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House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think we are just going to have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of withdrawing funding for various social programs, because there is ample evidence for anyone who cares to look. Around the world, the countries that have the highest standard of living, the best prospects for jobs and, in fact, the lowest unemployment rates are all countries that intelligently limit their social spending. They intelligently limit it so that they are not encouraging people to live off welfare or take advantage of generous handouts. They limit their social engineering. There is ample evidence to show that is the case. The provinces that are successful here in this country have in fact done that.

I remember when the minister of finance of British Columbia wanted to put a limit on the collection of welfare: that a person had to live in the province for three months first. We were getting droves of people coming into British Columbia, which had the most generous welfare collection scheme. The federal government threatened to reduce our transfers because we wanted to put some sort of intelligent limit on the abusers of the program.

There is a lot to answer for on that side of the House in terms of intelligently limiting social transfers.

In terms of the debt repayment the member mentioned, yes, the government has paid down a bit of the debt, but again, one of the most common criticisms of the budget I have received from my constituents is that the government has not paid down enough of the debt. Anybody knows that if one pays down one's debt one gets much more money to spend and does not waste it on interest. The government is still blowing away more than $35 billion a year on interest. That is enough to build 150 brand new Lions Gate bridges in Vancouver every year. It is a huge amount of money. If the government had concentrated on paying down the debt earlier, we would be in a much better position. It would still be able to blow money on social programs but would not be taking it away from highways and other important projects.

Finally, in terms of health care, if the member thinks that throwing more money at the problem is the solution, he has his head in the sand. Everybody who has studied the problem knows that is not the answer. There need to be structural reforms; that is a fact. We need to be having an intelligent debate about how to repair this. One of the things we could do is encourage the provinces to be creative and make a much greater use of the private sector in the delivery of health care as a way of reducing costs.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand with my colleagues today, on the fourth day of debate out of a possible six, and talk about the last budget, tabled in the House roughly a month ago.

The biggest thing I see in the budget is that anything to do with taxes went up immediately while anything to do with spending, where we get our tax money back in programs we may or may not want, is all done over the next two to ten years. There is a huge disparity here as the government takes in all this cash and then spends it out.

The problem with a lot of the budgetary process we have to grapple with in this place comes back later in the fall and in what we are dealing with now, which is what is called supplementary budgets.

Last fall the supplementary As were tabled. They addressed the shortfalls, let us say, in a lot of different government departments. Among them were a couple of contentious issues, such as more funding for the gun registry, which practically everybody has come to hate because of the costs involved. No one has a problem with safe gun handling and so on, and no one has a problem with registering gun owners, but the problem has arisen in registering all of the guns across the country. That is where the rubber met the road and the government found itself lacking. Programs like that are already in place, but the government has blamed a lot of it on a computer registry that would not work and so on.

I was in Ontario for the municipal convention two or three weeks ago. One fellow talked about the number of drivers and cars registered annually in Ontario. Those numbers were pretty much a correlation to the numbers of gun owners and firearms that the Liberal government says are in this country. The government has had a number of years to register the same numbers, using a computer program that totally failed, yet Ontario does that on an annual basis with car drivers. Serial numbers, people's ages and the same types of requirements are still being dealt with, so how can one province do it annually and yet the federal government cannot seem to get it right in the last seven or eight years? It has spent $1 billion and still does not have it right.

We see that type of thing come up in the supplementary budgets and I know that the government is going to take another stab at it in the next day or two in the supplementary B budgets. This time it is asking for $172 million or thereabouts for that failed gun registry, and that will keep this thing alive until the end of this fiscal year, the end of March.

The last time I looked at my calendar that is two weeks away, so the government needs another $172 million to pay off some debts that occurred because it could not cover them with supplementary As. The government withdrew that itself. In an unprecedented move in this place, the government actually pulled back that demand for cash. Now it is bringing it forward again, but it needs $172 million to run this thing for another two weeks. That does not make a whole lot of sense. Then it wants another $113 million for next year, according to this budget.

This is not just about the tabling of the budget. It comes down to performance reports. Did taxpayers get any bang for their buck or are they just buying a pig in a poke, as it were, and continuing on with somebody's legacy? It is a major question out there.

I looked at some of the specifications in this budget. Global government spending increased 7% in 2001 and 18% in 2002, well above the rate of inflation. We are going way beyond keeping up; somebody has a wish list here that they are trying to cover.

Last year an announcement was made on a major five year tax reduction package. Where is it? I have talked to people in my riding, and my constituents have phoned me telling me they have not seen that on their bottom line. I know that my paycheque as an MP does not reflect any tax savings and, Mr. Speaker, I am sure yours does not either. What happened to that? It has all been pushed off again. None of the major changes happen until 2004, and I guess that is an election year. What a coincidence. Imagine that. Imagine that the government would bring in tax reductions in an election year. How about that?

