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House of Commons Hansard #2 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.

Topics

Prorogation of Second Session of 40th ParliamentRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Prorogation of Second Session of 40th ParliamentRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There is no consent.

Members will be relieved to know that because of ministerial statements, government orders will be extended by 13 minutes today.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

March 4th, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

moved:

That this House take note that, while Canada is starting to recover from the global economic recession, the recovery is tentative and uncertain and the number one priority of Canadians remains jobs and economic growth, now and for the future.

Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely true that the number one issue in the country is jobs and economic growth.

I had the opportunity in the last couple of weeks to travel in my riding and to take part in at least eight town hall meetings across it, a large geographic riding. Constituents explained to me just how they were feeling and what they were thinking with regard to the economic climate of the country. They recognized our first economic action plan and the importance of it and looked forward to phase two, the throne speech and the budget that will come in later today.

My constituents told me that they were very impressed with what they saw in the economic action plan. I explained that it had to be timely, we had to get the money out as quickly as we possibly could to allow us to be able to grow the economy and provide jobs during an economic downturn.

I explained that it had to be targeted at real projects, not at political pet projects but at projects that would provide an economic advantage long into the 21st century, providing good water systems, roads, highways, bridges and so on. It also had to be temporary because we could not continue to spend at this alarming rate forever.

We have to recognize that what has happened in this last year is that the world has become a much smaller place because of the massive recession that we have seen from a collapse in the economic system in the United States, including the housing market and the financial system. It spun the whole world into an economic downturn.

This has been a very severe downturn and it has hurt Canadians right across the board. That is why we have to concentrate on jobs. We have to make sure that we provide as many jobs as we possibly can and give an economic advantage to Canadians.

I would like to explain to the House just how the people in my riding and right across this country are feeling with regard to their opportunities as we move forward. The G20 decided to put 2% of its GDP into stimulus in this last year so that we could spin our way out of the protectionism that we saw in the 1930s, which led to a decade of not only recession but depression.

We leveraged the projects by targeting them well. The way we know that we are not just picking a political pet project is to make sure that other orders of government are prepared to dig into their pockets to invest a third or perhaps 50% of the money into that project. When there are two or three orders of government moving on a project together, hand-in-glove, it takes the political sting out of it because it is not based on political right or left ideology, but on the strength of the project and whether it is good for Canadians. That is what we have been able to do.

By doing that we have leveraged not 2% of GDP in this country, but 4.2% of GDP, into stimulus. That is actually more per capita than in the United States.

Speaking of the United States, we have another advantage. One of the advantages is our banking system: our banking system in Canada is rated number one. The one in the United States is rated 108th. If we think that is not too bad, the one in the United Kingdom is 128th.

It has been a good deal for Canada because we have been able to build an economic infrastructure in times when there is a recession so that we can have a competitive advantage, and the competition and the bidding process is much better. We saw competitive prices coming in 20%, 30%, 40% and, in some places, up to 80% and 100% cheaper because of what we have been doing this last year, and the year we are in compared with the previous year. This has given us an opportunity to grow the economy.

In fact, in the last quarter of 2009, we saw the GDP actually rise 5%. That is amazing. There is no guarantee it is going to be 5% in the next quarter or the quarter after that, so we have to move our way out of this economic downturn in a carefully considered way. That is what the throne speech was all about, moving us forward and creating jobs, because there will be more jobs actually created through our economic action plan in this coming year. The first part of most job creation is in engineering, the ordering of supplies and so on, and then it moves into the actual work that creates more jobs. We will see more of that in this coming year.

A lot of Canadians think the economic action plan is the biggest stimulus we have created for the country. That is not true. The greatest stimulus we have created in the country actually happened in the fall fiscal update of 2007, where we lowered taxes by $200 billion; started the rollback of the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%; lowered corporate taxes over a five year period from 22% to 15%, including small business taxes from 12% to 11.5% to 11%; and lowered personal taxes from 16% to 15%.

These give us an added advantage. In fact, tax freedom day now comes 19 days earlier because of these kinds of tax advantages. They provide more money in the pockets of ordinary Canadians, and more advantage for the private sector. It is the private sector that will lead our economic growth: the private sector will lead us out of this recession, more so than the public sector. The public sector is there to help, to come alongside and create an environment for success.

In the first three years of our government, during the time we were lowering taxes, it also has to be noted that we paid down the debt by $38 billion. That point gets lost to many people.

In the town halls that I took part in, I was also able to explain where we were going to go in phase two of the economic action plan. In the throne speech yesterday and in the budget coming this afternoon, where are we going to go from here? There are two stages. One is creating the jobs and the other is creating growth.

Growth happens when we have an economic climate to be able to move into better opportunities for the private sector, for the men and women of Canada who work so hard to be able to provide for their families.

We have done a considerable amount in that area. We have an advantage in Canada that we have never really appreciated or understood before. By the end of 2012, we will have the lowest taxes of any of the G7 countries, giving us a competitive advantage that we have never realized before.

We have more disposable income than our partners in the United States. That has never happened before in my lifetime.

We can also look at what we have done with regard to free trade and opening up markets and providing opportunities. When I talk to the agricultural people in my riding, they tell me that what they need for hogs and that hog prices have to go up if they are going to solve their business problems. When I talk to the beef people in my riding, they are telling me that the price of beef has to go up.

