moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill , which is the fall budget implementation bill. The measures in the bill are positive. They continue with the legislation with respect to implementing budget 2006 which I had the honour to present in the House on May 2.
Broad based tax relief is provided by this budget bill. It is wide-ranging tax relief for Canadians. There are a number of budget items in the bill, including the exemption for small brewers and vintners; the Canada employment credit; the deduction for tradespeople's tool expenses; and the capital gain extension for fishers to $500,000 lifetime which is very important for fishers, particularly in Atlantic Canada and on the west coast. The bill also includes the textbook tax credit which will help students; the exemption for scholarship and bursary income; the children's fitness tax credit; and the tax credit for public transit, which has important environmental benefits. The bill also includes the changes with respect to corporate dividends; doubling the pension income credit from $1,000 to $2,000; the small business increase from $300,000 to $400,000 effective January 1, 2007, assuming the bill passes; and the apprenticeship job creation tax credit. The bill also includes a number of other initiatives that are steps forward in terms of equitable treatment for Canadians in many walks of life.
The original budget implementation bill, which has been passed, served as a launching pad for the development in the coming months of a strong results-focused agenda for a more competitive, productive Canada. Budget 2006 represents the first part of our government's commitment to put government spending back on a sustainable track over time, to restore fiscal balance and to improve Canada's competitiveness.
Budget 2006 lays the groundwork for future budgets, while providing real benefits for all Canadians today.
When the new government was elected in January of this year, it was expected that we would be more accountable as we said we would be and that we would treat Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars with respect.
Canada's new government has kept its word. We said we would introduce legislation to improve accountability and we did. We said we would crack down on crime and we did.
We also said we would cut the GST and we did by a full percentage point effective July 1 this year. We said we would reduce personal income taxes and we did that too. We also cut corporate income taxes for small, medium and large businesses, something other governments, including our predecessor government had promised to do but failed to deliver.
We are leaving more tax dollars in the pockets of Canadians to be used to make the decisions that are right for them and their families. We have ensured that Canada will be a country of opportunity by investing in families and communities, education, security and infrastructure.
We have done this in a way that is fiscally responsible by paying down the debt, including the third largest debt payment in the history of Canada a few weeks ago of $13.2 billion. This will free up about $660 million of money that otherwise would have been paid in interest. Taxpayers' money that would have been used for interest payments now will be available for other spending priorities or for tax reductions from year to year to year and year after year.
We have been containing government expenditures. The led the initiative and made the announcement of $1 billion in expense reductions for this year and for next year. This is part of what will be an ongoing program of expense management control dearly needed by the Government of Canada on an ongoing basis.
We have our goal of delivering the greatest value for taxpayers' dollars, including program review of course. We want to make sure that programs that are ongoing continue to fulfill the mandate for which they were created, and if not, then not to continue those programs.
This bill contains measures that will improve the quality of life for Canadians. It introduces the Canada employment credit. This is an issue with respect to which members hear often, that people who are self-employed have certain advantages in terms of deductions. The Canada employment credit will extend that to take into account the reality that many people who work and who are not self-employed have expenses that might relate to uniforms, safety gear or home computers, the kinds of things that are necessary for their particular work. For some Canadians, particularly lower income Canadians, these additional costs sometimes impose a barrier to joining the workforce.
The Canada employment credit is a new employment expense tax credit for employees' work expenses. This credit has been administered as of July 1. On a full year basis it provides tax relief on employment income of up to $500 in 2006. Since it came into effect mid-year, working Canadians could receive a credit of up to $250 for 2006, that is for the half year. The annual amount of employment income eligible for the credit will double to $1,000 effective January 1, 2007.
Budget 2006 significantly increased the amount of income that employed Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax, together with increases to the basic personal amount. By 2007 that amount will be almost $10,000.
The Canada employment credit will make work more attractive, particularly for lower income workers. It also will put employees on a more equal footing, as I said, with the self-employed in terms of the tax recognition they receive for the expenses they incur to earn income. This measure is expected to reduce the taxes paid by working Canadians by $890 million in 2006-07 and by more than $1.8 billion in 2007-08, a significant part of the $20 billion in tax reductions contained in budget 2006.
With respect to businesses in Canada, including the job creation engine of small business in our nation, Canada's new government recognizes that working Canadians are part of the foundation of Canada's economic growth. Another crucial component of that is the business community. We have taken steps to help ensure that Canadian companies can compete with the world's best.
The budget implementation bill passed before the House rose last summer proposed a plan that would reduce the general corporate income tax rate from 21% to 19% by January 1, 2010. That bill also eliminated the corporate surtax for all corporations in 2008 and totally eliminated the federal capital tax as of January 1, 2006, which is two years ahead of schedule.
Bill builds on those measures by proposing a reduction of the current 12% small business tax rate to 11.5% for 2008 and to 11% for 2009. It is important to note that this bill also proposes an increase to $400,000 from $300,000 of the amount of income that a small business can have taxed at the small business tax rate effective January 1, 2007.
