Mr. Speaker, I wanted to speak about the budget again. Although it was passed unanimously this morning, I think it has some deficiencies.
We in the Bloc Québécois voted for the budget because it contains a promise to correct the fiscal imbalance. That is the only reason we voted for it, because we have numerous concerns about it.
We have serious concerns and strong reservations about the correction of the fiscal imbalance. Days and weeks have gone by since the government introduced this budget. We are starting to see some backtracking. The promise is no longer as firm as it was. We have seen the minister backtrack. We have also seen the Prime Minister backtrack in public.
We are also concerned about the weak surpluses set out in the budget. We are wondering where the money to correct the fiscal imbalance is going to come from. That is what we are talking about, that is what the Conservative government promised: to correct the fiscal imbalance. That means $10 billion to $12 billion a year, approximately $3 billion of it for Quebec. We are wondering where the money will come from.
Equalization is another thing that concerns us a lot. We see that to please the oil-rich provinces the Conservative government plans to exclude—we do not yet know whether this will be in whole or in part—non-renewable resources from the equalization calculation. What does that do? It is not abstract. It represents hundreds of millions of dollars for Quebec and the other provinces. The provinces that are rich in natural resources appear, for the purposes of calculating equalization, to be less rich. This means that they are less able to contribute to the redistribution of money to the provinces that need it most.
What is a shame is that it is being done for non-renewable resources, which often produce pollution, but it is not being done for renewable resources. For example, why would the federal government not exclude from the calculation of equalization all revenue derived from hydroelectricity in Quebec? And yet this resource has the advantage of being renewable and non-polluting.
What is going on? Between 1970 and 1999, the government invested $66 billion in the development of oil and non-renewable energy sources. During the same period, a meagre $329 million was invested in renewable sources of energy. Of course Quebeckers had to pay a quarter of the $66 billion to develop the energy and the economy of other provinces. Today, now that it has become profitable, when the time comes to distribute the wealth, the Conservative government says, no, thank you. When it is time to pay, we are asked to contribute, but when it is time to collect, we are told we can do without.
In any case, the real solution to the fiscal imbalance does not rest solely in equalization and transfers to the provinces, but basically in real transfers of tax fields to the governments of Quebec and the provinces. That is the solution. Quebec should be able to benefit from the foreseeable revenue it controls. This way, we would not always be at the mercy of a new government that might play the 1995 trick on us again. We should not have to lose everything we have gained because the government has decided to backtrack.
We will be very vigilant with the Conservative government to make sure that the solution provides for a transfer of tax fields. Whether this is short-term or medium-term, it has to be done. It is not true that the government should give out a few treats, call an election and then try to take the treats back if it unfortunately wins a majority vote.
Something else in this budget is disappointing. During the election campaign, this government promised to take a new attitude towards Quebec and to respect its areas of jurisdiction. Unfortunately, we see the good old federalist habits making their way back in a hurry.
We got the universal child care benefit program, when child care falls within Quebec’s jurisdiction. We have suggested a solution that would avoid this problem, but the government is obstinately refusing to give in.
There was the government’s intention, for the nth time, to create a Canadian securities body, when this is in Quebec's exclusive area of jurisdiction. All Quebec governments have always been opposed to any interference in this area.
The government still wants to proceed. Even in the budget addenda on the fiscal imbalance, there was frequent reference to accountability and pan-Canadian standards. They said they wanted to adopt the model of the social union, even though Quebec has rejected that principle. It is obvious that the attitude of the federal government is always the same. Canada Foundation for Innovation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council: all instances of interference in Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction. The Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control duplicates what is already being done in Quebec.
In immigration, the recognition of immigrants’ professional credentials is a very good thing, but once again, this is something that is decided in Quebec and the provinces. It would be better to give provinces the money so that they can exercise their own jurisdictions.
In immigration, however, there is one responsibility that falls to the federal government which it continues to refuse to act upon, and that is the establishment of the appeal division for refugees. About $10 million would be sufficient to permit refugees who are not satisfied with the decision of a board member to appeal that decision and be allowed real justice.
In my riding, there is a very concrete example of this. Mr. Abdelkader Belaouni is presently in the basement of a church rectory because he does not want to be deported. He firmly believes he has been the victim of an injustice. He has never been able to appeal the decision of board member Laurier Thibault, who in the last two years has allowed only a single refugee claim. That means a refusal rate of close to 100%. So you see what is happening in this area.
We could talk at length about the process for appointing board members, but that is not a matter that relates to the budget. However, since board members are not always appointed on the basis of competency and knowledge of the field, sometimes there are bad decisions.
