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House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was leader.

Topics

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too want to congratulate you and congratulate the other speakers on their elections.

I am a bit intrigued by the Alliance's presentation today on parliamentary reform. I have been here since 1988. When the Alliance members came in during the last election, as well as the one before, they talked about the whole notion of MPs being able to vote independently.

If we were to look at the records over the past two terms, we would find that the Alliance voted in blocks far more often than any of the other political parties in the House. In fact, the whip used to stand up and say that it was the position of the Alliance unless otherwise instructed by their constituents. For approximately six years the Alliance has continually voted in blocks. If he wants to talk about reform, he should start complaining to his own leader to allow them to vote independently.

We do not have a problem on this side of the House for a lot of reasons. First, we have a lot more free votes on this side of the House than ever before in the history of parliament. We have a party system. We have to become accustomed to the fact that when we get elected as members of parliament, we do not get elected as individuals. We get elected as members of a specific political party with a specific agenda and platform.

To that extent, it is our individual responsibility to vote with the party and to vote with the government on all legislation that pertains to government and party platforms that were run on during an election. The Prime Minister and the government have given us more freedom and more rights to vote independently on government bills than any other government in the history of Canada.

When is the hon. member going to stand up to his leader and tell him and his establishment to allow the Canadian Alliance members to vote according to their conscience or to their constituents. When is he going to do that?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member says he has been around since 1988, I have been around since 1972, and that members in the House have voted independently many more times than any other party. My colleague from North Vancouver voted for the gun bill even though he was opposed to it because that is what his constituents wanted him to do. The whip of this party has done that. That has happened in this party continually. My party believes it when it says it has free votes on this side of the House.

I am not attacking anybody's integrity. I am talking about a change. If the hon. member wants to get up and make this partisan argument, I will read some quotes from his own members.

The member from Lac-Saint-Louis, another veteran of both provincial and federal politics like myself, said that the system needs to be blown to smithereens. I agree with him, as do many of my colleagues. I spoke to him privately. I think there are at least 50 potential Guy Fawkeses in the Liberal caucus alone who would be glad to light the fuse. That was said by the member for Toronto—Danforth. If you want to do this, I will do you one for one anytime in the House. I will also do you one for one on the rules of parliament. I was a Speaker for a number of years and I know them well. I have been to London and Australia and have met most other parliamentary democracies. We are behind the times in this area.

Yes, we are elected to and support our party. The constitution of our party allows us to vote with our own conscience and that of our constituents. I respect the fact that in a matter of a confidence vote, because it was elected with a majority of members, members would vote with the government. Yes, there should be a whip. If I was a whip the members would be voting with me or they would not be there.

However, on every matter that is not a matter of confidence in the government or when we are debating bills in the House, we should all be free to say what we want to say. There are different regions in Canada where we may want to have a say on something. We should be allowed to that. We should be allowed to support different ideas and vote that way in the House. If a minister does not have a good bill, let the members send it back to be reworked. Let us get it right. That is all we are trying to say.

We can have all the partisan arguments we want but it is time for us to get a committee, get a bunch of good people in a room and start looking at the rules. We do not expect to win them all but we would certainly like to see some changes.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, let me begin my comments by congratulating you on your appointment to the chair. Your experience here in the House is going to serve you well, but for sure it is going to serve us well. I am looking forward to working under your guidance.

Since this is the first time I have formally spoken in the 37th parliament, I would like to thank the electors of my home riding of Brant for having confidence in me and returning me to Ottawa as their voice here. I look forward to continuing to work with them in partnership to strengthen the communities back home in the riding of Brant and to make sure that their voices are heard loudly and clearly here in Ottawa.

It is indeed with great pleasure and pride that I speak today in response to the Speech from the Throne that was presented by Her Excellency the Governor General earlier this week. One of the most important messages for me in the Speech from the Throne was a restatement, a recognition that we in the government understand that Canada is only as strong as its people.

In that context, the Prime Minister yesterday in his speech said that our most important investments are the investments we make in people. We have a tradition of investing in Canadians. We believe that there is a role for the Government of Canada to play in the lives of our citizens. We think of important programs like our pension system, old age security, guaranteed security and the Canada pension plan. Those programs are extremely important and have been inordinately invaluable as we have reduced levels of poverty among Canadian seniors.

The House might be interested to know that between 1980 and 1997 the share of senior women with low incomes in Canada fell from 40% to 24%. The pension system is working. It is vitally important. We need to continue to support it and ensure it is there for the future.

The employment insurance system is important. This is a program that is available to support Canadians who, through no fault of their own, find themselves between jobs.

In the last campaign we committed to Canadians to reintroduce the amendments that we presented to the House just before the election was called. I am glad to say that yesterday we gave notice that it is our intention to reintroduce tomorrow amendments to the Employment Insurance Act. I certainly look forward to that act being carried through this place at all levels. I look forward to hearing the debate in the House and the witnesses at committee.

We are all proud of our health care and medicare system. It ensures that Canadians have access to health services regardless of the size of their pocketbook.

In the most recent Speech from the Throne we got direction to turn our attention to some other important areas. We have to recognize that it is unacceptable for any child in Canada to suffer the debilitating impact of poverty.

