Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the government in response to this opposition day motion. With all of the different challenges facing our country today, this is the best that the Liberals have. It should not be surprise to Canadians. I feel sorry for some of the people in the gallery watching this today who probably come from across this country, and sorry for Canadians who are tuned in and thinking that there are a number of challenges, such as the terrorist threats we face, safety and security, or the economy. There are students and seniors in the gallery who are probably thinking about health care or the environment. They probably thought they would hear about that in the House of Commons today. Instead they hear the Liberals' second priority, because the Liberals' first priority is the legalization of marijuana so that people could go to a corner store and buy a gram of pot. That is their number one economic policy.
However, their second policy is to have a meeting with provincial premiers. They are so bankrupt of ideas that the only idea they have is to meet with provincial premiers. I could be wrong, but I saw a clip of the Liberal leader when he was asked what he would do on the first day as Prime Minister, and he hummed and hawed at the question. He did not know. It is very uncomfortable for a member of Parliament to watch someone who wants to be the Prime Minister and does not have a clue. He did not know what he would do and said that he would meet with his municipal and provincial counterparts. That is his number one priority, and his party members are providing him some cover here today.
He did not say that he would meet with his finance minister, or the Chief of the Defence Staff, or the public safety minister to make sure of Canada's safety and security. That was not his number one priority, and neither was it to meet with his cabinet. His number one priority was a call other people, because he has no ideas. I have said this a number of times.
Very rarely do I agree with anything the NDP says or any of its policies, but at least New Democrats bring something forward and put it on the table for Canadians to look at. I would vote against it because I think it would ruin the country, but at least they bring something and put it on the table for Canadians to look at, because that is what responsible political parties do who want to govern the country. I might disagree with them. I know that the NDP members clearly disagree with many of the policies we bring forward. That is why members vote against them time and time again, as the member for said. That is fine, but at least they put something on the table for Canadians to look at.
The best the Liberals have to suggest is to a hold a meeting. If they form government, they are going to hold a meeting. They have no ideas of their own, but people will be able to buy pot at the corner store under a Liberal government led by the leader of the third party. They have that policy.
The other policy Liberals have is to close down manufacturing in southwestern Ontario because it is apparently bad for the economy to have manufacturing there. The Liberals want to close that down. In Alberta and Saskatchewan they actually want to transition away from the oil and gas industry because apparently that industry is bad. The Liberals' economic policy is to transition away from manufacturing in Ontario, transition away from oil and gas in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and handcuff our western farmers like they did for generations. Neither do they support the shipbuilding industry in Halifax. We have brought in the largest procurement contract in Canadian history to rebuild that industry in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. They do not support that and want to close those industries down. As for the aerospace industry in Montreal and Quebec, well, not so much because Liberals do not want to buy planes for our air force or contribute and be a part of international efforts and have new planes for our military.
Their foreign policy is even funnier. Let us talk about the Liberal leader's solution when it comes to safety and security. What was his solution when people in Iraq were being terrorized, as they still are, by ISIL terrorists, forced onto a mountain and starved? Our said that we were going to deliver humanitarian aid, send advisers over, and combat these terrorists head-on. He said that we would send the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Liberal leader's plan of attack was to drop Tim Hortons coffee, blankets, and coats for them so they would be a little warmer in the winter. That was it. That was the full Liberal plan.
What have we done since we got into office? We came into office in 2006 when federal-provincial relations were probably at their lowest point in the history of this country, coming off of a decade and a bit of Liberal rule. Anyone who served in provincial politics during the Liberal time in office will never say those were good times for Canadian provinces.
The member talks about Liberal investments in health care. Is he kidding me? I do not recall the first ministers' meeting where the first ministers and territorial ministers of this country agreed to the unilateral cuts of $50 billion to health and education that were the hallmark of the Liberal government. I do not recall that first ministers' meeting. Perhaps the member might refresh my memory on the date of that particular meeting, when Prime Minister Martin, who was the finance minister at the time, came in and unilaterally cut health and education across the country.
That is the history of Liberal first ministers' meetings.
Remember, of course, that one of the other promises the Liberal government made was regarding the Kyoto accord. We remember that one. The Liberals were going to make massive changes across Canada and our environment was going to get clean. The only problem with that was that it was later found out that not only had they not talked with the provinces about it, but they never had any intention of doing anything about it. In fact, the chief of staff to the former prime minister said that they only said they would do it because it seemed popular and thought it would help them win an election, but they never actually had any desire to implement it.
What have we done? Since 2006, we started to reverse that legacy that the Liberals left. The has met with his provincial counterparts. I think the has met with premiers of this province over 300 times since taking office. Recently, he met with the Premier of the Northwest Territories and with the Premier of Ontario. He recently met with Premier Prentice. These are continuing dialogues that we have.
We know that our first ministers also meet with their counterparts through the annual federal, provincial, and territorial meetings. There are a lot of opportunities for us to discuss issues. I meet with my provincial counterparts, and I would like to think that all members of the House meet with their provincial counterparts on issues that are important to them, regardless of whether they are on this side of the House or not. Members of Parliament have a vested interest in representing their community and bringing those issues back to us, whether they believe in an issue or not. All members of Parliament will try to represent their communities.
It is not just up to the . Canadians send 308 of us here to represent our communities. If they have no desire to do it through the Liberal Party, then perhaps they should find someone else to do that for them. I would suggest that is why the Liberal members are in that corner, the NDP members on that side, and we on this side of the House. They forgot what is important to Canadians, and they continue to do so. They can whine and complain about the fact they are not getting their way, but Canadians are getting their way: Canadians are getting a government that represents them.
I will give credit to the NDP. By and large, it is an official opposition that is at least providing a counter. It is providing some solutions, or what it thinks are solutions, and alternatives to what we are bringing forward, and it will be up to Canadians to decide.
What do they get from the Liberals? They get, “We want to talk about it.” The Canadian people do not have time for that. They work hard. In my riding, people get up very early in the morning and make their way to the GO train or the highway to get to work downtown, or they are farmers and get on their tractors. The farmers in my riding have to look at what prices will be for their crops. They have to worry about all kinds of things. The last thing they want, and the last thing they are calling my office about, is whether or not we had a chance to convene the premiers together and have a chat with them. They do not care about that. What they care about is whether or not they will have enough money to invest in their businesses. Do they have enough money to pay their bills? At the end of the month will they have enough money to put savings away for their kids' futures? That is what Canadians actually care about.
When they elect us, and our provincial and municipal counterparts, they assume that we will work to improve our economy and communities. Canadians can assume that if there is a problem, they can approach their member of Parliament. I know my provincial counterpart is a Liberal member of Premier Wynne's cabinet. I have no problem calling her and she has no problem calling me if there is something we need to work on together.
I look at Canada's economic action plan. The Liberals said it could not be done. They said there was no way we could bring forward a stimulus program, an investment program, working with our provincial and municipal counterparts. There was no way we could bring it in on time and on budget and create the kinds of jobs we were saying we could. They said it could not be done with NDP, Liberal, and Conservative governments across the country.
What did we do? We brought in one of the most successful programs in the history of the country. We did it together. I worked with my Liberal counterpart in my riding. I worked with my mayors. We identified what was important for our communities and we made those investments. We got the job done, because people want us to get the job done.
Canadians do not want talk about getting the job done; they just want it done. They want to know that when they go to work, they will have a new paved road they can get to work on. They want to know that their kids will not have to spend hours on a bus to get to school. They want to know that when they need health care, it is going to be there for them. They want to understand, after $50 billion worth of cuts by the Liberal government, if they can rely on a federal government in the future never to do what the Liberal government did in the 1990s.
On this side of the House we understand that, and that is why we work closely with our provincial counterparts to make sure that it will never happen again. That is why we have increased transfer payments to the provinces. We are continuing to work with our provincial and municipal counterparts because, ultimately, as much as we say it in this place, there is only one taxpayer. It does not matter who or how many times we go to someone, it is the same person.
It does not matter if the person sitting in the gallery watching this is from Ontario or Alberta; they only have one pocket to take money out of, and when almost 50¢ of every dollar goes to politicians at every single level, they do not want us sitting around talking about it. They want us to just get the job done, to roll up our sleeves and do what we are elected to do, and they think that if someone does not have the ideas, they should get out of the way and let the people who do have the ideas get the job done. That is what we are doing. Time and time again, Canadians know they can count on our government to get the job done for them.
The Liberals said that we could not increase transfers to the provinces, cut taxes, and balance the budget. Did we? Absolutely, we got the job done.
I remember as a young kid watching the Liberals when they said there was no way we could have free trade with the United States, that it was impossible, that it would kill Canada if we did it. A Conservative government got it done. The Liberals said that we would never reach a free trade agreement with the European Union and bring the provinces along with us. What did we do? We included them in the negotiations. We achieved a free trade agreement. We got the job done. They said it could not happen. We did it.
