Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to deliver my response to the 's budget speech from yesterday.
As I have said publicly many times since he tabled it, the budget does not really contain any initiatives that should excite Canadians but, at the same time, it does not have much that should overly concern them either, at least not in the near term.
As a result, the Liberal Party will allow this budget to pass through the House. I see no reason to cause a $350 million election and send Canadians to the polls over a document that does not do much that is harmful to the country. However, I have questions on a few of the proposals, which have shown for the first time that the Conservatives are willing to listen to the demands of the opposition. It has shown that the is willing to listen to the .
Here are some examples: making the gas tax transfer permanent, as we committed in February 2007; providing direct support to the auto sector, as we called for in January 2008; creating jobs and improving public transit through additional investments in infrastructure, as we advocated in February 2008; and increasing the northern residents deduction, as we promised in December 2007.
Here is what CTV's Bob Fife had to say about the 's budget:
Look what he's done here. He's stolen the Liberal idea on help for the auto sector. He's stolen Liberal idea on job creation through infrastructure. And he's stolen the Liberal idea of making the gas tax for municipalities permanent.
A few weeks ago the was swearing up and down that there would be no help for the auto sector. While the budget only contains a modest amount for them, at least the minister has flip-flopped on this important subject. Perhaps in the future he will consider devoting more money to help this sector overcome the challenges of a high dollar.
In a perfect world the government should not have to intervene in such a way, but this is far from a perfect world when it comes to other governments protecting their homegrown industries. Governments around the world spend billions of dollars ensuring their countries have a thriving and competitive aerospace sector. We do as well here in Canada, and that is a good thing. Without that government help, Canada would not have an aerospace industry.
However, the auto industry is no different. Our neighbours to the south have been busy giving big money to open new car plants across the states, particularly in the southern states. There is no reason that we should simply let our auto jobs flow south because we are ideologically opposed to any kind of government participation or intervention. The budget gives the first indication that maybe the is beginning to understand this fact.
I will admit there were a few surprises in this budget that caught me a little off guard. For example, in the House, I have often raised the issue of the ecoAuto feebate program, introduced in budget 2007, and the chaos it has caused among Canadian auto manufacturers. There was a mention that this program was perhaps designed with good intentions, but was so poorly designed and executed that it threw our entire auto sector into total disarray. Civil servants at both the Department of Transport and the Department of Finance vigorously opposed the program for not being cost effective and being something that would result in an increased regulatory burden, without having much effect on reducing CO2 emissions. The public servants, however, were ignored in the interests of something the government thought would be politically advantageous.
Car manufacturers were incensed with the seemingly random cut-off lines, which were perhaps picked out of a hat. Vehicle winners and losers were chosen without any consultation with the auto industry, leaving auto manufacturers completely incapable of designing cars that met the program requirements. Honda even mused publicly that the Honda Fit would qualify for the rebate if it lowered the weight of its vehicle by removing some of the additional safety features they offered such as multiple air bags. Thankfully it did not come to that. This year's budget eliminates the program, which was described by The Globe and Mail as follows:
While it is never a good idea to complicate the tax system with targeted breaks, this feebate debacle is a particularly sad indictment of...[the] instincts [the Minister of Finance] and of his bureaucrats' waning clout.
As I have described, there are several things in this budget with which I can agree. Another example is the pre-tax paid savings plan, which is not a bad idea, although lower income Canadians will have a difficult time taking advantage of it. However, if this savings plan is intended to honour the government's promise on capital gains during the last election, then it must be judged an abject failure.
The government promised to eliminate any capital gains tax incurred by a Canadian, so long as the profits of that sale were reinvested within a six month time frame. Most experts pointed out that this was almost a de facto elimination of the capital gains tax and that the Conservatives' costing of the initiative was grossly underestimated. I pointed out at the time that the complexity of following investment dollars through potentially dozens of investments over several decades would be a nightmare for the Canada Revenue Agency, and others suggested it was impossible.
Yesterday, when the tabled his third budget, it became more than evident that the capital gains pledge had sufficiently joined the ranks of other broken campaign promises, such as the promise never to tax income trusts.
There are, however, some other things for which I must take the government to task. Critical areas mainly involving social justice or support for disadvantaged Canadians are largely or totally absent. Among other areas, I refer to support for aboriginal Canadians, social housing, early learning and child care, the homeless, as well as a meaningful attack on poverty.
While all these areas are important to Liberals, our single most important commitment is that we will never again return to deficit. The speed with which a Liberal government would implement any or all of these commitments would depend on the state of the government's finances and our commitment to stay in the black and pay down debt.
The promise to create a crown corporation to manage the EI fund has potentially far-reaching consequences and the implications of the proposal remain unclear.
As our leader has indicated, the Liberals would have paid down $3 billion of debt this year, rather than $10 billion, and we would have committed the remaining $7 billion as a down payment on Canada's massive infrastructure deficit, our crumbling bridges, roads filled with potholes, inadequate public transit, border infrastructure and Atlantic and Pacific gateways. This would have represented a major investment in future generations, every bit as important as paying down the debt. The budget instead devotes a paltry $0.5 billion dollars rather than $7 billion to infrastructure.
One could find another broken promise on page 17 of the last Conservative election platform in which the Conservatives promised to pay down a minimum of $3 billion of debt every year. Yet we have a budget that pledges to pay down only $2.2 billion of debt this year and $1.3 billion of debt next year. As the Canadian Taxpayers Federation pointed out yesterday, “Gone is the promise to pay down debt by $3-billion a year”. This broken promise should worry Canadians even more than the first because it shows how close to deficit this government is willing to skate.
When the previous government was in power, it maintained a $3 billion contingency fund that was budgeted to deal with unforeseen events over the course of the year. Whether that was a natural disaster, or a dramatic slow down in the economy, an ice storm, SARS crisis, or 9/11, the previous government was always prepared to deal with whatever was thrown its way, without returning to deficit. With this budget, however, there is no contingency reserve and the government finds itself perilously close to deficit for the first time in more than a decade.
