House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Champlain, but the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre has the floor. I would advise her, however, that her time for replies has run out.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

4:40 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Bloc Quebecois member for his comment.

He has identified a very serious problem, for which a solution must be found. That is the issue of the $45 billion in the EI fund.

It will take a great deal of resources to find solutions to problems like poverty, unemployment and economic insecurity in general.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak for the second time to Bill C-30. I am speaking to the bill because it deals with a very important issue, the budget.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River.

When the Prime Minister took office after being elected as leader of the Liberal Party, he promised Canadians a new vision that would be different from the previous government. He promised in the throne speech that he would connect with Canadians and offer them an alternative.

We then moved from the throne speech into the budget speech, where, in all honesty, after taking everything into consideration, we saw it as band-aid solution budget. We all knew the Prime Minister wanted to call an election because he was riding high in the polls and he thought the steam engine of the Liberal Party could sweep the country.

Lo and behold, the record of the Liberal government smacked it right in the face, as the member of the NDP just pointed out. The scandal of the management of Canadian taxpayer dollars hit it right smack in the face. What happened? We are now in a holding pattern.

The Prime Minister wants to call an election but he does not know when to call it. The vision he talked about has disappeared. Where will this bill on the budget go? As we all know, we are waiting for the Prime Minister to call an election but he cannot even decide when to call it. Whether it will be on June 14, June 28 or July 5, nobody knows.

The country is now being run in a holding pattern while Canadians wait for important issues to be solved. The last thing on the minds of Canadians is an election. They expect the government to come up with a plan, the budget being one of those plans.

As the critic for international development, I see in the budget that $248 million will go into the international assistance development envelope, which would bring the CIDA budget to over $2.5 billion. People may not know this but CIDA has a budget of $2.5 billion, which is a lot of money, and yet CIDA operates without a legislative mandate. It is left to the mercy of the government or the Prime Minister and politics are being played.

As an international development critic for the last three years, I have seen four ministers at the head of that department and each minister has tried to pass on her or his own ideas and agenda. Why? The reason is that we now have legislation that directs where the money will go. It is left to the whim of the minister and the senior bureaucrats in CIDA. That is why questions keep being raised about where this money is being spent.

Canadians do not know what CIDA is doing. CIDA may have a good international name in countries where it does little patches of work but Canadians do not know where the tax dollars are going in international development. I keep asking that question in the House. Canadians are wondering why emerging economies in countries like China are receiving over $50 million.

Canadians shake their heads about why we are giving a country like China that aid. Every time I raise this question the answer is that there is poverty in China. Yes, we know there is poverty in China. We are very happy to see China as an emerging nation, but China is now in a situation where it has the resources to take care of its people.

Its leaders can take care of its people, but what do they do? They send people into space. They spend all that money for sending people into space. As well, there is an increase in their military expenditures of over 12%. They can do that, yet we stand here and use Canadian taxpayers' dollars and say there is poverty there that we need to address so we have to give them $50 million.

Would that money not be better spent in Africa or in Latin America, in the slums there? I do not understand why and how we can stand up and let the Chinese leaders off the hook. They should be responsible for their own people.

However, this highlights the problem, which I am trying to say is the way CIDA is structured, the way CIDA is operated and the way CIDA is giving out money. The question that comes up time after time is this one: What is happening and where is this money?

Sure, Canadians are very generous. They would like to assist the unfortunate around the world. I am very glad and very proud, and so are members of my party today, to stand up and vote for Bill C-9. I have to give credit to the government for introducing that legislation, but we were the party that was there right away supporting that bill, because we knew Canadians wanted that bill to be supported. That bill is going to give generic drugs to Africa to help in the fight against HIV, malaria and TB. Yes, based on that, we supported it.

However, we need to keep asking this question: Where does the money go?

It is very interesting that the Prime Minister just went down to Washington and made a speech there. He talked about international development assistance, but then what do we say? It is a simple answer: We are giving more money. We are giving more money so we are meeting our commitment to international assistance.

Really, giving more money and using money wisely and effectively is a challenge. It is a challenge unless and until there are structural reform changes that take place in CIDA. Most important, unless CIDA is legislated and is told that these are the areas in which we expect results--i.e., we expect to see money going to poverty reduction or education--only then can we say it is an effective use of dollars. Right now money is spread out as thinly as possible across 105 countries, with every kind of end use, some very good and some excellent, but the result is that nobody is happy.

Then we have CIDA-INC giving money for business ventures. It was proven by my colleague from Cypress Hill, at the time from the Reform Party, that the money was going to the companies with ties to the Liberal Party. The companies took advantage of that.

The bottom line is that while we speak about the budget, while we speak of giving money, it is critically important that the money be effectively spent. That is what Canadians are demanding from the budget.

Let me say very briefly that the budget does not address many of the issues that are most important to people in my riding. What are their issues? Of course one is health care and we are seeing the flip-flops coming out from the government on health care.

Also, I want to say to that New Democratic Party, once and for all, tell us, quote for us, give us the name of who has said for profit health care or private health care. Where did we say that? Tell the hon. member to tell us, Mr. Speaker. The hon. member stands up and blames the Conservative Party, but let her quote from where we have said that.

I also want to say that she knows what our most important issues are, and most important is tax reform, because unless and until Canadians have money in their pockets, only then will that be an effective use of money.

