House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.


Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:35 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the budget implementation act.

A budget was recently delivered and in that budget some of the key features and significant investments were in health care, families, research and development, learning and Canada's military, as well as tax reductions to encourage savings and investment, and new measures to make government spending more accountable.

The government presented a balanced budget for this year, the sixth consecutive balanced budget, and for the next two fiscal years as well. The budget would restore the full annual contingency reserve and economic prudence factors which have been part of our budgeting process since the government came into power in 1993.

The government recognizes the critical link between social and economic policy and continues its balanced approach to managing the nation's finances. This approach plays a critical role in building a Canada that all Canadians want.

It does that in three ways. First, by building a society Canadians value through investments in individual Canadians, their families and communities. Second, by building an economy that Canadians need by promoting productivity and innovation while staying fiscally prudent, which Canadians have also asked for. Finally it achieved the objectives of the budget by building the accountability that Canadians deserve by making government spending more transparent and accountable.

There are many provisions in the budget. I would like to address the Canada student loans program. I have three children. One has completed university, one is finishing off a master's degree at the University of Waterloo, and one is in the middle of her engineering program at Queen's University. I know very well how expensive it is to get an education in Canada, but I also know how important it is that our youth get the best education possible in the best interests of not only themselves but of Canada as a whole.

The government recognizes that skills development and lifelong learning are critical to the country's economic prosperity and to individual success. Between 1993 and 2001 the Canada student loans program assisted more than one and a half million full and part time students, an investment of approximately $11.4 billion. In the 2000-2001 fiscal year the Canada student loans program provided $1.57 billion in full and part time student loans at an average of $4,554 per full time student.

Building upon our throne speech of 2002, it was our commitment to ensure access to affordable post-secondary education. Therefore, we continue to strengthen the student loans program by providing an additional $60 million over two years in direct support to students.

The $60 million measures in the 2003 budget are expected to be implemented by August of this year. They include, first, putting more money in the hands of students by allowing them to keep a greater share of income earned during their studies. The exemptions for income earned while in school would be increased to $1,700 annually, being a maximum of $50 a week, from the previous level of only $600. Second, by extending access to interest relief, debt reduction, and repayment measures would help student borrowers experiencing hardship in their repayment. As a result of these measures, borrowers in difficult financial circumstances could have their student loan debt reduced by up to $20,000 over three years. Third, we would be broadening the access to the Canada student loans program to protected persons, including convention refugees.

These actions respond to the key concerns of stakeholders and provincial and territorial governments who are partners in the delivery of the Canada student loans program.

This investment, along with other recent budget announcements, shows our ongoing commitment to ensuring that Canadians have the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge, and contribute to Canada's prosperity.

In my remaining time I would like to comment on an aspect that is not included in the budget. For a number of years now I have taken the opportunity to inform myself about fetal alcohol syndrome. Some know it as FAS. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious problem because the maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy turns out to be the leading known cause of mental retardation in Canada. It is a very expensive proposition and in fact fetal alcohol syndrome takes away the potential of a human being starting from birth. This is a tragedy.

When I first became a member of Parliament in 1993, and health care was recognized as the most important issue to Canadians, I asked to be on the health committee. When I went to that committee I looked at the history and tried to see what the committee had been working on in the prior Parliament. One of the reports it had issued was called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”.

I am married and have three children. I am well educated and very involved with my community. I spent nine years on the board of directors of my hospital but I had never heard of fetal alcohol syndrome until I became a member of Parliament. I cannot imagine how it was possible that I did not know about FAS or fetal alcohol effects, which is a similar problem. I did not know the risks we were taking as parents during the time we were having children.

If I did not know, I was absolutely convinced that other Canadians did not know. Although many people will suggest that it is common sense to abstain from or reduce the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, as well as drugs and smoking, the fact is that the majority of Canadians do not know that it is not simply a matter related to people who are alcoholics. Canadians do not know that one drink at the wrong time can affect the fetal heart rate.

Fetal alcohol syndrome has associated with it characteristic facial features. I have done a lot of work on the issue of children right from conception and the research tells me that the facial features of a human being are established between days 15 and 22 of pregnancy. Canadian women do not even know they are pregnant between days 15 and 22. Those facial features are established within a human being between days 15 and 22 of pregnancy. For a woman waiting to find out that she is pregnant, it is too late.

In all the work I have done I have found that most of the NGOs and the programs we have are suggesting to women that if they are pregnant they should abstain or reduce their consumption of alcohol before it is too late. I have tried to convey the message that we should be speaking about the facts on a single sheet right across the country to say that if pregnancy is possible, if a woman is in her birthing years, if she is sexually active and not using protection, she should abstain from alcohol then and not wait until she has determined she is pregnant. Only then can we totally eliminate the risk of damaging the unborn child.

Although we have had references to fetal alcohol syndrome in past throne speeches and some moneys have been appropriated for public education, in this budget we have had yet again a false start. We have not made the kind of progress we should be making on fetal alcohol syndrome. I regret that this budget does not appropriate specific money to address this most serious preventable tragedy. I want my colleagues to know that I will continue to do the best that I can to promote public education about fetal alcohol syndrome, the preventable tragedy.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say right at the top that I think it is a disgrace that it becomes necessary to call quorum here when we are discussing such important topics. I just listened to the speech by the Liberal member opposite who was talking about a very important subject and yet there was hardly anyone here to hear him, which is a disgrace.

Turning to Canada's fiscal situation, which is what we are talking about today, it has changed dramatically since the finance minister brought down his budget just a few weeks ago. I think everyone would have to agree that it is pretty obvious that the government's revenues will be way down this year from the predictions mainly because of the Liberals' incompetent handling of the Iraqi war situation and our relationship with the United States.

For example, I received an e-mail this morning from some Canadian friends who live in Sault Ste. Marie but who currently live in Tennessee. It stated:

Ted, I just picked up your email.

[We are in] Pigeon Forge [Tennessee and] our RV neighbour (from lower Michigan) said that he and his buddies had cancelled their annual fishing trip to Wawa, Ontario (north of the Soo) as they wouldn't feel comfortable under the current situation. When we played golf one day the starter said the executive of that golf course had held a vote on whether to ban Canadians from the course while the war was going on. The vote did not pass (so Canadians could still play) but in his view the vote had gone the wrong way.

Generally we have found an overwhelming sense of sadness that Canada was not supporting the U.S. but they can accept it. What they cannot accept is the assault by Canadian politicians on Bush and the U.S. position re the war.

Bill O'Reilly [a local talk show host] on his talk/news show [called the] (O'Reilly Factor) about a week ago stated that he had cancelled a planned holiday to Quebec for this summer. He did say that he would still consider going to western Canada because of their support [for the United States]. He is the one who has asked Americans to avoid travel to France and Quebec and to boycott buying products manufactured in France [and Quebec].

I received that e-mail from friends of mine who are in Tennessee and that is, apparently, what they are seeing on the ground there. That is happening all across the United States right now because of the incompetent handling of the Iraqi situation by the government opposite. It did not care when it made the statements in this place and outside of this place attacking Americans. It did not care what influence it would have and how it would affect our economy.

It will affect the government's budget because it will not have the revenues this year. It will see people lose jobs and income and it will lose taxes because of what it has done with its incompetent handling. It makes me pretty angry when I think about what the government has done to our economy through its carelessness and incompetence.

I will turn now to what the government does have in its budget. Earlier this morning the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development stood in this place and congratulated himself and the government for turning over control of aspects of the government to the Yukon.

I can tell members of the House that the reason I and my colleagues in the official opposition are here is that we want something like that for western Canada. We want more control over our future in western Canada. We are sick of the government taking money out of western Canada to spend elsewhere and giving us very little say over our future and our destiny.

On March 10, 2003, s a provincial congress was held in British Columbia hosted by our premier, Gordon Campbell, who is a Liberal but whose government just does not get on with that Liberal government over there. They really detest one another because the Liberal government of B.C. has more in common with the aims and ambitions of the Canadian Alliance than it does with the Liberals. Therefore Mr. Campbell is not very popular with the government. He called a provincial congress which was attended by elected officials from all around British Columbia: members of Parliament, MLAs, council members and mayors. We discussed issues that were affecting the province as a result of the government's budget, for example, federal fuel taxes. The fuel taxes taken out of B.C. by the federal government in the year 2000 amounted to $750 million, but only 1/20th of 1% of that went back to British Columbia.

Are members aware that the United States government spent more on Canadian infrastructure at the border south of Vancouver than the federal government spent on all of the roads in British Columbia? What an absolute disgrace that the very neighbours the government is insulting and attacking are the ones who spent more on our infrastructure. It is a darn disgrace.

Let us look at another way the government is meddling in British Columbia, with no reason to do so. The federal Minister of Transport has asked VIA Rail to prepare a plan to run subsidized competitive services with the privately operated Rocky Mountaineer Railtours which runs a railway from Calgary into Vancouver. Rocky Mountaineer took over a money losing VIA Rail operation and turned it into a huge tourist attraction, running at a profit. Why is the minister trying to meddle with the private sector? I suppose he is promising up to $3 billion more in subsidies for some incompetent railway to run services in competition with the private sector. We do not want it. The government is meddling in western Canada with this budget.

The softwood lumber issue is another example of incompetence. Over 80% of industry leaders now agree that it was the failure of the government to have a unified industry approach that is penalizing the British Columbia economy. It is why our forest sector is still in disarray. It is why the Liberal government of British Columbia is going it alone, visiting Washington, trying to get an agreement on lumber.

There is no doubt that the interests of the country are best served when the various levels of government work together. However there is no evidence that the federal government is the slightest bit interested in working with the Government of British Columbia and other western governments to make things better. It sees us as a cash cow to take money to spend elsewhere.

For example, there is mismanagement. The industry minister recently announced a $60 million handout to two private companies in Ottawa headed by an Ottawa billionaire, Terence Matthews. The minister claimed that the money was not a gift and that he expected every nickel of the investment to be returned. Unfortunately, the minister's Technology Partnerships Canada does not have a very good record. In the time it has been around it has handed out close to $2 billion but has only collected $35 million back. Even if it had been a success, what justification is there to give a billionaire grants from the taxpayers' pocket? Surely Mr. Matthews' bank would have been happy to fund Mr. Matthews' research projects. As if the handout was not offensive enough, the government has accepted shares in Mr. Matthews' company as part payment for the loan. Now the government is getting into the stock market associated with its government handouts.

I know I do not have very much time to talk but I would like to mention social insurance number cards. Last year, Canada's Auditor General revealed that there were five million more SIN cards in circulation than there were people in the country. Can we imagine what that is doing to its budget? Five million more SIN cards are out there than there are people in the country. People are probably falsifying employment insurance claims and all sorts of other benefits, such as getting grants. We know the Auditor General has plenty of evidence and has uncovered other scandals where people have been getting grants using falsified SINs.

I wish I had time to talk for at least 20 minutes about the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada where $140 million a year were blown away in ridiculous handouts. I probably have time to read one or two. The following was a grant given to Po Ling Smart at the University of Calgary who received $27,000 to study chop suey and egg rolls. At the University of Toronto, Mr. Hy Luong received $100,000 to study gender, class, religion and language socialization in Vietnam. Judith Knelman at the University of Western Ontario received $21,103 to study deviancy and the new woman. Stephane Brutus at Concordia University received $67,000 to study the cross-cultural investigation of multi-source feedback.

I have a long list of nonsense here that is wasted money. The government had better get its act together and revise its budget because its revenues are not going to be there.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again, as the member for Lotbinière—L'Érable, even if the recommendations of the electoral commission now leave me with only 22% of the territory of my present riding. This redistribution has been a real cold shower for my constituents.

We have been working hard to turn our riding into a really rural and agricultural riding. Now, the Lotbinière RCM will be included in a new riding with another urban area, and it will again be in the same situation it was in back in 1968, when it was in the same riding as another urban area, Victoriaville.

Between 1968 and 1997, it was Victoriaville that decided who would be the member for Lotbinière. After the recommendation made public last Friday, constituents in the Lotbinière RCM will have their member elected by the residents of municipalities that are now part of the new city of Lévis.

I still wish to make this comment because, since last Friday, I have received many calls from individuals and organizations. Obviously, this is a difficult situation, but I told them I would do my very best to advance the interests of the Lotbinière RCM and represent them in an appropriate way.

Since I am always talking about the situation in my riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable, allow me to add that when I started out in politics, in 1997, I had already realized that we had no federal services for a population of 70,000. A lot of work has been done since. However, people who want to deal with Human Resources Development Canada, particularly with the Employment Insurance Office, have to go to Saint-Romuald, Thetford Mines or Victoriaville, while some even have to go all the way to Drummondville, in a riding without public transit.

I have seen young people having to ask around to get a ride to Saint-Romuald, for example. Once there, they were told that the questionnaire had not been filled properly, that they had to get more references and come back. If that is providing federal services in a riding like mine, Lotbinière—L'Érable, there is a problem.

Moreover, since I became an MP in 1997, surpluses have accumulated in both finance ministers' budgets and in the EI fund, and that money could have been used to address these shortcomings.

Today, we are still in a difficult situation. As I was saying, since there is no public transit in my riding, my office has become the place where the people of Plessisville come to get services that the federal government does not want to provide in my riding.

I would also like to talk about the whole issue of agriculture, because the agricultural industry is in jeopardy.

When I sat on the standing committee on agriculture and agrifood, and taking into account the consultations I held on Canada's position on the matter, I became convinced that the current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is going to impose national standards that will jeopardize entire components of the net income stabilization account in Quebec.

