Mr. Speaker, as I rise in this House, I would like to begin by thanking the hon. members for and for their exemplary work during the meetings we held nationwide. They travelled with me across the country and listened to what Canadians had to say about their hopes for a better future. I would like to congratulate them, along with the other members of the Liberal caucus, for having given the and the the constructive ideas that appear in their budget.
I would also like to thank the leaders of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois for their thoughtful, constructive contributions over the past few months. Unlike the government, these two leaders have understood for a long time now that the recession is serious and far-reaching. They have worked hard on behalf of the people of Canada.
Canada's ship of state has entered some very rough and turbulent water and the captain's steering through this storm has been erratic. He misjudged, misled and misguided. At first he failed to act and then he acted irresponsibly. Now, finally he recognizes that we are in real danger. Finally, he is taking some measures to head for safety, but it has been a long time coming.
For three years, the Conservatives have chosen reckless spending and irresponsible tax policy over prudence and fiscal discipline. They drove Canada toward a deficit long before this recession began and they harmed the federal Government of Canada's capacity to act in the face of crisis.
For that failure, the failure to plan and act as a government, we hold them responsible. We hold them responsible for telling us that there would be no recession when we were already entering one. We hold them responsible for their disastrous fall economic statement with its fanciful forecasts of surplus and its arrogant and divisive partisanship. We hold them responsible for proroguing Parliament at a time when Canadians wanted this House to work.
The government has already made Canadians wait too long for help.
Because of the 's actions, the recession will be longer, deeper and more painful than necessary. He spent like crazy during the good years. He said that the economy was fine, but it was not. He said that there would be no recession, but there is one. He made announcements, over and over again, about infrastructure measures, but we are still waiting for new jobs. He made announcements, over and over again, about training and skills development programs, but he did not keep those promises either.
This budget is a hodge-podge of last-minute measures. What is even more disturbing is the news of an $85 billion deficit. The has predicted where this country will be in six years. He has talked about long-term plans and forecasts, but the government cannot even see as far ahead as the next six weeks. Now he is talking about the next six years.
We have a government, which cannot manage spending or programs, daring to tell us today how it will manage the economy six years from now. The reality is simple and stark. It is now the end of January. To say that action is overdue would be an understatement.
Yesterday's budget is a flawed document. However, the impact of a united opposition has been clear. The budget includes measures that we called for during the last election and which the said that he would never do: affordable housing; skills development; expansion of the working income tax benefit and the child tax benefit; investment in regional development agencies throughout the country; measures to make credit available to business; and investments in colleges and universities, the incubators of the jobs of tomorrow. These measures stand to offer actual hope for actual Canadians and they are only in the budget because the opposition parties did their job.
At a time when Canadians raise questions about whether our political system could work, the political system did work, and the Liberal Party, in particular, remained resolved to hold the Conservative government to account.
The budget falls short on many counts. Why does the budget open the door for attacks on pay equity for women? Why does it not propose the improvements to employment insurance that Canadians who have lost their jobs were waiting for? Why does it break their promise to all provinces from only two years ago on equalization? Why does it attach strings to infrastructure dollars that may delay projects and delay jobs? Where is the Conservative plan to guarantee Canada's productivity, competitiveness and prosperity in the future? Where is their plan for a green and sustainable economy? Where is their plan to get us out of deficit? Why are they still counting on the sale of government assets to fill the coffers, without saying which assets and at what price?
This is not a government, to say the least, that has proven good at planning. It has also not proven to be very good at keeping its promises. Yet the has never held himself to account the way Canadians expect him to. If he is asking the House for its confidence, then he will have to earn it. He will have to work to keep it as long as he sits in that chair.
That is why we will move to amend the budget to include new measures to ensure the government is held accountable for its promises.
We will require regular reports to Parliament on the budget's implementation and its costs, one in March, one in June and one in December. Let it be clear that each of these reports will be an opportunity to withdraw our confidence should the government fail Canadians.
We will vigilantly monitor the budget's effects on our economy and on every region of the country. If the fails, we will be ready to defeat him.
Let me be very clear that our support for this budget is conditional upon adopting the Liberal amendment. Let me say it another way. Without this amendment, we will not support the budget and the government will fall.
Canadians do not want another election and they are tired of political games. They have waited too long for action on the economy for us to fail them now because of partisan interests. The Liberal Party is not giving the of Canada a green light. We are giving him a flashing yellow light: proceed with extreme caution.
The does not have a free pass. He can no longer use “take it or leave it, my way or the highway” as his way of dealing with Parliament.
He is under the watchful eye of this Parliament. We will be demanding much more and much better from the government to better serve Canadians.
It has finally put forward a plan for our consideration. Now the question is whether the money starts flowing. We take nothing for granted from the and the government. We will be watching them like hawks.
I repeat this for the . Proceed with the very greatest caution. With that, I move:
|| That the motion be amended by changing the period to a comma and adding the following:
||“on condition that the government table reports in Parliament no later than five sitting days before the last allotted day in each of the supply periods ending March 26, June 23 and December 10:
||(a) to provide on-going economic and fiscal updates;
||(b) to detail the actual implementation of the budget;
||(c) to itemize the actual effects of the budget with respect to:
||the protection of the most vulnerable in Canadian society,
|| the minimizing of existing job losses,
||the creation of the employment opportunities of tomorrow,
|| the provision of economic stimulus in a manner fair to all regions of Canada, and
|| the assurance that the government's deficit is not a burden to future generations or a detriment to economic recovery and;
||(d) to provide details on any adjustments or new measures as may be required to benefit the Canadian economy”.
Mr. Speaker, confronted with a serious global economic crisis, the people are right to be concerned and they have turned to Ottawa, hoping that the federal government would do the responsible thing and help them.
Quebec's government and National Assembly also expected the federal government to help rather than make matters worse. This crisis requires extraordinary government expenditures and could have been an opportunity to build a future with a combined focus on social justice, the environment and the economy. With this Conservative budget, the government has dashed all hopes. It is hostile to Quebec, does not provide people with appropriate and sufficient help and lacks vision for the future. In fact, one need only scratch the surface to catch a potent whiff of the Conservative government's partisanship and ideology in this budget.
I want to tell all members of this House this: a vote for this budget is a vote against Quebec, against social justice, against an economy for the future. There is no way the Bloc Québécois would ever vote for this budget, which goes against everything we believe in.
This budget is totally unacceptable to Quebec and to people who, in times of economic crisis, are entitled to expect appropriate and sufficient help from the federal government. In anticipation of the budget, Quebec made its needs clear, and its National Assembly even unanimously passed a motion. The Bloc Québécois did the responsible thing, putting forward as early as last November a realistic and detailed plan backed up by figures, a plan that reflected the broad consensus in Quebec on a number of issues.
The was aware of all that. This means that he knowingly ignored Quebec's demands. Instead of helping Quebec, the federal government decided to deprive it of significant assistance to weather the crisis. The Conservative leader has chosen only to meet the demands from Ontario in particular. For example, his government is providing more than $4 billion in stimulus that will primarily benefit Ontario. The automotive industry, which is largely concentrated in Ontario, will receive $2.7 billion. Southern Ontario will receive $1 billion. But Quebec's forestry and manufacturing sectors will only get a few million.
The government is offering $350 million to Atomic Energy of Canada, to the nuclear sector, once again Ontario-based. The again comes along with his community adjustment fund, a program strongly criticized in Quebec, which offers more money per capita to Alberta than to Quebec. This plan, based on last year's model, offers far more per job lost in Alberta than in Quebec, even though the manufacturing and forestry crisis has hit hardest in Quebec. While thousands of jobs have been lost in Quebec, a goodly number of the workers will still not have access to the employment insurance program, and older workers are still marginalized.
