October 12, 2004

CPC

Rob Nicholson

Conservative

Hon. Rob Nicholson (Niagara Falls, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, it has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to address the chamber at length. I was a member of Parliament from 1984 to 1993. I remember speaking on behalf of the minister and the government on the child pornography bill in June 1993. It did cross my mind, at least fleetingly, as to whether I might ever get the opportunity to speak again in the House, but I was completely satisfied because of the importance of that legislation. In fact, that was the last thing I ever talked about in Parliament. It certainly was worthwhile. I look forward to the government introducing further changes in this bill.

I want to say at the outset, as I said 20 years ago, what a privilege it is and how wonderful it is to be in this chamber and how appreciative I am of the voters of the riding of Niagara Falls for giving me the opportunity once again. The riding consists of three communities. One of them is the town of Fort Erie, one of the great gateways to Canada. At the other end of the riding we have the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was the first capital of Upper Canada and boasts Canada's only Lord Mayor, and of course there is my hometown of Niagara Falls, Ontario.

I have said with respect to Niagara Falls, and I sincerely believe it, that no person can ever claim to have lived a complete life unless he or she has experienced Niagara Falls. I am very proud and grateful to come from that part of the world.

Let me congratulate the Speaker, the member for Kingston and the Islands, and congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, and the residents of Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon. I said to you privately something I will say publicly: I think it is a very great honour to sit in that particular chair and you should take a great deal of pride in that. It is a fact that in the last 137 years no legislative chamber in the world has a better record of protecting the rights of its citizens or of standing up for what is right in the country than the Canadian House of Commons. There is none, Mr. Speaker, so you and all those who, like you, have sat in that chair, can take this kind of pride in the fact that you are a part of this process.

I have been asked many times since I have been back about what has changed and what has not changed. I can tell the House about one of the things that has not changed. It comes within your purview, Mr. Speaker, and it is the individuals who provide you with advice from the table and the individuals who provide maintenance, clean our offices, provide security and drive the buses. I have invariably found them to be polite and friendly and they have made it a complete pleasure to work in this place. That has not changed in the ten and a half years since I have been here. I know I speak for every member of Parliament when I say how much help the people who work on Parliament Hill have been to us. That is the good thing.

I can tell members about something else that has not changed. I had the opportunity to listen to the first Speech from the Throne from the present government, in 1993. I do not know if you get the same feeling, Mr. Speaker, although of course you are completely neutral on these things, I know, but it is like I am hearing the same thing all over again. It has the same priorities. The same topics got covered. One gets the feeling that the same Speech from the Throne is being recycled every couple of years. To me, that was a great disappointment.

It is a disappointment as well for another reason. Mr. Speaker will know the history of the Prime Minister of today. For many years he has wanted to be and has planned for being Prime Minister of this country. That is his right, of course, as a Canadian citizen. He comes from a very distinguished political family.

What disappoints me about the Speech from the Throne is this. I would have that thought for him and those around us, having spent so many years in his trying to become Prime Minister, there would have been something that would have been a little unique, something a little original, something we have not heard before, a new idea in the Speech from the Throne.

I defy anyone to come up with anything in here that has not been recycled with the same old same old. To me, quite frankly, that was a disappointment too.

As well, I am sure the list of topics covered by the Speech from the Throne must be a disappointment to many Canadians. During the election campaign somebody asked me what I thought of the Liberal's day care plan. I told them the truth and said that I thought it was about the same as the last two times I heard it. I am no more or less impressed with it than the last few times I have heard it. It seems to me that it must be very discouraging for people to hear that sort of thing again and again. Part of the problem with this is that it is an area within provincial jurisdiction.

I remember being on a child care committee in the late 1980s. A woman from Snowbank in the Northwest Territories said to us that if we were talking about national standards in day care that she hoped it would not be Toronto's national standards that we were talking about. I was intrigued by what this woman had to say. She said that she knew what was coming. I should mention that not all of us were from Toronto. The woman said to us that if we were to come up with regulations that the children should be out one hour every day because that is healthy for them, that in Snowbank at many times of the year these children would die.

We should not come up with national standards for the city of Toronto because we will get into variations and regional standards. That will be the government's problem. It keeps promising a national child care policy but what we will see, and quite rightly, is that the provinces will speak up on this issue. When they finally sit down with the Prime Minister they will say that they regulate the area and that they know what is best in this particular area.

