Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again to talk about the budget and the implementation bill, Bill C-52.
I want to address the hon. parliamentary secretary who just spoke so eloquently. I want to draw his attention a couple of things. He mentioned Mr. Dithers and criticized him and described the current Prime Minister as Mr. Action. I want to point out to him that it should not be just Mr. Action, but Mr. Right Action.
There are a lot of good things in the budget for my riding. It is a rural riding and I do not hesitate to say that there are a lot of good things in the budget for my riding, but it does not mean that one can break a contract. As we have heard over and again, this budget breaks a contract with the people of my province of Nova Scotia.
It is a nine paragraph contract signed by Cecil Clarke, the minister of energy at the time. It is the Atlantic accord agreement, which gives Nova Scotia 100% access to the gas and oil revenues, with no clawbacks, and it was meant to be applied to whatever equalization formula is in existence at the time.
Anyway, that is now broken in this budget that we are debating here today. Every day I hear the Minister of Finance, maybe the Prime Minister and maybe other ministers say that Nova Scotia can have the new formula or the old Atlantic accord. That simply is not true. They say over and again that the Atlantic accord has no amendments, that it is not changed. I do not know how they can say that because of consequential amendments in Bill C-52.
I want to read this into the record: “Section 220 of the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act is replaced by the following:”, and after that there could be about 10 paragraphs of replacements and amendments. Several parts of this act are amended.
As well, clause 81 amends the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act by adding another paragraph. This goes on for several amendments, replacements, additions and so on. This also includes the 2005 offshore revenue agreement that was negotiated by John Hamm. It is amended as well. Whole paragraphs are amended and definitions are changed. It is just not accurate to say that the old Atlantic accord is still available.
I hope that in these closing hours leading up to the vote tonight the government side will come to its senses and restore the Atlantic accord exactly as it was signed by John Hamm in 2005.
Members may recall that I voted against the budget on this issue. It was a difficult decision in a way, but in a way it was not. It was not a matter of policy whereby we decided whether it was good policy or bad policy; it was just right and wrong. The contract with my province of Nova Scotia was supposed to be a 15 year contract. In two years the government has made all these amendments to which I just referred. That changes the contract. It was supposed to go for 15 years, but it only went two years before the changes were made.
At this time I want to say that I did not make this decision easily. I want to thank my wife and others for helping me make that decision, because it affects her as much as it does me. It has had a big impact on my family and is going to have a big impact on whatever future I may have as a politician. My wife Rosemary was a very big part of this decision and I hope she is listening. I also want to thank my brother Dan. He is not interested in politics and does not have anything to do with politics, but he helped me because he actually gave me a non-political point of view on this.
Also, I had a lot help from friends and people in my riding association. A lady by the name of Tilly Armstrong said some things I will not forget. Her husband Dave and son Scott said a lot of things I will never forget. There were others like Jeff Hunt. Many people helped me make that decision.
I want to come back to the accord, because if the budget passes the House at third reading tonight, the accord as we know it, as it was negotiated in 2005, will be gone. Every single Nova Scotian will feel a loss if this happens. I hope that when it goes to the Senate the senators will use their sober second thought to review it again, to make sure that the right thing is done, and to make sure that the Atlantic accord is restored exactly as it was written, because once it is gone, it is gone, and I doubt that we can get it back.
I did not know a lot about the Atlantic accord until this debate came up. The more I got into it, the more I realized how magic it is and how well thought out it was, how well it was written and how it really represents the interests of Nova Scotia and provides a future for the economy of Nova Scotia.
I want to compliment former premier John Hamm, who did the negotiations, and Cecil Clarke, who was very much a part of them as well. He was the minister of energy at the time. We should all be grateful to them, but we should all also fight to make sure that this accord is kept exactly the way they negotiated it.
Another thing I hear quite often is that Nova Scotia gets this gift of $95 million under the new program. It is not a gift. It is just part of the same program that all the provinces have. It is not a gift any more than whatever the province of Quebec or any other province gets in the way of funding from the equalization formula.
However, somehow it is made out to be a big consideration for Nova Scotia. It is not. It is exactly the same benefit the other provinces get, but what it does do is take away the ability for the offshore revenue agreement to be attached to the new formula, which is what it was always intended to be.
What has happened is that under the budget the government has changed the whole concept of the offshore revenue agreement. It was originally envisioned to go with whatever equalization formula is in place at the time. It was to follow that. It is a rolling commitment to follow whatever the equalization formula is.
What the budget does is lock it into the previous formula. It changes the whole concept and the whole basic formula of the Atlantic accord. It means that after this budget passes it will not apply to the formula that exists at the time, but that is exactly what the formula was supposed to be. That is exactly what its purpose was.
This budget changes it dramatically and takes that away. I do not believe the people of Nova Scotia are going to accept that. Certainly it does not look like it to me from the response I have had, even just from my vote, and it absolutely puzzles me why I am getting this positive response, because all I did was ask the government to honour a signed contract. This is not a political promise. It is not something that was said loosely. This is a signed contract. It is signed by the Government of Canada.
I believe that every Canadian wants the signature of the Government of Canada to be honoured. It does not matter whether it is on a nine paragraph agreement with the Government of Nova Scotia or a trade deal with Washington or some kind of deal with Moscow. When Canada signs a contract, everybody in the world should know that it is rock solid, that it is solid gold and it will be honoured.
In this case, the signature was supposed to mean that the contract would be honoured for 15 years. It was honoured for only two years and now the government is changing it. In any case, it is a sad day at this point due to the fact that we have not made more progress. I understand that the premier of the province of Nova Scotia is in town today. I understand that he has met with the Prime Minister.
However, I do not think the government has agreed to restore the Atlantic accord, which is the only thing that Nova Scotians are going to accept at this point. At some point they might have accepted a compromise, but they are mobilized. Nova Scotians from every walk of life are mobilized and focused. They are crystallized on this matter of maintaining the Atlantic accord. Nothing other than the Atlantic accord will be accepted. We had it. We should continue to have it.
I think the government made an awful mistake to tamper with it. It had been going for two years. Nobody found a problem with it. It was working. It was accepted by all the other provinces. Why in the world the government brought it into the debate on the budget and tried to tamper with it and tried to change it, I will never understand. I think in the end the government is going to pay a price for it because it has opened up the whole debate again.
I hope that Nova Scotia will have the Atlantic accord restored, but I do think it is going to cause other provinces to become more animated in the debate and to seek similar agreements. It is a shame the government ever tried to meddle with this.
With that, I will end my remarks. I hope that between now and the vote tonight the premier of the province of Nova Scotia and the Prime Minister of Canada find a way to restore the Atlantic accord exactly as it was negotiated and as it was signed on Valentine's Day 2005.