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House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I remember when I was young, and full of fire and vigour. I would like to welcome this young new member to the House and congratulate him for speaking in the manner that he did. He means what he says or he would not talk that way. I applaud him for that.

However, he did say some things that are a little puzzling to me. I have been in this great country for many years. I love it and want to stay here forever. I spent 25 years as a teacher in a secondary school and 15 years or so as a principal. I watched many students graduate from secondary school and go on to post-secondary education.

Some very strange things happened over that period of time. Many of my ex-students keep in touch with me through meetings or during reunions or whatever. I am shocked at the number of young people who have received their education in this country but now reside and work in the United States of America. I cannot believe the number who have left this country and gone south.

I had a major heart attack in 1991. Two fine doctors at a Calgary hospital treated me and pulled me through that major problem. In 2000 I had a bit of a flare-up when I was south of the border in Kalispell, Montana. Lo and behold those same two doctors who had treated me had moved from Calgary to Kalispell to take up residence and work there. We are losing many talented young people.

The government lacks vision. For 11 years in a row I have been listening to a continual type of throne speech that could have been played back from 1993. It was the same thing. This lack of vision is sending our young people out of this country. I would like the young member to respond to that.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for both his question and his kind words. I have two comments to make.

Canada is now the best country among the G-7. However, this does not mean that we cannot get better because we can. We do live in a different world. Many Americans work in Canada while some Canadians work in the United States. The reality is that 42% of our economy is driven by exports.

Our relations with the rest of the world are critical. We do need Canadians to work abroad for different companies. We need to ensure that we have strong trading relationships because that builds a strong economy. It works both ways.

Not so long ago I myself came out of university. All of my colleagues have been able to find employment in Canada and are doing exceptionally well as a result of their hard work and as a result of this country providing them with the opportunity to do well.

There are problems in health care. Our party recognized those problems in a way that I think was historic. We recognized that the problems were such that we needed to put aside our jurisdictional differences and not talk about under whose jurisdiction health care was but about our common problem. At the first ministers' meeting we sat down as levels of government from different parties and came to an agreement as to what was best for Canadians. That set us on the right course to continue our positive path.

In terms of continuity and that is how I will refer to throne speeches. There is a need in throne speech after throne speech to continue the government's priorities, to continue to state its vision, to continue to embrace it, to continue to envision a nation that has a strong health care system, to continue to envision a nation that is unified, and to continue to say that cities and communities are important. I hope that we say this in every throne speech hence, not just once, but in every one. It is my hope to be here for many to come.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad that you recognized that my riding is no longer Elk Island but now Edmonton--Sherwood Park.

I would like to congratulate the member for having been elected although I will admit that secretly I was cheering for our guy. However, he arrived here and he is clearly articulate. It was wonderful to hear his speech.

I would like to challenge the member in the area of low balling the budget on estimated revenue. It is as if I were to enter a high jump contest and bragged that I would jump six inches and then exceeded that by jumping eight. That is wonderful. How much money could we have applied to debt reduction had we not had continual waste in things such as ad scam, the billion dollar gun registry, and the boondoggle? The gun registry was terribly mismanaged and more money could have been put down on the debt.

I hope the member helps the government straighten out some of those problems.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, while others talk about the need for debt reduction, we have done it. We have not only eliminated our deficit, but we have brought down our debt year after year. Each of those seven years that we paid down debt we have led the G-7 in average standard of living. There is a direction correlation.

While we have listened to the Conservative government that came before us talk and talk about getting rid of the deficit, let alone the debt, every year it went the other way. If we are to be known for something, I would much rather be known for exceeding my commitments and my promises than underdelivering them. I would much rather be known for delivering on my words than merely speaking them. I am tremendously proud of the government's record in this regard.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell Liberal North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise in the House today to speak for the first time as a member of Parliament.

I do so with some sense of Bell family history in that two of my relatives also served in this House. Thomas Bell, born in 1863 in Saint John, New Brunswick, served and was re-elected twice as a Conservative member of Parliament for Saint John--Albert from 1926 to 1935. His son, Thomas Miller Bell, born in 1923 also in Saint John, served as Progressive Conservative member for Saint John--Albert from 1953 to 1974, being re-elected seven times. He was also leader of the official opposition from 1973 to 1974. I would like to take this moment to recognize their many years of dedication and service in this House.

