House of Commons Hansard #165 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was premiers.

Topics

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, let me first say happy new year to my counterpart and all hon. members.

We are back in Ottawa for another hard-working, orderly, and productive sitting of the House of Commons, a sitting in which our respective parties' policies and plans will be debated. Only one party, though, has a plan that will benefit all Canadians, and that is the Conservative plan to create jobs, keep taxes low, and keep our communities safe from crime and the threat of terrorism.

This afternoon we will conclude debate on the Liberal opposition day motion.

Tomorrow we will wrap up debate on Bill C-44, the protection of Canada from terrorists act, at third reading. This bill is the first step in our legislative measures to ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have the tools they need to meet evolving threats.

The other part of our program to counter that terrorist threat is a bill that will be introduced tomorrow. It will be called for second reading debate during the week after our upcoming constituency week. That should allow all hon. members an opportunity to study these thoughtful, appropriate, and necessary measures and to hear the views of their constituents before we start that important debate.

Before we get to that constituency week, though, there is one more sitting week. On Monday, we will debate the NDP's pick of topic, on the third allotted day. Before question period on Tuesday, we will start debating Bill C-50, the Citizen Voting Act. After question period, we will return to the third reading debate on Bill C-21, the Red Tape Reduction Act, which will help ensure job creators can focus on what they do best, not on government paperwork.

Wednesday and Friday of next week will be dedicated to Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights act. This bill would put victims where they belong: at the centre of our justice system.

Finally, next Thursday will be the fourth allotted day, when we will again debate a proposal from the New Democrats.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that I have a few more minutes to participate in this important debate on the first ministers' conference.

I have talked about how those kinds of conferences were essential from a provincial minister's perspective in bringing forward key initiatives to address some of the big challenges, and how in the past they were unfortunately frustrated by a Conservative government that wiped out the Kelowna accord and Canada's national child care plan and essentially neglected the 10-year health accord and other important national initiatives in our federation, such as the national housing strategy of 2005 and the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's Project Green, which was also the product of much consultation with premiers across the country and included work done on a provincial level by ministers and their staff, who all participated in, supported, and created a national approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This has been an abject failure on the part of the current government. It ties into the current Prime Minister's hubris and refusal to meet with the other premiers from across the country.

In my final minute or so, I would like to touch on some of the key challenges we have that absolutely demand the kind of collaboration that comes out of these meetings with premiers. Premiers can undertake to champion certain issues and can work with the federal government and the Prime Minister to bring colleagues from across the country on board so that we can have a national approach to these national issues.

One is the health and independence of seniors, including support for caregivers. With the changing demographics in Canada, this is a huge concern for Canadians. In its polling, the Canadian Medical Association identified this as a current key issue right across Canada and one that will become more pressing in the years ahead.

We cannot say in good conscience that we are addressing the concerns of Canadians adequately if we fail to come together to collaborate on a new strategy and method of ensuring that the health, independence, and caregiving of seniors can be better supported in the years to come. That is the kind of thing the Prime Minister should be talking about with premiers in an annual meeting. That is just one.

Of course, there is also dealing with the environment and climate change, but that requires leadership—not dictatorship and not autocracy, but actual leadership. That is what we are asking from the Prime Minister. That is what the Liberal Party leader is promising to provide to Canadians should he have the opportunity to do that in the future.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned that Project Green, which we negotiated with the provinces and would have helped Canada fulfill its commitments under the Kyoto protocol, was cancelled and replaced with nothing. The government gave the money to the provinces, but with no plan.

It is the same with health care. We had an agreement. The government provided the money. It did not add to the money over the years. It gave the money but forgot the plan.

Will my colleague agree that it is good to have transfers to provinces, but that it is also good to have joint action on environment, on health, and on all files?

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville is an excellent example of the kind of collaborative work that does address key issues.

I will give one more example, which is with respect to the Clarity Act. The Clarity Act addressed a very difficult challenge across this country. The very unity of our country was a conundrum after a referendum that came within less than a percentage of breaking Canada up, but our colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville was able to consult across the country with premiers and the prime minister of the day and ensure there was support for this concept. The Supreme Court approved the concept, and we now have a very different situation in our country with respect to unity, thanks to the Clarity Act.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, as this is the first time I have been able to take the floor in today's opposition day motion, I want to signal that I will be supporting the motion put forward by the Liberal Party.

