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House of Commons Hansard #10 of the 40th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.

Topics

The House resumed from November 28 consideration of the motion.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the economic statement, because—as we have seen in Quebec in particular, but also in Canada—this statement has been unanimously condemned by political and economic commentators and the general public.

Everyone, except perhaps the Conservatives and the Prime Minister, expected that the Minister of Finance's economic statement would contain measures to deal with the financial and economic crisis and help the victims of this crisis. Instead, the statement is a series of financial measures that either are obvious or have no major impact on what people in the regions or in hard-hit sectors of the economy are going through. That was our first disappointment. I will come back to this, because the Bloc Québécois had made proposals to the government last week and even earlier, yet the government unfortunately ignored them, preferring to take an ideological, laissez-faire approach. Obviously, this was a major disappointment.

But what shocked us the most was that the economic statement not only included no measures to support the economy and help businesses, hard-hit sectors or victims of the economic and financial crisis, but it contained purely ideological attacks that had absolutely nothing to do with the economic situation we are going through. Obviously, I am referring to political party financing.

Why challenge rules on which we all agreed, including in 2006, when the Conservative government amended the political party financing legislation? It eliminated corporate contributions—a measure we supported—capped individual contributions at $1,100 and kept the provision whereby political parties received federal funding pro-rated to the number of votes they received.

Why call all that into question now, when the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons were talking about cooperation and conciliation in the House? Why did they bring in such a measure, which was nothing more than a way of provoking the opposition?

As for suspending the right to strike of federal public servants, why was it important to introduce such a measure? First, they deny a basic right recognized internationally by an organization such as the International Labour Organization. Furthermore, just a few days earlier, it had been announced that an agreement in principle had been reached with the largest public service union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Did they not only want to bring this union to its knees but also to crush it completely? That is exactly what they did and it was unacceptable to us and to the opposition parties, as well as to all unions across Canada.

In addition, and it is important to say it, that brings into question agreements already signed. It was announced in the economic statement that wage increases would be limited to 2.3% the first year, 1.5% the second and 1.5% the third. Yet, some unions negotiated in good faith with this government and secured increases greater than these.

Once again, this government has demonstrated that not only does it have an ideological agenda that it will use the crisis to advance but, furthermore, that it has nothing but contempt for the right to negotiate, the right to strike and finally, for the work that thousands of public servants do here, in Ottawa, and across Canada and Quebec.

One last item was extremely surprising and shocking, and once again provoked the opposition and Canadian and Quebec civil society: why take away the right of women to go before a court to redress wage discrimination under the right to pay equity? And why make this wholly subject to negotiation when we are talking about a right? Once again not only did they provoke the opposition but they violated the right of women to pay equity.

Unfortunately, it must be said that there is some method to these three provocations, particularly with respect to the opposition parties. The legislation on political party funding is an extremely important component of the democratic process. Were it not for that legislation, some parties would be unable to conduct a campaign or put their platform forward, as the Green Party did in the last election, for example. Certainly we are not Green Party supporters, but we in the Bloc Québécois are supporters of democratic discourse. Theirs is a vision that is entitled to expression in a democratic society and a vision that the Conservative government wants to stifle and prevent from being expressed in the public arena.

And so this is an attack on democracy. The same is true of the elimination of the right to strike, a right that is also a fundamental component of a democracy. It is also true in the case of pay equity: prohibiting women from going to court, for reasons that I am unable to discern, is also an attack on democratic processes, and in particular the opportunity to apply to the courts in order to exercise one's rights.

Plainly the government has stubbornly persisted in its approach of provoking the opposition, of provoking significant segments of civil society in Canada and Quebec. This is completely unacceptable to the opposition.

As I said earlier: fundamentally, there are several measures that should have been included in this economic statement. I would note that we presented a complete plan representing $23 billion over two years. I will now explain the details. In that plan, we explained how these resources could be freed up by cutting bureaucratic spending in various areas. We do not object to rationalizing some spending that does not directly serve the public. However, that calls for a vision of what is useful to taxpayers, to our fellow citizens, and of what is in fact no more than a kind of self-perpetuating loop of spending by the Conservative government, by the federal government.

We therefore prepared a study with Jacques Léonard, the former chair of Quebec's treasury board. Considering all budget items, we identified places where there had in fact been an explosion in bureaucratic spending and where it would be possible to save about $6 billion over two years, by our calculation. As well, there are some financial assets that the government is not currently using. For example, there is about $42 billion in foreign exchange accounts, if I recall correctly. A portion of that money could be used.

