect is an election platform, an election ploy that was placed before the House in the Chamber. It is no more than that.

I know Canadians are becoming terribly cynical of politics and politicians. Canadians see through the transparency and the cynical politics that were played in the House yesterday by the Minister of Finance.

As was mentioned earlier, this financial statement will not be implemented before the writ is dropped by the Prime Minister to go to the next election, an election that is totally unnecessary. Should the finance minister and the Prime Minister wish, as they were meant to do, to govern the country, they can do so for another 20 months based on the economic largesse they have identified within this document.

I say to Canadians now to not go out and spend the money that has been promised. Promises that have been placed before the House and Canadians have been broken time and time again. This is a post-dated cheque, make no mistake about it. It is like the post-dated cheque of “We will scrap the GST”.

Did you spend your money, Madam Speaker, when the GST was going to be taken off? It did not materialize. It is like the post-dated cheque when the Liberals said they would scrap the NAFTA agreement. By the way, the best thing they did not do was to scrap NAFTA because today, as we stand with the surpluses that are before the House, it is because of those initiatives taken by a government prior to 1993. This government today should be thankful that it has surpluses because of what we put into place.

No one should spend that post-dated cheque because I remember the promise of pharmacare. Does anyone remember that promise, that post-dated cheque? It has not been cashed and in fact will not be cashed.

What about the post-dated cheque given to Canadians with respect to child care and day care? No one should cash that cheque because it was a promise that was again broken by the government.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

What about the helicopters? That cheque bounced.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

The helicopter deal, as my colleague from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough has just indicated, there was a promise. It was a post-dated cheque that unfortunately was implemented. That cheque was not cashed but it bounced. The problem with that particular cheque is that people's lives were put into the balance. To this day we still do not have the proper equipment so that our servicemen can go out into the world and defend the peacekeeping requirements that we have as Canadians because this government does not accept the fact that our defence department requires those dollars.

Let us talk about this particular post-dated cheque. The finance minister said, and I quote, on page 12 that these things will be achieved by “legislating—not promising”. Canadians recognize that in order to put legislation forward, the House has to sit. We now hear that the reason the Prime Minister and the government is going to drop the writ is that everybody else is campaigning.

I just had an opportunity to speak with a couple of Liberal members on a radio talk show. Their spin to this was that everybody else is running for the election, so they might as well call one.

The Prime Minister has been declaring this election campaign ever since he has been trying to entice Brian Tobin back into the cabinet. That was successful, so he is now going to call the election.

Not only did the finance minister say that it would be legislated, which is not in fact correct, but he also has a caveat not only on debt repayment but on the tax reductions as well. This depends wholly and solely upon what the economy is going to do over the next number of months and years. It is a positive caveat but, nonetheless, it gives him a real opportunity to backtrack on a lot of those post-dated cheques and promises that have been made.

Let us talk about this particular document itself, this economic statement. It has listed a number of areas, the first one being health. I want Canadians to recognize right now that there is nothing different with health today than there was yesterday. There are no new initiatives. The initiative there has been announced ad nauseam. It has been announced many times. Even with the previous agreement that was negotiated with the provinces, we still do not come up to 1994-95 levels for health care funding.

Let us talk about health. The Liberal government arbitrarily took out of the health care system billions and billions of dollars without consultation with the provinces. Now, all of a sudden, it consults with the provinces to put back in the money it took out, which destroyed the system. That money is not yet into the system. That money will not be into the system for years to come. No one should think that Canadians are going to have the opportunity to take advantage of these health care dollars in the very near future.

Let us talk about the environment. The only new spending initiative in this statement was the environment. I want to congratulate the Minister of the Environment for having the ability to influence the cabinet and the finance minister. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek because there is a huge hole that was left in this economic statement, and that was respect to agriculture. The environment minister had the initiative and the influence. The minister of agriculture had none. There is not one word in this document about agriculture.

The agricultural industry right now is suffering through the worst crisis it has ever had to suffer through. We have lost 25,000 farmers in the last year. What do we have from the Liberals? They shrug and say “Well, that is the way it is. We put our best foot forward to try to protect the industry”. It is not enough. This document speaks to the fact that agriculture has absolutely no priority for this government. That has to change.

On debt reduction, the government suggested that $10 billion will come forward this year in debt reduction. There was a $12.3 billion reduction last year. It took this government until last month, almost six months after the year end, to discover it had this wonderful surplus. All of sudden, three or four days before an election, it has come to the good understanding that it now has a surplus it can put forward for debt reduction. It is nice to see that the finance department can finally come up with numbers.

