Mr. Todd Russell:
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. Leader of the Opposition, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
I am pleased to speak to today's motion. I would like to thank my Liberal Party colleagues on this side of the House and from all regions of the country who have supported those of us from Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. We are two of the provinces most directly affected by the Prime Minister's broken promise but, as we all realize, if he can do it to us he can do it to everybody else.
If it were not so serious it would be funny in retrospect to recall the finance minister saying that with his budget the days of arguing over fiscal federalism were over. In fact, he opened up new fronts in that ongoing dispute and picked fights he did not need to pick. He could have honoured the Conservative election promises but he did not. He could have kept the commitment that the Prime Minister made no less than six times but he did not.
In his famous mail out to thousands in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Prime Minister said:
|| That's why we would leave you with 100% of your oil and gas revenues. No small print. No excuses. No caps.
It was a promise made and a promise broken.
In his election letter to Premier Williams, the Prime Minister said:
|| We will remove non-renewable natural resources revenue from the equalization formula to encourage the development of economic growth in the non-renewable resources sectors across Canada. The Conservative Government of Canada will ensure that no province is adversely affected from changes to the equalization formula.
It was a promise made and a promise broken.
In a letter to the Council of the Federation, to every provincial and territorial premier, he wrote:
|| We believe that a new equalization formula should exclude non-renewable resource revenues for all provinces....
However, the finance minister chose not to honour those commitments and now he and others will have to live with the consequences. Those consequences include, as of Tuesday night, driving out one of their own member's of Parliament.
This is the second broken promise on a budgetary provision that has led to serious discord on that side of the House.
The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley has joined our colleague, the hon. member for Halton, in the exodus from the sinking Conservative ship. This, despite assurances from the Minister of Foreign Affairs that members from Nova Scotia and from Newfoundland and Labrador would be able to vote their conscience without repercussion. These members knew all along that they were in political trouble due to the Prime Minister's broken promise concerning equalization and its impact on the Atlantic accords.
Last month, the Minister of Foreign Affairs told us:
|| We will not throw a member out of caucus for voting his conscience. There will be no whipping, flipping, hiring or firing on budget votes....
Not only was there hiring, firing and whipping, there was flipping and flopping.
Not that long ago, a Liberal member of Parliament voted in this place against the budget. What did those members opposite, when they were still calling themselves Reformers, say then? They called it heavy-handed and iron fisted. They said that it put party and politics ahead of principles and people. They said that it would not matter if an MP voted against a government bill, even a money bill. In the immortal words of the current Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, who said:
|| I appreciate what he's done. I think he has taken the right position. He's standing up for his constituents.
How times do change.
Before our hon. colleague from Nova Scotia had even sat back down from voting his protest against this broken promise, his name was being erased from the government party's website and access to his important computer files was cut off. We all know who has the iron fist now.
Where are those Reformers now? I think we sometimes long for those reformers who called for an end to party discipline and promised that they would do what they campaigned on or resign.
The example set by our friend from Nova Scotia is especially galling to people in my province, especially in those three Avalon Peninsula seats occupied, for now I would say, by members of the Conservative government. They had the chance to show some backbone by standing with their constituents and with their province but they chose not to. They still have that opportunity. They still have a chance to show some honour in the vote on third reading.
The hon. member for Avalon already knows what it is like to side with his constituents and put principles above politics. He did that as a provincial MHA. It cost him his seat in government, but it endeared him to his own electors and launched him on his way to the House of Commons. However, it is sad on a personal level to hear what those people who supported him then are saying now. It is sad and disturbing to see the position he has been placed in by a Prime Minister who cannot keep his word.
The hon. member for St. John's East, who has served in politics with distinction for many years and has announced his retirement with the next election, has nothing left to lose. There should be no fear of party discipline or punishment on his part, and in any event, the foreign affairs minister already granted immunity. Yet he sided with the Prime Minister and the finance minister and voted to break a solemn promise, a written promise.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans said, during the last great debate on this issue back in 2005, “You cannot ever turn your back on your province on an important issue like this, even if it meant your party says tough stuff, you have to sit in the last seat, last row”.
It is okay for him. He is still on that front bench. It is our friend from Nova Scotia who is now in the last seat and in the last row.
In Labrador we have long known about the worthlessness of the Prime Minister's commitments, written and otherwise. In 2005 he promised 60% federal funding for the Trans-Labrador Highway and in 2006 he promised to cost share the project, but in 2007 these promises are still left unkept. There was supposed to be a federal-provincial deal by June. It is now June, but there is still no deal.
The Prime Minister promised us a 650 troop rapid reaction battalion for 5 Wing Goose Bay, along with a 100 member unmanned aerial vehicle squadron. The defence minister said he would personally give the orders to establish these units, but all of us in this House know what the value of one of his orders is.
The Prime Minister said that he wanted stable funding for Marine Atlantic. What did the Conservatives deliver? Rate hikes.
The Prime Minister said he would “accept the targets” for social and economic progress for aboriginal peoples set out in Kelowna, and then scrapped the Kelowna accord altogether.
He promised, again in writing, to support regional development agencies such as ACOA and did so by cutting their budgets.
Supposed Conservative commitments on fisheries retraining and emergency measures to deal with the ice blockade this spring have also led us nowhere, other than in circles as we try to decipher the contradictions coming from that side of the House.
Overall, we view every broken Conservative promise and every platform plank left unfulfilled through the lens of the broken promise on equalization and the Atlantic accord. The Prime Minister promised to protect the deal that our Liberal government negotiated with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. The Prime Minister made those commitments. He made them in writing. He made them six times.
With this budget, he broke them. He went back on his word. With the support of his Atlantic Conservative caucus, trained seals all but one, and with the support of the separatists, he is about to turn his broken promise into the law of the land.
For my hon. colleagues I would only issue this warning: if he did it to us, he can do it to them.
Let me repeat that: if he can do it to us, he can do it to them.
The Prime Minister and his government deserve the censure of this motion.
Hon. Stéphane Dion (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, over the past years Atlantic Canadians have listened to the Prime Minister and many members of his government routinely promise to honour the Atlantic accords. In fact, they heard very specific promises, as my colleague, the member for Labrador, just explained to the House, like this one from a Conservative Party mailout, which stated in 2004:
|| The Conservative Party of Canada believes that offshore oil and gas revenues are the key to real economic growth in Atlantic Canada. That's why we would leave you with 100 per cent of your oil and gas revenues. No small print, no excuses, no caps.
Or there is this one from the Prime Minister himself, who stated in the House on October 26, 2004, that when it comes to the Atlantic accords, there is “a moral obligation to keep these promises: no caps, no clawbacks, no limitations, no conditions, no big exceptions in the fine print”.
Yet budget 2007 had just that: a cap, fine print, limitations, and conditions. Call it what we want, it boils down to one thing, a broken promise to Atlantic Canadians. Yes, the budget allows various options for provinces, but these are only designed to cover up the reality. The budget put in place exactly what the Conservatives promised not to do, a cap, and Atlantic Canadians know it.
The people of Saskatchewan heard very similar explicit promises. The Prime Minister even wrote a letter to Premier Calvert on June 10, 2004, stating unequivocally that 100% of natural resources would be excluded, no ifs, ands or buts, and no mention of a cap, another obvious broken promise.
The Conservatives' platform in the last election promised that they “would ensure that non-renewable natural resources revenue is removed from the equalization formula”. Those who voted for the Conservatives in Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada put their trust in that commitment. That trust was broken.
As is typical of the government, it is now trying to deceive Canadians by throwing up smokescreens. Even yesterday the finance minister talked about the promise being fulfilled because the provinces have options. They can choose the old formula or they can choose the new formula with 50% exclusion, but what they cannot choose is what they were explicitly promised, 100% exclusion, the honouring of the Atlantic accords, with no caps.
Canadians know that the Prime Minister and the government broke their word on equalization and the Atlantic accords. Premier Calvert, Premier MacDonald and Premier Williams know it, and even Conservative members of Parliament know it, but only one had the courage to stand up in the House and do something about it: the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. I am proud to call this member my colleague.
All other Conservative government members should be ashamed of voting for this broken promise, particularly those members from Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
The time has come for the government to come clean. It broke its word. There is a phrase that I believe the government and the Prime Minister need to learn. It is, “I am sorry”. In Canada if one is unable to say, “I am sorry”, there is another way to say it. It is, “Je suis désolé”.
The relationship between the federal government and its provincial partners is one built on trust, yet the Prime Minister is eroding that trust, and the relationship is suffering as a result. Former Progressive Conservative minister John Crosbie put it well when he said that the Prime Minister is setting “a poor example for future public policy-making within the Canadian federation”.
What is the current Prime Minister doing as relations with the provinces deteriorate? Instead of fostering dialogue and talking about issues with his counterparts, he is cancelling first ministers' meetings. He has not held one single first ministers' conference since coming to power.
He is doing much the same thing with respect to the Senate. The Prime Minister can broadcast as much negative publicity about me as he wants concerning Senate reform, but that does not change the fact that he was the one who proposed this reform without consulting the people whom the Constitution requires him to consult. That move prompted the premiers to express their concerns about the Senate in writing. As a result, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended that the Senate reform bill be referred to the Supreme Court.
Still, why should we expect anything else from a Prime Minister who shows so little respect for ordinary citizens? By breaking his promise not to tax income trusts, he violated the trust of Canadians and caused people to lose $25 billion of their hard-earned savings. He has never apologized for this. He has never said “I'm sorry”. He has never said “Je suis désolé”.
Broken promises, no consultations, no trust: that is no way to run a federation; that is no way to run a country.
Since entering politics, I have always kept my promises. My good faith has been put to the test many times, and it has always been above reproach. I was the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs longer than any other Canadian since Confederation, and during that time, I was always open and honest with my counterparts. When I was the Minister of the Environment, environmental groups, industry and other governments found that they could trust me to do what I said I would do. That is how it should be done. One simply cannot reach one's goals without the trust of the people one works with.
The Prime Minister seems to spend all his energy trying to score cheap political points while getting away with the bare minimum and breaking his commitments to Canadians.
True leadership requires honesty and integrity. This is what I am. This is what the Liberal Party is offering Canadians.
Hon. Loyola Hearn (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to speak to this motion today.
Usually when we stand to speak, we make some reference to the previous speaker. I will do that, but very briefly. I just listened to two things that the hon. Leader of the Opposition said.
He said that the Atlantic accord must be respected. I know he will have to run off as he is a busy person, but let me tell him that the Atlantic accord, in every aspect, will be respected. I do not know whether he heard me. I will say it again. The Atlantic accord will be respected.
He also said he is against the cap. Let me quote from the hon. member on two or three occasions. When asked just in March about excluding 100% of resource revenues from equalization, he said, “No, no, I would not commit to this”. He said:
||--it would be ill-advised to grant such special treatment to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland or any other province...it is essential to maintain equitable treatment of all the provinces within--
He said, “Some provinces want special treatment to maintain their incoming benefits, even as their fiscal capacity increases. I disagree”. This is the Leader of the Opposition who just said he is against the cap.
