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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

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre talked about Lake Winnipeg. Lake Winnipeg of course is something that all of us in Manitoba love and appreciate. I know that the hon. member enjoys a great deal of time along Lake Winnipeg. She has a cabin in my riding. I know it is something that is near and dear to her heart as it is mine.

In this budget we announced $7 million in new funding for Lake Winnipeg. She is criticizing that investment. That is the first investment ever from the federal government for the actual cleanup and restoration of Lake Winnipeg, and trying to reduce the nutrient loading that is going on there.

She talked about commitments that were made in the past. Those were commitments that were not budgeted for. Essentially, what she was talking about were election promises that were never delivered upon.

We have to get past that false pretense that the Liberals were going to do more. The previous government had 12 or 13 years to act upon that and never once delivered on the problems facing Lake Winnipeg.

Let us accept the fact that there is $7 million in this budget that she should be supporting to cleanup Lake Winnipeg, so that our communities and our drinking water, and the beaches that our children love and enjoy can finally be addressed.

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite and I have had conversations about Lake Winnipeg. I would point out to him that it was an investment and a commitment made by the previous government concerning Lake Winnipeg in his riding which we supported.

I recognize that moneys are being committed to Lake Winnipeg, but again, it is part of a spattered approach. It is not a comprehensive strategy. It is part of a little bit here and a little bit there.

Let us see a comprehensive plan. Let us see a multi-year commitment for the cleanup of Lake Winnipeg. Let us see a multi-year commitment to research and development, and a cleanup of the whole watershed. That is what is required. We need a long term investment and it is important for Manitoba.

7:30 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to join the debate on the subject of the government’s latest budget. As we all remember, this budget was tabled on March 19.

There are some things in this budget that really need to be pointed out. Among friends, colleagues, political parties and taxpayers, we must describe things as they really are to improve conditions for the people of Canada and, when an error has been made, we should make every effort to correct it. As you well know, enlightenment comes when ideas collide.

I want to talk about several points in the budget that deserve our attention. The first point deals with the Conservative government’s retention of the festival support program. I have had discussions today, and for several days, with representatives of volunteer groups and organizations which are organizing festivals planned for summer 2007.

This year, the federal government set aside $30 million for summer festivals. A large number of the organizers of these festivals have been told that the government—to be more precise, the Department of Canadian Heritage— is in the process of considering how the funds will be distributed. We are now into June and people have been told that it may be the fall before we have a clear answer on how the funds will be distributed. However, we must show some respect for the organizers of summer festivals in Quebec and elsewhere, because, after all, the seasons change. To find an analogy with what the Conservatives are doing, I think back to the Social Credit party. At one point, the Social Credit party said there were only four problems in Canada: spring, summer, fall and winter. Apart from that, everything would be fine. I must emphasize that summer festivals take place in the summer. An answer in the fall is of no use.

Specifically, I would like to underline the value of a festival. What does a festival mean to the population? Today, I debated with an economist from the Institut économique de Montréal. On a radio station in my riding, CJRC, not to mention names, I heard it said that—hold tight, Mr. Speaker, or you might fall off your chair—festivals were a means of preventing movie theatres from making money. The argument was that when people went to a festival, money was going to the wrong place. They added that festivals were not something very important in economic terms, because a dollar spent at one place is like a dollar spent at another place. A festival does not result in any value added.

Well, I really had to answer that. I would like you, Mr. Speaker, and above all my colleagues opposite—the Conservatives, of course— to understand that a festival is a way for a city, a community or a region to become better known. A festival can attract people into the community, into the region. It gets people moving from one region to another to take part in activities. That makes our region better known, and, at the same time, it brings money into the region.

For example, I think of the Festival de montgolfières in Gatineau, of which you are surely aware, and which for the past 20 years has taken place during the first weekend of September. It is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2007. Last year, the festival generated revenue of $6 million. Since its creation, more than 3.3 million people have attended the festival.

The federal government invests in these programs. I must also mention that the organizers of these festivals do not count solely on the support of the federal government. They do their own fund-raising at various levels.