We do need to have a regular schedule of first ministers' conferences. This is a federation. It is not a one-person rule. It is not a one-level of government rule.

A patchwork of failing policies across the board does not make for a healthy or prosperous Canada. I would particularly note our lack of an energy policy. We are the only country in the G8 with no energy policy. The barrier to energy policies has always been that at least one province has said that it did not want the federal government involved. I will not mention that province's name, although it starts with an a and ends with an a.

Now all provinces, including Alberta, are coming forward and saying that they want a national strategy. It is the Prime Minister who is saying no. It has never been more urgent to have an energy policy that includes climate action.

I want to ask if my friend from Vancouver Quadra would like to expand on that.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the leader of the Green Party.

Absolutely, we need to make progress on an energy strategy. We can only do that with the kind of collaboration we are talking about in our federation. That is exactly what happens when a prime minister sits down with premiers from all of the provinces and territories.

There are the meetings themselves, but there is also conversation in the hallways, over coffee, and over lunch. The premiers chat together. They find out who is in support and who needs to have more information. They work together to have a solid front, as they achieved on issues like Kelowna and our national child care plan. That is absolutely the only way to go with an issue as complex as the one the member has just raised.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand up in the House today to inform members of the various ways that the provinces and territories engage and co-operate with the federal government on environmental issues of concern to us all.

First of all, let me begin my remarks with a view to the Constitution Act, 1867. The environment, as such, is not listed in the Constitution and it is not a matter that neatly fits within the existing division of powers.

In several of its key decisions regarding the environment, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that the protection of our environment is a matter of shared jurisdiction among the federal and provincial governments. Furthermore, the federal government has devolved many of its environmentally related responsibilities in Canada's north to territorial governments. It is, therefore, incumbent on federal, provincial, and territorial governments to work together in assuring that the health of Canadians and that of their environment is protected and managed in a sensitive manner.

Various mechanisms exist to achieve this objective among governments. We have the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Multilaterally, the CCME is the primary intergovernmental forum for ministerial discussions and for action on environmental issues of mutual concern. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment comprises all 14 federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for the environment.

In the case of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, which is incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, as a Manitoban member of Parliament I am very pleased to say that it is located Winnipeg. It is chaired on a pre-determined rotational basis. The CCME is currently chaired by Manitoba, and Quebec is set to become the chair in June of this year.

My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment had the privilege of attending the last meeting of the CCME in Prince Edward Island this past September. At this meeting, federal, provincial, and territorial governments shared their respective views and came together in agreement to pursue collaboration in a number of areas, including climate change, waste management, air quality, cumulative effects, and hazardous spills response and prevention.

By working collaboratively to protect the environment, federal, provincial, and territorial governments are able to share best practices, reduce unnecessary duplication, and maximize our collective resources to the benefit of all Canadians. Together, we are achieving results for Canadians in managing the air we breathe, pursuing action to reduce our waste footprint, and protecting our shared water resources.

We look forward to continuing the discussion of these important matters with our provincial and territorial colleagues at their upcoming ministerial meeting in Winnipeg this June.

Regarding the issue of air quality, through this close collaboration between federal, provincial, and territorial governments, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment has made a number of noticeable accomplishments in recent years. In 2012, the ministers approved a new national air quality management system. Once fully implemented, the air quality management system will protect the health of Canadians and the environment with measures to improve air quality right across Canada. It is a comprehensive system that includes stringent outdoor air quality standards, emission requirements for major industries, and provincial and territorial actions to address local sources of air pollution.

The air quality management system was developed through years of extensive collaboration with provinces, territories, and stakeholders. The result is a system that lets all levels of government work together to address air pollution in a coordinated and effective way, and governments are well under way in implementing all components of this system.

For example, in 2013, we established new outdoor air quality standards for ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, the two main components of smog. To further help improve the air that Canadians breathe, federal, provincial, and territorial governments are currently working together on new outdoor air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

In addition, in June 2014, we published in Canada Gazette Part I proposed mandatory national performance standards on specific sector and equipment groups. Once they are fully implemented, Canada will have, for the first time ever, consistent emission limits for regulated industries right across the country.

