Madam Speaker, Parliament is currently reviewing the contents of Bill , the Conservative government's budget implementation act. The bill was tabled on March 4 and received first reading only on September 30.
This is the largest deficit spending budget in the history of Canada. The spending will occur through borrowed funds that not only this generations but generations to come will have to pay for. The debt will be growing.
What is not unveiled in this budget document is another source of income to pay for these provisions within the budget document.
Canadians were told, it was revealed in the House just last week, that a significant source of the income of the funds required to pay for this largest deficit spending budget in the history of Canada will be borne on the backs of Canadian seniors.
It was revealed just last week that a secret policy had been established by the Conservatives to strip seniors of their pensions, to do so by taking away the right to GIS, a guaranteed income supplement. This is absolutely ridiculous.
The policy dates back to May 17. There was absolutely no notice of the policy. There was absolutely no information given to any Canadian senior or any Canadian citizen. It goes beyond impacting seniors, because it also impacts any Canadian who is attempting now to put money away for future retirement through an RRSP.
We know that our retirement system is based on several key platforms or planks. One of course is the Canada pension plan; another is the OAS, the old age security and subsequent GIS benefits, which flow from it; and the other plank is private investment, where working Canadians through the course of their entire working lives try to put a few dollars away in an RRSP, in a sheltered RRSP, which by law must be converted into a registered retirement income fund in due time.
The travesty has so upset Canadian seniors, when they discovered this information through things that were revealed in the House by myself and through the hard work and dedicated work of a retired Service Canada employee. He spent his entire working lifetime helping and supporting seniors and helping them navigate and understand the rules related to Canada's pension systems, Canada's public pension system and as well trying to navigate those rules and how they work with Canada's private pension system.
It was revealed by a Mr. Gerard Lee through his own work, through his own understanding and investigations of this that secret rules were put in place on May 17 affecting a senior's eligibility for GIS, the guaranteed income supplement.
For the benefit of members on the other side of the House who may not be aware of how the GIS works, the guaranteed income supplement is a key plank, an income-tested plank in the public pension system of our country. It builds upon the old age security program, OAS, which is a near-universal public pension for seniors. The GIS, which flows from that, is actually a directed pension system, directed in particular at our lower income Canadian seniors.
How the GIS is influenced by other forms of income is very important. In order to determine eligibility, the GIS is not based on seniors' current year income. It is actually assessed on their previous year's income. In other words, the determination of whether a senior might be eligible or might be receiving a GIS supplement in 2010, a guaranteed income supplement, was made based on 2009 income. The total amount of income seniors received in 2009 would determine whether or not they were eligible in 2010.
However, because last year's income is not always a very appropriate determiner of what resources a senior has available to him or her in this year, 2010, the government when it established this program recognized that one-time or lump sum income sources can be excluded from the income assessment for the pensioner in determining eligibility for GIS.
Specifically, income sources such as employment insurance benefits, which have a finite start and stop, which were basically made available in the previous year, can be optioned out of the GIS eligibility criteria in determining this year's benefits. Workmen's compensation benefits, which have a finite stop and start, could also under existing, former and current rules be optioned out of the eligibility calculation. Certain pension benefits and annuities can be optioned out of the calculation.
Since 1957, Canada has had a registered retirement savings plan and we champion that as a source of retirement investment. We encourage Canadians to invest in RRSPs. We put it into law that any RRSP after a senior hits the age of 71, must by law be converted into a RRIF. So we encouraged investments into RRSPs by granting tax shelter benefits, tax reprieve at the time of the investment, and we guaranteed our citizens that we would not mess with it; we would keep this as a stable, solid investment in perpetuity. We want to encourage working people to invest in RRSPs so that, coupled with the public pension systems and their own workplace pension systems, they have an additional source of income to be able to meet their needs and to meet the needs of their families. That was a solemn commitment, I thought.
On May 17, in a very secret, very dishonest way, the government changed all that. Conservatives put in place a new system of rules for the calculation of the guaranteed income supplement. They did not announce one word of it to any citizen. They did not put out a press release. They did not make this information available to any seniors' organization. Conservatives said, effective this date, that for the purposes of calculating the guaranteed income supplement, when senior citizens withdraw any money from a RRIF, deplete a RRIF, that money now is calculable against their income for the purposes of whether or not they are eligible for the GIS.
Let us think of a senior citizen who puts away a small amount of money under an RRSP, by law is required to roll it over into a RRIF, thinking that is a nest egg, a safety net, a source of funds to respond to emergencies with. That senior citizen, after the age of 71, has the unfortunate circumstance of having to bury a loved one, or pay for emergency home repair or pay for unanticipated costs related to a medical illness, cancer, heart attack or otherwise. Prior to May 17, he or she could use RRIFs, could organize finances in such a way as to use some of a RRIF, withdraw those funds, deplete that RRIF and not have that money used against him or her for the purposes of the calculation of the GIS. That is no more.
Now as of May 17, the government decided, but did not tell anyone, that any senior citizens who withdraw their RRIFs in a lump sum payment or otherwise now are going to lose their GIS. Fundamentally what the government did was it took the value of their RRSPs, the value of their RRIFs, and cut it by 50% right off the top, and it is also taxable at the moment the money is withdrawn from the fund. It is an incredible assault on the well-being and the security of our seniors, and the Conservatives did not even bother to tell anyone about it.
It has been said here in this House that (a) the did not know anything about it, but (b), now that she does know, it really does not affect too many people.
First, let us talk about whether or not the knew anything about this.
In the last number of weeks, when queried by investment counsellors as to whether or not the practice had changed, the sent out letters acknowledging the change made May 17 and defended the policy.
Second, the now says that this does not affect very many seniors.
Let it be understood that there are 1.5 million eligible recipients today of the guaranteed income supplement. That is 1.5 million, by definition, lower-income Canadian senior citizens. As I said, the GIS is income-tested. Only those who have a lower income threshold are eligible for the GIS. There are 1.5 million lower-income Canadian senior citizens who are directly impacted by this.
Bear in mind that $3,500 is not an elitist amount, $3,500 a year to try to help maintain and stabilize the standard of living of a senior. However, any senior citizen who withdraws any more than $3,500 a year from a RRIF will lose the GIS or a substantial portion of it. Those are the facts.
Any senior citizen who contributed a dime into an RRSP, over 20, 30 or 40 years of a working lifetime, will be directly impacted by this decision, because as we know, an RRSP must be converted to a RRIF, by law, at the age of 71.
The minister suggests this is only a small number of lower-income senior citizens, and I would love to know exactly what the thinks is just a small number. Lower-income senior citizens are directly impacted by this cash assault for the benefit of paying for Bill . What is it, 200,000, 300,000 or 400,000 Canadian low-income senior citizens? I guess that is a small amount.
This is an outrage. It is not only the 1.5 million Canadian seniors currently depending on the GIS system for their income who are affected. People who are now contributing to an RRSP, thinking they are developing a modest nest egg for their security in retirement, need to know whether or not they should stop doing that and start putting their money underneath their mattress.
Here are the consequences of these rules. When funds are withdrawn from a savings account, not a registered account, to pay for a cancer treatment, emergency home repairs or to offset the cost of the burial of a loved one, that is not computable against the GIS. That is a person's own money. However, withdrawing money from a registered retirement income fund, which one may have spent a lifetime trying to acquire, is computable against GIS.
In other words, the RRSP and RRIF system is now in jeopardy. Not only would one lose 50% right off the top but other benefits too.
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, and many other provinces base their social programs for senior citizens on an income-tested program. Instead of creating a second set of rules, considering the federal government's guaranteed income supplement, GIS, is income-tested and is directed specifically at lower-income senior citizens, many provinces simply model that, and a recipient of GIS will also get other benefits, such as a provincial senior citizen's drug card.
A drug card can be worth anywhere from nothing, if you happen to be fortunate enough to be in great health, to $50,000 per year, if you happen to need emergency high-cost medications and other services. All of a sudden this decision to pay for the federal budget on the backs of senior citizens in a secret, clandestine way, is not only costing senior citizens their full GIS entitlements that they worked so hard for, fought for and built this country for, but what is not known to many of them is that they are also losing their drug cards from the provincial governments as a result.
The government did not have the gumption to even bother to inform them what would happen if they made this decision. After years and years of following a particular practice and of understanding the rules a certain way, seniors acted within what they felt were the rules. It is hard to act within the rules when we are not even told what they are. In other words, if senior citizens, on November 30, 2010, withdrew RRIF funds thinking the rules were in place in a certain way, they will not find out that they just hit themselves very, very tragically in their own personal finances until next year, because GIS is not based on a person's current year's income. If we make a withdrawal from a RRIF, deplete a RRIF in 2010, the impact is not even foretold to us until Canada Day, July 1, 2011. Happy Canada Day.
That is what a secretive government does. It prevents us from knowing what the consequences of its actions are and prevents us from acting in our own best interest. That is what they did to Canada's senior citizens.
It would not be until 2011 that anyone who withdrew any funds from a RRIF, depleted a RRIF, would even know about it, because the exercise of optioning those funds would not be explained to them, or the fact that they cannot option those funds like they can option employment insurance, workers' compensation benefits and certain annuity payments. To pay for Bill , the budget implementation act, the most significant deficit-spending budget in the history of Canada, what was not told to them, was not told to me, was not told to us and what was not told to any Canadian citizen is that the government will pay for this budget on the backs of Canadian seniors. The cash grab in all of this is unreal.
The minister has said that he has just found out about this and he will put a stop to processing the policy right now. He will review it, but it is still very much on the table. It is still very much on the table for him to do it down the road, and should he, by implication, agree with what he decided on May 17, 2010 after all, he will recoup an awful lot of money. He will have court judgments or whatever. He will file letters of notice that the money he is forgiving right now, he will recoup down the road.
