House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was million.


Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Burlington Ontario


Paddy Torsney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Delegation of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

This report concerns the participation of members in the 111th assembly and related meetings of the Interparliamentary Union held in Geneva, Switzerland, from September 28 to October 1, 2004.

I hope all members will avail themselves of the report with regard to the issues that were raised and the participation of members from all parties of the House who worked diligently on behalf of Canada and Canadians and distinguished themselves once again.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology in relation to Bill C-9, an act to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to present 13 petitions on behalf of the people of Saskatoon--Rosetown--Biggar and citizens across Canada, stating: “We the undersigned citizens of Canada draw the attention of the House to the following: whereas marriage defined as the lifelong union between one man and one woman is--

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. The hon. member for Saskatoon--Rosetown--Biggar knows that she cannot read the petition. She can only give us a summary. I can tell from the “whereas” that the hon. member is reading. She has stepped over the line. I know she will want to give us a brief summary of the petition.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. My constituents pray that Parliament defines and uses the traditional definition of marriage when it makes its final statement on the issue.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.


Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure and privilege for me to rise, as I have been doing almost daily, to present yet another petition on behalf of my constituents of Prince George--Peace River. These citizens are from Dawson Creek, a small city in the southern part of my riding on the Peace River side.

They wish to draw to the attention of the House of Commons that marriage is the best foundation for families and the raising of children. They note that in June 1999 a motion was passed in the House that called for marriage to continue to be recognized as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Therefore, the petitioners call upon Parliament to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present several hundred petitions from my riding and all across Canada. These petitioners are aware that the majority of Canadians support the current legal definition of marriage and the voluntary union of a single male and a single female.

They petition Parliament to use all possible legislative and administrative measures, including invoking section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the notwithstanding clause, to preserve and protect the traditional and the current definition of marriage as between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I am aware that we as members cannot personally support petitions we present but if we were, the House knows I would.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition that expresses the view that marriage should be protected and remain as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table a petition signed by the employees and pensioners of the Atlas Stainless Steels smelter and the members of the Sorel-Tracy community, who want to inform the House that the possible closure of the smelter would jeopardize 400 direct jobs, 1,200 indirect jobs and $34 million in wages in the regional economy, and mean a 25% to 30% drop in pension benefits.

Consequently, the petitioners are demanding that all levels of government intervene to ensure the recovery of the Atlas Stainless Steels smelter and support for the pension plan.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


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

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

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed from February 23 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Stephen Harper ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, this is the 11th consecutive Liberal budget since 1993 after four elections, and it is that finance minister's second budget but the first budget since the last general election. I have to say what a difference a minority makes. It is true, after all, that the prospect of a hanging in the morning does focus the mind.

It was, I have to say, quite touching yesterday to see members of the government gleefully applauding measures that only during the election campaign they denounced as half-baked and downright dangerous. One thing has not changed: there are still two federal Liberal parties, the one that campaigns on certain promises and the one that governs on something else.

During the election we told Canadians that the Liberals were hiding massive surpluses. They said we were just being fiscally reckless. Yesterday all those surpluses miraculously appeared.

We all know, of course, the famous projected numbers that last year's surplus would be $1.9 billion and it turned out to be $9.1 billion. In the debate during the election campaign I will not forget the moment when the Prime Minister turned to me and said that he knew the numbers. It turns out he knew the numbers, he just did not know their order.

The message should not be lost. Put simply, the government, as managers and custodians of our money, lied to the Canadian population during a national election campaign and we in the Conservative Party were telling Canadians the truth.

Our platform, which the Liberals criticized as being fiscally irresponsible, committed to over $50 billion in new spending and tax reductions over five years, the number the Prime Minister called dangerous. The Liberals have now committed exactly the same amount. Last June that $50 billion was a scary, black hole but now it is all sweetness and light. The black hole has become a veritable fountain of bright ideas.

What was clearly unaffordable and liberalized during the election is now presented as being unavoidable.

We should not believe for a moment that this kind of deception of falsification of the state of public finances comes without a cost. These kinds of numbers and this kind of fudging represents missed opportunities, as does much of this budget, opportunities that will not necessarily present themselves again.

For instance, these hidden hordes of money have allowed the government to indulge over the last decade in countless off-budget initiatives, initiatives poorly conceived, poorly planned and poorly executed, resulting in the worst incidence of waste mismanagement and scandal in our country's history.

I remind the House of the HRDC boondoggle, the gun registry, the GST rebate mismanagement, unaccountable foundations and, of course, the sponsorship scandal. For Canadians this means lost opportunities for themselves and their families. For government it means a smaller revenue stream, which threatens our ability to provide well into the future the quality of social services Canadians deserve and have come to rely on.

The astronomical surpluses amassed and hidden by the federal government are also the source of a dangerous fiscal imbalance. This imbalance is creating great tension within the Canadian federation.

While the provinces are struggling to fund the health care, infrastructure and educational programs the public is demanding, the federal government is hiding billions of dollars, which it does not even know what to do with.

This problem is still here and is even getting worse. We will continue to dog the government tirelessly on this issue and we impatiently await the report of the parliamentary committee we struck, against the wishes of the Liberal government, to study this problem. We will continue to defend open federalism and fight the dominating and paternalistic federalism of the federal Liberals.

