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House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Business of the House

10 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger LiberalDeputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties and I believe that you will find consent for the following order. I move:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on Ways and Means Motion No. 1, all questions necessary to dispose of this motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, March 31, 2004.

And that immediately following the recorded division on Ways and Means Motion No. 1, the following recorded divisions will take place: Ways and means Motions No. 7 and No. 8, Motion M-475 in the name of the member from Charlevoix and the motion for second reading of Bill C-439 in the name of the member from Sudbury.

Business of the House

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the government House leader have unanimous consent of the House to present the motion?

Business of the House

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Business of the House

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is but a very small point. I regret greatly that I am unilingual and I do not understand French. However, when you are putting those motions, I do not know what I am voting on until the interpreters have finished their work. I would appreciate a little longer pause before you actually ask the question on agreement.

Business of the House

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I will try to bear that in mind in future discussions.

Business of the House

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like you to know that you can continue to speak quickly, even in English. That is why we have highly skilled interpreters in this House.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the pleasure to table, in both official languages, the government's response to one petition.

Canadian Human Rights TribunalRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I have the honour to lay upon the table the 2003 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal annual report.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association regarding attendance at the conference on the global partnership against the spread of weapons of mass destruction and materials of mass destruction, held in France in November.

I would like to express the hope that we can modify our rules to permit a late show debate when events of this kind take place abroad so as to give Canadians the benefit of the content of these discussions and debates.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the hon. member for Davenport have two more reports to present or has he finished?

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

I apologize, Mr. Speaker. The next report deals with the participation of the Canadian delegation at the meeting of the committee on economic affairs and development at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. This event took place in London in January of this year. Also, at the same time there was attendance at the ordinary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which took place in Strasbourg, France, in the last week of January.

Income Tax ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-508, an act to amend the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations (public safety occupations).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce my private member's bill, seconded by the member for Elk Island, which is an act to amend the Income Tax Act and the income tax regulations in regard to public safety occupations.

In the budget plan of 2003 the finance minister increased the maximum pension accrual rate for firefighters from 2% to 2.33%. Historically, police officers, corrections officers, air traffic controllers and commercial airline pilots have been provided the same consideration under the income tax regulations as firefighters. My private member's bill seeks to provide equal benefit for all individuals who work in public safety occupations. It would allow police officers, corrections officers, air traffic controllers and commercial airline pilots to receive the same pension benefits as firefighters.

Individuals who work in these important public safety professions endure long hours and stressful working conditions to give us the freedom to live our lives with minimal concern. It is because of this important contribution made by these workers that I believe they should be treated equally under the law.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Personal Watercraft ActRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

moved that Bill S-8, an act concerning personal watercraft in navigable waters, be read the first time.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition on behalf of my constituents in the former part of my riding of Elk Island, people from Beaumont and Rolly View. Is that not a wonderful name for a town for a person of my stature?

The petitioners are very concerned and are pleading with the government to protect the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman exclusively.

The second petition contains 159 signatures on the same topic. This time it is from people who are presently in my riding but who will not be after the next election. They are from the towns of Radway, Thorhild and Redwater, but of course Sherwood Park will be in the riding in which I am running.

These people are also very concerned about the lack of response from the government on the same issue, that the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others should be the definition of marriage.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Progressive Conservative Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Mr. Speaker, I also have a petition calling upon the government to take all necessary steps to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from March 29, consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

We have a lot to talk about today with regard to the budget. My definition would simply be that it is an apologetic budget. The government has been in charge for 10 years and has yet to get it right. As evidence of that, government program spending has gone from $100 billion when the government took office to $150 billion now, an increase of 50%. That is not sustainable spending by anyone's definition, but it does not stop there.

We have examples of overspending and the budget was somewhat apologetic for all those mistakes the government made in the past. It is not just mistakes. Some of them are criminal in nature and charges in some cases will be laid in terms of what happened to taxpayer dollars.

By way of example I will give some interesting observations around this place in the last couple of weeks. Obviously these are spending scandals that we brought to the floor of the House as the official opposition. One of the scandals is the disappearance of $160 million or so from the Department of National Defence. How did $150 million to $160 million walk out the back door? Nobody knows on that side of the House and they are not sure what the figure is. Is it $150 million or $160 million or is it more? However it shows that the government is clearly out of control when it comes to spending.

This unravelling of the government and its strong position in the polls that it had following the coronation of the present Prime Minister seemed to come very quickly. It all comes down to a question of trust. Who do Canadians believe and trust in terms of some of the boondoggles perpetrated on the Canadian taxpayers?