In conclusion, I say we are drifting. We are drifting because of this election and because this Prime Minister and this government have not been able to put forth the vision they promised to Canadians.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to take part in this budget debate. I have been here for almost seven years. It almost appears that every time we have a budget debate, the same debate occurs. We have talked about all these things, about the government's intent for what it wants to do, but the record paints a different picture.

We know that at this point this is really a pre-election debate. This is basically about the government telling the people of this country that it is going to give them back some of their money, not that the Liberal government will be honest and say it is their money, that it does not really belong to the government, that it is the people's money.

However, as members know, we play the same games over and over and unfortunately too many people have forgotten that when they pay taxes the money comes out of their pockets. Canada is one of the most highly taxed nations in the world. We pay an awful lot of taxes. Even members of Parliament do. My colleague and I were just talking about the amount of money from our monthly cheque that actually goes back to the government. In essence we could be paid $1 million and 60% or probably two-thirds of it would come back to this place. So it is not about how much money we earn in this country; it is about the level of taxation.

On that basis, this country is filthy rich when it comes to tax dollars. I believe our current budget runs at $185 billion to $190 billion. That is an awful lot of money. In fact, when I first came here I had a hard time understanding a billion dollars, but after being here all this time, it is sad in a way when members think, “Well, what is a billion?” Certainly on the government side they say, “What is a billion here and there?” That seems to be the irresponsible way in which the government has operated.

There are some things the government has done, but why has it taken so long? For example, a good thing is the GST rebate to municipalities, but why did it take so long? The FCM and the municipalities have been asking for tax rebates for over a decade. In fact, as we know, a GST rebate is really double taxation for the poor taxpayer at home, because they are paying tax on tax. The taxes that are paid come from taxes that citizens and homeowners pay to local governments and, in turn, those tax dollars are paid to the federal government. It just does not make any sense.

It still is a good move, though, that finally the federal government has realized it is wrong to double-tax people. Municipal governments are no different from this government. They are both there to serve the people at home.

One bigger contention is still “tax in lieu of”. The federal government does not pay its fair share when it comes to property tax. That has been a contentious issue for many years. Maybe it is high time for the government to pay its fair share of taxes on federal buildings on municipal lands across this country from coast to coast. The government owns thousands of buildings spread across this country. It does not pay its fair share. The government pays very little tax. That is why it is called a tax in lieu of. That means in lieu of paying the real tax, the right amount that municipal and provincial governments need. Again the government is shortchanging the poor taxpayer at home.

Past budgets really have not dealt with defending the rights of Canadians, and this government's accountability has been very poor when it comes to that, certainly in regard to Canadian industries like softwood lumber. We have been sitting here for years talking about the same issues and asking the same questions about what the government is doing about the softwood lumber problem or the farming problem and the safety net programs. Since the Liberal government has been in power, the dollars going to help farmers have been reduced substantially over the last 10 years.

In fact, one area that has been complained about constantly when it comes to budgets is the military. We can actually take that right back to the years when Prime Minister Trudeau was in power. In those days, the Liberals basically wanted to get rid of the Canadian military altogether. That still seems to be the government's focus even though we realize the important role that our military plays despite its restrictions, its size and its lack of equipment.

Canadians expect this country to be protected and Canadians are proud of their military and their peacekeeping, but Canadians also want this government to fund the military properly and make sure the military has the equipment. When our troops are in wartorn countries, Canadians expect them to be protected. We expect our troops to come home in one piece.

In fact, if it were not for the frigates that the Mulroney government had built back in the 1980s, today we probably would not have much of a navy at all. The reason I bring this up is that in today's paper there is an article about how Canada should be looking at an aircraft carrier to make sure that we can transport our troops around the world.

As members know, today we do not have that capacity. We have to rely on other countries to deliver our troops and equipment, so even when we want to help out, we cannot get there. That is rather pathetic, especially for a country well known in the world for the job it does in preserving peace around the world.

On the subject of health care, the Liberal government always forgets that it was the Liberals who took $24 billion out of the health care system. The question I raise is, why would the Liberals take the money from health? Only because we spend a lot of money on health in this country. Certainly the Liberals did not realize the impact it would have on Canadians. We know that today health is still the number one issue for Canadians across this country.

Yes, the Liberals balanced a $42 billion deficit, but on the backs of the taxpayers and on the backs of the sick. Only recently has the government put that money back into the system. Unfortunately, it has not kept up with inflation, increased costs and increased stresses on the health care system as we find it today. We just have to ask the provinces. They will tell us. The provinces have told the government many times about the budgetary inflation and the cost to their provincial budgets of just their increased spending in health.

We have heard again about the gas tax. We have been talking about the gas tax for decades, and also about infrastructure. When I first came here I sat on the transport committee. Back in 1997, a study was done on how bad the roads were. The study was done in cooperation and consultation with the provincial ministers of transportation. They put together a study and an agreement with the federal government. They all agreed that the highways and bridges of this country needed repair, just like the sewage systems did.

But did anyone do anything about it? No. It was just another study that was put on the shelf to collect dust. Almost 10 years later, we are back to the same topic about sharing gas taxes. A year ago when the price of gas was way up, I think the federal government ended up with $10 billion to $12 billion of gas tax revenue. What did the government do with it? It kept pretty well all of it. The government did not spend very much of it on infrastructure. The Liberals more or less threw it in a pot and did whatever Liberals do with a big pot of money.

