House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was finance.


Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I would like to follow up on the question that was just asked. I agree wholeheartedly with the member from the Bloc. I also agree with a number of the NDP members who raised this problem and members on this side of the House, particularly those from eastern Quebec.

The minister today said that everyone should be happy that there is an employment insurance program in place and that it is working when asked a question about those affected by softwood lumber. I have no doubt about that and we are thankful that it is there for those who qualify under the present, existing regulations. However there are many people affected now by the softwood dispute, such as contractors, people who work for contractors, and people in the fisheries and seasonal work areas who did not get enough work.

The department that the minister administers has within it the wherewithal and the people to put together solutions to help people. It is not being done. Neither the money nor the attention is being focused where the need is greatest.

Would the member talk to her minister and ask her to listen to those who can provide some direction and help so she can focus on those who need proper help in the country because it is not being done?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member raised some other issues and it is important to comment on them. He said that EI programs alone were not sufficient. He is absolutely right.

We have more than EI programs in place. I am reporting on things that have worked in my riding. The readjustment program has worked extremely well in my riding as well as helping youth at risk. Most colleagues probably take advantage of the summer student placement program within their ridings. This provides the experiential training needed to prepare our youth along with other training programs that have been put into place.

One of the greatest achievements of the minister and the announcements that have been made in the last couple of years has been the ability to help women by extending parental leave for a year so they can address the needs of their families while still being able to return to the workforce. We have some wonderful programs and we need to address other programs as we move forward.

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4:20 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario


Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the prebudget debate. As the finance minister indicated we will have a budget shortly and, as is the tradition, members like to have an opportunity to reflect the views of their constituents.

I had an opportunity to consult with my constituents in the riding of Mississauga South by carrying out an extensive survey on issues related to Canada's future and how those issues might be reflected in a current budget. Those issues should take care of not only the short term priorities but also plant the seeds and the foundation for the long term vision of the country. I am very proud that the government has been able to do so since it took office in 1993.

We took responsibility for governing Canada in 1993. The deficit of some $42 billion was a daunting task and a lot of hard decisions had to be made. The government made those decisions and the pain was shared by all Canadians. We have surpluses now as a result of the restraint shown by all Canadians and the government in its spending. We have also been able to pay down some $35 billion of debt, which is certainly very important.

My constituents told me very clearly and have for a very long time that deficit financing is a non-starter. We used to be in a deficit which caused great hardship to Canadians. We will not go back to a deficit. Canadians at large would share the view that we have to live within our means.

We have been faced with extraordinary circumstances as a result of September 11 and the events that followed. The government stepped forward and took the necessary measures to invest appropriately in safety and security issues for all Canadians.

We have commitments from the prior budget with regard to income tax relief for Canadians and we will continue with those. Much of the tax cuts will be triggered in the forthcoming year. We have increases in health spending and transfers to the provinces. It is very important that Canadians know that we will continue to invest in health. We had other spending that occurred to respond to emergent priorities of Canadians.

There is ongoing substantial stimulative spending already. Some have suggested that we should spend even more, but we have to listen to the economists and to the financial experts across Canada about the economic lag implication. How much would one have to spend today to have an impact on the upcoming fiscal year? Economists have said that with the commitments made to security measures we cannot spend tens of billions of dollars and still maintain a balanced budget or a small surplus.

The constituents of Mississauga South and I believe all Canadians would say we must protect the fiscal prudence that we have developed over the years and we must live within our means.

Part of the survey that I did was under the theme of an aging society. As I indicated, we have to take care of the obvious priorities. Ipsos-Reid did a survey and a study on an aging society. I was very taken by the results of its analysis. An aging society results from the fact that we have a baby boom generation. This is the substantial blip in our demographics that occurred as a result of post-war birth rates. Those rates have gone down substantially from about 2.4 to 1.6 children per family.

The size of the population over 55 years of age will increase by about another three million people in the next 10 years. The number of seniors in Canada will increase to one-third of the population in 20 years. Members will know that we currently have five workers for every one retiree. We will have only three workers for every one retiree as our baby boomers age.