The integrity of our registered retirement savings plan system, of our registered retirement income fund system, and of our public pension plan system requires consistency and a solid, steady hand at the administrative wheel. It does not need and will not accept a minister who decided but just got caught, so now he will give it a temporary reprieve to try to get out of this mess, but he will hold us in limbo until he figures out whether or not he will keep the policy.
Our seniors deserve better. Rescind this policy, do not review it.
Madam Speaker, Bill , a budget implementation act, is at third reading.
The Bloc Québécois spoke out on several occasions against the budget presented by this government. The budget proposed by the Conservatives perpetuates the federal government's encroachment on areas of Quebec jurisdiction. The budget also clearly penalizes the Quebec government. Another source of major dissatisfaction for Quebec is the fact that this budget maintains a tax system that is extremely generous to the banks and oil companies while putting the burden of the deficit on the middle class, workers and seniors.
The Bloc Québécois's budget suggestions have always been consistent with the expectations of Quebeckers and, if the government had implemented them, they would have ensured that Quebec came out of the crisis prosperous, sustainable and green.
The Conservatives, supported by the Liberals, have continued to focus their policies on the needs of Ontario and Alberta to the detriment of Quebec. Despite all the fine Conservative promises of 2006 about a new openness toward Quebec, the Conservative budget does not satisfy the needs of Quebec's economy. Forestry, aerospace, the environment and culture are priorities of Quebeckers that have been completely ignored. What is more, Quebec's top priorities—enhancing employment insurance and the guaranteed income supplement, harmonizing the QST with the GST, and implementing a real plan to help the forestry industry—have not been addressed in the budget.
The government is also confirming its intention to create a Canada-wide securities commission despite opposition from economic players in Quebec and its National Assembly.
It is clear that the Conservative government has many priorities other than Quebec. The automotive industry in Ontario has received $9.7 billion, while the forestry industry, which is so vital to the regions of Quebec, has received only $170 million.
For all intents and purposes, the environment was ignored in the budget. However, the Conservative government has put $1 billion toward developing nuclear power, which benefits Ontario, Alberta and the oil companies. These companies already have generous tax benefits.
What I find the most upsetting in this budget is that it ignores the need to improve employment insurance and the guaranteed income supplement, which is keeping our seniors in poverty. It also ignores the need to deal with the issues of social housing and homelessness.
As for the guaranteed income supplement, an issue that is dear to my heart and concerns many of my constituents, for years now the Bloc Québécois has been calling on the various Liberal and Conservative governments—we had a Liberal government in 2004 when I was first elected—to stop pulling the wool over seniors' eyes. We have asked the government many times to take concrete action in order to help the thousands of seniors throughout Quebec who are lacking the basic resources they need to live in dignity. In 2007, I introduced Bill to make significant changes in order to allow our seniors to live in dignity.
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have gotten into the habit of being misleading and telling half-truths in order to govern according to their ideology while keeping public discontent at bay. Just recently, we saw another shocking example of their bad faith when they distributed documents congratulating themselves on increasing guaranteed income supplement benefits.
Those increases are nothing more than adjustments that have been planned since 2005. In reality, the Conservatives have done absolutely nothing since 2006 to help older people who are struggling financially, and needs remain considerable and urgent.
But let us go back to the legislation before us, Bill , to implement various initiatives presented in the budget on March 4, 2010. The Bloc Québécois voted against the budget because it was unfair to Quebec, but does not object ideologically to all the measures resulting from it. The Bloc Québécois actually supports many of the initiatives presented in the bill, which our party helped to enhance. We especially support the clauses to improve the allocation of child benefits. The government agrees to pay half to each of two parents who have joint custody in order to ease the tax burden on beneficiaries of a registered disability savings plan, a plan that was designed to provide severely disabled children with financial security.
We also support the provisions to reduce the administrative burden on charities and some small businesses and tighten the rules around the TFSA in order to prevent tax avoidance, as well as those that will prevent companies from benefiting from double deductions for stock options.
However, despite our support, we also have many reservations. This bill confirms the Conservative government's intention to spare rich taxpayers at all costs and have the workers and the middle class pay off the deficit. The government will continue to treat stock options like capital gains for ordinary taxpayers. The Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that only half of the income derived from stock options is subject to federal income tax. The Conservative government could show fairness to workers and collect $1 billion in tax by cutting off this gift.
Businesses are not being asked to pay their fair share to increase government revenue, except that they have to make source deductions to ensure that employees with stock options pay their taxes. Furthermore, this bill attests to the Conservative government's inertia with respect to the environment and the fight against greenhouse gases. Only one environmental measure is included: encouraging the production of clean energy.
The government is ignoring the Bloc's urgent calls concerning equalization payments and increased transfers for education and social programs. It is ignoring our recommendations concerning income security for pensioners.
I would like to address some of the measures in this bill that affect entire areas of Quebec society. First, I want to address the measures regarding income tax on charities, as included in part 1.
The government is changing the rules on sums that have to be spent on charitable activities by repealing the rule on charitable spending, changing the rules on capital accumulation, and strengthening the rules against tax avoidance. In Quebec, we can count on the dedication of 16,000 charities registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. The Bloc Québécois believes it is vital that charitable organizations be able to focus on their activities, rather than on constant fundraising. Accordingly, we supported the campaign to eliminate the capital gains tax on donations of securities and private equity holdings to charities.
In addition, the Bloc Québécois is open to the idea of extending the tax credit for charitable donations.
In response to the 2010 budget, the Bloc Québécois deplored the fact that the government did not consider the issue of charity funding. The survival of these organizations is especially important given that the Conservative government has used terrible methods to reduce its deficit, which could lead to reduced public services. The decisions related to health transfers are one example of this.
When it comes to international aid, we cannot help but be concerned by the major withdrawal and the politics of fear imposed on NGOs by this government. This withdrawal is particularly apparent in the case of organizations whose positions are at odds with the government's viewpoints.
In budget 2010, the federal government announced its plans to cap expenditures for development assistance, thereby confirming that it would not make the effort needed to achieve its target of 0.7% of GNP.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the important role of charitable organizations in Quebec society and around the world. They all need predictable, long-term funding in order to fulfill their respective mandates. The federal government must stop extending certain programs on a temporary basis and stop being so secretive about its intentions regarding the funding of organizations. In doing so, the government creates uncertainty among the most vulnerable, our community groups and the charitable organizations that help them.
The Bloc Québécois will also continue to call on the federal government to implement a realistic plan to achieve the UN target of 0.7% of GDP for international assistance as quickly as possible. If the federal government does not increase its budget for development assistance, it will greatly impede the vital work that is being done by charitable organizations in the developing world.
Part 3 of the bill deals with measures pertaining to federal-provincial fiscal arrangements. The purpose of these piecemeal arrangements, made at the behest of the federal government, is to facilitate tax sharing by Canada and Quebec. The Bloc Québécois believes that it is high time to come up with a vigorous mechanism ensuring that Quebec receives all taxes paid in the province. For that reason, we are asking the federal government to initiate talks with the Government of Quebec in order to create a single tax return in Quebec, on the basis of an agreement similar to that for the GST, for all taxes paid by Quebeckers.
Since 1991, the Government of Quebec has collected the goods and services tax for the federal government, which compensates it for this service. The Bloc Québécois believes that Quebec should collect all income tax. Not only would corporations and individuals save considerable sums every year, but the reduced cost of tax collection would lead to recurring savings that, in turn, would lower pressure on public finances. The introduction of a single tax return by the Government of Quebec would save hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing duplication.
Part 7 of the bill, which also deals with federal-provincial fiscal arrangements, particularly addresses total transfers, including equalization. The Quebec government is the loser with this implementation bill, as it was with the 2010 budget, because the Conservatives have maintained their decision to unilaterally cap equalization payments.
Since the equalization envelope is now capped, the total amount of equalization payments will be calculated in line with economic growth, which means that Quebec will lose several billion dollars over the coming years.
There is nothing in this bill about the formula affecting a segment of Hydro-Québec's revenue, either, which deprives the Quebec government of an additional $250 million. Lastly, there is nothing planned with regard to education and social program transfers. The Bloc Québécois is calling for a substantial increase in investments in these programs to return to the 1994-95 indexed level. Such an increase would mean that Quebec would receive $800 million more annually for the funding of its social programs.
The government is flatly refusing Quebec's urgent calls for an increase in federal transfer payments, in particular in education. The growth in health and education transfers will be compromised as of 2014-15 since the Federal Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act does not allow for any further growth in these transfers beyond 2014.
Furthermore, the bill currently before us provides no compensation for the harmonization of Quebec's sales tax. Even though Quebec has been unanimously calling on the government to provide financial compensation of $2.2 billion, this is still being denied. Total compensation of $6.86 billion has been allocated, including $4.3 billion to Ontario, and the rest to British Columbia and three Atlantic provinces.
For days there have been rumours from the office of Quebec's finance minister that Quebec and Ottawa will reach an agreement on this by spring. It is only a glimmer of hope, but if this agreement goes through, more than 20 years of injustice will finally be remedied.
The Bloc Québécois will support this bill to implement various initiatives in budget 2010, but the many reservations we have expressed about this budget and its serious shortcomings show that the Conservatives still have not understood the economic and cultural reality of Quebeckers.
The public cannot be fooled so easily, as we saw in yesterday's byelection in Quebec. The Liberal government in Quebec, which for months has been ignoring calls by the public to hold a public inquiry into the ties between the construction industry and political parties, was defeated in a riding that it had held for more than 25 years.
The fact of the matter is that Quebeckers do not identify with this Conservative government. They deplore the fact that their cultural and economic development are being hindered by this government and they are not shy to make that known at election time.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak on the legislation before the House.
In the limited time available to me I want to raise three or four issues that are not in the legislation and that in my opinion are not being discussed in the House in the manner they ought to be. They are issues that in my opinion are near and dear to the hearts and lives of every Canadian living from coast to coast to coast.
