Mr. Speaker, when I concluded before question period, I was speaking about the budget. I specifically confined my remarks to the whole issue of the environment and the lack of any action at all in this last budget statement from the government. I talked about what has happened over the last three years and, really, when we look at it, some would say nothing has happened and some would say very little has happened.
One of the announcements I was talking about that was very troubling was this $1.519 billion trust fund that was established a couple of years ago where the money would go to the provinces. However, as has been disclosed last week from the report of the Auditor General, there was a total breakdown in the whole link of accountability. The number one job of members of Parliament on both sides of the House is to hold the government accountable for the money it spends on behalf of the taxpayers.
However, in this case, the moneys were transferred to the provinces and there was absolutely no requirement that they spend the money on the environment, or anything else for that matter, and a lot did not. Those that did, did not spend it on incremental matters; they just substituted that money for other moneys they were planning to spend on the environment. So, we can see how troubling this is.
To put it into perspective, there is not one person in Ottawa at the Department of Finance, at the Treasury Board, or over at the Office of the Auditor General, who can confirm that one cent of this money was spent on environmental matters. Then the government made the statement that at the time it was going to lead to a 16 million tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, we know that that was just someone's wild guess. No one could confirm now that there was one tonne, 10 tonnes or one million tonnes in reduction; that is just a statement in hot air that is out there and no one can confirm it. There is no accountability mechanism at all. So, it is certainly troubling to hear this.
Again, the second program the government announced with much fanfare, and again at the time I know it was extremely bad public policy, was this tax credit for transit riders. It was announced to cost $665 million. At the time, I believe there were reports from the Department of Finance that it would lead to a 100 tonne reduction of greenhouse gases annually. The government announced, despite this report, that it would be 220,000 tonnes annually, but now it has reported that, no, all that information was incorrect, it was erroneous, and the correct figure is 30 tonnes annually.
As we can see, if we do the arithmetic, it is extremely expensive. At $665 million, it is something like $10,000 per tonne. It is hopelessly expensive. It is bad public policy. As I watched the minister answer questions last week, I think he realizes that he is dealing with a program that obviously does not work and that he has to figure out some way of getting out of it.
That brings us to today. Looking at this budget, there is one page that talks about environmental measures. It is very brief. There is some research done on carbon capture, there is an extension to the ecotrust moneys, and that it is it. There is nothing else. It is all contained in one half page.
As I said before question period, we have gone through three regimes in this House. The first environment minister said we would have a made in Canada approach. The second minister said he was going to legislate, and we have not seen that. And of course the third minister, now, is talking on the public airwaves about a North American solution.
But, again, this is after four years. After three months nothing was done, after six months nothing was done, and now we are looking at four years and we are not seeing anything at all. Again, that is very disappointing and troubling. When we compare it to what was going on in the United States, it mirrored what was going on in the United States because the administration in the United States and the administration in Canada were basically in lockstep with each other.
I do not know what the new administration in the United States is going to do. It is too early to tell. But certainly from the announcements that were made by President Obama, there seems to be very strong statements being made as to that administration's intention on the environment. There are some very power people occupying the secretary's position.
President Obama is going to be here on February 19. There are a number of issues to talk about. I assume and hope that climate change would be one of those issues, but I would like to be a fly in that room to listen to the conversation because I do not know what the would say when President Obama asks what we are doing. I think it would be a very short, terse conversation. We have to get ourselves in lockstep with what is going on in the United States on this whole issue.
The last election was fought on the green shift. It was attacked negatively and I will admit successfully, but as a Canadian I do not think for a minute that the government should interpret that as a licence or mandate to do absolutely nothing on the environment.
Again, I am disappointed. I am concerned. This is a major issue. I believe that people are looking for action and when I look at a vision, it is very unclear and I do not see any vision at all. Let us hope that in the days and months to come we will see more action on this initiative.
Madam Speaker, I think we all know that the budget tabled recently by the government would not have been fashioned the way it was had there not been pressure from the opposition. Had November not happened, had the financial update not happened, had the prorogation not happened, had the pressure from all Canadians and from labour, business and House opposition members not happened, that particular budget probably would not have happened. Certainly there would not have been the measures within that budget that address some of the situations in our economy. I think that needs to be said.
There are some encouraging pieces in that budget; however, it is a flawed document, because it does not specifically address a lot of areas that deal with the unemployed and with building an economy for the future. Let me start with some of the things the budget misses out on tremendously.
Early education and child care in this country constitute a huge problem. There are no spaces being created by the government, despite its constant claim that we have universal child care, which of course does not exist under this particular government. In fact, it cut $5 billion off a national child care program put in place by the Liberal government prior to that.
My own province of Ontario is running out of money to provide child care. We do not know yet whether the government will come forward and provide the funding or not. In Toronto alone, 6,000 spaces are set to close, while we have a two- to three-year wait-lists for children. This situation gives parents no choices.
Let us look at the economy. Parents are losing jobs. They need early education and child care to be able to go to the retraining programs that the government claims it is putting in place in order for them to go back to those jobs we are trying to create.
On top of that, it is also about development. Creating child care spaces also creates infrastructure, as well as jobs for the teachers who would be participating, not to mention the benefit to the families. This is a point the government has not understood: early education and child care are not just about babysitting, but also about early childhood development and supporting families in our society. This is a major gap in which social infrastructure is not addressed. Instead of building the lives of children and preparing them for the future, we are leaving them behind at the very outset, because there is no plan and never has been.
Unquestionably there is some money for affordable housing. I will not take away the support for low-income seniors and disabled people. The $1 billion is a one-time investment over two years for renovation and energy retrofits, but no new buildings are being created. There is no new affordable housing being built for families who are waiting right now. I think the wait-list is somewhere around six to seven years to find any affordable housing whatsoever for families with moderate to low income in Toronto, but there is no long-term strategy here for affordable housing of any kind.
There is no question that I appreciate the assistance for seniors and disabled families. Nonetheless, it is only $75 million over two years for construction of housing for persons with disabilities and $400 million over two years targeted for low-income seniors. Those are two good pieces. I am glad to see there is at least some assistance for some of the more vulnerable people in our society. However, the reality is that in this country people are waiting six to seven years or more for affordable housing. In my own riding I have seen families who have lost jobs begging and coming to me because they cannot pay their rent or find affordable housing.
Under this affordable housing plan we have retrofits, and that is great. There is no question that renovation is a good program, but people need to have money to put forward in order to be able to benefit from home renovation. If people do not have a job or the money to pay a mortgage, they cannot do it. These programs help those Canadians who have money, and that is okay, because we need people to spend money. However, we also need to look after those people who are vulnerable in our society, the large number of people who have lost jobs and the others already on the wait-list who have not been able to access affordable housing.
Affordable housing is a major infrastructure program as well as a benefit to society. It is an investment in the long term. That housing will be there for decades to come and will bring stability to the sector. Looking into the future, it would be investing in our society as well as creating jobs in our community, and we need to do that. Social infrastructure is just as important as the infrastructure for roads, bridges and so on.
Another area which is not just missed, but it is actually punitive, and that is not even the right word, is pay equity. Pay equity is a human rights issue for women. It is not a privilege. It is not something that is done because one is trying to be nice. It is a basic human right for women.
Women in this country are now earning 70¢ to the dollar. In the mid-nineties they were earning 72¢ to the dollar. They are actually going backward and not making headway. That is taking into consideration a university education as well. The fact of the matter is that women are earning less. This House has asked the government repeatedly to strengthen pay equity. The reports from the standing committee of the House have constantly requested the same thing. A task force report was tabled as far back as 2004 to bring forward proactive pay equity legislation, but under the current legislation the government is in fact taking away the right for women to even put in a complaint. Now, if a woman is being discriminated against on a pay issue, she cannot even put in a complaint under the current bill. That will be eliminated because it is supposed to be part of the collective bargaining agreement.
