Mr. Speaker, I wish a belated happy Father's Day to you and everyone else in the House.
It is my absolute pleasure to kick off third and final reading of the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act. This is a very good measure that the government has put forward which will help Canadians across the country secure jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.
Before I speak to the bill, I will take a brief moment to thank my fellow members of the finance committee and the special subcommittee that was created specifically to study the bill. Together, both committees held nearly 70 hours of hearings on the legislation, making it the longest committee study of a budget implementation bill in over two decades.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of witnesses we heard at committee, including government officials, business leaders, union representatives, economists, industry associations and many others. Their words and testimony made clear that we need this legislation to keep our economy strong, especially when events in Europe remind us that the global economic outlook remains fragile.
We heard from witnesses such as University of Guelph Professor Jane Londerville and Carleton University Professor Ian Lee. Both applauded this bill for the increased oversight it brings to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which will strengthen Canada's housing sector.
The Mining Association of Canada explained how the mineral exploration tax credit would help northern and remote communities to grow.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities voiced its approval for the measures taken by this bill to increase the availability of registered disability savings plans.
Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters praised our government's focus on more efficient and responsible resource development because it believes our plan will “maximize our economic opportunities while maintaining the right balance between environmental protection and economic growth”.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business gave its approval to reforms to employment insurance that would better assist and encourage Canadians looking for work.
Witnesses such as the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and Consumer Health Products Canada were pleased to see the elimination of bureaucratic red tape that delayed new products already approved by Health Canada from coming to market for years on end.
The Canadian Museums Association noted that amendments contained in this bill would mean that Canadians right across the country would get to see more and more of the world's finest art in our museums.
We heard from witnesses such as the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management, which commended the government for common sense reforms to old age security, which will ensure that the program remains sustainable for generations to come.
Windsor Police Service and the RCMP explained how provisions contained in this legislation would allow them to better partner with American law enforcement to keep Canada's border with the United States safe and open for business.
There were many more witnesses who provided countless hours of testimony and spoke to the great importance of this bill and the positive impact it would have on Canada's economy. I encourage Canadians to visit the finance committee's website and read about all of this first hand.
At times like these, Canadian families want their government and elected officials to stay focused on the economy, not on partisanship or procedural games. Canadians see the headlines about Greece and Spain. They read about how those economies have hit hard times. They know that European governments have been unable to effectively deal with their economic crisis.
While it should be clear to everyone in this Parliament, sometimes it does not seem that way, so I will say it anyway. Canadians do not want economic uncertainty. Canadians do not want their politicians to play procedural games while the economy teeters. Canadians want a government with a plan to grow Canada's economy and create jobs in their communities so they can continue to focus on what matters to them, such as raising their families, saving for their retirement and continuing to live in the very best country on Earth. That is exactly what our Conservative government has committed to do since being elected in 2006.
Despite what the NDP and Liberals would have us believe with their constant talking down of the Canadian economy, our Conservative government's plan to grow the Canadian economy has worked and it has worked very well. It is a plan that has included record investments in research and development, record investments in infrastructure, over 140 tax cuts leaving over $3,100 in the pockets of an average Canadian family, lower business taxes, investments in skills, training and education, and so very much more.
We know that our plan has been effective but members do not have to take my word for it because the facts speak for themselves. Let us look at the facts.
Fact, since we took office in January 2006, Canada has created nearly 1.3 million net new jobs, which is the best job growth record in the G7.
Fact, Forbes magazine, one of the world's leading business publications, has ranked Canada as the best country in the world to do business.
Fact, the World Economic Forum, a respected independent financial leader, has declared Canada's banks to be the soundest in the world for four straight years in a row.
Fact, both the OECD and the IMF have forecast that Canada's economic growth will be among the strongest in the industrialized world in the coming years.
Fact, Canada's net debt to GDP ratio remains the lowest in the G7 by far.
Fact, all three of the world's major credit rating agencies, Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch, have recently renewed Canada's top credit rating.
When Conservative members point out these facts, the NDP and Liberals are quick to attack them, dismissing undisputed international praise of Canada's economy as somehow having nothing to do with our government's economic policy since 2006. Naturally, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, I do not agree with that statement at all.
Canadians might expect some bias in my assessment, so I do not want them to just take my word for it. This is what the OECD said only a few short days ago about Canada's economy, “overall, Canada's...performance has been very good in recent years. We attribute that to good macro policy settings, good structural policy”.
When Canadians watching at home hear the NDP and Liberal speakers stand up bashing Canada's economy and our government's economic policies, I urge them to consider all of the facts.
Despite our careful stewardship to grow and protect Canada's economy, we cannot be complacent and rely on our past achievements to carry us forward. That is something almost every Canadian can relate to, be it a small business owner who is hoping to grow, an employee looking for a promotion, a high school student applying to college, or a family trying to pay the bills while also trying to save enough for retirement.
To succeed we must look forward and be prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead. Both today's legislation and economic action plan 2012 would do exactly that and are unapologetic in their comprehensiveness and ambition. The challenges we face are equally multifaceted and wide-ranging.
There are many challenges and uncertainties still confronting the economy. The recovery is not complete and too many Canadians are still looking for work. The global economy remains fragile and any potential setbacks would have an impact on Canada. Canadian businesses face ever-increasing competition from emerging fast-growth countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Our aging population will put pressure on public finances and social programs. Let us not kid ourselves: it will not be easy during this particularly intense time, but we know that we have the leadership that it takes to get things done.
Economic action plan 2012 takes important steps to address these structural challenges and ensure the sustainability of public finances and social programs for future generations.
