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House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, continuing on with thousands of other petitions that we introduced in the House earlier, from Leroy, Saskatchewan, from Port Dover, Ontario and the Magdalen Islands, the petitioners pray upon Parliament to support Bill C-206, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, allowing for security of employment status and career opportunities for people who take employment insurance while they care for their loved ones under palliative care or under severe rehabilitation.

It is a great honour for me to present this petition on their behalf.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 181 will be answered today.

Question No. 181Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

In the last five years, what lobbyists have approached the government in connection with the removing trade sanctions with Iraq?

Question No. 181Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister for International Trade

The Office of the Ethics Counsellor maintains an electronic lobbyist registration service for lobbyists in Canada. Lobbyists are individuals paid to communicate with federal public office holders in an attempt to influence government decisions. They are required under the Lobbyists Registration Act and regulations to register their activities, which are displayed in the public registry. Currently, the following list of organizations and individuals have been registered during the past five years to lobby the government regarding the removal of trade sanctions with Iraq:

Licences, Legislation and Regulations Lobbyists Registration

http://Strategis.gc.ca

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 176 could be made an order for return, the return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 176Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

For the past 10 years, can the government provide an annual breakdown of pilotage fees and any related fees on shipping companies in the St. Lawrence Seaway, and of new spending by the federal government on the Canadian marine system versus the amount of funds collected from users of the system?

(Return table).

Question No. 176Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 176Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 176Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. Members

Agreed.

Question No. 176Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 39, it is my duty to inform the House that the failure of the government to respond to the following questions on the Order Paper is deemed referred to the various standing committees of the House as follows:

Question No. 177, standing in the name of the hon. member for Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, is referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

Question No. 179, standing in the name of the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster, to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 2003, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of Motions Nos. 13 to 15 and 17 to 19.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

May 12th, 2003 / 3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the report stage debate on Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 2003.

The theme of this year's budget is “money for everyone”. In fact it gives every appearance of being an election budget, with its focus on spending and its attempt to please every possible constituency. I call it an “ice cream budget”. There is something for everyone but by the time they taste it, it melts away before their eyes.

The budget announced $14 billion in new spending and a $25 billion increase in program spending by the year 2005. This year's budget increases federal spending by 11.5%, coming on the heels of 7% and 18% increases in the previous two budgets. By the year 2005-06, spending will have increased 46% from 1996-97 levels.

Government spending is growing three times faster than the economy. It can be said that for this government, the days of fiscal prudence are a distant memory.

Adjusting for inflation and population growth, this is the largest single year spending increase since the 1970s. The spending cuts introduced in the 1995 budget have now been entirely reversed.

While visiting Calgary during his prebudget consultations/leadership tour, the finance minister told his audience that Canadians did not want a laundry list of new spending. Canadians certainly did not want a grocery list either.

After all, these are Liberals. How can they ignore the urge to spend? The result is the worst of both worlds, spending too much, while at the same time spreading their money so thin, over so many areas, that it will have little positive impact.

We are now considering Motions Nos. 13 through 19, except Motion No. 16. Motion No. 13 was put forward by the member for Drummond. It seeks to amend Bill C-28 by deleting clause 64. The motion deals with the issue of GST on school buses.

While the Canadian Alliance opposes this bias against contracting out and privatization of services inherent in the GST rebate system for public service bodies such as school boards, the courts should not and cannot decide Canadian tax policy. That is the prerogative of the government and the House of Commons. Therefore I cannot support the motion.

Motions Nos. 14 and 15 are proposed by the member for Dartmouth. Motion No. 14 seeks to amend Bill C-28 by deleting clause 74, while Motion No. 15 seeks to delete clause 75. When speaking of the disabled, we are talking about the most vulnerable people in Canadian society.

It was an embarrassment last year when the government attempted to reduce its spending by removing resources from those most in need. This was yet another example of the misplaced priorities of the Liberals. We believe that 40% of Canadians with disabilities live in poverty and one-third of them are unemployed.

The Department of Finance announced amendments to the Income Tax Act that would make 30,000 Canadians ineligible for the disability tax credit. The Minister of Finance proposed limiting the tax credit to only those who cannot feed themselves. I strongly opposed these changes when I spoke in this place last November. The Canadian Alliance supports easing the definition of disability from feeding and dressing to feeding or dressing.

Motion No. 17 has been put forward by the member for Vancouver East. It proposes the deletion of clause 84. I am opposed to this proposed amendment.

The Canadian Alliance supports increasing the RRSP dollar limit more than the baby steps taken by the weak Liberal government. Increasing the allowable limit for RRSP contributions from $13,500 to $18,000 by 2006 would go a long way to securing the future of countless Canadians.

More and more Canadians are self-employed and do not have a company pension plan. Since they do not have pension plans, it is necessary for them to save for their own retirement. Needless to say, it would be foolish of them to rely on the Canadian pension plan for their retirement.

To understand the need for increasing the RRSP contribution limit, we should think of the situation facing realtors. Realtors are one professional group who rely mainly on RRSPs for their retirement incomes. Realtor incomes typically fluctuate from year to year. RRSP contribution levels are tied to income. If their income is low one year, their contribution level will be geared to that low level the following year. If their income rises substantially, their contribution is capped at $13,500 under the current system. This simply is not fair. I have spoken to many realtors and they tell me it is not fair to them.

The final two motions under consideration, Motions Nos. 18 and 19, are also proposed by the member for Vancouver East. Motion No. 18 seeks to amend Bill C-28 by deleting clause 85, while Motion No. 19 would delete clause 86. I support neither of these proposed changes. The Canadian Alliance wants to eliminate the capital tax. Reducing it does not go far enough, but it is a first step. The Canadian Alliance will oppose these amendments because they will do more harm than good to the bill.

The finance minister claims Canadians do not want lower taxes, so it should come as no surprise that his budget contains little in the way of tax cuts. There is no significant tax relief in the 2003 budget. The costs of the budget's tax cuts represent 12% of the total budget.

A Canadian Alliance government would create an economic climate in which businesses could thrive and grow, and with their success create quality job opportunities for Canadians. The Canadian Alliance would do so by providing deep, broad-based tax relief, ensuring a stable monetary policy, supporting essential national infrastructure in a non-partisan manner, and encouraging medical and scientific research.

The Canadian Alliance would create greater tax fairness for families by eliminating inequities between single and dual income families. The Canadian Alliance would move to more equitable treatment of choices in child care arrangements, including child care at home. We would integrate the tax system and social programs to better meet the needs of low income individuals and families.

We would ensure that taxes which are imposed for a specific purpose would be used for that specific purpose alone and would be removed once no longer required and not be allowed to be put toward general revenue, as in the case of the deficit financing tax of $1.50 per litre on gasoline. Once the deficit is eliminated, that tax should also be gone.

The government laid out its vision in the throne speech and then implemented that vision in the budget. The throne speech suffered from an old, tired vision. The budget suffered from that same flaw. If the vision is not right, naturally the implementation of the budget cannot be fair. The budget is yet further evidence that the government lacks vision and foresight.

The former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard and heir apparent to the Prime Minister, made it clear last week that, as head of the government, he would not implement any bills that he did not like. With that knowledge, it is legitimate to ask whether or not the budget implementation act that we are debating today has the approval of the former finance minister? If it does not, then the government may simply be wasting our time.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the report stage debate on Bill C-28, the budget implementation act.

When I was elected in 1993, Canadians were faced with a fiscal house that was not in order. Canadians will remember that there was a $42 billion deficit for that fiscal year during which the government took office. One can imagine how difficult it was for the government to implement new programs and provide for the needs of Canadians at a time when it was dealing with such a large deficit. The thing that makes me most proud as a member of Parliament and a member of the government is that we were able to get our fiscal house in order and work toward bringing forward a budget, as was the case just recently.

