Mr. Speaker, I would like to start with a clarification that I tried to make related to a point of order earlier in the day. I could not make it in that format. It was just an incorrect number quoted from a newspaper by the member for Lotbinière—L'Érable, I think. It seemed to infer that HRDC, which is responsible for pensions, security, student loans et cetera, was cutting $12 billion from its $85 billion budget. There was a report in the media to which he referred which was simply incorrect.
HRDC's budget is not $85 billion, nor is it cutting its budget by 15%. The budget is in fact $65 billion and more than $60 billion, or 92% of this spending, goes directly to individual Canadians through employment insurance, the Canada pension plan, old age security, Canada student loans and other statutory transfer payments. I wanted to correct the misconception around these facts.
What I would like to do today in this prebudget debate, and I certainly appreciate the opportunity to do this, is talk about items both in my constituency and nationwide that I would like to see in this and subsequent budgets. As I think people know, we are very close to a balanced budget. There is not much surplus to keep the government running and there are huge requirements that everyone is aware of, related to defence, health care, greenhouse gases et cetera, so there is not much room to manoeuvre.
I am going to list a number of things that I am in support of for when it is feasible to do them. I will talk about my riding first and then Canada-wide material and as many elements of the Standing Committee on Finance that I can get to before my 20 minutes run out.
In my riding, there is a big item that I of course want to make sure there are sufficient funds for and that is the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline, which I will talk about after I have completed the items for my riding.
Also, of course, the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome needs support. Some members of the House have talked eloquently about this. Prevention of this through health care is much more economical and humane than letting the problem go on. Hopefully the resources required to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome will be allocated.
One of the excellent programs in that area is the Headstart program. I have been a big supporter of the Headstart program for years and I would like to see more of it. In the throne speech there was a reference to expanding this program. I want that trend to continue. It has been an excellent program in my riding. We would like to get more programs set up in other locations and keep the funds in the existing ones. Because they are so popular there are more demands on them.
The homelessness program, or the SCPI program, is also very popular in my riding and I know that it has been popular in a number of ridings. There have been a number of projects. In fact in my riding it was mentioned by the minister as one of the unique programs in the country. But the problem has not been solved. We have an excellent local committee, chaired by Ross Findlater, which has done some very innovative things, but of course the needs still go on and we want to keep energizing these volunteers to organize projects like this and have more success stories.
First nations make up a significant portion of the population in my constituency. I want to of course make sure that there are sufficient funds for anything required for signing the remainder of the specific land claim agreements as well as implementation. When they are signed is really when the hard work starts. Funds are required for implementation. I hope it is sufficiently funded.
We also need funding to protect northern sovereignty. I have spoken in the House about this before. A number of anecdotes have been told right across the north, and northern MPs have mentioned them, about foreign vessels coming into our northern waters and not being accountable. There is not enough surveillance. As we, the three MPs from the north, have this debate with the other 298 MPs and are making good points about the requirements for defence and the Coast Guard, I want to make sure that our part of the north is not neglected. I would like the Coast Guard and national defence to get a significant portion of any increases in that area.
There is child poverty in my riding as there is in any other riding and it is a concern for me as it is for any member of the House of Commons. I support efforts for change in that direction.
There are also regional northern economic development funding and infrastructure needs. I am going to talk about that a bit later. Of course I was delighted when the Government of Canada announced that it will support the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse. It will be the first time in history that the games are held north of 60.
There were some items related to the Romanow report that were very exciting for the north and for my riding. Specifically, the report recognized and addressed a number of the problems we have in the north, some that are specific to the north. The commission talked about the rural fund, which would hopefully deal with some of these problems. We are very excited about this. In particular, one recommendation that was not specific to the north but was addressed in the report is waiting lists. I have certainly had a number of constituents approach me on this problem. This is something my constituents would like to see improved.
A problem that is specific to the north, though, is the recruitment and retention of northern medical specialists. This problem was well documented in the Romanow report. The report outlined suggestions to deal with it. Another specific problem we have in the north is related to guaranteeing timely access to specialists and for major surgery. Roughly half of Canada is north of 60 and there is no hospital that can do major surgery, so we all rely on using other people's health care systems in the various provinces, in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and so on. This means that we in the north are at the whim of these provinces. They treat us very well and I am not complaining about the way the provinces treat us, but we do not have guaranteed access so that our medical practitioners can plan.
