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.


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, 2004
Government Orders

April 1st, 2004 / 4:05 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to have an opportunity to join in the debate on the budget on behalf of the people in my riding of Winnipeg Centre.

Where I come from, people watch the budget very earnestly, mostly because they have a real vested interest in how the government chooses to spend our hard-earned tax dollars, even more so in my riding than some others. I am not proud to say that my riding is the third poorest riding in all Canada. Not many people are aware that right in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, by whatever poverty or income measurement we use, whether it is average family income or incidents of poverty, unfortunately ranks as the third poorest riding in the country.

The people who I represent rely heavily on the social programs that the federal government operates and pays for in our welfare state. They look to the government for relief in many ways, and they are particularly vulnerable to policy changes. When people are already low income, marginalized people living at the edge, it does not take much for them to be pushed over the edge. It does not take much to go from working poor to poverty, and that unfortunately is the case.

Members may be shocked to hear that 47% of the families in my riding live below the poverty line, as calculated by Statistics Canada as the low income cut-off; 52% of all the children in my riding live below the poverty line. Given statistics like that, members can forgive perhaps the zeal with which I sometimes undertake some of these issues. I witness, day to day, people trying to get by on marginal incomes and trying to make do when they do not even have the basic needs.

I do not say that for any romantic effect. I am simply informing the House that pockets of Canada are not doing well. They are being left behind. If we do not revitalize our commitment to equal opportunity, we run the risk of creating a permanent underclass and we run the risk of another generation being left behind, and none of us can afford that.

As we speak about the dollars and cents associated with our federal budget, let us also contemplate the costs of a social deficit which is growing and escalating in reverse of what I believe the goals and intentions are of a country like Canada.

If we are committed to equality as an objective, then why do we see policies like those which we have seen since the Liberal government took over? If we are committed to giving a hand up rather than a handout, then why are the very programs that enable people to come out, better themselves and to join the burgeoning middle class at risk?

By way of prefacing my remarks, I want to remind people of the true personal impact of some of the policy choices that this government has made. The Liberals bragged that they balanced the budget for seven years in a row. I approve of balanced budgets. Let us dispel the myth right here and now that the NDP is somehow opposed to balancing budgets.

I come from the province of Manitoba where under the Gary Doer government we have had five balanced budgets. In the province of Saskatchewan next door, the Blakeney government had nine balanced budgets in a row. Tommy Douglas himself said that one could not run a government when it was beholden to foreign bond holders. These are the points, these are the very foundations of our political party. The I approve balanced budgets. I am very critical of how they balance the budgets.

The previous speaker with the Bloc Quebecois mentioned that one way the Liberals balanced the budget was with the EI fund. Let us inform Canadians, let us be upfront with Canadians about the EI fund. The federal government does not put one penny into the EI fund. It is made up solely of contributions by employers and employees. Ergo, any surplus stemming from that fund should go to employers and employees, and I would argue favouring the employees. It was designed to provide benefits for people who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in between jobs. One of the designated uses of the EI fund is not to pay down the debt, or to build roads, or to give tax cuts or any of the other general revenue functions and purposes for which the government uses that money.

Let me simply summarize my criticism of the EI fund with this one message. To deduct something from a person's pay cheque for a specific purpose and then to use it for something else entirely different is, in the best of scenarios, a breach of trust and, in the worst scenario, out and out fraud. People are told the money that taken off their paycheques will be held in case they become unemployed at which time they will receive income maintenance until they can find another job. However, if they are deceived and if that money is used for something else entirely and those people are denied the very benefits they thought they were buying, I call it fraud.

I am glad to see you have assumed the chair, Mr. Speaker. It is an honour to have you with us in that lofty position. What would you think, Mr. Speaker, if you were forced to pay fire insurance on your home because you had no choice and the money came off of your cheque every week? Then your home burned down and you tried to collect on the insurance but you were told you did not qualify because your premiums had been spent on x, y or z? I think you would feel cheated. That is how working Canadians feel about the EI fund.

When we asked the current Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, about this huge growing surplus in the EI fund, he said, “Let me make it clear. There is no EI fund”. He said that plain as the nose on my face. He said that the members should understand that there was no EI fund, that it all went into general revenue. We may as well call it another tax on Canadians then. If that money is to be taken off the paycheques of people and used for whatever the government wants, that is a tax. That is not an insurance fund any more. Let us dispel that myth altogether.

