Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I will begin by thanking the groups that came forward, the individuals and the businesses in Canada that came forward and made their presentations to the finance committee for our prebudget consultation. Quite frankly, the quality of the presentations made before the finance committee this year were outstanding and that is reflected in the report that has been put forward by the Standing Committee on Finance.
I should also state that while our party, the Conservative Party, is largely supportive of the recommendations made in the prebudget consultation document, there are certain aspects of the prebudget consultation document that we did not agree with, so we did prepare a supplementary report that is also within the prebudget consultation, which clearly outlines the direction that our government sees for Canada moving forward.
When I speak about the direction of Canada moving forward, I thought it would be fitting to begin today's debate by again outlining Advantage Canada.
The government came forward with Advantage Canada in November 2006. It was presented by the hon. member for , the . He came forward and submitted a blueprint for Canada's economy moving forward and for Canada as a whole.
It was something that has not been done before. In fact, often in days past, governments would come out with budgets and there would be an awful lot of surprises. Canadians did not know what the direction of government was and business could not count on what the future direction of government would be. With Advantage Canada, the government sought to provide a level of confidence and to provide business with a good road map to where the government was going.
Therefore, I thought that the best way to start would be to outline and to remind the members of the House what Advantage Canada spoke of.
Advantage Canada was focused on creating five Canadian advantages that would help improve the quality of life and help Canada succeed on the world stage.
There was a tax advantage, which spoke of reducing taxes for all Canadians and establishing the lowest tax rate on business in the G-7.
We also spoke of Canada's fiscal advantage and eliminating the government's total net debt in less than a generation. We spoke at the time of 2021 and I believe we are actually ahead of that target.
We spoke of the entrepreneurial advantage. We wanted to reduce regulation and red tape and lower taxes to unlock business investment and try to build a more competitive business environment so that our small businesses could succeed.
We spoke of the knowledge advantage that we wanted to build in Canada to create the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce. We are already seeing the results of this. A statistic released this morning said that university enrolment in Canada is up by almost 23%. In fact, it is up by 25% for women and 21% for men. These are real successes for the government.
We also spoke of the infrastructure advantage, whereby we will work to create a modern, world-class economic infrastructure that helps ensure growth and helps ensure prosperity so that Canadians can have a better life.
Then, of course, to support these advantages, we had principles, and that is very important. What were the principles that were going to guide Advantage Canada? The first principle was to focus government, and I cannot emphasize how important that is. The government remains focused on what it does best. It is responsible in spending, efficient in its operation, effective in its results and accountable to the taxpayers. This is a principle, quite frankly, that all governments should aspire to, but which our government holds very dear and very close to its heart.
We want to create new opportunities and choices for people. When we speak of that, we want government to create incentives for people to excel right here at home. We want to reduce taxes and invest in education. These are the principles that the Conservative Party holds very dear. We want to invest for sustainable growth.
When we talk about investing for sustainable growth, we are not talking about one time ad hoc payments that pick winners and losers. We are talking about fixing the fundamental flaws in the economy and setting the environment right so that all businesses can flourish and prosper, which creates more employment.
We are seeing results of this already. We know that in the month of December a record number of Canadians were employed, 17 million. That has never happened before in this country. The government has created almost 700,000 jobs in two years. That is an incredible record and Advantage Canada is the blueprint by which we have set that underway.
Following up on Advantage Canada, we had budget 2007 which made a significant number of investments that were important to Canadians. I believe the record of budget 2007 speaks for itself.
I think it would be fitting to remind Canadians what budget 2007 accomplished: $39 billion over seven years to restore the fiscal balance. I am from Ontario. The province of Ontario received $3.8 billion this year in the fiscal balance transfer, plus per capita transfers for things like post-secondary education where we increased that budget by 40%, plus provided per capita spending.
What did the Premier of Ontario have to say about budget 2007? Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is claiming a hat trick of significant victories. On March 21, 2007, in the aftermath of the federal budget, he stated, “Ontario has scored three significant victories when it comes to our fight for fairness. This federal budget represents real progress for Ontarians”. I am proud of that.
I came here to Ottawa to fight for real progress and fairness for Ontario and for Peterborough but also to fight for fairness right across the country because, ultimately, as federal politicians we should strive for a government that does not discriminate between regions and that views and respects all Canadians equally.
I could speak to the budget for hours but I have requested that my time be reduced to 10 minutes so I can share my time with my colleagues who are also very proud of the government's economic record.
I would also like to talk about the economic statement. Perhaps one of the most interesting things that I read following the economic statement was written by Sheila Copps, a former Liberal member, when she said:
|| The finance minister's decision to ignore the naysayers was brilliant politics. A cynical observer might question his timing, overshadowing....
Blah, blah, blah.
An hon. member: That's exactly that, blah, blah, blah.
Mr. Dean Del Mastro: I am sorry. Forget the economists, forget the professors. Most who trash the GST cuts also oppose tax deductible transit passes, notwithstanding the obesity epidemic.
The former minister, Sheila Copps, was very proud of the government's decision to reduce the GST and reduce the tax burden on Canadians. I think that is tremendous.
Jayson Myers, of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, came forward and called the tax cuts in the economic and fiscal update very important. He said:
|| Canada is going to have a very attractive tax environment to retain and attract business investment. ...this keeps us in the game of international investment.
When we speak of manufacturing, the government has provided more than $8 billion in tax relief, $33 billion over seven years for infrastructure and $1.3 billion in annual support to the provinces to improve access to skilled labour.
We are supporting many aspects. I could go on at length about the measures that we have taken but I will defer to questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure this morning to address the House on the prebudget consultations that have taken place.
I want to spend a few minutes giving a bit of an overview for the Canadian public on the actual process. I will talk a little about the report, some of its recommendations and what that means to Burlington. I will wrap up with where I think we are making progress as a government from a financial point of view and where we can continue to bring value for money to Canadian taxpayers.
First, for those who do not know, the budget process has a number of facets to it. As members of the finance committee, we have the opportunity to meet Canadians from across the country to talk about what they would like to see in future budgets. This process started back in the summertime with a plan to have a more focused approach to how we deal with prebudget consultation.
We had a theme, which was what people would do to the tax system in this country to ensure our prosperity in the future. That is the theme which we asked people to present on to us. Not everybody followed that theme. Others decided to come and see us, as they have done in the past, to talk about spending they wanted for their own particular needs. However, the vast majority of presenters came to see us with that theme in mind and did an excellent job in presenting their views of how the country's tax system could be improved to help improve both our prosperity as a people and our position in the world.
We did engage the public. Hundreds of people came to see us across the country and hundreds of people came to Ottawa to talk to us about their goals and their desires for the 2008 budget.
As members of the committee, we were able to ask questions of those individuals. We saw submissions from every single group that came to see us. For those whom we were not able to satisfy by giving them their few minutes in front of us so that we could get answers to questions, we asked them to make a written submission to us. We all received copies so that all were able to read those submissions.
As members of the finance committee, we worked together with colleagues from other parties in discussing the issues and coming up with what we think is the right direction to follow.
In addition, and everybody in this House has this opportunity, individual groups and organizations came to see me as a regular member of Parliament to talk about what is important to them and what could be incorporated into a budget to help their causes and this country. As an individual member of Parliament, I had numerous people come to see me, numerous delegations, to talk about their views on how we should proceed.
The theme in terms of the tax system was overtaken a bit by the issue of the rising dollar. As the dollar was rising in the fall, we had a specific set of meetings about that, its effect on our economy and what the Government of Canada could do in that arena. I think they were very effective meetings. We had some excellent presentations on what we as a government can and cannot do in terms of interference. We heard from a variety of presenters, including representatives from the Bank of Canada.
The areas that we talked about were very wide-ranging. We talked about personal taxes, the tax rates that individuals pay. We talked about what we could do for the unemployed. We talked about what we could do for seniors.
Education was a theme that people came to see us about, both those who provide education from the university side of things and those who are recipients of education in the post-secondary area, including a number of student groups.
We talked about corporate taxes and what we could for corporate taxes. We talked about what we could do in terms of research and assistance for organizations that are trying to be the best they can be, to be leading edge in terms of their development and their research and product development.
We also talked about the capital cost allowance and where it should go, and about the role of manufacturing, as in the report that was supported by this House and by all parties in this House at committee.
We talked about housing and infrastructure and the federal government's involvement in infrastructure and where we should be going with that.
We also had a fairly extensive discussion on the role of charities and volunteering and giving in this country. It was very interesting. Just so members know, we had numerous presenters tell us that the change made by the finance minister to allow for stocks and bonds to be used for charity donations made a significant impact on the work that those charities are able to do. They were able to gather more money, a tremendous amount, and particularly in the case of the health care sector for our hospitals.
Our report is broken down into three areas. There is an introduction on the overall economics of what is happening in this country. There is a very good review of the testimony we heard in a summary of the individuals and organizations appearing before the committee to talk about what their issues were, how they would address those issues, what their goals and expectations were or what suggestions they had for the committee.
There is a section on recommendations. To be fair, there was to be section on what we in the committee believe should happen, but I thought it would be more appropriate to deal with what we heard and as a committee deal with the recommendations directly.
To be frank, I believe there were about 52 recommendations that came brought forward from the different parties and the organizations we heard from. They were condensed into this report and discussed by committee. In actual fact, there was quite a bit of unanimity and support from at least the majority of the parties on a number of issues. I would say that on probably 30 of the 52 issues, committee members agreed, and that went into the report. That is a significant amount.
Then it was my suggestion that in addition to the main body of the report every party have a report of the supplementary issues they would like dealt with. They are not minority reports. We often hear from opposition members that we are here to make this place work, and in this particular case I think having supplementary reports instead of minority reports is more appropriate when it comes to our prebudget consultation. We all have different approaches to the same problem. All members were able to put them forward in this report.
The report contains a number of recommendations. To be frank with members and the public, not every member in every caucus agreed. The Conservative members did not always agree. The Liberal members did not always agree. The discussion was very good and we have put a number of items forward.
At this time, I would like to highlight a couple of items that I was very keen on putting forward and that made it into the report. There are two things that I will talk about up front.
There is a discussion of the LEED program, the leadership in energy and environmental design program, for green federal buildings. I know that it does not sound like much, but I think it is important. We heard from some delegations about this program. They said that it is the role of the federal government to make sure that we do what we can for the environment in our own federal buildings. We heard that there has to be a program which will help to make sure that when new buildings are developed or redeveloped there is the ability to make them as environmentally sensitive as possible. This is a start. I look forward to seeing if the finance minister heeds our advice.
