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House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.

Topics

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville on May 1, 2003, concerning the transfer of control of the firearms centre and the transfer of the ministerial powers, duties and functions for the Firearms Act from the Minister of Justice to the Solicitor General.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for raising this issue as well as the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for his intervention in the matter.

In his argument, the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville raised a concern about the fact that ministerial responsibility for administering the Firearms Act was transferred by means of an order in council dated April 14, 2003, pursuant to the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, the PSRTDA. He pointed out that section 2 of the Firearms Act specifically defines “Federal Minister” as the Minister of Justice. The hon. member maintained that the transfer of responsibility for the Firearms Act and the firearms centre to the Solicitor General requires an amendment to the Firearms Act and cannot be done by way of order in council. In other words, the government must introduce a bill and have it go through all legislative steps in Parliament in order to effect the transfer of ministerial responsibility. He charged that the government's having proceeded otherwise constituted a contempt of this House and a breach of his privileges as a member.

In responding to the charges on May 1 and May 2, 2003, the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader stated that the authority to make such a transfer is vested in the government through the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act. He cited several cases where the act has been invoked, including the 1993 reorganization where four new government departments were created, and more recently, transfers of responsibility from one minister to another for the Pest Control Products Act in 2000 and the Royal Canadian Mint Act in 2002.

I have now reviewed all the facts related to this matter and wish to make the following observations.

I have examined the cases cited by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and in particular the two instances related to the transfer of responsibilities under the Pest Control Products Act and the Royal Canadian Mint Act.

In the case of the transfer of responsibility for the Pest Control Products Act, the order in council transferring responsibility to the Minister of Health from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was made on October 19, 2000 and was recorded in the Canada Gazette on November 8, 2000. Ministerial responsibility for the Royal Canadian Mint was transferred to the Minister of Transport from the Minister of State, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations on August 6, 2002 and was recorded in the August 28, 2002 edition of the

Gazette.

In both those instances we can see that responsibility was transferred by order in council from one Minister of the Crown, specifically named in the act, to another Minister of the Crown, and the registrations of these order in council transfers were officially recorded in the

Canada Gazette.

Thus, the government argues that to transfer responsibility for the Firearms Act and the related firearms centre created by that act from one minister to another is not unprecedented. The government clearly holds the view that it has the legal authority to make such transfers through the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act.

The matter raised by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville goes to the validity of an order-in-council transferring a responsibility, which was originally conferred by a statute. It is well known that the government cannot amend legislation by way of regulation for, in the language of the hon. member, it is understood that a subordinate legal instrument cannot be used to amend a superior legal instrument.

The hon. member for Yorkton--Melville argues that the government has used a subordinate act, in this case the PSRTDA, to amend a superior act, the Firearms Act. The Chair would see the hon. member's argument turning not on the relationship between these two acts, but on the difference between superior and subordinate instruments in the hierarchy of legal instruments, that is, between the superior statute and the subordinate order in council. However, this is an argument on a matter of law, not a procedural issue and, as such, it would be for the courts, not for your Speaker, to decide.

As my predecessors and I have pointed out in many previous rulings where legal interpretation is an issue, it is not within the Speaker's authority to rule or decide on points of law.

The point is well put on pages 219 and 220 of House of Commons Practice and Procedure and Practice :

—while speakers must take the Constitution and statutes into account when preparing a ruling, numerous Speakers have explained that it is not up to the Speaker to rule on the “constitutionality” or “legality” of measures before the House.

It is clear that it is not your Speaker who might rule on the legality of the government's decision to transfer responsibility for the Firearms Act from one cabinet minister to another. That is a matter for the courts to decide. I must examine instead the hon. member's argument from a purely procedural perspective. What privilege has been breached by this action?

The hon. member appears to be asserting that the government, by transferring responsibility for the Firearms Act from one minister to another, has shown contempt for the House. After an exhaustive search of our precedents, I am unable to find a case where any Speaker has ruled that a government, in the exercise of a regulatory power conferred upon it by statute, has been found to have breached the privileges of the House. Accordingly, I am unable to find a breach of the privileges of this House or of the hon. member.

I must note, however, that the order in council under the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act by which the firearms centre was transferred from the justice portfolio to that of Solicitor General is a statutory instrument. As such, Standing Order 108(4)(b) applies and the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations is involved. Standing Order 108(4)(b) refers to section 19 of the Statutory Instruments Act, which in turn says that every statutory instrument shall stand referred to the committee.

The order in council the hon. member complains of is therefore inherently part of the review and indeed the scrutiny work of the committee and I invite him to pursue the matter with his usual vigour before that committee.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Statutory Program Evaluation ActRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-435, an act to provide for evaluations of statutory programs.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to reintroduce my private member's bill calling for the regular periodic examination of statutory programs. I know that the Minister of Finance introduced a policy to have the review of non-statutory programs on a five year cycle when he introduced the budget back in February, but my bill calls for a 10 year review of statutory programs. This is where I believe we can find efficiencies, productivity and savings of taxpayers' money in the tens of millions if not billions of dollars, soI certainly recommend the bill to the House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition signed by a number of my constituents. The petitioners are asking Parliament to refuse to pass Bill C-250 or any similar bill that would repress freedom of religion or speech. They are also asking us to defend the historical legal definition of marriage and to override any court decision that infringes upon the freedoms of religion.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition signed by hundreds of Canadians who are concerned about the state of health care in Canada today. The petitioners acknowledge that the Romanow commission presented a report that is in line with the values of Canadians and reflects the overwhelming desire of Canadians to keep our health care system public and equally accessible to all Canadians. The petitioners call upon the government to see the Romanow commission as a blueprint, to implement Romanow's blueprint for sustaining the future of health care and to adopt all the recommendations that would require our system to preserve itself in the non-profit, public sector arena.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

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

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from May 12 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 the motions in Group No. 1.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Fournier Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, last night, when I had the floor, I was going to talk about softwood lumber, but unfortunately, I ran out of time.

What I wanted to say about the softwood lumber issue is that the budget contained nothing to deal with the crisis. HRDC's plan for workers affected by the softwood lumber crisis has been condemned by everyone. The measures that have been announced to help these workers are utterly inadequate, as you know.

Certain ministers promised a second stage for the softwood lumber assistance program. The budget contains no funding for this stage, as though the government had forgotten its promises. Are there many people who are surprised that the federal government is forgetting its promises?