All these things that I have talked about this afternoon are not new. I have been at this for seven years in the House and the same topics keep coming up. We hear the same rhetoric from the Liberals, especially just before an election, and this will be my third election. So what does it mean? It does not mean anything. It just means another budget and more rhetoric, a pre-election budget, and I am sure that Canadians are smart enough to understand that this is exactly what it is. I am sure that Canadians will vote and that they will expect whoever replaces the Liberals to be a lot more accountable.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:05 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I know my colleague from Dauphin--Swan River was active in his municipality and I believe at one point in time he was the mayor of Dauphin. I want to get his comments on some quality of life reports issued by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. These reports are sent to each of our offices.

Earlier in the debate the member for Winnipeg North Centre mentioned a report by one of the welfare groups as well as reports from Campaign 2000. These reports provided some specifics and percentages about where incomes were and how people in communities were being affected.

I want to highlight some comments from a Federation of Canadian Municipalities paper and get the member's thoughts on them. The federation has a quality of life indicator for 20 cities. It has been putting out reports for some time now. This one states:

While average inflation adjusted incomes have grown in most QOLRS communities, a closer look confirms that middle and lower income households have lost ground and that households from “minority” or “vulnerable” populations have not shared in the benefits of economic growth. Only the wealthiest 30% of families and 20% of individuals in the 20 QOLRS municipalities enjoyed any increase in before tax inflation adjusted income between 1990 and 2000. In contrast, the before tax income of low and modest income individuals--the bottom 30% on the income scale of all unattached individuals--decreased by 10% or more during this time.... In general, income growth among “minority” or “vulnerable” groups was substantially lower than their “majority” counterparts.

Even the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has made a point of mentioning this. It knows that in order for communities to be viable and sustainable, families need incomes that can support their communities. It goes on further in its report to mention a number of different things with regard to that.

Does my colleague think the budget will do any good to help in the areas where the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has indicated there is a problem?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Churchill raised a very good point. We are overtaxed. The wrong people are overtaxed, the people at the bottom. There is no doubt that the tax-free dollars need to be doubled so that people who earn $1,000 a month do not pay any tax. They need money to provide the basic essentials of life.

The FCM has done a wonderful job since it has been in existence. Because of it the infrastructure program came into existence back in 1996. The FCM pushed the former prime minister into saying that the first order of government really was the most important one. Unfortunately, former Prime Minister Chrétien would not admit that the FCM is a legitimate entity. I have tried for many years to get the government to acknowledge that the FCM is a legal entity other than being a creature of the provinces.

The FCM has raised many other issues. I am sure that in the future the FCM will continue to put pressure on the federal government to do its job, to be accountable, and to spend people's money wisely.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-30.

I compliment the member for Dauphin—Swan River. He raised a lot of issues that tweaked my mind and reminded me of things I would like to talk about.

I sometimes wonder whether there is any point in discussing the budgets, presentations, throne speeches and all the announcements the Liberals make because they change them so fast and they do not keep their word.

Just a few months ago the government announced in a big flurry of activity a $750 million program for passenger rail service in central Canada. It was a big deal. There were lots of headlines and lots of coverage and within months they retracted it. They made it all go away. It is not going to happen now. It was just one of those announcements they made to get a few headlines, to get some support and then it fizzled away within months. It does not take long.

Let us look at some of the other things the Liberals have done. I remember the hep C program. They came out with a program to help fund a narrow window of victims of hepatitis C but when there was opposition to it and a lot of criticism, they changed it. They did not change it enough, but they changed it to include more people. There are still a lot of victims of hep C who do not have access to funding.

In the recent budget the Liberals announced a tax exemption for military officers serving in dangerous areas. They announced it in a big flurry but when there was opposition and criticism, they had to change it. They expanded it. It is the same with a number of things.

There were health care announcements in the recent budget. I could not believe it. In just days after the budget the Liberals were announcing new terms for health care and more money because everybody knows they shortchanged the provinces in the budget.

We cannot go by what they announce. We can only go by what they do and that is precious little. The Liberals do not do a lot.

The hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River mentioned a few things that I want to cover, such as the gas tax on highways. My riding has the only portion of the Trans-Canada Highway that has a toll on it. It costs me $8 to go from one side of my riding to the other. Every other four-lane highway in the province of Nova Scotia is free and every other part of the Trans-Canada Highway is free, but my riding has an extra tax. Nowhere else in Canada has this tax, except my riding of Cumberland—Colchester.

It happened when the Liberals were in power federally and provincially. The funding was put in place to build a four-lane highway. It was put in place by a Progressive Conservative federal government and was signed off by a Progressive Conservative provincial government. It was 100% funding.

What happened? When the Liberals got in, a Liberal minister on the federal side made a deal with the Liberal minister on the provincial side in Nova Scotia. They transferred that money from my riding to a completely separate issue, a different kind of road in Cape Breton. This was under the national highway program. I will never understand how they were able to do that but they took the money out of the national highway program and put it toward a tourist road in their own ridings.

That is the way the Liberals do things. What they say they are going to do matters not much.

The member for Dauphin—Swan River mentioned overtaxation in EI.

I find it incredible that the government taxes students in the summers. They have to pay employment insurance premiums but they have no access to employment insurance. They cannot get the benefit but the government taxes them. They are charged the employment insurance premium. I find it so discouraging and so offensive that the Liberals would do that.

That is just a part of the $44 billion to $47 billion overcharge in employment insurance which I consider to be fraud. I look at the paycheques of my constituents and right on them it says “employment insurance premium”. It is not a premium for employment insurance. It is strictly a tax. It is fraud. It is getting money under false pretences because it is not an EI premium. I think that account is up to $44 billion or $46 billion that has been overcharged. That is forty-four thousand million dollars the government has overcharged people for working.

