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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

The BudgetGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2004 / 10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Liberal Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found the member's comments to be quite strange. On the one hand he complained about increases in government expenditure, and on the other hand he called for increases in government expenditure.

The member did not acknowledge the $100 billion in tax cuts, the largest tax cuts in the history of this country, which are still being implemented. He did not acknowledge the $37 billion increase to health funding right across this country.

He dismissed out of hand the fact that education is constitutionally a provincial responsibility.The federal government's role in support of education has been quite significant through R and D support and scholarship and access support for students at the post-secondary level. One of the most significant things the government has done has been to provide some $13 billion in support for post-secondary institutions through funding for their R and D programs and scholarship and loan support for students. The member opposite simply dismissed that fact.

I spent some time in opposition. I would ask the member if he would at least give the facts to all Canadians rather than simply give another opposition speech which was negative and unfair and which was not factual in giving Canadians the real goods about the record of the government.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that the member is so interested in facts having heard her comments from time to time. I remember in the last election the things she said that were just outrageous when it came to facts.

I would like to address the member's remarks about finding my comments strange. Common sense is strange to members sitting on that side of the House, especially when we have talked so clearly about policy. They do not seem to understand common sense so it does not surprise me that she found my comments strange.

Let me address the one issue she spoke about with regard to tax relief. She does not seem to understand--

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Liberal Thornhill, ON

$100 billion.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

It is not $100 billion.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the numbers coming from members on that side of the House have always been skewed. The government said that the package it introduced was $100 billion, but in the end the amount was about less than half of that when we consider where the other increases came from.

We have seen hidden increases when it comes to service fees and other things such as the fuel tax and the air tax. The government has tried to reduce them in this budget. There should not be a security tax when we look at the way the government manages money. We can look at the CPP increase. The government has reduced EI by a marginal amount but when we consider the increases in CPP, they clearly offset any meaningful tax reduction that the government has attempted.

I would like to challenge the hon. member on her figures when it comes to the actual tax reduction the government has given Canadians. It has been half of the number the Liberals talked about. They are never honest with Canadians with regard to their numbers. We would like to see some honesty and transparency in those numbers so Canadians could at least debate them.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague on his speech. I know the importance he places on education. I am glad he is educating the member opposite about the difference between government expenditure and government waste because there is a big difference which the Liberals do not seem to understand.

The budget puts $20 million into Canada's universities and research hospitals for the indirect costs of research. We on the industry committee having been calling for this for two years. The fact is that this is simply not enough.

Every time a Canada research chair is put in place, money is taken out of the operational budget of the university. The government is putting these things in place but it is not putting the necessary indirect costs in place and therefore is causing students to lose money overall.

Does the hon. member think that $20 million is enough to address that problem?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the question of resources is always a significant issue for post-secondary education. We are trying to stimulate research and development. We have done some things right.

When we consider the whole package of the tax structure that many people face, especially when we look at the R and D tax credits that are in place and we look at the atmosphere on the other side when it comes to taxes, there are still a lot of challenges to be faced. People are not taking advantage of the tax credits just on the R and D.

When it comes to the investment that my hon. colleague mentioned, this is something we have to address and something on which we have to be more vigilant. I was surprised that the hon. member opposite did not understand when I said that even though education is a provincial responsibility, there should be some leadership on that side of the House. I guess that is something she is not familiar with.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Western Arctic Northwest Territories

Liberal

Ethel Blondin-Andrew LiberalMinister of State (Children and Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton.

I am very pleased to speak today in the House to express my support for the budget presented at the beginning of last week by the Minister of Finance.

The budget is evidence of the Government of Canada's commitment to strengthen our nation's social foundation and to help ensure that all our citizens can participate fully in our economy and society.

The budget's investments will help our children get the best possible start in life and enhance young people's access to the post-secondary education they need.

The budget is also investing in ways to enhance the skills and learning opportunities for aboriginal people in our cities and in aboriginal communities throughout the country. At the same time it provides funding to ensure that we protect the north's fragile environment and ecosystems in keeping with the strongly held values of northerners and aboriginal people whose ancestors have lived on these lands for millennia.

