House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workplace.


The House resumed from February 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, an act to amend the Municipal Grants Act, be read the third time and passed.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to enter the debate on Bill C-10. Essentially, we should recognize that it is a good bill. It moves in the right direction and does some of the right things. In particular, it changes the word “grants” to “payments”. They were grants in lieu of taxes and now they will be be payments in lieu of taxes. In terms of what has been happening in the House in the last little while concerning grants, and the auditor general's comments yesterday before the HRDC committee and the reports of his statements this morning in the National Post , we can easily see that perhaps it was even some kind of a portent on the part of the minister of public works to change the word “grants” to “payments”. There are some good reasons he would want payments rather than grants.

We need to recognize that the bill accommodates much of what ought to be happening in the world of government and in the world of business generally.

The bill is also supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which has suggested that there are some things the bill should have accommodated that it did not.

I should also indicate that there was some reticence on the part of departmental officials as well as the minister to make certain amendments. I think he should have adopted some of the proposed amendments, but he chose not to. I will speak about them a bit later.

The third thing we should recognize is that we can support the bill as Reformers because our policy is very clear. It states that all laws pertaining to individuals and the private sector apply equally to the Government of Canada, its personnel, its agencies and parliament.

We do not believe that a parliamentarian is above the law. Neither do we believe that individuals who work for the Government of Canada ought to be above the law. They are subject to the law just as any other citizen ought to be subject to the law. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the business of taxes to be paid to municipalities or tax assessing authorities where there are government owned buildings and the municipality or the taxing authority provides services in the form of roads, infrastructure and utilities. It costs money to provide those services and government should not be exempt from paying an amount that is fair, equitable and comparable to that paid by other taxpayers to the taxing authority.

The same issue applies to crown corporations. We should be clearly cognizant of the fact that both crown corporations and the government ought to be responsible and pay their legitimate dues to the taxing authorities which provide services to government properties.

There are some very serious issues that ought to be talked about. The constitution of Canada says very clearly that the minister or the government cannot be forced to pay taxes to the taxing authority in the municipality where a particular piece of real estate might be located. The constitution says that the government is exempt.

This legislation has been crafted in such a way that the minister may pay in lieu of taxes certain moneys to the taxing authority. The key word is “may”. It should be “shall”. Just like the people, the government should have to pay, but the constitution says that the government does not have to pay.

There is another possibility which could have been adopted, which is that the minister may not unreasonably withhold moneys. Or, if he does withhold or amend the amount, he must give reasons to the taxing authority as to why he is amending, changing or withholding certain payments in lieu of taxes.

It does not only go to that point; it also goes to the advisory panel which provides certain advice. I will get into that in a bit more detail later.

I want to talk as well about late payment of taxes. Supposing that the government decides through its minister that rather than pay the taxes on the date specified in the tax assessment it will pay on some other date. In that case, if the government decides to make a late payment, it is up to the minister to decide how late it will be—and there could be a dispute on the dates—and he may have to pay a bonus or an interest charge.

Business people know very well that if they are late in the payment of their taxes they are assessed a service charge, interest on the late payment. I believe that the minister should be in exactly the same position and should be obligated to at least give the reasons for which he is withholding the interest charges.

The bill also provides for an advisory panel. This is a very useful mechanism. The advisory panel would give the minister advice on the assessment. If a building that the government owns is fully occupied by the government, then it should pay the full amount. If the government has leased the building to a third party, who is liable? Is it the third party? Is it the government? Who is liable? The bill provides that the advisory panel would advise the minister on these issues.

However, the minister is not obligated to take that advice. He may ignore the advice.

The panel would be comprised of people who understand what this is all about. It would be made up of tax assessors, people who know how to evaluate property for its fair market value, whether buildings or land.

There could be disputes, as there are with tax assessments on real estate. The minister might question the assessed value. He might say that it is too high. There is an appeal process. He may also talk about a variety of other issues when he comes to the appeal. He may talk about ownership and things of that type.

This advisory panel, which acts as a dispute resolution mechanism, may provide some advice to the minister. It may say that the assessment, which the minister says is really too high, is correct. Or, it may tell the taxing authority that their assessment probably is too high. Nevertheless, the minister, regardless of what it is, is not obligated to accept this advice. He may amend it, he may change it or he may use it. It is entirely up to him.