Many people are disappointed. Their needs are still not being met because the provinces are not receiving the resources they need from the federal government to meet these needs.

The list of significant measures not mentioned in this budget is a long one. There is no reduction in the excise tax on gasoline; no reduction of the GST per litre of gasoline; no further decrease in income taxes; no appreciable short-term improvement in the RRSP contribution ceiling; no increase in the pension adjustment amount; nothing in the budget for senior citizens; no substantial reduction in employment insurance contributions; no improvement in old age security pensions; no provision to recover taxes on hidden salaries; no tax deduction for volunteer work; and no additional deduction for charitable donations.

The federal government has no respect for the elected representatives in Quebec and the provinces, who are making their constituents' needs known loud and clear. And it has no respect for municipal representatives, nor the citizens who are living in a state of crisis the government itself has created, such as the fishers, for example.

At present, the fishers of the Lower North Shore are occupying the offices of MAPAQ, which is the department of agriculture, fisheries and nutrition, and of Economic Development Canada, since the government has plunged these workers, these fishers, into an unprecedented crisis. It is not their fault; it is the fault of the government and of the Minister of Fisheries, who did not plan ahead. In the five years the seal population has been left unmanaged, it has risen from 1.8 million to 7 million.

I will close by saying that we are very disappointed. Decisions must be made, and they must be made now.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the budget implementation act and the dismal record that the government has had for the almost 10 years that I have been in the House.

I watched as, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the government has kind of stayed the course and allowed the rising tide of economic growth that in Canada was by the virtue of the good management of Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States who got the North American and western economy really growing during the 1990s. The government sat and watched the money roll into the coffers, and the budget balanced.

It was not the good management of the Liberal government that balanced the books. It was the fact that the economic policies emanating from Washington provided the spillover to our economic growth. Revenues rose and the budget balanced. It was a magic formula for the government.

However what we really need is leadership. There has been no leadership on the economic portfolio in the country in the 10 years I have been in the House.

Spending continues to rise even though the government said it would cut spending. It is now up to $175 billion a year. While it is spending that kind of money, it has only been able to find a couple of billion dollars for our military resources. We know the military hardware is falling apart and falling out of the sky. Can the government get its mind around new helicopters? It says no, that there is no money for new helicopters.

The government has no priorities. We had the opportunity to stand with the western world and defend it in the last month or so but because a few of our men were sent over to Afghanistan the Prime Minister said that there was nobody else available. The government sent off the ships with our only helicopter on board and one day out at sea it lifted off the deck and fell back down, and that was the end of that escapade.

Unfortunately, our military and Canadians are embarrassed about the state of our military and yet the Liberals have a great big fight about how they can demonstrate buying new helicopters without admitting that they were wrong in 1993 to cut the helicopter program. The spending has no notion of trying to focus spending on what is best for Canada.

We have new programs being announced basically just before elections to buy votes. On the two days before the election was called in the year 2000, the minister of finance at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, stood up and introduced the heating fuel rebate. It was an emergency at the time and the government said that it had to get the money into the hands of Canadians because they could not afford to pay their heating fuel bills. That program cost us $1.4 billion.

Some people said that was a good program because it helped Canadians. However the Auditor General pointed out that, by the government's own criteria, of those who were entitled and needed the money only $400 million went to the people who needed it and $1 billion went to people who did not need it. That of course, as we know, included some people in the graveyards, in prisons and in seniors homes where they were not paying utility bills. All those people were getting tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money when the government just spread it right across the land because it was election time.

Not only that, but 90,000 Canadians who needed the money, by the government's own criteria, did not receive a dime. It was a billion dollars wasted and 90,000 Canadians did not receive it when they should have received it. The government said that it was good policy.

We are now in the year 2003. What did we hear at the public accounts committee yesterday? Long after the price of the bills have come down again and long after the 90,000 people who needed the money have paid their bills, the government told the public accounts committee that it wanted to pay out another $13 million to another 86,000 Canadians to help them to pay for the high heating fuel bill that they had in the year 2000. We expect the government will be back next year, in the year 2004, to tell us that it will be handing out money to people who do not need it to pay their utility bills for the year 2000.

Is that good management? I do not think it is good management. I cannot understand why the government feels it can use taxpayer money in this way, just spread it across the land and say that the Liberal government is good.

The Liberal government is not good. It has no focus and no direction. There is no “follow me to the promised land because I can see prosperity at the end of the line”. No. The government just muddles along, taxes the people until they start to squeak and then it eases off a little bit. It then spreads the money around to anybody and everybody it can find who might use the money, and buy Liberal popularity.

We think of the HRDC billion dollar boondoggle. It does not matter if there is an application on file. It does not matter if people qualify or meet the rules, the government just sends them a cheque, preferably this week rather than next week because the sooner they get it the sooner they will be happy.

We know about the $1 billion for the gun registry. We were told it would be a $2 million program and it is at $1 billion and counting. It would not be so bad if the government had just underestimated the costs, if it is possible to underestimate the cost of $2 million instead of $1 billion. Do members know what we found out, again at the public accounts committee hearings? A large part of the $1 billion cost, somewhere in the region of $500 million, was invested, wasted, on computer programming because the government had no plan for handling the computer programs to maintain the administration of the program.

The government went through 1,200 revisions of the computer program. The computer programmers were busy writing away, stopping and starting again because they had a new vision. They would start on the new vision, write away and then stop, throw it in the garbage and start a new plan. The value of that work went straight into the trash can and provided zero benefit to Canadians.

Unfortunately that is due to the leadership we have received from the government and the member for LaSalle--Émard who was the minister of finance for a number of years and who now wants to lead the entire party. While we know what he is opposed to, we really do not know what he would be supporting should he ever take over the Prime Minister's job. Canadians should be quite alarmed by that because while he would dump the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs' bill to bring in some accountability to our native peoples, perhaps change the Kyoto agreement and a few other things he has talked about, we have no vision from the former minister of finance who sat in his seat for eight or nine years and allowed spending to increase and did not bring any focus to the finances of the country. We are apprehensive about where the country is going under the Liberal leadership.

I wish I had more time. I could go on and on, perhaps at great length, about the problems that we see, but I will hold my fire for another day.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-28, the budget implementation act, and to recommend to members in the Chamber the importance of the amendments before the House today.

I want the House to know that with respect to Bill C-28 the New Democratic Party took the process very seriously and made a number of amendments. We recommended those amendments to the House in order to make the budget a better document and ensure that budget 2003 reflected the priorities of Canadians.

