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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

FinanceGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, to carry on with the theme of this discussion and debate, just before I stood I was reminded of the government going after school lunch programs and seniors' lunch programs in British Columbia for non-payment of GST. Those programs were run by volunteers over the years. They were done at low cost for people with low incomes. Then they had a big penalty and a big bill to pay. This is absolutely contrary to the direction our government should be taking. From the government there was not a word, not an utterance, of defence, and not a word about stopping or preventing that kind of harassment. It was this side of the House that complained. Our complaints certainly resonated with the public, but they did not resonate with the government.

This is a prebudget debate. We are talking about an important budget. This is the first time in a minority Parliament for this Prime Minister, the same individual who unnecessarily played brinkmanship on the throne speech, who reversed himself within hours and who now is busy at the optics of governing without any commitment to principle. This is someone who continues to confuse foreign travel with foreign policy, who decidedly dithers due to a decision deficit, and who presides over an increasingly dispirited caucus.

As the critic for natural resources, I would like to talk in a broad way for a minute or two about the mining sector. I am very hopeful that in this budget the government will do the right thing on the flowthrough share provisions, which I believe should continue for this sector.

It is the flowthrough share provisions that have successfully led to the diamond industry development in this country, which has taken us from basically nowhere to number three producer in the world. It is anticipated that by as early as 2012 we will be the number one producer in the world. Canadian diamonds are already contributing $500 million to the federal treasury on an annual basis, based on last year, so this is payback time. However, it is also not a time to cut off this very important measure.

The geoscience area is another area that the mining industry needs to continue to develop to make it prosper. The provinces have been doing their job and the federal government needs to do its job. We need to continue to fund the geoscience sector at an appropriate level and not cut it back as this government has been doing.

Third is a favourite of mine and that is the jewellery tax. The excise tax on jewellery, the hidden tax, the one that is hampering Canada's ability to add value to our precious stones and metals, needs to be removed. Yesterday this House sent that bill off to committee after second reading. I am hopeful that we can axe that tax despite what the government might do. Perhaps the budget will pre-empt all of that. I would make that plea.

In the forestry sector, the industry is basically united in its concern over the fact that in the softwood dispute it has been abandoned by the government. By doing so, the government has left industry to deal with entrenched U.S. interests. The U.S. administration and the U.S. special interests lumber lobby certainly are supporting each other very strongly. It is a position contrary to what is happening in Canada.

Let us look at what has really happened. The Canadian forest industry has now put down cash deposits equivalent to the worldwide effort to aid the tsunami victims. It is phenomenal. Incredible penalties have been put on the Canadian forest sector, yet it has been abandoned by the government.

The energy sector is obviously crucial when we talk about natural resource industries. The government continues to have no plan on climate change. Now we hear that the government is talking about purchasing emissions trading credits worth $1 billion plus. That will not achieve one iota of real change. It will simply take Canadian taxpayers' money and transfer it. The most likely end for it will be in Russia or some other such country that has credits to offer, but it would not change anything done at the other end either, other than the fact that those countries would be the recipients of largesse from Canada.

Canada still has no energy framework. I do not think we have revised our energy policy on a national level since the 1950s.

We have red tape that is killing not just the energy sector but all of the resource industries whenever there is any major or significant project that they want to go ahead with. The most important thing that could be done on that front would be to get the federal house in order on smart regulations.

The industry is united in that plea. It wants the government to endorse, apply and adopt part 1 of the smart regulations report, which was tabled in this place on September 23. No single minister has taken on the responsibility or the accountability for that document. That is a problem. The government needs to adopt it. It needs a champion. It needs a salesman.

The opposition is doing what it can. We put it on the radar screen to get it into committee. The committee has adopted it as a focus for its study. If it continues to reside on the government side with the bureaucracy or the Privy Council, as opposed to the cabinet and the PMO, then it will go nowhere.

One thing that Canada is now known for is its penchant for red tape and bureaucracy. This has become Canada's impediment. This is our international non-competition factor. It seems a little strange to be talking about smart regulations in a prebudget speech, but it is the lack of smart regulation in Canada that is the major cost to industry and a major impediment.

A good example would be the northern pipeline, where we have built in delay. This is a project that is in the national interest. The official opposition has offered to participate with the government. It is absolutely crucial that the government make a decision.

We are prepared to work with the government to move that along. We have heard nothing despite that offer. Does the Northern Pipeline Act from the 1970s apply or does it not? We actually need a decision from the government.

On the renewable sector in energy, there are many decisions that are required to be made. The decisions that have been made to date, including the wind power initiative, are timid at best.

To conclude, it is my general observation, as the natural resources critic, that the entire sector is not impressed by government actions in this Parliament to date.

FinanceGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the prebudget debate today given that I am a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. I was very involved in getting some of the recommendations in that report, specifically ones that are very dear to my heart.

I will start with the recommendation on children in the Liberal minority report which is a bit different than the main report. The recommendation calls for a national, accessible, affordable, high quality, publicly regulated, not for profit child care system. I would call that an early learning and care program.

We asked for an increase in the Canada child tax benefit provided that no province is permitted to claw back the relief, which is happening now. It is high time for that to stop. In addition to the recommendation, I would like to encourage the government to put all of that in a legislative framework to ensure that we have the same standards across this country.

I would encourage the government to negotiate a requirement that provinces and territories maintain or increase their own child care funding because, as we have seen in the past, the money comes in and some provinces have taken their own commitments off the table.

I would encourage the Government of Canada to maintain current federal funding commitments under the early childhood development and multilateral framework agreements.

I would encourage the Government of Canada to tie provincial and territorial accountability to plans that would include timelines and targets for using federal funds to build universal, publicly funded systems recognizing that provinces and territories would develop their own priorities and related plans. That is very important if we are to build a truly sustainable early learning and child care program across this country.

In the main report of the finance committee, as well as in the Liberal minority report, the environment issue was highlighted quite aggressively. Environment is important in our society. Climate change is a serious issue. We must meet the Kyoto standards that we have set for ourselves. The report referred to quite a number of other things, such as the production, purchase and use of fuel efficient vehicles. It promoted finding appropriate incentives to encourage that. Public transit, including measures relating to the tax treatment of employer financed transit passes, is an issue that has been before our committee for some time.

Renewable and alternative energy development and commercialization, including measures relating to wind energy and fuel cells as well as ethanol and methanol, including brown field development are some other things contained in the Liberal report. The report adds a few other items and I will give the House a bit of the breadth of the discussion that we had in committee on this issue.

The report recommended that the government create some form of incentive in the form of a credit, a deduction or GST relief rebate for the purchase of hybrid motor vehicles. We need to encourage the use of hybrid vehicles.

Instituting and enhancing wind power production by providing incentives was also included in the report. It is important that we increase our efforts in green power production by creating incentives and by extending support to all green power technologies. Renewing and enhancing the Federation of Canadian Municipalities green municipal fund and green municipal investment fund is important because these are partnerships we have with municipalities in the area of environment.

We could do a great deal more in retrofitting buildings and housing and the use of solar panels. In my own riding a laundry is powered by solar panels. The individual who established it, Mr. Winch, won a major international award for the work he has done. He is now embarking on much larger projects. There is a tremendous amount that can be done to meet the Kyoto targets and we must do it.

In speaking about cities and retrofitting, it is important that we keep the commitment we have made to cities. As members know, the government has already introduced and passed in the last budget the rebate of the GST for all municipalities, which is saving a great deal of money. We must also work with cities and develop a tripartite agreement among the provincial, municipal and federal governments to meet all of the needs of our municipalities.

The large cities in our country are not only huge economic engines but also are very complex communities with social, economic and cultural factors. For instance, in the area of immigration and immigrant settlement, it is important that we work with the cities very closely since they are the ones that have to deal with some of the more serious issues with respect to settlement.

