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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was money.

Last in Parliament November 2005, as Conservative MP for Southern Interior (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2004, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Transportation June 13th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, as the time for summer recess draws near, Parliament has once again managed to prove its own irrelevance. Standing committees are charged with the responsibility of scrutinizing estimates to determine if requested funds are justified, and if not, to reduce them. All too often this process is really a rubber stamp of whatever is requested.

This year, the transport committee did its job. It determined that VIA Rail had not needed all of its operating budget last year, yet was looking for an increase it could not justify to the committee. The committee reduced the requested amount.

The minister then came before the committee and attempted to brow beat and threaten members into changing their position without offering any justification for the increase. The committee stood firm. “No problem”, said the minister, “I will simply put the money back in and tell Liberals how they must vote”. The Liberals obeyed.

We have always known that voting is directed by the PMO. We now have proof that committees that are supposed to be masters of their own proceedings are ultimately subject to the same dictatorial process and Canadians will continue to pay out money that should have stayed in their own pockets.

Main Estimates 2003-04 June 12th, 2003

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the request for the restoration of the money that the all party transport committee saw fit to reduce VIA Rail by.

I heard the hon. parliamentary secretary start off tonight by saying that he was proud to rise on this. Frankly, I find that very difficult to believe. The parliamentary secretary is a decent sort of person. I actually feel a great deal of sympathy for him. He is in a very tough role. He has to support the minister even though the minister is totally out to lunch on this issue.

I would like to raise two points tonight, one of them being VIA's funding, just to clarify some of the things that the parliamentary secretary felt he had to say, and also the role of committees in scrutinizing estimates.

First, I just want to ensure that people are clear. What is at stake tonight is $9 million of VIA's budget. There is a misconception out there that somehow this actually affects its entire budget of $266 million. It is $9 million, or 2.9%, of its budget.

A hundred seventy million dollars a year is the annual amount of taxpayer money that the government gives to VIA Rail to operate in Canada. That is in addition to the $401.9 million the government committed to VIA Rail for capital expenditures in the year 2000.

The committee's job is to find out if it is justified in giving the money that the various agencies want.

VIA came before the Standing Committee on Transport and informed it that its ridership is up. The parliamentary secretary himself said that. VIA had more riders last year than it ever had before. How did that work out in its bottom line? Exactly like the parliamentary secretary said. Its revenues were up as well. As a result, its operating deficit was $154 million.

As we have already both agreed, VIA's subsidy for operating, which cannot be moved over into the capital expenditures, was $170 million which meant it had $16 million left over. Taxpayer money was given to VIA to operate at $170 million, but it only needed $154 million of that money. What did it do with the money? Did it return it? Did it actually save the taxpayer a small amount of money and give that money back? No, it did not. Somehow it managed to squish that over, play with the figures, fudge on it a bit, called it corporate profit that it was reinvesting, even though it lost $154 million, and blew that money on some other part of its operation.

That is one of the things the committee looked at when VIA came before it to explain why it was asking for this money.

What VIA is actually looking for is not only to get the $170 million again, which is $16 million more than it needed last year, but it wants another $10.5 million on top of that. That is absolutely unacceptable. VIA did not justify the increased funds and, frankly, neither did the minister.

What did VIA do? There was one project I know it undertook last year. Perhaps that is where a chunk of this money went.

VIA Rail went out and hired a PR firm by the name of Hill and Knowlton. It sent this PR firm out to British Columbia to lobby communities to request the minister to have VIA Rail expand its service to operate on what is known as the southern route from Calgary to Vancouver. What is interesting is there already is a train that operates on that, run by the private sector, formerly run by VIA Rail. This private sector company bought it from VIA Rail.

Therefore VIA Rail wants to have these communities, which it paid this company to go out and lobby, say that they wanted VIA to come back and operate on the same track a private sector company operated, the private company that purchased the business from VIA Rail in the first place. To be kind, that is pretty tacky. Perhaps that is where a bit of the money has gone.

The private rail company that we are talking about in British Columbia is called the Rocky Mountaineer. The minister, when he came before the committee, said that in the past VIA Rail did not compete with the Rocky Mountaineer because the Rocky Mountaineer was a tourism service and VIA Rail was a passenger service. Rocky carries tourists and VIA carries passengers who have to go from point to point.