Provinces and territories are also establishing mechanisms for enhanced local and regional action targeting individual sources of pollution in communities across the country to ensure that poor air quality improves and good air quality remains.

This system is a model of successful intergovernmental co-operation in that it has been designed to allow different levels of government to act within their jurisdictions while still collaborating on an overall approach to manage air quality effectively. That was done under the leadership of our Prime Minister.

Waste water is another area where federal, provincial, and territorial ministers have come together and agreed to a Canada-wide approach for the management of municipal waste water effluent. Through working with provinces, territories, and engaged municipalities, the Government of Canada is proud to have enacted the country's first national standards for waste water treatment. The waste water systems effluent regulations, enacted in 2012, address one of the largest polluters of Canadian waters and protect our water quality for generations to come.

I used to work in the forest industry and I recall in 1989, under then prime minister Mulroney, the Conservative government implemented the pulp and paper effluent regulations, which had a dramatic effect on cleaning up waterways close to pulp and paper facilities.

Waste water systems posing a high risk will have to meet the effluent standards by the end of 2020, those posing a medium risk by the end of 2030, and those posing a low risk by the end of 2040. Thanks to changes to our Fisheries Act brought forward by this government, the Government of Canada has been able to conclude equivalency agreements with Yukon and Quebec and has also concluded administrative agreements with New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.

The Government of Canada will continue to work with interested provinces to ensure efficient and effective administration of the regulations and to reduce regulatory duplication. This government, however, is also sensitive to the challenges Canada faces to meet these new regulations.

That is why our government has committed over $2.3 billion to waste water infrastructure since 2006 through a number of programs. Waste water treatment infrastructure is eligible for funding through the provincial-territorial base fund, the green infrastructure fund, the gas tax fund, and the building Canada fund. Under the gas tax fund, which is now permanent at $2 billion per year, municipalities can choose to spend 100% of that funding to upgrade their waste water infrastructure.

Regarding the issue of conservation, wildlife, and biodiversity—an area that is near and dear to my heart given that I represent a beautiful and diverse constituency—although the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment constitutes the major federal-provincial-territorial forum on environmental issues, there are several other issue-specific fora and engagement mechanisms.

I am pleased to report to the House that our Minister of the Environment will be convening a meeting with her provincial and territorial counterparts responsible for conservation, wildlife, and biodiversity matters in Ottawa this February. This will provide a shared opportunity to advance important matters related to the protection of species at risk, the management of invasive alien species, and other biodiversity-related matters.

In addition, we consult with provinces and territories through the Wildlife Ministers Council of Canada, which provides an interjurisdictional mechanism for dialogue and advancement of key issues related to terrestrial wildlife conservation.

Our Conservative government also engages with jurisdictions through the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council, created under the federal-provincial-territorial accord for the protection of species at risk and formally constituted under the federal Species at Risk Act.

The current program of work with these two councils is being overseen by federal, provincial, and territorial officials under the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee and a biodiversity steering group at the assistant deputy minister level. Current areas of work include species at risk; population conservation of various species of bats, migratory birds, and polar bears; invasive alien species; habitat conservation; and public engagement.

In recent years this federal, provincial, and territorial engagement on biodiversity matters has resulted in accomplishments in a number of areas. For example, Canada is in the process of developing national biodiversity goals and targets for 2020. These 2020 goals and targets will help Canada to focus on biodiversity priorities and provide the basis for measuring and reporting on progress.

Like those of many countries, Canada's national goals and targets are informed and inspired by the global Aichi targets, which were adopted in 2010 under the Convention on Biological Diversity's 2011-2020 strategic plan and tuned to the domestic context.

Some other examples of work undertaken jointly by federal, provincial, and territorial governments are the development of an ecosystem status and trends report and a value of nature to Canadians study.

The ecosystem status and trends report provides accessible and integrated scientific information on the status and trends in Canada's ecosystems. It serves to inform policy and program development on biodiversity and conservation in all jurisdictions.

For its part, the value of nature to Canadians study provides strategic and current data and analysis on the social and economic value of Canada's ecosystem goods and services, including wildlife and biodiversity.

This information will serve to substantially strengthen the decision-making capacity of federal, provincial, and territorial governments on the environment and the economy.

In terms of climate change in Canada, it is a shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces and territories. Given the unique circumstances in each jurisdiction, the Government of Canada works with our provincial and territorial counterparts to inform the development of Canada's long-term climate change approach.