Program spending is another thing. Spending for the period 2002-03, which is ending in two weeks, will be almost $179 billion. That is how much money the government will take in. It will spend most of it on whatever is required, and a lot of it we question. Next year it is going up to $185 billion.

A lot of folks out there, as well as a lot of my constituents, are saying that we talk a lot of numbers. One million dollars used to be a big number, but now anybody can win that in a lottery. We can understand $1 million and we can get our heads around that, but as for $1 billion, which is where all the government numbers seem to float, people cannot get their minds around the disparity in these numbers. The government lost $1 billion here but is pledging $1 billion there, to official languages or whatever it is, and people cannot seem to get their minds around the disparity.

I had a fellow at a meeting in Owen Sound explain it. He said that the best way to get it across to folks was to convert it to time. He said that if we converted a million seconds it worked out to 11 days rounded off. A billion seconds is 32 years. That is the disparity. That is the difference between a million and a billion. If we convert that back to dollars then people start to realize that the kind of money that is squeezing out between our fingers here in Ottawa is just huge.

With that spending of $178 billion, the new finance minister, the rookie, challenged all government departments to find $1 billion of savings out of that $178 billion, or half of one percent. That is chump change. That kind of money could be found laying around on the floors of most departments. Yet the Auditor General in her report said that the federal government last year misplaced, misappropriated or misspent $16 billion. Fifteen per cent of the spending went in the wrong pigeonholes. Programs could have been trimmed by that. That money could have gone to paying down the debt which would have brought our health care and infrastructure spending back online over the next few years. There is a huge disparity there.

The finance minister is looking for $1 billion in savings. The Auditor General had already told him earlier last year that there were $16 billion and she laid it out line by line. She said money could be saved here, here and here but that was not mentioned. None of that has been addressed, that type of money that could be found and reassessed.

It really flies in the face of so-called good fiscal management. If we had those kind of dollars coming through the federal coffers over the last decade--and there was one government in place for that last decade--where did the money for health care go? Where did the money for infrastructure go? Why are these programs in such disarray that we have to start addressing them again? If we had that type of cashflow in any business situation no one would lack for anything. Each department would have more than it needed. Where did the cash go?

We saw huge cuts in health care. We saw the EI surplus absconded and shoved into general revenue, some $40 billion. I guess some of it went to those great projects in Shawinigan and so on, but there were cuts to health care and transfers to provinces of $25 billion; $40 billion in the EI surplus disappeared; $25 billion out of the pension packages for all government employees got ripped out and put into something else, and we are still these kinds of dollars behind in infrastructure.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce calls the infrastructure deficit across the country somewhere in the neighbourhood of $57 billion. That is sewer, water, highways, bridges, and all those types of infrastructures. Every one of us in every riding across the country knows that it is very real. We started allocating money back to it, but the $3 billion here for infrastructure, added on to what we have seen in the last few budgets, is over 10 years. There is a $57 billion infrastructure deficit and the government is going to address it with $300 million a year. That will not even maintain it. That will not even fill in the potholes on the bad stretches of a road or repair a bridge, let alone build one. It certainly does not replace any water and sewer infrastructure.

I know we have had some major water and sewer problems in a city in my riding. It is trying to get some funding to address it but it cannot seem to trigger any money. It received a few hundred thousand dollars to address a couple of new wells but nothing of the magnitude it needs, the $20 million it is looking for.

A three year program just is not going to do it.

Here is another example that interests me from my riding. The Battlefords is the historic site of the Old Government House for the Northwest Territories. We governed from North Battleford probably three-quarters of Canada before the western provinces joined in, and right into northern Quebec. It was all governed from Battleford, Saskatchewan. We still have the physical structure of Old Government House sitting up there on government hill. As long as I have been an MP, and before that, for 10 years people have been trying to find the funding to restore that historical structure and cannot get five cents. I guess if we jacked that sucker up and moved it east we might find some money but we just cannot seem to tweak it now.

It is a budget that just does not go anywhere. It is based upon a lot of different issues but nothing that really crunches out.

The final couple of points I would make are these. The problem with a budget like this which tries to address a little bit for everybody really solves nothing. Another point that comes to mind is that with it being pro-rated out over the next number of years, it will be up to the next leader over there, not the current one, to deal with all the fallout. I think it is nothing more than another attempt by the Prime Minister to buy himself a legacy. Maybe he has alleviated a couple of problems, maybe not, but ultimately history will judge that these types of budgets have done so little for so few that they really were a waste of time.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, my colleague alluded to one of the big things where I come from and where he comes from, which is the billion dollars the government has wasted on the gun registry. I would like the member to understand what we are hearing now and that is that the gun registry is saving so many thousands of lives and is stopping people from having unregistered guns .

