The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I will begin my speech by simply saying thank goodness. This is this government's last budget bill because there are only 158 days before this government is replaced by a government that is competent when it comes to finance and the economy, and particularly when it comes to respecting Parliament and parliamentary institutions.
I was here during the debate on the time allocation motion, which just wrapped up. It was unbelievable. We could feel the contempt rolling in waves off the members, particularly the . I had the pleasure of working with his predecessor, Mr. Flaherty. Although I respect the current minister as a person, as finance minister, he cannot hold a candle to Mr. Flaherty, who was at least diligent and passionate about what he was doing, even though we may have disagreed with the direction the government was taking. The current finance minister is simply taking orders from the Prime Minister's Office and saying what they tell him to say, while completely disregarding parliamentary tradition.
Once again, we are talking about an omnibus bill. This bill does indeed deal with measures that were debated in the budget, but it also includes all kinds of other measures that have absolutely nothing to do with the budget we were given. These measures should be given serious study by the appropriate committees because of their ramifications and consequences.
Once again, we are in a situation where most members of the House, who represent the 100,000 or so people in their ridings, will be unable to even speak to this bill. Speeding up the passage of bills the way the government does, especially for something as important as a budget bill, is not necessarily a good thing for it to do. In addition to trying to pass bills quickly, they try to prevent people from getting the extra research time they need to uncover flaws in these bills and gaps that undermine the credibility and efficiency of government initiatives. We have seen that in the past, and we will see it again this time with this budget bill.
As I mentioned in the past, when I had the opportunity to debate other budget bills, this government seems to have a certain number of criteria that is uses when drafting and introducing its budget bills. It has eight main criteria. One of them is obviously the size of the bills. In this case, we are dealing with a bill that is over 150 pages long. In fact, the French version is 167 pages.
The government believes that a budget bill must amend a minimum of about 10 laws. When I say amend, I mean create, amend or eliminate about 10 laws. In this case, the budget bill contains 20 divisions that amend about 20 different laws. Why does the government not introduce 20 separate bills to pass new laws or amend existing legislation? It is because the government simply wants to include them all in an omnibus bill to expedite the process. That shows the government's contempt for this Parliament.
Another criterion that the government uses is that the budget bill must address many issues that have nothing to do with tax or fiscal policy. This bill contains amendments to the National Energy Board Act, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Industrial Design Act. Those laws have nothing to do with the budget that was presented.
Another criterion that the government always seems to use is that the budget bill must create new laws. Once again, this bill creates two new laws: the federal balanced budget act and the prevention of terrorist travel act. These two new pieces of legislation will be created and discussed at the same time as the many other measures set out in this budget bill.
Another criterion that the government always seems to use is that its budget bills must always contain provisions that concentrate power in the hands of various ministers. Again this time, we see that this bill gives discretionary powers to the President of the Treasury Board, among others, despite the Public Service Labour Relations Act.
The final three criteria that the government feels it must meet in this budget bill, as with past bills, relate to the presence of at least one legislative amendment to restrict the rights of workers and immigrants, and finally, one measure that deals with law and order. Those elements can be found once again in this budget bill, so the pattern is repeated here, and we have yet another mammoth omnibus bill.
The government is imposing time allocation. It is imposing conditions on the committee regarding its study of the proposed initiatives and measures. In the House, it is imposing constraints on independent members, who should be given the opportunity to have their say at report stage, especially since they are not members of the committee. With no regard whatsoever for parliamentary traditions or respect for democratic parliamentary practices, this government is quite happy to simply steamroll over everything, as though the House were merely an annoying obstacle to overcome in order to achieve its ends.
I know that the was uncomfortable talking about time allocation. He kept returning to the subject of the debate, when we were discussing a motion regarding yet another gag order imposed by the Conservative government. He only wanted to talk about the budget. I will now talk about the measures and initiatives in the budget.
Although the government likes to brag about balancing the budget, I would remind the House that it was this very government that put us in a deficit situation in 2007-08, before the recession even began. In fact, if the balanced budget legislation had been passed or even proposed by this Conservative government when it was first elected nearly 10 years ago in 2006, this government would have already been in violation of its own law, even before the recession.
In fact, aside from the time when the government used up the entire existing surplus shortly after coming to power, this is the first time the budget has been balanced since 1912. Obviously, this government is boasting about the fact that, unlike the previous Liberal governments, it did not off-load the deficit to the provinces. The government is not wrong, because that is what the Liberals did to balance the budget in the 1990s. However, what it is not saying is that balancing the budget would have been impossible for this government if it had not dramatically reduced the contingency fund. It would have been impossible if the government had not, yet again, dipped into the EI surplus. It would have been impossible if it had not sold, at a loss, its GM shares. It took these three measures for the government to be able to boast about balancing the budget before the election.
That is not the mark of a competent government. That is not the mark of a government that shows competent economic leadership. That is the mark of an ultra-partisan government that is trying to score points at the expense of good management and sound financial administration.
Let us get back to the balanced budget act, because it is the first division of the part that deals with other measures. If we want to talk about a balanced budget act, I have no trouble doing so, but we should have talked about it separately. The Conservatives are being underhanded and at the end of their mandate are feeling the political heat because they know that their chances of forming the government in October 2015 are very slim. They just want to say that they are being responsible and they are going to limit subsequent governments' room to manoeuvre when it comes to managing the economy and public finances.
The Standing Committee on Finance heard from a number of witnesses who talked about the legislation and how it is applied in the rest of the country and where it has been implemented around the world. This kind of legislation often has perverse and negative effects that will not necessarily be found in this bill because there are so many loopholes that we can just assume that it is a symbolic gesture by a government that wants to look good.
As for the effectiveness of such legislation, the NDP has not yet had the opportunity to govern at the federal level, but we can look at what the provinces have done.
Since the early 1980s, the NDP has had the best record on balanced budgets among all the parties that have governed, at both the federal and provincial levels. In provinces that have had a New Democrat government, balanced budget legislation was not needed for the government to properly manage the provinces' finances. This tradition started with the first New Democrat government, in Saskatchewan, under Tommy Douglas, who managed to balance 17 consecutive budgets. Seventeen. He still found a way to bring in Canada's first public health care system. There is a way to provide quality services that the public can be proud of and still balance the budget.
That is not what we have seen from this government. Far from it. For 10 years now it has been mismanaging this country. Once again, I am mentioning the fact that it ran a deficit when Canada was not even in a recession. Now, 10 years later, the government is trying to make itself out to be a good manager. On the contrary, over the past 10 years this government has undermined Canada's potential to develop its own economy in a way that would benefit the entire population. The government could have supported the manufacturing sector and could have supported our exports, but it did not. The Conservatives can count themselves lucky that we can stack up against other countries whose job creation and economic records were often poorer than ours, as a result of the circumstances. This was not due to the Conservatives' good work, but rather to the situation being worse off in other countries, not necessarily because of their policies, but often because of their geographical context.
Obviously, I object to the government's desire to include measures that do not belong in a budget bill. One can argue that a balanced budget act is part of that. Obviously we are talking about public finances. However, there are other elements. For example, division 2 of part 3 is about other measures and enacts the prevention of terrorist travel act. We just had a long debate in the House and in committee on Bill , which is about combatting terrorism. Putting a division about terrorist travel in a budget bill gives the impression that the government realized it forgot that. It looks like the government wanted to introduce Bill so quickly and it was so important to do things really fast that it forgot that aspect and had to sneak it in through the budget bill by saying that that aspect was there and could be debated anyway.
