Mr. Allan B. McKinnon (Victoria):
Mr. Speaker, as I look around the House on this quiet Friday afternoon I would suggest we could obviate the problem raised in respect of the question period this morning if we gave Mr. Speaker discretion to call the question period occasionally on Friday afternoon. The front bench on the government side is fairly empty, but those members do not contribute a great deal to the question period in any event.
I listened with a great deal of interest to the hon. parliamentary secretary who introduced the debate for the government. He was ably supported by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles). I listen with great interest every time the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre speaks. I admire his humanitarianism. I agree with his feelings about the plight of the aged people in this great country. I was surprised, however, at his sudden conversion in wanting the old age pensioners' case brought forward now. We wanted it brought forward a month ago, and nothing has happened in this parliament in the last month which I would place in a higher priority than the Old Age Security Act.
I would also support the hon. member for Yukon (Mr. Nielsen). If the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre wishes to put his money where his mouth is and come forward with a statement that he will not support the supply motion unless an amendment is brought in in respect of old age security, I think he will receive agree-
ment from this side of the House and again will be able to have his way with the House. It always alarms me when a discussion occurs such as that between the hon. member for Yukon and the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre. I assume they were debating who would be House leader next week.
I believe that an amendment to the Old Age Security Act should be brought in immediately. Early in the session we heard that it was to be brought in very soon. It has not yet been introduced. We are wondering if this urgent legislation is not being debated because the Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau) and the Minister of Finance (Mr. Turner) want to have it contained in the budget, or not passed until the budget, in order to try to blackmail opposition members into accepting the budget of the Minister of Finance.
Now I shall refer to the statements made by the party opposite about our $1 motion. As they well know, and I wish they would stop trying to misinform the people of Canada in this regard, this is a procedural motion which is the only way open to the opposition to ensure that supply estimates are discussed. It seems to me that it is the duty of all members of the House to discuss how the taxpayers' money is to be spent. It is a pleasure for me to speak in this debate on the supplementary estimates concerning welfare. As I have said, this motion gives parliament an opportunity to discuss welfare in both a broad and a narrow sense. There may be those in the House who do not agree that welfare or other areas of finance should be discussed. They believe we should agree to whatever is put before us by the bureaucrats, that it is not our business and one must be a professional even to discuss our society and its present ills.
Needless to say, such are not my thoughts. Programs involving the spending of tax dollars and involving the people of Canada are our business. The business of parliament is whatever parliament decides it is, and parliament has decided that this is the matter we should discuss now.
During the September-October, 1972, period which had been decreed to be a time of dialogue between the Prime Minister and the voters, several other non-establishment characters got into the act and discovered inter alia that the people of Canada were very interested in the subject of welfare and particularly in the maladministration of public disbursements in this field. They were concerned that welfare was costing the taxpayers of Canada, at all levels, over $6 billion per year with no apparent remedial result.
It is most of all the fact that there is no apparent remedial result accruing from this enormous expenditure that gives us all a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness with this government. All their measures concerning the poor and the needy are on a palliative basis. No cure is ever contemplated or attempted. This government is actually a kind of Typhoid Mary going around infecting people and then trying to alleviate their disease whilst infecting still more.
I believe that the most devastating fault among the legion of faults of this administration is their inability to
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produce any incentive to get the welfare recipient off welfare and give him back his self-respect. The head of a household cannot hold his head high when he is not in fact the breadwinner. Yet the current rules in many cases penalize the citizen who tries to supplement the family income by working. It simply results in a net loss of income.
Perhaps this might be a propitious time for me to decry the unfortunate habit that more and more people, among them some of the media, are adopting in referring to the unemployment scheme as welfare. One hears all too often reports about "unemployment insurance and other welfare projects". To those who take anything other than the most cursory interest in the unfortunates of our society, it is crystal clear that unemployment insurance is totally different from welfare. For one thing, the benefits are much higher. I hope that this slight digression will be forgiven, but it always bothers me when these two schemes, quite dissimilar in concept, are considered to be similar. It distresses me particularly when it appears to be part of an over-all plan to have them considered of the same genre. It is, of course, symbolic of the floundering and confusion of the self-appointed elitists of the treasury benches that they are confused when faced with the realities of life in the real world, the working world.
I realize that trying to sort out the crazy-quilt, the overlapping of one scheme with another of the alleged social programs of this government, is not easy and I should like to see this government present a plan to simplify the mess. May I suggest that the Progressive Conservative income development plan should be studied. There are many distinguished observers of the economic and social scene who are writing learned papers concerning such concepts as the income development plan.
