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House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-48, An Act to authorize the Minister of Finance to make certain payments, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2005 / 11:45 a.m.

The Speaker

There are three motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-48. Motions Nos. 1 to 3 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Don Valley West Ontario

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberalfor the Minister of Finance

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-48, in Clause 1, be amended by restoring Clause 1 thereof as follows:

“1. (1) Subject to subsection (3), the Minister of Finance may, in respect of the fiscal year 2005-2006, make payments out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund up to the amount that is the difference between the amount that would, but for those payments, be the annual surplus as provided in the Public Accounts for that year prepared in accordance with sections 63 and 64 of the Financial Administration Act and $2 billion.

(2) Subject to subsection (3), the Minister of Finance may, in respect of the fiscal year 2006-2007, make payments out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund up to the amount that is the difference between the amount that would, but for those payments, be the annual surplus as provided in the Public Accounts for that year prepared in accordance with sections 63 and 64 of the Financial Administration Act and $2 billion.

(3) The payments made under subsections (1) and (2) shall not exceed in the aggregate $4.5 billion.”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-48, in Clause 2, be amended by restoring Clause 2 thereof as follows:

“2. (1) The payments made under subsections 1(1) and (2) shall be allocated as follows:

(a) for the environment, including for public transit and for an energy-efficient retrofit program for low-income housing, an amount not exceeding $900 million;

(b) for supporting training programs and enhancing access to post-secondary education, to benefit, among others, aboriginal Canadians, an amount not exceeding $1.5 billion;

(c) for affordable housing, including housing for aboriginal Canadians, an amount not exceeding $1.6 billion; and

(d) for foreign aid, an amount not exceeding $500 million

(2) The Governor in Council may specify the particular purposes for which payments referred to in subsection (1) may be made and the amounts of those payments for the relevant fiscal year.”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-48, in Clause 3, be amended by restoring Clause 3 thereof as follows:

“3. For the purposes of this Act, the Governor in Council may, on any terms and conditions that the Governor in Council considers appropriate, authorize a minister to

(a) develop and implement programs and projects;

(b) enter into an agreement with the government of a province, a municipality or any other organization or any person;

(c) make a grant or contribution or any other payment;

(d) subject to the approval of Treasury Board, supplement any appropriation by Parliament;

(e) incorporate a corporation any shares or memberships of which, on incorporation, would be held by, on behalf of or in trust for the Crown; or

(f) acquire shares or memberships of a corporation that, on acquisition, would be held by, on behalf of or in trust for the Crown.”

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, your having to read all of the motions was a completely unnecessary exercise, but I guess it reflects the fact that we are off to a wonderful start on the bill. I know that hon. members opposite are absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to delay government legislation.

This is actually an interesting bill. It is legislation which deals with an unplanned surplus. I am not sure that any such bill has ever been introduced in the House before, because by virtue of the fact that the government has run surpluses over the last number of years, we have had some rather happy surprises. I know members opposite prefer the opposite kind of surprise. They would prefer deficits, but it appears that the government over the last eight years has been able to run surpluses, some of which have led to a reduction in the national debt in the order of about $60 billion. That has left us in a relatively good situation.

Going forward, the budget anticipates that there will be a further five years of surpluses. In anticipation that there will be further surpluses, and given the commitments to running a balanced budget and given the commitment that we have made in the budget and in this bill to at least a debt reduction of $2 billion on an annual basis, the question which arises is what we would do if we had any additional moneys beyond the threshold moneys of $2 billion. This bill attempts to address that.

The bill is novel in the sense that we as a government are indicating the areas in which we would spend money in the event that we had money beyond $2 billion on an annual basis. It leaves quite a bit of discretion to the government as to how to time those moneys.

First of all we have to meet the threshold of meeting the $2 billion. It could all be spent in one year, or it could all be spent in the second year, or it could all be spent in a combination of either year. Additionally we could spend the money in a fashion which mixes all of the above. There is a fair bit of flexibility.

The Conservative Party tried to introduce its own version of legislation on an unplanned surplus by directing all moneys beyond the $2 billion or $3 billion threshold to tax relief. While that may be an attractive alternative to a certain ideological set who think that by giving tax relief we can somehow or another attain nirvana here on earth, there are other priorities. Those other priorities are being spoken to by the government in this bill.

Canada's social foundations are key to our identity. There are areas in which we would have liked to have spent some additional moneys, such as affordable housing, post-secondary education, the environment and foreign aid. All of those are coherent with the original budget as presented in Bill C-43 and the preceding budgets 2004, 2003, 2002, et cetera.