I have all the respect for unions and will always support collective bargaining, but women's rights are not to be bartered with at the table. I also learned today that not only women can no longer put in complaints, but also that if a union member helps a woman put forward a complaint to the human rights commission, that member will be charged $50,000 for actually assisting her to put in a complaint under an act under which she has every right to put in a complaint. It is absolutely bizarre that the government has, from day one, from the time it was elected back in 2006 and in budget after budget, constantly brought in measures that are to the detriment of women, that put women down and erase them from the face of any legislation. I do not know what the government's problem is. Seventy-six per cent of women are in the labour force, but this seems to be something that does not sink in.
I want to go to something else, and that is jobs for the future.
There is nothing in this document that is strong on the environment. We have seen the results of previous environmental programs, such as the transit passes, which have actually produced absolutely nothing. They have put money into people's pockets, but they have not created any measurable reduction in environmental pollution, so that does not help in any way.
There is no investment in the jobs of tomorrow. The President of the United States is talking about investing in green technology, in creating the jobs of tomorrow. I guess we will be buying their technology, because we are not doing it ourselves, and this budget does not have it.
Employment insurance has been extended five weeks, yes, but accessibility is still a huge problem, especially for women. Nearly three times as many men qualified for EI during the last reporting period than did women. That shows one of the major concerns with respect to EI.
I have a great deal more to say on that point, although maybe not at this time. These are just some of the issues on which, in my view, the government has missed the boat. I would urge the government to listen to the opposition, as it did on some of the things it has put in the budget; to make changes in the next little while; and to invest in the areas that will strengthen our economy, make us a partner with each other, build for the future and help us come out of this mess with a stronger rather than weaker society.
Madam Speaker, I do not believe my colleagues in the Liberal Party really understand what is at stake here. If it was not apparent before either in the doomed economic statement of November 27 or the recent budget, then it should be clear now based on what is in this legislation, Bill , the budget implementation act.
If there is any way for me to make a miracle happen on behalf of the women of this country, it would be to convince the Liberals not to sit back and support the budget implementation act which sets back the clock some 30 years in terms of women's equality. I wish I could find those words because they do not realize that what is at stake here is everything that the member for fought for all these years, that I fought for, that my colleague from fought for, that the member for fought for and, of course, that my male colleagues fought for as well.
We entered political life to make a difference. One way to make that difference was to ensure that some measure of pay equity was being enforced right across this country. I cannot believe that the Liberals are going to sit here today and let this go down the tubes. I cannot believe that they are going to let the women of this country down simply because they got boxed in by some stupid response to this Conservative budget, which does not deserve to be supported for one second of the day. I cannot believe it.
I may be emotional today, but I have been involved in the women's movement for some 30 to 40 years. When we started working in the women's movement it was not just to be patsies for the men or for a right-wing macho party like the Conservative Party. It was to stand up for women, to stand up and be counted and make sure that the laws of the land respected and reflected the great diversity of this land and the values of this country. At the heart of that is equality and justice. At the heart of equality and justice is pay equity, and what pay equity means is equal pay for work of equal value.
If the Liberals do not understand what they are doing right now, then they only need to talk to the Conservatives who at their last convention in November, in the city of Winnipeg, rolled back the clock in terms of their own party resolutions and eliminated the concept of equal pay for work of equal value. They changed the definition of pay equity back to what it was 30 or 40 years ago, which is equal pay for equal work. That resolution was sponsored by the Conservatives' own caucus. It was not an individual member who did not know what he or she was doing. It was sponsored by their caucus and introduced by the member for .
How can anyone sit and ignore what is really being done to us here today? Look at the legislation. Look at what the Conservatives are doing to the concept of equal pay for work of equal value. Look at the sections under the supposed public sector equitable compensation act. The title gives the first clue. Does it say “public sector pay equity act”? No. There is a weasel word in this bill. It is a weasel word that allows the Conservatives to do what they passed at their last convention, which is to eliminate the notion of pay equity forever from this country and from women's struggle for equality. It is absolutely reprehensible and no one in the House should allow them to get away with it.
I can go back to 1985 in my province of Manitoba, when the notion of pay equity was just being developed. The women's movement was trying to convince politicians and governments about the importance of dealing with pink ghettos and women earning half of what men were making, because at that time we did not have anything that resembled equal pay for work of equal value.
That is a concept that looks at what is involved in a job and what a person brings to a job. It is not just about the straight job description, comparing a female car mechanic to a male car mechanic. It is about comparing jobs that are not necessarily identical but there is an equal value to the job, a certain level of skill, education, expertise, knowledge that justifies that job being paid on an equal basis to an equivalent job in the male sector, or in a male dominated workplace.
In 1985, the NDP government in Manitoba listened to the voices of women. In Manitoba we brought in the first legislation in this country on equal pay for work of equal value, called, The Pay Equity Act. It was not called the “equitable pay act”, to sort of pay women on an equal basis to men. It was very specific. The Pay Equity Act states:
WHEREAS many women in the Manitoba labour force work in traditionally female occupational groups, where their work is undervalued and underpaid;
AND WHEREAS Canada's international obligations commit this country to implementing the principle of equal pay for work of equal value;
AND WHEREAS section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees individuals equality before and under the law and the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination;
THEREFORE HER MAJESTY, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, enacts as follows:
1 In this Act..."pay equity" means a compensation practice which is based primarily on the relative value of the work performed, irrespective of the gender of employees, and includes the requirement that no employer shall establish or maintain a difference between the wages paid to male and female employees, employed by that employer, who are performing work of equal or comparable value--
That was the breakthrough over 30 years ago.
What do we have today? We have a government that wants to eliminate this concept from the federal statutes. It wants to take away the very notion, change the definition and eliminate any right for women to inherit what is rightfully theirs.
Today and every day that we have raised this issue, the , the minister responsible for Manitoba, has perpetrated a hoax on the House. He has totally misled this chamber. He has not told the truth about what exists in Manitoba. He has tried to leave the impression that what the Conservatives are doing is equivalent to this historic pioneering move by Manitoba back in 1985.
Let me set the record straight. There is no comparison between what the government is proposing and what is on the statutes in Manitoba. Instead in this federal system, under the Conservative government's proposals, there is no legislation that entrenches the notion of equal pay for work of equal value and there is no mechanism for appeals. The Conservatives are taking away the right to go to the Human Rights Commission. As my colleague from pointed out, it also will fine people who actually advocate on behalf of employees who want their rights upheld. The Conservatives want to fine people maybe $50,000 if someone in the union decides that the complaint is worth pursuing and the woman was done an injustice and therefore needs some representation. Not only do the Conservatives take it away, but they penalize people for advocating on behalf of women.
What we need in this country at the federal level is a government that does not turn back the clock on women, that does not negate a value or a struggle that was won legitimately with integrity and with all the education and research to justify and to explain that breakthrough.
We in the House cannot let the government take away something that has been so important to our struggle, no matter what party we belong to today. All of us, Liberals, Bloc and New Democrats, one way or another have fought for equal pay for work of equal value. I do not know about the Conservatives. Maybe there are one or two or a few among them who know what this means, what it is all about and what they are doing today, but if not, I suggest they go back and do a little research, a little reading, because what is at stake here, what they are about to do is to eliminate something that is fundamental to any notion of equality.
Manitoba's legislation is not based on the notion of equitable compensation as this bill is, but Manitoba's legislation is grounded on the principle and founded on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. That is the system that was started in 1985, and as a result of the pervasive nature of the fact that it operates in all sectors of our society, it has gone from strictly the provincial civil service to all sectors. When it does not touch a certain sector and there is a gap, a person can still go to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and lodge a complaint.