That means there will be a greater demand on our health care system and a greater reliance on our social security, OAS and GIS. It means that the tax base will erode and people will move away from employment taxation to retirement taxation. It means that we have to start thinking carefully about planning for an aging society. Immigration to Canada will account for 100% of our labour force requirements within 10 years .

I would like to speak about immigrants. It is unfortunate but since September 11 we have had a number of incidents, media reports and commentaries regarding new Canadians, immigrants and refugees. They lumped them all together as a bunch of criminals abusing our health and welfare system. Canadians know that is not true.

Statistics Canada did a report indicating that immigrants to Canada were healthier as a group than born Canadians. The reason was that they had to pass a health test to get into the country. Immigrants as a group were wealthier than born Canadians because in the point system they had to have security and accumulated wealth, which they bring here.

Recent immigrants and visible minorities represent about 30% of the population of Canada and only 10% of the prison population. It is clear that immigrants are least likely to run afoul of the laws of Canada.

Statistics Canada reports that when new Canadians start their careers they lag behind in their compensation levels compared to people with the same level of education and experience, but after five years they exceed the compensation levels of born Canadians with the same experience and education. That is significant because it shows that new Canadians have come here, made a stake, worked hard, dealt with the best and have shown what they can do. They make significant contributions to our country and we should be very proud of that.

We should start to reflect the sensitivity to issues related to an aging society in our budget. We should start to appreciate the importance of new Canadians since we do not have the birth rate to supply the labour force replacement we need. All immigrants have a long history of significant contribution to our country. Although there are circumstances where people have not held up to that standard, we cannot paint all immigrants and refugees with the same brush.

There was one final priority that was set by the constituents of Mississauga South. Although health was the number one priority, they came out very strongly for the environment. The environment is a very important priority for Canadians. We only have to see the issues we have with air and water quality to know that we are exposed in those areas. Our commitments under the Kyoto accord are important. We need to start to lay the foundation for the financial commitment to make sure our air and water are safe and secure.

One constituent made an appropriate comment by saying that without diligent stewardship of our environment there will be no aging society and no future generations.

It is very important that we invest in our environment. We have to meet our priorities with regard to safety and security of our country as we move forward and as resources permit.

We must get on with our priorities of taking care of health care, our seniors and our environment so we will have a growing and healthy population able to enjoy their retirement years.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, I will ask my colleague a question about jobs seeing as we have been talking about prebudget consultations and the impact of government policy on the economy. I will ask him a question about a particular industry. If an industry in his own province of Ontario was under threat of losing 30,000 jobs would he take action on it?

I am referring to the softwood lumber dispute that is ongoing across the country but particularly affecting British Columbia. There is a possibility of that many jobs being lost because of the tariffs being put on lumber by the United States and an announcement of another increased tariff. This would have a potentially devastating effect on the industry.

Might the hon. member be willing to consider talking to his colleague the Minister for International Trade to spur him on to find a solution to the issue and not wait any longer? The government acted in the same way on the Bombardier file to come to a quick resolution when there were ongoing trade disputes in that sector.

Might we see the same urgency on this file so that we save jobs not only in British Columbia but across the country? Would the hon. member be willing to undertake to do that on behalf of all members of the House?

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4:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, not only will I do so but I already have. Yesterday I spoke personally with the minister. We talked about the efforts under the WTO. The position of the Government of Canada is that the Americans have made a serious mistake.

I am sure that with the efforts of the minister and all members of parliament we will be able to resolve the dispute and mitigate the downside of these unfortunate tariffs.

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4:30 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to set a number of facts straight. For the first five months of the year the surplus was already at $11 billion.

Even with negative growth of minus 2% for the rest of the year, which is a very conservative forecast, the surplus will still reach $13 billion.

The hon. member suggested we may not have the kind of money necessary to stimulate the economy. Does he not realize that all things considered it would be better to adopt the Bloc's position? We proposed a plan that would put $5 billion into the economy to help it get back on its feet.

We heard about helping the elderly. We do not need a budget measure for that. We know that over 182,000 senior citizens are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement simply because they are denied this supplement even though they are eligible. Does the hon. member not think that his government should rectify this situation as soon as possible?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I did address incremental spending. With the tax cuts, with the additional spending on health--

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Madam Speaker, the Honourable the Deputy Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber.