Why is it that every press release that ever came out from the gun registry since its inception until now was proven incorrect? Why should we believe the figures now when we have 200 press releases that were totally incorrect?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I guess the bottom line in a lot of what we have seen in the gun registry has not been practical policy. It has been political spin to try to handle a problem that happened in Montreal, of all places. It turns out that a lot of this direction is going in a totally wrong-headed way.

No one in the country, including me as a gun owner, a hunter and so on, has any problem with training, safe handling, safe storage or registration as a gun owner, but the government does not need to know what I have unless I mess up with it and then, by all means, it can throw the book at me, as should be done, but we are not seeing that now. We are seeing money redirected into a false sense of security.

My other colleague from Selkirk--Interlake said that he had 30 years of service in the RCMP and retired as a staff sergeant. He saw what was required in the country and part of what drove him to run in 1997 was the wrong-headedness of the registry. This will not address it.

I talk weekly with my own RCMP members in my riding about this. I talked to them at a banquet I was at the other night with a number of members. We were sitting at a table discussing the gun registry and I asked them how they would handle this now that it was back on their table. They asked me what I meant. I asked if they had not heard the announcement where the justice minister just handed it off to the Solicitor General, that it was now back under RCMP purview. These guys did not know anything about it. I guess they did not get the memo.

The RCMP want nothing to do with this. They do not even want to handle the firearms that are turned in. They do not want to because most of them are not registered to do it. An RCMP officer who does not verify, check or do something just right under this stupid legislation can face a one year prison sentence and a $2,000 fine. This is a peace officer who is caught in the middle of this bureaucratic bungle. It is just absolutely untenable that this situation go on.

I did the PAL finally because I wanted to purchase some more guns. I found out that the two handguns that I used to register had not been registered correctly from 30 years ago. Now they want to take them away. I am a criminal because someone else lost the records. I phoned the firearms officer and the staff sergeant at the RCMP and asked what to do with my prohibited handgun. The firearms officer told me to weld it shut and make a paper weight out of it if I wanted to keep it. The police told me not to bring it to them because they wanted nothing to do with it. They said that if I had it for 30 years I should keep it.

Who is right? I am getting caught in the middle of all this bureaucracy. I am trying to figure out what to do with the handgun. I do not want to give it away because it has some sentimental value and some monetary value. I have had it for 30 some years and have not accosted anyone with it and yet this stupid law says that I am now a criminal because someone else did not keep track of the records properly. It is just ridiculous.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.

With respect to the budget policies announced by the Minister of Finance, we know, when we return to our ridings, that this budget is good for Quebeckers.

We know that by investing to support Canadian priorities and values, our government will make our society one that is even more equitable and more supportive, while remaining the only G-7 country to maintain a balanced budget that will invest in the future of our families, regions and environment.

My riding is the largest federal riding in all of the ten Canadian provinces. It covers over 800,000 square kilometres and there are 63 mayors in the riding. Indeed, when we return to our ridings during the breaks, we have the opportunity to talk with people.

Last week, I was talking with Pita Aatami, the president of the Makivik Corporation and an economic leader in the community. Since he took office, he has shaken things up a great deal in Ottawa when it comes to economic and social issues. There have been a number of examples. Because of the pressure he exerted on our government, we invested in economic development in this budget.

Pita Aatami has been directly involved in a number of issues, including marine infrastructure, social housing and especially, of late, readjusting electoral boundaries. In April, a ruling will be handed down by the commission that is responsible for the boundaries.

I say this because some of the economic leaders in our region live in outlying areas. We know that the Inuit contribute to the economies of Quebec and Canada. They are the only ones in Canada to pay direct taxes to the federal and provincial governments. They pay taxes.

We know that the budget that has now been in effect for several days strengthens the health care system thanks to several measures, including an $34.8 billion investment over five years, the 2003 health care services accord that was just signed by first ministers.

It is important not to talk only about numbers, but also about what is happening in our hospitals, whether they are in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, outlying areas, or in large urban centres. We know that this reform is being carried out and will help all governments.

It was not just the Minister of Finance who was involved in the recent reform. We can thank the Prime Minister of Canada, the Liberal member for Saint-Maurice, who negotiated and worked with the provinces. We know this was not easy but he stood firm to ensure that taxes were used to help the health sector.

Another truly important sector is the help given to municipalities. For instance, $3 billion is being invested in infrastructure and $2 billion will be invested in major projects. This leaves $1 billion for all Canadian communities and municipalities, including those in Quebec.

We know that $1 billion divided among several provinces and territories represents a few hundred million dollars for each province or territory. We know that with the infrastructure agreements, Quebec analyses and the federal government does its part.

We could also ask ourselves what could be done to help Quebec. People ask us questions such as: What about the federal transfers? I always tell people in my riding that the transfers are our taxes that are being returned to our municipalities and outlying regions in Quebec.

There will be a transfer of $2.5 billion to the provinces. Quebec will receive roughly $587 million, which will immediately be invested to ease the current pressures through the Canada health and social transfer supplements. This means that the provinces will have flexibility in using this money based on their needs until the end of 2005-06.