We made a series of proposals to the government for freeing up the resources that are needed so that the federal government's debt would not increase. That is what we are proposing in this regard. Certainly there will be a deficit, in technical terms, because there will be more expenditures than revenue, but financial assets will be put to use. There is no need for that increased spending to cause any increase in the federal public debt.

We proposed three types of measures. First, we talked about measures that would not cost the federal government much, if anything at all. For example, eliminating the employment insurance two-week waiting period. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development—not the minister of Natural Resources, although last week she responded as though she were—told us that every kind of insurance requires a waiting period or deductible. But we are talking about employment insurance. We are not talking about private insurance, but social insurance. In this context, not only is it wrong to say that all private insurances require either a waiting period or a deductible, but they are not even talking about the same thing; it is like comparing apples and oranges. In this context, social insurance should help people who are fired, laid off or otherwise lose their jobs. It should guarantee them a certain level of income as soon as they have lost their job. That is the principle we were defending, and it is completely reasonable. It does not mean increasing the number of weeks of benefits. Thus, eliminating the waiting period would not cost a cent.

As we have said many times, we want to see employment insurance improved, which might require a longer legislative process. However, it could have been announced during the economic update that the waiting period was eliminated, effective immediately.

Another element that could have been announced is a moratorium on the obligation for retirees to withdraw a certain percentage of their RRIFs. That would give them the chance to get through this period of crisis, during which the market has dropped by 40%, and they could hope that, when they do have to withdraw their savings, those savings would be intact.

The government would not be out much money. There is a short-term cost, of course, but if the government just waits for our retired citizens to replenish the savings in their RRIFs and see the shares they have in them go back up, the taxes that these retirees will pay to the federal government when the money is withdrawn will be greater. Ultimately, there will not be any net cost to the federal government. We proposed a series of measures in this regard that cost the federal government nothing or virtually nothing.

We also suggested a number of measures to help companies that are experiencing difficulties. I remember that there was a graph on page 28 of the finance minister’s economic statement of October 2007 showing that almost all industrial sectors—with the exception of petroleum and coal and chemicals—had been declining since 2005. Regardless of the financial crisis, therefore, the Conservative government should have been intervening for at least a year or a year and a half now to help our manufacturing and forestry sectors. It was urgent a year ago and it is even more urgent to do so now. Not only were these industries in difficulty at a time when the economy as a whole was growing but they are in even greater difficulty today when our principal market—the United States—is partly closed to us.

We expected to see some of the measures that we proposed included in the economic statement. For example, we suggested a modernization fund, we called the Fonds corvée modernisation. If the Conservative government wanted to give it another name, that would have been all right with us. It is similar to the old Corvée-Habitation in the early 1980s in Quebec, when there was another major recession. The Government of Quebec, the unions and the construction employers’ organizations agreed to create a fund to support residential and commercial renovation and construction. Corvée-Habitation proved very successful at a time when the construction industry needed stimulating in Quebec.

We could have the same kind of program, that is to say, a program for companies in the manufacturing and forestry sectors that want to modernize their machinery to be more productive and better equipped when the recession ends—in around 18 months or two years, we hope. We suggested that for every dollar a company invests, the federal government would cover 20¢ of it through this modernization fund. We calculated overall that a $4 billion fund would make it possible for as much as $24 billion to be invested in modernizing our equipment and our companies in the manufacturing sector.

We also proposed, once again, a refundable tax credit for research and development. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has already unanimously adopted that proposal, and the Standing Committee on Finance also adopted it last spring. This kind of measure would provide support for businesses and sectors that are struggling, allowing them to modernize so they can remain competitive and improve their productivity in order to benefit from the growth that will result from the opening up of new markets.

Businesses would profit from such refundable tax credits. Consider, for example, Tembec, a company that invested another $80 million in research and development. That might not be the case this year, but it was able to do so last year. Since it is not making any profits, it could have benefited from an injection of $80 million to support its research and development efforts. Of course, if it had made $40 million in profits, the tax credit would have been $40 million. This tax credit aims to ensure that even businesses that are not turning a profit could benefit from the support of the federal government and all governments. I think it was an extremely important measure.

How do the Conservatives respond to all our suggestions concerning the economy, businesses and the struggling sectors such as manufacturing and forestry? They say they have reduced taxes on profits. I think it should be easy to understand that lowering taxes on profits does absolutely nothing to help a business that is not making a profit. Basically, all the Conservatives did was allow oil and gas companies and a few other big businesses that are not in trouble, but rather are growing, to benefit from tax cuts, to the detriment of our society as a whole and the sectors in difficulty.