And being returned:

Prebudget ConsultationsThe Royal Assent

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I have the honour to inform the House that when this House did attend the Deputy Governor General in the Senate chamber, the Deputy Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-14, an act respecting shipping and navigation and to amend the Shipping Conferences Exemption Act, 1987 and other acts—Chapter No. 26.

Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger—Chapter No. 27.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, of the amendment, and of the amendment to the amendment.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, my previous comments addressed the specific question so I will use the last moment of my time to amplify a couple of points.

First, when I was talking about immigrants I left out one point. Immigrants as a group are better educated than Canadians born in Canada because of the points requirement.

Second, my constituents have told me they wanted to address the issue of poverty. Other members have asked about it as well. The Golden report on homelessness in Toronto stated that 35% of the homeless suffered from mental illness; 28% were youth alienated from their families, of which 70% had experienced physical or sexual abuse; 18% were aboriginals off reserve; and 10% were abused women.

It is clear from the results that we must address not only economic poverty but social poverty. Some 15% of families in Canada are lone parent families. They account for about 54% of all children living in poverty.

The poverty issue is not just an economic issue. It is a social issue. I hope we will continue to support programs that support stability and security in families so we can address poverty from both the social and economic sides.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, after this short royal intermission, I am pleased to speak on the prebudget consultations.

Previously at this time of year we were consulting the public on the directions we wanted the government to take with regard to its budget decisions and, for a number of years already, the use of the imposing budget surpluses it had accumulated.

Strangely enough, this year the prebudget consultation process will result in a rushed budget, or at least an early budget in view of the recent events. I will come back to this in a moment.

Traditionally these past years the government would table its budget in February. Through the years we have noticed that the government would occasionally accept some of the suggestions made by the Bloc Quebecois as a result of our own consultations in our respective ridings.

The government has not very often given credit to the Bloc Quebecois and our finance critic, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, for our contribution to the establishment or development of its budget policies. It is a pity.

I would say that the government's decision to table a budget this fall stems also from a recommendation my colleague for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot had been pushing for a few weeks, in fact since the tragic events of September 11.

Finally, it is high time the government follows up on the suggestion from my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot since the main economic indicators have been pointing to an economic slowdown even before September 11, as a matter of fact for a few months now. In the wake of the tragic events of September 11, this downturn has turned into a free fall.

When we look at the main economic indicators, be they simply the gross domestic product, final domestic demand, public expenditures, goods and services, fixed assets, consumer spending, exports, imports, labour market, unemployment rates, inflation or financial markets, they all point to a slowdown in the economy.

Because of the events of September 11 every financial institution has had to review its forecasts for economic growth.

The average real growth of the GDP which had been estimated with the help of the forecasts of various financial institutions was expected to be 3.4% in 2001.

After the events of September 11, financial institutions have reduced considerably their economic growth forecasts. We are now talking about an average growth of 1.5% both in 2001 and 2002.

Clearly, it was imperative that the government table an economic statement or even a full budget to take into account this new dramatic context affecting directly the jobs of many Canadians.

For a time, the finance minister dodged the issue and rejected the Bloc's recommendation to bring in a fall budget, arguing that the measures in the last budget were quite adequate to help the Canadian economy weather the storm.

First of all, as mentioned earlier, that is not what the indicators were showing.

Secondly, the Minister of Finance was a bit naive when he suggested that a budget that was prepared when there was no indication that a momentous event like the September 11 attack would take place could have any impact whatsoever after it took place.

At last, the government acted on our recommendation. We will have a budget by December. I dare hope the government will consider the many recommendations that are being made here, and those that have already been made and will be made in the coming days, especially by the Standing Committee on Finance, which is having consultations on the December budget.

Hopefully we can expect the government to make its own contribution to an economic recovery plan. One may wonder if the decision to table a budget in December was not motivated by the Quebec government's decision to table its own budget this fall. Besides, as we speak, the minister of finance of Quebec, Mrs. Marois, is tabling an ambitious and very interesting budget, which does put forward an economic recovery plan. Naturally this budget is proportionate to the means of the government of Quebec, those means available to the government in Quebec. Quebec is still only a province and it consequently has the means of a province.

