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House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parents.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to add a few comments to the remarks of my colleague and ask her if she is concerned about the agreement between the federal and Quebec governments, which has still not been signed, while $165 million should be returned to Quebec for the establishment of the cross Canada day care system.

Quebec has been waiting seven months. In the election, they told us there were no conditions attached to the money given back to Quebec. To win over the electorate, on the eve of an election, a number of ministers said that there would be no conditions. So, Quebec could do what it liked with its money when the time came to sign the agreement. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs had said that Quebec could use the money as it wished in investing in its family policy.

I ask my colleague whether the same scenario could occur on the eve of a sure election. Why are there five agreements with other provinces, while the government is still delaying signing with Quebec? When there is no condition, it seems to me not to be hard to sign. I would like to hear my colleague on this.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. As I indicated earlier, I do have concerns in that regard. I find it unfortunate that our children are being held hostage. They are being used as bargaining chips for election purposes. That is sad. I am convinced that the issue is not the one that we think.

It was pretty much the same with the compassionate care leave. It took a few years after an election promise was made to get it. It would appear that reaching an agreement on child care will follow the same course. The same is true of child care. No agreement is being reached because the government knows that a plan will soon be developed and announced. That should be around August 10, as confirmed on television by the Quebec lieutenant.

Then, the government will have a plan to crisscross Quebec with and show off to Quebeckers in order to win votes or gain the trust of the public, once again. That is like the sponsorship scandal. I disagree with that.

I think that the government would be wise to sign and give Quebec the money now. It would show that no election purposes are involved. Our children are not bargaining chips for election purposes.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, my wife Carrie and I have a six month old son, so I and my party are well aware of the challenges facing modern Canadian families today, juggling work, home and school. The government's day care plan will do very little to help working families in this country.

Excellent day care is very important to me and my fellow Conservatives and I am very much in favour of socially progressive programs that will help families to obtain excellent child care. However the government's program will not do that at all.

Before I continue, I would like to say that I am splitting my time with the member for Crowfoot.

The government's plan for child care is seriously flawed in four aspects. First, it is far too vague and contains few concrete, detailed and workable solutions. Key details, including how flexible the system can be, how to hold the provinces accountable for this money and how many child care spaces will be created, have yet to be determined.

Second, the plan calls for the program to be a joint federal-provincial program. Programs of this nature have had a history of cross-jurisdictional difficulties and interprovincial and federal squabbling.

The third problem with the plan is that it will take far too long to implement. For over a decade, Canadians have been promised that a plan would be implemented but nothing is yet in place. In the 1993 red book, in the 1997 red book, in the 2000 red book and in the 2004 red book the government promised child care for Canadians and, 12 years later, we still have no child care program in place. We have no solution for working Canadians.

The fourth aspect of the plan that is a problem is that it is a one size fits all plan. It leaves half of Canadian families out in the cold. In other words, half of Canadian families with children will have nothing under the plan. It fails to address the needs of rural areas. It fails to address those families where one parent stays at home. It fails to address those families who have shiftwork. It fails to provide choice. It is simply a two tier system, one for those families who have access to locally registered and licensed day care, and another for those who do not have locally accessible licensed child care or for those families who stay at home. It is a two tier system that leaves half of Canadian working families out in the cold.

The government's child care plan will do little in my riding of Wellington—Halton Hills. I will try to illustrate that to the House. According to a report done for the regional municipality of Halton, there are about 9,000 children aged 12 and under in Halton Hills and about 900 registered and licensed child care spaces out of a total of 4,500 child care spaces in Halton Hills for these 9,000 children.

In the other part of my riding in Wellington county, there are about 15,000 children aged 12 and under and about 500 licensed and registered day care spaces out of a total of about 7,000 child care spaces in Wellington county. This assumes an average workforce participation of about 50%.

The government's child care program will do little to help working families in Halton Hills or in Wellington county.

The government has announced $5 billion over five years. Assuming $1 billion per year for the program and assuming an average cost of about $8,000 per child per year for day care, this would mean that $5 billion over five years would provide for an additional 120,000 new subsidized day care spots nationally.

To break this down, this would mean about 400 spots in the average riding, assuming there are about 308 ridings. This would mean 400 new day care spots for Wellington county and Halton Hills out of a total of 13,500 existing day care spaces, which is an increase of 3%.

The government's program is wholly inadequate, is nowhere near universal and it does nothing to address the other 13,000, 14,000 or 15,000 children in those ridings who do not take advantage of subsidized or regulated licensed day care. It fails to address the needs of single income families where one parent stays at home. These parents get left behind in the government's system.

It also fails to address the needs of those parents, especially in rural areas. Many of these parents do not use licensed day care because they do not have access to it. They use local, unlicensed day care provided at a neighbour's home or at a relative's place down the road. These parents also get left behind in the government's day care program.

