House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I would ask the member for Mississauga South to table any documents that say the new Conservative Party's position is to scrap the CPP.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think the answer is already known in advance that that is not a point of order. We are actually engaging in debate. I am sure the hon. member will have an opportunity to respond to the question or comments posed by his colleague opposite.

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3:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me withdraw that comment and say that the member was a member of another party before the merger and that was the policy of that party. I do not know how they are going to resolve their differences.

The flavour still was to stop the government being involved in people's lives and providing things like a healthy Canada pension plan system and say there is a mandatory RRSP system.

The question really does become, is it the responsibility of the government to help those most in need, or is it the way the member seems to suggest, is it up to the government to get out of all programs and services, leave the tax dollars in people's hands and let them fend for themselves?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, certainly the new Conservative Party and I think it can be safely said that all Canadians believe in the ethic of common provision, of helping people who cannot help themselves.

Frankly, I find it a little offensive sitting over here as a member of the opposition when Liberals sanctimoniously say that we would leave people out on the streets and that they would do otherwise, when there is a one year waiting list for affordable housing in British Columbia.

A constituent of mine, a guy named Gary, with whom my office has been working very closely over the past couple of days, is a gentleman who has had two brain aneurysms, is struggling with throat cancer, has progressive osteoporosis, and he is going to become homeless on April 1. Gary is a fantastic guy but life has pummelled him. He is a good guy, but life has really pummelled him. He has made some bad choices, but life has pummelled him. He is being left behind. We are having a very hard time finding housing. The frustrating part is that $2 billion goes to the gun registry and all kinds of wasteful spending when it could really help this gentleman.

Here is the difference. The hon. member mentioned the child tax benefit. Here is the difference between the new Conservative Party and the old Liberal Party. In the last campaign the Canadian Alliance and in the campaign prior to that the Progressive Conservative Party had the same position with regard to this.

We said in the last campaign that we believe in a $3,000 per child tax credit. That means that every family in this country would have $3,000 per child as a credit. If a person had zero tax liability, the person would get a $3,000 child tax credit. With this $3,000 parents could raise their children the way they want to.

The Liberal vision is they would rather tax away the $3,000, hire a bureaucrat so the parent can get a second job to pay the taxes to hire the bureaucrat to look after the kid while the parent is in the workforce.

We would rather empower families, so that families have the resources necessary to raise their kids, have the choices to live their lives and have the power to determine their own future. Money would not be hoovered away by the federal government to throw away on mindless programs that simply do not work, that put guys like this fellow Gary, whom my office is working with, into serious jeopardy and put our hospitals into jeopardy, put students into debt and do not meet the needs of our armed forces.

This is a question of priorities. The government is up to its chin in revenue, the largest government budget in Canadian history and the Liberals have all the wrong priorities.

We believe in empowering Canadians. Yes, we believe in the ethic of common provision; all Canadians do. We also believe that what has to come with it is some responsibility and power into the hands of Canadians, so Canadians are more free to choose to live their lives the way they want to, rather than the way the Liberals choose for them.

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3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is always hard to follow the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam because he does such a great job.

We have had a couple of good members of Parliament come out of that riding. There was one in between the two good ones, but we are glad to have this one here. Hopefully he will say hi to Sharon Hayes who was a colleague of ours a few years ago. I am sure she is back in the riding taking care of business.

The opportunity to rise today to speak to the budget is appreciated, but it is also troubling because the budget put forward by the Liberals asks us to trust them because they are going to clean up the mess that they have created.

I guess the question will be, when Canadians go to the polls, can we trust them or not, and can the last 10 years of abuse of our tax dollars be easily forgotten? I do not believe it can.

All we have to do is look at the track record of the Liberals. They have done a terrible job of giving Canadians value for their money. Canadians are sending more money to Ottawa but hospital waiting lists are getting longer. Students are going deeper in debt and our soldiers are being spread more thinly all the time.

The issue of student debt is one that I would like to talk about because one of the programs that was brought forward in the budget was the ability for students to incur more debt. As members of Parliament, we deal with students who are up to their eyeballs in debt, have bill collectors at their doors, and are desperate for help.

It would be better to do something at the other end and help keep the debt down before it is incurred, instead of creating a law or regulation that allows students to have more debt because they will just be in more trouble when they get out into the workforce.

However, it does not seem that there is any problem with money going to Liberal-friendly ad firms, sinkholes like the gun registry, corporate welfare, Challenger jets, grants to special interest groups, and the Governor General. These tax dollars would be far more productive if they were left in the pockets of hardworking Canadians such as homemakers, farmers, fishermen and lumberjacks.

Let us look at the issue that the lumber industry has been facing for many years now because of inaction on behalf of the government. The long drawn out process that has been going on at the World Trade Organization and NAFTA is unacceptable.

The government knew that the softwood lumber agreement was coming to an end and it should have done something before it actually failed. It has been going on two years now and some of these communities have not seen one dime of the money that was promised.

A promise made means nothing unless the goods are delivered. We have seen agricultural programs that have been put into place with one-third of what was promised. That goes into some of the issues with education. Some of the grants and programs that have been put into place have not come anywhere close to delivering the amounts to students.

The government talked about control and strengthening the controls on the purse strings. I think it is a little late, after 10 years of Liberal government, for it to say it is going to clean up its act. As of December 12, with the appointment of the new Prime Minister, it says everything is changed all of a sudden and it is going to clean up its act. I am afraid that Canadians are not going buy that and the government will have to pay the price, and it is about time.

It keeps talking about putting comptrollership back into how business is done by government. It was the government that cancelled that position in 1994. Now it is talking about bringing it back 10 years later after it squandered billions of taxpayers' dollars.

It talked about program review to root out waste and mismanagement. This is just about right out of our campaign literature. We have been saying for years that every program put forward needs to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it is still delivering the goods to Canadians that it was intended to do. If it is not, it should be stopped or realigned so that it can do that.

It talked about building a society or country for the 21st century; however, it is still using 19th century practices. Taxpayers' dollars are still being wasted. One has to work until June or July, as mentioned by the previous member, to pay the tax bill, and then one sees the money being wasted.

Above all, we see a Prime Minister who has his company flying a foreign flag to get around paying Canadian taxes. One thing that Canadians are proud of is the fact that they do pay their taxes and that they want them to go to something reasonable. All Canadians want to help out those who are less fortunate and to support the programs that do that. However, when they see their taxes being wasted, it does not go over very well.

One of the things we saw when the Prime Minister was on his leadership tour was his catering to the cities. He went to the cities and promised them things. Then immediately after he became Prime Minister, he reneged on them.

The government collected $7 billion last year in gas taxes. The GST rebate to municipalities is going to be $580 million. It will be $7 billion over 10 years. That was the figure used by the finance minister. That is how much the government collects in one year in gas taxes. It promised a portion of those gas taxes to the cities.

We have said that we will work with the provinces to set the system up whereby some relief would be given in the gas tax. That money would go not just to cities, but to municipalities for infrastructure. Every town, village, and municipal district in this country is hurting and needs those kinds of funds. The roads are falling apart and the people need help.

