That, in the opinion of this House, the government should show leadership in reducing government waste by rolling-back its own expenditures on massive amounts of partisan, taxpayer-paid government advertising, ministerial use of government aircraft, the hiring of external “consultants”, and the size of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, which together could represent a saving to taxpayers of more than a billion dollars; and to show its own leadership in this regard, the House directs its Board of Internal Economy to take all necessary steps to end immediately the wasteful practice of Members sending mass mailings, known as “ten-percenters”, into ridings other than their own, which could represent another saving to taxpayers of more than $10 million.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am most pleased to move this motion. I will be splitting my time with the seconder of the motion, the member for .
I am most pleased to move this motion as it gives both the government and the House direction in a realistic way in a number of areas where substantial savings could be made. The first part of the motion deals with government waste and rolling back a lot of government expenditures that are paid for by taxpayers, everything from advertising and the size of the cabinet to the size of the Privy Council Office. The second part of the motion deals with what we call ten percenters. I will get to that in a moment.
Adoption of this motion and these expenditure reductions would make for better government, less propaganda and maybe even a little more honesty in what goes out to Canadians from this place. Let me start with the part of the motion that deals with reduced government waste by rolling back massive amounts of taxpayer-paid partisan government advertising.
I know I am not allowed to use props and I will not, but I have in my hand a full-page ad that was in Prince Edward Island's Journal Pioneer last Wednesday or Thursday, and Saturday's The Guardian. This ad has been in every paper across the country in the last few weeks.
Never in Canadian history, I believe, have we seen as much propaganda come from a government, no doubt straight out of the PMO, designed not so much to provide information as to leave the impression that the governing party is doing more than it really is but, worse, attempting to leave the impression that it is doing something it really is not.
All Canadians have seen the ad in the papers, on TV and on the Internet. I would love to go through the copy I have to point out the areas of error but I do not have time at the moment. It would be one thing if it were honest fact, but to a great extent this ad and others like it are a work of fiction, with some truths and a lot of half-truths thrown in. Taxpayers' money in the hundreds of millions of dollars has been used I believe to manipulate the public mind.
Let me mention a couple of points to show where this ad is misleading. The full-page ad talks about measures in the budget, such as lowering taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. What about income trusts being taxed? What about payroll taxes going up an extraordinary amount to a point in 2011 where it is expected that that tax increase alone could cause the loss of 200,000 jobs? The ad leaves the impression that the government is lowering taxes.
My role is agriculture critic for the Liberal Party. The government is leaving the impression it is doing something when it comes to agriculture. Never have we seen such a record of failure. In the hog industry, there is the worst financial crisis ever in Canadian history. The beef industry is not far behind. There has been a $9 billion increase in farm debt in the term of the Conservative government. Safety nets are paying out $1 billion less and there is not one dime in the budget. It is mentioned in the ad to leave the impression that the government is doing something. I would love to go through them one by one, but time does not allow me to do that.
There is more waste with the huge increase in the size of the cabinet, as was mentioned in the motion. Everyone in the cabinet is a full cabinet minister with huge staffs, cars and drivers, research departments and heaven knows what else. One can only ask whether it is to have more people to push photo ops, publish propaganda, raise funds for the party or what? It is the first cabinet in our history in which all cabinet ministers have cars and all the paraphernalia. What a waste.
Is it any different from the way you were, Wayne? Is it different or what's your point?
Hon. Wayne Easter: I will say in the House that I believe it is designed that way so that they can get out there, do the photo ops—
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to following up on my colleague's comments and I am pleased to speak to this opposition day motion.
With a record $56 billion deficit on the books, the Conservative government has indeed begun to preach restraint. We heard on February 17 the set the stage for cuts, stating, “Just as Canadians have made significant sacrifices to maintain their own finances they expect their government to do the same”.
On March 4 the Conservatives released their budget in which they announced that starting in 2011 the operating budgets of all departments would be frozen, except for National Defence, where spending growth will be slowed down. No indication was given as to how the freeze would affect programs and services that Canadians rely on. I want to note that there was no exemption made in this case for INAC, which has always been done in previous instances, and as we know, the demographics of the aboriginal population is increasing by leaps and bounds. We need to see a plan on how cuts would be made.
As my colleague has said, there are several areas of government spending that have increased dramatically under this government that would be more appropriate for cuts than the civil service and the valuable programs it delivers. We have heard that under the Conservatives, spending on transportation and communication increased by $820 million, or 32% over the 2005-06 levels. Spending on management consultants is up by $355 million over the same period, an astounding 165% increase.
