Question period in Senate – Oct. 19 2016

Health Care Delivery

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Over the past few weeks, the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister have expressed the will of the Trudeau government to impose its views on the provinces when it comes to health and to interfere in how the provincial health care system is managed.

Yesterday, I listened to Minister Foote talk about the problems encountered by the government during the implementation of the Phoenix pay system, in other words, the government's inability to issue paycheques correctly.

What made the government think it could dispense management advice to the provinces? What does the Trudeau government have to teach the provinces about health care systems?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his interest in the effective delivery of health services. As he is well aware, the Government of Canada is in fact a health provider, larger than a number of provinces, so there is some experience, with some success and some challenges, because health delivery is not without challenges, either at the federal or at the provincial level.

But I think his deeper question is with respect to the state of the discussions taking place federally and provincially with regard to health funding. Those negotiations and discussions are ongoing. The Minister of Health has made clear, as has the Prime Minister, that the growth of health transfers has exceeded the growth of health costs for the last number of years and that in looking at the next round of health transfers, the Government of Canada wishes to bring certain perspectives of health care delivery, priorities and efficiencies so that Canadians can continue to be proud of health care as provided in this country compared to other jurisdictions globally.

Senator Carignan: As you indicated, the Canadian government administers health care services for military personnel and indigenous peoples and is responsible for those services and their attendant challenges.

Can the government explain its performance? In what way does the government's performance in administering health care for indigenous communities and military personnel allow it to advise the provinces on providing health care services?

Senator Harder: Well, I don't think the Government of Canada is seeking to direct provinces with respect to their responsibilities. What it is seeking to do is ensure that the health care priorities of all Canadians are expressed in the context of health transfers to the provinces. These negotiations are under way. They're in a process. Of course, there is always give and take in those negotiations, and that's the process that is under way.

But in the meantime, the Government of Canada has made commitments, both in the health care sector — I referenced several times already the $3 billion for home care. And in respect of delivery of health care in the area that the federal government is responsible for, the Government of Canada has in the course of the last year made a number of commitments with respect to the health care and well-being of the jurisdictions for which it has responsibility and will continue to do so. This is a challenge that is ongoing for any government, including this one.


International Trade

Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Recently, we learned that a region of Belgium, Wallonia, vetoed the free trade agreement that was reached and that now needs to be ratified by Europe and Canada.

The deadline for ratifying this agreement is approaching. Can the Leader of the Government tell us what specific steps the Government of Canada is taking with Wallonia and Belgium in order to ensure that they will agree to ratify this important free trade agreement?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. This is an important issue for all Canadians, and I take the spirit of the question as being broadly supportive of seeking an agreement on the CETA.

The Government of Canada is actively working with our European Union colleagues to try to overcome the challenge, the bump on the road that this represents, and I, along with all senators, hope that this can be resolved in the coming days. I'm not party to the particular gives and takes of the discussions today and in the next few days, but I am hopeful and I know that the Government of Canada will do everything possible to ensure the resolution of this important agreement

Senator Carignan: Canadian representatives must be doing something. Will the Leader of the Government commit to provide us with a written answer on what specific steps the Canadian government is taking on this file?

Senator Harder: I will undertake to seek a written response. I do want to caution that it is probably wise to let the negotiations unfold in a hopefully positive and discrete fashion so that all sides can reach an accommodation that allows us to move forward.

Families, Children and Social Development

Support for First Home Buyers

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Getting a job is important to young people, but so is buying a home. Over the past few days, we have learned that the rules for buying a home have changed for people who are making a down payment of less than 20 per cent.

A new stress test has been established under which the interest rate must be 4.64 per cent. This morning, we learned that this stress test will also be applied to people who are making a down payment of over 20 per cent. I understand that these measures are necessary to cool the housing market, which is currently overheated, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto. However, in other regions of Canada, such as Quebec, the market is far from overheated and real estate prices are almost dropping. Regardless, the government is preventing young people from buying their first home or at least making it very difficult for them.

What compensation measures does the government intend to implement to help young people buy their first home and what will the government do to ensure that the measures taken to address the overheated housing market in Vancouver and Toronto do not in turn deflate the housing market in Quebec?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): The honourable senator is quite correct in pointing to the desire of the Government of Canada to respond to the particular surge in market prices on the basis of expert advice from CMHC and other financial actors.

The stress test has made recommendations with respect to how the government can moderate pressures that are being experienced.

With regard to the consequence of this in other jurisdictions, I would be happy to —

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Harder, you're relieved of your answer. Question Period is over.

Senator Carignan: But he could answer.

Senator Harder: Notwithstanding that, I will provide the information.

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