Debates of March 22nd, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was revenues.
- Employment Equity Act
- Committees of the House
- Ways and Means
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Fraser River Fishery
- Supply Management
- Gérald Guy Caza
- Francis Bazinet
- World Water Day
- Racial Discrimination
- Human Resources
- Genie Awards
- National Drug Strategy
- Racial Discrimination
- Canada-U.S. Relations
- Sponsorship Program
- Meeting of North American Leaders
- Sponsorship Program
- Textile Industry
- Government Contracts
- Sponsorship Program
- Natural Resources
- The Environment
- Border Security
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- Pharmaceutical Industry
- The Environment
- Supplementary Estimates (B) 2004-05
- Interim Supply
- Ways and Means
- Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act
- Department of Social Development Act
- Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Oral Question Period
Jean Lapierre Minister of Transport
Mr. Speaker, not only did I make that statement, but I make it again now: that ship met all international criteria. Transport Canada inspectors carried out the inspection. They required certain changes to be made. Those changes were made, and everything was done according to international regulations, despite what the hon. member is trying to say in an attempt to cast doubt on the system.
Transport Canada did its job. The ship left in compliance with international regulations. Let him stop putting doubt into people's minds and trying to make dangerous links.
Oral Question Period
Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC
Mr. Speaker, now for something a little more refreshing on this World Water Day.
Will the Minister of the Environment remind this House what the government intends to do to better protect the quality of our water, the most precious of our resources, especially after the recent budget, the greenest since Confederation?
Oral Question Period
Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment
Mr. Speaker, it is true that Canada has one-fifth of the world's water, but we have only 7% of the world's renewable fresh water. Therefore, we have to be very prudent with this resource. That is why we have earmarked $40 million for the Great Lakes action plan and $85 million for invasive alien species.
The Conservative Party may be guilty of ambiguity on this, but the Government of Canada is determined to always defend our ban on freshwater removal.
Oral Question Period
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 8, 2005. by the hon. opposition House leader concerning the alleged failure of the Prime Minister to allow Parliament to debate the decision of the government regarding ballistic missile defence.
I would like to thank the hon. opposition House leader for raising this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House and the hon. members for Calgary—Nose Hill and Sackville—Eastern Shore for their contributions.
In his submission, the hon. opposition House leader argued that the Prime Minister was in contempt of the House for failing to keep his promise to consult Parliament and to hold a vote before the government made its decision not to participate in the United States ballistic missile defence plan.
He argued that when the House adopted the amended Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne on October 8, 2004, it had agreed to debate the participation of Canada in missile defence and that the House had been given no opportunity to consider the matter before the government announced that Canada would not participate. He quoted paragraph 5 of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne which states:
With respect to an agreement on ballistic missile defence, the assurance that Parliament will have an opportunity to consider all public information pertaining to the agreement and to vote prior to a government decision.
The hon. opposition House leader likened the throne speech to a promissory note to Parliament. He maintained that the address in reply contained a promise to debate ballistic missile defence prior to a government decision being made and that the government had reneged on this promise.
In presenting his argument, the hon. member cited a Speaker's ruling from November 21, 2001 concerning the failure of the government to comply with a statutory requirement to table certain information in the House. In that case, the Speaker stated that, had there been a legislative deadline for tabling the required information, the Speaker would not have hesitated to have found the matter a prima facie breach of privilege.
The hon. opposition House leader argued that in the current situation, the adoption of the amended address in reply contained a conditional deadline that was tied to a decision of the government. The government ignored this time commitment and made its decision without providing Parliament with information pertaining to the proposed missile defence agreement as required in the amendment to the address in reply.
In his intervention, the hon. leader of the government in the House indicated that, in the view of the government, a debate on participation in ballistic missile defence was contingent on reaching an agreement with the United States. As the hon. minister stated:
Since there was no agreement, there was in fact nothing to debate and therefore nothing to vote on.
I have examined the November 21, 2001 ruling referred to by the hon. opposition House leader. In that decision, the Speaker stated at page 7381 of Hansard, that given the lack of a specified deadline in the statute for the tabling of the regulations concerned, Parliament had provided the minister with some latitude in fulfilling the tabling requirement. As the opposition House leader pointed out, the Speaker would not have hesitated to find a prima facie question of privilege had a deadline existed. However, in the absence of such a deadline, the Speaker felt it would not be appropriate for the Speaker to impose a deadline to table the information and so substitute his judgment for the decision of Parliament.