That is why the minister was in Russia, Hong Kong, and China opening up hog and beef markets just before Christmas and so on. That is why we are working toward freer trade with Jordan, Peru, Panama, Colombia and the EFTA countries. That is why the Prime Minister was in India and China.

When we look at India and China, we are looking at 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion people respectively, together accounting for almost half the world's population that is going from poverty to the middle class at an accelerated rate. These are opportunities that we need to capitalize on.

That is why the government has provided $2.6 billion for our ports system so that we have infrastructure to be able to get our commodities to the ports and take advantage of these growing markets.

Prince Rupert is an example. A container from China to Chicago and the mid United States can go through Prince Rupert two and a half days faster than any other port in western North America. That is an economic advantage. We need to capitalize on that advantage that we have never had or seen before. It is very important that we grow the economy.

At the same time that we grow the economy, what the throne speech is really telling us is that we have to be fiscally prudent as well and to make sure that we are responsible in government and control our spending. Therefore, spending has to be curtailed.

Remember that I said our economic action plan was targeted, timely and temporary. It is temporary because we cannot keep spending that way. We have to be fiscally prudent and we have to do it in a way that is very respectful of the Canadian purse. We cannot keep spending more than we have. No home, no business, or government can do that, and we are certainly not going to.

When it comes to this House, a lot has been made of the 22 days of recess we have seen in the last little while, but during that time period as a government we did a considerable number of things.

When I have talked to the people in my riding, they have very much appreciated the deal we made with America on the buy America clause during the recess.

They very much appreciated the protection of our younger people getting into their first time homes, making sure they do not get in over their heads, that if they do not have the ability to pay a five year fixed mortgage they will not be able to get into a home, because it will be of no benefit to them if interest rates go up and they lose their homes.

They very much appreciated what the government did for Haiti in responding to the disaster there. They very much appreciated the government accelerating the process of bringing back the orphans to Canada and the work the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has done on that.

They very much understand the importance of security. When, thank goodness, the attempted bombing of a plane that was to land in Detroit on December 25 was not successful, they understood the importance of what we had to do at our airports. We brought in two new levels of security, the millimetre scanners as well as behavioural observation. These are things that Canadians understand will help us in the long run.

We did all of this while we were in a 22-day recess from the House. Canadians understand, and certainly in my riding they do, that it is a little ridiculous the big deal made with regard to that by the opposition. It does not resonate because actions speak louder than words, and the actions of our government over that time period proved that we were on the job and working on behalf of Canadians. We are going to continue to do that.

If we want to know what we should be doing in the future, just look at what we have done in the past. We have set an environment for success in this country. This country is the greatest nation in the world. We have just come off an Olympics that proved that. Our national pride was unprecedented, and rightfully so. We do have the greatest opportunities in the world. We are going to have the lowest taxes of the industrialized world. We are investing wisely in infrastructure as we move forward, and we are promoting growth. So we are creating jobs and are promoting growth. That is what Canadians expect us to do.

The best days of Canada are yet to be realized. The best days are yet to come, and if we have the opportunity to humbly serve this country, we will take that responsibility very seriously and provide the kinds of opportunities that Canadian men and women need if they are going to provide for their future, and not risk the futures of their children and grandchildren long into the future.

The Speech from the Throne is a wonderful vision for the country of where we need to go. It gives us a tremendous opportunity as we look forward to the budget this afternoon, which will flow equally along the same theme.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was very interesting to listen to my hon. colleague after having several months away from Parliament to consult with his constituents. I have also spent a lot of time consulting, as my colleagues have, both here in Ottawa and across the country. One of the biggest issues I am hearing about is people's concern about the security of their retirement plans. We know about the $25 billion that people lost in the income trusts. We hear constantly about Nortel and the forestry industry and the challenges they face with, and concerns they have about, their pension files.

I recognize the reference made to that issue in the Speech from the Throne yesterday, but talk is very easy. We all know as parliamentarians that talk is easy, but as a representative of the government, the question is what is the government going to do to help those thousands of people who are worried about their retirement and what is it going to do to protect them? They are calling for some action that the government could clearly take with the support of parliamentarians to make some changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. I would like to know what the member's plan is in the future to do something on the pension file—but in terms of action, not just words.

There has been a year and a half of consultation by the parliamentary secretary and others, and I would like to know when there is going to be some real action to protect the retirement savings of the many pensioners out there.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to speculate on what may or may not be in a budget or the direction on that specific in the coming days of this government.

I can tell the House what we are doing to protect the jobs of all Canadians and to make sure that industry has an opportunity to grow. It is by accelerating trade with India, China, Peru, Brazil, Panama, and the EFTA countries, and so on. That gives us an opportunity not to have a single best buyer only, because the bulk of our trade has been with the United States. It used to be about 85%. It has dropped down to 70% or some, but we will always be connected to the United States.

I know my hon. colleague served with me on the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group, and we worked very closely with the American Congress and Senate. Many people have told me they think America is going through some tough times and they are betting against it. I am not one of those; I would never bet against the Americans. They are going to come back and when they come back, if we accelerate our trade internationally, we will do much better than we have ever dreamt of in this country.