The government presented a balanced budget for this year, the sixth consecutive balanced budget, and for the next two fiscal years as well. Canadians will be very comforted by that fact. The budget would restore the full annual contingency reserve and economic prudence factors which have been part of our budgeting process since the government took office.

The government recognizes the critical link between social and economic policy. I remember the finance minister of the day appearing before the finance committee in which he made a statement which stuck with me for some time. He said that good fiscal policy makes good social policy, and good social policy makes good fiscal policy. There is an important relationship there which we must continue to strive for.

However, governments must also understand that they cannot be all things to all people at all times. Governing is about making choices. It is about making sure that the significant priorities of the day are addressed first. I have often wondered whether governments could ever be totally popular throughout the country if they simply dealt with the significant priorities to the exclusion of others which might be important. For example, for years I have advocated an additional investment in public education regarding health matters such as fetal alcohol syndrome. We have done some work there. I wish we could do more, but I understand that when there are limited resources and the priorities of Canadians have been made known, it is important that we proceed with those because it is in the best interests of all Canadians.

This budget plays a critical role in building a Canada that Canadians want. It does so according to three themes. The government recognizes the critical link between social and economic policy and continues its balanced approach to managing our finances.

This approach plays a critical role in building the Canada that we all want. 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, achieving the objectives of the budget by building the accountability that Canadians deserve by making government spending a more transparent and accountable process.

There are many provisions in the budget that I would like to comment on. The government recognizes that skills development and lifelong learning are critical to the country's economic prosperity. 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.

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 their 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 annually.

Second, extending access to interest relief, debt reduction and repayment measures would help student borrowers experiencing hardship in their repayments. 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.

I know how expensive it is for post-secondary education. I have three children. One has completed university, one is just finishing a master's program and the other one is in the middle of university studies. It is very important to understand that these programs do not necessarily give assistance to those whose family income is above certain levels. Those students will not qualify for student loans. However it is important that every person who wants to go to post-secondary and who has the ability to go to post-secondary should be there. The proof is clear: post-secondary education is an imperative, not an option for all those who have the ability.

I will complete my time by making a couple of comments with regard to health. Health and the well-being of Canadians has been the number one priority of Canadians. They have made that very clear. I think it is important for us to recollect that budget 2003 confirms $34.8 billion in increased funding over five years to meet the goals outlined in the health accord. Bill C-28 would implement these measures.

First, in terms of increased support through transfers, the budget builds on the significant federal support for health care already provided to the provinces and territories through the Canada health and social transfer.

Following the September 2000 agreements on health and early childhood development, the federal government provided provinces and territories with a predictable and growing five year funding framework to 2005-06 through the CHST. This established funding will be further increased by $1.8 billion and extended for an additional two years. As a result, the total yearly cash transfers to the provinces will rise to $21.6 billion in 2006-07 and $22.2 billion in 2007-08. Let me again emphasize that this is over $22 billion for that one year.

An immediate $2.5 billion supplement to the CHST will help relieve existing pressures on our health care system. This funding will be on a per capita basis to the provinces and territories to give them the flexibility that they require.

However the sustained renewal of Canada's health care system needs positive structural change as well as further financing. I think that goes for many government programs for which we constantly have to look at the accountability and sustainability of what we are doing.

When I first became a member of Parliament and a member of the health committee, I remember Health Canada officials coming before us to tell us what was happening within our health system. I will never forget that their suggestion at the time was that 75% of the spending on health care in Canada was for fixing problems after the fact and that only 25% was spent on the preventative side. They told us quite frankly back in 1993 that this was not sustainable. We know that is the case and, through actions such as those in the budget, we are making sure that we are continuing to invest in health care for all Canadians.

After listening to some of the debate by all hon. members, there is no question that Canada is on the right track. The fiscal strategy that we have exercised since 1993 has given us an opportunity to invest in the priorities that Canadians see are there, but we have also been able to deliver a program of $100 billion of tax reductions. We have reduced our debt to GDP ratio from over 50% to below 30%.

We have made very significant improvements, in addition to creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for Canadians because we have an economy that still has not reached its potential. I am sure members and Canadians will agree that this is yet another step toward moving us forward. It is built on those tough decisions we made back in 1993. I believe the government should be congratulated for yet again another responsible budget.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, it is with mixed emotions that we listen to the Liberals praising the budget. I say mixed emotions because they seem to be heaping praise upon their government and the Minister of Finance when we know that deep down they are just as concerned about what is happening in the country as the rest of us.

The member who just spoke talked about the terrible position the Liberals were in when they took power in 1993 with the huge deficit. What he failed to say was that when the Conservatives took power 10 years earlier from the Trudeau era, they were also saddled with a huge deficit. In fact, if we factored in inflation, almost the total amount was inherited from the Trudeau era. The interesting thing is that the minister of finance in the latter years of the Trudeau government was none other than the now Prime Minister.

The Mulroney government increased the deficit, which everybody will admit, but perhaps we might ask why. During those years they had a choice. Interest rates, as hon. members know, went to 23% or 24%. We can just imagine the amount of money that went to service the debt.

The government at the time was faced with two different options, perhaps the same options that always face government when it has to address the debt. There were two ways of doing it, and I will talk about what the present government is doing shortly.

The government at the time had the choice of cutting social programs, which is usually what governments do. However the Conservative government did not cut the social programs despite the fact that during those years times were extremely tough financially. It did not even attempt to balance its budget on the backs of the needy in the country. It used the other option, which was to put a plan in place to address the deficit. It came up with two major measures that increased the finances to a government and eventually balanced the budget.

One of measures that the Conservative government came up with was free trade, something which practically every party in the House, especially the governing party, but with the exception maybe of the NDP, lauds today.

The other measure it came up, which nobody was happy with then or now, was a tax called the GST. However desperate times called for desperate measures and that was exactly what the government did. It came up with a financing mechanism to address the funding needs it had during those extremely tough financial times.

However election time was coming near. What did the Liberals do? They campaigned against free trade and the GST. It was basically on the GST that the Mulroney government was defeated. What did the Liberals do then? First, they said that maybe the free trade agreement was not all that bad, and of course history will dictate the rest. Not only did we go with the free trade agreement with the United States, but we have increased it ever since, as we should. It has certainly boosted the economy of this country. We praise government for doing that. However we say shame on the Liberals for pretending to the electorate that they would not do it and then, once they were elected, they brought in free trade.

What happened to the GST, which was the real issue during the Liberal campaign? Did they get rid of it as the interim prime minister said? No, they did not. They inherited the GST. They have used it to collect all kinds of money over the years to help balance their budget.

The Liberals themselves were not without a program. They could not allow people to say that the budget was balanced thanks to two great Tory policies. The Tories set in place a plan to address the deficit without hurting the social fabric of the country.

What was the third plan that was involved? We had free trade and the GST, but the Liberals came in and said that they could speed up the balancing of the budget by cutting social programs. Even though times were getting better, the economy was improving because of free trade and the finances of the government were increasing because of the GST, they figured they needed to speed things up a little bit so they cut social programs.

The provinces, which were receiving 50% of the health and social transfer costs paid by the government, now the input into many of the provinces is around 14%. This is a complete and utter disaster.

The government did not stop there. Not only did it cut funding to the provinces in relation to the Canada health and social transfer payments but it started downloading. It downloaded on the provinces other costs, infrastructure costs and education costs. It also started privatizing or turning over to the provinces other assets, such as our airports.

When we talk about infrastructure, we are talking about the feds downloading on the provinces and the provinces then downloading on the municipalities. The municipalities are faced with the horrendous debt of trying to improve infrastructure, whereas they cannot take in enough taxes because the feds did not say they would give them a share of the taxes. The government gave them a share of the problems and a share of the costs but did not give them a share of the money.

I see my colleagues here from Quebec. I do not see the Prime Minister telling them that the government has downloaded 30% of its responsibilities to their province, so here is 30% more money. No, it has not been done. It has downloaded but it has not matched the burden to the provinces with similar funding.