I am not going to suggest for a minute that these are easy issues. These are issues that require a plan and require courage.
The first issue I want to talk about is the issue of poverty among Canadians. There is no mention of that issue in this legislation, no mention in the budget speech, no mention in the previous Speech from the Throne or any Speech from the Throne for that matter, or basically in any statement by the or his cabinet.
During the past 12 months there have been two what I refer to as massive reports from committees. The first one was tabled last December from the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. It was entitled, “In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness”.
The second committee report was a massive report. It took a lot of time and energy and effort. It came from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The title of the study was the “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada”.
These studies and a lot of other opinions and articles certainly identify the extent of poverty that we see across Canada. They talk about the groups, the cohorts, who suffer the most: the disabled, single parents, unattached individuals, aboriginals and new immigrants. They talk about some of the reasons. They talk about where.
One important aspect that should be made very clear is that very close interrelationship between poverty and future health care costs, between poverty and future educational achievement, between poverty and future interactions with the criminal justice system and between poverty and the future productivity of the Canadian nation.
It leads to what I suggest is a democratic deficit where people are not contributing in the way they should.
Last week we had the unfortunate statistic reported that senior poverty over the last three or four years has increased by 25% under the watch of the Conservative government. There are in excess of 600,000 children living in poverty, one in nine.
On November 24 the House debated a motion basically calling upon the government to develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty for all. The motion was debated, discussed, deliberated upon and was passed by a majority of the members of Parliament representing a majority of Canadians.
I remember when the was the leader of the opposition. I remember the statements that he used to make, that we cannot ignore the will of Parliament speaking on behalf of Canadians. What did he do? He totally ignored it.
This is an issue I submit that we ignore at our own peril. It is an issue that perhaps transcends the next election cycle but it is an issue that all members of Parliament should be looking at for the better future, not of ourselves but of our children and generations to come.
The second issue I want to identify that is certainly not in this budget, nor in any other budget, Speech from the Throne nor statements by cabinet ministers, is the whole issue of the environment, and specifically our inability to take any action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Our record is appalling. It is embarrassing. The history over the last five years is really appalling. Back when the Conservatives were first elected in January 2006, they eliminated any reference to climate change, they ignored any international agreements, and they basically abandoned any concept of greenhouse gas emissions or climate change.
The first environment minister, now the , immediately announced in the House that the government would come forward with a made in Canada approach to deal with climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. She did nothing, and after three months, six months, nine months, twelve months, nothing was done. There was no initiative, no program, absolutely nothing.
After 18 months she was replaced with the second environment minister, now the present . He abandoned any talk of a made in Canada approach, but his initiative was that we would come forward with a turning the corner initiative, which would regulate the emissions from Canada's 500 largest emitters. It was very forcefully spoken about. It was to be a great plan with much fanfare. That minister did nothing, despite his statements, after three months, nine months, 16 months. After 22 months, unfortunately, he had to be replaced.
The government's third environment minister, Mr. Jim Prentice, stated that Canada would not have a made in Canada approach and certainly would not have anything to do with this turning the corner initiative, whatever that was, and he basically stated in the House that the government would do nothing until it saw what the United States was doing.
Unfortunately, the United States did have good intentions with the election of President Obama but now the Republicans have control of the Congress and any thought about cap and trade or anything grandiose will probably not happen. That has given that minister cover to do nothing, and after a couple of years in that portfolio he did nothing. Of course, he had the Cancun meeting coming up this week. About a month ago, he resigned both from his position as the environment minister and his seat in the House.
Now we have the fourth , the , which is probably an instance where perhaps recycling ought not to have been used. He is there for a temporary period and there does not seem to be anything at all moving.
Unfortunately, the previous minister attended the Copenhagen conference a year ago. That was a large international conference for which there was the hope that we would reach a very good agreement. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, that did not happen. Canada went there with the obvious intention not to reach an agreement, but to scuttle any agreement from being reached. As a result it received four Fossil of the Year awards, and then it became the Colossal Fossil.
I cannot overstate how embarrassing that is to Canadians. We as Canadians want to consider ourselves citizens of the world, but when we see that going on in foreign fora, it is certainly embarrassing to this Canadian and I would suggest to the majority of other Canadians watching that spectacle.
Right now as we speak there is the next international forum going on in Cancun, Mexico. I do not believe the is there although he may attend the closing ceremonies. And this is probably a good thing for us, because I think it will avoid a certain amount of embarrassment to this country when we see our ministers going there trying to scuttle any agreement being reached.
That issue is unfortunate. It is embarrassing, but again, we are not going to hear talk about it. We are not going to hear of any initiatives. We are not going to hear of any movement. The government is just kicking the can down the road and letting the next generation deal with that particular issue.
The third issue that is not addressed in this bill or in the budget, which is disappointing, is this whole issue of pensions, which is fast becoming a very serious issue for a great majority of Canadians. Approximately 60% of Canadians are not saving enough for their retirements and this is going to cause real problems in the future.
We do have a three-pronged post-retirement income plan. The first prong, of course, is the government-funded old age security and guaranteed income supplement, which work well. The second prong of that plan is the Canada pension plan, a compulsory government plan that is employer-employee funded. It is inadequate but the structure is acceptable. It is certainly actuarially sound and will be for the next 75 years. However, the third prong, which requires government action, is the private savings part, and that is course the private plans, whether they be defined benefit or defined contribution, and the RRSPs.
What has happened, which does require our attention from the federal government, is that many of the companies have either eliminated their private, defined benefit plans altogether and moved to a defined contribution plan, or alternatively, have just abandoned any kind of a pension whatsoever. Coupled with that, we have basically seen what I consider to be the failure of the RRSP program. It has been with us many years now but the costs are twice what they are in the United States for similar types of plans. The returns just are not there and this really has failed Canadians. If a person put in $4,000 or $5,000, or 10% of his or her income for a middle-income earner, in an RRSP, basically the plan failed that particular person.
It does need a legislative solution. I am not suggesting for a minute that I have all the answers and I know it does require discussion with the provincial premiers. I know that the now has started some discussion because the provincial premiers are demanding that, but again, it is a very serious issue. It is not an issue that is talked about in this House. It is not an issue that is being addressed and this is very unfortunate.
On these issues and many others, there is an overarching theme, and that is the whole issue of intergenerational equity, or intergenerational inequity. Intergenerational equity means that each generation is treated fairly and that no generation should piggyback off the next. In other words, our children should not bear our debt load, and that is playing itself out in many aspects of Canadian life right now, no more so than in the deficit.
We presently are incurring deficits in excess of $50 billion per year and these debts have to be paid off. In the last four budgets of the government, spending has increased by 39.7%. We have seen tax cuts to the wealthiest of companies, which in Canada and in a Canadian context, would most likely mean the banks, the mining companies and the oil companies.
This debt is going to be paid for by the future generation of Canadians, probably by those three pages who are sitting in front of you, Madam Speaker. We are facing a country with unique demographic circumstances. We are entering an era where there are going to be fewer workers and many more retired Canadians. These retired Canadians will rely more and more on our younger workers to pay for increased health care costs, increased costs for caring for the elderly and pension costs.
On top of that, spending is out of control. There are examples upon examples of out of control spending. Members have heard it all before. There is the $16 billion for planes through an untendered contract; $13 billion allocated for prisons; $1.3 billion for the G8 and G20 summits; $130 million for partisan Conservative advertising, some of which is showing up on sex sites; and $1.3 million for cabs to ferry ministers, who have chauffeurs, and their staff around Ottawa.
Spending is out of control and the deficit is very large, but these issues are not spoken about. The government will leave the deficit and all the other issues to the next generation. This manifests itself in many ways, and I will go over them briefly.
I have already talked about the deficit.
The environment will have to be dealt with. Some generation will have to deal with it. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be able to deal with it. That does not mean the problem is going to go away. We have serious problems not only with our greenhouse gas emissions but with other aspects of our environment that are not being dealt with by the government.
Pensions is a big issue. We are facing an aging society. The pension problem has to be dealt with. We cannot force these costs on the next generation.
There is a notion that affordable post-secondary education is a right of citizenship. That, in my day, was the great equalizer. That seems to be gone because of the downloading of the costs onto students.
The plight of our aboriginal communities, especially post-secondary support for our first nations youth, should be a big priority for the government.
A lot of this will really affect the productivity of our nation. As a result, crime rates will probably increase in the years to come. Health costs will increase in the years to come.
Another issue is unemployment. Youth unemployment is reaching record levels. Students have been particularly hit. People leaving the educational system, younger workers in particular have been hit because of the recent recession. Their future looks bleak, and I see no action on the part of the government. Again, it is an example of just kicking the problem on to the next generation. This is going to have real cogent effects on the future productivity of Canada.
If Canada's youth are not acquiring necessary skills in the workplace now, and when post-secondary costs are getting more expensive, it leaves fewer alternatives for younger people. This will have very serious consequences, especially for young men, who seem to be getting hit worse. This will lead to higher crime rates and a greater burden on all taxpayers.
These challenges are not mentioned in the bill. Nobody is talking about them in the debates in the House.
As I see it, the Conservative agenda comes down to the 3Ps, which used to stand for public-private partnership. In my opinion, the 3Ps now stand for planes, prisons and pistols. In other words, every Canadian should have the right to own a gun if he or she so chooses.
It is disheartening to see the direction in which we are heading. It is disappointing. A whole host of issues that should be dealt with are not being dealt with. The whole Conservative agenda is laden with intergenerational inequity that is going to cause great harm to this country. It is showing up these days with the trade balance and everything else. It is very disappointing.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise yet again to speak to Bill , a bill that, in an Orwellian turn of phrase, is entitled .
Nothing would make me happier than to report to this House that people in my home town of Hamilton were actually experiencing an economic recovery. Then we, too, could take joy in a bill that claims to be sustaining that recovery. However in my home town, people are far from rejoicing in the lead-up to this holiday season. On the contrary, they are profoundly worried about their future.