What the minister said is rubbish. It is absolutely not true when he suggested any comparison between Manitoba with its enlightened policies about women and the Conservative government's outdated, retrograde, chauvinistic, macho approach to decisions that have to be made on the basis of women and women's equality.
I saw it in the House today. Those members stand up and hoot and holler when someone brings forward legislation to get rid of the gun registry. Do they stand up to their and make all kinds of noise on something as negative, as regressive, as outdated, as unjust as their party's decision on equal pay for work of equal value?
All I can say is that we are talking about something that is fundamental to everything we have done and worked for over the years. We cannot let it slip away. The Liberals have an obligation to look at this and understand what they are doing by agreeing to pass Bill , a bill that eliminates--
I guess, Madam Speaker, you could consider this a prop considering the fact that it should be put in the garbage. This is the government's bill and if the members do not want me to use it, maybe that is what they think of it. This is the bill that we are debating today. I would suggest to the member that he read it and realize just what his government is doing on the notion of equality.
Maybe I should read from it. Let us begin with page 362, the clause that begins with the establishment of this supposed new legislation that the likes to refer to as being on an equal basis with what exists in Manitoba, the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act.
I would like to know from the government what “equitable” means, how this is defined in law and what bearing it has in terms of equal pay for work of equal value. I would like to know, on the basis of this huge bill of over 500 pages, why we have a section that fines people who work on behalf of employees who feel that their rights are not being met or adhered to. I would like to know why in clause 399 of this bill it says specifically that the Human Rights “Commission does not have jurisdiction to deal with complaints made against an employer within the meaning of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act”. I would like to know where one can find justice if one still believes in the notion of equal pay for work of equal value. There is no legislation that upholds the concept and now there is no way to advance a complaint with the Human Rights Commission that is founded on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
What is left? What are women? Are we chopped liver? Do we have no rights anymore? Where does this take us? What does the government really want to do? How does it feel about women and equality?
I do not know if I can get through to the government members on this because they obviously have an agenda that was made clear at their convention in November. They do not like the notion of equal pay for work of equal value. They are in an era way before the women's movement and women's equality. They want to set women back and negate the gains for which we fought for so many years.
However, I want to appeal to the Liberals because they were part of this struggle. Sure, there were some problems along the way. They did not advance the changes in legislation and the broadening of the mechanisms for the Human Rights Commission to pursue injustices in terms of equal pay. Sure, we did not get far enough in terms finding a way to have the government initiate, on a proactive basis, complaints about the lack of equal pay for work equal value. Sure, it was a complaints based system and lots of problems with it, but at least we had the concept, at least the Liberals understood and at least there was some common ground but now we are about to lose all of that.
There are so many other reasons why the Liberals should oppose the bill, why they should not be making deals with the Conservatives and why the Conservative-Liberal axis is just wrong, One need only to look at pay equity or child care and the fact that the bill makes absolutely no attempt to address the very serious situation facing parents either looking for child care or women or men working in the child care field.
I want to refer to Pat Wege from Manitoba who has been working on this for about 30 or 40 years. She said:
Shame on the Government of Canada for leaving child care out of the federal budget yet again. The majority of parents need child-care services, whether they are employed, searching for a job, or need to enter retraining.
She goes on to say:
While the [Conservative] government continues to ignore the child care file, U.S. President Barack Obama is wasting no time. His economic recovery plan includes billions in additional support for the development of more early learning and child-care services.
Whether we are looking at pay equity, child care or employment insurance, especially when it comes to women who work in part time jobs or in precarious employment situations, not to have access to employment insurance when they lose their jobs through no fault of their own, is absolutely reprehensible and wrong.
I thought the Conservatives were joining us when we tried to raise in the House, when the Liberals were in government, the whole issue of Kelly Lesiuk, the famous Manitoban who fought the system because she was short a few hours and could not afford to leave her job to have another child because the EI rules were just so regressive in terms of women, especially young women who wanted to have children.
I could talk about the RCMP cuts and the fact that the Conservative government talks about law and order and about getting rid of the gun registry. Goodness knows why the Conservative members will not stand up for RCMP officers who need to be supported and respected. They work in dangerous situations, often in isolated communities and often on their own, and yet the government wants to roll back their salaries. Go figure. How does that make sense in this day and age?
I could talk about infrastructure and the fact that many communities in Manitoba will not be able to take advantage of the infrastructure dollars simply because the Conservative government is trying to suggest that if a municipality has already budgeted for a recreational facility or the construction of a building then it will not eligible for any support. Does that make sense when a municipality is trying to pull together the resources in the first place to meet its infrastructure needs, and along comes the government and says that it is not eligible?
Why did the government not bring in the gas tax formula that we and others recommended to deal with infrastructure dollars?
Where is the support for people who are being bilked out of millions of dollars because this climate is producing all kinds of Ponzi schemes and fraud artists? Where is the support for the many Manitobans who were ripped off billions by fraud artists?
With so many areas that need to be addressed, so much left to be done, so little in terms of a stimulus kickstart package from the government and so much wrong being perpetrated on Canadians, especially women, one wonders how anyone can support the budget.
Madam Speaker, I am glad to participate in the debate and appreciate the opportunity to speak.
This is not the first time I have stood on my feet and spoken in the House, but it is the first time since my election last year that I have had the opportunity to, perhaps in a little slightly more reflective way, thank my constituents for sending me here twice, in a byelection and now in a general election, and to say how proud I am to represent the constituency of . It is a riding in which my father grew up. He went to Jarvis Collegiate, and then to the University of Toronto. Had it not been for a $250 scholarship that he received upon entry in 1932, he would not have been able to attend university.
I know many members opposite have called me many things, to which I take no particular objection. However, I am very proud of my constituency and of my association with the riding of and I am very proud to represent it here today. It is a riding of enormous diversity. I know there are a great many people in the country who like to take some exception to Toronto and might have a certain, perhaps, picture or stereotype in their minds about it.
However, if I can describe it to members, my riding goes from the lake to north of Rosedale. It goes from the Don Valley Parkway, over to Yonge Street and makes a couple of other small jogs. I know many members of Parliament represent ridings that are 100, 200 and 500 square kilometres and mine is much smaller. However, it is an intensely diverse riding, where immigrants come. It is their first point of entry, their first point of staying. St. James Town has perhaps the most densely populated part of the country. Literally tens of thousands of people live within a square block. It was well known when the riding was known as Toronto—Rosedale. It includes some of the wealthiest parts of the country, in terms of its constituents. It also includes Regent Park which, as many members will know, is one of the oldest public housing developments in the country and includes some of the least well-off people in the country. We have a large aboriginal population. We have a large gay population. We represent the diversity of Canada and the diversity of the world. It is a constituency which I am very proud to represent.
As has already been referred to by some of the members who spoke earlier, this is not my first time in the House of Commons. I was first elected here in 1978, which is over 30 years ago. This is my 30-60 year in which I turn 60 and in which I celebrate my 30th anniversary of my election to the House of Commons. Next to my colleague, my seatmate, the member for , who was elected in 1974, I think I can speak with some confidence of some of the history that we have had here with respect to the country.
I want to speak about our budgets. I want to speak about Canada's recessions. I want to speak perhaps in a way that will disappoint some people because it will not be an intensely partisan speech. I want to try to reflect a bit on some of the challenges we face as a country and on the moment which we are dealing with this intense economic crisis and perhaps compare and contrast it with some of the challenges which we faced in the past. I am speaking from personal experience.
I was the finance critic of the New Democratic Party for three years and saw budgets come and go, the budget of the Conservatives and the budget of the Liberals at the time. It was a time when we were entering into a serious recession, in the late 1970s and 1980s.
I remind members, and in the case of many of the younger members I will tell them, that when Mr. Crosbie brought in his budget in 1979, that budget had a provision for a deficit of just over $7 billion. It was a budget that also called for an increase in the taxation on gasoline of some 18¢ a litre, and there are some colleagues who will remember the arguments about that and how that went forward.
