This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

FisheriesOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Vancouver South—Burnaby B.C.

Liberal

Herb Dhaliwal LiberalMinister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that is extremely important is boat safety. This is an area we are looking at very closely.

We as a government made a huge number of commitments to reduce the capacity so that we would have a sustainable fishery. We do not want to increase the capacity. We spent large amounts of taxpayer dollars to reduce it so that we would have a sustainable fishery. Safety is an important concern. It is something I am looking at to ensure that when fishermen fish safety can be an important component.

ImmigrationOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Response from constituents to the minister's proposed once in a lifetime family repatriation plan has been extremely positive. I have received more feedback from constituents on it than on the right of landing fees and immigrants. When does the minister expect to carry out this once in a lifetime proposal and does she have any additional details on how it will work?

ImmigrationOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his interest in this matter.

It is the policy of the government to see an expansion in the family class. During the discussions on Bill C-31 we are proposing an expansion to the family class.

However, immigration is a shared jurisdiction with the provinces. I am already having discussions with the province of Manitoba to discuss a pilot project on the once in a lifetime sponsorship proposal. Manitoba has a provincial nominee agreement and it may be possible to attempt to see how this would work. It is important that all of the provinces participate with us.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would like to bring to the attention of the House the presence in the gallery of a delegation led by His Excellency Li Ruihuan, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of the People's Republic of China.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

We have another guest, Robert Sturdy, Esq., member of the European Parliament and president of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, you must understand that I have tried to obtain a response from those in authority before bringing the problem to you.

I even tried to contact the main person involved, but she is on sick leave. I have a series of questions but no answers. I hope you are going to be able to enlighten me, Mr. Speaker.

Once again, these questions involve the confidential nature of the work of the legislative counsel. This will not take long, and I know it will be of interest to you.

During the months of March and April, I introduced a series of amendments to a bill that has not yet reached the report stage, but my purpose was to prepare for that stage. The bill in question is Bill C-3, the Young Offenders Act. It has not yet passed the committee stage and the clause by clause examination has not yet begun. In order to provide the legislative counsel with some assistance, I tabled several hundred amendments through Mr. Louis-Philippe Côté.

In late April, legislative counsel Richard Dupuis—

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I would like to hear what the point of order is.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

During the months of March and April, I gave hundreds of amendments to Louis-Philippe Côté, the legislative counsel, to have him prepare them in due form for me to then table them. Perhaps I will not table them, but I want to be sure I have everything going for me. I gave them to Mr. Côté, so he could prepare them for report stage.

At the end of April, I got a call from Richard Dupuis, the procedural clerk. He called my office to discuss the amendments I intend to table pertaining to the Young Offenders Act at report stage. He even sent me by fax, in proper form, at report stage, amendments that I tabled with the legislative counsel.

My question is still the same: How is it the procedural clerk of the House of Commons has the amendments I have yet to table, which are at the drafting stage and which he is discussing with heaven knows who. One thing is sure, he has them, because he faxed them to me. He is discussing them with people to find out the point of my amendment, how I want to go about it or whatever.

This is what I would like you to answer, Mr. Speaker. Given that a committee is already studying this question, what relationship of confidentiality do I enjoy at the moment with my legislative counsel?

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

My hon. colleague is questioning the Chair, but it seems to me that all members must know that is precisely what was moved for debate here three or four weeks ago. It is now before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We must wait for the committee to table its report in the House.

Like you and all the other hon. members, I am waiting for the committee to present its report to the House. All the members will hear the same response.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-24, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act, a related act, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Budget Implementation Act, 1997, the Budget Implementation Act, 1998, the Budget Implementation Act, 1999, the Canada Pension Plan, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, the Customs Act, the Customs Tariff, the Employment Insurance Act, the Excise Act, the Income Tax Act, the Tax Court of Canada Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

May 9th, 2000 / 3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to once again take the floor today, but on a different topic, namely Bill C-24.

I am especially pleased since today is the birthday of my father-in-law, Paul Jacobson, and he is surely watching CPAC, the parliamentary channel. I salute him.