The other area I put forward was a children's health initiative. I think there is some opportunity in this country to focus on research on children's health. I put forward as one of my recommendations, which also made the report, the possibility of a fund designated for children's health. Canada is a world leader in the field of research in juvenile diabetes and it is an area that I think Canada should be pursuing.
The report contains a number of recommendations that are important to Burlington, such as improved charity donation review, post-secondary education funding for those furthering their education, and an improvement in the GIS system, where we are recommending that people should be able to earn more money before the clawback starts. There also are other recommendations.
In the 30 seconds I have left, I want to comment on one other item. The other side of spending is expenditure control. I want to be clear for the House and the people of Canada that in 2006 with Advantage Canada we started to implement the expenditure management system. Finally we are looking at programs in a four year cycle. If they are meeting their objectives, great, but if they are not, we need to review whether we are going to continue to fund them.
We are using taxpayers' money. We have to make sure that we are getting value for the dollars being spent. If we are not, we must have the ability to move those moneys to a different, more productive program or to a different program altogether. We need to have the courage to make--
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking all Canadians who have taken the time to make presentations during committee meetings here in Ottawa and in various cities across the country. I would also like to thank those who made written submissions, as well as the clerk and her assistants for their excellent work.
I even thank fellow MPs from opposition parties for what was generally a cooperative effort, even though we did not agree on every point, as was evident from our various minority reports.
When the Conservatives came to power two years ago, they inherited the strongest fiscal position, the strongest employment growth of any G-7 country. Therefore, it was really up to them. They had the opportunity, based on very large surpluses, to make wise investments, smart tax cuts so as to better position our country in terms of productivity and in being prepared to face the times of greater economic uncertainty, in which we now find ourselves.
The burden of my remarks is that they have failed to make these wise investments and these intelligent tax cuts. Now when we are at a time of great economic uncertainty, potentially in recession, we find our fiscal cupboard is bare. We find ourselves much less able to face the future with confidence than had the government managed our economy in an effective and efficient way.
Let me just say a few words about the overall economic situation in which we find ourselves. Clearly, the major global problems have begun in the United States, which is truly in the eye of the storm, but Canada is not immune. We see this from the fact that the Bank of Canada has substantially reduced its growth forecast for this year, indeed to less than 1% for the first quarter of this year. Jobs actually dropped significantly in the month of December.
Therefore, government's claim that employment is at an all time high is simply wrong arithmetically. Jobs came down last month by 51,000 in terms of the private sector and some 17,000 total jobs. Some sectors have been particularly hard hit. Manufacturing has lost more than 130,000 jobs in the last year. According to one of our witnesses at the finance committee, Jim Stanford, he expects that if the dollar stays at or near parity, we could face another 300,000 job losses in manufacturing over the next two to four years.
To put it in a nutshell, one of Canada's better respected economists has summed up by saying that the odds of a recession in the United States and Ontario are approximately fifty-fifty. The odds of a recession in Canada as a whole are approximately one in four.
That underlines the really tight connection between Ontario and the United States, with 90% or so of Ontario exports destined to the U.S. Therefore, the uncertainties in which the whole country finds itself are concentrated here in the province of Ontario.
Let me begin with the question of spending. Perhaps uncharacteristically the Conservative government has been the biggest spending government in living memory. This is not just myself saying this. Take normally small-c conservative individuals like Andrew Coyne, who writes for the National Post and John Williamson, head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Both these gentlemen have taken the government to task for going on a big spending spree.
This comes through if we look at the numbers. If we compare total program spending over the two years of the Conservative government versus the whole Liberal time in government, or just the Liberal time in government since we balanced the budget, we find the rate of growth of spending substantially higher in the last two years than in the Liberal years.
This is particularly the case if we limit our consideration to money spent by the federal government itself rather than monies transferred to individuals or other levels of government. The federal government's own spending in the two years of government has been up by an almost unbelievable 18%, which is an average of 8.6% per year. This is very substantially higher than spending increases during the Liberal period.
As confirmed by Andrew Coyne and by John Williamson and as confirmed by the statistics, this has been a big spending government when times were good. Its first two years in government, until recently, were periods of strong economic growth globally and inherited from the previous government. It spent like drunken sailors during good times, leaving the cupboard largely bare now that we are entering uncertain times. I submit, from the point of view of basic economic management, this is an incompetent way to run a fiscal policy and a government.
The other side of the ledger is tax. The Conservatives spent like crazy during good times, now we have taxes on the other side. Essentially they have undertaken four tax measures, one with which we agree. Indeed, the Leader of the Liberal Party, before the Conservative economic statement, called for deeper corporate tax cuts to increase the productivity and competitiveness of the Canadian economic and partly to offset the fact that Canada no longer had an competitive advantage to a weak currency. We needed to create a new Canadian advantage through a corporate tax rate substantially lower than the United States. The government has followed our suggestion, so we do not really have any complaints in that domain. However, that is where our agreement ends.
The second item of taxation done by the Conservatives was this. Within a few months of coming to office, they raised personal income tax rates on the lowest income Canadians. They raised it from 15% to 15.5%. Then, in a great sweep of victory, they brought it back to 15% from 15.5% and claimed huge credit for cutting taxes, whereas in reality they raised the tax for one year to 15.5% and then brought it down to 15%. We do not object to them bringing it back to 15%, but we do criticize them for raising that tax for one year a year earlier.
The third thing the Conservatives did was spend a huge amount of money to lower the GST by two points. There is hardly an economist on the planet who would agree that was the wisest way to cut taxes. I will simply quote former Conservative cabinet minister, Perrin Beatty, now the president of the Chamber of Commerce, who said:
|| Knocking another point off the GST may be politically attractive but it does not provide the same incentive for improving our sustained economic performance.
We Liberals believe in cutting taxes. We are committed to not raising any taxes, including the GST, but we certainly believe it would have been far wiser had the government used that same amount of money for broad based personal income tax cuts rather than for cutting the GST.
The fourth element of the Conservative tax policy is what I would call narrow, politically motivated boutique tax cuts. In other words, if the Conservatives have money available to cut taxes, instead of cutting the taxes of all Canadians, they direct those to narrowly targeted groups like students getting credits for buying text books or young Canadians playing hockey, et cetera.
I have nothing against those groups. In fact I am in favour of them. However, why is it up to government to decide that young hockey players deserve a tax break and young piano players or violin players do not? This is an intrusive kind of tax policy that substitutes government decision making where family decision making is appropriate. We would prefer to have broad based tax cuts rather than narrow, politically directed, intrusive boutique tax cuts.
If we combine the spending spree during good times with the tax cuts, which are largely incompetent in the sense that at least most economists and I believe most business leaders and most Canadians would have benefited far more from a different pattern of tax cuts, the net effect is that the government's fiscal cupboard is bare just at the moment when the Canadian economy is likely to need a boost.
Let me end by mentioning the sectors where the Canadian economy definitely does need a boost . Manufacturing, as I said earlier, is at risk of losing hundreds of thousands more jobs. Forestry is on life support. The livestock branch of agriculture is in deep trouble. Tourism is in trouble. All of these sectors are in trouble for a combination of reasons, but principally the very high value of the Canada dollar is hammering them. In addition, a slowing U.S. economy and rising energy costs are creating this perfect storm in which several of Canada's most important sectors are being battered as we speak.
The government is not prepared to do anything for those sectors. Yes, it has this communities fund, and we on the Liberal side have said we would replicate that, but that does not help protect the jobs in those sectors. That only comes into play after those jobs have been lost. The Conservatives have nothing to directly support the manufacturing industry and those other sectors in their time of need. Whereas we on the Liberal side are not only going to replicate the communities fund, but we also have an additional $1 billion fund dedicated to supporting investment in the manufacturing sector.
I suggest that the government is neglecting these critical sectors of the Canadian economy at their moment of greatest need, partly because the Conservatives have overspent in the past. They spent wildly during good times, leaving the fiscal cupboard bare. But there are also their narrow ideological reasons. They adhere to free market principles. The government will not get involved in the manufacturing sector, as the called it a shell game; this, even though the biggest players, the United States and the European Union, have given massive subsidies to their agricultural and aerospace sectors. The southern state governors are giving massive subsidies to car companies to locate there.
It is a kind of boy scout, narrow ideology, naive point of view that Canada alone can adhere to these market principles while all the players around us are doing otherwise. It is a recipe for job losses, a recipe for not supporting key sectors of the Canadian economy.
To conclude, the government has demonstrated great incompetence in its economic management. I have not had time to mention two of the most incompetent episodes involving income trusts and interest deductibility. Both of those will go down in infamy in terms of incompetence, and in the case of income trusts dishonest economic management, but at the macro level in terms of excessive spending in good times, in terms of an unwise structure of tax cuts.
Just as Canada enters this period of economic uncertainty, the government which inherited the most bountiful fiscal surplus two years ago has left the fiscal cupboard virtually bare. It has left the Canadian economy ill-prepared for the economic storms which may lie ahead of us.
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to participate in today's debate on the prebudget consultations. First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues from the Standing Committee on Finance, as well as the entire staff that helped us in our work on this. Naturally, dialogue and debate can be intense, since we all have different opinions. In my case, the hon. members for Jeanne-Le Ber and Saint-Maurice—Champlain support me in my committee work as the Bloc Québécois representative. We try to work as a team as much as possible.
In my first year as finance critic, I addressed the question of budget consultations by first initiating very broad consultations in my riding in August and September 2007. I organized six two-hour public meetings in six different municipalities. I sent a flyer to all households in my riding, urging them to share their opinion with me. We then proceeded with a Quebec-wide consultation.
We tried to respect these recommendations as much as possible in this report. There are some things that were not supported. Nevertheless, there are other things that the committee agreed to include in the report that I think are very important. I hope the government will also accept them.
Let us recall our six budget priorities.
First, we wanted an aid package to support workers and businesses affected by the manufacturing and forestry crisis—a package worth more than the $1 billion announced, which is clearly not enough.
We also wanted measures to give seniors back their dignity. These measures would make the guaranteed income supplement retroactive and increase it, which would allow seniors at least to live at the poverty line.
We also wanted the reinstatement of education and social transfers to 1994–95 levels. Financially, that is where the fiscal imbalance continues to hurt: the problem has not been resolved at all.
We wanted increased funding for social housing and a reversal of the ideological cuts made by the Conservative government, particularly with regard to women's groups.
We also wanted to see increased funding for culture. We recommended about $400 million.
We wanted to see a 180-degree turn on the environment, where we really need an approach tied to energy savings and sustainable development. This remains an important objective.