The aboriginal human resources development strategy is one of the major pieces in the budget. The AHRDS, as it is known, is a key initiative on which we can build and further help aboriginal people to participate in the labour market. In partnership with the aboriginal organizations and others, this strategy has made a real difference in the lives of tens of thousands of aboriginal people since its startup in 1999.

The strategy's forerunners were the regional bilateral agreements and pathways which were established initially by the Conservative Party and developed and made more inclusive and built on by ourselves over the last 11 years. As a direct result of the strategy over its five year lifespan, 70,000 aboriginal people have found sustainable employment opportunities in the long established and new emerging trades and professions in every sector of our economy.

I am delighted that the budget confirms the five year funding for the AHRDS and restores $125 million over five years that was scheduled to sunset on March 31, 2004. With this $125 million restoration, the AHRDS will continue as a $1.6 billion program for the next five years to help aboriginal people develop their life skills and find and keep jobs with the help and support of a network of aboriginal organizations across the country.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended 10 years. We have met the first five years and we have now recommitted to another five years. That will give us the full commitment the royal commission was looking for. We have actually met that goal. It is one which has been worked on and fought for very hard.

With the $125 million restoration, the AHRDS will continue, as I indicated, as a $1.6 billion program for the next five years to help aboriginal people develop their skills and find jobs and keep jobs with the help and support of aboriginal organizations across Canada. It will also give first nations and Inuit clients access to quality child care while they pursue training or employment opportunities. These 70,000 sustainable jobs will be in the emerging trades and professions in every sector across society.

Through the renewed strategy the government will also work to forge a more cohesive approach with the provinces and territories. There will be an attempt to work closer.

Aboriginal people have so much to contribute to Canada's economic and social well-being now and in the decades to come. Aboriginal youth and working age adults are the fastest growing segment of Canada's labour force. They represent a pool of extraordinary talent, energy and potential that can meet Canada's skill and labour shortages.

The AHRDS plays a big part in making sure all this marvellous potential is actualized. It builds on the whole aspect of how we integrate young people in the future. In years to come there will be a huge outmigration of baby boomers. The young people will have to take their rightful places in those professions and trades.

This is probably one of the only pan-aboriginal programs that includes all aboriginal people, including those in the urban centres, people who live on reserves, the Inuit, the Métis, the first nations, as well as native women and some great service providers such as the friendship centres. There is a huge aboriginal component to this.

Let me point out that the government has committed, in addition to this one program, $85 million over five years to the new aboriginal skills and employment partnerships to enable aboriginal workers to access training and employment opportunities for areas that are steeped in resource development.

This is a slightly different program because it is geared to resource development initiatives. There are some very important resource development projects happening. If we look across Canada, there is a huge play on diamonds. There is the project in Fort-à-la-Corne, Saskatchewan and the Victor project in Attawapiskat, Ontario, which I believe, Mr. Speaker, is in your riding.

We have potential in the north. We have two diamond mines. We have some in Nunavut and De Beers is in its final stages of consideration on another one. These are all positive activities. Much work and consultation is underway to ensure that all of Canada is set to benefit from this program.

As the House is aware, Canada's large and growing young urban aboriginal population also has abundant talents and energy to help make our cities more vibrant and prosperous. I am very pleased that budget 2004 is also providing $25 million over three years to double our investment in the urban aboriginal strategy to $50 million.

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking quickly because I have so much to say and so much information to give and it is all good. I know the opposition members will truly appreciate the work that has gone into this.

Working together through partnerships with governments, local aboriginal organizations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, we have a proven record of developing innovative solutions that address local aboriginal priorities. The aboriginal skills employment partnership, known as ASEP, is one program that is going to heavily contribute to the betterment of life. It is closing the life gap and the economic disparity that is out there and ridding those communities of that disparity. It is going to contribute greatly.