Again, contrary to what most Conservative Party backbenchers might think, our role in the House is not simply to approve the government's initiatives. It is our duty to thoroughly study proposed legislation. The role of the official opposition, and the opposition in general, is not just to oppose what the government does. There are some things we can even throw our support behind. Beyond this opposition role, it is also our role to make proposals and conduct reviews. Our fundamental role is to point out any flaws in the government's legislation so that the appropriate corrections can be made. This government is denying the fundamental role of the traditional structure and operation of the House of Commons. The government is so partisan and obtuse in its desire to leave its Conservative mark on this country that it does not seem to care one bit about the effectiveness or constitutionality of its bills.
We have here another example with division 2 of part 3 of the budget bill on the prevention of terrorist travel act. Why make changes to the Industrial Design Act, the Patent Act and the Trade-marks Act under the radar yet again? The last budget bill made the same types of changes to these laws. Is this a patch job? The government finds flaws and gaps and then quickly tries to fix them behind closed doors so that once again it does not appear to be too incompetent. That approach certainly gives that impression.
Another important initiative found in this section is the extension of copyright terms for sound recordings. This significant extension should be debated separately, either in the House or in committee.
Due to the new structure that the Conservative government has imposed, we can no longer even have an adequate debate in committee, because when we send a bill like this one to a committee—I imagine it would be the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in this case—only a two-hour meeting is scheduled. The minister speaks for about half an hour and then answers questions for an hour or an hour and a half.
The minister usually speaks for 15 to 30 minutes and answers questions for 15 to 30 minutes. Then there is time remaining to hear from perhaps four witnesses to talk about a fundamental amendment. Then the bill is usually submitted without amendment.
I had the opportunity to sit on the Standing Committee on Finance for the study of five budget bills. We studied over 2,500 pages and only one amendment was adopted by the government, which had a majority on these committees. Furthermore, it required a Conservative sub-amendment. A careful and rigorous examination of the measures proposed by the government simply does not happen, because this government systematically rejects criticism, even when it is constructive. It refuses to examine opportunities to improve the provisions it puts forward. That concludes my remarks on the proposals of the third division, even though I could have talked about them for a long time. Other members—although sadly not many—will have the opportunity to talk about this some more.
I would like to come back to some of the initiatives that will certainly be of interest to many members here. I am talking about the income splitting initiative proposed by the government. Income splitting will benefit only 15% of the population. By raising the contribution limit for TFSAs, the government is trying to confuse Canadians with all sorts of statistics that have nothing to do with reality. The reality is that raising the contribution limit for TFSAs from $5,500 to $10,000 will help only those who contribute the maximum amount.
Right now, only 17% or 18% of people with a TFSA contribute the maximum amount. They are the ones who will benefit from the increased contribution limit. Basically, raising the contribution limit for TFSAs will merely allow people to move their savings from one place to another, since TFSAs are not currently helping people to save money.
The government claims that the increased contribution limit will help two-thirds of those who contribute the maximum amount and who earn $60,000 or less. That gives the impression that two-thirds of Canadians contribute the maximum amount and that these people are all earning $60,000 or less. That is not true. It is two-thirds of the 17% or 18% of people who contribute the maximum amount who will benefit from this measure. That means that only a very small fraction of Canadians will benefit from this measure, which will be used more and more as a tax shelter when it was supposed to help people save money.
The members on this side of the House proposed several initiatives. The government adopted some of them and now it is boasting about them. Meanwhile, when we moved a motion in the House to lower the corporate or small business tax rate from 11% to 9%, the Conservatives and the Liberals voted against it.
We also moved a motion to extend the accelerated capital cost allowance for investment in machinery. The Conservatives and Liberals voted against that motion, but now that measure is included in the budget.
The government might want to start doing some soul searching, because the election is fast approaching; it is 158 days away. The day after the election, when they find themselves on this side of the House, perhaps the Conservatives will understand the completely disastrous consequences of their actions, their behaviour and their attitude over the past several years, especially the past four years, toward democracy, the parliamentary system and the traditions that have made this House a place to work for the common good and all Canadians.
The Conservatives refuse to hear this message. We will put it into practice after October 2015.
Mr. Speaker, I think the official opposition and the third party agree that income splitting is not a good measure. We also oppose the increase in the contribution limit for TFSAs. Our positions are consistent, and we oppose what the government is proposing.
I looked at the measure the member for mentioned and found a number of glaring weaknesses.
The first weakness has to do with the 7% tax cut. In fact, it is not really a cut, because it leads to the same problem that plagued former premier Jim Prentice. When he talked about the Alberta NDP's proposal to raise corporate taxes by 20%, he gave the impression that the NDP wanted to raise taxes by 20 percentage points, but that was not the case. Ms. Notley, the new premier, emphasized that she was simply raising taxes from 10% to 12%, which is an increase of only 2%.
In this case, it is not really a 7% tax cut, but rather a decrease from 22% to 20.5%, or a real cut of 1.5%.
However, this measure would not benefit two-thirds of taxpayers, since it would apply only to those who earn over $44,800. Those who earn less than that, which is two-thirds of Canadians, will not benefit at all from that tax cut.
The Liberals should not be making it sound as though this measure would benefit only people earning between $44,700 and $89,000. It would benefit everyone who has an income between $45,000 and $215,000.
At the end of the day, the measure proposed by the Liberal Party would take a little money, by increasing taxes for the top 1% of earners, and redistribute it among the top 15%—or thereabouts—of earners.
I think that the Liberals' proposal shows a real lack of consideration for the public and the middle class, whose average yearly individual income is under $44,000.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for , if I that is agreeable.
Mr. Speaker, there is one initiative that stands above all others in this budget bill, because it would allow millions of Canadians, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to work hard and plan ahead to become more self-reliant, and even wealthy, over time. This is the bright future Conservatives want for all Canadians, especially our children and grandchildren. Ordinary people would have the independence that is available only to wealthy people now. That initiative is the tax-free savings account limit being increased to $10,000 a year.
Tax-free savings accounts are the most powerful savings vehicle in Canadian history. They will allow hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people to actually become millionaires.
Here are 10 reasons the Conservative government, in this bill, has the only plan for Canadians to conserve their earnings, build personal wealth, and be financially independent in their senior years: tax-free savings accounts.
Number one, they help our youth understand the importance of saving. What is the most important gift for financial success and security we could give our children and grandchildren? It is teaching them to be self-reliant and to work and save for their future using the power of compound interest. It is teaching them to not spend what they do not have, to not get buried in charge card debt and interest, to pay their bills on time, and to save for life's priorities, like education, a home, and their retirement.
The ratio of debt to net income is 1.6 for the average family in Canada right now. It is the highest ever. However, it gets worse. What happens when the interest rates go up, as they will? Hundreds of thousands of families will be trapped in monthly credit card payments at an 18% interest rate, or higher, that they will struggle to pay down.
By promoting saving as part of our culture, instead of credit card debt, we can help spare millions of young people from this interest rate trap that never ends.
Eleven million Canadians have opened their own tax-free savings accounts so far and agree with us. Every Canadian over 18 should try to save in a tax-free savings account. They should not be misled by the subterfuge of the Liberals, who are telling Canadians that tax-free savings accounts only help the rich. That is absolutely not true. It is never okay to mislead Canadians like this. It is shameful.
Here is the truth about tax-free savings accounts. Sixty per cent of those Canadians who have invested the maximum in tax-free savings accounts to date earn less than $60,000 a year. By whose standards are these people rich? No one's.
