Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on the adoption of her motion.
Allow me to begin my speech by focusing on three excerpts from speeches by our learned colleagues who spoke just ahead of me.
The praised previous budget speeches saying that the automotive sector received special treatment and it paid off. According to him, the automotive sector did fairly well.
However, he did not say a word about the forestry industry; not one word. Why is that? Because there was absolutely nothing for the forestry industry. I agree with what he said about the automotive sector, but there was nothing for the forestry sector, which is a key sector in Quebec.
The second excerpt I agree with is from the speech by my hon. Liberal colleague. He said that the government before us is extremely incompetent. The Bloc and I agree with that statement.
The third excerpt is the one where he said he did not want to trigger an election because he did not want to create instability with the election of the Liberal Party. At least, that is what I understood. We agree: the election of the Liberal Party would create instability in Canada.
This budget speech was very disappointing. Let us get back to the budget implementation bill; unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against it. We voted against the budget and will vote against the budget implementation bill quite simply because this budget is all about sparing the rich. It does everything possible to save business from contributing. It does everything possible to avoid fixing the problem of tax havens. It will even allow certain corporations not registered in Canada to avoid paying taxes in Canada on their transactions. The budget also meddled with telecommunications firms, as if it did not matter whether or not Quebec and Canada lose control of their telecommunications companies. The Conservatives do not care. Furthermore, the budget contains a certain number of items, such as the partial privatization of Canada Post, that will come about eventually.
We do not agree with some of the measures that have been proposed and now made official in this budget implementation bill.
We also do not agree because we have consulted Quebeckers. We have suggested that they seize the opportunity. We toured extensively throughout Quebec and met with people who were very pleased to talk to us. Everywhere we went, we received a warm welcome from many people. They agreed that those who have more should be asked to contribute more. It is a simple principle: clearly, those who have more can contribute more.
Thus, we made a number of suggestions. We proposed that Canadian taxpayers who had taxable income last year of more than $150,000—after basic deductions—should pay 2% more. An additional 2% for those earning $150,000 amounts to $3,000. We also suggested that those with taxable income of more than $250,000—one quarter of a million dollars, that is not peanuts—should pay a 3% surtax.
And $7,500 is a lot of money, but not for someone with a taxable income of more than $250,000—a quarter of a million dollars—a year. We asked them to make this wartime effort, if we can call it that. But it was not even mentioned. The government did not implement any of these socially-useful measures.
We also proposed that tax havens be eliminated, particularly those used by the chartered banks. We did the research to back up our proposal. Canadian chartered banks have to publish an annual report each year, and their fiscal year ends on October 31.
We now have all the information. On page 121 of Royal Bank's annual report, page 149 of CIBC's, page 152 of BMO's, page 129 of Toronto-Dominion's, page 133 of Scotia Bank's and page 144 of National Bank's, we see that all of these chartered banks comply with the 's directive and indicate the tax amounts saved by using tax havens. If these amounts had not been placed in tax havens, these institutions would have been paying money into the treasury of Canada.
Any of these amounts can vary from year to year, ranging from $1.6 billion to $2 billion to $2.5 billion. It depends on profits and how they are used. Why does the Minister of Finance not take from the rich what he is asking of the poor?
During the National Bank of Canada's annual meeting yesterday in Montreal, president Louis Vachon said that the financial sector, and the banks in particular, have been very vocal about the need to fix public finances.
He was referring to the Quebec government's finances as much as the Government of Canada's finances.
He added that everyone clearly has to do their part, including the banks. He is not the only one to say that. Jacques Ménard, whom everyone in Montreal, Quebec and Canada knows, is the chairman of BMO Nesbitt Burns and president of the Bank of Montreal or BMO Financial Group in Quebec. He is well respected. He said the banks have a responsibility as economic players and also as citizens.
Jacques Ménard, president of the Bank of Montreal in Quebec, is prepared to pay out of his own pocket. I imagine his taxable income is greater than $250,000. As the head of a bank he is telling the government he is prepared to make an effort.
There is nothing of the kind in the budget implementation bill.
What is more, we have noticed that non-residents are getting a free ride. In a number of cases, they will no longer be charged the withholding tax.
It will be possible for Canadian corporations using tax havens such as Barbados to make transactions through corporations in Canada without having to pay withholding tax. At the end of the day, by using off-book accounts and financial entries, these corporations could go all over the world with one, two or three foreign subsidiaries in tax havens and, presto, they no longer have to pay any tax. This government is making that possible and legal.
We did our tour, after which I submitted a document to the himself during a meeting that was pleasant, I must say. The parliamentary secretary was there. We discussed the document. They told me they would look at it. They must not have been wearing their glasses because they did not look at it the way they should have.
Since there clearly are problems in the way pension funds are managed, the budget implementation bill will allow overcapitalization to go from 110% to 125%. That is good. We have indicated that we agree with the Department of Finance and the Government of Canada's overture, but why stop at 125%? And why change the five year standard when this again favours businesses? Why only allow the unfunded liabilities to be covered and go up to 100% after being on the brink of underfunded pensions?
If it happened once, it could happen again. We made the following suggestion: instead of just covering the deficit, why not go higher, up to 100%, 105%, 110% or 120% of the capitalization needed to fund the pensions? There is nothing in here about that except the possibility of going from 110% to 125%, which we commend.
Another item raised a number of questions in the House. I will not use the coarse language the hon. member for used, even though he was right. His question followed those of the leader of the Bloc and my own on the government's treatment of Quebec in all this, not just when it comes to equalization, but transfer payments as well.
This government, with the former Ontario finance minister in charge of public finances, is doing everything in its power to strangle Quebec's finances. That was obvious from the answers to our questions, and it is also obvious in this budget in which there is practically nothing about the transfers we would like to see increased for Quebec. On the contrary, in the fall of 2008, during the Quebec election campaign, this government introduced a drastic change without telling anyone. For the current year, this change will cost the Government of Quebec—this was mentioned in the Quebec finance minister's budget speech two days ago—$350 million, while at the same time providing Ontario with up to $600 million more.
What can we call this pillaging of the EI fund? We have made outstanding proposals. Some of my colleagues from the Bloc have suggested improvements to the employment insurance system. Of course, this comes at a price, but at the same time we suggested ways to fund these improved EI programs.
As we can see in this weighty budget implementation bill, the , in his wisdom, noted that it was in fact $57,170,356,000 that was plundered under the previous government. They are boasting about how terrible what the Liberal government did was, saying that it should be ashamed to have snatched funds from the EI account.
They are right. From 1996-97 to 2008-09, the Liberal Party literally siphoned off $57 billion, and that time period includes the first few years that the Conservative government was in office. Time and interest aside, if we divide $57 billion by the number of years during which this plundering took place, we get an average amount of $4,764,196,333 per year. That is how much the Liberal Party stole from employers and employees, from the EI fund, when it was in office.
How will the Conservative government manage this program? The Conservatives say that they now have a commission. I understand; all the money comes from employers and workers. The government does not contribute a cent. None of this money comes from taxes.
The government puts the premiums under revenues and the benefits under expenditures. The difference between the two for the next four years is $19.2 billion. In four years, the government will steal $19.2 billion from Canadian employers and workers. If we divide that amount by four, that is $4.8 billion per year. The plundering of $4.8 billion every year by the Conservatives is right up there with the $4.764 billion the Liberals took when they were in power.
This is another example of what we mean when we say two faces, one reality. Successive Canadian governments have literally stolen from employers and workers because not a single cent comes from Canadian taxes. These are contributions to an insurance plan. If this insurance plan were run by a private company and the company were taking money like this, its managers would be in jail. Who is doing this plundering now? I will let my colleagues guess.
This bill has some 800 pages and several parts. It is a huge bill, and that is not uncommon. Anyone who works in finance is used to this kind of beast.
