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House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

The House resumed from February 21 consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

When we last considered this item the hon. member for Barrie had seven minutes left. He has the floor.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is good to be back to speak about this today. During the riding week we have just had, I heard many times from constituents how important this is and how much they treasure the CPP and the CPPD benefit.

It is important to note that a significant number of CPPD recipients also receive benefits from other sources. CPP disability therefore makes up one part of a broad and complex income system for persons with disabilities, a system that includes private and long term disability insurance, workers' compensation, employment insurance sickness benefits, and provincial social assistance. The standing committee may wish to take this into account when undertaking its study of CPPD benefits.

Calculation of the CPP disability benefit is legislated in the Canada pension plan. Any changes to these rates would require provincial approval.

Let us now turn to some of the accomplishments of the CPPD.

The Government of Canada promotes an inclusive society, one that allows people with disabilities to participate in the workforce and in their communities throughout their life transitions. For this reason, CPPD provides support for beneficiaries who are trying to return to work. Since early 2005 beneficiaries have had a new financial safety net that they can count on when trying to return to regular employment: automatic reinstatement of CPPD benefits.

Automatic reinstatement helps CPP clients take a chance on returning to the workforce. Before this provision came into effect, clients were not sure whether they would re-qualify for benefits if it turned out they could not continue working. Automatic reinstatement reduces this uncertainty by providing extended entitlements to clients whose CPPD benefits are stopped because they begin working again on a regular basis.

It provides a two year period during which they can ask to have their benefit payments restarted, using a simple process, if their disability recurs and prevents them from staying at work. There is no limit on the number of times a client can use this provision, a particularly good support for persons with episodic disabilities.

A survey of clients who used this provision shows that the change is doing what it was intended to do and is doing a good job. A substantial majority, 75%, felt that automatic reinstatement would influence their future plans to return to work and a third of these clients indicated that the provision offers security and improved their self-confidence in planning a return to work. Almost 80% were completely or mostly satisfied with all facets of the process, including ease of use.

The government is also committed to client service as demonstrated by Service Canada on behalf of CPPD. As an example, to make it easier for CPPD applicants, telephone contact is maintained throughout the application process. When a decision is reached, a personalized letter is sent to each applicant explaining the decision in simple language.

In addition, Service Canada has made other improvements to the delivery of services to Canadians. Clients are now offered the convenience of a one-stop personalized service. They have the choice to communicate via telephone or in person.

Communication with clients and stakeholders, of course, is an important part of this commitment to client service. CPPD beneficiaries receive an annual newsletter, “Staying in Touch”, that contains useful information on federal programs and services in such areas as student assistance, tax credits and benefits for seniors.

Our government strives to uphold its commitment to Canadians for accountability and for transparency. We believe the Canada pension plan exemplifies both. We are proud of this accomplishment.

This accountability and transparency are demonstrated by the fact that every three years the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of finance review the CPP to ensure that it remains financially sound and to make any necessary adjustments. The triennial review also allows us to ensure that the CPP evolves along with the changing needs of Canadians.

I would like to return to the issue currently before the House and highlight an initiative that complements the motion. A recently initiated comprehensive evaluation of CPP disability will focus on the extent to which the overall objectives and outcomes of the program are being met. This important study will take place over the next 18 months.

I am sure that the evaluators will want to review the study that is the subject of the current motion as additional input. The evaluation goes beyond the scope of the study to look at all aspects of program management, client outcomes, interaction with other disability programs, and documenting best practices.

We want to ensure that the CPPD is meeting all the current and future needs of Canadians without jeopardizing the affordability and financial sustainability of the CPP in the years ahead. These two sources of important information, the study proposed in the motion and the more comprehensive CPPD evaluation, should give us a better picture of those Canadians who receive the CPPD benefit and of how it helps them.

In other words, our government is confident that there are valuable lessons to be learned from these studies. We therefore welcome this opportunity to support the motion to conduct a study of the level of funding provided by the CPPD benefit. We believe it will help our government to achieve its commitment to Canadians to ensure that the Canada pension plan disability benefit continues to be there for current and future generations when they need it most.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this important motion today. I would like to start by restating my support and the support of Canada's new government for Motion No. 243, which was presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

The proposed study will contribute to Human Resources and Social Development Canada's practice of continuously monitoring and assessing the Canada pension plan to ensure that it meets the needs of Canadians, both today and in the future. I know this study will provide valuable information on the extent to which the Canada pension plan disability program is meeting its objectives. This is important information. That is why I feel quite strongly that this study should be completed as soon as possible, not delayed until November.

It is important to note that later this week parliamentarians also will be considering possible changes to Bill C-278, which deals with another important program for persons with disabilities, EI sickness benefits, and I feel strongly that the Human Resources study of the level of financial support offered by the Canada pension plan disability needs to happen now.

The information to be gleaned from the study of CPP disability should be considered before proceeding to discuss possible changes to EI sickness benefits. All too often in this place hon. members want to act before the facts are in. They want to propose changes to programs before they even know whether there is a problem or not, and the political speeches begin before studies are undertaken. This issue is far too important to play politics with and I feel that every member of the House can agree with that.

This is an important issue, one that deserves to be examined right away. Let me repeat: this is important information and we need it as soon as possible, not in November. There are bills before Parliament that require the information that can be learned from studying this program and these bills will not wait until fall.

I think there is some confusion here as to what the CPP disability program is and what it is supposed to do. Therefore, I think it would be good to have a cursory examination of the program so that we can clear the air on a few important points before we begin to discuss changes in earnest.

It is important that all hon. members and in fact all Canadians understand what this program is about and how it works.

Let me start by saying the CPP disability program is the largest long term disability insurance program in Canada. Currently, some 300,000 Canadians and 90,000 of their dependent children receive about $3.3 billion in payments. The CPP program as a whole is recognized around the world as one of the best public pension systems in the world and this government has acted to make it even better.

The CPP disability program was designed to replace a portion of earnings for those who have to leave the workforce due to a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability. This program was not intended to function as a general needs-based income program. There are other levels of support, offered by all levels of government, that fulfill that role. Its purpose is to provide protection against the loss of employment income and to supplement other disability and family income.