Just how close are we? Consider the fact that less than four months ago the delivered a fiscal update that projected Canada's gross domestic product would grow by 2.4% in 2008. Yesterday he downgraded that forecast to 1.7% growth. If in a few months from now it turns out the minister was once again wrong by the same amount, then that alone is enough to give the country a slight deficit this year and a bigger deficit next year.
That is not my prediction, this is simply a matter of running the 's own numbers through the formula he has provided in his budget under the headline, “Sensitivity of the Budget Balance to Economic Shocks”. Essentially Canada is now a SARS crisis away from deficit, or a mild American recession away from going back into deficit.
How did we get to this point? A brief look at Canada's recent fiscal history is in order.
When the previous government came to power in 1993, the Wall Street Journal was boldly predicting that Canada was on the verge of becoming a third world economic basket case because, despite having promised to do so, Brian Mulroney's Conservative government had failed to make a dent in the federal deficit. Luckily for Canadians, the Liberal Party, Canada's true party of fiscal prudence, came to power in 1993 and by 1997 Jean Chrétien and his finance minister, the right hon. member for , had eliminated a $42 billion annual deficit.
On both sides of the border, history has shown that it is the Conservatives and the Republicans that run huge deficits, leaving the Liberals and Democrats to clean up the mess.
In the United States, Ronald Reagan's supply side economics led to record deficits in the 1980s, while Bill Clinton managed to generate an uninterrupted series of surpluses in the 1990s. Under Republican George W. Bush, the United States is again running up huge deficits and it will be up to the next president and Congress to clean up the mess.
In Ontario, the Eves government, including three ministers in the current federal government, campaigned on a balanced budget in 2003. However, when Dalton McGuinty won the election and brought in the auditors, he found that his Conservative predecessor had instead left him with a deficit of $5.6 billion.
An hon. member: No.
An hon. member: Who was it?
Hon. John McCallum: I am not allowed to name him, but he is a well known member in this House who is currently the .
Many Canadians will no doubt be surprised to learn that it is the 's Conservatives, and not the Liberals, who are the biggest spenders.
Since the Conservatives came to power two years ago, federal program spending by the 's government has increased by 6.4% compared to only 2.3% during the 13 years of Liberal reign. If we exclude years when there was a deficit, and tabulate only the eight years between 1997 and 2005, we arrive at an increase in program spending of 5.5% per year under the Liberals.
As Andrew Coyne of the National Post said when speaking of the —and Andrew Coyne is not a Liberal to the best of my knowledge:
He [the Minister of Finance] has become the biggest spending finance minister in the history of Canada. It is an unfortunate but deserved reputation because Canada's new government has grown by 14% after two [name of the minister of finance] budgets .
While the Conservatives have generally spent more, this has not prevented them from making some foolish cuts, such as those in sectors that help Canada's competitiveness—for example, funding for universities—in sectors facing serious difficulties—for example, the Liberal forestry program—and, even worse, those affecting vulnerable populations—for example, programs targeting women and literacy programs.
We in the Liberal Party do not think this is a good budget. Nor do we think it is an egregiously bad budget. Therefore, we do not propose to bring down the government on this budget and to cause an election at this time, which, in our view, Canadians would not see as justified by a big expenditure over such a little budget.
What I find most disturbing in the budget is the fact that the government inherited the largest surplus in Canadian history a short two years ago. Now, through reckless overspending and economic management, which could only be described as in the style of the New Democratic Party, it has found itself with a fiscal cupboard that is largely bare and only a relatively mild SARS crisis or modest U.S. recession away from once more taking our country into deficit.
We are not voting on that issue. We do not think the budget is worthy of an election. However, I can assure members that we in the Liberal Party will be closely monitoring the fiscal management carried out by the government during these uncertain economic times.
I therefore move, seconded by the member for :
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and by substituting the following therefor:
this House recognizes that this Budget contains some initiatives that attempt to mirror sound and intelligent Liberal policy proposals, but regrets that the government has made significant economic policy mistakes over the past two years and shown an NDP-like lack of fiscal prudence that prevent it from dealing with a downturn in the Canadian economy.
Mr. Speaker, today, in responding to the budget speech, I would have liked to be able to say that the government had listened to what we said. The Bloc members held consultations that took us to all parts of Quebec, where we met with unions, employers, municipal groups, individuals and community representatives. What we called for in the budget represented the consensus in Quebec.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives did not listen to that consensus, especially on the issue of using the current surplus for the budget. The government decided to continue taking a purely ideological approach and use more than $10 billion to pay down the debt, even though money was urgently needed for the manufacturing and forestry industries and to deal with issues such as equity for seniors, social housing and many other short-term emergencies. The Conservatives decided not to act on these issues.
The Bloc Québécois has therefore decided not to vote in favour of this budget. The leader of the Bloc Québécois was clear about this yesterday. However, our consolation is that our position reflects the consensus in Quebec.
This morning, in La Presse, Quebec's finance minister, Ms. Jérôme-Forget, had this to say about the Conservatives and the Minister of Finance:
The choices he made do not reflect Quebec's priorities.
I am disappointed, because he had a $20 billion margin at a time when we are in the midst of an economic slowdown. We would have expected a greater effort to help older workers and the forestry and manufacturing industries in Quebec.
For his part, the leader of the ADQ, Mr. Dumont, who recently referred to himself as a friend of the current , had this to say:
The aid for economic sectors like forestry and manufacturing is not enough. I expected more.
He also said:
Post-secondary education still has not been dealt with. On the issue of the fiscal imbalance, there is a fly in the ointment, despite what Jean Charest thinks. Quebec needs another $1 billion for education.
The leader of the Parti québécois, the sovereignist party in Quebec, has also taken a position. Sovereignists have long understood that the two-government system was not a system for the future for Quebec. We have to go and get the money that we would otherwise have had if we collected all the taxes we were responsible for. So sovereignty would be the best solution for Quebec. Ms. Marois said that the federal budget neglects Quebec. She said that the document presented by Ottawa on Tuesday contained measures that primarily favoured the energy sector in western Canada, where the highest economic growth rates have been seen. She criticized the failure to provide measures for workers, for the forestry and manufacturing sectors and for post-secondary education.