Being the critic for veterans affairs, I would like to get into some of the issues that are facing our veterans. This morning I had an opportunity to meet with a couple of groups of veterans on a couple of different issues.

One lady who came to see me was Mrs. Helen Rapp, the vice-chair of the military widows organization in Canada. She is a well informed lady who got directly to the point. She had a couple of issues that the government had failed to address. One of them was the issue of people who marry veterans over the age of 60. They do not qualify to receive the veterans' benefits upon their passing. I understand this is called the gold digger clause in the United States.

It was brought forward in legislation from 1902 and is still in place. These people have gone to the human rights commission and the Solicitor General. They have tried everything to get this reversed because it is wrong. These people marry, they get together because they love each other, and they want to support each other in their waning years. For the government to say that they do not qualify for their spouses' pension benefits if they marry veterans after the age of 60 is ridiculous. That needs to be addressed and it certainly was not addressed in the budget.

The other issue is that the survivors' benefit is now 50% and in most cases in other pension plans it is 60%. Veterans are asking that to happen and I did not see any recognition of that in the budget.

There was one item in the budget for the Juno Beach monument and that is important. We were briefed a week ago and department officials indicated how many monuments in how many countries around the world that Canada is responsible for. It is important that these monuments be maintained and properly funded. They have an appearance that Canadians and all people of the world can look at and be proud of the contribution that our fighting men and women have given to democracy and peace in the world.

I noted that some young people would go to the Vimy Ridge Memorial. They go over at a rate of pay that hardly gives them enough money to live on while they are there and that is something that needs to be addressed. Hopefully, the Minister of Veterans Affairs will pay attention to some of these issues and ensure that the monuments erected around the world in memory of our fighting men and women are properly maintained and properly funded.

There was a report that was tabled last week by the advisory committee on veterans affairs. In 2003 veterans affairs launched a service and program modernization task force. This needs to be done in the worst way.

There was another group of people who came to see me. The conditions of traditional veterans of World War I, World War II and Korean veterans are changing. They are getting older and their needs change as well, so they have to be looked at. However, we are bringing 5,000 new veterans back into society every year out of the armed forces. This is something that has to be done within veterans affairs. The whole way veterans are serviced needs to be changed and addressed.

These new problems that are arising, either with the traditional vets who are aging or the new ones coming in, must be addressed. Funding must be put in place so that it can be done.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member started off his speech talking about the issue of students and student debt. All members in the House would agree that it is an issue that must be addressed.

When I became a member of Parliament, one of the things I remember from the health committee was that the officials told us that in the health care system we were spending 75% on fixing problems and only 25% on preventing them. This model was unsustainable. I have the feeling that the way we have moved on health care and shifted to a wellness model rather than an illness model is the way we should go.

I would like to ask the member about the whole idea of introducing the RESPs and the learning bond and how these are focusing in on those children who will be the next generation. Prior to that, previous budgets had introduced loan forgiveness increases, repayment based on income, and a number of initiatives to assist students who had debt load.

The member knows that the average debt load of students is about $18,000, but only about 60% of students even qualify for loans and of those, about 85% pay them off, so we are talking about a relatively small number. Although the member referred to the fact they have debt up to their eyeballs and the bill collectors are at the door, that is not the case. If they do not get a job and they cannot afford to pay, there is no payment due until they actually get a job and they can make contributions to pay down the debt.

In view of the fact that the differential in starting salary of a post-secondary grad versus a high school grad is somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000, would he not agree that not only is it wrong for people to say they cannot afford to go to school, in fact, they cannot afford not to go to a post-secondary institution? Does he agree?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, certainly the benefits of a post-secondary education are there and the numbers are proven.

However, a lot of the people we see coming to our offices are under-employed. They have gone to university and they cannot find a job in their field. They have to take a job at a lesser rate of pay. Once they start working, the repayment schedule kicks in.

I want to bring up some of the other programs that the government has brought forth in years past. In the 1998 budget there was help for 12,000 graduates every year on a manageable debt load which was supposed to happen. Of that, in the first year, I think 44 graduates were eligible for that kind of help. That grew to 614. In 2001 it was 1,300. These programs, which are probably well intended, are not worked through and do not work. Here is a program that is supposed to help 12,000 grads, and by the year 2001 it is only up to 1,300 a year. So that program did not work very well.

We spend $100 million a year on annual grants for needy students. That was not spent. In the first year it was $73 million. In the second year it was $81 million. Money is left on the table. Why is that? I believe it is because information does not get out to students. For some reason the bureaucracy that exists around putting out these programs eats up a whole lot of those dollars.

It is fine to say that we will have a program in place to help people get into university, and certainly there should be, but it has to be delivered in a way that helps. If the money is left on the table here in Ottawa and it is not helping students, then it is of no use to anyone. If the government brings in a program, it should ensure that it can be delivered in a meaningful way to the people who need it.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been a member of Parliament for about 10 years and I, nor other members of Parliament, have never seen one budget handle every matter that Canadians felt was a priority.

I see the chair of the finance committee is here. He has been involved on that committee for a number of years, and I was for about four or five year. The committee went across Canada talking to Canadians about their priorities. It prepared reports and made recommendations. The total wish list of all the groups that made presentations to the finance committee usually turned out to be tens of billions of dollars more than what was available to spend without putting us back into deficit.

This is the seventh consecutive balanced budget, and Canadians would not find it acceptable to go back into a deficit scenario. That means choices have to be made. Every budget cannot continue to address every item. If everything is done modestly, then nothing is done well. Certain things are priorities and decisions have to be taken.

I am quite pleased with this budget because it brings us back to some of the principles that have held Canada in good stead for the last 10 years to get our fiscal house in order.

This budget has four main themes: investing in our public health, learning, research and development and a new deal for our communities. There are a number of other areas, but I want to touch on a couple of these.

With regard to public health, members know about the additional $2 billion that will be given to the provinces. That was agreed upon with the provinces. It is another installment. We cannot look at the budget in isolation. We have to look at what has happened in health care over the series of budgets in which we have renewed the investment in our health care system. The increased investment in our health system has been enormous. It is about a 7% increase in each of the last two years.

Members may recall back in 1993 the National Forum on Health. Experts spent two years criss-crossing the country, talking to every stakeholder group, and trying to figure our where we were and where we should go. I remember the forum's report. I was on the health committee and I followed it very carefully. I also participated in it.

When the report came out, it indicated there was enough money in the system, but the problem was it was not being spent well. That was an interesting conclusion to reach because I heard the same thing from health officials at the very first health committee meeting I ever attended. They said that by spending 75% on fixing problems and only 25% toward preventing them, that model was unsustainable. They said that we needed to shift to healthy lifestyle choices and encourage people to live healthier lifestyles to alleviate the pressure on the health care system.

We have moved away from the conclusion of the National Forum on Health. It has literally been abandoned because demands continue for more health care dollars.

