House of Commons Hansard #183 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should set up an assistance program for the softwood lumber industry and its workers, to support them in the face in the injust decision by the American government to impose a 27.2% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States, the program to continue in effect until such time as this conflict has been resolved.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Joliette, is not votable. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

Business of the House

11:05 a.m.

Wascana Saskatchewan


Ralph Goodale LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, in my weekly business statement last Thursday I indicated that Thursday of this week, May 9, would be an allotted day. In reviewing the progress of legislation over the past weekend I concluded that the flow of business would be better served if that day were spent on legislation. Therefore I want to inform the House that May 9 will not be an allotted day.

I also wish to inform the House that since the topic of debate today encompasses much of what had been on the minds of House leaders in terms of a possible take note debate on Wednesday evening, I will not now be proposing such a debate for Wednesday evening of this week.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should never exclude elected provincial government officials from any briefings or negotiations with provincial civil servants concerning legislation, regulations, treaties or agreements of any kind.

Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion. The motion arises as a result of my personal experience as a provincial justice minister dealing with negotiations with the federal government on the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

While I was a provincial minister I was told by my staff that I could not attend negotiations or discussions with federal officials, nor could I be briefed by my own staff with respect to these meetings with federal officials despite the very real financial, political and administrative interests the provincial government had in administering not only the Young Offenders Act but the new act that has been put in its place.

I initiated the motion after the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights barred the appearances of provincial attorneys general during hearings on the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Bill C-7. The newer members of the committee, such as myself, were told that it was a rule or a convention of the committee to not hear from elected provincial officials. The government members voted down a motion supported by all four opposition parties to waive this rule. As a result, the committee was only able to hear from non-elected provincial officials.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which replaces the Young Offenders Act, is enforced on a day to day basis by provincial officials and authorities. While the justice committee regularly hears testimony from the federal attorney general, unbelievably we were prevented from hearing from the officials who are actually responsible for implementing the legislation, paying for it and for making it work: the provincial attorneys general.

Despite the numerous concerns expressed about the lack of consultation with provincial authorities in the ongoing debate over this bill, astonishingly the government members on the justice committee said that they did not believe it was appropriate to invite elected representatives from provincial governments to make representations here in Ottawa. While they discussed matters with staff, they would not hear from the elected representatives who are politically accountable to the people of the various provinces.

Given that the provinces are often shouldered with the burden of the costs in implementing new laws, it is a tremendously important issue for provincial attorneys general or any other provincial minister administering a federal law who have to justify to the taxpayers the moneys they will have to spend. As elected officials responsible for the expenditure of funds and working in partnership with the federal government, there can be no relevant objection to them explaining their views and concerns to parliament.

On the issue of funding, I recognize that the federal government has indicated that it is willing to spend more money to implement the Youth Criminal Justice Act but we know that it will never reach a 50:50 partnership as the act had originally intended. Essentially the provinces will continue to bear about 75% of the cost of this act, and possibly even more in the years to come.

The provincial attorneys general and the taxpayers they represent who are shouldering the bulk of the financial burden of this act could simply say that they will not enforce this legislation or any other legislation the federal government imposes on them in the future. This was done with Bill C-68 where provincial attorneys general said that they would not co-operate in that federal act because it did not meet the needs of the people of their provinces.

The attorneys general of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba are not required to enforce the new youth justice legislation. They could simply say “Forget it. Let the federal government do it”. They could refuse to accept the delegation to prosecute under that act or to indeed spend any moneys under that act.

Even if that might be an unlikely possibility, and even though in Bill C-68, for example, they did refuse that delegation, common sense, good government and co-operative federalism demand that the provincial attorneys general be allowed to come to Ottawa to explain the difficulties they may foresee in making the legislation work.

It is critical that the federal government continues to work co-operatively and in good faith with the political figures who are responsible to the taxpayers of their respective provinces.

The motion also indirectly addresses the fundamental concerns of parliamentarians who often see committee work as ineffective or irrelevant. During the justice committee hearing in which we discussed whether or not to hear the elected provincial officials, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice at the time, the hon. member for Erie--Lincoln, said:

With respect to the ministers, they have more than ample opportunity to speak to the Minister of Justice at various federal-provincial-territorial meetings that go on frequently, and went on with this specific legislation. They've had more than ample opportunity to present their views to the minister.

Even if that is in fact correct, which it is not, having had that experience as a provincial justice minister where we were not consulted nor did we have an opportunity to discuss the act with the federal minister, as the member for Winnipeg--Transcona so aptly pointed out at the committee, it appeared that it did not even occur to the parliamentary secretary that perhaps the justice committee might form a different opinion or might even be a different entity in some respects from the federal justice minister.

The parliamentary secretary sat in his chair and said that ministers of justice in the provinces can talk to the federal minister of justice and that was good enough. This lack of democratic consultation is exactly what many Canadians, including parliamentarians, find so disconcerting about the entire legislative process.

There are only two significant ways for individual members to contribute to the political process under the process that we presently have today in parliament. One is through the introduction of private members' bills and the other is through parliamentary committees. However it is now apparent that even these avenues are being shut off. This was demonstrated recently when the Prime Minister rejected the extensive work of a committee reviewing the contentious species at risk legislation, Bill C-5. All Liberal members in the House were instructed to vote against the committee amendments, including amendments that would have guaranteed compensation to landowners for land expropriated under the legislation.

Similarly, last week the new Minister of Justice rejected the recommendations of the parliamentary committee that proposed important changes to protect the interests of children caught up in bitter custody battles after divorce.

Those are but a couple of examples of why so many Canadians, including parliamentarians themselves, have become disillusioned with our political system. What is the point of an all party justice committee when the Liberal majority on the committee is simply an appendage of the justice minister?

Although the motion will not necessarily address issues of democratic reform in parliament, it would go far to remedy one particular consequence of the dysfunctional nature of parliamentary committees. The motion as worded would give parliamentarians the opportunity to confer on a number of fronts with both elected and non-elected provincial officials regarding any matter crossing areas of provincial and federal jurisdiction.

By working more positively and proactively with the elected political figures who are responsible and accountable to the people of their respective provinces, the House could demonstrate an unprecedented measure of good faith that would go a long way to improving co-operative federalism in the country.

Although the motion is not votable, I would hope that it would be a starting point for future discussions on this matter.

I have the minutes from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as of April 4, 2001. I want to read a few of the comments that were made by members in voting down hearing from provincial officials. When I stated:

I understand there is a standing rule that prohibits elected officials from coming here, and I think that's unfortunate.

The member for Winnipeg--Transcona then expressed his concern and the chair indicated the following:

The rule, the tradition, the convention predates the chair's being a member of the committee, but my understanding is that there are technical aspects of this the provinces would have to be responsible for administering, and we wanted to bring in the technical people who would be doing that. Therefore, what we wanted to do was bring in deputy attorneys general and representatives of the government, rather than elected officials. That was what I understood.

