House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was grain.


Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member has only 20 seconds for a response.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

First, Mr. Speaker, there is an option to putting all surplus dollars against the debt, and that is honest and open reporting, accounting and forecasting, something the Liberals refused to do and which led to $80 billion over the last five budgets going against the debt because they would not report to--

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Victoria.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg for sharing her time with me and for her work on the committee.

I understand from the records that there were over 300 witnesses. One of the issues that seems to have taken up a lot of time in discussion was how to increase Canada's competitiveness in the world. The overwhelming and predominant message from the presenters was that we should look at competitiveness from a broad perspective.

The committee was told that if it were serious about meeting the very real challenge of keeping Canada competitive in the world economy, it must not take a superficial approach by simply equating economic competitiveness with lower corporate taxes and higher profits. It involves wise economic stewardship, with a strong emphasis on investing in people, together with targeted industrial investment, for example, and investment in the environment.

During the week of November 13, I held a series of meetings in Victoria with my constituents, university officials, elected officials and business leaders, in addition to an open town hall meeting that was attended by a large number of citizens. During these meetings, I collected some key recommendations.

The people of Victoria want overwhelmingly what the rest of Canadians want. They do not want the federal government to withdraw from social policy and wise environmental stewardship. Their recommendations and suggestions included: investment in housing options to face the shameful issue of homelessness in cities across Canada; investment in adult literacy programs; reducing post-secondary education student debt; increasing funding for basic research; and putting in place effective programs to tackle climate change.

There were of course specific suggestions, and if I have time I would like to talk about those as well, but in the end, that is what making Canada more competitive really means. That is what our economy should be for: enhancing the quality of life for all Canadians. That is what Victorians want from their federal government.

I would like to start talking about the economy and in particular the role that Canada's human capital plays in keeping our economy strong and sustainable.

Two recent polls show Canadians' strong preference for greater federal investment in post-secondary education. One poll conducted by Decima Research for the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students reported that 56% of those surveyed preferred reducing tuition fees to the Conservatives' promise to cut the GST by a further one per cent.

Canadians know that tax cuts do not lower tuition and they do not hire new faculty or create new apprenticeships. They understand that focusing only on tax cuts actually impairs the creation of the human capital that makes our economy run. Canadians know that our human capital requires investment.

The second poll released last week by the Canadian Council on Learning showed that 75% of Canadians believe the government does not spend enough on post-secondary education. And they are right. Since the start of the Mulroney years, federal transfers for post-secondary education have plummeted as a percentage of GDP.

Tax cuts do not magically equip Canadians with the skills and knowledge they need to be competitive. The poll done coincided with the Canadian Council on Learning report which concluded that “Canada lacks mechanisms at the national level to ensure coherence, coordination and effectiveness on key priorities, such as quality, access, mobility and responsiveness”.

The council cites a number of countries in Europe that have begun setting national standards dealing with post-secondary funding: how much we want to spend as a country, class size, library holdings, teaching credentials, et cetera.

Canada has neglected to set any such standards. We just do not have a vision for post-secondary education. We are simply out of sync.

In Australia and the United States, individual states, like Canada, regulate higher learning. Yet that has not stopped their federal governments from creating national post-secondary watchdog agencies.

We now know that 70% of jobs require post-secondary education or training and only 44% of Canadians have this much formal schooling. The CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning, Paul Cappon, said, “We can hardly ask the rest of the world to give us a decade to work out our jurisdictional difficulties”.

Canada now ranks 15th among western industrialized countries in spending on research and development as a percentage, for example, of gross domestic product. The post-secondary education sector is still largely designed to respond to the needs of younger learners.

The lifelong learning requirements of many adults are not adequately addressed. Many barriers still exist that make it very difficult for workers to upgrade their skills or attend college or university. The issue of lifelong learning means concrete support and incentives for adult learners, whether in colleges, universities or in the workplace.

Added to the lack of a lifelong learning strategy in the Conservative program is a lack of a skills agenda in Canada. The Conservatives idea of a skills agenda is a set of tax credits for apprentice tools. The skills agenda must facilitate transition from suffering sectors to booming ones. Transition skills training is key, preferably to greener industries. As my colleague mentioned earlier, cut the huge tax cuts, for example, to the oil and gas sector, which is booming, in favour of other sectors that we would like to encourage.

We need the federal government to play an active role in investing in lifelong learning to help workers overcome the barriers to upgrading their skills. We greatly need sector partnerships. Conservatives cut the workplace partners panel, the only forum for business and labour collaboration around workplace training planning.

There are many issues to address. Clearly, the economic benefit of a strong system of learning is understood by Canadians. It is building our human capital, our skills and our knowledge that improves our standard of living, not single minded tax cuts.

I would also like to address the issue of the importance of basic research and the need to invest in research, in the sciences and humanities. Research councils are losing ground compared to inflation, including Canada research chairs. SSHRC, for example, has lower funding than others. Proportionately the amount it gives, I believe, is 14%, by comparison. Social sciences and humanity students are 67% of undergraduate students and 69% of graduate students in Canada.

Relying solely on commercialized research misses the point of research and progress in the public interest. Commercialized research is largely short term. Marketable results are what is important.

There are important research projects that do have commercial implications or that have very long terms, which the government seems to have forgotten. For example, research on climate change at the University of Victoria has not been funded in three years. There has been some federal funding in the past for research projects of national and international importance called the NEPTUNE project, the northeast Pacific time theories undersea network experiments, and VENUS project, the Victoria experimental network under the sea, both at the University of Victoria. They are very important projects that have implications for knowledge, the knowledge that we may gain about what is happening in our oceans, and also development, giving opportunities to scientists and young students in the sciences.

