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House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was langley.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly was not disappointed to see the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest back in the House. I do not know to whom he is referring. I have enjoyed a positive working relationship with my colleague from New Brunswick.

The aboriginal fisheries buyout is a very important issue. It certainly is in my constituency. I share the view that it has gone very well. I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest has his questions answered within the required time.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed that all questions be allowed to stand?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 19 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, as amended.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Cambridge.

In rising to give my address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, I am giving my maiden speech in this hallowed House. I want to thank the people of Wellington—Halton Hills for giving me the privilege of representing them here, as well as thank my wife Carrie for all she has given. I will do my best and work my hardest for my constituents.

I also join with other members in congratulating the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker on their elevation to the Chair.

I hail from the great riding of Wellington—Halton Hills. My predecessors include Alf Hales, Perrin Beatty, Otto Jelinek and Garth Turner. I am proud to serve along with my provincial counterparts, Ted Arnott and Ted Chudleigh, as well as their predecessor, Jack Johnson. I want to recognize all of them for their dedication to public service. I will strive to do the same for the people of Wellington—Halton Hills.

Wellington—Halton Hills is made up of Wellington county and Halton region. Halton region recently received recognition as one of Canada's top 100 employers. I wish to congratulate Chairman Joyce Savoline, Halton Region Council and all of Halton Region's 1,700 staff for this recognition. This award recognizes that Halton has attracted and retained skilled employees to the public sector, employees who are a big part of the reason that Halton is such a great place to live.

As we embark on this 38th Parliament since Confederation, I hope that all my colleagues will join me in congratulating Halton region on this award.

Like many new Canadians who come today and those who came before, my late mother and father came to this country with nothing but dreams and hopes. Through perseverance and hard work they blazed a path so that their children could pursue opportunities unbounded in this vast and inchoate land. We owe much to these pioneers who came before and began to build this country. Their project is not yet finished and we must carry on.

I believe in one Canadian people and in one Canada. To be sure, there are a myriad of ethnic groups, there are the different regions, there are the two founding cultures and languages, and before all of these there were and are the native peoples. Each in their own unique and important way has contributed to the fabric and diversity of this country. However, above all of these, there is one Canadian identity, fragile as it sometimes may be. An identity forged out of war, out of history and out of tribulation, but above all, an identity forged out of an encounter with a vast and inchoate land.

It was this vision of a common Canadian identity that moved Sir John A. Macdonald to forge the mergers necessary for Confederation. He united the French Catholics of Canada east with the English Protestants of Canada west to form what would become the Conservative Party of Canada. He joined with his most hated nemesis, George Brown, to make this happen. It was in this spirit of nation building that our leader, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest, and our deputy leader, the hon. member for Central Nova, forged a coalition for the betterment of Canada.

As it was once said by a great member of this House, political capital is not meant to be hoarded but spent on great causes for one's country. It is in this spirit of bettering my country that I criticize the throne speech on two issues: agriculture and funding for municipalities.

Agriculture is important to Wellington—Halton Hills. It was to my riding, into Puslinch township, that the first Hereford cattle were imported into Canada by Frederick Stone in the 1850s. It is in my riding that part of the world renowned Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph is located. Wellington county and Halton region together have 3,200 farms generating $570 million in farm gate sales.

However the Speech from the Throne does little to address the problems facing these farmers, especially for those farmers devastated by BSE in non-managed markets. It is ironic that 46 years after Alf Hales rose in this very House to speak up on behalf of beleaguered farmers, I now do the same with one big difference: the plight of today's farmer is far, far worse than it was in 1958.

Speaking in January 1958 on a farm bill introduced by the Diefenbaker government, Alf Hales stated in Hansard that the average selling price of steers for the 10 year period was $21.80 a hundredweight. That was in 1958 dollars. Today that would be $150 per hundredweight.

The base support price set by the government for farmers in 1958 was $17.44 per hundredweight. Even then farmers struggled. Today that would be a base support price of $120 per hundredweight.

The government's agricultural policy does not even come close to that kind of support.

