House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Official LanguagesOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba


Reg Alcock LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I often find the member's questions somewhat offensive and, frankly, this is no exception.

There are 100,000 students in western Canada in French immersion programs. Canada has embraced this policy and, frankly, a lot of kids are working hard to develop the skills that this program offers them.

HeritageOral Question Period

April 1st, 2004 / 3 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, dissatisfied as they are by the results obtained so far by the Council for Canadian Unity, with its $4 million-plus outlay every year to promote federalism, Canadian Heritage assessors propose nothing less than the invasion of schools with their propaganda.

When the budgets allocated to education can barely keep up with inflation, does the Minister of Heritage not find it a cause for concern that they are contemplating invading the school rooms and using millions of dollars worth of propaganda to indoctrinate future generations? That is the question.

HeritageOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario


Jean Augustine LiberalMinister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important for all of us in the House to recognize the importance of young people. All of the things that are done in our schools are so important to the building of Canadian society. Any messages that we can give to our young people to ensure that they know the values of Canadian society are the things that help us to be the kind of Canada that we are.

Transport CanadaOral Question Period

3 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, passenger rail is one of the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly modes of travel.

If we had federal support for rail service, including high speed rail, in the densely populated area of the Quebec-Windsor corridor, three million vehicles could be taken off the road annually. That is 16.8 million tonnes less in CO


emissions each year.

If the government is truly committed to the environment and the Kyoto agreement, why has it cut funding to passenger rail service?

Transport CanadaOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario


Tony Valeri LiberalMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the government is committed to passenger rail. We are continuing to fund remote rail. We are continuing to fund regional rail. We believe that rail is important. It is important in terms of diversion from roads. It is important from an environmental perspective.

The government will continue to support rail as an effective mode of transportation.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government House leader if he could outline the business for the rest of the day, tomorrow and for the first week after we return.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie Québec


Jacques Saada LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon, we shall continue debate on Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004. If this is completed, we will commence second reading of Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act.

Tomorrow, we will debate a motion to refer to committee before second reading Bill C-25, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings, and hopefully deal with the Senate amendments to Bill C-8, an act to establish the Library and Archives of Canada, to amend the Copyright Act and to amend certain acts in consequence.

When the House returns on April 19, any of this business that is unfinished will be taken up, along with Bill C-11, an act to give effect to the Westbank First Nation Self-Government Agreement, Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, and Bill C-10, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Bill C-15, an act to implement treaties and administrative arrangements on the international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences, Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act, Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other acts, and the bill introduced yesterday, Bill C-31, an act to give effect to a land claims and self-government agreement among the Tlicho, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada, to make related amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I should like to wish my colleagues a happy and pleasant holiday period and to express my hope that they return refreshed and ready for a full legislative agenda for the spring.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, during question period, when the member for Calgary—Nose Hill was asking a question in the House, the Minister of Health, which was very unusual for him, was yelling unparliamentary language across the floor. I know it was rather noisy and you may not have heard him, but I think he might wish to get up and apologize or withdraw that remark.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis Québec


Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would withdraw anything unparliamentary that I could possibly have said.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has received notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Roberval.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is most unusual to raise a question of privilege in this House concerning events in a committee.

However, I absolutely insist on bringing to your attention certain facts which, if not considered by the Chair, would have the effect of creating an entirely new parliamentary law, and would be of such a nature as to virtually eliminate the concept of in camera status as far as government members are concerned.

Allow me to explain. I know that you generally do not have to address such matters unless, and I quote Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , page 249:

—it is alleged that a particular person gave the in camera proceedings to the press or some other misconduct is alleged specifically, a Speaker will be reluctant to find a prima facie case of privilege.

So this is what I wish to submit to you. The member for Toronto—Danforth has himself admitted to having made the in camera testimony by Chuck Guité public. The explanation he gave strikes me as totally implausible.

He said, and I quote:

...I take full responsibility for what I said to the media today because it was my belief that we were going to vote on a motion that was in front of this committee today in proper format and we had the numbers to make sure that motion passed...and his papers were going to be made public and that is what I said and I stand by my statements.

The member's claim that anticipating that his colleagues who were in the majority would vote in favour of doing away with the in camera status represents two errors: first, he anticipated the vote of parliamentarians, and second, basing his belief of the existence of a Liberal majority, he felt free not to respect the in camera status.

Supporting him in this—which the committee, with its government majority, has done, and I shall return to that point—would have the following result. The Chair, by not agreeing to recognize my question of privilege, and by allowing the committee to get away with its decision—a government majority, I would remind you—would be tantamount to admitting that only opposition members need to respect in camera status. Thus, in future, any government member could claim under any circumstances that in camera status no longer applies because he is certain that his colleagues in the government majority will eventually support him and make reports public the following day.

