Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to lead off this second reading debate and speak on behalf of our Conservative government on Bill .
Bill reflects the responsible leadership provided by our Conservative government at home and abroad, leadership that gives Canadians good reason to be confident about the future, despite the economic uncertainty beyond our borders. In fact, we have the strongest fiscal position of any G-7 country.
That position has allowed the government to take important action in support of our long term economic plan entitled, Advantage Canada, a plan that was introduced in 2006 that benefits Canadians today and for the years ahead.
For example, the fall 2007 economic statement took important steps to jump-start the plan by providing broad based tax relief for individuals and business, vitally important measures totalling $60 billion, prudent measures taken at the request of the and our in anticipation of impending global economic turbulence.
It is important to recognize the actions taken in the economic statement that have been recognized by a wide range of observers as extremely important in the maintenance of Canada's solid economic fundamentals. Observers, like BMO's economist, Doug Porter, who said:
It was brilliantly timed. Just as the economy was running into serious heavy weather we had some serious fiscal stimulus.
The Conference Board of Canada noted that:
The Canadian economy will weather the storm of uncertainty....
...recent changes, such as tax reductions announced by the federal government...will maintain the momentum.
A recent Calgary Herald editorial praised the Conservative government for using the economic statement and stated:
...to strengthen consumer demand, notably the one per cent GST reduction....
...for once a government seems to have been ahead of the curve.
Additionally, we took further action through the $1 billion community development trust, a program that assists workers and communities experiencing difficulty due to international economic volatility.
Budget 2008 directly builds on that important action. It confirms our commitment to strong fiscal management by reducing the federal debt by $10.2 billion in 2007-08. It reduces taxes to the lowest level measured as a share of the economy since the Diefenbaker government. It invests in the future of Canada.
Budget 2008 will support Canada's economy with a plan that is real and one that is committed to responsible spending. Unlike the reckless Liberal opposition that would plunge Canada into a massive $70 billion deficit, our Conservative government is committed to a balanced budget.
We have also made a commitment to Canadians to reduce taxes and we are proud to say that we are keeping that commitment. We are reducing taxes for all Canadians and we are proud of that.
To date, our Conservative government has taken actions that will provide nearly $200 billion in broad based tax relief and $140 billion of that relief will benefit individuals directly. These are permanent reductions that hard-working Canadians will see each and every time they file their income taxes. Taxes will continue to decline thanks to our government's tax-back guarantee. This represents our commitment to dedicate the effective interest savings from federal debt reduction each year to permanent and sustainable personal income tax reductions.
Moreover, I am privileged to be part of a Conservative government that introduced one of the single most important personal savings vehicles ever introduced, one which the C.D. Howe Institute described as a “tax policy gem”: the tax-free savings account. This groundbreaking, flexible and general purpose account will allow Canadians to watch their savings grow tax free. It is an historical first for Canadians and here is how it works.
First, Canadians can contribute up to $5,000 every year to a registered tax-free savings account, plus carry forward any unused portions to future years.
Second, the investment income, including capital gains earned in the plan, will be exempt from income tax, even when withdrawn.
Third, Canadians can withdraw from the account at any time without restriction. Better yet, there are no restrictions on what they can save for.
Finally, the full amount of withdrawals may be recontributed to their tax-free savings account in the future to ensure no loss in a person's total savings room.
The new tax-free savings account will help Canadians save for whatever is important to them. I would encourage Canadians to visit www.fin.gc.ca to find out more about this innovative new program. There is an on-line calculator that will help them deal with this. This will demonstrate just how Canadians can save by investing in this tax-free savings account.
Let me share with my colleagues that the savings can be substantial. For example, assuming a modest 5.5% rate of return, a person contributing $200 a month to one of these new accounts for 20 years could enjoy a tax savings of $11,045 compared to saving in an unregistered account.
Of course, not everyone is able to save each and every year. Those who cannot contribute $5,000 in a given year will be able to carry forward their unused contribution room to future years.
Saving can be difficult, especially for some low and modest income earners, which is why an important component of this proposed legislation is that there will be no clawbacks. This means that neither the income nor the capital gains earned in a tax-free savings account, nor the withdrawals from it, will affect eligibility for federal income tested benefits. As a result, the tax-free savings account will be of tremendous benefit to all Canadians.
The praise for this initiative has been almost universal. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said:
This is an excellent policy proposal. Canada needs to reward people that save because their investments fuel economic growth and job creation.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business added that “it was an inspired measure”.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce heralded the measure, saying it will “encourage savings, a measure which the Chamber has sought for many years” .
Bill has an important measure to benefit Canada's seniors, measures that build on earlier actions we have taken. Many seniors in Canada are living on a fixed income. This can sometimes make it difficult to make ends meet.
To help those Canadians, our Conservative government has taken action that provides about $5 billion in tax relief each year for seniors and pensioners, including doubling of the pension income amount of $2,000 and increasing the age credit amount by $1,000.
We have also increased the age limit for maturing RPPs and RRSPs and, for the first time ever in Canada, introduced pension income splitting for seniors and pensioners.
We are continuing on that path to supporting seniors in Bill by increasing the guaranteed income supplement exemption to $3,500 from the current maximum of $500. This means that seniors can earn up to $3,500 before having any GIC benefits reduced. This measure will benefit low and modest income seniors who chose to continue working.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons commends our Conservative government for “listening to many of its recommendations over the years and taking steps in the right direction”.
The Conservative government is also committed to making Canada an even greater place to create and expand a business.
Last fall we set out a long term plan to reduce the federal corporate income tax rate to 15% by 2012. This 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 in the G-7 by 2012.
As the Canadian Council of Chief Executives declared, and I quote again, “The federal government clearly has done everything it can to reduce tax rates within the boundaries of prudent fiscal management”.
We are also taking targeted action to assist Canada's manufacturers as they face challenging economic circumstances. For instance, in budget 2007 we brought in a temporary accelerated capital cost allowance. This measure is helping Canadian manufacturers make the investments needed to build modern facilities here at home to take on the world.
Budget 2008 proposes to extend temporary accelerated capital cost allowance treatment for three additional years. This extension will provide the manufacturing and processing sector with an additional $1 billion in tax relief by 2012-13.
Bill contains proposed measures that will provide additional benefits to businesses in Canada. For example, small businesses can face challenges in accessing capital to finance research and development investments.
That is why an enhanced scientific research and experimental development, or SR&ED, with the investment tax credit of 35% will be available to small Canadian controlled private corporations on their first $2 million of qualified expenditures.
During the prebudget consultations many stakeholders noted that access to the enhanced SR&ED investment tax credit is phased out quickly once the taxable capital threshold of $10 million is reached. They suggested that medium-sized businesses should have access to some enhanced benefit. In addition, many suggested that the expenditure limit has not kept pace with technological innovations that have made startup research and development investment more costly.
In response to these concerns, Bill proposes to increase the expenditure limit from $2 million to $3 million and to increase the upper limit for the taxable capital phase-out range from $15 million to $50 million. The upper limit of the taxable income phase-out range will also be increased from $600,000 to $700,000. Increasing these limits will encourage small and medium-sized Canadian controlled private corporations to grow.
Canadians spoke and this government listened.
Budget 2008 includes new measures to strengthen and ensure the effective implementation of our government's plan to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment for all Canadians.
To that end, Bill proposes to commit $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects. This will allow for harmful emissions to be stored underground rather than released into the atmosphere.
Public transit is one of the keys to achieving a cleaner and healthier environment. That is why our government, under the leadership of this excellent who is here with us today, has made significant investments in public transit infrastructure.
Bill goes even further by proposing an additional $500 million to make further investments in public transit capital infrastructure. These are measures to encourage Canadians to leave their cars at home and assist Canada's municipalities.
The Canadian Urban Transit Association called this support, “a major boost to future access and mobility in Canadian communities”. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities called it, “good news for cities and communities”.
Canadians want a clean environment in which to live. They also want healthy and safe communities. To help ensure that safety, Bill proposes to build safer communities and put criminals out of business.
Speaking of putting some out of business, I want to take a moment to mention how damaging yesterday's NDP motion would have been had it passed. It would have put legitimate Canadians out of business. We do thank the Liberals for supporting and recognizing that it would have put Canadians out of work, and we do appreciate that support.
Most of all we do appreciate the fact that the Liberals did come and vote last night, but most of all, to support us. I look forward to seeing them in their place when it comes time to vote in favour of Bill as well.
The bill proposes to provide $400 million to hire 2,500 new front line police officers over the next five years. Support recognized an important step in helping “address the much needed resources for tackling crime”. That was said by the Canadian Police Association, who added that they were also very happy with the commitment that was in budget 2008.
Mr. Speaker, as you are no doubt starting to notice, this is a very comprehensive bill. Time does not permit me to describe all of the details of the measures in Bill , but I would be remiss if I did not mention certain initiatives in it that would help Canada prepare for the future, our youth.
First, in recognition of the importance of education in our future, the bill proposes a new consolidated Canada student grant program to take effect in the fall of 2009. All federal grants will be integrated into one program, a program which will provide more effective support to more students for more years of study. In doing so, this will assist Canadian families who struggle with the cost of higher education.
Bill proposes an investment of $350 million in 2009-10, rising to $430 million in 2012-13. Additionally, Canadian students and their families also need simple, effective, financial assistance programs. That is why budget 2008 commits $123 million to streamline and modernize the Canada student loans program.
Measures will be put in place to improve service for students in a number of ways, such as: a new service delivery vision that will expand online services; more equitable supports for part time and married students; a new in-study, interest free period for reservists; and an enhanced flexibility for those students experiencing difficulty in debt repayment as well as including those with disabilities.
