House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.


Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is a good opportunity to rise today to speak Bill C-28, the budget implementation act. At the outset, the Canadian Alliance is very disappointed with the government in terms of its approach to the budget in this year of 2003. We believe it has taken the wrong focus and wrong approach to this budget, and there needs to be major adjustments, even at this stage, to the spending commitments it made.

This budget was brought in on February 18. It increased the amount of program spending by the federal government from $124 billion in 2002 to $150 billion in 2003, a $26 billion increase in three years. That is almost a 20% increase in spending on an annual basis, and clearly it is not sustainable. We pointed that out at the time, but it was pretty clear even back then that this was intended to be a legacy budget for the Prime Minister, and probably a leadership budget for the Minister of Finance.

What we told the Liberal Party and the people of Canada on February 18 is just all the more accentuated now because there are significant changes to the economy that would indicate the government simply has to move away from some of the budget commitments it made on February 18 in terms of the spending; spending increases that clearly cannot be maintained or sustained. The reason I say that is because we are seeing a lot of factors starting to gather. However even back on February 18 it was clear the economy was starting to slow down.

The United States economy was bumping along the bottom in terms of major changes such as the collapse of the IT sector, the information technology sector of the United States. Also the stock market had a big hit in the United States in terms of the confidence of the people who were buying stocks. By the way, that is a pretty big part of society in the United States. Almost 30% of the public own stocks and bonds. The Americans confidence was hurt by some of the scandals in the United States leading up to Enron and other matters, and it was clear the United States economy was not going to recover very quickly.

How can the Liberal Party suggest that Canada can go it alone in terms of growth in the economy if the United States is not growing or if the recovery is not underway? It was clear back then to us that could not be maintained. Now we see the Bank of Canada and other economists around the country saying that rates of growth have to be adjusted downward from those projections made by finance minister on February 18. He was talking about 3.2% growth for next year but it has already been revised down to 2.5% and may be revised down further.

We have a number of factors right here in Canada that are having a major effect on the economy. The rising Canadian dollar, or the depreciating U.S. dollar, is one of those. The 2% spread in interest rates between Canada and the United States is attracting investment in Canada and driving up the Canadian dollar. The huge current account deficit in the United States is driving down the U.S. dollar against other currencies around the world.

This should be a celebration for Canada. Canadians should be able to celebrate the fact that our dollar has appreciated. Unfortunately, past policies by the Liberal government and the other one sitting down the way, when it had its brief time in office, had a major detrimental effect to the Canadian economy. We are now only 80% as productive as the United States. Our living standards are only 70% of that of the United States. Clearly these have a big impact on us.

One would think that a rising dollar should be good news for Canadians, and it is for some people. However we are a major exporting country and as such, the cost of production in Canada has to be lower to compensate for the cost of the Canadian dollar. Clearly that is starting to have an effect on the economy. There are industries talking about layoffs as a result of it.

Over 30 years we have seen this long term decline. I do not think it was a natural decline. Back 30 years ago, and over the 100 years previous, the Canadian and the U.S. economies could be charted on an analytical basis. There are people who chart these things. Through good times and bad times, ups and downs, the graphs showed basically the same function for the two economies.

About 30 years ago that started to change and the Canadian economy started to dip. I believe it was because of public policies that were pursued by the Liberal and Conservative governments of the day that had a major impact. In fact the size of government in the United States has not changed much in 30 years, representing roughly 30% of the GDP of the country. In Canada in 30 years, those fellows across the way have grown the size of government from about 30% to 42% of GDP of the country. That takes up a pretty big chunk of the economy.

If this was all productive spending, it would not be too bad, but we know there is a lot of waste in government, particularly in this government, for things like the gun registry which has cost $1 billion and is still running. That really personifies what the problem is. The government has wasted $1 billion in the EI program. A lot of grants and subsidies have been given to the business sector, and some people would say that is a good thing.

If Canadian taxpayers wants to invest in General Electric or Bombardier, they can do that. There are stocks out there that they can buy. They should not have to do it as taxpayers of the country for something committed to by this Liberal government. Those are the kinds of things that have caused the Canadian government to rise as a percentage of GDP and a bigger take of the economy. This is part of our productivity problem.

Witness after witness appeared before the industry committee. Three major studies have been done at the industry committee about Canada's competitive position and our productivity. They have told us that we need lower taxes in Canada, probably lower than the United States, to have a competitive edge but we do not have that. The U.S. President pushed a package through Congress the other day for about $500 billion, Canadian, a further tax cut in the United States. We were already behind the United States in corporate and personal tax income rates and it is moving further. That will put us into a more uncompetitive position.

What we need is a realistic approach to this. The government has to have an economic statement recognizing the problems we have with the rising Canadian dollar. We need to recognize the slow down in the economy. We need to recognize that things like SARS and mad cow disease do have an impact on our economy. The closure of the Canada-U.S. border to imports of over $4 billion worth of beef has an impact.

The Canadian dollar rising 18% without any corresponding decrease in corporate or personal tax rates and red tape also have an impact. A canola farmer knows that instinctively. The price of canola went down from $8 a bushel to $7 a bushel just on the exchange rate. There is no corresponding decrease in the cost of production. This is hurting us and will continue to hurt us unless the government reacts by dealing with this productivity factor. The government has to lower tax rates.

I call on the government to accelerate its corporate tax cuts which are being done over five years. There are some budget measures on resource tax allowance and some things have been done on the capital tax. However they have long phase-out periods of five years. I call on the government to move quickly to bring those tax cuts in on an accelerated time schedule.

We have a problem here. The Liberal government is absolutely committed to spending. It is the old tax and spend regime. It is like the Trudeau era Liberals are back. These are the kinds of Trudeau era policies that got us into all this trouble to begin with. That government had spending rates of 6%, 8% or 10% a year. Under the current Prime Minister we are back to these rates. This year's spending alone has increased by 12% or 15%. How can that be maintained? It cannot be maintained, and it was clearly evident at the time the budget was brought down.

The Prime Minister and the finance minister buried their heads in the sand. The Prime Minister wants to do a bunch of social spending because he has to buy himself a legacy. That is a sad commentary, after 40 years in office to have to think of some way a new spending program can be invented in order to have a legacy for oneself. That in itself in my view is the legacy, and it is not a very good legacy at that.

The Liberals have put us in a very difficult position. They have a dug a hole for Canada of which it will be difficult for us to dig out. I believe we have the potential to have a far better and stronger economy than the United States. We cannot do that if we have been harnessed by bad policies over 30 years which have put us into a very uncompetitive position versus our major trading partner.

Why is it important that we compare ourselves with the United States? It is important because of the two-way trade flow and business we have between our two countries. We know that 87% of our exports go to the United States. The exports to the United States alone account for almost 40% of the GDP of Canada per year.

We have to think about what happens if we are not competitive and we lose manufacturing plants, such as DaimlerChrysler to the United States, because it is concerned about things such as border security. We know that 80% of the production of the automotive sector in Canada goes into the United States. Border security became a problem after September 11. The government clearly is not willing to talk with the United States about security issues. There is hardly a working relationship between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States.

Although, the Prime Minister finally did make a phone call yesterday after months of not wanting to talk to the President of the United States. I hear he talked about baseball. I hope he talked about things such as the Canadian border in relation to the BSE issue and about a number of other issues, such as security issues about which the Americans are clearly concerned. Like it or not, the Americans will take measures to deal with that security issue on the Canada-U.S. border. That could result in a slowdown of product crossing the border.

Two and a half years ago I was in a major steel plant. To illustrate how integrated we have become and how business works across the Canada-U.S. border, the steel rolled that day had been ordered about four months earlier. One thing I did not know is the plant makes about 200 different types of steel there. It is a very specialized business. The steel rolled that day was shipped out that very afternoon to a car manufacturing plant. It was stamped into fenders later that afternoon on a just in time delivery basis.

