The House resumed from April 11 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
It is a pleasure to rise in the House to speak to budget 2019, Bill .
For the past four years, our government has invested in Canadians and in what matters to them the most. Budget 2019 continues that plan by investing in something that matters to all Canadians: their health. We all know the sinking feeling that comes when you hear a loved one is sick or badly hurt. The clock seems to stop and it is hard to think about anything else, especially about how much money there is saved in the bank. However, the sad reality is that too many Canadians have to think about finances in moments of such dread.
We are proud of our publicly funded universal health care system, connecting Canadians with the best health care system and connecting Canadians with the best doctors, nurses and health care providers based on their needs. However, when it comes to prescription drugs, not everyone has access to what they need to regain and maintain their health.
Many middle-class Canadians, and those struggling hard to join the middle class, cannot afford the prescription drugs they need. No one should have to choose between putting food on the table and buying prescription drugs. Therefore, our system can and must be improved, because when prescription drugs are unaffordable, it leads to poorer health for many Canadians and higher health care costs for all of us.
It is true that most Canadians have some form of public or private drug coverage. However, the nature of that coverage varies significantly from person to person across the country. Therefore, to improve the accessibility and affordability of prescription medications, the government announced, in budget 2018, the creation of an advisory council. This council is providing advice on how to implement the national pharmacare plan in a manner that is affordable for Canadians, employers and governments. With budget 2019, we are laying the foundation for the implementation of a national pharmacare program while we await the final report by our advisory council on its full implementation.
Based on the consultation and interim report of the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare, our government intends to work with provinces, territories, the private sector and other partners on three foundational elements: first, create the Canadian drug agency that will assess drug effectiveness and negotiate prices; second, establish an evidence-based list of prescribed drugs, a list of drugs Canadians can access, to be developed as part of the agency; and third, establish a national strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases.
I will speak about these three items, specific measures and, should I have some time remaining, I would like to take a quick aside to discuss budget 2019's strong emphasis on issues facing seniors in communities like mine.
I will start with the first foundational element: assessing drug effectiveness and negotiating prices.
The new Canadian drug agency, through its ability to negotiate prices, will lead to lower prices for prescription drugs. That is very good news, because right now, Canada faces some of the highest drug costs in the world. Costs have risen dramatically over the last three decades. Prescription drug spending in Canada was about $2.5 billion in 1985. In 2018, it was nearly $34 billion and the costs keep rising.
Canada's current patchwork of drug coverage is not well equipped to handle the increasingly expensive drugs coming into the market. There are over 100 public prescription drug insurance companies in Canada and over 100,000 private insurance plans.
The Canadian drug agency would help make things better by negotiating drug prices on behalf of Canada's drug plans. The agency would also assess the effectiveness of new prescription drugs and recommend which drugs represented the best value for money for Canadians. For the first time in Canada, drug evaluation and price negotiation could be carried out by one single entity. This was one of the initial recommendations included in the interim report of the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare.
The Canadian drug agency would be established in partnership with provinces, territories and all other stakeholders. It would build on existing provincial successes by acting as a single evaluator and negotiator on behalf of Canada's drug plans.
The proposed agency could help to considerably reduce drug spending. The Canadian drug agency could, in the long term, lead to billions of dollars in savings on prescription drug costs each year. In short, the Canadian drug agency could be a powerful tool for addressing the rising cost of prescription drugs across Canada.
The second foundational element is establishing a new national formulary for prescribed drugs. While the Canadian drug agency's key responsibility would be the development of a national formulary, the agency would work in partnership with provinces, territories and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive, evidence-based list of prescribed drugs. This would provide the basis for a consistent approach to formulary listings and patient access across the country. Therefore, budget 2019 proposes to provide Health Canada with $35 million over four years to establish a transition office to support the development of this vision.
The third foundational element is making high-cost drugs for rare diseases more accessible. I would like to discuss what budget 2019 would mean for Canadians who require high-cost prescription drugs to treat their diseases. For these Canadians, the cost of the medication they need can be astronomical.
It is worth noting that rare diseases predominantly affect children. These diseases are often genetically based and appear in early childhood. More than 7,000 rare diseases have been identified to date. However each one of them affects a relatively small number of patients, which makes decisions on drug approval and coverage very difficult. The list price of some of these drugs often exceeds $100,000 per patient per year. In some cases, it is even more. This obviously creates significant distress for these patients and their families.