There was another way that the Liberals balanced the budget, and people forget this. When Marcel Masse's was the president of the Treasury Board, he passed a bill without very much fanfare in the House. It took $30 billion out of the surplus of the public service employees' pension plan. Their pension plan was in surplus because their wages were frozen for seven years in a row and, as a result, people were not eligible for the same kind of benefits they thought they would be when they retired. For a number of reasons, their pension plan went into surplus by $30 billion .

I used to be a trustee on a union pension plan. In the real world, in the private sector, the employer and the employees would sit down and probably negotiate some kind of a settlement on that surplus. Part of it would go back to the employer and part of it would go to improving the benefits for the beneficiaries of the plan. However, not in this case. Even Bell Canada, which from a trade union point of view was a difficult employer, cut 60:40 with its pension service employees. The Government of Canada took 100%, every nickel, of that $30 billion. It said that the money belonged to it. This is a quote, “The employees have no proprietary right to the surplus in their pension plan”.

Surpluses in pension plans are wages being kept for employees until they need the money when they retire. That is money they have earned as part of their wage package. The pension surplus is deferred wages. The government had no right to do that, but it passed a specific bill that gave it that right. It passed unnoticed, and it should be exposed. That was not the government's money, just like the EI fund is not the government's money. It is Canadian working people's money being held in trust by the government. It has no right to put its hand in the jar and take the money out.

The third way the government has balanced the budget is by cutbacks to the very social services that are so necessary and needed in a low income riding like mine. The parliamentary secretary argued with our Bloc colleague and said that health care had risen 8% per year over the past four years. In actual fact we are only just getting back now to where we were in 1995 when the government drastically cut the Canada health and social transfer. It went from $19 billion to $11 billion, and it is gradually incrementally inching its way back up as the economy increases.

Therefore, it is completely disingenuous for the hon. member to say that in all this period of time of budgetary cutbacks and restraint the government has been raising contributions to the Canada health plan. We are only now to the point where we were in 1995.

Those three steps, the EI surplus pushing $50 billion, the public service pension plan of $30 billion, a gift the government just helped itself to, and the cutbacks to the Canada health and social transfer over the last nine years have made it possible for the Liberals to not only balance the books but it cut too far, resulting in surpluses.

On the treatment of those surpluses, we argue that we should be reinvesting them in our social deficit so we do not leave another generation of kids behind and our crumbling infrastructure. There is a huge deficit. Ask our municipalities. Sidewalks are falling apart under our feet out of negligence.

I come from the building trades in the construction industry. It does not matter how magnificent a building we build. If we do not maintain it, it will collapse around our ears. That is the situation with our crumbling infrastructure around the country.

I argue the government cut too far and too deep. The manifestation of that is the surplus it has. The government has not told us the truth about the surplus. From year to year, it has deliberately lowballed it. It has consciously misled Canadians, if I can say that. Maybe I can get away with pushing the limits with a new pinch hitter in the Chair. However, I believe there has been a deliberate misinformation associated with its budgetary estimates from year to year to the point where provinces cannot plan from year to year. Every year ministers of finance, especially our current Prime Minister, have been very adept at misleading the provinces.

We have in our presence today a former provincial minister of finance who probably found himself in that situation with the federal government playing its cards very close to its chest saying that there could not be any transfer payment increases to the province for that year, and it looked pretty grim. It is like asking a prairie farmer what kind of crop he will have this year. It is always pretty grim.

I believe the government knew full it would have a windfall at the end of the year. It denies and denies and then happy coincidence it finds $6 billion or $8 billion. How can we be out by $6 billion or $8 billion? I do not believe that in today's advanced accounting practices that we can make a mistake like that, not seven years in a row.

It has the effect of tying the hands of the provinces. They cannot plan. We cannot grow a province on one time funding. After begging, pleading and negotiating the government says that it will throw a few crumbs, a one time billion dollars here or there. That is not how we grow a country. We need a long range plan. We need stable core funding to plan and project our needs down the road.

Perhaps the biggest scandal associated with the Liberal government in my view is its deliberate and conscious under representing the budget surpluses that it has had from year to year. Never mind, the treatment of those surpluses. I would argue that is a scandal too. It all goes to debt reduction and none of it goes to reinvesting in the country, to redevelop the country.

About three or four years ago there was a time when the Liberal government said that if there were a surplus, and again the big if because it would not say there would be, it would divide that surplus three ways. One-third would go to tax cuts, one-third would go to debt reduction and one-third would go to program spending.

