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House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was year.

Topics

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on the budget.

First, after listening to our Conservative friends across the way, or our “Alliance lite” friends, I want to say they really demonstrate that they are high on rhetoric and very weak when it comes to substance. In fact, I think they demonstrate more than ever why they should never be trusted to form a government.

The Conservatives, the Alliance lite over there, continue on a daily basis to say “spend”. They say to spend billions on this and billions on that with no accountability. Then there are days when they come in and say “cut”. They say to cut this and cut that without really analyzing the impact of those cuts.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, this is a party, a group, that when it came into office in 1993 inherited a deficit of $42.5 billion. That deficit was because of overspending and lack of accountability. This government came into office and said, “We are going to get the fiscal house of this nation in order”. We know that over the years it took a lot of work, a lot of hard work from Canadians, supportive Canadians, in order to eliminate the national deficit.

We know that the Conservatives really have not improved much since then. Their kissing cousins in Ontario left the incoming government of Ontario with a $5.6 billion deficit, this from a party that said it could in fact reduce taxes, spend less and deliver more. All it delivered in the end was a whopping deficit to Ontarians. The fact is, they could not manage the purse strings, and there is no indication from that party across the way that it has matured enough to be able to do it.

In fact, accountability is what this government has been all about. In fact, when the $42.5 billion deficit was eliminated we said we would not spend and we would not reduce taxes until such time as the fiscal house was in order.

It has almost become routine now, but the finance minister announced last week that this is the seventh consecutive balanced budget or better. There were times, I am sure, when we would have heard the opposition members telling us we were still in deficit. Now that we are at seven balanced budgets or better, we do not hear anything from them. In fact, the silence is deafening. Maybe it is because they do not have the words. They do not know what to say because they are dumbfounded that any government, the only government in the G-7, is able to balance seven years in a row. This is unprecedented in Canadian history. Again, the silence on the other side is deafening.

They are not deaf when it comes to saying spend in this area and cut in that area, but they have no fiscal plan. This government has a fiscal plan. We said we would get our house in order. We have done that with seven balanced budgets or better.

We have listened to Canadians. They said they wanted expenditure controls to make sure that when we spend a dollar we know where that dollar is going. They said to make sure we bring in smart investments. That in fact is what we have been all about.

Reducing the national debt used to be something that the Conservatives, the Alliance lite over there, used to talk about all the time. They do not talk about it anymore and again we hear great silence on the other side. Why? Because we are the only G-7 state paying off the national debt. In fact, we have now hit a target. We have now said we are going to go below 40% of the GDP. It was as high at 71.5% five years ago. Now we have said that the target in 10 years will be 25% of the GDP.

There were times when the other side used to say we did not have a target. Opposition members asked us why we did not have a target for debt reduction. Now we have announced a target for debt reduction and obviously it is too much for them to handle. There is no comment from the other side about the fact that we are now paying off over $52 billion in debt.

What does that mean? Our friends in the NDP say debt reduction is not that important. The NDP believe, I think, that the saving of $3.5 billion in interest payments is extremely important. Why is it important? It is important because social programs in this country can be and are funded because we are saving on interest.

To me, just those two areas alone demonstrate the fiscal management of the government: seven balanced budgets or better and the GDP going down to 25% in 10 years, something that could not even have been visualized 10 years ago and something that they still cannot grasp today, which only goes to prove that if one is a member of the opposition one's CV is very light. The opposition members clearly do not understand economics. They do not understand how to manage budgets. They are good at rhetoric but they are not good when it comes to the delivery of what Canadians want in terms of the fiscal management of Canada. We have delivered.

In fact, they do not have to take my word for it. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that Canada will do again this year what no other state has done: balance the books or better and pay down the debt. Again, we did this last year, which was a very difficult year: SARS, forest fires in British Columbia, hurricanes in the Maritimes, and the mad cow crisis. Yet because of the prudent fiscal management of the government, we were able to deliver a balanced budget or better for the seventh year in a row.

The fact is that we practice what we preach. We do not go out and spend moneys that we do not have. We again have shown the importance of the contingency reserve, that cushion against unforeseen economic circumstances. That $3 billion is important, and another $1 billion, again so important in terms of being able to set those moneys aside in case there are unforeseen circumstances that buffet the Canadian economy. We were able to respond in spite of all of those challenges of last year and we are still able this year to deliver a balanced budget or better. I think that is an impressive record.

Also impressive, I think, are the prudent investments we have made. Again, we have a resilient economy. We have the support of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, which again this year has applauded us for the work we have done in terms of dealing with debt and in terms of balancing the books.

Also, our friends across the way talk about the fact that we did not do enough in this or that area. Simply let me say that having balanced the books and having again reduced the debt, if that is not enough, what else did we do? We made an accord with the provinces. In that accord, we invested over $34 billion and another $2 billion, for over $36 billion, in health. This Prime Minister has said that in this particular case we are prepared to do more; in fact, we are prepared to give a 10 year commitment. But we cannot and will not continue to put in money without structural changes and, as we all know, it is up to the provinces, which administer the health care system, to make those changes.

The Prime Minister has said very clearly that this summer in a first ministers meeting he is prepared to go all the way in terms of making sure that we make those structural changes in cooperation with the provinces and provide the long term funding for 10 years, but the fact is we cannot continue to provide money to the provinces when the accountability is not there. Again, it is very important that there is accountability in terms of where those tax dollars are being spent. It is important to know that when it comes to the health care system the government supports a publicly funded health care system. We are going to continue to support it and we are going to continue to work with the provinces.

Of course our friends across the way, particularly the Conservatives, our Alliance lite friends, would like to see a two tier system. They of course are champions of Mr. Klein. In fact, that is not what Canadians want. They want to know that the system is there today and for the future.

In regard to the long term, we agree with Mr. Romanow, who has said not to put more money into it until there is a substantive agreement on the structural issues. That is what we are going to do. That what the Prime Minister has said he will do, and hopefully--not over lunch, not over dinner, and if it takes three or four days, whatever it takes--it is going to be done and done right.

One of the most interesting attacks we have had from our friends across the way has been on the issue of the urban agenda on the municipal file. It is absolutely unconscionable that the Conservatives, the Alliance lite party, would have this audacity. In fact, I cannot believe that they would even mention this issue since they have never supported this issue. Being a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I know what I am speaking about. I know that they used to say no all the time.

In fact, having been in the House over the last number of years, I remember Bill C-10. Bill C-10 was a bill in which we said we were going to deal with the issue of payments in lieu of taxes. What does that mean? In 1992, the Conservative government did a unilateral tax cut. It said that crown corporations would pay 10% less than private corporations. In theory, we could have had a CTV building and a CBC building in our city and the CBC would have paid 10% less. That was unacceptable. What did we do? The Liberal government worked with the FCM and municipal governments across the country and brought in Bill C-10.

