Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to Bill C-18 on behalf of the constituents of Calgary East.
At the outset I want to make it absolutely clear that the Canadian Alliance believes in the concept of equalization. We believe in the concept that from coast to coast all Canadians should be receiving equal services. The Canadian Alliance strongly supports the equalization method of ensuring that a quality standard of living applies across our nation.
However, we certainly do have a problem with the way it is handled, the way the equalization formula is applied, and the way the Alliance feels it is used by the government to score political points.
Madam Speaker, at this time I wish to advise you that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Kelowna.
The bill takes away the ceiling and increases the money requested by the provinces. We believe that the equalization system should serve the longer term purpose of equalizing economic opportunity and autonomy in all regions and should not create incentives for perverse economic policies on the part of provincial governments.
The lifting of the cap is a one time ad hoc reaction that fails to address the bigger and longer term problems and it was promised for purely political reasons. It may be good politics but it definitely begs the question, is it a good policy?
The fact that this one time band aid solution is even being proposed indicates the need for an open discourse in parliament to review the equalization program. The bill is part of a political effort to make up for the Liberal government's irresponsible $23 billion or 35% cut in health care funding.
At the first ministers conference the government agreed to increase the CHST but it never restored it to 1995 levels. As a result, the provinces requested more money to address health care issues. Therefore, the crisis was brought about by this government in the first place when it cut the CHST. In order to balance that out and look good, the government said it would commit $792 million to the provinces. That was because of its own shortfall in not raising the CHST transfers, as agreed at the first ministers conference, to the 1995 levels. What we have is the government trying to play politics by trying to lift up the ceiling to address the issue, which originally it failed to do.
The parliamentary secretary has indicated why there is a necessity for a ceiling and we agree. Otherwise it will spiral out of control. We saw during election time the money given to the supposed future contender for the Prime Minister's office, the Minister of Industry, when he received more money in equalization payments just prior to the election so he would look good in Newfoundland.
It is no secret across the nation that when the government cut the CHST it started a health care crisis, a crisis from coast to coast. In my own riding we heard stories from people who came in to tell us what the cuts had done to health care.
On the one hand, the federal government has the Canada Health Act. We agree with the Canada Health Act, but the government uses it as a stick to the provinces, saying “this is how health care services must be delivered”. On the other hand, the government took away the purse. It is supposed to give money to the provinces to administer their rules in the way they feel they should be addressing the health care issues. This is a contradiction.
We are in agreement with the five principles of the health act. As a matter of fact, we tried to put in a sixth principle, stable funding for health care, so that provinces do not in the future have to play games with governments that one morning decide to cut health care but will not make any changes to the Canada Health Act or will not give the provinces the leeway to see how they can deliver the services.
The merits or demerits of how the provinces are going to deliver services or whether they will be private will be left to the Canadian public to decide. As we have stated, we are not in favour of a two tier health care system. As the government of Alberta has said quite clearly under its bill 11, it needs more innovative ways to deliver health care services because it does not have the money, the money that the government cut.
The government cut this money and then said it had balanced the budget, leaving the provinces to handle how they were going to deliver the services. As we all know, as the population increases the demand on health care grows stronger. Our own health care critic, my colleague from Calgary—Nose Hill, will be leaving shortly for Europe to study how the system there is delivered.
The health care report we are receiving for Canada is that for the amount of money we put in, the end product, the delivery of services, is not that efficient. Therefore it needs to be addressed. As a matter of fact I saw today in a report that the premier of Ontario has been saying that he needs more money and that the surplus the government has should be given to health care.
Everyone in the provinces is demanding that. Canadians who have been using health care services are demanding a better system. Health care workers, with their shortage of nurses, doctors and patients are all demanding a better system because health care is failing. This all started because the government cut the funding for health care. It did that in 1995. Even when the government tried to bring the funding back up, even when it had the first ministers conference, it was not brought up to 1995 levels. There is also the factor of inflation and all these other things. When we add up all those figures and include the expansion and growth of services that is needed, the transfer of money from health care is bigger than what is indicated in the figures.
As members of parliament, we receive numerous calls from people who use health care services about how much trouble they have getting services. I am sure members on the government side do as well. Those who are rich are demanding that we do something because they have the money to get those services from the U.S.A. and it is not the right thing to do when we are supposed to have a public health care system.
The government turns a blind eye to that and trumpets about its past when health care was good. Yes, it was good in the past, but the demands were there before the cuts. The Minister of Health keeps saying that our health care system is good. He has tunnel vision. He closes his eyes and then stands up and huffs and puffs in parliament and tells us he is for a public health care system and that the government will maintain the five principles of Canada health care. He keeps saying these things.
That is all fine and dandy, but he forgets to tell us that the finance minister keeps cutting the funding. Of course, he is not the one who is implementing the delivery of health care services. It is being delivered by the provinces and the provinces are asking how they will deliver these services when the federal government cuts funding for health care.
On the CHST there is an agreement. The federal government gives money to the provinces through the CHST. The government says it has addressed this issue. Has it really? No, it absolutely has not addressed this issue, because we read in the newspapers and hear from our television stations that the provinces are still having difficulties and want innovative solutions.
Finally the government woke up. Now we have a commission to look into health care, headed by the former premier of Saskatchewan, Mr. Romanow, which I think started two days ago. I must say it was good for Premier Klein and Premier Mike Harris to say they want everything on the table. I am very happy to hear that Mr. Romanow has said he would put everything on the table. Finally we have somebody to look into the whole situation and see how we can best deliver health care services.
Coming back to the equalization issue, I need to repeat that we in our party are in support of equalization, because we believe that all Canadians from coast to coast should enjoy a comparable quality and level of important government services. However, we have a problem, as usual, with the way things are handled by the government. Our opposition to the bill is not based on disagreement with the equalization principle but more on the way it is being handled, the way it is done, because we do not think this is the most effective way to do it.