I will now examine each of these objectives. One of the Bloc Québécois' recommendations found in the report was to provide $1 billion for just the forestry sector and not for both the forestry and manufacturing sectors. This week, as we had requested, the government agreed to provide that amount without tying it to the budget. It finally accepted our position. It did an about-face and that is just as well because the money will be available more quickly.
However, we were looking for $1 billion for the forestry sector alone. We wanted the government to allocate $1.5 billion in reimbursable contributions to allow companies to purchase new equipment. That was also accepted by the committee.
Next, we wanted to move up to 2008 the transfer of 5¢ of the gasoline tax to municipalities, rather than waiting until 2010 as planned by the government. The objective is to stimulate the economy in this period of economic slowdown where we can sense that the Americans are on the verge of a recession and the Canadian economy is attempting to avoid it. However, it is uncertain whether we will do so given the strong pull of the United States, particularly in the construction sector, which has a significant impact on our manufacturing and forestry industries.
The majority of the committee recommended injecting $3.5 billion in economic renewal. That is what we called on the federal government to do last fall and to use this year's surplus to do so. The Conservative members from Quebec said that made no sense and that the Bloc Québécois was being irresponsible.
The Bloc Québécois was being irresponsible? Now they should say that the Standing Committee on Finance is being irresponsible, since it is recommending exactly the same thing. The members from Quebec need to understand that and what better way than to join the Standing Committee on Finance. It would be interesting to see them there and to see whether they have anything interesting to say. The Standing Committee on Finance has accepted a constructive Bloc Québécois proposal.
What is more, the committee is recommending creating an independent employment insurance fund and to implement an older worker adjustment program. We will have to make sure that it is indeed an income security program when the government implements it. Let us not forget that today's debate is on the prebudget consultations of the Standing Committee on Finance. The government's position may differ. We still need to get the government to make commitments in the budget. However, having the majority of the Standing Committee on Finance recommend a Bloc proposal is already a big step.
I hope the government will follow through on this report. We would like to see it move forward.
We find it regrettable, however, that the committee rejected the Bloc Québécois proposal to use the surplus from the independent fund to enhance the system. We know that our seasonal workers are currently subject to four or five pilot projects under a section of the Employment Insurance Act. These projects are still not enshrined in the legislation and they expire after six months or two years. They constantly have to be renewed, which is very complicated and causes insecurity among our seasonal workers and our seasonal industries. We wanted to see this situation corrected immediately, but it is not in the report and we will continue to fight for it. Although the Committee supported the Bloc Québécois’ demand to create an independent Employment Insurance fund to end government pillaging, it refused to enhance the program, as I have just explained.
They also refused to put $500 million back into Technology Partnerships Canada, telling us that after that program was eliminated, money was injected into the aeronautics industry. That is fine, but there are industries other than aeronautics that also benefited from that program. For example, in my riding, there is a company that has, on three occasions, received substantial amounts of money that it used to create hundreds of jobs.
Technology Partnerships Canada was condemned by the Conservatives. There may have been a few small problems, but they threw the baby out with the bathwater. It was a worthwhile program, and it would be appropriate to use it during these times when companies must innovate and invest in research and development and our regions must be strengthened. It is a useful and effective tool. It would have been appropriate to continue making it available, but it was not approved by a majority of the committee. The Bloc is not satisfied. We express our displeasure and will continue to fight for this.
There is another very important recommendation by the Bloc in the report. It relates to retroactive payment of the guaranteed income supplement, in an amount estimated at $3 billion. At present, in the legislation, when someone becomes eligible for the guaranteed income supplement and realizes that he or she should have been receiving it in the past, the person is given a maximum of 11 months of retroactive payments. Often, however, these are older people who have very little income and who should have been eligible for it for three, four or six years.
The typical case is usually someone whose spouse handled the money and who has been widowed and did not start the process to get the payments. Guaranteed income supplement payments did not start automatically and people had to take some action in order to get it. It was determined that over 200,000 Canadians and 70,000 Quebeckers were in this situation. Marcel Gagnon, a Bloc MP, led a campaign that resulted in some of those people being identified. But the government still refused to make payments retroactive. The Standing Committee on Finance has now agreed to act on that recommendation. We hope that the government will adopt it .
Along the same line, we would have thought that the committee would agree to recommend that the government increase GIS benefits to reach the poverty line. The committee is preventing the most vulnerable members of our society from getting out of poverty. The guaranteed income supplement is about $110 a month below what is needed for a senior citizen to have the bare necessities. In our budget consultations, we realized that this is an important issue.
Throughout eastern Quebec, in regional county municipalities where there are the most senior citizens receiving the guaranteed income supplement, that is, in the poorest regional municipalities, only 79% of those people are receiving it. Even in the wealthier regional municipalities, only 52% of senior citizens are receiving it. That means that a lot of people need that income. They cannot make ends meet and so they need support. We would have liked the committee to go that far, but it did not. We will continue to fight for this.
Ultimately, I hope that the government will fix this situation completely by giving retroactive payments, as the committee recommended, and by providing the maximum that people are entitled to in order to provide them with this minimum of financial security.
When it comes to the fiscal imbalance and funding for post-secondary education, the Bloc Québécois hit a wall. None of the other parties thought that funding for post-secondary education should be restored to the 1994-95 levels. That was about $3.5 billion for all of Canada and a bit more than $800 million for Quebec.
We say now in our society that we should invest in innovation, that people should be able to go to school, and that our universities should contribute to research and development. But our universities say they are underfunded. This government measure could have been very helpful. If the federal government is going to claim that its approach is different from that of the former Liberal government, it should follow through and completely eliminate the fiscal imbalance. But it will not do that. The federal government simply will not provide adequate funding for post-secondary education.
So there is a major omission here. This was one of the Bloc’s main conditions and it still seems very pertinent to us. We hope that the current requests from all the universities in Quebec and in Canada, and from the industrial sector as well will bear fruit. Indirectly, adequate funding for our universities helps with the development of new products. This can be done under the heading of business assistance according to our international agreements and is something that is needed.
I want to turn now to another of the Bloc’s priorities: social housing. At our initiative, the Standing Committee on Finance recommended that the government use the surplus that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is running to invest in social housing. CMHC has a huge surplus of about a billion dollars. The committee did not put an exact figure on it, but we wanted $1 billion a year to be invested in social housing out of the CMHC surplus in order to create decent, affordable housing and increase the supply.
If we made this investment, we would be killing two birds with one stone, or even three. We would increase the amount of social housing available, we would help cushion the economic slowdown by boosting construction, and we would reduce such phenomena as homelessness. All in all, we would make a major contribution to the fight against poverty. In our view, the Standing Committee on Finance was headed in the right direction in this regard and $1 billion is about the right amount.
We were unable in committee, however, to reverse the ideologically motivated cuts to the court challenges program and Status of Women Canada. These cuts are widely condemned by women and progressive people all across Canada.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Groups must be provided with the tools they need. When confronting the machinery of government, it is very difficult to move a case through the system without the kind of funding and support provided by tools like the court challenges program. These are not huge sums of money, but the tool should be reinstated. The Conservatives should do what they did with the income trust issue: recognize that they made a bad call, change their minds and go back to their previous position so that we can get this program back.
Another of the six conditions is funding for cultural activities. We are very disappointed that not one initiative to provide funding to cultural activities was included in the prebudget consultation report even though we know that a dollar invested in the cultural sector will provide one of the best possible returns because more jobs are being created in this sector than in just about any other.
We find the federal government's indifference to be somewhat worrisome. Numerous cuts to funding programs for museums, the elimination of the public diplomacy program that financed international cultural tours, and the lack of funding for film and television speak volumes about the fact that this government does not really seem to care about culture as a way of promoting Quebec and Canada not only abroad, but also here at home. The government does not recognize the importance of culture to a society like ours.
In this report, we are asking the government to change course, reinstate programs to help museums and the public diplomacy program and reinvest in the Canada Council for the Arts' feature film fund and the Canadian television fund. This would cost about $398 million.
Another of the Bloc Québécois' six conditions has to do with the environment. The Standing Committee on Finance recommended that the government institute a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emission credits. That is interesting. The committee also recommended that the government set up various tax incentives to promote the acquisition of energy efficient transport trucks and adjust the accelerated capital cost allowance on rail equipment to encourage investment.
All these measures are interesting, and we hope that the government will implement them. However, we would have liked to see the government adopt our proposal for the establishment of regional, absolute greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, to bring emissions down to 1990 levels, and development of a framework for a carbon exchange mechanism in Montreal.
We will have to explain things again to the Conservative government. If only there were strict rules. In fact, investing in the environment sector is becoming more and more profitable. When the rules are confusing, businesses do not benefit. If this recommendation were supported, if the government decided to implement it, there would be a significant impact on the economy.
Think about it. There is the whole issue of refundable tax credits for research and development, but there would also be an environmental advantage. Businesses would be more productive if they used less energy, and at the same time, they would be helping to decrease greenhouse gases. There would be an added incentive. I urge the government to move forward on this.
It is particularly interesting that the Standing Committee on Finance accepted all of these recommendations: $1 billion for the forestry sector alone; $1.5 billion in aid for the industry; and $3 billion for the guaranteed income supplement. These are all measures that have been criticized by the Conservative Quebec members, who called it overspending. Now, it is the position of the Conservative government and the Standing Committee on Finance, which adopted these motions. This means that our figures were not so far-fetched, since they have now been adopted by the Standing Committee on Finance and recommended to the .
That shows that there is a great deal of interest in the work we did and the consultations we held in communities across Quebec and Canada. The bottom line is that the current level of financial assistance for the manufacturing and forestry industries is not enough. The figures prove this. The Standing Committee on Finance has made a practical, positive recommendation in this regard. It is no longer just the position of the Bloc, the NDP, the Liberals or the Conservatives; it is the position of the entire Standing Committee on Finance.
We hope that the will incorporate these recommendations directly. He can even act on them without delay. Canada has a $10 billion surplus. On March 31, 2008, if this surplus has not been allocated, it will all go to pay down the debt. That would mean that even though the Standing Committee on Finance recognizes that $1 billion is needed for the forestry industry, $1.5 billion for the manufacturing industry and $3.5 billion for the guaranteed income supplement, the government would turn a blind eye and allocate the surplus to the debt and would not address these problems.
But we can address them now, before March 31, as we did for the trust. That would enable us to deal with a lot of irritants and emergencies, as the leader of the Bloc Québécois said, in terms of the economy, assistance for workers affected by the economic slowdown and the crises, and equity for seniors who have not received their retroactive guaranteed income supplement payments.