Even with its relatively modest resources, the government of Quebec makes a contribution and does everything it can to ensure that, despite the dramatic circumstances we know, Quebecers maintain a standard of living that meets their expectations.

As for the Government of Canada, it has huge sums of money at its disposal. Since 1996 it has accumulated a surplus in excess of $30 billion. My colleague from Kamouraska--Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata--Les Basques referred to that earlier. Despite the tough times we are going through, the federal government will nevertheless manage to accumulate a surplus of some $12 billion by the end of this fiscal year. This means it has sufficient flexibility.

I will come back in a moment to the stabilization plan proposed by the Bloc Quebecois. Who knows, perhaps the government will once again borrow from it to ensure the well-being of Canadians.

That being said, when you look at predictions—I referred earlier to a total surplus of $30 billion since 1996—I think that before addressing the stabilization plan I should point out that in our opinion the government, and especially the finance minister, knowingly underestimated the surpluses to avoid discussing or publicly debating how these surpluses should be used. Under the existing provisions these may systematically be applied to repaying the debt.

I come now to the economic stabilization plan proposed by the Bloc Quebecois and which, I hope, will inspire the government, even though it would obviously not want to give us credit for it.

If we took a very conservative approach and forecast a negative growth rate of 2%, the government would accumulate a surplus in the order of $13.6 billion. We could allocate this surplus without causing a deficit. This disclaims the Minister of Finance's argument that the Bloc Quebecois wants to plunge Canada back into deficit. We would use these surplus funds while avoiding a deficit. This stabilization plan would inject significant sums of money into support measures for small business, employment insurance, obviously, and also into sectoral assistance for different areas of the economy that have been hit particularly hard by the events of September 11, including tourism, the airline industry, biotechnology, shipping, security, defence, and a reserve for a contingency fund and any fiscal imbalance.

I hope the government will present an adequate plan to stimulate the economy.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes for his speech. I think he clearly showed that the federal government can afford to make significant reinvestments in the economy and still table a balanced budget in December. While being conservative, and I mean conservative with a small c, it will be possible to pay down part of the debt and to reinvest in the economy as a partial remedy for the economic downturn.

I would like to ask my colleague if he understands the current attitude of the government, which I think is not doing a good job in terms of its reaction to the economic impact of the terrorist crisis. In terms of its role within the international community, things are not so clear. As for security matters the relevance of the government's actions is debatable. However, in terms of its reaction to the economic downturn, it seems clear to me that the government is not doing a good job.

Does the member agree with me that on the other side of the House both the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Human Resources Development seem to deal with this crisis as if it were business as usual, as if the situation were completely normal even though the effects of the downturn can be clearly felt? Is that not a somewhat irresponsible attitude on the part of these two ministers?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, again I thank my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques for his excellent question.

I want to stress the words he used in his question. I believe he chose them well. He asked me if I understood government's attitude.

Of course we can see what the attitude of the government is. We can grasp it and have an idea of what it is, but as far as being able to understand the rationale behind the decisions made by the government, it's a totally different ball game.

Indeed, at least during the days and weeks following the murderous attacks of September 11, it seemed that the government was, shall we say, riding on its so-called excellent economic performance of the last few years hoping, I believe, that the impact on the Canadian economy would not be too severe, thus avoiding having to hold a public debate on the use of the surpluses.

For the past few years the government has tried very hard to avoid at all cost any kind of public debate on the use of surpluses, knowingly and willingly underestimating them each and every year. The Liberal government forecasts regarding the surpluses were off by $57.9 billion, whereas the Bloc Quebecois was only off by $2.9 billion.

During all those years the finance minister said that my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and my Bloc Quebecois colleagues were completely off the wall with their forecasts. However it would appear that the one who was off the wall in this story was not necessarily the one who was accused of being so.

One wonders what the government was doing or thinking in the wake of the September 11 events when it had become obvious it was going to have to intervene vigorously.

For a number of days now, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has been hearing representatives from various industrial sectors in Canada pleading with the government to take action. They offered a whole range of suggestions, going from eliminating or lowering the payroll tax and the capital tax to investing more and more quickly in the infrastructure. A lot of suggestions are being made. For its part, the government seemed to be hiding behind some kind of inertia with regard to the situation.