In relation to our airports, we see that many of our airports have been taken over by the private sector or by boards operating at arm's length. There are different scenarios. Many of them are in trouble because our transportation system is in trouble for a number of reasons: lack of control by government, lack of putting proper infrastructure in place and lack of originality or vision by the government. It is always a reactionary government.

As the industry itself is in trouble, the airports, which are not taking in the same amount of money as they thought they would, find themselves in real trouble. Who pays the price? We have had several strikes across the country, including a couple in Newfoundland, because local budgets are being balanced on the backs of the workers, and that is unfortunate.

We can go on to the billion dollars that the government has asked departments to find. The government is passing out money on one hand and going back with the other and saying that it needs a billion dollars back. The government is taking money from departments that cannot afford to give it, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We could go on for hours and hours about the cuts there and the lack of investment.

It is great to be able to talk about how well we are doing. Maybe we should analyze why we are doing as well as we are and who is paying the price so that the government can crow about the fiscal position it is in right now.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to the report stage of Bill C-28, the budget implementation act. I have had the opportunity to speak to this budget bill over the last few stages as it has been going through the House. Today we are dealing with a few motions, Motions Nos. 13, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 19, and I will try to do my best to address them as I continue with my speech, but I want to try to address a few of the things I talked about just quickly in the previous stages and how this particular budget has failed Canadians.

We hear over and over again from the government that it has reduced taxes. In some areas I will have to admit it has, but overall personal taxes for Canadians are still far too high and they leave us out of the loop when it comes to being able to compete effectively, let alone leaving more money in the hands of Canadians at the end of the day. That is something more and more Canadians are getting frustrated about, especially when they see the amount of personal taxes they pay on their paycheques. It is still something that they really would like to see the government move on.

Because personal taxes are too high, let us look at certain areas where the government could have done more to help Canadians directly. The government could have looked, as we proposed, at reducing the GST. It is a tax that the government actually said it would kill, abolish and scrap before it came to power. Now it seems that the Liberals have not met a tax they do not like, because they surely have not done that. Reducing it would have been great. It would have helped Canadians, even in light of the fact that we have had rampant problems with GST fraud. We have dealt with that in the House and talked about it. We know that Canadians would like to see some of that money left in their own pockets, not the government's.

In the area of payroll taxes, the government has said that it has reduced its overall payroll taxes. Even though we have seen some reductions in EI, unfortunately those reductions have been completely offset by the increases in CPP. At the end of the day Canadians are finding that payroll taxes tend to kill jobs. At a time when we need to support the economy and do more to stimulate growth, clearly payroll taxes would be an area in which we could reduce the overall cost to businesses and employers.

We know that at the end of the day there is a huge surplus in the EI fund. It would have been great to have been able to leave some of that money in the hands of the workers who deserve to keep that money, and not, unfortunately, spend it on programs where the government has thrown it away, like the gun registry, sponsorship, and a number of other things where there has just been a complete management bungling on the other side of the House.

Also we have heard it proposed that RRSP limits be increased, although not as high as we would have liked. In the finance committee the suggestion was to raise it to $19,000 but in fact the government over the course of the next four or five years is slowly going to be raising it to $18,000. Clearly that is something we need to address in the future. It is unfortunate that the government has not done more for Canadians to be able to address that.

The last time I addressed the budget, I talked a little about the customs agents, about the problems that have affected some of our customs agents and officers and the challenges they are facing on a daily basis. I know that the minister disagrees with me and we often get into heated debate, but she has not treated customs agents the way that they deserve to be treated. It is almost shameful. We have had comments in this place where the minister actually has referred to them, and I know she denies this, as bank tellers; she has done that in the past. She has even said that if they were armed there would be 3,000 accidents waiting to happen. She has used that here in this place and she has even gone so far as to refer to me as Charlton Heston.

I do not mind being compared to Moses, and quite frankly, sometimes when I look across the aisle I do think we live in the world of Planet of the Apes , but her slurs continue. It is unfortunate that she does not step up to the plate, try to take care of the problems at customs and resource those customs agents the way they deserve to be resourced given the fantastic job they are going and being stretched to the limit.

I talked about that in great detail the last time so I will not go back down that road right now, but we still have problems at customs. We have not dealt with the 40% of border crossings that still do not have the proper resources for computers and that are unable to stop and detain people entering Canada who may be dangerous, and obviously there is the issue of firearms, with which we know the minister does not agree at all.

Today we are dealing with Motion No. 13, the issue of GST on school buses, Motions Nos. 14 and 15 that deal with the disability tax credit issue and Motions Nos. 17 and 19 that deal with some overall tax changes. I wanted to talk a little about the GST on school buses issue, especially seeing that Motion No. 13 calls for Bill C-28 to be amended by deleting clause 64. We are going to be taking a position against the motion, but I wanted to talk about this particular issue seeing that we had to deal with it most recently in committee. Some of my colleagues in the House today will remember that.

We on this side of the House are concerned about this. Obviously we do not want to have a bias against contracting out to private services, especially if it means more efficiency, especially if it helps school boards to transport and do a better job for the students using the services, but obviously we need a system that works when it comes to the GST rebate system for public service bodies such as school boards.

The courts cannot decide Canadian tax policy. We should get that straight. That is the prerogative of the government and the House of Commons. Unfortunately we are seeing more and more that the government defers to the courts when it should actually be dealing with the issues right here and we should be making changing to the tax codes in the House rather than tying up the courts in determining what in fact should be fair and what should not be.

As I said, the issue came up in committee. The amendment to the Excise Tax Act is basically an amendment that would clarify the amount of GST input rebate that school boards would be entitled to with respect to school transportation. The amendment was made in response to a 2001 Federal Court of Appeal decision that school boards or provincial governments that contracted out school bus services to private companies were entitled to a 100% rebate of their GST costs rather than the 68% they are entitled to under the legislation.

The purpose of the 68% GST rebate is to match the tax rate under the old manufacturers' sales tax. The federal amendment in Bill C-28 would ensure that a school authority's supply of transport to and from school for students is exempt regardless of how the supply may be funded or provided. This is a prudent move. If we had left the court decision to stand, it unfortunately would have discriminated against school boards that supply their own student transportation rather than contracting out and would have opened the floodgates for other public service bodies to claim 100% rebate on the GST they spend. There could be an unfortunate snowballing effect and that was raised at the committee.

Exempt supplies are supplies on which there is no liability for the GST and therefore the tax is not charged to the end user or collected from the supplier. However, the tax on the portion of a public service body's total expenses used in exempt activities would qualify for a partial GST rebate. There are different percentages that vary depending on the services that are being provided. I know that for hospitals it is 83%, for schools, as was mentioned, it is 68%, municipalities 57%, and the list goes on. There are different levels. We know that municipalities are currently trying to win in getting that 100% rebate on their GST as well. We know that there have been huge costs associated with municipalities even when it comes to their transportation systems. I know that in the end the Toronto Transit Commission pays, even after the rebate, close to $50 million in GST, I think, since the amalgamation in 1998.

These are the kinds of things the government could do more in trying to help, especially for the challenges the municipalities are facing when it comes to infrastructure. We have seen such a drop in investment on that side of things. If they can actually claim back these rebates and reuse them, then I think there is no doubt it would help deal with some of the challenges municipalities have.

On the other amendments, I will say quickly that I believe we will be opposing almost all of them that we are debating even though there are positive merits in some of them, such as specifically the motion trying to ease the definition of the disability tax credit from feeding and dressing to feeding or dressing. We do support a portion of that, but ultimately there still are concerns about how much that would open up and what sort of negative effect it could have.