In our legal system, when an authority renders a bad decision, that decision can be appealed. That is provided for by law. However, since the government has refused to provide money in this budget for the refugee appeal division, that division has still not been set up, and people like Abdelkader Belaouni find themselves in extremely difficult situations. Therefore the government must create this appeal division and allocate it the necessary funds. In the meantime, because there are human tragedies going on, the government must regularize the situation of Mr. Belaouni and all those who are experiencing difficulties in Canada.
I would also like to speak about the universal child care benefit. There has been a good deal of discussion about this, and I must say that it is a subject with which I am particularly concerned, as I plan to have children myself in a few years. I asked a lot of questions in committee, but did not receive all the answers I wanted. I find that a little unfortunate.
First of all, in its present form, this program constitutes interference in Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction because it is a social and family measure. Second, the way that this program was designed is unfair. The benefit itself is taxable only on the lowest family income. That creates some absurd situations. For example, consider two families. In the first family, where there are two parents, one parent earns $213,500 per year. This example might very well apply to a federal minister. The other parent stays at home. What do we find? The entire benefit will be reported on the tax return of the person with the lowest income—i.e. $0—who, for all practical purposes, would pay no income tax.
However, in the case of a single parent family with an income of $28,000, since the benefit is related to the income, there will be an additional $800 in combined federal and provincial taxes. Obviously, things are upside down. The families with the greatest need for help from the government will get the least and the reverse.
And yet we made a proposal in good faith to the government, which said it wanted to consult the opposition parties. The proposal was to provide a refundable tax credit to all parents. It could be sent monthly by cheque—with a Canadian flag on it if that pleased the federal government. That is not a problem. However, our proposal involved using the family income as a basis to avoid the absurdities I described earlier. This benefit would have been reduced as a function of the family income, starting with the full allowance of $1,200 per child for families with an income of $25,000, for example, to a universal floor of $700. The proposal cost the same. It respected provincial jurisdictions. It was fairer and truly met people's needs.
I asked questions in the Standing Committee on Finance. Everyone who came to testify supported the Bloc's proposal and said it was better. I heard no member of the Conservative Party say our proposal was not a good one or that theirs was better for whatever reason. We still have no explanation why our proposal was rejected. It is too bad.
As regards the matter of child care services, there has been a lot of talk of parental choice. However, the Conservative government still refuses to accept and recognize the choice made by Quebeckers. They chose to set up a universal day care service and to pay for it through their taxes for the welfare of our children and future generations. It means the federal government saves $250 million annually in taxes at the expense of Quebec parents. Over the past six years, it has meant a total of $1.5 billion.
How this works is quite simple. All Canadian taxpayers complete their income tax returns. On line 214, there is a credit for child care. Parents in Quebec enter $7 a day on this line, instead of the $25, $30, or $50 they would have to enter if they had not chosen this form of child care. This means, of course, that Quebeckers receive a smaller tax credit than people elsewhere in Canada. Yet, they have paid for their child care service through their provincial taxes.
In a true federation that operates as it should, the central government would respect the choices of Quebeckers and return to the Quebec government the money it saves, rather than saying, as in this case, “Too bad, you made your choice. We will invest the $250 million in the Treasury Board coffers and do what we like with it”. Such as giving gifts to Alberta oil companies.
This situation has been a reality for Quebeckers for years. This is one of many examples of what it is costing us to not have full control of our destiny, not being a nation, not having our own country.
The Bloc Québécois, of course, is working hard for Quebec sovereignty, but in the meantime, we would really like the federal government to recognize the choices made by Quebeckers and to transfer this $250 million a year to Quebec.
Another program that is very important to us is the POWA, or program for older worker adjustment. The Bloc Québécois presented a sub-amendment to the Speech from the Throne for the government to implement this program. The sub-amendment was unanimously adopted and the federal Conservative government promised to implement it.
We still have not seen that program put into effect.
So what does it involve? It is for older workers who have been the victims of mass layoffs, to provide them with financial support until such time as they reach retirement age, so that they can reap the full benefits of their retirement.
The Conservative government has often replied that there were labour force re-entry programs. We have seen, however, that there are limits to what those programs can do. It is very difficult to re-enter the labour force when you have worked for a company for 30 or 40 years, often in a one-industry town, where there are really no other businesses. This is particularly true given that companies often prefer to hire young people rather than people who will be having to retire in a few years.
We therefore have a situation in which often both partners in a couple work in the same company. They have worked all their lives, they lose their jobs, they are not able to find other jobs, and they are not entitled to employment insurance for long enough. Once their employment insurance is exhausted, in order to receive social assistance in Quebec, they have to sell everything, lose everything they have spent their lives building.
