Mr. Speaker, it is always a nice lead-in when someone thanks farmers. As a farmer of 35 years, I would like to echo that as we do go into this weekend of thanksgiving. I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving weekend with their families.
Back to the order of the day, I do want to take this opportunity to begin debate on Bill , sustaining Canada's economic recovery act. This bill represents a key component of Canada's economic action plan, including many important measures from budget 2010.
This is a key piece of economic legislation that demonstrates our Conservative government's continued focus on the economy, as well as our strong determination and commitment to help sustain Canada's economic recovery. It is a recovery clearly supported by our economic action plan, with real support for families, consumers, businesses and taxpayers. We heard last week that nearly 23,000 job-creating projects across Canada, supported under the plan, are currently under way or already completed. The continued implementation of the economic action plan through economic legislation such as sustaining Canada's economic recovery act will help ensure Canada meets the ongoing global economic challenges head on.
Indeed, Canada has met the recent global economic storm with an aggressive and effective response that has served as a model for other countries to follow.
Bank of Montreal deputy chief economist Doug Porter has declared that Canada has had “arguably one of the most successful stimulus programs in the industrialized world.
We likely will not hear that from the opposition, unfortunately. We also will not hear the opposition acknowledge that Canada has been performing relatively well compared with all other industrialized countries. The opposition seemingly only wants to talk down Canada's economy at every opportunity.
However, let us look at the facts. Canada is the only G7 country to have virtually recouped economic output and private domestic activity lost since the start of the recession. Canada is the only G7 country to have posted significant positive job growth since the summer of 2009, in fact creating almost 430,000 net new jobs since July 2009.
Canada's total government net debt to GDP ratio is projected to remain the lowest by far in the G7. What is more, according to the IMF and the OECD, Canada is expected to be the fastest growing economy in the G7 over the 2010-11 period. Again, the opposition might not want to admit it, but this is the reality. Canada is in a relatively solid and enviable economic position compared with other industrialized countries. If the opposition does not want to take my word for it, which I am assuming it may not, it should listen to independent observers both at home and abroad. Let me read only a sample of the commentary that has appeared in recent months.
TD economist Craig Alexander stated, “The pace of Canada's economic revival stands out in the world”.
The Conference Board of Canada economist Glen Hodgson declared, “Canada is in a much stronger fiscal position than almost every other industrialized country”.
A Victoria Times Colonist editorial proclaimed:
The truth is that far from needing a lecture on financial management or sound public policy, Canada should be delivering one.... [T]he facts are plain. Our handling of the economic downturn has been an example for the world.
The Toronto Star, not normally known as a fan of our Conservative government, stated as well:
Canada has come through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression remarkably well--better than any other industrialized nation in the world.
Internationally, Canada has been held up as a model of strong economic leadership to follow.
The BBC said:
As Americans and Europeans face deficits and drastic government cuts, Canada's economy is recovering from only a mild recession.... The Canadians, it seems, have answers for even the toughest puzzles.... [I]n this economy, we all want to be Canadian.
The Los Angeles Times remarked:
[O]n such critical issues as the deficit, unemployment, immigration and prospering in the global economy, Canada seems to be outperforming the United States. And in doing so, it is offering examples of successful strategies that Americans might consider.... Canada's financial house is tidy and secure.
The OECD recently commented:
I think Canada looks good -- it shines, actually. Canada could even be considered a safe haven.
All that said, we cannot be complacent or smug. Uncertainty remains. Beyond our borders, the global economic recovery is far from secure. This is especially true in the United States, which is, of course, our largest trading partner, where grave economic challenges persist.
At home too many Canadians are still looking for work. Without a doubt, the economy must remain our priority. Canadians expect nothing less. That is why our Conservative government is focused on the economy above all. We are demonstrating this commitment by working to fully implement Canada's economic action plan.
We are demonstrating it through this, the sustaining Canada's economic recovery act, an act that would help Canadian families get ahead by, for instance, indexing the working income tax benefit, as well as by further strengthening federally regulated pension plans and allowing a 10-year carry forward for registered disability savings plan grants and bonds.
It is an act that would help cut red tape for taxpayers by allowing them to request online notices from the Canada Revenue Agency, registered charities with disbursement quota reform and job-creating small businesses by allowing them to file their taxes semi-annually instead of monthly.
It is an act that would help protect consumers by improving the complaint process when dealing with banks and the financial services industry.
It is an act that would close down tax loopholes by better targeting tax incentives for employee stock options and addressing aggressive tax planning related to tax-free savings accounts.
It is an act that would promote clean energy with an accelerated capital cost allowance for clean energy generation.
In the time remaining, I would like to take a few moments to further highlight a few of the positive steps in this act that I alluded to a few moments ago.
First, I would like to spotlight the improvements we are making to the working income tax benefit, locally referred to as WITB.
Often low-income Canadians who want to enter the workforce face substantial disincentives through reduced benefits and increased taxes. To help low-income Canadians who want to work, our Conservative government introduced the WITB as an incentive to make work pay.
WITB has been successful, making work more rewarding for approximately 1.5 million low-income Canadians annually. Last year, we made WITB more generous by effectively doubling the support provided by it. Building on that action, the sustaining Canada's economic recovery act would ensure that WITB amounts would continue to be indexed to inflation on an annualized basis.
I note that WITB's introduction and recent expansions have been widely praised. For instance, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy called it an “important...addition to Canadian social policy...helping welfare recipients get over the welfare wall, and supplementing the earnings of the working poor”.
Even the Liberal Party's current finance critic, the member for , has lauded our Conservative government's action. He stated:
The working income tax benefit...has helped many working families and increasing it further will contribute even more significantly to helping make work pay.
Second, I want to highlight how, in this act, we are making the registered disability savings plan, RDSP, even better for Canadians with disabilities and their families.
We know that Canadians with disabilities make significant contributions to our communities, and that is something we always look to support. Since 2006, our Conservative government has taken several important actions to that effect, including the creation of the RDSP. The RDSP helps parents and family members provide long-term financial security for severely disabled children.
The sustaining Canada's economic recovery act includes two proposals to improve the RDSP.
The first improvement to the RDSP, to which I alluded before, proposes to allow a 10-year carry-forward of the Canada disability savings grant and the Canada disability savings bond entitlement in an RDSP. This measure gives families even more flexibility, recognizing that families of children with disabilities may not be able to contribute on a regular basis to their plans.
The second improvement proposes to allow an individual who has passed on to have his or her RRSP or RRIF proceeds transferred, on a tax-free basis, to an RDSP of an eligible dependant child or grandchild.
These improvements have been well received by Canadians with disabilities and their families since we announced them in budget 2010.
Bank of Montreal Financial Group's Tina Di Vito noted that it was:
...a fantastic measure that will benefit people with disabilities and give their parents and grandparents peace of mind. ...the benefit will be huge. This will allow more people with disabilities to get the care they need. ...Canada is leading the world in showing how smart policy can help provide financial security and independence for people with disabilities.
Third, I want to look at how the disbursement quota reform in this bill will better allow registered charities to concentrate on helping Canadians in need rather than dealing with red tape.
All Canadians recognize the invaluable role that charities play in communities right across this country. Since 2006, our government has taken steps to support charities and the great work they do. For instance, we have exempted capital gains on tax associated with the donation of publicly listed securities to public charities and private foundations.
We are now proposing to build on this with significant reforms to the disbursement quota for charities. The quota, which has not been significantly modernized in three decades, has become outdated and imposes costly administrative complexity and unnecessary red tape on charities. This has only served to take their time and resources away from their charitable activities. That is why we are proposing to eliminate all the outdated disbursement quota requirements except, justly, those related to the requirement to disburse a minimum amount of investments and other assets not used directly in the charity's operations each year.
Reaction to this move has been overwhelmingly positive, underlining its importance to Canada's charities.
The Community Foundations of Canada, representing nearly 200 community foundations, applauded it and said:
...a win-win situation—it has a dramatic impact on communities, making it easier for charities to serve people in need.... We applaud the government's decision to reform the disbursement quota policy.
I quote Imagine Canada:
...extremely pleased that the federal government has responded positively to our concerns about the disbursement quota. [It]...added layers of red tape and reduced flexibility in responding to the needs of Canadians and communities.
Finally, the Salvation Army expressed its support by saying:
...removal of the quota will provide The Salvation Army, one of Canada's largest charities, with increased flexibility.... [It]...will allow us to better respond to the needs of the people we serve in 400 communities across Canada.
Fourth, I want to briefly highlight a step we are taking in this bill to clamp down on a tax loophole related to the tax-free savings account, or TFSA. Since our Conservative government introduced the TFSA in 2008, it has proven exceedingly popular and has been called the single most important personal savings vehicle since the introduction of the RRSP.
The landmark TFSA, the first of its kind in Canadian history, has allowed Canadians to watch their savings grow tax-free, but late in 2009 concerns regarding the use of TFSAs in tax planning schemes were raised regarding inappropriate transactions and the deliberate use of over-contributions providing investments and non-qualified investments by a small group of Canadians to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Accordingly, we are addressing these serious concerns regarding the abuse of TFSAs and have closed these tax loopholes. This strong action to ensure Canadians pay their fair share of taxes has been loudly and widely applauded.
Tax experts, like Jamie Golombek, have underlined:
For the average everyday Canadian who is putting $5,000 a year into a TFSA account, these changes will be of absolutely no interest. It is a group of highly sophisticated traders and investors who are exploiting the rules. ...this is targeting those people making enormous amounts of over-contribution.
These are only four important steps of many in the sustaining Canada's economic recovery act that illustrate its importance and how it will help Canadian families and Canada's economy in the years ahead.
Clearly this act, as a key component in implementing Canada's economic action plan, would help keep our economy moving in the right direction. The act would help protect our economy against the ongoing global economic turmoil during this fragile period and keep Canada's economic advantage. As such, this legislation deserves the support of this entire Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill , the implementation act for budget 2010. When I speak to people in my riding of Kings—Hants in Nova Scotia or to Canadians from coast to coast to coast, they tell me they are worried. They are worried because they do not know how they are going to make ends meet. They have a mortgage to pay and they are barely able to make payments now. They are afraid of what is going to happen as interest rates rise. They are struggling to save for their retirement. Many of the people I speak with tell me they are struggling with the costs of higher education for their children.