How could such a notion be accepted, a parliamentary law which imposes respect of in camera status on an opposition member, but allows a government member not to respect it out of certainty that the majority will support him the next day and make the documents public? That is the first point.

The same goes for the decision made in committee. The member can say he will not respect in camera status because he knows that the government members will vote in his favour the next day and that he will not be reprimanded since the majority rules.

I believe that the government majority on the committee made a serious error in taking the position they took. This is a flagrant breach of in camera status. The member admitted it himself. Comments were disclosed to journalists and this is causing huge problems for the committee right now. This information was allowed to be made public. The breach of in camera status came about simply because a member can claim he knows his colleagues will back him up the next day and because the majority will steamroller over the rest of Parliament.

I know that your role as Speaker of the House of Commons is to ensure that parliamentary law rises above partisanship. Parliamentary law applies to everyone, whether they are a government member or an opposition member. To allow the government majority to let the offending MP off the hook would be to say that you acknowledge that in camera status does not apply to everyone. It is in camera for members who are not part of the majority.

There is an extremely serious problem with that. I feel like my parliamentary privilege is being breached because this member blithely ignored it. He did not comply with the very strict rules of Parliament and relied on his colleagues to come to his defence the next day. The result is that all the opposition members are indignant at having their parliamentary privileges breached. Yet, all the government members, with no regard for parliamentary law or the need for fairness and respect for the rules of ethics or operation, voted right away to prevent their colleague from having to face parliamentary justice.

If you find that my question is in order, I would like to put forward the following motion:

That the member for Toronto—Danforth be suspended from the service of the House until such time as he appears at the bar of the House to apologize, in a manner found to be satisfactory by the Speaker, for his actions in contempt of the House.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, the question our colleague has raised is very serious indeed. It is up to you and to the House to deal with it accordingly. We are certain that you will review all the circumstances, exactly what was said, by whom and when. There is more to it than second-hand reports; there is what really was said, and you will draw your conclusions.

Perhaps you will have to take into consideration what was already in the public domain, in connection with what is now alleged to be a breach of in camera confidentiality. I am sure you will review these facts judiciously, as you always do, and make a decision.

There are two points I would like to raise, nevertheless. Perhaps it is for the committee or for the House itself—since it is the House that makes such decisions—to decide if it should sit. The terms of the motion may be rather strong, if you were to agree with the hon. member opposite.

In particular, the second point I would like to make is that this is very much a theoretical question, since the decision to make this testimony public has already been made.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important issue. As my colleague the House leader for the Bloc has said, it affects all members of the House.

Mr. Speaker, more and more we are needing your protection from this Liberal majority and this is a great example of it.

I will quote the Liberal member for Leeds—Grenville, a member of that committee, who said, “Mr. Chair, my best imitation of Johnny Cochrane has been circumvented by [the member for Toronto—Danforth's] apparent open confession on this”.

I think we have put it in play now. Whatever steps in terms of a report the Clerk needs to draft to send this matter to the House, I do not think we have any other option and I do not see the point in continuing to discuss it.

The circumstances here are extraordinary. There is partisan influence and partisan politics are under the influence of the Prime Minister's Office on this issue: the release of this information, which is totally confidential, and a member who brags about it because he knows he can win the majority of that committee.

Mr. Speaker, we have already had discussions today about what involvement you may have in a committee, but that committee is part of this House of Commons and part of Parliament and we need some guidance here.

A member has gotten away with something sacrosanct in the House. Something totally confidential should not be leaked. There was no permission from anybody to put it out, yet his own party then voted to let him off the hook.

Mr. Speaker, that is not acceptable and the House really needs your wisdom on this issue. It is very, very serious.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add a few comments as well. I was in committee yesterday and the evidence was quite clear that there was a prima facie breach. Indeed, there was a complete confession by the member as to his breach of the privilege, that there was certainly a prima facie breach.

Indeed, as has just been stated, the member for Leeds—Grenville--hopefully he was not paid for his advice by the member who was in breach--gave up his client and said basically that “look, I am not even going to defend this, it is so apparent”. I think that basically brought the discussion to an end. There had been a prima facie breach there by the member. There was a confession not only by the member who did it, but indeed by his most able representative, the member for Leeds—Grenville.

So we came to the committee today. I had drafted up the report in the appropriate form. It appeared that the grey wall of the PMO had descended upon these individuals, basically thumbing their noses not just at the committee, but at you, Mr. Speaker, and the respect that you are entitled to as the Speaker of the House.