Part 17 on financial cooperatives is worrisome, since cooperatives can or could be regulated by the Bank Act and the federal government. We will examine this issue more closely with the heads of Mouvement Desjardins in Quebec, in order to determine whether the cooperative movement in Canada, and particularly in Quebec, got what it was asking for from the Government of Canada.
If not, the federal government will once again have control over the cooperative financial sector in Quebec, an exceptional sector that is recognized worldwide.
Madam Speaker, I am glad to speak to Bill , which gives effect to the budget announced by the Conservatives. Some of what the bill contains was in the budget and some was in the throne speech. The bill also includes provisions that have been mentioned in various forums in recent months.
Since I have only 20 minutes or so, I will not be able to go over all 800 pages of the bill. I am going to focus on certain items that fuel substantive debates in the House and illustrate members' different views on ideology and governance.
I would like to start by talking about the tax cuts for Canada's most profitable corporations. The Liberal Party and its leader are recent converts to the idea that we need to start handing tax cuts to major corporations more slowly. Last weekend, at a conference in Montreal, the Liberal leader discovered the merits of what the NDP has been talking about for the past three months.
I would like to give a little background to those listening to us, to help them understand the whole picture.
The Liberals were relegated to the opposition benches at the beginning of January 2006, which means we are beginning our fifth year of a minority Conservative government. There was a leadership race within the Liberal Party, and the hon. member for was elected party leader.
In a now infamous speech he gave before the Economic Club of Toronto, the new leader was intent on finding an angle. The Liberals, who consider themselves the “natural governing party” and are used to being in power, were searching for ways to understand what went wrong during the election. They told themselves that perhaps the Conservatives were getting a little too friendly with their usual Bay Street base. So they decided to accuse the Conservatives of not acting quickly enough on tax cuts.
Last weekend, the same Liberal Party wondered why corporate taxes were being cut. The leader at the time—the Liberals have had five leaders in five years—the hon. member for , went before the Economic Club of Toronto and slammed the Conservatives for not cutting corporate taxes quickly enough. That was enough for the Conservative finance minister—the same one as today—to rise in this House with a smirk on his face and announce that without this push from the Liberals he would never have had the temerity to move so quickly on corporate tax cuts.
The resulting financial woes will affect Canada's public finances for generations to come. They created $60 billion worth of tax room by refusing to give back what the Liberals pilfered from the employment insurance fund.
The Liberals now admit it and the Conservatives criticize them endlessly. For the last three days in question period, the pointed at the Liberals, saying that they were the ones who pilfered, who stole, $60 billion from the employment insurance fund. The problem is that Bill only finishes the job started by the Liberals. The government is going to slam the door shut and finish off the pilfering that it admonishes the Liberals for.
Some may wonder what difference it makes that the $60 billion that the Liberals called a “notional” amount was transferred. It is just obfuscation, as though the $60 billion could be anything else. They said that this notional amount was transferred from the EI fund to the consolidated fund, the government's general revenue fund.
However, there is a fundamental difference between the employment insurance fund and the government's consolidated revenue fund.
In fact, all Canadian companies and their employees have contributed to the employment insurance fund. If a company recorded a loss, it did not matter; it still had to contribute to the employment insurance fund. However, only a company with enough profits to pay tax was required to fork over corporate taxes into the general revenue fund.
In other words, the same companies—primarily the forestry and manufacturing industries, which suffered greatly because of the high dollar—that had not turned a profit and that did not have to pay tax could not benefit from the $60 billion in tax cuts given to the most profitable companies. And yet, each and every one of these companies paid for every single one of their employees, and every employee contributed to the EI fund. It is somewhat like what happens in China where those to be executed are forced to pay for the bullet. The manufacturing and forestry companies that were already suffering believed their contributions would be used for a very specific, precise and dedicated purpose. They were robbed and pillaged by the Liberals, with the benediction of the Conservatives, to provide the tax room to give tax breaks to more profitable companies.
This means that those who paid, who suffered because of the high dollar, supported the rich, particularly those in the oil industry in western Canada. Some companies, like EnCana in Alberta, received hundreds of millions of dollars, like money falling from the sky, in rebates it did not ask for because it was already making huge profits.
This is what happened with the money from the manufacturing companies in Beauce, which have since had to close their doors. The sawmills in the lower North Shore, the companies in northern Ontario and the forestry companies in British Columbia saw their money being used to help the oil industry in the west and the banks, which turned around and used that money to generate their highest profits ever. In the fourth quarter of 2009, the last three months of 2009, Canadian companies saw their profits increase dramatically, except productivity in Canada is still in a major slump.
The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about a slump in productivity is to think we are suggesting that Canadian workers are not working hard enough. No, we are not talking about the individual productivity of Canadian workers, who are among the most productive in the world. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the productivity of the company. What kind of equipment or machinery has it purchased? What has it done to make itself more competitive? Canadian companies held onto the cash they received in the form of tax cuts, because that is what it means to lack vision, to not believe in the government's role in the economy.
Since the second world war, Canada has built a very balanced economy, from coast to coast to coast. We are the only country in the world that borders three oceans. We are making serious mistakes in Canada right now, because the Conservatives, despite their minority status—having just over 30% of the vote—are being kept on life support by the Liberals, who, once again, made a nice speech against the budget today. However, they will hide just enough of their members, their cowards, behind the curtains so that the budget will pass. The same budget that they have not stopped criticizing.
Because the oil sector does not factor in the environmental costs of production, it is bringing an artificially inflated number of U.S. dollars into Canada. This has the pernicious effect of increasing the value of the Canadian dollar, which is now at or very near parity with the U.S. dollar. The high Canadian dollar is once again limiting our manufacturing and forestry companies' export opportunities.
The higher the Canadian dollar, the harder it is for other countries to buy it because it is more expensive.
But the Conservatives will not be swayed. They are completing a series of pipelines to the United States. They plan to ship crude from the oil sands through pipelines called Keystone, Alberta Clipper, Southern Lights and Enbridge.
Here in Quebec, the Trailbreaker project would have—yes, “would have”, because we are now joining together to put a stop to it—reversed the flow of a pipeline linking Montreal to Portland, Maine. There are plans in the works to build a massive pumping station in Dunham, in the Eastern Townships. Because the substance is tarry and sticky, it will not flow unless it is under more pressure, which means that the pressure in this 60-year-old pipeline will have to be increased considerably. The last time they increased the pressure, sections several kilometres long around Sutton burst. Ecosystems in the area are very large.
These pipelines are located near and beneath several watercourses that must be protected. The Conservatives, aided and abetted by the Liberals, made this choice because they are determined to export oil as quickly as possible. Their choice would also have led to the closure of the Shell refinery in Montreal, which would have resulted in the automatic loss of 800 direct jobs and 3,500 indirect jobs, as well as the death of a significant portion of the petrochemical sector in Montreal, leaving thousands of families jobless. Many of them would have been forced to leave the area. That would have been a major blow to Montreal's petrochemical sector. Everyone—except for the Conservatives, of course—is banding together to try to save the Shell refinery in Montreal.
In light of everything the Conservatives have done, it is clear that the government's vision is flawed. It plundered the employment insurance fund and used that money to give the most profitable companies tax breaks. These choices are aggravating a vicious cycle in which the high Canadian dollar is making things harder and harder for our exporters.
But the Conservatives will keep acting that same way, just like when we used to export untreated logs to the United States and it came back to us as furniture manufactured there. In doing that, value was added there, as were jobs. Among the pipelines that I mentioned earlier, Keystone alone represents 18,000 Canadian jobs lost. That is not our statistic, it comes from an independent external study.
But they are determined to start exporting. My colleagues know as well as I do that under the so-called proportionality clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement, once the flow has started, it cannot be stopped, not even a little bit, without the same restriction being enforced on us. We are currently playing with Canada's energy future, but they do not care about that either. Their one and only focus is quick development. That is why they are not acknowledging the costs.