How does it work? There are contributory and medical eligibility requirements for the disability benefit, as laid out in the Canada pension plan. First, applicants must have made CPP contributions in four of the last six years. This requirement of recent contributions to the CPP is designed to address the objective of replacing a portion of employment income.

While the government feels that this issue is worthy of immediate study, that is not to say that the government has not acted to make changes to this program. I am sure all members know that. It is part of Bill C-36, currently under review in the Senate. A proposed amendment seeks to make it easier to qualify for CPP disability benefits for long term CPP contributors, those with 25 or more years of contributions, by requiring contributions in only three of the last six years.

Second, as stipulated in the legislation, only those with a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability are eligible to receive disability benefits. This requirement refers to a disability that prevents an applicant from working regularly at any substantially gainful occupation, not just their most recent jobs.

As we can see from the specific eligibility requirements, not all Canadians with a work-limiting disability will be eligible to receive a benefit. CPP disability is intended for some of our most vulnerable Canadians.

I would like to take this opportunity today to address an important and often misunderstood point. I understand from recent comments made in the House that some are under the impression that all applicants for CPP disability benefits are automatically denied and that only through appealing this decision do they eventually receive CPP disability benefits.

This is simply not true and is a perfect example of some of the misunderstandings surrounding this program, misunderstandings that we on this side of the House feel should be examined immediately. If hon. members on the other side of the aisle feel this is true, then they should also want to study this immediately and not shirk their responsibilities by ignoring this issue for another six months.

That being said, each and every application for a CPP disability benefit is reviewed thoroughly and fairly with reference to the legislative requirements and in a timely manner.

Trained CPP disability specialists with a medical background view each applicant's application. They look at their capacity to work, taking into consideration their health status, disability-related limitations, treatments, and personal characteristics such as age, level of education, and work experience. All of these components are extremely important in the decision making process and help ensure a fair decision that is consistent with eligibility criteria.

Clients whose applications are not approved receive telephone calls and personalized letters explaining the reasons for denial. In addition, in cases where an applicant is not satisfied with a decision on their application for CPP disability benefits, there are three separate levels of recourse available. The last two levels are appeals to two independent review tribunals. This generous appeal structure is designed to ensure fairness and accessibility.

In addition, it is important to note that a significant number of CPP disability recipients can also receive benefits from other sources. The CPP disability program is one part of a broad and complex income system for persons with disabilities, a system that includes private long term disability insurance, workers' compensation, employment insurance sickness benefits, and provincial social assistance.

Staff in Service Canada's service delivery network also refer those who are denied a CPP disability benefit to other appropriate programs and supports that may be made available to them. For example, CPP disability applicants are encouraged to apply for a tax credit, called the disability tax credit, or the veterans disability pension if it appears that they may be eligible for one or both of these entitlements. In some cases, Service Canada staff will assist these individuals with their applications.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities may wish to take this overall context of CPP disability programs into account when undertaking its study.

A number of hon. members of this House have indicated that it takes too long to adjudicate applications for CPP disability benefits. In 2005 and 2006, the disability program received more than 60,000 applications. Of those, over 30,000 applicants were granted benefits.

In terms of speed of service, the target is that 75% of decisions will be made within four months of receiving a completed form. As of February 2007, 86% of decisions were made within this timeframe.

Service Canada is exceeding its stated targets. That is indeed something to be proud of and we can feel confident that most vulnerable clients are being well attended to.

I again want to thank the House for the opportunity to speak today. I want to reiterate that it is an important issue that cannot wait until fall to be examined. There is currently legislation before the House and the Senate that would benefit from the knowledge that can be gained from undertaking an examination of the CPP disability, and these bills will not wait until fall. We need answers as soon as possible.

We would be shirking our duty as responsible legislators if we were to allow bills to proceed without having all the evidence in place beforehand. If the opposition really is interested in more than just playing politics with this important issue, then it will want to examine this issue right away and not wait until fall.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 243. I am very pleased to speak in support of this motion, which calls on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study the level of financial support provided through the Canada pension plan disability benefit, CPPD.

From the first hour of debate it appears a substantive issue in this motion, a study by Parliament on Canada pension plan disability benefits, has the support of all parties in this House. It is no small accomplishment for all parties to agree on anything, so Canadians should be heartened by seeing a shared agreement to make something as important as studying long term disability a priority. I say that Canadians should be heartened, yet they probably are not. Why? Because the opposition's commitment falls short of truly making this study a priority.

The Conservatives made supporting our friends and neighbours who are struggling with disabilities a central plan of our platform in the last election. This Conservative government has honoured those who voted for us by introducing Bill C-36 which improves access to Canada pension plan disability benefits by measures in the 2007 budget, such as: the new registered disability savings plan introduced to help parents and others save money to care for children with severe disabilities; up to $1,000 annually to a limit of $20,000 in the form of a Canada disability savings grant to help promote the future financial security of children in lower income families; an investment of $30 million in the Rick Hansen Foundation which will help translate research into benefits for Canadians living with spinal cord injuries; and a new enabling accessibility fund that will contribute $45 million over three years to help all Canadians, regardless of their physical ability, participate fully in their communities.

I believe Canadians see that their government has stepped up to the plate, so where are the Liberals? For starters, the Liberals voted against every measure the Conservative government put in place to help those Canadians who are dealing with disabilities. Their leader says he wants to run on a platform of social justice, then instructs his caucus to vote against the budget that actually delivers it for the first time in this country.

Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition needs more time to think about it. We say that leadership is not leading followers in the wrong direction. Canadians cannot afford to wait for the Liberal leader to ponder what they already know is good and works. How can Canadians be expected to trust the Liberals to govern when Liberals cannot even seem to figure out how to be in opposition?

When it comes to this motion, the Liberals are no less of a disappointment. They hold out the promise of doing something on a priority, then agree with the Bloc to defer everything until the fall. That is not leadership. This is another example of the Liberals saying whatever they think will be pleasing to the public, but failing to follow through. No doubt the member for Kitchener Centre proposed this motion to show support for stakeholders in her own community. How disappointed they must be to see her agree to postpone it. It looks like her new leader cannot shake off the ghosts of the old Liberals who made everything a priority so that nothing ended up being one.