That promise went out the window. I do not know why we cannot hold the Liberals to task on that because that was a clear commitment they made, and that simply has not happened. One year $11 billion went straight to debt reduction and not a penny to increased program development even in a needy area like mine, Winnipeg Centre.

I gave the statistic that 52% of the children in my riding live below the poverty line. There is an urgent need for early childhood development and a national child care program in this country.

I have seen the website and I read the paper that the Liberal Party's social policy committee developed on an early childhood national child care program, in which all children between the ages of three and five would have access to full time, all day long day care. Again another budget has gone by without any commitment to that lofty principle.

Instead of a long awaited national child care program, this budget adds no new money. It only accelerates the already promised funds for child care from the last budget. Again it is the shell game of announcing and re-announcing the same dollars.

The one thing in the budget that I can actually speak positively about is that the federal government has finally listened to five years of pleas on our part, five years of admonitions on our part about the fact that this country is the only country in the western world in which businesses can deduct their fines as tax deductions. Fines and penalties were tax deductible until March 23 of this year.

I do not know why it took five years. Since a 1999 Supreme Court ruling, businesses in this country could deduct their fines. We asked the ministers of finance about it. We said that surely it undermines the deterrent value of a fine if businesses can write it off as a tax deduction. It seems ludicrous. Then it became clear why Liberals were reluctant to plug this outrageous tax loophole. The current Prime Minister, the former minister of finance, received the largest fine in Canadian history for ship source pollution when one of his ships owned by the company Canada Steamship Lines dumped its bilges in the Halifax harbour and polluted the harbour.

That was the single largest environmental fine for ship source pollution in Canadian history. Presumably Canada Steamship Lines wrote off that fine as a tax deduction and had it automatically reduced. We do not know that it did because we do not have privileged access to the company's taxation, but it would have been within its rights to do so and its accountant should be fired if he did not do it for them, so we can assume that this is what happened.

Why did that take five years? It is absolutely irritating, of course, to the sensibilities of any ordinary Canadian. It was an absurd situation.

The budget again is preoccupied with debt reduction. I again am the first to admit that we have to get out from under the crippling debt, a crippling debt that developed largely under the Trudeau years and the Mulroney years. Frankly, it grew and expanded and exploded, and it was not just over-spending that led to the accumulation of this $500 billion plus debt. Part of it was the fact that we do not hold or carry our own debt internally and domestically like we once did.

In fact, our debt was farmed out to foreign banks and foreign bond holders, so we were paying interest at a much higher rate than we used to. Essentially we were paying interest on the open market. As we all know, we went through a period when there were interest rates of 12%, 14% and 18%. That debt was just compounding and spiralling out of control, partly because of our own bad policy choice, I would argue.

It is part of our campaign platform this time around to repatriate some of that debt at least, to refinance so that we do not have to make these choices of paying down the debt or providing basic needs to Canadians. We believe we can do both. We can have a sensible debt reduction program and we can still reinvest in Canadians to deal with the social deficit, reinvest in our infrastructure to deal with the infrastructure deficit in municipalities, and do any other number of other good things.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Winnipeg Centre on his excellent speech. However, before I make any comments, I want to say that everyone is no doubt aware that there is a rumour going around the House that this might be one of the last times we will sit before the next election.

That said, I also want to remind the Chair of something he announced to me personally, which is that the Speaker has decided to hang up his skates, as we say in northern Ontario and northwestern Quebec—we are from the same parts of the country—after 25 years.

Consequently, personally and on behalf of my Bloc colleagues, I wish the Speaker a very happy retirement; I wish him many enjoyable days of fishing and hunting. It takes courage, perseverance and patience to spend 25 years in the House and I congratulate the Chair on this achievement.

To come back to my colleague's speech, I want to say that I am quite simply disgusted to learn that 53% of the young people in his riding live below the poverty line. In a country like Canada, this is unbelievable.

I realized that, in his speech, he failed to mention—and I want to tell him about this—not only this government's poor administration, but also the scandals, theft, and so forth. I am thinking, for example, of a trip to the circumpolar countries by Adrienne the First, which cost x millions of dollars. I am thinking that, with those millions, we could have given a lot of money to young people in my colleague's riding so they could eat.

I am thinking too of the gun registry administrative scandal. Yes, it may be good to have a gun registry, however, when it is supposed to cost $2 million and it ends up costing $2 billion, that would have been money for the 53% of young people in his riding.

