The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, the member did not understand what I said in conclusion since there is indeed some fat to be trimmed in Ottawa in operating expenditures, but not in spending on programs that are necessary for the underprivileged, the groups that defend them and those that promote democracy, social progress and economic progress. That is what they took aim at.
Regarding operating expenditures, I explained earlier that they had increased by 8% a year, while the increase in the population and inflation has been 3.5%. So we see there is room. In the announcement made by the Conservatives, scarcely a quarter billion dollars, or $250 million, is going in cuts to operating expenditures. That means that, out of $1 billion, $750 million is being drawn from cuts to useful programs, when some fat could have been trimmed from the Treasury Board, for example, a department that provides no service to the population and that has shown a 26% increase in its operating expenditures over five years. During the same period, in Quebec, we have lowered Treasury Board expenditures by 20%.
At CIDA, direct aid has increased by 20% while operating expenses have increased by 132%. There is definitely some fat to be trimmed there. But that is not where they cut, since three quarters of the cuts were aimed at groups that do work in the field: literacy groups and women’s groups that play an essential role.
We could also have looked at military expenditures. For example, the Department of National Defence budget is over $14 billion. Not one cent was cut. I am not sure that everything in there is useful. This budget should have been examined, not to call into question the fact that our equipment needs to be modernized, once we know what we will do with the Department of National Defence in Canada.
All departments should have been asked to make cuts in operating expenditures before any thought was given to cutting aid to the underprivileged, the groups that defend them and those that promote social development, economic development and democracy in Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to say that we support the motion of the Liberal Party which states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government inherited the best economic and fiscal position of any incoming federal government and has not demonstrated the need, value or wisdom of its announced expenditure cuts which unfairly disadvantage the most vulnerable groups in Canadian society.
Why do we support this motion? For all the reasons given by my colleague from and also because we feel that this government has a $13 billion surplus to work with. It could have cut operating costs, as mentioned by the member for Joliette, rather than programs that affect citizens.
The Conservatives have made what are generally called ideological cuts, and it is not impugning their motives to say so. They target the disadvantaged and minority groups. Mrs. Thatcher taught us a lot in this regard. The Conservatives target programs intended to counterbalance the government. They refuse to consider possible savings at National Defence. I wonder why. The question must be asked. Why is it that there were no cuts to the Department of National Defence when it is one of the departments with the largest budgets, about $14.7 billion in 2005-06?
During the election campaign in January, we saw the Conservative government still slowly progressing like masked turtles. That is what I told the media at the time. The Conservatives had not yet revealed their true face, but now we know a little more about it.
With all these cuts, the government is stirring up a lot of discontent in Quebec. If our friends across the aisle are incapable of seeing this, all I can say is they are out of touch with reality in Quebec.
The values of the Conservative Party are not the values of Quebeckers. The Quebec nation is about solidarity in all areas of life. We know that.
As for the Conservative government I was saying that it is going after the disadvantaged and minority groups. I will provide a few examples, beginning with the elimination of the court challenges program. This program gave minorities a voice: linguistic minorities, advocacy groups on behalf of the disadvantaged, homosexual rights groups, and so forth. The court challenges program funded groups that challenged the positions taken by current members of this government. Was the cutting of this program not a bad sign for all the groups opposed to the ideology embraced by this government? That is the question.
There is also the reduced budget for women’s groups, about which my colleague spoke earlier, and cuts to the support for volunteer groups and literacy.
The Conservatives decided to eliminate the Canada volunteerism initiative that was not supposed to end until next March.
The question I want to ask is whether the government will invest in another volunteer action program in its next budget. Stakeholders are waiting for some sign, some hint. If not, another question arises: will the government decide then to transfer the entire file to the Department of Human Resources and Social Development?
The Conservatives have cut funding to the public diplomacy fund, a program that promoted the support of cultural exportation, such as international tours for dance and theatre groups. Once again, they have not missed an opportunity to worry the cultural community.
On the front page of this morning's Le Devoir, Stéphane Baillargeon has written an excellent article on the concerns of the cultural and artistic communities in Quebec. I urge all members to read the article, for it is full of information.
With the announcement of $11.8 million in cuts to the public diplomacy fund, dance and theatre groups are wondering how this will affect the funding of international tours.
This is what I asked the heritage minister recently: Will these cuts put an end to funding for international tours for theatre and dance groups from Quebec and Canada, yes or no? She said no. I am sorry to say, however, that these groups are concerned that this was merely lip service.
I now come to the museum sector, which is very important to us. This sector has been awaiting a new museum policy for 25 years, as well as a budget increase, but unfortunately, the Conservative government just cut 25% from funding for museums.
I would like to read the Conservative Party promises from the last election campaign. This was on December 16, 2005. The Canadian Museum Association received a number of responses to questions it had asked the Conservative Party.
Here is the first question:
Does the Conservative Party of Canada support the development of a new Canadian Museums Policy to replace the current policy that dates back to the 1970s?
Here is the Conservatives' response:
Yes, the Conservative Party of Canada supports the development of a new museums policy for Canada. Canadians want to see the country's rich heritage protected and preserved for this generation and for future generations. It is not acceptable that this policy has not been updated and that Canadian museums have been neglected by the federal Liberal government. A Conservative government looks forward to working with the Canadian Museums Association to develop a revitalized and renewed vision for Canada's museums.
