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House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fish.

Topics

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4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

There have been byelections.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

André Harvey Liberal Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Yes, let us talk about byelections. You went from 43% to 7% of the popular vote. The worst is yet to come.

There have been many initiatives to do with the environment. There was the Kyoto protocol. Several billion dollars will be invested to expedite the implementation of the Kyoto protocol. Again, Quebec is asking for transfers. All the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois ever ask for is transfers. Your strategy is becoming very clear: drop the word Canada from everything. But you will not succeed because we will be much more careful in our approach.

We want to be present. We are elected and politics is what we do. We want the work done by the Government of Canada to be as visible as the work by the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois. The great Quebec consensus is supposedly still asking the federal government to hand over the money for it to manage.

We certainly do not want to have funds transferred to trusts in Toronto, as was the case in health—$800 million. We want the funds to go directly to the primary clients.

It is my pleasure to—

The BudgetGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Unfortunately, time has run out. The hon. member for Surrey Central.

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4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, the government members, one after the other, stand up and brag shamelessly about the budget. Their record is dismal, whether it is raising taxes since 1993 and forgetting about tax cuts, forgetting about its promise to Canadians to abolish the GST and, in fact, charging GST on taxes shamelessly.

The government's record is dismal on health care, defence and various other things, including compassion for families. Its record is dismal on infrastructure development. Ninety-five per cent of the taxes it raises goes to general revenue and just 5% goes back into infrastructure development. Its record is shameless.

I wonder sometimes, with the smaller amounts it has spent everywhere, whether the budget is sustainable.

I would like to find out something from the member. I think this year's budget is just like ice cream. There is something for everyone but by the time we taste it, it melts just before our eyes. How would the member comment on that?

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

André Harvey Liberal Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, their radicalism is obviously condemning the hon. members of the Canadian Alliance to remain a truly regionalist party. One just cannot express such radical opinions without qualifying them. Our Canadian fellow citizens are no fools. As far as tax measures are concerned, more than $20 billion in tax deductions are provided for this year, for a total of $100 billion over five years. I think that is definitely not insignificant.

Regarding infrastructure, members of the Bloc Quebecois among others questioned whether the amount was $1 billion or $2 billion. These past few months, it was $8 billion, which will be invested in infrastructure projects.

Last spring, the last of these projects under the strategic infrastructure initiative enabled us to use funds to build a national highway between Quebec City and the greater Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. This initiative is ongoing, with only about one-quarter of the funds assigned, and additional funding has been provided for infrastructure projects.

As regards employment insurance, the Bloc Quebecois has run three election campaigns on the issue of unemployment. What they want is to see all of Quebec out of work. The premium rate was set at $3.25; it is now down to $1.98. We promised that we would do our utmost to ensure that premiums are more or less equivalent to the expenditures made out of the fund. I think this is a wonderful initiative.

It is in this sense that I say that this a balanced budget that is well accepted by all Canadians. Measures are being taken to pay down the debt; indeed, over $50 billion has gone towards this, including $3 billion this year.

Social initiatives are being taken regarding the environment. All our fellow citizens are receptive to the Kyoto protocol. I am convinced that, by the end of the agreement, around the year 2010, we will have largely achieved our objectives, thanks to the budget resources that were allocated in the most recent budget of the Minister of Finance and of the Prime Minister.

All in all, I think that in spite of the problems that confront us, there is a balance in the budget that allows us to spread the good news to all our fellow citizens. They know full well that the truth does not always lie in the highly partisan political statements that are made. We would rather tell the truth quietly, without engaging in partisanship.

I am very proud of the budget that was brought down, and it is a real pleasure to inform our fellow citizens.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, in the little time I have remaining, I would first like to question the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

I want to remind the hon. member that, in 1993, the people of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord elected the Bloc Quebecois' candidate, Gilbert Filion, who did an excellent job here in the House of Commons.

In 1997, the current member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord had to run as a Progressive Conservative to get elected. Shortly thereafter, he became an independent and then was elected as a Liberal in the 2000 election. How can the hon. member be taken seriously as a parliamentarian?

The hon. member is telling us that this is an excellent budget. I would remind him that the majority of his constituents, regular people, workers, are low income earners. They are women, youth and the unemployed. The latter are getting employment insurance because of the dairy crisis and the softwood lumber crisis, because of problems that this government has not be able to resolve. As a result, these people need employment insurance.

Four out of ten people are entitled to employment insurance. No wonder premiums are now $1.98. Despite this, the government is still putting $6 billion in the surplus pot.

When Brian Mulroney introduced the GST—and the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was a Progressive Conservative at the time—the Liberals promised to scrap it once they were elected. But, it is still there, just like the gasoline tax. Rebate cheques were issued, however, just before the last election, to pay heating oil—

The BudgetGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Unfortunately, time is up, but I will give the hon. parliamentary secretary the opportunity to reply in less than one minute.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

André Harvey Liberal Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Yes, the people of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord did try a Bloc MP, but just for the one term. This proves the sound judgment of my fellow citizens.

As far as employment insurance is concerned, premiums have been cut by more than one third, and improvements have been made to the program, with more to come. All in all, I believe that the people in my area, the electors of my riding, have decided that one Bloc MP for—

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4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The Hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

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4:45 p.m.

