Mr. Speaker, on or about January 11 of this year staff in my constituency offices became aware of a 10 percenter publication printed and mailed in my name, and in every respect purporting to have been sent by me to more than 4,000 named residents of my riding.
On that same day my Parliament Hill office received from House Printing Services a signed copy of a requisition for service for printing purporting to be for and from me, signed by an individual unknown to me. This requisition was signed apparently on December 16, 2004.
On that same day, January 11, I telephoned printing services to enquire further and was provided with a copy of a letter dated December 21, 2004, from the chief government whip which purported to authorize the chief of communications service signing authority for printing services requisition for services in my name and others. Interestingly, the chief government whip's letter was dated five days after this requisition for printing services, namely December 16, 2004.
On or about January 14 my Ottawa office received from the House Material Management Branch a signed copy of a requisition for services for franked envelopes, again in my name and signed by an individual unknown and unauthorized by me, but apparently not the same signature as appeared on the printing services request.
I would point out the following: first, section 12 of by-law 301, members offices by-law, requires individual members of this House to delegate authority in writing to an individual named by the member for many tasks, among and including printing. In brief, no other member of this House can authorize another person to approve printing services in my name and on my account. Second, section 35 of the Canada Post Corporation Act authorizes franking privileges which are for the exclusive use of the member and for no other person.
In summary, I was unaware of the printing of this 10 percenter. It was printed without my written consent or authorization contrary to section 12 of by-law 301.
Moreover, it was mailed unknown to me using my franking privileges without my knowledge or authority contrary to the regulations made pursuant to the Canada Post Corporation Act.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, when you table the annual expenditures of individual members of this House, an amount will be attributed for printing services in my name which were patently not authorized or requested by me.
This chamber operates pursuant to rules enacted under the authority of the Parliament of Canada Act. They are specific and clear, intended for members of this chamber to conduct their own parliamentary function in an orderly and transparent fashion. When unauthorized use of printing and franking privileges are usurped by others unknown and unauthorized by a member of this chamber, it is a clear breach of privilege.
I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that this wholly unauthorized use of printing services and franking privileges in my name contrary to section 12 of by-law 301 and the Canada Post Corporation Act are prima facie matters of privilege, and with your approval I would move the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to look into the methodology used in obtaining the delegated authority referred to by the member for Sarnia--Lambton. I agree this method was wrong. I can assure the hon. member that this will not happen again. I apologize to any member who may have felt their privileges were breached with this exercise.
The Chair will take this matter under advisement. I will look into the situation and get back to the House in due course. I thank the hon. member for Sarnia--Lambton for his usual diligence in these matters.
Mr. Paul Crête (Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today in the prebudget debate. I have been a member of Parliament for 10 years, and the coming budget is the one we will have the most effect on. The people have decided to give themselves a minority government, a government with a much greater obligation to listen to the opinions of the elected members of this House and of the general public.
We have seen this in recent days; the Minister of Finance has met or will meet with each opposition party's finance critic. This attitude is the result of the voters' choice. They have given themselves a government they wanted to be able to monitor more closely. One of the first opportunities to see the effects of this will be when the next budget comes down. If not, the government will have to bear the responsibility for causing an election, because this government will be defeated if it brings in a budget that does not meet the demands of this House.
We went through an election campaign less than a year ago. We in the Bloc Québécois have laid on the table the very important elements we consider the key points the government cannot neglect.
I ask Quebeckers, once the budget has been presented, to decide whether it contains clear indications of a desire to resolve the fiscal imbalance and give Quebec back its room to manoeuvre so that it can do its work properly. On this, it is up to the federal government to make some efforts.
Last year, the surplus reached $9 billion, which went entirely to pay down the debt. No additional money was put into social programs or increased business productivity. Instead of dropping all $9 billion at once on the debt, half of it could easily have been used for that purpose and the other half for improving programs.
This year, in the new budget, because of its new minority situation, the government must listen to this request; otherwise it will pay the political price.
Fiscal imbalance is not the only issue in which we see such problems. Employment insurance is just as important.
I went into politics to help achieve sovereignty for Quebec. However, since I have been a member here, I have realized that the greatest inequity in the federal system is what the Liberals have done with the employment insurance system. They have turned it into a system that allows them to pocket as much money as possible and give as little as possible to the unemployed. The time has come to settle this matter and to give young people again the same access to employment insurance as all other employees. It is time to stop the discrimination against women and young people.