I will now turn to the wise and far-seeing measures that budget 2004 includes for Canada's north. I am quite proud that the budget plan includes a number of pages that are dedicated specifically to the north. The whole of page 187 of the budget plan talks about supporting northern communities. It talks about territorial financing of $150 million; health support for the territories of $60 million, and making it part of the A-base ongoing funding for all three territories; $90 million for northern economic development for all three territories; and $75 million over three years for northern oil and gas development. This will ensure that the Government of Canada and regional authorities can respond in a timely, responsible and effective manner to the tremendous opportunity of pipeline and oil and gas development in the north.

We know that this is not going to be enough money. There is a signal already that more will be needed to undertake that project. It is a fairly major project and much work has already been contributed to that end.

There has been $3.5 billion provided toward the cleanup of federal contaminated sites, over 60% of which is expected to occur in the north. This will contribute to an improved environment and some economic development and employment opportunities. Of course, it is not predicated on that. Those are the results of what has to be undertaken. They speak very specifically to some contaminated sites: the dew line sites; uranium contamination on Great Bear Lake, which resulted from the discovery of uranium; and also the whole issue of 270,000 tonnes of arsenic peroxide that are buried under Yellowknife in 17 silos.

There is so much more to discuss, such as the new horizons project, the fact that the Northwest Territories has had a successive positive GDP growth rate for a number of years. It also has the second highest employment growth rate. Alberta is at 69% and the Northwest Territories is at 68%. It is a success story that needs the investment it is getting.

There is so much more to share with the rest of Canada about what is happening in the north, but that is all I have time for right now. The economic development agreement is one that has been fought for long and hard. It is something we really believe we need to do. The devolution and resource revenue sharing studies and work that are being undertaken by negotiators are needed. We need the money. We are putting millions of dollars into the federal fiscal budget and we need some of that money back by having a resource revenue sharing mechanism.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I regret that I cannot speak louder today, but I hope I can be heard.

The member spoke to a number of different topics, but one twigged my interest. She talked about the cleanup of the toxic sites. I do not think the Liberals will ever clean up the Sydney tar ponds because if they did, they would have nothing to put into their annual budgets. It has been there every year for the last five or six years. Every time there is a budget, they put in money to clean up the Sydney tar ponds. Yet, as far as I know, nothing has been done on that at all.

I would like the member to comment on her concern as a member of the governing party that the government keeps promising but it never delivers.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Ethel Blondin-Andrew Liberal Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it must be understood that it is very easy to pollute. It is very easy to contaminate and to abandon. What is difficult is the cleanup of those contaminated sites. I share that view with the hon. member and so does any reasonable person, but the commitment that we have made to Sydney tar ponds is expansive. We have put in millions of dollars and we will continue to do that until the public can rest that we have decontaminated that site. I believe that we have made an enormous commitment in the throne speech and in the budget toward that end.

The members from that community are very happy with that commitment. I think the community awaits the rest of the work to be undertaken. I agree that it is a major challenge but it is not the only one. As I indicated for the DEW line sites and the arsenic contamination, there are not even the technology or acceptable standard practices of how to render arsenic trioxide that are accepted internationally. It is expensive, but we need to do the science and the research. There is no standard way of doing that.

Also, uranium contamination is expansive and we recognize that, not just in my territory but also in Saskatchewan in Uranium City, whose very name is a telling sign of that whole situation.

I understand that it is a challenge. We are working on it. We have made a tremendous commitment of $3.6 billion. That is not considered small. It is a major commitment to that end.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions for my hon. colleague. One relates to something that she and the member opposite said earlier about the $100 billion tax cut. People in my riding certainly have not felt a tax cut of this size. I wonder if she could just inform my constituents and Canadians of where she gets the $100 billion figure. What makes up that $100 billion figure which the government uses consistently?

Second, I would like to know how people in her riding feel about the firearms registry, particularly since, according to the estimates released this spring, it has surpassed $1 billion. It is going onward and upward and we do not know what it will cost to complete or to maintain this registry. How do the people in her riding feel about the fact this registry has gone above $1 billion with no end in sight?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Ethel Blondin-Andrew Liberal Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I would be telling an untruth if I said that those tax cuts were anything other than $100 billion, because that is what I understand them to be. I am not one to question the people who do the detailed work on those tax cuts, but I believe that for a number of years now this is the terminology we have been using.