I understand that the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development relayed his support for this motion to be studied at committee. I have no doubt he was encouraged to see the opposition align more closely with the views of Canadians that he was hearing. How disappointing for the minister and the stakeholders he meets to see that this important public policy issue is not getting the true support it deserves.

It is no less perplexing to see that the Liberals are working with the Bloc to frustrate progress on this issue. The Bloc, of course, has no experience with the responsibilities of being in government. The Bloc's contribution to this public policy matter is to delay any action at the same time the Bloc purports to support it. The Bloc members cannot have it both ways, at least not in the minds of the people they are putting off.

The government and Conservatives across the country want to make progress for those with disabilities. We believe that to make further progress requires proper study of the Canada pension plan disability benefit. It is only through gathering the evidence and learning where challenges exist that we can recommend to the government how to address those challenges with sustainable solutions.

Sustainability is critical. Acting in an informed way helps build solutions that can evolve as circumstances change. We have an opportunity here, but despite the Liberal leader's claim to be committed to sustainability, he is unable to show some discipline with members of his own caucus who are proposing ad hoc solutions to the types of problems that potentially should follow a study like the one in this motion.

For instance, the member for Sydney—Victoria has a bill before the House. It stands for a principle we all support. It aims to help those who have cancer or other illnesses, but rather than providing benefits through Canada pension disability, the bill calls for a solution that would only help employees to the exclusion of other Canadians.

I cannot help but think that Bill C-278 would benefit from Motion No. 243 being studied as soon as possible. Perhaps because the member for Kitchener Centre agreed to defer this study until fall the member for Sydney—Victoria felt he had no choice but to call up his bill in the coming days.

Still, Canadians expect legislation to be based on good planning. They expect solutions to be measured and sustainable. Canadians should not be held hostage to the lack of good planning by the Liberals for their own private members' business. They should not be saddled with legislation whose impact has not been studied and no one can say is sustainable.

I support a study because it is the right thing to do. I only wish the opposition cared as much about ensuring that we pass good legislation as my caucus colleagues and I do. My constituents wish that the opposition would come to its senses and return to making this study a priority.

When this finally does get studied, members will know that CPP disability is the largest long term disability insurance plan in Canada. Last year, approximately 300,000 individuals and 90,000 of those individuals' children received financial support through this program.

As specified in the Canada pension plan, monthly Canada pension plan disability payments are made up of two parts, a fixed amount which in 2007 is $405, and a variable amount based on the level of Canada pension plan contributions and the number of years contributions were made before the client became disabled. The combination represents the monthly amount a Canada pension plan disability beneficiary will receive in 2007. The maximum benefit payable is $1,053 per month. In addition, eligible children of disabled contributors are entitled to a fixed monthly payment of $204. Last year on average, Canada pension plan disability beneficiaries received $763 per month.

What is also important to note is that a significant number of recipients receive benefits from other sources. There is a broad and complex system in Canada that provides income support to persons with disabilities. While Canada pension plan disability plays a central role in this system, the standing committee may also wish to review in its study the other income sources for disability beneficiaries.

An example of another pillar of this income support system is EI sickness benefits which fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. EI sickness benefits provide temporary income support for up to 15 weeks to individuals who are too injured or sick to work. In 2004 over 294,000 individuals received these benefits with total payments of $810 million.

We know that a number of individuals who receive EI sickness benefits while they are temporarily disabled go on to apply for and then receive CPP disability benefits. With the introduction of Service Canada in the last few years the government has been working to better serve all Canadians who need services from the federal government including those applying for EI sickness benefits through CPP disability.

This government is committed to quality client service by building on the one step personalized service offered through Service Canada. The government is working to improve the client interface on behalf of these two important sources of support for Canadians with disabilities.

Even though I have much more to say on this motion, I know my time is running out, but the premise of what I said is that the motion should proceed directly to committee. It should be studied. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Liberals who introduced the motion now suddenly want to put it off until fall. It is a matter of making a decision. This is an important issue. It is meaningful to a number of Canadians who are beneficiaries and it should be looked at immediately.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to take the opportunity to briefly enter into the debate on Motion No. 243. I commend the member for Kitchener Centre for having moved the motion. I had not intended to speak to this motion, but I was prompted to do so by the suggestion that any member of this House would want to delay the impact and lessen the importance of the private member's motion so that the report back date is later rather than sooner.

The reason I was prompted to speak to this motion is that I was thinking back to my former colleague Wendy Lill, the former member of Parliament for Dartmouth who did magnificent work. She breathed tremendous energy, life and compassion into the issues before the subcommittee on the persons living with disabilities during the seven years that she worked on behalf of her constituents of Dartmouth and also on behalf of persons living with disabilities in this country. At the same time she also served as one of the best, if not the best, arts and culture critics that this Parliament has ever known. I am thinking of how apoplectic she would be if she were sitting in this House today to hear that anybody would be thinking of a single reason for delaying reporting back on something as important as the issue of the level of CPP benefits for persons living with disabilities.

I was listening to the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's talk about the various other income sources that are available to some--and I say some because it is not all, and he did not say otherwise I want to make that clear--persons who are living with disabilities who are in receipt of, or who are potentially eligible to receive CPP disability benefits, sources like EI sick benefits, social assistance and so on.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has made the point again and again that what is really needed is a national strategy around the whole issue of income and other supports for persons living with disabilities. Until we have a commitment to a comprehensive national strategy, then what we are doing is dealing piecemeal with different aspects of what profoundly affects the lives of persons living with disabilities.

It is often not recognized by the public, and no wonder, given the nonsense of a dug-in partisan nature that goes on, that from time to time there has been collaboration across party lines in this House around these issues. We have seen over the last while the collaboration of opposition parties in the face of what seemed to be foot dragging by the government to step forward with a real sense of urgency and leadership to make sure that we were among the first to sign on to the international convention on the rights and dignity of persons living with disabilities. We saw the government move. Congratulations to the government for moving ahead with a more appropriate sense of urgency and indicating that it will actually participate in the signing ceremony that will help to propel the convention toward ratification.

