The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to rise in the House today to provide my comments on the Conservative 2008 budget.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
As a result of the two year spending spree by the biggest-spending finance minister in Canadian history, there is not much to this budget. After only two years of Conservative government, the cupboard is bare.
The government has spent nearly every penny and has left no room for error. If the U.S. economy continues to worsen or if Canada faces a crisis such as SARS, we will most likely be plunged into a deficit again.
Simply put, for the next two years Canada has no contingency if things go wrong. The question becomes, is this due to gross fiscal mismanagement or is this by design? Either way, the situation Canada now faces is very worrisome and bears serious, close monitoring.
Recent media stories featured Conservative strategist Tom Flanagan crowing about: “tightening the screws on the federal government...boxing in the ability of the federal government to come up with new program ideas...The federal government is now more constrained”.
The writing on the wall is clear. The Conservatives have depleted the federal reserves and totally washed their hands of national standards only to let each province do its own thing, thereby abrogating their responsibilities and the integral role the federal government must play.
Instead of using the tools of the federal government to help Ontario transition through these economic challenges, the goes on brutal, repeated, unprecedented attacks. The government is failing to fulfill its national role to help our struggling economy.
Our manufacturing sector is suffering. Sales have plummeted to a three year low. Canada's trade surplus has shrunk to its lowest levels in nearly a decade.
Despite taking marginal measures in budget 2008, the government has gone on the attack and the is outrageously trashing the investment prospects of the Ontario economy by suggesting in a public speech that Ontario is “the last place” in Canada to start a business. Ontario deserves better, much better. How does the minister expect investors to respond to his egregious comments?
Canadians would expect that with the livelihoods of families at stake the minister would be responsible and do his part to help them. I hope other provinces are taking note, because they could be next.
These are the words of a Thornhill constituent who happens to be a Conservative and who wrote to me about what the minister said in his recent attacks:
Your accusations regarding high taxes without recognizing other bigger problems associated with the slump in manufacturing is foolhardy. Time to be a deeper thinker regarding the manufacturing woes of the province of Ontario”.
The government's indifference to Ontario's economic troubles goes all the way to the , an economist by training, whose idea of economic advice is reportedly to tell a group of soon to be unemployed auto workers in Kitchener to move to Alberta. That is no solution. It is divisive. It is offensive. It is certainly not leadership.
It is typical, however, of the Conservatives' hands off, head in the sand, “laissez-faire, I don't care” approach to the economy and other issues such as the environment. Our federal government should be doing more to stand up for Ontario in the manufacturing sector, not undermining it.
The Conservative government lacks the vision, the leadership and the will to address our critical infrastructure deficit, including investments in public transit that our cities desperately need and are crying out for.
The government does not understand how critical these investments in public transit infrastructure are to growing cities such as my riding of Thornhill to combat the congestion we face. Every day, Thornhill residents are faced with the challenges of traffic congestion sucking the life out of our economy and quality of life, polluting the very air we breathe and impacting on the quality of life of every citizen.
The Yonge Street subway extension is the one critical investment for my community of Thornhill and York region that will make a real, significant and lasting impact, yet it was not in budget 2008. That is sadly lacking and very ill-conceived.
I wholeheartedly agree with Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti's assessment of the budget's investment in public transit, when he states:
They fell dramatically short on rapid transit funding. The federal government needs to wake up to the idea that we need to have an infusion [immediately] of capital dollars. We cannot continue to take baby steps as it relates to infrastructure and rapid transit.
I have been a vocal and persistent advocate for investment in public transit and infrastructure since I was a city councillor, and a constant advocate for greater federal investments in public transit since I was elected as the member of Parliament for Thornhill. In the previous government, I strongly supported the establishment of the gas tax transfer for cities and making it definite, making it a permanent federal program. If the government needed to steal ideas, at least it stole a good one.
Canada is the only G-8 country without a national transit strategy. While the government has said that it is working on a strategy, it has stated that we will absolutely have no new funds.
It is important to understand that the first recommendation of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for a national transit strategy was new funding. It will be interesting to see how the government implements a national transit strategy, when it finally gets around to it, that does not burden municipalities with a new layer of bureaucracy and no financial support or partnership.
When it comes to public transit, the Conservative government has more excuses than credibility. The government has utterly failed to work with Ontario on its MoveOntario 2020 program. It failed to make the partnerships that are integral to the success of Ontario and other provinces in Canada. Of the little funding it has committed to transit in the last two years, it has taken its sweet time in delivering it. The money for the Spadina subway extension is still sitting in a bank account accruing costs and creating unnecessary and irresponsible delays. This extension is needed. The , the Conservatives, any federal government should understand that unequivocally.
The Conservatives take no responsibility for their failure to deliver. Instead, they play the politics of division and the blame game, which is very counterproductive and very disappointing, certainly to the residents in Ontario and to all Canadians.