On the issue of transportation, it is important that we maintain the commitments we have already made in the areas of transportation and infrastructure in the cities, in addition to the 5¢ of the federal tax which we have committed to introduce in the next budget. I would encourage the government that we in fact do that. The recommendation in our report is very clear with respect to that.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to work with municipalities and with cities across this country to ensure that we in fact have a very vibrant country. The partnership is very important.

A nation however is more than infrastructure, buildings and mortar. It is also what I call the soul of a country, that is the culture. It is the culture that we share and the culture that we share with the world around us. To that end, I am very proud that I was quite instrumental in pushing for a strong recommendation in this finance report on culture. I would like to read the recommendation because it is very important to note. It states:

The federal government provide stable, long-term funding to the following elements of federal support for arts and culture: the Tomorrow Starts Today program; the Canada Council for the Arts; Telefilm Canada; the Museums Assistance Program; the Community Access Program; the Canadian Television Fund and initiatives designed to promote Canadian culture internationally.

Moreover, the government should increase funding for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio-Canada.

As well, the government should allocate funds to build capacity and assist archives with respect to archival content.

Finally, the government should increase the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit to 30%

This is a very important part of our program because our soul and image, and who we are is defined by the culture that we share and the culture that we export abroad as well.

Mr. Speaker, I neglected to say that I am splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke Centre.

I would like to talk a little bit about another commitment that we made in the last election, but certainly a recommendation that is also in this report, and that is seniors. It is critical. We have poverty among seniors in our society, especially unattached seniors, and especially among single women. It is very serious. It is critical that the government move on its recommendation to increase the guaranteed income supplement.

I would recommend that we increase that to the amount committed all at once and not phase it in because the poverty is very serious, and to meet the commitments we have made on home care and family caregivers. These are very important issues for our seniors. We must meet their needs. At the same time, I would recommend that the government establish a long term study on aging because we have some other issues that we must address in the long term.

I want to make one very quick comment with respect to women. It is a fairly long recommendation so I will not be able to do it justice. Women in our society do need to have acknowledgement. Some of the things that I was very strong in recommending and pushing in the Liberal minority report was re-establishing the advisory council on the status of women in Canada and appointing a deputy minister for the department.

It is high time that we at the minimum have a deputy minister who is responsible for women issues in this country, not to mention of course increasing funding for emergency shelters and for employment assistance, as well as self-employment for women and EI. There are a great many other recommendations that I will not go into right now, but I would hope that the government address at the minimum some of those recommendations with respect to women, especially a deputy minister and the advisory council on the status of women.

FinanceGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Vegreville—Wainwright, Agriculture; the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, Public Safety.

FinanceGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address a specific issue in the prebudget debate, namely building a role of pride and influence for Canada in the world.

Approximately half a century ago, Lester B. Pearson had a vision that young Canadian men and women would not travel to trouble spots around the world as soldiers but as peacekeepers. He envisioned that our young men and women would not bring war but peace to other parts of the world. For this, our former prime minister won the Nobel Peace Prize and Canada earned a place of great respect internationally among first and third world countries.

In the 21st century we are seeing the evolution of this vision. Our government has talked of a new peace and nation building initiative which has four component parts.

The first will continue building on our great peacekeeping tradition. We have made a commitment to add 5,000 soldiers to our forces and 3,000 reservists. To show our appreciation of the work that they do, we have committed and we have said that they will not pay income taxes when they do their work in trouble spots. We have also made a commitment to purchase state of the art equipment, armoured vehicles, search and rescue aircraft and helicopters and supply ships.

However, our vision has evolved beyond just peacekeeping. Canada will also help in building democracy and civil society in countries undergoing difficult political and economic transitions. To this end, we announced the formation of a Canada Corps. In December we saw the very successful completion of the first Canada Corps project.

As the House will recall, in the fall in Ukraine an orange revolution was taking place. Canada demonstrated its special relationship with Ukraine in the House. Our Deputy Prime Minister spoke clearly that Canada would not accept the massive fraud of an election that took place on November 21. That was followed by non-partisan votes in the House where a very clearly worded motion was passed unanimously saying that Canada did not accept these results and that there would be consequences if the will of the people was not respected.

Often motions are passed in the House and then they gather dust. In this case we have demonstrated that we will play and have a role of pride and influence. Soon after the supreme court of Ukraine annulled the second round vote, we announced the first Canada Corps project, an unprecedented 500 election observers to travel to Ukraine to ensure that the will of the people would be respected.

Today there are 500 goodwill ambassadors throughout the country that will talk in their constituencies and in their various communities about this new role that Canada has taken on in the world.

We have seen in the last week the election in Iraq which has taken place. Once again we played a very important role. We did not send soldiers, we sent electoral experts to ensure that in these very difficult and trying times in Iraq democracy might have a chance. They were quite successful in their results.

I have talked about our role as a peacekeeping nation and how it has evolved into civil society building and democratic initiatives. However, there is a war that we have declared. It is a war against disease in the third world.

Many third world countries face numerous challenges, and one of the worst is curable diseases which prevent them from moving forward.

We have taken direct aim and declared war on disease in the third world. We have dedicated $100 million so that three million people suffering from HIV-AIDS will receive drug treatment. We have dedicated $70 million to the global fund to fight HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Finally, our peace and nation building initiative has a fourth component. It involves reducing and forgiving debts to the third world.

The present governments and future generations of many third world nations have been anchored to the past by huge debt loads. We will make efforts among our allies, among the circle of democratic nations, the G-20, so that other developed countries share in our vision. However, if necessary, we will not be timid and we will take the lead. We have demonstrated this with our Canada corps project. We have demonstrated this with the $100 million that we have dedicated to provide three million people with drugs to relieve their suffering from HIV-AIDS.

The 21st century beckons, and Canada will respond by building a role of pride and influence in the world. We have taken initial steps, and the upcoming budget will confirm this vision.

FinanceGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the comments of my colleague. I share his opinion and the opinion of our Prime Minister that Canada has a duty to assume a leadership role on the world stage.

We certainly have evidence of this on a number of different initiatives. We can look at the role undertaken by our finance minister on Tony Blair's African initiative and at the G-7 commission that has been assembled to try to address the many problems in the African nations such as the debt, AIDS and hunger. We can look at the intervention made by Canada in the recent elections in the Ukraine.

I know that my hon. colleague has been very much involved in advancing the situation for Canada's role in the Ukraine in those elections.

I guess the elephant in the bed is really our country's ability to respond to disasters as they occur around the world, the most recent being the tsunami. There has been much talk and many views expressed about Canada's ability to respond to tragedies around the world, especially those of such catastrophic proportions as the tsunami.

I would like to get my colleague's insight and opinion on maybe our country's sense of duty to help those countries in need and our ability to respond as a nation to those countries that might experience a similar catastrophe.

FinanceGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was an unprecedented response by the people of Canada and by the government to the effects of the tsunami. I happened to have been monitoring the election in Ukraine on the very day that the tsunami hit. The following Monday and Tuesday I was being interviewed by a number of our Canadian news organizations. Most international news organizations were in Kiev at that time.

On the Monday there was not a great deal of information. In fact, prior to being interviewed, we would chat a little. Information was just starting to come in. No one had a clear idea of the devastation that had taken place. On the Tuesday we were getting reports of unheard of tragedies. By Wednesday it had become clear. Our government reacted as the information rolled in.

Unfortunately, when tragedies strike they do not necessarily strike in places where we can rapidly assess the situation because we do not have the information required. Some of the worst hit regions were pretty inaccessible regions of the world.

However, what we can take pride in is, as we became aware of what had taken place, we responded. The Canadian people responded. Once again, just as we did during the orange revolution in Ukraine, our response to the tsunami tragedy has been unprecedented and has demonstrated that Canada will play a leading role in the world in the 21st century.

FinanceGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was with great anticipation that I prepared for this opportunity to speak today on the upcoming federal budget.