I submit to the House that this is a very sad end to a working life and that we are wrong to abandon these people, who have contributed to society all their lives, particularly when this program would cost a maximum of a few hundred millions. It existed in the past; it was the Liberals who abolished it. So I implore the Conservative government to act as quickly as possible.
The final point I would like to talk about is one that is also of great importance to me, as a young person perhaps, because people talk to me about it a lot since I am the youth critic for the Bloc Québécois. I am talking about the environment, and in particular the Kyoto protocol, which the Conservative government has quite simply dumped. And what did this government say to justify its actions? It said that it was not capable of achieving its objectives.
Let's get something clear. We have a government that uses its own incompetence to justify its policy decisions. For years, we had the Liberals, who were in favour of the protocol, except that they did nothing to implement it. Now we have the Conservatives, who say they are incapable of implementing it. Ultimately, the only difference is that the Conservatives know they are incompetent, while the Liberals were unaware of their own incompetence.
And yet large numbers of countries are succeeding in doing it everywhere in the world. England is even making money by implementing the Kyoto protocol.
If we had a good, responsible, competent government, we would be capable of doing it, but the Minister of Oil—of the Environment—simply has no plan; she is much too busy with other things. That is a good one, “the Minister of Oil”, that is; in the end, I am not offended. So the Minister of the Environment has no plan. In any event, she could very well put together a Canadian plan that would comply with the Kyoto protocol. The Kyoto protocol, after all, is first and foremost a set of commitments made to the international community.
I believe we have a moral obligation to achieve the Kyoto protocol objectives. We have to succeed at this. We have to do it for future generations, for our economy and for our environment. Failure in this is unacceptable; we have to get it done.
I invite all members of the public to support the Bloc Québécois and the parties that genuinely support the Kyoto protocol. In Quebec, the Save Kyoto coalition has been formed. I invite people to visit their website, to sign the petition, to wear the little pin in the shape of a green K—for Kyoto—to say that they find it unacceptable for this government to renege on international promises, on Canada’s international commitments, and sacrifice our environment to please a few oil companies that for decades have been shamelessly filling their pockets at the expense of Quebeckers.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Acadie--Bathurst.
It gives me great pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak one last time to Bill C-13, the Budget Implementation Act. It was interesting to listen to some of the Bloc members suggest that this bill is now supported by everyone in the House and that the budget has been approved by all parties. I think they doth protest a little too much. Perhaps they were looking for an opportunity to reverse their support of the Conservative government and that opportunity did not happen and they are disappointed.
I am here to say that the New Democratic Party stands opposed to this bill. We were opposed at the beginning. We were opposed at second reading. We were opposed at committee. We are opposed today. We are opposed for very good reasons. The Bloc members are foaming at the mouth in the hope they could join us because they are embarrassed by their position of support for the Conservatives and the budget.
Let us acknowledge what happened today. There was some procedural confusion and as a result, this afternoon we are having a debate on Bill C-13, in another form perhaps than is normally the case, but certainly it is a debate where every one of us can put on the record our party's position with respect to the bill.
We were opposed from day one for the very reasons that the Bloc opposed the Liberal budget last year. There was a lack of reference to housing, a lack of reference to aboriginal Canadians, a lack of reference to health care, a lack of reference to child care, and a lack of emphasis on urban transportation. These are all issues that Canadians raise with us day in and day out, which the Bloc last budget year when we were dealing with a Liberal minority government thought could just be put aside, that those issues did not matter and the budget could pass without any such reference.
Those members across the way were very disappointed when the NDP actually managed to get something in the Liberal budget for Canadians. Much to the dismay and disdain of those members, we actually managed to achieve $4.6 billion for Canadians. We actually managed to get money for housing, money for education, money for aboriginal Canadians, money for urban transit, money for the environment, and money for international development.
Those members of the Bloc could not bring themselves to support us in that initiative. Yet interestingly, when it came time for them to justify their support for the Conservatives, what did they point to? They pointed to every element in the present budget pertaining to the NDP better balanced budget, Bill C-48. They pointed to the money referenced in this package for housing, for education, for aboriginal Canadians and for urban transit. All the items that they are now bragging about were a result of the NDP balanced budget a year ago when we were dealing with the Liberal government.
Those Bloc members are so confused they do not know what end is up.They have put themselves in the very embarrassing position of not standing up for the working people, for ordinary families in this country, including those in their own province of Quebec. They have bowed to pressure from the Conservatives because of a political agenda and have succumbed to a government's agenda that in no way represents working people and working families.
