The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approve in general the budgetary policy of the government.
Mr. Speaker, to begin, I will take the opportunity to salute the population of my riding, Rivière-du-Nord. I thank them from placing their trust in me as a member for the fifth time.
The Bloc views this as a transition budget. It contains some measures which will satisfy certain needs in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois will therefore support the Conservative budget.
This budget contains certain things on which the Bloc Québécois has been working for many years. One of them is the fiscal imbalance. In the previous Liberal government, the Bloc succeeded in having the fiscal imbalance included in the throne speech.
At last, this budget recognizes the existence of the fiscal imbalance, first of all. Next, it also recognizes that there will be negotiations and timetables. For Quebec, this measure alone is of critical importance. For the Bloc, timetables show that the government is serious about this measure, the principal measure for which the Bloc has fought here for years. You will recall that a few years ago, when we spoke the words “fiscal imbalance” here in this House, it was as if we were talking about something that did not exist. Now it is well defined, and the government recognizes it.
The Bloc is eager to see the negotiations unfold and to see what this government truly intends to do, whether it does its homework. We will be watching it very closely.
So this important measure is to be found in the budget.
We also find the whole issue of post-secondary education. Money is being allocated for the students. As we know, this House has even seen the tabling of private members’ bills to provide measures for post-secondary students. There was never any movement from the government on this issue. Finally, we are seeing some initiatives, even though we do not know as yet how they will be formulated. Everything will be tabled here, in the House of Commons, and then we will all of us be able to discuss whether they are reasonable or not. At last there will be these sorts of initiatives.
There are also measures on social housing. The CMHC has a surplus of over $4 billion. That surplus might already be allocated to social housing. The budget refers to some $800 million in measures. That is a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen how this will be formulated, what will be given, how it will be distributed to the provinces and how it will be managed.
It should not be forgotten that the various provinces have their own programs to administer social housing. Quebec wants this money to be transferred so that it can administer its own programs, since they already exist. We shall have to see how all of this will be distributed and negotiated.
We will also have to see how long this will take. It is fine to make promises, but if this is to happen in four or five years, it will be of no use. We want real promises, not empty ones. Furthermore, we want to see whether this government will move as quickly as we want. You and I know that that is not always the case. We have witnessed many budgets. For me, this is the thirteenth. We know that sometimes, despite the promises, things do not move forward very quickly.
Nonetheless, there are some measures in this direction.
Obviously, some things that we had hoped to see in the budget are missing, particularly as regards employment insurance. The Bloc is firmly committed to this issue. Everybody knows that. In fact, we have repeatedly brought forward bills on employment insurance. We want to see an independent employment insurance fund. Even a majority of government members voted to create such a fund.
There is $48 billion in the existing employment insurance fund. We have to be able to recover that money so that we can reinvest in our programs and not just reduce the premium payments of employers, but also increase employee weeks of benefits.
We have that $48 billion available. We do not know what the previous government did with it. I hope that the present government will be able to track that money down and will then do something to help unemployed workers.
Just to note, Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Trois-Rivières.
Self-employed workers are also one of our priorities. At this time, they are not eligible for employment insurance. All of these measures are extremely important. We have introduced bills so that self-employed workers can, if they so wish, pay EI premiums so that they can benefit from that program if the need arises. Self-employed workers may find themselves in very difficult situations. They do not necessarily earn a lot of money. If they have an accident or if their contracts dry up, they find themselves with no income and quite simply have to go on welfare. We would like to avoid this kind of situation, we would like to eliminate it, even. We want to improve the situation for everyone.
Employment insurance is a top priority issue for us. Unfortunately, there is nothing about it in the budget.
As well, the $1,200 allowance is somewhat disappointing. It has been decided that it will be given directly to families, when we know perfectly well that in some cases, at the end of the day—and people will realize this—families will be paying tax on that $1,200. If a true tax credit of $1,200 had been created, as the Bloc Québécois had called for, everyone who genuinely needed it would have received it.
On that point, perhaps the government will want to change things for the coming year. I do not know whether this is an on-going program. We have not been given any more information about it. Time will tell. The government will also see how the public reacts to it. When taxpayers fill out their tax returns, they will certainly realize that they do not have much left out of that $1,200, perhaps even nothing at all, or barely $200, and that it may not have been a good idea to do things this way.
Our child care program in Quebec is extremely important. I have not heard the government express its political will to negotiate with Quebec to allow this program to continue. The Bloc Québécois will never stop fighting for this issue. My colleague from Trois-Rivières will do so with vigour, I am sure. This is really important for us. Otherwise, Quebec will have a shortfall of $807 million and this will be unacceptable.
This is not a bad budget, but there is room for several improvements. The real budget will be the one in 2007. Then perhaps we will see different measures on which we can make a different judgment.
Also, there is the matter of the program for older workers. We have been talking about if for years. It has to be put back in place. As we know, we are living in the globalization era. At present, many manufacturing businesses are closing, particularly in the textile sector. The lumber industry has also suffered a great deal. But older workers have no program to help them make the transition. We have been demanding such a program for a very long time. We have asked the minister to restore it. We got a pilot project, but she does not seem to want to restore this program. It is extremely important that she do so.
I could go on longer, but I will try to summarize.
The final element that seems to me of great importance is the Kyoto protocol. We cannot disregard this. We see that the government does not really intend to respect the Kyoto protocol. It wants to completely transform things. It is trying to make us believe that it will deal with the matter of climate change and so on. The government wishes to transform everything in a rather ridiculous way.
It is extremely important that we respect our commitments. Canada should set an example. Quebec, for its part, has done its homework. It has hydroelectricity. It has done its work and will continue to do so. It is important for Canada to set an example for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it is setting the opposite example. The government will have to pay the price sooner or later.
I sincerely hope that the measures announced in this budget are really put in place and that they are put in place quickly. For the needs of Quebeckers, we have to sit down and negotiate as soon as possible all the promises made in the budget and which we need in Quebec as quickly as possible.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I take the floor in this House on the budget. Certainly for us, the Bloc Québécois, this is a transition budget. The real budget will be the one in 2007. Although we see numerous irritants in this budget, of which I will speak shortly, certainly it offers some openness, some commitment toward the fiscal imbalance.
For us, this is a concept which is important. We in the Bloc Québécois were the first to introduce this concept in this House. The previous Liberal government refused to even mention fiscal imbalance. Finally it is now recognized. We will be watching developments closely, for we want a real resolution of the situation. We truly want the money to be returned to the provinces, where the needs are, so that Quebec can truly solve its problems in its own way, for it is very familiar with its population’s needs.
For me, much of the role of a member of Parliament consists in analysis and judgment. Certainly, as members of Parliament, we have to be very knowledgeable about the needs of the people in our ridings and the needs of the population. Based on what we hear from them, we have to make a judgment. We have to assess the extent to which all the bills proposed in this House and everything that happens are balanced and make this a fairer society, where the distribution of wealth is appropriate and where there is a balance between rich and poor.
Unfortunately, this budget gives a little to everyone, it sprinkles a little bit everywhere. But one does not sense an overall plan, one does not really sense this judgment and this balance which might afford a vision of the type of society that this new government wants to develop for Canada.
Certainly in this budget there are some major oversights, including workers. There is nothing for older workers and nothing for improvement of the EI plan. No one is talking about the independent EI fund. There is nothing for the manufacturing industries, even though this is a known problem of adjustment to globalization. In my riding of Trois-Rivières, many workers are having a hard time, particularly in weakened sectors such as clothing. The same applies to bicycles, textiles and furniture. So we were expecting some remedial action so that we can cope with globalization.
Nor is there anything on industrial research. We all know how necessary research is for major economic development. So it is important to invest in industrial research and in research and development. Not to do so in this budget is to lack judgment and vision.
My colleague from Rivière-du-Nord talked earlier about the environment. The government told us it has a plan. We are still waiting to see what it looks like. In the short term, we seem to be giving up the struggle against greenhouse gas emissions. This is therefore problematic.
