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House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad that the government wants to give our constituents choices, but before leaving Victoria I received a visit from many parents who were very concerned about the lack of their prospects next year when there will be no new child care spaces created. Many of them plan to be going to university next year and now they are faced with uncertainty. Many young parents simply lack the funds.

In Victoria, child care costs for one month are about $800. It is obvious that $1,200 will not go very far. I am wondering if the government truly wants to give Canadians choices, whether it will consider broadening its definition of choice.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I believe we demonstrated in the throne speech, we have a philosophical difference in our opinion on child care. We believe that choice should be present. The previous government looked at a single system which only offered one choice, state-run child care. Our position is that we are going to be offering more choice. We are providing stay at home parents, or any parent, with $1,200 per child. This gives a new option. We are also going to be providing incentives for 125,000 new spaces. This is an important change and departure from the previous government. We are looking forward to implementing it as part of our upcoming agenda.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:40 a.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Multiculturalism)

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by adding my words of congratulations on your elevation to the Chair. Mr. Speaker, as dean of the House and one of the most respected members of this place, it is encouraging for all of us to see you assuming your rightful place in the Chair. As a member of the government, I am delighted that you will not likely be participating in question period very often in the future.

Let me also begin by thanking my constituents of Calgary Southeast for the honour of serving them for a fourth mandate here in the House of Commons. It is a particular honour in my case, not to be boastful, because they rewarded me with more votes than any other candidate in this election, 46,000 votes, which is more a sign of the growth of Calgary than the quality of their member of Parliament, I assure the House. It is also a sign of the need for, among other things, this Parliament to allow full representation by population given that many of us from cities like Calgary represent a huge and growing population that deserves proper representation.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the Prime Minister for making me his parliamentary secretary and for assigning me certain responsibilities. I have great faith in this Prime Minister’s leadership and in his vision for the future of our country.

It is a vision that was well and briefly articulated in the Speech from the Throne. Members opposite have criticized the throne speech for its brevity. It is impossible of course in any throne speech to provide a comprehensive program for every area of public policy. What we see here though is a different approach. Canadians voted on January 23 for change and they have a new government which has expressed that spirit of change in this throne speech document. They have a government which is focused on achieving results, focused on priorities, and not distracted by dozens of priorities.

The former Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, has said that if a government has 45 priorities, it has no real priority. He was right.

That is why the present Prime Minister has decided to set a government agenda that focuses on certain priorities shared by all Canadians.

Those priorities were well articulated in this throne speech.

I would like to stress the fact that the first priority of this government is, obviously, accountability. We are going to replace the previous government’s culture of kickbacks with a culture of accountability. That is why the first bill introduced by this government, which will be tabled next week, I believe, will be the Federal Accountability Act. The purpose of that act will be to carry out the most ambitious reform of federal institutions in the modern era of Canadian politics.

This will affect everything from party financing to access to information to whistleblower protection to the ability of the Auditor General to look into every nook and cranny of government to route out waste, and to stop it before it begins. That will be our hallmark.

We are setting a high standard and we in the government recognize that. We are setting a high standard for ourselves, and if we fail to meet that standard, a price will be exacted. We understand that. We understand that mistakes will be made. The Prime Minister has said that no one is perfect in any organization with thousands of people. Mistakes will be made. The difference in this government is that when those mistakes are made, deliberately or otherwise, there will be consequences and people will be held accountable.

That is the difference between this government and the previous one. Under the previous government, politicians and public servants could do anything at all without being held to account.

That is why Canadians voted against the Liberal government. They saw the enormous waste of their money. Canadians and families in this country work hard to earn that money and pay their taxes. They want to support the services provided by the government, but they do not want to see the waste, the corruption and the kickbacks that they witnessed over the last 13 years.

That is why this government has a mandate for accountability and change.

I am speaking directly of my own constituents now. We are very blessed in Alberta generally, and in Calgary particularly, with tremendous prosperity. I think my riding is the fastest growing constituency in the country. We have become magnets for risk taking, entrepreneurialism, business and enterprise.

The people in my constituency in particular would like me to say that they want us to be focused here on reducing the tax burden on Canadian families. I think they are pleased that one of the first acts of this government and the tremendous new Minister of Finance from Whitby—Oshawa will be a universal tax cut for every Canadian family.

The Liberal Party’s finance spokesperson said during question period yesterday that his party is in fact opposed to reducing the GST, because they want to keep the previous Liberal government’s tax strategy.

The income tax reductions proposed in the Liberals’ last budget do nothing for the 32% of Canadians who have the lowest incomes. Those families do not pay income tax, because they do not have enough income for that. However, all Canadian families pay the GST. That is 100% of Canadian families who will benefit from a tax reduction in the first budget of this government, thanks to a reduction of the GST from 7% to 6%.

Then, of course, it will go to 5%.

This is a universal tax cut. It is just like our day care program, our choice in child care allowance. It is a universal approach.

In the past, the Liberal Party was in favour of the principle of universality in public policy, when it comes to social programs. It supported the principle of universality, under which everyone must have access to the same services. In fact, it developed a child care centre program that actually targeted 20% to 24% of parents, those who use institutional child care services. However, it forgot about all the other Canadian families and the great diversity of choice that is available to them for child care.