Quebec's agricultural model is a cost-effective system that allowed our agricultural industry to prosper. Unfortunately, however, with the new strategic framework proposed by the federal government, Quebec's entire agricultural model is in jeopardy, and the Financière agricole du Québec, which was created by the Quebec government, will suffer such a significant loss of revenue that it will have to make difficult choices in order to share the money it will have.

Why did the system work for so long, and why are we now in a situation where national standards are being imposed on us?

Is the Canadian government trying to say that we must achieve harmonization and implement national standards to be stronger vis-à-vis the World Trade Organization? It is incredible to see how this government is behaving.

There are problems at the border. Every day, we see substitutes coming in, butter and milk mixes. This government thinks that this problem will be submitted to the World Trade Organization, to a multilateral tribunal, to try to solve a bilateral problem. If the Minister for International Trade and the Minister of Agriculture start submitting to the WTO problems that could be solved bilaterally, I can tell you that things will go slowly here in the next few years.

I would like to touch on a third point where, once again, we have seen the real face of federal Liberals. We know that, with the Séguin report, with a commission where all the social and economic stakeholders in Quebec agreed that there was a blatant fiscal imbalance, the response of the new Minister of Finance—much like the response of the former Minister of Finance and the current Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs—has been that, no matter who the leader is, we will still deny that fiscal imbalance exists. No matter who the next Prime Minister is, we will still hold the Quebec people in a stranglehold. This will not change.

Again, the excessive centralization that we see with this government, which wants to standardize everything from coast to coast, makes us realize that it is unable to see the tax situation of the Quebec people for what it really is. The new finance minister had no trouble becoming as arrogant as the former finance minister, who might become the next Prime Minister. It is not very encouraging.

Let me tell you that the people of Quebec are not too eager to have as their next Prime Minister the man who has cut the health and education transfers and presided over the theft of the surplus in the EI fund. Before even taking over the reins as the next Prime Minister of Canada, the current finance minister is still arguing that there is no fiscal imbalance.

However, the Conference Board of Canada and all of the social and economic stakeholders in Quebec, including Yves Séguin, are saying exactly the opposite. Why will the government opposite not admit that there is fiscal imbalance? The other provinces have said there is.

The current Premier of Quebec has had to work very hard to get $800 million to ensure adequate health care in Quebec. As long as Quebec remains in the centralized Canadian federation, it will have trouble providing adequate health and education services to our children.

Lastly, I would remind the House that I worked in communications for some time and I love to play with words. So, let me tell all Quebecers that we can be strong together on April 14. We are ready for a new referendum for a sovereign Quebec.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and I believe if you seek it you would find unanimous consent for the following:

That following the conclusion of the debate on Bill C-280 all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill be deemed put, a recorded division demanded and deferred until 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, 2003.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster have the consent of the House to propose the motion?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Does the House give its consent to the motion?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed 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

April 1st, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, many people have spoken to the bill today and in past days and many will speak after I do as well. Rather than dwell on its specific details, I would like to talk about the whole concept of government budgets, how governments spend their money and for that matter why they spend their money.

In this country there is far too much government, particularly at the federal level. In order to deal with that we need to look at why we even have government. I recognize we need to have government, there is no question of that, but what exactly is it that government should be doing for us?

Government should exist for the purpose of doing things for people that must be done, which they either cannot or will not do for themselves. That is the sole purpose of government. What government should not do is be in business. Especially it should not be in business to compete against the private sector.

We need to reduce government to do only those things which people must have done that they either cannot or will not do for themselves. Having reduced it to that, we next need to bring the government as close as possible to the people it serves. People should have the best access possible to their elected representatives. If an issue can be handled at the provincial, regional or local level, that is where it should be handled. Only those things which are best done at the national level should indeed be done here in Ottawa by the federal government.

There is a role obviously for the federal government. There are things that are best done at the federal level, but the federal government is involved in far more than that. That is why there are such huge and wasteful budgets. That is why there have been such overwhelming deficits in the past. That is why there is still such an outstanding debt. The interest payments on it are eating up a lot of the money that taxpayers send to the government.

If we took this to its ultimate conclusion, we could quite conceivably reach a point where it no longer became necessary or indeed practical to pay federal income tax. I know there are a lot of people out there who think the federal government does not even have the constitutional right to collect income tax but in actual fact it does. I have read this. It has been brought up a lot in my riding. As a result of that I did check into it and I can sadly confirm that it does indeed have the right to tax Canadians, and tax them it does. If we reduced government to doing only those things that governments should be doing, then we may come to a point where it would not be necessary to collect federal income tax.

Obviously if the government still had a role at the federal level, which it would, it would have to have the money to fulfill that role. What is the alternative to the government taxing the residents of the various provinces and territories? It is simply this. Taxes would be done at the local level and the federal government in essence would bill the provinces for services rendered.

The bill would be based on the provincial GDP. Each province would pay a different amount of money for that service. That in essence would become the equalization payment. A province that was richer and had a stronger GDP would pay a little more for the service than a province that was having a little trouble with its economy. That would be adjusted constantly. It would actually work a lot fairer than the system we have right now.

Right now there is an incredible amount of waste in the government. It is almost inevitable that the waste will continue as long as there is a government which is spread so thinly over so many things and which is breaking in on areas of provincial and local jurisdiction. At times its departments are tripping over one another. The justice minister is trying to hand off the white elephant called the firearms registry program to the solicitor general. There are so many glitches between the departments he has not yet figured out how to do that. It would be a whole lot better if he simply shut it down.

As a member of Parliament I am often asked by people, particularly in my riding, how I like the job, if I enjoy the job, if there are things I do not like about it and whether I find it frustrating. I tell them that yes, it is frustrating and that the most frustrating thing is coming to Ottawa and seeing all the problems that confront this country. There are far more than the average person would realize. It is frustrating to realize we could either correct or at least put on the road the solutions to almost every one of those problems in 12 months but there is not the political will to do it. That is incredibly frustrating.

Anytime I speak about government spending and budgets and everything else, I would be remiss if I did not mention my favourite ultimate boondoggle for the federal government and that is VIA Rail.

VIA Rail is an example of why government should not be in business. Aside from the fact that VIA competes directly against all modes in the private transportation sector, the phenomenal waste in VIA Rail is astounding. VIA Rail is subsidized by taxpayers, and those taxpayers include all of us in the House, subsidized to the amount of half a million dollars a day. Each year for just the operational subsidy of VIA Rail, the taxpayers of each individual riding send, on average, over $600,000 to Ottawa for the government to give to VIA Rail to fund its operating deficit.

Since 1993 when the Liberals took power, VIA Rail has been subsidized by the Liberal government to the tune of almost $3 billion. That is three times the amount of money it wasted on the firearms registry and we know how outraged people are about that. It is time that people started realizing how much of their money is actually going into VIA Rail.

With 301 ridings in this country, this means that, on average, taxpayers of each riding have sent to Ottawa $10 million for the government to give to VIA Rail. Members should think about what they could do in their ridings with $10 million. I am sure that in their ridings, like mine, they probably have some hospitals that are underfunded and need some modernization or some new equipment. I am sure there are roads and highways that are in disrepair. There is a variety of different problems, including housing and others. Members should think about how many of those things could be dealt with if they had the $10 million that taxpayers have sent to Ottawa in order to fund VIA Rail.

The firearms registry is yet another example. The Auditor General said that the Liberal government has now spent $800 million on a program that was supposed to cost $2 million. That is 400 times the estimate. If the program worked the way the government claims it works, some people might scratch their heads and say that $800 million is a lot of money but if some good can come out of it then perhaps, no pun intended, it is a bullet we need to bite and we need to spend that money.

However, let us think about the two things the government claims. The government claims that the gun registry it is going to prevent crime. Really, how is causing law-abiding duck hunters to register their long guns going to prevent crime? Criminals, by definition, break the law, so all the government has done is give them one more law to break and I am quite sure they are quite willing to do that.

Aside from that, after over 70 years of a strict handgun registration system, handguns are still the weapon of choice of criminals. Criminals have chosen to use something that has been subject to strict registration while all other firearms have not been registered even though this meant breaking the law. Those who are going to rob the 7-Eleven or the local bank do not stop to think whether or not they are breaking the law by having an unregistered firearm.

The whole concept that the gun registry will prevent crime is absolute nonsense and absolutely unsustainable.

The other claim is that it is going to save lives. The government likes to throw figures around. It has said that the registry will save lives in a variety of ways. I have never heard one real, substantive explanation of how that will occur. The government says it has prevented people who should not have firearms from getting permission to buy them. We had a firearms acquisition program before, one that we supported, one that the firearms community supported. We support the registration of the owners; it is the firearms that are questionable because of the cost and because of the uselessness of that particular program.

The government says the registry will prevent domestic violence. How? It is not going to prevent anything. First, any number of things are used in cases of domestic violence. The mere fact that someone has acquired a weapon legally and the fact that the weapon is registered is not going to make it any less deadly or any less threatening for someone who would break our laws. Whether it is a firearm, a kitchen knife, or a rope, or whether it is burning down a house, it does not matter in terms of registration. That does not stop a thing.

Had it cost the $2 million the government said it would, perhaps we could say that even if it saves only one life it is worth it. By the end of this year the cost will be close to $1 billion and an end is nowhere in sight. Now the government admits that the program, which was to cost only $2 million, is going to cost between $60 million and $80 million a year just to sustain it once it is up and running.

These are the kinds of things the government is doing in wasting taxpayers' dollars. It then comes forward with a budget and says, “Look how good we are and all the wonderful things we have done”.

There is a tremendous amount of increased spending in that budget. Instead of increasing the amount of spending, the government should have diverted some of the money currently being wasted on things like the firearms program and VIA Rail. These are the kinds of things for which the government has to start reining in its spending. If it wants taxpayers' support and wants taxpayers to understand why they are sending that money to Ottawa, taxpayers have to understand that the money is being spent responsibly. At this point it is not, and there is no indication that it will be anywhere in the near future, at least not before the next election.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:20 a.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me an excellent opportunity to speak about something close to my heart, something that has been talked about a lot in the past year. All the members of the Bloc Quebecois also feel strongly about this issue, as do a good number of other members in this House. The issue is the status of seniors.

I want to talk about the living conditions of senior citizens, who are among the most disadvantaged in our society. When I talk about disadvantaged seniors, I am not necessarily talking about all senior citizens. I agree that most seniors probably have the means and the health they need to take care of themselves. However, I am speaking of those who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement and who have not received it for a number of years.

About a year ago, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, discovered that some 270,000 Canadians, including 68,000 Quebeckers, had been denied the guaranteed income supplement. We must remember that the guaranteed income supplement is given to seniors who have pretty much nothing to live on but their old age pension. It is an amount that is added so that people who do not have another source of income, or who have very little in the way of other income, can live a bit more decently.

For example, a single person whose income is below $12,600 is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. For a couple, the income figure is around $16,400; if their income, not counting the old age pension, is below that level, they are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement.

It turned out that 270,000 people in that category across Canada, including 68,000 in Quebec, were deprived of this bare minimum, just because they could not be found. People who cannot be found are seldom rich people. Rich people are usually found. The tax man manages to find them and get their money, you can be sure of that. However, when the Department of National Revenue or the Department of Human Resources Development owe money to the most disadvantaged, strangely enough, they often cannot find them. Those who cannot be found are often the most vulnerable.

People who are vulnerable because of their age, old age, are not responsible for their situation. Over the weekend I met a very well-known gentleman of our region. He is 82 years old and recently suffered a stroke that left him all but disabled. With only 20% vision, he can no longer read nor write. As a man of the Church, he has people around who can help him. Yet, he told me, “I have been thinking about this issue of yours. Without all these people around me, I would be extremely vulnerable; I would not be able to even assert my rights”.

And these are the people, those who qualify for the guaranteed income supplement, who were forgotten, deliberately forgotten by the system. The more I discuss this issue, the more I tour Quebec—I have held 30 meetings across Quebec to meet with these people, the press and those concerned about this issue—the more I realize that people are shocked. They have been forgotten.

There is $3 billion in the public coffers that belongs to these people. I will not keep my lips sealed, I will repeat it, because it makes no sense. It is unacceptable, especially in such circumstances.

This tour has yielded results. Now, in Quebec, at least 20,000 of the 68,000 individuals that we were trying to reach, have been contacted. This means that 30% of the people that I was looking for have been contacted and, today, they are getting the guaranteed income supplement to which they are entitled. However, the retroactive period is 11 months.

If a person owes money to the government, what is the retroactive period? It is at least five years. And if the person is deemed to be partly responsible, the retroactive application is full and includes penalties and interests.

In this case, because the most vulnerable persons were not responsible for this situation, the government applied an 11 month retroactive period once these people were located.

What is even more shocking is what happens when these people try to protect their rights. André Lecorre initiated a class action suit on behalf of all those people whose rights had been violated. However, the government is not challenging the substance of the issue, but its form. The government pleads its case before the court to which we have referred it, but it is never the right court. We are now before the federal court. The government will once again argue that this is not the right court and will say that we have to go before an administrative tribunal.

The result of all this is that it will take seven or eight years before the seniors whose rights were violated get what they are entitled to. But how many of them will be left in seven or eight years? The government is hoping that these people will no longer be around. It continues to violate the rights of these people and to rob them. This is a disgrace. It does not make sense.

I would like the support of the House—I know that my party supports me—and the support of all those responsible for the most vulnerable members of our society. I am asking for the government to show some honour.

A class action suit has been filed. If the government takes the position that this money is not owed, it must at least plead the case on its merits. If it owes no more than eleven months, then fine, these people will not be left waiting and hoping.They will just know that their rights were ignored.