Why is it that we are so concerned about these issues? Why is it that the minister would want to ignore the advice of the panel? Why is it that the minister might not wish to pay taxes, or he might wish to pay late, or he might wish to adjust, or whatever the case may be? He is not obligated. Why is it that he does not want to have the requirement of this parliament to give reasons. He should be required to give reasons to the taxing authorities as to why he would not accept the full assessment of the taxes that he is to pay. If he has the authority to pay he should be obligated to pay if he is operating in an equitable, fair and open basis.

It could be that the minister just simply wants the power to say that he is able to do this and do whatever he jolly well pleases. It is quite possible for him to do that. If we look at some of the arrogance that exists on the front bench that we have seen in the last little while, it could be that.

I happen to know the hon. minister in this connection and I do not believe that is his motivation at all. It could be something else. It could be manipulation. There could be friends in some of these taxing authorities where the money should be paid immediately. However, there should be no question that if there is a late payment the appropriate interest should be paid.

There could be other municipalities or other taxing authorities where the particular management is not necessarily friendly with the minister because they may have voted for a different party rather than the one that is in power. In this case the minister could say that maybe he should not pay the full amount, that he should wait a little while, or that he will reduce the interest rate on this one. There is a possibility of playing favourites here. I happen to know that the minister involved would not do that but the possibility exists.

When we make legislation in the House we should write the legislation in such a way that partisan politics does not become an issue. When it comes to the business of taxing and paying taxes, it should be done in a fair, equitable and transparent manner so that every Canadian is treated the same as every other Canadian. There should be no particular advantages to one group vis-à-vis another group. It should not be possible for a minister to intrude and manipulate the situation to his advantage or the advantage of the political party that he is involved with.

The very same set of arguments also applies to the panel. Why should the minister, having a group of experts that is available to him and providing him with good advice, be in a position to ignore their advice? I think the advisory panel is there as a mechanism, as a protection for Canadian taxpayers so that disputes can be resolved equitably, quickly and in an impartial way. If the minister chooses to ignore the advice of the panel he should be required to give reasons for doing so.

We also need to look at a couple of other things. The first of these are the rights of the taxpayer. What rights do we have as Canadian taxpayers who support the government, who support the programs and who pay for the programs even if they do not support them? What are the rights of the individual taxpayer? The rights of the individual taxpayer are that we should know where our taxes are going, how much our taxes are and the basis for those taxes so that they are equitable and fair and we know exactly what is happening in each of these areas.

It goes beyond that. There are three crown corporations that are for-profit corporations. They include the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Canada Post Corporation and the Royal Canadian Mint. These are only three Crown corporations out of many more that have somehow been exempted from a requirement to make payments in lieu of taxes. Simply because they are crown corporations they can be exempt. The Business Development Bank of Canada pays taxes because it is listed in schedule IV. For some reason or other these three corporations, CMHC, CPC and the Royal Canadian Mint have been exempted. We do not know why.

It was suggested by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities and by our amendment that these be included, but it was ignored. Why? The National Housing Act was amended last year to allow Canada Mortgage and Housing to pay dividends to its major shareholder, the Government of Canada. Clearly, it would not pay dividends if it did not have a profit. We have here a corporation that uses the services of a municipality which are paid for by taxes. Why should those corporations not be required to make payments in lieu of taxes, just like the other crown corporations?

It is the right of the taxpayer to be protected and that the taxes be equitable, fair and universal for all those who are liable.

There is also a responsibility on the part of the minister for sound management. There have been examples of good sound management in that particular department, and I commend the minister, but that is not the issue here. On this particular issue there has been good management on the part of the department but there are other areas where the department has failed and where, I would suggest, the minister should call into question some of the management practices, in particular the Canada Post Corporation.

The way in which the rural route mail couriers are being administered by that particular organization is scandalous, particularly the way in which the contract process is being operated. Something needs to be done to ensure that the contracting procedure and process is fair and equitable. At the moment it is not.

I now want to move into the area of accountability. The minister is accountable to this parliament and he should be held to account. Parliament should know the reasons why taxes have not been paid, why payments are made in lieu of taxes, why some people are not paying as much, are late or have had their interest payments adjusted. We need to have that information.

We also need transparency. What needs to be hidden? Nothing needs to be hidden. Why should this be some kind of deep secret. It should not be. Why not tell Canadians that the minister is appealing a particular tax assessment? Why should we not know that in his or her opinion it should be reduced? That is legitimate. If members in the House have a question we can appeal to a tax appeal authority. The minister is accountable to parliament.