In the lead-up to the next Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Canada has committed to announce its intended nationally determined contribution as part of a global climate change agreement. The Minister of the Environment has been engaging with her provincial and territorial counterparts to obtain their input in determining Canada's post-2020 targets.

The Government of Canada has been doing its part by implementing a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that protects the environment and supports economic prosperity. This government has already taken action on two of Canada's largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions: transportation and electricity. Moving forward, the government will continue to take action to reduce greenhouse gases from other major emitting sectors of the Canadian economy.

In conclusion, our Conservative government agrees that coordinated action between governments is crucial to advancing an array of environmental initiatives. That is why we are in constant contact with our partners and other levels of government right across the country. We are committed to working with provincial and territorial governments to advance environmental goals that contribute to improving the health of Canadians and their environment.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have a national budget that has been indefinitely delayed. The government's response is that it is delaying it because of the oil crisis situation and other economic factors.

I think we have heard every premier across our country express concern with respect to what is happening in terms of Canada's economy. It seems to me that in the past, whether it has been Progressive Conservative prime ministers or Liberal prime ministers, when a prime minister has detected tension and the need for a get-together with all the premiers, the prime ministers have responded positively.

Does the member not see that the situation is severe enough that the government itself is not in a position to even table a budget or to provide a date on which it is going to table a budget? That in itself should be justification for it, not to mention the length of time since we have had a first ministers' meeting at the call of the prime minister. When we live in a federalist state such as Canada, it is more than symbolic. There is a real need for all the premiers and the prime minister, on occasion, to get together.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, what I find interesting about the Liberal approach to most public policy questions it that it is always focusing on process. I just gave a detailed speech outlining clear and significant results in the field of environmental protection and enhancement.

What this Conservative government focuses on is not process. We focus on results. Sure we have to have process. We have to have meetings in certain areas and so on. However, the goal is clear and measured results.

I would note, as well, that we can count on the assurances of the minister and the Prime Minister in terms of the budget.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague said that it was important to hold meetings before making decisions; however, the government has, on many recent occasions, neglected to take this step and to get a consensus before making decisions that affect the provinces and sometimes the provinces' jurisdictions.

The Conservatives decided to cut annual Canadian health transfers by 3%, from 6% to 3%, without consulting the provinces. Out of the blue, the Conservatives told the 10 provinces that they would be getting $30 billion less every year to fund their health care systems.

There was also no consultation on the EI reforms, the temporary foreign worker program or the Canada job grant. All 10 provinces at the Council of the Federation opposed this new change. Search and rescue infrastructure is another area where the federal government did not consult the provinces. There is certainly no shortage of examples to show how they neglected to consult the provinces.

If consultation and discussions are so important, as the member just said, why are there so many examples like this?

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just listed a number of areas on the environment on which the federal government consults with provincial and territorial governments right across the country.

Again, the member opposite points out the flaw in the Liberal and NDP approach to the economy. It is always process, process, process.

This government has delivered 1.2 million net new jobs since the recession in 2008. We have the best economy in the G7 of all the G7 countries. Again, because we are diligent and disciplined in terms of the management of the budget, we are able to deliver for Canadian families in a way that no other government has ever done. That is a record I will stand by very proudly.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the member completely ignored my question. Instead he gave one example of consultation by the federal government, whereas I gave several examples where it consulted no one. Thus, he deliberately ignored me by answering my question in the way he did.

I would like to ask him again why the government takes action most of the time without consulting anyone. The hon. member told us that it is just process, as if it were not important to consult the provinces, which are members of the federation, when programs that will affect their areas of jurisdiction—and sometimes even their budgets—are implemented.

This is not about process, but about what needs to be done in a federation. Canadians deserve a federal government that assumes its responsibilities.

Why is the government shirking its responsibilities in so many cases? I hope that the member will not cite one of the rare cases where the government did conduct consultations?

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, what motivates this government is the well-being of Canadian families and the well-being of our economy.

Again, as has been pointed out numerous times in this chamber, the Prime Minister has, over the term of his time in office, talked to the premiers some 300 times. In my own speech, I outlined areas on the environment on which we are consulting with municipalities, provinces, and territories right across this country. We do this all the time.