Here is the second question:
Does the Conservative Party support the CMA's principal objectives for a new policy:
Preserve Canada's national heritage, including artifacts of key importance held in museums across Canada;
Support museums in their role as important economic engines in the revitalization of cities and communities;
Increase engagement of citizens, visitors, volunteers, and members by greater outreach to community groups and the general public
Stabilize the capacity of museums to achieve these objectives through multi-year funding—
I could go on, because the commitments were tangible. And the result is that the Conservatives have made a 25% cut.
The Conservatives made a commitment to revitalize and support the arts, but it was a verbal commitment. In conclusion, with this government, women, minorities and culture have become problems. This government prides itself on supporting the arts and culture scene. It talks ad nauseum about providing quality assistance for creators and for heritage, but assistance has to be more than lip service. It has to be tangible and real and take the form of actions and funding.
We in the Bloc Québécois work tirelessly to promote and support the arts and culture, which the government has abandoned. The government's action, which amounts to a chainsaw massacre, is embarrassing in every respect. This government never stops talking about culture, yet it is destroying culture throughout Quebec and Canada.
We in the Bloc Québécois question the incompetence, the deceptions, the arrogance and the deviance of this government, which regularly sicken Quebeckers. We demand that this government meet Quebec's expectations. In anticipation of our emancipation, we will always faithfully reflect the widely held visions of Quebeckers in this House.
Mr. Speaker, when I read the motion presented by the Liberals for today's opposition day, I thought it was a joke, that it could not be true. It is so shallow, so hollow, so gratuitous and so without purpose. When I realized it was a reality and this was the genuine intentions of the Liberals, all I could conclude was the Liberals, with this opposition day, were making a mockery out of Parliament. They have embarrassed this place for all of Canada.
If we look at the resolution, it is nothing more than a statement of self-congratulation and gratuitous remarks. It has no purpose, no specific recommendation and no action for Parliament to consider. Therefore, I do not know on what we are supposed to vote. I, along with my colleagues, certainly will not vote on a motion that congratulates the Liberals for bringing our country to its knees over a decade of poor economic and fiscal mismanagement and a decade of cuts that have hurt the ability of Canadians to contribute.
For the life of me I do not understand how the motion was allowed to be on the books and come forward. Surely, it is contrary to all the traditions of this place with respect to opposition day motions, and we are debating nothing. We are debating an empty statement of pure rhetoric, which is self-serving for the Liberals in this chamber.
It presents us with the unique combination of conceit and weakness, which has been so characteristic of the Liberals over this past decade and certainly over the last couple of years when their attitude, arrogance and sense that they were entitled to rule this place, no matter what voters thought, became so apparent.
First, I have no choice but to recommend that my colleagues vote against the motion. It would be ludicrous for us to support such an empty, gratuitous statement. Second, I have no choice but to tear apart the two parts to this resolution
The first part of the resolution suggests that the Liberals left the Conservatives the best economic and fiscal position of any incoming federal government, which is just nonsense, and I will proceed to prove that.
The second part critiques the current government for not demonstrating the need, value or wisdom of its announced expenditure cuts, implying that if the current government had justified the spending cuts, had given us some background, some evaluation, the $1 billion in cuts would have been justified, would have been be okay.
We cannot accept that position. We can accept nothing short of a resolution that calls for the reinstatement of these $1 billion cuts until such time as the government comes forward with an actual cost benefit analysis to show which programs were not producing results and were not contributing to the Canadian economy. So far we have not seen any evidence of that. The Conservative government has cut the lifeblood out of most communities, the very things that help communities help others, that help communities renew housing and community supports, that help give people the tools to access our economy, like literacy and numeracy and supports in socio-economic initiatives.
There is nothing to date, in any of the cuts announced by the Conservatives, that suggests there is any benefit to our Canadian economy, that there is any savings to be accrued, other than adding to our debt down the road and creating more and more difficulties for Canadians to participate.
Let me just go back to this nonsense about the goodness the Liberals have left this nation. I would remind members that over the course of the past 13 years, our country has ended up in a far worse position than we are today.
Let us go back to 1993 to 2006, to the fortunate year when the Liberals were, thankfully, defeated. During that period of time, workers' wages and salaries, as a percentage of GDP, declined steadily over those years, dropping from 54.3% to only 50%.
Let us look at some of the statistics. During this decade, the share of income for the top 1% of our population, those people who make over $150,000 a year, rose from 9% to 14%. Therefore, the Liberal government did a great job of boosting the already wealthy and catering to the corporate sector, but did nothing to help low and middle income Canadians. The bottom 40% of Canadians' share of national income actually dropped under the Liberals during this decade.
Let us look at the job situation. Under the Liberals, we saw our country move away from a society, which had the possibility of permanent well-paying jobs, where both men and women were treated equally, where people were able to combine work, family and leisure activities on a reasonable basis and had some quality of life. That was taken away by the Liberals. Most new jobs, under the Liberals, happened in terms of temporary employment, part time employment or self-employment. Instead of us moving toward a progressive civil society, where people could put their talents to use in full time meaningful jobs, get some benefits and security and be able to still participate fully in their family and in their community activities, the Liberal government took that away.
One out of ten manufacturing jobs in Canada has been lost since 2001. More than 200,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector. That is a blow to many communities in our country and a blow to our whole society.
One in seven Canadians works full time for less than $10 an hour. Women are two times as likely as men to work in low wage jobs.
