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House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was infrastructure.

Topics

(Bill C-376. On the Order. Private Members' Bills:)

Second reading of Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts--Mr. Ron Cannan.

Criminal Code

November 30th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations with all parties and I believe you will find unanimous consent of the House to propose the following motion. I move:

That the order for second reading of Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be discharged and the bill be withdrawn.

Criminal Code

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Criminal Code

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Order discharged and bill withdrawn)

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on debate today with regard to the fiscal update.

When the Liberal government came into power in 1993, we had inherited a debt of $42.5 billion. There was no question that this deficit of $42.5 billion was given to us by the previous Mulroney government. Under great fiscal management by the Liberals, we were able to eliminate the national deficit and pay down the national debt. The present government has inherited a very strong fiscal framework, all due to good Liberal management.

The one area that the Conservative government has failed on, and I am glad to see that the minister is here today, is the urban community agenda.

In 1983 the Federation of Canadian Municipalities proposed an infrastructure program to deal with decaying infrastructure in Canada. However, in 1984, the new Conservative government let it lay dormant for 10 years. I know something about this because I was president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities at one time.

There seems to be a pattern here. When we came into office, we brought in a national infrastructure program. We dealt with cities and provinces. We had a true partnership with them. We were moving the urban agenda forward, particularly the agenda dealing with infrastructure.

Regrettably, the Conservative government does not understand the urban agenda and it does not understand infrastructure. Comments have been made by ministers of the Crown, the Minister of Finance being one, suggesting that they are not in the pot hole business.

This is not about pot holes. This is about being competitive, both at home and abroad. It is about making sure that we have the right infrastructure to deal with it. I would have expected the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to have been more sensitive to this issue given his previous life. However, maybe he has forgotten.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Miramichi and I know that he is sensitive to these particular issues.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities just commissioned a study which found that there is a $123 billion infrastructure deficit. The government's response is that this is basically not its problem. It was the Liberals who eliminated the GST on goods and services for municipal governments. At the time, we inherited a 57.4% rebate that came in when Mulroney was in power. In 1989 Mulroney quietly brought in this additional charge. We were able to eliminate it and the municipality of Richmond Hill saved $1 million a year.

The Liberals also came in with a new deal. This new deal was about dealing with this order of government, and that order of government being, of course, the municipal sector.

We know that on Monday mayors from across Canada will be coming here. They are going to make it very clear to the government that it will get an F. It could receive lower than that, but on the scale only an F is allowed. The Conservative government has not addressed the issue. The real sad part is that the Conservatives do not understand the issue, and that is rather disappointing.

We know that if we want to compete in the world, we need to have the kind of infrastructure that can move goods and services. We have to be able to deal with businesses and communities and universities and post-secondary institutions in general. The funding gap is there.

The Conservative government is a failure on the environment. However, it does like to recycle old Liberal programs. It likes to recycle moneys which we had set aside over the past while. We on this side of the House will never take any lectures from the Conservative government on municipal infrastructure or on how to deal with cities and communities because we were the leaders on that and we continue to be the leaders on that.

Our party has formed a cities and communities caucus because we have great bench strength when it comes to that issue. We understand those issues. There is absolutely no question--

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

An hon. member

That's kind of late don't you think.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

They can talk all they like over there, but again it is the reality. The reality is that the president of the FCM was here last week and said that the government does not understand the issue.

In order to address an issue people have to understand what it is about. The government does not get it. I do not think it will ever get it. The government did not get it when it was in power under Mulroney and under the present government it is not understood either, which is of course a failure. That failure means that we are seeing bridges collapse. We are seeing infrastructure that generally is not keeping up.

That report which was dismissed by many members of that government is an important report. It talks about where we need to be dealing with these issues. Whether these issues be roads, sewers or whether they be dealing with waste treatment plants, these things need to be addressed, not only for the environment but for health and economic competitiveness which is extremely important. It is rather disappointing.

In this budget the government fails to invest. It seems to think that investing is not a good thing. We need to be investing in these issues. The Minister of Transport might think that this funny, but I have to say that the members of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are rather shocked at the insensitivity of members of the government on this issue.

