Madam Speaker, I am pleased that at least one member on the opposite side of the House was alert and understood what happened a moment ago.
The Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister have taken spending and the use of taxpayer dollars to a high point that we have not seen in Canadian history for some time.
As my hon. colleague from the NDP suggested, waiting lists are as long as they ever have been, our troops are still overstretched, university students are still carrying the highest debt burdens they have ever carried, cattle farmers are going broke every day, despite some developments that might help them a bit now, and our softwood lumber workers face problems. B.C. forest fire victims have not received a dime of the aid that they were promised, but I must admit that has changed slightly since the budget but not enough. There are some very serious problems with the budget.
The Liberals argue that they can make better use of the $190 billion they tax away every year and that they are better stewards than homemakers, than students, than farmers, than lumber workers and so on. I think, Madam Speaker, you and I could probably manage our money better than the government could on our behalf, and that is what is happening with the budget.
Every year the Liberals spend billions of dollars on the firearms registry, corporate welfare, grants to special interest groups, making television sitcoms, and expanding the federal bureaucracy. Is that the way we want our money spent?
These are the same Liberals who bought the $100 million ad scam, the $1 billion firearms registry, the $160 million in fraud at DND, the billion dollar boondoggle at HRDC, and the globe-trotting expenses of the Governor General. They spent money for what?
I do not want to go into any further detail about the budget because I will only get even more disturbed than I already am.
I want to now address the equalization program. This implementation bill would actually change the equalization program to quite a degree, and I will go into some of the details of that. It is a good thing that the equalization program is being reviewed because it requires some major adjustments. I would like to read into the record the Conservative Party's position on this.
A Conservative government will support changes to the equalization formula to encourage the development of natural resources and economic growth. We will remove natural resources from the equalization program and change the formula from a five-province standard to a ten-province standard over a five-year phase in period.
That is a very substantial change to the equalization program.
The implementation bill suggests some other changes to the equalization program, and some of them are quite commendable.
One of the major changes is the shift with regard to the property tax base. The changes address structural deficiencies that have been a longstanding issue between provinces and move to an approach that reflects the use of real market value in the residential property sector.
I am sure my colleagues from British Columbia are aware that British Columbia has used the real market value of properties for quite some time as a base on which they have been assessed. Special consideration has been given to take into account the unique nature of British Columbia's high property values.
More specifically, what is changing? Property taxes are the second most important revenue source in equalization. Given their importance, it is essential that property taxes be equalized equitably across Canada. The current multi-concept base was put in place over 20 years ago at a time when property taxation was quite diverse across Canada. Most of the provinces have now moved to real market value.
Academic experts were asked to comment on the current base and several alternatives. A number of them supported the current base being replaced with one incorporating the market value of property adjusted to take into account pure price differences related to scarcity. The property tax base is being changed to reflect the use of real market value in the residential property sector.
Then the obvious question is this. If that is what is happening across Canada, then why would we do a special adjustment to British Columbia? A specific and special provision will be applied to British Columbia where property values are significantly higher than in other provinces. These high prices reflect more than just differences in the quantity and quality of properties. Here is the key sentence. “Such price differences should not be included in the Equalization”. That is a beautiful statement made by the bureaucrats in the department. Hopefully, the Minister of Finance is completely in support of this position and that they will not be in the equalization. If that is the case, then true change in the equalization formula can be supported.
So much for the equalization program and the specific changes in the reference to British Columbia.
I would now like to refer to the hon. member for Medicine Hat. He wrote an article not too long ago that was published in the National Post . I would like to read certain parts of that document into the record because I think it is probably one of the most insightful statements that we have seen in quite some time. He also happens to be the finance critic for our party, and that is just fine. He is talking about the secret reserve fund. He wrote:
In the shady world of secret slush funds... If reports are correct, $50-million a year will buy lots of political favours--all of which can be called in with the drop of the election writ. But the National Unity Reserve and its bigger slushier cousin, the Sponsorship Program, are just pikers compared to the $5-billion+ secret reserve that the Liberals deliberately build into every year's spending.
Could it really be that there is a secret reserve that nobody knows anything about and it is $5 billion? It could not possibly be. He goes on:
In the fiscal year 2002-03, the government budgeted $138.6 billion for program spending, but its actual spending plans were for $133.3 billion--a full $5.3 billion less. Why would it budget $5.3 billion more than it expected to spend?
Because fooling the public has turned out to be very politically profitable for them...
In deliberately padding the public books with billions of dollars every year, whacks of unknown and often unsupported expenses are allowed to slip through the cracks without the involvement of Parliament.
That is where the issue lies. It is a secret reserve that exists in which Parliament has no say.
By the way, it was this secret reserve that made it possible to spend money that really was not authorized by the Parliament of Canada. It allowed the Prime Minister to buy $100 million worth of executive jets so he could fly around the country. He did not really need to replace the jets because the ones that were in service were perfectly serviceable, yet that is what happened. With a $5 billion secret reserve, the Liberals could do anything they wanted.
We should not implement this budget as it is written.