One cannot stand in the House today and say that this budget is good for working families. This budget helps big business and big corporations. It is a very good budget for wealthy Canadians and large corporations, but there is nothing for ordinary families. Under this budget child care wait lists will go up, family allowance will be diminished, pollution will go up and student debt will go up.
The Bloc can support this? The Conservatives can present this kind of budget? This budget in no way reflects the realities of working people and the kinds of difficulties they face on a day to day basis.
Let me give members opposite 10 reasons why we oppose this budget. Let me start first of all with the fact that it is a budget for business, not a budget for working families. The minister himself said so. He said he listened to business. There is a National Post article dated May 26 saying the Minister of Finance “delivered in budget. Listened to business”. He admits that he sought out the wisdom of business to make this budget business friendly.
He did not say he spoke to working people. He did not say he spoke to ordinary Canadians across this country because he cared about what they had to say and he wanted to make sure this budget was balanced. No, he did not. As a result, we are dealing with a budget that is flawed and that does not address ordinary families by any stretch of the imagination.
He gives huge corporate tax breaks of $7 billion. The Bloc and the Conservatives together, I might note, gave $7 billion in corporate tax breaks at a time when corporate profits are now running at 14.6% of GDP, the highest level on record. Profits rose 16.4% in the last quarter of 2005, 13% higher than during the same period a year earlier.
Corporate Canada is sitting on so much cash right now that even its own analysts are concerned. One banker admits that at least $80 billion in excess liquidity is sitting out there and that this figure is likely to rise by another 11% this year. We can go on with the statistics, but let me say that is the number one reason why we oppose this budget. It caters to big business. It ignores ordinary families.
The second reason is that it does not help small business. If the government is so concerned about small and medium sized businesses, the mom and pop shops and the small entrepreneurs, those who are really the backbone of this country, this budget does not do it. It does not give them any special supports.
When it comes to the one tax provision that the Conservatives say is progressive, which of course we dispute, the reduction of the GST by 1%, they refuse to give a penny of assistance to small businesses that are having one heck of a time trying to adapt all of their systems in order to accomplish this reduction in the GST. We asked the Minister of Finance point blank in committee on May 30. He absolutely refused to do one thing to help small business and would not even provide some support program or some assistance to help them deal with the fact that this is a big deal when it comes to businesses that are very small and have few employees.
The third reason we do not support this budget is that it does not at all address working families. I have hinted at this by mentioning its bias in terms of the corporate tax giveaways, but let us be clear that when it comes to ordinary working families, the burden of paying for government and all the supports we need has shifted onto the shoulders of ordinary families, with a much greater percentage of revenue coming from income taxes from individuals, not corporations.
I thought this country was about balance. I thought we were interested in ensuring that everyone plays a part, that individuals are not singled out and that big business pays its share. Why, then, does the government continue to favour big business when ordinary Canadians are suffering?
Why does it not look at the huge blows being taken by our manufacturing sector, especially because of the high dollar, the loss of jobs, the high unemployment rate among young people, the way in which women are trying to juggle working family responsibilities, and the way in which so many working people are holding down three and four jobs just to make ends meet?
Is it not time that those Canadians got a raise? Is it not time that those Canadians got a share of the pie at a time when we have this huge fiscal dividend of something like $83 billion over the next five years? Yet the government could not find it within itself to put some money toward programs that actually make a difference to ordinary families, programs in the areas of education, training, child care, housing, the environment and aboriginal concerns. That is where we must start for a truly meaningful budget that meets the realities of Canadians.
The fifth reason we do not support the budget is that there is absolutely no focus on the future of this country in terms of equalization. There is no plan today to address the O'Brien report that came out yesterday in terms of defending and supporting a program that is meant to equalize conditions among all Canadians and regions.
There is nothing on housing, except, of course, for the NDP money that we fought for last time.
There is nothing to help aboriginal concerns in terms of on reserve housing, which we have just heard about from my colleague from Vancouver Island North. There is nothing in terms of urban aboriginal housing. In fact, there is nothing that really gets at the very root causes of serious problems in our communities today.
On the environment, what does the government do, besides all the mess around Kyoto? Nothing. There is nothing in terms of the EnerGuide program.
Let me finish by saying that there is nothing in terms of child care. There is nothing in terms of health care. The issues that matter to Canadians are not addressed by the government and it is high time they were. We will continue to fight with everything we have to make minority Parliament work.
Mr. Speaker, I want first to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg North for her speech on the budget. This is only a discussion that will not lead to a vote this evening. We know all the confusion that reigned in the House of Commons this morning.