These costs also represent significant challenges for the government and private drug plans when it comes to making decisions on whether and how to pay for the treatment. This can lead to challenges for many provinces and territories looking to help families. This is why we need a national approach to drugs for rare diseases.
Canada's national strategy will be created in partnership, again, with the provinces and territories. It will allow for a coordinated approach for gathering and evaluating evidence, improve consistency in decision-making and access across the country, and ensure that effective treatments reach the patients who need them the most.
Budget 2019 proposes up to $1 billion over two years, starting in 2022, with up to $500 million per year ongoing, to help Canadians with rare diseases.
I know I have less than one minute left, so I would like to speak briefly about seniors and how those in my riding will be impacted.
Our government is increasing the GIS exemption from $3,500 to $5,000 per year to give more of our fixed-income seniors the choice to continue to work without being penalized. We will begin proactive CPP enrolment at age 70 to ensure that no seniors miss out on benefits they are entitled to.
We are increasing transparency and will launch an initiative to change corporate laws to increase oversight and grant the courts a greater ability to review payments made to executives in the lead-up to insolvency, protecting workplace pensions from predatory practices.
In conclusion, like many of my colleagues, I look forward to reading the final report of the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare, which is due later this spring.
Moving forward, national pharmacare will help lead to protecting the health of every Canadian.
Mr. Speaker, I have not had the opportunity to speak at length in this place for some time, and I am happy to have the opportunity to rise today on Bill to speak to some of the initiatives in our government's budget that are going to make a difference for my constituents in Scarborough Centre.
This is our government's fourth budget, and it is the continuation of the plan Canadians voted for in 2015, a plan that is working.
Back in 2015, Canadians had a choice between Conservative and NDP plans for austerity and cuts and a Liberal plan for investing in growing the middle class and those working hard to join it. Canadians chose to invest in our future, and their decision is paying off. Today Canada's economy is one of the fastest growing in the G7. Since 2015, Canadians have created more than 900,000 new jobs. Thanks to the middle-class tax cut and the tax-free Canada child benefit, Canadian families have more money in their pockets to help make ends meet.
However, we recognize that our work is not yet done. We need to ensure that all Canadians share in the growing prosperity. That means being able to find an affordable place to live, getting the skills to find a well-paying job and being able to retire with confidence. That is why it is important that we do not allow the clock to be turned back to the Harper era and that we keep investing in Canadians and in our future.
Before I get to some of those investments, allow me to touch on another area of focus in budget 2019: keeping Canadians safe from violence and hate. Canadians of all backgrounds and identities should always feel safe together. Unfortunately, as recent tragic events have demonstrated, certain groups of people, because of their race, religion or sexual orientation, are at risk of being targeted by hate-motivated crimes, threatening their safety and security and the gathering places they enjoy.
To help community gathering spaces, such as schools, community centres and places of worship, make needed security improvements, we would double the annual funding for the security infrastructure program, from $2 million per year to $4 million per year. Several faith organizations in Scarborough Centre have already leveraged this program to upgrade their security infrastructure, and I encourage all eligible institutions to take advantage of this program.
We all know that diversity is one of Canada's strengths, but sadly, we know that Canada is not immune to the effects of hateful rhetoric. That is why budget 2019 would invest $45 million to support a new anti-racism strategy. It would work to find ways to counter racism in its various forms, with a strong focus on community-based projects.
While we cannot be blind to the threats, I know that most of my fellow Canadians are warm and welcoming people who reject fear, racism and division. What unites us all is our shared desire to provide opportunities for families, and this budget would make a number of important investments in that regard.
Perhaps the biggest issue I hear about at the door in Scarborough is housing. Buying a home is increasingly out of reach for the average family, and rental housing is often outdated, overpriced and inadequate for the needs of many families.
Everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to live, but in the greater Toronto area, too many are being priced out of the market. The Harper government did nothing to address housing affordability for 10 years. The Conservatives were missing in action, leaving the provinces, the municipalities and community organizations to try to pick up the slack. However, with our 10-year, $40-billion national housing strategy, the federal government is finally back at the table when it comes to housing.
I had the opportunity to join the and the in Scarborough, where our government committed $1.3 billion to help repair and renovate more than 58,000 Toronto community housing units. This will allow for long-delayed repairs to be completed and will improve the quality of life for thousands of Toronto families. We would build on these investments in budget 2019.
