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House of Commons Hansard #166 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was scotia.

Topics

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's remarks. They follow hard on the heels of the remarks from the minister for Atlantic Canada.

I have a couple of pointed questions. They are specific questions and I think Canadians deserve specific answers.

In 2006 the Conservative Party of Canada's election platform said very clearly:

A Conservative government will:

Work to achieve with the provinces permanent changes to the equalization formula which would ensure that non-renewable natural resource revenue is removed from the equalization formula to encourage economic growth.

It went on to say, “We will ensure that no province is adversely affected from changes to the equalization formula”.

Slightly after, the Conservative Party circulated a mailing to Newfoundland and Labrador residents in the Prime Minister's name, then as leader of the opposition, in which it was written in bold black and white letters:

The Conservative Party of Canada believes that offshore oil and gas revenues are the key to real economic growth in Atlantic Canada. That's why we would leave you with 100 per cent of your oil and gas revenues. No small print. No excuses. No caps.

Could the minister please tell us if the Conservative Party was misleading Atlantic Canadians then or is the Conservative government misleading them now?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member knows the equalization formula is complicated. I am one who understands it and I am sure he does, too, so he does understand that a fiscal cap is about fairness.

When the O'Brien commission came back with its report, it recommended a number of changes to the equalization formula to return it to a principle based approach. The reason for that was so we would not have the Liberal approach to chequebook federalism, pitting provinces against provinces, pitting regions against regions to the detriment of the federation. A principle based approach brings back the best for all regions of this country in a fair approach.

As the member knows, these key changes to the equalization formula are in the best interest of the entire federation. These include a 10 province standard and that provinces can opt for an equalization payment formula. Provinces have a choice, as the member knows, which is what would affect Newfoundland and Labrador. It has a choice to either have a payment formula that would be based on the full exclusion of natural resources or it could move to a formula that contains 50% exclusion, whatever it wishes to do and whichever formula is in its best interest.

The member also knows that a fiscal capacity cap provides fairness, particularly in the case of the Ontario government. He knows the fiscal capacity cap directly relates to the economic and fiscal capacity of Ontario. He is arguing against--

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. We do have other questions that need to be asked.

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about misleading the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, I will say that the government misled the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley by saying what was said by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency:

Mr. Speaker, what I suspect Nova Scotia and Atlantic MPs will do is support the budget because it is good for Nova Scotia. It in fact allowed the government of Nova Scotia to balance its budget this year.

That is what I do not understand. The government said that to the member, because the member was sitting in the House:

However, I can tell the member opposite what we will not do. We will not do what the Liberal leader did to the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North. We will not throw a member out of caucus for voting his conscience. There will be no whipping, flipping, hiring or firing on budget votes as we saw with the Liberal government.

My question for the member is, did the government mislead the member of Parliament? Did the member of Parliament feel that he could vote his conscience and he would stay with the Government of Canada, the Conservatives? Then all of a sudden, right after the vote, he was told that he would be sitting on the other side the next day. It is the same way that the government has misled the governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, because we--

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. We are running out of time and I want the minister to have a chance to respond.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his rant and I have two words for him that he might like to recall. Those two words are: Bev Desjarlais. I will leave it at that.

The member talks about opposing the budget. What the budget does for the people of Nova Scotia is it restores fiscal balance and brings federal support to Nova Scotia to the tune of $2.4 billion in 2007-08, including $1.3 billion under the new equalization system, $130 million in offshore--

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Resuming debate with the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cape Breton—Canso.

I am quite pleased today to speak on the subject of equalization. I am pleased because this debate affords me the opportunity to speak about this important topic while raising issues such as fairness, justice, truthfulness and honesty. Some people might argue that terms such as these may be a bit flowery for the often arcane statistical language one uses when speaking about Canada's complex equalization formula. The precise details are well known to those of us who deal with the minutiae of government policy on a day to day basis, but these details may not be known to the average Canadian.

Regular folks do not have the time to pore over the thousands and thousands of pages of information on government programs produced by our country's hard-working public servants. Regular folks are more concerned with working hard, making sure that their children and grandchildren grow up with good values so that they too may some day contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.

Regular folks expect their elected officials to do the monotonous work of combing through the endless documents to make sure that nothing is lost in the fine lines and they expect their public officials to do this in a fair, just, true and honest manner. Regular folks in Saskatchewan in most instances probably could not quote the precise numbers of the equalization formula, but regular folks in Saskatchewan know that a promise is a promise and that the Conservative government has broken far too many of them.