During the last parliament, I had the pleasure of sitting on the committee dealing with the status of women. I am very disappointed that there is nothing in this connection. And yet we know that the status of women throughout Canada is appalling. Many groups have come to see us. They needed additional funds to fight against violence towards women.
No measure has been proposed respecting pay equity. This is an issue, however, that Quebec is dealing with. Once again, Quebec could serve as a model. It is too bad that there is not the political will to deal with things.
The francophone communities also have some demands. If we want to make sure that we really have strong francophone communities, additional funds are necessary. There is absolutely nothing in this budget to address this.
Among the great oversights of this budget, there is the average family. For this typical family, that is, two spouses, two children, a family income of $65,000 or more, many dramatic events may arise. For example, for people living on a very tight budget, the rise in the cost of gas can be tragic.
In cases such as this, people in our ridings ask us what we are doing as members of Parliament to deal with this.
This budget does not give us any answer.
Let us talk about child care needs. A family with two children needs child care in order to carry on. Women are in the labour force because they have the right to be. Women who work make a significant economic contribution, but often they work because they have to.
Women need support measures in order to be able to enter the labour force. This government's lack of commitment is increasingly clear. The $1,200 allowance is certainly not a child care measure. As my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord said, we will fight to recover the $807 million that Quebec was deprived of when the child care agreement was terminated.
We truly value our child care, and we are determined to support families. It is important to us, and it should have been reflected in this budget.
It would seem that this average family I have described has been forgotten. When it is hit hard by a job loss, what support measures can it count on?
It was my pleasure, in the previous Parliament, to introduce a bill to improve the employment insurance plan by increasing the number of weeks and the amount provided as salary replacement.
Employment insurance has become a sort of lottery, open only to a few. It is not a privilege. Just as you insure your house against loss, you protect yourself in the event of difficulties. The family I have been giving as an example finds itself with only one salary and employment insurance benefits for fewer weeks with little replacement income. So this family finds itself in difficult straits and will end up in debt for many years.
Workers are therefore making legitimate demands, and people expected answers. It is a fact that $48 billion has been taken from the employment insurance fund. This money belongs to workers, let us give it back to them. It is not charity. It should go back to the workers. They are entitled to it.
There has been talk of POWA, the program for older workers. In my riding there are massive layoffs in the manufacturing sector and there is no adjustment formula for workers 55 and over.
We know how difficult it is for someone with little formal education to upgrade. These people need initiatives as a bridge to pension benefits. An adjustment period is therefore necessary for these workers; we have been calling for it, and the government should seriously consider including something along those lines.
There will be a feasibility study, we are told. That is not enough, as far as we are concerned. The program used to exist. The money is there. It is just a matter of implementing the program.
The pilot project providing five additional weeks of benefits in regions where the unemployment rate is above 10% will end in June, and we are still waiting for it to be extended.
It is tragic for the families of workers affected by the spring gap, making it all the more important to successfully deal with these problems.
It is my responsibility as the intergovernmental affairs critic and I would like to address the numerous invasions resulting from this budget. The $1,200 allowance definitely invades provincial jurisdictions. Since Quebec already has it own security regulator, that is no use to us. As for the Canadian agency for assessment and recognition of foreign credentials, these come under provincial jurisdiction. And the list goes on.
This is all very disappointing, especially from a government that had promised to respect provincial areas of jurisdiction. The public has to realize what kind of government we are dealing with. This is certainly a government which, like Ulysses, will want to fill our ears with wax so that we cannot hear the song of the sirens.
Such invasions are unacceptable, and we will continue relentlessly to demand full autonomy for Quebec and the transfer of the money we are owed, with no strings attached.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster.
I am pleased to stand today on behalf of the people in my riding of Durham and speak to budget 2006. It is a focused budget that will deliver benefits to the families, students and seniors in Durham.
Those in my riding know their tax dollars will be used in a more transparent, accountable and disciplined way; used to make our families stronger, our streets safer and our businesses grow. The budget will provide more than twice as much in tax relief as in new spending. It delivers on our five priorities while paying down $3 billion of our national debt.
Durham is a fast growing community, building on a long tradition of farming and industry. It is a community that is welcoming more and more new families each week. During my last weekend visit to the riding, I attended two openings of two new housing projects.
The young families that will move into those new homes this year will see the benefit of the 1% decrease in the GST, not only on the cost of that house but on the many other purchases they must make as they settle in. Their children will take active part in the many organized activities Durham has to offer. The sports fitness tax credit will help these families as their children participate on soccer, hockey and baseball teams throughout the riding.
I have spoken many times in the House about the unique child care needs of families in the small towns and hamlets and in Durham. Their day care needs would not be met by a nine to five institutional approach because they are commuters not able to meet nine to five limitations. Many are shift workers and many choose to rely on family members or neighbours for day care.
Our day care program respects their needs and leaves the choice in the hands of parents and the family. It allows our smaller communities to work together with businesses and community organizations to create new day care spaces where they are needed.
The budget will not only help Durham families but the many small businesses in the region by increasing the amount of the small business income eligible for the 12% tax rate to $400,000, while decreasing the 12% tax rate to 11.5% in 2008 and 11% in 2009.
The government also heard the voices of the agricultural community in Durham. I know that for generations the farmers in Durham have been feeding their families, the community, cities and Canada. The government is standing up for farmers by providing an additional $2 billion for agriculture as it works on longer term solutions for the farmers in Canada. In fact, I would like to read a quote from a letter to the editor by a local farmer. He says:
To be reasonable and fair the government has reacted timely and responsibly considering the length of time that these individuals have been a government.
The announcement in yesterday's budget provides an opportunity to survive a little longer and the opportunity to work towards a better tomorrow both for the primary producers and you the ultimate consumer.
Budget 2006 is about our future. It reduces taxes and it benefits families, students and businesses. It supports our seniors who have worked hard and deserve to enjoy their retirement. It will enable the municipalities of Uxbridge, Skugog and Clarington to address their infrastructure needs with the continuation of the gas tax transfer. This is a budget that works for Durham.
As the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I am proud to be part of a government that recognizes the importance of the arts community to Canadian society and to our quality of life. The increase of $50 million to the Canada Council was welcomed by the arts communities across the country.
In addition to the extra funding for the Canada Council, the budget proposes a significant new tax measure. Donations of publicly traded securities to public charities will no longer be subject to the capital gains tax. This could inject up to approximately $300 million annually into the non-profit sector. This measure will have an important positive impact on the arts sector and will stimulate private participation in the arts and cultural communities.
This measure will have an important positive impact on the arts sector. This will stimulate private participation in the arts and cultural communities.
As stewards of Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars, our government believes that public spending on arts and culture must be focused and generate clear results. I will be working hard, along with my colleagues, to deliver on our promises to ensure true benefits for all Canadians, not only in the arts but in all aspects of Canadian life.
I want to conclude by pointing out once again that this government is focused. This government does not make outrageous promises. This government was determined to tell Canadians what it would deliver on when it became government, to limit that to what it would be focused on and to identify clear priorities.
I want to thank the people in Durham for their confidence in me and this government. As Joe Hickson and the farmers pointed out, for the short period of time we have been in government, we are delivering. They are seeing results.
As we go forward as the Government of Canada, we will continue to demonstrate good projects, good benefits and real results.
Most importantly, we have satisfied and will continue to satisfy the public's concern about responsible use of their money. I know the taxpayers in my riding of Durham. They are willing to pay taxes as long as the money is being used in the responsible way they believe government should use it. They want to see those dollars benefiting Canadians. They want to see those dollars going to the people they were intended to help.
The people of Durham sent me here to work on their behalf. Their support has given me the opportunity and the responsibility to work on their behalf to deliver a responsible tax system, a focused government and a responsible cabinet, to ensure that there is beneficial spending and, consequently, a better life for all Canadians and a better Canada for all.
Mr. Speaker, the way they address each other is a result of the collegiality they enjoyed on the committee they served on together, although I know we are supposed to address each other through the Chair.
I am very pleased to stand today in the House and speak to budget 2006. In the almost 10 years I have been here, I have spoken to just about every budget as it came along. On the opposition side, of course, a lot of comments are made that point to the holes, or at the missing bells and whistles, or to the different way things are being done.