The points to soaring bank profits and takes that as proof that the recession is over. For him, if his banking friends are out of trouble, everyone is out of trouble. However, Canadians see it differently.
One and a half million Canadians are still out of work. Six out of every 10 Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. Household debt is at record highs. Life is more expensive than ever.
Unlike the Conservative government, New Democrats will not declare this recession over until middle class families are back on their feet. A true recovery must not leave anyone behind.
That requires a fundamentally different approach to dealing with the economy than what the Conservatives have brought before this House to date. Since the Conservatives first became government, they have been destabilizing what was once a balanced economy in this country. It is an economy that Canadians had painstakingly built together since the second world war, a strong primary sector with timber and mining, a strong secondary transformation manufacturing sector and of course an important service sector.
That formerly balanced economy got skewed because of the government's tax policies. Since coming to office, the Conservatives have handed more than $60 billion in tax cuts to Canada's wealthiest corporations. Now I know that some on the backbenches of the Conservatives Party will suggest that those tax cuts went to all corporations, not just the wealthy ones, and that therefore they have simply been trying to stimulate the business climate in our country.
However that is a false argument. If a company is not making a profit, it cannot pay taxes on that non-existent profit. There is no profit to be taxed. Companies that could use a break the most are not getting any benefit from the much-touted tax reductions.
Who did get the money? It is companies like Encana, those that are piling up seas of unimaginable poisons behind the world's longest dikes near the tar sands. I do not need to remind members in this House about what happened in Hungary last month. Approximately one million cubic metres of red toxic sludge was released when a dike burst at the waste reservoir of an aluminum plant in that country.
Clearly it is not inconceivable that something similar could happen here. The poor track record of managing something as simple as protecting ducks from tailings ponds should set off alarm bells in all of us. Let us just imagine what is going to happen the day the dike breaks and who is going to be on the hook for those costs. Why, it will be taxpayers, of course.
We have never internalized the cost of the tar sands. We are bequeathing the obligation of paying the normal cost of cleaning up the mess from the tar sands to our children and our children's children. That, combined with the $60 billion debt for corporate tax cuts is one of the principle causes of the destabilization of our economy, and it is an unconscionable legacy to leave to future generations.
Now before government members jump all over me, let me be clear. I know that the tar sands are an important source of wealth for our country, but that does not negate the need and indeed the responsibility for that resource to be developed in an environmentally, economically and socially responsible way. That is what sustainable development is all about.
What is happening now is not sustainable, because the true costs of extracting oil have not been internalized. We are selling oil at artificially low prices. That brings in an artificially high number of U.S. dollars. That, in turn, pushes our Canadian dollar higher, which then makes it more difficult to export Canadian goods.
We have set up a vicious cycle of job losses, which are being felt especially in the industrial heartland of Ontario and Quebec. Clearly such policies do not sustain Canada's economic recovery, as the title of this bill would want us to believe. On the contrary, they exacerbate the job losses that were already affecting hardworking Canadians as a result of the 2008 recession.
Even before the current crisis hit in the fall of 2008, Statistics Canada reported that we had bled off 300,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector. It is little wonder that Canadians are worried. They are worried about their jobs. They are worried about their retirement savings. They are worried about their children's futures.
Let me just remind members in this House of a few reports that have been raised in this chamber during various debates:
From RBC Economics, today the typical Canadian family must devote 49% of its income to own a standard two-storey home, while mortgage rates are at their lowest point. That means people on average are spending half of their income to own their home, and they know if interest rates go up the costs will only increase.
From the BMO Financial Group, 64% of parents worry they will not be able to afford the rising costs of post-secondary education. Having recently met with student groups from across the country, I know that CFS, CASA, students in professional programs and graduate students would all echo that.
From the Canadian Medical Association, 80% of Canadians fear that the quality of their health care will decline over the next three years.
From the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian families are concerned about the cost of caring for a terminally ill loved one, which is currently $1,000 a month, excluding the loss of income from taking time off work to provide care. That is one of the reasons I have introduced Bill . It is one small step toward providing financial assistance to spouses providing in-home care.
From the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, 72% of pre-retired Canadians worry about maintaining a reasonable standard of living in retirement and maintaining a reasonable quality of life.
From RBC Economics, 58% of Canadians are concerned with their current level of debt, averaging $41,470 per person, which is the worst among 20 advanced countries in the OECD.
From the Canadian Payments Association, 59% of Canadians believe they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque were delayed one week. Think about that. More than half of all Canadians are living paycheque to paycheque with virtually no savings to fall back on. This is a country with a lot of people who are profoundly worried. For them, the devastating impact of the recession is clearly not a thing of the past. It is still being felt every single day.
To be debating a bill that talks about sustaining Canada's economic recovery will seem a little far-fetched for a lot of Canadians who may be watching our proceedings in the House today. They want to experience the economic recovery first-hand, and so far, they have been left behind. Regrettably, it looks as if things are going to get worse before they get better, at least if the Conservative government has its way.
Last week the kicked off his pre-budget tour for the 2011 budget, purporting to be listening to Canadians. Yet he began by telling seniors and hard-working families that they should not get their hopes up, that there will not be any new big spending because he has no money left. Both parts of that assertion deserve a closer look.
First, let us look at why he has no money left. The government has created the single biggest deficit in Canadian history at $56 billion. We already know that the $6 billion annually for additional corporate tax cuts had a great deal to do with that, yet the insists on continuing them despite the fact that our corporate tax rates are already lower than those of our biggest competitor, namely the U.S.
Do Canada's chartered banks really need another tax break? In the first nine months of this fiscal year, they reported $15 billion in profits and they have set aside an astonishing $7.5 billion for executive bonuses this year. I would defy the government to find a single Canadian outside of that exclusive club who thinks that additional tax cuts for the big banks ought to be a priority for the government.
Nor did Canadians think that the government used money wisely when it hosted the G8 and G20 summits last summer. The Conservatives spent $1.3 billion for a 72-hour photo op at the G8 and G20 summits. That included $1 million for a fake lake, $300,000 for a gazebo and bathrooms that were 20 kilometres away from the summit site, $400,000 for bug spray and sunscreen, more than $300,000 for luxury furniture and $14,000 for glow sticks.
The Conservatives would want us to believe that such is the price of hosting events on the world stage, but the security cost of the G8 meeting in Italy was $124 million in 2009. The year before, it cost $280 million in Japan. It cost $124 million in Germany. Once again, it is about choices.
For just over half of what it cost to host the G8 and G20 in Canada this summer, we could have improved the guaranteed income supplement so no Canadian senior would have to live in poverty. The remaining $600 million would still have been higher than the expenditures on any other summit. Clearly, the Conservatives' claim of being fiscally responsible is not borne out by reality.
Now to the government, of course, that is all water under the bridge. The government wants us to forget all about how we got to the record deficit and just wants us all to begin focusing on tightening our belts to get it back under control. Well actually, that is not all of us. There is still new money around. It is just not there for the priorities of hard-working Canadians.
Here is some of the new spending that has already been announced and for which money will be found in the upcoming budget. First, of course, is the ongoing commitment to spending $6 billion annually on additional corporate tax cuts. Next, there is the government's decision to continue Canada's military presence in Afghanistan.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Canada's military mission to Afghanistan up until 2011 will cost Canadians $18 billion. The government originally estimated that the military extension from 2011 to 2014 would cost $1.6 billion in military and $300 million in aid over the three years.
However later on, the government announced that the military costs were actually higher and the extension will cost $2.1 billion.
By contrast, according to PCO documents, the strictly civilian role envisioned by Canadian officials for the 2011-2014 period would have focused on diplomacy and development at a total cost of $.5 billion over three years. That would have been less than 25% of the cost of the military extension.
Next, there is the commitment to build U.S.-style mega-prisons in Canada. This is despite the fact that crime rates are actually going down. According to the President of the Treasury Board, we need those prisons to lock up the unreported criminals who have been doing unreported crimes. The cost is a cool $10 billion to $13 billion, and to find the money for those astronomical costs the government has shortchanged municipalities to the tune of $500 million on policing costs and shut down the successful prison farm program.
At least no one can accuse the Conservatives of letting sound public policy stand in the way of their ideological agenda.
Then there is the $16 billion that has been committed for the next budget year to the purchase of F-35 fighter jets. This is the single biggest defence procurement purchase in Canadian history. It raises a number of important questions.
First, why is this huge expenditure so vital to Canada's defence when we cannot even properly patrol our coastline? Why was this an untendered contract? Where is the transparency? Where is the accountability?
We know that technology problems plague the F-35 program, that commitments from some other countries are far from certain and that even the U.S. Pentagon says the program is two years behind schedule. There is a cost overrun of 65% and, worse of all, we have no guarantees on price, jobs, quality or value for money.
The government is flying by the seat of its pants and yet it stands firm in its commitment to purchase 65 new fighter jets. Canadians deserve transparency and accountability, and above all they deserve a say in whether this money is well spent.
Together the above four commitments alone account for $34 billion in new money that is already earmarked for future spending. Apparently there is plenty of money floating around for the government to act on its priorities. However for hard-working Canadians and seniors, there is nothing left but to tighten their belts.
Frankly, that is not good enough. Canadians deserve better and they deserve to be heard.
I would invite the to come to Hamilton with me and to listen, really listen, to what the priorities are in our community. Jobs, EI and retirement savings are right at the top of the list. The minister will know that our community has been devastated by plant downsizings, restructurings and closings.
I have raised the case of U.S. Steel on numerous occasions in the House. Not only did the government fail to do due diligence when it approved the foreign takeover of Stelco by U.S. Steel but, now that the workers have been locked out, it is failing to provide even the basic support of providing the workers with EI. This is despite the fact that there was a $57 billion surplus in EI, which successive Liberal and Conservative governments stole to pad their general revenues in previous years.