The is blaming the Ontario premier for having partisan interests. The is unjustifiably calling the mayor of Toronto an isolationist. More name calling.
Mayor Hazel McCallion practically had to wrestle the Conservative government to the ground to get her cheque for the Mississauga rapid transit system after a year of bickering and foot dragging by the Conservative government. So much for a new era of cooperation that the Conservatives were supposed to be shepherding in. This is another Conservative broken promise.
My colleague from Ajax--Pickering has pointed out the government's hypocrisy on transit. During the city of Ottawa's municipal elections in 2006, the then president of the Treasury Board took the unprecedented step of withholding $200 million in federal funding for a light rail project in Ottawa even though the approvals of seven departments of the federal government, including his own, had already been secured. That is unfathomable.
The Liberal caucus has proposed a bold and innovative plan to address public transit, our roads, bridges and water treatment plants which are important across the country. We have a balanced approach that would use the surplus to pay off our national debt, as we had before, and our infrastructure deficit. That is the difference between the Conservative government and our previous government and our future.
In this year's budget, we would have spent $3 billion on debt repayment to bring our debt to GDP ratio down to 25% by 2012 and invested the remaining $7.2 billion in infrastructure and transit, like the province of Ontario's MoveOntario 2020 program and the recently announced B.C. transit plan.
While debt repayment remains a key Liberal priority, we cannot and must not allow our communities to suffer, leaving a legacy of crumbling bridges, congested roads and a record-breaking number of smog days. There is too much at stake for Canadians.
U.S. senator, Joe Biden, likes to say that his father taught him, “Show me your budget and I'll show you what you value”. Let us look at the budget and see how much the government values protecting the health and safety of Canadians.
Of the 2008 initiatives for protecting the health and safety of Canadians, the government spends a total of $209 million, which accounts for about 3.5% of all spending. That certainly does not sound to me or to Canadians like a government that values protecting the health and safety of Canadians at all.
There is at least some money being put aside toward Canada's safety system for food, consumer products and health products. I hear my constituents' concerns about pesticides in their food and the safety of toy imports and baby products. Canadians need to know that the products they use meet the highest of standards. I am concerned that the $113 million set aside over two years will not be enough for such important safety concerns.These concerns deserve and warrant the appropriate allocation of funding and attention. I will definitely be following the progress of this initiative very closely.
Thousands of products coming across our borders every day could potentially harm Canadians. My constituents consistently tell me that they want to be certain that the regulations on food, consumer products and health products meet the highest standards.
I frequently hear concerns about the secretiveness of the Security and Prosperity Partnership and the fear that it may result in lower safety standards. I have raised the issue directly with the to ensure that we not only maintain our high standards in this area but we take even greater steps forward to improve and strengthen them.
Canadians and Thornhill residents will not forget that the government campaigned on health care as being one of its top priorities and yet, in this budget, protecting the health and safety of Canadians only accounts for 3.5% of 2008 initiative spending. However, the government's is the same Ontario minister who gutted our health care system, closed hospitals and fired nurses. Unfortunately, it may not be surprising that the government has spent so little of budget 2008 initiatives on protecting the health and safety of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments made by the member for and was struck by the fact that she did not once mention the environment. Climate change is the biggest crisis of the 21st century and yet the government's fiscal plan, as presented in last week's budget, does nothing to take meaningful steps to address this problem.
I suppose a few people in the Conservative government would not be surprised by that since the Conservatives are still denying the science of climate change, but as a member of the Liberal Party and the official opposition I would have hoped that the member for would have at least recognized the importance of the issue.
On Friday, I had the great privilege of being invited into the classrooms of Miss Johnson and Mr. Shea at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School in Hamilton Mountain. Some of their students had written to me earlier to urge the government to take concrete actions to fight climate change. We had a lively discussion about the environment and they told me what they were doing to fight climate change. They are in the process of undertaking the certification to become an ecoschool. They are having litterless lunches, planting trees, composting, picking up and recycling litter and turning off lights and computers when they are no longer needed.
However, they also had some really strong suggestions for what the government ought to be doing, and that is governments at all levels. Municipally, they wanted to see an anti-idling bylaw, a pesticide ban and a limit on the amount of garbage that people could put at the curb.
Provincially, they wanted to see an extension of GO Transit. They wanted the closure of coal-fired plants and standards to reduce the packaging around products.
Federally, they wanted to see initiatives that supported solar energy, wind turbines and fuel efficient cars.
This budget does not mention any of those initiatives.
A show that is currently on TV is called Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? On behalf of the students at Our Lady of Lourdes, I would like to ask the member for whether she is smarter than a seventh grader and, if she is, can she commit today that she will vote against this budget that lets down an entire generation of young people who recognize what the government does not, which is that climate change should be our number one priority?