That is why I say that the best years are yet to come, and even for the pensioners.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say to our honourable colleague that, during the parliamentary lockout, we, too, travelled around Quebec. One important point that was often raised was the Government of Canada's treatment of the Government of Quebec. In the fall, legislation was passed to harmonize the Ontario and British Columbia sales taxes and provide for compensation.

Now that the House has resumed sitting, will the government tell us how it plans to deal with the Quebec government, which harmonized its tax 10 or 15 years ago? Year after year, the Government of Quebec has asked for $2.2 or $2.6 billion.

That is how you smother a government.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's numbers are wrong. We treat all the provinces equally and fairly. We have an equalization process. We work very much hand in glove with our economic action plan with all the provinces, including the province of Quebec.

We ensure that we dovetail together, leverage our interests and projects so that we get more money into stimulus, creating more jobs and ensuring we have infrastructure that will hold the people of Quebec in good stead long into the future. However, it is not only Quebec. We did that from coast to coast to coast.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the member back to last fall to a speech he made regarding infrastructure projects in which he indicated that they were coming in well under budget by significant amounts, primarily due to the tough economic climate.

Could the member tell us whether this trend is continuing and could he give us some examples? By what percentages are these projects coming in under budget? That is certainly good news.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to give my hon. colleague some examples because I am directly responsible for the stimulus spending in Alberta and Saskatchewan. With regard to the leveraging of some of those projects, we were able to do more with less, which is what Canadians expect us to do. We were getting anywhere from 20% to 30%, up to 60% and 80% cheaper in some of the projects.

In Alberta we were able to get some acceleration on some of those projects and get them tendered out. We knew what the actual costs were and we were able to do more with less. We announced another $144 million worth of projects here at the end of January prior to deadlines. We are getting a lot more done with the same amount of dollars during this downtime.

That is happening right across the country. I can give the member some specifics of projects, if he likes, but it is an exciting time. Canadians want a good deal. They do not mind us spending if we are doing it on good infrastructure we had to spend anyway and getting a good deal for them. That is what we have been able to accomplish and it is really a good news story right across the country.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague about the many Canadians, more last year than the year before, who are falling behind or having a difficult time. Food Bank Canada's report indicates that the usage of food banks last year went up 18%.

We have a national housing crisis in this country. Millions of Canadians are not helped by tax cuts as MPs are at the income that we make. Many Canadians get no benefit from those tax cuts. They do not buy and therefore do not get the benefit of a reduction in the GST. We have an anti-poverty strategy being developed by the human resources committee. The chair of that committee, the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook, is here with us today and has done a great job.

Six provinces in Canada have an anti-poverty strategy. Most of our colleague nations in the OECD have anti-poverty strategies and have achieved results. Organizations, such as social policy groups, church groups and even business organizations, are saying that they need a plan and strategy to combat poverty in Canada.

Will the government commit to having an anti-poverty plan and working with the provinces to assist those people who have fallen behind now more than ever?

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, for a specific answer, he would need to ask the appropriate minister, but I will reply to his question in the sense of where we are at as a country.

To get people out of poverty as much as we can, we will create jobs. We are doing that through the economic action plan, as well as the opportunity for growth. That is why the throne speech was about jobs and growth. That is what the country needs and that is where we need to go to be able to come alongside and help the poorest of the poor in our country. What they need is a job. They need to be able to provide for their families. They need to be provided with opportunities and have the same opportunities as every other Canadian who has a job.

The opportunities that lie ahead of this country are greater than I have ever seen before. We have never had an economic advantage on taxes. As an example, we saw Tim Hortons leave this country because of economic disadvantage. It came back to its headquarters because of an economic tax advantage. That is why Walmart is investing in 40 new stores across this country, giving new jobs and new opportunities. That is half a billion dollars in investment coming back into the country because of the opportunity for tax advantage and the opportunity for growth at the same time.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the government's plan for economic recovery in Canada involves Walmart.

The government committed $1 billion to the pine beetle crisis in British Columbia and yet has spent less than $200 million of that. That is a three-year-old promise for a crisis that the government, along with the opposition, identified.

Of the 6,000-plus words in the Speech from the Throne yesterday, 26 words were dedicated to forestry but no money commitments were made to the pine beetle crisis. Will that be rectified this afternoon? Will the member urge the finance minister to come forward and meet this crisis head on, finally?

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member knows anything about pine beetles.

The front edge of the pine beetle infestation is in my riding and I know full well what is happening with respect to the devastation. We have seen the devastation on the British Columbia side. Unless we get some help from Mother Nature all the money in the world will not stop it. We need to help mitigate the damages by cutting and slashing and slowing it down on the front line. That is where we really need to go with regard to the pine beetle infestation.

Just before Christmas I announced a significant amount of money for the pine beetle infestation in Alberta in order to stop the pine beetle from going east. If the infestation leaps over Alberta it will go into Saskatchewan and the only other stop will then be the Atlantic Ocean.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate.

I certainly agree with the number one priority of Canadians, which is jobs and economic growth, but it needs to be recognized at the beginning that the very minister who made the motion and the Prime Minister are responsible, in great part, for the jeopardy and economic tragedy that is now affecting so many Canadians.

Contrary to what the Prime Minister has tried to spin through a taxpayer-funded propaganda machine, the fact is that Canada was in a deficit before the global recession hit.