We are not going to forget the other three-quarters of Canadian families. We are going to provide 100% of the families with preschool children with resources to assist them in their child care choices. Yes, we admit that it is not perfect, but to be blunt, we do not have the fiscal capacity to provide the $13 billion in budgeted money that the advocates of a universal, Ottawa-run, institutional-government-knows-best, cookie cutter style of Liberal day care program would cost. That $13 billion is precisely why the Liberals never delivered such a program in 13 years. It was 13 years and $13 billion. They delivered nothing except a tiny pilot project last year, at a billion dollars a year.

The Liberals pretend that the choice is between universal, quality day care and the $1,200 a year choice in child care allowance. What nonsense. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the choice is between something, the $1,200 a year, or nothing, which is what the Liberals delivered after 13 years.

Those are our priorities. I know that, in particular, accountability, tax reduction and child care choice are priorities that my constituents would like me to speak to.

As a word of personal interest, I would like to commend my hon. colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Prime Minister for the new principled dimension of our foreign policy that we are already seeing at the beginning of this government.

I am somebody who came to this place partly because I had a heart for human rights issues abroad and for moral principle in foreign policy. I am delighted to see that already in the first few weeks of this government we have seen some principle restored and Canada's prestige restored to our role in the world, most clearly typified by the Prime Minister's brilliant voyage to Afghanistan. Many Canadians have said to me that they now feel proud of their government again. That, I think, is already our greatest achievement.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment. It is certainly well deserved. I know the member has the full support of the House.

In his speech yesterday, the Prime Minister reiterated a point that the opposition members have used quite often, and that is that the existence of a surplus at the end of a fiscal period means that Canadians have been overtaxed. It is a very interesting point, because the member is a learned member in financial matters and knows very well that in order to pay down the debt a surplus must be created.

The current national debt is still in the range of $500 billion. In fact, it is just a little lower than it was when the Liberal government first took office back in 1993, notwithstanding that there had been, since 1997, eight balanced budgets and surpluses, so that yes, there was $65 billion of debt paid down, saving about $3 billion of interest expense. But it does raise the question: what is the true fiscal dividend to Canadians when we balance budgets and create surpluses? Does it mean that we should spend the surpluses or is the real dividend the savings on the interest on the national debt?

Since the Speech from the Throne also indicates that the government will be presenting responsible budgets during this 39th Parliament, what is the position of the government with regard to the paydown of the national debt when times are good, knowing full well that we cannot pay down debt when times are bad?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, first let me congratulate my hon. colleague on his re-election. I will not say more nice words about him, because I have done so in the past in the House and those nice words found their way onto his election brochure in this most recent campaign, which was not well received by his Conservative opponent. So while I congratulate him on his re-election, I hope it is the last one.

Let me say that the member raises a very important issue. I think it is known that I used to be president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. One of the issues that drove me into political life was the desire for fiscal responsibility and a real concern about the intergenerational transfer of wealth that is represented by these enormous debts we are handing on to future generations. I will certainly be a voice in this Parliament and this government for continued reduction of the federal debt.

I can assure the hon. member that the hon. Minister of Finance shortly will present a budget that will continue the reduction of the federal debt, both in relative terms as a percentage of our gross domestic product and in absolute terms. We will run a government that is in the black, with balanced budgets and with surpluses.

The best way to achieve growing surpluses is to have a growing economy, which is precisely what we will provide by allowing Canadians to keep more of their own money, because we, unlike the Liberals, believe that families and small business people and entrepreneurs know better how to spend an extra buck than politicians and bureaucrats. They will create the wealth, and that growth will help provide that kind of surpluses to eventually pay down the debt and reduce the intergenerational burden.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say at the outset that I hold you in such high regard, and when I am throwing vitriol and righteous indignation through you at the other members it is strictly a reflection of the parliamentary system, not anything I hold toward you personally on those matters.

I would like to ask the hon. member about issues of accountability and debt. I represent the Mushkegowuk clans of the James Bay coast, who have been suffering from years of absolutely disgraceful systemic negligence. As we are talking about debt, I will give members an example in regard to the people of the James Bay coast: up to 30% are not even registered under health insurance plans. The federal government has been aware of this. No moves have been made. My office staff fly to these communities regularly to hold birth certificate clinics to get these people on plans, but what happens is that the first nations health branch will not cover the costs for people in isolated communities who are being treated with emergency medical treatments.

The branch is accusing health officials in the hospitals on the James Bay coast of being irresponsible with the growing debt. That debt is created from the refusal of bureaucrats in the first nations health branch to deal with this issue. The hospital is trying to service people. It has an obligation to service people.

First of all, in terms of the debt being faced by our communities in the first nations through underfunding, will the government act on it? Second, in terms of accountability, will we get some accountability on the bureaucrats at INAC and the first nations health branch who have to deal with the communities and who keep these communities continually under their thumb?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge the member's hard work on that issue; we have discussed the question directly in brief.

I believe the hon. Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has come forward with the first comprehensive plan to address the crisis in access to quality water on aboriginal reserves. This is certainly a government that will want to cut the red tape and empower people in their local communities, including their band councils and reserves, to find solutions that work.

