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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

Vacancy

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely Mr. Pierre Brien, member for the electoral district of Témiscamingue, by resignation effective March 14, 2003.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)( b ) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

Committees of the House

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Friday, February 28, the motion to concur in the third report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons regarding provisional Standing Orders is deemed moved, the question deemed put and agreed to.

However, the proceedings on the items now on the order of precedence will continue under the current provisions of the Standing Orders until all those items have been disposed of by the House at their current stage, while the subsequent stages will be governed by the provisional Standing Orders.

I wish to inform hon. members that the draw for private members' business will be held tomorrow at 1 p.m. in Room 112-N, Centre Block. The first 30 items of business will, however, not be transferred to the priority list until Friday, March 21, at 2 p.m.

(Motion agreed to.)

Canada Elections Act

11:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among House leaders and pursuant to that consultation I would like to move a motion that has received the consent of all House leaders or a representative in the case where the House leader was not available. Following that, I will be making another announcement. I move:

That all questions necessary for the disposal of the second reading of Bill C-24 shall be put without further debate or amendment at the end of the time provided for Government Orders on March 18, 2003.

Canada Elections Act

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Canada Elections Act

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections Act

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Elections Act

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Canada Elections Act

11:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, on the strength of what has just occurred, I now wish to state that tomorrow shall not be a designated day for the opposition. Instead, the opposition day will occur on March 24.

Privilege

March 17th, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast has given the Chair notice of a question of privilege.

Privilege

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege relating to information provided to Parliament by the President of the Treasury Board. The minister has deceived the House in an attempt to keep Parliament in the dark with respect to the funding of the firearms registry program.

As you are aware, the issue regarding the reporting of the funds for the firearms registry has quite a history. It is a history of deception. The latest deception involves the classification of the firearms registry as a major crown project. On February 25, 2003, in response to a question from the member for Yorkton—Melville, the President of the Treasury Board said, “...according to my information the program was not formally designed as a major crown project”.

The Auditor General, in a letter provided to members of the public accounts committee, provides evidence to counter the claim of the minister. The evidence is not at dispute between the Auditor General and the President of the Treasury Board. The dispute over whether or not the firearms program is a major crown project comes from the same source: the Treasury Board. It is similar to the case of the former minister of defence, who gave two versions of events to the House, and is also similar to a 1973 case involving information given to the House and conflicting information given to a royal commission. I will present the two cases later.

The Auditor General has sent a follow-up memo to the MPs on the public accounts committee and the senators on the Senate national finance committee. The memo provides several examples in which both Treasury Board and the justice department make use of the term “major crown project”.

The National Post obtained a letter from the Auditor General and published some of its contents on Wednesday, March 12, 2003. The article states:

“The Department of Justice now appears to be objecting to the chapter's description of the Canadian Firearms Program as a major Crown project, and it appears to consider this a significant matter,” writes Ms. Fraser. “Our review of government documents related to the Canadian Firearms Program clearly indicated that the Program was a major Crown project.”

In one example, Ms. Fraser wrote that draft versions of her report are sent to departments for review. Ms. Fraser states the Treasury Board did not dispute the term's use, and in fact corrected one paragraph, requesting that the phrase “major capital project” be changed to “major Crown project”.

Mr. Speaker, it was the Treasury Board that corrected the draft report to read “major Crown project” with respect to the firearms registry. We have the minister saying one thing and the department saying another.

The Ottawa Citizen and the Calgary Herald ran a similar story. They reported:

Fraser wrote to the committee, saying that in March 1998, the year the National Firearms Act took effect, the Justice Department defined the program as a major Crown project when it sought preliminary project approval from Treasury Board, a committee of cabinet.

“The Treasury Board approved the submission in April 1998,” says Fraser's submission.

In May of the same year, the department again stated the Treasury Board had directed the program be managed as a major Crown project.

In a November submission to the Treasury Board, the Justice Department “specifically noted that the project was a major Crown corporation,” wrote Fraser.