Before I comment on the plan that has been laid out by our government for Parliament and for Canada, Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment to the honoured position that you hold and for which I am growing in admiration daily.

First and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my constituents, the people of North Vancouver, for giving me the honour of representing and serving them in the Government of Canada. I thank them for giving me the opportunity to speak out on issues of importance to them, to work to bring higher prominence to western issues in the House of Commons, and to contribute to effective governance for all of Canada.

My riding of North Vancouver is known for its natural beauty and the active lifestyle afforded by its mountains, rivers and oceans. We are also known for outstanding tourism opportunities such as Grouse Mountain and the world famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. We have a vibrant, world class film industry anchored by Lions Gate Studios. We have two vital national economic engines in the form of our north shore port of Vancouver facilities and railway facilities. We also have the cultural heritage of the Coast Salish first nation people represented by the Squamish or Skhopnish first nation, and the Tsleil-Waututh Burrard first nation.

The 2010 winter Olympic games are only five and half years away, and while Canada and British Columbia will be hosting the world, North Vancouver will provide both the backdrop and the bridge between Vancouver and Whistler. I intend to help our community take advantage of the focus and attention of the Olympics to work to ensure that the lifestyle environment and the economy of the North Vancouver riding are preserved, protected and re-energized as part of our involvement in these Olympic games.

From the North Vancouver perspective, the Speech from the Throne provides an impressive blueprint for addressing many of the needs of my constituents. I believe the health of Canadians is and should be our primary responsibility, and I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, and the premiers of Canada for their recent agreement to commit to a funding agreement that is needed to address some of the key issues facing our health care system. Reduction of wait lists, enhanced home care, and improved catastrophic drug coverage will all have beneficial effects on the health of Canadians, particularly with our aging population.

The growth in the number of seniors in our communities is one of the primary challenges facing our society. Our government's proposal for a renewed new horizons for seniors program will encourage seniors to maintain healthy, active lifestyles and to continue their involvement in our communities.

The population of North Vancouver includes senior citizens from a wide range of socio-economic levels, and commitments in the throne speech toward an increase to the guaranteed income supplement will have incremental but profound impacts on the quality of life of our seniors.

My constituency is also home to a large contingent of young families, and the need for increased quality, available child care has long been an issue. With the vast majority of parents in both single and dual parent households now working in full time jobs, the Canadian lifestyle has dictated that it is time for our governments to take a more active role in child care support. I am proud that our government, through this throne speech, has made a commitment to begin to fund the hard work involved, ensuring that these families have affordable access to quality child care.

I made mention earlier of the film industry that is located in North Vancouver which employs over 5,000 residents in my riding. This industry contributes over $1 billion a year in British Columbia and over $100 million a year to the north shore alone. We must all take reasonable steps to ensure this vibrant industry continues to grow and prosper in the face of increased protectionism from the United States and from competition from Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

I also mentioned the importance of the Port of Vancouver which is the second busiest port in North America and the busiest in Canada in shipping Canadian exports around the world, and as the major western gateway to Canada for imports. We must ensure federal policies support the growth and health of our port systems in Canada. Maintaining a healthy road and rail network to serve our ports is essential if we are to compete effectively with American ports.

Tourism is also of vital importance to British Columbia and to my riding. I believe we must take all possible steps to ensure we will benefit to the maximum from the 2010 Olympics. The location of a national tourism centre in British Columbia would be one important part of this direction.

We must recognize the valuable contribution that the aboriginal people make in our community, both to the cultural and to the mosaic of our community. The programs outlined are giving a greater focus toward the needs of aboriginals, and the rights and recognition of the role that aboriginal people play in Canada are extremely important.