To wind up, I want to mention the issue of capital tax. The government has moved on this particular issue and will be reducing capital tax. We on this side of the House have always believed that if more money is left in the hands of the economy it will do more good. We would like to be able to eliminate the capital tax completely. That would give support to a lot of businesses and people who invest and get the economy going. I think it has been proven that in the long run governments actually benefit from that because more economic activity results in more government revenue. That is something we wish the government would have moved on also; we know that it is reducing this over a five year period, but it would have been great to see that reduction right now, helping businesses, individuals and society to be more productive.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly did not want to jump ahead of one of my colleagues from the opposite side who I know have been following this legislation very closely and who I think have been contributing mightily to this debate.

I did want to involve myself on two points, Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, Motions Nos. 14 and 15 that deal with the disability tax credit. What the government was trying to do by sections 74 and 75 of the act was to clarify the eligibility for the disability tax credit in the context of individuals being able to feed and clothe themselves.

One of the things that was very noticeable when the government moved on restricting access to the disability tax credit was that quite a few people came into my constituency office and reacted negatively to it. There are two categories of these individuals. The first is that category of individuals who I could see really were unfairly affected by the tightening down of the definition of what constitutes eligibility for the disability tax credit.

For example, I remember vividly one lady who came into my office. She was arthritic and quite crippled. Her hands were completely twisted around. She had a lot of difficulty just moving, but this was an individual who had tremendous joie de vivre. She did not let this crippling illness prevent her from doing as much as she possibly could, but because she was perceived by the bureaucracy as being mobile and able to move around, she was declared ineligible for the disability tax credit. The reality was that because of the very twisted condition of her hands in particular, she genuinely had a real difficulty in feeding herself and she had to have assistance. So it was very important for her to be brought under the disability tax credit even though in every other sense she was mobile in society, or as mobile as she could be.

On the other hand, there were people who came in and complained that they were eliminated from the disability tax credit because they had a food allergy. This food allergy caused them to spend all kinds of time searching for the right foods, as a matter of fact, so much time that they could not effectively work or hold down a job and this kind of thing. Not wanting to categorize all of those people, there was a reality. One gets this sense when one is a member of Parliament in one's constituency office and deals with a lot of people. There was a sense that this category of individual was willing to surrender to their disability rather than fight it.

In comparison to the lady with the severe arthritis, these people seemed to be, to all appearances, very capable of moving about and contributing to society and contributing to their own care and looking after themselves. But there was a Federal Court ruling pertaining to the disability tax credit which basically suggested that people who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to look for the foods that they need in order to satisfy their allergies should be brought under the disability tax credit.

The government, in amending the legislation we see before us now in clauses 74 and 75, attempts to distinguish between these two realities, one a disability that genuinely does make it impossible to feed and dress oneself. I can assure members that it is very difficult, and I know this from experience, to do the most elementary things when one's hands are crippled.

Just briefly as an aside, I should say that I have some passing knowledge of this because on my 21st birthday my friend and I jumped the neighbour's hedge and I came down on my hands on a concrete sidewalk. While neither of my hands were fractured, all the ligaments on either side were strained. For about six weeks I could not use either hand, so I can sympathize with people who might have severe arthritis about how this makes it very difficult to do simplest things like feeding and dressing oneself.

While the original amendments in this section make this distinction, and they are good amendments, unfortunately the motions that are proposed would scrap both clauses 74 and 75 eliminating, in my view, this very necessary distinction between being physically crippled to do something that is essential and being what I suppose one could call emotionally disadvantaged or even emotionally crippled. Sometimes it is not wise to use the government's ability to assist people financially to address issues that are basically emotional. Sometimes it is better if these people delve into their own resources to find their own ways of dealing with these emotional disabilities.

I will leave that for a moment and take advantage of the few minutes that I have to comment on something else in the bill which I have not had an opportunity to comment on before. That is the introduction in this legislation of a first nations goods and services tax.

It is ironic because of course the goods and services tax is one of the most hated taxes in Canada. Although it is not being debated very much these days, I guess after almost 12 years in which it has been in place, people have given up on it and it is no longer the source of negative comment that it once was. However it is a very important method of raising revenue for the federal government.

Bill C-28 brings the goods and services tax into native self-government. It is a very positive step in that the government has been attempting, as a matter of policy, over the past five or six years, to bring in aboriginal self-government and make aboriginal communities as independent as possible. One of the ways to do that is rather than aboriginal governments, Indian governments and band councils being totally reliant on money coming from the federal government, they should be able to raise money by themselves within their own communities. This legislation introduces the ability among first nations to raise money through a goods and services tax within their own communities.

What is so relevant and so timely about that is the government has before Parliament, as we speak, a complementary bill called Bill C-7, which brings in self-government, provisions of transparency, accountability and standards of governance to some 600 Indian bands and communities across the nation. This legislation has been somewhat controversial because I realize some of the opposition parties are opposed to it. However most of the country, most aboriginals and anyone who has any familiarity with the problems that exist on our Indian reserves will appreciate this is extremely important legislation.

I point out that if one is to enable Indian bands and communities to raise money on their own, one has to have a coherent scheme of transparency, accountability and standards of governance in those band councils. It is all part of a package, Bill C-28 and Bill C-7. These are two very positive things on the part of this government.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Manicouagan, Fisheries; the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, Fisheries.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, as you see, all things come to those who wait. I am pleased to speak today, albeit a little later than I expected, to share my opinion on Bill C-28, on implementation of certain provisions in the budget.

I could summarize my speech by saying that the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared to what it needs. That is shocking, but also and particularly, unacceptable. Financially, the federal government has a lot of room to maneuver; $18.2 billion over two years, according to the present Minister of Finance, and $25.8 billion over two years, according to our calculations.

What is more, despite the fact that there is an 11% rise in expenditures, which is enormous, the Bloc Quebecois is of the opinion that the federal Liberal government is going to have a surplus of $14.7 over the next two years. This clearly illustrates the extent of the fiscal imbalance and clearly points to what I have already said in my summary.

I could also summarize what I have to say as this: the federal government is responding more to the needs of a Prime Minister in waiting than to the true needs of the public. It is doing nothing to correct fiscal imbalance, nothing to help the victims of the softwood lumber crisis, nothing to put an end to the pillaging of the EI fund.

The regions, which are dependent on the softwood lumber industry, the self-employed workers, whose existence is not recognized by the federal government, the aboriginal people, the unemployed, the workers paying EI premiums, are all part of the great forgotten as far as this budget is concerned. Middle-income taxpayers are totally forgotten as well.

Unions and employers are frustrated by the diversion of the EI fund, and are demanding an independent fund to stop the federal government from pillaging it, as well as for the contribution rate to be set by the contributors. This, of course, is what the Bloc Quebecois has been demanding for years now. We had even hoped that the federal government would create a stand-alone fund before the former finance minster becomes the future Prime Minister.

In addition to failing to create a stand-alone employment insurance fund, the budget announced a delay of nearly two years in the implementation of a new mechanism for calculating premium rates. However, employment insurance could generate a $3 billion surplus over the next fiscal year, according to our estimates, while the current Minister of Finance is promising, in the future, to strike a balance between employment insurance premiums and program expenditures. What a balance: $3 billion.

With regard to infrastructure projects, we had asked that the appropriate funds be released so essential projects could get underway in Quebec. We had asked for substantial long-term commitments. However the increase in infrastructure expenditures is insufficient, and the government is delaying in allocating the needed funds. I will repeat here that the federal budget meets the needs of an outgoing Prime Minister and a future Prime Minister better than the real needs of the people.

The budget provides for additional investments of $3 billion over 10 years. These investments have resulted in an additional $2 billion for the strategic infrastructure fund. This fund is increasing from $2 billion to $4 billion. Although we demanded massive investments in infrastructure, only $100 million, of the additional $3 billion announced in this budget, has been allocated in fiscal 2003-04. This nowhere near meets the needs.

This amount is clearly inadequate, given all the needs. We might have expected, at the very least, that a fair part of this investment, or $300 million, would be allocated in fiscal 2004-05. However, after the next two fiscal years, only $250 million of the $3 billion will be provided. This is disappointing, but I said this at the beginning of my speech: the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared to what it needs. The simple conclusion is, therefore, that the federal Liberal government is not taking infrastructure needs seriously.

