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House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all questions be allowed to stand

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from April 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in parliament on February 28, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

April 13th, 2000 / 10:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest.

It is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on Bill C-32, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in parliament on February 28.

The bill deals with important measures, such as increasing the Canada health and social transfers, reinstating full indexation of the personal tax system, increasing the Canada child tax benefit amounts, increasing the foreign content amount for RRSPs and amending the Employment Insurance Act, among other things.

Today our high corporate and personal tax rates create a competitive disadvantage between Canada and our trading partners in today's global economy. It is clear that competitive tax rates are essential. Meaningful tax reductions combined with tax reform will increase both economic growth and opportunities for all Canadians.

The current Prime Minister has suggested that young Canadians should leave the country if they are unhappy with Canada's taxes. This kind of thinking reflects a sixties or seventies view of the world. This option, unfortunately, is becoming increasingly appealing to many young Canadians, particularly those in the high tech sector.

When Canada loses its best and its brightest young people, it loses both the capital and the talent essential to generate a higher level of productivity and innovation. The Conference Board of Canada states that the number of skilled Canadians moving to the U.S. has increased from 17,000 in 1986 to 98,000 in 1997. This is a staggering sixfold increase in just 10 years.

In the last five years there have been 50 different tax increases. Canadians now pay on average about 47% of their income in taxes. Government revenue has increased by $40 billion since 1993, including a hike of $24 billion in personal income tax revenue.

The 2000 budget was the tax cutting budget. Before this budget, Canada had the highest personal income tax in the G-7 and the second highest corporate tax in the OECD. Surprise, surprise, after these measures were implemented, due to more innovative and aggressive tax cutting strategies by other countries, we will still have one of the highest tax burdens in the industrialized world, yet the government claims that it has put Canada on the right track for the 21st century.

The government continues to look inward when it should be looking outward. Our trading partners have pursued policies of lower taxes, less regulation and lower debt and their levels of growth have been striking. For example, Ireland's real GDP per capita growth has been 92% from 1988 to 1999. GDP per capita increased 18% in the U.S. during the same period and in the U.K. and Germany by 14%. In Canada our GDP per capita growth was only 5% during this time.

Furthermore, since 1990 American net disposable income per capita has climbed over 10%, while Canadian real disposable income has fallen by 8%.

The fact is that the government has had at least $115 billion available to provide all Canadians with broad based, meaningful tax relief. The finance minister pretends to be listening to the call for tax relief and for meaningful action on the health care front but he is not listening hard enough. The 2000 budget falls short of its potential.

The case for deep and immediate tax cuts is real. Canadians now pay about 47% of what they earn in taxes to all three levels of government.

The PC Party of Canada firmly believes that Canadians have suffered long enough. They should not have to wait until after the next election for tax relief that falls far short of what could have been delivered. The government has a surplus because taxes are too high. That surplus ought to be returned to the Canadian taxpayers.

Increasing the basic personal income amount by only $100 this year, as the government has proposed, works out to be about 33 cents a week, or only $17 a year.

The finance minister's poor plan means that lower income Canadians will still pay taxes on earnings as little as $8,200. When we add on provincial taxes and payroll taxes, governments are taking away as much as 30 cents on the dollar from people with virtually no income.

What the government fails to mention is that since 1993, due to bracket creep, the government has actually dragged 1.4 million low income Canadians under the tax roll for the first time.

The PC Party would raise the basic personal amount from its current level of $7,131 to $12,000. Increasing the personal amount to $12,000 would remove 2.5 million Canadians from the tax rolls and could save an individual taxpayer up to $1,200 annually. This tax cutting measure would benefit all Canadians but particularly those in the low and middle income classes. I feel it is indefensible that right now in Canada someone making as little as $7,131 is paying income tax.

The greatest single disappointment in the bill is its failure to address the real needs of Canada health care. At one time the federal government shared the cost of health care 50:50 with the provinces. In recent years that share has been reduced so that now only 13 cents of every dollar spent on health care in Canada comes from the federal government. Meanwhile, inflation, population growth and the aging population are increasing health care costs.

Brian Tobin, premier of Newfoundland, has said that the government missed the boat by not reinvesting in health care. The Canadian Health Care Association has said that the budget does not recognize the severity of the current health care crisis in Canada. They are right. However, the government has again refused to restore cash payments under the Canada health and social transfers to 1993 levels. A one time payment out of lapsing year funds of $2.5 billion does not provide the kind of long term stability that our health care system needs. It is essential that the CHST funding be restored to the 1993-94 levels.

The government has no long term plan to save health care. Instead, it has chosen simply to put a band-aid over an arterial wound. Further, there is no serious intent on the part of the federal government to sit down with the provinces and at least attempt to fix the problem.

Bill C-32 amends the Employment Insurance Act and the Canadian Labour Code to double the duration of maternity and parental leave to one year. However, the government has continued to refuse to reduce the ridiculously high EI premiums. This year the government expects to collect over $18 billion in EI premiums but only pay out $12 billion in benefits. That is a surplus of $6 billion.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada proposes that EI premiums be reduced immediately to $2 per $100 of insurable earnings from the current level of $2.40.

EI premiums are a regressive tax on the poorest of Canadians. Somebody making $39,000 per year in Canada pays the same amount in EI premiums as somebody making $300,000 per year. It does not seem like a fair system.

The federal government is making it harder and harder to qualify for benefits. Currently only 30% of applicants who pay into the system actually qualify for assistance when they need it. Changes are needed to the EI system so that people can make proper use of what the system was designed for: help those who paid into it. It is not to be used as a fund to pad government books.

The tax grab from the EI fund of $19 billion that the government has taken from workers and employers is disgraceful and shows the true intentions of government.

The current arbitrary 20% limit for foreign content penalizes investors when returns from foreign investments are higher than returns on investments made in Canada. Bill C-32 increases the current limit of 20% to 25% for the year 2000 and to 30% in the following year. The PC party proposes that we increase this to 50% over the next two years.

The 1998 budget was called the education budget and the following year 12,000 graduates in Canada were forced to declare bankruptcy. The 1999 budget was called the health care budget, but over the last year hospital waiting lists have grown longer and the crisis in health care has become even bigger.

The 2000 budget has been dubbed the tax cutting budget, yet after these measures in Bill C-32 are implemented, we will still have the highest personal taxes in the G-7 and the second highest corporate taxes in the OECD.

