The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I know we have spent a lot of time speaking to the budget's effects domestically within Canada and what it will do to Canadians, good or bad, but I would like to spend a few minutes discussing what will happen to Canada's image overseas; to our own image of helping other people who are in desperate need and who are dispossessed.
I am aware that international co-operation is a contentious issue right now as we look through the budget and at what is going on. However, I am more interested in the future rather than debating the decisions that have happened in the past. I am very much aware that CIDA has decided that it wants to focus on three areas: health, education and food. I am not so much against that idea, as those things are very necessary, but I wonder where the money will come from to be able to do it.
I have looked on in concern as CIDA has continued to narrow down its funding programs in such a way that, as it focuses on those three things, many other things are not getting done. I think that is a concern.
I think it is also a great concern, not just for people in Canada but also various multinational groups and others overseas, that CIDA has had its budget frozen for the next five years. It is not only that. It is also the fact that that represents almost a full 25% of the deficit reduction that will be going on over the course of the next five years.
My concern about that is that as the needs grow and as our other partners around the world, Britain, the United States, Norway, the United Nations, Brazil, China and other countries, begin to ramp up their international co-operation dollars, we are actually in a situation where we will fall behind. That does concern me.
I do not want to pick fights over the particular decisions that are made. My concern is that as the rest of the world moves forward, even in very difficult economic times, groups, like the Government of the United Kingdom, Britain, have decided that, in spite of their own massive deficits and the deficit cutting that they will do, they will still reach 0.7 of GDP by the end of their mandate. I think that is significant.
It is also significant that Norway and other Scandinavian countries are up at 0.9. It is interesting that the Obama administration wants to claw its way to 0.7 as well. We know that Brazil has signed on and that it is becoming an economic powerhouse. It will reach its 0.7 budget, which is significant because Canada, by freezing our aid dollars, will fall down below 0.3. I do not think any of us really expected or wanted that but it will happen. It is happening at a time when we all, as advanced nations, decided in 2005, in Gleneagles, Scotland, to sign on to the millennium development goals. Up until that time, poverty was just a dog's breakfast. It was all over the place. Nobody knew quite how to attack it. Nations were running on all sorts of different cylinders.
However, the leaders of the industrialized world at that time decided that the time had come to pull it all together, to come up with some major themes in which all the major countries of the world could come together.
I want to mention briefly what was agreed to in Gleneagles, Scotland. It was agreed to end poverty and hunger; to have universal education and gender equality; child health; maternal health; combat HIV-AIDS; environmental sustainability; and global partnership.
Those are very important goals and, as we saw this past September at the millennium development goals summit at the United Nations, we are failing. I want to commend the government for its own actions around child and maternal health. The fact that it attempted to show leadership in that area is a good thing, but we need to back that up with the funds that would help us get to that point.
It is also important that as a government we did not sign on to child and maternal health nor to the global fund. We also did not sign on to environmental sustainability. We signed on to global partnership which allows people in developing worlds to take more part in the allocation of aid dollars and in what needs to be done.
In universal education, Canada has done a very good job, even under the present government for a number of years, of keeping our levels high in universal education but now they are beginning to dip. The Government of Canada is freezing its budget at the same time that others, equally oppressed by very difficult times, are deciding to move ahead anyway and do their best to fulfill the millennium development goals.
Why is it that we are being presented with a budget like this and debating it, which is a really good thing, that we have opted to do this at a time when other countries, which are far more financially stressed than we are, are opting to go ahead? Once again I would remind the House of Great Britain and all the strains that it is under. Even its coalition that came together has decided that it will stick together and stick to 0.7.
Some great things are coming out. When I look at Haiti, I think about the 200 people who have died as a result of the cholera outbreak. The whole island was wiped out and it needs rebuilding and rebuilding is going to take funds. The Government of Canada matched funds with Canadians in a strong response to Haiti. However, Bill Clinton told me in New York that it will be a 20 year project. If in the first five years of that project, CIDA has frozen its budget, I do not see how we will get there.
I would like to talk a bit about Sudan. People know about my own particular interest in Sudan. Sudan will be signing a referendum in January of this coming year. That is only two months away. Many of us will be there as that is going on. South Sudan will be the world's newest country. I realize that CIDA has said that it will put money toward food, and that is important. I also realize that the Government of Canada has given $800 million to Sudan since it came to power in 2006. There is nothing wrong with that. That is important. Sudan has stayed a country of focus for both the previous government and the current government.
Our problem comes with the World Food Programme report that now says that food assistance has more than quadrupled from 1 million to 4.3 million people in South Sudan in 2010 who will need help. How do we help them if we have frozen the budget? I do not understand.
I spoke with southern Sudanese officials just this past week and they are greatly worried about the two million people who will come back in massive migrations from all sorts of countries around Sudan and swell over the villages that are already there. The health concerns are major. Although CIDA has said that health is a major concern, how will we meet those needs if we have frozen the budget? There are other things as well.
When it comes to Sudan, it is important to realize that both the previous government and the current government made serious commitments to the people of south Sudan and to the country of Sudan as a whole. Many of us in the House will be there to watch the referendum signing ceremony. In the years following that, what are we going to do with the two to three to four million people who have visited Sudan and have decided to stay? How can CIDA possibly keep Sudan as a country of focus if its budget is frozen? I am concerned about that.
There is Congo. The Globe and Mail had a good article last week saying that the Canadian government had a very unique opportunity to go into Congo and help to stabilize that region because of our bilingual nature, the training of our troops and the excellence of our CIDA people. However, It will not happen, in part because we have not made that commitment. Where will CIDA's money come from if it enters into the massive problems in that region?
We have some serious thinking to do. If this budget has been cut by 25% to just CIDA alone and we are part of a worldwide scope to try reach out to these countries of the world and help stabilize them, how will we do that if we are suddenly frozen and we fall below 0.3 when our other partners are moving toward 0.7?
These are serious issues and I am worried. I do not want to pick fights about what should have been done about KAIROS. Those are for another day and another time. I just want to talk in broad strokes. What will we do as a nation if our budget is frozen?
This is an important issue for members of the House and for Canadians. According to a recent poll, 77% of Canadians think it is important for Canada to be known as a world leader in funding solutions and 62% of Canadians think this funding should not be frozen.
The sum of $4.5 billion will be cut from the CIDA budget because the money will be frozen and it will not continue to be increased. What will we do as a nation? How will we answer the world when other countries are looking to us for leadership as part of broader partnerships. Do we tell them that all bets are off? Do we tell them that we have frozen our budget, that they will be left on their own and that we will keep doing what we want to do?
We are part of a global alliance. It is my hope that all of us will look at this budget and realize that one of its fundamental flaws is the fact that our hand of compassion to the world has just been cut off because of our own inability to continue to increase funds for international co-operation.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to say a few words on economic recovery and on the budget.
First, in case I am not on my feet again, I would like to pay my respect to the older Canadian veterans who did so much to make it possible for us to be here today and have freedom and democracy in this great nation, and also to remember our newer veterans.
It is fair to say that we understand more what our veterans go through and what they suffer when they come home. It is vitally important that the Government of Canada has a package in place to ensure that when these veterans return they are able to live a normal life. Some of them suffer physical and mental illnesses. We must have the funds in place to assist them. That is why I have some concern about the lump sum payment for veterans. If that takes place and something happens and the fund is gone, what happens to them? Will there be people on the street with no dollars, people who stood in a foreign land in order to preserve our democracy? I hope the government will take that in hand.
I had the privilege of sitting at the cabinet table for a period of time representing veterans and I did learn many things. One thing they told me was that we certainly should know our history, and I do the best I can, because if we do not know it, we are very apt to repeat it.
In looking at the economic situation in the country today and reflecting back to when I came here, there was a previous government in place. When I reflect on the budgets that were presented at that time and the projections that were made, very fine people with great intentions gave great projections, none of which were met, and all the deficits were added onto the debt.
In fact, when Mr. Chrétien formed government and Mr. Martin gave us our first economic update, the debt was $38 billion, going to $60 billion if we did not do something. It kind of reflects what is taking place today and it is a great concern. Today I am fearful of how the economic situation might be straightened out in this country. We have to be sure it is not straightened out on the backs of the poor.
In Prince Edward Island, and in the Cardigan riding which I have the great privilege of representing, agriculture, fisheries and tourism are very important. In the agricultural field, I often hear the minister and other government members talk about it being from the gate to the plate. It sounds great but I can tell the House there is absolutely no problem at the plate, but there is a great problem at the gate.
If we go beyond the gate of the family farms and meet with the people who are involved in the agricultural sector and get an understanding of the debt they are carrying, farm debt has doubled in the last three years. It is a sad situation. This is the second largest nation in the world. If we are not careful, we will not be able to feed ourselves. It is certainly true that the measures we have do not meet the requirements for what is needed in the agricultural sector.
There is one thing a number of constituents say to me. They want me to remind the government that it is the government. In fact, some people in my riding feel it has been the government a bit too long. For government members to stand in their places and indicate what took place five, ten or fifteen years ago is not good enough. People need answers.