If I took my colleagues to visit a factory where a certain product was made, if I told them it was being made cheaper here and if I convinced them to buy it, saying that it sells well but they noticed that all of the factory waste was dumped in the river behind the factory, they would say that the price of the product was not the true price, that the price did not take into account the fact that waste was being put into the river instead of being disposed of safely, at a cost. Everyone is capable of understanding that environmental costs need to be included in the price of a product. Everyone, that is, except the Conservative Party.
Not only are the Conservatives passing on to future generations a fiscal debt of $50 billion this year—instead of building something that will last and is sustainable, something related to green, renewable energy—but they are also leaving a gross debt. They are building arenas and cutting ribbons; they are putting doorknobs in churches and cutting ribbons; they are rebuilding parks and cutting ribbons. But none of that will last, none of it is long term.
Their priority is clear. The NDP's priority is also clear: have government play a constructive, objective, positive role in corporate governance in order to restore the economic balance that was destroyed by the Conservatives, with the Liberals' complicity.
Environmental assessment is another aspect of Bill that I want to focus on, in keeping with our concerns about the oil sands.
Eighteen months ago, not long after the fall 2008 election, the Conservatives came out with their infamous draft economic and fiscal update. When they denied women the right to equal pay for work of equal value and gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Liberals supported them.
We voted against both these measures, even though that might have triggered another election. The Liberals kowtowed to the Conservatives as usual and voted with them. About 18 months ago, the Liberals joined with their partners, the Conservatives, to gut the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which had been in place for 100 years so that we could leave something for future generations. They completely scrapped that law.
This year, they are trying to finish what they started by doing away with environmental assessments for most projects that receive federal funding. Several provinces have rather weak legislation and no way to conduct real inspections and assessments. The Navigable Waters Protection Act was the only way some provinces could have an assessment done. Quebec solved this problem with the federal government a long time ago. A federal assessor sits at the table with the BAPE, and this arrangement works very well.
I signed an agreement with David Anderson, who was the last Liberal who cared about the environment. He was succeeded by the member for , and the rest is history.
I cannot believe we are seeing the Liberals make the same mistake. I would like to remind the House of a salient fact in the history of the Liberal Party. It is worth noting, since we saw Eddie Goldenberg at the thinkers' conference last weekend in Montreal. Eddie Goldenberg, former chief of staff to Jean Chrétien, said in a speech before the London Chamber of Commerce, in Ontario in the spring of 2007, that the Liberals had signed the Kyoto protocol “to galvanize public opinion”.
He admitted that the Liberal government of the day signed that protocol as a public relations exercise. It persisted and signed. He said the Liberals had no intention of meeting the targets set out in the Kyoto protocol.
Last weekend in Montreal, we saw Eddie Goldenberg pontificating on the Liberal Party's destiny. There is only one thing the Liberals want: to come back to power.
The Liberals in the first and second rows are waking up with a start and asking themselves: am I a minister yet? Then they realize that they are still in opposition and that they have only 75 seats. They go back to sleep, hoping that next time they wake up, their dream will have come true.
There is no renewal, there are no new ideas, no substance, no worthwhile ideas. They are here simply to support the Conservatives, waiting until it is their turn to take over.
We have the Liberal leader saying: “people are looking for an alternative”, having forgotten that he is supposed to be just that. There is only one alternative progressive voice in Canada: the New Democratic Party.
Mr. Speaker, I was just catching up on my reading of the Speech from the Throne and the budget just to make sure that my comments will be accurate and statistically correct.
The Conservatives call Bill the jobs and economic growth act. As my colleague from said earlier, the member for and others are what we call the Scarborough team. We have been exchanging our views about what we have been hearing from our constituents and what happened at the forum the other day. At the University of Toronto Scarborough campus we hosted a meeting with respect to Canada at 150 to get input from all Canadians. Not to get off track, but the session I hosted had to do with health care. As I have said in previous presentations, health care seems always to be the number one concern for Canadians, and so it was again.
Getting back to the jobs and economic growth act, the Conservatives could have given the bill a different title. One could ask what jobs and economic growth we are talking about. What in the world is the government referring to? All people have to do is listen to the news and commentaries, read the statistics, see the types of jobs being created, see why we are losing jobs and why we are not being competitive for the jobs of the future and the will understand why I am being a little, one might say, cynical about the bill's title.
There is no real job growth. There is no real economic growth. The government pulled up a statistic. All one has to do is tune in to the news to hear the sentiments of Canadians. They do not see anything. They are not confident for today or for the future. They do not see any positive impact on their lives. I will point out why they feel that way.
Canadians are not optimistic for the future and our overall economy because they have no confidence not just in what is happening but they have no confidence in the and, as a result, no confidence in the government. When people are asked why, they say it is simply because there is no trust. They say that the government says one thing and does the other.
For example, the government talks about investing in the jobs of the future and the green economy. In reality, it has not invested in the jobs of the future. If anything, it has cut back on the jobs of the future.
Researchers have asked over and over again for support. I have data here and I want to be accurate. They have asked for support and unfortunately, the support is not there.
The government talks about creating jobs. The has said in the past that EI premiums, or EI taxes, as they are often referred to, are increasing and are an impediment to creating jobs. We agree with him wholeheartedly. Employers have told us repeatedly to lower the rates and they will invest in creating jobs, retooling, modernizing, new equipment, et cetera.
Unfortunately, in the budget the government will be increasing EI premiums to the tune of almost $13 billion. That is almost a 35% tax hike. That is going to cost the average individual almost $900. At the same time, it is going to have a negative impact on companies, to the tune of anywhere between $9,000 to $10,000 per employee. That is a lot of money. That is not reducing taxes.
There is a graph in the budget on page 52, above which the government states, “Freeze in EI premium rate leaves money in the hands of employers and employees”. The columns in this graph start at the year 2000 and level off in years 2006 and 2007, which is when the Conservative government took over. During that period employment insurance premiums were being reduced year in and year out. When the Conservative government came into office, it simply did not decrease them, it left them as they were.
All of a sudden, as I pointed out earlier, the Conservatives plan a 35% hike in employment insurance premiums which, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is going to cost 200,000 jobs. Yes, there were some jobs created and no one is disputing that, even though they were not high quality jobs, but a job is a job. But this tax increase is going to cost jobs because employers are going to hesitate, if anything refrain, from hiring people. That graph points that out exactly.
When the government stands and says that we have not done anything, its own graphs, and the proof is in the pudding as they say, indicate how a Liberal government between 1993 and 2006 was continuously reducing EI premiums. The GST reduction which the Conservatives provided to Canadians, they are now taking back in another manner.
There is another graph on page 86. I am pointing this out to prove to Canadians the discrepancy in the Conservatives' figures. The Conservatives say that Canada invests more directly in public R and D than does any other G7 country. That is a wonderful statement, but this is old data. They say this data is from 2007 which is the latest year for which data are available for the G7 countries. That is data from the Liberal administration. We would like to see the Conservatives' current data, which in essence shows a decline.
The graph clearly shows that up to 2007, and 2006 and 2005 were the latest years where this data was accumulated, Canada was leading countries such as Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United States. Thank God that was under a Liberal administration. That is why at that time we were able to not just invest in the new knowledge-based economy, but to retain our best and brightest and to attract others.
At that time I was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of industry, Brian Tobin. We were at York University providing funding for research chairs. I remember a young couple. The husband had been offered a job in Germany. His wife was a researcher. She made an about-face. She decided to stay in Canada. When I asked her why she said that Canada was indeed investing properly and it was worth her time to stay. Not only did we retain our best and brightest, but we offered opportunities for the jobs of the future.
I encourage Canadians to pick up the budget book, look at page 86 and they will see exactly what I am talking about.
