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House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.

Topics

Board of Internal EconomyRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that Mr. Rob Nicholson, member for the electoral district of Niagara Falls, has been appointed member of the Board of Internal Economy in place of Mr. John Reynolds, member for the electoral district of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

Civil Marriage ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Mount Royal Québec

Liberal

Irwin Cotler LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 22nd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership and associate membership of certain committees, and I should like to move concurrence at this time.

(Motion agreed to)

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

February 1st, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a request for you. We are literally being inundated with petitions by the thousands on the issue of marriage. I wonder whether there is anything you could do in your office to expedite the rapid approval of those from the Clerk's office so we can present them in a timely fashion in the House?

Points of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for his intervention. I will take the matter under advisement and see what we can do to expedite matters as suggested.

I am sure the hon. member is receiving voluminous mail, and I am delighted that is the case. I know all hon. members strive to keep in touch with their constituents and others. This is just one of many examples. We will see what we can do to expedite matters as requested by the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park.

The House resumed from January 31 consideration of the motion.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased and honoured to rise today on the prebudget debate to discuss what is going to be extremely important for Canadians across the country.

Over the last 11 years we have seen 11 years of Bay Street budgets. What we need to see this year is a budget for main street, a budget for our communities across the country, a budget that will help to address the fall in the quality of life which we have seen Canadians endure over the past decade.

In my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster we saw the closure of a major hospital just a few months ago because of federal health care cutbacks. We have seen for the average Canadian worker a fall in salary of 60¢ an hour in real terms. We see average Canadian families now indebted a third more than they were a decade ago. And we have seen broken promise after broken promise.

In this year it is time for this budget to address all these outstanding issues and start to address the main street deficit. The fact is that most Canadians are living with a lower quality of life than they were 10 years ago.

I would like to speak for a few minutes about what we particularly do not want to see in the budget for this year.

First of all, we do not want to see the continued mismanagement of public funds, as we saw in the sponsorship scandal last year and in numerous other cases. A few weeks ago, despite the regulations that exist at Treasury Board, we saw that the Canadian ambassador to France managed to spend $200,000 on social evenings, while Canadians find themselves with ever dwindling financial resources. We do not want the budget to permit such bad practices any longer.

Neither do we want to see continued investment of money in certain foundations that have no oversight from the Auditor General. We all know that she has spoken about this on many occasions. I myself am impatiently awaiting Ms. Fraser's report on this subject on February 15. It is very clear that we cannot continue to keep money from the public servants who are responsible for ensuring that it is spent wisely.

We do not want to see more tax reductions for the best performing companies, as we have seen under this government. In fact the first major decision of this government, taken at the beginning of last year, was to cut the income taxes of such companies.

There is this huge gap between Bay Street, with its record profits, and ordinary Canadians. We are in fact looking at profits of 14% once again. This is unprecedented in Canadian history. At the same time, Canadians are living with increasingly fewer resources and services, and increasingly fewer promises are kept.

These are the things that we especially do not want to see again. We do not want to see this government wrong again in its budget projections. In the last 10 years, we have seen a difference of $86 billion between the forecasts and the final results. It is absolutely appalling for projections to be so far from reality.

Those are the things that we do not want to see in this budget.

There are things that we do want to see. In this minority Parliament and because of pressure from the four corners of the House--and I can guarantee that in this corner of the House we will be fighting for main street--this budget must finally start to address that main street deficit: the cuts in community services; the cuts in the quality of life; the cut in basic revenue; the increase in debt for Canadian families; the increase in debt for Canadian students; and the increase in debt we are seeing right across this country, which is being paid for by Canadians from coast to coast to coast. If we want to see that main street deficit addressed, then there are things that must be in this budget.

We must invest in education. Either we have seen students themselves and/or their families going into debt by tens of thousands of dollars in order to further their education to make a contribution to this country or, as in my riding where I have knocked on thousands of doors, we have seen dozens of young people who have not gone to school. They have not gone into post-secondary education because they know there are no supports in place to help them do that.

We are looking in this budget for a significant investment in education that will start to address that main street deficit, an investment that will start to address support for ordinary Canadians across this country so that they can go to school and get the trade qualifications and the education required for them to make the full contribution they want to make to this society and to this country.