York West Ontario

Liberal

Judy Sgro LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to respond to the budget and all that it means for Canada and Canadians.

As many in the House know, my main focus since becoming a member of Parliament has been to focus on our urban regions and the people who live and work in those communities. Therefore I will focus my remarks on the ways the budget will impact in our cities, about programs that will help build a solid economic foundation and which areas I believe we still need to address.

Budgets are about investments, about people, about choosing priorities and about balancing the needs of one over another. The choices we make will determine how well and how wisely we build a country for the future. The budget and the work we do in the House is also about nation building, about working together to secure our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. It is also about the values and principles that we share as a nation and about Canada's place in the world. This budget very much reflects those priorities.

I will begin by thanking the finance minister for his reference to the work of the task force in his speech last week. His acknowledgement of our work is an indication that the government is listening to Canadians, and I appreciate his acknowledgment of the Prime Minister's caucus task force on urban issues which my colleagues and I worked on together.

Out of the 52 recommendations in the interim report of the task force, 30 are incorporated, in one way or another, into the budget.

I want to mention how proud my colleagues and I in the task force are of the work that we have accomplished but we recognize that there is still much to do. The reports have been very well received across the country by mayors, provincial officials, urban experts and national organizations. In fact, our reports have become a reference tool for many government and non-government people working in this field.

Many Canadians question the role of members of Parliament but let me state that excellent work is being done, and has been done, by members from all regions. Members of Parliament have a great opportunity to make a difference and the work of the task force proves that is the case.

The government has a clear continued commitment to the urban agenda but perhaps one of the questions we should ask ourselves is what the role is of the federal government in cities. After all, we do have a significant presence in terms of programs, services and as an employer.

A rudimentary survey by the task force showed $55 billion going into 10 major urban regions in each year alone. This was a very basic scan.

We are the national government and we have responsibilities to work with all orders of government to meet the needs of our citizens in areas that are within our jurisdiction. It is in everyone's best interest to ensure services and programs meet the needs of our growing population.

The federal government is an active partner with governments and the private and voluntary sectors to ensure that Canadians have access to health care, post-secondary education, employment, transportation, safe streets, skills and training, pensions and income support for families.

Eighty per cent of Canada's population lives in urban regions. Do we not have a responsibility to those communities? I would say yes, without a doubt.

As the main engines of the economy, it is vital for our cities to be successful and it is essential that the national government create the economic environment for that to happen, along with the provinces and the cities. When the cities do well, the whole of Canada benefits.

Let me remind members that only the provinces have the authority to give the cities what they really need, and that is, a wider source of tax revenue, more autonomy and a greater share of the wealth that is generated by them. Yet the Ontario government continually denies Toronto's request for a simple issue like a hotel room tax or allowing the cities to impose any other kind of support that could ease the strain on the property tax base.

As it was stated in Toronto Dominion's report, it is time to unshackle our cities.

In my own city of Toronto, the pressures caused by downloading, amalgamation, rapid growth in population and an aging infrastructure bring social and economic problems and stresses on budgets that affect the quality of life and the ability to be competitive. In other cities too across Canada there are similar concerns.

By recognizing these pressures, the federal government continues to work in collaboration with the provinces to relieve the demands on housing, transit, infrastructure, health care and so on.

The budget covers a range of issues that have an impact on cities: health care, infrastructure, transit/transportation, housing, immigration, the urban aboriginal community, research and development, culture and the arts and support for poor families. As well, new money for child care will directly benefit the people living in our cities.

This budget commits a total of almost $10 billion to programs that will benefit cities and have a direct impact on Canadians living in our cities.

Almost two-thirds of the budget is going into renewing Canada's health care system, one of the finest in the world and one that is extremely important to all of us as Canadians. New money for primary health care, home care, drug coverage and the new program for compassionate and palliative care to help people who have dying mothers, fathers or other family members, will all benefit cities where the pressures of the health care system are felt the most. This is a significant investment.

A sustainable infrastructure program was a key recommendation in our report. The budget announced an additional $3 billion to the strategic infrastructure program, bringing the commitment to this specific fund alone to $5.25 billion that is targeted, not for every city in Canada but specifically for our major cities. We are talking probably a maximum of 10 cities that would be eligible for that fund.

An additional billion dollars was set aside for infrastructure projects for our smaller municipalities. This investment is the basis for a 10 year permanent infrastructure program that will be continually added to in future budgets.

It is worth repeating that the government has been into infrastructure since 1993. Is this enough? Not for some cities with major infrastructure problems and with aging infrastructure in need of repair. However for the first time there is a real commitment to a long term agenda for infrastructure that the mayors and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities have been requesting for years.

The message we heard as a task force from municipal governments was that they wanted to be able to do long term planning. Now they have a program and they can commence their planning.

I would have liked to have seen more money in the budget go into the area of infrastructure but I recognize that budgets are all about balancing priorities between people and the needs of communities.

Since 2000 the total infrastructure money committed by the federal government is $8.25 billion. With leverage from the private sector and the province, we can triple that amount. That is the intent of infrastructure programs.

The task force recommended a national transit-transportation program as well. I was pleased to hear the Minister of Transport yesterday announce a vision for the future of Canada's transportation system. I see this as a framework for a future national program with dedicated funding for transit and transportation.

