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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.

Topics

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member across the way.

I have some very major concerns about the budget in what it has not said. It has not said anything about culture. I read it very carefully to see what it had to say about culture. There is some band-aid money for the Canadian television fund, and that is great.

The Auditor General's report that came out recently was extremely damning about the government's record around built heritage, around published heritage, about how we are in fact keeping the cultural record of this country.

I am not seeing in the budget a recommitment to the CBC, to public broadcasting, to the artists in this country. I would like the hon. member's comments on that.

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12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member already mentioned the funds to Telefilm Canada which were announced in the budget. That is a commitment to culture.

The commitment to the funding for the CBC, which I have supported 100% and continue to push for continued sustainable funding for CBC, is not being diminished. The CBC has access also to the Telefilm fund and other funds as well. The budget continues to support culture in this country and I continue to fight for it as well.

Some people in the House do not support public broadcasting. In my view, public broadcasting is fundamental to our country to maintain and sustain the CBC because that is the only way we can reflect our nation back to ourselves.

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12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Liberal member for giving me the opportunity to speak to the following measures that were announced in the 2004 budget and which will have a direct impact on Quebec.

We know that health care is the top priority. Of the additional $2 billion granted to the provinces and territories for health care, Quebec will get $471 million. When we talk about this additional $2 billion, it is important to tell people what Quebec will be getting.

Besides the $404 million that will be transferred through Health Canada, the government has set aside, in the 2004 budget, $665 million for this fiscal year and the next two in order to create the Canada public health agency and fund its main operations.

The money will be allocated, in part, to regional initiatives, like the creation of health-related emergency response teams in every region of Canada, including Quebec. Also, the provinces and territories will be provided with $400 million over the next three years to support a national immunization strategy, to help relieve the pressures on public health systems that were identified during the SARS epidemic, and to deal with their urgent capacity problems. What this means is that Quebec will be getting an additional $94 million.

I now turn to the issue of early learning and child care. The 2004 budget commits resources to the multilateral framework on early learning and child care to the tune of $75 million in 2004-2005 and another $75 million in 2005-2006. Quebec will be receiving $35 million for this initiative.

There will be new horizons for seniors. For a number of years, I have been asking that the New Horizons program, abolished some years ago, be revived. The budget thus provides funding for a New Horizons program for seniors to give these people opportunities to take part in social activities, lead an active life and contribute to their communities. All the golden age clubs and seniors in Quebec will take part in this program; that is significant.

As for renewing equalization, the 2004 budget proposes specific changes to improve its operation and ensure more stable and predictable funding. We know that the 2004 budget contains 435 pages. We do not have time to explain exactly what equalization is, but one thing is clear. The improvements to equalization described in the budget will mean that the receiving provinces will share $1.5 billion more over the next 5 years.

We have seen what has happened in the province of Quebec in previous years. We know that the program has been dangerously unstable. Since fiscal capacity varies with the economic context, equalization may be subject to periodic and spectacular adjustments. Bernard Landry, when he was Quebec 's finance minister, therefore received a $1.4 billion windfall because Ontario's economic growth was much stronger than predicted. At the time, Mr. Landry used this amount to achieve a zero deficit a year earlier than planned.

This year is the opposite. Ontario's growth has been slower than predicted and the Quebec finance minister, Yves Séguin, is receiving $350 million less. With such surprises, it is very difficult for the provincial finance ministers to come up with solid estimates. We can understand why Mr. Séguin spoke his mind publicly on this.

Because of these changes, the provinces will receive more than $50 billion over 5 years through equalization. But the system must be reviewed. There must be a more stable and predictable system.

It is important to mention another issue, namely the GST rebate for municipalities. This measure was announced a few weeks ago by the Prime Minister. Municipalities will enjoy GST relief, to the tune of $7 billion, over the next 10 years. They will then be able to use this money for critical priorities such as highways, public transit or clean water. For the first year alone, the GST relief for Quebec municipalities will exceed $129 million.

The 2004 budget also deals with infrastructures. There are $4 billion in Canadian funds for the strategic infrastructure fund. From 2001 to 2003, the government contributed to two highway projects in Quebec, namely highway 175 in the Saguenay region and highway 30.

As we know, Quebec municipalities will receive $195 million from the $1 billion committed to municipal and rural infrastructure. While this money was earmarked in the 2003 budget, the 2004 budget will accelerate the process. And this is important, because that money will now flow over five years, rather than ten years. The government is doubling the moneys for the province of Quebec and for my vast region of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.

As regards the environment and more specifically contaminated sites, Quebec will greatly benefit from this initiative. There are 3,828 contaminated sites in Canada. Quebec has the largest number of them with 765. These contaminated sites include the Cartier-Brébeuf national historic site and the Valcartier base.

There is also the indirect cost of research. The assistance provided in this regard will increase from $225 million to $245 million. Quebec's universities and research hospitals received close to $56 million of the one-time initial fund of $200 million, in 2000-2002.

It is important to mention this and talk about national programs. The Bloc members say, “The Liberal members do not rise in this House. The Liberal members are not present”. Some describe the members as ghosts, but Halloween ended a long time ago. It does not come every month. Nonetheless, I know one thing, that I was not here from 1993 to 1997 and that a Bloc Quebecois member was representing my riding.

