The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, since many MPs wish to speak during this debate, I will be splitting my time this afternoon with the hon. member for Souris--Moose Mountain.
As members may know, I am in this House again after an absence of some 13 years. I have certainly been asked on more than one occasion why I went through the pain of an election process to get back here again. One reason is this budget.
Canadians need tax relief, honest government and more hope and opportunity, and they need to believe we have a gang in power now who cares about the survival of the middle class in our country. That is exactly what this budget says and for that reason, I support it.
This is a remarkable first step for this government and it definitely deserves the full confidence of the House. However, there are a few other reasons why I chose to come back here and why I bothered to fight to return to the House of Commons. I would like to take a couple of minutes to share some of the reasons why I am here, and maybe explain a few things about this budget as well.
The first reason I am here, which relates strongly to this budget, is to represent the people of my riding. That may sound trite and obvious, but it is rather revolutionary.
In the election campaign against the Liberals, who had been in power in my riding for the last 13 years, I was able to point out easily that no Liberal MP in my riding ever held an open and public meeting to actually ask the people of Halton what they wanted. No member of Parliament ever stood and said, “We ought to find out what the people of this riding actually want in a federal budget” and then took that to Ottawa.
In the election I made a commitment not to say anything in the House that I would not say back in my riding and I made a commitment to hold public meetings regularly with individuals and bring their voice to this place. I promised I would never send them a piece of mail with a party logo on it or use taxpayer money to tell them how to think. I told them I would work for the people and my first job would be here to represent my neighbours. That is what I am doing and that is why I am on my feet today in support of my tax-slashing colleague, the Minister of Finance.
In this new era of leadership, when politicians enjoy a popularity rating of 14%, just a little ahead of used car salesmen, it is important for all of us to make sure we are here in this place to give people their voice and to listen to it. In understanding this simple truth, a truth so simple and profound that I believe it was lost in my riding for a long time, I also came to understand something about myself.
It has now been 18 years since I was first elected to this place, 13 of them since I last sat as a member of the House. Today I am extremely pleased to be a member of Parliament. It is a badge of honour, an achievement. Of the people who sent me here, I ask for no more. I am completely challenged and fulfilled in being a member of Parliament, but I have found, coming back here, that there is intense pressure for one to represent one's party instead of the people who sent them here.
The question often arises, how do we change this? Not easily. I do believe members of Parliament need to be more independent, more powerful, with more free votes in the House and less party discipline. We need committees of MPs with more clout and the ability to do actual work in this place. They need direct input into key government initiatives, such as a budget.
The Minister of Finance welcomed my submission. I did poll people and found 11,000 Canadians who had something to say about the budget. I told the Minister of Finance, clearly, some of the things that I wanted him to hear. He listened, and I congratulate him for that.
I believe successful politicians have to stay close to their voters. They know what their voters want. They need to communicate it. I happen to believe that the biggest, most influential and probably the most underrepresented group of voters in the country, and certainly the dominant group in my riding, is the middle class. It is this group to which the budget speaks the loudest.
During the campaign I consulted this group. I came up with a pledge to them. I wrote brochures and policy statements for them. I took time to understand the pressures on their individual lives and I addressed it. These people, I know it by the nation's standards, are well off. They are solidly middle class. They are not the ones the government is busy sending cheques to, no energy rebate cheques, and no GST tax credits.
They are the worker bees of our society, the ones who are always employed, always taxpayers, always spending. Middle class people are the backbone of my riding. They make up the bulk of the population. They are responsible for the economy, as well as funding the government which redistributes their taxes to others.
However, there is a continuous erosion of family conditions right now, brought on by governments who pride themselves in caring for the rest of society at the expense of the middle class. These folks need help and attention. They deserve it.
The middle class in Canada now is actually under attack. I have pledged myself to work every day that I am in Ottawa to represent these people, to help them, to speak for them, and to fight for them. That is a major reason why I am supporting a federal budget that puts billions of dollars back in the hands of these middle class families who populate my riding in Halton.
The budget includes a GST cut, a personal income tax reduction, a universal child care benefit, more money for seniors, farmers, students, apprentices, and for the small businesses that create most of the jobs in my riding. These are the things I can go back and present to middle class voters as significant achievements and a great start down a path to tax fairness.
As I have said, I gave the Minister of Finance a prebudget report, including the thoughts of thousands of Canadians and he listened. Then his own department went online and also asked Canadians from coast to coast to coast to contribute and they did. That was a first. The minister said to Canadians, “I care what you say. I'm going to read your e-mails”, and I congratulate the minister. I think he is the first one who has ever done that.
We all have a lot to gain from that process. Voters get to be heard. Politicians get to communicate free of any special interest group filter. Governments stay in touch and we all build a better country together communicating.
I support the budget because it will improve the lives of the people who sent me here, middle class Canadians. It cuts their taxes. It assists their families. It eases household finances. It gives them new hope for the future.
I hope that all members support the budget, or at least have something constructive to say about it. I will be voting for the budget, to keep faith with the people who sent me here and be consistent with what I said I would do for them, and I do it with pride. I am honoured to be here.
Mr. Speaker, this is a beautiful seat that I occupy next to your knee. I may not be in the camera angles. I may not be in a position of influence. I may not even have the ear of the Prime Minister, but it just does not matter.
I think just being an MP is Ottawa talk. Every MP in this place matters, since we are here representing millions of Canadians. There is no bad seat in the House of Commons. There is none of us more powerful than the rest of us, since all the people in this country are equal and they all do truly want the same thing. They want this place to work and so do I, and passing this budget is a tremendous start.
