Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to add my own thoughts about what just happened in the vote.
I am an independent member and there are a number of independent members here. We were not given any advance notice about the vote. I was in the lobby and I remember the clock showing that there were 11 minutes and 40 seconds left before the vote. However, when I walked into the chamber the vote was under way.
All I can say is that there are tools that we can use and one of the tools is unanimous consent. If that is the way the game is to be played, that is the way we will play it too. We are a part of this. We were elected and we are entitled to vote. It was just a rotten piece of business the way the vote was conducted.
I want to add my remarks to Bill C-28, the budget implementation bill, and I want to focus on an issue that is very important to Atlantic Canada, and that is the Atlantic accord. Bill C-28 does impact the Atlantic accord, which is a very important part of it.
First I want to say that the Atlantic accords originally were a number of agreements that were not all called Atlantic accords but are assumed now to be called Atlantic accords. Everybody has adopted the term “Atlantic accords” for a number of agreements that took place over a period of time.
Basically, the accords guaranteed that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador would receive 100% of the revenue from their offshore oil resources. The last agreement was signed on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2005, with Nova Scotia and negotiated and signed by Dr. John Hamm and the former prime minister of Canada. that agreement was very specific that the Atlantic accord arrangement and the Atlantic accord payment would be based on the equalization formula that existed at the time that the calculation was made.
It is ironic that the original agreement that I just mentioned, signed on February 14, is two pages long and nine paragraphs long and yet there are 24 pages of amendments in Bill C-28 to amend that two page document.
It is not as simple as that, I understand, but that is what has happened with the Atlantic accord issue. It has gone from a very simple, straightforward agreement, to a very complicated, convoluted agreement that is now subject to interpretation and manipulation.
The government said that the Atlantic accords have been honoured and respected. Now it is saying that it has made them whole with the agreement in Bill C-28. With all due respect, that is not true. The government broke the Atlantic accords and everybody in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland knows it. They have been broken. They are not respected. They are not honoured and they have not been made whole. The only way they can made whole is if this little agreement, this nine paragraph agreement, is honoured.
None of the other alternatives that the government has come up, its different interpretations or manipulations, will satisfy the people in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding this and I want to go through some of the confusing issues, because it has been confusing for everybody involved with this arrangement, and why the deal was broken.
The province of Nova Scotia put out a brochure telling every Nova Scotian that:
That budget [in March 2007] effectively ripped up our Offshore Accord and all of the opportunities it is expected to bring to Nova Scotians.
The province of Nova Scotia even started an online petition demanding that Ottawa honour the offshore accord and all agreements it signs with any province or territory.
To me, that is a simple concept, a simple principle that all governments should honour. They should honour signed contracts with the province or territory with which they are made or with an individual, a company or another country.
It is unbelievable that the Government of Canada would break a signed contract. I refer again to the Atlantic accord, which is two pages long. It was signed by a minister of the federal government and a minister of the provincial government. It was a signed contract and the government just decided to disregard that contract, to rip it up in the March 19 budget.
A few things are confusing. It is confusing that a lot of the people who came to the House from Alberta and the western provinces were very upset about the national energy program that was foisted on Alberta in the eighties. It redirected revenue from the gas and oil business in Alberta to the federal government and they were very upset about that. It almost caused a revolution in western Canada. However, those same people turned around and did the same thing to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. They imposed changes on the gas and oil regime to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland that took away our share of the revenue or reduced our share in the same way that the NEP took away from Alberta.
I do not understand why they can be so upset about the Alberta experience but then turn around and not hesitate to do it to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
I find it confusing that the government has representatives in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland but none of them were asked for advice, given any consultation or given an opportunity to represent their constituents through this whole exercise of bringing forth these amendments to the Atlantic accord.
Even more amazing, the government has ministers in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and neither one of them were informed. They were blind-sided as much as everyone else.
When the budget came down on March 19, everyone was surprised. No politician east of Ontario was consulted on these changes even though they severely impacted Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and I do not understand that.
I do not understand why the government would not consult with the provincial people, the province of Nova Scotia and the province of Newfoundland, if it were going to make profound changes to this signed contract, but again it did not.
I refer to a statement that Premier Danny Williams made today. He said, “Essentially, we are being railroaded into an untenable situation whereby we are forced to choose the O’Brien formula” and the traditional formula.
The province is being railroaded. That is not the way to run a government and have intergovernmental relations if it wants to succeed.
I do not understand this one. The Prime Minister said that the government essentially broke the accords because it wanted to have one equalization formula in the country and it thought that by doing this that would do it.
However, in the summary of Bill C-28, part 11 states:
Part 11 amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to provide for an additional fiscal equalization payment that may be paid to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Therefore, two provinces now have one equalization formula and the other eight provinces have a different one. It is good for Nova Scotia and for Newfoundland and Labrador but it is contrary to what the Prime Minister said. He said that he wanted to have one equalization formula but right here it says that additional fiscal equalization payments will be paid to two provinces but not the others. That does not make sense to me.
Another thing that does not make sense to me, again in the same light that the Prime Minister said that he wanted to have one equalization formula, is that now two provinces under Bill C-28 have the opportunity to calculate an equalization formula, use that formula and take advantage of it, which has a 3.5% escalator clause for every year until 2020. Two provinces have it and eight do not. Again, we have a different equalization program.
The ironic thing is that when we had the Atlantic accord and equalization, we did have a uniform equalization program across the country, plus the Atlantic accord. However, now the government has actually enshrined two different equalization programs in the country, which seems to go against everything the Prime Minister said that he wanted to do and every justification he had for breaking the accords in the first place.
Another issue that confuses me is what the Minister of Finance wrote in the Halifax Herald on June 9. He said, “There will be no side deals on this equalization business”.
This is the ultimate side deal. Every year the province of Nova Scotia and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, if they choose to take it, will be able to calculate a parallel equalization formula and then at the end of the year, if that parallel calculation is more than the O'Brien formula, the Government of Canada writes a cheque to the province of Nova Scotia. If that is not a side deal that is renewed every year, I do not know what is.
Another thing is, if I understand this correctly, and I think I do, the O'Brien formula goes to 2013. Eight provinces have a commitment on equalization to 2013. Bill C-28 makes a commitment to 2020 for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland that they would get the old amended formula of equalization. Essentially, there is one deal for two provinces to go to 2020 and one deal for the other eight provinces that goes to 2013.
Again, the whole basis for breaking the accords in the first place, based on the government's statement, was to have one principle based equalization formula.