At the agriculture committee, a number of things have been suggested. The emergency advance payment program must be re-established at a higher level to meet producers' needs. Producers have a great difficulty. Looking at the hog industry in Prince Edward Island, many people had great difficulties. Another suggestion that was made to the committee was that we have funds in place to make sure that Canadians know that they are eating Canadian pork. The problem with the hog industry in particular is that little or nothing was done and they went broke.
We need to take care of our farmers.
Fishing is another very important industry in the province. There are a lot of problems in the fishing industry in Prince Edward Island. There are certain areas in the lobster fishery that are doing quite well. However, there are areas that are in a very serious situation. They need help from the government.
On June 10, 2009, the announced a $65 million investment to help the Atlantic lobster industry. Why was it not an announcement of $165 million or $265 million, because the government is going to spend practically none of it anyway. That is the difficulty in the fishery. The fact is 80% of the total dollars that were announced have not been spent.
There were $15 million of this fund put in place in order to help fisher people who are in great difficulty, for example, in area 26A. There are always ups and downs in every industry. The pork industry needed help a year ago and a number of my constituents did not get any. They went broke. There is great difficulty in the fishery in 26A. I remember travelling in that area a number of years ago and the catches were high, but for the last number of years the people have been in a desperate situation and they need some input from the government.
The difference between fisheries and agriculture is that when fishers go broke the fleet is repossessed. It goes back to the lending institution and somebody else buys it. Somebody else invests in it. The fact is that all governments have issued lobster licences to people in this area. It is the responsibility of the Government of Canada to put a publicly funded rationalization program in place to help, in somewhat of a decent way, take out of the fishery those people who wish to come out. It is important to realize that the government issues the licence, but the people involved in the fishery spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on boats and traps to get their fleet in order, only to lose it.
The difference between the fishery and agriculture, when the government does nothing for the agricultural sector, people just go broke and go away. In the fishing sector they go broke and the lending institution is hurt. It is always a family operation and the people go broke, but it goes back to the lending institution. Someone buys the fleet and that fleet is back on the water creating the same amount of pressure on the fishery in 26A. It is not the only area in Atlantic Canada that has great difficulty. If the government does not put something in place that would take these people out of the fishery, there is going to be a continuous cycle of people going broke, people reinvesting in the fleet and the strain remaining on the resource.
As far as a recovery for people in the fishery is concerned, I suggest that the government spend some of the $65 million it announced. It has dealt with fishermen since it made that announcement. Nothing has happened in my area. The people are still up against it financially. They are asking to do this and do that, but in the end there is nothing done in order to take that fleet out of the system. The licence has to be taken back by the government and taken out of the system altogether. If 30% are taken out, it leaves 70% of the people able to make a living. Why would the government not see that? That is exactly what we need in order to ensure that the economy in that area of Prince Edward Island becomes even better.
A number of things were put in place. In fact the Liberal government put in place pilot projects in the EI program. Pilot programs have succeeded for years. They should be made part of the EI program so businesses can continue to thrive in Prince Edward Island.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill . It is nicknamed Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act.
This gives me a chance to address broadly the government's economic priorities. I have to say that in my home community of Burnaby there are lots of folks who question where the government is headed. They question the expenditures that the government is undertaking, especially during this period of recession. They question things like the large expenditures the government undertook on the G8 and G20 meetings, which were larger than those of any G8-G20 meeting in the past, and more than any that are planned in the future. People in Burnaby are left wondering just what the heck is going on when the government puts out that kind of money for that kind of meeting.
People in Burnaby are wondering about the planned expenditures for building more prisons. They do not understand why that should be a priority, especially when crime is falling in many of our communities. They just do not get why that kind of building program should be a priority for the government.
People wonder about the purchase of new fighter jets to the tune of $9 billion, and the $9 billion maintenance contract associated with the purchase. They do not understand that kind of expenditure when there are other needs in our community going unmet. They do not understand why the government continues with its massive corporate tax cuts at a time when the government is in deficit, and why government would borrow to continue these tax cuts when it does not have the money for them. It does not make sense to people. People would not do that in their own budgeting. They do not understand why the government is pursuing such activities.
They do not understand why this is not a time for us to work together to solve some problems instead of undertaking massive expenditures. People in Burnaby are coming together to put forward a clear program on homelessness and affordable housing. They favour addressing this issue by working together, across political lines, working among different agencies, with the public and private sectors.
There has been a lot of activity in Burnaby over the last year on this issue. A lot of it was motivated by the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness. I want to pay tribute to the co-chairs of that group, Wanda Mulholland, a citizen activist on homelessness issues, and Irene Jaakson, from the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. I also want to recognize the various other partners in the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness.
People have come together from all over the community to address these issues: the Fraser Health Authority, B.C. Housing, all of the local MPs and MLAs across party lines, the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, Burnaby Community Connections, Burnaby Mental Wealth Society, Faith Lutheran Church, West Burnaby United Church, South Burnaby United Church, the Burnaby Hospital, the city of Burnaby, the Salvation Army, the community policing offices, the Progressive Housing Society, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness from the United Way, the Greater Vancouver Shelter Society, the Progressive Housing Society, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service, the Mental Health and Addictions Geriatric Team from the Fraser Health Authority, and the Dixon Transition Society. All kinds of organizations and their representatives have come together to work on solutions to housing affordability and homelessness in Burnaby.
Recently, we marked this with a National Homelessness Week, which included a number of events that highlighted the program in the city of Burnaby.
What is remarkable about Burnaby is that there is not what might be considered the usual collection of community agencies, churches, and other agencies that serve people who are underhoused or homeless. Nevertheless, this message has spread to the business community in Burnaby. The exciting news is that the Burnaby Board of Trade has also got on board with this campaign and taken some significant initiatives of its own with regard to housing and homelessness.
A recent survey by the Burnaby Board of Trade established that homelessness and affordable housing were the top two social issues that business members could address. A full 64% of the members of the Burnaby Board of Trade identified those two issues as the key social issues in our community. The Burnaby Board of Trade Social Development Committee then began working on these issues.
The Burnaby Board of Trade's committee identified a number of reasons that homelessness was important in our community and to the business community. They noted that homelessness is just plain bad for business, that it is expensive, that it is a waste of human capital and productivity, and that it reflects poorly on our society. They found out that homelessness numbers are increasing in Burnaby and other communities in greater Vancouver. They noted that affordable housing is in short supply. They talked about solutions to those problems, and made some recommendations.
But they did not leave it there. They decided that they were going to take it further, and they got together with the Surrey Board of Trade and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. Last September, they took a motion and a report to the annual meeting of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Ottawa. That annual meeting adopted the report suggested by those three organizations, the two boards of trade and the chamber, on reallocating federal funding to develop a national plan to end homelessness.
That was a significant move. To have the Canadian Chamber of Commerce adopt a policy for ending homelessness and providing affordable housing is an important development. The government should be getting ready, because it will be hearing from representatives of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce on this issue when they have their next meeting here on Parliament Hill.
It is interesting to note that in the report adopted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce they make some clear statements. They say:
Homelessness is bad for business and the federal government does not have a national plan to end homelessness in Canada. Homelessness has a direct financial impact on businesses as it deters customers, damages employee recruitment and retention, harms tourism, and discourages companies from setting up offices in areas with a visible homeless population.
They begin their report with some bold and clear statements about the impact of homelessness on our communities and on the ability of businesses to be successful.
They note a number of statistics. The one that is often drawn to our attention is that Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. They note that homelessness costs Canadian taxpayers between $4.5 billion and $6 billion annually, including health care costs, criminal justice, social services, and emergency shelter costs. They note that between 150,000 and 300,000 people are homeless in Canada, which is shameful to report. They note that in greater Vancouver homelessness increased by 22% after the homelessness count in 2008.
The Burnaby Board of Trade, the Surrey Board of Trade, and the Great Victoria Chamber of Commerce know about affordable housing and homelessness. In their report, they say, “The sooner the federal government commits to ending homelessness in a reasonable time frame, the sooner Canadian businesses and citizens will benefit from the resulting increase in Canada's economic productivity and quality of life. The development of a national plan to end homelessness is the necessary first step towards fulfilling this commitment”.
They make four recommendations. They call upon the federal government to reallocate funds from within the federal budget envelope to develop a national plan to end homelessness; to establish a reasonable target for the reduction of homelessness in Canada and set a reasonable time frame to accomplish this goal; to maintain a housing-first approach of creating and sustaining affordable and supportive housing as a first priority in the development of the national plan; and to consult with other levels of government and community partners in the development of the national plan.
If the Canadian Chamber of Commerce gets it, I wonder why this is not on the agenda of the current government. That is another failing in the government's economic program.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this chance to speak to Bill , the second budget implementation act.
Everybody, rich and poor, young and old, doing well and not doing well, we are all looking for the same thing: a chance, a real chance. Even the rich who have been rich all their lives, to develop a new product or to break into a new market, at some moment they need a chance, too.
For those who are not rich and for those who are poor who have not had the same chances or who did not give themselves the full chance they needed, what do they do? Where do they go? For them, for all of us, at some moment, government matters.