Mr. Speaker, I have the opportunity to continue my remarks from yesterday, when I closed my remarks by saying that this is not a budget that defines the Prime Minister or the government, but a budget through which the Prime Minister and the government define the kind of Canada we want to see, the kind of Canada for which people have been asking for a long time, people who were not being listened to. What Canadians have been asking for is finally being reflected in what we see in the budget.
Also of interest, I mentioned the other day that it was refreshing to see the May 3 editorial page in the Regina Leader-Post in Saskatchewan indicating that the federal budget “keeps promises”. It is one thing to make promises and quite another to actually carry them out and put them into effect. I think members opposite were somewhat surprised to see many of our campaign platform promises appearing in the budget. I do not think they expected us to keep our promises, as this budget reflects.
This government promises and delivers. The budget itself shows that we are prepared to spend $20 billion in tax relief over the next two years, more than the last four Liberal budgets combined. As was mentioned previously, this will remove 655,000 low income Canadians from the tax rolls altogether.
When we look at the cumulative effect of the budget on ordinary working families, we find that significant dollars are being returned to the pockets of taxpayers. Taxpayers have been much overburdened over the last number of years with the many taxes collected from them, taxes that found their way to the previous government.
With respect to the GST reduction of 1%, anyone who spends $10,000 on consumer goods will end up saving $100. A family spending $30,000 on a family car or a minivan will save $300. A young family buying a home for $150,000 will save somewhere between $960 and $1,200.
On top of this, a Canada employment credit is available to everyone, with $500 now and then $1,000 as of January 1, which is another $150 saving.
The budget provides a reduction in the lowest tax rate from 16% to 15.5%. Again, a simple calculation shows $150 more left in the pockets of ordinary Canadians. As well, an increase in income that can be earned without paying federal tax results in more dollars being kept by ordinary people.
A family with three children under six years of age with a stay at home mom will receive $3,600 per year. That is quite a significant amount.
When we start adding up all of the benefits portrayed in this budget, we see that they add up to thousands of dollars.
If someone wants to register a child in a sports program, which happens throughout all communities in Saskatchewan, and rural communities in particular, they can deduct about $75 from taxes.
That is not all. If mom or dad wishes to become a skilled worker, each is eligible for a $1,000 grant for the first and second year of an apprenticeship program. In years one and two of an apprenticeship program, that amounts to $2,000.
If someone needs to buy tools for their employment, there is an additional exemption of $115. This budget allows for a 100% capital cost allowance on tools purchased. This has been increased from $200 to $500, for another $45 saving.
A student in a post-secondary education program will receive an $80 net tax deduction for textbooks.
If mom or dad use the transit system, there is another $150 or an $80 a month tax credit.
This budget allows a young couple purchasing furniture worth $20,000 to get a $200 saving.
I am sure I have missed some of the many tax benefits for ordinary Canadians allowed in this budget, but the savings amount to thousands of dollars being put back into the pockets of Canadians. This is long overdue. It is time that we respected the taxpayer. This budget reflects that. It gives some relief to taxpayers who have been overburdened over the last number of years.
I would also like to take a moment to talk about our farming community. The Liberal opposition members, when in government, were a lot on promises and hot air, but were cold hearted, callous and uncaring when it came to the farming community. In particular, they designed a CAIS program that has been a bane and a problem for farmers and farming communities for years. Farmers who have retired and do not now farm have been able to receive thousands of dollars under the program, yet young farmers just getting into farming have received very little. There have also been differences between neighbours with CAIS, with some receiving payments and others getting none.
CAIS is a program that does not take into account falling commodity prices. They have been falling year after year and the program simply reduces the margin. It does not take into account the effect that falling commodity prices have on inventory valuations, thereby causing an additional loss of money for our many farmers in Saskatchewan. As well, the rising costs of production are not addressed.
Perhaps the sorest point of all is the clawback provision that was in existence for any government payments that were made, including the grains and oilseeds program. They were clawed back for any overpayments out of the CAIS program. It has been an administrative nightmare, with farmers receiving money on the one hand and having to pay it back on the other hand and not really knowing how the problem is to be addressed.
We find the one thing that CAIS has done, perhaps, is provide jobs for people administering the system. It certainly has not provided the money at the farm gate for the farmers and the farm families who require it.
The CAIS program has 2003, 2004 and 2005 issues that are being addressed as we speak. The farmers operate on a seasonal basis, planting a crop and harvesting a crop. Things have to be determined within that cycle, not over many years. What we find is a system that is too complex. Farmers are losing hope and even the accountants are getting gun shy in terms of trying to come up with what the farmer may expect.
In many respects in my province, CAIS is looked at by many as the laughingstock of government programs, except that it is not very funny. There are many auctions happening in my constituency, more than I have seen in all of my lifetime. This is not something that is particularly appreciated by the farming community, which is going down and is losing the hope that it needs to succeed.
The Liberal opposition members opposed the budget. I wonder what it is in the agricultural part of it that they take issue with. I looked at the budget itself, which states that it “will provide an additional $500 million per year for farm support and to work with farmers” and other partners toward securing “a more prosperous future for this sector”. We promised in the campaign that there would be $500 million to deal with disaster relief and we have delivered that $500 million. On top of that, we have put in an additional $1 billion to address farmers in transitional programming.
The government has also indicated that it will replace the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, CAIS, and it is in the process of doing that.
It is also providing funding to shift the inventory evaluation under the CAIS program to make the program more responsive. Farmers lost thousands of dollars in that regard. The government is putting place a deeper coverage with respect to many issues such as the declining balances. It also talks about a cover crop protection program for those who have been flooded out. It seems that a program like that should have been in existence for a very long time, but it has not been.