Part of that is what the young people have been overcharged. Students who have to work in the summer have their paycheques reduced because of an employment insurance premium, which really is not a premium because they cannot get the benefit.

Students do not qualify for the benefit because they are not available for work. It is fraud. It does not even make sense that the Liberals do this, but they go on and do it.

In the budget proposals there is no allowance for submarines. It is an issue that I have been involved with. Canada bought four submarines six years ago. Not one of them works yet. Not one of them is deployable. Not one of them is ready to go to work after six years. It takes 18 to 24 months to build a brand new submarine. We have had these for six years. They do not work yet. Why do they not work? Because the government has not made the resources available to make them work.

I visited the dockyards and I was very impressed with the submariners who want to work on the submarines. They are committed to these subs; they believe in these subs. They are sure they can do the job for Canada but they do not have the tools; they do not have the parts; they do not have the production workers; they do not have the production managers. They do not have the will on behalf of the government to give them the tools.

We have four submarine crews that have not had a working submarine for seven years. They want to serve the country. They want to serve Canada. They are sure that if they are given the tools they can make these submarines work and serve their purpose. However they do not have those resources. I do not know why the government has done it but it has sidelined the submarine project. It has not given them the resources. The Liberals have actually taken resources away from them.

We see the sponsorship scandal and all the money that has been wasted that could have been put to good use. It is a shame that we have not taken the money that has been wasted on the scandal and put it into the areas where it is so desperately needed.

Imagine what the money that is taken in on the employment insurance overcharge, the $44 billion, could do for health care. The government makes a big deal about putting $1 billion into health care. The government has announced it 10 to 15 times. The Liberals make a big deal every time they are going to put $1 billion into health care. There is a $44 billion overcharge in employment insurance. Imagine what a fraction of that would do for the health care system. It would solve the problems. Instead, the Liberals continue on with the overcharge approach.

The sponsorship grants are absolutely incredible. I see the minister is here. I would like him to make a note that my all time favourite sponsorship grant is No. 699. It is called unforeseen events for Groupaction marketing of $200,000. I do not have a clue what it is. I do not know whether it is unforeseen events or whether it is an organization called unforeseen events. The list indicates that for unforeseen events there is $200,000. That is the way the Liberals spend our money.

If the minister could find out what that is for me I would be forever in his debt. I know he will because he is very good at getting information. That is my all time favourite. There are 721 on one list of sponsorship grants and there is a bunch more on another list. It is endless.

When I have to fight so hard to get a few dollars for a transition house in my riding or for Maggie's Place or for so many worthy causes that really need a few dollars, it is so disheartening to look at these grants of $2 million, $2.3 million, $1.2 million, $1.3 million, $2.3 million, $2 million, $1.2 million, $1.5 million, $1.6 million, $3 million and on and on. I am just going down the list. We need a few dollars to help a transition house to help battered women and we cannot get it.

In any event I think the Liberals have their priorities completely distorted. They are going in the wrong direction. We can give them some good ideas on how to better invest the money to serve Canadians better.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.


Stephen Owen LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I am inspired to rise to address my hon. friend's comment with respect to homelessness and transition houses. I have been listening to him intently of course but I also have been preparing announcements in communities for later this week. There is $1 billion being put across the country over a number of years under the national homelessness initiative. This upcoming announcement will be for dozens of projects working with community groups on things like providing transition services. Another $26 million will be announced later this week. I will not tell the hon. member where in the country because I do not want to spoil the surprise.

The government is immensely concerned with the issue of homelessness. Under the leadership of my colleague, the Minister of Labour who is the minister responsible for the homelessness initiative, this has been one of the most successful government projects at any level of government working with community groups, recognizing a real need and helping to alleviate that need.

I thank the hon. member for bringing forward this important issue. It is obviously top of mind with the government, as reflected by the extension of that important program in this year's budget.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I would like him to make a note that my riding is Cumberland--Colchester, for when he passes out those millions of dollars for homelessness.

It is interesting that he should bring that up. When I was here from 1988 to 1993, we had programs that were really beneficial to people who required low cost housing. We had a co-op housing program which was absolutely incredible. We had programs to help people fix up lesser houses. We had programs to help people make their first purchases on houses. Those all disappeared under the minister's government, or the predecessor, his earlier version of the current government. However, I applaud what he is doing for homelessness.

I want to make it clear that every time I ask the minister a question, he gives me a real answer, which is not common over there. Let us call him an extraordinary minister. I appreciate the answers we get. I would like him to give me an answer for my number 699, unforeseen events. Could he tell me what that grant was?

I applaud what he is doing on housing. Cumberland--Colchester is the name of my riding, and we desperately need some of that money. We have tried to access it through several different programs. It is much more difficult now than it was when the Progressive Conservative Party was in power. Next time, when the Conservative Party is in power, it will be much easier again.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the comments of the hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester. I appreciate the reference to the former Progressive Conservative government having, in the hon. member's terms, a more effective homelessness program. However, I recall, with the change of government in 1993, there was a $42 billion deficit. That represents many hundreds of millions of dollars a week being drained out of the country, some of it no doubt going to good causes.