Because of the government's farm policy in non-managed markets, the average family farm is no longer economically viable. The average farmer can no longer make ends meet and must rent hundreds if not thousands of acres to achieve the economies of scale necessary for a very modest profit.

We are creating a new kind of feudalism in this country where landowners rent their farmland out to impoverished tenant farmers. This is a shame in a country like Canada. We should and we can do better.

The throne speech also fails to deliver on money for municipalities. While I realize that a throne speech is the broad strokes of a government's plan, this one is so vague as to be meaningless.

It is possible the government will announce funding details by the end of the year but municipalities need details now so they can start budgeting for 2005. The municipalities face huge infrastructure costs. I will give two examples to illustrate my point.

The township of Centre Wellington, with a population of 22,000, has over 100 bridges. In that township alone we are currently facing bridge repair costs of $15 million, is a huge number for a township with an annual operating budget of only $15 million.

In Halton Hills I have been told there is a backlog of $57 million in road work and other infrastructure, an equally big number for a community with only 50,000 people and an annual operating budget of $20 million.

While these numbers may seem small to some, if one were to extrapolate them to a city the size of Toronto with a population of 2.5 million, one would get an infrastructure backlog of $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion. All of which is to say that rural communities, with their more scattered populations and large infrastructure, face the same kinds of challenges on a per capita basis that larger, more densely populated communities do.

We should not forget these rural communities, the lifeblood of our nation across its vast geographic expanse. However I worry that smaller communities will get less of the money on a per capita basis in favour of more densely populated areas.

I am also concerned that the government has moved from a specific to a vague commitment. During the election, 5¢ per litre of the gas tax was promised. In the most recent throne speech we now hear a promise of a portion of the gas tax. I hope the government is not backing away from its commitment to cities and municipalities.

Municipalities desperately need the money. The lack of detail and the lack of action means more closed bridges, more deteriorating roads and ultimately higher property taxes because the money must come from somewhere.

It means that seniors, like Maria Kurath in Erin, may have to sell their homes because they cannot afford the property taxes. These are the real life stories of what happens when a government fails to act.

The gas tax promise was made before the election, during the election and after the election. It has been mentioned in two throne speeches. There is a $9.1 billion surplus. The time for vague talk is over. It is time for action.

In closing I wish to indicate my support for the loyal opposition's amendment to the Speech from the Throne.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House on this occasion to present to the House my response to the throne speech on behalf of my riding and the good people of Cambridge and North Dumfries.

I would like to say how honoured I am to represent the community where I was born and, for the most part, have lived my entire life. I intend to dedicate my energy and all my skills to represent my community, my neighbours and my good friends all across what has clearly been a forgotten centre of wealth, both industrially and intellectually.

My riding sits just 45 minutes southwest of Toronto and holds in its northern corner the city of Cambridge with some 113,000 people. We enjoy a pluralism of many communities from all around the world. Our industry is considered some of the best. Companies, such as ATS and Rockwell Automation, Toyoto, Challenger Motor Freight, ComDev, Strite Industries, Babcock, John Forsyth Shirts, Arriscraft and Polymer Technologies, are now famous contributors, not only to the Canadian landscape but to the global landscape.

Cambridge is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada. Indeed, only a few years ago the Hespeler part of Cambridge was considered to have the fastest growth rate in Canada.

North Dumfries is the beautiful rolling hills of quiet pasture lands and quaint communities such as Branchton and Ayr just south of the city itself.

This area is mostly agriculture and attracts visitors who dine in wonderful little eateries and visit antique shops. Some are so drawn to the spirit of this area that they relocate their families here and it too now grows, straining infrastructure and health care services.

These communities are bulging and at the same time are strangled by the government's lack of forethought. Traffic comes to a virtual halt as cars and trucks attempt to navigate too few lanes and too few bridges. Childhood asthma is now increasing at alarming rates as our skies become polluted, not just from the idling vehicles stuck in traffic but as a result of emissions from our border states.

What has the government done for our riding? With respect to these concerns, we still wait and fear that we will be left out of a new deal for cities and communities. We believe that unless distribution is based on population, or at least on fuel consumption, that only the larger Liberal centres will benefit.