What we want to see and are fighting for is a main street budget that is going to invest in a sustainable environment. It is deplorable that after signing the Kyoto accord, after making that commitment to reduce emissions by 20% in 2005, we are actually seeing an increase of 20% in emissions, as our leader, the member for Toronto--Danforth, has pointed out on numerous occasions here in the House. That is shameful. It is shocking.

In this corner of the House we are working hard and we will be fighting to make sure that this budget in this minority Parliament actually addresses that main street deficit and that we start to invest in a sustainable environment. This includes investing in municipalities and investing in infrastructure.

We will also be fighting hard to make sure that this budget invests in children. We have been calling for this for years. Broken promise after broken promise from the government has led to not keeping that fundamental commitment made by Liberal governments and the Liberal Party during elections: to establish a pan-Canadian, publicly funded, universally accessible, not for profit child care system that helps to support families, those working families and families across this country that have had to deal with that main street deficit and the absence of publicly funded, universally accessible and not for profit child care in this country. We will be fighting for that in the budget to be tabled this month.

We will be fighting as well to increase the $4,900 child tax benefit and to open the benefit and include those who do not pay income tax, again to address this main street deficit.

It is important to note that when we talk about growing poverty in this country, when we talk about the fact that homelessness in my area has tripled, when we are talking about the fact that food bank lineups are longer and longer, when we are talking about the fact that there are more and more poor Canadians, so much of that has impacted children in this country.

It is deplorable that 15 years after the adoption in the House of this resolution to eliminate child poverty we now see over a million poor Canadians, poor children and their families who are forced to address this issue of the main street deficit. We will be looking for a substantial investment to make sure that for this main street deficit for poor children, who are in food bank lineups and are homeless in so many tragic cases across this country, there is finally an investment to start to deal with their reality.

It is tragic as well to note that we are now looking at between 150,000 and 300,000 Canadians who are homeless in this land. At a time when we are looking at record corporate profits, at a time when we have $9 billion of surplus, at a time when we have all of these resources available, we are looking at between 0.5% and 1% of our population who are sleeping without a home tonight. That is shocking.

We will be fighting for all of these issues because we have had 11 years of Bay Street budgets. We in the New Democratic Party caucus will be fighting very hard to make sure that this is a main street budget dealing with the real realities of Canadians from coast to coast to coast in this country. We will be fighting hard and we will not stop until Canadians are adequately represented in this year's budget.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member of the then CCF party, now the NDP, a very important question. The members of that party always talk as if they are opposed to the reduction of our national debt. I would like to pose the question to the member in the following way.

There are people in the country who are poor and who need help from the government. Then there are others who have more money than they need and they are generally the ones who have the fiscal capacity to buy Canada savings bonds and other debentures, which is the government's way of borrowing money.

Therefore, when we are in debt we land up actually transferring money, usually from poor people because they pay taxes too in this country. That money is transferred to those who already have too much because they have the Canada savings bonds and we are paying the interest. I know that the debt has come down and our interest rates are now low so that this amount of money has now decreased, but it used to be that one out of every four dollars collected in taxes went to pay interest.

Why are the NDP members continually opposed to reducing the debt and stopping that transfer of money from Canada's poor to Canada's rich because the rich are lending the money to the government? I would think that the NDP, as I would, would like to see that debt eliminated so that we can use taxpayers' revenue to provide government services and programs which are needed in this country.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member that it was the Conservative government under Brian Mulroney that led us to record deficits in the 1980s, which was appalling financial mismanagement.

As a financial administrator myself--that is my background--I have always balanced budgets and paid down debt while maintaining services. That is a very important distinction.

It is important to note the real records of the three major parties in the House over a 20 year period across the country. A study that came out in spring 2004 actually compared the three parties, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party, and their record of debt and deficits.

The reality is that the worst record, as we know very well, is that of the Liberal Party. In provincial governments and in the federal government, where it governed from 1981 to 2001, 85% of all Liberal government budgets across the country were in deficit.

The Conservative Party was a little better. For Conservative provincial and federal governments across the country over that 20 year period, 66% or two-thirds of the time the actual fiscal period returns were in deficit.

It is important to note that the best record was that of the New Democratic Party. Most of the time when we projected a surplus, we attained it. We have the best fiscal record, looking at the provinces where we have governed. We have not governed federally, of course.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

An hon. member

Not yet.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Not yet, but when we look at the provinces and compare the NDP, the Conservatives and the Liberals, the best record comes from the NDP.