I would be remiss if I passed over the comments by the member for Kings—Hants just before Oral Question Period. He praised the Government of Quebec's fiscal policies, rightly so I might add, mentioning the benefits of the policies the PQ government has put in place to attract high-tech industries, among others, to Quebec. We know that the City of Montreal and his region, of which we have a proud representative in the person of the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, is now one of the centres of the new technology, not just in Canada and North America, but worldwide, of course.

I would be remiss if I did not mention what the member said, and quite rightly, about the fiscal policies of Bernard Landry, one of the greatest finance ministers Canada or Quebec has ever had, provincially or federally.

Obviously, Bill C-24 is a bill which we vehemently oppose. One of the main problems—I would even say the main problem—of the Canadian federation right now is fiscal imbalance. While the federal government is swimming in enormous surpluses, and the Minister of Finance talked about surpluses of $95 billion over five years, our view, which is shared by most of the experts—the member for Sherbrooke agrees with me—is that it will be more like $137 billion to $140 billion.

The tax imbalance is such that while the federal government is enjoying huge surpluses, all the provinces have trouble just keeping their heads above water. Ottawa and the provinces have needs to meet. For example, because of the ageing population, we know that expenditures can only increase in the health sector.

But, since 1993, the federal government has been cutting the transfers to the provinces for health. What is the result of these cuts? The result is that the provinces are feeling the crunch. Then the federal government acts like a saviour and says “Here, we will give you more money, but we are the saviours of Canada's health system”, when, in fact, it is the federal government that axed health all across Canada. It is only through the heroic efforts of all the provincial governments that we are managing fairly well. But the primary source of the problems in health is the federal government.

We could go on like this in several areas. Worse still is the fact that the federal government's surpluses were generated not only at the expense of the provinces, as I pointed out, but also of the poor. For example, six out of ten people no longer qualify for employment insurance.

Yet, the term insurance implies that if we have a problem, we are protected, we have a safety net. But no, the federal government organizes things so as to get the money out of the most disadvantaged, the unemployed for instance, to fill up its pockets and then to use their money for purposes other than those intended.

When most Canadians and most Quebecers look at their pay stubs, they can see that a certain amount has been taken off in the employment insurance column each month. Anyone looking at it can say to himself “If I lose my job, I should be able to access employment insurance”, but no. No, because this government is stealing from the unemployed to fill its coffers with money that ought normally to go back to them.

We find ourselves therefore in a somewhat unbelievable situation in which transfers to the provinces are being cut, in which the provinces are doing their best to deliver the services for which they are responsible, and then Ottawa comes along saying “Come now, dear provinces, I can give you some more money, but you will have to adhere to this or that national standard”.

The Canadian federation is more centralized than ever, and one symptom of this massive centralization is the agreement on social union which the provinces, with the exception of Quebec of course, the only one to stand up for itself, felt obliged to sign.

This is serious. The provinces are obliged to sign off, to abandon huge chunks of the sovereignty in order to get their hands on some few million dollars temporarily. Unfortunately for them, they have been bought off. That is what has happened. Only Quebec had the honour, the dignity and the courage to stand up for itself and to say no, but that is the way Canadian history has always gone.

There have already been other instances of this type of dirty financial dealings by the federal government. For example, there is the harmonization of the GST with the QST. We know that the Government of Quebec had harmonized its sales tax with the GST. A few months later, the maritime provinces reached an agreement with the federal government and were compensated for harmonizing their sales tax with the GST, something the Government of Quebec was not. This is another example of the perverse desire of this government to see that Quebec does not get its due.

For example, in order to compensate the Atlantic provinces for the financial losses they will suffer by harmonizing the sales tax, the federal government paid $961 million in compensation to them. This aid represents $423 per inhabitant. In Quebec, this would mean a figure of $3.1 billion.

This is not what Quebec is asking. The Government of Quebec rightly said that it would accept $2 billion. However, if the criteria used with the Atlantic provinces were used, the Government of Quebec would be entitled to ask for $3.1 billion.

The Government of Quebec asked for $2 billion in compensation. The harmonization cost everyone a lot, not only the Government of Quebec, but businesses in Quebec as well.

The reform of the QST occasioned by the harmonization, resulted in significant financial costs that necessitated increases in corporate taxes and the retention of certain restrictions on refunds of taxes for corporate input.