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the budget today.
Last month marked an important milestone for me, but it was not the budget. Forty years ago, on February 24, 1968, I arrived in Canada at the age of 13. In one month, I would say “no English” and in two months I would say, “no speak any English”. Today, I am an elected representative of the largest riding in Canada. There are few countries in the world where a newcomer, who arrived without a command of either official language, could find himself commenting on the national affairs as an equal alongside parliamentarians whose roots go back much further. That is one reason why Canada is a blessed country.
I intend to use this opportunity to speak to the budget, a budget that will undoubtedly impact the lives of millions of Canadians.
It should have been a budget that would prepare the Canadian economy for the hard times forecast for the near future without losing sight of the responsibility we have as parliamentarians to help ordinary Canadians get through those hard times. We cannot ignore the demands the economic downturn is placing on the federal budget, nor can we ignore Canadians in need of help.
I would like to focus my remarks on a few issues that I feel are important as they relate to the budget.
Events ranging from the high Canadian dollar to the U.S. economic downturn to high energy prices are adversely affecting the Canadian economy. Canada, as a trading nation, has long depended on stable international markets and this economic situation should concern us all.
Many dynamic manufacturing, life sciences and high tech enterprises have operations in my riding of . These enterprises employ hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of people in the area. Plus, the local economy in my riding is tied to the largest economy of the greater Toronto area in southern Ontario. Many constituents, like Canadians across the country, are not sheltered from the effects of an ailing economy.
The impact of the economic downturn on manufacturing in Canada has been especially troubling. More than 130,000 Canadian manufacturing well-paid, high-tech jobs have been lost in the last year alone. If current economic trends continue, more jobs may be lost. For this reason, it was important for the budget to invest in Canadian families.
However, It fell short in several areas. I would like to focus on immigration, trade, health care and infrastructure spending.
I will start with immigration. Of the more than 200,000 newcomers who choose Canada every year, many settle in the major urban centres in Canada that are home to key industries. Many settle in my riding. Just last month I played host to a group of about 50 new Canadian citizens eager to contribute to our society.
The budget announced several measures to modernize the immigration system and streamline the process so that we can swiftly address our labour needs. As important as it is to improve processing, we also need to assist people once they are in Canada. It is important that we tailor programs to meet their needs and help them to integrate successfully into Canadian society.
The budget does not address foreign credentials. According to the Gandalf Group survey of the top 1,000 companies' executives in Canada, recognizing foreign credentials is one of the measures executives are looking for the government to implement. The government's decision to create a foreign credential referral service a few months ago fell short of addressing one of the major challenges facing new Canadians.
During the last election, the Conservatives promised to set up an agency for foreign credential assessment and recognition. Instead, they announced that Service Canada offices would do little more than refer people to provincial credential offices.
Turning to trade, we have learned from the firsthand experiences of many witnesses, who have testified at the trade committee, that Canada needs to diversify its trade relationships. It is never a good idea for business to put all its eggs in one basket. The same holds true for a country like Canada with so many vital export industries. That is why we are exploring the pros and cons of a trade agreement with South Korea in committee.
The business community has been requesting that we strengthen our representation in India and China. The Liberal Party has promised to harness business, community and research links through the creation of a south Asian foundation of Canada. Much like the Asia-Pacific foundation of Canada, its south Asian foundation counterpart would help Canada tap into the growing dynamism of the Indian subcontinent.
Such measures, designed to foster trade diversification, would help strengthen Canada's competitiveness over time. The government has chosen to concentrate on the Americas, but vision is needed for Canada to remain competitive in the “Asian century”.
Moving on to health, Canadians expect parties to work together to improve health care. This is especially true in minority government situations. It is especially true if we are to steer Canada's public health care system through tough economic times. As the vice-chair of the health committee, I am reminded weekly of health care challenges, from wait times to doctor shortages.
According to the Canadian Medical Association, almost five million Canadians do not have a physician. I have raised this issue with the in committee. We have to find ways to continue to address these shortcomings, but the budget fails to do so.
The party opposite campaigned on wait times but dropped the ball in this budget. The budget sets aside funds for health and safety initiatives, but wait times are not among them.
Finally, on infrastructure spending, my party would have budgeted $3 billion a year as a contingency reserve to protect us from deficits or times of need, such as natural disasters. This budget left us with projected surpluses of $2.3 billion for 2008-09 and $1.3 billion for the next year, well below the $3 billion contingency fund that Liberals consider the bare minimum to address economic shocks.
As the representative of some of Canada's fastest growing municipalities, such as Markham, Stouffville, Richmond Hill and King, I know firsthand how important issues relating to roads, public transit and energy supply are to ordinary Canadians. When I speak to constituents in my riding, traffic congestion often comes up in conversation.