I am very excited about the direction taken for the new deal for cities. Many members know that I have served for over 30 years locally in my community, 14 of those years as mayor, some 9 years as a councillor, and 7 years on school boards in North Vancouver. I have also served as the vice-chair of the GVRD and on the board of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The direction that is now being taken in this throne speech toward reinforcing the role of cities is critically important and has been long awaited. The role of the gas tax is something that has been sought by mayors across Canada, and I am working with the provinces and with the mayors and municipalities. It will be important for our government to very quickly implement the program that we have talked about. The need for sustainable financing for municipalities goes without saying.

I have many new Canadians in my municipality, a large number from Iran. One of the issues that they have told me that is of concern is the recognition of foreign credentials and the streamlining of immigration and the access to members of their family to be able to visit Canada. I will be supporting those as we move ahead.

I would also like to briefly touch on the need for the steps that we can take to assist in the establishment and encouragement of new programs for affordable housing for both young and elderly people across Canada and in my riding as well.

Based on the years of experience that I have had in local government, I am very excited about being here in the House. The last week has been one of growth for me and I have a greater appreciation for the role that those who have gone before me have played. I look forward to working with my associates on both sides of the House toward good government for all of Canada.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Souris--Moose Mountain.

I rise as a new member of this honourable House and in so doing, allow me to say that it is a great honour for me to be here, to stand here on the floor of the House of Commons as the advocate, the spokesman, and the voice of the fine citizens of Calgary Centre-North.

This throne speech purports to offer Canadians lives of dignity characterized by cultural expression, vibrant communities and dynamic economic opportunities. Heady stuff, but not so for aboriginal Canadians because the throne speech for them speaks of another darker, more sombre Canada. For these Canadians the future is one of poverty, despair, lives overshadowed by fetal alcohol syndrome, teen suicide, chronic disease, and government failure to provide education or basic infrastructure.

Those are the government's words from the Speech from the Throne. Independent observers, such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and, more recently, Amnesty International, are even less generous in what they have to say.

In what must surely be one of the saddest chapters in modern throne speeches, the government offers only a confession. There is no plan. There are no specifics. There is no compassion. There is no vision.

As it is written in stone, at the entrance to this hallowed building, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, and so it shall be with our young aboriginal people in their communities unless and until the government, or more likely a future Conservative government, has the courage to address these problems.

The government is so bereft of ideas that it dares to present a throne speech which acknowledges intolerable consequences and yawning gaps. In response, it vaguely offers to meet to talk about it, and only then to set measurable goals, as though we were discussing statistical information rather than the lives of our children, for aboriginal children are our children. They are Canadian children.

There is a growing consensus on what must be done.

First, there is a need for accountability in the money that is spent. The Government of Canada will expend almost $10 billion on aboriginal programs and services in this fiscal year, yet it does so without any legislative framework for the expenditure on social services, education or health. Stated simply, there are no laws in place governing these expenditures, no laws defining what services or what standards of service aboriginal Canadians are supposed to receive. Perhaps most important, there is no way for Canadians, aboriginal or non-aboriginal, to find out how much of that money is making its way through to aboriginal Canadians themselves.

Second, the Indian Act must be replaced. It must be replaced by a modern statute providing for aboriginal self-government. Everyone agrees that the country requires an orderly devolution of full legal and democratic responsibility to aboriginal Canadians. This must happen within the context of our federal state and with full consultation with aboriginal Canadians.

It must be obvious, even to this directionless Liberal government, that it is in the process of destroying the lives of Canada's Aboriginals who have been stuck in an outdated system of governance for more than a hundred years.

Aboriginal Canadians, like other Canadians, are entitled to a governance framework which ensures stability, certainty, safety, respect for the rule of law and which allows first nations themselves to address issues such as the availability of on-reserve private property ownership.

Thirdly, Canada's Aboriginals are entitled to a system in which public funds are managed transparently and accurately. How much of the $10 billion really goes to the people who need it most?

Fourth, the government lacks the vision to propound a legislative framework for the settlement of comprehensive claims for the development of self-government agreements and the overarching resolution of specific claims, all in a way which would respect the rights of aboriginal Canadians while simultaneously ensuring constitutional harmony so that this nation is governable.

