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House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Softwood LumberOral Question Period

February 25th, 2003 / 3 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Minister for International Trade is quoted as saying when it comes to the softwood lumber talks, “We're taking a break”. I would like to remind him that families, their communities and the workers do not get a chance to take a break. They are desperate. They need assistance. They need help now.

My question very clearly for the Prime Minister is, what is the Prime Minister going to do to assist these families, the workers and the communities across this country when it comes to the softwood lumber file?

Softwood LumberOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the gentleman to ask me, with bilingualism in the House, I meant to say that the negotiations had been suspended this morning. This is far more important than doing cheap political points on the fact that a minister used an expression in his second language which was not exactly what he wanted to say.

What we are encountering right now is very serious. There has been much progress on the provincial policy reforms. That is done. These policy bulletins will continue. We still have some progress to make on the Quebec side and I hope that will proceed.

Firearms RegistryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice.

Yesterday at the public accounts committee a Liberal member referred to one of the Auditor General's advisers on the gun registry by name, but those names are generally only made known to the department. Could the minister tell the House whether those names were ever made public? If not, could he explain why those names were known to the member of Parliament for Mississauga West? Did the minister or anyone in his department pass on that information to the member for Mississauga West?

Firearms RegistryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, maybe he should ask the question directly to the member of Parliament himself, for sure, I have not been involved in that at all. But having said that, we have to remain focused on what happened last night. Last night we were able to discuss the challenges that we have been facing in the implementation of the program. We have been able as well to talk about our plan of action, which is indeed a very good plan of action. In looking into the future, it means for our Canadian society that we are going to have a very good gun control program in order to share our values and to increase public safety as well.

Firearms RegistryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair is prepared to hear a point of order from the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to ask that you review a significant change between what the Prime Minister said during question period yesterday and what he is recorded as saying in Hansard .

When speaking on rules respecting blind trusts, the actual words used by the Prime Minister were, and I quote, “It was used by apparently two ministers” of the previous government. In Hansard that answer is changed to, and I quote:

It apparently was used by two ministers--

The words that were actually spoken stated categorically that there was use of those rules, and the word “apparently” qualified the number of former ministers the Prime Minister alleged were involved.

The change that was made in Hansard moved the word “apparently” in a way that would suggest the Prime Minister was not making a categoric accusation. Particularly in light of the Prime Minister's answer today, in effect telling us that what he said yesterday was wrong, it would be interesting to know who moved the word and why.

I note in passing, Sir, that the Prime Minister also said explicitly that I personally established the rule in question. That is not the case and I presume the Prime Minister merely misspoke himself again.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think that would qualify more as a point of debate than a point of order, as to at what sequence in the sentence the word “apparently” came, hardly the stuff that most Canadians are worrying about this morning. It seems to me that this is not at all a point of order or a question of privilege or whatever the right hon. member pretended it was a couple of minutes ago.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair will take this matter under advisement and examine the blues and the tapes accordingly and get back to the House if necessary.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I have a ruling to give on a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for St. Albert on February 10, 2003, concerning disclosure of a confidential draft report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts prior to the report's adoption by the committee or its presentation to the House.

I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House, as well as the House leader for the New Democratic Party, the hon. members for St. John's West and Ottawa Centre as well as the House leader of the official opposition for their contributions on the question. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his clear and succinct statement on the matter.

The hon. member for St. Albert, in raising this matter, pointed out that some portions of the draft report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts were divulged in a newspaper article before the committee had adopted the report or even deliberated upon the draft document. He drew the attention of hon. members to the newspaper report published on February 10 by the Ottawa Citizen , in which sections of the draft report are referred to.

In that article, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, a former member of the public accounts committee, is quoted as making comments regarding the contents of the document. The hon. member for St. Albert also raised the matter of a news conference, scheduled but later cancelled, by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre to discuss a dissenting opinion prepared as a possible appendix to the draft report. The hon. member for St. Albert named the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre as the source of the leaked document and asked the Speaker to consider this a prima facie case of privilege.