Far from being as opposition members allege a deal cooked up on the back of a napkin in a motel room or in the back of a Chevy Nova--and I frankly have never understood what those hon. members have against Chevy Novas--this bill, which was entered into after negotiations with the NDP, reflects the priorities of Canadians. One example is affordable housing. I do not quite understand why members opposite have a problem with additional expenditures in affordable housing. Can they give a coherent reason as to why they would be opposed to spending on post-secondary education, or the environment, or foreign aid? Apparently they do not appreciate that Canadians have aspirations other than merely tax relief or debt reduction.

The Government of Canada over the past number of budgets has put significant sums of money into affordable housing. The significance of this $1.6 billion that is going into affordable housing is that it is not attached to a matching funds regime and it also includes aboriginal housing. Previous funding has been somewhat contingent upon matching funding generally from the provinces or other entities, but in this particular case, the investment of $1.6 billion is not contingent upon matching funding from the provinces.

This builds upon the $2 billion that has already been put toward homelessness and affordable housing over the last number of years. For instance, in 1999 we launched a three year national homelessness initiative, otherwise known as SCPI. That constituted about $305 million. That was to address a specific number of problems.

Madam Speaker, you and I share somewhat parallel demographic profiles in our respective ridings. Certain sections of the ridings are quite affluent and other parts of the ridings though are somewhat less than affluent.

In my riding there is what is called the strip. My riding is the easternmost riding in Toronto. Before highway 401 was built, it was the gateway to the eastern section of Toronto along highway 2. As a consequence there were a number of motels along that section of the highway. Over time they have fallen into something less than an ideal state. The consequence of that was they were available for shelters for homeless people and refugee claimants.

This was supposed to be a temporary measure, but after 10 years of temporary measures it was perfectly obvious to anyone who did an objective study on the area that it was not an acceptable way in which to house homeless people. At one point there were about 1,400 people in the riding each and every night who were either refugee claimants or homeless from other parts of Canada. We felt that something had to be done.

Madam Speaker, I know that you and other members of the caucus approached the GTA political minister at the time, the hon. David Collenette, and others to address the issue. The result was a significant infusion in cash. The hon. minister of labour took over the administration of the supporting communities partnership initiative, otherwise known as SCPI. She poured her heart and soul into that initiative, the result of which I am happy to say in my riding has been a reduction from about 1,400 people a night down to 75 people a night.

I look to that as one of the initiatives taken by the government that has been very successful on the ground. It has addressed real and meaningful needs on the part of Canadians.

Budget 2003 provided a three year extension of the SCPI initiative at $135 million per year which is welcome money in the community. Madam Speaker, I know that you and I and certainly members on this side of the House appreciate the efforts of the Government of Canada to address the social scourge of homelessness in our respective ridings.

In budget 2001 simultaneous with the announcement of the $305 million was the announcement of a further $680 million over five years for affordable housing. I just want to mention to those who might be listening, as I do not anticipate that members opposite might be listening, but at least other people might be listening, that this builds on $1.9 billion that is already there in support for housing by the Government of Canada.

In addition, the bill proposes $1.5 billion to increase accessibility to post-secondary education, building on a whole other set of initiatives that have been in place.

As well, the budget proposes a further $900 million investment in public transit and energy refit, building again on a whole host of initiatives, particularly in budget 2005, for clean air, which was reflected in Bill C-43.

Finally, the bill contemplates the additional investment of $500 million in international assistance, which I know, Madam Speaker, you are very keen on seeing.

I hope hon. members will support the bill and that it will be a reflection of trying to make this Parliament work.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Gary Lunn Conservative Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, at the outset, I know the government likes to try to spin that we are trying to oppose and delay this bill. it is very true that we are adamantly opposed to Buzz Hargrove's bill.

This is $4.6 billion worth of spending, outlined on a page and a half of paper. I do not know how the government could possibly believe we could support that kind of reckless spending. We have no idea what it will spend it on. There is absolutely not an ounce of detail in the bill. It is like giving the Liberals a blank cheque. What they have done in the last years, it would be irresponsible for us to even begin to try pursue this.

We will object to this at every opportunity in the interests of Canadians. We have one of the major national banks now saying that the spending is wildly out of control and it is irresponsible.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

Noon

An hon. member

The CFIB.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Gary Lunn Conservative Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Exactly, and the CFIB. They are lining up.

What part of this do the Liberals not get? It is very clear that there was only one motive for this $4.6 billion in spending. It was a desperate attempt to buy power. Now they are trying to pretend this is something they believed in all along. Maybe that is their true cause with the NDP. It is not something we can support and we will oppose it at every level, at every opportunity, on a matter of principle.