There are a number of interesting recommendations in the report. Our six conditions have not been met, but we will keep working on that. We would like the government to take real action soon and move forward. This is the perfect opportunity: the is due to meet with the Premier of Quebec shortly. He and the Bloc Québécois, as representatives of the coalition or consensus in Quebec, said that money was needed immediately. The government decided to do an about-face, accept the recommendation and hold a vote on it immediately.
But the Premier of Quebec, the Bloc Québécois, the people of Quebec, the labour congresses, the forestry sector and industries are saying that more money is needed. This is what remains to be done. More money must be allocated in the coming days, out of this year's surplus.
I will close there. There many other measures in the budget and, overall, a good number of recommendations by the Bloc Québécois were included. However, some are still missing. We will continue the debate and fight for our proposals. We hope that at budget time, the budget will reflect the consultations that we held with Quebeckers. If the budget does not include what it should, we will vote against it. We are prepared to go to the polls if need be. We have presented what Quebec would like. We now have proof that our numbers have the blessing of the Standing Committee on Finance, which flies in the face of the irresponsible comments made by the Conservative members from Quebec.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to let you know that I plan on sharing my time with the member for .
We are seeing the result of the enormous amount of work that was carried out across Canada. Individuals and groups were surveyed on the vision they would like to see in the next budget, and the direction they would like our economy to take in the coming years.
I worked with the member for and the member for on this. It is an extraordinary opportunity to remind people that the NDP, unlike the Bloc Québécois, represents all of Canada, and has representatives from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. This image of the breadth of the country is important, because people tend to forget that to properly represent the economy, we need a balanced vision.
This is the main point of my speech today. I want to talk about the work that has been done in recent months to try to rebalance the economy. This can be seen in the New Democratic Party minority report, appended to the committee's report. There are points that we completely disagree with, because of where the Conservative government is currently taking our economy.
Looking back, we can see that the end of the second world war marked the start of attempts to build a Canadian economy that still existed two or three years ago, a balanced economy in which forestry and mining were dominant in the primary sector. Our country's natural resources, which are non-renewable in the case of mines and renewable in the case of forests, need to be used sustainably, in a way that respects future generations, which has often not been the case.
Canada also needs a processing sector. Too often in its history, Canada would cut its trees and ship them to other countries, including our neighbour to the south. It would also extract its mineral resources and ship them to other countries for secondary and tertiary processing. This vision also needed to be changed. Canada therefore developed ways of doing secondary and tertiary processing here whenever possible. It did not always do enough of this sort of processing, but things were improving.
Lastly, the Canadian economy was based on a strong service sector centred mainly in Montreal and Toronto at the time. Today, it is unfortunately based less and less in Montreal and more and more in Toronto. Of course, I am speaking as a member from Quebec.
Once in office, the current government stepped up a process aimed at making Canada a subsidiary of the American economy. I am referring, for example, to a project known as Keystone, which is a way of exporting not only unprocessed crude oil, but also 18,000 jobs to the United States. That is the Conservatives' record.
The boom in the oil sector in western Canada has had adverse effects on other segments of the economy. As the oil sector heated up, the value of the Canadian dollar, our loonie, rose to unprecedented levels. This had a direct impact on our manufacturers' export capability. It is a simple equation: the higher the value of our dollar, the harder it is for an American company, for example, to buy goods produced in Canada, because the American company has to pay in Canadian dollars and the Canadian dollar is much stronger than it was not long ago when it was worth much less than the American dollar. As a result, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector.
Jobs have also been lost in the forestry industry for two reasons: first, we have the overheating of the oil industry, which is also affecting the manufacturing industry; and second, we have the softwood lumber agreement with the U.S. under which we handed over $1 billion for no reason. Under NAFTA, we were totally right to do what we did. Unfortunately, our hands were tied. They kept pushing and we foolishly signed. The NDP was opposed to that agreement, while the Bloc was in favour of it.
Two industries have suffered the consequences greatly: the forestry industry and the manufacturing industry. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost. That is what we call imbalance.
Has this government been able to correct the situation? Not at all.
Last week—I am not talking about before the holidays, but just last week—the very first question I asked the government was whether, before the budget, it could hand over the $1 billion it promised in the form of a trust.
The response from the hon. member for and was rather shocking. He said, from his seat here in this House, that what I was asking for was impossible because it was an expenditure and it needed to be passed with the budget. According to him, it was impossible to do so.
What happened a few days later, this week? Precisely what he said was impossible to do last week. That is the Conservatives' logic when it comes to the economy.
We have a real challenge before us. There are things that Canadians agree on, such as having a public health care system that is accessible, universal and open to everyone. What are the Conservatives doing? They are rendering the system meaningless. The NDP is proud to remind Canadians that it was Tommy Douglas who was the precursor to our health care system. He was a member of the CCF, which became the NDP.
Canadians are proud of having a better health care system than the Americans, but we are worried. This system is not adequately funded.
There are many things the government can and must do something about, but to which the Conservatives are ideologically opposed, except when they have no choice, as was the case with the $1 billion to help the manufacturing and forestry industries.
I said at the outset that I would be sharing my time with my and I propose to do just that now.
I remind people that the NDP, in the process that led to the budget consultations and all through it, was able to hear from Canadians. In Halifax for example, 15 of the 18 groups that came in were very clear that they shared our vision and not that of the Conservative government. The Conservative government, by favouring the petroleum sector in the west, by giving over supposed tax breaks that are supposed to help the economy, is only helping companies that made profits and paid taxes, so manufacturing and forestry companies that made no profit last year benefited nothing. Who got the money? The big oil companies and the banks. Did they need it? No.
The Conservative government has been destabilizing what was up until now a very balanced Canadian economy and in a couple of years it has actually made the situation far worse. So much for good fiscal management by Conservatives. It is a little bit like the situation in the United States where the most catastrophic economic times in recent memory are now taking place under the governance of another right winger, George Bush, a good friend of Steve, but we here in Canada are going to stand up and fight for what is right.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the hon. member for Outremont on his speech, and also on his recent election victory. It is also important to congratulate the voters in Outremont for having chosen this remarkable man, thereby bolstering the progressive forces here in Parliament and opening the door to a progressive course of action for all of Canada.
I am very happy to speak briefly in this budget debate. There is never enough time to address all of the issues of concern, so first of all I want to invite every single Canadian who wants to understand more about the New Democrat vision to acquaint themselves with, to familiarize themselves with, to read the New Democratic Party's supplementary report, to which our finance critic has made reference in his very excellent speech.
What they will see is that not only do we have a fundamentally different set of priorities than this very meanspirited, tight-fisted government, except when it comes to corporations, of course, when it is not tight-fisted in the least, but we have a fundamentally different set of priorities than the so-called Liberal official opposition. I do not know how the Liberals can call themselves the official opposition and again and again abandon their responsibilities in that regard, particularly as it relates to the financial health of the nation.
First the official opposition does this by goading and egging on the no longer progressive conservative but Conservative government to cut faster and deeper and introduce even greater corporate tax cuts than even the Conservatives had dreamed of, and then, second, the Liberals sit in their seats again and again when it comes to important votes to represent the concerns of Canadians who are not being represented by this government.
I hope people will acquaint themselves with the supplementary report that has been tabled.
However, let me say something in a general way, as was referred to by the member for . I had the privilege to sit in on the finance committee in his stead when the committee visited Nova Scotia. It is literally true that delegation after delegation absolutely disagreed with the priorities of this government and were very clear that what this government had decided to do was reward its corporate friends, the greatest beneficiaries of those deep corporate tax cuts being big oil and big banks, at the expense of the needs of ordinary working people who were desperate to see some reinvestment from that extensive surplus in the things that had been so severely eroded by the Liberals before them.
I know we hear howling from the Liberal benches that they had this big deficit they had to get rid of, so let us set aside the three years in which the big deficit was the principal preoccupation. Let us talk about the seven years of surplus following.
Not only did the Liberal government not rebuild and reinvest in the post-secondary education system so our young people could get the education they needed without crippling themselves with debt for life, and not only did it not rebuild the health care system, the Liberal government did not address what is crucial, what is one of the biggest responsibilities of any government in this world today if it is at all serious about a future for the planet and its people: it did not commit the dollars necessary to move us to deliver on our to date completely overlooked commitment to meet our Kyoto targets.
For me, it was reassuring, I have to say, and why am I not surprised, that delegates from all over--and I want to be fair in saying that they were not just from my riding of but from other parts of the province and from outside of the province--understood exactly what was wrong with the economic so-called update from this government in the fall, in which it gave away the bank so that it would not be able to address the priorities of Canadians. Let me just very briefly quote some of the representatives.
The representative of the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers said, and I think very insightfully:
||--the crisis created by the massive increase in student tuition fees over the past decade, which actually is a result of a large decrease in core funding to post-secondary education in nineties,[ must] be addressed...through a restoration of core funding to the levels that would allow tuition fees to be reduced, and through the introduction of needs-based programs to provide students with the levels of financial support that will guarantee access to all qualified applicants, regardless of income level.
In our supplementary report to the finance committee recommendations, we made it very clear that every single cent of the funds that have been in the millennium scholarship fund, and more, need to be reinvested and increased to achieve that aim.
Second, a long-serving champion of health and education needs in Nova Scotia, Ian Johnson from the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, absolutely had it right when he spelled out the need for the government to abandon plans for corporate tax cuts in order to help implement and develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, and when he called, as many others did, on the government to honour the Atlantic accord and stop trying to pretend that it has been fixed, because those funds are desperately needed to meet the needs of ordinary Nova Scotians.
There were others who championed the cause of those who are the most vulnerable in our society. The director of Feed Nova Scotia, Dianne Swinemar, pleaded for a reversal of the decision in October 2007 to give a $60 billion tax cut and for the understanding that the poorest of the poor have to be the top priority when it comes to the allocation of the nation's resources. Others spoke along the same lines.
I have to say that the last word, in a sense, goes to I think one of the biggest champions of health at the community level as well as an anti-poverty advocate, an advocate for affordable housing, Paul O'Hara, from the North End Community and Health Centre, who said:
|| Government knows what to do, and it's doing the opposite.
|| There are lots of benchmarks in child care, in early childhood education, in affordable housing and minimum wage. There doesn't seem to be any real integrity in the government approach....
There are ordinary people all across this country who are suffering because of the series of budget choices that have been very short-sighted and meanspirited, made by the previous Liberal government and followed by this no longer progressive Conservative government.
