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House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member talk about a number of things and I noticed that his remarks focused on equalization.

My riding is in northern Ontario. I would argue that in relation to southern Ontario, it is disadvantaged. Like much of Newfoundland and Labrador, we are a resource based economy and have often raised concerns about shipping our resources south and elsewhere and not always getting back from the provincial treasury what we have felt is our fair share.

The Federal Economic Development Agency for northern Ontario, FedNor, an agency of the federal government, does not and should not provide the southern parts of Ontario with complete assurance that we are getting our fair share, but the federal government is doing its best to balance the scales.

I am sure the member has a sense of fairness. Would he not consider that there are other federal programs such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Newfoundland and Labrador share of the recent health accord and numerous other federal initiatives that provide his part of this vast country with its fair share of the nation's riches? We are a fortunate nation in that regard. Would he not at least allow a little room to consider that Ontario never benefits from equalization and therefore northern Ontario never benefits from it either, and not to pit one region against another? The federal government does step in in other ways to balance things out. Would the member at least concede a little room that things are not as unfair as he might have suggested in his remarks?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with the hon. member. There are all kinds of good programs that the federal government has come up with which have helped Atlantic Canada. I can refer specifically to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, ACOA.

ACOA has been good to the Atlantic region. It has helped Newfoundland and Labrador quite a great deal. I cannot help but feel that these programs are not doing the job that they should be doing.

I do not know if the member was here when I was telling the House about the budget that will be brought down today in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is a $4 billion budget with a $600 million deficit for a little area such as Newfoundland and Labrador that has a population of 500,000. It is scandalous to have that much of a deficit.

We have so much in the way of natural resources. It becomes frustrating when these programs, such as ACOA, which were originally intended to give poorer areas in the Atlantic region a leg up do not really seem to be producing or putting the economy back on its feet the way they should.

It would be more beneficial if the federal government said to Newfoundland and Labrador, for instance, that since it is into the Voisey's Bay development, and it is a big development--the largest nickel find in the world--and since the Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery has gone down quite a great deal, the federal government would help by giving perhaps a five year equalization clawback holiday.

In that way the province could reap some of the benefits that Voisey's Bay would produce or that the much improved crab and shrimp fishery would be producing. It is a billion dollar industry. Maybe the federal government would give an equalization clawback holiday. The federal government would not make a complete change in the program, but would give a holiday so that the province could reap some benefits from the royalties from Hibernia, White Rose, Ben Nevis or Voisey's Bay.

In that way, when Newfoundland and Labrador would get its standard of living up to the national average and would be able to compete economically with the rest of the country, then the federal government would reimpose the original equalization clawback provision. That would be a step in the right direction for the federal government to take for provinces in need.

I can readily identify with the hon. member's comments with respect to his own area in northern Ontario because there are problems there as well. These things should be worked out for these poorer areas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member's speech. I was particularly interested in his comments regarding the huge debt that students face in this country and the real tepid measures in this budget to do anything about it.

I have ideas about things I would like to see done. I would like to hear more from the hon. member since he talked about the huge debt, up to $50,000 and sometimes even more, for a graduating student. How would he suggest this should be handled by the Canadian government on behalf of Canadians and particularly on behalf of students in order to allow them to do as we did in our generation, that is to graduate debt free?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a very serious problem for students. As I said a few moments ago, students come to my office on a daily basis. They are so frustrated with the current system. They have a $50,000 debt and are trying to get a job, build a home, obtain a car or look after a mortgage. Their plans to get married have to be put on hold because they cannot afford to have children and to raise them, especially when they have that kind of debt load and debt problem to deal with.

Massive cuts to these federal transfers for post-secondary education resulted in provincial student grants becoming provincial student loans. The old provincial student grant system was a whole lot easier to manage than the provincial student loans that we have today, but maybe we have to take a whole new approach to the way education is financed at the post-secondary level.

Ireland took some progressive steps a number of years ago and introduced, essentially, a free education system. Maybe it is time we had a royal commission to look at the way we finance post-secondary education. It is a very important area. The future and well-being of the country depends solely upon the educational system that we have and how people are able to take advantage of it and avail themselves of it.

Maybe it is time we had a truly progressive think tank who sat down and had a look at post-secondary education, using the models that Ireland used a number of years ago to finance its educational system.

I do not have an answer that I can provide for the hon. member in a nutshell, but it is of sufficient importance to warrant some kind of new approach to the whole system of financing education in Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin.