We can remain fiscally responsible by allocating a portion of government surplus to debt reduction while also allocating money to fix Canada's infrastructure. However, this budget leaves Canada with few additional contingency funds, owing to previous spending patterns and tax cuts.
It is ironic that the government chose to attack our prudent finance plan, claiming we would drive Canada into deficit. This is to distract from its own financial mismanagement, its own program spending and tax cuts.
These are some of the shortcomings in the budget, as I see them.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Simcoe North.
In the few minutes allotted to me I would like to address some of the broad stroke issues of the budget and then I will talk a little bit about what we are doing in an increased way related to my portfolio of safety and security.
I would also like to talk a little bit about what is going on in my constituency in terms of how the constituency is benefiting from the building Canada fund which gives significant dollars to infrastructure.
There has been some debate and I heard some concern brought forward by members of the opposition about the responsible way in which this government is paying down debt. It is something we need to reflect on for a moment because if we do not deal with debt, the interest payments increase, in fact they start to compound and as interest payments increase and a government is compelled to make those payments, in fact the government loses the fiscal capacity to be able to spend its scarce taxpayer dollars on other things of importance like essential services.
That is why, when we look at the record of debt in Canada over the last 50 years, we can see under the reign of Pierre Trudeau how the really grotesque uptake of debt started to skyrocket to levels unheard of certainly in Canadian history and really unheard of in much of the democratic world post-second world war.
We cannot blame it all on Mr. Trudeau because subsequent governments followed this fanciful dream that the way to get out of debt was to keep on borrowing. Now, none of us tell our kids that and hopefully we try not to practise that in our own finances. It is rather deplorable when a government would think that the way to get out of debt would be to just keep on borrowing.
That trend continued until the early nineties when it took the International Monetary Fund to blow the whistle on Canada. That was a very embarrassing moment for us as Canadians as we realized that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were reflecting on Canada's ratio of debt to gross domestic product, and it was saying Canada was in a very fragile financial moment. The fiscal record of the nation was at stake.
That is what happens when debt is ignored. That philosophical approach to economic issues was advocated by, among other people, the economist John Maynard Keynes. He was a strong proponent of this spend and tax cycle and trying to put on the brakes, put on the gas, as they used to call it, and try to govern the economy that way.
He was asked by an astute observer at one point, “As debt increases, do you not hit a point where in the long run, an economy is no longer able to sustain itself?” Keynes replied that in the long run, we will all be dead. That was the economic depth of his answer.
I may be, in the shorter run, but my kids and grandkids will not be. I do not like the fact that he and others in government can shrug that off. I do not like the fact that my kids and grandkids would be paying and having to finance his dreams which probably did not come to fruition because the economic world of many countries largely abandoned that ridiculous approach that we can get out of debt by continuing to go into debt.
That is why we have a and a government that believes we have to aggressively pay down debt. As we do that, we reduce those interest payments every year. We free up money to spend on essential services. We made a commitment that we are not going to take the interest savings and just spend those.
As a matter of fact, we are going to return those in the form of tax savings. That is the second part of the budget I want to talk about. Since we have formed the government, we have reduced taxes in over 60 different areas including the GST.
This combination of a commitment to reduce debt and reduce taxes sends a robust signal to the marketplace, both within Canada and abroad where people are wondering if they should be investing in their businesses here, or should they be looking to jurisdictions that are less taxed and less indebted. Those twin signals of reducing debt and reducing taxes build confidence in people who are investing whether it is a small business, medium sized business, or large business.
Also, as international fund managers look around the world at signals from economies where there can be some sense of longevity in terms of prosperity and opportunity, those kinds of signals will attract investment dollars, which attracts jobs, and we wind up with the combined effect of lowering people's taxes. We then have more people paying taxes because more people are working, but they are all paying at a lower rate. That is the way to keep an economy rejuvenated.
This is a very solid process that the is advocating and has put before us today. I hope members of the opposition would begin to clear away some of the fog they have on this issue of paying down debt and reducing taxes and see that those two factors have a rejuvenating effect, not just on the economy but on individuals who sense that hard work, incentive and investment can pay off for them.
In the area of safety and security, under areas of my portfolio, we have made significant increases in some key areas. When we look at investment in one area, we need to send signals that we have a secure nation, and we do, and we have a nation that will work other nations to deal with criminal elements, risks of terrorism and natural disasters.
This is why we have made investments in some key areas at the border. We want to ensure traffic flowing across our borders, low risk travel and cargo, can move more rapidly. We also want to ensure that our border officers and others are equipped not just with the latest technology, but with the latest training to intercept goods, which could be contraband, dangerous or illegal, and also individuals who could be a threat to our country.
This is why the budget makes significant increases in those areas at our borders, with our integrated border teams that work with officers on the other side of the border and a $430 million investment in technology to provide the technological means.