It is simply outrageous, and hard-working members of USW Local 1005 deserve better from this government.
However they are not the only ones who have been devastated in recent years. I could list literally dozens of manufacturing plants that have closed their doors completely and thousands of workers in just about every sector who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut during this last recession.
That is why they have looked with hope to the government's infrastructure program, which promised $3.2 billion for job creation through investments in provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure. Fourteen projects were approved within the city of Hamilton, totalling $184 million of stimulus funding. The 15th project was announced for the city on September 25, 2009. A condition of the funding was that approved projects be substantially completed by a deadline of March 31, 2011. It was understood that the federal and provincial governments were determined to see the projects completed in a timely manner.
However, it is difficult to appreciate the taxpayer benefit of withdrawing funding to the municipal governments for public infrastructure projects that extend beyond the March 31 deadline, particularly where projects may be delayed due to a number of factors that are beyond the municipalities' control.
In Hamilton six projects are at risk for not meeting that deadline, primarily due to factors that are indeed beyond the municipalities' control. First, although the program was intended to run over two years, project announcements were not made until June 2009, thereby effectively leaving only a single construction season for project completion.
Second, one of the projects was further delayed when its funding was not announced until September 2009.
Third, contractors, particularly for specialized construction, were difficult to obtain because of the large influx of stimulus funding, all with the same completion deadline.
Fourth, the approval process by some ministries and regulatory agencies have delayed some of the projects.
Despite these challenges, all 15 of the infrastructure projects are well under way. The delay in completion before the March 31 deadline is a matter of months, not years, and yet now the government is indicating that there will be absolutely no extension given to complete these important community projects. This, despite the fact that the himself stated at the opening of the recent G20 summit, “To sustain the recovery, it is imperative that we follow through on existing stimulus plans”.
In Hamilton, this is particularly germane. While recent employment figures reflect significant year over year job creation across the country, Hamilton is still experiencing increased unemployment. From June 2009 to June 2010, our jobless rate rose half a percentage point, from 7.2% to 7.7%. For our community, the ability to complete all of our infrastructure projects is critical to Hamilton's economic recovery. Conversely, the potential withdrawal of infrastructure funds after March 31 will only compound the pressures on our city and local taxpayers during this economically challenging time.
I have absolutely no doubt that the completion of these projects is much more important to Hamiltonians than the construction of prisons for unreported crimes, and I suspect the same is true in communities from coast to coast to coast.
I implore the government to listen to Canadians and extend the infrastructure deadline.
While I am on the subject of jobs, let me point out as well that we urgently need action on creating green jobs for a sustainable future. My NDP colleagues and I have laid out a comprehensive strategy for protecting jobs and protecting the environment, but urging the government to take action on that file is probably not time well spent. After all, the and his Conservative colleagues just killed a landmark climate change plan after it was passed by elected members of Parliament.
The New Democratic climate change accountability bill was Canada's only federal climate change legislation. Members of Parliament supported it and Canadians supported it but the refused to listen and then he instructed his unelected, undemocratic senators to kill the bill. By obstructing progress, the ignored the will of Canadians and left our country dangerously unprepared for climate change. Regrettably, it is our children and grandchildren who will pay the ultimate price.
I know I am running out of time but there is so much more that needs to be addressed. I have heard from so many constituents about what they believe the government should focus on in the upcoming budget but I will not be able to get it all on the record here today. Perhaps I could point to the excellent report of the HUMA committee as a short form for some of the other issues that must become priorities for government support.
Currently in Hamilton, 18,600 people depend on food banks every month and more than 8,100 are children. The Globe and Mail reported last Friday that there has been a 25% spike in the number of seniors now living in poverty. Poverty is real and it is pervasive but it is not inevitable.
We must ask ourselves a question. The banks and car companies received their bailouts from the government but where is the bailout for the poor? During this recession, we have seen the Conservative government bailing out big businesses. such as the auto and banking industries, but putting few resources into helping to build the social infrastructure necessary to aid the most vulnerable in our society.
Civil society groups are challenging all of us to do better. They are calling on the federal government to be more responsible, more accountable and to prioritize resources to child care, the child tax benefit, EI reform and social housing. These organizations have all been working tirelessly toward the same goal of eliminating poverty in Canada.
In Hamilton, I want to give a particular shout-out to the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, the Social Justice Coalition that campaigned for adequate welfare, Social Planning & Research Council, the Hamilton Community Foundation, Wesley Urban Ministries, the Good Shepherd Centres, Food Share, St. Joseph's Immigrant Women's Centre, Neighbour 2 Neighbour, the Hamilton's Centre for Civic Inclusion, the Housing Help Centre and the United Way. The list does not end there but each and every one of these organizations demonstrate unbelievable resilience through their continued efforts. Their work is inspirational and is a large reason that I remain so hopeful that it is not too late to build a better world.
Here in the House of Commons, New Democrats are taking up their call. Thanks to the incredible work of my colleague from , New Democrats now have a bill on the floor of this House calling for a national poverty strategy and an action plan with clear targets and timelines. The three priority areas that the bill addresses are income security, social inclusion and housing.
Instead of hitting seniors, who are the most vulnerable, with the HST on everything from home heating to haircuts, let us bring the federal government back into the discussion about its role in public life relating to poverty, the economy and taxation. Part of that conversation has to--
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill , which is not a short bill. The printed version is 143 pages long. The bill includes about nine different sections and 199 clauses. I hope all hon. members will appreciate that when we get a bill this size, it is difficult for any speech to touch on the substantive matters.
The House will often deal with the issue of relevance in debate. I have heard people say that we are debating the budget from last March and they start talking about virtually every item in the budget. However, subsequent to that we have had one implementation bill and this is the second. These implementation bills are intended to put the technical mechanics in place so the representations in the budget are operable. I want to get into a few of those.
I want to advise those who are interested that this bill deals substantively with amendments to the Income Tax Act and related acts in part 1. Part 2 deals with amendments to the Air Travellers Security Charge Act. Part 3 deals with amendments to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, which is extremely important in terms of funding of provincially delivered programs and services. Part 4 deals with amendments to the Bank Act and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act. Part 5 deals with amendments to the Canada Disability Savings Act, which we discussed substantively at committee. Part 6 deals with amendments to the Customs Act. Part 7 deals with amendments to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act. Part 8 deals with amendments to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Act. Bill is a very broad-based bill.
When we are dealing with a budget implementation bill, we are often not talking about anything in the bill in terms of specific amendments to legislation. We tend to drift back to the budget itself and some of its consequences.
The parliamentary secretary, on behalf of the government, led off the debate on the bill. He did not talk much about the budget implementation bill but rather he talked about the budget. This opened up the debate to virtually everything to do with the budget. That is why some people who are interested in the proposed changes to some of these acts have been somewhat ignored in the debate. To rectify that, I want to deal with the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act and related acts. It is an area in which I have some experience.
The first important area has to do with benefits entitlement and shared custody. Under the Universal Child Care Benefit Act, an eligible individual is defined in subdivision a.1 of division E of part I of the Income Tax Act. If I repeat a lot of these references, people will not understand, so let me just say it is defined in the act. The act currently provides for only one eligible person for a given period.
Under the current provisions, the Canada Revenue Agency has rotated benefits for the universal child care benefit, the Canada child tax benefit and the GST-HST credit for families with shared parenting arrangements on a six month payment basis. The budget proposed to allow two eligible parents in a shared custody arrangement to receive child benefits, including the UCCB. I support that change. It makes sense. A lot of people are at a disadvantage by having just one eligible recipient where shared custody would be a more equitable situation.
The second item under the income tax amendments has to do with the rollover of RRSP proceeds to an RDSP, or registered disability savings plan.
The existing registered retirement savings plan rollover rules are extended under the bill to allow a rollover of a deceased individual's RRSP proceeds to a registered disability savings plan of a financially dependent, infirm child or grandchild. The reason that is important, and why I support it, is that on death of the holder of a registered retirement savings plan, if there is not a spouse for which the act already provides a tax-free rollover, it would then collapse and be taxable fully in the year of death.
If an RRSP collapses all in one year and has a tax liability, in many cases most of that would be taxed at the highest possible rate. It means the estate of the person involved would pay much more tax now than it would have paid had he or she not bought the RRSP in the first place. This would allow that investment in the RRSPs to rollover to a disabled person, financially dependent infirm child or grandchild. It would in fact help families. Members will know that anything that helps families will have my support.
The third area under the Income Tax Act has to do with charities and the disbursement quota form. The finance committee presently is looking at Bill , which tries to put transparency through the expenditures, particularly the human resources costs and salaries of executives of charities. Concerns have been raised that some charities pay exorbitant amounts of compensation to people with the amount of the moneys actually go for charitable purposes being substantially reduced, and that is a problem.
Interestingly enough the changes made in Bill , and I do not know enough about individual cases, I suspect will help some and hurt others because it deals with a disbursement quota.
First, the disbursement quota reform for registered charities, specifically the charitable expenditure rule, would be repealed. Second, the capital accumulation rule would also be modified to increase the threshold from $25,000 to $100,000 for charitable organizations. Third, the anti-avoidance rules would be extended to situations where it could be reasonably considered that the purpose of the transaction was to delay unduly or avoid the application of the disbursement quota. Finally, measures would be implemented to ensure that transferred amounts between non-arm's-length charities would be used to satisfy the disbursement quota for only one charity.
The problem I have with that section is it goes in a different direction than Bill in terms of the transparency and the concern that there be moneys. In fact, it would allow the charity to have a higher threshold of making disbursements. It would also allow certain charities to accumulate money for capital investments, for instance, if they wanted permanent facilities or core funding for certain programs.
I can understand that in terms of, for instance, hospitals, hospital foundations. I am not sure if the same rules would not have maybe unintended consequences with regard to other charities that are not in some of those key areas of universities or hospitals or organizations like the Cancer Society or the Heart & Stroke, et cetera. There are 85,000 registered charities in Canada. When we start to play around with the disbursement quota rule, somebody will fall through the cracks and there may be some unintended consequences. It will be up to us to monitor the situation.
