This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

The House resumed from March 27, 2003, consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 2003, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is actually a great opportunity to speak on the budget implementation act and, I am sure much to the chagrin of the governing party, an opportunity to comment on what the budget is lacking and the failure of the budget itself to do what it needs to do to better the situation in the country.

I want to start by speaking first on an issue within the budget that is tied directly to my critic area, that being the issue of the infrastructure funding in the budget and, quite frankly, in past budgets, in that it is and they were severely lacking in the amount of dollars needed for transportation infrastructure and other infrastructure.

Certainly in the area of transportation infrastructure there has been a call throughout the country from the municipalities and the provinces that there has to be some real and serious investment by the federal government into infrastructure. We have heard of the numerous cases where water and sewer infrastructure are needed and where problems have arisen, but in the area of transportation we know wholeheartedly that the situation on a number of the roads throughout the country has reached points of absolute crisis and there are safety issues.

We know that the increased transportation of goods by road has put greater stress on the highways. The government's failure to make these improvements has as a result increased the risk to travellers on the roads, for the transport truck drivers as well as for others on the roads in smaller vehicles. The government, in the course of the last month or so, introduced through the transport minister a blueprint for a transportation vision in the country, “Straight Ahead”. I have stated before that it was sort of like straight ahead and off the cliff, because the highway infrastructure just is not there in a lot of areas. It is an increasingly serious problem.

One can have a wonderful vision but if somewhere in that vision one does not put in place the reality factors that have to be there to make that vision happen, there is just no point in talking about it with any serious approach. Quite frankly, that was certainly the case with the funding for transportation infrastructure in the budget.

As I indicated, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities had called on the government for increased infrastructure dollars at the municipal level, for assistance on roads but also with other infrastructure. I am not going to even try to recall what the exact amount was in this budget, because quite frankly when we looked at the different dollars that the government was suggesting for infrastructure, it was another one of these shell games that it often plays, when it says, “We have given money for this program through infrastructure, we have given money for it this year in this program for infrastructure, and in this one”. The reality is that it really is not the whole amount that it suggests it is putting into infrastructure this year, and it still is not nearly enough to meet the needs of Canadians.

I think the figure we came up with was that it would take something like 190 years to address the infrastructure needs in the country with the support that the federal government gives. While doing that, somehow the government suggests that it is okay to have tax cuts in numerous areas, which will not benefit the entire nation but will certainly benefit some businesses. That is disappointing, not that I want to see Canadians taxed to death, and nobody does, but the Canadians I know, who are more or less the middle income, small and medium sized business owners, do not mind paying their fair share. But they want to see something come back in return.

When we hear of tax cuts benefiting huge corporations that often do not even have head offices in Canada, that do not put in the investment that they need to in Canada, it is disappointing. It was no great surprise to see the Premier of Ontario doing the same thing in his budget announcement this past week, where the company in front of which he did his big advertising campaign for the budget is going to reap huge tax breaks in Ontario within the changes in that budget, the same company that gave him a whole lot of money. The premier in Ontario has chosen to do that but in reality the federal budget does the same thing in a lot of areas and that is disappointing, because it will have a direct impact on so many programs throughout the country.

Certainly the budget is lacking in the area of transportation infrastructure. If the government does not make some serious considerations in that area, it will continually get worse. Municipalities and provinces will feel the pressure to get into a privatized toll type of approach to the highway system. Canadians do not want to see that. Everybody says we have to do it but the bottom line is that we would not have to do it if there were priorities within the government and a real effort to make access available to everyone without those additional user fees in place.

As well, the budget is lacking with respect to the issue of housing, extremely so. I noted in some reading I did yesterday that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities again has called for changes to the whole CMHC mortgage structure. This has been a bone of contention with me for the last year or so.

As I did more reading of the propaganda that comes from CMHC, I saw how it was doing all these wonderful investments in different types of housing and in marketing of housing throughout the world, I was going, “Where the heck are they when it comes to putting in place a good CMHC mortgage structure for Canadians to be able access mortgages?” What about working at lowering the interest rates for mortgages in Canada and making them accessible to more people? What about getting rid of the whole attitude of making sure to get every penny out of everybody without making it possible for a good number of people to access housing?