We can and must do more to help our urban regions as we are the only G-7 country without a national transportation program.

The task force also recommended a national affordable housing program. An additional $320 million was added to the affordable housing agreement, which brings our commitment to a billion dollars on affordable housing.

Of course the government went ahead and continued to support the supporting communities partnership initiative and the residential rehabilitation assistance program. It brings that up to about $1.2 billion to assist the cities to deal with the homelessness issue.

The RRAP program, which is the residential rehabilitation assistance program, also had additional money put in which helps seniors and the disabled.

However more must be done. We need to look at tax changes in order to create the environment for affordable housing.

The increased funding for the urban aboriginal programs is a significant and a welcome investment.

On the environment, environmental issues which threaten the quality of life are a major concern for cities. Three billion dollars was allocated in the budget to promote sustainable development, which is transit-transportation; to create a healthier environment; to clean up federal contaminated sites; and to work at improving air quality. Two billion dollars of that will go into Sustainable Development Technology Canada, including sustainable transportation, and to look at alternative fuels, such as ethanol, wind power and fuel cells, which our rural caucus continually reminds us how important that is. There were various recommendations in this report that clearly will help us.

There is much more to do when we are building a nation and much more has to happen. The cities' agenda is a work in progress and the operative words are “in progress”. I believe the budget goes a long way to meeting those issues. However much more needs to be done and we need to be doing that together in co-operation with the provinces and with the cities.

Alone we can do little but together we can do a lot.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Anders Canadian Alliance Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, with the airline tax that was brought in for security purposes, I was wondering why we do not see more sniffer dogs. Whenever I visit the border posts they tell me that the number one thing they need are sniffer dogs.

We have a tax that brings in a lot of money, and sometimes more than what the airport actually costs for security and everything combined, and yet in Quebec, for example, we only have one sniffer dog for eight border crossings between Quebec and the United States. Can members believe that? One sniffer dog and their noses do not even last for a full shift.

Why this government imposes a tax like that and yet does not even produce more tangible things that are needed on the front line, I do not know.

I would like to ask the hon. member a second question. How is it fair that her government has an EI tax applied to students when a lot of students will go ahead and work in part time jobs, never get enough hours to ever be able to collect employment insurance and yet they are paying this tax? There is no benefit to them whatsoever. They will never be able to collect employment insurance but they are forced to pay into it. How does she justify that?

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to hear the member's interest in sniffing dogs. The last time I went through the airport was a couple days ago. I have to tell members that the amount of investment that has gone into security issues in our airports to ensure the safety of each and every person who uses the airports is quite overwhelming. Whether the extra dollars go into sniffing dogs or whatever may be the case, we have a security system that is out there protecting all of us.

When we talk about the different issues in EI and what happens to students, many of our students benefit as a result of whatever contribution they make to EI directly, through HRDC programs or through other education opportunities.

Clearly, we all have to pay a certain amount of taxes that in the end of the day I believe is reinvested in improving the quality of life that is so very important in this country.

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5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member who just spoke how this will work. She talked about infrastructure for cities and $3 billion over 10 years that was identified in the budget, which is $300 million a year. My understanding is that there are a lot of people who thought the federal government in this budget should have backed off on its spending so it could have created some tax room so that the provinces could have supplied money for infrastructure for the cities in the natural flow of authority, because constitutionally that is how it is structured.

We have the scenario of the federal government getting into provincial jurisdiction again and not doing it very well at that, $300 million over 10 years. The question really has to do with how this will be allocated. I remember the infrastructure program of 1994 and it seemed to me that it was very politically motivated. In fact, the research showed that the Liberal held ridings received about four times as much money as any of the opposition. Will that be the same scenario this time around, that it is done on a basis of where they want to satisfy political needs? I remember Lloyd Axworthy's riding in Winnipeg at the time received four times as much money as my riding in Peace River and yet there were lots of applications in. So it seemed like it was a very strange approach politically driven. How will it be allocated this time around?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have another opportunity to talk a bit about this infrastructure program. The strategic infrastructure program was initially introduced to target the problems that we were seeing in our large cities, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and so on. We are targeting this for projects that are in excess of approximately $75 million.

Over and above that program, which had $2 billion put into it two years ago, another $3 billion has been added. It has $5.25 billion for the large cities. It is not meant to be allocated on a city by city basis. It is where the large cities are and that is our section.

One of the real benefits of the infrastructure program is that it levers other money. Therefore it is $5.25 billion from the federal government, that should also lever the appropriate amount from the provincial government and the cities. Maybe the private sector will be another partner in that but all of that is meant to be the leverage to turn around and to help build this country.

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5 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I will be dividing my time with the hon. member for Matapédia—Matane.

They say if you want to keep you friends, pay up. A budget is all about paying up. Far be it from me to judge the friendships of the Minister of Finance, but I doubt he made any new friends with this latest budget. He seems to have had neither the courage nor the sense of responsibility to solve the urgent problems being experienced by many of our fellow citizens.

Not being the first, or the last, to comment on this budget, I shall concentrate on two areas of particular concern to me: disability issues and immigration.

I will begin with a few words on the child disability benefit. First, the government introduced a new $1,600 a year benefit for disabled children.