At the same time, many of them are part of a sandwich generation, where they are not only helping take care of children but are also taking care of loved ones, elderly parents who are sick and need their time and their care. These Canadians are looking for a government to help them get through this, to partner with them, but the Conservative government has not been there for them.
Budget 2010 failed to address the challenges that ordinary Canadians are facing. It is a continuation of the Conservatives' borrow and spend policies, out of control spending, out of touch with ordinary Canadians, the borrow and spend policies that are doing nothing to create jobs, improve Canada's competitiveness, or strengthen our long-term economic prospects and opportunities.
In July, the economy actually shrank. Even more troubling, the numbers were down in the construction industries during the height of the traditional Canadian construction season. Why is this? Simply put, the Conservative government's infrastructure program on budget 2010 has not achieved what it could have achieved. It has not been working for ordinary Canadians.
Under the Conservatives' watch, decisions on these projects have been slow. All too often these decisions have been driven by politics, not economics. Under budget 2010, we have seen funding go to floating gazebos, a portable dance floor, a wine therapy centre, a glass canopy over a private business's swimming pool. This is a waste of tax dollars. This is not the type of investment that will make Canada more competitive in the global economy of tomorrow.
Meanwhile, legitimate projects have been delayed, and in some cases, refused. Communities across Canada are worried that they will be left with a bill for projects that are not done by the March 31 deadline. We are asking for the government to be flexible on that. The Parliamentary Budget Officer recently estimated that between 25% and 50% of the projects will not be completed by March 31.
What I am talking about is not a new stimulus program or new funding required. It is simply for the Government of Canada to meet its commitments and promises already made under the existing pool of stimulus funds. What I am talking about is the need for the government to honour its promises to its provincial, municipal and community partners. People cannot swim in an 80% completed swimming pool. People cannot cross a 75% completed bridge, and people should not flush their toilets into a 90% completed sewage system, even in Halifax. So we are asking the Government of Canada for some flexibility to ensure that local governments and community groups are not left on the hook for incomplete projects because there have been delays due to federal red tape and inevitable delays due to the Canadian winter.
The communication agreements for these deals with municipal and community partners are almost laughably long. The Conservative government has been more preoccupied with tracking the advertising signs for each project and trying to locate these signs even with GPS than making sure that each project was on track and actually creating jobs. It has been more interested, in fact, in counting signs than in counting workers.
The Conservatives have tripled the budget for advertising to $130 million. They have a sign fetish. Tens of millions have been spent on signs for the stimulus package. There is a sign on McNabs Island in Halifax. Nobody goes to McNabs Island, but there was a project there and there is a sign. One could say it is the loneliest erection in Canada. But what has been the result of the Conservative stimulus package?
The fact is that construction numbers are down. Unemployment figures are actually quite high nationally, at 8%, which is two points higher than when the government took office. Youth unemployment is almost 17%. But those numbers do not tell the full story. In Canada, 200,000 full-time jobs have been lost. We are losing full-time jobs and they are being replaced by part-time work. So when the Conservatives talk about a recovery, what they are really talking about is a weak statistical recovery with a continued deep human recession.
Last year, Canada saw its first trade deficit in 30 years. That is troubling, because we are a small, open economy that depends on external trade for our wealth. To be buying more than we are selling is ominous for the long term.
Consumer confidence in Canada has dropped in each of the last four months. That reflects the fact that private and household debt in Canada is at a record high of $1.4 trillion. Each Canadian owes an average of $42,000 in terms of personal debt. As my colleague said earlier, this is worse than almost any other advanced OECD country. As interest rates nudge higher, Canadians are justifiably worried about how they will make ends meet and pay the bills.
It would seem that the Conservatives have run out of ideas. Either that or their ideology is preventing them from developing ideas, or perhaps they just do not believe in government. I have heard the discussion earlier on the tax-free savings account, which was developed under the Liberal government and implemented by this Conservative government. The WITB was introduced by a Liberal government and further developed by the Conservative government. We could say the Conservative government is a government of sound and original ideas, but unfortunately, its sound ideas are not original and its original ideas are not sound. One of those original ideas was to eliminate the long form census so that Canadians would not have to go to prison and languish away in Canadian penitentiaries on long form census issues, but I digress.
The fact is that Conservatives have failed to protect jobs with their stimulus. They have failed to protect jobs today, and more importantly, they have failed to create the jobs of tomorrow. What we have gone through and are going through is not an ordinary recession. What we are going through is a global economic restructuring. That is why it is important that Canada in its infrastructure investments not simply recover to where we were before the recession. That is not good enough, because the rest of the world has gone somewhere else. Wayne Gretzky, that great Canadian economist, once said that we have to skate to where the puck is going. That is what the rest of the world has done. Other countries have gone to where the global economic trends are going. They have focused on green investments. They have focused on scientific investment, on research and development, on modernizing the energy grid, on modernizing energy production and transmission, on investing in clean energy technologies so that they are competitive in the emerging global, carbon-constrained economy. Our competitors have focused their investments on science, technology and the green economy because they know that is where the jobs of tomorrow will be.
The Globe and Mail had a few things to say about the Conservative stimulus package. They called the Conservative stimulus package “a squandered opportunity”, and said:
[T]o throw billions into a hodge-podge of boondoggles and call it world-beating economic policy is a bit of a stretch
The Globe went further:
[T]oo much of the stimulus appears to have wound up feeding local egos, and wallets, without leaving an enduring economic mark.
Finally, it concludes that the stimulus package's legacy:
may be a swelling deficit that crowds out spending on the kind of infrastructure the country really needs.
A squandered opportunity indeed, in fact the Mandarin word for “opportunity” is the same as the Mandarin word for “crisis”. Other countries, our competitors, were careful not to waste a good crisis. South Korea invested 79% of its stimulus package in green technologies, creating 1.8 million green jobs of the future. China invested $218 billion of its stimulus funds toward clean environmental technologies. On a per capita basis, the U.S. put 14 times more money into green and clean energy investments than Canada, modernizing grid and building new energy production.
A more strategic approach in Canada could have been to help build Canadian competitiveness, a more energy-efficient Canadian economy, and a Canadian economy with a lower carbon footprint.
What could this have meant in terms of jobs? We could have created the jobs of tomorrow in this emerging green economy. Properly targeted, we could have greened the Government of Canada buildings, over seven million square metres of office space, creating green construction jobs across Canada. Properly targeted, we could have done more to help Canadians green their homes and to help Canadian companies green their companies and factories, which would have meant that after this recession, those Canadian companies would have been more profitable. Their bottom lines would have been bigger. They would have paid more business taxes because they would have been making more money. They would have employed more Canadians. Those Canadian households would have had more money at the end of the month to live on and to pay for their children's education. Any investment in reducing the energy consumption of a government, of its citizens and of its companies pays endless dividends for generations, notwithstanding the importance to the environment.
There was a real opportunity for us to have a game-changer here. This was a massive stimulus package and I fear it missed the mark and we will not know the degree to which it missed the mark until we see where other countries go in the next 10 to 20 years.
The 2010 budget provided no real vision.
A couple of weeks ago, the delivered a speech before the Canadian Club of Ottawa. Instead of offering an economic vision for the country, the minister debased both himself and his role as a minister of the crown by launching into a long partisan rant about the opposition. He was trying to distract Canadians from his bad economic record of waste and mismanagement, and he was trying to distract Canadians from the fact that the biggest spending, biggest deficit finance minister in Canadian history also lacks an economic plan for the future. He has a bad record and no plan for the future. He has no vision, no ideas to address the real concerns of Canadians. Canadians across the country were justifiably offended.
The National Post described it as “overcooked rhetoric”.
The Calgary Herald said:
Wave after wave of pointless and misleading provocation gushed from his podium before a Canadian Club audience which, except for the Conservative cheerleaders among them, appeared unimpressed by his fear-and-loathing diatribe. Eyes were openly rolling, whispers were exchanged under furrowed brows, groans could be heard when [the finance minister's] script soared over-the-top, which was often.
The Canadian Press said:
The attack before a Canadian Club audience, which lasted the better part of a 20-minutes, was received with stony silence by those in attendance.
Even L. Ian MacDonald of the Montreal Gazette described it as:
A clip and paste job directly from the Prime Minister's Office by the dark side of the Langevin Block
He went on to say:
Even Conservatives in the room were staring at their shoes in embarrassment
Finally, Don Martin of the National Post said:
How a government, which has emptied the public purse far into the future, ratcheted up the deficit to historic highs and bloated the bureaucracy to unprecedented size can stand for re-election as a conservative-friendly government is beyond me.
I knew those guys were not that progressive socially, and now I find out they are not even conservative economically. That is indeed unfortunate.
The fact is that the Conservatives inherited a $13 billion surplus from the Liberals, but the borrow and spend Conservative government increased program spending in its first three years of office by 18%. They spent the cupboard bare even before the downturn. In fact, they actually put the country into deficit before the downturn.
What are the borrow and spend Conservatives now spending hard-earned Canadian tax dollars on? They are spending $16 billion on fighter jets, without a fair tendering process; and $10 billion to $13 billion on U.S.-style mega-prisons despite the fact that crime rates are going down. Of course, we need those to lock up those unreported criminals who have been doing unreported crimes.
The Conservatives spent $1.3 billion for a 72 hour photo-op at the G20 and G8 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, so I hope they bought some Depends; $400,000 for bug spray and sunscreen; over $300,000 for luxury furniture; $14,000 for glow sticks; and millions on high-end hotels. If it were not so wasteful, we could find this funny. If Canadians were not working so hard to pay their taxes, they would probably find some humour in this. But it is tragic for Canadians who are barely getting by.
In budget 2010, the Conservatives are borrowing $6 billion to pay for corporate tax cuts during a time of deficit. We cannot afford these tax cuts. The Liberal government did cut corporate taxes and personal taxes, the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history, but it was during times of surplus. It is fundamentally different economics to borrow money today to pay for tax cuts than it was to actually provide tax cuts during times of economic surplus.
Last week, the missed another deficit target. Forecasters are now expecting that the deficit will go even higher. Canadians have to wonder what they got for that $54 billion deficit. Has it protected the jobs of today? No, it has not. Unemployment is two points higher than when the Conservative government took power.
Has it created the jobs of tomorrow? No, it has not. Other governments around the world have invested in creating the jobs of tomorrow and positioning themselves to compete in the sciences focusing on the green jobs of the future.