Yesterday the Prime Minister said “We must ensure that our children are a national priority”. We will establish an investment timetable that will allow us to make real progress in ensuring opportunity for all Canadian children.

In that context we are not starting from ground zero. In fact, we have some very important developments that have occurred since 1997, not the least of which is the creation of the national child benefit, a very important and effective partnership between the Government of Canada and the provincial and territorial governments.

The national child benefit is part of the Canada child tax benefit. The Government of Canada provides income support to low income families with children allowing the provinces to take their savings from the social assistance system and use it to create and develop new services available to families with children. The whole approach is to take down the welfare roll and to make work pay. In the old system parents who were on social assistance and had the benefit of certain services for their children would have to give up those services to take a minimum wage job. It was a terrible moral dilemma for them.

With the national child benefit we have a new approach which increases the income available to those families with children and building a platform of services that is available to those low income families who are working. As is in the Speech from the Throne, I note that by the year 2004 low income families will be receiving $2,500 for their first child and $2,300 for subsequent children. That is tax free money and fully indexed. The provinces and territories and the Government of Canada know that this important undertaking will have a real impact on reducing child poverty in Canada.

There is another example of our very strong and increasingly strengthened relationship with the provinces and territories as together we focus on improving the lives of our youngest citizens. I point to an agreement that was struck on September 11 with the provinces and territories in the area of early childhood development.

The research tells us that the early years are tremendously important, those early years from prenatal time to age six. In that context ministers of social services across Canada have sat together. We have listened to stakeholders and we understood the research. We hammered out an agreement whereby the Government of Canada has identified $2.2 billion new dollars that will be conveyed to the provinces beginning in April of this year for them to use to make investments in programs and services that support children.

We have agreed that there are really four priority areas in which that money should be invested: programs that support prenatal nutrition and infancy; programs that will continue to allow us to develop child care spaces and services; and programs that will allow parents access to the latest information. Also, parents want to do a good job and need to do a good job. We can provide information to them to support them in this regard.

The other thing we know is that these services are best provided at the community level. If they are really to make a difference, communities need to understand the reality of their neighbourhoods and the individuals they are supporting. Money can be used by the provinces and territories to help communities understand what services are there, what access levels are present, how they can fill in the blanks and augment the services so that children and their families get the support they need so that we have a healthy start in the lives of our children.

This is an important undertaking. I look forward in my role as Minister of Human Resources Development Canada to continue to work with the provincial and territorial ministers as we build accountability regimes, outcome measurements so that we know that when we are making the investments we are getting the results that we anticipate. It is a very dynamic process, very respectful of the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories but recognizing that Canadians expect us to work together and that when we work together we move ahead much faster.

There are some other aspects of programming that we believe can help us reduce poverty among Canadian children. They are identified in the Speech from the Throne. One such program builds on a partnership that we have had with New Brunswick and British Columbia. It is a pilot project where we have begun to look at other strategies of supporting lone parent families with children make the transition from social assistance into the workplace.

The self-sufficiency program is a pilot program where we offer to lone parents who find themselves in receipt of social assistance the opportunity, if they can find it, of a full time job. The first job they get is usually a low income one, but the Government of Canada tops up their wage so that they have the money they need to provide the services to support their children.

We found after three years that the results are quite encouraging. More social assistance recipients are working. They have higher wages. They are less likely to be living in poverty. They have improved their skills and experience. They are more likely to stay in the workforce.

We want to offer other jurisdictions the opportunity to pilot with us. It is not a grand strategy yet, but part of the modern approach of governance is to undertake pilots, learn from them and together build structures and strategies which meet the needs of different communities within provincial and territorial jurisdictions.

I would be remiss if I did not remind the House of a tremendously important undertaking to double parental benefits that came to fruition at the end of December. It is a fundamentally important approach to allow Canadian parents the choice of staying home for up to a year with a new child. The program is up and running. I expect it to be extraordinarily well received. I am glad to see the majority of provinces have changed their labour codes to ensure that parents will have a job to go back to. It will make a tremendous difference in the raising of healthy children in Canada.

As we were talking about that we came to appreciate that there was another workplace family issue we would have to deal with in a modern Canada. Sometimes we find that dual income working parents find themselves in a circumstance where a family member may be gravely ill. They are in the conundrum of having to work to keep bread on the table, to do the responsible thing, but someone at home is very sick.

In the context of our children's agenda we have committed in the Speech from the Throne to look at building an appropriate model of compassionate leave, so that the parents do not have to make a choice of going to work and supporting and caring for a gravely ill child. That will be a priority of the government. We will explore the appropriate tool in that regard, consult with Canadians and be back to the House to talk about those developments.

We have a comprehensive approach to focusing on the reduction of child poverty in Canada. We are building on some important developments in partnership with the provinces and territories. I am convinced that we will be able to eradicate poverty in Canada with the support of all parties in the House.

Another important message that we received in the Speech from the Throne was the understanding that the countries that will be most successful in the modern knowledge based global economy are those countries in which all citizens are able to realize their full potential.