I would say that even at a start under this budget farmers are already better off. The minister has indicated there will not be any more clawbacks and there will not be any interest on overpayments on the CAIS program until January 1, 2007.
There are also initiatives on the biodiesel and biofuel side, which will transform the prairie agricultural industry as we know it.
What are other Canadians saying about the budget? There was a poll done recently by Ipsos-Reid. It said that the numbers of people who like the budget are double the numbers of those who do not. In Quebec there is a positive response of 60% and in Alberta 67%. Mr. Wright, the senior vice-president of Ipsos-Reid, said, “The Harper government has really hit a home run with this budget”.
There are many people who have said that this budget is a budget that is accepted by all Canadians. A COMPAS Inc. poll found that Canadian CEOs give the budget an overall score of 76%, and it was stated that this budget is “far more popular than the recent budgets of by Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, or former prime ministers” the hon. member for LaSalle--Émard and Jean Chrétien. That is quite a remark.
Another newspaper in my circulation area said this, “Virtually every Canadian will see some benefit from the new Conservative government's first budget”. Every Canadian will receive something, said the newspaper, adding, “The bottom line on this budget is that [the] Prime Minister...has delivered on all his election promises...”. It states that he has established the most important factor for Canadians, the “trust factor”.
I would say that it is refreshing to see that. It is refreshing to see promises being kept and implemented in the budget.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about two issues in the budget that concern me most. One is the inherent unfairness of it in giving an advantage to those who spend, those who make more money. The budget documents themselves even tout the savings on a $350,000 home. There are probably ridings in this country that do not have even one $350,000 home.
I want to talk about the other aspect of it, which is that the measures in it are the triumph of politics over policy, of show over the activity that would improve Canada's economy. We know now that the issue for Canada and the world is that the world is changing, with emerging economies now spending money on innovation and technology.
According to the budget documents themselves, Canada has done a remarkable job. We now lead the G-7 in investment in research at the university level. It is all very important, but this budget hardly mentions this at all.
The second part of university and post-secondary education overall, including community colleges, apprenticeships and skills upgrading, which are very important, is putting money into post-secondary education for Canadians who can least afford it.
In the economic update introduced by our government last November, we dedicated $2.2 billion over five years for students most in need, for aboriginals, low income Canadians and persons with disabilities, and another $265 million specifically to help disabled people get into the workforce. There is nothing in this budget to address that.
I wonder if the member would agree, first, that the government has a role to play in assisting those most in need to get post-secondary education and, second, why that would not be mentioned in the budget.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Beaches—East York.
I rise today to speak to the recent Conservative budget and how it has failed to address the real needs of Canadian families and, specifically, the needs of British Columbians and the citizens of West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast--Sea to Sky Country.
The Conservative government inherited a strong fiscal record from the former Liberal government. It inherited eight years of balanced budgets, a 30-year low in unemployment and a record surplus that was the envy of all G-8 nations.
It is absurd that the government is now raising income taxes and slashing spending by $1 billion a year without, I may add, telling any Canadians exactly which programs will be cut. It is a complete lack of a vision for Canada's future prosperity.
The Conservatives are also throwing out fiscal prudence and spending programs that are on the books that they cannot account for.
The budget is both fiscally irresponsible and socially destructive.
The budget has failed to provide real tax relief for low and middle income Canadians. The budget has, in fact, raised the lowest level of personal income tax from 15% to 15.5% and has lowered the basic personal exemption from $9,039 to $8,639. How is this helping the middle class, helping working Canadians?
The bottom line, however, is that even after considering the GST tax cut the Conservatives are so happy to parade around and the new Canadian employment credit, which is basically a $1,000 increase in the personal exemption, the budget actually is a wash for low and middle income Canadians.
Eliminating the Liberal income tax cut in favour of their 1% GST cut has been panned by every serious economist in this country as a plan that will benefit higher income Canadians off the backs of the poor. Reducing the GST, while a strong political and public relations move, is a terrible economic move. Economists and public policy experts all agree. The GST is not even charged on essentials, such as housing or food, which make up by far the greatest expenditures for low income Canadians.
The people I have talked to in my riding since the budget have told me time and again that on the surface the budget looks pretty good but that in reality it is all smoke and mirrors, just a con from the Conservative government.
The budget has also failed to achieve any kind of fiscal integrity. The previous Liberal government's fiscal framework contained a contingency reserve of funds intended to guard against unforeseen events, a fund that was anywhere between $1 billion and $4 billion. The Conservative budget, this budget, eliminates all economic prudence.
The cushion gave the previous Liberal government the fiscal room to weather unforeseen events, such as September 11, mad cow, SARS and the Asian currency crisis, all without going into deficit.
At the same the Conservatives have spent and cut their way very close to the line. They have removed the cushion which was an integral part of the federal government's ability to turn this nation's finances around.
The budget has also failed to address the issues of climate change. In fact, I would believe this is a pro pollution budget because it represents a 93% cut to environmental funding and a complete disaster for future generations of Canadians. The Conservative budget has all but gutted every cent of the previous Liberal government's commitment toward the protection of the Canadian environment. The government has eliminated climate change programs and is getting set to pull out of the Kyoto accord. It also represents a 100% cut in funding for climate change, ensuring that Canada will be unable to meets its Kyoto commitments.
The Conservatives' response is a transit cut that is both costly and ineffective. It will cost almost $400 million over two years and only increase transit use by, get ready for this, 5%. This translates to a cost of $2,000 for each tonne of carbon dioxide saved; 10 to 100 times the cost per tonne under the previous Liberal project green plan.
To quote Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation:
[The] Prime Minister...has dismantled the only climate change plan our country had and replaced it with subsidized transit passes that will do little to fight air pollution or convince people to leave their cars at home. It’s completely irresponsible.