Bill improves equity in the tax system by providing capital gains tax relief to fishers, which I briefly mentioned previously, including an extension of the $500,000 lifetime capital gains exemption and an intergenerational rollover for fishing businesses. I certainly heard a great deal about this subject from hon. members in the preparation of the budget, including, of course, my colleague the . This initiative will provide this important industry with the same tax treatment of capital gains as is extended to farmers in Canada.
In addition to accelerating the elimination of the federal capital tax in last summer's budget bill, Bill proposes to modify the minimum tax on financial institutions to reflect the growth of that sector since the tax was introduced. Bill C-28 proposes that effective July 1, 2006 a single tax rate of 1.25% apply on taxable capital employed in Canada over $1 billion rather than the two tier system that is currently in place for financial institutions with taxable capital in excess of $300 million.
Bill also proposes to eliminate the double taxation of dividends from large corporations at the federal level.
There is an important provision in the bill with respect to pension income. Canada's new government is fully aware of and grateful for the contributions made by our seniors in Canada. A deduction for the first $1,000 in eligible pension income was introduced in 1975. The deduction was converted to a non-refundable credit in the 1987 tax reform.
However, the maximum amount of pension income that could be claimed under this measure has been left unchanged since 1975, at that level of $1,000, which of course is worth much less in 2006 dollars. In the May budget, our government proposed to provide greater tax assistance to those who have saved for their retirement.
Budget 2006 proposes to double to $2,000 the maximum amount of eligible pension income that can be claimed under the pension income credit. This is effective for 2006 and subsequent taxation years. This measure will benefit nearly three million taxpayers receiving eligible pension income and will remove approximately 85,000 pensioners from the federal tax rolls completely.
I would like to say a few words about the textbook tax credit, which is important to our students in Canada.
We of course want to encourage education and training efforts by students. This bill, Bill , proposes a new non-refundable tax credit to provide better tax recognition for the costs of textbooks for students. This will be put in place effective for 2006 and subsequent taxation years.
The textbook tax credit amount will be $65 for each month of full time post-secondary study and $20 for each month of part time post-secondary study. For example, a full time student enrolled for eight months would qualify for a textbook tax credit on an amount of $520 in that year, which would be a tax reduction of about $80. This benefit, we estimate, will extend to almost two million post-secondary students in Canada.
There is also the exemption with respect to post-secondary education scholarships and bursaries. In our platform in the last election, as I recall, we had a provision that we would exempt bursaries and scholarships up to $10,000.
In fact, in the budget, we announced that the exemption would be complete and that we would not have a monetary limit of $10,000, on the basis that we want to encourage students to work hard and do well. When they work hard and do well and get scholarships and bursaries, it seems counterproductive for the government to then tax them for reaching for the top and for working hard and doing well in their studies.
Budget 2006 proposes to fully exempt these sources of income from tax, effective for this year, 2006, and subsequent taxation years. This has a significant consequence, particularly when we start looking at the need we have in Canada for more graduate students in the sciences, in engineering and in the life sciences, and at our desire to encourage graduate study.
Let us take the example of a full time student, perhaps at the University of Saskatchewan, completing a Ph.D., who received a $15,000 scholarship and also earned an additional $10,000 in 2007 by working as a teaching assistant, which would not be unusual for a graduate student. As a result of the full exemption on scholarship and bursary income and the introduction of the new textbook tax credit, that student would save $675 in federal income tax.
This measure will help foster academic excellence by providing tax relief to more than 100,000 post-secondary students in Canada.
There is also a tax credit with respect to apprenticeships to encourage apprenticeship job creation. The lack of skilled trades in Canada, as we well know, is becoming an impediment to economic growth. This is particularly true in some regions of our country. Meanwhile, many young Canadians find themselves stuck in low-paying jobs and either are not encouraged to consider the trades or are unable to do so because of financial barriers.
To encourage employers to hire new apprentices to learn a trade, the budget proposed a new apprenticeship job creation tax credit. As a result of this initiative, which is contained in Bill , and which is effective as of May 2, 2006, the budget date, eligible employers will receive a tax credit equal to 10% of the wages paid to qualifying apprentices in the first two years of the contract, to a maximum credit of $2,000 per apprentice per year.
To encourage people to enter the skilled trades, there is also a deduction for tool expenses for tradespeople. Many members have heard from constituents over the years about how expensive it is for people starting off in the trades to pay for tools, particularly in some of the situations that involve very expensive tools, such as auto mechanics. Bill proposes a new deduction of up to $500 to tradespeople for the cost of tools in excess of $1,000, tools that they must acquire in order to proceed with their apprenticeship.
The tools deduction and the Canada employment credit together will provide tax relief to about 700,000 employed tradespeople in Canada.