The member for Winnipeg--Transcona then raises other points, saying that on this kind of bill there are political matters in the very best sense and there are federal-provincial issues with respect to the allocation of resources.

The parliamentary secretary then said the following, and it was astounding. He said:

Mr. Chair, I stand to be corrected, but the suggestion that we have not heard from the provinces before this committee would be inaccurate. We have heard from officials. To my recollection, certainly in the case of the Province of Manitoba, the Province of British Columbia, the Province of Ontario I believe...invitations were extended to the provinces as well. We're certainly very happy to hear from the individuals who work with this legislation day to day.

With respect to the ministers, they have more than ample opportunity to speak to the Minister of Justice at various...meetings...They've had more than ample opportunity to present their views to the minister.

The point is however that they were not allowed to present their views to committee.

Perhaps the height of Liberal majority arrogance on the justice committee was seen when one Liberal member stated the following with respect to the motion in favour of having elected representatives there. He said:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to say that I would not be supporting the motion on the basis that I've spent two years as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and I can see that changing our convention would be simply opening it up to a series of fed-bashers. They would come here, the way they do, with the media in tow, and get into that. That's why I think the rule or the convention makes sense, to have officials who aren't going to be here to play the political game. As much as we are discussing political issues, I don't want to be captive to a round of fed-bashing, which I think this would inevitably lead to.

We are talking about the elected representatives of the people of the various provinces. They are responsible for administering and enforcing the legislation.The point of view of the parliamentary secretary is that this is simply fed-bashing. That is the problem with this government. Liberal members think that unless they can absolutely control any discussions to arrive at a predetermined result, it is simply fed-bashing.

This is a federal system. The federal attorney general has the right to speak to the provincial attorneys general. However we, as justice committee members or any other committee members, should be entitled to hear from these elected officials. They are responsible for the payment of this in large part. They are responsible for prosecution. They are responsible for administration. This is a shameful example of how the government refuses to co-operate with the provinces.

The provincial attorneys general could simply say that they will no longer prosecute under the criminal code and that they will leave it to the federal attorney general. They can say they will no longer prosecute under the youth justice legislation. However they are attempting to work co-operatively with the federal government, but unfortunately the Liberal majority on that committee refuses to hear from those who have significant input on this matter.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Burin—St. George's Newfoundland & Labrador


Bill Matthews LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I feel it is important for several reasons to participate in this debate on Motion No. 360 this morning, which was tabled in the House by the hon. member for Provencher. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should never exclude elected provincial government officials from any briefings or negotiations with provincial civil servants concerning legislation, regulations, treaties or agreements of any kind.

First, I am taking part in this debate because it gives me an opportunity to highlight the fundamental role of intergovernmental relations as a key element in the functioning of the Canadian federation.

Second, I want to use this occasion to illustrate the co-operative mechanisms now in place between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Third, the motion as tabled ought not to be interpreted as meaning that the Government of Canada has either the capacity or the desire to circumscribe its provincial partners in any way as to the selection of members for their own delegations to discussions or negotiations between representatives of the two main orders of government in Canada.

I do not intend to use the short time available to me in giving a detailed depiction of intergovernmental relations in Canada but rather simply to highlight their importance and their place in the lives of Canadians.

Intergovernmental affairs is obviously not alone in maintaining co-operative relations with the provincial and territorial governments, but this motion is of particular concern for us because this organization is at the centre of the efforts for co-operation and co-ordination to advance the progress of our Canadian federation.

In our country each order of government is sovereign within its own legislative sphere, but there are nevertheless types of responsibilities between orders of government where the roles of each need to be better defined. Moreover, the increased role of governments in the lives of citizens over the past century has consequently expanded their areas of activity. These areas of jurisdiction have become increasingly interlinked, leading governments to work together more closely and to identify co-operation mechanisms to manage these interactions.

No one can dispute that federal-provincial meetings have a key place in the political life of Canada. To cite but one example, in 2000-01 the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat, the agency that provides administrative services for the planning and conduct of senior level intergovernmental meetings in Canada, served 99 conferences. Six of those were at the first minister level. Most of the others were among federal, provincial and territorial ministers, as a matter of fact 29 in total. Of those meetings and conferences, 31 were at the deputy minister level.

The purpose of each of these meetings is to make the functioning of the federation more harmonious, to reduce frictions between the federal and provincial-territorial governments, to forge consensus on important issues of common interest and to clarify issues relating to national unity.

Whether it be first ministers meetings, intergovernmental ministerial meetings or regional conferences, it is important to understand that every such meeting necessitates from the outset a large number of informal contacts and exchanges among officials and that these efforts are productive.

National agreements have been concluded, for example, on the national child benefit. Negotiations between the federal and provincial governments have led to bilateral agreements on the transfer of active employment measures. Regional agreements have been concluded on procurement policy between Quebec and New Brunswick and interprovincial trade among the Atlantic provinces. These are just a few of many examples.

There are few areas where the federal government could afford to act alone without requiring the co-operation of the provinces. Intergovernmental co-operation mechanisms respond to this inevitable need to adapt to an ever changing world. The system works and Canadians are the first to benefit.

At the beginning of my speech I stressed the autonomy enjoyed by each order of government in its own sphere of activity. Our government believes that one of the key factors to the success of our federation is respect for the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial governments.

If there is an area where this logic ought to apply first and foremost, it is in the selection of a provincial delegation to a meeting with federal representatives.

I want to emphasize that this government has never had a policy of excluding a member of a provincial delegation from a federal-provincial meeting whether the delegate is elected or not. In reading the motion, I admit that I found it difficult to imagine what could have motivated it and I wondered if the hon. member had a specific case in mind when he brought forward his notice of motion.

On our side, no such example has been brought to our attention and we therefore find the motion tabled by the opposition member extremely puzzling. Having said that, I must be honest. After hearing the member present his case in debate, I now more fully understand his point of contention.

The motion insinuates that the provincial and territorial governments are not free to designate their own representatives, elected or not, to discussions with the federal government. This proposal is patently absurd. The motion gives nothing more to the provinces and territories which already have full latitude in choosing their representatives.

We do not support the motion because the House does not need to formalize something that can be addressed informally. Whenever provincial ministers feel that they do not have access to the information they need from the federal government, their ministers need only contact their federal counterparts and for the most part these things can be worked out. I am sure the hon. member knows this as a former provincial minister.

This is the nature of intergovernmental affairs in our federation.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today and speak to Motion No. 360 introduced by the member for Provencher. I intend to keep my comments short.