Bill C-10 essentially said that we would pay our taxes on time, and that if there were a dispute it would go through the normal dispute mechanism available to the average taxpayer and we would pay interest if we were late. That party across the way voted against it and voted against it because that party was consistent in that it has never supported cities.

Lately, of course, that party goes on about the gasoline tax. It has discovered the gasoline tax, heaven forbid. These members are the champions of provincial rights and yet the party across the way, our Conservative, Alliance lite friends, ask why we did not bring in a rebate in this budget and assist the municipalities today. It is pretty obvious. Anybody who knows constitutional law knows that under section 92 the provinces are responsible for municipal governments, which are creatures of the provinces. Therefore, we need to get a tripartite agreement. We at least need to get the provinces on board, because we are not going to simply turn over money to the provinces and then say that hopefully it will go to the cities, towns and villages across the country. That will not work.

We have given a solid commitment. The Prime Minister gave a solid commitment that he will in fact work with municipal governments and the provinces in order to ensure that the moneys, either those from the gas tax or a similar amount of money, will go to our cities, towns and villages.

It was this government in 1993 that brought in the national infrastructure program. That party across the way opposed it. Those members are so shallow when it comes to the cities file. It is incredible to suggest for a moment that they are now the champions of the urban agenda in this country.

When it comes to the government, we implemented the national infrastructure program in 1994. Since then, this has been a very important and successful program for cities, towns and villages, over $25 billion of it. The fact is that it has helped the infrastructure in our cities, towns and villages across this country.

Going further, in 1991 when Brian Mulroney brought in the goods and services tax, he wanted municipal governments to pay 100%. The FCM, of which I was a part, said it did not believe that cities should be taxed, simply because the provincial and federal governments did not tax each other. In fact, we came up with an agreement, eventually and reluctantly, for a 57.14% rebate.

What has this government done? The government has now brought in a GST rebate of 100%, something for which municipal governments and municipal leaders have been asking for years. What does that mean? It means a $7 billion saving over a period of 10 years. My own municipality of Richmond Hill is going to save between $500,000 and $1 million a year. That is a significant amount of money, money that Richmond Hill can use for other projects. Again the fact is that the GST rebate is a very important initiative and again we are in consultation with our municipal friends.

We have gone further. We have said we are going to work collaboratively with cities, towns and villages in this country to make sure that if federal legislation comes in that is going to have an impact on them, we are going to have them at the table. We would like to have them at the table with the provinces and with the territories, or we will do it separately if in fact the provinces and territories do not agree.

We are committed to working with our cities because of course they are where 80% of Canadians live. The fact is that on the infrastructure file we had a 10 year program. We now have speeded it up to 5 years. We put aside $1 billion last year, spread out over 5 years instead of 10, because municipal governments of course have their capital works projects and devise 5 year and 10 year programs. This helps to assist them whether they are large or small.

A billion dollars has been invested in affordable housing, which is another important initiative. Even though some provinces have not picked up the ball on that, we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that needed housing is constructed. That is important.

To ensure that there is a strong voice, the Prime Minister has again said that he wants to start those discussions. He has been very open, as was the former prime minister with team Canada missions. Municipal representatives worked with business leaders and the federal government. We have continued to work in collaboration on this city file.

The former premier of British Columbia, a good friend of the NDP, Mr. Harcourt, has been brought on board on an external advisory committee on cities and communities to ensure that concerns of communities are heard. I know my NDP friends would be happy to see that. We do not talk about these issues; we deliver.

Contaminated sites is another important issue with which cities have been dealing. The government in the budget said that it would provide $4 billion over 10 years to do just that. That is very important. There are 3,800 federally controlled contaminated sites. We will respond to that, working in conjunction with municipalities, just as we did with the green enabling fund where we initially put $250 million in, then doubled it because it worked so well, showing a leadership in that regard.

On the issue of immigration and settlement for cities, $15 million annually was allocated there to deal with language training issues, another important incentive. Our friends across the way are silent on these issues because these are good initiatives. These are important things, but they are mired in the politics of cheap rebuttal. They want to talk about scandals. Yet they do not want to look at how this government has responded to expenditures and how we responded effectively.

The government has responded. The opposition is very weak when it comes to substance. It is high on the rhetoric. We are interested in ensuring, in listening to Canadians, that we provide not only a balanced approach, but also ensure that the investments made are made effectively for Canadians.

On taxes, our friends across the way complain. This is the $100 billion tax cuts, the largest in Canadians history. It is the fifth year in a row, and is assistance for small business.

In any event, I know members opposite do not like to hear the truth. I know it bothers them, and I am sure they will all get up ready to make comments which will have very little bearing on the budget.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if this is parliamentary, and you will correct me if I am wrong, but that member and all the Liberal horde over there are full of hops. So much of what he has said about what we have stood for over the years is just totally false.

He talks about the urban agenda and the infrastructure program. He said that we were against it. What we are in favour of is an efficient application of taxpayer money in order to give the maximum amount of money to the people who are building the infrastructure instead of wasting it in this quagmire here in Ottawa.

He says that they will defend health care. The Liberals keep saying it. They hope Canadians will believe them. The fact of the matter is, they started out with 50%. They are down to 16%. One of my colleagues over here has said that they are now funding 14% of health care. That is a big deal. They say all the words, but there is no action. We do not believe them.

There is $1 billion down the hole for the gun registry. Has it done anything? No. Meanwhile we have people like one of my friends whose daughter was brutally attacked by a guy on parole. How is that protecting our citizens. It is a total wipeout in terms of efficiency.

The hon. member has said that we are anti-Canadian. Does he remember that in 1993 we had a thing called zero in three? It was a plan where we said that the budget could be balanced in three years. The Liberals said that was un-Canadian, that we would cut everything, et cetera. The Liberals balanced the budget in three years. All we did was figure it out. We said that it could be done. They happened to win the election and they did it, but he was against it.

Affordable housing is a joke. The Liberals have poured millions of dollars into it and there is very little more affordable housing for poor people right now.

Finally, every year in the budgets that I have heard in the last 10 years I have been here, the Liberals announced that they would clean up the Sydney tar ponds. I think they will never do it, because then they would not have anything to say in the budget.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear a question, but I obviously hit a nerve over there. Let me respond to a couple of points.

First, on infrastructure, the Silverman report, the McGill University and U of T reports and the Auditor General all said that the infrastructure programs were well done, with 99.9% of the projects well funded and well thought out. Opposition members are fudging by saying that they want to ensure they get value for the dollar.

I want that member to go back to his riding and have the decency to talk to his mayors and ask any one of them if they do not think the program has not delivered important projects in their communities. Why is it important? A news flash for my friends across the way. They were not generated by this government. They were generated by the municipalities. They are the ones who made the proposals.