It is our focus on results that has created the strongest and best economy in the entire G7 family.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, in a federation, representatives of all levels of government are elected by the people. They elect us to represent them at the federal level, just as they elect provincial and municipal representatives. People expect us to work together for the well-being of all Canadians.

Why then is the government systematically refusing to bring together all interested parties to talk about the major issues, such as health, labour, the environment and the economy? It is fine for the member to say that there have been more than 300 meetings, but when did everyone get together to do some good, productive work, as Canadians expect of all elected officials?

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that the member was not listening to my speech, and I reject the premise of his question completely.

Of course we consult. We consult all the time. As I said, the Prime Minister has held some 300 meetings and discussions with provincial premiers right across the country.

The NDP and Liberals do not realize is that it is very important to respect the constitutional jurisdiction of the various levels of government. That is how one creates an efficient federation.

Ensuring that each level of government does the work they are supposed to do will ensure the smooth functioning of our government. I go back to the results for our country: the best economy in the G7 and 1.2 million net new jobs since 2008. That is a record I will proudly run on.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, at the outset, let me say that I will be sharing my time with a very distinguished member of this House, the member for Markham—Unionville. I know members will want to be here not only to listen to my remarks but to stay for the incisive remarks that will follow my presentation.

Of course I am very pleased to rise to support the motion moved by my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who has set an important example to all Canadians across our country of how to manage a federation that works.

Throughout the years when my colleague was the minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs, there was a constructive and positive relationship between the federal government and its partners in the Canadian federation.

For instance, many important agreements were signed between the two levels of government. There was co-operation and mutual respect not only regarding their respective areas of jurisdiction, but also regarding the difficulties shared by all those who represent Canadians and are seeking significant solutions to the economic, social and environmental problems facing our country.

The motion today I think sets out a very simple premise. The simple premise is that the Prime Minister of Canada has a responsibility, as head of the executive of the national government, to work constructively with other orders of government and with his partners in the federation: other first ministers.

This Prime Minister has resisted so vehemently sitting down in a structured first ministers' conference, where all premiers would have an opportunity to express their shared concerns about economic issues facing their populations and their citizens and what the national government can do in partnership with them to better serve the citizens that all of us have been elected to this place to serve.

I wanted to give some concrete examples from the regions, especially my province, New Brunswick, where a constructive and respectful commitment on the part of the Prime Minister towards his provincial counterparts would give them the opportunity to come up with regulations, a solution or some way to move forward on difficult and complicated files, while respecting jurisdictions and the spirit of partnership and constructive engagement.

It is no secret: my province, New Brunswick, is in a very difficult economic situation. In many respects, that province has performed the worst when it comes to job creation and economic growth. We have suffered significant job losses. Industries that have traditionally been very important to New Brunswick are struggling, and this has led to job losses in other sectors.

The situation is serious. This is a critical time, and that is not a partisan statement. These circumstances have meant that the former Progressive Conservative government, the Liberal government that preceded them and the current Liberal government have all faced issues that do not fall solely under provincial responsibility; they also require an engaged federal partner.

Take, for example, the question of employment insurance. The current government decided to make changes to employment insurance benefits, particularly for those who work in seasonal industries across many regions of this country. In New Brunswick, those changes obviously have a disproportionate impact, because a certain percentage of our economy will necessarily be seasonal. However, right across the country, in Quebec, northern Ontario, and the Prairies, the decisions the Conservative government made around employment insurance benefits had a negative consequence.

The Atlantic premiers decided to commission an independent study to look at the direct impact these changes would have on the revenues of families in their provinces at times of the year when there is no employment. In my province of New Brunswick alone, hundreds of millions of dollars, over $400 million, was taken out annually from the pockets of New Brunswick families who depended on employment insurance benefits. As I said a minute ago, at a time when the unemployment rate increases, if the corresponding employment insurance benefits are reduced and limited, it has a devastating impact. It also has a devastating impact on the provincial treasury, as many of these people land on income assistance and social development measures, the instruments that the province has to look after income security.

Was the Prime Minister willing to sit down and talk about employment insurance with the Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward for the last four years? Of course not. Was he willing to engage with the newly elected Liberal government of Brian Gallant on the important issue of employment insurance? Of course not.