Finally, we need to speak for urban agenda. We need a real deal for cities instead of an improvised ad hoc approach that weakens the extraordinary efforts of local citizens and weakens what cities are trying to achieve in terms of infrastructure.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Victoria with interest. The points she makes are not entirely correct and the picture is far more nuance than the one she has let on in debate.

There is no doubt that in the mid-1990s the previous government of the day cut significantly the Canada health and social transfer, which is used by provinces to deliver post-secondary education and health care. Under the Constitution, the provinces have primary responsibility for the delivery of post-secondary education and training. There is no doubt that those cuts in the mid-1990s had a significant impact on the delivery of post-secondary education and training in Canada.

It is also the case that in recent years the transfer, which has now been split into two separate transfers, has been partially restored. On the health care side, it is the government's view that the health care transfer has been fully restored to pre-1995 levels. It is also our view that significant steps have been taken to restore funding for post-secondary education and training in the form of the Canada social transfer and in the form of the myriad of tax credits that have been put in place in recent years so we can invest in human capital and in the knowledge based economy.

While transfers for post-secondary education have not yet been fully restored, they have been significantly restored to pre-1995 levels. That is why our government has committed to coming forward with a long term framework for post-secondary education and training to be delivered in the budget of next year.

The member should wait for that budget and support it. It will contain the new long term framework, which will provide significant support through various mechanisms for Canada's education across the country so we can have a competitive economy and an able and skilled workforce.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to reading the government framework because its economic update did not give a hint that it would look very much at the human capital side or at the environmental side. “Advantage Canada” seems to be focused almost entirely on tax advantages.

However, it is very difficult to identify exactly how much will go to provincial governments in terms of the transfer for post-secondary education. Even the minister in the House made a mistake on how much money would be going to the provinces. Because the transfer is not specifically a targeted transfer to education, it is not clearly identifiable.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for focusing her attention on post-secondary education. It is difficult to talk about all aspects that would be dealt with in the prebudget consultations.

I can recall doing some work on the need for post-secondary education. It showed that the unemployment rate for people who dropped out of high school was somewhere 17%. For people who had high school education, the rate was about 112%. For people who had some post-secondary education, it was down below 10%. For people who had a post-secondary degree or some other skills training, the unemployment rate was probably in the range of about 3% to 5%. It makes some economic sense. This is a knowledge based economy.

The member is also quite right. Even though we have the CHST, that simply for the purpose of calculation. There is no guarantee that the money is actually going into post-secondary education.

Would the member agree that we need to sit down with the provinces to make absolutely sure that when there is an investment from the federal level in post-secondary education, it indeed hits its targets squarely?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, any targeted transfer or increased funding for education should go to provinces in discussion with the provinces. We should develop a common vision, a Canadian vision for what we want to achieve in access and quality of education. Absolutely a targeted transfer with an agreed upon—

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for St. Catharines.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to have time to spend time this afternoon speaking about our submission to the 2007 budget.

I want to thank the members from all parties, who put a lot of work and effort into moving from one side of the country to the other. I want to thank, in particular, the members for Peterborough and Burlington for their outstanding work. I also want to thank the parliamentary secretary who did a great job on our behalf.

I also want to thank the 417 witnesses who presented 403 briefs on the theme of Canada's place in a competitive world.

We spent four weeks in Ottawa. We spent two weeks travelling from coast to coast. We held prebudget consultations in four communities in four provinces, which had never happened before: Whitehorse, Yukon; in Fort McMurray, Alberta; in St. John's, Newfoundland; and Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

There was a very specific purpose for these budget consultations. The witnesses were asked to provide their input on four specific questions.

The first question was, what specific federal tax or program spending measure should be implemented in the upcoming budget to ensure that our citizens were healthy, had the right skills for their own benefit and for the benefit of their employers?

The second question was, what specific federal tax and/or program spending measures should be implemented in the upcoming budget to ensure that our nation had the infrastructure required by individuals and for businesses?

The third questions was, what specific federal tax and/or program spending measures should be implemented in the upcoming budget to ensure that our businesses were competitive, both here in our country and globally?

We wanted to ensure that it was understood in the fourth question that there had to be accountability for those expenditures. The fourth question was specific as to what federal actions should be taken in order that the federal government would be able to afford the tax and/or program spending measures needed to ensure that Canada's individuals and businesses could prosper in the world in the future?

It is obvious that the prebudget consultations in large part were strong, but were built upon the foundation of the 2006 budget that provided tax relief for everyone in the country. The tax credits included the new Canada employment credit, the new deduction for tradespeople tool expenses, a complete exemption for scholarship income received in connection with enrollment at institutions, which qualify the student for the education tax credit and the new children's fitness tax credit, which in the riding of St. Catharines will provide a benefit to over 23,000 children under the age of 16.

It is not only this party and this government that supports the credit. The minister of health promotion in the province of Ontario made a presentation to the health committee. When asked about the credit, he extended congratulations to the government for implementing and putting forward this measure. The minister went on to say that he thought it was he who provided the advice to the Prime Minister to ensure it was in the platform of our government.

I had the chance to say this to him at committee. If he was so successful in convincing the Prime Minister that it was an important piece of our budget and our platform, he should be able to convince his finance minister and his leader in the province of Ontario to do likewise.

We have also doubled to $2,000 from $1,000 the amount of which the pension income credit is calculated. We have the new apprenticeship job creation tax credit, an increase to $400,000 from $300,000 of the amount that a small business can earn at a small business tax rate effective January 1, 2007. In child care, there is $3.7 billion over two years for the universal child care benefit, which will provide all families with $1,200 a year per child under the age of six. We will be investing in creating new child care spaces. The budget allocates $250 million, beginning in 2007, to create real child care spaces as part of Canada's universal child care.