There are certain measures within Bill C-32 that the Progressive Conservative Party support, such as the restoration of full indexation to the personal tax system. However, with the majority of the other initiatives, it is yet another case of the government lacking vision and taking baby steps forward.

We could have lower taxes and better spending on health care and social programs if the government had the courage to ensure that Canadian taxpayer money would be invested carefully instead of wasted rampantly.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, before I get into my half of the speech, I have a question for my colleague from Ontario. I want to ask him what effect these draconian cuts in health care have had on his home province of Ontario.

I know the health minister, who is with us this morning, will probably want to hear the answer to that as well being a native of Ontario. Would the member to go through some of the difficulties the Harris government has had in dealing with these cutbacks?

This morning we heard the health minister from Ontario basically admit—and I guess that honesty is refreshing—that the goal in terms of the waiting list for cancer patients will not be as radically diminished as she thought.

As health care critic, I want to hear some reflections from my colleague on what he perceives as the biggest single problem in Ontario with regard to health care.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we are all aware, since 1993 the federal Liberal government has cut billions of dollars from the health care system. What we are seeing now is a struggle of not only my province but other provinces as they try to address this situation.

In the long term, if this is a priority, the government will have to restore investments to the 1993-94 level. The population is aging in all areas of the country and this issue has to be addressed. There are long waiting lists. Cancer patients are going to the U.S. for treatment. If the federal government is going to be a partner in health care it also has to come to the table with cash dollars.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the comments of the hon. member. We in the Canadian Alliance Party have proposed some solutions to the present unfair taxation system. One of those solutions, solution 17, moves towards a single tax. Included in that is a move toward equality for spouses with regard to the deduction they are allowed.

We are proposing a $10,000 deduction for either spouse. It does not matter who is earning the income. We are also proposing a $3,000 deduction for each child. I wonder if the hon. member has some reaction to that.

We feel that it would support the family and children. It would not reduce the incentive for one of the parents to stay at home if he or she so chooses. What reaction would the member have to the proposal of moving to a single tax, increasing the deductible to $10,000 for both husband and wife and increasing the child care deduction to $3,000?

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not have any problem with increasing the deductions for spouses so that they are equal. The family is the future of Canada. It should be encouraged to raise kids and perhaps parents should stay at home. I think that is fair and equitable. I am not sure if if the increase in the child tax is the right amount, but I think it is heading in the right direction.

With regard to the flat tax, I agree that taxes are too high. If we are to be a player in the global economy we have to acknowledge that our neighbour to the south, the United States, has a tax regime considerably different from ours. Its system is based on entrepreneurship, innovation and encouraging people to do what they can do. Somehow the tax system has to get flatter. I am not sure flat tax is 100% correct but definitely tax rates have to come down at all levels.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this very important debate on the budget. I echo the words of my colleague from Markham. We can take lessons from the past in terms of what the Liberal government has done. The member made reference to the education budget of couple of years ago. Promptly after the announcement of that budget over 12,000 young Canadians declared bankruptcy. I believe this is considered the budget of tax reduction, so we can expect the same in terms of taxpayers filing bankruptcy if its record is consistent with the past.

In the debate on the finances of the nation we have to move beyond some of what we said in the House in the past. I would like to go back a bit in history and talk about a budget introduced in this place in 1979 which spelled the defeat of the Conservative Party under the leadership of Joe Clark at that time.

Mr. Clark has been unfairly criticized as not being fiscally conservative. The record back in 1979 will show that. It is probably too long for some members of the House to remember. It was the first Conservative budget to be introduced in this place following World War II. The budget at that time, just to remind Canadians, was considered an 18 cent per gallon budget. The finance minister at that time, Mr. Crosbie, made a commitment that gasoline would be taxed at 18 cents a gallon and that the 18 cents were to be used to reduce the deficit and in the long term eliminate our debt. We would have been free of debt within a period of four to five years.

What happened to that budget? History tells us that it was defeated on the floor of the House of Commons and was never enacted. Since then our level of debt reached the point of strangulation. We have basically killed ourselves with the debt load.

I remind the House that there is no sense in pointing fingers back and forth because we are all responsible. Every government in the western world following World War II went on the bent of deficit financing, assuming we would grow out of it and as the economy grew we would pay down the debt. That did not happen.

In Canada we predicated the elimination of the debt on world oil prices. The prime minister who succeeded Joe Clark and was prime minister for 17 years, Mr. Trudeau, admitted that he had made a mistake. We had predicated our finances based on oil prices rising to something in the vicinity of $65 a barrel and thought that would lead us out of the debt problem, simply because of the revenues the federal government at that time would bring in from oil production from western Canada. That was basically an insult to western Canadians as well. That did not happen.

In the meantime our debt level has reached proportions that made it very difficult for every government to deal with. I remind the House that we missed the opportunity almost 20 years ago to deal with it. In fact, it was 20 years ago because in February 1980 when Mr. Clark was campaigning on an 18 cent a gallon tax, he was roundly defeated by the government that then went on a spending spree for the next five years.

When we finally regained office in 1984, the Liberal government bragged that it left the cupboard bare. There was no money to spend. Therefore we could not do what Canadian people wanted us to do. They had been conditioned to seeing the government spend its way into prosperity. That is self-defeating. It is like an individual who takes his credit card out of his pocket every time he wants to make a purchase, assuming at the end of the day that the bills do not have to be paid. We know they have to be paid.

The net result is that today we are strangled with a net debt of approximately $600 billion. I remind members of the interest on that. Without going through detailed charts and analyses, the calculation is very fundamental. If we take $600 billion at an average rate of 8% on the bonds holding that debt, it is costing the Canadian taxpayer somewhere between $40 billion and $50 billion in interest charges per year. Again this is arithmetic that a grade school student could understand. It is approximately $1 billion per week in interest payments for the Government of Canada. What could we do with $1 billion a week if we were debt free as a nation? In about a month's time we would cure our health care ills from coast to coast.

The member next to me from Markham who has a great deal of authority on what works and does not work in the economy is on the right path. He has been saying, as has our leader, that reduction in taxes is the key. We have to get the economy moving. We have to take off the restraints in the tax system that are holding back economic development vis-à-vis our neighbours, particularly the United States.

Today money has no boundaries. One can move money around in the blink of an eye. Money will seek the jurisdictions where it can do the best, work the hardest and the most efficiently. It cannot do it in a country being strangled with taxation.