Fraser told the committee that even in response to her own findings about poor spending controls in the program last year, the Justice Department and Treasury Board did not challenge her statement, prior to the release of her report, that the firearms program was a major Crown project.

A spokesman for the Canadian Firearms Centre two weeks ago told CanWest News Service that the registry had never been designated a major Crown project, but the department “treated” it as a major Crown project.

The same spokesman on Tuesday, when informed about Fraser's testimony, said he had since checked again and learned that the department had in fact treated only the computer-system components as a major Crown project.

On February 1, 2002, the Speaker ruled on a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Portage--Lisgar concerning statements made in the House by the former minister of national defence.

The hon. member for Portage--Lisgar alleged that the former minister of national defence deliberately misled the House as to when he knew that prisoners taken by Canadian JTF2 troops in Afghanistan had been handed over to the Americans. In support of that allegation, he cited the minister's responses in question period on two successive days and alluded to a number of statements made to the media by the minister.

The Speaker said:

The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House.

Even though the former minister of defence claimed that he did not intend to mislead the House, the Speaker found that a prima facie question of privilege existed. The Speaker said:

I am prepared, as I must be, to accept the minister's assertion that he had no intention to mislead the House. Nevertheless this remains a very difficult situation. I refer hon. members to Marleau and Montpetit at page 67:

“There are...affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges...the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; [or that] obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of the House in the discharge of their duties...”.

The Speaker concluded his remarks and said:

On the basis of the arguments presented by hon. members and in the view of the gravity of the matter, I have concluded that the situation before us where the House is left with two versions of events is one that merits further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air.

The situation regarding the term “major Crown project” is similar. The minister advised the House that the firearms program was not a major crown project. It was reported to a committee of the House that the program was considered by the Treasury Board and the Department of Justice as a “major Crown project”. In addition, the Auditor General reported to the House that it was a “major Crown project”.

That term is significant with respect to how the government must report to Parliament on the funding for the firearms program. It is also significant that the firearms program is under intense scrutiny and the government believes that it would be advantageous to keep Parliament in the dark as much as possible. It is only advantageous, Mr. Speaker, if we let the government get away with it.

There was a case in 1973 when the member for Northumberland--Durham asked questions of the then solicitor general about the practice of the RCMP opening mail. Later remarks before a royal commission by the former commissioner of the RCMP disputed that claim.

The sum of this evidence permitted the Speaker in 1973 to find a prima facie case of contempt where the RCMP was alleged to have deliberately misled a minister of the Crown and the member for Northumberland--Durham, resulting in “an attempt to obstruct the House by offering misleading information”.

In the 1973 case, two versions of events were presented, one in the House and one at a royal commission. The sources for those two versions were the same: the RCMP. In 1973, the minister was not actually aware that he was misleading the House. He received his information from the RCMP.

In the case I present to the Speaker today, we have two versions of events as well: one statement from the minister to the House, and several statements to the contrary, from department officials, that were reported to a committee. As in 1973, the two versions came from the same source, with officials saying one thing and the minister saying another.

Adding to the allegation of deliberately misleading Parliament, we have an officer of Parliament, the Auditor General, confirming that Parliament has been and continues to be deliberately misled. The Auditor General's report to Parliament states:

Back in 1995, the Department of Justice told Parliament that the program would cost taxpayers about $2 million. The Department now says that by 2004-05 the cost of this program could amount to more than $1 billion.

And even though the department has many explanations for this ballooning of costs, it never shared any of them with Parliament...What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the dark. I question why the Department continued to watch the costs escalate without informing Parliament and without considering alternatives.

The Auditor General also pointed out that:

The information the Department provided states that by 2001-02 it has spent about $688 million on the Program and collected about $59 million in revenues after refunds. We believe that this information does not fairly present the cost of the Program to the government.

The Department also did not report to Parliament on the wider costs of the Program as required by the government's regulatory policy.