For students, we are expanding eligibility for the Canada student loans program by reducing the parental contribution required, not just students in school but students and youth who need our help to prevent them from ending up either in the justice system because of a crime they committed or, certainly, on the wrong side of where they should be.

Ideally, we need to put tools and textbooks into the hands of our young people, not guns. They need tools that will help them realize that they can grow up to lead successful and productive lives. To do that, we are investing $20 million for communities to prevent youth crime, with a focus on making sure that they have programs and educational opportunities available for them.

Province after province that we went to and presentation after presentation that was made at committee talked about the need for affordable housing in this country, whether it be first nations, whether it be in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, whether it be in British Columbia or whether it be right here in Ontario. There was certainly a welcome response from every single organization, that made presentations about affordable housing, that this government put in its budget $800 million for a major one time investment to increase the supply of affordable housing in our cities and our communities through a new affordable housing trust.

Transportation is one of the leading causes of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in this country. We invested up to $1.3 billion in Canada on public transit and infrastructure. This funding will assist in the building of the infrastructure necessary to deal with increased ridership. Increased ridership one might say. That is because effective July 1 of this year our government provided a transit rider tax incentive. This means that transit riders, who buy monthly passes, will receive almost two months of free transit rides per year. I am seeing that in my own riding.

Probably one of the best comments from any of the presentations came from Mr. Robert Paddon, vice-president, corporate and public affairs, of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority. After being questioned by the member for Markham—Unionville, about this exact piece of legislation, he said:

Finally, I just want to again compliment and congratulate the government for putting forward an initiative to encourage people to use public transportation.

Concerning the tax credit, we are just coming off the end of the first quarter since the tax credit was put in place. We have not finalized our numbers, but they are already recognizing, toward the end of this year, the significant increases in ridership: a 10% increase in June of this year from 2005 and a 13% increase in August.

We also have lower taxes for all Canadians and the lowest tax rate on new business investment among the group of seven countries. Under fiscal finances, we will have the elimination of Canada's total government net debt in less than a generation. That comes from “Advantage Canada”, presented to the finance committee toward the end of its deliberations which made a lot of sense because it tied into everything that folks talked about from across this country, whether it was entrepreneurialism or knowledge. It related to the creation of the best educated, the most skilled, and the most flexible workforce in the world, and one of our recommendations speaks specifically to this.

With respect to infrastructure, efforts have been made to build modern and world class infrastructures in Canada through public-private partnerships in order to ensure a seamless flow of people, goods and services.

All of that, combined with all of our meetings, came with a host of recommendations that are included in the prebudget document that we will be submitting to the finance minister.

The Conservatives certainly do not hold a majority on the committee from a government perspective, but a number of the recommendations in this document speak very closely to the type of budget recommendations, economical and fiscally responsible, that are necessary to be pursued by the government. In fact, I have a top 5 out of the 40 some recommendations that are in the document and I want to touch on just a couple of them. For example, recommendation No. 2 states:

The federal government, in conjunction with the provincial/territorial governments, help to develop a national mental health strategy. This strategy—which should include the creation of a Canadian mental health commission—should address the mental health needs of all Canadians, but particularly those who are determined to be at higher risk.

This request has come forward time and time again, year after year. Mental health in this country is an area that we need to focus on. We listened and it is in here. Recommendation No. 15 states:

The federal government, in conjunction with the provincial/territorial governments, help to fund existing infrastructure initiatives at a level designed to reduce the public infrastructure deficit. As well, the government should make permanent a program for the sharing of gas tax revenues with municipalities.

That goes back to the budget which included $16.5 billion for infrastructure and in particular $1 billion for infrastructure for universities across this country. If that is not responsive, I do not know what is. Recommendation No. 30 states:

The federal government, following consultations with relevant stakeholders, make changes to the Scientific Research and Experimental Development investment tax credit with a view to ensuring high levels of private sector research and development.

There are $40 million in this budget and the money needs to be focused where it is going to have the best use, whether that is in conjunction with universities doing the work with the private sector or with government ensuring that we are moving forward. Universities and the private sector must be capable of conducting that research with valuable outcomes, so that we can invest in the future. We know that to have a strong economy in the future we need to ensure that we are investing in the tools and research that we need down the road and we need to do it right now. Recommendation No. 35 states:

The federal government eliminate the use of tax havens in an effort to ensure that all corporations, businesses and individuals pay their fair share of taxes.

We all know the stories of the ships that fly a flag of convenience across the world. They fly flags of convenience for one simple reason: they do not have to pay taxes in the country that they necessarily do business in. All parties at the finance committee supported this recommendation. They know it is time that we move away from offshore corporate tax havens that ensure individuals do not have to pay taxes in the country they live in. That is a positive result of the work that was done by the committee. Finally, recommendation No. 41 states:

The federal government continue to pursue a balanced budget in order to avoid federal budgetary deficits. As well, the government should continue to include, in its budget planning, an annual allocation of $3 billion for repayment of the accumulated federal deficit.

We heard from the NDP member on the committee who indicated to all of us here today that in fact we should be paying down the debt, not in the way that Conservatives believe it should be paid down, which is as quickly as possible, but the member indeed supported the finance minister's recommendations not only in his budget but in the presentation that he made at the finance committee in “Advantage Canada”. In fact, the finance minister was going to commit, on behalf of the government, to pay a minimum of $3 billion down on the debt. This was supported by all parties at the finance committee. If that is not working together, I do not know what is.

Why does this make for good government? First, it shows responsibility in terms of paying down debt, investing in our future, and investing in infrastructure, but it also speaks to accountability.

In about another 10 or 15 minutes, royal assent will be given to the federal accountability act. I cannot think of a better thing to do than to talk about the budget of 2007 and a number of the recommendations that will be handed over to the finance minister just before the federal accountability act is given royal assent. The federal accountability act will ensure that we are responsible and that we are providing good government, and in doing so we are transparent and accountable. It is very simple.