The Liberals could not conclude a deal with South Korea. They could not do it. We got the job done. We did this for the Canadian economy. We did it in co-operation with our provincial partners, because that is what a responsible government does. It works with its partners.
Let us look at some of the other things we have accomplished.
I look at our immigration system. For decades, the immigration system did not properly reflect or provide for Canada's needs. We had lost our way. It was not the same system that brought my parents to this country in the fifties and the sixties. The Liberals gave up. They said it could not be done. They said that it could never be changed in a way that the provinces would agree upon. They gave up. We got the job done.
In the economic action plan we said that we had to bring in a new Canada job grant so Canadians from coast to coast to coast would have access to better jobs and better training. The Liberals gave up. We said it could be done. We got the job done.
The Liberals gave up on labour agreements in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. We got the job done.
We continuously work with our provincial, territorial and municipal partners because it is important to all Canadians that we do this. We will continue to do that.
When issues of vital national interest called on us to convene the first ministers' conference in 2009, when the Canadian economy was in trouble, we brought the premiers together. That is how we came up with Canada's economic action plan. It is why it has been so successful in creating over one million net new jobs. We worked together.
When Ontario found itself in difficulty with respect to the auto sector, we worked with the Liberal provincial government to save the auto sector. We will continue to do that.
What the federation is and what this reflects is the fact that from province to province, territory to territory, and community to community in each of these provinces, it is very different. The realities, the requests and the needs are not exclusive. The premiers and the territorial leaders who approach the have needs of their own in their own communities. That is why it is important to meet with them where they are. That is why the Prime Minister met with Premier Wynn in Toronto. That is why he met with Premier Prentice in Calgary. When our ministers visit different parts of the country, they meet with their provincial and municipal counterparts. They do that because we have to meet them where they are.
It does not reflect the Canada of today to simply suggest that bringing the leaders of the governments to one spot will solve all the problems of the country. That reflects an old view of how this federation works. That is not the new reality of Canada and Canadians do not want to go back to that reality. They do not want to go back to the long, drawn-out constitutional battles that were the hallmark of the Liberal era. Canadians want a government that focuses on their priorities. They want a government that can and will work together with the provinces and has a track record of doing just that, whether it is on the economy, the environment or natural resources. This government gets the job done on behalf of Canadians in communities from coast to coast to coast. We will continue to do that because it is right for Canadians.
We will continue to cut taxes. We will continue to work with our provincial partners. We will continue to open up new markets for our manufacturers. We will not abandon them as the Liberals have suggested we will do. We welcome the Liberals to a debate about policy on the issues that our country faces. They could maybe join us and the NDP in putting things on the table so Canadians can take a look at them. We know it will not happen.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate.
Before I get to the remarks I prepared ahead of time, I just have to comment on the whole notion. The premise of the government's argument was that we do not need to meet at the premier level because all the other meetings we are having work out so well, so there is no need for us to do that. It makes no sense whatsoever, and I think anyone watching this will understand that there really is no defence for a prime minister who refuses to meet with the Council of the Federation. It is just that simple.
I need to say right from the outset that an NDP government would commit clearly to meetings twice a year with the Council of the Federation, once here in the capital and then rotating across the country, once in a province or territory, then back in the capital. It would be part of the ongoing national discussion that Canadians would have, the kind of discussion we should be having, particularly given the challenges we are now facing here in this country.
I have to also say that I find this passing strange. I understand why the Liberals have brought this in, and this is the only sort of side shot at the Liberals. However, with an election coming, we do not normally lead with our chin. In this millennium, while the Liberals were in power from 2000 to 2006, they met a whole grand total of twice with the Council of the Federation. If the Liberals are saying they will up their game, then indeed let us call it that and they have to up their game, because the last time they were in power they did not live up to what this motion says here today.
If I might, I would like to just take one step back in terms of the context for the discussion we are having today. Under our constitution, the federal government and the provincial governments exist as equals. Again, in our constitution, the federated government with its capital and seat of government here in Ottawa is no more important, has no veto above, and has no ability to dictate to the provinces, because the provinces are 100% equal and sovereign in the areas that they represent and that the constitution defines for provinces.
As a former Ontario cabinet minister myself, I have attended federal-provincial-territorial justice ministers conferences. The key to two equals talking and working together is respect. Respect is the cornerstone for a relationship based on equals.
Here is a bit of housekeeping. I need to mention that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
There is a notion that the federal government and the will decide when they will visit the little peons there in the provinces—when it suits them. When they come together, the government and the Prime Minister may or may not go by and say hello. They will decide that, because of course, being the federal government, they are the big shots. They are number one. They decide when we will meet and when we will not.
That is the attitude, and that is the core of the problem. It is that attitude towards provinces and territories. It is the disrespect shown to sovereign governments under our constitution. That is why it is so important that the Canadian people hear clearly that an NDP government would honour and respect that relationship, and we would meet twice a year, once in the capital here in Ottawa and, rotating around, once in the provinces and territories.
If we accept that it is a relationship of equals and we look at what the government is doing, it makes sense that we would go back and look at what the government said it would do in terms of this relationship when it was running to get that strong, stable, Conservative, majority government that it wanted.
What was the commitment? On page 42 of the platform on which the government ran are the promises they made to the Canadian people, when they asked them to give them 39% of the vote and they would take 100% of the power. When they also said this is what they would do with this relationship, it sounded so good. The platform states:
Support the important contribution the Council of the Federation is making to strengthening intergovernmental and interprovincial cooperation, expanding the economic and social union in Canada, and advancing the development of common standards and objectives of mutual recognition by all provinces.
What happened to living up to that promise, because that is sure not what we are seeing? That obligation is not being honoured. Instead, we hear, “I will deal with you when I choose to.” That attitude is what has led to this impasse.
The Constitution provides the division of powers. However, there are overlaps. It is not 10 sovereign nations and 3 territories. We are still within one nation. That is why it is called Confederation, as opposed to a unilateral system, which is the way the government wants to act, as if there is only one government and what it says goes.
We have a Constitution that says the delivery of health care is the responsibility of the provinces and yet, from a confederated point of view, the health of all Canadians is obviously in the interest of the national government, which is the government that has the biggest levers of power to leverage the kind of funding that can provide the support for our universal health care system. Therefore, how can it be that a government that says it stands up for Canadian values on a file like universal health care feels it can just ignore the Council of the Federation and there is no need whatsoever to be talking collaboratively about ensuring that, arguably, the most precious thing that Canadians have is the universal health care system? That should be top of mind of every premier and every prime minister at all times, as well as coming together to talk about how to deliver a health care system that meets the needs of our people, especially as the population is getting older.
There is an awful lot of us boomers. We are getting older. The population around the world is getting older. It is not a new problem, not unique to Canada, but we have a unique opportunity to solve it in a made-in-Canada way, which is through the Council of the Federation meeting with the federal government, as equals.
Retirement security is a huge issue. In 2009, the council called for a national summit on retirement security. What was the government's response in the interim? It was a unilateral cut to our income security by telling people that they do not get to collect OAS until they are 67; and let us not forget the insult of announcing it outside of Canada. Not only did the Conservatives not raise it during the election, but they did not have the guts to do it here on our soil when they attacked Canadians' income and retirement security.
In closing, to tackle the issues that matter most, such as the environment, jobs, our health care system, and retirement security issues, we need to be working in co-operation, and that means showing respect, a respect that has been missing from the and the government, and a respect that an NDP government would make front and centre in our relationships with provincial and territorial governments.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to this important measure. The motion is:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
It is so trite. Of course I wish to say that I will be supporting that motion, but I want to go much further than that.
I am delighted to be the official opposition critic for health. In that particular context, I want to illustrate why this is so important. We have a crisis in the funding and the creation of innovation in our health care system, yet the 's lack of leadership and lack of willingness to meet with provincial and territorial counterparts is very telling.
This is a multibillion-dollar industry. The health care program in Canada is something Canadians are justly proud of. When asked in surveys over and over again, Canadians recognize this is a signature part of our Canadian identity. The father of medicare, former premier Tommy Douglas, set up the first of these programs in the country, and of course, it has been adapted at the federal level. We have to sustain that signature program of the federation.
To do so, we need leadership at the highest level. To do so, we need to have a who deigns to meet with the Council of the Federation, something the Prime Minister, in his platform that brought him to power, said very clearly:
Support the important contribution the Council of the Federation is making to strengthening intergovernmental and interprovincial cooperation, expanding the economic and social union in Canada, and advancing the development of common standards and objectives of mutual recognition by all provinces.
What happened? Apparently there is a meeting of the Council of the Federation here in Ottawa, and the cannot find the time to go. What happened to that promise? What happened to the promise to the Canadian people, the respect, of which my colleague from spoke, for a sovereign government within its sphere? That has apparently disappeared.
We live in a vast, very decentralized federation called Canada. There are many powers that are shared, some that are given to the provinces in section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, some that are given to the federal government, and some that are not mentioned, health being one of them.