If the federal government does not step in as it used to, tourism will suffer. That is what the organizers told me. They will also not be able to bring in as many artists. That is another aspect. Festivals are a question of pride. People show off their culture and discover others, depending on the themes of the show, and this leads to a broadening of minds at festivals. The Conservatives are holding things up here for reasons that are really beyond me.

I just wanted to point all this out to our colleagues because I am sure that they will react quite quickly when they see that what they are saying does not make any sense, especially as the money for this was approved in the budget. It is very important, therefore, to point this out.

There is a statistic showing that, in Quebec in the year 2000, festivals got 18% of their funding from the three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal. That same year in the United States—our neighbour to the south where capitalism is a kind of religion—the three levels of government subsidized festivals to the tune of 23% to 26%. Maybe they thought it was important for them to add value. In France, festivals are subsidized at a rate of 47%.

Our Conservative colleagues should say to themselves that even though they are not providing very much, they really should make it available before the end of the summer or else we will be in an absolutely ridiculous situation. In view of this, I would like my Conservative colleagues to understand that they have to keep the commitments they made in their budget.

In regard to a completely different issue, I would like to mention a very embarrassing situation. September 25 or 26, 2006 was a black day in human history because that was when the federal government cancelled the court challenges program. The Conservative government decided last March not to renew this program, even though a great many social stakeholders from both the English and French minority communities as well as citizens rights groups demanded that it be saved. This meant that $5 or $6 million could be cut from the federal budget.

I took some political science courses at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s, and one of my professors, Mr. Carrier, told us that $1 million in the coffers of the federal government of Canada was like a penny to an average worker in Canada or Quebec. When $5 or $6 million are cut from a rights program like the court challenges program, it is clearly not very much in view of the $220 billion budgets that Canada’s federal government generally has. So this is an ideological cut. The government wants to prevent something, rather than helping citizens challenge decisions made by the federal or a provincial government or even a school board, a town or municipality, or a department that was not complying with the law of the land, that is to say, the Constitution.

The government comes with all its lawyers and sets them on a parent or business person who wants his or her rights respected. Without the court challenges program, there is no level playing field.

People cannot spend the kind of money that the government, the federal State, can spend on its own army of lawyers. I could provide some pretty unbelievable examples of this.

That said, there is something even worse. We often hear our Conservative colleagues say that the Bloc Québécois did not support Bill S-3, which was in fact passed—on division, as they say—in the previous Parliament.

By eliminating the court challenges program, the Conservative government is failing to respect the Official Languages Act. I would refer the members to the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which just came back to life today. The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, taught a very interesting lesson to all members of the committee—and we are very pleased that the Conservatives have decided to come back—about how eliminating the court challenges program violated legislation passed in this House. That is pretty serious. Those who violate laws must pay in the end. They have violated this law, and they must pay the price.

It is important to understand a few things about this program. The committee heard witnesses who work for the program. It also heard people who fought for the Montfort Hospital, for example. That happened in the mid-1990s. We were around then; this was not something that happened back in Louis Riel's day—which is another subject about which much could be said. This was back in 1995, when the Government of Ontario wanted to do away with the services of a French-language hospital right here in Ottawa. I was born in that province, and so was my youngest daughter, my baby. She was born in the Montfort Hospital.

The people who came to talk about this situation had been told by a Prime Minister whom we know well, our current Prime Minister, that the Government of Canada had no intention of continuing to pay for Liberal lawyers in the court challenges program.

Yet Ms. Lalonde and Mr. Gratton, who attended the committee meeting, demonstrated quite clearly that the lawyers who helped the Montfort Hospital fight the indignity foisted upon it by Mike Harris' government and three of his ministers, who are now known here as the Minister of Finance, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health, did it for free.

In response to the infamous criticism that partisan politics were involved, I would remind the House that Mr. Gratton was Brian Mulroney's press secretary. As far as I know, he did not belong to the Conservative Party, but rather to the Progressive Conservative Party. There are hints of this Reform-Alliance mindset still causing problems today. It is going to burst, sooner or later, like last time, but that is their problem. Gisèle Lalonde once ran—hold on to your hats—as a candidate for the Conservative Party of Ontario. This jambalaya—although jambalaya can sometimes be quite tasty—, all this mishmash being served up by the Conservatives, involving partisan politics when it comes to the rights of minorities, it is appalling. I see them turning red. They are ashamed, and I understand why.

