The House resumed from May 9 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, in continuing to address Bill , it is not every day that I begin by speaking about feminine hygiene products. However, the redressing of unequal taxation of essential goods is an important issue for all Canadians. Currently, feminine hygiene products are subject to GST and HST as goods that are considered to be non-essential. I think we can all agree that this is a misguided policy, and if not sexist, it at least is based entirely outside the experience of Canadians. I am proud to say that Bill would rectify this disproportionate taxation of women by removing the GST-HST on feminine hygiene products.
The next measure of budget 2016 that I will address is division 2 at part 4, which amends the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act. I wish to highlight five key improvements.
First, the bill would replace the permanent impairment allowance with the career impact allowance to better support veterans who have had their career options limited by a service-related illness or injury.
Second, it would increase the percentage in the formula used to calculate the earnings loss benefit. This benefit would provide income replacement of 90% of gross pre-release military salary for injured veterans who are participating in a Veterans Affairs Canada rehabilitation or vocational assistance program for those who have injuries preventing them from suitable and gainful employment. The benefit would also keep up with inflation and not be capped at 2% indexation.
Third, the act would specify when a disability award becomes payable and clarify the formula used to calculate the amount of a disability award.
Fourth, the disability award would be indexed to inflation, in line with other new veterans charter benefits, and higher awards would be paid retroactively to all veterans who have received an award since the introduction of the new veterans charter in 2006.
Fifth, the act would also improve the Last Post Fund to provide financial assistance to the estates of eligible deceased veterans toward the cost of burial and funeral services. The estate exemption for families of low-income veterans would also be increased from roughly $12,000 to $35,000.
Canada's veterans deserve our care, compassion, and respect. The above measures would greatly improve income support to disabled veterans, including both veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce and those with injuries preventing them from suitable and gainful employment.
However, our government's support for veterans does not stop there. Over the next year, in consultation with the veterans community, the government will work to find a way to better streamline and simplify the system of financial support programs currently offered by Veterans Affairs Canada and National Defence for veterans and their families.
In addition to helping young Canadians, middle-class families, and our respected veterans, the government is committed to supporting Canada's seniors.
Single seniors are at nearly three times the risk of living at a lower income than seniors generally, which is why budget 2016 aims to increase the single rate of the guaranteed income supplement for the lowest-income pensioners by up to $947 annually. This enhancement would more than double the current maximum guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit and would represent a 10% increase in the total maximum guaranteed income supplement benefits available to the lowest-income single seniors.
Additionally, budget 2016 will repeal section 2.2 of the Old Age Security Act, which increases the age of eligibility to receive old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits from 65 to 67. This is a good move.
Budget 2016 also addresses a concern that some of my constituents have brought forward, which is additional support for senior couples living apart. Many times senior couples have to live apart for reasons beyond their control, including long-term health care, which results in higher costs of living and an increased risk of living in poverty. The current system provides recipients with guaranteed income supplement benefits based on their individual incomes. However, budget 2016 would extend this treatment so that couples also receive allowance benefits.
Budget 2016 puts people first and delivers the help that Canadians need now, not a decade from now. It is an essential step to restoring prosperity to the middle class. When we have an economy that works for the middle class, we have a country that works for everyone.
Budget 2016 reflects a new approach for the government, one that offers immediate help to those who need it most and sets the course for growth for all Canadians. With the implementation of budget 2016, the Government of Canada is investing for the years and decades to come. We are investing for our seniors, our veterans, our children, and grandchildren, so that we all may enjoy a more prosperous and hopeful Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill , although this is the third time we have had a gag order imposed on us. I consider myself lucky to be able to speak in the House, considering the limited time we have left to debate it.
The first gag order was imposed when we were debating the bill to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act, which was an attack on aerospace workers. In that instance, not one Bloc Québécois member was able to speak, since we did not even make it to the 34th round of debate. I therefore plan to use my time wisely.
The first point I want to raise regarding Bill has to do with tax havens. The government prides itself on having made a significant investment of $444 million to go after tax cheats and crooks who use tax havens. Unfortunately, the problem of tax havens cannot be considered part of the criminal underworld. The problem is that using tax havens is actually legal.
The changes were made by regulation. We have $200 billion in Canadian investment assets in the 10 main tax havens, including $80 billion in the largest tax haven, Barbados. It seems like the government is pulling out all the stops to fix a leaky faucet when it should be focusing on the water heater that exploded.
I would add that the government knows a thing or two about tax havens. For example, the has a company that has subsidiaries in the Bahamas and in Delaware. The minister also helped draft the regulations for the insurance industry in the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Turks and Caicos. These are all tax havens that might attract Canadian and Quebec insurers who want to avoid paying taxes.
The government members have a thorough understanding of how tax havens work and of this problem. They should be generous and share their knowledge with the government in order to resolve this problem.
In fact, the former associate of the , whom he knows very well, also has dealings in the tax havens, in Turks and Caicos. The Liberals' vast knowledge of tax havens is nothing new. Hon. members will recall the story of former finance minister Paul Martin and his ships that are registered in the Antilles.
I call on the Liberals to use their knowledge to help the House fix the problem of tax havens. The crooks are not the problem. The problem is that the legislation and regulations were changed without the House ever addressing the issue or having a vote on the matter. I urge the government and its members to fix the problem of tax havens.
Bill contains 75 pages of amendments to the Income Tax Act and its regulations. However, it does not contain any measures to address the regulatory issue, even though there is much to be done. The government already knows that, so I urge it to take action.
Otherwise, the members of the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill for other reasons. There is the matter of tax havens, but there are also many other problems as well. Bill is 177 pages long. We read it carefully and conducted a detailed analysis. The bill is nothing new. It repeats what was announced in the budget, which we also carefully examined.
The budget and Bill do not meet Quebec's specific needs. There is nothing for cities to help leading-edge sectors, so the budget and Bill do not support Quebec's urban areas. There is also noting for rural areas, agriculture, forestry, or the fishery. Land use, economic activity, and regional jobs are important to us. The government should have taken concrete action in that regard.
There is also nothing or very little for unemployed workers, those who have been shut out of the job market. For example, the time limit extensions and enhanced measures target oil regions and exclude Quebec. We were very unhappy and disappointed with that. The budget and Bill are particularly focused on infrastructure investments, but these investments are not well-thought-out.
There is a funding model that can be used to quickly and efficiently transfer money to Quebec and the municipalities, and that is the gas tax. During the election campaign, the government announced that it would do that. What is actually happening? Three-quarters of the funding announced will come from the old building Canada fund. Members will remember that it took 27 months, or more than two years, to create a framework agreement. People argued about the size of billboards, for example. On average it took another 15 months per project to obtain authorizations. There were discussions about the size of the flag, or they wanted this or that.
Huge investments have been announced, but they will represent a significant amount of debt. Taxpayers in every province, and also in Quebec, will have to pay down that debt. In exchange, we should at the very least have quick access to the money borrowed in order to put it to good use and launch infrastructure programs as quickly as possible.
During the election campaign, the government made a commitment to do that. In Bill , in the budget, the government is going back on its word. That is very disappointing. That is one of the things that I deplore.