Clearly, the government's day care program will do little for those in Wellington county and little for those in the town of Halton Hills. These families will be left out in the cold.

We in the Conservative Party proposed a plan in the last election that truly addressed and addresses the needs of working families. In the last election we proposed providing families with a $2,000 per year tax deduction for each child under the age of 16. The taxes refunded could be spent as deemed appropriate by the parents. In the case of a dual income family, the money might be spent on day care, either in a for profit or a not for profit centre.

In other cases, for example where one parents stays at home, the money might be spent on clothes, on education or other sundries.

Our proposal avoids the difficulties of federal-provincial programs, provides for flexibility in both meeting the needs of urban and rural areas, allows for profit and not for profit participation, lets parents decide what is in the best interests of their children and, most important, is straightforward to implement. I believe it is the best way for us to help families obtain excellent child care. I also believe that parental choice is important because different families have different needs and different communities have different solutions.

In addition, I believe that the government should play a bigger role in the regulation of child care spaces. The safety and well-being of children is at all times paramount. I believe that all professional child care providers should be properly qualified and certified to a minimum national standard.

I am confident that our solution, the one that we proposed in the last election, is the only solution that takes into account the varying needs and situations in all communities and the one that properly serves all Canadian families whether they be single income, dual income or otherwise.

The government's plan for child care is seriously flawed. It is too vague and contains few concrete, unworkable and detailed solutions.

It is a joint federal-provincial program. These programs have had a history of cross-jurisdictional difficulties and end up with federal-provincial wrangling over money in future years.

The government has failed to act for 12 years on this issue. For over a decade Canadians have been promised a solution to their child care needs: in 1993 in the red book, in 1997 in the red book, in 2000 in the red book, in 2004 in the red book.

The government's plan is flawed because it is a one size fits all solution that leaves half of the 6 million children in this country under the age of 12 out in the cold. It does nothing for them.

It fails to address the issue in rural areas. It fails to address those families where one parent stays at home. It fails to address those families who work shift work. It fails to address choice. It creates a two tier system, one for those families that can afford and have access to licensed, regulated day care, and another for those families who do not and simply leaves them out in the cold.

I will be supporting the opposition motion on child care that calls for the government to implement a truly national solution that takes into account the varying needs and situations in all communities, urban and rural, and one that properly serves all Canadian families, whether they be single income, dual income or otherwise.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)

Madam Speaker, I have some comments I want to put it on the record since we are coming to the end of the debate. I believe it is this side of the House that is giving the real choices to parents, not a tax break that the other side of the House is actually proposing.

Let us put it on the record that it is only Her Majesty's official opposition that is opposed. Members of the Bloc and the NDP do support an early learning and child care system, perhaps in different ways in terms of the Bloc members.

I want to put something on the record about stay at home parents because it has been falsely stated in the House that there is no support for stay at home parents. The government provides both income benefits and services for parents. The best examples I can give are the national child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement.

Let me also reiterate that we have already signed agreements in principle with five provinces and that party has said that it will support those agreements.

Since the member believes that we are not offering choices, although our choice is $5 billion over five years, what exactly is the member and his party offering? A tax break of 20%, if we do the analysis, for low income families will not help a single mother who chooses to work. Again, we are talking about choices. We are not saying that a parent should stay at home. We are talking about parents who choose to work.

We have studies that show that in 72% of two parent families, both parents are working and they are the ones who actually need to have those choices in various forms, not just in terms of a day care centre but it could also be a family run centre, as some of them are in Quebec.

What type of benefit are the Conservatives actually providing to all families, including those that choose to have working parents?

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, what we will not be doing is rolling out a $5 billion program over five years that only addresses the needs of half of the six million children in this country aged 12 and under. The government's program only addresses the needs of half of those children and leaves the other half out in the cold.

We as a party will roll out a program that will address the needs of all Canadian children across the country in a universal way. We will not be implementing any program that only addresses the needs of half of Canada's children.

Canada has three million children under the age of 6 and three million children under the age of 12, and the government's program only addresses the needs of half of them. It is a two tier system and the Liberals ought to be ashamed of it.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I will reiterate my question and again put on the record that what the Conservatives think we are doing is totally false.

I have asked the hon. member what his party is proposing. All I have heard is a tax break, which seems to be the band-aid solution that his party uses for most of the problems.

The reality is that 72% of the population in Canada are working parents who choose to work. I respect the fact that certain parents choose to stay at home. I also stayed at home for awhile when I had my first two children and I also had their grandmother take care of them when I went back to work.

I want to know what he is actually proposing. It is very easy to criticize but I have not heard a solid solution in terms of this problem.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, we will be putting money back into all parents' hands, regardless of where they live in the country, whether it be in our large cities or in rural areas. What we will not be doing is taking money out of half of the parents' hands to put into a program that only benefits the other half.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House and support this Conservative motion sponsored by the member for Edmonton--Spruce Grove. The motion calls upon the government to recognize that it is creating a two tier child care system which discriminates against families who choose to stay home or find care outside of a publicly funded system.