That said, the elimination of the court challenges program, illustrated by the ideology reflected in the budget, seriously jeopardizes the recognition of the existence of French-language minority communities in Canada.

That is prejudicial. The day the Montfort Hospital file reached its full scope was the day that the Premier of Quebec—Lucien Bouchard of the Parti Québécois, not to mention any names—declared that, indeed, it was seriously prejudicial. Every fighting force for democracy and the respect of the rights of minorities from Quebec and Ontario, including myself, who was in Saskatchewan at the time as president of the Fédération des francophones de Saskatoon, we all signed petitions and raised money to tell the Harris government that it was unacceptable.

Of course the Liberal government—this was during the Chrétien years—looked at the issue and said it could not intervene because it was a provincial jurisdiction. Well, now would be the time for Canada to pull up its socks and get to work, because, under such circumstances, it is through the court challenges program and political action that we must ensure the rights of minorities.

The court challenges program also has an impact on the social aspect of the fight against poverty and injustice. For example, people with disabilities had to fight their own government, demanding that it install ramps so they could have access to the same services as people with full mobility. We must not forget this.

A broad range of services was provided to society. In 1997 and 2003, evaluations of the court challenges program determined that the needs of Quebec and Canadian society were well served by the program. Without it, we would not have rights of access to minority language education. The disabled would not be able to access certain areas and premises. It is very important to take note of these facts.

Today, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada is taking the government to court because it abolished the court challenges program and is not fulfilling its obligations under the Official Languages Act. My colleagues should hang on to their hats when they hear what I have to say. This government says that it wanted to abolish the program because, among other things, it no longer wished to pay lawyers who challenge federal or provincial governments, school boards or others who do not respect these rights. That is why it abolished the program. Now it is paying lawyers to ensure that it does not pay lawyers in future. Talk about unbelievable. The logic is rather complicated.

There is no question that the court challenges program must be reinstated. We must realize that society evolves. By way of illustration, consider that at one time horses ruled the road. Then along came the Model T Ford. Today, things are altogether different; we have other means of transportation. In terms of citizens' rights, we cannot predict how current situations will unfold in the near future. Therefore, it is important to have the court challenges program, precisely to protect the state from itself.

In the movie, The Name of the Rose, based on the novel by Umberto Eco, old Jorge, a professional criminal, believes only in sublime repetition. The Conservatives are the sublime copy of the Mulroney Conservatives. They are doing the same thing—abolishing the court challenges program in today's context. It is quite deplorable.

We should be emulating William of Baskerville. I recommend reading about the dialectic that belongs to society. In fact, we are evolving. I am thinking of Yann Martel who sends books to the Prime Minister from time to time. He should send more there because reading is interesting. We should read things that enable us to evolve in life.

As we evolve, things change and we must have mechanisms to protect ourselves.

I will say one last things about festivals: they have to get on with it. Summer is coming, it has already arrived.

The court challenges program is not in the budget and that is deplorable. It should be reinstated.

7:50 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member this. Does he believe that the other parties understand how serious it is if there is a failure to adopt this bill before we adjourn for the summer and what the result will be?

Does he, like me, wonder if they realize how serious it would be if we lost $4.3 billion in our 2006-07 year end measures that would include the $600 million for labour market agreements with the provinces? Does the member think that they understand how serious it is if we do not have this bill adopted before the end of the summer?

I understand that he is supporting it, but it is the other opposition parties of the House that do not seem to understand how serious this is for their provinces and for many of the people who are counting on the money, such as the Rick Hansen Foundation, $30 million; the child tax credit, which I am sure all the parents in his riding will be welcoming; and the $1.5 billion for the Canada ecotrust for clean air and climate change for the provinces.

Does the member think the other parties understand how important this is? If the bill is not adopted before the adjournment for the summer, these will not happen.