It is my pleasure this afternoon to join in the debate on the 2003 budget, the budget implementation act, Bill C-28. This gives me a good occasion to talk about the recent budget tabled by the Minister of Finance last month and some of the important measures that are in this bill.

There are a variety of topics that I am interested in and are covered in the budget including things like health care, infrastructure, defence, the environment, and many other issues, such as help for the homeless people in our country.

The budget process is the most important process of the year for the federal government and budget day is the most important day because it is the day when the decisions are announced on a process that begins many months before. In fact, shortly after the previous budget is announced the process begins for different departments, different interests, and different groups who have ideas about what should be in the budget. Whether they be groups of members of Parliament or groups in departments, they begin their initiatives to get their priorities included in the budget process by trying to get as much funds as they can for the initiatives they want to see funded.

When the budget day is announced, it is the accumulation of a long process of working through all these priorities and announcing what the priorities are for the government, and how the resources of the government and taxpayer dollars will be spent that year. It is an important day and an important process.

This particular budget was important in a variety of ways. First, it was important in terms of health care. I had a number of meetings in my riding of Halifax West in January of this year to talk about health care. I had a series of four forums across different parts of Halifax West and heard from people in my riding about their needs and concerns: to make health care our top priority and to keep health care a publicly paid system. They did not want a private system of health care. People in my riding have strong views about this and strongly stated that they want to maintain the publicly paid and publicly delivered system.

The increase in transfers for health care to the provinces in the federal budget was very satisfying. It was good to see that. Of course, we always want to see more money and the government puts in as much as it can. We must recognize that health care, while it is the number one priority of Canadians, is also one of many priorities. There are other important priorities like the environment, our cities and many other things.

Let us talk about some of the things that the budget did in relation to health care. It provides, for example, a five year, $16 billion health reform fund. This is the key to this because I heard, throughout the forums that I held with people in Halifax West, that people wanted to see the kind of thing that Roy Romanow talked about in his report. They wanted to see money being put into health care to buy change, to make a better system, and to build a system that is more sustainable for Canada.

That is exactly what this $16 billion health reform fund is all about. It is for the provinces and territories to target primary health care, home care and catastrophic drug coverage. Those are certainly areas of concern that I heard about from people in my riding. I also heard about it elsewhere, whether in letters to me, e-mails, or from people I run into at the local mall or wherever. These are big issues, particularly in relation to home care. I had a lot of people call me with their concerns about caring for elderly people, about getting home care for themselves, and about not having an adequate system in our province of Nova Scotia.

The problem in Nova Scotia has some similarities to the rest of the country. There are challenges in home care across the country, but I can tell members that in our province, where we have a $13 billion debt for a very small province, there is no question that it is a crushing burden on the ability of the provincial government to pay for services like this. Now, there are things that the province could do better, perhaps provide better services and do a better job on home care, but there are things this money would enable the province to do that it could not do before. Nationally, this $16 billion would be very important in terms of helping move forward the area of home care and other areas, in particular primary health care.

In fact, I am going soon to a clinic in the north end of Halifax which is already an operating example of primary health care in action. I look forward to seeing that because it is important to look at new ways to do things which will make more sense, provide better long term health care and also provide us with the maximum bang for our buck in our health care dollars.

Another item that is part of the health care expenditure is $9.5 billion in increased cash transfers to the provinces and territories over the next five years. That is important because clearly the provinces and territories have their own challenges to face in terms of meeting their current needs. It is one thing to put money in, change the system and create a better system. However, while we create that new system, we also have to maintain the existing system and obviously pay for the acute care that is so important to Canadians.

There is also an immediate investment of $2.5 billion through Canada health and social transfer to relieve existing pressures in the health care system. That is immediately, in this fiscal year which ends in a few days. That will be very helpful in the current fiscal year.

There is the $1.5 billion over three years for a diagnostic medical equipment fund to improve access to publicly funded diagnostic services. One vital thing is these funds are not only to be used to pay for new MRIs, CAT scans and even PET scanners, which I have learned about recently, but they also will be used to help provide new technicians and doctors who are trained to manage or to run these systems and to interpret what the diagnostic systems tell them. It is important that we move forward in this area because clearly one of the big concerns people have is waiting lines.