The employment insurance, which was supposed to help workers, now only helps about 40% of unemployed workers instead of the 80%. That happened when the Liberals took over as the government in 1993. Instead, they chalked up an EI surplus of $50 billion, which has not been used to help unemployed workers. It is not being used to train workers. It is not being used. That is the Liberal legacy. While workers were struggling, while families were suffering, while people needed training to be able to access the new economy, the Liberals destroyed the future for many Canadians. I could go on.
When we look at the human aspect to fiscal and economic policy, which is a central part of any fiscal economic management and good government, we have to not simply look at the bottom line in terms of how much debt has been paid off and how much the tax breaks have been given corporate sector. We also have to look at the health and well-being of the workers who contribute so much to our economy and, in fact, grow the wealth in this country. Whether we are looking at the human aspect or the fundamentals in terms of good economic policy, the interest rate policy, the role of the Bank of Canada in trying to cut off growth every time the economy starts booming, all of this has to be traced back to Liberal inaction and incompetence over the last decade.
Finally, let us point to the ludicrously of the Liberals talking about cuts and criticizing the Conservative cuts. Members know we are opposed to the Conservative cuts. They hurt so many people in harmful ways. However, the Liberals were far worse. Do not forget that the Liberals were promising far bigger cuts in 2005 when they were still in office. In fact, for the two year period we are talking about, the Conservative cuts as a percentage of planned Liberal cuts is 25%.
Therefore, what the Conservatives are doing now is modest in comparison to what the Liberals were planning to do. In fact, they entrenched in the whole Treasury Board process the expenditure review, which would lead to significant cuts by the finance critic of the Liberal Party himself, none other than the person who brought forward the motion.
Let us just remember that the Liberal government over the years cut $25 million from provincial transfers for health and education, cancelled the Canada assistance plan and eliminated its support for social housing. In the 1996 budget, it cut over 45,000 public service jobs. It cut over half a million dollars in appropriations to the CBC. It allowed Canada's foreign aid to slip from 0.4% to 0.3%. It cut the money for core programs for women and cut the heck out of the very fabric of our country. It left us in a position today--
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to follow the member for and her impassioned plea for the government to stop the cuts, to get back to its senses and to think about the communities and the people who will be affected very dramatically by every penny that is taken out of their budgets by way of these decisions.
I was pleased to move a motion in the standing committee on which I serve, human resources and social development, that would actually take a look at these cuts, particularly in that ministry. At the first meeting we had this past Tuesday, the most important question we asked the group that came in to talk to us about the impact was whether they had been consulted about these cuts. Members of the group said that there was no consultation, no warning and no conversation whatsoever regarding the impact on the people they serve or whether they would be able to handle this.
We still have not been able to find or to get from the government any vehicle template that it might have used to actually make these decisions.
Not even the former Conservative minister in the Mulroney government, Perrin Beatty, co-chair of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre that must close its doors after 22 years of operation, was able to see the minister or the regarding the cuts to the program that they are so obviously committed to and think is a good thing.
This centre is Canada's longest standing business and labour forum, the only national ongoing forum for partnership and dialogue on labour market and skills issues. The government is cutting that program at a time when the economy is rapidly changing and we are into a global reality. It cut the program and did not want to sit down and talk to the chair of that program about its impact.
Every time we ask a question here in the House or in committee, the Conservatives stand and say that they are spending millions of dollars on this, that and the other things, but the reality is that no matter what they say on how much money they claim they are spending, they are spending less. They are spending less on programs that affect very directly the most at risk and marginalized of our communities, our families. Most of these cuts are targeted at the most vulnerable people.
The government has cut $200 million out of the voluntary sector; $55 million out of youth employment, the summer employment programs; $45 million out of Canada Mortgage and Housing; $17 million out of the adult learning and literacy program; $17 million from workplace skills; $13 from the social development partnership; and $13 million from the social economic initiative. That is just a short list of a long list of programs that have been hit dramatically and which will feel very directly every penny that they lose.
However, it should not surprise us at all that the government is making these cuts. When the budget was announced last year by Mr. Flaherty, supported by his good friend from the Ontario legislature, Mr. Baird, sitting up in the gallery was Mr. Harris who was very proud to be delivering on a program that he had very effectively rolled out in Ontario.
If anyone is wondering what these cuts are about, or where they are going, or what is coming next, all they need do is look back at the record of that government in Ontario from 1995 to 2003.
Mr. Speaker, I also agree and appreciate the challenge.
The two members of Parliament who serve in the capacity of the and and who served in similar capacities in the Ontario legislature are the architects of this cut program by the government. It should not surprise us that it is targeted at the most vulnerable of our citizens. The first thing those two members did when they were in the Ontario government in 1995 was to cut 21.6% out of the income of everybody in Ontario on social assistance. It was dramatic. How heartless and uncompassionate is that?
Let me read a letter from one of my constituents, a student in the literacy program for adults and a member of the board of directors of the Ontario Literacy Coalition which will feel the effect directly of these cuts to literacy. Michael Shaughnessy states:
With a $13 billion surplus, to me it is very stunning that the federal government would pick this time to cut $17.7 million from adult literacy funding right across Canada. I have seen first hand the change that comes over adult learners after being in a literacy program. It seems to build up their self-esteem, and bring out an inner fire in them which we should not allow the government to extinguish.