International experience shows the importance of taking action now, rather than delaying.
Economic action plan 2012 focuses on the drivers of growth and job creation—innovation, investment, education, skills and communities.
Underpinning these actions is the ongoing commitment to keeping taxes low, which is central to the government’s long-term economic plan. I am pleased to announce that since its release nearly four months ago, economic action plan 2012 has received some extremely positive reactions.
As the Quebec Employers Council said, the economic action plan contains “measures to support economic development and job creation in Canada”.
These are the words of the Vancouver Board of Trade:
This budget reflects the type of long-term thinking that needs to be shown in a global context of the need for more free trade, particularly with Asia, South America and Europe.
The St. John's Board of Trade said that budget 2012 “focuses on the future and on future generations. It's a focus on high-quality job creation. We have a focus on innovation that is going to help us diversify the economy, which is going to be critical for future success”.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said:
The 2012 federal budget presents a plan for long-term economic growth that builds on Canada’s economic fiscal advantages.
Finally, a recent Waterloo region editorial in the The Record stated that budget 2012 was an:
...intelligent and visionary plan to preserve a progressive, prosperous Canada in a global landscape filled with both upheaval and promise.
And for this reason it is the most ambitious and important federal budget in a generation.
Underlying it all is an astute recognition of how this nation and the world around it are changing. Canada is aging. The growth in its workforce has slowed to a crawl. New economic superpowers — China, India, Brazil — that have emerged or are emerging offer new markets yet greater competition.
This budget tackles these challenges head-on....
What do all those third party assessments of economic action plan 2012 have in common? They recognize that our Conservative government's plan is forward looking and focused squarely on Canadians' long-term economic prosperity.
We contrast that with members of the NDP who continue to push their failed high-tax, anti-globalization, anti-trade agenda and the ever-expanding government bureaucracies of the 1970s that go with it. Or, the LIberals who also want higher taxes and who are guided by the belief that every aspect of Canadian life should be managed by a government program run by an endless stream of bureaucrats. Or, let us consider the radicalism of the Green Party which wants to shut down huge sectors of the Canadian economy, punish Canadians with a new tax on the energy they use and labels Canada's natural resource industry and the people it employs a “disease”.
None of the oppositions' proposals are based on facts, like how Canada's population is aging or the continued fragility of the global economy. Instead, the oppositions' plans are based on a rigid ideological belief that government must always grow larger, control more and leave less in the pockets of its citizens through higher taxes. That is why they have been so vocal in their opposition to economic action plan 2012.
I want Canadians at home to know that today's bill is a solid plan for our economy that will bring jobs today and prosperity for tomorrow. With today's act, we are encouraging business to invest and create jobs in Canada by making the review process for major economic projects more timely and transparent while protecting the environment under the principle of one project, one review; extending the mineral exploration tax credit to support junior mineral exploration; and getting rid of dated foreign investment restrictions that prevent Canadian telecommunications companies from growing their operations.
We are improving training by making employment insurance more efficient and focused on job creation by removing disincentives to work while continuing to support unemployed Canadians. We are bolstering Canada's immigration system to better meet our economic needs by ensuring that skilled immigrants can come to Canada and apply their skills where they are needed most.
We are supporting families and communities by guaranteeing the increase of health and social transfers well into the next decade, expanding tax relief to better meet the health care needs of Canadians, expanding accessibility to the registered disability savings plan, requiring that federally regulated long-term disability plans be insured, and ensuring wider access to OAS and GIS through proactive enrolment.
That is a lot in one paragraph and there is so much more covered in this bill.
We are also better managing taxpayer dollars and getting back to balanced budgets by refocusing government programs, including completely eliminating dated and ineffective programs that are duplicative or no longer serve the needs of Canadians.
Before closing, allow me to say that our government's economic policies have made Canada a model of stability in a struggling global economy. We are one step closer to passing this important piece of legislation, which will support job creation, the responsible development of our resources, small business and vital sectors of our economy.
This bill has had the longest debate in the House of Commons and the most extensive study in committee of any other budget implementation bill in over 20 years.
Canadians want their government to concentrate on what is most important: jobs, growth and economic prosperity.
That is exactly what we are doing by implementing economic action plan 2012.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to make it clear that NDP objects, in the strongest possible terms, to Bill , what we call the Trojan Horse bill. Here we are, regrettably, at third reading of this massive omnibus bill, consisting of 425 pages and 753 clauses. Let me be clear about what this bill would do.
One-third of the bill is dedicated to gutting environmental protection and turning back the clock on it. It would make sweeping changes to old age security and employment insurance, vital programs on which Canadian families rely. It would press the delete button on over 300,000 federal skilled worker applications for people who have been playing by the rules and waiting their turn. It would open the door to the privatization of our food safety system and would roll back the clock on government transparency and accountability for the future by concentrating powers in the hands of ministers and reducing oversight and reporting requirements. These are just a few of the measures contained in the bill, everything but the kitchen sink, all bound up in one massive package.
There is growing national consensus that this is the wrong way to make significant changes to government policies and programs. Matthew Carroll of Leadnow confirmed that “Canadians are hungry for a truly participatory democracy that works. The majority are outraged at the direction the current government is dragging our country”.
Even those who agree with some of the proposed changes are decrying the lack of proper oversight and study of the bill. Conservative commentator Andrew Coyne wrote about this Trojan Horse and stated:
We've no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet... there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government’s whole legislative agenda at one go.