Ever since I have been a member of Parliament, since I have been aware of my role in our country, health care has always been the number one priority. I think it always will be. It is probably one of the aspects of Canada that defines us. I believe our system is the envy of the world. It is something we rely on and we want to protect. We cherish our health care system. We want to ensure that it is there for us when we need it.

I do not know what the figures are today, but back in the early nineties when I asked about them, I was told that about 75% of the health care costs in one's lifetime would be incurred in the last two years of their life. In a lot of cases that is when we are faced with life-threatening health conditions. It means the resource intensities go up. That means an individual needs more specialists, more specialized equipment, a more intense drug regime, et cetera. It means that if anyone were asked to pay for services when they received them, nobody could afford to get sick. That is why we have a health care system that is publicly funded, part of the five principles of the Canada Health Act. It means that we pay throughout our lives so the health care system will be there for us when we need it.

I think Canadians cherish that fact. I think they want us to continue to defend that and to ensure that those who need health care get it when they need it, not because they can afford it. They get it when they are sick. I believe health care will always be a part of the budgets of Canada. We should always continue to do what we can to improve the quality of the health care system and, indeed, the accessibility. However, there are problems within our health care system.

Today we spend as much on drugs as we do on doctors and nurses. The pharmacare costs are enormous. I am not sure whether it is appropriate, but I think we should find out why.

I attended a forum recently and I wrote down some things from the meeting. Pharmacare costs are a significant part of our health care costs. Today we spend as much on pharmaceuticals as we do on doctors. Some provinces have caps on the amount a senior must contribute to the cost of their drug needs. For those listed drugs, people in my province of Ontario pay the lowest costs in Canada. However, if the drugs people need are not on the list, that is they are not insured or are only partially covered, the costs are lower in other provinces.

All of a sudden I recognized that health care costs vary depending on which province one lives in. It really is different. Seniors in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have absolutely no drug coverage at all. To qualify for drug coverage in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, they have to be recipients of the guaranteed income supplement. It is a means test on drug coverage, yet we are spending as much on drugs as we do on doctors and nurses. There is something wrong.

I am not sure whether the portability and the comprehensiveness that we boast about in the Canada Health Act is being reflected. For instance, I know in the city of Toronto a senior who makes below a certain level of income can get dental care and vision care provided through the social services costs for seniors. In my own region of Peel, right next door, there is no such benefit. Why can people who live in Toronto get dental costs covered as a low income senior, but if they live in Peel they cannot? This is the same health care dollar.

Now I suspect if we looked at other provinces and regions within the province, we would find the same discrepancies. Does it really matter where we live in Canada? I do not think that is what the Canada Health Act had in mind.

We have some work to do. We know that the provinces deliver the services and the federal government's responsibilities are to protect the Canada Health Act and indeed to police it. As far as the taxpayers go, there is only one source of money. It is taxpayer money and they do not really care which jurisdiction is delivering the service. They care that every level of government is doing what they can to ensure that our health care system is responsive, equitable, portable, comprehensive, publicly funded, all the good things that we have in the Canada Health Act.

I wanted to raise that because we need to do more work in terms of the quality of our health care system. We need to know if we are moving in the right direction. A dollar spent on prevention is more productive in terms of better health outcomes of Canadians than a dollar spent on remediation or curing problems.

The model of health care has to change. I also raised this in my forum. I wrote about an item. It says that for most people primary health care includes illness prevention, wellness programs, self responsibility for our health and the very expensive acute health care services provided in our hospitals and in long term care facilities. It also says that we need a fully integrated system that provides us with what we need, when we need it and where we need it at the most appropriate cost.

The Ontario health minister recently described hospitals as the anchor of our health care system. Hospitals may be an important part of our system, but if the provincial governments honestly believe that hospitals are the anchors, then are we ever going to get any changes to the way our health care system operates?

Hospitals are places where people go when they are sick. However, if we are going to get a better value for our health care dollar, we must have a better balance between illness focus and wellness focus. As an example, 97% of seniors live in their own homes. We have $28 billion in our health care system in Ontario, but only 1% goes to community services. That 1% of the budget is actually dedicated to the 97% of seniors who live in their own homes. Some 95% of the money goes to hospitals, physicians and pharmacare.

We need to rethink the primary health care model. We need to spend more resources on wellness and illness prevention. The concern about obese children is an example. We see things happening in our society. We know what will happen with these children. They will be a tremendous burden on our health care system.

One of the previous speakers also talked about affordable housing. I believe the member said that one community in B.C. had a waiting list for affordable housing was one year, and that a person was quite ill and would be homeless.

Let me share with the House the situation of affordable housing in my region of Peel in the city of Mississauga. Affordable housing is in short supply, particularly for seniors. Half of our affordable housing is for seniors and half are family homes. The waiting lists for those seniors capable of living in their own unit are very long. According to the region of Peel, and February 25 was when I held the forum, the waiting list for affordable housing is seven to eight years. That is compared to two years in 1995-96. There has been almost no non-profit housing built in Peel since 1996. This is a problem. The dignity of having a roof over one's head, to be able to afford to have a dignified place to live is extremely important. It is a value of our country and we want that.

We need to look at our values when it comes to those in our society who are in most need. I am married with three children, my children are either in university or have completed their university education. We have a home now. We have pretty well everything we want. I do not want more for myself. However, when I go around my community, I talk to people who are in desperate need. People come to my office and before too long, they start to cry when they start relaying to me their circumstances. When people are driven to tears and despair and when that depression starts to set in, we know that we have work to do.

I would like to talk a bit more about the whole issue of seniors and why I am concerned about seniors. The seniors' issues were not effectively or specifically referred to in the budget but that does not mean that we are not concerned about seniors.

I want to share with the House a couple of thoughts I have with regard to how we might address seniors' issues. I believe seniors are the most vulnerable in our society. They are also the ones in our society who have very few tools to correct their situations.

I went through those issues during the break and I think it was last December 10 that I came up with a program. I had a couple of town hall meetings and received some very positive feedback from people. I actually tabled 17 motions in the House. I will highlight a couple of them.

First, I propose that Canada develop and implement a guaranteed annual income for seniors. I really do not care how a senior got there but there must be a level of income below which a senior cannot live in dignity. That means we would have to establish poverty lines. We do not have established poverty lines in Canada now. We have a number of measures which people use if it suits their purpose but we have not determined the level of poverty in Canada by provinces or region that we are prepared to tolerate. If we were to do that, that would be the benchmark against which we would be able to deal with matters, such as welfare, social assistance and other supplements to those in need. In fact, what we would be doing is establishing the level of poverty that we are prepared to tolerate.

I also propose that we do what we can to eliminate mandatory retirement at age 65. It is still part of collective agreements in a number of provinces. Can anyone imagine someone at age 65, who is vibrant, in good health, doing a great job and with a great set of skills, being told that now that he or she is 65 years of age that he or she has to go? It is wrong.

As a matter of fact, the age 65, in terms of retirement, came up I believe at the time of Bismarck and Hitler when they referred to people who turned age 65 as the unnecessary eaters. It is a little different now. I think that mandatory retirement is way past its time and we have to do what we can to eliminate it throughout Canada.