Here is how it would work. For example, a tradesperson earning $60,000, with $1,500 in tool expenses in 2007, will be able to claim the new Canada employment credit on $1,000 and deduct $500 under the new tools deduction. The two measures will reduce federal income taxes by $265.
Also, apprentice vehicle mechanics will continue to be eligible to deduct their extraordinary tool expenses.
Another important credit in the bill relates to the use of public transit by commuters and the environmental benefits of more commuters using public transit and leaving their cars at home or at commuter stations. It is important to encourage Canadians to use public transit. Increasing public transit use not only will ease traffic congestion in our urban areas, it will also improve the environment.
Bill proposes the tax credit on the purchase cost of monthly public transit passes or passes for a duration of longer than a month. This measure, effective July 1, 2006, will provide benefits to approximately two million Canadians who make a sustained commitment to use this environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
For example, an individual who purchases passes costing $80 per month throughout the year will receive a benefit of up to about $150 in federal tax relief for the year. All transit users, including commuters, students and seniors, will qualify for this tax credit. What it amounts to is about two months of free public transit per year for commuters who have monthly passes or passes that are for longer than one month.
Another important tax credit is particularly relevant in Canada today given our concerns with obesity in children, about which much has been said and written in recent years and months. Studies show that regular physical activity has many positive effects on children, including healthier growth and development and improved physical fitness.
There is no doubt that all of us have seen some escalation in the costs of organized activities, making it difficult for many Canadian families to afford these activities for their children.
To promote physical fitness among children, Bill proposes to introduce the children's fitness tax credit, effective January 1, 2007 and designed to provide a tax credit based on up to $500 of eligible fees for programs of physical activity for each child under the age of 16.
As one would expect, the words “physical activity” can be interpreted more or less broadly and in different ways. Indeed, they are being interpreted in different ways. As I set out in the budget, I asked a panel of experts to consider the views of Canadians on this subject and on the design of the tax credit.
The three experts on the panel have done their work. I thank them for that. I expect to receive their report tomorrow. They have done this work as good Canadians. Despite their expertise and the remuneration to which they would be entitled in their normal occupations, they have done it for $1 each. The grand cost to the people of Canada will be $3 for this expert report that will provide advice on a working definition of the criteria for the tax credit.
I look forward to having an opportunity to share that report with hon. members and to have what I am sure will be a fulsome discussion about the design of that tax credit for young people.
In conclusion, the government's first budget is about focusing on priorities. This bill completes that budget implementation process.
This is about taking action to make a real difference in the lives of Canadians. It is about creating real results for Canadians. And it is about doing all of this in a way that is fiscally responsible, by making sure that we have balanced budgets, by making sure that we have expenditure control on an ongoing basis, and by making sure that we watch the hard-earned Canadian tax dollars the Government of Canada receives.
I encourage all hon. members to give the bill the swift passage that I would submit it deserves.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in the debate on Bill , especially for me today as this is my anniversary and the anniversary of quite a few other members of the official opposition who were elected to this place back on October 25, 1993. I would like to commend members on both sides of the House who were elected 13 years ago. Lucky 13 I would say.
This anniversary brings me back to the fact that I was a member of the finance committee in my first Parliament from 1993 to 1997. It was the time period when the then prime minister mandated us as a finance committee to assist the government and the House of Commons to find ways to deal with the terrible deficit that we inherited from the previous Conservative administration. It was not just the efforts of members of Parliament, particularly government members, but members on all sides who helped us turn the government books around in a short two year period. This was also done with the assistance of Canadians from coast to coast.
I would like to point out that the mentioned, in a response to a question by the member for , that during the time as the finance minister in Ontario, he had complained about the fact that the federal government was not achieving its goals. His predecessor, minister Eves in the Mike Harris government, actually lauded the then prime minister and finance minister for their efforts in bringing the books of this country under control. The IMF had basically given a stern warning to Canada about the deficit we had inherited from the previous Conservative administration.
That is why we want to be careful as we go forward. This country does not want to get back into a deficit position. Canadians do not want that. In fact, one of the biggest mandates from Canadians in 1993 was for us to deal with the mess that the books were in. The debt was climbing precipitously.
At that time we had to deal with the financial picture of the country. At the same time, while we were making an effort to get to a surplus position, we could not forget the vulnerable. We had to ensure that we continued to make investments in the social safety net of this country, in economic development, and in incentives for small business. We had to be ever-mindful of the most vulnerable among us and start paying down the debt.
Significantly, the ratio of debt to GDP in this country over the last 13 years up until late January dropped from around 70% to around 40%. We made fantastic progress.
This brings me to the present financial paradigm in which we find ourselves as a nation. My colleague from also mentioned that the last time a Conservative government reported a surplus was in 1912. I would like to add to his comment by saying that the finance minister at that time inherited a surplus from the previous Laurier government. We have yet to see any Conservative government actually produce a surplus on its own feet. I like to be a positive person along with my colleague from , so let us hope that the government can keep us on track as a nation and keep us in a surplus position.