When I see this stuff about how it is going to do the marketing to other countries, I think that it might be important but quite frankly that is not my vision of what CMHC is intended to do. To me, it is intended to be there to offer a good mortgage setup so Canadians are able to access housing. If it wants to go and do marketing, let industry do it. Let outside business do it. We have put enough money into all these different operations so that we can market this and promote the business aspect outside of Canada. How about promoting things that will benefit Canadians?

There was a situation in the community of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, a one industry town. When the mine decided to close a whole lot earlier than it was supposed to, a number of people were left with mortgages. Some of these people were able to get jobs elsewhere and others were not, but they found that at every step of the road or every mile of the road there was a roadblock put in place. They had the insight and the fortitude to go out and get a job. They had mortgages in Leaf Rapids. Some wanted to turn back their mortgages because they could not afford them. They wanted to be able to go somewhere else, get jobs, work and contribute to the tax base of Canada. They were told that they still had to make the mortgage payments in Leaf Rapids and make them somewhere else with whatever income they were making, which probably was less because they did not have the seniority they previously had. For those people who were able to get jobs, it was a struggle.

What also happened, though, was that a number of people were told that they could get a quit order, that it was recognized that the situation was serious, but to get another mortgage after that they would have to wait for two years or put down 25%. The situation was that a family that had just lost its income, and often two incomes because if one in the family moved the other had to move, was trying to go somewhere else. In some situations in other communities they could not rent places; all they could do was buy, but meanwhile they could not get mortgages.

I would like to see a much more accessible and considerate CMHC mortgage operation than what we have seen. Again the budget did nothing to provide affordable housing throughout Canada to address some of those concerns. It went purely on the whole business aspect: “We are going to get every penny out of you even if we get you into the ground and have to stomp on you a couple of times”.

As well, let me suggest that there were some good things within the budget. One of the things mentioned was the accessibility to caregivers' assistance through the EI program for someone wanting to stay at home and look after a family member. There is going to be some time for people to do that, but to me the time that was offered was absolutely a slap in the face to those caregivers who have to leave their jobs to stay at home to look after a family member. A good number cannot and they want the opportunity to be able to do that. Our health care system is going through a challenging time and we have caregivers who are family members. Quite frankly, a good number of those doing this were women. By the nature of the way things worked, it was mostly the women who were willing to take time off work and stay home and look after a family member. There were men too, but it was mostly women, and there were extremely great financial difficulties.

What they wanted to do seemed simple enough. People are paying EI premiums. It is not as if this is something for nothing. People have paid for that insurance. They wanted to take a reasonable amount of time off to look after a family member at home with a terminal illness or a sick child who required acute care. What we were asking for were some real contributions through the EI program to provide people with reasonable time off. I think that what the government came up with was a six week period.

Anyone dealing with people with acute medical needs or a terminal illness knows that they need someone there for more than six weeks of that time. The challenges and emotions that are involved in that kind of family situation are really tough. What does the government respond with? It says it will give someone six weeks to access EI. This is from a government that has taken a $42 billion surplus out of EI. It says it will give back six weeks. This is not about a person receiving money for nothing. If people pay EI premiums, it is an insurance policy.

I once had a discussion with a previous minister and said that with most insurance policies one looks at ways of enhancing programs. If the funds are available, the program should be enhanced and extend what people can be given. What we saw under this government year after year were cuts to benefits, cuts to EI.

My colleagues from the Alliance have argued for cuts to the premiums that people had to pay in. The government gave them every reason to argue that point because it kept having a surplus and did not give the benefits back. I, on the other hand, as a worker had no objection to paying a few hundred dollars a year for an insurance policy which would ensure that if I did not have my job I would be able to collect EI for a period of time. If I had to access the sick and disabled part of EI, I could do that. If for other reasons I had to access EI, I did not begrudge paying that as a worker. I was able to claim it as a tax deduction.

What benefits do most workers and, for that matter, most businesses receive by the cuts to the premiums? Some would argue they are saving all this money in payroll taxes. A good number of small and medium sized businesses out there benefit through training programs they are able to access through human resources and the EI funds. It was not as if someone did not have the opportunity to gain from dollars going into EI.

As I said, as a worker I quite frankly did not mind paying for an insurance policy that was guaranteed. I did not see it as a tax. It was an insurance policy in the same way that I pay my life insurance. I pay so much money so that if I happen to die in an accident at a certain time a specific amount of money is going to come back to assist my family. If by luck I never have to access that life insurance policy, hallelujah brother, it worked out great. I am not going to ask for the money back because I recognize that it is an insurance policy.