The party across the way, the Conservative, Alliance, has the audacity to stand in the House and mimic the provinces on the 14¢. It is utter nonsense. The party across the way should get it straight on how health care is funded. It is funded through cash and tax points.

If the members do not know, I can given them a little history lesson. The provinces wanted cash and tax points in 1977. Today, with cash and tax points, and if we throw in equalization except for Alberta and Ontario, it is between 30¢ and 40¢ on the dollar. Stop making those outrageous statements--

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

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12:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House that I took great delight in hearing what I guess I could call stretching of the envelope by the hon. member over there. The reality is his entire speech originated from the south end of a north bound cow. He knows very well that NDP members are very concerned about debt and deficits as well, but we would like a balanced approach.

As an example, if my roof is leaking and it will cost $2,000 to repair it, I will have to make a choice. Either I will repair it for $2,000 or I will put $2,000 on the mortgage. Those guys would put the $2,000 on the mortgage. Meanwhile, the roof would leak which would cause great damage to the House. Now they would have a $20,000 repair job. Was the $2,000 an investment? Of course not.

We are asking for a balanced approach. The Auditor General said that the $100 million purchase for the two Canadair jets was a complete breakage of all the rules and regulations. She mentioned that to the previous cabinet and to this cabinet. The cabinet response was the same. It did not break any rules. How does the government spend $100 million on two jets that its own Department of National Defence said it did not need? Would the member to respond to that?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the leaky roof, the government has not only been able to pay down the debt, the mortgage on the house, it has been able to repair the roof. Why? Because of fiscal prudence and good management. We have not only been able to repair the roof, but we have been able to refurnish the house because we have saved money. We saved $3.5 billion a year on interest because of debt repayment.

It is a fantasy of the NDP to suggest that somehow that by not paying down the debt we are in fact not doing the job and not helping Canadians. We are helping Canadians. Let us accept the leaky roof analogy, but let us accept the fact that by paying down the debt, the mortgage, we still are able to repair the roof. Why? Because of the interest savings.

Debt repayment is a most important aspect. I do not know about the hon. gentleman. I am sure he is a good fiscal manager in his own house, but I am sure that if he had a large debt, that is something that would concern him, and his family, and he would want to deal with that.

We are not saying we will pay it all off tomorrow. That is not realistic. What we are saying is that we have a plan, we are doing that and we consistently have shown that we are paying it off. We are also investing in many of the very important social programs that the member happens to support.

I am really a bit surprised to hear that somehow there is this issue dealing with that.

On the issue of the jets, I am not at the cabinet table. I can tell the hon. member that we need to ensure our expenditures are wise. That is what the Minister of Finance has said. The Minister of Finance has now re-established what the Conservatives eliminated, which is the comptroller general role. That comptroller general can flag expenditures early, or any issues needed . That is very important.

I very much believe we need to ensure, whether it is a dollar, or a million dollars or a hundred million dollars, that our dollars are spent wisely, that we invest wisely and that way respond effectively. I would think the hon. member would want to stand up, and I am sure he forgot to do this, and congratulate us for responding effectively with a comptroller general and all the other prudent things. It is very important, but I know he forgot to say that.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member talked about the record of his government. He said that his government brought in these programs. Let me ask him some point blank questions. What about the sponsorship scandal? What about the gun registry scandal? What about the flag scandal? What about the HRDC boondoggle?

Most important, he talked about the GST rebate. It was his government that said that it would eliminate the GST for all Canadians, not only for municipalities. What happened to that promise?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the beach balls he floated over here.

On HRDC, I wish the member would get it straight. There was never a billion dollar boondoggle. It was $60,000 in total. There was a bad paper trail. We now have the Auditor General responding four times a year. For them to repeat that nonsense, is utter rubbish. The member knows that, but again that party is mired in scandal. That is all it is interested in. It is not interested in providing Canadians with the facts.

On the GST, the hon. member knows that the government said that it wanted to harmonize the GST with provincial sales taxes. That has been done. However, the member knows that the elimination now of the GST per se would have to be made up somewhere. Could that hon. member tell me where he would make it up?

On the gun control, over 80% of Canadians support the gun registry. The fact is it is used over 2,000 times a day by police forces across the country. That group clearly has these hot button issues. If it would get its facts straight, they are not that hot.

Let us get the facts straight on HRDC. Let us get the facts straight on gun control. Let us get the facts straight on a lot of things.

If that is what the party will do in an election, then the member's party is in serious trouble. Canadians want to hear the facts. They do not want to hear the rhetoric of a really papered old party, which really is Alliance like.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will split my time with the friendly and attractive member for Québec.

As you know, the budget was a huge disappointment. All the media, both anglophone and francophone, took a very realistic and relevant look at it. This budget confirms three major patterns of the government, including interference in provincial jurisdictions—and I will explain later what will happen in health. This is, of course, a budget that will allow the federal government to continue to generate surplus after surplus, but will not give the provinces any chance to fulfill their responsibilities. With this budget, the government is true to itself in that it does not respect the main priorities of Canadians and Quebeckers.

Why is it not respectful of Canadians and Quebeckers? Because, according to all the polls, health is the top priority for our fellow citizens, but this budget does very little in that respect.

To begin at the beginning, as we all know, there has been a campaign in the print media for several weeks now. It is not being carried out by either the Parti Quebecois or the Bloc Quebecois, but by all the premiers. This means the Liberal government in Ontario, the Conservative government in Newfoundland and the Liberals in B.C., among others. All of the premiers are urging the federal government to shoulder its responsibilities and to reinvest massively in the health care system.

As hon. members are aware, in the mid 1950s, when hospital insurance and the major components of the public health care system were put into place, the federal government committed to a 50% contribution to health programs.

Federal-provincial committees and senior public servants have carried out a non-partisan analysis to find out what the federal contribution was and came to the conclusion that the federal government's contribution was no more than 16¢.

Imagine, the government, which was meant to invest 50¢, is investing a mere 16¢ into health care. This is why the Quebec Minister of Health and MNA for Mont-Royal, Philippe Couillard, not a Bloc Quebecois supporter and most certainly not a card-carrying Parti Quebecois member, said the federal government was trying to set the priorities, even if it only funds 16¢ of every health dollar.

This is, in fact, the main danger for us in the years to come. The federal government's intent is to make use of health in its nation building exercise. It wants to construct a vision of Canada. It wants to encourage a feeling of allegiance. It wants to develop partisan networks around health, because it wants to be the one to set the priorities, without putting in the funding for them.

I will give an example that will surely please the members for Québec and Rimouski--Neigette-et-la-Mitis. It concerns the Canada public health agency. We need only examine its designation, or name, the Canada Public Health Agency.