Furthermore, the Conservatives plan to pay for this, even though their so-called climate change program is still under development, by scrapping $2 billion of the existing climate change program. They are trying to develop a strategy as we speak.
The budget is deliberately misleading about its alleged environmental funding.
In the budget speech, the minister claims that his government will dedicate $2 billion toward the development of a climate change plan but the budget itself provides absolutely no money. The government also claims that it will spend $1.3 billion on public transit but this is not new money either, having been committed by the previous Liberal government.
The city of Squamish in my riding is an ideal site for the production of wind power. Quantum Windpower, a team of entrepreneurs with a commitment to develop and manufacture commercial wind turbine equipment in British Columbia, is seeking to build a manufacturing plant for wind turbines. Government funding is invaluable in order to launch Quantum's manufacturing facility and its business plan, which includes export potential.
With no money for renewable energy, no money for energy retrofits and no money for energy efficiency programs or green initiatives, the Conservative government is turning the clock back on real climate change initiatives.
As well, the Conservatives have failed to provide a real child care choice for parents. The Conservatives are completely out of touch with, or simply do not care about, the needs of the majority of Canadian families. If a paltry $20 a week for child care is not insult enough, the Conservatives will actually take $1 billion from Canada's neediest families by cutting the youth child supplement of the Canadian child tax benefit. The Conservatives are cutting $1 billion from this program which was supposed to reach $10 billion by next year. The Conservatives have failed to establish a real plan to create child care spaces at all.
Rather than honouring the Liberal child care agreements, something that the majority of the provinces, parents and advocacy groups have demanded, the government insists on forging ahead with a nebulous plan which will mean provinces will lose stable funding agreed to by the previous government. Giving with the one hand and taking away with the other, is that the Conservative idea of support for Canadian families?
Last year British Columbia signed an early learning and child care agreement with the previous federal government promising British Columbia $633 million over five years to improve child care services. This was an important step forward in providing B.C. families with the child care choices they desperately need.
Last October, using federal dollars, the first improvements to B.C.'s fragile child care system began. My riding saw improved child care subsidies, increased operating grants to child care centres, special services for families through the child care resource referral program and increased capital funding to build child care centres.
In my riding, the many preschools, day care centres, family child care, parent-child care activities and family resource programs will experience the loss of federal dollars that will result from severe cuts to child care services and the child care subsidy program, increased child care fees for all parents and losses of child care spaces.
For the constituents in my riding who could use this money the most, the true value of the proposed allowance could be as little as $1 a day per child aged six and under. Meanwhile, parents with school age children will receive nothing. My constituents tell me repeatedly that they need to work. Child care is not a matter of choice for them.
As well, the Conservatives have failed to address the very pressing needs of Canada's aboriginal people in this budget. Rather than honouring the historic Kelowna accord signed last November, which would have substantially improved the lives of our first nations people, the Conservative government chose to ignore them, cutting planned funding by 80% from $5.3 billion to just over $1 billion.
My riding is home to many different native groups, including the Squamish first nations, and many have agreed that this budget does very little to deal with the gap in the quality of life between aboriginals and non-aboriginal Canadians. The B.C. First Nations Leadership Council has called one the Prime Minister to live up to the financial commitments contained in the Kelowna accord in order to address the critical socio-economic and infrastructure gaps suffered by first nations.
Chief Gibby Jacobs of the Squamish first nation, one of my constituents, has also expressed great concern over this budget. The budget has failed dramatically on education and innovation. It has also failed on its priorities to Canadians. One of the strongest priorities to Canadians has been health care, which has been completely panned and ignored by the government. The federal budget provides no additional funding for wait time reduction nor any explanation of how the wait time guarantee will be implemented. What happened to the Conservatives' priority of fixing waiting times?
The budget has failed to honour the promises to British Columbians and the Conservatives have slashed vital programs. During the election the Prime Minister promised to recover 100% of the illegally imposed softwood lumber tariffs. He promised to replace and upgrade the naval vessels stationed at CFB Esquimalt, establish the Canadian Coast Guard as an independent agency and invest $276 million over five years in expanding and updating the fleet. Perhaps British Columbia is too far away from Ottawa for Mr. Harper and the Conservatives.
In conclusion, I think this is a destructive budget. It will harm British Columbia and there will be no help for western Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start my remarks by focusing on one of the most egregious parts of the budget, the notion of the $1,200 child care allowance, which I do not consider to be a child care allowance at all.
The government keeps calling the $1,200 allowance universal child care and that it is giving choices to parents, but we should look at the facts and make a proper distinction between income support and child care. The reality is that the $1,200 is a family allowance, not a child care plan. As a family allowance it is fine, but it is not a child care plan.
The most effective weapon to fight child poverty in this country is the child tax benefit. Experts believe that the benefit has reduced child poverty by approximately 26%. If we were to apply the $1,200 to the base of the child tax credit, families would receive the full $1,200 on a net income of up to and including $112,000, after which there would be a clawback up to and including a net income of $172,000. This is what the allowance should be, income support through the child tax credit. It would address the incomes of modest families as well as middle income families and even higher.
Instead, the Conservative government is cutting the young child supplement portion of the child tax benefit. This means that most families with low or modest incomes will lose $249 right off the top, reducing the child care benefit to $951. Taxes are increased at the same time by .5% at this level, which of course means that families will lose even more.
Further, the child care allowance treats some families better than others, even though they have the same net income and the same number of children of the same age. Because the benefit is taxable in the hands of the lowest income earner, single parents and two earner families are going to lose out. Two earner couples will lose a significant portion of the benefit to income taxes, but still not as much as single parents will lose.