We think it is extremely important to immediately announce very practical measures to help the struggling businesses and sectors, and of course, to support our entire economy.

Now, let us talk about the victims of the crisis. It seems as though the government does not care about them at all. People will be losing their jobs. Older workers will be losing their jobs.

Time and time again, we have asked for a new program like the former program for older worker adjustment. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas has led the charge on this issue. The Liberals abolished the program in 1998, and it was supposed to have been replaced by another program, but that never happened.

Of course, the Conservatives will say that they launched a pilot project or a program to retrain workers over 55. That is not what we are talking about. What we are talking about is a program that would enable older workers subject to massive layoffs to obtain financial support to bridge the gap between employment insurance and their pensions.

Here is an example from my riding. Two plants in Saint-Michel-des-Saints closed their doors simultaneously. They were the largest employers in the area—virtually the only employers, in fact. Both plants belonged to Louisiana-Pacific, and when they shut down, people had to turn to employment insurance.

An Ontario investor wants to buy the two plants, but would only partially restore operations. That means that not all of the former employees would find work. The workers are unionized, and they have a good collective agreement with the CSN, so the most senior workers would get priority. But maybe some of the 58- or 59-year-old workers would be prepared to give younger people a chance at the jobs if they were given a way to reach retirement with dignity.

What are the consequences of the lack of such a program? Younger people, who will not get jobs when the plants reopen, will leave the Saint-Michel-des-Saints region and go to Repentigny, Mascouche or Montreal. That means fewer children in the schools and fewer people shopping at local stores.

The Bloc Québécois has calculated that this kind of measure would not cost much—some $45 million per year—and would support communities affected by closures and mass layoffs by providing people with a decent income after they have been laid off, spurring ongoing economic activity and ensuring a reasonable quality of life for everyone in the community.

As I mentioned, this measure would cost very little and would have allowed the government to give tangible assistance to individuals who have fallen victim to the crisis.

I am also thinking of another proposal made with regard to the guaranteed income supplement. At present, our seniors are concerned about their evaporating savings. Some are even more disadvantaged and are entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement. The problem is that, from the time when the Liberals were in power, the federal government—and that is still the case with the Conservatives—has done everything in its power to hide this program. Consequently, in Quebec, there are about 60,000 individuals who are entitled to but do not receive the supplement. What we want is quite logical and a simple question of justice.

People who, at some point, realize that they have been entitled to the guaranteed income supplement should receive retroactive payments. Naturally, we should also ensure that the guaranteed income supplement provides them with an acceptable level of income. Formerly we referred to the poverty line, but now we use a more politically correct expression—the low-income cutoff. Let us not deceive ourselves: it means being poor. The guaranteed income supplement should be increased by $110 per month.

Therefore I would like to move an amendment, seconded by the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.

I move that the motion before us be amended by replacing the words “take note of” with the word “condemn”.

I propose this amendment to the House. I thank the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for his support. This amendment will surely revolutionize Canadian parliamentary history.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair will take this under advisement. At this point I would like to proceed with questions and comments.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Macleod Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention and also the Bloc for actually putting forward some suggestions. I think that is positive and I would remind other hon. members that the Bloc has at least put forward some positive suggestions. We will be looking seriously at those in our pre-budget process which, as the finance minister said, is ongoing. The minister himself will be travelling across the country preparing to listen to individual suggestions of how we can actually continue on what has been a good solid beginning, and how to help Canadians survive this economic crisis that the entire world is in.

However, Canada has been somewhat protected from that because of the economic stimulus that has already been put forward. Could the hon. member not recognize that there was economic stimulus, maybe not to the magnitude that we will have to see in the budget which we now have a date for, January 27?

My constituents, and I am sure his constituents, were asking for changes to the RRIFs. We put that in, a 25% reduction. Does the hon. member not recognize the fact that we put $350 million into both EDC and BDC, and that they are important and quick stimulus pieces that we could put into this economic statement in preparation for our budget of January 27?

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his question. In my opinion, what we have here are two different economic philosophies. Like other conservative governments around the world, this Conservative government prefers to cut taxes whether the economy is growing or shrinking, even though tax cuts can be an attractive option at specific times of crisis.

For example, take the 2% reduction in the GST. It could have been a good way to stimulate consumer spending, but the government made this cut when spending was already healthy. In a way, it even brought about the initial inflationary pressures we experienced last year. It should have waited to use this strategy, knowing that the financial crisis in the U.S. would affect our economy sooner or later.