The government in the last seven years has missed a golden opportunity. It brags about what it has done in the last seven years. Indeed there is some room for boasting. We have to give it credit for some of what it has done, but it could have done more. It did not have to do it at the expense of the provinces. The easy way out for the federal government, which we can see in this budget as well, was simply to download on the backs of the provinces.

It has not yet figured out that there is only one taxpayer. He is the same person, municipally speaking, provincially speaking and federally speaking. We all pay those taxes, so when it downloads on the provinces it has not accomplished anything. It has simply hidden under its own mistakes. That is what the federal government has done, and it has done it effectively.

Let us go through some of the reasons the government has achieved something in the last number of years. Let us look at some of its successes. Let us look at the deficit and why it was reduced. Three letters will explain it, GST. Suddenly, after seven years, it is admitting for the first time that it cannot eliminate the GST. Why? Because it is bringing in approximately $25 billion a year in revenue, almost the exact figure in terms of its surplus.

In other words, if the government eliminated the $25 billion-plus a year from the GST, we would be back into a debt position. Because of the initiatives the Conservatives took on free trade, deregulation and privatization, the government has a little bit of bragging room. It is not because of initiatives it took but hard decisions that we took when we were on that side of the House.

Before I conclude, I simply remind the Canadian people that the government did not invent debt reduction. It did not invent free trade. It did not invent the GST. It conveniently railed against those issues when political opportunity dictated that it was a wise thing to do.

Never once between 1988 and 1993 did the finance minister, who does a lot of boasting, stand in the House to vote for anything that meant a reduction in taxes or a reduction in the size of the growth of government.

Why this magic transformation after 1993? It was because reality set in. After 10 years of education between the seventies and the eighties the Canadian people suddenly realized, as Mr. Clark did in 1979 when he took office, that the debt problem was a real problem that would not go away, unless we want the IMF coming in here, knocking on our doors and running the country as it did in other jurisdictions such as Argentia. The government had no choice. It had to act and it did act. The question is how did it do it. It did not do it with any pain to itself. It downloaded on the provinces.

I look forward to continuing this debate. Hopefully I will have a chance to respond to some questions and comments from members on both sides of the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member from the Progressive Conservative Party was wondering if any of us were old enough to remember back to 1979. I certainly assure the House that I am old enough to remember. I remember the years of Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark handling the finances of the nation and driving us deeply, by hundreds of billions of dollars, into debt through their fiscal management.

The debate today deals with the budget and budgetary matters. Certainly modernizing the tax regime is an essential element in Canada today so that we can be prepared for the future.

One area is the medical provisions of the Income Tax Act. I have a little story to tell about the Boonstra family in my riding who has a two year old child with a serious case of diabetes which requires four injections every day. This is putting mammoth costs on the Boonstras but they do not qualify under the income tax provisions for a disabled child.

What would the member think if there could be some changes to the provisions of the Income Tax Act to broaden the definition of disability to include people like this two year old child in Manitoba?

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, the second part of the member's question is an important one and should be addressed in the House, especially by the government.

The government I sat with in the 1980s, the Mulroney years, ran on a day to day basis a balance sheet, and that is factual. What strangled that government was that it did not lay a nickel on the debt. It was the compound interest on the debt that strangled the government.

I know in western Canada it has ridden the hobby horse for the last 10 years, but that hobby horse's legs are just about ready to collapse. History will record that it was the compounded interest on the debt. That is why I used the analogy of the individual and his or her credit. When it reaches a point where the compound interest cannot be paid on the debt, we are in trouble. That is the position the Government of Canada was in in the 1980s right into the 1990s. We are barely getting out of that. There is more the government can do in terms of tax relief to grow the economy.

The member is absolutely right about the medication. The definition of illness or what qualifies us for Canada pension and medications, in terms of the families ability to wipe that off and receive compensation from the government, has to be considered.

I remind the member that in 1997 the present government, in fact, the Prime Minister and his team, campaigned on a promise of bringing in a pharmacare program. Talk about irresponsibility. They cannot even pay the bills in the health care system today or support the health care system to the level we as Canadians would expect. At the same time, they campaigned on the promise of a pharmacare program that they had no intention of fulfilling nor had the capacity to fulfil. The health minister is still on that same bent and talks about designer programs. The health minister has his pet projects but knows full well that the system is broken.

I think they have to get the fundamentals right and working before they start talking about new programs. Canadians want health care. In fact, they want a good health care system and are willing to pay for it. They do not want the minister tinkering with a system that would work given the chance.

We have to remind the member as well that primary health care is the responsibility of the provinces. Under the Canada Health Act, all the health minister can do is secure funding for the provinces and hope that they live by the five principles of the act. This was an act that the government introduced about 20 years ago. Now, in terms of its responsibilities, it is attempting to unravel and climb out from underneath it.

There is more the government can do. Health care is the number one issue on the mind of every Canadian. They are looking for leadership on that side of House but there has been an absence of that on this issue. We do not want to get off this point, but when this budget was introduced, I knew it was not an election budget. Why? The money that has been dedicated to health care and education in this budget would keep our system running from coast to coast for three days.

I have not addressed that need but we are looking for some leadership on that side of the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged today to stand in the House of Commons and speak, not only on behalf of the taxpayers of Elk Island, but also, I believe, on behalf of the taxpayers of the whole country on the implementation of the latest budget.

It is interesting that we have not yet fully implemented the previous budget. We still have some bills to pass. Today we are talking about the current budget.

When I think of the implications of the budget, I immediately think about families. Some time ago I read that one of the most important factors leading to marriage breakups and family stress are financial factors.

I read somewhere that husbands and wives argue more about money than about anything else. There is no doubt in my mind that our tax regime and the government intrusion into our economy and governments, of which the federal is only one of the three levels of government in this country, but the combined levels of government confiscate from the average taxpayer approximately half of the earnings of that taxpayer. Psychologically, that is very discouraging.

It means that as we earn money in order to provide for our families that we actually get to use only half of it. The rest of it is taken from us. Consequently, it makes it very difficult for people to make ends meet and, as I have just said, this is what adds to stresses in families because there is an argument as to where the limited resources of the family should go.

I would like to preface my statements today on the budget simply by emphasizing again that this is an anti-family government. The Liberals do not do what is good for families. They do not do what is good for children. They tax families to death and then somehow they try to get out that they are doing all these wonderful things by giving families money.