I would say that in principle what the member says makes perfect sense to me. I am sure the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs will take that into account as he continues to try to help solve this serious problem in our aboriginal communities.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished and respected colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île. I would also like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker and thank the electors in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for their vote of confidence for a fifth consecutive time. I will continue to work with my usual passion and conviction to improve the welfare of my fellow citizens.

Expectations for the new government are high. They parallel the commitments made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign. He has the arduous task of repairing the breakage from 13 years of waste by the Liberal regime, a cynical, arrogant and corrupt regime that slashed transfers to the provinces to fund the obligations set for them under the Constitution.

I was happy, but not surprised. Throughout the election campaign, the Prime Minister made firm commitments regarding the fiscal imbalance. He convinced some voters in Quebec that he would settle the matter and rectify the fiscal imbalance. I was not surprised to hear that. I was happy, because it was beneath the previous government to even acknowledge the existence of a fiscal imbalance in Canada.

The government must now rectify two aspects of the fiscal imbalance. First, there is the vertical fiscal imbalance, the government's ability to tax our fellow citizens beyond its financial requirements for carrying out its mandate. The governments of Quebec and the provinces, on the other hand, are unable to obtain the financial resources they need to meet the obligations set out for them in the Constitution. In other words, there is too much money in Ottawa for the federal government's requirements and not enough in Quebec and the provinces to enable them to carry out their mandates as effectively as possible. These are fundamental mandates to provide direct services to the public such as education and health care and other provincial obligations.

We are not asking the government to resolve this issue tomorrow. However, we are asking that it start making corrective changes as early as the next budget, which will be brought down in a few weeks. In particular, we are asking it to promise to sit down with Quebec and the provinces to negotiate, much the same as in 1964 at the Quebec conference between Mr. Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada, and Jean Lesage, the Premier of Quebec. In 1964, it was agreed that the federal government had a fiscal overcapacity and that major reforms were needed in the provinces, in matters of education and student assistance in particular. At the time, Mr. Pearson agreed to hand over some of the federal government's tax fields to the provinces that wanted to benefit from this. In 1964, only Quebec benefited. Today, when we talk about tax points and their value of several billion dollars, it comes mainly from that conference.

Our expectations when it comes to the vertical fiscal imbalance are that the government will initiate discussions with the provinces and with Quebec and end up transferring these tax fields or taxes like the GST, transferring revenue, and taking jurisdictions that are exclusive to Quebec and the provinces away from the federal government. With this new revenue, Quebec and the provinces could fulfil their basic missions.

The second type of fiscal imbalance the federal government must correct is the horizontal fiscal imbalance. The government has a fundamental instrument at its disposal, an instrument that has even been in the constitution since 1982 and that is equalization. The horizontal fiscal imbalance is the inequality between the provinces in their ability to obtain tax resources to provide comparable services from east to west in Canada. This equalization system can offset the horizontal fiscal imbalance, in other words, the disparity in provincial wealth obtained from taxes and used to fund basic programs.

The current situation makes the imbalance much more apparent than ever. Alberta, for example, is swimming is unbelievable wealth. Soon the Maritimes will have their turn thanks to offshore oil. Meanwhile, the other provinces are getting poorer in relative and absolute terms.

We must not forget that the oil boom and Alberta's massive oil exports are artificially raising the value of the Canadian dollar. In Quebec and Ontario in particular, but in the Maritimes as well, businesses are becoming less competitive, especially against emerging countries. When the Canadian dollar is pumped up by oil exports, the whole manufacturing sector suffers, in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Today, with the rise of economic powers such as China and India, a number of regions are faced with massive job losses. I will come back to this later. Business owners do not know where to turn, with increased competition and the rise in value of the Canadian dollar, which makes businesses less competitive.

Equalization is the perfect way to try to alleviate the disparity between provinces, but there needs to be a way to accurately measure each province's revenue-raising ability before the have-not provinces can be adequately compensated with equalization payments. Equalization reform is needed.

First of all, the equalization formula has to be based on the 10-province standard. Each province's fiscal capacity must be calculated against a Canada-wide average, not just a five-province average, as is the case now. All 10 provinces have to be taken into account. As well, some tax bases, such as property tax, need to be reviewed. For some provinces, estimates of the government's ability to raise property tax revenue are used. These provinces' property tax capacity can be overestimated, with the result that they receive lower equalization transfers than they actually need.

Second, when we say that each province's total fiscal capacity has to be considered, this means that we must not remove a tax base from the equalization formula, as the Conservatives are proposing to do. They want to take out non-renewable natural resources. This would skew the system and add to the horizontal fiscal imbalance between the provinces. One province's relative wealth would increase, while the other provinces' relative wealth would decrease. We have to be consistent.

Equalization is the only program with constitutional status. In the past it was felt that there would be growing inequalities among the provinces in terms of their capacity to collect wealth in the form of taxes, and this program served to correct that. Equalization has to be reformed, but not in the way the Conservatives have proposed to us.

