The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approve in general the budgetary policy of the gouvernment, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to budget 2014. The government's budget document was over 400 pages, but I must say that it is very thin on ideas and solutions.
The speaks of returning to a balanced budget, yet this is the government that has created the largest deficit in Canadian history and has delivered eight deficit budgets in a row.
Under the watch of the Conservatives, more than $100 billion has been added to our national debt over the past six years. Their corporate tax cuts have resulted in over $200 billion in foregone revenue over the past six years. At the same time, they are failing to address high unemployment, especially among youth, and record levels of personal debt.
When we talk about managing the economy, Conservatives and Liberals like to sling mud at the NDP, but when we look at the actual numbers, New Democrat governments have the best record of delivering balanced budgets.
New Democrats have a progressive vision for our country, one that promotes a strong economy without compromising social or environmental prosperity. We believe in creating good quality jobs, protecting public health care, providing affordable child care, and protecting our environment. We believe that seniors should not have to work an extra two years before they are eligible to retire. Our vision is affordable and inclusive.
Government revenues would increase by reversing the Conservatives' corporate tax cuts, by creating value-added jobs here at home instead of shipping our jobs and resources overseas, and by ending subsidies to highly profitable oil and gas companies. It is about priorities and prosperity for all Canadians, not just the ultra-rich and well-connected.
This year's budget has been criticized as a Conservative re-election strategy: Do nothing this year, then roll out the goodies before next year's election. It contains many re-announcements of previously committed funds, especially on infrastructure.
My riding has one of the highest commuter rates. Traffic congestion is a daily reality, and infrastructure has not kept pace with our transportation needs. I fought hard to ensure that the Evergreen Line would finally be built, but more work remains. Sewers and waterlines need upgrading, bridges need replacing, and we need more sidewalks and walking paths. The government continues to expect cities to do more with less, to pay for transit infrastructure with uncertain and limited gas tax revenues.
Our region is one of the most unaffordable places to live in Canada. I am disappointed that the government is not addressing affordable housing in this budget. Housing is a basic need, and affordability affects us all, from mortgage rates and property values to the limited supply of quality rental suites. I am concerned about those living in co-ops who rely on a federal subsidy to help pay the rent. Many of these subsidies will soon expire, leaving residents with limited options.
Community groups that provide housing for the homeless and other vulnerable members of society are concerned that the new criteria for the homelessness partnering strategy may prevent them from accessing federal funding.
Housing for those who require mental health care is a concern for many in my riding. We cannot continue to let Riverview Hospital deteriorate before eyes. We need a vision for this site that preserves the land for public use and that addresses the lack of mental health housing in the region.
In this year's budget, the Conservatives continue their assault on public servants and labour unions. They are going after employee compensation through bargaining, focusing on disability and sick leave, despite a PBO report confirming that public sector sick leave is actually in line with the private sector.
Just before Christmas, many Canadians were shocked to learn that Canada Post intends to end door-to-door delivery service, increase the price of stamps, and lay off thousands of employees. These cuts will certainly affect seniors and people with reduced mobility. They also raise mail security issues.
Conservatives seem to think that this is a great idea. Canada Post's CEO even suggested that it would give seniors a chance to exercise more. Only a New Democrat government would defend workers, the middle class, and our most vulnerable.
British Columbia has the unenviable distinction of having one of the worst rates of child poverty in this country. It is not acceptable that one in five children lives in poverty.
This callous response by the government is on the record: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour's child? I don't think so”.
Adopting a poverty reduction plan with targets and a coordinated set of policies is the only proven way to eliminate poverty. However, this requires political will. The government could wipe out poverty among seniors with the stroke of a pen by simply increasing the guaranteed income supplement. Instead, seniors face rising costs on everything from prescription medications to electricity bills.
Last weekend, a team of volunteers joined me in a neighbourhood canvass to talk with their neighbours about affordability issues. People told us that they are feeling nickel-and-dimed to death.
The NDP has put forward simple, practical solutions to help make life more affordable. We believe that the government should regulate outrageous credit card processing fees that eat into small business profits. It should cap ATM fees, which are among the highest in the world. It should crack down on predatory payday lenders and prevent companies from charging customers a monthly fee just to receive a paper copy of their bills.