Not only is it important to have more people trained to run these machines and interpret and work with the machines but it is also important to co-ordinate better the system of using these machines. One thing Mr. Romanow talked about was this. How long people wait to get an MRI or CAT scan is not always a question of how many are available or how long the wait is overall. Sometimes it can be a question of people's doctors and how long their lists are. Really there ought to be more co-ordination among hospitals and doctors. There needs to be a better information system so that people are in line one after another and not depending on which doctor they have. There should be a proper system to get them there as quickly as possible. I think this will help to do that.

Another item is $600 million to accelerate the development of secure electronic patient records. One thing we heard through the process on the review of health care in Romanow report and the Kirby report was that patient information was not always shared properly. There needs to be a quicker way to do that. Putting money into electronic records will help doctors share information quickly with other doctors or hospitals. It will get information to a person's file quickly so medical personnel know about their health background and will enable them to help more quickly and avoid problems as well.

Another item is $500 million for research hospitals for the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Clearly putting money into research in a health care area is another priority for Canadians and another area in which they think is very important for us to spend.

I know I only have a short time left and there are many other issues I would like to cover. There are so many other things that are funded in the budget. I am pleased that I could talk about health which is clearly the top priority of Canadians. However there are other things we should talk about for a moment.

I want to talk about infrastructure because the budget provides more funds for infrastructure. I would like to see more over the long run. I hope we can increase those funds in the coming years. In ridings like mine, Halifax West, it is probably the fastest growing area east of Ottawa. The growth is not being met with the kind of facilities we need, whether it be roads, rinks, schools or various other kinds of facilities. We do not pay for schools through this program, but obviously there are other kinds of things which would be important to assist a growing area like mine that needs those kinds of facilities. Therefore I am pleased to see the increased investment on top of the $5.25 billion already allocated in recent budget for infrastructure.

After my work on the Prime Minister's task force on urban issues, I see this as a very important area. We have to keep working on this.

I am pleased to see money for the environment. I want to see us put more money into things like transit. I look forward to progress in these areas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the member for Halifax West's comments on this very good federal budget. I would just point out a fact of political life in Ontario and ask him to comment in the hope that things are not much different in his province.

Around the time the Prime Minister was negotiating with the premiers and territorial leaders, he tried to impress upon them the importance of accountability. If the federal government was to transfer money to the provinces, money a commitment that was almost historic in its size, he insisted on our behalf that the provinces provide, not to the federal government but to the people of Canada, some accountability so Canadians would know that every dollar of this new federal transfer was going into health care in their provinces. The Premier of Ontario at that time said that he was not sure Ontario would use all the new federal health money for health care, which of course would be a tragedy because of the need for increased investment in health care.

In the experience in his province, is there an understanding by the public of how important the federal investment is in health care, even though it is the responsibility of the provinces to deliver that health care? Does he agree with me that accountability to the public, to citizens, is a key part of the puzzle?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin for that excellent question because it gives me a chance to talk about something I had not talked about and had forgotten about briefly, which is of course accountability.

I can assure him that in my riding and in the forums I held accountability was a priority and an item that would come up frequently in people's comments. They wanted to see this money spent well. They wanted to see new money from the federal government to the provinces for health care being spent on health care. That was a vital concern of theirs, to ensure that it not be spent on things like lawn mowers or other things which we heard about, regrettably.

They also wanted to see measures of performance in health care that were independent of provincial governments. They wanted something of a national system, something like a national council like Roy Romanow suggested, that could look at how each province was performing and give people nationally a picture of how the health care systems in their own provinces were performing. They could then assess them in comparison to other provinces and try to determine whether people were really getting value for their money.

To me that is vital. It is something we have heard constantly. People say that it is costing more and more for health care. They believe they are paying enough money for health care and they should be able to have a very good publicly paid system. However they want to know that it is being managed well.

How do we do that if we do not have some system nationally of overseeing the system, of examining it, measuring it and comparing it as well as going over things like research and trying to ensure that we are going in the right direction, in a variety of ways, in improving the management of our health care system nationally? I constantly heard about this priority in Halifax West.

I was surprised that the representative from my province in those meetings, Jane Purves the minister of health, did not feel that accountability should be a priority. I think that as a result of the meetings, we do have some accountability process but I hope we can strengthen that in the future.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with the previous speaker, the member for Halifax West, as we debate the most important piece of work that a government does in the cycle of a parliamentary year, that being the federal budget.

I would like to congratulate the Minister of Finance on his first budget. I believe the broad measures in this budget will benefit everyone. The budget continues the Liberal government's record of strong fiscal management while at the same time making investments in key areas such as health care and support for Canadian families.