We could compare the time Bernard Deshaies spent here and the time since 1997, when I came back, and look at what was said. We could make a comparison. Bloc members do not make comparisons. They simply rise today and say, “The Liberals never say anything”.

We speak up in the national caucus and in the Quebec Liberal caucus. We participate with motions, questions, interventions and statements. We deliver messages from our constituents to Ottawa.

As for the members, regardless of the political party they belong to in this House, they are still people. Even if some are absent, all members do good work, regardless of their political party.

Nonetheless, I must say one thing. In the programs, the mining flow-through shares and the tax credits are being kept in the budget. That is important. The softwood lumber program, which is a national program, was not cancelled. The money is there.

Agriculture is important. The Prime Minister announced $1 billion in the West, but Quebec farmers are happy now. However, we must ensure one thing: that this program does not have a fixed date. It should perhaps be kept next year and subsequent years.

We must really pay attention when the Bloc members tell us the members do nothing. Last year there was mad cow disease. The hon. members will also recall the wild ruminant problem. American and Ontario hunters spent millions of dollars at game outfitters in Quebec. They spent $200 million to $300 million on hunting and fishing activities. I remember last August that not one Bloc Quebecois member spoke out. I understand they may have been busy mowing their lawns, or perhaps they had gone fishing somewhere in Quebec.

However, it must not be said that the Liberal members are not doing anything. I was the only Liberal member from Quebec involved in the issue of wild ruminants and mad cow, and our efforts were successful. We were successful thanks to the Association des pourvoiries du Québec. This was an important issue given the number of outfitters; I represent a vast riding of 802,000 square kilometres and 96,000 constituents. So, it was important and necessary to take action.

We also get involved in other areas, such as parental rights. We are currently negotiating day care rates with Quebec. I am perhaps one of the only Liberal members who wrote Jean Charest in Quebec to contest the $2 increase. Why did I get involved? It is not just about $2. Someone had to say that Quebec should not increase the rate by $2 but rather return to the 1997-98 rate.

When the PQ government was in power, it introduced the change with regard to family allowances. It abolished family allowances. As a result, since then, each family pays between $300 and $600 more in taxes. Another $2 is being added, but we must also think of families who do not send their children to day care and who have lost their family allowance. They pay for day care. In any case, family allowances must be restored and day cares must also be maintained.

We get involved often in all areas. We are there for the people in our ridings.

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12:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part in this important debate, perhaps the last budget debate until the election.

This budget, I dare say, can be described as being long on promises and short on delivery. There is an alarming shortfall when one starts to examine the actual impact that this will have on the day to day lives of average Canadians in their backyards and in their back pockets. There is very little the government has to crow about in this recent document.

It was a safe budget. It was something the Liberals obviously redrafted in light of the current atmosphere of scandal, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds that has been going on in the public works department and, frighteningly, perhaps in other departments as well. It is an issue clearly of mismanagement that the government is trying to sweep away with this budget and portraying itself as somehow being prudent and fiscally responsible.

The fact remains that the government has had 10 years to get it right. We know things are starting to slip and Liberals are getting desperate when they start to bring out the name of a previous prime minister, the former Conservative prime minister, and try to lay blame at his feet somehow, castigate programs that they try to attribute somewhere else, knowing full well that after 10 years in government any suggestion that this was somebody else's fault is a huge dodge, a huge distraction. The truth is that the Prime Minister and his predecessor are two sides of the same coin.

It is the hundreds of millions of coins that went missing that should alarm Canadians the most. The Prime Minister and his predecessor are inextricably linked. Our current Prime Minister was the finance minister during the overwhelming majority of the tenure of the Liberal government.

When the right hon. member was overhead musing recently about the previous administration, what kind of prime minister could actually expect Canadians to take that type of characterization seriously? He was part of that previous administration, clearly.

I remind the current Minister of Finance, who also held posts in that government, similarly has to be held to account. The intent to somehow distance themselves and slide away from their own record is not working and not sitting well with Canadians.

We see in this budget a lot of rhetoric, a lot of misdirection, a lot of attempt to somehow distance themselves and put a wedge between them and their own record but that will not work.

I want to get back to the issue of the budget itself. There is a great deal of disappointment that is now resounding across the land. I spoke to a woman indirectly through my office today who pointed out the obvious. Wanda MacLean said that some of these promises, which were supposed to impact in such a profound way on education, health care, military spending and other areas, really is a pittance. In the case of Ms. MacLean, who has a 10 year old son Jonathan who suffers from autism, this special needs child will receive no significant or substantive help from this budget.

I say that knowing full well that the government, with great ceremony and great aplomb over its special needs program, has come up far short of what people like Wanda MacLean were hoping for. In fact, she tells me that she will receive an additional $9.96 per month as a result of these budgetary allotments, barely enough for a happy meal.

Ms. MacLean and others are not happy that the government specifically earmarked this issue as something it would address and yet when we look at the numbers we see less than $10 in the pot for a mother with a special needs child. Sadly, part of the government's record is promising big but delivering little. There are many other areas to touch upon.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Yellowhead.

The current Liberal government has laid out very little in terms of its vision of where it wants to take the country. There appears to be no comprehensive plan. That is another overwhelming conclusion one draws when looking at this budget.

Regarding post-secondary education, we had students in the gallery yesterday, and this week in Ottawa there are many students here from the Forum for Young Canadians who are participating in that terrific program.