In the context of the Speech from the Throne, we feel that an undertaking that is worthy of national focus is the building of a skills and learning agenda for the 21st century. Again, we are not starting from ground zero in that regard, but there is much we can do. Much more effort can be put into this undertaking if we work together.

In the Speech from the Throne we identify a number of approaches that we would like to implement as we try and build a tradition of life long learning in Canada. We all know the economy has changed tremendously. We all know it is unlikely for people to have a job and keep it for their whole career. They will go from one career to another. We know how rapidly changing technology is, how managerial and administrative practices change, and how important it is for all of us to keep current with those changes.

We have set as a goal to try and build a tradition of life long learning, an undertaking of seeing one million adults engaged in some form of additional training, education and experience that will build on their own personal skills platform in the next five years.

One of the strategies we have suggested will work is the creation of registered individual learning accounts. Here we are going to build on another important program that was introduced by our government, the Canada education savings grant, where Canadians can begin to save for their child's education in an account and the government provides a top up. This system has been extraordinarily well received by Canadians. We believe we should model that so individuals can begin to save for their own lifelong learning.

As that system develops, we recognize that there is something more we can do in the area of student loans. Members might be interested to know that each year we issue about 150,000 student loans for full time study and only about 3,000 loans for part time study. However, we know Canadians want to learn as they earn so we believe we have to take the initiative and develop more part time study loans.

Again, we want to be very careful to work in tandem with the provinces and territories. There is an opportunity for us to continue to work to harmonize the student loan process. If provinces are interested in working with us, we will build a strategy of the part time loan initiative in concert and understanding of the undertakings of the provinces as well.

When we are looking at ensuring that every citizen can realize their full potential, we must turn our attention to those most vulnerable in Canada. We have to look at youth at risk, those who have not been able to connect effectively with society or the economy. We have to do what we can to ensure that they get a good start as they go out and become self-sufficient and contributors to Canada.

We have to increase the levels of literacy in Canada. Do members know that two out of five Canadians do not have the literacy skills to read a bus schedule, to read a map and to participate in so many of the jobs now that require technological understanding and competencies? As we said in the Speech from the Throne, we want to work with the provinces and territories to undertake a national initiative to upgrade the levels of literacy. That has to be a national challenge.

Canadians with disabilities are also very anxious to contribute more of themselves to the Canadian economy. They want to be part of the creation and the development of increased prosperity. Together with the provinces and territories, we have begun this work at the table of labour market ministers. We want to build a labour market strategy focused specifically on the issues facing Canadians with disabilities. This is part of our challenge but I know that if we work together we can meet it.

New Canadians come very often with training and experience that we find very difficult to take advantage of. We have to find a system of more effective credentialing for new Canadians. This is again a challenge that we have set for ourselves in concert with the provinces and territories.

We do not have all the answers in the context of building a national skills agenda. These are some of the undertakings that we believe are wise to start now. They require us to work effectively with the provinces and territories but they also require us to go out and talk more closely with stakeholders.

I am looking forward to starting some national consultations with groups, such as the Conference Board of Canada, specifically focused on finding ways to ensure that we build the strategies that will support lifelong learning in Canada, that will allow us all, whether we be the Government of Canada, the provinces or territorial governments, the private sector, the voluntary sector, to rally behind a national skills and learning undertaking that will benefit all citizens.

There are so many other aspects of the Speech from the Throne that dovetail and build on our commitment to innovation and inclusion. These that I have talked about in my speech are ones with which I will be involved. I will need the support of members in the House, certainly in our caucus, to recognize the role our caucus has played in making sure that children are at the top of our agenda, and to recognize the importance of developing programs that speak to a modern Canada and the needs of Canadians to participate in the new economy.

The bottom line is that if people are trained and have the skills, the wherewithal and the support to participate fully in a Canadian society and economy, our country will be greater. That is the challenge we have set for ourselves. I think we have the formula.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech of the minister responsible who plays a big role in the distribution of wealth.

In the throne speech, two excerpts seem to reflect a vision of the past rather than one of the future. The old age pension plan is praised, and it has indeed worked well in the past to fight poverty. I would however have liked to find initiatives dealing with the current problems experienced by the elderly.

For example, for many women living on their own, with the cost of the food basket for their daily needs, the increase in the price of drugs, the increase in the cost of living and all other expenses, the existing program—and I will show this—no longer meets their needs.

There was no announcement to this effect, other than the fact that a plan that worked in the past had been developed. There is no message of hope.

There is another much more aggressive sentence in the throne speech. It reads, and I quote:

There was a time when losing a job also meant immediate loss of income for workers and their families. And so Canadians created employment insurance.

It takes a lot of gall to say such a thing in the throne speech. What was created 50 years ago was an unemployment insurance plan to meet this need. But all employment insurance has done since its inception is increase poverty throughout Quebec and Canada by tightening the requirements it set, by the fact that fewer people are eligible for it.

After the Prime Minister recognized during the election campaign that the employment insurance plan was a bad move, that it needed corrective action, are we going to find in the bill to be tabled shortly things such as an increase in the level of benefits from 55% to 60% and the elimination of discrimination against women and young people entering the labour market? Will Quebec be entitled to its own parental leave plan?