What do Canadians have to show for this wasteful, visionless spending frenzy? They have fake lakes, floating gazebos and thousands upon thousands of advertising signs. The Conservative borrow and spend policies do not reflect the priorities of Canadians. A Liberal government would cancel the Conservatives' planned tax cut for Canada's largest corporations. We would do this to reduce the deficit and to invest in Canadian families.
Yesterday, our Liberal leader announced our family care plan. It is our plan to stand with Canadian families by helping family caregivers with the cost of caring for sick and aging loved ones at home. It includes a six-month family care EI benefit which would be similar to the EI parental leave benefit. It would allow more Canadians to care for gravely ill family members at home without having to quit their job. It would also include a family care tax benefit that is modelled on the child tax benefit. For low and middle income family caregivers who provide essential care to a family member at home, this would help ease their financial burden.
Those are the kinds of policies and the type of leadership that Canadians are looking for. This is the kind of compassion that Canadian families who are struggling to survive need.
Canada's Conservative government has been more focused on this week's polls than on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Today I have focused mainly on the Conservatives' fiscal and trade deficits but the most troubling deficit has been the Conservatives' leadership and vision deficit.
These are challenging times and it is during challenging and difficult times that countries and businesses need smart, visionary leadership. As the Conservative ministers go into the cabinet room, they may pause for a moment and look over the door where there is a biblical quotation that reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
The nature and severity of the challenges faced by Canadians today in this global economic restructuring are so serious and so important that without real leadership a lot of the aspirations of Canadians for their themselves, their families and their futures will perish with the lack of vision they are getting from the Conservative government.
We often hear the use the excuse that we have a minority Parliament and that is why we cannot really get things done. I would remind the Prime Minister and the Conservatives that it does not need to be this way. Minority Parliaments have worked in the past. The Pearson minorities in the 1960s led to the Canada pension plan, medicare and bilingualism. The Pearson minorities were productive because the parties worked together to make things happen. There was co-operation, collaboration and respect.
The word “respect” is critically important because respect for Parliament means there is respect for the people who chose this Parliament. For the to say that he cannot get anything done, that he cannot have any big ideas and that he cannot really implement his plans for the country because of a minority Parliament is a cop-out. It shows a lack of respect for Parliament or a lack of understanding of Parliament.
If we are going to make this Parliament successful, we need to all work together and try to address this and ensure there is respect for this Parliament. We can get things done but it will take vision and ideas. The Liberal Party of Canada is offering Canadians compassion, vision and ideas and the real leadership it needs for the 21st century.
Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to congratulate my Liberal Party colleague who is now leaving the chamber, but who has been appointed official opposition finance critic. I would like to congratulate him on that appointment. He is joining us on the Standing Committee on Finance.
The Standing Committee on Finance is very important since that is where we will try to see what is in Bill . It is actually somewhat discouraging. As one of my old employers said, it looks a little messy. This Bill , is like a dish of spaghetti or a bowl of chowder. There are some measures from the budget— and I will talk about them in a moment—and there are measures concerning personal income tax, charitable organizations, business taxes and energy production companies. These are areas where it has been decided it is time to implement certain measures. In the standing committee, we look at those measures and we try to refine them and clarify them. At the same time, the government is taking the opportunity to bring up old business, if I may put it that way.
There are no specific clauses, but other measures have been mixed in relating to personal income taxes or to businesses. So we have to look back in time to clarify some of those things. There are also other measures that are completely unexpected and surprising, things we have never seen. We do not know where they come from. That is how things work in this kind of bill. There are measures relating to individuals, businesses and governments. So if I may put it that way, what we have is a dog's breakfast of a stew or a bowl of spaghetti with all kinds of things thrown in.
So let us try to sort it out. Obviously, the Bloc Québécois voted against the budget as a whole. Do we need to explain why? Because we realized that all of this government’s economic policies since 2006 have been focused on the needs of Ontario and Alberta. The budget has a limited capacity, and when all the credits and budget measures are aimed at regions other than Quebec, we wonder what is left for Quebec.
We voted against the budget because we saw it contained nothing for forestry, for example. There were lots of things for the auto industry and the oil industry, but nothing much for forestry or aerospace. We could find almost nothing for the environment, and zero, zilch, nada for culture. They do not care about that. And also, coming from a very urban riding in the extreme south of Montreal, I can see that there are needs in terms of social housing and homelessness. For example, we can see that in Canada, in Quebec and in Montreal, women are hit the hardest by poverty.
So there was nothing in this budget. How is it that we can say there was nothing in this budget in terms of what we are experiencing, what we are seeing? Because every year, and I did this last year, we go on a pre-budget tour. We go out and see people. We go out and meet with groups, whether they be community groups, workers, employers or organizations. We go and see everyone and we consider and analyze their expectations.
Last year, during the parliamentary lockout decreed by the , I travelled throughout Quebec. I had just been elected and I visited the whole province. I am going to do the same thing again this year. In the Bloc Québécois, we have made up our minds that we are going to try and seek out, rediscover, and revisit every person and every region, and even go to a place that I was, sadly, unable to visit last year.
As the saying goes, a fault confessed is half redressed. I must admit that last year we ran out of time to visit Abitibi-Témiscamingue. I shall therefore take this opportunity, in this very important speech, to announce to the House that the Bloc Québécois’ pre-budget consultations will begin on October 27, 28 and 29. I will obviously be welcomed as only my colleague from this House, the member for , knows how. I will go and visit him in Rouyn Noranda. It will be a real pleasure to do so. Side by side, we can sharpen our pencils and take up our pens, and our Crayolas if need be, and do the sums right.
There are some positive things about the bill we have before us. There are a few strokes of genius in it. And yes, that does happen. It would seem to confirm the high quality of the officials in the Department of Finance of Canada. I used to be an official in the Quebec finance ministry, and I could see there were some particularly worthwhile people there, too. Therefore, we are likely to pass—rather, we are going to pass—a certain number of things. For example, in the area of benefits for children, the Conservative government has finally got its head around something that families face and has been a social reality in Quebec and throughout Canada for some time, and that is that divorce sometimes—alas, often—happens. Children spend one week at their father's home and the next at their mother's. The tax system was unable to keep up with this. In any event, apparently the tax credits for benefit repayments can be split between the mother's tax return and the father's. We cannot oppose that. And that is why the Bloc Québécois, with the rigour for which it is legend, will continue to support this measure. It is precisely why we will vote in favour of this bill, so that it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for consideration and, hopefully, further improvement.
The bill also includes another measure concerning registered retirement savings plans and registered disability savings plans. Again, it is a bit late, but better late than never. The bill allows the proceeds of an RRSP of a deceased person to be transferred to the registered disability savings plan of a family member. We are also voting in favour of that fine measure.
The bill also addresses the administrative burden on charities. In my riding of Hochelaga, there are a tremendous number of charities. Why? Because there is tremendous need and because these people and small businesses are worn out. They are limited by administrative obstacles and unbelievable administrative work. Sometimes some completely ridiculous things happen. For example, one requirement was that 80% of donations received in a year needed to be spent immediately. They wonder if it is possible to save for the coming years, accumulate some of the donations received during the year and keep them in reserve to build up to a larger operation the following year. That option will now be available. Again, even though this measure came later rather than sooner, at least it came.
However, these measures do not go far enough. For example, there is still the matter of the tax-free savings accounts and the $5,000 ceiling. It was said that any interest, capital gains or dividends earned on that $5,000 in capital would not be taxable.
Three years later, they realized that some shrewd people were depositing much more than $5,000. Those people had to pay a small penalty, but given that the interest, capital gains and dividends were tax free, it was much smaller than the financial gain. So, they woke up and decided to put a stop to this practice.
Last year, the Bloc Québécois made some very important recommendations regarding wealthy people who have TFSAs. We suggested to the government that the wealthy be taxed at a much higher rate. We proposed that taxpayers with taxable income of between $150,000 and $250,000 pay a 2% surtax. That was what we recommended and continue to call for. In addition, we recommended a 3% surtax for those fortunate enough to have taxable income of more than $250,000. Naturally, the government, with its Conservative policies, rejected our recommendations.
At the same time, we asked for special taxation of the huge bonuses paid to people who sometimes earn a lot of money in a year, not because of the particular circumstances of their professional life, but because they get an enormous bonus from their company. These people find themselves with a few million dollars in their pockets, and we wondered why they were not paying more taxes.
The Bloc Québécois continues to call for these changes, but the Conservative government is not budging. Why are we recommending this? Yesterday, at the Standing Committee on Finance, we discussed the fact that people are worried, and with good reason, about the deficit and debt. People wonder where the money will come from to pay down the deficit, which we would like to do. People wonder where that money will come from. It is called tax room. Is there tax room somewhere? The answer is yes. It is to be found among those who earn more than $150,000 per year. It is to be found among those who earn more than $250,000. There is surely a great deal of tax room among those who receive a huge one-time bonus or performance pay.
We also pointed out a certain number of choices that have been made. For example, over the next 20 years, $490 billion will be injected into the army. That amounts to more than one Olympic stadium for every member of Parliament, in other words, one stadium for every member of the House of Commons and every senator in the Senate. I know. The Olympic stadium is in my own riding of Hochelaga. Just imagine an Olympic stadium in every riding in Canada, not to mention all the additional seats in the Senate. There would even be some money left over. All that is going to arms.
Could we not do something other than this kind of nonsense?
The bill has a number of particularly intriguing things in it. For example, we certainly did not expect the government to confer new powers on the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions in its proposal on the pension plans of companies that go bankrupt. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions of Canada would have a certain number of discretionary powers over pension funds. That is fine for funds under the federal system, but it is not okay for those that are managed under provincial systems.
Quebec and Ontario have their own pension fund management systems. We believe that the federal government has no business interfering with them. Is that surprising? Unfortunately not. I rise regularly in regard to the Autorité des marchés financiers in Quebec, which does a very good job together with all of the provincial securities commissions. There is a Canadian body—the Canadian Securities Administrators—which represents Canada on the international level. Then there is the International Organization of Securities Commissions. Just last week there was a conference in India. Who represented the Canadian Securities Administrators? The president of the Autorité des marchés financiers in Quebec and his colleague from the Ontario Securities Commission. That exists. These people did not go there to talk platitudes. They were discussing systemic risks. These are intelligent people who are dedicated to their jobs, but they are not under the federal thumb. That is why he is trying to take us there.