Finally, there is the business of commitment. We need to know if there is commitment to peace, order and good government in this department? I will again refer to that specific instance with the contracting procedure at Canada Post. It does not promote peace, order and good government because it pits one group against another. The process is not open. It is one sided and, in many ways, discriminates against other people.

If the minister would say that he will be accountable and that he is committed to this, then we would really be able to say that we have moved a long way. It could be done with the amendments we have suggested on the report stage of the bill.

I want to say how significant this is, particularly when I refer to Mr. Desautels, the auditor general, and his comments from yesterday. This was reported this morning in the National Post . He said “If members of parliament are involved in the decision making process”—in this particular instance he is referring to job creation grants, but it applies everywhere—“that blurs the line and makes it harder for them to play their oversight role of government”.

I cannot underline more strongly than the auditor general did, the significance of that statement.

It is in the same way that I want to protect not only the minister but the taxpayers of Canada. I want to tell them that they will be treated fairly and equitably, and that the decisions we make will be transparent. If that happens, the auditor general would not have to give advice like that because we would be committed right from the start.

I suggest that we must decide to play fairly, equitably and honestly. We need to tell our municipalities that we are here to recognize them and respect them.

The principle is the same, whether it is with HRDC grants, EDC grants or loans, or with any other department. The principle is that MPs, including the minister, should recognize that all laws pertaining to individuals and the private sector apply equally to the Government of Canada, its personnel, its agencies and parliament. A commitment to that principle characterizes all Reform MPs and will characterize all Canadian alliance MPs after Saturday's decision. This policy and this commitment I give to all hon. members on my behalf and on my colleagues' behalf.

I recommend to the minister that although he missed the opportunity to protect himself and his successors, he can provide amendments in the next session of parliament to bring about those amendments that will protect him and make sure that it is clear and above-board.

With regard to the three other corporations, CMHC, CPC and the Royal Canadian Mint, the minister could then bring that amendment forward and include them under schedule four. We would then have a fair and equitable treatment of all crown corporations. They would then be obligated to pay taxes to the taxing authority.

While we agree with the bill in principle and support it, and while there are many things about the bill we like, I suggest to the minister that he has not gone as far as he could have gone or should have gone. It would have been in the interests of this parliament and all Canadians to have gone further and accepted some of the amendments that were presented to the House on the occasion of the reporting of the bill.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, from the point of view of the NDP caucus and the investigation that we have done on the bill, we do recognize that the bill represents over two years of exhaustive consultation with all the parties, a cross-country tour and I think a genuine effort to allow all the stakeholders to have an adequate say and adequate input into developing what we think is a very important bill.

I will go even further by saying that I believe this type of consultation process could even serve as a model for other pieces of legislation because it was such a well thought out process. All of the parties came away fully satisfied that the consultation was thorough and that they had adequate opportunity to make a difference and to help shape and craft this type of legislation.

We would like to see this happen more frequently with other bills and we would hope that all of the parties, to any piece of legislation that is crafted, could feel so positive about their opportunities.

The NDP caucus believes firmly that Bill C-10 will be a direct benefit to almost 2,000 communities coast to coast to coast. We believe that it succeeds as a piece of legislation because it will enshrine, once and for all, the principles of fairness, equity and predictability in the management of our federal payments in lieu of taxes, principles which I believe are important to all members of the House on both sides.

I congratulate the members of the joint technical committee, which was made up of representatives from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Treasury Board representatives and other government representatives. I would also like to recognize all of the municipal representatives, mayors and councillors who met with the consultation tour during 1998. They also played such a valuable role in crafting this legislation.

All members of the House realize that the Government of Canada enjoys a constitutional exemption from local taxation. Nevertheless I think we all recognize and agree that we have a moral obligation as a property owner to help pay for the costs of local government. We are major occupants of space in the municipalities and obviously we use the services of the local government. It is only fair and right that we should be paying for them. Federal operations should contribute to the social and economic well-being of the community and certainly should not be a burden on the local taxpayer.

Over the past 50 years federal governments have adopted the policy of paying grants in lieu of property taxes in recognition of the valuable direct and indirect services that it gets from the municipalities. These payments are now in excess of $375 million annually, which represents a significant transfer of federal dollars to local communities.