Is the government's attitude understandable? I would say not. I hope the minister will finally answer our many questions when he presents his budget in December.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this matter today.

It may be useful to remind those listening in that the suggestions we are making to the government in the debate on the budgetary estimates are the result of three things.

First, there is the terrorism crisis which has changed everything in our society. It has put into question numerous elements and has had considerable economic impact. The second element is the current lumber crisis. Finally, there is the economic slowdown which we anticipated.

The consequence of this situation is that after hesitating for weeks and after we repeatedly asked him to table a new budget, the Minister of Finance has finally decided to do so.

I believe it is important that the people understand clearly what is going on. During the first five months of fiscal year 2001-02, we accumulated a $11 billion surplus. This means that without an economic slowdown the surplus could have reached $25 or $30 billion for the year.

Unfortunately since the end of August and the beginning of September, and especially since the events of September 11, there has been a significant downturn.

If the Minister of Finance wants to determine how much room he will have to manoeuvre in his next budget, he should do it on the basis of the $11 billion already accumulated and on the basis of the forecasts he can make for the next seven months.

The Bloc Quebecois did a very conservative estimate which, even with a negative growth of 2%, puts the annual surplus at $13.6 billion.

The government can choose to spend the whole amount on the debt or it can decide to use a significant part of it for economic recovery, since we are going through a serious economic downturn.

The budget tabled this afternoon by the Quebec finance minister contains a very concrete measure. The minister will give $100 to some 2.5 million Quebecers in December so that these people can benefit from that money, spend it and stimulate the economy. I believe this is an interesting measure.

Since Quebec is forced to divide its budget efforts and its decisions between two levels of government, and it will remain so as long as we are part of the Canadian system, the Bloc Quebecois suggests that we invest $5 billion of the $13 billion surplus to bolster economic recovery.

We are talking about some $1.85 billion worth of support measures for small and medium sized businesses, low cost ad hoc temporary measures aimed at increasing investments and demand by giving businesses a boost.

There is, for example, the postponing of instalment payments by small and medium sized businesses. We could let them breathe a bit by exempting them from making these payments for a little while, to help them get through these difficult times. Travel agencies for example could benefit from this measure.

We could also give them an EI premium holiday for the months of November and December. This would help both employers and employees free money that could be used to buy products, thereby helping businesses.

This way about $1.8 billion would be put back into the economy: $750 million for workers and $1.50 million for businesses. For a start, these are interesting amounts to rebuild confidence and give businesses a kick start.

Another important point, of which I am particularly proud, is that we would spend $1.15 billion on improving EI conditions.

Employment insurance is there to provide an income to those who have lost their job so they have enough money to pay their family's daily expenses. The money also goes to manpower training.

Right now the federal government is sitting on a $250 million reserve it will not hand out to the provinces, which are in charge of manpower training programs. It is keeping it for itself.

Now that we have a major increase in unemployment, with people unexpectedly losing their jobs, this money should be made available to help them upgrade their skills. We should make sure those who bear the brunt of the lumber crisis, those in my own area for example, get EI benefits, by letting them qualify with a minimum number of hours and giving them additional benefit weeks.

The American president, Mr. Bush, who is not exactly considered a man from the left on planet Earth, has seen fit to add 13 benefit weeks to the American EI plan.

I do not mean to compare Canadian and American social programs but I want to emphasize that in the current context some people are taking action while we are still awaiting the reactions of others, like the finance minister.

He has been using the EI plan as a cash cow for years to pile up money and erase the deficit but he did it unfairly. He did it on the backs of those who earn less than $39,000. The next budget will be an opportunity to right this wrong.

For example, he should make sure that older workers who lose their jobs will be given a chance and will get some kind of interim income to have a decent living while they wait for their QPP or OAS benefits. Some people are no longer fit to get training for another job and are not able to get back on the labour market.

He should also make sure that low income workers will have their income raised from 55% to 60%.