The new first-time homebuyer incentive will make home ownership more affordable for first-time homebuyers and allow them to lower their monthly mortgages. On a newly built $400,000 home, this new incentive could save an eligible homebuyer up to $40,000, or 10%, of the total cost. We expect as many as 100,000 Canadians could benefit from this program over the next three years, putting the dream of home ownership back within reach.
I have spoken with independent experts in the real estate industry who tell me this program will mean more families will be able to enter the housing market, especially younger families just starting out, families like Sameer Ahmed in my riding, whose wife and three children are crammed today in a two-bedroom apartment. They can now dream of a home in which their family has the room to grow and thrive. The more flexible homebuyer plan will let Canadians borrow an additional $10,000 from their RRSPs, raising the limit to $35,000, providing more flexibility for Canadians.
For Canadians looking to rent rather than buy, increased funding for rental construction finance initiatives means 42,500 new rental units across Canada. It is so important that we build capacity in the rental housing market where supply far outstrips demand and much of the existing supply is increasingly old and out of date.
I am also excited about the Canada training benefit. It is an initiative very similar to one brought as a policy to last spring's Liberal policy convention developed by a group of youth in my riding. It addressed a challenge identified by many of their peers, the challenge of lifelong learning and re-skilling for an ever-changing economy throughout our lives.
To ensure Canadians have the skills they need to get the well-paying jobs of the new economy, we are introducing the Canada training benefit. Canadians earning less than $150,000 can accumulate up to $5,000 tax-free over their lives, at a rate of $250 per year, to help with the cost of enrolling in a training program. Every four years, they can take up to four weeks of training to upgrade their skills and progress in their careers. With the EI training support benefit, they will get help with living expenses while on training leave. New leave provisions will ensure their jobs are safe.
While Canadians will need to supplement these resources with their own, this program will make it much easier for Canadian workers to invest in their careers and in themselves.
Speaking of young Canadians, we are helping our youth get ahead by lowering interest rates for student loans, saving the average borrower $2,000. We are also making the six-month grace period after graduation interest-free. If students temporarily leave their studies to have a child or deal with health issues, that period is now interest-free, too. We are helping students gain real-world experience by creating up to 40,000 annual new work placements and another 44,000 work-integrated work opportunities for Canadian students.
While the Conservatives were only focused on pushing back the age of retirement, we are committed to supporting seniors. With this budget, we are making their lives more affordable. We are ensuring that working seniors can keep more of their hard-earned income by enhancing the guaranteed income supplement earnings exemption. We are increasing the earnings exemption from $3,500 to $5,000, extending the exemption to include self-employment income, and introducing a 50% exemption in income between $5,000 and $15,000.
To fight social isolation and help seniors stay active and engaged in the community, we are increasing funding for the new horizons for seniors program. This program funds community-based projects designed to meet the needs of local seniors. I have seen first-hand in Scarborough the benefits this program brings to local seniors. For example, the Sesheme Foundation is using a new horizons grant to familiarize seniors with technology and help arm them with valuable financial literacy skills.
As I said earlier, our plan is working. I know this because, since 2015, 825,000 Canadians have been lifted out of poverty and Canada's poverty rate has dropped by more than 20%.
As I also said earlier, there is still more work to do. That is why we have launched Canada's first-ever poverty reduction strategy. Under this strategy, we are setting poverty reduction targets and entrenching Canada's official poverty line and the National Advisory Council on Poverty into law.
I could go on and on about the positive elements in this budget implementation act. Instead, let me just say that I am proud to be part of a government that is investing in Canadians. Truly, there can be no better bet than to bet on Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am actually sad to rise today on Bill , because this is really a symbol of what the last four years have been like under the Liberal government.
The subtitle of this budget implementation bill is the budget of broken promises, and that is very apt. For four years, we have seen Liberals break promise after promise, commitment after commitment. I remember back in 2015 when the and the Liberals were campaigning. They promised a vast number of things.
The Liberals promised they would actually take care of the middle class. They promised they would bring new dignity to Parliament, that they would stop the systematic bulldozing of legislation through Parliament and that they would listen to opposition members of Parliament. Among many other broken promises, and we could reference pharmacare and democratic reform, they also promised never to bring in omnibus legislation.