He also said, “A province that receives equalization payments cannot see its fiscal capacity growing above the fiscal capacity of a province that does not”. What do we call it? We call it a cap, C-A-P.
I could go on. There are a number of other quotes and I only put that on the record to let people know how much they can rely on somebody who says he will give his word. It depends on the time, the place and the occasion, so we will dispense with that.
Let me talk about the issue at hand. Let us look at a little bit of history here. We have a situation where people opposite think that people on this side, the governing party, somehow or other are going to shaft the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.
They are hanging their hats today on the fact that, unfortunately, one of our members, a pretty good fellow and a good friend of mine, a great member, decided that he would not stay with the party and vote for the budget, that he would go across.
I say perhaps that if the gentleman had waited another few hours, if he had been privy to some of the results of some of the work that he and others of us have been doing, he would not have done that
However, the interesting thing about this is that the members opposite, strictly for political reasons as we know, but that is the name of the game and I am not saying we would not have done it had the opposite been true, are lauding the fact that somebody crossed the floor on principle.
Well, they had a member who voted for the budget, who voted against his party on principle, and he is now sitting as an independent, so that is what they think about people who stand on principle. That is the name of the political game also.
The interesting thing about it is that the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is also joining with his newly found feathered friends on the other side and lauding the fact that somebody stood up on principle and walked across the floor.
The interesting thing about this is the comparison with what his colleague, his counterpart in Nova Scotia, is saying. The Nova Scotia premier was calling the member to say, “Please do not do it, because you cannot do any good for us over there. We are working out a deal--”, unlike Newfoundland, by the way, “--with the federal government that will take care of our concerns, or at least that is our hope. We believe we can do it by working collectively. Will you stay there and work with us to make sure we get the deal?” The member did not listen. He went across.
I find it a bit hard to understand when the premier of the province affected, in this case Nova Scotia, said “stick with it boys, and let's get a good deal”, and the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador said “run across the floor, give up, come home, we don't want a deal”. He might not want a deal, but the people of Newfoundland and Labrador want a good deal, and that is what they will get.
I will give the House a bit of history here. What is this all about? If the government had not recognized the fact that there was a fiscal imbalance in the country, then we would not be here today. This would not be an issue. We recognized that there was a fiscal imbalance. The past equalization program threw a few dollars at the provinces that made the loudest noise. As all of us know, that was not very successful.
The government started talking about addressing the fiscal imbalance. In order to do that, we needed a formula that everybody would accept and buy into and one in which everybody could participate.
Leading up to the last election, our party said in our blue book that if we formed government, we would be satisfied to take 100% of the non-renewable resources out of the formula. We are not denying that. It is there in black and white in our blue book and on web pages and so on.
We did not dump that when we were elected. In the election and after the election we said that we, as government, were willing to take 100% of all non-renewable resources, and not just oil and gas, out of the equalization formula.
The equalization formula affects 10 provinces and three territories. They are affected by whatever formula Ottawa puts in place. Consequently, they will decide if this is the best formula for them collectively. Of course, each province will ask if this is the best formula for it.
The premiers met on several occasions and the finance ministers met. They could not agree on the formula. The majority of them did not want what we offered in relation to taking out 100% of all non-renewable resources.
People at home are saying that the Prime Minister broke a promise. It was not the Prime Minister; it was the party and then the government. I am not denying that. We made a commitment. We were ready and willing to do that. We did not say to the provinces that we would not do that. The provinces had a whole year to put together a formula, including what we had committed, to address the fiscal imbalance of the country. The majority of the provinces said that it would make it worse for them rather than better. They said that they needed something else.
Back several months ago, the talk about equalization and fiscal imbalance centred around the O'Brien formula. The government of the day, Liberal members opposite, initiated an independent study by highly qualified people, chaired by Mr. O'Brien, who brought forth a formula to address equalization. That became the talk of the town. Everybody, including all the premiers, realized that was probably where they were headed and they started to scramble to get the best they could out of that formula. This is all on the record. I am not it making up.
The Premier of Newfoundland made a request to the Prime Minister that the Atlantic accord be protected. The two provinces, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, had different agreements. They were not special agreements. They were not fancy side deals. They had agreements with the Government of Canada that they had worked hard for, which recognized the fact that their offshore oil and gas resources were located offshore, outside the land mass, and were supposedly controlled and owned by Canada.
Agreements were put in place to have the resources recognized, basically, as if they were onshore, that the province would be the prime beneficiary, that it would get 100% of the revenues from the developments of the offshore oil and gas.
In 1985 the original agreement was signed with the then Conservative government of Canada after the former Trudeau Liberal government had denied it for years. The minister of energy, who in Newfoundland denied it and would not give it the control of our offshore oil and gas benefits, was the former leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Chrétien. The prime minister was Mr. Trudeau.
When the Mulroney government was elected, that deal was signed. There is a picture on my wall, if anyone wants proof, of Prime Minister Mulroney with Minister Crosbie, the regional minister, Senator Pat Carney, who was the minister of energy at the time, along with Premier Peckford from Newfoundland and the then minister of energy, Mr. Marshall. Sitting in the background with myself and others was one of the members on the other side, who is clapping his hands for a great agreement for the Conservatives.
When we moved forward, in 2005 the Williams government, led by finance minister Sullivan, negotiated some improvements to the Atlantic accord. It sounded great when the premier came home, not really cheered then by the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.
The premier came down the escalator waving the cheque, and we all remember it, saying, “We got it, we got it, $2 billion”. Imagine coming into Newfoundland and Labrador with a $2 billion cheque. I would bet that members, if we did a quiz, and I would love to do a quiz, would say that the $2 billion is above and beyond, that it is great stuff.
What is was an advance on Newfoundland and Labrador's income. It is just like if you were making $20,000, Mr. Speaker, and I know you make a little more than that, not at all what you deserve for the job you are doing. I was watching the hockey game last night, as a lot of people were, and thinking about the referees. They work an hour a night, basically, and get paid a lot more than you. I think you would make a tremendous referee because a lot of them are not of physical stature to break up the rackets. With a pair of skates and a much bigger salary, you would do it.
If you, Mr. Speaker, were making $20,000 a year and somebody suddenly gave you a cheque for $200,000 and you came home waving it, everybody in the family would be delighted. However, what you did not tell them is that for the next 10 years all of your net income would go into the bank because you just got a $200,000 advance.
Newfoundland and Labrador received a $2 billion advance. That is all it got, nothing extra, nothing that did not belong to it, nothing above and beyond what it would get over time. Newfoundland and Labrador received it so it could pay down our the tremendous debt. The premier almost had a contest asking how people wanted it spent when he knew, because it is written in the agreement, it had to go toward the debt. It is all fun and games.
All of it has not been drawn down yet, but it will be over the next few years. There is still somewhere around $1 billion, or a bit less. Some people think that if anything happens such as caps the province will lose it and it will be clawed back. Absolutely not. Let me state it clearly and categorically that the advance money given to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, regardless of what happens, will not be clawed back.
Any payments the province get because of the Atlantic accords will not be capped. The accord will not be capped. The accord is protected. Write it down. Look at Hansard. Cut it out. Show it to me in five years. We will not know those things right away simply because the province is still receiving equalization money.
The unfortunate thing about it is it province is not receiving much. In our province, as we say at home, we are getting well off. We are starting to become a have province. I am proud of that. I think the members opposite are proud of that. However, as anybody knows, we cannot have our cake and eat it too. I do not think anybody is really asking for it, if they understood what this is all about. What we do not want is for something that we own, something that we were promised, something that we were given, to be taken away.
Let me assure the members it will not be taken away. How do I know that? Because I have been working on it. I have not been sitting, complaining. I have not been running around the country, yelling and screaming and complaining about Ottawa not doing anything, when I have not even asked it, when I have not met with it and when I have not negotiated. We do not get deals unless we negotiate.
This year our province is receiving $477 million in equalization. Next year we will receive only $197 million. It is not, if our economy keeps going, the year after that we will get nothing.
Why our equalization is going down is because our revenues from resource development, in particular, including the offshore oil and gas, have been going up. We have not lost any of the money. Anything we have lost in relation to the total revenues we would receive has been given to us by what we call offset payments, through the Atlantic accord, and people think this will end. It will only end when the accord fizzles out.
When the accord agreement was signed in 1985 to give us this money in lieu of clawback, in lieu of equalization losses, it was due to expire in 2011. Nobody has this by the way. It is not a bad deal and others would love to have it. The $2 billion upfront payment, which we could bring home and wave around, was an advance payment. We are not getting a cent directly from government these days in relation to offset payments. It is all kept because the government gave it to us in advance. When the advance is paid off, we will start getting real money again.
The other thing they did a couple of years ago, in 2005, is they negotiated one extra year on the length of the accord agreement. The accord now ends in 2012. What does that mean? That means that in 2012 that is it. Our province will not get any more of these offset payments, unless in one of the two previous years, 2010 or 2011, we are on equalization. If we are receiving equalization, the accord is extended until 2020. If it is, and I hope it is, we will continue to receive every benefit from that accord because we have committed, with no changes to the accord, no capping of the accord, despite what members say.
To finish, in relation to equalization, there is not a chance, according to economists, that we will be on equalization in either of these years to qualify for the accord payments, unless we go to the new formula. If we go to the new formula, because of the 10 provinces, we might then qualify. If our province does, the theory is we will be capped. The Atlantic accord will never be capped.
Mr. Paul Crête (Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a motion introduced by the Liberal Party that bears re-reading.
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to live up to verbal and written commitments made to Premiers by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign with respect to the Equalization Program and the Atlantic Accords.
The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this motion, because it seems to us that the Prime Minister should have never made those commitments, which he failed to honour. He should have made sure that he would be able to live up to the commitments he was making to Canadians during the election campaign and on other occasions. Otherwise, he should not have made them or promised such things.
The text of the motion addresses only that particular issue. The solution that the government came up with, however, although not ideal, is nevertheless a step in the right direction. In that regard, we must put things in perspective. The Liberal Party can say that the government has failed to live up to verbal and written commitments made to premiers, because that is a fact. But, we must also look at the solution. The Bloc will vote in favour of the motion as it stands.
I would also like to talk about the underlying issue, about equalization. I would remind the House of a number of things. Equalization is fully funded by the federal government using tax money paid by Quebeckers and Canadians from across the country. This equalization program is the result of a fundamental commitment to ensure fairness. In a federation like Canada, equalization has a very specific goal, namely, to ensure that, from coast to coast to coast, Canadians have access to public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.
Several countries—most of them federations—have equalization programs. The method consists primarily of evaluating the fiscal capacity of the provinces to provide public services. Provinces with a lower capacity to fund comparable public services receive equalization payments, whereas the others receive none. Quebec receives a significant amount in equalization payments, a little more than 50%. However, on a per capita basis, it finds itself behind several other provinces. In this sense, it is not the spoiled child of the system.
The federal government's equalization payments to the provinces are unconditional and have no strings attached. Equalization does not take into account the expenditure needs of provinces and its sole purpose is to increase the fiscal capacity of the provinces to a common standard. There is no reduction in terms of equalization for provinces with fiscal capacity greater than the common standard.