We would have at least expected the Conservative government to respect its past commitments. But no, it goes even further by depriving Quebec of financial means. Capping equalization will mean a considerable loss to Quebec. We are talking funds for health, education, family policy. This decision will therefore have unfortunate consequences for the entire population of Quebec. Then the Conservative government adds on a gift to Ontario, which will mean an additional $250,000 loss to Quebec as far as equalization is concerned, by conferring special status on Hydro One.
By unilaterally modifying equalization and by increasing the fiscal imbalance, the Conservative government is breaking its past promises, just as it did by reiterating its desire to trample over Quebec's areas of jurisdiction in connection with securities regulation, loans to municipalities and funding to colleges and universities, and other infrastructure expenditures, thereby going over the head of the Government of Quebec.
Then we have the refusal to eliminate cuts to culture, a very important sector of the Quebec economy, and the refusal to eliminate the cuts inflicted on economic development organizations.
This budget runs totally counter to the spirit and the letter of the Kyoto protocol, and thus also to the economic interests of Quebec and of the environment. This budget sounds the death knell as far as the Conservative government's so-called federalism of openness is concerned.
I call upon hon. members in the other opposition parties to think things through well before voting in favour of this budget, or letting it get through one way or another, because letting it get through is tantamount to abandoning Quebec, and there will be a political price to pay for such an attitude. The Bloc Québécois, faithful as it is to the interests of Quebec, will vote against this budget without a moment's hesitation.
This budget again bears the mark of a conservative ideology that is bankrupt everywhere in the world. It is hard to imagine what would have happened with a majority Conservative government in a position to impose untrammelled its last-century ideology.
But we must not be fooled by the gloss on this budget. The tax cuts, which are presented as targeted measures to help the most vulnerable and the middle class, actually have the reverse effect. The most vulnerable people in society do not pay tax. The tax cuts are not targeted. For example, a family with two children and an income of $150,000 will get more than a family earning $40,000. These tax cuts help neither people who lose their jobs nor companies that do not turn a profit. By the Conservatives' own admission, in opting for corporate tax cuts, they chose the measure that would stimulate the economy the least. That is what I call putting ideology before the economy.
The government had the means to help the most vulnerable members of society by funding construction of new social housing. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has an $8 billion surplus. The government should be using that money to help people. Instead, everyone but aboriginal people, seniors and the disabled is being left high and dry.
For seniors who have been unjustly deprived of the guaranteed income supplement, the budget offers no justice and no remedy. Yet if anyone can be considered vulnerable, it is seniors who are living in poverty and are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. Aside from social housing, there is nothing for these poor people in the budget.
We all know that more than half of women who lose their jobs do not have access to employment insurance, even though they pay into the plan. They will still not have access to employment insurance, and this is a serious injustice.
Meanwhile, the rich and large corporations that shelter their money in tax havens can continue to do so with impunity. The big oil companies that have been hosing us for so long will continue to enjoy generous tax breaks. The Conservative government sweetened the pot by providing hundreds of millions of dollars for carbon capture projects that will benefit no one but the oil companies. The major banks, which have been hugely propped up by the Conservative government, have no real obligations in return. And in return for the billions of dollars they will receive, the big three auto manufacturers do not even have to promise not to outsource to Asia or elsewhere.
The Harper government's budget will therefore create even greater social inequalities.
I humbly accept this most relevant of remarks.
The government’s budget will therefore further exacerbate social inequalities. Finally, the Conservatives are continuing their attack on the rights of women by making pay equity negotiable. That is ideology over rights. No member of this House who does not share the outdated, bankrupt Conservative ideology can possibly vote for this budget, or allow it to pass, without betraying his or her convictions. Voting for this budget, or allowing it to pass, means voting against social justice. The Bloc Québécois, loyal to its convictions, will vote against this budget without a moment’s hesitation.
One of the great challenges facing us in the 21st century, as well as one of the great opportunities, is how to harmonize the economy with the environment. Quebeckers know very well that it is in our vital strategic interest to reduce our dependence on oil, first, in order to help fight climate change and second, because it is in our economic interest. Now that the U.S. administration has announced that it intends to join the countries fighting against climate change, Canada is isolated, the only country in the Western world still in the same camp as Saudi Arabia. In this regard, as in so many others, the Conservative budget is going against the flow, trying to take us backwards instead helping us move ahead into the future. Not only are the Conservatives giving the oil companies hundreds of millions of dollars but they are also ending the wind energy program.
The automobile industry will receive $2.7 billion in federal government assistance without any fuel consumption requirements being imposed. Here, too, Canada is falling behind and is starting to become the laughingstock of the Western world. Voting for this budget or allowing it to pass means voting against the economy of the future: the green economy.
The Bloc Québécois, ever faithful to the interests and values of Quebec, will vote against this budget without a second’s hesitation.
I will soon be introducing an amendment to the amendment. It basically repeats the motion passed unanimously in the National Assembly, along with a few other elements. When the time comes to vote on it, all the members from Quebec will face a very clear choice: a choice for or against Quebec. All Quebec members who vote against this amendment to the amendment and in favour of the Conservative budget will be choosing Canada over Quebec.
This budget sounds the ultimate death-knell of the Conservative Party’s so-called open federalism toward Quebec. If the Liberals vote in favour of this budget, as they apparently will, they will show that the Liberal Party of Canada has returned to its tradition of turning its back on Quebec at the first opportunity.
The new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, who declared on March 30, 2006, that Quebec “has the right to be master of its own house”, now seems to have decided to act exactly like his predecessors and to set aside his recent and fleeting convictions. I urge Quebeckers to take note of what happens in the next few hours in Ottawa. I invite them to think about the fact that no matter which party is in power in Ottawa, Liberal or Conservative, the interests and values of Canada always take precedence over the interests and values of Quebec. As it was in the past, is now and ever will be. The only party that puts Quebec first in this house is the Bloc Québécois.
It is not a coincidence that all elected Bloc members truly believe that the only valid future for Quebec is full political freedom—Quebec sovereignty.
I move, seconded by the member for , that the amendment be amended by deleting all the words after the words “on condition that the Government” and substituting the following:
||maintain the right of women to settle pay equity issues in court, and abandon its preference for tax cuts for the well off, instead redistributing this revenue to the neediest members of our society, particularly by responding to the unanimous demands of the National Assembly of Quebec as formulated in the motion adopted on January 15, 2009, to assist workers, communities and businesses hit by the economic slowdown, support at-risk sectors, particularly manufacturing and forestry, in the same way as the automobile industry, and enhance the employment insurance program by making the eligibility criteria more flexible, and on condition that it maintain the equalization program in its current form and relinquish the idea of setting up a pan-Canadian securities commission.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for , the NDP finance critic.
Yesterday we saw what happens when a government cobbles together a budget which it does not really believe in. It is a budget that will not protect the most vulnerable, will not protect the jobs of today, and will not create the new jobs of tomorrow.
The Conservative budget, unfortunately supported by the Liberal Party, gives $60 in tax breaks to large business for every dollar to people out of work. During the past two months, more than 100,000 people have lost their jobs, yet there is nothing in this budget to help more laid-off workers access employment insurance benefits.
Two-thirds of women who need employment insurance cannot get it even though they pay into it, and this budget refuses to change that. Workers losing their jobs today will not get any EI faster when they desperately need it to put food on the table. What good is an extra five weeks for the majority of workers who cannot even get the first week of employment insurance?