Again the government had a golden opportunity to buttress and support students who are struggling with massive student debt loads in this country. Many of them have the equivalent of a mortgage when they graduate, but no home, no car and often no job. The expectation is that they will start to pay back that money almost immediately. Many of them, because of lack of opportunity, will leave the country in order to be able to try to keep those financial commitments.

There was a chance to put clearly in place incentives for young Canadians, those who have gone back to school and those who are upgrading, to stay and work and afford an education. It is the spiralling costs of education tuition that are a direct result of the clawbacks and the cutbacks from social transfer payments for which the government has been responsible now for a decade.

Again, it is directly laid at the feet of the current Prime Minister, who as minister of finance balanced the books, supposedly, on the backs of students, on the back of our health care system, which has been totally undermined, and on the backs of the provinces, by downloading these expenses. As well, we have also seen other disingenuous slight of hand attempts to take money from the EI fund and put it into general revenue, and to take money away from our military, clearly, leaving them so stretched, underfunded and under-equipped.

This ruse that has been perpetrated by the current Prime Minister is something that is going to receive great scrutiny and further examination as we head into an election. According to the government's own numbers from its consultant firm KPMG, this strategy that has been put forward, again in a very deceitful way, attempts to justify some of the program spending that continues. According to the government's own numbers, the firm has set out that $150 million was spent on the gun registry this year. If we factor in how much it costs for a student to pay tuition for half a term at university, around $5,000 in most cases, we see that this money being wasted on the gun registry could have paid to educate or could have paid the first year tuition of 30,000 students in this country.

Again it is a clear question of priorities: a useless gun registry that does not work, that does not protect Canadians--the Hell's Angels will not register their guns--or money put into student education, which again was supposed to be highlighted in this budget.

The budget leaves a lot of questions unanswered for Canadians. The Conservative Party would certainly believe in greater accessibility to education. We believe in eliminating barriers to post-secondary education, for example, doing away with taxable status on scholarships. Provincial jurisdiction of course factors very much into what we can do in health and education, but I would suggest that if we had given an ability to pay down as much as 10% on student loans annually as a percentage of income tax, there would actually be an incentive to stay and work in this country and get credit for that towards a student loan.

Some of the programs like the millennium scholarship fund have been an abysmal failure. The promise was to assist 12,000 graduates, but we know now, upon calculating it, that only 2,000 received this assistance. There were many broken promises with respect to interest relief in the past for student loan holders.

This is a question, like many others, that will be examined in the run-up to this election. Who would do it better, more responsibly, in a costed way? The answer in my view is the Conservative Party. Under the new leadership, under the new direction, this Conservative Party is going to be offering Canadians a clear alternative in the next campaign.

The budget also announced the CHST supplement, which was promised in the previous budget, a $2 billion announcement. We are glad to see it coming. It is little, it is late, but still, there it is. It has been announced five times. That is not new. What the premiers and my own Premier John Hamm of Nova Scotia were looking for was a long term commitment to health care, to changing the equalization program.

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12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

It's coming.

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12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

It is coming, the hon. member says. So is Christmas. What Canadians were looking for here was a clear sign of truth, a clear sign that this money was going to be there to help them through these tough times.

I know my time is at an end. I will turn the floor over to my colleague from Yellowhead.

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12:25 p.m.

Scarborough East Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I caught the concerns of the hon. member about management. I wonder whether he has read the article by Bruce Little in the The Globe and Mail on March 18, “S&P gives Canada shining report”. It states:

Canada has been handed a glowing report card by a major bond rating agency, which praises the country's open economy, sound public finances and stable political system.

In a report that would have been almost unthinkable a decade ago--

That of course happens to be the last time there was a Conservative government here.

--Standard & Poor's Corp. of New York said the country's strengthening financial profile, “impressive debt reduction”, “successful inflation targeting”, “strong public sector balance sheet” and “policy stability based upon a wide political consensus [all] augur well for Canada's long-term growth prospects”.

I wonder what the member would say to the fact that the lower government debt has put Canada in a better position to meet the fiscal challenges of an aging population than many other countries. Canada now has a sustainable public pension system. The last time Canada was in a mess was when we were downgraded under the Mulroney government to a AA status. Two years ago we were restored to a AAA status.

I put it to the hon. member that those from outside the country think that the nation's finances are being managed very well, thanks very much, and they were managed very poorly under the previous Conservative administration.

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12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Here we go, Mr. Speaker. It was Sir John A. Macdonald's fault, if we want to go right back to the very beginning and blame it on some Conservative. That seems to be the ploy here.

Let us be factual. We could go out and find some third party endorsements and try to pat ourselves on the back. There is no getting away from the fact that this government has been mired in the most corrupt and scandalous behaviour that the country has seen arguably in its history. It has misappropriated funds. There have been police investigations going on inside government departments. A Quebec Superior Court judge excoriated the departmental officials of BDC for the persecution they perpetrated on the head of a crown corporation.

The hon. member opposite knows full well that his government has an absolutely abysmal record as a manager of taxpayers' money. We have seen scandal after scandal emanating out from under the cabinet door. We have seen all sorts of examples of how the government has no respect for taxpayers' money. It has no respect for hard-working people who are at this very moment filling out their income tax forms to send to Ottawa, knowing full well that this government has lost $100 million in one program, in one department.