There are a lot of other situations. I would like the minister to tell us whether there will be something to help us reach this objective or do we have to be content with what was in Bill C-44, which was tabled before the election?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Stewart Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked specifically about Canadian seniors, health care and health services. I remind him of the historic agreement that was struck with the provinces and territories that will see $23 billion reinvested in the Canada health and social transfer, specifically to assist with health care. That typically will find itself supporting Canadian seniors.

I remind him of the work the government did in the not so distant past to ensure that our pension system, our pension programs, will be sustainable and will be there for Canadians. We know that it has had an impact on reducing poverty. We are committed to ensuring that it is there for the future.

With regard specifically to employment insurance, I am glad to see the hon. member continues to have an interest in that regard. He will be interested to know, as I said in my speech, that we intend to introduce legislation regarding employment insurance amendments on Friday. He will be participating fully in the discussion in the House of Commons and at committee, and I look forward to his interventions there.

There are some important messages to give there as well. The economy in Canada is working well. The best social program is a job. We have the lowest levels of unemployment in Canada in a quarter of a century, not only for men but for women. The youth unemployment numbers are coming down. We are finding the participation rates in the Canadian economy increasing.

The changes we made to employment insurance in 1995 are being reviewed every year. By and large the dozen or so changes have worked extraordinarily well. However, in reviewing those changes year after year we have identified some that are not working so well. Those will be the thrust and the content of the bill that will be tabled here, I expect and hope, on Friday.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant Hill Canadian Alliance Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the minister on her discourse. I listened carefully to her specific words, that she would like to eradicate child poverty in Canada. It is a very noble goal.

To help me to celebrate and to monitor the course of that noble goal, I wonder if the minister could define child poverty for me. This is something that I earnestly would like her to do.

I listened to a couple of speeches today that talked about 42% and 52% rates of child poverty in Winnipeg. If the minister could give me a definition so that I could monitor with her the noble goal, it would help me to cheer for the government as it reaches that goal.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Stewart Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed there are different ways of measuring poverty. We can use LICOs or we can use market basket measures. The last thing I want to engage in is a discussion of what exactly the right measure is.

We want to ensure that children have a healthy start and the opportunity to participate fully in Canada and its wealth. Having seen global poverty levels being reduced in the last year, it is our expectation that we can redouble our efforts to make the commitments of the House of a decade ago become a reality.

Again I would point out that the strategies we have in place received a tremendous boost by the effective partnerships we have forged with the provinces and territories. Canadians want us to work together on these issues of national priority and together we will do so.

One of the most important aspects of the early childhood development agreement is working together to establish baseline data about where we are today and where we will be as the moneys we have identified for families reach the communities and families with children.

I am glad the hon. member is looking for a results based strategy. That is precisely the approach we are taking in our work with the provinces and territories. It is precisely the strategy that we will build into additional programs and pilots we will introduce in coming years.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, congratulations to you on your new position in the House. We came into the House together in 1988. I am sure we will get the same kind of wisdom that we saw from you as a member of parliament.

I want to thank the minister. She is obviously living up to the red book promise of introducing the EI legislation very quickly in this new mandate. That is appreciated certainly by myself and my constituents. I know the bill has not been tabled. We have not seen it. I doubt that this is in the bill, but I want to at least put it on the record.

One problem was that the previous bill did not address the boundary issues. I am referring to the disparity between rural Canada and urban Canada, which the Minister of Industry mentioned a couple of days ago in a radio interview. In other words, in bigger centres unemployment is much lower and in rural areas it is much higher, yet these areas are blended together.

It really hurts our seasonal workers. We have spoken with the minister on this before. The minister in her wisdom and the department were generous enough to change the rules. They will be incrementally changed over the next four or five years.

Getting to the point, is there any way we can address these boundary issues in terms of the disparity between urban Canada and rural Canada and seasonal workers in resource backed industries?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jane Stewart Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will wait until the legislation is tabled and not talk specifically about what is in it. I hope and anticipate that the hon. member will see it in its fullest form on Friday.

Specifically with regard to employment insurance boundaries, the hon. member knows that every five years the boundaries are studied, reviewed, and changes made as necessary to reflect changing employment patterns.

By and large the most recent changes have been effectively implemented. In some areas we are implementing transitional measures to help with those changes. We recognize that one of the biggest areas of importance is seasonal work and seasonal workers. We are doing all we can to help to diversify rural economies in Canada.

I know the hon. member will continue to work with me in that regard.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment. I do not know how many have done that but I am happy to do so. This is my third parliament, so we have obviously spent some time together as I think this is your fourth.

I want to respond to the throne speech. I was here, as hon. members were, on the day the throne speech was read. The first thing I did was, as everyone did, go for the area of the speech I thought would be most important for my constituents.

I ran for politics because I believed parliament needed some very basic reforms. I thought I might moderate or somehow change my views, but I have not. The longer I am here, the more I recognize that such reforms are needed.

Those changes are still very important to me and many of my constituents. Even now the lack of progress on basic parliamentary and democratic reforms is creating problems in Canada from a regional standpoint and is diminishing our stature internationally.