Once again, I was very disappointed about the money for community, social, cultural, and sports infrastructure. The money allocated for these types of infrastructure was incorporated into the propaganda funding for Canada's 150th anniversary. The amount is two times higher than the amount for the sponsorship program, and who could forget that scandal. We have to wonder about these members' memories. They are falling back into their old patterns.
The transfers and funding for health care, education, and social services in this budget are also disgraceful. These are services provided by the provinces. There are huge needs in Quebec, and this is evident in my riding and across the province. There are huge needs. These days, it is all about austerity measures. The Government of Quebec is suffocating, as are the other provinces. They have no breathing room, because that breathing room is here, in the House.
The government must restore the health transfers to at least one-quarter of funding. I remind members that in the 1970s, Ottawa funded half of health care spending. Now, we are seeing never-ending cuts, and transfers will drop as low as 18%. Health transfers need to be increased by 6% a year, so that they cover one-quarter of funding. That is the least we can do. The public is getting fewer services. Things are not going well. There are problems.
The same goes for social services and education. The government needs to play catch-up to get back to where we were in the 1990s before the brutal cuts were made.
I briefly mentioned employment insurance earlier. Extensions apply only to certain regions. These measures are not unilateral, and Quebec is being left out. That brings me to the problem of black holes.
Workers are not seasonal; jobs are. Workers do not work enough hours in the summer. They collect their benefits for a period of time, and after that, they have nothing to live on. When people rely on employment insurance for their income, they do not have enough money to save up so they can make it through the black hole. This is a great injustice that must be put right.
The same goes for the employment insurance fund. Why is it still part of the public purse? It is not separate. Over the past year, the government has siphoned $1.7 billion out of the employment insurance fund and spent that money elsewhere on other programs.
Employment insurance is not insurance anymore. It is a tax on work. Not even four out of 10 workers who lose their jobs have access to EI. It is not insurance. It is a tax. For women, only one in three workers has access to employment insurance; two out of three are excluded. For young people, it is even worse. Employment insurance is no longer really playing its role as insurance, providing people with a transition period to turn around and find new work. It is a tax on work. It is deplorable.
I am running out of speaking time, but I still have a lot to say on the innovation economy. Canada falls short when it comes to measures for business research. Quebec depends on that. We have high technology. Quebec's needs are not met in Bill and the budget. That is why we are voting against the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
I agree completely that there are some good things in the budget. It is not all black or all white. We always have to look at the grey areas. We believe that the most essential elements are missing, but it does contain some good measures.
We completely agree that the new family allowance will have a positive and real impact on families. We asked that it be tax-free, and it is, which is fantastic.
The same can be said of improvements to the guaranteed income supplement, a cause that has been important to the Bloc Québécois for quite some time. We have been asking for this since 2007, so we are very pleased to see it in Bill .
We visited seniors all over Quebec. We moved five opposition day motions in the House. We got the Quebec National Assembly to pass two unanimous resolutions on this issue. Now it is included in the budget and Bill . We are very pleased about that.
The budget contains other good measures, such as reinstating the tax credit for labour-sponsored funds, which will help innovative small businesses. It contains some good measures.
However, as for the essentials, the needs of Quebec, particularly concerning health transfers, how infrastructure investments are transferred, employment insurance, innovation, and tax havens, the Liberals have missed the boat, and that is what we are denouncing here in the House. I hope all that will be restored.
Mr. Speaker, although the budget was tabled in March, I rise today in the House to add my voice to those who have already praised it.
I would like to start by taking a moment to once again thank the people of , who put their trust in me. As I rise today, I am well aware that because of them, I have the privilege of representing them here in the House. Like all of my fellow MPs, I worked diligently and tirelessly in my riding to earn my seat here in the House. Of course, I did not take this long journey alone, and I had the help of many absolutely wonderful people. First and foremost, I got into politics because I am motivated by my constituents, who make me so proud and energize me. I am committed to helping them and representing them.
During my very first speech in the House, I said that my riding, , was enriched by its people. I was blessed to witness these riches myself when I had the pleasure of being invited back home to Laval to celebrate the noteworthy birthdays of two vivacious women in my riding. These young centenarians are living proof of the essence and spirit of , and their smiles are still contagious at 101 and 102 years old.
The and the government are committed to improving the quality of life for seniors, such as these two illustrious ladies from my riding who have seen this country grow through the years. Earlier this year, my hon. colleague, the member for , mentioned that one grades the success and efficiency of a country by how it treats its most vulnerable.
The government's budget helps build our society brick by brick. We are working on making our society one that looks after our seniors and the most vulnerable.
We should keep in mind the following Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” It is right and just. However, we can provide our mothers and fathers with the support they deserve. It is imperative that we treat our seniors with dignity and respect, as that is what everyone deserves.
Our government believes that this requires more than just talk, and that is why we are opting for real measures. For example, speaking of seniors' dignity, I would remind the House that the government, under the leadership of the , made a commitment in budget 2016 to return the eligibility age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to 65 rather than leaving it at 67. The previous government had increased the eligibility age from 65 to 67. Because of this shameful and prejudicial measure, our seniors, the oldest and most vulnerable members of our society were going to be hit hard and could have lost up to $28,000.
Today, the government, under the 's leadership, has a different and forward-looking vision, one that also puts seniors at the centre of these priorities. Instead of taking away money they earned after contributing to the community for years, our budget 2016 will return the eligibility age for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement to 65.
Our government pledged to provide seniors with a secure, dignified retirement. This measure will give Canadians thousands of dollars once they become seniors. We will also increase the guaranteed income supplement by $947 per year for the most vulnerable seniors living alone. That is nearly $1,000 that will go directly into the pockets of the most vulnerable, who were, unfortunately, the first to be forgotten in the past. This measure amounts to over $670 million per year and will improve the financial security of 900,000 seniors living alone across Canada.
Nine hundred thousand seniors in Laval, in Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, and all over Canada can count on the federal government, which cares about their well-being. This government will uphold its end of the social contract stating that people who have made a life-long, honourable contribution to society should be able to relax and enjoy their golden years without constantly worrying about ending up penniless.
My colleagues and I and everyone working every day on the Hill have been pleased to see the nice weather and the return of spring and warmer days. We cannot look out at the green lawn in front of Parliament without seeing young people gathering together and having a nice time. Those young people who come out in the nice weather to the seat of Canadian democracy are part of that contract. They look forward to working and contributing to our society. We must respect their future and respect our seniors who once upon a time were the young people spending time in front of this place. We must assure these people that they will not have to be concerned about not having enough money. We must give them hope and peace of mind in their old age. When they come back to visit their Parliament, these older men and women who used to come and play here should not come back feeling bitter about this place, but feeling joyful and grateful.
For the young people and seniors of the past, present, and future, our society has to head in that direction. That is what our government promised, and thanks to budget 2016, we can proclaim loud and clear that our government took action.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak to the bill. I have spoken on the budget in the past, but the budget implementation act is something that I am going to address right now.