We are on the government’s side if it intends to rectify the fiscal imbalance in the medium term. The situation at the moment is urgent. Post-secondary education—i.e. colleges and universities—has been underfunded for many years. That began when the former finance minister, who later became Prime Minister, made savage cuts to transfers to the provinces for the funding of post-secondary education.

The situation in which we now find ourselves is dangerous. I have met with the president of the Association des collèges du Québec and the principal of François-Xavier-Garneau college, in the Quebec City region. They informed me that, since the mid-1990s, education programs have been reformed and modernized to take account of labour market realities and technological development. However they do not have the funds to set up these new programs. It is becoming a disaster. We know that education is fundamental, that it is the future of our economy and our societies. We do not even have the money to modernize our programs, much less set them up.

When the Conservatives were in opposition, I chaired a sub-committee on the fiscal imbalance. I told them that we needed to increase the federal contribution to 25%. They agreed. This represents an increase in transfers for post-secondary education of $4.9 billion per year for all of Canada. This has to be done. The government must take action on this.

I would also like to mention three other issues of close concern to me. One is POWA, the program for older worker adjustment. With the fierce competition from emerging countries, it is important to help workers aged 55 and over to get through this period until the time comes to retire. This program used to exist in 1997. In my riding, the people from Peerless in Acton were the last to benefit from it, in 1997.

Since then we have been fighting to bring it back. This is urgently necessary. The program is not expensive, and it helps the families of workers aged 55 and over to pull through.

Of course, the government must act on agriculture and the RCMP posts. The Conservatives have agreed to reopen the eight RCMP posts that had been closed.

In Saint-Hyacinthe, we expect to be waging total war against crime, thanks to the Info-Crime committee established by the warden of the RCM, Ms. Beaulac, and myself. We also believe we can do this with appropriate policing tools. That requires the reopening of the RCMP post in Saint-Hyacinthe and assignment of a significant number of investigators to it, i.e. eight. That is the functional mass that is necessary.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot on his re-election. We have been colleagues for some 13 years now and I always learn something when he speaks.

Since the beginning, Federal and provincial relations have been a big issue with the Bloc. We know that provincial jurisdiction covers things like child care, housing and social services, but in this Parliament child care has become an issue. I was very concerned when the OECD report came out and basically characterized, other than Quebec's model, the child care experience in Canada as glorified babysitting.

There now is a debate about whether we should give money directly to parents or give money to national programs, which could be extremely expensive. We agree on one thing, and that is it is an imperative not an option that we invest in the raising of our children.

In the light of how this debate has evolved, has the Bloc taken a position with regard to the priorities of children and their needs in this evolutionary society and is there a model which would provide a greater flexibility and support in choices for parents so that children do in fact come first?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for his question. He is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect.

We have indeed taken a position with regard to children, young, older and in between. First, we have to talk about child care centres. The agreement signed on that subject between the previous government and the government of Quebec must be honoured. We insist on this. We will continue to fight, together with the government of Quebec and all parties in the National Assembly, to have the present government honour the signature of the previous government.

Second, my colleague from Trois-Rivières will have an opportunity a little later this week or next week to introduce the proposal that, if there is a direct transfer to parents for children under the age of six, that transfer must be done properly, that is, in the form of a refundable tax credit, and not in the form of a lump sum payment of $1,200 to families, which would be taxable. Under the latter option, families with low or moderate incomes would be heavily penalized by the tax on their cash transfers.

Third, I would mention education. Post-secondary education, colleges and universities, that too is for young people. For a number of years, they have been underfunded. We support the demands by the federations of students in Quebec and Canada for restoration of the transfer that was eliminated in 1994-1995. At that time, it was worth $2.2 billion, but since then there has been inflation. As a result of the emergency correction of the federal transfers in college and university education, that transfer is now worth $4.9 billion.

Fourth, when we talk about child poverty, we have to think of the parents. Because if the parents are poor, their children are poor too. At present, because of the emerging nations, including China, India, Brazil, in the agri-food industry, and Chile, we find ourselves in a situation in which workers are experiencing mass layoffs. We have seen this in the Huntingdon region, the Drummond region, and in my region as well, in the case of Olymel, AirBoss, and so on. We have to help the workers. That can be done by reforming employment insurance and especially by introducing the assistance program for older workers.

After 30 or 35 years of service, workers are finding themselves in a situation in which, after a few months, they are no longer entitled to employment insurance and have to become social assistance recipients. To do that, they must sell all the property they have accumulated since they began working, for 35 years, all the time they have held jobs that demand unbelievable vigour and huge outlays of energy. At the end of the day, after 30 or 35 years, people can no longer reposition themselves on the labour market.

In 1997, POWA targeted workers aged 55 and over. That program enabled them to live decently and with dignity until their pensions started. The program was not expensive. When it was abolished, the cost was $17 million for the whole of Canada. Today, that must be about $60 million or $70 million dollars. On the other hand, we have to think about the number of tragedies that a program like this can avert.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry, but the time for questions and comments was used up by that one exchange. I would ask members, in the future, to try to keep their questions and their answers shorter.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment to the position of Deputy Speaker. I thank my colleague for his speech, which was brilliant, as usual.