Furthermore, the entire Program was designated as a major Crown project. Treasury Board policies require departments, at a minimum, to annually report the following types of information to Parliament--

The government is playing fast and loose with the term “major Crown project” in order to keep Parliament in the dark. On the one hand, the firearms program is a major crown corporation, and on the other hand, it is not. The government claims on some occasions that the firearms registry is not a major crown project, yet on other occasions it claims that it is. The Auditor General reports that it is. The President of the Treasury Board reports that it is not. The House is told that it is. A committee of the House is told that it is not.

In the Speaker's ruling of February 1, he said:

--in deciding on alleged questions of privilege, it is relatively infrequent for the Chair to find prima facie privilege; it is much more likely that the Speaker will characterize the situation as “a dispute as to facts”. But in the case before us, there appears to be in my opinion no dispute as to the facts. I believe that both the minister and other hon. members recognize that two versions of events have been presented to the House.

Mr. Speaker, in this case, two versions have been presented to the House and to its committees.

The member for Yorkton--Melville has raised a question of privilege in the House on a similar matter. One of his concerns was the impression left with the public. He quoted a headline from the Globe and Mail , “Lies and contempt for Parliament at root of scandal in gun registry”; the Ottawa Citizen , “Government accused of hiding secret audit ”; the Winnipeg Sun , “Liberals lied”. Now we have more stories about scandal, contempt, lies and cover-up.

While certain committees of the House are investigating the scandal aspect of the gun registry, we also need to look into the contempt aspect of this tragedy. There is enough evidence to show, as the Globe and Mail put it, that there exists “Lies and contempt for Parliament”. Of all of the investigations, this one is crucial because in order for other committees to be successful they must be assured that they are not being deceived. Those who are deceiving must be punished and the contempt for Parliament by the government must stop.

Privilege

11:15 a.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify a point before the House concerning my response to a question from the official opposition. I was asked whether the firearms control program had been designated a major crown project by Treasury Board. I repeat my answer: According to my information, the program was never formally designated as a major crown project. That is the answer I gave.

I meant that, in order to be formally designated, this ought to have involved a decision by the ministers of Treasury Board, who meet regularly. To my knowledge, after an examination by my senior officials of all Treasury Board records and decisions, there has never been a written decision by Treasury Board formally designating this project as a major crown project.

That said, I think it is quite normal that there has been some confusion regarding this designation and, specifically, the Auditor General's remarks before the standing committee. Why? Because, according to many Department of Justice documents, this program should be managed as a major crown project, hence the confusion. It must be managed, but it has not been formally designated.

I think that, consequently, the Auditor General and the Secretary of the Treasury Board met to try to clarify this whole issue. They both agreed that, other than whether or not the program is designated a major crown project, the most important issue was that of parliamentary reports and their relevancy. This is really the most important issue.

It is so important that this same parliamentary committee—the Standing Committee on Public Accounts—has even asked me to appear this afternoon with the Auditor General to provide all the clarifications needed in this regard and to answer all the members' questions.

For a number of weeks now, this program has raised numerous questions, and I can assure you that all the spending authorities for this program were approved by this House, in the main estimates, or the supplementary estimates, through related appropriation acts and, naturally, the public accounts.

That said, the Auditor General has stated that Parliament should have been provided with better information. The Department of Justice and the Treasury Board Secretariat completely agree with her on this. But once again, this afternoon, we will have the opportunity to debate this issue with parliamentarians and answer all their questions.

Far be it from me to provide the House with incorrect information. I have answered to the best of my knowledge.

Privilege

11:20 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I wish to quickly add a little to what the hon. President of the Treasury Board has said. I simply want to point out that the question of whether or not something was designated a major crown project is not a question of parliamentary procedure. Obviously it is a question of administrative process and therefore is a matter which is the prerogative of the government.

Privilege

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think the remarks of the minister make it abundantly clear why you need to investigate this.

The Auditor General made it clear that the House was being kept in the dark. This was a major crown project and I do not think you have heard anything this morning that would take away from the fact that you must investigate this and investigate it properly.

Privilege

11:20 a.m.

The Speaker

I would like to thank the honourable members who spoke on this subject: the honourable member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, who raised the issue, the honourable Treasury Board president, the honourable member for Halifax West and the honourable member for Yorkton—Melville.