It is interesting to note that in the government's spin it always talks about a global recession, as if that is the reason that Canada is in trouble. It is part of the reason but the fact is that this country was in deficit and put there by the present government prior to the global recession hitting. Rather than accepting responsibility for the biggest deficit in Canadian history, the government tries to use the global recession as cover.

The government has, through previous decisions and the biggest spending budget in Canadian history, undermined the fiscal capacity of a central government to properly assist people and industries who are now in economic turmoil. I sometimes need to ask if it was done on purpose because we know that the Prime Minister really does not believe in a strong, central government with the authority and the spending power to put out programs to the country in its time of need. Many of the industries that are in turmoil are in rural Canada: fisheries, forestry, agriculture and mining. These are industries that are generators of economic wealth and they have been consistently ignored by the government.

One of the headlines in today's Globe and Mail, in the column by John Ibbitson, says, “Canada cannot afford to ignore storm clouds gathering on horizon”. The problem is that in many industries the government has been ignoring those storm clouds for the last three years. The storm was already there, and I am speaking in particular of agriculture.

I will turn to my own province for a moment. In the last year and half, temporary and permanent enterprise closures have occurred in a number of sectors, including forestry, livestock, fisheries, manufacturing, food processing and retail. Most of these sectors are being ignored. Instead what we get is endless propaganda with taxpayer money where close to $100 million have been spent on political spin.

Sadly, though, one of the sectors in the greatest difficulty is agriculture, in particular primary producers. Even in his speech, the minister of state talked about the crisis in beef and hogs but tried to imply that the minister's efforts in opening up markets will solve the problem. I do not argue against finding markets, that is important, but what we need to recognize is that our biggest market is the United States. Where the minister should be looking at a net gain in terms of volumes of product going into markets, we now have a net loss. Yes, the markets opened up in Russia, in China and in some other countries, and that is a good thing, but a lot of products in this country have no home.

Our hog industry is in trouble. In fact we are losing the hog industry right across the country.

The beef industry is in trouble right across the country.

Over the last couple of weeks, two major processors in the P.E.I. potato industry have cut back substantially on their contracts for the new year. What will people do with that land base? What will the government do to assist these producers?

The bottom line, which seems the government fails to recognize, is that Canadian farmers are competitive. They are among the best in the world. They are extremely efficient. However, what we lack in Canada, what we lack for the farm community and primary producers as compared to the rest of the world is a competitive agriculture policy. We lack a policy that will assist those producers through safety nets in times of need.

In the past when we have raised questions in the House about the government's hog industry loan loss reserve program, the minister has often quoted a guy by the name of Curtiss Littlejohn, a producer in Ontario, using him to try to justify a program that really in effect now is seen to be an abject failure. In an article by Barry Wilson in the February 11 Western Producer, Mr. Littlejohn stated:

This program is not the bridge the government said it would be. The state of the industry continues to deteriorate and more producers are losing everything.

We are losing the hog industry. You are no doubt seeing it in your riding, Mr. Speaker. Certainly, as the Minister of State for Transport suggested, he has heard from producers too. As I have said in the House and I will say again, the loan loss reserve program is one of the best Ponzi schemes ever taken up within the country. The primary producer borrows money from a chartered bank if he or she is considered a viable operation and it is guaranteed by the Government of Canada. However, the first condition of the loan is producers must pay off the advance payment program. Who gets paid? The Government of Canada, and producers end up carrying more debt. That is one thing they do not need.

I do not expect many people in the House to realize that Canada's producer debt is about four times on average of what it is in the United States. Farm debt is at $59 billion, an increase of $9 billion over the short term that the government has been in power. That is just unacceptable. Canada is losing close to 5,000 farmers each and every year. Hon. member should think about that.

The motion talks about the need for economic growth and jobs, while we lose 5,000 farmers per year. For every hog and beef animal produced, we lose money. We should think of the lost economic opportunity, the lost spin-off. Farmers go out of business and processing plants start to close because of lack of volume or lack of government policy to make our processing industry competitive.

We were trying all of November and December to get the government to implement a specified risk materials program which would pay the processing industry $31.70 an animal so they could be competitive with the United States. If the government had implemented that at the little cost of $24 million, then the price for over 30 month cattle would have come up about 20¢ for primary producers. Imagine what that would have done for Canadian producers and for the creation of jobs and keeping our slaughter industry growing in the country. Instead, the government failed to implement what producers, the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the processing industry all asked and demanded that the minister do. He plainly did not act.

While I congratulate the minister for trying to open up markets, the fact is in the hog industry, according to the Canadian Pork Council president, who testified at committee last year, Canada's exports have gone down 50% to 60% and American imports to Canada have increased 25%. Because of a lack of competitive policy, Canadians now see more American pork on grocery store shelves. That does not create jobs in Canada nor an economy in the country, and it is as a result of a lack of competitive farm policy.

Let me turn to a commentary by the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Betty Jean Crews. She hits the issue right in the head. In the commentary she wrote:

Partners in the Ontario Agriculture Sustainability Coalition find themselves up against a brick wall when they turn for action to Federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada....Ontario farmers are rapidly losing equity and their farm businesses because today's risk management programs do not work.

She went on:

The situation is bleak on Ontario farms and the Minister has to understand that there will be serious and irreparable damage to Ontario's rural economy as a result.

