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House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ports.

Topics

Visitors' visasPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table a petition in this House concerning the need for Polish visitors to have a visa to enter Canada.

The petitioners wish to remind the Canadian government that Poland has been a member of the European Union since 2004, that it is a member of NATO, that it is using biometric passport technology, that the need for a visa is harmful to cultural exchanges, trade and family visits, and that Canadians do not need a visa to visit Poland.

Accordingly, the petitioners are calling on Canada to lift the visa requirements for Polish visitors to Canada.

Security and Prosperity PartnershipPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition that has been signed by hundreds of Manitobans who share the concern of other Canadians around the question of the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

The petitioners are very concerned about the threat that this agenda, initiated by Liberals and now carried on by Conservatives, will have for our sovereignty. They express serious concerns about continental integration, particularly when it comes to standards involving, health, security, energy and food.

They worry that the government is working with the United States and Mexico to put in place a deal that will ignore Parliament, bypass the legislatures and the interests of Canadians and lower our standards to the lowest common denominator, thereby jeopardizing and putting at risk the health and well-being of Canadians.

Visitors VisasPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

December 3rd, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have in my hand a petition signed by over 500 residents of Canada of Polish descent. The petitioners call upon Parliament to lift the visa requirements for visitors from the Republic of Poland.

Visitors VisasPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I would like to present a petition signed by 85 concerned Canadians who are readers of the Polish-Canadian Independent Courier. For over two years, I have been presenting similar petitions on behalf of Polish Canadian communities to the government, to no avail.

The petitioners demand that Parliament pass and the government adopt Motion No. 19, calling for the lifting of visitor visas for all new EU member states, including Poland.

Canada's burdensome visa regime is a throwback to the days of the cold war and should be modernized to reflect new geopolitical realities, particularly the June 2007 EU-Canada summit statement that promised to ensure the free and secure movement of people between the EU and Canada.

The iron curtain has come down. It is time for Canada's visa curtain around Poland to come down as well.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.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, if Questions Nos. 27, 58 and 74 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 27Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

With respect to federal funds allocated to emergency disaster relief over the last ten years: (a) on an annual basis, what funds, from all federal sources, are available for such contingencies; (b) which departments, Crown corporations or federally funded organizations manage such funds and how much did each receive annually; (c) during which emergencies have relief funds been disbursed to local communities and property owners in disaster affected areas and (i) how much was allocated to each community for each emergency, (ii) what was the average disbursement to individuals or property owners in each instance; (d) what criteria is used to determine what constitutes a disaster and, after a determination has been made, what criteria is used to assess the levels of financial assistance; (e) does the current Mountain Pine Beetle infestation in British Columbia and Alberta constitute a disaster worthy of emergency relief and (i) if not, why, (ii) if so, on what date was it so designated and why; (f) what is the estimated cost of damage to property, to both commercial and private property owners, caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle in (i) British Columbia, (ii) Alberta; and (g) how many applications for emergency financial help has the Minister for Public Safety received from communities affected by the Mountain Pine Beetle under the Disaster Relief Financial Assistance Fund and (i) which communities made the applications, for how much and on what date, (ii) what is the status of each application?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 58Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

With regard to ministerial travel and hospitality expenses: (a) what was the total travel and hospitality expenses submitted by or on behalf of each Minister of the Crown since February 6, 2006, paid from any departmental budgets; (b) what was the amount for each Minister and exempt staff; (c) what was the amount on a monthly basis for each Minister and exempt staff; and (d) what was the itinerary for each Minister and exempt staff?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 74Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