Budget 2003 heralds a moment of great opportunity for Canada. Where once we followed the economic performance of other nations, today Canada leads the way in growth, job creation and debt reduction. Canada led the group of seven nations, the G-7, in growth last year and we expect to do the same in 2003.

I would like to point out for the benefit of members, and some of them may have noticed this in their offices a few weeks ago, a scorecard produced each year by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. This scorecard covers the last fiscal year and I expect that next year's card will be even better. If I could, I will just provide members in the House a summary of the results.

We forget sometimes that when we were elected in 1993 we inherited an annual deficit at the time of $42 billion a year. Every year $42 billion was being added to the total debt of the country. Now we are in our sixth budget year that we will have a surplus.

We tend to take for granted the impact that has on the finances of the nation. It allows us to make extra investments in health care. It allows us to support economic development in our regions. It allows us to reduce EI premiums. It allows us to participate in the rebuilding of Afghanistan and now, tragically, the rebuilding that will be needed in Iraq. It gives is the flexibility not only to serve our own citizens better and provide a better future for our children and grandchildren but it also allows us to play a very positive part in the search, as difficult as it might be sometimes, for global peace.

Let me just give members the highlights of the scorecard. The debt to GDP ratio came in at 7.1. All these numbers are out of 10. The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants says that this is the best score in more than a decade. According to their report, the year's score reflects a meaningful reduction in government debt as a percentage of GDP over the past five years. The surplus to GDP ratio came in at 8.6. Again all these numbers are out of 10. The report goes on to suggest that once again the Canadian economy staying in surplus is still the best result among the G-7 nations.

I will conclude with the fifth item here, which is foreign held debt in relation to net government debt. This came in at a perfect score of 10. Currently only 17% of our national debt is foreign held, a clear indication of strengthened fiscal position. That means the 83% of national debt is held by Canadians and Canadian pension funds. That is very important because 83% of our interest payments on national debt goes to Canadians, whereas at one time our foreign debt was, in percentage terms, very large. That percentage is dwindling and that is thanks to a very aggressive, positive and assertive debt management practice by the government.

I would like to go on by suggesting that Canada's resilient economic performance is thanks to not only the efforts of the government but the sacrifices of all Canadians. It is a testament to the federal government's responsible fiscal record since elected in 1993.

Budget 2003 recognizes the critical link between social and economic policy. This means building the society Canadians value, building the economy Canadians need and building the accountability Canadians deserve. It means making investments in the needs of individual Canadians, their families and communities; remaining fiscally prudent and deficit free, while promoting productivity, innovation, skills and learning; and making government more accountable to Canadians.

Through budget 2003, the government continues to build a society that responds to the challenges we face as a nation and capitalizes on the opportunities available to us all. The budget fosters a successful economy and continues to deliver prudent management of Canada's finances.

I will summarize the broad thrust of the budget. The previous speaker gave an excellent description of the initiatives under health care so I will not go into great detail, but I will underline that the investment of $34.8 billion over five years in support of Canada's health care system will pay significant dividends.

I concur with the member when he says that the public wants accountability. The public wants to know that this new federal investment, plus the provincial commitments to health care, will indeed be spent to improve health care and to bring us closer to improved core funding of our hospitals and move us toward a national home care system and a national system to deal with the catastrophic cost of drugs that some families have to face.

The budget also provides support for families, children, Canadians with disabilities, communities of all sizes and aboriginal communities, and it includes six weeks of EI benefits to allow for the care of a gravely ill family member.

I will say a few things about the initiatives in support of our families, such as the increase to the national child benefit supplement which the federal government, together with the provinces and territories, established in 1997. They established this benefit to help families with children get off welfare. Since that time, the government has seen a reduction in welfare dependency and child poverty.

Budget 2003 announces a significant increase in the benefits to children living in low income families through the Canada child tax benefit. This benefit provides increases to the annual supplement of $150 per child in 2003 and an additional $185 per child in each of 2005 and 2006. This will bring the maximum total child benefit for a first child to $2,642 in 2003, growing to $3,243 in 2007. In fact, assistance to families is projected to reach over $10 billion by 2007, more than double the level of 1996.

All Canadians have an interest in ensuring that all Canadians benefit from our education system, our productivity and our economic growth. We cannot allow any part of our society to be left behind, whether it is on issues of literacy or it is simply an issue of insufficient income to provide the basic necessities, which in their own way prevent some people from taking advantage of those best parts of Canadian life and what this country has to offer. We simply cannot afford to leave anybody behind.