One wonders why it happens today. Is it manipulative? Is it manufactured? Is it an election ploy? Of course it is, and Canadians know it.

What the government has not done is to put into place a plan for debt reduction. It holds out the carrot that in this budget year the government will reduce the debt, but nowhere in this statement does it speak to a well thought out, logical line item that is going to reduce the deficit for Canadians. Liberals do not like to do that. They like to take the money and use it to their best advantage. Canadians believe the best advantage is to reduce the debt in a well thought out, systematic plan, and that is where we should be going.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour NDP Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Not an election plan.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Not an election plan.

Tax cuts? Absolutely. They are heading in the right direction. The Liberals took our plan. What a great idea. Reduce tax rates? What a great idea. Reduce the inclusion rate for capital gains? Not to 50%, but to zero.

However they are on the right track, and given the right opportunity we will accelerate that. As a matter of fact, the finance minister said the reason this is so important today is so that the government can accelerate the cuts proposed in the February budget. If the government was serious, why did it not put these cuts in the February budget in the first place? The reason is that there was not an election call in March, but there is one this month.

I wish I had more time because there is much more opportunity to make sure Canadians recognize that what this government is doing is wrong. I am sure we will speak to it later.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I sat here and listened to the Progressive Conservative Party love-in over in the corner. Not only did it rewrite economic history in Canada over the last decade or so, it rewrote the economic update and economic statement presented in the House yesterday by the Minister of Finance.

I would like to go over a few points. First, the Conservatives talk about there being nothing new on health care. Is that not staggering that they can actually stand up and say that in this House when the Prime Minister negotiated and did a deal with the premiers and the territorial leaders just a couple of months ago for $23.5 billion more for health care? That is largest single investment put into health care by any federal government. If we add that to the $14 billion that was invested in health care in the last two budgets, that is a reinvestment of $37 billion. Those members know that is not even close to the cuts in the transfers to the provinces and territories.

They talk about how the Tories are responsible for all economic growth. I will tell the House what the Tories are responsible for. In 1993 they left this government saddled with a deficit of $42 billion. In three years this government eliminated the deficit. Canadians understand that before we can pay any money on the debt we have to eliminate the deficit, which we did.

By the way, there was a 5% surtax introduced by the Tories, which we have now completely eliminated as of yesterday.

Members opposite should reflect upon what they are saying because the facts do not support it.

They talk about the fuel taxes. What they proposed was a reduction in the excise tax on fuel which absolutely would have gone straight to the oil producers in Canada. It would not have gone to the consumers. It would not have hit the pockets of Canadians. Our tax measure will go straight to the pockets of low income Canadians to compensate them for increased heating costs and the increased cost of gasoline at the pumps. Low income individuals will receive $125 per individual and double that for families.

I would like to ask the member for Brandon—Souris if he would like a copy of the economic update that was presented in the House yesterday. I would gladly provide him with one, because obviously he has not read it, and perhaps with an economic history of Canada in the last couple of decades. He would be wise to read that. Would he accept such a gift? I would be glad to give it him.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I have probably read more of this particular document than the hon. member has because I certainly understand it a lot better than he does.

I have to respond to two issues, one of them being health care. I fail to understand how in 1993 this government could gut the health care system unilaterally without any consultation with the provinces at all, take those dollars out of the system so that the provinces are basically demanded to supply services with no support from this government, and then all of a sudden replace those dollars today, before an election, with the provinces' consultation. Why could that not happen in both?

Of course the provinces will agree now that there is something on the table when there has been nothing on the table before. If that is the spin this government is going to do in an election it had better come up with a much better opportunity to debate why it destroyed health care.

The second thing the Liberals talked about was the $42 billion in 1993. It is time that Canadians recognized and that this House be given the opportunity to know that the Trudeau years left $200 billion of debt. That is where it started. Of that $42 billion, $32 billion was debt servicing that was put forward by that government and not this government. They can take that one to the election and let citizens make their decision as to who are the best managers of the economy.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, as I was walking to the office this morning I passed by some newspaper boxes. A headline caught my eye on the newspaper box of the National Post . The headline said “Liberals Deliver Alliance Budget”. That headline just cut to the quick.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Order, please. The member who is addressing the House is next to me and I cannot hear him. Please take your conversations to the lobby.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I realize that the Alliance has come to the House to try to bring a better aura of decorum here, but the members really ought to give lessons to the Conservatives, who seem to have a little difficulty with that problem. Thank you for your intervention, Madam Speaker.