At the same time, it is with grave concern that I remind members of this House, my constituents of in northern Ontario, and all Canadians, that the $13 billion surplus that the Conservative government inherited, which was reported as part of the budget package last spring, should not have in its entirety been used to pay down the debt.
Over the previous 10 or 11 years, we have put a significant portion of each year's surplus toward the debt. Imagine parents saying to their kids, “We are not going to feed you because we are going to put every spare nickel we have on the mortgage”. No, parents continue to pay down their house mortgage while continuing to feed and clothe their families. There is a balance between the ongoing requirements of a family as there is for a government. There is a requirement that governments be mindful of maintaining programs that in particular the most vulnerable need from their federal government.
I think that was a serious error in judgment on the part of the government. No doubt the finance minister, with whom I have no grief personally, had tremendous pressure from the reform elements in his party. It is the reform element that has this belief of every person for themselves. It is an ideological approach to government that really forgets that we are responsible for others. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and that is the place and the role of government. While managing the state for everybody, ensure that we do not leave people behind. Even the best governments and best countries always have those who cannot keep up, and it is our responsibility to do the best we can to help them keep up.
If I could rewind the tape back to last spring and to some weeks ago when we heard about the cuts, I would hope that a replay of that would see the government maybe use half, even a bit more if it felt it were affordable but no less than half, as we were doing, toward debt reduction and the rest toward investments in the social safety net and economic development. Why instead did we see cuts of $1 billion, and I think $2 billion over two years?
It did not strike me as much as it did on a recent visit to the communities of Chapleau and Wawa in my riding a few days ago. I knew that the cuts were going to have an impact on Canadians, but imagine in two communities, three different groups and individuals came forward to tell me about the impact of the cuts on their groups or on them individually. In 13 years, I do not recall ever having that experience. In the space of six hours, between Chapleau, office hours, travelling to Wawa and office hours there, three different groups and individuals came forward to say that this really hurts, not them personally, and I will explain in a moment, but the groups that they work with which serve others.
One was a group in Chapleau that is involved with the francophone women's association, headquartered in Ottawa. It is an Ontario-wide organization that helps francophone women's groups with their advocacy efforts on behalf of francophone women. I have, in my large northern Ontario riding of 110,000 square kilometres, a large and vibrant francophone community.
I was really touched by the delegation's impassioned plea that some way be found to reverse the impact of cuts to women's programs that ultimately impacted their ability to help each other in Chapleau. I know this is also the case in Kapuskasing, and I could go around the riding and find other women's groups, francophone or not, equally impacted.
Imagine in the same tour, to continue, in Wawa, a delegation of small lodge owners came to see me. They were really concerned about the cut to the GST rebate for visitors. To the uninformed, to the uninitiated, it might seem that this is simply a matter of giving money to tourists who go back after their holidays to the U.S. or to Europe, let us say mostly the U.S. in the case of tourist operators in the northern Ontario, and lodge owners for fishing, hunting, camping and outdoor recreation.
The reality is that tourism is an export industry. I know my colleague, the member for Miramichi, has a large tourist industry in his part of New Brunswick. Tourism is an export industry. When tourists buy something at a store, keep their receipt, at least up until now, cross the border to go back to the U.S. if they are American, they are exporting that item and, as for all exports, the GST is removed. Why are we in fact picking on those who export to the U.S. or elsewhere as tourists?
There was a particular concern to these operators. Since the inception of the GST, which is known as a value added tax in Europe, visitors to Canada could claim the GST on their rooms while they are in Canada.
The lodge business in northern Ontario or the Toronto convention bureau or the Montreal convention bureau or the Vancouver convention bureau know that convention organizers depend on those percentage points of advantage they have to compete against other large cities for international convention business. So, now we have lost a few percentage points in competition with European convention destinations.
This happened to be a delegation made up of all women lodge operators. I was very impressed by the arguments they made and the concern they had for how would they make up, I think it was an average of 3% difference, in the net income to their businesses that they would have to cover because their customers could not get that 3% back at the border. They have lost the ability to promote that aspect in their tour of the trade tourism shows throughout mostly the northern U.S. I would ask the government to reconsider the GST rebate for visitors, as it should reconsider the support of women's programs.
Let me continue to the third example of an entrepreneur in my riding in Wawa. I will keep the confidentiality of his name. He has tremendous expertise in the tree nursery sector, not just knowledge but technology capacity as well. He has worked diligently to make business agreements in several Central American countries. When we talk about the importance of tree planting, reforestation is part of a larger strategy to deal with climate change. He has the potential in an important niche when it comes to greenhouse gas or climate change abatement technologies.