I certainly remember those very dark days under the Conservatives when we could not get a meeting with the minister. The prime minister would never attend the FCM. Under the Liberals of course we had all of that. Now, of course, it is fashionable for government ministers to come, but again they are short on delivery. They are long on talk, but they do not deliver. Of course that is very unfortunate because again we are not addressing the issues.

I do not hear the government talking about the innovation agenda. I do not hear it talking about the productivity agenda. These are important initiatives. On this side of the House, we support tax cuts. We support the issues dealing with paying down the debt. We support those kinds of issues. At the same time we believe in investment, whether that is in health or in infrastructure there needs to be a balance. Unfortunately, the government does not understand balance. I think that is certainly something that Canadians want and Canadians expect from the government.

On the transit issue the government recycles Liberal initiatives. The GTA transit is a good example where again the previous Liberal government put money forth. The Conservative government cancels it and then it recycles. I do not know how many times the same program can be repackaged and then resold as the same thing, but apparently the government likes to do that.

We know what the government's shameful record is on the environment. We were going to work with the province of Ontario in closing down some coal-fired generating plants. The Conservatives came to power and eliminated that. Now the government is trying to get back and trying to recycle that initiative. That was another Liberal initiative.

The fact is that at the end of the day we on this side of the House understand these issues. It is unfortunate that on the other side the Conservatives have failed to listen and to respond effectively to the mayors and councillors from across this country on this whole range of issues.

Our cities and our communities are critical if in fact we are going to be able to take leadership on the world stage. We need to make sure that we are doing that. It is unfortunate.

At the same time, this budget also fails to address some other fundamental issues. I suggest that when it comes to partnership it is not my way or the highway. We see that in the provinces. The government promised peace in our time with the provinces. We had two angry provinces going in and of course we have had about four or five that are still very unhappy with the government. Again, it is about partners. It is about listening. We have not had a first ministers conference.

The government is now suggesting that it will have a first ministers conference in January, 22 or 23 months after assuming office. Again, this is rather shameful. The fact is that the government needs to talk with its provincial counterparts. The government needs to talk with the FCM. It needs to be able to say what it can do in terms of having effective leadership in this country.

Unfortunately, the mini-budget fails cities. It fails innovation. It fails the productivity agenda. It does not deal with some of the core issues and core values that Canadians have when it comes to these issues.

That is why on this side of the House we are very disappointed and unable to endorse what clearly was a very lacklustre performance by the Government of Canada.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was truly amused by this speech. It is a good way to start a Friday morning to have, shall we say, a jokester on the hustings here.

I do not know, but these Liberals keep talking about how they inherited a $35 billion debt. First of all, it was not a debt. It was a deficit. Every year the government was borrowing more money than it was taking in. It was spending and borrowing money and putting us further and further into debt.

I remember that in 1993 when we were campaigning I had a computer clock set up at some of the trade fairs. It showed how the debt was growing and how we were going to attack the debt.

It is true that the Conservative government under Mulroney for those nine years made only one error, that is, it did not sufficiently address the issue of the debt it had inherited from the Liberals. That debt came totally from the years of rampant spending and overspending by the Liberal government.

I did the math at the time and was able to prove not only to others but also to myself that this was correct. The debt had simply grown, with compound interest, to where it was so huge that it was growing at the rate of $1,000 per second. It was totally untenable for us to put that kind of debt load onto our young people and our next generation.

We fought against that. I am very proud to be able to say that we were part of changing the culture in this place so that we stopped that interminable borrowing. The member says the Liberals did it. Yes, that is true, in that the Liberal government finally succumbed to the pressure and to the reality that they could not sustain that kind of borrowing, but please, let us remember that the debt was a Liberal debt from 1970 or 1972 onward until it had grown into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 1993 when the Liberal Party came in, 33¢ of every dollar was borrowed money, from the Conservative-Mulroney group. Therefore, it was because of strong fiscal management on our side that we were able to eliminate the deficit and pay down the debt.