We have indicated that the Government of Quebec must remain in charge of the projects and allocating funds. However, the budget indicates the projects related to climate change will be eligible for funding through these infrastructure initiatives. Yet, it is very clear from the funding criteria for the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund that it is the Government of Quebec or the provincial and territorial governments that are responsible. Let us hope that the fund, bolstered by an additional $2 billion, will continue to operate in this way.

Another disturbing fact is that the budget mentions that $1 billion will go to municipal infrastructure. It is important to note that the federal government cannot provide money directly to municipalities. The Government of Canada must keep in mind that it must deal with the Government of Quebec, and not municipalities. Obviously, in counting on this $1 billion, Quebec will be able to better plan and coordinate spending on its own.

Even the Coalition pour le renouvellement des infrastructures du Québec was disappointed by this budget. According to the coalition:

It is unfortunate to note that, despite the intentions laid out in the Speech from the Throne, the priority given to repairing our infrastructure for roads, sewers and water is dangerously low. What is the point of investing in health if we are going to have less and less confidence in the drinking water infrastructure and roads? We are putting off repairs to basic infrastructure and what is worse, we are compromising quality of life for citizens and competitivity for business.

It is also important to mention the reaction from the office of the mayor of Montreal and the executive committee of the City of Montreal, which feel that the 2003 budget brought down by the government is disappointing. The chair of the executive committee said that the Liberal federal government's proposal was clearly insufficient, considering the needs of the City of Montreal to renew its infrastructure. The same is true for all municipalities in Quebec.

Once again, I submit that the federal government has a lot of money at its disposal, compared ito its needs. The Bloc Quebecois is not the only one to say so, it is being said by many stakeholders every day.

Another cause for concern is that there is no mention in the budget of any form of assistance for self-employed workers. From day one, they have been the forgotten ones in connection with the EI fund, since they are uninsurable under the act. Yet self-employed workers account for 16% of the active labour force. The Liberal federal government should have taken advantage of this budget to establish a framework to extend the application of the EI system, with respect to both regular and special benefits, to self-employed workers. Once again, this clearly shows that the objectives of this budget do not reflect the needs of the people of Quebec and Canada.

We must not forget the latest health negotiations. An agreement was reached whereby $800 million was transferred to Quebec. After this amount was reinvested by the previous PQ government, the media, hospitals, and the health care community in general, are already reporting noticeable improvement with this $800 million received. This amount is only about half the $2 billion originally requested. Now imagine what could have been done with $2 billion, as confirmed by the report on health care; it would not be so difficult to make ends meet and Quebeckers and Canadians would have the kind of health care system they need.

It is wrong to blame the problem on a government, be it in Quebec or elsewhere.

There are huge surpluses which contribute to the fiscal imbalance. All the provinces in Canada agree on this, starting with Quebec, which is spearheading the demonstration that a fiscal imbalance exists, and all the provinces agree with the Séguin report. Moreover, every opposition party in this House also agrees.

In addition, I am convinced that many on the government side are aware of the existence of a fiscal imbalance. But we know how it is: the executive claims that there is no such thing, and everyone remains silent. These were my comments.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on Bill C-28, the budget implementation act, and to have the opportunity to speak about some elements of the budget that I was unable to discuss in my first opportunity to talk about the budget after it was tabled.

One area of this budget which is very important for the country is the increase to the national child benefit supplement of the Canada child tax credit of $965, an increase of nearly $1 billion. This will be in place by 2007 and will bring the maximum annual benefit for a first child, through the Canada child tax benefit, to $3,243. This is a very important measure. We have come a long way to get to this point.

I recall back in the years between 1993 and 1995, leading up to the 1995 budget, when I was part of a working group in our caucus on child poverty that advanced the issue of finding new measures to combat child poverty. It was led by the member who is now the Secretary of State for Central and Eastern Europe and Middle East. He did an outstanding job of chairing that committee and leading our work toward a measure in the 1995 budget.

Of course we remember that the 1994 budget was a difficult budget. Cuts had to be made to get the accounts of the country in balance. We knew the next budget would also be difficult because more measures were needed. However we felt it was very important that the government take action to try to combat child poverty. Because it was a matter of federal jurisdiction, we focused on the working income supplement that went to low income working families. As I said, because the federal government had jurisdiction in the area of work, it meant the federal government could make an impact particularly with modest and low income families with children. To see that then change and become the national child benefit as part of the Canada child tax credit was gratifying.

We have seen that development over the past number of years. We saw it come into effect in the 1995 budget, and there have been changes since then. We have seen the increases year after year to that. As I said a moment ago, for a first child in a low income family, the parents now receive over $3,000 and lesser amounts for each child after that. Those are absolutely vital measures to help people get out of poverty, to help low income families and poor children in Canada face the difficulties we see today.

I know members on all sides are concerned about this issue and are concerned that we continue to work on the issue of child poverty across Canada. They would also want to recognize the good work that has been done in creating the national child benefit and increasing it year after year. No doubt that is important.

I am glad my hon. colleague across the way is talking about the clawback because I think it is unfortunate that the provinces have decided to do that in some cases. I am glad we have now reached a point where, with the latest increases, we will see an amount that they will be unable to claw back.

I have always been disappointed that the provinces would want to take the money we have given low income families and poor children, claw it back and use it in other areas. To me that is the wrong way to go. We need to see them move more in the way of allowing these families to access the money and keep it to put bread on the table, to clothe their kids properly and to provide what they need to succeed in our society.

Another measure that I thought was important in the budget was the $935 million over five years to help provinces, territories and first nations provide greater access to quality child care and early learning opportunities. We have heard a lot about the importance of getting kids off to a good head start in those early years, between birth and five years of age.

As I look at my NDP colleagues across the way, it reminds me of the fact that I was defeated in 1997. The funny thing is there was a silver lining to that for me. At the time I did not see it. I had a son who was born in 1996. When I was defeated, he was about eight months old. It meant that in the ensuing number of formative years, between one and five, I could be there much more because I was not in the House.

I am not looking forward to any more of those silver linings for a while. I am not anxious to look for those kind of clouds of silver lining, and neither is my son I am sure. However the point is we all recognize the importance to young children of getting a good start in life, of getting a chance to have an early education and a boost in education. That is why it is so important that this money go to where it is needed and for that purpose, and included of course in this is money for first nations.

We know the grave challenges in many first nations communities. I think particularly of the issues in Manitoba where the first nations population is growing dramatically and is becoming a much greater percentage of the population of Manitoba. They are facing grave challenges as young people are looking for opportunities and often not finding them. Funding education for those young people to help them have a good chance and a good start in life is absolutely vital and could not be better placed.

The budget also contains a new child disability benefit, with funding of $50 million per year. This is a brand new initiative and one I think that was applauded by members from all sides of the House. As I recall, it was recognized as a very important measure and one of great value for children with disabilities who really needed assistance. This will provide up to $1,600 per year to low and modest income families with a disabled child.

We can all imagine what it is like for a family who is trying to help a disabled child get ready for life, to help that child grow and to nurture that child. Families are faced with economic costs such as having to pay for maybe a lift in their house, or a wheelchair or many of the other costs. It makes good sense, as we try to ensure our society includes all these people, to have this tax credit for those children with disabilities, to help them take part in our society in a very full way, which is so important I think to all of us.

Another important area is homelessness. It is a concern across the country. I know it is a concern in my city of Halifax. It is a concern certainly in Toronto and in many other places. As members know, the government is working to combat homelessness in Canada's cities with an investment of $135 million each year, for three years. That is not peanuts. This important money will do important work.

As well, the government will address the housing issue, with $320 million over five years to enhance existing affordable housing agreements with the provinces and territories. This is not just to provide new funding, it is additional funding.