You are here, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that this democratic forum and its rules are protected. What we saw in committee today is the complete subversion of democracy. It is now on your shoulders, Mr. Speaker, to set this right. Canadians are counting on you to make sure that this wrong is righted.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add a few comments to this point of privilege, which I take to be a serious one and refer to you for your serious consideration.

I too was at the committee throughout these last couple of days of proceedings at public accounts and was deeply disturbed by the actions of members of the government side on that committee. I do believe that in fact we are dealing with a prima facie case of privilege, a prima facie case of breach of parliamentary privilege, and I would like you to take it under serious consideration.

Let me just indicate to you very briefly, Mr. Speaker, how difficult and frustrating it has been for us. We dealt with the fact that the member for Toronto—Danforth had actually revealed in camera testimony to the media; he had made public in camera testimony from Charles Guité. That member confessed to that wrongdoing. The committee passed a motion to bring this matter to your attention. We agreed that it should be in the form of a report from our committee to the House.

You can imagine our shock and surprise, Mr. Speaker, when we arrived this morning to deal with that report only to have the Liberal members, the government members, on the public accounts committee vote against the referral of that report to the House.

I have not been here that many years, I guess, only seven or eight years, and I am astounded at the kind of dismissive way in which government members are treating this institution, at their disregard for the committee process and, more importantly, their complete disdain, in fact, for the rule of this place, with you, Mr. Speaker, being our highest authority.

There were other incidents throughout the committee's proceedings that are equally disturbing. They are not necessarily a part of this matter of privilege but ought to be taken into account.

I think, Mr. Speaker, that although you had referred the matter of what to do about in camera testimony to the committee as a matter of its own work and because it is the master of its own destiny, you probably will find it somewhat disturbing to know that the committee decided to act without waiting for your ruling and to in fact move to make testimony public, contrary to the recommendation of the Chair and despite the fact that you were in the process of ruling on a similar point of order in this House.

Altogether, Mr. Speaker, I think you will find a very disturbing set of events that treats this place as less than the highest place of authority, and I think you ought to review this matter seriously and consider taking action vis-à-vis the point of privilege that has been referred to you today.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, it is probably the case that from time to time a matter of privilege or procedure, a matter of dispute at committee involving privilege, could exist in tandem with the same concern here in the House.

In this particular case as I understand it, and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you will see this from the transcript of the committee, the committee had voted to prepare a report but not to adopt the report.

The report on the privilege matter was prepared and submitted to the committee. In the end, the committee voted not to submit that report here, whatever the reason of the majority vote on that committee was. The members here are suggesting that because they were on the losing end of a committee vote, the vote constitutes some kind of subversion of the parliamentary process. In fact, it seems to me that when a majority of members on a committee make a decision, that should deal with it.

I am suggesting that for a matter that is raised and disposed of in committee, when the committee decides not to report to the House, Mr. Speaker, you may regard the matter as sufficiently dealt with at the committee so as to not warrant bringing up the matter in the House.

However, members are always at liberty, of course, to raise matters of privilege here. I just suggest that the committee, in its own way, has dealt with this matter. Whether it was a minor matter or a serious matter, the committee has dealt with it and the concerns of the House do not have to be brought to bear in the House when the committee has taken care of its own business.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair wishes to thank the hon. member for Roberval for raising this question of privilege and for the notice of motion he has included with his remarks.

I would also like to thank the hon. deputy House leader and the hon. members for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, Winnipeg North Centre, Provencher and Scarborough—Rouge River for their comments and their assistance to the Chair regarding this important matter.

I think this is a situation where I must indicate how extremely important the Chair considers this matter. I am sure that, after examining the documents, I will be able to come back to the House with a ruling.

However, I think it is important I look at committee proceedings that hon. members have referred to, the statements by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, and possibly even hear from the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth since he may wish to make some submissions to the Chair on this point. I would then expect to be able to give a decision to the House on the matter.

Certainly, this may be different from the ordinary case of an appeal from a committee decision. I will have to review the cases and the facts of this case, in particular, before I am able to render a decision. I thank all hon. members for their assistance.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Progressive Conservative Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-30 and I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Kelowna.

As I listened to the budget speech the other day, I was very interested, coming from a rural riding, with the $1 billion that was pledged to agriculture. My agriculture constituents were very enthused

While the money for agriculture is appreciated, this has been a problem since last May. Why did it take almost a full year to take this kind of action? The border with the U.S. remains closed and this continues to be the most important issue that remains unresolved.

I have received numerous calls from area beef and dairy farmers expressing serious concern over the recent assistance package announced as part of the budget. In the strongest possible terms I want to express my disappointment in the new package.

While beef producers seem to have been compensated fairly, it appears as though dairy producers have been either forgotten or abandoned. The figure of $56 per dairy heifer is absolutely unsatisfactory.