Cambridge and North Dumfries need stable and predictable funding too. After the Liberal finance minister bled the health care system to near death, literally causing the crisis we now face, the Liberal Premier of Ontario implemented a health tax and cut services, such as chiropractic and physiotherapy, care that has a proven track record of decreasing the cost of health.

Now we suffer double dipping deep into the pockets of Ontarians for their health care.

Despite the throne speech and the recent 10 year plan to strengthen health care, we do not have any fix for a generation. The government has already had 10 years to put in place a concrete plan to restore the number of doctors and front line workers.

Our community lacks doctors in a most serious way. I can tell the House that people's lives are in danger.

The government has been and continues to waste the skills and minds of thousands of new Canadians while other Canadians suffer. More MRIs, without a concurrent plan for more front line workers, does not help the problem. All it has done is moved the line from diagnostics to treatment.

The people of my riding not only deserve better, they demanded it. It is my privilege to finally represent them in achieving a more level playing field from their government.

No longer will it be acceptable for a community our size and with our needs to be hushed and ignored. Our region sends almost $1 billion more to the government than it receives. Still all levels of taxation are strangling and destroying our right to live well now and into our twilight years.

Cambridge is held together by an amazing group of volunteers. The good news is that there are thousands of people in my riding who dedicate themselves every day to projects like Cara's Hope, Bridges, Argus House, the food bank of Cambridge and so many others. The sad news is that the government, with its billions of dollars in hidden surpluses, has allowed it to happen in the first place.

These groups and social programs should not be punished because of past corrupt and incompetent behaviour by this very government. Tightening the application process, redefining accessibility rules, and designing complex forms that require lawyers to fill out to make up for its billion dollar boondoggles is just plain unfair.

Canadians are indirectly being punished because the government has and continues to waste good money on silly programs like the gun registry. The gun registry is the ultimate boondoggle and again, almost as predictable as the stars, this too was not even mentioned in the throne speech. The fact that it takes the government $2,000 to simply write down that a duck hunter owns a $300 rifle lends credence to the old adage that if the Liberals owned McDonald's, a Big Mac would cost $25 and take six weeks to get.

The Prime Minister has put forth a speech that is not only vague and inadequate, but has failed to give us any confidence that the government's past mistakes will not be repeated.

What of the BSE crisis? My hon. colleague mentioned it and this is the largest crisis to face Canada in my memory. The records show that it is the Conservative Party that has fought the hardest, not only for the farmers but for the millions of people affected by the collateral damage from this crisis.

From hardware stores to trucking companies, from universities to furniture stores, this crisis has bled an estimated $6 billion out of our economy and destroyed generations of work for thousands of Canadians.

What are we to think when the programs that the Liberals do put into place have no application forms and require farmers to put tens of thousands of dollars that they do not have into the banks to be eligible? What little money Liberals do throw at these programs is only enough to tide things over for a few months, mainly to reassure the banks. People are without hope. Liberals smirk and blame everyone else for their failed initiatives.

It is just like hep C. The ones who are being helped the most on these programs are the administrators. In some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars a month are being spent on administration fees. We cannot find money to increase our old age securities in any real way, but the Liberals have found $133,000 for the funding of films in Toronto to find the best penis.

The throne speech says it will continue to review the EI program. What does that mean? That to me is just more fluff and more rhetoric. The Liberals have been at this for 10 years. Canadians and their employers have been bilked out of $45 billion and they do not want more review. They want their money back or at least some assurance that the money will be used only for the benefit of the workers.

We can only be left with one conclusion. This throne speech, like the almost identical last few, is written with words meaning to impress Canadians about the Liberals rather than putting in place concrete solutions for Canadians. The sheer impotence of the throne speech confirms that the Prime Minister and his party choose to play it safe at the expense of hardworking Canadians who deserve far better.

In closing, we in Cambridge still worry about our health. We are very concerned about infrastructure and we need help. We need bridges, light rail transit, go trains, roads and highways. Our future growth is being compromised. We are overworked as volunteers and desperately need the government to do the right thing and spend our taxes on programs that work for us, not just its friends.