In the current case, the dispute centres on conflicting readings of the text of the amendment to the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, so let us begin by a careful review of that text.
I draw to hon. members' attention the wording of the lead in to the text of the amendment proposed by the official opposition and eventually incorporated into the address. It reads as follows:
That Your Excellency's advisors consider the advisability of the following:
A five paragraph text is then inserted into the address, the fifth paragraph being what concerns us today. Taken together, the full text reads thus:
That Your Excellency's advisors consider the advisability of the following: ...
- with respect to an agreement on ballistic missile defence, the assurance that Parliament will have an opportunity to consider all public information pertaining to the agreement and to vote prior to a government decision;
I remind the House that the Speaker is being asked to pronounce on a case that is virtually unprecedented in our practice, or in any other Canadian or Commonwealth practice for that matter, namely, a case where an amendment to the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne has been adopted. Since the actions of the government further to the adoption of the address are under dispute, the meaning of the amendment is of primary importance so that we are left to fall back on an exegesis of that text.
I see three features in the text that must be noted. First, the text asks only that Her Excellency's advisors, that is the government, consider various courses of action; second, the text refers to “an agreement on ballistic missile defence” and seeks “the assurance that Parliament will have an opportunity to consider all public information pertaining to the agreement”; and three, the text requests that Parliament be given an opportunity “to vote prior to a government decision”.
Let us consider these points seriatim.
On the first point, the language is not prescriptive. Indeed, were the motion worded so as to enjoin Her Excellency, it would likely not be ruled in order since it would infringe on the prerogatives of the Crown.
On the second point, as the hon. government House leader points out, there is no agreement on ballistic missile defence so the action requested in the event of an agreement becomes moot.
The third point is an inherent contradiction. The text asks for “a vote prior to a government decision”, presumably a decision for or a decision against, when the rest of the text refers to a case predicated on an agreement, an agreement extant, presumably, only in the case of a decision for.
I trust that the House will see the impossible task before a Speaker rash enough to accept to judge compliance in this case. I am sure, as the hon. member can see, even this brief analysis of the address in reply raises many more questions than it answers. I believe that these are not questions that the Speaker is bound to answer.
The House saw fit to adopt the amended address in reply to the Speech from the Throne in the language I have read out. It is not for your Speaker to impose his interpretation of the address in reply on the House. It appears to me that what we have here is a dispute as to interpretation and, consequently, a matter of debate. Therefore, I cannot find that there is a prima facie case of contempt.
The House resumed consideration of the motion and of the amendment.
March 22nd, 2005 / 3:10 p.m.
Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK
Mr. Speaker, this situation cannot persist. I call on the government to extend the same provisions it has guaranteed to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, in what has been dubbed the Atlantic accord, and to exclude non-renewable resource revenues in Saskatchewan and other provinces from the equalization formula. Only by ensuring such an equitable approach among the jurisdictions can the true spirit and practice of equalization be realized.
The current configuration of the equalization formula is highly complex and involves many interrelated factors. It is the result of many decisions, spanning many years and many governments. None of these decisions were deliberately undertaken to specifically cause or contribute to Saskatchewan's economic difficulties. Nevertheless, it has and will continue unless action to remedy the situation is taken.
While altering the equalization formula to exclude non-renewable resources by itself will not change the economic reality in Saskatchewan, it is an essential first step for revitalizing the province's economic health and it is the right thing to do.
In closing, I note that the Prime Minister, upon signing the Atlantic accord, said that the agreement presented an extraordinary opportunity for the signatories to seize their potential and build for themselves and for their children a more prosperous future. However the federal government is seemingly unwilling to make similar accommodations for other provinces. Apparently, helping provinces like Saskatchewan build a prosperous future is not an easy thing for the government to do.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have a comment and then a question for the member.
A week ago Friday, I had the opportunity to sit with the finance subcommittee dealing with fiscal imbalance. A couple of the witnesses who were there raised some issues that I think would make all of us pause and consider some of the consequences in a more general sense.