More than half of the Canadians who have opened tax-free savings accounts and have saved in them earn $40,000 a year or less. That is 5.5 million people. Are they rich? Certainly not.
The Liberals are setting us all up by saying that they will only increase taxes for the rich. What do they mean by that? Who is that? It is everyone who earns over $40,000, which is the vast majority of Canadians. They want to get their hands on that $6,600 our government has cut from the average Canadian family's tax bill.
The federal Liberal leader has already announced, on May 4, the Liberal plan to cancel our increase for tax-free savings accounts to $10,000 a year. That is a tax increase of the most foolish kind.
Number two, tax-free savings accounts are the great equalizer. Canadians who do not earn over $100,000 a year have only one way to become financially independent: save, invest, and watch their money grow. That is what tax-free savings accounts facilitate.
With tax-free savings accounts, ordinary Canadians who work and save can become wealthy. For example, a skilled tradeswoman electrician who took full advantage of her tax-free savings account limit from age 20, with a modest 4% return on stocks, could receive her first million dollars tax free by age 61. That is 13 years sooner than it would be without a tax-free savings account.
Tax-free savings accounts also grow our economy. When people open tax-free savings accounts with Canadian securities, their money goes to invest in Canadian enterprises that create jobs here in Canada. Businesses expand. Economic activity is boosted. That growth, over decades, could easily replace any lost government tax revenues from tax-free savings accounts.
Here is the problem. The Liberals and the NDP believe, and they want all Canadians to believe, that money not in government hands is not benefiting Canada. This is a Marxist hangover. It is nonsense.
Here is the truth. Money invested by Canadians is money that is loaned out to industry and job creators to help build Canada. Entrepreneurs are our most important creators.
This is reason number four: they support innovation and job creation. With tax-free savings accounts, entrepreneurs can tap into their accumulated tax-free savings to create new industry and replenish their accounts later as their businesses grow.
The fifth reason is that tax-free savings accounts are fair because the government should not tax all people's money twice. It saddens me to see our seniors, the people who built Canada, trying to live on interest on their savings that gets eaten up by inflation and then taxed. They are just falling further behind. With tax-free savings accounts, the federal government is forgoing the double taxation that prevents Canadians from growing their most important lifetime savings, leaving them one little pile of their own money to grow without interference. Canadians deserve that.
The sixth reason is that tax-free savings accounts shine a light on how ordinary Canadians have been robbed of their right to affluence and self-reliance. Big-spending governments, like both opposition parties would create, are addicted to spending and borrowing. Just look at Ontario right now. The Liberals and New Democrats believe that all money belongs to the government and Canadians just get to use it for awhile and governments can tax it back any time they want, any way they want, whenever they want. The Conservatives believe that money earned after tax belongs to the people who earn it. They should have at least one special account that the government has no right to touch, or even its growth, ever again.
The seventh reason is that tax-free savings accounts help ensure better health care for Canadians. Canadians who want to be able to afford choice in their own health care in their senior years should be saving as much as they need in tax-free savings accounts. The most hysterical socialists at the Broadbent Institute are playing the fear card, claiming that health care is threatened if the doubling of tax-free savings accounts is approved. They have no shame. The exact opposite is the truth.
The fact is that governments only cover 60% of our total health care costs. Canadians pay the rest, if they can afford to, such as dental care, chiropractic care, naturopathic care, homeopathic care, long-term care, blood tests, vitamins. We pay more for drugs than we do for doctors. We pay for long-term care. Let us face it, the nanny state is a failure.
People can save in the TFSA and be self-reliant so they are not left without the money they need to pay for these things. By saving $7,000 a year from age 25, at a modest 5% rate of growth, a 65 year old would have $887,000 to handle any such bills. No government could ever do that for them. If that same person saved $10,000 a year and got a 5% rate of return, he or she would have over $1.2 million. This drives the socialists crazy. They cannot stand that ordinary people could be that independent. Who would need the nanny state? That is why the socialists hate TFSAs and would get rid of them if elected.
The eighth reason is that TFSAs reduce the underground economy. TFSAs are registered savings plans. The government knows about them. They will help bring our considerable underground economy above ground by making it more attractive to invest in Canadian companies because the growth is tax free. The government will get more tax income from the companies that grow out of the investments and from their employees.
The ninth reason is that tax-free savings accounts support the flexibility of future governments to act. The Broadbent Institute claims that by 2080 the government will be short $15 billion that it otherwise would have had. That completely ignores the fact that some of those billions of dollars would have remained in the underground economy. It also ignores the multiplier effect of those dollars invested back in the economy and the fact that our economy, by that time, would be as large as $15 trillion. Therefore, $15 billion would be about .001% of such an economy. This is simple math. If governments are ever low on money, they can always raise taxes, reduce spending or borrow if need be. Tax-free savings accounts do not hinder any of that.
The tenth reason is that tax-free savings accounts at $10,000 a year are the absolute best deal Canadian taxpayers have ever been offered. They will motivate Canadians to work, to be entrepreneurs and employ others, to save and to be self-reliant. We can build a much greater nation with millions of citizens like that, and that is what we would do with this budget bill.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from the riding of for sharing his time with me today. I am very honoured to stand to speak to Bill .
I have made an attempt to speak to all of the budget bills that have come before us, whether at the time the policy is introduced or during the implementation bills. There are normally two. One is in the spring, after the budget has been presented in the House, to implement what is in the budget, and other measures. There is also, normally, an implementation bill in the fall, which I know will not happen this year because we will be out on the hustings, asking people to support us.
It is my pleasure to be here, particularly this year. Over the last number of years, I have been advocating with our finance minister and finance officials for changes to the RRIFs in terms of the minimum withdrawal. I did not come up with that on my own. I want to thank the over 40 individuals who came to my office over the last year or so to talk about the issue of the level of required withdrawals they had to make from their RRIFs. This is not an organized lobby. They are individuals and their families affected by the existing rules.
I also want to thank the member for , who heard the same thing. We were very active with our colleagues on this side of the House on this issue, encouraging them to speak to the finance minister and financial officials about the possibility of looking at the withdrawal rate on RRIFs.
I was very excited to see that in this budget we have actually moved on it. Under the current system, the minimum withdrawal is 7.38%, and that will go down to 5.28%. Why is that important? Why did those 40 people come to see me, and what does it mean to them?
We have a couple of programs for retirement savings. We have the RRSP and RPP to encourage individuals to save for their retirement. Part of that encouragement is to give them tax relief for the amount of money they put away for their retirement.
A few years ago, the program required people to move that money from an RRSP, or the other savings program, into a registered retirement income fund. I believe the age for that was 68 or 69, but we moved it to 71, knowing that people had some more time and did not need the money that early. The fact is that people are living much longer than when this program was introduced decades ago. People need their retirement money to last longer. They need to be able to stretch it out to meet the needs they will have if they make into their 90s. Many of my constituents are making it into their 90s.
In my riding alone, the senior cohort is not only growing, it is actually the majority. That is over 55; it is not everyone over 71, However, that cohort is growing and moving forward and we need to be there now, making the changes now, so they can take advantage of it.
There is an excellent chart in the budget, which I would like to read into the record. Regarding the changes that we would make to RRIFs, or registered retirement income funds, let us look at the difference that it would make to an individual. Let us make the assumption, as the budget does, that it is $100,000. An 2% inflation rate is built into that, and the return on investment in their income fund is at 5%. Some will do better, some will do a little worse, but this is our chart.
