May 28, 2008

CPC

Deepak Obhrai

Conservative

Mr. Deepak Obhrai

Mr. Speaker, the member asks a very important question about the long term impact of our aid program. This is precisely why the Government of Canada has untied 100% of its procurement of food aid.

What will this do? Canadian food aid partners can now purchase commodities internationally with a special emphasis on procurement from developing countries. This will help reduce food and transportation costs and speed delivery.

In the long run, actions like this will go a long way to helping the poor underdeveloped countries in bringing their own capacity up when their hands are not tied. We are hoping that this kind of action by other countries will lead to what she is concerned about and what we are concerned about: the rising food costs in the world.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Sub-subtopic:   World Food Crisis
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NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Deputy Speaker

That concludes the adjournment proceedings. Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been withdrawn and the House will now resolve itself into committee of the whole to study all votes under Finance in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Sub-subtopic:   World Food Crisis
Permalink

(House in committee of the whole for consideration of all Votes under Finance in the Main Estimates, Mr. Bill Blaikie in the chair)


NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Chair

I would like to open this committee of the whole session by making a short statement.

The House yesterday adopted a special order governing tonight's and tomorrow's proceedings as follows:

That, during the debates on May 28 and May 29, 2008 on the business of supply, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair and, within each 15 minute period, each party may allocate time to one or more of its members for speeches or for questions and answers, provided that, in the case of questions and answers, the minister's answer approximately reflects the time taken by the question, and provided that, in the case of speeches, members of the party to which the period is allocated may speak one after the other.

We may now begin tonight's session. The House in committee of the whole pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the first appointed day, consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under Finance in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009.

I therefore begin by recognizing for the first 15 minutes the official opposition, starting with the hon. member for Markham--Unionville.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.)

Mr. Chair, I would like to share my time with my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood.

I am delighted to see the Minister of Finance in the House. I look forward to a good dialogue this evening.

In our parliamentary system, ministers, not staff, are supposed to assume responsibility when things go wrong, so my first question to the minister is this: why, when he clearly broke the rules on a sole source contract to a friend, did he not stand in his place and apologize to Canadian taxpayers rather than shirk all responsibility and place the blame on his chief of staff?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
CPC

Jim Flaherty

Conservative

Hon. Jim Flaherty (Minister of Finance, CPC)

On the contrary, Mr. Chair, the statement by the member opposite is, as one would expect, inaccurate. From the beginning when I learned of the difficulties with that particular contract, I made it a point in this House and outside of this House consistently to say that work had been done for value, that Canadian taxpayers were well served by the work done, but that administrative functions had not been followed.

As the member knows from my responses to his questions some weeks ago in committee, which I will repeat here in case he has forgotten, when I learned of this we immediately implemented an action plan. That plan involved reviewing all of the contracts and then ensuring that in the future all of the contracts for exempt staff would be referred to the department for comments, and that any comments from the department to my staff, including my chief of staff, would be referred to me. That action plan has been followed.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum

Mr. Chair, I want to conduct this in a cordial way, but I would remind the minister that his answers are supposed to be of approximately the same length as the questions.

The fact of the matter is that he did not answer my question because he did not apologize to the taxpayers of Canada for breaking the rules, and he did put the blame on the chief of staff and not on himself for that infraction. I would contend that is not consistent with parliamentary practice.

Therefore, I will next ask him why, if the behaviour of his chief of staff was reprehensible and if he was to receive the blame for not following the rules, was the same chief of staff soon after rewarded by the government with a more prestigious and higher-paying job?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
CPC

John Williams

Conservative

Mr. John Williams (Edmonton—St. Albert, CPC)

Mr. Chair, I rise on a point of order. I thought we were dealing with the estimates of the Government of Canada for 2008-09. This particular question pertains to a previous year. It pertains to something that has already been dealt with by the public accounts committee. The minister answered this question in great detail at the public accounts committee.

I thought we were going to have the next four hours of debate on something that is substantive for the nation rather than on dealing with a $122,000 contract that we spent three hours dealing with at the public accounts committee.

Therefore, Mr. Chair, I think you should be directing the opposition to focus the questions on the estimates, because that is why the department is here. Officials are prepared to answer those questions, not some frivolous question that has already been dealt with.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Chair

I have listened to the hon. member's point of order, but the fact is that when we are in estimates, it is an opportunity for members to ask the Minister of Finance about the department. The questions are in order whether or not people on the other side do not particularly care for them.

The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum

Mr. Chair, I submit to the minister and would ask him whether this is a case of plausible deniability. It sounds to me as if the minister said to the chief of staff, “Get me MacPhie, but spare me the details”. Is that what happened?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
CPC

Jim Flaherty

Conservative

Hon. Jim Flaherty

No.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum

Mr. Chair, the minister will not answer this--

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
CPC

Jim Flaherty

Conservative

Hon. Jim Flaherty

Mr. Chair, I responded--

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Chair

The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum

Mr. Chair, the minister will not apologize in this particular case, so my next question is, when he broke his income trust policies and, as a consequence, $25 billion of the hard-earned savings of Canadians went up in smoke, why did he not apologize to those income trust investors?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
CPC

Jim Flaherty

Conservative

Hon. Jim Flaherty

Mr. Chair, the member for Markham—Unionville has obviously been out of touch. If he is following the indices, he will know that last week the income trust indexes were up to where they were at the end of October 2006. If he is talking about some notional losses, they are not there in the market.

I realize that his party had planned to do what we eventually did. I realize that the Liberals did not have the courage to do it and they did not do it. However, our government, seeing the danger to the solidity of the Canadian tax system, took the action that needed to be taken to protect Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

The Chair

I would just say to the hon. member for Markham—Unionville and others, the rules are that the answers have to be approximately the same length as the questions. I cannot be cutting people off at the exact second or we are not going to have a very good exchange, but I will now recognize the member for Markham—Unionville again.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum

Mr. Chair, the income trust index remains very substantially below the overall index. There is no way in which it can be said that loss has been recovered, and the minister refuses to apologize to a million Canadians for his broken promise.

If he will not apologize for that, will he apologize to Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia for breaking his promise on the Atlantic accord?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
CPC

Jim Flaherty

Conservative

Hon. Jim Flaherty

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to report something that is not really news, because most of us on this side of the House are aware of it but apparently the member for Markham—Unionville is unaware of it. That is that Nova Scotia is quite comfortable with the steps we took to achieve fiscal balance in Canada, and Newfoundland and Labrador has proceeded to work with the agreement as well.

In fact, this has been a tremendous success in Canada, to move from fiscal imbalance to fiscal balance. Again, it is something that the previous government looked at, went into some one-time deals here and there with certain jurisdictions in Canada, but did not get the job done.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink
LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum

Mr. Chair, the minister never apologizes for anything. One wonders how heinous an act it would have to be before he would deem it required to produce an apology.

I come now to the subject of the quality of his economic forecasts. The forecast for 2008 a year ago was 2.5%; six months ago, it was 2.4%; and in February it was 1.7%. Now the Bank of Canada is forecasting a 1.4% growth rate.

Has the minister revised his forecast again relative to his budget forecast, given the Bank of Canada's forecast and if so, could he share this new forecast with the House?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic:   Finance—Main Estimates 2008-09
Permalink

May 28, 2008