So when the Bloc members rise in this House to say that the budget the Conservatives have introduced in no way meets the expectations of Quebeckers, that is not just the position of the Bloc members, it is not just the position of our sympathizers and people who support us, it is the position of all parties in the National Assembly of Quebec. The three parties represented in the National Assembly of Quebec—the party in government, the official opposition and the third party—are all saying the same thing: this is a budget that was written for Ontario and the West, that was written to allow for nuclear power production to be started back up. Unbelievable!
The decision was made to target economic development efforts to the auto industry, which is located almost exclusively in Ontario, and none of the same benefits were given to other manufacturing industries and the forestry industry, which has been hard hit by the crisis.
Very recently, in my riding, in Saint-Pamphile, the Maibec company closed down. It was a very well managed business, which cut American lumber and had good market penetration. Now it is just about finished, because this government has not been persuaded to put positive measures in place to assist Quebec.
One of the things that the Bloc Québécois has called for, all of which are just as relevant today, is a fund to establish Technology Partnerships Canada. What has the answer been? A fund for the auto industry in Ontario, but no identical fund for Quebec. The decision to eliminate that fund has been maintained, and the initiative and innovation we had hoped to see for our regions have been killed.
There were also calls for refundable contributions to businesses for buying new equipment totalling $1.5 billion, money that could have been taken out of the $10 billion surplus. Instead, we are going to pay down the debt. The ratio between Canada’s debt and its gross domestic product is already one of the best among the G-7 members. But in spite of that, no investment is being made where funds are needed to give our businesses a chance to be competitive.
I will say it and keep saying it: this is not a question of subsidizing business, it is a question of giving them a chance to get the equipment that they need in order to be competitive, to get contracts and to provide products that will find buyers and that will get market share. These kinds of measures have not been proposed. Instead, they have decided to put that money into paying down the debt. They have decided to reduce Canada’s debt, and therefore thousands of jobs will continue to disappear. Already, 150,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector have been lost in the last five years.
Already at the time of the Economic Statement last fall, we were telling the minister about the reality out there. However he already had his rose-coloured glasses firmly in place and was saying that things were going very well and growth would be over 3%. Yesterday, he was forced to say that the growth rate would fall to 1.8%, and he was not even sure about that. While growth declines, he goes on behaving a bit like the government in power before the great depression.
Not many people in the House will remember personally, but history tells us that, before 1930, the government in power in the United States tried to spend as little as possible and limit its outlays in order to pay off the debt as soon as possible. The country sank deeper and deeper into the depression at a time when they should have been taking measures like those introduced later by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was his New Deal that turned the economy around.
We should learn from history. We should be able to understand things like that. There is a $10 billion surplus this year. Even if another $3 billion were spent on paying down the debt, enough would be left to provide the necessary assistance and still have a balanced budget. We would not have this artificial situation the government is creating. It is paying down the debt this year while not entirely sure that there will be a surplus at all next year. If it decided instead to invest this year, it would have a lot more revenues in the years to come.
The Bloc’s position is also Quebec’s position. It is Quebec’s position in regard not only to the manufacturing and forestry sectors but also to how we treat the most disadvantaged people in society.
As we know, a terrible injustice was done in regard to the guaranteed income supplement. For years, the federal government deliberately saw to it that as few older people as possible got the guaranteed income supplement because those who were eligible were not automatically registered. There were 280,000 older people in Canada who were not registered, including 70,000 in Quebec. A huge amount of pressure was applied, especially by a former Bloc member, Mr. Gagnon. He worked tremendously hard to reduce this number.
The legislation is designed in such a way that when money is owed to older people under the guaranteed income supplement program, the maximum retroactive period is 11 months, but when a taxpayer has problems, the tax authorities can go back forever and collect money that was owing from the last four, five or ten years. When money is owed to older people, there is no full retroactivity. In our view, the Conservative government should have fixed this injustice.
These are the kinds of choices that figure among Quebec’s values. We clearly want to share the wealth. Instead, we are treated to what seems a rather squalid gesture on the part of the Conservative government.
In yesterday's budget, older people, people aged 66 or 70 or 72 or 74, were told that if they wanted a bit more money so they could make ends meet, they could go to work and earn up to $3,500 a year, and the money would not be applied against their guaranteed income supplement. Think about it a minute: in a village in my riding, or in a neighbourhood in Montreal, having to tell people who are 68 or 70 or 72 years old and who have worked all their lives, or a retired senior couple, that they are going to have to go out and earn extra money. Obviously, these people will not be earning high wages and they could be taken advantage of. They will have to go out and try to get jobs. This is a completely unrealistic approach.
And yet the federal government had ample resources to fix this injustice, by paying the guaranteed income supplement retroactively and increasing the amounts so that these people could get just above the poverty line. That would have provided them with the minimum income to be able to meet their basic needs.
In Quebec, in Canada and in our society, one of the richest societies on the planet, it is absolutely unacceptable that we do not give our seniors this kind of treatment.
That is what the Bloc Québécois would have hoped for, and what it will continue to stand up for until it wins and these seniors can get respect in this society. They have certainly earned it: they have worked all their lives. And this is something we will have to win, at the end of the day.
The Bloc made its positions very clear in advance. We said that if the government did not listen to us, we were prepared to vote against the budget and go to the polls. We are still ready; there is no problem.
We hope that justice will be done for our industries, our older workers and our senior citizens, as quickly as possible.
Let us talk about older workers, for example. Do you know how much it cost so that these workers, who are 56 or 58 years old and who cannot find jobs despite their best efforts, could have some support while waiting for their old age pension? It cost $60 million a year. During that time, this year, $10 billion is being put toward the debt. But we are unable to provide fair treatment for people who have worked 25 or 30 or 35 years in a company, and who have paid taxes and employment insurance premiums.