That is what EI was intended to be, an insurance policy, so that if rough times fall upon people they are able to benefit from it. What we have seen time and time again are cuts to the EI program, cuts to the benefits, a few minor cuts to the premiums as a result of pressure, and the fact that there is a $42 billion surplus when what we really should have seen was more money going into the benefits side of the EI program so that women and other family members who wanted to stay at home to look after a sick or terminally ill family member could do that.

There is another aspect that should have been accessed under EI. We have called for this before. There are some workers who have worked for 5, 10 or 15 years who have never had to access EI even for minor things, but so be it. They have paid into EI and they might find that they want to try something different, like increasing their educational opportunities. I want to say that it was nurses in Canada who first brought this to my attention. They wanted the opportunity, after working 5 or 10 years in a certain part of the nursing profession, to perhaps enhance that professional training opportunity or to try something a little different like perhaps taking a year off to do some other kind of training. They wanted the opportunity to access EI, an insurance program that they have paid into year after year.

Did the government open up any of those opportunities? We need improved health care in this country. We need more trained people in this country. Did the government offer an opportunity for nurses throughout Canada to enhance their professional training, or to other workers for that matter? No, it stomped on them, saying, “We have a $42 billion surplus and we want to use it to give a tax cut to someone else over here, possibly, what the heck, Bombardier, Groupaction, whoever. We want to make sure all of them get a tax cut”.

However we do not want to open up any better benefits or opportunities for Canadian workers who have paid into these funds. It is not giving them something for nothing. They would access those funds because they paid that insurance. That would have been an enhanced EI program. That is what a good, considerate government with a conscience and caring for its people would have done. However not this government under this budget. It is extremely disappointing that the government had an opportunity to do that with a $42 billion surplus in EI but it never even bothered to think about it.

Another issue came up on EI in the last week or so. Flight attendants were always, in my view, considered part of the flight crew. They are our number one first responder if an airplane goes down. I always said how we expect them not to be injured any more than passengers was always beyond me. However they are considered the persons to respond to emergencies on the plane. Lo and behold flight attendants are not considered part of the flight crew. As a result of them not being considered part of that crew, it has changed the whole concept of how CCRA and human resources will make available to them the opportunity for EI payments.

Every contract with every airline has different kinds of agreements for the flight attendants. I hate to say this because it is disappointing to have to be reminding the government over and over again, but this has opened up a situation where once again mostly women will be challenged as to whether they can access EI payments, even for maternity leave, because of the way the government now sees their hours.

Without getting into how the hours for flight attendants work, we all know that we get on a flight and it leaves at a certain time. The flight attendant is there looking after us, helping out with a family member who might be a little tense or providing assistance if it is needed. If the plane is delayed and it is sitting on the ground waiting, for a lot of flight attendants that is not considered flying time. There are things built into the contract that mean it will be dealt with differently. However the government is not going to acknowledge that. It will only consider the flying time and it will finagle around other agreements flight attendants have as to whether they will be counted as hours worked. As a result, flight attendants will be denied EI benefits.

We are still working on this one and I hope the government will have the decency and conscience to recognize that if the flight attendant has to sit there and wait an hour and a half while the plane gets back on track that time will be considered as time worked and allow them to use that time to collect EI.

I know I only have a short period of time left but there were so many other things I wanted to mention. Let me just get on to a couple in that short two minutes.

I wanted to mention the situation with the seniors' access to pension. Once again, a government with any conscience would not put into place a rule that says if seniors did not let the government know they wanted this pension which was rightfully due, then they would not receive it because the time had expired.

These are our most vulnerable people in society as a result of cuts the government has made to health care, housing and numerous areas. They have paid their dues to Canadian society time and time again and have worked hard to get us good programs. Our seniors have supported health care over the years. With the Canada pension plan, seniors have been paying that for us. What is the government doing? It is telling them that if they did not apply on time they will not receive their pension which they were rightfully due. They might get $15,000 to $16,000 a year and the government expects them to live on that, and it will not give them any extra cash.

That is absolutely unacceptable from a caring, considerate country such as Canada, and obviously acceptable to the government, which is not okay for Canadians. I hope Canadians will recognize that next time around when they have seen the actions of this government in a number of areas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her intervention. I point out that the government has in the budget dealt with families, communities and with real Canadians. We have done it in a way which is fiscally responsible. We have no deficit again, with a balanced budget or better, which is the sixth in a row. We have been able to deal with health care.