I want to begin my analysis of the budget by focusing on the things that we like. Some of the tax reduction measures in the budget are measures that this party has been fighting for continuously over the past several years. While they are tardy and timid measures, they are the direct result of pressure that has been put on the government by Conservative members.

I know the government would like to take the credit and be complimented on some of these measures, and it does deserve some commendation, but, in fairness, commendation should also be given directly to members of the House who have long argued for these measures. For instance, the budget does contain tax reductions to business. However it should not be forgotten that for years there has been no stronger advocate of corporate tax cuts and tax reduction for business than our finance critic, the member for Medicine Hat.

There are some personal tax reduction measures, especially the raising of the personal exemption which most benefits low income Canadians, a measure which by necessity reduces the taxes of all Canadians. I have to point out that this has been advocated for some years by members of this party, including my predecessor, but advocated by someone who actually did this when he was the provincial treasurer in the province of Alberta, and that is the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla.

Finally there is the removal of the completely unnecessary and counterproductive jewellery tax, a special excise tax on jewellery, a position that has been strongly advocated by our member for Vancouver Island North.

This budget talks about benefits for agricultural cooperatives. A member of our caucus, who has not yet been elected, lobbied hard for the dividend exemption for agricultural cooperatives, which the government has finally implemented. I am talking about future member of Parliament Josée Verner.

When it comes to adoption expenses, which finally have been dealt with in the budget, nobody was more persistent over the years than the member for Prince George—Peace River.

When I look at the new announcements in the budget, they almost all come from the Conservative platform: tax reductions and spending increases for the Canadian military.

We have to tell Canadians that the spending increases are half of what the government claims they are and are far from what will be needed in the long term. However, for at least taking this step forward, credit has to go to a long line of Conservative defence advocates from both of our predecessor parties, to whom today's defence critic takes no back seat, and that is the hon. member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills.

All of these Conservative members in the House have done what Conservatives have consistently done. They have endured countless slurs and taunts for defending principles and ideals which government members now want to embrace at the last minute as their own. They have done this, not just with these measures, but historically in the not so recent past with issues like low inflation, the reform in the GST and with free trade. The Conservative Party will always stand up for principles ahead of their time and will always push government members to do what is right, even if we have to fight them to take the credit.

Even the proposals we like in the budget are inadequate or uncertain, for example, the increases in National Defence. None of the new money can paper over the fact that the government still has no actual plan for National Defence. It has no record of competent management. It has no history of emphasizing its importance. It has started in the budget with exaggerating and double counting the size of the actual increase. This is an unfortunate approach to the most serious of public policy matters.

September 11, 2001 should have reminded the government that we live in a dangerous world, a world in which armed forces are not only the strongest instrument of national defence and internal security, but also the clearest expression of sovereignty and international influence.

We have seen the indisputable deterioration of our military readiness and capability under the Liberal government, a deterioration so tragically symbolized by the sad events on board the HMCS Chicoutimi , a deterioration which, until the circumstances of this minority government, the Liberal government was absolutely determined to perpetuate into the future.

Our equipment is continuing to decline and properly equipped personnel continuing to shrink. Today, Canada's defence spending, as a percentage of our economy, ranks among the lowest in NATO. Our reach, our credibility and our prestige as peacekeepers have been as severely tarnished by government neglect as our combat capability. Currently, Canada is part of no less than 17 peacekeeping missions, the government likes to tell us, but the vast majority of these missions exist only on paper, some of them deploying less than 10 soldiers.

Today, Canada ranks 34th among the countries taking part in UN peacekeeping activities, the same ranking as Togo.

Our DART have to rent aircraft to deploy to parts of the world in urgent need of assistance. We do not yet know if the moneys in the budget will address the need for heavy lift capacity or the need to modernize the equipment our forces use.

We are pleased to see a commitment to recruit 5,000 frontline troops, but how will they be equipped? What will they do? We learned last week that our present shrinking forces have not even been able to get the government to put adequate boots on their feet.

Only time will tell whether Canada can actually recruit, train and equip those men and women we have often put in harm's way in the interests of international peace and security.

For more than 10 years, the federal Liberals have neglected and ignored our armed forces and now they are showing some repentance, albeit delayed. Rebuilding our armed forces is, however, a lengthy process. On this, as in all areas that come under federal jurisdiction, our party will be more vigilant than every. We are all too familiar with the impermanence of Liberal promises.

I have expressed some satisfaction with the new moneys for our armed forces, as we have obviously in this party, but Canadians can count on us to watch carefully, to press the government to develop a plan and to ensure it actually delivers on the promises it has made.

If we are somewhat in the dark on the government's defence plans, our view is crystal clear compared to many other initiatives in the budget, beginning with the Kyoto accord.

Last Wednesday the Kyoto accord finally came into effect, and the government is now committed to meeting its targets. In the budget we see the government setting aside another $5 billion for nebulous environmental purposes, but we know there is no plan for meeting our commitments.

The government is still contemplating buying hot air from other countries, many with worse environmental records than Canada, instead of actually reducing air pollution in this country. This is perhaps the worst environmental and economic proposal that has ever been placed before us. We in this party will never support the purchase of hot air credits from other countries.