It has to stop making the case for form's sake and wasting time. It does not have the right to waste time at the expense of people whose days are numbered. Whether it likes it or not, these people are not in the bloom of youth but in their twilight years. It has no right to waste time here.

The very day the judge told André Lecorre that he was talking to the wrong court, he had lost his wife at 6 a.m.

Obviously, the government owes a little less money now that she has passed away. How many other people like her have died and will never get their due?

This is a good opportunity to talk about it again, in hopes that we will be able to convince the government that this situation is shameful in a country such as ours.

Three billion dollars has been allocated to paying off government debt. It is not true that these people are responsible for this debt. This $3 billion must be given to the people that are located and to whom we owe money.

We need to stop being stingy and stop wasting time. If we really want to find out whether or not we owe this money, we need to base the argument on the substance of the issue. Let us find out now, instead of dragging the case from one court to another, so that all of the plaintiffs are dead by the time it comes time to pay up. This is unacceptable. I will use every opportunity I can get, in the House and outside, to argue this matter.

You may be surprised, Mr. Speaker. I have contacts in the field you used to work in. You must know that there is money in sports. Someone you know very well said to me, “I am prepared to carry a sign and demonstrate over an issue like this because what we are doing to our seniors is not right”.

We are violating the rights of those who helped build our society. Most of them are mothers who had families and never had an opportunity to work outside the home. They are the ones who have been wronged the most.

My colleague, the member for Sherbrooke, was with me during a meeting in Sherbrooke where we met a family whose mother was deprived of $90,000 over her lifetime. She lived with the barest minimum, yet, when she died, the government owed her $90,000. To me this is unacceptable.

I thank the House for allowing me to raise this one more time.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Western Arctic Northwest Territories


Ethel Blondin-Andrew LiberalSecretary of State (Children and Youth)

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the budget implementation act, Bill C-28.

Budget 2003 reflects our government's commitment to make Canada a land of ever widening opportunity for all our citizens. It acts on the promise in the Speech from the Throne that benefits of the new knowledge economy will touch every community, every family and every Canadian.

When the House was not in session for two weeks recently, I took the opportunity to go to my riding. There are over half a million square miles to cover. I took the opportunity to travel to the upper part of my riding. I have 33 communities. I went to Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour and Holman Island. These are very remote communities but very thriving. In remote communities the cost of living is very high. Everything the government does really impacts on the lives of the people who live in the remotest regions of our country.

In the community of Sachs Harbour I was blessed to meet with the mayor and council and talk about some of their needs. It is interesting that the issue of policing came up. There are no RCMP stations. Mayor Andy Carpenter was very well pronounced on that issue.

We addressed the issue of aboriginal policing in the budget. That was very appropriate and might prove to be very useful.

I also went to Banks Island where there are 50,000 muskox. The Inuvialuit people of that region have taken it upon themselves to cull some of the herd. They use every part of the animal basically for food. They brought in a food inspector from Alberta to go through the whole food inspection process from the beginning to the end.

The hide of the animal is taken to a shearer in less than 15 minutes so it does not cool off. They use what is called the qiviut, wool of the finest quality that comes off of the animal. It is rendered into a wool that is like mohair. It is called qiviut in the Inuvialuktun language. It is an absolutely fabulous industry.

I wish I were wearing my sweater today. I know we are not allowed to use props but qiviut sweaters are absolutely beautiful. I was given one by Nellie Cournoyea, the chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. These products are rendered from all of the byproducts of the animal. The hide itself is rendered into different leather products. It is very stylish and classy.

One of the people who is forging ahead and working with the different government departments on this initiative is a guy by the name of Patrick Schmidt. The work this man does on behalf of the Inuvialuit is outstanding.

I am so proud of those people. The people in Sachs Harbour live in a small remote community. The weather was very bad but the plane landed in close to blizzard conditions. Travelling is an enormous undertaking. We provide some very good opportunities and good facilities for their undertakings. There is an airport.

I went on to Holman Island, the home of printmaking. It is absolutely fabulous. The land is so beautiful. As I flew from Sachs Harbour to Holman, I could see Cape Parry or Pin Main where the distant early warning system is quite evident. We get all of our information for the military in the remote regions of Canada through this system.

It is tremendous to think of the role my riding and the occupants of those lands play in the whole issue of Arctic sovereignty. That is very important as well.

Not all of the issues that relate to the military are necessarily financial ones. A lot of technically complicated international agreements speak to the kinds of things that are happening up there.

I also went to Paulatuk. Paulatuk is interesting because it has a young population, as do most of those communities. It is looking to build a youth centre. It is working with its young people to help develop the community.

I am supposed to be talking about the budget, but the budget relates to the way people live across the country.

Going back to Holman Island, the interesting thing about Canada is the kind of travel that people do. We went to the school in Holman. The teacher in charge is an Inuit woman who speaks the Inuit language. We went through all the cultural classes and looked at the quality of education the kids are receiving. It is awesome.

I also noticed that there is a high number of people from Newfoundland. Think of the distance between Newfoundland and Holman and how far those people have come. Those people are really resilient. The Atlantic sends a lot of people to that region.

It is awesome to do this during my time off because it really puts me in touch with the people at the community level. There are perhaps another 15 communities to visit before I have completed the cycle. The riding is so huge and the transportation costs are enormous.

Someone told me in Paulatuk that it costs $9 for a grapefruit. Imagine paying $9 for a grapefruit. Imagine what people pay to feed their families properly. That is why the communities are highly reliant on caribou and country foods. It is a very healthy way for the community to sustain itself and it is also why issues that affect that are really important to them.

The region I come from has a very young population. There are many things happening. We live in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada. All of the Northwest Territories comprise my riding. It reaches out toward Yukon, into the high Arctic, over to Nunavut and down to the Alberta-Saskatchewan-B.C. borders. It is absolutely phenomenal what is in the territories and the potential that exists right now.

The $2.5 billion annual federal investment on the national child benefit has helped to reduce poverty to the lowest level in 20 years. It has had a really good impact. That is important for my riding because it has a very young community.

I noticed another thing in my community. If we are going to do resource development, we have to invest money. I do not think we are a sinkhole for money in the Northwest Territories. We have the greatest opportunity to become self-sustaining. We need infrastructure. We need money to make it cheaper, for instance, for us to build a pipeline.

If we have a completed road, it will be cheaper for us to build the pipeline that we are talking about. I am convinced in my heart of hearts that we are going to build the Mackenzie Valley pipeline first. We need to get behind it and support it. It would be good for the north and for all of Canada. It is something we need to do to sustain our energy needs.

Along with infrastructure, I also wanted to talk about how we have managed to work with the new industry that has hit Canada. I am not sure we have done enough. There is a lot more to do with the diamond industry.

On July 15 I believe we will be opening the second diamond mine in the Northwest Territories. We are the top fourth diamond producing jurisdiction in the world and may end up being the first. We are exponentially putting money back into the fiscal coffers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We need to invest in that industry. We need to help those people to do a better job. We need to help the syndicated jewellers and the value added industry build a stronger economy in the north because the opportunity is there.

The other thing is in the north we have the absolutely best opportunity to set a template for the rest of Canada and the world because it is majority aboriginal populated. To build something that will sustain itself, the government will get money back if it invests in the north. That is absolutely important, and the budget speaks to that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and join the discussions on the budget implementation.

The last member spoke eloquently about the impacts, or lack of impact in some areas, of the budget in her riding. I guess we all face that same dilemma. Certainly it is difficult to come up with a one size fits all budget that addresses issues across the country.

However we see a spending spree with this budget. It is a kind of shotgun approach to everything and anything that has been on the Liberal list for the last nine years. We almost swear there will be a spring election this year when we start analyzing the budget. I know you look up with shock and awe, Mr. Speaker, but when we look at the spending, a little here and a little there in dribs and drabs, we swear somebody is shaping up for an election so he or she can point to all the wonderful things that finally have been done. Maybe it is just somebody shopping for a legacy. Maybe it is not an election at all; maybe it is just a legacy budget. However not a lot of folks out there fell for it.

I have become part of a new committee in the House that reviews government spending and looks at the estimates. How the money is allocated to different things is done in the budget and then we start to approach it from the standpoint of whether it is working. My interest in that committee lies more in the performance reports on a lot of these initiatives we see lined in a budget. Did we get bang for our buck? Did taxpayers actually get a program in which they were interested? Is there anything in there that they could say it is good for them? The more and more I talk to my particular constituents, they say that it has missed them totally.

I will not give the travelogue that the last member did but my riding is very dependent on agriculture. We have been on a downhill slide for the last five years, I guess since the demise of the Crow rate. We did not get the second half of that package to do the value added out west. The government took away the Crow rate that gave us the subsidy on shipping our product but it did not allow us then to take over the remanufacture of and add to the value of our product. That was supposed to be the second half of that package. We are still waiting for that, and that was five or six years ago. It has not happened. We felt that sting in my riding.

We look at this budget and the previous budgets. The same agriculture minister is still here so I guess it rests with him in an AIDA program, which he and his bureaucrats in Ottawa developed. It was supposed to address issues out west. They missed the target. The formula was wrong. The level of support was totally wrong. The area I represent Saskatchewan was hardest hit. It did not qualify for any of that money.

Of the money that went into the program, a good chunk of it, some 35% to 40% went into administration; money in, money out. Then the government compounded the problem by coming out with a program called CFIP, a son of AIDA. The only thing that carried on through were all the fundamental mistakes. There was still no way to trigger that sucker for most of the farmers in my area. They just could not make it work. The few that did systematically faced audits and clawbacks by Revenue Canada, with interest and penalties attached. In its wisdom the government retroactively and arbitrarily changed the rules. It did it all by itself.

There is a lot of discussion in this place about retroactivity in laws. We cannot do it with the sex offender registry because we are invading the bad guy's privacy and his constitutional rights. We cannot do retroactivity in a DNA database because their constitutional rights as criminals supercede the victim. However we can retroactively change the rules and regulations against farmers, and less people qualify. It flies in the face of logic and a lot of my folks are starting to come to terms with it. In spite of the government and its lack of initiative, they will carry on. That is the pioneering spirit which is alive and well.

I have a tremendous base in my riding too that are elk producers. There has been a lot of discussion about the elk industry in the last while. Unfortunately, a lot of it has been negative press with the chronic wasting disease. There has not been an instance in the past year and some. That is great, maybe we are on top of it. However we see the numbers. Roughly the same number of elk have been put down, as we saw with the scarpie epidemic in Quebec and the east side of Ontario.

The government is coming out now with a new policy. It has started valuing the elk at $2,000 a head when probably the average value is $15,000 to $16,000. The government is paying $2,000 for a $16,000 elk when it puts it down. We saw that same formula used in scarpie where a sheep or goat was valued at $300 or thereabouts and the government doubled it. It paid out at $600. How do we justify that to elk producers who see the value of their herd? The government increased the pay out to $4,000, which was still a quarter of the market value at that time, yet it doubled the value for the sheep payout.

It is Liberal logic and Liberal math. How can Liberals do that? I guess their MPs represent some of those areas so they have paid out and taxpayers have taken it through the nose. However my guys suffered on account of that. I still have folks who are doing battle with the agricultural inspection agency under Agriculture Canada because it has quarantined their ground. They have cleaned it up and have done everything the CFIA has asked of them. They dug up all the top soil, hauled it away and buried it with lime. They sprayed down the equipment, the buildings, the barns, the corrals, and everything else to sterilize the ground according to CFIA, the same thing the sheep producers had to do. My guys are still not allowed to put elk back on that ground, yet the sheep are back grazing in those pastures in Quebec.

My guys are to the point now where they have initiated a lawsuit against the government, and good for them. They need to wake somebody up here. Why are the rules different in one area than in another? Scrapie and CWD are the same diseases. They are attacking different livestock but they are the same darn thing. Why are my guys being punished? They did not see anything addressing a program in the budget. They wanted a three year program to put elk back in, then go back and test them but it is not in the budget. CFIA says that it cannot do it because there is no budget. Where is the money? It has money for a lot of other pet projects. Where is the money for the elk guys? It is not in here.

That is not all that hit farmers. The agricultural minister has come out with another new program. He changed the initials again. Now it is the APF. He shortened it by one letter. Maybe it will be better but I do not think so. Again, he cannot sell the darn thing to the provincial agriculture ministers unless he blackmails them and beats them into taking it or else. He cannot sell it to any farm group. Nobody out there supports it.

He had set an arbitrary deadline of April 1. He has backed off on that because he cannot find anybody who agrees with him other than his own bureaucrats. Rightly so because it will be a dismal failure. The funding has been cut again. The funding for agriculture, the third largest contributor to our GDP, is 1% of federal spending. We lose more than that through the cracks in one day. It is just not fair. My farmers realize that the APF will be a dismal failure as well. Most of my guys will not try to qualify for it.

I have another problem with the tail end of the CFIP. That program ends in 2003. All the billing and everything like that will be cleaned up by October. I have more and more guys in my riding who finally were able to trigger something in the 2002-03 crop year. However they cannot apply for CFIP because their fiscal year-end falls past January 2002. It just does not work for them. They are being told they have to wait for the applications for 2003. There will not be any because the program will be done, so my guys get squeezed out again because of a non-fiscal year end.

Did the bureaucrats not consider all this stuff? Apparently not. They wrote a program to get the public relations spin in the big cities so we had a safe, secure food supply. Again that is where the money will go in this budget. It will not go to the ordinary producer. Milk does not come off a shelf at Safeway, it comes out of a cow. Somebody had to get it there. Meat does not come off a shelf in the butcher shop, it came off an animal. It had to get there. With the bread, somebody had to grow the grain before they could grind it.