Furthermore, an assistance program for older workers must be established. There used to be one until 1995, which is roughly when the Liberals took office. They simply abolished it. Today, as a result of globalization, we are faced with situations like the one at Montmagny, where 500 people were laid off, including a hundred or so who are over 55 years old. These people have great difficulty finding new work. In many cases they have paid employment insurance contributions for 30 years and never benefited. Today they are told that after 45 weeks there is a gap and they will no longer receive benefits. This is unacceptable. We are one of the richest societies in the world, but we still have not learned how to distribute our wealth properly. This is an important issue and it has to be addressed in the next budget.
It is the same for seniors. The situation is very strange, I learned recently. Since early January, seniors have been receiving notices that there will be no indexation this month or the coming ones. The middle of winter, January, February and March, is when seniors have special needs. It is very odd that a mathematical rule is being applied, denying them the right to full indexation, which is, however, essential. Additional amounts, as announced in the throne speech, must be allocated to the guaranteed income supplement. Retroactive payments of this supplement must be granted. This money was stolen from seniors for years. It is essential that they get it back.
As a result, there are many matters for which this year's budget must correct inequities. New situations have arisen in the past several years.
In agriculture, in my riding, cattle farmers are living in very difficult circumstances, as are dairy farmers who have to sell their cull cows. All these situations, affecting people from day one, have not helped resolve the issue.
The federal government must allocate additional funds. It must invest money in the program to enable people to sell their cull cows to the slaughterhouses and get an acceptable floor price. That way, producers will be able to survive this difficult time. We must continue to develop new products. A clear message must also be sent to farmers, telling them there is a future.
A workshop on farm transfers was held in our region last week, and 220 people, including 60 young people, attended. Their proposals should be retained. For example, someone suggested implementing a program equivalent to an education savings plan, which would allow producers to set aside funds in anticipation of transferring their farms. This would ensure that they could save sufficient tax-sheltered funds so their children could take over from them, thereby putting a human face on agriculture.
So there are plenty of important issues. There is one I would add that I feel, as critic for industry, is vital. For some years now, one thing is on the increase, our new competition with China, India and Pakistan. A program such as Technology Partnerships Canada is necessary. It provides research and development support in the new economy. Now it is shifting from its original goal and is focussing on more traditional programs, such as furniture, textile and garment manufacturing. The federal government's current efforts in the textile industry are falling short. The industry has denounced this situation in no uncertain terms, and so of course have the workers, who are having a very hard time of it.
There are therefore a great many items that have to be included in the next budget.
The industrial development of the future will make it possible to meet the challenge of allowing our young people to continue to work in the industry, but an approach must be found that will allow them to be competitive with the rest of the world.
We will have to be able to compete with the Chinese, the Indians and the Pakistanis, but not by having unacceptable working conditions ourselves. There must be decent working conditions and support provided for development in an appropriate way. Why not help these countries to adopt decent working conditions and acceptable environmental rules, so that there is fair competition?
There are a number of elements for which the federal government already has the tools available. It has money available to it. It must take steps to meet the needs of today properly. It must make a fundamental choice.
It must stop squirreling away all the money in order to pay down the debt. That is a bit like a home owner putting all his money into paying off the mortgage in five years, and spending on nothing else. His children are growing up, and he has no money to pay for their education. He is not keeping the house up and is not spending.
The federal government must agree to correct the 100% reimbursement of the debt each year. It must agree to part of the surplus, this year's and next year's going to a better distribution of wealth and an increase in productivity.
This is what our fellow citizens expect, along with an increase in international aid. Often the judgment on how well the wealth is distributed at home is based on how we behave on the international level. In this connection, during the present PM's watch as finance minister, we dropped a long way behind. A supreme effort will have to be made to restore Canada's image in this area.
The people have reacted well in the face of the international events and natural disasters that have occurred. The government reacted slowly, but it has caught up. Now, cooperation must be made more solid, and we must truly help these countries, without trying to defend our own interests.
We note that this budget will be a fantastic opportunity to judge whether the present government has decided to listen to the people and include some items in the budget coming out of the last federal election.
When the people look at the budget, they must remember that on June 28, 2004, they voted for a government they hoped would provide certain things. In Quebec, 54 Bloc Québécois members were elected. You can be certain that we will not renege on our promises. We have the support of the public and we shall keep it. If necessary, we will go out and campaign in an election, because that will be necessary in order to win completely. In that way there will finally be a more equitable distribution of wealth and the government will no longer be able to hide behind a majority that has not enabled it to achieve the desired results.
We need a budget for the 21st century, a budget that will distribute wealth fairly and that will satisfy our people. I invite everyone to look at this critically and send us their comments.