We do not need more talk; we need action. We do not need pretty speeches; we need firm, creative solutions. We do not need politicians; we need leaders.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech brings up a number of points of concern that I would have.

I was interested to hear his concern that farmers who should be getting the BSE money are not getting the BSE money. This is an issue that is coming to us in our area in terms of CAISP funding.

I would like to find out if he has any suggestions regarding the issue of hepatitis C where money that should have gone to people who needed it went to the wrong people. We hear much about the kind of profits that packers have made. We have many concerns about regional capacity and the ability of regional smaller plants to stand up to the packers.

We also have a real concern with the kind of money that will be flowing out now. Our farmers are more under the thumb of the big packers now than they have ever been.

I would ask the hon. member, does he have any suggestions or any insights into this that might enlighten us?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a two part question and I will respond to the first part right away.

On the issue of BSE, clearly the government has put programs in place; however, I cannot answer how it could not put forward uncomplicated forms at the same time that farmers could access. The member is probably best to ask the government itself why it did that. My feeling is that there is some need to frustrate people and make these promises that perhaps the government has no intention of keeping.

The money is there; it is not enough. Clearly the solution is to open the borders. The government has been completely ineffective in resolving this particular crisis in terms of a long term solution.

As far as packing plants go, as I am sure the hon. member knows, the government has put forth a promise which amounts to approximately $38 million, when indeed it knows that Canada needs at least two processing plants at a cost of around $150 million. This seems to me a government that is not willing to step up to the plate and do what is necessary. It sounds to me that if the government were asked for $200 million, it would give $100 million. If we were to need $70 million, it would give $30 million.

As far as the hepatitis C issue is concerned, this government has overestimated the number of cases of hepatitis C. It seems to me that there was some suggestion by a past minister that there could be as many as 25,000 to 30,000 people that would claim on that fund. The fact of the matter is that there have been approximately 8,800 claims. These are claims and not actual payouts. Indeed, the actual number is under 5,000.

If this government would show some compassion and open this thing up to everyone who could submit a claim, that is before 1986 and after 1991, indeed it seems that there would be an additional 4,000 claims. There is more than enough money in the fund to respond to the needs of these victims. The government--

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. We have time for just one more question from the member for York South—Weston and a quick answer as well.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could outline what he thinks and feels would be an equitable formula with respect to the gas tax being used as a basis for meeting the kind of needs that he very eloquently outlined that exist in a very dynamic municipality where we have agricultural and rural interests. However, we also have a need to build such things as light rail transit connecting up the various parts of the corridor that Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo in fact are extremely dependent on in terms of moving people? Would the member provide some insights based on his experience on that?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, our concern in Cambridge is that if we are going to have a distribution formula that meets the needs of those who are using transit, it is going to leave out a lot of communities. Again, as I said, it will simply favour those communities that already have transit in place.

Our community would benefit, as would many other communities, from a distribution formula that was based on perhaps fuel consumption within that area. Failing that, a formula that would be based on population would allow these communities that are growing to have these programs put in place.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. It is an honour and a privilege for me to do so. I do not mean the former Prime Minister, who was in power from 1948 to 1957, but the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent. My colleague who represents that riding will also speak in this 20-minute period in response to the Speech from the Throne.

The Bloc Québécois is pleased to support the Speech from the Throne as amended. Since this is my fourth time being elected, it is the fourth time that I have the privilege and opportunity to speak to the Speech from the Throne. As I said to reporters in my riding, this speech is quite exceptional. I think you have experienced the same thing, Mr. Speaker, during your political career. Coming to this minority government and being able to truly negotiate and amend the throne speech in a concrete, conclusive and significant manner is a solid way of increasing and enhancing the role of MPs and all political parties.

All the parties, the New Democrats, the Conservatives and ours, have sat in opposition, in the traditional sense. Journalists and analysts used to wonder what the point was in having opposition MPs, since they could not really effect change. I believe the past two weeks have shown the entire population that, regardless of the political party they voted for, the MPs who represent them in the House of Commons each have an extremely important role to play, especially in a minority government.