The government has no money. The money that it has is what is confiscated from taxpayers and all it does is redistribute it. It takes it from the pocket of one taxpayer and puts it into someone else's pocket. The degree to which this government does it is excessive.

I would like to also say that there is no implication here that I do not believe in helping those who are less well off. I believe their taxes payable should be even less and that benefits for people who are in dire straits should be there. How they are delivered is a matter of great debate. I, frankly, think that a distant federal government in Ottawa trying to figure out how to distribute the taxpayer's money and to identify people who need it is just wrong.

We have noticed in the last couple of days that the government has transferred a lot of money through Bill C-23 to a group which statistics show are above average in income. The government's anti-family agenda continues. I think it is time that we replace this government and that we start having some policies and principles in Canada which are pro-family and which allow families to keep more of their earnings to pay for the things that they need.

The previous speaker from the Progressive Conservative Party spoke about the debt. This has been one of my chief complaints about the management of the government. The message from the PR department of the government is that everything is fine. The Prime Minister likes to have people think everything is okay, “don't worry, be happy”.

Yet the facts belie the situation. The government gets the people to feel better by giving messaging that puts it in a very good light. As a matter of fact the documents, the actual facts, the numbers in the book, show a completely different picture. They emphasize that the facts are not that rosy and what the government, the finance minister and the Prime Minister do is to simply try to persuade the people that things are really good.

I happen to have here a copy of the 2000 budget plan which is the basis of the bill today. The bill we are debating is the implementation of parts of this budget. I happen to have a copy of the budget here. It is a fairly big document. It has about 350 pages in it. I think it would be wonderful if Canadians would take the time to actually get on the Internet site and look at these budget documents and see what it is that they really say.

I am on page 52 of the budget plan 2000. With respect to the debt, it says “Net public debt”. We see in 1998-99 it was $576.8 billion. In 1999-2000, the year for which the books are not yet quite completed, although the fiscal year has ended it will take a while for all of the government accountants to check up, the number for the debt is exactly the same, $576.8 billion. We look at the current budget. What is the government's plan to reduce the debt? It's plan to reduce the debt is zero since it has budgeted for a net public debt at the end of the year of $576.8 billion. Then we have the projection for the next budget for planning purposes. This is not part of the bill we are discussing today, but it is what is expected to happen the year following this budget. What is the number? It is $576.8 billion. The plan this government has to reduce our indebtedness is zero.

When I first ran in the 1993 election, one of the things that I did shortly after the election was make a number of visits to schools. I still do a number of these, but for some reason or other the number of calls that I get to come into the schools has diminished a bit in the last couple of years, but at first I had many visits. I used to begin my little talks to those students by apologizing from my generation to the young people of that generation. I used to say to them “I am so sorry that people in my generation somehow did not exercise our political clout to turf the people out who were putting this generation into debt”.

We have young pages in this place. Earlier today we had a number of young people in the visitors' gallery. All of the young people across the country are asked to pay the bills that we in our generation have rung up. I take partial responsibility for that because I sat on my hands. Yes, I always voted. I voted for the PCs most of the time who were at that time the least of all of the bad options. We were hopeful in 1984 when we finally elected a Conservative government that it would do something about the debt which was increasing continuously under the Liberals. We had a great amount of hope that when the PCs took power in 1984, that would be the end of the spiralling growth of debt, the end of deficit spending. Did that happen? It surely did not. As we well know, we had record deficits under the PCs.

I heard my colleague from the PC Party speak a little while ago and he addressed the debt question. He said, “As a matter of fact that debt was simply the compound interest on what the Liberals left them”. Mathematically he is correct. Let us take the debt that the Conservatives inherited in 1984 and simply apply an interest of around 9%. I did the calculation one time. If we use an interest rate of around 9% or 10% it does bring us to the level of debt that the Conservatives had when they were brutally kicked out of office in 1993. That was because it took us about nine years to discover that the debt that the Liberals had built was not going to be eliminated by the Progressive Conservatives since in that same time they allowed it to continue to grow. Program spending was not greater than the amount of their revenues, but every year they borrowed. The numbers are obvious. The interest payments on the debt were around $35 billion, the deficits were around $35 billion. In the last year it was over $40 billion. It is simply true that they did not look at the debt. They pretended it did not exist. They did not address it.

Are we any better off under the Liberals? The answer is no. As a matter of fact, I happen to have the numbers here right at my fingertips because I looked them up in preparation for this speech today.

In 1993-94 the debt was $508.2 billion. Under the Liberals it grew approximately $37 billion in the next year, $32 billion in the next year, and $24 billion in the year after. My numbers are a little too high because those are the projected numbers. The debt grew to its present number which, as I have already indicated several times in my speech, is around $576 billion.

It is atrocious. While the Liberals communicate to Canadians that they are wonderful, that they have beaten the deficit dragon, the fact is that the deficits of some $40 billion a year have been overcome simply by the fact that the government is taking that much more in income tax revenue.

The Liberals say they did not increase taxes but they did. The tax revenues are up. It is right in the budget document. This is not political messaging; it is simply what we read in the document. If we look at the income tax revenue in previous years and compare it to income tax revenue now, it has steadily increased to the point where now the government is taking about $40 billion a year more out of the economy than it did when it first took office.

Hence the deficit has been eliminated but not because of good financial management by the government, but because it has allowed bracket creep to continue over the last number of years. Therefore the income tax revenue has gone up and it caused the deficit to disappear because the taxpayers were putting in more money.

The amount of actual program spending the government has cut is minuscule. It is essentially zero once we cut out what it has downloaded to the provinces through its reduction in transfer payments.

It is not at all attributable to the Liberal government that we are in better shape now. We are in better shape because the debt is no longer increasing. It has not been because of the Liberal government; it has been in spite of the Liberal government.

Added to that is all the wasteful spending which has been brought to light by the auditor general. The auditor general is a non-partisan officer of the House. His task is simply to report to Canadians on the management of the money. Over and over and over the auditor general reports that there are big problems. He does not use the word boondoggle, we do. The simple definition of that word is where money is being spent in great amounts without proper accounting and without proper control.

I have a surprise for a lot of people who do not know this. Many people think that we are now in a surplus situation, that we have money to spend and therefore we are really looking pretty good. I found something that the finance minister never mentioned in his budget speech. No one on the Liberal side has brought this to the attention of the Canadian people, but here it is.