The Conservatives seem to think that a few meetings at the deputy level and a few meetings perhaps with the ministers responsible once in a while is okay. They seem to think that what some people have called “chequebook federalism” works, where they just do a transfer of money and suddenly that is all we need to make a dynamic system like health care function in such a vast and complicated country. All the experts say that if they believe that, they are wrong.
We need to find ways the federal government, using its spending power, can incent the kind of behaviours we need to sustain our precious health care system.
We have a law called the Canada Health Act, which was passed unanimously. It has several core principles: public administration of our health system, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility. Those are nice words. How do we make those words translate into action? How can we afford a program, with an aging population, and the need for new services, expensive pharmaceutical care, home care, and long-term care? How do we do that without having a dialogue with the provinces at the highest level to figure it out? Apparently, the Conservatives do not think we need to do so. We do.
The has committed that no less than twice a year there would be meetings with all the premiers, not one-offs with various premiers, which seems to be the style of the current . Rather, in a respectful way, they would sit around the table and dialogue about these serious problems. I am simply using health as one illustration of the kinds of problems we need to solve as a country and as a federation.
The Canada Health Act is lovely, with those principles I mentioned, but does the federal government enforce it? Non-compliance is rampant. User fees and private clinics seem to be in absolute contrast to what the principles suggest, yet people are not doing much about it. Are there penalties to address those, or sanctions, as expected, as any law that should be enforced would suggest? No, there is no attempt to enforce those conditions on user fees, extra billing, and private clinics. Indeed, we have a case that is in the B.C. Supreme Court in March that will go on for months. It will deal with private clinics and whether they are okay under our Canada Health Act. Is the federal government involved? Is the Prime Minister interested?
The Canada health transfer is a block transfer that gives money to the provinces and territories to deal with the health care system. It is tens of billions of dollars. In 2004, the government made a 10-year commitment to something called a health accord. That expired last year, on March 31. It was $41 billion over 10 years.
One day in 2011, the then-minister of finance came into my community of Victoria and said that they were not going to do that anymore. They were not going to fund it the way it was funded before, with a guarantee of a 6% health care funding increase. He said that it would end in the 2016-17 fiscal year, conveniently after the next election.
The Conservatives only committed to a floor of 3% in that document. Henceforth, as the population grows, as the aging population grows, and as pharmaceuticals get more expensive, there will not be enough money. Effectively, the critics have pointed out, there will be a $36-billion cut in health care costs going forward. As I said, coincidentally it will be just after the next federal election.
This is a problem. Canada needs a national pharmaceutical strategy. We started one, but it was scrapped. We need a continuing care plan that integrates home care, facility-based long-term care, respite care, and palliative care. We need a universal public drug plan. We need adequate and stable federal funding, including the old 6% escalator to deal with the growth in our population. We need innovation.
Why am I mentioning this in the context of the debate today? It is for a very simple reason: it is one of the signature programs of our federation, and we need to sustain it. We need leadership from the Government of Canada. We need the to take an interest. All the premiers are fixed on this crisis facing us, the “grey tsunami”, as it is called, of the aging population.
We need innovation. We do not just need more money, although we do need a commitment to the escalator we had in the old health accord. We need a commitment to stable, long-term federal funding, and we need a government that enforces the Canada Health Act. However, we also need a Prime Minister to sit down with his counterparts at the provincial and territorial level on a regular basis for a checkup on this signature program.
Canadians are so proud of the Canada Health Act. They are so proud of our medicare system. When asked, they continually tell us that it is one of the things that makes them most proud as Canadians. We could lose all of this if we do not have this kind of dialogue at the senior level.
I hear the government members saying that they meet lots of times and that they have ministers who meet. It is called executive federalism, where the deputies get together and chat. I absolutely respect that and understand that it is a necessity in various programs, including those for health. However, we need leadership from the top.
Leaving it to a number of officials to deal with is not going to cut it. Canadians want to see their Prime Minister engaged with the provinces on this issue. I have had people come to my office from the Canadian Health Coalition, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, and other leaders in my community saying that we have a crisis coming. The Council of Canadians has also spoken passionately about this, yet what do we hear from the government? In 2011, it announced unilaterally and with no dialogue that it was going to throw the health accord out, not renew it, and no longer commit to a 6% escalator, despite everyone saying that the need is there.
People are asking if we are going to be able to sustain this. The jury is out on that question, but one thing is clear. If we had dialogue at the highest level, at the Council of the Federation, with the , in good faith and with the respect my colleague from mentioned, we could solve this. Canadians have rolled up their sleeves and solved things before.
We had a crisis with the Canada Pension Plan and we fixed it. We decided as a country, federally and provincially, that we would put more money into it, that we would deal with what was going to be a crisis if we did not address it, and we fixed it. We can fix medicare as well, but it needs leadership and respectful dialogue.
To think that the will refuse to meet, when the members of the Council of the Federation are right here, should shock all Canadians. When they look at the problems, of which this is just one example, they will see the self-evident need for us to agree with this motion to have that regular meeting between the and the Council of the Federation.
Our leader has committed to that no less than twice a year. The government is apparently not doing it.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join this very important debate. I am sure that Canadians who are watching understand how important it is to have positive relationships among one another. That is very helpful when it is possible, but it is quite difficult in this environment. Certainly positive relationships with our provinces would be much more helpful.
As members of this House know, one of the unique characteristics of Canada's federal system is something dubbed by many as “summit federalism”. The key component of this kind of federalism is commonly known as the first ministers' conference, which brings together the , provincial premiers, and territorial leaders. This allows the first ministers to tackle collective problems in a collaborative way that is good for every Canadian, regardless of the province of residence.
I think that makes sense to anybody who is watching. That sounds like the kind of Canada that they would want.
Since 1906, Canada's first ministers have been meeting every year to discuss ideas of pressing federal-provincial concern, to exchange notes and best practices, and, most importantly, to avoid misunderstandings or a misallocation of resources and even duplication. In short, they meet to build a consensus, to craft common policy responses, and to work co-operatively to make Canada an even better place in which to live and work. That has been happening since 1906, and we have had a lot of success up until the last eight or nine years.
Most experts agree that it is critical for these deliberations to be chaired by the , the head of our country, the elected official guided on a broader, more national perspective. Sadly, the current vision for Canada is much smaller and much more inward-looking than all of that.
As evidence of this, the last time the current met with the premiers and territorial leaders was in 2009. There has not been another high-level gathering of all of the premiers and territorial leaders and our for six years, which means that for six years the has hidden in the proverbial closet and abdicated his national leadership responsibilities to others.
I have to wonder what he is so afraid of that he cannot sit down in a room with all of the premiers collectively. Does the lack the confidence? Is that the issue? Is it that he is concerned he will be challenged on his ideological mantra and be rebuked by many of them?
Previous Conservative leaders have not been afraid to meet with the first ministers, and in many cases their meetings have been very fruitful. However, the current continues to hide in his office and avoid working on any kind of pan-Canadian vision for the future of Canada, as is very evident when we talk to the premiers or territorial leaders on a variety of issues and hear their frustration.
Certainly there are several issues on the federal agenda that would benefit from a national approach. The establishment of a national securities regulator has been talked about a great deal. The government has done quite a job at trying to push that forward, but it requires the co-operation of the provinces and territories.
Infrastructure renewal is a major issue facing Canada. Yes, money has been put into infrastructure, but has it been put down in a collaborative way? Has it been one project versus another? Was it always done in the best interests of Canada as a whole? That is what our job is and that is what the job is: to do what is best for Canada as a whole and not benefit just one province versus another.
The economic recovery continues to be a significant problem for all of us. That is especially the case in southwestern Ontario, where we are concerned about the manufacturing sector. There has been a lot of emphasis put on the oil industry, much to the detriment of many of the other provinces.
I forgot to mention at the beginning of my speech that I will be splitting my time with my great new colleague from .
Let us talk about employment and the huge unemployment that is facing many of our young people. They are graduating from universities and colleges with debts of $20,000 or $30,000, and there are no job opportunities. Little investment has been done in that area.
The government can talk about creating 1,200,000 jobs, but it does not talk about the 300,000 that have been lost, especially in southwestern Ontario.
These are issues that could be dealt with much more effectively if the would set aside his personal fears and inadequacies and sit at the same table with the premiers and talk seriously about how we can together get Canada to move forward.
As an Ontario MP, I know that the manufacturing sector alone has bled more than 300,000 jobs since the premiers last met six years ago. Middle-class families are in trouble, and they are looking to government for leadership and help.
Imagine what could have been done to stem the tide if the first ministers, including and led by the , had set their collective minds to stabilizing the manufacturing sector instead of ignoring it for nine years. Instead, the Premier of Ontario was forced to deal with this crisis and many more. Only recently did the Prime Minister squeeze in a brief meeting on the way to a hockey game. It shows how much respect there is for the Province of Ontario.