As with previous programs, this plan is far too narrow in scope and does not offer to help numerous sectors of the agriculture industry suffering the effects of BSE. In effect, the new program, when considered in the context of the entire agriculture industry, is of little value and unfair.

If we take the cull cow program that was presented by the government last fall, there was about $200 million set aside for culled cows and the second line in the cull cow program said that farmers did not have to kill or cull the cow. I do not know how it was even a cull cow program. If the Liberals had listened to the Conservative Party, we planned to eliminate 700 cull cows with $500 for each cow.

On the EI premiums, where is the economic relief Canadians need? The government could have lowered EI premiums and made a very positive impact on the economy. This inaction represents a real opportunity missed.

Regarding the environment, though justifying the sale of Petro-Canada shares to invest in the environment, the reality is that the budget virtually ignores important environmental issues. The sale is expected to generate more than $3 billion and yet the government's announcements only amount to $1 billion.

There are no initiatives encouraging the clean up of the Great Lakes and no invasive species legislation. Smog control and clean air were also ignored.

This is the fifth time I have heard the government announce the $2 billion health care transfer to the provinces. While I am pleased to see the government honour the agreement reached in the 2003 health accord with the provinces, it is important to point out that announcing it five times does not increase the amount of money that gets placed into the system.

Some more money, yes, but the government continues to avoid seriously addressing the issues plaguing the health care system in Canada. Throwing money into the system is not the answer. We need to start taking a hard look at the system while always maintaining the principles outlined in the Canada Health Act.

I was surprised, that in a year during which Canada will be participating in the Olympics in Athens, there was effectively no mention in the budget of increased support for Canadian athletes. Investing money now to encourage Canadians to participate in sport would result in health benefits for Canadians and translate into overall lower health care costs down the road.

With Canada set to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, this would have been an ideal time to start a program encouraging Canadians toward healthier lifestyle choices. I will read certain passages from a letter that I received from the Canadian Olympic Committee. It states:

As we discussed during our meeting on February 19, 2004, we believe sport plays a significant role in the lives of Canadians.

The role that participation in sport plays in our personal development and well-being is widely acknowledged.

Sport is an important and growing feature in projecting our nation's image abroad and offers a demonstrable return on investment in terms of reduced health care costs from participation in physical activity and in the economic benefits of hosting sporting events in Canada.

The roles played by Sport Canada, national sport federations, provincial governments, the private sector and others is very important for the development of sport in Canada from fitness and leisure sport through to the development of world-class athletes bringing home medals from international and Olympic competitions.

Canada has been especially successful in playing host to many international sport competitions, including summer and winter Olympic Games. Again in 2010, Canada will have the honour of hosting the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver-Whistler and it is vital that our athletes be prepared.

We are pleased that the government has invested an additional $10 million in sport this year--

However, beyond the additional $10 million and sustaining the current funding level, the sport community has recommended an urgent need for at least $50 million in increased federal funding for sport--

During our recent round of meetings in Ottawa...we recommended that the government announce, as a first step in this initiative, an additional $8.5 million per year to be provided in the upcoming budget to Sport Canada to enable them to begin immediately providing an increase in direct financial support to Canadian athletes.

Finally, we would like to request that the government set aside reserve funding in the fiscal framework of the balance of the recommended funding, that is $41.5 million per year, pending completion of a review and report on this important initiative: namely to promote a more active and healthy population through fitness and athletic development and to foster excellence and improved international standing by Canadian athletes in high-performance sport.

We believe this is key in assisting to build Canada's preparedness for a solid showing in 2010--

The $7 billion GST relief to municipalities will trickle from Ottawa at a snail's pace over a decade. The Prime Minister has been talking for a long time about offering some of the gas tax to municipalities. There is no specific plan present in the March 23rd announcement.

All these programs, a few million here and a few million there, but what they do not mention is that they are spread out over a decade. Many people hearing these funding announcements will be dead by the time these programs pay out in full.

An issue that continues to be largely ignored by the government is the state of rural Canada; specifically its economy and its infrastructure. There was nothing in the budget to help rural community groups seeking funding assistance for projects such as recreational facilities and cultural centres.

Riding the coattails of the veterans, the Liberal government is promising to send money to build a monument at Juno Beach that the veterans have already built. This is the same government that ignored the veterans several years ago when the funds were desperately needed. The monument was almost not built, and now that it is, the government wants to step in at the last moment and take credit it does not deserve.

Essentially, this budget is a blueprint for underachievement. After the release of the budget the important question Canadians need to ask themselves remains the same, do they have confidence that the government can honestly and effectively manage their money?