I would go on to add that for those who have members of their family with disabilities and who are caring for children with severe disabilities it imposes a very heavy burden on families. In recognition of this, effective July 1, budget 2003 introduces a new $1,600 child disability benefit. This will be targeted to children with a severe and prolonged mental or physical impairment.

The federal government will also give Canadians with disabilities the tools they need to actively participate in Canadian society. In so doing, the federal government is renewing a funding commitment of $193 million per year to assist disabled persons in strengthening their prospects for employment.

I could go on about the very beneficial impacts that the budget will have on Canadian society but I will conclude by saying that I was very pleased with the new investment in support of our military. We all wish, I am sure, a very quick and peaceful outcome in the Middle East.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to hear the member's comments about people living with disabilities and the families that support them. In that context, I would ask the member why he and other members of his caucus, along with members from the Alliance Party, chose not to support a very important proposal before the House, that being Bill C-206, the private member's bill on caregiver benefits, presented by my colleague, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

The member will know that Bill C-206 was a proposal to the House to deal with the fact that the burden for caregiving falls heavily on women's shoulders and requires a meaningful solution by way of using some of the $45 billion EI surplus.

Given the need that he has identified and the fact that we had a constructive proposal, why did he and so many others in the House choose to vote against that constructive proposal and instead create a situation where families continue to grapple with the need to provide care for children with disabilities, for aging parents, for sick members of their family or for people who are dying, and do so without a meaningful alternative?

I think the member needs to explain to us what was wrong with that proposal and why he and others would reject something that was so positive.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

March 27th, 2003 / 12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe it was recently that we had the vote on Bill C-206. While lauding the initiative of the member who proposed that private member's bill, according to my understanding there were several aspects to the bill that were technically impossible to deliver given the current framework.

I would suggest to the member that Rome was not built in a day. I am sure she could find room in her heart to say that the federal government is at least moving in the right direction. In fact, a number of provisions in Bill C-206 were, as I understand it, announced in the budget and that it might have been a duplication of effort and initiative to support that bill.

That said, the member and I are of one mind when it comes to doing what we can to support those who are disabled or the people who support those who are disabled. I believe she will at least agree with me that the initiatives that have taken place under our watch since 1993 have seen remarkable improvements. However we can agree that there is always room to do better, whether it is this file or the other files that constantly face a government.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, over the years, particularly since I have been here, 1993, we have been picking the government up on wasteful spending, things that really ought not to have occurred. I will not go into any of the detail of them. However over the years nothing has been taken out of the budget of the federal government. It is just a reallocation of dollars.

If we have identified virtually billions of dollars over the last 10 years of inappropriate spending, why has that money remained in the government's coffers? Why do we not cut back on the budget itself and remove those kinds of items?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess it is a matter of perspective. As I said in my remarks, we inherited a huge deficit so clearly we did something right in turning the finances of the country around. He did not give me any specific examples but there were some serious adjustments and cuts in the government's expenditures or we would not have achieved the elimination of the deficit and the long overdue return to surplus.

I would suggest to the member that while no one should ever believe that governments cannot make mistakes, we are not perfect nor is any government, I believe that the citizens of this country have been led by a very responsible government that has managed the resources of the country extremely well in my view and in the view of all those on this side of the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk at length about some of the difficulties with the government's budget in terms of not committing to the national drug strategy, and I will in a minute, but I want to follow up on the comment that was just made by the member across the way.

If the hon. member wants specifics, I did not bring with me the litany I have of wasteful spending by the government, but when we look at some of the research programs that it is into and some of the largesse to friends and relatives and so on, things that were just a complete waste of money, we would have thought that over the years the government would have gone through some kind of zero based budgeting procedure, whereby it would look at all these kinds of expenditures. The government would determine that if it was spent one year and was picked up on, why would it spend that next year and the year after, so it would just be removed from the budget.

That really never was done. The big cuts of the 1994-95 era were made at the expense of the provinces through the equalization formula and the Canada health transfer program as well. That money is really still in the budget. That is a shame, because it will not get out of there until we get in and make those kinds of reductions.