It is important to enhance those agreements. We will recall that the responsibility for housing was transferred to the provinces a few years ago. This is an important addition to help the provinces carry that load. I know it is important for my province, with its enormous debt. Unfortunately, the debt is growing still because the provincial government of Nova Scotia has not stopped the growth of it. It talks about having a balanced budget. Unfortunately I cannot see how it can call it balanced if it adds to the debt every year, as it has for the past four years, and I do not see when that will stop.

An area for me which has been important is cities and urban infrastructure. I was pleased the budget included an announcement of $3 billion more for urban infrastructure over the next 10 years. I hope we will see in future budgets significant additional dollars going to that cause.

My riding is probably the fastest growing area east of Ottawa and east of Montreal, although until recently Montreal has not grown that fast. However Halifax West has tremendous growth and we are facing lots of challenges because of that. I am pleased to see money going into that, into environmental matters and into other important measures.

I see my time has come to an end, and I appreciate the opportunity to rise in this debate.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

5 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-28, the budget implementation act. This debate allows for the official opposition to voice its concerns in our critical roles as protectors of the public interest.

As the member of Parliament for the great riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke in the province of Ontario, my voice and that of the member for Lanark—Carleton adds legitimacy to this debate. Too often the Liberal backbench MPs are expected to be cheerleaders for government legislation when the need for sober second thought is required before legislation reaches the other place.

I was shocked by the comments from the Solicitor General, the member for Malpeque, when responding to a question from the member for Yorkton—Melville over his enthusiastic support for the gun registry, from when he was a backbench MP and condemned Bill C-68. This is a clear example of the muzzling of government MPs and how the members of the official opposition are able to truly represent constituents in debate.

It is my intention to focus my comments on part 8 of the legislation where changes are planned for the GST. It is ironic that here we have a government that campaigned, and there are some who believe was elected, on the promise to eliminate the GST. The Prime Minister and his party were very clear in that election. “Just elect us and we will eliminate the GST”, the Liberals promised. Once elected, just like so many other election promises, like the one where there would be an independent ethics commissioner, it was quickly discarded.

In the case of the former finance minister, the GST became his tax and he greedily sought out ways to increase the take. I am surprised the heritage minister has not reminded the former finance minister that she resigned over the issue. At least the heritage minister understood the promise, which is more than anyone can say about her colleagues in the party.

Canadians, therefore, are not surprised that the federal government is back at the trough looking for new ways to increase the take from the GST. The decision to grant only a partial GST exemption of 68% to school boards for the supply of transportation services has meant that school boards have had to pay millions of dollars in GST payments to the federal government instead of applying the funds to important educational requirements.

In the case of the Renfrew County District School Board it has meant a loss of over $700,000 from the school transportation budget. As a consequence, the school board has been placed in the unfortunate situation of having to run a deficit in the amount allowed for safe transport of its students to school. This has meant the school board has had to look at making cuts to that budget to pay for the GST.

As there is a legal requirement to get children to school safely, the Renfrew County District School Board made the difficult decision to eliminate crossing guards to overcome the deficit in the school transportation budget. The amount of the GST claimed, which is not returned to the school board, is slightly more than the cost to provide crossing guards at dangerous intersections.

The following letter was sent to me from a concerned parent in Renfrew, though I can assure the House the concerns expressed in this letter have been repeated to me from across the county. It states:

I write to you for help.

I am a parent of three little guys that walk to school. I push them out the door to head to school so I can get to my job on time.

I do this because I know they have only one street to cross and most importantly there is an adult waiting to make sure they make it across unharmed.

I attended a school council meeting at my children's school this week and was appalled to learn that the treasurer of the school board could sit there and tell the roomful of parents that they are running such a deficit with the high cost of busing children all over this large county, ...and have decided to stop funding adult crossing guards.

So you can imagine how vulnerable we feel as parents of small children with the board saying anything we do will fall on deaf ears.

As our member of Parliament, I beseech you to help us--we need a voice to be heard...soon it will seem education is a privilege and not a right...surely the safety of our children should be first.

I wonder what the legal ramifications would be if a child dies.

Please be our voice.

That letter was from Sherry in Renfrew.

It is not only the Renfrew county district school board that is being penalized by the GST. The Renfrew county Catholic district school board is out almost $450,000 in GST to the federal government.

When the federal government started to collect the GST for school transportation costs it was taken to court and it lost. Now in order to get around the rulings of the court, this budget legislation is introducing retroactive law to overturn a decision of the courts that ruled in favour of the school boards. It is bad enough that the government has become such a strong supporter of the GST, a tax it said it would eliminate, and now it is resorting to retroactive tax legislation to make sure it squeezes as much GST from taxpayers as possible.

As a result of the original 29 school boards from the province of Quebec that made the initial decision to challenge the federal government over its decision to collect GST on school transportation, many more school boards have received favourable judgments. Bill C-28 will overturn these decisions by bringing in a retroactive amendment to tax legislation.

We cannot plan for the past. In addition to the Renfrew county public and separate school boards, Avon Maitland school board, Hamilton--Wentworth school board, Timmins district public and separate school boards, now the district school board of Ontario North-East and the Conseil scolaire de district catholique Grandes-Rivières, Haliburton county and Muskoka district school boards, the now Trillium Lakelands district school board, Simcoe--Muskoka Catholic district school board, Superior--Greenstone district school board, Limestone district school board, Upper Canada district school board, Upper Grand district school board, Kawartha Pine Ridge district school board, Grand Erie district school board and the Thunder Bay Catholic district school board have all had judgments rendered in their favour.

The following boards are waiting for consents to judgments on recovering the GST: Bluewater, Grand Erie, Greater Essex, Kawartha Pine Ridge, Near North, Niagara, Rainbow, Thames Valley, Trillium Lakelands and Toronto district school boards.

The total amount represents $11.675 million for school boards in the province of Ontario alone. School boards in the province of Quebec are owed $8.032 million.

By identifying the school boards from across the province of Ontario that are opposed to this measure in the federal budget, I hope the Liberal Party will understand just how unfair and unpopular this decision is.

In closing, I acknowledge the contribution of my colleagues in the official opposition and thank the House for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Ontario.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

York West Ontario

Liberal

Judy Sgro LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have a few minutes to speak to the budget debate and say that I think it was an excellent budget. There are a lot of important things in the budget that will help us continue to build this country of ours. I chaired the Prime Minister's task force on urban issues and there were a variety of things, I think 28 different points in the budget that came out of the recommendations from our task force of 11 MPs and two senators.

One of the issues that came out of it we are speaking to today which is to amend the RRSP dollar limit and the RPP money purchase limit. People are trying to save for their future and to put more money aside for retirement and in case they fall ill later on in life, and increasing the RRSP limits allows that to happen. Aside from allowing that to happen it encourages people to save. The RRSP limits have long been at $13,500 and gradually they are going to be increased to $18,000 by 2005.

If we look at other countries which have this kind of program, they often have much higher increases than that and they are very good at encouraging people to save money. Setting appropriate limits on tax assisted retirement savings in RPPs, RRSPs and DPSPs is an important means of encouraging and assisting Canadians to save for retirement, reducing their tax burden on savings and in allowing employers to attract and retain key personnel.

The motions that we are discussing today would eliminate those improvements to the system that we are trying to promote as a government but would also reverse the increases that were scheduled to take effect next year under the existing income tax law and on which Canadians depend. As the task force did its round tables throughout the country over the 18 month period, we heard a lot from different people about the things that are needed to have a successful country. A variety of tax changes were promoted at that time. Some of them are in this budget which I am very pleased to comment on.

One of the other issues that was raised was the federal capital tax and how that was very much an impediment to investment in Canada. When it was compared to the U.S. and to other countries that encourage investment at a capital level, there were some significant problems with the fact that we did not encourage it in Canada and it was thought that we should. In order to promote investment, the 2003 budget proposed to eliminate the federal capital tax over seven years starting in January 2004. Clauses 85 and 86 of Bill C-28 would implement this proposal by increasing the threshold for application of the federal capital tax from $10 million to $50 million of capital for taxation years ending after 2003.