The minister must also make sure that young workers can qualify without any discrimination. Even today, where I come from, a young worker must accumulate 910 hours of work to qualify for employment insurance whereas another worker needs only 420 hours. Do we know the consequence of such a rule? Our young people are leaving the region and we are losing our workforce. If we eliminated that discrimination, maybe we could keep our young workers. They are often the first ones to lose their jobs when there is a downturn like the present one. Nowadays the first ones out the door are young workers. The same is true for older workers who are really affected.

We should invest in this plan. Our recovery plan would require $1.15 billion in total.

My colleague, the industry critic, spoke very eloquently earlier about sectorspecific assistance, tourism, the airline industry and biotechnology.

The airline industry is a big part of tourism but tourism is also, in each of our regions, all those people, Americans and Europeans who did not come to Quebec or to Canada this fall because of all the insecurity. We therefore have to compensate those businesses which do not necessarily generate high profits. This industry needs assistance. There are things that can be done in this regard.

We have set aside one billion dollars for defence and security. We are well aware that we are indeed living in peculiar circumstances and that we have to face them. We have a contingency reserve of $600 million.

Our plan is therefore very realistic. We hope the Minister of Finance will carry it out. He can make adjustments as necessary. He can add other ideas from today's debate or other suggestions but the basic idea is that the federal government has the surpluses needed to boost the economy and that if it only collects money and pays down all of the debt it will not be assuming its responsibility in the months or even in the years to come.

Of course we have to keep on trying to lower the debt but we can do it while maintaining a balanced approach to revive the economy. This is what we expect.

Finally, I will focus on an aspect which seems very important to me. I am talking about the tax imbalance.

Today we may have the most flagrant example of that. The Quebec minister of finance is tabling a budget at this very moment. With the means at her disposal, she is trying to do her best to boost the economy. Meanwhile, the federal government has huge surpluses. Even under the current federal system in Canada, there needs to be a significant tax transfer so that provinces have the funds they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

We have known for a long time that the aging population, education needs and health needs in general are all areas that will become increasingly important. These are the responsibilities of the provinces. Unfortunately,the federal government has not given a large enough share of its tax revenues to the provinces to enable them to fulfill these responsibilities.

I think an effort should be made in that regard in the next budget. The Minister of Finance should say “Yes, we do have a responsibility toward the provinces. We have a tax system that allows us to collect more money than we need. We must give part of that money to the provinces so they can fulfill their responsibilities”.

The overall action plan that we have put forward contains constructive proposals that deserve to be considered by the Minister of Finance. We hope to see, in the budget he will be tabling in early December, most of the proposals that we have made, which are in the interest of Quebecers and Canadians.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I have two questions and I would like my colleague's comments.

First, he spoke about older workers. One of my great disappointments these past few weeks, after the events of September 11, was to see the worsening of the labour market that has hit older workers, particularly those who are 58 or 59 years of age. Often they have worked almost 25 years for their company. I am thinking for example of the workers at Pratt & Whitney and of the workers in companies such as Néon in Montreal's west end who lost their job and find themselves in very uncertain circumstances, having a lot of difficulty to find another job.

My first question is this: what is my colleague suggesting in his action plan and what specifically is he asking the Minister of Finance to do to fight against this scourge which may get worse? Some economic forecasts are predicting a 10% unemployment rate. We will have to deal with this.

My second question deals with incentives and credits that might be provided in the next budget for renewable energies. We know we have to deal with some major challenges in Canada, such as reducing greenhouse gases in a context of continuing climate changes. We also have to adopt production methods that would allow us to produce renewable energies.

My question is as follows: would the hon. member agree that the next budget should contain credits and incentives to promote production methods such as wind energy?

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5:10 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, with regard to the older workers issue, the solution does not come from me but rather from older workers themselves, and it was unanimously approved by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development as one of the 17 recommendations.

That recommendation called upon the government to put in place a program similar to the previous program for older worker adjustment, or POWA, which died on March 31, 1995, under the current Liberal government. We will really need that type of program over the next few months because of the massive layoffs currently underway.

Just yesterday I was talking to the member for Trois-Rivières who was telling me about a situation experienced in his riding. In Sherbrooke, I met workers from the Beloit company who went through the same thing two years ago.