Although the government has announced a freeze on departmental spending, the 's own department, the Privy Council Office, is getting a $13 million boost for spending on “support and advise to the PMO”, a 22% increase in advance of the freeze; public opinion research, up by $5 million; and spending on the economic action plan advertising has skyrocketed to over $100 million, money that might well have been spent on the stimulus funding, and I would say, it would have been better served in this country, benefiting women who have not been benefited by the stimulus plan. The expansion of the communication support services in the Prime Minister's Office has cost $1.7 million and, as we have heard earlier, excessive spending on ten percenters is well over $10 million. This is where I, too, want to focus my comments.
To my mind there are two issues around the use of ten percenters, one of principle and one of cost. Let me speak first to the matter itself. The use of ten percenters is one of those classic cases of what was once a good idea at one time gone totally awry. Intended originally for the members of Parliament to communicate with their constituents, the process has been corrupted and, I would say, it must be ended.
Members opposite frequently use them to provide information that does not affect the workings of government, but they are a deliberate effort to discredit opposition members holding the seat or discredit the leadership. They are also cynically used to collect data from that member's riding to thereby target further information through other means.
The Liberal Party called for a restraint on ten percenters last fall, requesting that they be limited to a member's own riding. The practice of ten percenter regroupings should be abolished, the name of the leader of the sending member's party should be included in any ten percenter, and the leader should explicitly endorse the content of the mailout.
I have chosen to focus my comments on the ten percenters because their use has been the object of contention in my riding. Most weeks when I arrive home at the end of a week here in Parliament, there are often two of these government ten percenters waiting for me in my mail, and often four. Many of the government's mailings contain vicious and misleading attacks on their opponents. Among other things they have suggested that the Bloc supports pedophiles, Liberals are anti-Semitic or unpatriotic.
In 2008 and 2009 the Conservatives were responsible for about 62% of the printing costs incurred by MPs, even though their members represented only about 45% of Canadian households.
I have been a target of the Conservative smear machine. As a Jewish MP who represents a large Jewish population, the Conservative Party outrageously attempted to label me as anti-Semitic. I am portrayed as soft on crime, supportive of pedophiles, and not speaking up for the various issues valued by members opposite. Pictures that they have put into my riding have been digitally distorted. There is no apology forthcoming.
Government members operate under the mantra of the Prime Minister's former campaign director, Tom Flanagan, who said, “It doesn't have to be true. It just has to be plausible”.
I would say that this kind of Karl Rove, Republican-style politics is not a Canadian value. Canadians want truth. They do not want spin. They do not want distortions. They want facts and they literally do not want trash in their mail to fill up the recycling bin.
There is smear after smear in these mailings, whether they misrepresent my views and values or that of my leader. Constituents continually call my constituency office, deeply concerned about the flagrant abuse of taxpayers' money precipitated by the Conservative mailings.
Many constituents have replied to members opposite, both by phone and by mail, to protest these mailings, and an outcome of these protests is to subsequently receive a franked letter from the chair of the Conservative caucus, reinforcing the negative message in the ten percenter and justifying it as necessary. As to the costs, why should the taxpayers be called upon, through printing or postage costs for parties, to take their partisan messages to constituencies that they do not represent?
I am told that some of the worst practices come from my home province of Manitoba. The member for , a former Treasury Board member, spent $85,940 in printing costs in the last fiscal year, and the other cabinet minister from Manitoba, the member for , spent $72,934 in printing costs in the last fiscal year. Many of these mailings, I should say, come into my own riding, and this does not even touch the postage costs.
I know that the minister from Charleswood has received many calls from residents in my riding asking, ironically, if he is suddenly representing the riding. In Manitoba, the Conservative members spend on printing, and not postage, over $450,000, approaching half a million dollars, to get this message out in Manitoba and across the country.
The Conservatives have cut programs such as ecoEnergy for renewable power, funding for the Canadian Council on Learning, overseas development assistance and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Surely, creating clean energy jobs, supporting high quality education, showing leadership around the world and supporting shelters for aboriginal women have a higher spending priority than ten percenters, partisan advertisements and management consultants.
The Liberal Party will protect the vital public services that Canadians depend upon. We do not believe that the Conservative record-setting deficit should be reduced on the backs of public servants or those more vulnerable Canadians. The government should lead by example, cut its own partisan, wasteful spending before it takes aim at important services for Canadians and the people who provide them.
Mr. Speaker, we always appreciate suggestions on how to effectively control spending, ensure that taxpayer dollars are being utilized to their fullest standard of efficiency and look at how we can especially maintain a situation where the government stays out of deficit and moves toward a balanced budget.
The items mentioned by my friend who introduced the motion are certainly areas among a number of things that should be considered in terms of looking at restraint and at how we can maximize the spending of taxpayer dollars. In fairness, there seems to be some focus or, as some would say, possibly an inordinate amount of focus, on one tiny area of budgetary restraint.