As a member of the Conservative Party of Canada, I am sure the hon. member will agree that in the long run that type of irresponsible spending will provide no opportunity for us, as a government of any stripe, to provide the homelessness relief which we both agree is so dearly necessary.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I am glad he raised that issue because he mentioned the $42 billion, which is less than the government has overcharged working Canadians for employment insurance. That is just a pittance compared to what Canadians have been overcharged and to how brutally students have been treated with their employment insurance premiums. They really are not insurance premiums. It is just an overcharge and an extra tax that the Liberals want to call a premium.

The deficit had to be beaten, but I would like the minister to think about this. Calculate how much was achieved through the free trade improvements that were negotiated by Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party, how much came through GST and how much business improved its ability to be competitive because of GST, rather than the regressive manufacturer's sales tax that the Liberals invented and imposed upon Canadian businesses so they could not compete.

I think if the minister goes back and figures that out, if he just takes those two policies, GST and free trade, he will find out how we fixed the deficit.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to get in on the debate today. It has been interesting listening to my colleagues and their discussion. I want to follow along in somewhat the same direction as my colleagues have gone this afternoon because I get very frustrated.

I think my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River said that he has been here seven years. I have been here going on 11 years and it has not changed in that 11 years. I suspect if anyone has been here longer, and many have, that the process has not changed even longer than that. As governments come and go, the process and the discussion seems very familiar. It should not be that complicated a process.

A government comes into the House to start a session. It brings in a Speech from the Throne in which it outlines its priorities on where it would like to see the country go and some of the issues it would like to discuss. It follows that up with a budget to allocate funding to those priorities outlined in the throne speech. Then, after the budget, we have a never-ending budget debate. After all the budget was a month ago or longer and we are still debating it. After that, the government produces the estimates, which is a line by line estimate of the expenditures. Then the estimates are sent off to the various committees where the committees and departments scrutinize the estimates and hold the government accountable. The committees then are required to vote on the estimates from each department. They come back to the House and the House has a chance to vote on them. Rarely do we ever see the House vote down any of the estimates. Occasionally, it happens.

I recall the House did get its back up and vote down an estimate on money going to the gun registry sometime ago, but it did not make much difference. That particular department just took the money from somewhere else and continued on its way. It really did not take direction from the decision of the House that it was not a good expenditure of money. It just found it somewhere else.

Even this would not be bad if that was how the process worked. After the estimates are voted on, that is not the end of it. It does not, in a public way, show where the government is spending tax dollars. If the government is short funds later on in the year, it comes up with the supplementary estimates to cover any money it might have spent which it had not figured on when the estimates were put out in the first place.

The system should be presented in a way that Canadians can understand and see where their money goes, but it is not. The government indignantly tells us that this item of spending or that item of spending was in the estimates and if we were diligent in our job, we would see that and understand it. I am thinking about the unity fund. That is just rubbish. I defy anybody to find these things in the estimates.

This has been a favourite subject of mine for the 10 and a half years I have been here. The government should report spending and present the estimates in a form that we as members of Parliament can really understand. We should be able to see where the government is spending money. Then when it comes to a vote, we can determine whether we want to support that particular spending. However, I will get a little more into that later, particularly as it applies to the department I am most familiar with, the Department of Natural Resources. I am the party critic for that department and that is where I have the responsibility to scrutinize the spending.

Moving back to the process of presenting the budget. The government presents a budget on where it will spend money and on what programs it will spend money. It is not a lot different from what Canadian families or businesses do. They depend on a certain amount of income. They prepare a budget and determine on which programs they will spend that money. At the end of the day, that budget has to balance in most households and businesses.

Unfortunately, it does not seem to work like that in government. If it did, we would not be $500 billion in debt. No business or family could run up that level of debt and still exist, but governments do not have those restraints on them. It seems they have an endless amount of money because they can always go back to the well for more tax dollars.

This government produced a budget. Then the Prime Minister, instead of going out and defending the budget, has been on a never-ending spending spree across the country. We heard some talk about the EI fund. The minister just recently announced a program for funding seasonal workers. I kind of got a chuckle when the minister talked about governments making quick surgical changes to the EI program to help these seasonal workers. Quick surgical changes are not something this government is noted for, or any government for that matter. Therefore, I was surprised. Maybe the government could look at some of the other programs.

However, that was only one of them. The deputy government leader announced $1 million in government funds for official languages in Sudbury, Ontario on April 27. That was not in the budget. From April 1 to 14, a survey of press releases showed Liberal ministers and backbench MPs from the departments of agriculture, fisheries and oceans, human resources, Canadian heritage and industry took credit for $1 billion in funding announcements, none of which were presented in the government's budget.

One of the announcements from Madawaska—Restigouche was to restore a replica of a historic railway. It came along with a cheque for $361,500. That is hardly something we saw in the budget. There was another $432,554 for an Acadian festival and another $400,000 to renovate a theatre in the labour minister's hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick. These may all be worthy projects, but certainly they were not presented either in the budget or in the estimates, at least no where I can see.

The Victoria Symphony Society received $150,000 from the environment minister, who happens to live in the riding. A magazine entitled, “Prairie North, Life in Saskatchewan” received $25,986 in funding from the finance minister who, ironically enough, represents a Saskatchewan riding.

For all I know, all these may be worthwhile initiatives. However, one gets suspicious when they are not in the budget or when they are not visible in the estimates, and it is weeks before the pending election. The money is coming from somewhere but we are not too sure from where, perhaps the discretionary spending.

The expenditures appear to be more like Liberal bait to get votes than planned, thoughtful expenditures of a government that has presented a budget to which Canadians can look forward.