This is an example of a problem that is shared by other premiers. It is an example where the national government has a program that has a punitive effect in many regions and provinces of our country and where the premiers asked the Government of Canada and the Prime Minister to sit down with them to look at solutions, to understand the impacts, and perhaps constructively and collaboratively find a solution.

The current Prime Minister was not interested. Think of the changes to provincial health transfers. The former finance minister, the late Mr. Flaherty, went to a premiers' meeting and announced that a certain amount was available. There was no negotiation, no discussion, no acknowledgement of the demographic realities of each province.

The province of New Brunswick has an aging population, and many people live in rural and remote regions. Its proportion of people who live in regional centres and rural areas is one of the highest in Canada. We have two official languages, and I am extremely proud of that. However, that means New Brunswick's provincial government has to spend more money to provide adequate services in both official languages.

Instead of engaging in constructive collaboration with the provincial premiers on this important issue—providing high-quality health care in all provinces of Canada for the long term—the current Prime Minister is unavailable.

We talk a lot about infrastructure in the Liberal caucus, because we hear from premiers, mayors, community leaders and citizens about the negative effects right across the country of the recent reductions and cuts to infrastructure spending. The premiers are in Ottawa today and tomorrow. They would have given anything for an opportunity to be invited by the Prime Minister to sit down and talk about a positive and comprehensive infrastructure investment that would not only create the much needed immediate jobs right across the country that, but also prepare our economy to be a sustainable green economy, a growing economy, and a productive and competitive economy.

Route 11 in New Brunswick is one of the important north-south highways from one end of our province to the northern part. The provincial government of Premier Alward, who was defeated this fall, had asked for the Government of Canada to be a partner, twinning with them in making this highway a four-lane highway. We have seen tragic accidents, with people losing their lives on an overcrowded, dangerous two-lane highway, often through difficult winter conditions, but the government refused to sit down with its provincial partners to find a way to make this important economic project a reality.

Even federal infrastructure, such as wharves, ports and smaller infrastructure, lacks funding. For example, the town of Richibucto in New Brunswick needs money for infrastructure repairs. The mayor of Richibucto asked for money. Provincial elected representatives have once again realized that they do not have a federal partner.

For years, the restoration of Moncton's Petitcodiac River has been a provincial government priority. It is the right thing to do for the environment and the Moncton region. The government refused to get involved in any constructive way.

Projects like the energy east pipeline and other energy projects that are vital to the economic future of my province are stalled because we have a Prime Minister who will not engage with his provincial counterparts. We think the Prime Minister has a responsibility to hold annual first ministers' conferences and to discuss issues like this that are important to citizens right across the country.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the remarks of my esteemed opposition colleague. I would like to reassure him. He is lamenting the fact that there was not enough contact between the Prime Minister of Canada and the former premier of New Brunswick.

As far as the new premier of that province is concerned, the Prime Minister was honoured to meet with him. In fact, he stopped in New Brunswick to visit Premier Gallant on his return from the Sommet de la Francophonie at the end of November.

The premiers can meet, they can enjoy meeting, and they can enjoy drafting lists of things they want the taxpayers of Canada to pay for. That is fine. However, at one point we will run out of other people's money. That is probably why they want a shopping list for us to pay for, not for them to pay for.

Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, a friend of this hon. member, warned us about not being the head waiter to the provinces. Frankly, it is all here in the Memoirs by Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

January 29th, 2015 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Ottawa—Orléans for his question. I did not entirely understand the references to Mr. Trudeau. We have never suggested that the Prime Minister of Canada should behave in the way that my colleague from Ottawa—Orléans described in his comments, which were uncalled for.

We asked the government to hold group meetings where the provincial premiers could share their joint concerns with the Prime Minister of Canada. Often, the problems facing my province are not so different from the ones Quebec or the other provinces have to deal with.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans talked about a stop that the Prime Minister made on his way home from the Sommet de la Francophonie. That is news to me. I do not recall the Prime Minister of Canada being in New Brunswick in the past few months. I know that at the last minute he offered the Premier of New Brunswick the opportunity to travel with him by air to Senegal. The Premier of New Brunswick accepted that generous offer. However, the thought that an in-flight conversation constitutes a first ministers' conference is disingenuous and is akin to claiming that there were 300 meetings on flights and on the tarmac, and maybe even at a cocktail party. These are brief conversations. Frankly, claiming that there was a meeting with the Premier is just ridiculous.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member talk about long-term health care for the provinces and Conservative governments' impacts on this. I agree that the policies the Conservative governments are putting in place are creating a void in health care. However, let us look at the Liberal record. There was $25 billion in funding cuts in 1997, a broken promise on pharmacare, and there has been private delivery of health care. Under Paul Martin, the cut to health care funding was more than anyone could have imagined, and it created a waiting list.