At this point it is pretty clear in the eyes of the average Canadian that they do not trust the Prime Minister in terms of some of the excuses that he is using for the mismanagement of Canadian taxpayer money.

I could be wrong on this but, in terms of understanding who the new Prime Minister is and what he is all about, I think it started on the night of the CBC townhall meeting that was broadcast across the country. The Prime Minister went into a little public meeting, took questions and responded to questions put to him by the audience. Some of his responses just were not believable.

For example, one woman, I believe from Calgary, asked the Prime Minister a question concerning CSL, Canada Steamship Lines. She wanted to know why he only pays 2% taxes when the average Canadian corporation pays somewhere in the vicinity, all things being equal, of about 29% taxes. The Prime Minister responded by saying that he had always been a tax haven buster and that he had eliminated tax havens.

On the face of it, that is probably true with the exception of his own company. He, as finance minister, preserved the tax haven in the Barbados to protect his own interests. We will admit that he closed down some of them, but the one that gave his company the kind of break that any corporation would love to have, is still there and is still being enjoyed by his family if we believe he turned over the assets totally and irreparably to his sons. However the fact is that it is still the Prime Minister's company. It is a company that was built by the present Prime Minister and he has played unfairly by tax rules that he could have changed.

When he pretended that he was a tax haven buster, no one believed him because he could have done something but chose not to do something.

When the member next to me wanted information regarding the Prime Minister's company, CSL, the Prime Minister responded by asking how much money his company, CSL, received from government contracts. The answer, which was in response to a question on the Order Paper, was about $73,000 worth, which was clearly wrong.

The member for Edmonton Southwest, of course, persisted, which is one of the beauties of digging, persisting and not letting the government off the hook. Finally, the Prime Minister and the government had to confess that the figure was not $73,000 but somewhere between $150 million to $160 million in contracts to the Prime Minister's company. Coupled with the fact that he was only paying 2% tax because of the offshore registry that he enjoys, which he should have shut down but did not, there is something fundamentally wrong with that.

The member then asked the Prime Minister when he knew about that amount of money. It being his company, the Prime Minister would have known that his company did more than $73,000 worth of business with the Government of Canada. How did he respond to that? His response was that he was busy with the leadership race. He was busy with the leadership race for 15 years. For the 10 years that the Liberals have been in power he was simply undermining his leader every single day so I can understand why he was busy. However no one believed his story. No one who runs a corporation ignores $161 million in income. It just does not happen.

When the Prime Minister was successful in his leadership bid, he stood in the House and said that he would run the Government of Canada like a business. A few days ago our finance critic, the member for Medicine Hat, said that it was unfortunate that the Prime Minister did not tell us that the business was Enron. If people ran their business like that they would be out of business.

What we in this House are trying to do is put those people out of business. The truth is that the Liberals have lost trust. Their trust with the Canadian people has been broken. They have stepped over the line. They have had 10 years to get it right and the numbers just do not add up. They have gone on a spending spree, wasting taxpayer dollars.

One of these, Mr. Speaker, which I know, since you come from a rural area, drives you crazy but you are very limited in what you can say about it because of your position in the House, is the gun registry. We could have taken the $2 billion that has been wasted on that registry and put it in the budget. The Prime Minister of Canada could have had his finance minister stand up and say that he was ending the program simply because it was not working. All the Prime Minister of Canada had to say was that it was a failed policy and that $2 billion in taxpayer money has been gobbled up only to find out that it has not worked.

However the Liberals will hold on to that and try to carry it through the next election, despite the internal bickering and fighting within the party, which is another problem.

I want to give a couple of examples of what $2 billion could do for my home province of New Brunswick. It could pay for eight years of salary for 4,444 police officers. Given the annual income of New Brunswickers, 93,765 New Brunswickers could be paid for a year. Two billion dollars could buy 66,000 police cruisers. Members can imagine how we could have had a real impact on crime and the protection of average citizens.

I am out of time, but I will turn the floor over to my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona. I have a feeling he will continue on these themes of spending, overspending and lack of direction by the government. It had a chance to get it right after 10 years, and it has not. It is time we replaced the government.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I must commend my hon. colleague for his most eloquent speech on the budget. He highlighted very well the problems of the current government and its lack of attention to so many different areas in the budget. He said it quite clearly that the government tried to pretend it was prudent, especially in the budget, and that it tried to pretend that it respected the tax dollars of Canadians. However, we have seen over and over again a history and track record of abuse when it comes to taxpayer dollars.