The parliamentary secretary talks about ominous legislation, and he is quite right. Omnibus legislation does a profound disservice to the country and it does a profound disservice to Canadians. We only have to look at last year's omnibus bill, which the Liberals rammed through provisions designed to undermine what should be a principle of Canadian law, that if people broke the law, whether it was bribery or any other criminal act, they would be subject to consequences. However, what the Liberals slipped into the omnibus legislation, which they promptly bulldozed through Parliament, were provisions that would allow for companies like SNC-Lavalin to get off scot-free if there was not an attorney general willing to stand up to the and his people.
We have seen this whole sad SNC-Lavalin scandal play out as a result of that Liberal attempt to usurp parliamentary oversight. We raised questions about those provisions, but because the Liberals, with their majority government, bulldozed the budget implementation bill through last year, Canadians were not given the opportunity to really voice their displeasure about setting up what was a dual system in law. Rich corporations can break the law and do not have to worry, because the will let them off the hook.
What happens in this budget implementation bill? First, of course, the promise about not bringing in omnibus legislation is broken yet again. It is something the Liberals have broken four years in a row now. It is 364 pages. In the provisions of this budget implementation bill, we see the poison pills, legislation no Canadian would support the passage of if it were to stand on its own.
I will reference what my colleague from raised yesterday in a point of order about the provisions to undermine the ability of people fleeing persecution and extreme violence to apply for refugee status in Canada. What the Liberals have done, and extreme white nationalists are now complimenting the Liberals on the provisions that are deeply hidden in the budget implementation bill, is basically take away the right of refugees to cross the border because of what has happened under the Trump administration in the United States, that persecution of minorities we are seeing. The sad persecution undertaken by Mr. Trump and his allies in Washington is something Canadians reject, however, the Liberals have adopted and embraced it.
Instead of eliminating the safe third country agreement that allow refugees to apply when they are being forced out of the United States or forced back to situations of extreme peril, the Liberals have basically closed off the ability of those refugees to come to the border and apply for refugee status.
I think all of us, as human beings, understand what these refugees are escaping: profound violence and war, systematic sexual violence, a whole range of indignities and appalling situations that, fortunately, some people are able to escape.
They come to North America. They also come to the United States, which used to be a beacon of freedom. In fact, years ago, my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, to apply to enter the United States. He stayed in the United States and worked for a number of years, and then went back to Europe to get his family and came to Canada.
The United States used to be a beacon of welcome and freedom, typified by the Statue of Liberty. However, under the Trump administration, those doors have now been shut down and closed to those escaping persecution and violence.
Canada could have been that beacon of freedom by simply removing the safe third country agreement. Instead, by hiding items in the provisions of the budget implementation act, the Liberals have taken the kind of action that finds approval only from white nationalists, those with hatred in their hearts. This is appalling, and it is just one of the symptoms of how far the Liberal government has fallen.
The reality is that for the vast majority of Canadians, it has been four very difficult years. They were hoping that after the years of Harper cutbacks and massive handouts to the business sector and large, profitable corporations, the Liberals would keep their commitments and respond to people's needs. However, the budget implementation act is, again, a symbol of how far they have fallen from that goal, which Canadians elected them to achieve.
What have we seen over the last few years? It has been massive corporate handouts, symbolized by the $12 million given to Loblaws, one of Canada's richest corporations. My colleague from just asked about this, with no response from the Liberals, as usual. However, that $12 million pales in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars that this Liberal government has shovelled out the door and given to some of the most profitable and wealthy corporations in the country.
One example is Kinder Morgan. Not only did the Liberals buy its pipeline, but they gave out a bonus of billions of dollars, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer. They bought a piece of infrastructure and gave a bonus to Kinder Morgan executives. This is billions of dollars that could have gone to housing, pharmacare or helping the appalling situations in indigenous communities.
The Liberals did not bat an eye as billions of dollars went out the door. About $14 billion was given out last fall in the fall economic update as a gift to corporate executives on Bay Street. The Liberals pushed $14 billion out the door with no thought about whether doing so was in the public interest.
This does not even touch for a moment the intricate system of tax havens and tax loopholes that Liberals and Conservatives have put in place over the years. Canadians are left with an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion going offshore each year.
What is the result? For the corporate sector, it means the lowest effective tax rate in the industrialized world, at 9%. This is the estimated tax rate paid by Canada's wealthiest and most profitable corporations. This is far below any other industrialized country, because we have a porous and profoundly unjust tax system.
For corporate executives, it is the best of times. They are partying big, because they know that all of our resources are coming their way.
The missed opportunity in this budget implementation act and in the budget itself was to take any meaningful action that would actually make a difference in people's lives.