I could go on and on. I want to hear a little from my colleague about the scandals and wasted money since at least 1997, when I came here.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
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4:25 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his sympathetic comments and his appreciation of the issues that we raised. Actually, I also thank him for the opportunity to point out a glaring contradiction. The hon. member is right: in this day and age it is simply a manifestation of bad social planning that we have 52% of the children in my riding living below the poverty line. In my view it is a failure and it is Canada's greatest shame.

I am glad the hon. member at least raised the contrast between the Governor General's excessive spending and the plight of some of the underprivileged children in my riding, because I have a graphic illustration and example for him.

I recently lost in an effort to save one early childhood development program in my riding. The total budget of this program was $5,000. It was an eight week program to teach low income mothers early childhood development skills and proper nutrition skills, et cetera, to help them get their children, this generation, off to a better start. For the want of $5,000, that program failed.

The Governor General's circumpolar party cost of $5.3 million would have paid for a thousand of these programs. We could have run one of those early childhood development programs in every village and city in the country. That is perhaps a graphic illustration of what a misspent $5.3 million translates into when we talk about a good and proper use for that money.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Winnipeg has talked for quite some time about the issue of a tax deduction for workers who go across the country to work. He also has spoken about tax deductions for companies and corporations. They can write off any fines that they receive.

We cannot give a tax break to families for the registration fee for themselves and their children who enter into sports activities, but we can give a tax break to a corporation that has a skybox at a hockey rink.

If someone lives in Nova Scotia and goes to Alberta for work, he or she cannot deduct the cost of their tools or their transportation, but if that person is an accountant, he or she can write off the business costs and hotel costs and everything else.

Also, there is my colleague's work in bringing to the forefront the issue of when corporations and companies commit an offence and get fined. They can claim that fine as a business expense. If we want to free up a lot of money for very good causes, we should stop those loopholes right there. That would really help Canadians.

I would like my colleague to comment on that, please.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to comment on the issues raised by my colleague from Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore.

There are such glaring contrasts in the taxation policy in Canada. One would think that our tax policy would be designed to be in the best interests of Canadians, but it seems to be always in the best interests of only a few Canadians, not the rest of us.

As my colleague knows, I am a carpenter by trade. I have had to criss-cross the country literally dozens of times to follow the work. I could not write off a single penny of the expenses that I incurred driving across the country following the building jobs. My colleague is right when he says there are others who can write off things that we think should not be allowed. Corporations, for example, can write off expenses such as skyboxes and so on.

The member raised one thing that I think is a real shame. Yesterday the House dealt with a private member's bill put forward by my colleague from Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore, through which the costs associated with children playing amateur sports and taking part in physical activity would have been made tax deductible, thereby allowing more low income families to have their kids participate in sports.

His bill was summarily disregarded by all parties in the House with the exception of the Bloc Québécois, I believe, and the NDP. Had it passed, that would having been using tax policy to encourage good, positive physical activity and a healthier generation. It was a missed opportunity.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Scarborough East


John McKay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, frankly, I did not realize that this might be your last day in the chair. I as well would like to extend to you my thanks. I appreciate that it is sometimes a pretty difficult job to try to keep this place under control.

I know that the hon. gentleman appreciates the work of Roy Romanow. I would like to get his comments with regard to Mr. Romanow's remarks with respect to Ottawa's decision in the budget not to increase health care funding. I am sure he will recollect that prior to the budget the government had committed a further $2 billion. Let me quote the following:

Romanow said he agrees with the premiers that more federal funding is needed, but the provincial governments forget to mention that he recommended first making changes to ensure medicare meets the current needs of Canadians.

In other words, we cannot carry on with this unsustainable path of adding more money and adding more money to health care faster than the rate of growth of the government's revenues or faster than the rate of growth of the GDP without significant reforms to the system.

I am interested in the hon. member's response to Mr. Romanow's comments that we cannot continue to carry on in the way that we are and that the provinces will have to meet with the Prime Minister and deal with these changes to the system.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
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4:35 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, a new term has drifted into the public lexicon. The new term is the Romanow gap. Anyone who follows health policy in this country understands what the Romanow gap is. The federal government's share of the stable core funding of the health system was dramatically reduced and never brought back to where it was. There is a gap between the current federal participation of between 14% and 16% and the recommended level of federal participation of 25%.

We do not want to see that come in a one time lump sum payment that the premiers asked for. We want to see stable core funding. We do not hire nurses with one time funding unless we just want to hire them for one year and let them go at the end of the year. We cannot plan and run a health care system with one time funding. We need stable core funding. That was abundantly clear in the Romanow report and the government ignored it.