And I thank the citizens of La Pointe-de-l'Île for re-electing me for a fifth time. Their strong support meant a lot to me and is a positive indication that they support the positions that the Bloc Québécois will defend to ensure the progress of Quebec.

To begin my reply to the Speech from the Throne, I would like to refer to yesterday's question period. It was my turn after my party leader and I asked the Prime Minister about keeping an election promise regarding UNESCO. He replied, “I am sure that the members of the Bloc will not support such an agreement. We know that their objective is to do much more than give Quebec a voice on the world stage”.

First of all, I must say that the Prime Minister is right and wrong at the same time. Simply because we are Bloc members does not mean that we would be willing to accept a proposal on Quebec's position in the federal framework if that proposal were unsatisfactory. As we will see, there are many federated countries that have given their component parts the power, for instance, to sign treaties. In point of fact, we are sovereignists and we hope to achieve more than just a place for Quebec on the world stage. We want Quebec to play a role similar to small countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which all contribute significantly in terms of international aid and conflict resolution. We believe that we could play such a role. However, what we hope to achieve here is progress for Quebec.

I would like to point out that I was inspired by a book written by Stéphane Paquin, who studied models of federalism that have been reformed since the 1990s. Belgium is certainly a case in point. Following a debate that ended in 1993, Belgium permitted its federated entities--regions and communities--to play a role on the international scene. They have become the model to be admired and also to be copied. Rather than leading to the anarchy that some believed would ensue, this model on the contrary has also created mechanisms for cooperation enabling the regions and communities to further their respective development.

There are three types of treaties in Belgium, that is to say treaties signed by the federal government. It must by law consult them, but the treaties are concluded and ratified by the government. However, treaties that fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of communities or regions and that are concluded and ratified by the authorities of these entities do exist, from the legal point of view, in the same manner as treaties concluded by the federal government. The parliaments of the federated states approve treaties.

In matters of shared responsibility, the treaty is concluded according to a special procedure, as agreed to by all the governments, and must also be approved by all the parliaments concerned.

If a parliament does not agree, the treaty cannot be approved. Of course this requires discussion and negotiation. However, this allows each entity to make known its point of view. The same principles apply to international representation. When an entity is not satisfied with the position taken, there is no position. For example, Belgium will not voice an opinion; it will abstain rather than voting or speaking. This does not mean that Belgium is powerless on the international scene. On the contrary, compromises are sought out. This is a situation that does not occur often here.

Spain is another country that is very interesting and that is not a federation. It is a unitary state made up of communities. The communities are consulted when treaties are made or for international representations. Catalonia is an exception, since it has signed an agreement with the Spanish government, and a bipartisan committee studies treaties and international representations. That enables Catalonia to express its particular points of view. It might also be recalled that Switzerland allows its entities to sign treaties, provided they are consistent with what exists on the federal level. The great respect Switzerland shows to each of its entities is well known. This does not occur with respect to sovereign countries; the entities are federal entities.

I am insisting on this subject, because we think that, when the Prime Minister made his statements during the election campaign, he made an appeal for Quebec, particularly in the current context, to finally see its jurisdictions respected. I will quote a few of these statements:

We will respect federal and provincial jurisdictions, as they are defined in the Canadian Constitution.

In a while, through you, Mr. Speaker, I will put some questions to him because Canadian jurisdictions, since the strong centralization movement of federation, have lost a lot of their shine and their essential oils. In Le Devoir of last December 20, one could read:

On the international level, Quebec, as well as the other provinces, though they see less need for it, “will have a say in matters affecting their own jurisdictions,” said the leader of the Conservative Party.

So this does not concern just their jurisdictions, but it does affect them. The Prime Minister also said:

—we are going to design mechanisms that will give the provinces a greater role in their own areas of jurisdiction on international issues.

In his much talked-about speech on December 20, he also said:

Clearly this issue is of greater concern to Quebec than the other provinces. I am ready to discuss mechanisms to enable the provinces to extend their jurisdictions on the international scene.

The extension of jurisdictions on the international scene is the doctrine favoured by Paul Guérin-Lajoie in 1965. On the basis of a decision by the Privy Council, a colonial court, he demanded the right for Quebec to negotiate, sign and ratify its own treaties, since globalization meant that Quebec needed to have a hold over its treaties and over international representation.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, federal-provincial jurisdiction and constitutional issues are always going to be long-standing debates in this place, particularly with the Bloc. The Bloc has championed many issues over the years, among them the EI fund, cheese, shipbuilding, and the fiscal imbalance. The member has spent a lot of time on international and foreign affairs. I appreciate her comments on some of the international perspective.

Perhaps the member could share some thoughts about this constitutional situation that we are in, where Quebec is not now a signatory to the Canadian Constitution but is prepared to operate within the principles of the Constitution to try to move forward. We have to move this file forward at some time. Does she believe that there is a possibility down the road of a constitutional amendment process which would provide the opportunity to better achieve the objectives of all Canadians, including Canadians in Quebec?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to tell my colleague that I too appreciate his sometimes surprising but always interesting questions.