How can the government expect us to support a $4.6 billion blank cheque when the bill is barely a page and a half long? Does it not believe Canadians are entitled to just a little of detail? Do the Liberals think that their record is that great, considering what is happening at the Gomery commission, that people should trust them in the way they spend the money?

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, it is amusing to have the hon. member stand up and say that they are not trying to delay this, having spent the entire morning trying to delay it. Then the bill was returned from committee as a blank bill, having been stripped of all of its contents. Of course they are not trying to delay this.

I would appreciate it if the hon. member would read the bill. That would be a good start. If he had read the bill, he would know that this is entirely contingent spending. I do not care whether the hon. member or his acolytes, or people who apparently support his position, say that this is wild, crazy and reckless spending. That is idiotic nonsense. It is contingent spending. It will not happen unless the contingency occurs. If the contingency occurs and we have a surplus, then that money will be spent. Otherwise it will not be spent.

The hon. member has just given a classic illustration of why that party has spent 12 years in opposition and it is more than likely going to spend another 12 years there.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I think most Canadians know that the government was going to put in place $4.6 billion in tax breaks for corporations in the initial budget. In the NDP bill, we are giving $4.6 billion of services to Canadians rather than giving the tax breaks.

It is my understanding that the Conservatives voted unanimously for the $4.6 billion in tax breaks to corporation. Their leader was out within seconds after the first budget reading supporting those tax breaks. Now they somehow call it free and unruly spending to give those dollars back to Canadians.

I just want to verify if that is the actual situation that has taken place.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, the original budget, Bill C-43, did contemplate corporate tax reductions in roughly that amount. My recollection of the number is $4.7 billion. As part of the arrangement with the implementation of Bill C-48, that legislation will come in on a separate track and restore those tax measures.

The hon. member needs to bear in mind that Bill C-48 and the restoration of tax relief and tax competitiveness are delinked. The bill proposes that in the event there are moneys in surplus in excess of $2 billion, then this will be the direction in which the government spends money: affordable housing, foreign affairs, environment and post-secondary education. All those items are perfectly consistent with previous spending initiatives that the government initiated in previous budgets and indeed, in budget 2005.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and address Bill C-48.

I want to say at the outset that the Conservative Party of Canada believes very strongly that Canada has an obligation to provide its citizens with a much higher standard of living than we have today. We think that, ultimately, Canada can become the most prosperous nation in the world. We think Canada can ultimately offer its citizens, no matter where they live in this country, an opportunity to find a job, or ensure that when parents go to bed at night, they can go to bed knowing that when their children go into the workforce, they will have the chance to live the Canadian dream of finding good, well-paying jobs. We think Canada can offer them the a higher standard of living and ultimately a comfortable retirement and strong social programs to support them if they need them. The Conservative Party of Canada believes in that.

It troubles me when the government brings forward legislation like this. I believe firmly that this takes us further away from that vision.

In fact I want to answer the parliamentary. He asked why are we opposed to some of the things in Bill C-48, like money for post-secondary education, housing and other things. We are opposed to it for the same reasons his own government was opposed to it back in February. If it is such a good idea, why did the government not include it in its budget in February? Because it is imprudent to keep recklessly spending year after year when we carry a half a trillion dollar debt, when interest rates are rising, when spending was raised the previous year by 12% in a single year and when spending has gone up 44% since 1999. The reason we oppose it is the same reason the government opposed it in February.

However, it goes beyond that. We oppose it because, as my friend just pointed out a minute ago, the bill is only 400 words long and it proposes to spend $4.6 billion. Yet there is not one detail on how that money should be spent. Furthermore, we are having this debate in the context of the worst corruption scandal to ever grip the country, a corruption scandal brought on by the Liberal government. How could we, as parliamentarians, look at ourselves in the mirror if we allow this to go through unchallenged, in that context? That would define what it means to be irresponsible. We cannot do that.

When the parliamentary secretary in his sarcastic, nasty tone accuses us of wanting to block this vital spending, spending that the Liberals themselves did not support a few months ago, it really causes me to wonder about this place. It causes tremendous cynicism amongst the public today, and I cannot help but admit that it makes me pretty cynical as well.

We have a job to do and we intend to do it. We will hold the government to account on legislation that has been roundly criticized by groups, ranging from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the voice of small business in Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the voice of business in Canada, the Canadian Council of Chief Executive Officers, another voice for large employers in the country, and by virtually every economist in the country. Almost nobody believes this is good legislation. They believe it is poorly crafted and they have tremendous problems with it.

There is a better way to do this. The answer is to have a budget process like the budget process we have always had in the past, where we hear from witnesses and then we make some judgments. The finance committee hears from witnesses and makes some judgments upon their testimony. We offer a report to the finance minister.