No other government in the history of this country has ever inherited such a good fiscal performance as the current government has, because of the work we did. We were determined to work with Canadians, and Canadians understood that we could not continue to borrow money and live beyond our means. By eliminating the deficit by 1996-97, we were able to invest savings. When we pay down the debt, which obviously is still too high, we save about $3 billion-plus a year in interest alone. That again is due to the work of the previous Liberal government.

I commend my friend on the other side for recognizing the work that was done by previous Liberal governments. I would suggest to him, however, that the present government needs to invest in our cities and communities, because if the government does not do that we will continue to see reports like the one on the $123 billion situation. It is important. It is vital.

Again, I am very concerned. I do not want this way in which the members on the other side have been spending money in terms of the GST and all of those things, which costs the treasury $5 billion to $6 billion a year alone. We do not want to go back into a deficit. What if the economy slows down and we go into a deficit? Deficits are very easy to get into and extremely difficult to get out of. We do not want to see that again. We ask for some prudence on that side.

In terms of the government's little GST announcement, unless one is buying a yacht or some expensive vehicle I suggest that there would not be a lot of money saved. It costs the treasury $5 billion to $6 billion per year in order to take 1% off the GST.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly listened with interest when the former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was able to bring to the floor this morning some of the concerns that the federation and municipal governments have with this federal government of ours today.

Just over a week ago, the federation had its annual meeting here in Ottawa. I do not think I have ever experienced a meeting with more frustrated people in regard to how they came here to Ottawa to talk about the future needs of their organizations across this country and the response they got from talking with various members of the federal government.

In fact, when we look at their overall concerns in terms of infrastructure, infrastructure today has been put under the Minister of Transport, and I know he has a vital interest in this, but I am not sure he has the backing or the support of his colleagues in the cabinet to make sure that we have a viable and workable infrastructure program, so that not only the large cities but our smaller communities can benefit from the revenues we have here in the federal treasury.

With budgets, visions, directions and responsibilities, and with an attempt to look at the economy so that our people in the future can be prosperous, so that our country can benefit from the wealth of our nation, we have to assess what this present government is doing for our Canadian people.

We have to think about the many students who are attending our universities and who look for some source of relief in terms of the student loans they are accumulating from their years of study.

We have to look at research and development in this country in terms of what attitudes and what directions our government is taking.

We have to think in terms of productivity and how our government is encouraging our various companies in this country to invest in research, to look at forms of development and, above all, to see that we have a productive society from which all Canadians can benefit.

Members may say that our unemployment in this country is at one of its lowest levels. In fact, we are very happy to see that we are almost approaching the concept of a 5% unemployment rate, but we have to look at the types of jobs that we are creating in this country and at whether or not our people can get adequate incomes to support their families.

Too often in this country, we find that workers need to have two jobs, or that they need to have at least two family incomes and maybe three jobs to support a family. With that, we have to look at the transfer of jobs from one sector of the economy to another.

I speak in terms of our agricultural community. While some sectors are prospering, this past week we have had the pork producers and the beef producers here in our city looking for support. They are looking for help in terms of what those sectors are encountering.

We can think in terms of our forestry sector and what is happening there. The province of Quebec recently made some statements on that. We have certainly a lot of people with long term unemployment in our pulp and paper and long lumber industries. Only this morning, while looking in the paper, I noticed that a new company, AbitibiBowater, is closing a number of mills, and in fact one mill just across the way here in Gatineau, and another in my home province, in Dalhousie, New Brunswick.

This is not an easy fact to consider. Many of those people were earning some of the highest wages in this country. With this, the changes that are happening in our forest sector certainly will need to be addressed by the budgets and by the economic icons of the present government.

It is rather disappointing that when I look at the front bench I see a lot of former ministers from the Harris government. With that, I just wonder what happens in that big room upstairs when those people meet and as a cabinet attempt to look at our country and try to see what they can do to improve it and to make our Canadian society more productive.

Mr. Speaker, I know, certainly, that you are a resident of Ontario. You have experienced some of the frustrations of the previous government here in this province and I certainly hope that the decisions being made do not reflect the history of what happened in your own province.

The oil industry and the research and work being done in terms of exploring that oil sector in the west certainly is a very vital part of the Canadian economy. I am happy to say that in terms of even my own province we are seeing the results in the manufacturing sector back home in how it can compete and participate in Alberta and the great activity that is happening in that province.