Once again I am looking at the actual budget document printed by the Minister of Finance and delivered to the House of Commons on February 28. It says on page 76, “For 1999-2000, a financial surplus of $8 billion is expected”. The finance minister said this lower surplus reflects the assumptions of a balanced budget and lower sources of funds from the pension accounts, et cetera. In 1999-2000, the year just ended, the government expects a financial surplus of $8 billion.

We have to remember that was in the fiscal year in which we passed a bill in the House which allowed the government to do a bookkeeping entry by taking $30 billion from the pension fund of the civil servants of our country. Our party believes that probably the government was entitled to part of that, because clearly there were overpayments and there is a surplus in the fund. Undoubtedly the Canadian taxpayers via the government are entitled to a part of it, but a part of it at least is due to the employees of the government. The Liberal government defeated any amendments we had to correct that and took $30 billion from them.

It is also as a result of the fact that there are huge surpluses in the EI fund. Have the Liberals corrected it according to the actuarial standards? No, they have not. They have made some little mediocre changes. The actuary said that the rate of premiums for EI should be around $2 per $100 of earnings, but the government continued to take $2.40 per $100 of earnings. The Liberals brag that they have cut it, but they are still enjoying huge surpluses in that form.

The next paragraph is the one which will shock members. It will probably shock most Liberal members because the finance minister has not brought this to our attention and he was mum about it in his speech. It says on page 76, “For 2000-01”, the year this budget covers, “a financial requirement of $5 billion is expected, the first requirement in three years”.

We are back to borrowing money in order to run the operation of the government. This is in the cash flow part. These are the budgetary balances and the government is projecting for this year's budget that there be a requirement of some $5 billion worth of borrowing and it is keeping it a secret from us.

I have exposed the secret. It is in the book in a little paragraph on page 76. I am sure that everybody was instructed carefully, “If you see it, do not mention it, because we do not want people to get the impression that we are not perfect managers of the taxpayers' money”.

The lid has been blown off that one. We have seen all of the wasteful spending, the spending not accounted for, all the grants and contributions, the political slush funds. We have seen all of that. The government is not responsible. Now we see it communicating that everything is hunky-dory when in fact with this budget it is bringing us once again into borrowing.

It is a shameful thing that the government simply cannot get its act together. We live in a country which is rich in resources. We have minerals. We have mines. We have oil. We have gas. We have diamonds. We have forestry products. We have a tremendously valuable agriculture resource, probably the best in the world. Our farmers are the most efficient in the world. We have a hardworking energetic population. Certainly living in our climate we are a very hardy population.

There is no excuse in the world for this country not to be the very best in the world. It should be debt free. If the governments over the last 30 years had been dealing properly with our money, we would not have debt. We would not have some $40 billion a year in interest payments which siphon off from Canadian taxpayers the money that should be spent for programs like health care and education. Those are programs Canadians are demanding but which they cannot have because governments, both past and present, the Liberal government and the Conservative government, all of them in the last 30 years, have done this to our young people, to our families, to our country. They should hang their heads in shame because they have failed utterly.

We ought to get some people running the government who act like business people, whose objectives and primary goals are to do what is right for the people, to manage the economic affairs of the country properly. They have to forget that the primary goal is simply to get re-elected, which is what too often clouds the financial decisions in this country.

In conclusion, I wish I had another 20 minutes to speak but unfortunately the speeches of 40 minutes are gone from this section.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this morning to this bill on the budget. Not that I support it. We in the Bloc Quebecois voted against the budget. In this case, we are studying Bill C-32, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in parliament on February 28, 2000.

This bill has seven parts to it. As I have only ten minutes, you will understand my limiting myself to only some of the aspects of the bill.

The first part talks of amending the Employment Insurance Act to increase the number of weeks of parental benefits to 35. The number of hours of insurable employment to qualify for employment insurance benefits is also reduced from 700 to 600. None of this takes effect until December 30, 2000, at the end of the year, in other words.

At first glance, the desire to help parents assume their responsibilities may seem a good thing. It is hard to oppose the principle of parental benefits. However, this is another example of federal meddling in a field usually reserved for the provinces. In the case of employment insurance, there was agreement at one point by all provinces—in 1948, I believe—to pass the Unemployment Insurance Act. The government is putting certain social measures in place, such as this one.

What I think is needed is a real family policy. That is what Quebec is aiming for and it has laid down some important groundwork. For there to be real assistance, there needs to be consistency. That would best be achieved by one level of government looking after things.

That is what Quebec wants to do. It would like to see the federal government put more into the Canada social transfer or other programs so that the provinces can, if they wish—as Quebec is doing and wants to keep on doing—implement a real family policy. That would be the ideal.

Oddly though, the number of hours to qualify for this benefit has been reduced from 700 to 600 in certain regions, but 420 in others. I am referring here to high unemployment regions.

How inconsistent that regional disparity is not taken into account with respect to parental benefits. As a result, if a woman loses her job for whatever reason and is not expecting, 420 hours would be enough. But in this case, when she leaves work to take up her responsibilities as a mother, she needs 600 hours. This is not consistent.

And there is another thing. Since 1991, we have been after the government constantly because it is no longer contributing to the EI fund. This fund consists of the premiums from employers and employees. The government uses this money to enhance its visibility but the money is not its to use. Once again, it is money that belongs to employers and employees.

All the while, to reduce the deficit, when the government was in deficit, the Minister of Finance was dipping into the EI fund. Now that there is no longer a deficit, the government continues to help itself in order to give itself as much scope for action as possible. To what end? In general, to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. It is completely ridiculous.

I will now move on to the second part of the bill, which also has to do with the $2.5 billion Canada social transfer for health and social programs, to which the government has made drastic cuts since 1995.

The hon. member for Mercier will remember the days when we both sat on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. The committee went on a tour and there were protests everywhere. Except for the witnesses called by the Liberal Party, at least 75% to 80% of the witnesses came to say “No, no, do not make cuts, especially not in social programs”. But the government went ahead anyway.

In 1993, a leaders' debate was held. The current Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition, asked a question to Ms. Campbell, the then Prime Minister, about a reply she had given to a journalist. The then Leader of the Opposition asked her “Is it true that you intend to make cuts in social programs?” Mrs. Campbell replied “I do not want to make that commitment. It is one of the options being considered by the Conservative Party”.