At age 71, one would have $100,000. At age 80, under the existing rules, one would have $64,000 left, but under the new rules of this budget implementation legislation, it would be $77,000, a difference of 20%. This is a significant difference that those individuals could hold on to for the retirement funds that they need for basic living. Under the current rules, at age 85, it would be $47,000, which would go to $62,000. Many of my constituents are living into their nineties these days. At age 90, under the current rules, it would be $30,000. Under the new rules, it would be $44,000, and so on and so forth. It caps at $20,000 at 94 years of age.
This is important because people are getting older in all ridings in the country, not just mine. We expect individuals to save for their retirement. The other option is to look to governments to support everything, but it cannot afford it. The government will not have the tax base to support the growing bubble of retirees who are coming with the baby boom. We have tools for saving, whether that be the tax-free savings account, as previously mentioned, or the registered retirement savings plan, which encourage people to save for their retirement so they will have less reliance on government to support them.
However, what was happening in my riding, because of the minimum, at 7.38%; because of good planning, good strategy and my constituents working hard, understanding their future and saving money; they were being required to take money out, reducing the cash flow that they would need in the years to come.
In the past, we would think that someone 71 years old would have another decade and a half left here. However, people are living longer. Last year I lost a grandmother at 97 years old. I have a grandmother still with me who is 97 years old. I have had two grandfathers aged 89. I have known four great-grandparents. People are living longer, but I will let members know that it does not mean that I will be in this seat for another 40 years.
Some hon. members: That is not true.
Mr. Mike Wallace: Mr. Speaker, I know that members hoped I would get re-elected for another 40 years, but I do not think that is going to happen.
I appreciate the fact that this government, through this budget bill, has recognized the importance of retirement savings and that it is our constituents' money. They have not paid taxes on it, because they use the system we put in place as a government to encourage people to save for their future. However, we now have recognized that they will need that money for a longer period of time.
Let us be honest, the government of the day will get its taxes. The plan for RRSPs is that when earnings are higher, money is put away and one would receive a reduction on taxes at that time, but when one takes that money out, one would pay taxes on it then. We would expect to be earning less when we take the money out and therefore the tax rate should be slightly less. However, what was happening in Burlington, and I believe across the country as we heard from the MP from West Vancouver, because the marketplace was not performing as well in terms of the stock market, people were taking their money out of RRIFs and actually losing money. they were unable to get the return on that money that they could have if they had left it there. They lost money in their income funds, and then we were forcing them to take that money out, which became a double-edged sword. We have recognized that and have made some significant changes to the registered retirement income fund, which is great for savings for seniors across this country.
Therefore, I am very proud to be supporting Bill and we look forward to having the bill passed and in place for this fiscal year.
Mr. Speaker, first, and it really is a first, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for . This is not the first time I have shared my time, but it is the first time I have remembered to mention it. I therefore have the honour of sharing my time with this excellent member.
I quite liked the speech by the hon. member who spoke before me. He is also the chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I felt like telling him that it is not that we always want to spend more money. We want to spend Canadians' money on Canadians, whereas the Conservatives do not mind if that money is spent on a corporation.
It is all a question of nuance, and that is the big problem with Bill .
In the House, we are facing a time allocation motion—the 96th—which prevents members from across the country from speaking to such an important issue as the budget implementation bill. This bill is over 180 pages long and affects many laws. I especially want to talk in the House about other measures contained in controversial Bill .
Since I do not believe that we will have the time to debate the bill at length, I will talk about three divisions that are of particular interest to me. I am referring to division 10, which concerns the parliamentary protective service, division 18 on the abolition of the long gun registry, and division 20, which deals with sick leave and disability programs. I will start with the last one I mentioned, namely, the division on sick leave and disability programs.
Since this bill was introduced, and even before that—the budget gave us a taste of what was to come—we have had the clear and distinct impression that the Government of Canada was set on what it was going to do, even though, over the years, it had made a commitment to its employees across the country who serve Canadians. I am a labour lawyer. We know how negotiations work. You give and you take. That is what negotiating is. In the end, you come to an agreement. Each party compromises in order to reach an agreement or a collective agreement. That is what happened in negotiations in previous years.
Now, with the stroke of a pen, the Conservatives have decided to take back what they had given to people, who for their part had also given up something in return. Thus, the government won concessions on some things over the years by giving these much talked-about sick benefits and a certain disability plan, that it is now taking back. That is not very democratic.
In my humble opinion, this could definitely be challenged in court and it is certainly not a way to treat those who are working here among the lawmakers in Parliament and delivering services to all Canadians. Make no mistake: this is a blatant lack of respect. When I hear the minister and the saying that over 200 negotiation meetings have already been held, I think to myself that the Conservatives are very good at throwing all sorts of figures around, whenever and however they want, because they lump in pretty much anything and everything. They certainly did not hold intelligent and productive negotiations in good faith on this issue.
What is worse, this is like me saying to someone that I am going to negotiate with him, but then I just go ahead and do whatever I want, even if he does not in any way support my decision. That basically means that there will be no negotiation. That is what this provision of division 20 of Bill boils down to.
I can say that the NDP is strongly opposed to that way of doing things. If the Conservative government believes that the government negotiators were not able to negotiate the right things over the years, then it needs to do something about that. That is the government's decision. However, it should not take away from people the things that belong to them, and it should not be spreading false information. For example, it should not be saying that all federal government employees abuse the system and their sick leave. I think that is insulting to dedicated employees who work tirelessly to serve the public.
If the government wants to defend an argument, there are many ways of doing so other than spouting such nonsense. The employees who work for us should at least have our respect. This is certainly not a very respectful way of doing things. To all those who have written me to ask what our position is, I can tell them that the NDP's position is clear: the NDP does not support the government's position on this at all. We are going to vote against this measure and we are certainly going to clean up the mess. Heaven knows that there will be plenty of cleanup to do after the October 19 election.
I will now move on to the issue with division 18, which I find most worrisome. When we were debating the time allocation motion, the answered a question regarding the division on ending the long gun registry. His response concerned me. Let us not kid ourselves. All of the members will hear about the letter from the Privacy Commissioner, Ms. Legault, who wrote to the Speaker of the House. She informed him of some facts that I find extremely worrisome. In short, she said that illegal acts were allegedly committed and documents were apparently destroyed, even though they should not have been destroyed and their destruction was not legal in any way. She even informed the Attorney General of Canada that the RCMP had committed this offence. Our RCMP. I get worried when these allegations come from an officer of Parliament as important as the Privacy Commissioner. Once again, we see a pattern. Just a few sentences in a budget implementation bill and the RCMP is absolved of everything it did illegally without legal authorization. That is absolutely despicable. This government claims to be a law and order government, but only when it sees fit. That is extremely worrisome.
The gave a big, beautiful, super-intelligent response, saying that this was a promise the government had made in the 2011 election campaign. I listened carefully, because even though I do not necessarily share the government's views on the long gun registry, I can still admit that the Conservatives did promise to put an end to the long gun registry. I congratulate them for following through on their promise. I do not agree, but they did make that promise. However, in their election campaign they never talked about destroying data, nor did they talk about absolving those who may have been involved in the obstruction of justice or committed other offences. They certainly never talked about that.
I invite my colleagues, who have to deal with this issue with very little time, to pay particular attention to that. That is the problem with the government's approach, when it goes ahead with an omnibus bill that changes everything under the sun, even things that do not necessarily have anything to do with its main objective. I do not have high hopes in that regard.