The recommendations will impact on my riding. We are actually talking about a federal budget for all Canadians. These recommendations will impact on ridings like mine in terms of helping to restore integrity, ethics and accountability in the House of Commons. All of us on this side of the House campaigned on this. I campaigned on it in the city of St. Catharines during the election.

It is refreshing to say that if we are going to recommend expenditures that we be accountable. They have to fall within the framework of responsibility. Being accountable does not mean increasing budgets by 14%, having ways and means motions in November and passing three or four budgets in a single fiscal year. Being accountable means making sure that folks in communities like St. Catharines, Burlington, Peterborough, and in cities and towns in Saskatchewan know that when we are talking about a budget, we make sure we bring integrity to it. That means communities across this country get their fair share of federal spending and it is not only focused in one or two areas but benefits all communities.

There has been some discussion about the budget reduction that this government promised to do and which it has done over the last couple of months. The Liberal Party has cried hue on a number of those tough decisions that were made, but they were wise decisions. I want to quote from The Globe and Mail of Friday, December 1. It states:

From the opposition outcry over budget cuts to Status of Women Canada, Canadians might think the Conservatives had throttled women's aspirations for equality. That is simply incorrect...The closings come as Ottawa pares $5-million from the agency's $23-million annual budget over two years. It's about time...Today, it seems more like a government relic, laden with jargon from old wars. On paper, its mission is to promote gender equality, focusing on the improvement of women's economic autonomy, the elimination of systemic violence against women and children and the advancement of women's human rights.

In theory, that is exactly what all of us stand for in this House, but in practice their efforts as quoted are scattershot.

After having gone through the experience of travelling across the country, of sitting on the finance committee and hearing the input from so many good folks across this country, we actually have been able to focus this process into a focused agenda that talks about “Advantage Canada”, a focused agenda that started with the budget of 2006 and will lead into the budget of 2007. It will be another great budget for the people of this country and our communities.

While the folks who sit on the opposition benches, particularly those in the Liberal Party, want to play politics about the future of our country and our budgets, we are not. There are minority reports attached to this document. The minority report that comes from the government is signed by each and every member of the committee who sits on this side of the House. The minority report from the Liberal Party is signed by no one.

Foreign Affairs and International DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

December 12th, 2006 / 5:10 p.m.


Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions between all parties and I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, in relation to its study on the democratic development, twelve (12) members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development be authorized to travel to Washington, DC and New York, N.Y. from February 4 to 8, 2007, and that the necessary staff accompany the committee.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was one line in the speech that we should reflect upon. The member said that the budget should ensure that businesses and individuals can prosper in the future. He went on to list all the different ways in which the current government will help businesses, help people who have jobs and so on.

However, if we were to check out the speech we would see what the member said about people who live in poverty. He said nothing. We would see what the member said about people who are illiterate in our country. He said nothing. We would see what he said about people who are disabled. He said nothing.

For those most in need in our society, what we find in the member's speech and in the government's platform is that the government wants people who cannot take care of themselves to fend for themselves.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify what my colleague across the way has said. The impact of the reductions we have made and the opportunity to provide for Canadians who are at or below the poverty line is clear. Over 600,000 people in this country no longer pay federal tax because of this budget.

We can talk about illiteracy or we can talk about literacy. From a going forward perspective, I would rather talk about literacy and the fact that those who cannot read or write now should have the opportunity to learn how to read and write. We could talk about illiteracy where, under the previous government, in 13 years was there ever a reduction in illiteracy rates? Illiteracy rates went up year after year. We cancelled a program and reduced the program because it was about advocacy. It had nothing to do with actually getting adults learning how to read and how to write.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was another rather interesting, albeit disturbing, line in that speech. I heard the member refer to the Status of Women Canada as a relic. I would say that the only relic here is the relic who would fail to understand that there is still a profound need in this country.

As long as there is no national child care program, no affordable housing program and no determined action to end violence against women or to support aboriginal women, we need Status of Women.

Is the member sending a signal to members of the House that the government intends to further undermine Status of Women Canada and further demean the women of this country by preventing their equality and their seeking of equality?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, those actually were not my words. Those were the words in the editorial written on December 1 in the Globe and Mail. It said that this government had taken action, not that this government would just have offices open across this country for which advocacy can take place and lobbying funded by the federal government.

If we are actually sincere to the opportunities that we need to continue with respect to equalization in this country, not just the equalization of women but the equalization of all people in this country so that we all have the same opportunity, we should not be wasting money on advocacy and lobbying. That is not what taxpayers invest their money for. They invest it for action, which is what we are doing.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, this debate does not mean much to the Liberals because budget reports and prebudget reports are things to be ignored and the majority toss them aside. Finance ministers have already made up their minds. For the Liberals, this is all about politics and not what is best for Canadians.

The Liberal finance critic has already called for a spring election and predicted that the Liberals will vote against the next budget. He said:

If we are tied with the Conservatives without a leader, I think with a new leader and all the publicity of our convention, we should move in front after the convention and it will be good for us to have a spring election.

Those remarks were made by the member for Markham—Unionville and quoted in The Globe and Mail on October 19.

Why do the members opposite pay more attention to the polls than to what is good for Canadians? Why will they not wait and see what is in this budget in the spring to see how this finance minister and the Prime Minister are acting in the best interests of all Canadians before talking about a spring election?

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I should mention that we spent a day in hearings in Saskatchewan and time and time again the member for Palliser's name came up, congratulating and thanking him for the advice and guidance he provided us when we were in Saskatchewan.