However, we also have to consider other provinces and other sectors. Hopefully, with the surplus we have today, we can address some of the issues that are affecting people in other sectors.

The hon. member who spoke previously spoke at length in terms of 1993-94 and the difficulties we encountered as a government in the 13 years in which the Liberals governed this country. I think everyone can recognize the tremendous response that the Canadian people offered in terms of the sacrifices they made so that Canada today is the prosperous society that we enjoy.

It was not easy to look at the amount of debt, the annual deficit and the problems related to it. I know that all Canadians participated with our previous government in seeing that we reached a point where we had surpluses and annual balanced budgets and where Canadians could be proud of the fact that they were not accumulating more debt each year. It is interesting to note in terms of what has happened that we are approaching today the 25% ratio of debt to GDP which was the goal of our previous ministers of finance.

So today I express concerns in terms of what is happening with our surpluses. The previous members talked about how the HST or GST affects the future of our country. It is rather disappointing that we spend so much time trying to look at a 1% saving, which, for the average Canadian, saves a very small amount of money. In fact, the average worker probably would save only $100 or more per year, but somebody with a lot of wealth would save a great deal more in taxes.

We must salute the fact that personal income taxes have been at an all-time high, that corporations have been contributing to our revenues, and that overall the present government inherited a very sound and very stable fiscal arrangement from the previous Liberal government.

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10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I appreciate the comments of the member for Miramichi, I was quite surprised by the claims made by the member and the previous speaker with regard to a lack of support for municipalities. In the previous government, the support for municipalities was lacklustre at best.

In contrast, we now have a government that has pledged some $33 billion in support for municipalities and for small communities right across the country. Not only does that include an extension of the gas tax, which, by the way, the previous government back-end loaded so that under its previous commitments up to 60% of its commitment in gas tax has yet to be realized, but we have continued it for an extra four years, well out to 2014. I think in a lot of cases the municipalities forget to consider that.

This means billions of dollars. The two programs combined, the full GST refund commitment and now the gas tax commitment to municipalities, total some $18 billion, which is fully three times what the previous government committed in any case to municipalities.

The member's words ring hollow. I would ask the member to consider them and to respond in some way as to how he could make such a claim in light of what he now sees in this commitment by the government.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Simcoe North for bringing this to our attention. The federation believes very strongly that there is a situation of smoke and mirrors with the $33 billion.

As I said in my speech, a government has to plan for the future. My disappointment with the present Conservative government is the fact that not only is it failing to prepare for the future, but it is trying to destroy some of the past programs, which were so effective.

A child care program disappeared. We see little of an excellent program that attempted to help our university students. When the Conservatives talk about the money they are spending, or plan to spend, it is the idea, the vision for which we are looking. It is a vision of what we can offer to our municipalities in an attempt to improve their infrastructure. It is a vision to give them some sense that something is being done and that we are not looking to the past.

Further, I have to be concerned about the fact that we have had a lot of announcements, but only few programs are on the table. Many of our municipalities have said that the program is not ready yet, the announcement has been made but there is no money yet. They want to know we get things going.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am quite taken with all of the discussion about good planning. I saw an example of that good planning in the city in which I live, London. About three weeks ago, the street literally caved in, and the city of London has been desperately trying to address the situation that this huge sinkhole has created downtown, in the busiest part of the city.

Consequently, merchants and people who work and shop downtown are tremendously disadvantaged. Since it is during the Christmas period, this is creating a certain level of shock.

I have no faith in the planning, about which we keep hearing. The problems involving infrastructure just did not happen. The fact that the current government is not interested in helping municipalities does not change the fact that the previous Liberal government had no interest.

My question is about planning. It seems to me that in the last decade or so we have had a lot of news about Liberal surpluses and Conservative surpluses. Why could both governments not anticipate needs well enough to understand that these surpluses would be available? What on earth is wrong with their ability to calculate and tabulate the money coming in?