While I am pleased today to speak on this subject, I must admit that I get no pleasure in seeing the way the Conservative government has treated Saskatchewan's share of equalization in the last budget. I would like to take a brief moment to quote Premier Lorne Calvert's testimony to the Standing Committee on Finance last week. He said:

I'd like to begin by reminding committee members of commitments that were made to the people of Saskatchewan regarding proposed changes to equalization, in a letter delivered to myself from the now Prime Minister of Canada.... He said to me, “The Conservative Party of Canada will alter the equalization program to remove all non-renewable resources from the formula, as well as move the program to a ten-province standard.

Mr. Calvert went on during this testimony to outline promises from the 2006 Conservative election platform which restate the same promises that he received in the 2004 letter from the then leader of the opposition and now our Prime Minister.

Whether here in Ottawa or at home in Saskatchewan, Mr. Calvert has been a tireless crusader advocating fairness for Saskatchewan in equalization at every opportunity. While I may not agree with the New Democratic premier of Saskatchewan and many of his ideological positions, as a proud resident of that great province I admire his tenacity and the way in which he represents honesty and integrity.

Some have argued that his campaign is to bring attention to the Conservative government's betrayal of Saskatchewan as simple posturing, an attempt to shift attention away from his own government's issues and place blame on Ottawa's politicians. Like some of my colleagues in the House, I certainly would not try to know the thoughts or motivations of Mr. Calvert, but I am proud to say that I agree with his logic on this issue 100%.

Simply, a promise was made to Saskatchewan and a promise was broken to Saskatchewan. It appears as though promises were made to Canadians and to the people of Saskatchewan simply to mislead for political gain. When a political party or a government misleads the electorate, the political games are short-lived. Canadians do not like to be used for a political party's or MP's personal gain.

I am disappointed in what I have heard coming from the Conservative Party's Saskatchewan members of Parliament when this subject is discussed. Never in my time in public life, whether here in Ottawa or in first nations government and education have I been a witness to such deceit and breach of trust when people are placed in a position of prominence whereby their actions could help raise awareness of a great injustice and yet decide to sit mutely and do as they are told. Indeed it is a great tragedy.

Promises were made to the people of Saskatchewan by the Conservatives regarding the equalization formula, promises that were wilfully not kept, promises to remove non-renewable resources from the formula, promises not to claw back resource revenues and promises to ensure that as Saskatchewan further develops its resources its residents are not penalized for their success.

In some ways Saskatchewan has had a rough go of it in recent times vis-à-vis its neighbours, especially Alberta and British Columbia. There was a time not so long ago that Saskatchewan was the third most populous province in this great country. Decades of stagnation, out-migration and systemic changes in the agricultural economy have led to Saskatchewan's designation as a have not province more often than not, but this does not have to be a sad story.

I am proud to report that Saskatchewan is on the cusp of a major comeback focused on two important factors: our wealth of natural resources and our emerging competitive advantage brought about by unique and exciting demographic factors in the form of our fastest growing youthful aboriginal population.

Unfortunately, the Conservative government in a remarkably short period of time has taken steps to slow Saskatchewan's comeback through these broken promises which will adversely affect the amount of fiscal benefit derived from our natural resources.

We spent decades struggling to transition Saskatchewan out of its have not status toward have status. It is very simple to understand that non-renewable resources are non-renewable. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. Saskatchewan wants to keep the fiscal benefit derived from its non-renewable resources to build a stronger Saskatchewan, a strong, vibrant and viable economy that would entrench Saskatchewan as a have province for decades to come and at the same time make Canada stronger.

What the federal government has done is put the long term socio-economic viability of Saskatchewan at risk. I know Saskatchewan very well and this deceit from the Conservatives is a huge blow. It is a huge blow that is compounded by another betrayal.

The cancellation of the Kelowna accord harms the potential of our other underutilized natural resource, our first nations and Métis young people. The Conservative government has purposefully disadvantaged Saskatchewan. I believe it does not even have a clue or even understand what it has done to hurt Saskatchewan.

The Kelowna accord was a necessary first step that would have worked toward closing the gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians in areas such as poverty, housing, education and health.

The previous Liberal government, the provincial and territorial governments and aboriginal governments all agreed Kelowna was a historic event and yet the Conservative government dismissed and betrayed first nations, Métis and Inuit people across this country.