We have made investments related to all trucking companies. We will ask for this within five years, but it is a process that has begun. All trucking companies will forward, by electronic manifest, the contents of their cargoes. They will forward that information to the borders even before they arrive. Therefore, the threat and risk assessments are done before the trucks arrive and the low risk ones can move through more quickly. Others identified as being possibly at risk can be sent to a secondary station and have a more thorough inspection.
We have increased the former budget by $161 million with a commitment to see 1,000 more RCMP officers on the street. We announced in this budget $400 million to provinces, on a per capita basis, so they can hire more municipal officers.
At the local level, we heard the announcement by the president of the Federation of Municipalities that the budget was good for cities and communities across the country because of the infrastructure fund. This is the largest ever infrastructure fund set aside for that purpose in Canadian history. A significant portion of that will go to the province of British Columbia, which I am honoured to represent, as well as the constituency of .
People like Mayor Graham Reid in Peachland, Mayor Gregory in Summerland, the newly elected mayor of the new municipality on the west side, Mayor Neis, and the mayor of Oliver have all experienced the results already of those infrastructure dollars. I have been able to work with other planners and elected people to see infrastructure increase because of dollars that flow to vital areas like water treatment, road construction, the very basic things people look for to make their constituencies strong and give them some predictability for the future.
Again, I remind members to think about the broad brush elements. We are reducing debt and taxes. I have not addressed many areas covered in the budget, but we are able to address those areas. We are able to put $1 billion into a community development trust for communities when their traditional areas of industry are hit. We can do all those things and meet the needs of students and others because we have taken a prudent approach to the fiscal management of our nation.
Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend's question while well-intended is sadly misinformed.
First, what was most notable was how he prefaced his question on the area related to debt by saying what the Liberal approach would be. He said “if we did nothing”. That is the suggested Liberal approach to debt reduction. He said that if we did nothing, we would see the ratio of debt to GDP, GDP is the overall income, all the revenues that come into a nation, go down by the year 2014 and everything would be fine.
If we leave the debt unattended, but the economy continues to grow, which it will under our sound fiscal policies, we will see the revenues come in and it will look, on a ratio, that the debt has been reduced. However, by leaving it alone, the payments are staying there. As a matter of fact, the debt payments would increase. For years, the policy of the Liberals has been to leave the debt alone as much as possible. That policy will not reduce the debt payments.
In alarm, he said that we had reduced the revenue bases, which is code for we do not like reducing people's taxes. The Liberal philosophy is, “Give us all of your money. We know how to spend it much better than you do”. I am delighted we have reduced some revenue bases, like income taxes, taxes to seniors, taxes to low income people and the GST.
This past weekend my wife and I were able to help my son and my daughter-in-law move. They just purchased a new house. They bought that home for close to $400,000. We reduced the GST from 7% to 5%. This means that young couple, like thousands of couples across the country buying new houses, saved $8,000. That is $8,000 in their pockets. If the Liberal government were in place, the Liberals would have that money. I am much happier that my son and daughter-in-law have it rather than the Liberals.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to speak in the budget 2008 debate.
Our budget builds on the strong performance of our country and its government in recent years. It also prepares us for the realities of slower economic growth. The measures that we took in the fall economic statement ahead of the curve are helping to cushion the country's economy in a responsible and balanced way that will keep our economic fundamentals strong.
Canada has come a long way from the volatile economic times we experienced in the seventies and eighties, with high inflation and interest rates, high taxes and burgeoning public debt at both levels of government. However, lessons were learned and eventually, with a lot of pain and hard work by governments, businesses and, indeed, Canadian families and workers, we emerged to see a country on the strongest footing we have enjoyed since the 1960s.
We are a stronger trading nation, a more educated nation, a nation that is investing in research and the knowledge economy, a nation that is investing in public infrastructure and a nation that puts its provincial partners on a fairer, predictable funding base.
Taxes are lower than they have been since the 1960s. Inflation and interest rates are low and stable. Public debt is tracking to its lowest rate against GDP in my lifetime. The Canadian dollar is strong. We know that poses some challenges, but the stronger dollar reflects our stronger position in the world, and that is something in which we should take some pride.
As a result of our careful financial stewardship, the economy is in good shape; Canadians are working hard, paying their taxes and raising their families; 400,000 new jobs have been created in the past two years and unemployment is at its lowest level in 33 years.
We are well positioned to cushion the slowing down of the global economy, a position that augers well for the future. In fact, the only sure thing we know looking forward is that once the U.S. gets back on a stronger growth curve, and it will, from time to time events will occur in the world that may impact Canada's economy negatively. We have seen them before: the weakening of Asian capital markets, 9/11, the tech bubble, SARS, BSE, and now the U.S. slowdown after what was a long and sustained growth period.