A budget matters. A budget offers a path to our economic future as a country and for each of us as individuals. However, the impact of a budget is far more than just economic. It can add a piece to a life that up to that moment does not quite work. A budget has often to do with money in the form of an investment, in training, learning, health, research and development, housing, literacy, in things that might not make today much better than yesterday, but which will give us a shot at a better tomorrow.
I have watched the government for more than four and a half years. I have listened as it has brought down several budgets. A budget day offers many announcements about many things, so much it seems is about to be done. Then the next day and every day after that we also begin to see what is not being done. For me, the test for any budget of any government is, what will its impact be 5 years or 10 years from now? How will it make us better off, as a country, as individuals? How much is a budget just stuff and in truth will not have any real impact on our lives at all?
That is my disappointment with the government. More than four and a half years have passed with very little benefit to the future of Canada and Canadians.
Learning, we know, will be central to every country's future. As parents, we worry about our kids. As we look into the future, more than anything we want to know that they will be okay. We see these immense, unimaginable changes ahead and we do not know how our kids will adapt.
We know that passing on to them some money will help a little, but money gets spent. Over time, we have come to realize, to know that in their future their only real security, their only real opportunity is learning. Therefore, when things change, they have in them the capacity to learn and change with them.
Our kids need to learn more and better in their early lives, to have enriched opportunities outside their own homes as well, in early learning and child care, just as they do when they get to kindergarten and beyond. They need to have better chances at college and university so their learning is not interrupted constantly by the need for part-time jobs or years off to limit the debt they incur.
Many adults who do not learn to read early in their lives, who live under the suffocating ceiling of illiteracy need literacy programs to give them another chance at life.
What is the government doing in these regards, in this budget? What has it been doing in these more than four and a half years? Very little. Enough to say in question period and in scrums that it is doing something. Enough to meet its political needs, but not enough, not nearly enough, to meet the needs of those outside government, to meet the needs of Canada and Canadians for the future.
When this recession ends, one thing is certain, the world's economy will not go back to where it was before the recession began. Shifts have taken place. There are new ways to do things, new technologies, especially in the energy sector, new opportunities, new risks. The need for any government, for any company, is to move to where the world is going, not to where it was or is.
In this budget and in the last four and a half years what has the government done to prepare us to succeed in the future? It has done just enough to say it has done something.
It is even more dramatically the case for those who are poor and who need a chance in so many different directions, affordable housing, income assistance, child care, disability supports and even more so still, those who are aboriginal. The government has done just enough to say it is doing something, but not nearly enough to make a difference, to offer a chance at a real life.
For more and more families, it takes both parents in the workforce to make ends meet. We are living longer. We are living healthier. However, as extended families, less often do we live together. What happens when something goes wrong, when there is a major illness in the family, a child or an elderly parent? When lives are closer to the margin, how do we adapt? How do we help caregivers? The government has done just enough to say it is doing something, but not enough to make a difference.
If someone notices just how little the government is actually doing for Canadians, the government discourages those voices. According to how the government thinks, these problems should not exist. If government gets smaller, if a little more money is put into the pockets of people, everything will be fine.
The reality is, however, that life as it is really lived annoyingly gets in the way, unless of course the government does not notice. For the Conservative government, it is the miracle of ideology. If the Conservatives know something already, then they do not have to listen. The government does not have to listen to community groups, so why not cut their funding. It does not have to listen to people who oppose or criticize it, so why not fire or humiliate them. Because we cannot know what is not knowable, the census is cut. Everybody knows that if something is not measured, then it does not exist. If it does not exist, then it cannot be a problem. If it is not a problem, why have government programs to fix what does not need fixing? It is magic, magic for the government but not magic for those who need a chance.
In a time of global economic transformation, in a time of climate change, in a time when the gap between the rich and everyone else has grown, in this more than four and a half years, as exemplified by the second budget implementation act, the hallmark of the Conservative government has been political management, not national stewardship.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to join in this debate this afternoon. Certainly a number of speakers have touched on various aspects of the budget and have referred to the continued spending. One speaker referred to the gravy train and the billions that have been spent in various areas, so I believe those issues have been brought forward already today. I would like to get more specific with my comments and look, for the most part, at two issues that I can bring home to my constituents, that will have a fairly significant impact on a couple of different aspects of day-to-day life in my riding.
One of those issues is the lack of any kind of long-range planning or long-range funding commitment to particular programs. I know there was a fair amount of concern raised in the House last year as we drew down to the fiscal end of the year. Many community groups did not know whether their funding was going to be renewed or if they were going to be able to continue to operate going forward. It causes a great deal of uncertainty and a great deal of concern.
One group in particular, ACAP, the Atlantic coastal action program, is a network of not-for-profits that do very good work in the environment, educating constituents and communities and empowering communities to do something about the environment. It went right to the wire last year before it realized whether it was going to get funding. We are finding that same type of pattern emerging from the government at this time and it is truly unfortunate.
When we looked at some of the programs that had been offered through NRCan, a number of them had been initiated under previous Liberal governments. The present government changed the colours, for sure. It threw a little blue and a little green in there and went from eco-energy to EnerGuide and it figures it has a new program. That is okay. As long as the results are there and the impact is there, we see merit in those types of programs.
There was merit. There is empirical evidence that shows that these types of programs had a considerable positive outcome for homeowners throughout the region. For the most part, low-income and middle-income households throughout the region were able to go into home renovations and home retrofits that would allow them to bring down energy costs, but even more so, would have an impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases. That was a tremendous benefit.
To date we have not seen that commitment to go forward with this program. Applications are no longer being accepted. The funding is set to lapse in 2011. The Conservatives will say they are going to assess this program; however, there is an incredible amount of uncertainty that lies in the lap of these community groups that are not just trying to do good things, but have proven that they can be of great, positive benefit to these communities if given the opportunity and a little bit of support from the federal government. I would hope that the federal government would see the merit in these programs and continue to support them and not let it go until the last minute. Give these groups an opportunity to succeed. Give these groups an opportunity to plan going forward. That is my wish and I would like to see that carried forward.
The other issue that I want to bring forward is EI. Certainly with the economic downturn we saw the government take some half measures to help those who were most impacted. There was a downturn coming in Canada before the global economic downturn, but some of the measures that had been undertaken, such as the extension of five weeks of EI to all Canadians, was a program that had been initiated as a pilot project under the previous government to 21 different areas of the country, areas of highest unemployment.
The government saw the merit at the time, that this did have an impact and would be a way to help some of those who had lost their jobs or were struggling to find work. So it decided that it would extend that.
Other pilot projects that had been initiated have approached their sunset date as well. I am talking specifically about the best 14 weeks, and working while on claim is the other one. Those are two of the most important programs.
The government has recently said it is going to continue those pilot projects through until next June. That is just not enough. Some people who are receiving benefits now are workers who are in seasonal industries. They are not seasonal workers, they are in seasonal industries. For people who work in the tourism sector, the lion's share of their employment is from mid-June through to Thanksgiving weekend, and then it is pretty spotty after that. Unless they are at a ski resort, employment is pretty spotty. Not a lot of people are on the beaches at Ingonish in the middle of February.
People are still in those communities. Their children are still going to schools there. They will find work. They will go out and will survive by picking up part-time jobs, filling in part time here and there. They will take work when they can. What they need is some type of assurance that the premium they are going to receive over the course of that winter will be one that can at least sustain them.
That is why we believe the continuation of the best 14 weeks program is essential for these communities and for these industries. We are not just hearing it from the workers. I am sure many members of this House, from both sides of the aisle, have heard from constituents. From Catalone to Country Harbour, I have heard them say that it is essential that we maintain the best 14 weeks as opposed to the last 14 weeks.
We are hearing it from businesses as well, business operators in the fishing industry, fish processors, those in the lumber industry, woodlot owners, and tourism operators. This has an impact on anybody who operates in a seasonal industry.
It is the best 14 weeks that one can pick from that year. There are some weeks with great intensity, where a worker may work 60 or 80 hours a week. That provides them with a very good stamp. Maybe after that peak season, things will slow down.
We will use the fishery for an example. After a crab or lobster season, when the mackerel boats come in, processors are having trouble getting workers to come out and work a few hours to offload the mackerel boats or the herring boats, because it gives them a poor stamp that would affect their benefits for the rest of the winter. It is tough. We are talking about households. We are talking about kitchens and sometimes the cupboards are going to be bare.
I would have liked to have seen the government being more aggressive. I would have liked to have seen a strong statement on what the government is going to do for workers in seasonal industries, especially on the topic of the best 14 weeks and the topic of working while on claim. We have not seen that. Certainly that is unfortunate.
Hopefully we will see some kind of statement forthcoming, but the one that extended the benefits of this program just until June of next year is not adequate.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill . It is certainly interesting to watch the debate as it has unfolded and listen to the Liberals talk about the corporate tax cuts and how they would stop them, when they were the party that started them when they were in government. It is just amazing.
The NDP has been consistent for the last number of years, calling for an end to these tax breaks, and suddenly the Liberals have jumped on board in a big way. I guess it is interesting when they take our speaking notes.
My particular focus today is going to be on pensions and seniors. I am kind of saddened because there has not been enough talk about the seniors' situation in the House during the debate.