As I said, this is not just the hallmark of this Conservative government, but of all conservative governments. The government has already used its big guns, and they are no longer available. The tax cut saved consumers billions of dollars, but came at a time when it was not needed. The government needs to realize that the measures it has taken in the past—which I do not agree with, but which are consistent with the Conservative philosophy—have not produced the expected results in the situation we are in now.

The same is true of the programs that are in place. Sure, it is great to increase funding for programs, but that will not cause a turnaround in industries and businesses, which are afraid of what the future holds. Much more than that is needed. That is the Bloc Québécois' philosophy: what is needed is a responsible approach, as well as something special to stir people's imagination and bring about a true industrial recovery, such as the modernization program, Fonds corvée modernisation, which I explained earlier.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Congratulations, Mr. Speaker. You are doing an excellent job in difficult times.

It was great to hear the parliamentary secretary applaud the Bloc for providing suggestions, but if the government were to actually listen to these suggestions at a time of crisis, maybe we would not be into this crisis.

The RRIF suggestion is a good move but it is only 25%. Seniors will still have to take out 75% and will have to come up with the cash to pay their taxes. Where is that going to come from? They will have to sell securities at an all-time low rate.

During the last election Canadians were in crisis. I heard it on the doorsteps as I am sure the Conservatives did but now there is virtually nothing in the package. The Prime Minister of course precipitated this crisis with a couple of other major mistakes, things that were not even in the election campaign, namely, major changes to the electoral system and to collective bargaining. Fortunately, he has withdrawn those but my question is about the egregious mistake. There is no large step to deal with Canadians who are really worried about their futures, who are in need wondering how they are going to feed their families, and how they are going to survive on their fixed incomes at this time of need.

Does the member see any light of hope of that grievous problem being rectified so that we can get out of this crisis?

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his question.

Clearly, we all expected the federal government to use the economic statement to show us that it had a plan to deal with the crisis. What we got was a few insignificant, business as usual measures. The federal government's statement did not include a plan to get Canada out of this crisis, which will be getting worse over the next few months, nor did it include bold measures to help victims of the crisis.

As I was saying earlier, we cannot simply carry on as though all were business as usual. The crisis could turn out to be very severe. If we do not take significant action with strong measures right now, Canada will surely enter into a recession without the tools it needs to cope.

We need a three-pronged approach. First, we have to do something about the economy as a whole. Cutting federal spending will certainly not help the economy, but reallocating funds might. Second, we have to support struggling sectors and businesses to help them get through this crisis. Above all, we have to help victims of the crisis, including seniors and the unemployed. We put forward a whole series of proposals, including a one-year moratorium on RRIF withdrawals and increasing the age for mandatory RRIF withdrawals from 71 to 73. Many solutions have been put forward, but the political will has been patently lacking.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to congratulate my colleague from Joliette on his speech. As we know, he is also the House leader of the Bloc and I would describe the work he does as magisterial, since he also contributed significantly to the stimulus plan proposed by the Bloc, which has also been described as a positive plan by the hon. parliamentary secretary.

We must note, however, that in spite of our suggestions in response to the Conservatives' request, they have exhibited no interest to date in implementing any measure from our plan whatsoever.

My question to my colleague is this. I think he correctly pointed out that the economic stimulus plan proposed by the Conservatives is not really an economic stimulus plan. In fact, it has little to do with the current economic crisis, and the measures on which it is based are reactive rather than proactive.

In particular, I would like to hear my colleague on the aspect that concerns the people directly affected by the crisis. He touched briefly on that. He might perhaps come back to that in terms of the measures proposed by the Bloc for people who have lost their jobs. There are even people working full-time who have had to go to food banks so they can eat. I would like to hear my colleague on that point.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Chambly—Borduas for his question. This gives me an opportunity to add something to the debate that not much has been said about.

One of the problems that explains the current crisis is the rising income inequality in our societies—particularly in American society, but Canada has not escaped it.

At present, in the United States, the most recent statistics indicate that in 2006, the richest 1% of families had 23% of total American household income. We are talking about 1%. In 1980, before Mr. Reagan came to power, that same 1% had 8% of total income in the United States. The concentration of wealth in the United States is now nearly three times higher.

Do you know when the last time was, before 2006, when the richest 1% of families had more than 20% of total income in the United States? It was in 1928, just before the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Income inequality is another factor that explains the crisis. We have to tackle it by having a genuine employment insurance scheme, a good guaranteed income supplement, indexed benefit plans and support for families. This is completely missing from the Conservative vision.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the debate on the government's economic and fiscal statement delivered in the House Thursday last.