With respect to the new economy, I am very concerned. There are certain technologies in Canada in which we pride ourselves. The news about AECL in the last couple of days really concerns me. I happened to see an advertisement for the movie on the Avro Arrow technology. It reminded me that it was a Conservative government that sold out that Canadian technology and now another Conservative government is about to sell out a unique industry, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, where we provide the Candu technology which is not only well recognized, but well respected for its security.
The concern is that the government is moving forward through the budget to allow foreign companies to come in, maybe to buy AECL outright, maybe to buy a share. However, the moment that occurs, the government will have no say. It will have no oversight of what happens. What am I driving at?
This is what the Conservatives did with the income trusts situation because everything ties together. At the time, there were rules that Canadian companies could borrow money, like other foreign companies, and invest. There was an interest deductibilty factor built into this equation. By reneging on the promise that they were not going to touch income trusts, it took that equal playing field for all companies and removed the ability for Canadian companies to compete on equal footing, simply because they could no longer use the income deductibility factor when they chose to acquire, purchase or expand. In other words, Canadian companies are at a disadvantage today.
That means, to simplify it for everybody, that company A from country B could come in, borrow money, buy ACL and write off the interest of the moneys it borrowed, but a Canadian company cannot do this. That is a great disadvantage to Canadian companies.
I am bringing it up again only so that the government, if it believes in what it says about making Canadian companies competitive, would change that. I hope it thinks about that very seriously.
We talk about taxes. There are so many hidden taxes, it is unbelievable. Let me talk about the air travel security tax. Nobody talks about it.
The reason I am bringing these up one at a time is because if somebody had the opportunity to read a publication from the Canadian Press today, it says that the government is doing this in a sneaky way, “by sneaking in new rules in budget legislation”. It is the word “sneaking” that this budget is all about, because all of a sudden, as we go to another paragraph or turn another page, we see something in there to our surprise. Of course, we cannot analyze the budget in one day, but every day that goes by, every paragraph that we read, every segment we get into, all of a sudden there is another surprise.
There is going to be an increase of billions of dollars by taxing people who are travelling. Why? Is it for new scanners? I recall years ago, we invested billions of dollars to buy new scanning equipment for our airports. Has something occurred to say that those scanners no longer work? I will let Canadians judge that for themselves. It is the word “sneaking” that is upsetting to me. It clearly points out exactly what is going on here.
My colleague from earlier today referred to the Fraser Institute and its comment. I would like to repeat that as well:
The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute concludes that the turnaround in the economy had nothing to do with stimulus.
The Conservatives stand up and use coated words such as “we have allocated”, “we have committed”, “we will assign”, but when we go out there and ask if the money has actually been delivered, the answer is no. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities complained as well, “They promised us”.
It reminds me of the commercial on television with the two young kids, and the gentleman comes in and gives one child a cardboard pony but gives the other one a real pony, because, as he says, “You did not ask”. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is asking. It wants its infrastructure fixed. It is a source of revenue for this country and it deserves its share of the pie.
I have a comment on revenue, if I may, because it is my understanding, and we all know, that the banks are talking about increasing their mortgage rates. I just want to take this opportunity because they are part of this budget as well.
Right now everybody is trying to do whatever they can to get the economy rolling, to get confidence into the nation. I say to the banks, directly, that it is wrong at this time to increase rates, when young men and women are trying to get a roof over their heads, trying to buy their first condominium, or whatever they are trying to invest in. What the banks are saying here is:
The increase does not stem directly from moves by the Bank of Canada, but rather anticipated central bank rate hikes.
I have talked to many of my constituents, and I say, “Shame on the banks” if they decide to increase their rates prematurely and without any justifiable cause.
I want to speak a little bit about health care, if I may, because that is very important. In this budget, once again, there is zero for health care. Taking us back, in the 2004-05 budget there was an committed allocation of $56 billion for health care. That was as a result of the recommendations from the Romanow report. That was a 10-year commitment by the federal government to the provinces.
Now the provinces are saying, because 2014 is the due date, they want to commence a dialogue. They want to get the discussions going, get around a table, and see where we are going post-2014.
The federal government is refusing to sit around the table. When asked what has been done with health, the response is that it will continue the funding. What funding is that? The funding was Liberal funding under the Paul Martin government. That was Liberal funding as a result of the Romanow report. We all know about that report.
I am very concerned. We are now seeing a little bit more about what the health issue in the United States is all about. It has everything to do with insurance and nothing to do with the delivery of health services. Today, we are seeing advertisements on television that say “Purchase health insurance”. I am concerned for the future and where this is taking us.
The is on record, and I have quoted him in the past but to save time I am not going to pull up the quote, stating, with no ambiguity, that he supports private health care. The has stated very clearly that he supports private health care.
No wonder my constituent, Mr. Frandsen, who came to my office, said, and I have used this quote in the past, “If [the Prime Minister] can behave and do what he is doing while having a minority government, can you imagine what he will do if he had a majority?”
It is scary. Health care is something that separates us as Canadians from the rest of the world. I think we have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure it is something we maintain. In order to do that, we need to have a country positioned properly with its finances.
In order for us to understand where we are today and where we are going to be tomorrow, I want to take just a few moments to take us all back to 1993 when Canada was an unofficially bankrupt country with high unemployment, high debts and deficits, and we were paying tremendous amounts, billions of dollars, in interest on our debt.
We turned that around with the help and co-operation of Canadians. Then we delivered seven or eight consecutive balanced budgets and surpluses, such as our country had never experienced before. The last surplus we left the government was $13.2 billion.
As a result of the Liberals bringing down the debt continuously, our debt to GDP ratio kept going down. We were saving an average of $3 billion a year, which we were putting back into programs that Canadians asked us to support, whether it was housing, environment, infrastructure, urban transit, health or whatever it was. According to the input we were receiving, we were providing that support.
On one of the government's graphs, it talks about the accumulated federal debt. Yes, it is showing us a graph of the debt to GDP ratio that in 2008-09 had dipped downwards. It did dip downwards, and yet again it is going up. Then we have the debt, and I will admit it was reduced by some $30-some odd billion. The Liberals reduced it by $60-some odd billion. Then all of sudden, by 2014, from $460 billion it is going to $622 billion. That is a $130-some odd billion debt.
Never mind saving the $3 billion we were saving. We are going to be paying much more. We are not getting anywhere. If anything, we are going downhill.
I would be glad to answer any questions. In this short period of time, it is difficult to get into a lot, but in closing one thing I am concerned about is the recreational infrastructure program that has been very kind in supporting various community centres. I support it myself.
I come from the Greek community of Toronto, and it has asked for funding for the first Greek cultural community centre. I believe the government is treating it in a biased and discriminatory way. It has turned its back on the Greek community and I will ensure that my community knows this.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Members know that the Bloc Québécois has already voted against the Conservative government's budget because, once again, it does not meet the economic, social, environmental and financial needs of Quebec.
No matter the sector—forestry, aerospace, the environment or culture—Quebeckers' priorities have been completely ignored in this budget.
By presenting an empty budget that is so unfair to Quebec, the Conservative government is proving once again that federalism is of no benefit to Quebec.
The Conservatives have shown once more that, as far as Canada is concerned, it is as though Quebec does not exist.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government's constant refusal to meet Quebec's needs has consequences.
In the Quebec government's budget presented on Tuesday, $4.3 billion must be raised from taxpayers—$3.5 billion from individuals—through different taxes. There will be a 2% increase in the sales tax.
This budget has already given rise to an avalanche of criticism by civil society groups who fear the impoverishment of low- and middle-income households. In the next four years, Quebeckers will have to face increases in Quebec sales tax, fuel taxes and electricity rates, in addition to paying a new annual premium to fund the health system.