The Bloc Québécois' amendment to the amendment significantly changed the throne speech, as regards both recognition and respect of provincial jurisdictions, more specifically those of Quebec, and the recognition of the fiscal imbalance. Had the Bloc Québécois not been here in Ottawa, the Liberals would certainly not have woken up one day saying they wanted to add all this to the throne speech. These major changes also relate to the agreement reached by all political parties to change the employment insurance program, to the tax cuts for middle income families, to the implementation of a system to calculate surpluses or prepare financial statements more conclusively and to a vote on the missile defence shield plan. These are four issues in which I will be taking a particular interest. The Liberals would not have spontaneously written a throne speech that would have included these important issues for Quebeckers and Canadians.

The Liberals delivered a speech that was reminiscent of the days when they formed a majority government, a speech full of pious pronouncements and vague rhetoric. They used to tell us that, because they were a majority government, the Speech from the Throne would be passed and that we would just have to put up with it. The fact that they now find themselves in a minority situation has forced the Liberals to look more closely at what they were writing and to make corrections, first to honour the promises they made during the election campaign—time will tell whether they will act on their commitments—and also present to the public a throne speech that has more substance.

The amendment presented by the Conservative Party and supported by the Bloc Québécois and all members—indeed, it was unanimously passed—includes the following:

  1. An order of reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities instructing the committee to recommend measures that would ensure that all future uses of the employment insurance program would only be for the benefit of workers and not for any other purpose.

The first point of the amendment put forward by the Conservative Party is very important. A total of $40 billion was taken out of the EI fund to pay off the debt and get rid of the deficit. The Liberal Party also has a debt, but that is another story. The Liberals used the sponsorship program to try to pay off part of their debt.

If it is recognized in the throne speech that all future uses of the employment insurance program would be for the benefit of workers only and not for any other purpose, then it would be perceived by all as a major victory.

Unfortunately, this huge victory came only after all the promises the Liberals made in 1997 when they travelled to the regions and said “We will change the unfair employment insurance system”. In 2000, they came back with the same promise and said “We will change and improve the EI system.” The only references to this issue in the throne speech before the amendment reiterated the things we had heard in 1997 and 2000, in other words, the government would have continued to plunder the EI fund to replenish the consolidated revenue account and bail out the country.

So, this is an important point for the unemployed, the workers and employers, all of whom contribute to the EI fund.

The second point of the amendment urges the government to consider the advisability of:

Opportunities to further reduce the tax burden on low and modest income families consistent with the government's overall commitment to balanced budgets and sound fiscal management.

There is absolutely no doubt that we, along with all the other parties in opposition, do not want to see the government end up with another deficit, which our families, our children and grandchildren will have to pay off some day. However, when a government amasses a surplus in excess of $9.1 billion, it might give some thought to disadvantaged families, and perhaps give Quebec the $700 million it is short in connection with parental leave.

Speaking of parental leave, I am going to read a letter from a mother. I will give her name and read parts of her letter, and I will tell you how an amendment like this one could have improved the situation of the men and women in each of our ridings. Magalie Lebrun of L'Épiphanie writes:

I am 26 years old and I just had a baby girl on August 26, 2004. My partner and I are both middle income earners. I trained in early childhood education at a CEGEP and am working toward a certificate in early childhood educational reinforcement through the Université du Québec à Montréal. Since the baby was born, I have been on maternity benefits...I took precautionary withdrawal from work.

...How come my earnings have been halved? ...

I am sure we are not the only ones in the same boat. We are too well off to get any help, but too poor to manage. It certainly is frustrating when you compare our situation with the way things are done in certain parts of Europe, where families are really encouraged and helped. It is society's choice, and I am glad of that, but how can anyone have children when we know that we will be up to our ears in financial problems afterward? Writing this will not have any effect on my own situation, I am sure, but at least it has given me a chance to tell you how unfair I feel this all is.

That is a letter from a woman in my riding. How many women and how many modest families could write us letters like that? How many families, living in modest or barely decent conditions, are saying to themselves, “Writing to my member of Parliament will not have any impact”?