Let me first remind the House of what one of the greatest statesman of the 20th century, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, once said: “Democracy is the worst system ever invented except for all the rest”. My speech will be based on that statement and divided into four parts.

First, in a democracy such as the one we live in, legitimacy rests with elected officials. These elected representatives of the people have the legitimate power to make decisions.

Second, it is up to the elected officials, who have the support of their constituents, to make decisions.

Third, to be able to make the right decisions, elected officials have to be as well informed as possible. That is totally understandable. To make the best decision possible, we need to be informed.

Fourth, the best information is first-hand information. In federal-provincial negotiations, first-hand information is what we get during briefings and negotiations. It is only appropriate that elected provincial representatives attend briefings or negotiations between federal and provincial public servants.

This is why we agree with the non-votable motion brought forward by the member for Provencher.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, my Bloc Quebecois colleague has indeed been very brief. He has summarized a thought many of us share, in some very fine phrases couched in impeccable French, and I must congratulate him.

I will soon have sat in this House for five years, but I have still learned something from Motion M-360. The hon. member for Provencher, the mover of the motion, has said that in the debate in the justice committee on Bill C-7, the committee chair indicated that a rule or convention excluded elected representatives of the provinces and territories. Not being an expert like you, Mr. Speaker, on rules, procedures, conventions and traditions, I have learned something new.

I am going to ask our parliamentary leader and our rules and procedures adviser to explain to me in greater detail what this is all about. They refused to allow the provincial ministers of justice, the attorneys general, to speak, based on rules and conventions, claiming that committees cannot accept them as witnesses, if I have understood the hon. member for Provencher correctly.

This led me to wonder. I though the committee was sovereign. I know that royal commissions hear provincial and territorial elected officials and wondered why the same did not hold true for committees. I wondered if there were any examples. There have been a number of examples where provincial and territorial elected representatives have appeared before a committee examining a bill.

SInce there is not much time left, I am going to speak about the famous Bill C-20—now a law—I might even call it the infamous bill on referendum clarity. If I remember correctly, Joseph Facal, Quebec's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, came before the committee, as did Benoît Pelletier, the Liberal MNA for Chapleau, not far from here.

If, for a bill such as Bill C-20, there was acceptance of provincial ministers and elected representatives, and this issue did not come up, I do not understand why a committee would decide to exclude them because of rules of procedure.

I need more clarification. If it was because of rules, conventions or traditions, the government, which refused to hear from the people of Quebec, among others, during consideration of Bill C-7, citing parliamentary procedure, ignored that procedure during consideration of Bill C-20; this is a double standard. If rules need to be changed, it should change them, but I do not think that that is the case. We have a number of examples of elected provincial government officials appearing before the committee.

I am not sure what the specific purpose of the motion is but, if I understand correctly, the idea is to not exclude elected officials from the provinces and territories when bills which have an impact on the provinces are being considered. We would not disagree. I am learning things. We need some answers.

I listened to my former colleague who crossed the floor, the turncoat who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport. He explained how federal-provincial relations are supposed to work. This government is in no position to tell us how to operate. I think that the previous government had much more credibility when it came to respect for the provinces. The short-lived government that the leader of my party had the opportunity to lead could point to examples of real co-operation.

Members will recall that when the right hon. leader of the Progressive Conservative Party was about to make appointments, he telephoned the then Premier of Quebec, Mr. Lévesque, and told him, “I have some names, but I would like your opinion”.

My leader reminded me that Mr. Lévesque was quite surprised that the Prime Minister had called to consult him about appointments.

This is a fine example of the skilful handling of relations. However, our friends on the other side are arrogant, because they base their decisions on certain rules in order to exclude some people and go their own way, do as they please.

I find it unfortunate that, for Bill C-7, they refused to meet with elected provincial representatives on the basis of some criteria and regulations, some tradition and conventions, whereas, in the case of Bill C-20, which divided the country much more than it united it, the presence of ministers and members of legislatures was accepted.

They resort to double standards whenever it suits them. This is another case of bad handling of relations here in the House by this government. It is another example of this government using the rules for the benefit of its own leader and excluding the provincial elected representatives, who are our partners only when this government finds it convenient.

Finally, we must be careful. We must not forget that there are two distinct philosophies about the vision for our country. On the one hand, some say that Canada is Ottawa. It is a central governmen, which in its great generosity grants some powers and responsibilities to what we call provinces. This is Canada according to some people.

Perhaps it would help to look back further in history. Canada is made up of regions and provinces which decided to act together and to give shared services to Ottawa. It was a bottom up approach, not a top down one. A country such as Canada cannot remain united if decisions are always made at the top. Decisions that shape this country must be made in the regions and in the provinces.

This is why we hope for a fairly quick change of government in order to change the way things are done and if possible, an even quicker change in Prime Ministers and Ministers of Intergovernmental Affairs. This could not come soon enough. In any case, squabbling has already started within the ranks of the Liberal Party.

Having said that, these are two different visions of the country, two different approaches. I hope that the vision of the country that recognizes that it was the regions and the provinces that created this country and that decided to come together for all kinds of reasons, more or less good, will gain more widespread acceptance.

I also sincerely hope that there will be a level playing field when it comes to the witnesses that will be called to appear before committees. We need to acknowledge that on numerous occasions, when it suits the government, provincial and territorial members and ministers have appeared before committees. I hope that decisions will not be made based on rules once, only to flout them the rest of the time.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 360. I agree with the member who brought it forward that it is a growing concern given the obvious jurisdictional problems between federal, provincial and even local governments.

We are seeing time and again how the actions of one impact on the other. It is becoming obvious even from the discussions in the newspapers that all Canadians realize there is only one taxpayer. We are living under one set of laws in a sense and Canadians are asking their elected officials to do their best to pull together to give us the best country possible run in the most efficient way possible in a way that is co-operative to get the job done with the best interests of Canadians in mind.

I would go further than the member's motion and the way he has it worded which is proper and right. The examples he uses are good ones but I would suggest an agenda be published when ministers meet at the federal and provincial level so all Canadians know what is being discussed. Too often what happens is we read about a meeting that took place and except for a few people at the bureaucratic top of the pyramid we do not even know what the meeting was about. An announcement is made that something was negotiated behind closed doors. The House does not know what it is about. Sometimes the provincial minister, as has already been said, has been excluded from the discussions. Something is done at a bureaucratic level and people wake up to find an announcement or agreement on the front page that has been signed or is close to being signed that may affect all of our lives.

It is only proper that an agenda be published that allows people to know what is coming up. All of us would say that it is a good job for ministers to negotiate. We do not have anything against them talking about technicalities, regulations or getting fussy about fine points. However, there are other times, and I think of the current negotiations that are taking place surrounding the Kyoto agreement, when they enact or enforce international agreements on everything from the environment to women's issues to international courts that affect more than one jurisdiction.