The hon. member opposite can try to pump up the stats and suggest that those outside the country somehow have some begrudging admiration for where our economy is, but the truth of the matter is that our numbers have been tumbling in world rankings in the United Nations. Our country is losing credibility every day because of the abysmal management skills of this government and this Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister somehow ran his own personal shipping empire the way he handled the government's finances, he would have a couple of ships tied up in an old harbour somewhere, rusting out like the economy is under his watch.

The member really has no credibility to stand here and try to read from some newspaper article about somebody who said something good about his government's management skills. The proof is in the pudding. Canadians sitting at home filling out their income tax forms know full well where their trust should lie when it comes to this government and the management of their hard-earned dollars. They look at the gun registry, the HRDC scandal, and this horrible waste of money under the sponsorship program. Those facts, not some chronicled response by some individual speaking on specific elements of the economy, speak for themselves.

The truth is there. Canadians know it. They are not going to buy this attempt to somehow roll back the clock and point the finger at somebody else.

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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and give my comments on the budget. I am really torn because I would love to jump into the debate that just went on, both with regard to who has credibility on the file and past budgets and when I see what the Liberal Party has done to this nation and how we could have been debt free if we had not decided to go into deficit budgeting.

I will not do that. I really want to stick to my theme, which is health care. I want to first of all explain to this House, because so many get it wrong, that we are a party that is firmly committed to universal health care. We are a party that is firmly committed to timely access to quality care regardless of a person's individual ability to pay. We are a party that understands Canada's health care system is the number one concern of Canadians.

I do not think we have a Prime Minister who quite understands that yet. He is an individual who has absolutely no credibility with regard to health care. What he has done on health care in the last decade over the tenure of the government has to be understood before we can truly get into an understanding of what happened in this budget with regard to health care.

I will quote his words of last November 9 in the Winnipeg Free Press . He said, “The best proof of what I am going to do in the future is what I have done in the past”. If that is indeed true, then it will be a sorry state for health care in the future, because what he has done in the past has absolutely destroyed it as far as pulling the dollars and cents away from health care and leaving it to drift over the last decade.

I know that full well. I worked in the health care system for 20 years. During that time period I remember going to Red Deer, Alberta, where we had to get the best minds in Alberta to decide what we were going to do to deal with the massive deficit of $900 million in one year. To make a long story short, the removal of dollars from the federal responsibility in health care ended up on the backs of those good, hard-working men and women in the industry who took a 5% rollback in Alberta to deal with that deficit.

It is unbelievable to see a government unilaterally pull the rug out from under health care. It never discussed the idea of taking money away from health care. It just did it. The federal government never sat down with the provinces, which have the joint responsibility of delivering health care, to try to discern how to come up with a better way of perhaps adding efficiencies in the system or how it could be done over a progressive period of time. None of that took place. It was just automatic that the money was coming out of health care. It just left the health care system to fend for itself. It downloaded the responsibility.

That is the sorrowful state of what actually happened in the health care system during those early years. To make it all worse, the government hid behind what is called the CHST, the health and social transfer payment, a grouping of dollars that went to social services as well as education and health care for the provinces. The government could hide behind it. It said the actual number of dollars was more, but it was not. It just went into three different areas and therefore it reduced the budgets. It was sleight of hand. We have seen sleight of hand even in this budget, sleight of hand on how the government is dealing with the actual dollars and cents.

However, before I get into the actual budget, I also want to talk about what kind of health care system we have left after that decade. We have a health care system where over a million people right now are on waiting lists for serious surgeries. Do members realize that the wait list period has doubled over the last decade? That is, during the last 10 years there was a doubling of the wait list in the country. Health care professionals have gone to greener pastures in the south to be able to find employment. That is what happened in the mid-1990s. It has continued to happen.

The sickest workplace we have in this country is the workplace within our hospitals. Our nurses use more sick time than any other workforce in the country. The shortage of doctors and nurses is acute and will continue to be acute.

This is the legacy of a Prime Minister who has neglected health care for the last decade. He has neglected health care in this budget.

It is interesting to look at the budget and see the dollars and cents that went into health care. There is a big to-do about the $2 billion that went to health care--

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12:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Over and over.

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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

It is absolutely amazing. This was a promise in the health care accord. There is no one in the land, no prime minister and no one from any party who could be a prime minister, who would have gone into another election without giving that $2 billion.

It is absolute nonsense for the government tried to trump it up and play a sleight of hand on this again, re-announcing and re-announcing the $2 billion. This was $2 billion as one-off money. Actually it was not one-off. It had already been announced in the health accord last year. I would challenge this government not to do this with health care dollars with the provinces. No wonder they are so upset about the dollars and cents in health care.

The budget says that $34.8 billion will go into health care over the next five-year period. However, we have to understand, which the provinces do full well, that those dollars were re-announced and re-announced. A good part of that money was announced in the 2000 budget, just before an election. That was playing politics with health. That was a five-year commitment, and we are just into the third year now. Now the government is re-announcing that $2 billion as part that $34.8 billion.

When the provinces look at the federal government and its lack of commitment to health care, they say that it may be able to fool the guy on the street, but it is not fooling them. They know the dollars and they know the numbers. They say that the government is absolutely false in what it says because its fifty-fifty commitment to health care is no longer there, and it is still not there. Stable funding is still not in place for this government.