What does that mean? Why has the plant done that? It has done that because the cost of production has been too high. The plant had to get efficiencies into the system. The cost of carrying inventory is very high. Basically the steel plant eliminated that problem. It does not have to carry inventory any more as a result of delivering that product on a just in time delivery.

Why is that an important factor? It is important because any slowdown at the Canada-U.S. border influences that. All of a sudden if companies have to begin carrying inventory again, there is a massive cost to that. Therefore, the United States is concerned.

Companies that are thinking of new investment in Canada are concerned too because if there is a slowdown at that border and 80% of their production goes into the United States, then they might as well locate their plants in the United States.

There are a few other problems on the horizon that we have been dealing with for a while. They also have to do with a poor Canada-U.S. relationship. It is something the government has actually been very bad at. In fact I think the government enjoys tweaking the nose of Uncle Sam and sticking its finger in his eye. I am talking about duties that have been put on wheat for Canadian farmers.

I think this action is in direct response to a government that has not cooperated with the United States on a number of issues. We think the softwood lumber issue with the United States will be resolved in our favour but it has been a longstanding dispute. It costs our Canadian producers 27% duty I believe. On top of that the Canadian dollar appreciating has made it very difficult for our softwood lumber producers to compete in the United States. There have been some job layoffs.

These are the kinds of things that have to be addressed. This is the reason the government needs to come out with a new economic statement this spring. It has to recognize the realities that there is a changing situation with the economy. It has to recognize that it clearly made a wrong assessment, that the United States is not recovering as quickly as it thought it might.

United States interest rates are still only 1.25%. There is a concern about deflation in the United States and the economy is not responding very fast. So, between that and the rising dollar as a result of the depreciating U.S. currency, these are causing us a great deal of difficulty.

I call on the government to bring in a new economic statement where it would accelerate corporate tax cuts and take into account what the United States just passed through its congress, a massive tax bill of over $500 billion dollars over 10 years. Some people think that this may be picked up and continued on, and it may be a lot more than that.

We were far behind in terms of charging too much in taxes. Now the United States has moved the yardstick even further and it is clear that Canada must react. The finance minister is finally admitting that the economy will not perform as well as he suggested on February 18. If he has already made that assessment, perhaps he should come out with an economic statement that says we are prepared to make those necessary tax cuts on the personal income tax side and go further on the employment insurance rate cut so we stop overcharging Canadians.

Even this year the government is overcharging Canadians almost $3 billion in terms of excess employment insurance rates. This just goes into general revenue and as we know there is a lot of waste by the government. Day after day we hear about the ad contracts where millions and millions of dollars are being wasted.

The government and the finance minister are clearly distracted. He is running for the leadership of the Liberal Party. He is hardly ever in the House so that we can ask him a question. Clearly his focus is not where it should be. If he cannot handle the job, perhaps he should step down as finance minister and let somebody take over while he is running his leadership campaign.

We on this side have somebody we could suggest. We could clearly provide a few names for him in terms of doing that. If he is going to take his job seriously he had better come up with a new improved economic statement that would recognize the new realities of the Canadian economy and our major trading partner. We need to make the proper adjustments so that Canada can be competitive and get back on the road to improving our competitive position and productivity.

That is my challenge to the government. We want to see an economic statement this spring that would recognize all of those realities that I have just been talking about.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Brampton Centre Ontario


Sarkis Assadourian LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I followed attentively the hon. member's speech about the situation and I have two questions for him.

First, he blamed Canada for the September 11 tragedy in the U.S. If there is someone to blame it is the U.S. system which allowed those terrorists to come into that country. They did not come from Canada, first and foremost.

On the same subject, the U.S. government gave the terrorists visas six months after they committed suicide. How can the hon. member stand up in the House and blame us for the September 11 tragedy? That is totally unfair.

Second, on the economic issue, the opposition blamed us and gave credit to the Americans when the dollar was 65¢. Now that the dollar is 74¢, it blames us again and gives credit to the Americans for the dollar being so high.

It seems to me we are guilty both ways. Maybe the hon. member should suggest fixing the dollar so that it will not go up or down. If that is his economic policy he should make a clear statement.

Last year the government created 550,000 jobs and the U.S. lost 2.5 million jobs. Again, the hon. member blames us for the reverse economic difficulties that the U.S. is experiencing. American congressmen have never blamed their government in the way this gentleman blames us for the last 12 years. He blames the Government of Canada for the good policies we have and disasters that occur in Washington. I would like the hon. member to comment on that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to answer those questions, however they are a little misdirected. The member said we blamed the Canadian government.

I would hope that he would stay to listen to the answer to his question, Mr. Speaker. It seems to me a little discourteous to ask a question and then leave the House.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It may be discourteous but you are not supposed to mention it. The hon. member for Peace River.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

I guess I was not supposed to mention that, Mr. Speaker.

I do want to deal with the issue. The record really needs to be clarified in response to the member's question. I did not blame Canada for September 11 at all. All I said was that there is a new reality after September 11. The Americans are a lot more concerned about their security and they will be moving to tighten up that security. Whether Canada is part of the package of tightening it up or not depends on us.

I do blame the Liberal government and the present administration for not cooperating and not working with the United States on the security issue as much as it should. Any possible slowdown at the border that results from the U.S. tightening security and putting systems in place that may slow down cross-border flow in Canada is a real problem for Canadian businesses that cross the border. There is about $1.5 billion in two-way trade a day, but clearly we are a major beneficiary of exports to the United States. That is what I am talking about.

The Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States must have a working relationship to discuss those kinds of issues. Because it is such an integrated North American market, we better hope that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem in addressing security issues.

In terms of the Canadian dollar, I was saying that the Liberal government has used the low Canadian dollar as a crutch. I think there are records of the Prime Minister who, 10 or 15 years ago, was talking about a deliberate policy of a low Canadian dollar. In addition to that, I was saying that there have been some major studies done, especially by the industry committee. My colleague from Edmonton Southwest is a member of that committee. We have found that Canada's position in terms of competitiveness and productivity has been only about 80% of that of the United States. Witness after witness who came before the committee talked about the need to get those productivity levels up. However, they also talked about the need for major tax cuts to allow that to happen.

Now that the Canadian dollar has started to rise, I said that this should be a good news story for us. For some industries it is, but a large part of our export industry cannot stand the Canadian dollar rising that much unless there is a corresponding decrease in the cost of production. A major part of that is corporate and personal tax rates and things like payroll taxes, including the capital tax. I know cuts were introduced, but it is a five year phase-out. We need to accelerate the corporate tax rate cuts that were introduced in budget 2000 and we need to accelerate the phase-out of the capital tax.

In terms of jobs, the Canadian economy had been rolling along pretty strongly, but I believe that there is a lag time between good times and bad times in terms of the Canada-U.S. economy. It seems to me that the U.S. economy has been on the rocks for about a year and a half and we are just starting to feel the effects of that in Canada. The Canadian dollar is appreciating as a result of the U.S. dollar going down not just against Canadian currency but against all currencies worldwide. I believe part of the reason is because of its current account deficit of over $500 billion.

As long as the Americans were attracting investment, especially into their information technology sector--in the United States that was such a big sector--it did not really hurt them, but that sector has cooled off substantially. Now the current account deficit is a big problem for them. I believe that the U.S. administration is not unhappy about seeing its dollar depreciate against other currencies, the Euro, for example.