How would I know this? It is partly from being in the job for so long. I have met ambassadors, ministers from other nations, senators and congressmen from our neighbour to the south, people who have seen and experienced how it works in other places. One of the natural things we do is make comparisons.

It is overdue. I would say that if Canada were a more populous nation with more than the 30 million people we have, our system really would not work. What we have today only works because of our relatively small population.

Too much power resides with the Prime Minister and the Office of the Prime Minister. Members of parliament and other government and democratic institutions are neutered to some degree because of it.

I must return to the throne speech. I had to go to the very last page of the throne speech to find anything at all on democratic reforms. Guess what it says? We will look at electronic voting maybe and there will be more dollars for the library of parliament.

Those are both simple, straightforward initiatives that I do not think anyone in the House will disagree with but that is not democratic reform. Plain and simple, that is not what anyone who is interested in democratic reform was looking for, including an awful lot of government backbench members of parliament.

So where are we? In January, the Canadian Alliance House leader proposed a set of democratic reforms. These democratic reforms had a lot of support from the other opposition parties. They are not built out of thin air. These had been building for some time.

I would like to quote from the beginning of the document called “Building Trust”. It is a quotation from the Leader of the Opposition who said:

Canadians are justly proud of our heritage of responsible government. But our parliamentary democracy is not all that it should be. To much power is exercised by the Prime Minister instead of being shared by our elected representatives. Excessive party discipline stifles open discussion and debate. Grassroots citizens and community groups feel that their opinions are not respected or heard.

That is the Leader of the Opposition in his introduction to the document.

There were several things focused on in the document: free votes in the House of Commons; some changes to the standing committees; a call for a new standing committee on privacy access and ethics; and making the ethics counsellor or officer a true officer of parliament. I want to focus just on two of those reforms; free votes in the House of Commons and the ethics counsellor.

When we talk about free votes, there is an attempt to cloud what we are saying, so it is not clearly understood. That is why I want to focus on that.

Now, to best get at the free vote issue, I have to quote once again. I will quote the previous leader of the opposition during a debate on April 21, 1998. The one thing I have learned after three years in this place is the last time that one thinks one can say something is often the first time somebody is listening, so I am going to say it again.

There is a myth in the House that lurking out there somewhere is the fiery dragon of the confidence convention, the erroneous belief studiously cultivated by the government that if a government bill or motion is defeated, or an opposition bill, motion or amendment is passed, this obliges the government to resign. This myth is used to coerce government members, especially backbenchers, to vote for government bills and motions with which they and their constituents disagree and to vote against opposition bills, motions and amendments with which they substantially agree. The reality is that the fiery dragon of the confidence convention in its traditional form is dead. The sooner the House officially recognizes that fact, the better for all.

We are calling for an official commitment by the House to conduct votes freely without jeopardizing our parliamentary positions. That would be very simple.

The second issue I would like to talk about is the ethics counsellor becoming a true officer of parliament. Many of the members in the House will remember the Liberal red book from 1993. It states:

A Liberal government will appoint an independent Ethics Counsellor to advise both public officials and lobbyists in the day-to-day application of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The Ethics Counsellor will be appointed after consultation with the leaders of all parties in the House of Commons and will report directly to Parliament.

That has not happened. He reports to the Prime Minister. He is appointed by the Prime Minister. It is a conflict, plain and simple.

All these reforms are analogous to the little boy with his finger in the dike. There is a flood out there and instead of a wall of water we have a wall of opinion saying “we want changes”. It is coming from the public and from members of parliament in all parties. We have a very select few who are resisting all of that.

I tell my constituents that we have to look at this not from a personal history standpoint but from the standpoint of the broader history of the political landscape. These changes will happen. It is just a matter of when.

In summary, the Prime Minister could be known for what he did, but he will probably be known for what he did not do.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with much of what the previous speaker had to say about the shortcomings of the throne speech. He did not choose to comment on what has to be one of the most glaring oversights, which we just witnessed when the Minister of Human Resources Development spoke about doing her best—I think that was the term she used—to help the most vulnerable and that the theme of this year's throne speech and this parliament had to be about helping the most vulnerable. Then she went on to contradict herself by saying that the EI system is yada, yada, yada.

Does the hon. member agree that the EI system is so completely dysfunctional that it has ceased to be an insurance program at all and is in fact used as a revenue generator, a cash cow? In fact, it is another tax on people's paycheques, because there is no insurance value from a program that denies over 70% of all applicants any benefits whatsoever.

Does the hon. member agree that one of the most galling things about this particular parliament is that the government side refuses to admit that it is using the revenue from the EI system for purposes other than income maintenance and benefits, that in fact the revenue from the EI system is being used as a cash cow, and that it is fundamentally wrong?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of common ground between my thoughts and those of the hon. member. I will say that we have people on the CPP disability program that I do not think should be funded by CPP. There are people who fall between the cracks, between the CPP disability and EI and the provincial social assistance programs. There is room to do something about that rather than play within the current rules of the EI system. We need to think in a different way about people who are falling between the cracks. That has been very clear to me for some time.