Under the bill the federal capital tax liability would be eliminated for almost 5,000 medium size corporations in 2004. The federal capital tax would be fully eliminated by 2010. With this and with the $100 million in tax cuts that is being promoted over this five year period, the government will seriously assist Canadian businesses and help to continue to move us forward with the very strong and effective economy that we currently have.

Another issue we are talking about with the amendments today is the disability tax credit. It has been mentioned by several people and is something that is really important. One of the members from Toronto who heads up the disability subcommittee has done an enormous amount of work with other members in the House trying to review the CPP legislation and how it affects people with disabilities and what we can do as parliamentarians to improve that whole program. As we are an aging population, more and more people are having to rely on CPP disability for assistance for themselves and their families and they are finding it very difficult.

Motion No. 14, which we will be voting on, would delete clause 74 from the bill. This clause provides that a medical doctor or an occupational therapist may certify an individual's impairment with respect to feeding or dressing themselves for the purposes of establishing entitlement to the disability tax credit.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities recommended that the ambiguity about “and” or “or” be corrected. Accordingly clause 74 clarifies that an individual need not be impaired in both feeding and dressing but feeding or dressing would suffice. Many people have a problem with a disability of one or the other and not both.

Motion No. 15 would also delete clause 75 of the bill, another area that we needed to look at to see how we could assist people. Following consultations on draft amendments the 2003 budget proposed to rework the language of the proposed amendments to clarify again that feeding oneself does not include any of the activities of identifying, finding, shopping for, or other activities associated with preparing food. This aspect of the legislation is extremely important. It means that individuals who are markedly restricted in their ability to prepare a meal for reasons other than a dietary restriction will continue to be eligible for that disability tax credit.

It is also noted that these amendments were developed only after consultations with many of the affected groups. Many of these groups have ongoing discussions with the disability subcommittee.

In addition to Motion No. 13 and clause 64 affecting school boards, this is as a result of a recent court decision. It is not because we want to be difficult. It is simply because of a court decision affecting school boards that as a result is contrary to the longstanding well understood policy intention of the GST law. It is not that our finance minister woke up and decided that he was going to be mean and difficult to school boards.

Building this country is extremely difficult. It requires a lot of investment. I am proud to say that of the $3 billion that was put into the strategic investment fund in this budget we are speaking to, $2 billion of that is going to be there clearly to build the infrastructure of the country. There is an enormous void in having enough dollars to build water and sewer systems, bridges and so on in the country. This brings it to a total of $8.25 billion that has been put aside since the year 2000 strictly for infrastructure in Canada.

When that levers money from the province and the cities in matching funds, it brings it to $24 billion since 2000 that has been put on the table throughout the country, through all levels of government to ensure that the infrastructure of Canada is clearly there to help us move forward. One billion dollars of that has been put aside for the smaller municipalities so that they can access that for many of the areas in their communities where they have difficulty relying on a tax base. It is investments in our large urban centres, but it is also investments in the smaller communities.

Some $2 billion over five years has gone into advancing sustainable development. This will help us look at new technology, at a variety of things such as alternative fuels, things that tie in to the Kyoto protocol. It will help us focus on those investments to improve air quality, better assess and manage toxic substances, and further protect our species at risk and support implementation of Canada's commitment at the world summit on sustainable development.

There is $600 million over five years to upgrade, manage and monitor water and waste water systems on reserves.

I would hope that some of the lessons we learned from Walkerton will clearly show that we have to ensure that our municipalities have the dollars needed to invest in the infrastructure that helps us to move forward. On investments in supporting our skills and learning programs, there is $100 million for the creation of the proposed Canadian learning institute.

It is a good budget. There is a lot of money going into programs. We are continuing with our five year tax reduction plan. We are continuing to support families and our national child benefit program. We are encouraging savings and moving forward in a variety of ways. The strengthening of Canada's military again is important for all of us, as is enhancing Canada-U.S. trade.

This is a good budget. There are a lot of areas that we want to continue to build on. I am glad I had a chance to speak to it.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to say first that I am very pleased to speak on Bill C-28. However, I am not pleased to speak on the government's decision to implement a number of provisions that really go against Parliament's position. I will get to this later.

I want to talk specifically about the way the disability tax credit is now working. To be eligible for this tax credit, the applicant must have a severe and prolonged mental or physical impairment the effects of which are such that the individual's ability to perform one or more basic activities of daily living is markedly restricted, and this must be certified by a qualified medical doctor. Since this is a non-refundable credit, those who receive it must have sufficient income to pay federal tax. The maximum value of the current credit is just over $1,000.

The definition of “impairment” that the Department of Finance uses for disability tax credit purposes is the most restrictive in all the federal government. It is based on the individual's ability to perform basic activities of daily living, in accordance with the definition found in section 118 of the Income Tax Act.

If a medical doctor certifies that the claimant has a severe and prolonged mental or physical impairment the effects of which are such that the individual's ability to perform one of the activities mentioned is markedly restricted, he might be eligible. If he is able to perform these activities—even with medication or with a device—he is not considered as having an impairment for tax purposes.

CCRA officials have recognized before the committee that Terry Fox would have been considered as having an impairment according to the criteria of the disability tax credit.

The act now says:

(a) an impairment is prolonged where it has lasted, or can reasonably be expected to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months;

(b) an individual's ability to perform a basic activity of daily living is markedly restricted only where all or substantially all of the time, even with therapy and the use of appropriate devices and medication, the individual is blind or is unable (or requires an inordinate amount of time) to perform a basic activity of daily living;

(c) a basic activity of daily living in relation to an individual means

(i) perceiving, thinking and remembering,

(ii) feeding and dressing oneself,

(iii) speaking so as to be understood, in a quiet setting, by another person familiar with the individual,

(iv) hearing so as to understand, in a quiet setting, another person familiar with the individual,

(v) eliminating (bowel or bladder functions), or

(vi) walking; and

(d) for greater certainty, no other activity, including working, housekeeping or a social or recreational activity, shall be considered as a basic activity of daily living.

Canadians consider that CCRA is unfair in its administration of this credit. CCRA is notoriously harsh when it comes to rejecting applications on technicalities. For example, because the word “breathe” is not included in the legislation as an activity of daily living, the agency has refused the disability tax credit to Canadians who have breathing problems, who have cystic fibrosis for instance, because their condition does not come under the precise definition of “disability”.

Some very determined citizens sued CCRA over these restrictions, and they won. A recent victory worth mentioning is the decision made in Hamilton v. Canada, where the Federal Court of Appeal established that the legal standard, for the purposes of the disability tax credit, was the fact that the activity of feeding oneself is not just the act of putting food in one's mouth. Mr. Hamilton had celiac disease, a particularly severe form of allergy to gluten. He won on appeal the right to the tax credit because he has to spend most of his time, every day, to find and prepare in a special way the food for a medically prescribed diet.

Thinking this case could lead to heavy financial costs, the finance department brought in a bill amending section 118 of the Income Tax Act on a Friday afternoon, just before Labour Day, on August 30, 2002.

That amendment was to add the following to section 118.4:

(e) feeding oneself means the physical act of putting food in one's mouth or swallowing that food;

(f) dressing oneself means the physical act of putting and removing one's clothes.

Those new restrictions to the eligibility status meant that those claiming the DTC because they were unable to feed themselves could be refused if they could swallow or if they were able to put an artificial arm through a sleeve.

Members from all sides of the House were opposed to this amendment. The Bloc Quebecois collected 6,000 signatures on a petition opposing the new restrictions. The NDP collected over a 1,000 letters opposed to this measure, and moved an opposition day motion that was votable. It condemned the restriction and asked for the implementation of a unanimous committee report on the disability tax credit. The motion was adopted unanimously on November 2002. The Finance Minister was in attendance, but he abstained.