Up until recently, Canada's government believed in the Kyoto protocol and believed that climate change was a reality. Imperfections aside, and I will not say that our government was perfect in its pursuit of finding better ways to deal with climate change, at least we were looking forward, we acknowledged, and we knew better efforts had to be made to deal with climate change. We did not turn our backs on the importance of climate change and the Kyoto protocol. This entrepreneur has now lost some advantage in his ability to export his expertise and technology in terms of reforestation to parts of the world that indeed need this kind of help.
In a period of six hours there were three groups or individuals impacted by these cuts. I know that cuts are separate from the budget, but the foundation of the cuts is in the budget of last spring.
There is a notion that there is a plethora, a whole bunch of tax credits contained in the minister's budget which on the face of it look interesting, but when people find out that a $500 tax credit for the physical fitness tax credit is worth about $70 or $80 to the average family, then it really is not what it appears to be. It would have been clearer for Canadians had the government acknowledged that these tax credits which are $500 in this box on tax returns really meant about $75 or $80 at the end.
I think sports programs are very important. I look forward to the minister tabling his report from his expert panel. Not every family has a child that is capable, either physically or by inclination, to be involved on a hockey team, a basketball team or whatever. Some children are musically inclined and some are artistic. Some children in wheelchairs cannot play hockey. They have other pursuits that they would no doubt be interested in.
I really hope that the minister, who is a bit of an athlete himself, will be persuaded that the view of that tax credit, as modest as it is, should include a large array of artistic, cultural and physical pursuits for children and families. I want to make that very important point.
In my question earlier on to the I asked about the difference between a wealthy family buying a $100,000 luxury motorboat or sailboat versus a modest family buying a $200 inflatable raft and which of the two families would receive the bigger GST benefit? The minister did not answer the question. He actually did not even skate around it. He did not even carry the puck across the red line in response to my question.
I will answer the question for the minister. If a person were buying a $100,000 boat, the saving would be about $1,000; I think a 1% cut would be $1,000. With that $1,000 cut the family could buy five inflatable boats that the modest income family could only get for $200. The $200 inflatable boat will realize a savings of $20 or is it $2? No, I think it is $20.
Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj: Insignificant.
Mr. Brent St. Denis: Actually, it is $2. It is insignificant. Thanks for the arithmetic help from my colleagues.
The point is that the GST saving for the well-to-do family is $1,000. In my example the saving for the low income family is $2. Tell me what the fairness is there? It is not there.
I am not sure there was one reputable economist that argued in favour of a GST cut. The better thing going forward and the better thing last spring would have been to continue the personal income tax cut that we brought in during the previous year. Then, if the government felt it had resources, it go further with personal income tax cuts.
There is a great debate over whether cuts in consumption taxes are better than cuts in personal income tax. I would argue the latter, that cuts to personal income taxes are a lot more effective, a lot more fair, and on a sliding scale they impact everyone the same proportionally.
We go from a big picture in 1993 where the imperative at the time was to get the books of the country in order. The previous government did that. It took two years and with the help of Canadians it was done. The country had a series of surpluses that have never been matched before in Canadian history.
We now have a government that is very ideological. Canada is a democracy and there is nothing wrong with being ideological. However, if the government is going to be ideological, it had better put a little bit of water in its wine once in a while and consider that there are things that happen between the ideologies that really can help or hurt people.
I would ask the government to reconsider its overall program. Next spring, if it does come up with a surplus, I hope it will deal with the wait times because we are regressing on wait times and there is little, if any, mention by the government of the wait times initiative that it mentioned in the election.
I hope next spring the government will be a little wiser with any surplus that it might accrue.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this part of the Conservatives’ last budget. As you know, my party, the Bloc Québécois, supported the budget. It did so, not because the members of the Bloc liked the Conservatives—after 10 months, we like them less than we liked them at the time—but because at that time there were some sensible things in the budget. At least that is what we thought.
The fiscal imbalance file in particular is a fundamental file for Quebec, a file for which the Bloc Québécois has worked with all the vigour and rigour for which it has been known for years. We were even the first ones to talk about the concept of fiscal imbalance in the House of Commons several years ago. It was even before the Séguin Commission began its work in Quebec with a mandate from then Premier Bernard Landry to find some solutions to the fiscal imbalance, which leads to the underfunding of basic service programs for citizens by Quebec and the Canadian provinces.
Appended to the budget was a document, a very well prepared one, I might add. It said that the government was making a commitment to fix the fiscal imbalance, that this fall—the fall is advancing and the winter is fast approaching now—the would call a conference with the premiers of Quebec and the provinces to deal with the fiscal imbalance. Dealing with the fiscal imbalance does not mean fixing part of it. It means that Canada would transfer $12 billion in tax resources to the governments of Quebec and the provinces. It means, for Quebec alone, a transfer of $3.9 billion, including equalization.
We were stunned when, a few weeks ago, the began to minimize the amounts that were supposed to be transferred to the Government of Quebec and the provinces. He also dropped the idea of holding a first ministers conference, saying that it would take a consensus of the provinces for him to act. Since when, when a government wants to correct something within its jurisdiction, that is, federal tax resources, does it wait for a consensus of the provinces before acting? That is one way to pass the buck.