I think we can find a similar situation across the country. I know we certainly can in Atlantic Canada, where we are losing our hog industry. Plants are starting to shut down and we are losing our beef industry. Only one federally inspected beef slaughter plant is left. Potato producers are finding their contracts cut back. Those are all jobs and that is all economy. The reason our agricultural producers are in trouble is because other countries support their producers. They are not in a philosophical situation, in which the minister seems to be, that if we leave it up to trade and competitiveness, everything will be fine eventually.

Canadians are starting to lose our food sovereignty and security. On that point I could get into a long rendition in terms of how the minister has failed to protect food security by not implementing the Weatherill report. Canadians are seeing imported products come into Canada, which do not have to meet either the same growing conditions or the same standards Canadian products have to meet.

Let me turn back to Betty Jean Crews and what she concluded a little further in her commentary. She wrote:

Farm leaders within the OASC group predict that thousands of Ontario farmers will exit agriculture each year. There will be a major loss of jobs in the agri-food sector as agricultural production disappears because of the failure of government to properly invest in agriculture.

That is the dilemma. Today we are having a debate on the recovery, on the need for jobs, the economy. One of the greatest generators of jobs and economy is the agriculture sector. As the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture wrote, farmers will exit agriculture each year and there will be a major loss of jobs in the agri-food sector as agriculture production disappears.

Canada is and can continue to be the breadbasket for the world. We have a tremendous diversified climate and production. The minister is sticking to a one-policy-fits-all that is not going to work.

The minister promised during the last election that he would allow agro-flexibility to work, but he has denied agro-flexibility for the business risk program in Ontario or ASRA in Quebec. Farmers are demanding that. The Ontario government came on stream. Why does the federal minister not come on stream so that the safety net system works the way that it was intended and has a good economic bottom line for primary producers?

Some simple things could be done to assist the farming community. As I already mentioned, one would be assistance for specified risk material to allow our processing plants to be competitive and allow them to pay higher prices to Canadian producers in the beef industry.

Coming up with a safety net system would change the viability test for hog and beef producers and allow the reference margin to change. Some $900 million of that safety net money was not spent last year. Less money was spent last year because it could not be triggered as a result of the formula.

The cattle and hog industry has asked for that formula to change. It meets with the trade agreements. It is not a violation of the trade agreements. That money could have gone into the hands of primary producers and contributed to their economic security as an industry.

Other things could be done such as eliminating some of the cost recovery in the potato and cash crop industry. That is seen as a food safety issue in the United States. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the government seems to see it as a cash cow.

The Farm Credit Corporation, which was originally set up to provide funding to primary producers and enhance and develop the industry, now seems to be operating just like another bank. What was its last profit? I believe it was somewhere over $200 million. With a profit of $200 million, the corporation should be making two or three or losing two or three and ensuring that the best interest rates, the best write-downs, whatever it may be, are put in place so farmers are kept on the land. It should not be operating like another bank, selling the industry down the drain.

A number of things could be done but the government has failed to do them.

Hog prices in the United States are expected to show some improvement over the next year, but that strength is not likely to be felt in Canada partly because of foreign exchange rates that will continue to hamper our industry.

The livestock industry in the middle of our agricultural community is so important. It provides a market for Canadian grains and Canadian corn. It provides output in terms of a processing product and getting that product out to consumers. It provides an outlet for organic manure and organic matter in our soil. It is such an important industry, yet the government is idly sitting by and seemingly letting the industry go down the drain.

This debate today is about the tentativeness of our recovery. As the article in the Globe and Mail said, we have to be prepared for these storm clouds ahead. At the primary production level of our agricultural industry, these storm clouds have been around for a number of years. The government had the opportunity to put safety nets in place to allow that industry to survive and prosper and be one of the great economic generators of wealth in the country.

The government has failed dismally. I encourage the government to come through with a competitive agriculture policy in today's budget that would actually put cash in the pockets of primary producers.

That is what has to happen if we are going to provide the food security and sovereignty that this country needs in the future and the jobs required at the primary production and processing levels, and both the input and output levels to allow this country's economy to kick into the future. That is what the government must do. I ask the finance minister to get that job done.

The EconomyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, a throne speech should be a statement of intentions. Quite often, if the past is any indication, it is just wishful thinking and that is the case for the Conservative government's throne speech.

I would say to my colleague from Malpeque, who just spoke about agriculture, that the subject has never been a top priority for this government since it was elected in 2006. The proof is that when the Conservatives were elected, as I recall, they had five priorities; agriculture, even though it begins with an “a”, was not one of this government's priorities.

Nevertheless, livestock producers are mentioned in the throne speech, which states that the government will take steps to support a competitive industry and to pursue market access for agricultural products. We have to wonder if this is more wishful thinking.

I know that many people are hopeful about this afternoon's budget. However, considering the work by my colleague from Malpeque—who serves with me on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, together with NDP and Conservative members—he knows very well, and he mentioned this in his speech, that the Conservative government has not wanted to acknowledge or budge on its position regarding specified risk materials.

Given the hopes of producers, not just in Quebec but across Canada, for this afternoon's budget, does the member for Malpeque believe that there could be anything in the budget to help our beef producers with specified risk materials.?

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11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I certainly hope there is.

I thank the hon. member for his question because, Mr. Speaker, you may not know this but the member put forward a motion in committee that would have certainly helped the cattle processing industry, especially on what is called OTM, over 30 month cattle.