One of the witnesses, Professor Bird, talked about Confederation and about the underlying foundations that allow us to continue to be a united nation and continue to provide the same security of services all across Canada notwithstanding the economic disadvantages that exist in provinces from time to time. He concluded that the very foundation of Confederation was in jeopardy if each of the provinces continued to piggyback on another province. He said that it was almost like the me too argument.
It made me wonder where this should stop. Should we be treating all of the provinces the same or should we be treating all of the provinces equitably? The argument has been well made in this place that equity between the provinces is more important than equality simply because certain needs in one region are not of interest to or a need in another region.
If an amendment were made to take into account the specific issues related to Saskatchewan that would basically mirror the Atlantic accord, does the member think that would be more reason for some other province to take this new step into consideration and then to make its case as to why it should also get a bigger piece of a pie that has not grown?
Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK
Mr. Speaker, that is actually quite simple to answer, and the answer is yes. A committee to examine the equalization formula will be struck and that will be where we can put all our issues out on the table.
The question is about treating all of the provinces equally. We would like all the provinces to be independent, to use their resources and to get out of the mindset of being a have not province. We have resources that are being taxed unfairly. All we want is to be treated fairly like all of the other provinces.
I do not see a problem if one province wants more than the other. Once the committee is struck, hopefully we will all be treated equally. One of the people who will be reviewing the equalization formula is the same person who brought this to our attention. He has some solutions and those solutions are to put all of the provinces on fair ground.
I do not think there is any question that all provinces should be treated equally. Yes, a wedge is being driven between each province because of some of the issues that are coming forward with the equalization formula, but I think that once we study it, it will be very fair and we will all be happy, which is what we are hoping to attain.
Rob Moore Fundy, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to the motion before us today.
I want to provide a bit of perspective not from Saskatchewan, but from Atlantic Canada as I represent a riding in New Brunswick. It is interesting how this discussion developed.
The Conservative Party has been consistently proposing that provinces need more access to their non-renewable resources. We have to remember that there is a finite opportunity to exploit these resources. These resource revenues can best be utilized at a level closer to the Canadian people.
In the last election we saw nothing short of a deathbed conversion. At the very last minute going into an election when seats were up for grabs, the current Prime Minister was in a rather desperate situation. There was a last minute promise to give access to the revenues from non-renewable resources to Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Nova Scotia.
Those provinces were rightly pleased because under the current situation, it is hard to believe but of every dollar of revenue that was earned on offshore and non-renewable resources, approximately 70¢ was clawed back. That is a major disincentive to invest in offshore resources. It is a major disincentive to provide the infrastructure required to advance operations that could bring a province's economy up. It could provide employment.
I have talked to many of my colleagues and friends from school, people with whom I graduated. Some of them have moved to other parts of Canada. Some of them have moved to the United States. Some of them have moved overseas. Overwhelmingly they would have liked to have stayed in Atlantic Canada but they were unable to find gainful employment in their field.
We know there is a need. We also know there is a problem. The problem is that these provinces are not being given the opportunity to reach their full potential. That is exactly what the old formula did. By clawing back resource revenue, we were denying those provinces the opportunity to move forward. Our leader and our party recognized that. The Prime Minister was loath to ever contemplate something like that. That is why on the eve of the election in a knee-jerk reaction he made a desperate promise, but he made a promise nonetheless.
We found that the devil is in the details. The Prime Minister wanted to put caps and conditions and clauses in place that would have basically undermined the promise he had made to Atlantic Canada. It was through the hard work of the provincial leadership and the population of those provinces, as well as the hard work of members in the opposition and the Leader of the Opposition that a deal was realized. Thanks should also go to our party's Atlantic caucus as well as our national caucus. It was only through the efforts of all these individuals that a deal was realized. We saw a deal more in keeping with what we felt the Prime Minister's promise would have accorded.
We now see across the country provinces that are in a similar situation. I would like to turn to the situation in Saskatchewan. I want to commend the member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre for his hard work in bringing this issue forward. I also want to commend the entire Saskatchewan caucus.
We recognize the situation in Saskatchewan where more than 100% of its royalties are being clawed back. This creates a situation where Saskatchewan cannot move ahead. It creates an inequitable situation.