The Liberal candidate in my riding recently boasted he was going to be coming after me in the next election. He is quoted as saying that I got lucky in the byelection, that my victory on May 12th was a protest vote against the Liberal government. Well, here is to being lucky. From what Canadians have seen, since the people of Perth—Middlesex sent me here, there is more reason now than ever for a protest vote.

When frustrated farmers from my riding call me now and ask me what they should do, I tell them that there is only one thing left that they can do, and that is to help the Conservative Party change the government in the next election.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to address the debate on Bill C-30, the budget implementation act.

I would like to draw a couple of contrasts to what we find happening here in the House and to what is happening in the community of Kelowna in my constituency.

Kelowna is a jewel that lies in the middle of the Okanagan Valley, that place where people have experienced the joys of many friends coming to visit them from all parts of Canada and many different countries of the world. People have chosen this place because they have recognized its beauty, its tranquility and as a place where they would like to be at home. It will be a privilege, and I am humbled, to be able to contest the next federal election on behalf of the Conservative Party in this beloved constituency called Kelowna.

Into this constituency last summer came a voracious fire where 238 homes were lost. That fire respected neither time, place nor person. The fire brought us together as nothing else I have ever experienced. Even the Governor General of Canada came to visit Kelowna and recognized the spirit of compassion, consideration, kindness and friendship that was developed as a result of the coming together at that fire.

There were 238 homes lost and there were so many things that happened in terms of the individuals and the kind of help they gave to one another. They came together and they helped one another. Into this context we had the launching of the United Way appeal by Mel Kotler, who is the chairman. I have to give special credit to him. He said “our goal this year is to be $1 million and $1 for the United Way campaign. That was an unheard of goal for our community and a lot of us were cynical and said “This cannot be, after the devastation of the fire and all the other things that had come about. You cannot now expect us to raise that”. What happened? Not only was the goal met, it was exceeded by almost $10,000.

In contrast to that kind of benevolence and compassion that we find in our community, we had a Speech from the Throne followed by the budget, the implementation of that budget we are now debating. That Speech from the Throne, that budget said that we shall have an address to the democratic deficit and that there will be “more free votes”. A real test was presented to the House very shortly after the new Prime Minister came into office. It was to allow MPs to exercise the free vote in establishing and supporting more money for the long gun registry.

A little digression is absolutely essential here. One billion dollars had already been spent on this and it looks like it will be closer to $2 billion. I must put this into context for the people in British Columbia. If that $2 billion had not been spent on the gun registry, it could have been used to help people. It could have paid the tuition for every university student in British Columbia to the tune of a bursary of about $37,000. What is more important, helping our our young people to get an education or registering a hunter's rifles? In that kind of contrast, it is a waste of government money.

It looked like MPs would not support the gun registry. They recognized the foolishness of that particular registry and that we should not put another bunch of money behind it. The government had already wasted a lot of money on it. However, because of a fear that members would not support it, what did the Prime Minister do? Instead of saying that it should be a free vote, he whipped them into shape and told them to vote in favour of the allocation of additional money. Is that a free vote? No. That was a broken promise one week after Parliament came into session under the new Prime Minister.

This morning the Prime Minister was in Vancouver appointing persons to run under the Liberal banner in the next federal election. The constituents who make up the local Liberal association do not have the right to choose their own candidates. The Prime Minister is the one who will appoint the candidate. Is that democracy? That sounds an awful lot more like dictatorship than democracy.

When the Prime Minister was running for the leadership of his party he indicated clearly that there would be some kind of suitable system to vet the candidates for appointment to the Supreme Court, which now has two vacancies. What was one of the first things the newly appointed Minister of Justice said in response to the question: What will the vetting process be? He said that he did not know and that he was not quite sure whether it would be done at all. Yesterday it appeared as if there might be a process of vetting the appointment of those judges.

What are we supposed to make of these obvious missteps at the very beginning of the “new government” under the “new Prime Minister”? Thankfully, there will be an election soon and Canadians will be able to speak and say that it is time for a change.

We need a new government, a true new government, a government that believes that free votes are necessary, that democratic reform can be accomplished, and not in the way the current Prime Minister is doing it.

We need to move on from there. We need to recognize that as one reflects upon the contents of the Speech from the Throne and the budget, one is struck by the glaring omission of certain things.

First, there was no mention of the rights of victims of crime. Does the new Prime Minister not realize that the current justice system often protects the rights of criminals to a greater degree than the rights of victims? Has he forgotten or chosen to ignore the fact that victims of crimes also have rights? Does the criminal justice system exist to protect innocent Canadians from those who would perpetrate suffering, pain and loss of property, and sometimes death? Does the Prime Minister not realize that our justice system is much more of a legal system than a system of justice for the victim as well as the criminal?