I remember — others must have heard it as well — the current Prime Minister emphasizing during a debate that he would arrange to make it possible for Quebec to sign the Canadian constitution. Frankly, it is a strange situation, to say the least. As a result of the Supreme Court’s interpretation, we say of it in Quebec that it is like the tower in Pisa and always leans in the same direction. Quebec must abide by the rules of a constitution that it did not sign. This does not make any sense. We remember the last attempt. I would frankly be surprised if the Prime Minister were to try it again, but if he does, I would be astonished if he succeeded. It is sad, in a way.

I have before me texts from legal scholars saying to what extent­—since 1937 and 1949, when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ceased deciding jurisdictional conflicts, among others, and was replaced by the Supreme Court—Canadian federalism has become centralized to the point of no longer really meeting the criteria for a federation and instead becoming a unitary state. In view of all the interpretive theories, the jurisdictions recognized in the Constitution can be circumvented, identified, used and enclosed in all sorts of ways, with the result that we are headed more toward a unitary state.

As we know, I am a sovereignist. I think that this deterioration, this centralization of the Canadian federation, can no longer be reversed.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I can appreciate that the hon. member would love to plunge the House back into a constitutional debate, I can assure everyone that the object of the government is to get things done for Canadians. We feel that will be very uniting for Canadians, including those in Quebec.

I would like to address what the hon. member indicated originally, a point that was made by the Prime Minister yesterday, which was that the Bloc would not likely be satisfied with whatever the outcome was regarding the negotiations on UNESCO. The point is quite simple. Because the Conservatives' end goal is diametrically opposed to that of the Bloc in that we want to unite Canada from coast to coast to coast and Bloc members do not, they quite simply will not be satisfied with any outcome.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat—and I am certain that I will do it often during this Parliament and will not be the only one—what our leader said yesterday, namely that we are here to achieve progress for Quebec which is to say to make its jurisdictions as broad again as they must be for the development of Quebec, which is a people and a nation. This is not a whim; we are a people and a nation. There are other countries in the world that consist of various peoples and nations and that find a way to recognize the place of all their peoples to ensure their development. That might have been possible in Canada, but it has not happened.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

April 6th, 2006 / 12:30 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the Minister of Transport, my colleague the member for Pontiac.

It is a great privilege for me to rise in this place for the first time. At the outset I would like to thank the electors of Ottawa West--Nepean for their support. I commit to them that I will work hard each and every day to serve their interests in this place. Their priorities which they sent me here to address are health care, crime, support for seniors, and to be an advocate for our public servants.

A great number of very distinguished people have preceded me in this place. I would like to pay tribute to Marlene Catterall who served as our member of Parliament in Ottawa West--Nepean for the past 16 or 17 years, to David Daubney, Beryl Gaffney, Bill Tupper who was a real mentor to me, former Speaker Lloyd Francis who was good enough to come to my swearing in, along with David Daubney, Walter Baker, Dick Bell, and my great-uncle who served as the member for my riding in the 1940s. I am very privileged to follow him.

Today I rise to speak about accountability. It is one of the most important responsibilities, in my judgment, facing any government. Canadians, all of us, were shocked at the sponsorship scandal and other examples of irresponsible government. It shook the confidence of Canadians to the core. As the Prime Minister has noted publicly, and I do not think we can do it enough, this Conservative government does not blame the members of the public service for what happened. They did not cross the line. It was their political masters who did.

I want to say very directly that rebuilding the public trust can be the most important legacy for the 39th Parliament. Our federal accountability act can change how government works. It will make it easier not just for the House but for all Canadians to hold their federal government to account. I hope we will use this first step to rebuild the public trust of Canadians in their government.

We are going to focus on five key reforms. We want political reform through changes to electoral and party financing so that there is real confidence that undue influence is not exerted on the political process, on the parliamentary process or indeed on government. We want parliamentary reform through enhanced support for parliamentary committees so that all members of Parliament can do their jobs, and through stronger roles and greater independence for the officers and agents of the House of Commons and Senate.

We want public sector reform through better and improved accountability structures.

We want procurement reform to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are getting value for their hard-earned tax dollars and that the processes are open.

We want to see additional reforms to help increase transparency in government.

The reforms we will present to the House and through the House to Canadians will be far reaching and comprehensive.

Accountability is the very foundation for Canada's system of responsible government. It is key to assuring Parliament and Canadians that public resources are used both efficiently and effectively. Accountability means leading by example. That is especially true for those who aspire to public office, for members of Parliament and the political parties that all but one of us represent.

As I mentioned earlier, the federal accountability act will reduce the opportunity to exert undue political influence through large and secret donations of money to political parties and candidates. This will ensure greater transparency and help Canadians feel more confident about the integrity of the democratic process.

Canadians expect their elected representatives and indeed all public office holders to make decisions that are in the public interest and not in their personal interest both now and in the years to come. Public office holders must perform their duties and arrange their private affairs to withstand the closest public scrutiny. They must uphold the highest ethical standards at all times.

The weaknesses in the current Lobbyists Registration Act have increased the perception of conflict of interest. We must be concerned about conflict of interest, but we must be equally concerned about the public perception of conflict of interest. Some people feel that there is a privileged access to government that is reserved only for a chosen few. That is something this government intends to deal with head on when we introduce the federal accountability act next week.