The next area under part 1 has to do with the employee stock options. There are various methods in the Income Tax Act to deal with the treatment of employee stock options.
First, there is an amendment that would preclude double deductions of both the employee and the employer in respect of the same stock option benefit, which would make sense. The stock option agreement to a non-arm's-length person results in an employment benefit at the time of disposition, and, again, that makes some sense.
A further measure would repeal the tax deferral election. As well, the existing tax withholding requirements would be clarified to ensure that the amount in respect of tax on the value of the employment benefit associated with the issuance of the security would be required to be remitted to the Canada Revenue Agency by the employer. Again, administrative and substantively I agree with that.
Finally, the last measure introduced is a special elective and relieving tax treatment for taxpayers who elected under the tax deferral election introduced in budget 2000 to defer taxation of their stock option benefits until the disposition of the options securities. That appears to be a sound approach.
Section (e) under part 1 deals with accelerated capital cost allowance for clean energy generation. At the finance committee's prebudget hearings, which we have recently concluded, the issue of accelerated capital cost allowance came up frequently. It is an opportunity for businesses to write off, for tax purposes, desirable investments on an accelerated or quicker basis so they pay less tax, which allows them more cash flow to meet their obligations or, more important, to reinvest and continue to roll over their assets to ensure they have the assets, the machinery, the equipment and the like to be more efficient in their work.
Accelerated capital cost allowances is with us to stay. It has been used as a tool rather than a tax cut or something like that. This is effectively a tax deferral scheme. If the businesses keep doing it, it effectively represents a permanent reduction in taxes that could carry forward as long as they continue to invest in the capital, equipment and machinery. I agree with it as a tool and it is very much supported by those who are involved in equipment.
In this one, the section deals specifically with clean energy generation. With regard to our environment and addressing greenhouse gas emissions, et cetera, this is a positive development, which I support.
Section (f) is capital cost allowance for television set-top boxes. I do not know if anybody will understand that, but the capital cost rate for satellite and cable set-top boxes that are acquired after March 4 and that have neither been used nor acquired or used before March 5 will be increased to 40% to better reflect the useful life of the assets. This is effectively a correction of a rate, which is already available in the tax act. As it indicates, it is simply to reflect the fact that these assets have a very short lifespan or utility before substitutes become available and desirable by consumers. It allows them to write them off over a short period of time.
Section (g) under part 1 deals with the Canadian renewable and conservation expenses to do with principle business corporations. The definition of that will be amended to clarify that flow-through share eligibility extends to corporations the principle business of which is one or any combination of producing fuel, generating energy or distributing energy. I agree with that. It is a constructive move to make that change.
Section (h) deals with international financial reporting standards. It gets a little too technical, so I will not go to go there. Having looked at it, there is a five-year transition rule, and I think it works.
There is a sub-item on that. Amendments to the Canada pension plan and the Employment Insurance Act and the Income Tax Act will be made to provide legislative authority for Revenue Canada to issue online notices where authorized by a taxpayer. Again, this is an efficiency in terms of the process.
In addition, part 1 of the bill implements a number of other income tax measures. Employee life and health trust is new. The working income tax benefit will be amended for 2009 to $925 for single individuals with no eligible dependents and to $1,680 for individuals with at least one eligible dependent.
The amendments in this bill will ensure that the working income tax benefit amounts will continue to be indexed to inflation on an annual basis. Thank you, Mr. Minister. I think it is an important change.
There are some technical amendments to the tax-free savings account. I want to comment more fully on that, but I will move on.
Finally, there are the labour-sponsored venture capital corporation rules. Very few people will understand very much about that, but there are consequential amendments related to the tax-free savings account, which I want to address now.
First of all, I certainly support the tax-free savings account instrument, which allows Canadian residents who are 18 years of age or older to be eligible to contribute up to $5,000 annually in a tax-free savings account. The contributions are not tax deductible, but the investment income earned in a tax-free savings account will not be taxed. Since the contributions were not deductible when deposited, there will be no tax when withdrawn.
It is a good instrument to save money if one has money. This is of benefit certainly to middle and higher income Canadians who have cash that they are presently investing and paying income tax on the investment income. Now there is an instrument where they, their spouses and kids can have tax-free savings accounts. All of a sudden, formerly taxable investment income is going to be growing up in non-taxable instruments.
Eventually, I suppose, the taxes will ultimately come when that money is taken out and disbursed for consumption purposes and it works its way through the system. However, it is a leakage of tax revenue to the government, no question about it.
I raised my concern on this with the and officials last Tuesday. It has to do with the number of amendments they have to make. This is a simple program. One can put up to $5,000 a year in there, and on any income earned on eligible investments, one will not have to pay any tax ever.
We have amendments to make the income attributed to deliberate overcontributions and prohibited investments subject to existing anti-avoidance rules. We also want to make any income attributable to non-qualified investments taxable at regular tax rates. As well, we want to ensure that withdrawals of deliberate overcontributions, prohibited investments, non-qualified investments or amounts attributable to swap transactions or related investment income from a tax-free savings account would not create additional tax-free savings account contribution room. Finally, we want to effectively prohibit asset transfer transactions between tax-free savings accounts and other accounts.
It is a simple program, but the amendments that are being made say to me that the crafters of this and all the levels of care and due diligence that took place in the process somehow did not consider what would happen if people made overcontributions. The government did not consider that if people made an overcontribution, a penalty of 1% was actually a lower amount than what they could earn on those investments, so 1% was not a deterrent. People realized that they could invest at 3%, and if it cost 1% in penalties, they would still make 2% on something that is not going to be taxable anyway. It is getting around the rules.
How is it that the government could not deal with the issues of non-qualified investments? Obviously there are some. It could not deal with deliberate overcontributions, prohibited investments, non-qualified investments, or amounts attributable to swap transactions and what happens if this is done and what are the consequences.
The point I made there and I will make again today in the House is that I did not get a strong comfort level that there was rigorous due diligence and careful thought given to this particular program. With all the things that the government missed in a very simple program, in my view, if the little things are not done well, there is not a great confidence level with regard to the larger items.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks on Bill , I want to comment on something my colleague from touched upon with respect to seniors.
I have been in this House for almost 17 years and the one issue to which all of us have been sensitive is how we address our obligations toward our seniors, our men and women in uniform, and our youth, referring to youth programs, youth initiatives, investment in education. After all, we make speeches about the future of our country and it is our youth who need the right kind of education and the right kind of tools.
With respect to seniors and the fiasco that occurred, I am very pleased that my colleague from touched upon it when he was prompted by a question from our hard-working member for . I am at a loss for words. All I say is, let us give people the benefit of the doubt and let us move forward positively on that.
I am speaking to Bill . The audience can see on the television screen, “Bill , ”. With respect to the word “recovery“, given what is going on globally, the whole world is trying to recover from a lot of those toxic packages, to be polite, that we saw coming from the United States to different parts of the world and which affected different countries.
We are fortunate in many ways here in Canada because many years ago a Liberal government, under the prime ministership of Jean Chrétien with Paul Martin as the finance minister, took the initiative to address, for example, the banking issue. This was very instrumental in helping us deal with these very awkward and difficult circumstances today.
There were several questions on this bill. The member for said that it is such a large bill, with 199 clauses. He went into some of the technical details, but the average Canadian listening to this debate or reading about it, really wants to hear about the meat and potatoes, things that affect Canadians on a daily basis.
I had the privilege recently as a member of the international trade committee to speak with our counterparts as we move forward on the Canada-Europe free trade agreement. Common throughout the world is that every nation, in looking toward implementing programs to recover, to get its people working and its economy rolling, wants to trade. That is wonderful, because Canada is a trading nation too. All countries want to sell their goods and services, but in order to sell their goods and services, there has to be an economy somewhere that is able to purchase them. In other words, the countries have to have their finances in order.
We were speaking to our counterparts in England, for example. We were listening on an hourly basis to what was unfolding in Ireland, how it was collapsing and its banking system was to be taken over. There was no money available, et cetera. The IMF and Great Britain were to step in to help Ireland, and so they should because Ireland needs a stable, or at least a sustainable economy to purchase goods and services.
The United Kingdom for example, even though it is going through difficulties, relates to us. I want to touch upon that as it relates to the bill. The new British coalition government is moving forward by taking certain steps. As I was reading about them, I had to smile because it took me back to 1993-94. I was being taken back to the future. What the U.K. is doing today, other nations in the European Community and other non-European countries are doing as well. I will mention some of the things they are doing that were done here as well.
The United Kingdom is experiencing difficult times. It is going through an austerity program, if I can use that word. Some of the areas that are going to be spared from the cuts are scientific research, health, schools, meaning investing in education, international development, renewable energy and large infrastructure projects. Areas that are going to be cut are welfare, social housing, policing, which I thought was wrong, as well as government services, which I think was right.
Why am I bringing this up today? There are areas in the budget that needed to be addressed and were not addressed. I will point out two specifically.
My colleague from talked about health care. Year after year, for as long as I can remember, health care has been the number one priority for Canadians. Coincidentally, I found an article not too long ago that states that Canadians rank health care a higher concern than the economy. It reconfirms what my constituents have been telling me for decades.
What did the Liberal government do when Paul Martin was the finance minister? It implemented the Romanow report. Mr. Romanow said in an interview with Peter Mansbridge that the Liberals exceeded the recommendations. That was a 10-year commitment.
Why am I bringing it up? The Conservatives, in two minority governments, have not made a single investment in health care. When asked a question, the response on record of the then , who is the today, was that the government will continue the funding, after last year's budget or the year before. In other words, it would continue to fund the moneys, the $58 billion, that the Liberals put into health care. Health care was the number one issue then and it is the number one issue today.