As I was saying, as I walked in to work a headline caught my eye in the newspaper box of the National Post . The headline basically said “Liberals Deliver Alliance Budget”. Of anything that any one of us feels about this budget, the one thing it is not is an Alliance budget. The difference between what the party on the other side does in terms of economic philosophy and economic proposals and platforms and what we on this side do—and even the Conservatives, in all fairness—is that we do not represent the kind of economic policy of basic selfishness that is reflected in the Alliance's economic platforms.

It is not just the flat tax. What we see in almost all the themes of the Canadian Alliance is that it believes that the fundamental thing that drives Canadians is the desire to keep their own money at all costs.

What makes us different on this side, I would suggest—and I will compliment the Conservatives over there who are busy engaged in a conversation and not paying any attention—is that they, like us, believe that government is in the business of providing services to Canadians that Canadians cannot otherwise get. The issue is not to reduce taxes to an absolute minimum so that all the people can selfishly get everything they have. What it is really all about is to try to give opportunities to all Canadians by using taxpayers' funds in a responsible manner so that all Canadians share in equal opportunities in this great land of ours.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

It is the Canadian way.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

It is the Canadian way, as my colleague says. It is certainly the Liberal way, but it is not the Canadian Alliance way. I am a little uncomfortable with them having the term “Canadian” because it really is not very consistent in these politics of economic selfishness. I really do not believe in that.

We actually had an example just recently in Ontario with the Walkerton crisis with respect to the water. There is an inquiry going on right now. This is a classic case in which a provincial government withdrew from providing services, in this case the guarantee that water quality would be first class. What we have, because it essentially privatized and downloaded the responsibility of the provincial government to ensure pure water, is that people actually died in that event there.

The other aspect of this budget is that the Canadian Alliance is very fond of saying it reflects the grassroots and the Liberals somehow pull economic policy out of some vacuum that looks only toward gaining votes in the next election. I can say that in this economic statement, which is not a budget but an extension of the February budget of this current year, what one will see are features that reflect the efforts of backbench MPs on this side of the House who have listened to their constituents and have lobbied and pressured the finance minister. He has listened.

I have to be a little careful because there are several other members of cabinet here, but I can tell the House that of all the members of cabinet here the finance minister has one of the most admirable records of listening to his backbench MPs and actually implementing their suggestions and policies.

I will give a couple of examples. One of the things in this economic statement that absolutely delights me is the fact that finally, after some years of lobbying, particularly by the member for Mississauga South, who was the real champion of this issue of supporting the nuclear family in our society, is the proposal that gives tax breaks to a family that has a stay at home parent. What we find for a family earning $40,000 a year with one parent working and the other parent staying at home with two children is a one-third break in their taxes. They will save $1,000 as a result of this initiative that the finance minister brought in yesterday.

I would argue that this is long overdue, but the reality is that on this side of the House we have all kinds of points of view represented. The member for Mississauga South championed the whole idea of supporting the ability of people to look after their children directly.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

The traditional family.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Yes, the traditional family.

The other side of the equation is that there is a lot of concern on this side of the House about looking after families where there is only a single parent. There is no doubt that for a long time a lot of the financial policy on this side of the House was directed toward helping single parent families. That is a very good thing, but now we finally have the balance. That is because of the efforts of the member for Mississauga South and others of us. I will count my colleague next to me.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

We all work together.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Yes, we all work together. We made progress. That is a very important thing.

Then there are other things, such as debt reduction. The Canadian Alliance would have us believe that they are the ones who invented debt reduction as some sort of good thing that governments ought to be doing.

I can tell the House that prior to 1997 for three years running I ran an opinion poll at the fall fairs in my riding in central Ontario. I had four jars and people would be given four beans, each one representing $1 billion. I would ask them if they were the finance minister how they would spend a $4 billion surplus. They had a choice of GST reduction, increased social spending, personal income tax cuts or debt reduction. For three years running the people who put the beans in the jars chose, first and foremost, debt reduction. About 45% of the opinion poll chose debt reduction as their number one priority. I presented those results every year to the finance minister and I told him that this was what people were saying.

It is no surprise to me to see in this economic statement that not only have we reduced the debt already by some $18.7 billion, but in this statement we are also undertaking to reduce the debt by another $10 billion.

The previous speaker really amused me. I can be amused occasionally in the House by some of the statements coming from the other side, Madam Speaker. The member complained that the government had no plan for debt reduction. What is amusing about that is of course any time when we have unspent surplus, the debt is reduced. That is all we have to do. We have to limit spending, control our spending, and automatically the debt is reduced. We have a government that is not only able to reinvest in the economy, reinvest in Canadians, but also has a sufficient surplus to bring down the debt by another $10 billion. The members on the other side ought to be applauding that.