Nonetheless, we can argue about whether the commitment is there. Last February an agreement was reached with the provinces. For the first time in a decade, provincial governments and the federal government came together and decided on a five-year agreement. Even in with that agreement, the government did not fulfil its commitment. Significant time lines were in the agreement, significant things that had to be done in that first year.

We agreed with a lot of what was in the accord. It said that provincial governments would be given flexibility to deliver on health care; it would reform the primary system. By September it would have the primary system indicators to tell us how we were doing, good, bad or indifferent, with regard to health care. The government has totally missed that deadline. It is not there today. It is not even being worked on. When the ministers met with the Prime Minister, just before the throne speech, there was not a word of that. Not only that, the bottom line indicators for a national home care program, which is part of the accord as well, were not there as well.

Therefore, we have a tremendous disconnect with what was agreed to by both orders of government last year to what has been happening and nobody is talking about it. It was not talked about in the throne speech. It was not talked about in this budget. In fact health care was scarcely mentioned in this budget.

What was talked about in this budget was what would be done with the public health agency.

It has been almost a year since we had the massive outbreak of SARS. SARS taught us some lessons, but the lessons should have been learned long before SARS hit. There were many warnings over the last number of years about the problem we would have if we did not look after the public health and protection of our nation. Diseases such as SARS, the avian flu and so on have ravaged many countries. Now we have firsthand experience of that, and we had been told it would come.

In fact we have been totally vulnerable from learning the lessons of SARS and actually dealing with it. We still do not have a chief public medical officer of health, somebody who can take the bull by the horns and play quarterback on a massive outbreak like SARS. That is really the job of the health minister, but if the minister will do not it, then we need somebody else who will. We are still sitting vulnerable on that. We still do not have a public health agency. Although it was mentioned in the budget, there have been no time lines for either one of those.

It is frustrating to see exactly what is in the budget and what is not. Why do we have to delay and delay? In fact the big discussion on the agency is the location of its headquarters, which is really interesting. It should either be in Vancouver or in Winnipeg, but my guess is it will be in Ottawa, not because of anything other than politics. It is unfortunate when we see governments playing politics with health care because it is too important.

We absolutely cannot be playing the politics of putting health care on a sustainable path and waiting until this summer to do it. The Prime Minister has had a decade of waiting for his time to become the prime minister. The answers for health care should have been foremost in his mind. It certainly is top in the minds of ordinary Canadians. Instead of coming forward in his first budget and first throne speech and giving real answers to health care, they have been absolutely ignored. It is a shame and an absolute disaster.

The government has tried to play sleight of hand with money. It has tried to convince people that it is fiscally prudent, yet there has been scandal after scandal. This government has to be replaced. The corruption goes from the top to the bottom. There is only one answer. Canadians will judge the government accordingly in the next election.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was following attentively the comments made by the critic for the Reform, Alliance, Conservative Party of Canada.

I have to remind hon. members that this is the seventh consecutive budget with a surplus. Canada is the only country in the G-7 nations that has done so. The government has given approximately $36.8 billion toward health care. It has also provided an additional $665 million to deal with health emergencies, such as SARS, so we will be ready for the future.

I wonder if my colleague read today's Globe and Mail headline which read, “PM seeks 10-year medicare plan”. The article states that the Prime Minister has asked the Minister of Health to prepare a sustainable 10 year plan for our nation in time for an upcoming meeting of the premiers in August.

Is the hon. member opposed to that plan? He said that he did not support the government nor the plan presented to Canadians in the budget. Everybody appreciates this plan with the exception of the hon. member. Could he comment on the points I have made?

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me start with the plan my colleague mentioned. It is unbelievable what the government has done with regard to studying health care and deciding what kind of plan with which to come forward. How much money did the government spend over the last decade? We sent that question to the Library of Parliament and it came back with the answer of $243 million just to study health care. We do not need another study. We do not need to wait until summer to figure it out. We know the answer. What we need is some performance and some leadership, but we are not getting either.

Canada taxes higher than any of the OECD nations. When it comes to health care, Canada only rates 13th out of the OECD nations. As far as dollars per capita, Canada ranks third. If we look at the age of our population, Canada ranks first. Those figures came out of a study done by the Fraser Institute last year. That means Canada put in per capita higher than any other country. Just providing money will not solve our health care problems. We need to look at reforming it and putting it on a sustainable path.

Two weeks ago, the Conference Board of Canada said that health care in its present state was headed into a failure. It cannot be sustained in its present form. The board did not come up with those conclusions by accident--

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12:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Drawn out of a hat.

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

The board did not draw those conclusions out of a hat at all. It formulated them from a very careful study.

If those conclusions are true, then we have to stop playing politics with health care. That is what the government has done, and this budget has failed to deliver on it. We have to start working with the two orders of government in a collaborative way. This appears to be impossible for the government to accomplish. It is unfortunate because the only way we will accomplish that is to change the government. Canadians are ready to do that.

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12:45 p.m.

Yukon Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a quick question about funding for aboriginal people.

A shortage of funding creates all sorts of problems. For example, along the border of Yukon in northern B.C. there are a number of first nations that are trying to settle land claims. However, B.C. is not providing negotiators for those claims and this is causing great difficulty for the people who want to move ahead.

In this budget and in the estimates, over $400 million in increased funding is being provided to aboriginals. Some of that money will go to land claims, some of it will go to programs, some will go to drinking water and some of it will go to aging rust. To help aboriginals get into the workforce, $125 million will be available to them for training.