Our role here in the House of Commons is to follow up on this letter and help these families living in difficult conditions, because what we want in our society is to have a family policy and to help young families. But we have to stop talking and get into action.

Consequently, the second amendment proposed by the Conservative Party of Canada and supported by the Bloc Québécois, to reduce the tax burden on low and modest income families is necessary in order to respond to situations like this one seen daily in all our ridings.

In order to reduce the tax burden on these families, we must have budget forecasts that hold up. When the government tells us that the predicted surplus for 2003-04 will be $1.2 billion, and at the end we find there was a surplus of $9 billion, is that not a difference that could have been used to help families like this?

That is why the third amendment calls for an independent committee to provide more precise estimates of surpluses, and we will decide together how to allocate them in accordance with the second amendment and other factors.

I would like to point out one victory, perhaps not the most important, but a very important one, in these amendments to the throne speech. It is the fact that the House of Commons will be able to vote for or against Canada's participation in the missile defence shield and participation and coordination with the American government.

It is well known that the Bloc Québécois is opposed to taking part in the missile defence system. We are asking, and have been asking for a long time, for the opportunity to hold a vote here in the House. The government has always refused.

Now, we have succeeded in amending the Speech from the Throne to ensure that there will be a vote in the House on whether or not Canada participates in the missile defence shield.

For all these reasons, I believe these amendments to the throne speech make winners of the opposition parties and the people of Quebec.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Repentigny, on his excellent analysis of the throne speech and on the amendments we put forward, making the throne speech presentable.

This is the fourth time the member for Repentigny has been elected, with a bigger majority each time. He has been re-elected because he knows what he is doing and works very hard for his constituents.

He talked about employment insurance. We will try to bring about changes that will improve the EI scheme forever. It will be fairer for workers and for those who contribute to it.

I have a question for the member. As we know the EI surplus is somewhere between $40 billion and $45 billion. It is about that. The Liberal government took the surplus to pay down the debt. They say the amount put towards the debt is approximately the same as the EI surplus plus $3 billion that was supposed to go to seniors.

Something puzzles me and I would like to hear what the member has to say about it. Workers earning $39,000 and less are contributing to the EI fund. When you take that money to pay down the national debt it means that those who earn the least are paying down a good part of the debt. Accordingly, if I earn $25,000, I contribute fully to the EI fund, and the EI surplus goes to repay the debt of the country.

I would like to have his take on that. In my mind, it is not that worker who put the country into debt. I would like to have his opinion on that.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain is absolutely right. It is quite the paradox. A $9 billion surplus was accumulated and set aside. A $45 billion surplus was taken from the employment insurance fund to pay down the debt. As the hon. member was saying, this surplus came from premiums paid by those who earn up to $39,000. In other words, those who earn more than $39,000 pay EI premiums up to $39,000 and that is all.

People who have the means should have to pay more to the employment insurance plan if it is to be a fair plan. People who earn $18,000, $25,000 or $30,000 certainly should not have to pay down the country's debt. This debt should have been paid down through budget cuts, not by increasing departmental spending by 30% or 40% over the past 10 years.

As the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain was saying, it is the small contributors who had to pay down the debt by contributing to the EI fund. There is worse to come. My colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain has been working on this very important case for many years and he knows that in addition to having stolen $45 billion from the public, the government has stolen millions, even billions, from the Guaranteed Income Supplement by denying senior citizens money to which they were entitled.

To make his budgets look good, for the Prime Minister—the former finance minister—to be able to go around saying that the books are balanced, this government penalized senior citizens by denying them the Guaranteed Income Supplement. It paid down the debt with surplus EI premiums. Today, it comes here rather boastful and expects gratitude, but it is the most disadvantaged in our society who have paid and left us in a better financial situation.

We think this is unbelievable and unacceptable. We will keep saying so to make sure that in the future this money will go to those who are entitled to it and who have contributed fair and square. We are talking about the disadvantaged, poor families, people like Magalie Lebrun who decided to have children and start a family, and people who came before us and are now retired.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Boulianne Bloc Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too wish to congratulate the hon. member for Repentigny on his scholarly presentation, which was very instructive. I am particularly interested in the amendments and amendments to amendments.