On the face of it, we can only applaud this additional support. It is overwhelmingly evident that financial resources play an important role in the education of any child, and needs are no less great because some children have functional limitations—on the contrary. This is especially true for low income families. But even when trying to be helpful, the government seems to be repeating mistakes of the past.

It is apparently incapable of learning from its mistakes. If he is really listening to the people, the Minister of Finance knows full well the problems inherent in the eligibility criteria for the infamous DTC, the disability tax credit. The minister has determined that the new child disability benefit will only apply to those children who are eligible for the DTC. That is the problem. Persons who suffer from episodic and mental conditions who receive the disability tax credit must be reassessed. These criteria are clearly discriminatory.

Why did the minister not base the eligibility criteria for the child disability benefit on the proposals made by health professionals and organizations representing the disabled, which more accurately reflect the reality of living with a disability?

By accepting these recommendations, the government could have provided the technical advisory committee on the DTC with appropriate guidelines for their reflection. While we applaud this new measure, we are critical of the fact that it perpetuates the same injustices as the disability tax credit.

Let us look briefly at this technical advisory committee. Will this new committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities be able to work miracles? The government announced, through the budget, that this committee would comprise members of organizations representing persons with disabilities, medical practitioners, and private sector tax experts, who will advise the Ministers of Finance and National Revenue on tax measures for disabled people.

The budget outlines a few of the issues that will be examined by this committee. Let me review them. The first one concerns the eligibility for the tax credit, particularly for persons who suffer from episodic and mental conditions. The second is the list of activities of daily living used to determine eligibility for the credit. The third concerns the identification of professionals allowed to certify eligibility.

Here we may see a faint glimmer of hope in terms of the requests and recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

We will have to wait and see what will become of the other recommendations contained in the report, aptly titled, “Getting it Right for Canadians: the Disability Tax credit”.

After reading the budget, when it comes to persons with disabilities, we can only talk about a glimmer of hope, nothing more. Why do I say this? Simply because the Minister of Finance used the budget to reintroduce his controversial draft legislation from August 30, 2002.

Even though the House took a clear stand against any tightening of the DTC eligibility criteria, by unanimously adopting an NDP motion on November 20, 2002, even though we presented a petition containing the signatures of over 6,000 Quebeckers who wanted to ensure that people with disabilities were treated fairly before the budget was brought down, even though the Minister of Finance received hundred of letters from citizens calling on him not to limit support to persons with a disability, the minister turned a deaf ear by reintroducing the proposed amendments from August 30.

The budget contains three measures relating to the DTC.

While the first measure ensures that individuals markedly restricted in either feeding or dressing themselves will continue to qualify for the DTC, the two other measures deal specifically with the definitions used for feeding or dressing oneself.

Indeed, the second measure specifies that the activity of feeding oneself does not include any of the activities of identifying, finding, shopping for or otherwise procuring food, or the activity of preparing food to the extent that the time associated with that activity would not have been necessary in the absence of a dietary restriction or regime. Clearly, this is about redefining the expression, “feeding oneself” in order to get around the Federal Court of Appeal decision allowing a celiac sufferer to qualify for the DTC.

The third measure specifies that the activity of “dressing oneself” does not include the activities of finding, shopping for and otherwise procuring clothes.

What we are particularly concerned about is that the minister is suggesting that the changes be applied starting with the 2003 tax year. Are we to understand that the Minister is counting on imposing these new measures through his budget rather than with a bill properly introduced in this House? Let us hope not, but we will obviously be taking a very close look at the application of these measures.

In conclusion, since time is running out, allow me to address the immigration situation. I have just come back from a trip to the Maritimes and Quebec with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. This trip gave us an opportunity to hear some very relevant testimony, as well as some genuine cries for help.

These comments were useful because they touched on the importance of, and the issues related to, immigration for regional development. The people we spoke to raised concerns and told us of the major problems that stem from inadequate funding for the many challenges related to integrating newcomers.

To say that the federal budget is extremely disappointing in terms of anything that directly or indirectly affects immigration is an understatement. An additional $41 million for a major project is not enough; it is an insult to intelligence. Even though Quebec has a special agreement, this does not stop us from strongly deploring the fact that the Minister of Finance has done little to meet the needs in immigration.

What could the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration say to all those people in the Maritimes who braved the snow, wind and cold to come and ask us for additional funding for immigration, for issues related to the integration and settlement of newcomers?

Will the government one day acknowledge the true challenges that the public faces in this regard? Until then, our vigilance will not waiver and our demands will be more urgent, both for people with disabilities and for welcoming and integrating newcomers.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, first, with regard to persons with disabilities, the government provides just over $3 billion in support, over $1 billion in programs and $1 billion that deals with tax issues.

I want to zero in on a comment the hon. member made with regard to the preparing of food, which is very important. The amendments that have been brought in are less restrictive now than they were in August. In fact people who currently have difficulties with preparing food are not affected by this. On people with celiac disease, a medical expense tax credit is available for them to receive additional assistance.

I would like the member to study those two aspects which are very important. Not only is the spirit of what the member is asking being adhered to but the letter as well. Could the member comment on that?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is questions and comments period, and I cannot help asking a question too. Does the Minister of Finance intend to implement, during the 2003 fiscal year, the measures outlined in the budget without actually introducing a bill in the House that would allow for a debate, by both government and opposition members, on the whole issue of disabled people?