You will know, Mr. Speaker, that I spent the last two years touring Canada talking and listening to Canada's seniors. I have been saying throughout the 38 community meetings that I have attended from coast to coast that it is time to change the conversation.
We have EI premiums and we have our pensions, which are deferred wages. Neither are payroll taxes. They are purchases that we make as Canadians to protect our future. That expression, payroll taxes, was started in Canada by the former Liberal government, and we have to take that language back and bring about that change, take it back away from corporate Canada, away from the right wingers who view this as their own particular territory.
Pensions are clearly the assets and money that belongs to workers. EI premiums are very clearly intended to purchase insurance against hard times. As I said, they are not payroll taxes, no matter who says they are. They are premiums for the provision of protection for workers and their families.
Two years ago when I met a number of delegations of seniors, they were talking to us and trying to get our attention, saying that there was a crisis developing on pensions in Canada. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives were seized with pensions at that time.
I reported to the House that the NDP held round tables two years ago, followed by months of intensive research, and on June 9 of that year we proposed an opposition day motion on pension reform. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that the NDP opposition day motion on pension reform was passed unanimously by the House.
That particular motion set out a road map for retirement security for seniors, a road map that to date the government has failed to implement. It was during the debate that our leader, the member for , called for an immediate increase to the guaranteed income supplement to help 300,000 seniors who live below the poverty line. I will say that a majority of those seniors who live below the poverty line are women.
We also laid out a strategy for the doubling of CPP, and we said there must be a national pension insurance plan. Later in that year, October 22, 2009, the member for Toronto-—Danforth, our leader, and I released a New Democrat seniors retirement security plan.
I want to say again that the first line in the House that was spoken by the leader of our party was to address the situation with seniors who live in poverty. We must eliminate seniors poverty now, and it can be done.
This is a national disgrace, but how did it happen? How during 13 years of a Liberal government with five surplus budgets and five years of the current Conservative government did they allow this to happen on their watch?
It happened because the and the federal Liberals before him put the interests of Bay Street ahead of the interests of the workers and the pensioners of this country. I am here to say that our New Democratic caucus under the leadership of the member for Toronto—Danforth will no longer stand for this.
Today when I look at Bill , I do not see the things seniors need. I remind the government that the NDP plan proposed an immediate increase to the GIS to close that seniors' poverty gap, and we can even put a price tag on it. Statistics Canada says fixing the poverty gap for seniors would cost less than $700 million.
This $700 million would ensure dignity and respect for the seniors who built this country. However it is not here in Bill C-47.
To pay for this particular boost for seniors, all it would take is the cancelling of one of the yearly tax breaks to the corporations of this country, the tax breaks that have been going to the banks and big oil and big gas.
Next, in consultation with the provinces, we can begin the process of strengthening the Canada pension plan. We know, and I have reported in the House before, that 63% of working Canadians today have no pension and no savings. How could they save when they are barely getting by? Consider that 93% of all working Canadians are part of the Canada and Quebec pension plans. There is no other option that will provide the advantages at so little cost.
Specifically, we are proposing a phasing in, in consultation with the provinces, of the doubling of CPP. I reported to the House just last week that pension expert Professor Kesselman and Jack Mintz, who worked for the government during the studies they have been doing, both agreed with the NDP plan for the increase in CPP. Our plan, as it is proposed, would increase the benefit from $908 a month to $1,817 to help secure a livable retirement for Canadians.
I also believe it is time for a national system of workplace pensions insurance. I am sure it is not news that underfunded pensions are an epidemic and collapsing pension plans are demanding a range of solutions. Today we are still fighting to move workers' underfunded pension assets to the front of the creditors line during CCAA and BIA.
Members will likely recall that I introduced Bill to protect pensions assets during CCAA and BIA in the House and another bill, Bill , which would have done the same for LTD. Today I would suggest that one of the main problems facing Canadians is preserving private pension assets.
We are all aware in the House of the situation of Nortel workers. The Nortel workers became the poster children for the suffering workers who face companies using CCAA or BIA to avoid their responsibility to their workers and retirees. The frustrating thing for the NDP caucus remains the fact that the bill could have been before the House before the Nortel pensions were reduced to 64%, had the Liberals and Conservatives supported my original call for unanimous consent to address that motion. We could have helped those workers, instead of watching them lose over 30% of their pensions.
Beyond CCAA and BIA, the NDP recognized that workers also need insurance guaranteeing a minimum pension income when their workplace plans fail. As part of the NDP's seniors' retirement security plan, we proposed a self-financing mandatory insurance system funded by the plan's sponsors, and I stress the word “self-financing” as there would not be a cost to the government.
This is not as groundbreaking as it sounds. In fact, this is standard in the United States, Britain and elsewhere in the world. There are countries in which the governments actually back the pension plans. Where has Bill contemplated such important measures? The answer is it does not.
The NDP has proposed a national plan ensuring pension payouts are secured up to $2,500 a month. We insure our cars, we insure our homes and, in fact, we insure ourselves. Is it not common sense that we should insure our futures, our pension plans?
We are pleased that in June, as the last session of the House was ending before the summer break, the agreed with the NDP plan for enhancing CPP. In fact, recently the Ontario minister of finance also agreed with New Democrats in our call to increase CPP.
I want to talk a bit about the government's actual spending priorities that we have heard repeatedly. They include $9 billion in corporate tax cuts so far with the one this year; $16 billion for stealth fighter jets; $9 billion for prisons, and I have suggestions of some people we might put in them; and $130 million last year in advertising. Yes, everyone heard that, $130 million spent on advertising. What did seniors get? They got $1.55 a month. People can imagine their disappointment.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate.
On the weekend, our American friends had a rally to restore sanity and/or fear in Washington and it attracted a substantial crowd. It was a sort of humourous, ironic poke at previous rallies. At its core, it was really a response to the bombastic nonsense that gets spouted by the Conservative right, with, may I say, some assistance by the left, as well, which is not without guilt in this matter.
The lunacy that passes for political discourse in the U.S. sometimes makes us shake our heads. It is hard to take things seriously when the United States is looking at multiple trillion dollar deficits, historically high unemployment and absurd disparities between the über-wealthy and literally millions of people who are desperately poor. However, listening to the high-paid media punditry is a little like watching a dialogue of the deaf. It is all gesturing and positioning but no hearing or listening. Yet America goes from crisis to crisis and back again.
My favourite sign at the rally was one that said, “What do we want?”. The response was, “Reasonable discourse”. Another sign said, “When do we want it?”. The response was, Well, sometime in the not too distant future”.
Indeed, in some respects, that applies to our situation here. Canadians do tend to be a touch overly smug about our American cousins. We do tend to sort of watch them like a train wreck in slow motion and want to scream at the television, “Engineer, stop this train”.
However, we should really have our own rally here to restore fiscal sanity.
How can the Conservatives possibly pat themselves on the back if they take a $13 billion surplus, inherited from Messrs. Martin and Chrétien, and turn it into a $56 billion deficit in three short years? How do they take an unemployment rate of something south of 6%, turn it into an unemployment rate of something north of 8% and call themselves a good fiscal manager? How do they take spending, which, by any measurement anywhere, is out of control, and count themselves as a good fiscal manager?
How do they take $14 billion out of a revenue stream year after year, which, over five years, is something in the order of $90 billion, jack up the debt by $156 billion and freeze funds for the most desperately poor in the international community, and still go around patting themselves on the back?
That is why I think we should have our own rally here to restore fiscal sanity to our nation.
The irony was that it was called a rally to restore sanity and/or fear, because in this nation, with the current government, it really is give fear a chance, tap into people's fears and they will let us do almost anything. We certainly do not need to have any political dialogue that makes any sense at all. In fact, members are so disgusted with the level of discourse in this chamber that they supported the hon. member for 's motion to reorganize the way in which we carry on political discourse here in this chamber.
We also do not want anything that would pass for miracle research, hence, the big fuss over the census. The census is probably the bedrock of empirical data for this country. It is relied upon by literally thousands of organizations. However, If we do not have that bedrock of data, we do not necessarily have any problems and, if we do not have any problems, we do not need to worry about them. We can simply rely on our own ideology to initiate or not initiate things as we see fit. All we need to do is play on people's fears. We can say that the crime rate is out of control but who actually knows? There is no data to support that one way or another. Without the census, there is no hard data and no objective way of deciding. Therefore, we just play on the fears, so we will be having another crime agenda, according to the in question period.
How would we actually know that there are crime related issues if there is no data to support it one way or another? Therefore, we repeat and repeat and feed into fears and, whether it is objective nonsense or not, we keep on with the repetition of phrases like tax and spend, one of the favourite phrases around here.
It is irrelevant that the government is far and away the nation's most aggressive and biggest spender, literally in the history of the nation. It is supposed to drum that tax and spend message home. It is irrelevant that the government has burdened multiple future generations with debt. It is irrelevant that debts and deficits are merely nothing but postponed taxes. It must drive that tax and spend message home because it may get people fearful enough and dumb enough to believe that the biggest borrow and spend government in our history fancies itself as a good, economic steward.