It is no secret that the Prime Minister does not play well with others. He prefers the bully pulpit over the conference table. However, after six long years of locking the doors of 24 Sussex to the rest of Canada, surely it is time to plan for the collective and long-term success of the nation.
I understand that the detests these meetings because he cannot control conferences or those sitting around the table. One never knows what is going to come out of them, although usually they are very positive things. I understand the preference for absolute and total control over a situation, environment, and message, but that is not the way to move a country as big as Canada forward. It cannot continue in this way without serious harm being caused.
There has been a regrettable inclination on the part of the government and the Prime Minister to rely on reference cases and the Supreme Court of Canada to resolve federal-provincial disagreements, but this is hardly an optimal way of dealing with these disputes and it is hardly the way to manage a country.
As we speak, there are several pressing policy issues on the table that demand a more collective approach. Pension security is one of them. Others include infrastructure spending, the environment, changes to employment insurance, health care funding, and many more, not to mention that the premiers should have the right to speak to the Prime Minister directly on issues such as the status of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, the CETA, with the European Union, which they will all presumably have to ratify at some point. Clearly Newfoundland and Labrador has some very serious concerns that are going to have to be listened to, one way or the other.
The needs to take a leadership role and start working with his provincial and territorial counterparts. By hiding in his office in the Langevin Block or on the Hill, he is undermining the proper functioning of a federal state and weakening the federal government's central role in the process. He is also forcing the premiers to move collectively to fill the gap and to move ahead with their own policy initiatives. For example, on the pension front, Ontario is relegating the national voice to a whisper on the sidelines.
Perhaps this is all part of a well-known firewall strategy. As the Conservatives move deeper and deeper into their bunker, who will speak for Canada as a whole? Why would any political leader not take advantage of the impending first ministers meeting to re-establish the federal government's role and the desire to be part of the process, unless there is no desire to be part of it?
The Prime Minister assumed office by promising open federalism. It is long past due for him to sit down and meet with the premiers and territorial leaders. Refusing to do so is an admission of his own failures and shortcomings and is no way to run a country.
Mr. Speaker, I recall a comment that was made yesterday when people were having trouble following the debate. The thumping and the knocking they thought was from construction might have been the nervous hearts of some Conservative ministers, in particular the , as they try to contemplate a way forward in very troubled times. It was either that, or the door of the Prime Minister's Office was continuously being knocked on by vets, by cities, by provinces, by the medical community, and by universities. The knocking continues, but no one is answering the door. That is why today's motion is so critically important. It is not thumping we are hearing; it is people knocking on the door trying to get in, trying to build a consensus, and trying to move this country forward.
The reason it is so critically important to bring the first ministers of this country together is that it is only when those who have the capacity to move forward together meet together and agree on a common agenda that we can achieve more than simply unilateral action.
I find this passing strange as someone who has watched members of the government in other jurisdictions in provincial capitals unilaterally download, unilaterally amalgamate, unilaterally act without consensus, and seeing the disasters that flow from that. The city of Toronto is a perfect example. One member talked about the dithering by Conservatives' over transit. The irony is that it is exactly this lack of consensus that has been driven by someone who refused to meet, at times, even with his own council, that led to the very crisis of which he spoke.
Meetings are important. When we have significant trade issues with a buy American policy causing havoc in the manufacturing sector right across this country, pursuing a meeting with the U.S. president and our NAFTA partner Mexico is a good thing to do. What does the Conservative government do? It walks away from yet another meeting. That is how we now resolve international trade issues. We do not resolve international issues by refusing to meet; they are resolved by meeting. It is a shame that the does not understand that. It is a wonder that he even meets with his cabinet sometimes.
The hallmark of Prime Minister Paul Martin's behaviour in the Prime Minister's Office was meeting with others. I know that because I covered Parliament Hill at that time. I was here for the health accord in Ottawa when it was negotiated. When an agreement could not be reached in the set time, the meeting continued. They sat around the table until they achieved consensus. However, it was not just consensus, but a policy that the NDP has already said it would like to renew without even meeting with the premiers. That is how good a consensus and how strong a legacy was built up by meeting with the premiers.
After that meeting Prime Minister Martin sat down with the media for over half an hour to explain exactly what had been achieved and exactly how the health ministers were going to meet afterward to continue the progress. Again, that was such a strong policy that the Conservatives now try to claim it as their own investment in health care when it in fact was the premiers and the Government of Canada that created that agreement.
That is why meeting with the premiers is not simply about holding a meeting. It is not searching for things to do or searching for policies to pursue. The premiers have agendas. For example, the Premier of Newfoundland would love to see the Conservative government honour its commitment on the CETA agreement and processing in fisheries. Instead what we get is a minister and a parliamentary secretary standing in the House and claiming that the other provinces are bitter about this, that they are upset that Newfoundland is getting special treatment. It is not getting special treatment: Newfoundland is asking for agreements to be lived up to, agreements that the government had negotiated in good faith and now is walking away from.
It moves way beyond just the premiers. The government does not meet with the big city mayors. When the big city mayors met in Winnipeg and sat down with Paul Martin and the federal leadership, they created two policies that the Conservative government continues to claim as its own. I am speaking of the gas tax and infrastructure funding. Both of those policies were not unilaterally delivered to cities, were not dictated on high by the Prime Minister's Office. Conferences were called, negotiations were held, policy was developed, and accords were reached. The grievance that led to cities being given a more stable funding formula was addressed. That is what happens when people work in consensus.
It is not a question of always having your own policy lead the conversation. Sometimes we have to do something the current Conservative government has become incapable of doing, and that is listening. That is a problem. It hurts cities, it hurts provinces, it hurts Canadians wherever they live, and no group knows this more fundamentally than the first nations and aboriginal communities of this country.
Yes, we can have encounters. We can stage a meeting here, there, and everywhere, but if we do not bring the decision-makers together around the table, long-term, permanent resolutions to long-standing issues fail to materialize. That is what the problem is. Without a first ministers' meeting, progress on critical issues where provincial and federal jurisdiction overlap is next to impossible, and playing the premiers off against each other is not what this country is built upon. In fact, if we read the first three words of the constitution, “Whereas the provinces...”, the provinces govern all of us, and we have to govern with them if Confederation is going to work.
At the end of the day, the Liberal Party is asking for a commitment by the House and the government of the day, regardless of which party holds power, to meet annually with the first ministers so that the agenda of this country can move forward on a consistent basis, on a consensual basis, and in a collective way. That is not too much to ask of a confederated government, but apparently it is too much to ask of this government. That is a shame.
Instead of standing here and exploring the opportunities, instead of sitting in concert with the premiers and listening and building a stronger country, it is the Conservatives' way or the highway. The irony, because it is their way or the highway on infrastructure in particular, is that no highways are getting built in this country.
The Conservatives talk about what their consensus builds. Their infrastructure funding does not arrive for two to three years. We are in the middle of a crisis right now, and instead of sitting down and trying to figure out how we could fast-track that and get critical infrastructure built, what we get are five-minute meetings next to an airport in front of a hockey game, which have nothing to do with solving problems and are not much more productive than simply telling people no.
As I said at the start of my remarks, the knocking we hear in the halls of this building is Canadians and premiers; it is provinces and cities; it is cities, manufacturers, and universities; it is groups of Canadians and individual Canadians looking for more than a cold shoulder. That has got to fundamentally change if we are to change the way this country operates.
Unfortunately, what we have heard today is the Conservatives saying, “We have met enough. We have done enough”, and Canadians are saying that it is not good enough.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to rise to speak about the very great partnerships that our federal government has developed and how they have contributed, and continue to contribute, to making our country, Canada, one of the best countries in which to live.
Infrastructure is the backbone of our communities. It supports economic growth and a better quality of life because it provides Canadians with the essentials they need, transportation, clean water, recreation and cultural facilities, to carry out a safe, healthy and productive life. Public infrastructure has always been, and will continue to be, a key driver of Canada's success as a nation. Whether it is investments in highways, water treatment technology or airports, these investments help our industries reach global markets, protect our environment and support our cities and our communities. Investment in quality public infrastructure builds strong communities, but it cannot be done by one single order of government.
I remind members of Helen Keller's words of wisdom. She said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” This, I believe, is how progress is achieved, meeting challenges through co-operation across all levels of government.
As the Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Communities, I am very proud of the achievements that have been made possible through the steady collaboration with our provincial, territorial and municipal partners. In Canada, the vast majority of core public infrastructure is in fact owned by municipalities, provinces and territories, with the balance, less than one-tenth, owned by the federal government. This means that provinces, territories and municipalities are ultimately responsible for building, expanding, maintaining, rehabilitating and operating almost all of Canada's public infrastructure. As a result, provinces, territories and municipalities are also best positioned to identify local and regional needs and priorities.
In order to provide a better quality of life for Canadians, to maintain a competitive edge over other G7 countries and to keep our economy on track, we are making record investments in public infrastructure. We are doing so through the $53 billion new Building Canada plan, which provides the necessary funding to other levels of government for their critical projects and initiatives. While these funds are used to fund priorities identified by provinces, territories and municipalities, these projects could not proceed without federal collaboration and contributions.