The very best way for Canada to withstand these pressures, which are for the most part outside our control, is to keep our economic fundamentals strong and competitive. That approach will attract investment and keep jobs in Canada, keeping the opportunity for Canadian families to improve their incomes and indeed improve their standard of living against any measure.
For these reasons, I have been very surprised and quite frankly concerned at the nature of political discussions in this place during the weeks leading up to the budget and even recently. We had opposition members calling for major government interventions as if to somehow backstop the U.S. slowdown, believing that Canada somehow could spend its way to preventing a recession south of the border.
It is actually quite bizarre. Those members seem to favour going back to the days of higher taxes, bigger government handouts and the kinds of interventions that played havoc with our economy before and would surely help get us in trouble again.
We cannot go back. We will not go back. Budget 2008 builds on the already proper and successful approaches we have taken in budgets 2006 and 2007 and last fall's economic statement. It also falls directly out of the most masterful and visionary economic plan this country has seen, certainly in all my years, and that is the “Advantage Canada” plan introduced in November 2006.
It gives us the advantage so that as the world changes, and it will, Canada can continue to be more prosperous and strong. It is realistic. It is practical.
It will give Canada and Canadians a competitive advantage: a tax advantage with the lowest rate on business investment in the G-7; a fiscal advantage by reducing our debt and leaving the next generation on a stronger foundation; an entrepreneurial advantage by making Canada a good place to do business, one with less red tape and paper burden; a knowledge advantage, improving skills and awarding excellence in education and research; and finally, an infrastructure advantage, with the most robust investment in public infrastructure we have seen since the second world war.
As parliamentarians we are given the responsibility to shape public policy and public expenditures so that all Canadians have access to a better quality of life. “Advantage Canada” and its five pillars and our last three balanced budgets aim directly at achieving advantage for all Canadians.
For the benefit of those tuned in from my riding of and for all viewers this afternoon, I would like to take just a moment to highlight some of the key improvements in our budget 2008 that speak directly to Canadian advantage.
To help all Canadian families and seniors protect their savings and maximize their incomes, we have introduced the first major innovation in Canadian savings policy since the RRSP in 1957, and 1957 was a very good year. This is the new tax-free savings account. From age 18 on, Canadians can now put up to $5,000 per year into a savings account and the earnings will grow in that account tax free. If the whole $5,000 cannot be used in one year, the unused portion can carry forward for future use.
For the heart of the manufacturing economy in , especially in Penetanguishene, Orillia and Midland, we have extended the accelerated depreciation allowance for another three years on a declining scale so that new capital equipment can be written off more quickly to save taxes and to invest more.
We know that the future health of our manufacturers requires new investment in the kinds of machines and tools we will need to compete with the very best in the world. Our government is helping to do that. It does not hurt that those purchases can now be made with a more valuable Canadian dollar.
This is on top of a new $250 million automotive innovation fund that will help our automotive sector invest in the kind of green, fuel efficient products that are certain to the lead the market in this new economy and develop the kind of tooling and systems needed to keep Ontario the very best place in the world, as we know, to assemble automobiles.
To expand our knowledge advantage, we are helping 245,000 college and undergraduate students a year with a bigger and better Canada student loan program, with $350 million by 2009-10, rising to $430 million in 2012-13.
For the many seniors in Simcoe North and across Canada, in addition to the tax savings we have brought in from bigger tax credits, smaller tax rates and pension splitting, budget 2008 gives those seniors who have some extra earnings the ability to declare up to $3,500 per year of earned income before which their GIS would be affected. It used to be that anything over $500 was clawed back from the GIS, but not any more.
On the infrastructure front, the gas tax transfers that flow to our municipalities and will reach a record level in the next fiscal year will now be permanent, dependable and predictable transfers directly from the Government of Canada to help with municipal infrastructure improvements. We had extended that gas tax funding in budget 2006 to 2014, but now it will not stop. This measure will add an additional $4.5 million per year for the eight municipalities in Simcoe North.
For law enforcement and police services, and indeed to keep our communities safer, budget 2008 commits $400 million for the hiring of 2,500 new police officers. The share for Ontario policing will be $156 million to help with Ontario police forces and services.
Finally, in five cities across Canada, there is some groundbreaking work under way by the Mental Health Commission in a program that will see some $110 million spent to develop best practices and a new model for dealing with Canadians facing homelessness that is occasioned by mental illness.
Those are some of the highlights of budget 2008 in which I know the people of Simcoe North will take an interest. It is a tremendous honour to serve the people of my riding. I am proud to serve them as part of a government that is taking strong, decisive action to bolster our economy even in the face of uncertain economic times.
I thank my colleagues for their attention, and I now invite them to ask me questions.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
This budget is about making choices. This is the third budget from the Conservative government that steers Canada in the wrong direction. This budget is a continuation of an agenda that is failing hard-working Canadians, seniors and children, students, first nations and the environment. But there is one segment of society that is looking at this budget and thanking the government and it is the big banks and big polluters.