I was a part of that too, but in all fairness, I think this budget has struck a chord with Canadians from coast to coast to coast. My colleagues and I have received letters and e-mails from every aspect of the Canadian public, from ethnic groups, cultural groups, business groups, farmers and ranchers. In general, everybody is saying that this is a fantastic budget.
Canadians are finally seeing a paradigm shift. Spending is finally going to be under control. We are at less than half of what it was creeping up to last year, and the tax cuts have doubled. More Canadians are going to be able to keep their hard-earned cash. They are going to be able to make the decisions that benefit them and their businesses rather than flushing their money to Ottawa, then saying they are not getting this and not getting that and asking, “Where did the money go?”
A lack of accountability permeated the old Liberal government that had been in power a couple of years too long. Those Liberal members are going to spend a little time in the penalty box. I think even those members recognize that there was a major problem at the end of their tenure--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Gerry Ritz: We are going to shift things a little bit more to the accountability side. I know those members over there are going to hoot and holler about that, but that is where we have to go. We have to be far more responsible with taxpayers' money. I think this budget does that.
As I went around my riding after the election, when the great folks of Battlefords--Lloydminster saw fit to send me back here again and continue the work of the last 10 years, I was asked one question repeatedly: “What is it like to be on the government side?” I could not really answer that.
It was not until we were here in the House and starting to work on the projects we have had in our hip pockets, projects that we came here for years ago, starting to see some of those projects come to fruition and starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, that I could answer that question. We are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel on a lot of the different issues that drove us into this House of Commons to take part in debates like these.
I did not really get a sense of the huge undertaking that we are taking on as a government, but I started to see consistency between what the Prime Minister campaigned on, what the throne speech outlined, and now the budget. I am seeing that consistency permeating all of this and Canadians are really thrilled with that. We have cut the flowery language and the jargon, the language that always went along with the thrust and drive of political debate here in the House.
This budget document is focused, it is highlighted and it is detailed. It is a fantastic document. It is not a big document, but there is a lot of information in its few pages. Canadians took it upon themselves to have a look at it either in print or on the website and their comments were unbelievable.
When I did my press release at home about the budget, there was a young newspaper reporter who has been hit or miss with support. That is fine. He is fair. He told me it took him an extra half a day to follow up on my press release because he wanted to do a really good balanced report. In order to do his report, he talked to about 50 or 60 people on the street in the largest community in my riding. He found as broad a spectrum of individuals as possible. He talked to everybody who would answer him. He said that not one person had a bad thing to say about the budget. They saw the news releases and they said things like: “this is great for me” or “this will work great for my aunt” or “this will be great for my mom and dad in the seniors' complex”.
He had not looked in depth at the budget himself at that time, so he went home and pencilled it out. He found that for him, his wife and his two young children, this budget will save his household $2,100. That is what he explained to me. With the education his wife is undertaking and with other things, he is going to save $2,100. He was ecstatic. He said he had never seen that before.
This young man is also in the military reserves and he loves the direction we are taking by putting some power back into our military and giving them the respect they need and have always deserved. He is happy that we are giving them the equipment they need to do the job they are so proud of doing around the world and here at home.
There has been a lot of discussion about our child care plan. Of course we campaigned on that and Canadians saw fit to send us back here to implement our child care plan and do away with the Liberal one.
There was a problem with that Liberal plan, and the Liberals seem to forget this in a bit of revisionist history. They forget that they only had a one year agreement, an agreement with 10 provinces in principle, but only three had ever bought in. Yet they were planning on moving along with it. Their program addressed 7% of the need. There was no plan to create child care spaces like they rant and rave about, but our plan does create them.
There is funding in the budget so that businesses, community groups and so on can start to develop 125,000 child care spaces. That is fantastic news.
In the rural areas that I represent the $1,200 a year creates a cash flow situation. The local parents can use the institutionalized child care if they so desire, or stay home and look after their kids, or grandma, grandpa or someone else can do it. However they decide to do it, it is their choice and the cash flow is theirs. It is taxed back at the rate of the lowest income earner.
The NDP members have gone from saying families are only going to net $190 to $800 or $900. At the end of the discussion they finally got their calculators to work right. There are instances in many lower income homes where the amount will not be taxed at all. That is a wonderful thing. Some 650,000 people will be coming off the low end of the tax rolls with our tax proposals.
There has been a lot of discussion about the 1% reduction in the GST and a lot of screaming and howling from the party that was never going to implement it. Now we are taking it backwards and ratcheting it down, as we should do and can do, and they are screaming no, we have to keep it. What hypocrisy.
The great thing about the GST cut is it affects everyone. I do not care if one is a senior on a fixed income or a guy earning $100,000 and his wife earns another $100,000. It does not matter. It is going to affect everyone in the same way. Whether we rent or own our home, whether we lease or own our car, or whether we do not have a car at all and we ride the bus, there is GST on everything we eat, see and do. That tax is hidden in everything, the telephone bill, power bill, heating bill and tax notice. It does not matter what it is, there is that little gouge and screw tax on the end of it.
Taking one point off the GST is going to make a huge difference to everyone. As I said, whether one is on a fixed income or one is a huge megabuck earner, everyone is going to benefit from it. That is great. That will inject cash back into the economy which we have not seen for quite a while. We know this is so good that we are going to do it again. We are going to lower the GST by another point just as soon as we can make it financially doable.
Get used to good things from this government. Being a minority government our days might be numbered, but they are going to be good days. When people ask me what it is like to be in government, I can say that it is thrilling because we can finally deliver back to people the tax cuts and programs that people want to actually to make use of.
There is a lot of hue and cry from the NDP members. They cannot support this budget because there are tax cuts for big corporations. Of course there are and there have to be. Who do they suppose creates the union jobs and the bulk of the jobs in this country? It is business. They cut off their nose to spite their face when they say they are not going to support a budget because there are tax cuts in it. That is ridiculous. It creates a little thing called profit which lets business hire more people, or rehire them in the case of the softwood lumber industry.
This budget is a breath of fresh air. This is an economic stimulation for the country.
There is great news in the budget for agriculture. We saw a lot of things going sideways. There is $2 billion over the next two years which will go directly into agriculture. That does not rule out ad hoc payments if we have another crash and burn, but it certainly gives stability to the industry. It gets the financial sector looking more positively again at agriculture. Lines of credits are a tough thing to come by in my area of the country. We have been hard hit, but with a $2 billion injection, already the bankers are phoning me saying, “This is great. We can see when this comes in it will make a positive impact”.
We are forced to do it through the CAIS program because the provinces are not ready to let that go yet. We are buying into that warts and all, but the $2 billion will let us go back in there and cut off some of those warts. We can go back in and adjust reference margins and little things where they were jerking around the inventory values, things that will actually trigger money back out to farmers who were hard hit. We can go back retroactively to 2003 which stimulates the 2004-05 payments. Farmers are ecstatic about this. They love it and all the other little things that go along with it.
Ten minutes is just not enough time to talk about all the great things in the budget. There are super components in it for post-secondary education for young people who want to go on to university. There are tax incentives on books. We have $1 billion for infrastructure for universities because we know the kind of shape they are in after years of neglect.
We are carrying on with the infrastructure program so that our highways can be rebuilt. We have to wear seat belts in Saskatchewan just to keep us in our seats because the roads are so rough. We are going to go in and fix these things.
The Liberal government talked about it for 13 years. We have been here for four months and we are getting the job done.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address the budget today. It is also a pleasure to share my time with the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, which is a very large riding with a very long name.
I would like to begin, lest we forget, by recalling that when the Liberal government came to power in 1993, we faced a tremendous task, thanks to nine years of Conservative fiscal mismanagement. Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you would agree with me, but I am sure that the NDP would never have left the country in the shape that the Conservative government did in 1993.
We inherited a $43 billion annual deficit. Our national debt equalled 70% of our gross domestic product. Deficit financing had become a budgetary mainstay. Interest rates were skyrocketing, job creation was negative and unemployment reached double digits. However, a change was wrought under the Liberal regime over the last 13 years and that is the reason the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster could make the speech that he just did.