Many Canadians are unaware of the existing benefits available to them. After hosting a seminar on the disability tax credit, my office helped one family claim $5,500 in a tax refund it was entitled to.
I have also assisted small businesses in accessing government funding for innovation. Small and medium-size enterprises drive our economy and create the majority of new jobs in this country. However, with nearly 300,000 more people unemployed today than before the recession, the government is simply not doing enough. It should be helping SMEs to succeed, not hindering them.
Another NDP proposal for this year's budget asks the government to reinstate the popular eco-energy home retrofit program. This program is a win-win. It saves families money, creates good quality jobs, reduces energy consumption, and more than pays for itself in economic spinoffs and tax revenues.
Last weekend I was on the doorsteps. I had several conversations with constituents about Bill , the unfair elections act. They are alarmed by the Conservatives' cynical approach, which they feel will bring American-style politics north.
The Conservatives' scheme to overhaul Canada's Election Act reeks of a government that puts political interests ahead of the national interest. Bill aims to make it harder, not easier, to vote by scrapping voter information cards and eliminating the vouching system. It restricts Elections Canada from promoting the very act of voting, leaving that responsibility to political parties.
At a time when voters feel alienated from the democratic process, the Conservatives are moving to disenfranchise even more people from their right to vote. Canadians are asking for real electoral reform, not blatant partisan attempts to tip the scales in one party's favour.
I have long held the position that Canada should adopt an electoral system of proportional representation to ensure that voters' expressions are better represented. I was speaking to concerned citizens in my riding last week from Fair Vote Canada, who raised this very issue.
I also continue to hear loud and clear from constituents who are fed up with paying for an unelected, unaccountable, and still under-investigation Senate. New Democrats believe in abolishing this archaic institution and focusing on making Parliament work for all Canadians.
The NDP's vision for our country is one that promotes economic stability without sacrificing social or environmental prosperity. We need a government that understands the realities of today and that is willing to tackle the tough challenges of tomorrow. We need a government that agrees that it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations have clean and safe drinking water, healthy rivers and oceans, abundant wild salmon, and a stable climate.
In conclusion, while there are some positive elements in this budget, I cannot support a budget so thin on ideas and solutions.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to rise and discuss economic action plan or budget 2014. At the outset, I will say I am going to be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from .
It may come as no surprise to members who know me that I am going to be discussing veterans' issues as related to this budget specifically, and veterans' issues more broadly.
The new veterans charter was passed in 2005 by the previous Liberal government, and good on it for doing that. It passed with 100% support from the House, from every member of every party. In 2006, our government implemented it, again supported by all veterans' organizations. In 2011, it was updated by our government, not with entire support from across the floor, but that is okay; we got it done. With economic action plan 2014 or budget 2014, the new veterans charter would be updated again.
As many know, we are also doing a comprehensive review of the new veterans charter in the veterans affairs committee, and it will be updated again after that. It is a work in progress, as it should be. Is it a perfect document, a perfect plan? No, that plan has not been invented yet, and that is why it has to be continually updated, as it is being in economic action plan 2014; to the point that even the hon. member for , on many occasions, has pointed out that the new veterans charter is in fact superior to the old pension plan, given that we all agree it needs to be continuously updated.
In this economic action plan, there are additional measures to honour the sacrifices made by veterans and their families and to facilitate the transition to civilian life and provide better access to services.
We are expanding the eligibility to funeral and burial programs to ensure that modern-day veterans of modest means have access to a dignified funeral and burial. In economic action plan 2013, we added $65 million over two years and raised the amount available to such a veteran to $7,376 from $3,600 plus the cost of the plot. In economic action plan 2014, we are adding a further $108.2 million over three years, starting in 2013-2014, to expand eligibility for those veterans of modest means. That includes eliminating some of the items that had inflated the amount of their assets, which would have eliminated their ability to participate in the program. That is changing.