Caregivers, those who provide care to seniors, are a growing group. In the Income Tax Act we have, and I am pleased that I had something to do with it, a caregiver tax credit. It is for those who provide care in the home to an infirmed or disabled family member. I think that credit has to be increased. It is only worth about $500.

When people have to withdraw from the paid labour force to take care of their loved ones, an infirmed senior or someone who needs help because they cannot get enough home care assistance, they lose not only a net paycheque but they also lose years of employment in which they could be building up their own pension credits to provide for their own retirement. Caregivers are making a tremendous sacrifice and I think we should do more for them. We should provide employment insurance benefits for those who withdraw from the paid labour force to provide care. Why should they not qualify? It is unpaid work but it is important work.

I think the medical expense supplement should be increased. From time to time, and I have some examples which I will not go into now, seniors face significant spikes in their health care or pharmacare costs. Some things are not covered and we do not provide the relief they need for the extra expenses. I believe we should look for ways to ease the burden on seniors who have extraordinary legitimate health costs, especially seniors who have no control over their level of income.

I also think we need continuity in our Canada pension plan benefit for caregivers who leave the paid labour force. Why should they lose years of employment income credit to build up their own Canada pension plan? It does not make any sense.

How about improving home care? There is a gap in home care right now. People can get two to four hours of home care but what happens to the people who do not need constant supervision but who may get themselves into trouble just being alone for half an hour? If a person needs more than four hours of home care a day, someone will have to leave a job and take care of the person or the person may have to go to a nursing home which can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $2,500 a month. It is sometimes not affordable or even accessible.

The nursing home industry should be fully regulated, including the small private ones. We have had far too many cases of senior abuse and we need to address that. There should be industry standards for our nursing homes.

We also need to deal with those who are convicted of either elder abuse or defrauding of seniors. Seniors are vulnerable. People who are so low that they would take advantage of a senior deserves stiffer sentences. I would support that because it is an exacerbating factor.

We need to establish the office of the physician general of Canada. Health Canada has a lot of files open and a lot of battles going on with different interest groups. Would it not be lovely to have a physician general of Canada who would, among other things, address the health issues and needs of seniors to ensure they get the guidance they need?

How about establishing a cabinet position entitled secretary of state for seniors so that when we look at seniors' issues there would be someone at the table fighting for them?

How about a public education campaign on ageism? Ageism is racism on the basis of age. It is really endemic in our institutions. One example I have concerns a doctor in New Brunswick who has refused to take new patients over 60 years of age. This is ageism. They paid for it so why is it not available to them?

Another thing I recommended is that we adopt a seniors bill of rights. I am not suggesting that this should override the charter, or anything like that, but I believe we should establish a value system for seniors, one we would be prepared to use as a lens to look at all the things we do to see how it affects seniors and to ensure the rights of seniors are being protected.

This is one area that was not in this budget. I want Canadians to know that I and many other people in this place care about seniors and we will work to make sure that some of these seniors' priorities will appear in the next budget.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, the issue I am concerned about is the old promise of the extra $2 billion for health care that was regurgitated in the budget. A lot of the budget was old promises from the previous prime minister.

I live in Saskatchewan, the province which receives a billion dollars less in equalization payments than the province of Manitoba, notwithstanding the fact that both provinces have roughly the same standard of living. We have serious problems in Saskatchewan. The waiting period for an MRI is 22 months and for health services it is 29 months. The province badly needs roads and bridges. It is in tough shape.

I noticed that the equalization fund was approximately $2 billion less under this budget. The health funding was this old promise of $2 billion more. One seems to set off the other.

From Saskatchewan's standpoint, we probably would have been a lot happier with some adjustments in the equalization formula to take out some of the really brutal effects it has on the province of Saskatchewan. Rather than frigging away with this health funding, we need to have decent equalization in place so we can provide equivalent levels of service as the rich provinces, such as Ontario, can.

Could the member explain how equalization is down $2 billion and how Saskatchewan, which has roughly the same standard of living as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, is receiving substantially less on a per capita basis on equalization than those three provinces do?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I was on the finance committee I remember working on the whole question of equalization. The member will know that this is not arbitrary on behalf of the Government of Canada. The equalization formula is based on agreements among all the provinces. They know exactly what is happening.

That is not to say that there are not pressure points within different provinces. As the member knows, for instance, Newfoundland does not want its equalization to be reduced by the oil and gas revenues that it is getting from offshore. It wants an exclusion for that. I am sure there are lots of ways in which provinces have argued their case, but I assure the member that equalization is not just a federal decision as to who gets what. It is pursuant to established formulas and agreements among the provinces, their declarations and their economic activity.

I would also point out to the member that the $7 billion of additional funds out of the GST going to our communities will help alleviate the pressure on some of the areas that the member talked about. It will put the decision making as to how that is spent into the hands of municipalities. I think that is really important.

I am also very pleased that money is going, effectively, to all communities, not just to the have communities, the larger ones that can maybe make the big splashy cases. I think it is important that all cities will benefit.

I understand the member's concerns but I would like to see more information about how this problem or how this inequity arose and what options or what mechanisms are available to address it.

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4:20 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by the hon. Liberal member and his concerns about the budget and seniors. I know that he is basing his comments on the Chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, who toured Canada to take the pulse of the nation and, perhaps, influence the budget.

I wonder to what extent the overall concerns of Canadians are reflected in this budget.

I would like to know what percentage of the concerns or recommendations expressed by the committee have been incorporated in the budget. The member's concerns interest me a great deal.

He had a lot to say about the health care system and a wide range of things that need to be improved for seniors—things which fall entirely under the jurisdiction of the provinces. The federal government has no business in home care. The provinces and Quebec—which has CLSCs and an entire health and prevention system—should be providing home care.

What Quebec and the other provinces are asking for is money. Some 55% of our taxes go to the federal government. Part of that money, namely anything concerning health, education, and municipal affairs, has to be returned to the provinces so that they can cover the services they would like to see provided to seniors.

I wonder if he agrees that rather than accumulating surpluses, if the federal government gave the provinces what they are owed to run this particular area, these services would not be duplicated, and less money would be spent, leaving more available for the provinces to give to seniors.

He also spoke—

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4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am trying my best to indicate to the hon. member that perhaps he should ask his question, because his time is running out.

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4:25 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

I will close by saying, since he spoke of a minimum income for seniors, that it exists. There is the guaranteed income supplement. I do not know if he would agree with me that more efforts should be made to extend the supplement to those who do not receive it. We do not wish to add services, perhaps only this particular one, so that we can reach out to the people who are unable to apply for this supplement, so that they can receive it after all. This affects some 200,000 Canadians.

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4:25 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked some very good questions.