The Liberal leader took advantage of the situation and scored political points by condemning what Mrs. Campbell might do. But it is strange to see that when the Liberal Party took office, it made more cuts in social programs than the Conservatives had made.

I recall the letter written by the present Prime Minister to minister Valcourt protesting the way he had begun to make cuts to employment insurance and to tighten up the eligibility requirements. At the time he found this terrible, but now that he is in power he is continuing with the same policy and has gone even further than what was envisaged in 1993, and we are not supposed to react.

The same thing goes for the GST. He talked of abolishing it, but what has he done? Nothing is changed. At one point, the Minister of Canadian Heritage was forced to run in a by-election as a sort of validation of the change of direction, but the Prime Minister carries on as before.

The Bloc Quebecois is going to be voting against this bill because its purpose is to implement a bad budget, one which continues to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction and does not properly serve the interests of Quebec.

When questions are asked of the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Health, or others in this House, the responses often suggest that Quebec is, or was, receiving its fair share. We do not have the latest statistics, but it is true in some ways that, until 1997, Quebec did receive more employment insurance. This is normal, however. Historically, the average extra payments to Quebec have long stood at 2%. The gap is now less than before, because the Government of Quebec has adopted good job creation measures, a fund to remedy poverty, and so on. It is normal for more employment insurance to be paid out when there is less work or more unemployment.

We have also been told that Quebec got more than its fair share of the Canada social transfer two years ago. That too was normal, because there were more poor people in certain regions. It is paid out based on need.

This bill again repeats what the minister did last year, which is to have the Canada social transfer no longer based on need but rather on population figures.

At a meeting the other day, people in my riding asked “We know you are a sovereignist, Mr. Dubé, but how does the Canada social transfer work?” I told them that it was now based on population.

Someone then said “So why are we in the federal system? What is the advantage? If it is on the basis of population, it should be transferred to Quebec, to the provinces, and income tax adjusted”. Sometimes the explanation is that there are tax points.

Tax points are the same thing. However, this is not real income from the federal government. Negotiations were held in the 1960s to have the tax points given to the provinces. Quebec has its own department of revenue and collects its own taxes. The other provinces do not. The federal government talks about tax points, but this is a transfer of money to these provinces.

In response to demands by Quebec, the Minister of Finance is trying through calculations to include the famous tax points. He says “Quebec gets this amount of money, which is generous”. But in the case of federal spending, the issue is not so much quantity, but quality too.

Money coming in as transfer payments for social programs, such as employment insurance, for example—although I know this is workers' and employers' money—is not constructive money. It is not constructive spending.

When we look at Quebec's share in various areas, we can see that we get only 21% of spending on goods and services, 15% of current transfers to business and 18% of federal investments between 1992 and 1997. Specifically, that means 19.5% of the jobs in the public service and 19.1% of the jobs in the armed forces, although we represent 24% of the population. The annual shortfall in the federal procurement of goods and services, that is, the difference between Quebec's demographic weight and its share of federal receipts amounts to $1.2 billion annually.

In the case of current transfers to business, the shortfall is $339 million in investments. There is another $219 million that Quebec does not receive. In these areas alone, the figure is $1.7 billion annually between 1992 and 1997.

In the research and development sector, Quebec only gets one quarter of the jobs in the national capital region, while Ontario gets three quarters. Overall, Quebec receives less than 22% of the jobs in the federal public service, compared to 42% for Ontario.

When I look at these statistics, I come to the conclusion that we cannot blame Ontarians. The federal system serves them well. Ontario is the province best served by the federal government, in every respect.

The Liberals currently hold just about every seat in Ontario. I can understand Ontarians, because they have always had the largest piece of the pie, not to mention the auto pact, which promotes southern Ontario's economic development.

Some researchers told the Standing Committee on Industry that, if it were not for the federal presence, through public service jobs, and for the auto pact, Ontario would be at the same level as Quebec. These are the two major factors that put Ontario ahead. This has to be said. This is great for Ontarians, but MPs from Quebec are entitled to point out these facts, and so are MPs from the other provinces, because the statistics for their provinces are similar.

I am greatly concerned about shipbuilding. Unfortunately, I did not see any additional moneys for shipbuilding. There is no new program, no new measure for the shipbuilding industry. Nor did I see much for small and medium size businesses. It is the small businesses that create jobs, but I did not see any new incentive for them.

Exports are often mentioned. Large corporations are the best placed for this sort of activity, but exports are not always within the reach of SMBs. The government talks about globalization and the Internet. Yes, small businesses, like all other businesses, need to get connected, but we see that this is not happening in the more traditional areas. The perishable goods sector, for example, requires a different approach. The regional factor, the fact of being distant from large centres and large markets plays a large role.

We know that the federal Liberal government cut transportation subsidies. Now, for a business in a so-called remote area, it is more difficult because transportation has to be taken into account. We see the debate that took place over current gas prices. In regions such as Lac-Saint-Jean everything costs more because the cost of transportation has to be factored in.

This government is not listening to what the regions are saying. It is not listening to low-income families. The minister announced so-called tax cuts but, on closer inspection, these cuts are truly minimal compared to what he could have done with the surplus, which may top $100 billion in three years. The Minister of Finance is cautious, if nothing else. It is all very fine and well for the federal government to want to save money, but not to pay more attention to what citizens, companies and regions are asking for is not right.

I know that my colleagues will address other aspects of this budget bill. I think that people are entitled to all the necessary information. They should talk to their member of parliament. I tell my constituents that, if they wish to have a copy of the budget, detailed explanations, they should not hesitate to get in touch with their MP. They are entitled to objective information. They must see it for themselves.

Those listening will conclude for themselves that this budget walks all over the provinces. It ignores provincial jurisdiction. That is the main thing wrong with it.

Like the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Minister of Finance is trying to crush Quebec, but he is using money to do it.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague for his work on the shipbuilding situation. He has shown that assistance from the Government of Canada in this area is necessary, and not in the form of grants.

I would like to hear more on his disappointment with the budget, in this regard.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Mercier has provided me with the opportunity to say a little more on this.

The budget was a disappointment to me because there is not one cent for shipbuilding. Positive things should be mentioned when they come up, and there has been an interesting event in the industry committee on which I sit. In its report, which was tabled in the House on Tuesday, the committee made two recommendations to the government. For once, it admits that there are particular problems in that area.

One recommendation asks the government, via the various departments concerned, to adopt new measures to help the shipbuilding industry. Another is aimed at negotiations with the American government in order to gain an exemption from its Jones Act for Canada.