I suspect that the government will do much the same as what it did in health care if it is serious about it this time. I have no idea whether it is any more serious this time than the last four or five times. The government promised it, but if anything happens it will be the government handing out cheques with not much federal involvement at all. Those who think there will be major changes in this area should not hold their breath.

I was disappointed as well by some of the other things that were not covered. For instance, the government says in its Speech from the Throne on economic strategy that promotion of trade and investment is the fifth pillar of the government's economic strategy. Is that not wonderful? It did not address one of the major issues that can hold this country back in its economic development and that is what is happening at Canada's borders.

Just this morning about half a dozen truckers called my office from the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge along the Niagara River indicating they could not get their trucks into Canada. There are a number of issues, such as the labour issue on the Canadian side, and I urge the minister and the government to get these things settled. These things have been going on for a couple of years. The customs people must be reclassified. If the government wants them to do more work, to take greater responsibility and to get more involved with security it should pay them accordingly and get these things done. This has dragged on as well as the problems generally that we are having at the border. The Americans are very interested in security and I can appreciate that, but if the traffic does not move along Canada's borders it will hurt this country economically, not just along the borders but right across the country.

Economic decisions are being made right now by companies that are not expanding into Canada because they are worried about moving goods and services. The government can talk all the platitudes it wants and keep recycling it, I do not care--and I hope the Canadian voters will have a different view of this at the next election--but it should do something about our borders. If it opens up those borders it will find the consensus that I think it has found elusive up to this point.

Topic:   Speech From The Throne
Subtopic:   Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
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BQ

Yves Lessard

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Yves Lessard (Chambly—Borduas, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, first I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Joliette.

I would like to take this opportunity to say hello to my constituents in the riding of Chambly—Borduas and assure them that our political party, which is an important part of the opposition, will work as hard as it ever has to ensure that their interests are always well represented in this House.

One way to do so is to give our opinion on this Speech from the Throne. It is not for nothing that the three opposition parties were so united in their opposition. This Speech from the Throne does not reflect the concerns of the public—concerns that were expressed during the election campaign, that is, quite recently.

As the human resources and skills development critic for my party, I would first like to address this subject in relation to the Speech from the Throne.

My colleagues from the Bloc and I are certainly going to vote in favour of the amendment. I would like to talk in particular about the first part of it on the establishment of an arm’s-length, but not privatized, tri-party commission to ensure employment insurance premiums are used only for workers' benefits.

It is very important that this House pass this amendment. Failure to do so will mean many workers who no longer qualify for employment insurance will be kept in poverty. Eligibility requirements have become so strict that only 38% of those who contribute are entitled to receive benefits.

In response to a question I asked him last week, the Minister of Finance said that the employment insurance fund had been part of the consolidated revenue account for many years—since 1986, if I am not mistaken. Before 1986 it was a separate account.

In the first years this fund was part of the consolidated revenue account, there were relatively few difficulties. However, the requirements that have appeared since 1993 have gradually whittled the number of contributors receiving benefits from the 75% of workers who were contributing to the fund and were entitled to it to 38%.

All workers are penalized, of course, but women and young people in particular. Women are penalized by the very complex rules, which take into account the rate at which the required hours of work are accumulated. Because many women—more women than men— work part time, only 33% qualify for employment insurance. That is pretty dramatic, and the percentage is even lower for young people.

Hence the importance of ensuring that the government no longer uses the fund as a pot of gold. It uses it for other expenditures, like paying down the debt or transferring amounts to the reserve fund. Whatever the case may be, this fund is not designed for anything but employment insurance, providing social insurance to those who have had the misfortune to lose their jobs.

I have heard much praise of our country's geography from members defending the throne speech. They spoke of our green forests, our pristine lakes, the graceful outlines of our mountains. Great emphasis was put on all that. While I agree that we must take care of our environment, what I have just listed is not the product of governmental policies.

What is, is the hardship caused to many families across the country. I heard hardly anything at all about that in the throne speech. It was touched on only superficially, with fancy words in obscure passages, a couple of lines, for instance, providing that “the government will continue to review the employment insurance program to ensure that it remains well-suited to the needs of Canada’s workforce”. That is all it said.