Mr. Speaker, erudite as you are, can you explain the federal government's interest in health, outside of epidemics and veteran and aboriginal health, all areas for which everyone understands it has responsibility? Outside of these three areas, how can the federal government claim any expertise whatsoever in public health? Yet, it is now engaged in building a Canadian agency for public health. Already $660 million has been set aside for this.

Finally, the federal government has come up with $1 billion in new initiatives that are completely outside its field of jurisdiction. What the provinces have asked for, many times, was for it to increase its contribution.

I would also like to talk about another scandalous matter on which the Liberals have been cruelly silent. We know that in the big cities, there is poverty. It is true in Quebec City, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. Our fellow citizens, the poorest among us, have become poorer while the rich have got richer. There has been no effort in recent years to establish ways to redistribute the wealth in a more adequate, fair or generous way. The opposite is true, in fact: the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

We know that in the big cities, the phenomenon of poverty is even more visible. What is the first variable that affects poverty? Access to affordable housing. First of all—and the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville can give us details—the federal government completely withdrew from the funding of social housing. There was a joint program under which the provinces and the federal government constructed social housing. The visible aspect of this is the presence in our communities of low cost housing. Those living in this housing pay 25% of their income.

Just imagine—this government has been so heartless, unfeeling and inflexible as to completely withdraw from the field of social housing. If the federal government had maintained its contributions at the same level as in 1993-94, are the members aware how many new social housing units would be available in our communities? With regret, I must inform the House that some 45,000 social housing units have not been constructed because the federal government has not lived up to its responsibilities and acted as a partner in this sector.

The Quebec government—if I am not mistaken, it was under Mr. Chevrette or Mr. Rémi Trudel—set up a special housing fund. It was known as the affordable housing fund and was available to the Quebec government. Without the Quebec government's contribution, social housing would have seen some serious setbacks.

More troubling still, Louise Harel—one of the most brilliant people in Quebec today—signed an agreement with Alfonso Gagliano. I do not want to comment on his contribution to public life, but Alfonso Gagliano, as the public works minister, signed this agreement with Louise Harel to implement phase one of the affordable housing program, for which $680 million was allocated. But, to date, only 24% of that amount has been spent.

Quebec implemented a program with the municipalities to spend this money. Quebec spent its share, but the rest of Canada did not. Phase two of the affordable housing agreement was signed and $320 million was allocated. Despite the fact that there will have been two July 1 crises since parliamentarians voted to approve those funds, not one province has received a dime.

How is it possible that there is a significant need for social housing in our communities, such as Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, yet this money has not been made available? It is a true scandal with a human face.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to elaborate a bit more on the fact that the budget was lacking with regard to social housing in Canada.

Social housing is a growing concern in Canada. It was this government and the Prime Minister when he was finance minister that cut federal funding to social housing. The government is not even at the front door of discussions in a serious way.

I would like my colleague to give the Quebec perspective on the social housing crisis in areas like Montreal, Quebec City and others.

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1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. As you know, social housing is what provides our fellow citizens with accommodation for a reasonable portion of their income.

The federal government stopped funding this in 1993-94, when the first Liberal budget was presented in this House. There was no longer one red cent for social housing.

In the good years, 8,000 social housing units were built in Quebec with 50-50 federal and Quebec funding.

As hon. members are aware, Montreal has a 1% vacancy rate. Only 1% of rental housing is available for rent. If we look just at housing renting for $600 or less, the percentage is 0.4%. The housing crisis is more acute in Quebec than anywhere else.

Things are not much better in Quebec City. I am sure the hon. member for Québec will also speak of this, but the vacancy rate is not much different there, nor is it any better in Sherbrooke or Trois-Rivières. Nevertheless, the government manages to hang on to funds rather than passing them along to the provinces.

I have referred to phase two of affordable housing. Quebec has invested money in this, and as a result people can rent a two-bedroom apartment for between $350 and $500.

But I will leave an opportunity for the hon. member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis to ask me a question.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today since the budget that was presented to us has consequences for ridings that are dealing with the problem of poverty.

Choices were made that will not help the poorest communities in Quebec. In my riding in particular, there are some areas that are quite disadvantaged and as my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, was saying, need social housing in order to have affordable housing.

It is a little disappointing because what the government is telling us is that it did not have enough flexibility or a large enough surplus to support certain community projects.

Do we believe that there was no flexibility? Does the public believe it? No, we do not. We know full well that this government had the necessary means to meet other urgent needs. I will talk about this later.

There is talk of a hidden surplus in Ottawa. We know that this government is a master at hiding the surplus. According to the government, the surplus will be $9.9 billion in 2006. We know full well that other calculations have been made and other studies conducted. Among others, the Conference Board of Canada, in its 2004 projection of the fiscal balance for the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, estimates the budgetary surplus for the same period, 2005-06, at $24 billion. That is far from the $9.9 billion the government says the surplus will be in 2006.

The Bloc Quebecois received comments along the same lines as the Conference Board study, saying that we were right in previous years about this government's estimates. According to the Bloc Quebecois, according to our finance critic, the member for Joliette, in 2005-06 some $28.5 billion will be sitting in this government's coffers.

Often our estimates are taken seriously. In reality, year after year this government has raked in surpluses that are much greater than they claim. The result is that they are unable to bring down a budget that takes into account the true realities. We know that the provinces have realities. I will name a few.

As regards the Canada social transfer, the new Prime Minister told us about his intention to do things differently. We tried to see if, in the budget, this Prime Minister had met public expectations, and also if he had followed up on his statement to the effect that the budget would take the provinces into account and would be respectful of their jurisdictions.

The first thing that he should have done is to restore the Canada social transfer, which provides money for education, health and social programs. These transfers respect the Constitution.

Instead of doing that, the government decided, in a very underhanded way, to continue to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. As regards health, the government says that it wanted to comply with the Romanow report, but that it would have had to contribute 25% of the budget for health. This could have been achieved through the Canada social transfer.

The amount of $2 billion is not an investment made by the Prime Minister, it is an amount pledged by the former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien. I cannot count the number of times I have heard the government say that it was investing $2 billion in health. We know very well that this amount is totally inadequate. The provinces were unanimously very disappointed with the federal government's contribution to health.

The government should have gone back to the drawing board and looked at what the provinces require to meet public needs.

Instead of that, they decided to put Canadian public health agencies into certain bureaucracies, instead of looking at the provinces' real needs.

We can also look at the level of funding for social programs. It is zero. It is the same thing in education. They are giving 12%. That is not the fair share to which Quebec is entitled nor to which the provinces are entitled, so that they can increase the quality of educational services.

We know that they were trying to flirt with a number of client groups. The federal government has a habit of trying to flirt with certain client groups to gain their trust and keep them on the government's side. We know a thing or two about that.