Our philosophy is simple. When we are talking about paying down the debt, we do that as the GNP rises and grows. We do not invest all of our money in a Bay Street budget to pay down debt when hospitals are closing, when the number of homeless is doubling or tripling, when there are a million kids living in poverty, when food bank lineups are growing, when services are being cut back, and when key commitments like the child care commitment are broken indiscriminately.

When all those things are happening we do not sit back and say, “Let us pay down the debt”. We deal with the fundamental issues first. In this corner of the House, that is what we are fighting for.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his passion and commitment to this issue.

I have a quick question with respect to the question that was just brought forward. There is confusion. In banking and business terms, the concept of investment is a very sound one, where one continually makes investments in a company to ensure that the growth is maintained, as it is within families. Families consider investing in their young people to make sure educations are provided and jobs created.

I wonder if the hon. member could comment on why there is such resistance to the concept around investing in sound, sustainable practices into the future.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, we need to shift from what has been the focus over the past 10 years of tax cuts for the wealthy and a Bay Street budget, to investing in our communities, in education, in the environment and in our children who are living a poorer quality of life than they were 10 years ago. This investment over the medium to long term is what Canadians need, what I strongly believe they want and the reason that they have chosen to return us to the House to fight for.

Investments, very clearly, are needed. It is taking a longer term strategy rather than just looking to Bay Street for making budgetary decisions. We will be fighting hard to make sure that those investments occur.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is really unusual but I would like to ask for unanimous consent for me to have one more minute to give a rebuttal to the errors that the member from the NDP just made.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there consent to extend the period of questions and comments?

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in the debate about the budget, which I anticipate will be delivered in the next few weeks by my colleague, the Minister of Finance.

We find ourselves in something of a unique situation in Canada. Since 1997-98, Canadians have seen the government balance its budget seven times in a row. It is a record that is unparalleled in our history and the envy of the G-7, the OECD and pretty well all other nations in the world.

By exercising fiscal discipline, we have been able to reduce the national debt by the sum of $61 billion. I do not know how familiar members are with The Fiscal Monitor , but we were at $501 billion when the budget was introduced and apparently in the month of October we dipped down to $492 billion. It has probably been a long time since we have been under $500 billion in debt.

We are passing those benefits on. By paying down the debt we save enormous amounts in interest costs and on an annual basis we have saved something in the order of about $3 billion, which is freed up to do things other than just simply pay interest on the debt. This money is now available for things such as health care, education, research and a variety of other interests of members as they have spoken in the House over the course of the last day.

Our debt reduction efforts have supported policies that have boosted Canada's productivity, supported new research and innovations, and have combined to produce a strong and resilient economy. Indeed, the events of 2003, which saw the economy battered by such things as SARS, BSE and an unprecedented rapid rise in the Canadian dollar, and yet we still made it through the entire year of 2003 with the economy showing a modest amount of growth, which is a testimony to the resiliency of the economy and of our citizens.

The figures from Statistics Canada show that the Canadian economy grew by something in the order of 2.7% in the first quarter, strengthened to 3.9% in the second quarter and by 3.2% in the third quarter. At the same time, business and consumer confidence remains high, thanks to the low interest rates and an inflation rate that remains in a 1% to 3% target range. We have kind of a happy situation with low interest rates, a fairly robust dollar, which has pluses and minuses to it, and we have an inflation rate that is well within the acceptable range of 1% to 3%.

Therefore we naturally see some stronger business and consumer confidence and that has resulted in higher employment. Currently the unemployment rate stands at 7%, which is at its lowest point since May 2001, and during the year 2004 the economy created 228,000 jobs, the majority of them being full time positions.

Our robust economy and our fiscal discipline have allowed us to address some of the key priorities that Canadians have mentioned to us. In the year 2000, we implemented a five year tax reduction plan worth about $100 billion. An absolute reduction in the government's revenue is about $100 billion, which is quite significant. That tax relief largely went to low and middle income Canadians. It gave us something of a corporate tax advantage vis-à-vis our main competition in the United States.