Saskatchewan's lost share of Kelowna was projected to be in the neighbourhood of $650 million to $700 million over five years, coupled with the twin blow of the broken equalization promise showing that aiding Saskatchewan's return to greatness is not a priority for the government. I believe Saskatchewan will make it despite these challenges, but the government certainly is not making that situation any easier.

The silence of the Saskatchewan caucus is a shame. In only one year the Conservatives have dealt a $1.5 billion blow to Saskatchewan. Instead of fairness that allows a province to reap the rewards of its economic development, we are given a new formula with pitiful justifications for its implementation.

Instead of the justice that Kelowna would have provided, we are given inequality, prejudice and discrimination. Instead of truthfulness and honesty, we are given broken promises defended through clumsy talking points that are so embarrassing the speakers must quietly shudder to themselves every time they have to repeat them.

To conclude, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous courage shown by the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley on June 5. Similar to Saskatchewan, the people in Nova Scotia were subjected to promises and agreements that were arbitrarily and capriciously thrown away by the Conservative government.

Media reports make reference to a heated debate behind the scenes during the past few weeks between the courageous member from Nova Scotia and his colleagues regarding how this budget negatively affects equalization in his province. It appears as though the member in question was not the only one among his now former Atlantic Conservative colleagues to raise concerns. Irrespective of how his colleagues may have individually voted, it appears as though several of the Atlantic Canadian Conservative members at least tried to do the right thing for their constituents. At least they tried.

The comparison between the members from Atlantic Canada and their seatmates from Saskatchewan is not flattering for the latter group. We have yet to see one small example of backbone from the terrified 12 on the subject of Saskatchewan's equalization. I must admit, however, that they are well practised in the art of parroting the finance minister's talking points.

Meanwhile regular folks in Saskatchewan go about their business, saddened in the knowledge that so many of their elected representatives refuse to fight for what is right. It appears to me that they are either too scared to stand up for their province or they truly believe that breaking promises which damage and risk Saskatchewan's future is the proper course of action. I do not know which prospect is scarier.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 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. Speak, I have just one comment and then a quick question for the hon. member opposite.

The comment is that during the 13 years his party was in power there were absolutely no changes made to the equalization formula that would have benefited Saskatchewan. In fact, had the changes that we made just recently been enacted back in the mid-1990s over a period of a decade, the province of Saskatchewan, according to the Department of Finance's own figures from the province of Saskatchewan, would have received an additional $4 billion. But the Liberals did nothing.

My question is a simple one. I have asked three other members on the opposite side this question and I have yet to get an accurate response. I asked the member for Halifax West, when he finished his presentation, if he could confirm the comments made by his leader who said in March of this year that, first, he did not believe that non-renewable natural resources should be excluded from the equalization formula and, second, he said that he believed that on top of that there should be a fiscal capacity cap.

Of course those two elements would result in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan receiving absolutely zero dollars in equalization. When I posed that question to the member for Halifax West, he said that his leader responded to that question in his comments this morning. He denies making those comments

Those comments were made on a television program called Mike Duffy Live. Not only do we have the transcript, but there is film available verifying that the Leader of the Opposition made those comments.

I will ask the question: was he misleading the Canadian public then or is he misleading Canadians now? Does my hon. colleague deny that his leader made those comments? In fact, does he stand by the comments made by his leader in March of this year?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that they try to deflect blame from the real issue here and not really talk about the promise to Saskatchewan that has been broken.

On June 5, the StarPhoenix called the Saskatchewan Conservative members “a group of political sycophants willing to bend the truth with constituents and try to convince them that black is white, instead of standing up for what they know to be true”.

I think they know what the truth is because on July 25, 2006, the Saskatchewan caucus wrote a letter to the finance minister and the Prime Minister, stating that “anything less than substantial compliance with our commitment will cause us no end of political difficulty during the next federal election”.

It is interesting that the truth is there. The promise has been broken. Saskatchewan people know this.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure Canadians are enthralled with this debate between the Conservative and Liberal parties as to who properly should have kicked out members of their caucus and who did not.

It seems to me that there is a longstanding tradition within Canadian Parliament that the actual idea of people casting votes for someone running for office is that this someone would represent them.

We have a very clear example here in the House. A Conservative member obviously wrestled with this issue for some time as to whether he could support this budget, which he saw as doing harm to his constituents and his province, and he was summarily dismissed by his party. The party then blocked computer records and access, which apparently have been restored, but as for even just the intention, I think that a lot of viewers who are watching and a lot of Canadians paying attention to this debate, if they can, do worry about the idea of sending someone to Ottawa and then having them tossed from a party because of a vote against a budget or not.