Surely to heaven we can find the same resolve, the same appropriate sense of urgency to say that income supports for persons living with disabilities are inadequate. They are fragmented and fractured. There are people who are falling between the cracks. There are not appropriate bridges to ensure that people do not fall back in having the income needed to meet their everyday needs and the associated additional costs for persons living with disabilities.

Let us have a national strategy. Let us treat this with a sense of urgency. Let us deliver not piecemeal but comprehensively to those millions of people in Canada living with disabilities.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

I just want to give fair notice to all members that the next member I am about to recognize is the hon. member for Kitchener Centre and that will be her right of reply.

The hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 243 which calls upon Parliament to ask the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to undertake a study of the current level of financial support provided to persons with disabilities through the Canada pension plan and report back to the House no later than May 2007.

I tabled this motion at the beginning of Parliament several months ago. I view the amendment put forward by my Bloc colleague as a friendly amendment that would move the reporting back to the House to be no later than November 30, 2007. I find that an acceptable amendment because I feel, as colleagues from other parties have said previous to this, that we need to have a comprehensive look at this. This is one piece of the support we give the disabled.

It is interesting to note that the Canadian Human Rights' annual report of 2006-07 reported that the largest single source of human rights violations reported to that committee was from the disabled community. Clearly, we need to do more to help Canadians living with disabilities.

As a former member of the Independent Living Centre in Kitchener, which is run under the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee, in which I have many friends, I have some experience with the disabled community in Kitchener Centre. All too often, people with disabilities come into my Kitchener office and talk about being forced to choose between purchasing their medications or being able to afford their food and rent. This is quite unacceptable and, in fact, appalling in a nation as prosperous as ours.

It is a great concern that people with disabilities face constant challenges in meeting the bare minimum for basic living expenses. I am sure I reflect a concern that all members of the House share about the number of people with disabilities who face enormous financial challenges. That is why I tabled the motion that is before the House today.

Research shows that Canadians with disabilities have a lower average income and rely more on government programs for income support than other Canadians. People living with disabilities are not always able to earn adequate income through employment. In 2004, the average earnings for people with disabilities were $30,700. This is 15% less than people who were in the job market without disabilities.

Late last year, the United Nations adopted a landmark convention on the rights of people with disabilities and the convention focuses on the rights and development of people with disabilities and presents a vision where disabled people no longer need to endure discriminatory practices and attitudes that have been permitted to prevail for far too long.

For Canada to fully respond to the need of all people to contribute to the best of their ability and to realize their potential, we must address the income deficiencies that exist among people living with disabilities. The purpose of my motion is to seek the review of the financial support provided to Canadians through the CPP disability program.

In 2005-06, almost 296,000 individuals with severe and prolonged disabilities, along with 89,000 of their dependent children, received $3.3 billion through CPP disability. The maximum monthly benefit in 2006 was $1,031, which amounts to $12,372 annually. I defy members of the House to imagine what it would be like to live on that kind of annual income.

We know the Government of Canada supplies support to people with disabilities and their caretakers through a variety of income measures but we need an inter-jurisdictional discussion with other levels of government to ensure that people living with disabilities are able to live, thrive and flourish in this very rich country and not be relegated to being marginalized. That is why I put this motion forward and I appreciate the support of all members of the House.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, April 18, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you were to seek it, you may find unanimous consent to suspend the House until 12 o'clock.

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is there unanimous consent?

Persons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Suspension of sittingPersons with DisabilitiesPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

We will suspend until noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:43 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

The House resumed from March 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-52, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Budget Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

April 16th, 2007 / noon

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning I am pleased to speak about the bill to implement the budget, particularly because this is my first time addressing the House as the Bloc Québécois' new finance critic. The member for Joliette was appointed leader of the Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons, succeeding the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, whom I would like to thank for his competence and experience in helping me learn more about the work of parliamentarians over the past few years. The member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean passed on a lot of knowledge and know-how, and I wish him every success in his chosen pursuits. I also have complete confidence in the member for Joliette's ability to fulfill the leadership role the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie has entrusted to him. I would also like to thank the leader of the Bloc for entrusting the finance critic portfolio to me.

I am therefore happy to rise today to speak on the budget implementation bill. I would just like to say that this appointment comes at an especially good time, seeing as the budget process is just starting. Consultations for the next budget will begin in the coming weeks and months, even if the budget is not tabled until next year. I plan to make sure I have solid support in my riding and to hold a consultation. Then, I will speak for the Bloc and listen to all the people who want to have their say about the next budget, in order to get the same results the member for Joliette helped us get in this budget.

We need to remember that the bill before us today follows on the passage of the budget. We agree on the principles of this budget and on the government's proposed funding mechanisms. Other bills will be needed to effect legislative change as needed and implement individual measures.

The Bloc Québécois has fought very hard on the issue of the fiscal imbalance for a number of years. It believes that the government has made significant progress on spending and that this will at least give the Government of Quebec additional fiscal flexibility. The fight will continue, and, in light of past experience, we hope that the arguments we have made about the principle of the fiscal imbalance will lead to measures that go beyond strictly financial promises. In the near future, the current government must take real steps to correct the fiscal imbalance permanently. This means tax point transfers and possibly also GST transfers, but the solution must be enshrined in legislation and must not come about simply because the federal government's finances are healthy enough that it can afford to pay Quebec more money without changing how things are done.

The Conservative government itself admitted this was the situation. In advertisements criticizing the leader of the Liberal Party, it said that if the Liberal Party regained power, decisions could be reversed and the money could end up no longer allocated to Quebec. We have it from the government itself that there is a contradiction between the position of the Minister of Finance when he says that the fiscal imbalance has been corrected, and the Conservative government advertisements saying that the Liberals could undo all this.

The Bloc Québécois wants a permanent solution to this problem so that Quebec and the provinces, which need money in order to be able to provide services, will be able to go ahead and provide those services with confidence, knowing that the money will be available over a period of several years and they can do some sort of financial planning. Right in the middle of the last election campaign in Quebec, we saw how a federal budget dictated the money available for Quebec in a last minute kind of way. This situation will have to be resolved at some point, and I am sure a lot of time will be spent on doing so in the coming weeks and months.