Mr. Speaker, I should also let the House know that I will be splitting my time this morning with the member for Barrie.

Certainly, the last several days since the statement was delivered by the finance minister have been filled with political intrigue and the kind of drama that one does not normally associate with Canadian politics to be sure. I am sure that political watchers and many more Canadians are captivated by the developments in the last few days. Aside from the spectre that has brought to the airwaves and print media these last few days, there is much at stake for all Canadians.

At home in my riding this weekend I heard from more constituents than normal. They expressed their concerns, their fears and their frustrations that the House is posturing toward the brink of an unknown path ahead. This is at a time when they look to us for stability and prudence.

It is no surprise that they are anxious. One only needs to consider the exceptional situation in which we in Canada and indeed the economies around the world find ourselves. We are facing an unprecedented deterioration in the world economy. The slowdown has been sudden and dramatic. No government and no economist could have predicted the speed at which it would intensify these last few months. The crisis has brought some of the world's largest economies, such as Japan and the United States, into recession.

Yet while we observe these developments around the world, our situation here in Canada is not quite as dire, at least not yet. We must be ready to respond, and as and if our economy weakens, we must take some solace in the fact that we entered this downturn in a much stronger position than most of our international partners.

It is a unique position to be in. While I can understand why the opposition parties and some commentators across the country are looking for massive bailouts and government interventions, let us remember that doing so would necessitate borrowing which would put the burden of these interventions on the next generation. That is something this government has signalled it would be prepared to consider doing, that is, running a deficit in the short term--

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I apologize first to my colleague for interrupting him. I do so because the previous intervention from the Bloc Québécois was out of order.

The proposed amendment that would change the words of the motion from “take note of” to “condemn” is out of order, Mr. Speaker, because it changes the nature of the original motion and indeed goes beyond the scope of the original motion.

In reference to this I draw your attention to Beauchesne's, paragraph 579, on page 176 which states:

(1) An amendment setting forth a proposition dealing with a matter which is foreign to the proposition involved in the main motion is not relevant and cannot be moved.

As well, in support of the point I am making, I draw attention to Marleau and Montpetit, page 453, which states:

An amendment must be relevant to the main motion. It must not stray from the main motion but aim to further refine its meaning and intent.

Clearly the amendment does not do that. Marleau and Montpetit further states:

An amendment is out of order procedurally, if:

it is not relevant to the main motion (i.e., it deals with a matter foreign matter to the main motion or exceeds the scope of the motion, or introduces a new proposition which should properly be the subject of a substantive motion with notice)--

None of these conditions having been met, the amendment is out of order, Mr. Speaker.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I thank the hon. member for his intervention.

As I said a few minutes ago, the Chair has taken the proposed amendment under advisement. We are looking at it and will return to the House later with a position on that amendment.

Continuing debate, the hon. member for Simcoe North.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I had indicated, a deficit in the short term is something the government has signalled it would consider. It is certainly a direction we do not take lightly.

Thanks to the fact that we have paid down debt by some $37 billion since taking office, the country is in a position to respond. Going back further, Canadians have worked hard to pay down the national mortgage from its peak in the mid-1990s of about $562 billion down to about $457 billion today, this at a time when our economy experienced steady and almost unprecedented growth.

It is a path we must stay on over the long term. Because of this tremendous achievement, Canada is almost unequalled in its strong fiscal position. It gives us the ability to take the necessary steps in the months ahead to keep Canada's economy strong.

Canadians expect that part of a prudent way forward should also include tightening our own belts here in government. This is what families do when they are faced with an unexpected loss of revenue; they prioritize their spending.

Our economic statement of Thursday last addressed the direction of those spending changes. It certainly became clear over the weekend that some of the proposals forwarded on Thursday would not receive the support of members opposite. The government has listened and adjusted.

I think it is fair to say, based on the advice I heard from people in the riding this weekend--

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to apologize for interrupting my colleague, but it was apparently argued that the amendment I proposed, which was seconded by the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, could be ruled out of order. I would just like to bring to your attention that, on page 453 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Marleau and Montpetit state that:

An amendment must be relevant to the main motion. It must not stray from the main motion but aim to further refine its meaning and intent.

That is what my amendment does. In this case, the House received the report and took note. We feel that the House is able to judge the quality of the economic update, and that is why we are asking that it be condemned.