We have reduced employment insurance premiums for 11 consecutive years. We have gone from highs of approximately $3.20 down to a current rate of $1.96. Our income tax thresholds have been reduced from 29% down to 26%; 26% down to 23%; 17% down to 16%. We have brought the base threshold to a flat rate of just a touch over $8,000. Corporate tax rates have declined from 28% to 21%. All of these thresholds have been moved up over the course of time and Canadians are enjoying those benefits and those benefits, in turn, are being poured back into the economy.

In the period of time 1997 to 2003, our standard of living increased 2.7% on an annualized basis, the best of the G-7, better than the U.K., better than the U.S., better than France, better than Italy, et cetera.

We have done a number of things and, I would argue, we have done them right on this side of the House.

We have also committed to a new framework for equalization and territorial financing which will see transfers from the federal government to the provincial and territorial governments increased by $33 billion for the next 10 years. This will help ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, have access to comparable levels of service.

During the election campaign and in the Speech from the Throne, the number one priority of Canadians is the publicly funded health care system. In September the Prime Minister and the leaders of the provinces and territories reached a landmark agreement that will see an additional $44 billion in funding over the next 10 years to help with the increased costs of health care, particularly as our aging population will be making more demands on it.

After sitting on the finance committee over the past few months and participating in a number of round tables with the minister, the demographic realities of our nation where we have an aging population is clearly a foremost concern of many Canadians and will, in large part, drive the fiscal capacities of our nation, of our economy and the government in terms of addressing that issue. We therefore will have some limitations going forward because of our aging population.

The other issue that came up in the finance committee hearings had to do with accountability and transparency. Canadians want to know where their money is going. They do not much care which level of government delivers the service. They certainly want to know how they are doing, whether the service is efficient and how they compare to other provinces and territories. I think there will be enormous pressure on the part of this level of government and other levels of government to be transparent and accountable for the enormous amounts of money that we are putting into health care.

We have, I would argue, come a long way since the days of being an economic basket case in 1995 to being one of the best performers in the G-7 in the year 2005. We have gone from chronic deficits to budget surpluses. At one point we were described by the Wall Street Journal as “an honourary member of the third world”. The Economist magazine now describes us as “Canada cool”. Strange that we should be Canada cool when we are in fact running those kinds of surpluses but the whole notion of a well run government running surpluses has become somewhat cool.

As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, Canada is now at a crossroads. Despite all that we have achieved over the past several years we still have quite a number of challenges. There are those who say that our approach is not working and that Canada must change its direction if we are to succeed. There are those who argue that our salvation lies in massive tax cuts and the privatization of social services, which is to say that tax cuts are the way to nirvana.

We had some examples of that, particularly in Ontario, where we had eight years of Conservative rule and that was, frankly, its philosophy, that somehow or another the economy and all services could be provided by the simpleminded application of tax cuts. However we are, in Ontario, having to dig ourselves out from that particular ideology.

As well, there are those in Canada who say that we can only succeed if we massively increase government spending and eliminate our commitment to debt reduction, which would increase our likelihood of returning to deficit financing.

So we have the right-wing solution of tax-cutting our way to nirvana and the left-wing solution, which is essentially embracing programs just for the sake of embracing programs.

As we debate what should be contained in the next federal budget, the questions that we must ask are simple. Will we abandon the approach that has brought us these many benefits over the past seven years? Will we reduce our commitment to supporting our social programs in order to implement the kind of massive tax reductions that some critics are endorsing? Or, will we follow the lead of those who call for massive social spending while eliminating our commitment to reducing our debt load for the benefit of both present and future generations? Frankly, the debate in committee was largely around those two competing ideologies.

Our response, to put a fairly simple point on it, is no. We have taken a balanced approach and we will continue to take a balanced approach to the nation's finances, emphasizing the need to exercise fiscal discipline in all of our spending decisions. We will continue to support Canadian priorities such as health care, education and the environment. We will continue to work with the provinces and territories to look for ways in which we can work together to improve the quality of life for our citizens. We will maintain our commitment to setting aside a contingency reserve and exercising economic prudence, year after year. Each year that this money is not needed will be applied to reduce our debt levels.

At this time it would be useful to look at our country's current fiscal situation as outlined by the Minister of Finance in the November economic update. It kind of looks like a “U”. For this fiscal year ending 2004-05, we had a fairly good year. We had some moneys available which we can apply to certain priorities. Going forward in the next two fiscal years, we dip down to the bottom of the “U”. Going forward over the next three or four years, the fiscal situation improves for the government.