We have tried from the outset to reach out to the government and work with it to find an acceptable way to divide this bill into manageable parts for a more effective and democratic study. Our attempts were thwarted. We tried to offer amendments at the finance committee, but not one of the 53 amendments was accepted, this even in the face of testimony that seriously cautioned the government on several of its proposed changes.
Will Amos of Ecojustice testified. He stated:
There is no law that we can recall that has ever, in such a broad and structural manner, changed the federal environmental governance regime....Canadians are not ready for this. Parliament is not ready for this. There has been inadequate process to consider the transformative changes that are being proposed.
Professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen cautioned, as follows:
What we don't often understand or look at is how various portions of the budget will interact with each other. For example, when you change the OAS and you then change the employment insurance, you're going to see that older people who are over 65 are probably going to be doing part-time and temporary work; they're not going to be able to qualify for a pension, nor are they going to be able to qualify for EI, if they aren't employed. We may be pushing a lot of people in specific kinds of groups into positions of poverty...
On the removal of the Inspector General's oversight from CSIS, and that is also in this bill, Paul Kennedy told the commons committee the following:
The cost associated with the Office of the Inspector General is a small price to pay if one wants to maintain a covert intelligence agency in Canada. The elimination of the Eyes and Ears of the Minister, if that is the course that you chose to adopt, should be accompanied by a common recommendation that future missteps by the intelligence service will be accompanied by the resignation of the Public Safety Minister. Wilful blindness as to potential problems at CSIS must carry a price. After all, responsibility ultimately rests with the Minister.
Mr. Kennedy is a former senior assistant deputy minister of public safety with 20 years of experience in national security. The Conservatives dismissed his testimony as simply wrong.
Finally, after time allocation in the committee, which left us with about four minutes of study per clause and further time allocations in the House, we were left with attempts to delete and amend the bill at report stage and every amendment was voted down by the government.
We urged the government to consult with Canadians about some of these massive changes, to hold hearings to meet with political and community leaders. However, the Atlantic premiers were not consulted about the impact of the proposed EI changes on their provinces and key environmental organizations were not consulted about the impact of gutting environmental laws.
National Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations testified at the subcommittee. He said:
Part 3 of Bill C-38 needs to be withdrawn to take the time to work with first nations to ensure their rights and interests are reflected and will not be compromised through such legislation.
New Democrats did our best to open up the process by holding hearings across the country and encouraging Canadians to contact us by email, mail and social media, and thousands did. However, just as Canadians are realizing what is at stake, the government is determined to ram this bill through. We can only believe that the Conservatives' original intent was to pass this massive bill without most Canadians even knowing what was in it. It is abundantly clear that the Conservatives are determined to shut down debate and shut Canadians out of the plans they have for our country.
We believe we have made the process somewhat democratic, but it is still unacceptable that such major changes are being implemented without consultation or adequate oversight. Unfortunately, the impact of this so-called budget bill will be felt not just for a few years, but for decades. If the government is so confident about the measures it is implementing, why did it not promote them in last year's election campaign? Why is it so afraid of a public debate today? Why does it not want Canadians to find out what impact the proposed changes will have on them and their families? When did the Conservatives begin to fear accountability?
I must also emphasize that the short title of this bill, “jobs prosperity and long-term growth”, more than misses the mark. The vast majority of these 425 pages have nothing to do with the budget or economic growth. In fact, some measures would create downward pressure on the income of Canadians. The proposed EI changes would quickly move unemployed workers to lower-paying jobs or else right off EI and onto welfare.
We see other measures such as the temporary foreign workers provisions already announced by the Conservative government that would require an employer to only search for a Canadian to fill a job for two weeks before bringing in temporary foreign workers who, now for the first time, can be paid 15% less than the average wage.
Economist Jim Stanford testified before the finance committee. He said:
It is an enormous shortage of jobs, not a lack of workers and not a lack of work ethic, that explains the decline in the employment rate...policies should be designed not to compel more labour supply but rather to support Canadian families in an era where there's a chronic shortage of jobs that dominates the outlook for our labour market moving forward.
We are already living in volatile economic times. Personal debt is at an all-time high of 152% of household income and yet there are nine times more in cuts than in job creation measures in budget 2012. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has cautioned that these changes will have a negative drag on our economy and, overall, unemployment would likely rise. Our trade deficit is high and growing.
To continue with Jim Stanford, he says:
There’s a big difference, however, between signing free-trade pacts and actually doing something about trade. Canada’s trade performance deteriorated badly over the past decade. The quantity of goods and services shipped abroad is seven percentage points lower than when the [Conservative] government took office, lower even than back in 2000....Our once-impressive trade surplus has melted into deficit.
Yet irresponsible, no strings attached budget cuts and tax cuts to the largest corporations have reduced the government's capacity for flexibility in these times. This omnibus budget bill does not address these problems. Instead, it makes them worse.
I look at my own community of Parkdale—High Park. There are people who are desperate to find jobs to support themselves and their families. People work hard, sometimes at two or three jobs, yet they cannot get their heads above the poverty line.
It is a sad fact that in the city of Toronto, with all its wealth and opportunity, one in three children lives in poverty. I see other families who are making a higher income but who are paying exorbitant child care fees, many thousands of dollars on top of an increasing cost of living on everything from housing to food, but their incomes are not rising accordingly. These families see nothing in the budget to provide more affordable housing, nothing in child care, nothing to create jobs and improve their incomes in Toronto.
I see young people who would love the chance to have a decent future and to be part of the economy of tomorrow, but there is almost nothing here in skills development and apprenticeship training.