If we look closely at this budget we see a lot of re-announcements. When we watched the deliver this budget speech it was like watching reruns of a very bad serial. In an effort to fool Canadians into thinking that the Conservatives are putting more money into programs and services, the government has listed money from previous budgets, but what the government did not list was all the money it gave to big banks and big polluters in its fall economic statement. I guess the Conservatives do not want Canadians to remember that.
Let me remind Canadians what those huge giveaways were and maybe talk a little about how the Conservative government is spending Canadians' tax dollars on their friends. Over $12 billion will be given away annually by 2011 in corporate tax cuts as announced last fall, amounting to approximately $60 billion by 2013, only five short years from now.
For every $1 in new spending, $6 will go to corporate tax giveaways. No wonder the government did not list those figures. It does not want Canadians to know how much of their money is going into corporate pockets.
Another thing the government did not mention is that ordinary taxpayers are now paying the bulk of the taxes, almost three times more than corporate tax, and yet individuals are not getting their fair share of the returns. Most people understand that taxes are the price we pay to take care of one another. We want our taxes to pay for schools, hospitals, infrastructure, child care and a host of other services that help us through our daily lives.
The Conservatives, supported by the Liberals, have spent our tax dollars. They have blown the federal surplus. Now they tell us that we have to be prudent.
The headlines today are predicting a grim economic outlook. We had a surplus that could have been used to support programs that would help ordinary Canadians weather this storm. We in the NDP have been calling on the government to invest in our communities, in the services that ordinary hard-working Canadians need and depend on to help make ends meet, especially for those tough economic times to come.
The Conservative government chose not to invest in those things. The Conservatives made a choice in this budget and their choice was clear. They chose to favour big banks and polluters instead of hard-working Canadians.
In my riding of I have been calling for some assistance for the forestry industry. Earlier this year the government announced a billion dollars for struggling resource communities to help with economic development and retraining, but with the magnitude of the crisis in the forestry sector alone, a billion dollars Canada-wide and for all sectors will not go very far.
The Elk Falls sawmill in Campbell River is on the brink of closing. It is just one of the 112 mills closed in this country that has put over 30,000 people out of their jobs in resource dependent communities. The workers of that mill want to know how much of that billion dollars will come to them.
The forestry industry is at a crossroads and is looking to the government for assistance. The money in this budget for advertising a sustainable and innovative sector will not be worth much if there is no innovative and sustainable sector to advertise.
Canada is in a good position to be a world leader in forest products, and our forest resources can be an environmental and economic asset for generations to come. The government has a role to play and it must recognize it before we lose any more opportunities to another country.
There were also several glaring omissions from this budget. I looked for new money for fish habitat restoration, management and enforcement and fish stock enhancement, but there was no new money. This is another industry in B.C. that is in crisis.
There was no mention of anything to assist commercial and recreational fishermen. Wild salmon stocks are perilously low. If any species is classified under the Species at Risk Act, it can have a devastating impact on the economy of British Columbia.
We know that fish habitat is being negatively impacted by industrial development and global warming, but we do not know all the factors that are impacting our wild salmon when they go to sea, and it is even more important to increase research spending so that we can find out.
Local volunteer groups like the Puntledge River and Tsolum River restoration societies are working hard to rebuild salmon populations in those two rivers, but they are getting fed up with the lack of support from the government.
First nations in Vancouver Island North depend on wild salmon for their food, and for social and ceremonial purposes. The federal government has a legal obligation to first nations when it comes to fish. For them, for commercial fishermen, for sport fishermen, for environmental groups, for tourism in Vancouver Island North, sadly, the government did not choose to invest increased funding for measures that would help rebuild the west coast fishery. Are we to see our fishery go the way of the east coast fishery? I hope not.
The Conservative government chose once again not to help Canadians across this country with an affordable housing program. Sadly, there are too many people living in substandard and unsafe housing. Some of it cannot even be called housing. In Courtenay there are over 200 people who do not have a home. They live at the local campsite or in their cars, if they have one, or maybe they are couch surfing, and yes, some of them live on the streets. I have been visiting our local service providers in Courtenay and Campbell River lately and when I ask what the number one issue for local people accessing their services is, they tell me it is poverty and homelessness.
The NDP called on the government to invest in affordable and social housing and a strategy to reduce homelessness. Instead, the government has chosen to do five pilot projects related to homelessness and mental illness. While that in and of itself is a start, it does not go nearly far enough to address the staggering crisis of homelessness in this country for people with mental illness or not.
The Conservatives' record on the environment is also dismal. Their biggest new spending was for nuclear development. I guess they have to invest in nuclear if that is their idea of clean energy and a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of implementing a cap and trade system that would make the big polluters pay and then use that money to invest in alternative energy sources like wind and solar power, the government chose to study it. At a time when the environment is the single most important issue for everyone in Canada, the government is doing nothing.