And yet, we see all the difficulties facing workers when they find themselves unemployed. That is to say nothing of the rules, which are both restrictive and very difficult to enforce. Even civil servants recognize that, sometimes, people are not treated fairly because they themselves have a hard time understanding what the rules mean exactly. They take into account average earnings, regional unemployment, weeks not worked, flexible work schedules, and the list goes on. How can one make heads or tails of all this?

Consequently, people who must rely on employment insurance for their meagre subsistence must put themselves in the hands of the public servants, because very often they do not understand things.

Thus, $45 billion has been diverted from this fund in recent years. This is $45 billion that could have gone to the people who needed it the most. This is $45 billion that has impoverished families. This is $45 billion that was not injected into the economy of any of our regions, any of our constituencies. In the riding of Chambly—Borduas alone, there is a shortfall in revenue of over $38 million per year.

Of course we must vote in favour of the amendment. I invite every member in this House to do so. Moreover, I invite the House to reflect on an amendment that could be made during this session, in order to return the $45 billion to the EI fund, and that this repayment be spread over a number of years, which can be determined later.

Since I have two minutes left, I will be brief, although there is much I could say about seniors. There is $3.2 billion that belongs to them but has not been given to them, because the government did not provide enough information on the guaranteed income supplement program. Since this is a program for the lowest incomes, once again the least fortunate were the ones affected.

In the matter of child care, as far as the economy of Quebec is concerned, there is a shortfall of $230 million annually, because Quebec has its own system of child care centres. As a result of the tax rebate system, $230 million less goes to Quebec every year.

Then there is the matter of manpower training. We should have expected to hear in the throne speech that the rest of the training funds remaining in Ottawa would have been transferred, as they ought to have been in 1997 as well. Not only was the funding for targeted clientele, the disabled, the immigrants, the young and the old not transferred, but with this bill we have before us, they are nibbling away just a little bit more into others' jurisdictions. I will return to that point.

I will make my conclusion very brief. The government has missed a great opportunity, there is no denying that. The member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell has told us the year he started in this House. That is the year I was born. I was surprised at that, because I have seen his past vigour. He ought to have joined with us in stating that the government should have taken its cue from the 2001 report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

That report ought to have come back here to the House and been reflected in the main thrust of the throne speech. It was a unanimous report and contains reference to what have just raised. But there is no sign of it today.

That is why this Speech from the Throne cannot be accepted in its present form.

Topic:   Speech From The Throne
Subtopic:   Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
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LIB

Karen Redman

Liberal

Hon. Karen Redman (Kitchener Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I believe that you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That when the House begins the take-note debate on BSE later this day, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be entered by the Speaker.

Topic:   Speech From The Throne
Subtopic:   Business of the House
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?

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Speech From The Throne
Subtopic:   Business of the House
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Topic:   Speech From The Throne
Subtopic:   Business of the House
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LIB

Don Boudria

Liberal

Hon. Don Boudria (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I wish to seek unanimous consent that the second report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be deemed presented and concurred in.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
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The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
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?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
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The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, and of the amendment, as amended.


BQ

Pierre Paquette

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas on his excellent speech. I have known him for a few years and I can assure the House that he will make a very useful contribution here, particularly in light of this throne speech.

This being the first time that I rise in the House since the election, I also want to take this opportunity to thank the voters of the riding of Joliette, who once again put their trust in me, in significant numbers. I thank them and I hope to live up to the confidence they placed in me.

I also want to pay tribute to Joseph Forest, of Saint-Donat, who turned 100 years old on October 9. Mr. Forest is still very mentally alert, as evidenced by the fact that he is a staunch sovereignist. I wish him a happy birthday.

Getting back to the issue before us today, namely the government's throne speech, there is one thing that strikes me. A retired colonel mentioned it Friday on CBC radio, in connection with the tragic events that occurred on the submarine Chicoutimi . A retired colonel is not necessarily someone who follows politics the way we do in this House. He said that people hear the federal government talk about health, education, daycare, municipalities, which are all provincial jurisdictions. However, they never, or hardly ever hear the government talk about national defence, which comes under its jurisdiction.

While it is true that the government says little about national defence, the same may be said for international trade and the employment insurance issue. This throne speech is totally silent on federal jurisdictions. Only in the jurisdictions of the other levels of government, namely the provinces and Quebec, is the federal government full of good and very specific ideas. These are, of course, good ideas based on the centralizing and imperialist vision of the Liberal Party of Canada.