The minister considers this. He considers all the input he has received from people elsewhere. It is mulled over and put it into a budget document. It is brought before the House. There is debate. There are witnesses. There is testimony. Ultimately there is a budget and legislation flows from it. That is how it usually happens in Canada.

This time, halfway through the process, the government cut a backroom deal in a Toronto hotel room with the leader of the NDP and Buzz Hargrove of the Canadian Auto Workers. Guess what: we now have $4.6 billion in spending that the government itself did not agree with even days before. When the finance minister was being quizzed about that spending by the NDP, he said that “we can't allow the budget to be stripped away piece by piece”. He said that people could not “cherry-pick the budget”.

He opposed it all. He opposed everything the NDP was proposing. Then his own Prime Minister undercut him and turned around and said they would cut that deal so they could get 19 votes. It was more vote buying by the government and we ended up with this deal cut in a back room in Toronto somewhere.

I think it is reprehensible. I think Canadians deserve better. Although it will be difficult to defeat the government on this, I think there are some things we can do to try to amend this legislation so that hopefully we can limit the damage of this irresponsible approach the government and its NDP colleagues have taken. I will move those amendments now.

I move:

That Motion No. 1 for Bill C-48 be amended by replacing “$2 billion” with “$3.5 billion” in subclauses 1(1) and (2).

That Motion No. 2 for Bill C-48 be amended by adding after subclause 2(2) the following:

“(3) The Governor in Council shall table in Parliament, before December 31 of every year, a report describing the payments referred to in subsection (1) that are to be made, and the report shall include, with respect to each payment,

(a) the amount:

(b) the expected results; and

(c) the details of the delivery mechanism.

(4) The report referred to in subsection (3) stands permanently referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance.”

That Motion No. 3 for Bill C-48 be amended by adding after clause 3 the following:

“(2) A corporation wholly owned by the Government of Canada that has been incorporated by a minister in accordance with an authorization referred to in paragraph (1)(e) or shares or memberships of which have been acquired by a minister in accordance with an authorization referred to in paragraph (1)(f)

(a) is deemed to be a government institution for the purposes of the Access to Information Act;

(b) is deemed to have accounts that are accounts of Canada for the purposes of section 5 of the Auditor General Act;

(c) is subject to the Official Languages Act;

(d) is subject to the Privacy Act;

(e) shall annually submit a corporate plan to the Minister of Finance for the approval of the Governor in Council; and

(f) shall, within three months after the end of each fiscal year, submit an annual report to Parliament on the corporation's activities during that fiscal year.

I look forward to questions from members.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I was more amused by the revisionist statements of the hon. member than the actual content of his speech. He seems to have a peculiar recollection of facts.

As I recollect the facts, the opposition leader was virtually out the door about five minutes after the finance minister delivered the budget to say that he would not defeat the government on this particular point.

Then the opposition leader apparently had an on the road to Damascus experience and thought that maybe that was not quite the best thing he had ever done in his political life. He reversed himself and said no, this government had to be put out of its misery.

We then had a difficult situation. Would we effectively collapse and show the Canadian electorate, which clearly said it did not want an election, that Parliament cannot work in a minority situation? That was not an acceptable choice, so as a consequence we entered into this particular configuration, which, I would point out to the hon. member, is a 1% change in the contingent spending profile but consistent with the fundamentals, objectives and goals of the budget.

I put it to the hon. member that his recollection of the facts on which we got here is deficient, and that the basic reason we are even debating the bill has to do with the withdrawal of the Conservatives' support prematurely of Bill C-43.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight on what he has just said. I point out to my friend that of course when the throne speech came in and the Conservative Party was able to force the government to include in it ideas like lowering taxes for all Canadians, that ultimately was reflected in the budget. We are happy for that. We thank the government for listening to some common sense from the Conservative Party on that issue and agreeing to do that.

We were happy to see that in the budget. After having been in lock-up for several hours reviewing the budget, my leader came out and said that we do support the idea of reducing personal income taxes and corporate taxes and some of the spending initiatives that were in there. We thought those were good things. We liked the idea that ultimately the Atlantic accord would get paid out. We did not think it should be in the budget, but the government was making a commitment, we thought, to pay that to Atlantic Canada.

We support those things, but when it became apparent through testimony before the Gomery commission that the Liberal Party had been involved in corruption, and it was very clear that Canadian support for the government had evaporated and a lot of people thought the government no longer had the moral authority to govern, we took our cue from the public. We moved a non-confidence motion at that time.