The Liberals do not have a clean record on this because they did the same thing not so long ago for one of their members. I have a question for my hon. colleague. Does he support what his party and the Conservative Party did? As for attempts to make any reference to what happened to a dear friend of mine in terms of what were her choices and what were not, I would recommend that he does not, because the continuation of these falsities does no service for any of us in this place.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

An hon. member

It's exactly the same.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

An hon. member

No, it's not the same.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2007 / 4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Liberal Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the lecture from the pulpit on this issue by the hon. member across. Members being treated in the way they have been treated over the last little while is certainly an issue that Canadians are paying attention to and are watching very closely.

In my province, for example, I know that when it comes to representing our constituents and standing up for our province we have to do what is best for our constituents, because the people in Saskatchewan are busy doing their jobs, paying their bills and getting their kids off to school. They are busy with life.

It seems as though the Conservative government has taken the algebraic term “irrational numbers” to a new level and is simply not moving on its promise. It is unfortunate that we are having this debate. As the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley said, it takes a simple solution, and that simple solution is simply not one that the government is prepared to undertake.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in this debate on this very important issue. It is an issue that is important not just to the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador but also to the good people of the province of Saskatchewan. Really, as they see what is really at play here, we can say that it is important to all Canadians.

During her speech earlier, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs indicated that what the government wanted to do was go back to a principled application of the equalization formula. It was to be based on principle, and I think it was framed fairly well today in the Globe and Mail, which reflected on the Groucho Marx line about principles: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others”.

The principle at play here is that the federal government made a commitment to the people of Nova Scotia and made a commitment to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and signed a contract. The government is walking away from that commitment. It is breaking the deal. That is the principle here.

I think it is important that we get back to what this meant to the people of Nova Scotia and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I can speak firsthand to the situation in Nova Scotia because I was there in February 2005. After many months of negotiation, the accord was signed by the premier at the time, John Hamm, and his minister, Cecil Clarke, representing the province of Nova Scotia, our fisheries minister at the time, the member for Halifax West, and our Prime Minister. The signing of that accord was monumental.

The people of Nova Scotia said that was the single greatest day in Nova Scotia since oil and gas were discovered off the coast. That is how important this was to the people of Nova Scotia.

It was a promise made by our former prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, and he went beyond the promise. He promised Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians full access to their offshore revenues, but he went beyond that and cut an upfront cheque for each province.

That amounted to $800 million for the province of Nova Scotia, a significant amount. As for the debt situation that we were in at the time, we carried more debt per capita than any other province. That debt was a ball and chain. It was weighing us down as a province.

Our premier at the time applied the $800 million to the $12 billion debt that the province of Nova Scotia was carrying. I totally supported the premier on that decision. In doing that right thing, he brought down the annual interest in the province of Nova Scotia by between $40 million and $50 million annually. That $40 million or $50 million goes into highways, hospitals and education. It benefits all Nova Scotians. That was the right thing to do. It was honourable of our former prime minister to do to make sure that money was issued upfront.

Just so members understand, what the accord did was make sure that the clawback provisions from equalization were no longer applied. There were no more clawback provisions through equalization because of the offshore revenues. It was meant to be a building block so that Nova Scotia could move from being a have not province to a have province. There is activity in the economy in Nova Scotia, but the accord was in essence the foundation, a building block, and then, with the equalization on top, suddenly the revenues started to make some sense. The province was able to start getting at that debt that we continue to carry and that continues to be a burden on the people of Nova Scotia.

However, what happened when the budget was tabled was that the rug was pulled out from under the feet of Nova Scotians. The foundation was removed with the pulling out of the accord.

The comments that are coming from the government today are about how “they can have one or they can have the other”. That was never the deal. This was both. This was the accord. This was equalization and no provision of clawbacks. Indeed, when we held government, we did increase the amount of equalization through a change in the formula. We increased the amount of equalization to the province of Nova Scotia and there was no impact on the accord. It in no way compromised the accord. This could be done. We know that this is not what happened in this case.

Numbers get bandied about in the House. In order for us to get a true view of it, let me mention that I read a great op-ed article a number of weeks back. It was from Peter O'Brien, the former Atlantic representative on the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. He was never a great friend of the Liberal Party of Canada, by any means, and when there was an issue he would take issue with the government.