The bill is silent on a number of issues, such as Hydro-Québec. There is nothing on the $250 million that was lost to Quebec because of an administrative discrepancy between Hydro-Québec and Hydro One. Once again they are changing the equalization formula without any prior notice to the provinces. We are obviously against that.
There is nothing about relations concerning all the other issues. The government owes us $2.2 billion for harmonizing the GST and the QST 19 years ago. The government refuses to tax the rich and to abolish the tax havens used by the banks. It refuses to include some points, when we know that it could do things differently.
I invoked Standing Order 31, as we say, and spoke about the vote we had on the firearms registry. The vote was said to be close, but that was not at all the case. It was 153 to 151, but that was not close, because it was not the regions against the cities. How did Quebec members from the Bloc, Liberal Party, NDP and Conservative Party vote? They voted 83% in favour of maintaining the firearms registry and 17% against. In the rest of Canada, 61% of Liberal, Conservative and NDP members voted to abolish the firearms registry. This shows that there are two societies.
Back to the budget. If they want to establish an industrial policy for the oil and automotive industries, abolish the firearms registry, favour the rich and steal from the employment insurance fund, they can go right ahead. That does not reflect our values. That is why I returned to politics. We are here to draw attention to these differences and to say that we want to be good friends and good neighbours, but that it is too bad—we are leaving.
Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to speak to Bill .
The New Democratic Party does not support the budget policy of the Conservative government. Although we agree with the Bloc that this is bad budget policy, as surprising as this may seem, we are going to vote against it because we are against it.
If I understood my Bloc colleague’s comments correctly, he is going to vote for the bill because he is against it. I have not yet grasped all the nuances of his assertion, but if I understood it properly, it is because it is like spaghetti. That is his word, not mine. I imagine he does not know which end of the spaghetti to start at. We see it as a bitter pill, and we will not allow the Conservatives to force their bitter pills down our throats. This comes straight out of the budget policy they have been forcing on us for five years.
Governing means setting priorities. If we take an example from this very day, the FADOQ network was present was in Parliament today. Liberal, Bloc and New Democrat members tabled petitions signed by thousands of people calling on us to start looking after the seniors in our country.
What is the Conservative government’s priority? It has found $12 billion for fighter planes, and it has given the poorest seniors, who are receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a $1.50 increase. That is the Conservative government’s priority.
The NDP opposes the budgetary policies of the Conservative government, so it is no surprise that we are going to be voting against Bill which is there to put into force the budget the government brought in last year.
The Conservatives are finishing their fifth year in power this fall.
An hon. member: Hear, hear!
Mr. Thomas Mulcair: Mr. Speaker, it is worth bearing in mind the reasons that we now have, and we will see if they applaud this part, the highest deficit in the history of Canada. I do not hear any applause; I was just checking. They broke the previous Conservative record for the highest deficit in the history of Canada. I am waiting for the applause; it is not there.
How did we get there? It is because of some of the things in this budget bill.
For example, after the Liberals stole $50 billion from the employment insurance account, transferred it over into general revenue and made that money disappear so it would not be there when the workers needed it when the grave crisis hit in the fall of 2008, the Conservatives in this budget bill, now that the money is gone, are just putting double locks on the door.
Let us look at that, because a lot of people when they hear that will say, “What does it really matter? It was government money before; it was in the EI account. Who cares if Paul Martin and his gang of merry men transferred it over to general revenue? We cannot really say that was stealing money. It was all government money before and it is still government money now”. But there is a big difference.
The money that was put into the employment insurance account was put in by every single company and by every single worker. Why is that important? Since the Conservatives arrived, they have been destabilizing the erstwhile balanced economy that we had in this country, that we had built up with painstaking work since the second world war: a strong primary sector with timber and mining, and a strong secondary transformation manufacturing sector, and of course more and more, an important service sector in this country.
When I say they have tilted it, they have skewed that formerly balanced economy, what they have done is this. They have created the fiscal space to hand over $60 billion in tax decreases to Canada's wealthiest corporations. The argument on the other side often comes back that it is not just to the wealthiest corporations, that all corporations got those tax reductions.
That is a false argument. If a company, especially in mining, forestry or manufacturing, in those areas was not making a profit, of course it did not pay any taxes. If it was losing money and it did not pay taxes. How could it profit from a reduction in taxes? It did not.
Who got the money? Companies like Encana, those that are piling up the poison goo behind the world's longest dikes near the tar sands.
Let us look at what is happening in Europe right now with one dike holding back the poison from one aluminum factory, maybe one one-thousandth the volume of what is behind the longest dikes in the world at the tar sands. Imagine what is going to happen inevitably the day they break, because we have never internalized the cost of the tar sands. As they have their phenomenal profits the reduction in taxes goes to them as more windfall. Hundreds of millions of dollars go to just one company like Encana since these tax reductions have come into place.
How does that connect with the employment insurance account? Easy. Every company, whether it was losing money or making money, was paying into the EI account. That money was brought into general revenue to create the fiscal room to accord those tax reductions for the richest companies. In effect, that money of the workers in those companies that were losing money in manufacturing in Quebec and Ontario in particular, was being paid over to the people in the tar sands and to Canada's chartered banks. That is what the Conservatives' policy has been all about.
Look at the chartered banks with $15 billion in profits for the first nine months of this year, but we should not worry as they are planning to share it with each other. They are going to give themselves $7.5 billion in executive bonuses for the first nine months of this year. You heard that right, Mr. Speaker. That is what the Canadian banks are doing. The government continues to sit on its hands and wants to give them further tax reductions.
Now, every time we hear the Liberals with their new-found conviction that these tax reductions are a bad idea, we should remind the Liberals that they have voted every step of the way for the $60 billion in tax reductions for Canada's richest corporations.
We should remind the Liberals that they voted on the last budget to scrap the Navigable Waters Protection Act. They voted with the Conservatives to remove a woman's right to equal pay for work of equal value. I know that sounds surprising, but that is what the Conservatives put in the prior budget bill. At that time the Liberals actually stood up and voted with them as the Conservatives were scrapping the environmental assessment program and policies and practices in Canada that were competent, that existed. It is a little different this time. The Liberals are doing the snake walk toward the back of the room and they are hiding behind the curtains. They do not even have the courage anymore to say they are backing the Conservatives. They simply absent themselves in sufficiently large numbers to allow the Conservatives' budgets to pass.
The effect of all of this has been to produce the greatest budgetary deficit in Canadian history because when the incredible crisis hit in the fall of 2008, the cupboard was bare with regard to employment insurance. The NDP was there, thank goodness, in the summer of 2009 to demand that the government increase the money available for EI and we got over $1 billion of that added to what was there. My colleague from in New Brunswick worked so hard on that file. The leader of the NDP had meetings with the to make sure that the money was there in the toughest times for workers.
Now we are looking at the perfecting of what the Liberals put in place in terms of robbing the employment insurance account. It was a bit rich a couple of weeks ago to hear the accuse the Liberals of having emptied the EI account. All we have to do is read what is in Bill to realize that now that the Conservatives have taken the money out and closed the door, they are locking the door. They are perfecting the theft that was indeed perpetrated by the Liberals, but the Conservatives are the ones who are completing the job.
There is no way for the Conservatives to avoid that any more than the Conservatives can hide from the HST, the new sales tax that is being added. There are seniors in places like Timmins and Sudbury right now who are realizing that they are going to pay $50, $70 or $80 a month more, stretched out over the whole year, for their heating. What the Conservatives do not understand is that when people are on a fixed income, they do not have another $80 a month. Yet the Conservative government here in Ottawa with the McGuinty Liberals in Toronto are foisting that tax increase on our poor seniors, especially in the northern areas who are going to pay it as heating oil prices go up as this new tax comes into force.
That is one of the reasons the NDP is proposing that we remove those taxes immediately.
It is also one of the reasons that we look at what the government is doing. It has money for the military. It has tens of billions for military equipment, but it does not have a penny for seniors.
To govern is to establish priorities. The Conservatives have been clear in their priorities. Take care of the banks. Take care of the oil companies. Do not internalize the costs of the tar sands. Let them sell oil artificially low, bringing in an artificially high number of U.S. dollars, pushing our Canadian dollar ever higher and making it increasingly difficult, with the high Canadian dollar, to export our goods, setting up a vicious circle of job losses, especially in the industrial heartland of Ontario and Quebec.
Before the current crisis hit in the fall of 2008, according to Statistics Canada, we had already bled off 300,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector, in those provinces in particular. How did that happen? The policy of allowing the blind, unlimited, uncontrolled, and environmentally dangerous exploitation of the tar sands brought in a large influx of U.S. dollars and pushed the Canadian dollar ever higher. Not only was the government giving them the tax breaks out of the money that had been put aside by those manufacturing firms, it was killing them as it continued to apply those policies.
As for the internalization of costs of the tar sands, it is a simple proposition. It is one of the basic tenets of sustainable development. If someone said that he or she had a factory that was producing widgets for a price far lower than that of other companies, people would want to visit the factory and see why they were doing so well. They would notice that they were pushing a lot of stuff out the back door. They would want to see what they were up to. But the owners would keep putting them off. In this case, people pushed and went to the back door, and they realized that the owners were taking all the garbage from their factory and putting it into the river in the back. They found that this was not the real price of the widgets, because the owners had not been paying the normal cost for disposal of the waste from the factory.
That is exactly what we are doing with the tar sands. We are bequeathing to future generations a $60-billion debt for next year, and, at the same time, we are bequeathing them the obligation to clean up the mess from the tar sands, which is one of the principal causes of the destabilization of our economy.
Do not get me wrong. Anyone who has looked at the economics realizes that, long-term, the tar sands can and will be one of the sources of wealth in this country. If exploited correctly, in a manner that is environmentally, economically, and socially responsible, according to the principles of sustainable develpment, the tar sands can be a source of wealth.
However, what we are doing now is the antithesis of sustainable development. We are behaving like a third world country. We are exploiting the tar sands too rapidly. The Americans have asked us to put in too many pipelines too fast, pipelines with names like Trailbreaker and Southern Lights. These are the pipelines that are being put in. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the application of the proportionality rule means that we could not even reduce what we are sending to the Americans through these new pipelines, unless we reduce proportionally the same amount that we are getting from them.