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the great problems. In fact, the present government, when it was in opposition, always criticized the Liberal minister of finance, saying he was somehow jigging the books, that he could not really analyze the state of the economy well enough to have a fairly balanced budget. The same party that criticized us has a more serious problem, if it is a problem, today.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-28, in which I take a great interest. First of all, I should point out that this bill introduced by the Conservative government was drafted for purely partisan reasons.

By drafting a single bill to implement the provisions of the March 2007 federal budget, the provisions of the October 2007 economic statement and the side deal with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia on equalization, the government has introduced legislation that may be designed to provoke an early federal election.

The Conservatives could simply have introduced a separate bill for each part of Bill C-28.

But no. It is important to remind this House that even though the Bloc Québécois voted for the March 2007 federal budget, we have always opposed side deals on equalization.

Now, Nova Scotia is getting new benefits under an accord that the Bloc Québécois has always denounced. We also opposed the economic statement because it did not address the Bloc Québécois' five priorities.

For example, the measures in the economic statement do not meet the urgent needs in the manufacturing and forestry sectors and do not include an older worker assistance program, even though the Conservative government could afford one, given the $11.6 billion surplus it announced in the economic statement.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois, as a responsible party that defends Quebec's interests, will vote against this bill.

As for the economic statement, this government has demonstrated that it is completely indifferent to the problems facing workers in the manufacturing and forestry sectors and the communities that depend on those sectors.

The Conservatives have demonstrated once again their total disdain for the lot of these thousands of workers who have been so greatly affected. This attitude appears all the more disdainful when we realize that the federal government has huge financial means with which to provide them with assistance.

The Conservative government had the means to help the manufacturing sector by providing loans for new production equipment and for massive investments in innovation.

It could have helped older workers as well. We estimate that it would cost $60 million to set up an income support program for older workers, something that we have been demanding for a very long time and that Quebec has also been calling for since the POWA was terminated.

Despite its vast surpluses, the government could not even come up with a hundred dollars a month to increase the guaranteed income supplement for seniors and ensure that the poorest of them have enough income to keep them above the poverty line.

There is nothing here for our manufacturing and forestry sectors, nothing for older workers who lose their jobs, and nothing to help seniors. Yet the Conservatives did not hesitate to cut taxes. What ridiculous propaganda. Who will benefit from these tax cuts? Rich oil companies in western Canada. The Conservative Party's only goal is to help the oil industry and, of course, scuttle the Kyoto accord.

These tax cuts will not do forestry companies and manufacturers one bit of good because these businesses are in crisis and are not making a profit.

All told, this government has presented measures that are completely out of touch with Quebec's priorities but that are great for their friends, the rich oil companies.

Once again, this proves that Quebec ministers in the current federal government have been sidelined. They have no real power, they cannot defend Quebec's interests, and they are just there to promote Alberta's oil industry.

The Conservative government's shameful indifference to the problems facing the manufacturing sector and the powerlessness of Conservative government members from Quebec are jeopardizing key economic sectors in Quebec.

Take job losses in Quebec's manufacturing sector: 135,000 manufacturing jobs—one in five—have been lost in Quebec since December 31, 2002, and 65,000 of those since the Conservative Party came to power. Nearly half of the 275,000 jobs lost in Canada during that period were lost in Quebec. The Conservative Party says that it is acting in the best interest of all Canadians, but it is certainly not acting in the best interest of Quebeckers.

Unfortunately, we have not seen the end of this yet. Yesterday, AbitibiBowater announced the permanent closure of several locations, including the Belgo mill in Shawinigan. Between now and March 2008, over 500 jobs will be lost. This is an economic disaster for Mauricie because closing this mill means losing $30 million in salaries and $60 million in economic spinoffs for the Shawinigan region. This is an economic disaster.

What is the government waiting for?

One thousand Quebeckers who work for AbitibiBowater will lose their jobs. This is a tragedy for these workers and their families, and it is dreadful news to be receiving just before Christmas.

The Conservative government needs to take a long hard look at how it has managed the forestry and manufacturing crisis. Everyone has been begging for help for years now, but the government just ignores those pleas, or promises measures that, for now, do not amount to anything.