As the House will know, from previous speeches on the bill, many members in the Chamber do not believe that the government of the day has truly reflected the priorities of Canadians or done everything in its power to ensure that the pressing needs and concerns of Canadians were addressed in the budget. This is at a time when surplus revenues are significant and when Canadians have a clear sense that social reinvestment is the order of the day and must be the priority for government action.

We have commented before on the budget and have indicated that there were some drops in the bucket that have made the situation better but that they did not actually amount to much when dealing with the poverty facing children, the housing conditions facing our aboriginal people on reserves, the juggling act of working women trying to provide for their children and ensuring quality day care, or when it comes to unemployed workers who are desperately trying to find some security at a time of great flux in the labour force today.

Today we are recommending that the government do more to invest in those priorities of Canadians. We are recommending that the government do that by deferring its tax cut agenda and putting on hold its plans to give tax breaks to big business and wealthy Canadians at a time when there are so many pressing social needs.

I want to quickly reference four or five of those pressing needs. The number one priority of Canadians is health care. We know the budget makes an attempt at reversing a decade of cuts to health care. We know the Liberals today have recognized the errors of their ways and are attempting to deal with a situation that they themselves caused. We acknowledge that there is some additional support for health care in the budget.

However the amount falls far short of what is required and falls far short of what has been recommended by the Liberal appointed commission on health care. Let us not forget that the proposals before us today leave a Romanow gap of some $5.1 billion, money that could have gone to ensure that provincial governments are equipped and able to deal with growing waiting lists, with a demand for community based primary care delivery systems and for action finally on the long awaited, long overdue promised national home care and pharmacare plans.

The first priority of Canadians is health care. The government has failed in that regard by refusing to use all resources at hand to backfill from those years of cuts and from the devastation wreaked upon this system going back to 1995 with the famous budget introduced and engineered by the member for LaSalle—Émard.

The second priority has to do with child care and meeting the needs of working women and families everywhere in our society today. I am glad the Minister responsible for the Status of Women is here. I hope to hear from her in this debate because I think it is acknowledged that while the budget makes a tiny step in terms of meeting a promise that has been the longest running one in the history of Canadian politics for a national day care program, this is not a national day care program.

Working women today, families everywhere, are still struggling to find appropriate licensed, quality, non-profit child care for their children. There is no question that when it comes to women's search for equality and the barriers and obstacles to their full participation in the labour force today, the number one priority is quality child care. The government has failed to ensure resources available to it, through the surplus which has been generated and through deferral around these tax breaks for big corporations and the wealthy in Canada. This would have gone a long way to address that issue.

Third, is the question of living conditions for aboriginal peoples and the state of housing on reserves across the country. The government should be embarrassed by the findings of the Auditor General's report which clearly indicated that many members of our first nations communities were living in third world conditions and in deplorable housing conditions. The government has failed to address that long overdue concern in today's budget.

It should also be embarrassing for the government to have to deal with a United Nations envoy which toured first nations communities in Canada and which reported on the deplorable conditions. It must be an eye opener for the government to know that UN officials, touring in Canada, have expressed shock, dismay, surprise and horror that a country as rich and wealthy as Canada has allowed these horrible living and working conditions to continue.

Finally, let me mention the issue of women in general and comment on the United Nations committee report overseeing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It should be an eye opener as well for the government to recognize that Canada is falling far short of its obligations under that convention and that in fact previous cuts to social programs and inaction by the government over the last 10 years have had a devastating impact on women and their families.

The result is that Canada falls far short of basic obligations under a UN convention requiring the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Surely, at a time of considerable budget flexibility and significant surplus, the government could find it within its powers to address the concerns of families, of discrimination against women, of children living in poverty and of first nations communities living in third world conditions. This is what we should be about today, and it is the obligation of government to address those concerns.

Today we present one recommendation to make that possible. We call on the government to scrap its proposals to give a tax break to wealthy individuals and big business, which it is doing by way of recommended changes to the RRSP contribution limit and by way of the changes to the capital tax. We are talking about one to two billion dollars in revenue that could be applied to the social priorities of Canadians, to the primary objective of reinvesting in the social fabric of the country and to ensuring that we as a collective, as a House of Commons, once and for all take on the challenge of the human deficit and the social debt in the country.

That is our recommendation today. We hope there is a receptivity to those notions and that members of the House will support our amendments.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Roger Gaudet Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, whenever a budget is brought down, we have to keep repeating the same thing over and over because it seems to me that the government is turning a deaf ear, it is not listening. I think that this budget illustrates the extent of the fiscal imbalance.

Since the Liberals took office, Ottawa's revenues have increased by 50%, from $123 billion in 1993-94 to $185 billion in 2003-04.

If there is one thing to remember about budget 2003, it is that the federal government's revenues are disproportionate to its needs. The government is rolling in surpluses. It is collecting far too much in taxes. The Bloc Quebecois estimates that, in spite of an 11% increase in spending—an enormous increase—Ottawa will still end up with a $14.7 billion surplus over the next years. This goes to show the extent of the fiscal imbalance. As stated previously, only Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta will be deficit-free next year. Every other province will have a deficit.

The federal spending power is another consequence of the fiscal imbalance. Ottawa cannot resist spending its surpluses in various areas that fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and of the provinces. The federal government thinks nothing of establishing organizations or new programs in education, child welfare or health care. Ottawa will be spending $4.5 billion over the next three years in these areas, thereby causing an administrative dispute with Quebec and the provinces. The bottom line is that the government is wasting money.

Then there are the people who were left out of this budget. Let us say that the regions dependent on softwood lumber, self-employed workers and farm producers—who do not exist as far as the federal government is concerned—the aboriginal people, the unemployed and those workers who pay into the EI fund have been forgotten in this budget.

Finally, I should mention the middle income taxpayers, who are completely forgotten. The federal government preferred to announce an increase in the RRSP limit, which affects merely 1.5% of the taxpayers in Quebec, that is, those reporting an average income of $150,000 or more.

The Minister of Finance has been boasting of transparency, but he has still underestimated the surplus by close to $8 billion. He has announced a balanced employment insurance fund, but the federal government is once again going to be digging into the three million dollar annual surplus. Finally, he has created trusts and foundations that are beyond the control of the public and parliamentarians.

SInce 1998, the budget for defence has increased by 53%. By comparison, federal transfer payments for post-secondary education have dropped more than 30% since 1996. Where, in your opinion, do Quebeckers place their priorities: defence or education?