However, in regard to his position on this aspect of the budget, the accord, he said that when it was first announced the message coming from the Minister of Finance and the regional minister was, “Hey, this is all good, there is no change, no cap, and no compromising the Atlantic accord”. He took it at face value. In the article, he goes on to talk about two of this country's strongest and most respected economists, Wade Locke, from Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Paul Hobson, from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Mr. O'Brien has been in a number of prebudget lockups with these gentlemen. He said that their work is exemplary and he trusts them completely. Mr. O'Brien said that by Wade Locke identifying and going through the process, and showing that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador will lose $11 billion with these changes and the province of Nova Scotia will lose a billion dollars with these changes, he knows that what he was getting from the Minister of Finance and the regional minister was nothing but spin. The truth is that both of those provinces lose with the changes that are made to this accord, and that is truly shameful.

We have heard about this throughout this debate since the budget was tabled. I remember the day it was tabled. We were on our feet on this side of the House questioning the government about the impacts on the accord for both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. We knew there was going to be a net loss to the citizens of those two provinces, but the government said no, that was not the way it was at all. It said that this is great, we do not compromise anything, and they end up coming out ahead.

Then, when there was a unanimous resolution that came from the legislature in Nova Scotia, an all party resolution that called for the government to reinstitute the accord, those guys stood up and said, “Hey, there's no problem, it's all good”.

The government sent its finance minister to meet with the finance minister for Nova Scotia. They had a six hour meeting. That is no reflection of us being slow learners in Nova Scotia. It is because the finance minister for the province of Nova Scotia knew what it had lost under the changes in the government's budget.

Then, of course, yesterday was the big day when this thing all came to a head. We saw what went on with the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. We saw the arm-twisting that went on. We know about the work that was going on behind the steel curtain over there.

The member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley took a principled approach. He chose province over party. He took a principled approach and he did the right thing, because he knows that this deal is not a good deal for the people of Nova Scotia and it is not a good deal for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

What I want to do is call on the government to make sure that it abides by this agreement that was signed between the federal government and those provinces and that it reinstitutes the accords so that the people can share in what is rightfully theirs.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will have some comments later, a lengthy comment, but my shorter comment to the member is this. I think it somewhat hypocritical for any member in any party in the House to criticize any party or individual for doing something. Parties and members do it because they have specific reasons. In this case there are reasons. There are reasons why members from the other side crossed the floor. To criticize one party or the other party seems to me somewhat hypocritical.

However, the member says there are some facts at issue. Some of the facts for Newfoundland are this. Does he not agree that restoring a fiscal balance to Newfoundland and Labrador, it will have approximately $1.5 billion more in 2007 and 2008 as a result of this budget? It will have $477 million in equalization, $494 million offshore accord offset, $347 million under the Canada Health transfer, $151 million for the Canada social transfer and $52 million for infrastructure.

How can this be a negative?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, let us make one thing clear. I, in no way, was criticizing the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. I was celebrating the courageous stand he took on voting against the budget. He knows it was hurting the people he represents.

What is shameful is the people on the other bench over there did not stand and vote with their constituents, and we should know that.

The member for Central Nova tried to make a few points when a motion was brought forward in the last Parliament by the then opposition. He said that the government members and the member for Halifax West voted against it.

We want to ensure that the people at home watching the debate know that the member himself, as a member of the opposition, voted against the budget that would ensure those accord moneys went to the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Let us get all the figures on the table and who stood for what. However, I in no way chastised that member. I commend that member and I think what he did was courageous.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is quite obvious, by some of the comments of our Conservative colleagues, that they have not even read the accord. That is why they divert the discussion to other aspects of the budget . If they want to get into the budget, there are many things that have been left out of that budget. However, I sure the Conservatives would not want to hear about all those things.

There is one thing I would like to ask my hon. colleague from Cape Breton—Canso. I have lived in Nova Scotia since 1988, having been born somewhere else but raised in Vancouver and Yukon. One of the things that I learned right away, and anybody who goes to Atlantic Canada will also learn this, is when maritimers or an Atlantic Canadians gives us their word, we can take that to the bank.

When the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency stood in the House to answer a question from a gentleman from West Nova, he said, “We will not kick anybody out of our caucus for voting their conscience. We will not flip or flop on the budget”. Basically, what he said very clearly to the people of Canada and to the people of the Conservative Party, was they could vote their conscience on the budget and their would be no reprimand in any regard.