Results of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS)published by Statistics Canada tells us that 22% of adult Canadians have serious difficulty with reading, writing and math, and another 26% do not have the literacy skills we all need to participate fully in today's information-based society. In Ontario, 1.2 million adults do not have basic literacy skills and another 1.4 million are not able to read well enough to carry out daily tasks or to find and keep a job.
I was one of the 20% who can't read or write. I could not even read the word “there”, but I do have my grade 12 diploma. For whatever reason, I was pushed along and aside and was considered un-teachable. But through a literacy program, I am now at Ontario Literacy and Basic Skills Level 5 (the top adult basic literacy level). That is why I do admire people who have the inner fire to get up the courage to enroll in a literacy program. It is like climbing the biggest peak in Canada. Unlike most people who went to high school who could dream about going into college or university, I was not even able to have this dream. Although some people may fail once they are there, I didn't even have the chance to get up to bat and try to make it...
In a caring and just society, education is not a luxury;--
It is not a low hanging fruit. It is not fat to be trimmed.
--it is a right of all Canadians. This is why I am asking all of the 42% of Canadians who have literacy problems, and all other Canadians who do not have literacy challenges to stand up and say no to the cut back, and write a letter to your MP or the Prime Minister's office and say no to the cut back.
On Tuesday, the committee heard a very compelling presentation by members of the Canadian Labour Congress who came before us and said that these cuts amounted to an attempt to silence the voices of Canadians, especially those not yet able to exercise their full citizenship because of the barriers in their way. They talked about the impact on women, on immigrant groups, on workers of colour, on the disabled, on those who lack literacy skills, on people who the previous Liberal government said it would help and even at the last minute, a deathbed confession, made promises of money for this, that and the other thing.
We could not name one thing that was not in need of money in the month or two before the last election that the Liberals did not target money toward. Did that money get spent? No, it did not, which is the reason the government is now able to say that there is in fact some low hanging fruit. There is money out there, the money that was not spent by the previous Liberal government on very important programs which it has now determined were not necessary when I and my caucus know were in fact necessary.
As well, more money on top of that is necessary if we are going to support communities, families and individuals in being the best they can be, in being all that they can be, and it is necessary if we are going to support the voluntary and non-profit groups that support those efforts in communities and support their efforts to get justice served when in fact they are told they cannot have what they need.
Today I decry these cuts. I ask all hon. members in this place, particularly the Conservative members, to do everything in their power to respond to Michael and say no to these cuts.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in support of the motion put forward by the hon. member for . I am also happy to share my time with the member for .
As is usual for anything proposed by the hon. member for , this motion makes great sense. Indeed, it is one which so many members wish to speak to because there are so many examples of how the government's cuts have adversely affected their communities. I contrast this with the rather partisan approach of the member for , who, I can only suggest to the House, is still feeling the lash of his constituents for having put into power the Conservative government that is responsible for the cuts he is so upset about.
The fact is, thanks to Liberal budget after Liberal budget, the Conservatives inherited the best government balance sheet in the world. And what have they done with that good fortune? The and his government have cut programs for the most vulnerable citizens in our society. They have eliminated help for those most in need. They have cut off support for minorities. They have acted against equality for women. They have turned their backs on those without power, on those who dare to disagree with them and on those who try to assert their fundamental rights.
Gone are the literacy programs to help our fellow citizens who cannot read or write. OECD studies clearly show that people with high literacy skills and medium to high computer skills are five times as likely to have high incomes.
I would like to congratulate the hon. member for for his personal statement, so moving in the House, about how he overcame his own difficulty with respect to literacy. I am sorry he had to drift into a partisan rant at the end of it, but the fact of the matter is that he is right: literacy is fundamental to economic success in the 21st century, for individuals and for the country.
Yet the government has destroyed literacy funding and, in so doing, has destroyed hope for Canadian after Canadian while damaging our prosperity and productivity. These are cuts that are not just meanspirited; they are counterproductive, make no economic sense, and affect the prosperity of all Canadians.
Let us look at literacy programs for aboriginal peoples, which have been tossed on the scrap heap. Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of being in Nunavut and I spoke with women literacy volunteers. They work across Nunavut to ensure that the Inuit population has the power to lift themselves up, yet the has decided that he just does not care about them or their prospects.
As for reading and writing programs for immigrants and refugees, they are history too. And literacy help for those Canadians having trouble reading the instructions on their medicine or filling out a job application no longer exists.
It is a sad truth that there are people across Canada who have trouble reading and writing. These people want to help their children with their homework so they can have a better life. They want to be able to read the bus schedule. They want to learn how to use ATMs. In its wisdom, this government decided that this will not happen. It decided to save $18 million at the expense of these people.
Gone, too, are essential summer jobs for 25,000 Canadian students. We all have students in our ridings. I have them in my riding of . They are hard-working, decent young people from across the riding who need that summer program to let them go to a trade school, community college or university.
These young people are stretched to the limit and their parents are stretched to the limit, and the Conservatives have cut them off from help. In so doing, they have destroyed the capacity of many worthy NGOs that have employed these young students to help with summer programs for the disadvantaged and vulnerable.
In my riding, that means programs for youth at Central Neighbourhood House, for the homeless at Toronto City Mission or the Yonge Street Mission, Epilepsy Toronto, the YWCA, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Jessie's Centre for Teenagers, the Ontario Deaf Sports Association, the Soulpepper Theatre Company, the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, and education facilities at Dixon Hall.
That is just the beginning of a list. That just covers the surface. These are real losses for real people in social, economic and very serious human need.