Shipping and shipbuilding are not exempt. If there were an exemption from the cost—people have studied the potential impact of this measure—there would be a return of full employment or of the level of employment existing prior to 1993. An increase in demand is expected for the next five years.

Yes, the budget was a disappointment, but things do look better than they did a few months ago in shipbuilding, since Bill C-213 was passed at second reading.

All that remains is committee work, which is scheduled for May 30. We would have preferred it sooner, but there is a chance it may be passed before the end of the session. It has to be or it will be an incredible stratagem. The Liberals would pretend to support it—in case there is an election in the fall—with the bill before the election, but if it is not passed at third reading, it would make no sense.

I thank the member for Mercier for giving me the opportunity to explain this matter and to explain to my colleagues the importance of acting on agreements in principle reached on a bill. We must go further and pass it at third reading.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Reform

Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate what the member said, but I would ask him to elaborate on the effects that EI premiums and Canada pension plan premiums have on businesses in his community.

In my community those payments are certainly one of the big concerns. The government brags about lowering EI premiums, but then it raises CPP premiums. That adds to the costs of businesses. It means they cannot hire the extra worker they might otherwise have hired.

Could the member elaborate on how those premiums might affect businesses in his community?

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I cannot of course provide figures, because I do not have them for my riding. But the member is definitely right. If there is a reduction on the one hand, but on the other hand an increase is imposed by the Minister of Finance on employers and workers, then the first measure is offset by the second one.

Since he brought this up, I can tell the hon. member that in my riding, until this year, the unemployment rate did not allow us to benefit from the transitional jobs fund, which was strongly criticized.

My constituents often ask me “Yes, but are there cases like this everywhere?” We saw that these cases are predominantly in the Prime Minister's riding. There are also some in Montreal, but not in my riding. The reason for that is simple: my riding was not eligible for the funds, supposedly because the unemployment rate was too low.

But later on—and the hon. member must have noticed the same thing in his own riding—we saw that the current minister had another way of implementing the act. She applied it where there were pockets of poverty. We all have pockets of poverty in our ridings, but the minister made sure not to mention that rule. Therefore, people did not know about it, and no projects were implemented under that rule.

Under the new fund and the new standards, my riding is now entitled, like the others, to money, but at a lower level. Over the past year, about two businesses in my riding were able to benefit from the new fund. Therefore, it still does not have a significant impact on my riding.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the budget implementation act because, as we know, a budget is a very important issue.

A budget is really about more than money. It should never be seen as just being about money.

As we know, the budget sets the priorities for a government. It sets a sense of direction. It says a lot about the attitude of government and what government is all about. As we look at how we apportion our funding and the kinds of things we do with the money of Canadians, we are defining the kind of country we want for ourselves, our children and our children's children. It is a very important topic.

Usually a budget attempts to be good news. It tries to present things in a very positive way so that people will come onside and support it. However, I am afraid this budget was not good news. It was not something which we could stand and be really proud of.

The Liberal government has ignored in this budget the requirements to provide a long term plan to re-establish and guarantee its commitment to the stewardship of Canada's social programs. We know that social programs are very fundamental to our country and need our support. Yet, when we look around the country, the gap between the rich and poor is getting increasingly wider as the days go by.

Did the government listen to Canadians when it fashioned the budget? Did it listen to Canadians to get a pulse of what they were saying and what was important to them?

I would like to give members a flavour of what people have said in my constituency of Halifax West. I have held a lot of meetings over the past number of weeks and months. I have talked to people and listened to what they said. I will read a few quotes which come directly from them. The words I will put forth on the budget are not mine, they are the words of Canadians. When members first hear some of these comments they may not sound as if they are related to the budget. However, if they stop to think about them they will see that they touch upon things that are of importance to Canadians. They touch upon the attitudes, priorities and the sense of direction that this country should display.

One thing which came out loud and clear from many people was that the price of gasoline was too high. We are talking about an issue that affects people daily. Many people across this country need their automobiles. Automobiles are no longer a luxury, they are a necessity. The cost of gasoline is too high. That is an issue that was not addressed by the budget.

Another comment was “You are the only politician who sends me information, Gordon. Thank you”. People are concerned about what is happening. They are very pleased when we communicate with them. However, I am afraid the government did not communicate with the public when it designed the budget.

Another comment was “How can the QE II hospital”, a hospital in the Halifax area, “afford landscaping when it is $20 million in debt?” Why are these hospitals in debt? Why is our health care system suffering? It comes back to the lack of support by the federal government in making health care a priority, which Canadians said was their number one priority.

Another comment was “Everything has to go through the U.S. in order to be sold. When they snap their fingers, we jump. We are Americans. The signs just say it is Nova Scotia”. The attitude of a lot of people is that we are slowly being caught up in Americanization.

Again, this is very true when it comes to our health care system. Look at what has happened. The government has started to move toward allowing a two tier health care system. Only those who can afford certain services will be able to get them. Everybody else will wait in line. Health care in our country is a very serious issue. What has the government done for health care in the budget? Nothing.

Another comment was “The federal budget was not really a good one for the average person. It did not address any of the problems that students have. It was dressed up to look good”. When we look at what was in the budget for education, we realize that the income tax deduction was increased from $500 to $3,000 for scholarships. However, not all students receive scholarships. Not all students are in a position to benefit from that little change in the budget.

What we need to look at are those high tuition costs that are causing great debt among our students. Many of our university students are coming out of university with a debt load of anywhere from $25,000 upward. That is an awful way for them to commence a working career, with that kind of debt load hanging over their heads.

The comment from my constituent was very real and valid, that this budget did not address the problems of students, but that it was dressed up to look good.

Another comment was “The federal government is not listening to the people. Why did it wait until just before the recent byelection in Cape Breton to announce 900 McJobs?” The jobs are classified as McJobs. It is true that the problems in Cape Breton did not crop up overnight. They have been around for quite some time. Any government with any foresight would have been working to try to develop the means of making that part of our province productive and meaningful, rather than waiting for a crisis and then flying into the area and talking about patronage at its very best, because we are getting close to an election, and throwing out some jobs. This is not what people want. People see through this. They realize that this is not sincerity. It is not setting a true attitude of caring and understanding for the people.