Young people now have twice the national unemployment rate. If they lose hope, our country will pay the price in years to come. If we invest at the front end, in job skills training and child care and better housing, we will all reap the benefits for years to come.
Regrettably, the government's determination to grow the prison population and purchase fighter jets at the expense of these measures takes Canada in the wrong direction. It is not just morally and socially wrong. It is economically unsustainable.
We believe that it is wrong to attempt to sneak measures past Canadians and to ram them through Parliament as quickly as possible. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said repeatedly that MPs are not getting the information they need in order to reasonably be able to exercise their power of oversight. And today, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has come forward with a legal opinion that backs his battle to obtain information about the proposed cuts.
We are living in uncertain times, and forces beyond our borders will likely continue to have a significant impact for some time to go.
We will have a jobs crisis, likely to get worse. We have an environmental record that has plummeted, among the worst under the Conservatives, and we have a government that repeatedly misleads Canadians to serve its agenda.
Canadians need a government committed to job creation in a meaningful way, not just talking points. We need a government that understands that economic growth and environmental protection must go hand in hand. And we need a government that not only sets up a Parliamentary Budget Office but that provides that office with the information it needs to provide real accountability for Canadians.
That is why New Democrats have been standing firmly against this undemocratic Trojan Horse bill every step of the way and that is why, today, I would like to introduce the following reasoned amendment. My reasoned amendment is as follows:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“this House declines to give third reading to Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, because this House:
a) does not know the full implications of the budget cuts given that the government has kept the details of the $5.2 billion in spending cuts from the Parliamentary Budget Officer whose lawyer Joseph Magnet says the government is violating the Federal Accountability Act law and should turn the information over to the Parliamentary Budget Officer;
b) is concerned with the impact of the changes in the Bill on Canadian society such as:
i. making it more difficult for Canadians to access Employment Insurance when they need it and forcing them to accept jobs at 70% of what they previously earned or lose their EI;
ii. raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years and thus driving thousands of Canadians into poverty while downloading spending to the provinces;
iii. cutting back the federal health transfers to the provinces from 2017 on, which will result in a loss of $31 billion to the health care system; and
iv. gutting the federal environmental assessment regime and weakening fish habitat protection which will adversely affect Canada's environmental sustainability for generations to come; and
c) is opposed to the removal of critical oversight powers of the Auditor General over a dozen agencies and the systematic concentration of powers in the hands of Government ministers over agencies such as the National Energy Board which weakens Canadians' confidence in the work of Parliament, decreases transparency and erodes fundamental democratic institutions by systematically eroding institutional checks and balances to the government's ideologically driven agenda.
Mr. Speaker, Bill amends or repeals 70 different pieces of legislation. It is 425 pages of legislative text with 753 clauses.
There has been a lot of focus on the length of the bill. In fact, my party and I are more concerned with the breadth of the bill and the range of legislative changes made by Bill . In fact, that is much more important than the number of words or pages. To put this in perspective, it often takes just a single clause in Bill to repeal or introduce an entire act.
Proposed in Bill , we now have an entirely new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in clause 52. This one clause replaces decades of environmental protection and oversight in Canada.
Clause 441 repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act.
Clause 447 increased the old age security qualification age from 65 to 67.
Clause 686 abolishes the National Council on Welfare.
Clause 699 repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.
Clause 711 introduces an entirely new Shared Services Canada Act.
These are just a sampling of a few of the 753 clauses contained in this legislation.
Under the Conservatives, budget bills have grown tremendously in breadth. These pieces of omnibus legislation have become more complex, affecting widely disparate subjects and putting them into a single bill. At the same time, the Conservatives are limiting Parliament's ability to examine these different topics in several ways: first, by limiting the amount of time we have to examine the legislation before rushing it through committee; second, by limiting the number of expert witnesses we can hear from at committee; and third, by limiting the debate on this legislation in Parliament.
There is another way that the government is operating at committee to try to subvert reasonable debate and quash any dissension to its views. We heard from a number of witnesses who spoke at length in opposition to parts of this legislation. National Chief Shawn Atleo spoke to our committee. Perversely, most of Mr. Atleo's testimony and the intent of his testimony were actually expunged from the report that the committee presented. Contrary to what the researchers provided, the governing members on the committee worked together to ensure that we would effectively expunge any piece of testimony that may be critical of the government's system.
The same was done with Tom Siddon, a former minister of fisheries in a Progressive Conservative government, who said that this legislation would make “Swiss cheese” out of the Fisheries Act and warned us of the remarkably harmful damage to the Fisheries Act that would be rendered by this legislation. Most of the intent of his testimony was effectively expunged from the final report.
Over 600 clauses are included in parts 1, 2 and 4 of the bill, but the finance committee had just over a week to hear from a grand total of 57 witnesses from outside of the government. Most clauses in this legislation were not properly examined by the finance committee or addressed by even a single witness. Simply put, the process to study Bill was a farce.
Unfortunately, last spring the Conservatives learned that parliamentary process does not seem at the present to matter a lot to Canadians. They also learned this in Ontario with the omnibus bills of the Harris government.
I mentioned last spring that it was this Conservative government that became the first government not only in Canada but in the British Commonwealth parliamentary system to have actually been found in contempt of Parliament by the previous Speaker and House.
Elections are about a lot of issues. Sometimes an issue will resonate with Canadians and sometimes it will not. In that election, for whatever reason, a lot of Canadians did not seem to be paying attention to the fact that we had a sitting government that had been found in contempt of Parliament.
The Harris Conservative government in Ontario repeatedly used massive omnibus legislation. It disrespected Parliament, disrespected taxpayers and got away with it.