I want to mention this and I have to say that this is just typical. This morning, just before I came over to the House to participate in this debate, I met with representatives of the Lung Association of Canada. They are doing the kind of work that is being done by NGOs and community agencies all across this country and are pleading for the government to understand how underfunded their important work is in terms of research, policy development and treatment. They pointed out that while the Lung Association gets only 2% of the funds for its work, in terms of health needs it actually represents 6% of the urgent need for attention from the government.
However, there are things being done that are progressive, and they are being done in spite of the government. In Nova Scotia today, the NGOs and the health agencies came together with the provincial government, and I want to say good for the government for signing on, under the auspices of the Lung Association, to commit themselves to a national lung health framework. These are the kinds of initiatives that deserve and cry out for funding.
As well, the Alzheimer's Society was here on Parliament Hill to plead the case of adequate funding for a national Alzheimer's strategy.
In summation, what is very distressing is how little the government is in tune with the needs of ordinary, everyday working people and how pathetic it is that the official opposition does not have any more sense of being in tune with those needs. Therefore, I am very pleased to speak in support of the supplementary report submitted by the formidable finance critic of the New Democratic Party to try to get the government back on track with progressive values and progressive initiatives on behalf of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to contribute to the debate on this prebudget consultation. As the chair of the finance committee, it is interesting to listen to the dialogues of the members.
Before I go on to what I would like to present, I would like to indicate that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I would like to describe to Canadians and to this House exactly the process that we went through to get to where we are today in tabling the report. It was a little bit late and we had to ask for an extension. It should have been done, according to the Standing Orders, in the early part of December. We had to ask for an extension because of the prorogation.
The prorogation also added more complications to our ability to travel as much as we wanted to across Canada to listen to people, but we did actually hear 400 different submissions and had 200 presenters before the committee, so it was not that we abbreviated it too much but it certainly was a little different than what was initially laid out.
Last June the committee decided it would study taxation, so we requested to have the submissions based on how the ideal tax system in Canada should work and what changes were to be made in that regard. That is what we listened to up until we got back into session and the committee was reconstituted in November.
At that time, the table had shifted somewhat and we had seen some different things happen in the Canadian economy that we wanted to address in our report. Therefore, there was a motion taken in the committee that we would expand our criteria from taxation to look at the higher dollar.
Before I get into what I want to talk about with regard to the higher dollar and some of the taxation recommendations that we made, it is important to understand the process of the committee and what we are actually trying to accomplish in the report.
Two days ago, on Tuesday, we had a delegation of Russian representatives come to our committee and their questions were actually very interesting. They asked us how we have accountability in our political process here in Canada, how we make sure we are getting value for money, and what the committee is trying to do with the prebudget report that would add to that accountability.
Those were the kinds of questions they were asking us. They are very good questions and questions that the Canadian public should understand because in the committees, particularly in a minority government where the opposition has the larger number of votes and outnumbers the governing party in the committees, we have to understand that we try to lower the political temperature in the committee meetings so that we can talk collectively about what is in the best interest of Canada because we do not report to a minister or a ministry. We report to this Parliament, to this House, and therefore the report contains recommendations to the government in power with regard to the things that it should do in the best interests of the people of Canada.
That is what we are trying to do in committee. That is what we tried to do in this report. I have heard a lot of the banter back and forth and it seems so political. I am sure people at home are wondering how in the world we came up with any consensus in this report. The reality is we came up with a considerable amount of consensus in the report.
We are now laying the report at the feet of the government and I want to just read a little bit of some of the backdrop of the Canadian fundamentals that we are living in at the present time.
Canada is in its 16th year of economic expansion, the second longest period in Canadian history. Canada is the fastest growing G-7 country over the past decade in employment and living standards. Canada's job market is the best in a generation. Our unemployment rates are at the lowest in 33 years. The share of adult Canadians working is at a record high. Inflation remains low and stable, the best in the past 15 years.
Canada is emerging as a superpower in energy. We are the largest producer of clean hydroelectric power in the world. We are the second largest in oil reserves next to Saudi Arabia, and arguably we are the largest but we will not get into that. We rank third in global natural resource production.
Canada is one of the few countries with a public pension system that is financially sustainable,and we are on the best fiscal footing of any of the G-7 nations. All levels of government are in surplus for the first time in 60 years, and we are the only member of the G-7 with a budget surplus and falling debt burden. Since coming into power, this government has created 700,000 new jobs in the past two years.
That gives members an idea of what we are now laying before this Parliament as far as recommendations in the upcoming budget, but a fiscal footing that is to be envied by any country in the world. It is important to look at some of the things that we did agree on when we look at the recommendations coming in this report.
We can talk about our supplementary reports and I like the words “supplementary reports” because they are not opposition reports. They are really supplement to what we are doing, but the things we do agree on are the basis of this report and are very important for us to consider.
We have said we wanted to increase the income threshold to cut personal income taxes. We all agreed on that to make sure the working class would be able to have the appropriate advantages. We all agreed that should take place. We wanted Canadians to withdraw money from their RRSPs to be able to purchase their first homes and to be able to fund their continued education. Those are things that we all agreed on that would be fundamental for enhancing the benefit of all Canadians.
The second thing we wanted to do is make sure we get people out of poverty and into the workplace as much as possible. We want to enhance the working tax credit benefit so that there would be no negative incentive for those who are not in the workplace, who are being subsidized, and who are trying get out of that situation and into the workplace.
We wanted to extend the five year capital cost allowance to manufacturers and processing for machinery and equipment. That one comes mainly because of the second priority when we came back in November. We realized that the climate we came into was not only the strong fiscal footing, but it also had something else that was looming that happened in the last five months prior to the committee actually launching into this study.
That was the massive, unprecedented increase in the value of the Canadian dollar with respect to American currency. It moved up 16% in five months. It went from 94¢ to $1.10 and that had major impacts with regard to manufacturing, the forestry sector, the agriculture sector, tourism and many others.
We wanted to do a quick study on that as well, so we incorporated that into our recommendations. We spent a week or more debating those issues and looking at what we should do with regard to the Canadian dollar in order to help. I believe we have seen the government react more quickly than I have ever seen before because we came up with $1 billion for the forestry and manufacturing sectors for those communities losing these different factories and plants, particularly in the softwood lumber industry.
I know all about that, by the way. My Bloc colleagues are saying it is all about Quebec which is being hurt more than anywhere else. In forestry, there is not a community in my riding that is not impacted negatively by the forest industry. The forest industry is going through a massive problem with regard to the slowdown in the United States. The demand is down. The high dollar has impacted it very negatively. In my area the pine beetle has impacted the industry even more significantly than both of those. So it is the ultimate storm. I know all about that.
I have lost a mill in a small community just recently. It has a major impact in the riding. We understand that full well. It is not just in one area of the country, it is the entire country. That is why the acceleration of the capital cost allowance would be very positive. It is one of the things we need to do. We need to do as much as we possibly can to get us through a short time. Before we get too far down on that thought, there is a quote that I would like to read from the president of the Forest Products Association of Canada. He came before the committee and said:
|The best thing you can do for communities is to create a business climate where people want to invest in Canada...I want to be very clear, though, and this is something where I think there has been misunderstanding: we don't want subsidies. We don't want you to come in and save a mill that's uneconomic. What we want to do is make this a place where mills are economic.
That is the difference and that is what really we need to do, not pick winners and losers but set up a climate where whatever is being created is going to be a winning factor. I could go on in many other things. There are a couple more and I only have a minute.
I am going to lay out here other things we agreed on for consideration: one is the Olympics. We believed unitedly as a committee that the Olympics are important not only for the pride of our country but to make sure we deal with issues such as childhood obesity and others, and a $30 million investment to the Olympics for the road to excellence is something we all agreed on.
We wanted to make sure that we increased the capital cost allowance for the railways to make sure we are competitive on that footing as well.
There are many other things that are in the report that we agreed on. I encourage all members to read it carefully. I know the has been following the dialogue. It is very important that all members read the report.
I will say in closing that we did not want to issue a report saying what we believed. We wanted to issue a report saying what we heard and what we recommended. That is why it reads the way it does.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for for his excellent presentation and for sharing his time with me.
One of the questions asked of me and many parliamentarians is: How much tax relief has the government provided since taking office? I can advise the House that the government believes that Canadians pay too much tax. One of the principal reasons I became involved in the political movement is because I think Canadians are overtaxed, which is why, since coming to office, we have taken action that provides over $41 billion in tax relief to Canadians in over just three years.
Going forward, the government is committed to providing additional tax relief for Canadians, for individuals to improve the rewards from their working, saving and investing. This commitment is supported by the tax back guarantee.
Today we heard complaints that we are spending far too much time worrying about the debt. Since taking office, we have reduced our mortgage on each Canadian by over $1,500. That is a significant amount of money in a very short period of time.
This tax back guarantee ensures that every time the debt is paid down, Canadians will realize that paying down of the debt by tax savings. That is the interest that Canadians pay, not the government. The government does not have any money. The only money the government has is the money it takes out of the pockets of Canadians, both corporate and personal. We intend to give that back as a direct result of paying down our mortgage.
It is fair to ask what we are doing to ensure that Canada's corporate tax system is competitive with other countries. We recently heard the bantering from the fourth party in the House that by having the lowest corporate tax we somehow are giving favours to people. We are giving favours. We are giving favours to the men and women who will have the jobs that corporate Canada creates. Governments do not create jobs. People and companies create jobs. Small and medium sized businesses create jobs.
We are building a tax environment that is internationally competitive and neutral with respect to business investment decisions. We want to encourage companies in the rest of the world to move their corporate headquarters and plants to Canada and create employment here because we will have a competitive tax base, not only for the companies but for the people who work for them. We believe this is crucial for creating the right conditions for business to grow and, more important, prosper.
This government is committed to an economic plan and it is called Advantage Canada. It will make Canada's overall tax rate on new business investment the lowest, as I previously stated, in the G-7.
Since 2006, this government has taken a number of actions to enhance business tax competitiveness, including: eliminating the federal capital tax in January 2006; eliminating the corporate surtax for all corporations this year; reducing the corporate statutory income tax rate to 18.5% by 2011 from the 21% in 2007; and providing temporary tax assistance for Canada's manufacturing section.
We are ahead of the curve. We just heard south of the border that its economy is in significant challenge. The President of the United States just announced reductions in tax so that he can stimulate consumer spending. We did that six weeks earlier. We are ahead of the curve. Maybe the people in the United States should call George Bush the of their country, which would be a good idea because we are ahead of the curve.