Basically, he told us that, now, the Speech from the Throne contains not only the government's intentions but also those of the opposition, including the Bloc's amendment to an amendment.

Does the government, accordingly, now feel compelled to act on this amendment and will it be bound by it?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, a famous author once wrote the answer to that, “—that is the question”.

In theory, the government is bound by the Speech from the Throne, which defines what the government 's legislative obligations will be. It is the program for this session of Parliament. But on many occasions, the government has been known to promise one thing and then do the opposite, or else nothing at all.

That is howthe Liberals got elected three time on the promise of correcting the EI program. The very worst of the broken promises was the one they made in their 1993 red book saying that, if elected, a Liberal government would restore public confidence in the political community. To restore this confidence, they implemented the sponsorship program that resulted in a $100 million scandal. That is probably their biggest broken promise.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Cleary Bloc Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, since this is my maiden speech in this House, I would like to thank the constituents of the new riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, located in the greater Quebec City area, for sending me here. I want them to know that I am honoured.

In this important speech, I will highlight the main elements of my own agenda as the aboriginal affairs and northern development critic for the Bloc Québécois and as an aboriginal person from Quebec, an Innu-Montagnais from Mashteuiatsh.

Let me start by saying how disappointed I am by this insignificant throne speech, which has only five paragraphs about the first nations. Those paragraphs reiterate the usual generalizations and empty and often inconsequential lip service that usually appears, with a few changes, in most throne speeches. It in an empty shell.

The government's bland commitment identifies the usual horrors, such as the rate of teen suicide, which I was distressed to note recently when I visited the Manouane reserve and learned about a suicide pact some young Attikameks had made. The fetal alcohol syndrome, the yawning chasm between Aboriginal people from other Canadians in the basic living conditions, including the incidence of chronic diseases and housing and clean water. In the Speech from the Throne, the government does not however offer any specific solutions, afraid that such responsible promises could force them to bring about results.

I mention all of this because the elected Prime Minister promised us some great projects before the last election. The throne speech shows once again that the promises made by politicians, even by the Prime Minister, are not acted upon if they fail to meet with the approval of certain influential public servants.

The present government wonders what it could do that would have more impact, that could make a real change in the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome and suicide among young people. My answer is that it stop talking about its goals and get down to focussing every effort to make significant changes in these two areas. The future of our native young people depends on it. Let the Prime Minister go and see just how crucial these problems are on the reserves. He will understand that the time for talking about goals is past; now the problems must be solved.

I have reread some of the key points in the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in order to be able to make some useful suggestions to the present government that it would find acceptable.

These proposals from one royal commission after another are just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. To gain some time after the events in Oka in 1990, the federal government paid for a complete investigation costing some $52 million, the royal commission reports. Since then, the Liberal government has made a few trifling reforms of no great consequence, designed particularly not to stir up any irresponsible criticisms from voters.

It is a real scandal that all these reports are out there, gathering dust on shelves, useless but very expensive reports referred to only by academics. Unfortunately the federal government, which footed the bill for them all, does not make use of the wealth of knowledge they contain, on the pretext that the cost might be too high. The politicians behind the decision to create that royal commission ought to realize that Canada'a Aboriginal peoples are Canada's third world, and that some major changes are needed to remedy the huge wrongs that have been caused.

I hope that they have evaluated what the outcome of such an operation would be, and the costs of implementing the changes. If they have not, it reflects very badly on the Conservative decision makers in office at the time. I sincerely do not believe, that the first peoples of Canada deserve such treatment, after the hundreds of years of abuse, pointed out so expertly by the royal commission, and acknowledged by the Liberal government of the last Prime Minister.

A careful and objective examination of the history of Canada led the commissioners to the conclusion that this supposed new world is built on the non-respect of treaties between the first nations and the first newcomers.

These treaties of alliance and friendship on the sharing of the land were quickly replaced by government policies of the colonial powers, which were highly questionable. These were intended, and I quote the commission report on this:

—to remove Aboriginal people from their homelands;

—suppress Aboriginal nations and their governments;

—undermine Aboriginal cultures.