What we are seeking are opportunities for provinces to put in place programs that best reflect the wishes of the individuals who live in those provinces. For example, the agreement that was reached with Newfoundland and Labrador amounts to $2.6 billion. That is a significant number. In Nova Scotia it amounts to $1.1 billion.
The attitude that was taken in the past by the Liberal government was senseless and selfish. It is a big brother knows best type of attitude which says that the federal government is going to take all the revenue it can and then decide exactly how it is disbursed. The Liberals would do that instead of leaving that crucial non-renewable resource revenue in place within the province so the revenue could go toward programs within the province that would allow for economic development, sustainability, employment, and young people to stay in their home province.
It reminds us of the situation in Alberta. Alberta discovered its oil and gas in the 1940s and 1950s. It is hard for us to believe in the current context, but at the time Alberta was a have not province. From 1957 to 1965 it received transfers from the equalization program. Alberta was allowed to keep 100% of its oil royalties with no federal clawback some time after that. This has allowed Alberta to kick-start its own economy to become a have province and to become one of the economic powerhouses of North America.
The problem goes to the very way that different sides would choose to govern this country. Liberals being Liberals, they feel it always has to be the federal government that ultimately controls the purse strings. If they cannot be the ones to collect the money, then they cannot take the credit for distributing it back to the people who should rightfully have it.
We saw that in the dealings with the Atlantic provinces. There was absolute reluctance to ever enter into a deal and then once a promise was made, every effort was expended to undermine and limit that promise, to cap it, to put clauses in it to claw back. It was only through the hard work of opposition members and those provinces that we saw this realized.
Whether we live in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Alberta, New Brunswick as I do, Saskatchewan, or anywhere else, we all have the right to a better future. The future is not for members of one party or another to decide. Provinces must have more control over their own resources and destinies so that Canadians within those provinces can realize their full potential.
In my home province of New Brunswick this has been raised as an issue. We have mining and other non-renewable resources. New Brunswickers are just like the people in Saskatchewan and Canadians across the country. They are hard working. Their number one goal is to support their families and their province. It only makes sense that revenues generated in a province from these non-renewable resources should stay within that province to support the local economy.
The debate we are having today is an important one. It is important for the future of Atlantic Canada. It is important for Saskatchewan and the whole country. It is in everyone's best interest that those closest to the need are able to best utilize these non-renewable resources.
I once again congratulate my colleagues on bringing this issue forward. I ask that the Prime Minister and the finance minister consider doing what is equitable and right and allow the have not provinces that have access to non-renewable resources to use them. Allow the provinces to use them to better their economies. Allow the provinces to use them to create opportunity.
We have to get away from this mindset that Ottawa knows best and that everything must be centralized. We have to allow the local regions in the individual provinces to have better control over their own destinies. That is why I am in full support of this motion.
Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK
Mr. Speaker, I would like to go back to something my colleague said a few moments ago. He said that Alberta was considered to be a have not province in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but with its ability to keep 100% of its oil and gas revenues, it finally turned it around to now be the wealthiest province in Confederation.
I would like my hon. colleague to tell me what this might mean to the province of New Brunswick, his home province, if this motion came to pass.
Rob Moore Fundy, NB
Mr. Speaker, this could have a positive impact for many provinces, including New Brunswick. At the moment it would not have the same impact as in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador or potentially even in Saskatchewan.
In New Brunswick there is mining, gases and other non-renewable resources. In the case of non-renewable resources sometimes it is unpredictable. We do not know the totality of what is available. We know there is a resource. We also know that in most instances if a province uses that resource, mines that produce, or it uses that oil, the revenues will be clawed back. It is a major disincentive.
In my own riding there are opportunities to use non-renewable resources for the benefit of the province and the people of New Brunswick. If going into it we know there will be a clawback, there will be what I feel is a disincentive to invest, a disincentive to put people in New Brunswick to work, it will be a major impediment to the development of the economy in New Brunswick. This would apply to Saskatchewan and other provinces as well.
Michael John Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the hon. member's motion that the agreement reached in the Atlantic accord should be extended to all provinces.