I will say at the onset that one of the things that came out of the last election was the fact that all Canadians have a voice in this place. Every single member, all 338 of us, we have the opportunity to use our voices to speak on behalf of our constituents.
Not being a part of the previous government, I understand that there were some procedural manoeuvres that were made, but the fact that the Liberals today have invoked closure on this debate has caused me, as the representative for Barrie—Innisfil, great concern.
As a new member of Parliament, I go back to something that the hon. member for said this morning, and it relates to the throne speech. I think it is worth repeating at the outset of my comments that, in the throne speech, the Liberals stated that:
In this Parliament, all members will be honoured, respected and heard, wherever they sit. For here, in these chambers, the voices of all Canadians matter.
Let us not forget, however, that Canadians have been clear and unambiguous in their desire for real change. Canadians want their government to do different things, and to do things differently....
Through careful consideration and respectful conduct, the Government can meet these challenges, and all others brought before it.
By working together in the service of all Canadians, the Government can make real change happen.
Well, what hypocrisy that today, a lot like in the medically assisted dying debate, the Liberals would invoke closure and not allow Canadians to have a voice on this and the previous bill. I am fortunate to be able to rise on behalf of my constituents, as I was not given the opportunity to speak on medically assisted dying because of that debate being closed.
I want to focus, in the short time I have, on three things. One is what I referred to, in previous comments I have made in the House, as the middle-class tax fraud, or the reduction of the middle class in terms of tax implementation; the shell game that the Liberals are playing. I want to use some very specific examples of that.
The second thing is the innovation sector. I want to speak specifically on that, given the fact that Startup Canada was here last week and I had some very productive meetings, as did my colleagues. I want to speak on behalf of the innovation sector.
The third thing, if I have time, is infrastructure.
As it relates to the middle-class tax fraud, what we are seeing in the budget is that what the Liberals give, the Liberals take back. I use the example of the child care benefit. I would classify a firefighter and a nurse with a combined income of roughly $180,000 as middle class in this country. They actually would be worse off because of the child care benefit. In fact, under the Conservative plan, that same firefighter and nurse would have received almost $240 a month, but under the current Liberal plan, they would only receive $112 a month. In fact, those we could classify as middle-class Canadians would actually be worse off. Granted, there would be some Canadians who were better off, but I think the majority of Canadians, or a large part of Canadians, would actually see less.
What is also disturbing with this shell game that the Liberals are playing with the budget is that we have heard the talking points, we have heard the stand up in this House and talk about nine million Canadians and all of the rhetoric that goes with it, but there are certain facts in the budget that prove that this is a middle-class tax fraud.
The fact is that the fitness tax credit would be removed. Since 2006, Canadians have benefited to the tune of $1.13 billion in tax relief. Since 2011, there was the arts and activity tax credit, from which Canadians have benefited to the extent of $190 million; and income splitting would be gone for Canadians, at $2,000 a year. As I said earlier, what the Liberals give, the Liberals take back.
What are middle-class Canadians getting for that in this shell game? They are getting burdened with deficit and debt, not unlike my home province of Ontario. We are seeing services cut and taxes go up, and it is just an inevitability.
I know that the and the have stood up and said that now is the time to invest in infrastructure, and saddle on some burden and debt. There is never a good time for that. In fact, when I was in Washington recently at the National Governors Association conference, some of the top economists in that country were talking about a pending recession.
They were saying that we are actually six years into what is normally a five-year cycle for recession. When that happens, and when we are being crippled with debt, it is going to be awfully difficult, if we do enter into that recession—and this is why governments need to plan ahead—to do what we need to do to take care of the most vulnerable in our country, including many within the middle class.
Last week, as I mentioned earlier, Startup Canada was in town. Many of us in this chamber actually met with them. I had the opportunity to meet with the person I would consider is one of the brightest micro-entrepreneurs in this country, Chad Ballantyne, and his wife, Sandra. They talked a lot about the innovation agenda.
I asked Chad, if he had a couple of minutes to speak to Canadians, what he would say to them. Chad wrote me a long email, and I would like to share some of what Chad said. He said:
[The] Prime Minister...charged his leadership to “develop an Innovation Agenda that includes: expanding effective support for incubators, accelerators… These investments will target key growth sectors where Canada has the ability to attract investment or grow export-oriented companies.”
Startup Canada would merit a seat at the table when the advisory council for the innovation agenda is established. Startup Canada, with its vision of an innovation nation, has in place the only nationwide network to support, nurture, and educate entrepreneurs as they launch and build their companies.
Startup communities, like ours in Barrie, Ontario, are the connective tissue bringing together the entire entrepreneurship community, ensuring the healthy functioning and optimization of an economic and social ecosystem supporting every entrepreneur.
Startup also feels that an innovation agenda should include the entire startup ecosystem and ensure that it does not become too narrowly focused. The agenda proposes pouring investment into a handful of clusters. This is too narrow a focus, and limits the investment opportunity to only later-stage enterprises and R and D tech sectors, and ignores the early-stage startups in service-based companies, which are the foundation of our economic engine in Canada.
There is little, if any, funding for these communities in this budget, and companies that are post R and D, despite their sector focus, recommend to fund innovation throughout the entire ecosystem and support the more than 150,000 people who are a part of micro-entrepreneurs, the startup communities in this country.
Last, on the issue of infrastructure, I know a lot has been said with respect to infrastructure. I said this earlier, when I was speaking on the budget, and we heard it earlier today from the Bloc Québécois member. The easiest way to make sure that infrastructure money flows out that door is to do something with the gas tax, either double it or triple it.
The Liberals have put billions toward infrastructure. One of the things they said during the campaign was that infrastructure was not effectively a Liberal issue, a Conservative issue, or an NDP issue; it was a Canadian issue. The purest, fairest, and simplest way, in order to ensure that communities across this country get what they need in terms of infrastructure with criteria that are already in place, is to make sure we use the gas tax formula as a means to do it.
Over the last couple of weeks and months, we have been seeing a lot of announcements by the Liberal Party in Liberal-held ridings. We need to make sure the money gets to communities that need it. It does not matter whether it is Cariboo—Prince George, Nanaimo—Ladysmith, or Barrie—Innisfil; there is a need across this country, and using the gas tax formula to provide infrastructure funding, to me as a former city councillor, is the purest and only way to ensure fairness and transferability in that system.
In the past, the member for has said that municipalities have used the gas tax funding to decrease taxes in their municipalities. I have not seen any evidence of that at all.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a pleasure for me to rise in the House today as the newly elected member of Parliament for Egmont to speak to Bill .
Before I get to my comments on the budget, I want to acknowledge the situation that is occurring in our sister province of Alberta, primarily the community of Fort McMurray. After all, the oil industry of Alberta and Saskatchewan is the single biggest employer in my riding. We depend on this part of Canada for a lot of the jobs that are created there.
I want to acknowledge as well that islanders will be there to support the community of Fort McMurray in its time of need. We are a generous society; Canadians in general are generous, and we all reach out to those in Fort McMurray.