Quebec businesses have not benefited and are still not benefiting from the harmonization with the GST, because, once again, of the ill will of the federal government. The federal government's compensation to the maritimes adds to the economic and fiscal competition these provinces represent for Quebec, since Quebec does not receive comparable assistance.

In addition, Bernard Lord's predecessor in New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, who is of the same political stripe as the government, took out full-page ads in newspapers and economic reviews in Quebec inviting companies to set up business in New Brunswick, saying that his province's fiscal policies were competitive and that they would be better treated than in Quebec. Of course, because, among other things, they are entitled to compensation from the federal government, while the Government of Quebec is not.

Quebec taxpayers subsidized, as it were, the Government of New Brunswick's attempt to steal jobs from Quebec. It is a completely ridiculous system. It is utterly surrealistic, but it is the way Canadian federalism works. This is just one example of why we want to get out and are fighting to do so.

In addition, at the suggestion of the Bloc Quebecois, the government said “Perhaps we are not right. We think we are, but we are prepared to submit the dispute to arbitration”. The federal government and the Government of Quebec could have jointly appointed an arbiter, a judge, call him what you will, to determine who is right. The government completely refused this overture from the Bloc Quebecois because, of course, it knew that the request from the Government of Quebec, and the Bloc Quebecois in particular, because it was the Bloc Quebecois that introduced the idea, was right. It was reasonable and it was right.

I am delighted to see the Liberal member nodding his approval. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I tell him “Ask the Minister of Finance to submit the dispute to an unbiased person. That is what he should do instead of pitting the Quebec government against the federal government”. I would bet, I was going to say $1,000, but thanks to the Bloc Quebecois, $1,000 bills are being withdrawn.

I would bet $100, Mr. Speaker, that the Quebec government would be proven right. I do hope that you will accept the challenge, which I throw out in all friendship, to you and to the two members who are hanging on my every word, because they, too, know that the request of the Bloc and of Quebec is legitimate.

I ask them to put pressure on the Minister of Finance to have him submit this issue to arbitration.

Another issue on which the Bloc has worked hard concerns the increase in the price of gasoline. Such issues show how a party sticks to reality and listens to people. The Bloc Quebecois has launched a vast campaign throughout Quebec to help consumers affected by the drastic increase in the price of gasoline in Quebec and Canada last winter.

Like my colleagues from Témiscamingue and Sherbrooke, we ask that the federal government temporarily waive the excise tax of 10 cents per litre on gas and 4 cents per litre on diesel fuel until such time as the price of gas has returned to an acceptable level.

Whether we lower the taxes or not, this increase in gas prices will have been very costly for Canadian and Quebec households. Anyone who has a car—and most people need one—or has to buy heating oil for their house, their apartment or their condominium is affected by that increase. The federal government took advantage of that increase to fill its pockets, raking in 10 cents per litre of gas and 4 cents per litre of diesel fuel.

Many times, the Bloc Quebecois asked repeatedly that the federal government waive the application of its tax but, again, it preferred to rake in the money instead of giving it back to the Canadian and Quebec taxpayers to whom it belongs.

Those who drive to work or heat their homes are affected. But, heartless as it is, the federal government decided to ignore the request of the average citizen defended by the Bloc.

I personally circulated a petition, which was very popular in my riding. It was circulated to gas stations, community groups and several people. It is incredible how sensitive people are where their money is concerned.

Why give tax breaks when they do not mean anything? Why should the government say that it is reducing taxes for Canadians, as the Minister of Finance is bragging about, when it is raking in more money with the increase in gasoline prices? It does not matter whether the money comes from the right pocket or the left pocket, it still comes out of the same pair of pants.

Again, this shows how this government is completely out of touch with reality, and it is just one more reason why we will strongly oppose Bill C-24. I call upon all my colleagues, including the two Liberal members who are here, to put pressure on the Minister of Finance to get him to listen to Quebecers.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I will ask you to make sure that there is a quorum for the next speaker.

That quorum should be made up of Liberal members. Out of respect for the next speaker as well as for the Chair, I ask that members be called in.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Charlesbourg has called quorum.