As the federal representative for Prince George—Peace River it is incumbent upon me to advocate that tax dollars are utilized by the government wisely, fairly and in accordance with the wishes of my constituents. While this duty is carried out each and every day in some form or another, today is the opportunity for me to state on the record in the House how the residents of Prince George—Peace River want their government to prioritize and manage their money. And it is their money, despite the government's tendency to boast of its annual surpluses. A surplus is built upon the backs of the Canadian taxpayers. A surplus simply means that the government has overtaxed Canadians.

I often remark that there is a fundamental difference between a Liberal and a Conservative. A Liberal looks at a surplus and asks, “How can we devise new programs to spend the money?” A Conservative looks at a surplus and says, “We have overtaxed Canadians and we should return it to them because it is their money”.

This year it means that the federal government will have taken close to $11 billion more from taxpayers than it was committed to spend. Are taxpayers going to get some of their money back? If the Prime Minister and his government were to stick to the commitment they made last October, just over three months ago, Canadians would get some of that $11 billion back in the form of tax relief, or as I prefer to call it, a pay increase.

Specifically the throne speech amendments, which government MPs voted to support, called for tax cuts for hard-working Canadians. If the government intends to honour this three month old pledge, we should expect to see substantive tax cuts in the upcoming budget.

In Mackenzie, B.C. for example, a small community in my riding, a remote northern town where the cost of living is considerably higher than most other communities, residents might expect to see at long last the reinstatement of their northern residents tax deduction. No one in the federal government has been able to justify why the deduction was taken from Mackenzie in the first place, but in the upcoming budget there is an opportunity to correct the oversight while simultaneously complying with the throne speech amendment to cut taxes.

During the election campaign the federal Liberals ridiculed calls from the Conservative Party of Canada for substantive tax cuts. They ridiculed our calls to increase funding for health care, for education and for our armed forces. The Liberals said that these proposals to cut taxes and at the same time invest in Canadians' security and well-being were preposterous because the money simply was not there. The government projected a surplus at that time of just $1.9 billion. We know that was underestimated by roughly $9 billion. We are also well aware that the money certainly is there.

What about the $1 billion plus that has been spent on the dysfunctional gun registry? What about the millions wasted on the federal sponsorship program? In fact, with an ounce of fiscal responsibility and fiscal management, there is ample room for tax cuts as well as funding for critical areas of our country's social and economic health.

In Prince George—Peace River, like most of Canada, there is grave concern about the state of our health care system. Some have told me bluntly that although they are not pleased that the government is set to amass an $11 billion surplus this fiscal year, they do not want it back. Some of my constituents do not want those surplus dollars if, and it is an important if, the government can assure them that they will actually be able to find a family doctor, not just more talk about health accords and complex and cantankerous federal-provincial negotiations, not more idle rhetoric about shortening the waiting lines, but a living, breathing medical professional whom they can access when they or their loved ones are in need of care.

The doctor shortage in my riding is critical. Whenever a doctor retires in one of our communities, the pressure intensifies on the already overburdened local medical services. Recent examples include Tumbler Ridge and Fort Nelson where residents have relatively few options for medical care. There is also an urgent need for additional palliative care, and homes and resources for the elderly.

It is not just health care that has been neglected. A recent report shows that Canadian workers have seen barely any growth in their real take home pay, and I repeat that this is their take home pay, throughout the past 15 years while government spending has grown at record rates. I can assure everyone that there has not been a corresponding improvement in infrastructure and government services in Prince George—Peace River.

As one notable demonstration of this decay in infrastructure in the city of Prince George, known as B.C.'s northern capital, two major transportation corridors, Highway 97 and Highway 16, and two major rivers, the Fraser and the Nechako, converge to form an economic hub that is critical to the economy of the entire region. Yet a significant number of the logging trucks, heavy equipment for the oil and gas industry, and other industrial traffic that passes through the city must cross an old single lane wooden bridge dating back to the 1930s.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time. I was mistaken in not stating that at the outset of my speech.

It is not unrealistic for the residents of Prince George and area, who have heard the Prime Minister's promises for a new infrastructure deal for Canadian cities and who have seen their paycheques shrink due to taxes, to expect that the upcoming budget will address their need for a replacement for the Nechako River bridge.

Similarly, airports in Prince George, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson and Dawson Creek are vital to the transportation infrastructure of northern B.C. where ground transportation is not always a feasible or cost effective option. Yet since the federal government has off-loaded these airports to local airport authorities, it has taken a hands-off approach to ensure their ongoing safety and viability.

The airport capital assistance program, or ACAP as it is known, which is supposed to assist these airports, had $6.9 million left over in the last fiscal year. This is money the program was allocated but did not spend. It is money that those airports and many other small rural airports across the country need for new terminals and runways and to ensure safe operation. In Prince George the airport cannot even get an answer from the minister responsible for the Canada Border Services Agency as to whether it can get more customs officers to meet the growing demand for international cargo services.

This federal neglect is felt all the way to the farm gate as well. Farmers in the Peace region have been hit hard by the BSE crisis, low commodity prices and drought in recent years, followed by snow and wet fields at harvest time this past fall. It is incumbent upon the federal government to take measures in the upcoming budget to help our family farms pull themselves back from the brink of bankruptcy.

After all, it is the same government that just a couple of months ago found another $96 million to spare for the federal firearms registry. In fact, it is when my constituents imagine what the $1 billion plus the Liberals have spent on the gun registry could have meant in terms of tax relief and real priorities that they get angry.

To my constituents real priorities are the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with the United States and the mountain pine beetle epidemic that has devastated the forest industry throughout the past decade. Yet the federal government has allocated a grand total of just $8 million to fight the pine beetle infestation, this for an industry that drives 25% of B.C.'s economy and from a government that had no problem wasting millions in the sponsorship program.

Ultimately, I am very proud of Prince George—Peace River. I am proud of the innovation, the perseverance and hard work of its residents. Through economic crises and what often seems like outright neglect from Ottawa, the citizens, businesses and municipal representatives have demonstrated the initiative and ability to grow and to improve our quality of life in Prince George—Peace River.

As the Prime Minister and finance minister put the finishing touches on their upcoming budget, I would like to remind them that the constituents in Prince George—Peace River are not looking for handouts or more mammoth government programs. They want fiscal responsibility and accountability. They want to know that the tax dollars they worked hard to earn are working hard for them. They want to know that their government in Ottawa respects them and respects their tax dollars.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member regarding the first sentence he made in his speech, that a surplus was the amount that Canadians were overtaxed.

I want to go back in history and remind the member that his party was in power from 1984 to 1993. At the end of that period the deficit was approximately $43 billion and the net accumulated debt of the country went from approximately $300 billion to $560 billion. My suggestion is that the surplus that is occurring now is not an overtaxation. It is a payment by Canadians paying for the disaster that occurred between 1984 and 1993. I am sure the hon. member will agree with me.

Over the last number of years we have only been able to pay for a small part of that disaster. It should be realized that the debt accumulated was approximately $240 billion. At $11 billion a year Canadians can see that it will take generations to pay for the disaster that occurred during that period of time.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

The interest rate was not 3% either.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

The interest rate was 11%. Unemployment was 12%. The debt to GDP ratio was 71%. I know all the figures. I know the disaster we were into.

My question for the hon. member is how can we assure Canadians on February 1, 2005 that these policies and these programs will not ever be visited on Canadians again as long as we live?

FinanceGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member's question were not so comical it would warrant probably a more serious response.

He has a very selective memory. I am not that old. I have only been a member for 11 years, but I know why I became involved in politics. It was not just because of my concern about the debt that was growing, as he states, under the Progressive Conservative government that preceded the three terms of fiscal terror by Jean Chrétien. I was concerned well beyond that. I think most Canadians were concerned about who actually started deficit spending in this country and who saw it balloon to unbelievable proportions. That was the successive administrations of Pierre Trudeau.