I believe that on the Kyoto accord more and more Canadians are coming to realize there is no chance whatsoever that we will make the commitments the government has signed on to without inflicting grievous harm on our economy. Frankly, they increasingly wonder why we would do that when it would not improve Canadian or global air quality.

Eight years have passed since the government started specifically identifying spending budgets dealing with Kyoto commitments. What do we have? We have set aside $3.7 billion since 1997 for environmental initiatives. What has happened with the money? All we know is that some $658 million has not even been allocated to anything, while $1.2 billion remains unspent, sitting in some bank account. After eight years, the government still cannot bring forward a plan. It cannot even spend the money it has already allocated.

Everyone acknowledges the importance, the urgency even, of protecting the environment, but this will never be accomplished by allocating billions to unachievable and unclear objectives.

I point out that this pattern is repeated in much of the budget. Blocks of money have been set aside for grand purposes, but there are no actual proposals or plans in most cases to achieve them. The House should not think for a second, while we may let this budget pass, that we will support the government's implementation plans for these initiatives if indeed they ever materialize.

The government's non-existent child care program is one such initiative. The minister lectures Canadian women on families on what they should want. He had it all figured out in the 1960s and now he will finally do it. Canadians have moved on, parents have moved on and they want choice. We will oppose any scheme that funnels money into buildings and bureaucracies when it should go directly into tax assistance for Canadian parents and their children.

The same remark applies to the municipalities and infrastructure: no plan is in place as yet. We in the Conservative Party are going to insist that the federal government respect provincial jurisdictions. Without a commitment to that, we will oppose any and all federal intervention.

I have been and will be frank with Canadians on my assessment of this budget, and the backdrop of this should be clear. We are only eight months from the last election. We, and I believe all opposition parties, have tried to make this Parliament work and I can point to a number of advancements and achievements in this regard.

However, it is ultimately up to the official opposition to make the judgment on whether it is time and whether it is appropriate to force an election. In my judgment, Canadians do not want two elections in one year, and it is not in the national interest to do so unless it were overwhelmingly obvious that we must do so. That does not exist at this time, but I point out to the government that the standard it has had to exceed here is not very high. The budget, while it will get the government through the spring, does not give any confidence to us in its ability to lead the country into the future.

Perhaps most troublesome about the government is its unwillingness once again in this budget to come clean on its surpluses and to allow proper debate about the size and uses of this money. I said already, in last year's budget 2004 the government projected a budgetary surplus of $1.9 billion for fiscal year 2003-04, which was off a magnitude of four, a year that was scheduled to end only eight days after the budget was presented. We know the actual result, but we did not learn the truth until the fall of 2004. As a result, not only was Parliament misled and unable to debate the use of public funds, but more serious, the Canadian people were systematically misled and lied to in a national election campaign.

In budget 2004 the plan was for a surplus of $4 billion for 2004-05. Now the government tells us the surplus is close, that it will actually be $3 billion. This is only after front-loading nearly $3 billion allocated to Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia for the offshore promises the Prime Minister tried to wiggle out of, and after $5 billion was set aside without any plan or any proposal or any debate in more special funds. In other words, the real surplus for 2004-05 is closer to $11 billion, not $3 billion.

Since 1997, the government has understated its surpluses by a whopping $63 billion, and there is absolutely no end in sight to this practice. Now in this budget the government tells us the surplus for this coming year of 2005-06 will be only $4 billion, but how can anybody trust these people anymore?

The Auditor General as recently as last week told Parliament that:

Since 1997, the government has transferred more than $9 billion to various foundations in advance of need, and $7.7 billion is still sitting in their bank accounts.

And the Liberals did it again yesterday. Why can this money not be returned to Canadians in the form of lower taxes?

We are also concerned about the rate at which the government plans to increase spending, that is 7% for the next few years. We have past experience with the results of unplanned spending, when this government spend without any specific plan, without the knowledge of Parliament, and without the slightest respect for the most basic accounting practices.

While the government fudges and fiddles with the numbers, Canada still faces the challenges of the real world, and as a nation the government is not responding on our behalf. We have seen the Canadian dollar soar to new highs, causing difficulties for our exporters, not because our productivity has increased but because the prices of our raw materials has risen, and this creates great challenges that the budget simply papers over.

While the government continues to dither, our competitors are not standing still. China is a growing force, not only as a consumer of our raw materials but also as a competitor in manufacturing, in textiles for example. China is also becoming a magnet for international investment. Canada is not prepared to deal with the situation and the urgency is building.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

I might mention what occurred during the Prime Minister's visit to China. President Bush managed to persuade the Chinese to put voluntary restrictions on their textiles in the U.S. but our Prime Minister refused to follow suit. Without a shared commitment with the U.S., we do not have the power to do the same.

We continue to dole out massive foreign aid to China. While we face these challenges of China as a new competitor, we continue to dole out foreign aid to it, to a global military and economic superpower. Now we see that China wants to buy some of our companies which leads me to this question. Will some day China buy some of our biggest natural resource companies with CIDA money?

What about the United States, the country the Prime Minister does not see? While he travels all around the world, changing his tune daily on missile defence, trying to assemble some kind of G-20 organization, he ignores the G-2, the largest economic relationship in the history of the world, the relationship between the United States of America and Canada. We will not always be able to piggyback on the United States. In fact, our free trade efforts have stalled. We see across the country disputes and obstacles to free trade rising, whether it is lobsters in Yarmouth, or flowers in the Niagara Peninsula or disputes with agriculture and softwood lumber that have only become worse.