I know the member is very concerned about health care. There will be $34.8 billion going into health care over five years. We have reduced EI premiums to $1.98 and we will have the commission look at future changes in EI, about which I know the member is concerned.

We are concerned about the fact that communities need to have the support. Through both the strategic infrastructure fund and the national infrastructure fund, there will be leveraging of money from the provinces and communities to help.

Governments are elected for a maximum of five years. During that five years they make targeted investments and do it in a fiscally responsible way.

Could the member comment on the issue of child poverty and on the important contributions the government has recognized with regard to poor and disadvantaged families in this budget? Could the member comment on how that will impact in particular on communities in her riding?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

There is no question, Mr. Speaker, that a lot of work needed to be done. There is also no question that a lot still has not been done. Quite frankly the government's priorities were out of whack in some of the areas.

No one was suggesting that we do not want to get rid of debt and deficit. Absolutely a government does that. However the bottom line is Canadians paid for those savings, not the government with all its fancy finagling and book work. Canadians paid with loss of services. Most Canadians did not benefit from decreased taxes or premiums or this kind of thing.

There is no question there is a lot of work to be done, but there was also a lot of wastage of government dollars. I believe that happened within the gun registry, not gun control. These are two different things. I strongly support gun control. A much better job could have been done to ensure safety for Canadians through good gun control rather than through the mismanagement of the gun registry or that whole registry process which I think was just a sham to appease some people, giving an impression that it was going to provide safety when it was not going to.

There was also the money that was wasted through the whole Groupaction scandal. When Canadians hear someone say, “It was only a billion dollars, a bit of wastage here and we had to do this”, my gosh that money would have gone so far in those communities experiencing poverty to ensure that there was proper housing, proper dollars for schools and proper funding for increased infrastructure, for roads. So much more could have been done.

It is fine to say that we are putting this in, but year after year the government cut so much that it could have done a great deal more. We have to see that money go to where it is needed and that is not happening.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very attentively to the hon. member for Churchill who gave a very thoughtful speech that touched on, I felt, some extremely important points.

I would like to ask her some questions, because she spoke about poverty. She also talked about those seniors who were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement due to a lack of information.

I want to ask if she thinks that it is right—and the employment insurance fund is another example—for the government to boast about reducing the national debt on the backs of the workers, the unemployed and the elderly. I know that several billion dollars belong to the workers and not to the state. It did not contribute one dime to this fund. This money belongs to the workers. Some $3 billion belongs to the seniors who were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement.

Does she think it is right for this money to be used to pay down the national debt, when these people did not incur the federal debt. I would like to get her reaction to this.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. I know my colleague worked very hard on the issue of the guaranteed income supplement. It took a good three years of constant badgering before the government even made an effort to let seniors know that it should have been rightfully theirs. The government used all these arguments, that it could not breach privacy with this by letting seniors know that the money was rightfully theirs.

Talk about an act of omission, a lie of omission, an absolute unconscionable act of omission. The government's way of getting around it is proof to the Canadian public that governments do not act in the best interests of the people.

I would say that members would be hard pressed to find a handful of Canadians who think there should be a clause in place that says if Canadian seniors did not apply on time they would not get the money. If members can find a handful of Canadians, I would ask that they stand up in front of the Canadian public and say that they agree with the government that if seniors did not apply on time for this money, they should not get it. If they can be found I would like to see them.

Nobody believes that seniors should not get that money, even if it took them 10, 15 or 20 years to apply. They darn well deserve that money and the government should be giving it back to them.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend from the NDP mentioned a number of very interesting subjects. I want to focus on her interest in the poorest in our country.

The member mentioned the very correct notion that the government through its tax structure has been unfairly penalizing the poor and those who are struggling in an environment that is becoming increasingly more difficult as time passes.

I want to ask the member a simple question. Would she support changes to our tax system that nobody making less than $20,000 a year would pay any federal income tax? In my view people cannot survive on less than $20,000 a year. Why is the government taking money away from them with one hand and then expensively giving money back to them with the other?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any question as to the reason why the government does that. It has to keep raking in money because it keeps giving breaks to someone who is a whole lot higher up on the income scale.