We were left with the daunting task of setting Canada's financial books straight, and we did just that. We did what the Conservatives could not or would not do. We took on the required difficult task. It was painful, but the Canadian people stuck with us in our decision making and it amounted to short term pain for long term gain. In just four short years the finances of this country began to turn around. We brought the government out of the red and restored our fiscal sovereignty.
Over the next eight years we brought down eight consecutive surpluses and projected at least five more. We reduced the national debt by more than $63 billion, thereby saving $3 billion in interest rates. We brought the unemployment rate to a 32 year low. Inflation was lowered and interest rates were at the lowest for decades. We renewed the federal government's capacity to increase the standard of living of every Canadian. We did this through investing in social programs, through economic development programs, skills training and job creation, low interest rates, regional development programs, new municipal infrastructure programs and tax reduction. To be succinct, we successfully orchestrated the maple leaf miracle, the envy of every G-7 country.
When the present government came to power with just 36% of popular support across Canada, to use a baseball analogy, we were sitting on third base financially with nobody out and the Conservatives scratched at one single and, coming out of the bushes after 13 years, they came in with a very, very disappointing budget.
Never in the history of Canada has an incoming government inherited such a tremendous record of surpluses. Certainly, in the history of Canada, no outgoing Conservative government has ever left such a tremendous record.
We worked to ensure that all Canadians held on to their hard-earned money. We lowered the income tax rate. We reduced more than $100 billion in federal taxes since 2000. Just last year we initiated a six year tax cut that would have seen savings of over $50 billion to Canadian taxpayers.
We lowered the employment insurance rates for the 11th consecutive year to half of what they were in 1993. In 1993 the EI rate was $3.07 per $100. It was going up to $3.30 per $100. Today it is $1.87 per $100. In this budget it was never mentioned. An EI rate reduction was not mentioned for employers and employees. We were being accused of accumulating huge surpluses. Apparently these huge surpluses are now welcomed by the present government.
We worked with the provinces and territories to establish a $5 billion deal that would ensure that every Canadian from coast to coast regardless of age, income, gender or race could access quality public child care.
We concluded a $41 billion agreement on health care.
We worked to build a consensus around a new equalization agreement, a $33 billion 10 year agreement which implemented a constitutional commitment to the equality of Canadians across the country regardless of region.
We developed an unprecedented agreement with first nations across Canada, through the Kelowna accord, which heralded a new era of cooperation and commitment to increasing the quality of life of aboriginal peoples. Alas, I do not believe that agreement is any longer in effect.
These are just a few of the previous Liberal government's successes.
In my time remaining, I want to discuss two issues of particular importance.
First, I want to point the lack of vision for Atlantic Canada, particularly there was no mention of an immigration policy for our region. The demographics for Atlantic Canada are very disturbing. With our out-migration, our aging population and low birth rates, Atlantic Canada will not have the number of people required to not only grow the economy in the future but to fill the jobs that are there now. Yet each province in Atlantic Canada knows these numbers. They know that an immigration policy has to be put in place in cooperation with the immigration department of the federal government.
Under the ACOA program we made some initial starts on that, working with the provinces to create a fund. We are not used to going out looking for immigrants. Immigrants, who come into our country, go to Toronto, Calgary and the large cities. Many of the immigrants who do come to Atlantic Canada only stay for a short time and they migrate to places of better opportunity. We no longer have the ability to look at this in a lax way. We must address it because the future of Atlantic Canada is in the balance if we do not get serious about an immigration policy that will not only attract immigrants to the region but to retain them for the future economic development of our region.
I do not have to tell anyone here of the importance of the economic development of the outlying regions of our country. Each region as a part contributes to the success of Canada as a whole.
Although it was not mentioned once in the budget, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is critical to the development of the Atlantic region. Its programs fund small and medium sized business by providing repayable loans and providing risk capital. It also encourages job creation through enterprise development and it promotes community development. It has a proven track record of success in lowering unemployment, creating jobs and generating value for money outcomes. In the first decade, since its creation, each ACOA dollar invested created $5 in the GDP of Atlantic Canada.
As well, over the past decade, the Atlantic Canada Liberal caucus has been very active in developing a plan that has focused on strategic investments that make good business sense and help the region. These politicians know that proper economic development planning takes time and requires sustained commitment. They cannot simply follow the short term time span offered in the calendar year.
That is why the Liberal government five years ago responded with a $700 million Atlantic investment partnership and a renewed investment of $708 million in 2005. Although still being implemented, these strategic investments have already begun to yield positive results with the Atlantic economy. Funding to support research and development has attracted over $800 million worth of investment in the region. Investments in community economic development boast a leveraging percentage of over 100% or more. More than $36 million in sales have been directly attributed to trade missions funded through this initiative.
Strengthening economic and community development is key to reversing current trends of underdevelopment and out-migration. However, keeping in mind Prime Minister Harper's comments damning regional--
Mr. Speaker, the member across the way started his speech by talking about 1993, so I would like to do the same for a moment.
When the Liberal government came to power in 1993, it announced that one million children were living in poverty and that its budgets would take care of the problem. In 2005 1.5 million children were living in those conditions.
When the Liberal government came to power in 1993, it talked about scrapping the GST. Sheila Copps resigned because it did not keep its promise. John Nunziata voted against the budget and was sent across the way because it did not keep its promise. In 2005 it was the Liberal GST policy.
In 1995 the gun registry was created for $2 million, which would take care of the weapons problem. Nearly $2 billion has been spent.
During the 1990s, $1 billion was lost in HRDC somewhere. It was an absolute boondoggle. Where did the money go? No one knows.
In the 1990s there was poverty on the reserves. There were third world conditions. All the budgets promised to take care of that. In 2005 the conditions were the same or worse. In fact, bad water has increased to a great degree.
The Kyoto agreement was established in the 1990s and the government spent billions of dollars. In 2005 emissions were up 36%.
There was the culture of entitlement. Mr. Dingwall made off with a big haul. There are $1.7 million for which Mr. Ouellet does not have to account. There are no receipts for expenses.
All of this was on the Liberal record. Well done, Liberal guys, because in 2006 Canadians voted and said they wanted change. I do not blame them. I certainly want change.
Today Canadians are cheering our budget and our policies. I am afraid the member is completely out of whack when he talks about the great job the Liberals have done.
Mr. Speaker, before I start my remarks, I would like to follow up. The debt grew quite large under the administration of the Conservative government of Mr. Mulroney. Under our administration, the debt as a percentage of GDP dropped from 68% to 38%. That is a substantial accomplishment. We started out, as my hon. colleague from Egmont said, with a $40 billion plus annual deficit. In fact, this is a great segue for my own remarks.
My own very large and beautiful riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing in northern Ontario, some 110,000 square kilometres, is an area filled with creative people, about two dozen first nations communities and Métis people. We have tourism, forestry, mining and a potential for the future, which is fabulous. However, the budget, introduced for the first time by the government a few days ago, is one without any vision. In fact, when I was contemplating whether it was a vision that was a bad vision for the future or whether there was any vision at all, I really was not certain.
Let me just build a bit on some of my colleague's remarks. We should consider what our administration did over the last 12 years with the national unemployment rate. In 1993 it was at 11.5%. Now it hovers in at just over 6%. I mentioned the huge drop in the debt burden of the country. Employment insurance premiums dropped from over $3 per $100 of earnings back in 1993 to now under $2 per $100 of earnings. It is a fabulous boost for small business and workers across the country.
I could go on and on. In fact, a very important statistic is that Canada's foreign debt as a percentage of GDP dropped from 45% in 1993 to only 17%. We were able to put the books of the country in shape for the first time in a long time, I think eight successive surpluses. Thankfully, the Conservatives now are the beneficiary of a great set of books. We encourage them to use those funds wisely. Do not bring us back into deficit. That would be the worst thing for the future of the country, and I worry about that. Conservative governments in the past have proven to be fiscally incompetent.