I want to say from the outset that if somebody has a suggestion that even saves $1,000, that is worth pursuing because every dollar that comes into the coffers of government is there as a result of a taxpayer somewhere working hard and having part of her or his paycheque taken away to support the government. We all understand that taxes are necessary but taxes can hit a level at which they become stifling and in which they service as a disincentive.
Last week I made an announcement about eliminating 245 government appointed positions, not public service positions but government appointed ones, and the savings were in the area of $1.2 million. We had opposition members saying that it was just $1.2 million. However, to me and to all of my constituents, $1.2 million is a lot of money. These things add up over time. I am not in any way diminishing a particular initiative because its overall expenditure saving might be in the thousands or hundreds of thousands.
I do not think most Canadians have a lot of focus on the so-called ten percenters. I think they like getting information that is clear and succinct as much as possible. However, I want to make something very clear right from the start. The so-called ten percenter program, which allows MPs to have the cost of a small brochure sent out either to their own riding or to other ridings around the country, is a common process in this country and has been going on for years. I know what it is like in my consistency to see a ten percenter that was not one that emanated from my office but in fact from another MP's office and one which was going after a program or certain policy of our party and going after it in a very vigorous way. I might not have liked or even agreed with the content of that particular ten percenter but it is a commonly accepted process and it emanates from all parties.
I realize I cannot wave items around but I have one here from a member from the Liberal Party showing a picture that looks like a cupboard. One little can of spam is in the cupboard and it reads, “They've spent the cupboard bare”. Now is that a factual presentation of a budgetary item or is it something that is being used by the Liberal Party to cast doubts on a particular aspect of government spending? It does not say how that has happened. It just has the picture and the can. I do not want to be seen as talking about one particular brand of processed meat so I will not say the name, but there is a can there.
Does the Liberal member, who introduced, as part of this motion, that we should eliminate this practice of ten percenters, agree with his colleague sending out a picture of a cupboard with a little can of processed meat inside and saying that this represents the government's budget? If he does not have a problem with his own member doing that, then he cannot in all honesty raise issues about this side of the House doing it.
I believe we should always try to communicate honestly, fairly and transparently. That should always be a leading guidepost for us in our communications. We should use that part of the member's motion to guide us in being better communicators in terms of getting the truth, getting it straightforward, and getting it done in a transparent way and a way in which the element that we have introduced can be verified. Those are all things that our taxpayers would appreciate.
I have to believe that the broader picture of concern, and I have to take it at face value from my friends across the way, is about maintaining budgetary responsibility. I have not heard it articulated clearly but I hope they would agree that we should be moving toward a balanced budget. The essence of the budget tabled by the is that we now have a road map to get toward a balanced situation. We are not projecting that as some kind of philosophical or ideological position. I will reflect on why we are actually doing that.
Broadly speaking, the budget itself contains three approaches to getting back to a balanced budget by about 2014-15. The broad approach covers three areas. The first area is that at the end of this year we will end what is commonly known as the government's stimulus package, a plan of introducing dollars into the economy, even though we knew we would take on debt to do it and run into a deficit at the beginning of the global downturn.
We looked at the global downturn, as most other countries did, as an unprecedented downturn, a recession the nature of which we have not seen since 1929. We said that we would inject some stimulus into the economy for a short period of time but, as we said at the outset, it would be short-term because there needed to be a limit on how much debt a country should take on. We are in the second and final year of that stimulus package.
There are $19 billion of stimulus spending that will go toward a variety of projects across the country for both infrastructure projects and projects of a nature that deal with programs for people. The $19 billion in this budget will be gone at the end of this budget year. Most of us would agree that the budgetary deficit is at about $53 billion right now but at the end of this year $19 billion will come off that right away. That is the first element of the program. A very large chunk will be reduced.
The second area involved looking at our own spending as government. Classically, two approaches can be taken if we are trying to get rid of a deficit and move toward a balanced budget. We could follow the well-documented path chosen by the federal Liberals in the mid-1990s. One of the most significant things they did, and one of the biggest reductions in the deficit at that time, was slash the transfers to the provinces, especially in the areas of health and education. They do not even argue with the fact that those transfers were slashed significantly overnight.
I was involved in provincial government at the time and it was a horrendous shock to see overnight and virtually without warning, the health and education transfers to provinces slashed by upward of 30%. It was a huge impact on all provinces, many of which are still digging themselves out of the hole trying to recover that. In the subsequent years to the slashing of transfers, came the raising of taxes almost 70 different times in 70 different areas. That is one approach.
If we want to get rid of the deficit, we could cut the programs available to people and crank up taxes, which is an approach that is endorsed by an entire school of economic thought. It is largely Keynesian in its roots and it is a particular course of action that we do not endorse in terms of long-term action.