Pathetically, after 12 years of Liberal government, the speech contains only a telling admission of failure, that for many their water is unsanitary, their communities are not safe and their children, who for all of us are the repository of our hopes and dreams, live in despair.

In a democracy governed by the rule of law, there is no place to hide, and so it is for the aging and decaying regime that has penned the throne speech. The Liberal government has had the past 11 years to pursue meaningful institutional and legal reform with a view to improving the lives of aboriginal Canadians. I say unequivocally that it has failed and someday it shall bear the harsh judgment of history.

It is not just the 2004 throne speech. The 1993 Liberal red book chronicles the aboriginal frustrations of 11 years ago: unemployment, health problems, poor housing, unequal educational opportunity, unsafe drinking water. In the time since the Liberals have retreated on every difficult issue.

I have reviewed the throne speeches of these ensuing 11 years. Placed in the saddened context of teenage aboriginal suicide, they are a stunning indictment of vapid promises. In 1994 there was a promise to forge a new partnership with aboriginal people. In 1996 there was a promise to incorporate aboriginal aspirations. In 1997 there were promises to develop partnerships to build strong communities. In 1999 there was a promise to build stronger partnerships. In 2001 there was a promise to share the Canadian way with aboriginal Canadians and a commitment not to be deterred by the length of the journey of the obstacles. In 2002 there was a promise to close the life gap. In February 2004 there was a promise to start to turn the corner on the shameful circumstances on reserves. Finally in October 2004, again after 10 years, there was a new promise of partnership. In the intervening 10 years there has been no significant institutional change, no significant legislative change, no self-government legislation, no accountability legislation and no governance legislation.

What we do have is the consequences of 10 years of failure: more bad water; continued educational gaps; infrastructure shortage; and sadly, more fetal alcohol syndrome and teenage suicides.

The 2004 throne speech is correct because there is sham in all of this. I have travelled the length and the breadth of the country. I have seen the face of aboriginal poverty. I have seen the face of aboriginal despair, the despondency of fetal alcohol syndrome and of teenage suicide. I am unashamed to say, as a citizen of Canada, that I have wept in the face of the poverty I have seen on first nations.

I say today that we can do better. Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, deserve better.

We can and must do better for all Canadians, Aboriginal or not.

They deserve more than this throne speech has offered. They deserve vision, they deserve purpose, they deserve hope and they deserve a government which has the courage to effect change. Without that, that which makes this country what it is, we shall surely perish.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, we have just heard a remarkable speech in the House today. These are things that we have been hearing about for a long time. The member for Calgary Centre-North just went through a litany of broken Liberal promises, which really had to move everyone in the House.

I am not familiar with all the issues of which the member spoke, but it seems to me that these are things that we have heard time and time again. We have heard solutions proposed for the past 10 years in the House. What is the reason for the delay? Why can they not carry on with these issues?

I know the hon. member is an acknowledged expert in the country on aboriginal issues, particularly aboriginal self-government. What is the delay? Why can we not get on with these things?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to respond to the experienced member from Calgary Centre.

The throne speech contains a remarkable statement that is offered to us in the context of Canada's role in the world and what we have to offer as a nation. It states:

In so many of the world's trouble spots, establishing order is only the first step. Poverty, despair and violence are usually rooted in failed institutions of basic governance and rule of law.

If in the throne speech the government can see with clarity that is the situation in the world, why does it lack the judgment, the decency and the compassion to realize that we are dealing with the same problems of institutional failure in Canada? That is the source of the despair and the despondency. If that applies elsewhere in the world, why can we not apply the same Canadian sense of imagination to the problems of our first people right here?

I referred in my comments to Amnesty International. I am not the only one who feels this way. This was not in the throne speech. This is what Amnesty International had to say in a report that was issued this week:

The Committee is greatly concerned at the gross disparity between Aboriginal people and the majority of Canadians with respect to the enjoyment of Covenant rights. There has been little or no progress in the alleviation of social and economic deprivation among Aboriginal people. In particular, the Committee is deeply concerned at the shortage of adequate housing, the endemic mass unemployment and the high rate of suicide, especially among youth, in the Aboriginal communities. Another concern is the failure to provide safe and adequate drinking water to Aboriginal communities on reserves.