Ordinary Canadians want their country to lead the way. They are way ahead of the government in the little things like recycling and using more environmentally friendly products, changing their habits and their lives, but for the bigger ticket items like heat pumps, solar panels or hybrid vehicles, the government needs to step up to the plate. The eco-energy program is woefully inadequate and does little to help working families change their windows or heating systems. Instead of building on the eco-auto program, the government scrapped it. Our grandchildren deserve better.
As I said earlier, a budget is about making choices. It is obvious where the Conservative heart is and it is obvious who those members favour. In all the choices that they have made in this budget, in their previous economic statement, and in budgets 2006 and 2007, they have chosen to help the people who need it the least.
At a time of enormous federal surplus, when we could have afforded to take care of the most vulnerable, the most disadvantaged, and ordinary hard-working Canadians who need a little help, seniors, students, children, struggling industries and the environment, the Conservative government has chosen to look the other way.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for all the respect you are giving me as the member for Acadie—Bathurst and telling the others to listen and that if they do not want to listen, then they should go outside. I appreciate that.
I rise today on the discussion about the budget, which we will vote on tonight. The NDP will be voting against this budget and we have many reasons for voting against it.
The Conservative government said that it would be very careful in this budget because a recession would probably be coming, industry was not doing that well and that we are going in the direction of what is happening in the United States. When we look at those statements we see that what the government forgot to say is that it looked after its friends last year by giving $14 billion to big business and a break in taxes and that now it was nice just to be safe.
We should take a look at this budget. The Conservative government said very clearly that it needed to present a very cautious, prudent budget. At the same time, it had a certain vision going back to last year: if it wanted to table a prudent budget in the spring, it was best to take care of its good friends, the big oil companies and banks, and be sure to give them their share of the cake with lots of icing on top before the budget.
So in the mini-budget last fall, the Conservative government gave $14 billion worth of tax cuts to big business. In its current budget, it fails to deal with a number of problems, including veterans’ spouses. The Conservative government always tells us we should support the troops on their mission in Afghanistan or elsewhere, but we should support them as well when they come back to Canada.
For example, there is a very regrettable situation insofar as our veterans are concerned. The Liberal government of the time recognized that veterans’ spouses should qualify for the VIP or Veterans Independence Program. However, it applies only to the spouses of veterans who died after 1981. The spouses of veterans who died before 1981 do not qualify.
Unlike some fellow citizens living in the same city, therefore, certain veterans’ spouses are not eligible for the VIP, which provides such services snow removal and grass cutting or covers costs related to doctor’s visits. Some husbands went to war in 1939-45, but because they died before 1981, their widows are not eligible for the program. This budget does nothing at all for these families or people.
There is absolutely nothing in the budget as well to help older people with their medications. These people are our own aging parents. There is nothing at all in the budget to provide them with an affordable drug program. There is also absolutely nothing to help people find affordable housing.
Nor is anything being done to invest more in the training of doctors so that we can have more of them. Canada’s health care system has become so sick now that they are trying to privatize it. This is the biggest mistake that our country is making. The Americans would be happy to have a health care system like ours, but the Conservatives are selling it out to move toward U.S.-style health care. That is totally unacceptable.
The government boasts about helping ordinary people in its budget: working people, middle class people, the poor. It is very important, though, to read what is on page 201 of the budget that the government presented on February 26, 2008 in the “Income tax” subsection of the “Tax revenues” section. The government boasts about significant tax cuts for individuals and working people in its budgets, but we should not forget that back in October, the official opposition helped pass $14 billion worth of tax cuts for big business. The banks, oil companies and other profitable companies are certainly very happy about that.
However, when I look at page 201 of the budget, I find it hard to understand how the ordinary person is going to come out ahead. It clearly states that personal income tax will net the government $112,515 billion in 2007-08.
That $112,515 billion is the projection for 2007-08. For 2009-10, the projection is $125,475 billion, a 12% increase for ordinary people who are in the labour market. We are not talking about Conrad Black. We are talking about ordinary people who get up and take their lunch box and go to work. The person who goes out on the land to work, the woman who gets up to go to work in a fish plant or in the tourism industry.
There will be a 12% increase from 2007-08 to 2009-10. I will repeat the figures because it is important to repeat them. The government will take in $112,515 billion in 2007-08 and a projected $125,475 billion in 2009-10.
When it comes to companies, it is taking in $42,405 billion, and in 2009-10 the government will take in $36,570 billion. That is a 14% decrease for big companies and a 12% increase for ordinary people. That is on page 201 of the federal government’s budget.
In another place, the government turned around because it was forced to in the House of Commons. I think it was somewhat embarrassed. A tax cut of $