An amendment should take the form of a motion to:

-leave out certain words in order to add other words.

That is the case here.

I would also like to say that, as to whether this censure could be considered a matter of confidence, there is a precedent from 1926 that is being studied carefully by constitutionalists right now. It is found on page 44 of chapter 2 in the same reference and I will quote this passage.

It retained the support of the House until June 1926 when the official opposition moved an amendment to a motion to concur in a committee report that amounted to a censure of the government; at that time, the King government was not able to command the support of the House on a series of procedural motions meant to set aside the censure amendment.

It is therefore not unprecedented that an amendment to a motion could become a motion of non-confidence. I am presenting this information because I want to be sure that you have all the necessary information to make your ruling, which, I believe will be that this amendment is in order and can therefore be put to a vote.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I thank the hon. member. Before I deal with the substance of the member's point, I would like to make a comment. It is my intention in this chair to address my colleagues the majority of the time in their first language. However, when I am dealing with points of order and things like this that I am unfamiliar with as a new chair occupant, I hope that the member and other colleagues will indulge me if I use my first language until I am more comfortable with process.

Having said that, as I said previously, the Chair has taken this amendment under advisement. We will be returning to the House of Commons with a ruling on its admissibility. I encourage all of my colleagues to patiently await that ruling.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, very briefly in response to my hon. colleague's observations, while I am sure they are well intentioned, I want to draw your attention to the fact that the initial motion does not ask the House to pass judgment on the fiscal update or indeed on the government. Therefore, asking it to pass judgment, as the amendment the member has put forward does, goes beyond the scope of the original amendment. That is the problem that is involved here. It is not that there are no mechanisms within this House by which actions of the government can be condemned and so on. It is just that there are none within this particular motion. That is what makes the amendment out of order.

There are a variety of other options available to the member. He is an experienced parliamentarian, and I suspect he knows those as well. However, I submit to you that the intervention he just made, while well intentioned, is in error in its facts.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. According to page 453 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, the criteria used to determine whether an amendment is out of order make no mention of the subjective nature of the amendment or the words that are replaced by the amendment.

In this case, “take note of” or “condemn”—I do not know the exact wording off the top of my head—is in order because it leaves out certain words and adds others. It is in keeping with the spirit of the main motion, which is to debate the economic statement. I simply wanted to draw to your attention all the criteria, which can be found on page 453.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the same point, I want to express our support for the amendment and make the argument that it is in order.

The attempt by the government to say that its motion does not require any opinion from this House is in fact not accurate. By our accepting it as a motion to take note of the content of the economic statement does call on this House to give an opinion. The amendment that has been proposed by the Bloc is completely in order. It is relevant. It is simply a different opinion from what the government is asking. By taking two words out and inserting one word, it is well within the scope of the amendment. It is likely that the result would be different but the intent of the motion is still there. The amendment is in compliance with that intent. It is the result that may be different from what the government is hoping for and wanted, but it is certainly within the rules as cited by my colleague, the member for Joliette, that this is relevant and proper and in order.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I thank members. As I said previously, their comments will be given the consideration they warrant.

Continuing debate, the hon. member for Simcoe North.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is fair to say, based on the comments I heard from people in my riding, that Canadians do not want another election. With few exceptions, they would not accept an alternative government and prime minister that were not elected by the people.

Therefore, it is time to move ahead, take a collective breath and find the means and path to move forward in a strong and decisive manner. This, more than anything, is what I believe Canadians want us to do, especially at this delicate time for our economy.

Our newly elected government assembled Parliament quickly, a little over a month after the election. We laid out our agenda in the 40th Parliament in the Speech from the Throne. That agenda received the support of the House last Thursday. On the same day, the Minister of Finance delivered his economic and fiscal statement, a statement which informed Canadians about current economic conditions Canada was encountering, a statement that framed the government's intentions for the term ahead on matters of financial priority and plans.

The statement signalled a commitment to deliver additional measures in the months ahead to protect and strengthen our economy. It recognized that these additional measures must be done in concert with the provinces and with our G20 partners.

However, to put that current situation in context, and as I mentioned earlier, Canada is already in a much stronger position of all the G7 countries. We took action early, ahead of the curve, to bring stimulus to Canada's economy. We did this with tax cuts to individuals and businesses, which will total some $31 billion next year, equivalent to 2% of GDP, equivalent to the recommended stimulus that all G20 countries have agreed to implement going forward. These are permanent, sustainable tax reductions that keep money in the pockets of Canadians and Canadian businesses this year, the year after and the year after that.