There is also the health reform fund. It is definitely important. Families and communities have not been forgotten. We know that in the budget there is an annual increase of $165 million for the national child benefit supplement until 2007. This measure is similar to the socio-economic measures that the Government of Quebec is using to fight child poverty.

Nonetheless, in terms of tax benefits, there is one thing that bothers me in Quebec: people know very little about these issues.

People never ask, even when there is an election, where the Government of Quebec gets those $5. Not from taxes, I will tell you where. It takes them from the family allowances of Quebec families. It takes $5 directly off family allowances, which means that Clémence Côté of Val-d'Or, Abitibi, whose 10 children do not go to day care, loses $32. So she is helping out her neighbour, whose children do go. This is something I find regrettable.

Quebec will find a solution, regardless of what party is elected the next time, as to where that money can come from. I know they could go to Loto-Québec, and we all know how much they are making these days with the video poker machines. There is talk of $10 million a day, which certainly adds up, after several years.

Then there is the development of aboriginal businesses. Several million dollars is going into aboriginal communities, and particularly aboriginal businesses. The James Bay Cree, the Inuit of Nunavik, the Algonquin in the area and elsewhere in Quebec have been heavily involved in setting up new businesses. They are business people capable of finding solutions and to move forward.

We hear much talk in the regions of the price of gas. It is not an easy situation. I share the concerns of the people of my area and the Quebec City area. I have an aunt, Monique Lavigne, in Saint-Romuald, and she tells me, “Guy, gas is too expensive”. In June 2002, they were paying 69¢ or 70¢ a litre for regular, and now in Saint-Romuald they are paying 87.5¢. And what is located in Saint-Romuald? Refineries. People living next door to refineries are still paying the same high price for gas.

To give an example, the place in Quebec and perhaps in Canada where fuel is the most expensive is Kuujjuaq, in the territory of Nunavik. The Inuit pay taxes and they are paying $1.22 a litre. A solution must be found in order to move forward.

Locally, assistance must also be provided for manpower training. There is funding, and transfers have been made to Quebec for vocational training. These millions of dollars will help the workers. The universities will find ways of moving forward to innovate with research projects, but the tax system must also be improved. We know that this measure included in the budget will result in an increase in after-tax gains of up to $9,000 per year. which will help businesses to expand.

I have seen a number of budgets over the 15 years, or 14 years and several months, that I have been sitting in this House. Under this government, not to mention the previous one, many budgets were brought down, and I must say that this budget is one of the best I have seen as the member of Parliament for the vast riding I currently represent.

A number of improvements are required, however. For example, a solution must be found with respect to the cost of diesel fuel for forestry workers. It is very expensive. So is heating fuel; we have had a very cold winter, and households are paying very high prices for heating fuel.

Let me tell you that this is an excellent budget. Improvements can be made without going the budget route, through an order. The mining industry made a number of gains in this budget, but alternate solutions must be found in order to move forward.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Thank you Mr. Speaker. I congratulate the hon. member, whom I consider to be the champion for the Inuit, particularly those living in the province of Quebec.

I was very interested in what he had to say about the very high cost of fuel, heating and travel in the 14 Inuit communities of Nunavik. I know this is a matter of great concern to him.

I have always been struck that this is literally the part of the world which has the highest tides anywhere on the globe. I think the member will agree that this itself is an extraordinary thing. I am coming to the energy point in a moment, but this is something that could be promoted for tourism reasons. It is very unfortunate that other parts of the world are recognized for high tides when the highest tide in the world is in the area of Kuujjuaq that the member represents.

My question with respect to energy is this. I know the Inuit people are very interested in renewable energy and it seems to me the tides present an opportunity for that. I know that some years ago tidal energy was thought of in terms of building dams across estuaries. It destroyed the estuaries and these dams proved impossible to control the tides. I know now that there is a new turbine that can be hung in the ocean. I understand it is being hung from abandoned oil rigs. The turbine operates from whichever way the water comes. What is more important for us on the east coast of Canada is something that can operate under the ice.

Is my colleague interested in efforts to tap tidal power to help his Inuit constituents obtain a local source of renewable energy?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am taking good note of the question of the hon. member for Peterborough, but first I want to discuss the issue of tides. People often wonder which area has the highest tide in the world. I want to point out that the highest tide is not in the Bay of Fundy, but in Tasiujaq, which is located in Nunavik, a few kilometres north of Kuujjuaq. This is where they have the highest tide in the world.

As regards the issue of turbines, we know that the President of Makivik Corporation, Pita Aatami, has been around for a number of years. Mr. Aatami is a leader who finds all sorts of ways to get the government moving and also to get me moving.

It is with people like Pita Aatami and Johnny Adams, who are active in the area, that we will improve the hydro situation. It is not just the issue of dams in Nunavik. It is with leaders such as the ones we have right now in Nunavik that solutions will be found.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to take part in today's debate on the most recent federal budget.