Yes, the government is treating the EI system as a cash cow, and employers and employees are all being hurt as a consequence.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, congratulations to you on your appointment.

I thank the hon. member for his speech. In many respects parliamentary reform is something that has been talked about here for probably at least one generation. I know that it is easy for members on either side of the House to talk about it, probably when they are in opposition. The bullet comes, of course, when some party forms a government. Parliamentary reform becomes just terribly inconvenient or messy or really inefficient when a government is formed and is trying to blast things through.

On the specific issue of the ethics counsellor. I thought it was interesting. There is a huge difference between reporting to parliament and just having coffee with the Prime Minister, for instance, and tossing off a note saying everything is okay.

I would be interested to hear the hon. member give a brief comment on what has gone wrong since red book one.

Now very specifically, in regard to the symposium that took place earlier on Parliament Hill today when we talked about trying to do something practical about democracy, we heard from an expert source that it is not so much that the rules need to be changed, because we have all the rules in the world. We would be able to change them at will if there were unanimous consent, I am sure, on both sides of the House. The expert said that the rules are there to allow us to do whatever we want to do in terms of making sure that we really do have a working democracy, but he said that it was caucus culture, that there is a sickness there. I wonder if the hon. member could talk about any caucus culture on the government side that seems to be just desperately against this whole idea of really freeing things up.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to give a 10 minute speech. Let me put it this way: we do not have an ethics counsellor who reports to parliament, but we have a privacy commissioner and an access to information commissioner who do. Those relationships have worked well. We want it to work even better and so do they. They welcome the creation of a new parliamentary committee to look after privacy, access and ethics. That in a nutshell is what I think should be done.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with honour and a great sense of pride in representing in this magnificent House the people of Crowfoot. It is a privilege to stand here today and address the members of parliament in my maiden speech.

Mr. Speaker, before I proceed, I commend you on your service in the Chair. A number of members have told the House about your service over the years. We appreciate it.

May I also make mention of and congratulate our Speaker on his victory? When he was chosen, he spoke about fulfilling a dream to serve as Speaker in the House. It is rare that we can fully achieve our dreams. I have come to realize that I will never fulfil all my dreams. I will never score the winning goal in a Stanley Cup playoff game or play in the PGA. Indeed, I will probably never throw a pitch in the World Series. Standing here today, however, I recognize that I have fulfilled one dream.

I therefore begin by sincerely thanking the numerous volunteers who selflessly and diligently assisted with my campaign. It was undoubtedly the collective effort of all those involved that resulted in my victory and the victory for the Canadian Alliance in a very difficult and, in some respects, very emotional campaign in Crowfoot.

I would like to thank God for allowing me the privilege of serving the people of Crowfoot and Him in parliament. I would also like to pay special tribute today to my family, to my parents and my in-laws, and to my wife Darlene and our two children, Kristen and Ryan, who are here with me today, in the gallery, as they are every day. If it were not for my family and their love and support, I would not be in this House.

Finally, I thank all the people of Crowfoot for bestowing their faith in me. I promise to respectfully and truthfully represent their views and concerns here. I pledge to work hard, with the same diligence that the majority of the people of Crowfoot demonstrate daily as they go about their occupations and their careers in our predominately rural riding.

As mentioned earlier, I would not be here if it were not for my family. I think it is safe to say that the majority of my colleagues share this with me. The family truly is the foundation of our society. Therefore, in order to have a socially and economically vibrant nation, it is imperative that we have strong families.

Yesterday's throne speech clearly indicates that this Liberal government does not share this view. I am thankful that this view is a view that is prevalent within the Canadian Alliance and among our many supporters.

Although there was mention in the throne speech of children and families and children and poverty, there was no talk of proposals for addressing the economic realities facing many Canadian families today, particularly those who are threatened with losing their jobs or with having less disposable income as we enter into these uncharted waters or uncertain economic times.

The government's pre-election mini-budget is, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out yesterday, sadly outdated. It has been found sadly wanting. Clearly we need a 2001 budget that includes, among other things, more aggressive and immediate tax cuts. Since the Liberals took power in 1993, Canadians' disposable income has dropped by close to $2,200 for every taxpayer, and taxes have risen over 37 times. This is not the legacy to leave Canadians.

We now pay personal income taxes that are 56% higher than those of the average G7 country. As if cripplingly high taxes were not eroding Canadians' disposable income enough, this country's citizens are now being unfairly burdened with excessively high fuel prices, so prohibitively high that some cannot afford to pay their heating bills.

While the Prime Minister may, as he stated yesterday, just be getting warmed up to the position of Prime Minister, the fact is that many Canadians literally are finding themselves out in the cold. I, as a federal official, can provide little comfort and hope to the many distraught constituents who are writing letters, making phone calls and dropping in on our Crowfoot office.

I understand from recent newspaper articles that the federal government has initiated a program called “Relief for Heating Expenses”. Reports indicate that cheques of $125 to $250 will be sent out automatically to every Canadian who received a GST tax credit for the 1999 tax year.

