(for the Minister of Finance)
moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to begin debate on Bill , the economic and fiscal update implementation act, 2021. This legislation builds on important measures enacted by another critical piece of legislation that received royal assent in December, Bill , which provided certainty to Canadians and Canadian businesses in the face of the omicron variant. Like this legislation, Bill provided essential and targeted support for businesses still deeply affected by the pandemic, including the Canadian tourism sector, which continues to be one of the most affected by COVID-19.
As the Minister of Tourism, I want to reiterate that our government remains fully committed to supporting the tourism industry in these difficult times so that it can quickly get back on its feet and prosper.
I have said it many times and I will continue to say that Canada's economy will not fully recover until our tourism sector recovers. With the support measures that our government has put in place since the beginning of the pandemic, I am convinced that local tourism businesses will recover from the pandemic and be better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them in the future.
I can say, as the Associate Minister of Finance and as the member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, that first and foremost, the best way to keep our economy growing and supporting businesses like those in our vibrant tourism sector is to win the fight against COVID-19. Bill includes numerous measures to win this fight, including $1.7 billion to help the provinces and territories secure the additional rapid tests they need to keep Canadians safe and healthy, including through expanded school and workplace testing programs.
Access to rapid tests is important for breaking transmission chains, especially for new variants like omicron, and for protecting the people around us.
Our government also supports the provinces' and territories' proof of vaccination initiatives.
Developing a standard proof of vaccination would help fully vaccinated Canadians to travel within the country and internationally, and despite the claims of some it is an essential tool in protecting Canadians. Let me be very clear. Vaccine mandates and proof of vaccination credentials protect our families, our workplaces and our communities. They give us the confidence to have a meal at a restaurant, attend community events with families and friends, and even begin to travel safely in accordance with public health guidelines. This is also another way we can support Canada’s tourism sector, by making Canadians and international visitors feel safe as they explore all that our country has to offer.
As I always note, safety comes first, then travel. Bill would support these efforts by allocating the necessary funds, some $300 million, for the government to reimburse provinces’ and territories’ expenditures related to the implementation of their proof-of-vaccination programs.
Bill will also support Canadians' health and safety by investing in adequate ventilation, which can help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Whether it is ventilation for a classroom, shopping centre or meeting room, the government is determined to help businesses and organizations improve the ventilation and air quality in their buildings and to ensure Canadians' safety.
Many small businesses are on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic. They want to do their part and make indoor air cleaner, but investing in equipment to improve ventilation can be very expensive.
That is why in Bill we are proposing a refundable tax credit for small businesses of 25% of qualifying expenses made to improve air quality.
Our government also wants to improve ventilation in schools and protect students, teachers, school staff and parents from outbreaks. To do this, Bill proposes to provide up to an additional $100 million to provinces and territories through the existing safe return to class fund. This funding would continue the support provided through the original $2-billion safe return to class fund by specifically targeting ventilation-related improvement projects.
As the pandemic continues to affect the lives of Canadians, our government knows that elevated inflation, a global phenomenon driven by the unprecedented challenge of reopening the world’s economy, is leading Canadians to worry about the cost of living. We understand concerns about the higher cost of living, and we are taking action.
Our government has cut taxes for the middle class while raising them on the top 1%. Building on the success of the 2015 and 2019 middle-class tax cuts that lowered taxes for millions of Canadians, our government has put more money in the pockets of Canadians. We are also working with provinces and territories to implement a Canada-wide $10-a-day community-based early learning and child care system that would make life more affordable for families and create new jobs. Because of this measure, the fee reductions in the coming year would help deliver thousands of dollars in tax savings to families with young children.
Additionally, on December 13, our government and the Bank of Canada announced that we would renew the 2% inflation target for another five-year period, which will keep the bank focused on delivering low, stable and predictable inflation in Canada.
As members can see, our government is already working hard to address the cost of living and to make life more affordable for Canadians.
For example, we are proposing to increase support for teachers, whether they are teaching from home or in the classroom. Teachers have shown, throughout the pandemic and always, that they are willing to go above and beyond to make sure their students receive a high-quality education.
To support teachers and early childhood educators in Canada, we are proposing, with Bill , to expand and enrich the eligible educator school supply tax credit.
Bill also seeks to address housing affordability through the implementation of a national, annual 1% tax on the value of non-resident, non-Canadian-owned residential real estate in Canada that is considered to be vacant or underused, something our government announced as part of budget 2021 to crack down on underused housing. The bill would introduce a new act, the underused housing tax act, to ensure that non-resident, non-Canadian owners, particularly those who use Canada as a place to passively store their wealth in housing, pay their fair share of Canadian tax, beginning in the 2022 calendar year.