7:55 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to my colleague from Blackstrap, in Saskatchewan, if my memory serves me right.

What is important to understand about what I was saying earlier is that there are some things that must be improved in the budget. There are things to be improved that are part of the social fabric, the human fabric. These elements must be taken into consideration, and we must not just hang on to a document released on March 19, the current government's second budget.

I hope my colleague paid close attention to my speech, because in the end, these elements really must be there. First, they must keep their word regarding festivals, since summer is here. Second, the court challenges program must be reinstated.

7:55 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to my colleague. This is not a debate about the budget. This is a debate about the estimates.

I would say that in my 10 years in Parliament one of the things that I have come to realize is that intent matters with the government. My hon. Bloc colleague did talk about the meanspirited way in which the government has dealt with many things. He referred to some of the vestiges of the Harris Ontario government, the triumvirate, the ministers of health, finance and environment, that we actually see very much in evidence in this Parliament.

I recognize that while there are many things that make the Bloc unique in some of its approaches, I find that its social approaches to many of the solutions in Parliament are actually quite aligned with the Liberal Party.

I want to refer to something very specific in my riding. The Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre in my riding has actually put forward a stunning presentation. It is a very integral part of my riding which is the fourth largest settlement area for new Canadians in Canada, despite the fact that as a region we are only half a million people.

There was a proposal for ethnocultural racial minorities to participate in public decision making. The centre had been through many levels of scrutiny and I think had actually been agreed to by three different levels of government which said this was something worthwhile doing.

Three program officers and departmental approval was gained. Yet, at the very final hour, as a matter of fact today, it found out that this wonderful project was not going to receive funding.

A similar thing happened with the K-W counselling services in my riding as well. These services fit perfectly with the criteria that the government was saying it wanted in order to engage new Canadians in order to make a good community. Yet, the government decided that this funding was not worthwhile.

I would ask my colleague from the Bloc this question. Has he seen similar cutbacks in the fundamental bedrock of what helps define communities, not only in Kitchener Centre, but right across Canada? Has he experienced the fact that to the government their intent matters. The government believes in the trickle down theory, that there is only a certain sector of Canada that it is speaking to, and it happens to be its electorate. If people do not fall into that minority then they are not covered by the priorities of the government. Would my colleague like to comment on that?

7:55 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I salute my colleague from the Kitchener—Waterloo area, formerly Berlin, in south central Ontario.

With regard to my riding, and in reference to her example, I will speak of the Canada Summer Jobs program. The federal government has decided to go with a new way of doing things. The former program worked well. It seems that, when things are working well, our Conservative colleagues have a knack for dismantling them.

Our multi-ethnic organizations are probably smaller than those in my colleague's riding. Nevertheless, we do have an Arab community and a Portuguese community. I am thinking of self-help and anti-poverty organizations, which provided young people with summer jobs in youth job cooperatives or summer camps that were axed because of a set of criteria developed by the government that did not make sense.

Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party of Canada and community groups—those affected first and the fabric of our society—challenged the government. I have to acknowledge the Conservatives for recognizing that they made mistakes. However, that is as far as I will go because they have not recognized all their mistakes. They should have kept what was working well.

I will therefore say to my hon. colleague that my riding has experienced certain difficulties in that regard. An element of unfairness is introduced when using a points-based assessment, and when riding officials no longer have a say and everything is sent to Montreal—which is a lovely city but where the people are not familiar with the social fabric and events in the Gatineau riding—rather than relying on the work of government employees who are very familiar with the riding. I empathize with the multicultural communities, which unfortunately—and I did use the term unfortunately—have had to pay the price for this lack of judgment. But there is always hope. One never knows. Perhaps our colleagues will come to their senses in this matter?

8 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, for those who are listening from across the nation, it is important to emphasize that this debate is about the spending priorities of the government of the day. These estimates before us give a road map of where the government intends to take this country. Normally one would expect to see within all of these numbers a vision, a plan for building a country, a plan for building a country with a vision of prosperity, equality and justice for all people.