These problems are well chronicled. They are problems that commenced with institutional failure of a governance system that was initiated more than 100 years ago in the form of the Indian Act and that has undergone some change, but paltry change, in the time since. Aboriginal Canadians do not have control of their own affairs. The Indian Act, if there is to be progress in this country, must be replaced by a modern legislative framework which provides for the full devolution of authority so that aboriginal Canadians in concert with government can work to solve these problems.

The government, this aging regime, in throne speech after throne speech has spoken of these issues, has offered vapid, vacant promises and yet, at the end of a period of 11 years of governance, aboriginal Canadians are no better off in this country than they were, by its own admission, 12 years ago. It is a failure of governance and it will be cured only when there is a government in place which has the courage to act, to step forward, to take the initiative, to work together in partnership with aboriginal Canadians and develop governance structures which will present a bright future for aboriginal Canadians.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

2 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is also my first time speaking in the House. I would like to thank my constituents, the people from Souris--Moose Mountain, for their trust and confidence in me, and I thank the many volunteers for their hard work. I would like to thank my wife and family for being part of the process that brought me here. Parliament is quite an institution, and I am certainly proud to be here.

I knew some of the members. I knew the hon. member for Wascana. He and I went through law school in 1971-73. I was curious as to what he might be doing in the House. Not very much, I find after being here for a week, and that incrementally.

It is an honour to be here. I can say I am heartened that one of the issues of the throne speech will deal with equalization payments, because my province of Saskatchewan has been very much affected by the formula that was changed in the 1980s and 1990s. For every dollar of oil we produce in Saskatchewan, we lose $1.08 or more in equalization payments. It is time for that to change.

I am heartened to see that the government also will be dealing with work skills and apprenticeship programs and literacy programs, but more important than that is the creation of jobs. We need to have the jobs that will require the skills, which will take some tax reduction, not only for large business but for small business, and also for individuals, to ensure that we have the climate for the creation of the jobs we need in this country.

The government boasts about its labour management abilities; it talks about working in collaboration with labour. Yet this week we saw evidence of the fact that the government was not prepared to negotiate with the Public Service Alliance of Canada and it put everything on hold because it was politically expedient to do so. It was not until there was pressure put upon the government by third parties and by our party and myself as critic that it decided to go back to the table as it should have. The government says one thing, but it does another. If this government respects employees it should not be garnering large surpluses in the EI account and using them for purposes for which they are not intended. Those accounts and that surplus must go for employees.

I am also encouraged that the government has made shelter and housing a high priority and is addressing homelessness. Home and shelter are very important to every individual. The manner in which these goals are attained is very important. We must have adequate housing with the least investment. We must have affordable rental accommodations. We must encourage the market by the building of further rental accommodation and utility shelters.

We must address the plight of our aboriginal people in this area and, in particular, provide education and skills training. Yesterday I met with the White Bear aboriginal leaders. I am encouraged with what I have seen in the initiative they intend to take. They simply need to be freed up to do it, as my colleague just before me suggested in his speech.

The main issue I wish to address relates to the constituency of Souris--Moose Mountain, which is largely comprised of grain farmers and cattle farmers. I have been in the business for some 30 years in that constituency and I have not seen as great a challenge as these farmers are facing at this time. The circumstances are dire. They are actually at the crossroads of existence. They may or may not exist in the condition that we know them. The situation is so dire and the time is so short that if there is no action taken now it may change forever.

In spite of all of that, in spite of the fact that they are the backbone of our communities and if they are shut down our communities are shut down, we find that the Prime Minister has not had the courtesy to address that issue in the budget speech except incidentally by saying that agriculture is a significant industry.

It is one thing to make a promise. It is another thing to break a promise. It is one thing to talk about something, but this government has not even talked about agriculture when it is facing the greatest crisis it has ever faced in the history of our country.

As someone who comes from western Canada, I find it appalling that there was barely a reference to the farmers of Saskatchewan and no plan as to what will happen: no plan, no vision, not even an inkling of what the government is going to do.