In its budget suggestions of February 24, the Bloc Québécois clearly identified the financial needs of Quebec, which Ottawa must address fairly. The Bloc identified $7 billion in needs: changes to be made to the equalization formula, increased funding for education and social programs, as well as compensation for harmonizing the sales tax. In my mind, the harmonization of the sales tax is the most pathetic issue. On March 31, 2009, exactly one year ago, Quebec's National Assembly adopted a unanimous motion asking the federal government to treat Quebec justly and equitably, by granting compensation comparable to that offered to Ontario for the harmonization of its sales tax with the GST.
In the days that followed the adoption of this motion, and in response to questions posed in the House by the Bloc Québécois, the government stated that it did not wish to conduct negotiations in the public arena.
Despite repeated requests by the Government of Quebec and numerous attempts by the Bloc Québécois to correct this injustice, the Conservative government has again responded negatively to Quebec's requests at such a crucial time in the preparation of its budget.
To make sure that the Conservative government is well aware of the situation, I will read an excerpt from the speech made by the Quebec minister last Tuesday:
Furthermore, we are determined to recover the $2.2 billion we have been claiming from the federal government for harmonizing the QST with the GST. We are entitled to expect fair treatment from the federal government, which recently granted compensation to Ontario and British Columbia following harmonization of their sales taxes with the GST.
I will remind members that the Government of Quebec cannot be accused of being sovereignist and that it has always had the support of the opposition in requesting compensation for harmonizing its sales tax with the GST.
In fact, a new motion was passed unanimously by all members of the Quebec National Assembly last Tuesday. I will read it so it is properly recorded in the Debates of the House of Commons in both official languages, as it should:
THAT the National Assembly denounces the refusal by the federal Government to offer Québec compensation comparable to that received by British Columbia and Ontario in 2009 for the harmonization of their sales tax with the Goods and Services Tax;
THAT it recalls that Québec was the first province to harmonize its tax with the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) at the beginning of the 1990s and has still received no compensation in this area, even though five provinces have been compensated for their harmonization after that of Québec;
THAT the Assembly also denounces the fact that for one year, notwithstanding a similar official request, the federal Government has continued to refuse to treat Quebeckers with justice and equity.
The federal government has already signed an agreement worth $6.86 billion with five other provinces to harmonize their sales tax. Quebec, which was the first province to harmonize its tax in 1992, has not yet received the $2.2 billion compensation that it has been demanding for a year.
In his budget on Tuesday, Quebec's finance minister also pointed out that the federal government administers the harmonized sales tax without any cost to the affected provinces, whereas Quebec pays its share of the GST and QST administration costs, under an agreement signed in the early 1990s, almost 20 years ago.
The Conservative government amended its original requirements in 2009 in order to provide Ontario and British Columbia with compensation. Why can it not come to an understanding with Quebec when it was able to do so with five other provinces on the same issue?
How is it possible that, after a year of intense negotiations, the Conservative government still does not understand the importance of providing compensation to Quebec for harmonizing its tax in anticipation of its budget?
The Government of Quebec stated that it needed that compensation to reduce the tax burden on the people. Society's poorest and the middle class will not forget this injustice perpetrated against Quebec.
In addition to not responding to Quebeckers' needs and desires, the government is once again expressing its intention to encroach on Quebec's jurisdiction over securities despite another unanimous vote in Quebec's National Assembly calling on the federal government to back away from plans to implement a Canada-wide securities commission.
I want to remind the government that securities regulation is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces and that the current passport system does a very good job of making a coordinated law enforcement approach possible.
I also want to remind the government that Quebec's Autorité des marchés financiers is the last bastion protecting exchange activities in Montreal.
For all of these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will have to oppose Bill .
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to participate in this debate on Bill to implement the budget tabled in the House a few weeks ago.
First, I will address the title of the bill. I have been in this House for 13 years, and this kind of bill is usually called a budget implementation bill. All of a sudden, the government decided to call it something else, the jobs and economic growth bill.
That is somewhat odd and ironic. It is as if the federal government was running an advertising and promotional campaign about the budget. The fact is that this is a bill to implement a budget, and not one to create jobs and promote economic growth. This growth will be done on the backs of the less privileged and at the detriment of the environment. It will also be done at the expense of the safety net that needs to be put in place.
The bill before us today is somewhat odd in that this is not a jobs and economic growth bill, but a budget implementation bill. I wanted to make that clear from the outset.
We are especially disappointed with this budget as far as the initiatives or measures it contains to protect the environment, natural resources as well as ecosystems and biodiversity are concerned. This is one of the least substantial budgets I have had the opportunity to read and analyze in recent years in terms of the environment.
There is nothing in there to improve environmental protection and nothing for Quebec. Yet, the budget provides $16 million over two years for the Great Lakes action plan.
Yesterday, the government announced the signing of an agreement with Ontario to extend the Great Lakes action plan. Yet, at the same time, on March 31, the St. Lawrence plan, designed to develop a vision and an integrated management system for one of the largest waterways in America, expired without any announcement by the government regarding its extension.
For the government, the St. Lawrence—Great Lakes system is limited to the Great Lakes. We do not think there is a direct relationship, in terms of economic activity, with the protection of ecosystems in the Great Lakes, but the St. Lawrence requires integrated protection and management. We are a little disappointed.
The budget provides $16 million over two years for the Great Lakes action plan, but nothing for the St. Lawrence, nothing in terms of strategy, nothing in terms of vision beyond 2010.
The budget is also lacking an initiative to promote renewable energies. However, in the 2009 budget, the government announced $350 million for the nuclear industry. There is considerable funding for this industry again this year, but not enough funding for developing renewable energies.
This shows that the government has not made the green shift. It has not made the commitment to “decarbonize“ its economy. Therefore, there is no money for energy efficiency. As a matter of fact, we just learned this morning that the ecoENERGY program has been cancelled. The budget does nothing to promote energy efficiency and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the source, but it gives a lot of money to one particular economic sector, namely, oil companies.
The Conservatives continue giving tax breaks to an industry that produces and extracts oil from the tar sands with impunity and pollutes our environment, without paying for the pollution it is causing. For those who believe that a price should be put on carbon and that there should be costs associated with polluting, this is disappointing.
Ultimately, when the government announces regulations to fight climate change, who will pay? Businesses that have already made the effort will have to compensate financially for the efforts not being made by the oil industry in western Canada.
One might have hoped this budget would include some sort of recognition program, whether it is called a credit for early action or compensation program. Yet there is nothing to compensate Quebec's economic activity sectors, particularly the manufacturing industry in Quebec, which has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 24%.
There is nothing. Yet the Bloc Québécois had made some proposals. What did we propose? We proposed $500 million a year for five years as incentives for converting oil heating systems. We proposed $500 million a year for five years for a green energy fund. We also called for a plan to promote electric cars to help us move towards using more electricity in our transportation, not only in public transit, but also in individual transportation, and to put money into research. That is how Quebec will be able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions: by targeting this sector of activity in Quebec, that is, the transportation sector. The budget contains nothing for electric cars. The government ignored the recommendation and the plan we proposed.
There is nothing for shoreline erosion. As I was just saying, there is nothing for the St. Lawrence and nothing to help those living along the river, who are the first victims of climate change. Higher temperatures and extreme weather events will affect the St. Lawrence shoreline more than any other place. People living along the St. Lawrence are losing waterfront land and thus are losing an important asset. There is no help for them, even though my Bloc Québécois colleague from Matane had proposed a bill to establish a compensation fund to offset the costs of adapting to climate change. There is absolutely nothing.
They are not proposing tax credits for companies that promote the use of bicycles as an alternate form of transportation. We proposed $20 million. There is no incentive for citizens to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as hybrid vehicles. A few years ago, we had the ecoAuto program. Why not reintroduce this program, which would provide tax credits for the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles? For example, Montreal taxi drivers could benefit. But, no.