A rally to restore fiscal sanity is in order. Canadians are sensible people but even sensible people can be stampeded by fear. We want to keep fear alive. It can take a healthy balance sheet inherited from Messrs. Martin and Chrétien, a sane banking system and strong economic fundamentals and turn it upside down and blame the very people who brought us the fiscal sanity in the first place. The government's economic credentials would do credit to a Monty Python skit: up is down, in is out. As Jon Stewart said, “we are living in hard times we are not living in end times”.
Does anyone not smoking something actually believe a finance minister who says that he will not cut transfers, not cut program spending, not cut his largest program items and still balance the budget? However, he will offer a further $6 billion in tax relief to corporations that do not need it, commit a further $35 billion to an airplane and spend $10 billion to $13 billion on prisons, which the government did not really tell Canadians about when it was passing the Truth in Sentencing Act. It was not until the Parliamentary Budget Officer caught the government with its hands in the cookie jar that it fessed up to it at the last minute.
When we put that all together, it just does not make a lot of sane economic rationale.
A rally to restore fiscal sanity cannot begin soon enough. Our nation cannot afford to go the way of the U.S. where its revenue base has been destroyed, costs are through the moon and the country is slogging through a legacy burden that would have destroyed a lesser nation.
Borrowing to cut taxes just does not work. It never has worked and it never will work. CEOs would not cut back their revenues and then let costs get away from them. It does not work in a business, it does not work at home and it does not work in government.
I am hopeful that I am starting a revolution, a rally to restore fiscal sanity. Tax cuts are not a religion. It is rank demagoguery to say tax and spend and all that sort of silly nonsense that gets spouted by the and the and others.
The government needs to have conversation about its revenue base and its cost base. The government spends 15% of the nation's GDP. It cannot carry on the way it has been without bequeathing to our future generations multiple billion dollars worth of debt. That is no way to run a nation and it is certainly not fiscal sanity.
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to have this opportunity to share my time with the member for , who so eloquently spoke on the issue before us, which is Bill .
I rise to speak to Bill , the second act to implement the provisions of the budget of 2010, which we heard in this place on March 4. As I have mentioned in the past, budget 2010 not only fails to address the real challenges facing Canadian families, it fails to even recognize that those challenges even exist. That is why Bill is a continuation of that failure. Therefore, the Liberal Party and I will not be voting in favour of the bill.
The budget 2010 stimulus package is not working. That is the underlying premise of what I will be talking about here today. The question I ask many of my constituents and many Canadians when I travel the country is whether they are better off today than they were when the Conservatives came into power. The overwhelming response is, no, they are not better off.
I will speak to a few key areas that this budget touches upon and the concerns that many Canadians have brought to my attention.
The first issue that comes up time and time again is jobs. The unemployment rate is 2% higher today than it was during the last election when the Conservatives came into power. In particular, if we look at the jobs number, full-time jobs have been replaced by part-time jobs. We have lost over 200,000 full-time jobs.
People who have part-time employment are unable to find full-time employment. Around 11% to 12% of people who currently work in part-time jobs have difficulty trying to find the full-time employment they are seeking. Employers trying to find employees for certain jobs are unable to do so as well.
At the Montreal conference that the Liberal Party held not too long ago, one of the themes that emerged, and this was when we did public policy, was that there were jobs without people and people without jobs. The job market has gone through a major restructuring. People looking for jobs are unable to find them. People who have jobs are not satisfied with the one they have.
This is a real concern. This is the number one issue that I hear about time and time again. Unfortunately the job story is one that the government does not get and it is something as parliamentarians we need to address. This budget in particular fails to do so.
The second issue that comes up in my discussions with my constituents and Canadians is the current trend we see with the government with respect to borrowing and spending. Household debt is at record levels. The average Canadian owes about $42,000, which is one of the highest amongst the OECD levels.
I want to emphasize this point because my constituency of Mississauga—Brampton South very much relies on trade. We have the Pearson International Airport and major highways in the constituency. Trade is absolutely critical for economic growth and activity in my region.
As a trading nation, we have a monthly trade deficit now at a record of $2.7 billion. What further compounds the issue now, focusing on the borrowing aspect of it, is that we have a record deficit of $56 billion and climbing. This number continues to be revised, over and over again, as the government is unable to demonstrate that it has any type of control when it comes to borrowing money. It increased its spending and doubled it just before we entered the recession. It was the most expensive endeavour taken by the government. It turned a $13 billion surplus into the $56 billion deficit that we see before us.
This is something that obviously is consistent. If we look at all of the budgets of the government, it has increased spending at unprecedented levels. What is even more troublesome is that in the next four years, it is projecting a deficit increase of $156 billion over those four years. It actually adds to our debt, which in turn costs Canadian taxpayers and future the generations $10 billion in interest. This is the kind of legacy the government is leaving for our children.
The government is borrowing and spending at a reckless rate and is leaving a legacy for future generations that will cost hard-earned taxpayer money to pay and finance the deficit and debt left by the government. People just do not understand how a government could spend so much money and borrow so much money.
Then people focus on the spending. We in opposition have highlighted this because it is important that the Canadian public realize the rate at which the government is spending money.
For example, the government spent $130 million on shameless, self-promoting advertising. I spoke with the Auditor General at committee last week about these quarterly reports and statements the government put out. She clearly indicated that it was simply a show and tell exercise. She said that it was simply a government exercise to promote and market itself. She said that the numbers were not substantive and the figures were not accurate. Those audits clearly demonstrated that the figures were not reflective of the real picture.
The Conservative government is spending all this money on twisting things in order to promote itself, and the public is now becoming acutely aware of this pattern. The government spent $130 million promoting itself through signs with respect to the economic action plan, for example, in my riding. That money could have been used for additional projects. This is a clear example of the government's loss of control and its reckless spending.
The government spent $1.3 billion on a 72-hour photo op. This was unprecedented, especially when we compare the cost to G20 summits in other countries, particularly the amount of money spent on the fake lake and glow sticks. This kind of spending at a time when people are worried about their jobs and concerned about household debt cannot be justified.
Here is another example of how the government has spent so much money. It wants to spend $13 billion on American Republican-style megaprisons for unreported crimes. This is not in line with the priorities about which I hear. It is an expenditure that makes absolutely no sense in the current context with a record deficit and the job situation that we face as a country in this difficult economic time.
The government is going to spend $16 billion on F-35 stealth jet fighters. It was a sole-sourced awarded without competition. People are stunned that the government would continue with this decision in light of the record federal deficit.
The Auditor General presented a report recently with respect to the helicopter purchases. She indicated that the sole source process for the F-35 was not the best way to go. It was not the best value for money proposition for the government and for taxpayers. This is alarming to me and to many Canadians. Why does the government continue to spend this kind of money during these difficult times?
The Conservative government provided $20 billion in corporate tax cuts that we cannot afford at the present time. Again, we are giving money away to large corporations when we should be investing in Canadian families. I will speak to this a bit later as well.
Those are some examples of how the government has spent recklessly and how much money it has borrowed.
When I ask Canadians if they think they are better off today compared to when the Conservatives came in to power in 2006, they say no. The reason they say no is because of government mismanagement. Through the various examples that we bring up in the House of Commons, through what they read in the media and see on TV, what they see in public, Canadians are beginning to realize that the government has really mismanaged taxpayer money.
Last week I had the opportunity to highlight two examples of where the government has really misspent and they highlight a bigger problem. The government outsourced the VIA Rail press releases at a cost of $3,400 for approximately 1,300 words. That was completely unnecessary. This reflected the bigger problem.
I want to highlight the fact that the most recent public accounts show that the Conservatives spent $9.4 billion on external contracts for professional and special services, a $2.2 billion increase over the previous Liberal government. That is just another example of mismanagement at a time when people are worried about the bottom line.
This budget is not in line with the priorities of Canadian. Canadians are worried about jobs, and this budget does not address that issue in a real significant way, specifically, with regard to the restructuring that is taking place in our economy. A lot of full-time jobs have been lost and those jobs are now being replaced by part-time jobs.
The government is borrowing and spending money at a reckless pace and that is going to leave a difficult legacy for future generations. It is mismanaging taxpayer dollars at a time when Canadian families are going through difficult times.
Families in my riding care about health care, education, their pensions. This budget is a clear example of the difference between what the current government is planning versus what we are proposing. Most recently we came out with a family care plan. That clearly outlines how we care about our families and our communities.
My colleagues and I will be voting against this bill because it is not in line with Canadian families. It is unfortunate that we are worse off today than we were in 2006, but I hope that changes in the near future.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill sustaining Canada's economic recovery act.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on behalf of my party today because I strongly oppose the government's vision and I think Canadians deserve to know the truth about how it is rapidly destroying our social infrastructure, which was once strong and proud. Budgets are about making choices. Time and time again, we have seen the government make choices that are not in Canadians' best interests.
Borrowing billions to give corporate tax cuts, building more prisons, sole source contracting for fighter jet planes, the government's choices have led to a proven track record of poor economic choices.
Canadians want their money to be spent wisely on things that improve the quality of life of their families. I even find the title of the bill misleading. We are led to believe, based solely on the title of the bill, that the current government is making the choice to do everything possible to help our country recover from a tough economic time. In reality this budget bill is doing exactly the opposite.