While the minister was discoursing on a separate part of some of the conversation with members at committee, he said that VIA's ridership might be down in this coming year. He explained why. He said because of SARS and other problems there were less tourists coming to Canada, and of course less tourists meant less riders on VIA Rail.

I naturally seized on this because it kind of conflicted with what he had said in the past. I asked him if he was saying then that passengers who VIA Rail primarily carried were tourists. I said that I had always maintained that.

My position is who would ride on the train outside of the corridor? Outside of commuter rail, who will ride any distance on the rail simply to get from point A to point B? It is expensive, it takes a long time and a lot of it is carried on at night. For example, it costs more to go from Edmonton to Vancouver on the highly subsidized VIA Rail than it does the highly taxed airline. People can fly cheaper than if they take VIA Rail. VIA Rail takes 16 times as long, and contrary to what a lot of people think, it is not environmentally friendly. Commuter rail is, where there is high density movement of traffic. However to go from Edmonton to Vancouver by rail is less fuel efficient than flying on an airplane.

The minister acknowledged, yes, that very few people would actually get on the train to go any distance to get from point A to point B. He said that they did it for the rail experience. That begs this question. Why then do Canadian taxpayers have to subsidize a tourism experience?

Let us look in terms of the actual value of what VIA Rail provides. The minister said that even if VIA Rail went in the southern route, it would not be competition with the Rocky Mountaineer because Rocky Mountaineer was a high end tourist attraction. It provided a wonderful, fancy, high end product while VIA Rail provided a more straightforward service. Therefore it was completely different, appealing to a different set of clients and therefore not in competition.

VIA Rail from Vancouver to Edmonton goes 24 hours without stopping. An upper berth, the cheapest thing someone can get, costs $619.53. The Rocky Mountaineer is $729.00 but VIA Rail is so heavily subsidized. In fact I suggested to the minister that if Rocky Mountaineer got VIA Rail's subsidy, for the amount of passengers the Rocky Mountaineer carried, it could pay every passenger $1,700 to ride on its rail system.

I will move on rather quickly because there is a lot that needs to be said tonight.

The minister has moved to overturn the committee's recommendation to restore the $9 million.

Committees are charged with the responsibility of reviewing the spending requests of various government departments and agencies. What the minister is saying is that review is a waste of time. Unless the committee rubber stamps whatever the government wants, the government will simply overrule those recommendations.

First, it means the whole committee process is a waste of time and money. Second, it means there is no real scrutiny of the spending of taxpayer money. In fact the Liberal government in the past quite clearly suggested better scrutiny by MPs might have prevented the billion dollar overrun of the firearms registry.

The transport committee was simply doing its job. The minister's response has been essentially that he does not want us to do our jobs; he wants us to do what he tells us. The transport committee did not ignore its responsibility when it voted to support reducing VIA Rail's increased funding request. We stood up for those who elected us to come here and represent them. I hope other members of the House will not ignore their responsibilities and those who elected them when they vote on the restoration of funds tonight.

A vote against this motion is a vote in support of the committee review of estimates, and a vote of support for Canadians who look to us to ensure that all expenditures are necessary and appropriate. The additional $9 million for VIA Rail does not meet that test.

This is a chance for Parliament to say that we occasionally do some meaningful work in here and the government will not overturn what Canadians have sent us here to do.

Supply June 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am not about to stand up and suggest for one moment that any program brought out by the Liberal government will be fair and equitable. The intention may be to start that way.

I am sure when the government passed Bill C-68, the firearms registry bill, it thought it would be fair and equitable. It was going to cost $2 million but it has cost $1 billion.

I shudder every time the government comes up with some new program. The program will run over the amount budgeted. It will not work the way the government says it will. It will go for patronage type, pork barrel projects where the government thinks it can buy a vote. In fact, that is usually what the government does with tax money. It does not look at it and ask where the infrastructure needs to be fixed. It looks at it and asks where that money can be used to buy a vote.

Supply June 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to respond to some of the drivel that came out of the hon. member on questions and comments.

I cannot believe the unmitigated gall and arrogance of the federal Liberal Party to suggest that it knows everything, that it has all the right answers and that my province of British Columbia cannot make a sound financial decision. I do not accept that at all and I can tell the member that the people of British Columbia do not accept it. I am sure the people of the other provinces would be equally insulted with those unrealistic remarks.

The member talked about how the government dealt with the debt and the deficit. It has dealt with the debt and the deficit. We have had 67 tax increases under the government.