The other omission is that no serious consideration was given to a plan to pay down Canada's debt. Each year something like $35 billion or $36 billion is paid out in interest to service that debt. Based on the 2002-03 budget of the British Columbia government, that is enough money to pay for the public health system in British Columbia for three years. If that debt were half of that, then the interest required to be paid would be half of that. It is obvious that if we maintain that debt and have no plan to pay it down, we will continue to have that burden and that burden will be carried forward to our children and grandchildren.

Another conspicuous absence in the Speech from the Throne and in the budget was the definition of marriage. That matter was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada by the previous minister of justice. Rather than deal with the matter, the new Prime Minister has submitted a further question and that matter will not become an issue in the immediate future.

What will the new Prime Minister do? Why does he do this? Is he afraid? Does he not have any courage of conviction based on a strong set of values? Is he so devoid of value commitment that he would relegate effective legislation for this country to the courts? If that is so, will he admit that under his watch Parliament is but a shadow of government and that the real governing is placed in the hands of those whom he has appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada?

What about his personal ethics? Could he really not have put into gear a flow of information that would have immediately corrected the error of some $160 million that CSL received from the Government of Canada?

The time has come for us to recognize that we cannot wait to see what the Prime Minister will do. He has an opportunity to become a new Prime Minister. Will he do it? The opportunity is his but he must do much more than what he has done thus far. As with all people, we must recognize that doing the right thing exults a nation but doing the wrong thing is a disgrace to any people.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill today. Unfortunately, it is a bill that does not do much to advance the cause of equality between the men and women of Canada, particularly in one aspect, namely the whole issue of Bill C-30 that extends the pillaging of the employment insurance fund.

I think it is important to explain once more how the government managed to misappropriate the $45 billion it took out of the pockets of workers, employers and the unemployed, and then did not have to account for its use of this money.

Between 1993 and 2001, the federal government sucked $45 billion out of the pockets of workers, employers and the unemployed by cutting their benefits. In a report, the Auditor General told the government that what it was doing was contrary to the letter and the spirit of the law. She said it was impossible to have accumulated a surplus of $45 billion and not to have put it back into the system. The law itself provides that the contribution rate is set by the Employment Insurance Commission in response to the needs of the employment insurance system. In other words, based on economic activity, they assess the amount of contributions required to pay for benefits and training. Eventually, over the economic cycle, the surpluses are put back into the system.

For 10 years, the federal government has sucked up the surpluses. It has used them to fight the deficit and to pay down the debt. Today, faced with the Auditor General's remarks, the government is trying to think something up; otherwise, it will be in a completely illegal situation.

So, two years ago, it was decided to draft a bill stipulating that the contribution rate would no longer be set by the commission but by the government itself, depending on its needs. Basically, this authorized the theft, the misappropriation of the employment insurance fund by saying, “We did it for ten years; now that the Auditor General has determined that we are not allowed, we will give ourselves the right, through legislation, to do the same thing by setting what will be the equivalent of a payroll tax”.

This year's budget has just prolonged the abuse. The government initially set itself two years for using this mechanism, and promised us a new method for determining EI contribution rates, a new approach. The former finance minister, the hon. member for Ottawa South, held consultations that ran for one and one half years. This year, when we were expecting a new method of setting the contribution rate, there is an extension for another two years.

The resulting situation is like having one's house broken into. People see it happening, but organize things so that it can continue, by lending it some kind of legal, though not legitimate, status. This is what this bill today is all about.

I see this as even more scandalous than the sponsorships. Of course the sponsorship scandal has a lot to do with ethics. A system was set up so that the federal government could pay for sponsorships with a share going to ad agencies for work that was not done. Then that money ended up back in the coffers of the Liberal Party of Canada. A very well balanced system and one in which the percentages can pretty well be determined: 12% for the agency, and then 10% of that 12% to the Liberal slush fund. So well organized that we can pretty well determine the amounts involved down to the last cent.

This shocks a lot of people, of course. People have trouble paying their income tax, but when we do pay our taxes and then our tax dollars are wasted the way this government is wasting them, that is unacceptable.

What I find even more appalling in the employment insurance scandal is that they fought the deficit with money that belongs to people in our society who are the worst off. Seasonal workers who work 10, 12 or 15 weeks a year have to make up for the other 35 weeks. In the past, the employment insurance system allowed them to put in their time and have enough income to support their family for the entire year. Now, with the new system put in place by the Prime Minister, with his blessing when he was finance minister, we are in a situation where people who work only 10, 12 or 15 weeks no longer receive any income during the winter. That is the reality for seasonal workers who work in forestry, agriculture or tourism. In other regions, this may occur in the summer, but it is the same problem.