In addition, there is a new accounting method for government assets. The federal government has altered its bookkeeping methods, and from now on the method used will be full-accrual accounting. This change of method impacts on the government's bottom line.

The minister's budget forecasts are $9.4 billion for 2002-03 and $8.8 for 2003-04. The government has also kept a cushion of $3 billion for 2002-03 and $4 billion for 2003-04, which makes a total surplus for the next two years of $25 billion plus.

The Minister of Finance has not responded to the demands of the people of Quebec and of Canada. Prebudget consultations by the Bloc Quebecois led to our calling for the government to do the following: gradually correct fiscal imbalance and transfer $9.5 billion over two years to the provinces in the form of tax points or GST revenues; reduce premium rates and broaden the rules for eligibility for employment insurance, something that is very important today with all that is going on in the fisheries, softwood lumber and elsewhere; create a new infrastructure program; support the wind-power industry; abolish the special 1.5 cent per litre gas tax; abolish the airport security tax; cut several billion dollars annually from government spending by abolishing useless programs, waste and tax havens that make no contribution whatsoever to economic growth.

As far as resolving fiscal imbalance is concerned, the Séguin commission had unanimous support in Quebec. There is a fiscal imbalance and it must be corrected. To that end, we asked the federal government to transfer to the Government of Quebec and the governments of the other provinces an additional taxation capacity that would enable them to invest where the need is greatest.

We are asking for a further transfer of tax points or additional tax room of $4.5 billion in 2002-03 and $5 billion in 2003-04.

The various measures taken in the 2003 budget do nothing to reduce the financial pressure on the provinces. We can conclude by saying this: the government has announced insufficient additional investments in sectors where the needs are blatant, such as health, and has distributed the funds to programs and agencies that encroach on provincial jurisdictions.

Visibly, the federal government has no intention of resolving the fiscal imbalance. Creating new agencies, new programs, and new bodies will only perpetuate the status quo in intergovernmental financial relations, or make matters worse. The needs of citizens are always poorly met, because the provinces do not receive adequate resources from the federal government in order to be able to respond to the needs of the people.

Let us now turn to the people who have been left out of this budget. A self-sustaining employment insurance fund must be created. Unions and employers are exasperated by the misuse of EI funds. They support the Bloc's call for a self-sustaining EI fund, so that the government will stop robbing the fund, and so that contribution rates will be set by those who pay into the fund, both employees and employers.

The Bloc Quebecois had hoped the Liberal government would create a self-sustaining fund before the former Minister of Finance returned. However, the current Minister of Finance's budget did not establish a self-sustaining EI fund and announced a delay of almost two years for establishing a new mechanism for setting premiums. The program may ring up a surplus of $3 billion over the next fiscal year, and the Minister of Finance has been promising to balance EI spending and premiums in the following years.

Let us talk about abolishing the gasoline tax. The government introduced a special tax of 1.5 cents per litre to bring down the deficit. Now that deficits are a thing of the past, why does the government not abolish this tax, or turn it over to the provinces for infrastructure spending? That would be a very good idea.

On the issue of infrastructure funding, the Bloc Quebecois had asked that enough money be provided for Quebec to proceed with needed infrastructure projects. We had asked for substantial, long-term commitments. The increases in infrastructure funding are not enough. On top of that, the government has been slow in turning over the amounts needed.

The budget contained an additional investment of $3 billion over ten years. This investment is broken down as follows: $2 billion more for the strategic infrastructure fund. The fund is going from $2 billion to $4 billion, with $1 billion for municipal infrastructure over ten years.

One billion dollars is not a lot. One hundred million dollars per year for all of Quebec and Canada is not very much.

Who has been overlooked? Women. Despite additional money for the national child tax benefit and for day care spaces, which have an indirect effect on women's lives, there were relatively few real measures to help women directly in this budget.

For example, the budget makes no mention of the federal government's intention to negotiate with the Quebec government to reach an agreement on clawbacks of employment insurance premiums, which would allow the creation of the Quebec parental insurance program or RAP. This new program would replace and improve the federal employment insurance program's maternity and parental leave. More people would be eligible, such as women who are self-employed or seasonal workers, and the benefits would be better, with an income replacement rate of up to 75%. Conditions for women having children would be greatly improved and simplified.

Furthermore, the budget contains no tax or other measures for the elderly, such as annuities or old age pensions. However, this group's income continues to decline, and since women represent over half of this group, they are the ones who will suffer most.

As for aboriginals, they get very little from the Minister of Finance's budget. Since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples tabled its voluminous report, the federal government has been slow to respond, instead of taking immediate action.

It is the same story for seniors. There is nothing in the budget for seniors.

With regard to softwood lumber, Human Resources Development Canada's plan for workers hit by the softwood lumber crisis has been strongly criticized by all sides, with many claiming that the measures announced to assist these workers were clearly insufficient. I agree; there was proof of that this week and in previous weeks.

Some ministers have promised a second phase in the assistance program for workers in the softwood lumber industry. However, the budget makes no mention of funding for phase two. It is as if the federal government had forgotten its promises; its representatives are doing even worse, they have lost their memory.

Then there are travellers and airports. Nothing has changed. There is a $12 tax. Perhaps the government should eliminate it. This means that the government's budget does not really reflect the needs of people in Quebec and Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the second time I rise to speak on the budget for 2003-04.

In February, when I first spoke on the budget, I reacted mildly. But as time goes by and I examine the budget, I realize that, as my colleague, the hon. member for Matapédia—Matane, said, this is a budget of illusions, and it is unrealistic.

With the arrival of the new Minister of Finance, who was allegedly in the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party at the time, I would have expected money to be spent on the real priorities of Canadians. For years now, the people have been telling this government what their priorities are. With this budget, the candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party did no better than the former Minister of Finance, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

In this budget, I note that the priorities with respect to urgently required investments were ignored, whether in infrastructure or other areas.

After this budget was tabled, the president of the Coalition pour le maintien des infrastructures stratégiques, the mayor of Laval, said that the government would have had to invest $15 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade municipal infrastructure. Instead, what does the budget propose? Two billion dollars for the whole of Canada over the next 10 years. For Quebec, this means $200 million for the next 10 years.