I rose in the House just a few short months ago to debate a similar motion put forward by our party. During that debate, I quoted from a report entitled “Canadian Attitudes on the Family”, which I think is worth repeating again today. It stated:

--many Canadian parents feel trapped by economic pressures and are not able to make the sort of choices they would like for their families. Sometimes, of course, this is unavoidable. Economic reality has a way of interfering with our dreams...

Similarly, in February of this year, a Vanier Institute of the Family study on family aspirations found that the vast majority of mothers and fathers with preschool children would prefer to stay home and raise them, but if they cannot, their strong preference would be to have a partner or another family member look after their children rather than placing them in a formal day care centre.

The Vanier study complemented a Statistics Canada analysis, also released in February of this year, which found that in 2001 53% of Canadian children between the ages of six months and five years old were in some form of child care. That is up from 42% in 1995. About one in three children are being looked after by relatives, one in three by non-relatives in someone else's home, and the remaining one in three are being looked after in day care centres.

The Liberal government's $5 billion investment in day care only supports the last one-third of children out of the 53%. It totally ignores the two-thirds of Canadian children who are receiving care from someone other than their parents. As pointed out by many of my colleagues today, the Liberal government is also ignoring those children whose parents work shifts and would be unable to enroll in one of these federally funded day care centres.

The Conservative Party of Canada is totally opposed to the Liberals' two tier child care system. The Conservative Party of Canada's plan is universal and equitable. We will give cash subsidies directly to parents so they can make their own child care choices. We will treat all parents, all families and all children equally. We will allow Canadian families to make the choices that would best serve their needs and the needs of their children.

During our last debate on this issue, in February, I pointed out that we were neglecting in this House and, for that matter, in this country, to recognize and address increasing health costs and decreasing productivity, of which our finance minister spoke in the media this past week. We also fail to recognize the collapsing social relationships due to workplace stress and our failure to achieve work-life balances.

We are failing to deal with the realities of work and life conflicts, which are having a huge impact on our country and our society. In a National Post article of March 10, Deborah Jones, a workplace consultant, said that we are going in a dangerous direction in Canada in terms of work hours and workloads affecting life and balance.

A Conference Board of Canada study found that the percentage of Canadians who reported moderate and high levels of stress as a result of work-family imbalance increased from 26.7% in 1989 to 46.2% in 1999. This work-family imbalance is costing employers billions of dollars in sick leave and lost working time, which again translates into decreased productivity for companies.

In 2003 Health Canada funded a study entitled “Work-Life Conflict in Canada in the New Millennium”. It also found that high job stress has doubled and job satisfaction and employee loyalty have dropped. There is so much stress in the workplace. The government has come up with a plan that will address only a very small percentage.

My time is up, but I would encourage the government to take this plan back to the drawing board, recognizing that out of the 53% of Canadians with children under the age of five, this addresses only one-third of them. It is $5 billion for one-third of 53%. The program is not going to work. It is big government and there are big failures in this program.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

It being 6:30 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

All those opposed will please say nay.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The recorded division stands deferred until later this day at 10 p.m.

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

June 14th, 2005 / 6:30 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberalfor the President of the Treasury Board

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Vote 1, in the amount of $125,413,000, under PRIVY COUNCIL — Department — Program expenditures, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2006, be concurred in.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate in favour of the motion to approve the budget of the Privy Council Office for 2005-06.

I find it unimaginable that anyone could be against passing the Privy Council Office budget and that some hon. members in the opposition intend to obstruct it. This shows a lack of understanding of how the Government of Canada works. Those who oppose passing this budget should take the time to learn more about the basic principles of public administration and government.

The Privy Council Office plays a central, not to say crucial, role in the planning and implementation of major government policies. As a central agency, the Privy Council Office conducts strategic analyses of complex issues and does a thorough review of proposals and government orders as they are presented.

That is what allows the Privy Council Office to advise the government on developing and implementing its policies. It is the central agency par excellence and ensures that the general policy objectives, as set by the government and by Parliament, are met.

One of the most important documents setting out the objectives of the government's policies and its plan of action for achieving them is the throne speech. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Privy Council Office and particularly the Clerk of the Privy Council are closely involved in preparing the throne speech as advisors to the government on the aims of its policies and its plan for implementing them, in close cooperation with the PMO.

It may rightly be said that the throne speech is the equivalent of a bible for the PCO, as for the whole of the government apparatus. It reflects the government's vision of the type of Canada it hopes to build through the policies and programs contained therein.