In recent days I have not heard a question in the House from the member on this particular issue. Not only that, it is a balancing act. We can do all tax cuts, but where do most of those tax cuts end up? With the people who do not need them. Where do we draw that money from? We draw it from social programs. We have to make a choice between tax cuts and medicare and health care. How do we balance that out? Where are we going to get the money from, from a money tree or manna that is going to fall from the sky? I do not think so.

People have to understand that when we talk about tax cuts we have to talk about other things as well. Where are we going to get the revenue to support the needs that we have in health care?

On the other point about the registry, I am not afraid to talk about this. I have been through two elections with the gun registry. There were changes that needed to be made and we made them. It is true that there are issues with gun control and that is why the minister responsible for that particular review is coming to my riding this coming week when we have time off from the House. She is to meet with the northern leaders on this very issue. There are concerns about resources and we will be dealing with them. There is a review under way and the member knows that. It would be rather intellectually mischievous of him to ignore the fact that it is under way right now.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise and contribute to this debate on the budget. The budget does have its critics. When we have critics on the left saying we have not spent enough and critics on the right saying we have spent too much, it indicates to me that we have hit the sweet spot. We have hit the balance that Canadians have come to expect between fiscal prudence and responsibility in fiscal management and our commitment to people, our commitment to health care, education and to communities. I think that when it comes to this debate, the Canadian people are far beyond where the opposition parties are on this one.

The opposition parties believe that there is a magic wand that can come in and address all the fiscal challenges we face as a country. I think the Canadian people know that it is a steady and committed progression we take, a commitment to debt retirement, to continue to pay down the debt that has been such a burden to the operation of the government, one that has been accrued over a number of years. We have kept our eye on that ball and will continue to keep working toward that.

I would like to speak about a number of things. I will get to as many as I can. First, my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona made some comments about coming up somewhat short on the learning agenda. I think there are some significant components to the budget that we have to celebrate. I think the learning bond is one that is going to pay dividends to young learners for years to come. The increase for low income families in the Canada education savings grant is significant, from 20% to 40%. As well, there are the new grants of up to $3,000 for first year tuition for members of low income families. I think that is to be commended. That is a significant commitment.

The member also made a comment on the millennium grants. I think that we here in the House have to respect the fact that aspects of education are the jurisdiction of the provinces. We did enter into the millennium program with the provinces and some provinces were more successful than others.

I know that in my home province of Nova Scotia we did not get the traction that we wanted with the students in Nova Scotia because the provincial government deemed that its key responsibility was capital investment in its post-secondary institutions, so that is where the millennium moneys ended up going, and not into the hands of the students. We have addressed that problem with the province's education department and we think that going forward it will be best served.

More specifically, what I want to identify is what was talked about in the House earlier today and that is this government's commitment to environmental remediation at contaminated sites. The amount of money that has been invested in this last budget is significant. It is $3.5 billion over 10 years to clean up contaminated sites. That is the single largest parcel of money that has ever been identified for environmental investments in Canada.

I speak first hand to this because my constituency borders on the riding of Sydney—Victoria. Every Canadian, I am sure, is aware of remediation of the Sydney tar ponds. My colleague from Elk Island posed the question of when we are going to get at the Sydney tar ponds. It is a question that my colleague from Sydney—Victoria and I have worked on continuously since we arrived here in Ottawa.

Last year it was identified in the budget. This year it was identified in the throne speech and in the budget and that money is being peeled out. Yes, there has to be an agreement struck with the province of Nova Scotia, the lead agency on the remediation, but we are working toward that.

Members should know that I live in a constituency where it is like having two Cape Bretons, one of which we know was just recently identified as the second most popular tourist destination in the world. Anyone who has driven along Highway 19 up the west coast of Cape Breton or toured the Cabot Trail or the Bras d'Or lakes knows the beauty of our island and our culture. It is a great destination for tourists. The other Cape Breton is what we have to deal with as elected officials and as a community, that is, the remnants of centuries. We have to deal with the remediation of what was left behind by our resource based industries, the coal and steel industries. The Sydney tar ponds problem is one of those remnants.