After dragging his feet in the House for one week, the Minister of Finance officially withdrew the planned amendments.

Let us see what is in the recent budget. On budget day, on February 18, 2003, nothing was said in the budget speech regarding disability tax credit eligibility. There was nothing either in the main budget documents. However, in the ways and means motion to be found in schedule 9 of the budget plan, there is a series of new planned changes to the definitions of “feeding oneself” and “dressing oneself” under section 118 of the Income Tax Act.

This is really slipping through the back door things the Parliament already voted on. When I say that Parliament voted on those things, I mean that on Tuesday, November 19, 2002, an NDP motion asking to turn down those proposals was adopted unanimously. What did the Minister of Finance do about this motion? If Liberal members vote against the budget bill, the government will fall. So he literally put the knife to the throat of the Liberal members if they did not support the bill. He had not voted on the motion. The only one who did not vote on the motion on the disability tax credit on November 19, 2002, was the Minister of Finance.

Now he has introduced a bill and hijacked the government and the Liberals by telling them, “You will vote my way or we will close down Parliament and call an election”. I cannot even use the words that come to my mind because I would be called to order. It is unacceptable for the Minister of Finance to go after the poorest people in our society, the disabled.

A women came to my office. She had only one leg and had to wear a prosthesis. She had been eligible for the tax credit for 10 years. Now the government is taking that credit away from her with a bill like the one the Minister of Finance is asking us to pass.

It is totally unacceptable when we see the Liberal government going after the disabled. Before that, it went after workers who have lost their jobs when it took in excess of $45 billion from the EI fund. Last week, I think it was the member for Beauce who was saying that there was no money left in the fund. As if it was not enough to have taken all the money from workers who have lost their jobs, the Liberal government is now going after the disabled. It is unacceptable.

Under this bill that they want to pass, a man like Terry Fox, a hero in this country, would not be recognized as disabled, as he would have been under the previous legislation.

How can the Liberals say that this is the right thing to do? How can they ask us to trust them when, financially, they are going after the poorest?

Let us take RRSPs for example. Rich people will benefit from large tax reductions, but there is nothing for the poor. And things are getting even worse: now it is the disabled who are the target. It is sad to see the direction that the Liberals are taking.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on the report stage amendments to Bill C-28, the budget implementation act, 2003. Budget 2003 was an important budget and another budget which continued the tradition of the government of dealing with deficits, creating more budgetary surpluses, reducing taxes, paying down the debt, and investing in priorities that are important to Canadians.

Budget 2003 was the fifth budgetary surplus that the government has experienced in the last few years. We have paid down the debt by $47.6 billion and reduced the federal debt to GDP ratio to 46.5%, which will diminish to just under 40% in the next few years. At the same time, unlike what the member opposite said, the government made some enormous investments in families through the Canada child tax benefit which it introduced. In fact, it will cumulatively reach just over $14 billion over the next five or six years, a huge investment which did not exist before.

Every single year we have introduced more measures to help those with disabilities and this budget was no exception. In addition to that, there were huge investments of approximately $3 billion in Canada's physical infrastructure which will invest in sewers, highways and public transit, and renew Canada's physical infrastructure.

The budget invested $35 billion in the health care system and called for greater accountability by the provinces so that Canadians from coast to coast to coast will have a better understanding of what their health dollars are purchasing, what outcomes are being obtained by the health care system, and how the health care outcomes in Yukon compare to those in New Brunswick. This will allow us to measure what health dollars are buying with the money, tax dollars which are very important to all Canadians.

In addition, the budget built on the measures of the past by protecting the $100 billion tax cut, the largest tax cut in Canadian history, and included other tax measures. It helped small businesses by eliminating or phasing out the capital tax, a tax which had no policy rationale and was basically a penalty on investment. It will be phased out and that is a very positive thing.

The small business tax rate limit was increased from $200,000 to $300,000 which will help small businesses grow and prosper in Canada. They are one of the largest engines of job creation in our economy. Again we will add to the favourable tax rates as they relate to small business in Canada.

I could go on and on about the attributes of this budget. That has been lacking in the debate heretofore apart from my colleagues who have studied the budget on this side of the House in more detail and are aware of the many attributes and positive things that this budget will bring to Canadians.

There were investments in affordable housing. In my riding of Etobicoke North we have an affordable housing crunch. I was pleased to see that the federal government and Ontario recently concluded an affordable housing agreement. We are working in Etobicoke North to capture some of the benefits of that by getting some initiatives moving. Too many people are paying too much in relation to their income on rents and too many people on fixed incomes are being forced out of their homes because of property tax increases. I was happy to see investments in affordable housing.

The budget covered a whole myriad of other things, but I would like to turn to debate the report stage amendments. These are amendments that came through the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. I believe there was a whole raft of amendments. I cannot remember the exact number, but these amendments were passed in committee and are now on the floor of the chamber.

I should say too that there has been some cynicism about whether the Minister of Finance and the government actually listen to Canadians. I am on the House of Commons finance committee and we do a prebudget consultation every year. We travel from coast to coast to coast, submit a report to the House and to the Minister of Finance.

Just out of curiosity, I wondered how many of the recommendations that were in our report made it into the budget. We went out and asked Canadians what priorities they felt should be reflected in the upcoming budget and they told us. We put those recommendations into a report, took it to the Minister of Finance and we tabled that report here in the House. Two-thirds, or thereabouts, of the recommendations of the House of Commons finance committee found their way into budget 2003.

I would like to congratulate the Minister of Finance and previous ministers of finance for listening to Canadians, for starting the process of prebudget consultations, for not staying in Ottawa to listen to the same old voices, but to actually go out and listen to Canadians across this great land, to find out their priorities, their needs and to listen to what they thought we should do in the next budget.

As I said, two-thirds of the recommendations that were in the finance committee report made it into the federal budget. My colleague, the member for York West, who chaired the urban task force of our caucus, also cited many of the recommendations that were in their task force report that made it into the federal budget.

Let me move on to Motion No. 13 which would affect school boards. It is a very important matter and it has to do with the GST and the application of the GST. Many school boards contracted out their school bus operations which created a GST issue. By doing that, it was argued, they should have a larger rebate than would otherwise normally be available to this type of institution. There were court cases on this particular point and the federal court ruled in favour of some of the appellants. However, at the same time, the government looked at this particular tax policy and said that it really was not its intent, that this was a misuse of that provision.

The government indicated through policy that it would react to that and change the policy, and change it retroactively. Some people might find that somewhat abhorrent. Frankly, the government uses that only in very rare circumstances, but there have been times when the tax policy has been interpreted in a way that clearly was not the intent, and any reasonable person would say that was not the intent or the spirit of the measure. The government did say that of the court cases that had been decided, those school boards would get the benefit of the higher GST rebate, but it signaled that that would be the end of it.

Notwithstanding that, some of the school boards continued through the court system, and therefore the act was changed to reflect the government's stated intention. This motion would undo some of that and it is for that reason that the government is not supporting it. Frankly I see the wisdom behind that particular stance.

We have had discussions here about the motions as they relate to the disability tax credit. By defeating these amendments, we would allow people who have a disability with respect to feeding themselves or dressing themselves, and it does not have to be in combination, the tax credit. It seems to me that is a very reasonable stance to take and I will be supporting that. I will be voting against that particular amendment, which for some reason would take that away from people with disabilities.

However, by the same token, the government is saying that it will not go so far as to say that people will be entitled to the benefit if they have certain allergies to certain types of food which increases their time for shopping, et cetera. I have some friends who have this type of challenge and, while we all empathize with it, the tax system is not really designed to deal with things like that.

I will end things there and say that I will be voting against those amendments and I encourage other members in the House to do the same. I would like to encourage members to support this budget, which is a very fine budget.