The United States has its own challenges on fiscal and trade deficits, and without new emphasis on strengthening our relationship, we can be sure that the resolution of these problems is more likely to harm Canada than to help us.

There is no country in the world that would not be delighted to have the United States as a neighbour and economic partner. This government, however, appears to be unwilling, or unable, to take advantage of this economic relationship, the most productive of any in the world.

A few statistics do back up our contention that it is time for a major change. It is in fact time for a bold budget, not just time for the minority compromise we have seen in this Parliament.

During the past 40 years Canada's GDP per worker has remained little changed compared with that of the United States. We remain stuck at about 85% of the American level. Unprecedented in our history over the past decade or so, our standard of living relative to the Americans' has declined. For a nation that has endured numerous innovation, competitiveness and productivity programs from the federal Liberals, we have precious little to show for it. We are where we were 40 years ago.

As the Conference Board of Canada put it last week, “Lest any Canadian think that the productivity gap is irrelevant, it more than accounts for the income gap of $6,078 per Canadian”. Having a family of four with some $24,000 a year less income to spend than it would have in the United States is nothing to celebrate.

Unemployment rates in this country are stuck well above those of our American neighbours. This has persisted for a quarter of a century. It was not always this way. Back in the early 1970s Canadian and American unemployment rates were the same. Ours were often even lower and now they are locked into a gap that should be unacceptable to the government and unacceptable to Canadians. It is unacceptable to this party.

The TD Bank pointed out recently that Canadians' purchasing power has risen only 0.24% a year over the period of the Liberal government. In other words, Canadian living standards and disposable income have not risen at all.

This is my problem with the federal government and with the Prime Minister. I got into partisan federal politics originally because I wanted to see something done about the federal deficit. So many Canadians wanted to see something done about it.

The reason we wanted to see something done with the federal deficit was not so the federal government could hoard Canadians' money and waste it on its pet projects. We wanted to see it for the benefit of Canadians. That has not happened. That is only going to happen when Canadians get rid of the present government and its irresponsibility.

There are other challenges that are not addressed in the budget. There is still no national securities regulator, no plan for a discussion, no plan on how to proceed with something which virtually the entire business community in this country has been demanding. There is no plan on how we are going to deal with the issue of bank mergers which is not going to go away.

Equally ominous with regard to our future productivity is the fact we are no longer getting our fair share of foreign direct investment. In fact we have been experiencing a net outflow. Sadly, too many Canadians and Canadian businesses see better opportunities elsewhere. There is little prospect of reversing this trend unless and until there are major changes in tax policy affecting the Canadian business investment environment.

The tax cutting measures brought forward in the budget, all of which we have supported and will support strongly, should nevertheless be bolder and they should be implemented sooner. They are affordable. In fact we cannot afford not to do them. We must get on with them.

High marginal tax rates should have been addressed in the budget. They have not been, especially for people like researchers and medical professionals whom this country is trying to attract and trying to keep. Effective marginal tax rates have hit an astounding 80% for lower income Canadians faced with clawback provisions on key social benefits.

Do we need any more evidence that we need strong tax reduction and a tax overhaul? We wanted to see the capital tax eliminated in the budget. It is a job killer. It has no place in the Canadian tax system and it should be gone before the planned phase-out in 2007.

The evidence is clear that the effective business tax rate in this country remains well above that of the United States. The C.D. Howe Institute has stated that Canada's effective tax rate on capital is 31.5%, substantially higher than in the United States where it is 20.1%. Our business tax rates are not competitive with those in the United States, period, and will not be even after the reductions in this budget.

Countries such as Ireland and Australia have moved aggressively on tax reduction for business and individuals. They have shown the benefits. They are bringing in investment. They are bringing in new revenues. They are moving forward both in terms of their economy and their social services. This country should be able to do the same. We should have the richest country in the world, not one just struggling to maintain its place.

Let me conclude by saying that a budget is one of the most serious and solemn acts a democratic and responsible government can make. Even in a minority government context, a budget should not be just about ensuring the survival of the government or the triumph of the party. It must be about ensuring our future prosperity as a country, our success as an economy, and our security as a society. It must be the expression of a vision.

Sadly, there is no such vision in this budget. Avoiding an immediate hanging is one thing. Expressing a vision for the future is another.

The government may avoid being defeated in the House, but it cannot avoid being criticized. Our duty as an official opposition is not to keep the government in power, or to defeat it, but to ensure that it is serving the interests of Canadians.

There are many things in this budget that we do not like. There are many others we would like to have seen that are not there. Many problems that could have been addressed in this budget were not, such as income support for our farmers and rural economy, the long gun registry, the unaccountable funds in foundations. Passage of this budget does not mean the days to debate and challenge the government on those measures will not come very soon.

Many of the positive steps taken by the Liberals in this budget do not go far enough or occur fast enough to have a substantial impact on the well-being of Canadians. Most of the money for child care, for gas tax transfers to the cities, and for climate change is delayed until the end of the decade, and there is absolutely no plan in place on how to actually spend it anyway.