Canada's students responded enthusiastically to budget 2008. Groups like the College Student Alliance said, “It showed that the federal government is keeping an eye to the future and our future leaders of tomorrow”, or the Canadian Federation of Students who thanked the government for responding to “a longstanding call by students and their families”, probably a call that has been out there for 13 long years.
In order to ensure a strong and secure future for Canada, our immigration policies need to be closely aligned with our labour market needs. That is why our government is also making important new innovations in immigration, including changing the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In doing so, we will improve and speed up the application process.
Summing up, this Conservative government has taken care to strengthen Canada's economic fundamentals. The bill is prudent, focused and responsible in order to ensure Canada is well positioned to weather the uncertainty of today's global economy.
The Liberal Party of Canada's continued support for our Conservative government is a clear indication that we are getting the job done. We are on the right track for all Canadians, and on behalf of the government, I thank our Liberal friends for their consistent support of our initiatives, redefining the official opposition, and we congratulate them for that.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to say a few words on Bill , and I will frame my remarks in three sections.
First, I have a few comments to make on part of my hon. colleague's speech across, which he covered off in one sentence at the end of his presentation. Obviously the government is somewhat embarrassed about how it has tried to bring in crowbar changes to the immigration act.
Second, I asked a number of Canadians if they would like to participate with me in this talk this morning. I have a few comments from people across the country, which I am very happy to read into the record.
Third, I have a few comments as well on the financial implications of the budget and Bill and where the government and the sad excuse for a seems to be taking us today.
I stand in the House to speak on behalf of all Canadians on the issue of immigration. Canada is a great nation. We have a reputation around the world for openness and compassion. People want to live here, and I do not blame them. I have a constituency that is literally teeming with new Canadians. They are so welcome in our community all the time.
The Conservative government wants to change the attitude that Canadians have had toward immigration for a long period of time. I do not think the government really wants people to come here, at least in the quantities they have been. I believe Conservatives want to roll the clock back to a sad time of what I would call Reform Party isolationism. They want to change our immigration policy, not make it more efficient, and that is clear, not fund it properly and reform it to make it less effective.
I think the Conservatives want to limit the number of immigrants who are accepted into our country and slam the door on the rest. Shame on them. It is slamming the door on families that wish to be reunited. It is shutting the door on people seeking a better life for themselves and for their children. It is shutting the door on people who love our country and legitimately want to be part of it. Canada is a beacon that is held up to people around the world.
Canada has a proud history of immigration. Our country was built on it. Perhaps we all saw the report on television last night that more than 5 million Canadians are now visible minorities. That has doubled the number in the last decade or so.
Conservatives now want to wipe out this proud tradition. Not only that, they are trying to force the bill through, placing these measures in a budget bill. That makes it a matter of confidence. It is a bunch of bullies across the way saying that they want us to make their day once again, that they are going to roll everything into a bill and make the opposition members roll the dice. To the Conservatives, it is all or nothing. We cannot debate this or have a proper discussion on it.
That is typical, it is sad and its shameful. These immigration reforms should be removed from Bill , taken out, stripped away, brought into the light of day where we can examine them, as we are supposed to in this place, go through the proper channels so they can get the appropriate amount of due diligence needed to ensure that the interests of all Canadians current and those who look to come here and be Canadians will be met.
We on this side of the House have made it clear. There is nothing in the budget which is even worth defeating. Right now we do not think this is the issue on which Canadians really want to be pushed into an election. There are many, but the budget is not it. It is so tepid, so worthless and so inconsequential that it is not worth it.
However, the immigration issue is something of more substance. It was brought in at the last minute, and that concerns us a lot. Should these reforms remain in the bill, it really is incumbent upon Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Finance to review the measures within the budget implementation bill, hear from Canadians, have hearings, call witnesses and understand it in more detail and explain to Canadians why this is bad legislation.
The Liberal Party has always promoted a progressive immigration policy. We see Canada as a country that welcomes immigrants of all backgrounds and abilities. It is a cornerstone of our party's policy and I believe it represents the feelings of most Canadians. As such, any review of this will have to be looked at in detail and in perspective. We need to ensure that any change to immigration reflects our collective Canadian values and not just those of the governing Conservative Party.
One of the reforms would put unprecedented power into the hands of a single minister, the . She would be able to pick and choose immigrants she would deem worthy of being accepted, according to the current beliefs of the Conservative Party. The minister would be given the right to establish categories of applicants and then use these categories or other means to play with the order in which applications would be processed. Does that not strike members as being dangerous? It certainly strikes me and my colleagues that way.
I see my hon. colleague across the way agrees. This is a dangerous precedent. We no longer give people the protection of our laws of Canada. This effectively gives the minister free reign to decide which applications will get processed and even which ones can be returned without even having been processed. Of particular concern to Canadians should be the ability of these reforms to adversely affect categories such as family class and permanent resident status that are made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
I said a minute ago, I have a riding that teems with new Canadians. Many constituents in my riding and ridings across the country have families abroad, families that hope one day they will be united with their loved ones. However, the Conservatives do not think reuniting families is good for Canada. They believe these classes do not contribute to our economic growth. If we listen to the pronouncements of the Conservative Party, it is clear it plans to focus resources on the economic class of immigration to the expense of other classes and at the expense of families and those that need our help and our compassion.
This should be of great concern to us in the House and to all Canadians. I, for one, do not trust the Conservatives to use these new powers without a little of their ideological Reform Party ideals.
My colleague says it is the Reform Party isolationism and anti-immigration bias, which we all have seen and we know is there, Fifteen years ago I was a Progressive Conservative. In the 1993 I campaigned hard against exactly the kind of principles that sadly are now instilled in the new Conservative Reform Party.
These will effectively destroy the right of every applicant to be given a fair review and to be considered regardless of background, country, ethnicity, origin, skill-set. The amendments put no limit on these discretionary powers and make them consistent with existing federal-provincial immigration agreements. In fact, it might be a big problem in the province of Quebec, considering its unique jurisdictional authority over immigrant selection.
The Conservatives are saying that these measures with help with the backlog of applications. However, I noted the parliamentary secretary did not even try to justify anything about the inclusion of these changes in the budgetary bill. I think he is probably pretty ashamed at the fact they tried to shoehorn these things in at the last minute, hoping Canadians would not notice. However, they have, they will and they will speak out against them.
The reforms reduce any incentive the government has to do what it should do, which is to increase the immigration department's capacity to process the number of applications it receives each year. The Conservatives say that they are not trying to decrease the number of immigrants into Canada, but the record tells a different story. They throw around numbers in their press releases, media releases, scrums and in those horrible 10 percenters that they flood the country with, which are completely illegally and break every rule we have in this place, and they should be ashamed that. In those messages they say that they have increased the number of immigrants, but that is not the case.
Last year and the year before the Conservatives issued approximately 251,000 permanent resident visas. Of those issued in 2007, only 236,000 visa holders had arrived by year's end. In comparison, more than 262,000 permanent residents were actively admitted to Canada by the previous Liberal government in 2005.
Canada obviously needs more immigrants, not fewer. We are already facing critical labour shortages that will rise to an alarming rate unless we find new people to help us, people who will put their shoulders to the wheel to build this country. We have an aging population. We have a demographic time bomb in our midst. We need immigrants. We need people who want to be in Canada to build this place.
I said a moment ago that I think my hon. colleague opposite and his fellow Conservatives want this to go through without people noticing. It is not going to happen. I would like to read into the record a couple of comments from some of the people from across the country who overnight last night asked me to read some of their comments into the record. I said I would.
David Bakody from Nova Scotia said:
This is the prime example of “Do as we say not as we do”. It was just a week ago or so [the Minister of Finance] stood [and] stated to the media that the RESP [the passage of it by Parliament] was an American style tactic. (untrue) It was as have many before and will be “A Budget Amendment” fully open to debate. This Immigration Bill is a long time Reform idea hatched by [the Reform Party] and now about to be forced down the throats of Canadians that is truly a classic case of...Republican Style in your face plans to remove all rights that democracy has achieved in lives of brave soldiers and peoples in two world wars.... Even all those ungrateful Reformers now hidden in Conservative uniforms who sit and plot behind closed doors. Shame--
I asked him to make his remarks addressed to you, Mr. Speaker. He has great respect for your position. David from Nova Scotia said:
Shame Mr. Speaker, please ask each and every MP to look to the right, look to the left, look across the aisle and ask yourself what did mine and your family bring to Canada a couple of hundred or so years ago? Most will say hope? Hope for a better future for our children, and now that hope is about to be removed.
I asked another commenter, a fellow from Toronto, what I should say when I stand to speak to the bill in the House of Commons. He suggested:
I would [use] this quote from an April 2, 2008...article with respect to its latest polls that demonstrates a waning momentum for the Conservatives and by contrast, a building for the Liberals, as more and more citizens are awakening to the deceptive methodology that seems [to] underlie every single movement taken by this [Conservative] government, with questionable “ends-justifies-the-means” ethics employed right back to the birth of that party.
I would draw a parallel to the unprecedented powers that Republicans gave their President to overrule Congress and [the] long history of habeas corpus in the accumulated foundation of the Common Law, and how this new Conservative law too would short-circuit existing checks and balances [that we have in our government]. Then identify where such subversion of the checks and balances has been a general theme of this government through such things as dismantling of [the] Court Challenges Program, this being a further progression of that theme.
He recommended that I should conclude this speech by saying:
...that when the momentum has built for the Liberals to return to leading government, contrary to the Conservative government where words and action with respect to accountability and ethics do not jive--word will be [the] bond--they will rescind the subversive travesty against honest and proper procedure. Along with the rescinding of tactics will be a rescinding of the unprecedented ministerial power that is so open to abuse.
K. Murphy of Alberta said:
I recall a comment made by Stephen Harper sometime prior to the 2006--
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill , the budget implementation act. Naturally, the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill because it voted against the budget. Since then, the government has given us no reason to believe that it is even aware of the significant economic downturn or that it should be using the tools that would enable our economy to cope with these new realities.