For the last number of weeks, since the budget was introduced, I have listened intently to the debate in the House and to questions in question period. I have listened to opposition members rail on at length with their comments on the government's deficit budget. Listening to their newfound concerns and their degree of anxiety over the deficit budget, I chose to take a look at the fiscal track record of former governments over the past number of years.
It is interesting to look back at the fiscal situation over a number of years in this country. In particular, I looked back to 1994-95, which was the first year of a new Liberal administration, following nine years of a Conservative government in this country. In 1994-95, the debt-to-GDP ratio was near 70%, after nine years of Conservative rule. By 2006, at the end of roughly 12 years of a Liberal administration, the debt-to-GDP ratio had been reduced to below 30%. Shortly after, the debt-to-GDP ratio under a new Conservative government began to climb, and climbed to over 30%, the number where it is today. When I compared the fiscal situation that was inherited by a Liberal government in 1993-94 and the fiscal track record of the previous Conservative government, we can see how the debt-to-GDP ratio ballooned under that particular government.
I wanted to look more specifically at the past years of the former Conservative government, now the opposition. In 2006-07, the government inherited a surplus of $13.8 billion, adjusted to $16.2 billion. In 2007-08, the surplus was at $9.6 billion, but by 2008-09, the Conservative government began to run a deficit of $5.8 billion in 2008-09. In 2009-10, it was $55.6 billion, adjusted to $61.27 billion. In 2010-11, it was $33 billion, adjusted to $36 billion. In 2011-12, it was $26 billion to $27 billion. In 2012-13, it was $18 billion. In 2013-14, it was $5 billion.
Obviously, the comments now coming from the opposition party, which was the government at the time, clearly show that the government they were a part of had no problem running deficits in this country, in fact sizeable deficits. I am told, but I could be corrected, that the deficit accumulated over that period of time was one of the largest this country incurred in any particular period.
Where are we today? Our party was honest and frank with Canadians during the election. We indicated that given the deteriorating fiscal situation, it was unlikely that in government we would be able to run a surplus. We indicated that given the fiscal situation at the time and the information our party had, we would anticipate a deficit in the $10-billion range in order to implement the programs that we wanted to implement.
My colleague the member of Parliament for gave me some good research material which indicates that with the drop in the price of oil per barrel, the federal treasury has lost in the vicinity of $18 billion since late last summer until now.
As a government we could have done a number of things. We could have reined in spending to do away with that deficit, but that would have forced us to abandon a number of the programs that we campaigned on, that we believed in, and that we felt this country needed.
I firmly believe that the government's fundamental role is to address the needs of the most vulnerable. For too many years this area has been neglected and significant effort will need to be made to address these matters. Over the last 30 years, Canadians at the top 0.1% have seen their income rise by about 155% and some 90% of Canadians have seen their income rise by only 33% over the same time frame. Clearly something had to change.
The platform that I was most proud to run on as a candidate in the last election and a key part of the budget that I am proud to support and defend is our position on the child benefit. The child benefit is simpler, fairer, tax-free, and targeted to those who need it the most, low-income and middle-income families. It is also much more generous than the former program. I can relate to one family in my riding that would benefit significantly by this program. There are 5,111 children enrolled in the school system in Egmont. The average family will benefit by $2,300. There are 4,150 families in my riding of Egmont. This adds up to $9.545 million for my constituency alone, which is a small constituency.
What had an impact on me the most during the election campaign was the financial distress that single seniors were feeling. As a candidate, that really had an impact on me. I was surprised at the extent of the financial hardship faced by single seniors, the majority of whom are women.
Our commitment to not only increase the GIS by 10% but to restore the age of eligibility to 65 is a significant component of our budget. I want to quote a fact. According to researchers at Laval University, the Conservative plan would have increased the number of 65-year-olds and 66-year-olds living below the poverty line from 6% to 17%. We in the Liberal Party felt that was unacceptable. We feel that we owe this segment of our population a reasonable living.
I am proud of these two significant changes that would be brought about by the passage of the budget. When the budget is implemented, people will see the benefits.
I want to close on another area where we have seen significant reform. At the same time, I will be a bit critical of my own government. This has to do the changes we have made to the employment insurance system. As a government, we should always target changes to address the most vulnerable in society. On this measure, we did not meet the needs of the short-term seasonal workers in my riding by extending their benefit period. We did it for some parts of the country, which I applaud. We made a lot of significant improvements to the system. However, on this one area, I feel we have a lot more work to do. I look forward to continuing the work on those issues in the coming sessions of Parliament and budgets.
Mr. Speaker, I salute all my colleagues in the House and everyone watching us debate the budget.
We are extremely disappointed with the turn of events. The government wants to muzzle the House and parliamentarians in this very important debate. I will come back to that at the end of my speech.
First of all, this budget is totally irresponsible because it confirms that the government has lost control of public spending and it will be our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are not even born yet, who will have to pay for today's excesses.
On election day, October 19, Canadians spoke. We are democrats and therefore respect their decision. However, what was the state of public finances? The previous government, with the hon. member for at the helm, had the best economic performance in the G7. In fact, in economic matters, it won the G7 triple crown. We had the best debt-to-GDP ratio. The current government boasts that it has the best ratio, but members should not forget that we are the ones who generated it.
Second, our country bounced back from the economic crisis of 2008-10 more quickly than any other country. We also had the best job creation rate. Under the former government, Canadians had the lowest taxes in 50 years.
The Department of Finance found that in November, when the Liberals took office, there was a billion-dollar surplus. That is the situation. I am always pleased to quote the Department of Finance's well-known “Fiscal Monitor”, which I always have at my fingertips. We have tried to table it about 50 times, but the Liberals refuse to face the truth.
This is the Canada that the Liberals inherited: a Canada that had a budget surplus, a Canada that had the best debt-to-GDP ratio, and a Canada whose economic performance was recognized around the world as being the best in the G7. What is more, Canadians had the lowest taxes in 50 years. In short, everything was on track, economically speaking.
However, then the Liberals took office and started racking up deficits and debts left and right. Let us look at each of the promises that the Liberals made and broke concerning sound management.
First, let us look at tax changes. The Liberals bragged about wanting to be like Robin Hood by taking from the rich to give to the poor. They said that they wanted to make revenue-neutral tax changes.
They cannot say that anymore because those tax changes resulted in a $1.7-billion deficit. The money that they promised is money that they do not have. We too want to give money to people. We lowered taxes, but we did it in a realistic and responsible way, and we still managed to balance the books in the previous government's last budget. The Liberals were elected on the promise that they would make tax changes without going into debt, which is completely untrue since the changes that they made resulted in a $1.7-billion deficit.
The same is true for assistance for children. The Liberals are proud to say that they are thinking about families and children, that they want to bring children out of poverty, and that this will all cost nothing. However, that is not how it works. That is not reality. Their measures resulted in a $1.4-billion deficit.
They accumulated a $3-billion debt on these two commitments. That is the irresponsible management we keep hearing about. That is why we think these people have lost all control over public finances and that they are acting in an unrealistic and irresponsible way. It is all well and good to promise the moon and the stars, but you have to have the means. In this case, they do not.