The fiscal imbalance was the most important issue when the budget was passed. Now, though, we do not know what has happened to the government’s promise. We do not know whether the will keep his word. If he does not, he was misleading us. At the time of the last election in Quebec, the Conservative Party accidentally won a few seats because it had made a solemn promise to fix the fiscal imbalance. We are dealing now with some bills to implement parts of the budget. Still there is no mention of the fiscal imbalance. The government seems to be wriggling away and it looks as if it will not keep its promise in the next budget.
That was the grand gesture that prompted the Bloc Québécois to support the government, give it a chance, and speak about a budget of transition until the next one. We believed it at the time in light of the promise the government had made to deal with the fiscal imbalance. We will see what happens. We will still give the government a chance, but we remind it that it is on its final laps and does not have much time to race to the finish and keep its promise. There will not be any second chances, like the one we gave it in the last budget.
The fiscal imbalance is only one of the issues. There are many others about which we have expressed our dissatisfaction day after day for 10 months, including the environment, Quebec’s representation at UNESCO, and so forth. The government should not fool around with us too much in this way because when the time comes to make decisions, we will be very rigorous and determined, as we have always been for 13 years. If the government has to be defeated over the next budget, we will do so.
I would like, though, to say a few words about some particular provisions in the budget that were somewhat overshadowed by the fiscal imbalance. There were some things we were very proud about. Let me tell the House why. It was 13 years ago today that we elected the first contingent of Bloc members. At the time, there were 54 of us. We formed the official opposition of Her Loyal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. From that time until today, the Bloc Québécois has always defended the interests of Quebec and the interests of the people, our fellow citizens.
My Bloc colleagues get up every morning wondering how they can contribute to the advancement of their fellow citizens, work and fight for the common good, and improve the lives of the most disadvantaged in society, and how they can block a government.
This government and the previous one seem to be clones of each other. We keep asking ourselves how to do battle with a government with no compassion, which does not offer any hope in terms of improving the lives of the most disadvantaged in society or ensuring that middle income families can benefit from a favourable tax environment that adds to their well-being.
That is what we in the Bloc Québécois have always done. That is what all my colleagues have been doing in every riding, one election after another.
I am proud to have been associated for the past 13 years with a team as outstanding as that of the Bloc Québécois, one that has been standing up for more than just the interests of Quebec. Whenever the interests of the rest of Canada coincided with those of Quebec, we gladly defended them. Since 1993, we have made friends all over Canada, and particularly among the workers. Why? Because our only motivation is the common good. And when the common good of Quebec meets that of Canada, we do not hesitate to work relentlessly and even to travel across Canada to meet with workers who have lost their jobs or seniors who are being mistreated.
The Liberals mistreated older persons by ignoring their needs, by abolishing, in 1997, the POWA program and by refusing to replace it with another program. The Conservatives are doing the same after promising to implement a program to help workers 55 and older who are victims of mass layoffs. They should receive support until their retirement because a number of them cannot be retrained to work in another sector of the economy either because there is no other company around when the only company in the region has closed and there is nowhere for them to relocate to or because after 30 or 35 years, these workers who thought they had a secure job until their retirement get the short end of the stick and have to liquidate any wealth they have accumulated over the years before they can get their pension. This obviously means loss of dignity, necessary liquidating of assets and possibly going on welfare.
Let us come back to specific measures in the budget. I said I am proud to have been associated with the Bloc Québécois team for the past 13 years. The Bloc team did not just oppose government measures; it proposed alternatives for the common good. I was going over the budget and I thought these issues were discussed a few years ago, issues such as the tax credit for public transportation. My colleague from Jonquière presented this in the Standing Committee on Finance. The Liberals and the Conservatives were skeptical. Only the NDP joined us in defending the tax credit for public transportation. My colleague from introduced a new bill and defended it with a view to having a tax credit for public transportation. We debated these issues and we came up with these measures. When our adversaries ask what the purpose of the Bloc Québécois is, it is because they have nothing to say. They recognize our value, our rigour and our originality. We present things to improve the lot of our fellow citizens. Now they know the purpose of the Bloc Québécois. We are described as originals who have the strength and conviction to defend the measures we strongly believe in.
For years we have been saying that a tax credit for public transportation could contribute in a small way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This could encourage people to take public transportation instead of driving their cars with just one or two occupants. Public transportation causes much less pollution. We have been fighting for this for years.
I was looking at the tax deduction for toolkits. My colleague from Beauport, who is also the Bloc Québécois whip, introduced that measure nine years ago. He recognized the need, especially among young tradespeople, for tax deductions for toolkits, which can cost thousands of dollars.