Last fall, the Bloc Québécois held consultations throughout Quebec. A number of important facts emerged, and at the time, we told the Conservative government that it should change its stance on economic intervention. The Conservative government makes its decisions based on the premise that the market will sort everything out and decide how things should work. If plants close and economic disaster hits communities, the communities and the companies will just have to cope and regroup. According to that philosophy, we, the state, do not have a role to play.
This approach was inherited from the American right, which has been trying to impose its point of view for the past 25, 30 or 40 years. The American right has been pretty successful in the United States, and is trying to achieve success in Canada through a minority government, but Quebeckers and Canadians will not fall for it. Right now, if there is one thing they do not want, it is a majority Conservative government, because we have seen just what it can do as a minority government. Imagine what it might do if it had a majority. That much is clear.
The analogy I used earlier with respect to the is apt. The Conservative government is behaving just like the captain of the Titanic. Worse yet, the wants to go sailing in waters where he was not elected. Let me go back to the Titanic analogy. The Titanic was supposed to be an extraordinary ship, just like Canada's economy. It was supposed to be able to sail through any storm. Unfortunately, its builders were a bit too arrogant, a bit too proud, and we know what happens to people like that.
I am afraid that if the Government of Canada does not make some adjustments, Canada will suffer the same fate as the Titanic. This morning, the U.S. federal reserve confirmed that the United States is in a recession. The International Monetary Fund has forecast growth of approximately 0.5% in the United States over the next three years. This is very bad news for the Canadian economy and especially for the economies of Quebec and Ontario. When the Americans have less purchasing power, as they do currently, consumer spending goes down. Companies in my riding are having difficulty selling their products in the United States, and this is true throughout Quebec and across Canada.
The Conservative government has taken the stand that it cannot intervene. That is the rule of market forces, which is a little like the divine rule. But we know that there have been other serious economic crises in the past. We know—and people are starting to say—that during the great depression in the 1930s, when the Republicans in the U.S. were saying that the government should not intervene, it took the Democrats under Mr. Roosevelt to do something and make a difference.
What we are saying is that when the economy slows down, the government must invest to boost the economy. The Conservative government does not want to take that route. It is stubbornly insisting on keeping its rose-coloured glasses on, even though since last fall, and even since last year, there have been very clear signs—such as the increase in the value of the dollar and the bank paper crisis in the United States and its impact on consumers—that the government needs to be much more aggressive.
Here is the worst example of the Conservatives' inaction: they used the $10 billion surplus as of March 31 to pay down the debt, even though Canada has the best debt to GDP ratio. Canada is already in good shape on this front. The government did not use this money to help the manufacturing, forestry and tourism industries acquire the tools they need to offer competitive products.
I am not talking about subsidies. Businesspeople in my riding are in serious trouble, but they are not asking for subsidies. Workers are not asking for subsidies for the companies where they work. They are asking the government to put in place a fiscal framework so that these companies can be productive and competitive.
For example, let us talk about the money from the latest cut to the GST. Instead of lowering the tax, the government could have kept that margin to award refundable tax credits to businesses that are not generating much profit, as is unfortunately the case for businesses in the manufacturing and forestry industries in various regions throughout Quebec. The same thing is going on in Ontario and the rest of Canada.
The government should have implemented a suitable support and assistance program for businesses. It should have reinvested in the Technology Partnerships Canada program, which made it possible to develop new products with the help of new technologies. This is the type of attitude the government needed to move forward. But we have not seen it in the budget or in this bill. The government still seems to be headed in the same direction.
The government thinks it is improving the overall economy by systematically cutting taxes for large corporations, which means that oil companies pay lower taxes. But now there is a domino effect: the bank credit crisis has spilled over into the consumer sector, and the last sector affected will be natural resources.
The parts of Canada that think they are immune to this slowdown are mistaken, because American consumption will decrease in all sectors, and there will be consequences. This is not a preordained situation where we cannot do anything. The government can get involved, but it is not. That is why we would have expected the government to take constructive measures and implement an action plan for our communities, for our citizens and for the workers in our regions.
But the opposite is happening. For example, in terms of regional development, this bill would decrease the budget of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec—talk about unbelievable—by $107 million for the current fiscal year, a year when we will more likely need even more money to help businesses.
The minister now feels obliged to justify his actions. He says the government no longer really has the means to fund businesses that were receiving financial support to back the overall economy of a region and that their funding should be withdrawn in order to be able to allocate enough assistance to businesses. What we needed, however, was both. We have the means to help businesses and to develop new products. Any business that has the tools to do research and development will use that to create new products, thereby becoming more competitive and selling products elsewhere. It is not about accepting subsidies to offset lost productivity. It is about ensuring the competitiveness of those businesses.
Furthermore, we would have expected this government to eagerly seize such an opportunity for sustainable development. In the current economic climate, the most important tool would be to make the most of the opportunities provided by the creation of new products for sustainable development.
Consider the carbon exchange, for example. In my riding, a company had developed a product and was waiting for the carbon exchange to be implemented, since revenues from the sale of credits on the carbon exchange would have been assured its profitability. However, because of the government's delay and its decision to not establish absolute targets, the carbon exchange is not yet up and running and this is delaying the development of these products, which would be beneficial not only for the environment, but also for economic development, new product development and, therefore, sustainable development.
One could say that the government has neglected its responsibility to create prosperity, as though creating prosperity were the responsibility of the private sector alone. Its method for distributing prosperity is even borrowed from that of the private sector. Indeed, they are trying their best to avoid distributing wealth. Thus, the government is still following the American right-wing model. A perfect example of this is the creation of an employment insurance board.
The Bloc Québécois and I, as the human resources critic, have been waging a battle over this issue for several years. I have seen the contribution made by seasonal workers go towards deficit reduction without them ever obtaining a return on their investment.
This year, the Conservatives decided to follow through on the idea of establishing an independent employment insurance board and that is a good thing. However, it is unacceptable that, having paid $54 billion towards the deficit, the workers and employers will not get any return on their investment.
The screws have been tightened. Workers need more hours of employment to qualify for employment insurance and, in the end, they receive fewer weeks of benefits. This system was place for 10 years. Once the government's economic and financial situation stabilized, all the efforts made were forgotten. It was as though it had never existed.
However, major corporations have had their taxes cut. That is also the case for the middle class, but it is fair that there should be a return on investment on that side.
What is unfair is that those who pay into the employment insurance program and need this program do not have access to it. In our regions, not all workers have employment year round; some are seasonal workers.
Over the years, a special system has been set up for seasonal workers through pilot projects, but without amending the legislation. There has been some improvement. We would have liked the government to show some common sense and give this new independent fund a portion of the surplus it used to finance the deficit reduction and current government operations. However, that is not the case.
With regard to the manufacturing and forestry sectors, the message was sent to the House this week. A motion by a Bloc member, the whip, in fact, was adopted by this House. According to this motion, the government should have a forestry strategy. It does not have one and the consequences have been devastating.
In my riding, there are some companies that are very solid financially and very solid insofar as the quality of their forestry management is concerned. Nowadays, though, the heads of these companies are coming to see us and saying that they have reached the end of their rope and will have to shut down for three months. In one of the companies, an approach has been developed for which employees should be congratulated: wages are tied to the price of wood. This helps save jobs. Employees have been paid less for a while, but they hope to weather the crisis in fairly good shape.
These employees and employers would have liked to see a program to help older workers. When someone has put everything he has into finding a job or loses his job in a sawmill at 56 years of age, he cannot become a computer technician overnight, even though he has been one of the best at grading lumber for 30 years.
We try to find him another job, but it is not easy. From the standpoint of employers, hiring an older worker means that their health benefit and occupational safety costs might increase. In their eyes, an older worker is riskier and they are reluctant to hire him. So when the older worker’s employment insurance runs out, he is left with nothing. He worked full time for a company for 25 or 30 years and never drew employment insurance, but once his 45 weeks are up, the next stop is social assistance.
This is a social measure but it could also be seen as an economic plan in connection with a very necessary industrial strategy. It is always good to have a program that gives people some income support until they qualify for their old age pensions. At the same time, this plan would make it possible to keep younger workers in the forestry sector. Forestry will not be in decline for the rest of time. There will be an economic recovery and an upswing in construction. We are going to need workers, but the youngest will have been lost because they are most affected by layoffs. They will find work elsewhere, and when the recovery comes, they will no longer be available.
We would have expected the government to drop the kind of approach it took in the budget and adjust instead to what people were telling it. It is the first time in my 15 years as a member that I have seen such a thing. During the week following the tabling of the budget, the Standing Committee on Finance agreed, with the support of some Conservative members, to reconsider the entire section on manufacturing and forestry. It adopted a motion telling the to get back to work because the government had not done enough for this sector. But the government is still refusing to bend.
The is hiding behind general tax reductions for the people who make lots of money; but he has used just one part of the strategy that is available to him. It is as though he had a pair of crutches and only used one. He had the means to implement a much broader initiative. It is good to reduce taxes by a few points, but we must also have targeted approaches to support research and development, to provide assistance through tax credits that lead to the development of new products, and to provide help to older workers. There is none of that in this budget and there is nothing in the program now before us. It is no longer a matter of productivity, but a matter of fairness.
In Quebec and in Canada, for about 15 years, the guaranteed income supplement has been paid to a few of the older people who were entitled to receive it. A person had to apply in order to receive it. There was no automatic enrolment, and each year it was necessary to apply again. This scandal came to light about seven or eight years ago. At the time, a Bloc member, Marcel Gagnon, worked very hard to find those people, to enable them to apply for the guaranteed income supplement. We found thousands of them. We also recognized that there was a terrible unfairness in the law.
