I heard someone say “employment insurance”, and on and on.
We all remember how, year after year, the former finance minister, today the Prime Minister, underestimated the surplus. Every year he told Canadians that there was not enough money to provide them with real tax relief and carry out high-priority social spending. And every year, he did a U-turn, and presto: another surplus on the record, at least until 2001, when the extravagant expenses of the former finance minister began to catch up with him.
The Liberals call this little game of fiscal hide and seek good politics. Canadians call it cynical manipulation of their money for political gain.
This year again the government is at its Old Mother Hubbard routine and claiming the cupboards are bare, but if my memory serves me correctly, during his recent leadership campaign, the Prime Minister made almost $35 billion in promises. Where will all that money come from? Maybe he will tell us. I suspect it was just another case of platitudes, promises the Prime Minister has no intention of keeping. However, if history is any judge, we can be sure of one thing: any excess surplus will be spent before the next election is called, and we wonder why voter participation has fallen to record lows under this government.
The Prime Minister likes to talk about the need to reduce the debt. And yet in his last three budgets as finance minister he announced huge end-of-year expenses that transformed the billions of dollars in debt reduction into expenditures.
The Liberals talk a good game on fiscal restraint, but the reality is that spending at the federal level is rising faster than at any time since Pierre Trudeau, the granddaddy of profligate spenders.
Look at the whole issue of debt and taxation. Despite all the talk, our national debt is $32 billion higher today than it was when this Prime Minister first became finance minister. Why is this? Is it because the Prime Minister loves to spend money, at least other people's money? In fact over the past seven years alone, the government has increased annual program spending by over 30%. It now stands at an unprecedented $146 billion according to the government's own audited financial statements. How is that for a legacy?
The Prime Minister also likes to talk about investing in a 21st century economy. That is a very pithy phrase, but what does it mean? All this talk, these platitudes about the new economy coming from the government, is just a smokescreen for what is really happening, and that is the continuing escalation of corporate welfare. Clearly the Prime Minister needs to be plain and come clean on this issue.
Canadians need to be reminded that at the same time the Prime Minister cut nearly $5 billion annually from health care, he increased spending on business subsidies by $700 million a year: less money for hip replacements, more money for corporate friends. Welcome to Liberal Canada.
Now the Prime Minister wants to use the Canada pension plan fund for his new industrial strategy. That is like taking the workers' hard-earned money, intended for the support of seniors, and giving it to his corporate friends.
All I can say is that, when the government decides to choose the winners, we can be sure of one thing: Canadian citizens are the losers.
The government in its speech made abundant reference to Canada's place in the world. Indeed, to underline this, it has invited the former secretary general of the UN to address us next month. Personally, I cannot help thinking that it would have been more worthwhile, more useful, to invite the Japanese prime minister, given the problems we have selling our beef there. How about the U.S. President? I am sure the softwood lumber people, not to mention the agricultural sector, would have been happy.
Then again, agriculture has never been much of a priority for the Prime Minister and the government. In fact over the last decade, the largest spending cuts to agriculture came when the member for LaSalle--Émard was finance minister and the current finance minister was the man in charge of agriculture.
Sadly, the tendency of the government to ignore the plight of farm families is also reflected in the voting record of the current Minister of Agriculture. In March 2001, for example, the member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant voted against a motion calling on the government to provide an additional $400 million in emergency funding for Canadian farm families. I am sure that sends a positive message to farm families struggling with the fallout from the BSE crisis.
Canada has been too long in a cocoon. We have lost our place on the world stage. We no longer enjoy the respect we once had.
Today our fellow citizens in other countries are being imprisoned, tortured and killed. And what are we doing about it? Our government shrugs its shoulders and says there is nothing it can do. What a lot of comfort that is for the victims' friends and family.
Since the present and former prime ministers assumed high office together, Canada has pretty well gone back to the dark ages in terms of its international relations and commitments abroad. Soft power, quiet diplomacy, are all code words for doing nothing, for a lack of vision, for concentrating on getting re-elected instead of taking our rightful place as a leader in the community of nations.
Our armed forces are in a deplorable state. We have helicopters that will not go up. We have submarines that cannot go down. We have a government that sends its troops to a desert in jungle fatigues. If there was a political equivalent to the Keystone Kops, they would be sitting across the aisle there.
The government has starved our armed forces. It has humiliated them, ignored them, and turned professional soldiers, sailors and air force personnel, our finest, into international boy scouts sent abroad into war zones without weapons or with instructions not to use the ones with which they have been provided. National Defence headquarters has too many spin doctors and not enough warriors. Political correctness rather than military necessity has become the order of the day.
The Sea King saga says all that needs to be said about the government's attitude toward the military. If a picture paints a thousand words, I will never forget the picture of the battered, shattered Sea King helicopter on its side on the deck of one of our warships. That was worth a book.
Ten years ago, the member for LaSalle—Émard spent $500 million of the taxpayers' money to cancel the contract for renewing the helicopter fleet, $500 million just to bolster his boss's ego.
And since then? Years of inaction, year of games between entrepreneurs and public servants, years of playing with the lives of Canadian pilots.