First, I would like to point out some of the strong points of this budget, and then elaborate on three aspects that I would call the general nature or thrusts of the budget. I will also discuss issues relating to science and express one minor reservation.

First, one of the strong points I support without any reservations, and which was mentioned by most of my colleagues since it is the fundamental and core issue of this budget is of course the renewal of health transfers to the provinces.

We are talking about a massive transfer of $34.8 billion over the next five years, in addition to existing transfers. There is also the transfer of tax points, which goes back to the late seventies. These transfers seek to ensure that we can maintain the health system that Canadians want, namely a publicly run health system that is accessible, portable from one province to another, quite comprehensive and, ultimately, a system that does not involve direct costs to users.

Everyone has noticed that there have been some failures over the past few years, to the point that we felt it necessary to address this situation, which is most definitely a priority for Canadians.

We received recommendations from many people, including the former Premier of Saskatchewan, Mr. Romanow. As a result, all the provincial and territorial governments and the federal government were able to agree on the Accord for Health Care Renewal.

I think that everyone can already say that we want to keep this system and we will keep it with this additional $34 billion in transfer payments over the next five years.

There are also very important programs for families, including a significant increase of $965 million annually, hardly peanuts, in the National Child Benefit.

There is also money for daycare services. Furthermore, an agreement was announced last week. Once again, all the provincial and territorial governments reached an agreement. Improvements and upgrades can be made, in some cases, to daycare services. I think that this is very good news.

There are also new initiatives for families who have to take care of disabled children for instance. I think the budget has allowed for substantial progress in this area.

The same goes for housing. I am pleased to see that an additional $320 million will be added to the $680 million already set aside, for a total of $1 billion in funding over the next five years from the Government of Canada to obtain and build affordable housing. I think that is fair.

The envelope for the homeless has also been renewed. Once again, this announcement was made in the past two weeks. It involves $405 million over three years, which is a renewal of what existed before. I admit that as a member of parliament from one of Canada's large cities, namely Ottawa, we are not exempt from this type of problem. We also have homeless people.

I have seen in the past three years how well this program has been used in our community. Incredible work has been done by all the stakeholders, and hundreds of new shelters have been added. We are now able to help people who probably need it the most.

I will refer to one particular project, the inner city health project, which has demonstrated that when we care about people and care about them actively, we not only make a difference in the lives of these individuals and improve their situations, but we reduce costs to our community and to the health system as well.

I would hope that the inner city health project in particular would be one that we would continue to fund through the mechanisms that have been established with the city of Ottawa and so-called SCPI federal money, if I can call it that.

All that to say that some good initiatives are under way.

When we are at the notion of initiatives that are continued, I would be remiss if I did not salute the government's decision to add a total of $3 billion over the next three years to our infrastructure programs; $2 billion to the strategic infrastructure program, which makes a total of four that will be spent starting next year and for the next 10 years, notwithstanding whatever else could be added to it in future years, as will be determined if we have surpluses in those years; and another $1 billion for municipal infrastructure, perhaps of a lesser level. In total $3 billion has been added to the municipal infrastructure program. I am very happy that has been done.

I was happy to be appointed to the Prime Minister's task force on urban issues and our core recommendation was indeed that we commit to this kind of infrastructure program on a longer timeframe. We had recommended at least 10 years, perhaps even as long as 15 years, to allow municipalities the time to plan and to have an integration of these two programs; this program and their own needs. The announcement made in the September throne speech and the confirmation in the budget of an additional $3 billion in overall infrastructure money bodes well for our capacity to renew the existing infrastructure.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the environmental envelope, so to speak. The government has earmarked $2 billion to follow up on the ratification of Kyoto. That is an excellent initiative, and I hope progress will be made in advancing this whole issue.

I must admit that I am having difficulty understanding some things. For instance, I have learned that in the next month or two, in Europe, 10 municipalities will each receive three buses fuelled by Ballard cells, courtesy of Ballard Power Systems Inc. and DaimlerChrysler. Since this technology was developed in Canada, I wonder why no Canadian city will benefit from this program.

I urge the government to take money out of this $2 billion envelope so that we too can benefit from this technology and continue to develop it here, in Canada. I cannot understand why this program currently applies only to 10 European municipalities. I hope that some of the $2 billion will be used to take a similar initiative in Canada, so that our comfortable lead on the overall fuel cell industry is maintained.

I want to quickly move on to the issue of international aid. I applaud the initiative to double, by the year 2010, our international aid and, of course, the additional yearly amount of $800 million for the defence budget, on top of the $270 million earmarked for this year.

I want to congratulate the government regarding the general thrust of the budget. I notice that, over the past several years, we have reduced our deficit by $47.6 billion. This year we will probably reduce our debt by more than $50 billion. This achievement deserves to be praised and I hope that the government will properly point it out.