What does this budget mean for the most vulnerable? It means that employment insurance will be just as hard to get as before. It means that housing will be just as scarce. It means that people are facing a future that is just as bleak. Families on the edge, losing their jobs, homes and savings, can take nothing from this budget.
This budget will not safeguard jobs. Forestry, mining and agriculture are not going to get the support they need through these tough times. Equalization payments have been capped, forcing some provinces into impossible choices in these difficult times. Few jobs will be saved. This budget will not create any jobs either, especially those green jobs for the future economy of the 21st century.
The infrastructure program hinges on amounts that must be matched by provincial, territorial or municipal governments, but these government have no money. They will not be able to follow through. The plan will not work and jobs will not be created.
Infrastructure funds will come far too slow to make a difference soon enough. That means too few shovels breaking the ground and too few jobs for Canadians at the time that they are losing their employment. And because there is no made in Canada buying policy, we cannot even be sure that any spending on materials will help our own forestry and manufacturing sectors.
Tax cuts will not work the way fast-flowing infrastructure funding would have worked, but that is where this government has decided to spend big.
According to the government's own figures, for every dollar in corporate tax cuts, we get a mere 20¢ improvement in GDP. For personal tax cuts, for every dollar spent, we get only a 90¢ improvement in the GDP. However, for infrastructure spending that actually flows, we get a $1.50 improvement to the GDP for every dollar spent and with real support for low income earners we also get a $1.50 improvement in the GDP. But that has not stopped this government from putting the lion's share of the spending in this budget into the least effective tools to improve our economy, namely, those tax cuts.
This budget contains no serious measures to seek a greener economic future. Less than 1% of the stimulus spending could be described in any way as green spending. This is at a time when the United States is seeking a green recovery to create a more sustainable economy. The has shown no such vision. Instead of investing in renewable energy, this budget gives millions to nuclear energy and unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage. This is just a handout to the big polluters. Anything green in this budget is purely cosmetic. We know this government will cut environmental regulations before it funds green alternatives; we have seen that in the past.
This budget attacks pay equity for women. It does not construct affordable housing for the numerous low-income families in our cities who are now homeless. It does not create child care spaces for children of working parents.
To those who need better child benefits most, there is virtually no help at all.
It makes post-secondary education no more accessible for our youngest and our brightest at a time when they need that hope.
The budget is not good for Canada. It is not good for Canadian families. Even those few proposals in this budget that are not flawed have no guarantee of being implemented because the has broken his commitment to Canadians before. He said he opposed budget leaks and then he ordered them to happen.
He promised not to appoint unelected senators, but yesterday, 18 new senators joined the Senate—a new record for patronage appointments. He had legislation passed for fixed election dates, but he called an early election, going against his own legislation.
Now, the has delivered a budget containing measures that he has spent his entire lifetime opposing, but he expects Canadians to have confidence in him now, to trust that he will actually get the job done. The record of this Prime Minister tells us that he will not. This is not only a question of the content of the budget, it is a question of confidence in the government. We do not have confidence that the Prime Minister will keep his commitments.
Despite all this, the Conservatives will stay in power because the new leader of the Liberal Party has decided to keep them there. It is an important decision that will have serious consequences for millions of people. It is the same poor policy as that of his predecessor, the member for . When the Liberals vote for the budget, with or without the minimal amendments, it will be the 45th time they have voted to keep the Conservatives in power.
So, because a budget vote is a confidence vote, on behalf of the tens of thousands who are going to be thrown out of work but will not get any help from this government or this budget, on behalf of the people who have waited too long for child care or health care, on behalf of the seniors who have lived too long in poverty, and on behalf of future generations who are counting on us to take strong, urgent and bold action on the environment, we will vote no confidence in this government.
Our former leader and respected member of this House, Tommy Douglas, once said, “Courage my friends, 'tis not too late to build a better world”.
I am disappointed that others in this House are not willing to show that same courage and that same conviction at this important moment in time. Meaningless amendments will not change the fundamental failures of this budget or repair the trust that this government has broken with the Canadian people.
We cannot support such a budget or such a government.
Mr. Speaker, to understand what is going on here today, we have to look back to the events following the October 14 general election. For the third time in a row, something unique in the annals of Canada's political history, the people of Canada elected a minority government. A government, in other words, that did not enjoy the support of a majority of the House and that had to work with the other parties. During the election campaign, in fact, the question came up frequently, because the situation, the polls, were indicating that this would indeed be the case.
Imagine then our surprise at the current statement during the election campaign that he had learned his lesson from the last time and would, in the future, be able to build and work with other parties, as that was what Canadians wanted. He reiterated this once elected, assuring all voters that he would change his tune and his style—divisive, fractious and vindictive—which we had seen for two and a half years. That style is the hallmark of the Conservative government. He had a chance to prove his mettle. Did he have what it takes to be a head of state or only to carry out a vendetta?
We saw him in November. The Conservatives arrived in the House and rather than attack what was already the worst economic crisis in 75 years, they attacked the right of women to equal pay for work of equal value. They attacked welfare rights by gratuitously, without either provocation or justification, taking away the public service's right to strike, even though 104,000 public servants had signed contracts only days previously. And, finally, they attacked the system of funding for political parties, which, I would remind you, was established in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
The question, then, is whether we can place our confidence in people who behave like this, even when they are in a minority position. Let us see exactly what was said. On November 27, 2008, the present Minister of Finance said the following in this House:
|| The days and years and decades of those chronic deficits are behind us and no matter what 2009 brings, they must never return.
That was November 27, 2008. If that was not enough, on December 2, 2008, the same said:
|| Mr. Speaker, what is being proposed by the separatist coalition is a $30 billion spending program. That would put our country into a structural deficit for a long time. As Don Drummond of the TD Bank said, this would be a disaster that would launch us into a structural deficit.
The question is still there. Should we believe them?
I had a chance to meet with him about two weeks ago—like our party leader who said he had met with the to discuss these matters—and I quoted his own words back to him, namely that governments were incapable of deciding which sectors in our economy had needs that should be met and which did not. He calls it choosing the winners and losers. That is his way of denigrating the fact that government can have a role to play in the economy.
I read him the quote that appeared in the Globe and Mail and asked how he could expect us to believe he had undergone some kind of conversion, that he had fallen off his horse on the road to Damascus and henceforth saw things quite differently. He replied, looking me straight in the eye, that he still thought just what he had been quoted as saying.
The real question is this. When we see this new alliance between the new leader of the so-called Liberal Party of Canada and the neo-Conservative Party, how can we still find people in Canada naïve enough to believe that the Conservatives will do what they say in their budget?
It is all too obvious. They just want to get beyond the six-month time limit. All the constitutional experts who have written on the subject recently—35 experts all across Canada—agree that once six months have passed, the government will be able to call an election when it wants, but before that six month period is up, the opposition will have to be given a chance to govern. An opportunity has arisen: the progressive forces in the House—which represent 63% of the electorate and have a clear majority of seats—put their very real differences aside, shook hands, and said they would form a government in the interests of the country as a whole. They would put their differences aside and focus on what unites them. That is what was proposed.
Once again, we have looked at the proposals in the budget. Funds will be spent on infrastructure, among other things. What we have seen, though, is that not one dollar in five was actually spent on the programs that have already been proposed. It is still a sham. In addition, this time they are spending money that is not even theirs because they say in their figures that in order to reach 1.9% of GDP, they are including money that they assume the provinces and cities will spend, even though they do not have it. It is totally absurd. The 1.9% of GDP was put in the budget to look a bit like what the G-20 and OECD had suggested, that is to say, a country like Canada should spend 2% of GDP if it wants to have a real chance of re-igniting its economy.