Not only will people perish without a vision, as my learned colleague said, but our farmers will perish if there is no vision, and this government is devoid of vision. We need bold vision. We need bold steps that must be taken now. Our party will see to it that we will continue to press the government until it sees the picture and does something about it.

The Prime Minister has made a few flybys in Saskatchewan. In fact, he dropped into the Regina-Wascana area, but he could not possibly have attended at the various farms in Saskatchewan for he would have seen the frustration, and in fact the desperation, of some farmers. If he had seen that, there would be some programs directed specifically to meet that situation.

I am not talking about $800 million or $1.6 million. I am talking about an investment of billions. Our finance minister has said, previous to the various announcements of the billions of dollars, that there was no money to be found and there was no wiggle room, yet the government came up with billions of dollars. We are having a national catastrophe on the prairies and there is not even a mention of a plan that would take care of the situation.

It is easy to understand that western alienation continues to grow. From my Estevan constituency, from my Weyburn constituency, in my Ottawa office and personally, I have received calls time and time again in the last number of weeks in respect to the situation farmers find themselves in, and particularly with the CAIS program. Some of them have expected dollars and have been told they are receiving very little. Some have said they will be receiving nothing. These farmers have bills to pay. They have fuel bills and fertilizer bills and there is no money.

The programs for farmers require the help of accountants and lawyers. It is time we made the programs simple enough such that farmers can figure them out at their kitchen tables and understand what they will be receiving at the end of the day.

Saskatchewan farmers have suffered poor yields, frost and grasshoppers. They have suffered not only in that area but also in the political realm, with the BSE border closing and with low commodity prices, and the government has done nothing. People on the farm maintain two jobs and they do not maintain two jobs because they want to work more than 12 hours a day. They do it because they have to.

I recently received a letter from the Rural Municipality of Benson No. 35. It portrays what all of the RMs in my constituency are concerned with. At a meeting they held, they discussed the crisis facing agriculture “due to the failure of the federal and [provincial] government[s] to properly address the BSE outbreak and the low income of grain farmers”. They said the agricultural crisis facing producers today “requires immediate action on behalf of [both] government[s] if agriculture is to remain a viable way of life in the province and this country”.

In the middle of all of that, there was nothing in the throne speech.

The crisis facing agriculture producers is not limited to livestock producers but extends to grain farmers as well. With the elimination of grain transportation subsidies by the federal government, there was a direct impact on grain farmers due to the dramatic rise in costs for transporting their commodities to the market. Furthermore, they have continued to be hit with low commodity prices as well as frost.

I have here the grain ticket of a farmer, in the amount of $719. After deducting cleaning charges, elevation and handling charges, Canadian Wheat Board freight charge, trucking premium and weighing and inspection, the net cheque is $270. The rest is taken up by one cost or another, and the government is not concerned that the farmers are not earning enough to pay their costs of operation.

The administrator of the RM says in closing that council urges both the federal government and the provincial government to “step up to the plate and assist agriculture producers before it's too late”.

I think they have capsulized what is important. The window of time is short. It is time for the government to act now. It has failed in the throne speech to indicate what it is going to do. It is important that it do so.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, permit me, first, to express my warmest thanks to the people of Verchères—Les Patriotes. This is now the fourth time my fellow citizens have sent me here to represent them in this House. It is a great honour and a great privilege to be able to do this work on their behalf. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

I would also like to salute and congratulate all my colleagues in this House who were elected or re-elected. I would like to take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to congratulate you on your appointment as well.

I will, of course, be discussing the throne speech, which is before us today. First, I would like to note that I shall be sharing my time with my colleague and seatmate, the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

I would like to begin by saying that we are, of course, in favour of the amendment put forward by the Conservative Party of Canada. We support this amendment for a number of reasons.

The Speech from the Throne does not mention the one apparently revolutionary concept that was added to the landscape of federal-provincial relations at the first ministers conference on health, that of asymmetrical federalism. I think this is significant. As we know, there has been a certain amount of infighting among the Liberals and curiously the concept of asymmetrical federalism has been completely left out of the throne speech.