There was a presentation in committee from the industry. The slaughter industry, the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian cattlemen united. As the member knows, very seldom do we see the industry and producers unite in a solid unified position, but they did.

What they asked for was a specified risk material removal assistance program, and those are not the exact words they used but that is what it amounts to, which would have been a payment of $31.70 per animal based on a period of time over the last year.

The fact of the matter is our processing industry is not competitive with the United States on specified risk material removal because the United States does not do the same thing. The United States agreed to it, but of course broke its word. Instead of the government assisting the industry and giving it a level playing field, the backbench members from the governing party filibustered meetings and would not allow the motion to be voted on, just a recommendation to the minister.

I see the minister is here and is always here as a rule. He has a copy of the letter and is aware of the proposal. I would hope it is in the budget this afternoon, so that our processing industry is indeed on a level playing field with the United States, can be competitive and, as a result, return more money to our primary producers.

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11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member provided some startling statistics when he said that farm debt has increased by $9 billion since the government has been elected and that Canada is losing over 5,000 farmers per year.

In fact, a parliamentary group last week attended a meeting in Washington on congressional visitation programs. I know the member himself has been in Washington on these programs in the past and has certainly provided valuable contributions.

One of the issues being dealt with at that meeting was country of origin labelling, which has been an issue for a number of years and still is. I would like the member to make some comments as to whether he thinks that particular program is leading to a loss of farmers within this country.

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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, there is no question. I think everyone in the House would agree that the country of origin labelling issue in the United States is really making it difficult for our industry.

A part of it is the confusion around how the system works and some of the plants getting up and running, and making sure they were making the right decisions in terms of what product was coming in so that it could in fact be labelled properly.

In fairness to the government, I will say that its challenge to the WTO needed to be done, but it needed to go further than that. The government needs to support our industry in the interim. It could have done that by changing the viability test and the reference margin to allow safety net money to get out there to producers. It is just a simple matter to do. I do not believe it would be a violation of the trade agreement.

I think we should put farmers first and the trade agreement second in this country for a change. We are being run over by the United States and the actions it takes when it does not abide by agreements. Maybe we need to look at interim labelling measures in this country. Maybe Canadians need to know what they are buying. Maybe we should be taking action against some of these countries that sell nothing, some of the retail chains in this country that sell nothing but American pork. Consumers need to know what is on their shelves.

In terms of the government going to the WTO, we know that is a long, drawn-out process. Even if we win the argument and even if the Americans agree to abide by the decision which I think we will win, in the meantime we will have probably lost thousands of producers in this country and will have lost that economic opportunity and the ability to have farmers in that industry in the future.

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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his speech and his searing commentary on the failure of the government in agriculture. One would hope that the minister or one of his associates will stand up and actually answer the questions that my colleague has put forth.

I would like to ask my colleague a simple question. Regardless of what happens, the gorilla at the dinner table is really the health care issue. Unless we are able to get our health care expenditures under control, regardless of what else we do, that pressure will put an unsustainable demand upon budgets no matter who happens to be in power, federally or provincially.

The government has failed to deal with this, and has chronically failed to deal with this. It appears to be behaving like an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. The consequence of this is the pain and suffering that patients endure in Canada. They will have to suffer from longer waiting lists as time passes.

The pressure on top of this is our aging population. Right now we have four workers for every person who is retired. In the next 15 years that will contract down to 2.5 workers for every person who is retired. We have this massive pressure of a contracting workforce and increasing demands.

I would like to ask my colleague this. Why does he think the government is not at least grappling with this most pressing issue that it has, and why has it failed to do so?

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11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, quite simply put, as I said in the beginning of my remarks, this is a Prime Minister who has really undermined the fiscal capacity of this country to do what needs to be done, whether it is in what most of my speech was about, agriculture, or seniors or early learning and child care or whether it is for health.

This a Prime Minister who has undermined the fiscal capacity of this country. It is hard to believe that just prior to the government coming into power, we were the envy of the western industrialized world in terms of our management of government spending and the economy.

Then this crew came to power. The government had the biggest spending budget in Canadian history. It denied it was in deficit, but now it has to admit it was. Now we have the biggest deficit in Canadian history. We have a Prime Minister who does not believe in the requirement to have a strong central government to do things in terms of social and economic programs that make a difference in people's lives. That, simply put, is the problem.

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11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, a motion is before the House concerning a timid and uncertain economic recovery after a financial or economic crisis. We should refer to the current crisis as an economic one, because there is a difference. In Quebec, we are still grappling with the problems caused by an economic crisis. We have looked into the reasons for that.

My colleague from Alfred-Pellan and I took advantage of the parliamentary lockout to consult Quebeckers. From January 26 to February 26, we toured Quebec. We held 64 meetings, at which we met nearly 400 people and 317 organizations such as unions, business councils, chambers of commerce, community groups dedicated to helping the homeless, people working with seniors, young communities, basically, everyone.

All of them raised a number of points. They told us that Quebec may recover in 2010, but following our consultations we nonetheless had the pleasure of submitting a program to the Minister of Finance. What kind of budget would the government bring down if it wanted to help Quebec? What would it have stated in yesterday's throne speech?