The reality is that there is an increasing number of disabled people and this number will continue to grow. The extraordinary sums of money that the minister is talking about do exist, but the needs largely exceed them. It seems to me that a government's responsibility is to act like a good father. Would a good father leave his children in poverty and pay more attention to those who have the good fortune of being well-off? To ask the question is to answer it.

To me, this budget is not at all consistent with the sound reasoning of a responsible father.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the issue she raised, the member can take a look at the budget bill herself.

With regard to the issue of fiscal imbalance, the Bloc members often speak about fiscal imbalance. They speak about it now because the government has had surpluses. In the days when it did not have surpluses, the Bloc never said that there was a fiscal imbalance. When Bloc members speak about tax points, they only speak about new tax points. They do not recognize old tax points. They speak about the 14¢ on the dollar for health care which is totally erroneous. We know it is closer to 40¢ when we put in cash and tax points.

Could the member comment on the issue of fiscal imbalance? How does she see this budget, which clearly has poured significant dollars into health care and the support of the province of Quebec in this regard, will benefit the people in her community in terms of medical services?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary is being extremely generous. He is asking me to talk about health. If I know anything about anything, it is health.

Of course, the budget requires financial commitments, but this government has no choice. Furthermore, its commitments are nowhere near the recommendations made by the Romanow commission, set up by the Liberals. The government is not doing what the Romanow commission asked. Quebec is short at least $200 million.

For the Liberals to think that this budget is incredibly generous shows, in my mind, their arrogance. I think this means they are ignoring the fact that, for over 10 years now, the federal government has progressively reduced its contribution to health. This is the reality. At the very beginning, they contributed 50%, and now it is a few pennies per dollar spent.

We are an ageing population; people therefore have more problems; more sophisticated services cost more and, in this communication era, people know what will make them better. This is how things stand and, naturally, the provinces are footing the bill, while the federal government is accumulating astronomical surpluses. Of course, it is paying down the debt but, obviously, if the roof starts leaking, it is better to fix the roof than pay the mortgage.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague, who has ended her speech with an example that I use all the time: it is better to repair a leaky roof than to pay the mortgage. A house will be worth nothing if its roof keeps leaking.

The image that came to mind when I was listening to the budget speech is that this is budget of illusions. One need only look at all the announcements that have been made, and will be made. There are some really good examples.

Tomorrow morning, if there were a change in finance minister or prime minister, I bet that 70% of what was announced in the budget speech would disappear in a puff of smoke.

The Quebec and Canadian economies would plummet, and 70% of what was announced in the budget speech would disappear in a puff of smoke.

There would be somewhat more complex financial problems, a higher unemployment rate, and 70% of everything announced in the budget speech would disappear in a puff of smoke. I can give some examples.

Here is what is said about helping Canadian families. There is talk of increasing the National Child Benefit, but only by 2007, according to the budget. People thought it was going to go up overnight, but it will only be a few dollars higher, and while the increase will start to kick in next year, the increase announced will not be fully in place until 2007.

Then there is the infrastructure program. As far as municipal infrastructure is concerned, there is talk of $1 billion over the next 10 years. So, ten years, ten billion divided by ten, gives about $100 million a year. Divide that amount by ten provinces and three territories and not much is left. In fact, it does not even build 10 km of highway, which is the example used in Quebec for municipal infrastructure.

What does a billion dollars over ten years mean? What guarantee do we have that in a year, or two, three, four or five years, a future finance minister or prime minister will respect that commitment? There is no obligation.

Let me give another example. There will be $320 million over the next five years to improve the agreements between the provinces and territories in terms of affordable housing. Once again, if we take $320 million divided by ten provinces and three territories over five years, what is left for Quebec? What is left for tomorrow to build suitable housing for those who need it? Practically nothing, that is what. There are no guarantees. Again, it is an illusion. There are no guarantees that in one, two or three years, this money will still be available. We are in the middle of the Liberal leadership race. The member for LaSalle—Émard, who is a candidate, did not necessarily agree with the measures proposed in the budget. He did not agree with the federal government engaging in what I would call rash spending, even though there is a huge surplus.

Another example is that of strengthening aboriginal communities. This one is my favourite. It is for $172.5 million over 11 years to support aboriginal languages and culture. Who can guarantee that in 11 years this measure will still be in effect? Who can guarantee that it will still be in effect a year or two from now?

When you read the budget it is the same throughout. It talks about health and transfers for health. Again, we are told that the cash portion of the Canada social transfer will be complete in 2006-07. The budget for the Canada social transfer will be complete in 2007-08. What we are looking at is 2006-07, 2007-08, or 10 or 11 years down the road. I doubt that anyone in this House will still be here by the time any of this might actually get done. This budget is a complete illusion.

The government has created expectations, particularly among the least well off, and these people are going to wake up to a painful reality when they realize that these expectations have not been met, despite the fact that they are being told they will be.

What we would have liked to have seen in the budget, what I personally would have liked to have seen and did not see, was something specifically for the regions. This budget contains absolutely nothing in terms of regional development. There is nothing to bolster existing regional development programs. There is nothing to strengthen Canada Economic Development programs.