As a final point, I would like to say a few words about division 10, which has to do with the parliamentary protective service. I encourage my colleagues to read that section. It reiterates the importance of our role as parliamentarians and outlines how that protection will be carried out. The RCMP is going to take over this task, under the authority of the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. The bill reiterates the principle that the work of parliamentarians must never be obstructed. Once again, I feel as though I am reading one thing, but living another.
My colleague from argued this point in the question of privilege he raised, which was recognized by the Chair but reversed by the government. I heard my colleague from say that it was perhaps the last time we would have a chance to speak in the House on a budget bill. The Conservatives managed to balance the budget on the backs of just about everyone. This government has been the most undemocratic government I have seen in my life, throughout all the years that I spent following politics, as both a politician and a regular citizen.
I hope I got everyone's attention so that they will go read these three divisions. Public servants need not worry. The NDP understands them, appreciates their work, and will be there to repair the damage.
Mr. Speaker, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The latest budget implementation bill is, not surprisingly, another omnibus bill. This one is 150 pages long and amends dozens of acts, most of which have nothing to do with the budget. Unfortunately, that should come as no surprise. The Conservatives have gotten into this habit and have tried to make it the norm for Parliament. They have gotten us used to disdain—even outright disgust—for the basic principles of parliamentary democracy. Frankly, this is one of the biggest disappointments of my first mandate.
Since being elected as a majority government, the Conservatives have done everything in their power to sidestep their transparency and accountability obligations. They are the government, but they seem to have forgotten that the MPs, including Conservative backbenchers and opposition MPs, are responsible for overseeing and studying bills. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have repeatedly used omnibus bills as a tactic to avoid the oversight that is meant to be carried out by all of the other parliamentarians in the House as well as all Canadians.
With this clearly undemocratic process, the Conservatives are trying to rush through hundreds of legislative amendments that have nothing to do with the budget, without any study. In the case of the most recent budget, which was tabled on April 21, 2015, on one of the rare work days of our current , the Conservatives saw an opportunity to launch their election campaign. For the Conservatives, it was not an opportunity to help people who really need help and middle-class Canadian families. It was an opportunity to give presents to their wealthy friends instead of helping those most in need.
Despite the warnings of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, many opposition MPs and various experts, the Conservatives are moving forward with their ill-advised income splitting regime, which will obviously help just 15% of the richest Canadian families and not those who really need help. The income splitting together with the increase in the TFSA contribution limit, which will rise to $10,000, will mean a decrease of billions of dollars in the public coffers in future years.
That money could be used to implement social programs to help families; people living in poverty; single mothers, who the Conservatives claim to want to help; more traditional couples; and so on. However, the government prefers to work on getting re-elected. According to this government, it is not the problem of today's elected officials. Rather, it is the problem of the 's granddaughter and future generations. Quite frankly, that is one of the worst things I have heard in the House or anywhere else.
In any case, that is what the current and this Conservative government think. They are washing their hands of it and will leave it up to our children, grandchildren and future generations to fix all the problems they are creating now. Frankly, that is an irresponsible attitude that I do not understand, especially from people who boast about being extraordinarily strong fiscal managers. Time and time again we have seen that this is not the case.
The Conservatives would have us believe that this is their reputation, but Canadians can see right through it. They know very well that this is not the case. In fact, more and more recent studies name provincial New Democrat governments as the best managers of public funds. In 2015 we will have the opportunity to show Canadians that we will also be the best federal managers of public funds.
To get back to the budget that was just tabled, even the measures that appear to be universal will have very few positive effects on Canadian families. The universal child care benefit is the best example of that. The Conservatives announced a $60 increase with much fanfare. Canadian families will now receive $160 to help them with child care costs. At first glance that may seem like a lot, but with the Conservatives, the devil is in the details and you have to dig a little deeper.
The first thing the Conservatives refuse to tell Canadian families is that this universal child care benefit will be considered taxable income. It is therefore another tax that the Conservative government is imposing on Canadians, regardless of their income.
That tax will be imposed on families regardless of their income. The advice that financial experts are giving Canadian families is to not spend that money on child care but to keep at least half of it to cover any unpleasant surprises they may get when they file their income tax return next year. How does the government think it is really going to help families when they have to put some of the money it gives them aside to cover the cost of this new tax? Frankly, that is ridiculous.
The Conservatives do not seem to understand that $160 per month does not even come close to covering child care costs across the country. I would like to quote a few statistics from 2012 that I obtained from the Childcare Resource and Research Unit. Unfortunately, things have not improved since then. In Nova Scotia, parents who manage to find a day care space for their child—because not all of them can—pay an average of $825 a month. In British Columbia, parents pay an average of $1,047 a month, and in Ontario they pay $1,152 a month. In Toronto, more specifically, child care costs can be up to $1,676 a month. I do not know who the Conservatives think they are going to help with $160 a month. That amount is absolutely ridiculous when we look at the actual financial constraints faced by families who simply want to earn a living and make sure that their children are receiving the best care possible. I really do not know where the government's head is at, offering families such a ridiculously low amount, especially given that they have to save part of it to pay their taxes the following year.
Ms. Ève Péclet: In the sand.
Ms. Élaine Michaud: Mr. Speaker, indeed, as my colleague from pointed out, the Conservatives probably have their heads in the sand.
I would like to talk about another deplorable effect that the budget will have. Actually, in this case it is more of a failure to have an effect. Increasing the universal child care benefit will not create new day care spaces. For parents who have already been lucky enough to secure a spot for their child in a day care centre or in private child care, that is not a problem. They may get a minimal amount of assistance. However, the Conservatives' plan does not address the difficult situation of all the other parents who have nowhere to take their child when they go to work. The NDP has proposed a plan that the Conservatives continue to ignore, for some unknown reason. Contrary to the Conservative propaganda, the NDP does not want to eliminate this benefit. We obviously want parents to have access to what little money they can get. In addition, the NDP has a plan to create $15-a-day child care spaces. Thus, we are offering real choice to parents. In addition to receiving the universal child care benefit, they will have access to affordable day care.
This program already exists in Quebec. The NDP program could bolster the existing program with federal moneys. The results of this program have been extraordinary. I will quote Ann Decter, the spokesperson for the YWCA:
|| Between 1996, when low-cost child care was introduced in Quebec, and 2008, a total of 69,700 additional mothers joined the workforce;...the number of single mothers on social assistance was reduced by more than half...; relative poverty rates for single parent families headed by women declined from 36% to 22%...; and the GDP rose $5.1 billion...
These are real, tangible effects that will benefit everyone in Canada, not just families. That is the kind of measure we want to see in the budget. We are nonetheless pleased that the Conservatives have finally seen the light after many years and have decided to establish a tax credit for small and medium-sized businesses. That is an NDP idea. They have finally seen the light. We also support the tax credit for home renovation, another of our wishes, along with the measures to assist veterans included in the budget implementation bill. I do not understand why they are there; it is a subject that deserves a proper debate in the House, but we do support these measures, no matter what.
However, because the Conservatives have decided to play political games and include these measures in an omnibus bill, we cannot support it. We must oppose it. It is clearly undemocratic and it does not help the vast majority of Canadian families.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be here today to speak to the 2015 budget. I have been a member of Parliament now for 22 years, and I have spoken to a lot of budgets, first from the point of view of the opposition and for the past nine years from the government side. I want to say that I really prefer the budgets from the government side. I have enjoyed speaking to them and pointing out to Canadians the benefits and changes that have been presented not only in the 2015 budget but in a series of budgets leading to a long-term plan to help make our country better.