These workers became social assistance recipients. Members should hear the testimonies we heard on the subject. It is just terrible. We have often experienced similar situations in my riding. We are talking about people who worked in sawmills, for example, who became experts in their field, who started working there with a grade 7 or grade 8 education and who worked 25 to 30 years for the same company. These people will not become computer technicians overnight.

These people are almost 60 years old. They earned a good living, paid employment insurance premiums during their whole career and are suddenly faced with nothing after receiving EI benefits for 20, 30 or 40 weeks.

More should be done. Considering that the surplus in the EI fund will soon reach $40 billion and considering that this year again a $6 billion surplus will be accumulated, it would be fair to allocate a reasonable amount to this issue so as to recognize the contribution that these workers, who are leaving the job market, have made to our society.

As for the question on renewable energy, I find it very relevant. In my region, the vast eastern region of Quebec, the lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé Peninsula, there is enormous potential. I have been told that in Quebec this is probably the region with the greatest potential.

It would be interesting because in our society we must evaluate short term needs, but also medium and long term needs. What we will do in the future with our planet, our society, is being determined now. If our children can live in a better environment and enjoy a better quality of life, it will be because of concrete measures such as those.

I think that if the federal government decided to include something like that in the upcoming budget, it could achieve positive results at a very low cost. I hope that an initiative, such as the one proposed by the hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, can be included in the budget. This would be another contribution on our part, in addition to the $5 billion action plan proposed by the Bloc Quebecois.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec


Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I am quite pleased to take part in the debate on prebudget consultations.

I had a chance over the summer to consult with many members of my constituency, which is Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine. I also had a chance to speak with quite a few of them following the events of September 11. I would like to highlight one important point.

The overwhelming priorities of the majority of people in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine prior to September 11 have changed significantly since then. Prior to September 11, they were looking forward to the government investing significant sums into stimulating the economy, such as the broadband rollout to ensure that all communities across Canada had access to high speed wireless. This would help improve access to higher education. It would help the economy and stimulate economic development in the small communities in the remote and rural areas. It would also help those small communities to deal with the issue of retaining their young people and attracting new populations and businesses into them.

Health was also high on the priorities. I believe my colleague on this side of the House talked earlier about a survey not too long ago, but definitely before September 11, that showed something like 66% of Canadians thought that health was the primary objective.

Since September 11, the prism through which residents in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine riding look has changed significantly in terms of the budget and government priorities.

That tragedy has brought home the notion that to protect democracy and our fundamental rights and freedoms we need good security. For that, we need to provide our law enforcement with the tools and the resources necessary to ensure that high level of security and to ensure that democracy within Canada is protected. Also, to ensure that democracy is reinforced worldwide, the majority of my constituents support Canada's involvement with its allies in the latest military struggle to combat terrorism. Therefore, they also recognize the need for investments for our military.

These have become priorities for most Canadians, and definitely for Canadians and non-Canadians residing in my riding. I have a very multi-ethnic and diverse riding. It receives new Canadians and newly arrived immigrants every year.

However, one priority, which has always been a priority in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine, is Canada's role in international development and co-operation. Now it has become even higher on the radar screen.

As an example, while the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine Liberal riding association is partisan, it has had one of the most active social policy committees across Canada. Many of its resolutions have dealt with issues of international co-operation and development, Canada's need and role in combating poverty, not only in Canada but across the world and ensuring access to primary education within the world.

I will be sharing my time, Madam Speaker, with my colleague from Toronto--Danforth.

Since I have been there and also during the years of my predecessor, Warren Allmand, a priority of my riding has been Canada's role in international development was important and Canada's investments in that area was also important.

As I said, since September 11 the prism through which residents of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine look at issues of budget priorities has changed. Along with the priorities that I announced and with which they agree, they also wish to see the government place an emphasis and priority on international development.

They were very pleased with the throne speech of this year where the government clearly committed to increasing its investments in official development assistance and seeing that those investments went to reducing international poverty and to strengthening democracy, justice and social stability throughout the world.

We have heard many people comment on the root causes of terrorism. As we all know, those terrorists who actually committed that heinous crime on September 11 came from the middle class. However support for the type of vile ideas that they have been vehicling is found in those countries that are the poorest, where children do not have access to basic health services or basic education.