I understand that about two-thirds of the recommendations of the finance committee found their way into the prior budget. For this particular budget unfortunately, as the member will know, the House prorogued prior to the committee being able to table its report and much of it was informal so I am not exactly sure. I do know that over the years the finance committee has had an important contribution to make to the ultimate budget based on the consultations with Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

With regard to the role of the provinces, this is very interesting. I am wondering whether it is the role of the federal government to forgive GST to municipalities. I thought municipalities were the responsibility of the provinces. We are not there either.

In prior years we gave special grants to provinces for the purchase of MRI machines. The federal government has no responsibility to do that but the provinces certainly were not going to turn down the money.

There are some times when we have to collaborate. There are some times when the federal government participates in areas that are not its specific jurisdiction. That is not a bad thing.

When it comes to home care, I am not suggesting that somehow the federal government should get into home care. If we could work this out collaboratively, if we could provide greater support in certain areas where we have some responsibility, that may free up dollars for the provinces, if there could be an agreement. This is the collaboration which I think is necessary.

The member asked a question about guaranteed annual income. I am very aware that the GIS actually is a quasi top-up to get people there. What would happen if we established a poverty line in each and every province, and each and every region within a province? A poverty line has been established and that should be the poverty line that we are prepared to tolerate. If we do that, I do not care where the GIS is. All I know is that as long as there is a gap between the income of a senior and the level of poverty that we are prepared to tolerate, there should be a top-up. A guaranteed annual income could be achieved simply by allowing the GIS to be at higher amounts to get us up to that established level of poverty.

There are many mechanisms to do it, but the principle is important, whether or not we are prepared to invest in our seniors so that they can live with the dignity to which they are entitled.

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4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on behalf of my constituents in Nanaimo—Cowichan and join the debate on the Liberal government's latest budget.

I want to inform the Speaker that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster.

At a time when the country wants to see its federal government addressing the many serious issues that are facing us as a nation, it is my own personal belief that the budget is very inadequate. I could speak about the poor response to health care and the almost non-existent response to our military and to aboriginals, but I will move on to the other things which are particularly in my critic area.

In regard to post-secondary education, the budget has very little that is new. I believe that our greatest natural resource truly is our youth. They are our hope for the future. When the government mortgages their future without taking into account what that price will be, the government wilfully and deliberately sets roadblocks in the next generation's path.

It seems like stating the obvious, but when many low income families are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, the idea of encouraging additional savings without giving them a means to accomplish that goal is ludicrous. Yes, the $2,000 learning bond seems wonderful, but at most post-secondary institutions, this will not even pay the expenses for one semester.

Furthermore, changing the family threshold to allow more students access to Canada student loans as well as increasing the amount of the loans will likely result in more students carrying a greater debt by the time that they graduate.

As a graduate, starting one's adult life with a $20,000 to $50,000 debt is an awful millstone hanging around one's neck. The government has done nothing to really address the serious problem of repayment. Many graduates, if they are fortunate enough to even get a job when they graduate, start at very low wages and it makes it very difficult to start to repay those loans.

The question that needs to be asked is how we ever reached this point. The answer is very clear. The answer may be found in the current Prime Minister's 1995 budget. In 1995 the current Prime Minister slashed the CHST payments that accounted for the federal transfers to the provinces for both health and post-secondary education. The government forced the provinces to make up for their own selfish actions and ultimately forced post-secondary institutions to increase their tuition fees.

They may call themselves fiscally prudent, but the Liberal government and the Prime Minister have actually increased the federal debt by $23.1 billion since he first became finance minister, for an estimated fiscal year end total of $510.6 billion, over half a trillion dollars. The Liberals have done this by increasing federal spending of taxpayers' dollars with not an iota of taxpayer relief in the budget.

With regard to the budget and its effect on disabled Canadians, the proposal of tax credits for supplies and equipment necessary for post-secondary education is a good gesture. Unfortunately, most disabled Canadians cannot afford to enrol in education programs. They are not able to take advantage of skills upgrading, because they often live so far below the poverty line that the thought of going to school is outside their realm of possibility. It is unfortunate but true.

I am retiring after the next election and this could very well be the last time I speak in the House. I would like to close the speech with some personal observations, if I may be allowed.

Being an opposition member of Parliament certainly has its own built in frustrations, because many of the concerns that we bring to Ottawa are never addressed. After seven years of my being in the House, we still have very few really free votes in the House of Commons. There is undue party discipline, particularly on government MPs. There is no reform of the Senate. Elections are held at the whim of the Prime Minister when it is politically opportune.

We still have a criminal justice system that pays lip service to the protection of our children, has shown little concern for the victims of violent crime, and continues to allow early parole, leading in many cases to criminals reoffending.

I have also observed some very sad occasions in the House, as when the government denied compensation to the innocent victims of hepatitis C through the tainted blood scandal who were outside the 1986 to 1990 window.

Of huge concern to me also is the way in which Parliament, in its voting records in the last little while, is in my opinion leading a movement away from traditional moral values in the country. The sad flip-flop of 100-plus members of Parliament who in 1999 supported the traditional definition of marriage of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others is a serious case in point.

It is my view that no government can eventually avoid the moral issues and indeed, to say that moral and faith values should not play a part in the decisions that we make is just not borne out in reality. Every decision we make as humans, every action that we take comes out of a personal framework of faith and morality. What we really have in the House and in the country is a clash of viewpoints. What is so sad to me is that the call to political correctness, as exhibited by many members of the House, along with a media that very often is not objective nor intolerant of some points of view, has led to the views of millions of Canadians being simply ignored. I believe that this is a tragic flaw in our democracy.

What has been personally disconcerting for me also is to see a very few members of the House from time to time do their best to discredit the viewpoints of others and to go out of their way to see that their voices are silenced and indeed in some instances, their careers ruined. Surely truth can stand all tests if it is allowed to be heard at all.

The Liberal government, I believe, has lost credibility to govern the country. This inept government feeds tax dollars to willing Liberal friendly companies and agencies and then wonders why fewer and fewer Canadians even bother to show up at the polling booth. This poor excuse for a government stymies honest Canadians' efforts to get ahead and squanders their tax dollars and then wonders why politicians are treated with contempt. This sometimes dictator-like government lives life itself to the fullest while many Canadians have their hard-earned dollars taxed at one of the highest rates in the world. Then it has the nerve to ask for even more.

Unfortunately, at the end of my time in the House, little has changed in seven years. However, I will continue as an ordinary Canadian to work to see true democracy returned to this nation that I love.

As for the budget, I believe it is a poor reflection of Canadian values across the country, and I for one will not be voting for it.

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4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, 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 New Brunswick Southwest, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster.

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again. I happen to be one of the members who has been here for the seven in a row so-called surplus budgets. What a surplus budget really means is that the government is taking too many tax dollars from the people out there.

The largest daily newspaper in the country had an editorial on the budget the other day. It was an excellent comment and I would like to read it into the record. It stated:

Bills don' t get paid with a promise and a smile. Expressions of goodwill don't stave off bankruptcy, and half-measures won't rescue...[anyone] in crisis.

They are tremendous words and really encapsulate this whole budget. There is really nothing in the budget that is going to set the standard for the growth and the potential of this great country we call Canada. It is just not there, and this is supposedly a pre-election budget.