Although our jurisdictions are well defined constitutionally, too often we find the federal government intruding into another jurisdiction with its spending power. By doing that it involves provincial governments in a way that affects them substantially either on the funding side or committing them to a course of action that they have little control over.

I emphasize my support for the member's motion. He is on the right track. The more communication we can get between the levels of government Canadians can experience better government overall. They expect us to find ways to co-operate on those issues that are inter-jurisdictional. When there are no elections they want us to get together and to do it right on behalf of all Canadians. The best way to always do that is to have it front and centre with all jurisdictions involved.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair will recognize the hon. member for Provencher under right of reply. We will have five minutes to close this debate.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments that have been made here today in respect of the motion. Again I want to reiterate that the federal government should not be barring provincial ministers from negotiations as it has done in the past on matters that affect them. It seems odd to me that the government would invite provincial officials but specifically bar provincial ministers.

While I understand that ministers may not want to attend certain types of meetings because they are working meetings, the federal government has gone beyond simply barring the attendance of the minister. The staff that was sent from Manitoba to attend the meetings on the Young Offenders Act was permitted to attend only on the condition that it not disclose to the minister what the nature of the discussions was. In an effort to continue with co-operative federalism, I said that I was very interested in making sure that we had input into it and I did not want to bar them because of this ludicrous condition. Therefore, members of the staff of the provincial attorney general and justice minister went there and came back but could not disclose what was discussed at these meetings. It was simply astounding given the financial interest, the administrative interest and the prosecutorial interest of the minister in that matter.

How could I, as a minister, go back to cabinet and say that I have just sent my staff to negotiate an agreement but I cannot tell cabinet what they negotiated because I do not know? How could I say that the reason I do not know is that the federal government is saying that my own staff cannot tell me? What we see is this kind of control of the process in order to achieve a desired result: the minister can then say that there were negotiations with staff. He can say that the minister had the opportunity to pick up the phone and call him. That is easier said than done in this great and wonderful democracy. As great as it is, it is not that easily done.

Those are my comments. I urge members to consider the motion very carefully.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think that if you seek it you would find consent to begin our supply day motion and debate at this time.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville have the consent of the House?

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should cease and desist its sustained legislative and political attacks on the lives and livelihoods of rural Canadians and the communities where they live.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Medicine Hat.

The topic for today's official opposition motion does not come from us as MPs but from Canadians. We are a vast country and the vast majority of the people who live beyond the glare of the big city lights are fed up. They feel neglected by the Liberal government and they are telling us so. I imagine that Liberal backbench MPs have been told the same thing by their constituents for the last eight years, but sadly these common sense appeals from rural voters have fallen on the deaf ears of the Liberals.

As evidence of this I will cite that over the last couple of weeks a fear of being dethroned during the next election has been spreading among the Liberal backbenchers. Some of them have even been brave enough to speak up against the Prime Minister's dictatorial ways. These Liberal MPs will again accept minor word changes by the government and consider that a victory. The Liberal elite laughs at how easily duped they are: A few grants and handouts later, they are back barking like trained seals.

If the constituents in those Liberal ridings want to see real change, they should elect Canadian Alliance MPs. We have been in the lead in championing these issues important to ordinary Canadians for the last eight years. The government implements our policies, but much too slowly to make the dramatic changes that are needed to turn our economic engines into economic dynamos. The Liberals would rather use taxes and red tape until the industries are hurting so bad that they need to subsidize them.

Only when the Liberals are subsidizing things do they consider their programs and policies a success. Slush funds and political patronage they understand; economic development they do not. Slush funds, by the way, are used mainly to buy votes. If the government had implemented Reform Party agricultural policies in 1994, many thousands of farmers would not be facing the crisis they are today. Unfortunately in eight years the Liberals have learned nothing. In fact they have become more arrogant, anti-democratic and corrupt. They look for new ideas among the bureaucrats and Liberal backroomers when the best ideas are right in front of their noses. All they have do is listen to the people who are on the long-suffering end of their failed policies and programs.

The Liberals are experts at pitting one group of Canadians against the other and nowhere is this more evident than in the way they have pitted urban voters against rural voters, the very essence of what we are bringing forward today. The Liberals play up to animal rights groups at the expense of farmers, hunters and fishermen. They try to ram animal cruelty legislation through parliament and make farmers out to be the bad guys when the opposite is true. No one cares more about animals than farmers do. The Liberals play up to the environmental lobby groups by trying to ram endangered species legislation through the House, but they are dishonest with both environmentalists and farmers because the laws they wish to enact will not protect endangered species and will force farmers to abandon their land without being paid fair market value for their land.

The Liberals play up to urban voters by telling them they are doing something to fight violent crime in the city by forcing millions of law-abiding citizens to register their guns, this despite data from Statistics Canada and insurance company actuaries that prove that responsible gun owners are no threat to themselves, their families, neighbours or communities. Anyone listening today must be starting to see a trend developing here. Last week the backbencher from Dufferin--Peel--Wellington--Grey acknowledged this serious problem in a letter to his caucus colleagues. He stated:

I believe that unless [the bill] is amended, there will be a perception in rural Canada that once again a law tailored to urban interests is being thrust upon the rural community. Those of us representing rural ridings know all too well the divisiveness and distrust that remains from our government's passage of C-68, the gun registration law.

That strikes to the very heart of what we are talking about today.

Our speakers will outline failure after failure of Liberal policies and programs. Today we will describe Liberal legislation and programs that have failed rural Canadians: legislation like Bill C-5, Bill C-15B, Bill C-68 and Bill C-4 from 1998, which perpetuated the fiftieth year of the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board. We will describe programs like useless regional economic development funds and corporate handouts that are really slimy Liberal slush funds buying votes instead of creating real development opportunities.

We will describe today how rural Canadians have been ignored and neglected by the Liberal ruling elite while the Liberal backbenchers sit on their duffs in the House, scared they will lose their perks and access to their slush funds if they start to really represent the true needs and wishes of their constituents. We will describe Liberal neglect and mismanagement of trade issues to the detriment of the softwood lumber producers and the communities where they live and work, and Liberal neglect and mismanagement of the foreign trade and subsidy issues to the detriment of Canadian farmers and their communities.

Not only will the House hear a dry, statistical and economic argument today, it will hear about real people in real communities who are hurting because of Liberal laws and Liberal neglect.

My own province of Saskatchewan lost 15,000 jobs in the last year alone. Report Newsmagazine recently reported that the population of Saskatchewan has dropped by 26% in the last three decades. Saskatchewan should not be a have not province. Liberal policies and programs perpetuate Saskatchewan's have not status and it has to stop now. The Liberal failure to allow Canadian wheat producers to sell their wheat directly to value added processing like pasta plants is just one glaring example of Liberal neglect and stupidity.