As I have said, we will not defeat the government at this time. In this budget the government is following the Conservative Party's lead on some areas that are important to Canadians. It is moving forward on tax relief, on defence and support for caregivers. We will continue to hold the Liberals to account where spending is unfocused and wasteful.

At a time in world affairs when decisive and determined action is needed especially on the economic front, I believe that the Canadian government is in fact dithering. It is dithering on living standards. It is dithering on productivity in the Canadian dollar. It is dithering on taxes, dithering on the environment, dithering on infrastructure, dithering on child care, dithering on foreign policy, dithering on bank mergers, dithering on management and accountability, dithering on out of control programs like the gun registry, dithering on aboriginal issues. I could go on and on. The Liberals are playing for time. They are simply dithering with our future.

When the times comes, and it will, this party will be ready to give Canadians new pride in their past and new confidence in their future.

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That the motion be amended by adding after the word “government” the following:

but however regrets that the budget does not reflect Conservative principles since it fails to immediately implement the proposed tax reductions for Canadians; proposes spending to implement the fatally flawed Kyoto accord instead of addressing real environmental issues; contemplates massive spending on a bureaucratic child care program instead of delivering child care dollars directly to parents; makes no commitment to the agriculture sector and rural Canada to provide aid at a time when Canada's regions need it most; does not eliminate the wasteful spending on the long gun registry; does not immediately provide adequate resources for Canada's military, so that our armed forces can become fully combat capable as well as equipped for peacekeeping duties; continues to place billions of dollars in foundations and trusts contrary to the express recommendations of the Auditor General; and indulges in a massive increase in bureaucratic spending.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Speaker

The question is on the amendment.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, in fact the debate is not really on the amendment, because it is quite clear that, if the Bloc Québécois supported it, there would not be enough Conservatives to vote for fear of triggering an election. Let us therefore debate the budget itself.

To begin with, I will say to you that the budget tabled yesterday by the Minister of Finance is, in its current form, totally unacceptable to Quebec.

The main characteristic of this budget is indeed that it totally ignores Quebec, and in fact is contrary to the interests and aspirations of Quebec.

Michel Audet, the Quebec finance minister, was critical yesterday of the fact that the budget does nothing to correct the fiscal imbalance. Mario Dumont and Bernard Landry had the same reaction. René Roy, of the FTQ, thinks that this budget sidesteps the real problems of Quebec, as do Claudette Charbonneau of the CSN, Réjean Parent of the CSQ and François Vaudreuil of the CSD.

The president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, Pier-André Bouchard, speaks of a lack of vision. François Saillant, of the FRAPRU, speaks of failure to respect the commitments of the Liberal Party. The President of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Isabelle Hudon, speaks of a bad budget on the whole.

The verdict is clear. This budget runs counter to the interests of Quebeckers.

I can now affirm that, if the government does not seize the opportunity to amend its budget, the 54 members of the Bloc Québécois will vote against this budget and will be present in the House to vote against this budget.

The government has chosen to completely ignore the most urgent problem, the fiscal imbalance. Yet no one in Canada is unaware that the federal government is swimming in budget surpluses. And neither is anyone unaware that Quebec and the provinces are having difficulty funding health, education, social programs, municipal infrastructures, roads, research, regional economic development and so many other of their responsibilities.

In short, no one is unaware that the money is in Ottawa while the needs are in Quebec and the provinces. Responsibilities that are crucial for the future of Quebec, and of Canada. No one is unaware that the money is in Ottawa and that that money comes from people's pockets.

In choosing deliberately to ignore the fiscal imbalance, this budget is a slap in the face to all the elected officials of the National Assembly, and hence to the population of Quebec. On Monday, Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, said that the fiscal imbalance had not been resolved. Allow me to quote him:

The proof of this is that the federal government continues to swim in surpluses while Quebec struggles to balance its budget.

And he continues:

Thanks to the fiscal imbalance, the federal government's spending power has become a power to intrude in the fields of provincial jurisdiction.

The man who is saying this is an ardent federalist. The budget tabled yesterday is an eloquent demonstration of this reality.

The reality is that this “serious structural problem”, to use the words of Quebec intergovernmental affairs minister Benoît Pelletier, and I quote him:

—suggests a prospect not favourable to the affirmation of Quebec.

Quebeckers pay their fair share of income tax and they want their national government, which is the Government of Quebec, to be able to assume all of its responsibilities.

That is all Bernard Landry and Mario Dumont are saying. That is all I am saying. Henri Massé and Claudette Charbonneau are saying the same thing, as are Yves Séguin and Michel Audet, the Quebec finance minister.

A survey published yesterday made it very clear that Quebeckers share this point of view. In fact, the only persons who continue to deny reality are the members of this government. Quebeckers want their national government, the Government of Quebec, to collect the largest share of income taxes.

Quebeckers want the federal government to stop its intrusions and they want it to give back Quebec's money. The situation is worse under this Prime Minister's government than it was under Jean Chrétien's, and that is saying something.

Not only does the Prime Minister refuse to keep his promise to improve relations between the federal government and Quebec, but he does things totally contrary to what he has promised.

With this budget, the government increases its intrusions. An intrusion, for those who do not know, is defined as the act of entering without invitation a space, a society or a group. That is exactly what this government does as it constantly meddles in Quebec's exclusive jurisdictions, when nobody has invited it.