Although I commend the government for recognizing the horrific burden placed on many individuals due to high heating costs, I do question giving the rebate only to those eligible for the GST tax credit in 1999. This is not 1999. This is not 2000. This is 2001. Quite obviously incomes have changed in the last two years, some for the better but many for the worse. This rebate does not guarantee that the people in need of financial assistance today will receive it.

I must also question why the federal government has failed to address soaring energy costs and other input costs that are negatively impacting Canadian farmers. A forecast of farm incomes by Agriculture Canada suggests that Alberta farmers will be among the hardest hit in the country as the cost of farming continues to rise. Operating farm machinery has become more expensive as natural gas and fuel costs rise. So has the cost of fertilizing our crops. The price of nitrogen fertilizer, with its key ingredient and process being natural gas, has risen from approximately $390 per tonne as recently as last spring to a projected $700 plus this year. Farmers are losing hope. The next generation is leaving and there is no one to take over the family farms.

Overall in Canada, net cash incomes for farmers are expected to drop another 6% this year. Despite this grim reality and the fact that more than two years ago the federal government promised to help producers struggling with slumping commodity prices, the federal government has failed to deal aggressively with its trade partners to lower international agricultural subsidies.

Although our Prime Minister mentioned yesterday in the House that he was going to the United States and would be speaking to President Bush, he still does not see the need to place our farmers on a level playing field with our competitors.

The federal government took decisive action to counteract the illegal export subsidies provided by the government of Brazil to its aircraft manufacturers. Pointing out the importance of the aerospace industry to the Canadian economy and the need to save 24,000 jobs, the federal government moved quickly to provide subsidies to Bombardier to enable them to better compete with major competitors.

Over the last year within the agricultural industry we have lost almost the equivalent of Bombardier's entire workforce. Approximately 22,000 farmers or persons in related farm occupations are out of business.

The western grain and oilseeds industry provides tremendous value to the Canadian economy. In 1999 it was valued at over $70 billion. That value is steadily and very quickly diminishing.

Due to the effects of subsidization around the world, market receipts for grain and oilseeds have been dropping for many years and are expected to continue to decline. In Saskatchewan, where grain and oilseeds are the dominant industry, total net income is predicted to be negative in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

We need to immediately develop and implement assistance packages for our producers to stem the exodus of farm workers and the destruction of the Canadian family farm.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on all sides of the House to find meaningful and long term solutions for reducing input costs and providing a stable and deliverable assistance to our farmers. Every business in rural Alberta, in Oyen, Drumheller, Stettler, Camrose, Wainwright, Provost and Hanna, all farming communities within our constituency, is dependent on a strong agricultural sector and therefore dependent on us to provide viable solutions.

As one of the Canadian Alliance deputy justice critics, I also welcome the opportunity to help find the means to truly make our streets and communities safer for the sake of my children and for all Canadian children.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am truly impressed with the new member who has joined us in our party in parliament. He is clearly very articulate. He has well thought ideas and it is quite obvious he is very capable of expressing them.

I should like to ask him one question with respect to the farm crisis and the fact that in the throne speech there was nothing about the farm crisis. He made an allusion to the fact that there was lots of money for Bombardier but seemingly none for farmers.

What does he see as both the short term solution to the farming crisis? What should be done in terms of giving them a long term solution so that they can be viable and so that our agricultural community can grow, be strong, be reliable and actually form part of our national security as we go on in coming years?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would begin to answer that question by saying that I am a farmer. I understand the concerns and the frustrations.

As we campaigned throughout my constituency last year, people in the communities I mentioned such as Oyen, Drumheller and Stettler told us that if we were to help rural Alberta then we should help the agricultural sector. As we go into the spring it is very clear many farms are just not viable and are asking for help from the government. There is a crisis that will eventually go away if we leave it, but so will all the farmers who are in crisis.

We need a government that is willing to act now, to tell us that it is committed to helping the farmers now, and to tell western Canadian and Canadian agriculture that it believes in that sector of society and will help now. A cash influx before the spring crop is put out is needed now.

I challenge the government today to say that western Canada and agriculture are important and that it will do what is needed. That is the short term plan.

We also need a long term plan. We have to look at ways of helping in the Income Tax Act. Farming is the only industry that pays retail for everything it gets and sells wholesale. For everything we purchase we pay taxes and freight charges when it comes in. For everything we sell we pay the freight before it leaves. Transportation is another issue we have to deal with in the long term, and of course the Canadian Wheat Board. We need changes to make the Canadian Wheat Board more accountable and changes that will help Alberta, the west and Canadian agriculture before it is too late.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to welcome the newly elected member for Crowfoot and compliment him on a very good maiden speech.

He raised two things that are of special interest to me as a resident of Manitoba. The first was the agricultural crisis, and I thank him for outlining that issue in great detail.

The other issue that the member raised and on which I would like him to expand somewhat is the crisis in fuel costs, be it home heating fuel, gasoline, diesel, natural gas or anything else.

Would the member agree that the federal government has some role to play in trying to regulate and intervene at this point to put some sense of order to the spiralling, out of control, skyrocketing fuel costs that affect all of us and especially farmers? Would he agree that we need a regulatory commission to act as a regulatory body that would intervene on behalf of Canadians to put some order into the fuel cost crisis?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, as we have just begun a new term and as a rookie member of parliament, I have been a little overwhelmed by the number of phone calls I, and I am sure every member of the House, have received with regard to a number of issues, including agriculture and heating costs. I spoke about the issue of heating costs in my maiden speech because it was one of the issues that my constituents were very concerned about.