Agriculture has been forgotten totally in this budget. We have seen other instances in Saskatchewan over this past winter. We saw Revenue Canada come down with a heavy boot on junior hockey. It is saying that the little stipend the junior hockey players get for room and board, the $250 or $300 a month paid directly to the parents who board them, is income. The players are under the age of 18. Revenue Canada is saying that the player has income on which he has to play EI. He does not have to pay CPP because he is not 18 yet.

We have generated tax and EI. Some of these poor little hockey teams, which are run by charitable organizations, have been hit with up to $14,000, and they do not have it. They have charitable status. Not only that, the young hockey player who gets hit with a bill for $600, $700 or $800 does not have it. He is a young guy still going to school. The government had that program in effect through Saskatchewan. It whacked all the hockey teams there. It moved into Manitoba and it quit. I guess it hit a Liberal riding. It does not dare go into Ontario with that because that is the heartland for Liberalism, but it has not given the money back.

Taxation is all about fairness and we have not seen it. If the government is going to tax hockey players in Saskatchewan and their teams, then it should carry it across the board, and I would not have a legitimate complaint. However if it is only going to target Saskatchewan, then I have a complaint and a righteous one.

We look at the ludicrous amount of money spent in Bill C-68. We look at our junior hockey teams being hammered. We see agriculture being left out of the budget. We see a security budget from last year that left out the police and our military again. This budget just does not do it for the ordinary Canadian.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be recognized to speak on Bill C-28, the budget implementation bill.

I listened to the comments of the members who spoke previous to me. Since there was no opportunity for questions and comments, I will add a few comments during my speech to the budget.

It was interesting to hear the member from the Northwest Territories speak about diamonds. It is an extremely new and valuable industry for Canada. Without question, I think there is probably as much opportunity or more opportunity in the diamond industry today than probably any other sector of the economy in Canada. It holds great promise for northern Canada, our aboriginal peoples and the newcomers to the north.

However an issue about diamonds, which the member did not bring up, is the fact that the diamond industry has flourished basically on its own. The government has ignored it. Perhaps that is to the benefit of the industry. Most things that the government pays too much attention to become overburdened with red tape.

If the member is really interested in the diamond industry, there are a couple of things she could pursue, and I would suggest she does. First, traditionally it has taken four and a half years to permit a new mine, which is ridiculous and entirely too long. Understand that these mines are environmentally friendly. They do not use a lot of noxious chemicals and they are in isolated areas. In some instances that process has been shortened to two years. With an industry that does not pollute, mines should receive environmental permits within a 12 month period, and everybody would be happy with the process.

Second, the government has ignored for so long the cutting and polishing industry. Finally we have a fledgling industry in the NWT in Yellowknife and in Edmonton. We should get rid of the excise tax. This tax is no longer relevant on manufactured jewellery and stones in Canada. It is time to get rid of the excise tax. If the government really wants to encourage an industry, then it has to do something about the tax system that holds that industry back. If the member would like to work on those issues, I am sure she would get some benefit and gain for her constituents.

The budget will be known as the Liberal spending budget of billions of dollars that Canadian taxpayers will be paying for a great many years.

What is in Bill C-28 is almost as noticeable as what is not in the bill. The Alliance member who spoke previous to me said that it was a shotgun approach. Those are exactly the same words I intended to use. It is a shotgun approach where a person has a shotgun with a load of No 8 shot, stands back about 25 yards points at the target and hits just about everything on that target. What is hit on the target is important. However what is even more important is what has not been hit on this target.

Our trading relationship with the United States has not been hit on the government target. It has been ignored. For example, again a member speaking to this budget bill mentioned the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. What has been the response from the CFIA on the American bioterrorism bill? Where are we in this country with north-south trade?

I will tell the House where we are with north-south trade after the actions of the government in recent weeks. We are in serious trouble with it. We are also in serious trouble in lack of response and lack of infrastructure to deal directly with the bioterrorism bill.

The basis of the American bioterrorism bill is to ensure food quality and food safety of all food products entering the United States. Part of the bill would mean that any exporter in Canada would have to give 12 hours' notice. There are all kinds of products that come out of Canada without 12 hours' or 24 hours' notice. The majority of Canadian products are on less than 12 or 24 hours' notice.

Fish products that come out of southwestern Nova Scotia from the South shore are about six hours from the Canadian border. They cross on the ferry in Digby, which is two hours from Calais and the American border. Fresh products destined for New York or Boston markets are expected to be there on same day delivery. Exporters cannot afford to have a 24 hour, 36 hour, 72 hour delay or whatever it may be. That delay is there now.

The best thing that the budget could have done would have been to shore up and guarantee our continued trade and therefore our continued prosperity with our major trading partners.

Let us take one example out of the budget which is the roughly $68 million which was voted for the gun control bill. The Liberals continually call it the gun control bill. It is not a gun control bill. It is for a registry that has milked money from Canadian taxpayers and if this bill passes through the Senate it will continue to milk money for generations and it will never stop.

It is even more interesting what the present and former ministers of finance are saying about this. The former minister of finance, when he was minister of finance, thought this was fine. It was okay to hide money from the Canadian public. It was okay to take money that was supposed to be in the main estimates and put it in the supplementary estimates. It was okay to move money from department to department through the Treasury Board. It was okay to hide the truth from Canadians.

Now, that same former minister of finance is saying that all members of cabinet must bear responsibility and that he is prepared to accept his share. That is a big statement to spend $68 million of taxpayers' money and $800 million in total, soon to swell to $1.2 billion, soon to become even more swollen to $1.4 billion, $1.6 billion, $1.8 billion, $2 billion and on into perpetuity.

What else did the former minister of finance say? He said that the cost overruns were revealed to Parliament. That would be incorrect. The cost overruns were not revealed to Parliament. Parliament found out about them.

He said further that what we must get the report the minister commissioned and w must ensure this kind of thing never happens again. Well, it happened on that former finance minister's watch. That is every bit a juvenile response to an excessive amount of overspending under the former finance minister's watch as the juvenile response that the present Minister of Finance has given to a similar issue dealing with Canadian security.

All of a sudden the present Minister of Finance is interested in talking about a perimeter with the United States for trade that would protect the Canadian economy in years to come. The Progressive Conservative Party has always supported a perimeter for trade. We think it is a smart idea. How much money, of the billions spent in the last budget, went into looking at a safe perimeter for trade and safety for the people of North America, Canadians, Americans and Mexicans? Zero.

I appreciate having the opportunity to speak to the bill and I am sure that there are many other members who will want to.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders


Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the budget implementation act. The official opposition will be opposing it when it comes before us for a vote.

We will oppose it because we think the bill and the budget upon which it is based represent the wrong choices for Canada at a critical moment. They are the wrong choices economically and financially with respect to our national security. We believe that it is the continuation of a string of wrong choices which have led to the largest expansion of the federal government in post-war history in a three year period. Over the past three years spending increases have averaged 10% per annum, levels which have not been seen since the late 1970s and indeed are projected to grow by a further 20% over the next three years.

In total, this budget represents a government which is expanding faster than the ability of taxpayers to finance it, faster than the rate of growth in the economy, faster than the growth in our population, and faster than increases in inflation. This is an unsustainable level of spending which was established by the budget and is in the bill before us today.

The government seems to misunderstand its fundamental responsibility and priority. The first responsibility of any responsible national government is the security and defence of its sovereignty, and the fulfillment of its commitment to its allies to defend their sovereignty and security. This budget, like the one that preceded it last year, fails utterly in that regard.

We live now in a world in the midst of war, not only the war against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by the dangerous dictatorship in Iraq, but the larger global war on terrorism which has gone on at a low and often unnoticed level for the better part of the last two decades but which came home to all of us in the most dramatic way on September 11, 2001.

Following that great tragedy, there were many pious sentiments expressed in this place and elsewhere about how things would never be the same again, how our priorities would have to change, not only those of our American friends, but those of us here. There were expressions that we as Canadians are also exposed to the threats imposed by international terrorism and the rogue regimes which support it.

We have seen over the past 18 months a tepid and sometimes indifferent response to that new global security threat which is most acutely felt and directed at our principal ally, the United States. Even after the modest spending adjustments in this budget and the previous 2002 budget for the RCMP, CSIS and the Department of National Defence, none of those critical security functions of the government would reach the same spending levels they were at in real terms back in 1993 when the current government took office.

That reflects a radical misunderstanding of the responsibilities which history has presented us with today. We continue to underfinance our intelligence capabilities as a nation in a radical way. In relative terms, either measured as per capita or as a percentage of gross domestic product, we have one of the lowest expenditures on intelligence of any NATO or OECD country. Similarly, after this budget is implemented, we would continue to have the lowest defence expenditure among the 19 countries of the NATO alliance with the sole exception of Luxembourg with its standing army of 800 men.

That is a black mark on this country. It is a betrayal of our once proud history as a responsible ally with a dignified military past. It is a betrayal of our values on which we pride ourselves, values of being a champion of democracy, of ordered liberty, and of international peace and security.

The budget and the 25 budgets which preceded it have cumulatively betrayed not only our allies, traditions, history, and values, but indeed has put Canada on a holiday from history at a moment of great historical importance to the world. This irresponsibility has not gone unnoticed by our allies, as we know, in the current crisis. This irresponsibility will not go without affecting our standard of living.

It is in our national interest to meet our moral and strategic obligations to our allies. It is well known that today we have the largest bilateral trade relationship with the United States in world history. We know that $1.8 billion of Canadian goods and services cross that border every day, and that 40% of our national income and 40% of Canadian jobs are dependent upon that relationship.

We know that 50% of Ontario's GDP is dependent on trade and that 96% of its exports go to the United States. That is the enormous importance of this relationship which is being taken for granted and further undermined by the wrong choices in this bill.

Even after the modest emergency increases for the Department of National Defence, which would simply finance enormous maintenance shortfalls for simply the maintenance of current equipment without even beginning the acquisition of new and urgently needed equipment or new hiring of personnel, it still means that we will, after this budget is implemented, have the second lowest defence commitment in NATO and spend less than half of the NATO average on defence, at 1.2% of GDP, compared to the NATO average of 2.1% of gross domestic product.

The budget reflects fundamentally the wrong priorities and neglects our principal responsibilities.

Let me turn briefly to a couple of other matters that I am quite troubled by in this budget. One is the increase in so-called child care subsidies.

Millions of Canadians choose to provide, and would like to choose to provide, child care at home with a parent. This budget chooses to discriminate against them. It would effectively raise their tax burden in order to finance the child care choices of those who choose child care outside the home. That is fundamentally unfair.

It is time that Parliament recognized that both child care choices are equally valid, including the choice to make the economic sacrifice to raise children at home. For that reason, I am opposed to the prejudicial increase in government funded child care subsidies with no offsetting recognition of the sacrifice of stay-at-home parents.

Similarly, I am sorry to see that there is no substantive tax relief in the bill. Canada would continue to have the highest income tax burden as a percentage of gross domestic product in the G-7, the third highest in the OECD.

I am distressed to see that it would take far too long to bring equity to self-employed people for their retirement savings in RRSPs. I am further distressed to see that there is little or no commitment to long term scheduled debt reduction.

In conclusion, I hope that in the future the government will finally seize itself with what is its principal responsibility, the defence of our sovereignty and the security of our allies, and will have a radical change of course.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are days when it is a pleasure to rise in the House to say some positive things about what is happening but, unfortunately, Bill C-28, the implementation of the budget, is not one of those times. In fact this budget is an HEC budget. It is hypocritical, embarrassing and confiscatory.

Why do I use those descriptors? First, I believe the budget denies the principle of being proud to be a Canadian. It is hypocritical because it pretends to do something which it really fails to do. I believe the Minister of Finance said that Canada needs to become a country that is competitive, that will compete successfully with other nations in the world.

Not long ago the executive director of the Business Council on National Issues published a book together with a fellow by the name of Stewart-Paterson. They did some very interesting things in the book. They showed very clearly that Canadians were not competitive in the global economy and that if we were to be competitive in the future, that we had better have a good look at that.

Let me give the House one particular illustration that I found most dramatic. It compares the competitive advantage of a Canadian earning $65,000 and an American earning $65,000. I will give some numbers and those people who are listening will find those numbers interesting. A Canadian earns $65,000 and we will assume he or she has a dividend income of $2,000. On $65,000 and a $2,000 dividend income the Canadian would pay a tax of $498 on the dividend. On a salary of $65,000 the Canadian would pay $15,160, leaving a discretionary income of $51,342 out of $65,000 plus $2,000 dividend income.

Let us compare that to the American. This is based on the recently proposed budget of President Bush. A U.S. taxpayer earning an income of $65,000 plus a $2,000 dividend income would pay zero dollars on the dividend income and on the $65,000 salary would pay $3,795, leaving a discretionary income of $63,200.

Let us compare those numbers now. The comparison of discretionary income with $65,000 and a $2,000 dividend income would be $51,342 for the Canadian. The American's income would be $63,205, so the American taxpayer would have $11,863 more than the Canadian. Even if we were to double the tax for the American taxpayer, which would then bring it up to $7,590, it would still not be comparable with the $15,000 the Canadian is taxed.

To say that we are making Canadian workers more competitive is simply false. It is hypocritical to make a statement that we are helping people in Canada to become competitive. Is it any wonder that some of our best educated, best trained and most skilled people are leaving Canada for the United States? We can give lots of examples of this.

The point here is that the finance minister said that he would do one thing but in fact he created a budget that does the opposite. Not only is it bad, it is also embarrassing.