Canada, as we all know, is a marvellous country. It is truly the best country in the world in which to live, but when we were elected as the government almost 10 years ago, there was a need for a change in direction. I would argue that the country had been going the wrong way for a number of years, with increased taxation, more interference in business, more red tape, and less freedom all around.
I am proud to be a member of Parliament in this Conservative political party, which has done a lot over these 10 years to make Canada a much better place.
I am here today to speak to budget 2015. We only have a little time to speak to the budget, but I want to take my time to focus on two topics, and they would be seniors, who are extremely important in every constituency, and as time allows, some of the changes for small business.
Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Since 2006, our government has strengthened the retirement income system and has increased direct support for seniors to address their changing needs. In fact, actions taken by this government have substantially increased the income seniors can earn before they are required to pay income tax.
In 2015, a single senior could claim income of $20,368 before paying any tax at all. I remember what that number was when we got into government nine years ago, and it was considerably lower.
For a couple, it would be $40,720 before they would pay a penny in income tax. That is a remarkable transformation for seniors across this country.
However, that is only one area we have worked on. In the budget there are changes that would add to the benefits seniors see. Economic action plan 2015 continues in this direction by proposing a reduction in minimum withdrawals from registered retirement income funds, RRIFs, and the creation of a home accessibility tax credit.
The reduction in the minimum withdrawal factor takes into account the longer lifespans of Canadians. We all know that we are living longer. For RRIFs, we are requiring now that Canadians take less money out so they can stretch that capital for a longer period of time so that they are far less likely to run out of retirement income before their lives end.
The minimum withdrawal factor for registered retirement income funds is determined by percentage factors, which are on a particular rate of return and indexing assumptions. For example, currently, a senior must withdraw 7.38% of the RRIF in the year he or she is age 71. The new factors proposed will reduce that minimum withdrawal to 5.28% at age 71. By permitting more capital preservation, the new factors will help reduce the risk of outliving one's savings while ensuring that the tax deferral provided on registered retirement savings plans continues to serve into retirement.
The proposed measures would benefit seniors by allowing them to preserve up to 60% more of their registered retirement income funds by age 95, if they so choose. Of course, that is a decision each senior and each couple can make.
The new RRIF withdrawal rates would apply for 2015 and subsequent years. RRIF holders who at any time in 2015 withdraw more than the reduced 2015 minimum amount would be permitted to re-contribute the excess, up to the amount of the proposed reduction in the minimum withdrawal limit, to their RRIFs. Re-contributions would be permitted until February 29, 2016 and would be deductible for the 2015 tax year, reducing the registered retirement income funds minimum withdrawal requirement.
The second change is the introduction of the home accessibility tax credit. A similar measure our government put in a few years ago seemed to be very successful. We would put in place a home accessibility tax credit that would apply to seniors.
Making improvements to improve safety, access, and functionality of a dwelling for seniors and persons with disabilities can be costly. In recognition of this, and of the additional benefits of independent living, economic action plan 2015 proposes a new, permanent home accessibility tax credit. The proposed 15% non-refundable income tax credit would apply to up to $10,000 in eligible home renovation expenditures per year, providing up to $1,500 in tax relief. For some seniors in particular, that is significant. Eligible expenditures would be for improvements that would allow seniors or persons who are eligible for the disability tax credit to be safer and more mobile and to function better in their homes. These are changes that would make a real improvement in the lives of many seniors.
Some people, as well as some in this House, talk about seniors as though they are all low-income wage earners. The reality is that a lot of the personal wealth of the nation is in the hands of seniors. We have a wide range in seniors' incomes. We have seniors who are barely getting by living on the Canada pension plan and perhaps old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. We certainly have that group. However, too often politicians forget about others, such as people who have retired with quite a substantial retirement income, such as a teacher with teacher's income, a nurse with a nurse's income, or someone with a public service pension plan or a private pension plan, on top of the Canada pension plan. I would say that there are a lot of people in that mid range who are doing quite well. For them, of course, the pension income-splitting change we put in place a few years ago for retirement income for seniors is extremely helpful. It saves some seniors a substantial amount of money and allows them to live a lot better in retirement.
The measures in the 2015 economic action plan are on top of a wide range of other changes we have made before.
Of course, there are also a lot of seniors who are in the high-income bracket. The benefits from lowering the federal income tax rate from 11% to 9% in the next few years will help all seniors and all Canadians.
Seniors are extremely important people and are well worth government consideration because of what they have done to build our country. We should thank them on a daily basis for what they have done to build this truly wonderful country of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand to speak on economic action plan 2015, the 2015 budget.
When some people imagine budgets, they think about only the numbers and their eyes glaze over. They think budgets might have little impact on everyday people. I would like to point out how this particular budget is very significant for all Canadians and how it makes life better for people in Calgary Centre, whom I am humbled and privileged to represent.
When I spoke on the budget last year, I spoke about how we were planning for a balanced budget and the steps we were taking to lead up to it; this year, we have delivered. A balanced budget is exactly what Calgary residents have told me their number one priority is. We have done it, with a $1.4 billion surplus, despite a precipitous drop in oil prices and an uncertain global economy.
People in Calgary Centre and across Canada are acutely aware that given low oil prices and the state of the global economy, the budget did not balance itself. It happened because of the expert guidance of our , the finance minister, former finance minister Jim Flaherty, and the strong encouragement of our Conservative caucus. The budget is where the rubber hits the road. The budget is the proof of the expert leadership that we getting here in Canada. By balancing the budget, keeping taxes low and delivering more benefits to families, we are keeping Canada the envy of the world.
Last year I spoke about energy being Canada's natural competitive advantage. Every province and territory from coast to coast to coast has benefited from this industry. While the industry is now under considerable pressure, making it more important than ever to diversify our markets to China, to India, and to the EU, this budget includes new environmental measures that will demonstrate to Canadians how we can continue to develop and sustain our resources. Energy and the environment can be nurtured and developed together.
This sets us apart from the NDP, whose leader branded the energy industry as spreading Dutch disease, and the Liberals, whose leader opposes many pipelines and west coast tanker traffic, which we know we need in order to get our product to these markets.
We know that Canadians want to make sure that energy development is safe for the environment, as do we. The natural resources minister has emphasized that projects will not proceed unless they are safe for people and safe for the environment. They have to pass a rigorous scientific and fact-based inquiry by the National Energy Board as well as undergo a complete environmental assessment. This budget includes $80 million over five years for the National Energy Board to do its job and give Canadians that assurance.
It is coupled with a strict new polluter pays bill, Bill , that puts energy firms on the hook for clean-ups, thus giving them extra impetus to make sure they get our resources to market without incident—which, incidentally, they do 99.999% of the time. Canadians can have confidence that our environment will be protected as we develop our competitive advantage in energy.
I would like to talk about another type of competitive advantage that this budget provides, and that is economic freedom.
This year, with a balanced budget, we can maintain and grow funding to important areas in health and education, as my hon. friend just spoke about, and at the same time provide tax cuts and benefits to help Canadians balance their own budgets. Unlike the Liberals, we do not believe that Canadians will spend those returned tax dollars on beer and popcorn. “This is people's own money”, the said. “We want to make sure more of it stays in their pockets and creates jobs and economic growth.”
What are the differences in the way Conservatives and other parties view the money that Canadians earn? Our government believes in economic freedom, and this year Canada was ranked number six in the world by the Economic Freedom of the World report. Economic freedom gives Canadians an opportunity to earn and an opportunity to decide how they wish to spend, rather than having those decisions made by someone else. When there is economic freedom, people have more control over their lives, and yes, government has less control.