Be assured that this is not a new capital gains tax, as the opposition continues to misinform Canadians. It is a sound fiscal measure to address housing affordability. Bill would also support Canadians living in northern parts of the country by expanding access to the travel component of the northern residents deductions to give all northerners, including those who do not receive travel assistance from their employers, the option to claim up to $1,200 in eligible travel expenses.
Our government has put in place unprecedented relief measures throughout the pandemic to support Canadian families and businesses. As we continue to provide targeted support to those who need it the most, we will be there for Canadians.
As we emerge from COVID-19, we are focusing on jobs and growth, and we are making life more affordable so that Canadians can prosper. Bill would continue to support our government's work on this important issue.
Colleagues, we are all tired. We are all eager for this pandemic and the challenges it has created to become things of the past. Our message to Canadians from coast to coast to coast is clear. It is that our government is taking action to win this fight, to support Canadians and businesses, and to keep them and their families safe.
That is why I call on my colleagues here today to join me in supporting the passage of this important bill.
Mr. Speaker, as I rise today, February 2, in the House, I want to pay homage and respect to my party leader, who resigned today from being party leader of the official opposition. Being in the job of party leader in an opposition party is an incredibly difficult job, and he has done yeoman's work over the past couple of years. In a time when Canada was locked down, expectations of what we needed to do as a country changed dramatically and we continue to try to adapt. This is a difficult time to be in this kind of job, and I pay respect right now to him and his family for having committed and having given so much to this country, to our party and to this Parliament.
I am here today to address the new Bill proposed by the Liberal government about how to address some more spending that we need to commit for coming through COVID, some of which we find is going to be on the backs of Canadians again.
The bill is in seven parts. I cannot address all seven parts adequately in this sitting in the next 20 minutes, so I am going to focus on the real estate part of this bill. My colleague across the way spent a lot of time on the real estate section of this bill as well.
Starting in the 2022 calendar year, we are going to look at a 1% federal surtax on passively held non-resident owners of real estate in Canada. That means that foreigners who buy real estate in Canada are going to pay an extra 1% annually on the value of the real estate, much like a municipal tax for those people who own property or own their single-family home. Therefore, we would transport some of this tax mechanism that usually rests at the municipal level, and we would put it onto the federal government's balance sheet at this point in time. For what effect, I do not know but it would be an overstep into municipal jurisdiction.
It seems a bit of an overstep and I will give some examples, but first I am going to refer to what my colleague across the way was referring to, a report by an organization called Generation Squeeze, which was commissioned by a crown corporation, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, to look at ways to get more housing built in Canada. It did not look at better ways to get more housing built in Canada. What it looked at and what it reported to CMHC, which it was of course paid to do, was ways to tax more housing ownership in Canada. Its proposal was much like this one: a 0.5% surtax annually applied on properties over $1 million. I know that sounds like a big number, but the annual surtax doubles on properties over $2 million.
Vancouver itself has an empty homes tax already, effectively the same thing as what Generation Squeeze is providing, except it is 3% of the assessed value and it has been applied since 2017. Now there is 0.5%, 1%, 3%, but there is more. The Province of British Columbia has a speculation and vacancy tax applied on such properties, starting at 0.5% for a resident and going up to 2% for an offshore property owner. That has been applied since 2018, so with 3% plus 2% plus 0.5% plus this proposed 1%, we really are just tacking on and on here and really overstepping as far as which level of government is collecting this.
What are we trying to accomplish in this?
Foreign ownership still accounts for approximately 7.7% of Vancouver home purchases. We are still getting a lot of foreign ownership growing into the housing base in the Lower Mainland, despite the fact that we are tacking on significant taxes here that were supposed to slow this down. This is a great discrepancy between the actual people who work in the city and the people who are coming to live in the city. That is one of the major factors that is pushing up housing prices in Canada, but particularly in the Lower Mainland.
Have we looked at the increase in home values under the current Liberal government?
In the last six years, the price of a typical family home has gone up 87%. Since the government has come to power or shortly thereafter, six years ago, the average price of a family home in Canada is up 87%. That is inflation. Since 2016, when it was at $476,000, it is now $811,000 according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.
Are we trying to jam the price above $1 million just to collect a proposed federal surtax? The average house in Toronto and Vancouver now sells for over $1 million. Think about it: A home that costs over $1 million in two of Canada's large cities. That is not counting the interest paid on the mortgage. It is not counting the upkeep required on a regular basis. It is not counting the maintenance. It is not counting the furniture and window coverings. To get into a home now, it is over $1 million for a starter home. The cost of home ownership is going through roof in Canada, and that is not just bungalows, split-levels or two-storeys, but all single-family homes.