I have raised the names of two individuals a number of times in the House. I have done so because they are symptomatic of so many Canadians living in the same situation. I have often spoken about Jim, who is just off Parliament Hill on the bridge between the Château Laurier and Parliament Hill. Every day Liberal ministers, Liberal MPs and the 's limousine go right by Jim. He sits begging in his wheelchair, trying to get enough money to survive for another month by buying the medication his doctor has prescribed to him. He needs it to stay alive. He needs it to be with his children and grandchildren. Because he is on a limited fixed income that barely pays for rent and food, he is obliged to beg for the $580 a month that keeps him in medication and keeps him alive.
What a shameful symbol. It is unbelievable that for four years Liberals have walked past him with hardly a thought about Jim as they walk past him and his sign asking people to please contribute.
Maybe some of them give a few dollars—I do not know, but what I do know is that if Liberals had come in 2015 with the intent to carry out their commitments, Jim would have pharmacare now. His medication would be paid for now. He would not need to beg to get the money to get through the month.
If Liberals had kept their promises, someone like Jim would no longer have to worry about that. He would be able to contribute as he wants to, spend his time volunteering in the community and spend time with his family. His family is low-income too, so he has said very clearly that he has to do this because he does not want to burden his family. What a tragic choice to make for the entire family, and it was imposed on Jim by the Liberal government and the .
I talked in the House before about Heather, who is struggling to find affordable housing and is worried about losing her apartment any month now. As rents skyrocket in the Lower Mainland in the New Westminster—Burnaby area, she shares a one-bedroom apartment with her mother and with her daughter, and they are struggling to get by. She is struggling to keep a roof over her head. She is like so many others in the Lower Mainland, in greater Toronto and right across this country.
In any indigenous community we see the absolutely deplorable state of housing. If Liberals four years ago had come with the intent of actually keeping their promises, they would have done something that the member for and the entire NDP caucus have been proposing, which is to build affordable housing. Do as we did after the Second World War, when we had governments at that time that actually listened to the public.
When hundreds of thousands of men and women in the service were coming back to Canada, the federal government built not one, or 10, or 100, or 1,000, or 10,000 units. Over three years, it built 300,000 affordable homes for those returning men and women in the service, because Canadians knew and still know that there is an important responsibility that comes with power. At that time after the Second World War, that government got it right.
One of those homes is the one my wife and I live in on Glover Avenue in New Westminster, and it is still a very good home today. If Liberals had wanted to keep the commitments that they made in 2015, they would have built hundreds of thousands of units, just as we did after the Second World War, and people like Heather would be safe in affordable housing. They would not be worried about whether they would still have their apartment in a month or two months or three months. If the government had done the right thing, housing would be provided now to every Canadian, and every Canadian would have a roof over their head and would feel safe in their housing.
However, the Liberals did not do any of that. They made a commitment in the budget act to do something eventually if they are re-elected. It is the same with pharmacare. They will fill in some of the holes after they are re-elected. They have a callous disregard for what Canadians are living through.
We have seen the figures. They show that things are getting worse, not better, yet Liberals stand in the House and say everything is great. Excuse me, but when statistics come out, as they did a few weeks ago, showing that 46% of Canadians are $200 away in any given month from not being able to pay their expenses, we have to think about that for a moment. It is half the Canadian population.
It may be $200 for a car repair, or perhaps something they have to contribute at school. It may be a health problem. Goodness knows, they do not have access to pharmacare, and if they have to pay for medication, a $200 margin is all they have before they go even more deeply in debt. Canada now has, after 20 or 30 years of Conservative and Liberal governments, the worst record in the industrialized world for the level of family debt.
All of this splurging on Bay Street, these massive tax handouts that are given left, right and centre, have left a decimated middle class. It is not only the worst family debt crisis in our nation's history; it is the worst family debt crisis in any industrialized nation's history. Canadians are struggling under massive levels of family debt. They are trying to pay for their homes and having to borrow to stay in their homes. They are trying to pay for school or for their children to go to university or college and they are struggling and going further into debt. They are going into debt to pay for their medication. They are going into debt for a wide variety of basic needs that are no longer met by our federal government in any way, shape or form.
What we have with this budget implementation act is a powerful symbol of four years of inaction by the current Liberal government, four years of betrayal and four years of broken promises. I think that on October 21, Canadians will judge the Liberals on those broken promises.