In her comments on the matter, the hon. House leader for the New Democratic Party stated that she had spoken with the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, who very firmly denied leaking the draft report to the media. She also pointed out that the first article regarding the leaked document had appeared on Friday, January 31, 2003, in the National Post and stated that the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre did not release the document in that instance either. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, in his statement to the House on February 13, 2003, confirmed his House leader's remarks.

There are two issues related to this particular question that the Chair feels must be dealt with. First of all, there is the matter of the divulgation of a draft report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

As the House is aware, there have been a number of cases recently concerning the premature release of confidential committee material. In this instance, the draft was released even before the committee had a chance to deliberate and decide on the final contents of its report. This is, of course, contrary to the rules of the House, as is clearly indicated in House of Commons Procedure and Practice on page 884, and as I and previous Speakers have pointed out on numerous occasions.

However, I have examined both of the press articles dealing with this draft report with great care and can find nothing in either of them to indicate that the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre is the source of the leak to either newspaper. Moreover, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has explicitly denied that he was responsible for divulging the draft report. There are, therefore, no grounds for the finding of a prima facie breach of privilege in respect of this matter.

I remind all hon. members once again that it remains the responsibility of committees themselves to examine possible breaches of this nature and, where appropriate, to report them to the House. I refer hon. members to the rulings of Mr. Speaker Lamoureux, in the Journals of March 31, 1969, pages 873-4, and Mr. Speaker Rhodes in the Journals of July 1, 1919, page 498, in this regard.

In addition, I believe I must draw to the attention of hon. members their responsibilities with respect both to committee reports that have not yet been tabled in the House and to committee proceedings that take place in camera.

In a ruling given on May 14, 1987, Mr. Speaker Fraser stated, and I refer to the Debates of May 14 of that year, at page 6110:

...when a committee resolves to meet in camera, all the deliberations which take place at such a meeting...are intended to be confidential. All Members attending such a meeting, together with any members of the staff assisting the committee, are expected to respect the confidentiality of the proceedings which take place at that meeting. This place can only operate on the basis of respect for its rules and practice and of confidence and trust among its Members.

The hon. member for St. Albert, in drawing this matter to the attention of the House, indicated that he believed that the member for Winnipeg Centre had made use of information entrusted to him in confidence as a member of the public accounts committee. The hon. member for Ottawa Centre alleged that other members in the committee, on earlier occasions, had also breached the confidentiality of in camera proceedings.

In the absence of a report from the committee on such an issue, it is virtually impossible for the Chair to make any judgement as to the prima facie occurrence of a breach of privilege with regard to such charges.

While I appreciate the obligation that members may feel to provide their views on issues of current interest, this must not be allowed to override the duty they have to respect the confidentiality of committee proceedings. The fact that a report has been leaked to the media does not absolve members of their obligation not to divulge a committee's in camera deliberations. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre made explicit reference to this principle in describing his decision to cancel a press conference he had scheduled for February 10, 2003.

In closing, I would point out that, as Speaker, any intervention I might make on these questions is necessarily restricted to strictly procedural matters. However, given the frequency with which this problem seems to occur, as evidenced by the number of times it has been brought to the House's attention in this session, and the very obvious frustration felt on all sides of the House when these incidents occur, hon. members may wish the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to take another look at the entire issue of leaks of committee documents and in camera proceedings. Although that committee dealt with the topic in its 73rd report during the 1st session of the 36th Parliament, the House did not choose at that time to take up the report or adopt its recommendations.

It seems clear to the Chair that whether or not the committee pursues the matter, unless the problem is addressed by all parties and by each individual member as a matter of honour, then the ability of the House and its committees to function in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect will continue to be put at risk.

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Mississauga West.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Mississauga West Ontario

Liberal

Steve Mahoney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, much to your surprise, this is not about the comments that have been thrown around in this place with regard to my actions yesterday. This is about a letter that many of us, in fact I suspect all of us, would have received from the member for Calgary West. The issue does not really matter, but he is talking about the Falun Gong issue, an issue that I have some sympathy for.