I think this just shows that this concept has not been unanimously received among Liberals or outside Quebec. So they return to a centralizing type of federalism—perhaps we could, in the words of Robert Bourassa, call it dominating—since the throne speech is full of references to interference in provincial jurisdictions.

If it were true asymmetrical federalism, they would not be talking about federalism where the federal government allows itself to interfere, to a greater or lesser degree, in provincial jurisdictions; they would speak of federalism that allows the provinces to interfere in the federal government's jurisdictions. We are far from that.

It would be more appropriately described as a concept of asymmetrical interference. In some cases, the federal government ventures deep into areas of provincial jurisdiction, while in others, where the provinces are a little more vigilant, it treads somewhat more lightly and discreetly.

Interference is showing through in this throne speech. The government is interfering in education and job training with the proposed workplace skills strategy. This is on page 3 of the English version of the Speech from the Throne. The government is interfering in health with a plan that holds all governments to account. Despite the fact that the Government of Quebec apparently opted out of that part of the first ministers accord, the throne speech says that all governments are accountable. That is what asymmetrical federalism Liberal-style is all about. We find this on page 7 of the English version of the Speech from the Throne.

The federal government is interfering in municipal affairs with the new deal for cities and communities that it is planning to enter into with governments within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. That is on page 10 of the English version of the speech. Basically, there is interference at every step in this speech.

We are in favour of this amendment because it sets out the limits within which the measures proposed in the Speech from the Throne may be implemented, that is the limits imposed by the Canadian Constitution, which recognizes the exclusive jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, particularly in health and education.

We also support the amendment to the Speech from the Throne put forward by the Conservative Party for another reason: this amendment is designed to ensure that parliamentarians will be consulted on the fundamental issue of whether or not Canada should participate in the missile shield program.

Independent of the intrinsic value of such a project—some would say this is absolutely extraordinary, while others will say it is unrealistic to think that anything workable could ever come of it—it is a very dangerous project, given the possibility of ending up with no control over weapons in space.

To repeat, independent of the intrinsic value of the project, I think it would be a perfectly normal thing, before Canada gets committed to something that is likely to have repercussions for our children and grandchildren, for the duly elected representatives of the population to be allowed to have their say. I hope that, when the time comes to vote on the amendment, my colleague from Gatineau will repeat what she has already said elsewhere on the obligation parliamentarians ought to have in this connection.

We will, of course, be in agreement with the amendment by the Conservative Party of Canada as amended by the Bloc Quebecois, which now also refers to fiscal imbalance, or what some call tax pressures. The terminology has changed sides now, with the other side using the expression tax pressures. Now it needs to be integrated into the throne speech. Very well.

The federal government collects more tax money than it needs to meet its responsibilities, while the provinces' have far fewer financial resources with which to meet far broader responsibilities.

It is time to correct this fiscal imbalance.The Conference Board predicts that within the next 10 years, the federal government will accumulate a surplus of some $166 billion, because of the imbalance, while most of the provinces will run deficits and accordingly increase their debt. This has to be corrected. We hope that the conference on October 26 will lead to a long-term solution to this fundamental problem of fiscal imbalance.

The real success of the last first ministers' conference will be measured in terms of the success of the October 26 conference. If the federal government pays the provinces for health with one hand, but takes the money away with the other through equalization, we are no further ahead. The problem remains and nothing is resolved. We are therefore waiting for the results of the October 26 conference in order to truly judge the success of the latest conference.

I would also like to say that we consider the wording of the Speech from the Throne unacceptable in many other ways. First, like many Liberal of the throne speeches we have heard over the past few years, this one is full of wishful thinking and hollow words. For example, on page 13 of the French version it says:

It will engage stakeholders in developing comprehensive approaches to encourage increased production and use of clean, renewable energy--

This is just empty rhetoric on the part of a government that has eliminated a relatively small annual subsidy of $7.2 million for research on nuclear fusion in Canada. Canada was contributing less than 1% of the investments in research on nuclear fusion, but was reaping 100% of the technological benefits. Alas, in its great wisdom, the government decided to forget the investments of some $100 million made over the past decade in nuclear fusion. It decided to eliminate its almost symbolic subsidy of $7.2 million, which was bringing in more money in tax revenues than it cost the government. In so doing, it put an end to the operations of Tokamak, in Varennes, which was Canada's only nuclear fusion reactor. This means that when nuclear fusion finally becomes a reality, in some thirty years, Canada will be a net consumer of a technology that it will have helped develop.