It is a typical game of the government, smoke and mirrors, clouded by wasteful spending and irrational choices and shattered by mistruths.
I am deeply concerned that the choices that the current government is making are not to the benefit of Canadians. On Friday I listened to Power and Politics and heard the telling the CBC about how the government has undertaken significant consultations with Canadians across the country and that these consultations had been meaningful. That means having a real substantive impact on public policy.
I find this disconcerting because a few weeks ago I had the opportunity, in my role as critic for democratic renewal, to travel across our great country to talk to Canadians about issues that matter to them. What I heard during this “Canadians Make the Rules Tour”, as it was called, was that Canadians across the country felt shut out and disengaged from the decision making that goes on here in Ottawa.
I heard about how Canadians are tired of the government's top-down, paternalistic, father-knows-best style of governing. They want change. They want another option to choose from.
At every round table across Canada, I heard about the importance of having a strong independent media holding the government of the day to account. Canadians believe that a should be accessible and take unfiltered questions.
I was shocked at the overwhelming ground swell of concern that the CBC has no longer sufficient funding to do its job properly.
This is a choice, a strategy on the part of the current government to limit the democratic discourse in Canadian public life by silencing any dissenting voices. Instead the government has made the choice to bloat the PMO communications budget in order to sell its bad choices to Canadians.
In Vancouver, people expressed concern about the government's failure to listen to the people and about how stakeholders are basically being left out of the decision-making process.
In Calgary, people expressed concern about the concentration of power in the 's Office and talked about how the government should be accountable to Parliament.
In Fredericton, people talked about the importance of Parliament's role as a place for dialogue and developing policies that are in the interests of the Canadian people. Unfortunately, the government does not share that vision of parliamentary supremacy.
Rather, the government seems to think that Parliament is a kind of suggestion box and a good place to put up Christmas lights once a year.
It is a terrible shame that Canadians have to watch our democratic institutions go downhill over time. Those are the facts. Canadians have spoken. When will the government finally choose to listen to what Canadians have to say?
Scholar Ursula Franklin has said that good governance is fair, transparent and takes people seriously. This government has not been fair, funding only Conservative ridings. It has not been transparent in terms of the redacted documents that are now the joke of a government elected on transparency. With sleight-of-hand announcements of the re-announcements of the re-announcements, this is a government that does not take people seriously. It bullies and silences civil society, choosing only to listen to the small number of Canadians who actually agree with it.
The government has made choices to eliminate the Canadian Council on Learning and to cut government funding to organizations like KAIROS, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation and women's groups across the country that represent the voices of social justice. This does not even mention the government's ideological bungling of maternal and child health, which is both failing Canadians and ruining what was once a sterling international reputation.
Time and time again, we bear witness to the shell game of this government. We have seen funding announcements recycled. The theme here, though, is consistent: never any new money.
The chill in the NGO community in Canada must come to an end. Within civil society is real expertise that could and should be tapped in order to get the best possible public policy for Canada and Canadian families.
As Liberals, we do not adhere to the same principles as the current government. We know that there are tough choices to be made. That is what governing and democracy are all about. We believe we should be investing in people and bringing about transformative change with the dollars that government spends.
However, time and time again this government has made the choice to abdicate governing in favour of never-ending campaigning and trying to convince Canadians that its draconian actions are not as bad as the dissenters make them out to be.
The leader of the official opposition has indicated a three-pronged approach to the return of a fair, open and compassionate Canada. It would put the emphasis on learning, care and a renewed sense of Canadian leadership in the world.
We have listened and made our intentions clear to take care of Canadians who devote a good portion of their lives to supporting their ailing loved ones.
We listened to the ideas that came out of the May 2010 public consultation on the digital economy and have announced a strategy to make our government more open, with free access to government data, a policy that the U.K. estimates has created an economic benefit of over six billion pounds.
With that in mind, we in the Liberal Party are committed to maintaining a government strategy.
As we have demonstrated with my private member's bill to bring back the long form census, we believe it is crucial to provide Canadians with evidence-based data so they can make informed decisions.
Contrary to what the said last Friday, we want to conduct real consultations with Canadians in order to draw on the knowledge and expertise of a strong civil society.
As former chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, was quoted in the Toronto Star on Sunday:
With the government’s decision to abolish the long-form census, it is not clear how one would get reliable answers to these important questions.
...in the absence of high quality census data, it may become considerably more difficult to deal with some of the fundamental economic and social issues we face.
In fact, I would like to note that the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories last week passed a motion to urge the Government of Canada to reverse its decision to eliminate the mandatory long form census.
We believe that without the empirical evidence needed to create policies, ideology will inevitably become the default foundation for debate and discussion in Canada, something that truly frightens me.
This government will spend $30 million more to get less reliable information.
I do not believe that public money should be used to finance projects like the construction of prisons for hypothetical prisoners who, strangely, cannot even be counted.
It has just been pure ideology and fear mongering. Speculation and hearsay is not sufficient evidence. It is crucial that we have the best possible information on which to make proper decisions with public money.
Choices governments make can be transformative or hold a country back. Progressive governments invest in their people, invest in science and invest in the future. Borrowing money for prisons, fighter planes and corporate tax cuts are on one side; care, learning and earning back Canada's place in the world are on the other.
This bill demonstrates the priorities of this government. It refuses to invest in our people and those people who share our tiny planet with us. Canadians deserve a government that listens and understands the reality of their daily lives. Young entrepreneurs keen to conquer the digital economy, single mothers who want to go back to school and women trying to take care of a loved one at home know this government could and should be helpful. This government has not heard their needs. The budget bill has let them down terribly.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill and address a couple of issues in the bill, both hearkening back to the original budget bill, which this is just apart of, and also some specifics in this bill.
In that regard, the budget, last time, was a classic of opportunities missed, and even where issues were addressed, government having gone offside.
I want to address in particular the funding that was promised, first, in the throne speech back in late February or early March of this year, then the actual dollars put into the budget, and then an announcement made just this past weekend on the issue. It was with regard to the horrendous issue of the number of aboriginal women who have gone missing in this country over the last decade or longer.
The sad part about this is not just the tragedy of all those women going missing and presumably, in a lot of cases, having been killed, but the fact of both the current government and the prior government not paying any attention to the issue at all. The dimension of the problem was raised by groups coming out of the first nations and having to do work that should have been done by our police forces, our justice system and our governments, which was ignored in large part by all of those sectors of our country.
It is inevitable, I think, to conclude that had the issue been treated seriously from the very beginning as these women went missing, a great deal of the loss of these women to our society could have been prevented. The current government in particular, but the prior government as well, spent way too much time on prosecuting crimes, on punishing criminals, as opposed to spending much more effort as is needed to prevent those crimes from ever happening.
Again, the announcement that we saw on Friday is just typical of that.
What was promised in the throne speech was that $10 million would be spent on what in effect I thought, from reading the speech and hearing the speech, would be mostly on prevention and assisting aboriginal groups in particular in identifying the loss of these women and trying to use methodologies that would teach us what happened to them and ways to prevent that from happening in the future.
One group in particular, the Sisters in Spirit, had done tremendous work. I was totally amazed when they brought it forward both to this House in a standing committee and to various members of Parliament who have responsibility in these areas. What was clear was that they had done very effective work in identifying how severe the problem was, but they were also literally begging the government to provide them with additional resources. That is what I thought part of that $10 million was going to be used for.
Did that happen? No, it did not.
The announcement on Friday by the minister responsible for women's issues made it very clear. When we look through the individual areas where these funds are going to get spent, it is not focused, certainly, on first nations people, aboriginal people, Métis or Inuit women. It is much more broadly dispersed among the whole population.
In spite of that promise in the Speech from the Throne that it was going to be dedicated to first nations, the aboriginal population, in fact it is not. If we do any kind of apportionment of the dollars, less than 10%, or maybe 15%, would end up aiding those communities. The rest is going to be spent on the general population.
In addition, this is not an issue that was new this past weekend. We have known about it for some time because of the work, over the last couple of years, done by the Sisters in Spirit and other groups like that from the first nations.
However, what has happened? The government says that it is going to spend the money. It is only $5 million per year for two years. That is all it has committed to. We get the announcement of how it is going to spend it, more than six months after the promise, when in fact Sisters in Spirit in particular were ready to go immediately. They had an outstanding application for funds. The government could have given them a portion of the $10 million back in March, quite frankly, when the budget first got passed. It did not do that. It spent all this time, I am not sure doing what, because when we see what it is proposing to do, it did not take six or seven months to plan that out.
In any event, we are now here, again too late, unfocused, for the $10 million. Some of that money is supposed to be spent this year on aiding some of the groups that would be providing some preventative work. It is very small amounts of money, maybe as little as $1 million per year for the next two years. I cannot see how any of that money is going to get spent this year, given how late the government has come down with it. We are going to have to wait for proposals to come forward. With the year-end break, very little of the $5 million for this year is going to get spent this year, and of course, with the risk of an election next year, it may not get spent at all.