It is the same within our households where, from time to time, we will take on some debt for various reasons. However, for people trying to run their household finances or a small business, they can only continue to acquire debt for so long. Eventually that nasty little item called compound interest gets us.
I just said compound interest and there was a cry from the gallery. It was instinctive. Even a young child understands that compound interest and taking on debt in a non-stop fashion will eventually cause people to collapse. The same is true of governments.
We have made a determination that we will stop that particular process, that long-term borrowing, and rein in our expenses of government. What we have said is that at the end of this budget year, 2010-11, we will freeze the operational portion of all budgets of all departments. That is an envelope of spending of about $54 billion. We have said that this year, 2010-11, it will increase but that for the next two years after that we will put a freeze on it.
Government hiring and the increase in the public service over the last 10 years has been significant. We made a commitment to increase the size of our military and our public security, the RCMP, which we have done, and there are clerical positions that go with that. However, the public service has increased even beyond that for a lot of well-intended and good reasons.
We are simply saying that we need to put a lid on the growth and slow it down. The interesting part is that we will keep growing. Sometimes when we hear members opposite we think that this is the end of civilization as we know it, that all spending will cease and the bottom will drop out of everything the government does. In fact, we will keep growing but we will moderate that level of growth.
To set a positive example of that, we will be introducing legislation to freeze the salaries of members of Parliament, senators, ministers and the . Some people will say that freezing our salaries is just symbolic. Members should try telling people on the street that their salaries will be frozen and see how symbolic that is.
However, there is symbolism plus there is showing responsibility. We need to put certain things in check and show that we can do it, which is the second element of the plan. The first element is getting rid of the stimulus funding and the second is controlling our finances and not increasing the debt load.
Famously, when John Maynard Keynes, who advocated a process for most of his economic life of governments not worrying about increasing debt and deficit, especially in a time of downturn, was asked a question once, “Mr. Keynes, in the long run, isn't that eventually going to catch up to us if we just keep on piling up debt?”, he famously replied, “In the long run, we'll all be dead”.
That part is true. In the long run, we will all be dead. My grandkids and my kids, however, will not be dead. They will still be here long after I am gone and they should not need to carry, in an unnecessary way or an inappropriate way, the spending commitments that are tied to accumulating debt. We should be reining that in now.
Mr. Keynes did not have kids, which perhaps affected his thinking. I am not saying that at all in a pejorative sense, but maybe that was affecting his long-term thinking. However, we need to think long term in terms of the welfare of our country when we look at the area of just bringing on debt and letting it increase.
The third area that we are putting into play is overall service review, expenditure review and administration review of everything we do. As a matter of fact that has been going on for a few years already. Last year we looked at the spending of 20 different departments and asked them to look at their department and reprioritize. We asked them to take 5% of what they spend and show us what 5% would be the lowest priority. We told them that we wanted to see spending move to a higher priority as we needed to begin to pick and choose because of the fiscal situation.
That particular exercise yielded $287 million. This year we will be doing that with a number of departments, boards and agencies. We expect to yield, and I am saying “expect” in that we hope to yield, at least $1.3 billion out of the exercise this year. It may be a little more than that, or it may be a little less.
Nonetheless, year to year we expect that through this particular time of service review, we will see the cost of government continue to be moderated so that the debt and deficit will not continue to pile up.
Any program that government does, and certainly as a minister I have always put this question to administrations and I know my colleagues think the same way, we should always ask what works or does it work, whatever the program is.
I could stand up for quite a bit longer, and I am sure my colleagues would rejoice in that, and go on at great length about our government's good programs, but what really qualifies this is what other people outside of Canada are saying about the approach we have taken.
We could talk about the International Monetary Fund, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the OECD, and the Conference Board of Canada. All of their remarks indicate that this is the particular way to go. It has been remarked that Canada, among the G7 countries, was in the best position going into this recession and is in the best position coming out of it. That is the view of people who are fixed on government or public budgets around the world. They are pointing to Canada and the approach we are taking as showing leadership.
It is also interesting to note what other markets are doing. There was an article in one of last week's financial papers indicating that Russia as a country, and certainly it is having its own fiscal challenges, is planning to strengthen its own currency reserves. Guess which currency it is planning to buy more of? The Canadian dollar. It sees the strength there. There is strength in the dollar.
The largest bond fund manager in the world, whose fund is located in the United States, manages a fund of over $1 trillion. I am not even going to try to paint what a $1 trillion is because it starts to get over my head. However, that $1 trillion fund is made up of institutional investors, pension funds, workers' funds and individuals who invest in this fund. The person who manages the fund announced that he is directing his large institutional investors and smaller individual investors to invest in Canadian bonds and the Canadian dollar because of the strength of the economy and the approach we are taking.