One of the members of Her Majesty's loyal opposition suggested there should not be any increase in funding for aboriginal people. Does the member agrees with that?

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what my hon. colleague is talking about with regard to that claim. Aboriginals are the unhealthiest population in the country. Some of the reserves are an absolute disaster.

The member has to realize that the provincial government is not responsible when it comes to dealing with aboriginal health matters. Only one government is responsible and that is this government. It has absolutely failed for a decade to deliver on health for first nations. It is an absolute disgrace what has happened to our aboriginals with regard to health care in Canada.

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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the first budget tabled by the new Minister of Finance, and the government's seventh balanced budget in a row.

I want to take the opportunity to thank all members of my non-partisan community advisory council, representing all segments of my riding, for its valued support and input.

Budget 2004 demonstrates prudence and financial responsibility, something that members of my community advisory council called for during our annual prebudget consultation meeting earlier this year.

The budget begins to address the goals outlined in the throne speech and reflects the priorities of Canadians, with significant investments in public health, education, our communities and research and development, while maintaining a balanced budget and paying down the mortgage.

Contrary to what the NDP is telling Canadians, paying down the mortgage is extremely important not only because we cannot leave our children and grandchildren an unbearable debt burden that will choke their ability to deal with future challenges, but because the millions of dollars that we will save on servicing the debt can and will be reinvested in the priorities of Canadians.

This too is something that members of my community advisory council have repeated to me year after year.

Budget 2004 strengthens medicare by reconfirming the $2 billion investment in Canada's health care system, bringing to $36.8 billion the funding provided under the health accord. This translates into an extra $778 million in health funding for Ontario.

It provides an immediate investment of $665 million for the new Canada public health agency to be a national network for disease control and emergency response. This is on top of the $400 million that will be transferred to the provinces over the next three years to support a national immunization strategy and to reduce stresses on provincial health systems.

The budget is also providing support for families and children with the introduction of a new Canada learning bond, as well as other grants targeting students from low income families and students with disabilities. It also proposes speedier implementation of the multilateral framework on early learning and child care.

I am pleased to see that the Minister of Finance has acknowledged the hard work of our men and women serving with the Canadian military and police in high risk areas around the world, by exempting them from paying income tax.

I have spent time on the ground with and under the same living conditions as members of our military. I can tell members that they deserve this tax exemption not only for their service, but for their bravery and for the tremendous toll their absence takes on their families.

It is also important to recognize the additional resources being made available to support Canada's participation in peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Haiti, as well as the further $650 million for security issues and additional capital funding.

The implementation of the government's commitment to fully rebate the GST paid by municipalities is great news to my riding of Cambridge. For Ontario, the additional benefit to municipalities will be $243 million in the first year alone.

Coupled with this is an acceleration of the $1 billion municipal rural infrastructure fund, vital to North Dumfries township in my riding. This means that our cities will have $7 billion in available money over the next 10 years.

In my own riding of Cambridge, federal infrastructure support has gone to major projects like the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, as well as critical priorities like road improvements.

The $8 million infusion and the annual $10 million to the new horizons for seniors program is welcomed news. The goal is to keep seniors active in life by providing them with a wide range of community based projects and social activities.

Just yesterday, StatsCanada reported on the composite leading index, an early measurement of economic performance, which rose in February as manufacturing picked up.

Another news report yesterday in my riding of Cambridge and the region of Waterloo, known as Canada's technology triangle, reported a 20% increase in exports from 2000 to 2002. That is $10.7 billion worth of products. The regions of Cambridge and Waterloo made up 5.2% of Ontario's total exports and 2.7% of all Canadian exports in 2002.

Our economy has remained competitive while others have faltered because the government recognized long ago that Canadian businesses and workers must have the tools they need so that they can build a 21st century economy. That is why I welcome the support in budget 2004 to increase commercialization of the research conducted at our institutions of higher education.

Many companies in my riding, like those in the printing industry, will welcome the increase in the capital cost allowance rate for computer equipment to 45% and, in the rate of broadband, the Internet and other data network infrastructure equipment to 30%.

With one in six Ontario jobs directly or indirectly related to the auto sector, more so in my own riding of Cambridge, and with the changing patterns of auto investment, the announcement to work toward a national strategic framework for the Canadian auto sector in the 21st century is very important.

I want to thank the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister for listening to the members of the auto caucus, as well as the national caucus on the importance of the auto sector.

As the chair of the auto caucus, I am pleased that all those voices were heard before the budget was announced. The budget's emphasis on research and development, commercialization of research, and other initiatives will help support innovative work in the next generation of smart, fuel efficient, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles and renewable fuels.

Let me provide some facts to the House on how important the auto sector is for the Canadian economy. In that sector we have presently 217,000 employees and they are employed in motor vehicle manufacturing, motor vehicle trailer manufacturing, and motor vehicle parts manufacturing. Of those, 97% are permanent workers. That sector's manufacturing GDP is 12% of Canada's total GDP.

Six assembly plants are located in Ontario and about 550 auto parts plants are located in Ontario, resulting in 97% of Canada's automotive production originating in Ontario. These facts are very important for many of us. That is why I am especially pleased that the auto sector is mentioned and that the Minister of Industry will take the next step in the very near future to fulfill the obligations that were mentioned in the budget.

This budget comes on the heels of a $1 billion investment to help Canadian farmers and beef producers, something extremely important to the agriculture sector in North Dumfries township of my riding.