The government stalled for a time, violated some ancient traditions of this place, and ultimately got onto the issue of the vote on Bill C-43, the budget. That is how this all came about. I would suggest that it is my friend who has a sort of faulty memory when it comes to how this all came about.

I would remind him that at the end of the day he is answerable for having to explain why it was that the Liberals cut a backroom deal with the NDP solely to hang onto power, which I think they will be judged for ultimately, and they will be found wanting.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the constituents of the member for Medicine Hat are going to hang on every word and understand every nuance of what the Conservative finance critic just put forward in his rationalization about where they are at now. Nobody can understand it. It is a lot of bafflegab.

I have to chuckle at the line that the finance critic from the Conservatives is peddling here, because I do not think people are really buying it. The suggestion is that Bill C-48 is hollow, that the money is not really there, that it is financially irresponsible and there is no detail.

Come on, I say, this bill is on the same basis as Bill C-43, which the member and his party voted for. It is based on a fiscally responsible budget. It is based on no deficit. It is based on paying down the debt. It is based on expenditures that people want.

What the member cannot stomach, and maybe he could comment on this, is the fact that people out there like this bill. They want to see housing. They want to see education help for students. They want to see public transit. That is what he cannot stomach.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

First of all, Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to see that my friend across the way has become so bitter about this.

Now she is laughing but she was not a moment ago.

I would say that if she does not believe the Conservative Party, and I do not expect her to, in a sense, I ask her what she says about the commentary from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. It has said that this is an awful deal. This is the independent voice of small business across Canada and it is deeply concerned about this.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce thinks that this is reckless spending, spending without any details, spending that kicks the doors open to more abuse, waste and mismanagement, the same waste and mismanagement that this government is famous for.

I do not understand how the NDP can support one of the most corrupt governments in the history of Canada.

An Act to Authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain PaymentsGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois had hoped for an opportunity to introduce some subamendments to the bill before the House. Unfortunately, parliamentary procedure prevents us from doing so. Once the official opposition puts forward any subamendments, we are prevented from doing likewise on the same clauses. This is unfortunate.

I understand the Conservative Party for having taken this opportunity to put forward amendments to Bill C-48 that are consistent with its convictions. However, we wanted to introduce a subamendment to the bill, on respect for the areas of provincial—and Quebec—jurisdiction. As a matter of fact, everything in Bill C-48 falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Unfortunately, we were unable to put forward this subamendment.

We would also have liked to continue the battle that we, as a political party, have waged in the Standing Committee on Finance. In other words, we wanted to include the main priorities of Quebeckers in the bill. Unfortunately, we could not do that, either.

We take issue with the following aspect of this bill. The NDP is patting itself on the back, saying it concluded the agreement of the century with the Liberal government. I do not understand the NDP. If it says it has this power, I do not understand why it has abandoned the unemployed. EI is not one of the concerns the NDP presented and expressed in Bill C-48.

The NDP has boasted for years about fighting to improve EI, which excludes 60% of the unemployed who would normally be entitled to it, were it not for such inhumane criteria.

From the start, the government considers the unemployed as potential con artists. Benefits have been slashed for people hit by unemployment, a problem for thousands of families in Quebec and Canada. The NDP has abandoned the unemployed. We have not abandoned them. During each stage of Bill C-48, we have done everything possible to reintroduce such consideration for the unemployed into the bill. Not so the NDP.

As far as the fiscal imbalance is concerned, all parties in opposition believe it exists. The sub-committee I have the honour of chairing has just tabled a report. That sub-committee travelled the length and breadth of Canada to hear people's testimony. They all expressed their concerns about the fiscal relationship between the federal and provincial governments and the inability of the governments of Quebec and the provinces to provide basic services like health to their populations. Regardless of last September's agreement, they still lack the funds to be able to provide health systems that operate to their full potential.

As for post-secondary education, the provinces are faced with under-funding, since they simply cannot afford to invest in post-secondary education, although in a way investing in our youth means investing in our future.

Then there is the problem of disadvantaged families. In the provinces—and in Quebec—the funds are not there for lifting entire families out of poverty. None of these considerations exists in the bill, nothing to correct the fiscal imbalance, nothing to improve employment insurance either. Even if those lefties keep saying something needs to be done about EI, the unemployed have been abandoned.

We in the Bloc Québécois have not abandoned them. Nor have we abandoned the key priorities of Quebeckers and Canadians. In fact, in the rest of Canada we heard considerable concerns expressed about the fiscal imbalance and the under-funding of essential public services. We have not given up on this, If the NDP has, so be it. History will judge them, and they will get their come-uppance in the next election.

As for the rest of us, we will continue to fight and to push for reforms. Our basic premise is consistency. The first budget was bad, and the second is a fool's bargain. The NDP is boasting of its great gains. I will read an excerpt from the bill.