The Bloc wants to persuade anyone who will listen that the NDP unanimously supports the Conservative budget. As the New Democratic Party whip, I can assure you that it opposes the Conservative budget and Bill C-13.
As a result of this morning's confusion, there was no real vote. The bill was simply passed. But look at the past, at what has happened in the House of Commons with the budget implementation bill. Throughout the entire process, the Bloc Québécois has voted with the Conservatives. At the end of the Minister of Finance’s budget speech, the leader of the Bloc Québécois left immediately in order to announce that his party would be in favour. We, for our part, voted against this bill at second reading as well as in committee, while the Bloc voted in favour.
They brag that the NDP will not be able to say a word against the Conservative budget any longer because it voted unanimously in favour. I can assure all Canadians that we opposed the Conservative budget, and still do, because it does not reflect the needs of Canadians.
In forming a minority government, the Conservatives would not have been able to get a budget passed like the one they tabled in the House of Commons without the support of the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc can do what it wants, and that is precisely what it did.
We were accused under the Liberal government of forgetting about the unemployed. I could say that that is what this budget does: it forgets about the unemployed. Under the Liberals, we managed to get Bill C-48, which made changes to the budget. We all know what these changes were: $1.6 billion for housing, $1.5 billion to reduce tuition expenses, $900 million for public transit in order to help environmentally-friendly energy, $800 million for transport, $100 million for improvements, and $500 million for foreign aid. In all, that was $4.5 billion.
Even if the Bloc Québécois did not like the Liberals, at least it could have voted for something in keeping with its values. I have spoken with former Bloc members who were not re-elected. They told me that they would have liked to vote for that budget but were told to vote against it. That is their business. But the Bloc cannot say today that we voted with the Conservatives during the confusion in the House of Commons this morning, implying that we were in favour of the Conservative bill.
We must remember that the Conservatives slashed $20 million from small craft harbours. Yesterday in the House of Commons, we debated a unanimous recommendation of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans that $15 million should be added to the budgets for small craft harbours. The government, for its part, just announced that it has cut $20 million from these budgets.
Furthermore, $3.6 billion will not be spent on daycares in Canada, but the government will give 1,200 taxable dollars to people who have children under six. Some people, depending on their income, might get even less money than they would have otherwise. There was a plan in place, a plan to help Canadian daycares.
For students, the budget offers a whole lot of nothing. The chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students said, and I quote, “Tinkering around the edges of the tax system is not going to increase access to college and university”.
That is what George Soule, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said.
|| This government should be restoring the billions of dollars that were cut from post-secondary education transfers during the past decade so that tuition fees can be reduced.
That happened under the Liberals.
|| For many students the changes will have no impact. A lot of students don't even earn enough taxable income to use all of their existing tax credits.
In this budget, the government decided to give tax credits. Students are usually at university, not at work. They do not earn a lot of money and tax credits will be of no use to them. Students are mostly young people, our children, who go to university and come out $40,000 in debt. The previous government told students that they would not be the same as companies.
In this budget, the government will grant corporations a $10 billion tax reduction over the next few years. Students are being told that they may not declare bankruptcy in the next ten years. That is how we are going to treat students, our children. Big corporations that are capable of paying their CEOs multi-million dollar salaries are going to get a $10 billion tax reduction. And on the other hand, we are going to send students into debt. We are going to ensure that students have a difficult future. We are going to ensure that when students go to the bank to borrow, their credit will not be good. That means that they will not be able to have cars, and these young people just starting out in life will not be able to have homes.
I cannot count the students who come to our offices to see us and tell us these things! They can no longer even borrow, because they are incapable of repaying their debts. Their fathers and mothers know this. As my colleague, the Bloc Québécois member, said, the fathers know. That is true, but the child also knows, as does the young student. A young woman from Paquetville told me that she had gone to school, she had gone into debt, and she was now a young woman on the labour market who was unable to repay her debt, and so today she had debt recovery proceedings brought against her. She also said that she was unable to buy a new car, or even a car to get to work, she was unable to start out in life and buy a house, because governments have passed laws that have these young people in a straightjacket. In 1994, the previous government made spending cuts that affected students. It is these young people, our children, who are paying the price.
The Conservatives’ budget does not help students. The solution is not to cut income tax for students. What would help them is tuition fees. There is absolutely nothing for that.
Let us think about the Kyoto protocol. This country joined with the other countries of the world in Kyoto to ratify an agreement on the environment. It is a shame to see that we are going to back out of it.
There are “made in Canada” effects. In the Baie des Chaleurs, storms like we have never seen before take our docks and smash everything in their path. In Berestford, we had never seen a winter storm pile the ice up 70 feet. This was the year the Canada games were held in New Brunswick, in Bathurst and Campbellton. It virtually erected a monument. It was unbelievable!