What is most absurd is that the Liberal Party promised small $10-billion deficits, which have now become big $30-billion deficits. Not only was this a bad promise, but it also caused a real financial disaster. It was completely unrealistic and irresponsible.
The Liberals did not keep their promise to Canadians. The Liberal Party was elected by promising a small deficit and by saying that they would achieve a balanced budget in three years. This is completely untrue. This year, the deficit is $30 billion, and who knows if the government will even be able to balance the budget in the next four or five years. Some estimate that our deficit could hit $150 billion. That is completely unacceptable, unrealistic, and irresponsible for our future generations.
That is why, in this situation, we really have two contradictory visions, specifically the vision of a responsible government that made tough but necessary decisions, compared to the vision of the current government, which is governing as though nothing was wrong, has lost all control over public spending, and plans to compulsively run up deficits, one after the other.
It is not at all pleasant, especially given that this government's budget contains an appalling clause to abolish the Federal Balanced Budget Act. It is completely irresponsible, especially since on page 51 of the budget document, it states, “The government remains committed to returning to balanced budgets, and will do so in a responsible, realistic and transparent way.”
Two pages later in the same document, there is a statement saying that the Federal Balanced Budget Act must be repealed. They say one thing, and then two pages later, they say the exact opposite, which is so typical of the Liberals.
What is more, regarding this string of deficits, about two weeks ago, the , an honourable man who had a distinguished, responsible, and exciting career in the financial world, said that we were stuck in this whole balanced budget thing.
Of course we are stuck on that. That is how to manage things properly. I am very proud to be stuck on balancing the budget. That is the Conservative Party's trademark, and we are very proud of that. Meanwhile, what are they doing on that side of the House? The Liberals are running deficits like mad one after the other, and that is totally unacceptable.
Let us talk about creating wealth. To the Conservative Party, the real creators of wealth are entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses. They are the ones who create employment, wealth, and the necessary economic stimulus.
A government does not create employment. A government needs to support businesses in order to create employment, but not tell them what to do. We respect SMEs, unlike the hon. member for , the current of Canada, who said not so long ago that the wealthiest Canadians use small businesses to avoid paying taxes. Such behaviour is insulting to those who create employment.
When the said that, he might have been looking in a mirror, because the Prime Minister, the hon. member for Papineau in Quebec, filed his tax return in Ontario in order to save $6,000 in tax in Quebec. He had four numbered businesses to save on taxes. As the saying goes, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
In this case, the could tell us what he did and why he is contemptuous of small businesses, because he thinks that small business owners are people who want to reduce their tax bill. The Conservative Party believes that small business owners are people who risk their own money to create jobs and wealth, and we owe them respect.
What is in this budget for SMEs? Absolutely nothing. If it was simply nothing, it would not be so bad, but things are even worse. In fact, some measures directly attack small businesses. We were on a roll and had promised to reduce the corporate tax rate. Poof, no tax cut. Our government proposed tax credits to create jobs. Poof, they are abolished.
Consequently, according to the Department of Finance, these bad Liberal measures will cost SMEs another $2 billion. What I find insulting is that there is no respect for SMEs, there is no help for them, and some measures are detrimental. This Liberal attitude deserves to be condemned.
The same goes for retirement age. Yes it was bold, but it was a realistic and responsible move on the part of our government to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67. Our prime minister made that well-thought-out, responsible choice, and he gave plenty of notice. He announced it in 2011, but it would not have come into effect until 2023. People would have had enough time to adjust.
Who agreed with that measure at the time? The current . In a book, he wrote: “It would also alleviate any shortages in the workforce due to the aging of the population....Phasing in the eligibility age...from 65 to 67 is a step in that direction”.
That is what the current said before he became a Liberal Party of Canada flag-bearer, unfortunately.
This budget is completely unrealistic and irresponsible, and it plunges us right into a disastrous deficit spiral. It always makes me laugh when Liberals talk about the Right Honourable Paul Martin. Paul Martin hated deficits with a passion. I think it is a bit unseemly of them to mention Paul Martin.
Most of all, we strongly condemn the fact that the government is going to shut down this important debate. Earlier, one of my colleagues pointed out that this is yet another broken throne speech promise. What was it the throne speech said?
It said, “[The government] will not resort to devices like prorogation and omnibus bills to avoid scrutiny”. That is exactly what is happening today.
That is why we are going to vote against this budget.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by briefly thanking the government for direct investments in my community of specifically, with a major investment in Neighbourhood Link, now The Neighbourhood Group, which provides important employment services and settlement services in my community.
The government's first budget invests in productivity, people, and our planet. As a first budget, it follows through on many promises from October's election, from supporting veterans, to making post-secondary education more affordable, to investing in science and innovation, to restoring funding to the CBC, to increasing support for the arts, and to emphasizing data-driven government.
An essential plank of our platform was infrastructure investment. The budget proposes $3.4 billion for public transit infrastructure over the next three years, and $2.3 billion for affordable housing initiatives over the next two years.
It was especially encouraging to see $840 million recently committed to public transit in the city of Toronto. Importantly, the funds will go toward necessary maintenance and upgrades of the existing public transit system, often overlooked and unappreciated, yet critical work.
The commitment to invest in transit based on ridership figures is also important, as it commits our government to data-driven decision-making. More, there is renewed respect for local decision-making, and any unspent funds in a calendar year will be rolled into the gas tax transfer, giving municipalities the certainty of receiving the promised funds, no matter what.
I want to pause here to highlight the fact that the previous government also made significant investments in infrastructure. This is an area where there ought to be consensus in this House.
The budget also makes investments directly in families with children, and directly in seniors. These two investments are of particular note because they expand existing basic income programs. A basic income or guaranteed annual income is not a partisan idea. Those on the traditional left, who fight to end poverty, find common cause with those on the traditional right, who wish to see a less bureaucratic, more efficient administration of the welfare state.
A Canadian example of such cross-partisan advocacy can be found in our Senate. Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal has done much to raise awareness for the problem of poverty and has long called for the prescription of a basic income. Current senator, Art Eggleton, also a long-time poverty awareness advocate, recently put forward a motion calling upon this government to establish a basic income pilot project. The Province of Ontario has heeded that call, and we should do the same.
I commend my colleague from for bringing attention to the House, through the finance committee, the importance of a basic income. Of course, we already know the value of a basic income, a fact that our budget investments recognize through the Canada child benefit and the guaranteed income supplement.
As I said, in December, in my first speech in this House, our Canada child benefit is effectively a basic income for kids and families in need. It will provide a base amount of $6,400 every year for every child under the age of six, and $5,400 every year for every child between the ages of six to 17. It is targeted to those families who actually need the help. The more a family earns, the less it gets. In other words, it is fair. As implemented, it will raise hundreds of thousands of children, an estimated 300,000, out of poverty.
Now, there remains room for improvement. For example, the Canada child benefit should be indexed to inflation immediately. It should account for the total number of family members, not only children. As we continue to improve data collection in the future, we should assess whether we can account for differences in living costs between geographic regions within our country.
Still, when 25% of children in Toronto live in poverty, and well over 30% of children in the Crescent Town community in my riding, the Canada child benefit will make a real difference for many.