Moreover, the federal government wants to go over the heads of the provinces and deal directly with the municipalities, instead of developing projects and signing agreements as in the past, infrastructure agreements between the Government of Canada, Quebec and the municipalities. At present, while offering a meagre $200 million, it expects to deal directly with the municipalities. Clearly, the mayors of municipalities are not fooled, even though the need is great.

It is all fine and well to say that money is being put into health care, but we have sewer and water systems that need to be refitted in our municipalities. Hon. members know how important this is. Just think of what happened in Ontario, when they had problems with the sewers and water.

Also, in my region, the Canadian government is always saying, “We are looking after the regions”. I am the Bloc Quebecois critic for regional development. I have looked at the budget for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Reading that budget, I saw that for fiscal 2003-04, in a budget that reflects the reality of the regions, there is a $52 million cut. I asked myself some questions. I said, “How can the Minister responsible for the regions of Quebec accept this?” I notice that was cut out of the speech. He had better not try to tell us he is looking after the regions.

In addition, this budget has succeeded in showing us the extent of the fiscal imbalance. Words fail us, in this regard. I believe all the provinces of Canada supported the Séguin report in Quebec and agreed that there truly is a fiscal imbalance in Canada. The Government of Canada is making an enormous tax grab and leaving crumbs for the provinces. What is it doing with all that tax money?

Instead of returning tax points to the provinces, it invades jurisdictions where it does not belong. It creates new programs and after three years, it waltzes off, leaving the provinces to deal with the new programs. The provinces are starving on the meagre supply of money being returned by the federal government.

The situation today is serious. It is said that the Minister of Finance is going across Canada to talk to people and ask them, “What should I include in my budget?” I do not know who he has met. In my riding, I meet real people, persons with disabilities. There is no fiscal measure to help these people out with a disability tax credit. On the contrary, the government is restricting access to this credit. One has to be bedridden, incapacitated, incapable of dressing and feeding oneself, in order to be eligible for this tax credit.

I would also like to mention the issue my hon. friend from Champlain has spoken about a great deal over the last two years, the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. For nine years, the government has been depriving a huge number of old people of this income supplement. There are no plans to reimburse these people for the amounts they have not received over the past nine years.

Seniors often come to my riding office and ask me, “When is the government going to give us a decent income? When are they going to see that we seniors can live decently without constantly having to go without? When are they going to start to understand that we cannot live a decent life on $14,000? When are they going to set a reasonable income level for seniors of $30,000?” Seniors are the ones who have developed Canada, but now they are getting no recognition for it”.

Then there is all the issue of women and of employment insurance. Nothing has been done about the self-employed, whereas we know that 16% of the Canadian population is currently self-employed, with no access to employment insurance. This marginalizes a large number of workers.

This government thinks it has met people's expectations. As members know, there is going to be a new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and I do not think that leader will go along with this budget, particularly when the majority of its measures are spread out over the next 10 years. It is hard to budget ahead when it is one's personal budget, and in this case it is a matter of spreading out over 10 years measures that do not even have any connection to reality. Imagine all the things that will occur down the line. This budget has made no provision for the future.

I am very disappointed with this new Minister of Finance. I am very disappointed with this government, which is pocketing staggering surpluses and doing nothing for seniors, workers, the softwood lumber workers or to change the employment insurance legislation. Last week, the Secretary of State responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec even admitted that the EI fund with its $44 billion surplus no longer existed. Presto, it was gone.

This government is truly a master of illusions. It is a government that digs into the pockets of the public and tells them, “Hand it over, and I will do what I want with it”. No, I will never support that kind of vision of a country. I will never believe this government's claims that it is listening to people. I will be voting against this budget.

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11 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the budget implementation bill. I want to talk about a couple of specific areas. First, and my colleague from the Bloc has already mentioned the disability tax credit. Second, I want to talk about the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority and its funding through this budget. Third, I also want to discuss the funding of the Canadian television fund. We will see a number of those affected by the cuts within that program here today on the Hill as they raise issues. These are issues that affect each and every one of us as Canadians.

I want to start with the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority which was a new program within the Canadian government in the last couple of years to deal with the issue of air transportation security. Air transportation security was supposed to deal with all transportation security but mostly air. It was a new authority that the government was going to fund through a new tax. The new GST from the Liberal government is a security tax that passengers have to pay when travelling by air.

As a New Democrat and a good number of Canadians, we have a real issue with this. That any one sector should have to pay for its security is like asking people who have their houses broken into to now pay for RCMP services. For that matter, people who have a murder or something even more dastardly happen in relation to their lives and then have to pay for the services of the RCMP to be there for further protection just does not seem acceptable in Canada.

However, the government forged ahead on the air transportation security tax preying on the hardship and fear that people had in relation to 9/11. It brought in this transportation security tax of $24 per travelling passenger. It broke it up into varying areas. For one way travel people got charged so much; coming back people got charged so much, and on top of that they had to pay GST. Talk about a real slap in the face for society. People were not only paying for their security, but they were being taxed on paying for that security as well. I guess it was not an essential service or the government thought it was totally acceptable to pay GST on essential services.

It brought in the security tax and a new authority, the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority, to look after it. There have been numerous concerns raised that the security tax was part of an impact that was taking place on the air industry. The air industry was suffering greatly because of 9/11 and today there are issues related to SARS. There are just a whole conglomerate of reasons, but the air transportation security tax was part of it. The government brought in this new authority which was going to be funded from the tax.

The other day at the transport committee we heard witnesses from this authority with regard to the votes that they would need passed under this budget to get their funding. The minister said numerous times that anything related to the air transportation security association, and I am choosing names for it because I was so upset the other day about their whole attitude, anything related to CATSA should be referred to that authority. There is money coming out of the budget for it because there is no separate fund for this tax.

On top of that, this air transportation security tax being collected from passengers goes into the general revenue fund, that black hole where the Government of Canada has pension funds, the EI fund and now the air transportation security tax as well.

The minister told us numerous times to ask CATSA. CATSA witnesses came before us the other day. What did they say to us in committee when we questioned them on one of their expenditures? We did not ask what kind of security it had at Toronto International Airport. We did not ask what equipment was purchased. The question was, “How much had it paid for a contract with this company?” We did not ask what exactly was being delved into in that contract. We did not ask for the specifics.

We asked how much money was paid for that contract. In relation to all the situations the government is dealing with and the questions about the contracts it has become involved with and the patronage and issues of the government handing out contracts, it was a fair question. What did CATSA say? “We cannot tell you because of national security”. Imagine that. CATSA could not tell us how much it paid for that contract because of security issues. It is right in the act and how could members of Parliament want CATSA to break a legislative act?