With respect to the Summer Career Placement Program and the Canada Summer Jobs program, within the riding of Sault Ste. Marie: (a) what was the total annual expenditure for each year from 2003 to 2007, inclusive; (b) how many job positions were supported through the programs for each year from 2003 to 2007, inclusive; (c) for the year 2007, how many applications were received and from whom; (d) for the year 2007, (i) how many applications were approved initially and for which employers, (ii) how many more applications were later approved in the second round of funding announced and for which employers; and (e) for the year 2007, how many applications were denied, and for which employers?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the debate was last interrupted, the hon. member for Scarborough--Guildwood had the floor. He has eight minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Scarborough--Guildwood.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe I left off by congratulating the government on taking the Liberal initiative of reducing corporate tax rates. That initiative had been set in place by the previous government. It started with the rate at 28% and it was well on its way. We congratulate the government for continuing that rate reduction initiated by the Liberal government and then substantially encouraged by the Liberal leader a month and a half prior to the actual reduction in the economic statement.

We also support the $265 million reduction in the small business rate. We think that is good for business. We think it is good for our economy. It is a welcome relief to business entrepreneurs.

What would have been even more welcome would have been an increase in the capital cost allowance. As members well know, people in the forestry industry are struggling. People in the auto sector are struggling. Farmers are struggling. They could all do with improving their productivity.

By improving their productivity, they could then deal with foreign competition. Many are finding that with the rise in the value of the dollar they are having challenges they never have had before.

Canada cannot compete in a low wage environment. Canadians will not work at Chinese or Indian wage levels, so the only alternative is to be more productive, but in order to be more productive, shop floors have to be mechanized with the latest technology. Of course, all of this costs money. Companies need to make huge outlays in machinery, equipment and training and they need to be able to write it off as soon as possible.

Here is the tragedy: this economic statement makes no provision for accelerated capital cost allowance but it trashes $34 billion in a GST cut. We all like to get an extra penny off our coffee at Tim Hortons, but someone who has just been laid off in the forestry sector, the auto sector or the agricultural sector would probably prefer, given the choice, to keep his or her job over having a penny off a coffee. Unfortunately, that worker does not get the choice because the Conservative government has already made that choice for him or her.

The Conservative government has chosen to cut $34 billion of tax relief over farmers, over auto workers and over forestry workers. That $34 billion is a lot of money, so let us just think of what it could do for the distressed agricultural, manufacturing or forestry sectors in this country.

It could help these industries with an accelerated capital cost allowance. That would have been one choice for $34 billion or part of $34 billion. It could help to underwrite relief for the purchase of machinery or training for workers. That is something that could have been done with $34 billion or part of $34 billion.

For instance, $34 billion could have done basic infrastructure around the GTA or other municipalities, but apparently the government is not interested in helping municipalities. In fact, our intrepid finance minister just blew off the mayors of this country by telling them to stop whining and fix their own potholes. I like a penny off my coffee at Tim's just as much as the next guy, but I sure do not like blowing a tire on the numerous potholes on Lawrence Avenue just to get there. Yet this is the choice that this particular government has made.

The government has made choices and has taken well over half of the tax relief package and misspent it. The tax relief package in total is around $60 billion over five years. The government has chosen to take $34 billion, in other words, well over half of it, and misspend it on a GST cut. Instead of doing proper tax relief on personal or corporate taxes or, heaven forbid, on upgrading our nation's streets and bridges, the government has blown it on a politically motivated tax cut.

Mr. Speaker, when you are cruising the local Tim Hortons in Oshawa or Dryden or St. Catharines, you should ask the fellow sitting there having his second cup that morning because he does not have a job how he likes his coffee now. Does he really appreciate that extra penny off his cup of coffee or would he prefer to have that well-paid job he had in St. Catharines or Oshawa or Dryden?

With two cuts to the GST, as implemented by the government, the phrase double-double now takes on a new meaning. We can forget all those pointy-headed economists, all 20 out of 20 of them who said that this is a pretty dumb idea, and just ask that guy without a job whether he thinks $34 billion in GST cuts could have been spent in a better way.