And the count having been taken:

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We do not have quorum. Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We now have quorum.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc for being kind enough to get an audience for me which is now dispersing. Maybe I should call quorum.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Stand up.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Somebody is calling “stand up”. Members on that side of the House claim to have the world monopoly on tolerance. Listen to them calling things like that. They really need to rethink their approach entirely.

It took three or four minutes to get a quorum which illustrates very well that this is not a place of the people. It is not the place it is supposed to be, a place where the people of Canada have their laws passed, where the people of Canada have their will passed. This is a place of the parties. People do not even have to be here because they know the debates are meaningless. As one of my colleagues said years ago when we first came here, the outcome of every vote is non—

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that the member opposite, who was the only person on his side over there, is calling attention to numbers on this side. The pot should not call the kettle black.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

What a testy group we are today.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, it does not change the situation I was describing, which is that this is a place of the parties. It is irrelevant whether anybody is here at all because the fact is we know the outcome of every vote before the debates begin. They are not true debates. The things that are being said here today have no impact on the final vote. We know that. When Bill C-24 comes up for the vote, everybody knows exactly what is going to happen.

Perhaps one of the most distressing things is that some of our constituents out in the real world, the people who actually pay our salaries, truly believe that we do something democratic here, that we have real debates, that we talk about what is good about a bill and what is bad about a bill, and that we actually make sensible decisions about the content and vote on that. Mr. Speaker, you have been here long enough to know that is not the case. I can see you smiling and frankly, it is almost a joke. This place is almost a joke. It is a house of illusions rather than a House of Commons. I certainly hope I can stick it out long enough to see some changes that make this place truly democratic.

Moving a little more to the point of Bill C-24, just to remind the members who are here and people who are watching on television, Bill C-24 is the sales tax and excise tax amendments act, 1999. The purpose of the bill is to implement measures relating to the GST and HST announced in previous budgets. It also increases the excise tax on cigarettes.

As soon as I read that, it took me back to 1994. In February 1994, when the Deputy Prime Minister was the solicitor general, he said that 700 RCMP officers would be dedicated to the anti-contraband tobacco smuggling operations and that anyone participating in the tobacco smuggling trade in any capacity whatsoever would be subject to the full range of sanctions and penalties provided under the law.

I would like the Deputy Prime Minister to stand in his place right now and tell us why not a single person has ever been charged in connection with the cigarette smuggling which took place that year through the Akwesasne Indian reserve. Will he stand in his place right now and answer that question? I can see that he just sits there and does absolutely nothing.

I want to mention to him that in late December 1998 an affiliate—

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry but I need to interrupt the member. It is not proper to refer to the absence or presence of any particular member of the House.

I recall that in the United States senate something of the same nature was done. When the person did not respond because they were not there to respond, it created an ugliness and meanness that has persisted to this day.

While we can have fun, we should not put people in a position where they cannot respond if they are in fact not able to respond. I know the hon. member for North Vancouver would not want to do that.

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would then ask the Deputy Prime Minister to take under advisement that in late December 1998 an affiliate of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company plead guilty in the United States and was fined $15 million for helping smugglers to slip exported Canadian cigarettes back into Canada across the Akwesasne reserve.

How much longer will it take the Deputy Prime Minister's 700 RCMP officers to get around to charging someone in Canada? Is it that the RCMP are incompetent? Is it that we need more than 700 RCMP officers to find the people responsible in Canada? Is it perhaps that the government side does not want anyone charged because all these executives are actually golfing buddies of the Prime Minister? I just hope the Deputy Prime Minister can give us an answer to that question.

It would be helpful, instead of just going ahead and increasing taxes on cigarettes, if the government could explain what it has done to prevent the smuggling that may start again as a result of its increased taxes.

In California about six weeks ago there was a set of referendum questions on the ballot on which voters had an opportunity to vote at the same time as the primaries. One of the questions had to do with cigarette taxes.

The Californian people had an initiative in November 1999. They put a question to the people as to whether or not there should be an extra tax on cigarettes to be used for education purposes for young people. That was passed strongly with about a 75% or 80% pass rate.

The interesting thing about these referendums is that they force the government to use the money for the purposes designated. It is not appropriate and in fact it is impossible for the government to take that money exerted as a tax on the tobacco companies and spend it on something else by popping it into general revenues. It actually has to spend it on education.