Canada has seen an appreciation against the U.S. dollar of about 17%. Whether that will be sustained or not, I do not know, but if it is, the point I was making is that Canada must recognize that there is a substantial part of our economy that needs some major tax relief to correct the fundamentals and allow the Canadian dollar to rise to be a good news story for us.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11 a.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying to the member for Peace River that I had an opportunity about three weeks ago of being on VIA 1 and we went through part of his community. I want to say that he represents a beautiful part of the country.

I agree with the member in a lot of what he had to say. We have all been in our ridings in the last couple of weeks. I come from downtown Toronto. I do not have to tell anyone in the House how we are being devastated in the tourism sector which is the largest employment sector of our economy.

There are over 10,000 chambermaids in the greater Toronto area who in the last three weeks have been laid off. Because the machinery of our government in the employment insurance section is broken they have to wait six weeks before they get a cheque. That is how long it takes. Many of those people have to pay their apartment bills and they need that cheque every two weeks. Otherwise they are a step away from welfare. This applies to the rest of the people in the hospitality sector as well.

We sit here debating big issues and billions of dollars, but in the hospitality industry 50% of the wage is on a cheque from the owner of the hotel or the restaurant, but the other 50% comes to that person in gratuities. When people go to collect their employment insurance the calculation is only made on half of what they are making, yet they pay tax on the total amount, the gratuity and the guaranteed wage.

What are we doing here? Is there any emergency system to help those people who are in pain? When the tourism sector of the country is hit like this and we are in the middle of debating the budget, there must be some kind of mechanism here, if this place is really supposed to represent the people, to use this budget debate to react to that sector.

I have been harping and I know other members have been harping, but I find it so strange that there is no reaction from the machinery of government. That is why I contend that the machinery of government is broken. When we cannot react to the people who are at the lowest end of the income spectrum, when we have never had such a high surplus in our EI fund, when the disconnect is there, then I say the place is broken. That is the hotel and food service industry.

It is not just in my community. I was in Jasper on that trip west. As I was checking out of the hotel a woman said to me that she had just lost four bus loads of Japanese tourists because everyone thinks that Jasper or Vancouver are suburbs of Toronto. Therefore tourism in the country has been affected coast to coast because of SARS and because of the international perception that we are all walking around in downtown Toronto with masks and oxygen on our backs. That is because of the international press. Conventions and trade shows have been cancelled.

I am appealing to the House that we generate some focus and political will to get some action. What good is a piece of paper or a budget if we cannot turn it into real action? What good is it?

I want to go back to the member for Peace River on the issue of being competitive. In southern Ontario the next greatest sector after tourism is the automotive sector. What is going on is that in three weeks we have the largest automotive plant in Windsor, Ontario, Daimler-Benz, and less than 100 miles down the 401 we have Navistar in Chatham, and we are going to lose these plants.

Are we crazy in this House of Commons to be losing these plants? Once they go to Georgia or Mexico, how are we going to get them back? Are we going to have some kind of emergency debate and all of a sudden find, not the $10 million a year for 10 years to keep them, but we are going to spend $100 million just to move them back? Is that going to happen? I doubt it.

Those are skilled jobs in a sector of our economy, the automotive manufacturing sector, which is now rated as world class. I thought a budget was to deal with these things.

If it means, as the member for Peace River said, that we have to examine our tax policy to keep those plants and jobs, then we have to do it. That is what the House of Commons is supposed to do. That is what I thought when I was elected a few years ago.

My concern is about the last six weeks. Tourism has been gutted and now the automotive sector is on its knees. My goodness, we lost the shipbuilding yards in Saint John. We should be building. If ever there was a way to link our shipbuilding sector to our ocean security, those plants should be going around the clock. We could use that skill in Saint John to deal with the whole issue of our security responsibility. That would also create massive goodwill with our friends to the south.

We are disconnected with what is really going on out there. Our capacity to move quickly, our sense of urgency to react when people are really in pain is not there. It is almost as if, if one could imagine, a plane would crash on the front lawn of the Parliament buildings and we just went about our business and said “Ho-hum, so what”.

Well, the plane has crashed in the tourism sector. The plane has crashed in parts of the automotive sector. We have to react toward those sectors the same way we would if a plane had crashed on the front lawn of the Parliament buildings. We would be out there in seconds. The emergency services, the fire engines and the ambulances would be there and the hospitals would be working. That is what has to happen now with these sectors of the economy. This sort of ho-hum let us take our time response is not the way to go.

It is an amazing thing. I am starting to think that this is becoming the norm around here: “If we cannot set up an emergency system to get EI cheques out to the chambermaids, the bartenders or the waitresses or chefs who lose their jobs, ho-hum”. That is wrong. We have to somehow make this budget moment come alive where we cause people to react with some creativity, some outside the box thinking and some risk taking. That is what we are supposed to do here.

I do not think that people will judge us in a negative way if we move quickly. There is no sense of urgency around here and that has to change fast. Otherwise--and I agree with the member for Peace River, and it is amazing I am agreeing with the member on nearly everything he has said here today--when we wake up one morning in about 90 or 120 days, we are going to get a real kick in the head. Right now our economy is the envy of the G-8, but we are going to find that a lot of people are out of work in tourism, the automotive and manufacturing sectors. When those people are out of work, they do not have buying power. That affects retail sales eventually. The next thing we know, we will have a bad scene.

In supporting this budget and its implementation, I immediately attach to my vote an appeal to the officials who have parliamentary approval to access those funds that we are voting on. I want to make an appeal to all the departmental officials who are listening, although I do not know if officials listen to the House much these days as it seems we have become so irrelevant. However, if there are any senior officials listening, I appeal to them to move quickly, especially toward those people in our communities, whether they be in Peace River, Toronto, Saint John or elsewhere, to access those moneys and resources, the stimulus to get this economy going again.

Just because three or four sectors of our economy are really doing well, we cannot ride on those three or four sectors. We have to remember that there are sectors of our economy right now where we are only seeing the tip if the iceberg in terms of trouble. I want to flag the tourism and the automotive sectors.

One cannot imagine the way the margins in automotive manufacturing are being squeezed. The manufacturers squeeze the parts makers and on and on it goes down the line. Eventually we will have a situation where we look at one another and ask how did it happen. If there was ever a moment to provide real stimulus and incentive, especially in the tourism and automotive sectors, this is the moment.

When I say tourism, I do not just mean my city. I mean right across the country. I mean the convention trade show business and the motion picture industry. In my community four months ago 80% of the motion picture studios were doing business. Now people in the motion picture industry are telling me that if there is no business within the next 90 days, they may as well give the keys to their businesses to their bankers. There are restaurants in downtown Toronto that have $1 million invested in those businesses with probably $5,000 or $6,000 of equity and the owners are saying that if people do not go back into the restaurants, hotels and motels, some of them are 90 to 120 days away from giving the keys to their bankers. They will not be able to make it.

I want to appeal not just to the member for Peace River but to the Canadian Alliance and the opposition who have always been obsessed, and some would say it was good obsession, although I would not always agree, with the fiscal cuts. If there was ever a moment that there should be some money around here, that there should be stimulus to help those sectors of the economy get back on their feet, that moment is now.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy listening to the member speak because he is a very thoughtful and independent-minded member. I want to make a couple of comments and ask a couple of questions with regard to SARS in Toronto.

It is our responsibility as parliamentarians. despite the fact that it is a very serious issue, to say that we have to keep it in perspective. When the SARS crisis was hitting its full blown proportions, I was at a conference in Toronto. I do not know how many people said to me “You are not actually going to the city. Everybody there has SARS; it is just an unbelievable situation”. I went. Toronto is a city of about five million people and I did not see one mask.

It is a fairly contained situation. The health officials are certainly doing the best job they can and they should be applauded for that. We have to treat SARS and mad cow disease very seriously, but we must put them in perspective. As parliamentarians we certainly have to state that.