The question he asks is not an easy one to answer and I am thankful that I sit on this side of the House and not on the other side. The fact is that we are working for an end and for a means in the 2007 budget. It seems to me that perhaps the opposition should think a little more about the benefits of the 2007 budget rather than whether we should have an election.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, hearing the member for St. Catharines speak as he did on the environment brought to mind very quickly the smog days in Ontario.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, it is the desire of Her Excellency the Governor General that all hon. members attend her immediately in the Senate chamber.

Accordingly the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber.

And being returned:

5:30 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber, the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-5, an act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and amending certain Acts—Chapter 5.

Bill C-38, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2007—Chapter 6.

Bill C-39, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2007—Chapter 7.

Bill S-5, an act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Finland, Mexico and Korea for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income—Chapter 8.

Bill C-2, an act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability—Chapter 9.

Bill C-34, an act to provide for jurisdiction over education on First Nation lands in British Columbia—Chapter 10.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this particular issue. As a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, I always find these particular interventions very important. I certainly have no preconceived notions in terms of what the government may bring down.

However, I can say that I am very proud of the fact that in the past the Liberal Government of Canada was able to bring down eight consecutive budget surpluses, the longest in the history of Canada. We were the first ones to deal with paying down the debt.

When we came into government in 1993, we inherited a $42.5 billion deficit, which means that 33¢ of every dollar that was being transferred was actually borrowed. Therefore, it was not, in my view, real money.

The Standing Committee on Finance had over 400 submissions and heard the concerns of 400 witnesses. Of course no government can respond to all 400, no matter how worthy it may be.

I hope the government will approach the budget in a balanced manner, which means dealing with debt reduction, with social spending and, obviously, with tax reduction. However, it is important that we have a balance but we cannot do it all without a clear balance in dealing with the needs of Canadians.

There were issues concerning a sustainable economy, a healthy environment, healthy communities, high quality of life, dealing with seniors and so on. I will focus on a few of those issues.

I thought it a bit ironic that the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Finance announced a billion dollars in spending cuts at the same time that they announced a $13.2 billion surplus for 2005-06. They certainly cannot accuse us of leaving the cupboards bare with a $13.2 billion surplus. I support the fact that money was put on the debt. We have a debt at the moment of about $481 billion but, because of past Liberal governments, we paid $82 billion on the debt, which is extremely important.

The Conservative government, as we know, has done a lot of cutting. I think that deals with the root of the problem, which is that cuts affect communities and they affect people. When we see funding cuts that are targeted at women, at aboriginals or at the need for affordable housing, those clearly have created concerns across the country.

The Conservatives always say that they are concerned about minorities. The only minority that I think they are really concerned about is the minority of people who voted for them in the 2006 election.

When we see $45 million slashed for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the $10 million elimination of support for Canadian volunteerism, the $6 million cut for the Canadian Firearms Centre and the $18 million cut for literacy skills, those are issues that affect the average Canadian.

As the former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I am concerned about the lack of a focus on dealing with communities across the country. The fact is that it was the past Liberal government which brought forth the first national infrastructure program in 1994. It languished under the previous Conservative government for 10 years and it was the Liberal government that first said that it would deal with the issue of infrastructure deficit in Canada.

We do not see that from the present government. We need to again see a partnership program with the provinces, territories and municipal governments. It is important that we deal with those issues.

Clearly, when municipal governments have a very limited tax base, it was the Liberal government in the past that came through and eliminated the issue of GST rebate, which at the time was 57.14%. We were able to save $1 billion for municipalities across this country.

Municipal governments are saying they do not have those kinds of projects. The previous Liberal government dealt with the green enabling fund, a revolving fund to deal with green projects, something which was well used by municipal governments across the country.

In the 2005 budget, we dealt with brownfields. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, in your own riding you have communities that may have a former gas station site that is very difficult to deal with. With a brownfield of that nature we need leverage money in order to clean it up. We had that in the last government as one of our environmental initiatives, and an extremely important initiative it was.

I talked about the $1 billion that the government cut in September. We understand that it will cut $7.4 billion, particularly from environmental initiatives, post-secondary education, job training, research and innovation. I do not understand the logic. Some people say it is ideologically driven. I would say it is simply a lack of understanding of the importance that many of these areas have for Canadians.

We want to be on the cutting edge. If we want to be cutting edge in the world, we need to have the best trained and the best educated people. Therefore, we need innovation.

My colleague from Dartmouth knows all about this. He worked very hard in the past on these issues and knows that unless we are at that cutting edge, we are not able to compete. We need to be able to compete. We need job training programs that will put people back to work, even those who are suddenly out of work after being in a job for 20 or 25 years. How do we deal with older workers? We need a job training program that gives them an incentive to go forward. I would hope the government would look at those kinds of things.

We need to find post-secondary education funding. One of the problems in post-secondary education is that when we transfer money in a block to the provinces, we do not really know where it ends up. That is something we need to talk about, and I would certainly like to talk about it a little more today.

Another area is the environment. I am very disappointed that the government has decided to slash and burn many of the programs that we had in the past to deal with the environment.

I notice that the Minister of the Environment is in the House. I want to say quite sincerely to her and to her parliamentary secretary that in fact we all agree that the environment is probably the number one issue facing humanity today. We see the problem of the polar ice cap melting. We see the problem in terms of habitat being affected by this. We see the issue of depleted rain forests.

The problem is that we on this side of the House understand the urgency of the issue. On that side of the House, government members think they can set targets for 2050. The fact is that they cut $584.5 million from environmental programs, at Natural Resources Canada, $2.9 million in grants and scholarships for post-secondary students. These are the kinds of things which make one wonder. What are they thinking about?

Why would they cut $227 million from the EnerGuide housing retrofit program? In fact, they cut it without telling anybody. I actually know of people who were in the system and suddenly overnight, they were told they did not qualify any more.