The budget we saw yesterday is a fiction, and again we will see the Liberals complicit in it over the next few months. This will make 45 times that they have voted in favour of the Conservatives and expressed confidence in them. We are entering the fourth year in which the neo-Conservatives, the most right-wing government in Canadian history, have been kept in power by a party with the word Liberal in its name.
I can, however, assure the members of one thing: the people who voted Liberal last time, thinking—wrongly, as it turns out—that the party would actually stand up to the current , were all mistaken. Now these people have realized that they were conned. We, the members of the NDP, are calling on all those who wish to build a better country. We are urging them to join us, to work with us if they want to see a fairer, more egalitarian society when it comes to women's rights.
The Liberals gave us a stunning display of self-righteousness this afternoon during question period. One after the other, they rose in the House. One member asked why the government wanted to take away women's right to equal pay for work of equal value; another rose to ask why the government wanted to take $1 billion in transfer payments away from Quebec. And so it went during the whole question period.
The only thing they forgot to mention was the fact that they will be voting in favour of all of the measures they just criticized. That is bald-faced hypocrisy. They should be ashamed.
This is where Conservative arrogance meets Liberal mediocrity. What a splendid pair. They are about to make a mistake of historic proportions. It took a lot of courage to sign the coalition documents, which are still available online. People can see that everyone had to put a little water in their wine.
We are strongly opposed to the war in Afghanistan. That is and has always been our position. But that would not have stopped us from working as a team. However, I want to say something very important. The part of the budget that supports this attack on women is shameful. The fact that the Liberals are supporting it is unspeakable.
How can anyone, in the year 2009, support a proposal that deprives women of the right to go to court to ensure that their rights are recognized and respected? Rights are non-negotiable. The problem is that third-rate deals were being negotiated at the expense of women. That is why we need a law and recognition of such things as women's right to equal pay for work of equal value. That is what pay equity means. It does not mean that two people doing the same job should not receive the same pay. That has been taken care of, but pay equity is being set aside with the Liberals' loathsome support.
Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the opportunity to rise today to discuss budget 2009, Canada's economic action plan. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, it is also a great pleasure to share my time with the hon. minister, the member for the beautiful riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent.
It has been said that a crisis presents a moment of opportunity as well as great danger. The global economy is in the midst of a crisis, a crisis of capital, a crisis of credit, and most troubling, a crisis of confidence. While the epicentre of this financial crisis is the United States, its impacts have been global, on countries large and small, from China to Iceland. No country has been spared. However, our American neighbours have suffered the brunt. The human cost has been staggering: 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs last year, the worst job losses seen since the Second World War.
Canada, a major player in the global marketplace, has not been immune. In the last two months of 2008, we saw 100,000 jobs disappear. Behind the numbers are 100,000 worried faces, 100,000 difficult talks around the kitchen table, talks that will likely and unfortunately become more frequent in 2009.
In all this it is important to maintain perspective, difficult as it may be at times. The fundamentals of Canada's economy have remained strong leading up to the crisis of today. We as a people and as a government have made the prudent decisions to ensure our strength.
As Don Drummond, chief economist with the TD Bank, bluntly remarked the other day, “We have to hasten to remind ourselves that we are not the country that tanked the rest of the world. The rest of the world tanked us”.
Indeed, anticipating a faltering American and global economy, our Conservative government took preemptive and aggressive action to cushion the blow in October 2007 in our economic statement. Reading verbatim from page 7 of that document, available online for all to see:
||--[T]he world economy is experiencing turbulence and increased uncertainty.
|| Given this global economic uncertainty, now is the time to act. Our strong fiscal position provides Canada with an opportunity that few other countries have--to make broad-based tax reductions that will strengthen our economy, stimulate investment and create more and better jobs.
The economic statement would go on to detail a package of $60 billion in tax cuts, consumption, personal and business, that would help protect Canadians through 2008.
As the IMF World Economic Outlook declared in April 2008:
|| A package of tax cuts has provided a timely fiscal stimulus.... [The Canadian] government's structural policy agenda should help increase competitiveness and productivity growth to underpin longer-term prospects.
Supporting that assertion is the plain fact that despite the significant job losses we have suffered in the last two months of the year, Canada still managed to create over 98,000 net new jobs for 2008 alone. As comforting a statistic as that may be, we must be under no illusion; all it is is a statistic, a historical fact.
The crisis has grown. The danger to Canada, its economy, the jobs it sustains and the families those jobs provide for has grown at a pace much more rapidly than anyone was predicting.
Enter budget 2009, Canada's economic action plan, a plan to stabilize and protect our economy for the short term while growing it in the long term. It is a plan informed by unprecedented exhaustive consultations with Canadians to a degree that has never been seen previously in our history. Never before has a government attempted to make the budget process as open, public and inclusive as it was for budget 2009.
I am proud to say that at the request of the I was personally engaged in this process. We invited the ideas of provincial and territorial governments, economists, academics, labour and non-governmental organizations. We sought out the input from everyday Canadians through online consultations and town halls. We formed an economic advisory council of private sector business leaders, some of Canada's pre-eminent business minds and most successful business leaders, who unselfishly gave of their time out of a desire to help their country in a time of tremendous need; a desire I believe that is shared by most members in the House.
We wrote to all members of Parliament, regardless of party affiliation, and asked them to provide a written submission reflecting the priorities of their communities, from Saint John to Montreal, from Thornhill to Saskatoon, to Victoria. We listened, we heard and now, after careful consideration, we act.
Canada's economic plan is so named for a reason. It reflects consensus, not ideology. It promotes the interests of people, not the bureaucrats of government. It is Canada's plan, our ambitions for today and the future ahead, ambitions both short and long term that will represent substantial costs that will cause Canada to fall into a deficit position. We do not enter this without concern. That is why we have put in place a plan to return to surplus. That is why prior to the current turmoil our Conservative government paid down $37 billion in debt. That is why we are laying out a five year plan to move back into surplus as the economy recovers.
Many Canadians recalling the legacies of deficits past will have reservations and concerns, and I understand that. However, before making a judgment, they should also read budget 2009, as taxpayers and as good citizens. They can read it online at wwwbudget.gc.ca, or call their local MP's office to obtain a copy.
Combined with the 2007 economic statement stimulus measures the economic action plan in budget 2009 is estimated to boost real GDP by 2.5% and create or maintain about 265,000 jobs by the end of 2010. This budget will be voted on soon by the learned members of the House. It is an absolute duty for all members to read the document and make an informed decision in the best interests of the Canadian people, not the narrow lens of partisanship.
I firmly believe that in doing that, this House will endorse budget 2009 and turn the crisis of today into the opportunity of tomorrow. We as a country have faced challenges before and we will face them again, but we are a strong people, resilient, tough and determined. We work together when times get tough. We grow stronger and more confident. We will endure the difficult times today with the promise of a brighter tomorrow.
This is a shared responsibility of all members of this place.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the .
There are several reasons why I wanted to take part in this debate on our government's economic action plan. Naturally, I wanted to take part as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, but also as minister responsible for the Quebec City region. I would also like to congratulate my colleague, the , on the outstanding work he has done over the past three months.
I am proud to have the opportunity to talk about our plan, which is made up of five important components for Canadians: home purchase and renovation, better roads, better bridges and new jobs; not to mention tax cuts, job protection and help for Canadians looking for new jobs, and assistance for research and development in leading-edge sectors and for extending high-speed Internet across the country.
A number of aspects of this debate bear directly on the effectiveness and the strengthening of our federation.
More than three years ago, our government adopted the open federalism approach, which respects provincial jurisdictions and recognizes the strengths of all the regions and their contributions to our country. Our economic action plan is in keeping with that openness to the provinces and territories.