The Conservatives are following the same reasoning when it comes to both older workers and senior citizens, in terms of the guaranteed income supplement: they are trying as hard as they can to create a cheap labour pool, people who will work for nothing. Because if you are 58 years old and you have found nothing, and ultimately you are receiving social assistance, then you are going to be tempted to work under the table to make ends meet.
This is the government’s responsibility. If a society is capable of creating wealth and handing out very large tax cuts to business, tax cuts that will total huge amounts of money in the next few years, that is fine. If we are able to do that, we should be able to make sure that we are treating these people fairly.
The Bloc Québécois takes a responsible approach to this issue. It recommended partial payment of the debt and measures to use this year’s surplus, and it made proposals that would still have provided for a balanced budget next year. The federal government did not honour that wish.
There are reasons why, unfortunately, we are faced with the current situation. One of those reasons is that the Liberal Party has been unable to define its position, the position of the official opposition, and to make demands to force the government to act. On the contrary, today, the Liberals introduced some kind of an amendment. So, even though they claim that the budget is uninspiring, they will not take their responsibilities and they are going to let the government continue to do as it pleases.
Today, a federal Liberal or Conservative candidate in Quebec must feel very much alone and terribly lonely. The position of the Liberal Party of Canada and that of the Conservative Party are identical, in that they are irresponsible in light of Quebec's needs. Quebeckers will remember that, and they will make those parties pay the price at the next general election. Indeed, we absolutely cannot accept that elected members, who said they would look after Quebec's interests, come in this House and suddenly agree to support a budget that does not meet Quebec's needs in any way.
If Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec will not listen to Bloc members, then they should listen to what the Quebec Liberal Party's minister of Finance said in Quebec City, or to what the leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, Mario Dumont, who is a friend of the Conservatives, also said yesterday. They should listen to all the opinions that have been voiced. The Quebec federation of chambers of commerce said that, as regards the manufacturing sector, this budget makes no sense, that it is unacceptable. The whole union movement, which is a significant force in Quebec, also said that it is imperative the federal government realize that it has the means to take action, and that, in this budget, it has really made its economic decisions with only the energy sector in mind.
Take a look at the budget papers. There is a nice table showing the link between the increase in the value of the dollar, and the increase in the value of oil. Next to it, another table shows the impact on the manufacturing sector. It is quite clear. This is what we are confronted with: On the one hand, the dollar is going up, because oil prices are increasing, while on the other hand the manufacturing sector is slowing down, because we are not as competitive. We have nothing against the economy being in good shape, against energy prices that are acceptable, but we must ensure that there is a redistribution to help spread and generate wealth.
It is the government’s responsibility. This is a Quebec value that the Conservatives, unfortunately, do not seem to share and are not capable of supporting.
Our responsible position on the budget is based on broad consultations. We announced it very clearly yesterday and reiterated it today in question period.
To conclude, I want to make one last point before introducing an amendment to the amendment. The government still has time to change course. It has until March 31, 2008 to do what it did with the $1 billion trust.
We all remember the Prime Minister saying that the billion dollars would only be available if the budget was passed in full. There was such an outcry in Quebec because this did not make any sense that we succeeded in forcing the Prime Minister to change course. He agreed to separate the billion dollars from the passage of the budget. The billion dollars are therefore available.
This shows that it is quite possible to do things without tying them to the passage of the budget. It was possible before the budget was tabled and will still be possible for this year’s surpluses until March 31.
I hope the Prime Minister will listen to the consensus in Quebec. There is still a consensus on the family trust issue. All three parties in the National Assembly agree. The labour unions and employers associations in Quebec all agree, as do the various social strata. There is a consensus in all parts of Quebec, where people want senior citizens treated fairly again, a decent future for our regions, and all parts of Quebec occupied through our forestry and manufacturing sectors. This is the consensus that the Bloc members champion in the House. It is why we will vote against the budget and introduce an amendment to the amendment.
With the support of the hon. member for Montcalm, I move the following amendment to the amendment:
That all the words after the word “contains” be replaced by the following:
“initiatives that do not meet the expectations of Quebeckers who have asked that the current year’s surpluses be used to help workers and industries in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which are facing a serious crisis in Quebec, to help seniors living below the poverty line and help individuals improve the energy efficiency of their homes, calls on the government to implement these measures before the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2008, and deplores that this Budget ignores the fiscal imbalance by not transferring $3.5 billion to Quebec and the provinces for post-secondary education and by not eliminating federal spending power.”.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to inform you that I intend to share my time with my colleague, the member for .
It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to illustrating a point. For the people listening to us today, I would say that they are going to find a picture that is worth a thousand words, when it comes to the intentions of the extreme right-wing Conservative Party government, when they read Table 5.4 in the budget. It is on page 217 of the French version, and is accessible on line. For people who prefer, the same table appears on page 201 of the English version. It is worth taking a look at. It offers a perfect illustration of the gulf that separates the New Democratic Party from the ideology-driven government we see in the present Conservative government.
Let us look at what is in front of us. Here we are in February 2008. So next month, at the end of March, we will be finishing what is called the 2007-08 fiscal year. We are presented with all sources of revenue, of budgetary revenues. For personal income tax—tax paid by people, by individuals—the figure for 2007-08 is $112 billion. Two years from now, for the 2009-10 fiscal year, it will be up to $125 billion, which is a 12% increase. On the next line, we see corporate income tax—tax paid by corporations, by companies, here in Canada. For the same period, we see $42 billion today, but that goes down to $36 billion for 2009-10—a 14% reduction.
That shows, and how well it shows, the difference between the Conservatives and our party, because this little present that the Conservatives are handing to the most profitable corporations will be paid for by families in Quebec and Canada. That is the simple reality of it.
A budget is a reflection of a series of choices. The choices the Conservatives have made are summed up extraordinarily well in what I have just quoted.
What has happened in the last year for us to get to this point? It is not complicated. This fall, the Conservatives, with their usual fanfare, announced that they had found the solution to the hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. They were going to give out $14 billion in tax cuts. Well, there is one little problem for our Conservative friends, who make themselves out to be big experts on the economy. Most of these corporations did not make a profit last year, for the simple, good reason that after the government put all its eggs in the oil sands basket, the loonie soared to heights never before seen, making it increasingly difficult to export forestry products and manufactured products. The more the Canadian dollar is worth, the harder it obviously is to export.