My hon. colleague recently talked about how little money there was in the budget for the Department of National Defence, which is $800 million. The Auditor General said that what was needed was $2 billion. That is almost three times as much as what is in the budget. The Prime Minister built on this and said that we were not in the war. Yesterday, however, the Minister of National Defence admitted that we have soldiers at the front and ships in the gulf. This creates the ironic situation of having our armed personnel participating in a war that the government is not supporting. This is embarrassing.

I found out something last weekend that hit very close to home and it involved Canadians who were visiting Florida. On their way down to Florida they stopped at a service station to buy some gas. The service station attendant noticed their Canadian licence plate and told them they had better move on. He said that there was no gas for sale to Canadians at his station. I am sure that is not a common occurrence but it did happen, and that is embarrassing. What do we do in situations like that? How can we support a budget that does those kinds of things to Canadians?

I want to add a third description to the budget. It is a confiscatory budget. It confiscates money. We have already compared a U.S. taxpayer with a Canadian taxpayer. However the far more serious issue, because the government does not have a plan to repay the debt in this budget, is that it is not only confiscating our income, it is confiscating the potential income of our children and our grandchildren. That is where I draw the line.

What is happening here is that there are some expenditures included in the budget for which we are not prepared to pay. Somebody might say that the budget is balanced right now and that there is even a bit of a surplus. Yes, that is true, but that is because the government listened to what we had to say. The point is that the present debt is cutting into our current revenues in a major way. Service costs on the budget run around $40 billion to $42 billion a year. Imagine what would happen to the health care budget if we did not have to pay out the $42 billion in service charges. That would be a great advantage. The government is taking money that it should not take and it has no plan to pay the debt.

Some people might say that this is a prudent budget; $3 billion worth of prudence, and it is in the budget for emergencies. If there is an emergency, the money will go toward it. If there is no emergency, the money will be used to pay down the debt. Is that the way a prudent house manages its mortgage payments? Is that the way a prudent business manages its loan payments? No. They carefully analyze the situation and make sure money is available to pay down their debt on a systematic and regular basis.

The budget is called a prudence factor but it is not a prudence factor at all. It does not protect future citizens from paying the services charges on the debt. It bothers me a lot that there is no plan to pay down the debt.

I would now like to speak to the budget in a broader sense. The budget was supposed to be a budget that would help us to be more responsible in expending funds. What has the government done? It has increased spending by some $17.4 billion. It tells us that we will receive great tax breaks. It tells us that we will receive $2.3 billion worth of tax cuts. That is a net increase of $15 billion. Is that telling the truth about what is happening?

We also need to talk about health care. This is an example of another hypocritical position taken by the government. The government has said “Look at all the money we are putting into health care”. It is true, it is putting a lot more money into health care. In fact, it brought it up to the point of where it was at in 1993-94 when it took all the money out. However there is no accounting for the inflationary increase during that time. The government has misled Canadians into thinking it did a great and wonderful thing. It has done nothing of the kind. It simply brought the figure back to where it was and even shortchanged it by the inflation that is involved.

The time has come for us to be very clear and to recognize that this budget is hypocritical, it is an embarrassment to Canadians and it confiscates the income of future generations.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and represent the constituents of Saanich--Gulf Islands on this very important matter. When we add up the total federal budget it equates to spending in the magnitude of $200 million or $300 million a day.

I want to focus my comments on three areas: first, the out of control spending, which was mentioned by a number of speakers; second, the lack of accountability, the corruption and the waste we have seen in the past and how it reflects on the budget; and third, and most important, where we are going to see a potentially huge loss of revenues which have not been accounted for.

First I will talk about the spending priorities. The government has a habit of taking from the one hand and giving us back a little; taking a dollar, giving back a dime and then wanting us to say thanks. Again we see it in this budget. I do not think there was any member in the House who was not crying for more money for health care. Finally we got some back, and the government expects us all to stand up and cheer that it finally gave money back to health care that was so long overdue. However it is really important not to forget that it is was that government that cut the money in the first place, that cut the transfers over the last 10 years which brought the health care system to its knees.

Finally we have seen some of the money given back, but the more troubling part is that the government has gone on this spending rampage of $17.4 billion. It is wildly out of control. It is the single largest percentage increase in government spending in over 40 years. If we listen to some of the think-tanks they are all criticizing this. Why? Is it so that the Prime Minister can have a legacy? This is not his money. This is taxpayer money. Something like $3 billion has gone into Kyoto right now, and what do we have to show for it?

That leads me into my second point, the corruption and lack of accountability. The member for Yorkton--Melville has spoken tirelessly on the gun control registry for 10 years. He has brought to the attention of the House, every journalist and the Auditor General so many countless times how the gun registry was ballooning to $1 billion. Well, guess what? It happened. It is at $1 billion and growing. What did we do here last week? We gave that ill-fated gun registry another $60-some million. It is wrong.

We can look at the billion dollar boondoggles we saw at HRDC and at the Groupaction contracts under Public Works. We see the mismanaged gun registry under Justice. The government's latest little ploy, which I believe may come under Public Works, is to spend $100 million in an electoral cycle to fund political parties. The list goes on and on. It is neverending.

Yes, some of the departments are wildly out of control, but the government is hopelessly out of control. It is blowing money. It might as well toss it in the trash or put it through a paper shredder. It has no respect for the hardworking Canadian taxpayers. It just turns this money into its own slush fund.

We see it over and over again. We saw the Shawinigate scandals. They never end. This latest one is absolutely ridiculous, forcing the taxpayers to fund political parties against their will. If we actually listen to the Prime Minister's rationale, he will tell us that the government has to limit unions and corporations from making political donations because its shareholders or members may not agree with giving that money to a political party.

And who in the heck are the shareholders of the public purse? The taxpayers. Yet they are being forced to give hundreds of millions of dollars. It is dead wrong.

We have heard all the numbers in the budget. I have them all in front of me. The military has been shortchanged once again. Yes, it received a little more money but again that was after draconian cuts. Again the government takes a dollar, gives back a dime and then wants us to be thankful. Even the Auditor General said it would be $2 billion just to meet the military's basic needs and it did not get nearly that; it got less than half that.

The government's spending priorities are so wrong. Yet if people are in some way affiliated with the Liberal Party, and we have seen it, the facts speak for themselves. They would be thrown in jail if they were in the private sector; this would be criminal and it would not be allowed to go on, but here it continues.

Let me go to my last point. This is the most troubling aspect of all, which is starting to be touched upon by some of the members in the Canadian Alliance, and that is our relationship with the United States. How does it impact this budget? We trade in the magnitude of $1.5 billion a day with the United States. I received a card the other day, and I get them all the time, which showed the trade levels of different countries. The United States was at 87.7%. The next was Japan at 2% or 3%, and it might have been as high as 4%, and then the levels drop off to below 1%. The point is that it is 87% or $1.5 billion a day.

We have listened to some of the testimonies of members on what is happening in the U.S. With how we have been acting, I am ashamed to be a Canadian and go to the United States. It is one thing to have a debate on whether we should have sent troops. I can accept that debate. Personally I think it is right that we should be supporting the Americans, the British and all the other members of the coalition. I think it is the right thing to do. It may not have been the most popular, but it is the right thing. I can accept that debate.

What we cannot accept are some of the names stated on the record, referring to the Americans as bastards and morons. It is unacceptable when ministers of the Crown are slagging the President of the United States. That is unacceptable. That is going to have such a severe impact on our economy and on our direct relationship with the United States. It is going to affect this budget. It is very serious.

I looked at an e-mail that one of the members received from someone in the U.S. I do not know the validity of it, but it reflects some of the comments we are hearing. One member talked about having a conversation with someone who was not permitted to buy gas. Another member who travels to the U.S. a lot was speaking with someone at the Canadian Automobile Association--again I say that this is unconfirmed--who was cautioned about travelling to the U.S.

What is going on? How could the government have let our relations deteriorate so badly? It is all on this administration's shoulders and it goes back to before the war with Iraq.

Our Prime Minister seems absolutely intent on poking a stick into the eye of the president at every single opportunity, as opposed to fostering this relationship with our neighbours to the south that is so vital. It is going to have very grave consequences for our economy. It is going to have a serious impact on revenues. Where I come from, Victoria, tourism is going to be very seriously affected.

My wife is an American. We travel to see family and friends in the U.S. When I call these people the first thing they ask is, “What in hell are you guys doing up there? What is going on? What is with your government?”

If I may, I will leave the message that the government had better clean up its act and have a hard look in the mirror at what it is going to do to this country. It could have very serious and grave consequences.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and debate the budget implementation act.

I want to begin by pointing out that the world is a dangerous place. The world has always been a dangerous place, but that was really brought home to us on September 11, 2001. At that time, I think a lot of people understood for the first time that just because we are in North America it does not mean we are immune from a lot of the conflicts that regularly afflict a lot of the world.

For a lot of the time we have taken our security for granted. I think we saw that reflected in how we planned our finances. We did not spend a lot of money on security. We did not spend a lot of money, certainly in Canada, on our military. That is a well known fact. All of that changed as of September 11, 2001, but although a lot of people recognized that we had to change how we look at things, the government did not recognize it.

For a number of months here, we have been debating the issue of going to war with Iraq. It has been debated for a long time. Last fall, Colin Powell, Secretary of State of the United States, went to the UN and talked about it. Despite that fact, despite the lingering effect of September 11, 2001, the subsequent war in Afghanistan and terrorist attacks around the world, the government, in these very uncertain times, brought forward a budget that looks like a budget one would plan if one knew the future was going to be completely rosy.

What do most people do in uncertain times? We know what they do. They frankly assess their finances. They have a hard look at their finances and say that they have to be honest with themselves about the situation they are in, that they have to take a look at what they owe and at what their equity is and make some judgments based on that. They look at their spending patterns and ask what spending they could do without. If the future is uncertain, they ask, “What can I do without?” Then they cut that spending and take the benefit of that cut and put it toward paying down debt, for instance. That is what prudent people do in times of uncertainty.

What did the government do? Did it do any of those things? No.

What did the finance minister announce in the budget? He said, “We are going to take a look at spending and we are going to cut wasteful spending”. Did the government do it? No. There is not one dollar mentioned in the budget in an area where it has decided it is going to trim spending, not one place, not one dollar. In a time of uncertainty, the government did not say, “This is something we can do without. We have to sustain the programs that are important to people, so we will take money from this and put it to that”.

Did it have a plan to pay down debt like an average person would have? No. What do the budget documents say? They forecast zero debt repayment over the next three years.

What did the government do? It decided it would crank up spending by an incredible amount. Spending will go up by $17.7 billion over the next three years. That is in new initiatives. That does not include spending that was already slated to rise over the next three years. That is $17.7 billion in new spending and $2.3 billion in tax cuts. In other words, 88% of surpluses from this point forward, over the next three years, will go toward increased spending, with 12% to reducing taxes and none to paying down debt.

Maybe some people would be okay with that if the debt were $50 billion or $100 billion, or maybe even $200 billion or $300 billion, but it is $500 billion-plus. Twenty-one cents of every tax dollar goes to pay interest on the debt. Twenty-one cents. And at a time of economic uncertainty, we should be prudent. We should be paying down debt, not cranking up spending, not bringing in all kinds of new programs. That is imprudent. It imperils the future of Canadians.

Rather obviously, that is something the government does not care about very much. Other colleagues have already talked about the government's imprudence in how it deals with our largest trading partner.

By the way, just so we are clear on this, I do not advocate that we should take a position in favour of our allies going to Iraq on the basis of our trade ties with them. I think we should do that because it is the right thing to do, but I do want to point out that it has a profound economic impact as well.

When a country trades to the degree that we trade with the United States and when a government is completely unaware of the program of anti-American slandering that the government has done against our American colleagues and unaware of the consequences of that, it is irresponsible. This government has been completely irresponsible when it comes to this issue, to the point where normally benign people are infuriated and writing e-mails and sending letters asking, “What's going on?”

Many of us have American family. I am one of them. I have many relatives in the United States. Like a lot of families, my family came from Norway, went through Minnesota and the Dakotas, spending about a generation there, and then came up to Alberta at the turn of the century. I have a lot of cousins in the United States. It is a very common story in my part of the world. My friend who just spoke has a wife who is an American. It is a very common thing.

When the government turns around and slanders the Americans, our best friends, our best allies, our biggest trading partner, it cannot help but have an impact. If members across the way say that they have not heard from constituents who have told them that they were not allowed to gas up in the United States, that people would not take their VISA cards, that people have cancelled orders because they are Canadian, if they do not admit that, then they are not telling the truth, because it is happening.

This is such a vital economic tie that we cannot afford to let that happen. It is irresponsible of the government to carry on this campaign of slandering and slurs. It does so and it just does not seem to end. The Prime Minister should take the responsibility. He has had many chances to stand up publicly and not just half-heartedly apologize but to take his government to task and tell people that if it happens again they are out of caucus. That is what should happen, because the stakes are too high.

I get tired of this. People do not understand the impact it is having on the lives of ordinary Canadians. I have never been more disappointed in this government in the nine and a half years I have been here and that is saying a lot, because I have been deeply disappointed in this government at many points in the past, but as for the level of disrespect, I do not even know how to say it. The superlatives escape me. I have used them all up, so I do not have any more to express my disappointment in how the government has acted. I see a member across the way who has been engaged in this somewhat and I am just going to get more worked up.

Suffice it to say that members across the way have an obligation to bite their tongues when they know that the economic future of Canadians is at stake. If they do not like the war, that is one thing. We respect that and they can debate it in a respectful way, but to run down the President of the United States and run down Americans in general is not acceptable. It is not acceptable and I want to see it end.