The member talked about the importance of tourism and the effect on people such as chambermaids. He is absolutely right. But does that not show with an EI surplus each year of $30 billion to $40 billion, that when people fall on hard times, employment insurance is supposed to be an insurance system that helps those people?

I completely agree with the member that the system is breaking down but it is because we have an EI surplus that in my view is being used to almost cover up some of the accounting of the government. It is not being used for its intended purpose which is to help people such as chambermaids who fall on hard times.

With regard to the automotive sector, after September 11 the auto industry told us over and over again that the most important thing parliamentarians could do on both sides of the border was to keep the border open. That shows the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship which I think, with respect, the Prime Minister seriously needs to work on.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of points I would like to deal with. The first one is SARS. The member is absolutely right. He describes Toronto accurately. It is contained and organized, but we have an international media challenge. The rest of the world, CNN, Deutsche Welle, RAI, are painting us in a way such that if anyone here has friends anywhere in the world, they are calling and e-mailing, asking, “Are you okay? Are you going to make it?” That is part of the reason why a group of us in Toronto said that we have to figure out a way to correct the international image that exists.

International recording artists such as Elton John and Billy Joel cancelled coming to Toronto three and a half weeks ago. That went all over the world to all artists. Another part of the entertainment industry is shut down now. That is part of the reason why a group of us were mandated to go to Concert Productions International to see if we could get some international artists in here with Canadian artists to send out the signal around the entertainment world that we are alive and well. That is where the whole miscommunication came in from the media that we were trying to give the Rolling Stones $10 million. Nothing was further from the truth. The Rolling Stones were the first international band that said it would help, but to stage an event with Canadian artists of international stature that would bring 700,000 to 800,000 people into our city would involve an investment. Fortunately the private sector came up with half the money. We will still wait to see what the governments do.

The reality is that we have to change the international image, not just Canada-U.S. but around the world, because that affects investment and not just in tourism. That affects business travel. It affects foreign investment. We have a big problem there and $100 million worth of paid advertising will not do it. We all know that.

The second point is related to Canada-U.S. relations and the border. The just in time delivery sector is going through absolute hell right now because of the problems at our border. It is getting better, but what concerns me is that if we create any difficulty or if we do not show enough interest in keeping the Navistars and the Daimler-Benzes and these other industries that are dependent on just in time delivery, either way, the Americans will just say, “To hell with it. Let's just give up the investment in Canada. Let's do it in the States, because our economy is on its knees right now. We can use the jobs in the States and we can avoid all those border problems”.

I think we are in a really tough moment. If there was ever a moment where we need to do some stimulus, I think it is right now. It is incumbent upon all of us to throw our best ideas on the table, but I think the most important thing we have to do is somehow inject a sense of urgency around here.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:20 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate the speech of my hon. colleague opposite. However, I would like to remind him that, since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has been speaking out against the current government's policies that led to drastic cuts in health care, not only in Quebec, but in all the provinces.

Since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has been critical of this federal government's total control of the employment insurance system. It is unfortunate to witness today the situation in Toronto; this is cause for concern in Quebec also. In fact, many Quebeckers are worried about this illness.

They are also concerned about mad cow disease. Although Quebec cattle producers have not detected a single case, they are suffering the same penalty as the rest of Canada. They can no longer export their beef; it can no longer cross any borders, whether it is for the United States, Australia or Japan.

It is time for the members, such as my hon. colleague opposite, to stand up, thump the desk and tell their colleagues, “Enough is enough. It is time to help our provinces instead of stealing from them. It is time to help our provinces instead of using the funds stolen from them to inflate our expenditures, which are not necessarily always good ones”.

I would like the hon. member's comments on this.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:20 a.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is no secret to anyone around here that I am a passionate national government person and I am a passionate interventionist. The only thing on which I agree with the member from the Bloc Québécois is the fact that I think a lot of our cuts, as I signalled earlier in my remarks, have gone too far.

We do not know all the facts about mad cow disease, but we do know that in our inspection system, our research systems, in just western Canada alone we went from four research centres to one. Do we know why we cut them? Because we were saving $10 million each. I am not suggesting that we would not have had this incident of mad cow disease, but I will say that when we have quality, world class agricultural research centres that serve a multi-billion dollar industry and we cut them down to one from four, I ask myself if that is good public policy.

My answer to the member would be this. Let us make sure that those instruments like research to maintain food security are maintained and enhanced, but let us do it through the Government of Canada. Let us continue to enhance the federal presence across the country. The more Government of Canada presence we have in every province, especially in Quebec and in the west as well, the more that people will view the House of Commons as relevant.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:25 a.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak on the budget tabled by the current Minister of Finance in February.

I will tell everyone listening why the members of the Bloc Quebecois, including myself, will not support this budget.

We will oppose the budget because it does not meet the real concerns and expectations of Quebeckers. What did Quebeckers ask the new Minister of Finance for, which should have been included in his budget? First, they asked that the fiscal imbalance which has been condemned be corrected.

There is and has been much talk about this. In Quebec, we have had the Séguin commission, which has tabled its report. This study concluded that there is a fiscal imbalance and it has been endorsed by the premiers of all the other provinces, who agreed that such an imbalance exists, that the federal government is collecting too much in taxes and raking in huge surpluses. Second, these huge surpluses escape scrutiny by parliamentarians. As a result, nothing is being done to correct the imbalance.

Also, there is nothing in this budget about establishing an independent employment insurance fund. For years, the Bloc Quebecois has been asking that the government establish, in conjunction with all the central labour bodies and workers in Quebec, a genuine independent EI fund administered jointly by workers and employers.

It is unacceptable that the surplus in the EI fund today, in 2003, is $44 billion. What is the government doing with that money? The Secretary of State responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec referred to a virtual amount. This is a serious matter. We are talking about money that belongs to workers and employers. I call it an employment tax. This means that the government collected far more money than it had to and hid it God knows where. It means that now working Canadians and Quebeckers are being required to pay premiums higher than necessary to meet the needs of the fund. There is nothing about that in this budget.

Second, there is nothing for the wind power industry. We know that with the Kyoto protocol comes the need to favour renewable energies. Changes will be required in our management in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Quebec saw fit to invest heavily in this new energy. I think it is important that we do, but there is nothing about that in the budget.

Furthermore, in this budget there is no mention of abolishing the special tax of 1.5¢ per litre of gas that was introduced by the former Minister of Finance. This tax was meant to pay down the debt and eliminate the deficit. There has not been a deficit since 1995, and there is no indication that the tax will be abolished. What are they doing with this money? We do not know. It is another hidden tax.

We are also told that the airport security tax will be abolished. This is a tax was introduced by the former Minister of Finance for security in airports. The current Minister of Finance asked two independent firms to conduct studies to determine the income generated by this tax compared to the expenses incurred by tightening security in the airports. Based on the findings, there was a $43 million surplus.

What did this do? This tax increased the price of airline tickets, which penalizes the regions, once again. Money is taken from the regions and invested in large cities.

A return ticket from Bagotville to Ottawa costs me $900 to $1,000, and I buy one once a week. This is unacceptable. How can we expect people in the regions to use this mode of transportation? It is an essential mode of transportation for people who have no other way to get to meetings and to work, like me. I have to go to work. The general public cannot afford to pay such a price for an airline ticket.

This tax increased the price of airline tickets. We said there was no need for this and that the money should have come from the budget. Nonetheless, the tax was introduced in order to take in even more money.

Also, there is nothing in the budget to abolish useless programs and thereby decrease spending by several billions of dollars. We know that the government is very good at encroaching on provincial jurisdictions.