The one area of economic opportunity in Saskatchewan is guiding and outfitting, but what do the Liberals do? They force every American hunter to pay a tax of $50 to come into Canada. Many of them stayed home last year, and it will get worse. Who are the Liberals hurting with this new tax? They are hurting farmers who are forced into getting into outfitting to help finance the losses they were suffering on the farm. Again they are at the receiving end of failed Liberal policies and programs. The Liberals are hurting aboriginal guiding and outfitting companies, one of the few economic opportunities for aboriginals living on remote reserves. Liberals would rather pay welfare than get out of the way and let aboriginal entrepreneurs prove that they can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

What if a farmer needs to go out and buy a new rifle to shoot the coyotes that are attacking his cattle? The Department of Justice documents put the regulatory cost of buying a rifle at $279. That is before even buying the rifle and bullets. That is absolutely ridiculous and the government has the nerve to say it is not doing anything to negatively impact on law-abiding citizens who use firearms for their own livelihood.

Before my time is up I want to leave everyone with one last message for our friends in urban Canada. The Canadian Alliance is not playing the Liberal game of pitting one group of Canadians against another. We believe that sound rural and resource development policies create jobs, opportunities and wealth in urban centres. It is no secret that all the mines are in the north but most of the money from those mines flows through Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to benefit all of the citizens of these cities.

When farmers succeed, the Canadian economy grows and jobs are created in urban centres. Development of Canada is a team effort. Unfortunately, for the last eight years the Liberals have been neglecting half of the team.

I predict that in the next election campaign the Liberals will again try to use labels to smear their opponents rather than discuss the issues important to Canadians. Today's motion is a key part of the debate that needs to take place.

Today the Canadian Alliance is saying to rural and northern Canadians “We know you are fed up and we are not going to let the Liberals get away with it any more. Like a friend of mine once said “To light a fire you start at the bottom, and it will spread upwards”. If we want the economy to start burning we need to get out of the way of our basic resource sectors; we need to stop pouring cold water all over them and instead get them back on track, be it the fisheries on our east and west coasts, the farms all across Canada, the forestry sector, the mining, oil and gas sector, or the tourism industry for hunting and shooting sports. All these rural based industries are being held back by destructive Liberal policies or neglect.

The message I have for our city cousins is this: “Please help us, for it is the economic health of urban Canada and your own jobs that are affected too”.

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11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and debate an issue that is so important to great swaths of the country. The government's lack of judgment and lack of attention with respect to rural issues has put many rural industries in serious trouble.

I appreciate the work of my hon. friend who spoke. He has done much with respect to firearms legislation, animal cruelty and so many other issues. It is critical that we discuss these issues in this place today.

Although we will be talking about all kinds of numbers and statistics this is a debate about people, the people responsible for opening Canada up and making it a great country. To be fair, over the years much of the population of rural Canada has shifted into urban Canada. However the people of rural Canada still play a vital role in the economy of the country.

There are so many subjects we could talk about. We could talk about the endangered species legislation, the animal cruelty bill or the firearms registry, all of which have deep flaws. Unfortunately the government has not listened to the good judgment of so many people from rural areas who have offered ideas about how these pieces of legislation could be improved. We will offer some of those suggestions today.

I will talk specifically about Canada's economic situation and how it impacts rural Canada. Today Canada has a debt of $547 billion, a staggering amount of money. It is about $35 billion higher than when the government came to power. We spend about $40 billion every year on interest payments. Of every tax dollar sent to Ottawa 25¢ goes to pay interest on the debt. As a result of such high debt and interest rates we have taxes that are much higher than they should be. They are about 40% higher than in the United States. We have the highest personal income taxes in the entire G-7 on a per capita basis.

This is important not only because of the direct tax implications for all Canadians including those in rural Canada. It is important for a number of reasons. At this time of year when people are filling out their income taxes they see the impact of it. Because we have high personal income taxes, high corporate taxes and high taxes on fuel, taxes become embedded in the price of everything we buy. If we need to buy fertilizer we find high taxes embedded in the price. As a result we not only see input costs continue to rise for people on farms. Prices keep rising for people anywhere in rural Canada who must buy the things they need. This makes it more difficult to compete and stay in business.

We see this reflected in the dollar. The Canadian dollar today is near an all time low although it has rebounded slightly. There was a time when the Prime Minister argued the low dollar was good for exports. Not long ago he realized the folly of this and started to argue it was perhaps not such a good thing. He finally got it right. Although a low dollar initially looks good for exports we must still use it to purchase things like farm equipment that come from outside the country. As a result, at some point we end up paying more for imports than we could ever benefit from by exporting things. However this has started to change. The government has started to recognize this and has quit talking down the dollar, at least for the time being.

The government has done a poor job of spending the tax dollars that come from rural Canada. It gets a big chunk of fuel tax every year that the Canadian Automobile Association and many people believe should be put back into roads. The government could help people in rural Canada by putting back into roads some of the $170 billion it brings in every year from taxes, especially the fuel tax.

We all know the story of how we lost the Crow rate in Canada. We know the impact this had in terms of the abandonment of rail lines. The loss of the Crow rate ultimately means we must truck more of our grain to get it to market, but its impact on roads in rural Canada has been huge. The government brings in billions of dollar every year from the excise tax on fuel. However nothing comes back to allow us to fix up the vital infrastructure that is so important to rural Canadians. The federal government is putting no money into fixing up highways to account for what has happened as a result of the loss of the Crow rate.

Over the last number of years we have seen dramatic increases in spending by the government. Does it go to things that are vital to people in rural Canada? I hardly think so. We have seen all kinds of spending on grants and subsidies. We have seen the expansion of regional development programs which on the face of it are supposed to help people in rural Canada but which are full of patronage and pork barreling. We have seen burgeoning scandals like the potential problems at Canada Communications Group and the public works department under the previous minister Alfonso Gagliano. I expect we will hear more about that this week as the auditor general releases her report. The point is that when money goes into regional development agencies it is unaccountable and does not have the impact it should.

What should happen to regional development money? Obviously it should go into things like infrastructure that have an impact. I spoke a moment ago about roads. In Atlantic Canada there is a huge argument to be made for putting infrastructure money into ports, airports and border crossings to allow Atlantic Canada to prosper and benefit from all the advantages it has as a region. Regions like Atlantic Canada should be able to benefit from all the things its produces. However if it cannot export them because it does not have the proper infrastructure it is all for nought. This is a good example of how the government could change its spending habits. It could take the money it spends on programs of dubious value and put it into things that would have an impact.