There has been work done. We have had successes. I think we have a great grasp of the extent of the damage and the remediation that has to be done. This has been studied, and some say studied to death. Technologies have been identified that can do the job and clean the site. We have them short-listed and are ready to select them now.

Some of the projects have been done. The capping of the landfill site has been completed. We are seeing evidence of that now in some of the testing of the surface water and groundwater. It is making a difference and it is a significant difference.

We fully understand this challenge. We are so pleased with the success we have achieved and the support we have received from our caucus colleagues, the members on the government side, in getting us over the goal line. We know that before we can grow economically and socially as a community the problem with the tar ponds has to be addressed.

The Government of Nova Scotia is in the midst of its budget deliberations. It is ready to present a budget. There is some jockeying going on with the final agreement, but let us be realistic. The province operated the site for 30 years and was the regulator over the site for years beyond that, so it is time that the province buckled down and got the job done. The money is there from the federal government. We recognize that the Province of Nova Scotia cannot do the heavy lifting by itself. We are there for the province, but let us sit down and get it done.

There are a couple of other things I want to touch on that come right back to our community. We now are seeing the benefits within our community of some of the investments that have been made through the universities in knowledge and commercialization of knowledge.

We have some great research going on right now at the University College of Cape Breton in conjunction with the National Research Council. The Government of Canada, through its three federal granting councils, will invest $90 million this year. As well, $20 million per year will help cover indirect costs of university research.

When we speak to the presidents of the universities from Atlantic Canada, they come to us with the following. They say yes, they want to engage in the research. They see the benefit of engaging in the research and they see the potential it holds for our economy, but they also see the costs of engaging in that research. We think this money is going to pay dividends and encourage those institutions to partner with private sector companies to allow that research to come forward through commercialization.

Currently the research being done at UCCB and with the National Research Council is in wireless communications. The specific project is the remote and wireless application of that communication on oil rigs and how switch boxes can be handled through wireless communication as opposed to a hard ground feed.

There are another couple of aspects of the budget that I think are worth noting. One is the acceleration of the infrastructure program. We have seen some great green projects since the Government of Canada has invested in infrastructure: the Glace Bay water treatment plant, the Port Hawkesbury and Port Hastings water and sewer project, sewage treatment in St. Peter, and the water project at Arichat. They are typical of the programs on which we have been able to partner with the province and the municipalities.

We think that by accelerating this program the benefit will be to the municipal units. It is an investment in economic development. There are a lot of dollars changing hands. We are very pleased with that aspect of the budget as well.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the member has given this speech. He has indicated that the Sydney tar ponds are close to where he lives, I presume.

I would like to ask him a very pointed question. The fact is, the Sydney tar ponds have been mentioned specifically in a number of previous budgets. Could he please tell the House and the Canadian people whether or not there has actually been any physical work done in cleaning it up? In other words, have there been backhoes in there to clean it up and so on, and to what extent has that work progressed?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Elk Island. I think that is a fair question. It is probably one that is on the minds of a number of people across the country because most Canadians recognize the significance of the Sydney tar ponds. It is a problem that is the result of over 100 years of steel making. It is a complex problem.

There have been attempts to clean it up before and those attempts have been unsuccessful. Recently, through the joint action group, there was a tremendous amount of community consultation and involvement. One thing it has done is to identify the toxic brew and the potential technologies that can resolve it.

Coming into the tar ponds, there are other factors that impact it as well. There was a municipal landfill site, for example, that allowed water to go into the tar ponds. We have capped that site. It has been totally contained with backhoes and trucking. That is sealed now. We are monitoring the water at the outsource of the Muggah Creek. That water is being tested. Even better, we can see the improvements in that water from the leaching in the landfill.

Structures have been removed from the coke oven sites. The whole perimeter is fenced and contained. Now we are moving to where the actual brew is, where the toxic material is, to see how we can best deal with it.

Again, to my colleague, we are a funding player. We are at the table. We have three government departments at the table, but we have to appreciate the fact that the provincial government is the lead on it. That complicates things. It is the lead and we are there in a supporting role, an advisory role and a funding role.