What has caused this?
The government keeps professing that it needs to spend more, and thus collect more, to build more housing in Canada. Who is going to pay this tax? It is the home sellers who, according to Generation Squeeze, are primarily retirees. They have made gains in the value of their homes that is not taxable at the federal level, so they obviously deserve to pay more tax in their retirement years, according to Generation Squeeze. This is a ridiculous oversight of the financial snapshot faced by retirees in Canada, many of whom are and will be augmenting their incomes by working longer and receiving government programming like the guaranteed income supplement. The proposal from Generation Squeeze, commissioned by an arm of this government, is an inequitable tax grab on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I will oppose it strongly.
Why are seniors having difficulty saving for retirement? It is inflation, inflation, inflation. Things are costing more, but people's incomes are not going up on a commensurate level. It is a real monetary factor that this government does not really pay any attention to. As the said during the election, he does not really think about monetary policy, unfortunately. Government should be thinking about monetary policy.
I would point out to the government that, this year, CPP payments for everybody in Canada have been increased in their payroll tax by 10%. If a 10% increase in our CPP is not more reflective of the inflation people are actually feeling, then I think the government is trying to mask something here. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has said that its investments are sound for what it is expecting to spend for the next 75 years, but the government thinks a 10% increase in deductions is important at this point in time. That might tell us what the government thinks the real rate of inflation is in this country, because most consumers have lost faith in the numbers calculated by Statistics Canada and the Bank of Canada. These statistics are meaningless as far as what they are experiencing in the stores, with their rents and at their doors. Everything they pay for in Canada is going up significantly more than indicated by Stats Canada or the Bank of Canada.
Housing takes up more than 11% of our gross domestic product, partially because we do not have much more gross domestic investment going on in this country, so most people are building into housing at this point in time. Also, this is double of where it has usually been in this country. It is usually around 4% to 5%, but it is now north of 11% of our gross domestic product going into residential housing at this point in time. It has been that way for a number of years, yet, supposedly, we are short of housing stock. What housing stock? It is single-family homes, to be precise, and starter homes.
I can tell members that, when knocking on doors in Calgary Centre, when I knocked on condo doors, I saw some of those buildings had a 50% vacancy rate, and there is a 10%-plus vacancy rate in apartment buildings. However, developers are still building more condo buildings, encroaching on neighbourhoods filled with single-family homes, and this is referred to as “densification”. Condo resale prices are down 15% over the past six years in Calgary, and Calgary's downtown commercial core has been decimated by the government's aimless policies towards Canada's most productive industry, oil and gas.
The City of Calgary's approach is to spend taxpayers' dollars to retrofit some of the vacant office towers into residential towers, in the hopes of bringing life back into the downtown core, at a cost of over $400,000 per door, which is in contrast to a new build at $250,000 per door.
We are overspending to solve a problem the government created in the first place, so we are just supposed to ignore the negative effects of the outcome of what we are doing here. We cannot go on doing that. We have to look at the outcomes.
For a young condo owner, a loss of 2.5% per year on a condo is a daunting issue, especially as they try to get into a single family home at some point in time. We have government dollars chasing retrofits to a problem the government created, and around and around we go. Someone is paying the bill.
Let us go back to inflation. We have incurred over $560 billion of deficit spending over the past two years. One-third of it, over $170 billion, had nothing to do with the COVID pandemic. Never miss out on a good crisis to move an agenda forward, as the Liberals have said.
Let us look at more things here, as far as inflation goes. Let us look at what we are abetting here in the process. Let us look at where the numbers are actually leading us. As members know, I am somewhat analytical at looking at what the solutions to these problems might be.
Some of this money coming into Canada, such as 7.7% of the purchases in Vancouver, is still foreign money coming in. Investment properties are on top of that from Canadian investors, but much of this foreign money is not clean foreign money. Much of it, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, is actually money laundering. It is what is called “snow washing”. Snow washing happens more in Canada than in any other country in the G20 for one reason: because we allow it to. The government keeps the rules loose on money laundering coming into Canada, and it is a shame for us in an international sense around the world.
In a national criminal intelligence estimate, the Canadian Criminal Intelligence Service said that money laundering of about $133 billion per year was one of the factors driving up real estate prices in Canada. In the last year, let us recall, real estate prices went up 26% for a typical family home in Canada. That is corruption. We are allowing corruption to enter Canada.