The Conservatives have in some ways been positively reinforced for negative behaviour, but things are changing. We are increasingly hearing from Canadians. We are hearing from them through all forms of media, whether it is opinion letters in newspapers, online fora, or in person.
Last evening I was at my home in Cheverie and I took my Gator down to the end of our drive to plant some trees. A fellow on his motorbike out for a Sunday evening drive stopped to speak to me. I had not met this fellow before. He told me that he has paid a bit of attention to politics but has never been involved, but he wants to get involved now. He said this has gone too far, that the Conservative government is out of control. He said that what we are seeing in Ottawa is not a democratic government.
I hear that also from people at the farmers' market in Wolfville. They tell me that the government wants to celebrate the veterans of the Second World War who fought for our freedoms, but they want to know how the government can on the one hand celebrate the sacrifices and commitment of the veterans who fought for our democratic rights and freedoms while on the other hand attacking those same democratic rights and freedoms.
I am hearing that from people in my riding, and I am hearing from members of our caucus from across Canada that increasingly Canadians are noticing and are willing to get engaged and involved to find a better alternative.
This is not esoteric parliamentary procedure stuff that the Conservatives are trying to pretend. This strikes to the core values of respect for Parliament and democracy.
I will be speaking later about our inability to get legitimate information from the government about the legislation we are going to vote on, but suffice it to say that by limiting public debate and oversight, the Conservatives are hoping that Canadians will be too distracted by process issues to notice what they will really be doing with this legislation. The Conservatives are trying to distract Canadians with the process issues, and a lot of us have focused on the process issues. The Conservatives are quite happy about that, because they do not think Canadians really care about the democratic institutions that govern us and defend our freedoms. The Conservatives are wrong. They are betting against the goodwill, the good faith and the intelligence of Canadians in the long term.
I want to talk about a couple of the changes being made that the Conservatives are largely ducking responsibility and accountability for. One is the OAS change. The Conservatives are saying that this is really not a cut. They should explain that to a low-income Canadian who is looking forward to becoming 65 to quality for OAS. Let us look at who will be affected by these changes.
Forty per cent of OAS recipients make less than $20,000 a year. Fifty-three per cent of OAS recipients make less than $25,000 a year. The Conservatives are telling Canadians that they will have 11 years to start saving a bit more money. It is pretty hard to tell people who are making $20,000 a year that they have to save more money, and that is effectively what the Conservatives are telling a lot of Canadians.
The Conservatives are telling Canadians that they are living longer, that they are healthier. Lawyers, accountants, members of Parliament or journalists can probably work, if health permits, until 75 or 80 years of age.
My father was a businessman. He worked until he was 82. However, in the case of manual labourers, working in a cold, damp fish plant on a concrete floor every day, on their feet all day; welders; physical labourers; carpenters; or pipe fitters, chances are by the age of 65 their bodies are ready for a break. There was no consideration of these people, the low-income Canadians being affected by this.
The government is quite happy that the issues around Bill have focused on parliamentary process and not on the actual issues. We have lots of time before the next election to ensure that we get back to those substantive issues with Canadians.
I am hearing from a lot of industries across Canada, and specifically in Atlantic Canada, on changes to EI, particularly from significant employers in seasonal industries, including horticulture. They tell me that these changes could wipe them out, that programs to support seasonal workers are part of the production chain of agriculture and horticulture, not just in Canada but globally. They say that any impediment to the use of seasonal workers or seasonal worker programs in the horticulture industry could wreak havoc on their capacity to be competitive with industries in other countries.
The legislation is also hurting Canada's international brand by tearing up 100,000 immigration applications. The Conservatives are imposing their unilateral decision to reduce health care transfer payment growth to the provinces and territories. They are enabling themselves to target charities with which they disagree. While they are at it, they have eliminated groups with which they disagree, including the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Rights and Democracy, and the National Council of Welfare. What do those groups have in common? Number one, they were set up decades ago. Number two, they reported to governments and would disagree with governments from time to time. Number three, their funding was continued under both Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments, which could accept the principle that governments do not just fund organizations that agree with them. They have a responsibility in a functioning democracy to accept truth from experts, from people who spend their lives dealing with these issues, like the National Council of Welfare that understands the issues of poverty in Canada, or the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
Most people have accepted that we cannot put in silos the economy on one side and the environment on the other, that good environmental policy can actually be good economic policy and that the jobs of the future are going to be increasingly green jobs, including areas of opportunity in cleaner conventional energy in places like the oil sands where we can develop those technologies. Why then, for goodness' sake, would the Conservatives get rid of a government council that has operated for decades dealing with this issue, just at the time when Canada has to deal with the issue of bringing the economy and the environment together?
Bill reduces the Auditor General's oversight of a number of government agencies. It reduces democratic oversight of Canada's spy agency by abolishing the office of the Inspector General. It eliminates a number of the government's reporting requirements on climate change and public service jobs. It makes changes that some experts are warning us are unconstitutional, like changes to parole hearings.
However, I believe Canadians are hitting a tipping point where we will no longer accept this anti-democratic style and substance of the government. For some time the Conservatives have been starving Canadians and members of Parliament of the information we need to have informed debate and to make informed decisions.
The Conservatives treat Parliament as an enemy, one that they try to starve of information and co-operation. They refuse to provide basic information, for instance about how much legislation would cost. In the fall of 2010, I put forward a motion at the finance committee, demanding that the government provide us with information about the costs of the F-35s and of its prison agenda. My motions were adopted, but the government continued to refuse to disclose the information. I appealed to Parliament through a question of privilege. I argued that MPs have a fiduciary responsibility to Canadians. We must know how much legislation would cost before we vote on it.