If that is not the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard. Committee members were frustrated. Our committee was responding to a position that the Auditor General had taken with parliamentarians in telling us that we have to question what is happening with taxpayers' dollars. We have to ask where the money is going in the different programs. As good members of Parliament we are doing what we have been asked to do, to follow through on accountability of government dollars and we were told “We cannot tell you unless the minister says so”.

The minister should stand before us in the House and account. If nobody can speak on his behalf without his permission, there is no point holding hands at the committee. The minister should be in the House to account for that. That is the issue on the transportation security tax.

I want to mention the disability tax credit. There is an impression out there that the government wants to give that disabled people should not get the disability tax credit unless they are literally crawling on the ground, and if they are crawling on the ground and they can still get food in their mouth, they probably should not get the disability tax credit.

Quite frankly, does anybody say to businesses when businesses have the tax deduction for their employees “We are sorry but you have made this much money so you do not need that tax credit or tax deduction”? Does anybody say to businesses that they cannot claim their executive boxes at hockey games or anything like that? No, there is no problem, but what is being said to the disabled? They have to get something signed by a doctor saying that they cannot do certain things or they will not get the disability tax credit.

It is unacceptable. The government's priorities are out of whack. Its attitude toward ordinary Canadians, and in a good many cases the most vulnerable of Canadians, is just not acceptable. The issue of the tax credit needs to be dealt with. We need to make sure that what minuscule amount of dollars the disabled are able to get as a credit should be there for them. It must be recognized that there are additional costs to being disabled and that Canadians see that and are saying it is okay to give the disabled a tax credit, the same as a good number of Canadians believe it is okay that when someone is working it is okay to claim child care as a tax credit. That is acceptable to Canadians.

The third issue I want to talk about is the unconscionable attack on Canadian programming. The government's lack of vision to bring this country together, to build industries that show us what it is like to be Canadian is unacceptable. It must represent those people who have given so much of their lives as actors, directors and producers to bring that programming to us each and every day of our lives on television and radio. The $25 million cut to the Canadian television fund is having dramatic consequences on our country and on that industry.

The lobbying group is here today and I ask members of Parliament to listen very clearly. The government needs to be taken to task. It needs to put back the dollars that are needed to support that industry, and make the legislative changes needed at the CRTC level to ensure that we have a program in Canada to support the upcoming producers, directors and actors. We do not want to import America, the U.S. We want something that is Canadian. We want young people growing up and viewing Canada through the eyes of Canadians.

We had that as young people. I would challenge any of us here, maybe the youngest of the young here in the House of Commons. We have seen great programming over the years: Don Messer, Tommy Hunter, Street Legal , and Da Vinci's Inquest . There is wonderful Canadian programming.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

The Beachcombers.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

The Beachcombers. There are wonderful actors and actresses. We are proud of them. What does the government do to show its pride in Canadians in that industry? It cut $25 million from their programming. It is not acceptable.

I am out of time, but I hope a number of other members also take the opportunity to bring up that issue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I thought the member's speech was excellent. Obviously she ran out of time. I was wondering if you could seek unanimous consent to have her continue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Unfortunately, the member, should have continued.

Mr. Speaker, this morning, I will not necessarily be talking about the budget, which we are debating. Instead, I am going to talk about an amendment brought forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Drummond, which seeks to delete clause 64 on page 56 of the bill. This amendment reads as follows:

That Bill C-28 be amended by deleting Clause 64.

Everyone wants to know why clause 64 should be deleted.

It is due to a long-standing problem between school boards across the country and the Department of Finance. The school boards are entitled to claim 100% of input tax credits for student transportation under the Excise Tax Act, with respect to the goods and services tax and the harmonized sales tax, as they apply to school boards and the student transportation services they provide. This credit has existed for years.

The former Minister of Finance—now the frontrunner in the Liberal leadership race, I am talking about the member for LaSalle—Émard—decided to take this 100% credit and unilaterally cut it to 68%. Finally, the school boards protested by going to court.

On October 17, 2001, the Commission scolaire des Chênes won, unanimously, a ruling entitling Canadian school boards to 100% deductions. This deduction was authorized for all 415 school boards in the country, including the 72 in Quebec, 88 in Saskatchewan, 72 in Ontario, 7 in Nova Scotia, 60 in British Columbia and so on. So, all Canadian school boards were affected.

In a newspaper article on March 20, 2002, Gary Shaddock, president of the Canadian School Boards' Association, stated that this decision would cost approximately $150 million. This means that Canada would try to find a $150 million surplus within the school boards' budgets. This would have created a $150 million shortfall across the country.

Mr. Shaddock said:

The total financial impact for the federal government is not huge...but the impact for boards is significant.

In this same article, Mr. Shaddock states that the former Minister of Finance—and the new one, because this is in the new Minister of Finance's budget—was trying to sidestep a legal decision requiring that the federal government provide a 100% credit and that stated that government policy must not set aside court decisions.

That is exactly what clause 64 tries to do. The budget tells judges, “You did your job more or less well, and we do not like it. That is that”.

I would like to talk briefly about school boards in Quebec. André Caron, president of the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec, said recently that this was an abuse of the law and power.

By acting this way, the federal government will deprive Quebec school boards of significant financial resources used to organize busing for 650 students daily.

The fédération estimates the cost of the problem to be under $30 million. What kind of effect will this $30 million shortfall for Quebec's school boards have? They will have to increase school taxes for all parents of students in Quebec if they want to continue to provide an adequate busing system.

This is another method used by the federal government. It is pilfering millions of dollars from school boards, the EI fund, and everywhere. To do what? Perhaps to help out their friends and cronies. I do not know.

In closing, I have a letter from a large Montreal law firm, Stikeman Elliott. It is signed by a person whom I believe is a friend of yours, or someone you know quite well, the hon. Marc Lalonde, former Minister of Finance under the Trudeau government. He, too, is opposed to clause 64 in the budget, saying that it is unacceptable. I will read a few lines from Mr. Lalonde's letter. The former Minister of Finance, the member for LaSalle—Émard, said this:

However, the proposed amendment will not affect any case that has already been decided by the Federal Court.

That is what the then Minister of Finance, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, said in a release dated December 31, 2001, during the holiday break, so that nobody would notice. That is what he said, and it caused an uproar.