Single parents in the $30,000 to $40,000 income range will lose on average close to $400 of the benefit in taxes. If this is added to the $249 that they will lose because of the elimination of the young child supplement, these families will be left with only about $550 of the $1,200 benefit, less than half the benefit that some of the other families will be receiving, and they will have a tax increase on top of that. This is not a plan for all families. This is punitive to some families and chooses others. Nor is it an early learning and child care plan, so it does neither.
This is unacceptable because the government is basically choosing which types of families it prefers and which types of families it does not. Not giving the same choice to all families and penalizing choices that families actually make about themselves is dastardly. I have never seen anything like it. This plan is neither an income support plan nor an early child care plan. It does neither and helps no one.
In addition to the national child care plan and the child tax credit which the Liberals started in this country, the early years program, or the best start program, was started in 2000. In my riding of Beaches—East York stay at home parents have told me many times that this is a wonderful program for their children, that they are quite happy with it and use it often.
Again I go back to choice. I keep hearing from the government side that the $1,200 gives choice. If there are no spaces to choose from, there is no choice whatsoever and the money parents receive is not enough to pay for the full amount of child care. There are really no choices. as there is nothing there to buy.
The government says that businesses will create spaces. Again, this has been tried in Ontario. The Minister of Finance knows it, as does the Minister of Health and the President of the Treasury Board, all of whom were in the Ontario government. They know it does not work. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has said its membership is not interested. Again, it is a vague plan and there is no child care plan in this country.
The finance minister was part of the Ontario cabinet that cut funding to schools. It cut sports programs, music programs, all kinds of programs in schools and many other services and ended up with a huge deficit, which is why Ontario now has an income problem, which is really where it is at. Now that same minister is the Minister of Finance for the Government of Canada. Guess what he is going to do to Canada. Exactly the same thing that he did to Ontario, nothing more, nothing less.
The city of Toronto alone will lose 6,000 child care spaces this year. This means the families in my riding of Beaches—East York will be suffering badly. This is not acceptable.
I want to move on to the issue of post-secondary education. The previous Liberal government had proposed $550 million over five years for grants for post-secondary education to an additional 55,000 students over four years of study; $2.2 billion over five years to improve the student financial assistance system; $210 million over five years for graduate scholarships; $150 million over five years for scholarships to study abroad; and $1 billion in 2005-06 for the provinces to invest in post-secondary infrastructure. That is all gone. It has been cancelled, except for the commitment in the budget to spend $1 billion for provinces to invest in post-secondary infrastructure, but that is it.
The Conservatives offer tax credits and not improved access. The $125 million per year tax credit for the cost of textbooks does not do it, nor does the $50 million per year for the elimination of taxation on scholarships. This budget cancelled funding worth $3.11 billion over five years. This is a huge chunk. This is 50% of the first and last year of tuition as well as grants for all low income students and other supports.
All of those funds were going directly to improve access to post-secondary education. This funding has since been replaced with $175 million in tax incentives which do little for access considering that students who struggle most for access pay little tax in the first place.
The budget does spend on apprentices. The budget offers three tax incentives for apprentices totalling about $380 million per year. The government is very proud of all of these itsy-bitsy amounts, but this pales in comparison to $3.5 billion over five years in the November update for the workplace skills strategy with the provinces. The strategy was cancelled in the budget and is now included in the fiscal imbalance discussions. That was settled. That was a lot of money in a partnership with the provinces to address that issue.
The budget cancels more than $2.1 billion over five years to increase support for the granting councils, the indirect costs of research program of the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research and again $200 million over five years for up to 3,500 R and D internships in the natural and health sciences and for engineering graduates as well as up to 100 scholarships each year to engineering and natural and health sciences graduate students seeking a masters in business administration.
This is not a plan for prosperity. This is a disaster. Everyone talked for such a long time about brain drain in this country. We now have a brain gain because of the investment that we have made in innovation and research. We have been attracting people from other countries to come to this country. The Conservative government has turned it around. It has dropped it all. It is gone. For what, I ask. There is nothing in its place.
Education, prosperity, innovation, research, students, universities, partnerships with provinces are all gone. It means nothing. An agreement is signed but it is absolutely meaningless.
On the environment, again it is a very sad situation. The government has cut all the programs, the EnerGuide program for families, the high efficiency home system. Most of the investment is gone.
The only one that the government really hangs its hat on is the public transit credit, which by the way, as other members have said, costs $2,000 per tonne, 10 times more than our plan. Environment Canada had advised the current government that this action would not increase the number of public transit users, would not effectively lower greenhouse gas emissions and would not help reduce pollution.
The government seems to have decided to hitch its hat to the United States and China and has dropped Kyoto completely. The minister now chairs the Kyoto process, but basically is a chair only in name because in essence it is really a shame for Canada. We are no longer leaders working with our partners.
There is lots more that I could say, but I see that I have run out of time.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Drummond.
A number of my colleagues have addressed different facets of the budget. Some have spoken of the fiscal imbalance. In this regard, the budget speech provides an excellent schedule. Others have spoken about measures pertaining to day care costs, which are not really measures but rather a cheque for a maximum of $1,200, which is taxable on top of it. It strikes me more as a vote getting measure than one intended to swell the coffers of parents facing day care charges. I will not be looking at this.
As the labour critic, I looked more at what workers' associations and employers' or professional groups think. This is what I will look at. This is what I want to talk about today. I will in fact report to you what workers' and employers' associations have said.
Ken Georgetti, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, which has a membership of three million workers, said there was neither vision nor hope for working families. Mr. Georgetti feels that the federal Minister of Finance has let down working families in his first budget. He feels that “it shows no vision of the country and offers no sense of hope to working Canadians”.