This is a budget without a vision, a budget that has failed to make the green shift required for us to move to a carbon-free economy.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here to debate Bill , what we would normally call the budget implementation act. In this particular case, however, we are looking at the jobs and economic growth act.
For the next 20 minutes, I will analyze some of the material in the budget that is deficient and some that may be construed as being positive. Dare I go that far, sitting in the opposition? I will just to be fair-minded. I also want to touch on some of the major issues that have come up in the last little while in my riding and in my province in some of the more traditional industries that are facing a crisis, to say the least.
Particularly today, there is a crisis in the fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador for those who depend on the crab fishery, with the season opening and very few boats out on the water able to make a living. I will get to that a little later.
I would like to talk about the genesis of the economic action plan as described in the budget, titled “Leading the Way on Jobs and Growth”. I would not say that the economic action plan is leading the way. I do believe the sheer gist of our talented workforce, the education levels, our ability to innovate and the capacity by which we can get to the level to survive all economic crises certainly is leading the way but it is incumbent upon the individual to lead the way out of this.
However, there are areas in which there are weaknesses in our society and socio-economic factors that are at play, areas that the government needs to take action on. We need to play a role in the lives of people who have fallen through the cracks, people who are most vulnerable in situations, whether they live in Ontario, Nunavut or Newfoundland and Labrador. Many of them are going through a similar crisis when it comes to education, rates of literacy and certainly when it comes to matching the skills with a particular place or industry they want to be in.
I would like to suggest something for the House to consider and it is something I have talked about quite a bit over the past little while. We are seeing something taking place in the workforce. I will use my riding as strong example because of the talent and skills that people have developed over the past little while. A lot of work is transient in nature. Let us take the example of a particular individual with a skills set in the oil and gas industry. If people are thinking about Newfoundland and Labrador, they must be thinking that they work offshore. That is not the case. In my particular neck of the woods, a lot of people are transients from Newfoundland and Labrador who go to the oil fields of Alberta.
They work in some of the major plants, upgraders I think the term is, that go from one form of petroleum to the final product that is ready for market with regard to natural gas and oil but also for major infrastructure projects happening in Alberta because of the proliferation of the industry. I say that because even though oil prices dipped dramatically over last year, the infrastructure is in place, the people who work the industry are also in place and many of them travel back and forth. They spend perhaps three or four weeks in Alberta at the work site and travel thousands of kilometres to return home for two or three weeks. That is becoming the nature of many of the workers and jobs available at this point.
There was a dip in the demand for work simply because of the low price of oil. I say the low price of oil meaning relative to what it was two years ago when it was in some cases above $150 a barrel. Now it is at $83 a barrel and, therefore, workers have kind of slipped into a comfortable place when it comes to achieving work for those who are skilled in that industry.
How does that change the dynamic? It does in many ways. People are now taking advantage of skills training, whether it is federal or provincial, and that is a good thing. What is lacking is the ability of small, medium and large enterprises to match the work that is available. What I would implore the to consider is a national program similar to what we would call a skills inventory database.
Let us assume for a moment that I possess a skill in pipefitting and I live in Newfoundland and Labrador. Where can I go to achieve work that allows me to stay at home but yet travel to find work elsewhere?
People need to put their skill sets into a national database, to go beyond their own backyards, in order to allow other companies to see that they exist. I know that sounds like a strange concept but work is now becoming so quick to attain. Industries are now transitioning from the old traditional style. Even the traditional industries of oil and gas and forestry are now transitioning. The forestry industry is going from not just pulp and paper or newsprint. It is transforming into furniture making, pellets for heating energy, whether it is at the home or at the business.
In the fishing industry, many of the smaller boats are now becoming larger vessels and they are fishing in areas further off shore.
Therefore, because these companies, whether they be small or big, are transitioning to a new type of work and a new type of business model, which means new types of revenue streams, it becomes problematic to find the workers who have the particular skills. The companies end up spending a lot of money, resources and time just to find those people.
However, we, as a government, can make that transition easier by providing that particular database of information so that it puts the worker, as well as the employer, into that same sphere and allows people to communicate.
There is another side of doing that which would be beneficial, and I humbly put this forward to the House as a token of debate. I will give members a good example. In Port Union in my riding, over 1,000 people used to work at the local shrimp plant, which at the time was owned by Fishery Products International, now owned by OCI. The plant went from a workforce of over 1,000 people down to about 100 or 200 people on a good day. It was highly seasonal work with somewhere between 15 to 20 weeks of work for the average employee.
Now, across the harbour there is an old plant that existed many years ago, the early part of the last century, and then was shut down. It was the focal point of a fishing industry when there were a lot more people involved in the fishery. It was owned by William Coaker, incidentally. The government is now investing into giving the place a facelift, let us say, making it more user friendly, not just for tourists but also for business. A company such as Iceberg is now going to produce bottled water. Bottled water from icebergs. My goodness. I remember a gentleman telling me one time that in his day, icebergs were the biggest nuisance around. Now icebergs have become a lifeline for bottled water and other products.
How do we go from transitioning from what was all fishery to now partially fishery and partially iceberg harvesting? We do that in the way that we spoke about, by trying to find the talented individuals who are able to work. The skill set needs to be there in order for them to set up. If a database exists, a company that wants to set up an operation, such as Iceberg or a water bottling plant, it can get a good idea about who in that community is available to work. Whether they have moved away recently or not, they can still be involved in that database by simply indicating where they come from. That would make it much easier for a company to find the workers it needs.
Mining is another example. A huge mine opened up outside of a town called Millertown and it is owned by Teck. It mines mostly for copper, nickel and zinc, but it is now mining for gold. By doing that the company needs the particular individuals talented enough to work in those mines. That is where the government could play a role.
I would like the government to consider this in its next budget or even as a policy over the summer or in the fall. If we to get serious about having a talented workforce, promoting it and ensuring it is able to mesh with anybody that wants to hire them, whether it be small, medium or large business, we need to have the playing field by which they can come together.
Let me return to the budget implementation bill and what was written in the book provided to us when the budget was released. The economic action plan promised a great deal of money for infrastructure and it promised a great deal on the back end for tertiary activity.
Intentions are paved with gold, if I may use the vernacular. The problem with that is the function of it has diminished in the past little while. Here are some of the problems we need to consider when this type of crisis happens again.
With respect to unspent monies, let me give the House a list of what was unspent in this situation. In the supplementary estimates (C), which were brought to the House, $1.4 billion worth of infrastructure funding were not spent in 2009-10. There were $870 million unspent out of the $2 billion for the infrastructure stimulus fund. There were $186 million unspent out of $200 million for the green infrastructure fund. There were $240 million unspent out of $495 million for the provincial-territorial base funding. Finally, for the building Canada communities federal component, there were $135 million unspent out of $250 million.
Let me illustrate to the House a point that I saw in particular where this money gets unspent. Cost-sharing is a large element of it. The government spends money to increase the infrastructure and improve the infrastructure for a particular community. I will use the town of New West Valley as an example. It wants to take advantage of a particular stimulus fund to upgrade its park for reasons of tourism and for its residents who take advantage of it for fitness, health and the like.
The problem with it is this. In a small town the municipal tax base is not as large as a medium or larger community. The business tax is not where it used to be. That puts it in a vulnerable position where it has to come up with its one-third share, which it cannot do.
The federal government needs to consider putting in flexibilities so smaller communities can avail the funding. Right now provinces do their part by allowing up to 90% available so the communities can up with 10%, and kudos to them for doing so.
I understand the rules and regulations of Treasury Board and all things financial, the regulations and accounting principles. However, the compassion has been taken out of this when the government insists on doing things such as major announcements, handing out cheques and the like. This is kind of a misnomer because cheques are not really handed out any more. Maybe they are, but I cannot get that straight.