Thus, I think this is a very manipulative budget, that does not meet the expectations of the provinces and the premiers. We know that Quebec has a new premier. No one can claim that he is a sovereignist or from the Parti Quebecois. His is a Liberal government that has said this budget is humiliating for Quebec; it was called “a humiliating defeat for Quebec”.

In certain economic sectors it is a budget that stirs the anger of unions and does nothing to solve problems. It is a great disappointment all over Quebec, particularly in Quebec City where it has also been criticized. It has received a lukewarm welcome in the business community.

There is another issue, that of social housing. On this topic, FRAPRU met with the Prime Minister. They believed he was going to be generous in terms of social housing expectations, but that was not the case. The Prime Minister said he was concerned about social housing for low-income people, and that he would set up a five-year program.

But there has been nothing. In its press conference, FRAPRU spoke of this Prime Minister's awareness of and concern for the disadvantaged, and there has been nothing for social housing. Moreover, as my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve mentioned earlier, they have not put one new penny into building social housing.

Then there is the national affordable housing agreement. Here, too, Quebec must wait until all the provinces have spent their money in the first phase, because there are two phases to social housing. In the first phase, no one in Canada, except Quebec, has spent the first amount allowed.

Phase two has begun and, once again, all the money from phase one must be spent before Quebec can access the funds for phase two. So we feel ripped off. The needs are urgent. There are projects waiting.

The other day, I saw the Minister of Canadian Heritage break ground in my riding and brag about affordable housing being built. However, what she did not say is that there would be a lot more already built if the money for phase two had been freed up, thereby allowing faster access to it.

Obviously, projects are on the table and on hold. Furthermore, the industry knows that the minute construction starts, the money has to be there for the building to go up. This is yet another area with disappointing results that needs our consideration.

There is the whole issue of the fiscal imbalance. What did the government decide to do? It closed its eyes. It is not the one responsible for providing services to the public.

For example, when things are bad in the provinces, when the provinces and Quebec have trouble meeting the needs of the public—be it in health or other services—who do the public go to? They go to the government responsible for providing those services. I am talking about the provincial governments. So, the Quebec government has to justify itself to the public.

In the meantime, the federal government will have stockpiled $28 billion between now and 2006, and it says in all seriousness that it does not have the financial leeway to respect provincial jurisdictions.

We shall see in the next election. We hope that those listening today to the opposition will tell this government, “You did not do your homework, you did not understand and that is not how the federal government is supposed to work”.

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to enter the debate on the budget. This is a historic budget because for the seventh consecutive year the government has balanced the budget. This is the first time that this has happened since Confederation. The government is predicting, projecting and committing to balanced budgets or better in the next two years as well.

The budget implements the new agenda for achievement that was enunciated in the recent throne speech. This is a time when we are preparing to act with a new government and a new leader. It is an exciting time as change is in the wind.

As the newly elected chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, I can say categorically that the budget reflects what our committee heard when we travelled across the country last fall on our prebudget consultation tour. Canadians told us categorically that we should not under any circumstances give way to a budgetary deficit, that we had to stay in surplus. The Minister of Finance certainly listened to that message and implemented this key feature in budget 2004.

Because of recent problems with the discredited sponsorship program and the financial management of programs such as the gun registry, the government is acting on a number of fronts. Before I speak to that, what the government is talking about is greater accountability and greater transparency. We saw on Friday living proof that the government is acting on that agenda.

I have a private member's bill, Bill C-212, on user fees. The bill was passed by the House of Commons after receiving some amendments from the other place. The bill will now pass into law with the Governor General giving royal assent hopefully in the not too distant future.

The bill demands that the departments and agencies of the Government of Canada be more accountable and more transparent when they bring in new user fees or increase user fees across a broad spectrum of Canadians. These user fees bring in about $4 billion annually. They could be for anything, a fee to get a passport, a fee to enter a federal park, a fee to get a new drug approved in Canada, a fee to get ice breaking services from the Coast Guard, or a fee to access the government procurement system, the MERX.

I am happy to see the Minister of Public Works enter the chamber. I understand that the cost of entering the MERX system is going to be reduced significantly. I am very happy to hear that, and I congratulate the minister for that action. Small businesses use that system to find out what procurement opportunities there are within the federal government and in other levels of government as well. Magically, mysteriously and suddenly last year the fee went from $5 a month to $30 a month. Had my Bill C-212 been around at the time, there may have been a different result. However, I am very happy that the government is moving on that unilaterally.

This is a sign of the times. The President of the Treasury Board, the member for Winnipeg South, supported my private member's bill. The Senate made amendments to the bill. Then the government supported my private member's bill, which will demand more accountability and more transparency from government departments and agencies. That is what this government is all about.

The problems we have experienced more recently with the sponsorship program and the gun registry really call for an action plan by the government to deal with these particular circumstances. That is what our Prime Minister and our government are doing. Our government has called for a special inquiry. Our government has referred the matter completely and openly to the public accounts committee. We will get to the bottom of this particular problem. In fact the Prime Minister and his ministers have already acted decisively with respect to some of the actions and involvement by various crown corporations.

It is quite interesting because there are many Canadians who say to themselves, and maybe to their friends, how is it that our current Prime Minister when he was finance minister did not know about the sponsorship program? It is a very legitimate question that many Canadians are asking themselves. I would like to give a certain perspective on that.

I had the great honour and privilege to serve as the parliamentary secretary to the then finance minister, the member for LaSalle--Émard, our current Prime Minister, for a period of two years. I had the great honour to attend many of the meetings when the minister would meet with the departments. I can say that this type of matter did not really get on the agenda, nor should it, nor could it.

The Minister of Finance is preoccupied with a broad range of macroeconomic policy questions. The Minister of Finance is involved almost on a continuous basis in building a budget. The Minister of Finance is involved in a whole range of issues that would not lead him to the micromanagement of a certain department of the Government of Canada.

Having said that, I am glad to see that our government is acting to centralize and tighten up some of the comptrollership functions and internal audit functions across all of government. However, when the Prime Minister was finance minister, a reasonable presumption was that once resources were allocated to a federal government department or agency, the minister, the deputy minister and all the officials would manage those resources within the mandates given to them, within the rules of the Treasury Board, within the rules that are available and are mandatory for the expenditure of public funds.

It is unreasonable, in my judgment, for people to expect that the then finance minister would have been cognizant of all the various internal audits that go on within departments on an ongoing basis.

We need to understand as well that the government is not to excuse the mismanagement of government funds on behalf of taxpayers, not in the least. Every single dollar that is spent that comes in from taxpayers has to be managed in the wisest and best way. The Government of Canada is a very large organization, $180 billion a year, and problems are bound to emerge.