The bill before us deals with the implementation of certain provisions of the budget. It covers five main areas. First, this is a bill that implements various personal and corporate tax measures. I will discuss this later on. Second, it amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, to introduce the new equalization formula as well as a per capita distribution mechanism for Canada health and social transfers.

It also includes an annual escalator of 3% for social programs, through to 2014. This is the second focus of the bill.

Third, the bill creates three new trusts and authorizes the Minister of Finance to contribute amounts set out in the bill according to guidelines he deems acceptable. He will be able to contribute these sums from the 2006-07 surplus if he thinks that is appropriate. In other words, legislation is needed to allow the federal government's surpluses to be allocated to foundations that have specific objectives.

We must also ensure that these foundations are accountable for the way in which they manage the money. We have to make sure the Auditor General has all the necessary information. When it comes to the environment, we think it is important for this to be included in the bill.

Furthermore, the bill establishes a legal framework to ensure that all the savings from paying down the debt are translated into tax cuts. This other aspect of the bill will allow that to happen when the bill is passed. This is one of the things the Bloc Québécois took into account.

The fiscal imbalance is the cornerstone of this budget. Quebec has been very supportive of the Bloc's decision. Instead of triggering an election on the eve of the budget, which would have prevented money from being paid to Quebec, there was no election and Quebec will get its money.

The Bloc Québécois did the responsible thing. In the current context of a minority government, this is a significant insurance policy for Quebeckers and the Bloc. It allows us to ensure that the Conservative government's decisions are supported by the Bloc before being accepted. In my view, this model has been somewhat effective. It may even partially explain the election results in Quebec. During this provincial election, Quebeckers felt that a minority government could also lead to something positive for Quebec. I am not saying I was pleased with the results, but this is nonetheless a consequence.

These are the measures under five broad headings. There are personal and corporate tax measures.The budget implementation bill includes 500 categories of tax measures announced on March 19.

First of all, there is the tax fairness plan, along with some tax relief and continued GST refunds for conferences and tours. I would remind the House that the Minister of Finance had announced an ad hoc plan to eliminate the GST-HST visitor rebate. This sudden decision was criticized by the entire tourism industry in Quebec and in Canada. The Bloc Québécois spoke out on behalf of those individuals. As industry critic, and together with the finance critic of the day, I personally wrote to the minister. Now, the new budget remedies the situation.

I also recall the opposition expressed by the Quebec Outfitter Federation, for example. As a direct result of the Conservative government's misguided policy, that organization was losing an important tool for attracting tourists. With this bill, that measure is at least partially corrected and the Bloc Québécois is pleased with the results.

This issue must be closely monitored to ensure that tourists who do not come as part of an organized tour are not penalized. At least one important benefit results from the action taken. At the outset, the government was entirely opposed to the idea of any corrections to the bill. In the end, there have been some corrections.

The Bloc Québécois is very pleased to have so constructively and effectively represented an industry that very much relies on government measures to help it—and not the reverse—and to have achieved the results we did.

In the area of tax measures, there have also been some changes to the rules regarding RRSPs and RESPs. An RRSP allows individuals to save for their retirement. More detailed changes will be outlined later. An RESP allows parents to set aside some money, to which is added a contribution from the government, for their children's future. It was also important to make improvements to this area.

Finally, there is a surtax on inefficient vehicles, even though the government told us that that the environment was not a major problem in Quebec and Canada. In recent years, Quebeckers and Canadians, as well as all manner of experts, have been pointing out that there is a real, far-reaching and significant environmental problem that everyone on this planet should be worried about. By hammering the message home, we are beginning to see the introduction of measures such as the surtax on inefficient vehicles.

This is merely one aspect that the federal government should be addressing to achieve a quality environment. In my opinion, it should start by recognizing the Kyoto accord. We are not there yet but at least some measures have been put forward as a result of pressure by the opposition parties and the environmental movement. Furthermore, I would say that the general public is more aware of the gravity of the environmental situation than the government, which is now coming up to speed. Let us hope that, at the end of the day, we will achieve tangible and global results.

There are four tax fairness measures in the part of the bill dealing with taxation. There is a $1,000 increase in the age credit, which will further reduce taxes for older individuals. This is a worthwhile measure. Matters pertaining to seniors must be studied in more detail. It is often said that their pension is indexed to the cost of living. I believe that their basket of goods and services—the market basket for seniors—is not necessarily appropriate. Seniors often need certain types of equipment, for example a handrail to help them get in and out of the bathtub.

Furthermore, with respect to prescription drug costs and other additional expenses, the cost of some items is rising much faster than the general rate of inflation. There should be a special basket of goods for seniors that takes into account the rate of inflation for their cost of living. That said, today's measure—increasing the age credit by $1,000—is a step in the right direction, albeit a rather weak one. It is like using just one crutch, not the pair. We have to resolve the underlying issues to ensure that seniors are completely and truly protected with respect to the cost of living, especially women living alone who have to absorb extra costs, particularly when their spouse dies and they transition from life as a couple, in a house or apartment, to single life. The government still has to improve the Canada pension plan.

Next, there is the implementation of spousal income splitting, which came into effect January 1, 2007. I would note that taxpayers will not feel the impact of these measures until they complete their 2007 tax returns. Unfortunately, this will not show up in this year's tax return, but eventually, this measure will ensure better income distribution.

Beginning January 1, 2011, the tax fairness plan will reduce corporate income tax by 0.5%. The Bloc Québécois made recommendations in the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to offer incentives such as accelerated capital cost allowance. We are very pleased that the government decided to act on that recommendation. However, the government must ensure that it is in companies' best interest to go ahead and use these tax measures. We think this is a better way to go than reducing corporate income taxes across the board. In my opinion, the government has done the bare minimum to satisfy industry lobbyists who made representations. I think that there is more to be gained from encouraging businesses to invest in their own productivity than from simply lowering taxes.