That, after all, is the objective of government, is it not? We are here as an institution that stands for upholding the rights of people and ensuring that government works for all the people all of the time. When we see a budget or a set of spending estimates that helps only a tiny portion of the people in this land, we have to stand on behalf of those Canadians and make sure they are counted.

Tonight, many, many thousands of people across this nation are not counted. They are not part of these spending estimates, because the government has decided that its aim and objective is to enhance the lives of those who are already well off, those who are already living in the lap of luxury, and to ignore the vast majority of Canadians who struggle each and every day to make a living to sustain themselves and their families.

Tonight I want to speak for my kids, Mr. Speaker, who I hope are watching tonight. I know you would probably say, “I really wonder about that”, but I am hoping that my son Joe, who is 18, and my son Nick, who is 22, are watching tonight because they know the importance of this place and they know why I am here and what I am trying to do.

Today, Mr. Speaker, like you and others in my caucus, I am trying to stand up for those young people who have so much to give to this country and need to be afforded every opportunity. They do not come with their hands out; they come with the ambition, the vision and the dreams of building a better world.

In the case of my older son Nick, who is 22, he happens to have a disability, but he lives in a group home. Thanks to the government of Manitoba, which has its spending priorities right, he is able to live with dignity and make a difference and contribute to our society. He is not looking for a handout. He is looking to be recognized for his talents and to put them to the use that God has given him.

In fact, he is able to make a difference in the lives of people around him. It is not a wasted dollar. It is a dollar well spent, because for every dollar we invest in children and people with disabilities we get many dollars back. Statistics show that for every dollar we invest in a child with a disability we get $7 back.

Let us start thinking about proper economics in this case and try to get this government onto a sound fiscal footing, which it has not been on up to this point.

Let me give members some lessons from other provinces like Manitoba, which has had an NDP government for three consecutive terms, making history in this country. Let me speak about the unending number of budgets under the Tommy Douglas government in Saskatchewan that have given this nation an example of and a model for what fiscal prudence and fiscal planning are all about. It means ensuring that everyone, the least among us, is able to afford the greatest niceties in life, to enjoy as much as those with money and wealth in their pockets.

It is about ensuring that everyone among us is able to live under his or her own fig tree, as Tommy Douglas always used to say, without fear, without worry and without trepidation, regardless of their circumstances, their abilities, their colour of skin, their sex or their gender or their geography. Here tonight we aim to try to focus the government on that principle about a balanced approach to government to ensure that everyone among us able to achieve his or her fullest potential.

I also speak tonight for some young kids from the Point Douglas area in my constituency, who have just had the great honour of meeting our Governor General. Point Douglas is among the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. It is a place where people struggle day to day and strive to make a difference despite great odds.

The Governor General visited this area and said the following:

Yet despite all the sadness, the fear, and the trepidation, I also met a community that had decided once and for all to break the silence and transform their community into a space where security, solidarity and compassion would prevail.

That is what this community is like. That is what so many communities across this country are like. They want to be a place of security where there is great quality of life. They expect government to work with them as partners to build those communities of safety, security, decency and civility.

That is why this budget is so important. That is why these estimates have to be dissected and debated. The government has its plans and priorities all wrong. It has followed for too long the past governments of this land that have whittled away our huge surpluses and have taken available money and put it against one cause only, and that was the debt, regardless of what difference that made in the lives of this nation.

The estimates tonight are about looking for fiscal wisdom, for balanced fiscal planning, for prudence, and for ensuring that we live up to all of our responsibilities as government. Yet the Conservative government, like the previous ones over the last 10 or 20 years, has chosen instead to invest in those areas that have the least amount of spinoff and benefit for the rest of the country but which enhance the wealth, the status and the power of a very few in our society today.

If there is anything a budget should do, anything these spending estimates should do, it should be to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. It should be to narrow the gap between the most wealthy and the rest of Canadians. It should be to support and help ordinary families, working people like those in Transcona, Winnipeg North, Sherbrooke or Regina. People work hard in this country and they do not want a handout, as I said, but they do want the support of government to make a difference.