I know some people think that it is just the money part of corruption, but the money part of corruption leads to all other kinds of criminality. When we actually invite dirty money into the country, we are inviting everything else associated with that dirty money into the country.
Let us take a look at the fentanyl deaths on the streets of our cities, including Calgary, where I live. Fentanyl deaths and overdoses and homeless people living in the streets have abounded over the last number of years because of these laws that allow people to launder their money in Canada and bring with it the commensurate crime that arrives with money laundering. This is a problem we need to address. The government needs to address it.
I am concerned that the government does not want to address it, because it is complicit in a lot of areas where it is actually involved in what we will call “shady practices”. That includes SNC-Lavalin and the cover-up of what happened there and the ditching of one of the brightest lights on the Liberal front bench when she tried to expose what was going on there. This includes the WE scandal and the hundreds of millions of dollars that was buried in bureaucratese before we could get to actually following the money trail.
That brings us to where we are today: How do we come through this? We need to build a system that is not inflationary and does not continue to have government money thrown at the wall while continuing to not solve problems and issues like housing. Housing is a big issue. Putting a 1% extra tax on top of housing is not part of the solution. Curbing foreign money laundering is in the federal government's bailiwick and should be instituted as quickly as possible.
I know I am running out of time, but it is my pleasure to be here today again. I do propose that we actually start with legislation that leads somewhere and, as opposed to an extra tax that is already being applied locally and provincially in many areas in Canada where it is a problem, that we look at how we address money laundering laws in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, we are studying Bill , the bill to implement last fall's economic update. There is not much to it. We more or less support the bill, but there is one thing we take issue with. I will explain what I mean in a few minutes.
I would like to remind my colleagues that part 1 amends the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations. Everyone supports the new refundable tax credit for ventilation expenses made to improve air quality. Obviously, we support expanding the travel component of the northern residents deduction. Expanding the school supplies tax credit from 15% to 25% and expanding the eligibility criteria to include electronic devices is great. That is not a problem. A new refundable tax credit to return fuel charge proceeds to farming businesses is important. We are happy to see it included, and we support it.
Part 2, which is a hot topic in this debate, contains the much-touted 1% tax on the value of vacant or underused residential property directly or indirectly owned by non-resident non-Canadians. We agree in principle, but we have a big problem. The problem is that, of all possible taxes, property tax is the only one not under federal jurisdiction.
The goal itself is a noble one. We could discuss the 1% tax. Would it really be effective? We could discuss that. However, there is a very troubling precedent being set here. My colleagues will remember what happened with income tax. The federal government said that it was a temporary measure to finance the war effort, but we are still sending half of our income tax to Ottawa today. There is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax measure implemented by the federal government. That is what we are concerned about.
Will the federal government acquire a taste for this sweet, sweet tax revenue once it has tried it and want to go back for more?
This is a big problem. It is troubling because this is an area under municipal jurisdiction. We know that municipalities are having serious financial difficulties, and this is their jurisdiction. If, from now on—not right away, but in a few years—the federal government came back to demand some of that revenue, there would be less for the municipalities. There would be an even greater fiscal imbalance.
We therefore have a serious problem, and we are asking the government to please find another way of implementing this policy, because interfering in property tax, which is under municipal jurisdiction, is a serious problem and a dangerous precedent. Although the intention is noble, as I have said before and will say again, the method is a problem because of the precedent it would set.
Could the government come to an agreement with the provinces and municipalities so that they could levy the tax instead?
There are other ways of solving the problem, with capital gains, for example, but this one poses a serious threat. Right now, the Bloc Québécois is still deciding whether it will support Bill C‑8 because of this measure. The principle is noble, but, in our opinion, it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.
Part 3 provides for a six-year prescription period for the Canada emergency business account. That is great.
Part 4 authorizes payments to be made out of the consolidated revenue fund. I would like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to the President of the Treasury Board, who is listening attentively to my speech. I thank her. The bill talks about supporting ventilation improvement projects in schools. We fully support this, and we support part 5, which authorizes payments to be made out of the consolidated revenue fund for the purpose of supporting coronavirus disease 2019 proof-of-vaccination initiatives.
Part 6 supports COVID-19 tests. There is a lot of money involved, and we are obviously on board with that too.
Part 7 amends the Employment Insurance Act to specify the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid in a benefit period to certain seasonal workers. All this is important.
This is not a historic implementation bill. These are good measures, even the measure in part 2 that we have doubts about. The goal is noble, but once again, the precedent it would set is troubling.
Governments are often judged on what they achieve in their first 100 days. In our opinion, there could have been much more in Bill .