This analysis was confirmed last Monday evening when we studied Bill C-48. A senior Treasury Board official was there. He told us flat out that this bill did not commit the federal government at all and the NDP had signed a fool's bargain. The government has not made any commitments to any of the areas in which it promised to invest. It has not really made any commitments to social housing, or education, or foreign aid, or environmental programs.

I will read some excerpts which the senior Treasury Board official emphasized: The government has not made any commitments. The government “may” invest in it. So the government has not made any firm commitments. I will read some excerpts from subclause 1(1) of Bill C-48. It says: “Subject to subsection (3), the Minister of Finance may, in respect of the fiscal year 2005-2006, make payments —”

That does not mean he is going to make them. It does not say that he must make them or that he will make them. It says that he may make these payments.

It is the same thing in subclause 1(2): “Subject to subsection (3), the Minister of Finance may, in respect of the fiscal year 2006-2007, make payments—”

We know that “may make” does not necessarily mean that he will make. There are also a lot of conditions surrounding the end of year surpluses. The government can decide to do anything else that it likes during the financial year knowing that it will have surpluses at the end of the year. It can take any initiatives at all other than those in Bill C-48. This is a real fool's bargain. Nothing is gained here. There is no commitment on the part of the government to any of these things.

In English and French, the bill says the same thing. It is “may” not “must” and there is no commitment. A real fool's bargain.

The NDP has stood the world on its head, saying that it was good, it had negotiated some things and we had not done our work very well. To that I say it has not done anything if one looks at this agreement. When there is an agreement and a bill says “may make payments”, that means the government can do anything it wants.

For all these reasons, in committee, we worked hard—which cannot be said for the other political parties—to amend the bill, to consider everyone who was forgotten in this budget bill, and by that we mean the unemployed and the sick, among others. Given the rate at which spending in health care is increasing—at the rate of approximately 7%—they will not recover the time or the resources lost in order to get the system to operate as it should. In fact, the current Prime Minister made savage cuts in this area when he was finance minister.

They have also forgotten students, who are dealing with an education system that has been underfunded for years. In Quebec alone, it would take an investment of $1 billion a year for the next five years to catch up.

We in the Bloc have tried to get these amounts and move things along. However, the government and the other opposition parties are not interested in supporting amendments to improve EI, to help the unemployed—about 60% are excluded at the moment—and to help people who are sick and to help the students.

We also tried to get international aid increased to 0.7% of the GDP. With the amounts involved at the moment, we will need 25 years to reach this objective. We tried to help farmers in Quebec and Canada, who are facing a very serious crisis. However, the government was not interested in supporting our amendments and suggestions to improve this bill and make a firmer commitment than the one providing that the government “may”.

In conclusion, it is a fool's bargain. The amendments we had proposed were rejected. The bill is still totally unacceptable. The NDP has no reason to boast about this agreement. There is no commitment on the government side. The people understand.

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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always find this member's interventions in the House to be entertaining although maybe from time to time, not totally factual. I was somewhat amused by his suggestion that the word “may” in the bill in the first two clauses was inappropriate. If the member would have read the clauses, he would have seen that any amounts payable on this would not be permitted if it would put the surplus below $2 billion.

There are limits as to what could be made. In the event that there are unforeseen circumstances, it is possible that payments may not be made here, so the word “may” is appropriate even under the language of the clauses if he would read them.

My question has to do with the question of fiscal imbalance. I know the member chaired a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Finance on fiscal imbalance. I was pleased to join him in Ontario, when we found that even the Government of Ontario misled the committee by saying it had a fiscal imbalance. It did not include the tax points that had been extended to all the provinces including Ontario, which have the same value as cash.

The member did say that the provinces are underfunded and do not have the means to fund post-secondary education and then he went on to mention poverty. Will the member rise in his place and admit that each and every province has the same or greater authority to charge taxes, whether it be income taxes or other, as the federal government, and therefore has every opportunity to raise the money it needs to provide these services to the people of its province?

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect for my colleague, he is rerunning the same old tape he often plays, just like his colleagues.

We have barely concluded a four-month Canada-wide consultation. From Halifax to Victoria, via Quebec City, Toronto and Regina, the Subcommittee on Fiscal Imbalance, which I had the honour of chairing, heard the same thing everywhere: the current financial relationship between the federal government and the provinces cannot continue. It is impossible to plan for the future when the federal government is generating such astronomical surpluses each year in relation to its responsibilities to the public, and most of the provinces, with the obvious exception of Alberta, do not have enough money to provide the public with the fundamental services set out in the Constitution.