People know, whether they are sophisticated investment managers as with the person who controls this $1 trillion fund or just workers whose funds are vested in a pension plan and know intuitively, that if debt goes too—
The Conservative government continues in its arrogance towards those less fortunate.
For example, the budget maintained the very generous tax arrangements for banks and the oil industry, but it does nothing to help people. It is shameful that military spending will continue to rise and that there are no measures to put an end to tax breaks for oil companies or the use of tax havens. In addition, there is nothing to tap the wealthy who have an annual taxable income of more than $150,000 or to put an end to excessive bonuses given to top managers.
What is worse, while this government is trying to balance the budget by proposing flashy but ineffective measures, the media have discovered that the Department of Public Works and Government Services awarded a contract worth $6 billion over 11 years to Profac for federal building maintenance.
Among the bills are one for installing a doorbell to the tune of $1,000, another for purchasing two potted plants for nearly $2,000 and one for installing lights for no less than $5,000.
Wasn't it the who made a show of acting like a good parent when he presented the budget? No family would accept that kind of spending by the government.
While the and the preach fiscal restraint, new revelations keep coming to light about this government's excessive spending.
After the government announced with great fanfare the abolition of positions that were already vacant, which represent a fraction of the money needed to attack the deficit, and after we learned that this government was prepared to pay thousands of dollars to replace lights and doorbells in federal buildings, now we learn that the budget for the 's Office will increase by nearly 22% in 2010-11.
No doubt about it, instead of showing true leadership in reducing government waste by cutting its own spending, the Conservative government prefers to tell us to do as it says and not as it does.
As far as all the measures announced for cutting government spending are concerned, the Bloc Québécois believes that the Conservative government must target budgetary items that have a significant impact on the government's finances. A number of proposals were submitted to the during the prebudget consultations.
With regard to ten percenters, the parliamentary bulletins that MPs can send out, we have to remember that federal elected members can send these pamphlets out quite regularly, and the House of Commons pays for them. This vehicle was implemented in order to allow hon. members to communicate their positions to their constituents.
Hon. members have the right to send up to 365 pamphlets a year, or one a day, to constituents in their riding or other ridings. Every mailing can be sent to a number of homes equalling 10% of the constituents in the member's riding, if the content in the pamphlet sent in each mailing is 50% different than the pamphlets sent out in other mailings.
The House of Commons covers the cost of printing these pamphlets and sending them to the constituents.
Members of a same party can also get together and send a group ten percenter once a month. The administrative rules of the House of Commons prohibit members from using their mailings to invite constituents to re-elect them, ask for funding or promote partisan or commercial activities.
It is up to the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons to change the rules.
Over the years, however, the pamphlets have increasingly been sent into ridings represented by a rival party, to undermine its credibility. So this is essentially a misuse of these householders.
Recently, the extent of the spending by Conservative members to send mail into other ridings has caught the attention of the media.
The total bill for members’ mailings has more than doubled in four years, reaching $10 million in 2009. The Conservative Party is responsible for nearly two thirds of the expenses billed to the House of Commons for mailings by members in that year.
But most importantly, government party members sent out mailings during 2008-09 that cost twice as much, on average, as mailings by the other parties’ members.
Other figures show that the Conservative Party certainly went overboard in the use of its privilege of billing the House of Commons for its members’ mailings.
Of the 58 members who had printing expenses of $50,000 or more during the year, 54 are Conservatives. Eight Conservative members spent more than $80,000. In 2004-05, members’ printing expenses totalled $4.8 million. They more than doubled in four years.
In theory, mailings billed to the House of Commons are used to inform constituents about topical issues. For the Conservative Party, however, these mailings often take the form of propaganda, to the extent that the content of the mailings has prompted numerous questions about the appropriateness of messages designed to denigrate opponents.
We need only consider the pamphlets depicting the Liberals as anti-Semites in the riding of Mount Royal in 2009. It was somewhat extreme to think that the member for was engaged in anti-Semitic politics when we know very well that he is actually someone who promotes Israel.
We also think of the NDP member who wants to abolish the firearms registry and who received a householder in his riding stating that he defended the firearms registry.
These two cases have been discussed in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am a member. Frankly, they are striking examples that make the debate we are holding today a very useful one so that we can arrive at guidelines for this question.
Another ad paid for out of the House of Commons budget showed a little girl surrounded by slogans in irregular fonts. It looked like a Halloween ad. It suggested that the Bloc Québécois was against protecting children, unlike the Conservatives, who were portrayed as protectors of victims. That ad was regarded as rather hideous, and the people in my riding strongly condemned it. It did not produce any positive results for the government. In fact, I would say it had the opposite effect.
