Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hardworking and faithful hon. member for Vancouver Island North. I could have used more adjectives, but I did not want them to go to his head. It is an honour to stand in the House to talk about Bill C-18, a very important bill, and to address at this stage the broader question of equalization payments and the meaning of them.
I cannot resist the temptation to lay down a bit of what one might call a philosophical foundation for the idea. That foundation is what we as Canadians believe in so strongly. We believe in community and sharing with those who have need. The Liberals have somehow exploited this in their communication pieces to try to pass it off to Canadians that they are the only ones who care. They certainly are experts at caring in one particular way and that is taxing Canadians to death, then deciding how they can distribute the money they have gathered together.
Just yesterday, without any previous debate or approval of the House, the Prime Minister declared some of his values in Toronto when he announced a $500 million program to aid culture in Canada. 180 I shake my head at that when we have that same government saying that it will not increase the ceiling for equalization payments to help provinces pay for hospitals, education facilities for students and things like that. The government is ready to give us $500 million more for its interpretation of what Canadian culture is.
That is a very narrow point of view of what it means to be Canadian and what it means to be community. Very frankly the cultures that I see across the country are many and varied. These cultures for the most instance are very able in representing themselves and thriving without the aid of a bunch of government grants.
In fact in my riding we have a large Ukrainian community that does wonderful things to promote its culture and to keep it and its language alive. I had a conversation not long ago, actually I guess it is over a year ago but at my age years fly into days or weeks, with several people from the Ukrainian community. They said we should support more cultural grants from the federal government.
I engaged them in a little debate and asked them where they thought the money came from. We talked about it a bit. I told them that we were overtaxed with the huge burgeoning bureaucracy that was involved in sending money to Ottawa and that the bureaucrats spun it through their centrifuges. A bunch of that money would spill over the edges but would never get to the target for which it is intended. Then finally some would go back to a select group chosen in some cases by the Prime Minister because, as I understood it, he had a lot of clout in cabinet. However if they did not happen to be one of those they would not get the money.
I was able to show them that we would all do a lot better if we could simply reduce our taxes. Then all of us in all our cultures could fund to our heart's content the Ukrainian schools, the German schools and other schools that we would have liked to have but were prohibited from because of the official program of the government of taking about half of everybody's earnings and distributing it according to its will.
I also say that in the broader sense of community I do not want to restrict my community just to the town near which I live, nor my riding. It is a wonderful riding. I welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to come and visit. We have a national park in our riding. It is called the Elk Island National Park, named after my riding. It is a wonderful place and great place to visit. I would not like to restrict my sense of community just to our province.
It was mentioned earlier today that Alberta in the last year or so had a very good economic picture because of the energy situation. I can remember back a scant eight years ago when that was not the case. Albertans were struggling with their education and health funding probably as much as anyone. We had tremendous challenges in the province to rationalize the delivery of the health care system. A lot of it was due to the fact that this federal government reneged on what was originally an agreement to pay for half of the health care for the provinces. Over the years it eroded it to a point where it was once again the responsibility of the provinces. However it never reduced the taxes it sucked out of our provinces to bring to Ottawa. Therefore, I feel the government funding of those programs was irresponsible.
My country is my community. I came to the House as a Canadian. I stand proudly when we sing the national anthem in the House. Some may remember that I was even unwittingly and unintentionally the centre of a lot of controversy a number of years ago when I insisted that there should be nothing wrong with my having a flag on my desk in the House of Commons. Ultimately, it was ruled not permissible. It was considered a prop, so I am without my Canadian flag. So be it.
However I am a proud Canadian and this is my community. I insist that we would do well by extending the word community across this whole country and that we provide the needed health care and educational facilities to our citizens, which are more or less equal, at comparable levels of taxation. However it is impossible to have them exactly equal as that is just a practical consideration but they should be as equal as is possible.
Again, it is worth drawing the attention of the members to the fact that this is in our constitution. If we look at the Constitution Act, 1982, we will find section 36. I am going to read it because perhaps some people have not heard it. It states:
Without altering the legislative authority of Parliament or of the provincial legislatures, or the rights of any of them with respect to the exercise of their legislative authority, Parliament and the legislatures, together with the government of Canada and the provincial governments, are committed to
(a) promoting equal opportunities for the well-being of Canadians;
(b) furthering economic development to reduce disparity in opportunities; and
(c) providing essential public services of reasonable quality to all Canadians.
Then subsection 36(2) of our constitution states:
Parliament and the Government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.
Although that was brought in by a Liberal government, it seems to me eminently fine. I have absolutely no problem with that particular clause in our constitution. It behooves us to make sure that Canadians across the country have comparably equal services at comparable levels of taxation.
However we need to make sure that there is not duplication. We must ensure there is efficiency in the delivery of those services. We must make absolutely sure that the provinces and the citizens in those provinces continue to have all the motivation in the world we can extend them to improve their situation, regardless of where that is. I insist our country would do best if we neither hung a milestone around the necks of those who are doing well as they will then do better, they will expand our economy and they will provide more jobs, nor leave destitute those whose needs are greater.
Quite clearly I could have spoken for longer but my time is up. I appreciate the opportunity to address the House on this important issue.