I think the Prime Minister and his finance minister are trying to find some traction, and of course the Prime Minister was the finance minister for a number of those surplus budget years. They are trying to prove to people that they can be fiscally responsible because they have been blown apart by the scandal, the ad scam, and by column after column that show up in the main estimates and in the supplementary estimates and so on, with hundreds of millions of dollars that have been funnelled around strictly for political gain. That is not the way taxpayers want to see their money spent in this country when there are so many deserving issues out there that need to be covered.

When we go through the budget in brief, a lot of the dollars sound significant. Then we can see the little asterisk beside an item: “over 10 years”. We have a government that is projecting out 10 years when the electorate probably would not give them 10 days if they went to the polls right now.

The government is struggling for some sort of reassurance from people, and in polling, a little bump, a little dead cat bounce, as it is called, for the old fat cats over there. Then it can take that to the polls and say to the people, “We are prudent managers”. That used to be the rallying cry of the former finance minister: prudent fiscal responsibility. That is what he talked about. It so happens that it was not there. He did not know what was going on.

We have a budget that seeks to tell Canadians somehow that the government is not going to go off the wall in spending before an election. It has gone the other way. It has actually promised the $2 billion for health care again. When the premiers were asked to comment on that the other night after the budget, Premier Hamm of Nova Scotia said that this makes five times that it has been promised. The government has announced it five times. That does not make it $10 billion. It is still $2 billion and it still has not been delivered. We have talked about it for over a year. We still have this money that has not gone out.

Under health care, the government talks about improved tax fairness for Canadians with disabilities and for caregivers, which is a tremendous goal, a laudable goal. However, this is the same government that threw everyone off the disability tax credit, made them all go back through a means test, back through the health care system, to prove they were still disabled. The government is heartless on the one hand and has beautiful words on the other. I guess the proof will be in the pudding as to whether Canadians believe it or not. At the end of the day, the federal government, on average, is still only putting 16¢ out of every dollar into health care. That is the largest social factor in the country.

The member for Mississauga who spoke before me talked about the high cost of pharmaceuticals. He is bang on. The government has not kept pace with that at the federal level. Here is what it has done. It has created surpluses, balanced its books and has no more deficits, but it has offloaded those deficits to the provinces. Each province is now carrying close to a deficit type of spending because the transfers have not been there. The government cut $25 billion out of health care and social transfers in the last few years and put $2 billion back in. It is not a great return on investment for the provinces nor for the citizens they represent. It is the same taxpayer. The government calls that sound fiscal financial management.

The government is also making a pledge now. After the horse is out of the barn, it is going to close the gate. It is going to reinstate the comptroller. There has been a lot of discussion about why that was ever done away with.

To set the record straight, that was actually done in 1995 by this same Liberal government in what was called a program review. I think the last thing we would want to turf out would be the comptrollership, unless we had other things in mind, unless we were starting to set up little slush funds like the sponsorship program where we did not want the comptroller to tap us on the shoulder and say, “I'm the fiscal conscience here and you shouldn't being doing that with taxpayers' money”.

The government turfed out that whole system and now we see where it led. Just in this last little while taxpayers are starting to add up the dollars that have gone missing, which a comptroller never would have allowed to happen. It just would not have been done.

Let us move on, where we get into the importance of learning. Nobody has an argument with that. Then there is aboriginal strategy. Nobody has a problem with that.

But when heads of student groups and student unions across this country were asked what they thought about the budget, one student said, “They just gave me $50 and told me to go and buy a BMW”. That is how effective this budget is.

Other students are talking about the Canada learning bond. Beautiful. It sounds great, but it is another wishy-washy thing. It is up to $2,000 for children in low income families born after 2003. The government will put in $500 and then $100 a year. If the family does its bit and puts in the same amount, after 18 years there will be $10,000 to $11,000 saved up. What is that going to buy at university in 18 years? My daughter just finished university and we were talking that kind of money on an annual basis as long as I paid for her housing. In 18 years that $10,000 to $11,000 just might buy books. The desire of the government and the line in the budget look really good, but in reality what is this going to do? Very little. Even the students themselves are panning it.

When Chief Phil Fontaine was interviewed about the aboriginal component in the budget, he said it did not go anywhere near the advice that they gave and sought. With the housing crisis, the health care crisis and the education crisis from the aboriginal side, this does not get there. It is not even close. I guess the government missed that one.

The government talks about the importance of knowledge and commercialization and it did come up with a few things: good ideas, but too little too late.

Another great heading in the budget is “The Importance of Communities”. This is where some big dollars are talked about. There will be $7 billion in GST relief for municipalities over the next 10 years. That is $700 million a year, which is not a large amount of money. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce talks about an infrastructure deficit in Canada that is approaching $60 billion today, and that is what it would take just to get us back to a maintained and even par. That would not build anything new. It just would get us back to where we are limping along again. This is a $60 billion deficit and the government addresses it with $700 million a year; that is not even the interest. That will not even patch a few roads. If we build a couple of bridges and a couple of water and sewage plants, the money will be gone.

North Battleford has faced those shortfalls. We had a water crisis a couple of years ago and approached the federal government under the cost sharing program. We said, “Look, we have to do something with our water and sewer system”. North Battleford needed about a $5 million hit to expedite the program. It had $15 million in bonds and debentures at the time but needed about $5 million to kickstart it and move the project a couple of years ahead.

What did North Battleford get from the Liberals? A fancy sign out on the highway saying they realized North Battleford had problems, that their hearts and prayers were with it, and they wished the city good luck. That is what we got. The government really should have come through for North Battleford. The government talks about a stronger voice for municipalities, but in that case, who the heck was listening? Nobody. A stronger voice is wonderful, but only if somebody hears it. If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody in Ottawa give a damn? That is the type of thing we are finding here.

There is funding of $4 billion over 10 years to clean up contaminated sites. That is good. What happened over the last 10 years when the government did nothing?

The item I really love in the budget is the one dealing with the Juno Beach monument. My office in North Battleford was involved in this one. The Juno Beach monument will receive $1.5 million. That is fantastic. Wal-Mart is already in for about four or five times that amount. That monument is standing there. Wal-Mart did it. The federal government is now trying to take some credit with $1.5 million.

We can go on and on and poke holes in the budget. Like I said, spending is on the rise and a surplus means the government is taking in too much in taxes.

We have not even gotten into agriculture, but it would not take long to talk about agriculture in this budget: $25 million, that is it. The third largest contributor to the GDP of Canada gets $25 million. The announcement on Monday, the day before the budget presentation, really was all about BSE, but the $25 million in the budget says nothing about the grains and oilseeds sector, the pulse crops, the water problems we have across western Canada with drought after drought, and the grasshoppers. It says nothing about the PFRA pastures that are a sink for grasshoppers or the national parks that need the TB and so on cleaned up.

The government missed a lot of opportunities with this budget and I really think Canadians are going to give it a pass over on election day.