There has been work done on it and we are looking forward to a final decision as to how we go forward and complete that job.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question. The hon. member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton has good reason to boast about his region as one of the most beautiful sites for tourism in Nova Scotia, in Canada or even in the world.

Still, since I am from the greater Quebec City region, I must say that this region is interesting as well.

Here are my questions. First, is there not, in effect, a problem regarding seasonal workers in his region, as there is in all tourism-based regions? Second, would it not be expected that, in this budget, this government which has been accumulating money by the billion in its employment insurance fund would give seasonal workers a status, as in the regional tourist industries in our areas? Finally, is he prepared to vote in favour, tomorrow, of the Bloc Quebecois motion calling for the creation of the status of seasonal worker as part of the employment insurance system?

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. I guess we have a tendency to not refer to the workers in those industries as seasonal workers. We see them as full time workers in seasonal industries, and our constituencies would probably share a considerable number of similarities in that.

We have those who work in tourism, in the fishery, and in forestry. We have agriculture on Cape Breton Island and for the most part these are very specific. If one is a deckhand on a crab boat, that is a very specific skill and it is needed each year.

On the government side we have appointed a panel that will go across the country and hold hearings. We hope to draw more information, speak with those involved, and put together a piece of legislation that will best address seasonal industries and the workers involved in those seasonal industries.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mercier.

In speaking to this budget, my first order of business is to express the disappointment of the entire population with the fact that the Prime Minister, who had set out commitments and created expectations in terms of health, has completely failed to deliver the goods.

All that his government has been able to do is to slip the $2 billion promised by Mr. Chrétien over a year ago into the financial statements of the current year. The provinces are saying unanimously, in a well-justified advertising campaign, that the federal government only invests 16% of its expenditures in health.

This amount declined dramatically throughout the Chrétien years, when the current Prime Minister was finance minister. There was a drastic decrease from when he was finance minister to when he left that position to become Prime Minister. Although everybody expected there would be more money for health in 2004-05, there will be less. Consequently, people who expected that the current government would adopt an attitude of openness have seen their hopes dashed.

Shortly after the budget was tabled, the Prime Minister went so far as to say, because he paid close attention to the polls, that the budget was having a disastrous effect on public opinion with regard to health. It is the number one concern of voters and our constituents. They expect a health care system to be adequately funded, and for the federal government to contribute its fair share.

Currently, the provinces, with some errors but also some success, are trying to do their best with the money they have. However, there is a fundamental problem. The federal government is collecting loads of money, billions of dollars, and it is so rich that it squanders it shamelessly.

On the other hand, we are told that the Canadian Forces are under-equipped, but $160 million gets wasted, just lost, in a system somewhere.

Next, with regard to health, the provinces say that the $2 billion invested last year should be made a recurring amount. Would not the best demonstration of the federal government's good faith have been to say that this money will be invested in 2004-05 and then there will be negotiations on the Prime Minister's current proposal, which is a new way of doing things while respecting the jurisdictions of each level of government?

But no, the government actually leaves this money out of the budget. A few days later, everyone realizes that this has had a devastating impact and there is an attempt at damage control; the government tries to fix things by saying that the money will be provided at a later date. The Liberal governments have used the phrase, “we will do it later” to death. No one believes the Liberals any more when they say things like that.

Take the example of seasonal work, of work in seasonal industries. I remember that, during the 1993 election campaign, there was a letter from Mr. Chrétien saying, “When we take office, we will give back to the employment insurance program what will ensure a reasonable value to that program, what will allow it to meet its objective of truly providing adequate income to workers who lose their jobs”.

In 1993, a letter to that effect was signed by Mr. Chrétien. After the election, he undertook the harshest reform ever of the employment insurance program. In 1997, and again in 2000, the same promise was made. Six months later, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development reviewed the whole issue of employment insurance reform. Seventeen recommendations were made. How many did the government implement: one, two, five? The answer is zero. It did not follow any of the recommendations. Throughout all these years, the government continued to accumulate surpluses of $3, $4, $5 or $6 billion per year.