In the most recent fiscal year, 2003-04, the federal government had total revenues of about $186 billion. Of this total, about $84 billion, or less than half of that total, comes from personal tax revenue. The remainder comes from a composition of corporate revenues, excise tax, GST, employment insurance premiums and other taxes.

I would just mention in passing that if in fact we are looking at it as an economist looks at it, the argument is that we do not have the right tax mix. We are overloaded on personal income tax and we should actually move the revenue generation to the consumption side. There is a lot of difficulty in doing that and hon. members can appreciate the reasons.

If we look at the spending side in the most recent fiscal year, it totalled about $177 billion. This is 2003-04, where the numbers are actually locked in. We ran a surplus there for $9.1 billion. That money was used to reduce the debt and that was the choice to make then. Despite the progress we have made in reducing debt levels in recent years, public debt charges still eat an enormous amount of money. They represent the fees and the costs of running the debt, and that was about $36 billion last year. That is almost 20% of the government's revenues.

It is the largest single expenditure made by the government in the most recent fiscal year, outstripping amounts that we pay for seniors, for the unemployed and even for national defence. Clearly, it is in the best interests of all Canadians to continue to get that debt down to a reasonable level.

As the government stated last November, the private sector economic forecasters predicted that Canada will remain in a surplus position over the next several years based on current projections. Even so, the commitments we have made to provide increased funding for equalization and territorial formula financing, coupled with additional moneys for health care, will mean that the government will be facing a tighter fiscal squeeze in the short term than it has in previous years. After taking all these measures into account, we still must set aside $3 billion annually for contingency reserve, an additional amount for economic prudence. This is simply good sense.

As the events in 2003 showed us, unforeseen economic shock can have significant consequences for the whole country. Our contingency reserve and our economic prudence provide us with a financial cushion to help absorb those shocks and offer assistance to those affected by these problems. As always, if one is not necessarily needed, then we will apply it to reduce Canada's debt.

After taking the contingency reserve and economic prudence into account, private sector forecasters have predicted that we will have $5.9 billion left over at the end of the 2004-05 fiscal year. However, in 2005-06, when the impact of our additional fiscal commitments are taken into consideration, the $44 billion for health care, the $33 billion for equalization and a variety of claims on the cities/communities agenda, the child care agenda, et cetera, the surplus is projected to drop next year and should be about $500 million. When I say surplus, I am saying the contingency money is there, the prudence money is there, and it is $500 million on top of those two amounts.

In 2006-07 the surplus increases to about $900 million, in 2007-08 $3.2 billion, in 2008-09 $7.5 billion, and in 2009-10 $11.5 billion. As I said, it is a bit of “U”. We are not doing too badly this year. We will dip down and then we will have an increase going forward over the next five years, starting fairly modestly in the next two budget years. If indeed these numbers hold and we are successful, we will run 13 consecutive years of budgetary surplus between 1997 and the year 2010.

If we want to contrast to what is happening in the United States, the deficit there this year will be about $427 billion. As a comparison, $427 billion U.S. is probably slightly less than half of our entire economy. We run an economy here of $1.1 trillion Canadian. You can do the math in your head fairly quickly, Mr. Speaker, as I know you are capable of doing, but roughly half of our economy would be represented by the U.S. deficit. Another comparison would be that the revenues for the Government of Canada are roughly $200 million Canadian, so the budget deficit alone would be over two times the entire revenues of the Government of Canada.

There are other issues with the United States, particularly the current account deficits, which are at a worrisome level. It is projected that the United States will remain in deficit until the year 2012. We are tied necessarily to the North American economy and any projections that we make for our own economy are going to be affected by how the United States performs. We have well respected economists saying the dollar is going to be 80¢ and other well respected economists saying the dollar is going to be 90¢. It makes it very difficult to project forward.

We also have the unknown of higher oil prices and how that will affect us. Certainly, for consumers it is not going to affect them positively. It will probably be a negative impact. On the other hand, we are a net exporter of oil and we do well in terms of exporting our oil at higher prices. The result is clearly mixed for Canada.