I want to spend a few minutes on the estimates and the process that we have in this place of approving the expenditures of the government that comes out of the budget. It has frustrated me for 11 years. I will concentrate on the estimates that I know.

The Department of Natural Resources, which is a very small department in the big scheme of things because it is under the purview of the provinces and the federal government really does not have a large role to play there, has an expenditure of $1.1 billion. For a government that spends $180 billion, $1.1 billion is not that much. Lo and behold, this department increased its spending this year by $280 million. That is a pretty sizeable increase. Maybe that was all right, but when the estimates were brought to committee for us to have a look at, and I am not an accountant by any means, as most Canadians are not, this estimate process should be in a form that we can understand and see where the government is spending money.

In particular, the discretionary spending is where I have my biggest problem because legislated spending is pretty straightforward. A bill is brought through the House, a program is created and the money is budgeted to cover that program, but there are always pages of grants and contributions under discretionary spending. I ask questions every year on this spending but I rarely ever get answers.

The minister says that if I come to his office and spend time with him he will explain it, but that is not how the process is supposed to work. Spending priorities are supposed to be reported line by line in a transparent form that Canadians can understand. One should not have to make an appointment with the minister in order to understand it.

Under grants and contributions there are no less than eight places where it suggests line items in varying amounts of money, from $1 million down to $30,000. It says:

In support of organizations associated with the research, development, management and promotion of activities that contribute to departmental objectives.

How in the world would anyone know where that money is going? It really frustrates me that it is presented to us in committee and then we are asked to vote on whether the government should spend that money.

That was eight different places with eight different amounts of money with the same wording. It could mean anything. It could mean that the Liberal friendly ad firms in Quebec are organizations that certainly support departmental objectives because it pays for them to support departmental objectives, whether or not it did. The minister denied that it had anything to do with that kind of use of tax dollars. Maybe he is right but one would never know that from looking at these estimates.

Another item in the estimates is the $1.3 million to the Canada-China wood products initiative. That is very clear. What is the Canada-China wood products initiative? One of my colleagues spoke earlier about CIDA money going to China, the largest country in the world in terms of population, with its own nuclear weapons program, its own space program and seems to have a lot of money for those kinds of initiatives. Yet we are sending $1.3 million for the Canada-China wood products initiative, whatever that might be.

We are contributing another $1 million to the national community tree foundation. The list goes on and on.

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5:40 p.m.

An hon. member

It is a worthwhile program.

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5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

Well, it might be a very worthwhile program and something that we could really get excited about and get involved in but I very much doubt it.

On top of that, these government dollars seem to flow from one department to the other. Some of the expenditures that one would think would be within the Department of Natural Resources would be for projects like streamlining the regulatory process in preparation for the northern pipeline project to come on stream but it pops up under Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

We see one line under the Department of Natural Resources which reads contributions in support of aboriginal consultations on the long term management of nuclear fuel waste in Canada. I asked the minister what that was doing in there. We passed a bill in the House that transferred full responsibility for those consultations to the corporations that produce the waste and yet we are spending $1.3 million on this process of consultation.

It is no wonder the government gets into the kind of problems it does, such as the ad scam, when this process of accountability is so convoluted, so general and so vague that no one can see where the government has spent its money.

We sit around here with our eyes glazed over like a bunch of robots and we automatically vote against the government's spending estimates because we have no idea why it is spending the money. The government, because of its majority, votes for it and it passes. Life goes on and another Parliament comes along and we begin the process again.

Every once in a while there is a glitch in the system and the government is exposed for money laundering through the ad agencies in Quebec. However that will go away too, and the sooner the better as far as the Prime Minister is concerned.

If he goes to the polls and gets what he hopes for, which is another mandate from the people of Canada and a majority government, what happens to the issue of the $100 million, for which we received no value, or, as the former prime minister said, “there may have been a few hundred million dollars stolen but it was worth it. In the big scheme of things we saved Canada,” he said. “So if someone stole some money it was okay?”

If we as Canadians give the government another mandate for another five years, we can bet that the investigation into the ad scam will end. The government will be able to say that it does not need to investigate it any more because Canadians are confident that it can look after their money properly.

I am sure after I have long left this place there will be similar scandals that will come forward and they will be treated in the same way. That is wrong. The system that we have set up for transparency and accountability is there but it has been corrupted over the years and it needs to be fixed.

Before Canadians vote in the upcoming election they need to know from the parties running how the government will fix the system so that it cannot be corrupted and abused in the way it is being abused now. The system should work and it should be transparent. The government should be accountable and it should be answerable to the Canadian people for every last cent of money that it spends. However, under the current system, it certainly is not and I think that is absolutely unacceptable.

I have no confidence that the Liberals are prepared to change that system. They will simply get past this scandal, move on to the next one and we will get more of the same.

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5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague who, obviously, was expressing a frustration which he himself could express after some 11 years in Parliament. I have been here an equal amount of time and I know many of the frustrations that he expressed so well are frustrations that many of us in opposition, in trying to represent the interests of our constituents, have experienced over the past few years.

He spoke about the need for greater transparency and specifically addressed some of the issues surrounding the way in which main estimates are presented to the House and, by extension, not only to parliamentarians but to the people themselves. Obviously there is a real need for accountability. The Prime Minister has talked about this and yet I would note that, as the official opposition's senior critic for National Defence, I experienced much of the same frustration as my colleague when looking at the main estimates for Natural Resources.