Unfortunately, the House is adversarial and it needs to be adversarial. That is only right and proper. Sometimes I really do think that praise from the other side is warranted when the finance minister really does what is in the interests of all Canadians. The leader of the Canadian Alliance is always demanding forgiveness from this side, but I would suggest that what he really ought to do is stand in the House and give praise and congratulations where it is due. I realize that may be a bit too much to expect.

Another point just in passing. There are two other areas in the economic statement that reflect pressure coming from this side and to some degree from the other side and that is the rebate on fuel costs. It is quite scary, Madam Speaker, when we see what is happening with regard to fuel costs and how Canadians are worried. Quite rightly, on the other side there has been pressure to somehow relieve the burden, particularly on low income home owners facing substantial hikes in fuel costs. That concern is being acted on by this side.

We see in the economic statement that the finance minister is listening. That is an important point in the life of this parliament. The finance minister not only listens to the backbenchers here, but he also listens to the opposition when they do carry valid arguments and valid concerns. We are all concerned about what is going to happen to Canadians with the high cost of home heating fuel and the finance minister has replied.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that the finance minister provided for an increase in the educational tax credit for students. This is a very small thing in some respects, but a very large thing in others. There is absolutely no doubt that the investment for tomorrow is the investment of this government and this parliament in young people. I am very pleased that the economic statement reflects that.

I think that is actually precisely the point in many respects because what does make us different on this side and what makes us so different from the philosophy that we see, particularly from the Canadian Alliance, is that we believe as Liberals, and I think I can speak for the majority of us, that the role of the government is to provide services and encouragement in the country. Our role is to increase the equality of opportunity of all Canadians. That is a proper use of government money.

I deplore what I see in Ontario with the Harris government. I am uncomfortable with what I see in Alberta with the Alberta government. I am extremely uncomfortable with what I hear from the Canadian Alliance with this whole idea that you should retreat from government spending.

That is not the point. What you really need to do with government spending is when you do invest in the country, when you do invest in social services, when you do invest in helicopters or whatever it is the government is buying, you must invest well.

The important thing is to make sure that spending is as efficient as possible. That brings me to the more recent debate over the last few days about the auditor general's report and indeed the information commissioner's report about the need to reform the Access to Information Act.

A key point that the auditor general said which is so important is that even though there are all kinds of problems in effectiveness of spending and mismanagement in HRDC, he said there was no evidence of malfeasance. He said there was no evidence that any bureaucrat profited by any of the inefficiencies or mistakes that were made.

What is so important about that? That means that our job as a government, as politicians, is to build on the honesty of our bureaucrats. We have to give them the tools to more efficiently manage.

I believe one of them is to modernize the privacy legislation and the access to information legislation. I have to say in the context of a point of privilege that the Speaker ruled on today that there were problems that led to the government making an incorrect decision with respect to its opportunity to support reforms to the access to information bill that was proposed in my Private Members' Bill C-206.

I do not fault the government. I do fault messages that were received by the government, but that is another story. I do not dispute the Speaker's ruling, but I do stress it is important to all of us here to reform this kind of legislation so that the bureaucrats in HRDC and every other government department can operate with a better degree of transparency. When you have transparency, you have accountability. This is where we are headed with respect to HRDC and with respect to every government department.

You will recall that the member for Mississauga West, again a member on this side, chaired a committee in 1995 on grants and contributions. What she and the members who supported her did was they came out with a number of recommendations on how to improve the way government handled grants and contributions.

It was an excellent report and the government did act on it. The problem in a modern society and a huge government department spending billions of dollars is that we have to modernize. The member for Mississauga West in the report called on the government to implement better controls, to be more targeted in what organizations should receive money.

One of the most interesting suggestions in that particular report was that governments should always choose contributions rather than grants because the system of contributions requires accountability and performance review whereas grants tend to go out with no accountability whatsoever.

I must tell you that some departments reacted very strongly to the report, at least as far as I can gather. Industry Canada and foreign affairs both implemented a number of reforms of the way they put out grants and contributions. I know this because I have all kinds of representations from organizations that were suddenly being asked, in 1995-1996, to give better explanations and better accounting of how they were going to use the money. Many of these organizations ceased to get support from both Industry Canada and Foreign Affairs because they could not live up to this.

We made progress at that time. That progress came from the backbench. We really have to take the next step. I look to the other side to set aside partisan politics and work together on improving the way our bureaucracy operates, always allowing for the fact of wanting to do a good job, wanting to do the best job.