That budget was defeated. It was then followed by an election, in which Liberals were elected, and then the recession took hold full bore and full steam. It was a very difficult recession. It was a recession that saw unemployment in some parts of the country go to over 20% and, in the case of the national average, we went well up over 11% and 12%.
It was a budget that was accompanied by a long national debate on the national energy program, which proved to be extremely divisive and difficult for the entire country, in which we saw oil prices literally collapse, which seemed to be, from the point of view of the consumer, a good thing and from the point of view of the producing provinces, a very difficult thing. We saw a recession, which in its general impact, was shared very much across the country.
By the time the Trudeau government was defeated by Mr. Mulroney, the last Liberal budget, which was brought in by the Hon. Marc Lalonde, contained a deficit of well over $40 billion. It was a time when people were really unsure as to whether these techniques of priming the pump would actually work, whether it would have the desired effect.
Under the Mulroney government, that deficit went down. There was a very quick transition out of the recession that took place in the province of Ontario, starting at around 1983 and 1984, something of which I am familiar because by that time I had shifted from the federal scene to the provincial scene. We saw a very steady increase in employment and in the health of the economy from 1984 to 1989 to the point where the Peterson government was able to introduce the first surplus, balanced budget in Ontario's history for over 25 years. There had been 25 years of deficits in Ontario and it had been steady deficits in Canada from the early 1970s until 1998.
Some of my colleagues may have read in the National Post that I have had opportunities to make a little fun of how I have somehow given up my title of being the deficit punching bag to my colleagues across the way. All I intended by that article, which I am glad to say struck a certain note with some people, is simply this. I know we went through a period when, as a country, we made a collective decision that deficits added upon deficits added upon deficits, regardless of whether the country was in recession, whether we were in growth or whether we were in a remarkable healthy state, was dangerous territory for the economy of Canada.
This is often not accepted as the fact, but the simple fact is all the premiers agreed in the early 1990s, regardless of political party. I can remember very vividly the conversation in which it took place. It was the night before our premiers' conference in 1992. Premiers were there from the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. In an informal discussion before our normal first ministers meeting, we went over the ground on what we were facing in our economies. We had a very candid discussion about how challenging it was, how difficult it was, how hard the fiscal and financial situation that we faced in the early 1990s was, the impact it was having on all of our budgets and how we had a responsibility to deal with it, because in the long term, Canada would only be better off if we could manage our public finances in a better and healthier way.
We all made the moves that we had to make to get there, and they were painful moves. They were not easy. They were difficult. When Mr. Martin became the minister of finance in 1993, the first budget was not a tough one. The second budget was a tough one.
The 1995 budget, which really started the country on the way to a steady reduction in the deficit and to an improvement in our overall financial situation, was not simply the product of the political will of the Chrétien-Martin government. It was a product of prosperity and growth taking place.
I know that we all like to take credit for surpluses and we all like to allocate blame for deficits, but the simple fact of the matter is that it is the overall state of the economy that by and large determines where our fiscal and financial policy is headed. That is why I have taken no joy in saying to the government that I believe it has seriously underestimated, for a long period of time, the difficulties and the challenges which it is going to face and which any government is going to face in the face of the economic change we are going through.
One of the things that I learned in 1990, when I became premier, was that the estimates one gets from finance officials when things start going wrong usually underestimate just how wrong they are going. People usually overestimate the revenue numbers and usually underestimate the costs associated with a recession.
There is no magic here. As I look around the room I would say that what is happening is so clear that it is tragic to say we should have learned these lessons long ago. The revenue situation facing the Government of Canada and the provinces is going to get worse and the cost side is also going to get worse.
When I looked at the numbers the presented in his economic statement in the fall, I found them absolutely unbelievable. Literally unbelievable. I could not believe that a Minister of Finance would produce that kind of a statement just as the world was heading into this maelstrom, this hurricane.
I am not claiming to be any kind of financial guru. If I were, I would be somewhat substantially better off than I am today.
I would say to hon. members that the recession which we are going through today is of a different character than the ones we went through in the 1980s and the 1990s. They were very difficult. Certainly, the one that was focused on Ontario in the early 1990s was very tough. Our unemployment rate went up from 5% to over 11%. We lost over 300,000 jobs in a 15-month period.
I hear the numbers coming out today, and I know exactly how bewildering these numbers can be sometimes. Statistics Canada gets it wrong, everybody gets it wrong. There is no obfuscation in this. There is no conspiracy anywhere. It is just recognizing that as human beings we do not have all the answers and we do not know exactly what is going on. What we do know is what we are facing today is even more serious than what was faced before.
I have often heard it said that a government cannot spend its way out of a recession. Actually, it really depends. It cannot do it on its own. I certainly discovered that as premier of Ontario. When facing high interest rates and cuts in federal transfers, to try to reflate from the base of one province does not work. It causes problems and challenges which we faced in Ontario.
On the other hand, what we are facing today and what we are seeing today is an unparalleled argument, not just from one government but from a whole series of governments, that something dramatic has to happen because of the credit crisis in which certain bad loans were allowed to be syndicated. Having been syndicated, they became a kind of virus which has infected the entire financial system. That is unparalleled.
There is no comparison to what we faced before. Interest rates are low, one can argue and debate this ad infinitum. The tax structure is imperfect and could readily be improved. There are serious problems with it. It is not acting contrary to the possibilities for growth and investment by and large in Canada anymore than it is in any other country.
Still we are facing the signs of a recession that is not coming quickly to a conclusion. I think it is fair enough to say that most financial experts, most economists, and indeed the head of the IMF believes very clearly that the worst is not yet over. There are still very difficult times to come.
I know the accused members of the opposition of taking pleasure in the terrible numbers. I want to assure him that is not the case. No rational person would, certainly not one representing a constituency like mine, and we all represent different constituencies where this is the case.
We all represent ridings where we can see the difficulties people are going through. We receive people in our constituency office. We can see the scope by the number of people in difficulty who consult us, because they are in very difficult circumstances.
Honestly, the government made a pretty remarkable about face. Is the budget perfect? No, I would not say so. Would my leader or a finance minister from the Liberal Party have presented such a budget? Absolutely not. Still, does this budget provide the basis for a discussion that allows us to send it to committee? Yes, in my opinion.
I do not think it is perfect. The document poses major problems for me. However, one would have to be totally ideological to say there had been no change of opinion or policy between the economic statement in November by the , a number of months ago, already, and the budget.
Now I am not an ideological person. I try not to be. I try to be practical. I do not like the Conservative government. I do not like Conservative ideology. I have never made any pretense that I have. Most of them do not like me, which is the way it is.
That's not true.
We wanted you to be the leader.
Hon. Bob Rae: No, no. It is too late. It is all down in print.
It is very difficult for me to say that there has been no change from the statement made by the in November and the budget that has been presented. Is it perfect? No, it is not perfect. It is not a perfect document but it is a basis for discussion, which is really what we are doing. We are sending this to committee. The committee will have an opportunity to discuss it.
In the few minutes that are left to me I want to raise the issues that I want to discuss. I am very concerned by the cuts in science, research and higher education. I wrote a report for Premier McGuinty on the importance of that sector and I am disturbed that the Government of Canada has not moved in the right direction.
I believe there is a fundamental question about employment insurance. It is a tax. People pay the tax. The minister said today that the 20% of people who pay the tax will not qualify for employment insurance under any scenario. I want to find out more about who those people are and why she thinks that is equitable and fair.
I want to deal with the question of pay equity because I want to listen very carefully to what my friends in the New Democratic Party are saying. I want them to have a look again at the legislation to see whether there is not a way of resolving what I do not believe is a vast ideological chasm between the legislation and what we all think needs to happen.