The Chair will take the matter under advisement. I will look into the matter and get back to the House in due course.

Business of the House

11:20 a.m.

The Speaker

I wish to inform the House that after further examination a correction has been made to the voting pattern in respect of Motion Nos. 23, 24 and 26 in Group No. 2 of Bill C-13. These motions will now be voted on separately and copies of the revised report stage chart are available at the table for perusal by all hon. members.

The House resumed from February 26 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, I first want to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Saint-Lambert.

I am very pleased to rise today to participate in the budget debate. I agree fully with the overriding thrust and objectives of the budget. I would refer to this budget as a threshold budget.

As everyone in the House is aware, when this government came to power we inherited a mess left by the previous Progressive Conservative government. Tough decisions had to be made and the correct programs and policies had to be implemented. It is only now that we are in a real position to make some of the additional investments in the social fabric of society.

I will focus my remarks to a certain extent on how the budget will benefit business, especially small business. Since the budget was tabled, I have spoken to a lot of ordinary Canadians, Canadians who go to work everyday, pay their taxes and who want the government to spend their money on the priorities of Canadians.

After having those conversations I was left with two very distinct and clear messages. First, people told me that they liked the budget, that they liked the additional investments in social spending and that they liked the fact that we were going to continue a record of balanced budgets. They also told me that they were getting sick and tired of the interest groups and the provincial premiers whining about everything. We heard that over the last two or three weeks.

I have also heard the argument that the level of spending far exceeds, in this particular budget, the level of growth in our gross domestic product. This is correct, and increases of this magnitude are certainly not sustainable.

However we have to bear in mind that approximately 50% of the increased spending comes from the health accord which is a threshold, non-recurring item and certainly a priority of all Canadians.

Dealing with the health care debate, which to a certain extent preceded the budget debate, I found it somewhat amusing. The Romanow commission crossed Canada, heard from Canadians and came forward with what I thought were excellent recommendations. The report was tabled in the House and the government responded to those recommendations. One of the responses, of course, was monetary. We have a package containing approximately $35 billion over five years. This will facilitate changes in the way health care is delivered in this country. It offers limited home care, catastrophic drug coverage and changes in accountability. This was the biggest investment in health care ever in the country.

What was the reaction of the premiers? It was total rejection. Why? I would suggest it is because the day they stop whining is the day they will have to start delivering. Right now the ball is in their court. They have to deliver and Canadians, certainly the Canadians that I talked to, are quite prepared to hold them to account.

I realize I am a little off topic but the points I want to make today go to how this budget is good for business, especially small business. Before getting into the specific provisions of how this budget will help small business, I want to say that the budget continues in the same basic direction that the government has been heading in the last nine years. The evidence is overwhelming. The fundamentals are correct. The monetary and fiscal stabilizers of low inflation, low interest rates, wholesale tax cuts and modest increases in government spending have led to a very healthy Canadian economy.

We have some right wing interest groups. The Canadian Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservative Party come forward saying that the tax cuts are not deep enough, that we have no business involving ourselves in the Kyoto accord and the environment, that everyone in Canada has a God given right to own a gun, and that we should cut government spending.

I say to them, let us forget rhetoric for a few minutes and talk about the numbers. Let us have what I would call a 30 minute lucid interval here. Let us deal with the facts.

Whatever ratio, or test or indices people want to use, I am willing to have a chat about it. If they want to talk about the debt to GDP ratio, or debt reduction, or the cumulative surplus, or the gross domestic product, or the projected gross domestic product, or jobs created, or the unemployment rate, or the interest, or the inflation rate or the consumer confidence rate, they can pick whatever indices they want and we can have a chat about it.

However the bottom line is the economy is performing healthily. The reason is that the fundamentals are correct, the programs are there, the fiscal and monetary stabilizers are in place and they are working.

Dealing specifically with the provisions of the budget that have a direct effect on small business, I am very pleased to talk about some them.

The first one I want to mention is the increase in the small business deduction from $200,000 to $300,000. This is a very healthy development. In a lot of cases we have small start-up businesses. They make some money. All of a sudden they get beyond the $200,000 threshold and they get into a higher tax bracket. That $200,000 threshold has been moved to $300,000 which will have a very positive effect in our business community.