Therefore we continue this unbridled exploitation of the tar sands, but we have never internalized the costs. We have never paid for the garbage we are putting out there, either in greenhouse gas emissions or in what is being held behind those dikes, namely, seas of unimaginable and unnameable poison. This is not being taken care of.
If we had at least said, “From now on, you are going to develop the tar sands, paying the full cost, so that you do not leave it all on the backs of future generations”, it would have been sustainable. But we are not doing that. We are leaving it to future generations. We are skewing the balanced economy by killing off the manufacturing sector, because of the high dollar, which is directly related to this policy of the Conservative government.
Bill is to a large extent a reflection of the Conservative government's tendency to make sure that the military, the oil companies, and the banks are taken care of first and foremost. Meanwhile, seniors are left in the lurch, with new taxes on their heating oil. The government is betraying its essential nature. It is not there for Canadians. It is not there for people. It is there for the institutions, the powerful ones that put it in power and want it to stay there.
That is a difference in policy. That is a difference in priority. But at least it is clear. What is not clear is why members of the Bloc say they are against it, but will vote for it. What is not clear is why the Liberals talk against the tax decreases for the richest corporations when we know that they voted for them every step of the way. It was a shocker to a lot of people in environmental groups to see the Liberals vote with the Conservatives to scrap the Navigable Waters Protection Act, a century-old piece of legislation that was a model of sustainable development and way ahead of its time.
This year the Conservatives are scrapping the process of environmental assessment in Canada. The Conservatives would never get away with it unless the Liberals were complicit. How are the Liberals complicit? They take enough of their people behind the curtains at every vote on the budget to assure that it is passed.
The most disturbing departure from wise social policy is their removal of a woman's right to equal pay for work of equal value, something that has always been considered a tenet in our society. The Conservatives provided steep fines for any union that would defend a woman's right to equal pay for work of equal value, and the Liberals voted with them.
I am trying to find a synonym, because there are limits to what we can say in Parliament, to describe what the Liberals did when they voted to remove a woman's right to equal pay for work of equal value. This is contrary to what they say they represent, but they could have voted against it, preserving this important right.
Soon thereafter, the Liberals presented a private member's bill that is so far down the list it has no chance of ever being adopted. Here we have an example of speaking out of both sides of the mouth. The Liberals vote with the Conservatives to remove a woman's right to pay equity, to equal pay for work of equal value. Then, when they get caught, they table a private member's bill that they point to as proof of their support for pay equity. When it counted, when they could actually have done something about it, they were not there. But when it comes to presenting a private member's bill that will produce no effect, because it will never be adopted, they are there to position themselves.
That is what the Liberals have always been about in this country, positioning themselves. They have a leader whose writings were the source of consolation for the George Bush White House on the use of torture. They termed it “enhanced interrogation techniques”. What came out of George Bush's mouth a couple of weeks later? Enhanced interrogation techniques. Who gave him that terminology? The illustrious professor from Harvard who is now the head of the Liberal Party of Canada. He is the same person. He is not somebody else with the same name. He is the same guy who wrote in the New York Times that Canadians were a bunch of wusses for not getting involved in this great war that they were planning in Iraq.
That is the Liberal Party. The Liberals are always positioning themselves and posing as people who believe, as their name would tend to suggest, in liberty, in liberalism, in a vision of openness, but every time it counts, they vote with the Conservatives to take away the rights of citizens, to decrease the taxes of the richest corporations.
What it comes down to is that every time the Liberals had an opportunity to do something real to stand up for rights and preserve the balanced economy we had built up since the Second World War, they were absent, or even worse, they voted with the Conservatives.
More recently, they have adopted the clever trick of taking turns hiding behind the curtains. We see this, for example, every time a bill is brought forward to prevent the use of scabs in labour relations. Those on the extreme right wing of the Liberals—always the same ones—rise and vote against social legislation to prevent the use of strikebreakers. That is the sad reality of the Liberal Party these days. It is a good thing that as we see the right wing crumbling in Quebec, the right wing is crumbling in the Liberal Party, and the only social democratic party in Canada, the New Democratic Party, is still here to speak for the people, to talk about social, economic and environmental equity.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for for sharing his time with me during this debate on Bill .
This bill gave the a golden opportunity to present new ideas, better management practices and a true vision for Canada's future. Instead, this bill is a simple administrative process that does not offer any hope when so many Canadian families are having a hard time making ends meet.
Canada's economy shrank because this borrow-and-spend government has failed to stimulate substantial economic growth. The Conservatives refuse to attack the real economic challenges Canadian families are facing, including record-high household debt, the exorbitant cost of post-secondary education and home care, and the insecurity of pension plans for those still working, not to mention the loss of 150,000 full-time jobs.
Statistics Canada indicated that our gross domestic product dropped by 0.1% in July, which translates into an overall contraction of the Canadian economy, while the unemployment rate in our country is 1.9% higher today than it was during the last election.
After a decade of surplus budgets under Liberal governments, the Conservatives put Canada into a deficit even before the recession by increasing government spending by 18% in their first three budgets. Their current record deficit of $54 billion is expected to get worse.
The Conservatives' wasteful and rather irresponsible spending is the primary reason this record $54 billion deficit is getting worse.
The 's solution seems to be to borrow $20 billion more to offer a tax break to the most profitable businesses—a gift we can hardly afford to give—while ignoring the needs of Canadian families who are in utter distress.
How have things improved for Canadians since 2006? Have these billions of borrowed dollars really helped restore Canadian families' sense of confidence in the future?
During the last election campaign, this government promised Canadians that it would never go into deficit. Since then, its road map has been littered with waste that keeps piling up.
Here are a few figures that provide a snapshot of out-of-control spending: a record $130 million on shameless self-aggrandizing publicity; $1.3 billion for a 72-hour photo shoot at the G8 and G20 summits, money that was used to buy anything and everything from a fake lake to light sticks; $10 billion to $13 billion on U.S.-style mega-prisons where all those “unspecified criminals” will be sent—the ones who will never be brought to justice—and this at a time when the crime rate is going down; $16 billion for a botched agreement to purchase stealth fighter jets involving an untendered contract with no guarantee of jobs for the Canadian industry; and $6 billion in yearly tax breaks for the country's most profitable companies, a tax cut well beyond our means.
Can anyone deny that this frenzy of waste demonstrates that this government has absolutely no sense of the very real financial concerns of middle-class families that are having an increasingly tough time making ends meet?
Canadians expect their government to use public funds responsibly to provide the services they need to improve their quality of life. I understand that it is difficult to strike a balance between spending and saving in the midst of the current economic uncertainty, but that is what an effective and compassionate government must do.
Bill is the latest in a long line of opportunities this government has botched.
A look at part I of the bill—which is at the beginning—and at the Universal Child Care Benefit Act, is enough to convince anyone.
What a flagrant example of a missed opportunity. This is the kind of inaction that shows us the extent to which Conservative values fly in the face of good public policy.
The purpose of the proposed amendment in this clause of the bill is to divide the already meagre $100 benefit given to parents with shared custody, with the result being that each one will receive $50. May I remind the House that this benefit is also taxed at year's end?
The government had an opportunity to raise this amount to a level that would really have helped Canadian families absorb the cost of child care. Instead, it chose to split it further, thereby forcing families into a Solomon-style dilemma.
The fact of the matter is that this $100 child care benefit is just one drop in an ocean of ever-increasing expenses weighing our families down. Depending on where you live, the cost of child care can range from $200 to over $1,000 per month.
On average, one month's child care fees in Ontario's Chatham region total $826, while a similar child care service in Winnipeg, Manitoba, costs $395. I should point out here that the provincial government capped fees in that province.
The cheapest city on the list as far as child care is concerned is Montreal, where average fees total $205, but let us not forget that this amount is based on a law that caps the cost of child care at $7 a day in Quebec. In Quebec’s case, the province had to intervene in order to make the cost of child care affordable for all families.
Here are the average costs in other cities across Canada: Regina, $415; Fredericton, $420; Saint John, $430; Yellowknife, $605; London, $640; Kitchener, $650; Toronto, $800; and here, in Ottawa, $860.
We must not forget that those are averages, and that in many cases, the costs are much higher. Let us not kid ourselves: there are certainly cheaper places, but as with anything else, you get what you pay for.
With this bill, the government had a chance to increase the amount of the child care benefit, but it did not do so. Instead, it spent $130 million on brightly coloured signs and flashy ads. That $130 million could have funded over 21,000 full-time day care spaces for a whole year to help struggling Canadian families, including many single parents who need to provide day care for their children.
The government had a choice: spend money on flashy billboards, or offer real support to families that are struggling with child care issues. We now see this government's fundamentally mean-spirited priorities. It is disappointing to say the least.
Another clearly missed target in the bill is the complete and utter dismissal of the real and urgent problems affecting the Champlain Bridge, the most travelled bridge in the country and an essential link between Montreal, the South Shore, the Eastern Townships and, lest we forget, the United States.
The Conservative government chose a band-aid solution by investing $212 million over 10 years to repair the bridge structure. Unfortunately, when I looked into how that money has been spent up until now, I discovered that, as with most other projects undertaken through the Conservative government's economic action plan, the money does not seem to be there.
The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited had planned on spending nearly $14 million in the first year on “urgent” repairs. But the first year is over, and the corporation does not appear to have spent even $10 million. If the bridge needs urgent repairs, why is the money being sent over in dribs and drabs?
When I wrote to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in April 2009 to ask about the possibility of repairing the bridge in a way that would allow light rail transport or other forms of public transportation, he replied with the following:
First, I would clarify that provincial, territorial and municipal governments are responsible for the planning and operation of Canada's various public transportation networks. The Government of Canada does not intervene in the planning, management and operation of these networks.
That may be so, but when they are on a bridge managed by a federal corporation, the federal government has to take action.
Allocating money is helpful only if that money is actually spent on the projects for which it was allocated. I suppose the Conservatives have become so good at public relations that they think all investments end at their communications unit.
Who is blocking this important funding? It is obvious that the Conservative government is washing its hands of the Champlain bridge and no longer wants to talk about how the work is progressing. I just learned that a vital study on the future of the bridge or a secondary route is still being held up. Consortium BCDE was awarded a $1.397 million contract in late September 2009 to study the feasibility of building a new bridge in the Champlain bridge corridor. The study was supposed to have been completed in 12 months, but now its completion date has been postponed to December 2010.