This is not just a responsibility we have as opposition members of Parliament. It is very important that the members of Parliament in the government recognize that the Conservative MPs have the same job description that we do. We have the same fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and to citizens and to our electors to know the cost of the legislation we are voting on. To vote blindly, without even demanding that information, is to not do our job. That is effectively what the Conservatives are failing to do when they are complicit with a government that starves Parliament of this vital information. The Conservative MPs are failing to do their job. By denying us that information, the government is denying Canadians this information.
That is why we see today that the Parliamentary Budget Officer, appointed by the Conservatives, has been pushed to the limit where he is not being given information on legislation from the government. He asked for simple information on the impact of cuts over the future fiscal years. He received the response that the government cannot provide him with that information. A legal opinion came out this morning that the law the Conservatives are breaking is section 79.3 of the Parliament of Canada Act. We have a government that is actually breaking the law. This law gives Parliament, through the Parliamentary Budget Officer, free and timely access to any financial or economic data. Who brought in that law? I think it was the Conservatives. It was part of their Accountability Act. So they make the law and then they break the law.
The reality is that the Conservatives, many from the Reform Party background, rode into Ottawa on this white horse of accountability, defending the interests of Parliament against the executive, defending the interests of the taxpayers against those who would not defend their interests here in Ottawa and those who would not provide them with information on legislation. Now it is the Conservatives who are quashing all that. The reality is that the Conservatives, who won an election promising openness, transparency and accountability, are the least open, least transparent and least accountable government in the history of Canada.
We have a responsibility. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has a responsibility to do his job. He takes that seriously. He has asked for information, not on his own behalf but for Parliament, so that members of Parliament can do their job. Our parliamentary system relies on hon. members to act honourably and it expects that members of Parliament's questions will be answered fully and completely. However, when MPs ask substantive questions to ministers or even to officials at committee, these questions are routinely evaded or ignored. Even order paper questions are now ignored. Shortly after budget 2012 was released, I submitted several order paper questions, seeking a government-wide breakdown of financial information in the three most recent budgets. I believe I am the only MP to have done this. The response from the government was basically “no”. In fact, it sent me a copy of the table that I referenced in my request and asked for more detailed information. It simply sent me the table, to add insult to injury.
In disrespecting Parliament and members of Parliament, the Conservative government is disrespecting the Canadians who chose the Parliament. It is in disrespecting Parliament, and not giving us the cost of legislation, that the government is disrespecting taxpayers.
We will have, in the coming years, an opportunity to debate with Canadians some of the substantive and deleterious impacts of this legislation on the lives of Canadians. It is very important that we fulfill our responsibility as MPs to defend this Parliament against a tyrannical government that no longer cares about Parliament and the democratic rights and freedoms of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my seatmate, the member for .
I will begin my remarks on Bill , the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, by reminding the House about the excellent progress we have seen as a result of the government's leadership on the economy in recent months.
We saw record levels of job growth in March and April. The latest figures show that we are continuing to build upon those important gains. I have to say that number because it is so important: 760,000 net new jobs since July 2009.
Because we know it is an important priority of Canadians, our government remains focused on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. A strong economy is central to ensuring that our country continues to thrive and also allows all levels of government to provide the services that Canadians rely upon.
We also understand the importance of a fair and equitable tax system. That is why the bill includes a number of important measures to improve on certain tax credits and other issues. Overall, these measures would improve access to some important tax programs, leaving more money in Canadians' pockets so they can spend according to their needs. We think that Canadians know best and that is why we are working to support them and their families.
Some of the important tax changes from Bill are meant to improve access to medical supplies. The medical expense tax credit would be expanded to include blood coagulation monitors and their disposable peripherals so that Canadians who require these devices can access them at lower costs.
The Excise Tax Act would also be amended to expand the list of HST exempt non-prescription drugs that are used to treat life-threatening diseases. Certain pharmacists' services would also be exempted from HST in order to support Canadians in accessing these important medical supports.
As stated by its past president, Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, during the finance committee's study of the bill, the Canadian Medical Association feels that these were very positive measures. I am confident that Canadians will agree. I am happy to inform the House of these important steps to ensure the tax system better reflects the evolving nature of the health sector and, of course, health care needs of Canadians.
Recognizing the importance of savings to both individuals and to the overall economy, our government has further put in place measures to make it easier for Canadians with disabilities to access registered disability savings plans. Our Conservative government was proud to put in place this important savings tool in 2007 and committed to a thorough review last year. Based on feedback from over 200 individuals and organizations, we are now acting to ensure that the program continues to meet the needs of Canadians with severe disabilities and their families.
The jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act would introduce a temporary measure to allow certain family members to open an RDSP for an adult who is unable to enter into contracts. It is important that all disabled Canadians can access the benefits of this program. We are taking steps to ensure that those who might need the support of family members to sign up can do so.
As we heard from Vangelis Nikias of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities during his testimony at the finance committee, the RDSP has been a successful program for families. I am proud that the bill would ensure its continued success for many years to come.
Another important measure in the bill recognizes the good work done by Canada's charitable sector. One specific change would allow certain literacy organizations to claim a rebate on the GST paid on the acquisition of books that will be given away for free. Education and literacy are key to our knowledge-driven economy, so I am happy to see these measures included.
I would also like to note that some of these books affected would undoubtedly deal with financial issues. So, hopefully, this measure would build nicely on the fine work of my colleague, the member for , and his efforts on financial literacy with Motion No. 269.