Let us compare this with what is going on south of the border. Over the past 18 months, the Americans have accumulated a debt that exceeds $600 billion. This is more than our cumulative national debt throughout our whole history. Therefore, I can only congratulate the government for the course and the thrust that it has chosen for our country. If we stay that course, we will see a continuous increase in the value of our dollar, in our economy, and we will be better off. Hats off to the government.

I also want to thank the Minister of Finance and all my colleagues who supported a project that is dear to me. I am referring to the long range plan of Canadian astronomy and astrophysics and, in particular, to a specific initiative.

The government has announced that it will support the Atacama Large Millimetre Array project, ALMA, which is part of the long range plan of Canadian astronomy and astrophysics. In the year 2000 the NRC and NSERC both set out a 10 year plan to maintain Canada's leadership position in astronomy and astrophysics, and with this commitment we will do so.

I am very happy that we have been able to carve out the money required for the National Research Council to commit to this project. It is a project that involves the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Chile and of course Canada. It consists of 64 antennae, each 12 metres in diameter, arranged on the 10 kilometre diameter circle at Chajnantor, the high plateau in the Chilean Andes, which is essentially the largest ground based project in the history of astronomy. Congratulations on that.

I now wish to express a minor concern. I fail to understand why the government reduced by $25 million the budget for the television production fund. To my knowledge, Canada is the world's second largest exporter for both English and French television productions. This industry is expanding in Canada. I find it hard to understand why, at a time when the government is generating surpluses, it feels the need to cut $25 million from this $100 million budget.

I am not saying that this will prevent me from supporting the budget. On the contrary, I will support it. However, I do hope that the full budget for this initiative will be restored as soon as possible. Our English and French television production capability and our export capability in this area deserve to be supported. I hope that we will succeed in convincing the government to restore this budget at the earliest opportunity.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to hear the comments of the member for Ottawa—Vanier and what appears to be a fairly typical Liberal response to the budget, which is to make it into something that it is not in reality. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to health care.

The member for Ottawa—Vanier, like his other colleagues, has failed to point out in the course of this debate that in real terms the government has failed to implement the Romanow commission recommendations. The budget leaves a $5.8 billion Romanow gap.

The member, like his other colleagues, fail to acknowledge that with this additional funding in the budget today, the federal government will still only at the end of it all be at an 18% share of federal financing in health care.

The member fails to point out that the new money available in this coming fiscal year for health care amounts to $2.5 billion, hardly the amount required to deal with the looming crisis in health care in Canada today.

I want to ask the member two things.

First, why did the government fail to do the right thing, which was to implement Romanow?

Second, why did the government choose, when it had a choice, to bring in a $1.2 billion tax break that benefits the rich in Canada and the large corporations? Why did it not choose to put that money into the priorities of Canadians: health care, housing, the environment, child care and so on?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I fail to understand the member. The budget addresses everything she has mentioned. By anyone's standards, $34.8 billion is quite a bit of money.

When she says that the Government of Canada's contribution to the health care system represents 18%, I have to disagree. That fails to take into consideration tax points. If the provinces want to give up those tax points, I would reckon this side of the House would welcome them back because 13 tax points, plus the commercial tax points, represent billions of dollars annually. I would hope that she would consult the provinces before willing the tax points back to the government because I do not think they are willing to transfer them back. However to fail to account for them demonstrates an unwillingness to see facts as they are and only wanting to see them as we hope they would be. The truth of the matter is these tax points represent an important sum of money and they should be accounted for in the public accounting of spending on health care in this country.

International Women's DayStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, to commemorate International Women's Day, on Thursday, March 6 I hosted the fifth annual breakfast in my riding to acknowledge the accomplishments of the women of Parkdale--High Park.

The event celebrated the success of local women including: Dr. Wendy Cukier, professor at Ryerson University and president of the Coalition for Gun Control; Judy Fong Bates, High Park writer; Janis Galway, developer of equity inclusion programs, Angela Gei, producer, actor and community activist; Sonia Potichnyj and Slava Iwasykiw, owners of Lemon Meringue; and Lisa Zbitnew, president of BMG Canada.

International Women's Day is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the progress made to advance women's equality, to assess the challenges facing women in contemporary society, to consider future steps to enhance the status of women and, of course, to celebrate the gains made in these areas as well as an opportunity to honour all women in our communities.

TerrorismStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, for at least a decade the Liberal government has known that the MEK was raising funds in Canada to support the activities of the terrorist National Liberation Army in Iraq. Yet despite all of the evidence available to the Prime Minister and the fact that the MEK has long been branded as a terrorist organization in the United States, the MEK still does not appear on the latest Canadian list of banned organizations.

Why is it that the official opposition has to continually bring these groups to the attention of the Liberal government? Whose interests are the Liberals protecting by refusing to ban the MEK from fundraising for terrorism in Canada?