Lastly, the government is implementing the new income trust tax regime. Everyone knows that the Minister of Finance did not follow the script on that one. In-depth studies and a better solution to the problem are needed so that small investors do not get hurt. Perhaps this work should go on during the new round of consultations for the next budget.

Second, there are two tax measures providing tax savings for families. A child tax credit for $2,000 was introduced, which will enable families to save up to $310 per child per year. In addition the government is increasing various basic personal amounts, providing up to $209 in annual savings for a supporting spouse or a single person supporting a child or relative.

Following pressure from the Bloc, the government decided to rethink its decision to abolish GST refunds for conferences and organized tours. I spoke about this earlier. I think that all tourism sectors are very happy with this decision.

The fourth area, which we already talked about, deals with the retirement and education savings plans. Then, there are measures for the fiscal arrangements with the provinces.

The equalization payment formula has been changed. More money will now be available. However, this does not address Quebec's historic demands. For example, the equalization formula does not take into account all of the revenues from natural resources—which is a step backwards—and it contains loopholes that favour provinces producing fossil fuels, by allowing them to remove natural resources revenues from the distribution formula. The 2007 budget does not set a termination date for the underwater oil agreements in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.

More work is needed on these issues. Quebeckers can count on the Bloc Québécois to ensure that budgets are as reasonable as possible and meet Quebeckers' needs. I believe that that is one of the reasons why Quebeckers formed a political party like the Bloc Québécois, which has accounted for most of the members from Quebec in the past five elections. The federal system in Canada may not be perfect, but with the Bloc Québécois, Quebec can at least make its voice heard and get results in the end.

I would like to continue talking about trusts and new funds and draw members' attention to the ecotrusts. Thanks to this bill, the government can use up to $1.519 billion of the 2006-07 surplus to create ecotrusts. The money will be divided among Quebec and the provinces according to their demographic weight and will help improve environmental management.

The government is providing $614 million to fund post-secondary education in some provinces. The distribution method will be set out in the trust indenture. We will see how things work.

Speaking of trusts, the government will also invest in human papillomavirus immunization by creating a $300 million trust to provide Quebec and provinces with money to support HPV immunization.

The bill also covers a wait times guarantee, payments that will be made directly to the provinces for child care spaces, payments to the territories and payments to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Canada Health Infoway.

As the former industry critic, I take a special interest in one provision of the bill, and that is the money for CANARIE Inc., which is spearheading work on the next-generation Internet in Canada. We have to continue making this sort of investments if Quebec and Canada are to increase their productivity in this sector. I believe it is important that we move forward.

The measures in this bill will allow us to move forward, especially on the fiscal imbalance and other issues, which is why the Bloc Québécois supported this budget.

Nevertheless, we find these improvements insufficient, because we still need to see a definitive solution to the fiscal imbalance issue, one that involves the transfer of tax points. This bill—the budget—does not provide such a solution.

In closing, the Conservative government has an obligation to govern and an obligation to follow through on its commitment to correct the fiscal imbalance. It has demonstrated this through financial commitments. However, it must now take concrete action that will translate into a true resolution of the fiscal imbalance issue, through the transfer of tax points.

A lot of work remains to be done. The Bloc Québécois is pleased to have supported the budget because we believe that this is what Quebeckers wanted and that it is in their best interest. However, this in no way means that we are giving up on obtaining real equity, particularly in terms of the fiscal imbalance. I can assure this House that, in the new phase that is beginning and with next year's budget in mind, the Bloc Québécois will remain equally committed to achieving better wealth distribution and creation.

Budget Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in the debate on the budget implementation act. It is obviously one of the most important legislation that comes before the House every year.

When I thought what I might talk about today there were a number of things. I have to bypass the easy way, which is to only talk about the Atlantic accord that is resonating throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. I might touch on the subject of the Atlantic accord, but I want to talk more generally about the budget and how I think it has divided Canadians. It is a very cynical budget.

There is a lot about which we can talk. With the amount of money spent on this budget, the richest budget ever, Canadians would be right to have assumed that everybody should have had Christmas Day on budget day. In fact, it was far from festive for most Canadians. The budget could have done a great many things if it had been focused on helping those who needed help the most, or maybe if it had focused on innovation, the productivity gap, aboriginal Canadians, the environment and other things.

I suspect the response to the budget across the country has not been what the government wants or what the Minister of Finance wants. We can go to the minister's website and see the online poll he has done. He asks Canadians if they have benefited from the budget and 93% of the respondents have said no. That is a pretty significant number.

It is not only the minister's website. A number of other people have done some very open-minded and objective evaluations of the budget. One of the institutes that I go to quite frequently is the Caledon Institute. It does great research and work on a number of issues. I notice that its evaluation of the budget was, as usual, very thorough and effective.

I will read a few quotes by the Caledon Institute. It calls it “Mixed Brew for the 'Coffee Shop' Budget”. It says, among other things:

The ‘new’ child tax credit—in reality an obsolete program resurrected from the 1980s—tops this list. The funds for this inequitable scheme could have been far better spent on increasing the existing progressive Canada Child Tax Benefit or creating additional child care spaces. These...investments would have been much more helpful to ordinary Canadian families than a child tax credit that gives $310 to millionaires who do not need it and nothing to the poorest who do.

That is quite indicting.

Another quote says:

Ottawa has chosen instead to introduce a bundle of tax carrots that will serve a variety of particular groups but will provide little or no benefit to the broader population of low- and modest-income Canadians. The Budget could well have been named “Opportunities Lost.” With a $19 billion price tag, never has so much been spent with so little result.

It seems to me that the leader of our party has said very similar things to that. I agree with him and I agree with the Caledon Institute.

The institute also refers to specifically “The “New” Child Tax Credit: a policy zombie resurrected”. It says:

All non-poor families will receive $310, including the very rich; some low-income families with a low tax liability will receive a smaller amount, while the poorest will get nothing at all because they do not owe income tax.

The poorest families will get nothing. This measure will make income inequality among families worse, not better.

It refers to last year's universal child care benefit and says:

—this Budget’s non-refundable child tax credit are inequitable, wasteful programs that deliver benefits to upper-income families for whom the payments are a meaningless drop in their income bucket, while depriving low- and middle-income families...