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague defend Quebeckers and the people from his riding passionately and energetically. He is absolutely right. I want to ask him about something.
Earlier he talked about a notice that was sent to seniors indicating that there would be no index adjustment made to the old age pension for the next three months, including January. I think that is absurd. On the pretext that inflation is not very high, there will be no index adjustment, but for someone who does not have a lot of money, $2 or $3 a month is a lot.
I want his opinion on something. We know that for at least 10 years the purchasing power of seniors has decreased by roughly 10% because the index adjustment is made according to the general cost of living. However, the cost of living for seniors is much higher than the general cost of living. I would like the hon. member, who defends issues so well, to tell me whether my theory is logical and what his thoughts are on this.
Mr. Speaker, you have just listed the four regional municipalities I represent. This week I received calls from people in each of those four municipalities who receive the old age pension. Usually, every three months, they receive an adjustment that enables them to keep up with the cost of living, and not too badly.
In January, the pensioners received a letter indicating there would be no adjustment. But every day these people see their expenses increasing and their reality changing. Often these people, who are 70, 75 or 80 years old, have medicines to pay for, or must purchase special equipment, or must buy an accessory for their bath tub in order to be able to take a bath. There are many elements and many faces of reality for these people.
Here we have a situation where the federal government made a $9 billion surplus last year and is likely to have a $10 billion surplus this year. The government tells these older persons that it cannot give them their adjustment this quarter, that they do not deserve the extra $1.75 or $2 they would like to have. This is unacceptable behaviour.
That is why the Bloc Québécois, in its dissenting report on the budget, has asked for complete indexation. The federal government announced an improvement in the Guaranteed Income Supplement in its Speech from the Throne. The budget will be the opportunity to deliver the goods. There must be complete indexation of pensions and an increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement. We must ensure that our older persons who were entitled to the GIS and who were deprived of it for several years can get retroactive payment.
I would like to see the reaction of any member of this House who, being entitled to a certain amount, notices four or five years later that he has not received it, and when asking for a retroactive payment, is told that no payment can cover more than a maximum of 11 months. This kind of behaviour is odious. It is a concrete example of how the next budget must improve the situation. Whoever does not do this does not deserve to sit in this House. We will go back into an election campaign and an even clearer message will be sent to the present government.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my august colleague. I think that this speech is fully in keeping with the Bloc Québécois' expectations and principles. Our party was re-elected on the basis of principles. It is extremely important to us. We are here to defend the interests of Quebeckers.
Even in the context of a minority government, if the government behaves arrogantly, it is important for us to present the facts and tell it that if it hopes to remain in power, it must make changes, otherwise we will do what we have to do. I think this is extremely clear.
I want to ask my colleague to specify, with regard to retroactivity, how the government could give seniors back what was stolen from them.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for his intervention, which reminded me that we had made demands with regard to social housing too. He is one of my colleagues who considers the promotion of social housing to be extremely important.
We are asking the federal government to devote 1% of its expenditures to the construction of social housing; this represents approximately $2 billion per year. I hope that significant gains in this area will be possible thanks to the coming budget.
As for indexation and retroactivity, it is obvious that legislative change is essential in terms of the retroactive payments owed people who should have received the guaranteed income supplement and did not.
As for the old age pension, the budget clearly indicates that this falls under the government's current account. At present, the ceilings of the basic pension and the guaranteed income supplement need to be increased. This way, we could fight poverty and allow seniors to live decently. They already have enough problems in their lives without the federal government adding another injustice such as the one they are experiencing currently.
Hon. Sarmite Bulte (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on the prebudget consultations. I want to share with the House and Canadians the results of a number of prebudget consultations which I held in my riding and also throughout the city of Toronto.
Since being elected in 1997 I have annually held prebudget consultations with individuals, members of not for profit organizations, and representatives from business organizations. This year in my role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I also held consultations with representatives of the greater Toronto area's artistic and cultural organizations to determine what these organizations need and what our government could do to help artists and arts organizations achieve and maintain greatness in their respective fields in Toronto.
If we can help Toronto's artists and arts communities achieve greatness, because these organizations and artists are integral to the economic and social life of the city of Toronto, then we can create a blueprint to allow all artists and arts organizations to excel in Canada.
In December I held a prebudget consultation meeting at Swansea Town Hall. The notice calling the meeting asked a very basic question especially in light of the announcement on November 16 by the Minister of Finance of a $9 billion surplus for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2004. The question was simple. What should the federal government do with any future surpluses?