I am concerned about what has happened to some provinces and in particular about the treatment of provinces that feel the changes that have been made in transfers have been made in a way that is not fair. I am very concerned about the question of the affordability of infrastructure. The government needs to have a practical look at the actual debt level of many of the cities, municipalities and provinces across the country to understand what impact it is going to have on the take-up rate. Is there not a better way to get those transfers to the municipalities? It seems to me that is a critical question.
I want to close on the question of pensions. If there is any public policy area that I do not believe the House has discussed in sufficient detail or with sufficient knowledge, it is the question of pensions. We face a tremendous challenge in the private sector. We face not just the people whose pension funds are underfunded as a result of what has happened, we also face the fact that there are literally millions and millions of employees who do not qualify for pensions and who do not have pensions. We have relied on CPP and RRSPs. There are a great many Canadians, in the millions, who do not have any RRSP money and are going to be left in great difficulty in retirement.
Those are questions and issues that I think need to be dealt with in the budget. Should the budget be defeated at this stage? I do not believe that it should and I hope that my reflections will give the House a chance to move this bill into committee and have it discussed in greater detail.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to address the House, technically a second time on the budget, since we are debating the implementation bill.
First of all, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for . I therefore have only 10 minutes to convince the Liberals, and perhaps a few Conservatives from Quebec, that the budget is less than perfect.
It is clear—and it always has been—in Conservative philosophy that taxes must be lowered and spending must be cut—often essential spending—and after that, everything will be fine. That is the game and that has been the Conservative way since the dawn of time.
However, when a Conservative government—especially this one—faces an economic crisis, it no longer has any idea what to do. The Conservatives completely lacked vision. They were unable to predict this economic crisis and they failed to implement the necessary strategies at the right time. Of course this means assistance to manufacturers, to the softwood lumber sector, to older workers who lose their jobs and to all unemployed workers.
So, in an economic crisis, action is essential. Policies to be implemented must be effective the next day. There was a certain casualness preventing those who were penalized yesterday from benefiting right away. No time must be wasted in stimulating the economy. There is clearly an infrastructure program, but it has been talked about for years and was not implemented as thoroughly as it should have been. So, who is ready tomorrow to break out the whole arsenal of equipment in order to start work on infrastructure? Plans and specifications have to be drawn up, submissions made. That slows things down. Even if the municipalities were prepared to speed up their investment, would labour be available? This is something that was needed, but the timing needs work. To jump start the economy, this might not have been the first priority.
You know that after the October 14 election—what I would call a huge consultation—the Conservatives decided to present a throne speech and an economic statement, which nearly bowled the opposition over. The knowingly confronted the opposition, and what had to happen, happened. Afraid of losing power, naturally, he sought to have the House prorogued. That led to more months of waiting and inaction.
The returned with his budget, but it remains clearly a Conservative budget. It has a slightly red cast, because the wicked wolf had his eye on Little Red Riding Hood. And Little Red Riding Hood decided that, since it was a reddish budget, it was acceptable, even though, since then, the Liberals have been speaking against most of the measures.
We heard a speaker from the Liberal Party say there were some fairly positive things regarding employment insurance. It cannot be said that there is nothing. The Liberals are leaving themselves some manoeuvring room in order to support the budget.
Let us take a closer look at employment insurance. Perhaps 90% or 99% of the elements are missing from this reform or from the investments in employment insurance, but they find one point of interest and latch onto that.
In short, there was nothing in terms of employment insurance to help people who lose their jobs and who need it immediately. In addition to meeting an everyday need, it also provides a minimal stimulus. Given the number of jobs lost since the Conservatives arrived—over 80,000 in Quebec alone—it might have had a significant impact.
There are some major oversights in this budget, such as the environment. Many organizations have complained that the budget included next to nothing to bring about improvements with respect to greenhouse gases. Even the ecoAuto program was not renewed. Under sustainable development, not-for-profit economic organizations were abandoned. Under culture, the government did nothing more for artists. Under education, which we know is so important, transfers were not increased even though education has such a major influence, if not in the short, then certainly in the medium term.
The budget also ignored the guaranteed income supplement for the poorest seniors despite these tough economic times. There is no plan for older workers, most of whom cannot retrain. The manufacturing and forestry industries were also left out. Other oversights include struggling businesses, women and women's groups, international aid recipients, and social housing for families.
There is also some serious encroachment, beginning with the federal government's intention to interfere with Quebec's jurisdiction over securities. The budget also proposes going over the Government of Quebec's head and making direct loans to municipalities. Under education, the government is putting up $50 million over two years for its foreign credential recognition initiative.
I want to spend a little more time talking about some issues, such as employment insurance. As the Liberal member just said, employment insurance benefits have been extended by five weeks. Another relatively dangerous proposal, in my opinion, is rate setting. In its Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board Act, the government gave the board the authority to set rates. Now, however, the government is doing this itself, which rules out adding anything to employment insurance to help people who lose their jobs.
The Bloc Québécois made some brilliant suggestions, and so have others. We suggested the waiting period, reducing the number of hours required to 360, and certain eligibility criteria because, in many cases, people are not even entitled to benefits. Adding five weeks will not help people in the short term. We also wanted the government to increase the rate from 55% to 60%.
What about seniors? Did the Conservatives bother to include them in their October 14 consultation? I will quickly read a press release about the federal budget issued by the president of the Sherbrooke AQDR:
“The president of the Sherbrooke AQDR, Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées, Ms. Thérèse St-Cyr, believes that the federal budget ignores seniors. In fact, the throne speech refers once to seniors when indicating that the budget will take into account the needs of the most vulnerable. The budget refers to seniors three times. The first time is in relation to tax relief which, according to our calculations, will total between $100 and $300 per year per person, depending on income. Seniors are referred to a second time in connection with social housing. We estimate that 75 social housing units for seniors will be renewed in the next two years in the Eastern Townships. This is quite inadequate given that the needs are far greater. Finally, the budget refers to older workers affected by plant closures and job losses. Amounts will be allocated for training. These are good intentions but will not provide income. In light of this information, we declare that the federal budget ignores seniors.”
With regard to social housing, if Sherbrooke's seniors are only entitled to 75 social housing units, just imagine what they will get from the rest of the budget . Even though the government has allocated money for housing, it is seriously inadequate. It means that there is no social housing for others in the Eastern Townships.
Therefore, the government has abandoned the most vulnerable, the most disadvantaged. It would have helped a great deal if—
Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing Bill , which, if passed, will implement the budget that was tabled a few days ago.
First, this budget is full of smoke and mirrors. It is a sham. It throws a lot of money around, but it does not help individuals. This budget will help some multinationals, but will leave seniors, women and individuals in the lurch. Even though part 1 of the bill does contain various measures targeting personal taxes, a person will have to earn $85,000 or more in 2008 to get a $317 tax break. That is not even a dollar a day. In addition, not everyone earns $85,000 or more. On average, people earn between $40,000 and $60,000 and will therefore save about $200 or $235 for the year. That is not a huge tax cut.
As well, people who have children and earn $2,000 more than their current salary can be sure their child tax benefit will not go down. But when someone is trying to make ends meet, works hard or does overtime, he or she will make a lot more than $2,000.
Economists agree that tax cuts are not very effective. On page 239 of his budget, the himself says that this tax cut will be ineffective because it is a weak economic stimulus, compared to money for low-income households or infrastructure investments.
Another measure is not so bad. The Conservative government is increasing the old age credit for seniors, who could get $150 more. All in all, individuals could get $300. Seniors who do not earn $85,000 could get a tax cut of about $100, $300 at most. That is not really much help for individuals.
There is also no help for forestry or manufacturing companies. The government likes to boast that it is helping companies, but our manufacturing and forestry companies are not turning a profit. How are they supposed to use tax credits to invest in their company? They cannot. They cannot get a tax abatement because they are not turning a profit, so this does not help our companies.