Forestry workers have to know that this government is refusing to help them. That is unacceptable. The government has to help these workers who are going through the worst crisis in their history, a crisis that is made worse by the government's mismanagement.

In my riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, which I have the honour of representing, the furniture sector is quite important. In Berthier—Maskinongé, we have a number of innovative and dynamic companies and skilled and creative workers who, in the past, like everywhere else in Quebec, have shown that they can face the new challenges of international competition.

Now, in light of this new trade reality we are experiencing, this industry needs the government's support to help it adapt.

Let us not forget that this furniture industry has seen a 22% decrease in its labour force. It is currently generating roughly 24,000 jobs, while in 2000 it generated roughly 30,500. Employment is decreasing in the furniture industry and the federal government, with its huge surplus, is not doing anything about it.

In December 2006, I tabled a notice of motion calling on the federal government to implement an aid package to support the furniture industry as it adjusts to the rising Canadian dollar. I also asked for support to help the industry cope with fierce competition from emerging countries. Unfortunately, the federal government chose not to present any aid package or research support program to help this industry adapt.

As I have indicated, the Conservative government had the means to help the manufacturing sector by providing loans for new production equipment and for massive investments in innovation.

What more can I say? The federal government is only working on defending the oil industry and abolishing any form of intervention to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. It is only working for western Canada.

It presented an economic statement that is out of touch and does not meet our needs. In this statement, the government chose to help western Canadian oil companies and left the manufacturing sector to fend for itself at a time when it is experiencing the worst situation in years.

The Bloc Québécois cannot accept that the government is standing idly by as Quebec's manufacturing and forestry sectors crumble and fall.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Bloc had a lot to say.

We as parliamentarians and Canadians in general would like some understanding of the framework of the fiscal situation of the Government of Canada.

In Bill C-2, the accountability act, there was the commitment to have what I call truth in advertising. It was in the bill but it has not been brought into force to have a budgetary officer of Parliament to tell Canadians and parliamentarians what the surplus will be.

When the Conservatives were in opposition, the then leader of the official opposition who is now the Prime Minister was very clear that he wanted to have an understanding of what the surpluses would be so we could have a debate in this place and Canadians could have a debate in the country as to where the money should be spent.

Sadly, the government is doing what the previous government was doing, which is to treat the nice big fat surplus as if it were the government's, when in fact we know it is Canadians' surplus. The Conservatives just spirit money over to the debt and bring forth a fiscal update which we cannot debate to the extent that we debate a budget. We cannot invest the surplus in our communities to deal with the crumbling infrastructure, housing, et cetera.

I would like the hon. member's take on why the government has not brought into force the budgetary officer of Parliament. Why does he think the government is hypocritical on the issue of debating the surplus and not having a real debate in this country about the country's finances?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent question.

At the beginning of the year, the government forecast a $3 to $5 billion surplus. According to the Bloc's estimates, the surplus will be $16 billion, at a time when our companies are shutting down and the forestry sector is in serious trouble. But the government is doing nothing.

Let me say this. We are a sovereignist movement. We want a sovereign Quebec. If we were independent and had access to all the taxes paid by Quebec workers, we could better support our manufacturing and forestry industries as well as the poor. Furthermore, we could develop social housing.

But here in Ottawa, governments seem to get bogged down, Liberals and Conservatives alike. They are doing nothing to help older workers. We are asking for some of the money to be returned to the unemployed. This week, changes to the employment insurance fund were voted down. A total of $55 billion was taken out of the pockets of workers through the excessive premiums charged to employers and employees. Both of these governments have kept helping themselves to workers' money and blocking improvements to the employment insurance program.

These are all examples of what makes it difficult for Quebec to be part of this big family. My colleague had every reason to mention the $16 billion surplus, when in Quebec, we have problems providing health and education services for our population. Here, they have a $16 billion surplus, while our companies are shutting down and cannot get help. That is my answer to his question.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that this government has missed several opportunities to support the manufacturing and forestry sectors, especially considering the strength of our dollar. Everyone except the government understands that we have already lost so many jobs and many more will be lost in the future. This is one subject on which the Bloc Québécois and my party agree.