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4:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found it quite astonishing to hear the member suggest that $750 million was not a lot of money. It really is astounding. It is important to Canadians that we have a responsible attitude toward taxpayers' money.

The member started by talking about seven surplus budgets in a row, balanced budgets, and said that the existence of surpluses meant that we were taxing too much. If we follow that to its logical conclusion, what the member is basically saying is that we should only have balanced budgets and we should never pay down any debt.

If the member would like to spend some time with me, I will explain to him that when there are surpluses for a fiscal year the surpluses are applied 100% against the debt. Over the past number of years, the government has paid down $52 billion worth of the national debt. It saves us about $3 billion a year in interest, which is then available to invest in Canadians.

The member had better answer the question. Is he saying that there should not ever be a surplus in Canada, i.e. that we should not pay down debt in Canada? Is that his position?

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think this gentleman is working on the government's medicinal marijuana, because that is not what I said at all. He knows better than that as an accountant. Surpluses mean the government is taking too much in taxes.

The debt in this country, after paying down $52 billion, in market debt mostly, which means the interest rate was not as high as it was before, is still $43 billion higher than it was when his government took power in 1993. We are still spending close to $40 billion on the interest rate on that debt every year. That is money coming out of health care, infrastructure and kids' educations.

We have to target debt. We cannot start mickey-mousing around with $1 billion a year that might go somewhere. We have to let Canadians out there decide. We have to get this albatross off their backs. We have to put in context $700 million when the government takes in $190 billion. It is not a lot of money in the government context. It is a lot of money to Canadians, no doubt about it. We have seen that same amount of money squandered in advertising contracts that go back to these guys through the back door. So sure, it is a lot of money, but when we talk about a $60 billion infrastructure deficit, $700 million a year to address it is chump change.

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4:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, again the member is suggesting that somehow $750 million or any hundreds of millions of dollars is not a lot of money. I want to ask the question again.

My understanding after 10 years of being in this place is that if there is any surplus at the end of a fiscal year, it is those moneys which are applied against the national debt. That is the way the national debt is paid down.

The member has suggested that having a surplus means the government has taxed too much. In other words, he is saying we should just have a balanced budget, that we should not have surpluses and not tax that additional money away from people. However, if we do not, we do not pay down debt.

I will ask him again. Does he understand that surpluses are applied totally against the debt and that if there are no surpluses, as he seems to suggest should be the case, then his party and this member is opposed to paying down the national debt?

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4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, he can twist that any way he wants. He is 180° off plumb. It is not how we pay down the debt; it is when we do it. I think the member would agree with me that our program of a legislated paydown on the debt is far better than the harum-scarum way these guys do it, where they spend the surplus, have $1 billion left, say they will put that to the debt, and there we go, the surplus is in play. What a ridiculous attitude. No wonder we are in trouble.

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4:50 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time.

I am very pleased to comment on the budget which was presented by the Minister of Finance. As a member of the finance committee, I know that our government has always consulted our citizens from coast to coast to coast. Therefore, this budget was a result of taking all the concerns of Canadians.

As a former university teacher, I am always interested in education. We all know that a post-secondary education is an imperative in today's society and is required for 70% of new jobs created in Canada.

Announced in the budget is a $500 Canada learning bond that will be provided at birth for children in families that are entitled to the national child benefit supplement. This bond is up to $2000 for each child born after 2003. It will save for a child's college education in the future. The government will provide over 20,000 students from low income families with new grants worth up to $3,000 to cover a portion of the first year's tuition. All those things will help.

As well, the government will provide literacy training and essential skills upgrading for workers, measures to encourage apprenticeships in skilled trades, and employer-based training. That will certainly help Canadians to have more skills for job selections.

The budget provides $15 million over two years for a pilot project to provide matching funding for union-based training centres. This funding will be used to purchase new equipment and machinery to meet current industry standards and requirements.

Today Canada is facing an aging population and low birth rates. Canada really needs many skilled immigrants in the labour market, but due to the cultural and language barriers, they need help to develop their new language skills and trying to overcome some of the obstacles.

Last year our government committed to $5 million annually for pilot projects under which community-based partners deliver labour market language training at more advanced levels to help those new immigrants. In this budget we propose to invest an additional $15 million a year to provide skilled immigrants with work-related language training at more advanced levels. Essentially that will enable them to enter the labour market as soon as they can.

This budget also sets aside an additional $5 million per year beginning in 2005-06 for the integration of skilled immigrants and in recognizing the credentials of internationally trained workers.

We all know that many foreign-trained professionals, like doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers and scientists come to Canada, but they cannot utilize their own training. It is a real waste of their trade and skills. Their skills are really needed in the country. It is our government's intention to recognize their foreign credentials so they can better contribute to Canada. We are giving new immigrants very good support and they will be able to take on the jobs in the country.

I would like to talk about the business side. We all know that small businesses and entrepreneurs are really the backbone and the job creators in Canada. In my riding of Vancouver Kingsway, small businesses are in the majority. I know it is so important for them. They are also facing a lot of difficulty and struggle. For them, our budget will accelerate by one year the planned increase in the small business deduction limit. It will be the lower 12% income tax rate applied to $300,000 by 2005.

Also, recognizing the financial losses that are incurred during developing new technologies and the products, the budget will help those innovators to start up small business by extending the non-capital loss carry-forward period to 10 years This certainly will help a lot of newly developed companies that have quite good innovation. It is an important support for them.

In our public consultation, we had also heard Canada really needed a lot of venture capital financing to support and help encourage the new business. The budget will provide $270 for new investments in venture capital financing by the Business Development Bank of Canada, BDC, and the Farm Credit Canada, FCC.

The budget will provide $100,000 for direct investment in new technologies to bring them to the next level of venture capital financing. Another $100,000 will be provided to support the creation of specialized funds that will level additional private equity investment in leading edge technology.

I think all this is very thoughtful, and we heard it many times during our public consultation. I congratulate our Minister of Finance for providing such strong support.

Now I would like to comment on the health area. From having so many extended consultations, including the last year's SARS epidemic, we learned that Canada really needed a new Canada public health agency. There will be $160 million in new money, and transfers of another $400 million from Health Canada, to kick off the Canada public health agency.

Again, I have to congratulate our Minister of Finance. This will be a wonderful thing for Canada.

The new agency will focus on the management of infectious diseases, emergency preparedness and responses, and chronic diseases. We all know this is necessary and essential. It is very important for the public health of Canadians. This is also a national organization that will monitor the big picture by spotting outbreaks quickly and also mobilizing emergency resources to control any infectious diseases. We will also appoint a chief public health officer to oversee the agency and help co-ordinate the national responses during the public health disasters and emergencies.

As a matter of fact, I think in Canada we have a few very good centres to be qualified for such an agency. Of course, as I am from B.C., I would think Vancouver is one very good place to have such an agency.

Overall the budget really focuses on many points, and I just briefly mentioned some, but above all the biggest accomplishment is very obvious.