My final comment: better late than never. When the Liberal government left office, the threshold personal rate was 15%, but in order to pay for the first GST cut, the Conservative government raised the threshold rate to 15.25% and then up to 15.5%. Economists will tell us that this again is one of the dumbest things we can do: raising personal income tax to fund a consumption tax decrease. It is really, really bad, but in order to cover up for their foolishness, the Conservatives made that faux argument, which was that the Liberals reduced the base threshold rate from 15.5% to 15% based upon a ways and means motion rather than legislation.

Let us look at our own personal income tax returns for the year 2005. I encourage people to go home and look at their returns. We will see that the threshold rate of the first threshold is 15% for the taxation year 2005. If we tell this to a tax filer, that the government did it by way of a ways and means motion as opposed to legislation, the tax filer is likely to scratch his head or probably say something rude. All the tax filer is interested in is knowing that the threshold rate was 15%. To fund their foolishness, the Conservatives raised the rate back up to 15.25% and 15.5% and now are bringing it back to where we were two years ago.

As members can see, I am not overly impressed by this particular economic statement or the legislation that accompanies it.

Reducing the corporate tax rate only came about because of the initial initiatives by the Liberal government when it was in office in bringing it down from 28% to 21% and, with scheduled decreases, down to 19%. That was already well in place. Then there was the further commitment on the part of the Liberal leader some weeks, if not months, prior to the actual setting out of this economic statement.

Accelerating the small rate business rate reduction is a good thing. We do not dispute that. But the government has missed a huge opportunity to cut into the accelerated cost allowances, or in other words, to move it up so that those who are facing competitive challenges such as they have never faced in their business lives can accelerate the ability they have to write off machinery, equipment, technology and all the training that goes with it.

I see that I am running out of time, but I will simply say that the GST cut is blown money, because one cent off a cup of coffee simply will not help pay the bills when people do not have jobs.

Finally, better late than never, bringing the base rate back to 15% puts us exactly where we were two years ago, which is a perfect metaphor for the government. Not only does it not get it done, but it has gone backward.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member pointed out that he was not impressed by the economic statement, unlike: the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; the Canadian Bankers Association; the Retail Council of Canada; the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; Dale Orr, from Global Insight; Craig Wright, chief economist at the Royal Bank; Patricia Croft, from Philips, Hager & North; the P.E.I. finance minister; the B.C. Liberal revenue minister; John Williamson, from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; Garth Whyte, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business; and the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.

I think the member stands alone on this. There are not too many people who were not impressed with the economic and fiscal update.

I do want to mention one thing: $40 million. Forty million dollars is a big number. That is how much money is going to stay in my riding and not be paid to the federal government in the form of GST following the two cuts. That money can stay in my community and create investment and jobs. It will help small business in my community. I am a big supporter of the $40 million a year staying in my riding. Why does the member oppose $40 million a year staying in my riding?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has some selective readings. I would ask him to ask any one of the individual entities named whether they think the GST cut of $34 billion is a good idea. I dare say that not one of them, not anyone who has any economic background at all, would endorse this commitment to a $34 billion cut out of $60 billion worth of tax relief. Many of them would endorse $60 billion worth of tax relief, but they would not endorse $34 billion worth of wasted tax relief, such as the hon. member is saying.

The member thinks that $40 million staying in his community is a good idea. I dare to say that I agree that $40 million should stay in his community, but if it in fact stayed by way of a corporate cut or a personal tax cut rather than by way of a consumption tax cut, it would be much better spent.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member previously mentioned something about infrastructure. I come from a municipal background as a city councillor. I know what shape the infrastructure of this country is in. It is crumbling. Its averages about 85 to 100 years old. What we do is look at something that breaks underground and go from one broken piece to another. We put in new material in between, but we are simply waiting for the next broken piece to fail.

This is causing some real problems when it comes to the safety and functionality of our communities and the possibility of raising our families in safe communities. As well, it is difficult for us to attract industry when we have crumbling communities.

What happened when the mayors and members of councils of this country went to the government and asked for help? They got a stern sneer from the Minister of Finance. He told them to stop whining. That is not the way to treat municipal mayors.