We are also aligning our capital cost allowance rates with useful life for manufacturing buildings and other assets. As a result of the government's actions and recent provincial initiatives, Canada's overall tax rate on new business investment will fall by 2011 to the second lowest in the G-7 from the third highest.
As an Ontarian, I respectfully suggest to the Premier and Government of Ontario, the province in which I live, to look at what we have done with regard to our corporate tax rate and I encourage Ontario to reduce its current corporate tax rate. I know the province made some progress and I encourage Mr. McGuinty and his government to continue to reduce taxes for corporations and to match the federal government's move in that area. That would go a long way toward ensuring that in Northumberland—Quinte West, and indeed in all of Ontario, we will be as competitive as any of our neighbours to the south.
Some of the key points in budget 2007 proposed significant benefits for low income Canadians, those who need tax reductions the most. That includes the $550 million annually through the working income tax benefit to make work more rewarding for 1.2 million low income individuals and families. This tax plan will remove 230,000 low income taxpayers from the tax rolls.
We introduced the new registered disability savings plan to improve the financial security and well-being of children with severe disabilities. I met with several constituents in my riding who are worried. They are getting older and they have children and young adults, and getting older adults, suffering from diseases, such as Down's syndrome, and they are worried about what will happen to their children when they are gone. They were most pleased with the 2007 budget when we introduced the registered disability savings plan that would help look after their children when they are no longer here.
Constituents are also very pleased with the tax measures that build on the tax relief from budget 2006 which removed 655,000 low income Canadians from the federal tax rolls. We also build on support already provided for low income Canadians by the federal government. Those include: $3.7 billion in support for low and modest income Canadians through the goods and services tax credit; $11.7 billion for families with children, including the universal child care benefit, the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit of which more than 40% goes to families with less than a $20,000 income; more than $7.4 billion for Canada's low income seniors through the guaranteed income supplement; $1.4 billion to provide basic social development programs for first nations in the areas of federal responsibility; and $3.3 billion to support youth housing and programs for legal aid, immigration and refugee settlement.
I would like to talk about the reduction of the GST and how it relates to people who do not pay any federal income tax and do not pay any income tax whatsoever. That is the one area that a government can influence the amount of tax Canadians pay.
In the House some time ago, in a debate discussing certain benefits, a member across the way made a remark when I mentioned that when people go to the grocery store they pay GST. He said that we do not pay GST on groceries. I made a challenge when I was on an open line radio show and asked folks, when they came out of the grocery store with their groceries, to look near the bottom of their receipt where it shows the amount paid. I told them that they would see that both GST and PST had been paid. I advised them to look at the difference in savings, the 2% that we would be saving people, and figure out how much that will save them in a year. In itself it may not be a huge amount but in addition to the other tax reductions that we have made for low and medium income families, especially for seniors, I think that adds to the significance of lowering taxes because every cent of tax we do not collect goes into our economy and helps create jobs.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the prebudget debate.
When I used to sit on the finance committee, I enjoyed travelling the country and going into different communities with my colleagues from and and other distinguished members of our party. We would listen to Canadians, hear what they had to say and had an opportunity to put that into a report.
I had the chance last year, although I am not a member of the committee, to sit in on one session held in Halifax, in December, in my home community of Dartmouth—Halifax. I found that very useful too. It is important to hear from Canadians.
I remember being on the finance committee the day after the government announced the cuts back in the fall of 2006. At that point in time, pre-scheduled to meet with us that very day was the Canadian Museums Association. The guy had a presentation to give but he decided not to give it because it was irrelevant. He said that the association had been cut to bone and that it did not make sense. He asked why the government had done that. In our consultations that followed, we heard more and more from people who had their programs cut. Those cuts tell us a lot about the government and its ideological approach.
I want to focus my comments on areas for which I now have critic responsibility, which is the human resources area. Some of those cuts included, incredibly, literacy. I believe $17.7 million was cut from literacy programs. That is hard to believe. Literacy Nova Scotia puts programs together on bubble gum and toothpicks. It hardly has any money. What little money it had was cut out from underneath.
I received letters from Learners of Nova Scotia. One learner in the riding of Kings—Hants sent me his story. He never had a chance until he hooked in with a literacy group and now his program was in danger of shutting down. Literacy Nova Scotia had no money and could not continue after the cuts.
I met with the department and the minister at the time. I asked them what they were doing. They told me not to worry about it. Although they had taken $17 million away, they said that they had tens of millions of dollars that would go into literacy. I asked them where it would go and I was told they would let me know.
I then asked the literacy groups if they were receiving any money and they told me no. I asked the department where the money had gone. I was told it had gone to two groups, but the rest of the money would be coming. An awful lot of things are coming, and not particularly fast.
Recently we put a question on the order paper. We asked what the funding was for literacy last year. This is the response we received from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. It said, “These amounts of funding were provided to national, provincial and local organizations for literacy in the years as follows: 2005-2006, $33,359,000; 2006-2007, $16,800,000”.
This is half of what had been given the year before. Where is the money for the literacy groups? It is gone.
At the same time, $6.5 million was cut from the Canadian volunteerism initiative, the CVI. Its total budget was $7.5 million of which $6.5 million came from the federal government. It chopped it all. The group puts together the infrastructure for volunteering.
There is not one member in the House of Commons who did not get here because of volunteers. Most of us, on all sides of the House, have been volunteers in many capacities, whether helping the Heart and Stroke Foundation, or the Canadian Cancer Society or maybe simply providing care to loved ones at the end of their lives, or a child who has autism, or a child who has special needs, or an aunt or an uncle who needs help.
If we take the volunteerism out of Canada, we collapse. If we take away the support of voluntary caregivers, for example, and let the system provide the nursing care and the respite care, the full care, the system will be bankrupt virtually overnight. There is not an area in Canadian society where we cannot look to and say that it relies on volunteers.
I was president in Nova Scotia of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. I believe we had 16 paid staff, but thousands of unpaid staff who went knocking on doors on cold February days. Some are out there now, knocking on doors to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Six and half million measly dollars was cut by the government. It is shameful. It is unacceptable.
We recently had an opportunity in my riding. The member for was touring Canada. He calls it, “It takes the country to fight poverty”. He came to my riding. The member for and I co-hosted a meeting in a church basement, expecting some people to come out to talk about poverty. Three hundred people turned out to talk about poverty and to talk about our leader, the leader of the Liberal Party, who came out with his 30:50 plan to tackle poverty, to reduce the number of Canadians living below the poverty line by at least 30% and cut in half the number of children living in poverty over five years.
Poverty is not a vote getter. People who really live in poverty need help the most. The Metro Turning Point Shelter In my community has 60 beds that are full every night. Men come in between 7 o'clock and 11 o'clock in the evening. They sleep in one room in beds that were surplus from a prison, I believe. Eighty per cent of them either have mental health or addiction issues. Imagine what it is like to sleep in that room.
In the morning they get up at 7 o'clock and go to Hope Cottage, which is a multi-denominational church that sponsors a food bank. They go there for their food and they spend their days in the street.
Some of the younger ones may be involved with Phoenix Youth Programs, which deals with troubled young citizens who have issues with mental health and many of them with addictions. The coalition on homelessness does what it can to support the people who do this, the Canadian Mental Association. However, one thing about those folks is they do not generally vote because they spend their time trying to live.
The leader of a national party, who has the opportunity to form a government, has said that he will draw a line in the sand and cut poverty by 30% and child poverty by 50% over five years. People have talked about poverty for many years. Some things that have come along, like the child tax benefit, have made a difference. For a leader to stand up and say that he will stake his government on hitting these goals is pretty inspiring for these people.
I talked to a couple of people. One came to me afterwards and said that he had worked against me the first time I ran. He worked with the NDP. However, he now is working for the Liberal Party because the NDP are not doing this kind of thing in our community.
Somebody else asked to speak to the member for after the meeting. The person never believed the Liberals could take a big bite out of poverty, that we could have a national early learning and child care plan either, but the Liberal party gave it to the people and because of that, the person was with us. That is pretty powerful stuff.
The leader of the Liberal Party has come out with a plan which would, among other things, create the making work pay benefit to lower the welfare wall and improving the Canada child tax benefit to support working families by making the non-refundable child tax credit into a refundable credit, so even those who do not pay tax get it.
We often hear that the GST is great for people who are poor. The guys staying at Metro Turning Point do not go out to by an Escalade in the afternoon. They are not taking advantage of it. A lot of people simply cannot.
Another part of our plan is to help lift vulnerable seniors out of poverty by increasing the GIS, to honour the Kelowna accord, a plan for aboriginal Canadians, and a number of other things too such as fighting for access to things like affordable housing, child care, public transit.
My recommendation for the government would be to look at some of these things and see if it could not, for once, do something for the people who need help the most.
I want to talk about education. I know I talk about it a lot, but it is an important message. Canada is a nation that is highly educated, and we have done pretty well. We have done well in some ways more by accident than design. We are a big nation, huge in natural resources with a relatively small population, largely spread in central centres. We do not have the kinds of tornados that swept through the United States yesterday. We do not have the kinds of natural disasters we see across many continents. We have not had world wars fought on our soil. We have had things pretty good.
We now face new challenges in the world. We face the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil. They are not our enemies, but they will be competitors for human capital over the next number of years.
We also see huge investments being made by OECD nations, which know they have to increase their skill level. They know they have to increase every citizen's ability not only for their own sake, but so they can contribute to their national economies.
One of the last acts of the previous Liberal government in 2005 was to bring an economic update into the House. We wanted to focus on helping students. We wanted to help all students because we felt it was important, but particularly important was to help those most in need. That update included $550 million over five years to extend Canada access grants to 55,000 students from low income families. The grants would have been extended to all four years of an undergrad education.
The update also included $2.2 billion over five years to improve student financial assistance and make post-secondary education more accessible for low and middle income Canadians. There was money for internships and MBA scholarships. Money for workplace training to enhance participation by aboriginal Canadians was also included. There was money to specifically assist persons with disabilities to get post-secondary education.
Young Canadians, and they may be in their early twenties, have come to me because they are faced with a particular challenge. I am sure other members of Parliament see them as well. Many of these young kids graduated from grade 12 feeling like they belonged. However, other kids, who were part of their graduating class, were heading off to university or community college or getting a job. Those the kids are left at home because there is a black hole once they leave high school.
The kids who come to see me do not look for much. They are looking for some workplace training. They are looking for an opportunity to get a job to do what they can do to provide for themselves and society. Our Liberal government put $165 million in the update to help those kids have a better chance at an equitable life. When the government was defeated and the Conservatives came in, that all went out the window. It is a crying shame because we are not doing all we can to assist children to get the education they need.