What does my colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso, think about a maritimer going back on his word and betraying the people of Atlantic Canada?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would think that if the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley were waiting for the green light to stand up for his constituents without any repercussions from the caucus chair, I would think that would have been it. Maybe what he should have asked for was a form to write it down right on a napkin and sign it. Oh, no sorry, he does not honour those either. I'm sorry.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg North.

Today's debate in the House of Commons is on an opposition motion—

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member, but he does not have to share his time.

No, I'm sorry. He has 20 minutes. I apologize for the interruption. The hon. member.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, have I understood correctly that you are giving my colleague and me 20 minutes each?

It was worth a try. I will continue, Mr. Speaker.

This Thursday's opposition motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to live up to verbal and written commitments made to Premiers by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign with respect to the Equalization Program and the Atlantic Accords.

I do not think this is the first time we have talked about these issues. We in the Atlantic provinces are used to people making promises and then breaking them.

When the current Prime Minister was in opposition, he said that the Atlantic accord was necessary. At the time, the current Prime Minister pushed the Liberal government to sign the accord. The accord was signed, thereby giving Nova Scotia and Newfoundland the right to keep the profits from their oil wells and a promise that equalization and transfer payments would not be affected.

At the time, the opposition said that the Liberal government was wrong because it did not want to give the Atlantic provinces and Saskatchewan a chance. Now we have a government that thinks it has all of the answers and knows everything. They think that it is up to Conservatives in Ottawa to decide what is best for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, even though people like Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland, do not agree with their plan. Furthermore, former Progressive Conservative member John Crosbie, a former minister who is well respected by his counterparts in Newfoundland and Ottawa, is critical of the Conservative government's failure to keep its promise.

John Hamm, the former premier of Nova Scotia, and Rodney MacDonald, the current premier of Nova Scotia, do not agree with the federal government imposing a choice between the accord or equalization, not both, in its budget. It has to be one or the other.

And then we wonder why, in our country, the provinces are often upset with the federal government. It is because everything is centralized in Ottawa and everything is decided in Ottawa. It is because of things like that. The Conservatives should remember that in 1996, the Liberals decided to make cuts to employment insurance, not just in our provinces, but across the country. I am sure that the member for Cape Breton—Canso remembers this well. In 1997, few Liberals were re-elected in the Atlantic provinces. In Nova Scotia, there were none. The Liberals were wiped out. Now, the Conservatives—remember this—are going to be wiped out in the Atlantic provinces. The fact that there is finally a special accord for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, the country's poorest provinces, is nothing for the Atlantic provinces to get excited about.

Having been kicked in the behind by the Liberals with their employment insurance cuts, a riding like mine is losing $81 million a year in employment insurance benefits, and people are having to go work in Alberta. They must leave their families, their wives and their children, who miss their fathers. The family is split up.

The Conservatives said that if they were elected, they would give us this and we would have that. The Liberals were scared of these promises and gave it to us in 2005. Now, the Conservatives are coming and taking it away. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, but it was just a little fluorescent light, and it ran out of power.

The light has gone out. They have lost the light again. That is what has happened in Atlantic Canada. Have we not suffered enough? We lost our fishing industry. It is not the fault of the people in Atlantic Canada that the fishery has been lost. The people earned their pay. They went fishing and they tried to earn income to provide for the needs of their families. In the final analysis, there were no more fish. All this has hurt them. Families have gone through many difficulties. In addition, the Liberals slashed employment insurance. They decided to punish fishers even more, and the Conservatives supported them. The only thing the Conservatives said was that premiums were too high and they would lower the premiums because companies were paying too much, but they could not give benefits to the workers. That is what has happened. Finally, there was an agreement. I have spoken about the fishery but the fishery was not the only issue. At Bathurst, in my riding, the Smurfit-Stone paper plant, an industry that had been there for 100 years, has closed its doors.

This week, UPN announced that the Miramichi plant will close in August for nine or perhaps 12 months and 600 people will be put out of work.

New Brunswick says that if Nova Scotia can straighten out its finances and become prosperous; if Newfoundland can do the same; and if New Brunswick can draw people back to their home province, perhaps it too will benefit. Perhaps New Brunswick could work with Nova Scotia if that province is more prosperous.

But no, the government is not able to give us a chance to establish a climate of economic development. It cannot give us that chance. It is not able to give us a chance to survive. I think, perhaps, that is the plan.