That being said, I want to talk about something else that is not in the budget but that I think is in fact very important to a lot of people in this country. I can recall bringing into this House about two and a half years ago a motion to establish a special committee to study the non-medical use of drugs. It was adopted unanimously. We did 18 months of study on that. We went to Europe to look at programs and we went to Washington, New York and all across the country to see what was going on. We made some recommendations to the House of Commons, and lo and behold, on these 41 recommendations one would have expected the government to acknowledge that it had a committee looking at the drug problem. It acknowledged that in the throne speech and said that it would do something, but when it came time to do something in the budget, which is really what drives the initiatives of a government, nothing was said or done. Why is that?

In the interim, at the time we were meeting on the drug issue, the justice minister happened to announce that he would decriminalize marijuana. He just blurted it out without any particular study. He just said we would do it. The committee was not through with its study or its recommendations, so I think the government had its own agenda. Meanwhile, the Minister of Health said the government was in Vancouver looking at the dreadful situation with hard narcotics, crack and heroin, and he said that he thought the government would get involved in pilot studies and start some so-called safe injection sites. I will get into how safe they are in a minute, but there we had two significant announcements blurted out by two separate ministers, basically unauthorized by government and unsubstantiated by a committee.

In fact, the committee was going in neither direction at the time they were announced. Subsequent to those announcements it turned out that our committee, which had a majority of government members, started to move toward recommendations based on safe injection sites and the decriminalization of marijuana. We knew where that direction came from.

I am at a loss as to just exactly why there is no money in the budget for some of the recommendations that we did make. It seems to me that these recommendations were not all that tough, one being “the appointment of a Canadian Drug Commissioner, statutorily mandated to monitor, investigate and audit the implementation of a renewed Canada's Drug Strategy”. To us that made infinite sense. We would put one person in charge and finally get some direction among these departments. The two worst we found were Corrections Canada, courtesy of the former solicitor general, not this one--but it does not matter, it is still there--and Health Canada. We found that the two worst departments were actually heading the drug strategy itself.

We wanted to appoint a drug commissioner to try to get these departments in line and follow some form of notable and practical prioritization of the issues. We asked why a biennial cross-Canada survey could not be undertaken. It would cost money, but not that much money in comparison to the cost of the drug issue itself.

Lo and behold, we found out that in 1997 the government, as some form of cost cutting measure, decided it would no longer survey our young people on the use of drugs in our country. Canada is the only country in the western hemisphere not to do this. We were the only committee ever in a democratic House that did not have that kind of data available to us when we sat down to discuss the drug issue itself. Why? Because the government said it did not need to know how much our kids are using and decided to just ignore it. We asked the government to put some money back in and let us survey and find out where we are at in this country. That was not done.

Let us find out, we said, and let us make a recommendation that under a renewed Canada drug strategy Health Canada be provided with “dedicated research funds” to systematically and regularly collect and retrieve various information across Canada. Notwithstanding the fact that Health Canada was doing diddly-squat on the drug issue, we asked for it to be given some money to see if this could be organized. Was it included in the budget? No, it was not.

We asked what else we could do. We could try to implement “effective Canada-wide mass media prevention and education campaigns”. That is not done in this country today. I think that Canada is the only country that does not. We said, “Let us put some money into the education of our young people and let them know how serious the drug issue is”. We made this recommendation and expected it to be in the budget. It was not there. Maybe the government did something else.

We recommended that the government recognize the need to treat individuals addicted to drugs “in a timely manner”. We suggested putting in some money for that. Was it done? No, it was not. Today this country is virtually void of any effective and consistent national strategy on detoxification of people addicted to drugs. Rehabilitation is almost non-existent for many tens of thousands of addicts, very many of them under the age of 25.

What consistency do we get in this country? What kind of programming do we have? How is it supported? The fact is, it is not supported. It is not supported by government even though it had these recommendations. The government could have said that because this is becoming a real problem--which it already is but at least we could get an acknowledgement--the government would fund something, not a big program, but fund something and see what it could get with that.

We made more recommendations. We talked about a pilot project of “the establishment of two federal correctional facilities reserved for offenders who wished to serve their sentence in a substance-free environment”. Corrections Canada is a virtual sieve for drugs. It is the worst anywhere that we could find. Quite frankly, it would take very little to clean it up. We suggested that two of the prisons in Canada be dedicated to drug and alcohol rehabilitation and detoxification. That would not take very much, quite frankly. I talked to the last solicitor general about it, who actually listened. I know that supposedly we have zero tolerance in prisons, but that is not quite the way it is. It is in the commissioner's directives, but it is not the way it is.