As we know, as far as health is concerned, they tell us that things need to be administered in the way the Liberal government has imagined it, whereas the federal government and the Liberal government of Canada have never administered health systems. This Speech from the Throne does not stop at health. No doubt they have said all they had to say on that, so now they start in on education. They call it learning, and tell us that learning is not exactly the same as education. Frankly, that is just playing with words. They talk about recognition of foreign credentials, when professional bodies came under provincial jurisdiction. In Quebec in particular, this is a debate that has gone on for ages, with the doctors' and other professional bodies. It is not up to the federal government to come barging in to help solve such a highly complex problem when Quebec has been working on it for a good fifteen years if not more. I had the opportunity of sitting on the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation and the Comité sur l'éducation aux adultes some years ago, and it was already an issue being discussed in depth at that time. Solutions are needed, but that said, adding the federal government's two cents' worth is not going to help.

When it comes to all the other elements, like child care, it is the same thing. There is a level of detail of great concern to the other levels of government in Quebec and the provinces. The provinces have also looked at the problems that exist in some of our public systems, such as health, education or day care services, and they have solutions that are often much better in terms of implementation.

As I was saying, it has a great deal to say about learning and about recognizing the foreign credentials of new Canadians. However, on something so fundamental to a sovereign country like Canada—something Quebec wants to become one day—as its international policy, which is its number one prerogative, the only sentence in the speech is, “This fall, the Government will release a comprehensive International Policy Statement that will reflect this integration.” What should have been at the core of this Speech from the Throne was all the concerns of Canada, Canadians and Quebeckers about international issues, but there was nothing.

There is the hot issue of the day: Canadian participation in the missile defence shield project, the one being pushed by the American authorities. With all the time that has passed since the June 28 election—the House even resumed two weeks late—one might have expected the government to be in a position to tell us something more than “there will be an international policy this fall”. They go on, moreover, to say that “Parliamentarians and other Canadians will have the opportunity to debate its analyses and proposed directions”.

We might now have expected a position or some parameters relating to the government's reflections, but no. Because they are aware that this is a touchy subject, and involves questions of federal jurisdiction, they prefer to keep mum about this particular hot potato and likely will end up trying to present all of the people of Canada and of Quebec, as well as all the members of this House, with a done deal. Not only is this unacceptable, it is undemocratic as well.

Now for employment insurance. The member for Chambly—Borduas was very clear about this in his speech. If there is one area that still falls, regrettably, under federal jurisdiction, it is employment insurance. I always think to myself that Mr. Godbout , the man who made it possible in the early 1940s for the federal government to reclaim jurisdiction over this from the provinces, must be turning over in his grave.

Employment insurance has been a terrible problem for years; ever since the Liberals “reformed” employment insurance in fact. The truth is, it started with the Conservatives. The House probably remembers the Axworthy reform. At that time I was working with the unions. Along with our young people, we fought that reform because we could clearly see where it was leading. It led us just where we thought it would, to the misuse of public money: $45 billion, as my colleague has said.

There have been drastic cuts in accessibility. Now only four out of ten people who pay premiums and lose their jobs ever get any benefits. It is no longer a social safety net at all; it has become a Canada-wide lottery. It has been denounced many times. In 2000, the ministers went to the Chicoutimi region. The hon. member for Jonquière is here to confirm that for us. The ministers said they were going to solve the problems. And what did we get as a bill? Something merely cosmetic.

A few weeks after the election was called, the Liberals thought they could fool the people with other cosmetic changes to EI. It fooled no one in the regions of Quebec and no one in the Atlantic provinces.

What we might have expected is not what is written in the Speech from the Throne. There we find a sentence that is probably receiving quite a bit of scrutiny, to the effect that the government will look into the employment insurance program to ensure that it remains well-suited to the new realities. What does that mean? Are they going to change it to suit the interests of multinationals that still prefer having a workforce incapable of achieving minimum economic security? Such workers can be forced to accept poor working conditions and low salaries in order to meet legitimate competition from developing countries. Is that what we want? That is what the Axworthy reform was.

Are they finally going to respond to the concerns of Canadians, Quebeckers, workers who want to have a real system, since they are paying for it? The same is true for employers.

Therefore, this is a subject that the Liberal government should have been prepared to meet head on with answers. My colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot spoke of this during question period. Year after year, we end up with surpluses much higher than the Minister of Finance predicted. It is true for the current finance minister and it was also true when the Prime Minister was finance minister, and when Mr. Manley was finance minister.