The guaranteed income supplement for seniors is another iteration of the same idea, with a different target group. The budget will increase GIS by 10%, or up to $950 more per year. It is estimated that it will mean increased benefits for 900,000 Canadians.
Both programs, the GIS and the CCB, are comprised of a single non-taxable benefit geared to income. As basic income guarantees, they are programs we should continue to build upon. A 2011 National Council of Welfare report tells us that the cost of poverty is greater than the cost of ending poverty. The answer is a basic income guarantee, or programs built on that idea.
As an aside, the cost of poverty is on full display in first nation communities, where we have underinvested in education, infrastructure, and overall support for years. We are witnessing the real costs of turning a blind eye to poverty, isolation, and a lack of opportunities. The budget commits over $5 billion to first nation communities over the remainder of our mandate. The investment is an important one, but more resources are required to close the gap.
Finally, the budget invests in clean technologies and sets funds aside for a low-carbon fund. Unfortunately, we are not currently on target to meet our 2°C target.
I have sat in this House since December, wondering how members of the official opposition, committed as they are to free markets, ignore the consensus of economists who have identified carbon pricing as the market-based solution to fighting climate change. We need federal leadership on a carbon price. I am hopeful that a low-carbon fund will be used to provide incentives for provinces to increase their targets. We need to be more ambitious if we are going to meet our commitments in Paris.
My own view is that we should propose a carbon price based on federal privacy legislation. The federal framework, a minimum national carbon price, would apply unless provinces have substantially similar rules, in which case provincial rules would govern.
B.C. has a model for the rest of the country, as it is truly revenue neutral. All funds taken in through the carbon tax are repaid to citizens, lowering the taxes of the majority of the population. A federal framework should start at B.C.'s current level of $30 per tonne, as proposed by the citizens climate coalition.
Federal action is also required when one looks at the industry exemption that provinces have introduced into their own carbon pricing regimes. Provinces are rightly concerned that a carbon price will lead to increased costs on inputs for Canadian companies and could put certain industries at a competitive disadvantage with international goods. The federal government can resolve this dilemma. Border carbon tax adjustments can be applied on goods from countries without equivalent carbon pricing policies to protect Canadian industries, or at least to ensure a level playing field.
Carbon pricing is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Our focus should also be on innovation. On the World Economic Forum's ranking of performance of countries' innovation, Canada ranks only 22nd. Our clean-tech industry specifically has lost 40% of its global market share over the last decade. Many necessary innovations are coming, such as affordable electric cars, but they are not coming fast enough based purely on market forces.
Government has a role to play, and our innovation agenda will help. We will invest $1 billion to support clean tech in industries over the next four years, over $60 million to support deployment of alternative fuels for transportation, $130 million per year for clean-tech research, and additional millions to support new research chairs in clean and sustainable technology.
We must also focus on improving energy efficiency. Billions will be invested in improving municipal waste-water systems, $570 million will go toward efficiency retrofits to existing social housing. While new builds can and should be subject to the passive house or net-zero standards, guidelines for retrofits and renovations need to be improved and better standardized.
The budget is not perfect. There is a glaring hole in the health agenda, which I hope will be rectified as a new health accord is negotiated with the provinces. I am a believer in the national seniors strategy, as proposed by the Canadian Medical Association, for example. However, in sum, it is a budget that is worthy of our support. It will improve the lives of millions of Canadians, and that is fundamentally what we are here to do.
There is a letter that was written by 350 economists that was released today. Given that it is important to our financial system, I would like to read an excerpt from it: “The existence of tax havens does not add to overall global wealth or well-being; they serve no useful economic purpose.” They serve to increase income inequality. Their “secrecy...fuels corruption and undermines countries' ability to collect their fair share of taxes.” They distort the “working of the global economy.... They also threaten the rule of law.... There is no economic justification for allowing the continuation of tax havens”.
Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting to hear the member across talking about $500,000-income families, yet a who is a millionaire, and earns over $300,000 a year, gets two taxpayer-funded nannies. What about the families who cannot afford the day care, and therefore cannot go to their jobs?
I stand today to address the House regarding the first budget presented by the government. This is a budget that was set to either meet the promises made by the Liberal Party or to show that the expectations set by the government are not in line with reality. Each promise to Canadians was broken, one after another.
From ballooning deficits to increases in taxes that they must have forgotten to mention to families, to an infrastructure spending plan of $10 billion that did not result in the budget, to a bold plan for the Canadian economy that included tax cuts for small businesses that were not given, the government has failed Canadians.
It is incredible what three months will do in politics, from the time the government delivered a positive, enthusiastic throne speech, to the delivery of its first budget, which is riddled with debt and broken promises, and void of hope and opportunity.
The throne speech said:
The Government will undertake these and other initiatives while pursuing a fiscal plan that is responsible, transparent and suited to challenging economic times.
This is a government that delivered a $20-billion to $30-billion deficit, depending on whether we believe the parliamentary budget officer or the government. It raised taxes, failed small businesses, and left families with children in arts and recreation activities without. This is a budget that has left the country wondering what happened to the optimism, to the opportunity that the Liberal Party promised to Canadians. What happened to the responsible transparent fiscal plan that was promised just three months earlier in this very House, with the throne speech?
When campaigning throughout the election, the Liberal Party frequently mentioned its tax increases to the top 1%, with the supposed corresponding tax cuts to the middle class. What it did not mention were two very important details. First is that the Liberal government was going to introduce a middle-class tax cut that benefited those in the top 10% of earners in Canada more than anybody else. Second is that the Liberal government would cancel tax cuts for families and children. These are tax cuts used by families to support healthy living and to fight obesity. They were used by moms and dads for hockey, soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, and many other activities.
My wife and I used the child fitness tax credit for mommy-and-me classes after my son was born and my wife was on maternity leave. They provided a financial incentive for new parents. Those are the same new parents that the government promised and vowed to support, only to remove their benefits just six months later.
The arts tax credit was used to introduce children and teenagers to the arts community, to grow the arts community from the grassroots. It was used by arts companies to develop day camps and other activities throughout the summer and March break weeks. These were credits that not only helped children hone in on already blossoming talents, but to discover new ones, new interests, new skills, new ideas that they never knew they had.
If that was not enough, the Liberals not only cut credits to families but they failed to deliver on the infrastructure dollars for municipalities, which they promised. The entire election, the campaigned across Canada on a small $10-billion deficit for investment in Canada's infrastructure, a large one of $10 billion. Not only did the deficit go up, but the investment shrank to less than half of what was promised to Canadians.
If we believe that the Liberals are going to create jobs through investing in infrastructure, our economy is going to receive less than 50% of the amount that we were promised. At the same time, the deficit is two to three times higher, again depending on who one believes, the parliamentary budget officer or the government, and that, my fellow Canadians, is about as close to a plan as the Liberal government has gotten for our economy.
Liberals love to talk about a plan in the House during question period, especially the . In fact, the minister talks about the Liberal plan all the time.