Nonetheless, let me just go back to the situation we have on infrastructure. One of the other elements about this funding when it comes recreation. One-third of the spending is hard enough to come up with, but we have a program called RInC, which is recreational infrastructure.
In 1967 there was a rash of spending regarding stadiums, gymnasiums, swimming pools and municipal council buildings. Many smaller communities took advantage of the Centennial fund to build their town halls or stadiums and so on and so forth. A lot of remains. I will not say intact, because that goes too far. However, it is still there and through a patchwork of funding, not a lot from the federal government, it remains, barely in some cases.
What we proposed, and I say we meaning the colour red of Liberal, in the last election was that we have an incentive to put money back into these communities in the infrastructure we invested in 1967. I do not know if anyone has noticed a calendar, but 1967 certainly was not yesterday. We got the idea about these crumbling buildings and we were able to do that.
The Conservatives decided this, and maybe this was a good idea, but the problem was they instituted a program that was not just one-third, it was fifty-fifty. If people are to spend $200,000 to fix a stadium, and that is a meagre sum for a stadium that seats over 1,000 in a town of only 3,000 or 4,000 people, they have to come up with $100,000.
There are stipulations where they can go to the province, but that puts it on the hook too. The government said it would not clawback funds, but in a way that is a clawback. It says it believes in a stadium and gives the town the money. For example, Bishop's Falls will be, after the weekend, Hockeyville, Canada. I am somewhat biased. It will get $100,000 for winning Hockeyville. Only one stadium on the whole country, whether it is the other towns or Bishop's Falls, gets that money. It is pretty bad that for that one stadium, the major contributor to its infrastructure, on a federal level, is the Kraft corporation.
We should think about that one for a moment. Maybe we should look at this in the sense of giving these communities a fair shot at the funding they so need. They are told that they are getting $100,000 for their stadiums, then they pause and the cameras click and they get on the six o'clock news. Then when all that settles down, the lights dim and the news is over, those towns realize they have come up with $100,000 too. It is unfortunate the cameras are not around then.
I bring that up as an illustration only because I honestly think this is fixable. I would compel the government to consider these options as we go forward, whether it is a renewed program as such. It talks about program renewals. If the program where I could fix my home and get a tax credit for it were so good, so powerful and so wonderful, where is it now? Perhaps someone can find it because I know where it is.
If an evaluation is to take place and if we have to consider all the programs, let us start from scratch. Let us go right to the core of the issue here. Let us go to the spending needed for programs that are needed. What ends up happening is when program evaluators review a program review, they only look at the numbers. The faces, the stories and the communities get lost in the mix. The government program evaluators become simply black and white numbers, and all of us have to stop doing that.
I will give an example. It seems like the only time we listen to people and their stories of how good these programs are is when the programs are in trouble. Why should a program have to fight for its life when it is so good and so, in the end, salvageable? Let me give the best example I can, being a rural member of Parliament, and that is the community access program, the CAP.
I am not sure if the government wanted to cut it or not. Quite frankly, I do not think it is sure either. Let us go beyond that argument of who said what, where, when and why and what news release was correct and what bureaucrat got it wrong, whether minister or bureaucrat. Let is set that aside for one moment.
The Conservatives said that they would continue the funding for this program for another year. However, what they are doing is putting money into the other pile of money, which is all about infrastructure spending. They make it sound like it is the bottom line of just the digital world, when in fact it is a social program. It allows people with lower incomes to be on the Internet, to be engaged in the world that they endorsed.
Finally, I will talk about the fisheries very quickly. We have a situation—
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill , the jobs and economic growth act. As the member for , our finance critic, has indicated, the New Democrats will be voting against this particular piece of legislation.
When pieces of legislation come before the House, we have responsibilities as members of Parliament to give them full consideration. Although we do support pieces of this legislation, there are other pieces of it that we are fundamentally opposed to. The Conservative government has decided to jam into this piece of legislation things that should properly be considered by other parliamentary standing committees and should have stand-alone legislation.
We have items around Canada Post and the environment that should be stand-alone pieces of legislation. The appropriate committees could deal with those in depth, call the appropriate witnesses and give them the kind of study and due diligence that we have a responsibility to do as members of Parliament. Based on that fact alone, because there are aspects around the environment that we simply could not support, New Democrats are in a position where we have to say no to this piece of legislation.
There are particular aspects of Bill that are very troubling for my constituents of . I want to touch on a couple of them. One is that there are more changes around softwood lumber. We know that the softwood lumber agreement has had a devastating impact on different parts of the country. Certainly in British Columbia, our forestry sector has undergone a number of changes over the past several years.
The softwood lumber agreement, as it was agreed to by the Conservatives, has eroded the resource industry and forestry industry in and other parts of British Columbia. I would strongly urge members of the House to very carefully review that part of the budget implementation act to see what kinds of effects it would have on their communities.
I know other members have talked about the employment insurance aspect of this piece of legislation, but this is going to take the roughly $57 billion of surplus and wind up that employment insurance account. We know that, in many parts of this country including , there are many workers who have exhausted their employment insurance.
I talked a little bit earlier about forestry workers. We know that forestry workers in my riding, throughout British Columbia and in other parts of Canada have been hit hard. Some of them have either exhausted their employment insurance or were not eligible for some of those provisions that were supposed to protect workers.
If we were going to try to jam employment insurance into this budget implementation act, we would have liked to have seen some of the initiatives that other members, such as the member for , the member for and the member for , have called for. We would like to see an elimination of the two-week waiting period. We want to see a reduction in the number of weeks that are required to qualify. We want to see an adequate length of time that actually allows people that safety net that many of them have paid into their whole lives. We want to see an increase in the benefit rate.
Studies by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Labour Congress have indicated that if we want to talk about economic stimulus, we should provide that social safety net so people have money to spend in their own communities, so they can support their local restaurants and stores. If we ensured people had that safety net through employment insurance, we would make sure our economy stayed more stable.
Another aspect of it is that, as people exhaust their employment insurance benefits, they end up becoming the responsibility of the province. Once the workers have exhausted their employment insurance and then depleted their savings, they then end up going on income assistance. It seems to me that this is another example of the federal government shoving its responsibilities onto the provincial governments, particularly in light of the fact that there was a $57 billion surplus in the EI account, paid for by workers and their employers.
It is very difficult to support a budget that says the government will take the money that workers paid for and make sure it stays in the consolidated revenue fund, with no access to it by workers or their employers.
There are many, many parts of the bill that are simply anathema to New Democrats, but I want to talk very briefly about the environmental assessment part of this legislation. It exempts through legislation rather than regulations certain federally funded infrastructure projects from environmental assessment. This goes well beyond the efforts by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to streamline the environmental assessment process, which was to be the object of a review in 2010. At the outset of my speech, I referenced the fact that parts of this Bill legislation are taking the responsibility away from standing committees where it appropriately belongs.
Our environment critic, the member for , is here intently listening and I know she has raised the issues around the fact that there was a process that was going to be under way and this legislation attempts to usurp the authority of the environment committee to do its work. It allows the to dictate the scope of the environmental assessment of any project to be reviewed and it allows for, rather than requires, the National Energy Board and the Nuclear Safety Commission to pay for public participations and reviews that they choose to undertake. That is in line with the budget speech, which outlined the plan to remove assessment of energy projects from the Environmental Assessment Agency and give it to the NEB and the NSC.
In British Columbia, we recently had a Supreme Court of Canada ruling where MiningWatch Canada raised an issue. The Supreme Court said that the federal regulators erred when they failed to subject the Red Chris project to a full review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act following its review and approval by the B.C. government. The question this raises is that there are dozens of projects under federal review including mines, highways and pipelines. The court said the so-called responsible authorities including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada must undertake comprehensive reviews of all projects that qualify for CEAA scrutiny.