Since 2006, we have reduced the tax rate on new business investment to the lowest level in the G7 by 2010. We have made historic investments in job-creating infrastructure and invested in science and technology, education and training. On the infrastructure front, we have embarked on the largest infrastructure program since World War II. The depth of these interventions, the ones we have taken and are prepared to take, are unparalleled in the world's advanced economies.

History teaches us that government responses to these types of economic downturns are best to include stimulus in the form of investments like infrastructure, but also to keep credit available for consumers and businesses. Credit is an essential and integral part of the economy for it to function well.

In the last months we took prompt action to keep credit flowing without putting tax dollars at risk. We created liquidity for our financial institutions, building on the solid position our banking system already enjoys in the world.

As the world economy deteriorates, however, there is little doubt that we are going to feel the negative impacts. Our forecasts show us dipping into recession this quarter and perhaps the first quarter of 2009. This is consistent with private sector forecasts also.

Even with these lapses in growth, the first in almost 18 years, Canada has among the best economic outlooks among industrialized countries. Therefore, part of a prudent way forward must also include prioritizing government expenditures in line with the priorities of Canadians. This will give us more capacity to invest in the economic futures of Canadians and our businesses without running up the national mortgage.

That is the approach we have laid out in the throne speech and in the economic fiscal update. It is an agenda to build on the hard-won success of our economy over the last decade or more, build on the sacrifices and determinations that individuals Canadians and innovative Canadian businesses have taken, the ingenuity they have shown to dig in, work hard and improve their lot in life.

At times like this we owe it to them not to squander Canada's strong position, but to stay on the course that has, in fact, delivered that position with fiscal discretion, paying our way and targeting our investments for the long-term competitiveness of the economy. This is how we can ensure Canadians will be afforded the greatest opportunity to earn a good living, support their families and realize their dreams and aspirations.

Let us get to work and do well by all of them now. We have not a moment to lose.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the last line was perfect; that we have not a moment to lose. People were expecting that in the economic update. Other countries in the world have taken this seriously. It is great to say that things look good in this area and are a bit better than in other countries, but that is not an answer to the seniors who are hurting, who are wondering how they are going to survive on their incomes, or to the thousands of people who have lost their jobs in this situation. It is not an answer to the thousands of Canadians who are wondering how they are going to pay their mortgages, or if they are going to have to move, or if they are going to be able to pay for their children’s school supplies.

This whole constitutional crisis was precipitated by this lack of action. I hope the member is inside caucus pushing to accelerate items, to target and pick out those people in need, to analyze them, as an economic update should, and then provide significant actions so we can get out of this constitutional mess. More important, I hope there is a focus on Canadians in need and that some concrete, significant, major measures are taken to deal with the major crisis some individual Canadians are experiencing now.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt we have to take a course that will be good for seniors and those who are displaced by the kind of shocks that may come Canada’s way. However, we also must remember that massive interventions taken ought not to be taken lightly. The understanding, as we have learned from our history, is that we cannot make massive bailouts and interventions for the sake of making them. It has to be done in context with what the capacity of the Canadian economy already brings.

We have already indicated a willingness to do what is necessary to keep the economy strong. These are critical investments that we need to watch closely, and we have already taken measures ahead of this.

I urge the hon. member, as he encouraged me, to do what we have to do to work together on behalf of all Canadians.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague across the floor talk a little about the economy and the importance of the economic statement. The problem is that this economic statement contains no real measures to support the economy. The election campaign just ended about a month ago. Throughout Quebec, we debated all possible measures and the needs of Quebec, including everything from the manufacturing and forestry sectors, to the issues facing older workers, which my hon. colleague just mentioned. The question of social housing was also raised, as were POWA, aboriginals and unemployed workers. Many things were discussed during the election campaign. We must support our industries and the sectors that are struggling or facing crisis situations.

Yet there is nothing within the economic statement that offers assistance and support to our industries. There is nothing in this statement to support the workers affected by the crisis. That is why we oppose this economic statement. A minority government was elected and it must listen to the other parties. In this House, however, it does not listen to the other parties or to the voters.

I would like to hear what my hon. colleague has to say about this.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has spoken about some important interventions that probably will need to be taken without question. However, I differ with him on his comment that the economic statement did not talk to some of those measures. In fact, we spoke of looking at prioritizing our own federal spending to the tune of about $15 billion over five years. This is $15 billion worth of capacity that exists now, which could be invested in the right places to keep our economy strong. It is $15 billion that we will not have to look to either in the form of raising taxes or increasing additional debt.