Canadians recognize that unexpected challenges can and do arise and that the government must be prudent with its plans if it is going to be able to respond. That is why the Minister of Finance has emphasized fiscal responsibility and prudent planning.

The leader of the New Democratic Party thinks we should have spent more money. The leader of the former Canadian Alliance, now Conservative Party, said that we should give tax cuts and spend more money on health. However, they do not have an answer as to where they would get that money.

The government is investing in the priorities of Canadians in a moderate manner and that is what the people want. For the last 10 years, Canadians were telling us that we should be accountable as a government, that we should take care of finances, and balance our books. The opposition at that time, the Reform Party, promised that it would balance the books by the year 2000. We did it by the year 1998.

I have nothing to be ashamed of in being a member of the Liberal Party, a member on this side and a member of the team that listens to Canadians and balances our books. Even today, I am more proud to be a member on this side because I have full confidence that the present Prime Minister will listen to Canadians and respond responsibly.

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1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to mention an item in the budget with which most Canadians agree, and that is the item that falls under the athlete assistance program. There will be a slight increase in that and I think Canadians in every province agree with that. Certainly, I know it is true in the Province of Saskatchewan.

I note that the government is spending roughly $1.75 million or maybe a little more now in monthly living and training allowances for these people because they are amateurs. We agree with that too. One thing that hits back home in my province is that a senior card member being trained gets an allowance of $1,100 a month for living and training expenses, and a junior gets $500 a month. The amateurs who play in the Saskatchewan junior amateur hockey league get zippo, but the federal government charges them. It charges these people who have no salary EI, CPP or other deductions. It is totally unfair and done only in Saskatchewan.

I would like to ask my friend from Cambridge, does he figure that this is an equality thing that is happening with Saskatchewan paying this price while amateur athletes chosen by the federal government get exemptions?

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I partially agree with the budget and I do realize that there is a need for more financial support. I have in my riding of Cambridge a very well known gymnastic club. That club trained not only national but internationally known gymnasts who participated in the Olympic games. I believe there is room for improvement and we have to work together to improve and support athletes.

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1:05 p.m.

Guelph—Wellington Ontario

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the hon. member as chair of the auto caucus. I know how hard he worked to get that piece in the budget, and the strategy to move forward in the auto sector.

Obviously, in Guelph—Wellington I have quite a few car plants and manufacturing plants that are dependent on this industry so it is very important.

The thing I want to address today though in the budget is the new horizons program. That has been a program that the seniors have wanted and needed to be expanded federally for a long time. It is tremendous.

I can say about my own mom and dad, when they were alive, they were able to stay in their house because of programs similar to this. It really does make it better for people, and ourselves eventually who will have to stay at home and will not want to go to an old age home or to the hospital. It will help people to be able to do that.

I am getting calls from seniors right now saying how pleased they are with this in the budget. Has the hon. member any thoughts on this and is he receiving this good news as I am in Guelph—Wellington?

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, the new horizons program and the $8 million in initial funding is great news for seniors. I believe that my colleague from Guelph—Wellington will agree with me that we must work together, not just on this side but on both sides, to improve that program and to get more funding for a program that will benefit seniors.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I should indicate that I will be dividing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Churchill.

It is a privilege to rise on behalf of the people who I have the honour of representing in Burnaby—Douglas and speak today to the government's priorities, because that is what the budget is ultimately about. It is about values, about priorities and about vision. On each of those benchmarks, the government and the new Prime Minister have failed miserably. Not only have they failed my constituents in Burnaby but they have failed all Canadians, and beyond that. They have shamefully failed to respond to the desperate plea of the international community for Canada to show leadership on a whole range of issues.

In the brief time that I have to speak to the budget this afternoon, I want to concentrate on two or three key issues. My colleague from Churchill will speak passionately about the shameful failure of the government to show any leadership whatsoever with respect to the concerns of the first nations people, the aboriginal peoples in Canada.

The Speech from the Throne held out the hope that perhaps the government might at last recognize the destructive impact of its policies on first nations and aboriginal peoples, both urban and rural, but there was nothing. Despite the call for additional resources for housing, for health care and a whole range of other issues, the government has miserably failed aboriginal peoples.

Indeed, in the area of aboriginal and first nations health, the throne speech called conditions on reserves shameful and acknowledged the immediate need for the federal government to remedy this problem. The reality is that this budget has done nothing whatsoever to respond to the health concerns of first nations people.

The government's non-insured health benefit program to provide health care to first nations is notoriously underfunded and is hindered by all sorts of Byzantine regulations, basically with Health Canada bureaucrats nickel and diming first nations people at every step and the regulations for providing travel services in isolated communities. I know my colleague from Churchill will be speaking to this, but the program is appalling and has become worse, not better. There is no hope whatsoever for aboriginal peoples in this budget.

As the spokesperson for my party on international human rights, I want to point out the personal betrayal of the Prime Minister with respect to Canada's place in the world. We all remember Bono standing up on the stage at the leadership convention arm in arm with the Prime Minister saying “look, we'll be there”, pushing the Prime Minister, saying “if you don't come back with some significant funding to meet Canada's global commitments in the fight against HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, I'm going to be a pain in the ass of the Prime Minister”. Those were his words.