Finally, the Prime Minister for the first time ever in talking about the health care system mentioned Romanow in a recent announcement. Maybe he is finally acknowledging that his government has failed to heed the Romanow report and has failed to comply with the recommendations in the Romanow report. If he is ready to do so, I will be the first one to acknowledge it, if and when that happens, but it has not happened yet.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before resuming debate, I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill:

Bill C-16, An Act respecting the registration of information relating to sex offenders, to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

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.

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Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary Southeast.

I rise today to comment on Bill C-30, the budget implementation act. I must say off the top that I am disappointed that this document regurgitates promises already made and makes many for the future. If we look at the track record of the government, promises made are all too often promises broken.

It is time for change, time for a government that will live up to the expectations of Canadians, a government that will be truly accountable and responsible. The past decade has seen unbelievable levels of waste and misspending by the Liberal government.

Where do I start? There was the HRDC billion dollar boondoggle. The cancelled helicopter contract cost the taxpayers of Canada $600 million, and we still need the helicopters. That was just money down the drain.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004
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4:35 p.m.

An hon. member


Budget Implementation Act, 2004
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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Skeena, BC

Submarines, as the hon. member said. I guess they submerged and did not come back up. That was definitely a problem. I think that was some $700 million.

There were jets for $100 million on the whim of a prime minister at the end of a budget year while virtually ignoring all the rules and regulations of purchasing.

There is the sponsorship ad scam scandal right now and we are trying to get to the bottom of it. The granddaddy of them all, in my mind anyway, and certainly in the minds of a lot of northern Canadians, is Bill C-68, the $1 billion heading toward $2 billion gun registry boondoggle. It virtually penalizes legitimate gun owners and allows criminals to run rampant with illegal guns and do their bad deeds. They will never register their weapons. It is a totally wasteful program and huge amounts of money continue to be frittered away.

They are dollars that should have been in the budget to help the provinces with their badly underfunded health care and education systems. Money has been taken away from the provinces over the last decade by the federal government. Some $25 billion has been cut from health and social transfers. This has seriously stressed the ability of provinces to deliver especially health care.

Certainly there is $2 billion that was reannounced in the budget for the provinces to go to their health care systems but out of the $2 billion, I believe my province of B.C. gets in the neighbourhood of $450 million. That would fund the health care system in B.C., according to my calculations, for approximately nine days. It is totally insufficient. It is a drop in the bucket in terms of what really needs to be done to support the health care system in Canada.

Program spending in the budget is up $10.1 billion. It is up to a record $143 billion. It pledges another $12 billion jump over the next couple of years. It is constantly spend, spend, spend. Canadians are taxed to the limit already. We have to look at ways of spending more wisely and prudently. Hopefully we can save the taxpayers some money and cut taxes in the future, not spend more and more as we go on.

The federal debt is estimated to be at $510.6 billion as of March 31 this year. That is still $23.1 billion higher than when the current Prime Minister first became the finance minister. Even though the government takes credit for reducing the debt, it is still higher than it was when the Liberals came into office. That certainly does not help things very much.

In terms of income tax, there are a few minor goodies in the budget. The income tax exemption for Canadian forces personnel on high risk missions is very welcome. There is a problem in terms of who gets that and who does not get it. That is definitely going to be a bone of contention.

Our military would have been better off, in my opinion, with an across the board raise for everybody. It is highly deserved and when it comes to determining who gets the bonus and who does not, I think that will create problems down the road.

The GST rebate for cities and towns is certainly useful. Again, that is a reannouncement of something that was announced some time ago. They were only paying a portion of the GST already. They were getting back a portion. Eliminating the portion 100% is good and it will help the cities, but overall it is a relatively minor boon to them.

The money for the cattle industry for BSE is certainly welcome. It took a long time to get it. It is very late in coming. The industry is very badly stressed. It would be nice if we could deal with these issues face to face with the U.S. government to try to get the border open in a more timely manner. It would be nice to see some of these dollars delivered to the farm gate to make sure they go where they should go.

In terms of education, there are grants for low income families. Although it sounds very nice, and I certainly do not begrudge them that, the amount of money that is involved is relatively minor. When we look at the increases in education due to the cutbacks by the federal government in transfer funds to the provinces and the increase in education tuition costs, a few dollars here and there is really not going to help.

I have grandchildren that will be going to university in the not too distant future and their parents are going to be very stressed in terms of coming up with enough money to pay for it. A few hundred dollars thrown at it is not really going to help the situation too much.