In it he is asking me, as a member of Parliament, and presumably all of us, to send a letter to the Prime Minister to take action on this matter internationally. He asks, “Please sign and send the attached letter to the Prime Minister”.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to refer the attached letter to you for a ruling on this, because I frankly think it violates all our privileges. It is a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, on House of Commons letterhead. There is a place on the bottom, a signature block if you will, signed “Sincerely” and fill in the blank, in this case myself, MP, Mississauga West. So all of us would get this. Our names would be on this document, which would then be somehow in circulation.

I just find it rather wrong, frankly, that any member would take it upon himself or herself to draft a letter on an issue on House of Commons letterhead. Had it come on blank paper, I would not have raised the issue at all. We have all seen examples where people will sign a letter “per” if the member is not there and send it out, or we have seen the stamp where it says “original signed by” whoever it happens to be.

In this case, I just frankly find that it is an affront to all members of Parliament, regardless of the issue. This has nothing, and I want to stress this, whatsoever to do with the issue. We could fill in the blanks. Next it will be gun control. But we could fill in the blanks on any issue. If I want to write a letter to the Prime Minister on my letterhead, I will do so. I have no objection to being asked by any member in the House to do that, but I take strong exception to any member of the House being so presumptuous as to write a letter on House of Commons letterhead and then potentially have it put into circulation.

I would ask you to take a look at this, Mr. Speaker, and give a ruling as to whether or not the member has acted appropriately or has possibly violated our privileges or, at the very least, whether he should be admonished and requested not to do it again.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, in this House I have received many letters from members of other parties asking me to join their cause and there is no signature on them. Certainly if I sign anything for any member that was not signed by them, I would not expect it to be something they endorsed. In fact, I just signed a letter for another member of Parliament today who sent it to my office for something to go to the Prime Minister. It was not the same issue.

I know my colleague always likes to get up and raise something, but the member may have printed the letter because he felt some people could not read it unless he wrote it down for them.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Anders Canadian Alliance Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have received a number of letters from other members in the House with regard to changes to labour law, the cost of bilingualism, national security, tax reductions and all sorts of things. Letters circulate all over this place encouraging members to take sides on a particular issue. That is part of the nature of our job.

I was trying to solicit a policy initiative the same way that all members in this place do with private members' bills and other issues. We regularly do that.

Frankly I am shocked that the member would stand and make that a point of privilege. I can look into it and report back to the House but I fail to see how it is a point of privilege.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House in due course on this issue. I thank hon. members for their interventions on the matter.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, earlier this day the right hon. member for Calgary Centre rose in his place to allege that the Hansard of yesterday had been altered by the Prime Minister's Office or by the Prime Minister in regard to a statement that the Prime Minister made.

I have here the copy of what was sent to the Prime Minister's Office and a copy of Hansard . I am willing to table both to indicate that no suggested change was made by the Prime Minister's Office.

Therefore, if the word “apparently” was moved within the sentence it perhaps was an editorial change by people working for the purpose of Hansard or otherwise, but no one in the Prime Minister's Office even recommended a change nor even initialled it as proposing a change for that purpose. I am willing to table both of these documents.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, if the member would check Hansard I think he would see quite clearly that the right hon. member for Calgary Centre did not say that it was tampered with by the Prime Minister's office. He questioned the fact that what the Prime Minister said and what was reported in Hansard was not the same and I think he asked you to review the tape and Hansard . You agreed to do that and we respect your judgment, sir.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I appreciate the intervention by the hon. member for St. John's West and I thank the government House leader for providing the table with material that the Chair would want to see it in any event. It has short-circuited the system somewhat and I am delighted for the assistance. We thank all hon. members for their continuing assistance in these matters.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the interest of expediting the vote tonight and after consultation with the various parties, I think you would find unanimous consent to withdraw Motions Nos. 2 and 3 that are now on the Order Paper for Bill C-15. That would leave only Motion No. 1 to be voted on tonight.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot have the unanimous consent of the House to withdraw the two motions?

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motions Nos. 2 and 3 withdrawn)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government; of the amendment; and of the amendment to the amendment.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

When the House broke for question period the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester had five minutes remaining in the time for questions and comments.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for his intervention on the budget, particularly because he spoke so very well about the whole issue of disability tax credits.