When the NDP member raised a question of privilege concerning the firearms registry and the flyer that was sent to all of his constituents, the deputy government House leader, after hearing the member's testimony, asked him what he was expecting in order to ensure that something like this never happens again. The member replied:
So I need to be assured for my own satisfaction that whoever in party central did the design, did the work...that they are assured this will never happen again. If I get that assurance, I'll be satisfied.
We hope that with today's debate, they will put their money where their mouth is.
To sum up, the Bloc Québécois will support this motion. We also support the motion that prohibits members from sending any mailings to voters in other ridings, with the exception that whips may keep the privilege to send ten percenters into ridings that are not represented by their party, with a monthly quota.
That is the Bloc Québécois' position on the issue of parliamentary householders. We believe that members should be able to send them only to their own constituents, not to other voters. Furthermore, we want party whips to keep the privilege to send group ten percenters.
I will be pleased to respond to questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, like my colleague, I want to speak to the motion put forward by the Liberal Party today in the House.
The motion states that “—the government should show leadership in reducing government waste by rolling-back its own expenditures—”.
The government wants to rein in the entire population and is telling everyone to tighten their belts, while it goes on spending taxpayers' money. What concerns me here today is that the government is basically saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”. The Conservative government is in no position to give any lessons when it comes to spending.
My colleague spoke at length about the excessive amounts being spent on advertising, not to mention the twisted way money is being spent on propaganda. The government is misleading the public regarding certain positions taken by the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party. It is not giving accurate information; in fact, it is giving disinformation. For instance, we are reading a certain bill, which I will quote later.
The motion also talks about the government's use of aircraft for travel. The same day the presented the budget, he used the government plane, which I believe cost $8,000. Another means of transportation could have been found, such as a commercial flight, which would have cost $800. The government is telling everyone else to tighten their belts, but it can continue to do whatever it wants at taxpayers' expense.
There is also the issue of mass mailings into ridings other than Conservative members' own. These mailings are very expensive and the privilege has been abused. The budget for mailings has been doubled. I will provide the numbers later on.
The government is still allowing itself many privileges. It could have made other choices. For instance, it decided to maintain the tax regime for banks, which is still very generous. The same goes for the oil industry, which is benefiting from tax breaks that are far too generous. It is the middle class, workers who have lost their jobs, who will have to pay the price.
In the Quebec City area, a number of pulp and paper plants have had to close their doors. The forestry industry has received a measly $170 million over two years. And yet, some $10 billion was allocated to Ontario's automobile industry for its survival. All that was done on the backs of the unemployed. The necessary funding is not being provided to help certain industries get through this crisis. The manufacturing industry has been asking for help for five years, saying that it cannot go on this way. There have been technological changes. Companies could have invested in equipment renewal and product diversification.
Help is not getting to the least fortunate and to seniors. Old age security has not been improved. We wanted to see it increased by $110 a month. The government offered seniors their own special day, but stopped short of offering them the money they need for better living conditions.
I have been sitting in the House since 1993. What upsets me the most is to see that they are going to pilfer $19 billion from the employment insurance fund, like the Liberals used to do. We thought we had seen the end of that. The Liberals took $40 billion from the fund. Now, the Conservatives are going to take $19 billion from that fund between 2011 and 2015. That is not something they are bragging about.
I know that the employment insurance fund has a slight deficit, but it will bounce back; that amount will be doubly recovered by 2015. A lot of money is being allocated to military spending, which will continue to increase.
They also could have tapped the wealthiest in society, those who earn over $150,000, in order to help those most in need. They could have collected higher premiums from those who earn more.
In the throne speech, they stated that they wanted to balance the books. Parliament was prorogued and, according to many observers, it was just a charade. We realize it, and it is not going to do much good.
First, there are questions about decisions by the , who awarded a $6 billion contract to Profac to maintain federal government buildings. Last week, the newspapers revealed a number of things immediately after the budget was tabled. Some departments are not vigilant enough about expenses incurred under such large, unaudited contracts. The Liberal Party came in for a great deal of criticism, but I believe that it will now be directed at the Conservative Party.
I will give just a few examples. All Canadians have probably read that it cost $1,000 to install a doorbell, almost $2,000 to purchase two green plants, and no less than $5,000 to install lights. It will not take long to spend $6 billion with expenses such as these. If I were renovating my own home, I hope I would not be charged the same amounts, because I would not be able to pay and I would have to file for bankruptcy.
The is also telling us to tighten our belts, as I said, but what are they doing? Are they actually tightening their belts? Did the show the way by paying ten times the cost of a commercial flight to hold a press conference at a Tim Hortons?