Open federalism is based on the idea that our federation is not static, but is constantly evolving in order to respond to the changes and the realities of the 21st century.
This new approach enables the federation to take on the challenges facing the provinces and territories. Open federalism pays off for all Canadians. Managing intergovernmental relations therefore plays a critical role in keeping our federation running smoothly.
I do not need to reiterate the magnitude of the economic and financial challenges we are facing. The covered that very effectively in his speech, as did other hon. members.
It is in that spirit of consultation and cooperation that our government plans to take on the greatest challenge we face today: strengthening our domestic economy. To that end, we have put in place a process to promote united action. The approach highlights the key role that intergovernmental relations play within our system of government.
We have held extensive consultations with individual Canadians, the provinces, the territories, municipalities large and small, aboriginal communities and many other stakeholders.
On December 17, the met with his provincial and territorial counterparts in Saskatoon. Then, on January 16, I had the pleasure, along with the , of again meeting with the provincial premiers and the territorial leaders to find some common ground on how to stimulate the Canadian economy.
During that meeting, the political leaders of this country agreed to work to implement a number of these measures, their primary objectives being to strengthen the national economy through new, significant investments, ensure continued access to credit. and protect pension plans in Canada. In order to help workers and the unemployed, they agreed to amend two chapters of the agreement on internal trade, which will facilitate full labour mobility.
They agreed to take immediate action on infrastructure and to accelerate project financing for the 2009 and 2010 construction seasons.
Our economic action plan offers a concrete follow-up to the measures agreed upon by the premiers and the territorial leaders on January 16 to make significant new investment through budgets in order to support the economy in the short term as well as prepare it for long-term challenges.
With the budget presented by the , our government has committed firmly to this path and we hope that our partners will do the same given the results of the meeting with the premiers and the territorial leaders.
Indeed, I am pleased that we already have the support of a number of provinces, including British Columbia. Premier Campbell has described our action plan as positive, laying the foundation for a more productive and competitive future and creating and maintaining jobs in Canada.
Canada's economic action plan will stimulate the economy by pursuing the following goals: investing immediately in infrastructure; cutting taxes and freezing employment insurance contributions; stimulating housing construction; improving access to financing and strengthening Canada's financial system; introducing measures to help Canadians; and supporting businesses and communities.
As a minister from Quebec, I would like to draw attention to certain advantages to my province in this economic action plan.
In 2009-10, Quebec still benefits from sizeable federal transfers which will continue to grow in the long term.
There is a provision for a total of $17.6 billion for 2009-10, that is $700 million more than last year and an increase of close to $5.2 billion since 2005-06. This increasing long-term support helps to ensure that Quebec has the necessary resources to provide essential public services and contributes to the achievement of shared national goals, particularly in the areas of health care, post-secondary education and other important components of Canada's social safety net.
This overall assistance includes such things as $8.3 billion through equalization, or an increase of $3.5 billion; $5.7 billion through the Canada health transfer, or $196 million more than last year; $2.5 billion through the Canada social transfer, which is over $373 million more for Quebec.
Moreover, Quebec will receive $116 million for worker training as part of a commitment to provide $500 million in new funding to the provinces and territories each year starting with 2008-09.
Since it has been in place, this government has provided Quebec individuals and businesses with $40.1 billion in tax breaks.
During this fiscal year, and the next five, the additional tax cuts set out in our economic action plan will provide individuals and businesses in the province with tax breaks of $4.2 billion, for example in the form of income tax reductions, help for families with children, an age credit and a temporary home renovation tax credit.
Quebec will profit from $1.9 billion in improved employment insurance benefits, and $4.5 billion to maintain the low level of EI contributions in 2009-10 country-wide.
The province will receive its share of the $4.5 billion over two years earmarked for infrastructure projects, particularly improvements to the road system in the greater Quebec City area, and to various water and sewage systems.
Other initiatives are specific to the province. The Coast Guard will receive 98 new vessels and will see renovations done on another 40. This initiative will benefit Quebec City, the site of the regional Coast Guard centre for the province, as well as Davie shipyards, where some of the work can be carried out.
Another two million dollars will make it possible to draw up plans for the future of the Quebec City Armoury.
Some $12 million will be invested in 2011-12 and 2012-13 in infrastructure in order to boost tourism by promoting international cruises on the St. Lawrence and Saguenay Rivers.
Beyond the important measures it contains, I believe the real significance of this budget is greater than the economic benefits it will generate.
That brings me back to the idea I expressed at the beginning of my speech. This economic action plan is a tangible example of our willingness to work together with our partners in the federation to take on the daunting challenges of these turbulent times.
It is based on our government's close consultations with all sectors and in all regions of the country. It reflects our determination to face adversity with confidence and optimism without losing sight of the difficult task that we are already tackling and will see to the end.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the budget. Our leader and members of our party have spoken and we have come to the conclusion that the budget contains some positive and some negative elements.
On the positive side, we see substantial funding for training, for example, and for social housing. On the negative side, we see substantial deficiencies in certain areas, and I will speak about those shortly. Examples of that are the flow of money to infrastructure and deficiencies in employment insurance.
However, at the end of the day, after much consultation, our leader came to the conclusion that the Liberal Party would support the budget, subject to a very important amendment. We would hold the government to account and require it, on condition of our support for the budget, to provide quarterly very substantive reviews of the progress or lack of progress that had been made in implementing the budget, under the headings of supporting the vulnerable, the jobs of today, the jobs of tomorrow, regional fairness, and we do not want a permanent deficit.
In each of these areas we will require detailed information provided by the government. The timing will be such that this information will be provided close to a day on which a confidence vote is possible. Should the progress not be satisfactory or should the government not be willing to implement changes that the situation requires, then we would be able to propose a motion of non-confidence.
We are insisting on this partly because, for us, the budget is inadequate in certain areas. I also think it is important to say that we do not have a lot of confidence in the government in terms of its goodwill when it comes to certain aspects of its budget. I am thinking particularly about the 's behaviour in the past when he did not support significant government intervention for social housing or even infrastructure.
It seems as though his motivation is based on the fact that he does not want the government to be defeated. And so, as soon as this has been passed, it is possible that the government's willingness to do what it says it will do in the budget, will be limited. That is why we are insisting on a quarterly report, to ensure that the government does what it says it will do.
That is the general body of our approach.
I now turn to a few of the different elements in the budget. However, before I do that, I will give a bit of a timeline. It has been a long and twisting road that has brought us to this point.
In September the told us that if Canada were to have a recession, we probably would have had it by then.
In October the told Canadians that there were a lot of good buying opportunities in the stock market. Since then, the stock market has plunged precipitously.
In November the government tabled an economic update that said things were still fine and that the government would run nothing but surpluses for many years to come. That was just two months and a day ago. In that two month period, we have gone from nothing but surpluses to a deficit of $64 billion over a period of two years.
Then, in December, at the request of me and the member for , the government updated its forecast and it showed that we were in a recession and that we were headed for a deficit of around $6 billion. That was before spending any money at all on a stimulus package.
It has been a long and torturous path. One day the speaks of the land is strong. A couple of weeks later he speculates on depression. One day it is surpluses forever. Two months later it is a deficit of $64 billion. This is not a government that has managed the economy with a steady hand on the tiller. It is not a government that has conducted fiscal policy in a prudent fashion. On those grounds alone, one might have cause to question the budget, and certainly that will cause us to examine the government's behaviour with great care. However, past management is not sufficient to vote against the budget. Our leader has set out his various criteria and it is according to those criteria that we form our judgment.