I am privileged to represent the riding of Ottawa West—Nepean. In the national capital region a huge number of men and women work in the public service and deliver important programs and services that touch the lives of all Canadians every single day. We recognize the professionalism and dedication of the men and women who work in the public service and the value that they bring to the table. As Conservatives we see a strong role for a vibrant, healthy and dynamic private sector as the instrument of economic growth, as the engine of opportunity in the country, but it does not demean the important role that the public sector plays in the Canadian economy and the important role that members of the public service play.

The federal accountability act will help clarify roles and responsibilities which first and foremost will strengthen accountability. Our objective through the federal accountability act which was cited in the Speech from the Throne will be to have an even stronger public service, one that will continue to be second to none internationally.

The government is one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the country. I strongly believe that the bidding process for government contracts must be fair, open and transparent. The federal accountability act will include an overarching statement of principles to meet these objectives.

One of the most important roles of Parliament is to hold the Government of Canada to account for the use of taxpayers' dollars. To do this effectively, parliamentarians need objective and fact-based information on how the government spends funds. That will be an important part to the parliamentary budget authority that we will propose next week.

I look forward to working with members on all sides of the House to make this new federal accountability act reality. The measures that I highlighted today signal a dramatic change in the way this city works to move from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability that pervades Parliament Hill, that pervades the public service, that pervades Canadian society so that all taxpayers will have the confidence that their tax dollars are spent wisely and well.

I look forward to working with members on all sides of the House, with my own caucus colleagues, with members of the official opposition, with members from Quebec and the Bloc Québécois and colleagues from the New Democratic Party. Pat Martin, one of the NDP members of Parliament, was quoted in the Hill Times. He said that we could leave a better legacy--

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I am very delighted to hear the hon. member speaking but I think there is a time honoured tradition in the House that we do not refer to members by their names, as was the case by the hon. member. Perhaps the Speaker might want to be more attentive to these concerns.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will just remind the hon. President of the Treasury Board to refer to our colleagues either by their riding names or by their titles.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member said that we could perhaps have no greater victory in this first session of the 39th Parliament than that we could pass, enact into law, the federal accountability act, to leave a legacy of accountability and to show all Canadians that we can make this Parliament work and that we can clean up once and for all the cynicism that has grown over the past 13 years.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment.

I congratulate the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean on his election and on his move from provincial to federal politics.

The hon. member talked about accountability. He spoke about the public servants, that they are not to blame. I believe that in all services, whether they be public or private, there is no perfection. There is always a problem somewhere. I would be very happy to give the minister a copy of the front page of a newspaper where the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, said at the first inquiry initiated from her report, “public servants broke just about every rule in the book”.

I am not here to stand up and blame all the public servants. I am saying that there was a fault. We went in and cleaned it up, which brings me to my question about the accountability act.

Today, there is an unelected appointed senator--another broken promise--who is going to be heading the biggest department in government. As a government accountable to the people supposedly under the accountability act, how can we ask him questions about procurement, for example? How are we going to ask questions to the new minister who does not sit in the House of Commons? The way I see it and the way most Canadians see it, we are elected by the people to be accountable here. Where is that minister going to be accountable?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I expect that every day the Minister of Public Works and Government Services will be on his feet answering questions in question period in the other place. I think he was asked two questions yesterday. This is good for accountability. As well, another 25 ministers will be here in the House of Commons.

I respect the opinion and judgment of the member opposite. I would be dishonest if I did not put on the table my concern about the continued maligning of our public service. The Liberal Party has tried to blame our public service for the scandal and the member opposite has thrown fuel on that fire. No member of the public service woke up one day and said, “How do I funnel money to the Liberal Party in Quebec?” That is a fact. Public servants did not do that.

What we did see in Justice Gomery's report was the active involvement and collusion of senior members of the Liberal Party both on Parliament Hill and in the province of Quebec, who were involved in the disbursement of public funds. We heard stories of envelopes filled with $7,000 and even $50,000 in cash. No member of the public service woke up one day and wanted to funnel money to the Liberal Party in Quebec. I can assure the member opposite of that.

Someone will have to stand up for the public service. I can say that there will be two people who will be doing that. They will be the political minister responsible for Quebec, the member for Pontiac, and there will be myself, the member for Ottawa. We will be the first two to stand up for the public service.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on joining the House of Commons. I am sure he will bring us some of his wisdom from the Ontario legislature. It is great to have him here.

I followed his comments with great interest. I totally agree with the member that we have to have public trust in our institutions. To that end, the Liberal government undertook quite a few things.

Let me say to the member opposite, because he talked about the public service, Chuck Guité was inherited from the previous Conservative government.

The other issue I wish to raise in talking about public trust is I suggest that the member read On the Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years. This is important reading for members to understand how this works. Also the member really should take a look at the W5 program where Schreiber gave $300,000 to a former prime minister.

I am hoping that under this air of accountability and this quest that we all have as parliamentarians to clean up the ethics of government that an investigation will be launched. It really does go to the very heart of his presentation, which is private versus public interest.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his welcoming remarks on my election to this place. I look forward to working with him and others.