For example, Conservative governments in the U.S. have proven themselves to be fiscally incompetent. The competence that the Liberals brought to the financial affairs of the country is a model for the world. Ask our G-7 and/or OECD colleagues about that. That is not even to mention inflation.
Over the time that we were in office, inflation was brought under control. This was not done just by the government itself. Nor can the new government take all the credit for what it does, bad or good. It does involve a lot of other people. Canadians worked hard, along with us over the last 12 years, to accomplish what was accomplished.
I would like to go back to the division thing. What really concerns me is that the budget is much more about short term expediencies, what will happen in the months ahead. I am, as are my colleagues, more than ready to face the electorate at the appropriate time.
I mentioned that I had roughly 24 first nations in my riding. We had the Kelowna accord, an accord that was signed, sealed and delivered by the premiers of the provinces and territories, by the aboriginal, Métis and Inuit leadership and by the prime minister of the day. To see that accord tossed out the window is a damaging for the relationship between Canada and its aboriginal peoples.
Our aboriginal people deserve respect. They deserve to be at the table. It was a historic meeting in Kelowna where provincial, territorial, national and aboriginal leaders were together for the first time. They made breakthroughs that were historic. I really hope that the very small down payment that the government made in its budget is followed up with further action and a commitment to follow through on the over $5 billion that was committed to in Kelowna. We are really counting on that. We will give the government the benefit of a little more time, but it is barely 20% there on that commitment.
I am worried about our regions. There was no mention that I recall about regional economic development. In northern Ontario--
Hon. Joe McGuire: Or anywhere else.
Mr. Brent St. Denis: For that matter, anywhere else, but in northern Ontario, FedNor does a lot to assist our communities with improvements and its ability to attract new people, tourists and industry.
We have had no negative words so far, but I hope the absence of encouragement is not a bad thing. I really hope that we will see more encouragement from the government in future budgets, should we get there, and in other future announcements. We hope to see more encouragement that FedNor and programs like it in the Atlantic provinces and the west will be there to support our communities and to promote small, medium and large businesses right across this country, especially in our rural regions.
In forestry, there has been a recent agreement, not a good agreement but an agreement made to put aside the softwood lumber discord with the U.S. Sadly, $1 billion is going to be kept by the U.S., half of which will be paid out to the softwood lumber industry in the U.S. to be used to compete and fight with our own industry here in Canada. It is a deal that is regrettable, but in stepping back and looking at it, given the fact that the U.S. administration has treated previous administrations no better than it has treated this administration, it was about all we could actually expect.
I had hoped that in the budget there would have been more support for the forestry sector in terms of diversification, co-generation and R and D, the kinds of things that are needed to ensure that the moneys their American competitors are keeping can be compensated for here in support of our own industry.
When it comes to health and the agreement made by our previous administration with the provinces, which made major commitments of billions of dollars to help the provinces and territories with health care, all this government has done is really parrot what we had done previously. There is no new money in this budget for health care, particularly for waiting times.
It is very important that we back up what we say with actual resources. The provinces and territories are basically on their own now when it comes to waiting times. We had made a $42 billion commitment over 10 years to health care. My colleague can nod his head and tell me if I am right or wrong, but I think it was $42 billion over 10 years, a fantastic investment. Clearly, this government was satisfied with what we did because it did not add a nickel more to that undertaking.
Let me talk a little about the importance of productivity in this country. The basis of our productivity is in education, R and D, and investment in bringing to commercialization some of the great ideas that come from our enterprising entrepreneurs and scientists in this country.
There was a modest investment made for textbooks. I think it is about $78 a year for textbooks for students. Every little bit will help, but compared to the billions that we had committed for R and D to continue our race to become the world's leader when it comes to brain power and raising the standard of living not only for ourselves but the rest of the world, I am afraid the government has sidelined us on that effort.
Hopefully, if it gets another budget under its belt, the government will address this major failing which is in the area of education and development of our brain power, including bringing into the fold the aboriginal youth who are so important to the future of this wonderful nation.
On tax cuts, let us compare the efforts we made over the years with tax cuts of $160 billion targeted to the low and middle income Canadians. With this GST cut, people who are rich are going to get a bigger GST savings than those who are poor. If I could afford to buy a $100,000 boat, I would save a lot of GST. Unfortunately, I cannot afford that, but some people can and they will save a lot of money.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for St. Catharines.
Before I commence my remarks, I would like to formally thank the residents Blackstrap for once again granting me the distinct privilege of representing them in the House of Commons. I would also like to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, for your appointment as Acting Speaker. I had not had the opportunity to congratulate you. I am humbled by the continued confidence and trust that the electorate of Blackstrap has shown and I offer them my continued dedication to represent their views.
On May 2 the new Conservative government presented its first budget and with it began the change that Canadians voted for on January 23. The French poet, Paul Valery, once noted that, “Every beginning is a consequence. Every beginning ends something”.
In many ways this budget embodied that saying, for its existence was the consequence of Canadians rejecting a tired Liberal government with tired ideas. Replacing it with a Conservative government fueled by innovation and guided by the desire to build an even ever greater Canada, it does not try to do so by being everything to everyone and it does not make so many items a priority that the word loses its meaning. It does so by focussing on the pressing concerns of Canadians and delivering real solutions to them in a significant and fiscally prudent manner.
While the budget is focused, it does not lack ambition. It presents Canadians with multifaceted solutions that will help restore accountability to our governing institutions, foster opportunity for prosperity, ensure safe and healthy communities, and support our families.
A widespread grievance among my constituents throughout the years has been the excessive taxation that is levied on them by all levels of government. That is why it was particularly gratifying to see the governments commitment to deliver $20 billion in tax relief for over two years, more tax relief than the last four federal budgets combined.
These tax reducing measures will permanently remove 655,000 low income Canadians from the tax rolls. It will impact Canadians on a daily basis. It will impact every day Canadians like a father driving a daughter or son to hockey practice in his new minivan. He will benefit on multiple levels. First, he will save on the price of that new minivan and the fuel to run it with a 1% reduction to the GST. Second, the new $500 tax credit for sports registration fees will help cover the cost of hockey practice.
To stimulate a vibrant and growing economy, the budget proposes new measures over the course of the next few years that will make Canada's tax system more competitive in the international arena, including a commitment to reduce the corporate tax rate by 2% along with the elimination of both the corporate surtax and federal capital tax.
Likewise, as Marilyn Braun-Pollon of the Saskatchewan Branch of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business remarked, “Small business owners should really love this budget. This budget exceeds our expectations”. For good reason, this budget introduces measures to support small businesses by phasing in a 1% reduction in their tax rate to 11% and increasing the income eligibility for the rate to $400,000.
I am happy to report such pro-growth initiatives that have elicited upbeat responses from my home province because of the positive signal it sends to Saskatchewan business owners.
Again, Ms. Braun-Pollon said, “When you look at the corporate tax, the income tax and the GST reductions--there is a lot here to be pleased with”.
The budget seeks to help out Canadian workers as well with, for instance, the new Canada employment credit for employee work expenses on items such as home computers, uniforms and supplies. This will not only further boost labour market participation but also provide relief to a broad range of current professionals.
Just recently the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation petitioned the federal government to provide tax deductions to teachers for materials they put in their classrooms. Saskatoon teacher, Robert Tessier, who spends nearly $1,000 annually on classroom supplies noted that:
You get things to make your classroom look nice. Or in some cases the children don't have supplies...so you provide extra notebooks, pencils, crayons and glue.
The Canada employment credit recognizes that and it seeks to ease the burden on teachers like Mr. Tessier.
The budget further recognizes the acute shortage of skilled labour throughout Canada, addressing it through proactive and pioneering measures. A recent manpower survey noted that two-thirds of Canadian employers are reporting problems in recruiting suitably skilled or qualified workers.
As Neville Nankivell noted recently in The Financial Post:
--government, employers, and educational groups “can do a lot more to help improve skills levels and increase the supply of qualified workers”.
I submit to Mr. Nankivell that the Government of Canada has taken a tangible step in that direction in the recent budget.