In recent years, Canadians have seen the benefits of partnership and the historic infrastructure investments that the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments have been making under the leadership of our great .
When the original Building Canada plan was launched in 2007, it marked a new era for infrastructure partnership funding, and a new relationship among all orders of government. The plan was the result of engagement and discussions with provinces and territories, as well as the municipal sector. The intent was to identify an approach to provide federal funding for provincial, territorial and municipal public infrastructure in a way that was more predictable and long term in nature. In fact, the development of the plan itself, in 2006, clearly set the tone for a new approach to public infrastructure, a much better approach.
Our Conservative government consulted with all provinces and territories and a number of municipal associations with the purpose of putting federal funding on a predictable long-term track. This series of meetings at all levels resulted in a coordinated suite of infrastructure programs that recognize provincial-territorial jurisdiction for municipalities, as well as the diverse needs and opportunities across Canada. This collaborative approach laid the groundwork for a fast and efficient response to the global economic slowdown in 2009.
Budget 2009 announced the acceleration of existing infrastructure funding under the Building Canada plan, as well as new infrastructure funding over two years, in order to stimulate economic growth and employment, while also supporting Canada's long-term productivity.
Strong and effective partnerships with provincial, territorial and municipal governments were essential to the success of the economic action plan's infrastructure elements. A concerted national effort was made to overcome the challenges of developing and rolling out this funding in a very short period of time.
There have been literally thousands of projects funded across the country. Regardless of their size or scope, they all improved the quality of life in the communities in which they were built. At the end of the day, this is what Canadians care about most, and this is something of which we can all be very proud.
The results of the economic action plan are a testament to the high degree of co-operation that was shown by all levels of government across Canada under the leadership of our . It is based on this level of co-operation and success that our government forged ahead with the new Building Canada plan, which is currently under way.
In budget 2011, our government committed to developing a long-term plan for public infrastructure that would extend beyond the expiry of the Building Canada plan in 2014. To meet this commitment, we engaged provinces, territories, municipalities and other infrastructure stakeholders to shape a new plan. This involved taking stock of our achievements and lessons learned, identifying priorities for the future, and building the knowledge required to address Canada's future infrastructure needs.
As part of this engagement, in the summer of 2012, the then-minister of state, the member for , and the minister of infrastructure both chaired regional round tables with our provincial and territorial counterparts, where they met with close to 150 provincial, territorial, regional, municipal and private sector stakeholders from across the country to discuss the development of our new plan.
Over the course of 2012 and 2013, Infrastructure Canada officials also met with provinces, territories, municipalities and other stakeholder groups to discuss the development of the new plan. During this process, we took note of a great variety of ideas and opinions. However, a few key themes emerged, namely: the need to build on the success of past programs; the need for long-term, stable and flexible funding; the need for infrastructure programs that support economic growth; and the need to identify a role for the private sector.
These consultations had a real impact on the development of the new plan, and we could not have done it without the feedback from our partners.
Let me explain the results of this collaborative work.
Our partners indicated that infrastructure funding programs needed improvements, so we improved them. In order to provide the flexibility that the provinces, territories and municipalities asked for, categories under the new plan were realigned to give our partners the freedom to decide where they needed their funding to go. Predictability was a major request. The new Building Canada plan is a 10-year plan. Our partners requested that processes be more efficient. We reorganized our processes to streamline both funding applications and expense claims.
Not only have we heard our partners, but we acted upon what we heard, and the new plan speaks for itself. The overall federal investment in infrastructure will be more than $75 billion in the next 10 years. At the heart of these investments is, of course, the new Building Canada plan.
The new Building Canada plan provides $53 billion for provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure. Most important, our plan is set for 10 years so our partners can focus on delivering infrastructure for Canadians over the long term.
The plan includes the $14 billion Building Canada fund which has two parts: a national infrastructure component and the provincial-territorial infrastructure component.
The national infrastructure component will support investments for major economic projects of national significance, in particular, those that support job creation, economic growth and productivity. It focuses on highways, public transit, disaster mitigation, and gateway and trade corridor infrastructure, which are very important for our country.
The provincial-territorial infrastructure component supports projects of national, regional and local significance such as highways, public transit, drinking water, waste water, connectivity and broadband, and innovation, for example.
In addition, we have also provided another $1.25 billion over five years to renew the P3 Canada fund. The renewal of the P3 Canada fund will continue to support innovative ways to build infrastructure projects in the country. Public-private partnerships can achieve greater savings and efficiency in the delivery of much needed infrastructure projects, which will provide better value for Canadian taxpayers.
Let us not forget that in Canada, as I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of core public infrastructure is indeed owned by municipalities, provinces and territories, with the balance, less than one-tenth, owned by the federal government.
The biggest part of our plan is the community improvement fund, which includes $21.8 billion for the gas tax fund transfer. This is permanent, stable, predictable funding. There is another change, one that has been repeatedly asked for by municipal leaders, a change that will keep it growing. The gas tax fund transfer is now indexed so municipalities will not be penalized as inflation grows.
The program is also more flexible than ever before. It will continue to support community infrastructure projects such as roads, public transit and recreational facilities, and we have doubled the number of eligible categories. Gas tax transfers will now also support projects in categories such as culture, tourism, sport and recreation, disaster mitigation, broadband communication systems and local and regional airports.
We have a flexible plan that lets local councils set their own local priorities. For example, many cities have focused on transit. Thus far, more than one-quarter of the gas tax fund has been directed to public transit projects. That is $2 billion in transit funding since 2006 from just one program.
In five of Canada's largest cities, all or nearly all of the gas tax transferred goes toward public transit. We did not decide to invest there, municipalities did, but we ensured it was an eligible category based on our discussions with our municipal partners.
Other municipalities have other priorities that also fit within the parameters of the programs we have collectively built together.
That is how we do business. We consult our partners and we are in constant contact with them. More than one-quarter of the federal gas tax fund has been invested in local roads and bridges to date, while 16% of the gas tax fund has gone to water and over 10% has been used for waste water.
Across Canada, local councils are making the right choices for their communities, and we are happy to help them make this important progress. Let us not forget that provinces, territories and municipalities are ultimately responsible for building, expanding, maintaining, rehabilitating and operating almost all of Canada's public infrastructure. As a result, provinces, territories and municipalities are also best positioned to identify their own investments for local and regional needs and priorities.
Let us recap. The municipalities asked for more flexibility. Let us look at those 18 gas tax fund categories. They asked for a long-term plan: the plan is a decade long. They asked for more funding: we gave them $53 billion over the next decade. They asked us to index the gas tax fund: indexing is in the new plan.
We did not waste any time implementing this new plan with our partners either. Important projects worth more than an estimated $5 billion in total project costs have already been approved and identified for funding under the new Building Canada fund. These projects contribute to getting goods to market, to connecting people and businesses with the world, and to reducing gridlock on our roads and highways, which in turn boosts our productivity and competitiveness. This includes projects such as the Valley Line stage one light rail transit expansion in Edmonton, water and wastewater projects across Manitoba, improvements to Nova Scotia's 100 series highway systems, and our recently announced funding for key upgrades to the Port of Montreal.
This spirit of co-operation has taken us a long way and will be even more essential as we go forward. We worked shoulder-to-shoulder to develop a long-term infrastructure plan that meets the needs of Canadian citizens from coast to coast. Now we are working together with the provinces and municipalities to implement that plan.
Going forward, strong partnerships will remain key to continued investments and world-class modern infrastructure across Canada. Through these investments, and in partnership with the provinces, territories, and municipalities, we are delivering results, not just talking, as the opposition does. We are delivering results that matter to Canadians, such as a stronger economy, a cleaner environment, and a more prosperous and vibrant Canada with more prosperous and vibrant communities.
We look forward to this continued collaboration, to continued action, and to continued results.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is indeed with great pleasure that I stand in the House today to support this motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
My background is in the farm movement. As the national president of the National Farmers Union, I had the opportunity to travel in Canada, to all regions of this country, to stay in people's homes, to see the diversity, and to see the opportunity there is across Canada as a whole.
In those travels I learned that regions are very different, and all have their strengths and weaknesses. However, that diversity can be a good thing. In our diversity we can find many strengths. However, to find those strengths and seize them, we need national leadership.
From my experience, I believe that Canada can be stronger than the sum of its parts. We have seen that under previous leaders. They might have been of different political stripes, but they seized that opportunity to make Canada stronger than the sum of its parts by building national programs, be it medicare or pensions. We have seen that strength under various political stripes.
We are certainly not getting it today, not from this . We are a much weaker nation than when this man came to power.
I am old enough to remember the first ministers' conferences, especially those held by on the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the conferences that tried to deal with some of the problems as a result of the initial constitutional conferences.