The member selectively pulls out one part of history and says that we cannot see that happen again. I would like to say that we cannot see a lot of things happen that happened in the past.

I would also like to remind the member of something else. I remember this because I ran in the 1988 election. I was not successful; I lost. That election was known as the free trade election. I well remember the hon. member's leader at the time, John Turner, railing against free trade and how it would be the end of Canada.

Now the Liberal government over the past 11 years has been the net beneficiary of the policies of the Progressive Conservative government, of the free trade vision of that Progressive Conservative government, the very policies that the Liberals ranted and railed and fought against so vehemently. The Liberals said that free trade would be the destruction of Canada. Now the government is benefiting. Now we do not hear the Liberals saying that. Now, all of a sudden, they are proponents of free trade. The Liberals have seen the light; they have had this epiphany.

As well, the Liberals fought against the GST. I am not a great proponent of the GST. I think it has its problems. Where does the government get its money? Where does the government get the overtaxation from?

Canadians out in the real world are not fooled. They understand quite well that it is overtaxation. Maybe the member does not want to admit that the government has taken billions of dollars more in the last few years than it could possibly squander. Canadians know about that.

Canadians know to whom the surplus belongs. That was the point of my speech, to point out that we in the Conservative Party of Canada understand that that money rightfully belongs to Canadian taxpayers and it should be returned to them. I look forward to the budget in two or three weeks' time. I hope that the Liberal government will honour the commitment in the throne speech of last October and we will see the substantive tax cuts that will result in a net pay increase. We often hear the Liberals talk about all these billions of dollars in tax cuts that the Liberals have initiated, but no one out in the real world has seen them on his or her paycheque.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to take part in this prebudget debate and share with my fellow colleagues the view from my riding of Oxford.

Canada still holds a standing in the world as of one of its richest nations. Yet as Canadians continue to work harder and produce more, it is the government that continues to get the benefit. In many families both parents must work just to make ends meet. In fact, when it is broken down, one of them works just to pay taxes.

According to the Toronto-Dominion Bank, real take home pay has risen by only 3.6% since 1989 while the real gross domestic product per worker rose by 21.8%. Since the Liberal government came to power in 1993, it has had well over a decade to address the tax issues of the country. While the early years of the government were shrouded with policies of debt reduction and massive cuts to our health care system and Canadian Forces, it has shown little interest in capitalizing on a flourishing economy to bring tax relief to Canadians or for that matter to replace what it took from our health care system and Canadian Forces.

As a Conservative, I am insulted by surplus budgets. I believe that surplus budgets are nothing more than the result of overtaxation. Canadian taxpayers deserve a bigger piece of their paycheques. I want to see governments produce a balanced budget.

I would like to bring before the House an example of the cold-heartedness of the Liberal government that swims in surplus after surplus of cash.

Last fall it was brought to my attention that our veterans who were promised compensation for their participation in chemical warfare testing were suddenly being denied benefits. The first thing that came to mind was the Liberals were going to turn this program into another hepatitis C debacle. Sure enough, with a little investigation, it came to my attention that a cabinet memo instructed defence personnel to hold back payment on estates of veterans who died without a legal will.

At first count, with only 50% of the applications looked at, the government froze payment on 20 families of veterans that it acknowledged took part in chemical warfare testing. What did they offer the families instead? Instead of receiving the $24,000 compensation funding the government had promised, they were offered a certificate to hang on the wall. Another class act by the government, the same government that bragged about a projected $1.9 billion budget surplus that has now turned into a $10 billion budget surplus.

One can only imagine the damage to the federal government's credibility with the provinces, given that time and time again on the health accord and equalization agreement the government always tries to argue that the cupboards are bare. Instead of this Parliament with its minority government being different, we see the same thing continuing to happen.

Last year budget 2004 projected a surplus of $4 billion. In November we were told the surplus was nearly $9 billion. Now it seems it could be even more.

Why does the government like holding back money when so many Canadians are in need? It appears that the current economic situation is strong enough to allow the government to make both greater spending on areas of priority and major tax relief part of its budget for 2005.

Members of the official opposition have been listening to Canadians, responding with calls for tax relief for low and middle income Canadians, an independent process for forecasting the government's financial situation, and that all uses of the employment insurance program's funds be directed to the benefit of workers for whom the program was created to support in the first place.

In response the Prime Minister has made clear his reluctance to reduce the tax burden on Canadians. The government inherited a GST program and a free trade agreement that have turned into a cash cow for it. When I look at the size of our budget surplus, I have to ask myself, were all the cuts we suffered in health care and defence in the early nineties even necessary?

While I am no economist, I think Canadians want to see fiscal management by the government that is a little more sensitive to the basic needs of our country. These basic needs include investment in education, development of businesses, especially small business and the ability of Canadians to save for the future. The government's policy of taxation reduces incentive to invest in all these areas, meaning lost opportunities and lower potential.

For Canadians, this means that individuals and corporations are operating at less than their potential in an economy that is not as robust as it should be. For the government, it means less revenue which because of poor government choices has threatened our ability to provide the quality of social services that Canadians on which pride themselves and depend.

Since the opening of this Parliament last September, the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear that reducing taxes is not one of his priorities. This is hardly fair to the average Canadian whose take home pay has barely increased in the past 15 years. This situation is also unfair to younger Canadians as it threatens our long term economic growth and our social safety net.

If the Liberal government wishes to represent Canadians by being responsive to their needs, its 2005 budget must include an immediate pay hike for all Canadians through a program of lower taxes. It should also concentrate on the standard of living, not just now but in years to come, by strengthening Canada's competitive position through measured debt repayment, strategic spending and reductions in burdensome regulations.

In its throne speech the government committed to reducing taxes for low and middle income Canadians. If the governing party wishes to depart from its record of broken and empty promises, it should deliver on those verbal contracts with Canadians. It is great to make promises to those who are in need but the government has a moral obligation to follow through on these promises.

The government should also deliver on its promise to increase the guaranteed income supplement; empty words that do nothing to change the situation of those Canadians who are in greatest need.

The needs and concerns of Canadians are not beyond the power of the government to help. Workers have seen little increase in their take home pay. Middle income Canadians face a staggering tax burden. Seniors need help with their drug plans and GIC supplements. EI benefits need to be adjusted to reflect the different regions of Canada and EI stakeholders should be given a say in benefit and premium levels.

On this last point, the Auditor General has concluded for several years running now that the government has failed to respect the intent of the Employment Insurance Act. While the government throws up its hands and says that there is no money, the EI account now has a $46 billion surplus. Why is the government overcharging Canadians? This program is about workers. Given them a say in benefit and premium levels.

Our farmers are desperate in many sectors for assistance. The BSE crisis has had a tremendous effect on our agriculture in Canada to the point where we now see an increase in milk prices because there is no market for the older milking cows. The ripple effect of this crisis has hurt many small businesses that support the farm industry in my riding of Oxford. It is bad enough the government forgets our farmers, but it in turn also turns it back on small business owners as well.

In my riding tobacco growers are struggling as well. Many of them want to get out of the business all together. However, they are having difficulty getting compensation the government promised them before the last election.

It remains to be seen if the gas tax promised to urban communities in Canada will be effective. Mayors across Canada are already skeptical.

Over the past decade government spending has grown at record rates, yet it is my opinion that Canadians have not received the same increase in value from government services.

Budget 2005 should also fulfill a promise made by the Liberals to increase spending for Canada's military to help bring it to a more effective level. More and more increasing demands are being put on our troops as Canada struggles to hang on to its place in the world.

The deployment of the DART during the Tsunami disaster was a great example of how poorly our forces are funded. Italy had a field hospital set up and running within 48 hours while we were still debating where to send the reconnaissance team and locate a charter airlift to get the equipment there. Two weeks later we were finally operational.