This is not the first time that this situation has arisen. In June 2004, the former Liberal prime minister made election promises during the federal campaign. The Premier of Newfoundland got the prime minister to promise to let the Government of Newfoundland keep all its oil revenues with no reduction in amounts disbursed to the province under the equalization program.
This position was unacceptable to Quebec. However, the Liberal prime minister did not keep this promise. At the first ministers conference of October 26, Ottawa insisted that there be a cap and that amounts exceeding the cap would result in a reduction of equalization payments. The Conservatives went into action on October 26, when the current Prime Minister made a series of very formal commitments.
Recently, I was at the Standing Committee on Finance when the Premier of Saskatchewan testified. He showed in a very clear, precise way that those commitments were made at that time. In that sense, the motion that we are debating today is justified. However, within the framework of our discussions on this subject, it seems to us that the equalization formula set out in Budget 2007 is a step forward but it falls well short of the unanimous demands of Quebec. It contains some positive aspects. It is a formula founded on principles.
The new formula uses the real value of property taxes. The payments are calculated on the basis of the ten province standard, which pretty well puts an end to the notion of ceilings and floors, but nevertheless it does not meet Quebec’s demands.
What Quebec is demanding is, more or less, the following. It wants an adjustment of the equalization formula that will take into account the ten province standard, 100% of revenue from natural resources and the real value of property taxes. Why 100% of revenue from natural resources? Because, in the past, for example, Quebec developed its own hydroelectric resources without any significant support from the federal government while, in other sectors, other provinces received major financial assistance: Newfoundland, in particular, for the Hibernia project.
Therefore, we want to see 100% of revenue from natural resources included in the formula, so that in the final tally Quebec has a total envelope of more than $16 billion for 2007-08. The only formula that will enable equalization to achieve its objective involves providing receiving provinces with a per capita fiscal capacity equal to the Canadian average.
Quebec’s demands flow from the Séguin report that was published in 2001 and unanimously adopted by the Quebec National Assembly. At that time, the Séguin report proposed four measures for adjusting the equalization formula to make it acceptable to Quebec. That involved the conditions that I mentioned earlier, namely, adopting the ten province standard, including 100% of revenue from natural resources, using real property values in calculating that part of the tax base related to property taxes instead of the theoretical value now in force, and abolishing ceilings and floors in the equalization envelope.
The current government’s proposal to take account of 50% of revenue from development of natural resources seems to us a step in the right direction but it is not entirely what Quebec wants. It continues to advance its demand for the desired result, which is that 100% of revenue from development of natural resources be considered.
All these proposals in Quebec were developed over the years. They resulted not only from the Séguin report, but also from three main documents on equalization reform. In 2004, the Quebec finance department—the Government of Quebec—revised the Séguin report when it tabled the 2004 budget. The document entitled “Correcting Fiscal Imbalance” updates the report of the commission chaired by Mr. Séguin. This document set out Quebec's unanimous demands and estimated the shortfall at $2.8 billion for Quebec for 2004-05 and at $5 billion for Canada as a whole.
Following that report came the Council of the Federation's report in 2005 and, finally, the report of the Expert Panel on Equalization.
All these measures were aimed at recognizing that a fiscal imbalance existed, and it was the Bloc Québécois that raised the issue here in the House. Hon. members will recall that a few years ago, none of the political parties in this House were advocating recognition of a fiscal imbalance. The Bloc Québécois got to work and systematically obtained support from the parties here in the House, until this year's budget was tabled. The federal government has not corrected the fiscal imbalance per se, but it has come up with additional funding that finally corrects an unacceptable situation. The provinces had many needs, while the federal government had the money.
We backed our position on this issue with help from other people and the information and reports I mentioned earlier. But we brought the issue onto the federal political stage. In the end, we won a commitment from the Conservative government that it would pay attention to this issue and correct the fiscal imbalance.
But we find ourselves facing the same situation that the motion criticizes, which is that the fiscal imbalance has not been completely corrected. Admittedly, there was a significant cash component to the budget. This is why the Bloc Québécois decided to support this budget, and as a representative for Quebeckers, it still feels it was the right choice.
However, there is still a fiscal imbalance, and in the years to come we will remain dependent on economic vitality, revenues from the federal government, and the situation of the provinces. A permanent solution would be the transfer of tax points, tax transfers, which is currently not the case.
So the Bloc Québécois will continue to fight for a permanent solution to this current situation in which Quebec does not receive its per capita share compared to the other provinces. The debate on whether or not to take into account revenues from natural resources is an important one and will continue.
With the Liberal motion presented today, we can see that in a number of Canadian provinces, people who had received commitments, and who do not see those commitments in what was adopted, are frustrated. At the same time, it is clear that the discussion held to reach the solution set out in the budget is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister should not have made these commitments if he was not certain he could live up to them. He has not lived up to them, or so the motion says and criticizes. The only thing to come out of all this so far was that the Bloc Québécois obtained significant amounts of money for Quebec through the federal budget. We hope to be able to continue in that vein. Nonetheless, our ultimate goal is truly to come to a solution that will no longer be subject to all the ups and downs that are often caused by election periods.
Earlier we looked at the background of the situation. In the past, the Liberal Party made commitments that it did not keep. The leader of the Conservative Party made commitments he still has not kept. Ultimately, the motion is on the credibility of politicians and the commitments they make.
In certain instances, the public is able to understand that something has to give. However, for formal commitments on basic issues such as these, it would have been better if the Prime Minister had not made such a commitment. He should have instead promised to work on finding a better solution. That is not the commitment he made to the provinces, which are particularly frustrated. There was also the commitment made to Quebec to do away with the fiscal imbalance. The solution is still not on the table. There is a monetary correction, but no final solutions. Quebeckers are still waiting for a solution to this issue. They will continue to take stock of the effectiveness of the hon. members and the parties in this House, namely on the issue of correcting the fiscal imbalance.
It is important to have a debate on this motion today because we are talking about the credibility of politicians. We have to be able to make the distinction between keeping a commitment and making proposals as a result of further analysis. In no way can we justify not keeping these formal commitments when there is no good explanation for it. The people in the provinces concerned get the impression they were hung out to dry because the Conservative Party did not keep its election promise.
That is a serious warning for the future. This is a minority government that could go to the polls at the drop of a hat. Political parties will continue to make promises. The lesson to be gained from this is that if we wish to maintain our credibility as politicians and political parties, we must not make promises that we cannot keep.
Can we be sure that they knew this when they made the promise? That is something we should spend more time considering. All the same, the promise should not have been made.
Recently, we have been talking about the marked decline in voter participation in the electoral process. Actions like these are damaging. What we are doing today is reminding the government of its responsibilities, and a timely reminder it is, too. However, this reminder is unrelated to the measure in the budget that is a step forward for Quebec.
I hope that the government will take careful note of the message to be found in the House's vote on this matter. I also hope that, starting now, we can count on the government to keep its promises. If ever it finds that it must change its position on a given measure, I hope that it will be able to justify its action and offer clarification so that the purely partisan tenor of the debate on this issue can be avoided.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will support this motion because it believes that the government has indeed failed to keep its promises. However, the members of the Bloc Québécois still believe that the government's budget is a step in the right direction.
Although equalization and the measures in the budget are not quite up to Quebec's expectations, more time must be devoted to considering natural resource revenue.
In that respect, we will continue to support the budget. However, the government and the Prime Minister should take note of the reminder at the core of today's motion.
Ms. Alexa McDonough (Halifax, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, let me indicate at the outset that I look forward to splitting my time with my colleague, also from Nova Scotia, the hard-working member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.
I want to start my comments in this debate by picking up where I left off yesterday afternoon in question period, when I made a plea, frankly, in the form of a question. To be accurate, let me quote it:
|| Is there one Atlantic minister with the guts to tell his constituents that he will do everything in his power to fix the mistake?
I could have said “this betrayal”, but I said mistake, because notwithstanding some of the comments we have heard this morning, this is both a mistake and a spectacular betrayal of a commitment made by the current Prime Minister of this country, who not so very long ago, in a slightly different role in between his political careers, talked about building a firewall around Alberta. The real purpose of that was to communicate to Canadians that just maybe Albertans would want to say, “Let us keep all of the benefits of our resources and let Atlantic Canadians freeze in the dark”.
That kind of thinking went out in this country a very long time ago, so when the current Prime Minister decided to make a political comeback he had to figure out how to jettison that view of the world, that view of our Canadian world, which was going to haunt him forever. I cannot help but think that part of the reason why he championed the Atlantic accord, in addition to just grubbing for votes in an election, was to try to change his image, to try to change his reputation as a politician in terms of how he viewed the Canada that we have been trying to build for a very long time in this country.
That brings me to the point that he now is the Prime Minister of Canada and he absolutely committed to the Atlantic accord. One has to wonder what it is that now has changed his mind so that he has decided to basically break this promise.
What needs to be understood is what this broken promise is really all about, and I can tell members that it is understood in Atlantic Canada, but I believe it is also understood by people in the most prosperous and more populous parts of Canada. I am going to put it in Maritime terms. What it is really all about is that the Prime Minister and his ministers, including the ministers who are supposed to be representing the interests of Atlantic Canada, have decided to turf overboard the Atlantic accord commitment they made because they have other fish to fry and bigger votes to catch, to go after and grub for, in the more prosperous and more populous parts of Canada.
I think the Prime Minister should understand that in those more populous and prosperous parts of Canada there are also a great many Canadians of all political stripes, who think that, first, prime ministers should keep their promises and, second, the kind of Canada they want to live in is one where we actually try to find ways to ensure that those who are living with fewer resources and trying to get themselves out of the have not status should be supported. They think that this is the way we want to make Canada work better.
I think he should consider the possibility that there are a lot of Canadians who are going to take the view, whether they live outside of Atlantic Canada or not, that they do not approve of the broken promises and they do not approve of this attempt to block the very purpose of the Atlantic accord, which was to give the possibility and the potential, no guarantee but the possibility, that offshore resource revenues could actually help move Atlantic Canada out of a have not status. It is not just about Nova Scotia and Newfoundland either, because of course what impacts economically on our two provinces impacts on all of the Atlantic region economically.
It is accurate to say that Atlantic Canadians feel absolutely betrayed and that there is a sense of the Conservative government breaking faith with Atlantic Canada. Let me just quickly revisit where this Atlantic accord started. Credit should be given where it is due, but there are also political lessons from it.
Premier John Hamm, a Conservative premier, called together representatives of all political parties at the provincial level in Nova Scotia and then called together all political representatives at the federal level. I remember sitting in his office when he put to us the proposition that we work together across party lines and jurisdictional lines. We did that.
What the lesson showed was that when all parties work together for the common good, they can achieve things that some might have thought were ridiculous. I remember that the Liberal member for Halifax West dumped all over John Hamm's initiative even though he sat around that table and pledged that he would commit to it. He basically said that in the end we just were never going to get agreement on it.