There are so many things I could talk about, but I suspect my time is coming to an end. I will simply wrap up by stating that the government has been imprudent in many ways. It has driven up spending at a time of economic uncertainty caused by war, by a sluggish domestic economy in the United States and by other problems such as SARS, which is another thing. The government has been driving up spending and on the other hand it is doing its best to undermine our closest economic relationship, our relationship with the United States, which is responsible for 87% of all of our trade. From here on in, let us hope that members across the way get the message that they have to be prudent, not only in how they spend but in how they treat our best friends in the world.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:40 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on the budget implementation act, 2003, particularly since this budget—like the budgets of recent years—is, in a sense, very consistent, reflecting as it does a continuity in the building of a new post-referendum Canada, a new Canada that is increasingly centralized, unitarian and standardized.

As I said, this budget, like the previous ones, continues this process. This is a process that is being conducted without any mandate—the federal government was never authorized to act in this fashion—without any debate in Quebec or in the Canadian provinces, without consultations and, more importantly, without any referendum to give real legitimacy to the government to act as it is doing and to completely change the rules of federalism in this country.

This change is being implemented in obvious contempt of the Canadian Constitution of 1867, which provides a rather clear sharing of powers. However, this change fully complies with the letter and the spirit of the social union agreement reached in 1999 between nine provinces and the federal government. As we remember, Quebec bluntly refused to sign this document, and it was right to do so, because it went counter to its interests and, indeed, still does.

So, the social union agreement applies even though there were no debates, no consultations. In my opinion, the social union agreement that governs the spirit of this budget completely changes the rules of the game, including—and this is a key element—the spending power, which, as we know, was officially given, when the provinces signed this agreement, to the federal government. The Canadian provinces, with the exception of Quebec, have accepted that, from now on, the federal government will invest in whatever area of jurisdiction it chooses at any time it chooses, in the name of Canadian public interest.

So, it is not the Canadian constitution that is being applied, but the social union agreement, which is an administrative agreement. The way this agreement is being applied, we feel as though we were hearing a provincial finance minister when we hear the Minister of Finance talking the way he did when he delivered the budget speech.

He interferes without restraint in areas of provincial jurisdiction, to such an extent, as I have said, that one would take him for a provincial minister concerned—as would be legitimate for a provincial minister—with matters of health, education, government relations with the family, or direct connections with individuals. These areas are, however, in keeping with the 1867 constitution, termed provincial responsibilities. The federal government is assigned the responsibility for international relations, foreign affairs, defence, international cooperation, postal services and the like. Over the years, however, a policy has developed, that has created a new Canada, the policy of “nation building”, creating a standardized Canada, a unitary entity that is definitively centralized.

To give some examples that stand out in the budget speech, on page 6, the minister states that he wants to establish:

—a plan for timely access; for quality care and for the sustainability of this Canadian advantage; for reform of family and community care; for access to home care; for coverage of catastrophic drug costs; for reduced waiting times for diagnostic services; for innovation; and for real accountability to Canadians.

The last concept is in direct reference to the social union of 1999. There is more and more reference to accountability, but who is to be accountable? The federal government? No, the provinces, who will have to be accountable within their own areas of jurisdiction to a government whose mandate does not encompass those areas.

This basically amounts to changing the rules of the game. The provinces will have to be accountable in the areas they are responsible for. They will have to be accountable to a government that is not responsible for these areas. This makes fundamental changes to the rules of the game without any mandate, without any consultations and without any referendum.

On page seven of the budget speech, it says that in addition to health—an area of provincial jurisdiction—Canadians want their governments to tackle the issues of poverty, homelessness and dependency.

If we were to respect the Constitution, this would refer to a provincial minister who answers to individuals and families and who has to manage the link between the provincial government and citizens.

Further on, the speech mentions child poverty and the national child benefit. This is the federal government, not Quebec. The federal government has so much money at its disposal that it is interfering in provincial matters.

The budget speech refers to persons with disabilities. The government dares to do so despite the fate it has dealt persons with disabilities in recent years. By raising the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit, the government has significantly reduced the number of people whose disability can be recognized. This has had an impact on the daily lives of people who are clearly vulnerable.

This is reprehensible from a government that, we know, has built up a surplus by stealing from the EI fund by depriving—as my colleague, the member for Champlain, said so well—people who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. This is akin to fraud the way they are being deprived of the money. The question needs to be asked.

Now it is even bragging about what it will do for persons with disabilities. The government is saying how much better off they will be.

One would think it was the provincial minister talking when we hear that poor families need more than an income supplement. This is in reference to parents and single parents in particular.

This government is interfering in other areas of jurisdiction and is using money that belongs to others.

On page 8 it says, and I quote:

No approach to poverty will be successful if we do not domore to address the issue of homelessness.

In Quebec, there is the Initiative de partenariats en action communautaire, an initiative that brings together community groups. This initiative is managed by the Government of Quebec. The federal government is duplicating what is already being done. In Quebec, hundreds of millions of dollars is being provided for community groups. It is being carefully managed by the secretariat established by the Government of Quebec for the initiative. There is no need for the federal government to come in and duplicate the work being done by the Government of Quebec.

Further on, the budget refers to education. It refers to innovation and learning. It says that we must provide Canadians with:

—the best universities that produce the best knowledge and the best graduates—.

This is still the federal government saying this. The speech goes on:

We have connected all of Canada’s schools and libraries to the Internet.

There is also reference to the millennium scholarship foundation, and the speech goes on as follows:

This government created the Canada Foundation for Innovation to modernize the infrastructure of our universities.

This is the federal government speaking. The universities are primarily a provincial responsibility, particularly in Quebec, which has always administered the matter fairly.

Reference is made to university research chairs and to the Canada Student Loan program. The system in Quebec—and this is no idle boast—is the best. Our scholarships and loans are the highest, and the debt load the lowest, in Canada. The budget speech also makes reference to the Canada Graduate Scholarships.

In closing, I will touch upon the proposals relating to the municipalities. There is a new development in this connection, and it is grandly presented. To quote page 14:

Virtually every initiative I have described today can be placed in the context of renewing urban and community life in Canada.

The municipalities are creatures of the provinces. Yet we get the feeling that the next great step in the evolution of this centralized Canada will involve the municipalities.

In the meantime, while the federal government has responsibility for international cooperation, it allocates only 0.3% to it, whereas the international standard is 0.7%. This was criticized this morning in committee by Stephen Lewis, the representative of the UN Secretary General. While the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom allocate 1%, this government, while interfering in all manner of things that are not its business, gives 0.3%.

This is the kind of Canada that awaits Quebec if Quebeckers do not wake up. We will be totally swallowed up by a centralized and unitary Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and a pleasure to speak to Bill C-28, the budget implementation act.

As senior health critic for the Canadian Alliance, it is very important as we look at this implementation act to discern just how many dollars are actually going from taxpayers' pockets into health care. It is very important that we discern where the numbers are. I would like to talk a little about how those numbers break down and what we need to do with those extra dollars that go into health care, whether or not they are adequate, and the state in which we find the health care system right now.

Before I get into that, it is very important that I spend a minute explaining our position with regard to the SARS virus that is presently upon our nation and the world. I am a little frustrated because last week the Canadian Alliance wanted to be very non-partisan in dealing with an issue of utmost importance that goes beyond any political issues. As an act of good faith, I talked to the Minister of Health and gave her the actual questions I was going to ask in question period with regard to this issue, so that she could put forward her message and relieve the pressure and the fear on most Canadians' minds with regard to the outbreak of the SARS virus.

That is the first time that has ever happened to my knowledge. It certainly is the first time I have done that. This is a political arena. We have tried our very best to non-politicize something that is of such importance in the national interest. Those are the facts.

The minister has been very weak in coming forward to alleviate some of the fears most Canadians have about the SARS virus. The quarantines act was implemented in 2000 to limit the amount of mosquitoes coming in on bamboo. An act was implemented to limit bamboo and mosquitoes yet the government is reluctant and very shy about imposing the quarantines act to deal with what could potentially be, as the World Health Organization stated, one of the largest crises the world has seen to date, spread by airlines.

I do not understand the reluctance of the government being so shy to do this. I want to spend a minute or two on that to explain our position. We will work to hold the government's feet to the fire to assist it in getting its message out to alleviate the fears regarding this virus and also to encourage it to not be shy in doing what needs to be done.

The issue is twofold. The spread of SARS has to be dealt with but even more important, we have to limit the collateral damage of a nation that could become quite phobic about how this is being dealt with. We have to discern both sides of it. There could be more individuals, more Canadians who would die because of waiting lists, those who are on waiting lists but are not able to receive the service, than actual numbers that would perhaps not make it through an attack of the SARS virus.

That is important as we discern the budget implementation act and the number of dollars going into our health care system. We have to look at the state our health care system is in nationally. Waiting lists have increased to unbelievable numbers. Tens of thousands of Canadians lack access to family physicians. Actually when we talk to most Canadians they say if they get to the service, Canadian health care services are actually very good and the service providers do their very best to provide the services needed. The problem is trying to get to those services.

A study was done at one of the hospitals in Hamilton last year where 50 patients died just waiting for heart surgeries. Therein lies the dilemma and one of the problems we have in our health care system.

It is very important that we stop the rhetoric and the dispute between the federal and provincial governments when we look at how money is being spent. This comes out of the health accord which provinces say they did not sign and the federal government says they wish they would have signed. It does not really matter. They took the money. They got up from the table having agreed on a process and at least $12 billion, and I will talk about the numbers in a minute, but $12 billion more going into the core funding of the health care system.

The important thing is to stop pointing fingers and blaming anyone. Let us start implementing the best measures possible so that we can have an efficient sustainable health care system into the 21st century. That is what is important. That is what we will hold both levels of government to because of what they did in the health accord.

There are some good things in the health accord and there are some things we wish were not there. Nonetheless, let us talk about some of those things.

The official opposition welcomes a lot of the measures in the health accord. It moves forward the agenda of health care reform in the sense that it does not limit the provinces from implementing reforms that would put health care on a sustainable footing in the foreseeable future.

It also would help to change the paradigm shift needed in health care away from the health care system to putting the patient's needs first and building a system that would provide services for the individual who is sick. The patient is the individual who pays for the system. That is what we really need to refocus our energy and our thought process to as we look at our health care system into the 21st century. It is very important that we discern that. It is very important that we get around the rhetoric and start reflecting on that whole idea and what is very positive about that.

We are very nervous about some of the health care reform measures. They could open up the system into home care, pharmaceutical care and palliative care, all of which are good and all of which the provinces provide in varying degrees in their respective areas.

Nonetheless, when we apply it through federal money and if we apply the federal money inappropriately and do not leave the flexibility, we will waste the precious health care dollars. We do not want to waste them. We want to make sure that every dollar that comes out of the taxpayer's pocket with regard to health care is spent in the most efficient way possible. Therein lies the ultimate goal.

Believe me, if people think that the system is stressed and stretched now, just wait until the demographic shift hits our health care system. Think of when the high costs and the dollars spent on our seniors at age 65 and beyond hit our system. As the bulging baby boomer generation hits that system over the next decade, the problems we see in health care now will look small in comparison.

We need to get over the rhetoric and deal with how we can effectively contribute to the debate on health care renewal and reform. That is very important. If we were to look back at the last decade, we would see a federal government that not only stopped contributing more money into health care but actually pulled money away from health care and allowed it to falter and drift into crisis. That is what we have seen over the last decade.

Some of the critics on the other side would say that is not true, that the health accord of 2000 solved that problem. Not really.

I was sitting on a regional health authority at that same time. We had to deal with the reduction in money coming from the federal government. What happened to the system at that time was absolutely devastating. Nonetheless we worked through it.

Almost 40% of provincial program spending is on health care. Mr. Romanow said that this year's federal contribution is 12% of every dollar that the provinces spend on health care. It is very important to understand the difference between the two and that the federal government has really neglected to apply the money.

The health accord of 2000 was a five year program. As of today we are into the fourth year of that program. The money did not got into the system until now. It was an illusion to think that the money would deal with health care problems at that time in the 2000 accord. It was more about winning an election.

Unfortunately, the Canadian health care system has suffered because of that lack of foresight. Hopefully that will not happen again. That was a missed opportunity in 2000 and there is another missed opportunity with the health accord right now.

Health care in Canada is all about values. Our values in Canada are that we will not allow an individual to lose their home or their security because of a serious illness. The Americans have a different value system. They say, “We will make sure that you stay healthy. We will provide the health care but we will allow you to pay for it and you could lose your home”. That is a different value system. I do not judge theirs and I am sure they do not judge ours.

We need to protect our values in our health care system and make sure that we sustain it. To do that over the next decade, we will have to use our resources not in a fight but in reforms that would actually sustain our health care system in the 21st century.

We need to put the patients first. It is high time we did that. It is high time we got there in health care.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

1 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Independent Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me, for the first time since I regained my freedom, to speak in this House as an independent. Not being bound by party discipline, I naturally intend to speak my mind about the budget allocations, the way the federal government is managing them and also the response of my friends, both in the Bloc Quebecois and the Canadian Alliance.

If Canada is what it is today, it is because Quebec, having been asked in 1867 to be part of this great Canadian federation, insisted on keeping its French language tradition, its customary rights or its Civil Code, created in the early 19th century from the Napoleonic Code, and also its right to freedom of religion. Otherwise, Canada would not be what it is today.

For all the other anglophone provinces in Canada, one all-powerful government sufficed. At the time, there was not much west of Ontario. The other provinces joined later. If the current system exists, it is because the province of Quebec insisted on keeping those rights that I have just named.