In my riding a lot of cattle liners come through from Saskatchewan and northern Alberta to bring cattle to the big feedlots around Picture Butte, Alberta. They come trundling through my riding down Highway 36 and tear up the highway. However the money that should come from fuel taxes does not. As a result the province has to scramble to find ways to maintain the roads.

The government could help with infrastructure by dealing with the water shortage in my riding. We have a real shortage of water. We are trying to build a pipeline from the Milk River Ridge Reservoir to take water to the driest corner of the province in the southeast part of my riding. However we have run into problems with the federal government. It funded a bit of the project but we have run into environmental problems. The federal government is not being as co-operative as it could be. If it helped us build off-stream storage we could have more water for irrigation over the course of the summer. That is where the money should be going.

The government needs to completely refocus what it is doing. It needs to lower taxes, pay down the debt and get rid of pork barreling and patronage. It needs to take money away from programs of dubious value and put it into infrastructure. This would have a positive impact on the people of rural Canada. The government should put money into roads, better and more efficient border crossings, and port facilities in Atlantic Canada. Doing so would allow these areas to benefit from their natural advantages. It would allow rural Canada and other regions that have not benefited for a long time to stand on their feet and do what they do best: produce tremendous prosperity for the people of Canada.

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12:05 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I want to go on record to make sure the people of Canada have heard the attack made by the Canadian Alliance on our regional development agencies. Alliance members have made the attack before but now they have made it official. I want to make sure the people of Canada heard the speech of my hon. colleague about the assistance that goes to rural Canadians in Atlantic Canada, western Canada and all parts of rural Canada through programs like ACOA and Western Economic Diversification.

I find interesting and incongruous, if not humourous, the number of times Alliance members have talked about lower taxes and lower debt. It is something I am sure we would all like. However they then go on with a huge list of spending priorities, two of which were mentioned by the first two Alliance speakers. The first member talked more about spending on agriculture. The second, who just spoke, talked about more spending on roads. They have asked for up to $30 billion in extra spending, as was mentioned earlier in the House. The Alliance constantly asks for less debt, less taxes and more spending. It does not add up.

The Alliance's ideas include the PFRA and compensation for people affected by the endangered species act. They include more money for border security, sniffer dogs, detoxification, defence and health care. My question to Alliance members is this.

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

How much has the gun registry cost us?

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12:05 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

I obviously have them quite riled up. That is good. They are thinking about it. Maybe they could go over the list again. I am not suggesting they review tiny projects of a few hundred thousand dollars. They should review the things that would add up to the $30 billion extra they want to spend, plus the money they want the government to cut to replace these things.

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend did not tell us where he got the $30 billion figure. He invented it out of thin air. Even the hon. member for Winnipeg South, his own colleague, has called for an end to Western Economic Diversification. Unlike the hon. member for Yukon, the hon. member for Winnipeg South understands that the program has not worked. For example, $35 million went as a loan guarantee to a farm machinery manufacturer in Manitoba. The manufacturer ended up moving to the United States and away from Western Economic Diversification. Would my hon. friend argue that was a good use of taxpayers' money? I do not think so.

My hon. friend has asked me where cuts could come from within the fat of the government to fund important projects like infrastructure. I will run through them. Regional development programs as they are structured today are ineffective. I will be clear about that: They do not work. They are full of problems. The auditor general points to this all the time.

Let us look at Canadian Heritage which spends billions of dollars on subsidies to all kinds of people who do not need them. Why do Canadians, some of whom make $10,000 a year, pay taxes to see their money go to artists and writers whose books and materials the public will not buy? Why should people at the lowest end of the income scale have to pay taxes for that? It is unbelievable.

Why should we pour money like water into the department of Indian affairs when the auditor general says it is full of problems? We do not have a problem with properly funding natives who need help. However to send money to the band level only to see it evaporate is unbelievable. I cannot believe my hon. friend would sit idly by and allow it to happen without speaking up about it.

There are many examples. I could go on and on. I could talk about CIDA and the hundreds of millions of dollars the auditor general has pointed to as being unaccounted for. I could talk about the $15 billion a year the budget has put aside for grants and contributions. Do we ever see a proper accounting? Does the government stand and say the money needs to be better spent for the benefit of all Canadians? No, it does not. Instead we get pale defences like the one my hon. friend has offered.

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12:10 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Andy Mitchell LiberalSecretary of State (Rural Development) (Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate today. This is an important subject matter and I am pleased that the Alliance has turned its attention to having a broad based debate about the issues of rural Canada.

I have listened carefully to both hon. members of the opposition who have spoken, the member for Yorkton--Melville and the member for Medicine Hat. I profoundly disagree with the substance of the motion and with the comments they have made to support the motion. I do so because the Alliance motion demonstrates two important problems, first, a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the issues that face rural Canada and second, a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of our federation.

There is no attack on the lives of rural Canadians and on the communities of rural Canada. I can tell hon. members what we have seen in the House. We have seen the government proposing through HRDC to help build community capacity building and watched the Alliance oppose it. We have seen the government propose a strategic infrastructure program of $2 billion. The hon. member for Medicine Hat talked about the need for infrastructure. What did the Alliance do? It voted against it.

We have seen the need for access to capital by small businesses that operate in rural Canada. We have such a program called community futures and it provides loans to small businesses at commercial rates in rural areas. What happened? The Alliance campaigned against that particular program. It is right in its platform that Alliance members do not want to see it.

We believe that rural Canadians have a right and should be able to access health care, post-secondary education and life long learning and have a competitive business environment. All these things can be obtained by going forward in the implementation of broadband Internet technology. What do we see? We see the Alliance totally opposed to that type of initiative.

I will spend a moment not talking about those particular issues, but talking about some of the fundamental differences that exist between this side of the House and that side of the House.

The opposition suggests, particularly in talking about legislation, that it is an either/or type of scenario. We are either with rural Canadians or we are with urban Canadians, that there is no connect between the two. Legislation must be either one way or the other way. That is a fundamental misunderstanding because what opposition members do not understand is that Canada is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than a collection of regions. Canada is a nation with national values, goals and objectives. The legislation that we bring forward in the House needs to speak to those national values, goals and objectives.

We also need to understand that a successful Canada is one that is made up of strong component parts, both urban and rural. It is not a case of one or the other. To be successful we must have both strong urban and rural communities and strong urban and rural components. We cannot have a successful rural Canada if we do not have a strong urban Canada, if we do not have those markets or if we do not have the support of those urban communities. Nor can we have a successful urban Canada if we do not have the wealth that is generated from rural Canada and we do not have the communities that sustain rural Canada. The two component parts are absolutely essential. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of that in the opposition.

The two members who have already spoken have spent time telling us what is wrong with rural Canada and the government's approach. That is fair enough. It is part of what the Alliance members are there to do. It is their job to be critical of the government, to say what it is that they do not think is right.