The second item which I am very pleased with is the elimination of the capital tax. The capital tax does not tax profit but it taxes the goods that make the profit, the capital. It was a regressive tax. I am a member of the finance committee. Three years in a row we have recommended the elimination of the capital tax. I am very pleased the government has followed up on that recommendation and the capital tax will be eliminated over the next four years.

I am also very pleased that the government has seen fit to decrease the air traveller's security fee from $12 to $7, which is a healthy development, especially for the short haul routes in the smaller regional airports.

I am very pleased the government is continuing with the innovation agenda. We have the increases to the granting councils, the increases in government funding to the universities for indirect costs of research and the scholarship fund. All these items add to the continuing of the innovation agenda which I submit will be very healthy for the Canadian economy.

I was very pleased the government announced an increase in the RRSP limits. This allows Canadians to plan for their retirement. It also provides a pool of capital for Canadian business. This will go to $18,000 over the next four years.

I am also very pleased the government announced that it will continue with the skills and training agenda. This is so important for the future or our economy.

I am also very pleased the government has announced a $30 million expenditure to increase investor confidence in the area of securities regulation.

The employment insurance premiums have been decreased. I believe that is 10 years in a row.

The government has also announced a decrease in taxes for income from resource revenue, decreasing 21% over the next five years.

Most important, I believe the message is there by virtue of a balanced budget. This sends a very clear message to all Canadians that the trends will be there in the future.

The government has also made very significant strategic investments in child care, environment, cities, child poverty and health care which very clearly define the link between social spending and economic policy.

I realize my time is up. I want to say to the House and to all Canadians that I support the budget. I urge my colleagues in the House to support the budget. We are laying the foundation for the future of the country. It asks us to all move forward with commitment, with confidence and with courage.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague from Prince Edward Island a couple of questions that are close to his area of concern.

The budget was very clear in the fact that it did not in any way adequately support the men and women of our Coast Guard. As he knows, the Coast Guard plays a vital role in the economy and in the security and protection of Atlantic Canada as well as the rest of the country for that matter. The moneys as stated in the budget are clearly inadequate compared to the moneys for which it has been looking. Could he comment on why the budget neglected those concerns?

As well, last October the Prime Minister stated in a big press conference in Ottawa that parks were one of his major priorities and that they would be creating 10 more national parks throughout the country, including five marine parks. However everyone in that conference and everyone who has worked on this file for many years has stated that the minimum amount required is $200 million over a five year period. Again the budget fell way short of those recommendations.

Why has the budget so inadequately addressed these two serious issues which affect the country?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what to say to my learned friend about the Coast Guard but the budget that I have read very clearly states that the Canadian Coast Guard will receive, and I may stand to be corrected, either $75 million or $90 million for additional capital requirements which I think is a very important announcement. That was in the budget. That is to start to replace the fleet, which hon. members have pointed out is needed. I read it. I am certainly pleased that it is there. I point out to my learned friend that it is there and that he should read it and applaud the government for doing that.

I want to applaud the government for the initiative on the national parks. While it was not in the budget, in the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister announced 10 new national parks for Canada, which is a tremendous initiative. These parks would be in remote areas of the country which I think would expand the infrastructure of our park system which is a tremendous development.

Again, I applaud the government for both the increase in the funding for the Coast Guard and for the announcement that we will be creating 10 additional national parks.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question for the Liberal member from Prince Edward Island is pretty straightforward. Why is the member against his own farmers of Prince Edward Island?