This is the seventh consecutive balanced budget projected and it is the first time since Confederation that such a wonderful thing has happened. I think it is also one of the best among the G-8 countries. Also, improving the expenditure control and oversight by implementing a comprehensive plan, including the re-establishment of the office of the comptroller general of Canada, is another important thing.

The budget also confirms the payment of an additional $2 billion in health care funding for the provinces and territories in the 2003-04 fiscal year. As part of the government's commitment to provide stable, long term health care funding, cash transfers to the provinces and territories for health and social programs will reach $28.1 billion in 2007-08. That represents an average annual increase of $1.8 billion or 8% per year starting from 2003-04.

Of course as I already indicated, establishing the Canada public health agency is another very important highlight for our country. Also we are speeding up the implementation of the agreement with the provinces and territories to provide better access to affordable and quality child care and early childhood learning. That is very important. I want to offer congratulations.

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5 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for the presentation she made. I would like to ask her a question regarding the interest rates.

A few years ago, we had interest rates of 10%, 15%, 22% for mortgages, and now interest rates are the lowest they have been for the last 40 or 45 years. If someone had a house with a mortgage of $100,000 on average, or maybe a bit more now, savings from this interest rate mortgage payment would be enormous for the household of Canadians living with a mortgage.

The opposition complain that there are no tax breaks this time around, but we are living with the biggest tax breaks any government has ever given: $100 billion to taxpayers a few years ago. It is still in that process.

Could the hon. member comment on the low interest rate impact on mortgage payees? They are saving thousands of dollars a year because our government policy has generated such a low interest rate for mortgage holders and business people.

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5:05 p.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue of lower interest rates is another very good point. All this shows encouragement for many, especially for young people and newcomers to this country. They can now start thinking about the purchase of a home. This really shows what we are able to offer Canadians, and it improves the quality of life. This is our country's success.

We know that low interest rates create a very hot market. I am from B.C. and in Vancouver I know it has created great competition for many houses. More important, this enables many young people and many families to have better housing.

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5:05 p.m.


Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise in this House to address the federal budget.

This is a great budget for Canada. It is the result of 10 years of hard work and a lot of sacrifices by Canadians.

We see ourselves in a position where we have had seven consecutive balanced budgets. That is a record. It is not a record of the last decade or the last 20 years or since the war, but this is a record since Confederation and before the eternal flame that we have balanced our budget.

What is better is the great promise that we hold for Canadians that we will balance budgets into the future. We do this at the same time as providing the basic services and programs that are needed by Canadians. We are also maintaining a level of prudence, $4 billion that has been set aside in case we have some unforeseen circumstances within the country. Last year there were problems such as BSE, hurricane Juan, the B.C. fires and SARS. They are all very expensive.

The economy internationally was not performing as we would have liked. A lot of countries over the last few years returned to a deficit, while because of good management and because of prudent management within Canada we were able to maintain a surplus. Canadians are benefiting from that.

We see that in goods and services to Canadians. We announced the other day in this very House a $2 billion transfer to the provinces for health care. We announced a further $1 billion for agriculture because of BSE. We should do aquaculture next, but we looked after agriculture. We had problems with hogs and problems with BSE and all at no cost to Canadians. That is money which a few short years ago we would have been sending overseas ending up in foreign markets to pay for the cost of servicing our debt. By reducing our debt and continuing to do so we have the ability to give better services to Canadians without increasing their taxes.

We have done all that without increasing taxes, but while reducing taxes to Canadians by $100 billion, primarily to middle and lower income Canadians, leaving money for families. There is also the child tax credit. That means there are fewer difficulties for the less fortunate.

There are still problems. We have to continue to work. We never say we have reached the epitome and the country is perfect and everything is good. However, we have improved the situation very much over the last 10 years for Canadians. We look after lower income Canadians. We look forward to doing that.

With this budget we have increased the ability of all Canadians to access post-secondary education.

In this country we have community colleges, universities and institutions that are internationally renowned. We have made huge investments, we have invested in people so that they can have access to education.

Personally, I am not satisfied. I am not prepared to say that we have made it, that we have done everything we had to do. There are still problems. There is still the problem of young people who choose an educational program instead of another because they do not want to get too much into debt.

It is important that all young people in this country achieve their potential. If they have dreams, if they are interested in some specific profession, knowledge or trade, they should pursue their dream. They must not be stopped by the debt that they will incur. We can continue to work on this issue. We can continue to talk and cooperate with the provinces.

Still, we should recognize that progress has been made. There are measures in this budget that will only bear fruit in 10 years or more, while others will have an immediate impact. We will help students, first by determining what is a reasonable weekly amount, in 2004, for university costs. We will look at what should be the amount of student loans, rather than using the figures from previous years, because these figures have become obsolete.

Also, students who graduate and join the labour force may be underemployed in the first few years and they may have difficulties paying off their debt. We will do more for these young people. We did it the past, but we will do more to help them.

There are many ways that the federal government can help in education, recognizing that it is a provincial jurisdiction. There is the work that we have done with the granting institutions and with post-secondary research. We have brought back researchers from all over the world, Canadians who had to work abroad. Now they are in Canada doing great research, world class research. We must continue that and the budget does that. It makes another $90 million investment in research.

Not only that, what is important is that we are making more investments to bring our university sector and our private sector together to work together and to commercialize that work. In genomics, there are no better than Canadians. In information technology, there are no better than Canadians. There is lots of potential. We have to continue to commercialize.

In the Atlantic region we have a long way to go. We recognize that but we are very pleased with what we have been able to do with the Atlantic investment fund. That fund has meant that a lot of our professors, students and universities are able to bring their knowledge to their laboratories. The graduate students are able to work with the private sector on programs, services and products that will have lasting job creation for Atlantic Canada. Our hope is not unrealistic or unreasonable. Our hope is to elevate our institutions and our economy in Atlantic Canada to a level where it will benefit from all the programs available nationally to the rest of the country.

Our capacity in Atlantic Canada to benefit from and participate in the programs has been limited because of the size of our universities and the size of our private sector. The programs that we have now give Atlantic Canadians the same chances as Canadians from major centres. I look forward to continuing to work in that direction.

I am very pleased with the additional investments that we are making in our military. It might not be what all Canadians wanted to see. It is not hundreds of billions of dollars in new capital equipment or new personnel. However, there are very good, targeted measures in addition to measures previously announced.

Last year we announced $800 million in the annual budget to the military. Now we are talking about new funds to assist the military in the ongoing operations, such as in Haiti and Afghanistan. We recognize the work and the sacrifice of the military personnel and their families. We are making the revenues that they earn overseas tax free when they are at our service and their families are split apart.

I was pleased to hear the Minister of National Defence today say that he is looking at expanding what was initially announced to all zones where Canadian military and paramilitary, police and others are at risk. That is very good news. Additionally, we announced that we would be accelerating the rate at which we are delivering new equipment for equipment purchase programs that are ongoing. The military will be very pleased with that. We have the best military with the best training in the world. They must have the best equipment and we will provide that for them.

We are making great investments in communities generally across the country.

I look forward to coming here next year and announcing even better participation by our government.