We question the good faith of the and the when they openly do what the papers are reporting.
That is not setting a good example. That is why the Liberals have introduced this motion in the House.
The revelations that have been made prove the complete opposite now. For example, in the ’s Office, from 2010 to 2011, there will be a 22% increase in the operating budget. There again, the Prime Minister is not setting an example. He put on a bit of a show the other day, at a press conference, where he said he wanted to eliminate positions that were already vacant. That was a fine performance, but it did not fool anyone. It was just smoke and mirrors designed to conceal the truth as to how genuine their intention of cutting unnecessary spending is.
That is one side of the coin, but there is another side. The unemployed are being ignored, as are people who have lost their jobs in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. As I said a moment ago, the forestry and manufacturing industries have been put in jeopardy and left to their own devices. The government also could have increased the guaranteed income supplement for seniors living below the poverty line.
“Do as I say, not as I do.” We could just keep repeating that over and over to describe the actions of the Conservative Party. There is no end of examples of waste on the part of the Conservative government. It tells us that we must all put our shoulders to the wheel to balance the budget, but what is it doing itself? It is demonstrating the complete opposite. It is doing its own spending without considering the impact on the public as a whole.
A moment ago I referred to the cost of the ’s Cessna. It was $31,000, not $8,000. I was out by quite a lot. It was $31,000 for a return trip by Cessna from Ottawa to London, Ontario. I thought it was in England, but no, it was Ontario. When I was told that, I joked about it, but no, it was in fact a press conference in London, Ontario.
Is the government setting an example? I can understand the public. We saw it in the polls this morning: the Conservatives are losing speed. They are incapable of showing the public that they can set an example.
I am glad I found the $31,000 figure.
I am told my time is up. That is unfortunate, because I had several other examples, including subcontracts. I could talk about everything the Conservative Party has done in terms of balancing the budget—
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on the Liberal Party's opposition day motion regarding eliminating government waste, balancing the books, et cetera. I should serve notice that I would like to share my time with my colleague from .
We are being asked to look at ways that we can once again tighten our belts to assist in balancing the budget. We heard the deliver a budget recently and conspicuously nowhere in his budget or in the opposition day motion put forward by the Liberals today do we hear any reference whatsoever of going after the real architects of the fiscal meltdown that we find ourselves in today. Nowhere in the federal government budget or in the Liberal opposition day motion do we hear any reference to the corporate greed and wretched excess that caused us to plummet and spiral into this financial mess we are in today.
While we do not disagree with the Liberals that we should be shaking every bush and turning over every stone to look for ways to come back to a balanced budget, we have to take note that the current government and previous governments squandered Canada's fiscal capacity to cope with periods of predictable periods of financial downturn which were built into a fair tax regime that existed and developed, and put us into a balanced budget situation.
Nowhere in the federal budget or the opposition day's motion does it acknowledge that we squandered in a reckless and irresponsible fashion the fiscal capacity to cope with a financial crisis, and it leaves us $50 billion in the hole. The government gave that fiscal capacity away to its friends in the corporate community in the blind faith and hope that it would pull us out of the financial mess we are in. It does not.
Part of the Liberal Party's opposition day motion today deals with government communications and criticizes the government for what it spends on government communications. Let us be honest, government communications has always been a cesspool of abuse and fraud in successive federal governments going back to the Mulroney and Chrétien years. Do I have to remind members of the name Chuck Guité for Heaven's sake? As we visit this notion that government communications today may be taking liberties with taxpayers' dollars, let us be honest with ourselves and take note that it has always been problematic.
If the federal government were truly interested in balancing the books, it would be more creative. All we have heard from the so far is that the Conservatives are going to balance the books by freezing public sector wages. In other words, this whole financial crisis is now our problem, it is now ordinary Canadians' fault. We are the ones who are going to have to tighten our belts. They are even going after public sector pensions as a way to balance the books. Talk about a complete absence of any creative thought in terms of dealing with a financial crisis.
In the short time that I have let me raise one suggestion that has conveniently been overlooked by both the Liberals and the Conservatives. This is tax time. Most of us are filling out our tax forms. Year after year, Parliament after Parliament, government after government, I have been harping on the same theme: “tax motivated expatriation” is the term chartered accountants use. “Sleazy, tax cheating loopholes” is the term that I use. Big enough offshore tax havens exist big enough to sink a yacht and believe me, that is what is going on, to an estimated $7 billion worth of lost revenue.
Instead of going after the nickel and dime small potatoes that the Liberals suggest today and instead of going after public service pension plans, the government is again willingly overlooking $7 billion in lost revenue so that its friends in the corporate sector, the high rollers, the architects of the fiscal problems we are having today can continue to enjoy their tax-free status without compromising or sacrificing all the benefits of being a Canadian.