These federal payments contribute to the local economies. They are of great benefit and as such contribute greatly to the well-being of Canadians in general. Imagine the impact on the finances of a region like Ottawa-Carleton or the city of Hull if the Government of Canada reneged on its burden as a property owner and stopped making payments in lieu of taxes. It would be devastating.

It is fair to say that we all recognize and accept the rationale for these payments. Canadians realize their value and their necessity. That is not at issue today.

Bill C-10 deals with ways to improve the administration of the payments. Taking into account the far reaching changes that have occurred in the municipal taxation front over the last two decades, the legislation needed to be revamped and upgraded.

The NDP caucus is satisfied that Bill C-10 will bring about positive, constructive and lasting program changes. It will confirm that the federal government does have respect for the standards set for other property owners and that it values the services it receives from municipal governments.

The goal is to make the process more predictable and to strengthen the foundation of fairness and equity on which the program was built and on which it has operated over the last five decades. We want to make federal payments in lieu of taxes resemble the taxes paid by private landowners as much as possible. We believe that Bill C-10 takes us one step further to that equitable position and still recognizes the federal government's constitutional exemption from local taxation.

Bill C-10 will change the name of the legislation and the program. In future, grants in lieu of taxes will be referred to as payments in lieu of taxes. This more accurately reflects the more explicit and respectful relationship between the two levels of government. The type of language used is very important. The term “payments” rather than “grants” more accurately reflects the mutual respect between the two levels of government.

Bill C-10 also includes a goodwill clause that confirms our commitment to fairness and equity in the administration of the federal payments in lieu of taxes. This is a very positive and necessary aspect of this newly redefined relationship.

Changes in legislation include a commitment by the federal government to endeavour to meet the payment schedules put in place locally. When payments are unreasonably delayed, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services will have the power and the authority to make payment of a supplementary amount to the municipality to compensate for the delay. This is also something which municipalities needed to be able to rely on as a stream of revenue from the federal government so that their own services would not be interrupted by some late payment on the part of the government.

Bill C-10 addresses the issue of resolution of any kind of disagreement between the two parties. Any kind of relationship like this has to have some kind of mediation process that is fair and impartial and one with which both parties are comfortable.

For all those reasons Bill C-10 will be of service to the municipalities. We believe the local politicians in the municipalities are comfortable with it. They have had a satisfactory opportunity to have input. We believe the whole process should serve as a model for the development of other types of legislation. The NDP caucus will be happy to vote in favour of Bill C-10 at third reading.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, our party is pleased to support Bill C-10 and I am pleased to speak on behalf of it. In fact I am filling in for my colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac.

We have made important progress both on this bill and with this bill. I would like to take a few minutes to summarize what we have accomplished and how it would benefit taxpayers across the country. I want to review some of the key objectives of the bill and explain why our party supports these objectives. I also want to review some of the problems that exist in the present system and how I think the bill addresses some of those problems.

There are some problems as well within the bill itself which various groups have identified for us. I want to talk about these and how we attempted to resolve them and gauge how successful we were in resolving them. Specifically I want to revisit our amendments to the bill and the benefits Canadians will see as a result of them.

Finally I want to look ahead and identify the areas that still need to be addressed and will need to be addressed in the future.

First, I want to express personal thanks to the individuals and groups who worked with our party on this bill. The executive and staff of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Cities of New Brunswick Association, the Ontario Municipalities Association and the Appraisal Institute of Canada all shared their insight and ideas with us.

I also want to thank my caucus colleagues, specifically the hon. members for Brandon—Souris, Richmond—Arthabaska, Compton—Stanstead and of course the hon. member for Saint John. Memory will tell us that they were all mayors in their hometowns.

I would also like to thank my colleagues from the other parties who traded ideas with us, and the minister who listened to us when we said that the bill could be improved. It is not very often we can talk about a minister who actually wants to talk to the opposition in an attempt to improve a bill as the minister did. We thank him very much.

As everyone knows, municipalities fund their activities through real property taxes and business occupancy taxes. In exchange for these levies, property owners and businesses receive municipal services such as water, sewer and waste collection.

For the first 80 years of this country, the government of the dominion of Canada received all the same services that municipal ratepayers did without paying a single cent in municipal taxes. This changed in 1950 with the passage of the Municipal Grants Act which allowed the national government to make payments or grants in lieu of taxes. The municipalities got their money from the federal government without the federal government jeopardizing its constitutional position as one of the only two levels of government authorized to collect taxes.