The government has bragged about how it has dropped the EI premiums by 11¢ but it does not talk about how at the same time that it lowered EI premiums it raised CPP premiums by 65¢. This is Liberal math. It is absolutely unbelievable.

The government says that we should at the provincial level give tax points to the municipal governments and yet the member says that it is absolutely wrong that we ask exactly the same thing from this level of government back to the provinces at a time when this government is gouging those provinces.

Supply June 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the supply motion today and perhaps point something out to the Liberal members across the way. In November of this year there will be a coronation. The Liberal Party will be crowning a new king and, unless something very unexpected happens, it will be the former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard.

What I would like to read to the House today is a portion of a transcript from the transport committee on December 4, 1996. The conversation was between myself, as a member of that committee, and the former minister of finance, the member for LaSalle—Émard, who will soon be the Prime Minister. Liberal members across the way might do well to listen and understand the position that was stated by the soon to be prime minister. We were talking about the concept of dedicated revenues with the gas fuel tax, the very thing we are talking about here again today. I addressed the former minister and said:

You yourself said today that the federal government spends about $300 million a year on highway infrastructure, but from my province of British Columbia alone you take almost three times that in federal fuel taxes. The provincial governments have a role to play in that, but the role we have to look at is ours.

Now, I believe what you said is correct. We can't just suddenly say sorry, we're going to dump that, about $5 billion altogether, into a dedicated fund. But we have to start. I think it is the right way to go. If the economy were better, then I would say yes, we have to transition fast. You're correct, the economy is very fragile, so we have to transition slow, but I still think it's the right way to go and we should try to start something along that line.

Would you agree we should at least examine the possibilities of starting something on that concept, even if out of the 10¢ it's 1¢ or 2¢?

The following is the response from the former minister, soon to be prime minister:

I must say I have probably a lot more difficulty with the concept of dedicated taxes having been the Minister of Finance for three years than I did when I was in opposition, because there is no doubt a certain warping of the mind occurs when you get this job.

My response was:

I always wondered what happened.

The former finance minister then went on to say:

Nonetheless, I think your question is a very valid one, and the way you put it is very good. The fact is it is really not something we could contemplate doing now, simply because I think the most important thing, and I know you agree, is to solve our fundamental financial problem and we really should not limit our flexibility at this time.

Now, you're suggesting that what we might do, given that problem, is to start very small and build on it, if I understand what you have just said.

I guess my answer to you...would be that you put the question well. there will come a time when we will have more flexibility and your suggestion is one we could perhaps consider. But I must say we would have to be generating, from my point of view, reasonably substantial surpluses before I would want to entertain the concept. Let me be very clear to you, because I think you've put the question in the proper tone, and that's the way in which I would want to respond.

I then said to him:

One of the things we've looked at, and it's been brought up by witnesses and we've examined it ourselves, is cause and effect. If you spend the dollar now, even though it's pretty hard to find that dollar out of all the commitments we have for our money, we might save an amount that is in excess of that dollar plus interest, as it impacts on our overall financial picture, by doing a relatively minor repair to something that will require major replacement. This is a very clear message that we have got from a lot of people.

I know you need every dollar you can get. I understand that. But by the same token, if $1 collected causes $3 worth of trouble, maybe we should be re-examining those things in all of these contexts, the dedicated funding for highways and a possible reduction to fuel taxes for the rail system.

The soon to be prime minister responded by saying:

The reason my original answer to your question was that we might be in a position - we're not in a position to examine it now, but we might be in a position - to examine it at a time when we're generating substantial surpluses is simply that you're not wrong when you say, look, if you spend a dollar now you might well save yourself $5 down the road. It's not that you're wrong in that at all.

What I would really say to you, however--and I think this is going to be very important--is that there is going to be second stage of the financial debate in this country when we go beyond the deficit to start talking about the debt-to-GDP ratio, the debt as a percentage of our gross domestic product. At that point the argument you're bringing forth is going to become very important.

I'm sorry to take so long, Chairman, but I think [the member's] questions are very good. I guess it's a function of timing.

That was said on December 4, 1996. We are now in the year 2003. The deficit is gone. The fund for the fuel tax, a tax which was put on in order to help fight the deficit, is still there. We did not say then and we are not saying now that all that money should be turned over.