Yesterday evening, when I came out of the debate on mad cow disease, I met some ordinary people who told me they are always the ones who have to pay, always the same taxpayers. There are school taxes, provincial taxes, municipal taxes, federal taxes, but the taxpayers are always the same. If they knew their tax money was going to the right things, they would have no objections to paying.

But we know that the federal government of today is always trying to encroach into areas where it has no business being. The Constitution says it is not their area of jurisdiction, so why does it insist? For visibility. Its obsession with visibility drives it to use funds that could be used elsewhere. On what? In essential areas, which this budget could have included. They could have been used to help the real people who have been shunted aside in this budget. They could have been used for the needs of women, aboriginal people, the elderly, self-employed workers. As well, they should also have been used for the softwood lumber crisis.

When the Minister for International Trade gets up to speak, he always says everything is great, everything is just wonderful in connection with softwood lumber, and we are going to win. We are going to win, but there will not be many people around to celebrate when we do. In my region, the one most affected by the softwood lumber crisis, there will be no workers left. The sawmills will have closed and our communities will have been decimated.

In my region, there are some small communities that owe their existence to the work provided by the sawmills. Today, however, they are waiting impatiently. They have reached the stage of no longer believing this government will respond to their needs and keep its commitment to move on to phase two of its softwood lumber assistance plan. How else could they feel? There is no mention of it in the budget, no mention of phase two, and that is where action must be taken.

And what is being done for women? I find this unacceptable. This government is doing nothing. Quebec would like to create its own parental insurance program. When will this government start negotiating with the Government of Quebec in order to reach an agreement that will allow the creation of this Quebec parental insurance fund?

This fund would help women. It would provide insurance for self-employed women and those with seasonal employment. At present, things are no so good for women who work and want to have children. They say to themselves, “I am going to have a child”. These days, both the man and the woman in a couple work; this is no longer a luxury. This is how they manage to stick to a budget and provide for their family's welfare.

So, this fund would be a good thing. The women of Quebec called for it, and the former Government of Quebec agreed to it. It wanted to do it. Quebec asked the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Human Resources Development to take the money from the employment insurance fund, to take the premiums that went toward EI, and transfer this money to the provinces. This would provide for a fund that would allow women to receive 75% of their salary when they take parental leave.

The Minister of Finance made no mention of it in his budget. It would allow women to have children under much better and easier conditions. The budget contains no such measures.

There are no tax measures for seniors, whether for pensions or old age pensions. This, despite the fact that we know that incomes for this segment of the population are declining steadily, and since women make up more than half of this population, they are the ones who suffer.

Of course, there is the guaranteed income supplement that my colleague, the member for Champlain, criticized, and which was updated. Hundreds of women and seniors—again, most of whom are women—were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement for years—

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member


Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:35 a.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Thousands of them, as my colleague said. There is nothing in the budget to address this, to reimburse the women and seniors who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement but did not receive it. There is nothing in this budget for them. The government would rather challenge it in court.

There is also nothing to improve infrastructure. As we know, the budget invests an additional $1 billion in municipal infrastructure over the next ten years. The Union des municipalités du Québec had estimated municipal infrastructure needs at over $1 billion per year for the next fifteen years, in Quebec alone. That is what it estimated, but there is only an additional $1 billion over the next ten years. The government then says that it is responding, that it is attuned to the needs of municipalities and that it wants to hold direct negotiations with them, when we all know that municipalities are creatures of the provincial governments.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimated the needs of all urban centres in Canada at over $50 billion. No need to mention that the federal government's offer is a very cold—if not ice-cold—shower for everyone who had hoped for improvements to urban infrastructure.

The day after the budget was brought down by the federal Minister of Finance, the chair of the executive committee of the City of Montreal, Frank Zampino, stated that, considering the needs of the City of Montreal for infrastructure renewal, which would cost quite a bit, the government's contribution was quite insufficient. That $1 billion divided by ten years—for all of Canada—becomes $100 million per year, divided by four—as 25% of the population lives in Quebec—means that Quebec will get $25 million. That is peanuts, given that a simple highway, such as the one through the Parc des Laurentides, in Quebec, cost $650 million.

I am anxious to see when the Minister of Industry will sign the agreement with the Government of Quebec that was announced more than a year ago. It still has not been signed and the minister still does not know when he will sign it. In any case, I am anxious to see when he will sign the agreement, because it is important to my region. My entire region expressed a desire to have this road in the Parc des Laurentides. There is nothing in this budget. He still has not signed it.

The current Minister of Finance earmarked $25 million a year in this budget for infrastructure, but this is a drop in a sea of needs. This is a serious situation because everyone always says there are problems with health care, the population is aging, health needs are growing exponentially and we do not know how to stop them. When we have reached a point when we are not investing any money to improve sewer and water supply systems, this is serious. As we know, there is a connection between health and good drinking water, and between health and everything that affects air quality.

A few years ago, an article in the Globe & Mail revealed that my region had the highest level of pollution. Studies were done and it was found that this was not true. However, with everything that is happening in the environment, our regions are increasingly polluted. Pollution causes more and more people to become ill. There is nothing in this budget to improve the environment.

There is nothing in this budget. There are some things to make their little friends happy, the people with the highest incomes. That is who the government is aiming at with this budget. Last weekend, there was even a debate among the three candidates who want to replace the current Prime Minister at the head of the Liberal Party of Canada. For once, I was happy to listen to the Minister of Canadian Heritage since she was criticizing what is going on. She spoke out against—and I quote:

—the amalgamation of education, health and social spending dollars to the provinces by Mr. Martin in 1995, which led to the elimination of the Canada assistance plan, the worst thing that our government has ever done.

That is not very high praise, but that was what the Minister of Canadian Heritage said. She is not a sovereignist. Far from it; quite the opposite; she is a major-league federalist. This is a Liberal minister criticizing her own party, her own government. I believe her because she would never have said that unless she knew it was true, since she is a member of cabinet. And she is critical.

This budget pays no attention to people who are suffering, to women, senior citizens, municipalities, the unemployed, the homeless. It is much ado about nothing; it creates needs but provides no long-term solutions. This budget gives to the rich and steals from the poor. It does nothing to improve health care. It is a dog's breakfast.

I will never, ever, support such a simplistic vision. I would have thought that the new Minister of Finance would have some compassion, that he would stick to real needs and that his vision would be different from that of the former Minister of Finance, the member for LaSalle—Émard. But they are both the same. It is the same exercise all over again. The rich get all kinds of things and the poor, who have real needs, get nothing.

If there are people who say that this budget will do something, they are showing their ignorance. I will never support a budget like this, that ignores the real needs of ordinary people.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

11:45 a.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on Bill C-28 today, the implementation of the budget. It gives me an opportunity to speak once again on some of the issues I have heard about from hundreds of constituents, which we in this House all know translates into thousands of Canadians.

I would like to speak on a couple of issues. One of them is the impact the budget has on persons with disabilities. There is also the impact it has on people who work on and enjoy heritage, culture and creativity in this country. Finally, I would like to speak about the impact of the budget on the needs of native children and on children in general.

I will start by saying that I have spoken out many times in the House about the disability tax credit and the fact that it does not meet the needs of Canadians. I am afraid that continues to fall on the deaf ears of the government.

On May 12, I moved an amendment to the draconian changes to the disability tax credit. I moved to have those amendments withdrawn from the budget, but that was to no avail. These changes go completely against the will of the House of Commons as expressed on November 19, 2002, when we all voted together as a House on a motion put forward by the New Democrats, which was:

That this House call upon the government to develop a comprehensive program to level the playing field for Canadians with disabilities, by acting on the unanimous recommendations of the committee report “Getting It Right for Canadians: the Disability Tax Credit”, in particular the recommendations calling for changes to the eligibility requirements of the Disability Tax Credit so that they will incorporate in a more humane and compassionate manner the real life circumstances of persons with disabilities, and withdraw the proposed changes to the Disability Tax Credit, released on August 30th, 2002.