We have introduced a new apprenticeship job creation tax credit to assist companies in hiring more apprentices. A new apprenticeship incentive grant will encourage Canadians to enter into economically strategic skilled trades. These measures will aid approximately 100,000 apprentices.
The budget represents a new beginning for our agriculture producers. It is a new era of respect. For far too long the previous Liberal government ignored the plight of our farmers and for far too long Canadian farmers were left out. In the first budget of this new government that changed.
The budget firmly established that the new Government of Canada is committed to a vibrant and sustainable agriculture sector. It provides an additional $2 billion over two years to the sector, $500 million for farm support and a $1 billion investment in effective and efficient programming for farm income stabilization and disaster relief.
The people of Saskatchewan are thankful for a government that is finally ready to substantially support agriculture. Provincial politicians of all stripes have applauded this budget's support to agriculture. It is a truly remarkable achievement in Saskatchewan. The NDP agriculture minister called it “promising” and he thanked this government for hearing the message delivered by provincial farm leaders. Brad Wall, the leader of the Saskatchewan opposition party, was so pleased with a budget that exceeded existing agricultural commitments that he called it “significant positive news”.
There is considerably more in the budget: more to ensure the safety of our communities; more to address the medical needs of Canadians through the short term, like the patient wait times guarantee, and through the long term, like the Canadian strategy for cancer control.
I am proud to be a member of the government that delivered this budget. It delivered on its commitments in a manner that will get results while respecting the hard-working taxpayers of Canada.
On February 27, 2001, I stood in this House and gave my maiden speech as a member of Parliament. I stood and said to Canadians that the residents of Blackstrap were frustrated with a federal government that did not manage the country's economic situation with the same diligence that it managed its personal finances. I also told Canadians that the people of Blackstrap wanted balance brought back into the taxation system.
This time I want to tell residents of Blackstrap that the days of unfocused priorities and mismanagement are over. A focused and prudent government has risen in its place and every beginning is a consequence, every beginning ends something.
Mr. Speaker, I am certainly proud to have the opportunity to speak to the government's first budget. The 2006 budget is one that provides Canadians with hope; hope that our new government has departed from the ways of the past and is committed to doing what it said it would do; hope that their tax burden will continue to be reduced in a responsible way, one that reduces the debt, a true mortgage on our future; and hope that our new government will invest in the programs and services that are most important to Canadians, such as child care, health care, security, justice and responsible fiscal management.
I have to say that the people in my home community of St. Catharines also share some of this hope. For 13 long years the residents of my community have watched as budget after budget was brought forward, many of which served political interests in Ottawa but hardly any that served the interests of the people of St. Catharines. People in St. Catharines are hopeful that those days are gone. They see a budget that provides real results and that is good for their community.
I would like to take a closer look at some of the initiatives in the budget and share with the House some information of how the people of St. Catharines will benefit.
We all know that cutting the GST to 6% will provide each Canadian with a tax cut. Despite having promised to eliminate the tax 13 years ago, the Liberals will continue to defend the GST and say that it will not provide any real benefit to Canadians. I challenge the Liberals to say that to the people in my community who pay little or no income tax. What would their plan have provided these people, those who needed it the most? It would have provided them with nothing.
In St. Catharines, the average family of four that makes a household income of $60,000 could save as much as $400 a year from this tax cut. Working families could also save as much as $100 per year on gasoline purchases or save over $500 on the purchase of a St. Catharines built General Motors vehicle.
In my community there are approximately 30,000 students that call St. Catharines home. Niagara College and Brock University have residences full of student who virtually live on fixed incomes, that is not to mention the 23,000 seniors and the 28,700 people who earn less than $20,000 per year. These are the people who will benefit from the GST cut and I am proud to be able to deliver that tax relief on their behalf.
The self-proclaimed defenders of low income sitting across the way were so caught up in clinging to power for one day longer, they forgot to pass legislation to approve that tax relief. It never happened. I would like to take a moment to call upon members opposite to abandon the political rhetoric and do what they promised Canadians they would do more than a year ago, to join us this afternoon and vote for the legislation that will provide the tax relief they promised but never delivered. To vote against this budget is a vote against their own record and a vote against working families across this country.
If there is any doubt about what I am saying, I would refer the members to the finance committee report just two days ago where it was confirmed by government officials from Revenue Canada that this budget must pass for the previous government's tax cut to actually be put into legislation. If the Liberal members vote against this budget, they will be voting against the very tax cut they introduced, bragged about and campaigned on.
Let me speak to some further positive aspects in this budget. I mentioned seniors a moment ago. The 23,000 seniors in St. Catharines will see real benefits from this budget. We are proposing to double the current $1,000 maximum amount of eligible pension income that can be claimed under the pension income credit. The results will be more money in the pockets of St. Catharines seniors who have worked so hard for our country.
Our new government will also allow the parents of the 30,000 children under the age of 16 in St. Catharines to claim a children's fitness tax credit of up to $500 for eligible recreation and physical activities. This will help to keep our youth active and provide parents with the financial resources they need to keep their children enrolled in recreational programs, such as hockey, dance, soccer and gymnastics.
The hundreds of children at the Burtnik karate centre, where the leader of our party, the Prime Minister, visited during the election, are looking forward to it, along with their parents, who will be able to continue to keep their kids enrolled.
How could I mention children without mentioning the benefits that will be received by the parents of the 8,000 children under the age of six in St. Catharines through our new choice in child care allowance? The $1,200 choice in child care allowance will put almost $10 million into the hands of parents in St. Catharines to spend as they best determine to care for their children. Across the Niagara region, the parents of more than 24,000 children under the age of six will receive almost $30 million under this innovative plan, and that is just phase one.
The Prime Minister has also made it very clear that providing real choice for parents includes the creation of over 125,000 new child care spaces. Our new government will make the changes necessary to existing plans to reach that goal of 125,000 new spaces. That is phase two. It is a key component of our plan that cannot be overlooked.
In Niagara, for example, there are only enough spaces to service approximately 10% of the population. Our child care plan will provide support to all parents with children under the age of six, and we will create more spaces to provide real choice when parents are deciding how best to care for their children.
As we are a border community, safety and security are also a significant concern for the people of St. Catharines. Our new government will provide the investment and will hire and train more than 1,000 more RCMP officers in our country. These are important investments for the Niagara region. Under the watch of the previous government, it was slated to move several RCMP officers dedicated to policing, immigration, customs and drug offences. These new officers present an opportunity for St. Catharines and Niagara to work toward a more meaningful, 24 hour, seven day a week RCMP presence in the Niagara border region.
There are a few more highlights for St. Catharines. For those who pay $75 per month to use the St. Catharines transit system, a transit tax credit will result in $144 back in their pockets. That is almost enough to pay for two monthly passes.
There are 9,000 people in St. Catharines employed in trades. The tradespeople tool expense tax credit will help to cover the high cost of tools, boots and work accessories and will put up to $500 back in their pockets to help keep them working and help keep the economy working.
Thousands of small businesses in St. Catharines will also benefit from this budget. An increased small business tax threshold and lower tax rates will mean the owners of these businesses will have more money to reinvest and contribute to the local economy.
In closing, the 2006 budget is great news for the people of St. Catharines and for all Canadians. Unlike previous administrations, our new government has delivered a budget that keeps the promises we made during the election. We are going to do what we said we would do.
I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to keeping its promises and providing real benefits to working families in our community and across our country. I look forward to having the opportunity this afternoon to stand in my place and vote in favour of this budget: in favour of tax relief, in favour of meaningful investment, and in favour of the people of St. Catharines.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join the debate. I have certainly heard an awful lot this afternoon about tax cuts and tax credits and how that is going to solve all the problems that all Canadians have, all our communities have and all our provinces have.
The only difficulty is that this is a rerun for some of us in this place. Not only have I heard that same message before, I have heard that same message from the very same finance minister in the province of Ontario, who was making exactly the same claims. If hon. members see me shivering from time to time when the finance minister speaks, it is just a shiver going down my spine from listening to this thing all over again.
Let us take a look at the case in point. Let us take a look at what the hon. finance minister did for the province of Ontario by following this holy grail of tax cuts, tax cuts and tax cuts.