Mr. Lalonde had anticipated that reaction. Here is what he wrote the former Minister of Finance:

A man with your political experience can imagine the reaction of those school boards alienated in this matter.

I realize I have only two minutes remaining, and I think I will be able to complete my remarks. Here is another excerpt from Marc Lalonde's letter.

Once a final judgment had been handed down by the courts, every case thereafter should have been settled on the same basis. However, your department's legislative proposal would retroactively reverse such an arrangement. Needless to say that our clients feel that the Department of Finance is taking the attitude, “Heads, I win; tails, you lose”.

This is what Marc Lalonde wrote. I did not write these words. Marc Lalonde, a former Minister of Finance, did. I think that both the current Minister of Finance and his predecessor, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, should have paid attention.

Members can see why I am asking that the amendment put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Drummondville, be accepted and that clause 64 be deleted.

I thank the House for this opportunity to speak on an issue dear to my heart, which concerns students throughout Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to participate in this important debate on the budget implementation act, and to pay tribute initially to my colleague, the new finance spokesperson for the federal New Democrat caucus, the member for Winnipeg--North Centre, who has spoken eloquently on our perspective as New Democrats about the many shortcomings in the budget.

We put this in the context of a decade in which the federal Liberal government cut, hacked and slashed, not just to the bone but beyond, into some of the most basic programs of concern to Canadians. I want to give just a couple of examples of that.

I represent a constituency in British Columbia, the constituency of Burnaby--Douglas, in which we are proud to have a good number of co-op housing projects. In fact we have over 1,000 families who live in co-op housing. When the federal Liberals were elected in 1993, one of the first things the minister of finance did, who is now a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party and who is travelling across the country talking about what a great prime minister he will be, was to cut, eliminate and wipe out funding for co-op and social housing in Canada. It was absolutely shameful.

We had just come out of nine years of Conservative government, and I had the honour of representing Burnaby during those nine years. Even the Conservatives did not dare to wipe out and eliminate federal funding for co-op housing. The Liberal government did that. Now the Liberals say that we are back in the era of surpluses. Now that we have this era of surpluses and they have been able to find millions and millions of dollars in tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Canadians, how much money has the Liberal government found for co-op housing in the last budget? Not one cent, not a penny of funding for co-op housing, even though it has found money for its friends in the big corporations, for the wealthiest citizens in the country. I say shame on the former minister of finance, on the current Minister of Finance and on our Liberal government. They obviously do not care about access to affordable housing and to co-op housing.

Another concern which has been raised on many occasions by the former health critic of the federal New Democrats and by me, my colleagues and our new leader, Jack Layton, is the shortchanging of the Liberal government in implementing the vitally important recommendations of the Romanow commission on the future of health care.

Roy Romanow spent a year and a half travelling across Canada, consulting with Canadians, collecting the best possible evidence on how to save our public health care system. He came to the conclusion that not only did we have to make some major changes in how we delivered health care, including for example the provision of diagnostic services specifically under the provisions of the Canada Health Act, but he was also very clear about the harsh impact of the cuts by the former minister of finance on the quality of health care across this country.

Once again, we saw the former minister of finance slashing funding for public health care, downloading onto the provinces and territories. One would have hoped that the current Minister of Finance would have responded to the recommendations of Roy Romanow. Instead the Liberals fell far short in their response. They left a huge gap, as the first ministers pointed out in their accord, a gap which my colleague from Winnipeg--North Centre calls the Romanow gap, between what was needed, as identified as critically important by Roy Romanow as he travelled across the country, and what the Liberals actually delivered.

To ensure the long term sustainability of public health care, Romanow had agreed with us as New Democrats that the federal share of public health financing ought to be returned as quickly as possible to 25%. I pause here to say that 25% is not a radical or revolutionary target. It was not that many years ago when the federal government was committed to 50%, to half the costs of our medicare system.

Roy Romanow has suggested that we at least move up to 25%. He urged that be done over a three year time frame. What has the Liberal government respond to that important recommendation? Instead of returning to 25%, the Liberal budget, which we are now debating, raises the federal contribution to only 20%. Even then, it is not after three years; it is after five years. Basically there is a shortfall of some $5 billion. That is the Romanow gap, $5 billion of funding that is desperately needed to strengthen and improve the quality of our public health care system. The Liberal government, which is awash in surpluses and which can find money for tax cuts, cannot find money to fund the basic needs of our health care system.

The Liberals have created another gap in the budget. It is what we call the Romanow accountability gap, because there is a of lack of clarity with respect to the numbers on health. We do not know for example whether the money that has already committed, the $13.2 billion committed to improving health care under the 2000 health accord, is old money, new money, new old money or old new money. Nobody really knows.

There is also the issue of the tax points and transfers to the provinces and so on. On that Romanow was very clear. He said that transfers to the provinces should be completely on a cash basis. There should be no more of this jiggery-pokery of tax points.

One of the greatest threats to public health care is the decision by the Liberal government to allow profits to grow even higher within an increasingly privatized public health care system. One of the real concerns we have raised over and over again in the House, raised by my colleague, my predecessor as the health critic who is now our finance critic, the member for Halifax, and also by our national leader, is the grave threat to medicare, to public health care, as a result of the growing impact of private for profit care. Yet the Liberals are absolutely silent on this. There is not a single means of ensuring that the new money which goes into health care under the provisions of the recently signed first ministers health accord will not be going into private for profit delivery.

As the Canadian Health Coalition and many others, including the New Democrat premiers of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, have pointed out clearly, that is a grave threat to our medicare. It is a double whammy in a sense. As the federal Liberals seriously underfund public health care and allow the growth of private for profit health care, there will be growing pressure from the Canadian public who see the waiting lines in some cases getting longer because of federal cuts in funding. The pressure will be of course that if we cannot deliver within the public system, maybe, as the Canadian Alliance suggests, we should be move to a kind of two tier American style health care system. New Democrats will stand here and fight and fight against any move toward that kind of regressive two tier health care system.

The budget we are debating today, in a number of very important ways, moves us further down that very dangerous road which would lead to an erosion of our public health care system.

There are many other concerns as well in terms of the budget and shortfalls in funding. The whole issue of crime prevention, for example, is one that is of great concern in my community of Burnaby. I have had the privilege of meeting with a number of community policing groups. They have pointed out that, as a result of some significant cuts in funding in the crime prevention area, public safety is in some areas being jeopardized. The funding for crime prevention and for commercial crime has gone down as well.