Could my hon. colleague give a perspective from some of the people in his riding? How do they feel, given this budget and the government's half efforts in dealing with some of the real priorities like health care, education and even defence? It has band-aided the problems, without coming up serious solutions. What is the reaction of people in his riding on their disappointment with the government?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, one of the obvious examples is the $2 billion gun registry. We have had other scandalous spending such as ad scam and the $100 million which was floated away. There is the $160 million that disappeared out of the back door of DND, where every dollar counts and where our soldiers are using outdated equipment.

For example, we have our Sea King helicopters. We could talk about those alone. Those helicopters are older than the pilots. For every 20 minutes a helicopter is in the air, it requires 36 hours to get them back up again. This is one example of outmoded equipment being used around the world by our brave men and women who are out there keeping peace in this very troubled world of ours. As a government, we are obligated to give them the best equipment in the world. What did the government do with $100 million that could have gone to some of their equipment? Even basic things like boots and uniforms would be a help. It spent $100 million on corporate jets to fly the Prime Minister around.

The Prime Minister is in Toronto this morning for a pre-election announcement. What did he fly in? Did he fly in a Sea King helicopter? No, he flew in a brand new jet, one that the government did not need. Its own officials said that it did not need these, that it had enough. He has logged about $500,000 worth of airtime on those jets since becoming Prime Minister, basically in a pre-campaign period. It is just an example. Our brave young men and women in the forces are using, driving and flying equipment that is truly not safe. It is outmoded and outdated, yet the Prime Minister of Canada is flying around in a $100 million corporate jet, which its own officials said that it did not need.

This is symptomatic of how the Government of Canada has browbeat officials in every department where officials did not dare say out loud what was on their minds. They did not whistleblow to declare and bring forward some of the wrongdoings in government on the threat that they would be fired or replaced. We saw a lot of that in the public service.

That brings me to one bill that I introduced in this place three or four years ago. It was a whistleblower bill that would have provided public servants in every government department and crown agency around the country protection so if they did see wrongdoing, they could come forward and the government would have to do something about it or the public would determine that it had to be fixed.

What the government attempted to do, and it did it very successfully, was to silence these people. It could have brought in a whistleblower bill or it could have supported my bill. However, it chose not to because it did not want the truth to be known. It wanted to continue to run the government with a heavy hand. We truly paid a heavy price for that heavy hand of government to do exactly what it wanted in the last 10 years. It has finally caught up with the it.

In this election we will have a united Conservative Party on this side of the House. Canadians will truly have a choice and they can determine whether it will be this group or that group that will be the government. I am absolutely convinced that now we are a government in waiting. We have the talent on this side of the House to replace that group, and believe me, after the next election, it will be replaced.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy taking part in debates in the House and sharing the thoughts and views of people in Edmonton--Strathcona. I know a lot of people back home are very disappointed in the government, especially in light of the fact that we had opportunities with the current budget, and I will address a few of these issues, given the fact that we had a larger surplus in the budget than we probably saw, especially a larger surplus than the finance minister let on about in the fall.

There was a host of things that could have been done for the priorities of Canadians. The government talked about debt relief. More effort could have been made on that. We feel this is important and we are glad the government has finally followed the advice of our party on reducing the debt. However, there is absolutely no mention of tax relief, and I will come back to that. We would have liked to have seen the government balance a few issues when it came to the priorities this time around, but it failed Canadians.

I find one thing really ironic, and I want to take this from my colleague from New Brunswick. He spoke specifically about the abuse by the government of taxpayer dollars and how things had gone awry over there because of a lack of accountability and transparency and proper procedures for oversight. It is incredible that in this day and age we have these sorts of problems in a government that seems to be so out of touch with how it should operate the finances of the country.

What I find most ironic in the budget is the way the government has tried to position itself in light of all these problems. It has tried to position itself as a government that is prudent, that is respectful of taxpayer dollars and that now is trying to deal with the debt. It is really tough to take the government seriously when we evaluate its track record over the course of the last 10 to 11 years.

My colleague from New Brunswick mentioned some of the things we have seen. I remember the big problems. We saw the HRDC boondoggle with over $1 billion being wasted. As well we saw a surplus in EI. The government could return some of the money to the workers and employers. We estimate that surplus is now over $43 billion, which the government refuses to recognize. It could have moved on that. Quite frankly, that is another theft from the taxpayers. Finally, as my colleague mentioned, we have the gun registry, which is now approaching $2 billion, and still there is no real value from any of these programs and no real results for Canadians to see whether they are getting value for money.