There is another analogy, which perhaps better explains the link between the PCO and the throne speech. The throne speech becomes a sort of routing slip. It defines the government's legislative program and the commitments to be met. It is in this statement that the PCO and the rest of the government machine find their routing slip. The PCO ensures the work is carried out.

It will be remembered that the October 2004 throne speech dealt with a number of broad themes, namely a vigorous economy; the health of Canadians; children, caregivers and seniors; native Canadians; cities and communities; our environment; an influential role of pride in the world and governing with a common goal.

With your permission, I will describe some and, if time permits, each of them, bearing in mind that I do not have time here to mention all the objectives the government presented in each case. We have either accomplished or are on the way to accomplishing many more than what can be mentioned in a single speech.

What I want to get across to my colleagues opposite—in case some have not yet grasped it—is that the PCO was closely involved in defining each of these strategic objectives. It would be unrealistic to think that a government can successfully manage such a large range of problems without drawing on the PCO's functions of analysis, coordination and critical examination.

So I will start with a vigorous economy.

The current government is working to lower the debt-to-GDP ratio to 25% within 10 years, a goal it reiterated in the 2005 budget along with its ability to reach that goal.

We said that we would review the expenditures and reallocate the resources as needed. The 2005 budget confirmed that the expenditure review committee has identified nearly $11 billion in cumulative savings over the next five years, which will be reinvested in core federal areas of responsibility.

The first part of our five-point economic strategy—building a highly skilled workforce, promoting learning in the workplace and updating labour market agreements—is on track, as the 2005 budgetary statement confirmed.

We announced the implementation of an action plan on labour market integration of immigrants trained abroad. This plan allocates financial support to facilitate the foreign credential recognition process, provide immigrants with better language training and develop a portal so future immigrants can better prepare for their integration into Canada.

There is also the learning bond program—an innovative incentive to encourage low-income families to save for their children's education—funded with money set aside in the 2004 budget and which is supposed to begin on July 1. We also improved the program so as to introduce more people to the registered education saving plan and encourage low-income families to take advantage of it.

The second part of our five-point economic strategy is also progressing rapidly. The National Science Advisor was appointed to help universities, colleges and businesses renew their commitment to establishing a real national science program.

The third element of our five-point economic strategy, which deals with a smart regulatory system, was proposed by the External Advisory Committee on Smart Regulation; it provides for a transparent and predictable regulatory system. Work in this area is being pursued at the cabinet committee responsible for domestic affairs. Bill C-19, to amend the Competition Act, has already been introduced in the House.

The fourth element, which is the reform of the equalization program, has led to the adoption of a new framework for equalization and territorial formula financing. Under that new framework, federal support will be increased by $33 billion over the next 10 years. Legislation on the reform of the equalization program is currently before the House in the form of Bill C-24.

We promised a strategy for the north, a first in Canadian history, and we have started work on developing that strategy.

The fifth element includes the promotion of investment through the adoption of a sound monetary and fiscal policy and a competitive tax system.

The implementation of this sound monetary and fiscal policy has already been completed. The 2005 budgetary statement provides for balanced budgets through 2009-10. The 2004-05 fiscal year marked the completion of the five-year tax reduction plan totalling $100 billion, which was announced in 2000. The 2005 budget contains measures to reduce the general corporate tax rate to 19% and to eliminate the corporate surtax.

Another aspect of the fifth element of our five-point economic strategy consists in building on the Smart Borders initiative to strengthen security in North America while facilitating the flow of goods and people across the border.

Let me turn now to the health of Canadians. Long before last week's Supreme Court decision, this government set out an ambitious, yet absolutely crucial, set of policy deliverables to ensure that Canadians would have the timely and quality health care they deserve.

This complex set of policy goals includes: reduction in wait times; establishing a requirement for evidence based benchmarks; comparable indicators; clear targets; and transparent reporting. It also includes an increase in the number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals; improved access to home and community care services; improved access to safe and affordable drugs; setting goals and targets for improving the health status of Canadians; an annual report on the health status and health outcomes; the promotion of healthy living; enhancement of sports activities at both the community and competitive levels; and health protection. It also includes working with provincial and territorial partners on reforms and long term sustainability of the health system and on health promotion.

The cornerstone of our health care agenda is the government's commitment at last September's first ministers meeting of $41.285 billion over 10 years. Budget 2005 will implement the first year of the funding commitments related to the 10 year plan to strengthen health care.

As regards reductions in wait times, budget 2005 provides $15 million over four years for wait times initiatives. The provinces and territories are engaged with the federal government on developing a process for wait time reductions.

Budget 2005 also provides $110 million over five years to improve the data collection and reporting of health performance information; $75 million over five years to integrate internationally educated health care professionals; $170 million over five years to help ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs and other therapeutic products; $300 million over five years to encourage healthy living, and prevent and control chronic disease; and finally, increased funding for Sports Canada to $140 million annually.