Let it not be said that it cannot be done. Do not let them say that it cannot be done, because it was done, by respecting the fact that as elected representatives, whether we are federal or provincial, whatever party we represent, we share a responsibility to all of our citizens. That is why, in the few moments I have left, I want to make a plea that this debate not be about beating up on one another. This debate needs to be about fixing a problem.
This debate has to send a message, frankly, in part to the premier of Nova Scotia, to tell him to take a lesson out of his own predecessor's book and work across party lines and across jurisdictions to fix this problem. I think it is regrettable that on the three occasions I made representations, through my staff, to the premier's office to say that we would like to have a briefing on exactly where we are with the impact of this broken promise reflected in the budget, on those three occasions we followed up and no such briefing was ever given. There is no way on earth that John Hamm as premier would have failed to bring together the parties that still need to work together to fix this problem.
The second point is an obvious one: this is a minority government. That is the party, no longer the Progressive Conservative Party but the Conservative Party, that said the wishes of this Parliament should be respected, especially in a minority government. Let us be clear that part of how we got the Atlantic accord in the first place was through cooperation and collaboration. Second, in a minority Parliament, it should be easier to fix it. However, we think the government should step forward, take its responsibility seriously and actually take some leadership to say that this is going to be fixed.
I heard some members suggest that there is no real loss, that there is no real problem here, and that we are misrepresenting the potential loss to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador from this broken promise, so let me just quickly give an analogy. It is a bit like Mr. Smith being called in by his boss one day, being commended for the tremendously valuable work he was doing and being told that he is getting a bonus. He is very pleased.
The next year the company is doing very well, partly because Mr. Smith has made such a contribution to improving the lot of that company, and he is told that the good news is that everybody else is going to get a bonus this year because of his good work, but that he may not be as happy because he is not going to get the bonus. Mr. Smith says, “Wait a minute, where is the fairness in that?” He is told that he got a big bonus last year.
After arguing it out, the boss finally says to Mr. Smith that he actually can make a choice. Either he can give back his bonus from last year and get the same bonus that everyone else is getting, or he can keep last year's bonus and go without this year's.
This is an analogy that helps to give an understanding of what this choice is that the Conservative government keeps talking about and that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador should be happy about. It is analogous to the unfairness of what I have just described between a boss and an employee.
Let us use this opportunity. Let us not allow the Conservatives to say that it is too late. This is something my leader has said again and again when it comes to dealing with tough problems and things people say are impossible. This can be fixed. It is our responsibility to learn the lessons of history and work together to fix it.
Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Eastern Shore, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I regret having to speak to this today because we could have moved on to other issues. However, when the government of the day breaks another promise, especially to the people of Atlantic Canada, we have no other choice but to rise up in opposition to what it is doing.
The hon. member from Alberta, who refuses to keep his mouth quiet, says that there were no broken promises. If that is the case, is he then saying that Premier Williams, a Conservative; Premier MacDonald, a Conservative; the former minister, Mr. Crosbie, a Conservative; and the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, a Conservative; are not telling the truth? Is that what he is saying? If he is, then he should stand in this place and say it.
I was not even born in Canada. I was raised in Vancouver and in Yukon but after moving to Nova Scotia I quickly learned one thing about the people in Atlantic Canada. This is no reflection on the people in the rest of Canada. Our former colleague, Mr. Gordon Earle, who was an MP for Halifax West from 1997 to 2000, the first black African Nova Scotian to be elected as a member of Parliament to this chamber, said it very well when he said that a people have their word. The thing I learned was that I could take a Maritimer or an Atlantic Canadian at his word. When an Atlantic Canadian gives his or her word it can be taken to the bank.
I was with the hon. member for Halifax and the former premier of Nova Scotia, Mr. John Hamm, who was a Conservative. I did not agree with everything Premier Hamm did but the one thing I have always admired him for and is his grace, his dignity and his ability to work with the official opposition leader, Daryl Dexter, and the NDP, and other people to build the province of Nova Scotia.
When Premier Hamm came to Ottawa I remember being in the parliamentary restaurant with senators and MPs from all parties listening to the proposal by John Hamm. In my case it was the first time that I had heard it.
However, knowing the man himself, from the Stanfield tradition of a Progressive Conservative, that we could trust him in what he was saying. After careful reflection afterward and listening to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and their representatives, we in the NDP very quickly said that this was something we would work with and support the Conservative premiers in achieving the Atlantic accord to give us that leg up, to allow Atlantic Canadians to develop their natural resources, in this case the offshore resources, for the betterment of all people in Atlantic Canada. What is good for Atlantic Canada is also good for the rest of the country.
After being an MP in this place for 10 years I can list the litany of broken promises from the Liberals when they were the government but, hopefully, they have learned from that.
We then had the sanctimonious Conservatives, while in opposition, saying that they would bring Canadians a clean government, an open government, an honest government and a transparent government.
Let me isolate the Conservatives' broken promise in one very simple little letter that was written on June 28, 2005 to Mrs. Joyce Carter, a widow of one of our heroes, a World War II veteran. Her request was quite dignified, quite right and quite affordable. Her request would actually save the taxpayer money. She asked that all widows and veterans would received the veterans independence program regardless of the time of death or regardless of application.
The opposition leader at that time, who is now the Prime Minister, wrote in that letter on June 28, 2005, that if the Conservatives form a government, she could be assured that as a Conservative government it would immediately extend the veterans independence program to all veterans and all widows, regardless of application or time of death.
There were no ifs, ands or buts, no reviews, nothing. It was crystal clear in black and white, a written promise to a widow of a veteran.
This is the party that says “support the troops”. We all support the troops. I would like to ask the Conservatives, where is that commitment and support when they take the uniform off? What about their families? If they can deliberately mislead and betray a promise to a widow of a veteran, can we imagine the broken promise to Nova Scotia—
Mr. Peter Stoffer:
Mr. Speaker, you know, that hon. member from Edmonton just cannot handle the truth.
At the end of my speech, I will give him the letter that his Prime Minister wrote to a widow of a veteran and then I would like him to stand up in the House and apologize to the House for accusing me of telling something that is not true.
I cannot believe these Conservatives. They stood in opposition on their hind heels and went absolutely crazy on the previous government over this. The reality is it is time for them to go. We cannot trust them any more.
The sad thing is there are some very good people in that Conservative Party whom I would love to call my neighbour. They are decent and honest people, but it is that front bench all centred around the PMO that is being corrupted and absolutely saying anything they can to get elected, to try to get their majority, and betray the promises of Atlantic Canada, Saskatchewan and for that matter as the hon. member for Labrador said, “If they can do it to her, they can do it to you”.
The trust is gone now. It is completely gone. The Conservatives can say and do whatever they please. It simply does not hold any water.
Let me refer to something that is in the Daily News today written by a gentleman named Mr. David Rodenheiser who is a well known columnist of the Daily News. Mr. Rodenheiser is certainly not a New Democrat. I do not think we could accuse him of being a Liberal. Here is what he said about the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party, “The Prime Minister's Conservatives area vicious, vindictive—, and I cannot say the last word because it is unparliamentary, but it starts with an l and ends with an r and there are two vowels in the middle.
The fact is this is what their own commentators are saying now about the Conservatives. It is most unfortunate. We had hoped that there would be openness and transparency, and they would honestly keep their promises. The income trusts promise, gone; VIP promises for widows of veterans, gone; assisted deduction problem for injured soldiers, gone; the excise fuel tax not to raise it above a certain amount, gone; the Atlantic accord, gone.
I have one word to say to the Conservatives from Atlantic Canada especially, they are about to be “gone”. I can assure the House that election cannot happen fast enough. If it was not for the support of the separatists on the budget, they would be gone already today.
The people of Atlantic Canada deserve better. They can only go by what the ministers and the Prime Minister say to them which are on record in Hansard. Just a few weeks ago the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the minister for ACOA, who himself has betrayed many promises.
We will never forget the one he made to David Orchard, and I think David Orchard's comments are absolutely correct, “That is the party that was conceived in deception and born in betrayal”. The Minister of Foreign Affairs from Central Nova said very clearly “We do not kick out people of our party for voting their conscience. There will be no flipping or flopping on budget votes. If people vote their conscience, we will not kick them out”. No sooner than the good member of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley sat down, he was gone.
Then they eradicated all his personal files of his constituents that he was trying to work with. What kind of party is that? What else are the Conservatives going to do to hurt the people of Atlantic Canada?
We say to them quite clearly. The hon. member for Halifax is correct. It is not too late to fix the problem. Go back to the deal that we had before. There should not be any further deals happening. There should not be any last minute conversations and rushing around.
We had a deal, a deal written in stone. Now the Conservatives want to break that stone and turn it into little pebbles and scatter it across. Their word simply cannot be trusted.
It is unfortunate because when the Government of Canada misleads Canadians, it looks bad on all politicians in the House and across the country.
Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, this is certainly a very important time in the history of my province of Newfoundland and Labrador and certainly a very important time in the history of Atlantic Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Kings—Hants, a beautiful stretch of the Nova Scotia coastline, I might add.
The motion that we have before us today is the second time that we have brought up this issue in the House. We have proposed another motion to allow our colleagues from the Conservative Party the chance to isolate this issue and a chance for them to speak up for their home province, in much the same way that the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley did. For the record I would like to read the motion brought forward by my hon. colleague from Labrador:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to live up to verbal and written commitments made to Premiers by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign with respect to the Equalization Program and the Atlantic Accords.
Just to give an illustration on how wide and how far the contempt is for the current government against the Atlantic accords, let me just point out that about a month ago, a gentleman from Newfoundland decided to start an online petition. His name is Steve Saunders. He went online and then he got help from the NLFM, which the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Municipalities.
In a three week period he had gathered, through many communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, signatures against the current actions of the current Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and of course the regional representation in the cabinet, our Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
It went something like this, “We, the undersigned, residents of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, would like to draw the attention of the House of Commons that in the last federal election the Prime Minister broke his promise”.
What would a petition of this size garner in only a few weeks time? Members probably think a few pages here and there. In the short span of three weeks, we have managed to put together a petition that resembles this. In less than one month, this is what we have, saying no to the Prime Minister, saying no to the Minister of Finance, and saying no to three Conservative members of Parliament from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Here are some names that lead the way on this petition, on the very first page, because at times the Conservative Party will say, “Well, this is a partisan issue”.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans earlier today said that we are simply opposing because it is a Liberal thing to do. We are opposing because it is a bad thing to change the Atlantic accords by which the people of Newfoundland and Labrador can truly realize that they are principal beneficiaries of our own resources.
Three signatures lead the way: number one, Danny Williams, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador; followed by Gerry Reid, leader of the opposition, leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador; the third signature, Lorraine Michael, leader of the New Democratic Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. How partisan is that? That is a clear message to our province and a clear message to the rest of the country.
At this point in time I want to mention my hon. colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's who sits with me today. Unfortunately, he is unable to speak in the House because of what he said earlier. The date was March 28, 2007. My hon. colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's stood in the House and used a word against the Prime Minister stating that he was a—, and it begins with an l ends with an r and has two vowels in the middle, as was explained by my hon. colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore. No, it is not “loser”, but my hon. colleague is no longer allowed to speak because he used that word.