In this budget, we are also committing to commemorating the Afghan mission. I can tell members that the highlight of my time in Parliament will be the time I spent in Afghanistan with the troops on numerous occasions. It has been the longest military engagement in Canada's history, and it certainly deserves to be commemorated properly, mainly for the 158 Canadian soldiers plus 5 civilians who lost their lives, and the families who suffered, not just those who suffered the loss of a member but those who suffered through the injury to family members or just the stress of having family members in a theatre of war. As I said, the highlight of my career in Parliament will be the time spent in Afghanistan, waking up on Christmas morning in an outpost somewhere in the boondocks of the Panjwai with those incredibly remarkable Canadians who went back there time after time, some of them, to help people whom they will never meet again and had never met before. There was nothing in it for them other than doing what was right.
I mentioned this before in a previous speech, but I will talk about the kind of people they are and the determination they have to do good. In the last Edmonton rotation a couple of years ago, in the combat mission, there were nine soldiers going back to Afghanistan for the fourth time. The commander of Land Force Western Area, who was a friend of mine, talked to me about having a personal interview with each of them just to ensure their heads were on straight, so to speak. He said he was talking to this one young master corporal and he asked him, “What is your biggest concern about going back to Afghanistan for the fourth time?” He said the soldier looked him in the eye and said, “That you will not let me go, sir”. Whereupon, the commander said, “You are okay; get out of here”. In fact, I wound up talking to that soldier with a bunch of others at the airport a couple of days later when they were leaving and, not knowing it was him, I recounted my conversation with the general. He stepped forward and said, “That was me, sir”. I shook his hand and thanked him very much and wished him good luck.
As we have said before, we are introducing priority hiring for veterans. We are going to change the Public Service Employment Act and the public service employment regulations to cater to the fact that there are 7,600 men and women who leave the Canadian Armed Forces every year. In round numbers, 1,000 of those leave for medical reasons beyond their control.
We are creating a statutory hiring priority in the Public Service Employment Act for Canadian Armed Forces members medically released for service-related reasons and extending the duration of their entitlements from two years to five years, giving them more time to adjust and more time to prepare themselves for employment in the public service, if that is what they wish to do.
We are also amending the Public Service Employment Act to give preference to eligible veterans in external public service job competitions and allowing Canadian Armed Forces personnel with more than three years' service to participate in internal public service job competitions.
We want to give our men and women in uniform every opportunity to transition to the public service, if that is what they want, or to other areas in the private sector.
We will be providing better access to online services to the tune of about $2.1 million in 2014-15 to improve the My VAC Account, to enhance the ability to do routine business with Veterans Affairs Canada. This is intended to mimic in-person services.
Online services do not cater to everybody. A lot of the older veterans may not be as tech savvy as some of the younger folks, and there are other ways in which we are trying to cater to them. However, this targets the largest and fastest growing segment of the veteran population. It is just another example of our trying to keep ahead of change, instead of being dragged along by change.
On veterans issues more broadly, they are all budget related because they have related to past budgets and hopefully, in my view, future budgets. One thing we need to understand is that the aim of the veterans affairs programs is not lifelong financial dependence. It is based on giving veterans the opportunity to retrain, rehabilitate, and get on with their own lives under their own terms.
A lot of these men and women are very young. Some are in their 20s and they have a long time ahead of time. The last thing that almost anybody would want to do is to sit there and be financially dependent. We want to honour their spirit to get out and do that. We want to help them in every way we can.
There is an awful lot of misinformation out there. Most of it is based on emotion. The notion that we “give them a lump sum and kick them to the curb” is absolutely false, and frankly it is shameful when people keep bringing that up.
All MPs on all sides of this House care deeply about our veterans and the men and women in uniform, notwithstanding what we might hear in the media or from the opposition or the unions. I do not blame them. The media relies on conflict to make stories, and I get that. The opposition's job is to oppose, and I get that. The union's job is to advocate for union jobs, and I get that.
However, people should understand that and maybe not take everything from anybody, government or anybody else. People should not take everything at face value. They should understand that the media, opposition, union, and government are all operating in their own interest. They should look at all the facts.
I have done a number of veterans events, and all I ask is that we look at all the facts. We can disagree about facts. That is okay, as long as we are doing it respectfully, rationally, and with all the facts on the table, not cherry-picking facts and building a case around that.
The broad range of veterans' benefits is very comprehensive and, yes, it is very complex. It should be simpler. We have had different things added, one on top of the other, for many years. I understand that there is confusion about what is available and how to access it. We do need to make that simpler, and I will talk about that more in a minute.