At present, Quebec has a federalist government. Even that government, which is ready to defend Canadian federalism at all costs, has found it necessary to stand with the other members of the National Assembly to denounce this situation.

While it intrudes more and more, the federal government also maintains its financial stranglehold on Quebec. After 10 years of uninterrupted growth and zero deficits, Quebec is still in a fragile financial situation, and that is the work of the Prime Minister, who is the father of the fiscal imbalance.

The Prime Minister may well refuse to admit paternity, but he cannot hide it. He had a golden opportunity to resolve the fiscal imbalance. He has refused to do so. I offer him another opportunity to do so with our amendment.

I remind him that Quebec has 200 elected representatives, 125 in the National Assembly in Quebec City and 75 in the House of Commons. Of these 200 Quebec representatives, there are 179 who agree with the conclusions of the Séguin report on the fiscal imbalance; there are 179 who agree on the solutions needed; there are only 21 who are blocking Quebec's path; those are the 21 federal Liberal members from Quebec; the 21 federal Liberal MPs, including the Prime Minister, are the ones working against the basic interests of Quebec.

Today, we deeply regret that the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party have the same attitude to Quebec. I invite all Quebeckers not to forget that this government, led by this Prime Minister, has refused to make any compromise on this issue and that the leader of the opposition has already forgotten his promises to defend Quebec's interests.

The Minister of Finance points out that this budget covers five years rather than two, as is usually the case. This is especially arrogant, given that this is a minority government, which is very likely to disappear well before its promises can actually materialize. The government is laughing at Canadians, giving virtually nothing the first year, crumbs the second and the whole kit and caboodle in the years after. It is a bluff, it is a snow job.

Once again, we have the Prime Minister's little masquerade of underestimating the budget surpluses. This is intellectual dishonesty, and no one is fooled. This year, he is piling it on with his inflated promises over five years. If the government thinks that it can manage to stay in power for five years with this kind of budget, it is dreaming in technicolor.

The worst thing, though, is the government's insensitivity to workers. It has diverted tens of billions of dollars from the employment insurance fund over the past few years. In doing so, it has violated the spirit of the act, as the Auditor General has stressed repeatedly.

The members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and Status of Persons with Disabilities, including the Liberal members, agreed to recommend to the government that an independent fund be created to put an end to this institutionalized diversion of funds. But once again, the Prime Minister has missed an opportunity to end an injustice. Once again, the government is obstinately rejecting common sense.

In the meantime, the government announces a tiny reform to employment insurance. As a supposed change, it is a real insult to workers. The government announces $300 million a year and then turns around and says it is going to continue excluding hundreds of thousands of working people who have contributed. It is announcing pilot projects, so it says, but what it is really announcing is that the regions will continue to suffer.

The government must understand, once and for all, that the discriminatory requirement whereby people entering the work force must accumulate 910 hours—now 840—in order to access the system is just driving young people out of the regions of Quebec.

The problem will not be solved by slightly relaxing the stringency of this discriminatory measure. The Prime Minister must know that his government is part of the reason for the exodus of young people.

The government must also realize that the globalization of trade and competition from China are killing our manufacturing industries. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs over the past few years, and many of them have a very hard time finding another. The need for a program to help older workers has never been so great as it is today. But the government just ignores these workers, most of whom have contributed for years and years to employment insurance. Finally, the government could have put an end to what seasonal workers call the “gap”.

I do not dare even imagine what this government would have done had it had a majority. The Prime Minister really does not have his priorities straight. How can this government refuse to help working people while swimming in budget surpluses? How can it spend $12 billion on defence and refuse to do justice to seasonal workers, to older workers and to women, who have been paying into employment insurance? How can the government be ready to make a gift of hundreds of millions of dollars to the oil industry while refusing to help workers in the regions of Quebec? How can the Prime Minister be prepared to allow companies to use tax havens and his own family company to save more than $100 million in taxes while refusing to correct a huge injustice in the employment insurance system?

The Liberals, we will recall, have made all kinds of promises about employment insurance before elections, but have always reneged on them.

In the early 1990s, I took to the streets of Montreal in 20 below temperatures, along with tens of thousands of other people, to demonstrate against the Conservative cuts to unemployment insurance. At my side was a member of Parliament from Quebec: the member for LaSalle—Émard. At that time, he claimed to be on the side of the workers and the regions of Quebec. He has turned his back on all that. He has turned his back on the workers, the regions of Quebec, and even Quebec. The Prime Minister has gone back on his word, on his responsibility for the fiscal imbalance and on his previous commitments.

He wrote the 1993 Liberal red book promising to fund social housing. Despite repeated commitments from the government, not a cent was earmarked for social housing in yesterday's budget.

The Liberal government could have taken advantage of this budget to announce its intention to settle the parental leave issue with Quebec. Tens of thousands of workers currently do not have access to the federal parental leave program. The Government of Quebec is prepared to implement a much more accessible and generous program. How is it that the federal government is prepared, contrary to all logic and the most elementary notion of equity, to give Newfoundland and Nova Scotia billions of dollars as a gift, while refusing to hand over $275 million to the Government of Quebec for parental leave for Quebec families?

The fact is that this Prime Minister has no sense of priorities. He has no leadership. He has no judgment. Quebec families have been totally forgotten in this budget.