We have debated for years in the House the side effects the Liberal government's fiscal policy has had on our Canadian Forces. In 1993 the government cut 26% from the defence budget. That was a crippling move. As a result, today our forces are in dire need of too much equipment at one time. We need to make a priority list and shop from there.

Our forces need ships, airplanes, helicopters, submarines, ground transport and more. Proper equipment for our Canadian Forces should be a priority. Without it, we cannot expect the brave men and women of our forces to carry out the missions on which we send them. This lack of equipment threatens both the lives of individual troops and our place in the global security community.

The Minister of National Defence has delayed several times now the internal review that has been taking place within the department. The last white paper was in 1994. Perhaps we should be considering another since we are 10 years down the road and the world is a very different place.

In closing, let me reiterate, as my colleagues have stated throughout this debate, that in this minority Parliament it is up to the Liberals to decide when and if they want an election.

The Conservative Party remains open to supporting budget 2005 if it contains an immediate pay hike for hard-working Canadians through a program of lower taxes, a longer term standard of living strategy to ensure that social programs are adequately funded during the upcoming demographic crunch and the funding necessary to bring Canada's military to a more effective level. Their fate is in the government's hands.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a couple of occasions tonight the House has been presented with the issue that if a surplus exists, it means that Canadians are overtaxed and therefore we should have a tax cut. I am not sure if there are many Canadians around who would not want to have a tax cut, but fiscal responsibility says to look at the whole question.

In the year 2003, 22 million people filed tax returns. If we were to give $100 to every taxpayer as a tax cut it would cost $2.2 billion. It is clear to most members, I would think, that $100 in a year will not make a difference in the lives of anyone.

We have to look in terms of the magnitude that a tax cut is an expensive proposition. The last time that we went through one it was a $100 billion program, but it meant that we had to sacrifice additional spending on other programs necessary for Canadians, like health care.

What would happen if Canada were to enter into a recession? We have not had a recession for a long time, thank goodness. However, the last time we had one the impact of the unemployment caused by the recession was $15 billion charged to the EI fund, which would go right against the consolidated revenue fund and put us in a deficit scenario.

I raise those points just from the standpoint that tax cuts are not a bad thing, but fiscal responsibility is part of this. Even if we pay down debt, it is a permanent savings on interest expense. If we give a tax break just for that surplus amount, that is a permanent change and it will happen every year. Maybe the member would like to comment on whether tax cuts should be reflective of what a surplus was in a particular year or would it be fiscally responsible to see what we could do over the longer period because they would be permanent cuts.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite has brought up a couple of very important issues. One is that I am glad he recognizes one of our big issues with the deficit, which the Liberals continually point to a previous government and which occurred during a major recession. It did cause a great deal of harm to the economy at that time.

The problem is every year we go through this with the government. There is a certain planned surplus, but it always ends up to be way more than we expected. As a result, Canadians have been taxed and money was been taken out of their pockets for services that they did not receive. If we are going to pay down the debt, and it is appropriate that we should and this party has had a plan for doing that, we should plan that as part of the budget and not hope that at the end of the year there is money left over and we will pay it down.

The other part of this equation is that as the federal government is racking up surpluses, a number of the provinces have been racking up deficits. Part of that is because we put responsibility on the provincial governments to do those things that the federal government should do.

All in all, our policy still is that we plan surpluses or we plan to pay down debt. We do not plan to pay down debt and still have huge surpluses.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his great dissertation today on the prebudget, and I would like to ask him a question.

We as Conservatives have asked the government for tax relief for low and middle income taxpayers and all Canadians. It has become more evident of late that despite bragging about great tax reductions, my constituents continue to say “Show me the money”. Hard-working people in Elgin--Middlesex--London have less money in their pockets considering what they have said about this.

We have to ensure that money taken from Canadians is treated with respect. In the member's comments he stated some places where we think, at the end of the day, our constituents could end up with a little more money where it really counts, and that is in their pockets. At the end of this budget process, does he believe that good Canadians and constituents in his riding and mine will end up with more money where it counts, in their wallets?

FinanceGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, if this government is listening to Canadians, Canadians will end up with more money in their pockets. The government would only be fulfilling what it said in the throne speech earlier.

FinanceGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the few minutes at my disposal, I will say a few words about the budgetary consultations that were held for the next budget and the positions of the Bloc Québécois in connection with it.

I remind hon. members that we made firm commitments during the last election. The Liberals have to understand that we will not compromise our principles. They will have to make serious moves in a series of cases.

I am talking about fiscal imbalance, employment insurance, the environment and Kyoto, agriculture, international aid, respecting Quebec's jurisdictions, social housing and funding for Francophone and Acadian communities.

At this time I will address the issue of the environment and Kyoto, and the issue of social housing for which I am the Bloc Québécois critic.

The presentation of a budget is extremely important. Beyond the rhetoric, the government has to decide whether to spend or not spend, invest or not invest in one policy or another. In a budget, generally speaking, one cannot lie. This government has certainly been somewhat creative when it comes to hiding a huge surplus of nearly $10 billion. Year after year, instead of permitting a healthy social debate on how to use this surplus, it used it to pay down the debt, while Quebec and the provinces, who have to deliver the services, are required to cut library, education, health and front-end services. In the meantime, the government brags about surpluses not debated at the end of the year.

As I said, generally a budget reveals where a government is at, so we shall see whether or not this government is capable of making commitments for the population. Otherwise, we will not think twice about voting against it. We are convinced that the public will be behind us. If there is no correction of the fiscal imbalance and the EI situation, people will perhaps be only too pleased to teach another lesson to this government, if it is incapable of facing up to its responsibilities and realizing it is a minority government that needs to listen to what the people have to say.

The government did not enjoy the confidence of Quebeckers, and I do not think it can earn it. We would like to show it the paths of virtue, however. These impenetrable paths also involve saying what has been done and doing what is said. Unfortunately, as far as child care is concerned, an announcement was made during the election campaign that an agreement had been signed, and today, February 1, is the deadline and it has still not been signed. I have just checked the Radio-Canada site and I can confirm that as of right now it has still not been signed.

There have been commitments made about social housing. Others were made about Kyoto. As far as the environment and the Kyoto protocol are concerned, there have in fact been some $3.7 billion in expenditures, but the spending has been ill-informed. That amount of $3.7 billion may have been spent, but as it was invested without any consistency and without any specifically designated and worthwhile taxation measures, the objectives were not met.

Imagine, $3.7 billion have been invested, while our greenhouse gas emissions have risen 20% since 1990, and we have not met the 28% Kyoto objective. That is quite something, considering that $3.7 billion have been spent.

Often this government does not meet its commitments. When it does invest money, it administers it badly, that is it invests it in the wrong things. It does not in fact take the appropriate fiscal measures.

For example, still concerning Kyoto, they preferred—at the cost of $260 million a year—to provide oil companies with tax havens and other tax favours through legislation. This government is acting very badly when it does act, and often does not make the required choices.

Before the last budget, many groups were involved in consultations about housing. Everyone was certain that the 2003-04 budget was going to contain social housing provisions.

But there were none. During the election campaign the government made a commitment of $1 billion to $1.5 billion for investment in social housing. We are not sure that this promise will be kept. This government, unfortunately, has taught us to be cynical of politics. They feel free to say one thing and do the opposite with little concern.

Therefore, an amount of $1 to $1.5 billion over 5 years has been promised. We are not sure if this bare minimum is going to be in the budget. If it is not, the Bloc Québécois will pleased to take up the argument and see what happens. Still, in terms of all our activities, we think it is unacceptable. That is why there must be a bare minimum for social housing, and at least get the Liberals to commit. Nevertheless, we think up to $2 billion per year could be put into this area within three years.

What is even more cynical is that in 1990 the current Prime Minister and the current Minister of Labour and Housing signed a report in which they denounced the Conservatives' management in the field of housing. At the time there were 1.3 million poorly housed families in Canada; now there are 1.7 million.