When corporations that literally make billions of dollars are given tax breaks, then the government has to get that money back from somewhere. It gets the money back from the people it can harass to death for owing the government 50 bucks. However, the corporations that owe the government $200,000 or $300,000 or a million dollars are allowed to get away with it because it is too much trouble to get the money from them.

The government gets the money from a lot of little people down the road. There is no question that it is unacceptable. There needs to be changes to our tax system.

I believe the position the New Democratic Party had taken was $15,000. I am glad to hear my colleague from the Alliance who thinks perhaps it should be $20,000. There is no question, there needs to be a change. People have to be able to make a living, not a great living but a living to provide things for themselves such as heat, water, food, rent, clothing, basic needs. I am not talking about buying a huge television screen or a new car every other week. That is not about what we are talking. We are talking about the basic necessities of life that people need.

A good number of these people are seniors. They are the same seniors to whom the government refuses to give that money back.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I can do justice to this issue in such a brief period of time.

There was one simple adjustment that the Minister of Finance could have announced that would have given relief to thousands of Canadians. The time of the year that is the most costly for ordinary Canadian families is when they have to pay to heat their homes with the high fuel prices. Many of those same families pay EI and CPP contributions from January 1 for about eight months. Then they have a holiday at the time they have made the maximum contributions.

Would it not be sensible to shift the period of time that the government collects EI and CPP contributions to coincide so that the most expensive months for heating and fuel costs would be the tax free months in terms of payroll contributions? The government could begin collecting those contributions on April 1 instead of January 1. In the most expensive months of the year people would not be making any of those contributions to EI and CPP.

Would the member agree with that?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent plan. It is proof that the NDP is not always out there, as people would say, just to give a break. There are sensible ways of doing things that will not decrease the amount of dollars coming into the federal government.

I would say the government just wants to get some extra interest and again from the people who can least afford it. In a country such as Canada, we know the heating costs will be that much greater through those months. Climate change has not come to the point where we are sitting in 70° weather throughout the year.

The bottom line is some things could have be done. They are not major changes. The government did not like the fact that it would benefit a good number of ordinary Canadians, rather than the ones at the top of the scale.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brandon--Souris.

I would like to comment on the remarks just recently made by my colleague from the NDP and also on the question asked by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca. They talked about raising the exemption level in relation to the payment of income tax. That is something which not only will we support but we have also recommended.

We have too many people living on fixed incomes and very low incomes who quite often have to turn to the government for social assistance. The government takes away, as the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca said, on one hand through the income process, only to give back through some social program. It does not make any sense. It would be much better for the psyche of the individuals involved if they could go out, make a living, and hold on to the amount of money that they need in order to make a basic living.

The cost of living in this country and right across the world has gone sky high. We have not adjusted our exemption level in tune with the expenses and the needs of the average family in our country. Certainly, the government must look at that.

The NDP member for Churchill talked about seniors. They are perhaps one of the two groups in the country completely ignored by the government.

When I spoke earlier on the budget, I talked about the need to invest in our youth, to invest in education, and to educate our young people so that they will be contributors to society, rather than going out into the field without an education and forever taking from the system. It is a no-brainer. A young, educated population will be a contributing population

Any statistic we look at shows that individuals with a post-secondary education, plus any extra degrees at a higher level they might want to pick up, have a better chance of employment. If they cannot afford to go to a post-secondary institution they have no other choice except to go out and try to find some work in the workplace. These days such work is quite often intermittent, and therefore they end up on social assistance or drawing employment insurance, and because of the inability to look after themselves, their health costs escalate, and so on.

We have two choices. We can invest up front and have a population that contributes, or we do not invest and have a large portion of our population who, through absolutely no fault of their own but because of geographic or economic circumstances, will be taking from the system more than they will be putting in for the rest of their lives.

The other group includes our seniors. Many of them, especially in the rural areas, live on fixed incomes and old age pensions. Many of them have absolutely nothing else. If they worked in the private sector they probably do not have any extra pension except a small Canada pension which would be minimal. Many older people, particularly women, basically stayed home in their day, raised families, and consequently do not have Canada pension benefits.

These people are on a low fixed income which has not been increased for a considerable amount of time to any degree at all to meet the rapidly rising costs of living in this country. Yet, we expect them to maintain their residences, buy food, clothe themselves, cover the horrendous costs of health care that they face, in particular drugs which are not covered by medicare, and we do nothing to assist them. These are the people who built our country. These are the people we should be helping. We have not been doing it and it is about time we got around to doing it.