I have a question for the hon. member. We have a very strong economy right now. It is doing very well, thanks to about 13 years of the previous Liberal government putting the economy back in its place. How long can we sustain a strong economy with our communities falling apart because we cannot sustain the infrastructure that keeps industry going?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a timely question. The government has made choices and it has made some bad ones. The member outlines one of the major bad choices that the government has made, namely, blowing off the municipalities.

The government has said to municipalities that it is not going to fix their potholes, repair their bridges, do their sewers or do their water and it is certainly not going to make any money that the government has in surplus available to any other level of government, particularly municipal levels of government.

It is great to have a booming economy. In some respects, we do have a booming economy in that we have a low unemployment rate and all that sort of stuff, but it is in sectors. There are sectors, such as there are where the hon. member comes from, where they are not doing very well at all. Frankly, his area would like to have some repairs to bridges.

It is great to have a product that is made on a competitive basis. It is great to be able to buy a piece of machinery and be competitive with anyone else in the world, but if it is impossible to get that product across the bridge because of traffic tie-ups that are three or four hours long, then all the personal, corporate and business initiatives are utterly useless. That is what the government has missed. It has missed the big picture.

That is what the government regularly misses. It misses the big picture. The government does stupid little things that in fact are counterproductive to the economic prosperity of the nation.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am happy this afternoon to have a few minutes to speak once again and very directly to the budget implementation bill which is now before the House.

I had an opportunity last week not to enter the debate on the bill but rather on several occasions to ask questions of hon. members on both sides of the House about their comments and about the positioning of their party on the bill. To state the obvious, the government members made it clear from the outset, of course, that they would be supporting their own bill.

What was very much more surprising was that the Liberals, who have stood up here day after day trashing the decisions made by the Conservatives in the bill which is now before us, indicated nevertheless that they would be sitting in their seats rather than voting against the bill.

Perhaps even more surprising, if one pays close attention to the interventions from the official opposition, the Liberal members of the House, they have praised the government. We just heard the same thing from the last speaker, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood.

He praised the government for the extent, the depth and the breadth of the corporate tax cuts, while also trashing the government for the expenditures that it did not make on a whole wide range of desperately needed, overdue investments in the Canadian people, in Canadian infrastructure, and in broad social supports that deepening poverty has left people desperately requiring.

Middle class families are losing ground and being punished by the prosperity gap. They were also hoping would their issues be addressed in the budget, but clearly were not. It is a really difficult thing. It is kind of like whiplash. We get whiplash trying to keep up with where the Liberals really stand on the budget.

Let me say very clearly once again, and the point has been made very ably by a number of my colleagues, starting with my leader, the finance critic and also a number of other colleagues, that we will not be supporting this budget implementation bill for several reasons.

I do not want to be parochial about it, but let me say once again clearly for the record that one of the reasons that the members from Atlantic Canada will not be supporting it, but also the rest of my colleagues from all over the country, is because it completely betrays the Atlantic accord that was entered into through an all-party agreement starting in Nova Scotia, but also finally here in the House. It betrays the commitments made.

I want to say very briefly that it became extremely clear when I received in my mailbox in Nova Scotia a communication from the premier of Nova Scotia, which was not especially directed to me but went to every household in Nova Scotia, in which in the very first paragraph the premier of Nova Scotia stated categorically:

The Atlantic Accord is alive and well. The clarification which we and the federal government agreed upon on October 10th makes us better off financially than we were when we signed the Accord in 2005.

So far so good. That is absolutely true. The accord in its present form, desperately shaved down and shrunken, would make Nova Scotia better off than before the accord existed. However, it does not tell the truth that it does not make Nova Scotia better off to the extent that was absolutely promised in the signed and sealed legal document that constituted the first Atlantic accord, and that effectively was shrunken down by this budget implementation bill. Second, it states absolutely erroneously:

It is also a fact Nova Scotia stands to receive hundreds of millions of dollars more than when the value of the Crown share is determined in March 2008.