Let us look at the example of a 78-year-old woman whose husband has died. Her children review her financial situation with her. They suddenly realize that she has not been receiving the guaranteed income supplement. They submit an application and learn that she can only claim up to 11 months in arrears. Even though this woman was entitled to receive it from the age of 65, she cannot claim any more than 11 months.
Compare that with the behaviour of the government when someone owes income tax. In that case, it can go back as far as it wants. It can claim as many years as it wants. However, the older person cannot claim more than 11 months in arrears. No member in this House can contradict that. Older people have been entitled to amounts going back two, three, five or seven years, and the government had the means of paying such claims with no difficulty. In any case, about 95% of that money is quickly returned to the economy. People do not get rich on old age security or the guaranteed income supplement. They only provide a minimum to make ends meet every month.
I am particularly sensitive to this because in my region, in eastern Quebec, 52% of seniors living in the regional county municipality with the highest income are receiving the guaranteed income supplement. That means that for every two seniors you meet, at least one of them is receiving the supplement. In the poorest regional county municipality, we are talking about 79%, three people out of four, and in many of the villages the rate is 100%, four people out of four. For a long time, our seniors worked for employers that did not provide pension plans. Today, in a society that calls itself one of the richest in the world, we are unable to provide these people with a minimum income that would let them live out their days with dignity.
This is blatantly unfair. When we measure the effectiveness of a society like ours, we have to take these things into account. Creating wealth is all very well, but we have to see how we are creating it and how we are distributing it. These two main points are how a government can be measured when it comes to finances.
In the present situation, our government is withdrawing from the entire field of economic development, and saying that the private sector should look after that; it will not create the conditions that must be present in order to continue developing products; it will eliminate programs like Technology Partnerships Canada because there may have been a few excesses when it came to a few companies, minimal as that was; the regions are now going to have to fend for themselves. And for next year, it will be eliminating $107 million in investments in Quebec. This is the kind of thing the Conservatives are doing when it comes to creating wealth in Canada; they have decided they are not responsible for it anymore.
And then, when it comes to distributing the wealth, they always give as little as possible, and they do not recognize the contribution that people make to our society.
There is one thing in the budget that I consider to be terrible. That is the provision for a senior to be able to receive $3,500 in non-taxable income. Do you know what that means? It means we are encouraging people who are 68 or 70 or 72 years old to go knock on the door at Dunkin' Donuts or Wal-Mart or some other employer, to earn a few pennies. Do you not think that our seniors deserve a better fate than that, and that in our society we might have the resources to provide them with what they deserve?
It has been calculated that we would need to add about $100 a month to the guaranteed income supplement to give people an income that comes up to the minimum threshold for them to be able to get along, to meet their basic needs. They could have addressed part of that out of last year’s budget surplus, and included it in the budget for this year. It could have been done. They did not do it.
So we can see that there are many reasons to vote against this budget and the budget implementation bill. The Conservative budget is fundamentally at odds with the needs expressed by Quebeckers during prebudget consultations. We submitted these needs to the minister, and we are waiting for his cooperation.
If there had not been problems with the official opposition, we would be in an election now and the Conservative government would be severely judged for the choices it has made. I hope that the result could be more in line with what citizens want, especially those in Quebec. This government gives the impression that it is open to the province; but in practice, when it comes time to take concrete action, it pulls back and does nothing. We saw it again yesterday with the .
I hope that the government is taking note of this message, because if there is no change within a few months in terms of economic policy, the public will pass an even more severe judgment about the fiscal issue.
Mr. Speaker, some of our colleagues have said they would indeed like to hear from her, and rightfully so, because the budget implementation bill before us today contains very important provisions that would drastically change Canada's immigration system. And my colleague, the opposition critic for immigration, will have some very important things to say on this.
Let us look at the budget situation. The budget is a rather complex document that includes all kinds of explanations, tables and graphs, and the same is true of the budget implementation bill. But if people really want to understand at a glance, through just one example, exactly where the Conservatives are going with this budget, I invite them to look at table 5.4 in the budget, and this can be consulted on-line.
We are currently at the beginning of April, which corresponds to the beginning of what we here in the House call a fiscal year or financial year. The government's budget ends on March 31, so we just began a new year, in budget terms.
For the current fiscal year, 2008-09, as well as for 2009-10, that is, over a two year period, the Conservatives plan to reduce corporate contributions by 14%. In other words, corporate taxes will drop by 14%. That same table shows that, at the same time, during the same two year period, the Conservatives plan to increase personal taxes by 12%. Thus, there will be a 14% reduction for businesses and a 12% increase for each of my colleagues, myself and everyone at home listening to this debate.
This is part of the budget package that the public has the right to know about and understand. As my colleague just said, this is an ideological choice the Conservatives made. But what makes me sad is to see the so-called official opposition stand up to ask questions and make comments, creating the illusion for Quebeckers and Canadians that they are against the budget, when in fact they are not. They are supporting the budget because they are voting for it. They are supporting the Conservatives' budget choices.
That is what happens when you have no convictions and you do not believe in anything. The public can really see the Liberals for who they are, based on one of the things they said recently. They said that their own well-being as a political party was the only reason for their behaviour. They are not thinking about the economy, the segments of society that need help, the fate of social programs or the crisis in Canada's manufacturing and forestry industries. The only thing that matters to the Liberal Party of Canada is the Liberal Party of Canada.
We in the NDP at least have a vision we uphold. We are not afraid of facing voters in an election. We are convinced that by meeting people and explaining the choices we are making and the actions we are taking to create a more just society and eliminate inequalities, we will win more public support for the New Democratic Party. That is what is happening in Quebec, as people realize the benefits of our platform and what we stand for.
Although I do not agree with the Conservative government and I do not approve of its budget choices or its vision of society, at least the Conservative position exists and is clear. I can quote the Conservatives' proposal to reduce corporate taxes by 14% and increase personal income tax by 12%. The public can make up their own minds.
However, it cannot be said that the Liberal Party of Canada has a clear position, because the sad fact is that it does not believe in anything.
I was listening to a question earlier. It was interesting to note the Conservatives' attitude. As you know, Canada is a very big country and, since World War II, the second largest in terms of land mass. Many generations worked very hard to build a balanced economy and they succeeded. We had a primary sector based primarily on natural resources—mining and forestry. And we had a processing sector—the plants and factories—for the most part concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, but also found across Canada, as they should be in a modern economy and within such a vast country as ours.
Naturally, in the past generation, the financial services sector has emerged. These services represent an increasingly important component of our economy. That makes for a balanced economy. We had a little bit of everything, including one of the highest levels of prosperity in the world.
The Conservatives are now in their third year in power. And what is happening under this Conservative government? Despite claiming to be a good manager, it is making some serious mistakes in managing our economy, a little like our neighbours to the south. It is interesting because they are both right-wing governments and they both claim to be competent administrators and to understand the realities. Earlier, we heard the insults. It is interesting that the Americans are in a recession—as their own government has admitted—and very soon we may be headed in that direction. Has the government made plans? Not at all. Does the budget do anything but exacerbate the problems? Unfortunately, it does not.
The is talking about last fall's tax cuts as proof that he is doing something for business. However, a forestry or manufacturing company that did not make any profits certainly can not benefit from tax cuts: no profits, no tax. Where did that $14 billion go? It went to sectors that are overheating right now, including the oil sector in western Canada.
This is pushing our loonie to unprecedented heights. A high Canadian dollar makes it increasingly difficult to export what we manufacture here in Canada. A vicious circle is starting to take hold. Rather than act like prudent administrators and consider the possible outcome, they are doing the opposite. They are taking money from individuals and giving it to the richest companies. The NDP does not accept that. Our vision is entirely different.
I will share the rest of my time with the hon. member for . Earlier, and yesterday and the day before yesterday during question period, I heard the Liberals lamenting the misdeed the Conservatives are about to commit in immigration, in other words, throw out a fair system where the rules are clear for everyone and replace it with a purely random and discriminatory system that focuses strictly on the arbitrary. It is true that the Liberals' chronic mismanagement has put 900,000 people on the waiting list. It is a tragedy resulting from scandalously bad management, but that is the Liberal trademark. However, it is no excuse for the Conservatives to replace the existing system with a system based on ideological choices that can result in the exclusion of some people because of their country of origin.
I will now leave the rest of my time to my colleague from .
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak out against this budget bill because it is bad for immigrants, bad for our economy, and bad for Canada.
As an immigrant myself and as a member of this Parliament who represents one of Canada's most diverse communities, I am shocked that we are even debating such an amendment to Canada's immigration policy. I have heard from immigrant communities across Canada that are against the proposed sweeping changes in this budget implementation act.
I have heard reactions from communities across Canada that are very frustrated that these changes were made without consultations or studies. They are worried about the consequences this will have for families, and rightly so.
In Vancouver, I heard from communities that fear they will not be able to sponsor their relatives to join them from Vietnam, India, Pakistan and China. In Edmonton yesterday, I heard from Ukrainians, South Asians, Latin Americans and others who fear they will have an even harder time getting visitor visas than they already do. In Toronto, immigrant communities have joined together to fight these sweeping changes. No wonder.
Let us look at how this bill will affect these communities. It will introduce a quota system on immigration. It abrogates Parliament's responsibility to oversee Canada's immigration policy. It will facilitate queue jumping, with no accountability and no transparency. And it will support a fundamental shift in immigration policy, a shift to supporting industries that can best lobby for foreign workers and a shift away from family reunification and humanitarian causes.
The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants says that with this bill Canada is moving away from its vision of immigrants as integral partners in the building of our country's future.