The APF, agricultural policy framework, which is part of the budget, is not popular with the PEI industry. According to Doug LeClair, Executive Director of the PEI Federation of Agriculture, the island agriculture leadership wants nothing to do with it. That is why he says that this should remain unsigned. Still the member stands here and supports a budget that will hurt farmers in his own riding.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, as my learned friend is aware, recently the Prime Minister announced that $5.2 billion in additional funding would be made available for the agricultural industry across Canada. The agricultural policy framework followed an across-Canada consultation. It will provide additional funding for technology, for support for farmers, for environmental and for technology issues. This is a good development. It will lay the foundation for our agriculture industry into the future.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was not going to stand but after I heard that reply, I have to ask this question. Would the hon. member please tell the House just how long a timeframe that $5.2 billion is extended over? It is not a one year program. It is over a number of years. Does he know how many years that $5.2 billion is extended over?

Can he honestly say this? Has he not been listening to the producers of this country when they say they do not want the APF? All of a sudden he stands here in the House and, through the budget, says that it is the best thing since sliced bread. How long is that $5.2 billion extended over?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am amazed that a member of the Progressive Conservative Party would even participate in this debate. I know the member has heard it before that in 1993 inflation was 11%, unemployment was 11%, the deficit was $42 billion and debt to GDP ratio was 71%. I have done my own calculation. If that party had been in power for another 20 minutes, we would have gone broke.

Going back to my learned friend's question, the $5.2 billion was announced. It is an excellent announcement for the farmers of our country.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Yolande Thibeault Liberal Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to address the House this morning. I am very proud to be part of a government whose priority it is to improve the quality of life of all Canadians.

I am especially proud of the fact that in the 2003 budget our government decided once again to address what I consider to be a very serious problem. I am talking about homelessness, a tragedy for thousands of people, especially young people who find themselves in this hopeless situation.

The dichotomy between those whose personal situation is improving and those whose situation is getting worse also exists in my riding.

At the dawn of this century when the effects of globalization and technological innovation are increasingly transforming not only the relationships between countries but also the daily life of all citizens, I feel we must pay special attention to the life of the community.

In an address to the House in October 1999, I commended the programs, then in their infancy, set up specifically for the homeless. I said that these measures could lose their effectiveness and end up being too scattered if they were not all coordinated by a single minister.

Today I would like to reiterate my comments and pay tribute to my colleague, the hon. Minister of Labour and federal coordinator on homelessness, whose efforts have been remarkable, and who has demonstrated such energy and sensitivity when it comes to working on this complex and difficult issue. She understands that thousands of Canadians have an urgent and pressing need for help.

Allow me to provide some context for homelessness. Who are the homeless in Canada? It is estimated that half of those who live on the streets are people with a history of mental illness, people who have been discharged from psychiatric care and have nowhere to go.

There are also single parent families. There are also youth who have dropped out of school, who live on the street and who have not received the needed education or who are not ready to find a job and certainly not to hold one down.

We need a broad understanding of the problem in order to develop and implement programs and services that will provide support for all those who have no home.

Anyone can become homeless, regardless of age, gender or ethnic origin. Homelessness does not discriminate, one could say.

The fate of the homeless is such a pressing issue across the country that our government has announced that the supporting communities partnership initiative, or SCPI program, will be renewed for two years. The government will provide $135 million per year over two years in order to help communities solve this problem.

Even a government with the best intentions, and even all levels of government working together, will never be able to solve the homelessness problem without the support of all Canadians.

Homelessness is a problem that affects all of society, and all of society must fight it together. We need to develop approaches and initiatives together with public administrations, community groups, educational institutions, the private sector and everyone who wants to contribute to the betterment of their community.

In closing, I would like to raise another point from the 2003 budget that is near and dear to me. I am referring to the announcement made by the Prime Minister of Canada last week on the action plan developed by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs to promote official languages.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, and I am very proud to support and applaud this government initiative.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will preface my question to the hon. member by asking her what has happened with the $753 million of homeless funding initiated three years ago and now at the end of its three year program?

Homeless counts are up 60%. Nationally, few shelter spaces have been added to the system. In Edmonton this winter, an LRT station was opened to put homeless people up on a few square feet of concrete floor. That is the progress that has been made in three years with $753 million. In Edmonton alone, some $20 million went into homeless funding and the result has been people sleeping on LRT floors. There has been no progress made if that is the result of it.

I ask the member opposite, what exactly does the government intend to do with the additional $400 million? Will the homeless count be up again?