We were allowing lawyers and other professionals to write off their professional expenses, but we were not letting young plumbers, mechanics, and so on, do so. This measure has now been adopted, but how long did the Bloc Québécois have to fight for it? The idea made its way through the system, and we never gave up. We pushed until the government included such measures in its budget. Perhaps it did so for electoral reasons, but that does not matter because the point is that it is going through.
Since 1996, the Bloc Québécois has fought tooth and nail for microbreweries in Quebec and the rest of Canada—at least, for those that are still around. Government inertia delayed the adoption of such a measure—a measure revisited by the Conservatives—and hundreds of microbreweries across Canada and around Quebec went bankrupt, including in isolated regions where they had developed niche markets. There are still some microbreweries around in Canada and Quebec. Thank goodness such a measure exists because their competitors are being offered even more generous fiscal treatment than what the government has put forward in its budget.
This kind of tax measure would enable the microbreweries in Quebec and the rest of Canada to meet the American and European competition. I do not know if you know, Mr. Speaker, but foreign microbreweries are competing with ours. Their licences are bought by the major Canadian breweries. In this way, thanks to a licence from an American or European microbrewery, the major Canadian brewers can become Canadian and Quebec microbreweries.
This tax measure is an additional way of ensuring that the uniqueness of a product is preserved. In Quebec, the Unibroue microbrewery was one of the victims of the lack of tax measures to facilitate competition with foreign microbrewers. Unibroue made some incredible beer before Sleeman bought it, withdrew and, as an example, reduced the wide array of high quality “strong beer one lees” varieties similar to some imported European beers whose traditional production goes back several centuries.
Unibroue had been successful, without any government assistance, by fighting. I remember the president of Unibroue coming here several times. At the time, he was the president of the microbrewers of Quebec and Canada. We fought alongside him, made a common front, not to gain an unrealistic advantage but so that microbrewers in Quebec and the rest of Canada could have the same advantages as American and European microbrewers.
I can recall—there are always memories—that the major Canadian brewers did something totally disgusting. They went through the back door to push the finance and national revenue departments, saying that this kind of measure should not be brought forward. Meanwhile, they were telling the microbrewers that they agreed with them on the need for such a measure and for a reduction of the tax rate on microbreweries producing less than 75 million litres. At the same time, the major brewers were meeting with public servants and telling them that this measure should not pass and things were fine. It was unbelievable, until the microbrewers decided to take things into their own hands and not rely on the major brewers who were body checking them as hard as they could.
So that, too, was some of the long-term work of the Bloc Québécois. When I hear the hon. member for , who is responsible for economic development, say, “You will never be in power”, I think it is the height of stupidity.
What then is the purpose of a Parliament? Is it just to have a government and not an opposition? That would be a dictatorship. If those are the democratic feelings of the member for , he is not in the right place. A good government requires a good parliament, that is a government and an opposition to put it in its place, to enhance legislation, to present ideas from the representatives of the majority of the population. We should not forget that, although they are arrogant, the Conservatives are in the minority. Those of us in the opposition represent the majority of the population of Quebec and of Canada, and that has been the case in the last two Parliaments. We speak on behalf of the citizens. The member for speaks for himself. In his mind, the power is his and federal money is his money. That is not the case.
Federal money is the money of the people; it belongs to our citizens. We are here to ensure that it is spent as wisely as possible. That money does not belong to the , nor to the member for , nor to the — it belongs to the citizens. We stand up for citizens when they ask us to represent them and to obtain action on public transit and microbreweries, because they create a great deal of employment in the regions. We also stand up for plumbers and mechanics asking for a tax credit. We are their voice.
All the opposition parties represent the majority. The arrogance of the Conservatives will only last a while.
I find that we have been very patient these last 10 months, and we will be patient for a few more. However, we have heard enough about the Bloc Québécois being good for nothing. The Bloc is here to do its job, and its job is to represent the citizens that have voted for us, by a majority, since 1993, election after election, giving us a strong majority in Quebec. If this meant nothing, if we were good for nothing, Quebeckers would not have elected us.
My colleague should be more careful about what he says, because this is very serious. He is saying that a large majority of Quebeckers—his own fellow citizens—have been wrong every time since 1993, that they are not smart enough to make decisions, decisions involving power. But what power? Does he mean the power of his citizens?
He was not even able to defend the businesses in his riding. He talked about how proud he is to be in government and to have decision-making powers. But to decide for whom? Decide for what? He could not even be bothered to defend the softwood producers or manufacturers of bicycles, clothing and textiles in his riding. And God knows, in Beauce, those are important industries, particularly the carpet industry.
We are saying we support these measures. Of course, we support them. It would be difficult to do the opposite of what we have been doing for years. We are pleased that the other parties have taken up our ideas. We hope they take them up even more. We hope they take up our idea of loan guarantees for the forest industry.