So where have these so-called tax reductions to help the manufacturing sector and forestry industry companies gone? They have all gone to the most profitable sector: the big oil companies, the most polluting companies—the biggest polluters—and the banks, which are already making stupendous profits.
Indeed, the Conservative government is completely unable to stand up to the banks and to demand reasonable interest rates for credit cards or the end of customer abuse with automatic teller machines. The poor unfortunate was seen begging the banks for a little relief in automatic teller machine fees. He was greeted with a sharp no and just left. He does not get it that he is the one giving the orders, not the banks. But if you are a Conservative government, receiving orders from the banks is something you accept.
This is also the matter of equity between generations. The 350,000 jobs—yes, you heard me right—the 350,000 well-paid jobs which vanished from the manufacturing sector in the past five years often had conditions of employment which were sufficient for a family to live a decent life. Those employees often had a pension plan with their jobs.
If you want an image—which people in Quebec will immediately understand—to better understand the change, just drive along the autoroute des Laurentides and take a look where, a while ago, there was a huge GM plant. Today, all you see there are shopping centres. You cannot raise a family selling clothing for $10 an hour. The problem is even more acute for future generations, for which a solution will have to be found sooner or later, since they obviously do not have any pension plan nor any other fringe benefit worthy of the name.
I listened very carefully to the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse holding forth a little while ago against what the Bloc had to say. I would like to take the unusual step of giving a colleague a bit of advice: he should update his CV. Speaking about sustainable development, there is a project that is very dear to him and that he supports and proposes: the Rabaska project for a methane terminal in Lévis. What is also very interesting is that his colleague from the Beauce thinks it is too dangerous to have methane tankers crossing between New Brunswick and Maine. He came out with some criticism of it during the summer. A study has been done on the safety of this, but no serious, in-depth studies have ever been done on the safety of the Rabaska project, a methane terminal located very close to the population centres of Lévis and Quebec City.
Last Saturday, the NDP introduced Denis L’Homme, a former associate deputy energy minister in Quebec at the Ministère des Ressources naturelles, who is highly respected in his field and among his peers. He could tell the temporary Conservative member for a thing or two about sustainable development and what it means to think about the effect on future generations when decisions are made involving environmental, economic and social factors—something that the Conservatives seem singularly incapable of doing.
The headline in today’s Toronto Star was very telling.
It is worth drawing people's attention to a title in today's Toronto Star, that it is a show about nothing, “Devoid of big ideas beyond a tax-free savings account, [the minister's] low-key plan looks likely to keep the Tories in office”. The only reason it is going to keep the Tories in office is because the Liberals are going to keep them in office.
This is the supposed official opposition. It loves calling itself the government-in-waiting. It is going to wait a long time and it is going to wait to be replaced as the official opposition in the next election, and I will the House why. It is because it is the weakest opposition party ever to have sat in the House of Commons. It is an embarrassment. Many of the members who are going to be told to sit on their hands do not want to do it. This was once a party that had ideas. It no longer has.
Today, we are going to be looking at some amendments. One of the amendments has been put in place by the Liberals, which is obviously not something that seeks to gain a great deal of support. They do not want to bring the government down. They are terrified of an election.
I should say as well that the Bloc’s amendment to the amendment surprised me a little because there are several things on which they could have achieved a consensus if they had only wanted. It would have been easy to find things on which everyone could agree.
For them to finish by saying they want simply to eliminate the federal spending power without specifying the federal spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction was a transparent attempt, in our view, to ensure that the consensus of the three opposition parties needed to defeat the government could never be achieved.
We in the NDP are not afraid of our ideas or of defending them. The New Democratic Party has proudly introduced ideas as important as free universal health insurance for all Canadians. We will continue to champion ideas like this. But when we see a budget that has nothing on health, housing and families and gives everything to big corporations, we know exactly what to do: we will stand and vote against it.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for for sharing his time with me today.
I am very pleased to speak to the budget tabled yesterday by the government.
Budgets are about priorities. Budgets are about choices. Budgets define governments. Budgets are about how to use the resources that we all contribute to make our country and the world a better place.
For too many years, budget after budget, even with record surpluses, we have been left with a smallness, a stinginess in our budgets and therefore in our society. People now know that after years of tax cuts mainly favouring large corporations and the well-off, we face huge challenges in our society that governments have not addressed. We have huge unmet needs, yet we are offered a breathtaking lack of vision with the budget.
Once again, the opposition is sadly putting narrow, partisan self-interests over the good of our country. The comes to Toronto and says some very nice sounding things about reducing poverty, but just like on his record with Kyoto, it is all meaningless. He and his party are supporting budget after budget and vote after vote that take the country in the wrong direction.
Today, Canadians are working longer and harder. More and more people are falling below the poverty level. Incomes are flat. Personal debt is at an all-time high. Seniors are struggling to stay in their homes. Students are starting out in life with a huge debt. Millions of Canadians have no family doctor.
What has the government done with its latest budget?
We know in broad strokes what it has done. We know that for every dollar it spends in programs and services and all the various things it includes in the budget, it spends $6 for corporate tax cuts, $6 to the big polluters, $6 to the big banks and $6 to its friends who are already make a lot of money.
What this means overall is average Canadians, people who work very hard, who pay their taxes and who want to see their money invested back into their communities, pay 12% more for the services that we all need and profitable corporations pay 14% less. There is something wrong with this picture, but the government's direction is clear.
It is not that people cannot find a sprinkling of money here or there in the budget, which they might like. It is that the government has shelved out most of the money to the big banks and the big polluters. It takes the country in the wrong direction. Canadians want environmental responsibility, not rewards for those who pollute without sanction.
What is left? What do we see in this budget? Let us take a look.
To deal with the crisis in homelessness, what do we find in the budget? Every day I see people on the streets of Toronto. They are desperate to find proper shelter. A growing number of people are absolutely falling off the bottom of the economic ladder. There is nothing in the budget for them.