Many Canadians, and I was one, watched those discussions. We actually became involved in the debates in our communities. I remember a lot of those first ministers: Peter Lougheed, Allan Blakeney, Bill Davis, René Lévesque, Hatfield, Alex Campbell, Gerald Regan, and others. They had their differences, but they were all trying to build a better nation.
They represented their regions and their provinces, but also out of the discussion there was that theme that they wanted to build a better country. They wanted to build understanding and have their intense debates, some of them behind the curtains, but out of it all we could sense that they were trying to build a better nation.
All the different parties, the Parti Québécois, the NDP, the Liberals, and the Conservatives, were represented at those meetings. They had different ideologies, but they came together to find compromises and to build the nation.
There is none of that today. The government is doing the opposite. It is using its spending authority and the big whip of federal laws to often cause divisions. Here is a prime example. When developed the health accord in 2004, we all benefited. The current government has benefited from that health accord, because every year it talks about the 6% escalator in terms of funding. That all came out of the health accord designed. It was nothing the current government did. In fact, when the health accord was about to end, the minister of finance at the time went to the ministers of finance meeting, which I believe was held in western Canada at the time, and said, “Folks, this is the way it is going to be.” There was no discussion, just the big whip of the federal government with its spending power and authority. That was the end of the discussion.
That is no way to build a country, but that is the way this works.
As well, we have seen changes to the employment insurance system, which has hurt us in Atlantic Canada. We have seen changes to the foreign workers program, which has hurt industry right across the country.
There is no engagement by the current government and the to involve the others to build a nation. It is all based on the Prime Minister's ideology, and I am saddened to say that backbench members over there just stand up and say “yea, yea” rather than think about the concerns of their constituents and what could be better for the country as a whole.
My province of Prince Edward Island is a small province whose main industries are agriculture, fisheries, and tourism. Those industries are seasonal, but when they are operating in season, the economy from those industries spreads across the country. Whether it is inputs like fertilizer, fuel, and transportation or their production moving across the country to spread the economy elsewhere, those industries, although they are in a small province and are seasonal, add to the whole of the country. Given the seasonality of these industries in Prince Edward Island, we require federal equalization payments. Those programs are discussed at some of those first ministers' meetings.
First ministers' meetings provide premiers of both the have and have-not provinces with the opportunity to state the people's case for funding for their provinces directly to the , and to other premiers across the country, and to develop an understanding of how we can pull this country up together.
The success in Prince Edward Island of its industries can change from year to year, given that there may be a drought in the agriculture sector or poor landings in fisheries. Even a low dollar in the United States in terms of the tourism industry can have an impact. In those discussions with other premiers and the leader of Canada, they can try to find ways and measures to accommodate those problems that may develop in an industry.
There was an article in The Globe and Mail by Peter McKenna, a political scientist who was formerly from the University of Prince Edward Island. The article is headlined “It’s beyond time for [the current ] to call a First Minister’s Conference”. He said this:
It is worth emphasizing here that one of the unique characteristics of Canada’s federal system is something dubbed “executive federalism.” The key component of summit federalism is commonly known as the First Ministers’ Conference or Meeting, which brings together the prime minister, provincial premiers and territorial leaders (along with their officials)....
The point of these conferences is to discuss ideas of pressing federal-provincial concern, to exchange notes and best practices, and to avoid misunderstandings, a misallocation of resources and even duplication. The hope, of course, is to build a consensus, to craft a common policy response, and to work co-operatively to make Canada a more united and stronger federation. But it is critical that these intergovernmental deliberations should be chaired by the prime minister of all Canadians – and thus guided by a broader, national perspective.
He went into the reasons why the current is avoiding meetings, such as that there is usually the provincial demand for money, and we can understand that. However, Mr. McKenna also said the Prime Minister “...detests these meetings because he can’t control the conferences or those sitting around the table.” In other words, the Prime Minister loses control, and we know that the current Prime Minister believes in control. He believes in controlling the message, although it is not always the facts. As a result, because the Prime Minister is so based on his ideology rather than on looking at the country as a whole, we are all losers in this country.
I encourage backbench members to support this motion and build a better Canada by basically forcing the to do what he ought to have done long ago.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from for his eloquent speech on the co-operation that we want and need between the federal and provincial governments. Members on both sides of the House know of his expertise in this area and, as parliamentarians, we all benefit from his informed perspective.
He very effectively summarized the difficulties that naturally arise during meetings between the federal and provincial governments, as they do in any proper democratic debate. However, mostly, he spoke eloquently and fairly about the historic achievements resulting from such co-operation under Laurier, Borden, Diefenbaker, Mulroney and Martin. Finally, he talked about this government's failure to adequately address the challenges facing our country today. It is clear that in our role as representatives of Canadians' interests in Parliament, we cannot sit idly by while this government refuses to co-operate with others.
I cannot claim to rival my colleague when it comes to federal-provincial relations, but I would like to share my perspective as someone who worked for a provincial government for many years and who saw with his own eyes the untold cost of the 's unilateral approach. I would also like members to think about our children and imagine what our country will be like if all of the provinces and territories continue to address the challenges of the future in their own way without federal leadership to make such action efficient and consistent.
Students graduating from high school know one thing about Canadian federalism, and that is that it is a system of checks and balances that requires co-operation.
I am deeply concerned to think that our 's attitude toward his provincial counterparts is one of occasional contempt and constant avoidance. Although bilateral relations between the Prime Minister and the provinces have not gone completely by the wayside, they are becoming increasingly infrequent and partisan. We are talking about a total lack of interest in working together and the rejection of Canada's federalist model.
If we ask Ms. Wynne, the premier of the biggest province in the country, with a third of Canada's population, she will tell us what sort of response we get from the when we want to work together despite our disagreements.
I know that the is not used to being surrounded by people who disagree with him. Perhaps he does not appreciate the benefits that come with having his ideas challenged. Why does he refuse to meet with people elected by the very Canadians he claims to represent? That is not asking too much.
The benefits of this co-operation are clear. My colleague from illustrated that quite well. What about the costs to Canadians every time a challenge is addressed by one federal government and 13 provinces and territories, instead of by just one country? Those incalculable costs will be part of this government's legacy. It is about time we turned the page.
The challenges our country is facing require a coordinated effort. How are we going to protect the waterways we drink from, reduce our impact on the climate we live in, and nourish the land that feeds us unless we all sit down at the same table to make sure we are all on the same wavelength, on the same page? The St. Lawrence is neither Liberal nor Ontarian, the rain in Alberta develops in British Columbia and the chemical waste in New Brunswick does not recognize the borders of the maritime provinces.
Speaking of borders, the likes spending taxpayers' money on celebrating his international trade agreements, more than once, but here at home there are still far more significant trade barriers than there sometimes are abroad.
The provincial premiers are well aware that this problem needs to be addressed, but they are also well aware of their trade interests. Where is the when it comes to an issue as vitally important as our domestic economy?
The provinces have been dealing with our generation's socio-demographic challenges for several years now. I would like the to tell us whether he believes that the aging population is a provincial or federal jurisdiction. I believe—and I think I also speak for my caucus—that this is a Canadian issue. We need to look for Canadian solutions to the issues of health and retirement, and also the issues of finance, income, employment and immigration, at both the provincial and federal levels. It worries me that the refuses to sit down with his provincial counterparts to consult with them on how to approach these issues.
Instead of health care, retirement and the environment, perhaps we should talk about something the truly cares about: oil. Why is this , who loves touting our country as an energy superpower, the same prime minister who has not managed to get a single pipeline built? Perhaps he should sit down with the provinces to talk about that.
The railway and the Trans-Canada Highway were not built by prime ministers who refused to listen and avoided co-operation. This will never be accused of having too much vision for the country, but projects that require a little vision also require some co-operation.
Furthermore, authorities need to work together in order to apply a fair, just and efficient taxation policy. At the federal level and in a number of provinces, entire forests are wiped out every year to add pages and pages to the Income Tax Act, which just keeps getting more complicated. To ensure that the system is achieving its original objectives, in keeping with the fundamental principles of taxation, we need a Canada-wide discussion on the compatibility of this country's tax laws.
Instead of simply trusting what we are saying, I encourage my colleague to consider the words of former justice Louis LeBel, who just retired from the Supreme Court. He clearly expressed what Canadians expect from their government, and I am referring to all governments.
...I have a certain federalist vision that is more co-operative, based of course on respect for the powers of each level of government but also on a need for co-operation.
That is all we expect of this and all those who follow him: co-operative federalism. Canadian federalism is an important legacy that is required in order to meet the challenges we face and a legacy that Canadians deserve.
Therefore, I invite my colleagues to vote with me in favour of this motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to stand in the House today and respond to the motion brought forward by the hon. member for . I want to begin by reassuring the hon. member that our government has worked, is working, and will work in close co-operation with the provinces and territories.
In addition, even a rough consideration of our current system makes clear that our government's overall approach to partnership with the provinces and territories is based on the principles of fairness and co-operation. Those principles are also the foundation of our economic action plan.