This budget does not do one thing to close the prosperity gap. In fact, it makes the problem worse rather than better. Let us look at the spending priorities of the government. Let us look at the fiscal management of the Conservatives. Let me look at the wisdom of a few things.

For example, the Conservatives decided to give a tax break to Canadians and reduced the GST by 1%, which cost about $5 billion. Their own records show, by a freedom of information request exercised by a member of the media, that in fact this $5 billion has not made any difference in the lives of ordinary Canadians.

It has not made life easier. It has not made it possible to buy essential goods. It has not brought down the price of gas. That $5 billion has not made housing more affordable. The government has not done anything except scatter $5 billion across this land without any impact and without any significant or lasting end product.

Let us imagine what we could do with that $5 billion. Let us imagine that we were going to live up to the Atlantic accord and we put $1 billion there. Let us make sure that we at least keep our word, we would say, and then we would work on a formula that made sense.

What if we took $1 billion of that and, instead of giving zero to our first nations communities, actually gave them $1 billion to help them deal with decrepit housing conditions, third world housing conditions that are an embarrassment around the world? Canada has a blemished reputation around the world because of that.

What if we took $1 billion and actually saved the child care program? What if we actually took that $1 billion and provided families with the certainty that their kids were in a safe place when they went off to work to make a living to support themselves and their families?

What if we in fact saw that this money invested in day care multiplied? What if we recognized that this is not just about giving money to families? The Conservatives probably would think it is going to women who should be at home or to families who really do not need it, but in fact it is going to the ordinary families who are trying to work for a living and need care for their children.

What if we looked beyond just that issue about supporting families and looked at the economic dividends? What if we look at it as this article did in the Winnipeg Free Press of May 12, in an article by Laura Rance? A researcher showed, says Rance, the following:

Her research found that 12 licensed child care nurseries providing services for just under 400 households in the Parkland region north of Riding Mountain National Park were worth $1.73 million to the economy of six rural municipalities and five towns and villages.

As that money rippled through the economy, it produced $2.74 million in additional direct and indirect benefits. It employed 76 people full- and part-time in addition to creating an additional 28 jobs. Meanwhile, parents using the child care services generated $12.4 million in income.

The findings were similar in many other places, the research showed.

That is what we mean. We are not talking about frittering away money. We are talking about investing money in areas that produce multiple effects and achieve different objectives.

In this case, we help those families support themselves. We make sure they are not under stress and their kids are not uncared for in poor and unsafe situations. Good enough, because we know the savings from that would be enormous. If we can keep families from becoming dysfunctional, if we can keep kids from falling between the cracks, we will save millions and billions of dollars down the road. What if we understood, though, that every dollar we invest in child care produced another dollar in the economy, just as the writer in the Winnipeg Free Press said?

The member for Selkirk—Interlake should take note of this. He should know that in fact his government has quashed all hopes for rural day care. He should know what a difference it would make to his community and to rural communities everywhere if families had the day care they needed, if workers had the jobs they wanted, and if the communities had the economic spinoffs they needed. That is just one example to think about.

Let us think about the government and its $9.2 billion in unanticipated surplus, which is because of lowballing. That is because the Conservatives are doing what the Liberals did for all those years. They refuse to give us proper economic forecasts. Therefore, if they end up being in the position of having to spend that money on needs of Canadians, they can say, “Well, we did not know and therefore we have to put it all against the debt”. Hogwash. They knew darn well that there was extra money. They knew darn well that it was not $9.2 billion when we got these estimates. It is now at $9.7 billion or $10 billion, all of it gone against the debt.

We do not disagree with some money going against the debt. We know that is important. As homeowners, we know that we have to try to pay off our mortgage as well as look after our family's needs, but we do not put all of our money against the house if our kids need to go to university and we need some of that money, or if the roof is leaking. As I have said so many times in this House, we do not just put it all in one place if there are many needs. We try to ensure that the needs of our family are met, just as a responsible government would try to ensure that the needs of all communities in this country are met.