Along with this general question the following four supplementary questions were asked: First, how should the federal government allocate any future discretionary finances between tax relief, new spending and debt repayment? Second, if taxes are to be cut, which ones should be reduced and to whom should the cuts be directed? Third, if the government is to spend more, which new or existing programs should receive this spending? Fourth, if the federal debt is to be further paid down, how much should it be reduced versus spending more and/or taxing less?
Prior to entertaining budget suggestions from the floor, we also presented and reviewed a federal budget history chart. It summarized revenues, expenses, international debt payment and any surplus or deficit from the fiscal year 1993-94 to and including the fiscal year 2003-04. We also reviewed a chart summarizing federal debt history from 1993-94 to 2003-04 and reviewed recent major initiatives regarding taxes and debt, as well as the government's recent major initiatives regarding spending.
My constituency office prepared these summaries. I would be more than pleased to share them with members on all sides of the House.
At our meeting there were a number of budget items that received overwhelming consensus. I am sure this will be hard for members of the official opposition to believe but no one at that meeting called for immediate tax cuts. On the other hand there was widespread agreement that the government should continue to pay down the debt but to do so gradually, however, not at the expense of the social programs that are integral to our values as Canadians.
A number of constituents also suggested that perhaps it was time for the federal government to put in place some type of mechanism which could more accurately anticipate surpluses prior to the year end. Initially Canadians could understand that budgeting very conservatively led to huge surpluses and currently these huge surpluses were immediately applied to the debt when in fact if the proper budgeting had been done, these moneys could have been spent on programs or tax cuts during the fiscal year.
There is also a very important thing which I learned a number of years ago which I would like to share with the House. It is something which was told to me by a constituent during prebudget consultations a number of years ago and which it is important for all of us in the House to keep in mind during the budget process. A constituent wrote and reminded me that in deciding on budget priorities, one must never forget that the fiscal choices we make reflect the kind of society we want.
In terms of spending initiatives, certainly in my riding in the city of Toronto there was unequivocal support for additional funding for cities and also for communities. The need for an immediate investment in public transport was paramount not only in terms of the TTC in Toronto, but also in terms of the GO train, the train that connects the greater Toronto area to the city of Toronto. My constituents were unequivocally clear that they did not want money spent or wasted on the Front Street extension, which abuts my riding and which would cause major chaos in my community.
The second most important priority in my riding was the need for housing. Notwithstanding the successful federal-municipal partnership of the supporting communities partnership initiative, or SCPI program, an excellent program in the city of Toronto to address homelessness, I regret to say that homelessness continues to be a problem. There is also a need for more low income housing in Toronto. It was highly recommended that any such initiative emphasized green affordable housing, which is a project being considered in the part of my riding known as Parkdale.
The next priority in my riding and in the city of Toronto is immigration which, as hon. members all know, is an integral part of Toronto's landscape. It desperately requires additional funding. It was recommended that additional funds be allocated for resettlement purposes. Language training programs should be enhanced. The government should and must set aside funding to assist newcomers in obtaining professional accreditation.
Money for youth programs was also considered a priority. Programs for retraining should be enhanced. The cost of post-secondary education continues to need to be addressed, along with the continuing problem of escalating student debt. We cannot forget our young people when we look at our priorities and when we look at our needs as a nation.
Last but not least, and I am sure hon. members will not be surprised to hear this, enhancement of funding for the arts was also noted. One cannot overlook the importance of the arts, especially in terms of the cities' and the communities' agenda. Our artists and cultural organizations play a key role in the economic and social well-being of our cities and communities. The arts are the essence and the vibrancy of our communities and cities.
At this point and before going on to share with the House a number of the priorities of the arts and culture sector, I would like to take this opportunity to commend and to thank the chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, and the other members of the standing committee, including my colleague from the greater Toronto area, the member for Beaches—East York, for their report and recommendations on culture. I believe that this is the first time since I was first elected in 1997 that culture received more than just a passing mention.
There are seven pages on the cultural sector in the finance committee report. I did look at the dissenting opinions and I cannot say that anyone dissented or disagreed with investment in the arts. I believe it was the Bloc which encouraged that while some of the recommendations with respect to culture were very good, a key item had been left off, and that I believe was the GST on books. In a minority government, I take that actually as a round of applause and unanimous support for Canada's cultural sector. I have to tell the finance committee how proud I was when I read that report.