The same is true of the meanspirited cuts to the museum assistance program. We are not talking about big national institutions here. We are talking about museums at the heart and soul of small communities in our country.
We are talking about the Wetaskiwin and District Heritage Museum in Alberta, or the Nanton air museum, where I went a year ago with the member of Parliament for and where we proudly dedicated the memorial to the brave pilots who flew for this country in World War II. I would like to know how the member for is going to explain to those hard-working constituents of his, who proudly created a truly great Canadian asset in their community, that all their hopes and all their hours of volunteer work for the future of their museum have been given the back of the hand by another Alberta member, their own .
Similar questions will be asked by those who worked so hard to create the Dawson City and MacBride museums in Yukon, the Chilliwack Museum, the Kamloops Art Gallery, the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum in eastern Ontario, the Mendel and MacKenzie Art Galleries in Saskatchewan, the Agricultural Historical Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Shelburne museum on Nova Scotia's South Shore.
If complete, the list would contain most of the communities represented in the House. What an insult to the 350,000 Canadians who volunteer at museums every year. It is a back of the hand to tourism in our struggling cities and smaller towns. It is an insult to the history and the memory of the men and women who built this great country of ours.
We then look at the cuts in funding to programs to help women achieve equality. Just yesterday, we celebrated Persons Day in our country in celebration of the Famous Five, who in 1929 won the case declaring that Canadian women are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as Canadian men. Equality for women? This is of no interest to the government.
And as for those who would try to assert their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in our blessed country, the court challenges program is history too. Gone is the program that allowed visible minorities or gays and lesbians to assert their rights in the face of government indifference or hostility, a program that helped Sikhs achieve progress and the disabled push for equality. In cutting it, the government strikes a blow at them and at all in this country who believe in a fair and just society.
This program protected our minority language communities.
Franco-Ontarians, for example, have good reason to be disappointed in this government. The court challenges program enabled them to fight to save a hospital that is very important to the community: the Montfort hospital here in Ottawa.
Internationally, the Citizen Diplomacy Program made it possible for us to promote Canadian culture abroad by sending our artists to foreign countries. The budget for this program was only $25 million per year. The Conservatives chose to cut $11 million of that.
In the meantime, the United States, France, Great Britain and Italy, to name a few, each spend about a billion dollars a year on such programs. Why? Because those countries recognize that their international image has a direct impact on their ability to achieve their international goals and sell their products on foreign markets.
Canadians are well aware that the government plays a major role in enhancing Canada's image abroad. Our exporters regularly tell us that our country's image helps sell their products. This program also enabled our Canadian artists to promote our culture.
Speaking of thumbing its nose at culture, the government just refused to allocate funds to the Quebec film industry. This is a flourishing industry that promotes Quebec culture in Canada and abroad with the help of the Canadian government. It is unacceptable for the to think it is okay to cut this funding when such excellent films—perhaps everyone has seen Bon cop, bad cop—are being produced in Quebec.
It is the same for affordable housing assistance for the poor. It is the same for regional economic development for Atlantic Canada, northern Ontario and rural Quebec.
These actions undermine the very meaning of Canada. They undermine our notions of opportunity, compassion and fairness.
If people do not fit in with the 's extreme notions of social conservatism, they are out of luck with this government. If people find themselves down on their luck or unable to fend for themselves, then it must be their own fault. If they dare to disagree with the or are not part of his electoral calculation, they do not deserve a helping hand from this government.
For our part, Liberals believe in a plan of hope, opportunity, fairness and achievement, a Canada that is a model to the world, a Canada we are all proud to call home, a Canada that embraces all our citizens, empowers all our citizens and unleashes the tremendous potential of each of us and all of us.
That is what this motion by the hon. member for is all about. That is why Liberals embrace it with such vigour and such passion.
Mr. Speaker, because our questions quite rightly and necessarily have to be limited, I will try to do a brief preface to each of my questions and then just ask for a brief response. Even a yes or a no would do.
Would my hon. friend admit that in 1993-94 when the Liberals started their expenditure reduction program, one of the key components was a one-third reduction to health care, slashed, bang, gone overnight to all provinces? I was a member of a provincial government at the time so I watched, literally, the blood on the streets when that took place. There was the ongoing reduction for a number of years in national defence and the RCMP, and taxes were increased 67 times from 1994 to 2000, when in face of an election the Liberals were terrified and they did a low tax reduction. Will he first admit that that is how the Liberals did their tax reduction, mainly with the slashing of health care to all provinces?
For my other question I will just use one of the areas which my hon. friend has referred to and I will ask people to reflect on the validity of what he is saying in the other areas. He talked about literacy programming cuts. Will he admit that according to our budget, $81 million this year is going from this government to literacy programs? Will he also admit that not one single organization with any existing agreement in terms of literacy, not one is having its funding cut?
What we are reducing in the literacy program is the millions of dollars the Liberals used to spend on consultations, millions of dollars to their friends to tell us that if people learn how to read they will do better.
As my granddaughter would say, hello, we already knew that; we didn't have to waste money on that.
Will he just admit these things? Will he admit how they reduced theirs? Will he admit that not one single literacy organization in the country that is delivering programs is having--
Mr. Speaker, I was very much enjoying the comments of our leader. I did not want to interrupt him.
I have the pleasure to speak to this motion with respect to the decision of the government to cut $2 billion, $1 billion this year, to federal programs and organizations.