What do we have in the province of Ontario after two majority terms of the Mike Harris Conservative government? We have an education system that is desperately in need of investment. We have a health care system that is desperately in need of investment. We have an environmental agenda that desperately needs money and investment.
Not only that, the Conservatives left the province billions of dollars in debt. After they had already gone to all the trouble of balancing things, they brought in all their tax cuts. That works fine in the good times, but in the bad times the tax cuts do not work.
What is the evidence? Again, I go right back to the Mike Harris Conservatives in Ontario. Their tax cuts came at a time when the North American economy was taking off. Ontario benefited from that, but it is very easy to stand up and say that all these wonderful things are happening because of tax cuts. What they were saying was, “The more we cut taxes, the more revenue the province has, and look how great this is”. They did that for a number of years while they could get away with it.
The problem was that as soon as the American economy started to slow down, and eventually it tanked very briefly there, and the Conservatives in Ontario had another round of corporate tax cuts planned, they had to cancel them, to postpone them. Why? Because they could not afford them, they said. Yet that was the same government, and the same finance minister for part of it, that we now have at the helm of the finances of our country.
Those Conservatives had to postpone their tax cuts, having said that the more they cut taxes, the more revenue they had. They had to postpone their next round of tax cuts because they could not afford it. Yet, if we follow their own logic, as things got tougher and if cutting taxes generates more revenue, then they should have been cutting like mad when things got bad, because that would have increased all their revenue.
But no, reality caught up with them, and the reality is that tax cuts alone, although they have their place, are a fine political mantra, but they are no basis or foundation on which to build the kind of country that Canadians want, demand, expect and to which they are entitled. That is what we are seeing here again. That is why it is like back to the future for some of us.
Seven billion dollars in corporate tax cuts, with $1.5 billion in tax cuts that already exist allowed to continue: those tax cuts, by the way, are for that really tough area of our economy, the gas companies and the oil companies. We know how much they are hurting these days, so it makes good sense to leave that $1.5 billion tax benefit to them in place, does it not?
No, not if you talk to constituents of mine in Hamilton Centre. That is not what they are interested in. They want to know how this government is going to help them make sure that their talented children who are willing to work can afford to go to university.
Bill C-48, the NDP better balanced budget, provided money to go to tuition relief. The Conservatives, using the surplus from the last time, which is how the formula was worked out, put in almost that much money and kept it in that category. The only problem is they moved it away from being a benefit to reduce tuition and put it into post-secondary education infrastructure.
It is not that the infrastructure is not needed, but what should have happened was those tuition reductions should have stayed in place. They should have reduced the $7 billion for their corporate friends and put it into the post-secondary infrastructure deficit. That kind of thinking is putting working families first and recognizing their needs.
They want to talk about cuts so much, it was not just taxes that the Conservatives cut. Programs have been cut, and we have only seen the beginning. If the initial calculations are right, we could be looking at upwards of $2 billion, maybe more--
Mr. Dean Del Mastro: More.
Mr. David Christopherson: I hear the government member yelling “more”, because that is what they like to do. They want to take money out of the system. It is a very strong philosophical differential between the governing Conservatives and those of us in the NDP. We believe the priority is working families and their communities rather than corporate friends. That is what the Conservatives have done. They have taken care of their corporate friends.
What exactly have they cut? They cut EnerGuide, a program for low income home owners to retrofit their homes and assist us in meeting our Kyoto targets. Just as important, and that was the beauty of this good program, it would have let us deal with a national priority and at the same time it would have helped an awful lot of seniors in Hamilton to stay in their homes. Their energy costs would not necessarily be driving them out of those homes. The government cut that. It was not as important as a corporate tax cut.
The Conservatives talk a lot about seniors. I have an email from one of my constituents and I would like to put it on the record. The email reads as follows:
As a senior on a pension, I listened with interest to the kind words in the budget about the contribution I've made to the country from my early years of working (32 years as a medical technologist in a hospital working shifts, weekends, holidays).
Then I took my income tax forms from this year—including the page amended by the Liberals that's been scrapped—and calculated how much of a benefit I would see from the amount for the pension income credit rising from $1,000 to $2,000.
Guess what—I'll actually get the supreme privilege of seeing my federal tax GO UP by $637.12. By my calculations, one has to spend $40,000 to realize a $400 GST savings to offset that federal tax increase. Since my income this year will include a one time payment of back pay earned before retirement— that GST savings comes at the expense of food, shelter and other necessities since I'll only earn about $42,000 before tax total this year. And I'm probably one of the lucky pensioners. The Tories should skip the platitudes.
I have never fumed so much over a budget since Mike Harris was Premier of Ontario and that was 90% of it; not just the part that I am personally affected by.
I do not have the permission to release the name, but it is there. I can show it to anyone who wants to see it.
They have done the calculations. We can hear what they are saying. People may not be outraged by this budget, but they are supremely disappointed and they should be. This was a missed opportunity to invest in what really makes Canada the greatest country in the world. All we have done, through the new government, is ensure that its friends in the corporate world get that much more of ordinary taxpayer money while ordinary citizens are left with spin and platitudes.
The budget is not good enough for working families. It is not good enough for my community of Hamilton. It is not good enough for my province of Ontario. I will proudly be voting against the budget.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hamilton for sharing his time. It gives me the chance to raise some important issues regarding the impact on women by the Conservative budget.
I must say that despite the admonitions of the Minister of Justice today in question period that his government respects the equality rights of women, I have little faith that the words match the actions.
Besides the $450 million that the Conservative government has allocated for aboriginal education, women, children and families, water and housing, there is no mention of money in the budget specifically allocated toward advancing women's equality. The budget does touch on issues that affect women, like child care, tax cuts, security, housing, immigration, aboriginal peoples and pensioners, but again there is nothing in the budget that specifically refers to the government's funding plans to address women's inequality.
The Conservatives' child care plan does not address the child care needs of working women. Twelve hundred dollars a year does not come close to covering the cost of child care. Families in my riding of London—Fanshawe have made it clear. They need child care spaces, not a taxable $100 a month. The budget does not provide funds to create more child care spaces until 2007-08. We need to invest in our children now. To invest in children is to invest in our future.
The provision of child care is not about pitting one family against another with regard to child care choice; rather it should be about providing quality early learning. Whether a parent stays at home, works part time or full time, families are still looking for early childhood education to provide their children with the opportunity of socialization and the advantage of educational stimulation.
While the Conservatives claim that $1,200 will provide a choice, I must argue that when no child care spaces are created, there is no choice. It would be ideal if all working families could afford to have one parent at home, but the reality remains that many families can only survive on two incomes. The government's child care plan reinforces gender inequality because the Conservative funding plan assumes that one parent, in many cases the woman, will stay at home. These women may well suffer the same inequity as their grandmothers. Fifty per cent of Canadian women 65 years of age and over live in poverty because they were not engaged in employment outside of their homes.
Another issue I have with the budget is that there is no EI plan to address the inequalities that women face. Because a large percentage of women work in part time jobs, marginal jobs and self-employment arrangements, many women are not eligible for EI. This creates two problems. These women are unable to access EI if they lose their jobs and these women are also ineligible for maternity leave when they decide to start a family.
I feel the budget shows very little support for women and suggests that the Conservative government's priorities lie elsewhere. The Minister for Canadian Heritage and Status of Women claimed in the House that the government would stand up for the equality of women. She said:
I can assure the member and all women in Canada that this government will stand up for the equality of women and their full participation.
The budget does not reflect the words by either the Minister of Justice or the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women. It is clear that women are not a priority.
In order to comply with its international obligations and truly stand up for women in Canada, the government needs to fund research, legislation and programs in order to address the 26 recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW.
Funding for Status of Women Canada according to the estimates has stayed relatively stagnant, except for about $1 million transferred to the Sisters in Spirit initiative through the Native Women's Network to raise awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against aboriginal women in Canada.
Status of Women Canada needs more funding to address women's issues, especially those outlined in the CEDAW recommendations.