One of the very important aspects of the budget is infrastructure. I do not think that it would be controversial to say that everyone in the House wants a large part of the budget to be dedicated to infrastructure, and there are many reasons for that. If we can quickly invest in infrastructure, it would create many jobs. These infrastructure projects create a ripple effect. Not only do they create jobs in the short term, there is also the fact that Canada has a deficit of more than $100 billion in all types of infrastructure: roads, bridges, rapid transit, etc. There is no question about that. The United States has a large infrastructure program.
It is important for the cities as well as for the rural areas in Canada.
In rural areas in particular access to high speed Internet is critical to life. In urban areas it may be more public transit. Across the country, in one form or another, the need for infrastructure is crucial.
The problem we have is that the government has not been able to deliver on its infrastructure commitments of the past, and I think everybody agrees on that in principle.
At most, in terms of the building Canada program, the government has delivered 20¢ of every dollar it has committed and it has tied up the process in red tape. It has required so many different environmental and other approvals. It has rigid rules regarding municipal and provincial financing.
Perhaps bureaucratic or political lethargy is causing the government to sit on billions of dollars under a mattress in Ottawa. For whatever reason, the money has simply not flowed.
We are now in the middle of an economic crisis, perhaps the worst in a generation or more. Projections of falling employment over the next 12 months are in the neighbourhood of 250,000 even 350,000 jobs. There is an urgency to get money out the door to employ Canadians who have lost their jobs or those who are at risk of losing their jobs. It is not acceptable for the government to commit to billions of dollars of funding and deliver perhaps 20¢ on the dollar.
That is why we proposed a gas tax mechanism which was more flexible, where the modalities were already there, where there was not necessarily a one-third, one-third, one-third cost sharing. The trouble with that is the municipalities will have to pay one-third and they have no money so the project will not happen. That is why, in terms of our monitoring mechanism, a critical part of that monitoring will be to see whether the infrastructure money actually flows. I can assure the House that we on this side of the House will be watching that like a hawk.
The second element is employment insurance.
Employment insurance is always important. On the brink of a major recession, or even in the middle of a major recession, and I hope it is the middle but perhaps it is the beginning, in the course of that major recession employment insurance becomes all that more important. This new employment insurance has not before been recession tested with the reforms or program changes of the mid-1990s. We have not had a real recession since that time.
A number of important concerns have been raised by my party and by other opposition parties which the government has addressed to a certain extent, but has not addressed, in our view, to an adequate extent.
The government has increased the length of the benefit period by five weeks, and that is good and nice. We do not object to that. If someone is already receiving employment insurance, that is a good thing. However, the government has done nothing to increase access to employment insurance, and that is a critical issue. Let me illustrate.
With the five week extension to which the government has now committed, a worker in my riding of Markham—Unionville would have to work 630 hours to qualify for a maximum of 45 weeks of employment insurance. A worker in Vancouver would have to work 700 hours or more to qualify for a maximum of 41 weeks, whereas a worker in Flin Flon would have to work 420 hours to get up to 50 weeks of employment insurance.
Maybe that would be all right at a time when there was not a significant recession, or maybe it was better in the past when there was less mobility from one place to another. However, at a time of major recession when unemployment and job losses are proliferating in Ontario, for example, traditionally the industrial heartland of this country, it is not acceptable that someone in my riding would have to work 630 hours to qualify as compared with far fewer hours for people in other parts of the country.
Therefore the government ought to have moved to significantly reduce those numbers of hours of work and perhaps to standardize the number to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 hours across the whole country, either permanently or at least for the duration of the recession. That would have been a very positive move, because those who have contributed to the employment insurance system deserve to have access to it at their moment of need.
The other concerns I will not enter into in detail, but there have been suggestions that the two-week waiting period be reduced or eliminated.
There are also unacceptable delays in receiving one's employment insurance cheque. I think that is an administrative matter, and it is important to put into the system whatever resources are necessary so that people do not have to wait unduly for their cheques.
I would like to talk a little about tax cuts, but before that, let me talk very briefly about agriculture and a little about jobs for tomorrow. In this area this budget has been at least somewhat inadequate, if not worse than that.
I am told by those who know much about the agriculture sector that this budget has indeed been woefully inadequate in its efforts to provide stability in farm income. I know that many parts of the agricultural sector in certain parts of the country are going through extremely difficult times. This budget has not done enough to address those problems, and I am sure my colleague from would not disagree with that statement.
Furthermore, I am also concerned about what are being called “the jobs of tomorrow”. We must not only protect today's jobs, but we must also create new jobs for the future, especially since there are not enough jobs for today.
We must therefore make education more accessible to more people and promote training. We must also invest in the jobs of tomorrow through a research and innovation program. I think the budget is severely lacking in these two areas. Considerable funds are being allocated to training, but I think the budget is weak in two specific areas: first of all, funding for post-secondary studies and second, funding for research and innovation.
I have talked about delivery problems. At least on paper this budget is strong on training, but it has very little to support post-secondary students. Particularly at a time of a weaker economy, the needs of post-secondary students, because they have lower incomes and a lessened ability to get jobs, are probably more acute than they are in normal times, so some support for post-secondary students, particularly those from lower-income backgrounds, would have been appreciated at this time of economic difficulty across the country.
There is very little for the research and innovation agenda, for the creation of brain power. There are a lot of bricks and mortar, a lot of buildings, a lot of roads. Well-known journalist Chantal Hébert said last night that it is a 1970s budget. It is full of shovels, and bricks and mortar, and roads, but has very little on brain power. The economy of the 21st century needs buildings and roads, yes, but it also needs brain power, innovation and a new capacity to generate the ideas, the new services, and the new BlackBerrys of tomorrow, and there is virtually nothing there.
It is almost as if we will have all these spanking new buildings, transit systems, roads and laboratories, but no people there, no funding for the research or the activities that will actually generate the ideas. That is a weakness of the budget.
I think I am nearly out of time, but I would like to talk briefly about the fact that some fears have been raised about tax cuts. Large, permanent tax cuts would only lead to major, permanent deficits, which no one likes. However, this is not really a problem, because the tax cuts are not very significant. Thus, this should not be a major concern.
In fact, as Jack Mintz pointed out today, the alleged tax reductions are not as large as one might think, because the government is claiming credit for tax cuts on things that are already built into the framework, and the actual tax cuts that are new in this budget are substantially less than the government claims.
The last point I would make is that we do insist on a return to balanced budgets over the medium term. We have concerns that the government wrongly includes revenue from asset sales in this budget, wrongly includes reductions in government spending without saying what they are, and makes very rosy assumptions about a return to a balanced budget. For all these reasons, we in the Liberal Party deem this budget marginally passable, but only on the condition that it be subject to very strict and very detailed quarterly reviews and be subject to confidence votes.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by indicating that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
It is indeed an honour for me to rise today to deliver my maiden speech in this distinguished chamber. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my wife Annette and our two daughters, Tamara and Alexandra, as well as my parents and our extended family for their love and support.
I also want to recognize and thank the Hon. Walter McLean, the member of Parliament for my riding from 1979 to 1993, for his advice, encouragement and mentorship.
I am especially grateful to the constituents of who have given me their vote of confidence. It is an honour to be their representative and I will work hard to be a strong voice for them here in this chamber.
It is my privilege to speak today to budget 2009, Canada's economic action plan. I would like to begin by commending the for his wide-ranging consultation process. This has been one of the most comprehensive and inclusive pre-budget consultations in Canadian history, with direct input from literally hundreds of organizations and thousands of Canadians.
For example, in my own riding of I joined with the hon. members from both and to hold round table discussions with community leaders. This provided an opportunity for direct local input. We produced a report that was submitted to the and I am pleased to see that several of our recommendations are reflected in our action plan.