I am pleased that the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre has raised this issue today, because I believe that Canadians, when presented with the facts, will understand why such an agreement involving offshore oil revenues was reached with the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and that upon closer scrutiny we will realize that this motion represents at its core an attempt to divide regions against each other, not to bring us together.
I come from Nova Scotia, one of the provinces which, along with Newfoundland and Labrador, was a recipient of an agreement with the national government that resulted in Nova Scotia receiving 100% of revenues from the offshore with no clawback that would affect equalization. This agreement recognized the tremendous challenges Nova Scotia faces with respect to its provincial debt and the province's ability to deliver services.
I would like to speak about my home province of Nova Scotia and its crushing financial burden, which our Prime Minister recognized and went about improving.
Why is Nova Scotia confronted with such a high debt? It is a critical question. It goes back a few decades. From 1970 to 1978, the Liberal government of Nova Scotia under Premier Gerald Regan, finance minister Peter Nicholson and ministers like Scott MacNutt balanced the provincial budget every year for eight consecutive years. In 1979 the people of Nova Scotia elected a Conservative government, and from 1979 until 1993, some 14 years in a row, we had unbalanced budgets. We had deficits. Some have said that this Conservative government was the most irresponsible government in Canadian history. It would be hard to disagree.
Every year during that period the government would underestimate the deficit. If members think that underestimating a federal surplus is a problem, they should try to deal with underestimating a deficit year after year and compounding it and adding it to the crushing debt load of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotians were left reeling under that burden.
In 1993 the Liberals returned to government in Nova Scotia and, after some tough decisions and sacrifices by Nova Scotians, the books were once again balanced within a few years.
The offshore deal signed recently by the Prime Minister was based on fairness for a region that has for far too long been absent from achieving its full economic potential. Now, as a result of the work done by Government of Canada and the province of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia is able to pay down its debt, a wise decision by Premier Hamm, freeing up some $50 million to invest in social programs and other necessary services.
Who made this deal happen? It was the Prime Minister and this government. It happened because in Nova Scotia there was an atmosphere of respect, where the goal was to help people, not to score political points, which is clearly the objective of the motion we are debating today. This motion is not about seeking the best for the people of Canada. I believe it represents division and disharmony.
It is the economic and fiscal challenges that are unique to these two provinces that led to this agreement. A look at the numbers tells us this. Newfoundland has the highest net debt of all provinces. As a percentage of GDP it almost 63% compared to the provincial average of about 25%. Nova Scotia is the second highest at 43%. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, it has a declining population, which means there are fewer people to help pay off its debt.
Clearly something had to be done to help these two provinces. After all, that is what is being part of the Canadian federation is about. We delivered on our commitment. The agreement reached in January with the federal government will allow Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to use the revenue from their offshore resources to help dig themselves out of their economic hole and will put them on a more equal footing with the other provinces, something that is in the interests of all provinces and indeed all Canadians. As a Nova Scotian, I am proud of that deal.
The agreement will also provide the provinces with substantial upfront payments of over $2 billion for Newfoundland and Labrador and some $830 million for the people of Nova Scotia, giving them immediate flexibility to address their economic and fiscal challenges.
That is not to say that other provinces will be left out in the cold. It is quite the opposite. Let us not forget that this government has significantly increased the federal transfers to the provinces and territories. For example, the 10 year plan to strengthen health care is pretty significant.
First, the deal that was signed by the Prime Minister and the premiers will provide over $41 billion in new health care funding. This plan goes beyond simple monetary commitments. It sets out clear objectives to achieve real results, results with patients in every territory and province. It also illustrates what we are capable of achieving when the provincial and federal governments work together in common purpose.
The commitment to meaningful reduction in wait times for health services came about because all participants agreed that this is the key to transforming the health care system. The plan reflects this shared vision by holding all governments to account by establishing a requirement for evidence based benchmarks, comparable indicators, clear targets and transparent reporting to the public on access to health care.
It also means that the needs of patients will drive change. The plan will accelerate reform and ensure better access to key tests and treatments. It will increase the number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. It will be helped by quicker assessment and integration of those who have received their training abroad. As well, it will improve access to home and community care services and to safe and affordable drugs.