There are three amendments in the immigration portion of this budget bill that are fundamentally wrong. First, this gives the minister the right to discard applications, to pick and choose which types of immigrants and what type of work she wants them to do. If the minister thinks there are too many visible minorities or immigrants from particular groups in Canada already, she can pick a group of countries and discard applications from those countries. Or she can put the applicants from these countries at the bottom of the list and not process them for 10 years, if ever.
No wonder Mohamed Boudjenane of the Canadian Arab Federation called the changes “dangerous” and said that they could open the door to racial profiling.
No wonder Wayne Hanley, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said that communities across Canada are profoundly disappointed, and he is opposed to allowing the minister the discretion not to process certain applications at all.
The minister said that Canada needs to bring in more workers and the profession she mentions most is that of doctor. However, the minister just deported a radiologist for no good reason and we need more radiologists.
This same minister and the have failed to support a 42 year old doctor from the former U.S.S.R. who has been licensed in Canada but cannot find a residency to accept her because of her age. She is a rheumatologist and we need more rheumatologists. I know that because I hear from families in my community who are looking for this kind of doctor for their parents.
So really, this is not about skilled labour. It is about cheap labour. It is about what Karl Flecker of the Canada Labour Congress says is “creating a pool of disposable workers to do jobs at a wage that Canadians won't accept”.
If this bill passes, ordinary Canadians will not be united based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, with overseas family members left behind because of extraordinary circumstances.
As well, why is the government taking away the ability and the right of applicants for visitor visas to go to court if their applications are turned down?
I met Que Ton Hong in Vancouver two days ago. She is getting married in July, but she cannot bring in her family to attend her wedding. She cannot bring in the person who raised her, her mother, for this joyous occasion. This is a shameful way to treat any person, let alone a Canadian citizen. Today Ms. Hong can choose to take immigration officials to court to fight for her right to bring her mother to Canada to attend a wedding, but with the changes in this budget bill, she would not be able to do so.
The NDP believes a better way exists by having Canada follow the example of England and Australia, where applicants whose visitor visas are denied have a right to appeal to a tribunal without being charged extra costs. It will free up the court system and provide a no-cost alternative chance to appeal for people whose visas are denied.
Instead, the Conservative government is moving in the opposite direction, a wrong direction. No wonder Victor Wong of the Chinese Canadian National Council said that the council had a lot of concerns. He suggested that the government go back to the drawing board.
The NDP has a better solution to clear the backlog, to fix our immigration system, to expand the number of immigrants to Canada, to hire more staff in our overseas offices and here, and to change the point system to bring more families to Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008, and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget, since the principles of the bill relating to immigration fail to recognize that all immigration applicants should be treated fairly and transparently, and it also fails to recognize that family re-unification builds economically vibrant, inclusive and healthy communities and therefore should be an essential priority in all immigration matters.
Mr. Speaker, the member for has not only heard me ask her a question but I will address some of her concerns as I speak for the next little while. The minister has spoken in the House of course, and she will hear from not only me and the minister but from all Canadians if this matter is put to a test because Canadians want us to be doing what we are in fact doing for immigration.
It is not a matter that is hidden. There is absolutely no limit on debate. This matter can be debated here and it will go to committee where further representations can be made. It is a fine time and finally time to deal with this matter in a positive way.
I am happy to speak to the New Democratic Party's ill-conceived amendment that seeks to stifle debate on Bill , the government's budget implementation act. I say this because the NDP allegations in this motion are baseless, misleading and completely unfounded. We would see more immigrants coming in, more quickly and in a more efficient fashion than we have seen in the past.
However, we should not be surprised with the NDP, or the Liberal tactics for that matter, when it comes to immigration. When they cannot win a debate based on facts, they resort to fearmongering, but that will not wash. It will not happen.
Let us call it what it is. The NDP is playing politics by tabling this motion today. It is doing it to embarrass the Liberals, plain and simple. It is, quite frankly, shameful. While the NDP plays its petty little games, it is holding up vital legislation that is necessary for the socio-economic well-being of our country.
Before I address the NDP amendment itself, this debate on immigration needs to be put into context. Last year, under the strong leadership of our , Canada welcomed the highest number of newcomers in our history, 429,649, surpassing the previous high set almost 100 years ago. There will be continuing increases in the numbers we bring in.
This record number of immigrants admitted to our country is a reflection of our government's unequivocal and strong commitment to immigrants and immigration. Our government recognizes that immigrants and immigration are critical contributors to the socio-economic well-being of our country. Our government wants newcomers and their families to succeed. We want more immigrants and newcomers to come to Canada. We also want newcomer families to be reunited faster and skilled workers to come here sooner.
That is our priority but it is becoming more and more difficult, thanks to the massive backlog in immigration applications inherited from the previous Liberal governments. Successive Liberal governments stood by and watched the backlog balloon and mushroom from 50,000 to more than 800,000, and growing. Liberal neglect of the immigration system has resulted in a situation where those applying to come to Canada are waiting, on average, four to six years just to have their application looked at. That is not acceptable.
Canada is losing out on talented immigrants who are choosing to go to other countries such as Australia where the wait time is six months, not six years. It is unconscionable. Canadians expect better. Canadians will get better in this new proposed budget bill that we are putting forward on immigration.
Canada is losing out on talented immigrants. In fact, it comes as no surprise that other countries can claim that their best marketing tool is to attract immigrants because of Canada's long wait times. Put simply, our amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act would reduce the backlog created by the Liberal Party of Canada and result in shorter wait times for immigrants to come to Canada. By accusing us of shutting the door to immigrants, the Liberals and NDP are not only misleading Canadians and would-be immigrants, they are practising a low level shameful type of politics.
To mislead those who trust politicians and to prey on the fears of immigrant families is, simply put, not acceptable. Rhetoric and fearmongering aside, immigrants and Canadians deserve to know why the Liberals and the NDP want to keep families waiting for longer periods than they already are.
Canadian businesses deserve to know why the Liberals and NDP want to prevent them from getting the skilled and unskilled workers they so desperately need. As we travelled across the country, business people told us that they were frustrated. They are frustrated because they cannot meet the needs, they cannot progress and they cannot build and develop this country because they do not have the people resources they need so desperately. They are looking to us to do something positive and they say that finally something is being done.
On this side of the House, our position is clear. The minister has said on numerous occasions in this place, and it bears repeating, that our government is taking urgent measures to clean up the Liberal mess, so that more families can be reunited faster and more skilled workers can get here sooner.
The claims of the NDP and the Liberal Party that we are shutting the door on immigration is completely without basis and without fact. It was the Liberals who closed the door to immigration by letting the backlog balloon to unmanageable levels. Without our actions, wait times would rise to 10 years by the year 2012. This is completely and totally unacceptable. That would be an indication of a system totally in chaos and not functional.
One of the goals of this legislation is to respond to Canada's labour market needs, but let me be clear. These amendments will not apply to refugees and are not intended to affect family reunification at all. We want families to be reunited faster and we have made it a priority. Family reunification cases are now being done 20% to 40% faster than under the previous Liberal governments.
However, we want to do even better, and so in budget 2008 we have invested $22 million for two years, growing to $37 million per year. This funding will help us speed up the application process for those seeking to come to Canada.
These important steps are just some of the things we are doing to help newcomers. We have also cut in half the tax on immigrants that the Liberal Party implemented. We have invested $1.4 billion into settlement programs that help newcomers with language training and help finding a job after the previous Liberal government had effectively frozen funding for almost a decade. We cannot bring newcomers in without having the support bases and the infrastructure to ensure that they can become what they can be and that they can succeed when they come here.
While the NDP and the Liberal Party claim they represent the best interests of immigrants, their track record speaks for itself. Both parties have voted against virtually every initiative we have taken to help newcomers come to Canada.
They opposed us cutting the Liberal immigrant head tax in half. They opposed us providing $1.4 billion to help newcomers to Canada integrate and settle in our country. They opposed the establishment of the foreign credentials referral office, and the Liberals, while they were in government, allowed the backlog to balloon from 50,000 to over 800,000.
Now, incredibly, the Liberals and the NDP are opposing the very changes that would reduce wait times and allow more newcomers to come to Canada and reunite with their families. Canadians are not with them on this issue. Right across the whole spectrum of this country, people are not with them on this issue.
I have heard the NDP and Liberals suggest that we should simply devote more resources to processing applications. As I stated earlier, our government is indeed doing this, but money alone will not resolve the problem because the system itself has built-in inefficiencies. Foundational changes need to happen for it to be successful.
As the said yesterday, it is not enough just to throw money at it and put ourselves back into deficit, as the Liberals would have us do. We need to do better. We need to do it more efficiently. We need to do it smarter, and that is precisely what we are doing.
Under the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, we are generally required to process applications in the order that we receive them, and each application must be processed to a final decision. This undermines our ability to adapt to changing economic and labour market conditions.
For example, Canada might need medical technicians, pipefitters, plumbers and many other trades, but under the current system we cannot ensure that they can reach our labour market in a timely fashion, that we can get the right people to the right place at the right time. The system is failing us. The system is failing Canadians. The system is failing newcomers. The system is failing and we need to give it attention.
This is not fair to immigrants who want to come to our country, to those who are waiting for loved ones to join them, and to employers who want to hire skilled and unskilled workers. It is not in Canada's interests. It limits our ability to select people the labour market needs the most and it discourages many newcomers from applying.
The skilled and unskilled workers that Canada needs will not wait. They will go elsewhere and they have gone elsewhere. We must change our attitude and our legislation to ensure that does not continue. Our amendments would help bring the backlog under control and restore public confidence in the immigration system. Canada's immigration system would become more competitive with those of other countries.
Another fearmongering tactic that the NDP and the Liberals have been using is to accuse us of having an agenda to discriminate against newcomers based on their race, religion or ethnicity.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The minister's instructions will be charter compliant as the charter applies to those who would apply through the process. The minister's instructions will also be consistent with the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, referred to as IRPA. IRPA's objectives include: supporting Canada's economy, reuniting families, and providing protection to those who need protection. Our proposed amendments will not change that.