This funding builds on the additional $2 billion health care transfer to the provinces provided for in budget 2004 through Bill C-18.

The next theme in the government's agenda that I would like to address concerns children, caregivers and seniors. As members know, this government has placed very strong emphasis on children and the need for a national system of early learning and child care. We spent the day debating that.

Budget 2005 provides $5 billion over five years to help build the foundations of such a national system. To date, we have signed bilateral accords to support the development of early learning and child care with Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia.

We have concluded an agreement with the government of Quebec to enable that province to establish its own parental benefits plan, with the federal government providing a one time start-up fund of $200 million and an annual premium reduction of approximately $750 million for the government of Quebec to use toward its plan.

Let me turn to our commitment to improve tax based support for Canadians who care for aged or infirm relatives or those with severe disabilities. The overall commitment of the federal government is $1 billion over five years. Budget 2005 is the first step toward a more comprehensive strategy to support unpaid caregiving.

Acting on the recommendations of the technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities, budget 2005 proposes to increase tax relief for persons with disabilities by $105 million in 2005-06, growing to $120 million by 2009-10. In fact, with budget 2005 the government is acting on virtually all of the committee's recommendations.

It is important to note the impact of the reduced tax burden on low and modest income families which budget 2005 announced. By 2009 the amount that an individual can earn tax free will increase to at least $10,000 and most of the benefit will go to those with low and modest incomes.

The Speech from the Throne committed the government to do more for Canada's seniors. Specifically, it committed the government to continue the new horizons program and explore other means of ensuring that we do not lose the talents and contributions that seniors make to our society.

In the February 2004 Speech from the Throne, the government announced a new deal for Canada's cities and communities. The government also established a new secretariat for cities and a new federal department of infrastructure and communities. We said we would make available a portion of the federal gas tax to municipalities to enable the containment of urban sprawl and to invest in new sustainable infrastructure projects in areas such as transit, roads, clean water and sewers.

Budget 2005 has $5 billion over the next five years in gas tax revenue to be given to the cities and communities. It also adds new funding of $300 million to green municipal funds. This builds on budget 2004 in which the goods and services taxes paid by municipalities were rebated entirely by the federal government

The Government of Canada has now signed gas tax revenue sharing agreements with three governments: British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon. Two more are anticipated before the end of this month. They are with the governments of Ontario and Quebec.

In addition, the government committed to move quickly to flow funds within existing infrastructure programs. Significant infrastructure investments have been announced. There is the $1 billion funding package for the Toronto Transit Commission; $500 million for the expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre; and significant projects undertaken at major Canada-U.S. border crossings such as Windsor-Detroit.

We have reached agreements with Quebec on financially supporting Quebec municipalities with the challenges of renewing their infrastructure; with Ontario in support of improvements to Ottawa's public transit system, and of course with the expansion of the Congress Centre also in Ottawa; and with Prince Edward Island on infrastructure funds for P.E.I. communities.

Other policy deliverables by the government to support and improve the quality of life in our cities and communities include the affordable housing initiative, the supporting communities partnership initiative for the homeless and the residential rehabilitation assistance program.

I may not have time to deal with the initiatives that we have taken on the environment and the numerous initiatives we have taken on Canada in the world.

I would like to provide an overview of the government's agenda as it relates to a role of pride and influence for Canada in the world. The government promised and released a comprehensive international policy statement which provided an updated and integrated approach to Canada's foreign policy objectives: trade and investment needs, defence requirements and the development assistance program.

One of the first actions of the government after the February 2004 Speech from the Throne was to develop and approve Canada's first ever national security policy. Considerable work has been undertaken since then in implementing the new security policy and a progress report on implementation to date will soon be released.

The government established a cabinet committee on security, public health and emergencies and has appointed a national security adviser to the Prime Minister. Separate legislation to create the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has been passed and the new Canada Border Services Agency legislation is before Parliament.

We have taken steps to build a more sophisticated and informed relationship with the United States. As part of the new enhanced representation initiative, the new Washington secretariat has been established and has commenced operations. Other projects are under way to advance advocacy, support policy coherence and share information among all levels of government.

Earlier this spring the Prime Minister, President Bush and President Fox announced the security and prosperity partnership launching a series of negotiations among the three countries on key aspects of security, prosperity and quality of life for North Americans.

On the defence front, our chief policy deliverable was to invest more in our military. Budget 2005 provides $12.8 billion in new money for defence over five years. It provides $3.2 billion over five years to strengthen military operations by improving training and operational readiness, enhancing military medical care, addressing critical supplies and repair shortages, and repairing infrastructure.

We have promised investments in key capital equipment, for example, new armoured vehicles and replacements for the Sea King helicopters. Budget 2005 provides more than $2.7 billion for new medium capacity helicopters, utility aircraft and military trucks.