The government squanders huge surpluses while workers can’t find child care for their kids, can’t get training to do their jobs better, can’t protect their pensions when companies go bankrupt or can’t get the money promised for pay equity.
That was the opinion of the CLC, the Canadian Labour Congress.
The CSN, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, as everyone knows, moreover, headed by Claudette Carbonneau, considers that the budget does not contain any big surprises, but a series of vote-buying, election-minded measures.
With regard to the fiscal imbalance, the only real commitment, according to the CSN, is one of scheduling.
Regarding health, the CSN says that this budget does no more than maintain the previous agreement with the Liberal government, even though the needs are obvious.
The CSN’s big disappointment comes from the lack of a first gesture towards post-secondary education. The CSN also notes that this budget sanctions the end of the agreement between Quebec and Ottawa on the funding of child care. “There is nothing in this budget, except for a bunch of sweetened measures designed to assuage the difficulties of the manufacturing sector”.
The CSN also says:
There is no concrete response to the problem of older workers who are victims of mass layoffs.
There is nothing for the unemployed, although the Conservative Party made a commitment in the election campaign in favour of an independent employment insurance fund.
There is nothing for the immediate implementation of the Kyoto protocol. Still, the CSN is happy about the measures respecting public transit.
The CSQ, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, headed by Réjean Parent, is disappointed with the stingy announcements concerning post-secondary education. Concerning the fiscal imbalance, the CSQ notes that there is no real solution and the government is acting very cautiously. The universal child care benefit, the much talked about cheque worth a taxable maximum of $1,200, remains inequitable for the families who need it most.
The CSQ considers that Quebec will be penalized by the Conservative government’s decision to invest exclusively in the development and not in the operation of child care services. It is concerned about the fact that the budget seems to confirm Canada's abandonment of the measures defined in the Kyoto accord and existing climate change programs.
The CSQ hails the tax credit for purchasing a monthly public transit pass, which as we know was a bill presented by my Bloc Québécois colleague for the riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.
The FTQ, the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec, is extremely disappointed by the government’s indifference towards the manufacturing sector. “For example,” it says, the government could have had recourse to the transitional measures provided by the WTO for textiles”.
There is not anything for setting up a genuine income support program for older workers.
The steelworkers' union is very disappointed that the national child care program has been abolished and replaced by a $1,200 election promise. The union feels that this is unfair, and it is also disappointed because “it comes at a time of comfortable surpluses that should be used to build a solid, supportive public policy, not a quick payout and tax breaks”.
The budget “also does nothing to address the crisis in Canada's manufacturing sector...The $400 million supposedly earmarked for encouraging forest industry competitiveness and fighting the mountain pine beetle is a drop in the bucket to an industry that is already in crisis”. The union also criticizes the government for not taking action in the budget to improve protection for workers' pensions.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada feels that the Conservative government’s budget will limit the rise in expenditures at a time when the economy is growing rapidly.
I would just like to take advantage of this opportunity to say that, until last Friday, Nycole Turmel was the president of the PSAC, and I now welcome the election of its new president, John Gordon.
“If the government is planning to institute these cuts….there will be a serious impact on the provision of federal public services,” the PSAC continued, speaking through Ms. Turmel.
Instead of taking advantage of the growing economy to spend tax dollars investing in public infrastructure, child care and other programs Canadians say they want, the Conservatives are unnecessarily speeding up the federal debt reduction plan.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees believes that this government’s “fixation with tax cuts is driving the federal government to abandon its role in providing quality public services” and it adds:
The 1 per cent reduction in the Goods and Services Tax will cost Ottawa over $5 billion a year in lower revenue, creating pressure to cut program spending
So as we can see, unions and working people’s associations are very or even extremely disappointed with this government’s budget.
And yet a different tune is heard from the associations representing employers and professionals.
The Certified General Accountants' Association of Canada is pleased. The Investment Dealers Association of Canada gives this government a good grade. The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal welcomes the budget. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce says that it is happy. The Conseil du patronat du Québec is very much in favour of this budget.
When we see that working people’s groups are disappointed and employers’ and professional associations are happy, we do not need a lot of studies to understand that this budget favours employers over working people. We see as well that this government is not at all sensitive toward working people.
The only times that this government mentioned working people in the budget speech or the throne speech, it was to talk about the 1% reduction in the GST.
Working people are not just “taxpayers”; they are important participants in the social and economic development of our society, and they should be considered as such.
In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the aeronautics industry.
The south shore is an aeronautics region. Half of Canada's aeronautics jobs are in Quebec, the Montreal area in particular and even closer to my riding on the south shore. We call it the aerospace region. The Saint Hubert airport is there. The Canadian Space Agency is in Saint Hubert. The ENA or national institute of aeronautics, two of the largest aeronautics companies and a number of aerospace research councils are in the immediate area. It is a science and technology park like no other in Quebec or Canada.
So, what is in this budget? What is in the Speech from the Throne? Not a word on aeronautics; nothing but vague allusions to research and development.
What became of the funding for the aeronautics policy tabled in this House last November?
It was a good policy. It had been copied from a Bloc Québécois proposal developed in consultation with aeronautics companies. The previous government had cut and pasted parts of the Bloc Québécois proposal, but did not present any funding for the policy.
We truly expected this Conservative government to propose funding in its budget.
As you can see, the aeronautics industry is extremely important. This industry creates meaningful, high-tech jobs, which are enriching for everyone, if my meaning is clear.
That is all I wanted to say. I would add on behalf of myself, all workers and the aeronautics industry that this budget is extremely disappointing.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. It is in fact an excellent one, and I congratulate her.