I would like to read out loud to Canadians and members of the House who may not be familiar with the specific recommendation. Recommendation 11 reads as follows:
That the federal government provide stable, long term funding to the following elements of federal support for arts and culture: the Tomorrow Starts Today program; the Canada Council for the Arts; Telefilm Canada; the Museums Assistance Program; the Community Access Program; the Canadian Television Fund and initiatives designed to promote Canadian culture internationally.
Moreover, the government should increase funding for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio-Canada.
As well, the government should allocate funds to build capacity and assist archives with respect to archival content.
Finally, the government should increase the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit to 30%.
I cannot help but note that I am actually watching the vice-chair of the heritage committee who is listening quite attentively. The vice-chair sat on the previous Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage when we drew up what has come to be known as the Lincoln report, entitled “Our Cultural Sovereignty”. Some of the recommendations that are found in the finance committee's report were actually in our standing committee's report, so it looks like we are actually listening.
I would like to take this opportunity to urge my colleagues in the House to also urge the finance minister to implement in its entirety recommendation 11 of the Standing Committee on Finance.
As I stated at the beginning, I held a number of consultations with various arts groups in the city of Toronto and the greater Toronto area last year. They reconfirmed that a revitalized arts and culture sector is integral to the success of ensuring that Canada's cities and communities are safe, prosperous and stimulating places to work.
We all now know the work of Richard Florida, the urbanist. We seem to quote him again and again. Ever since Richard Florida wrote about it, we know how important the arts are to our communities, to attracting people and citizens to our communities. It has been a long time coming that we finally sat and listened to this.
It is important to note that not just Richard Florida, who is a U.S. author and urbanist, wrote about this but even our Federation of Canadian Municipalities has recognized how important the arts and culture sector is to our Canadian cities and communities. There is not a magazine that we can pick up that the FCM has distributed where arts and culture is not front and centre. The FCM has a subcommittee which deals in particular with how we enhance the arts and culture sector not just within our large cities but also in our communities.
I would like to share with members some of the comments and recommendations that I received from some of the larger arts organizations that participated, including the Stratford and Shaw festivals. One meeting I held was with the larger cultural institutions. When I say larger cultural institutions I do not mean just the Toronto based ones but the large Canadian based cultural institutions. There is no doubt that in Canada they are seen as jewels in the crown but unfortunately they lack stable adequate funding. This is a constant threat to their continuing excellence.
What is interesting to note is that they pointed out to me that they are not asking for new funding models or new funding programs, because those are not necessarily the best solutions. We need to look at the enhancement of existing programs that work, more specifically, Tomorrow Starts Today.
I just spoke about the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. At its last annual meeting a resolution was brought forward by cities either in Alberta or British Columbia to urge the federal government to renew the Tomorrow Starts Today program. For those who may not be familiar with it, the Tomorrow Starts Today program was announced by the government in May 2001. The government provided a brand new total of $560 million, which is the largest reinvestment in the arts in Canada in the last 40 years.
There were various envelopes to that program, including the culture capitals program, the arts presentation program, an endowment program, Canada culture online, additional moneys to the book publishing industry and, very importantly, additional moneys for the Canada Council.
The Canada Council came up during our discussions as well. It was felt that one way to support all of our arts and cultural sectors across Canada was to perhaps refocus the priorities of the Canada Council. We also duly noted, as we all should in this House, that the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council is coming up in 2007. In fact, this could be used as a springboard for new funding and new programs.
There is no reason to recreate the wheel. What we should do is build on our successes and build on the excellence and build on what we know in Canada. This works not just in the large urban areas but also in all of our communities.
Another important issue that was brought up was the importance of touring. Again, financial constraints preclude the major organizations from active touring, both nationally and abroad. Touring was seen by most participants as essential to showcasing the best of Canadian culture, attracting new audiences and providing new fora for our performers and creators. I personally would like to add that it is a wonderful way of ensuring Canada's place in the world as one of pride and one of influence.
It has recently come to my attention that the arts promotion program under the Department of Foreign Affairs is being scheduled for a 35% cut in funding in March 2005.
According to Martin Bragg, the artistic producer of CanStage, one of the country's largest performing arts companies and a company that is a beneficiary of this program to tour its production of The Overcoat , notes that there will be severe consequences and the impact of this cut will have a terrible effect on the arts and cultural sector.
In his letter, Mr. Bragg states the following:
The Arts Promotion Program has been the primary source of finance assistance from the Canadian government for the promotion of Canadian culture, both nationally and internationally.