The system has worked quite well for both parties, except of course when disputes from time to time have arisen. In those cases of dispute, it has been the federal government that has had the final say over how much a municipality would receive on a given property with no appeal available to the municipality. It has been a very one-sided process.

Bill C-10 is an attempt to introduce a system that will be fairer to the municipalities in valuing and rating federal government real property. Another goal of the legislation is to provide greater equity and greater predictability so that municipal governments can plan their budgets in advance with some accuracy knowing approximately how much revenue they can expect from federal property.

The bill will allow the federal government to pay compensation when it is late paying its taxes. It authorizes the Government of Canada to make payments to municipalities when tenants on federal property default on their tax obligations. Perhaps most important, this legislation will establish a formal dispute settlement body so that when disagreements arise over the amount of payments owed to the federal government, the municipality concerned or the federal government can refer the dispute to a dispute advisory panel.

The bill will also expand the definition of federal real property to include federally owned outdoor swimming pools, golf course improvements, outdoor theatres, residential driveways and employee parking improvements so that the federal government property is treated the same way as other property within the municipality. It will ensure that first nations governments receive equal treatment to that accorded other local governments under the act.

The bill also improves predictability by clarifying provisions relating to the calculation of payments in lieu of taxes on federal farm property, the calculation of deductions when municipalities are unable to provide federal property with equivalent services to those accorded to private property and the status of Parks Canada assets as federal property.

Along with Bill C-10 some other important policy changes are being made. For example, the federal government will consult with professional appraisal organizations, assessment authorities, municipalities, federal departments of the crown and crown corporations on the valuations of special purpose federal properties, such as penitentiaries, military establishments and national parks.

The federal government will also seek the advice of these stakeholders regarding appointments to and management of the dispute advisory panel. A program advisory council will be established composed of representatives of stakeholders, to provide advice to the minister on administrative policy and legislative matters.

Finally the federal government will commit to paying its municipal taxes on time, the same as everyone else. Members will have to forgive me if I choke on that one; the federal government paying its taxes on time. Who could actually believe that? Nonetheless the track record of the current federal Liberal government is not all that impressive on this point. If it can make some improvements, it would be impressive but we will hold our breath on that until we see what happens.

The bottom line is that a system that has been unfair, inequitable and unpredictable will now be more fair and predictable. The key word is predictable. Ultimately this bill and the accompanying measures will put more money into municipalities on a regular basis. That will benefit all municipal taxpayers. That is why our party supports Bill C-10.

The bill is not without its flaws. When it was first introduced many complaints were received from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that the bill was being rushed through the House before municipalities had a chance to see the bill, study it and provide feedback to the government.

Although municipalities were generally pleased with the two year consultation process that preceded the introduction of the legislation, when the bill came out they received no notice and did not get a copy of the bill or briefing materials. We complained to the minister's office about this. I am not sure whether we can claim victory, but it seems that again the minister listened and almost immediately the schedule for second reading and the committee hearings on the bill were pushed back. Again the minister listened to those complaints.

Most of the bill is straightforward but our caucus had some difficulties with the composition and mandate of the dispute advisory panel, as did some of the stakeholders to whom we spoke. One item of concern was the requirement that we have relevant knowledge or experience without defining what those terms meant.

I understand what the intention of the phrase would be. It was meant to ensure that only qualified professionals serve on the panel. Unfortunately, because this term was not defined in the bill, our fear was that it would be left up to the minister of public works to define it.

That leaves the panel open for political abuse. For example, what would happen if the minister decided that relevant knowledge or experience meant that all a person needed to be qualified would be to be a card carrying member of the Liberal Party?

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

You know better than that.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

When the hon. member gets up I will listen very carefully to what he has to say. I am glad the Speaker is not paying attention. When I am finished with this he will understand what I am saying. It will be very complimentary but he should be patient. Members on the other side of the House are not used to compliments. When we start out they are so frightened by our words that they either hide under their desks or get up shouting in a madman fashion, which we have seen recently in the House. We are asking for a little decorum in the House, Mr. Speaker, by the member opposite. When I am through I am sure he will come over here to shake my hand in support of my speech.

At the end of this process, without a definition we could end up with some patronage in terms of stacking the deck on the panel. I am sure the member will agree that in future governments the same could happen. We do not expect this government to be in power forever and ever, amen. In fact it could come to a crashing end within the next number of months. We are looking ahead to what might happen in the future, regardless of party affiliation. We are saying that potential for abuse had to be eliminated and we are glad to see that something has been done.