Cape Breton is a wonderful part of our province. It has all kinds of potential. There are many opportunities for the tourism industry and home businesses, with new technology and so forth. A forward thinking government would certainly be moving in the direction to try to promote some of those things, rather than waiting for a crisis, waiting for an election and tossing out a few tidbits around election time. People see through that.

Another comment was “What kind of influence would Paul Martin have on whether or not we have a shipbuilding policy?” These are the words of my constituent, they are not my words. “Canada Steamship Lines has an aging fleet which will have to be replaced by double hulls and it will be cheaper to build the ships outside Canada”. In other words, people are starting to look at things and they are saying “Why is it that the government is not supporting a good shipbuilding policy for Canadians?”

I note that recently the industry committee submitted a report in which one of the recommendations was for the government to encourage the U.S. to repeal the Jones Act. I think that we all know that the U.S. will not repeal something that is in its favour to appease Canada and to try to help us. We need to look at establishing our own legislation, our own policies that will support and assist our workers here in Canada. We can do that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry to interrupt, but I was not paying strict attention earlier. Was it the hon. member's intention to split his time?

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

No, Mr. Speaker.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All right, then the hon. member for Halifax West has 12 minutes left.

While I am on my feet, you cannot bring in the back door what you cannot bring in the front door. It is not appropriate to refer to members by their given names, even if it is in a letter from someone else, just as a point of interest for everybody.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I had forgotten that for the moment, and I thank you for reminding me.

Another comment which was made during the meetings I held was “Will there be any infrastructure money for us?” We note that the government announced in its budget that there will be an infrastructure program, probably similar to the one that was carried on previously, and we applaud that move as a very positive move. However, our concern is that the details have not yet been worked out. We understand that it may not be until 2001 before some agreements are worked out with the provinces to get this in motion. We need the infrastructure now. We need these programs to move in favour of the communities.

There are many small communities in my riding which would benefit immensely from a good infrastructure program. We hope that these programs will not be focused only on major infrastructure projects like highways, but that the programs will reach into the communities to assist them with the goals and objectives which are meaningful to them, such as community centres and structures to assist our young people and our children, the real heartthrob of our country, to give them the recreational and educational opportunities that are needed.

We want to watch that infrastructure very closely. The question from the constituent, “Will there be any infrastructure money for us?”, is very valid because sometimes we know that these programs are administered in a way in which, far too often, there is much political manoeuvring around who gets what and how it takes place, and that should not be the case. We see the very result of that in the House today with the many questions regarding the administration of the HRDC grants and how they went to various ridings. We hope this will not become an issue with the infrastructure program. With regard to the budget, we certainly feel that the infrastructure program is important and we hope it will be carried out prudently.

The health care system is a mess. I have spoken about this already. This issue was raised time and time again by many people in my constituency who were concerned about the health care system. I am glad to see that the government is now looking at discussions with the provinces on how to move forward on some of the very vital issues. We know that this must be more than window dressing. It has to be sincere and it has to show that the government is putting forth the kind of support that is needed. Unfortunately, the fact that the federal government is contributing so little to the health care system compared with what it contributed years back is indeed something that has caused a lot of problems, long waiting lines, a lot of difficulties with our health care system.

The budget did not really address two very important aspects of the health care system, home care and pharmacare. These are very important issues. Many elderly people in my riding say to me “On my fixed income I cannot afford the cost of the drugs that I have to buy”. This is a very real problem for many people, particularly seniors. We in the NDP feel the government has strongly ignored aid and assistance to our senior citizens in its budget.

Our seniors have contributed a lot to their communities and when they get to their golden years, they should not have to be concerned or worried about their next meal. They should not be concerned or worried about needing medication and balancing their budgets and doing without some necessity in order to get their medicine. I know of many senior citizens who are going without their medication because it is not available to them with our present health care system. I have many comments I can make about this issue.

One comment that came up time and time again was the fact that the government does not listen. There is a feeling among the public that when politicians campaign at election time, they will say anything and everything to get elected. Once elected, they become obsessed with power and do not listen to those who elected them. In some cases, constituents never see their elected representatives. The feeling is that government does not listen to people. It does what it wants when it wants.

Another issue was the announcement by the government that it was going to provide assistance to professional hockey teams. In this case, perhaps the government did listen when people spoke out loud and clear and said “We don't want it”. The government backed off rather quickly because there was quite an outcry from the public.

I quite often tell people in my constituency that they have power in their voices. If they combine their voices with that of others they can get some change. I have told them not to be afraid to speak out on issues. I encourage people to make sure they direct their concerns to the government or their MP when they have these kinds of concerns. We have to make the government listen. It is our future. It is our country. It is our destiny.

Who can live on a $575 per month CPP disability pension? Over and above the issue of the amount that is available for this pension, people also find they have difficulties when they apply for this. Many people in my riding come to me with obvious disabilities and will never be able to work again. Yet, they have trouble getting the disability pension. When they do get it, it is only $575 per month. There is very little one can do with $575 per month with the cost of housing and food. There is not much left over. This issue was sadly lacking in the budget. There was nothing to address the concerns of our senior citizens, those who are living on disability pensions or those with limited or fixed incomes.

What happened to the debt? Is the government not worried about it? I am afraid of what we will be leaving our children with in terms of the debt. That is a very important comment. What will we be leaving our children? What will our legacy be to our children? Will we just be passing on to them a system of two-tier privatized health care where if they are not fortunate enough to be earning enough money, they are not going to be able to get access to the best medical treatment or will we be leaving them a system which is universally accessible to all, one that we can be proud of?

This is what we in the NDP are fighting for. This is what we feel the government should maintain. Unfortunately, we see the government moving in an opposite direction. The government is tolerating the setting up of private clinics and the operation of “private hospitals”. I put it in quotes because people will say they are not hospitals. The reality is when persons are sick or their leg is broken and they go for service, they are not questioning whether it is a clinic or hospital. They look at whether or not that service is available to them. What kind of system are we leaving to our children?

I will share another comment with the House because I like this one in particular. It states “I don't understand why people will not give the NDP a chance”. I think that is a good one. I think it is time for people to start looking at their options and realize that there is a voice out there speaking for them which is concerned about many of these issues.

I will keep your admonition in mind, Mr. Speaker, about calling people by names. I will leave out the name but another comment states “It took Mr. X more than one year to answer my letter regarding CPP”. This person was writing to a minister of the government about her CPP.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Was it the Minister of Finance?

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Yes, it was, Mr. Speaker. It was the minister of—