The institute goes on in a lot of different ways. For example, it talks about aboriginal Canadians who are noticeably absent from the budget. It says:

The Kelowna Accord was a solemn agreement signed by the provinces, territories, First Nations and Aboriginal organizations, and the previous Canadian government.

It talks about the new federal government rejecting the Kelowna accord and says:

Now it becomes apparent that Canada’s New Government has no plan at all, unless doing as little as possible can be characterized as a plan.

That is a reasoned, thought out, analytical view of what the budget has done. It is not only the Caledon Institute that says this. I suspect if Kelowna is a socialist plot, then the government would think that the Caledon Institute is probably a socialist organization to the government side.

It is a long time since I have heard Andrew Coyne called a socialist. The National Post suggests:

—with this budget. [the Minister of Finance] becomes officially the biggest spending Finance Minister in the history of Canada. That's after inflation and population growth is taken into account. They've now increased under this Conservative government...spending by $25 billion in two years. Is this what Conservative voters wanted? No sense of priorities, not a nickel in real, honest to God tax cuts of any kind. There's a lot of spending programs disguised as tax credits for children...which may be fine programs, but they're programs, not tax cuts.

Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Chamber of Commerce, another well known socialist, suggests:

I don't think there's anything new there. [He] actually told us at the time of his income trust announcement in October that he would adjust the tax cuts corporate tax cuts in the future...instead, we saw small little targeted breaks for everybody from lacrosse fans to truckdrivers.

In general, this is an unfocused budget. Most Canadians know that if we really wanted to increase productivity and benefit Canadians, particularly those who might be able to use a bit of a break, we would lower personal income taxes, perhaps to the level the Liberals did in the economic update of November 2005.

What else got mentioned in the budget but got very little action? How about the environment? John Bennett, senior policy analyst for the Sierra Club of Canada, says:

This government has abandoned its obligations to the Kyoto protocol and abandoned its moral responsibility to keep our international commitments...This government has no intention of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It has every intention of trying to sound like it does, but has no intention to actually do it.

That is consistent throughout the budget. The government sounds like it can do something without actually having to do it.

On social programs, Monica Lysack of the Child Care Advocacy Association says:

For a government that identified childcare as one of their priorities, this is an admission of failure.

There was an editorial in the Toronto Star. There are a number of things I could say, but let me quote this. It says:

What is left, then, is not a crafty pre-election budget, but a financial document that is unfocused, that is devoid of a national strategy to tackle any of the major social issues facing this country, and that does little to help the poorest of the poor.

Aboriginal Canadians are perhaps the most targeted group in the budget by their exclusion. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says:

We're extremely disappointed, frustrated because it's obvious that those that did well today are those that are considered important to this government. Those that are viewed as unimportant did badly, and we did badly.

An awful lot of issues in the budget have not been addressed.

There are a couple more issues in the development area, both regional development and international development. For the second budget in a row under the Conservative government there is no mention of regional development programs like ACOA.

Previous governments had a big plan for ACOA, which in the last number of years has done some amazing work in Atlantic Canada and has invested in research and innovation. The Atlantic innovation fund has driven university research and has helped Atlantic Canada's strong but generally smaller universities to compete and provide innovative solutions and also commercialization of products. There is no mention in the budget.

The minister suggests there have been no cuts to ACOA, and we hear that all the time, but consistently the estimates indicate not only cuts to regional development across the board but to ACOA. The money is shifted from here to there, but there is never any evidence of what is actually happening with the spending. Regional development is a big issue.

On international development, I will tell the House a story about a trip I took to Kenya with three other members of the House, three friends, the Conservative member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, the member for Halifax and the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, who sponsored the great private member's Bill C-293, the overseas development assistance act, to make poverty the focus of international development.

There is so much that Canada can do in the world. It does not all have to be centred on Afghanistan. In fact, we see everyday in countries like Kenya the needs of the developing world and so many ways that Canada can help. Canada has helped and I hope it will continue to help.

When the four of us went to Kenya, we saw some amazing things and amazing people. We met Beatrice, who lost all seven of her children and their partners in less than two years to HIV related issues. She was a grandmother. She was a street beggar. She had 12 grandchildren. What was she going to do? She thought she would have to poison her grandchildren because she could not take care of them. Instead, she got up one day and decided she would do something about it. She borrowed $15 U.S. from a micro credit in the slums of Nairobi, and today she runs three businesses in the slums.

This is the kind of resilience that exists in third world. These are the kinds of people who can make a huge difference.

Susan is a woman who we met in Eldoret in western Kenya. I remember my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood was particularly touched by her. She worked in a microcredit in a big, open, empty warehouse with some sewing machines and people making bags. We went over to talk to Susan. She looked up at us happy and smiling and said, “Thank you, God” for the blessings he had given her. She is HIV positive and was given up for dead. Now she is living and working because of a microcredit. She makes lovely cloth bags with beads on them. We asked her how many she could make in a day. She said that she could make five bags in a day. How much does she get paid for each bag? Eight Kenyan shillings. She makes forty Kenyan shillings a day, which is the equivalent of 65¢ or 70¢ Canadian in a day.

We all know about the terrible rates of poverty, disease and the lack of sanitation in which people exist throughout the world. Working full time, she makes less than $1 Canadian a day and she considers herself fortunate.

What the people of Kenya can do with little should be such a spur to countries like Canada to invest in making their lives better. We can do so much. We should hit our millennium target of 0.7% of GNI to international aid. I felt that on the government side. We can do this.

In countries like Kenya and other African countries in sub-Saharan Africa there is a resilience, a strength, an entrepreneurial savvy among the people who simply have nothing, but make do. Not only do they make do, but they thank God for what he or she has given them. It is an inspiration.

Canada can do a lot more. I would like to see more mention of international development. I would like to see Canada commit to reaching 0.7%. At the very least I would like to see us ensure that we maintain the work we have done in places like Kenya where CIDA has been active. Its funding may be threatened over the next few years for the work it does on tuberculosis.

Kenya is a country about the size of Canada. Three hundred Kenyans a day die of tuberculosis. How many people in Canada even think tuberculosis is still a disease about which to worry? Five hundred people a day die of HIV. Millions of young African children die of malaria. We can do so much more. The area of international development is lacking in the budget as well.