That makes me think of certain promised plans that came from the government side when it was reducing the cigarette taxes back in 1994-95. It promised this huge educational program to keep young people from smoking. It never happened and the smoking rate for young people has climbed steadily since that time.

In looking at what happened in California, it was a 50 cents per pack tax which was passed in November 1999 by the people of California. There was an attempt by the tobacco companies in March, about eight weeks ago, to repeal that. They managed to get an initiative on the ballot. It was voted on and defeated by 72.1%. This is a good example of big business trying to reverse the initiative that was taken by ordinary people in California.

When we look at some of the questions that were on the ballot in California in March, we can see that it is really the way for people to get things done. It is a darn shame that in Canada citizens do not have the right to citizens' initiatives and referendum.

Let me give the House an example of some of the things that were achieved by California taxpayers in their referendum ballot questions. There were actually 20 separate referendum questions but it gives us the idea that there is compassion and common sense that went into their decisions.

For example, they allowed the state to borrow up to $150 million to renovate the state's two existing veterans homes and to build three new facilities. This is an example of the people of California voting for a tax increase in order to support an area of their community that they felt required support. The present veterans homes were getting rundown. They needed to be replaced and additional facilities were required. That passed by 63%, a very clear majority, and it went into action.

Let us look at tribal gaming. Voters were asked whether the state constitution should be amended to allow the state's 22 Indian bands to operate Nevada style casinos, beginning with 350 slot machines and then expanding to a maximum of 2,000 over several years. Any band that did not want to operate casinos would be entitled instead to annual payments of up to $1.1 million from tax receipts. That passed by 65%. This is another example of where people were willing to both help Indian bands to support themselves and to also guarantee a payment from the public coffers, if it was necessary.

They got tough on juvenile crime. They passed an initiative by 63% that would increase the punishment for gang related felonies, home invasions, carjackings, witness intimidation, drive-by shootings and gang member recruitment, all associated with youth violence. Among other things, it would require more juveniles to be tried in an adult court and ensure that some of the offences were counted under the already passed three strikes and you're out law.

I know that 60 Minutes had a program on last Sunday about the three strikes and you're out law. It had people arguing that it was outrageous because now the prisons were full of people who had stolen bicycles or minor offences of some sort. I do not believe, as the California voters do not believe, that is a reason to squash the three strikes and you're out law. It may be a reason to adjust it so that it does not capture certain categories of crime. The crime rate in California has dropped dramatically since the three strikes and you're out law was introduced. It appears to be doing its job down there.

In another initiative where they got pretty tough on crime, California voters voted by 72.4%, a very strong majority, on expanding the circumstances that would lead to the death penalty. I know that is pretty controversial up here, but 72.4% of Californians voted that those who kidnapped for a premeditated murder, lie in wait for victims and take them to a secluded spot to kill them, or commit arson for the purposes of killing a person would lead to the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole. Does that not sound an awful lot like what just happened in B.C. in the last few days?

I hear calls from my constituents for a much tougher approach to criminal activity. Nobody has been found guilty for what happened to that nine year old girl in B.C. in the last few days. If the circumstances being explained so far turn out to be correct, I know there will be a lot more people in my community asking for tougher penalties from the government. It was a terrible shame when we saw section 745 initiatives disappear in this parliament. The issue to scrap section 745, the early release initiatives, has not been brought back. Bill C-24 involves the GST. It has been a while since I have had the opportunity to remind the Prime Minister of what he said prior to the last election. On October 29, 1990, almost 10 years ago, the Prime Minister said “I am opposed to the GST. I have always been opposed to it and I will be opposed to it always”. He is still supporting it after all these years.

On December 21, 1992 the Deputy Prime Minister was quoted by the Toronto Star as saying “The thinking is that we want to get rid of the GST”. It is a shame he did not put a date on it at the time. In the Regina Leader Post on January 23, 1993, when we were getting close to the 1993 election, the Prime Minister said “We will replace it, no doubt about that”. Unfortunately, again no date was given. On January 29, 1993 the Prime Minister said “They will know about the GST when we have a budget”. On and on it goes, quotation after quotation stating that the Liberals were getting rid of the GST.