To be clear, our approach to immigration will continue to be universal and non-discriminatory. There will be no discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity. Any assertions or allegations to the contrary are simply unfounded.
With respect to the criticism that too much power will be vested in the hands of the minister, let me be clear. The minister has said and she will consult with provinces and other key stakeholders prior to publishing instructions. The minister's instructions will be open and transparent. They will be published in the Canada Gazette. They will be reported in the annual report to Parliament and published on Citizenship and Immigration Canada's website.
Ultimately, at election time, the minister and this government will be held accountable to all Canadians for the decisions they take and I say that Canadians will be supporting these decisions.
If the Liberals are so opposed to improving our immigration system, they will have an opportunity to vote against the Budget Implementation Act and these provisions, but the fact is that no one takes the Liberal Party seriously because when it comes to backing up their own rhetoric by voting against our measures, they are either not found here or they do not vote.
They are interested primarily in self-interest, self-preservation and not the best interests of Canadians. If they truly believe their own criticism, they would do something about it because the reality is that the Liberals' prime objective is not to do what is right for the country but to obtain power. They will stop at nothing to avoid their responsibilities in order to preserve their best interests.
In this regard I would like to quote from the March 17 article by Angelo Persichilli in The Hill Times. In this article he states:
--however, what we don't need are lectures from the Liberals on this issue because, again, according to the numbers, not the demagoguery, they too badly mismanaged this issue for political reasons.
The difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals is that the former are handling immigration by trying to get results; the latter to get votes.
Therefore, the NDPers and Liberals can fearmonger all they want. The fact of the matter is our plan is getting strong support right across the country from ordinary Canadians, from newcomers, from stakeholders, from business, and I would challenge them to test that.
Let me quote from a March 15, 2008, editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press. It states:
What the Conservatives propose is common sense...This is good policy...For the Liberals to exploit this, however, not only ignores the national need for the party's own political advantage, but also ignores the ugly truth that it was the Liberals who created this problem...Canadians, new and old, have been offered a clear choice: Conservative policy that will benefit Canada, or politics that will benefit Liberals.
A March 24 Vancouver Province editorial had this to say about our proposed amendments:
Reform of Canada's immigration laws is long overdue. [...] What the Tories are proposing is to bring order to the current chaos, while allowing immigration patterns to match national priorities. Surely, that's to the benefit of all Canadians, immigrants included.
A March 17 Globe and Mail editorial had this to say:
Now, the Conservatives are proposing a bolder reform...But it stands to benefit our economy. Immigration policy...should first and foremost fit Canada's needs... he Tories surely anticipated how their opponents would misrepresent their policies. That they are pressing on regardless shows a strong commitment to this country's interests.
Time will tell when we look back to say that this was a historic moment, with the changing of the immigration policy, that ended up serving the needs of all Canadians and building this country to what it can be.
James Bissett, the former director of the Canadian Immigration Services and a Canadian diplomat, had this to say: “I entirely agree with the minister. It is a long overdue and badly needed fix of a system that's needed fixing for a long time. You can't keep people waiting for up to six years to get a visa to come here after they've met the requirements and have paid the fees. It's unfair and the minister is absolutely right in trying to step in and correct the situation”.
Other immigrant stakeholders also expressed support for our plan. In an article in today's National Post, it states:
Wojciech Sniegowski, president of the Canada-Poland Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, said he's come to the conclusion there is no inherent danger in the proposals and that they are designed merely to give the minister flexibility to respond to labour shortages.
“The most important thing is that, if nothing is done, by 2012 the backlog will be such that people will be waiting 10 years for their applications to be heard. I'm glad to see the government doing something,” he said.
It stands to reason. The article goes on to state:
Tom Pang of the Chinese Canadian Community Alliance in Toronto said the bill is good legislation. “It has everything to do with skills and it will bring the right type of people into Canada. Unfortunately, some people in the community think it is designed to stop people of certain ethnic backgrounds from coming to Canada but that is not what it is about,” he said.
He is absolutely right on that point.
Contrary to what the Canadian Bar Association will have us believe, we are also getting support from various individuals in the legal community. An article dated March 31 in the Calgary Herald states:
Edmonton immigration lawyer Shirish Chotalia said it's the start of creating a fairer system, because the government will be more forthcoming about what types of immigrants the country needs instead of giving people false hopes. “They want to consult with employers and target special skill sets as we go along,” Chotalia said.
Another immigration lawyer, Warren Creates, told the CBC: “This is a very clever landmark change, I would call it, in overhauling the immigration program...it makes a minister accountable for explaining it and reporting to Parliament and therefore to the Canadian public”.
David Garson, an immigration lawyer with Guberman, Garson, Bush, said the following, with respect to the : “She's a tremendous individual and very pro-immigrant”.
With respect to the NDP motion at hand, I must reiterate that nothing in our proposed amendments will take away from our commitments to family reunification and refugees. Our government recognizes that immigration is more than just economics. That is because our government understands the importance of families and the aim of reuniting them as quickly as we can.
As I said earlier, we have reduced by between 20% and 40% the processing times for those immigrants in Canada who are seeking to bring their family members to Canada from other countries. In fact, 80% of the applicants from sponsored spouses are now finalized within eight months.
Our government continues to embrace Canada's proud history of providing protection to those in need. We are a model to other countries. We will continue to be the model to other countries because of our generosity and compassion.
That is why the recently announced that we would double the number of Iraqi refugees we accept this year and, among other things, has also made commitments to bring in several thousand Karen refugees from Myanmar and refugees from Bhutan, two places that do not get a lot of media attention but where people are suffering nonetheless.
The changes we propose also would affect those in Canada seeking humanitarian and compassionate consideration of their applications to stay in this country. They can continue to make those applications and the legislation would not affect them.
Our proposed amendments would ensure that Canada's immigration program carefully balances its economic goals with its family reunification and refugee protection components.
Family reunification and refugee protection remain priorities for the Government of Canada and key components of our immigration program. Nothing in our proposed amendments will change that.
In closing, let me say that it is most unfortunate that the NDP are holding up desperately needed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, changes that would make the immigration system more fair and more transparent.
Ultimately, the NDP and the other opposition parties will have to be accountable to the Canadian public for their attempts at preventing vital changes to the immigration system.
This proposed change will stand the test of time. This proposed change will dramatically reform immigration and make it more efficient, more acceptable, and in line with the Canadian public's views.
I urge all members of this place to oppose the NDP's obstructionist tactics and vote against this amendment.
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first speech in the House of Commons, before I do anything else, I would like to thank the people of Willowdale for electing me and for expressing their confidence in me. Becoming a member of Parliament is a tremendous honour and privilege, and I look forward to doing the best job I can for the people of Willowdale and for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is fair to say that when the Conservatives came to power two years ago they inherited the strongest fiscal position and the strongest employment growth in the G-7. With all of its inherited surpluses and until recently a strong economy, the government had an opportunity to make smart investments and wise tax cuts that would have strengthened Canada's productivity and competitiveness and better prepared the country for the uncertain times that confront us today.
We Liberals offered some advice. Last fall, the said he favours deeper corporate tax cuts. We need to create a new Canadian advantage now that we can no longer rely on a relatively low dollar and we believe that a competitively low corporate tax rate is just that advantage. Interestingly enough, a few short weeks after the Leader of the Opposition's speech, the Conservatives acted on this Liberal proposal. At least they took our good advice.
Liberals have long been in favour of getting value out of taxpayers' money and shifting resources from areas of lower priority to areas of higher priority. Instead, the Conservatives chose to focus on reduced transfers to some of the most vulnerable in Canadian society, including literacy programs, the court challenges program, and programs to enhance the status of women in this country.
For a succinct analysis of the economic record, let me quote from a recent editorial in the Globe and Mail:
Which party took a country that was drowning in debt and instituted tough, painful savings to lift the federal accounts back into surplus, where they have remained for more than a decade? That would be the Liberals.
And which party, by failing to heed the warning signs of an economic slowdown and by both cutting the GST and spending as if there were no tomorrow, set the country up for a budget...that could, if the Conservatives don't watch their step, tip Canada back into deficit spending? That would be the Conservatives.
At the provincial level, in 2003, the and his Conservative friends in Ontario ran an election on a balanced budget and then lost. When Dalton McGuinty called in the auditors he was told he had inherited a $5.6 billion deficit, and he had to clean up that mess.
At the federal level, here is a small history quiz. Before the current inherited large Liberal surpluses, who was the last Conservative prime minister to actually balance the books, even in one year? It was not Kim Campbell, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, or John Diefenbaker. It was not even R. B. Bennett or Arthur Meighen. No, we have to go back all the way to Sir Robert Borden in 1912 to find a Tory government that balanced the books. This is a pattern of Conservatives who run big, fat deficits until voters call on Liberals to clean up the mess.
True to form we have now seen the largest spending over two budgets in a row. The has become the biggest spending finance minister in the history of Canada. He has brought us perilously close to deficit spending with no longer any contingency. Canada's government is now 14% bigger after the last two budgets.
What do we want to bequeath to our children and their children? Certainly a low national debt, and we Liberals reduced that debt from a peak of over 70% of GDP in 1994-95 to 35% in 2005-06.
We now have a massive infrastructure deficit: bridges that fall down, potholes, raw sewage dumped into oceans, and inadequate public transit.
For the benefit of both current and future generations we urged the government, rather than pay the full $10 billion allocated to debt paydown, to pay down that debt by $3 billion and to provide an immediate $7 billion injection into the infrastructure needs of the nation. This would have provided a significant down payment to address Canada's infrastructure deficit and would have been a much needed investment in our future. But no, this was good Liberal economic advice that the Conservative government did not heed.