One thing that became clear to me during our consultations was that local businesses were worried about the availability of financing. A businessman who runs a small parts company in my riding told me that he was having trouble meeting his payroll and other expenses. His business was surviving but his receivables were up and getting through the week was a challenge.
Members of the House can never forget that when we talk about programs to improve financing it means help for working Canadians to get them through a difficult time. Our economic action plan addresses this issue by creating the new business credit availability program to improve access to financing for Canadian businesses during this period of economic uncertainty. Additional loans and other forms of credit support will be made available to help businesses with viable business models whose access to financing would otherwise be restricted.
The Waterloo area is the recognized centre of high tech business innovation in Canada and my riding has benefited greatly from visionary companies like Research in Motion. Many of us here in the House have our own BlackBerry devices and we know that they are from Waterloo. However, there are countless other innovations that never see the light of day because of a lack of focus on the commercialization of research. To create jobs and keep our research in Canada we must support small businesses that develop these new ideas and bring them to the marketplace.
That is why I am pleased to see that our action plan is allocating $200 million over two years to the National Research Council's industrial research assistance program to enable it to temporarily expand its initiatives for small and medium size businesses.
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in . By supporting small and medium size enterprises we will foster a community of innovative businesses that will sustain and grow the economy both locally and nationally.
The region of southern Ontario benefits from a number of economic advantages including high education levels, large and prosperous urban centres and a close proximity to the United States marketplace.
However, the weakening U.S. and global economies have resulted in plant closures and slower economic growth that are creating hardships for workers and families in southern Ontario. To revitalize the economy in southern Ontario, our economic action plan will provide more than $1 billion over five years for a new southern Ontario development agency. This new development agency will support community development, innovation and economic diversification with contributions to communities, businesses and non-profit organizations. It will help workers, communities and businesses in southern Ontario position themselves to take advantage of opportunities as economic growth recovers in Canada and around the world.
In addition to this, we are investing in federal public infrastructure. We will increase funding to VIA Rail Canada by $407 million to support improvements to passenger rail services. The addition of a third railway track at key locations between Montreal and Toronto will allow more express trains and cut travel times by 30 minutes.
Our action plan is designed to stimulate the economy and put people back to work. But at the same time, we must remember that the effects of the global recession are being felt by many Canadian workers and their families. Canada's economic action plan is taking action to help. We will extend EI benefits and provide new opportunities to enhance skills upgrading and training. We are also investing in social housing that provides many Canadians with quality housing at affordable rates.
The mayor of Waterloo, Brenda Halloran, spoke to our budget round table about the social housing needs in our city. Many existing units are aging and require significant repair and upgrading to meet modern energy efficiency and accessibility standards. Our economic action plan will address her concerns by providing $1 billion over the next two years to improve the quality and energy efficiency of up to 200,000 social housing units for Canadians who need it most.
These investments will also provide employment for construction workers who are concerned about the slowdown in the housing market. At the same time, Canadians are being encouraged to be more energy efficient. During the consultation process, one of my constituents sent me a detailed proposal that called for an expansion of our eco-energy retrofit program. I am certain that he will be pleased to see that our plan provides an additional $300 million over two years to the eco-energy retrofit program to support an estimated 200,000 additional home retrofits.
To further stimulate economic growth and encourage Canadians to invest in improvements in their homes, our plan also proposes to introduce a temporary home renovation tax credit. We will provide meaningful tax relief to help Canadian homeowners make improvements to their property while promoting broadbased economic activity and again help preserve jobs in the construction and materials sectors.
Canada's economic action plan will provide the stimulus our country needs to get the economy back on track and well positioned for future growth. We want to put people back to work and to create new jobs. By positioning ourselves as world leaders in innovation and technology, we are investing in long-term sustainable job growth.
One of the things that I heard repeatedly from businesses in was that we must continue to invest in the knowledge sector. As Canada's premier high tech community, my riding depends on this sector to provide the good quality jobs that inject stimulus into the local economy. So I am pleased to see that the responded by announcing that the Institute for Quantum Computing will be receiving $50 million to support the construction and establishment of a new world class research facility that will contribute to achieving the goals of the government's science and technology strategy.
Through the prudence and forward-thinking decisions made on our economic action plan, I am confident that we will emerge from this recession with a more modern and greener infrastructure, a more skilled labour force, lower taxes and a more competitive economy.
Madam Speaker, it is certainly a great privilege to rise in the House this evening to talk about budget 2009 and what it means for Canadians and communities across our country.
Our economic plan for Canada is the result of extensive consultation. We are responding by taking action to protect working families and their jobs today, while also creating jobs for the future.
Our action plan includes tax relief to stimulate the economy and seeks to protect those hardest hit by the global economic downturn, including those in our coastal and rural communities.
We are injecting money into the economy to get people working. We are striving to create employment for those hardest hit by this economic uncertainty. We are working with provinces, territories and municipalities and we are investing in sectors and regions right across the country.
Our government has demonstrated that we are focused on the economy, that we will do whatever it takes to help Canadians weather this storm and to get this economy rolling again. Exceptional times call for exceptional measures.
As , I would be remiss if I did not talk about how budget 2009 will benefit Canada's fisheries sector and coastal communities. The one issue that came up time and time again during my consultations and discussions with harvesters and processors from coast to coast was access to credit. The global credit crunch has reached all the way across this country but with our government's business credit availability program, that will change.
For example, a lobster processor who can no longer sell his inventory at the same price and volume as before to a U.S. client because that client is feeling the downturn, needs help to access capital to finance his ongoing operation. He turns to his bank for a line of credit but the bank says no because of competing requests and the seasonal nature of his business. Through the business credit availability program, the bank will be able to get support from a financial crown corporation to allow that processor's credit needs to be met on commercial terms. The same will apply to distributors. Access to credit will enable our seafood enterprises to manage inventories and ride out a challenging season.
Support for workers is also a key component of our economic action plan. By extending EI benefits by five weeks, and I have to say that this measure is already in place as a pilot project in some areas in Canada including mine, by providing additional funds for training and by extending support for older workers, such as those who are 55 and over, our government will be helping ships' crews, plant workers and harvesters weather the economic storm.
For those in the industry who are hardest hit by the decline in global demand for fish at reasonable prices, the $1 billion community adjustment fund will provide needed investments to address significant adjustment pressures in many fishing and coastal communities.
Working with regional development agencies, such ACOA and CEDQ, we will be able to invest in initiatives that will help our fishing industry adjust to new market demands.
Our government's action plan has far-reaching positive investment for fishing communities, the fisheries and marine sectors and beyond. That is why we are investing in communities in this time of economic uncertainty. With significant investments in small craft harbours and the Canadian Coast Guard, budget 2009 will assist Canadians weather the economic storm.
As we all know, Canada is a nation built on a fishing tradition that continues to endure. Our country's wild and cultured fisheries contribute $12 billion annually to the Canadian economy. Aquaculture accounts for one-third of the commercial fishery and it is worth over $900 million each year.
When combined, commercial fishing, processing and aquaculture employ over 130,000 people. The fisheries sector is the sole economic driver in more than 1,000 coastal communities.
Our government recognizes the value of the fisheries and marine sectors and we are committed to helping them flourish with close to $400 million for vital infrastructure, small craft harbours and the Canadian Coast Guard fleet.
We will invest funds in areas that will have the most direct benefit on the Canadian economy.
As part of our government's economic stimulus plan, we will invest up to $200 million over two years for repair and maintenance of core small craft harbours. Those small craft harbours are in the ridings of most MPs in this room. We must build safe, accessible and sound harbour facilities for the commercial fishing industry and for the communities they support.