There is a broad range of benefits available, and I do not have time to go over all of them. There is a broad range of facilities now available.
What I will say is there are challenges, and I firmly acknowledge that. We have challenges of access, which we are working on; challenges of burden of proof; challenges transferring information from one department to another, DND to VAC. The forms are too complex, but we are working on making them simpler. It needs to be faster, with more one-stop service and more online options that cater to the changing demographics. We need improved wait times and stronger partnerships with DND and others.
The bottom line and the question we have to answer is this: are the Veterans Affairs programs a success? Yes, they are. Are they a failure? In some respects, yes, and we are working on those. Are they a work in progress? Absolutely, they are a work in progress, and that is what we have to keep doing. With the co-operation of people on all sides of the House and people outside the House, we will make that happen.
Mr. Speaker, I am really delighted to speak to this budget. It is a great budget, and it is no coincidence that we in Canada have one of the strongest economies in the world. That is thanks to sound judgment and knowledgeable leadership, and it is budgets like this that show that. Our and have been doing an amazing job over the last eight years in keeping Canada on track. In fact, that is the reason that I ran for office: to support the stellar leadership of our Conservative government in the economy so that we can continue to enjoy a high standard of living and a good quality of life in Canada.
Economic action plan 2014 is another example of good economics and excellent government policy. Despite what the airy-fairy Liberal leader has been telling his flock, budgets do not balance themselves. Everyone knows that. It takes strong, knowledgeable leadership in order to do this. Just as we promised in the last election, we will return to balanced budgets in 2015. This is not just talking points; this is what matters to Calgarians and what matters to Canadians.
We only have to look at the floundering economies in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal to see what economic decisions that are not based on these kinds of fundamentals lead to in the face of a very difficult global economy. Thankfully, Canada is not there, because we have had responsible, sound government, with responsible, sound programs for our budgets.
What does fostering strong economic growth do for Canadians? First, it means lower taxes for everyone, which keeps more money in the pockets of Canadians. Second, Canadians and their kids will not end up paying for today's overspending. It is simply irresponsible to be building up debt today by overspending when we know we are leaving the debt for our kids. That is mortgaging our future, and we as Conservatives will not do that.
Balancing the books also cuts our interest payments, and that frees up money so that we can reduce taxes at the same time that we are protecting and growing our important social programs, programs such as education and health care. This seems like common sense to most Canadians, but unfortunately this kind of common sense does not seem to be very common on the other side of the House. The opposition parties want to recklessly tax and spend, and they think that the budget will balance itself. That statement itself tells us what kind of economic leadership we would get from the Liberals: vacuous.
Canadians deserve strong financial leadership, and we have provided it in this budget. Economic action plan 2014 keeps us on a positive upward trajectory. It has new measures that would create even more jobs and opportunities and keep our taxes low. We are not balancing the budget by increasing the GST or by cutting health care, as the Liberals did; instead, we have increased health care spending and have actually cut the GST, not once but twice.
Canadians at all income levels are benefiting from this, with low- and middle-income Canadians receiving the biggest tax breaks. The average Canadian family now pays $3,400 less in taxes than they did when this government was elected. That is amazing. That is $3,400 they have in their pockets to spend on anything they want. They can spend it on education and child care, family vacations and mortgage payments, things that will make their lives better.
We are also supporting pipelines and resource development while protecting the environment. It is the energy industry that is paying Canada's bills, and we have a balanced approach to balancing the books by balancing energy and the environment. This is the only party in the House that takes that approach.
This budget is jam-packed with all kinds of benefits for Canadians. I could go on and on, but in the interests of time, I will share just a few more.
As we know, my city of Calgary was hit with a devastating flood, the flood of the century, last summer. The flood not only cost $5 billion in damages but also destroyed people's homes and lives, and they are still rebuilding. It is important to me and the people of Calgary that not only does this budget include $2.8 billion to pay for the damages from that flood, but there is also, for the first time, another $200 million for a disaster mitigation fund that was announced in the throne speech and funded in the budget to help to prevent future floods. That provides a tremendous amount of the psychological security that people need after such a disaster.
However, the budget does not stop there. We are also consulting with the insurance industry, along with the provinces and territories, to find a better way of approaching residential flood insurance.