In this fiscal year and looking forward to the 2004-05 fiscal year, I noted that the reporting mechanism in the National Defence main estimates had been changed from one year to another. There does not appear to be any need for that, unless we can count confusion as a need. As the member pointed out, in referring to the main estimates of the Department of Natural Resources, it is hard enough to track things through from one year to another without changing the reporting mechanism.

When I looked at the main estimates for National Defence, I noted that the tables and charts that had been used in previous main estimates were not used this year. It was impossible to track through and very difficult to follow. My colleague said that when he raised that point with the minister, the minister had the audacity to suggest that he go over to his office, sit down and have a coffee and they would pour over this together and get to the bottom of it. It is absolute nonsense, as he correctly stated.

We have a big problem in this country and in this Parliament in not addressing the need for greater accountability and transparency.

One of the issues the official opposition has been raising over the last couple of days is the issue of foundations that have been set up at arm's length to government. The government has been funnelling $8 billion a year into foundations for I do not know how many years now. An enormous amount of money has been funnelled into these foundations which might very well be doing great work. Maybe 80% to 90% is being well spent.

In addressing that issue in question period today, the Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Finance, who happens to be in the chamber right now, said that they were all audited and no problem. Well, Enron was also audited. Why can the Auditor General not look at those foundations? We have a Prime Minister who says that he believes in transparency and accountability. Well, why not let the Auditor General have a look at his pet foundations that he himself set up? This was not something set up by Jean Chrétien, who he tries to blame everything else on. This is something he did.

I wonder if my colleague could enlighten us a little bit more on what he has seen in the last 11 years, of this incredible growth in government that we have experienced under Liberal rule and the fact that the Prime Minister is campaigning full tilt at taxpayer expense right now but does not have the honesty to call an election.

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5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, the issues that my colleague raises are certainly valid ones.

One could not be blamed for suspecting that some of this secrecy, and some of these efforts to hide crown corporations and other foundations from scrutiny by the Auditor General is not deliberate. One would hate to think that. We must believe that all members in this place are ethical and honest, and I believe they are.

How do we get into these situations if these things are approached in an honourable and ethical way? Many of them are good causes. Why not make them transparent? If an issue such as education, the homeless, or whatever needs to be addressed, then a program should be put in place to address that issue. One puts in place solid criteria that needs to be met to qualify for funding under that program.

Any Canadian or any organization of Canadians anywhere in the country can then apply for funding. If programs are put in place and designed so that only certain people might qualify or they are non-tendered funding to friends of the Liberal government, then that is a corruption of the system. This is unethical and it should be stopped.

The use of the supplementary estimates is another corruption of the system. Estimates are put in place to cover the budget. The only time the government should go back to the well under the supplementary estimates is for extraordinary expenses like SARS or BSE, or a requirement to send our military somewhere in the world.

This government and past governments for years have been using supplementary estimates simply to gather more money for more of these unaccounted projects. This has to stop.

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5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciated the speech given by my friend from Athabasca and his honesty.

Earlier in his speech he went through a long list of about $1 billion worth of items such as upgrading museums, gala events, and so on. Those were totally questionable expenses. This money was obviously used in ridings where the Liberal candidate was vulnerable to losing so votes had to be bought and so the Liberals poured $1 billion into those ridings. I wonder if taxpayers are aware that the government spends this kind of money. It is an absolute shame.

We should be able to come to this place and ask those people over there what the devil they think they are doing. The government has spent $1 billion of taxpayers' money to do things like having a magazine in Saskatchewan for the finance minister and some festival somewhere else.

The Liberals have spent $1 billion and in the meantime people cannot get through waiting lists in hospitals, students cannot repay their loans, and people that were harmed in the forest fires in British Columbia did not get a penny. Soldiers cannot get the kind of equipment they need to carry on with their missions. People in Alberta have suffered through droughts and beef problems, and have not received a penny. Yet the Liberals have spent $1 billion just before an election to buy votes. I sure hope Canadians wake up to this kind of thing.

Does the member for Athabasca believe that when that kind of spending goes on by a government in charge, we ought to be able to come in here as an opposition and throw those members out bodily if nothing else. What kind of nonsense is this?

When I was the mayor of the town of Sundre, if I dared spend a nickel in that fashion, without having it accounted for and budgeted well in advance, and if there was a little contingency fund, it definitely went toward high priority needs, not toward giveaway fuzzy, fluffy, namby-pamby stuff.

I would like the member to comment on how I feel about this. We ought to be able to attack those people for throwing $1 billion away on very low priority projects. Who do they think they are that they can take taxpayers' money and do those kinds of things?

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5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, the hon. member gets quite passionate about this issue and rightly so. I wish Canadians would get more passionate about it.

If Canadians re-elect the Liberal government after what it has been doing for the last 10 years, then I do not have a lot of faith in the future of this country. I would never advocate physically throwing them out although that idea is tempting sometimes. It certainly does have appeal.

I hope that if and when the Prime Minister ever gets around to calling an election, that Canadians will throw them out of here and elect somebody to run this country in a more principled, ethical and honest way.

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5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

You are smiling over there while people are homeless and having to pay so many taxes.

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5:55 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

You had three chances, Myron, and you did not get it.

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5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

I have received notice from the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley that she is unable to move her motion during private members' hour on Wednesday, May 5, 2004. It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence.

Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence. Private members' hour will thus be cancelled and the House will continue with the business before it prior to private members' hour.