First and foremost, at least $48 billion would have to be put back into the employment insurance fund, that being the amount that was literally taken against the will of the workers and employers to whom those premiums belong. That money would have to be put back into the employment insurance fund. That would be the first thing to do.
Second, the employment insurance program would have to be improved, as my colleague from Chambly—Borduas in fact said and as my colleague from Compton—Stanstead proposed earlier this week. That program would have to be improved by implementing the 12 measures proposed.
Third, my colleague from Gatineau has introduced an anti-scab bill and I congratulate him on it. It is one of the best bills we have seen to combat the replacement workers problem.
Fourth, we have to enact a bill on precautionary withdrawal. This would allow pregnant women whose workplace is unhealthy for themselves or their fetus to be reassigned while still receiving the same wages and benefits as working women in Quebec are entitled to.
Have I forgotten anything?
An hon. member: Yes, the older workers assistance program.
Mrs. Carole Lavallée: Of course, the POWA. This Conservative government should reinstate it as quickly as possible.
Mr. Yves Lessard: An independent fund so that money does not keep being taken from it.
Mrs. Carole Lavallée: I thank the member for Chambly—Borduas.
There is also Bill C-55, which I have not yet mentioned, and which allows workers in companies that declare bankruptcy to recover their wages. That bill was introduced last year and given speedy passage. It was passed by the Senate and received royal assent, but it is not yet in force. If this government wanted to do something useful at least once during its term in office, it seems to me that it might hurry up and enact Bill C-55 and bring it into force. Workers would then be able to benefit from it as quickly as possible.
In the riding of Shefford a company named C-Plast has recently declared bankruptcy. The workers at that plant are writing to us, writing to us in the Bloc Québécois, not to the government across the way, asking us what is happening with Bill C-55. We are telling them that the only thing missing for it to be brought into force is the political will of the Conservative government.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for agreeing to share her time with me, and I would also like to thank her for her excellent speech.
I would like to begin by congratulating and thanking my colleagues, the members for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and Jeanne-Le Ber for their budget analysis, as well as all members of the Bloc Québécois who did such an admirable job of supporting them. Once again this year they have taken on this arduous task brilliantly. They have again shown how strong our organization is and why the vast majority of Quebeckers put their trust in the Bloc Québécois.
The Conservatives raised Quebeckers' expectations during the last election campaign, and we are still waiting for them to walk the walk. They promised to correct the fiscal imbalance, to give Quebec a place on the international stage, and to respect Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. They still have a lot to do to keep those promises.
I have to say that the main reason we support this budget is this government's firm commitment to correct the fiscal imbalance. That is the only reason. Without the formal commitment to address this issue by February 2007, the Bloc Québécois would have voted against the budget. The government must keep that in mind and act accordingly.
This is a transitional budget. The next one will be the real one. In the meantime, I repeat, the government must move from words to actions. Even for a transitional budget, this one is still far from perfect. It contains a number of negative aspects. For example, there is nothing for employment insurance, neither an independent fund nor improvements. We must remember that, even today, 60% of unemployed workers are denied access to the employment insurance plan. Under the Liberals, employment insurance shifted from being an assistance program to being a disguised tax. The Conservative government seems to want to move in the same direction.
The Bloc Québécois has always opposed the plunder of the employment insurance fund and demanded the creation of an independent fund. This money comes from contributions by employees and employers. The government has not contributed to the fund since 1990. It has absolutely no right to plunder this fund.
The Bloc Québécois has introduced a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act aimed at improving the employment insurance plan and thus restoring proper respect to those this budget has forgotten. We hope that this House will support this bill and especially that the government will honour its commitments in this regard now that it is in office.
Furthermore, this budget contains no commitment for a program to help older workers who lose their jobs due to foreign competition and globalization. It is not a difficult program to understand. My colleague from the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot explained it in detail to the Minister of Finance. Why is the government not acting? Action in this matter is needed urgently.
The program for older worker adjustment—known as POWA—provided for the payment of benefits to eligible workers aged 55 to 64 who had lost their jobs through a major permanent layoff, by bridging employment insurance benefits and pension benefits. Unfortunately, the program was abolished in 1997. From budget to budget, election campaign to election campaign, we have heard repeated promises to reinstate the program for older worker adjustment, but nothing has been done. The recent budget is proof.
Restoring POWA is particularly relevant to me because many victims of mass layoffs live in my riding. Last week, Teinturiers Élite, another textile business in my riding, had to close its doors. Approximately 50 people lost their jobs. Last April, Swift Galey, a jewel in our region's textile industry, also had to close its doors. Over the past five years or so, 800 jobs had been lost in that plant. Only 155 remained. The factory closed its doors last April, which led to the loss of the last 155 jobs.
In recent years, the Drummond area has seen many other plant closures in the textile industry, including Denim Swift, Celanese and Cavalier Textiles. We are talking about thousands of jobs lost in my riding. Many workers who lost their jobs had given over 20, 30 or even 40 years of service. During all of that time, these people paid into the EI fund.
What did the previous government do for these people? Nothing. What is the current government proposing to do for these people? Still nothing.
Older workers are facing hard times and the government must act immediately to help them.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities has already expressed its opinion on the terms and conditions of a program to help older workers who are victims of layoffs or plant closures. There is no need to start all over again. Instead of calling for a feasibility study, the minister must act, and quickly. There comes a time for shouldering responsibility, and that is what the Bloc Québécois is asking this government to do.
This brings me to my criticism that this budget also contains no support for manufacturing sectors affected by globalization, such as the textile, clothing, furniture and bicycle sectors.