On February 1, the told the House that the government had a plan. On February 3, he said, “We have a plan”. On February 18, he said, “We have a plan”. On February 23, does anybody know what he said? He said, “We have a plan”. On February 25, he said, “We have a plan”. On March 7 and 8, he said, “We have a plan”. Therefore, it is obviously surprising that in the budget there was no mention of an existing plan, not one to create jobs, not one to help families that are ailing, and not one to expand our economy.
It says on page 109 of the budget document that, the government will create “a bold new plan” over the coming years. That means no plan exists. It was merely a plan to create a plan. How could the consistently lead the House to believe that he had a plan for the economy when all he had was a timeline to create a plan?
His mandate letter reiterates what the said in southern Ontario about transitioning away from manufacturing. Since December 2015, I can honestly say that this government has followed through on that promise. Over 51,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector and it leaves us asking if this is according to plan. Obviously, one would hope not, but it leaves us with the next question, which is, exactly what is this plan?
While the did not provide a detailed copy of the plan to committee, we are left with only the little language provided in the budget document that a plan will be created over the coming years. In the meantime, the minister, the , and the government are spending tax dollars on projects without an overarching strategy.
The minister announced $9.7 million in Waterloo region a few weeks back. These funds were outlined in the budget as part of an automotive innovation fund. Obviously, we on this side of the House were excited to see the implementation of a new strategy, which the government failed to outline in the committee or the budget, about how it would create jobs. Again, we asked the minister, “How many jobs will be created with this $10-million investment?” The answer was zero direct jobs and perhaps five to 10 indirect jobs. Therefore, the answer is that either $9.7 million equals zero jobs or $1 million of investment equals one job.
These are the results that one can expect to attain when the government is not following a plan, when it is floundering, and when it has no idea how to grow the economy. The Canadian people deserve better than a great marketing plan, better than endless clichés and speeches, better than half-truths and broken promises. The Canadian people deserve the opportunity for success and the hope of a better life.
It is amazing that the Liberal government is so focused on its political fortunes that it is willing to risk the fortunes of Canadians. The Liberal Party was the party that promised great respect for the House, yet now it shamefully mocks the idea of greater debate. It was the party that promised small deficits and gave us large ones. It promised great investment in infrastructure and delivered less than 50%. It promised help for the middle class and cut support for recreation and arts activities. It promised great debate and has constrained the House to 19 hours on a $20-billion to $30-billion deficit budget.
This is a government so unconcerned about the public purse that it does not even support an hour of debate for every $1 billion it goes into deficit. This budget has left Canadians with so many more questions and so few answers, questions such as, what happened to the small $10-billion deficit? What happened to the tax cuts for small business? What happened to the plan for the economy? What happened to the additional $10 billion a year in infrastructure spending?
This is a government that never added up its commitments, never found a group it could not pander to, and never intended to keep its promises.
Today I stand and plead with the government to stop stifling debate, subverting democracy, and disrespecting millions of Canadians who voted for it.
Mr. Speaker, I have a few comments about the budget.
First of all, a budget must reflect the needs and concerns of our fellow citizens. The budget before us reflects those needs and concerns. As MPs, we are all conduits of the needs and concerns of our fellow citizens.
I would like to say a few words about my riding. There are three regions in my riding: Magog and Sherbrooke; Cowansville, Bromont, and Sutton in the centre; and Bedford, Farnham, and Lake Champlain heading toward Montreal. Of course, each region has its own unique characteristics. Around Magog, it is all about landscapes, seniors, tourism, and culture. In the centre, we have industrial parks, innovation, and new technology. Around Bedford, Farnham, and Lake Champlain, we have agri-tourism, agriculture, and the rural sector.
Before getting into why the measures in this budget matter to the three regions in my riding, I would like to talk about the main reason I came back to politics. I have been away for the past 10 years. I was here before that. As I said many times during the election campaign, I decided to come back because of two lakes. We want the water in those lakes to be as clean as possible for future generations. I am talking about Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog. As you may know, when it gets hot in the summer, the water in Lake Champlain is less like water and more like pea soup. The people of my region, particularly those living in Bedford, draw their drinking water from Lake Champlain. I am fed up with this situation.
Together with mayors from the Lake Champlain region, including Jacques Landry of Venise-en-Québec, Réal Pelletier of Saint-Armand, Renée Rouleau of Saint-Georges-de-Clarenceville, Réal Ryan of Noyan, and Yves Lévesque of Bedford, I will meet with the International Joint Commission to see what kind of solutions can be implemented to fix the problem with the water in Lake Champlain.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleague, the , who has visited Lake Champlain. Perhaps that contributed to the decision to invest $19.5 million over five years in four transboundary basins. This is water that we share with our American neighbours.
Here is what must be done. We need to stop conducting studies that only serve to find other problems. Let us come up with solutions and implement them so that future generations can have clean water.
The first region is Magog. It is so beautiful, with its incredible scenery and Lake Memphrémagog. I do not need to remind everyone how beautiful it is. That area of my riding has a lot of seniors. I must say, I am extremely proud of the measures in the budget that will help seniors. They include a 10% increase in the guaranteed income supplement for single seniors. That is the increase to the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit that I mentioned earlier. There is also the elimination of the provision in the Old Age Security Act that raises the eligibility age to 67. These measures regarding the guaranteed income supplement top-up will benefit 900,000 people in Canada. This is an extremely important measure.
Tourism is also extremely important, not only for the eastern part of my riding, which includes the Magog area, but also for the two other regions in my riding. The budget allocates $50 million over two years to Destination Canada to strengthen marketing initiatives in important international markets, such as the United States, our neighbours.
Tourism and culture go hand in hand. My riding is home to one of the counties with the most artists and people working in culture per square kilometre. I almost said “per square inch”, but of course I meant “per square kilometre”.
The budget also allocates $105.9 million over five years to our national museums.
I am very proud, because there are two important museums in Brome—Missisquoi: the Missisquoi Historical Society and the Brome County Historical Society. These two museums will benefit from the additional money allocated in the budget.
In the middle, there is Bromont and Cowansville. This is a bit more of an industrial area. Bromont has a high-tech park, with General Electric and IBM. There is also a young company, Fabritec Group, which now has almost 500 employees and will soon have 1,500. It exports quite a bit to the United States. This is what the budget also does: it restores confidence in innovation and helps set us apart on the world stage through the use of new technologies.
As we have said many times, it is important to remove the gag order on researchers. The previous government muzzled researchers, so it is important to give them their voice back. It is important to strengthen innovation networks and clusters, and to strengthen Canada's network of incubators.
For the middle class, there is the Canada child benefit. We have heard a lot about this in the House. We are making post-secondary education more affordable by enhancing grants. We are increasing investments in green jobs and summer jobs. In the budget, we doubled the funding for student summer jobs.
I will quickly talk about the other region, which includes Bedford, Farnham, and Lac Champlain. I have talked about it a lot. It is a more rural area with all the vitality of rural life. I want to take this opportunity to say hello to the people in my riding who think that our budget in the House today restores confidence in Quebec's economy and restores people's confidence in investing.