We are increasing regular forces by 5,000 and the reserves by 3,000, and training regional peacekeepers, such as in Africa for the African Union mission in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The February 2004 Speech from the Throne promised the creation of the Canada Corps to help young Canadians participate in international assistance; provide to developing nations Canadian expertise and experience in justice, in federalism, in pluralistic democracy; and to bring the best of Canadian values and experience to the world.

The new Canada Corps was mobilized successfully and effectively for monitoring the elections in Ukraine last December, which we all remember with great pride.

Budget 2005 commits to doubling aid to Africa by 2008-09 from its 2003-04 level. It also provides additional funding to combat disease in developing countries and $3.4 billion over the next five years in increased international assistance. We are maintaining Canada's leadership role in the creation of a new international instrument on cultural diversity and continue to participate actively in a number of international organizations, be it the Commonwealth or the Francophonie.

This is not the complete list of the government's policy goals and the actions we have taken to achieve them. In each and every item that I have described to the members in this House, the Privy Council Office is right there helping to analyze and develop the policy, challenge any weakness, exert due diligence, bring together disparate parts from across the breadth of government, tie together the loose ends and manage the preparation of legislation and its follow-up.

In short, the Privy Council Office is engaged in all aspects of the cabinet's work in governing the country. Voting against the motion to support the approval of the Privy Council Office budget for fiscal year 2005-06 would cause considerable damage to the functioning of government as a result. It would most certainly be against the interests of all Canadians.

I therefore encourage and exhort all hon. members of the House to do the right thing and to vote in support of the motion. To do otherwise would be unconscionable. It is rather surprising that we would be confronted with a motion that would remove the entire funding for the Privy Council Office. It is a demonstration of a lack of understanding of how government functions.

In concluding my remarks, and I know I will have occasion to answer some questions if there are any, we definitely urge all members of the House to consider seriously the implications of not supporting this motion, which is central to the ability of government and Parliament to function.

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Lunn Conservative Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, what we have asked is to have $1 million removed from the PCO.

I would like to have the minister's comments on this. We heard the government some months back say that the Gomery commission was “costing taxpayers $80 million”. It was Justice Gomery himself who corrected the government's spin. He said that the entire Gomery commission would be less than $32 million.

However, four government departments, Justice, Public Works, Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office, spent about $40 million to “prepare witnesses”. That is what we find troubling. How hard is it to tell someone to tell the truth? Why do they need to prepare witnesses if they want to truth to come out?

We asked that $1 million removed when we learned that when the Gomery commission was created, the Prime Minister simultaneously created a war room inside the Privy Council to give him advice and spin to mitigate damage in the Gomery commission. That war room cost exactly $1.068 million. Political parties set up war rooms, not governments.

It sounds a little like the gun registry. The commission only cost $32 million but it cost $40 million for four departments to spin and prepare witnesses for the Gomery commission. How can the minister possibly agree that this is a legitimate expenditure of taxpayer money, to spend $40 million in four departments to prepare witnesses at the Gomery commission when they simply had to tell them to tell the truth?

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, that shows the member opposite did not attend and perhaps did not even read the transcripts from the meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations at which I participated as a witness. If he had, he would know that the $1 million, to which he has referred, is to fund the coordination sponsorship matter, which is a group of four people who do a number of functions in the Privy Council Office and none of them for the Prime Minister's Office. This $1 million is funded over two years, which is about $500,000 a year. The relationship there is not a direct one. It is through the Clerk of the Privy Council.

This group coordinated the provision of over 20 million pages of documentation in a timely manner to the Gomery commission from among five government departments. This is the same group that also prepared all government submissions and made sure they were submitted on time. It also made sure that government counsel was instructed.

This group helped to prepare witnesses in terms of their obligations and their rights to ensure that the process was expedited. I believe that the group prepared approximately 100 witnesses, all who were represented by government counsel.

This is the group that has monitored hearings, monitored the media, and has provided, as all departments provide to all ministers, question period material.

If the government had not set up this group, the opposition would be accusing the government of not doing its job, and rightfully so.

Every time we set up a commission inquiry, as we have from time to time, there is a coordinating group involved, not a war room as he described it. This group has to do the coordinating functions to ensure the inquiry, whatever it is, functions properly and is given the information it requires in a complete and timely manner.

To try to remove that from the budget of the Privy Council Office is also ludicrous, just as much as removing the entire budget would be, which is the motion that we had put to us.

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Lunn Conservative Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to note that the minister stated this money was spent, to quote his own words, “to prepare over 100 government witnesses”, and it was the Privy Council Office not the Prime Minister's Office. I accept that. As we all know the PCO is cabinet.

Millions of dollars was spent preparing government witnesses. Why can these witnesses not just go to the commission and tell the truth? Why do they need to be prepared? Why do people need to prepare these witnesses? How difficult is it to tell 100 people that they are scheduled to be at the commission at say next Wednesday at 2 o'clock? Do they need to be briefed? Do the government need to control the message?