That is totally unacceptable. It is obvious that the current government, which is tired and washed up after years in office, cannot repeat the same old promises again, because no one believes them anymore.

I see once again Liberal candidates meeting constituents and telling them that they will look after seasonal workers and settle the issue. No one believes them, because the Liberals have made promises in that respect in the past five election campaigns. No one believes one word of what is said on that side. What we have to do is to send the Liberals in opposition to give them time to reflect and hear concrete messages. There are several reasons why the Liberals should sit on the opposition benches.

Obviously, there is the whole scandal, the arrogance of managing public funds as if they belonged to the boss's company. That is somewhat the approach used by the present PM, acting as if he were the chairman of some company rather than prime minister of a country.

We saw that in the budget. There are very concrete examples in support of that impression. I have already spoken of employment insurance, seasonal workers and the whole softwood lumber issue. There is no additional funding to help the regions through the crisis. The money is carried over from previous years, but there is no new money.

The crisis could last another six months to a year. People were rallied round, the companies asked to cope, and wait until the decisions were known, leading to an eventual return to free trade. The workers were asked to do likewise, but without any support worth mentioning.

So, this coming winter in my region, thanks to the great EI program we have, the forestry sector employees—those who manage to qualify at all—will have to manage for 10, 12 or 15 weeks with no income whatsoever. Try to balance a budget with no income for 10, 12 or 15 weeks, or half of it in the form of employment insurance benefits, while at the same time having to meet the usual household expenses, such as mortgage payments, groceries and so on. It is far from easy. It is also very frustrating when we know that the government is accumulating a surplus of billions of dollars at the same time.

As for social housing, there is a very present reality, not only in major centres, but also in areas such as Montmagny or Rivière-du-Loup: vacancy rates are very low, and low income people have trouble finding housing. There is nothing new in this budget that would enable us to increase the amount of available housing to meet this need, or to make housing available for other categories of people.

I would have liked, too, to see something in the budget with regard to the guaranteed income supplement. We decided to adopt a clause retroactive over a number of years in order to correct the inequities in various sectors. However, for a number of years, the necessary funds were not provided so that seniors and the most vulnerable would have a decent income.

Some people did not receive the guaranteed income supplement for 5, 6, 7 or 8 years. They had to cut back on essentials. When it was realized that these people should have been registered in the system, they were denied a reasonable period of retroactivity. It would have been appropriate, in my opinion, for the budget to have included this kind of initiative.

There is the whole issue of old age security pensions. Currently, the system is not fully indexed. A basket of purchases by seniors is used to assess the difference between their cost of living and that of society in general. When people spend more on drugs and have more difficulty getting around, some of their expenses are much higher than those of an ordinary family. So, full indexation of the cost of living for seniors is needed. This is not in the budget.

And so, many things have been overlooked. I would also like to mention an issue that is discussed widely at present. I am happy that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has decided to study the topic—unless an early election is called—of the challenges posed by China, the factory of the world.

I made a proposal that this issue be considered, but I would have liked it if, in the budget, there had been measures to promote increased research, development and support in the most traditional industrial sectors. There are not enough.

We are facing an enormous challenge from that quarter. All of Quebec's and Canada's manufacturing structure is shaken by this phenomenon. The answer is not to erect barriers around Canada but to give our industries the tools they need to ensure they can survive this new phase of the world markets.

It is especially true because, in the textile and apparel sector, Canada decided to remove tariff barriers ahead of the rest of the world. Thus, we placed ourselves in a position of weakness and we might have expected that significant changes would be proposed.

In conclusion, the people, particularly those in my riding and those in Quebec, do not see themselves reflected in this budget. We would like a formal commitment from this government that it will reinvest the $2 billion in health care before the budget vote. We would also like the Prime Minister to recognize that there is an important error in his budget. No one believes him when he promises that it will be fixed later.

Right now is when the networks need money and when we are expecting the government to act. If not, the voters will punish the government severely in the coming election.

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11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his budget speech. I know that he was employment insurance critic for many years. He did considerable work.

I would like him to tell us whether this budget includes all the measures he has suggested in the past. I know the Bloc Quebecois has tabled many bills in order to make the employment insurance system as fair as possible.