My question for the hon. member is as follows. What does he think the government should do to support the manufacturing sector?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, the rising Canadian dollar and competition from Asia is having an impact on our manufacturing industry. Next week, we will debate Bill C-411. I therefore invite the Liberals to vote in favour of this bill, so it may reach second reading in the House of Commons.

Bill C-411 would establish new criteria to better protect our businesses from competition from Asia. It defines five criteria that would allow customs officers to better protect Canadian and Quebec businesses from Asian competition. I would be surprised to see the Conservative government vote in favour of this bill, because it prefers completely open markets and it has no concerns. It wants a wide open market.

We find it surprising that supply management is still around under this government. It is not in this government's philosophy. It wants free trade for free trade.

The Standing Committee on International Trade has no statistics that would tell it, for example, if it would be advantageous for Quebec businesses to do business under a free trade agreement between Canada and Korea. What are the advantages of such an agreement for the Government of Quebec and the rest of Canada? This is the case in all sectors. More in-depth studies really need to be conducted.

Once again, I invite Liberal members to vote in favour of Bill C-411, which will protect—

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé, but his time has run out.

We are now at the period for 10-minute speeches followed by five minutes of questions and comments for everyone.

The hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the budget bill. Pardon me if I smile a bit, Mr. Speaker, because this is a joke. That is all I can say. The bill itself is a joke. When we look at the budget that was tabled it is like everything that the government does. It is a great marketing strategy, fabulous retail. When we look at the window dressing, it is beautiful. It will sell anything. But when we look for the substantive part, it is not there.

Let us consider some of the words in the budget. Let us look at some of the phrases that were used. First and foremost we have to note regarding this budget, people have said that the current finance minister has been the highest spending finance minister in the history of this country.

The Conservative government inherited from the former Liberal government a strong economy, a strong balanced budget over nine years, huge investments that were made in innovation, in learning, in helping to move forward into a 21st century economy. None of that was followed through on. A lot of money was spent on little baubles that look pretty in the window, but which really have no long term impact, no vision and absolutely no ability to create a future for Canadians. In the 21st century, productivity, competitiveness and the ability to develop human capital are the key things we should be thinking about if we are to hold our heads above water.

Given that we are such a small country with only 32 million people, we have to be smart. We have to be the best and the brightest in terms of our workforce. We have to create a country which is going to be innovative, creative and technologically progressive. There are certain things we need to focus on because we cannot be everything to everyone. None of that was taken into consideration in this budget.

Instead we heard marketing slogans. The budget talked about an infrastructure advantage. That is very interesting because there was a reiteration of many Liberal programs, for instance, the gas tax rebate that went to cities for infrastructure. There was in fact a delay of the Pacific gateway which was a huge infrastructure advantage for Canada, for British Columbia and the west.

We know that if we are to be competitive we must diversify trade. Right now most of our eggs are in one basket, and that is the United States. Eighty per cent of our trade is done with that nation. Anyone, including my mother, and she is not an economist, could tell us because it is just common sense that we do not put all our eggs in one basket, that in a global economy we diversify.

Canada has an enormous advantage. We could go to Asia. We have the people. Multiculturalism has given us a whole generation of people who speak the language, who understand the culture and who understand the marketplace of most of Asia. We could have a distinct advantage there. Was anything done to win the race to get there first? No. In fact the gateway has been delayed by five years. As I said once before, by the time we get there, there will only be crumbs left to pick up off the floor. Canada is a trading nation, but absolutely nothing was done to create an advantage for us in terms of trade.

The Conservatives talked about modernizing the health care system. This was another wonderful little slogan that came about in the budget, modernizing the health care system. The biggest problems with our health care system right now are one, infrastructure, and two, wait times. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to know that one of the key factors in bringing down wait times is increasing the human resource potential of health care professionals. We are short of physicians. We are short of nurses. We are short of technologists and technicians in health care. We now know that there are almost three million Canadians who cannot find a family physician. There was not a single word in this budget about health human resources.

The Liberal government had already spent the first year building a policy to help create a strong health human resource pool. That has disappeared. There is no knowledge about where it went and there is certainly no word about it.