This proposed cutback would drastically reduce the trade and commerce of Canadian culture around the world by over 50%. Currently, almost half of all applicants to the program are declined funding. The cutback would increase that percentage to 85% for all applicants in the performing arts.
He then goes on to note:
As it stands, the funding available through the Arts Promotion Program is not enough. When set against our G-8 counterparts who annually commit over one billion dollars per year, Canada's contribution to the international arts promotion is extremely humble. This funding must be increased, not cut, if Canada is to strengthen our presence in the international markets through the development of cultural partnerships, the fostering of cross-cultural exchanges with emerging markets (i.e. China, Brazil, India) and the initiation of Canada-U.S. culture diplomacy programs, among other efforts.
Another recommendation the finance committee made with respect to culture and an important fund for our television and film sectors, and one which I strongly support and I know members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage have supported, is to provide stable, long term funding to the Canadian television fund, the CTF, one of our great success stories.
Just last week I received a letter from Michael MacMillan who is the chairman and CEO of Alliance Atlantis which makes the social economic case for establishing the CTF as a permanent fixture and to maintain funding at the current level of $100 million per year.
As I am running out of time I would like to make my last submission from a cultural, economic and social argument as to why this fund is as important as the other programs that support our arts are important.
Mr. MacMillan writes:
While Canadians are wholeheartedly aware of the many choices faced by your government in delivering a fiscally prudent budget, we believe it is important to consider the CTF funding in the context of its benefits to an economically and culturally vibrant Canadian industry. Of the $3 billion that the government spends annually on culture each year, this sector directly contributes $27 billion to our gross domestic product. Since 1996, the CTF has provided $1.7 billion in funding towards the creation of 18,000 hours of programming in English, French and Aboriginal languages. The total value of these productions is currently estimated at $6 billion. As these numbers illustrate, the CTF is a major contributor to the ongoing vitality of the Canadian broadcasting sector.
I know I have run out of time but perhaps we can continue this discussion another time. I hope members on the opposite side will support me in these recommendations.
Mr. Steven Fletcher (Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, the member across the way talked about the fact that none of her constituents raised the issue of tax cuts. I have to wonder which constituents she sampled.
I wonder if the member would agree that everyone benefits from tax cuts, particularly those who are considered to be in the low or middle income tax categories. Not only do they benefit from the higher disposable income, which they can spend on their families, but it also attracts professionals from regions all over the world and also reduces the brain drain from Canada to other areas.
If this current government were more responsible with programs like the gun registry, for example, by eliminating the gun registry, or by dealing with scandals and corruption in government, would the member agree that efficiencies could be found that would reduce spending so we could then focus on issues such as tax cuts, health care and other areas that are indeed priority areas?
I also wonder if the member would agree that when it comes to a choice between health care and, as some, although not all, of the groups that the member mentioned in the cultural community, arts and culture, that health care education would take precedence over some of the programs the member outlined.
I hope everyone in the House agrees that tax cuts are good for the economy, that they create a larger tax base and that everyone benefits. Does the member agree?
Mr. Speaker, I hope I have the opportunity to answer all hon. member's questions.
When I was going through the priorities, tax cuts were not one of the top priorities. That is not to say that some people do not want tax cuts. The people in my riding, and I am not speaking for everybody, but from a sample of the people who were there, they understood that the Government of Canada over the last five years has reduced taxes by $100 billion. Yes, the government does understand how important tax cuts are.
We also brought in full indexation, which especially helps seniors. We raised the tax free amount. We reduced the middle income tax bracket from 26% to 23%. Income ranges for low and middle income brackets have been raised. All surtaxes have been eliminated, which helps the poor and middle class. High tech and small business corporate taxes have been reduced from 28% to 21%, and the small business level has been raised to $300,000. Employment insurance premiums have actually been cut eight times. I think the government has been proactive and does understand the concerns that the member is bringing forward.
With respect to health care and child care, those are certainly two of the three priorities that the Prime Minister has mentioned. The third priority has been cities. I think it is time we stopped saying that it is either health care or the arts, or that it is either health care or child care. That is not what government policy is about. It is about having a holistic approach. As controversial as it may sound, our arts and culture are integral to the health of our communities, as is education and health care. It is not one or the other. It is about working together to find a holisitic approach for all cities.
Mr. Speaker, I have one comment and one question. I hesitate to bring up employment insurance considering the amount of money that has been sloshed over from that fund over the years, paying down all sorts of different things except going to workers.
I actually do not come from a city. I come from a rural place. I hope this new deal will be called properly cities and communities, as I think it has been renamed, and I applaud the member's efforts in the arts community in Toronto.