I will stress that the Liberals understand the need to pay down the mortgage on the house. The Liberal government clearly did so when needed, but right now the walls are cracking and the roof is starting to leak. Our wonderful country has incredible potential, but we need investment in infrastructure critical for our future productivity and global competitiveness.
However, here is a separate concern. Including legislative changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in the bill is wrong. It is a blatant Americanization of the process to bury a contentious issue in a bill that, in weighing the alternatives, we otherwise did not find enough to warrant forcing an election on the Canadian people.
This clause has nothing to do with the budget. It should not be in the bill in the first place and should be separated out. These provisions put completely inappropriate discretionary powers into the hands of the minister, a minister and a government already showing ideological biases. We cannot fix the immigration backlog by allowing the minister to cherry-pick some over others. Doing so does not increase the numbers.
We cannot fix the immigration backlog without funds, either. Note that the Quebec government announced $68 million in new funding for immigration. Ontario announced more funding, as did British Columbia. Contrast this to the relatively tiny amount the government has suggested will somehow miraculously do the work that is needed.
If the immigration provisions are not separated out of the bill, then the Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Finance will ensure that these added immigration provisions are subject to the full detailed and high scrutiny for all Canadians so they can fully understand what the government is trying to do with these back door tactics.
It is relevant, Mr. Speaker. The brought it up, so if the member cannot take the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.
The next quote is:
My party's position on the Kyoto Protocol is clear and has been for a long time. We will oppose ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and its targets. We will work with the provinces and others to discourage the implementation of those targets. And we will rescind the targets when we have the opportunity to do so.
Who said that? It was the current , as reported in the Ottawa Citizen, on November 22, 2002.
That is the end of my quotes on the environment.
On the environment, the Conservatives did do one thing. They passed out light bulbs. That was how they were going to address the environmental issue.
It is a budget, and we are talking about various aspects within the budget. The proudly stood up and talked about having to reduce taxes, and I agree. What the Liberals did, as my colleague from said, was approach it in a balanced way. We reduced taxes, we reduced the debt and we put money toward programs that Canadians asked us to invest in, like child care, health care, post-secondary education, our cities, et cetera.
In the previous budget, the Conservatives hummed and hawed about how to reduce taxes. A Canadian sent us his tax form. He asked why the Liberals had reduced his taxes to 15% and now he paid 15.25%. In this budget, they have reduced it back to 15%. By doing this, they say they have lowered taxes. I do not know what math the learned, but I know that one and one equals two and that one minus three equals two.
We know his record when he was the finance minister in Ontario. The member for alluded to the debt with which he left Ontario, unbeknownst to the incoming government.
The also did one shameful act, which Canadians are still paying for today, and that was the income trust fiasco. When the Liberals looked at it, we knew we had to address it, but we never made any decisions because of an election. This cost Canadians. Why? Because of the NDP.
Today the NDP has the audacity to stand and ask where the money is for social housing, or for the environment or for post-secondary education. Under the former Liberal prime minister, there were $1.6 billion for affordable housing, $1.5 billion for education, $1 billion for the environment and half a billion dollars for foreign aid. I stood up in this honourable House and I supported those recommendations. We applauded them.
What did members of the NDP do? They betrayed not the Liberal Party; they betrayed their constituents, who today are asking what happened to that money.
My colleague earlier alluded to support for child care. This is not child care. This is handing somebody $100 a month, which is taxable.
The member for talked earlier about the money which was stolen. It is unfortunate he uses that type of language. Judge Gomery brought everything out and the culprits who indeed took money from Canadians were put before the courts and were charged, convicted and imprisoned.
At least we respected Judge Gomery's results. However, that party used Judge Gomery. Before committee, Judge Gomery expressed his disappointment that all the recommendations he put forward were thrown out by the Conservatives. Part of their victory had to do with Judge Gomery's commission.
The party talks about supporting our military. I have said before, I am a son of a veteran as well. We have stood in the defence committee with the chair, for whom I have great respect. We have done everything we can to support our military. Yesterday we had a vote on a motion from the member for about lowering the flag on the Peace Tower. What a shameful display from the Conservative Party.
When the member for has to go to the polls the next time and visit his constituents, he will have to answer why he betrayed them. He ran on a policy saying he was going to do this and he was going to do that, and the next thing we knew he walked over to the government. We Canadians are still waiting to see the famous report he put together when he went over to Pakistan. We still want to see it. We want to know how much it cost Canadians.
Anyway, I do not want to move away from the budget speech. Here is what one gentleman said some time ago, and I was really impressed, I must say, so I will quote him. He said that there is no greater lie “than a promise not kept”. Do members know who said that?
An hon. member: The current .
Mr. Speaker, let us hope we can bring some order to this House and quiet down the debate to some reasonable and realistic comments.
I rise to speak to the amendment put forward by the NDP to effectively and substantially delay second reading of a very important piece of government legislation.
First, I must express my dismay with the NDP for defending the enormous immigration backlog in this country. The NDP members stand in this House and say that they stand up for immigrants, but they actually are putting forward an amendment that will delay a process which will actually improve and speed up the immigration process.
The backlog, of course, is keeping families apart and is denying Canada the much needed talent and skills that we require to improve our competitiveness and ensure our long term economic prosperity. By extension, that backlog is threatening Canada's quality of life and the strength and the integrity of the social safety net that the NDP claims to champion.
The NDP members, along with their Liberal and Bloc friends, say they support a vibrant 21st century economy. They offer no solutions to address the serious labour force challenges that our country is facing. They fail to recognize that Canada is in fierce competition with other countries to attract the skilled immigrants who have the talent and the training to meet these challenges.
My hon. colleague, the , spoke at length on the need to proceed with these valuable and much needed reforms. I am going to speak to some of the other important measures that these political games are delaying. They are delaying benefits to Canadian families and businesses. We will make it loud and clear to all Canadians that it is the NDP members, along with their Liberal and Bloc allies, who are to blame for these delays.
Bill , as with all our previous budget bills, is primarily about making a positive impact on the lives of Canadians, who for too long were overtaxed and poorly served by their federal government. We committed to changing that and we remain committed to delivering positive results for Canadians.
I know the NDP is never happy about Canadians keeping more of their hard-earned money, but I can assure members that Canadians certainly are excited about the tax-free savings account or, as we call it, TFSA. With the tax-free savings account, budget 2008 provides Canadians with the most important savings vehicle since the introduction of the RRSP. This flexible, registered, general purpose account will allow Canadians to watch their savings grow tax free. The reaction has been almost overwhelmingly positive in support of this TFSA.
I ask members to listen to the words of Finn Poschmann, director of Research at the C.D. Howe Institute. He said:
This tax policy gem is very good news for Canadians, and [the finance minister] and his government deserve credit for a novel program.
Budget 2008 also provides for an increase in the northern residents deductions of 10%, effective for the 2008 tax year, a move with broad positive support, even from the NDP.
Let us listen to the words of NDP member for , who said that it is a positive first step. I note for that particular NDP member the disappointment that his constituents, in the form of a recent Yellowknifer editorial, have already indicated in regard to his first vote against the budget:
Considering the NDP won't form a government at any time soon, it would have been best had [the NDP member from Western Arctic] swallowed the pill and voted with the [Conservative] government.
Let us imagine how much more disappointed they will be in him once they hear that their member is now trying to delay this positive step.
I hear on a daily basis from the NDP that the government is not paying enough attention to the challenges faced by our students. Budget 2008 is a generous budget for students and goes a long way to address the neglect they suffered under the previous Liberal government.
Through Bill , the government is committing $123 million over four years, starting in 2009-10, to streamline and modernize the Canada student loans program and expand online services for students, enabling them to manage their student loan accounts online.
It would provide further support for Canadian students with a $350 million investment in 2009-10, rising to $430 million in 2012-13, in a new consolidated Canada student grant program that would reach 245,000 college and undergraduate students per year when it takes effect in 2009. That is almost 100,000 more students than the previous program that we are replacing.
One can imagine students' disappointment once they hear of today's delays.
We recognize that small and medium businesses are the backbone of our economy and our government is committed to fostering an environment that enables them to thrive.
Budget 2008 would benefit small and medium-sized businesses by improving the scientific research and experimental development tax incentive program and easing the tax compliance burden by reducing the record-keeping requirements for automobile expense deductions and taxable benefits.
We believe that Canadians share our desire to see more of our seniors maintain their independence for as long as possible. This government also recognizes that our seniors will have a valuable contribution to make to our economy, which is why we are investing $60 million per year to ensure that low income seniors who work can realize greater benefits from their earnings through an increase in the guaranteed income supplement exemption. This is one of the most innovative and promising initiatives put forward in budget 2008 and addresses, head on, a serious challenge faced by Canadian society.
Through Bill , we will invest $110 million in the Mental Health Commission of Canada to support five innovative demonstration projects across the country to develop best practices to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.
The protection of its citizens is one of the most important responsibilities of a government. We are committed to following through with the resources to show Canadians we take that responsibility very seriously.
To back up our commitment, Bill provides $400 million through a third party trust for provinces and territories to support their efforts in recruiting 2,500 new front line police officers.
This government believes we can never fully enjoy the benefits of our hard work and unique joys of being fortunate enough to live in a country like Canada if we do not protect our environment as well. Clean air, clean water and clean land are not only what Canadians deserve, they are the bedrock ingredients of our long term prosperity and success as a country. That is why our government has made, and will continue to make, substantial investments in protecting our environment.
Bill allocates $500 million in 2007-08, through a third party trust, on a provincial-territorial per capita basis, for public transit infrastructure and sets aside $250 million for a full scale, commercial demonstration carbon capture and storage in the coal-fired electrical sector.