Canadians are rightly saying that the limits have been reached and maybe exceeded. That is why our government is acting decisively. That is why there is going to be more centralized comptrollership and a greater emphasis on internal audit. I am very happy to see that.

While it is also important that the government be proactive on that particular front, budget 2004 is a good opportunity for us to review the overall fiscal performance of the government over the last 10 years. We often get into the details of the sponsorship program or some mismanaged programs. Those are very unfortunate and need to be dealt with, but if we look at the last 10 years, Canada is considered an economic miracle around the world. When our Prime Minister, our finance minister and the various ministers travel, people pull them aside and ask how we accomplished what we have accomplished in Canada.

Our government inherited a $42 billion deficit when we took office. That $42 billion deficit was eliminated in four short years under the leadership of the then finance minister, our current Prime Minister, the hon. member for LaSalle--Émard.

With the sponsorship program, various numbers have been thrown around, such as $100 million. Of course time will show that it is nowhere even near that amount but the opposition parties like to throw out this big number .

The difficulty in HRDC some years ago was called the billion dollar boondoggle. That is what the opposition talked about. Well guess what? In the final analysis it was some $65,000 that was problematic. It is still a problem, as $65,000 is $65,000, but let us get somewhat real.

What did that $42 billion deficit translate into? Every single calendar day $115 million was leaving the federal treasury. Now we are in a position of surplus and now it is the opposite. Something like $10 million every single day comes into the treasury on a net basis. From $115 million flowing out every day, we are bringing in $10 million every day. That is the sort of context I am hoping Canadians will put this whole matter in as we move to the polls and a general election.

During the same period, from 1993 until today, Canada has experienced economic growth second to none in the industrialized world. Perhaps the United States has shown some stronger economic growth, but when it comes to jobs, the United States on a per capita basis is not even close to the jobs that our economy has generated. Two million more Canadians are employed than there were in 1993. That is an amazing record of job creation.

In that same period our government has wisely paid $52 billion against the national debt. That action is saving all of us as taxpayers every year $3 billion in interest charges and costs associated with servicing the debt. That is $3 billion each and every year moving forward in perpetuity.

That $3 billion this year, next year, the year after can be redeployed. That money is being redeployed as we speak for health care, education, and the environment. That is the benefit of paying down the national debt. It is not an end in itself. It is a matter of giving the federal government more flexibility in the way we can manage our programs and the way we can meet the needs, aspirations and priorities of all Canadians.

Let me add to that something the opposition parties forget from time to time. We have had stable pricing. We have had a cap on inflation over the last 10 years. What does that mean? It means we have had low interest rates. What does that mean? It means that there is more investment in the private sector. That means more jobs. Also, it means that more Canadians are able to buy a home.

We have all heard about it. I know that here in Ottawa and in Toronto vacancy rates are up in the rental market. The reason is low interest rates. First home buyers are able to get a mortgage at a low rate. What does that do? That causes more construction. What does that do? That creates more economic activity. It is very important to have stable prices and low interest rates. Our government has been able to achieve that with the help of all Canadians.

As I said, $52 billion has been paid against the debt. Where is that leading to? Right at the peak in 1995 Canada's debt to GDP ratio was around 71%. That is the size of the debt in relation to the size of our national economy.

At the homemaker level that would mean the kind of mortgage or debt the family could take on given the family's income. It is the very same question. When people sit around the kitchen table they often ask themselves how much debt they can take on. Can they afford to take on the mortgage for that new home? Can they afford to take that trip and put it on their MasterCard? This is not rocket science.

In Canada we went from a high debt in relation to the GDP and the size of the economy of 71% down to 42% and it is going down to 25%.

The NDP came out with some numbers that this will cost $200 billion. This is why Canadians will not elect an NDP government to power. It is because the NDP does not get the numbers. I will tell hon. members the reason the NDP does not get it. To get down to a debt to GDP ratio of 25% over the next 10 years, two elements are required.

One element is that we have to grow our economy by about 3% per year over the next 10 years. That is roughly what we have been achieving since we took office in 1993.

The second element is that every year the government sets up a $3 billion contingency reserve to look after things like SARS, the BSE crisis and a whole host of other things. If we do not need it, that money automatically goes to pay down the debt. With that $3 billion each and every year over the next 10 years, which amounted to $30 billion when I went to school, and a growth of 3% in the economy each year, we are going to get down to 25% debt to GDP.

Is that such an onerous thing? Is that not putting us in a straitjacket? The NDP should take another course in arithmetic. That covers that particular front.

Another often forgotten fact by the members opposite is that in the year 2000 our government implemented the largest tax cut in Canadian history. That tax cut is flowing through today as we speak. We are in the last year of that implemented tax cut. In budget 2004 there is not a lot more in the way of tax cuts, but there are some and I will come back to that in a moment.

The largest tax cut in Canadian history of $100 billion was not for big business, as the NDP would point out. Of the $100 billion, I think $4 billion to $5 billion was for business. The tax cut was not for high income Canadians, as some would argue. The vast bulk of the tax cut went to middle and low income Canadians. In fact, typical middle income families in Canada as a result of that $100 billion tax cut had their taxes cut by 27%. I repeat, 27%. When I went to school, that was a pretty big number. What are families able to do with that? It helps them to pay for their children's education, to buy better accommodation and a whole host of things.

Our economic record since the Liberal government came to power in 1993 has been absolutely amazing, by even the most objective standard. In fact, people do not have to listen to me. They can listen to the OECD, to the IMF or to any leader in the world who, as I said, have pulled ministers of our government aside and asked how we are doing it in Canada. Although we need to deal with the sponsorship issue, and we are, we need to understand that the government has shown the absolute maximum level of creativity and responsibility in helping us to achieve our fiscal goals.

Budget 2004 does a whole bunch of other things. It starts the program on the cities agenda. It offers up the first down payment on the cities agenda, or as some would prefer to call it, the communities agenda. That first down payment is exempting municipalities from the GST, not effective next year or the year following, but effective immediately.

What does that mean for a city like Toronto where I come from? For the city of Toronto that means $50 million more in its treasury each and every year, starting a month or so ago. It means there is $50 million to be used to fight crime, to deal with public transit, to deal with affordable housing or any other priorities. Is that enough? Of course it is not enough. That is why it is a down payment. There will be discussions with the provinces and the cities over the next while to see what can be done with the gas tax or some similar instrument so that the cities can receive more dedicated and consistent revenues.

There is the 2003 health accord. What about health care? In 2003 we signed a health accord with the provinces for $35 billion and an additional $2 billion this fiscal year. That is $37 billion in health care. That is an 8% increase each and every year moving forward. In public health there also has been a large investment of almost half a billion dollars.

The budget contains initiatives with respect to the environment; $3.5 billion to help clean up brown fields or environmentally degraded sites; faster write-offs for computer equipment for small businesses; a faster approach to the lower tax rate for small business.