For the government to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol and for there to be absolutely nothing in the budget to help the environment, this is totally unacceptable.
And yet this government is doing an about-face and, with no problem at all, giving big corporations $10 billion. With another about-face, according to a pretty credible rumour, it is going to buy American planes for National Defence. And we are also going to have them repaired in the United States. I find myself wondering what kind of government is in power at present. I am glad that it has a minority and not a majority. Imagine, this government is bartering our country’s jobs, when in some regions the unemployment rate is 20%.
There is nothing for official languages in this budget, and nothing for employment insurance. When we examine it closely, we find that there is nothing in it for ordinary people. We have to hope that Canadians will understand that this budget and this government are doing nothing for ordinary people, and that they will not support this government’s budget.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the 2006-07 federal budget. I thought I would be speaking to it at third reading, but I am even more pleased to speak to it during this take note debate.
Coming from the riding of St. Catharines, or more commonly known as “The Garden City”, this year's budget theme, “Turning a New Leaf”, along with the budget, is perfectly suited for my community.
Four weeks ago, I participated in a Canada-Ontario affordable housing announcement in my riding entitled “Bethlehem Projects”. Federal, provincial and municipal officials were there along with 200 members of the public. We attended the groundbreaking. The event was an excellent one. It is a good partnership and project for my community. It will provide the needed affordable housing in St. Catharines, in the Niagara region.
After the event, middle class folks literally lined up to speak to me about the positive aspects of the budget. That is who the budget addresses. The budget presents example after example of benefits for my community and our country.
Let us take child care, for example. An investment of over $3.7 billion over two years for the universal child care benefit will provide all families with $1,200 per year for each child under the age of six. In St. Catharines that means over 8,700 children and their parents will get a benefit from that.
We will invest in creating new child care spaces. The budget allocates $250 million, beginning in 2007, to create real child care spaces as part of Canada's universal child care program.
We will provide a physical fitness tax credit of up $500 to cover registration fees for children's sports. One might wonder how many children are under the age of 16 in St. Catherines. Twenty-three thousand five hundred children and their parents will benefit from this.
The previous member spoke about post-secondary education. Let me inform him in a little more detail what exactly that means. The budget provides $370 million in new investments to foster excellence and accessibility in our colleges and universities. Here are some numbers.
At Brock University in the Niagara region, right up on the hill from the St. Catharines riding, 17,000 students have the potential to benefit from this. At McMaster University, 20,000 students will benefit. At the University of Toronto, 73,000 will benefit. In Quebec, 2,200 students at Bishop's, 31,000 at Concordia, 33,000 at McGill and 36,000 at Laval will benefit. The numbers keep adding up.
There is also a new textbook tax credit which will benefit approximately 1.9 million Canadian students. It may seem small, but it is the right intent and it will provide over $260 million over two years to these students.
We are going to expand the eligibility for the Canada student loans program by reducing the parental contribution required. It is estimated that such an improvement will allow over 30,000 additional students to gain access to student assistance. That is two or three universities when we look at the numbers. It will also allow 25,000 current student borrowers the opportunity to increase the amount of loan they receive. That is not to say they will not have to pay it back, but it will ensure they have the opportunity to attend post-secondary education.
We also address security for our borders in the budget. We have said that we will provide over 1,000 new RCMP officers and federal prosecutors to enhance law enforcement priorities such as drugs, corruption and border security. That is especially important from my perspective. I live very close to the border. A number of border communities surround St. Catharines: Niagara Falls, New York, Lewiston, Buffalo.
It is about security. It is about saying that we are ready and willing to make the investment that was not made over the past 13 years. This speaks to exactly why we should be moving forward on this issue with respect to the budget.
The budget deals with two very specific issues on crime. The first is a $20 million commitment to communities to prevent youth crime. This is about prevention. Ideally, we need to put tools and textbooks into the hands of our young people, not guns and not gangs; tools that will help them realize that they can grow up to lead productive lives and participate in the democracy of this country.
We have also set aside $26 million in this budget to implement programs and to provide better services for victims of crime. They should not be last on the list when it comes to crime and the results of criminal activity. They should be first. We will ensure they have the money necessary to attend court proceedings. No matter what happens in court, we do not want it to cost the victims of those crimes money to attend. We want to ensure they are not shunned, that they are listened to and that their testimony is acted upon.