On the fiscal side, this plan commits to a 10 year track of substantial, predictable and increasing long term funding, more than closing what has been called the Romanow gap, attaching a 6% escalator to the Canada health transfer, and providing funding for wait times reduction so that Canadians can see tangible progress in key areas such as cancer and heart treatment, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration.
The plan also addresses the unique challenges facing the delivery of health care services in Canada's north, including the costs of medical transportation, and encourages the innovative delivery of health care.
These initiatives illustrate that this government is committed to ensuring the viability of our health care system throughout Canada. In fact, we have gone beyond the $41 billion commitment. In budget 2005 we provide an additional $805 million in direct health investments to support action in the important issues of health human resources, wait times and performance reporting.
In concert with the 10 year plan to strengthen health care are the changes to the framework for equalization and territorial financing formula. These changes will increase the support provided to provinces and territories by over $30 billion over 10 years. The increased funding will assist Canada's less prosperous provinces and the three territories in meeting their commitments under the 10 year plan to strengthen health care as well as their other priorities.
This new framework reflects the most significant improvement in the history of these programs. By providing predictability, stability and increased funding, the framework will play an essential role in ensuring that all Canadians, no matter where they live, will have access to comparable public services. It will also provide considerable financial stability to provinces and territories in setting their own budget priorities.
One of the key tenets is the establishment of an independent panel to advise on the allocation of the legislated growing amounts among provinces and territories. This panel will be chaired by Mr. Al O'Brien and will include Fred Gorbet, Robert Lacroix, Elizabeth Parr-Johnston and Mike Percy, all of whom have extensive experience and distinguished careers in academia and public service.
Among other things, the panel will report on the new allocation formula to govern equalization for 2006-07 and beyond, including the treatment of various provincial and local revenue sources such as property taxes and other revenue streams.
I would like to assure the hon. member that one of the areas the panel will also be examining is the treatment of natural resources in the context of equalization and the territorial financing formula.
The panel will have time to do its job. It will draw upon experts across the country and it will consult provincial and territorial governments and Canadians from all regions. I look forward to seeing the results.
We all have our roles to play in this place. I did not come here to be a partisan person, though. That is not my style here, nor is it at home. I did not seek office in order to huddle in corners devising ways to embarrass people and ways that will divide Canadians. In my view, this will be the only result of this motion, for its intent does not seek the best in who we are as a country or as Canadians. This motion does not seek to strengthen the federation. It seeks to weaken our unity.
The fulfillment of the Atlantic accord is something I am proud of as both a Nova Scotian and a Canadian.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak to the Conservative Party's opposition motion, which reads as follows:
That the House call upon the government to immediately extend the expanded benefits of the recent Atlantic Accord to all of the provinces since the existing equalization claw-back on non-renewable resource revenues severely curtails the future prosperity of Canada by punishing the regions where the economy is built on a non-renewable resource base.
My colleague from Dartmouth, who just spoke, was praising the fine work done by the Liberals in Canada, especially here in Parliament. I think that he has forgotten to watch television, CPAC, and the whole sponsorship program scandal. That is the fine work that the Liberals have done, and I think that it leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Canadians. We should remember that now.
However, when we look at the Atlantic Accord with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, it is as if we agreed with that. Am I forced to agree with him when we know that there are some regions that have suffered?
When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, people from there said that Canada joined Newfoundland. Newfoundland joined Canada with all its resources from fishing and the sea, for example, but what we see today is that many people have been forced to leave Newfoundland and Labrador and live elsewhere in the country. They can be found all over, in my province of New Brunswick, in Nova Scotia, in Ontario, in Manitoba, in Saskatchewan, in Alberta and even in the Northwest Territories. Many of these people had to leave the province to go and work in the mines of the Far North, in the Northwest Territories.
Nowadays these provinces have suffered a loss of their resources and now, a loss of jobs. Take an example, my region of Acadie—Bathurst, where we have non-renewable resources. Another example is regions where there are mines and the resources are not renewable. The Brunswick mine is going to close in 2009 and more than 1,000 people will lose their jobs.