Methods of achieving the goals of the income development plan are sometimes different. The one that seems to me to be the most promising if one values simplicity, and I do, is the negative income theory. It seems to me that if a simpler system were devised we could then redeploy our scanty numbers of trained social workers into the fields for which they are trained. These specialists should be free to counsel those who need conselling, to help the helpless, to encourage the discouraged. Skilled social workers at present spend far too much of their valuable time assisting the less fortunate to decipher, to decode the latest ukase from Ottawa to determine under which rule the needy can be kept warm, the hungry fed.
When considering what may be to this government the problem of the poor and, to more understanding members, the plight of the poor, the House should bear in mind that the poor do not live under rules and laws devised by the poor. They live under laws and rules devised by other people. They do not ask or wish to be poor. I have no doubt that all the poor people would prefer not to be so. But they do not make the rules of the game. We do. If our country is as rich as we like to boast it is, we are doing a remarkably bad job of handling its finances.
We simply must find a way to enable these people to break out of the financial ghetto in which we incarcerate them. They do not want, and surely we do not want, merely to keep them existing in perpetual poverty. Can we never find a way to give them what is most needed-
which is hope, not charity? They do not ask to live in idleness; they do not want to be considered different and inferior; they want to join the rest of our society. Let us help them.
I would now like the House to consider for a few minutes the leverage effects that welfare costs have on the municipalities, towns and cities that are required to find part of the money needed to finance welfare, although their role is so proscribed as to make them unable to do anything about the primary root cause of it all which, of course, is the ailing economy.
Under the present financial agreements and arrangements, municipal authorities' taxing fields are so narrow, and within their narrow confines are now so high that extraordinarily heavy burdens fall upon home owners and small businesses. When an emergency situation exists, as it does at present, and welfare costs rise and the cost of municipal sharing rises, where are the municipalities and small towns to raise funds? Traditionally, their revenue comes from property taxes and business tax. Many of them are too small to be able to put on sales taxes. The cost of administration requires a larger base.
Municipal revenues do not rise automatically as the federal government's revenues rise. The federal government can now count, or almost count, on having a substantial increase in revenue without raising taxes at all. The increased revenue will flow in automatically due to the inflation that they have brought about and we are fast approaching the stage at which the federal government will feel if they need more revenue they simply have to increase inflation.
As was pointed out by our leader during the recent campaign, the government is the only organization in this land that has a vested interest in maintaining an inflationary spiral. I know that their cost-sharing arrangements and grants do help in a sense and that the federal government always keeps the lower levels of government in a subservient position. The lower levels of government always must come like children, cap in hand, to the rich uncle in Ottawa to beg, wheedle and negotiate for next year's allowance. "Big Daddy" here in Ottawa decides how much he will dispense, always on a short-term basis.
Anyone who has been involved in the collection and disbursement of funds at the municipal level-and many of us in this House have-and those who have apprenticed * on school boards or city and municipal councils soon realize that there are at least two kinds of money in this country. There is the very hard money, the closely accounted for money, the money whose expenditure requires full explanation. That is the kind of money that municipalities get from their ratepayers. Then there is the other kind, the kind that has a sort of unreal quality similar to Monopoly play momey. It is collected in ever increasing quantities without any relevant requirement ever being considered or discussed. That is the automatic inflation that causes the increase and is never approved.
It is disconcerting, to say the least, to pare a school district budget by enlarging the pupil-teacher ratio, a Draconian measure indeed, and then suddenly to discover that a spur of the moment federal program will pour
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money into less worth-while projects in the same district. While a school board is letting go one or two school teachers because of the lack of $20,000, someone will be getting a cheque for $20,000 to paint a mural in the school hallway. Here I am speaking generally and not of any particular case. But we could mention a hundred projects of no appreciable value to our society that, if dispensed with, the money provided for them could help children receive a decent education through the normal channels. It is hard to believe that the municipal dollar and the federal dollar are each worth the same 100 cents.
I have introduced the picture of municipal financing so that hon. members might realize what a shattering blow it is, to those charged with financial responsibility at lower levels, to be required to pay any part of welfare costs when such costs rise rapidly as the economy falters. The costs of welfare in small cities take up such an enormous proportion of their budgets that budgeting becomes a farce. If the federal government's budget indicates that we are in for another round of inflation or a further increase in unemployment, the unemployed of course may first collect unemployment insurance benefits but when their benefits run out they go on welfare. That is something not budgeted for.
We have been told that in holding this debate we are voting only a dollar for several plans. That, Mr. Speaker, is utter rubbish. It is this extreme dissatisfaction with the present financial and taxing methods that causes me to look with considerable favour upon the income development plan. The government must know that an entirely unfair burden is placed upon the lower levels of government. I do not have a closed mind about the income development plan. If the government is able to devise a better plan, I hope it will not hesitate to bring it forward. What is important is that the government should realize that the present system is unfair, undemocratic and guarantees that all Canadians do not and will not have equal opportunities in this land.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL HEALTH AND WELFARE