Perhaps the most famous statement was made on May 2, 1994 right here in the House of Commons when the Prime Minister said “We hate it and we will kill it”. The GST is still alive and kicking and collecting billions of dollars for the government. I may be corrected by members, but I think it is collecting somewhere around $20 billion a year now. While that is only half of what we pay in interest on our debt, it contributes quite a lot toward the debt payment.

I have here a booklet that was sent to me by one of my constituents, Mr. Ted Dunn. It is about Canada's debt. The title on it is “Budget '89”. That was 11 years ago. The preface of the booklet states that Canada's large and growing public debt is a serious threat to the future of all Canadians. It also states that at $320 billion and rising—this was in 1989 and we all know now that it is close to $600 billion—the debt is putting an enormous strain on the economy and on our ability to afford vital social and other programs.

Each year more and more of every dollar of revenue the government collects is spent just to pay interest on the federal debt. We cannot go on spending more and more on the interest on the public debt and still afford to maintain services such as health care, training and environmental protection, services Canadians value and count on.

Here is the real kicker. The booklet also says that the April 1989 budget takes the necessary action to ensure that the debt and its costs will be brought under control. That was in 1989 and it was signed by the Hon. Michael H. Wilson who was minister of finance at the time. As we all know, he did an abysmal job. The debt continued to mushroom. It also mushroomed under this government. I know it claims all the credit for finally balancing the budget but it has been done at the expense of taxpayers through huge tax increases. The government also had a huge spending spree in 1994. It blew that deficit right up to the $45 billion level while it spent and spent on its friends and cronies, I assume.

This 1989 budget document also asks why we should be concerned about the debt. It concerns all Canadians. If we fail to get the public debt under control, everyone stands to lose with higher interest rates, weaker economic growth, fewer jobs, lower living standards and less money to maintain social, cultural and regional programs.

Let us look at what is happening here in Canada today with $40 billion a year being spent on interest on the debt. The Lion's Gate Bridge in Vancouver, just on the edge of my riding, is presently undergoing refurbishing. This is costing approximately $200 million. This means we could build 200 brand new or refurbished Lion's Gate bridges every year just with the money we pay on the interest on the debt. We could probably build 100 brand new ones. The interest on the debt is enough to build that much infrastructure. No wonder Canada's spending on infrastructure, on the Trans-Canada Highway and our roads, has deteriorated so much over the years. It has dropped from the percentage of the budget it was in 1979 to an abysmal less than 1% now. It is all because of this terrible debt. The Liberals cannot claim to have kept that under control when they first came to office. That huge spending spree they had when they first were elected added $45 billion to the debt that year.

Because of that our social programs are under stress. There is a lot of talk in the House about the medicare system and how it is deteriorating. The attacks I have heard from some members in this place on Ralph Klein, the premier of Alberta, for trying to help reduce the waiting lists in his province just amaze me.

I am looking at an article by Michael Campbell, who is a well known editorialist in Vancouver. He asked which premier stated that the Canada Health Act may be counterproductive as we try to build a public health care system for the new century. The answer may be a surprise because it was not Ralph Klein, it was Roy Romanow, leader of the NDP in Saskatchewan.

We would never know it from the protests in Alberta and the indignation of special interest groups, but what Klein has proposed in Alberta is a far less significant change than what is happening in Saskatchewan, which passed a private medicare bill over a year ago.

It is almost hypocrisy what goes on here with the attacks. It is simply not convenient for the left wing, for the socialists, to attack their own. It is not appropriate for them to attack the NDP so they attack other premiers, like Ralph Klein, who are trying to do something.

The bottom line, frankly, is that it does not really matter where the money comes from to support the medicare system. Whether it is provincial or federal, it is still coming out of the same taxpayers' pockets. It is the taxpayer who pays. All of the arguing and fighting over who it is who has provided the money or cut the money, in the end it is the taxpayer who pays.

However, we should be considering, because of the stress that has been created by the huge debt, private sector alternatives, and I congratulate the premiers who are willing to do that. Certainly I will be voting against Bill C-24. It does not get rid of the GST. It is a disgrace.