I can confirm that these provinces are affected by transfer payments and equalization. The Liberal government cannot claim it did a good job when it knows that it is swimming in surpluses. For example, the Liberals can say, “We balanced the budget; there is a zero deficit”. However, there will be a $12 billion surplus and a budget that will only be implemented later. When we take a closer look, we see the Liberal budget provides funding for 2009, 2010 and 2012. There will be surpluses between now and then. Who will get this money? The Liberals' friends, the big banks will. The bankers will go to bed happy but, in the meantime, people will suffer. The deficit in the Liberal government is a human deficit. The people are the ones suffering.
In 1994, there were cuts to health care and we are still paying the price. There are people sleeping in hospital corridors and some of them are even dying there.
How can the member for Dartmouth boast that the Liberal Party is one of the great parties that did such a good job of managing this country, when the Liberal government is the one destroying our hospitals. That is the situation. The member said earlier that it takes money to attract doctors to the regions, but the Liberals are the ones who created this problem in 1994, under the finance minister, who is now Prime Minister. The people in the regions are suffering.
Our students finish university with $40,000 in debts. The Liberal and Conservative governments created this problem. They drove our students into debt. Today, the students are suffering. Young women and men come to our offices and they ask us to take away their student debt because they can no longer make the payments.
Today, this motion may give some hope to these provinces, provinces with natural resources who could lose them. Mines are another example of non-renewable resources.
It is the same thing with oil in Saskatchewan. When their oil wells are finished, that is it. It is not a renewable resource. What would they get in its place?
Today we have a federal government with a surplus. It is all very well to boast of having a surplus, having a zero deficit, having balanced the budget, but when that has been accomplished on the backs of the people, as it has by the Liberal government, it is disgraceful.
Can the Liberals boast about having a $46 billion surplus in the EI fund? They have balanced their budget and achieved their zero deficit thanks to employment insurance, on the backs of workers who have lost their jobs. These people have spent their last cent, have lost their jobs and have nothing left for their future.
That is what the Liberals have done. That is why some provinces are now saying that they want what the government has done for Newfoundland and Labrador, and for Nova Scotia. They want to be able to benefit from the federal government's surplus.
Things have reached the stage where regional municipalities can no longer afford the infrastructures that they need. The federal government has a huge surplus.
I will give one example. Reference has been made to the one-third, one-third, one-third agreements. In the Bathurst region, for instance, it will take $10 million to install water and sewer lines in two streets. The federal government will put in $2 million, the provincial another $2 million, and the municipality $6 million. The municipalities have been the ones hardest hit by the cuts.
This is why it would be worthwhile to be able to take advantage of equalization. Where there are non-renewable industries, there should be a possibility of accessing the surplus or giving it to the provinces so that they may meet their needs.
There are no young people left in our regions. They have all left forever. They go away to university, here in Ottawa, or in Montreal or somewhere else, and they never come back home because there are no jobs, just as there are none in Gaspé. That is what is happening.
It is shameful to see a government say that it has managed its finances well, when it has done so on the backs of the people. I know that people would not like it, but all that we could do is to tell people in the big urban centres, where the unemployment rate is maybe 4.5%, to come to our region where the rate is 20.5%. That is the reality.
In the Gaspé, the unemployment rate is 20%. Even in big cities like Toronto, you can see lots of people now who did not used to be there. The government should not be proud of that. You did not use to see people lying on pieces of cardboard in front of Toronto's city hall. You do now. It is terrible to see people sleeping in the street.
This is terrible to see and the government is going to boast that it has done a good job of running our country. When you used to go to Montreal, there was not someone every ten feet asking for money because he or she was poor. This is what they have created, poverty. It is certainly nothing to be proud of.
There could be a trade-off for natural resources. I am sure that the money will help Newfoundland and Labrador. It will also help Nova Scotia. At the same time, it is needed in New Brunswick, in the potash mines for example, in Sussex.
If these mines close, what will be left for the Sussex region? What will there be in Bathurst too when Noranda closes its doors in 2009? What kind of money will the province have to make investments and build infrastructure to create jobs so that people can stay in their own region, and be proud to do so. It is not easy when families break up and are forced to leave. It is not because they want to leave; they have to.
We are going to support this motion. However, there is one thing that we want, and that is for the federal government to sit down with the provinces. This is 2005 and things have changed. This is no longer 1957. Things have changed.