Canadians are not blind to the actions of the government. They know these cuts were vindictive and were only to serve the Conservatives' narrow vision of the country. Being on the finance committee and touring western Canada last week, being in Ottawa for the last six weeks, and hearing submissions about how people in Canada actually view their country and what holds Canada together, I can say that most Canadians certainly do not share that view.
Let us review the current fiscal situation of the government. On the very day the Conservatives announced cutbacks to those who need government support the most, the government announced a $13 billion surplus.
We have a surplus, no thanks to the Conservatives. The last time they were in office, as was just indicated, they left us a $43 billion deficit and an ever increasing debt.
This year they inherited a surplus, the best economy in decades, the best fiscal situation in the G-8, and the lowest unemployment rate in decades. One would think they would at least listen to whatever remnants of progressives are left over there and show some compassion to the people of Canada.
Cuts are okay. Program review is reasonable and sensible. We have done it in the past ourselves, but we did it so that we could put resources toward the people who needed help, not take it away from them.
These cuts are wrong. They are meanspirited. The majority of them target women's groups, the poor, minority groups, the arts community and the non-profit sector. They are motivated by a narrow ideology and are targeted at programs that are at odds with the political thinking of the government.
One example is the cut to the budget for the status of women. It is no secret that certain elements of the Conservative Party have a different view of the role and status of women than most Canadians, and certainly most Canadian women. Is cutting back a women's organization, like the status of women a matter of cutting costs? I do not think so. It is really meant to send a message to women's groups that Conservatives do not support the progress and the victories that women have achieved over the past number of decades. It is a disgrace.
Women have fought so hard for their rights and equality, and let us not pretend the fight is over. As we look around this chamber we see that the fight is far from over. Yet that funding has been cut.
Next, the Conservatives axed a legal aid program that has helped minority groups and the marginalized defend their rights. The court challenges program introduced under Pierre Elliott Trudeau has proven its value in ways that are immeasurable, resulting in court decisions expanding the rights of Canadian women, the disabled, gays and lesbians, aboriginals and minority language groups. La Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse for example wrote to me last week indicating how much it will feel that loss.
Do the Conservatives take Canadians for fools in suggesting that cutting this program is a case of streamlining administrative expenses? No. It is another example of how the Conservatives distrust some of the fundamental values of Canada, values that include the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The next cut is to the Canada volunteerism initiative. It is an example of an organization that encourages citizens to participate voluntarily in organizations throughout Canada.
Non-profit volunteer organizations touch on every aspect of Canadian life: health, sport, recreation, environment and cultural sectors. Why would that be gutted? The answer is simple. The Conservatives do not believe in government. They do not believe that government should support organizations like the CVI. They believe that everyone should fend for themselves, a page copied from their Republican friends.
The next cut is to the summer career placement program. All members of the House are familiar with this program which was introduced by a Liberal government. This has employed hundreds of thousands of young Canadians. This past summer more than 45,000 Canadians found meaningful work, often in their field of study thanks to this important initiative and volunteer and community organizations benefited as well. Students were able to gain valuable experience and save money for tuition fees.
The decision to cut the program in half is indefensible. Given the health of the federal government's finances, the program should have been expanded, not gutted.
I have talked with representatives of the Canadian Federation of Students. It has yet to be given a coherent explanation as to why the federal government wants to save a measly $45 million when it has $13 billion to the good.
Again, review is good. Cuts are sometimes necessary. This review is bad.
The next cut is the $17 million from literacy. Cutting $17.7 million from a program that helps millions of Canadians while sitting on a $13 billion surplus just does not make sense.
Literacy Nova Scotia and the Dartmouth Literacy Network, organizations like these put together programs for Canadians who need help and they do it on almost no budget at all, and now literacy has been further cut. The story is the same throughout other provinces and territories. In Nova Scotia seven major projects will not be funded, including a project to support the development and coordination of family literacy through a multitude of agencies and programs. I could go on about the great work that they do.
The next cut is to support for the social economy. In our region a program that was to be delivered through ACOA in support of the social economy was shut down completely. This initiative, which was funded in the 2004 budget, would support businesses and community groups which reach out to marginalized Canadians by giving them jobs or providing other services that help people in our communities. It was abruptly cancelled. I would ask members opposite to talk to some of the cooperatives in their area and ask them what they think of those cuts.
Sadly, the list goes on. As with other cuts, there was no consultation.
Canada today is a vibrant, peaceful and just country. Canadians have worked hard to make it so. Throughout our political history successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments have developed policies that value individuals and our communities and recognize that government can and should play a role in our national life.
Even Progressive Conservative Premier Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador called the cuts worrisome and distanced himself from what he referred to as the right-wing federal Conservatives.
Canadians today are seeing what the real agenda is of the government. I suspect many Canadians also wonder what life would be like if the old Progressive Conservatives were still around. The Progressive Conservative Party is dead and its replacement is neither fair nor progressive.
Mahatma Gandhi said that a nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. Canadians, in my view, inherently believe that we are all better off when the strong help the weak, that we are all affected by the suffering and the success of each other. We do not believe that government should abdicate its responsibility to the least advantaged. These cuts will hurt Canadians who need help the most. The government should be ashamed.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure this afternoon to talk about the fiscal, budgetary and governmental policies of our government. I would also like to do this with my colleague from , who is doing remarkable work as Parliamentary Secretary to the , and with whom I sit as a member of the standing committee.