As someone who was a chartered accountant prior to entering political life and having done many tax returns and advised many people interested in the credit, I am very familiar with it. I know that at the time to receive the form, to fill it out and to have it signed by a doctor was actually quite an automatic thing given the latitude that the form provided.

I was under the impression and understood from representations from the Department of Finance that a review of that had indicated that there was some abuse within the system. Not only was there some abuse but I understand that approximately 30% of the claims in fact were not valid claims which as a consequence led to some changes.

I believe that what happened was that the pendulum swung to the other extreme. I am pleased to note that in the last number of budgets there have been changes in budgetary proposals to the benefit of the disabled in Canada.

I understand, and I think the member has laid out quite nicely a number of the initiatives that have been taken to correct maybe this overswinging of the pendulum to the disadvantage of the disabled.

Is the member satisfied that the budgetary measures that have been taken are good steps toward making sure that those with disabilities will in fact be treated fairly and that those who are legitimately entitled to receive the disability tax credit will now have the tools in place to ensure they do receive that important tax credit?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, first I want to acknowledge that the budget does address the issue. It says some of the right things but it does not give enough detail yet. The devil is always in the details, and it does not outline exactly what will happen. It acknowledges the problem and it mentions a few things that will be dealt with but it is far too important to just accept a concept or philosophy that is outlined in the budget.

I recently received the answer to another access to information request. I wanted to find out how many of the claims were reversed if someone appealed. I do not have the exact numbers but of the approximately 6,900 appeals that were received by the department 6,400 were reversed. This was a 94% reversal rate of the decisions. This means that 94% of the original decisions to deny people the disability tax credit were wrong. That is an incredible failure rate and it obviously is a breakdown in the system.

Whether the changes in the budget will correct that remains to be seen but certainly the system is not perfect at all, far from it, as the member said, but at least we are talking about it. The subject is on the table, we are all aware of it and we all will be aware of it as we go forward to make sure that the people with disabilities get treated fairly.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen LiberalSecretary of State (Western Economic Diversification) (Indian Affairs and Northern Development)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the budget. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Toronto--Danforth.

The Minister of Finance, the Secretary of State for International Financial Institutions and many other members on this side of the House have talked about the importance of this budget. Let me reinforce their arguments by saying that the reason that we have such a successful, balanced, strong budget from the government is because of the extraordinary strength of the Canadian economy. This is not just coming from members on this side of the House. Our extraordinary strength has been identified by the IMF and the WTO. PricewaterhouseCoopers has identified the high level of foreign equity investment in Canada. KPMG in terms of low business costs in Canada. The growth of our economy is noted as the highest of the G-7. Taxes are continuing to lower, and more lowering of taxes was announced in this budget on top of the $100 billion tax reductions announced in the 2000 budget.

Canada has a strong and growing economy with surplus after surplus, ending up in paying down the debt to GDP ratio from 71% to below 45%, almost a 50% reduction. These are strong fundamentals which have allowed us to present the strong budget we have for the benefit of all Canadians.

Let me briefly speak to a few specific aspects of the budget that are particularly important to my responsibilities in Western Economic Diversification and Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

With respect to Western Economic Diversification, this budget and the strength of our economy has allowed the Western Economic Diversification budget to be stabilized over the next four years. This will allow me as minister to enter into western economic partnership agreements with each of the four western provinces whose premiers have all indicated their desire to enter into these multi-year agreements for the economic diversification and development of the western economy, as well as urban development agreements and northern provincial development agreements. This stabilization over four years gives us all the chance to plan together, to work among levels of government, to identify together interests of common objectives which is economic diversification of the west.

I would like to speak about the close to $3 billion, with other sustainable development initiatives, dedicated to the implementation of the Kyoto protocol. When we look back at this ratification late last year from 10 years out, we may see this as the most important public policy decision of perhaps the last 30 years, since the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is an extraordinary act of leadership by Canada, and it is leadership in a number of different areas: as a moral ground first and most important. We are talking about the rights and the quality of life situation of our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. We are also talking about the impact of climate change being felt most severely by the most impoverished people in the world, and that too is a moral issue.