To deal with affordable housing, what do we find in the budget? Parents are struggling with high rents and minimum wage jobs, although the government will not support a national minimum wage. People are struggling with poverty level jobs and high housing costs. There is absolutely nothing in the budget for them.
What is in the budget to retrofit buildings, a major initiative to increase energy efficiently? There is nothing.
What about child care for all the parents who are struggling to get adequate care and a good start for their kids in life, for parents in my riding who are paying sometimes $2,000 a month for a couple of kids in child care? There is absolutely nothing.
What about seniors who want to stay in their homes and are looking for home care? There is nothing.
What is there to clean up pollution in the great lakes? There is nothing.
What is there for the five million Canadians who cannot find a family doctor? There is nothing.
What about reducing wait times in the health care sector? There is nothing.
What about those who cannot afford the prescription drugs they desperately need? There is nothing in the budget for them.
What about culture, the stories that we tell each other, the images, the arts that define us as Canadians? There is nothing, not even a mention of art, in the entire budget.
What about climate change? There is nothing.
The biggest investment in the budget is $350 million for nuclear development. That says it all. I believe the members opposite, the opposition who are supporting the budget, ought to be absolutely ashamed of themselves. They should not go back to Ontario and pretend to be standing up for Ontarians, pretending to be standing up for Toronto, pretending to be standing up for those less fortunate because they have betrayed them with the budget.
Rather than using our resources to give the big polluters or the big banks a big cheque, what people in my community tell me is that they desperately want to see money spent on infrastructure. They pay a lot of money in taxes and they want that money invested back into their communities in infrastructure, especially in a national transit strategy.
The gas tax transfer, which is a positive step, falls far short of beginning to address the decades of neglect in expanding our transit and fixing our infrastructure. There is no significant dent in the $123 billion deficit in infrastructure. We know the government's plan, with its new crown corporation for public-private partnerships, is about privatizing as much profitable infrastructure as possible while leaving citizens on the hook for any cost overruns. That is some partnership.
Toronto was Canada's big major cultural centre. Top-up funds for the big six cultural initiatives such as the opera, art gallery, after the community has raised so much of its own money, are missing. There is nothing for the television fund, nothing for Telefilm Canada. That is the government's vision for the arts, absolutely nothing, a blank.
Ontario is especially hard hit. The government continues to ignore the manufacturing crisis, which is throwing hundreds of thousands out of their jobs. Our government risks permanent damage to this key engine of our economy. A bit of money for auto, for research and development is not a strategy to help our manufacturers and exporters deal with the spiralling petrodollar in Canada.
Where is the plan to deal with the high dollar? Where is the national “buy Canadian” procurement policy that most other developed countries use to boost their local products? Where is the plan to balance our trade so we do not export all our good jobs? Where is the green job strategy? Where are we positioning Canada and our economy for the 21st century? Simply, we are not.
While Ontario faces a tsunami of job loses, we continue to be hammered by the lack of employment insurance for those who have faithfully paid their premiums.
Why do Ontarians get on average $5,000 EI less than those in other parts of the country? Why do almost 80% of those who are unemployed in Toronto get no EI? What other insurance program takes one's premiums and fails to provide the benefits when disaster strikes? What a rip-off for Ontarians.
Creating a crown corporation for EI is the wrong approach. This will let government duck its responsibilities and public accountability. It continues the fine tradition of the previous government to take billions of premiums paid by workers and employers and use them to pay down the debt rather than provide benefits for those most in need.
Budgets are about priorities. They are not about what one says, they are about what one does. We know the priorities of the government are about downsizing, about getting out of services, about getting out of the things that Canada and Canadians care about most. It is about helping their friends, the big polluters and the big banks.
Again, those on the opposite side, in the opposition party, ought to be absolutely ashamed for allowing the Conservatives to take Canada in the wrong direction. They did it on Afghanistan by not only getting us into this combat mission, but then enabling the continuation of this war to 2009, and who knows for how long into the future, and they are doing it with this budget.
I regret the budget so badly fails Canadians. I will proudly join with other MPs of the NDP in standing by our principles, in standing up for Canadians and in opposing this budget.
Mr. Speaker, we are certainly hoping that we can bring back some reason to this debate. I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House and make my remarks in support of budget 2008.
By the way, this is our third balanced budget. There were suggestions in the House earlier today that Conservatives do not know how to balance a budget. I would argue strongly that this has now tabled three balanced Conservative budgets in a row and we are looking forward to many more.
Of course, we would like to thank the Liberals in the House for recognizing the value of a balanced budget and realizing that this is good for Canadians and they are going to support us on this. We are looking forward to the day that we get this done and we can get on with other business that is so important to Canadians.
This budget builds on our government's solid record of fiscal management. Our responsible and prudent approach has served Canadians well. This approach has allowed us to be ahead of the curve while others are just now taking action.
We have made the broad-based long term tax reductions for Canadians, for both individuals and businesses alike, that are in place now, exactly when we need them. We have reduced record amounts of debt, we have controlled spending, and we have made the largest investment in public infrastructure in modern history.
In budget 2008 we have built on that solid foundation. We are introducing a tax-free savings account to help Canadians save throughout their lifetimes and never pay tax on the earnings in or the withdrawals from these accounts.
We are providing additional support for manufacturers and processors. We are making our communities safer by putting more police on the street. We are taking additional steps to preserve Canada's environment and we are helping even more students excel. We are further protecting our seniors.
We are doing all of this with a steady hand on the tiller to guide us into the future with confidence.
As we all know the coming year brings with it growing concerns about the uncertainty and the volatility in the world economy. That brings with it a larger than expected slowdown in the United States and questions about the duration and the impact of ongoing financial market turmoil.
Fortunately, our government acted decisively with historic tax reductions that benefit Canadians right now. We could do this because our economic fundamentals remain strong. Our budget is better than balanced. It is in surplus. Unemployment is at its lowest point in 33 years. Inflation remains low and stable.