Normally when a government does that type of thing, when it changes a program, it is at least grandfathered to a certain date. The reality is that there are people who had already spent money, who were prepared to move forward to make sure that their homes were environmentally sound, dealing with windows, doors, new furnaces, et cetera, and they were caught by that. That is something I would urge the government to review. It was very sad to see that.

We have seen that situation with EnerGuide for low income households. Again it is another issue where people who need that kind of assistance obviously were in some difficulty. They had relied on this program and again without any warning, it was cut.

Some people would say that this is ideologically driven. I would simply say that the government needs to get better advisers. The government needs to look at what other countries are doing.

In 2005 we brought down project green, which was the most aggressive plan of the G-8 when dealing with climate change. The programs that were in place were ones that Canadians understood, that they could take advantage of and use in their own communities. Over 70,000 homes took advantage of being able to retrofit. There were 70,000 people who thought it was worthwhile enough to participate. EnerGuide programs were rated in the top five of the most efficient Kyoto programs by the environment commissioner, yet without warning they were cut.

In the area of education, I think we are all very aware of the importance of having the best educated society that we can have, to attract the best and the brightest to stay in Canada and to bring the best and the brightest to this country. As a former educator I am particularly sensitive to the fact that we have to provide the ability for research and development for Canadians.

The national government in Ottawa is not responsible for tuitions. The federal government is not responsible for the programs, but as a partner it provides money. The difficulty is that a lot of these are what we call block transfers. I notice that the Standing Committee on Finance is looking at having a separate item identified for post-secondary education. That is very important. Whether members are on that side of the House or this side of the House, we all would like to know where the money goes. We would like to see it identified. It is extremely important that in the post-secondary area that that in fact be done.

One of the things the government could do, and I make this as a recommendation to the government, is it could act immediately on post-secondary education in terms of low income and disabled students. The importance of developing a highly educated and skilled population could be achieved in many ways.

First of all, as we know, investing in students is not about promoting individual wealth. It is not about who is lucky enough to pursue a post-secondary education, to go to college or university. People should have the opportunity regardless of their financial situation.

The previous Liberal government provided tax credits and obviously things toward textbooks as an example. We had the millennium scholarships program. There have been people who have come to the standing committee who want to see that scholarship program back again. It was an initiative of the previous Liberal government. When the millennium occurred, rather than create some big monument to the millennium, it decided to invest in university and college students across the country. It was well received I think by colleagues in all parties.

Cutting youth employment programs is a mistake. Young people often need a part time or summer job in order to make money to go to university. Not having those youth internship programs and literacy programs which are needed is a very sad thing. I am hoping that the government will review that situation.

One area that I talked about it when I was the parliamentary secretary is the Canada social transfer, the CST. It should be divided into a social transfer and a post-secondary education transfer as a means of increasing transparency and accountability. Members on all sides of the House talk about transparency and accountability. This would be very good.

It would also hold the feet of the provinces to the fire. They could not simply say they did not get enough from Ottawa. They would have to indicate the particular area where the money went, for example, the social transfer area. We need to do that with respect to post-secondary education. The Standing Committee on Finance had thorough discussions on that and received excellent representations on it.

It is important that by having the highest educated workforce we also see the problem of increasing tuition fees. Tuition fees do not fall under the purview of Ottawa, but clearly we need to provide as much assistance as we can. We do that in terms of availability for student loans. We see that in terms of grants. We also need to make sure that we have opportunities for students to go out and work in order to help them go to university.

We need to motivate young people. We need to provide opportunities across this country. We live in the greatest country in the world. We have opportunities galore, as long as people have hope. They need hope. One of the things that government can do is not hand out but hand up and it can do that through these kinds of programs. Lack of education is a loss not only for the individual but it is a loss for our country. That is something we cannot continue to see.

One of the areas is the registered education savings plan. One of my colleagues in the House has a private member's bill which says that only 27% of Canadian families in fact have RESPs to pay for their children's education, but they are not tax deductible. The problem is that when they put money into the plan, there is absolutely no credit. One major reason that not many people have a plan is there is not that incentive, whereas there is one with an RRSP.

Making contributions tax deductible, as the bill proposes, would offer families incentives and financial assistance to create a managed RESP. If families put in even $100 a month, in a year that would be $1,200. That is important because the aim is to make sure that we get young people into post-secondary institutions.

It would also provide assistance in addressing some of the education costs. It would lessen the impact of post-graduation debt. One of the things I hear about is the debt that students often come out with at the end of their four years of university.

I think all members in the House would concur that we need to make access easier for post-secondary education skills training for our young people. The government has an important role to play. I do not think this is a partisan issue. I do not think it is a Liberal issue, an NDP issue, a Conservative issue or a Bloc issue. It is everyone's issue. How do we approach that?

One-third of the students who left before graduating in 2002 did so for financial reasons. We need to address that issue. It is projected that by 2010 a four year degree program will cost in excess of $10,000 and that does not include books and all the other things which really add up.

I would like to return briefly to the issue of the environment. I see the parliamentary secretary is here. He and I have worked together in the past. I want to point out that the environment plan the minister presented, the clean air plan, was basically rejected by environmentalists, NGOs and certainly by many members in the House. I thank the government for at least sending the bill to a special committee which will review this piece of legislation. It will be an opportunity to put back many of the things that were decimated in the past.

We have seen, for example, that 92% of the project green funding was cut by the government. Clearly we are still looking at the impact of that. I talked earlier about EnerGuide and other opportunities which Canadians had been using up until the cuts were made.

The minister enunciated yesterday the issue of the debt, particularly the international Kyoto system and about the $1.5 million. It was not clear today in question period whether the $1.5 million has been paid. Was the money sent by FedEx? I am not sure. The minister has indicated that it has been paid. I will take her at her word, although her ADM contradicted her in committee yesterday, so I am not really sure. That is something that clearly needs to be sorted out.