We must recognize the problems of the different regions and be able to find solutions, or identify the problems of the different provinces and be able to help them. The answer is not to take a piecemeal approach, as is currently being done, or to sit down with the provinces individually. It must be possible to sit down with all the provinces and find a solution to this problem.
For now, the NDP will support this motion. However, more needs to be done. Although the motion sends a message to the federal government, more needs to be done to resolve this problem, because it is a very real one. We cannot just change, turn around and blame the government. There are problems that come with this. Problems related to health exist in all the provinces. Just look at the hospital closures. At home in Caraquet the hospital closure has divided the entire Acadian Peninsula region. It has reached the point where some people are no longer talking to each other.
That is what the government has accomplished with its budget cuts. People are no longer talking to each other in the regions. There cannot be any economic development without communication. This is what the government has achieved with its budget cuts and yet it brags about its surpluses. It should spend the extra money on helping people. The money should be invested in social programs. That would help Canadians and seniors.
A woman phoned me today. This story may strike you as odd, but it has to do with a 65-year-old woman. I find it shameful that a woman that age called me today to say that she is unable to pay for the ball bearings for the wheels of her wheelchair and therefore she can no longer use her chair. This woman, who is short of money, cannot even get the help she needs for this. This woman is unable to walk and she is confined to a wheelchair that does not even work. It has come to this.
Today, the Liberals have nothing to brag about. They should be ashamed to speak in the House of Commons and brag that they have done something good for Canada, especially when we look at the sponsorship scandal. That is where the money has gone and Canadians are paying for it.
Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I listened enthusiastically to my dear colleague from New Brunswick. He has talked about the financial and fiscal situation in our country. I would like to ask him one question on this subject.
I heard members of his party mention certain things repeatedly. If the government had not solved the country's fiscal problem when it did, how does he think it would have been possible to invest in Canadians' high priority issues, for example, $41 billion in health, $33 billion in equalization, $5 billion in cities and communities, $5 billion in early childhood? It seems to me that the priorities of Canadians are the important things. The fact that we solved the country's fiscal problems enables us to invest in these priorities now.
Moreover, I often hear members from his party talking about the issue of the national debt, saying that we should continue to invest in social programs. That is true, but we also need a balanced approach, and we think that is important. If we do not pay down the national debt when the time is ripe, when the economy is strong, when should we do so?
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. friend for that question.
We are not saying that the debt should not be paid down. What we are saying is that it should not be done on the backs of the poor, as the Liberals have done when they took $46 billion from the employment insurance fund to pay down the debt, giving the money to the big banks. That is what the Liberal Party has done. The working men and women who have lost their jobs are the ones who have paid down Canada's debt. That is how the Liberals achieved that, and they did it badly. That was not where the money was supposed to go. That is where the surplus of $7 billion generated in one year went, the surplus of $7 billion in employment insurance.
Today, they have to invest that money in health, because it was the Liberals who made the cuts to that field in 1994. It has come to the point where patients are kept on beds in the hallways and some die there. They should be ashamed of that.
The debt has been paid down on the backs of human beings. Perhaps there was a deficit in Canada, but now there is a human deficit. That is what I am talking about. When there is a surplus, it has to be distributed properly.
My hon. colleague said that funding was earmarked in the budget for early childhood and so on. But not until 2009 and 2010, that is four or five years from now. In addition, there is absolutely nothing in this budget for students, who are being put into debt like never before.
As for the tax relief for workers, it amounts to $1.39 per month; that is not even enough to buy a large coffee at Tim Hortons. The tax relief for workers is $16 per year.
The government has nothing to brag about. The $12 billion surplus this year will continue to increase by the billions because the changes brought about in by this budget will not begin taking effect before 2009, 2010 and 2012.
In the months and years to come, Canadians will see what the Liberals have really done. In my region, I meet people on the street who are mad at the Liberals, first and foremost because of the sponsorship scandal. That is all I heard last week and last weekend. It is a disgrace that taxpayers' money went to friends of the Liberals who, in turn, made contributions to the Liberal election fund. People have had it with all that.
There are people who go to hospital because they are sick and cannot even be admitted, the health system is backlogged in terms of operations and we have lost doctors and specialists.
I think that I have answered the question of my hon. friend from Manitoba.