Not only are we providing the support needed to help Canadians recover from disasters, but we are also keeping the economy on track.
In 2008, the world had the worst recession since the dirty thirties. It has been almost six years, and people around the globe are still dealing with those shock waves. However, I am proud that here in Canada, we can say that we have emerged from that crisis with one of the strongest economies in the world. I think we sometimes take for granted, but we should not, because budgets do not balance themselves and economies do not flourish on their own. They need tending. It is no coincidence.
This budget continues our forward-thinking, fiscally responsible approach. It addresses two fundamental issues for the economic health of Canadians.
The first is employment. Jobs matter to all of us. This budget would continue the gold track record of this government in creating jobs. There is not a real lack of potential employment in Canada, but rather a need for access to skills training so that people can get those jobs. As the old proverb goes,“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
I recently chatted with a dad who sat next to me on the plane on the way back to Ottawa. He asked me how his daughter would be able to get a job once she graduates from school. That is something we are addressing in this budget. For the 26,000 apprentices who are looking for jobs in skilled trades, we have introduced the Canada apprentice loan. The program would provide apprentices in Red Seal trades, which include a lot of women, with over $100 million in interest-free loans every year. We are encouraging young women to look at the skilled trades. We are also investing $55 million to create paid internships for recent graduates in small and medium-sized companies in high-demand fields. These measures would help a lot of Canadians and a lot of our kids get a leg up in getting a job.
In my riding, during the pre-budget consultations, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, seniors groups, corporations, and even the volunteer sector said that it is clear that skills training is the number one issue that needs to be addressed to keep our high quality of life. They want the government to help them with that. I am proud to say that this budget does that for Canadians, while keeping us on track to balance the budget and protecting our important programs.
Canada is also one of only a handful of countries in the world with a AAA credit rating. That is amazing. It shows that the Canadian economy is thriving. Canadian families in all income tax brackets have seen real increases of more than 10% to their income since our Conservative government was elected, and the economic action plan would build on this record.
Since our government implemented the action plan, Canada has the best job creation record of any G7 country. Again, these are things not to be taken for granted.
Canadians elected the Conservative government because they knew we understand that sound government policy and fiscally responsible budgets matter. Budgets do not balance themselves.
I learned this when I was growing up in Lloydminster, a city on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. The border goes right down through the middle of Lloydminster. The Saskatchewan side of the border, which was under an NDP government, had small houses, often dilapidated, with old cars sitting out in front, and 50 metres across the road there would be new ranch houses with new trucks in front and oil pump jacks going up and down just as they were meant to. I asked myself what the difference was between Alberta and Saskatchewan. The difference was sound economic policy.
Saskatchewan has now started to flourish since it elected the Brad Wall Conservative-thinking government. It is inviting its sons and daughters, who had all left for other provinces as what we call economic refugees, to come home again. Saskatchewan now has the highest growth rate in the country and the kind of opportunity that we want for all Canadians.
It should not be just a few provinces in this country that enjoy that kind of prosperity. All Canadians should reap those kinds of rewards. That is what our Conservative government continues to achieve for all Canadians. This budget is an example of that. Budget 2014 tells the people of my riding and the rest of this country that they made the right choice in 2011, and they will do so again in 2015.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is my pleasure to rise today to speak about economic action plan 2014. This budget is focused on what matters to Canadians, keeping taxes low and growing the economy, a concept the opposition simply does not understand or refuses to acknowledge.
Economic action plan 2014 fulfills our commitment to balance the budget by 2015. While the leader of the Liberal Party thinks that budgets just balance themselves, on this side of the House we know that achieving this requires prudent fiscal management.
It is no coincidence that Canada's economy has witnessed the best economic performance among all G7 countries, both in job creation and income growth. Since the end of the recession, over one million high-paying, net new jobs have been created in Canada. Not only that, but we are also the only G7 country to have more than fully recovered businesses lost during the recession.
The IMF and the OECD both predict that our economic growth will remain the strongest in the G7 in the years ahead. For the sixth year in a row, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada’s banking system the soundest in the world.
Nevertheless, we know that Canada is not immune to worldwide economic difficulties that arise beyond its borders, which is why we continued to support job creation and economic growth.