There is one other area, as I mentioned, that relates to the U.K. investing in scientific research, and that is that there has been very little investment in R and D. Everybody talks about getting their economies going and competing in the new economy by investing in R and D. R and D can only develop new jobs if we invest the money up front. Yes, it costs money initially, but as they say, we have to spend a dollar to make a dollar, and we know very well that the new Conservative government has not done that.
I will refer to an article, the headline of which reads, “Researchers disappointed by funding for innovation. Just keeps the lights on”. I am quoting; I am not being political, which I choose never to do. I choose to refer to statements made by others so people know it is not my biased comments as a Liberal member of Parliament but what Canadians or others, the foot soldiers, in this case the researchers, are saying. The article states:
Peter MacLeod, a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University, says “much of the funding promised to various agencies will do little more than “keep the lights on”.
There was some money; I am not saying there was not. How can we look forward to competing for the jobs of the future when the government budgets have not made any significant investments?
Why are we falling behind? Other nations are making investments and we are failing to do so. Here we are, a country that was miles ahead of all these other nations in terms of eight consecutive balanced Liberal budgets and tremendous surpluses. The last one, if I recall, when the Liberals lost office in 2006 was just over $13 billion.
The government gloats about our economy being in a good state and that we are better off than everybody else. That is true. So why are we not making the right investments? For example, Canada is still lagging quite badly. The United States spent $594 million in 2009, Australia spent $123.5 million, and Canada spent $19 million. How can we compete?
We all know the difficulties the United States is going through. Speaking of the United States, it even went through some updating of its health care system. Even Sarah Palin commented about our health care system. She used it. She got that right. The only thing she got wrong was mixing up North Korea and South Korea. The fact is she confirmed that we do have a better health care system, a system which she and her family used.
If we are not going to make the right investments in R and D, we are going to miss out on the jobs of the future. For example, China, the world's biggest polluter, has now become the world's number one green energy investor. China is putting its money where its mouth is. It is investing. Yes, China pollutes, but it is now saying that it has to address this horrendous issue. China invested $34.5 billion in 2009 on low carbon energy technologies. I applaud China. I am not saying we have to invest $34.5 billion, but surely to God we can make some decent investments.
We are missing out on the jobs of the future because we are not making the right kinds of investments. We see the United Kingdom making these investments, even though its books are in a worse mess than ours.
Of course with the health care system, which I believe needs modernization, that 10-year arrangement is coming to an end and Canadians are going to keep an eye on the government to see what its next step will be. One would think that as we were getting close to the renewal of the agreement, the government would commence discussions with the provinces, with the professionals, with the stakeholders. At least we asked Mr. Romanow to do a study. He delivered his findings and we responded. That agreement is coming to an end and the government has not even begun discussions. I worry about that.
The disappointments with the government are so many that I do not know where to begin.
My colleague talked about the $5,000 tax-free savings account. That is a good initiative, but given the circumstances today, one would ask how many families can put aside $5,000, and those are after-tax dollars. Not too many Canadians can do that because they are hurting. Maybe the very rich can do it and if they can, I have no qualms about it. Good luck to them. It is the right thing to do. The fact is that average Canadians cannot do it and there are no other initiatives to support these families. Why? Job losses are still occurring. Yes, there are little spurts of a few jobs here and there. We know the economy is not really growing. We also know that new jobs are not being created as fast as was projected by the government. The finances of the nations are not where they could be or should be. I will address that as well.
Canadians today do not have the confidence. Why do they not have the confidence? They are being told one thing and others are showing up.
For example, today we are faced with a $56.5 billion or $57 billion deficit from last year. The government actually projected that it was going to be about $52.2 billion or $53.3 billion. The Conservatives were off by almost $2 billion on their projections. At this time of the year, the Conservatives are saying it is going to be about another $55 billion or $56 billion, for a total deficit of about $110 billion. It is unheard of.
All the average Canadian has to do is go back a short 16 or 17 years and he or she will realize that our deficit was $42.3 billion. Seventeen years down the road, the deficit has more than doubled and there is no economic growth. There is no job growth. There is less revenue to pay down this deficit.
The upcoming budget will be the government's fourth one. It reminds me of the Brian Mulroney days. When the Mulroney Conservatives were in government for nine years, they did not meet one budget target.Year after year, they told us what they would spend but never met that target. As a result, the debt kept growing and, in 1993, we did what we had to do. We did the responsible thing, things that the U.K , Ireland and Greece are doing today. We hear that Portugal, Spain and other countries in the European Union are next in line. They are going through these austerity programs. They are doing today what we did responsibly.
Therefore, when the government of today stands and says that we slashed and burned, I want to remind it that the Conservative Harris government of the day and Ralph Klein were doing the same thing. We had no choice. It was sink or swim, as they say.
The fortunate thing is that we made the right investments in the new economy, for example, in R and D. We invested in education. We invested in small and medium size enterprises, which means they started generating jobs. People were paying into the system. Another important thing is that we were lowering payroll taxes.
The government talks about lowering taxes. I challenge it publicly when it says that it lowered taxes because it did not lower taxes. It said that it would raise taxes by 1.5% and then it said that, no, it would decrease that to 0.5%. However, 0.5% is still an increase and the government is trying to pass it off that it lowered taxes. It is still a burden on the employer and the employee. It does not entice employers to invest in new tools, in new equipment or in new hires. It de-motivates them. If Canadians are not working, they do not have earning power nor do they have purchasing power, which means goods and services taxes are not being collected, for example, that would go to invest in health care, in post-secondary education, in housing, et cetera. It is a cycle, if we look at it.
With regard to gas, my constituents are complaining they are paying an average of $1.10 or $1.12 a litre. Just a couple of years ago, the barrel was on the market at about $148 to $150 and gas at the pump was 85¢ to 90¢. Today, my constituents are saying that barrels of gas may be $80 at the most and are asking, why they are paying $1.10 a litre.
The point I want to make on the gas is that the current government also made another promise. It said that anything over 85¢ per litre it would take off the taxes. It has not done so.
Am I leading into promises made and promises not kept? I really do not want to do that. My speech today is not political in any way. It is more so to point out the frustrations of Canadians. What they want to know is how they can trust the government to manage the economy well.
One gentleman said to me that, at the end of the day, the debt is going higher and the deficit is getting out of control. Per capita, we are one of the most burdened nations at about $42,000 per person in comparison to Greece that is at $31,000 per person. That gentleman said that we were more in debt than those guys are and wanted to know how we were better off.
We could go on for hours.The government has lost its priorities. Two out of three Canadians have not given the Conservatives their vote primarily because they cannot depend upon them and y cannot trust them because they say one thing and they do another. They talk about lowering taxes and yet they are increasing taxes. The only taxes they have decreased are the corporate taxes.
It is not that I am against that, but it is a timing thing. We keep reducing those corporate taxes year after year when the nation is hurting today. It is times like this when the gas companies, for example, need to come on board and say that they will help the average Canadian. It is times like this where everybody comes together as a family and it becomes a give-and-take for the good of the nation.
When we look at what the government did with airport taxes and at what happened with the seniors and the GIS, it is shameful. When we look at the lack of investments in R and D, that is shameful. When we are looking at the government spending $16 billion in untendered contracts, surely to God that is unacceptable. What will Canada's benefit be from that?
Canada has spent over $23 billion so far in Afghanistan, and now we are going to—
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise to speak to what is a budget implementation bill but very clearly another failure in the Conservative government's very sad history of financial measures taken over the last few years. Nobody votes Conservative because they want a better health care system, or they want an accessible education system or they think that public services will improve. People vote Conservative for only two reasons, because up until now there has been the Conservatives' pretence of trying to manage public affairs adequately, and then there are the crime issues.
What we have seen over the last few months is that the Conservatives have lost all credibility on crime. Number one, they gutted the crime prevention programs that are actually a way of reducing the crime rate in this country. After they gutted crime prevention measures, many Canadians are now asking what credibility Conservatives can have on crime when they actually seem to be trying to stoke the crime rate by eliminating crime prevention programs that keep Canadians safe.
I will not even go into the other aspects, for example their refusal to provide compensation for the families of police officers or firefighters who have lost their lives saving those of others. We have had an NDP motion that was passed in a previous Parliament, which Conservatives have steadfastly refused to put into place, now for five years. So they have shown real disrespect for our police officers and our firefighters. The fact that the Conservatives would cut crime prevention and the fact that they want to spend billions of dollars building jails for unreported crime has pretty well eliminated any credibility they had on the crime front.
Let us talk about finances, because that was the only other issue that a person would want to vote Conservative on. We certainly have not had in past history any real track record of financial propriety from Conservative governments.
The Minister of Finance produces every year, and has for the last 20 years, an annual compendium of all governments, whether they be Conservative, New Democrat, Liberal or other. What that annual document has shown year after year is that NDP governments are the best at balancing budgets, paying down debt and maintaining public services. That does not come from an NDP source. It comes from the Department of Finance, which is now a Conservative ministry of finance. For 20 years, New Democrat governments have managed money better than Conservative governments. Now the current Conservative government has broken all records for an inability to manage finances wisely. I just need to mention a few of the Conservative boondoggles we have had from the most recent Conservative government.
An hon. member: A lot of them. It could take hours.
Mr. Peter Julian: Absolutely. I could spend my 20 minutes just talking about the boondoggles, the incredible cost overruns and misallocation of expenses. These are hard-working taxpayers putting forward their money to make sure the collective good is taken care of, and what we have seen is a clear abuse of taxpayers' money from the Conservatives.
I am going to come back to the HST because that is one of the boondoggles. In British Columbia, we have certainly seen the reaction from British Columbians and that is why the Conservative government is running very scared and continues to refuse to call a by-election in Prince George—Peace River. Today we are asking it, yet again, to show respect for the people there, call that by-election now and let us have that referendum on the HST in British Columbia.