In contrast to the other parties' belief that the government should take in as much money as it can, our government is taking less, and we are balancing the budget today so we are not mortgaging our children's futures.
Our latest family tax cut would give 1.7 million families more control over their lives. These tax relief measure would give parents like Sara and Sam an extra $6,640 this year that they could spend as they see fit. This measure would have a considerable impact on the quality of life of all Canadian families.
Retirees like Bill and Ruth would also have more economic freedom under economic action plan 2015. Seniors could put off taking funds out of their tax-protected RRIFs and leave the money there longer until it is needed.
What if I am not like Sara and Sam, or a retired couple like Bill and Ruth? What is there in the budget for me? For many young Canadians, owning a home looked like a distant goal, but we have introduced the first-time home buyers' tax credit of up to $5,000 for those buying their first home.
There are incentives for people who are retired. There are incentives for apprentices who want to take apprenticeship training. There are incentives for students who want to go back to school. The bottom line is that our federal government is giving Canadians more economic freedom by giving them more money in their pockets so they can decide how to use it. We are helping the middle class and those who want to join it.
Now I would like to talk about another of the human sides of enterprise, and that is people in need.
Two years ago, Albertans suddenly found themselves grappling with the largest natural disaster in Canadian history, the 2013 southern Alberta flood. As June approaches again, Calgarians in my riding are looking at the skies and praying that there will not be another once-in-a-hundred-years flood.
I can tell them that as a government, we have been acting. As most know, $2.8 billion in federal funds was set aside for flood recovery costs in Alberta. In addition to those funds, $134 million is currently being put into Environment Canada monitoring networks and satellite warning and forecast systems to better predict major events like the 2013 Alberta flood.
Our government has also committed to investing $200 million over four years into mitigation, which would include money for mapping. This is very important for insurance companies, which need it in order to provide flood insurance in Canada for the first time.
Further, federal infrastructure dollars could now be used for disaster mitigation projects. It is now up to the Province of Alberta to prioritize disaster mitigation on its agenda, and I urge the new premier to do that.
In this budget, our government is continuing the Building Canada plan. This is the largest and longest-running infrastructure program in Canadian history. Cities have never seen the kind of funding they are seeing now from our federal government. The program would see $53 billion invested in infrastructure across Canada over 10 years. Alberta would receive $3.2 billion, with $942 million coming from the new Building Canada fund and an estimated $2.27 billion coming from the federal gas tax fund. That is a lot of zeros.
Calgary has gained $427 million through the federal gas tax fund since 2006. We have invested in such projects as finishing the Calgary ring road and improving Calgary's transit. The city sets these priorities.
Federally, we are also helping to fund some 27 summer festivals, such as Sled Island and GlobalFest. There are things like CIFF, and theatre groups like One Yellow Rabbit and the Calgary Spoken Word Festival. We have provided more than $25 million to the gorgeous new National Music Centre in Calgary, $20 million to the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University, and $25 million to the Agrium Centre at Stampede Park.
We have balanced the budget while maintaining and increasing transfer payments to the provinces for important things like health care.
This is happening not only in Alberta, but all across the country. People's lives are better and richer because of our budget. Albertans' lives are better, New Brunswickers' lives are better, British Columbians' lives are better, and we have balanced our budget. That is what leadership looks like.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to once again participate in this debate on the budget implementation bill on behalf of the people I represent in Parkdale—High Park, in Toronto.
The people in Parkdale—High Park, like most Torontonians and probably most Canadians, are pretty fair-minded people. They are thoughtful, they pay attention to what is going on, and they are pretty community-minded. They get involved in their neighbourhood. They are good volunteers. They really want government to help them and their communities.
First of all, on their behalf I have to say that so many people have written to me that they are offended that the government insists on bringing in these omnibus budget bills that are basically an amalgam of several pieces of legislation. This particular bill is 150 pages long, with 270 clauses, and dozens of acts thrown in together, many of which have nothing to do with the budget.
My constituents are offended by the process with which the government brings in its legislation. They always ask what the Conservatives are trying to hide, in refusing to have open, thorough debate and open discussion of their legislation.
Joining me in this debate today, I would like to inform the Speaker that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
This omnibus bill is a way to obscure what is in fact the real legislative agenda of the government. The other thing people in my community have said is that they find the notion that this is a balanced budget is a bit of a sleight of hand. Technically, I suppose we could call it that. However, the way to a so-called razor-thin balanced budget has been through devastating cuts to the public service in Canada. So many things that Canadians rely on, whether it is food safety, transportation safety, or the support for veterans have been cut; they are the services that government needs to be providing for Canadians.
That is not fair. It is not a true balance. It really is undercutting what Canadians are paying for. I think Canadians know they are getting a very raw deal with the government and its phony balanced budget. They also know that getting to this balanced budget came by way of raiding the employment insurance fund. Less than 40% of unemployed Canadians even have access to the employment insurance benefits that they need when they are unemployed, benefits they have paid into. They and their employers paid premiums into this fund, and then when they lose their job and need the fund, for the vast majority of them, it is not there. In the city of Toronto, I think only about 20% of people who lose their job are able to access employment insurance.
The government, like the Liberals before them, has dug in with both hands, scooped up a lot of money and used it to cover off its deficits.
The other thing the government has done is that it has had a bit of a fire sale, selling off GM shares at a loss, which basically gave up any opportunity to have a window on General Motors, especially when there is a lot of concern and uncertainty about continued investment by General Motors in Canada. It seemed to be a particularly bad time for Canada to sell those shares.
The government also got its supposed balance by raiding the rainy day fund, the contingency fund for Canada.
The government should not hang its hat on what a great economic manager it is, because it has in fact made choices that really have not been in the best interest of the majority of Canadians. It could have used this budget to create child care spaces. It promised to create 100,000 child care spaces. The himself promised that.
Guess how many child care spaces the government has created? The Conservatives have created exactly the same number as the Liberals before them, and that number is zero, none, nada. They have failed to create even one child care space for Canadians. That is shameful and I think a terrible legacy for this and the previous government in this country.
On infrastructure, our cities and communities across this country are crying out for effective infrastructure investment. I come from Toronto where we are effectively stuck in gridlock. The Toronto Board of Trade estimates that we lose, as an economy, $6 billion every single year because of lack of infrastructure investment. This is cumulative. Not only has the current government failed to invest in infrastructure, but it is building on the previous failures of Liberal governments before it.
Sadly, we are now in this situation where we have gridlocked roads, crumbling bridges, bursting water mains, and electricity that goes out whenever there is a bad storm. This is no way to run the biggest city, the engine of our economy here in Canada. It is no way to run Toronto or any other community. I say it is a disgrace and failure on the part of the current federal government.
We also see a real housing crisis in this country, which is one of the biggest causes of poverty in Canada. People cannot afford a decent roof over their heads. I see it in my community of Parkdale where people are paying far too much for poor-quality rental accommodation. We have recently seen big multinational companies like Akelius come in and do superficial, cosmetic renovations and jack up the rent, and people are forced out of their homes.
I want to pay tribute to people in Parkdale who have gone to the Landlord and Tenant Board, challenged those decisions, and won some victories for affordable housing in our community. However, we need to have the federal government at our backs supporting the community, supporting Canadians who work hard and are looking for a decent, affordable place to live. We need the government's support, and we need a national housing strategy. Sadly, this was cancelled in Canada under the previous Liberal government, but the current Conservative government had a chance to do something about housing and it has failed.