I learned from a book that I recently read called Who Owns Canada Now: Old Money, New Money and The Future of Canadian Business by a right-wing columnist, and I do not think she would mind being called right-wing, Diane Frances, a frequent contributor to The Financial Post et cetera. She points out that Canada allows its wealthy families to go offshore paying a one-time departure tax on their wealth of a 25% capital gains tax, thereby avoiding the 46% taxes they would pay if they withdrew any of that money in this country. From that day forward any money that pocket of money generates exists tax-free and can be repatriated into the country tax-free.
So these wealthy families move all of the money in their trusts offshore. They leave their children in Canada, generate even further wealth with that money through investment offshore in a tax haven, and then support their families in this country tax-free. Their children pay no tax on it when it is repatriated and they pay no tax on it when it is generated outside of this country.
The United States of America is not that stupid. Every nickel that goes into the country as offshore earned capital is taxed. A beneficiary in the United States pays 35% tax on that money, yet we overlook this.
How did the miss this? I do not think he missed it. I think the government deliberately overlooked it, just like the Liberal government overlooked this same situation when the former Prime Minister of Canada moved his entire Canada Steamship Lines to an offshore tax haven. He pays 2.5% tax in that country.
I urge members of Parliament to take note. While we chase our tail going after nickel and dime abuse of government communications programs, there are big fish to fry out there. There is big money, low hanging fruit, that the government could have, and should have, gone after. It could have plugged these outrageous offshore tax loopholes. Sometimes I think Liberal and Conservative governments view the taxpayers of Canada in the same way P.T. Barnum used to view circus-goers, as a bunch of suckers. Goodness knows, we have left a lot of money on the table and it is an outrageous situation.
In the minute that I have left I also want to remind members of Parliament that if we are serious about prudence and probity, and honesty and high ethical standards in governance, the most effective and efficient way to ensure those things on behalf of the people that we represent is through a robust access to information and freedom of information regime in this country.
We cannot legislate morality. We cannot legislate moral and ethical standards. It is the oversight and the scrutiny of an informed general public that encourages behaviour that we can be proud of in our public service. They are the only instruments by which we will elevate the standards of moral and ethical behaviour and good management of our money.
I have also seen in the years that I have been here successive federal governments ignore repeated requests from all sides of the House to make our freedom of information act work. We should change the name of that act to the public right to know act because the public has a right to know what its government is doing with its money, and now that information is being denied to them.
It was the shroud of secrecy that allowed corruption to flourish in the Liberal years, and that shroud of secrecy is alive and well in the present Conservative government. In fact, the government is obsessed with secrecy, obsessed with denying the public the right to know basic information about its budgets, about its behaviour overseas, about all of its activities. The government has built a barrier around itself unlike any we have ever seen.
Freedom of information is the oxygen that democracy breathes. We cannot have a robust democracy in this country without enforcing the public's right to know. It is in that way we will encourage good behaviour with our money, and it is in that way that we will eliminate the waste that the government is being accused of in the opposition day motion today.
Mr. Speaker, the member for made the best speech of the day. He really hit the nail on the head and he got quite a good rise out of everybody. His forceful debate about the real high rollers and the big fry, the ones who get away, is really what we should debate in the House.
We know the motion before us has two elements. One deals with government made waste and the other deals with ten percenters, and I want to focus on the latter part of the motion.
The member for is known as a very strong advocate around the Wheat Board. He is known for protecting it and farmers.
All of us in this caucus, and many other members of the House, are passionate advocates for what we do. One of the problems we have with the motion before us and the way that it is worded is it will completely eliminate the ability of members to communicate with people across the country.
When we look at the wording of the motion and the way it has been constructed, there are some problems with which we need to deal.
We should be dealing with the abuses of ten percenters, not the legitimate use of ten percenters. I want to say very forcefully that in our caucus we understand what ten percenters are about. We use them legitimately. There may be a mailing here and there where somebody disagrees, but we agree that these ten percenters and mailings that are sent out, whether it is by a caucus or a party overall or whether it is by an individual, should not be used to launch negative attacks on individual members or another party. They should focus on public policy issues, on areas that we deal with in our critic area.
For example, under the rules, the member for can send out material across the country to people who are interested in the very important issue of the Wheat Board and what happens, just as I should be able to send out ten percenters about housing issues and the bill that I have before the House, or multiculturalism or foreign workers. These are some of the ten percenters I have sent out beyond my riding.
What we want to bring forward today in this debate is that while the motion from the Liberal Party focuses on government waste, and we certainly concur in that, it is very surprising to me that its response to the issues around ten percenters is to basically abandon the whole program.
I realize we are now on to statements by members.