In general, the government's economic and fiscal situation is favourable, but we still have the risks that I have outlined and probably some risks that we do not anticipate, which call for the need for prudence. We need to make choices that will favour productivity, competitiveness and sustainability.

We will hopefully reap the benefits of our $100 billion tax cuts. I think we are already doing that. We certainly are reaping the benefits on a direct basis of the $61 billion pay down in national debt. We certainly have the benefits that flow from $200 billion in social and economic priorities brought in by the government since 1997-98.

We have choices to make. We are in a happy situation to be able to make choices. I hope that with the assistance of colleagues we will make the wisest ones.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first budget debate since this government was re-elected last spring. I am surprised by the speech that we just heard on continuity, when it was a minority government that people elected last spring. If Canadians and Quebeckers as a whole sent this message, it is because they wanted things to change and not necessarily continue.

I would like to know from the hon. member who just spoke whether continuing means continuing to deprive older people of the money to which they are entitled. Does it also mean continuing to steal from workers?

In fact, only 45% of the workers who have paid employment insurance can receive benefits if they lose their job. Is that what continuity means? Does continuing mean continuing to accumulate funds at the expense of the poorest people in society in order to pay the debts of the wealthiest? Is that the message these people got from the last election? So far as I am concerned, they are headed in the wrong direction.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada generates its revenues from four or five sources: personal income tax, corporate tax, GST, employment insurance premiums, excise taxes, and there are a few others. He complains that only 45% of people will draw from employment insurance. I remind the hon. member that this is an insurance fund, and similarly, if I have an automobile and I purchase insurance, my insurance company bets on the notion that I will not be drawing on that insurance even though I am paying for it.

That is the very notion of insurance and the premiums are calculated on the basis that only 45% will actually draw on insurance. If in fact he thinks that it should be a 100% draw, we would have to up the premiums. We cannot have both ways. I find the point of his question somewhat difficult to discern.

As to the issue of seniors, we made a platform commitment to increase the guaranteed income supplement to seniors and that will be one of the priorities to be addressed by the government. I would remind members that seniors in this country actually do very well. In fact, as ranked in the OECD, they are number one. That has been a development over the last number of years. If we run surpluses, the actual net wealth of seniors has increased. In all of the OECD countries, we have gone from a position of something like 12 to number one, and that is something to be celebrated.

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite talks about a balanced approach to budgeting. What I am looking for is a more accurate approach.

The citizens of Elgin--Middlesex--London have shared many stories with me about taxation woes. The greatest worry it seems is that either through deceit or incompetence the government continues to abscond with more money than it needs to provide the services to the country. Through the great surpluses we continue to do inaccurate accounting for this country and more money comes out of the pockets of Canadians than needs to.

We must ensure that the people of this country have the right to decide how to spend their own money. Currently, they have the right to decide to send it up here and have the government make the choice of how it is spent. The choice is better spent in pockets of Canadians.

Will the government implement a fully independent process of forecasting government finances in order to prevent this problem from happening in the future and continuing to take more money from the citizens of Canada than it needs to do the job?

FinanceGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada collects a touch under 15% of the gross domestic product of the country on an annualized basis. I think it is either 14.9% or 14.8%. Putting aside debt repayments, which are roughly 3.2% of the gross domestic product of the nation, we spend something in the order of about 11.6% or 11.7% of the nation's finances, a large part of which, probably well over 50%, are merely transfers to either other levels of government or to other persons, be they unemployed persons or seniors.

As to the member's point on right to decide, that is why we have elections. In fact, Canadians have endorsed this government four times in a row in terms of a balanced approach. It seems to me that we are doing something right.

As to the issue of economic forecasting, the government retains something in the order of between 15 and 19 of the senior economists of the country, and there are not that many. They give the government their predictions, going forward for the next two or three years, on inflation, on interest rates, on GDP, et cetera. Those numbers are then given to four econometric modellers who put it through their computer calculations. After some negotiations among the modellers, that produces the projections that the government relies on going forward in its predictions.

That process is fairly open and transparent. I know the finance committee wants it to be more open and more transparent. In fact, that will happen. However, we deal with essentially the same people. What the Bank of Nova Scotia economists tell the finance committee will be exactly what they tell the Government of Canada. I do not know what will be the difference in the product in the end, other than there might possibly be some more openness. It is now a fairly open process.