Canada has a number of things that we deem to be essential services and, with our climate, I think heating costs also need to be deemed an essential service. I applaud the government for its initiative in giving a rebate to consumers. It needs to continue to look at ways to put money back into the hands of those who especially need it.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2001 / 6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment. I would also like to thank the people of Mississauga South who elected me for the third time. I am very honoured to be here to represent my constituents and to work hard on behalf of all Canadians.

The throne speech 2001, which has been outlined so eloquently today by many members, provides the framework under which we will govern the country over this mandate. Our plan seeks to ensure a brighter future for all Canadians and to strike the right balance. It includes provisions for paying down debt, cutting taxes fairly, investing in health care, investing in research and innovation, investing in families and children and protecting our environment, just to name a few.

As a parliamentarian since 1993, most of my private member's initiatives have been directed at areas relating to family and children. There is a specific section in the throne speech which deals with various initiatives that we will be undertaking during this parliament. I want to take the time now to follow the focus on families and children, particularly on the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome.

The brain drain is a concept with which most members are familiar. It refers to the migration of our so-called best and brightest from Canada to the U.S. and abroad. It is a figurative term but it can be looked at literally as well. In a literal sense, brain drain is the physical effect of fetal alcohol syndrome, often referred to as FAS. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the real brain drain that we have to address and it is a 100% preventable tragedy.

On December 7, 1995, I first spoke in the House of Commons about fetal alcohol syndrome. It was part of my private member's bill, Bill C-237. That bill sought to provide health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages to caution expectant mothers and others of the risks associated with alcohol consumption.

When I became a member of parliament one of the things I wanted to do was to become involved on the health committee. I did some research to find out what the health committee had been working on during the 34th parliament.

One of the things that I came across was a study called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, A Preventable Tragedy” produced by a House of Commons standing committee. I quote from the summary phraseology contained in the report:

Today, there is no question that maternal alcohol consumption can have devastating impacts on the fetus. The basic fact is that when the pregnant woman drinks, her unborn child drinks also; that is, the alcohol in the mother's bloodstream circulates through the placenta and into bloodstream of the fetus. It is possible that the blood-alcohol level in the fetus will remain at an elevated level for a longer period than that of the mother because the immature fetal liver metabolises the alcohol more slowly.

They said there was a problem and laid out some recommendations, which fascinated me. The reason that I was fascinated by the study was that I was an educated person who was active in my community. I was on a hospital board, had three children, and it was the first time that I had ever heard the term fetal alcohol syndrome. It had a tremendous impact on me. How was it possible that a preventable tragedy did not come to the attention of an ordinary person in the community? It was something that I wanted to get involved in.

I have been active in the issue and I wanted to learn more about it. In any one week as many as 10,000 babies are born in Canada. Of these, 3 are born with muscular dystrophy, 4 are born with HIV infection, 8 are born with spina bifida, 10 are born with Down's syndrome, 20 are born with fetal alcohol syndrome and over 100 are born with other alcohol related birth defects.

Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to a group of physical and mental birth defects. Its primary symptoms include growth deficiency before and after birth, central nervous system dysfunction resulting in learning disabilities, and physical malformalities in the face and cranial areas. Other alcohol related birth defects involve central nervous damage like FAS without the physical abnormalities.

FAS is incurable. Once someone has it, it will affect that person for the rest of his or her life. Most victims usually require special care throughout their lives. Depending on the severity, the estimated lifetime cost for the care of an FAS victim ranges from $3 million to $6 million.

There are secondary systems. What happens to people who have FAS? Their lifestyles are characteristic. Here are a few examples: 90% have mental health problems; 60% will be expelled or suspended from school or drop out of school; 60% will get into trouble with the law; 50% will exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviour; 30% will abuse drugs or alcohol; 80% will be incapable of living independently; and 80% will have problems in their employment situations. Tragically, these severe problems could have been prevented if the mother had abstained from alcohol consumption through her pregnancy.

Last year, I took the opportunity to look at some of the recent data from Manitoba and Saskatchewan resulting from work on FAS. One of the things I found is that they have surveyed their inmate population and found that 50% of the population in the jails in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were people who had fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol related birth defects.

I posed the same question during question period to the Minister of Justice. I asked her, what is the experience of the government in the federal institutions? She confirmed in the House that persons with fetal alcohol syndrome account for 50% of the inmates in our jails.

The dollars involved here are enormous. The impact on our justice system, health care system, social services system and on our education system are enormous and pervasive. The costs are enormous. It is one of the reasons why I am so delighted that the government has decided to take the initiative as part of its priorities. I hope the House will support initiatives related to the reduction of FAS.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I would like to inform the member that there will be 13 minutes left in his speech if he wishes to continue tomorrow.

It being 6.15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the subamendment now before the House.

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

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the amendment to the amendment will please say yea.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.