It is time that the members over there gave their heads a shake. They need to abandon their naive and dangerous multicultural endorsement of terrorist fundraisers. It is time to draw up a complete listing of all terror groups active in Canada so that we can put an end to their fundraising activities once and for all.

Peace ScarfStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise the House that on Saturday, March 8, 2003, almost 300 people gathered at Wilmot United Church in Fredericton for the afternoon to demonstrate their commitment to peace and to bring this commitment to life by working together knitting this scarf.

Folks from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, the Fredericton multicultural community, CISV, OXFAM, Freedom and others spent the afternoon knitting and supporting each other during these critical and fearful times.

This scarf, which was presented to me, represents the diversity of people opposed to a war in Iraq, those who do not want to see Canada involved in a war in any way, shape or form.

I join with my friends in the belief that the act of war must be the final resort, only to be waged when there are absolutely no alternatives. We are not there.

International TradeStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada successfully passed a review by the World Trade Organization, which gave it an enviable grade for its trade policies. Canada's trade practices and policies are among the most transparent and liberal in the world.

All countries are regularly subject to a review of their trade policies. The resulting report takes stock of their policies and highlights certain shortcomings and progress achieved in terms of market openness.

The World Trade Organization, through its member countries, suggests, however, that Canada seek new trade opportunities rather than depend on its ties with the United States.

The Minister for International Trade replied that Canada is making great efforts in this regard, but that the proximity of the Americans makes the situation more complex.

Badger FloodStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, in mid-February the community of Badger, Newfoundland was hit by terrible flooding, followed by freezing temperatures that left the town devastated and many homeless.

In my riding local businesses and organizations like Nemcor, Elite Vending, the Real Estate Board of Cambridge and the Newfoundland Club of Cambridge have raised money and relief to help the people of Badger.

My constituents, as well as local companies and organizations have always been there to help other regions of Canada when they have faced disasters.

I would like to congratulate the efforts of all those involved, especially the Newfoundland Club of Cambridge, for showing leadership in helping the people of Badger.

Zoran DjindjicStatements By Members

March 17th, 2003 / 2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the world has come to know the horrors of crime and terror once more as one of democracy's shining stars was brutally assassinated.

Zoran Djindjic became Prime Minister of Serbia following the end of President Milosevic's brutal reign.

Djindjic made it possible for the United Nations to indict and capture numerous war criminals in the former Yugoslavia. He re-established diplomatic ties with the west and it was under his watch that Canada dropped sanctions. He waged war against organized crime and pledged his country's support for democracy and for human rights.

For these actions he became a target of criminals and recently lost his life.

On behalf of Canada's official opposition, I would like to thank Mr. Djindjic for his sacrifice and wish his successor, Mr. Zoran Zivkovic, our full support in continuing on with these much needed reforms.

Most of all we would like to thank the Serbian people for their perseverance and for their commitment to peace and democracy.

St. Patrick's DayStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to wish all Canadians a very happy St. Patrick's Day. Today, all Canadians join those of us of Irish descent to celebrate in a spirit of comraderie and goodwill.

March 17 offers an opportunity to note the vital contribution that Irish Canadians have made to the history of this great country. It is no surprise that 14% of Canadians claim some Irish ancestry. During the famine of the 1840s millions of Irish left their homeland. Many travelled to Canada where they found a flourishing community of Irish people.

Some of Canada's most prominent leaders have Irish roots. Four of the first five Governors General of Canada were Irish, as were eight Fathers of Confederation, including of course D'Arcy McGee. Some of Canada's famous business leaders are Irish, including Hilary Weston and the late Timothy Eaton.

I wish all Canadians a very happy St. Patrick's Day.

Caid Mille Failte.

IraqStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, although the Security Council did not authorize a war, it seems that there will be a war on Iraq. However, we still do not know if Canada will take part or not.

On one hand, the Prime Minister says that Canada will not participate in any war not backed by the UN; on the other hand, he says that the existing resolution already authorizes war and that Canada will take part in an authorized war. On one hand, he says that he does not approve of war aimed at a regime change; on the other, he submits a proposal authorizing, after a deadline, a war that, everyone knows, is aimed at a regime change.

In fact, the government says what the public wants to hear but does whatever Washington asks.

The 250,000 people assembled in Montreal the day before yesterday do not know what to make of this contradictory and ambiguous behaviour. They want their elected representatives to oppose Canada's participation, period.

Put an end to ambiguity and let parliamentarians decide by allowing them to vote here, in this House.

MetroStar GalaStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Hélène Scherrer Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, last night the MetroStar awards gala once again showed Quebeckers' admiration for television artists. Sophie Lorain and Guy A. Lepage received the awards for female and male artist of the year respectively.

I would also like to note that for the first time a woman, Sophie Thibault, received the award for best news anchor.