Our Canadian federation works. It is a federation founded on co-operation, mutual understanding, and compromise and it has served us well for generations. It has offered us a standard of living among the best in the world.
Fortunately, our government not only believes in a principled approach to federalism in Canada's intergovernmental relations but also acts on the basis of these principles. Let us look at how these principles were applied in guiding our government's response to the worst fiscal crisis to sweep the globe in generations, that is to say, our economic action plan.
It is also important to bear in mind that the action plan not only ensured that stimulus resources flowed out on time and on target to help Canadian businesses and families through these challenges at a time when stimulus was needed the most, but that it was also focused on making strategic investments that leveraged the unique advantages of regions and sectors across Canada to support longer-term growth, create and protect jobs, raise living standards, and assist those most in need.
Developing an effective stimulus package meant that governments in Canada had to work together. Approximately 40% of the stimulus set out in the action plan consisted of joint actions of federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments. Together, by providing over $63 billion in timely fiscal stimulus, Canada's action plan made important investments that contributed to Canada's long-term economic prosperity while supporting those most affected by the global recession.
The fact is that since we introduced the economic action plan to respond to the global recession, Canada has recovered both more than all of the output and all of the jobs lost during the recession. Real GDP is significantly above pre-recession levels. That is the best performance in the G7.
Canada's economic resilience and job growth also reflect the actions our government took before the global crisis in lowering taxes, paying down debt, reducing red tape, and promoting free trade and innovation.
However, our government understands that our job is not done yet, and in our efforts to continue Canada's economic success story, infrastructure plays a critical role.
In the short term, investments in infrastructure create jobs for the construction industry; in the long term, they position us to succeed in the competitive global economy. Our government's investments in infrastructure have been historic. Through the $33 billion Building Canada plan, the government has helped to build over 12,000 provincial, territorial, and municipal projects from coast to coast to coast.
Economic action plan 2013 included $70 billion for public infrastructure over the next decade. This includes the $53 billion new Building Canada plan for provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure. This plan is unprecedented. It is the largest and longest federal infrastructure commitment in Canadian history.
A key part of that plan is the gas tax fund. This is federal money that goes to municipalities to support their infrastructure priorities. It was originally a temporary program, but when we saw how important it was to Canada's cities, towns, and villages, we took action: we made it permanent, we doubled it, and we indexed it. It grows annually now, representing an additional $1.8 billion in funding over the next decade.
In November 2014, the announced an additional $5.8 billion investment to build and renew on-reserve schools and federal infrastructure assets across the country. This funding will support the modernization and repair of important infrastructure assets to create jobs in communities across Canada and to contribute to Canada's long-term economic prosperity. Many of these projects could not have been accomplished, or will not be accomplished, without the co-operation of every single province with our government.
Let me now address today's recommendation for a first ministers' conference.
The member must be unaware, apparently, that the federal, provincial, and territorial finance ministers generally meet semi-annually to discuss priorities in the lead-up to budget preparations, as well as meeting after the tabling of budgets in all jurisdictions.
Further, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers meet with their provincial and territorial counterparts on a regular basis to discuss issues within their respective areas of responsibilities, including taxation, economic and fiscal matters, and fiscal arrangements. For example, work on retirement income adequacy over the 2009 to 2013 period required the creation of additional ad hoc committees at the ministerial, deputy minister, assistant deputy minister, and working group levels.
Another example is the work with provinces on harmonizing the provincial sales taxes with the federal GST, most recently with Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island. These discussions demonstrated how the department moves from organized multilateral forums to bilateral discussions in order to achieve a long-standing priority with interested jurisdictions.
While the hon. member's party continues spinning its wheels trying to breed acrimony and sow discord, the Government of Canada has been actively and successfully building on a stronger and more prosperous Canada by working with the provinces day to day and meeting by meeting, in accomplishment after accomplishment.
This practice is something that we employ quite regularly in my riding, in my province, and in my communities. All three levels of government work closely. It is about getting the job done. It is about working together and it is about seeing results.
That unheralded co-operation is enhanced by real support for Canadians in all regions where it counts the most: in dollars. In fact, major federal transfers to provinces and territories will total $68 billion in 2015-16, an increase of $3 billion from the current year and almost 63% more since 2005-06. The government is ensuring that they will continue to grow. Specifically, equalization will grow in line with the growth of the economy: the Canada health transfer will grow at 6% per year until 2016-17 and also in line with the growth in economy starting in 2017-18, with a minimum assured growth rate of 3% per year. The Canada social transfer will continue to grow at 3% annually in 2015-16 and in future years.
As the hon. member can see, comparable treatment for all Canadians is fundamental to the government. That is why, through budget 2007, the government legislated an equal per capita cash allocation for the CST and, beginning in 2014-15, the CHT. To ensure that no province or territory is unduly affected by the CHT change, economic action plan 2012 put in place protection to ensure that no province or territory experiences a decline in its CHT cash entitlements relative to its 2013-14 cash levels.
Programs that help address fiscal disparities among provinces and territories are important components of Canada's system of fiscal federalism. That is why the government continues to provide significant and growing support through both equalization and territorial formula financing programs.
Let me also remind the hon. member that equalization payments are determined based on the province's ability to raise revenues at national average tax rates, also known as its fiscal capacity, compared to an average of all 10 provinces. Therefore, a province's ability to raise revenues varies with its underlying economy conditions, and a subsequent decrease in equalization payments reflects a relative strengthening of a province's economy compared to other equalization-receiving provinces.
Equalization amounts for provinces are based on a legislative formula and change from year to year, based on a province's economic strength relative to other provinces. That is a good-news story, and it is exactly how equalization is supposed to work.
I can reassure the hon. member that provinces can continue to count on long-term, growing support from this government as we work together in this uncertain global economy.
That relationship is what provinces want. Provinces want to know that they can depend on what the federal government is telling them is coming their way. They do not want to be surprised. They want sustainable funding. They want dependable funding. This government has demonstrated over the last nine years that we have been able to provide that support and provide that level of sustainable funding that they require to move forward and to provide for their constituents. This is what the provinces need.
In my past life, as I generally refer to it, I was a provincial politician. I understand how important the relationship with the federal government is. We used to come and meet with federal ministers. I was a provincial minister, and the idea that the opposition members have of ideal federalism certainly did not work out that way in practice. I remember being at those meetings. They make it sound as though they sat around and discussed the issues, brought forward solutions, and acted on them. That is not exactly how it worked. I remember very clearly those days when I sat there, as a provincial minister of agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture. I remember very clearly the situation. A federal minister would walk in the door and basically say, “This is how it is, and you guys deal with it.” There was no relationship, as they suggest, wherein they walk in the door and sit down, we all work it out together, leave hand in hand, and happily go on our way and everything works out great. That certainly was not the case.
What happened was that the Liberals had a heavy-handed approach that they employed the whole time they were in government. We saw this through the downloading they did on provinces. I remember those days when transfers were cut. I can remember those days when equalization was cut and health care funding and social transfers were cut. It was unbelievable.
They talked about themselves as great fiscal managers. They talked about what they did for the economy here in Canada. Well, they downloaded those issues. They put the problem off onto someone else, yet they like to tell us here today that they worked it all out together. If it had been worked out together, that would not have been the solution. That is not how it would have worked out. If those discussions were as they try to portray them, their portrayal of federalism is something that is almost a fairy tale. It is unbelievable, the way they remember it. It would be nice if that were how it was, but that is not how it was.
The provinces can depend on our government. They can depend on the transfers that come from our government. They can take the word of our government and take it to the bank. That is what the provinces want and appreciate. That is what the relationship should be between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. It should be a relationship that is built on trust and sustainable funding. We have delivered that over and over again.
To conclude, the facts show that our government is keeping its word. Contrary to what the hon. member may believe, we are co-operating with the provinces and territories. I can assure the member that we demonstrate that every single day. With total transfers at record highs, growing predictably at a sustainable and affordable rate, we are providing unprecedented support to the provinces for the delivery of the health and social services on which all Canadians rely. Even during the global economic crisis, our government increased transfers to the provinces and territories to help Canadians across this great country of ours, and they can continue to count on our government as the days go forward.
I would therefore urge the hon. members to act as Canadians expect all members of the House to behave, to work together in good faith, mutual respect, and understanding to build a better life for all Canadians, as we are doing and have been doing through our economic action plan. I would encourage all members to reject the motion before the House.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for .
Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to this debate in the House and think that the government side misses the point here.
We are a nation. We are the Canadian government. Canada is the second-largest country in the world. We are a huge land mass. We span very many different regions. We have very many different realities in these regions, realities that may create different challenges and problems in the regions.