The budget also announces $5 billion to fund a national child care system. Why would the federal government get involved in child care? The answer is simple. The federal government is swimming in cash, as a columnist wrote this morning. The federal government is swimming in money and it is taking advantage of that to intrude more and more. If the federal government has more money than it knows what to do with, we have suggestions to offer.

The government should just transfer the money for child care to the Government of Quebec and not meddle with day care needlessly creating yet again standards, overlap, discord and a great deal of bureaucracy.

Quebeckers should know that $1 billion a year means $230 million for Quebec, which is less than 15% of what the Government of Quebec spends on child care. Quebec wants to be left alone to take care of its own business and for this government to transfer Quebeckers' money to the Government of Quebec. The Bloc Québécois also calls on the government to give Quebec its entire share of the funding with no strings attached.

The government has announced that it will inject billions of dollars into implementing the Kyoto protocol. Stephen Guilbeault, the Greenpeace spokesperson for Quebec, is bitterly disappointed. Once again, the government has no plan. Not only does it have no plan, but the Minister of Finance did not even utter the word “Kyoto” in his speech.

The Liberal government is going to create more bureaucracy and Canada-wide programs that are inefficient, poorly drafted and have no overall plan. The government refused to listen to the public, the environmental groups, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and even the recommendations of the OECD to amend the tax system in order to apply the polluter-pay principle.

I must say that it is discouraging to see to what extent the members of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party in this House do not understand the urgency of the situation. If it were not for the NDP and its leader, I would say that Canada is indifferent to climate change and the environment and that only the Bloc Québécois is concerned about this issue.

What does this government need to understand that the situation is dramatic and that resorting to tricks is no longer good enough. Yet, this is a critical issue, which goes beyond partisan differences. In fact, by lowering taxes for businesses without targeting these companies, the Liberal government is once again rewarding major polluters, such as oil companies. The government is showing once again that it wants to put the burden on the shoulders of ordinary citizens and let large emitters continue to pollute with impunity. No wonder Canada has the worst record among all western countries when it comes to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. If the government is sincere about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it should adopt the territorial approach, let Quebec implement its own plan and transfer Quebec's financial share unconditionally.

I am convinced that this would allow Quebec to achieve its reduction targets at less cost and with much greater economic benefits. It is not too late to make that change. As things stand, Quebec's interests are being totally ignored, and the Kyoto objectives will never be achieved. Canada is currently not assuming its responsibilities, and this fall, at the meeting of the signatories to the Kyoto accord, a shameful record is all that it will be able to show.

This year again, the government announced a significant increase in the defence budget. It is about to spend over $12.8 billion for defence and another billion of dollars for security. The reality is that the Canadian government does not have a foreign policy and it does not have a defence policy. How can it allocate billions of dollars for the army, when we do not even know what role this army will play in the future? The government has it all wrong. It hands out money first and then thinks about the army's role. It does not make any sense, and this is why we end up with submarines that do not go underwater and with helicopters that do not fly.

Also, while we are pleased with the modest increase for international aid, we must point out that, at this rate, Canada will never achieve its objective of allocating 0.7% of its GDP to international aid. In fact, this government has decided to spend four times more on defence and security than on international aid. This goes squarely against Quebeckers' wishes. And it shows once again that this indecisive Prime Minister does not have a sense of priorities.

The government is failing Quebec producers, particularly dairy farmers. This government is announcing that it will spend $30 million to recover taxes not paid by companies with foreign subsidiaries, with collections expected to total $30 million. This says a great deal about the government's willingness to stop the extensive use of tax havens. If the government wanted to, it could recover hundreds of millions of dollars. Naturally, the Prime Minister's family business would be forced to pay its taxes in Quebec and Ottawa.

The government is announcing that the guaranteed income supplement for seniors will be increased by $400 per year—over five years. This is what the government has announced.

I see that I have just one minute remaining although I would have liked to touch on a number of other issues.

In conclusion, all this clearly demonstrates that currently Quebec does not have the means to reach its full potential and control its own taxes, which is one of the essential elements of sovereignty. It comes down to this, the control of the money. We do not have control of the money.

This budget proves that it is high time Quebec once again assumed full control of its finances, and that the only way forward is sovereignty for Quebec. Sovereignty for Quebec is the only way we can solve these problems.

Consequently, I will move the following amendment to the amendment, seconded by the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot:

That all the words after the expression “does not reflect” be replaced by the following:

“the concerns of the population and therefore demands that the government resolve the fiscal imbalance, put forward a real plan that provides for the investments necessary to meet Canada's commitments on reducing greenhouse gases, and immediately implement the 28 recommendations contained in the report on employment insurance tabled by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the House on February 15, 2005.”

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11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

The debate is now on the amendment to the amendment.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance on questions and comments.

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11:10 a.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I think it is reasonable to assume that this budget will not enjoy the support of the Bloc Québécois. I suppose I cannot say that I find that of any great surprise, but really I do not know that there is any budget which would ever enjoy the support of the Bloc.

In all the years I have been here I do not think the Bloc members have ever voted in favour of any budget measures, and I believe that since its inception they have never voted in favour of any budget measures, so I suppose they are maintaining their historical pattern of not supporting anything that is in the budget.