According to the estimates, the promote public policy program is being cut by approximately $5 million, while there is an increase of about $6 million for building knowledge and organizational capacity on gender equality. The large cut to the promote public policy program will prevent the development and implementation of federal initiatives that narrow the gap between women and men and expand opportunities for women. This cut in funding also means that there is only about $2 million left to address the CEDAW recommendations.
Twenty-one million dollars is dedicated to develop the knowledge and capacity of a number of stakeholders so that they are better informed and able to address gender based issues of significance to Canadian society in a coordinated manner. Ten million dollars of this money is dedicated to grants.
While women's organizations do need funding, the large adjustment between the two programs indicates that the government would rather have a hands-off policy when it comes to promoting women's equality instead of funding federal programs with direction and cohesion.
Again, this budget illustrates that women are not a priority for the government. Clearly it does not believe that government should promote women's equality. Instead, responsibility is passed over to the non-profit community.
I also need to speak about the budget's lack of funding for housing.
The one time payment outlined in the Conservative budget was in the NDP budget, Bill C-48, last spring. It is money that was already committed to be spent and falls $200 million short of the budget which was passed last June.
I am very concerned as there is no mention in this budget about who will oversee the funding and ensure the money is spent by the provinces on much needed affordable housing. Previous allocations to the provinces and territories, about $474 million, was never spent because the money had to be matched by the province.
My question remains, who is it that will oversee that money and make sure it is spent on affordable housing, and how is “affordable” defined?
Housing costs have reached an incredible high. According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the cost of housing in Calgary has increased by 29.6% since last year. The cost of housing has increased across Canada. When compounded with rising mortgage rates, housing is becoming more and more inaccessible for many working families. According to a CBC report today, housing costs are expected to grow again next year. With rising costs, the need for affordable housing is not an option, it is an essential.
There is also no mention in this budget of a national housing plan that would ensure affordable housing is available in the long term. The government has no long term solution and Canada remains one of only two G-8 countries without a national housing strategy.
The Conservatives say they plan to make new housing affordable. The 1% cut in GST is their example. Their own numbers clearly show that the tax break will not make housing any more affordable, especially for those who need it most. Buying a $200,000 home, and in my riding the average home is $300,000, would provide a tax rebate of about $8.25 a year over a 25 year mortgage. This does not make any home more affordable, nor is it a saving for those who even can afford to buy a house.
The housing money allocated to reserves is not going to address the housing needs of the first nations people. The $450 million allotted may cover repairs needed on current stock, but it will not address the overcrowding or relocation needs in communities like Kashechewan.
We are pleased to see money from the NDP budget go to off reserve first nations housing. The money can be used to ease the current housing burden, but spread across the entire country, it will not come close to addressing the needs of those who most need it. Too often, aboriginal people have seen money disappear into programs with no corresponding improvement in their standard of living.
This budget is not much more than sleight of hand. It pretends to help working families and women, but upon closer inspection, the so-called savings simply disappear into thin, cold air.
Mr. Speaker, in case you find it in your heart to find some extra time, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brant.
When in opposition, most members of the House start their speeches by criticizing the government and in turn, members of the government will always begin their speeches by endlessly praising whatever piece of legislation is passing through the House at that given time.
As former chair of the finance committee, I will try to highlight and speak about what I heard from Canadians during last year's pre-budget consultation process and about how well the government's budget responds to the needs raised during that process.
As you perhaps are aware, each year the Standing Committee on Finance usually presents to the House of Commons a report on the prebudget consultation. Occasionally, this is not possible and this was the case for 2005. Given the political circumstances, the committee was unable to present a report on the prebudget consultation.
To put the pre-budget consultation process in perspective, the committee held over 100 hours of hearings and heard from almost 650 witnesses representing 420 groups, individuals or organizations. Name it and we heard it. I heard every single word spoken except for one session in Winnipeg which I did follow up on and read the minutes of the meeting afterwords.
The purpose of the hearings held by the finance committee is to provide Canadians with an opportunity to tell the government what they would like to see in the next budget. While it can be exhausting for members of the committee, the pre-budget consultation is a vital exercise because it represents what is best about our democracy. Canadians from coast to coast to coast consult with elected members of Parliament who sit on the finance committee which in turn helps shape a great vision of Canada, a Canada that addresses the different needs of all its people.
This is a vision that is not a simple one but a necessary one for Canada to reach its potential. I am sad to say that the big plans for Canada spoken about during the pre-budget consultations have been turned into small potatoes by the Conservative government.
During the pre-budget consultation sessions, Canadians asked for national, comprehensive and long term strategies to reduce income taxes and to make Canada more competitive. They did not ask for an election budget filled with superficial tax cuts at the expense of solid programs, but unfortunately, that is what they received.
We started the pre-budget consultation process by hearing from economic think tanks of all stripes, economists who sit on both sides of the political spectrum and who represent Canadians from all walks of life. Not one economist advocated a reduction in consumption taxes or the GST.
The GST is not levied on mortgage payments, rent, savings, food purchased at grocery stores, medical expenses, or many other essential items. For low-income families, a very small percentage of expenditures are subject to GST. Thus, Canadians with low incomes will benefit very little from the 1% reduction in GST.
These economists spoke about reducing income tax and instead the Conservatives raised the lowest income tax bracket from 15% to 15.5%. Did anyone suggest a reduction in income taxes, corporate or individual? Everyone did, even some of the more social groups who are realizing who is paying the bills in this country, the middle class.
We heard from cultural groups who stated over and over that in order to truly flourish, the Canada Council for the Arts should have its funding doubled from $5 per capita to $10 at a total cost of $300 million. Instead, the government has chosen to only add $50 million to the council, a sum that will not nearly be enough for Canada's arts sector. Increasing the council's budget to $300 million seems simple enough, but I suppose we must remember that the government's priorities lie elsewhere.
Culture is not about negotiating. It is about the council needing $300 million to preserve the Canadian arts and provide the opportunity for culture to grow and be part of the Canadian vision. It is not about simply throwing $50 million at the cultural world and hoping it will go away.
The committee also heard from student groups who asked that the federal government lighten their debt loads, so that they could graduate without being thousands of dollars in debt. There are students in this country who begin careers as much as $30,000 in debt, with post-graduate students easily having double the debt.
What our party proposed during the last election campaign was a visionary solution to offer a 50% rebate on tuition fees during the first year and then only in the last year of a student's university education would another 50% rebate kick in on tuition fees. This again is about a vision, a vision that speaks volumes.
How does the government help? It helps by offering a paltry $80 credit on books. While this $80 credit may be useful to students for a week, it will not nearly be enough to solve student debt troubles that we heard about during the pre-budget consultations.
Universities also appeared before the finance committee and asked for more research funding. The Liberals heard their calls and set aside $2.5 billion for university research. This is consistent with a vision for Canada to continue to be a world leader in research and innovative initiatives. The answer from the Conservative government is to provide a mere $200 million.
In an era when 70% of all new jobs being created will require more than a high school diploma, the Conservatives are once again demonstrating that they are oblivious to the need to invest in new innovative and productivity-enhancing technologies. How will their simple plan help them once they realize that Canada has lost its place in the world? Their simple plan will be what? I ask: Why is the government's vision for Canada so short-sighted?
During the pre-budget consultations, the finance committee heard from environmental groups who highlighted the imminent dangers of climate change. Climate change is a reality and the government has a responsibility to its people to safeguard their health and the health of future generations. Why then has the Conservatives gutted the $5 billion Liberal investment in environmental strategies in climate change in favour of $400 million of local programs that are, according to the budget document, still being developed by the minister?
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity and the Conservative government has responded to that challenge by ignoring it, and using that money to pay for its small potato tax credits. What is the government's plan for climate change? It is not even a plan.
The Conservatives say they want to increase public transit use, but their simple solution to increasing public transit use is to give public transit users a credit on their monthly bus passes that the transit companies will likely clawback through increased fares. How does this help people in rural Canada that the Conservatives claim to know so much about when in fact many small communities do not even offer public transit. I am not sure, but it does not sound like much of a climate change plan to me. It sounds like attractive politics over sound policies.