There was the issue of the previous Liberal government proposing to add six greenhouse gases in September 2005 under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA. The government is now talking about having to amend CEPA and dealing with different changes. The legislation already has the ability to deal with that. It does not need to be changed.

We have an international responsibility in dealing with the environment and clearly we have to provide both financial support and policy in that regard. That is why the previous government had launched project green, as I said, the most aggressive plan of the G-8.

The fact is that we have to honour our commitments. We often have heard the government say that it is not going to make its targets. For the last 10 months I have not seen anything which would suggest that the government is meeting its targets at all, because it wasted 10 months. We need to move forward in that regard.

I abhor debt of any kind. That is why I was very proud of the previous government's paying down of the national debt. I certainly am pleased to see that the present government is intending to do so, although the $13 billion that it put down from 2005-06 of course was part of our government.

Mr. Speaker, if you are telling me that my 20 minutes is up, that is a fast 20 minutes, but I have tried to enunciate at least some of the concerns that some of my constituents and I have in this regard.

Prebudget ConsultationsGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:54 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Brain Tumour SurveillancePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Bill Casey Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS


That, in the opinion of the House, the Minister of Health should continue to work collaboratively with Statistics Canada, the provincial and territorial cancer registries, and key stakeholders towards the ultimate goal of creating uniform national standards and guidelines for the surveillance of all malignant and benign brain tumours, including data collection, analysis and reporting.

Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of pride and emotion that I stand today to talk about this private member's motion. It identifies a gap in Canada in research on brain tumours, especially benign brain tumours.

There is a gap in the information gathered in that there is no consistency from province to province and territory to territory. There is no opportunity for comparisons of environmental, geographic, hereditary or lifestyle causes of brain tumours.

We have definitely focused on this as a gap in research and we are asking the government to fill that gap and provide consistency with research and record-keeping right across the country, as has been done in other countries, while many other countries are working to establish the same standard.

First I want to speak to how this happened to come to my attention. Two families in my riding had children afflicted with brain tumours. They came to my office seeking help in a number of ways, including help in raising public awareness or seeking additional research and access to assistance for their predicament, which is most troubling and most difficult to handle.

In 2001, Allison and Wanda MacDonald came to me in my office in Truro, Nova Scotia about their son Matthew, who had passed away the year before. Matthew was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 11 and died at the age of 14. I did not know Matthew, but everybody I talked to said that he truly was an inspiration. I understand that he visited Parliament and was here during his short life. He was named an IWK champion, that is, an Isaac Walton Killam champion, for his positive attitude and his great outlook while he was a patient at Isaac Walton Killam Hospital in Halifax. It is my understanding that he won everyone's heart.

Matthew's father became the chair of the Brain Tumour Research Assistance & Information Network, better known as b.r.a.i.n.child Maritimes, and went to work to try to help other parents and other victims of this affliction.

A few years later, another family came to me. Jennifer and Alan Dempsey from Amherst came to me about their son Brandon. Brandon was diagnosed at the age of four and has had several operations and chemotherapy and radiation. At a young age, he has been through everything that one can possibly imagine. He is now 12. He is in grade seven and has an 88% average. He is doing great. He is enthusiastic and courageous and he too is an inspiration to all of us. If I were allowed to say so, I would point out that he is in the gallery, but I am not allowed to say that, so I will not.

Jennifer, Brandon's mother, has assumed the chair of b.r.a.i.n.child Maritimes. I am so proud that both of these families had the courage, commitment and perseverance to take on this cause after having been through this. I am so glad that we in this House are going to be able to help them with this motion, if it passes, and I sincerely hope it does.

Jennifer and Alan began their eight year battle to help Brandon, but what has happened is that their effort to help Brandon has expanded a lot.

They came to my office. I did not know what to do. I did not know how to help them, but I wanted to. We had a staff meeting and decided that our office would do everything it could to help the Dempsey family and to see if we could help Brandon with his challenges.

We started to gather information. We did what we could. My assistant, Lorne Berndt, who always exceeds expectations, said, “Let us do a private member's bill”. I said that was a good idea, not thinking that it would get drawn very soon, and maybe not ever, the way things go, but here we are. It was drawn and here we are with a private member's motion and an opportunity to help.

The impact has been astounding. We have not broadcast this in any way, shape or form. This was focused on trying to help the Dempsey family and the MacDonald family and victims in our area, but what has happened is that we have had responses from all over the country. We have had responses from the United States, Australia, Germany and Britain. The response to and support for this very simple private member's motion have been absolutely incredible. It is a very simple motion asking the government to gather up statistics and to do it on a national basis with national standards.

I want to use the words of others, because I believe they are more meaningful than anything that I could ever say. I have divided them into just some of the statements. We have received hundreds of letters.

I am going to go through a few lines of a few of the letters to give the House an idea of what we are receiving.

Here is one line from a letter from Steve and Melodie Northey in London, Ontario: “As a father who lost his 8 year old daughter to a brain tumour and co-founder 25 years ago of the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, I applaud your efforts” and he says he supports this cause.

This is from Natalie TeBrinke of British Columbia, who says: “There have been three people living within 1/4 mile of my house who have been hit with brain cancer. I'm the only one still alive. We need to have answers”.

I think we owe them answers.

I have one from Joseph Baldanza of Toronto, who says: “I am part of a family that has lost one member to a brain tumour and 2 others have been diagnosed with different types of brain tumours”. He says that we need help.

Sherry Fleming from Dartmouth wrote: “I am the mother of a child who is a brain tumour survivor!...I am not confident that all is being done that can and should be done for prevention and treatment of these tumours”.