Let us take two facilities. There are facilities such as this. I have been in them. I have been in them in the United States, actually, where they were very effective, where zero tolerance meant zero tolerance but the people who went into these prisons went in there by application and recommendation before they were released from prison so they could get their act cleaned up before they got out. They were not sending inmates out of prison addicted to drugs. I do not think that is such a lofty goal that it could not be achieved or at least tried. It could at least be tried. It has not been and there is no indication in the budget that it will be.

I want to talk about the cost of the decriminalization of marijuana. A lot of people in this country are saying that we should decriminalize marijuana because we do not want young people to get criminal convictions for having a joint or two. That would make sense to virtually everybody, I would think. The difficulty with this concept as the government will come out with it, which scares the living daylights out of me, is that it does not quite have the concept right. It is not going to be good enough to just say “30 grams of marijuana is for personal use” and if a person uses that there will be a summary conviction, which is a fine.

Here is the problem. Thirty grams of marijuana basically rolls anywhere from 30 to 60 joints or, if they are thin, up to 70 joints. That is not personal use. If someone is hanging around with 30, 40 or 50 joints in their pockets, that is not personal use in my opinion. In fact, in Holland 30 grams was personal use and they reduced it to five grams. Five grams makes anywhere from three to seven joints.

If the government said that it would give people that, that it would decriminalize five grams, it means that if someone is caught with roughly five grams there is a fine. That seems simple enough. We would not give a criminal record to those who are caught with that, like students, the university students, the high school students and so on and so forth. That sort of makes sense.

The problem with that concept is that before this goes into place the government has to come up with some conditions. Some of this costs money. It should have been in the budget. There have to be conditions upon which one goes from five grams to a criminal conviction for marijuana.

The conditions are these. After the five grams, the legal industry out there, the judges and the lawyers, has to understand that somewhere there is a criminal offence. There has to be some kind of sentencing grid or schedule. Otherwise, decriminalization is a waste of time. As it is today, for a person caught with 50 grams, in British Columbia courtrooms the judge usually will say, “Bad guy. Don't do it again. Go home.” That is not a criminal offence. That is not how a criminal offence is treated.

The problem will be if the government does not come in with a condition that will treat five grams as decriminalized, and for over five grams, if the sentencing grid is not identified then we have the same problem all over again. It is just a different amount, that is all. This has to be taken care of. There has to be some money spent, not only for training of these judges and lawyers, if we can imagine that they need it, but a commitment on it has to be received from all the provinces.

There also has to be a schedule for the fines that are imposed. The provincial attorneys general have told me that they already have a difficult time collecting on summary convictions, speeding fines and so on, so all the federal government would do is throw more fines at the provinces for collection. They cannot collect what they already have, so how are we going to do this?

When I meet with the advocates for the legalization of marijuana from time to time they tell me that even if we fine them they will not pay the fines.They said that they would force us to take them to court and that they would hold their breath, cross their arms and wait for the judges to eventually say that they cannot deal with it so it might as well be legalized.

What have we achieved so far? We have achieved nothing, but that has to be a condition of decriminalization. We need to have a progressive fine schedule, which has to be a condition, whether it is $200, $400, $600 or whatever. The inconsistency in the courts today is a serious problem. We need to have a consequence of the payment of fines. Fine revenues should be directed to the communities where they were collected. We made that recommendation in the drug strategy itself. We also need a national advertising program on the problems with drugs, which was not in the budget. We asked for it to be in the budget. What is the point of going through all this stuff if we are not telling the young people that there is something wrong with it?

The whole process of implementing these kinds of strategies in this nation, which are very important, is being ignored on the other side. Unless there is something to back it up with money and action, it is lip service.

We asked for a national advertising program but it was not done. We need drug driving laws and roadside assessments to be in place before we decriminalize. That has not been done. These things are all left alongside because some minister blurts out what the government will do and the amount that it will do it with, with absolutely no forethought to all the other issues.

I will talk very briefly, because I will have time to talk about it a little later, about the national sex offender registry, which I, quite frankly, wrote about two and a half years ago and modeled it after Christopher's Law in Ontario. It takes money and some commitment to do that. I note that the government has tabled a bill for a national sex offender registry, which was like pulling teeth.

Basically what we asked for was put into the bill, with the exception of the last two pages. I would like to get some kind of logical commitment from the Solicitor General that the government will at least look at the two very serious problems in this, which are serious indeed. We should not use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an excuse not to do what is right because Ontario did not.