The surplus is systematically underestimated. Perhaps this is a way to provide funding based on conditions set by the federal government in areas where there are acute problems, such as health. That was what Mr. Chrétien did when he came up with $2 billion at the last minute after having said that he would probably not be able to do so without scraping the bottom of the barrel.

We need to have a good look at the real numbers in order to have the discussions that we should have with the provincial premiers on federal transfers to the provinces. This is not just about equalization. I think that everyone agrees on this except the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party of Canada.

We need an institute that could assure us of the validity of the numbers.

Everything I have talked about that was not elaborated on in the Speech from the Throne is in the amendment moved by the Conservative Party. It talks about an independent employment insurance fund to be managed by those who pay into it. It talks about having a free vote on the missile defence shield. It talks about the need to create an agency to ensure that the fiscal forecasts of this government are verified by an independent body.

All these items—and there are more in the amendment moved by the Conservatives—are not just concerns of the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois. They are concerns of Canadians and Quebeckers. The best illustration of this is that two-thirds of the members here in this House are not from the Liberal Party of Canada, but from the Bloc Quebecois, the Conservative Party, or the NDP, and the government has to realize that.

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
Subtopic:   Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
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LIB

Raymonde Folco

Liberal

Ms. Raymonde Folco (Laval—Les Îles, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Don Valley East. First, I would like to congratulate you on your election as Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my constituents from Laval—Les Îles who have re-elected me for a third time.

In the time allotted to me today I am going to focus on literacy for seniors and the recognition of foreign credentials for immigrants. These are some of the many priorities of our government raised by the Governor General in the Speech from the Throne.

Immigrants who came to Canada during the 1990s now make up at least 70% of our labour force. For a decade now, we have been relying on immigrant labour increasingly because of our growing needs in technology and our aging labour force.

A number of highly skilled immigrants have had a tough time getting a job in our economy, because of the way their foreign credentials are perceived by the employers.

We all have heard of engineers ending up driving taxis because their credentials are not recognized in Canada. Unfortunately, they do not have the opportunity to get training in the practices of their profession here.

These are the same people who were accepted on their qualifications and approved through the immigration process. They entered Canada because they believed in the premise that employers in various provinces across this country needed their skills and expertise. They now find that there are several barriers to their successful integration since these same employers do not recognize their professional degrees or designations.

Many immigrants are caught in a vicious circle of frustrations. They cannot get work experience in Canada, because no one will hire them since their credentials are not recognized in our country. It is a vicious circle.

Accountants, lawyers, social workers end up cleaning offices at night. It is true that our government and previous ones were not far-sighted enough to prepare for the integration of these new immigrants. We should have been more aggressive in implementing strategies to prevent this situation.

That is why the government will put in place a more focused workplace skills strategy, and work with the provinces and territories to improve the recognition of foreign credentials. The Liberal government will also work more aggressively with the provinces and territories, and provincial professional licensing bodies to make certain that together we can find a better and quicker way to profit from the skills of people who settle in Canada. Foreign trained professionals must not continue to remain on the economic margins of a country envied by many as one of the best countries to live in.

Our government has been accused of fiscal mismanagement. Obviously, the opposition has not been paying a lot of attention. It has a short memory. When the Conservative alliance was running this country, I am sure it made errors in judgment and was quite arrogant in its approach to dealing with these issues.

We all make errors in judgment and always learn from our mistakes. This brings me to the Prime Minister's reply to the Speech from the Throne. I will paraphrase what he said. He indicated that our government made sure its expenditures did not exceed its revenues, so that future generations do not inherit a debt. Our $5 billion investment in the establishment, over the next five years, of a national early learning and child care system demonstrates our commitment to laying a strong foundation for this country's future decision makers.

We will invest $45 million over four years in early learning and child care for aboriginal children living on reserves. This shows that this government recognizes that the situation of aboriginal peoples living on these lands can no longer be ignored.

According to the 2001 census, nearly half of the non-reserve aboriginal population was under the age of 25 compared to 32% of the non-aboriginal population. Most of the non-reserve aboriginal population, 68%, lived in urban areas with almost 40% residing in census metropolitan areas, in cities with a population of more than 100,000 people, so we have only begun our work.