When an industry sector is concentrated in Quebec, it would seem that the federal government drags its feet. The textile and clothing industries are good examples. Roughly half of the plants are in Quebec, where they account for nearly 100,000 direct jobs. In the Drummond area, this major economic sector is crumbling because of the federal government's inaction.
The textile and clothing industries are in crisis. They have to adapt to a business environment that has changed drastically in recent years.
The textile industry is presented as one of the most innovative manufacturing industries, but it needs a hand to get back on its feet. The federal government could take a leaf from the American government's book and put in place incentives to use Quebec and Canadian textiles by lifting the customs duty on foreign clothing made with textiles produced here.
I would like to remind the hon. members that the Bloc Québécois is determined to protect the interests of Quebeckers. I would also like to say to the people in the riding of Drummond, who elected me for the fifth time, that I will defend older workers, just as I will fight to win the embattled textile and clothing industries the help they need.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to share my time with my hon. colleague, the member for Abbotsford.
It is with great honour that I rise in the House today to speak in support of the budget. I also want to recognize the hon. finance minister, who has put a great deal of effort and thought into this, including the thorough consultations he went through with industries and individuals before the budget was brought to the House. That is reflected in the many tax cuts and benefits to Canadians. I would suggest that this is the best budget the House has seen in over 13 years.
Twenty-nine different tax cuts are in the budget. Once again, we have never seen this kind of returning of dollars back to Canadians, back to where it belongs, instead of the overtaxing we have seen in the past. The cost to increase the exemption amount is $1.08 billion, and that is returned to Canadians. There will be $2 returned to taxpayers for every $1 in spending. That is a fundamental change in direction in this government.
We see more tax relief in the budget than the last four Liberal budgets combined. It focuses on spending, not on slashing spending but making necessary spending more effective. Canadians have asked us for that and they have asked the finance minister to ensure he follows through on it.
We have respected the five priorities, which we talked about during the campaign. How novel to have actually delivered on what we promised. The Conservatives are all about delivering on our commitments. Budget 2006 certainly speaks to those priorities.
There will be $20 billion in tax cuts over a two year period. As a result of these measures, my home province of Alberta will pay $1 billion less in taxes in 2007. My constituents in the riding of Macleod, those whom I have met with and those who have written and emailed me, are happy with this. They want to see more money left in their pockets so they can make the decision of what to do with it.
The budget has $1 in new spending for every $2 that delivers tax relief. This budget delivers more than twice as much tax relief as it does in spending. The 1% cut in GST is another one of our promises, which delivers a tremendous amount of effect to this whole industry. Every Canadian will feel the effects of the 1% cut in GST.
We have promised to pay down the debt by $3 billion. A lot of our dissenters would accuse us of not looking after our fiscal house. We have set aside $3 billion to continue to pay down our debt. That is fiscally prudent financing.
Let me bring this back to my riding and my former livelihood of farming. We watched farmers out in front of Parliament in the last few weeks, protesting about the serious crisis in which the grains and oil seeds industry found itself. I want to acknowledge, for the finance minister, the appreciation farmers in my riding have shown for the $1.5 billion that the budget brings to agriculture. This will help them in a time of need.
The government will not abandon them. The government is looking at a long term future, but it also recognizes that in the short term, we need to help this sector get through. We need to work hard at the WTO to ensure that we get rid of the domestic support programs, like we see in the United States and the European Union, that impact these farmers so greatly.
In the meantime, this is what we will provide to farmers across the country. One billion dollars will be added to transition into an effective program that separates farm income from disaster relief. That is forward thinking on this Conservative government's behalf. We recognize that these two programs, which were tied together in the old CAIS program, did not work. We need to recognize that they need to be separated.
Also, our Minister of Agriculture recognized, because the CAIS program did not work, that many farmers were receiving letters asking for their advance payments back. In recognition of that, he has provided a grace period. The money they have in their hands can be used to put in this year's crop. Then we will deal with it at a later date, when we come up with a better program for CAIS. Also, doubling the interest free cash advances to farmers will help them get cash to buy their inputs for this spring. Farmers are pleased, and this is only one sector of Canadians who are happy with the budget.
The other sector is the families and communities. The government is investing in child care for example, a $100 a month credit to any parent with a child under six years of age. In my riding that is important. People in rural Alberta and in rural regions across the country do not have access to day care facilities.
The former Liberal government's universally accessible day care program was nothing more than a slap in the face to rural Canadians. There was no accessibility to ranch families living west of Fort Macleod. How would they find a day care facility within a two hour drive of their home? This provides the answer. We admit that this will not pay for all the day care and assistance needed, but it helps. No one said that the government was going to pay to raise people's children. This is not our plan. Also, we will invest $250 million to create more child care spaces, and we will create those spaces because they are necessary.
The budget offers $500 to encourage our children to become physically fit, to be aware of the importance of staying fit and healthy. It is an encouragement to get children out and to become active. That is a big cost in a large family. The government recognizes that.
The child disability benefit has gone from $2,044 to $2,300. That impacts a lot of disabled people. It is a benefit that many Canadians will acknowledge.
We will invest $52 million in our Canadian cancer strategy. There has not been one member in the House who has not been affected by cancer. This is a very important place to focus our research money.
I have five first nations reserves in my riding. We have put $450 million into aboriginal women, children and families, cleaning up water and building houses on the reserves. The one initiative that is new and inventive is recognizing that almost half of our first nations people live off reserves. With that recognition, we are adding $300 million to assisted housing off reserves. This is in conjunction with the provinces. Plus we will invest $300 million in the territories.
Again, the cut in the GST impacts seniors, students and farmers. Every industry and every individual will see the benefit of the GST cut.
I have not spoken to the benefits in the budge for students, small businesses and the apprenticeship programs, but my time is up.