The funny thing is that in the last few days our hon. colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley stood in this House and voted against the budget for the sake of his constituents, for the sake of his province and for the sake of Atlantic Canada, which completely vindicated my colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's for using the word that he used which is one that is absolutely and utterly correct. He will not stand up in this House, as he has so eloquently pointed out, because if he did that, he would only be doing the same to his own constituents by misleading them as well. My hon. colleague is retiring; he will not be running in the next election. I would like to say that it was an absolute pleasure to serve with him here in this House.
Let me refer to some of the quotes that have been talked about over the past year regarding this issue.
The interesting thing is that my colleagues from the Conservatives, the three members of Parliament from Newfoundland and Labrador will say that they continue to work on this issue. At the very last minute, they proposed something different. To my hon. colleague from Nova Scotia who now sits as an independent, it was a scramble of issues.
Here is what some of them had to say. Shortly after the budget was introduced, the Minister of Fisheries who is from Newfoundland said:
|| We don't always have control over our own destiny. We all like to do things. We make commitments....The Prime Minister made a commitment.... The provinces involved, the majority of them said, “We don't want it. We want a different deal”. So there is the situation you're in.
Now how shameful is that. When they said that they were going to do their version of the Atlantic accord, which was to take the non-renewables out of the formula, we said that there may be some problems with the other provinces, but they said “Oh no, don't worry, because we have the fortitude to do it”. Well so much for that. Now they admit that they don't. Therein lies the first treacherous action.
Let me go on to say what else was said. They are now saying that they are continually working for their home region of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and of course Atlantic Canada. This very morning, on a show called Open Line in Newfoundland and Labrador, the hon. member for St. John's East spoke to the host, Linda Swain. Here is part of what he had to say:
|| We're in the middle of talks right here and now with [the Minister of Finance]. We've met with the Prime Minister on a couple of different occasions.
Obviously something is amiss, yet my hon. colleague from Alberta and my hon. colleague from Saskatchewan continue to rise in the House and say to the people of Canada, “We honoured our commitment”. What are they talking about? Why do the members from Atlantic Canada say that they were continually talking with the Minister of Finance to make this right? It does not make sense. Who is wrong? Did they mislead or did they not? Did they break a promise or did they not? This is all coming from the government side.
Every time that the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister stand in the House and talk about how they did not break their promise in regard to the Atlantic accord, the members from Atlantic Canada sit there, all of them, with faces like a robber's horse, as my colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's pointed out to me earlier.
Here are some of the other things the Conservative member of Parliament for St. John's East said. He said. “Well, you know, I think if [the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley] had been at the last meeting, and of course it wasn't his fault that he wasn't there because he wasn't invited to be there--”
Here is a gentleman who did the honourable thing by voting for his constituents and before he did that, there was a meeting about the fuss that was going on and he was not even invited. This is absolutely ridiculous. This is a charade, and yet some stand and say they have not broken a promise. Some others say they did. It just does not make a lot of sense.
By the way, several other things were discussed in the House. I will just make one brief mention. I would like at some point for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to answer a question, now that we are on the topic of broken promises. On February 4, 2004, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans brought this motion to the House:
|| That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take immediate action to extend custodial management over the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and of the Flemish Cap.
I asked that question in committee and it turns out that the minister has not done this at all.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it would be nice to say it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to the motion today, but in fact it is with a sense of sadness that I rise to speak to it because of the fact that I think what the government has done, what the Prime Minister has done, what the member for Central Nova has done to the reputation of this House and to politics in general, denigrates and debases the reputation that all of us have as parliamentarians, as people who are committed to public life to making a difference, and yes, to keeping our promises.
I would like to quote from a memo by John Crosbie, a former Progressive Conservative federal minister, a representative of Newfoundland in the cabinet, who recommended to the Prime Minister:
|| Like any fair and professional leader, the Prime Minister should re-evaluate the performance of his budget in this particular area, and apply the principles of fairness and consistency in public policy. He should adjust his...budget legislation--
John Crosbie certainly is not a Liberal. He certainly is not a New Democrat. The Conservatives are accusing us of indulging in a partisan debate. John Crosbie believes that the Prime Minister should act fairly, but we know that the Prime Minister does not act fairly. He did not act fairly when he cut programs for literacy. He did not act fairly when he killed the court challenges program. He does not act fairly when he attacks women's organizations.
John Crosbie asked that the Prime Minister act professionally. He is a Prime Minister who on the floor of the House of Commons will accuse members of Parliament who ask legitimate questions about Canada's commitment to international protocols, to the Geneva convention, to reasonable treatment of prisoners of war, of supporting the Taliban. He is certainly not professional.
John Crosbie asked the Prime Minister to be consistent. We certainly know that the Prime Minister is not consistent. He is not consistent when he tells Canadians that he will not be taxing their income trust investments. He is not consistent when his budget makes a ridiculous commitment to eliminating the interest deductibility on foreign investments. He flip-flopped on that a few weeks later.
The Prime Minister is not fair, is not professional, and is not consistent. In fact he is hurting the reputation of all politicians, federal and provincial.
I was part of a cabinet that responded to Premier Hamm's campaign of fairness. The member for Halifax West was a fellow member of that cabinet who led the charge and helped negotiate this accord, and it was a remarkable accord. It was extraordinary for a number of reasons.
First of all, it was not an easy accord to negotiate. It involved the federal Department of Finance and other ministers. It took a lot of discussion, hard work and focus on achieving an agreement that was good for Atlantic Canada and fair to all Canadian provinces. It was a 16 year agreement. It was based on the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia having the ability to receive 100% of their offshore revenue without any impact on that equalization agreement or any further equalization agreements after that.
The government is saying that it only applied to the equalization agreement of the time. That is false. That is one of the reasons it was such a difficult accord to negotiate. It was extraordinary and it did apply to any subsequent equalization agreements. It was based actually on solid ground. The precedent was Alberta.
The Prime Minister in fact in a debate on November 4, 2004 said:
|| This is an opportunity and it is a one time opportunity. It is a...opportunity to allow [Atlantic Canadian] provinces to kick-start their economic development, to get out of their have not status, to grow this...opportunity into long run growth and revenue that will be paid back to Ottawa over and over again and that will benefit the people of those regions--
He said that it was based on the precedent of Alberta. He said:
|| This is what happened in the case of my province of Alberta. Alberta discovered oil and gas in the 1940s and 1950s, Alberta was a have-not province. From 1957 and until 1965, Alberta received transfers from the equalization program. Alberta was allowed to keep 100% of its oil royalties and there was no federal clawback.
|| This is what allowed Alberta to kick-start its economy, to expand and diversify, to build universities, to advance social services and to become one of the powerhouses of the 21st century Canadian...
Those are the words the Prime Minister used to justify his support for the Atlantic accord.
The Albertans in the House today ought to support the Atlantic accord based on those words from their Prime Minister. Albertans need to recognize that before Albertans had the vision, foresight and wisdom to put oil into the ground, they were a have not province as well. However, it actually took the ability for Alberta to have full access to its oil revenues until 1965 for Alberta to diversify its economy and to make the kinds of social investments required to move forward.
Clearly, both the Prime Minister and the member for Central Nova, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and, frankly, the patron saint of hypocrisy when it comes to this agreement and on many other issues we know he has taken positions on over the years, have let all Canadians down, particularly Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
The Prime Minister has spoken in the past of a culture of defeat in Atlantic Canada. I believe there will be a culture of defeat on election night in the next federal election in Conservative headquarters right across the Atlantic Canadian region. Atlantic Canadians do not want to be misled. Atlantic Canadians do not want to be lied to. Atlantic Canadians want to be able to trust in their government, to believe what they are being told is true. If the Prime Minister cannot even convince members of his own caucus, members like the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, that he is telling the truth, how can he convince Atlantic Canadians that he is telling the truth?
That is a Prime Minister who has demonstrated time and time again that he would do anything or say anything to get elected, to get people's vote. There is not a promise that he will make during an election that he will not break after being elected.
In a minority Parliament, which Canadians have chosen, we have an opportunity to respect their choice to make this Parliament work, to advance public policy that is important for all Canadians, to work together in the interest of Canadians and to give Canadians the type of government in which they can believe. It is very tough for us to do this when we have a governing party, the Conservative Party, a Prime Minister and a Minister of Foreign Affairs whose signatures are not worth the paper on which they are written.
That is a Prime Minister who tends not to like accords. He, in fact, is working this week at the G-8 to try to destabilize the industrial world's commitment to the Kyoto accord. He has ripped up the Atlantic accord. One of the editorials in today's Halifax Daily News says that the Prime Minister hates accords so much it must be difficult for him to dry by a Honda dealership”.
The fact is the people of Nova Scotia and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have learned the hard way, that they cannot trust the Prime Minister.
Income trust investors who lost $25 billion almost overnight as a result of the Prime Minister's breaking of his promise have learned that they cannot trust him to keep his word.
On of the editorials in today's Chronicle Herald said:
||—in their gut, folks do understand that the Harper government has broken faith with Atlantic Canada by failing to deliver all that had been promised.
It went further and said:
|| If the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley can't even vote for these Conservatives, how can you?
I think that is the question Atlantic Canadians across Atlantic Canada will be asking themselves in the next election.
Atlantic Canadians are extremely proud to be strong Canadians and to fight for values and interests around the world. They fought in global conflicts in World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict. They made a difference in helping to build a more peaceful, democratic and stable world. They are fighting now in Afghanistan and making a difference, and we are proud of them. Atlantic Canadians are tremendously proud of the difference they make in Canada and around the world. They deserve the respect of the Prime Minister not to break promises made to them.
Mr. Rick Dykstra (St. Catharines, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in today's debate, which was instigated by the member for Labrador, regarding the equalization program and budget 2007.
However, today's spectacle is not about having a rational, factual discussion about equalization or a fiscal balance or the Atlantic accord for that matter. It is not about what is best for the people of Atlantic Canada or best for Canada. It certainly is not about budget 2007.
In fact, I doubt the sponsor of this motion has even read the budget document or the detailed chapter and annex on the subject itself. It does not matter to him or to his party what the budget says or what it proposes. It is simply about partisan politics at its worst. It is really about a Liberal Party that does not know where it is going. It is about a party that is so devoid of principles that logical and rational thinking has been displaced in this debate.
That is why it is so unfortunate that the member opposite would take an issue so important to his province and the province of Nova Scotia, indeed all Canadians, and exploit it for cheap political gain.
I know it would be too much to ask the members opposite to engage in a rational and informed discussion here today, but I urge him, at the very least, to keep all the inflammatory rhetoric down so we can have some semblance of an educated debate. Indeed, if this were an educated debate, the member opposite would admit that the principles of the Atlantic accord have not been abandoned.
If the member opposite had simply read the budget, and he can do that very easily on line by going to www.budget.gc.ca, he would see the error in his claims.