As I mentioned earlier, the $25 billion that has been cut from the health and social transfers has created a lot of problems for the provinces in terms of the health care system and the education system.

In the equalization budget proposal, there is a payment to the provinces that is actually $2 billion lower than was estimated last fall. They are going to be asked to pay back some $2.5 billion in overpayments. That is certainly not good news for the provinces. Again it puts a burden on them. It is a burden that the provinces do not need at this stage of the game.

Health care I mentioned previously. The $2 billion supplement is a big help, but what is really required is long term stable funding for the health care system. The provinces need to know where they are going, what they are going to get and what they are going to have to work with well into the future, not on an ad hoc, year to year basis. Again it is dribs and drabs, but it really does not affect the whole issue in any sense of the word.

There are a lot of old regurgitated promises and a lot of new promises that may or may not be kept. Let us look at infrastructure. When the Prime Minister was seeking the leadership of his party, he spent a lot of time running around Canada promising a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the big promises was that the gas tax would be shared with municipalities for infrastructure purposes. This is not happening.

He has given the rebate on the GST, which I believe amounts to $7 billion over 10 years. It is about $580 million this year. The federal government collects $7 billion a year in gas taxes. On the GST they are going to get back about 8%. It is nice to have it and I am not knocking that, but it really is not addressing the problem.

The municipal infrastructure deficit in Canada is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50 billion to $60 billion. That is what is required to rebuild it, to bring it up to modern standards and $580 million a year is just not going to do it. There are a lot of things that need to be addressed and they certainly were not addressed in the budget. Overall it is very disappointing, extremely disappointing.

I do not want to forget the military and how badly underfunded it is. The military is chronically underfunded and needs huge injections of capital to bring its equipment up to a standard to allow the members of our military to do the job that we expect of them. We are very proud of our military and we should show that pride by funding it properly, not cutting its budget and taking money away from it. We need to allow the military to do its job.

The $300 million that was announced to go to the Afghanistan and Haiti missions is relatively unsuitable. It is not enough. It is not going to fund those missions properly. The military is stretched to the limit.

As a member from a resource dependent area of Canada, I am extremely disappointed in the total lack of recognition or understanding of the challenges facing these rural areas. The area in which I live is a rural area that is very badly stressed.

I will close by saying, big promises, big spending, big government, Canadians deserve and demand better.

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague and I both come from, as he has already said, resource based ridings, particularly forestry.

One of my biggest concerns in my seven years in the House has been the softwood lumber dispute which has been responsible for closing markets, closing mills and laying off thousands of people in the province of British Columbia which supplies approximately 52% of the exported softwood lumber from this country to the U.S.

I am sure my hon. colleague would agree with me that the kind of response from the government has been absolutely pitiful. When an aid package was announced it was not in the form of any kind of direct help to industry in terms of loan guarantees. It was not really helping out individual workers with extended EI benefits. It did not help workers, in any direct way, who had lost their jobs through the softwood lumber displacement. This has been dragging on for year after year with no resolution in sight. We are still in a trade war with the United States over it.

The softwood lumber adjustment program was supposed to put money back into communities that had suffered greatly from this problem, but I do not think anyone in my riding has actually seen a single dollar from that program.

In view of all of that, I wonder if my hon. colleague could give me the benefit of his wisdom as to whether the budget helps people like that and whether he has seen any money put into his riding that would substantially help displaced forestry workers.

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4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, the handling of the softwood lumber issue has been very distressing to many Canadians and especially British Columbians because we are the major producer of softwood lumber into the U.S. Some 50% of what goes into that market comes from British Columbia.

We are almost three years into the dispute and there has been no real resolution. It has been going through the process. It would have been nice if the government could have resolved this on a more equitable basis, on a government to government basis, rather than having to rely on NAFTA and the WTO. Decisions are coming down slowly but surely. The recent WTO decision was positive for Canada. A NAFTA decision is due fairly shortly and we will have to see what happens there.

Certainly it has not been handled well. We await the conclusion of this matter so that the borders can be opened to our lumber once again on a free basis. The only solution to this is to have free and open access to the U.S. market.

When it comes to the softwood lumber community adjustment initiative, my colleague is correct. This $110 million program, of which $55 million was to go to B.C., was announced with great fanfare in December 2002, but B.C. has seen very little of that money.

Many communities have applied for funding but very little of that funding has been allocated. It may have been allocated but the cheques have not been written. I have asked questions in the House as to when the cheques will be coming. I am very much afraid the cheques will come out during an election or shortly before an election to buy voters.