Are these 100 government witnesses? Maybe they are 100 Liberal witnesses. Maybe that is the problem. Maybe when one has cash in envelopes and cash in suitcases and people on payrolls, the witnesses need to be prepared to control the damage. Maybe that is what happens. Why can these people not just show up without being briefed, without being prepared, without being spun? Here are the lines, here are the message and this is what they want them to say.

I think rightfully so that this should be taken out of the Privy Council Office. This expenditure of taxpayer money is completely unacceptable if we truly want to get to the bottom of what comes out of the commission. It is time we heard the truth.

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, they cannot handle the truth. Somebody else has said that. People who appear as witnesses in front of the Gomery commission, who are employees or were employees at the time, are represented by government counsel. That is the important distinction the member should keep in mind. It is the counsel that this coordinating unit in the PCO helped so they can do their work in terms of preparing the people they represent on the commission. That is perfectly normal.

He said that we should eliminate this from the budget. It is interesting to note that members opposite have not suggested that we eliminate the public money that is being sent to the Conservative Party of Canada because it too has counsel there, and we do not begrudge it that. That party did not ask to have that money cut or the money that the Bloc Québécois receives for its counsel. That is part and parcel of due process.

If those members are prepared to have due process for themselves, they should also be prepared to have due process for people who work for the Crown and who are called to testify in front of a commission. There is nothing sinister here. It is all above board. To insinuate things, as the member has done, is totally unjustified.

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Madam Speaker, I am the chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We had the minister before our committee last week. Listening to him then and listening to him now I am reminded of an old folk song from the sixties. I forget who sang it, but Turn! Turn! Turn! except it is spin, spin, spin with these guys.

The minister stood and said that the million dollars that was spent inside the Privy Council was to prepare mostly Liberals as witnesses. They are the ones who committed these offences and have been charged. They appeared before the Gomery inquiry. The million dollars is clearly there, along with a lot of other money and I will talk about that later in my presentation, to prepare these witnesses for the inquiry.

They talk about how they want Justice Gomery to do his job. Then why is the government spending all this money to prevent these witnesses from giving Justice Gomery the information that would allow him to do his job? That is the real question.

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, the spin, spin, spin was by the Byrds, as are his comments. It is totally ludicrous for the member to stand in this House and say what he just did.

There are people here who are public servants who because of their work are called to appear in front of the commission. They have the right and obligation to go there, but they also have rights and obligations. If they are represented by counsel and counsel asks for information to be provided to them, then they must be provided that information.

It was the same with the witnesses who were called there and who were not public servants and not represented by counsel. They had counsel of their own, most of the time, not all, paid for by taxpayer money, as are the counsel for the Conservative Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois. We do not begrudge them that. The commissioner recognized that they could have standing. It stands to reason that due process be followed.

To single out this group as some sort of an unsavoury way of helping the government and the Liberal Party is totally unacceptable and a total fabrication.

These four people have coordinated the provision of over 20 million pages of documentation to the Gomery inquiry in a timely manner, and they have been doing that for two years.

The members opposite would rather the government not do its job. When we have other commissions of inquiry, there has always been a coordinating group. Now they would suggest that we not have one and, therefore, impede the work. This dovetails quite well in their approach of undermining the commission, which is something they have been doing on and on. This is part and parcel of their strategy to undermine Justice Gomery's work. We will not let them do that.

Main Estimates, 2005-06Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Lunn Conservative Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a couple of quick responses to the last member who spoke. I want it to be very clear that it was not the Conservative Party that set up a war room or spin room spending millions of dollars of taxpayers' money preparing witnesses, I would argue, inappropriately. That would be clearly a party problem.

As far as the 20,000 pages of testimony, let us remind ourselves that this was a Liberal Party scandal, not a Quebec scandal, not a Government of Canada scandal but a Liberal Party scandal. The Liberal Party could have come clean and told us the truth right from the beginning and saved us all of the pain we have had to go through the last year. We have had to drag it out of the government, kicking and screaming, one day at a time.

I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of our notice of opposition. The intent of our motion is simple. We are asking the House of Commons to remove a small portion of the Privy Council budget, roughly equal to what the office has used for blatantly partisan purposes.

As the sponsorship scandal demonstrated, we should not be using taxpayers' money for partisan purposes. Nevertheless, that is what is happening with the PCO funded war room monitoring the Gomery inquiry. This hastily created spin bin operates out of the Privy Council Office. It has an annual budget of $1,068,000 to monitor Justice Gomery on behalf of the federal government and provide advice to the Prime Minister's Office on how to mitigate the damaging testimony.