When the Prime Minister became finance minister in 1994, he cut all investment in social housing after making a big scene. Between 1994 and 2001, he put nothing into social housing despite making a fuss and declaring it a major fundamental value.

There are moments of truth respecting housing, other social measures and the fiscal imbalance. There will be one, of course, around February 22, the date the budget is brought in. In that moment of truth we will see the true nature of Bernadette, the true nature of this government. We fear that the true nature, once it has been seen naked, will not contain much and will not be clothed in valuable measures.

If these minimum commitments are not made, the Bloc Québécois will ensure—

FinanceGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

I want to inform the member that, the next time this subject comes before the House, he will have 13 minutes to complete his speech and 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

moved that Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voter and candidate age), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by taking the opportunity to thank the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor for seconding this motion and the 20 individuals who seconded the bill.

I also want to recognize the multi-partisan nature of this effort. There is a caucus leader within each party. I want to recognize the member for Newmarket—Aurora, the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes and also the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who have all, within the different political parties, been coming together and fighting this issue, recognizing that there is a serious problem in this country. That problem is with the disengagement of our youth from our political process.

We need only to look at the last couple of federal elections to see what the impact of this disengagement has been. We see that roughly 25% of young people in the 2000 election actually came out to vote. We notice that in the 2004 election, which has just happened, only 33% came out to vote.

We need to do something fundamental to change this. If we extrapolate this over time, we will have a situation where roughly a quarter of the population will be deciding the fate of the entire nation. That is indeed a serious problem.

I think that reducing the voting age to 16 represents an incredible opportunity. It represents an opportunity to engage youth while they are still in a general education environment and to give them an opportunity, frankly, that their parents would not even have had.

In school, for example, while I can assure everyone that the candidates would go to schools and talk to the students, there would be a supportive environment, maybe leading up from ages 14 and 15 to 16, for them to talk about issues and get engaged. It would not be merely academic; they would actually know that they would be able to take action on something. It would be a tremendous opportunity. By the time they get to 18, they are often disengaged, and often they can be 20 or even 21 before they get to vote for that first time. By then, they are often disengaged and they are not in a general education environment any more. Their patterns have already been established.

This has been shown time and time again. The member for Newmarket—Aurora conducted a lot of polling and I thought some of it was very interesting. We got a lot of it on the Vote16.ca website. It demonstrates very clearly that young people are very interested in voting. We know that if we can get them to vote once they will vote again and again. This is about establishing patterns and turning it around.

What are the arguments for not doing this? What are the reasons for us not moving forward and pursuing this bill?

Some would say that young people are not mature enough and that they simply do not have the cognitive capacity to be part of our electoral process. I take great exception to that.

My experience in dealing with 16 year olds and 17 year olds is that they are exceptionally sharp. They are individuals who often have a clear vision or who may be confused but have clear ideas about the things that are going to be impacting them. Whether or not it is post-secondary education, finding a summer job so that they can afford to go to school afterward, or finding something after school in trades or apprenticeships, their eyes are turning to the future.

It is not that long ago that the same argument being made about 16 year olds and 17 year olds was being made about women: the argument was that women do not have the mental capacity to comprehend political problems.

Often this issue of maturity is used to not allow different segments of our population to have a voice. In reality that is exactly what this bill is: it is to give young people a voice, to give them their rightful place as others have gained their rightful places, whether it has been women, aboriginals or other groups that have been denied the right to vote. This is to give them their rightful place, to give them an opportunity to have a say on the issues that matter to them and an opportunity to be part of the broader mosaic that makes the decisions on what is going to happen in this country.

There is another argument that I have heard and it is that young people “are just going to follow their parents” when they vote. “They are just going to do what their parents say,” I have been told. As an anecdote, I can tell members that after a long discussion with an 80 year old lady whose door I knocked on, I asked her, “Have you ever voted Liberal?” She said, “Well, there was the one time that my sister Mabel voted Liberal”. It was that sort of time. All of them in the family could remember when somebody broke ranks and decided not to follow the lead of their parents.

The reality is that we all come to our voting decisions in different ways. Sometimes it is because we trust those in our family and decide to make a decision that way. Sometimes we have the strength of our own personal convictions, which differ from those of our family. But certainly it is not an issue that is exclusive to 16 year olds and 17 year olds.

On the issue of youth being too radical, this is something else I have heard. “Youth are too radical. If given the opportunity to vote, they are going to do something dramatic and it is going to dramatically change the course of the nation”. This certainly contradicts the first argument; either they are just going to follow somebody or they are going to be radical. In my opinion, if we look at it in terms of overall population, a demographic, these youth would represent a small group, but a group that should have the opportunity to have a say.

The opposite is sort of true. If these individuals are not given the opportunity to have their say in our political process, to come forward and state the issues that matter to them, oftentimes their issues then are not listened to.

Rick Mercer had a very interesting quote on this. Sometimes humour is a good way to approach things. He said, “If I was 16, I would write members of Parliament and I would complain, except if I was 16 they wouldn't care what I had to say because I don't have the vote, which is the problem in the first place”. This leads to a cycle of neglect. Often young people's issues are not given the attention they deserve because they are not given a voice in our political process.

Maybe one of the reasons they are not engaged is because we are not speaking to them. We are not talking to them about the kinds of issues that really have an impact in their lives. If they had the opportunity in a general education environment, when they are 16 and 17, before they go to wherever they have go and it is hard to get a hold of them, to actually engage in debate and discussion with candidates, we would have a renewed opportunity to talk to them about their issues. They would have an opportunity to say back to politicians, “You have to listen to us. We are a group now that must be reckoned with”.

I know the issue of the Supreme Court case recently came up. There were two youth that challenged the constitutionality of 16 and 17 year-olds not being allowed to vote. The Supreme Court ruled that ultimately it is a decision of Parliament. It acknowledged that it is in fact discrimination, but it is a political decision that must be made.

In Canada not too long ago, a person had to be 21 years old to be able to vote. If we look at other jurisdictions, Brazil has changed the voting age to 16 and Germany has changed the voting age for municipal elections to 16. This debate is happening in the U.K. legislature. As part of our broader process on engagement and talking about how we talk to young people, there is a movement to deal with this issue.

Youth have so many different responsibilities. This is one of the other arguments we talk about. We have sort of this contradiction with them. We expect them to be very responsible with certain things. Yet when it comes to giving them a voice and an opportunity to vote, we say they do not know enough. That is a contradictory message. We give them the opportunity to drive at 16. We give them the opportunity at 17 to join our armed forces and fight for this nation.

We give youth the opportunity at leadership conventions to select the leaders of our respective parties, who become prime ministers. That certainly is something that we all think is acceptable. In fact, in all of our nominations youth as young as 14 are allowed to select who their local candidate will be.

We have this inherent contradiction. On one hand we say they are not responsible enough; on the other hand we are giving them these sets of responsibilities. We need to bring in line those other things we are asking of them and give them an opportunity to have a voice.

I see it as a graduated process, as an opportunity at 14 years of age to join a political party, to engage in vigorous debate in school and in that general education environment, all of which will graduate to the opportunity to vote at the age of 16 in a safe environment, and perhaps cast ballots perhaps in a school. One of the problems we have with young people is that by the time they are 19 or 20 or 21, they have moved away from home, they have gone to college or university, they are in trades, they are very hard to pin down and they are not registered. That is not the case when they are younger. We can register them, we have the opportunity to talk to them, and they have a safe and secure environment of a school in which to cast their ballots.

I have to speak to this because I think it really talks to the broader issue. I have had the opportunity to work with some remarkable people from both sides of the House on this issue, who I think share the conviction that this is not the only solution. I think this is part of it. It is part of a broader discussion that we need to have in general about young people, about how we get them excited in our political process, how we engage them, how we make sure they do come out and vote, and how they do care. I think fluffing it off and saying they are only interested in Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears misses the point. We are setting a very dangerous precedent that we have to redress.