These days, even Mr. McGuinty in Ontario is fighting just as hard as Quebec has fought for the past three or four years. This battle began under Bernard Landry, who was, to some extent, the father of the Séguin commission. How is it that everyone, even Ontario, recognizes there is a fiscal imbalance, agrees on the need to correct it and is aware of the lack of resources required to provide services to the public, while the Liberals, on the other hand, are still wondering if the fiscal imbalance even exists?

I would be careful if I were the hon. member because he comes from Ontario. If the Ontario government thinks there is an injustice and wants to make changes, the hon. member should watch himself during the future election because he will be held to account.

On the matter of the wording of the bill, a senior official appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance on Monday evening. He said the government had no obligation in the bill. In other words, it can do what it wants. The word “may” is not so insignificant or innocent. The government knows full well that with a bill like this, it can do what it wants. It can take initiatives during the year, get to the end of the year, not have the necessary surplus and completely thwart its so-called promises. I did not say that, a senior official from the Treasury Board did.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I attended the fiscal imbalance subcommittee meetings in Winnipeg. We had representatives from the mayor's office and from many municipalities from across our province indicating the kind of moneys needed for infrastructure and the kind of moneys needed to run the province in a way to improve the quality of life in the province for Manitobans.

There was great disappointment in the fact that the gas tax did not roll over into the provinces immediately. There was much delay from the present government. When it was spoken about, suddenly the rules were changed and that gas tax funding could not be used for infrastructure. It had to be used for green projects only.

Could the hon. member comment on the infrastructure money and how this budget has impacted in a very negative way on the provinces?

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, even with the policies the government has implemented, we are in a situation where ad hoc agreements of this nature need to end.

If correcting the fiscal imbalance would provide the governments of Quebec and the provinces with enough funding, then they would have enough money to transfer these provincial resources to the municipalities for infrastructure, for example.

Just by restoring the federal government's contribution to social programs and education to 25%, as was done for health last September, would give the provinces an additional $11 billion. That money would prevent the governments of Quebec and the provinces from being choked by responsibilities such as health, post-secondary education and help for families and the poor. They would be able to make their own funding available for infrastructure.

Unfortunately, such is not the case. The current measures do not go far enough. The fiscal capacity of the federal government is much too great. Over the next six years, it will have accumulated a surplus of roughly $100 billion. This has to change. The quality of services provided to the public depends on it.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the House today to the report stage of Bill C-48.

I want to congratulate the finance critic for the NDP who did a remarkable job in the finance committee of shepherding through the bill and sitting through hour after hour as the Conservative and some Liberal members tried to frustrate the bill, which they were unsuccessful in doing. The bill is now back in the House and we fully expect it will be approved.

After listening to the finance critic from the Bloc and after hearing the Conservative finance critic suggest that somehow the bill was not real, I just want to make a couple of general comments.

I think a double standard is being applied here. The bill is being put forward and is characterized on exactly the same basis as other appropriation bills. I would like to read some of the comments of the Comptroller General of Canada when he came to the finance committee on June 13. He said:

Similar to other appropriation bills, Bill C-48 would provide enabling legislative authority to ministers to make payments for the specific purposes approved by parliament.

Let us be very clear. What is contained in the bill and the manner in which these payments are authorized is no different than any other appropriation bill.

The Comptroller General of Canada also said:

This represents a prudent approach to fiscal management in that such fiscal dividends would only be authorized to the extent that there is a $2 billion surplus in those two years.

I read this into the record because it clearly contradicts what the Conservatives are trying to put forward, which is that this particular budget bill is financially irresponsible, that it is not based on a balanced budget and that it is not based on ensuring that there is no deficit. This is a financially prudent bill.

We in the NDP are very proud of the bill and what it represents. It represents real work that was done in this Parliament by this party working with the government to ensure that concrete measures will be taken to address the fundamental needs of Canadians in very core areas, like housing, post-secondary education, help for municipalities in terms of an increase in the gas tax moneys that will go to public transit, help for smaller communities and foreign aid that would address our commitments in the international global community.

Those are real things that were achieved. I have to say that we thought that Bill C-43 was inadequate in that regard and we made it our business to go out, to work and to get a better deal, and that is exactly what we did.

I am very proud to stand here knowing people in local communities right across the country like this bill because they know it is real. They compare that on the one hand and look at something that is substantive against all of the other stuff that is going on in this place, all of the procedural war games, all of the wrangling that we saw the Conservative Party trying again today. It will do anything because it just wants to hold up this bill.

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12:40 p.m.