Bono must be embarrassed and ashamed of the leadership of the government because there is not one new penny of funding above and beyond Canada's shameful current commitment to the global fund on HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The foreign affairs committee unanimously called for a tripling of Canada's commitment to meet our obligation. Bono pleaded with his friend, the Prime Minister, to show leadership. The answer we got on budget day was “forget it”.

Yesterday was World Tuberculosis Day and we heard from the representatives of the world tuberculosis society about how this government has failed there. The reality is that not one new penny went into the global fund for HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

It is in the area of health care that perhaps the government has failed most miserably. It is not as if it does not have a series of important recommendations as to how to move ahead.

I must say that one of the greatest needs is for ongoing stable funding and a government that is prepared to meet its commitment of 25%. I do not think that is asking too much. Not that long ago it was 50%, but we are just calling on the government to meet the 25% benchmark that Roy Romanow urged upon the government. It has fallen far short of that. There was a one time injection of $2 billion but nothing in terms of increases in stable long term funding.

Let us put aside the question of funding for a moment and ask what the government's priorities really are. There is no doubt that the effect of starving the health care system of the resources that are desperately needed is to strengthen substantially the power of private for profit health care in Canada.

The Prime Minister has already appointed a parliamentary secretary whose responsibility is P3s, public-private partnerships. If we have any significant increase in public-private partnerships in this country that will lead to the erosion and ultimately the destruction of universal public health care. That is the slippery slope that the government has taken us down by its years of underfunding the health care system. We do not have to look very far in my own province of British Columbia.

In British Columbia we know that as a result of the provincial Liberal government there are already serious attacks on our public health care system. We have a False Creek surgical centre which clearly violates the basic principles of the Canada Health Act.

When the provincial, Gordon Campbell, government was actually going to take steps, amazingly enough, to deal with that, it brought in legislation, bill 92, under the former prime minister. What happened? The new Prime Minister became Leader of the Liberal Party and Gordon Campbell said “No problem. We are going to ditch that legislation because we've got a Prime Minister who understands the needs of private health care in British Columbia”.

I remember when the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca crossed the floor from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Party. He was thrilled. This was a member whose ideas on two tier health care were so out to lunch that even the Conservative Party said that it did not want to go there. He took his ideas over to the Liberal Party. What happened? He said that he was thrilled to be a Liberal because the Prime Minister understands that the Canada Health Act is not that important and understands that the Canada Health Act is not a sacred document.

No wonder the same Prime Minister hired the key lobbyist for private health care in British Columbia, Bruce Young, who was working for Hill & Knowlton, as his top adviser for British Columbia. What else do we need to know in terms of the priorities of the government when it comes to health care?

More important, where is the government's leadership on the issues of home care and pharmacare? How many times have Liberals promised there would be action? As we know, these were key recommendations of the Romanow commission in terms of a national drug agency. We know that drug prices are contributing greatly to the increase in overall health care expenditures in Canada.

Home care is an essential priority and yet what are the government's choices? It had a choice in the budget between putting money into home care and into pharmacare and into dealing with the concerns of young people, students who find the doors closed to them for post-secondary education.

I was door knocking recently in Burnaby on Spruce Street and met with a couple whose young son was told that there was no space for him in university because the average grade required to study sciences at U.B.C. was 89%. For those students who are graduating they are graduating with massive debt loads.

The government had a choice. It could have put funding into health care, into education or into reducing the ratio of debt to GDP. Not many of my constituents lie awake at night agonizing about the ratio of debt to GDP. If we had a choice between $3 billion going into health care, home care and pharmacare, into decent education, into the environment, into housing, or going into lowering the debt or going into corporate tax cuts, I can tell members that the constituents of Burnaby--Douglas would say that the government's priorities are totally wrong and they would send that message, in the next federal election, loud and clear.

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened as much as possible to what the hon. member across the way has had to say. He made much reference to international matters. As you know, I was Minister of International Cooperation, and I must say that it is not for nothing that the government says the following on page 16 of the budget speech:

Canada has committed to double our international assistance budget by 2010–11.

The next sentence reads:

Today we are taking an important step toward this goal by increasing this assistance by $248 million for 2005-06.

So, starting next year, $248 million will be invested.

Two paragraphs later on the same page, there is again reference to our international commitment, but this time in connection with peacekeeping. For these remarks I am wearing a different hat, that of president of the Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas. We are all aware that Haiti is the most troubled country in the Americas and one that is so much in need of our assistance. The budget speech says:

This budget provides $300 million for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and for Canadian participation in a United Nations’ multinational force in Haiti.

Does the hon. member not support these measures, and does he feel, as he seems to have just implied, that they are inconsequential and unimportant?

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March 25th, 2004 / 1:15 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, I support increasing the budget for international aid. Still, let us not forget that it was the Prime Minister who, when he was finance minister, made massive cuts in foreign aid funding. The cuts were so deep that we dropped to 17th place among OECD countries. The rate is 0.26%. That is shameful. The Prime Minister is the person responsible. It is as if someone stole your money and now says that he will give you a little back to make amends.

Obviously, we will support the increase. Still, the basic question remains. Why has the Liberal government, why has this Prime Minister, refused to accept the unanimous recommendation of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to triple our contribution to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria? That is the question. The hon. member did not answer the question.

There was this recommendation. At the leadership convention, Bono asked the Prime Minister to make a commitment to triple the contribution. There is nothing, not a cent. That is truly shameful.