At that time the Minister of Finance reluctantly withdrew the changes, only to reintroduce similar ones in the bill. That was a very major disappointment to people in the disability community and to the House. We feel that it was a contemptible act on his part. This credit is already so restrictive that officials from the department have admitted at committee that Terry Fox, if he were alive today, would not be considered as having a disability under the draconian interpretation of this law.

This is not a bill that has persons with disabilities in mind. I would like to review some of the changes within the budget that impact on persons with disabilities. First, the employment assistance for persons with disabilities program was renewed, but only with a $13 million increase over five years, which is less than the rate of inflation.

The disability tax credit, which amounts to about $400 million annually and goes to 450 million Canadians, provides a reduction of about $1,000 per recipient. The budget adds another $25 million this year and $80 million more per year starting in 2004-05, so what is wrong with this picture? The tax credit is still not refundable, so Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities with no or low incomes still get nothing out of this credit. The proposed changes in the amount of the tax credit are insignificant, other than the normal increase due to indexation. The proposed changes to eligibility are designed to restrict eligibility: to reverse court decisions that said the eligibility was too restrictive.

The pilot project to recognize episodic and mental health disabilities through a consultation group is a welcome first step, but these types of disabilities need to be incorporated into the mainstream programs under the DTC and CPP and probably will need more than $25 million.

The child disability benefit, which will provide $1,600 more per year for disabled children in families that are eligible for the national child benefit supplement, is a good measure, but only families earning less than $33,000 will get the full credit.

I would like to move on now to the area of culture. The budget shows, in my estimation, very little concern for preserving and promoting Canadian arts and heritage. There is not a penny for the CBC and there is minimal cultural investment elsewhere. Specifically, there were increases of $150 million over two years to the Canadian television fund to increase Canadian programming, $20 million over two years for historic places, and $17 million over two years for Katimavik.

For cultural and heritage programs, the government added $187 million over two years, $150 million to the Canadian TV fund over two years, and $20 million for historic places, as I have said. However, by not renewing the $60 million to the CBC there will be cuts to real annual programming of $29 million for English TV, $18 million for French TV, $5 million each to English and French radio, and $3 million for new media.

Critical to cultural survival in this country is the future of Canadian television drama. This budget cuts the Canadian television fund by $25 million for what appear to be unknown reasons. As time goes by and more and more people come to the House and talk about the crisis in Canadian drama, it is an absolute mystery why the finance minister will not put that critically needed money back into the system, where it would then go toward triggering other moneys.

As many people have pointed out, the changes that were made in the budget for the film and TV industry in fact take money from Canadians and give money to Americans. In fact, there is a tax break for foreigners producing in Canada and a cut for Canadians who are trying to make their own culture here. As a result of the reduction in CTF funds, many Canadian made shows may have to be cut and others are in peril. Canadian TV dramas have gone from twelve to four currently in production.

As well, thousands of jobs are at stake. An actor who was here recently pointed out that the $25 million means much more than its face value because the money is then matched by private donors. If our government is unwilling to support Canadian TV content, why would private donors be willing?

Nor is Canada unique in providing government funding for television production, because most countries around the world also provide support. I know that some people see television production as an extra or a luxury when money is needed for so many other things. However, without Canadian made drama we would be left living our experience through American made dramas and would have a completely distorted sense of reality.

Trina McQueen's report to the CRTC about the dire straits of Canadian drama quotes Canadian producer David Barlow, who said:

If a society consistently chooses the dramatic fantasies of another culture, they come to believe that their own reality is not a valid place on which to build their dreams. Their reality simply isn't good enough for dreaming.

In 2003, that is a sad and tragic state for us to find ourselves in.

As a playwright I know first-hand how difficult it is for our Canadian artists and creators to earn a living. It is amazing that they continue to persevere as they do. We are all richer for it, yet there is nothing in the budget that really acknowledges the sacrifices that artists make, particularly as their average income is about $13,000 a year.

This budget does not recognize the needs of income averaging for artists. The budget does not in any way reflect the needs of artists to be eligible for employment insurance. Another way to acknowledge the contribution of our artists is through income tax breaks on the moneys earned by artists through their creative works. This is what my current private member's motion proposes. I know there are government moneys available through agencies such as the Canada Council for the Arts, but the council, for example, accepts only about 25% of the applications, and artists can apply only twice over four years.

I know that some have argued against treating artists as a special interest group in the tax system, but the reality is that our tax system has had many special interests, including students, persons with disabilities and persons contributing to their RRSPs. Why not spend additional credit on our artists in acknowledging their contributions?

Money for culture seems to suddenly appear when the Prime Minister's legacy is at stake, such as the $100 million for the political history museum in Ottawa. One wonders how much of that will be devoted to the Prime Minister's wing. While money definitely should be allocated to Canadian museums, I am wary of opening up yet another museum in Ottawa when so many regional museums need funding and this is not allocated in the budget.

I recently spoke to people at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum about their situation. As other museums across the country are saying, they need money to keep the lights on. They need money to hire curators and to collect artifacts. The regional museums across the country, of which there are over 2,500, need money to provide clean, dry storage for their artifacts. They need money for promotion. They need money to make sure they can collect the pieces of heritage from their regions and put them in a form that local residents will be able to see, value and understand as being part of a larger patchwork of heritage across the country.

As I said, there are over 2,500 non-profit museums and related institutions across Canada, which attract more than 50 million visits each year. With few exceptions they have been languishing under severe funding cutbacks for many years and are not funded adequately. Many buildings are crumbling and roofs are leaking. Collections of great local and national significance are threatened. Our collective memory is fading.

I would like to say that this budget has been a major disappointment in terms of heritage. The Canadian Museums Association and the New Democrats are saying that what we need is a comprehensive museum strategy instead of haphazard announcements that are more political than anything. We need to make available more funding for existing museums, particularly outside the national capital region.

To go back to the whole issue of the importance of museums, it is important to realize that more Canadians--and this is a very interesting statistic--go to museums than they do to sporting events. Local museums are like canaries in the mines: if the museum is in dire straits, it likely means that the town is in dire straits and that in fact there is trouble in many other sectors of the community already.

There have been many disappointments in the budget, but particularly critical are the cuts we see to Native Friendship Centres and the lack of any really effective anti-poverty strategies that would benefit the lives of aboriginal children. I would like to talk about the need for funding for children's programs, particularly for aboriginal children.

I have had the pleasure since February of this year to sit on the subcommittee on children and youth at risk. We have been conducting a study on the conditions of aboriginal children in Canada, both on and off reserve. I have met some exceptional people through this exercise and have heard some amazing testimony. No one spoke of any kind of government dependency, but rather of partnerships and horizontal collaborations to create an integrated policy framework for the development of young first nations children.

It is important to look at first nations children because the aboriginal population is much younger than average. Children 14 and under make up 33% of the aboriginal population in Canada, compared with only 19% in the non-aboriginal population. As well, sadly, more aboriginal children live in poverty than any other segment of the population. In fact, aboriginal people in cities were twice as likely to live in poverty as non-aboriginal people, yet little attention is given to aboriginal children living off reserve, particularly in cities, where they are most likely to be in poverty.

One of the few places that provided programs and support uniquely for aboriginal children was the native friendship centres, but this bill reduces the funding to these centres. Native friendship centres offered programs such as head start for young children and went a long way toward building a happy and healthy future for these kids. Therefore it is inexplicable in my mind as to why this funding was reduced.