Liberals claim that they fully support Justice Gomery and have nothing to hide. If they have nothing to hide, why did they create a war room in the first place? The truth needs to be spoken, not spun.

Let us not forget that the PCO war room was created in February 2004. That is ironically the same time the Gomery commission was announced. From the very beginning the Liberals were working hard to ensure that Justice Gomery's message did not reach the ears of Canadians unfiltered.

This agency apparently is not only there for damage control but to prepare government witnesses. Preparing witnesses to do what? I am pretty sure it does not cost $1 million to tell someone entering the court room to tell the truth and answer the questions or that this advice should be given to a witness. Millions of dollars are being spent to prepare and spin, I would submit, Liberal witnesses.

This Liberal war room also helps prepare questions and answers for question period. Again, this is a very poor investment if one reviews the facts. One million dollars is an awful lot of money to pay, so that the Minister of Public Works and Government Services can stand everyday and say, “Let the commission do its work”.

I want to point out that it was the minister opposite who just suggested that we are trying to impede Justice Gomery from doing his work. Let us ensure that every Canadian knows that the Conservative Party has been fully supportive. It was not our former Prime Minister making applications to federal courts to have Justice Gomery removed and making secret deals with the current Prime Minister to reserve the right to bring forward more applications to do whatever.

The minister's non-answers are embarrassing enough. We certainly should not be spending money so that he can be reminded each day to keep saying nothing. For weeks and months we have received virtually no answers from government members when they are asked very direct questions. It is important to realize that these millions and millions of dollars of taxpayers' money funnelled to the Liberal Party is a Liberal Party scandal. Members know all the details on that side of the House. They have all the facts at their fingertips. They know all the players. It is all intertwined.

They could have chosen to come clean. The Prime Minister could have laid it all out on the table. Instead, we had to drag it out of the government kicking and screaming. The $40 million in four departments to prepare witnesses is unacceptable. The amazing part is that the government was spending $40 million to prepare speakers and so on for the commission. What did it do? It decided to blame the commission itself for spending $80 million.

It was Justice Gomery who had to put on the record the fact that the commission had spent roughly $32 million on budget. It was the Liberals who were spending more than the commission itself just to prepare witnesses and doing some spin control. Some $40 million was spent by the Department of Justice, Department of Public Works, the Treasury Board and Privy Council Office. The government claimed that this was for legal and administrative costs. Did it need $40 million for photocopies?

How many lawyers does the government need to hire to do damage control and obscure the truth? More than any department the Gomery war room in the PCO is set up as a blatantly partisan war room. That is what parties do during elections. They set up war rooms to get their message out. Governments do not set up war rooms. They do not use taxpayers' money.

To add insult to injury, with the largest scandal in Canadian political history, the government's response is to take more taxpayers' money to do damage control and spin control. It is completely unbelievable. The Liberals will look at us stunned, yet the facts speak for themselves. They will shake their head and they will somehow blame us because that is what they do. It is always someone else's fault. Originally, it was Justice Gomery who was spending $80 million on the commission, which was completely wrong.

Recently, the CBC broadcast a story discussing how the war rooms ran in the last election and how the truth can be obscured by them, and how they get their message out. That is exactly what is happening with the commission. I would suggest that the government has the responsibility to act on behalf of the people of Canada, not the Liberal Party of Canada. The Government of Canada is sent here to represent every single Canadian and not the Liberal Party.

That is what we are seeing after the Liberal Party stole millions and millions of dollars, stuffed it into suitcases and envelopes, and sprinkled it throughout ridings in Quebec. It is so fundamentally wrong. The Liberals believe they have an inherent right to stay there and govern after this type of behaviour. The Gomery war room is designed to assist the Liberal Party of Canada. Another million dollars of taxpayers' money wasted for partisan purposes.

The House needs to send a very clear message that this is not okay. It is not okay to spend $1 million. The government will say that $1 million is not a lot of money. It can waste that in just a matter of milliseconds around here. That is just pocket change. However, that is a lot of money to every single Canadian. If we were to begin adding up these partisan expenditures from one department to another, it would become hundreds of millions and eventually billions of dollars.

It is time that the government accepts the bad news from Justice Gomery. It is time that Liberals owned up to the facts that have come out from the numerous witnesses and all the evidence that has been submitted to Justice Gomery. It is time that the Liberals actually showed an example and got rid of the spin bin where millions more of taxpayers' money is being shuffled to control their messaging and do damage control. They would have a heck of a good start by removing this $1 million from the Privy Council Office, even if it is only a symbolic gesture, so that Canadians can believe that they are actually going to do things differently.

They keep walking the talk; they should show us. They should demonstrate to Canadians that there is actually an ounce of sincerity and an ounce of honesty. They should demonstrate that by removing this million dollars that is clearly being used for blatant partisan purposes. They should do that before we get the Auditor General writing another damning report against this current corrupt Liberal government.