I would like to now talk about the reality of our aging population. Before I do that, I want to congratulate the government on its commitment to ensuring the well-being of our elders. We do not need to create an independent budget office, as suggested by the opposition. Our government has successfully balanced the budgets since 1997 while eliminating the deficit.

While doing all these things, we are showing how much we value seniors. We are also showing that this is a government that listens.

Seniors say they need to be more active and involved in their communities. This government has reinvested in new programs for seniors. Between last year and 2005, $8 million will be invested, on top of an annual growth of $10 million. Homes and clubs for seniors in my riding of Laval—Les Îles will be happy to hear that this funding will help upgrade programming and will certainly stimulate interest among seniors and those who, otherwise, would remain passive, becoming virtually prisoners in their own homes.

In 2000, Canadian seniors represented 13% of the total population; in 2016, statistically, they will represent 17% of the population. Many seniors live to the ripe old age of 80 or 90.

This is a government that has not been sitting idle. It has set out an agenda in the second throne speech in less than a year and made strategic investments toward those priorities. These include being host to a first ministers' conference which struck a $41 billion, 10-year deal to strengthen health care. This deal has been accepted by all provinces and territories.

We are working with aboriginal leaders to improve health care starting with a $700 million blueprint. We have seen strong growth in the Canadian economy with Canada's economic output in the second quarter leading G-7 countries with the fastest growth in exports in more than seven years.

Our economy in Quebec is also in full growth. We are benefiting from the substantial transfer of federal gas tax to municipalities in Quebec. This money will help rebuild and maintain our infrastructure, including when it comes to improving our rail system.

Quebec is an entrepreneurial society. This budget provides the tools required to ensure the development of young companies. That is good news for Quebec.

Our government unequivocally supports the regions in achieving their goals. This includes our commitment to affordable housing and the homeless, improved quality of life for seniors, and a commitment to a long term plan to improve our health care system by reducing waiting lists and times.

We cannot do this alone. It will take the commitment of the provinces and territories to work together to accomplish these plans which were outlined in the throne speech.

This throne speech is concrete evidence of this government's commitment to acting on the election promises made to Canadians in the last election.

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
Subtopic:   Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
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CPC

Pierre Poilievre

Conservative

Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Nepean—Carleton, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spoke often of immigrant communities in the country. I have some of those immigrant communities in my own constituency and many of them of Taiwanese background have come to me with concern that the World Health Organization does not recognize their home jurisdiction or observer status at the World Health Organization.

This issue came before Parliament not long before the last election. The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to support the observer status of Taiwan at the World Health Organization. It is with great sadness, however, that this community learned that the diplomats of our country stood up at Geneva and in the end voted against the will of Parliament. They decided to collapse under pressure from communist China and oppose the recognition of that small democratic island at the World Health Organization at a time when east Asia and indeed much of the free world was suffering with the problem of SARS.

Imagine a jurisdiction like Taiwan with 23 million people suffering from SARS not having recognition at the World Health Organization. How does this hon. member stand in support of the throne speech when her own government voted against the will of this Parliament, voted against the health of all people, and voted against the basic recognition of what Parliament had said?

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
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LIB

Raymonde Folco

Liberal

Ms. Raymonde Folco

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether the member of Parliament has confused immigration and foreign affairs. Definitely the two are linked in some way, but they are two distinct areas of concern. I would say to the member of Parliament from the opposition that the best person he could speak to might be the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
Subtopic:   Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

New Democratic Party

Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her speech in response to the throne speech which had wonderful words and great rhetoric. However, there is a big gap between the words we have just heard and the actual action of the government. Let me point to a couple of examples.

Not too long ago we all received information that Canada's positioning in terms of the human resource index which measures our treatment of people in the country dropped from first to fourth place. On top of it all we learned that Canada is now placed 12th among 17 countries pertaining to poverty. In terms of wealthy countries, measuring our responsiveness to children and others living in poverty, Canada rated number 12.

If we put that into the context of the government's handling of the budget and its failure, either deliberately or inadvertently, to lowball the surplus so that the money is not transferred to meeting the needs of children in poverty, we have a pretty deplorable situation on our hands. In fact, Mr. Speaker, you will know that over the last 10 years the government has lowballed the surplus to the tune of about $80 billion. That is money that could have gone to meeting the needs of children in poverty, to students, to cities, to environmentalists and so on.

I would like to ask the member, is she prepared now to put her mouth where the money is and ensure that those surplus dollars are accurately forecasted to begin with and will go to meeting human needs?