It being 5:54 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

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5:55 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We have consulted with the other parties and were advised, and this may change, that there were no further speakers on the bill that we are debating, so if there was a desire to extend for a few minutes to allow this question and answer period that was going on, we certainly would consent to that so we could put the question.

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5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

With respect, there is no more time left and we will have to continue on.

The House resumed from March 11 consideration of the motion that Bill C-303, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel expenses for a motor vehicle used by a forestry worker) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 4th, 2004 / 5:55 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-303, introduced by the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which had first reading on November 18, 2002.

I believe this was a bill which had been introduced in the House previously, and had to be brought back. My colleague will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it died because of the election in 2000.

I would like to remind the House what Bill C-303 is, before going any further. Obviously, it is about forestry workers and the income tax credits that might be available for using a vehicle when such workers have to cover long distances or work far from home.

As my colleague himself mentioned in his speech, this bill was introduced in 2000, and at the time my colleague contacted the Minister of Finance to ask his opinion and find out whether he at least would establish a tax credit for forest workers, who are unjustly treated in comparison with workers in certain other industries.

The then finance minister said that indeed, he would review the tax system to look at his options for responding positively to the request. That was in 2000. The then finance minister has become the current Prime Minister.

It became quite clear in the last budget that there had been no response. Since 2000 there still has been no response. On the eve of the election, if my colleague wrote him another letter, he would probably get the same answer as in 2000, “We will study it, analyze it and see whether it is possible”. Meanwhile, we have never received a response.

This is very frustrating when we look at the history of the forestry industry in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, particularly Ontario or the maritime provinces. From a historical point of view, the forestry industry was probably the most important industry, before agriculture, for the development of Quebec and all the maritime provinces and Ontario.

In the Gatineau-Hull-Ottawa area, a major forestry industry developed over the years. This area finally opened up as a result of forestry.

Like my colleagues from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques and Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, I am from a region where forestry plays an extremely important role. The forestry sector is currently in crisis with respect to forest management because it has become apparent that the Government of Quebec wants to cut its investment. This is catastrophic considering that $1 invested in the forestry industry is worth all the more when it comes to forest management.

The forest is an extremely important resource, particularly in Quebec, and needs to be maintained, managed and continually developed in order to produce a cultivated forest that we can use effectively and efficiently.

I would like to come back to the bill. I could go on at length about forest management since this automatically affects forestry workers. The less management there is, the more workers must, to some extent, travel long distances, often on what are referred to as forest access roads, or roads that are barely ridable.

They are therefore required to have vehicles that are more powerful than the car I use, for example, on highways or paved roads. Forestry workers have to drive vehicles that are efficient and powerful.

This is one of the things for which my colleague was calling for a tax credit. These workers have no tax credit for use of their vehicles. The vehicles they need have to be far more efficient and therefore cost more, as well as being harder on gas.

In addition, we have heard today that there has just been another gas hike, and this is quite significant for the Montreal region among others. It will, of course, spread across the country, because once it has started, we know very well it will not be restricted to Montreal. Forest workers will have additional gas costs because of the price hike, which has been going on for some time now and is continuing.

A tax credit is therefore being called for to ensure that these workers receive the same treatment as workers in a large number of industries. For instance, travelling salesmen who use their private motor vehicle are entitled to a deduction, allowing them to amortize the vehicle as well as part of the operating costs. There is, of course, a restriction when the vehicle is used for family or personal purposes outside of work.

The purpose of this bill is to ensure that forestry workers are treated fairly. If there is one class of workers in our society that has been treated unfairly throughout our history, it is the forestry workers. These people were exploited, especially in the regions. Historically, the big companies they depended on took advantage of them. Back home, we had the Price company. Workers were exploited and mistreated. There was a time when they were almost treated like slaves. They were earning very little money and were forced to buy everything they needed from the companies' stores. The same thing happened in the fishing industry in the Gaspé, where people were dependent upon the big companies, which treated them almost like slaves. Historically, that is how forestry workers were treated.

That is a part of our history that we almost relived not so long ago because of the softwood lumber crisis and the government's withdrawal from the forestry industry. Believe it or not, not so long ago, some people were still living in tents and not eating too well, I am afraid. They had to fend for themselves, alone in the forest, for four, five or six days at a time. That is what these people were required to do to earn a living.

These days, with the ongoing softwood lumber crisis, the problem is even more obvious, because we are going through a crisis and people have to travel longer distances. Residents in my area and in the riding of my colleague have to travel to the Abitibi area, hundreds of kilometres from home, to earn a living. Others have to travel to the North Shore. Some even have to go as far as New Brunswick. They travel very long distances, for which they are not compensated.

That is no way to encourage people to go to work and try to earn a living, not to mention the fact that, under the current employment insurance scheme, these people need to work a certain number of weeks to be eligible to EI benefits. So, they are doubly penalized if we do not give them a tax credit for the use of the motor vehicle they absolutely need to get to work.

I also talked about forest management, but I would like to focus on one aspect. I am talking about forestry workers, among other things. For years, many of them did not have a pension plan, and many still do not have one. At 50 or 55 years old, with the working conditions that they have experienced, these people are now almost unable to do their work. They find themselves almost without any income and several of them become welfare recipients.

If there is one thing that the government should think about it is the establishment of a pension plan or an aid program for older workers, for this category of people, among others. Members in the House should seriously consider this and vote in favour of Bill C-303, as my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques is asking.