Another program was the summer jobs program, which we remember from last year. The Conservative government knew it worked, but it had to put its own stamp on it. The government changed the program from the summer career placement program to the summer jobs program. It reduced the amount of money and changed the criteria.
Organizations across this nation, almost all of them not for profit, relied on the summer jobs program. Students thought this was crazy. There was a big fuss by a lot of members of Parliament on this side of the House. I remember one day last year, eight different Liberal members stood up in question period and asked a question about that summer jobs program. It clearly was broken, but the Conservative government said that things were fine.
We asked if the government was going to put more money into fixing the hole. The answer was no, things were just great. In the fall, the government slipped $45 million into the supplementary estimates to cover its tracks. I will give the present minister credit for going back to the old Liberal program. We will have to see how it unfolds over the next few months.
That clearly showed the government did not respect students or community organizations, made up of volunteers who help us run the country.
There are some good ideas out there. I do not have to give all the answers, but let me talk about a few recommendations on the post-secondary side.
My colleague from was 100% correct about the millennium scholarship foundation. I was pleased to hear the previous Conservative speaker say that he supported it.
The millennium scholarship foundation was set up in the late 1990s by the Liberal government, and it has been a success. There were some problems early on with respect to it. There were some clawbacks in some of the provinces. There were some issues with getting it organized. It now works very well. Every province and every territory work with the millennium scholarship foundation and want it renewed. The foundation provides about $350 million every year of almost exclusively needs based funding for students. That needs to be replenished. We cannot afford to lose $350 million of funding for students.
Almost everyone wants to see the millennium scholarship replenished, or some of those people who I think have an ideological aversion to the millennium scholarship want to replace it with a needs based granting system. We definitely need to do something.
The Canada student loans program needs to be redone and looked at in a whole new way. We need to open it up to more people. We need to expand its scope. We need to reduce the cost of borrowing so that it makes more sense for students. We need to reduce bankruptcy provisions for students along with it.
Those are my views. I encourage the government to have a look at that. We studied some of this when I was on the finance committee.
Julian Benedict, who heads up the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness, has put together a lot of work on this. This is not new. This is not something the government has to study to death. The solutions exist.
Invest in research and innovation. Build on the great progress of the Liberal government in the late 1990s and early in this century, when the economy was finally on track after that $41 billion annual deficit was turned into a surplus. We started to invest in research and innovation. I would admit that like poverty, it is not a big vote getter, but it may well be the single most important achievement of Canada in the last 10 years in becoming competitive.
Ten years ago we used to hear about the brain drain. In the Globe and Mail we would read about losing researchers to the United States and other parts of the world. It does not happen now. We are repatriating researchers to Canada because of those investments in CFI, CIHR, the granting councils and a whole host of research oriented areas. We are starting to lose that. And what did the government do? It fired Dr. Art Carty, one of the pre-eminent scientists in this country, who was leading the charge on a lot of this and had great respect in the research community. It is pretty scandalous.
Why do we not invest in research? Taking the indirect costs of research was something else from the economic update and we increased it to 40%. The Conservative government turned that over. Invest in the CIHR. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research came to the finance committee, 13 institutes that do unbelievable work. I know about the CIHR not because I am a doctor or because I am particularly scientifically gifted, but because I was involved in the national board of the Heart and Stroke Foundation when the CIHR came along. It changed research in Canada.
Organizations like the Heart and Stroke Foundation redid their governance. I know because I was part of it. I have the scars from that. We redid our governance so that we could pool money to take advantage of the CIHR which now in my view is being marginalized. We are losing another great researcher; Alan Bernstein has left his head position at the CIHR to go to New York. We need to do all of these things.
We should talk about the Atlantic accord. I am sure my colleague from Gander—Grand Falls will tell us. We stood in the House about a year ago when the budget was being read and realized the Conservatives were killing the Atlantic accord, the most important piece of economic development for the province of Nova Scotia and for Newfoundland and Labrador. The right hon. member for signed that deal in 2004 guaranteeing Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia exclusive access to their offshore resources and all of a sudden it was being killed. What could be done?
We know what happened. First the then said, “Nobody is going to be kicked out of our caucus for voting on principle”. That was before he realized there was no one over there who had principles. Then they changed their minds. All Canadians want the Atlantic accord back.
There are a number of things the government could do to improve on the budget it is proposing to bring forward. We know that Tory times are hard times and we see coming down the pike the possibility of a recession. What is troubling is that the misery being inflicted on the poor people in Canada because of a right-wing ideology appears set to continue. Ask women's groups, minority groups which lost the court challenges program, literacy groups, hard-working public servants who are losing their jobs because they were doing their jobs. Ask students what they are going to do with an $80 tax credit, working families who find it tough to get child care. Tory times are tough times and we deserve better.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to share my time with the member for
Today it is my great honour to speak about what our government is doing regarding the budget consultations. Right now in Canada we are among the strongest G-7 economies and the only G-7 member with both an ongoing budget surplus and a falling debt burden. That is remarkable.
Canada is also an emerging energy superpower. We are among the world leaders in clean hydroelectric power and natural gas production. We have one of the strongest and largest global oil reserves.
Nevertheless, we are also taking aggressive action to manage economic uncertainty. We are making broad long term tax reductions which impact on the Canadian public throughout our nation. We are reducing record amounts of debt, and we are spending responsibly and efficiently.
Canada cannot be immune from uncertainty in the U.S. nor immune from the global economy as a whole. Canada is working from a position of strength. Our economic fundamentals are solid.
We are experiencing the second longest period of economic expansion in our history. Inflation is remaining low and stable. We have the best job market in a generation. Our unemployment rate is the lowest in 33 years. Canada is one of the few countries with a financially sustainable public pension system and that benefits many of our residents and our seniors.
While we have seen job gains in other well paying sectors, manufacturing job losses are a real concern to our government. That is why we have introduced a billion dollar community development trust to help workers and communities facing major downturns.
That is why we have put $8 billion in tax relief for manufacturers to help create the right economic climate for job creation.
We believe that paying down our national debt is important for Canadians. It is important for our economy. It is also important for the future generations of Canadians who should not be burdened with the debt we have accumulated.
In less than two years, our government has reduced the federal debt by nearly $37 billion including $10 billion in this fiscal year and at least $3 billion each year after that. This means the federal debt burden on every Canadian man, woman and child is lowered by about $1,570 or about $1.5 billion a month. That brings the balance of our federal debt to $467.3 billion from its peak of $562.9 billion in 1996-97. That is a reduction of over $95 billion. That is remarkable.
In 2006-07 the government spent 14.4¢ of every revenue dollar on interest on the public debt, down from the peak of 37.6¢ in 1990-91. We intend to continue along this track. At this rate the federal debt will fall below 25% of our GDP by 2011-12, three years ahead of the original target date, marking the lowest debt burden since the early 1980s.
This is important to our small businesses. Yesterday I met with the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses which is very supportive of the tax cuts that the government has made. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses has over 100,000 members throughout our nation. In one of its surveys of its members it asked this question: In what proportion should future federal surpluses be applied? The responses were as follows: 48% said pay down the federal debt; 36% said reduce taxes; and 16% said increase program spending.
As we can see, small businesses across our nation feel that the main priority is to pay down our debt and reduce taxes. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do in order to support all Canadians.
With the $60 billion of cuts announced in our fall economic statement, including another one percentage point reduction in the GST, the total actions taken by the government to date are approaching $200 billion in tax cuts over this year and the next five years.
Close to 75% of the tax relief offered by the government benefits individual Canadians and their families. That is how it impacts on our population today: a reduction in the lowest personal rate, from 15.5% to 15%; an increase in the basic personal amount, to $9,600 for 2008 and to $10,100 for 2009; a working income tax benefit was put in place to help low-income Canadians over the welfare wall; a registered disability savings plan was put in place to assist parents of persons with disabilities with the tools to provide financial security for their loved ones when they can no longer care for them; and also a child tax credit providing up to $300 of tax relief for each child under 18 years of age.
For the first time ever, we are providing pension income splitting for all seniors and pensioners. We also eliminated the capital gains taxation on gifts of listed securities to private foundations.
By reducing the GST by another percentage point, our government has fulfilled a key campaign commitment and kept its word to Canadians, to our voters. Reducing the GST from 6% to 5% builds on the initial GST cut introduced in budget 2006. For consumers, the total savings from the two percentage point reduction will amount to approximately $12 billion.
In another survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, members were asked to rate the priority of reduction of taxes by the federal government. Here, 39.1% placed a high priority on reducing the GST and 39.9% placed a medium priority on reducing the GST. So we can see, overall, it was a very high priority for the sample. We are listening to small business.
Today, Canadians are already benefiting from one new tax cut, thanks to the Conservative government's second GST cut in as many years.
In the weeks ahead, Canadian families can look forward to even more tax relief as the Conservative government's retroactive income tax reductions also take effect. Our has cut income taxes retroactively. As a result, Canadians families will have a smaller tax bill for the 2007 year. I know all of us are looking forward to that. Effective January 1, 2007, the lowest personal income tax rate will be reduced to 15% from 15.5%.
In addition, the amount that all Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax will be increased to $9,600 for 2007 and 2008, and to $10,100 for 2009, as I said before.
Together, these two measures will reduce personal income taxes for 2007 by almost $225 for a single worker earning $40,000. A two-income family that earns $80,000 will save more than $400 on their 2007 tax bill. That is significant.
Thanks to the leadership of our , Canadian families will have more money refunded for last year, more money this year, and more money for the years to come. That is money into the pockets of everyday Canadians, where it counts.
While the spends his time musing about the kinds of higher taxes he wants to impose, our continues to show real leadership by lowering taxes and allowing hard-working Canadian families to keep more of what they earn.
Something that I am personally very excited about is the taxpayer bill of rights that our government introduced last year. It was very pleasing to stand with the minister and be there when she announced this taxpayer bill of rights. This is a historical document that will benefit all Canadians, including those in my riding of .
We believe that our tax collection system can be more accountable and more user friendly for the public. The public need not be fearful of dealing with the Canada Revenue Agency to meet its tax obligations.
There are 15 points. I know I am running out of time and cannot go over all 15 points. However, the taxpayer bill of rights was a groundbreaking initiative that our government put forward.