Also, for specialists, of course, there is not always the economy of scale in regard to having all the specialists in the north. Once again, how can our doctors refer people to specialists in other health care systems? We hope this will be dealt with.
Of course mining is one of the large economic generators in my riding. For many years it was the biggest private sector contribution to the GDP, or the GTP. I support the initiatives that members have talked about which would help the mining industry.
Also, tourism right now is the largest private sector employer as far as number of employees is concerned. I find the assistance for the tourism sector in marketing and so on very positive.
I thought that the reports of the finance committee both this time and last time were very perceptive. I was very happy that the committee referred to the fact that infrastructure in the north cannot be done, as it was historically, on a per capita basis.
This has been mentioned on several occasions and I am sure everyone in the House recognizes and agrees with it. Because of the low population there are fewer taxpayers and they are so widely dispersed that a per capita allocation of money for infrastructure just does not work. We would not get very much done that way. In the north we have unusual conditions due to permafrost. That also makes infrastructure very important. I am delighted that people recognize that and it has on occasion already been incorporated into infrastructure calculations.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I will talk a little more about the pipeline. There are two Arctic gas pipelines that could come to Canada, the Mackenzie pipeline and the Alaska Highway pipeline. They would create a lot of jobs for Canada. I have talked in support of these pipelines before.
I think people have heard a lot about the Mackenzie Valley, but I would like to just talk about some of the benefits of the Alaska Highway pipeline because it has not been talked about as much and people may not know about it. There are several studies that show there could be 100,000 person years of work in western Canada and in Ontario from the Alaska Highway gas pipeline, and over 165,000 person years indirectly in Quebec and Ontario, $1.2 billion in revenue for Canadians, $31 billion for Canada's GDP, and 8,600 jobs in B.C. just during the construction of such a pipeline.
This actually would be the largest such project in the history of the world, so we are delighted with the recent appointment of the government to the Northern Pipeline Agency, which will help facilitate the project because of course Canada's role is to be the regulator. We want to make sure that if and when someone applies to put either of these pipelines through, the government is ready and has the resources to regulate quickly and efficiently.
There is a great demand for natural gas. All of the objective projections of natural gas requirements for North America show that the demand will be far more than the capacity of these two pipelines. If these two pipelines are built as large as they are planned and are filled with gas, they will provide only a very small percentage of the demands projected by the estimators.
A lot of this is the result of new electrical generation capacity in the United States, but it can also reduce greenhouse gases as the United States and other places replace coal and diesel. For instance, we have a lot of diesel in the Yukon. If that were to be replaced with cleaner burning natural gas it would reduce greenhouse gases.
I am supportive of the government making sure that this is regulated very quickly. If we delay, the demand will still be there, and the United States in particular will fill the demand from other places. They are already starting to build plants for LNG, to bring liquid natural gas to both coasts of the United States. Then Canada would lose out completely on a project where we could get roughly half the construction benefits, a project that could be a tremendous boon to the economy in Canada.
I hope that when the United States Congress reconvenes in February it will once again support an energy bill that will not permit drilling in ANWAR but will have provisions to help make sure the Alaska pipeline can go ahead to move Alaska gas through Canada where we Canadians can get the benefits.
As I said earlier, I was very happy with some elements of the report of the Standing Committee on Finance. The most important part for me was about rural Canada and the north. I will quote one sentence:
The Association of Yukon Communities told the Committee that its request for $160 million for infrastructure spending would not only “bring Yukon communities to a level that will help make them more competitive with their southern and northern neighbours,” it would also “replace much-needed infrastructure, such as roads, water, and sewer, and high-speed cable fibre, and build a much-needed bridge across the Yukon River in the Klondike.”
I am very excited that the finance committee has recognized these needs in my riding and that they show up in the report.
I am also very excited about recommendation 27, which suggests that:
The federal government ensure that adequate attention is paid to the needs of rural and remote communities. Moreover, the government should focus resources on working with remote communities in Northern Canada to advance their economic development efforts.