There are regions such as mine, where the unemployment rate is 23%. These are regions that need immediate support, that need support not only from the Government of Quebec, but also from the federal government, given that we are still a part of Canada, unfortunately. And as long as we are a part, we should see some of our tax money, which is spent so poorly.

So, there are regions such as mine, and there are probably regions like yours, in Ontario and elsewhere, where people would have liked there to have been an increase in regional development budgets, to allow these regions to catch up to the rest of the economy and to continue to expand.

The only measure that I see, and it is ludicrous, is the cut in the transportation tax. That really rubs me the wrong way. Soon our region will no longer have any air service because Air Canada is supposed to pull out. But the government is going to cut the transportation tax anyway. Well, if there are no more flights, you cannot take the plane; it does not do you much good.

This is the type of measure which, supposedly, will help the regions. However, it is absolutely useless to us. What we want is help for regional transportation, particularly on the part of this government, which has totally abandoned the whole transportation system, including railways, airlines and so on.

Today, we can see that regions like mine will be hard hit by this type of measure. Indeed, when there is no longer a transportation system, it is very difficult to convince businesses to come and settle. An adequate transportation system is necessary in order to be competitive. This system must be provided at competitive prices, and we must make sure that people can travel and have access to markets.

So, the budget has not met, among other things, the need for a major investment in wind energy. The government talks about the Kyoto protocol, but instead of investing in new energies, it invests to benefit certain companies that pollute.

There is something else that we would have liked to see in the budget, but that is not included in it. I am referring to a true employment insurance reform. This government must stop plundering the employment insurance fund. The Bloc Quebecois, the unions and the employers in Quebec have long been asking the federal government to create a true employment insurance fund and program.

A true employment insurance program is one for which more than 40% of workers qualify. Currently, not even 40% of the workers qualify for the employment insurance program. People contribute to an insurance program, but do not qualify for benefits. This is unacceptable.

What the budget promises is that “Yes, we will look at this issue. We will review it”. However, the employment insurance program has been reviewed, amended, and so forth for years. And in recent years, since the cuts that began in 1993, it has been reviewed and reviewed again. Every year, the Department of Human Resources Development gives us its impressions.

As far as the employment insurance plan is concerned, I agree completely with the Auditor General: a real EI plan is urgently needed, with an independent fund administered by the workers, and we should make sure that this plan does not penalize regions like mine by requiring young people to accumulate 910 hours of work when they first enter the workforce.

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5:25 p.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member suggested that the budget had no real assistance for either Quebec or his region. I would assume that the hon. member has constituents who get ill and therefore the significant increase in transfer payments for health care will be of benefit to his community. I assume that the issue of child poverty is a concern and a problem in his region. Again, that is being addressed. Homelessness is being addressed. Urban communities and farming are being addressed.

The fact is that all Canadians are benefiting because again we have a balanced budget or better. The Province of Quebec is benefiting, particularly because of federal transfers for the needs of his community, so I was a bit surprised to hear that there is nothing in the budget. Clearly there is a lot in the budget and I would invite the member to look line by line at some of the very important initiatives that are being helped.

One of the comments he made was about EI. The minister has indicated very clearly that we are going to move on EI reform. I would remind the member that for the last 10 years premiums have been going down, whereas they were going up under the previous administration. Again, that benefits everyone.

Those are the kinds of things that I would hope the member would highlight in looking at those benefits. I did not hear anything, unfortunately. Maybe the member could suggest what he would do if his party had the opportunity to bring down a budget.

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5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must tell the hon. member that, contrary to what he just said, I did look line by line or almost.

At present, with the Canada health and social transfer, more is invested in health. Obviously, this will affect my region.

But 16 cents on the dollar will not help increase services much. Funding will not be back to where it was, and it will not make it possible to provide more services or to meet all the needs. It only responds to part of the needs.

As far as EI is concerned, in the last election campaign, in 2000, people expressed outrage in public forums in New Brunswick and promised EI reform. How much has been achieved to date? It should happen in two or three years, we are told.

I would answer my hon. colleague that we have had it with promises. What we want is action. We want a real independent EI fund to be established. We do not want any more studies. People in our regions have been suffering long enough from the cuts that were made.

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5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, thanks to the people of the Gaspé Peninsula and the South Shore of the St. Lawrence, those on the North Shore were able to work.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Matapédia—Matane a question. In terms of regional development, what concrete measures are being taken to ensure that someone reading the newspaper the day after the budget is tabled will see that things are changing for the better? Cuts are made by the federal government, but are there indirect consequences? What more can dairy farmers and producers expect from the latest budget tabled by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance?

I think that the government could have helped forestry workers and farmers indirectly. It could have eliminated the federal gasoline tax. We know that, today, machines are used in forestry and farming.

The gasoline excise tax was introduced to fight the deficit. Today, there is an accumulated surplus of $15 billion. This government had a real opportunity to eliminate the excise tax and the gasoline tax to directly benefit producers.

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5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to answer my colleague.

As I said earlier, when I looked at this budget, the first question that came to my mind was, “Is there really anything for the regions?” I say no.

Take the softwood lumber example. Mills are currently closing in Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois asked for the second phase of a true assistance program. What we got was the first phase. Where is the second phase that was announced? It is urgently needed. No one says anything about it anymore. It is another illusion, another promise.