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
Subtopic:   Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
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LIB

Raymonde Folco

Liberal

Ms. Raymonde Folco

Mr. Speaker, my reply to the question will be very simple. It is true that Canada's position has dropped and it is partly in recognition of this change that the government decided to put forward the measures it did in the Speech from the Throne that will later be backed by the budget.

For example, we know that in the aboriginal communities throughout Canada, and I have worked with aboriginals, the level of poverty is very high. The government has shown its willingness and effort that it will be putting into the aboriginal communities, particularly the youth in the aboriginal communities who are the first to be hit by this. I would also mention early childhood education as well, particularly the tax in favour of communities. These will be assisting communities to help those that are poor.

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
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LIB

Yasmin Ratansi

Liberal

Ms. Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the constituents of Don Valley East for electing me to represent them. I am honoured by their overwhelming confidence. I also would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker.

This week Canada was recognized by the world's central bankers as the best fiscal performer among the G-7 industrialized countries. According to the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements, Canada posted one of the sharpest improvements in its fiscal situation, and consequently has the brightest economic outlook. With the federal books balanced for the past seven years in a row, the federal government is now in a far better position to meet fiscal demands today than it has been in recent memory.

Prior to 1993, the federal government was saddled with rising deficits and an ever increasing federal debt. Double digit interest rates coupled with skyrocketing unemployment rates dashed the hopes and dreams of millions of Canadians. The federal government was awash in red ink and it began to receive severe warnings from the international monetary fund.

I am an accountant by trade, and having worked in both the private and public sectors, I can tell members that the success of any organization depends on responsible fiscal management. I can therefore assure members that the success of this government is no accident.

The current Prime Minister, who previously served as finance minister, immediately adopted a disciplined fiscal policy in 1993-94 designed to quickly eliminate the deficit. The ripple effects of sound financial management were felt throughout the economy. Interest rates began to fall and the unemployment rate began to drop. Gradually the quality of life of Canadians improved as the deficit grew smaller and smaller. That is why we must not squander our current fiscal balance by spending our way back into deficit. This is something the federal government cannot afford to do.

All governments face pressures to spend on competing and often conflicting priorities. Municipalities, provinces, territories and the federal government all feel the pinch to spend more money, but it is the federal government that must be the first to demonstrate leadership and practise sound fiscal policy. It is essential that members of the House and of our provincial counterparts rise above partisanship to address public interests. That is exactly what the Prime Minister intends to do in the coming weeks when he sits down with the provinces and the territories to introduce the most fundamental reform of equalization programs in almost 50 years. Again, I must emphasize that we cannot afford to return to deficit spending to satisfy short term and nearsighted political agendas.

Last week the government outlined its vision for the future with the Speech from the Throne. It is a vision backed with a plan to invest in Canadians. At the same time, it will maintain a sustainable budget that will never let us fall back into deficit spending.

At the centre of this strategy is a 10 year health care plan worth $41 billion. It will ensure that patients will have better access to services. Most important, it will provide the provinces and territories with predictable long term funding. The government also has committed $4.5 billion over the next six years to establish a wait time reduction fund. This will shorten the time it takes for Canadians to access critical care services.

Parents and children can also look forward to a national child care system. The federal government will implement this system in cooperation with the provinces and territories. We will also provide support for those who provide care to loved ones who are aging, infirm or suffer from severe disabilities.

The federal government will also establish a new horizons program for seniors. This program will ensure that Canadian seniors remain active and engaged in community life. The plan also affirms the federal government's commitment to provide a new deal for cities and communities. It will give municipalities more fiscal freedom by receiving a portion of the federal gas tax. The federal government will also help local governments by enhancing existing programs such as the affordable housing Initiative, the supporting community partnership Initiative for the homeless and the residential rehabilitation assistance program.

Prior to the throne speech, the federal government already contributed $12 billion in infrastructure funding to Canadian communities since 1994. It has already provided municipalities with full relief from the GST. This means all local governments will have $7 billion more at their disposal over the next 10 years. In Ontario this will mean municipalities will save $243 million in GST relief for this fiscal year alone.

Other initiatives in Ontario include: $435 million for expansion of GO transit and the York region transit services; $298 million for Ontario municipalities under the municipal rural infrastructure fund; and $56 million committed for affordable housing.