In his speech to the House, the Minister of Finance described budget 2007 as an historic document and with good reason. Underpinning the budget exercise is a commitment to strengthening our federation and fulfilling a vision in which all governments come together to help Canadians realize their full potential.
Budget 2007 follows through on every commitment of the plan and it goes even further. It restores fiscal balance with provinces and territories by putting transfers on a long term, principles based footing. It takes another step toward restoring fiscal balance with Canadian taxpayers through major tax reductions and the tax back guarantee. It makes governments more accountable to Canadians by clarifying roles and responsibilities. It strengthens the economic union based on the plan set out in “Advantage Canada”. With fiscal balance restored, governments can focus on what matters to all Canadians, not old, tired arguments.
The budget should move forward and not be used for petty partisan games that could result in the loss of funding for important programs to improve the lives of Canadians: $1.5 billion in clean air funding to assist provinces with projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, gone; $225 million in new funding for the Nature Conservancy of Canada to preserve and protect environmentally sensitive lands across the country, gone; $30 million to protect British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest, gone; more than a billion dollars in health care funding to help provinces reduce patient waiting times and improve the delivery of health services, gone; $614 million in funding for federal-provincial infrastructure projects and labour market training, gone; $30 million in funding for the Rick Hansen Foundation spinal cord injury translational research network to improve the lives of more than 40,000 Canadians with permanent spinal cord injuries, gone; and $135 million in new aid to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their lives and their country, gone.
What does the opposition think about this? What does the Liberal leader in the Senate, Ms. Hervieux-Payette, have to say about the prospect of that lost funding? She said, “If we spend all our time ringing bells, other bills will not pass as well”. Nonsense. It is nonsense that means nothing to the average Canadian and it should.
What does mean something to Canadians are better roads, a renewed public transit, a better health care system, better equipped universities, cleaner oceans, rivers, lakes and air, and training to help Canadians get the skills they need to build a better future for our country. That means giving adequate funding to provincial and territorial governments.
In budget 2007, through our historic plan, we are working to restore fiscal balance in Canada. Contrast that with the Liberals, like the former finance minister, the member for Wascana, who had the audacity to write:
|| The Conservatives complain that the previous Liberal government didn't concede the existence of a fiscal imbalance in Canada.
Do members know what he said? He said, “so what”. We also have the leader of the Liberal Party who has repeated publicly that he does not care about the fiscal imbalance. In fact, he pronounced:
|| Don't ask me to pretend there is a fiscal imbalance and elect me, and hope I will fix it. I don't want to create those kind of expectations.
Today the Liberal leader said that he was for excluding natural resources from equalization but when asked this March about excluding 100% of resource revenues from the equalization, he said, “No, no. I would not commit to this”.
When he was intergovernmental affairs minister he said:
||...it would be ill-advised to grant such special treatment to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland...it is essential to maintain equitable treatment of all the provinces within the Equalization framework.
Today the Liberal leader said that he was against a fiscal capacity cap but, when asked last March, he said, “a province that received equalization payments cannot see its fiscal capacity going above the fiscal capacity of a province that does not”.
When he was intergovernmental affairs minister he said, “Some provinces want special treatment to maintain their incoming benefits even as their fiscal capacities increase”.
What he said was that he disagreed.
I am particularly proud to note that our approach to restoring fiscal balance is the result of significant consultations conducted with all of our partners as committed to in budget 2006.
Our approach to restore fiscal balance was not conducted in a vacuum. Rather, broad consultations were conducted by the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
The former minister of intergovernmental affairs' predecessor held face to face meetings with his counterparts between August and November, 2006 seeking views on ways to achieve a balance between a principled based approach to the limitation of the federal spending power and the need to continue to offer and ensure flexibility.
The minister sought perspectives on lessons learned from the past, options for future consideration and potential priority areas for action. Written submissions from provinces and territories were also provided. These consultations allowed the Government of Canada to demonstrate to provinces and territories its commitment to a new and open federalism. They also provided an opportunity to obtain provincial and territorial views on ways to achieve enhanced accountability through a clarity in roles and responsibilities of all orders of government.
The government took into account all that we gleaned from these consultations and we also committed to returning the equalization program to a principles based, formula driven footing as part of our plan to restore fiscal balance.
In doing so, we relied extensively on the recommendations of the independent expert panel chaired by Al O'Brien, a former Alberta deputy treasurer. A panel appointed under the tenure of the aforementioned member for Wascana, who at the time said of the panel:
|| There are so many arguments among the provinces about what the right formula ought to be, that we will engage an independent panel of experts—people who don't have a particular bias, don't have any kind of regional, vested interest—and have them come up with recommendations....
I wonder how those experts would react to the member for Wascana's new “so what” attitude to the fiscal balance.
Following extensive consultations, the O'Brien report proposed a comprehensive, principled based set of reforms to the equalization program. As a Globe and Mail editorial pronounced, the O'Brien report “presented a largely acceptable approach to the predicament”, a predicament caused by what The Globe and Mail termed “recklessly” and “dubious meddling” of the old government.
We reviewed this report and consulted extensively with Canadians and with provincial governments. We have concluded that the O'Brien report forms a solid foundation for the renewal of the equalization program.
As the Toronto Star noted, “the Conservative government is cleaning up the equalization mess the member for LaSalle—Émard left behind”.
Indeed, the new program meets our commitment on fully excluding natural resource revenues from the program. We said that we would exclude non-renewable natural resource revenues without adversely affecting provinces by the changes to the equalization formula, and we did. Budget 2007 delivers on this commitment.
The new equalization program will give provinces the higher of the payments calculated under 50% natural resources exclusion or full exclusion.
We would expect the exclusion of 50% of natural resource revenues to provide higher payments in most cases because it increases the equalization standard. However, this of course depends on resource production, the levels and natural resource prices.
Giving provinces the benefit of full exclusion or 50% exclusion, fulfills the government's commitment to fully exclude non-renewable natural resource revenues from equalization without lowering payments to any province.
We said that we would respect the offshore accords with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and we did. Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia can continue to get the benefits of their offshore accords and operate under the previous equalization system, ensuring that these provinces continue to receive the full benefit envisioned in these agreements.
As The Globe and Mail editorial bluntly remarked, there is no cap”. It said that resource revenues were not included when the province's share of equalization was calculated. The article goes on to state:
|| That is because...the Atlantic Accord...explicitly exempted the province's resource revenues from any calculation of its equalization entitlements.
|| That accord trumps the budget's measures. And the Conservatives went out of their way to underline that stipulation in the budget.
I will conclude my remarks by reminding the member opposite that we do not and we have not abandoned any principles. We have not abandoned the Atlantic accords. Rather, we have taken action on fulfilling our commitments, in an open and principled way, to strengthen our Federation so that government can work in a collaborative way to provide tangible results for all Canadians.
If the members opposite do not believe us, they should listen to what the independent equalization experts are saying, the people who do not have a particular bias, as the former Liberal finance minister would call them. We have people like Thomas Courchene, who rendered a thumbs up to budget 2007 and its major accomplishment to remove the fiscal basis of our Federation from its earlier state of disarray and to strive to reposition Canadian fiscal federalism within a framework of principles, fiscal, institutional and political.
We just need to listen to the former NDP Saskatchewan finance minister, in that respect an academic, Janice MacKinnon, who lamented the former Liberal government for turning “its back on the long established, formula-driven, rules based process for deciding equalization entitlements in favour of an ad hoc approach”.
MacKinnon wants federal-provincial fiscal relations to be put on a more predictable, stable footing and be based on rules and established formulas that prevent the federal government from making ad hoc decisions and, in her words, “the 2007 federal budget goes a long way to achieving this goal”.
Let us listen to what Al O'Brien, the head of the expert federal panel, had to say. He said, “Budget 2007 adopted our recommendation. Our recommendation is the core framework and I'm really quite encouraged”.
Tackling this issue was not easy. It was not a simple proposition. It involved making tough decisions and seeking compromise. Fundamental to the working of any successful federation is compromise or, as MacKinnon put it, “Federal-provincial relations require compromise and a willingness of provinces to look beyond their own provincial borders”.
Through our efforts, equalization has been restored to a principles based program after years of ignoring it. Instead of working for partisan interests, we made our decisions in the best interests of all Canadians, including those in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. That is what all premiers asked and all Canadians expect us to do. We will not apologize for that.
When we look at what we have done and the commitments we have made to each province and territory in this country, it is clear that decisions are not easy and tough decisions are that much more difficult to make. When we look at Newfoundland and Labrador or Nova Scotia, they receive $1.3 billion under the new equalization formula: $130 million in offshore accord offsets, $639 million under the Canada health care transfer and $277 million for the Canada social transfer, which includes additional funding for post-secondary education and child care. Commitments made throughout the country in each province and territory are included in the budget.
The budget went through committee and the committee heard from witnesses, including the Saskatchewan premier who was given an hour to ensure he had a full opportunity to present his thoughts and his position on the budget and what he felt it did not include. We did not ignore anyone who wanted the opportunity to speak to this.
However, what is important at the end of the day is that we have a budget, which the finance committee went through clause by clause. We are debating it in the House today. It should go through the Senate process of being heard but, as I indicated in my speaking notes, there are close to $5 billion worth of priorities waiting.
The fact that we have put a number to it is important and relevant from a numbers perspective but what needs to be heard is that there are many programs that hinge on that funding to be implemented in this year.
We obviously look to the leaders in the Senate, the majority of whom are from the Liberal Party, to dedicate themselves, prior to the end of this month, to ensuring the budget passes and becomes law so the expenditures within it can be met, whether they be from one end of the country to the other, for defence, the environment or the investment in the work Rick Hansen has done for decades in this country, which has now been recognized.
From the over 450 presentations at the finance committee, 44 recommendations were put together by all parties and they were given to the finance minister. Many of those recommendations, which were agreed to by all parties, are in the budget, but there are two parties today that are opposed to the budget.
For those reasons, I sure hope, while the debate happens and the debate continues, that at the end of the day respect for this process is brought and that budget is passed by the Senate.
Hon. Geoff Regan (Halifax West, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I feel sorry for my hon. colleague, the member for St. Catharines. He obviously has been sent in here today and has been asked to give a speech on the subject because his government cannot find many folks from Atlantic Canada who are willing to speak on it from his side. He has come in, read a speech and tried valiantly to defend the indefensible.
I thank my hon. colleague, the member for Pickering—Scarborough East, who has had a look at the Atlantic accord, the accord that I signed, in fact. I am familiar with it as well. He has tried to explain for the member for St. Catharines what it means and how it is a betrayal in this case.
The question before us today is very simple. Has the government honoured the offshore accords with Newfoundland and Labrador and with my province of Nova Scotia? The answer is also very simple. The answer is no.
I know it, Danny Williams knows it and John Crosbie knows it. The member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley knows it, and he had the guts to admit it. He can be proud of that. Nova Scotians are proud of him for his decision.
Premier Rodney MacDonald sort of knows it. I wish he would be a little more firm about it and a little stronger. He seems to be a little afraid to stand up and fight for Nova Scotia. Maybe he is afraid of the Prime Minister. It seems a lot of members on that side are, and I understand that. I would like him to be a little firmer and stronger. We have seen Mr. Williams be very strong.