In rural communities, the CBC is an extraordinarily important part of how people receive information, news, culture and come to understand what we call Canada.
Could the member confirm for us today that there will not be any funding cuts to the CBC's budget? We have been on a real tricky path trying to find out the succinct answer that would say that the CBC will not be facing any cuts in the upcoming budget.
Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Human Resources Development said in the House in the last day or so, we made the commitment in the Speech from the Throne to ensure that EI reflects labour market realities. I was glad to hear that and I support that position. I hope we will be working toward that.
In answer to the member's first question, I personally would like to see EI brought within the new labour force market realities for the self-employed, especially for self-employed women and how we can deal with that.
In answer to his second question concerning the CBC, I am probably as big an advocate of the CBC as the member is in rural Canada. I have chaired the Liberal CBC caucus committee for a number of years. I have been a supporter of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. Unfortunately, I am not the finance minister but I would join the member in urging the finance committee not only to not cut the CBC but to ensure long term stable funding for the CBC.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to find out something from any member of the government, be it the finance minister or members who recently presented. I would like to ask a question and make a quick observation.
It has been a proposal of the Conservative Party to have the federal tax dollars, which our constituents pump into their gas tanks, returned to communities. Right now the money is sent to Ottawa and are rarely seen again in British Columbia. What we do see is only a tiny percentage of what we send to Ottawa.
Could someone tell me, without revealing confidences of course, whether our proposal to have a significant portion of those tax dollars returned to the constituencies from which they came, is in the upcoming budget and if it is, how aggressively that will be pursued?
I can tell the House that the mayors and councils from Logan Lake, Merritt,Westside, Peachland, Summerland, Penticton, Eramatta, Colleagan, Okanagan Falls, Twin Lakes and all the other people involved would be very pleased to see that happen. I say that at some risk that they might even begin to feel better about Liberals.
The observation I have is this. Would the member indicate that she will strongly object to what we understand is coming? We understand that there are a lot of big issues. The House knows our position on taxes, on the deficit, on debt reduction and all of that. However there is something that could be revealing in the government's overall philosophy in the proposal to tax junior hockey players on the tiny little amount that they have for accommodation and meals.
I talked to people like Scott Carter, the owner of the Penticton Vees, the one time world champions. Junior hockey players right across the country are saying that they receive something like $325 to house themselves and to eat and that if the government goes ahead with this tax, junior hockey players will not be eligible to go, for instance, to the United States on scholarships. It will also have a severe impact on Olympic athletes.
As I said, sometimes these little things reveal something much larger about the government philosophy. Could the member also comment on that?
Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the question with respect to providing aid to cities first.
Providing aid to cities has been a key platform within the government and under our new Prime Minister. When he took office, the Prime Minister's three priorities were cities, health care and child care. He moved immediately to reduce the GST for municipalities. In our election platform we committed to move ahead on the gas tax. I believe that is about what the hon. member is speaking. I have also been lobbied to expand the gas tax to the diesel tax. I can say with some confidence that the Prime Minister has said that we will ensure those platform promises are acted upon.
Knowing how important the gas tax is, the Prime Minister is working with the minister responsible for infrastructure and communities, and I hope the finance minister is listening. I and the city of Toronto also support moving quickly on the gas tax.
With respect to junior hockey, I am not a specialist in the sports area. I have heard that submissions are being made to finance with respect to this. We need to move forward with artists in the same way because all of a sudden they are no longer being looked at as being self-employed, but rather as employees and that has huge ramifications for all artists across Canada. This is similar to the hockey player situation.
I undertake to take the member's message forward to the Minister of Finance.
Mr. Steven Fletcher (Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry I have to cut off the hockey debate. It was interesting.
I too have been talking to my constituents about the budget and what we expect to see in it. As I am the health critic for the official opposition, I would like to begin with the number one issue that faces the citizens of Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, including Headingley, and that is health.
For over a decade the Liberal government has gouged the health care system by cutting funds to the provinces by $25 billion over a four year period. As a result, the system has been beset with numerous problems detailed in study after study. Even last week a report from the Health Council of Canada again highlighted the results of the lost decade of Liberal neglect in health care.
The list if familiar. We have a growing shortage of health care practitioners and too many qualified foreign trained professionals who are unable to work in Canada due to our antiquated foreign credential recognition program.
Another issue is the quality of care disparities between regions and the socio-economic groups throughout Canada. This is especially true for first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples whose health ranks well below the national average. Great disparity in the quality of care also exists between urban and rural areas of our great country.