To the dismay of the Liberal economic advisers, this budget does not say amen to taxes; rather, the opposite. Our government believes in letting families, not big government, decide how to spend their hard-earned dollars. The facts speak for themselves. Since 2006, we have cut taxes nearly 160 times and reduced the overall tax burden to its lowest level in 50 years.
The economic action plan 2014 continues to deliver on our promise not to increase the tax burden. We are introducing a tax credit for volunteers taking part in search and rescue activities to emphasize the valuable contribution they make nationally. We are eliminating the sales tax on more healthcare products and services, and increasing the tax credit for medical expenses.
Our strong performance with respect to tax relief has led to savings of almost $3,400 for a typical family of four, and more than 1 million low-income Canadians have been taken off the tax rolls.
Economic action plan 2014 is about creating jobs for Canadians. Through the Canada job grant, Canadians will be able to access the skills training they need to get jobs that are in demand. The Canada apprentice loan program would provide apprentices in Red Seal trades access to over $100 million in interest-free loans each year. Too many jobs go unfilled because of a lack of people with the right skills. We are taking action to address this problem by providing Canadians the training they need to pursue well-paying jobs that are in high demand.
Canadians deserve to be the first in line for jobs, which is why we have launched an enhanced job-matching service to connect job seekers and employers. We are focused on connecting young people with jobs by investing $55 million to create paid internships for recent graduates in small and medium-size businesses in high-demand fields. Our budget also invests $75 million to support senior workers who want to participate in the job market but require skills training.
To continue reducing taxes and improving the quality of life for Canadians, we have to take advantage of the enormous potential offered by our natural resources. That sector accounts for almost a fifth of our economy, over half our exports and some 1.8 million jobs, which means one Canadian worker in 10. The future is promising. Hundreds of major resource projects are anticipated over the next 10 years, for a total investment of $650 billion.
For Canadians to continue to benefit from the abundance of natural resources, we must transport our resources to tidewater. However, we will not jeopardize the safety of Canadians or the environment as we look towards this important priority. That is why the economic action plan provides the National Energy Board the tools to continue conducting thorough science-based independent regulatory reviews for proposed pipeline projects. This investment builds on our government's responsible resource development plan to reduce unnecessary duplication and provide timely, predictable reviews for resource projects.
Mining workers in communities can count on our government's support of the mining sector, a vital engine of economic growth that provides over 400,000 jobs for Canadians. That is why we are extending the 15% mineral exploration tax credit to encourage investment and continue to promote Canadian mining companies abroad.
Our government is also focused on creating jobs and economic growth for forestry communities across Canada.
That is why we continue to offer support to these large communities of workers. Our investments in forest industry transformation program plays an essential role in providing industry with the tools it needs to effect the transition from traditional uses of forest products to the adoption of innovation-based technologies.
My constituents in Eglinton—Lawrence understand that our Conservative government will stand up for Ontarians. Our province will benefit from significant support, with major federal transfers in the 2014-15 period totalling $19.2 billion, an increase of 76% compared to the previous Liberal government. While the Liberals drastically slashed transfer payments to provinces, Ontarians can count on our government to ensure that there is funding for health care, education, and other social services that families rely on.
Budget 2014 recognizes the importance of Ontario as an economic driver for the Canadian economy. That is why we are investing to advance the construction of the Windsor Detroit international crossing, an important infrastructure project, to improve the commercial relationship with our largest trading partner and neighbour.
Through the building Canada fund, we have supported over 12,000 infrastructure projects from coast to coast to coast. This is the largest investment in Canada's job-creating infrastructure in our nation's history.
This year we are expanding our government support for important infrastructure by investing to enhance broadband service to up to 280,000 Canadians. We doubled the gas tax fund and indexed it to provide predictable investments directly to Canadian municipalities. This fund has directly benefited Toronto, with significant investments in our transit system.
Before the worldwide recession struck, our Conservative government had reduced Canada’s debt to its lowest level in 25 years. This example of our sense of responsibility in financial matters put Canada in the best possible position to weather the recession.
We know what the NDP and Liberals support: reckless spending and higher taxes. That may be what they want, but we know what Canadians want: good jobs, low taxes, and a balanced budget. That is exactly what this budget delivers.