We will be going across the country very soon speaking to different individuals in different parts of the country, going into schools and speaking with parents about this idea and about the opportunities that exist for youth. Through that process I hope that every single member of Parliament in the House and Canadians in general will engage in a debate about how we get our young people excited about politics, and how we get them to be passionate about the process that so many have died for.

I think we take for granted in this country the fact that wars have been fought to give us the right to vote, that people have died and laid down their lives so that we can sit in this chamber and vote freely.

We often forget that in other parts of the world, most recently in the Ukraine, people are protesting in the streets demanding what we take for granted.

We have a responsibility to connect with our youth and to get them excited. This is an opportunity that we cannot pass up. Let us respect them. Let us recognize that they have a legitimate place in our system and deserve a voice. Let us move forward on that basis.

I urge all members to support Bill C-261. I encourage them to contact my office or the seconder's office for more information and to visit our website at vote16.ca.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to salute the initiative of my colleague from Ajax—Pickering, who had the wisdom to make this a non-partisan bill. Anything related to electoral reform must, in essence, be non-partisan. It is in this spirit that any amendments to electoral legislation in Canada must be made.

It is my great honour to support this bill introduced by my colleague to lower the voting age to 16.

In a few moments, the our party's whip, in an effort to educate and ensure healthy democratic debate, will address the pros and cons of this bill. I want to state that this in no way undermines my support for this bill and that of most of my colleagues who, at present, intend to support it.

That said, I want to ask my colleague a question. A few moments ago, he spoke about the reservations often raised to oppose such legislation, stressing the supposed lack of maturity of sixteen-year-olds. I want to ask him the following question: what would one say to people who claim that sixteen-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds are not sufficiently interested? Of course, one can object on the basis of their maturity, but also on the basis of their interest in politics. I want to know what he would say to those who think that young people are not sufficiently interested.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my experience young people are very interested. When we ask them if they are interested in politics, we may not engage them. The question is phrased the wrong way. They are sent the wrong argument.

When we tell them at 16 and 17 that they do not know enough to vote, we are essentially telling them not to worry about it because they do not know enough. A lot of young people 18, 19, 25, or 30 years old say they do not know enough. They do not vote because they do not know enough and do not follow the issues. This essentially establishes a trend.

When we sit down and ask them how they feel about, for example, gay and lesbian marriage, or how they feel about post-secondary education and tuition costs, or how they feel about issues that are impacting them around summer employment, the room opens up. They are taxpayers so we should ask them how they feel about these issues. In discussions I have had with 16 and 17 year-olds I am absolutely amazed at the level of their maturity, and the different perspective they bring to the debate. It would be a shame if that was not included in the mosaic of our decision-making process. It is wrong not to do that.

There is a fundamental flaw in logic and that fundamental flaw requires intelligence to vote, that someone has to be of a certain maturity level to vote. Each and every one of us could point to brilliant adults and adults who are not so brilliant. We could also point to mature adults and adults who are not so mature. The same thing can be said of 16 and 17 year-olds. It has been said time and again that we do have some brilliant young people. With respect, if a dumb adult can vote, or an immature adult can vote, then why can a brilliant, mature 16 or 17 year-old not vote? That whole argument misses the real point and sends a real damaging message.

We need to be talking to our young people in a respectful way, in a way that respects their voice, respects their opinion, and does not belittle it. When we tell them they do not know enough, we are really telling them not to get involved in the political process. To me that is a real problem.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Belinda Stronach Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague, the hon. member for Ajax--Pickering, for taking the initiative and recognizing what young people can contribute to the public process. I will be fully supporting this initiative.

The hon. member mentioned a poll that was conducted among 1,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 17 at the end of November by Professor André Turcotte from Mass Communication at Carleton University. When 1,000 young people were asked, three out of four said they would exercise their right to vote.

The hon. member has had a chance to speak to many students at universities and high schools. I wonder if he could tell us what the response has been. Is it similar to the poll or has he experienced otherwise?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her questions and for her support in this initiative. My experience in the poll, anecdotally, and I have had an opportunity to talk to many students, including many university students, is very much that case. There is a tremendous interest, particularly in those who are 16 and 17, on being engaged in the process.

One of the interesting things that I find is that sometimes we run into someone who is 17 who says, “I really want to vote. I am mature enough. I know enough, but I am not so confident about my other colleagues”.

I was speaking at the University of Toronto and the people said to me that they had that exact opinion. A 16 or 17 year-old brought up this issue, that until they got to college or university, and it was basically the same issue, they felt that they were mature enough and had the knowledge, but when they looked at some of their peers, they wondered if they did. So it held through into that age.

I think there is a tremendous amount of interest, but it is not being tapped. If we do not tap that interest when we can get them, and we actually have an opportunity to discuss with them their responsibilities and roles and what is involved, and get them comfortable with the voting process, then we have really missed that opportunity.

Ironically enough, and I think all the polling work that the member was so good to do demonstrates this. If we capture them at a younger age, they are actually more likely to vote and more likely to establish those positive habits.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to address Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, voter and candidate age.

As far as I have seen, there are two rationales that have been provided in favour of this legislation. The first is that people effectively become adults or capable of adult actions before they reach the age of 18 and therefore they ought to be permitted to vote, which of course is an action where one requires a certain level of maturity to participate in intelligently.

The second rationale is that giving people the vote at age 16 would familiarize them with the voting process, thereby raising the participation rate among those in the age 18 to 25 cohort who are currently eligible to vote but who do so at less than a 25% rate of participation.

I will address both of those arguments in turn. I must say, I think both of them are incorrect. I will address both of them in turn and then turn to some additional observations.

My response to the argument that 16 year olds are de facto adults or are capable of acting as adults would be the following. The proponents of the bill have pointed out that many of the privileges and obligations of adult life kick in before a person is 18. Surely, they argue, it is odd to allow people to engage in driving at age 16, to join the army at age 17 and to have sex with adults at age 14, all of which is permitted in Canada, and yet to withhold the right to vote.

Leaving aside the age of consent in Canada, which I think should be raised from 14, I will just point out that in most provinces in Canada, voting age adults are denied the right to drink alcohol or even to purchase cigarettes until they are 19 years old. In the United States they can vote when they are 18, but they cannot drink until they are 21. So the age at which we achieve these mileposts of maturity in adulthood vary within jurisdictions without necessarily being a sign of injustice.

I might point out that there was a time in the United States when people could only vote at the age of 21, but they could drink at 18. Now it has been reversed. I am not sure that this indicates a great injustice.

My response to the argument that giving the vote to 16 year olds would increase participation rates among 18 to 25 year old is twofold. First, I would start by agreeing that this is a genuine problem. We see declining voter turn-out rates among young voters and it appears to be a problem that is growing over time.

I would like to quote what Margaret Adsett wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Youth Studies. She said:

After the 1980 election...a consistent pattern of lower voter turnout with decreasing age emerged, and the spread in the turnout rates by age groups consistently increased. The difference in the spread was 19.5% in 1984, and it rose to 34.4% in 2000.

This is a very real and growing problem. However much of this seems to have nothing to do with voting age. Young people seem to be less involved in the political system in a variety of ways that have no relationship to the voting age and therefore are not curable by means of an adjustment to the voting age.

For example, a survey conducted in the year 2000 revealed that while 60% of Canadians of all ages, including 33% of Canadians born before the year 1943, held membership in one or another of the political parties. Only 2% of those between the ages of 18 and 27 were party members, and that is despite the fact that both the Conservative and Liberal Parties make provision for people under the age of 18 to hold party memberships.

I believe there are ways of increasing the participation rate for people in the 18 to 25 age cohort. Let me run through a few of those.