We have a government that is refusing to work with the provinces. We have a Liberal third party that is now saying that when it becomes government, it would want to meet with the provinces. However, when the Liberals were in power they met with the provinces and ignored or refused to meet them completely. Therefore, why should we believe the Liberals now?

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing chose what I think are a few somewhat exaggerated examples. She wanted to talk about first ministers' meetings that were productive and that led to important changes in health care. Let us use the example of the 2004-05 meetings, the three meetings in two years that the previous Martin Liberal government had with all of its provincial counterparts. What happened? We saw the creation of a 10-year accord, which saw very important investments made in our health care system, something the current government pretends it invented.

When Conservatives stand and talk about health care, they talk about the investments they have been making since 2006. What they fail to say is that these investments were decided at a first ministers' meeting under the previous Liberal government, which Liberals think was an example of collaborative and constructive federalism.

I would also point out that at the time the previous Liberal government left office in 2006, almost all of the provinces right across the country were in budgetary surplus. That is something the current government cannot say.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Beauséjour for his supportive words.

The first thing I would like to say is that it is almost unbelievable that, since 2006, this Prime Minister has not attended an official meeting of premiers. That is contrary to what previous prime ministers of Canada have done. They all wanted to hold such meetings in order to run the federation. It is very simple. Canada is a very decentralized country and we must work together in order to run it.

If we look at the jurisdictions, we see there are very few areas, apart from monetary policy and to some extent foreign affairs and defence, that are purely federal. Virtually everything else is a joint jurisdiction in one way or another, or else provincial, so if one wants to achieve things that are important to the people of Canada, there is no choice but for the levels of government to work together.

In this regard I would like to give a quote from Kathleen Wynne, the premier of my province of Ontario. Just a few days ago she said:

Fifty years ago, Lester Pearson, John Robarts and Jean Lesage and their contemporaries helped build a Social Union that strengthened our federation and bound us closer together. Today, our generation needs to take inspiration from that as we work in co-operation to build a better Economic Union for all Canadians. We know that when we are investing in infrastructure we are building, and when we are building roads and transit, or hospitals and schools, or energy networks and ports, we are growing.

That is the vision from the Premier of Ontario, and I agree with it. I would not expect the current Prime Minister to go that far, as he seems to have a history of not totally agreeing with Kathleen Wynne, but at least he should have meetings to effectively run the federation.

Let me begin by thinking of two reasons that he perhaps does not want to do that and then go on to think of some areas that are particularly important for my province and for my premier.

I think the first reason he is averse to such meetings is that he has a very strong ideology, which could be called a constitution in watertight departments. He sees things in black and white. Health care belongs to provinces, so why meet provinces? It is their area.

If we go through the list, everything is in watertight compartments. He somehow thinks that he can run his jurisdictions independently from provinces, and vice versa. However, in the complex world in which we live, that is an unrealistic proposition, because in virtually all areas we have overlapping jurisdictions and overlapping interests.

The second reason is that for our Prime Minister, the concept of partners is somewhat alien. He likes to decide things himself, but in order to run the federation one has to be collaborative. There has to be an atmosphere of give and take. There have to be negotiations, sometimes messy, and this is not an environment that our Prime Minister relishes. As a consequence, the country is losing a great deal.

Let me just illustrate a few areas. I will begin with infrastructure and pensions, which have been of critical importance to Premier Kathleen Wynne and to the people of Ontario.

Kathleen Wynne, somewhat unexpectedly, won a majority government after going to the people with two major propositions. One was an expanded role for infrastructure and the other was a made-in-Ontario version of an expanded Canada pension plan.

On the first point, I live in the greater Toronto area, where traffic gridlock has become worse and worse. A major part of the Ontario platform was the idea of focusing a lot of resources in this area of infrastructure. As we heard in question period today from the member for Trinity Spadina, cities like Sydney, Nova Scotia—and I think he mentioned Regina, and others—are waiting, with nothing happening from the federal government.