We consulted a number of people in order to attempt to define the terms of the bill. I know the member for Tobique—Mactaquac spoke with the Privy Council Office, with some municipal organizations and with the Appraisal Institute of Canada. In this case the institute was helpful in suggesting amendments to the bill that would have required panel members to be selected from a list provided jointly by it and the same organization in the province of Quebec.

This was not a bad attempt. However there are two problems with this definition. First, there are other types of professionals we want to have sitting on the panel such as real estate assessors and representatives of municipalities and federal departments. Second, there is no consistent national definition of an appraiser. It varies from one end of the country to the other. It differs from province to province and most provinces do not require licensing, believe it or not.

For now we are prepared to allow the panel to proceed as the bill describes. I would urge all members to monitor the composition of the panel, particularly the member opposite. Should problems arise in the future the government operations committee has within its power the ability to review the legislation. What more could we ask for than a review of the process?

We were effective in two other areas as well also having to do with the dispute advisory panel. In the original bill it was proposed that the panel be appointed by and paid by the minister. Its advice would be rejected by the minister without an opportunity for appeal. Any or all panel members could be fired by the minister at any time for any reason. For a panel that was supposed to impartially adjudicate disputes between municipalities and the federal government, usually the public works department, this process seemed like it was tilted in favour of the public works department and the minister.

At the time the member for Tobique—Mactaquac likened the process to that of a criminal trial where the accused person got to pick the jury. It sounds familiar in this place. The accused person got to pick the jury, pay the jury, act as judge and face no appeal. It did not look like a very fair system.

We received the same complaints from the municipalities and their organizations. Based on these complaints my colleague drafted amendments to make the dispute panel process much more balanced and submitted these amendments to the committee where they were considered.

The first amendment was to remove the threat of arbitrary firing of a panel member by the minister. If a member could not be fired by a minister then the member could be free to give more independent advice without the fear of reprisal. That sounds like cabinet across the street. Where the bill originally stated that panel members would serve at the pleasure of the minister, we changed that so that members would serve on good behaviour. This means that panel members would now have tenure and could only be fired for just cause.

The second amendment we presented to the committee that was adopted was a change to the appointment process. Bill C-10 in its original form had the panel members being appointed by the minister. The amendment by the member for Tobique—Mactaquac was passed by the committee. It proposed that the governor in council or cabinet would appoint panel members.

The member for Tobique—Mactaquac and I may slightly disagree on that point. That means the Prime Minister hand-picking, but I guess that is better than just the minister himself because at least it would come under the scrutiny of cabinet. The standing committee thought these two amendments made sense and would improve the bill and the performance of the advisory panel. It adopted both amendments unanimously.

Because of these changes the dispute settlement process would be fair and municipalities could seek larger payments. Ultimately this could allow municipal taxpayers to get a break on their tax bills, something I think all municipal ratepayers would appreciate.

Having said that, there is still one area yet to be resolved that has not been dealt with in the bill. That is the outstanding matter concerning business occupancy taxes and certain crown corporations. It has not yet been determined how and to what extent Canada Post, the Royal Canadian Mint, Canada Mortgage and Housing and similar crown corporations would pay taxes and business occupancy taxes.

Certainly the mandate of these corporations has changed over the years since the Municipal Grants Act was last updated. It used to be that these crown corporations served purely for public policy purposes. In the unlikely event they ever made a profit it was more by accident than by design. Profit was never in their vocabulary. Now these corporations serve two purposes. Not only do they continue to serve an important public policy role. They also have a mandate to earn a profit to recover costs and to lessen the burden on taxpayers.

If these crown corporations are conducting business and earning a profit they should be paying business taxes. The question is how much. After discussions our party had with representatives from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and after having questioned witnesses from FCM and public works in committee, I am convinced that this problem will soon be solved. Municipalities and the federal government are continuing to negotiate what portion of each crown corporation is devoted to purely profit making activities. The discussion is not yet finished on this issue.

I look forward to seeing this problem resolved in the very near future. In conclusion, the bill would bring a more balanced, predictable and fairer approach to the process of payments to municipalities.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It has been brought to my attention that the hon. minister has deemed to have spoken but by consent will be able to speak again. The first speaker when the bill comes back will be the minister.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I realize that you were looking at the minister and did not see the member beside me stand on questions and comments.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We will go to questions and comments with the hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Angela Vautour NDP Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have met with some municipalities that have serious financial problems because of the lack of taxes being paid to them when they have federal buildings in their very small communities.