Again, in a special box highlighted on the first page of this communication, the premier of Nova Scotia says:

A three person panel will resolve a 20 year dispute over the value of offshore resources by mid-March. We are confident Nova Scotians will receive hundreds of millions of dollars from our Crown share.

The Minister of Finance has made it clear that is not true. The political and financial advisors of the government, in a briefing, made it clear that is not true, that in fact the only thing that may happen, and let us give the benefit of the doubt that it will happen, in mid-March 2008 would be an attempt to come to an agreement over what process would be used to subsequently resolve this 20-year dispute.

Not that the dispute would be resolved, not that the dollar amounts would be determined and made known to Nova Scotians, but that there would simply be an agreement on a process that would be used which could go on for a very long time.

I want to finish off dealing with the Atlantic accord because it is clear that there is every reason for it now to receive the new name: the Atlantic discord. There are tremendous contradictions between the provincial and the federal governments over what this newest iteration of the Atlantic accord actually means.

When there are constant differences in the interpretation of an agreement reached between two levels of government, this is a very big problem. This indicates that not only is there not certainty, there is not even any kind of agreement about what the accord actually means, let alone the likelihood that what is being promised in this implementation act would actually be delivered.

That reason alone accounts for huge numbers of Atlantic Canadians, particularly in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, absolutely making it clear they do not want this supported and they are having a hard time understanding why Liberals are sitting in their seats instead of voting against it if in fact they care about the economic health of the Atlantic Canadian provinces.

It does not just benefit Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, although they are the chief beneficiaries because it is about the revenues from offshore resources, but it clearly, if it were fair and it were actually delivering in this implementation bill what it promised to deliver, it would benefit the economy of the whole Atlantic region.

I must say, yet again, that I was stunned to hear the member for Scarborough—Guildwood congratulate the Conservatives for continuing the massive tax cuts to the corporate sector that are contained in this budget and, again, I guess we would expect him therefore to stand and vote for the budget.

However, that member knows and all of his colleagues know that it was the Liberal leader who gave a clear signal that the Liberal Party would be completely supportive of deeper and faster tax cuts, that were already contemplated by the Conservatives, that we see the massive deep tax cuts to the corporate sector.

Let us be clear who the single biggest beneficiaries are. Two major beneficiaries of these very deep tax cuts are: the oil and gas companies that are continuing to gouge consumers at the pumps, and the banks that are continuing to gouge consumers in terms of service fees.

What is that costing Canadians? I know my time is up, Mr. Speaker. It is costing in terms of this government not delivering on the long-promised and desperately needed universal child care program, not delivering on the affordable housing desperately needed, not delivering on reducing post-secondary education tuition fees for students who need an education in this knowledge-based economy, not delivering on the infrastructure programs that municipal leaders had to come to the Hill to plead for today because of what it means in terms of the deterioration of sewer and water, bridges, and not delivering on many other very important municipal infrastructure programs.

For all of those reasons, let me make clear what my colleagues have already indicated. We will not be voting for this very flawed, shortsighted and meanspirited budget implementation bill when it comes up for a vote.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, again I rise to ask our NDP colleagues a question. I know we are not going to convince them on the advantages of corporate tax cuts and how that spurs on the economy, but I want to ask the member about the cuts that we have made to the GST.

I know earlier last week we had some people see us at the industry committee. These people represented the Canadian restaurant and food services. They told us the impact that the GST has had on the restaurant services and how that had a profound impact on the industry. But more so, I am think specifically of the waitresses. Generally speaking, they are paid minimum wage and they rely on tips. When customers get their bill, they are expecting to pay $17.95 for a meal and then they have taxes levied on top of that and oftentimes the waitresses bear the brunt of that when they lose the tip that is so important to them.

I am curious. What about the GST? Is that something that the member would agree to? Is that something that she sees as beneficial both to the economy but also to those marginalized people who it has made such an impact on?