Further measures would increase accountability and transparency for charities. We understand that charities do great work in our country and we encourage Canadians to donate generously. However, we also understand that, when Canadians donate to charities, they want to know that their donation is actually being used for its intended purpose. The measures announced in the budget would provide more education to charities to ensure they are operating within the law and more transparency for those Canadians who donate so generously. In order to protect these important donations, we have a duty to ensure that Canadian charities are operating in compliance with federal law.
As there may have been some attention to this measure, one thing should be clarified. The rules for charitable activity are long-standing and are not being changed. We are simply taking action so that Canadians can be sure that charities are using their resources appropriately.
In addition to ensuring that our tax benefits are accessible for Canadians in supporting the charitable sector, the bill also makes important improvements to support the fishing industry.
As far back as I can remember, there have been significant concerns regarding the regulatory and legislative focus that had our protection officers buried in mounds of paperwork that often had little or no impact on the protection of fish habitat. Having to arbitrate dock locations among cottagers or travel great distances to meet with municipalities regarding a drainage ditch was part of the regulatory requirements, all the while we continued to see a dwindling of salmon returns and significant concerns about this important resource. We believe that efforts should be focused on where they will be most effective.
I will give another example. Tobiano in my riding was an important development. All approvals were in place, including DFO approval, when it was determined that a minor modification to the marina location was required. The current legislation required that the entire approval process had to begin again. In this case it caused a very significant delay and likely had critical impact on the timing of the project and, ultimately, decisions by the capital investors. Again, a very minor change created a significant and undue negative impact.
The bill proposes to amend the Fisheries Act to more effectively manage those activities that pose the greatest threats to fish. The amendments provide additional clarity for the authorization of serious harm to fish and of deposits of deleterious substances. The amendments would allow the minister to enter into agreements with provinces and other bodies, provide for control and management of invasive species and, most important, clarify and expand the powers of inspectors. These are changes that would enhance our ability to focus and protect this most important resource.
In addition to the measures I have talked about already, I want to talk briefly about health care and health care transfers because this is something near and dear to my heart. Being involved in the health care sector in the nineties, I saw first-hand how much damage was done to the communities by those reckless Liberal cuts. We made a commitment that we would get back to balanced budgets without impacting transfers to the provinces. We have taken a very responsible approach. We understand that we all use the same health care system. We want a strong health care system and we want it to be there for our families when we need it.
For my province of B.C., the health transfer this year will reach over $4 billion for the first time. That represents an increase of over $1.2 billion since our government was first elected.
Across the country, health transfers have increased by over 40% since our government took office. This significant funding increase has gone a long way to help offset the damage done by the previous government. It also represents the highest level of funding the federal government has ever provided to support the provinces and territories in the delivery of health care. We are extremely proud of that accomplishment.
Going forward, our new funding formula will ensure that all provinces can continue to rely on strong and stable increases to health transfers and that these transfers will always keep pace with growth in the economy.
With so many positive measures in the budget bill, I am proud to have this opportunity to speak in support of it. I was also happy to have had the opportunity to take part in its thorough review at finance committee where we had an unprecedented amount of time to hear from expert witnesses and officials.
Whether its continued health transfer growth, support for our fisheries sector, more transparency for charities or increased access to tax benefits, I think most Canadians would agree that this bill does an excellent job of addressing their priorities. It is for this reason I will be happy to vote in support of the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House today to support Bill , the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act.
Last week the opposition tried to block the vital measures contained in Canada's economic action plan 2012, which was first introduced in this chamber nearly four months ago. Since then, Bill has received the longest House debate and committee consideration of any budget bill over the past two decades. Indeed, it was reviewed for nearly 70 hours at finance committee and at a specially created subcommittee which heard from literally hundreds of witnesses.
Unfortunately, last week the NDP’s only concern was to delay and defeat Bill .
It is not only our government that finds these tactics appalling, but Canadians right across the country do as well. Indeed, a recent Toronto Sun editorial summarized the NDP's actions as follows:
[The NDP leader's] hypocrisy and self-obsession is in full flame...vowing to delay the passing of... [economic action plan 2012] by playing silly [games]...with amendments and procedure....
Let us be clear. Economic action plan 2012 increases support for families, the backbone of communities from coast to coast to coast. Through the introduction of Bill our government is building our strong record of support for families across the country. These measures include, but are not limited to, the creation of the universal child care benefit, the family caregiver tax credit, the children's fitness tax credit, the children's arts tax credit, and the introduction of the landmark tax-free savings account, the most important personal savings vehicle since RRSPs. These measures build on an impressive record of tax relief for Canadian families.
Since 2006, our Conservative government has cut taxes over 140 times, removed over one million Canadians from the tax rolls, increased the amount Canadians can earn tax free, and reduced the GST from 7% to 5%. These measures have made an appreciable difference for families all across the country. In fact, they have put over $3,100 back into the pocket of the average Canadian family.
It is little wonder that under our Conservative government tax freedom day is now over two weeks earlier than in the last year of the previous Liberal government. Our government did this without slashing federal transfers for health or education like the previous Liberal government in the 1990s did.
Unlike the opposition, we support a low-tax plan that leaves more money where it belongs, in the pockets of hard-working Canadian families. In this bill, our government is committed to maintaining its strong record of supporting and standing up for Canadian families. That is why moving forward with economic action plan 2012 is so important.
Bill improves the registered disability savings plan, the RDSP, giving peace of mind to Canadian families by helping to ensure the long-term financial security of children with severe disabilities. Most importantly, the legislation improves access to RDSPs.