Everyone with a shred of common sense in Atlantic Canada knows it. They know that our region has been betrayed. They know the Prime Minister has shown to Atlantic Canadians that his word is worthless.
I do not think I mentioned, Mr. Speaker, that I have the honour of splitting my time today with the honourable member for West Nova, my esteemed colleague. I look forward to his comments as well.
Atlantic Canadians know the Conservative cabinet and members of the caucus from Atlantic Canada are too afraid of the wrath of the Prime Minister to speak up, to tell the truth, and to fight for the interests of the people of their provinces, as they should do. Atlantic Canadians are not being fooled by the false arguments that are being trotted out by Conservative members to explain how my province, for example, will lose $1 billion and how that is a good thing supposedly for Nova Scotians.
The finance minister loves to say that Nova Scotia has a choice of either the new equalization program or the accord and the old equalization program. My honourable colleague, the member for Pickering—Scarborough East just explained why that is a false dichotomy, a false choice. As Jim Meek, a columnist at the Halifax ChronicleHerald said today, “The minister's cheap parlour—or parliamentary—trick is to suggest he has given the province a fair deal”.
We know that is not the case. The fact is the accord applies, as it says, to equalization as it exists at the time. No matter how it changes, provisions and the terms of the accord still apply. The payments under the accord are still to be made. The government has denied that and it has torn to shreds the Atlantic accord.
What other answers is the government giving? The Minister of Finance, for example, loves to list off the various things in the budget, other things that affect Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada in general. Is the government really saying that we do not deserve to have payments for health care, that we do not deserve funding for environmental protection, for example? Is that what the government is saying? Is it saying that we cannot have this because we are going to have that? Is the government saying that we cannot have what it promised on the offshore accord because it is going to do something in terms of funding that it is giving to every other province anyway? This is some deal. That is not very impressive.
Is the government really saying that we only get equalization and education dollars because of its charity and goodwill? Is that what the government is saying? It is hogwash. It is absolute rubbish. The argument Conservatives are making is beneath contempt and worst of all, they know it, but they do not dare cross the bully boss, the Prime Minister. They are clearly afraid of him and they have not found intestinal fortitude.
Hon. Geoff Regan:
Mr. Speaker, if that is in fact unparliamentary, and I was not aware it was frankly, then I will withdraw it.
It is fair to say that the hon. members are clearly afraid of the Prime Minister. We have seen many bullying tactics in the House and on the Hill. These colleagues from Atlantic Canada have not found, unfortunately, the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the Prime Minister. There is still third reading of the budget bill coming up shortly. I hope they will show that fortitude then.
There are two things that everyone in Nova Scotia knows. The first is that the Prime Minister betrayed Atlantic Canada on budget day when he failed to honour a signed agreement between the Government of Canada and my province. It was a signed deal, a signed contract; I know, because I signed it.
The second thing is that the hon. member for Central Nova and the hon. member for South Shore—St. Margaret's had the chance to stand up for their province. They could have said, “Wait a minute, this is not right. One cannot just unilaterally tear up a written contract just because one does not like the region and wants to punish us”. They could have said that.
Those members could have done what the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley did, who showed he has a backbone. He stood up for his region and his province. Instead, sadly, they chose to support their misguided leader. Was it out of party loyalty? Was it out of fear? I do not know what the reason was, why they could not show more fortitude.
I know one thing, that voters in Nova Scotia and across Atlantic Canada will remember the lack of support those Conservative MPs from Atlantic Canada showed the region. When the next election is called and the members are out knocking on doors, I think they will hear about it. Voters will remember that the budget betrayal at the hands of the Conservatives may cost my province, for example, $1 billion for things that we need, such as better hospitals, schools, fixing roads and many other important investments. They will remember that those Conservative members of Parliament squandered a deal that gave Nova Scotia 100% of its offshore revenues with no clawback.
It is exactly what those Conservative members promised when they sent out a brochure to Atlantic Canadians a few years ago, which said on its cover, “There is no greater fraud than a promise broken”. They promised no clawbacks, 100%. That promise has been broken.
The foreign affairs minister said that the budget respected the accord. That has been his claim for months. Now he is saying that the decision of the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley was premature because he and others are still in talks over honouring the accord. Huh? How is it possible for one to have already honoured it but one is still in talks over honouring it? It seems to me it ought to be one or the other.
The finance minister and his Nova Scotia puppets over there tell us we should be happy that we are getting more in equalization this year. What a joke. What a farce. They should read the accord.
That is why columnists in Atlantic Canada such as David Rodenhiser of the Daily News are so outraged. He said today:
|| We have a government that lies to us, steals from us and aligns itself with a party bent on tearing the nation apart. These are not proud days for Canada.
In fact, underneath his article there is a line which reads:
|| David Rodenhiser thinks [the Prime Minister] has a phobia of accords: the Atlantic Accord, the Kyoto Accord, the Kelowna Accord. The man must be petrified when passing a Honda dealership.
When the finance minister was Mike Harris's henchman in Toronto, he mocked Premier Hamm, saying that his campaign for fairness was like someone who won a lottery and still wanted to collect welfare. It seems the same meanspirited mentality prevails today. The hon. member for Central Nova and the hon. member for South Shore—St. Margaret's have adopted it, unfortunately. That is very sad. It is frustrating. It is atrocious. They should be ashamed that the government has a petty, patronizing attitude toward Atlantic Canada. The next thing is they will say we have a culture of defeat.
Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate in support of the motion introduced by the member for Labrador, which reads as follows:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to live up to verbal and written commitments made to Premiers by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign with respect to the Equalization Program and the Atlantic Accords.
It is quite serious when we have to stand in the House and make such a resolution about the Prime Minister, about his engagement, his respecting of his word. There are institutions that Canadians have to be able to depend on. One is the office of the Prime Minister. While we may debate policy, while we may have different opinions on how to bring the country forward and what the right programs are for our country, we should always be able to depend on the office of the Prime Minister, and that whoever occupies that office at the time will be a person of integrity who is true to his or her word.
It is very disappointing that we are in the situation where Canadians cannot trust the office of the Prime Minister because the person who holds the office has shown time and again that his word is completely meaningless. Let us remember back to before the same individual became Prime Minister. He said that supply management was a communist scheme of price fixing. He said that we had to build firewalls around Alberta. On national unity he said he did not care how many national capitals there were, and he now calls himself the great defender of national unity. That is the person in whom we should be able to put our trust and confidence in trying to advance the interests of the citizens of this country and the country's future.
When we look at the example of the Atlantic accord, I think first we should look at what the accord is. The accord is quite simple. It says that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland shall benefit from 100% of the revenues from their non-renewable resources, in this case offshore oil and gas, to the exclusion of all other programs. That means if there is change in equalization, if there is additional money given in other programs by the federal government to the provinces, that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland would their share and the Atlantic accord is separate from that. It is above and beyond all other programs.
The budget turns it into an either/or situation. The province of Nova Scotia and its finance minister must decide whether to participate in the new equalization formula which has some advantages for Nova Scotia, or to maintain the Atlantic accord which also has some advantages for Nova Scotia. If Nova Scotia goes into the new equalization formula, the Atlantic accord substantially disappears, the amount of revenue is capped and Nova Scotia stands to lose $1 billion.
Some may argue that in the current system the accord is a disproportionate benefit for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Well, perhaps one could make that argument. Perhaps the Prime Minister could advance that argument but that is not the argument he advanced during the election campaign. He said in writing and verbally that he would honour the letter and the intent of the accord.
I remember when I was on the government side of the House, we presented a budget that included the ways and means to implement the Atlantic accord. The Prime Minister and members of his party, the opposition at that time, asked that we split the bill, that we remove the Atlantic accord from the budget because the intention of the opposition members at that time was to vote against the budget but they wanted to vote in favour of the accord.
That was the very same accord they are now knee-capping. That is pure hypocrisy and it is a betrayal. It is a betrayal to the people of Atlantic Canada and it is a betrayal to the people of Saskatchewan who were promised that they would get 100% of the revenues of non-renewable natural resources outside of the equalization formula.
It was pointed out by the member for Labrador that we are getting hit now, as will others, each at their time.
The Prime Minister, when he made those promises in the campaign, did not say he would somewhat honour the accord but would cherry-pick elements, suggestions and recommendations out of this and that report, some from O'Brien and some from others, and make a budget that dismantles the intent of the Atlantic accord. That is not what he promised. He promised that there would be 100% exclusion of non-renewable natural resource revenues from the equalization payment and that the accord would be maintained.
I was disappointed. I happen to have the privilege of sitting on the finance committee, where we evaluated the budget. Premier Lorne Calvert came before us and made a very good presentation on behalf of his government. I was very disappointed, as was mentioned by the member for Halifax West, by the relative weakness of the premier of Nova Scotia on this issue.
We know that he is in a dire political situation. We see in the polls that he is in third place. There is not a lot of confidence in his government. People are looking for alternatives. Rather than showing strength and fighting for what already has been won by his predecessor, the relative weakness of the premier of Nova Scotia on this issue can be seen. We are not asking for anything new here. We are asking that the Government of Canada honour its commitment.
That brings me to the second point, which is the institutions. We must be able to trust the Office of the Prime Minister and whoever occupies it, and we also must be able to trust the legacy of the succession of the Government of Canada, in that an agreement signed by one Government of Canada lasts until the end of its natural course. In this case, it would be 2020. An agreement is an agreement is an agreement.
Premier Rodney MacDonald should accept the invitation of Stephen McNeil, leader of the Liberal Party, to put forward a common front. Although I have not been in discussions with him, I am sure Darrell Dexter would join. We would have a common front with all Nova Scotians fighting for 100% of the Atlantic accord.
What we see and hear in the papers and the media is that there are negotiations happening, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans mentioned that in question period, negotiations for improvements in the bill presented by the government, but not the 100% retention of the Atlantic accord.
A promise 90% kept or 80% kept or 70% kept is 100% broken. The accord is a signed deal. It should be maintained. I think the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley has made it very plain.
Let us look again at the institutions of our country. Let us look at our Prime Minister. He and the Minister of Finance, during the election period, promised that they would not tax income trusts. They gave that solemn promise to Canadians. Canadians, many of them seniors, were encouraged to invest even more within the income trust sector as they had the promise of the Prime Minister that they would not be taxed.
What does he do? At the first occasion, there is a 33% tax and a 100% betrayal of those investors, with $25 billion worth of capital loss, a lot of it in the hands of seniors, either retired or preparing to retire. Let us imagine this. I spoke to some seniors who told me that they went from having a comfortable retirement, and being economically and financially self-sufficient, to poverty, essentially, to sustenance living on small pensions and reduced savings.
They were losing $10,000 to $15,000 of revenue a year. When one's revenue is $35,000 to $45,000, losing $10,000 is a lot. It is huge. That is money they had depended on. They had been encouraged to do it by the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister had not made that promise, the reasonable investor would not have had such huge exposure in one element of the market, but that was not the case.