So the question then becomes, with what is in Bill , what happens to that court ruling. What happens to that responsibility under CEAA to put that kind of assessment review process in place? It is very worrying that the federal government seems to be distancing itself from its responsibility as a federal regulator to oversee these kinds of processes.
In my riding we have a very difficult situation with the Chemainus River and the Halalt First Nation. The Halalt is asking for a judicial review of a water project undertaken by the District of North Cowichan. There had previously been some action by the community because they were so frustrated by their inability to have the District of North Cowichan, the provincial or the federal governments pay attention to their very legitimate concerns.
As Chief James Thomas has said a number of times, their attempt to raise the issue around the Chemainus River aquifer was not just about Halalt First Nation. It was about protecting that aquifer for all of the residents of Chemainus. They had been passionately pleading with all levels of government to come to the table with them as full partners at the table to make sure the aquifer would be protected not only for this generation but for future generations. So they have been forced into the courts. They have a petition asking the courts to order a judicial review of the $3.6 million water project, which has been approved under both the federal and provincial environmental review processes.
Grand Chief Phillip has also commented on this and he has said:
As Indigenous Peoples, we are increasingly alarmed when third party interests are granted access to the resources of our territories, especially fresh water, government and the courts protect those corporate interests at the expense of our Aboriginal Title and Rights and of the environmental values that many British Columbians hold dear.
When we speak about the environmental values, many of us in the House keep in mind that we are not just talking about today. First nations will talk about seven generations into the future and that is what we need to be talking about when we are looking at protecting those valuable environmental assets.
I want to touch on a couple of other items.
I want to speak very briefly about Canada Post. Bill removes Canada Post's legal monopoly on outgoing international letters. The bill includes some provisions from previous bills, Bill and Bill . I want to acknowledge the work done by the member for in raising concerns around this issue.
I live in a rural community. It is essential that we protect the ability of Canada Post to deliver cost-effective services to all residents in Canada. One way is to continue Canada Post's exclusive privilege to collect, transmit and deliver letters, including international letters, which is what is referenced in this piece of legislation. This would allow Canada Post to maintain its universal obligation. In many communities Canada Post is the lifeline. It is the mechanism by which people receive and send their correspondence at an affordable rate.
The member for identified that where deregulation of that kind has happened in other countries, the costs have gone up and many postal workers have lost their jobs. Surely a piece of legislation called the jobs and economic growth act should look at protecting jobs, and not include measures that would do away with jobs.
Other New Democrats have mentioned that we will not be out of the recession until we have full job recovery. Many communities do not have full job recovery. The kinds of initiatives the government has proposed with respect to Canada Post will see job loss, not job recovery.
I want to touch on a couple of things that are particular to first nations, Métis and Inuit. This week the House had an emergency debate on the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Bill does not provide any continuation of the funding for it. On Tuesday night, over the several hours we debated this matter, there were passionate pleas for an extension of this funding.
I remind the House once again that the evaluation done on behalf of Indian and Northern Affairs talked about the program's effectiveness. It said that there was almost unanimous agreement among those canvassed that the AHF has been very successful at achieving its objectives in governance and fiscal management. Just to be clear, not only did it achieve its objectives but it has been fiscally responsible.
Every member who spoke on Tuesday night talked about the effectiveness of the AHF. Members mentioned that it is a grassroots community-driven organization and that it is culturally appropriate. Conservative members, without exception, talked about its effectiveness. A member asked me why the Conservative government would cancel a program that it agrees is effective. There simply is no answer to that.
It is very disappointing that the budget does not acknowledge the good work the Aboriginal Healing Foundation has done. The funding should be reinstated so the program can continue until residential school survivors have received the healing they need to become healthy, active, participating members of their communities, socially, culturally and economically. It is an outrage that it was not included in the budget.
With regard to violence against aboriginal women, we know that $10 million was earmarked in the throne speech, but we would like to see a commitment to continue the funding for the Native Women's Association of Canada. The Native Women's Association of Canada has done a Sisters in Spirit follow-up report, which laid out a number of factors that should be included.
At this juncture, we have no confidence that the Native Women's Association of Canada will continue to be funded, included in the action plan and the implementation of it. It needs to be at the table as a full partner in developing the action plan and implementing it.
The association has made a number of recommendations. In my short 20 minutes I will not have time to go through all of them, but I want to touch on a couple.
One is with respect to the reduction of violence against aboriginal women and girls, which results in their disappearance and death.
The association is recommending that the association and all levels of government work collaboratively to review and consolidate existing recommendations from all of the commissions and inquiries that have occurred.
The Native Women's Association needs to participate as a full member in developing a work plan to identify outstanding recommendations and priorities for action. The Native Women's Association, governments and police need to collaborate to develop policies and procedures that address the issues of prostitution, trafficking and sexual exploitation of children by focusing on the perpetrators, preventing the abuse and ensuring that the victims are not penalized, criminalized or had their personal autonomy restricted.
There needs to be a reduction of poverty experienced by aboriginal women and girls that will increase their safety and security, and a reduction in homelessness and an increased ability of aboriginal women to access safe, secure and affordable housing which meets minimum standards of cleanliness and repair. Finally, there needs to be improved access to justice for aboriginal women and girls and their families. There is a whole list of recommendations that fall under that subject.
I want to specifically address the Canada Council on Learning and First Nations University. A letter from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to the indicated:
The research, analysis and reporting capacity of an organisation such as CCL represents an important asset in a knowledge-driven economy. At the OECD, we have watched CCL's rapid evolution with interest. I have been impressed with the above-mentioned Composite Learning Index, which integrates robust measures across varied dimensions of learning and enables individuals and communities to assess the impact of learning on social and economic outcomes.
As we know, investing in a knowledge economy not only supports economic resilience and fuels economic growth, but also improves health levels, strengthens community, and heightens employment prospects.
In light of that letter from the OECD, one would think that the Canada Council on Learning's funding had been extended. Sadly, its funding has been cut. An organization that has raised issues, has monitored, has reported and has evaluated is losing its funding.
Its recent report, “Taking Stock: Lifelong Learning in Canada 2005–2010”, is a very good overview. It indicates that our country has a fundamental data gap in post-secondary education. It states:
Canada has the greatest deficiencies in acquisition and use of data on learning after high school of any OECD country. This renders the country capable of: matching labour market demand to supply; providing adequate information on which students can base study and career decisions; establishing accountability for resources expended and determining how much and what progress is being made.
Another report indicates that the discrepancy in post-secondary education attainment for first nations can be attributed to the university level. Only 8% of aboriginal people age 25 to 64 had completed a university degree compared to 23% of non-aboriginal Canadians.
The CCL has excellent information. One would probably suspect that because the CCL has raised some very troubling issues its funding was cut. Because it has raised some issues around aboriginal people, I want to touch on the report, “Walk In Our Moccasins, A Comprehensive Study of Aboriginal Education Counsellors in Ontario”.
The CCL outlines a number of factors that are essential for aboriginal learners to complete post-secondary and K-12 learning. It talks about a culturally enhanced and supported curriculum taught by caring educators, teaching strategies and assessments that are culturally reinforcing and diverse, and adequate economic well-being.
That leads me to First Nations University of Canada. We know that the provincial and federal governments cut its funding. The provincial government has reinstated it, but the federal government has only reinstated a portion of the funding. The former grand chief of Prince Albert Grand Council, Gary Merasty, wrote a very good op-ed saying that FNUC has turned the corner. He pointed out that in Saskatchewan 50% of the population will be first nations by 2045, and that First Nations University is an essential factor in terms of the economic health and well-being of that province.
Any economy that is going to thrive and grow needs an educated and trained workforce. First Nations University has a vital role to play in that.
For all of the reasons I have outlined, New Democrats will be opposing this budget implementation bill.