Another major issue in my community is the Union Pearson Express: the express line that goes from the largest railway station, Union Station, to our largest airport, Pearson. There will be trains running every seven and a half minutes past many houses, schools, and daycares in our neighbourhood. Sadly, the Ontario provincial Liberal government has created a diesel train to do this. No other city in the world is putting diesel trains running that often through major urban areas. It was not done in Vancouver, and other cities around the world are investing in electric trains. However, our community is subjected to dirty diesel.
We have finally, through incredible community pressure, persuaded the provincial government that, yes, electric is better, but it has not budgeted any money to actually make the change to electric. This is an infrastructure investment that the federal government could have made and should have made. The people of Toronto want to see clean transportation, clean electric, and it should have been built once, built right, but there is a chance to have this corrected.
There are two other areas that the government could have acted on but did not, and one is reducing the cost of remittances. The government did talk about studying remittances, but I have a proposal into the House to limit the cost to 5% for remittances for new Canadians to send money back to their home country, which would have been a real cost saving. Second, the government also could have dramatically improved the lot of interns. The government has made some steps in the current budget, but the Conservatives inexplicably failed to protect interns from sexual harassment and exploitative hours of work.
I could go on for some time talking about what is not in the budget. Sadly, what the Conservatives have chosen to spend the money on are the people who are the wealthiest, at the very top income level, and have used the taxes of the rest of Canadians to do that.
This is a failed budget, and that is why we will be voting against it. However, Canadians will have a chance to make a different choice this October, and then we will bring in a budget that is good for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and offer my thoughts on Bill , the budget implementation bill.
Once again, I have a number of reservations about this budget. Sadly, we on this side of the House cannot support it. Once again, the Conservatives have slipped several measures into this budget in order to justify their lament that the opposition does not support certain measures.
For example, we would like to support the measures to assist veterans, but the Conservatives have slipped them into a mammoth budget implementation bill.
At 150 pages, it is shorter than some, like Bill, which had hundreds of pages. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they denounced mammoth bills, even if they had only a few dozen pages. Today we are looking at a 150-page bill.
This is stopping us from holding a full debate on the provisions of the bill. This was the case with Bill and Bill , and now it is the case with Bill . The opposition members, like the government members, who should be keeping an eye on their own government, are simply not able to do so with the means available to them.
I would like to point out that the Conservatives have imposed time allocation for the 96th time, limiting the time available to debate a bill as important as the budget. This makes no sense. The NDP would have liked to support certain measures in the bill, because they are ideas put forward originally by the NDP that the government decided to borrow. For this, I congratulate the government.
For instance, the tax rate on small and medium-sized businesses will go from 11% to 9%. The change will be made over five years, because the Conservatives have decided to spread the measure over a number of years, but it will be quite helpful to SMEs, which are the ones creating jobs in Canada. This measure deserves our support, but unfortunately, the Conservatives have combined measures that we can support with ones that we simply cannot support.
Moreover, the budget contains no measures regarding the Transport Canada wharfs. The Conservatives were very happy to spend time in eastern Canada recently, to underline their $33 million investment in the Transport Canada port divestiture program.
Unfortunately, this is the same $33 million that was announced last year, and $9 million of it has already been spent. There is only $24 million left to be shared among the 50 wharfs that the government is proposing to transfer. Two of the Transport Canada wharfs are in my riding, and just these two would exceed the amount of money that remains for the 50 wharfs across Canada that the government would like to transfer.
When the government says it is helping people, what does that mean in concrete terms? We cannot accept their offer, because it is just too little.
Recently, I heard a Conservative MP saying that the Conservatives had introduced one of the largest infrastructure programs in Canada’s history. However, this money will be spent in the future. They have announced amounts of money that the budget does not cover at all, and they are trying to make us believe that with a budget of $54 billion over 10 years they are going to spend the largest amount of money in Canada’s history on infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the facts tell quite a different story. Last year, the government spent only $250 million of the $54 billion. Its assistance to municipalities and organizations to implement infrastructure programs was extremely discreet.
It is disgraceful that the government is congratulating itself about money it has never spent and that it is trying to make people believe that it is carrying out this program, even though it is a phantom program, since we are unable to find this money.
Furthermore, this budget does not help the regions, and in fact the opposite is true.
The Conservatives say that they have balanced the budget, but once again, they have done so using both the contingency fund and the employment insurance fund.
This year, the government is planning to filch $1.7 billion from the employment insurance fund to balance its budget. It likes to brag about its $1.8 billion surplus, but it is pretty clear where that money came from. The government is even planning to help itself to $17 billion from the employment insurance fund over five years. It is quickly catching up to the Liberals' record. They too bragged about balancing a budget, and they too did so at workers' expense. Since the Chrétien government's reform, the government has taken $57 billion from the employment insurance fund. The Liberals swiped $50 billion, the Conservatives $7 billion. Now they are planning to snatch another $17 billion from the fund.
They say they are going to balance the budget, but they are doing so at the expense of the poorest, the neediest. Seasonal workers and workers who lose their jobs will pay the price. Roughly four out of 10 workers are not even entitled to employment insurance benefits even though they all contribute to the fund. Those people will never see a penny. The government is busy taking money from the insurance fund and, instead of giving it to the people who contribute, funnelling it into programs that will benefit Canada's wealthiest people.
With regard to the Conservatives' proposed income splitting, the Parliamentary Budget Officer clearly said that only 15% of Canadians will benefit, and most of them are among the wealthiest people in this country.
The wealthiest people do not need more help. There are some Canadians who are unemployed and others who are facing job losses. Today, 1,700 employees of Bombardier, a pillar of Canadian industry, are unemployed. They are facing an employment insurance fund that has been pillaged repeatedly by the government. There is no more room to manoeuvre.
When the government says that it has balanced the budget, it means that we are at the point where the government has squeezed programs so much that there is no more room to manoeuvre. Someone who has lost a job or works part time will find it very difficult to make ends meet.
Today's budget is simply not going to help the poor, and that includes measures like income splitting and tax-free savings accounts, or TFSAs. The tax-free savings account limit is being raised to $10,000. In my riding, I can tell you that the number of people who can take advantage of that and put $10,000 into a tax-free savings account is very small. What is more, that money will then not be spent in the riding; it will sit in a savings account.
We need programs that put money in people's pockets and encourage people to have a greater impact on their local economy. Those are the kinds of programs that will help grow the economy. We need to help small and medium-sized businesses, because they create jobs, and that is what will help create wealth. What matters to the NDP is putting money into the pockets of people who really need it, rather than giving more to rich.
I am very disappointed in this budget, which once again gives priority to people who will perhaps vote for the Conservatives in the upcoming election. Unfortunately, the people who are being ignored by this government and who will not get the help they need from this budget are precisely those who are currently unemployed or otherwise struggling. The budget contains very little for those individuals.
However, the budget does include something that I think is good for retirees regarding registered retirement income funds. Now people will have the choice to put off withdrawing from their RRIFs a little longer. This will help people who are retired. However, let us not forget that those who do not have the means to put enough money in an RRSP will have to wait until they are 67 before they can get old age security. They will pay dearly for not having enough money in an RRSP. This was done without warning and without consultation. The government simply imposed this.
These people did not have enough time to adjust their budget and now have a major deficit for their retirement years. This budget will do nothing to help them.
We absolutely need to have a budget that will help the less fortunate. The government has a role to play as an advocate for the people who are most in need. The government should help those in need, but unfortunately the budget before us does not do that.