Something that comes as a real surprise is the 's position on his commitment to get rid of tax havens. People are not stupid. Companies make money here in Canada, then put that money into accounts in other countries. Those companies should be paying taxes here so that we can have more equitable distribution of wealth. Unfortunately, in 2007, around the time when the said that he was about to take action against tax evasion, he put together an expert panel, ostensibly to examine the minister's ideas for tackling tax evasion.
All of a sudden, people realized that the panel was reversing the minister's decision and persuading him to blindly accept its recommendations not to do anything about tax havens because, it said, our companies had to be able to deal with international competition. I find that more than a little strange. Honest, hard-working taxpayers, whether they live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada, find it appalling that these companies are granted tax exemption and can send their money elsewhere. Unfortunately, members of other parties in the House voted for this. People are appalled.
I want to draw my colleagues' attention to the single securities commission. We know that, in Quebec, the securities commission falls exclusively under provincial jurisdiction. According to this budget, the government plans to use this bill to set up a Canadian securities regulation regime transition office. That, too, is pretty strange. Quebeckers, among others, find the current Conservative government's position disrespectful, and they are wondering just how much their Liberal Party colleagues will put up with. This is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.
One group is proposing that a federal securities regulation agency be created. The report proposes various things, including various mechanisms to implement the project without agreement from Quebec and the other provinces. This expert panel is also proposing that the federal government use legal recourse. But, in response to questions in the House, the minister stated that we would have the freedom to choose whether to join a single securities commission. Does it seem that we will have the choice?
We know that in the end they will force our hand. Our companies that want to do business will also have to join this single securities commission, even if they already belong to the one in Quebec. I wonder when it will stop, this poaching that ends by forcing them to be part of a single securities commission. I find it perverse.
This is another trap in the budget. The Conservatives have a habit of that. This is the second time that one of their budgets has quietly passed another small element.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois will strongly oppose this single securities commission. Even Quebec's National Assembly came to a consensus. I do not understand how the Quebec members of the Conservative and Liberal parties can accept this when even their own National Assembly is against it. They will have to explain themselves sooner or later.
The question of infrastructure also has some traps. Our municipalities have to pay as much as the federal and provincial governments. Each will pay one third. This is not clearly stated in the document, but the municipalities have to be aware of this.
This budget proposes a collection of amendments and measures that the Bloc Québécois will vote against because they do not take the National Assembly's consensus into consideration.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today because this debate concerns ordinary Canadians. I do not think this is just noise for this Chamber. What happens as a consequence of decisions made here will make a visceral difference. That is probably not something we could have said for fact a few years ago in the sense that a wide swath of Canadians will be touched by what happens or does not happen in this House in the next short while.
I am speaking today, not so much in favour of Bill C-10, but out of the necessity to put forward some of the practical matters in it. On the preponderance of things that need to get done, we would rather start with this flawed bill and work in a different way, a way that I think many Canadians, when they are paying attention and when the things that happen here do matter to them, would like to believe this House is capable of.
To be truthful, there are things that we do not yet know about this bill in terms of how it will affect Canadians. However, I think it is important to lay things out for people, as I did a short time ago in my riding at a budget breakfast. A short time after the government's budget, I explained it to people in at an early morning discussion to get their feedback. I think people came to a similar conclusion. They did not believe the budget addressed the needs of the country at this particular time. People have concerns, not so much about the motivation, but about the Conservative's conviction when it comes to the particular set of measures, whether they believe, in their heart of hearts, in these measures and whether they will prosecute in the interests of Canadians with all their being? I think very few Canadians believe that to be the case.
Frankly, some of the Conservatives who believe or have been led to believe that could happen regardless are upset about it. There is no doubt reason to look skeptically at Bill C-10 and the measures that it would put forward.
However, to get a perspective and a perspective that a surprising number of Canadians share in the sense of paying real attention to what is going on in this House is the difference between November, when the government said that its priority was to remove $5 billion from the economy and when it gave us all manner of prose and poetry about how it felt the economy was doing just fine and that it could actually cut government spending to the current point of running a deficit that most people thought was going to happen.
Mr. Speaker, before I continue, I would note that I will be splitting my time with the member for . He will probably have better words of wisdom to add to this perspective but it is an essential one.
People appreciate the kind of distinction we are drawing here, between a government changing its mind and outlook and being dragged there, no doubt, by some fairly extraordinary circumstances. I think another member of this House talked about the road to Damascus being like the highway that serves Toronto, the Don Valley Parkway being filled with Conservatives trying to change their mind, disposition and outlook on the economy. I think that is a relatively accurate thing. Whether they are driving those cars, being towed along or will actually get there concerns Canadians. It is a serious matter because the lives of Canadians hang in the balance.
One of the things I do agree with, which was mentioned by members of the other parties, is that this is not the budget in itself that will help vulnerable Canadians. For a time, I had the privilege of running food banks in Canada, a little too long ago for my liking in the sense that we started with emergency measures during a boom time in Alberta. I do not want to scare the members from there but those were the conditions that begat the first food bank in this country, and then we were in the grips of not one but two different recessions.
What this budget fails to recognize is the dignity of Canadians. It fails to put dollars into the hands of breadwinners in terms of mothers, fathers and families so they can sustain their dignity. What we should have learned from the last couple of recessions is that when those dollars are there, they will be best spent by those families. They will fall a little less further, get up that much more quickly and promote and look after themselves in a way that I would have thought the members opposite would have agreed but they could not bring themselves there.
The measures targeted for the vulnerable are light. The budget contains some money to build housing for seniors and it adds some additional weeks to qualify if one is on unemployment insurance, but it does not hit at the heart of the matter of the people who would not otherwise qualify. Many people in work in temporary jobs and they are already feeling the pinch.
If there are members opposite who, perhaps because of their geography or their communities, doubt whether this recession is really taking a bite, I would like them to visit some of the people and families in my riding who have lost the hours and who have the least secure jobs. If there is ever going to be a reference point for us in the House, it should not be just the voting middle class. It has to be the people for whom many of the measures, institutions and programs exist. It is those who, through no fault of their own, need to depend on the measures of government for at least a short period of time.
What this budget misses in its entirety, because it has been wrestled out of a philosophy that does not quite get this point, is that if people are treated with dignity, they will do the best possible for themselves. They will live in poverty for the shortest period of time possible, but that, I have to report, is not how far we have been able to drag this government. That is not where it has gone.
That remains a measure to which the House needs to dedicate itself. It needs to find a means to bring forward provisions other than the ones being debated today. We need some of these other measures to come forward, even with the half-hearted and unmotivated, almost grousing, kind of enthusiasm from the members opposite, because many Canadians depend on the government continuing to function.
We want to address the value of this particular set of measures. We want to talk about how these measures will actually make a difference in people's lives. The way we will get to the value is the function of the House. Through committees, parliamentary officers and a variety of means, we have put the government on probation, because we recognize not only that it does not have in its target the general well-being of Canadians and Canadians who will be hurt or harmed by this recession, but also that it needs to be on a very short leash. It is not just benign reports, but a whole process of bringing forward to Canadians the actual implementation.
Last year the government did not spend $8.8 billion on infrastructure. It gave $1.5 billion back to the treasury over the last two years, and what it announced went disproportionately to its own ridings. It is not that the government that does not believe in government is suddenly converted to one that we can have faith in. It is because it recognizes that it weakened Canada ahead of this recession through the changes it made, going from minus $5 billion to plus $18 billion and paying for $16 billion of its deficit, as the parliamentary budget officer reminds us, which was a deficit built on some of the injudicious decisions it made. Tax cuts made in an untimely and non-targeted fashion lessened our capacity. However, that extra $18 billion needs to get out to the people who need it.