Last year, $10 billion was provided to the automotive industry in Ontario, while the forest industry got crumbs. The people of Quebec did notice that. For instance, the Quebec Forest Industry Council told us that one of the things that could help the forest industry in Quebec would be a good loan and loan guarantee program like the one offered by Investissement Québec. The recession experienced by that industry started before the current recession, and one has to face the obvious fact that it does not stand to profit from the early stages of recovery. This is why we proposed a number of measures, so that the Prime Minister could make good on his promise made in 2005.

Another measure would be for the support and modernization of the forest industry, through the use of softwood lumber in federal construction projects, for example. We have met with private woodlot owners who are faced with the same problem. We have proposed that the federal government invest millions of dollars in an economic diversification and modernization program so that there would be a separate envelope for private woodlots.

Other people raised the issue of heating, saying that we should be relying on renewable resources such as forest biomass or thermal energy instead of relying on polluting, non-renewable energies.

We proposed measures—and Quebeckers have agreed with us—for quarterly tax credit rebates. The tax credit policy, which applies only if someone is earning a profit, absolutely must allow for renewable, quarterly tax credit rebates. The people who need tax credits, the ones doing research and development, whether in the forestry and science sectors, or in the textile or video game and 3D industries, need cash now, and cannot wait until they earn a profit. That is why we proposed refundable quarterly tax credits.

We also met with people who are worried about SMEs. There is nothing to support SMEs or to help people start up SMEs. People suggested that we tell the Canadian government to implement a start-up program for new businesses similar to the one created by the Government of Quebec in the early 1990s.

And what can we say about the way CEDCs and CFDCs are being treated? These people have been around forever and now they are waiting. For what? They are waiting for someone to wake up and tell them that their programs will be extended.

We also met with people who told us that proper sustainable development of the Quebec economy should take into account shoreline erosion and its relationship to climate change. Property and infrastructure are being threatened.

I just mentioned erosion. We also heard about dependence on oil. They told us that we have the talent and the know-how. Researchers in Quebec are working on electric cars. We should also have programs to convert heating systems to clean energy, such as electricity and wind energy. Furthermore, we should have green energy programs.

Throughout this conversation with Quebeckers, we realized that farmers were disappointed in what the government was doing. For example, we realized that the government absolutely must increase AgriFlex credits and programs for the marketing of products. These measures have been slashed. We have products, and we need to market them in order to sell them.

We also discussed at length the issue of specified risk materials, which my colleague talked about earlier. We talked a great deal about the Levinoff-Colbex abattoir in Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover. That company is clearly being treated unfairly by Canadian customs when it comes to American competition.

We also talked about the next generation of farmers and the major problem in that regard. And we talked about lobsters. People explained to us—my colleague was there—how lobster fishermen in Cap-aux-Meules in the Magdalen Islands were treated differently than Atlantic lobster fishermen. Why? It is not because they do not know how to read. It is because the programs are poorly designed and poorly adapted. Those programs are not designed to address Quebec's specific problems.

When it comes to land use, the ferry serving the Magdalen Islands should no more be called into question than commercial streets in small towns or large municipalities.

People also talked to us about broadband Internet access. Broadband Internet is used for more than just YouTube and email. It ensures that farmers, fishermen and women who decide to work from home in order to balance work and family can use the Internet for work. These people talked about the traceability of food, cattle, hogs and produce. People talked to us about all these things.

Of course, people talked to us about culture. They told us that this government has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it knows nothing about Quebec culture. So, people wondered, why will the federal government not transfer jurisdiction over all cultural matters to Quebec? And why will it not restore the funding it has cut in recent years?

The recession is affecting everyone differently. We were shown, for example, what an enormous problem homelessness poses. We were shown how homelessness does not happen overnight, after a recession hits. It starts with people working less, then receiving EI benefits, then welfare; then they lose their RRSPs and their house. Marriages fall apart. It is not until 18 to 24 months after the beginning of a recession that homelessness increases.

It is not only on the rise in the riding of Hochelaga and in Montreal. It is on the rise in Quebec City, in Laval and in the Magdalen Islands. Homelessness is on the rise everywhere. We truly hope that today, the government will increase funding for homelessness initiatives, not cut it.

Helping people means being generous, but this government's heart is not in the right place. Most caregivers are women who live with an aging spouse. These are people in need, but what does the government have to say to them? That there is no money for them. What does it have to offer them? Nothing at all, except the idea of a Prime Minister's medal, which does not mean all that much. What caregivers need is a tax credit to help them cover the cost of the things they need to buy to take care of their family members.

Status of Women Canada offices across the country have been closed. We believe that the government should reopen 12 of the 16 offices it closed. While we agree that the government should balance the budget—not now, but later on—it should not do so at the expense of pay equity in government. That should never be allowed to happen.

We also heard about employment insurance and guaranteed income security. Everyone knows the Bloc's stance on that issue. We heard about cutbacks and how they will have a negative impact on the Government of Quebec. We did the math, and it turns out that the Government of Canada would owe the Government of Quebec about $7 billion if it were to treat the latter fairly.

Just this past December, we voted on a bill to harmonize sales taxes in Ontario and Quebec with the federal sales tax. Quebec did that 14 years ago, but is still waiting for $2.2 billion in compensation. I truly hope that, this afternoon, the Minister of Finance will tell us that the problem has been solved. According to yesterday's Speech from the Throne, this issue is not even on the agenda. They have slashed the Government of Quebec's funding.