We are committed to implementing a 10 year plan to strengthen health care. Transfers for health care will rise by 6% this year and 6% next year. As part of that plan, the government has already provided $5.5 billion for the wait time reduction transfer to help ensure that Canadians will receive the health care they need when they need it. We will invest over $52 million per year for the next five years to improve screening, for prevention and research activities and to help coordinate efforts with the provinces and with cancer care advocacy groups throughout the country.
We will encourage more charitable giving from within each and every community in the country. We will eliminate the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities to charities effective immediately. This will help create a donations pool of about $300 million annually.
I would like to quote from a letter I received almost immediately after the budget was introduced. It was written by Liz Palmieri, the executive director of the Niagara Community Foundation. She says:
|| On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Niagara Community Foundation I want to thank your government for including in the budget the announcement regarding gifts of securities to charities.
|| The charitable community across Canada has been advocating, for a number of years for a change in the treatment of these types of donations. In the recent election, the platforms of...your party...included provisions for a change and we were pleased to see this change being implemented on June 2.
We said that we would do it in our platform and we did it in the budget.
I want to mention a few charities: the John Howard Society of Niagara; the Niagara Ina Grafton Gage Foundation; the Niagara Peninsula Children's Centre; and, the Rotary Club of St. Catharines, Lakeshore, Charitable Trust are all thankful and will all benefit from the ability that this announcement in the budget makes.
Yes, there are tax reductions in this budget, a permanent legislative reduction in the lowest tax rate to 15.5% from 16% as of July 1, 2006. The budget also confirms that, starting on January 1, 2005 until June 2006, the lowest tax rate will be 15%.
The new Canada employment credit will provide relief on the first $1,000 of employment income in recognition of expenses incurred by employees across the country. It means that millions of employees will now have a reduction they did not have prior to this budget.
The apprentices will benefit from the budget. The tool deduction and the Canada employment credit will provide tax relief to about 700,000 employed trades people. Our government has pledged to invest more than $500 million over the next two years in the apprenticeship job creation tax credit and apprenticeship incentive grant, which will benefit over 100,000 apprentices.
I have enjoyed my experience on the finance committee thus far in the 39th Parliament. Although we have had our discussions to and fro, as the member for Markham—Unionville knows, we have, on a regular basis, debated the issue of tax reduction.
We have been sitting for a couple of months. We have gone through the estimates clause by clause to see what benefits the budget contains for Canadians. It was interesting to find, after a question was posed by the member for Markham—Unionville, that if we had not had the 16% to 15.5% in this budget, which was unanimously agreed to at the third reading stage this morning because, I am happy to say, the Liberals finally understood that if they did not agree with the budget and if the budget had not passed then they would be voting against their 16% to 15% reduction, on which they so proudly campaigned in the last election. My hat is off to the Liberals for supporting the budget this morning because they supported their budget cuts.
We could talk this afternoon about non-legislated boondoggles, sponsorship, gun registry and those cost overruns but we need to talk about the point my colleague, the member for Peterborough, made at committee when he said that the burden of tax on the people needs to go down, not up. The budget actually does that. It provides $20 billion for middle class, for lower middle class folks and for those in the lower income brackets who need tax relief. They will get it in spades because it is more tax relief than we saw in the last four budgets combined.
While I applaud the efforts across the way to reduce taxes in 2005, those reductions were not included in the 2005 budget. They were done through a ways and means motion that never carried into anything that was in legislation. It came a year too late and, I might say, a dollar short from what this budget actually provides for the people of this country and the people in my community.
The budget, when implemented, will see 655,000 individuals freed from the chains of paying federal income tax. This will be seniors, low income earners, middle class earners and anyone who actually pays GST. Anyone who picks up a product anywhere that is taxed by GST will, after July 1, pay less than they are paying today.
I want to reinforce to the House that the budget is good for Canadians and it is good for the folks in my community of St. Catharines.
I want to take a page out of what has happened over the past, let us say since the end of November until today. Leading up to the last election we made commitments to Canadians, as I made commitments to the people in my community, and we told Canadians that if we were to become government we would actually follow through on our commitments. This budget proves that we have done that.
If we were to put the campaign document and this year's federal budget side by side, we would find they agree with each other. The budget enforces our campaign commitment. This sets the stage for a renewed relationship with the 308 ridings that we represent here in Ottawa. It tells Canadians that we do what we say we will do, that we will be accountable and that we will implement the commitments we made before we were elected.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Richmond.
The budget is not just a financial statement; it is at its core a statement about values, principles and priorities. It is not just an accounting exercise but an expression of our identity of who we are and what we aspire to be.
In that context, this budget, while containing a number of commendable features, is disappointing overall in the values it reflects and represents, and in the principles and priorities it espouses. It would not speak, for example, to my constituency which is a kind of rainbow constituency in that regard.