The federal government has back-end-loaded its funding to such an extent that we have a 90% drop in actual funding in upcoming years, so the infrastructure program, which is so critical to Ontario, so critical to Canada, so critical to jobs and growth, is floundering. This is one area where I think a partnership is needed, involving not just the federal and provincial governments but also municipal governments, which, while they have just 8% of total revenues, have approximately half of all the country's infrastructure. Here is one area that calling out and pleading for co-operation across governments to get a program befitting the needs of our country to deal with the massive infrastructure deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars, and it is an area in which the government has not acted.

A second area crying out for federal-provincial co-operation—not just meetings for the sake of meetings, but active co-operation—is pensions.

Some months ago the provincial governments and the federal government were having a series of meetings, and they appeared to be heading towards a consensus on a moderate expansion of the Canada pension plan on the grounds that Canadians today are not saving enough to live comfortably in their retirement years. That, whether the government likes it or not, is inherently federal-provincial, because any change in the CPP requires the agreement of both the federal government and a majority of the provinces.

However, the government simply vetoed any change in the Canada pension plan, abandoned the meetings, and left the provinces to their own devices. I think this was an extraordinarily short-sighted move that was detrimental to the well-being of future Canadians in their retirement years, but that issue was one of the election platforms of Kathleen Wynne. She won the election apparently on the basis of developing a made-in-Ontario version of an expanded CPP, which her government is now working on. I think she has given up on the current government on this issue and is hoping that our party might win the election, in which case we have committed to move forward with an expanded Canada pension plan.

Those are two main areas on which the Ontario party of Kathleen Wynne just recently won a majority government. Infrastructure and pensions are two areas that have suffered not from benign neglect but from malignant neglect, if you will, by the federal government, which is not helping out in either of these areas.

Another area is environment. Where there is a void, other governments will occupy that void. For many years the federal government has done very, very little on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions, with the result that we continue to get these fossil prizes at international conferences. The provinces have stepped into the void, setting up their own systems of cap and trade or carbon taxes to fill the void that the federal government has vacated.

Here is an example of a total lack of leadership, co-operation, or federal-provincial meetings on the environment. The provinces have stepped up to the plate and acted when no action was coming from the federal government, so at least that is better than nothing.

Another example is pipelines. This should be the forte, the strong point, of this federal government, because it has always thought of Canada as a super energy power and put all its eggs in the energy basket. If there is one thing we would think the government would be able to deliver on, it is pipelines to get all of that oil to market. However, the Conservatives have failed so far on pipelines in all three directions. On pipelines to the south, they have failed to get the agreement of the United States. On pipelines to the west, the northern gateway remains bogged down, partly through a lack of federal leadership on environmental and aboriginal issues. Now the pipeline to the east is also running into problems.

We have seen the premiers of Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec get together to discuss a national energy approach, and the federal government has again been notable in its absence. Again the provinces are working together without any significant involvement by the federal government to devise a national energy strategy. Clearly that initiative is floundering today, not just because of the price of oil but primarily because of the inability of the federal government to work with provincial governments to find a solution to the pipeline issue and to resolve those questions of environmental and aboriginal concern.

I could go on with other issues, but there is the list of flagrant derelictions of duty on the part of the federal government in failing to work with its provincial and municipal counterparts.

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario

Conservative

Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, there is so much I could talk about, but I want to specifically ask the member one question about something he referred to in his speech. He talked about the partnership between Kathleen Wynne and his leader and the admiration he has for some of the policies of Kathleen Wynne. I want to focus on one in particular. We saw it a bit earlier today when his leader and the Premier of the province of Ontario talked about working co-operatively for a carbon tax for the province of Ontario.

I want to ask the member specifically if he supports a carbon tax for the people of Ontario. Does he support his leader, who is calling for a carbon tax for the people of Ontario? I want a yes or a no on this question. Does he support his leader and the Premier of Ontario, who want the carbon tax? Yes or no?

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, one cannot give a yes or a no answer to a question that is formulated in a completely inaccurate way. I think what the member had in mind was a price on carbon, and I think—

Opposition Motion—Annual First Ministers' ConferencesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

It is the same thing.