When a program is working well why is money taken away from it? Why is it not added on? Why do we not learn lessons from that and create even stronger programs?

The way to deal with poverty among aboriginal children is obviously to deal with the poverty that exists within aboriginal families and families living in poverty in general. The budget has been very weak in dealing with the real needs of poor Canadians. The budget does not deal with what we need, which is a truly effective anti-poverty strategy.

What the budget does not deal with is the fact that we need a national day care strategy inspired upon the Quebec model. We could also use a national initiative to raise the minimum wages in all jurisdictions above the poverty line.

We need a national welfare standard that is above the poverty line. We also need effective strategies for ensuring full access to comprehensive disability supports. A national poverty strategy would also look at an enriched child tax benefit with assurances that all welfare families would be eligible.

We need to see the elimination of inter-provincial residency requirements and fee differentials for long term care, all health procedures, post-secondary education and other services. We need a coordinated strategy to build low income housing and end homelessness. Of course a national poverty strategy would include the realization of food security for all in Canada and a substantial reduction in the rate and depth of poverty in Canada.

I now want to say a couple of things about post-secondary education. I think everyone in the House is on the verge of attending graduations at the high schools in their ridings. Each of us will sit there very proudly watching as these young people go up to the stage with their dreams ahead of them. Many of them will go on to universities with plans to go into medicine, engineering, the arts, social work or into working with children. However their dreams depend on being able to afford post-secondary education.

The budget has been a disaster in terms of providing any real moneys for young people and for universities to actually provide affordable education. We are all seeing students in our ridings who get into university and who get a student loan only to find out after a year or two that they cannot afford to continue. Some have to work at two jobs while trying to keep up with their courses but they fall behind. Their debts are growing, their marks are falling and they are becoming overburdened by debt at the age of 19 and 20.

We are seeing a huge tragedy occur among the people who we had hoped would step into our shoes at some point and provide the energy and the idealism to make this the kind of country in which we all want to live. Our young people have found a very hard rock and an unlistening government in this budget.

I feel that the budget has been unfortunate in so many ways. It has missed the point in being able to build a stronger Canada. For persons with disabilities, for artists, for first nations children and for our students, this budget, like the ones before it, continues to ignore the realities facing all Canadians.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions between parties have taken place and I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That, when the House is in Committee of the Whole later this day in order to deal with the business of supply, no quorum calls, nor dilatory motions shall be entertained by the Speaker as of 9 p.m.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 18, 2003, be read the third time and passed, and on the motion that the question be now put.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:05 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask my colleague from Dartmouth a question especially in an area where she has tremendous expertise and that has to do with issues of concern to people living with disabilities.

The member has been an active part of an all party committee in the House dealing with issues pertaining to the disability tax credit and has worked long and hard to fight for changes that would reflect the realities of children and people living with disabilities.

Leading up to the federal budget of February of this year, numerous concerns were raised and recommendations were made. Would the member elaborate on what changes were actually made in the budget in response to those concerns? Does she feel the government has acted on the unanimous vote of the House pertaining to the disability tax credit? Has there been any indication that the government is moving toward a more progressive system, including a refundable tax credit, and other provisions that would provide a fairer system so people with disabilities could live with integrity and with hope?

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:05 p.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say otherwise but in fact the budget has brought about more restrictive amendments to the disability tax credit, completely in opposition to the NDP resolution that was passed unanimously by the House. With the exception of the Minister of Finance, everyone in the House stood and made strong arguments to the government that we wanted to see more humane and compassionate treatment of persons with disabilities under the federal Income Tax Act.

The amendments that were made to the budget actually continue to hammer away at people in some very restrictive areas around feeding and dressing. The wording was changed somewhat but it is the same wolf dressed up in sheep's clothing. We did not really see any kind of real relief for persons with disabilities.

The kind of changes that are needed in this tax credit program are immense. They need to be incorporated with a wider definition of disability which would go through all our government programs, including the Canada pension plan disability program and the medical tax credit. We need one definition for disability. We need forms for doctors to fill out that will actually reflect real human beings and not just frustrate the process. We need forms that will get to the depth of the disability in order to provide reasonable income support for persons with disabilities.

As the member mentioned, we need a refundable tax credit, which is not in place at this point in time. There is no income support at the federal level for a large majority of persons with disabilities who simply never reach the level of income that is required to benefit from the tax credit.

We are a long way from meeting the needs of persons with disabilities under the federal Income Tax Act.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, I simply wanted to mention to the House that the first five hours of debate on this bill have now expired, and members will have ten minutes from now on, without time for questions or comments.

The hon. member for Trois-Rivières.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and debate Bill C-28, a bill to implement the 2003 budget.

First, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Drummond, for having brought to the attention of the House section 64 of this bill, which deals with the government's attempt to recover GST rebates that Canadian school boards received.

We know that the GST is considered an input. This involves the whole system of GST inputs and outputs that the Liberals wanted to scrap a few years back, in 1992-93. Yet, today, they are such staunch defenders of it that they are prepared to violate the ruling handed down by a court. I say this because the court handed down a unanimous ruling saying that the school boards' position was perfectly right.

This involves public money at two levels, at the federal level and at the school board level. The provincial governments have not sat idly by, particularly given the amount of money involved--$70 million at the time the judgments were handed down. Their concerns are outlined in a letter written by the counsel for the school boards, who—by coincidence or very clever strategy by the school boards—hired the eminent legal expert, Marc Lalonde, a former minister of finance himself and colleague of the minister of finance at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, equally eminent, you will all agree. In his conclusion, the Hon. Marc Lalonde, counsel in this case, said on behalf of his clients, the school boards, and I quote:

Needless to say our clients feel as though the Minister of Finance is playing the role of the better who says, “Heads I win; tails, you lose”.

As I was saying, the court of appeal ruled in favour of the school boards unanimously on this matter. The government, in response, decided to pass legislation that would exempt it retroactively, in what can only be described as a flagrant abuse of power. Therefore, the legislation is retroactive, which exempts the government from any rulings against it in this matter. We cannot accept this type of retroactive legislation. This type of response must never be accepted.

This may illustrate the culture of this government, of the past Minister of Finance or the present one. Imagine what a fine choice there is: the old and the new finance ministers both prime ministerial hopefuls. Canadians, and proud of it, that's for sure. There is lots to be proud of when we see these two competing for a new job, given their recent past performances.

I would like to congratulate my colleague for having raised the consciousness of this House on this. I would also point out that, once again, we have total silence from the other side, from the Liberals from Quebec. They are keeping mum when there is anything to do with public funds, as I have said, not just at the federal level here but also in Quebec and at the level of the school boards. Once again, these members are not saying a word, rather than backing the cause that has been presented by my colleague for Drummond.

There is one other point I would like to draw to your attention concerning three flaws in this budget. The first of these is the total absence of any reference to the restoration of the older worker adjustment program or an equivalent. This is a program that was around in the 1980s and 1990s and one I had the pleasure of administering when a Quebec public servant, with the help of my federal colleagues.

This program started off as the workers assistance program and evolved into POWA, the older worker adjustment program. For the most part, it applied to major plant closings—a heavy blow to any community—and was for workers aged 45 and over who found themselves facing a somewhat closed labour market and saw themselves doomed to welfare, given their level of education.

So this was in addition to unemployment insurance and a highly intelligent and well-targeted measure that met an obvious social and economic need. It was well thought out and yet it was made to disappear arbitrarily, more or less. Now there is a refusal to resuscitate it, despite the sad situations I have seen in my riding, with the closures of Tripap and Fruit of the Loom, for instance.