For example, in the matter of tax policy, the income tax for the poor and the vulnerable will go up while the GST, of which we just spoke, which disproportionately benefits the wealthy will go down. This is a tax policy that has not only been uniformly critiqued by most economists in this country but which constitutes an inverse value choice for an equitable tax policy.
In the matter of aboriginal people, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, the government has not only substantially reduced the $5 billion necessary for their needs but has scrapped the framework agreements including the historic Kelowna accord which is at the core of having an aboriginal justice agenda.
In the matter of women's rights and gender equity which should be a priority for our agenda, a budget should reflect that as a matter of principle of policy. The government appears to have done away with the principle of mainstreaming gender-based analysis throughout the budget. Otherwise the lowest income mothers of young children would not be getting much less the $1,200 because the supplement is clawed back, let alone the other fallout with respect to issues of concern to women such as a central social services assistance, legal aid, anti-violence measures and the plight of aboriginal women.
In the matter of environmental protection which is inextricably bound up with our economy, our health, and indeed our planetary survival, the budget tends to marginalize and minimize the protection of the environment as a matter of principle and priority.
However, I want to focus on two priorities, two value choices in the budget which are wrong-headed as a matter of policy and disturbing as a matter of principle. The first wrong-headed policy choice, which is even suspect as a matter of law, is the commitment to more prisons and more prisoners at a time when crime rates are declining and have been falling for some time.
Indeed, the first expression of this commitment came in the budget speech of finance minister James Flaherty, when he announced that: “We are setting aside funds--
Mr. Speaker, I did to refer to him as the finance minister.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): I think you did include his name. Just leave it as the finance minister.
Hon. Irwin Cotler: Correct. The finance minister stated:
|| We are setting aside funds to expand Canada's correctional facilities to house the expected increase in inmates as a result of changes in sentencing rules.
The budget is unclear as to the funds that are required and indeed it is unusual that one would make a prediction in a budget that one is going to increase the number of prisoners and prisons.
Leaving that aside, the changes in sentencing rules are neither warranted by the facts, falling crime rates, or the evidence, which demonstrates that the proposed and excessive mandatory minimum penalties would neither be effective nor a deterrent.
Indeed, the most comprehensive and recent study that was cited by the justice minister to justify expanded and enhanced mandatory minimums, by the respected authors Thomas Marvell and Carlisle Moody, actually rebuts the government's position. After examining the effects of mandatory minimums and other tough sentence enhancements on gun crimes across the U.S., they concluded that the gun related mandatory minimums do little to reduce crime or gun use. This is a study that has been cited by the minister in support of an evidence based approach with respect to enhanced mandatory minimums.
It is not surprising given the fact of falling crime rates; given the evidence that mandatory minimums are neither a deterrent nor effective; given the fact that they impact disproportionately the most vulnerable of people; and given the enormous cost of housing an inmate, some $90,000 a year. This is an enormous cost which does not even factor in the building of the new correctional facilities that may be required. It is not surprising that Professor Marie-Andrée Bertrand, a distinguished criminologist at the Université de Montréal characterized the sentencing changes as a catastrophe.
She added, “No fewer than 24 new offences will be subject to four years of imprisonment. This is a catastrophe”.
This commitment to enormous expenditures for more prisons and more inmates as a result of sentencing changes is devoid of any evidentary basis. It is a disturbing value choice as a high priority in a budget. It contrasts dramatically with declining investments in university research and equitable access to higher education which prejudices our competitive role in a knowledge based economy.
This is yet another disturbing value choice. This time it is with education as a low priority as compared to enhanced mandatory minimums and non-evidentary based approach as a high priority, even though that education is not only inextricably bound up with the imperatives of a knowledge based economy, but the defining signature of a society's values.
Yet this budget allocates only $250 million over five years to research and development, one-tenth of what the Liberal budget would have allocated, though it is crucial that Canada maintain its momentum of investing in innovation and research.
Indeed, over the last decade Canada has established a package of programs that have allowed universities, hospitals and research institutions, and society as a whole, to attract a large number of the most promising innovators in the world, including Canadians who have come back, repatriated to their homes here because of the attraction of this kind of support for research and education.
As well, when one speaks of investments in higher education and equitable access to post-secondary education, the Liberal budget had included a grant of $6,000 to students over their four years at university, while the Conservative budget is giving students a tax break on textbooks of $80 a year. Again, this is a disturbing value choice with respect to priorities and principles.
This budget does not provide the necessary leadership for the building of an egalitarian, caring and a compassionate society.