The Atlantic accord? Betrayal. It was a betrayal by the Prime Minister of the people of Atlantic Canada. And there was a betrayal by the Prime Minister of the people of Saskatchewan.
As for the member for Central Nova, he is an experienced member of the House of Commons who is not prone to fly off the handle and do things he has not considered. He has been here long enough. In answer to my question, he made a promise in the House to his colleagues that they could vote as they wished, that they could vote their conscience on the Atlantic accord and there would be no retribution and they would not be kicked out of caucus.
Either he was misleading the House or he is a complete buffoon, because he knew, as we saw with the vote, that the minute the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley voted his conscience, he was removed from his caucus.
The member for Central Nova goes around the world representing our country. We have seen the Prime Minister betray the country, its citizens and Atlantic Canada, and we have seen the Minister of Foreign Affairs betraying his colleagues. These people are out there representing the interests of the nation and entering into dialogue with statesmen from other countries in trying to find accommodations to bring forward. Those people from other countries can have no confidence in the institutions of our country.
It is a dire situation. It is a situation that I have not seen before. I ask that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance apologize to Canadians, to Saskatchewan and to Atlantic Canadians before it is too late and reverse this unfortunate decision.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the discussion on the Liberal Party's motion today, which reads as follows:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government has failed to live up to verbal and written commitments made to Premiers by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign with respect to the Equalization Program and the Atlantic Accords.
The Bloc Québécois supports this motion because to do otherwise would be to deny the obvious. As we have said in the past, we did not agree with the Atlantic accords in principle, and we still do not agree with them. However, it is perfectly obvious that the government has broken its promise, and we will not argue with that whether we like it or not. No matter what we think of the promise, we do, in principle, agree with the motion.
Unfortunately, this is not the only commitment that this government has broken since coming to power. This government calls itself the “new government” and promised to do things differently from the previous Liberal government. Unfortunately, it seems that the government has learned quickly and has wasted no time following in its Liberal predecessors' footsteps. This government has broken a lot of promises.
The Atlantic accords we are talking about today are a prime example, even though—and I will come back to this later in my speech—we do not agree with these accords and we do not think the government should move forward with them.
According to this motion—or at least according to the Bloc's interpretation of it—the government is being criticized for, deliberately or not, making irresponsible election promises. I would hope it did so out of incompetence and not with the deliberate intention of misleading and fooling the electors. The fact remains that a promise was made and it is not being kept. The Bloc Québécois denounces this irresponsible promise.
Among the many other areas where the government has not kept its promises is the matter of the seat at UNESCO. Once again, the government is playing with words and repeating the same thing ad nauseam—that it made good on its promises— in the hope that by constantly repeating the same thing, whether it is true or not, the public will believe it one day. That is what happened with the seat at UNESCO.
During the election campaign the Prime Minister promised to give Quebec a seat at UNESCO, like the seat Quebec has in the Francophonie. That is what he said, verbatim, what he repeated, what he wrote down and has never denied. Obviously, when we talk about a seat in the Francophonie, we are talking about a full seat, a voice and a vote. That is what all Quebeckers were expecting. That is what everyone was talking about. The Prime Minister never said to Quebeckers during the election campaign that what he was really promising was a small folding seat, a little stool at the back where they could whisper their agreement, or stay quiet should they disagree. That was never the case.
When the Conservative government proposed this accord, it was saying to Quebeckers that it agreed to bring its delegation along, that it would be allowed to participate and give its opinion provided that this opinion fell within the general position of the federal government, or something to that effect.
In other words, Quebec would have the right to indicate its agreement, but if it does not agree, it would not be allowed to say so. More importantly, unlike what was promised, Quebeckers would have no right to vote, as it does at the OIF. That is another promise that was completely broken. It is so true that nothing has been done. When the government made that proposal, even my predecessor in Jeanne-Le Ber, who was once the Minister of Canadian Heritage, said that, in any case, that was already how it was done. No one ever stopped Quebec representatives from coming along, sitting in the background and whispering comments. We are really no further ahead. This has been nothing but smoke and mirrors, with basically nothing new to indicate that this promise, giving Quebec the right to vote, will be honoured.
The Prime Minister resorted to false arguments concerning the issue of Quebec's right to vote, saying that, at UNESCO, only independent states have the right to vote. First of all, with all due respect, I would point out that, when the Prime Minister and the Conservatives made this promise to Quebeckers, they knew that. Second, they could have allowed for a mechanism by which, when the two positions are at odds, Quebec would abstain, which would mean the same result. That is another broken promise. For people in the maritime provinces, there was a broken promise regarding the Atlantic Accords, and for Quebec, it was our seat at UNESCO. Income trusts have been discussed at length in this House. The structure of these income trusts allowed certain legal entities to get out of paying taxes, and we saw more and more businesses convert to income trusts under pressure from their shareholders to pay less tax.
The Bloc Québécois had asked for a moratorium on the conversion to income trusts. It has always said that the conversion of businesses to income trusts for tax purposes was not a good thing. This was its position before, during and after the election campaign. Naturally, when the government decided to tax income trusts to partly close this loophole in Canadian taxation, we thought it was a good idea and we supported it. Nevertheless, that was another promise that the Conservatives did not keep. The Prime Minister had personally promised, in black and white, during the election campaign to never—and not just maybe—never tax income trusts. Consequently, some Quebeckers and Canadians, taken in by the Prime Minister, invested in income trusts believing that they would realize large returns. The value of income trusts continued to climb on the premise of the Prime Minister's good faith. The mistake made by these investors was that they probably believed the Conservatives would keep their promise. They did not. The day the government announced that it would put an end to the special tax treatment for income trusts, they dropped sharply in value, placing many investors in very unfortunate circumstances because they suffered huge losses. And all this because the government, to get elected, made unacceptable and irresponsible promises resulting in this situation.
And that is not all. Many other promises were broken by this government. I would like to speak in more detail about the promise regarding the fiscal imbalance. This has been a long fight for the Bloc Québécois
Here again, the government seems to think that it only has to continue repeating the same thing and the public will end up believing it.
I was amazed to see how the Minister of Finance “corrected the fiscal imbalance” in his latest budget. He just tabled a budget, increased cash transfers to Quebec and the provinces and then got up in the House and said that the fiscal imbalance had been fixed. To him, just saying that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, was enough to convince people. When the Conservatives promised Quebeckers to correct the fiscal imbalance, Quebeckers expected that the solution would be along the lines of the consensus that had formed in Quebec, which had been built around the Séguin commission on the fiscal imbalance. When the concept of fiscal imbalance was put forward, the phrase “fiscal imbalance” was not chosen at random, out of a hat, it was chosen deliberately, because there was an imbalance between the federal government and the provinces and this imbalance was fiscal in nature. Otherwise, it would have been called the budgetary imbalance or the monetary imbalance. But it was called the fiscal imbalance.
When the Conservatives promised Quebeckers to correct the fiscal imbalance, Quebeckers had reason to expect a fiscal solution. Yet this budget contains no tax measures. I asked the finance committee, officials and the minister himself. The minister admitted quite candidly that his budget contained no tax transfers to Quebec or the provinces. At the same time as he is saying that the budget contains no tax transfers, no tax measures to correct the fiscal imbalance, he is telling us that it has been fixed. Something is wrong there.
We voted for the budget because it represented a step forward and transferred significant amounts to Quebec and the provinces. But there is no guarantee that those amounts will still be there in one year, two years or three years. Quebec and the other provinces that receive equalization transfers, for example, are still subject to the whims of the federal government. The equalization formula has just been amended, but it could be amended again in the next budget, whether that budget is brought down by this or another government.
Quebec wanted financial autonomy, it wanted to receive stable, predictable revenues which would grow over time, and over which it would have control, so that it would not be at the mercy of the federal government's choices. It is so true that the fiscal imbalance is not permanently corrected and that Quebec still depends on the federal government, that even the Conservatives' Quebec advertising says—and I want to get this right—that the Leader of the Opposition, if he became prime minister, could take back the money. This is what the Conservatives are saying. Their advertisements in Quebec say that the fiscal imbalance that they claim has been permanently corrected, could return if another government were elected. This is not a correction. It would have been corrected if tax fields had been transferred, GST for example, to the Government of Quebec. It could have had complete and total control over the revenues, which would be predictable over time, and all this with no chance of the federal government backtracking. It could have been the transfer of tax points, as was done in the past, but this was not the case.
A number of promises have been broken by this government, and the government before it. We can objectively say that it is fortunate this is a minority government, because it is breaking just as many promises despite the fact that it is a minority. I cannot imagine what would happen if it was a majority government and could do what it wanted in the House.
We can imagine that the number and importance of the broken promises would increase significantly.
Today's Liberal motion has the advantage of being a reminder to Quebeckers. They must send as many Bloc Québécois members as possible to Ottawa to ensure that their voice is strong. No matter which party is in power, we are crossing our fingers that it is a minority so that it cannot do whatever it wants.
I have made a list of some election promises broken by the government. I would now like to get down to specifics and talk about the Atlantic accords, which the Bloc Québécois does not agree with. On the one hand, these accords violate the equalization principle, which should ensure that all provinces can offer similar services to all their citizens, with a similar tax rate, regardless of how rich the province is. On the other hand, Quebec has already contributed financially to the development of the fossil fuels industry. Now that this development has taken place, we absolutely do not agree with continuing to contribute to it.
For example, from 1970 to 1999, Ottawa gave $66 billion in direct subsidies to the fossil fuels industry, including coal, natural gas and oil—an industry that for all intents and purposes does not exist in Quebec. During the same period, a paltry $329 million was given to the renewable energy sector. Of that money, not a penny went to hydroelectricity. While Quebec was investing in hydroelectricity, Ottawa was supporting the development of polluting energy sources instead.
The oil and gas industry was developed in large part with the taxes paid by Quebeckers, even though this development went against the fundamental interests of Quebec, economically or environmentally speaking, since polluting energy sources, as their name suggests, create more pollution. Some $66 billion has already gone toward this development. In the case of Hibernia, we can talk about $5 billion, roughly a quarter of which came from Quebeckers' taxes. Now that we have paid for this development, now that the companies have become profitable and the development of these non-renewable resources has become lucrative for the provinces, Quebeckers are being asked to keep paying for this development? It seems completely illogical to me to give a bonus to provinces for developing non-renewable energies, but not for renewable energies.
This exclusion of non-renewable resources is completely arbitrary. Why was this choice made when there are hardly any such resources in Quebec and other tax fields could have been excluded? Excluding the aerospace industry, for example, would have benefited Quebec greatly. Excluding renewable energies such as hydroelectricity would also have represented billions of dollars in equalization, but no. Non-renewable resources were chosen and are excluded from the equalization calculation. This seems completely arbitrary and unjustified.
I want to close by dispelling a myth I have heard far too often in this House, that Quebeckers were the main beneficiaries of equalization. It is true that the amount is greater. That said, the population of Quebec is larger and, per capita, Quebeckers receive the least amount of equalization. Just take the amount and divide it by the number of people in Quebec.