Last week I asked the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord about this problem and he said, “Yes, but we lowered taxes”.

Indeed taxes were lowered, but unfortunately seasonal workers do not earn enough in a year to benefit from lowered taxes. They have the pleasure of knowing that they contributed the most to fighting the deficit, but they have yet to see a return on their investment.

While people like us, the middle class, at least had our taxes lowered, those who earn only $20,000 or $25,000 a year did not benefit from this tax reduction. They had to take a hit in their employment insurance benefits. They have had to live with this, and are still living with this, while the government accumulates a surplus year after year.

This year, in all probability, there will be another surplus of approximately $8 billion. In any case, it was $7 billion in January. This is a great deal of money. People who are earning $15,000, $20,000 or $25,000 per year and realize that their benefits have been cut and that the number of benefit weeks has been lowered are unhappy. Often, they have even been disqualified, because the increased number of hours needed to qualify resulted in many people having been eliminated from the system. They have to pay contributions—it is Machiavellian—from their first hour of employment.

Young people entering the workforce must make contributions starting with their first hour of employment. To qualify for benefits, they have to work 910 hours. If they have not worked enough hours, they are told to come back another year, because they are not eligible.

Consequently, young people entering the workforce and women returning to work after several years' absence contribute to the employment insurance system but they are not entitled to benefits. This whole system has long been condemned and is judged by the public as unacceptable.

This year in the budget, we expected the government to say, “The time we can misappropriate funds like that is over. We owe the workers $45 billion, and here is how we are going to pay it back”.

We were not asking them to pay back it all back tomorrow. It took them ten years to steal it. Repaying it will obviously take several years. At the very least, they should give us hope that the system will be able to benefit from this money. However, there is nothing to that effect in the current bill.

That is why I consider this a dreadful scandal. People are having trouble accepting this very harsh reality. It has an impact not only on individuals, but also on regional economies. I have some examples. In the Lower St. Lawrence, when people in the tourism industry have to work more hours to access employment insurance, at some point, they are forced to leave to go work in the big cities. Once they leave, they never come back. The next year, there are job openings, but there is no one to fill the positions.

Consequently, these situations have a negative impact on individuals and regional economies. But seasonal industries are here to stay. In our economy, we cannot limit ourselves to biotechnology and new sciences. Of course, we must encourage the modernization of the economy. But the traditional industries are still present and they allow people to earn a living. They must continue to do so, whether in tourism or in the agriculture and forestry sectors.

At present, people are not getting value for their money. They would have liked a self-sustaining employment insurance fund. If contributors—employers and employees—ran the system, it is certain that the surplus would not be used to pay for the government's general operating expenses. There would be a balanced system.

If the surplus were very large, contributions could be suspended or benefits improved. If there were deficits, contributions would have to increase. It is a standard practice in insurance, but none of this is found in the current budget.

Last year, during his leadership campaign, the finance minister proposed a new way of looking at it. He came to Charlevoix and said, “We will sort out the status of seasonal workers. You will see. I will take care of it”. We saw the results yesterday in this House. It was terrible, but it was very instructive.

A member of the Bloc Quebecois, the member for Charlevoix, has introduced a motion to establish special status for seasonal workers, regardless of the economic region in which they live.

We are asking for this because even if the economy in one region is very healthy, the seasonal workers always do the same number of hours of work. Then, no matter how active the economy is, they cannot work any more weeks. That is what we are seeking to correct.

The bill before us, which implements part of the budget, is unacceptable to me. Yesterday's vote, when the Prime Minister voted against implementing a system for seasonal workers, is a very clear demonstration that he is not prepared to change a single thing in the current system.

Accordingly, I will vote against this bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Scarborough East Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting here pretty well all day listening to the debate. There is a fairly consistent theme that comes from the Bloc Québécois that somehow or other Quebec in particular is unfairly treated by the Government of Canada. The Bloc members talk about the fiscal imbalance and other things such as that.

In the course of the day I have been going over the highlights of the Quebec budget. I note that the Government of Canada on a year over year basis going forward from 2002 through 2008 has been giving 8% increases on health care. I note in the provincial budget of the Government of Quebec its increase in health care was only 5%. There seems to be a discrepancy between the moneys that the Government of Canada is giving at 8% and the moneys the Quebec government is actually dispensing in its expenditures of 5%.

I also note that these funds were trust funds and that they were to be disbursed over three years. For whatever reason the Government of Quebec chose to completely cash them in in the year 2003-04.

I wonder how the hon. member arrives at the conclusion that Quebec is disadvantaged in this process given those facts.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:55 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, it is not very complicated. We are looking at a fiscal imbalance. This afternoon, a question by my colleague from Joliette expressed it very clearly.