It comes down to the fact that the government has no respect for those programs or the deliverance of services to Canadians. That is why I find it so ironic. In light of the Liberals trying to position themselves as being prudent, how can they even claim that, especially with their track record under the leadership over there?

On the straight numbers, the government claims this theme of trying to be prudent, but obviously it is far from it. Let us just look at the budget and the amount of growth in spending over the course of its term. Since the 1996-97 budget, budgets have gone up by over $41 billion, or over 40% in the last eight years, which is just an incredible growth of government. There is no prudence in that.

In this budget alone, I think the program spending jumps over 7% to close to $10 billion. Over the next two years we will see program spending increase by over $13 billion. The government talked about prudence, but more could have been done instead of increasing spending. In some programs the government still has not tightened its belt, areas such as corporate welfare. The government should not be in the business of dealing with handouts to these groups, but it continues to do so, and it has refused to tighten its budget in the areas where it could.

I mentioned areas where money could be given back. There is still a host of other areas where we could have seen reductions or at least a return of some of that money back to the stakeholders, Canadians, who deserve that money, who are hard-working and hate to see their money squandered by the government.

A host of issues is important to people in Edmonton—Strathcona and important to Canadians. I want to focus in on three issues which I know are very important, and I hear about them on a regular basis in Edmonton—Strathcona.

The first is education. We have a number of post-secondary institutions in Edmonton, and the University of Alberta is located in my riding. Obviously, health care is the top issue for many Canadians. Finally, I want to chat about a missed opportunity, and that is the issue of tax relief. We have seen absolutely nothing, especially in light of the surplus. The government could have done a lot more.

On education, there are some good measures, and we are not opposed to saying that. When the government does something that is on the right track, we will admit it. While the government increases money available for students under the Canada student loan program, it does not address their debt. That is one of the biggest problems students face in this day and age. Tuition costs are rising across the country. Rather than continuing to add to that debt, the government should be trying to reduce it. Raising the loan limits is a good thing so students can access money, but if it cannot counter that by ensuring they have either opportunities or some flexibility in the loan program once they graduate, they will be stuck paying a huge amount of interest. Many students are forced to default on their loans. That is not acceptable. The government could have done a lot more when it came to addressing the issue of flexibility, not just the issue of debt.

One solution we have put forward, one on which I am open to feedback and debate, is the idea of the income contingent loan program. We would take the money in the current millennium scholarship fund, which unfortunately only helps about 6% of students. Obviously it has done some good for the students it has helped, but consider how many students are in need of money. When a program that large is only helping 6%, that money could be taken and applied to interest relief for more students. This would allow some flexibility in the student loan program, which would help a larger number of students. That is one proposal we have for education, one that would speak specifically to that debt issue, which has not been addressed in the budget.

Another issue we spoke about was the idea of how to co-ordinate. I know there is a difference of opinion in our party on this, and I have been encouraging the government to take some leadership on it. The government still does not have anyone in charge of education. Think about the differences in education and approaches to it across the country. I will continue to debate this in our party, but we need to address it. We need to have someone in charge to deal with the provinces in a proactive way.

We understand there is the issue of differences of power and that education is a provincial responsibility. However, there is no reason why we could not have someone co-ordinating efforts from the federal government, working with the provincial education ministers, to address issues on differential tuition and how to get some standardization across the country. Students should be allowed to move from one side of the country to get an education, plus it would give them the experience of living in a different part of the country.

These things are important and the federal government should demonstrate some leadership on this. Yet we have not seen any form of leadership when it comes to education. Because of that, funding, especially the transfers for education, has suffered under the government. We have seen health and education budgets slashed over the last 10 years by the Liberals. Even with the increases in each budget since then, we still are not up to the levels of what is acceptable for many post-secondary institutions.

On the issue of health, I know Canadians expected a lot more. Once again, when I talk about the issue of surplus, maybe I will tie in the issue of tax relief, because I know my time is limited.

In the last budget the government allocated a one time spending shot of just over $5 billion. In this budget it hid that. It did not take it out of the mix. We had a surplus in the area of about $7 billion, and it obviously was not reported properly. Imagine the increase we could have had in the area of spending for health care? Even the provincial premiers have been saying that they are very disappointed there is no new money.

We have seen some effort on debt relief, but Canadians deserve to keep more of their money in their pockets. We have seen how that side of the House has treated treat taxpayer money.

I trust Canadians to keep their money and do better good with it than the government will ever do. That is something I wish the government had addressed in the budget, but of course it failed Canadians.