It is quite a disadvantage and it is very clear that the proportion being given in lieu of taxes to these municipalities is absolutely unacceptable. These communities cannot provide the services because of this fact. What is the member's view on this point?

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, my view would be that federal government agencies, and we are talking about Canada Post in this particular case, should be paying their fair share of taxes. They are in business now to make money. It is not a case of being subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer. If they are playing by the rules of business as every business should, they should be paying their fair share of taxes.

It places an unfair burden on municipalities that have to rely on taxes to look after their communities. I think the bill will go some distance toward improving that process and making sure that all municipalities get their fair share of taxes back from Crown corporations that are now commissioned to make money and show a profit. What is good for a private business should be good for government.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is the House ready for the question?

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

National Epilepsy MonthStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this month the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance and other organizations across the country are promoting National Epilepsy Month.

Epilepsy is the most common serious brain disorder in Canada. Approximately 300,000 Canadians have epilepsy. This disorder does not discriminate. People of all ages are affected by epilepsy, especially the elderly.

Unfortunately in most cases involving this disease the cause is unknown and there is no cure. Also discouraging are the myths surrounding epilepsy. These myths can be just as damaging to people suffering from this disorder as the seizures themselves.

I strongly encourage Canadians to make an effort this month to learn more about this disorder and to develop their first aid skills accordingly. Only by working together can we greatly improve the quality of life of people with this problem in this great nation of ours.

Organic FoodsStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the government never learns from its mistakes. I have just learned of plans by a government supported agency to take over complete control of the certification of organic foods in Canada. If the government allows this plan to proceed it would put 45 thriving private organic certification companies out of business.

The Liberals say they want economic diversification but continue to intrude into the marketplace to eliminate competition, limit freedom of contract and infringe on fundamental property rights. Liberal actions speak louder than words. There is a great concern among the people involved in the organic growing and processing industry.

In this time of declining farm incomes, this industry continues to thrive. I do not want to see it hurt because of this socialist government's desire for a single controlling body.

We have had an agency like that in western Canada for the last 60 years and it has contributed to the current farm income crisis. This monopoly is called the Canadian Wheat Board. We do not need another one.

TuberculosisStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I call to the attention of parliament the plight of two billion people in the world who are infected with tuberculosis, 200 million of whom will develop the disease. One hundred million will die if no proper treatment is made available to them.

This may not have the impact that the image of a flood or the exodus of refugees creates, but the scale of human suffering and lives lost is no less.

We cannot afford to be complacent only because the incidence of tuberculosis in Canada is low. One can become infected simply by sharing the same air with an infected person in a waiting room, in a bus or in an airplane. It is an ever-increasing risk in our global village.

The well-being of Canada and her citizens is well served by contributing our expertise and financial resources to combat this menace to international public health.

We have a collective duty to help in the global action. This let us pledge as we mark World Tuberculosis Day today.

World Tuberculosis DayStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Yvon Charbonneau Liberal Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw to the attention of the House that today is World Tuberculosis Day.

World Tuberculosis Day commemorates the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the cause of tuberculosis, the tuberculosis bacillus. We take advantage of this opportunity to remind hon. members that this disease is still endemic and out of control in a large part of the world. One-third of the world's population is infected with the tuberculosis bacillus, and there are eight million new cases annually.

After many decades of continuous decline, unfortunately the incidence rate of TB cases in Canada has levelled off in the past several years. With the emergence of drug resistant strains and the deadly interaction with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Canada cannot afford to become complacent in the face of the worldwide TB threat.

Tuberculosis constitutes a true global emergency, which all countries must take seriously.

On this World Tuberculosis Day, I would like to express my support of the ongoing battle being waged by Health Canada and its partners, including CIDA, against this disease.

AgricultureStatements By Members

11 a.m.


John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadian agricultural products are known the world over for their high quality.

Over the years supply managed farm commodities have ensured quality goods and stable prices. Canadian farmers, processors, retailers and consumers alike have benefited greatly from the steady and safe supply of regulated products.

Both our Canadian farmers and consumers recognize the obvious benefits of continuing such programs in the wake of a rapidly changing global agricultural landscape.