Given the current situation and the surplus in the employment insurance fund, does he not think it is high time to change the system once and for all so that seasonal workers get their fair share?

Would it not be smart to allow groups such as young people and women to be able to benefit from the system now? Often changes made by the government exclude quite a few people. While these people often have contributed to the employment insurance fund, unfortunately, they are never able to receive their benefits.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very pertinent question. The problem began when the federal government adopted legislation two years ago exempting the EI contribution rate from the usual rules. Normally, the rate is set based on market needs, unemployment forecasts and factors of that nature.

This was changed and the government could set the rate by order in council based on its financial needs. This was supposed to last for two years. Now the government has just renewed it for another two years. Basically, the government is not interested in being fair and applying the law as it was meant to be applied.

There should be a readjustment in the EI fund surplus, the $45 billion that was accumulated for employment insurance and not returned to the workers and the unemployed. The government should commit to this. The Auditor General did.

The government's problem today is that it has spent this money on so many other things. That is why it cannot follow up on our proposals such as having an independent fund.

If the program were administered by those who finance it, and not a third party that contributes not one cent to it, it would be far better balanced. That was a proposal unanimously supported by the opposition and one the government ought to have followed up on.

As for the students, my colleague has raised that issue. Yesterday, a student came to my riding office to report that he had accumulated 907 hours of work, and thus was three hours short of eligibility. As a result, he did not qualify. There was no way around it. He was looking for another job, because the first hours he had worked were disappearing from his file. So, he helped to fund EI from his pay for 907 hours, but was not entitled to insurance. If he were dealing with a car insurance company, he would have changed carriers right away, as he would have with any other kind of insurance also. But in this case, he cannot. This is a student, required to contribute—which is something new—but who cannot get any of that contribution back.

This kind of situation is unacceptable. As for the benefit level of 55% of earnings, hon. members can be sure that seasonal workers are not left with much. Even if both members of a couple work, they do not receive much to manage on.

With the present program, situations will arise in a number of regions where people will have no money coming in for 8, 10, 12 or 15 weeks because of the infamous spring gap, while the federal government continues, even this year, to rake in billions in surplus. Even if contributions are slightly reduced, there will be over $1.5 billion in surplus, and people are still waiting for this situation to be remedied.

We would have expected to see, in this budget, far more fairness and understanding of the situation workers and unemployed workers are going through. That is what would have been expected from the government, and what is lacking from this budget.

This is why people in eastern Quebec are so angry. They are out in the streets, and so they should be. I think they have figured out that pressure will have to be brought to bear in the next election on the Liberal candidates, who are under public pressure everywhere because people are sick of being robbed.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There are 40 seconds left for questions and comments. The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, for a brief comment.

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11:35 a.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord Québec

Liberal

André Harvey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. He talked about demonstrations. I know that Bloc Quebecois members are experts in organizing demonstrations.

I wanted to ask him if he thought there were any good measures in the budget. All that interests them is unemployment. Perhaps he would like all of Quebec to be unemployed, for purposes of a referendum.

He talked a lot about the employment insurance fund. But did he talk about the $31 billion drop in taxes, including $24 billion for middle-income families?

Did he talk about the lower premiums for workers and employers, which also account for a substantial amount: nearly $4 billion? A somewhat more global vision of the economy is needed.

He just mentioned research and development. Last year, Quebec received $330 million for the R and D sector. Let him come to my riding, and people will talk to him about research and development—

The BudgetGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member but his time is up. The hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, for a brief reply.

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11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I shall reply very briefly.

I would like the hon. member to be aware that the people who have an inadequate employment insurance plan are not the ones who have benefited from lower taxes. They do not earn enough money to be entitled to tax cuts. That is serious. They have contributed to the war on the deficit and they are now contributing to paying the debt, but they do not get one damn cent back from this government.

They will not stand for it. They do not need organizers in order to demonstrate. They will go out into the streets by themselves, because they can no longer take this government's regime.

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11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. I do not know if “maudit”, or “damn”, is acceptable in the House. Caution should be exercised, anyway.