However, it is typical of the government's attitude towards this problem, that it is not taking it seriously. Nothing could make that clearer than the way it has handled this money. There have been lots of photo ops, lots of press conferences and press releases about how it was going to do something, but the reality is that it is too little, not nearly enough money, for sure, for the problem that the aboriginal community is faced with. It is too late and what little it is doing is going in the wrong direction.
We look at this and ask why we are bothering with the government even doing this. The answer, of course, is that it gives the government the opportunity to do those press releases and have the photo ops.
The other reality with regard to this particular money is that it is quite clear from our discussions with first nations people and aboriginal communities generally that they are not at all happy, but we are not hearing any negatives from them because they are intimidated by the government. So often with so many other groups, it has intimidated them into silence by not renewing contracts and cutting off funding, KAIROS being a classic example of that and any number of other groups that it has cut funding to because they did not toe the government line, and this is again another example of that. The $10 million is really of questionable value, and whether it is going to get spent or not is questionable as well.
Let me switch to the other point that I want to raise in this brief speech, which is with regard to the pension issue.
We have in Bill one paragraph on pensions. We have had the finance minister running around the country, as well as in this House, making all these forecasts that the government is going to do something about reform of the Canada pension plan. We are promised repeatedly that it is coming, and again what we see in this bill is one paragraph that really has nothing to do with reform of the Canada pension plan.
We had been promised repeatedly, and even some dates were put on this. We were supposed to have something by the spring. Then we were supposed to have something this fall when we came back from the mid-term break. There is nothing in regard to pensions. We know, and I say this from a really negative personal experience as a member of Parliament, how traumatizing this is to a large number of our constituents.
I come from a city that is heavily dependent upon the auto industry. When it looked as though both General Motors and Chrysler were going to go into bankruptcy, and that the pensions were going to be in serious jeopardy, we expected more from the government. We expected them to deal with it. We expected them to deal with reforming Canada pension plan.
Let me conclude by saying that paragraph 70 in this bill does nothing for any of those issues.
Mr. Speaker, with respect to the government, I do not see any programming coming in at all.
This is not radical thinking. This is not radical planning. Most of the states in the United States, which are much more conservative than we are, much more oriented to a free market, have provisions at the state level for guaranteeing pensions. They are backed by the state governments. That is not a radical plan. It is quite common throughout most of western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, all societies that have markets similar to ours.
In the case of insolvency or insufficiencies in the pension plan, we need for those to be backstopped by a reserve fund, and that reserve fund needs to be backstopped by government, at both the federal and provincial levels.
We are probably 40, 50 years beyond where we should be in providing this in our social safety net. It is not so difficult to do it. We know how to structure it. But we need the political will to put that legislation in place.
With regard to the stimulus program, my community is somewhat unusual. I am in the southernmost part of the country, and so weather has not been a problem for construction. My community was in such bad economic shape that they had a number of programs ready to go as soon as the funding became available.
We think we are going to meet our deadlines, but we are pretty unusual. There are other parts of this country that are going to need extensions.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak before the House regarding this bill. On September 30, 2010, the introduced Bill , Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act.
A lot of it is smaller plugs filling the holes on the back end of the budgetary process. Nonetheless, in the spirit of fair and balanced debate, I would like to congratulate the government on some of the measures.
Part 1 implements a number of income tax measures. It allows for the sharing of the Canada child tax benefit, the universal child care benefit. That is a different debate. The universal child care benefit, through which parents get $100 a month, is being passed off as a child care program. I have misgivings about it. It does not give enough attention to the policy of early childhood education, and it does not address the fact that we have early childhood educators who are not given the right tools.
The problem with this type of thinking, just mailing out a $100 cheque every month, is that no one knows where it ends. Where is the broad vision for what we want to do, which is to allow accessible, universal child care? Under this thinking, we might as well mail $50 to everybody and call it a pharmacare program. It might work, but members will see what I am getting at.
I do not want to sound facetious, but I want to get to a positive aspect: allowing registered retirement savings plan proceeds to be transferred to a registered disability savings plan on a tax- deferred basis. I was considering doing a private member's bill on that, but the government introduced it in its budget, and here we have it, so I would like to congratulate the government. That is a positive step for people with disabilities. RRSPs are much more prevalent now than they were previously, and this provides a bit of flexibility for caregivers to pass it on to people in their families who suffer from disabilities. There we have one positive step.
In the spirit of raising the bar, there are also other issues we could look at with respect to the flexibility of registered retirement savings plans, whether to bequeath them to another person in the family after a death. This should be looked at. It is a positive first step to take the unused part of an RRSP, after a death, and pass it on to someone who is invested in an RDSP, a registered disability savings plan.
The other issues in part 1 amend the Canada Pension Plan, the Employment Insurance Act, and the Income Tax Act to provide legislative authority for the Canada Revenue Agency to issue online notices if the taxpayer so requests. In the digital age, online notices are more prevalent, more available. As a member of Parliament, I get a lot of calls regarding the Canada Revenue Agency. A lot of people are in arrears, owe money, fines, interest, and so forth. These things can be quite crippling, and the financial forgiveness that is available is always hard to get. Sometimes there is a lack of information, not just for individuals, but also for small and medium-sized businesses. This could be a positive step toward a free flow of information.
The only other issue is that the government has to commit to 100% penetration on broadband Internet. During the economic stimulus plan, part of the budget announced the penetration of broadband Internet to rural and northern areas. In all of Atlantic Canada, despite all the money that was talked about, only one project was approved.
I do not want to take away from the rest of the country, and I wish them all the best in their projects. But there was only one in Atlantic Canada. This leads me to believe that we did not put enough emphasis on the availability of broadband Internet. It would have allowed far more communities, small groups, and educational institutions to be connected.
We ask people to sign up for Service Canada, EI, and the Canada pension plan, and we create a flow of communications so that people can receive their benefits that much quicker. But without a commitment to 100% penetration, our attempts to promote on-line interactive government services will fall short.
In light of how much the government has gone from paper to on-line services, and how much we interact with the government, whether municipal, provincial, or even federal, it should be a right for people to be connected on the broadband Internet.
In the beginning, we had a railway service that connected our country. Then we had the Trans-Canada Highway, and now everyone would consider it a right to have highways and roads that connect even small communities.
I have 191 communities in my riding. That is a lot of pavement, a lot of asphalt. But of the 191 communities, 31 do not have access to broadband Internet. Put aside the issue of affordability. It is just not there.
On an individual basis, that is bad enough. But how do we attract industry? How do we say to a company that our plant has closed down, but we have a well-trained talent pool within this community, and we want the company to come in and set up a business?
Do I have vital services? Yes. Water hook-up? Yes. Asphalt to the back of the business? Yes. Do I have broadband Internet? No, we do not. We have dial-up.
How can a company bidding on major contracts do this when it is already at a terrible disadvantage? That is part of the issue.
I applaud the government for moving toward more on-line services, but I think the debate has to continue beyond this. We have to talk about the fact that not everyone is hooked up under broadband services.
Part 7 amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to implement the total transfer protection for 2010-11, to set out the treatment of the one-time transfer protection payment under the fiscal stabilization program. That is pretty straightforward.
Let us talk about equalization and transfer payments. We joined Canada in 1949, and today I can stand in the House and say that I live in and represent a “have” province. That was a long time coming. There were certain sacrifices along the way, but we have become a “have” province.
We are not doing things just for the sake of making more money out of revenues from oil and natural gas development. My province now has one of the best poverty-reduction strategies in this country. I congratulate the provincial government for doing it. It is well managed and it is going to make a big difference.
Recently, a program for a home heating rebate for seniors was announced. It is a fantastic program. This was done federally in 2005. It was the energy rebate. As far as I can gather, energy prices have not decreased, so I think that is something we should look at.
It also mentions the Pension Benefit Standards Act. It is almost as if we do pension reform on the margins. I discussed this earlier.
Pension reform is going to be part of this debate. I understand first ministers are currently discussing it. I hope that they come up with a plan that allows more flexibility in the Canada pension plan.
I do like the fact that we could have a supplementary Canada pension plan. That is one element and a visionary element that could bring a greater amount of benefit and income for our most vulnerable seniors.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill , an act to implement certain provisions of the other budget tabled in Parliament, blah, blah, blah. The short title is “sustaining Canada's economic recovery” and the blah, blah, blah is about sustaining Canada's economic recovery because, although I will speak specifically to the universal child care benefit and pensions, I want to highlight for people that this so-called economic recovery has not reached from coast to coast to coast in our beautiful country.
I want to refer to a Statistics Canada study that was in The Globe and Mail article entitled, “Natives bore brunt of job losses, study shows”.
When this recession was rolling out across this country, first nations, Métis and Inuit said very clearly, I am sure to many members of this House, that they did not want to be left behind in this recession and that we should not forget that they are already the poorest of the poor.
In Canada's economic recovery act, we see that first nations, Métis and Inuit are absolutely left behind.
According to Statistics Canada, this article reads:
Aboriginals have long struggled with higher unemployment than the rest of Canadians, but the recent economic downturn saw the trouble mount, widening the gap between natives and non-natives.
...in communities across Canada, aboriginal people not living on reserves were hit by bigger drops in employment rates from 2008 to 2009 than the rest of the population.
It mentioned that Statistics Canada did not measure employment on reserves.