Infrastructure gives us cause for significant concern. In this area I do not just represent my constituents, but try to act as an infrastructure assurance office for the entire country. We will ensure that we get the information out of not just the minister and the ministry, but out of the government as a whole. There are a variety of programs that cut across ministries, such as programs in industry and Indian Affairs. The government has said a numbrt of things, and we need to make sure that a double value is obtained.
It is very important to understand that all members of this House have a duty. Their duty is not only to rapidly spend the money made available through this budget implementation bill, but also, and this is important, to get value for the money. It is really very important that all members in this House recognize this very important and meaningful responsibility.
Because we are borrowing this money, we have to make certain that we get the double value we are seeking. Yes, it is money that can be used to stimulate the economy, but it can also also be used to begin fulfilling a role in building a better Canada and in building some of the new competitive advantage. That is also going to have to be built in.
Just as we have to make sure that the vulnerable are not going to be missed, we are going to have to make sure that a government that lacks vision and imagination and has no view of the future is forced to focus on the things that will leave us stronger. That is what will justify our borrowing money to get this implemented.
Our competitive advantage is made up of the people we have. In the government's consideration, people had taken a place second to its own political machinations. It threw this country into a 60-day delay. Were it not for that delay, the disposition of the House and of the members on this side of the House would be decidedly different. We have decided not so much to give the government the benefit of the doubt as to give the people of Canada more than the benefit of the doubt. They, with timely assistance, will help us pull through. They are prepared to link up in new ways across government, industry and labour to find ways to make Canada work, despite the government's intentions.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to add my voice to this debate on the budget implementation bill, Bill .
As I open my remarks, I want to go back to when the debate started this morning. My good friend, the parliamentary secretary, in his very eloquent speech, said that the government wanted to move this thing forward fast and it would not put up speakers. I would like Canadians to know that what he was really saying was he did not want anyone to put up speakers so the bill could be expedited and moved along.
We get paid by Canadians to be here and to debate these issues, and that is important. My heritage is Greek. Some years ago an ancient Greek by the name of Solon founded democracy. He believed in debate. It is through debate that we can move democracy forward.
If we do not have the opportunity to debate the budget implementation bill, how will we analyze what the flaws are? We cannot just take it for granted. I am going to get into some specifics.
In the morning, when I began feeling really frustrated, I went out for a walk, I cooled off and thought my good friend for would start off and I would move forward.
Why did we choose to support the budget bill? For Canada and Canadians. Our constituents told us that we could not afford to spend an extra half a billion dollars plus for an election, when the result might probably be the same. It is the last thing they needed right now. We agreed with them. We agreed we had more important things to address as opposed to going back to the people.
We wanted to put up speakers to explain to Canadians what was happening. There are areas in the budget with which I am very pleased, and I will outline them, but there are areas about which I have concerns.
There is significant investment outlined for social housing, infrastructure and for first nations, which makes me very happy. There is targeted support for low and middle-income Canadians through the expansion of the child tax credit and the working income tax benefit. I am very pleased about that as well. There is investment in regional development agencies throughout the country.
We have grave concerns. That is why our amendment has put the government on probation. I believe the government will be reporting three times, and we will see if it delivered.
Today a friend of mine told me to read page 24 of today's The Hill Times, which states “Infrastructure money hasn’t flowed, says Federation of Canadian Municipalities”. It is not the Liberals who are complaining, it is the cities. Earlier today they referred to 1967, centennial year, where we had infrastructure unfolding right across the country, hockey arenas, community centres, and it was all wonderful. You remember very well, Mr. Speaker, and we were young at that time, it was a different country.
It was not the country we live in today. We did not have the billions of dollars in debts and deficits that are outlined here and the cities were functioning differently at that time. My parents were maybe paying $500 a year in property taxes. Seniors today are having to pay $4,000 and $5,000 in property taxes. They cannot afford any more tax increases. The cities do not have the ability to put up their one-third. The provinces are finding it difficult, as well. That is not how the program worked in 1967.
We hear what is going on in the United States. I have not heard President Barack Obama talk about one-third, one-third, one-third. If ever there were a time for a government to step in, if ever a nation needed help, it is now.
The area I come from, the former city of Scarborough, has a need. There are potholes like crazy in our streets, and there are unbelievable numbers of complaints. It is the greatest city of Toronto. What is happening? We are downloading to who? Through property tax increases, maybe so the cities can come up with the one-third, one-third, one-third.
I am concerned primarily because in the past the government, with all due respect, has made a lot of announcements. This is not Liberal bias. According to the papers and the statistics, the government is not delivering the programs. Let me give one an example.
When we were in government in 2006, we announced funding of $25 million for the necessary infrastructure for the Canada film festival. I was there with the former senior minister, the member for , Susan Kadis, a former member, Tony Ianno, the former member for Trinity--Spadina, and several others. We cut the cake, pictures were taken and we announced the funding. The funding was confirmed in that Liberal budget.
In the last election the Conservatives announced this funding. They saw me in that picture. This funding was announced almost three years ago. This is the concern I and my constituents have. There is a lot of talk, but one has to deliver. This is the kind of accountability we are talking about on behalf of Canadian taxpayers.
Under the picture, which shows the and his assistant Chris Day, it says, “'best estimate' the department currently has is that $3.6-billion of the funds have been”, and this is the key word, “allocated”.
The Conservatives told us that this money had already been given. The key word is “allocated”. This is a quote from the executive assistant, Mr. Day. What does that mean? Allocated means it could come on the 35th of the month or maybe the 37th of the month five years from now.
The parliamentary secretary has asked why the Conservatives do not have input from the Liberals. We took a difficult situation in 1993 upon ourselves as a Liberal team and made those tough decisions, as a party, and we allowed Canadians to judge us accordingly.
The has said that he is an economist. He said during the election that he ran his own business, but he did not know what business he ran. He compared himself to our member for , who is an economist. He has hands on experience. He worked for a bank. I would like the Prime Minister to tell me where he applied his economist experience. This is the time he should be proving his experience.
We did not go out knocking on anybody's door. We made those decisions on our own. We consulted right across the country. Before our budget, all my colleagues held extensive consultations. I held them in Scarborough with my other colleagues from Scarborough. We brought information. We were receptive to input from the opposition, but these are different times. These are times that call for bold and tough decisions. These are times that call for pulling up our socks and being honest with Canadians.
I will tell the House of concerns that people have brought to my attention.
For example, the United States today is talking about green jobs, a green economy. Every day when the answers questions in the House, she says that the government has invested money in training for future jobs. Have those future jobs been identified? Before investing in training, the jobs need to be identified. I have a human resources background. Before I go into the water, I want to know that I can swim.
The minister talks about retraining people. For what jobs are we retraining? We have heard the government talk about high-tech jobs, but we have also heard about high-tech companies laying people off right, left and centre. Bombardier was mentioned the other day.
The government has talked about investing in the Canadian Space Agency. That is wonderful. How many people will be retrained to become robotic engineers?
If the Conservatives have identified these new jobs, then I ask them to please let us know so I can inform my constituents who are getting laid off as well.
It boils down to credibility.
A friend of mine knew I was going to speak today so he brought me an article that was printed in the Toronto Star, on Sunday, October 5. I know I cannot use names because I do not want to be reprimanded. The article headline reads “[the Prime Minister's] tactics mislead voters”.
Canadians are worried about that. As much as we want to give the government the green light on its budget, to a degree there is a gut feeling that we are being misled somewhere. That is why it is important for speakers to get up in the House. That is why this debate is important, so we have the opportunity to express our views on behalf of our constituents.
Mr. Speaker, there are 750,000 children living in poverty, 1.5 million Canadians cannot find decent housing, and 130,000 were thrown out of work just in January alone. This is the worst financial collapse in history and the planet is in crisis. What does it take for this country to change direction?