Our government, unlike the previous government, respects its commitments. We do what we say and we say what we do. This is something new for people who follow politics because they are used to a party that says one thing and the following day says the opposite while it goes on a spending spree. A change has taken place with the arrival of our new government. We have a responsible government that keeps its promises.
Today is a great day. Not because I am speaking in this House but because we have truly announced an effective policy to combat climate change and to overcome smog. This is what is called sustainable development.
Sustainable development is also economics and it is responsible economics. That is what we are talking about today. We are talking about a government that does not want to leave future generations with a tax burden, with a debt. That is the reality. That is also sustainable development. To achieve that, we must manage our money not as though it was someone else’s money but as though it were our own money.
It is almost a year since the people of , Canadians and a great many Quebeckers elected a new government that promised more transparency and greater accountability. The way that government uses public funds is by far the most important aspect of that promise.
Canadians have seen that since we took office. Ask Canadian families, pensioners and businesses. They have more money in their pockets because income taxes and the GST have been reduced. Parents in Saint-Anselme and Saint-Henri who register their children in soccer, hockey, skating and judo programs receive tax credits. We are introducing concrete measures that help Canadians.
However, we also have a responsibility to properly manage the machinery of government. It is normal that the budget should be revised at regular intervals and that unnecessary expenses are cut. That is exactly what we are doing. We can thank the opposition for giving us the opportunity to tell Canadians about our budgetary exercise to cut expenditures on the order of $1.1 billion out of a total budget of more than $200 billion.
Members will agree with me that these are very reasonable cuts, in fact very modest, amounting to barely 0.5%. Still, this is a big difference from the previous government. We know that in the last five years, total program expenditures had risen by an average of 8.2% per year. For 2004-2005 alone, expenditures rose 14.4%.
What does a 14.4% a year increase in the federal budget represent? Had the population increased by 14.4%? Did Canadian taxpayers receive 14.4% more services? The answer is obvious. And yet we had to pay that money out. Unfortunately, we know that the previous government had the annoying habit of also cutting transfers to the provinces. There were increased expenditures, but less money for the people who really needed it.
Yes, we said it and we have done it. In the election campaign we made the commitment to make budget cuts, and we have done so responsibly. This shocks people somewhat. Some people who were used to being here for so long thought it was their money.
Let us talk about the Federal Accountability Act. Our first piece of legislation will create new and significant checks and balances. Parliament and Canadians will be able to see better where taxpayers’ money, our money, is being spent, and what the connection is between how it is being used and what measurable results are achieved.
Where do we stand today? There are some people here, on the other side of the House, and their colleagues in the Senate, who are delaying passage of that bill. What is the Senate waiting for to pass the Federal Accountability Act? Maybe, with that piece of legislation, it will be more difficult to set up projects that lead to sponsorship scandals?
Even more recently we learned that public servants had been lent to parties for political purposes, to hold phantom positions.
We need laws that will protect the public’s money. I hope that the Senate will abide by the wishes of Canadians.
The government is honouring the commitment it made in the budget. Treasury Board announced it on September 25, 2006, to save money in two very simple ways: through tighter and more disciplined management of spending—something we started to do as soon as we took office—and by applying the results of the program review we did over the summer. We are looking at which of our programs, and where, it is possible to cut, ensuring that we get results, that we optimize the use of resources and that we adhere to the priorities of Canadians.
One thing that our friends from Quebec will be particularly happy about is that we are a responsible government that respects the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial governments. We have a Constitution; let us abide by it.
The President of the Treasury Board has worked with the officials in his department, who have worked hard, and has consulted with ministers to identify departmental programs and expenditures that do not meet the criteria in the recent budget.
What did we do over the summer? We cut unused funds. We ensured that programs were optimized and that the administrative cuts were rationalized and consolidated. As I said earlier, we dealt with programs that were not in keeping with the priorities of Canadians.
I will provide a few examples of the cuts that were made to the Treasury Board portfolio. The previous government had decided to spend another $20 million in support for regional ministers. There is already a $3.8 million fund, and we think that is enough. It is unnecessary, therefore, to allocate these additional funds in the current budget. Eliminating this funding enables us to save $18.5 million of the taxpayers’ money.
Reducing the funding for the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada program should generate more than $83 million in savings.
At the end of the year, taxpayers may not have felt the difference, but they will feel it in their wallets. Insofar as program delivery is concerned, these kinds of cuts do not have any effect on citizens. Some cuts eliminated funding that had been allocated by the previous government but was superfluous to what was really needed to carry out certain classification activities deemed necessary. There is nothing so far to make a fuss about here.
We will save more than $9 million by reducing low-priority training for federal employees at the Canada School of Public Service. I was a public servant myself and can say that I benefited from wonderful working conditions. The school now has an $89 million budget for its programs. It is important to have competent, well-trained public servants. It is possible to do so. When we speak about low priority, it can hardly be denied that cuts are very possible in light of the situation of Canadian families that need us to manage their money responsibly.
Henceforth, the government will ensure that judicious expenditures become the norm by subjecting all new and existing programs to systematic, rigorous review. This is an exercise that will often have to be repeated because priorities change, needs change and society evolves. Our government will only approve funding that is really necessary in order to efficiently achieve measurable results, while optimizing resources. Canadians are entitled to expect accountable government.