Among the winners in other categories were: Sophie Lorain and Roy Dupuis for female and male leads in a television series, Élise Guilbault and Denis Bouchard for female and male leads in a television drama, Véronique Cloutier for variety show host, Benoît Gagnon for sports show host and Guy Mongrain for a game show.

I would also like to congratulate all the other winners and nominees. Thanks to them, the quality of our television programming is undeniable. Bravo to all.

Official LanguagesStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, if someone sat down and tried to design as an experiment the most exclusionary system of public service hiring and promotion imaginable, it might look something like this.

First, select some skill that most Canadians do not have and declare it essential for many jobs where it serves no work related function. Second, keep tight limits on job training in this skill. Third, demote or transfer any public servant who does not meet the arbitrary and ever-changing goals. Quite frankly, that is exactly what the government is doing with the tough new bilingualism requirements announced last week.

Under these rules 24 million Canadians would be frozen out from all top public service jobs. Which Canadians are excluded? There would be the 57% of francophones who do not speak English, the 91% of anglophones who do not speak French, over 80% of immigrants, and 95% of aboriginal Canadians.

The new rules are unworthy of a country that cares about all of its citizens, including the ones who are not bilingual.

Meteorological Service of CanadaStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, on March 13 the Government of Canada announced an investment of $75 million over five years that will allow the Meteorological Service of Canada to improve the quality of its forecasts and service to Canadians in all regions.

As a result of this investment, Canadians will benefit from more accurate and timely weather information, day-to-day forecasts, longer term forecasting, and in the prediction of extreme weather events.

To produce an accurate forecast for any given area, it is not necessary for a meteorologist to be looking out a window at the area to which the forecast applies. That is observation. It tells us what the weather conditions are at that particular moment in time. Environment Canada has over 6,000 different kinds of observing sites across the country.

Producing a forecast requires a view that extends many thousands of kilometres in order to see how various weather systems and patterns are developing. Then it takes sophisticated knowledge and equipment to predict the conditions that these systems will produce.

This new funding will enable the staff of the Meteorological Service of Canada to expand their knowledge and use more sophisticated equipment. It will also allow them to strengthen their research capability and deliver better--

Meteorological Service of CanadaStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre.

Meteorological Service of CanadaStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, last week the environment minister made a decision to cut Canada's 14 weather forecasting centres down to 5. In Winnipeg, public pressure forced him to keep a forecasting capability for now, but we will have to be vigilant to prevent closure down the road.

Over the last 10 years the Liberals have followed an erratic course opening offices and then closing them, cutting 59 weather offices, 3 forecast centres, and making massive cuts to the weather service amounting to 40% of its budget. How short-sighted.

The government's own reports show that our weather forecasting system is in such bad shape that it has put the safety and security of Canadians at risk. We know that forecasting accuracy has dropped, equipment is rusting out or obsolete, personnel are overworked, and staff morale is decreasing.

The Liberal's plan of consolidation is not a solution to any of these problems. In fact, the plan puts Canadian safety in jeopardy, and threatens our economy and the environment. There has been no cost benefit analysis done. There is no recognition that technology and remote forecasting cannot replace the accuracy of human observation and regional experience. There has been no consultation with the employees, their representatives or the public.

IraqStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, along with millions of people around the world, Quebec has proclaimed loud and clear its opposition to a declaration of war against Iraq.

In Quebec, the demonstrations have been impressive. This solidarity shows once again that Quebec is distinct. It is a clear message to renounce war and let the negotiation process and the UN inspections play out unimpeded.

I participated in the march in Quebec City, which drew 18,000 people, and several of my colleagues did the same elsewhere: in Montreal more than 250,000 people took to the streets; in Trois-Rivières there were 3,000 people; in Alma and Rimouski 5,000 people came out; and in Gatineau 5,200 people took part.

Aware of the imminent possibility of a unilateral declaration of war, people want to send a clear message to the Prime Minister.

By all accounts, the Prime Minister does not seem very receptive, since he refused to meet with the Échec à la guerre Collective to discuss Canada's role and the importance of finding a peaceful solution to this conflict.

Acts of BraveryStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

R. John Efford Liberal Bonavista—Trinity—Conception, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to congratulate John Dean of Little Heart's Ease, Newfoundland, who nearly four years after he saved the life of his friend and shipmate Levi Avery has been recognized by the Governor General of Canada for his act of bravery.

Mr. Dean and Mr. Avery were fishing from the Sandra L. Dean about 130 miles southeast of Catalina on May 29, 1999. They were setting crab pots when Mr. Avery became entangled in the rope that was tied to the pots and dragged overboard into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. Crew member Randell Smith reacted quickly as he operated the engine controls. Mr. Dean made the decision to go into the water after his friend. The recipient showed exceptional courage in the face of this near fatality.

I would like to ask the House to join me in sending out congratulations and our thanks to this brave individual and all others like him.