Let me talk about a few other concerns. The last time I spoke I gave the government credit for some of the new innovations in the budget. However, one of the concerns I have with the government, and I am sure others share it, is that we see all kinds of fancy announcements, but when we analyze them we realize they would be implemented over the next 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years. By that time the amount of money would diminish considerably in relation to value. When we look at the implementation process, the bureaucracy, and the money that must go to the advertising companies to advertise such programs, there is little left for individuals who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of such programs. It is not what is in the budget; it is what is not in it that is probably more important.

One of the interesting things when we talk about programs and the money going into new programs is that while the government is telling people it is doing this to a certain program and bringing in that new program, it is immediately telling its departments that they must cut $1 billion from programs. It did that, in fact, a couple of days ago. It gave the departments a deadline. The promises are extended over a considerable amount of time with all kinds of dollars that can be moved, taken out and changed. A lot of it has been double promised over the years and promised every time the government makes an announcement. However, the $1 billion is coming out today.

Some programs, for example, within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are being cut by $17 million. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been begging on its knees for money for the past 10 years. The government has made these cuts from day one. The Coast Guard is at rock bottom. Boats cannot even afford fuel to do their jobs and are tied up in port.

We have security concerns in the country and nobody to address them. We have infrastructure problems and people within the department openly telling the government and the country at hearings that it would take $400 million to bring our facilities up to par. About 21% of our wharves are not safe to walk on.

Then, of course, we have the science branch. Two days ago the FRCC made recommendations on the cod stocks and yesterday in relation to the northern cod. It is basically saying to the government that these cod stocks are not growing. In fact, the northern cod is practically non-existent, less than 1% of the biomass that was there 15 years ago. It will also tell us we do not know very much about what is going on in the ocean simply because we have no science. That is inexcusable. As we run into these problems we need an increase. We do not need the government, telling departments behind everybody's back, to cut and cut from such things as science.

One of the things the government can do to help this country prosper, to help small business, to help business generally and to get out there and create the money that can help seniors, students and our science is to cut out some of the red tape and bureaucracy. We have too much bureaucracy. The more complicated the system the longer the bureaucrats have their jobs.

We must streamline delivery. We must have one stop shopping. We do not need 13 stops to get permits to start developing our minerals or the offshore. We need to cut down on bureaucracy and let the private sector get out there to create jobs, and create the type of economy that can help those who need help.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I would agree with the hon. member that cutting red tape is a continuing issue for government. The government is developing a new culture of accountability and transparency. The more we can do in that regard the better it will be for all Canadians.

The government has brought in a budget with no deficit. The national debt continues to go down from 71.5% five and a half years ago to 44.5% and is continuing to fall. We are able to contribute significantly with our partners in the provinces to health care, $34.8 billion over five years.

There are infrastructure issues. I would agree with the hon. member that it was the government that picked up on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' infrastructure program and provided funding for St. John's Harbour, Halifax, roads or whatever it happened to be. The government took a program that lay dormant under the fifth party when it was in power and brought in three consecutive national infrastructure programs.

We are leveraging that by working with our partners in the provinces and municipalities. The leveraging is important. It is not simply federal dollars; it is provincial and municipal dollars. I would like the member to comment on the positive impact that the national infrastructure program would have on St. John's Harbour which I know has been a concern of the mayor of that city. I have spoken to the mayor before about it. I am sure it something that the member will see as an improvement for his community.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, let me first talk about the positive aspects of the question. He talked about the funding for St. John's Harbour. It has been long fought for, long needed, and is now promised. Hopefully it will be delivered upon.

I would suggest to the member though that the funding came through a special program because former ministers had been telling us in the House that it must come through the regular infrastructure. One cannot take $100 million out of regular infrastructure funding for any project and expect to be able to do everything else that has to be done.

If the member would check Hansard there is one member who recommended to the Minister of Finance, months before he brought in the new program, that we needed a new special infrastructure program to deal with major projects. He would see that I made that recommendation here and so I do take some credit for it.

The member talked about transparency and accountability. These are great words. The government would be transparent and accountable. We saw what it did a couple of days ago in getting $59 million more to put into the administrative side of the gun registry, not counting the other associated costs.

It was quite transparent that the Prime Minister cracked the whip and forced people on their knees to come here under threat of expulsion from caucus, or that he would call an election where a lot of them would know that they would not be back here, and forced them against their will and against the wishes of the country to vote for that kind of funding. It was very transparent but certainly not accountable.