However, it is only part of their job. Criticism is part of it, but it is only part. What Alliance members have not done this morning and have not done in the eight years that I have watched the debate in respect of rural Canada is to point toward an alternative vision. There is an obligation to Canadians. I say to Alliance members that it is not simply good enough to criticize. The opposition should criticize but it should also put forward an alternative vision for rural Canada. In fact, it has not done that.

The issue of rural Canada and rural sustainability is far too important to be a partisan political exercise. It requires members of parliament, members of the other place, and members from all parties to come together to ensure we have a sustainable rural Canada and to ensure we can in fact protect the needs and the interests of rural Canadians.

I want to talk a little bit about a vision for rural Canada because we have not seen a great deal of it from the other side. To me we need to pursue a three part approach to ensure the sustainability of rural Canada.

I believe our approach must be a bottom up and not a top down approach. The solutions for rural Canada do not simply lie here in Ottawa. They do not lie in the provincial capitals. The solutions to rural issues lie in rural communities themselves. We need to reflect and it is important to reflect that the needs, challenges and priorities of a rural community on the prairies are not the same as those in northern Ontario, Atlantic Canada or the interior of British Columbia. They are all as valid and important, but to ensure that public policy works well we need to take the approach that individual communities must be empowered to pursue their sustainability in a way that makes sense to the challenges that they meet in their particular communities.

It must go beyond that. It is not good enough to say that we take a bottom up approach. It is critical that we ensure that communities have the capacity to move forward on their particular approach, that they have the capacity to retain, attract and train human resources, that they have the capacity to understand what their assets are so that they can build upon them. Rural communities must have the ability to build a community consensus on the direction that they want to take and that they have the ability to develop a community plan that they can move forward on.

But again, it is more than just bottom up and more than being able to build community capacity. Senior levels of government do have an obligation to provide tools to those communities to use in a way that makes sense for them, for example, community capacity building that is provided by regional agencies. The hon. member for Medicine Hat denigrated regional agencies. They play an important role in ensuring rural communities have the capacity to move forward with economic development.

Access to capital is a key tool that we need to provide to small businesses that are in our rural communities. Our community futures program does that well. It works well with our communities.

The member for Medicine Hat talked about infrastructure. It is an important tool that is provided by both the federal and the provincial governments. We have provided a federal-provincial program of infrastructure over the last couple of years of $2 billion. We have talked about a new strategic infrastructure program of another $2 billion. It is somewhat disconcerting to see each time that we move forward with an infrastructure program that members of the Alliance vote against it. They are voting against their constituents.

We talk about broadband access and the access it will give to Canadians. I asked a question in the House some three months ago. An hon. Alliance member stood up and said the secretary of state was absolutely nuts. He said nobody in rural Canada cared about having broadband Internet access. He turned to a couple of his colleagues who were sitting behind him and asked if they had ever heard of anybody in rural communities asking for that? They dutifully answered that, no, they had not. Rural Canadians need access to that technology, not for the technology itself but for what it can provide to them in terms of access to health care and education in a competitive business environment.

Today's debate is important. As important as it is to listen to what each and every parliamentarian has to say because there is value to be added to this debate by all parliamentarians, and as important as it is to take into consideration the views of our provincial colleagues and the various provincial legislatures, it is not enough. It is not the primary thing we need to do. The primary thing is to listen to the voices of rural citizens themselves. It is from them that solutions will come and it is their needs and concerns that parliamentarians need to understand.

Believing and knowing that, starting in 1998 the government engaged in what was the government's largest citizen engagement process, a rural dialogue to listen to the needs and concerns of rural Canadians. To date over 10,000 rural Canadians have participated in that process. There have been hundreds of local sessions, dozens of area sessions and many regional sessions. There have been two national rural conferences which brought together over 1,000 rural citizens from all parts of the country.

In those two conferences we saw representation from almost all political parties represented in the House, except one. The Alliance did not seem to feel there was a need to come and listen to the views of rural Canadians. The other opposition parties thought there was a need and a value, but I guess the Alliance did not.

I want to say something because I can hear the criticism already turning in the minds of Alliance members. These rural dialogues were not just about talk. They were not about having a meeting, talking about where we might go and letting it fall off the table. In each of these rural conferences we came forward with a specific action plan on specific things that we needed to do as a government to fulfill the needs and desires, and to work on the issues brought forward by rural Canadians.

I tabled the action plan from the 2000 conference. It had 54 items in it. We worked on those items; we did not let them drop. When we had the conference in 2002 we came back and put them in front of the delegates, the rural citizens, and let them judge for themselves the type of progress and accomplishments we were able to make. Yes, we did well on some, and we need to continue to do more work on others. We are now putting in place another action plan based on the results of the 2002 conference.

That is why I approached all parties in the House over the last couple of weeks and said to them that we have heard what rural Canadians had to say to us at the Charlottetown conference. They have many issues and concerns. I suggested to all the parties that we have a take note debate. It was scheduled to happen on Wednesday. All parties would have an opportunity to talk, and not just about partisan politics. The hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake said to me, with some validity and justification, that his party did not want to do something if it was just an opportunity to praise the government.

We wanted an opportunity to talk about and listen specifically to what rural Canadians said, and the types of responses we need to take as a government. Those are the kinds of things we need to do. As parliamentarians we need to listen to what rural Canadians have told us. We need to work on the priorities that they establish far more so than the priorities that we ourselves may be establishing here.

I profoundly disagree with what the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville has put forward in the motion. However I do respect him because I believe that in his heart, as in the heart of all members in the House, is the genuine desire to help rural Canadians, rural communities and the people who are dependent on rural Canada.

Yes, partisan debate is part of what we do here, but we need to reach beyond reach beyond just simply saying what does not work and start talking about what does work. Canadians want to see that. Viewers watching this debate throughout the day expect the opposition members to lob the government and for the government to lob opposition members right back. If that is the nature of this debate today, it will be a disappointment, not just for Canadians watching but a disappointment for me as well. I want to see us talk about solutions and the things we ought to do make things better in rural Canada. Those members can criticize the government because that is part of their role, but let us talk about things that will work.

The issue of rural development is too important to simply be a partisan exercise in the House. All of us who live in rural Canada, who have brought up our families there and who represent constituents of rural communities, know how special a place that is. It is important in our hearts. It is a place with unique values and special traditions. Rural Canada is an important part of this country. The wealth that is rural Canada is absolutely essential, not just for the success of rural Canadians but for the success of all Canadians and for the success of this nation. That is what rural Canada is all about.