People in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine recognize that and feel that Canada, which is noted across the world for the great work that it has done in the past and is doing today in official development assistance in international development, needs to maintain its commitment on that front.

I will not take much more time because I want to ensure that my colleague has the opportunity to speak. Therefore I will end by saying thaNotre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachinet the overwhelming majority of constituents in support the government's actions and is confident that the government will bring down a budget which addresses the priorities in security and law enforcement and addresses our need to support our military involvement in the fight against terrorism. As well, they are confident that the government will look at the other issues that are pressing and that need to be addressed in the medium and long term.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a short question for the member which has to do with parliamentary supremacy when it comes to matters of the budget.

Is the member, as a Liberal backbencher, content to allow this input and perhaps some in caucus and then to vote according to the party mantra? Whatever is done right now and in the next month in the back rooms of the finance department will become law and there is absolutely no mechanism in parliament to even make a small amendment to the budget when it is brought down. Is the member content with that?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Madam Speaker, the budget is the incarnation of the government's commitment to the Canadian public. It comprises those commitments on which the party was elected to government. That is my answer.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation, for allowing me five minutes to deal with this issue. I wanted to be on the record because after the budget is tabled, if we have not put our thoughts to the minister and to the finance department, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I personally believe that this budget will be the most important budget that the Minister of Finance has ever tabled. I believe it will be a career-making or a career-breaking budget. In the last eight years we have had huge bonuses in the economy as a government and as a House of Commons. The GST take alone, in the last eight years, has been almost $200 billion which has gone into the system.

I want to be on the record on three specific points to the Minister of Finance and to the finance department.

First, I am afraid to death of the way we are treating small businesses at this precise moment. I have heard in the last two weeks from small businesses that the banks are starting to lose the sensitivity they built up over the last number of years. I appeal to the Minister of Finance to make sure the banks become very sensitive to small businesses over the next few months as we go through this bad patch. Mr. Greenspan in the United States made that point a few days ago to the banks of America.

The second point I want to raise has to do with the issue of consumer confidence. As a government we have very little influence. Our leverage in making an impact on this economy and on confidence is marginal now because we have retreated so much from the economic activity of this country. Our leverage is very small in this grand economy. We will have to do something bold to really have an impact, to really have some leverage and to recapture some of the consumer confidence that was there just eight months ago. It was fragile before September 11 and it is obviously much more fragile now.

My recommendation is that we look seriously at giving Canada a six month GST holiday. I would prefer it for a year but I would settle for half the loaf. That would really give a blast of confidence and put some juice into our economic system. It is something we need to do because playing around the edges will not rebuild the confidence that is sorely needed.

I am absolutely frustrated that we do not have more time to deal with budget preparation. This should be a debate with unlimited hours. We should throw the clock away. The notion that this debate has to end in such a short time is tragic, especially when it is the most important economic moment probably in 50 years of our country's history.

I humbly and firmly appeal to the Minister of Finance and to the officials in finance to be bold and make sure we think of those people who are part of that human deficit right now because that is really why we are Liberals. The human deficit is much more important than the fiscal deficit.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I remind the member that he was elected in 1993 on a platform of killing the GST. Now he is proud of the money the government is getting from it and he is proposing a six month holiday. I would suggest to him that a six month holiday on that tax would in fact give a temporary impulse to the economy and then would kill it totally when the tax kicked back in. Everybody would have spent their money in that time and then they would shut it down completely. It is like putting a tourniquet around your neck when you have a nosebleed.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I respect the member's point of view. I respect the point of view of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

If the hon. member has a better idea for stimulating consumer confidence I will be there, but so far I have not heard anything on how we can stimulate consumer confidence. I have listened to the debate all day. If the hon. member can come up with a better idea I will be there to support him.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, I will take advantage of the presence of two persons who are very interested in the question of banks to ask them whether we should not pass in this House a bill on community reinvestment by banks, like the one the U.S. has had since 1977.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, it is no secret to the House or to the country that I totally support that idea. If there is a weakness in the country, it has been our inability to really mobilize banks and their attitude toward small and medium sized businesses and those businessmen and women. We will need to do it in this next budget.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.