The Minister of Finance talked about emerging from this downturn in a stronger position. We can do that if we use our existing capacity so we can make those right investments. We can do that by cutting back on the things on which we do not need to spend money.

Economic and Fiscal StatementGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in this chamber. My colleague from Simcoe North spoke eloquently. I have the pleasure of coming from the same region of Ontario as he does. He is an industrious advocate for our region. He has done some incredible work for Lake Simcoe, our regional airport and our local college. It is a pleasure to speak with him.

On the situation of the economic and fiscal statement, it is very important to note the context that we are in, which is there has been an unprecedented deterioration in the global economy in a very short period of time. Nobody could have predicted the full force of the economic crisis. The cascading effects of the international credit crisis were sudden and devastating. Canada has not been immune to this, nor can it be.

Economic projections are much lower than at the time of our last budget. Forecasters now widely expect a recession with negative growth in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009.

We are fortunate to have a government that has taken steps previously, in anticipation of a potential slowdown, to guard against some of the larger effects we have seen in other countries.

In my riding I have seen some of the effects of the slowdown commencing. We have had a few plants inter-source. Faurecia shut down, and those job losses have been damaging to families. It is important to have a government, as we do, that guards against these potential losses and protects business. That has been the approach of our finance minister.

We made choices to help put Canada in a stronger economic position. In fact, since 2006, the government has reduced the federal debt by $37 billion, an incredible figure. We have reduced taxes by almost $200 billion over 2007-08. In the following years we will have reduced the tax rate on new business investment, leading to the lowest level in the G7 by 2010.

We have made historic investments in job created infrastructure. We have increased investment in science, technology, education and training. In terms of the infrastructure investment, a lot of governments talk about their support for infrastructure, but when it comes to seeing tangible projects around the country, it has been rare to see. It has been the opposite with our government. We have seen incredible infrastructure projects across the country, and I will mention a few of them.

In our region, three years ago, when the Conservatives were first elected, Barrie had no Go train service. The Conservative government invested $8.3 million to bring it to Barrie.

We have also seen three infrastructure projects around Lake Simcoe, protecting the lake from phosphorous elements. We have also seen a new recycling plant built on Ferndale Drive in Barrie through a federal contribution. This investment in infrastructure is working. It is creating jobs in the region of Simcoe-Muskoka.

Our financial system is considered to be one of the most sound in the world. That statement was made by the World Economic Forum. The International Monetary Fund concluded Canada's financial system was mature, sophisticated, well-managed and able to withstand sizeable shocks. The reason for that is the strong steps taken by our finance minister.

We have acted to keep it that way. We have protected its stability so Canadian businesses and families will continue to have access to credit. Businesses need credit to invest or to meet their payrolls. Families need it to take out mortgages and loans. The government took steps to maintain the availability of longer term credit with the purchase of mortgage pools through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Our government has also created the Canada lenders association facility. The facility offers insurance on a temporary basis on wholesale term borrowing by Canadian financial institutions. We have also increased authority for Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada. Our sensible approach in Canada is paying off and protecting against the much more significant effects of the slowdown we are seeing in other countries.

I want to mention something that is very important, and I was eager and enthused to hear our finance minister say this when he gave the economic statement. The Canada health and social transfers will be protected. Provinces must be able to pay, especially when it comes to some of the largest expenditure items in their budgets such as health care and social services. This wise decision was not taken during the early to mid-1990s when Canada had a slowdown.

When the previous Liberal government was grappling with a difficult financial situation, it chose to balance its books on the backs of the provinces' health care and education budgets.

The effects of that choice were not right for Canada. Canada is still limping from the attacks on health care and education that took place under the previous government.

In my own region, the cuts to health care in Ontario by the Liberal government meant there were cuts across the board. A good example is that medical enrolment was cut at Ontario medical schools. That decision was affected by the cut to the Canada health and social transfer. Ontario has a huge physician shortage. It is acute in my region, and it exists because of those choices.

It is great to see a finance minister recognize how important our health care and education systems are in this country. It is reassuring to see they are not going to be touched.

Some of the members in the House are in the same chairs they sat in during the last slowdown. They are now talking about a coalition with the separatists. They might make those same immature choices that occurred during the last slowdown.

Our health care system cannot survive a difficult period again. It cannot afford another Liberal slash. The folks who work in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie certainly cannot afford another vicious slash. It is great to hear that our finance minister is prepared to stand up and protect the Canada health and social transfer.