And for what? To save the Liberal government from the ignominy of having to admit publicly that it was wrong.
The bottom line is that our armed forces need funding. Getting rid of boondoggles like the gun registry, the long gun registry and shot gun registry, eliminating corporate welfare, and tightening up advertising rules to prevent millions of dollars going to friends of cabinet would be good places to find some of those funds.
The government has also said that it will be putting the issue of improving our relations with the United States on the front burner. All we on this side of the House can say is that it is about time.
The childish anti-American sentiment that characterizes the government may go over well in certain constituencies and in the press, but at what price?
Our relations with the Americans are at an all time low. Boorish outbursts by undisciplined ministers have closed important doors to this government in Washington. Look at the BSE issue: it is a prime example.
Last year one cow was found to have the disease. The Americans closed their borders. Thousands of people's lives and livelihoods were suddenly thrown into upheaval. Billions of dollars in revenue were lost. Entire communities came under the gun, and the government dithered. For weeks it talked about dialogue with the Americans. It announced inadequate compensation packages. It blackmailed the provinces into signing an agricultural policy framework in order to gain access to further compensation.
On and on the crisis dragged until one thing became crystal clear: the U.S. border would remain closed and we had no power to force it open. We had no leverage. The Americans were not listening because they were tired of our insults. They had no respect for our plight or our pleas.
Let us not forget the softwood lumber issue. There is a powerful American softwood lumber lobby in Washington, and they are far from pleased that Canada has a 30% market share. Not surprisingly, there are constant attempts to reduce that share. So we go from one crisis to the next.
What we need is a plan. Instead of whining about the Americans and their tactics, the federal government should get together with the provinces and develop a strategy to hammer out the most beneficial deal possible with the Americans. It is not rocket science.
Canada needs to get beyond the crisis management stage in our relationship with the U.S. Rather than insults and hyperbole, we should be working on formulating a new strategic partnership with the Americans on a wide variety of fronts that will serve the interests of both countries. That would be the bright and proper thing to do.
What, for example, do we know about the new plan for continental missile defence? What deal has the government made in relation to this initiative in order to create some movement in other areas?
Our relationship with the United States is a close one, both by geography and necessity. Their worries, particularly when they are all consuming, become our worries. This is the case with terrorism.
Much has been made of the measures that have been put into place in the U.S. since 9/11. Some say there have been excesses. There may well be excesses. However, the Americans are determined to improve their border security. The longest undefended border in the world has become far less so since 9/11. Nothing we do will change that. Let us see how we can deal with the concerns being expressed by our neighbours in a way that will satisfy their legitimate fears, while protecting our sovereignty and the interests of our citizens.
The government's decision to create a department of public safety and emergency preparedness is one positive step, but we need to do more than merely create an administrative shell.
Is there a real political desire to make this into an efficient department, or is this just window dressing? Are we going to really do something, or are we just trying to put one over on the Americans? How can we seriously enhance our own public safety and our own national security system, while at the same time protecting civil rights?
These are just some of the most important and urgent questions that need answers. It is pointless to cut corners and just do some administrative shuffling. No major changes will come out of this, I am sure.
There is a further issue that the government has so far failed to adequately address and that is the question of validation and recognition of foreign credentials. This is an issue that affects not only skilled immigrants wishing to come to Canada but also individuals with foreign credentials who already live here. We have all heard stories of individuals with Ph.D.s driving taxis and engineers working as bellhops.
In last year's throne speech the government promised to do something about this. It promised to break down the barriers of foreign credential recognition, to fast track applications by those skilled workers with jobs waiting for them here, and to position Canada as a destination of choice for talented foreign students. So far it has failed to live up to these grand promises. The lines are as long as ever, the frustration as great, and the loss to Canada as important. In sum, the government has ignored the issue of skilled immigrants for as long as the Prime Minister has been in Ottawa.
We should be developing a more coordinated approach involving provinces and professional organizations as active partners. Canada needs skilled workers and other countries are producing them. Let us solve this equation by getting off our collective duff and figuring out how to meet the demand for skilled labour within the boundaries imposed by our social goals.
I should mention as well that it is not only those wishing to come to our country who have difficulties. I participated in surgery here in Ottawa two or three weeks ago. Observing with me was a Canadian medical student. He is studying in the Dominican Republic. His folks are both physicians here in Ottawa. He will pass his board exams in a year. When he passes his board exams, having studied in the Dominican Republic, he will be admitted to the U.S. There he will find a residency. When he asks in Canada if he can, with the same board exams, get a residency position here, the answer will be no.
There are 200 other Canadian students studying with him in that school. What sense is there when we take a Canadian from the City of Ottawa and force that person to go overseas to study, where the qualifications are good enough to get into the U.S. but are not good enough to get into Canada? The government says health care is its number one priority.
The last issue I want to deal with today is one dear to the hearts of all of us and that is the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that our democracy and our democratic institutions have gone into steady decline, a spectacular decline I think, some of it since the Prime Minister came to cabinet about 10 years ago.