He also talked about balancing the budget and giving money to health care. The government is only giving back a portion of what it took away and that is why it balanced the budget in the first place, along with raking in money from free trade and the GST. At present, HRDC is reducing services in rural Canada and playing games with the local bureaucrats because it has been told to cut programs. It is transparent but it is certainly not accountable to Canadians. No wonder it balanced the budget, but it did so on the people in the country who really need to be helped.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend from the Conservative Party brought up one of the essential bugbears of the House, which is the efficient use of government expenditures. We have seen from Groupaction to regional pork-barrelling expenditures where taxpayers' money is spent for the benefit of the governing party to invest in politically sensitive ridings.

Indeed, that must change because at the end of the day the money is taxpayers' money. It is not our money. What would the member do to ensure greater transparency, effectiveness, and efficiency of taxpayers' money and how the House spends it?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's very good question is one that has to be answered by the government.

The two words that are being used are “accountability” and “transparency”. We are elected by every individual in this country who is of voting age to come here and make the proper rules and regulations and the laws that govern this country. We are also here to administer the funds that we collect from them and which are spent for their benefit.

One of the ways this could be done and should be done, is as it used to be done. When a government brings forward a budget, that budget should be built upon the needs of the people of the country as collectively input by the people who sit in this place. The estimates should be fully scrutinized and debated right here in this chamber or thoroughly at the committee level. What happens now is the government brings in a budget, rushes through the estimates, and forces its members with the threat of expulsion to vote for funds such as for the gun registry. Nobody has any input.

The place to thoroughly debate these issues is right here so the people of Canada can make the government accountable as well as the members who represent them.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the speech made by the hon. member for St. John's West. He raised many good points. I would like to get his view on a point I raised earlier.

I wonder if he would agree with me that it was an oversight or an omission and the Minister of Finance could have done a very simple administrative thing. In order to provide some relief to the thousands of Canadians who are suffering under the spiralling out of control home heating costs, he could have staggered the months during which EI and Canada pension plan contributions are made so that they would begin to be collected on April 1. Everyone knows full well that many people make contributions for approximately eight months until they have reached their maximum contribution.

If that simple administrative change could be made, would it not provide some relief to families? Would the member join me in urging the government to do so?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member and certainly have absolutely no problem asking the government to do that. It is only a matter of adjusting when it takes out the necessary funds or the percentage of CPP or EI benefits. There is always a three or four month break. Why not give it to people when it is really needed, especially to people on low or fixed incomes?

Let me go a bit further. I am sure that by looking at government programs such as those and by readjusting them, we could find many ways to help people across the country, especially people on low and fixed incomes.

One of the other reasons people suffer with the high costs for fuel is because of government taxes. There should be a ceiling. The government should not be able to rake in windfalls because the price of home heating fuel and gas goes up. There should be a limit which would give the government the same amount of money, but would also give a break to the people who need it.

Canadian Red Cross SocietyStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House and all Canadians that March is Red Cross Month in Canada.

The Canadian Red Cross Society is a volunteer based humanitarian organization dedicated to preventing human suffering across Canada and around the world.

When disaster strikes, it is the quick response of the Red Cross that lessens the hardship suffered by survivors. In Canada alone there are approximately 65,000 Red Cross volunteers who provide for people's basic needs following a disaster, including food, clothing, shelter and first aid.

I want to take this opportunity to recognize this organization and urge all members to support the Canadian Red Cross Society. I urge all Canadians to volunteer their time and to financially support the Red Cross programs.

Gasoline PricesStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I met with more than 800 people from my constituency in the first week of March. The most common complaint I heard was that the price of fuel and natural gas was too high.

Farmers trying to keep their vehicles and machinery running are especially hard hit. The price of natural gas is driving up the cost of fertilizer making it even more difficult for those struggling in the agricultural sector. High fuel prices, driven even higher by taxes, are nothing short of highway robbery.

Every year Canadians pay $4.8 billion in fuel taxes but instead of most of that money being put back into roads, it goes straight into general revenues. The Liberal government siphons $375 million in fuel taxes out of Saskatchewan each year, but since 1992 only a total of $26 million has come back. The sudden announcement that $39 million will be spent on roads in Saskatchewan this year is an obvious attempt to buy votes.