I want to point out that it was Robert Borden, a Conservative prime minister, who started these yearly and very consistent and continual meetings, inviting the premiers to the table to talk about things. I think that even then a Conservative prime minister had a concept of what nation-building was about, what it meant to want to form one great nation from sea to sea to sea, all rowing in one direction. That is the only way we can foster this kind of nation-building, this of sense of unity, and the feeling that Canada is competing in a very competitive global economy right now. If we do not all pull together and do not have some common action plan in various areas, whether on economic development, jobs, care, or an energy strategy, we will not be able to have a vision for this nation.
We all know, because of the Constitution, that the provinces have to deliver on some of these issues. However, finding that common ground is what this is about, finding the ability to pull together to say that this is where we want to go as a nation called “Canada”, this is where we can compete economically in this global stage, this is where we can take our best practices and share them and be able to build some solid solutions to difficult problems.
There is something else that happens when people sit around the table—and I know the hon. members have been talking about photo ops. It is not about photo ops. I think the is concerned that if he sits at the table and all the provinces gang up on the feds, as they have been known to do, he will not be able to control the agenda and outcome.
However, this is not about the federal government controlling anything. This is about the federal government listening. This is about the federal government beginning to understand the nature of this country. This is about premiers in other provinces realizing that it is not all about themselves and their own province. It is about how they can understand the challenges that face their neighbours. I do not want to have grievances that I cannot air in front of my neighbours. I do not want to have problems that I cannot discuss and cannot find a resolution to with others. I want to be able to say that we are working together. We cannot work together if we do not meet. No team functions well, for instance on the ice, if its members do not practise together. We have to get together. We have to take our greatest strengths and learn how to develop them.
The current has been the first prime minister in 95 or 97 years not to have met with premiers for such a long time, since approximately 2006 in his case.
I think my hon. colleague talked about the great things that came about from meeting and talking, things like the Canada pension plan, things like a national housing strategy of the day, things like a student loan program that works with the provinces, and things like medicare. Those are the things that define us as a nation. Those are the things that reflect who we were and how we got to where are today and to our having been be known, at one point in time, as one of the greatest countries in the world to live. It was because of some of these social programs that were built by people sitting around the table, arguing, debating, fighting. Yes, it is not always pleasant, but it has also brought about the very strong reputation that Canada has had over the years. We have been known as the world's negotiators, because as we sit around this table and fight and argue, we actually find common ground. We build a sense of purpose in which we will all go in this direction, with this vision.
Therefore, in sitting down, arguing, debating, and fighting with each other to find that common ground, we inadvertently and fortunately learn some very important skills. Our bureaucrats and politicians are known around the world, in every multilateral forum. When we were in government and I was a minister, everywhere I went if there was a problem that countries could not resolve, invariably, 9 times out of 10, they called in the Canadians to chair a group to cut through the differences and find commonality.
That is what we became good at. It is no coincidence that our own general, John de Chastelain, was sent off to northern Ireland. It is no coincidence that when North Korea began to flex its muscles, people asked for Maurice Strong to go, or that the United Nations continues to call on Canadians to come to build that negotiating skill to find common ground.
The Council of the Federation, in which the premiers are meeting and talking among themselves, has absolutely no power to do anything or make the kinds of changes premiers would like to make to ensure very important programs.
We should be talking about energy, as one of my other colleagues said. We should be sitting down and devising a plan. There is a richness of energy resources across this country, including oil or fossil fuels on the east coast. There could be tidal energy. We could have solar energy. We can build wind energy. We have hydroelectricity. In my province of B.C., we see natural gas. There are so many ways that we could tap into all the various and diverse forms of energy. We could create an energy strategy. We could create a strong nation that could compete in providing energy for the rest of the world as things go to hell in a handbasket.
We need to talk about the fact that we once were at the top of the heap in health systems. In 2004, we ranked fourth in health system performance, outcomes, et cetera. I hear people talking about outcomes and performance. I do not see any outcomes and I do not see any performance. All I see is a fragmented country that is beginning to bicker internally, just 13 little nation states developing and trying to find a way to move forward.
This is where the leadership of federal government comes in. We have always been the glue that holds this country together. We have always been the government that is responsible for ensuring that every resident of this great nation, no matter where they live, no matter what province they live in, no matter what region they live in, territory, or wherever, has equitable access to whatever, whether it is justice, health, energy resources, or jobs.
These are the things, especially at a time like this when we are facing so many challenges in being competitive in a global economy, that we need to pull together on. This is when a visionary leader in the federal government would bring premiers together to talk about how we can help each other face challenges.
When I was a practising physician, and also as minister visiting and listening to communities, I found that when people sit at a table they come together and start talking about their own specific grievances. I heard someone say today that individuals are only worried about their own provinces, as they should be. I do not think that is nation-building. Of course, people want their provinces to prosper, but they also want their nation to prosper. If it does, then everyone prospers as a result.
When people sit around a table, I have always found that a great outcome is that they suddenly get the other person's problem. People begin to understand the challenges that the other people and groups face, and in this case the challenges that other provinces face. Then they begin to start getting it. As they get it, they begin to form common ground in developing a strong economy, in making sure that all of their people get jobs across the country. We want to talk about mobility, the ability to go from province to province. We want to talk about pan-Canadian strategies that would move us forward.
We have seen how this country has moved with that kind of leadership at the helm. That is the federal government's ultimate task, to build a nation, to be the glue that holds this country together. In health care we see that the premiers are begging. It is not the premiers who should call these meetings, but it is for the to go to the Council of the Federation, whose next meeting will be here on January 30. They are hoping that the will attend and talk about how we can build these things together.
Health care is losing. People in every province are not achieving the same access to health care. These things are happening.
There is one important thing the can do that would bring back trust, and that is to sit down, face the premiers, and talk about where we go as a nation on four or five specifics, including growth, the economy, social programs, the health of our people, et cetera.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to also join the debate on the opposition motion, which states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.
Most Canadians would think that happens, or at least there are meetings with premiers of the provinces and territories, because it makes so much sense, as the member for so eloquently pointed out. However, that has not happened.
When the member for spoke earlier in the debate, he commented that if people had been in a provincial government during the time of the previous Liberal government, they would have been very critical of it. I have news for the member for . I was in a provincial government. I was in the B.C. government from 2001 until 2005, under a previous Liberal government. I was at the front lines around the cabinet table when our premier would come back from these first ministers' conferences. He would talk about what had been sparked, where there was a growing consensus on a big issue that Canadians across the country faced, and what he personally would like to do about it. We were all engaged in how we could help move these issues forward, hand-in-hand with the provinces and territories and our federal government.
I would like to point out for the members of the Conservative Party that Canada is a federation, which means that it is a union of partially self-governing states or regions under a central or federal government. We are not a monarchy. We are not a republic nor a dictatorship. We are a federation, and that means we need to work together to advance the big public policy issues where there is a common interest across the country. They may not always be exactly the same interests, but they are common interests.
As my colleague mentioned, a number of those initiatives came out of these meetings of the first ministers with the prime minister, and that was while I was in the provincial government. I saw first-hand how the 10-year national health accord started to bloom as an idea through those premiers and the prime minister working together. What came out of that, for the first time, was a consensus and a way forward on how to join forces, reduce duplication, reduce overlapping initiatives, learn from each other and begin to tackle the huge challenges that people faced across the country with wait times for surgeries and other matters that cost them their good health. That came from a meeting of first ministers and the prime minister.
There was the Kelowna accord. Today, our indigenous peoples are suffering. They do not experience the kind of forward movement that would have happened had the current government not scrapped the Kelowna accord. The accord, once again, was from the premiers meeting with the prime minister. The premier of British Columbia, in particular, decided that this would be a real priority for the Province of British Columbia, so he joined in a leadership role with the prime minister of the day, Paul Martin. He decided to help advance it by working with premiers from across the country, enrolling and eliciting their support for the concept. In the end, we had an agreement among all of the provinces and territories and, most important, with the representatives for all indigenous peoples across Canada.
What do we have today? Our indigenous peoples feel they need to rise up across the country, with demonstrations like “Idle No More”, to get the point across that they are being left out. The comprehensive framework of addressing the inequities and Canada's shameful carry-over of its colonial history have not been resolved. The Kelowna accord would have set the foundation to do.
A national child care plan was another for which I sat at a cabinet table and we wrestled with how we would enter into an agreement for a national program and maintain the unique characteristics of the child care funding, support and principles in British Columbia. Those kinds of conversations at first ministers' conferences helped to power through those complicated differences among us to the point where there were some real outcomes, and the national child care plan was not only negotiated, but was agreed on right across the country.
The first year of funding from the federal government actually flowed to the provinces, and they had one year out of that five-year plan to address the desperate inadequacy and lack of child care in the provinces. Sadly, that is another critical program that the NDP, under its previous leader, voted against, brought down the Liberal government, and the national child care plan was scrapped to the detriment of families across the country.
It is not just about the things that were done through this collaboration. I also want to speak briefly to some huge failures that are a result of this kind of collaboration not happening. This includes all of the wasted time and energy on Senate reform by the , who never bothered to reach out and meet with colleagues to learn what their appetite for change would be and what kind of change they would support.