They want to crush us. They say that if we do not want to be crushed, we need only move to Alberta, where there is an abundance of work. They say our country’s economic system is working well. If it is working, it is in Alberta. I am happy for Albertans. I am not jealous of them. But we should not be obliged to leave our region. We have a right in our country to earn our fair share and to receive assistance.

If the provinces cannot help each other out within federalism, then what is the point? It is at times like this that we can see why the Bloc Québécois or Quebec wonders why it should stay in this country. They are given ample reason to say such things. When we are treated the way the federal government is treating us, we wonder what we are doing within a confederation, within a federation.

If this keeps up, we may have to form a Bloc Acadien. Then maybe the government will pump money to us, like it does elsewhere. We will not have oil wells like in Alberta, but we will have a pipeline that goes from Ottawa straight to Acadia. Maybe then we will not have 20% unemployment. Maybe then people back home will have work.

Does anyone think these things are pleasant? Does anyone think people are happy to see how the government treats them? It made a promise. It made a promise to Nova Scotia. It made a promise to Newfoundland. It signed the Atlantic accord, but it did not say it would take it away. It is acting like a grandparent. It thinks it knows everything and, as a grandparent, it is demanding respect.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs says that the Conservatives know they are doing the right thing, so why is the Premier of Nova Scotia saying that is not true? The Premier of Nova Scotia says it is not true. The Premier of Newfoundland also says this is not true.

The Conservatives signed an accord and contracts and these provinces want them to be respected. The only thing we are asking the Government of Canada to do is to respect these accords and respect a contract once it has been signed. It should not do what it just did. I hope the government will change its mind. An accord is an accord. The Conservatives should not breach this accord and force a member of their party to go the benches on the other side of the House of Commons. They should respect the accord and invite the member back.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, for many maritime Canadians, it is their first exposure to the Minister of Finance, but for Ontarians who suffered under a Conservative right wing ideology in the previous government for years, this is not new. I would like to put to the member the following question.

The Minister of Finance was the minister who hid a $5.6 billion deficit in Ontario and then misled Ontarians about it when he left office. This is the same Minister of Finance who, with his cabinet colleagues at the time, was the government of Walkerton and the government of Ipperwash. This is the same Minister of Finance who stood up and announced that this was the end of bickering on fiscal imbalance in the country, when he has in fact lit brush fires across the country.

For many of our Canadian neighbours, friends and family who live in maritime Canada, this is their first exposure to a right wing, ideological Minister of Finance who cannot be trusted. Perhaps the member can help us understand what the real impact is now on the credibility of the Minister of Finance and the government in our important maritime regions.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the only thing left to do is to elect an NDP government, when we look at what the finance minister of the Conservative government has done to us, and when we look at what the Liberal minister of finance did to us when he took away the employment insurance from the people of the Atlantic region.

The government now has a $54 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund. We are used to getting hit right between the eyes, but we are sick and tired of it. We are sick and tired of being told, “Here is some hope, but we will take it away from you”, and, “If you do not have a job, just jump on the train or take the first flight leaving Moncton, Halifax or St. John's, go to Alberta or Fort McMurray and you will have a job, and if you do not, it is just because you are lazy and do not want to work”.

That is what we were being told by Liberal ministers. One Liberal human resources minister said the people from Atlantic Canada were just lazy and did not want to work and that is why they were cutting employment insurance.

The Liberal government signed the Atlantic accord when it got pushed into it, and now here is another minister coming up and saying it will be taken away from us.

We are so used to being given things and having them taken away before we get them. We are getting sick of it because it hurts families. I get calls in my office from women who say they have no food to give to their children. We are not in Ottawa, I can tell members that. Even in Ottawa, a beautiful city that we have here, we see people on the street begging for food. It is not the type of country that we should have.

When we have 1.4 million children who are hungry in our country, we should be ashamed of it. In 1989 we passed a motion that within 10 years, not one child would be hungry in our country. When we go to Toronto, in front of City Hall, we have people lying on cardboard to sleep. In a country like Canada, we should be ashamed of that.

I am not too proud sometimes of my country, particularly the way that we treat human beings and the way that we treat our children. I am not too pleased. I do not have much to say about what we have passed in the last 100 years. That is why I said to my dad, “Might as well vote for something other than the Conservatives and the Liberals because we served them on a silver plate and we are the poorest ones in the country”.

It is about time to maybe change the political party in Atlantic Canada.