Six hundred women have been forced onto unemployment and will soon be on social assistance. Representations were made, by us and by many of our colleagues in this place and probably others across Canada as well, to get the government to make amends by establishing such a program. It keeps turning a deaf ear, and this budget is no exception. I want to once again condemn this kind of mismanagement.

Second, as mentioned earlier, is an issue raised by my hon. colleague from Champlain which concerns tens of thousands of Quebeckers who are vulnerable or old: the guaranteed income supplement. This guaranteed income supplement augments the old age pension for a number of Canadians and Quebeckers who are unfortunately having a tougher time of it than others.

There is a supplement but because it is so very generous, as we know, the federal government is making sure that thousands of individuals who have neither the physical nor the intellectual capacity to demand this supplement never get it, because it is not sent out automatically. There is so much involved in applying that those who need it are deprived of the supplement. They are badly in need of it, but they cannot fill out the forms. That is what is likely to happen, if I understand correctly the problem very aptly described by the hon. member for Champlain, whom I want to congratulate once again.

So this government which is raking in billions of dollars—this will never be overemphasized—has no solution to offer, no sympathy, no empathy.

Perhaps because of my interest in and concern for foreign affairs, I would like to raise a third point: international aid. In spite of all these billions it has at its disposal, Canada will not go along with what the United Nations Organization is proposing. A member as prosperous and developed as Canada should allocate 0.7% of its budget to international aid, as do the Scandinavian countries. Instead of 0.7%, it is a mere 0.3%.

So, it is slightly disgraceful that a country that benefits from the international community's largesse, that is rich in natural resources, that has been developed, like others, at the expense of underdeveloped countries—there is no denying it—refuses to be more generous. It is a complete disgrace. I am certain, and I dare hope, that a sovereign Quebec would be much more sensitive to such concerns, as are the Scandinavian countries that have been such models for Canada. So, it is somewhat disgraceful to see the Canadian government behaving this way with regard to international aid.

I would like to give a quick overview, because ten minutes is not a long time. What is working in this country? I want to look quickly at this. Are things going well with regard to the fisheries? Air travel? Aboriginal affairs? Agriculture, shipbuilding, health? Is the federal government part of the problem or part of the solution in health? I think it is more part of the problem. Are things going well with regard to helicopters? Employment insurance?

In ridings such as mine, 85% of those who lost their job were entitled to employment insurance; under the party opposite, only 40%, if not 38%, qualify and the government refuses to relax the rules. It continues to enforce strict rules, despite statements such as those our hon. colleague from Toronto—Danforth made earlier, about the hotel industry being devastated by fallout from SARS. We are seeing the same rigidity with regard to softwood lumber. There is a lot of boasting going on, but what is going well in this country?

If we take off our rose-coloured glasses, things are not going so well. In my opinion, the government's sole aim is to have a hand in everything in order to create a centralized, unified country at the provinces' expense. It is perhaps not so terrible that it is being done on at the provinces' expense, but it is at Quebec's expense, because there is an attempt to minimize the Quebec nation. We will continue to speak out, as long as we are here.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:20 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, this is the second time I have spoken on Bill C-28. In my previous remarks, I objected vigorously to clause 64 of the bill before us.

Even though my hon. friend from Trois-Rivières has stolen some of my thunder, I want to give the history of this from A to Z.

Clause 64 is going to punish your grandchildren and mine, and all students in Canada. The problem is that money is being taken from the pockets of the 415 school boards in Canada, including 72 in Quebec, and a serious shortfall is being created.

I will go on with my historical analysis. This shortfall will result in fewer services or higher school taxes in order to provide the same service to our students who use school buses. The majority of these are elementary students, not high school or university students. I think of my granddaughter and this situation upsets me.

I will remind the House of the problem of input tax credits as they apply to school transportation. In 1991, when the GST was introduced, the federal government, through the Minister of Finance, gave a 100% tax credit on school transportation. In 1996, a unilateral change was made by the Minister of Finance at the time—now the front runner in the Liberal Party's leadership race.

I will just explain how we use the word front runner in Quebec. It means the horse that leads the race, that is running at the front of the pack, the one that has a good chance of winning. That is the member for LaSalle—Émard. The runner-up, of course, is the one in second position. In this case, it is the current Minister of Finance. In his budget and in Bill C-28, he has clung to an invention of the Liberal Party's current front runner.

So, as I was saying, in 1996, the front runner in the leadership race reduced the input tax credits from 100% to 68%. Naturally, there was an outcry from the school boards. They stood up and fought the current front runner in the Liberal Party's leadership race. Nothing changed. The former finance minister was deaf, possibly blind, and possibly mute, but he never gave an answer. Nothing changed.

Finally, a school board in Quebec—the Commission scolaire des Chênes—filed suit and took the Minister of Finance to court. On September 12, 2001, at hearings in Montreal, Justices Alice Desjardins, Robert Décary and Marc Noël, heard the case with lawyers representing the school boards and Her Majesty the Queen.

On October 17, 2002, the three Federal Court of Appeal judges ruled unanimously in favour of the Commission scolaire des Chênes. What an insult to our front-runner. How did our-front runner resolve the problem?

He issued a press release dated December 31, 2001 which said, “No problem. What we will do is change the legislation retroactively to 1991 to get around or tie the hands of the three Appeal Court justices who handed down this judgment”.

We are talking about a judgment. This is truly an exceptional move. This is the first time in history that legislation has been passed in order to circumvent a judgment. This leaves the door open for any minister who has been taken to court and lost to decide simply to change legislation. This is precedent setting.

Perhaps unwittingly or without realizing it, the runner-up, the current Minister of Finance, just included clause 64 in Bill C-28. The last time I spoke on clause 64, I had a discussion with my Liberal colleague from Laval East—a nice lady with an open mind—who told me she was not aware this was going on. I said I had a huge file which I could show her, because as the revenue critic, I had the opportunity to meet people involved in this issue. She said, “I did not know; this is terrible. We are penalizing our children”. She was horrified, adding, “I will take this up with the caucus”. What happened? When the time came to vote on the bill following the clause by clause study, she stood up and voted against the motion by the hon. member for Drummond to delete clause 64.

This is an insult to all parents. I am begging you, Mr. Speaker, today. This concerns the school boards in the Cornwall region. They are experiencing a shortfall. I urge the hon. members across the way, members from every part of Canada, to push for this clause 64 to be deleted because it is penalizing their school boards and their children or, if they have grey hair like mine, their grandchildren. This is an important issue.

Now people are going to say, “There goes the evil separatist. This nasty Bloc member, this damn sovereignist is getting all worked up”. The fact is that I am not alone. I have here a three-page letter from former finance minister Marc Lalonde. I think that you know him, Mr. Speaker. He is one of your friends who used to be a minister—

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. With all due respect for the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, I would ask him to refrain from intentionally or unintentionally involving the Chair in discussions within the government caucus. I know that he has the utmost respect, as he should, for the Speaker or whoever is in the chair. So, I would ask him for his cooperation in order to curb his enthusiasm, and avoid involving the Chair in his speech.

The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003Government Orders

12:30 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I apologize. As you said, I get carried away by my enthusiasm and how I feel when I think about our children and our grandchildren, who will have to pay the price for this. I am sorry, but let my say that the Hon. Marc Lalonde is well known by the people opposite, since he was finance minister at one time. He should know a bit about public finances. He wrote a letter to the minister, the current front runner, and told him, “Mr. Minister, you are missing the boat here”. My speech summarizes what he had to say in his letter.

Last, since I only have one minute left, I would ask everyone to urge the runner-up, meaning the current finance minister, to remove clause 64 from Bill C-68. There is still time to do so. Throughout my speech, I have kept referring to some of the Liberal leadership candidates as the front runner and the runner-up, and I almost feel that I should apologize to the horses for having compared these people to them.