I was very eager to see the results of this study so that we would finally have a real plan, a real vision for the future of this vital route over the river. Patch jobs are not the answer, as anyone who takes the Champlain bridge regularly knows. The completion of the study has been postponed for three months. Can anyone assure us that there will not be any more delays?
In its annual report for 2008-2009, The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated promised in its objective 8 to “carry out a feasibility study to construct a new bridge along the Champlain Bridge corridor” and said it anticipated awarding the contract for the study in July 2009. The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated awarded the contract two months late, and now it seems we will have to wait three more months for the results. The people on the south shore of Montreal are fed up with the delays with their bridge. I am disappointed to see that it does not seem to be a priority for The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated and even less so for the Conservative government.
A real penchant, though, for finding the silver lining in every cloud led me to examine the bill from stem to stern in the hope of finding a hidden gem. I came across part 4 of the bill, which deals with changes to the Bank Act. When I saw this short section, which is near the end of Bill , I was eager to see whether the had kept his word and included the changes I had suggested in the House.
On October 7, 2009, I introduced a private member's bill, Bill , which made some important changes to the Insurance Business (Banks and Bank Holding Companies) Regulations to ensure that insurance brokers in small and medium-sized firms benefited from a standardization of the rules of the game. Ironically, on the same day I introduced this bill, the stated that the government intended to prohibit Canadian banks from using the Internet to promote and sell insurance on their websites. This measure was in one of the four parts of my bill. I saw in it a sign that the government had reacted because I introduced my private member’s bill.
I therefore wrote to the on October 19, 2009, asking him to support my bill so that the regulations could be changed once and for all.
The minister finally replied to my letter on July 29, 2010. I do not wish to dwell on the length of time it took for the minister to reply, but nine months seems excessive, particularly since he stated, on October 7, 2009, that not only would he write to the banks about putting an end to their practice of selling insurance on their websites, but also that his government would adopt a law to that effect.
In his letter of July 29, 2010, the minister advised me that “draft regulations” would soon be pre-published in the Canada Gazette to address the issue of banks using the Internet to promote and sell insurance. We are still waiting for those draft regulations. I had hoped to find these changes in Bill , but, unfortunately, I have been disappointed as they have not been included.
Since the minister did nothing more than offer lip service and make a few verbal threats, the banks have already responded by trying to promote insurance on cell phones and personal digital assistants, or PDAs.
My bill expands the prohibitions against banks selling insurance. It would prohibit banks in Canada from promoting insurance products in their branches and neighbourhoods, or on websites, ATMs, cell phones and PDAs.
Once again, Bill provided an opportunity to deal with this and other pressing matters. The Conservatives are good at making promises they do not intend to keep, and we are left, once again, trying to squeeze water from a stone.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, this bill is purely administrative. It does not contain a single substantive measure, much less an innovative one.
This was yet another wasted opportunity, another example of the laissez-faire approach adopted by the government which, time and time again, has shown that it is not interested in governing.
Madam Speaker, in preparation for the 2010 budget, the Bloc Québécois did a pre-budget consultation tour in which 317 organizations participated.
We had the opportunity to speak with the main players in Quebec's development across the entire province. We gathered and studied all of the proposals, which we then submitted to the Conservative government. The Bloc Québécois's budget suggestions were 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.
Unfortunately, the government missed the opportunity to properly address Quebec's economic, social, environmental and financial needs. They have shown once again that, as far as Canada is concerned, it is as though Quebec does not exist. The Conservatives, backed by the Liberals, established policies geared to the needs of Ontario and Alberta, to Quebec's disadvantage. Despite all of the wonderful Conservative promises made in 2006 about taking a new approach with Quebec, the Conservative budget has not met needs of Quebec's economy.
Whether we are talking about the forestry or aerospace sectors, the environment or culture, Quebeckers' priorities have been completely ignored.
For example, the automobile industry, concentrated in Ontario, received $9.7 billion whereas the forestry industry, which is so vital for Quebec's regions, received only $170 million.
When it comes to the environment, which for all intents and purposes was ignored in the budget, the Conservative government put $1 billion towards developing nuclear power, which benefits Ontario, Alberta and oil companies. Do we need to repeat that they already enjoy generous tax benefits?
In addition, no new funding was announced for the cultural sector, which is essential to the development of the Quebec nation and its economy.
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 currently keeping our seniors in poverty. It also ignores the need to deal with the issues of social housing and homelessness.
The Bloc Québécois voted against the budget because it was unfair for Quebec, but does not object ideologically to all the measures resulting from it. We would rather look at the merit of each measure included in this bill during discussions in the Standing Committee on Finance and then support those that will help Quebeckers and those that we previously proposed.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of a number of initiatives in this bill. We must admit that some are acceptable, including measures to improve sharing child tax benefits. The government agrees to pay half to each of two parents who have joint custody. The bill also lightens the tax burden on beneficiaries of a registered disability savings plan, a plan designed to ensure the financial security of children with severe disabilities. It also reduces the administrative burden on charities and some small businesses, and it tightens the rules on the TFSA to prevent tax avoidance. What is more, companies will stop benefiting from double deductions for stock options.
That is where the good side of the current bill ends. The Bloc Québécois has many reservations about this bill. It confirms the Conservative government's desire to spare rich taxpayers at all cost and have the workers and the middle class paying off the deficit.
We also see that the government will continue to treat stock options like capital gains for ordinary taxpayers. The Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that only half the income derived from stock options is subject to federal tax.
The Conservative government could show fairness to the 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.
This bill also attests to the Conservative government's inertia with respect to the environment and the fight against greenhouse gases. Only one environmental measure is included; it encourages the production of clean energy.
The government is ignoring the Bloc Québécois' urgent calls concerning equalization payments and increased transfers for education and social programs. It is also disregarding our recommendations on income security for retirees.
I would like to go into greater detail about some of the measures in the bill that the Bloc Québécois wants to improve in committee.
First, I want to address the measures regarding income tax on charities, as included in part 1. The government proposes 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.
The Bloc Québécois believes it is vital that charitable organizations be able to focus on their activities, rather than on fundraising. Accordingly, we supported the campaign to eliminate the capital gains tax on donations of publicly listed securities and private equity holdings to charities.
The proposed measures could reduce the amount of administrative red tape that charities have to deal with. However, the issue of funding these organizations remains largely ignored by this government. The survival of these organizations is especially important given that the government has slashed spending on social services.
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 do not correspond to 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 GDP.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the important role of charitable organizations in Quebec society and around the world. Child care centres, volunteer organizations, regional recycling depots and NGOs working in international aid all need predictable, long-term funding in order to fulfill their respective mandates.
Prior to budget 2010, the Bloc Québécois demanded that the federal government 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 is also calling 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.
Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a parliamentary mission to two of the poorest countries in Africa—Benin and Burkina Faso. Parliamentarians in these countries told us that they appreciate the quality of Canadian aid. However, they expressed serious misgivings about Canada's recent decision to no longer consider them to be priority countries since they are not included in the new list of countries that are a priority for our international aid. That is the result of the government's disengagement.
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. Maintaining two separate structures for tax administration forces Quebeckers to pay very high administrative costs. 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, addresses total transfers, including equalization payments. The Quebec government is the loser with this 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 will be calculated in line with economic growth, which will mean Quebec will lose several billion dollars over the coming years. Moreover, during this period, Quebec’s share may decline. If Ontario’s relative wealth drops in relation to Quebec’s, Ontario will receive a bigger piece of the pie while Quebec’s piece will get smaller.
There is nothing in this bill about the formula affecting a segment of Hydro-Quebec’s revenue either, which deprives the Quebec government of $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, there is no compensation resulting from the harmonization of Quebec’s sales tax under Bill . Even though Quebec has been unanimously calling on the government to provide financial compensation of $2.2 billion for the harmonization of its sales tax, this has been denied. And yet, total compensation of $6.8 billion was allocated to Ontario, British Columbia and three Atlantic provinces.
As far as the main transfer payments to Quebec are concerned, the federal government must reverse its decision to unilaterally modify the equalization formula, thereby ensuring Quebec receives the money to which it is entitled. The federal government must do away with the equalization cap and treat Quebec’s water resources fairly when calculating equalization.
Furthermore, the federal government must increase the Canada Social Transfer. The Bloc Québécois is calling for a substantial increase in investments in these programs in order to return to the 1994-1995 indexed level.
Bill , like the 2010 budget, completely disregards the economic situation Quebeckers find themselves in.
Unfortunately, it is clear that the Conservatives continue to fail to make this an opportunity for Quebec. The 2010 budget implementation bill includes several positive initiatives, but it is clearly not a harbinger of any fundamental change in direction on the part of the Conservatives.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill , which is part of the budget process of the government.
It is no secret that at this time in the history of Canada we are facing a particularly difficult time. Things are changing very rapidly. We are not out of the recession and people are looking for help. The middle class and the very disadvantaged are looking for help.
Ultimately budgets, including this one, are about choices. Governments make choices, they put them in budgets and eventually they get judged on those choices. It is useful when discussing anything to do with the economy of the country to know what Canadians are thinking about the economy, their own position and the lives of their family.
I want to share a few facts with the House.
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 that will only go higher.
From the BMO Financial Group: 64% of parents worry they will not be able to afford the rising cost of post-secondary education. I am sure CASA and CFS would 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. I will come back to this later.
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 by a week. Think about that. More than half of all Canadians worry that they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque were delayed by one week.
This is a country with a lot of people who are very concerned.
I want to share a statistic that was brought to parliamentarians last week, I think, by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, ACCC. This is something that really outlines the challenge that faces this nation and why we need a bold and responsible government that can address this challenge.
Today 44% of Canadians do not participate in the labour force. That includes children, seniors and the unemployed. That 44% will rise to 57% by 2026 and 61% by 2031. In 20 years, 61% of the people in Canada will not be in the labour market.
This is a very telling statistic, which outlines the challenge that faces Canada right now and the absolute need for us to take advantage of the human resource potential of all Canadians. We must do whatever we can as a Parliament, and the government must do what it can to ensure all Canadians have an opportunity to reach the level of education and skills attainment that they should have. The problem is that the recession that is still lingering in Canada has disproportionately affected a group of people.