I hope we can help Sherry.

Joanne Morrison from Mississauga wrote: “My husband Guy was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in December 1997 and passed away from this terrible disease in March of 2002”.

Another letter states:

--I have survived since my 2001 diagnosis of a malignant brain tumour.

I was an active, healthy 43 year old wife, mother, and small business operator... As a family, we continue on our healing journey. The doctors have told me it is only a matter of time before the tumour returns.

She totally supports our efforts with Motion No. 235.

I even have a letter from Dr. Thomas Chen of Taiwan. I am sure some members know this man. He emailed me and said that his sister was recently diagnosed with a brain tumour and their family is totally devastated and stressed to hear it. He says, “We are sure that all Canadian citizens...and even the world would support you”.

Those are just some of the letters we have had from the families and the victims.

Now I want to read for members a few letters that doctors and people in the health care industry have written to us.

Here is a very poignant one. Dr. Michael Cusimano emailed me two or three times. He is a neurosurgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. He said:

Dear Mr. Casey:

As a neurosurgeon who deals with a large number of these patients and their families, and someone who would like to study the causes of these tumours in our communities, I applaud this move.

The foresight you have shown in moving this forward will advance the hope for thousands of patients. I hope that this will be the first of many advances for these patients who are often most disenfranchised members of our society because of the nature of their tumours.

He is referring to benign tumours. He went on to explain that in a later letter.

We have had letters from all across the country and from medical facilities everywhere. They are totally supportive of this motion.

One from the B.C. Children's Hospital states: “As the director of the pediatric neuro-oncology program BC, I applaud your efforts” and he says to please push on.

A letter from Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto states: “As the Administrative Secretary of the Pencer Brain Tumour Centre at the Princess Margaret Hospital...I am writing to express my strong support”.

A letter from the Health Sciences Centre in Halifax at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital states:

I am the Brain Tumour Coordinator at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax...As a neuro-oncology nurse who deals daily with the devastating effects the diagnosis of brain tumour has on patients and their families, I applaud your efforts to promote a national, standardized approach to the collection of the...information....

At the University of Calgary, the Calgary Health Region Foothills Medical Centre said the same thing in a letter written by an oncology neurosurgeon and cancer researcher.

These people are busy people, but they see the need.

One letter really is quite amazing. It is from the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and states:

We are writing today to offer our support of your Private Member's Motion M-235.

The passing of Motion M-235 by the House would be a very positive step toward the creation of uniform national standards and guidelines for the surveillance of all malignant and benign brain tumours. This valuable data will be of great assistance to us, and our colleagues around the world in directing future research into treatments for these devastating diseases and ultimately finding a cure.

This letter was signed by five doctors: Dr. Warren Mason, Dr. Barbara Ann Miller, Dr. Mary Elliott, Dr. Normand Laperriere, and Dr. Cynthia Menard. I am so grateful to them for taking the time to do this.

Another letter came from Australia, from Denis Strangman, chair of the International Brain Tumour Alliance. He said that he had just returned from Australia and the New South Wales cancer registry has decided to count benign brain tumours in all of its information. That is exactly what we want to have done here.

I want to thank the doctors who took the time to send me my last batch of letters.

This letter is from the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. Every director of the board sent me a letter, but here is one of them. It states:

I am writing to express my strong support...As a neurosurgeon and Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada...This information may help patients and families to access the resources they so desperately need.

I received a letter from Dr. David Colman, Ph.D. from the Wilder Penfield Institute at McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute. He says:

As Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University...This motion will help us answer questions about the incidence, best treatment practice and outcomes for brain tumour patients...

As a coincidence, Dr. Wilder Penfield operated on my grandmother decades ago when she went blind. Dr. Wilder Penfield operated on her and restored her sight somehow through brain surgery. She is long gone, but it was such a surprise to get this letter and to have that memory revived.

I have letters of support from the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ontario, the Algoma District Brain Tumours Support Group, the brain tumour research and assistance network at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax and the North American Brain Tumour Coalition in the United States.

This is a letter from Dr. Dr. Cusimano. He said, and this is the key:

It is extremely important to realize that the word “benign” is not entirely appropriate when it comes to brain tumours....This work represents a critical first step towards making meaningful progress that will not only have ripples throughout Canadian society but also help those with brain tumours elsewhere by the new knowledge, research and awareness it will raise.

Those words are far more effective than anything I can say. I ask members in the House to support the bill. It will do nothing but good and will help a lot of people, young people, old people, people who have no place to turn now. This will provide them with a great deal of tools and research ability that they do not have.

I do not want to finish without thanking Jennifer and Brandon for their incredible contribution to this cause and for their dedication and Allison and Wanda MacDonald, who lost their son Matthew and who are still working on this cause to raise attention and public awareness. They have put the spotlight on this gap in research and we are all very grateful for them.

I want to thank all those hundreds of people and doctors who have so surprisingly written me and our office with letters of support, all the organizations which supplied us with the details. I want to thank the Minister of Health who has supported us 100%.

I want to thank the Prime Minister for taking the time today to meet with Jennifer and Brandon. It meant so much to them and so much to us. He took the time to invite young Brandon to his office. He chatted with him and talked about what he had gone through in the way of treatment. He also asked how he was doing in school.

I want to thank all the MPs in the House today for listening to this and for their support. I want to thank my staff especially Lorne Berndt for his dedication and great work drafting this.

In closing, I will read a quote by Jennifer Dempsey, Brandon's mother, from the Amherst Daily News today. She said

When I first started on this I was doing if for Brandon, which was rather personal and selfish of me, but I believe this is going to help people all across Canada and in other places.

For Jennifer and Brandon, they already have helped so many people. They have done a great job and we are all very grateful for their persistence and determination.