As we can see, Bill , the first budget implementation act for 2008, is filled with positive news for Canadians, news that I would have thought the NDP could support and should support. It contains targeted and timely funding to address many of the challenges that our country is facing while, at the same time, introducing the tax-free savings account, one of the most innovative and welcomed savings vehicles to come along since the RRSP.
I encourage the NDP and all opposition parties to put aside petty partisan wrangling and support Bill . If they cannot see their way to doing that, they should at least get out of the way and stop delaying such important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to pick up on what I was saying the day after the budget was brought down, when we heard a number of Conservative MPs say that this budget was extraordinary and good for Canadians. Again, it may be good for Canadians, but it is not good for Quebeckers. We came to that conclusion after a rather careful analysis. There is practically nothing in the budget that corresponds to what the Bloc Québécois asked for before it was tabled by the Conservative government.
This Conservative government is showing us through its right-wing ideology that it is truly quite far removed from the interests and values of Quebec. With this budget we truly feel that the government did not meet the expectations expressed by the Bloc Québécois' with respect to its interests and values. Hon. members will recall that the day after the budget was tabled, the vast majority of the daily newspapers and media in Quebec gave their impression on this budget, and it was clearly unfavourable.
Mr. Dubuc's column in La Presse read:
This lack of vision can be explained by the conservative philosophy of the prime minister's government, which does not believe in the role of the state and avoids economic intervention like the plague. It is an outdated, dogmatic conservatism that is not found anywhere else in the west.
The Bloc Québécois made its requests a long time in advance and on many occasions. These requests focused on the manufacturing and forestry industries, which are currently dealing with an unprecedented crisis in Quebec. These requests have been completely swept aside and forgotten in this budget, as though they were not important.
This budget lacks vision. The Bloc Québécois will most certainly vote against the budget implementation bill we are currently discussing.
I come from a riding, Saint-Maurice—Champlain, where the problem in the forestry industry I was just talking about is extremely serious. Pulp and paper companies are closing one after the other. There is some doubt as to whether the ones that are still around will get through this crisis. The many sawmills in the north of the riding, in the La Tuque area, are closing one after the other, some temporarily, others permanently.
We had hoped that the Conservative government would truly hear and acknowledge the Bloc Québécois demands. It should provide much greater support to the manufacturing and forestry sectors to help them through the current crisis. But the only assistance to the manufacturing sector went to Ontario. That is truly deplorable. Quebec was quite obviously forgotten in this budget.
Earlier, I was speaking about the media. The members will recall that, the day after the budget was tabled, the Quebec Minister of Finance also said that the budget did not meet Quebec's expectations. She said:
I am disappointed because there was a $20 billion margin in the context of an economic slowdown. We were hoping the government would do more for older workers and for the manufacturing and forestry industries in Quebec.
Ms. Jérôme-Forget's comments were made the day after the budget was tabled. There was a surplus of $10.5 billion available. The government could have allocated a sizeable amount, as the Bloc Québécois has been recommending since last fall, to support businesses, plants and workers. It could have allocated $3 billion to debt repayment, which would have been reasonable in any case. But it has acted according to the Conservative ideology. The Conservatives did as they pleased and applied $10.5 billion to paying down the debt, which, in light of what is going on in Quebec, is unacceptable.
As I said earlier, considering these obvious facts and the positions taken in the budget that go against the interests of Quebec, the Bloc Québécois will certainly not vote in favour of implementing this budget. The 2008 budget does not meet any of the conditions set out by the Bloc Québécois. We stated our conditions for supporting the budget, but hardly any of them were met.
As I was saying before, this budget does not provide any direct and immediate assistance to the manufacturing and forestry industries, which are experiencing a major crisis, or to the workers and communities affected by this crisis. The biggest problem of the crisis is that individuals, the people in the cities, municipalities and regions, are the ones hardest hit by the crisis, in terms of their family, personal and community lives. They are the ones who have trouble making ends meet at the end of the month or who cannot pay back the bank drafts and loans they took out, often to purchase equipment in order to work. I am talking about self-employed forestry workers, for example, who must take on the cost of the required machinery themselves. The government has done nothing to help these people.
There is no assistance for workers and communities, except the $1 billion trust over three years, of which Quebec will see only a small part. We are talking about approximately 24%, which is not even representative of the size of the manufacturing and forestry industry relative to Canada. Quebec will have access to only a small amount, while the sectors that are not even affected by the manufacturing and forestry crisis—or barely—will receive a share of the $1 billion on a per capita basis. This is assistance they do not need because they already have an industrial structure to help them through such crises. This is not the case in Quebec.
There is another reason why the Bloc Québécois will not support this bill. It has to do with the whole issue of seniors. During the election campaign, the Conservative Party promised to give full retroactivity to people who had not received the guaranteed income supplement, which the Liberals clearly and deliberately kept quiet about. Thousands of seniors in Quebec do not receive the guaranteed income supplement. They were receiving their old age pension, but they did not know they were entitled to a supplement.
The Liberals did not tell them. The Conservatives, on the other hand, promised them full retroactivity. However, once in power, as soon as they formed the government, their memories failed them and now they forget. This situation once again penalizes our most vulnerable citizens, seniors. How could the Bloc Québécois support such a Conservative budget? We find it completely unacceptable.
There is another factor to consider and another reason why we will not support this budget: the environment. This budget continues to favour polluters in the regions that pollute the most. They are implementing systems that allow industries and businesses, particularly oil companies, to benefit from tax credits and continue to pollute even more. As we all know, since 1990, many communities and businesses in Quebec have taken steps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Instead of being rewarded, these efforts by Quebec businesses are being penalized and more is being given to those who pollute the most.
This is absolutely unacceptable. Once again, it is part of what we call this right-wing ideology, which favours certain areas, such as natural resources, including the oil sector.
Another important element for the Bloc Québécois is culture. This budget does not contain any measures to promote cultural development in Quebec. The film industry is penalized, and funding has been cut once again. Yet the whole cultural, literary and artistic realm in Quebec is a flourishing industry. It needs substantial support from the federal government, which would give meaning to the whole question of the Quebec nation. Developing Quebec's culture would develop its distinctiveness, but the government is not interested.
Once again, a parallel can be drawn between a budget proposal such as this one and the recognition of the Quebec nation, which the government likes to boast about. Yet when the time comes to walk the talk, the government forgets all about it and does not take any real action. It just pays lip service to the idea.
There is another especially important element. I am talking about the government's will, as expressed in this budget. The has announced that he intends to create a single securities commission, even though the whole financial community in Quebec is against this idea. This is absolutely unacceptable. Moreover, this issue has already been dealt with. This is one budget measure that is a huge stumbling block for us. It is a real source of conflict for us.
I could go back to all the elements in the budget. I was talking earlier about the manufacturing and forestry industries. Even after the vote on the budget had taken place, the Conservative members on the Standing Committee on Finance agreed to hear a series of people to really understand the extent of the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry industries.
What is happening in the manufacturing sector in Quebec and elsewhere, but particularly in Ontario and Quebec? The budget does not provide anything more for this sector, but right after the budget passed, the Conservatives and the other members on the Standing Committee on Finance approved a motion introduced by my Bloc Québécois colleague, the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Finance.
The committee agreed to hear witnesses. The motion read as follows:
That the Committee, in view of the serious challenges faced by the forestry and manufacturing sectors, engage in a study on direct assistance measures and fiscal environment consisting of no more than four consecutive meetings—
For four meetings, we heard from people who came to tell us what they thought the manufacturing and forestry sectors in Quebec, and Ontario too, needed to get through the crisis. There was consensus.
We heard from Jayson Myers, president of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters; Claudette Carbonneau, president of the CSN; Pierre Laliberté, political advisor to the FTQ for the manufacturing sector; Avrim Lazar, president and CEO, Forest Products Association of Canada; Phil Vinet, mayor of Red Lake; Jean Laneville, an economist with the Quebec federation of chambers of commerce; Ms. Peterson, mayor of Thunder Bay; and Guy Chevrette, of the Forest Industry Council.
These people were nearly unanimous—nearly because they did not use the same words, but they all meant the same thing—in their assertion that the forestry and manufacturing sectors are going through such a serious crisis that the government must change its policy and its budget accordingly.
They also said that the government had to use part of its $10.5 billion surplus to help a dying sector. The witnesses all told us that the Conservative government is clearly taking the wrong approach with its budget and its plan, which offer no direct assistance to the industries in these sectors, and that it must change its approach.
Until now, we have not heard anything to suggest that it plans to change anything. We think that the Conservative government put forward a budget that favours oil companies because it offers corporate tax cuts. As we have said before, tax cuts for companies that are not making a profit are not really tax cuts. But when companies are making profits in the millions or billions, they do benefit from tax cuts. This brand of economic liberalism is hurting Quebec businesses that, as we know, for the most part, did not make a profit in the past year.
What to do? We could try to further analyze this budget and find some justification for it, but there is none. There is nothing in the budget, whether it is for the status of women—which garners just one paragraph, six lines, to improve the status of women—or for employment insurance, where the demands of the Bloc Québécois have been completely ignored.
With regard to aboriginal peoples, they have significant needs in terms of social housing in particular. But there is nothing for them.
That can be said about any area. However, the government has envelopes for defence. When you are in favour of increasing military action and you join forces with the American government to continue the war in Afghanistan, you will definitely put more money in those envelopes. However, what is important to Quebec citizens right now is the injection of additional dollars. More money could have been allocated to regional development so that the Government of Quebec, which is familiar with the needs of each region, could have taken much more targeted action to foster greater investment in regional development.
The budget has an impact on many areas. Unfortunately, it does not contain what the Bloc Québécois wanted, that is major investments in the manufacturing sector, as I mentioned earlier. For these reasons, it is quite understandable that the Bloc Québécois will not support the implementation of this budget.