A dear friend of mine, the Hon. D. Scott McNutt who passed away just recently, used to have a saying that “A rising tide lifts all boats”, the idea being, in this case, that if an economy gets better everybody benefits. The fact is that not all boats are raised equally, and the poor and the disadvantaged are disproportionately hurt.
We heard this last year from the Citizens for Public Justice, who released a report indicating that during the recession the poverty rate in Canada increased significantly. In fact, the poverty rate in Canada had gone down over the previous couple of decades, particularly among seniors, although there were still many single women who were living in poverty. The poverty rates had gone down due to a decent economy and the fact that we brought in measures like the child tax benefit, guaranteed income supplement and things like that.
However from 2007 to 2009, poverty rates increased from 9.2% to 11.7% in Canada, according to the Citizens for Public Justice and their partner, World Vision. Child poverty went from 9.5% to 12%.
Those are pretty sobering statistics. They are not saying that the most in need in Canada suffered proportionately; they are saying they suffered disproportionately, that they got less than anybody else.
HungerCount, the report of Canada's food banks, last November indicated that the usage of food banks in Canada went up by 18%. That is pretty staggering.
A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to speak to Feed Nova Scotia in my own province, and they are talking about similar statistics. Their annual report says:
Forty thousand Nova Scotians are hungry each month—mothers, fathers, grandparents and, perhaps saddest of all, children and youth. Hunger knows no barriers. It's in every community across our province and its impact is truly profound.
Hunger is going up in this country, and it is going up at a very concerning rate.
Social assistance caseloads for those 900,000 more Canadians who are living in poverty went up.
Food prices went up 5%, and in fact in basic dietary staples over the last couple of years, those things that everybody needs, prices have gone up 10%.
Average household debt is up 5.7%.
Bankruptcies are up 36%.
We do not have the social infrastructure to deal with this, and we particularly did not have the investments from the government at a time of stimulus that we needed. In fact, many economists can validate the fact that the best form of economic stimulus is to give it to people who need it the most, the unemployed, the people who are marginalized, because they actually spend the money. They get it and they spend the money. If there is one thing I would think all Canadians would want to do it is to help those who are most in need.
The good news on the poverty side is that people are getting active on this front. There is a national mobilization. We had the social forum organized by campaign 2000. We had the 20th anniversary, the unfortunate anniversary, of Parliament saying we would eliminate child poverty by 2000.
Parliament adopted a new motion and hopefully we will do better.
There is a private member's bill from the member for on anti-poverty. Most notably we have six provinces and a territory that have anti-poverty strategies.
The problem is that the government is not addressing these needs. It is not addressing these needs at all. We have seen that in a number of ways. In the stimulus budget of 2009, those measures that were permanent, things like tax cuts, did not really help people with the lowest incomes. It helped people like the members of this House and myself who make $150,000 and more. There is an economic argument for doing that, and I do not dispute that. However I think we would all agree that those who are making $30,000 and less should have gotten more out of a budget for stimulus than members of Parliament and senators.
We do have a federal poverty elimination act brought into this House, but we have no action from the government. In fact in June 2009, in response to the United Nations periodic review, which suggested among other things that Canada should have an anti-poverty strategy, the federal government turned around and said “No, that is not our problem; that is not our jurisdiction”, yet the six provinces and a territory that actually have anti-poverty plans are telling our committee, myself, my colleague from Laval, the member for and others that we need the federal government to step up and at least acknowledge that poverty is an issue that affects us all and we all have responsibility for that.
Poverty is not getting the attention it needs. People in Canada are suffering.
I want to talk about education. Let us look at that statistic again, that today 44% of Canadians are not in the labour force and that is going to rise to 61% by 2031.
Canada is a fortunate country. Canada has done very well, in many ways more by accident than design. We have a rich land. We have lots of natural resources. People do not come here and fight on our land. Because of climate change, we have more of the kind of natural disasters that other places do, but we do not have them in the same way other countries do. We do not have the massive tsunamis that have affected parts of the world. Those kinds of tragedies happen less in Canada than in other places.
We have been very fortunate and very blessed as a nation. We have also taken advantage of our wealth to educate our citizens, but we are slipping. We made great strides on research and innovation starting at the turn of the century, investing in CFI and Genome Canada, increasing grants to the granting councils, to NSERC, to SSHRC, to CIHR and to all those organizations. We went a long way.
However we are starting to taper off, and other countries have started to say, “We can do that here”, not only on research and innovation where they are now investing but even on where their students are choosing to go to school. In fact they are coming to Canada and want our students to go there. That is a good thing.
We want our Canadian students to travel the world. We want other students to come here. We also need to say we have a problem. We need to educate Canadian citizens. We need to take advantage of all the people in Canada we possibly can and make sure they get the education they need not only for their own benefit, which is important, but also for the benefit of the nation.
ABC Life Literacy Canada released a report indicating:
...3.1 million working age Canadians with IALS Level 1 literacy skills, the lowest level of literacy, are employed with an additional 5.8 million working-age Canadians employed with a Level 2 literacy level. These 8.9 million people represent nearly 50% of the entire Canadian labour force...
Many Canadians struggle with literacy. Four out of ten Canadians age 16 to 65 struggle with low literacy. This is a problem. We need to address this issue. We need to make sure that people who are not attaining the level of literacy they want can get that level of literacy.
One of the very sad moments in my career as a parliamentarian was when a gentleman sat down with me and said, “Look Mike, I have never really done very well in my job. I have done my best. I work hard. I was offered a promotion but a literacy test went with it”. He was afraid he would lose his first job if the literacy test showed that he could not attain the level of literacy he needed.
These are the people we need. For their benefit and for the benefit of all of us as a nation, we need to allow them to attain the level of literacy they want.
With regard to aboriginal Canadians, as part of our study on poverty in May, the human resources committee visited the Lac Simon First Nation in Quebec and the Kitcisakik Indian settlement. I want to read to the House some statistics we found out while we were there.
I will mention Lac Simon first. With regard to educational attainment, of the 705 residents age 15 or over, 555 had no certificate, diploma or degree; 40 out of 705 had a high school certificate; 45 had an apprenticeship or trade certificate; 20 had a college, CEGEP or other non-university certificate; and only 35 had a university certificate. I would like members to think about that. Of 705 residents of working age, 555 had no certificate, diploma or degree. The labour force included only 220 individuals of which 175 were employed. The employment rate in Lac Simon is 24.8%.
We then went to Kitcisakik. Let me give the House the numbers from there. In 2006, of the 170 residents age 15 and over, 145 had no certificate, diploma or degree; another 15 had a high school certificate; 10 had college or CEGEP; and 10 had a university certificate. Of the 170 residents, 145 had no certificate. The labour force totalled 85. The employment rate was 31.2%.
I do not say this to try to educate my colleagues in the House. We know there is an issue, but what are we doing about it?
There is both a social justice argument and an economic argument for this country; we cannot allow that to happen in Canada. That should not be the case in a country as rich as Canada. We need to make sure that by 2031 all these people are not part of the 61% who are not in the workforce. They do not want to be part of the 61% who are not in the workforce. They want to be part of the group that is paying its way and making a difference for Canadians. I know we all believe in that. It takes an effort, a commitment and a belief that we can get there in order to make that happen. We are not doing anywhere near enough.
It is about choices. The Conservative government has chosen to spend money on certain things, and we all use those numbers and statistics in different ways.
Let me mention the G8 and G20 summits with a cost of $1.3 billion. As a comparison I will give the House the costs of hosting other summits. Let me begin with security costs at the G8. In 2009 in Italy security cost $124 million. The year before it cost $280 million in Japan, and it cost $124 million in Germany.
I can recall, as I am sure the member for would recall, the beautiful days of 1995 when we had the G7 in Halifax. The total cost of that summit was $30 million. Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin and other leaders came to Halifax. It was a very positive experience. I thank former Prime Minister Chrétien and the regional minister at the time, David Dingwall, for their work in bringing that summit to Halifax.
Summits are where things get done and they do work if they are in an environment where things can happen in a positive way and we do not end up being badgered around by spiralling costs for fake lakes, gazebos and all those sorts of things.
A couple of headlines in today's Quorum read, “Commons to probe G8/G20 spending, security”, and “Dance floor, gazebo among stimulus waste...”. For the millions of Canadians watching on CPAC who may not know what Quorum is, it is a summation of headlines in the news today.
We need to decide what Canadians want. Governments, whether they be Liberal, Progressive Conservative or any others that might hope to be a government in this country, need be responsible for their decisions.
That brings me to the announcement this week made by my own leader, which fits into a discussion of the budget. It is fully costed, fully accountable and it is a clear choice for Canadians about what they would like to spend money on. Their tax money, after all, is what is used to fund the priorities of whatever government they elect. They now have a clear choice with the Liberal family care plan.
I have spoken before in this House about my own circumstance as a family caregiver. Like just about everybody in this House, I have had the opportunity to provide care to loved ones myself. In my case, I had two parents who passed away almost simultaneously, six weeks apart, from cancer. They both died at home and, while it was sad, the circumstances were a lot better than if we had not had the family resources and financial resources to care for them. Many Canadians do not have those choices. Many Canadians who take care of sick relatives, whether it is an autistic child, a disabled adult, a brother or sister, or aging parents, do not have those choices.
I mentioned before that one the saddest meetings that I have had as a parliamentarian was when a person with low literacy skills came to me and said, “I need the government to step up”. That was at a time when the government had cut $1 million out of literacy programs.
One of my happiest days was a bit unexpected. I, as were many other members, was visited on Tuesday by members from the ALS Society. A woman, who some other members would have met, sat in my office and thanked me. This woman had lost her husband at 45 years old in a very sad passing from ALS. She had 14-year-old twin daughters. She told me that she had visited Parliament last year and that she had been listened to.
The family care plan that our leader introduced is a reflection of what Canadians need. To look at the six month EI benefit and the family care tax benefit, one of the concerns people have had about compassionate care under EI for a long time is that the six weeks are not very useful. It needs to be longer. The other thing it needs to be, not just for ALS but for people dealing with multiple sclerosis, struggling with depression, going for cancer treatments and many other things, is more flexibility so that within that six month period people can choose to take it as they need it.