I will go into just a few of the other boondoggles that the Conservatives have concocted over the last few months. We have $130 million shovelled out the door to AbitibiBowater, even though the press gallery did not really pick up on that boondoggle. That is money paid in compensation to AbitibiBowater for having broken its agreement with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The legislature in Newfoundland and Labrador quite rightly took back the timber rights and water rights that belonged to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. AbitibiBowater, having not respected its agreement, said it would file one of these chapter 11 SLAPP suits that are the Liberals' gift to corporate rights in this country.
The Conservatives simply turned around and paid out $130 million of taxpayers' money in compensation to that company. That is one boondoggle.
The second is the fact that we did not go to tender on the F-35 fighter jets. The most recent figures are now showing cost overruns, and we have seen a number of countries moving back from that purchase.
We are looking at about $30 billion that the Conservatives want to put forward to buy these fighter jets. Yes, they are the Cadillac of fighter jets; there is no doubt about, but this is at a time when we have many seniors living in poverty. It is at a time when we have hundreds of thousands of Canadians without even a roof over their heads.
This is at a time when we have seen our gutted manufacturing capacity collapsing, with half a million jobs lost in value-added manufacturing, which has led to a lowering of the standard of living for the vast majority of Canadians. The only ones who are really doing well are the lobbyists who Conservatives and Liberals love to talk to. The top 10% of income earners now take most of the Canadian income pie. Everybody else, middle class and poor Canadians together, has seen a pushing down of their living standards. Instead seeing an industrial strategy put in place with that $30 billion, we are seeing those people hung out to dry as well.
I could talk about aboriginal poverty. I could talk about record levels of student debt. The reality is that Tory times are tough times, because the Conservatives continue to listen to a few key lobbyists and a few wealthy Canadians at the expense of everybody else. There is $30 billion that the Conservatives want to put forward for 65 fighter jets rather than deal with the fundamental issues Canadians are having to deal with, with no help from the Conservative government.
I can keep going, with the $60 billion in corporate tax cuts that the government has put in place. The government is very proud that it has given money to the bankers and big businessmen. Corporate CEOs are laughing all the way to the bank. Again, that comes at the expense of the community economy. That is why middle class Canadians are earning less under the Conservatives, even less than they were 20 years ago. It is because we have a misdirection of what should be the economic priorities of this country. That $60 billion in corporate tax cuts is not for job creation, not to stimulate the economy; it is just handed out, just shovelled out the back of a truck. It is an irresponsible, inappropriate boondoggle.
A few months ago, we saw an even clearer example of the types of boondoggle this Conservative government is giving out. It held a 72-hour meeting. According to many Conservatives it was a very important meeting, addressing many important things. The government filled in one lake and created another fake lake. It had to buy a lot of baubles and things to hand out for this very important meeting. When all the figures are added up, we are talking about $1 billion that the government doled out in the space of 72 hours.
What is so outrageous about that is that we have been saying in this corner of the House for years, and seniors' organizations have been saying for years, that for the relatively paltry sum of $700 million in guaranteed income supplements, we could lift all seniors out of poverty in this country. However, the Conservative government has continued to say, “no, seniors are not important”, and it does not care about them.
The government does not want to allocate any money to lift seniors out of poverty. Yet, the government was willing to fork over $1 billion for a meeting that only lasted a few hours. It built these fake lakes and majestic temporary accommodations to ensure that brief meeting was, according to the way only a Conservative could evaluate it, a success.
The cost is that thousands upon thousands of Canadian seniors have to continue to live in poverty. The government said it was more important to have that brief meeting and that fake lake than it was to treat our seniors with respect and give them the kind of support they deserve and warrant for their long-time contributions to this country.
Outrageous, scandalous, absolutely, but that is what Conservatives choose. They always choose lobbyists over the needs of ordinary Canadians.
I could go on. We have seen an advertising budget that has more than doubled. The government loves to advertise itself. The loves to see himself on TV. The government has increased the advertising budget substantially right across the country.
We have examples of these beautiful signs that it purchased, often offshore, often in foreign jurisdictions. I guess it does not believe Canadian workers can do the job, but in this corner of the House we believe that Canadian workers do a fantastic job.
So there would be a small government subsidy to change a door knob with a $1,000 sign right outside, paid for by Canadian taxpayers, with the bright lights and everything else. That is again absolutely inappropriate but that is what the Conservative government loves to do. When it comes to managing money it is just as bad as the Liberals.
One of the other boondoggles is the one that does not really have a cost estimate because the Conservatives do not really know how much it is going to cost. They want to build a bunch of prisons across the country.
When the was asked, given that the crime rate is actually coming down, why he would want to build these additional prisons, the response from the President of the Treasury Board was, “We are going to build these prisons so that we can put people in prison for unreported crime”.
This left people shaking their heads right across the country. On main streets from Vancouver Island right through to Newfoundland and Labrador, right up to the Western Arctic and the Northwest Territories, people have said, “This is absolutely ridiculous that we would want to spend billions of dollars to fill the prisons with people who have committed unreported crime”. That is absolutely absurd.
As the member for Burnaby—Douglas pointed out a little while ago, I could keep going for hours on the boondoggles of the Conservative government. I did not even get into the West Block renovations. I saw Mike Holmes over there evaluating what has gone into this. It is clearly a botched renovation if ever we saw one. I could go on and on.
However the important point to mention is this. Conservatives manage money worse than New Democrats. They do manage money better than Liberals but they manage it worse than the NDP.
That is the Department of Finance that tells us this, not after one year, two years, five years or ten years, but over a twenty-year period NDP governments managed money best.
The important point to mention is why New Democrat governments manage money better than Conservatives and far better than Liberals. It is because our party is a party of ordinary Canadians. Ordinary Canadians manage their money best. They are not high flyers; they are not jet-setters. They go to work every day. They work very hard, working longer and longer hours as we have seen over the last 20 years, for less and less pay, because of how badly botched the economic policies of both the Conservatives and Liberals have been.
They put in a hard day's work, and at the end when they get their paycheque they make sure it goes to essentials first. They make sure their family is housed. They make sure their children are clothed. If there are additional expenses for health care because of the erosion of our health care system under both Conservatives and Liberals, they make sure those health care expenses are paid for.
Then and only then, if they have money left over, Canadians will then perhaps indulge in a little bit of luxury, but that is when they have taken care of essentials first.
The lesson of how badly Conservatives manage money, just as badly as the Liberals before them, is that Conservatives and Liberals spend on the luxury first, completely contradictory to what they promise in election campaigns and completely flying in the face of what are basic Canadians values.
They love those fighter jets. They want to spend $30 billion. A couple of lobbyists come and see them and say, “Let us get those corporate tax cuts”, and they say, “Sure, $60 billion; how much do you want? We will write you out a Canadian taxpayer's cheque today. Do you want a billion bucks to take to the Cayman Islands? That is fine. Corporate tax cuts are great”, they say.
They say, “Let us buy the fancy baubles. We have a 72-hour meeting; let us throw a billion bucks at it. Let us build a fake lake. That will be just a great idea”.
The Conservatives love those luxury items. That is why they increased their advertising budget. That is why they love to spend on themselves and their fancy baubles, but the problem is that once they have spent on all those luxury items there is nothing left for essentials. That is the fundamental problem with how Conservatives mismanage money. They want to spend on the luxuries first and then, if there is any money left over, maybe they will look at the housing crisis. Maybe they will look at record levels of student debt. Maybe they will look at record levels of seniors living in poverty. Maybe they will look at those veterans programs that they have gutted and at how despicably, how horribly, they have treated the veterans of our country over the last few years with their cutbacks in veterans programs.
Only after they have taken care of the luxuries do they think to look at the essentials, and that is the fundamental problem with how Conservatives manage money and this kind of Conservative budget. They want to spend on the baubles, on the corporate tax cuts, on the fake lakes, on the fancy meetings, on all those high-priced things, and then there is nothing left for ordinary, hard-working Canadians who are often just looking for a helping hand and a safety net when they fall into difficulty.
That is where we differ fundamentally from Conservatives and Liberals. We believe in taking care of the essentials first. That is why the ministry of finance has given us the top marks over the last 20 years for managing money in this country. The federal ministry of finance says that the NDP manages money best. We balance our budgets more often. We pay down debt. We make sure essentials are taken care of. That is why we have a key role in this House in criticizing these kinds of budgets.
I have a few minutes left and I would like to go specifically to the British Columbia component of this budget, because two elements within the budget itself are ones that provoke a great reaction in British Columbia, such a great reaction that the Conservatives actually are scared to call a byelection in Prince George--Peace River. They called the other ones. They are refusing to call Prince George--Peace River because they know darn well there is going to be a reaction from the Peace River country and there is going to be a reaction from Prince George on their incredibly irresponsible actions in concocting the HST.
The HST was concocted federally. It was pushed on the province by a premier who was acting irresponsibly, working in conjunction with the federal Conservatives, and we have certainly seen what happened to that premier. He has had to resign. What is going to happen next is that British Columbians are going to have their opportunity to say a few words on the HST, and that will come when there is a federal election or when there is a byelection.
What we are saying is that to show respect to the people of Prince George--Peace River the government should call that byelection now, and we will let British Columbians judge about this HST, this tax shift that gives a massive tax break to British Columbia's wealthiest corporations and forces ordinary families to pay about $2,000 in extra expenses, and of course forces small businesses in the province of British Columbia to pick up the tab. There is not a small businessman whom I have seen in Burnaby or New Westminster who has told me that the HST is a good thing. They all see it as a bad thing.
The final point I wanted to raise was on softwood lumber. In this corner of the House, we were the only party to oppose the softwood lumber agreement. We said that the softwood lumber deal, the softwood lumber sellout, would cost tens of thousands of jobs. We have been absolutely right. We also said that it would lead to longstanding fines and the taxpayers having to continually pay, and we see in this budget taxpayers having to cough up another $68 million. We were right there too.