I think the last time the Liberal Party tried to investigate Brian Mulroney it ended up paying him hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars and having to issue a formal apology. Taxpayers' dollars went to pay for Liberal bungling. The member should be very cautious if he wants to reopen that issue. I remember the former justice minister having to issue a public apology and writing a very large cheque, perhaps a seven digit figure, over a million dollars in legal fees for that bungling. I hope we do not have to go back down that route.

With respect, I disagree profoundly with the member opposite. The member opposite said that Chuck Guité was inherited from the Conservative government. Our public servants do not work for a Conservative government or a Liberal government. Our public servants work for Canadians. We have a non-partisan public service. I want to underline that for the member opposite.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

12:45 p.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, in the few minutes granted to me as the member for Pontiac, the transport minister and the minister responsible for Quebec, I would like to speak briefly on how the program outlined the day before yesterday fits in with the desire for change expressed by Quebeckers.

Before I do so, I must first thank the citizens of the beautiful riding of Pontiac. I would not be here today without the trust and support of the majority of my constituents. Together, the residents of Pontiac and I have embarked upon a wonderful adventure--one that will bring change. I remember very well a campaign meeting held one cold December night, during which an elderly woman admitted that she had never voted for the Conservative Party in her life. Fortunately, I was able to reassure her as I told her, “Nor have I, Ma'am”.

The people of Pontiac are proud people. They are honest, hard-working and independent people. They believe in fundamental values, community spirit and regional solidarity. They believe that efforts should be rewarded and initiative should be encouraged. They are courageous and compassionate people.

Though its first limits start only a few kilometres from this historic precinct, the Pontiac region needs help to develop its full economic and social potential. I want to assure the people of my riding that I will do my utmost, both within and outside this chamber, to give new hope and better opportunities to the people of the Pontiac.

As a member from the Ottawa-Gatineau area, I would also like to tell the thousands of public servants who work in the area and throughout Canada that we understood the frustration many of them felt when an attempt was made to pin the rap of scandals on them. The truth is--and I am reminded of this every day since assuming my duties as a minister--Canada has one of the best, if not the very best, public services in the world.

I know my colleague, the member for Ottawa West--Nepean and President of the Treasury Board, shares these sentiments. I look forward to working with him to give our public service and servants the respect they deserve and the instruments they need to continue serving their fellow citizens with pride, integrity and independence.

The election on January 23 did not just bring a new government and a new political party to power. That has happened many times in our history. But seldom do voters decide to make a more profound, more radical change in the calibre of their elected representatives. That is what happened on January 23. Canadians renounced a philosophy of government, a concept of federalism, that led to the worst abuses in recent years, and embraced a new vision of our future.

For too long, the former government acted as though Quebec was its to plunder. Illegally, with tricks and lies, it took whatever it could. The former Prime Minister banned members and officials from the party for life because their actions were simply indefensible.

At first blush, the Federal Accountability Act, the first piece of legislation we plan to introduce, may seem complicated to many Canadians. Yet it can be summed up in just two words: never again.

The throne speech referred to our government's commitment to address any fiscal imbalance so that all governments have access to the resources they need to meet their responsibilities. This imbalance reached dangerous levels under the former government. Our commitment to deal with this problem is very ambitious. But as with all our priorities, we have not chosen the easy way. We will focus on what is important and urgent. We may be a minority government, but we do not intend to be a caretaker government. We want to be a decisive government that takes action.

Fiscal imbalance is not just a Quebec issue. It is a Canadian problem which affects nearly all provincial governments. It also affects our cities even more where 80% of Canadians live. This is why we have put it on the top of our agenda, not because we think it is easy to accomplish but because we believe it must be done.

During another time not so long ago, I had the privilege of serving in another parliament, at the Quebec National Assembly. I have already noticed some differences, but I see in my new colleagues around me today the same dedication to strengthening their nation and the same desire to serve their constituents. That is why I want to congratulate the hon. members from all the parties and the independent member from the riding of Portneuf on their recent election or reelection. They already have my admiration and they can count on my cooperation.

Upon entering this room as a member for the first time the day before yesterday, I must admit that some memories came back to me. For instance, I remember the sense of trust and solidarity that existed between then Premier Bourassa and Prime Minister Mulroney. This sense of cooperation between these two remarkable leaders, which was applied in the interest of all Canadians, served the interest of Quebec quite well.

No one can deny that there currently exists between the new Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec a community of similar ideas and ideals that can only result in great accomplishments.

When I was in the National Assembly there was no Conservative party, but there was a sovereignist party, a close relative of my new friends at the Bloc Québécois. That is another reason why I do not feel out of place here. There is common ground everywhere. It was no so long ago that sovereignists hoped that Robert Bourassa would support Quebec independence one day. In the end, he was a fine example of how the interests of Quebec and the integrity of Canada could both be served.

Today the sovereignists are saying they will support some of the promises the Prime Minister made about Quebec during the last election campaign, such as Quebec's involvement in UNESCO, because that could possibly serve the separatist cause. I would say to them, amicably but frankly, that the success of our commitments toward Quebeckers will not be to demonstrate that independence is possible. On the contrary, it will demonstrate that it is not necessary. We will prove that federalism works well when it is well thought out and well managed.