The article goes on to state:
The unemployment rate among aboriginal people aged 15 and over rose to 13.9% in 2009 from 10.4% the previous year. At the same time, the unemployment rate for non-aboriginals rose to just over 8% in 2009 from 6 per cent in 2008.
We can see that clearly highlights the starting point difference between aboriginal people working off reserve versus the non-aboriginal population.
The article goes on to give a couple of numbers in a couple of different sectors. It states:
There was a 30% employment decline for natives in manufacturing, compared to just 8% among non-native manufacturing workers. A similar decline was noted in construction, with a 16% drop for native workers compared to 5% for non-natives.
The reason I raise this today is that the legislation before us would do nothing to change those numbers for first nations, Métis and Inuit. We had fair warning before we entered into this recession. We simply have not seen the kind of action that would alleviate the poverty in some of these communities from coast to coast to coast.
I want to speak very briefly to the part of the legislation that deals with the universal child care benefit.
When the Conservatives introduced the child care benefit, the New Democrats stood and said that it would not provide quality, affordable, regulated, licensed, publicly-delivered child care for families in this country.
Despite the fact that people receive $100 a month per child, which is partially clawed back through the tax system, we are now seeing, just as we predicted, the disappearance of child care spaces. The government talks about having a choice in child care. How is $100 a month a choice in child care when the child care bills can run up to $1,000 a month or more, depending upon the city in which one lives? Mothers and fathers are left struggling to figure out how they can continue to work. I must point out that work is often not a choice for people. It often takes two working family members to pay the bills and keep a roof over their children's head. These families are struggling with the fact that they must work and are concerned about what happens with their children when they drop them off at a child care centre. There are many fine family-run child care centres in this country, but that is not the point. The $100 a month is not a choice in child care.
In my riding, an article recently said “Childcare shortfall reaches five hundred kids”. In an article in the Cowichan News Leader, on July 30, it said, “There are 538 fewer childcare spaces in Cowichan compared to 2007”. I happen to know that it is not because we have 538 fewer children in the Cowichan valley. It is because these child care centres are being forced to close.
An organization called Social Planning Cowichan is doing a lot of work around examining the reasons why these child care spaces are disappearing and what the options are for families. It says:
According to [Social Planning Cowichan] numbers, about half of Cowichan's 10,000 kids under age 12 need care—a percentage and total virtually unchanged from three years ago.
There are 10,000 children just in the Cowichan Valley who are requiring care. These are children under the age of 12. It goes on to say:
In 2007, childcare support was available for 48 per cent of those needing it, and now that figure is just 37 per cent.
One suspect is the recession, stealing families' childcare cash. An accomplice could be government cuts to childcare programs. Wages often in the $12-$13 an hour range have also made it hard to attract and retain qualified help.
Somebody once reminded me that we want to provide really good child care for these children because they are going to grow up and change our diapers when we are in long-term care facilities. However, what we are saying is that we are going to pay those workers $12 to $13 an hour, and they are raising the future generation. They are raising the future business leaders, community leaders and perhaps politicians. That is what $100 a month in child care choice contributes to.
We should be looking toward the province of Quebec that has done a very good job in providing child care for the children in the province. It is a model for the rest of Canada and we should look to it for a program that has been very effective in terms of providing real child care choice for family members.
I want to touch briefly on pensions. Before I do that, this is relevant because it is about poverty.
HungerCount 2009, put out by Food Banks Canada, has a couple of interesting figures in its report. It says:
This year’s HungerCount survey confirms what we all suspected: food bank use across the country has escalated as a result of the economic downturn. More than 790,000 people walked into a food bank in March 2009, 72,000 of them for the first time. Not surprisingly, food banks themselves, running on shoestring budgets and staffed largely by dedicated volunteers, are struggling to meet the demand. This year’s HungerCount portrays a country in need of change.
Sadly, I only have 10 minutes so I cannot read all of the very good information about poverty in our country, which is resulting in increased food bank usage, but it does say who is turning to food banks. It says:
In terms of household composition, food bank use did not change significantly from 2008 to 2009. Nearly half of assisted households were families with children, split about evenly between two-parent and single-parent families. The proportion of single people turning to food banks for help edged up.
It says that 49% are families with children. It also points out that 12% of those assisted are aboriginal.
That was going to be in the context of pensions, and this economic recovery bill, Bill , does have amendments to the Pension Benefits Standards Act. However, what it sadly does not do is look at increasing CPP, OAS and GIS to some of the poorest, marginalized seniors in our country. What we know is we have the capacity to do that if we only do not go ahead and implement those corporate tax cuts. The $700 million annually that would be required to lift seniors out of poverty and protect pensions in cases of bankruptcy or insolvency could come from those corporate tax cuts, so we could afford to pay for it.
New Democrats do not support the bill and do not see it as a full-blown economic recovery bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to have a few words at this point in the debate over the budget implementation bill.
First there is the overall situation within which the budget is being considered, and then there are the issues that the budget is silent on, where it could deal with some of the confidence issues that I think Canadians are very concerned about at the present time.
The budget implementation bill is within the context of a stimulus approach that the government initiated with the support of all parties in the House, I believe, certainly of this party. The objective of the stimulus package was to look at infrastructure in particular from coast to coast to coast, with municipal levels of government, the construction industries and the future needs of the country, to invest in literally thousands of projects. These projects would add value and create confidence. Investors and those looking particularly at small business expansion would see this as a background for the confidence needed to make their decisions. The stimulus package, to some extent, has been successful in doing that.
However, there are some ominous signs. Even against the added value that has been created, there there are some signs that Canadians are worried about the future. Let us look at a few of those signs. The unemployment rate today is 2% higher than it was a few years ago, but that does not really tell the full story. We have heard others speak about the erosion of full-time career-type jobs, which are being replaced with the creation of short-term contract jobs. Particularly for young people coming out of university and trades apprenticeships, this has given them a sense that there is not the same stability and continuity that would allow them the quality of life that their parents and their parents' parents had. This is creating a great deal of uncertainty within the present and future generations.
Also, in real terms the economy is seasonally adjusted, sort of like the weather used to be. In real terms, the economy in July shrank. When we think about the objective of the stimulus initiatives that were taken under the action plan, the hardest hit have been in the area of construction. Their percentage of GDP has shrunk. The overall economy has shrunk, but the percentage occupied by the construction industry has disproportionately shrunk. That has to give all of us concern.
The budget talks about adjustments to the capital tax allowance, which would allow a more rapid writeoff of capital equipment. It is a good thing, but on the other side of that, we mention the green energy plan. There are no incentives to the consumers that would be the variable in the equation that would, in fact, absorb those green products that are being created.
On the one hand, yes, those in small businesses, in green technologies, and so on are being encouraged to write off capital equipment sooner. However, on the product they produce out of that, there is no incentive to the consumer to participate in the economic activity that would create more jobs and sustainability in that field.
It is sort of an opportunity that is there as a result of one part of the capital plan in the budget but not offset by an operating infusion of money that would put money into consumers' pockets that they could then go out and use to purchase green technology and green equipment, be it heating, air conditioning, different automotive products or whatever.
One of the areas that I found extremely concerning in that light was that from coast to coast to coast there has been an absolute understanding of the role that rapid transit, high-speed transit and transportation systems, plays. We are a tremendous exporter of transportation technology into the rest of the world. It always befuddled me somewhat that while we are a grand exporter of the best that Bombardier can produce, we are not the highest user of those same goods.
So I link the absence in this budget of the opportunity to create, for example, electrified technology that would in turn deal with issues related to climate change, urban and inter-urban transportation, and converting the older diesel technologies into electrified technologies that would in fact add value and deal with the issues related to climate change.
I use that as an illustration because every so often we have a chance to link government policy, supported by the House, to an issue that is very top of the mind in our ridings. The whole issue of expansion of rail corridors, the use of those corridors to relieve the congestion on the roads and for the transport of goods and people is looked at as an absolute objective that we want to achieve, but on the other hand, we have not invested in the technology that grabs the confidence of the cities and commuters to be participants in a very firm strategy to create those systems.
Another thing that shows a great deal of lack of confidence is that it appears that consumer confidence has declined for the fourth or fifth straight month. Again, that has to do with the taking away of some of the incentives that people have to participate in the purchase of green goods, and so on and so forth. There is no mention of that in the budget.
Household debt has apparently climbed to all-time high levels. We have been privy to what happened with respect to the disastrous decline of the economy in the United States, the fact that because of borrowing policies laid out by the federal government and state governments, the elasticity was so great that there was actually a point where people where paying for mortgages on their debit or Visa accounts.
We have to be very careful, obviously, that we do not reach that point. As has been said, there has been government support for a strong banking and financial institutions regime. Perhaps that is a counterbalance to the kind of thing that could happen in Canada and mirror that situation that happened in the United States.
It is an ominous sign that while the budget attempts to stimulate confidence, there are some indicators that this is not happening.
Much has been said with respect to the area of pensions. I think we have to be very clear that while there are some mechanisms in this budget that allude to the pension issue, we have to deal with the issue of actuarial solvency.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, on the one side, there are some very positive aspects of the budget, but--