More has to be done and more will be done but budget 2004 is an excellent start, and I am sure the members of the House will support it.

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1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for my friend across the way who has some credibility on finance issues. He was on the finance committee for a number of years and I believe he was the chair as well.

The government has done some things in the right direction, although I am sure it has been pushed, pulled and dragged screaming to move toward debt reduction and the kinds of things that my friend mentioned.

He said that we needed the flexibility to manage our programs. He also talked about the debt contingency of $3 billion, which, if it is not needed, will go to debt pay down. He mentioned that $52 billion has been paid down on the national debt. What he did not mention is that we still pay $40 billion a year in interest on the national debt. If debt repayment was a priority during the 10 years when the economy was rolling along quite nicely, we would see that number decreased. In many ways the government has failed on that missed opportunity.

My friend mentioned gas taxes. The former finance minister, current Prime Minister, talked quite a bit about giving gas taxes back to the provinces. The provinces are now paying $7 billion a year and getting back $700 million. Over 10 years that would be the equivalent of taking $49 billion from Canadians and putting only $7 billion back. That is quite a cash windfall for the government, raking in tax dollars and not putting them back into infrastructure. I believe that is also a missed opportunity, in the way that the government is gouging Canadians through gas taxes.

My friend alluded to what he calls the sponsorship issue, which I think is a redefinition of the term sponsorship scandal, but I would like to ask him about the missing $100,000 million. We do not know where it is. Another $160 million missing through--

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1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Etobicoke North.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Dewdney—Alouette is right. If we had paid more down on the debt there would be less interest costs. The number is around $40 billion a year. However one of the challenges the government has is to deal with competing priorities.

If we look at the trade-offs the government made, a lot of the trade-offs were putting money into health care and education. In fact, 80%, or thereabouts, of the new money this government spent as opposed to paying down the debt went into health care and education.

On the gas taxes, I should say that hopefully we will cede some gas taxes to municipalities. However on the gas tax burden, if we were to go anywhere else in the world we would pay perhaps 10 times more at the pump than we pay here in Canada. Although we need to deal with that, I do not think it is the burden that the member described.

On the sponsorship issue, yes, the government is dealing with it. The Prime Minister set up a special inquiry. The public accounts committee is dealing with it. We will get to the bottom of it. As I say, the Prime Minister has taken some decisive action with respect to the crown corporations that were involved.

As I said earlier, not to make excuses, it is a $180 billion a year organization. It was our government that invited the Auditor General to report quarterly. It is our government that did the internal audit on the sponsorship program and put the results on the website.

Are we taking some heat now? Absolutely. Should we? Yes we should. Are we dealing with it? Yes we are.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, when I was listening to the hon. member's speech, who I must say is a pretty good bridge player, I almost thought for a second that he actually believed what he was saying. I would encourage the hon. member to come to my riding for just a day and I will introduce him to farmers, fishermen, forestry personnel, veterans, seniors and students. He can bring his budget and sit down and explain to these people why herbal alternatives were taxed a couple of years ago through the GST when they never were before.

He can explain to people why veterans and seniors are losing their homes because they cannot afford the cost of living any more; why farmers are losing their farms; why fishermen are having their communities closed, such as the town of Canso, Nova Scotia; and why the budget is offering students more debt instead of lower tuition fees.

The Liberals say that the NDP is not fiscally accountable or responsible. We were not the ones who bought two Challenger jets from Bombardier for $100 million, which the people at DND said were not needed and that the Auditor General has said to two cabinet departments that they broke every rule and bypassed the rules.

Why did the Liberals purchase those jets when their own people in DND said that they were not required? Is that being fiscally accountable to the Canadian people?

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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the member up on his offer to visit his riding. I am not exactly sure when, given the exigencies of the time, but I would happily go into his area as I go into my riding and defend this budget because my riding is fairly blue collar as well, with maybe $55,000 family incomes and people struggling to pay their rents.

I was very happy when our government signed an agreement with the Ontario government on affordable housing. In fact, it was under the Harris and Eves government that we had an agreement but we could not get them to move on it. It is unconscionable that people pay 40% to 50% of their income on rent. We are holding workshops and we are meeting with the local people, the agencies and the developers to talk about an Canada-Ontario affordable housing agreement and how we can get some action on that.

On the question of the Challengers, at the time of purchase of those jets our then minister of finance was not consulted. I know that for a fact, and he has stated so publicly. I know that if he had been consulted he would have wanted to know how we could do that when we have the armed forces with helicopter contracts waiting to be implemented.

On the issue of student debt, I agree with the member that it is a challenge but the last time I checked, the provinces are responsible for post-secondary education.

The new health council that will be set up will create greater accountability in health care and we have segregated those funds. The Prime Minister this summer will insist that we have a sustainable health care system and that we have accountability.

We are moving to a point where we need to perhaps do the same with post-secondary education. We know that some students are getting beat up badly on student debt. We keep putting money in. We have done some modest things. We want to do more and I am sure we will do more, but the provinces have to fund the post-secondary education system, and not like they did in Ontario, put it into tax cuts. We need to set those up as priorities.

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1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

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

Mr. Speaker, it is about time somebody opposite gave a little credit to the people in Canada. Let us take a look at the workers and the employers who have been overtaxed through EI by $48 billion. No question about it, but no thanks.

Is that the way the government keeps its house in order? When health care has dropped from 50% down to 14%, is that the way a government keeps its fiscal house in order?

Finally, we have a military that is the laughing stock of the world, not the military itself, but the funding for it and their equipment is the laughing stock of the world? How can anyone possibly stand and say that the government has done a great job financially when it has done it on the backs of Canadians and our military forces?

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member knows full well that there is no surplus in EI. We have made reductions year in and year out in EI, which is something I did not highlight in my earlier remarks, to a point now where EI premiums will be on par roughly with the kind of risks it is exposed to. While I would agree with him that the surplus did build up to a high level, it is now down, because of the reduction in the premiums, to a point where there is basically equilibrium.

With respect to the military, perhaps members are forgetting that it is this government that is exempting income tax for members of our armed services who are in dangerous areas like Afghanistan and Haiti. We are accelerating the capital program. We are doing a number of things. We need to make sure that we have a defence policy and a foreign affairs policy that makes sense for Canadians because we cannot be all things to all people.

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1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I stand before you having heard what the Liberal government has to offer to Canadians in the form of its 2004 budget. It is quite obvious that Canadians have had to listen to the Liberals' so-called plans for a better Canada, but the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and this Liberal government have not listened to the taxpayers of this country. They have not listened.