Thanks to these initiatives, the new government will provide significantly greater transparency and accountability and optimized use of resources in all areas of federal government expenditure. Canadians expect nothing less. That is why this initiative is at the heart of the government’s management program.
In a word, I gave the House a statistic to remember: in 2004-05, spending grew by 14.4% in a single year. That is a lot. We can support some growth, but it is important to maintain cross-generational equity. To do this, we must bequeath good management to future generations and ensure that the debt burden is reduced.
In conclusion, I say to the families, businesses and pensioners in that our government is continuing to take care of the disadvantaged, minorities and immigrants and that, in contrast to the previous government, we manage money as if it were ours and yours.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for this opportunity to voice my support for our strategy to save $1 billion of Canadians hard-earned money. I am proud to stand behind these measures.
In some cases hon. members of the opposition need reminding that managing the public's money is about making wise choices and spending responsibly, ensuring the maximum return on taxpayer investments. Canadians put their trust in us, when they signed on to our election platform, to restore transparency and accountability in dealing with public money. We made it clear throughout the campaign that responsible spending was a cornerstone of accountable government. We do not make idle promises. We stick with our convictions and follow through on our commitments.
In budget 2006 we pledged to review our programs to ensure every taxpayer dollar would spent achieve results, provide value for money and meets the needs of Canadians. Just as the economy and society are evolving, so too must the way government invests in economic and social programming. Through a careful spending review, we have identified a number of opportunities to improve efficiency, strengthen results and sharpen accountability in line with Canadians expectations. As columnist John Ibbitson recently wrote in the Globe and Mail, “The Tories are acting with commendable fiscal responsibility”.
Most grants and contributions are not affected either. In cases where they are, all signed contribution agreements will be honoured. Statutory programs are not in any way affected by these measures, vital programs like employment insurance, the Canada pension plan, and student loans.
We have focused our attention on spending that was not meeting the needs of Canadians as effectively as it could. We have looked for opportunities to better manage investments and to reduce or eliminate expenditures where concrete results were simply not there.
It seems the opposition has not grasped that responsible management of the public purse does not mean simply spending for the sake of spending. It means putting money where it counts and working with partners across the country to maximize results for Canadians in need. For instance, the social development partnerships program will invest $139.6 million over the next five years to work with national and community-based non-profit organizations. Support and collaboration on key social issues for children, families, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in Canadian society. We are focusing on investments that matter to real people.
The opposition has spent a lot of time attacking the government for its commitment to better and more effective investments in learning and literacy. With a budget of $81 million over the next two years, Canada's new government will be working with partners across the country to put in place innovative and results-focused projects to help meet learning and literacy challenges. We want federal funds to complement the important investments in literacy by provinces, municipalities and organizations. We welcome the opportunity to work with all levels of government and literacy organizations across the country to strengthen our literacy programming and ensure it is effective and meaningful for all Canadians.
The Government of Canada will continue to foster partnerships and dialogue to support adult learning, literacy and essential skills, while respecting the roles of all levels of government. We need to keep in mind that this $81 million investment is just one component of an array of federal investments that support literacy, training and skills development. These include programs through employment insurance that help Canadians who lose their jobs to develop the skills they need to re-enter the labour force.
We are working with industry sector councils on projects that identify and develop the literacy and essential skills we need to keep our economy competitive. We are helping students succeed in post-secondary education through our Canada student loan program and have recently introduced changes that will make this program available to more Canadians than ever before.
As these examples make clear, there can be no question that the government continues to be strongly committed to providing effective and meaningful support to Canadians.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the money that Human Resources and Social Development Canada has invested, which is close to $1 billion annually, in programs targeting the needs of youth at risk, Canadians with disabilities, and aboriginal Canadians. These are important investments and we are proud to be working with partners across the country to ensure our programs are meeting the needs of Canadians.
While we have ended the training centre infrastructure fund, I want to point out that our government is investing $1 billion in infrastructure for post-secondary education and training. This will help keep our universities and colleges among the best in the world, giving Canadian students tremendous opportunities to succeed and to invite students from around the world to come to Canada as a study destination committed to educational excellence.
To help meet the need for skilled trades, we are also providing significant new support for apprenticeships, including a new $1,000 apprenticeship investment grant. We will no longer be providing support to Workplace Partners Panel. However, we are continuing and, in fact, expanding our collaboration with business and labour on issues of national importance, for example, through sector councils that are focusing on preparing Canada to meet the challenges of the global economy.
We value the views and advice of business and labour organizations. For example, we are seeking the advice of business communities on how to implement our child care spaces initiative. The government recognizes that consultation is more than just institutions and reports. We want to listen, share ideas and, together, find new ways to build a more vibrant, inclusive and innovative Canada.
Again, I remind the House, as the TD Bank Financial Groups' Chief Economist Don Drummond has noted, the spending cuts are relatively minor. They represent only 6% of the overall cost of new initiatives announced in the May budget. They are only 0.5% of total program spending.
Editorial writers for the Ottawa Citizen wrote:
It is an improvement on what Canadians had come to expect from Liberals, who would have seen opportunities to spend on other things instead....it's hard to argue against saving ourselves millions in future interest payments.
The government will not apologize for respecting Canadians and their hard-earned tax dollars. We will not be cowed by opposition demands for ever increasing spending without responsibility or accountability, and our government is about this. We are about, respect, results, accountability, and we have shown this time and time again. We are delivering on our promises and we are keeping the best interests of Canadians front and centre.