The constitutional jurisdictions were divided up under sections 91 and 92. Section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867 concerns federal jurisdictions, in which the federal government has the right to legislate, namely, defence, the postal service, divorce and aboriginals, to name but a few.

Quebec and the provinces, under section 92, have constitutional authority over such areas as education and health; I will not name all of them.

Unfortunately, I listened to the hon. member of the Bloc Quebecois for Trois-Rivières, who is a friend, at least he was until I rose to speak; I do not know if he will be afterwards. I have trouble understanding this hon. member's attitude. In his speech, he mentioned, at least five times, referendums, nation building and the fact that Canada is about to become a new country coast to coast, A mari usque ad mare ; he told us that Canadians were not consulted, that they were not asked what they wanted for the future of their country.

The truth is subject to a double standard in this country. I would like to ask a few questions of my hon. friend from Trois-Rivières. In Quebec, did we have a referendum on municipal amalgamation? Did we have a referendum, or is anyone promising one, on the latest hot topic in Quebec, the negotiations with the Innu? Did we have a referendum when we, in this House, agreed to change the name of Newfoundland to Newfoundland and Labrador?

Did we have a referendum when we, in this place, adopted the Firearms Act? This issue is entirely relevant to the budget now before us. This slippage will have cost Canadians $1.25 billion. Moreover, it is an encroachment—and one of unprecedented scope—on areas of provincial jurisdiction, particularly freedom, civil law, property, and hunting and fishing. The issue of firearms control touches on many jurisdictions.

What did the Bloc Quebecois say against this? It was politically profitable, it seems. At the time, women's groups insisted that the act be passed, with no consideration of the areas of provincial jurisdiction that had been given to us under section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

Just recently, this party voted an additional $60 million or so to implement the program. The only province that has not yet challenged it before the courts is Quebec.

Yet, is the message being sent—and this is my question to the hon. member for Trois-Rivières—that the federal government can meddle in our constitutional jurisdictions, as long as we gain from it financially? If we get funds, if the federal government gives us some money, it is no big deal. Are we prepared to take cash for these constitutional jurisdictions, which were granted to us very sparingly in 1867 only because we threatened not to become part of the Canadian federation? Now, if it is politically expedient, if there is some money to be gained, it is acceptable.

Take, for example, the negotiations with the Innu. An amount of $377 million will be paid to the Innu, who had claims before the courts that totalled a similar or slightly higher amount. The federal government will pay $300 million out of the $377 million. All of a sudden, the respective constitutional jurisdictions become less important, because the federal government will provide $300 million.

So, there may be a tendency to be more flexible in such cases and let things go. However, if we have principles, theys should always apply, even if they work against us. This is what a principle is all about. Sometimes, it may hurt to follow it, but the important thing is what results from it.

I have always found my Bloc Quebecois friends to be rather flexible on this issue, provided there were some economic spinoffs for the provinces. It is their choice and I respect it.

However, I say that when we have principles and when we jealously guard a constitution that we did not quite want but that governs us, we should at least try to have it complied with. Right now, we make sure it is complied with when there is nothing much to be gained, but when there is something to be gained, it is a different story.

Take the example of the municipalities. When the federal government arrives with its millions for municipalities, it will be interesting to see what happens. The mayors will ask for help from the province, and the province will look at its interests and say, “Let us go ahead with this”.

There is no doubt that the constitutional system in which we find ourselves is very bad for the provinces, and particularly for Quebec, since it stands apart from the others in confederation.

Our friends from the other parties, the anglophones in the rest of Canada wanted a single national government. They wanted a federal government. This is why we said that there were two nations in this country.

The fact remains that, speaking of referendums, I believe in the merits of referendums that the hon. member for Trois-Rivières seems to be promoting. All the better, except that this must apply at all times to our political reasoning, and not only when it suits us.

I also want to address our hon. colleagues in the Canadian Alliance, who say that friends like the Americans should not be treated as they have. Forgive me if I do not totally agree with them.

First, I would say that parliamentarians here are in no danger of getting killed in Iraq. It is easy to send other people's children, so long as we do not have to go ourselves or send our kids. Speaking of friends, I would say that when it came to defending their own interests, the Americans stomped all over the interests of Canada, their friend.

Take, for example, softwood lumber. When it came to defending their softwood lumber interests, our American friends did not show much respect for us. They did what they had to defend their interests.

Why is the government avoiding doing something in Canada's interests and the public's interests? If softwood lumber is important to the Americans, the lives of our children are as important to us, at least as much as wood is. If we cannot admit that, I think that there is something really wrong.

What I mean is that I support fully respecting our Constitution. The fact that there is too much money in federal coffers as the result of a tax authority benefiting the federal government and penalizing the provinces where the needs are, is why the current sovereignist movement in Quebec started. I am still a sovereignist, and I will probably die one.

However, we must apply our political theory or political principles right down the line; otherwise we end up contradicting ourselves. This can be dangerous for a cause's credibility. I mentioned, as an example, the Firearms Control Act. There are other examples.

I urge parliamentarians, when they are defending the interests of others, to defend them to the end, independently of their own interests.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the budget implementation act debate. Not having had a chance to participate in the budget debate itself, it is good to have an opportunity to participate in this.

I have listened to the debate over the last number of weeks on this issue and have watched the chest pounding from the government side of the House about what a tremendous budget this is and how it is a major step toward, in their words, building the kind of Canada we want. It always shocks me when members of the Liberal government use that kind of rhetoric. The kind of Canada they appear to be building is not really the kind of Canada I want. I do not know how they feel they speak for Canada when they make those kind of statements.

If the government were a corporation and the cost of servicing the debt of that corporation was the single largest expenditure, it would probably make Air Canada's financial situation right now look pretty attractive. Essentially the government in the last number of years seems to have abandoned the whole focus on the debt and debt servicing and has turned to increased spending.

As some of my colleagues said earlier, I do not how the government could possibly justify, given the economic times we face today, bringing in a budget with a 20% increase in government spending. To me that seems to be absolutely irresponsible combined with the fact that the debt is still hanging over our heads like a black cloud. If inflation were to increase or we were to move into a recessionary period, that debt could once again threaten the very viability of the country.

I really have concerns about the whole direction of the budget and the return to the old style Liberal spending with no regard for future generations or for the consequences of that spending.

Specifically to deal with the budget issue, I would like to focus a little on the areas for which I as the critic for natural resources for the Canadian Alliance am responsible. There are a number of areas of the budget that are very relevant to my critic area.

The issue that seems to prevail in this debate, and the debate in the last couple of weeks in the House, is our relationship to the United States and the harm to that relationship. It is not so much the decision not to send troops in support of the coalition to Iraq but rather the anti-Americanism and the remarks flying around in and outside the House about the Americans, and the Liberal attitude toward the Americans.

On the issue of natural resources and energy, our economy depends on our relationship with the United States and must continue to depend on it. I can understand why there is not much regard for that issue by the Liberal government. Energy exports to the United States are primarily from western Canada, although there are electrical energy exports in central Canada. Primarily fossil fuel energy in western Canada would not really be of a concern to the Liberal government, and I think that is a given.

Considering how important the auto industry in Ontario is to its economy, I am amazed the Ontario members of Parliament are jeopardizing that industry and the survival and viability of it by those kind of comments. That is certainly relevant to this debate and needs repeating over and over again. Hopefully the government will see the light on that issue.

There were a couple of other areas that were relevant. One of them, which was addressed in the budget, was the issue of how the resource industries were treated on corporate taxation and the bringing in line of the rate of that taxation with other industries in Canada. For whatever reason, and I have never quite been able to understand why, the government decided to reduce the corporate tax rate from 28% to 21% for all industries in Canada, exempting the natural resource industries.

There was some reference to other programs and treatments of the resource industries that compensated for the tax reduction other industries got. I do not think it is a valid argument at all. The resource industries have long had what they refer to as the resource depletion allowance, which is simply a compensation program for the costs of provincial resource royalties that resource industries pay to the provinces. That is not a giveaway or a subsidy. It is simply a recognition of the impact on a resource company's bottom line of paying provincial royalties. The cost of provincial royalties comes right off the bottom line of any company and therefore hardly can be considered a subsidy or a giveaway to that industry. I do not accept that argument as being valid.

We have heard much criticism, particularly from the greener members across the way, about accelerated depreciation allowance and some of those other programs that apply in the resource industries. While those programs are designed to encourage growth in those industries, for example in the tar sands or in the mining industry, programs like flow-through shares and those kinds of treatments are specifically designed as tax incentives to encourage that growth. They hardly can be considered to replace the resource industries receiving that tax reduction program to 21%. We have to look at each industry that receives those benefits and judge whether that industry continues to need the incentive, or if the industry has matured to the point where that incentive is no longer valid and should be reviewed. However it has nothing to do with the overall tax rate.

I was very disappointed in this budget to see that the government decided to allow the resource industries the corporate tax reduction to 21%, but at the same time it took away the resource depletion allowance and proposed to somehow replace it with some another form of taxation.

I was very disappointed with the government's failure in any way to address the issue of the sale of federal government shares in Petro-Canada and Hibernia. The government, as any government, has no business of being in the business of business and retaining that. We could have garnered some substantial benefit to help some of these other issues like the climate change initiative and all the rest of it.

The other area, which continues to be a thorn in our side, is the issue of Kyoto and another $1.5 billion on top of the almost $2 billion already announced for the Kyoto protocol. We still have no substantive plan in place to deal with it, other than millions of dollars of national television advertising to convince Canadians it is the right thing to do.

Overall this is a pretty sad effort and a pretty pathetic budget in terms of benefits to Canadians. The government could have done much better.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

1:20 p.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on the budget implementation act, 2003.

I will start by indicating my total agreement with my colleague from Trois-Rivières' statement that this is a budget of continuity for the central government. That government's vision is of centralization and of trampling on areas of provincial jurisdiction.

The budget brought down a few weeks ago by the Minister of Finance is a real example of that continuity. As well, it is a very striking example of the extent of the fiscal imbalance between the federal government and the provincial governments.

Since the Liberals came to power, Ottawa's revenues have risen from $123 billion in 1993-94 to $185 billion in 2003-2004, a 50% jump. This additional 50% is what enables Ottawa to encroach on areas of jurisdiction that do not belong to it. As well, it enables it to create structures that have no connection whatsoever with the federal government, be it health, education, or other areas under provincial jurisdiction.

Today, given the extent of this fiscal imbalance, I am not surprised that the people of my region have taken the trouble to write the Minister of Finance. Every year I write to him, and to the Prime Minister, in my capacity as Bloc Quebecois critic for regional development, in order to indicate what the provinces and regions need. The feds need to be told that we must at least be given back the interest on what we pay in taxes to Ottawa.

It must be pointed out that this 2003 budget does not make any reference whatsoever to the fact that we need to move on to phase 2 of the softwood lumber crisis. The government had told us that we would move on from phase 1 to phase 2.

The same thing has been said by the Association des centres locaux de développement for the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, through its spokesperson, Mayor Lawrence Potvin of Métabetchouan-Lac-à-la-Croix. The day after the budget was brought down, he met with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the Minister of Justice in order to share with them what the people of my region wanted from this first budget by the new Minister of Finance.

Mr. Potvin took the time to write the Prime Minister, saying, “It is sad to say but, true to form, your government has always ignored the needs identified by the community, whether in connection with the softwood lumber issue or the EI account”. In tabling the last budget, the Minister of Finance said that balance had been restored to the EI fund.

I wonder what he thinks is balanced about it. This year again, the Minister of Finance grabbed $3 billion from the EI fund. If that is what he calls balance, I think he should go back to school or step aside. He just told us and the provinces, “We have not done anything, we have simply balanced the fund”. In fact, he has grabbed $3 billion from the fund.

With this $3 billion, he could have taken action on the softwood lumber issue. My region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean was the hardest hit by job losses and sawmills closing down. What lies ahead with a budget announcing huge budget surpluses? Absolutely nothing.

As we know, we had a regional summit in Quebec. Following this summit, the people in my region decided to set up a regional fund so that our region could make investments based on priorities set by the people in our region.

They then turned to the federal government. This would be a fund of approximately $400 million, with the federal government, the provincial government and the region each contributing one third. The Quebec government is on board, but there was no response from the finance minister in his budget.

While I questioned the Minister of Finance a few times on this, the answer came from the minister responsible for the regions, who said, “We will not be investing in that”. But these are needs inherent to my region.

Once again, the federal government would have us believe that it is listening to the regions, but ignored the regions in this budget. This has been going on for years, and each year, I would write the former finance minister. In its request, the CLD stated that the government ought to listen. My region, the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, has been designated “Aluminum Valley”.

Based on this, the Government of Quebec provided tax breaks to encourage businesses to come and invest in our region. We asked the federal government to do the same so that our region, which is losing so many of our young people, would be able to create jobs to allow them to come home. Once again, the government has turned a deaf ear and has done nothing for the needs being felt in my region.

Another request was made of the government. Everyone was talking about it this winter. Indeed, the most disadvantaged families were severely hit by the incredible rise in prices for gas and heating oil. We asked that the government do at least what it had done in a previous budget: provide relief, or money for these families.

I met with seniors. Some women told me that they had set some money aside to buy themselves a little treat for Easter, and that the money was now gone. They will not be able to buy themselves a treat because they have had to use all that money to pay for their heating oil.