Yesterday, the Quebec government and the National Assembly of Quebec asked the Government of Canada to treat the Quebec government fairly. Quebeckers are concerned about this. The current economic recovery is uneven. Yes, we are being told that the economic recovery is underway. The GNP has improved somewhat and we should be happy about that. However, that is not the case everywhere. Last week, when GNP figures were published, we were told that manufacturing had made gains in December and that the growth was due mainly to an 11% increase in automobile and auto parts production. Last year, the Government of Canada used an important lever, its spending power and ability to provide guarantees, and gave $9,718 billion in assistance to the automotive sector. How much did it give to the forestry sector? Seventy million dollars. We are talking about $9,718 billion versus $70 million. And we wonder why the forestry sector is still having a hard time in Quebec in 2010. As for the auto sector, it will grow in 2010.

That is the result of industrial policies. This has happened before with the government's energy policies, which favoured western Canada. Who is doing well? Western Canada. Who will do better? Ontario. Where is Quebec? We do not know. We believe that this is an important kind of action. This government should be responsive to Quebeckers' aspirations.

Throughout our prebudget consultation, while we were in a parliamentary lockout, Quebeckers were asking that, as long as they are still part of this country, that they at least get their due. That is what we are asking for.

This comes as no surprise since, as early as January 26, before even setting off on our travels, we had already sent the Minister of Finance the first report of these consultations. Midway through these consultations, we met with the Minister of Finance to tell him the direction we were taking. When our consultations wrapped up, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister received our document. We hope that when the Minister of Finance says that the 2010 budget is a cut and paste job, that he will have cut and pasted from the Bloc Québécois document.

Yesterday, there were many distressing things in the Speech from the Throne. Many words were printed, but they said very little. The government did not come up with any additional economic stimulus measures. In other words, it is business as usual. That is well and good for Ontario and western Canada, but Quebec can just forget about it.

What is more, when it comes to business ownership, the government says it will make foreign ownership easier for the telecommunications sector. And what about Quebec culture and francophone culture? They do not care. This is no way to build a country.

Yesterday, the Conservative government assured us that it would not make any cuts in the transfers to the provinces, after it had crushed the public finances of the Government of Quebec. The speech makes no mention of the money owed to the Government of Quebec. Yesterday's Speech from the Throne included a number of distressing measures. Sometimes politics can be inspiring and other times it can be distressing. Now they are wondering whether or not the situation with respect to changing the English version of O Canada will be resolved. The answer is in the question.

To come back to our prebudget consultations and tie this in with the new version of O Canada, more than once—and my colleague here can attest to this—people also proposed a symbolic measure, but one that would cut unnecessary expenses, namely, abolishing the monarchy. We would be in favour of such a measure.

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11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member may recall that in the last session when we had discussions on legislation to do with extending EI benefits, particularly to long-tenured workers, the debate disclosed very clearly that the government did not understand the forestry industry. The government did not understand that there was an inequity in terms of providing assistance.

It should not surprise any of us that the government went from a seven-minute throne speech to a one-hour throne speech, where it threw in all kinds of little tidbits. The most significant items in the throne speech are things such as freezing MPs' salaries. All of the irrelevant stuff and the specifics are just trying to switch the channel, to take the focus off the important priority for Canadians, which is to create meaningful jobs and job security for all Canadians.

There is a statement in the throne speech regarding enhancing the upper chamber to make it more democratic, accountable and effective. I wonder if the member would agree with me that what we should be doing is making the House of Commons more democratic, effective and accountable.

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11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, democracy is alive in this House when it is sitting. In Quebec, people were flabbergasted to see how a Prime Minister could turn around and prorogue Parliament. Let us not forget that the press secretary who, between Christmas and New Year's, announced to Canadians that the House had been prorogued, thinking that this announcement would pass unnoticed, is the very one who embarrassed us in Copenhagen by describing Quebec as small.

I hope that my hon. colleague will agree with me that the way to enhance democracy in the Senate is simply to abolish it.

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11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague on his excellent presentation and for his tour which, incidentally, included my riding of Brome—Missisquoi. Culture is vital, and that is a point that was raised frequently during this tour, as my colleague mentioned. Culture is misunderstood. There is the blatant case of a 75-year old Quebec artist who is totally misunderstood; this is not a young artist whose career is just starting. All sorts of nonsense is being used to justify turning down his application for assistance.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague this: does he think that the Speech from the Throne provides any hope with regard to the issue of homelessness? For many years now, that issue has not been understood by this government. Did the throne speech delivered yesterday suggest that the issue of homelessness will be dealt with? Dealing with that issue means providing free housing for at least three or four months and providing support for a few years. It does not mean letting people live on the street or conducting studies on the issue, it simply means helping them.

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11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right.

I will start with culture. We were told that if an artist is able to live off his works, it is because he is selling them, showing them and earning money from them. Artists are self-employed workers, and are probably the most ignored group of self-employed workers in Canada. There is every reason to implement special programs for artists. Even those who become successful for a period of time sometimes go through difficult periods. Our program contains a measure to enable artists to average their income over five years.

We sometimes hear figures regarding assistance for the homeless: 25% of income maximum, or even 30% to 50% of income for a mortgage. But for the homeless, it is sometimes 125% of their income, since they do not have one. When you take 125% of nothing, you are left with nothing; no roof over your head.