Let us imagine if we had taken, say, $3 billion off that $10 billion and put it against the debt, which is reasonable. That would bring our debt to GDP ratio down to below that of most industrialized countries. Let us imagine, then, that we still had $6 billion or $7 billion left to help build this country. We could invest in infrastructure, where we have a $60 billion deficit that is getting bigger every day because the bad roads are getting worse, the weak bridges are caving in, and the sewers are getting holes. Who knows? Things go from bad to worse if we do not invest. Obviously I am not a city maintenance person or an engineer, but I do know bad roads when I see them, and I know they get worse over time if we do not repair them.

What if we invested some of that money in our declining infrastructure, which would then build up the attractiveness of cities, make people enjoy their communities more, and let people get to work and home more quickly?

What if we put some of that money into environmental projects which actually would help ensure that we save this planet? What if we took some of that money from those billions and put just a bit of it into saving the oceans?

We just had the David Suzuki Foundation at our committee saying the oceans are just about dead. It asked for some money to protect some marine projects. What did it get from the government? It got $9 million. As I said at committee, never mind a drop in the bucket, it is a teardrop in the ocean.

It makes us want to cry when we see the poor judgment of the government and what it is doing to future generations. It is our environment that is at risk. It is the lives of our kids that are at risk. It is the industries and the economic sectors in this country that are at risk because we are not investing in them.

When it comes to the prosperity gap, we are at an all time high in terms of the width of that gap. In fact, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has said that we are in a situation now that we have not seen in 30 years. We are seeing those at the top end of the income scale making more in one week than a vast majority of Canadians can hope to earn in a year.

When we look at some of the executive benefits for CEO bank heads and we look at the packages they get, like the $6 million that the head of CIBC takes home, and compare that to the fact that this is a bank that would not even pay the $30,000 that is owed to the bank tellers. It would not even pay for the overtime worked by bank tellers. That is symptomatic of this society and this government.

We have policies now that widen the gap. Instead of dealing with the problems left by the Liberals, the Conservatives are making them worse.

For example, here are the biggest concerns that I have had with the Liberal government. It failed to keep its child care promise until 13 years after the first day that it made it. All those kids in those 13 years ended up in difficult situations and their families had to struggle even more.

It killed the national housing program, so that we are the only nation in the industrialized world that does not have a national housing policy.

It refused to address the deplorable living and housing conditions of our first nations on reserves and our aboriginal people everywhere.

It refused in fact to advance seriously on environmental projects and urban transit.

One more thing that really grates me, and I am sure others, is that it cut the core funding out of women's groups.

Today, the Liberals have the gall to stand up and complain about what the Conservatives did to take more money away so that more offices closed and more people are living with poor housing. Goodness gracious, they caused the problem in the first place, so at least stand up and admit it. At least stand up and say, “We made a mistake and we do not want the Conservatives to do the same thing”, because that was the very beginning of deep erosion in this country.

I have seen it in my own constituency. Ten years ago the housing started to deteriorate, exactly at the same time that the Liberals cut away any programs that people could draw on to restore housing, to renew housing, to build new housing, to develop social housing, and to explore and expand co-op housing.

It all came to a dead halt. Except for the bits that the province had been able to pull together, except for the money that the NDP managed to get out of that Liberal minority government, and except for some generous charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity, we would be nowhere.

As it is, we can put a few band-aids on the situation, but that is not going to hold us in good stead for very long. We need the federal government working in partnership with us, with communities like Winnipeg North, with Just Housing, with North End Community Renewal Corporation, with North End Women's Resource Centre, with Nadinawe, and all of the other organizations that are so determined to make a difference.

These are groups and organizations that see the value of helping others to help themselves. They only expect that much of government. I ask members today, is that too much for us to expect of our government?

8:20 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct the member who said that the only government that has ever done anything for the disabled was the Manitoba government. She is wrong.

She talked about her disabled son. I want to remind her that she would probably enjoy the Canada disability savings grant of $1,000 annually to promote the financial security of the children of lower income families. Many parents of disabled children asked for the registered disability savings plan, which will help parents to save money and care for their families.

We cannot forget the $45 million of the new enabling accessibility fund to help Canadians recovering from or dealing with challenges to participate in their communities.