There is really nothing that the Government of Canada could ever do that would make the Bloc happy. It persists in this fiction of a fiscal imbalance and enjoys these rhetorical flourishes about how “the needs in the provinces are here and the money is in Ottawa”, which is of course complete nonsense and a complete misunderstanding of probably the most significantly well run working federation in the world.

The other comment I have is on the forecasting. I do not know whether the hon. member noted that the forecast for this year is 2.9% of GDP growth, which is basically what all of the other forecasters, out of the consensus, forecast. The problem is that the hon. member wishes to take the higher end of the forecast and put at risk balancing the budget, so I want to know from the hon. member whether in fact he would risk the government balancing the books by taking on the higher number, which we heard this week was something in excess of $7 billion.

How does he propose to balance the government's budget in the event of an economic downturn? Does he simply want to put the government's finances at risk? Does he simply want to roll over all the money? Does he see it as the responsibility of the Government of Canada to balance the books of the provinces?

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11:15 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have a tradition of voting against the budget precisely because there is a tradition of broken promises on the other side of the House.

The parliamentary secretary is telling us that there is no such thing as a fiscal imbalance. This is a case of everybody being wrong except him. I remind him that all political parties in Quebec, all provinces and territories, all opposition parties here and 80% of Quebeckers think fiscal imbalance is a reality. He should come to Quebec and explain to Quebeckers that it does not exist. Even the Prime Minister's Quebec lieutenant, the transport minister, confessed yesterday that fiscal imbalance was synonymous with fiscal pressures. Synonymous means the same thing. Maybe the parliamentary secretary does not quite get it, but if the Liberals admit there are fiscal pressures, it means they are admitting there is a fiscal imbalance.

The parliamentary secretary also told us that we would like to drive the government into deficit. Let me tell him that we introduced an anti-deficit bill, but the Liberals voted it down.

On top of that, his budget projects a GDP increase of about 2.9%, when our projections are lower, at 2.7%, a figure that is confirmed by senior analysts in connection with the surplus. If we are saying that it is possible to achieve a balanced budget with a lower GDP increase, it is because we are not underestimating or hiding surpluses like the Liberals do. That is the problem. Everybody understands except the Liberals. This time, they are fortunate enough that the Conservatives are afraid of an election. Otherwise, we would have a field day in Quebec, after a budget like this one.

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11:15 a.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Laurier—Saint-Marie for his speech.

I take this opportunity to make a little comment for my Liberal colleague, who said that he did not think that he would see the day when the Bloc Québécois would vote in favour of the Liberal budget. For my part, I never thought that I would see the day when the Conservatives would vote in favour of the Liberal budget. I always said that the Prime Minister had always been more Conservative than Liberal. We saw this last night. Yesterday, when they left the House, the Conservatives did not even say that they would analyze the budget; they immediately announced that they would vote for it or that they would arrange to do so.

I think that the question I want to ask the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie is very important. I visited the Forestville region, where 2,500 people were in the streets. I also visited the Gaspé region, my cousins from the Gaspé Peninsula, on the other side of Chaleur Bay, who are facing the same problems as northeast New Brunswick and Newfoundland. In parliamentary committee, the Liberals voted in favour of a $2 billion budget to finally solve the problem of seasonal workers; today, they are satisfied with only $300 million allocated to this in the budget.

Could the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie tell us whether he is satisfied and if he thinks that people in the Gaspé region are satisfied? These poor workers cannot get money to feed their families, as is the case in our region. At the same time, when we look at the figures, we see that $300 million is allocated to workers who lost their jobs, as opposed to $4.6 billion in tax cuts for big corporations. This is what the budget of the Liberals and the Conservatives is all about.

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11:15 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have always said that the Liberals campaign as if they were the NDP, but that they govern like the Conservatives. We now have the proof of that.

The hon. member is talking about the people in Forestville. I was also in Forestville to meet with them. But what I regret is the contempt the transport minister had for these people on television this morning. He said that unemployed people who are reasonable and people who do not have a political agenda, like the Bloc Québécois, will find this budgetary provision wonderful. This is utter contempt. There is no such thing as a reasonable unemployed worker who is satisfied with a few crumbs. Are we to understand that those who are asking for more and are saying that they have been robbed are not reasonable people? Are we to understand that those who are saying that the Liberals took their money to pay off debts and do not want to pay the unemployment insurance debt are not reasonable?

This is utter contempt, but what else could we expect from this minister. In his prime, not that long ago, before he entered politics, he stated that the politics of the poor makes poor politics. That is what he said. It reflects very well the spirit of his leader. Both have the same vision of our society: they take money from those in need and give it to their cronies.

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11:20 a.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the leader of the Bloc for his very important speech on this incredible budget. It is a budget that is not being accepted by most Canadians. Indeed, not only Quebeckers, but also a majority of Canadians find this budget unacceptable. Furthermore, I want to comment on this incredible marriage between the Liberals and the Conservatives.

However, here is the question that I want to ask the leader of the Bloc: how can he explain the generous gifts that were given to big businesses through tax cuts? How can he explain this, when workers, students, women, the disabled, farmers, and so on, have great needs and major problems?

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11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

And aboriginals.

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11:20 a.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

And aboriginals, indeed. How can he explain these gifts to a very small group in our society, when there are no assistance programs for most Canadians?