People are not generally sick for five and a half months and then get better and go on about their life. Quite often they need to the support of their family for a few weeks here and a few weeks there. It also needs to be flexible to allow family members to share that. At six weeks, that is not much of a choice. The family care tax benefit, based on the child tax benefit, is another measure that people struggling with making difficult personal choices have asked for. I have met with people in my riding, as I know all members have, who are dealing with circumstances that we simply wish we could do more for and, in some cases, we cannot. They need that kind of help.
Bill is part of the budget and budgets are about choices. Are we reflecting the values of Canadians? Are we anticipating the needs of Canadians? Are we going where Canadians need us to go or are we simply going where we think we want to go, either for political or ideological reasons?
In my view, the budget that the government has brought forward does not do enough to help people who need help the most. Middle-class Canadians and low-income Canadians who, in most cases, through no fault of their own, need the help of a government. They need a government that will be on their side, that will be in their corner and that will provide assistance to them when they need it. We can do better as a country.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill , another of the budget implementation bills. In fact, the government wants to call it the .
Certainly that is the difficulty of the situation, because on a macro basis, on a global basis, we are looking at some countries in the world that are having much more difficult times than we are right now. We only have to look at Europe to see what is happening in the country of Iceland, which had to declare bankruptcy in the last two years, and in the countries of Ireland and Portugal. We have to feel sorry for some of the measures that are being taken over there right now, because a lot of the workers in those countries are suffering a lot because of the restraint measures that are being forced upon them by the IMF.
We have not yet had to deal with that situation here, but our economic situation is much, much different in the sense that we are very tied to the American economy. As a matter of fact, it is only in very recent months, and I am not even certain whether we are past that point yet, that there is a recognition that there is $1.3 trillion in commercial loans coming due in the United States. In the spring, there was a freeze in credit for small business. Banks were classifying commercial loans as risky, so they were very conservative in their lending policies. Manufacturers were having difficulty getting lines of credit.
In 2008, the 400 largest U.S. contractors were doing 80% of their business in the private sector. Now, two years later, the 400 largest U.S. contractors are doing 80% of their work in the public sector, which will be running out, both in the United States and in Canada, over the next few months. The concern will be what will happen when the stimulus packages in both countries run out, what will happen with the unemployment rate. There should potentially be a rise in unemployment and the problems that will come with that.
The recovery is tentative at this point and there is enough concern to be passed around. The question is, how is the government responding to this situation and is it responding correctly? We would argue in our party that its priorities are somewhat displaced.
For example, we only have to look to Germany where Hermann Scheer, a German green politician, has been the catalyst, has been instrumental in propelling Germany into the future with green energy development. A number of examples have been covered in the press over the last year of the great advancements that have been made in Germany in terms of green energy development.
Here in Canada, we have a much more tentative approach to that. There was a company in Canada that was making solar panels. I believe it was called ARISE Technologies, based in Waterloo. The owner of the company, Ian MacLellan, was not receiving much encouragement in Canada, so he responded to the German government's offer to build a plant in East Germany. At this point, his plant cannot produce enough solar panels for the German market. I believe it is several years behind in its production. It is expanding so quickly, and I believe they are building more than one plant there to keep up with the demand. This is yet another opportunity lost, because now Germany has an advantage over Canada and will only increase that advantage over time.
In Canada, the discussion over the east-west power grid has been raging now for probably 20 years, or maybe even longer. The concept is to build an east-west power grid so that we can transfer clean hydroelectric power from Manitoba, for example, which has only developed 50% of its hydroelectric capacity. Rather than sending that power to the United States, as is the case now because all the lines are running north-south, we want to be able to send it east-west so that we can help Ontario stop using its coal-fired plants and prevent the need for nuclear power plants to be developed in the next few years.
Once again, where is the initiative on the part of the federal government? Ten of the 14 members of Parliament in Manitoba are Conservatives. In fact, only one of them has spoken on this issue over the last year. The has spoken about this issue. Saskatchewan has 14 out of 14 Conservative members. The question is where they are on this issue. The 14 members in Saskatchewan and 10 members in Manitoba should be leading the charge to try to force the government to put a plan together so that an east-west power grid can be developed.
It is their predecessor, John A. Macdonald, who had a national dream for this country. The national dream was to build a railway from east to west uniting the country, as opposed to developing it on a north-south basis. In fact, if the railway had not developed, the Americans would have probably taken over the parts of the country that we now know as Canada.
If we fast forward to where we are now, where is that Conservative vision of John A. Macdonald? The government still follows the ideology that whatever the economics dictate, whatever is the cheapest and fastest, is what it is going to do, and if it means building all the pipelines and hydro transmission lines north-south, then so be it and forget about looking at a common national vision of an east-west power grid.
An east-west power grid would provide a lot of jobs in the economy that are certainly going to be needed after the stimulus package money runs out. I still hold out hope that the members in the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Conservative caucuses will actually get motivated to come onboard with this idea and push it along a little further.
We look to wind power as a good example of an activity that should be encouraged, but where are the initiatives for wind power by the government? I remember 20 years ago, in 1992, in Pincher Creek, Alberta there was a lot of development of wind turbines in that area. As a matter of fact, I went out to look at them at one time. Of course, today the wind turbines and their technology have changed. If one were to go there, it would seem almost like a museum, because one sees the little turbines from 1992 and then the progression to the huge turbines now.
Canada, once again, has squandered an opportunity at economic development, because there are a lot of jobs to be had in the manufacture of the turbines. We have seen that industry grow in Scandinavian countries. The companies that make the turbines are from Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and have only gotten bigger and better with time. We have looked at the construction of wind turbines, but to no avail.
We have looked into it in Manitoba. We are at the point where it just did not proceed, for one reason or another.
As a matter of fact, North Dakota and South Dakota have manufacturing set up there.
We are once again playing catch-up. We are not really even in the game. We had wind farm developments in Saskatchewan, at Gull Lake. There was 99 megawatts of power at Gull Lake. That was about 10 years ago or so. However, since then, we have seen the focus change to other parts of the country, and other parts of the country are taking up some of the slack in this area. That is another very big area that the government should be concentrating on.
What is the government's vision? The government's vision does not seem to be in these areas at all. As matter of fact, its answer so far for economic development seems to be developing more prisons. It has announced $9 billion for the expansion of our prison system.
As a matter of fact, in this bill the government has suggested that it is going to crack down on the TFSA program, the tax-free savings accounts that were set up in the last couple of years. Evidently a problem has developed where a number of organized individuals, I think higher-income individuals would be more to the truth, have been overcontributing to the TFSA program. The government, rightly so, is cracking down in that area. However, when will it be cracking down on all the people who are investing in tax havens?
Only last year we had a situation where an employee of a bank in Liechtenstein left that bank with computer diskettes. He actually sold the information on the diskettes to the German government. As a result, the German government has recovered quite a huge amount of back taxes from the people who were investing in the tax havens. Out of that, 100 names were given to Revenue Canada. We have yet to hear whether Revenue Canada has collected any back taxes from these people.
We know Revenue Canada offers an amnesty to people. The question is whether these 100 people whose names were turned over by the authorities were given amnesty. For all we know, Revenue Canada let them off with just paying whatever taxes they owed and the amnesty was applied to them too.
Just in the last few weeks there was another example of an employee from, in this case, a Swiss bank, who made off with I think it was 4,500 names on diskettes and turned them over to the French government. Out of that, Revenue Canada got its hands on the names of another 1,800 Canadians who are investing in tax havens. Once again I would like to know what the government is doing to track these people down. Is it going to offer them amnesty to get them to file their up-to-date returns, or is it going to actually charge them for tax evasion, which is the proper way to proceed in this case?
We are getting no follow-up from the government as to the situation with uncollected taxes. Out of all the people who are putting money into tax havens in Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Panama and other countries, there are probably thousands of Canadians in those situations and the government does not seem to be too concerned about catching them. If the government can catch these people and collect a half billion dollars here or a half a billion dollars there of taxes owed, it would help a lot in terms of balancing the books here in Canada and paying for the roads and hospitals that we need.
Where is the interest? We have such lax laws in Canada for white collar crime. It is absolutely laughable. This is from a government that talks about being tough on crime.
This is the record of the tough on crime government on white collar crime. Over the last few years, the United States has successfully prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned 1,200 white collar criminals, including Conrad Black who committed his crimes in Canada. The record of the tough on crime Conservative government is two convictions against the same guy. The government does not have to pay $9 billion for prisons to house one person.
These are examples of the mixed messages we get from the government. On the very day the story broke in the Globe and Mail, in the Greg McArthur article regarding the 1,800 Canadians, the was being questioned in the House about that very issue. On that very day, the government's bill on the order paper for debate was a free trade deal with Panama.
In the case of Panama, we have 350,000 foreign companies hiding money there because it is a tax haven. The Panamanian government is making little, if any, effort to share the tax information.
As a precursor to signing on to these agreements, one would think the government would use some common sense and require that the Panamanian government sign on and honour the OECD rules and protocols on sharing tax information, not go ahead and reward it with a free trade deal. That is the backwards approach of the government.
In addition to regular companies doing business in Panama and hiding their money there, we have Mexican drug cartels laundering money through the Panamanian system. The government is only too willing to ignore that. It forgets the fact that Manuel Noriega, the former president of Panama, is doing time in a Florida jail because the Americans captured him for aiding and abetting money launderers.
Clearly the government has a very questionable set of priorities when it comes to dealing with economic development in our country.
One of the members opposite introduced a bill earlier this year to support a national hunting day, which is a great idea, and we supported the bill. In fact, Manitoba passed a similar bill just two years ago. I was at its annual meeting a couple of weeks ago. One of the reasons given for introducing the bill in the House was to encourage American tourism, to encourage Americans to come to Canada to hunt and fish and to help our economy.
The recognition by the Conservative member was that tourism was down. Partly as a result of my talks with him in the spring, and support in speaking to his bill, I was able to introduce a resolution to a legislators conference this summer, one I have been at now four or five years. This group includes 11 border states, from Illinois to North Dakota, and 3 provinces, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I think Alberta is on the verge of joining that organization.
The legislators meet every summer. There is a western conference and a southern conference as well, but this is the Midwestern legislators conference. This group has met now for 65 years. At that conference, I was able to introduce a resolution, which they passed unanimously. I will not read the resolution at this time, but I will if I get asked about it in a question.