To ensure a clean environment, the government will proceed with its commitment to implement the Kyoto agreement. This strategy will make clean air, water and soil a top priority.

Finally, the federal government intends to assert a stronger presence in the international community. The peace and nation building initiative will have three principal elements: deploy the Canadian corps, which will harness the expertise and idealism of civilians with an emphasis on recruiting the talents and idealism of young people; reduce or forgive debts owed by poor and deserving countries; and increase the Canadian Forces by 5,000 regular personnel and 3,000 reservists.

In closing, when I first visited the Parliament buildings as a newly elected member of Parliament, somebody pointed out to me an inscription carved on the Peace Tower that befits a Speech from the Throne. The inscription reads, “Without vision the people perish”. That is exactly why the federal government has outlined an ambitious and exciting agenda for the people of Canada.

As the member of Parliament for Don Valley East, I am both pleased and proud to be a member of this government. More than anything, I am looking forward to being a part of the larger vision for Canada.

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CPC

Brian Fitzpatrick

Conservative

Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick (Prince Albert, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I thank member for her first speech in the House of Commons. I have constituents who are very anxious for details from the government. The government is good for platitudes and describing where it wants to go, but when it comes to the road map, how we get to where the government wants to go, that is where the problems usually ensue.

Therefore, I have two areas on which I would like the member to enlighten everyone in the House. I have many constituents who are anxiously wondering how they will get their gas tax rebates to their municipalities for badly needed infrastructure. Rural municipalities, towns, villages and cities in Saskatchewan all have infrastructure problems. Would the Liberal member explain to me what the formula will be for redistributing the gas tax in a fair and equitable manner to all communities across the country?

My second question is this. I am still trying to find the implementation plan to the Kyoto protocol. We all want to see what the plan is. Could the member direct me to a website or something that explains in detail how the Kyoto plan will be implemented in Canada? I anxiously await the precise answers to these good questions.

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
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LIB

Yasmin Ratansi

Liberal

Ms. Yasmin Ratansi

Mr. Speaker, as a new member of Parliament, there are too many questions, so I will basically choose those that I am capable of answering.

There are things that are not known and that is that Canadians received the highest tax reduction from the government. The government has been so fiscally prudent that it has not been showing that 35% tax reduction. The government also has been working with the provinces and territories. I think it is the collaboration that will help us all build the infrastructure that we want. The road map cannot be done in isolation. I commend the Prime Minister for being so conciliatory and working with the provinces and the territories.

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CPC

Jay Hill

Conservative

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to congratulate my colleague from across the way for her maiden speech in this place. I know it can be somewhat intimidating to rise to give our first speech. She did a wonderful job.

I want to comment on what my colleague from Prince Albert referred to as platitudes. I would agree with him. It seems that the party she represents is always good with flowery rhetoric, but it does not follow through, especially at budget time with providing the resources that are necessary to do all the great and wonderful things it brags about during throne speeches.

In particular, I would like to draw the member's attention to the throne speech that she just addressed. It states:

Enhancing Canada’s security means that we have to invest more in our military as part of defending ourselves at home, in North America and in the world. We have to earn our way in the world.

How would the member square that with the fact that the Prime Minister, in his first budget last spring, failed to bring in any new money for the operating budgets of our military, for our three services, the army, navy and air force, and utterly failed our military in the sense of bringing forward money to address not only operating deficits, but the new equipment it needed? We are continually forcing the good people we have in our Canadian Forces to make do. All of us are aware of the tragedy that ensues when we continue to do that.

How does the member intend to hold her own Prime Minister and government accountable so that they live up to the commitments they are making, not only to the Canadian people, but to the men and women of our Canadian Forces. They have made these statements in the throne speech?

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
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LIB

Yasmin Ratansi

Liberal

Ms. Yasmin Ratansi

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has stated that the government has platitudes and rhetoric. I do not believe that $100 billion in tax cuts is a rhetoric or a platitude. Nor is the commitment for $41 billion in health care or the commitment for $7 billion in cities.

I would like to remind the hon. member that when the federal Liberal Party took over just 10 years ago, the government had a $400 billion debt and a $43 billion deficit. We have to put our house in order before we can make commitments. I commend the Prime Minister for being so disciplined in bringing such fiscal restraint, but also investing in social programs that were so necessary.

Topic:   Speech from the Throne
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October 12, 2004