That is what Parliament is for. It is for the fermentation of ideas. It is not intended to have a few people who pretend to be something they're not—I will refrain from using a popular Quebec expression, because it would be unparliamentary—and who speak only for themselves whenever they speak. The purpose of Parliament is to ensure that the best ideas emerge, so that we have the best possible government. A minority government is usually a better government because it has greater opposition, which represents the majority of citizens. That opposition pushes the government, and pushes it as hard as it can, to ensure that the government makes the best possible decisions based on the ideas, convictions and values of the majority represented in this Parliament by the opposition parties.
I would like to talk about business taxation for the next few minutes.
Since 1994, we have consistently been ardent advocates of reducing the tax burden for businesses and individuals. It is not a question of foolishly cutting taxes to pay businesses, rather to ensure that these businesses reinvest, especially in the high-tech sector, particularly in state-of-the-art production equipment, in order to tackle globalization and emerging competitors such as China, Brazil, India and Pakistan.
For roughly nine years now, companies have received tax cuts year after year. Nevertheless, I have always lamented to the presidents of the Chamber of Commerce of Canada—from Quebec City, Toronto, Montreal and everywhere in between—that, despite these nine consecutive tax cuts, companies have not made any structural investments to cope with the competitiveness of the emerging countries.
For years we have coasted on the value of the Canadian dollar to export, and export more, and never looked past the end of our noses.
I hope that, after everything we have seen in the past few years, we will ensure that further tax cuts in the budget will be used by business leaders for taking charge and making investments because the competitiveness—the productivity—of a company is not just about the employees. Make no mistake. It is a matter, above all, of equipment, of constant investment in high technology to compete with the best in the world. And that has not been done.
Businesses have not shouldered their responsibilities.
In my opinion, there needs to be a threefold strategy: require entrepreneurs to invest in new technology and modern equipment; support victims of rationalization—I am talking about older workers and POWA, among other things; and fight unfair competition.
Often the competition from our trading partners is unfair. However, Canada does nothing to fight this unfair competition the way other, European countries are fighting it so feverishly.
Mr. Speaker, the success of a nation is judged by how we treat our children. The success of a budget is really dependent on whether we invest in children.
The hon. members opposite talked about scandals. Let me tell them that it is scandalous when we have a country as rich as Canada and we have 1.2 million children living in poverty at a time when we have a surplus of almost $20 billion. We have children living in Canada who are going to bed hungry. That is a true scandal.
It is scandalous that we have parties here that are willing to support the budget. I understand why the Conservative government would support its own budget, but I do not understand why any other party in the House would support this kind of scandalous behaviour in a budget that treats our children in such a way.
It is a deliberate choice when we have a surplus but we do not invest in child care. It is a deliberate choice when we do not invest in affordable housing. It is a deliberate choice when we do not put more money into the child tax benefit so families will get more money and parents will not have to worry about having to pay the rent or feed their kids.
Today is child care appreciation day. The people who take care of our children earn very low incomes. They spend all day making sure that our kids are raised in a way that is healthy and productive. While we appreciate them, these workers are underpaid because we do not invest in child care.
This is a time when the government actually subsidizes the oil and gas industry to the tune of $1.5 billion. How could the government make such a choice? It is scandalous. Those dollars, whether it is $1.5 billion or the $20 billion surplus, really should be used to train young people so they can learn a skill, so that they will have employment, so that they could retrofit homes. By retrofitting homes and making them green, Canadians would save on their energy bills. By making them green, Canadians would have renovated houses and we would actually get less greenhouse gas pollution.
Because we have money, we can also increase the guaranteed income supplement so that the poorest seniors can live in dignity. The guaranteed income supplement, which supplements pensions and old age security, had not been increased for at least 12 years until last year, when there was a very small increase.
Unfortunately, a lot of seniors are isolated in their homes. They do not have the money to buy a transit pass to visit their friends or go to the library. I know that some of them do not even have enough money to pay the electricity bill because it is so expensive. These seniors live in our midst when Canada is awash with money, yet we subsidize and have more corporate tax cuts.
A few minutes ago I stood outside Parliament Hill, joining many refugees who are suffering in this country. Many poor and cold young children and their families were outside. These refugees have escaped persecution and seek refuge here. Many of these women have faced persecution and, in many cases, domestic violence.
They are all refugees. They have a heavy burden. They are poor. They have no resources. They are seeking the opportunity for a better life in Canada, yet they face the ultimate indignity. They are punished and penalized with refugee fees. That is a terrible burden. I believe the Liberals introduced these fees with the excuse that they were trying to balance the budget. It was a lame excuse for a terrible burden which amounts to a modern-day head tax.
Now the Conservatives are blindly continuing that with these fees. These fees are causing great suffering. They are causing despair because some families just cannot afford to pay them. The fees are driving some of the families underground. They are driving them to hunger. They are keeping people from making a contribution and building better lives. Really, these fees are a head tax, a tax on the most vulnerable and on those who cannot afford to pay them.
The government has a pattern of giving the most to those who need the least. It also has a habit of giving the least to those who need the most. We have seen it as--