I am determined to work to ensure that rural Canada thrives as we move into the future. I am determined to work toward ensuring that we build a rural Canada, not using the tools of the 19th or 20 century but using the tools of the 21st century that will build a rural Canada that embraces the world, not a rural Canada that hides from it. I am committed to those things as are all members on this side of the House. I challenge members on the other side to commit with us to building a better rural Canada, and in so doing, building a better and a stronger Canada as a whole.

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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, as we see the number of failing small towns across Canada from the east coast to the west coast and the problems up in Nunavut, there obviously are not too many solutions coming from the government. I did not hear too many today.

The minister wants us to give some positive solutions. We could deal with the big tuberculosis issue with the elk in Riding Mountain National Park. If we fixed that problem, it would save a Canadian industry worth billions of dollars.

People working in rural Manitoba for $15,000 or $20,000 pay as much as $1,200 to $2,000 worth of taxes every year. Why are they being taxed? We could help them.

The Canadian Wheat Board is forcing farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta into a monopoly and giving them no opportunity to sell outside of that monopoly which would increase their incomes.

The northwest terminal feedlot project is not going ahead because of the government. American feeder cattle would have been allowed to come into Canada thus creating jobs and economic opportunity. That is something the Canadian Alliance would put forward.

We would fix the PMRA so Canada would have pesticides that are safer and better for the environment instead of the old ones we presently use.

The Canadian Alliance would take the $700 million that has gone into gun control and use it to build infrastructures that would create the climate whereby rural Canadians would be able to start businesses knowing they could actually move products off to market.

The Canadian Alliance put forward a motion in the House of Commons for $400 million to be put into farm programs. The member for Hastings--Frontenac--Lennox and Addington and the member for Dufferin--Peel--Wellington--Grey voted against it. They voted against that kind of positive initiative put forward by the Canadian Alliance.

Could the member tell us is why there is still insufficient funding for 4-H of Canada? Why did the first grant on rural development go to his own riding and what was that for?

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12:30 p.m.


Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Madam Speaker, I certainly do not remember the first grant for rural development going to my riding. What the hon. member may be referring to is the CARCI program which is a $9.3 million national program. It assists groups and organizations in rural parts of the country in a number of endeavours, particularly those communities that are having challenges in the agricultural industry, and gives them an opportunity to reach out.

The member talked about some of the ways of reaching out to try to diversify their economies, to build beyond just the producing side and to get into the value added side. I know from seeing the approvals that there have been dozens of them in ridings of Alliance members as well as in other ridings. That is not the issue. We do not dole it out according to who happens to hold the riding. We dole out according to the need that may be in a particular riding.

The hon. member talked about business start-ups. I wonder if the hon. member is aware that 60% of new small business start-ups occur in rural areas. There is a misconception that rural Canadians are not entrepreneurial in their approach. The exact opposite is true and the figures show very clearly that is the case.

I know the hon. member is a committed to the needs of his riding and committed to the agricultural industry in the country, as are the members on this side of the House. Unless I am mistaken, today there is a federal-provincial meeting among all 10 provinces and the federal minister. They will be working on the issue of agriculture.They signed an agreement almost a year ago in Whitehorse, Yukon.

They are working toward restructuring the way we do agricultural business in the country and that is what we need to do. We need to not simply say that what has happened in the past is good enough and that it is simply working the way that we want it to. We need to bring together the provinces and producers and that is what we are doing.

There is a very extensive consultation process taking place right now bringing producers from across the country together to talk about finding the ways to move forward in the 21st century when it comes to agriculture. Those are the kinds of things we are doing as a government. Quite frankly, from my perspective, there are things that I do not think we should do just simply as a government. There are things that we ought to do as parliamentarians.

Many members who sit on the opposition benches come from the western Canada and they have a valuable contribution to make. They have a valuable perspective to put forward. When it comes to rural development and sustainability, we need to work collectively as parliamentarians to ensure the well-being of rural Canada and rural Canadians is foremost in our minds and foremost in the actions that we suggest and undertake.

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12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, the secretary of state suggests that we should not be partisan in these issues dealing with rural items. I found it interesting that he had a project in my riding in the last couple of months. I am sure it was by mistake but the local MP certainly was not invited to that event. The only way I found out about it was because I subscribe to my weekly newspapers. As I looked through the list of participants, I noticed a couple of the only identifiable Liberals left in our provinces were major presenters.

I also found afterward, and again I had to go to the newspapers to see what had happened, as I read the information about the conference that a lot of the solutions very much involved more government in the lives of people instead of less. I am surprised that the government does not go to committee leaders within the constituency and find the successful businessmen. The secretary of state said that 60% of new businesses start up in the rural areas and I have several of them in my riding. They were not the conference or invited to make presentations.

Does the secretary of state not have the resources to find those people? Is he not familiar with them or has he a set agenda that only includes people who come with the solutions that he wants to hear, which usually involve more government and very rarely private initiative?

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12:35 p.m.


Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Madam Speaker, if the hon. member had come to the national rural conference, he would have seen that not everybody was there to compliment either me or the government. There was criticism of the government. That is part of the process of bringing people together. It is part of what we need to do and engender.

I should mention that I asked the advice of my colleagues in the House about who should come to Charlottetown. I did not simply do that in isolation.

On the program the hon. member was talking about, I normally send letters to hon. members letting them know that there has been an approval in their ridings. If that did not go to him, I apologize for that. I will look into it and will try to endeavour to ensure that it does not happen in the future. If the member checks with some of his colleagues who have been involved, they have received letters. However we will ensure that it is done in the member's case.

As the secretary of state, I do expect there to be partisan issues revolving around rural Canada. That is why we are here. We have different perspectives and we debate them. Beyond that and beyond the partisan politics, we have to do more than just say that this is not good or that is not good. We have to turn our conversation around to what will work, what do we need to change and what types of new ideas and approaches do we need to take. We need to go beyond simply the partisan political side of things.

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12:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, in answer to the secretary of state's rhetorical question, what has to change obviously is the Government of Canada. When he speaks about partisanship, we have not seen a more partisan, poisoned, duplicitous government in the last century. This member should know that.

He talks about rural Canada in his condescending way and how somehow his government is speaking to rural issues. He heads up this committee and good for him. It is about time after a decade that the government turned its mind to Atlantic Canada, to other parts of the west, to Quebec and to the provinces that are really struggling because of his government's policies.

He wants solutions and wants to talk about what he could do. He could do away with some of the clawback provisions that are hurting provinces like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador as they try to develop their offshore oil and gas. He could do a great deal to put money back into infrastructure such as roads and bridges. He could take initiatives aimed specifically at helping students in rural Canada so they can stay and work and live in their communities.

The member talks about his government somehow being a protector of Atlantic Canada or rural Canada with policies like gun registry that suck $700 million out of the pockets of people, specifically impacting on rural Canada. What specifically has the government done for rural Canada except another study? What a waste of time.