This all means that we can be confident in the Canadian economy. On that basis our government is keeping its promises to Canadians with actions to further our long term economic plan, “Advantage Canada”. Our plan lays out five key advantages that will provide the groundwork for even greater prosperity for Canadian individuals, families and businesses. We are getting things done.
For example, we have made major progress in creating a tax advantage. In fact, we have provided relief in every way the government collects taxes: personal and business taxes, excise and consumption taxes, and the 2 percentage point reduction in the GST. Our government is giving Canadians the tax cuts they deserve, tax cuts that we promised and we have delivered.
With the $60 billion of tax reductions announced in our fall economic statement, the total action taken by this government to date is approaching $200 billion in tax cuts over this year and the next five years. What is more, we are bringing taxes to the lowest level in over 50 years and we will not stop there.
Taxes will continue to decline, thanks to our tax back guarantee, which guarantees that as we pay down the federal debt, interest savings are being returned to Canadians in personal income tax cuts.
We are reducing the federal debt by more than $37 billion, including $10.2 billion this fiscal year. As a result, by 2009-10, personal income tax reductions, provided under the tax back guarantee, will amount to $2 billion. We have also committed to ongoing measured debt reduction in the face of global economic uncertainty. This government will not pass on to our children or grandchildren a debt from the excessive spending of past governments.
I am proud to say that our fiscal approach is paying off. This government's tax reductions mean more money for individuals, families, workers and seniors to spend or invest as they see fit. This money can also be used to save for the future.
Budget 2008 takes action to build on the progress we have made in creating a Canadian tax advantage.
Saving money often can be difficult, especially for low and modest income Canadians. In budget 2008 we have made saving money easier with a new tax-free savings account. This account will generate tax-free income for life. The tax-free savings account will allow more money to grow and, as its name suggests, tax-free, and will remain tax-free when withdrawn. No catch, no small print.
Adult Canadians will be able to contribute up to $5,000 every year to a registered account plus carry over unused amounts to future years. The great thing about this account is that it allows Canadians to save for whatever purpose they want, be it for home renovations, starting a small business, or a special vacation.
Most important, to make it easier for lower and modest income families to save there will be no clawbacks. That means that neither the income earned in the tax-free savings account nor the withdrawals from it will affect eligibility for federal income tested benefits such as the Canada child tax benefit, the GST credit, old age security or GIS benefits.
In the first five years it is estimated that over three-quarters of the benefits of savings in a tax-free savings account will go to individuals in the two lowest tax brackets. That is tax-free savings for Canadians. According to the Globe and Mail, “Savers and investors, meet your new best friend”.
This government has not ignored Canada's thriving business community either. Our previous two budgets, the tax fairness plan and the 2007 fall economic statement took action to help our businesses compete in today's globally competitive marketplace.
Because we are committed to making Canada a great place to create and expand business, last fall we introduced a timely and decisive plan to reduce the federal corporate income tax rate to 15% by the year 2012. This bold initiative will give Canada the lowest overall tax rate on new business investment in the G-7 by 2010 and the lowest statutory tax rate among G-7 countries by 2012.
Recently, with the community development trust, we acted in support of Canadian workers and their families. Manufacturers and processors are now benefiting from our accelerated capital cost allowance measure that allows manufacturing and processing businesses to writeoff investments in machinery and equipment over a two year period. This temporary measure creates an incentive to accelerate investment and will provide $1.3 billion of assistance to this sector by 2009-10.
We have also increased capital cost allowance rates for manufacturing and other non-residential buildings and for computers to better reflect the useful life of those assets.
Now, in budget 2008 our government is going even further. We are providing an additional three years of accelerated capital cost allowance treatment for investment by manufacturers and processors in machinery and equipment. This initiative will provide manufacturers and processors with an additional $1 billion in tax relief over the next five fiscal years.
Moreover, it will provide businesses in the manufacturing and processing sector with more time to accelerate their investments to better enable them to adjust to the current economic challenges.
Budget 2008 also contains initiatives that respond to the infrastructure advantage in our plan “Advantage Canada”, further evidence that this government is following through on its long term commitments.
Now that they are in opposition, I am sure the hon. members across the floor would agree that in order to support our communities and ensure the competitiveness of the Canadian economy, Canada needs access to modern infrastructure, though as government they largely ignored that problem for 13 years.
Our government, through our building Canada plan, is making the largest single federal investment in public infrastructure since World War II, a total of $33 billion over seven years for roads, bridges, water systems, public transit and international gateways.
A key component of our building Canada plan is the federal gas tax fund that provides direct funding for essential infrastructure for Canadian cities, towns and communities.
In budget 2007, our government extended this funding to 2014. Budget 2008 goes an important step further by extending the federal gas tax funding permanently. This initiative provides $2 billion a year starting in 2009-10 and that is forever. This is money that municipalities can bank on and build into their long term capital planning. Municipalities asked us for it and we delivered.
Gordon Steeves, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and a Winnipeg councillor said:
Budget 2008 delivers good news for cities and communities. The decision to make the gas tax transfer permanent represents a critical move toward addressing the municipal fiscal imbalance and building vibrant cities and communities. The permanent gas tax fund sets a new standard for the way the Government of Canada supports cities and communities
Budget 2008 is all about investing: investing in our people, investing in our future. It all starts with ensuring that future generations have the opportunity to be the best that they can be and that future includes aboriginal Canadians. Our government has made significant progress in supporting our aboriginal population.
Budget 2008 builds on this program in a number of areas with measures to foster new aboriginal economic development: improvements in first nations and Inuit health and education outcomes, funding for prevention-based models of child and family services on reserves, and improved access to safe drinking water in first nation communities.
In today's increasingly knowledge-based economy Canada needs a highly skilled workforce. To that end, budget 2008 is investing in a new post-secondary Canada student grant program that will integrate existing grants and provide more effective support to more students for more years of study.
Our government will provide $350 million for this Canada student grant program in 2009-10, growing to $400 million in 2010-11, with continued growth going forward. This funding will reach an estimated 245,000 students. That will benefit over 100,000 low and middle income families, more than the current system.