We had hoped for a budget that would bring about a green economic recovery where no one is left behind, a budget where funding for those who dedicate their lives to educating and taking care of our children in early childhood education centres would finally be a priority, where working parents could rest assured that they would not have to add their names to a waiting list as soon as their children were conceived in order to secure a child care space.
There are parents like Susanne in my riding who said, “I'm currently on 25 child care wait lists. I have been on many since 2007 when I was only a couple of weeks pregnant. I have put down many deposits to get on the wait list. I have toured the child care centres. I follow up regularly and with only a couple of months left in my maternity leave, I still do not have day care. My husband and I are already planning to take time off work, which is not really affordable right now”. Susanne is desperate.
We had hoped that those who have diligently paid employment insurance through their entire working lives would be able to get back that money when they need it most without having to become destitute first.
Yes, the New Democrats have a vision of a country where our artists and cultural institutions that enrich our lives would at last receive the funding they deserve and the image of the starving artist would be a myth.
In these tough times we need green jobs that would promote wind, solar, geothermal energy that would offer us a unique opportunity to save our planet, create jobs, burn less and save money. Yet, we have nothing of the sort in the Conservative-Liberal alliance budget.
We thought that these dreams would at long last become a reality when the Liberals signed on to the requirements we placed in the coalition accord, but I guess the Liberals were just too afraid to take charge. My colleague is right. They backed out and instead they support a Conservative budget that they said is flawed. They refuse to change the direction of this country. They have given up hope. They would not want to take charge.
Perhaps there is a reason. I remember in 2000 the former Liberal government came to Toronto and said, “Here is all this money for Union Station”. Not a penny of it came to Toronto. The Liberals promised millions for the waterfront. Not a penny of it came. Perhaps that is why the Liberals are afraid to take charge. That is why they do not want any change. They have given up hope.
The New Democrats are not about to do the same. We are striving to push for more action. We are striving to push for a real budget that would not leave anyone behind.
We do not believe that the 325,000 unemployed workers, this year alone, are really too lazy to find jobs. In Toronto, seven out of ten unemployed workers do not qualify for employment insurance after having paid into it all their lives. Are they benefiting from a lucrative system, I ask?
We heard from the who said on January 30, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it”. It reminds me of a former government, the Mike Harris government. The same finance minister of that government said that these unemployed mothers are at home and just drink beer and watch TV. They are lazy and they do not want to find a job.
That is the same kind of ideology that is now saying that there will not be one extra unemployed worker who will get employment insurance in this country. These unemployed workers are being ripped off because they contributed. It is an insurance program. They put their money in and now they need it back. Instead, they will not get it
Members should remember that 65% of women are still ineligible for employment insurance. When we talk about the most vulnerable, the unemployed workers who are left out and left behind, they are by and large women.
That is why New Democrats believe there should be a standard 360 hours eligibility across the country, and the unemployed should get at least 60% of their earnings for up to $600 a week, for a much longer period of time than what we have now. Perhaps the minister needs to experience unemployment herself to truly understand what an increasing number of Canadians experience when they try to navigate the broken EI system.
Here are more reasons why the Conservative-Liberal budget deserves a failing grade.
There is no action to cap huge credit card interest rates and transaction fees. Working Canadians are struggling to pay their mortgages and put food on the table. Canadian consumers paid over $4.5 billion in hidden credit card fees last year alone. We all pay at the check-out counter to cover the cost of these corporate credit card benefits, even if we do not have one. It is totally unfair.
New Democrats want the banks to be required to prove, through independent audits, that their credit card and other interest rates and fees do not amount to gouging, with a public report issued by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
If we look at the environment, Canada lags behind dramatically when it comes to spending on the environment. The budget plan includes funds for clean energy; however, the Conservative-Liberal definition of clean energy includes nuclear and even coal-burning energy, and untested carbon capture technology.
What this budget bill does do is eliminate proper environmental controls for new infrastructure programs and projects. Degrading our environment is fine as long as maybe private companies can make money because right now the private sector is supposed to be building these public infrastructures, or else there would not be any matching funds.
Speaking about greed, this budget continues to reward big companies such as Imperial Oil, which had a 22% profit increase last year. All these companies will receive $60 billion in corporate tax cuts, so for every $60 going to companies, $1 goes to the unemployed. Those are completely wrong priorities and this is what our country does not need right now.
Green industry will get a cut in funding. The funding to advance science research also has been cut. Much of the infrastructure funds that have been talked about at length in this House would not flow to cash-strapped cities because they cannot afford to cost share it. The city of Toronto, for example, needs at least $7 billion to purchase new street cars and implement its plan called transit city, but it just does not have those kinds of funds to match the federal funds.
We talked about the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable are the kids who go to bed hungry. Many of their parents right now earn less than $20,000. In this 500-page budget, not one single penny will go to these families that earn less than $20,000. They will not qualify for the increase in the national child benefit supplement or the Canada child tax benefit.
The poorest kids get absolutely nothing. What a shame. How could the Liberal Party say that it meets its test of protecting the most vulnerable? If the kids are in families that earn less than $20,000 are not the most vulnerable, who are the most vulnerable? I just do not understand the Liberals' logic.
Campaign 2000, a campaign to end child poverty said:
This is macho-economics that leaves women and children off the lifeboat in this recession!
With the lack of purpose for action in this budget, it's certain that rates of child and family poverty will increase and the federal government will be left with no capacity to respond. [The Minister of Finance] may have purchased new shoes for this budget but it's about time he found his soul.
This is a soulless budget because it does nothing for children. Taking care of children should be our first duty. There is not one single penny in this budget to support child care or early learning. Already both UNICEF and the OECD have said that Canada ranked last in our investment in early childhood education and we continue to do the same in this budget, even though investing in children is good for Canada, good for the economy.
The report by Dr. David Butler-Jones on the state of public health in Canada notes that for every dollar invested in children during their early years, government saves $3 to $9 in future spending on health, criminal justice and social assistance.
It is good for the economy. It is good for our children. It is good for our productivity. It is good for working parents. However, the budget has nothing in it for early learning and child care.
There is also no action to improve public pensions or shore up employers' pension plans. There is hardly anything for seniors.
The budget ignores the skyrocketing tuition and debt loads for post-secondary students. They cannot find a job. It is difficult and they do not have the money to pay their student loans right now. Why are we not looking at forgiving the interest and the principal for the time being? That means university graduates will still be saddled with thousands of dollars of debt as they enter a shrinking workforce.
What is in the budget is punishment. There is punishment for students, making it more difficult for obtaining student loans by putting an overwhelming onus on students to provide documentation, while making it easier for the minister to retroactively punish students. Imagine that. The government is punishing students in this time and as part of the budget implementation bill. I do not know how punishing students can stimulate our economy.
Working mothers are feeling the pinch with this Conservative-Liberal alliance budget. They are being left out in the cold with no options. One mother wrote to me:
I can't afford to pay for afterschool programs for my kids, plus put the 2 youngest in fulltime daycare while l work 9:00am-5:00pm, because I will be charged over $500 a week. I can't quit my job because that makes absolutely no sense...I moved in with my sister to help me get on my feet and if I don't work I can't save to get a place of my own. I can't afford to pay the regular rates for daycare because it takes my whole pay. What is a mother in my situation to do?
I was always proud to say Canada is a country of equal opportunity, the best place to live. However, it seems like I have to swallow my words because it has become so hard to live in Canada. Rent is too much, pay is too low, childcare expenses too high, tuition too high, not enough assistance for honest working people and disappointment every way you look at it.
This budget does nothing to help that working mother.
Shame on those members who are standing idly by and voting in support of this sadly inadequate budget. As they watch thousands and thousands of families fall into a cycle of desperation, despair, unemployment and poverty, I hope they remember the words of single parents, working families and unemployed workers who cannot get ahead because this budget offers absolutely nothing for them.