Due to provincial legislation currently in force in certain provinces, some people with intellectual disabilities are barred from opening RDSPs without compromising their legal status. This means that in order to access the plans, they would be required to be declared legally incompetent. This is time consuming and emotionally challenging and could result in unintended consequences for individuals and their families. This is an unfair imposition on disabled Canadians and their families and we are working with the provinces to correct this. In the meantime, Bill will allow a family member to open an RDSP on a relative's behalf without that individual being declared legally incompetent.
This measure has been very warmly received by the Canadian disability community. Indeed, listen to what Laurie Larson, president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, had to say:
[T]he Government of Canada heard the message of people with disabilities and their families across the country. These changes mean that people will no longer be pushed to undergo guardianship in order to access this plan.
Improving access to RDSPs is just one way that economic action plan 2012 helps support Canadian families. It also promotes more active lifestyles with continued support for Participaction and its community-based physical activity and fitness programs to promote the health of Canadian children and families. The plan also enhances the victims fund to ensure that victims of crime have an effective voice in the federal justice and corrections systems.
Sheldon Kennedy, a well-known former hockey player and victims rights activist, was pleased with this initiative and praised it by saying that this government has been listening to victims by providing funding to support recovery for victims and their families, assist with the court process, improve conviction rates and increase punishment for perpetrators.
These are not the only measures our government has taken in support of Canadian families. All across this country, parents' number one priority is the same: securing a bright and prosperous future for their children.
That is why Bill also helps to ensure that the old age security program, OAS, remains strong for future generations. Much like Canadian families, our Conservative government is dedicated to ensuring that future generations have access to an OAS program that remains sustainable over the long term.
The measures contained in Bill guide the program toward long-term sustainability with no impact on today's seniors. Economic action plan 2012 gradually raises the eligibility for OAS and GIS benefits from age 65 to 67 between 2023 and 2029. I should note that seniors who are currently receiving OAS and GIS will not see a single cent lost to these new changes. The advanced notification and phase-in period will give Canadians time to plan and prepare for their retirement and minimize the impact on vulnerable groups.
Our government believes that today's prosperity should be enjoyed by future generations. It is because of this belief that economic action plan 2012 is squarely focused on keeping Canada on track to balanced budgets, building on our outstanding record of success to date.
We all know that Canada benefits from the best fiscal position in the G7. Both the IMF and the OECD have forecast that Canada will be at the head of the pack for economic growth in the G7 in years ahead. Forbes magazine has ranked Canada the number one place in the world for businesses to invest and create more jobs. Also, for the fourth straight year, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada's banking system as the soundest in the world.
However, our government believes that we should never simply be content with our past accomplishments. We must always look forward. While the NDP and the Liberals want to engage in reckless deficit spending sprees, our Conservative government is committed to returning to balanced budgets and maintaining our favourable global fiscal position.
That is why our government is so dedicated to reducing debt. It frees up tax dollars that would otherwise be used to cover interest costs. This means lower taxes for all Canadians and more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadian families.
Our plan to get back to balanced budgets is working. In the past two years, we have already cut the deficit in half. With economic action plan 2012, we are building on these existing efforts by refocusing government, improving service delivery and streamlining back-office administration to achieve over $5 billion in ongoing savings for taxpayers.
Almost 70% of these savings will come from eliminating waste in the internal operations of government, making it leaner and more efficient. This better respects the hard-earned tax dollars that Canadians send to Ottawa.
Canadian families are the backbone of our country and deserve the support and respect of their government. That is why we are working hard to implement economic action plan 2012 to ensure long-term prosperity for hard-working Canadian families.
Mr. Speaker, I assume that I will have about three minutes to speak at this point and that I will be able to continue after question period.
I rise in the House to speak one last time about Bill , the budget implementation bill, or, as the Conservative government likes to call it, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act. However, this title implies the complete opposite of the kind of impact and consequences this bill will have. I would like to use my time to explain why.
Before I address the impact this will have on jobs and growth, I would like to take the time I have before members' statements and question period to talk about something the government keeps mentioning, which is the number of hours spent discussing the bill. The member for and some other members mentioned that we have had more time than ever before to study this budget implementation bill, in comparison to previous years.
They are absolutely right when they say that we discussed the bill for about 50 hours in committee and about 20 hours in subcommittee, but what they need to realize is that the budget implementation bill amends approximately 70 acts. It modifies, amends, adds or eliminates about 70 acts. If we average out what we do in Parliament, specifically in committee, when we study a bill, we spend four or five hours discussing it, studying it in depth and looking at the scope and consequences of it.
It is important to realize that, if we are talking about 70 different acts, that means that about 350 hours of study should have been required for a bill of this magnitude. However, we barely had 70. In addition, we could not focus on any specific elements. In part 4 alone there were about 56 divisions, 56 different acts that were affected. So it was impossible for the members, as parliamentarians, to study this bill properly. I find it appalling that the government is boasting that we spent 70 hours discussing this bill when, given its size, we should have spent over 350 hours and even longer to fully understand its scope.
I want to raise another issue that the government has, yet again, refused to comment on: the fact that there is not merely consensus but unanimity among political commentators and analysts in Canada and Quebec, not necessarily on the content of Bill , but on the way the government chose to introduce that content. The problem is that, at the end of the week, we will vote one single time to pass or reject, in its entirety, a mammoth 430-page bill.
I will talk more about this after question period because it deserves to be talked about. The government's approach is threatening the very foundation of our parliamentary system, our parliamentary democracy.
I will stop here so that we can move on to members' statements.