We still do not have adequate funding from the federal government for public transit and a return of some of those hundreds of millions of dollars that we as British Columbians pour into the federal coffers on the one hand, yet we do not see a penny coming back to British Columbia to support public transit.

You are signaling that my time is coming to an end, Mr. Speaker, and I am just getting started. I know the member for Etobicoke--Lakeshore will rise to give us a stirring defence of the budget, and I look forward with great interest to her comments.

As New Democrats we say the budget falls far short in some of the most critical areas including health care, foreign aid, housing, the environment and of course a number of other areas such as culture.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I too am very pleased to have the opportunity today to participate in the debate on the budget implementation act. I think it is clear, as the name implies, that we are talking about what the government does to put its money where its mouth is.

One has to be very concerned, even when the government mouths from time to time some progressive thoughts and talks about being concerned about the future of Canadians and the future of the country, whether it backs it up with the kind of concrete resources that would translate those expressions of progressive thought into something concrete for the benefit of Canadians and the future of our great country.

As the House knows, many of my colleagues have already spoken. Most recently the member for Burnaby—Douglas, the finance critic from Winnipeg and many other of my colleagues have spoken specifically about some of the gaps, some of the severe shortfalls between words and resources.

I would like today to not so much speak about some of those areas where the disastrous effect of a budget has failed to have a sensible set of priorities. This is quite evident to Canadians where the negative adverse impact for example of the shortfall in health funding has been a major priority for Canadians and continues to be a problem in the budget we are now debating.

We know the government has perfected the art of bringing out statistics that show there is a such and such percentage increase when it comes to health funding. Of course what the government does not say is the base on which that percentage increase is calculated is a disastrously low, a base that was struck by the government in its massive unilateral unprecedented cuts to health funding in the country. Therefore a great deception goes on in the numbers game, in the representation of increases from what was such a disastrously low base. It really means nothing until we look at how it plays itself out in the health care system.

That is concrete and felt in a very direct way by a lot of Canadians. That is why so many have mobilized so widely to try to close the Romanow gap as it has come to be called.

Similarly, in co-op housing, we have a situation in which the government says that it is concerned about homelessness. Every once in a while it trots out a cameo appearance of desperately struggling community based organizations that are trying to address the homelessness problem. They come together to sign an agreement to deal with the very crisis ridden situation of homeless people on the streets. However when it comes to investing in affordable housing that would begin to solve the problem, the money is not there. It clearly is not there in this budget and has not been there with this government from day one.

In the few minutes I have available, I briefly want to speak about three areas in which the budget falls very short of what is needed, the effects of which are not so immediately measurable but of which are every bit as problematic, as disastrous and devastating in their impact. They do not affect all Canadians in the way health care funding does but they absolutely affect Canada as a community and as a nation in terms of who we want to be. They really go to the question of what is the soul of Canada, which does not seem to concern the government very much.

The first is in the area of the disability tax credit. We have had much debate on this in the House. The NDP has worked actively in collaboration with organizations and individuals living with disabilities to try to get the government to understand that the restrictive definition of what constitutes a disability and what determines eligibility for the disability tax credit has caused immense hardship in the lives of a great many Canadians.

It has to be one of the most meanspirited, short-sighted things that the government has launched. There are a lot of others on that list as well, but to go after the most vulnerable of Canadians for whom just meeting the daily requirements of getting through life is demanding and requires Herculean motivation and commitment on the part of people, for the government to say, “Let us save money by creating new, stricter criteria for eligibility for the disability tax credit” has to be just obscene.

We still have the government mouthing words about being concerned and reviewing the situation, but the fact remains that people who were receiving tiny supplements, and that is what we are talking about, tiny supplements, to an already very inadequate monthly and annual income find themselves even more shortchanged and more short-handed when it comes to paying for their daily needs, never mind beginning to be able to pay for some of the costs associated with the disabilities with which people are living.

The second falls into an area that may be even less immediately evident to a lot of Canadians. I want to take us back very briefly to post-9/11 when I introduced a motion in the House in collaboration with a great many Canadians who were concerned already about the signs of how the government was going to respond.

We argued that there needed to be resources placed in fighting the racial discrimination and the religious bigotry that was already evidencing itself in our Canadian family. It was absolutely un-Canadian in terms of the racial profiling that began to affect not just the lives of people crossing borders but of little children in the school ground. There was an alarming, disturbing outburst, a rash, an epidemic of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment beginning to come to the fore in this country. This remains a very serious problem.

I have to say when it comes to any evidence that the government has really put its money where its mouth is after saying it is concerned about this that what the government has done instead of allocating resources to do genuine community building, to genuinely increase public awareness and sensitization to this problem, is that it has simply expressed its concern and turned its back on this problem that has grown.

In fact, what the government has done is even worse than that. It is not immediately measurable in the budget we are looking at because there is no budget allocation. The government has made the problem worse by introducing one piece of legislation after another that essentially sanctions the quashing of civil liberties, that essentially creates in the public mind that greater security somehow results from curbing the freedoms, rights and the liberties of Canadians.

Whose rights and liberties end up being quashed most severely? The very Canadians who are most evidently discriminated against in the first place and need the understanding, support and protection of having their rights and liberties safeguarded. The government, by virtue of not allocating the necessary resources for public education and community sensitization, has simply made the problem worse.

Finally, I know I have only a minute or two left, so let me say on this very day that it seems to me important that the government take note that increasing numbers of Canadians are very alarmed that it is necessary for the artistic community, particularly those artists who are involved in theatre and in the film industry, to come to this place, to come to Parliament Hill to say for the love of God why can the government not understand that the very soul of Canada, that who we are, who we aspire to be, what matters to us as Canadians is represented best and most dramatically by the voices and the actions of the creative community, of the arts and culture community?

What do we have happening? Not only are a great many jobs being driven out of existence, not only is a whole industry under assault in terms of the film industry and the related cultural industries, but we have a situation where the ability of Canadians to hear themselves, their voices and their aspirations expressed through the creative energy of the artistic community is being quashed.

I am going to say on this occasion that I hope the government is listening and will understand what the members of ACTRA, the film industry, are saying when they say not to kill an important part of the Canadian soul as well as an industry by the slashing of $25 million and to get beyond that to understand that it is about the investment of dollars but also about overhauling CRTC changes that have similarly curbed, quashed and silenced the voices of hope and aspiration in our society through the artistic and cultural community.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?