I want to turn for a second to the issue of the Atlantic accord. This is an issue that has absolutely dominated discussion in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador. We hear about it from Premier Danny Williams and a bit about it from Rodney MacDonald. This is the dominant issue in Atlantic Canada. We can listen to what the premiers have said about it.

We have all heard what Danny Williams has had to say. He has stood up and he has fought for his province. He wants to keep what he fought for. He says:

A promise was made. We expected that promise to be kept by the Prime Minister and, indeed, his government....Even though he is claiming that they are excluding 100% of non-renewable natural resource revenues [they are not]....There is a sense of betrayal, a sense of disappointment.

That just about says it all.

Rodney MacDonald, the Premier of Nova Scotia is not the most fiery of speakers. He is concerned about the accord, though. On March 19, he said:

It's almost as if they want to continue giving handouts to Nova Scotians rather than us keeping our offshore accord and that to me is fundamentally unfair.

A lot of people in Canada do not fully understand this. When we debated it in the House of Commons, people on the other side stood up and asked foolish questions. It does not matter to them. They get briefing notes from some hack in the Department of Finance or a backroom Conservative who hauls it out and says “Go fight the battle”. They have no idea what this actually means.

Let me just educate members a bit on the Atlantic accord. This is the agreement that was reached between the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia on offshore revenues on Valentine's Day 2005. It says:

—the Government of Canada intends to provide additional offset payments to the province in respect of offshore-related Equalization reductions, effectively allowing it to retain the benefit of 100 per cent of its offshore resource revenues.

Then it says:

The amount of additional offset payment for a year shall be calculated as the difference between the Equalization payment that would be received by the province under the Equalization formula as it exists at the time...

Very simply, this means that offshore revenues are excluded from equalization. If equalization goes up, the provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador would get the improved equalization plus they would keep their offshore revenues. A choice has allegedly been offered to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador which would have the old equalization with the old formula or the new equalization that some in the rest of Canada will benefit from. We should have both. It should not be one or the other.

The former Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the member for Halifax West, who was regional minister, and the then minister of finance and now our House leader, did a great job on that for the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

If anybody thinks the offshore is just politics, I would like to read a few headlines. I will not go into details. Marilla Stephenson said in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald dated the week of the budget:

Note to Rodney: Stephen played you big time. The Prime Minister has played you like a fiddle. If any theme rang through the Prime Minister's budget delivered on Monday night, it was that the have-nots are to remain, well, have-nots. The Prime Minister stoops to conquer. Jeering from the sidelines were the budget's unlucky trio of obvious losers: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan. All are now victims of a calculated insult--

David Rodenhiser in the Halifax Daily News said:

Nova Scotians are left asking themselves: Who's standing up for us? Right now, the answer is no one. Certainly not our federal cabinet minister, the member for Central Nova, who's defending Ottawa rather than Nova Scotia on this. And not MacDonald, who's content to pursue process rather than take action. MacDonald repeatedly stated yesterday that provincial finance officials are gathering information and requesting meetings--

Here is a headline entitled: “Atlantic Tories running for cover; Cabinet representatives urged to stand up for region's rights”. Another one says it all. The headline in the Chronicle-Herald reads: “Federal Conservatives shaft province, once again”. There is not much more to be said about that.

Now the topic has even changed a bit because for a while we heard that the provinces did not really get a bad deal because they had a choice of two deals. That lasted about a week.

In the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Saturday it stated, “It appears that Ottawa and Nova Scotia are now working on an accord deal. Plans said to be a compromise on the scrapped 2005 Atlantic accord agreement”.

There is not much question that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador were betrayed by their cabinet representatives and by their Conservative members with the dismantling of the Atlantic accord, a deal which provided such hope for the people of Nova Scotia and for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Apparently, other provinces feel the same way. Having spent two weeks back home, I can tell the House that this is not an issue likely to fade anytime soon.

ACOA, international development, the Atlantic accord, the failure on child care, and leaving the poorest of the poor vulnerable are not acceptable. Some things were not even mentioned in the budget that have come to pass.

Last Friday, members of the Coast Guard in my own community of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour were called to a meeting and were told there were going to be new Coast Guard vessels. They would be made in Canada. They were also told that their jobs would be moved from Dartmouth, where they have been for years, to St. John's, Newfoundland, which happens to be the riding of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the minister responsible for the Coast Guard. There was no explanation, no business plan, or no idea of where this came from. There was no explanation given to the workers about what was going on. We do not even know if there is a dock in St. John's that could handle them. That is an insult to the people of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour. They are rightly concerned about this issue.

This budget is designed very clearly for the next election, not the next generation. It is political arithmetic, add a few votes here, appeal to a few votes there, pander, troll for votes in bunches where they can be found. If people do not vote Conservative and likely never will, or they contribute too small of a voting block, too bad. There is nothing for them. Aboriginal Canadians, sorry. Low income families, sorry. Atlantic Canada, sorry.

The budget is a cynical concoction of winners and losers. Guess who the real losers are? The real losers are the people who need help the most.

We have benefited as a nation from governments, mainly Liberal but also PC, that have built the social infrastructure of Canada. We are now witnessing a government that is ignoring the needs of the vulnerable and is spending billions of dollars trying to buy the next election. It is not the way good governance is done. It is not the way to inspire a nation. It is wrong and it needs to be fixed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member's comments. I had the opportunity to serve briefly on the finance committee with the hon. member. We had an opportunity to tour communities across the country. We know that while often we get into regional debates with the budget, we have to look at the effects of the budget on the entire country and the benefits to all Canadians that are provided in the budget.

I want to ask the hon. member about two very specific issues, ones that I know are very important to him: first, the 40% increase in post-secondary education, and we spoke at length about Dalhousie University and some of the challenges it was facing; and second, the additional measure that was taken to vaccinate for the human papillomavirus that will prevent cervical cancer in almost 80% of the cases which is in addition to the $260 million that was invested in the Canadian Cancer Society strategy last year. I would like to hear the member's position on those specific measures.