We should harness the Internet. We should put as much government online as possible so that when that middle level manager in any government department is considering a contract, considering making a contribution or executing some kind of program involving grants and contributions, we can see en route who it is that is receiving the money, what they are proposing, how the government is checking that it is actually delivering the services that it proposes.

That can all go on the Internet. This is crucial because this is what will make Canada more efficient than any other country in the world. In fact there is a race between Canada and the United States to implement this kind of bureaucratic efficiency because not only does it make more efficient government but it is a model for corporations. To come back to the original point, that is why, with some urgency, government has to review and modernize the Access to Information Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

I take a great deal of satisfaction in realizing and learning that even though my private member's bill to reform the Access to Information Act failed, the government has since undertaken a major co-operative endeavour between the justice department and treasury board to examine the whole issue of how to make government more open. I believe the government is going to report in the fall of next year.

I would prefer an open process that would have resulted had my private member's bill gone through and it had gone through committee stage debate. Nevertheless, this is a clear indication that this government is very much on the right track.

Finally, we must bear in mind that all government is like a huge vessel. I hate to think of it, but it is like the Titanic . We do not want it to hit an iceberg. We want it to continue to sail. If we are going to make sure that the ship of states sails on successfully, we have to make sure that it has the modern tools of transparency and accountability in order to achieve that target.

Madam Speaker, on this side of the House I can assure you that we already have the heart.

Economic PolicyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Reform Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague's speech. I know he is a member who sincerely expresses what is on his mind and is well intentioned.

I do want to take issue with a few things he mentioned. I do believe this upcoming election is going to be all about trust, about who to believe and actions speaking louder than words.

People need to take a look at what my colleague said about debt. First of all, understand that it is the government and the legacy of the Liberals that have brought us to the point of an item mentioned in the economic statement. I would like to direct the member to that on page 31.

It clearly states that our debt level right now is $564.5 billion. That is the level of our national debt, our national mortgage. That was brought to us by the government over years and years of governance.

Now the Liberals are asking Canadians to trust them to be the ones to eliminate that. Their plan for doing that is mentioned on page 13. They have put a contingency reserve fund in place of $3 billion. It is a good idea and we congratulate them for that. It is not enough. That contingency fund is to pay down the debt only if money is left after Liberal spending has taken place at the end of the year.

I cannot believe that the new item about debt reduction introduced yesterday in the economic statement made it into the document. However each fall from now on we will announce whether a greater amount should be dedicated to that year's debt paydown. They will make an announcement on whether or not to pay some more debt down, rather than any kind of legislated paydown.

My colleague mentioned that debt paydown would happen with surpluses that were left over, that when they control spending and surpluses are left over it goes to the debt. New spending of $50 billion was mentioned in the document presented to this place yesterday.

How in the world could Canadians believe the Liberals are committed to legislated debt paydown when it is not here? They are the ones who introduced the debt. They are the ones who continued to spend. Whenever the member uses reinvest, we should read in the words a new spending initiative of taxpayer dollars.

I want to ask my colleague about the issues he raised. I also want to ask him about the point he made about a Liberal committee that looked into HRD and other grants and contributions in 1995. If that were such a good plan, how in the world did we get to the $1 billion boondoggle, with billions of dollars not being used appropriately? How is that possible?

That indicates to me that the report was put on a shelf and nothing happened. I would like my colleague to address those issues.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

October 19th, 2000 / 11:15 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been consultations among the parties and I think you would find agreement for the following motion which has been agreed to by all House leaders House:

That at 1.45 p.m. the present debate shall be adjourned; that Bill C-45 shall be withdrawn from the Standing Committee on Finance and referred immediately to committee of the whole, which shall consider the said bill and amendments to be proposed thereto; and that the bill shall be reported, concurred in at report stage and read a third time no later than 1.59 p.m.

I propose this particular item for the consideration of the House.

Also there is a matter that we want to bring to the attention of the House. It has to do with the private members business for today. The Chair will recognize that instead of having private members' hour this evening we had the private members' hour from 9 to 10 this morning. That did not assume we would have an hour more of sitting. I would like it, but I recognize that was not the agreement I made with other House leaders.

Therefore, to be totally consistent with the agreement that we negotiated, the House would in fact end at 5.30. If we wanted to extend the time beyond that, we would have to ask for consent because it was not part of the agreement.

Even though it was indicated that way on today's documentation issued to members, in fact that was not the agreement among House leaders. The agreement was that we would take the hour at the end of the day and put it at the beginning. Therefore government orders would end at 5.30 p.m.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Does the hon. House leader have consent of the House to put the motion?

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.