The Liberal Government of Canada did recognize this in its historic Statement of Reconciliation of 1997, but the mea culpa ended there. It was just a passing phase.

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development at that time, Jane Stewart, reacted with complete indifference to the conclusions of the royal commission reported the previous year. She said that Canada was not very proud of it. She thus reinforced part of the most stinging conclusions of the royal commission, which should have incited the government to act as quickly as possible.

The Liberal minister paid dearly for this momentary lapse, since a few months later she was relieved of her duties as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the trustee for Canada's aboriginal peoples.

The commissioners were intent on presenting the outlines for a complete action plan for the Government of Canada, the trustee for the Indians.

The social project the report proposed was intended to change lives. I shall quote another passage from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples:

—to ensure that Aboriginal children grow up knowing that they matter—that they are precious human beings deserving love and respect, and that they hold the keys to a future bright with possibilities in a society of equals.

The point of departure for the commissioners was the obvious recognition of the fact that the aboriginal peoples are not, as some seem to think, an unimportant minority group whose problems need solving. We must understand that the royal commission's mandate was not to modernize outdated attitudes about Amerindians.

In conclusion, I want to point out that the royal commission proposed a program of change that would stretch over 20 years and contain all these elements and more. During that period, the commissioners said, a great many aboriginal nations could be helped to achieve autonomy.

Canada and Quebec will draw from the strength of the aboriginal people, in a full partnership.

Where are we now, in reality, more than 8 years later, in 2004, early in this new millennium, with respect to reconciliation? Not very far along, I must honestly admit.

The new Liberal government has missed a fine opportunity to add headlines to Canada's contemporary history books.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased with the comments made by my two colleagues. They presented the problems that exist in my own riding, a riding which I am very proud to represent.

Let us take the example of aboriginals in the North, particularly James Bay, and in Nunavik. They want to develop their economy but, like any other nation, they need help. These people are forced to leave their homes to continue their education, so that they can then manage their own affairs and be proud of themselves. Moreover, they are denied access to the employment insurance program.

I have a question for the hon. member regarding this issue: If these people could continue their education without having to leave their families, would this help reduce the levels of alcoholism and suicide?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Cleary Bloc Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that unemployment in aboriginal communities creates all sorts of social problems. It is also obvious that if there were jobs and if aboriginal people could work in their communities, their social conditions would greatly improve.

One thing that may help improve the situation is negotiations. The reason aboriginal people sit down at the table to try to regain part of their ancestral lands is to take advantage of the natural resources to develop and work in their community, which they are much more familiar with.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a few questions of the hon. member, being that I represent the great people of the Cree, who live on the other side of James Bay. It is an unfortunate situation that the Cree are not representing themselves here in the House and have to rely on us to speak on their behalf.

We see the terrible poverty that the Cree are living in on the James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts. We see the lack of opportunities given them and the continual failure of the federal government to respond to them.

I would like to ask the hon. member what he thinks of what is happening in Ontario, where the provincial legislature is moving forward with a resource revenue-sharing agreement for all northern first nations people, so that for their traditional lands, any hydro, mineral or lumber development on those lands must include resource revenue-sharing with the first nation people on whose lands that development is taking place.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Cleary Bloc Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, if this agreement is implemented, the Cree will reap huge economic spinoffs. These days, we hear a lot about the peace of the braves agreement. In Quebec, this agreement promotes the development of the Cree. They have fully benefited from the spinoffs of this accord, and they should continue to do so for a long time to come.

The fact is that Quebec—and this is perhaps the best thing that has resulted from the negotiations in recent years—has recognized that the Cree should be involved in the development of their ancestral lands. Personally, I feel this is the only way to succeed in making aboriginal people productive and proud to earn a living. Instead of relying on government assistance, as they have in the past, Cree people should be able to work in businesses that they have created. They should be able to develop and make a contribution to Canada, instead of having to rely on government assistance.

The most interesting point in the report of the royal commission is the statement to the effect that we must cure aboriginals from the ailments that have been plaguing them and give them the pride that they need to develop their potential.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, Fisheries.