I recently toured my riding of Yorkton--Melville, an area in eastern Saskatchewan that includes both urban and rural settings, and I can tell the House that Canadians are sick and tired of being jeopardized because of the Liberal agenda. If there is any question as to whether the Liberals' billion dollar scandals like the sponsorship program or the gun registry are fading from the minds of our taxpayers, members can just ask any of my constituents: they are not.

Canadians feel sheer resentment and frustration toward the Liberals for misusing and mishandling their money, and uttering words like accountability and transparency in the budget speech is not going to regain the trust that this government has lost.

Canadians are outraged over the loss of their tax dollars, yet the Liberal government chooses to ignore their cries to scrap programs like the gun registry, which is estimated to balloon to $2 billion before it is even fully implemented. We are hearing that there may be changes to the gun control program, but that is not what we need to hear. Canadians were waiting to hear that no more money would be wasted on the useless registry. Instead, they were lied to with words like “better money management”.

How is their money being better managed with a program that the Liberals said would cost $2 million but is instead heading toward the $2 billion mark? That is one thousand times over budget. How can the government justify continuing spending on a program aimed to keep duck hunters on the edge and further outrage the very people who are funding it, the Canadian taxpayers? How much longer will our taxpayers have to pay for a useless program that continues to exist only as a Liberal propaganda program?

My riding is home to one of Saskatchewan's major health care facilities, the Yorkton Regional Health Centre. It helps serve 60,000 people in the Sunrise health district, plus a good number of western Manitoba residents. The heath districts in Saskatchewan share a number of services, requiring people to travel to Regina or Saskatoon for major surgeries, tests or specialized treatment.

While the drive to one of these centres on a weekly or sometimes even daily basis can be very tedious, the grave concern is with the amount of time people have to wait to receive treatment or in some cases even to be diagnosed. It is an unconscionable length of time that they have to wait. People are walking around with cancers spreading through their bodies and some do not even know it. Men previously diagnosed with prostate cancer are waiting months for treatment while the cancer spreads. For some, necessary surgeries come too late and the spreading cancer cannot be stopped.

It is absolutely unconscionable. These people have no hope. The treatment they are getting makes them feel more hopeless. The health and quality of life of Canadians are suffering because this government cannot get its priorities straight. The $2 billion band-aid the government announced is incomparable to the $25 billion wound that was opened by the finance minister when he slashed health care spending.

Young people in their forties and fifties are being forced into wheelchairs because they are waiting for hip replacement surgeries. They have to put their dignity on the line as they ask for help in bathing, dressing and using the washroom. These people have to rely on others to care not only for them but for their own families as well. All they want is a chance to live life again.

These people understand the need to wait their turn for surgery such as a hip replacement, but there is no answer as to how long that wait will be. The waiting lists in Saskatchewan are so long that necessary surgeries are not even being scheduled. People are living in agony. For some, that means placing even more of a load on overworked doctors, nurses and other health care employees. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for these people because this Liberal government refuses to hear what is really happening out there. The Liberals have placed a huge burden on the health care system, yet they will not take responsibility.

My constituents are very perceptive. They already see the pattern formed by the Prime Minister and his Liberal government. They see that the government cannot control taxpayers' dollars. Nor do they believe any of the promises made by the Prime Minister. Time and time again our people have been let down by the government and they simply will not fall for false hopes anymore.

The Prime Minister says health care is a priority, yet that clearly has not been the case in this or any of his past budgets.

He says more resources need to be devoted to the military, yet our servicemen and servicewomen are risking their lives flying in ancient Sea King helicopters and there is not even a plan to replace them.

There was the promise to scrap the GST, which was broken.

There were promises to lower taxes. They were broken.

And just where does the fuel tax go? Certainly not to the broken down highways connecting my constituents to their hospitals.

By offering very little in the budget, maybe the Prime Minister thinks he can make good on very little promises. They are baby steps, I guess.

My constituents, like others in agriculture based ridings, resent the government for holding its farmers and cattle producers hostage. The very reason that communities in my riding exist is the agriculture industry. They exist thanks to it. International farm machinery manufacturing facilities like Morris Industries in Yorkton and even the town of Esterhazy, home to IMC Kalium Canada, the world's largest potash mines, know how vital farmers are to the country.

Our farmers and ranchers have suffered through droughts and poor markets, and now BSE, virtually alone. The Liberals have repeatedly ignored pleas from our food providers all while millions have gone to fund this government's latest scam.

I will have to finish later, Mr. Speaker.

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1:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I thank you for your cooperation. You will have three more minutes for your speech after question period.

Research and DevelopmentStatements By Members

March 29th, 2004 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is the ultimate example of an ideal partnership, combining the best knowledge, expertise and collaborative efforts from the public and private sectors throughout the region: the Peterborough DNA cluster project. It is a superb example of an ideal partnership.

Project partners include Trent University, Fleming College, Industry Canada, the Peterborough Partnership Group, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Greater Peterborough Economic Development Corporation.

Initial projects include automation of DNA sample collection, wildlife and commercial stock management through DNA profiling, potential for improved DNA forensic applications for criminal justice, and disease prevention, management and control.

With a prime location, skilled workforce and a reputation as a major centre for innovative research and development, Peterborough was the ideal choice for a project of this importance.

Whistleblower ProtectionStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, on March 27, W5 exposed corruption and cover-up at Canada's High Commission in Hong Kong.

One of those trying to protect Canada's interests was immigration control officer Brian McAdam, who discovered that known Chinese criminals were being admitted into our country. After filing many reports with many superiors, Brian McAdam was drummed out of Canada's foreign service, his career and his health destroyed.

Another whistleblower was RCMP corporal Robert Read, a 24 year veteran of the force. After getting no results through internal channels, he went public with his concerns and was fired. Although Corporal Read was cleared and actually commended by the RCMP internal review committee, he still does not have his job back.

The facts about Brian McAdam and Robert Read show why Bill C-25, the new whistleblower protection law, is inadequate and should have no time limit. The government should be protecting Canada, not the old boys' network.

Vince Ryan Memorial TournamentStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Bras D'Or—Cape Breton, NS

Mr. Speaker, today I wish to express thanks to the organizers of the Vince Ryan oldtimers hockey tournament. From its humble beginnings 15 years ago with 12 teams to this year's incredible 152 teams, the Vince Ryan has become the most significant winter tourism event on Cape Breton Island.

Hosting teams from across Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Alberta, this year's event was highlighted by the participation of the L.A. Chill women's team from Los Angeles, California.

The economic impact of the event on our local economy is tremendous, dumping in over $3 million over the four day competition.

To tournament organizer Richie Warren, his board of directors and the huge army of volunteers, I wish to offer my thanks and congratulations. The host communities should take great pride in the incredible hospitality shown their guests.

The continued efforts of these committed people have been the catalyst that has allowed the Vince Ryan oldtimers tournament to become one of the best adult hockey events not only in Atlantic Canada but in the entire country.