It is also a scientific issue. The overwhelming preponderance of the evidence from scientists around the world is that the climate change consequences are severe. They are based on human action they will give severe costs to economies around the world.

Therefore it is an economic issue. It is an economic issue because the major climate change events, the unforeseen and catastrophic, in some cases, weather events cost all of us through increased insurance premiums. It is also an economic event because if we can reduce our consumption of energy and develop environmental technologies to decrease energy consumption, we will lower the costs of our industries and be more competitive. We will also be able to export these environmental technologies to the rest of the world as countries develop the same standards that we are developing and look to us to provide the technologies to do so.

It is also a health issue. The carbon pollution which causes climate change also relates to other types of air pollution and causes respiratory health problems. We must address those. Most important, it is a leadership moral issue and we are in a position to lead the world on this.

With respect to the cities in the budget, we have heard some complaints from mayors across the country that this does not given them enough money for their agenda. In fact it does a great deal for the urban areas of this country. These are not federal issues of municipal affairs, those are for the cities and the provinces. This is a national urban agenda.

Eighty per cent plus of our population lives in cities. The $3 billion on top of the already committed $5 billion over the last successive infrastructure programs is available to cities in concert with provinces and the federal government to build infrastructures, which will relate and improve the lives of people living in cities. Of course 80% of Canadians who live in cities will benefit from the $35 billion in additional expenditures on health care. People live in cities, people get sick and that is where that money will be predominantly spent.

Universities and research centres exist in cities. We have more than $1 billion of increases to the granting councils, to the Canadian Foundation For Innovation for graduate scholarships and for research and development which will to assist cities. Universities and research centres are engines of growth in our cities.

Also children live in our cities. For children who live in poverty, we have $965 million in additional spending in the budget to double the child tax benefit for those families with children living in poverty. We are also adding $935 million to early childhood development and child care facilities over five years.

These Canadians live in cities and will benefit, as does the urban agenda nationally, from these spending initiatives, and there are many more.

While I am speaking on cities, I would like to speak to an extremely important event that will come forward in 2006, and that is the world urban forum which will be held in Vancouver. That forum will bring together international NGOs, country representatives, people from major cities in the developing and developed world. They will display in Vancouver the best practices, everything from urban agriculture in developing country cities, to high tech and public transit in developed countries, to green space planning to density consideration. These are all things that will improve the lives of the 80% of people who live in cities and by reflection, outwards to all Canadians.

I would like to speak for a moment about the aboriginal side of my ministerial responsibilities. More than $2.2 billion is identified in the budget to assist and improve the quality of life of aboriginal people, which I know is the objective of all of us in the House and Canadians across the country. Of that amount, $1.3 billion is to provide better health care for aboriginal people and $600 million on top of the $225 million a year will be spent on water and sewage systems in aboriginal communities.

However an especially important part to me is the $72 million over the next two years which will be directed specifically to helping to improve the educational outcomes of aboriginal children in their school systems, on reserve or off reserve. This is on top of the $1.3 billion that is spent every year on post-secondary, secondary and elementary education for first nations students. This is extremely important. A national working group of 15 aboriginal professional educators are advising the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and myself and will be working with the provinces and the first nations leadership to improve these educational outcomes.

We all appreciate that when we get right down to it, a sound education for all children is the basis of a high quality of life and will continue to be the basis of a strong and growing economy.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to my colleague's comments and I want to first congratulate him on his clarity with regard to the issue of the urban agenda.

It is safe to say that there was no urban agenda until this government came into office in 1993. That is very clear because of the three national infrastructure programs that the government has brought in, in conjunction with the provincial, territorial and municipal governments. The member talked about people who live in the cities, and 80% of people live in urban areas.

The member is from Vancouver. I heard the very positive comments of the mayor of the city of Vancouver in general with regard to the budget, how it would affect poor people and how it would help infrastructure in his community.

Could the member give us some specific examples as to how he sees what I would like to call the cities' budget affecting the quality of life in urban communities such as the city of Vancouver?