As I said earlier to the member who spoke from the Liberal side, there is a possibility that it is not even legal for the federal government to collect taxes on something that is a provincial jurisdiction. Section 92 of the charter states:

Direct Taxation within the Province in order to the raising of a Revenue for Provincial Purposes.

The courts have interpreted that several times to mean that the provinces have the exclusive right to impose direct taxation to raise revenue for provincial purposes. In other words, the federal government retains exclusive right to oppose direct taxation to raise revenues for federal purposes.

If the government is raising taxation to create highways inside the national parks, which was the question raised in question period today with regard to Banff National Park, then there may be some justification for something in proportion to that amount of highway that is on federal property and for which it is responsible, but all the rest is the responsibility of the provincial jurisdiction and, as such, taxes imposed on those who are using that provincial infrastructure should not go to the federal government.

I will stop with that. There have been many points of view expressed here today. However the government is cash crazy. It seems to want money from every source. It has never seen a tax it did not like. Once it starts one, no matter how temporary it was intended to be, it never gives it up. If it just simply gave up the amount that it has said in the past was put on specifically to deal with the deficit, the deficit which we no longer have, that would be a very good start.

Supply June 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member who spoke said that he thought the federal government should not give away the ability or the right to tax. However, I would point to section 91 of the Canadian Constitution which states:

It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, the House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned...to the Legislatures of Provinces.

Section 92 states:

In each Province the Legislature may [make certain] Laws in relation to Matters coming within Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated.

Item 2 states:

Direct Taxation within the Province in order to raise money for a Revenue for Provincial Purposes.

The courts have provided that what this means is the provinces have the exclusive right to impose direct taxation to raise revenues for provincial purposes.

This has been challenged in the courts and upheld. The federal government is actually taxing the use of provincial jurisdiction. It is quite possibly an illegal tax. The government is coming in to individual provinces, like British Columbia, taxing the use of our highways, which is a provincial jurisdiction, and putting back a pittance.

Therefore why do we want the money left to the provinces to tax because: (a) it is their right; and (b) we would not mind if the federal government did it if it put some of the money back. Out of $5 billion, it puts $300 million for the whole country. It is shameful. It is criminal. Something should be done about it and that is what we are trying to do.

Petitions June 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition in which the petitioners point out their concern that the addition of sexual orientation as an explicitly protected category under section 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada could lead to individuals being unable to exercise their religious freedom as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They call upon Parliament to protect the rights of Canadians to be free to share their religious beliefs without fear of persecution.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act June 12th, 2003

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-443, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Mr. Speaker, my bill deals with the provision of statutory release which, in fact, requires people to be released from prison after serving two-thirds of their sentence, even if they have done absolutely nothing to earn that leave.

Canadians are appalled that someone, for example, who is sentenced to 12 years gets out after 8 years, having not done anything to earn that parole. We support the concept of parole and early release so that people are out under supervision to reintegrate, but only if they have done something to earn it.

This bill would address that and hopefully change things so that criminals incarcerated in jail would realize they have to mend their ways if they want to be released before the end of their full sentence.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Lobbyists Registration Act June 5th, 2003

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to make comments on Bill C-15 with respect to lobbyists.

We have heard it mentioned by many people how important it is that lobbyists not be in a position to disrupt the parliamentary process or to exert undue influence on parliamentarians. However I have to observe that lobbyists are not the only ones who do this. Many people exert undue influence on Parliament and disrupt the parliamentary process.

At the beginning of this Parliament, opposition members encountered tremendous difficulty with respect to Bill C-7 amendments due to the draconian measures brought in by the government House leader, and the government's dismissive view of the decisions of the House, ignoring such things as the motion for Taiwan's bid for observer status at the World Health Organization, and the motion respecting the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece from Britain.

Just yesterday the Solicitor General disrespected the sub judice convention, and today the Minister of Transport indicated that he would override the decision of the Standing Committee on Transport and reinstate $9 million to VIA Rail. All of these things disrupt the parliamentary process.

One of the members who spoke recently said that we should do everything in our power to ensure that we stop the exertion of undue influence and disruption in the House. In keeping with that, I move:

That this House do now adjourn.

Transportation June 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, in an attempt to defend the runaway firearms registry cost the Liberal government suggested that if MPs had done their job in reviewing estimates the huge cost overruns might not have occurred. The transport committee did provide that scrutiny with VIA Rail and it acted responsibly.

How does the minister justify overriding the work of the committee which is doing the very job that the government criticized another committee for not doing?