An hon. member

It's the people's bill.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Yes, as my colleague said, they are holding up the people's bill, a bill that would put the money where it is needed, where it will be delivered to build housing units, to get public transit, to meet our commitments in the global community and to ensure that students get relief from the incredible tuition fees they have to pay.

We are happy to be here today to speak to the bill and to ensure it goes through. As the housing critic for the NDP, I am particularly happy to see the $1.6 billion in the bill that is earmarked for affordable housing. Bill C-43 contained no new money for housing other than a small amount for on reserve aboriginal housing which is very important but which was very inadequate. The minister responsible for housing himself has pointed out that 1.7 million households in Canada, households not people, are in need of affordable housing.

We know that people in local communities across the country do not know if they will be able to pay their rent every month. They do not know if they are going to be evicted. The streets will become their home. It is appalling to see people living on the streets, particularly in the winter months when they can freeze to death, and especially in a country as wealthy as Canada.

The bill is not perfect. It does not do everything we want it to do, believe me, but it takes real concrete steps, particularly on the housing question to ensure those units will be developed.

In terms of aboriginal housing, I think it is an absolute shame that we still have aboriginal people living in housing on reserve that would not meet any minimum standard anywhere. We are talking about third world housing conditions right here in Canada.

In the urban environment, aboriginal housing is a very important question. I recently met with a delegation of Inuit people who were pressing to ensure that the Nunavut Housing Corporation's 10 year plan for 3,300 units in the north would be met. Nothing has happened on that plan because of government inaction.

As a result of this bill, the funds are now available and the authority is there for the Minister of Labour and Housing to make those housing commitments. For example, with regard to housing in the north where we see the worst overcrowding conditions in Canada and high housing costs, we want to ensure that the materials to build at least 100 new units by April 2006 are delivered to the north by ship. That is a logistical issue that has to be dealt with. Literally the boat was missed this year, so no housing will be built because the time has now come and gone for the materials to be delivered.

Bill C-48 gives us the opportunity to meet those very real and pressing needs in the north. I wanted to make a special point of mentioning that because it is something that is often ignored. I want to say to the Minister of Labour and Housing that this is a commitment that absolutely has to be met and I will be pressing him at every opportunity to ensure that the materials are delivered and the houses are built.

Another critical point in the bill has to do with post-secondary education. The bill sets a very good precedent in that it would provide federal funds specifically for post-secondary education. I also hope that fund will be increased in future budgets.

We in the NDP and organizations, such as the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Association of University Teachers and many other organizations, have called on the federal government to provide funding for post-secondary education. This is the first time this has happened, so it is very significant.

What is more important is that the money in Bill C-48 is directed toward tuition reduction and help for students. If members want to know the incredible debt students have been bearing, they need only talk to the families that are trying to put their son or daughter through college or university, they need only talk to the students who, on average, have debts of $25,000, or they can talk to graduate students who might have debts and loans of $50,000 or even $60,000. Many students are graduating into debt as a result of years and years of inaction by the federal Liberal government of not providing assistance to students.

Finally we have some direct measures that are directed toward students.This is a very important measure and we would like it to be used as a model of what can be done in future budgets to say that there must be an infusion of federal funds into post-secondary education to ensure accessibility for all students across the country.

We do not want to read any more reports from Statistics Canada saying that the accessibility to post-secondary education for low income people will plummet to the bottom because of their socio-economic status. That is not good enough in this country. We want accessibility across the board and that has to be done by the federal government coming to the table and making it clear that post-secondary education is accessible.

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12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague when she speaks about education, housing and everything in the bill. However, this is just wishful thinking on her part.

The alliance between the NDP and the Liberals in order to obtain something is still stuck at zero. Our colleague told us earlier that there are only “mays” in the bill. The government “may” do something and “may” make payments. Well, may and actually do are two very different things.

Today they are trying to sell this idea. But I am not so sure. I am not the NDP members. In order to sell something, you need something to sell. But there is nothing here today.

There is nothing in this bill that we are discussing today and on which we will be asked to vote. I would like to know whether the NDP is proud today of its alliance with the Liberals.

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12:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member was here earlier when I specifically read from the Comptroller General of Canada, who was at the finance committee and spoke about the fact that similar to other appropriation bills, Bill C-48 would provide enabling legislation. This is a fact; it cannot be disputed. The basis on which the bill is designed and brought forward is on the same basis as any other appropriation bill. It is no different.

If the hon. member has a criticism with that, why is it being brought up here and now today on this bill and not on all the other bills that the Bloc and other members have dealt with?

The money in this bill is as real as anything else that we deal with in the House. If the member is questioning everything we do, that is fine, but we would rather be here and get something accomplished in a concrete way than sit in our seats and do nothing.