Inattention toward the root causes of poor health such as poverty, the lack of access, poor stakeholder coordination, lack of prevention and unhealthy lifestyles have also not been dealt with by the government.
We have seen increased waiting times for treatment, et cetera.
The need for primary care is also very important. New models of delivery are asked for and we need to encourage more medical students to enter the practice so that we can have more attention to front line services.
I would like to advise the Speaker that I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver Island North.
The HCC report also emphasized that too little progress had been made since the 2003 health accord. More effort must be made to accelerate the pace of change. This budget will determine whether the government has committed itself to changing our health care system for the better or if it is going to contribute to its ongoing decline. I suspect the latter is unfortunately the case as the government has a terrible record when it comes to health care.
The Conservative Party supports commitments made in the 2003 first ministers accord and at the first ministers conference last fall to try to restore some of the funding to core health services. Again, I would like to highlight the fact that it was the Liberal government that caused the health care crisis in the first place. Even though the government agreed to the 2003 health accord, it reneged on its obligations in that regard. In regard to health, I hope the Liberals will change the dangerous course that they have set for the country.
In the 2005 budget the Liberal Party must restore funding to the health care system by also allowing not only the $41 billion over 10 years earmarked by the PM for health care, but he also has to ensure that the commitments made by all parties are fulfilled. It was the Prime Minister who said in the last election that he would fix health care for a generation. However, it is the government that has wrecked the health care system for at least a generation.
We also see another broken promise by the Liberal government when it comes to a national pharmacare program. The Conservative Party promised a national pharmacare program for catastrophic drug costs. The Liberals made a similar promise, however, rather than action we see inaction. In the health accord struck this past fall, the Liberal Party did nothing in the area of a national drug program, other than strike a task force that will not report for another couple of years. Committees will not solve this problem. Only action will, and only a Conservative government would do that.
In respect to the doctor shortages, we have many foreign trained doctors in Canada who are unable to practise. Strippers on the other hand do not seem to have any trouble getting into Canada while the Liberals are in charge. The immigration policy must be given a priority in the budget to ensure that qualified foreign doctors, nurses, technicians and other health care professionals are quickly approved and able to practise in Canada. This means a clear workable process for immigrants to obtain equivalency for their international skills, training and experience. It also demands ensuring that Canada successfully encourages skilled immigrants to make this country their destination of choice.
The Conservative Party believes that all Canadians should have reasonable access to timely, quality health care services, regardless of their ability to pay. Health is ultimately a provincial jurisdiction, but this budget must allow the provinces the flexibility to determine how they will deliver health care services to best meet their needs.
In my riding, defence is also a very important issue. In Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia we have the Canadian headquarters for Norad. We have 17 Wing and many other military professionals and public servants who work for the military. The tragic events in Asia at the end of last year again showed that our military is incapable of responding to international humanitarian efforts. It is disgraceful and a shame that Canada, which once acted decisively throughout the world as a peacekeeper and protector of human rights and of course as a leader in the two world wars, can no longer muster the resources to help those who are most in need or defend justice throughout the world.
The Conservatives advocated for heavy lift capacity in our forces in the last election. It is really sad that the Liberals turned that election promise into very negative election propaganda. Our world is a dangerous world and we need to be able to defend our country without having to rely on our friends to the south or anyone else. It is part of being a country. It is part of the cost of being a sovereign nation.
The budget of 2005 must ensure that our armed forces receive the necessary resources to defend our national interests, our economic prosperity and the values of the Canadian people. This means a Canada first defence policy and the money to back it up. The priorities of our military must be sovereignty protection, especially in our Arctic. It is well known that there have been breaches in our sovereignty waters in the north as well as disputes on territory in the Arctic Archipelago in regard to Pond Inlet and other places. We need a military that can go to where a lot of our country is by land mass.
I hope this budget will help reverse the continuing decline that the Liberals have caused in our military. I would also go on to say that we need a combat capable maritime land and air force.
Education is also very important. I have the Canadian Mennonite University in my riding and many of my constituents go to the University of Manitoba. Education is the best investment individuals can make in themselves and it is the best investment that a society can make in individuals. We need to address the issues relating to education to ensure that all our students have high quality and affordable access to education.
Finally, government accountability is very important. We have a Liberal government that wastes tremendous amounts of our resources, which could be better spent on tax relief or health care. Again, I hope that the Liberal government will stop the corruption for which the Liberals are becoming so well known, but based on past results, unfortunately, I do not think there is any way we can change that until we have a Conservative government in power.