I remember the Airbus scandal, the Pearson airport affair, the Somalia inquiry, Shawinigate, the HRDC boondoggles and the advertising scandals. On and on the list goes. Ministerial responsibility has now become a thing of the past. No one is responsible for anything any more. Another scandal? No one is responsible.
Did a minister pass on gossip to the RCMP that resulted in an innocent man, a former Prime Minister, being tarred and feathered in the media? Not my responsibility. Did a minister close down a public inquiry into military affairs because an election was forthcoming and friends of the Prime Minister were being asked uncomfortable questions? Not my responsibility. Did a Prime Minister involve himself in financial dealings in his riding that all agree failed the smell test? “You call who you know”, came the reply. Remember that line? It surely has to be a classic in Canadian politics.
The government's response to scandal has been to put the hand-picked ethics counsellor on speed dial. No matter how questionable the ethical circumstances, the Prime Minister and his cabinet could count on the ethics counsellor to exonerate them.
The Prime Minister has already publicly acknowledged the unacceptable nature of such a subjective appointment. He and his colleagues campaigned on the promise of an independent ethical watchdog. But, you guessed it, these were just more empty platitudes. What we need, what Canada needs, is an ethics commissioner who is chosen by Parliament and answerable to it.
It seems so simple. It has been promised twice now. Yet we are as far away from having a truly independent ethics counsellor today as we were a decade ago. We are as far away because the new proposal being put into place, being brought forth by the government, will leave members of cabinet free of real scrutiny. Where has the source of the real scandal been? The cabinet. Our House is ill and we need to find a remedy.
For a decade the Prime Minister sat in the House and said nothing as committees were neutered, free votes squelched, private members' bills ignored and democratic debate muzzled a record 82 times. Not a word was heard from him until his leadership ambitions became an uncontrollable lust.
Suddenly then, it was the democratic deficit here, there and everywhere. That he and his cabinet colleagues were the prime authors of this deficit phased him not a whit. He needed an issue to help destroy a Prime Minister and he found one in the democratic deficit.
The member for LaSalle—Émard tells us that things are going to change, that parliamentary secretaries will have more responsibilities, that committees, with members from all parties, will have more work to do, that there will be annual first ministers meetings, that Parliament will address patronage appointments.
That is all very fine on paper, too much so in fact. I share the opinion of many Canadians that this is just one more fake promise.
Since coming to Ottawa I have watched the Liberal government bamboozle, bully and ignore parliamentarians to a point where many say we truly resemble that famous description offered by former Prime Minister Trudeau some 30 years ago. Why anyone should believe things would change now is simply beyond me.
I do not intend to go into the bog that is the Prime Minister's dealings with his business holdings and the effect these may have on his ability to do his job properly and impartially, nor do I intend to dwell upon the clear lapses in veracity surrounding the Prime Minister's access to his blind trust.
I will note however, because it captures the essence of what many of us feel about this subject, that the issue of government subsidies to the Prime Minister's former shipping company has once again come to public attention and in a particularly egregious fashion.
As the House is no doubt aware, it was revealed last week that the Prime Minister's former shipping company and its subsidiaries received not the paltry hundred or so thousand dollars the government said, but millions upon millions of dollars. All of them from the public treasury, all of them from the taxpayer, doled out between 1993 and 2002 when he was the finance minister.
I do not intend to go any further on this for the moment, but I reiterate that the discrepancy between the two figures, the amount of that discrepancy and the fact this figure only came out now, give me and many Canadians great pause for thought.
For a decade now the Prime Minister and his colleagues, in this and previous cabinets, have presided over some of the most dubious practices in modern Canadian politics. They said nothing as the ethics counsellor turned into a lapdog for the Liberal Party. They opposed attempts to make government more transparent. They refused to support an inquiry into the HRDC grants and contributions scandal.
They refused to hold Alfonso Gagliano, or anyone else, responsible for the sponsorship scandal. Instead, they rewarded Mr. Gagliano with an ambassadorial appointment, and a pay raise to boot.
It is hardly a record most people would be eager to take to the people.
Speaking of elections, a new red book is no doubt soon to be hitting the bookstands. It will be chockablock with yet more promises and platitudes, swaddled in the vague and ambiguous language for which the Prime Minister is so justly famous. But this time things are going to be different.
There are big differences between the Conservative Party's vision for Canada and the realities of Liberal rule. While the Liberals feast on filet mignon aboard their new Challenger jets, we will be in the trenches fighting for the equipment so desperately needed by our armed forces. Liberals will be pork-barrelling by the millions. We will be working to allow hardworking Canadian families to keep their money. The Liberals will be adopting policies that undermine Canadian families. We will be toiling to strengthen our shared traditions. When the Liberals sit on the fence as our friends are attacked, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies. We will work to build our communities, strengthen our nation and stake out our role in the international community.
Canadians are great people and with the right leadership, I truly believe Canada can once again become the greatest nation in the world.
Mr. Speaker, I move that the motion be amended by adding:
And this House regrets that the Speech from the Throne is an advance copy of the Liberal election platform filled with empty rhetoric and promises that does nothing to address the very real problems facing Canadians.