I urge the government to retain supply management for the benefit of all Canadians. Canadians have a right to enjoy a safe and healthy food supply and this should be first and foremost in our minds as we embark on WTO negotiations.

I further urge the government to continue to recognize and acknowledge that agricultural supply management programs are essential to ensure the protection and capability of Canada's agricultural production.

National Park WardensStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Cliff Breitkreuz Reform Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, the lives of our national park wardens are in danger and the heritage minister refuses to protect them.

Federal park wardens have been forced to work without the proper equipment needed to protect themselves. Wardens constantly encounter poachers, drug dealers and others who are potentially violent and armed. Poachers face up to five years in jail and become desperate when apprehended by a park warden.

Knowing these facts, why does the heritage minister ignore her committee's recommendation that wardens should carry service revolvers? The government allows Brink's security guards to carry sidearms to protect money, but refuses the same right to wardens who protect wildlife, tourists and their own lives.

I proudly represent the people who live in Jasper National Park and I strongly urge the heritage minister to provide park wardens with the basic tools needed for their protection and the protection of the public. Why put our officers at risk when on the line of duty simply because they were denied basic protection?

The EnvironmentStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ovid Jackson Liberal Bruce—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of discussion about our health care system and its sustainability. However, several of my constituents have recently told me that illness prevention is still the best medicine. A big part of that is a healthy environment.

I was pleased that in our recent budget there were several measures for environmental protection and I look forward to working with all colleagues in this direction.

I also hope that all members will co-operate on this file to improve our environment and to act upon the measures contained in the budget. Clean water, clean air and a protected environment are a big part of our heritage, the heritage I hope to leave for my grandchildren and for future generations of Canadians.

I hope this is only a down payment on what we will do as a government for the future of our people and our children. A clean environment and good health is great for Canadians.

Member For Vaudreuil—SoulangesStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges said that he would lose his riding to the Bloc Quebecois in the next election if the present Prime Minister remained at the head of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The Liberal member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges is wrong in attributing such a defeat solely to poor leadership. It will also be the fault of his government, which has imposed Bill C-20 to prevent Quebecers from being the only ones to decide on their future. It will be the fault of his government, a government that has lost track of $1 billion in Human Resources Development Canada funds, that has accumulated a fantastic surplus at the expense of the unemployed and workers, and that does nothing as gas prices skyrocket.

Unfortunately for the hon. member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges, we can only confirm his fears. The Bloc Quebecois will indeed take his seat from him in the next election.

Greek Independence DayStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, March 25, Canadians of Hellenic descent will be celebrating the anniversary of the liberation of their former homeland from the Ottoman Empire.

In 1821, after 400 years of oppression from the Ottoman Empire, the Hellenes, with the help of heroes such as Lord Byron of England, restored freedom to Greece, the birthplace of democracy.

Since that time the relations between these two countries have not been the greatest. Recently, however, the people of Greece and Turkey have begun to build and exhibit compassion toward each other. For example, when Turkey experienced a devastating earthquake last year its Greek neighbours were there to lend a helping hand immediately. Soon after, unfortunately, Greece also experienced an earthquake, and the Turkish people were there to reciprocate immediately.

Since that time the people of both these countries have been building great relationships by working together on both social and economic issues.

By this unprecedented willingness to work together, the people of these two countries seem to be indicating their common wish to finally create a peaceful environment between their two countries.

It is also my hope, as we begin the new millennium, that these two countries will nurture positive energies for a better tomorrow.

Conservative PartyStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, today's National Post describes Joe Clark's recent nomination meeting:

Joe Clark...played to an embarrassingly small crowd on Wednesday Calgary Centre. About 300, by generous estimates, turned out in that could have held 1,000.

The event got off to a disastrous start when Jim Silye called 30 representatives from community organizations up to the stage. Nobody came forward. While waiting Mr. Silye said “Does anybody know any good jokes while I wait for these people?” He then left the podium, telling the crowd: “Have another drink; I think I will”.

Facing the grim reality of the evening, Mr. Clark stated “We have a lot of work to do. I need your help, I need your prayers—”

Elections are usually run on memberships and money. Seeing as Joe has neither, I can see why he is relying on prayers.

The editorial concluded:

If 300 supporters is all (his) party can muster at a nominating meeting of its leader in a riding that many say Mr. Clark cannot win, it appears Mr. Clark may need all the prayer he can get.

I guess Joe Who has now become Joe Boo Hoo.