Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cape Breton—Canso.
I am quite pleased today to speak on the subject of equalization. I am pleased because this debate affords me the opportunity to speak about this important topic while raising issues such as fairness, justice, truthfulness and honesty. Some people might argue that terms such as these may be a bit flowery for the often arcane statistical language one uses when speaking about Canada's complex equalization formula. The precise details are well known to those of us who deal with the minutiae of government policy on a day to day basis, but these details may not be known to the average Canadian.
Regular folks do not have the time to pore over the thousands and thousands of pages of information on government programs produced by our country's hard-working public servants. Regular folks are more concerned with working hard, making sure that their children and grandchildren grow up with good values so that they too may some day contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.
Regular folks expect their elected officials to do the monotonous work of combing through the endless documents to make sure that nothing is lost in the fine lines and they expect their public officials to do this in a fair, just, true and honest manner. Regular folks in Saskatchewan in most instances probably could not quote the precise numbers of the equalization formula, but regular folks in Saskatchewan know that a promise is a promise and that the Conservative government has broken far too many of them.
While I am pleased today to speak on this subject, I must admit that I get no pleasure in seeing the way the Conservative government has treated Saskatchewan's share of equalization in the last budget. I would like to take a brief moment to quote Premier Lorne Calvert's testimony to the Standing Committee on Finance last week. He said:
I'd like to begin by reminding committee members of commitments that were made to the people of Saskatchewan regarding proposed changes to equalization, in a letter delivered to myself from the now Prime Minister of Canada.... He said to me, “The Conservative Party of Canada will alter the equalization program to remove all non-renewable resources from the formula, as well as move the program to a ten-province standard.
Mr. Calvert went on during this testimony to outline promises from the 2006 Conservative election platform which restate the same promises that he received in the 2004 letter from the then leader of the opposition and now our Prime Minister.
Whether here in Ottawa or at home in Saskatchewan, Mr. Calvert has been a tireless crusader advocating fairness for Saskatchewan in equalization at every opportunity. While I may not agree with the New Democratic premier of Saskatchewan and many of his ideological positions, as a proud resident of that great province I admire his tenacity and the way in which he represents honesty and integrity.
Some have argued that his campaign is to bring attention to the Conservative government's betrayal of Saskatchewan as simple posturing, an attempt to shift attention away from his own government's issues and place blame on Ottawa's politicians. Like some of my colleagues in the House, I certainly would not try to know the thoughts or motivations of Mr. Calvert, but I am proud to say that I agree with his logic on this issue 100%.
Simply, a promise was made to Saskatchewan and a promise was broken to Saskatchewan. It appears as though promises were made to Canadians and to the people of Saskatchewan simply to mislead for political gain. When a political party or a government misleads the electorate, the political games are short-lived. Canadians do not like to be used for a political party's or MP's personal gain.
I am disappointed in what I have heard coming from the Conservative Party's Saskatchewan members of Parliament when this subject is discussed. Never in my time in public life, whether here in Ottawa or in first nations government and education have I been a witness to such deceit and breach of trust when people are placed in a position of prominence whereby their actions could help raise awareness of a great injustice and yet decide to sit mutely and do as they are told. Indeed it is a great tragedy.
Promises were made to the people of Saskatchewan by the Conservatives regarding the equalization formula, promises that were wilfully not kept, promises to remove non-renewable resources from the formula, promises not to claw back resource revenues and promises to ensure that as Saskatchewan further develops its resources its residents are not penalized for their success.
In some ways Saskatchewan has had a rough go of it in recent times vis-à-vis its neighbours, especially Alberta and British Columbia. There was a time not so long ago that Saskatchewan was the third most populous province in this great country. Decades of stagnation, out-migration and systemic changes in the agricultural economy have led to Saskatchewan's designation as a have not province more often than not, but this does not have to be a sad story.
I am proud to report that Saskatchewan is on the cusp of a major comeback focused on two important factors: our wealth of natural resources and our emerging competitive advantage brought about by unique and exciting demographic factors in the form of our fastest growing youthful aboriginal population.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government in a remarkably short period of time has taken steps to slow Saskatchewan's comeback through these broken promises which will adversely affect the amount of fiscal benefit derived from our natural resources.
We spent decades struggling to transition Saskatchewan out of its have not status toward have status. It is very simple to understand that non-renewable resources are non-renewable. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. Saskatchewan wants to keep the fiscal benefit derived from its non-renewable resources to build a stronger Saskatchewan, a strong, vibrant and viable economy that would entrench Saskatchewan as a have province for decades to come and at the same time make Canada stronger.
What the federal government has done is put the long term socio-economic viability of Saskatchewan at risk. I know Saskatchewan very well and this deceit from the Conservatives is a huge blow. It is a huge blow that is compounded by another betrayal.
The cancellation of the Kelowna accord harms the potential of our other underutilized natural resource, our first nations and Métis young people. The Conservative government has purposefully disadvantaged Saskatchewan. I believe it does not even have a clue or even understand what it has done to hurt Saskatchewan.
The Kelowna accord was a necessary first step that would have worked toward closing the gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians in areas such as poverty, housing, education and health.
The previous Liberal government, the provincial and territorial governments and aboriginal governments all agreed Kelowna was a historic event and yet the Conservative government dismissed and betrayed first nations, Métis and Inuit people across this country.
Saskatchewan's lost share of Kelowna was projected to be in the neighbourhood of $650 million to $700 million over five years, coupled with the twin blow of the broken equalization promise showing that aiding Saskatchewan's return to greatness is not a priority for the government. I believe Saskatchewan will make it despite these challenges, but the government certainly is not making that situation any easier.
The silence of the Saskatchewan caucus is a shame. In only one year the Conservatives have dealt a $1.5 billion blow to Saskatchewan. Instead of fairness that allows a province to reap the rewards of its economic development, we are given a new formula with pitiful justifications for its implementation.
Instead of the justice that Kelowna would have provided, we are given inequality, prejudice and discrimination. Instead of truthfulness and honesty, we are given broken promises defended through clumsy talking points that are so embarrassing the speakers must quietly shudder to themselves every time they have to repeat them.
To conclude, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous courage shown by the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley on June 5. Similar to Saskatchewan, the people in Nova Scotia were subjected to promises and agreements that were arbitrarily and capriciously thrown away by the Conservative government.
Media reports make reference to a heated debate behind the scenes during the past few weeks between the courageous member from Nova Scotia and his colleagues regarding how this budget negatively affects equalization in his province. It appears as though the member in question was not the only one among his now former Atlantic Conservative colleagues to raise concerns. Irrespective of how his colleagues may have individually voted, it appears as though several of the Atlantic Canadian Conservative members at least tried to do the right thing for their constituents. At least they tried.
The comparison between the members from Atlantic Canada and their seatmates from Saskatchewan is not flattering for the latter group. We have yet to see one small example of backbone from the terrified 12 on the subject of Saskatchewan's equalization. I must admit, however, that they are well practised in the art of parroting the finance minister's talking points.
Meanwhile regular folks in Saskatchewan go about their business, saddened in the knowledge that so many of their elected representatives refuse to fight for what is right. It appears to me that they are either too scared to stand up for their province or they truly believe that breaking promises which damage and risk Saskatchewan's future is the proper course of action. I do not know which prospect is scarier.