In Prince Edward Island, this investment means projects in communities such as Wood Islands, where we will invest more than $2 million for the wharf stabilization program and harbour improvements. Miminegash Harbour in western P.E.I. will also receive $1.1 million for wharf construction and shore protection. The fishers in these communities have been waiting a long time for this funding and I am pleased to deliver this.
I recognize how important wharf infrastructure is to Quebeckers and that is why we have allocated $3.6 million to three harbours in the Gaspé region for repairs, construction and reconstruction.
Fishing harbours are also important to northerners. I am pleased to report that budget 2009 allocates an additional $17 million to accelerate the construction of a small craft harbour in Pangnirtung. This critical harbour infrastructure will support Nunavut's growing commercial fisheries and will mean jobs in a region that is seeking opportunities for further economic development.
We will also invest $87 million over two years to support the government's commitment to Arctic science. This includes investments in northern research facilities and preliminary work to fulfill our commitment to establish a high Arctic research station.
Our government will invest an additional $250 million over two years to modernize federal laboratories across the country. A portion of this new money will be put toward salmon enhancement program facilities throughout British Columbia.
As the government's maritime services provider, the coast guard is vital to our country's maritime economy. We will invest $175 million in the Canadian Coast Guard to procure 68 new small vessels, 30 environment barges and to undertake major repair work on 40 of our aging larger vessels.
By procuring 47-foot lifeboats, we will bolster search and rescue operations. Purchasing new inshore fisheries science vessels will enable scientists to conduct crucial research on the health of our oceans and the fish that live there. Replacing environment response barges will enable us to be better equipped to respond to environmental emergencies in Canadian waters.
Our government is also committed to major repair work on the fleet which will improve their availability and their reliability. In addition, we will extend the life of five existing multi-task coast guard vessels so they can continue to provide programs such as fishery conservation and protection patrols.
Work will be conducted in Canada where possible by shipyards located within the regions of the vessel's home ports. We intend to try to spread this work right across the country.
We have vessels in every region across the country from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, and our long term investments will provide support for shipbuilding. These investments will ensure that Canadian waters are safe, accessible and secure. These measures will speed up all funding initiatives so that they will directly benefit local economies, create jobs and strengthen communities.
Let there be no doubt that our government is working to minimize the impact of the economic downturn as much as possible.
As the first federally elected Conservative from P.E.I. in 20 years, I am proud to represent Egmont in this House. In this budget, our government actions will translate into real jobs and real jobs for Islanders. We all realize that P.E.I. is not immune to what is happening on the world stage, however, Islanders will see significant benefit from our action plan on the economy. As the said yesterday, Islanders will benefit from projects like the Summerside wind project and the wharf repairs at Wood Islands and Miminegash.
Small businesses will be eligible for tax relief and our heritage programs will benefit from cultural infrastructure investments.
P.E.I. will also receive its share of our investments in social housing help for Canadians on fixed incomes, including $400 million for new social housing for seniors and $75 million for new social housing for persons with disabilities.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
The Bloc Québécois has already said it is in total disagreement with the Conservative budget. This budget is totally unacceptable for a number of reasons, some of which I will explain now.
Quebec and Quebeckers have been going through a major economic crisis, like many other regions, and were expecting much more vigorous efforts to re-start the economy. It is important to point out that the crisis now affecting other provinces arrived in Quebec quite a while ago.
When we talk about the crisis in industry in general, in manufacturing and especially forestry in Quebec, the areas where most of these industries are concentrated have been in crisis mode for four or five years now. Various communities in Quebec and the vast majority of its regions, whether involved in pulp and paper, softwood lumber, forestry or furniture, have been seriously affected for many years now.
We would naturally have expected the Conservative budget to come to the assistance of these communities and make up some of the lost time. The Conservatives have been doing nothing to support the forestry and manufacturing industries for quite a few years now. We would have expected them to take action for once. We said to ourselves, “Finally, they are going to make funds available, as they said they would”. What we saw instead, though, was that Quebec was completely forgotten in this budget.
The Conservative budget provides $170 million for the forestry and manufacturing sectors in comparison with $2.7 billion for the automobile industry in Ontario, which is generally agreed to have been in a crisis situation for six months or at most a year. Companies in Quebec have been closing their gates one after another, some temporarily but others permanently.
It is completely incomprehensible that the government is being so unfair in this budget. When we look again at what will be given to Ontario, we see a new agency for southern Ontario with a budget of $1 billion. Once more, there is an awful lot of money for Ontario. We said it before and will say it again: this is totally unfair to Quebec.
That is one of the measures that lead us to say it is impossible for members who really defend the interests of Quebec to vote for a budget like this, which deprives Quebec of large amounts of money and sends them elsewhere.
Another important issue is employment insurance. Rather than eliminating the two week waiting period, the Conservatives have chosen to do something—and will be supported in this by the Liberals—that will not help all the working people who lose their jobs. If the two-week waiting period had been eliminated, everyone who gets employment insurance would have been affected. The Conservatives decided instead, though, to extend the benefits for another five weeks at the end, when many people may have already found new jobs. Therefore it will cost less. Once again, the Conservatives are playing politics and saving money on the backs of people who have lost their jobs. Around 50% of people who lose their jobs do not qualify for employment insurance anyway. That is completely unfair. The Conservatives have refused to make employment insurance more accessible. The measures I have suggested would have really helped everyone who loses his or her job.
I was saying that the crises in the forestry and manufacturing sectors have hit Quebec especially hard in the past four or five years. Such measures might have been seen as a sign of the Conservative government's compassion for people losing their jobs. Not so. It is implementing a measure that will help only a few and gloating over its fine politics. That makes no sense, and we will most certainly oppose it.
There is another major item of discord, and I do not think we have heard the end of it, either. Apparent in yesterday's budget was the Conservative government's clear intention to put a cap on equalization. To do so unilaterally and without consultation is totally inappropriate and fails to respect the jurisdictions of those involved. Quebec is going to lose $1 billion in the next fiscal year and nearly $2 billion the following year. I can hardly imagine the difficult choices that will have to be made in Quebec.
Will educational and daycare services have to be cut. Will there be cuts to health care services, when people are already having a hard time finding a family doctor? These measures will have a very negative impact on Quebeckers.
As I was saying, will family policy be affected? While Quebec has been a leader for a number of years, the government is going to cause it to lose ground with measures like these, unacceptably.
By heightening the fiscal imbalance—I mentioned equalization—the Conservative government is breaking earlier promises, just as it did when it reiterated its intention to walk all over Quebec's jurisdiction over securities. I return to the subamendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois. It refers to a motion passed unanimously by the members of the National Assembly that says that the intention expressed by the Conservative Government in recent months to create a single securities commission is in contravention of Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction in this matter. It also is counter to the expressed wish of the Government of Quebec, which has made it clear that it is prepared to take this matter to the Supreme Court. It is quite out of the question for the Conservative government to heighten the crisis we are already in and to announce its intention to use this budget to open the subject and once again increase tensions between the governments of Quebec and Canada.
I add in closing that this Conservative government still without provision in its budget to implement the Kyoto accord is once again in conflict with Quebec's major economic interests. Many years ago, a system was set up in Quebec to reduce pollution significantly. Renewable energies and clean electricity are used with Hydro Quebec. Businesses and individuals have taken steps that have made Quebec a leader. Implementation of the Kyoto accord and the creation of a carbon emissions trading market would encourage Quebeckers and return to them the funds they have paid out of their own pockets.
I close by saying that this budget is totally contrary to the interests and values of Quebeckers.