In closing, these significant steps will help Canada remain well positioned to face any volatile environment. The opposition consistently criticized and opposed these vital measures, offering nothing as an alternative but costly band-aid solutions with no long term vision, threatening to return Canada to a deficit. Approaching budget 2008, we will continue to act in a stable and responsible manner.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in relation to this prebudget consultation debate. It is unfortunate, though, that I have to follow the member for , because she has so completely captured our government's position that it is difficult to add to what she said. If I were a lawyer, I would say the case is closed, but thankfully I am not a lawyer.
However, I will try to expand a bit on what she has said and focus some of my statements on the tax cuts of which she spoke. Now more than ever, I think, we are realizing that with the softness in markets south of the border and abroad, it is essential that we as a government prepare our country to be able to withstand any changes south of the border, to continue the substantive economic growth we have seen, and to maintain the incredible growth in jobs over the last number of years.
Thankfully, we have a and a who have been able to see this for some time and who have had the vision to bring in some of the most historic tax cuts in our nation's history. There have been some 60 tax cuts since our government took office 21 months ago. As I think back to January 23, 2006, it has been only two years, but the amount that has been accomplished is really quite incredible, especially in relation to the previous government.
It is as if we came to office understanding the situation the country was in and realizing that it was time to give back to all the hard-working, taxpaying Canadians and the businesses that have built our country and maintained such an incredible economy. That is exactly what we have done. We have given tax relief in the realm of $190 billion, not only this year but over the next five years. As well, in the previous economic statement in October, we added an additional $60 billion in broad tax cuts, including a further reduction in the GST.
We often hear the opposition complain about the GST cut. In the past, we have heard that complaint many times from the Liberals. In fact, in 1993 the Liberals won an election based on the promise of getting rid of the GST, but of course that got tossed the day after the election. They actually utilized the revenue from the GST for a number of years. There is no question about it: they had no intention of ever keeping that promise.
As a government, we felt it was the right time to bring that tax down. We committed in the last election campaign to reduce it from 7% to 6% to 5%. We promised to do that in five years, but as everyone knows, as Conservatives we like to take the initiative and get the job done, so we actually achieved that promise in less than five years.
In fact, it took us under two years in office to accomplish that reduction. The opposition parties, and specifically the Liberals, have complained quite loudly about this reduction, but when we think about the GST reduction and the timing that is now in effect, we are seeing it come in at a moment in Canada when it is actually needed quite considerably with our dollar where it is.
Our dollar, being affected by international markets and the strength of the Canadian economy, has risen quite dramatically, to the point where it actually broke the $1 mark in U.S. dollars. That was somewhat unexpected and has really put some pressure on Canadian consumer prices. There has been a lot of interest by consumers in reductions in the prices that they see relative to other markets.
Therefore, bringing in the GST cuts is one thing the government can do to assist our business community and our retailers in dealing with what many see as a challenging situation with our dollar. Thankfully, the dollar has moved back from its high mark of $1.10, and we hope we will be able to continue to work our way through this time of parity.
The GST cut has definitely helped the auto sector, which has had considerable pressure placed upon it over a number of years, in that it has seen both growth and decline. A GST reduction such as the one we have put into place has really aided the auto sector in being able to offer prices at a much reduced rate. I know that members opposite complain about and scoff at a $600 saving on a vehicle, but $600 is a lot of money where I come from. Maybe at their country clubs they can light their cigars with those six $100 bills, but back where I am from, that is a lot of money.
Of course, the purchasing power of consumers is going up. That is an important thing to remember, because Canadians want to take more of that pay home and they deserve to take more of that pay home. I am someone who believes in having more money in the taxpayer's pocket and not in funding every government program that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc want brought in.
There is a time for government intervention and there is a time when government needs to back down. When the fiscal capacity of government is removed by returning it to the people, where it actually rightfully belongs, it becomes a more conservative environment so that government is able to look at all of its spending programs under a conservative lens.
Thankfully, that is what this has been able to accomplish with the changes he has brought in, and we actually are seeing considerable benefit in our economy. Out in Manitoba, where I am from, we are seeing a fantastic situation because of the fact that we have seen a real retooling of the fiscal imbalance in our country. It was something that our party campaigned on. We campaigned on changing our equalization program to better suit Canada and, in reality, to bring it back to its original form.
Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government dealt with it in a way that became very political. It was utilizing federal fiscal capacity to begin intervening in the territory and the jurisdiction of the provinces. Perhaps the Liberals felt that it was a successful political methodology to utilize, and maybe they were right in some situations, but in terms of actually keeping the federal government in the jurisdiction in which it belongs, it was the wrong choice.
Now we can look at provinces such as Manitoba, which under this new formula is receiving $1 billion more than it did. That is allowing the province to actually start working in the areas that are in its jurisdiction, such as post-secondary education, health and child care. These are the areas that Manitoba can now focus on, instead of having the federal government trying to come up with some half-baked scheme, such as we saw under the former administration, with plans that could not possibly work and could not possibly be funded but were built only as an electoral scheme to draw votes.
Of course, we are seeing this country emerge as an energy superpower that is second only to Saudi Arabia. Canada has been able to utilize its natural resources, including its petroleum supplies, thus allowing our country to continue our stellar economic growth pattern.
This does not mean that we cannot continue with our other economic and energy strategies. Too often, we forget that Manitoba is one of the largest exporters of green energy. Manitoba's hydroelectric capacity is practically the largest in North America. It is something that is under-reported, so I have to incorporate it into my speech now, if members will indulge me.
I have spoken about the debt reduction, which is at about $10 billion over this year alone and at $27 billion since we came into office. That is the equivalent of $1,570 for each man, woman and child.
This is going to be a legacy for our children and for the individuals who will come after us so that they will have the capacity to be able to continue building this country in the future and to continue to make it the greatest place on earth to live. I know that as I look back on the time that I have spent in the House of Commons I will realize that with the leadership that we have had from the we have done exactly that. We have left an excellent legacy for our constituents.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the very effective member for .
On the occasion of this debate on the prebudget consultations, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois position is the result of consultation. The Bloc Québécois consulted people in the various ridings it represents. Since most of the ridings in Quebec are represented by Bloc members, we believe we represent the opinion of most Quebeckers. We consulted businesses as well as socio-economic and community groups.
People were unanimous in saying that the government must put money into helping companies and individuals by using the portion of the surplus that is available to invest. However, the government will have to invest heavily in Quebec's priorities in the upcoming budget.
We announced certain conditions pertaining to certain key sectors. It is important that the budget respond to calls from Quebeckers and the Bloc Québécois by providing $1 billion in aid for the forestry industry and not aid shared by the forestry and manufacturing industries. The budget must provide $1.5 billion to help manufacturers purchase more productive and efficient equipment, which will boost productivity.
Another important area is transfers to municipalities. Municipalities have an urgent need for assistance to renovate municipal infrastructure.
Creation of an independent employment insurance fund is another priority. The Bloc Québécois has been suggesting this for quite some time. Successive governments have paid down Canada's debt out of funds generated by workers, whose contributions make up the bulk of the fund. When the government takes this money, which belongs to workers, and uses it to pay down the debt, these workers are entitled to expect much better and much more respect from their government.
The government also needs to set up an income support program for older workers. The Conservative Party made this promise during the last election campaign. To date, there has been no indication that the Conservatives intend to keep their promise. Yet they made a very firm commitment. Once again, workers and seniors are being shortchanged by the government.
There is also the issue of funding for social housing. Each year, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation generates a surplus of several billion dollars. It is important for the government to come up with a strategy for reinvesting in social housing.
I would like to talk a bit more about the sectors I mentioned. With respect to help for the manufacturing sector, the Bloc Québécois, through its participation in the Standing Committee on Finance, generally approves of the direction that the committee proposed. Several measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois were accepted by the committee, but others were rejected, even though some of them were essential. Among those accepted by the Standing Committee on Finance, which means that they were accepted by Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat and Bloc members, are some important measures worth highlighting.
The Bloc believes that the government should not stall in following up on some of the proposed measures because even Conservative members of the committee agreed to them. The committee recommended that the government allocate $1 billion to the forestry sector. I think the government should act on this measure. One billion dollars for the forestry sector alone.
Earlier, I said that the trust that was announced and voted on this week was for $1 billion to be divided between the manufacturing and forestry sectors. It is important to point out that difference. There are a lot of similarities between the two sectors.
Quebec's forestry sector is in such a state of crisis that it requires special consideration. The Standing Committee on Finance agreed to that and recommended it.
The committee also recommended that $1.5 billion be redistributed to manufacturing industries through tax refunds and tax credits so that these industries can buy new equipment and become more productive. If we want these companies to compete in the global market, we have to help them prepare for it.
All members of the Standing Committee on Finance agreed to that measure, and they also suggested that the federal excise tax transfer be raised to 5¢ to help municipalities become more competitive. The committee also recommended that this measure come into force not in 2010, but right now. This is an important element that the Standing Committee on Finance approved of and recommended to the government in its prebudget report.
With respect to the employment insurance fund surplus, the Bloc Québécois finds it unfortunate that an independent fund cannot be created to help cushion the blow for workers who lose their jobs temporarily or, sometimes, indefinitely. That money should go back to the workers who paid into the fund before it goes anywhere else.
Another important element has to do with the dignity of seniors. Earlier I mentioned the Conservatives' promise during the last election campaign to make the guaranteed income supplement for seniors fully retroactive. The government did not get it done. It did not agree and it broke its promise to seniors. The Bloc Québécois is very disappointed that the Standing Committee on Finance did not agree with this measure. This is a real shame for seniors; we owe them a lot. These people often live below the poverty line. The government and society are indebted to them, and we should respect that.
The fiscal imbalance is also important. It really must be settled. We called for $3.5 billion for post-secondary education funding, because it has been cut in recent years. It is vital that we get the funding we used to get if Quebec is to move forward and to properly educate all the students under its jurisdiction.
In terms of social housing and the status of women, the Standing Committee on Finance, once again on the Bloc's initiative, agreed to have the government use some surpluses from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to invest in social housing.
By acting on this very interesting report we can give back to a number of people, including aboriginals, so that they can once again live with much more dignity. The CMHC must dip into its surplus to provide money for social housing and to create an improved program, so there is more adequate social housing throughout Quebec.
Obviously, in its supplementary report, the Bloc Québécois was also severely critical of the ideological cuts made in recent years to status of women programs and to the court challenges program. The Bloc recommended that these measures be reinstated, but the committee did not agree. It is a terrible shame, and that is why we included this recommendation in our supplementary report.
I would like to conclude with the issue of funding for culture, where there is a huge lack of money. Over the past two years, we have not felt that the government was committed towards developing culture.