The language, the pretty thing in the window, says that the government is talking about modernizing the health care system. What is it modernizing it with? There is nothing substantive to do that, but still they are nice words.

Then we heard talk about a cleaner, healthier environment. That is wonderful. The first thing the government did was to renege on Kyoto. To show how much it cares about a healthier, cleaner environment, the government went to the CHOGM meeting in Uganda and refused to put its signature on a plan to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and to clean up the environment.

The Conservatives argued that they did not sign on to the plan because China was not involved in it. China is not a member of the Commonwealth. That is like saying we will not do anything in our own backyard to make a difference because the rest of the world has done nothing. It is like the cockeyed plan, which they signed with the United States. Now Congress has to look at that plan again to decide if there is a better plan to deal with the environment. Here we go again. The Conservative speak great words, nice words.

Now we know that no one else will go to the next environmental conference. Not a single member of the opposition will go because we are persona non grata with the Conservative government. Parliamentary democracy is taking a beating with the government. As opposition members, we never get to go. I do not care which party goes, but the opposition is an important part of parliamentary democracy. We should be there to ensure the government represents the best interests of Canadians. I guess if we are not there, then we cannot complain. It is kind of late for us to say anything now as it is after the fact: A cleaner, healthier environment, indeed.

Then we heard talk about entrepreneurial advantage. That was another wonderful statement in the budget. Do members know what gives us an entrepreneurial advantage? Investing in human capital will give us that. Anybody who has studied the economics of a post-industrial era will tell us that the most important of the three capitals that are spent on economic development is human capital. We have to educate people so Canadians can be the best and the brightest in the world.

We cannot compete with China in making cheaper T-shirts, but we can talk about how Canadian citizens can be the best and the brightest. Ireland did it. With only four million people, it is one of the most productive and competitive member states in the world and it became so by investing in people and in learning.

Instead, the Conservative government has cut adult literacy. Instead we find out that the fifty-fifty plan the federal Liberals had to help young people to get a post-secondary education is gone. The $3.5 billion skills and training agreement that the federal Liberal government made with the provinces disappeared. Instead, with all that money gone, $800 million has been invested in what?

How did we miss the boat on getting the best and the brightest, on giving every Canadian youngster a chance to go to school early? We have no child care, no early childhood development. That was also felt to be unnecessary. Getting our young people to be the best and the brightest, starting at their earliest years, has disappeared. Getting into post-secondary education has disappeared. Skills and training is gone. There is no word about adult retraining for people who have lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector. Yet we hear this wonderful term entrepreneurial advantage.

When I look at this budget, I have to smile. I have to stop myself from laughing out loud. There is absolutely nothing in the budget that would give Canada an advantage on the world stage. There is nothing to help Canada hold its head above water. There is nothing to help Canada become competitive and productive.

When the government answers questions in the House about jobs, it tells us there are all kinds of jobs out there. There are jobs and then there are jobs. With a $10 an hour “Mac” job, people cannot bring up a family. We are talking about real jobs, sustainable jobs. We are talking about the ability to invest in Canada and in Canadians. We are talking about moving toward a goal for a future for our country. We are talking about being the most competitive in the world on the global stage. There is nothing about that in the budget.

As I said before, I was pleased to stand and speak to the budget bill, but I can find very little in it that is worth mentioning or worth applauding or that has a vision for our country.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There will be five minutes for questions and comments on the hon. member's speech when debate resumes.

Retirement WishesStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to say thanks and good luck to Sister St. Stephen of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Parliamentarians will miss Sister St. Stephen as she recently retired after 28 years as a pastry chef at the House of Commons. Her real specialty was dinner rolls, at which I can attest, she excelled.

She has tried to retire three times before, most recently to the Sisters of St. Joseph motherhouse in Pembroke, but kept on getting called back.

Throughout her life, Sister St. Stephen has believed that when God closes one door he always opens another. Her faith is sending her to the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti, to put her culinary skills to work preparing bread and baked goods for children in orphanages.

Her excitement and enthusiasm know no bounds as she looks forward to entertaining the children with an armload of mouth organs she has collected to teach them music.

On behalf of her friends at the House of Commons, Godspeed and safe voyage.