The first thing is the idea of retroactivity. If we implement that particular registry and do not include those sex offenders who currently are incarcerated provincially and federally, we are making a very serious mistake. The recidivism rate for those individuals is high and we know that crimes committed tomorrow will be committed by individuals who are sentenced today for sex crimes. I have a long list of them here but it is not worth going through at this point in time. I want the government to understand that that is a very serious problem.

The legislation has two other problems. The government wants to leave it to lawyers, the crown, to make the application for a person to be a sex offender, which is a big mistake. I have a litany of cases where they have made mistakes on that. The government also wants to leave it to a judge to decide, after all this, whether a person goes on to the registry. Again, judges these days are making more and more serious decisions in the negative in courtrooms than ever before. I would not leave it to judges and lawyers in the courtroom to express the will of the Canadian people, which resides here in the House of Commons.

I want to say that a budget is only as good as the issues contained within it. We spend a great deal of time and money in the House of Commons trying to implement a rational, progressive national drug strategy and it has no consequence in the budget. It is not even there in the government's budget. I would hope that the message gets across to the other side.

In closing I want to say that I just listened to Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and the president talking about the war in Iraq. When I listen to Tony Blair, I am so proud and pleased to hear him being so decisive and direct and who knows where he is going. I am embarrassed, to say the least, that what we have on the other side is not even close to that. I hope one day the House of Commons has a leader who is decisive and for whom we can be proud when we send him or her to other countries of the world.

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not embarrassed about Canada or about Canadian military involvement. The member should know that Canada was there in Somalia and Kosovo. On September 11 we received 40,000 Americans and took care of them at a time of crisis in the United States. We were there for the war on terrorism against Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda. Some three weeks ago we committed an additional 2,000 troops to the Afghanistan war on terrorism and freed up resources for the Iraqi theatre.

Canada has a strong and deep relationship with the United States of America. Our reputation as a peacekeeper and as an international champion of human rights is unparalleled. We are a sovereign country. The member should know that Canada is a sovereign country and even the best of friends can disagree but still respect their mutual sovereignty.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

He was talking about Great Britain and Tony Blair, Paul. Wake up.

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

He was talking about being embarrassed about Canada. I am sorry he is embarrassed but Canada has nothing to be ashamed of. Canada has been beside our neighbour, our best friend and our largest trading party on virtually every operation that the United States has led, whether it was under the UN or otherwise. Kosovo was not under a UN umbrella, the member will remember as well. If he is going to--

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Question.

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

This is question and comments, so just cool your jets. Mr. Speaker, if he--

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1:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. If in fact we are going to be respectful of this institution and its practices, well then let us practice them. I will give the member a few more minutes to wrap up his comment or question of his choosing, but please make all your interventions on either side of the House through the Chair.

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are in very delicate times. The members well know that in times of war and severe conflict that affect the globe as a whole, every nation should be speaking with one voice, and in Canada that is the Prime Minister.

We all regret that some members have said things as individuals and I think their comments are reflective on them, but the member should also acknowledge that it is not a reflection on Canada's attitude toward the United States or the coalition in Iraq, and that Canada will never wear the label that he has given to it as being an embarrassment.

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, no one said anything about being embarrassed to be Canadian. The embarrassment is with the leadership on the other side, quite frankly. I cannot help but be embarrassed about that. I guess it is because I am proud to be a Canadian that I am so embarrassed about the other side.

I happen to have been speaking in San Diego as a guest of the Americans at the time the statement came out from the Prime Minister's Office about the president being a moron. I was speaking in front of many hundreds of people and I have to tell members that the situation was very embarrassing.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member is implying there was a statement from the Prime Minister's Office calling the President of the United States a moron. That is not correct.

There were alleged statements made through the media, yes, but not from the Prime Minister's Office as the member alleges.

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1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

As we say in this place, and I know we mean it respectfully, the minister in this case is engaging in debate and it certainly is not a point of order. On another point of order, the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

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Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would raise the point of relevancy. I do believe the topic at hand is the budget implementation.

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1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think you would find that the Chair, when dealing with matters of relevancy, has been as generous and as flexible as members have in their interpretation of relevancy when they are debating the subject matter of any day.

In this instance it is a little bit easier for the Chair because, respectfully again, the comment and question that came from the government side dealt with the matter that the member is presently trying to address as being irrelevant.

The Chair will certainly accept and listen, as will everyone else, to the response by the member for Langley—Abbotsford to the question that was posed to him from the government side.