I would like to switch gears and talk about some Canada-wide directions of which I am in favour, as well as my responsibilities in that respect. Of course many of them will have positive benefits for my riding.
As the chair of the defence caucus, I support the efforts to make sure our military is well funded and efficient. Our Canadians are as talented as anyone in the world and there is no reason that we cannot have a military that can do the job, that takes care of its employees and has the most advanced equipment, notwithstanding that it is has to be put in the context of the entire needs of the budget and what is important for Canadians.
I am very pleased with the $100 billion tax cut, the largest tax cut in history, and about the fact that a majority of it will not go to high income people. One of the members from across the way was asking about that yesterday. I am also quite proud of the child tax credit. As I said earlier, more needs to be done in those areas and I will be in support of anything we can do in those areas.
Having directed the programs in the International Trade Centre in the Yukon in a previous career, I am quite sensitive to our requirements in that area. As we all know, we are very dependent in Canada on international trade and, in today's environment, to security and to international information related to terrorism, drug trafficking, and those areas.
We need to support sufficiently our foreign service, our ability to collect and obtain foreign intelligence, and facilitation related to trade with the world. For instance, Mexico has more resources in the United States than we do to support trade, but we also have to diversify because we also have a huge dependence on the United States. This would actually be one of the less costly improvements because we have absolutely superb talent in this area and we just need to make sure that we have sufficient resources.
I mentioned yesterday that I had talked to a constituent a few weeks ago who was disabled. He told me that he liked to work but that sometimes he was not able keep up with people who were not disabled. We need to set up a program that would allow disabled people to stay in the workforce, and not cut them off for whatever reason, when they might otherwise not be cut off if they did not have their particular disability.
I am also in support of a modern, knowledge based economy in order to be competitive with our neighbours. I am in support of all the efforts that the government is putting forward for advanced skills, advanced learning, advanced education, especially the support to the unemployed in those areas, and also the lifelong learning of Canadians.
I have always been in support of the efforts the government has taken on the rural file. It has been so successful with such little funds that it could even be enhanced. I am sure I speak for our rural caucus on this. The urban people have mentioned that the mayors of the big cities have said that people are coming in from rural areas and causing them problems and that they have more costs. As the mayor of Dawson says, that is a symptom. If we could actually solve the problems of the economies and the lifestyles, and keep these people healthy and productive in the rural areas, then this would not be a problem for cities.
I applaud the rural community capacity projects that are underway. I know my riding has some. I also applaud the rural lens and hope that continues so that any new program is looked at from the rural perspective to make sure that it is as efficient as it possibly can be for rural people.
I will now go on to some of the recommendations from the standing committee which I strongly support.
First, I am totally in support of any income tax reductions or tax reductions as long as they are done in the context of making sure that the other needs in the budget are covered.
Recommendation 4 talks about us making sure that tax rates in Canada are competitive with others in the G-7. However, as the House knows, some of our rates are already competitive or more than competitive, but I applaud our efforts to move in that direction.
I also applaud the efforts to increase the limit of registered retirement savings funds so people can help fund themselves in their old age, as well as the Canada savings grant exemption.
Recommendation 11 talks about reducing the federal excise tax applicable to small breweries to achieve parity with the United States. In the debate we had earlier, I said that I was totally in favour of this and delighted that it was being recommended. We have an excellent, award winning brewery in the Yukon that produces excellent beer that I recommend to everyone. Of course we would like it to be competitive.
The air travel security charge is only sufficient to cover the needed costs without jeopardizing safety. Canadians have told me that they want to definitely be safe but do not want it to unduly hurt the tourism industry.
I was also delighted with recommendation 13, which talks about the federal granting councils. I was on the industry committee, as was my colleague, and we constantly talked about funds in research for smaller universities and colleges such as we have in the north.
Recommendation 13 states:
--consider the concerns of smaller universities and colleges when disbursing funds, and should ensure that they do not face discrimination.
I am delighted that recommendation, for which we fought so hard, was in there.
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the many items that I think could be helpful to Canada and to my riding.