For this year—we saw the example yesterday—there are four provinces in Canada that have brought down budgets. They are running a deficit of $5 billion. In the meantime, the federal government has a $7 billion surplus.

If this were accidental it would not be so bad. However, it was a deliberate decision by this government to starve the provinces so that they would no longer have the means to assume their responsibilities in health. At the end of the day, the government gets to impose its standards and its way of doing things. Yet, the Liberal government, the federal government, could not be any more inefficient when it comes to assuming its own responsibilities in health.

It is obvious that we would be much better off in a system with only one government to collect taxes and be accountable to all citizens. That would be the best solution. I agree that would be preferable. We could see the effectiveness of the system.

At present, the Quebec government is a federalist Liberal government. Their Minister of Finance, Mr. Séguin, Minister of Health, Mr. Couillard, and all stakeholders in the health field in Quebec have said the same thing. They have worked hard to remedy the situation. They have worked hard to find solutions. What is lacking is federal government money.

Last year the federal government decided to put $2 billion into health care, as requested by the provinces. That was spent in 2003-04. For 2004-05, instead of representing 16% of expenditures for health, the federal share of funding will be 14.5%. We must not be hesitant about bringing this to the public's attention. The Prime Minister is engaged in advertising campaigns about what a priority health is for him. In the reality of the budget for next year, the one we are examining, there will be less for health than in past budgets. This is an absolutely unacceptable situation.

There must be an end to all this. The Prime Minister says one thing but does another. This is behaviour the people of Quebec and of Canada can no longer accept. If ever the federal government does not put in the money required, there will be time to finalize adoption of the budget. With the $2 billion, he is holding the public hostage for the next election. This is absolutely aberrant and unacceptable.

I challenge the hon. member to go and ask each province to admit they are not doing all they can with their funding. It is not Quebec separatists who are calling for money for health care but the governments of all the provinces, the stakeholders in all the provincial health networks, and the physicians' and nurses' federations. All these people cannot be wrong, and only the federal government right.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

4 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my friend, the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, on his excellent speech. I also want to congratulate him on his official nomination as a candidate in his riding and I am convinced he will win in the next federal election. That said, I thank the Chair for allowing the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles to run this paid announcement.

I want my colleague to talk us about one of the things we hold dear. He spoke at length and quite seriously about employment insurance, contribution rates and so forth. However, he failed to mention the creation of a self-sustaining employment insurance fund managed and administered by employees and employers, and the benefits or advantages of this.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

4 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his kind words. I have been nominated in the riding of Rivière-du-Loup–Montmagny, which includes the regional county municipalities of Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Montmagny and L'Islet. This new riding includes half of my current riding and half of a neighbouring riding which, until now, had been represented by a Liberal member. I think that, in the next election, a Bloc Quebecois member will be elected. I hope to be the one.

As for the hon. member's question on the employment insurance fund, I will provide a concrete example. If employers and workers contributed to the program and assumed 100% of its funding, this would ensure that central labour bodies, workers and employer federations would decide together what is the appropriate rate of contribution.

Groups representing seasonal workers could say, “We want to improve our program. Are we able, collectively, to make this kind of choice?” Something similar was done in the past, for example when public servants became eligible to the employment insurance program. It was a kind of solidarity movement, in that these people said, “We have permanent jobs, but we want to help redistribute wealth in our society. Is there a way to ensure that what we are contributing is used to help regional economies and seasonal industries?” This is the type of situation that led to the employment insurance fund.

The problem is that someone changed the rules about ten years ago. It is the current Liberal government which decided that it would keep the surplus generated in the fund, even though it does not contribute to the employment insurance program.

If we had a self-sustaining fund, there would be a meeting where the new fund would take over from the old. At the first meeting, the federal government would sit at one end of the table and say that it accepted the transfer to a self-sustaining fund. At the next meeting, employers and employees would be the only people present, because the federal government would no longer have a place at this meeting, it having been recognized that those who finance the system should be in charge of it.

That is what we want in order to avoid a recurrence of the pillage, the theft of $45 billion. On people's cheque stubs it says “employment insurance premiums” and not “payroll tax”, or “government funding” or “debt repayment”. It says employment insurance, meaning that workers, when they lose their jobs, will have an adequate income while waiting for the next job.

The self-sustaining EI fund was suggested by the Bloc Quebecois and has been supported by all the opposition parties in this House. It was part of the unanimous recommendations of the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development. The only person who dissented was the current Prime Minister, who was finance minister at the time, because this fund was a cash cow for paying down Canada's deficit. It is unacceptable for the current government to make the least organized people in our society pay down the deficit.