Why is the government robbing struggling farmers to fund corporate welfare?

Ontario Egg ProducersStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize the Ontario Egg Producers and its many members who represent a $300 million a year industry in the province of Ontario alone. What they do is provide consumers with guaranteed safe, high quality eggs. This organization also contributes to the efficient management in the production of eggs, research and promotion.

Yesterday in Ottawa the Ontario Egg Producers hosted its annual “Get Cracking” omelette breakfast. The directors of the organization prepared a nutritious, healthy breakfast for many of us on Parliament Hill.

I would especially like to thank Hubert Schillings and Victor Slobodian for their hospitality.

Women, Peace and SecurityStatements By Members

March 28th, 2003 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Monday, Linden School, a primary and secondary girls school located in my riding, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary by encouraging students and members of the community to consider the importance of hearing women's voices in the search for peace.

The event is titled “Coalition for Peace: Women Take Action” and will address how to include women's voices at the peace tables worldwide.

They have assembled a distinguished and experienced panel, including Toronto journalist and author Sally Armstrong, Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsberg, political commentator Judy Rebick and Linden alumnus Sarah Shteir.

It will be my pleasure to take part in this event to share the excellent work that our government has done toward the implementation of UN resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

It is my hope that future generations can continue the important work of ensuring that the views and voices of women are taken into account in the fight for peace.

Aboriginal Achievement AwardsStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, tonight in Ottawa 14 individuals chosen by a national jury of accomplished aboriginal people will be honoured at the 10th annual National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in a special televised gala ceremony.

These awards which are the initiative of aboriginal peoples, go to outstanding Inuit, first nations and Métis.

One of the awards is a special youth award and is accompanied by a $10,000 scholarship. Another is in recognition of a lifetime of achievement.

Established in 1993 in conjunction with the United Nations International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, these awards provide role models for aboriginal youth and inform the public of the significant achievement of aboriginal peoples in a wide variety of areas.

Please join me in congratulating the recipients of this year's aboriginal achievement awards.

Government PoliciesStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, residents of the city of Pembroke woke up this week to a boil water advisory over possible contamination in the municipal water supply. Thanks to the decisive action of Mayor Bob Pilot and county health officials, a potential crisis has been averted, though the advisory remains in effect.

It is clear that years of federal cuts to provincial transfer payments have taken their toll on all Canadians. From the tragic deaths of Canadian Forces pilots flying 40-year-old helicopters, to the tragic deaths of school children near Owen Sound, Ontario because the Liberals cut the funds for safety inspectors, to the sad tragedy of dirty water in Ontario that led to loss of life, the policies of the federal government are literally killing Canadians.

The legacy of the Prime Minister and the former minister of finance has been a continual erosion of Canadian values. How many more Canadians must die thanks to the failed policies of a government that can spend $1 billion chasing duck hunters but refuses to protect children?

Kidney DiseaseStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is National Kidney Month.

Kidney disease is a serious public health concern in Canada and costs the lives of more than 3,000 Canadians each year. Kidney disease has a significant effect on the quality of life of those affected. More than 22,000 Canadians rely on dialysis to survive. There is no cure.

As the Canadian population ages, the number of people who will be affected by kidney disease is expected to rise. Kidney failure primarily affects the elderly and people with diabetes and heart disease.

Over the last decade medical research has increased the success rate of kidney transplant operations to over 85%. Through research we hope to one day prevent some forms of kidney disease and develop more effective treatment options for others.

I hope that kidney month will draw attention to important concerns related to kidney disease. Please join me in lending support to the Kidney Foundation of Canada during National Kidney Month.

Marie-Josée AubéStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to pay tribute to a member of my riding of Laurentides, Marie-Josée Aubé, who has written a new chapter for women with a passion for cars.

Six years ago, she and an associate acquired the Laurentides Ford dealership located in Saint-Jérôme. What makes her stand out is that she is one of a very few women car dealers. In fact, out of 851 members, there are only 43 women.

Ms. Aubé's passion for cars did not come about overnight. As a young girl, she spent much of her time playing with her Fisher Price garage. She was constantly organizing parking lots and moving her little cars around. Later she set herself the goal of owning a car dealership by the time she was 30.

She achieved that goal and now she is striving to become an exemplary dealer who will be known for quality. Congratulations Marie-Josée Aubé. Your determination does businesspeople and the women of Laurentides proud.