Speaking of agriculture, I want to say a few words about the experimental farm in Frelighsburg. I will take the opportunity to congratulate Jean Lévesque, who was just elected mayor of Frelighsburg. The experimental farm was closed down by the Conservatives two or three years ago. The agricultural research we do in Quebec and Canada is important. In the budget, we invested in agricultural research. I told people back home that I would work hard, again, to ensure that the Frelighsburg experimental farm is reopened as soon as possible.
In closing, I want to say that a connected Canada is important to a riding like mine. It is important to have high-speed Internet. I have said it before and I will say it again, it is hard to believe that high-speed Internet is not available to all our small communities from coast to coast to coast. I was here in the House when Brian Tobin was industry minister. At the time, he promised to connect Canada from coast to coast to coast. We are far from it. Canada needs Internet connection.
A week ago, I was in Noyan, a small community in my riding where, together with Développement innovations Haut-Richelieu I was pleased to announce that the entire village of Noyan, the entire population and every house, was connected. The budget promises $500 million over five years to ensure that broadband service is provided to rural communities across the country.
In closing, I want to say again how proud I am to be the member for Brome—Missisquoi and how proud I am to be a member of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by speaking about the aspects of the budget bill that are contained in Bill . I am really disappointed that members of the House were not given the opportunity for debate and study in committee of Bill C-12 to make it a better bill. Veterans have been shuffled aside for so long, but apparently, according to the Liberal government, not long enough. Veterans and their families are in despair. We hear it every day in the veterans affairs committee. Too many are absolutely desolate.
It is no secret that Veterans Affairs Canada has been badly mismanaged by past Conservative and Liberal governments. Pensions have been clawed back, front-line services have been cut, and the result has been increased wait times for desperately needed help. Quality home care is simply not as available as it should be and we all know that long-term care services are shrinking. Soldiers with PTSD face months of delays before even being referred for help and then that help is hard to get.
The changes in the bill to the earnings lost benefit and the disability award for veterans are good first steps. I hope the changes will result in more veterans qualifying for benefits and that those heroes of our country see a positive improvement to their quality of life.
However, this omnibus bill lacks the full support that veterans need.
First, there is no support for mental health in the budget, and this is a huge concern. Many veterans are suffering from the trauma of combat, the stress of their service to Canada. Yet there is a lack of support for veterans and their families to recognize and care for mental health issues that result from their experiences in the field and beyond on behalf of their country. Let us not ever forget that the government asked them to do their duty and they did not fail, and we must not fail.
Sadly and unacceptably, the budget bill would not increase support for spouses or caregivers of injured veterans. Partners of CF members are often required to leave their own jobs to care for the injured veteran. Those caregivers are provided with little training and very little support. This not only impacts the current income of caregivers, but it impacts their own pensions down the road.
Every member of the House knows that pension benefits are largely based on the earnings of an individual's years of employment. Therefore, caregivers who give up employment pay are at a terrible disadvantage. They pay a terrible price in their senior years because their pensions are simply inadequate.
When Canada sends its women and men in uniform into conflict, they and their families accept unlimited liability, and there is the very real possibility that what they are ordered to do could cost them their lives. As a country, we have nothing less than a sacred duty to our veterans to care for them when they return. It is time for a new era in the government's relationship with veterans, one based on respect that ensures dignity, financial security, and quality of life.
If the government is serious about repairing the damage at Veterans Affairs Canada, it should take immediate action and ensure all veterans have the income support they need. We are calling on the government to prove this in a new era by working with veterans and to immediately review, update, and improve the new veterans charter, including addressing the issue of lump sum payments, those payments currently offered to seriously injured veterans.
It is crucial that the government develop a one veteran one standard policy that would ensure all veterans would be treated equally, regardless of when or where they served.
It is time to end the unfair service pension clawback for retired and disabled Canadian Forces and RCMP veterans and show good faith by increasing the survivor's pension of veterans.
It is time to remove the archaic marriage clause restricting benefits for marriages that occur after age 60. Imagine in this day and age calling older spouses who marry, love, and care for veterans “gold diggers”. What a ludicrous and petty label.
The government should provide timely accessible care for veterans' health and well-being. We as a nation must improve and expand PTSD and mental health supports for veterans to ensure they get the care they need, and get that care quickly without barriers, without harmful delays.
The government should reverse the cuts to long-term care for veterans, and expand the veterans independence program to allow seriously injured and elderly Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP veterans to continue to live at home. It should not put that burden of care on partners, on spouses, on caregivers. The government must make sure that the veterans independence program is there, in addition to what caregivers and spouses provide.
I have spoken to this House about post-Korean vets who served Canada in times of great danger only to be turned away from long-term care in their time of need. It is disgraceful to say to a veteran that his or her contribution was less because it occurred after 1954.
Even though the wounds may not have been obvious at the time of release or active duty, they are wounds that come from dedicated service to Canada. Those who suffer those wounds must be respected. They deserve long-term care in a veterans hospital, if that is what they wish.
There must be increased supports for veterans' families and caregivers who are often the main support for veterans.
We have an absolute obligation to ensure that services are delivered with a veterans-first approach. This can be done by establishing a formal covenant for veterans' care that recognizes the government's moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation to care for Canada's veterans.
I submit it is also important that we eliminate the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, which is staffed by government appointees who have too often been unresponsive to the realities faced by veterans seeking disability benefits. It is time to replace the old VRAB with a medically focused review process for appeals.
Unlike WSIB, the court cannot overturn a Veterans Review and Appeal Board refusal. The court can only refer the issue back to the same people who decided against the veteran in the first place. How can this result in fairness for veterans? It would seem to me that the appearance of arm's-length non-interference in the VRAB from government is actually a refusal of government to take responsibility. It is politics at its worst.
Finally, Canadians wish very much to show all veterans that they respect them and that these veterans deserve our support. This can be accomplished by a government prepared to expand eligibility and increase funding for the Last Post Fund to ensure that all veterans can be guaranteed a dignified funeral.
New Democrats value the work and sacrifice of our Canadian Forces and RCMP veterans and personnel currently serving, whether they served at home, in war, or in peacekeeping missions. We call on the government to repair our country's relationship to one that is based on that respect, rather than on the current state of neglect.
We must ensure that our veterans and their families are well cared for from the moment they sign up to the moment they pass away, including that dignified funeral and burial I talked about.
Bill and the same measures covered in this budget bill do not come close to fully addressing the needs of our veterans. The manner in which we honour and care for our veterans and their families is a reflection of the integrity of this country. When we ask people to put their lives on the line for Canada, we must ensure that their sacrifices are recognized and their losses, monetary, physical, and emotional, are compensated, and that their service is recognized with grateful acknowledgement.
If we leave one single veteran living in poverty, one single veteran homeless, one single veteran suffering the agony of post-traumatic stress, or one single dependant of that veteran unsupported and out in the cold, we will have failed in fulfilling our sacred covenant.
I know we can do better. I have faith, hope, and optimism. I believe that we need, and can work towards creating, a system of comprehensive support for our veterans. This budget bill could have addressed the gaps we face in fulfilling our covenant to veterans, but sadly, it has missed the mark. We are capable of better. We cannot let anyone tell us it cannot be done.