When I talk about assisting the regions, I am talking about employment insurance, among other things. I will give the parliamentary secretary a very concrete example. Tourism is an industry in my riding. Right now, it is mostly seasonal work. If you want to hire young people from a cégep in the region, such as the Rivière-du-Loup cégep, forget it. They will not be able to work for 52 weeks because this is a seasonal industry. At the end of the first year, what do they do? They go to Toronto or Montreal. That is how regions are gutted and that is how you gutted mine.

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5:35 p.m.

York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Alan Tonks LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the 2003 budget is a budget marked by milestones and major new commitments. While we have heard many comments in this budget debate up to now, some of the overview has to take into consideration the accountability with which the budget was designed.

It is a budget that is not only based on accountability but continuity, maintaining the prudent and balanced approach to fiscal planning that has contributed so much, so directly to Canada's economic stability and success. It is a stability that must be predictable in the global world in which we live, the ups and downs of the economy, and that in fact leads investors to conclusions that they may or may not invest. The approach in the budget is to make it absolutely clear that the country is on a sound financial foundation.

The country is moving forward in a progressive and dynamic way. We are doing so from a position of considerable strength. There will be no return to deficit financing, something Canadians made very clear and a pledge the government has kept. Maintaining a balanced budget and reducing the debt will remain the anchor of our fiscal strategy.

Canadians seek a society which is built on their commonly held values, an economy that maximizes opportunity for all and an honest and transparent accounting of government's efforts to achieve those goals. This is the challenge Canadians have brought to their government and this is the challenge the government has seriously taken up.

Budget 2003 responds to this challenge in three ways. First, it builds the kind of society with its typically Canadian values by making investments in individual Canadians, their families and their communities. Second, it builds the economy that Canadians need by promoting productivity and innovation while staying fiscally prudent. Third, it builds the accountability that Canadians deserve by making government spend more transparently and more accountably.

Budget 2003 recognizes the critical link between social and economic policy and how an integrated approach produces policies that will benefit all Canadians. It is based on sound financial management and a responsible stewardship of our resources.

Stewardship is a word that we do not use lightly. Stewardship involves making contracts with people and organizations, that in good faith we will abide by the agreement, that we will work together on the values and on the objectives that we have in the budget. It is this sense of stewardship that is rooted in the budget that will provide Canadians with the tools they need to realize the great potential our country offers.

The budget provides important new investments to build the society Canadians value and the economy we need. Canadians have also made clear that these investments must be backed by enhanced accountability to Parliament and to the public.

We started on the right track in 1994 through a vigorous review of all government activities. It resulted in the largest scale down in government spending since our post World War II demobilization. It was hard but it allowed us to create new efficiencies in many areas and it enabled us to eliminate the deficit.

Government programs should be subject to a regular review to make sure that they still fulfill an important purpose, that they are meeting the needs of Canadians and that they remain justifiable amid new and emerging priorities. In particular with the nature of the global environment where there is such change and such flux, Canadians and investors need to have that sense of predictability.

Federal departments and agencies should be regularly challenged to demonstrate both efficiency and the relevance of their programs. If they cannot or do not meet those tests, then they should reallocate their funding elsewhere.

The government wants Canadians to know better than ever where and how their tax dollars are being used and that they are being used wisely. To that end, it is determined to make its management of taxpayer dollars more efficient, transparent and accountable by doing the following things: first, by systematically reviewing programs to make sure they are still responding to the needs of Canadians; and second, by allocating resources from where they are less needed to higher priority areas.

There is more to sound fiscal management than avoiding deficits and reducing debt. The government must also manage tax dollars responsibly while delivering cost effective and efficient and effective services. That is why budget 2003 announces that the government will launch an ongoing review of all non-statutory programs to ensure that they continue to be relevant, effective and affordable.

Over a five year cycle, Treasury Board will examine the non-statutory programs of all federal departments and agencies. In doing so it will be guided by questions similar to those used for the federal government's program review in 1994-95. They are as follows.

One, is the program still relevant to the needs of Canadians? Two, are the program's resources being used in the most efficient and effective way to deliver the agreed upon and appropriate results? Three, is it necessary for the federal government to operate this program at all or could it be transferred to other levels of government or to the private or voluntary sector? Four, is there scope for considering more effective program structures, alternative structures and service delivery arrangements? Five, are department and agency management practices appropriate and of sufficient quality?

In the Minister of Finance's economic and fiscal update last October, the government promised to reallocate funding from lower to higher priorities. Budget 2003, as an illustration, delivers on that commitment by requiring departments and agencies to reallocate $1 billion per year from existing spending starting in 2003-04 to help fund the cost of new initiatives announced in the budget.

In budget 2003 the government takes several additional steps to make itself more accountable to taxpayers. Consider for example its management of employment insurance contribution rates. Budget 2003 reduces the EI employee premium rate for 2004 by 12¢ to $1.98 per $100 of insurable earnings from $2.10 in 2003. This will be the 10th consecutive annual reduction in the rate, representing annual savings for employers and employees of $9.7 billion in 2004.

The budget also announces that the government is beginning consultations with Canadians on a new transparent process for setting EI contribution rates for 2005 and beyond. This is something that has been raised by the Auditor General and it is something the government is addressing in this budget.