One thing that the Chief Electoral Officer has already started to do, the results of which cannot be felt until the next election, was to conduct a series of student votes at high schools across the country in the year 2004, including seven or eight high schools in my own constituency and many hundreds of others across the country. The purpose of this was to familiarize 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds with what it is like to participate in an election, thereby preparing them for the next election, when they are old enough to vote.

I think that was a profitable measure. It is now in place and it probably deserves to be expanded to a wider selection of high schools across the country.

My hon. colleague from Ajax—Pickering pointed out that people who are 18 have typically moved away from home and are difficult to register to vote. He has suggest that we try to register them while they are still at home.

The obvious solution to this is to have another enumeration. We used to enumerate in Canada and register those people despite the fact they moved away from home. If we simply reintroduce the enumeration system, which, frankly, we need to take care of all the adult voters who are being left off the voters list, this would do much, not merely to capture younger voters and cause them to vote in increased numbers, but also to ensure that people of all ages who are currently being left off the voters list are being captured and therefore able to participate in greater numbers than is currently occurring. Of course voter participation rates are declining in all age groups.

We frequently talk about European countries where there are higher voter participation rates than in Canada or in the United States. Typically, in Europe elections occur on weekends rather than on weekdays as in North America. Simply changing the day of the week on which elections are conducted would boost voter participation rates or indeed holding elections over a two day period rather than simply one.

The greater availability of advance polls, particularly the greater widespread geographic availability of advance polls would have a significant impact as well. As someone who represents a rural riding, I am very conscious of just how important this really is.

Finally, I want to turn to another issue which is to look around the world. I am a comparative historian. I always do this when I look at any policy. What do other countries and other jurisdictions do? What can we learn from them? We can learn that the practice of lowering the minimum voting age below 18 is not a very common practice. There are no major democracies in the world in which the voting age starts below the age of 18. None of the great democracies of the Commonwealth and British common law tradition have a voting age below the age of 18: not Canada, of course, nor any of our 13 provinces and territories; not the United States or any of its 50 states; not Australia or any of its six states and several territories; not the United Kingdom or any of its devolved regions; not India or any of its mini states; not any of the dozen or so Commonwealth democracies in the Caribbean. The same is true for every democracy in continental Europe and Latin America. When we add to this the many thousands of local jurisdictions in Canada, the United States, Australia and elsewhere, none of which allow voting below the age of 18, I think the trend is apparent.

However voting is permitted at age 15 in Iran and in Brazil, according to my colleague from Ajax—Pickering, and also in Nicaragua, Cyprus and Cuba, although how much a vote in Castro's Cuba is worth is an open question. I would like to see some evidence from Canada's own municipal and provincial experience to indicate what voting at age 16 is actually like and what its implications are before jumping in at the federal level.

In the United States the states have been referred to as the laboratories of democracy. In Canada I would like to see us experiment with any such innovations at lower levels of government before we adopt them at the level where the stakes are the highest. This has been the process in the past with various electoral reforms, changes to the first past the post system, referendums, recall and the various other types of innovations in democracy. It would be profitable for us to start there in Canada as well and for that reason I will be recommending to members of Parliament that they vote against Bill C-261.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-261, introduced by our Liberal colleague, which calls for the voting age to be reduced to 16 years.

I would like to situate this in context. In Quebec, the age was dropped from 21 years to 18 in 1963. In Canada, the first election in which anyone under the age of 21 could vote was held in 1972. So, the question of lowering the voting age to 16 years has been raised regularly for about 20 years. This is what one might call an ongoing debate with periodic recurrences.

In February 2001 and in 2003, two NDP members introduced bills similar to Bill C-261, which we have before us today. Theirs did not, however, differentiate between the age for voters and the age for candidates. Under the parliamentary rules of the day, neither bill was votable.

I would like to take this opportunity to properly present the two opposing points of view. There are a number of debates here in this House, not only those that confront party differences or the differences between us sovereignists and the other members of this House who are federalist. In this case, since this is an important issue and can trigger debate, there will be arguments for and arguments against. Anyway, there is no such thing as unanimity of thought or magical thought on this earth.

I would like to start by illustrating certain points in favour of this reform. Other colleagues have already spoken on this. It is being argued that this measure could get young people more involved in politics. A recent study suggests that people who start voting early keep on voting throughout their lives. It is presumed that young people would have their first contact with politics when still in school, which would help prepare them for later life, through such things as civic courses.

On the other hand, reference is made to certain inconsistencies between our present system, with the Elections Act stipulating that the minimum voting age is 18 years, and other legislation that contains age restrictions. I would like to point out some of these inconsistencies.

Among other things, at 17, one can enroll in the army and go off to war. At 16, one can drive a car. Everyone will agree that these are actions with potentially more serious consequences than one individual's vote. At 16, at the wheel of a car, one can endanger someone else's life as well as one's own. At 16, a young person can decide to leave school. At 14, one has the right to work, and with a high enough income, the duty to pay taxes. At 14—16 in Quebec—a young offender may be charged in adult court. At 14 in Quebec, a teenager has the right to consent to receive or refuse medical care, with one anomaly in the jurisprudence: a court may order a 14-year-old to take medical treatment. At 14 one can marry.

Those who say that the right to vote should be extended to 16-year-olds consider it a question of fairness, and ask the following question, more or less: why do informed and motivated young people of 16 not have the right to vote when poorly informed and uninterested adults do?

On the flip side are those people who have quite the opposite opinion. They tell us that comparing the right to vote to other rights shows there is a problem with the age of criminal liability and that to use responsibility at an early age would be to approve a reduction a priori. We have to look at how all this fits in the Young Offenders Act. The Bloc Québécois was against lowering the age of criminal liability.

There is another aspect. Before the age of 18, the contractual liability of a minor is limited. Does lowering the voting age have an impact on contractual liability? Should this be amended in any way?

Although it is possible to do so, we know that until the age of 18 is reached, parental consent is required for marriage and enlisting in the army. Earlier we heard that a minor is not treated as an adult when receiving medical attention. Also, you have to be 18 to buy cigarettes or alcohol. What about the right to vote? Is there a link between these legal provisions?

In a way, the right to vote marks the arrival at the age of majority, when all restrictions related to being under age are lifted. To those who oppose I ask, how do you reconcile allowing a person the right to vote when he cannot enjoy all the other rights and freedoms?

Some observers or specialists argue that youth under 16 are not mature or knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision. I admit that this argument advocates the elitist concept of the right to vote. As far as I am concerned, I am not prepared to equate 16 years of age with a lack of maturity, because we all know of someone, regardless of their age, who still has not achieved maturity. Let us be clear. We must avoid making a direct link between age and maturity. There are young people, 16 or 17, who are perfectly mature.

Young people themselves do not seem convinced. In fact, according to a November 2004 poll, approximately 37% of young Canadians and Quebeckers aged 14 to 17 say they are interested in politics. However, 50% of them would like to have their say. Furthermore, 50% believe that lowering the voting age to 16 is a good idea, while the other 50% believe the opposite.

I have illustrated that the two opinions are diametrically opposed and balanced. There is support and opposition.

However, a vast majority of young people, 76%, state that they would travel to vote if they had the right. However, in the most recent federal election, voter turnout among young people between the ages of 18 to 21 was 38.7%, compared to 60.9% for Canada overall.

I have the following question: do we know for sure that lowering the voting age would mean higher voter turnout among young people? I think this is difficult to prove.

I am running out of time, but I could have mentioned the March 2003 reform of democratic institutions, on which Claude Béland submitted his report containing various recommendations including keeping the voting age at 18. I could have talked too about the fact that, in the vast majority of countries around the world, the voting age is 18 and that polled countries where the voting age is 15 or 16 are, in some cases, ones where the word democracy has to be written in quotation marks.

In closing, there is no magic solution. I believe that the debate needs to continue in this institution called Parliament. If the House of Commons approves this legislation at this stage, in my opinion, the appropriate committee, which is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, should seriously consider this issue, hear witnesses and report back to the House on this bill.