I will conclude my remarks with one last point. The speech also includes the following statement on the same page:

In 2005, the Government will bring forward the next generation of its Great Lakes and St. Lawrence programs, underscoring its commitment to protect and preserve these internationally significant shared ecosystems.

The same government that abolished the shoreline protection program is now telling us that it intends to protect the fragile ecosystems of the St. Lawrence. Again, this is empty rhetoric.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise after my colleague; he demonstrated quite well how much the Speech from the Throne needed the Bloc Québécois amendment, which was unanimously passed by the House last night. I do hope that it will be modified also by the Conservative Party's amendment, which will be put to the vote on October 18. A number of elements in this amendment have been outlined. I would like to draw my colleague's attention to some of them and ask him what he thinks about them

Is it not true that the creation of an independent Parliamentary Budget Office, which will provide regular fiscal forecasts to the government, is the result of the election debate, which very clearly showed that for the past 10 years the Liberal government has been deliberately and systematically underestimating its revenues to such a degree that we are now sitting on surpluses out of proportion to our needs?

A lot of necessary spending was also thus cut, as in the area of employment insurance, for example. Does this amendment not set out a situation which should be reflected in the Speech from the Throne, and on the basis of which we would expect the government to agree to inclorporate this part of the Conservatives' amendment, as the other parties are doing, so that the throne speech much more accurately reflects the reality with which Parliament will have to work in the months and years to come?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I think it is very pertinent. When this government first came to office in 1993, it was careful to eliminate the few parliamentary financial controls that existed, perhaps in order to be sure it was able to do what it later did in the sponsorship scandal and to prevent parliamentarians from having any real power to ensure the proper management of public funds, in the best interests of the people.

Yes, I believe there are no parliamentary controls. The controls we have now do not permit us to get to the bottom of things. Simply having a minister and his flock of senior bureaucrats appear before a committee for an hour or an hour and a half is not the way to get to the bottom of things in an examination of parliamentary appropriations.

Yes, we must reintroduce much more formal mechanisms to provide constant oversight on government spending in order to avoid the kind of loss of control we have seen with this government.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

2:25 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I find something odd in what the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes has said.

He speaks about the fiscal disequilibrium. He probably knows but is not prepared to share with the House some of the facts. If we look at the provinces collectively, they actually collect more revenues than the federal government. If we look at the debt loads, the federal government has a larger debt load than the provinces. We only have to look back to September 16.

At this time, the Prime Minister and the provincial first ministers have reached agreement on a ten-year plan for consolidating health care, by virtue of which the provinces and territories will receive $41.3 billion over a period of 10 years.

When members of that party talk about fiscal disequilibrium, it seems to me that they are missing the point. They are not familiar with the numbers or they are just stirring the pot for political purposes.

I wonder if the member would comment on the fact that the revenue streams for the provinces exceed that of the federal government and the debt load of the federal government exceeds that of the provinces. How can he see that as fiscal disequilibrium?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, with great respect for my hon. colleague, I would say he is comparing apples and oranges. There is absolutely no direct link between the tax revenues of all the provinces, taken as a whole, and the revenues of the federal government. If there were only three provinces, provincial tax revenues would, of course, be much lower than those of the federal government.

He is trying to compare the taxes raised by one government with those raised by 13 governments. It is very clear that the tax revenues of 13 governments, taken together, are greater than those of one single government. Still, the financial obligations of these 13 governments are infinitely greater than that of the federal government.

When the hon. member speaks of the federal government's debt, which is larger than the debts of all provincial and territorial governments taken together, let me simply remind the House that this is the unfortunate legacy of previous Liberal governments.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

2:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 2:30 p.m., pursuant to the order made on Tuesday, October 5, this House stands adjourned until Tuesday, October 12, at 2 p.m.

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)