Budget 2003 follows up on the government's commitment to review the air travellers security charge to ensure revenue from the charge remains in line with the cost of the enhanced air travel security system over the next five years. Now that the review has been completed, the government is in a position to announce in this budget a reduction of the charge to $7 from $12 each way for domestic flights, and that is by more than 40%.

Accountability is also the anchor of the new health accord. The accord sets out a new accountability framework which includes a commitment facilitated by a new health council to report regularly to Canadians. To improve the transparency and accountability of federal support to provinces and territories, the government will create two new transfers a Canada health transfer in support of health and a Canada social transfer in support of post-secondary education, social assistance and social services, including early childhood development.

The government will also make a number of changes to improve the accountability and governance arrangements of arm's length foundations. In combination with clarifying the policy principles underlying the use of foundations, these measures will ensure their continued effective and appropriate use.

Starting with the budget, the government's financial statements will be presented on a full accrual accounting basis. This will make the government's financial reporting more comprehensive, consistent, clear and up to date. The Auditor General of Canada and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants have called for this reform. There are several benefits to moving to accrual accounting.

First, all tax revenues are accounted for in the fiscal year to which they relate rather than when they are received. As a result, the government's books for each year will provide a more accurate and timely reflection of the year's economic development.

Second, full accrual accounting recognizes the depreciation of the government's physical assets. This will lead to better recording of assets, better policies for maintaining those assets and better decisions about whether to buy, lease or sell buildings and equipment.

Third, there will be more complete recording of the government's liabilities, such as the potential cost of environmental cleanups and retirement benefits for veterans. This will encourage departments to develop better plans for managing them. In short, with a more accurate picture of costs, revenues and liabilities, Parliament and Canadians will be in a better position to hold the government accountable for its management of their tax dollars.

Good regulations are also essential to the functioning of our economy and society. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, has recognized Canada's success in this area. There is always room to improve, particularly in promoting a healthy marketplace and strengthening investor confidence. To this end, budget 2003 includes up to $30 million a year to create a coordinated national program to strengthen enforcement against serious securities and corporate fraud offences as well as to support the redesign of Canada's regulatory environment.

Budget 2003 delivers a wide range of action on the top priorities of Canadians while maintaining our commitment to prudent fiscal planning for balanced budgets. The budget takes serious steps forward in our quest to build the society Canadians value, the economy Canadians need and the accountability Canadians deserve. The challenge now is for Canadians to work together to build an even greater Canada, a Canada of economic excellence, fiscal responsibility and social equity.

I will sum up by outlining a couple of other areas which I think need to be addressed. There have been many claims that the budget does not come to grips with the issue of urban Canada. Having been a member of municipal councils for over 25 years, I would like to address a couple of points.

It is often missed that we operate within certain principles that are based on the need to reach out not only beyond our urban areas to our rural areas but in fact to the world. To do this we have talked about sustainable development, that we do not burden future generations by creating a legacy that is unsupportable, that their natural environment is exploited to the extent that there will be no quality of life for future generations.

Sustainable development is a concept that should bind Canadians together, not only with the world, and in the budget we are talking about investing in larger amounts for international development, but it should bind the regions of our country together. We do that by establishing other principles such as Kyoto. The budget recognizes the Kyoto commitments. The Kyoto commitments are investments that will lead us to sustainable development that will bind our regions and our cities together.

I would like to make reference to a few of those programs for those who think that cities have not been addressed to the extent they should have been. The budget has an investment which will allow us to increase our support by $300 million to science, research and development activities through the Canadian Foundation for Climate and the Atmospheric Sciences.

The value added that comes from research and development in new technologies, which will give us a better handle on climate change, will be done mainly in cities but will benefit the regions of Canada. As well, another $200 million will be dedicated to further investments in long term climate change technologies. Finally, we have a comprehensive strategy for climate change challenges by integrating these actions with other strategies. In climate change, that is in the area of binding our principles around Kyoto together with our principles of sustainable development.

We also have support for small businesses, which I can relate to, with an increase by 2006 in regard to $300,000 of income, which will be made available as a result of a special small business tax rate of 12%. That reduction represents more money to the small businessman to reinvest back into their businesses. Removal of the limits on the small business capital tax rollover is included in the budget. The budget also has a mechanism with respect to qualified limited partnerships. Again, small businesses in cities and throughout Canada will benefit from these kinds of mechanisms.

In regard to housing and daycare in the cities, on top of commitments that have already been made, the budget allocates additional moneys for the development of housing and for support for day care. Not to quote out of context, but we really should know, for example, that the Canadian Council on Social Development takes the commitment made by the government to day care as an extremely important, proactive and dynamic move to recognize the needs of poorer families within our country. As well, the national child benefit has been improved. Finally, the issue with respect to affordable housing and building for those who need it most has been addressed in the budget.

We have listened to Canadians. This budget is accountable, it has listened to Canadians and it is prudent. It has involved Canadians in establishing the kind of predictability they have faith in. While the budget cannot and has not been all things to all people, it is a good start. As the finance minister said, this is a down payment. A down payment is a statement of claim and faith that payments will continue to be made with respect to what equity is being built into. We are building equity in the people of this country who we trust. We will work together to build strength and to meet the demands of the global community and of the future that we all face together.