This is a significant investment in our future. Building on that investment, budget 2008 is creating 500 new doctoral scholarships under the Canada graduate scholarships program.
These scholarships, named in honour of the former Governor General Georges P. Vanier, will help develop and attract the new generation of world-class researchers, by providing $100 million over five years beginning in 2008-09 to attract the best doctoral students, from here and around the world, to study in Canada. The Canadian Federation of Students has come out strongly in support of the budget saying, “The government has taken a positive step towards improving access to post-secondary education”.
Of course, it is important to nurture our best and brightest here at home, but one of the greatest challenges facing Canada today is the shortage of skilled workers. This fact, coupled with an aging population, means that we also need to look beyond our borders to ensure we have the workforce required to build a stronger future.
In recognition of this need, budget 2008 takes action to improve the responsiveness of our immigration system. This new funding will complement existing programs by modernizing and speeding up the immigration system so that we can get the appropriate people to meet our labour market needs. Our people are certainly our most important resource.
Canadians are known as a compassionate society, and we must look after each other. For its part the government has taken action to help those who need it most. In budget 2007 we introduced the working income tax benefit to help people over the so-called welfare wall. We also introduced a registered disability savings plan to help parents save for the long term financial security of their disabled children.
Budget 2008 provides further support for vulnerable Canadians. Specifically, this year's budget provides $110 million to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. This funding will help support demonstration pilot projects on housing and complementary community support services. This initiative will also help us recognize the needs of those who are homeless and suffering from a mental illness so that we can take the appropriate action to meet those needs.
Preserving and protecting our environment is, no doubt, one of the most important issues to Canadians today. They expect their government to take action to reduce harmful emissions, ensure clean drinking water and crack down on polluters. And we have taken action. Since coming into office, our government has made significant investments to support cleaner energy, clean transportation alternatives and the development of green technology.
In budget 2008 we are taking further action to fulfill our commitments to a cleaner, healthier environment. For example, budget 2008 is committing $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects. Furthermore, our government is providing $66 million over two years to lay the foundation for market-based mechanisms that will help establish a price for carbon and support the development of carbon trading in Canada.
As well, this year's budget provides $13 million over two years to accelerate access to cleaner renewable fuels for cars and trucks.
The budget is also further extending tax incentives for clean energy generation.
What good are environmental laws if we cannot enforce them? That is why this budget also provides $21 million specifically for that enforcement. This action illustrates this government's commitment to actually do something about the environment, not just talk about it. That is what this government is about: taking action and getting the job done. Taking action requires strong leadership, and that means not being afraid to step up to the plate, make decisions and establish priorities.
This government is determined to safeguard Canada's strong economic and fiscal fundamentals to avoid falling back into deficit. Just like any family, we want to ensure that we live within our means. In budget 2008 we have done just that. It is a budget that is thoughtful and responsible. It is a budget that is good for Canada and good for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, while I thank the for the riveting speech, I hope he did not overpay for it.
I will be splitting my time with the member for . I have only a few minutes left, so I take it that I will see everyone in the morning.
We have all noted that the has been running around the country for the last three or four months saying there is no money in the cupboard, the cupboard is bare, we are broke, and telling us to not have any great expectations of this budget, and for certain yesterday he delivered on that expectation. There were very low expectations and he certainly met those low expectations.
Interestingly, the Globe and Mail this morning in its editorial picked up on that very theme and talked about 's “empty cupboard”. The point of the editorial is that it was the Minister of Finance that emptied the cupboard in the first place, so naturally he does not have any money for anything. As a consequence, we see what we see in this rather pathetic budget.
What is really sad is that the Conservative government started out with a fiscal surplus. It started out with 13 years of sound fiscal management. It started out with one of the most prosperous economies in the G-7.
Also, interestingly, it started with almost $100 billion in a five year planning surplus, going from 2005 through to 2010. But where will we be in 2010? If we look at page 25 of the government's budget, we can see that the surplus will be down to $1.3 billion. I do not think that even Paris Hilton could spend it that quickly. These guys are in a league by themselves. I am sure that Paris Hilton is probably watching this debate and wondering how in heaven's name they did it.
Again, I direct members' attention to page 25, which is really the only page we need to read in the budget. The rest of the budget is a 415 page spin document. Let us look at their document. The Conservatives actually increase their revenues over a four year period by $16 billion. Over the same period, they increase their spending by $30 billion.
I do not know how other members do their budgeting, but in my house and I dare say pretty well all the members' houses, people cannot actually spend more than is brought in. Households cannot be run that way. Businesses cannot be run that way. Certainly a government cannot be run that way. It is an incredible testimony to the incompetence of the minister.
I do not want to disturb the in his reading of Frank magazine, which constitutes his briefing materials most days, but even he would understand that we cannot spend faster than we bring the money in. It is pretty simple.
For the particular year that the government actually presents for this year, the fiscal year 2008-09, the government has actually reduced the revenues by about $2.5 billion. Meanwhile, the government's expenditures in the same year go up by $7 billion, the consequence of which is that this country actually ends up perilously close to a deficit.
The government has canned the whole idea of prudence money. When a Liberal government was producing budgets, we had a minimum contingency of $3 billion and frequently built into the budget another $1 billion, $2 billion or $3 billion to actually create cushions for unanticipated events. For instance, SARS was an unanticipated event. As well, the peso crisis was an unanticipated event.
The incompetence in this budget is manifest. We are very close to a recession. Certainly there is a recession in the U.S. The government has actually taken its GDP numbers and reduced its GDP numbers in the last three months by 25%. That brings them right down to the edge.
Again, if the hon. could actually read his own budget, he would realize that he was one of the ministers who was left out. The word “environment” is virtually not mentioned in this budget.
Here we have $16 billion going down the drain. We simply cannot carry on this way. Traditionally in prudent budgets, we do build in some cushions, but that government and those particular members do not seem to understand prudence. They do not seem to understand that we cannot spend more than we get in. It is rather amusing to hear them traipse on about how they think this is a good thing--