The hon. member talked about child care. We have a plan. We have a strategy and it is comprehensive. It is three tiered. We work with the provinces and will allocate $250 million for them to create spaces. We work with businesses and we have given them tax incentives to put toward creating spaces in their business, up to $10,000 through taxation.

Most of all we have given families the universal child care benefit of $100 to each and every child under the age of six. There is a $2,000 tax benefit that goes to every child under the age of 18.

I remind the member, when she is acknowledging the good news that our budgets have brought, that we do have a strategy. It is comprehensive and we do have a vision, far from what I have seen.

When she speaks of Tommy Douglas some days, I wish he was back because right now we are under an NDP regime in Saskatchewan and it is not very sweet.

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I obviously disagree almost completely with the member. She misses the point and that has been the problem with this whole budget. Little tax credits, deductions, and tax incentives do not create programs that make a difference and ensure that everyone is able to be treated equally.

A tax credit for people with disabilities will help those who have put away all kinds of money. How many people with disabilities does the parliamentary secretary know that are so wealthy they can put aside all this money so that they can then have tax credits to support themselves in their adult lives? It does not make any sense.

Does she know how far that money would go if in fact we took the money for that tax credit and put it into housing for people with disabilities, into programs that gave better salaries to the people who look after those people with disabilities, and if we helped to support communities rather than to give out little tax incentives that do not go very far?

Let us look at a similar tax incentive, the child tax credit. How is it that the government can stand and support a tax credit that actually gives more money to a family with one person at home that is making $100,000? That family gets more of a child tax credit than a single parent mother making less than $30,000. How is that justice? Would we not want to try to correct those kinds of inequities?

Let me quote what the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada said about child care at our hearings just a week or two ago. It said:

This budget represents a loss to communities, to families, and to children. Almost $1 billion in committed child care funding is being taken away. It's a cut of $27 million to the children of Saskatchewan alone.

Let me say one more thing. I want to quote from the Muttart Foundation, a very respectable organization that gets rolls of money from government and had the gumption to speak up about cuts to literacy and other programs. This letter says:

--programs that assist the disabled, programs that improve the welfare of young children, the program changes announced this week disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our country and the agencies that have tried to work with them.

Moreover, elimination of such programs as the First Nations and Inuit Tobacco Reduction Strategy, reduction in health-research grants, even the social economy initiative which held out hope for new ways of caring for people, all will have significant negative impacts on Canadians and the voluntary agencies that serve them.

We also mourn the loss of those programs which supported alternative means of researching and developing public policy. All good ideas do not come from government, as you have noted. But the elimination of funding that created capacity in voluntary agencies to engage in policy work will mean that only those--

8:25 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics

Mr. Speaker, I have two comments.

First, my colleague, the finance critic from the NDP, does not seem to understand the difference between tax credit and tax deduction. She said that tax credits result in no economic activity that help Canadians. She should know that a tax credit means if people have no tax liability, they actually get money. A tax deduction is money taken away. Tax credits actually invest money in the economy.

Second, I wish my colleague would be a little less insulting of Canadians. I look around this room and see my colleagues from York and PEI and my friends from Saskatoon, Quebec and Rimouski. There is not a member in the House who does not believe in supporting Canadians and helping kids. We just have different ways of getting there.

Conservatives believe in empowering families through lower taxes and economic growth and giving parents more choice in how they want to raise their kids. We have a different way of doing things and the NDP has a way of doing things. Neither she nor I care any less or more about kids than the other. I will not impugn her motives because her political ideology is different than mine.

I wish she would perhaps show a little more sophistication in terms of respecting the intelligence of Canadians as they choose which political party best represents the best way to get to what we all want, which is a strong Canada.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

8:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

It being 8:30 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

8:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The first question is on the opposition motion in the name of the member for Labrador, relating to the business of supply.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #199

9 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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9 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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9 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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An hon. member

On division.

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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

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9 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

moved that Bill C-60, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2008, be now read the first time.

(Motion deemed adopted and bill read the first time)

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9 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

moved that the bill be read the second time and referred to committee of the whole.

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9 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?