The government has even turned a deaf ear to these people. We thought the federal government was also going to talk about the income supplement. For eight years, it has been depriving several hundred thousand senior citizens of the guaranteed income supplement for which they are eligible. We thought that there would be something in this budget to compensate these people who, in the past, were penalized because of the carelessness and negligence of Human Resources Development Canada. Once again, there was nothing.

I think this is very sad. The Liberals are building up surpluses, encroaching on provincial jurisdictions, and telling the regions and provinces, “We have the right to do it”.

Also, there is the issue of infrastructure. The Mayor of Laval, Mr. Vaillancourt, who is the chairman of the Coalition pour le renouvellement des infrastructures du Québec, said that this government would have had to invest a billion dollars a year for the next 15 years in order to upgrade our infrastructure in Quebec, that is, sewers, waterworks, and so on. What have they announced? A mere $3 billion over the next ten years, and that is for all of Canada, along with $1 billion for municipal infrastructure. Between you and me, that adds up to $25 million per year; we will not get far with that.

Allow me to repeat once more that this government is deceiving the taxpayers and making believe that it is responsive to people's needs. The Minister of Immigration said to the people from our region who met with him, “We are listening. We will make sure your demands are heard”. Once again, this government is not listening to the regions and the provinces, and it is listening even less to the people.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-28, the budget implementation act of 2003. This is another budget brought forward by the Liberals that has failed Canadians. In fact, in my address in the reply to the budget on February 26, I enumerated several reasons why the budget has failed Canadians.

I spoke of the government's complete refusal to address GST fraud, which we all know is quite a large issue. I looked at the government's failure to address security concerns at our airports as well as the steps it has taken to punish those saving for their retirement through RRSPs. Payroll taxes such as EI and exorbitant income tax rates continue to kill the Canadian economy.

Still, the government claims that the budget is a success. It is not. The government should be ashamed of itself.

We are debating a bill that if passed will implement this failed budget. Needless to say, I, along with my colleagues from the Canadian Alliance, will be voting against this.

Why will I be voting against it? As I have already expanded in my previous speech on the macro reasons why this budget is a failure, let me instead focus today on one specific department within the government and on why the budget has failed that department and hence failed to protect the security of Canadians.

Specifically I would like to talk about the members of the Customs Excise Union, who do a great job at Canada's borders as front line customs officers and inspectors. Customs inspectors are part of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency but do much more than the average CCRA employee. The fact is that our customs officers do a tremendous job, especially when we look at the number of statutes they are charged with enforcing, their limited resources and their inability to protect themselves from the potential dangers inherent in border protection.

We believe that Canadians and our customs officers would be better served by moving Canada Customs out of the tax collection agency it now falls under into a new law enforcement department or under the Solicitor General of Canada. Just as Canada Customs now enforces the statutes of several departments, it will continue to enact National Revenue's policies of trade liberalization.

The revenue minister has announced more money and the hiring of customs officers. She has fallen very short in addressing the deficit that existed prior to September 11, never mind today. The customs union is calling for 1,200 new officers. It is getting 130, but these new officers still will be unable to adequately protect our border because they will lack the tools to do their job.

It is evident that CCRA is a department focused on streamlining accounting systems and collecting revenues. It is not focused on security. The logical question is why the government continues to treat our border guards, Canada's first line of defence, as bean-counters.

Mr. Speaker, you are a logical person. If you witnessed a crime in progress would you call the police or your accountant? Clearly you would call the police. Why? Because they have the training, the knowledge and the tools to protect society and enforce the laws.

What do our customs officers need to do the job? They need full authority as peace officers to enforce the statutes they are charged with. That includes a need for side arms for their protection. The first step is to move customs away from revenue and create a police force at our border. Canada Customs enforces over 70 federal statutes from numerous government departments, including the justice, health, agriculture, immigration and finance departments, and the Solicitor General's department. The recent focus on Canada's porous border is not necessarily a reflection of Canada Customs as much as it is a deficit of legislation, mandate and resources focused on security and protection.

Bill C-7, passed in the 35th Parliament, moved the Canada Customs Agency under the jurisdiction of Revenue Canada, thus creating the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. We were opposed to this move to facilitate trade and tourism while expediting the remittance of revenues to the Crown because of the lack of focus on security and protection.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security believes that its primary function is law enforcement, whereas unfortunately Canada Customs claims to have a dual mandate: processing revenues and border security.

A greater focus on security is required to harmonize customs standards with those of the United States, which cannot be achieved under the current CCRA. The Canadian Police Association proposal of a national border protection service should be considered seriously as legislation. The association is calling for a border protection service to provide strategic and coordinated protection and enforcement across Canada's borders and points of entry, separate from the Department of National Revenue. Such a service must be endowed with full peace officer status and equipped with the required technological aids, including CPIC and FOSS computer systems as well as NCIC and Interpol and access to vital statistics.

Right now, and the House will be shocked, 45% of our borders do not have access to these law enforcement tools. Customs officers have no way of knowing if the person in front of them has a criminal record or is on the terrorist watchlist. There should be an immediate network hookup of all computers and all customs software at all ports of entry across Canada. It is unacceptable for some customs officers in ports across Canada to have limited or no access to electronic customs systems that provide intelligence and support to customs officers who must undertake interdiction and detention decisions and actions.

Indeed, the current attempt to share information with our government departments has been a complete failure. There should be an agreement among immigration, RCMP and CSIS to share information daily. Information should then be further shared with our American neighbours regarding exit and entrance data and criminal background checks.

The government must provide customs officers with the authority, support and equipment necessary to do their jobs. One piece of equipment that is necessary is side arms so that customs officers can protect themselves and Canadians. This should be done regardless of whether Canada Customs becomes its own separate agency or stays a part of CCRA. This is an issue of safety for these customs officers. I have already outlined how these officers are basically police without the formal title. They are police without the protection of the law.

The Canadian Alliance takes this issue seriously, but unfortunately the Minister of National Revenue does not. In the past she has called these agents nothing more than glorified bank tellers. As recently as March 26 she said to the House, “ guns to customs officers would be like giving 3,000 accidents an opportunity to happen”.

On March 28 I asked her to clarify her remarks in the House, and her response was to call me “Charlton Heston”. I do not mind being compared to Moses nor do I mind living here in what seems like the Planet of the Apes , especially with the government across the way, but to have the minister making light of the issue was an insult to customs agents. In fact, my office has received numerous e-mails and letters from irate customs agents asking me how the minister can make so much fun of them. My answer, unlike that of the Liberals, is that the Canadian Alliance has always believed and will continue to believe in respect for these people.

This issue of firearms is not one that the Canadian Alliance has invented on its own. It actually comes from a report by ModuSpec, which was commissioned by the government to examine this very question. The interim report called for an armed presence at our border and especially at some higher traffic border crossings where our customs agents are at higher risk.

What does this all boil down to? I will use four points to conclude.

First, there are not enough people, as I have outlined. There are one-person ports when there always should be two people working together. Currently there are ports that close at 10 p.m. and we argue that they should be open for 24 hours, especially some of the more remote ports where proper barriers are not even put in place once they close down in the evening. There are chronic staff shortages and not enough staff to accommodate shortages if training needs to be done.

Second, we often do not have the right people. Students do not belong at the front line without proper supervision and/or proper training.

Third, there is not the right equipment. There is no CPIC at the front line and there are no computers at 45% of our border crossings. As well, some facilities need rebuilding. For example, in Victoria they are working out of a 30 year old trailer at the ferry terminal, where almost a million people travel yearly.

Finally, they do not have enough pay. CCRA admits that its job classification system is archaic and fails to fully assess the value of jobs. CCRA is moving to a new classification standard. What about the fact that customs officers have been underpaid for years, up to and including today?

All these issues still have failed to be addressed by the minister. Quite frankly I think the minister has been an embarrassment because she has not represented the interests of security and protection for Canadians at our border.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Lunney Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, again we are engaged in the debate on the budget implementation act. There has been lots of food for discussion here this morning.

The budget represents a $17.4 billion announcement in new spending. That is the single largest increase in government spending in 40 years. I want to suggest why this is not prudent at this time.

There is nothing in the budget for debt reduction. I want to emphasize that these are uncertain times.

I see the member opposite taking exception to my remarks already. May I remind her that these are uncertain times. The member opposite is one who has made it a point of going to the Middle East to engage with the people involved in the conflict, with Iraq, with Mr. Aziz, a person whom she found engaging.

I want to emphasize to the member opposite and others that these are uncertain times. We are at war in the world and it does not look like it is going to be easily resolved. The world economy is already showing signs of failure right across the world.

Also, in our own country we are faced with a new challenge, the SARS epidemic. Canadians are concerned. We are not used to seeing people walking in our streets or entering our hospitals and airports with masks over their faces. Now because of a virus, or a combination of agents as the exact agent is yet to be identified, alarm is spreading throughout our society and internationally. There are unknown economic costs associated with this illness. There is the potential to harm the airline industry which is already in decline because of the instability in the world.

These are uncertain economic times. It is not the time to go on a spending spree to the extent which the government is making great promises to Canadians, promises on which it may not be able to deliver.

There is about $2 billion scattered on unspecified Kyoto measures. There is a mere pittance for our armed forces. These are reasons to be concerned.

At the same time the government is increasing the civil service by 29,000. What employer would throw open the doors to 29,000 people? Is it possible to suddenly have a need for so many people all at once, or is it a sense that the government wants to swallow a good chunk of the budget surplus in extra employees who will be loyal to its particular brand of partisan politics?

On the defence issue the Auditor General called for a $2 billion increase for our armed forces. It is shameful the way the government has had a consistent pattern of neglect for our military. The Liberal government has been undermining the military since it came to power.

There was a need for new helicopters when the Liberal government came to power. It cancelled the helicopter contract that the defence department was counting on at that time to replace the aging Sea Kings. That was over 10 years ago. The Prime Minister said at the time that there would be zero helicopters for the armed forces. He made a gesture with his hand, zero helicopters. That is exactly what we have today, 10 years later, zero helicopters.

Canadians faced the embarrassment of a helicopter dropping out of the sky and damaging our ship which limped back to harbour because. It cannot even function in a non-war environment let alone in a combat situation. This undermines Canada's credibility and impairs our ability to fulfill our defence commitments with NATO and our other strategic alliances.

Then the government will not spend money on submarines. I wish the government had had the foresight to consult British Columbians before it bought the prototype submarines the British navy was so anxious to get rid of. British Columbians had an experience also with a government that was venturing into job creation through a fast ferry program which created some behemoths that probably would work somewhere in the world. British Columbia spent nearly $400 million of the taxpayers' money on three vessels that should have cost about $80 million according to original estimates and then $200 million. They sold recently for about $37 million.

The federal government invested in used submarines. It paid $750 million for four leaky subs that have yet to be put into service. This is shameful. Our armed forces deserve better.

The Auditor General recommended a $2 billion increase and the government provided $282 million immediately, which, considering the war effort and our troops being deployed, is only a pittance of what they need. A commitment of $800 million per year falls far short of what is necessary to rebuild the equipment and provide the personnel that our armed forces require.

Canada has the second lowest defence commitment of our NATO allies. We commit only 1.2% of our gross domestic product compared to an average of 2.1% for NATO countries. It is the second lowest of all NATO countries. It is an embarrassment for Canada. It undermines our international credibility to play a significant role in the world or even for our own domestic needs.

We have no heavy lift capacity to move our troops and equipment. We have to hitch a ride from our neighbours to the south if they have equipment available, which certainly would not be true right now.

Even if we faced a domestic crisis, we may not be able to move our forces to help with it at this time because our friends, who we used to call our allies, to the south are occupied with the situation in Iraq. They may not be able to give us the lift we so often require even to move forces within our country. This is shameful and needs to be addressed. The government is spending money hand over fist, but not for the military and not for security.

There is a lack of funding for security for border agents. We heard my hon. colleague from Edmonton refer to the remarks of the Minister of National Revenue about customs agents. The government refuses to take security matters seriously. It will not arm our border guards. It considers our border agents to be tax collectors. I think the minister's remarks were reprehensible when she suggested that to give arms to our border agents would be like setting the stage for 3,000 accidents. I feel this is an insult that was certainly unnecessary and uncalled for but reflects the government's attitude toward security.

Perhaps it is appropriate to remember the remarks of the American ambassador who was deeply offended, and I think appropriately so, by the shameful remarks of condemnation against Americans which came from members opposite. The American ambassador recently remarked on this and made the comment that Canada seems to think the issue for the U.S. is trade. We are worried about our border tax collectors and we will not arm them. He remarked that for Americans, security trumps trade.

Frankly, the careless remarks made by members opposite offend our neighbours to the south, especially at a time when their sons and daughters are on the front lines. The remarks were certainly undiplomatic and rude. Especially at a time of such crisis those remarks were hardly appropriate and may well damage our trade relations and personal relations with our neighbours to the south for some time to come.

Security trumps trade. I fear, frankly, for the safety of our own country because the government refuses to take security seriously. I fear that Canadians may have to pay a price for our lack of due diligence in security issues.

Moving on to issues of domestic significance, the government is willing to put money into child care, but for a government brand of child care. Canadians need help with child care. These are stressful times on families, incomes being what they are, but we believe that child care options should be given to the parents. Canadians should be free to choose how they receive their benefits. We would like to see a $3,000 per child deduction for families, allowing them to choose.

There is a smoke and mirrors aspect to the budget. The government uses inflated numbers to make promises in funding, such as $3 billion for infrastructure spending over 10 years. What kind of a budget comment is that? How can it make promises for 10 years?

I am sure members opposite would like to think they will be here to deliver in 10 years but that is a huge assumption given the political realities of the day. To make promises that they will not be here to deliver is disingenuous. Canadians deserve better.