Throughout the election campaign and since the beginning of the pandemic, we have heard a lot about the labour shortage. There are many different measures that could be put in place to mitigate this issue, such as a tax credit that would make it easier for young retirees to continue working. Earlier this week, the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec told the Standing Committee on Finance that many young retirees would be willing to work one or two days a week if they did not have to give all their earnings back in income tax. The Bloc Québécois would have liked to see something like that in this bill. It would not have been very complicated, and it could have been included, but it was not.
The other important point is the fight against tax havens. The wrote a book on the subject. It is important. We need to take action and move forward. We have been calling for this for years now. Just under a year ago, when the last budget was tabled last spring, the minister assured us that the fall update would fix the web giant problem by taxing their revenue to offset unpaid taxes, as is done in other countries. Last December we were even pretty sure that something was going to be introduced.
It is frustrating that there was nothing about this in Bill C-8. We have been hearing for years now that measures are on the way, but they keep getting pushed back. We are almost beginning to feel like a donkey chasing a carrot in the fight against tax havens, but the carrot is always just out of reach. We should not be taken for donkeys.
I would now like to talk about health. Earlier this afternoon the government sent out the to speak to the government's Bill C‑8. The minister said that the government would negotiate health funding with the provinces “when the time is right”. I think now is the right time. It was the right time last year, it was the right time during the pandemic and it was the right time even before the pandemic. The time has been right for 20 years. Frankly, the government needs to smarten up.
Everyone knows that the health care system is struggling, emergency rooms are swamped, and the pandemic has posed challenges for hospital care, emergency care and life-saving care. This is all because the health care system and sector has been weakened and damaged by 20 to 25 years of underfunding by the federal government. It is as simple as that.
After the 1995 referendum, there was a renegotiation with respect to deficits and the debt, which were too high. Ottawa's solution to the problem was to reduce transfers to the provinces. Jean Chrétien then chose to mock Quebec among his G7 colleagues telling them that the funny thing about reducing health transfers was that everyone would protest at the National Assembly of Quebec and the other provincial legislatures, but he would be fine. It was that decision by Ottawa to reduce its health transfers that has compromised the system. Today, we are paying the price during the pandemic.
The government can say that it spent a lot of money during the pandemic, but to be clear, that spending is not recurring funding. We need recurring funding. The government said that it has been spending more every year. That is true, but it is not contributing its fair share when we consider that health care system costs are going up 6% while the government is increasing its share by only 3%. The government is actually contributing less and less every year. For the government to say that it is spending more every year is dishonest. That is clear from even a cursory analysis of the situation.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer says that, even with the extraordinary expenses incurred during the pandemic, the pressure of public funding rests squarely on the shoulders of the provinces. This has to change.
I also wanted to talk about seniors. We need to do more for them, particularly with respect to inflation. There was also a lot of talk about social housing. Action needs to be taken on that.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying hello to my new team members: Meili Faille, who is a former Bloc Québécois MP, Anaïs Thibodeau and Mishka Caldwell‑Pichette, who are probably watching right now. A warm welcome to them all.
I listened closely to members' speeches on this bill to implement the federal government's priority measures. I found the speech given by the member for Joliette to be particularly interesting.
I have an opportunity to remind members that even though Ottawa may be shelling out billions of dollars during this pandemic, the government is still trying to avoid showing the leadership expected of it to help those doing their part to ensure a real economic recovery.
I salute the contribution of all the political actors who realize the challenges we face in the regions and who, like me, will demand recognition for the importance of these vast territories, Abitibi—Témiscamingue in particular, and demand investments befitting their people and their aspirations. What we want is a real economic recovery for the regions.
As an aside, I want to salute Patrick Perreault of Métal Marquis and the great leadership he has shown with the Table Métal Abitibi-Ouest. Faced with a serious labour shortage, the people in that group know how to be proactive.
Although everyone is affected by and dealing with the pandemic, people still have every right to expect the government to speed up measures that affect the public directly. Let us not forget that voters declined to give the Liberals the privilege of a majority government, and rightly so.
I want to make it very clear that the Liberals do not want to solve anything at the end of the day. They systematically refuse to acknowledge the ongoing problem that is putting a stranglehold on the finances of Quebec and the provinces.
Let us have a look at what is in the 's economic update. The government is maintaining the Canada health transfer escalator at 3%, which is the legal minimum and below the annual increase in health care costs, until 2027. What are the actual needs when it comes to the health transfer?
Quebec and the provinces are unanimously calling for an immediate payment of $28 billion to cover up to 35% of health care costs, followed by a 6% escalator. This is what the provinces are talking about when they speak with the minister and her officials.
To put that in perspective, the Abitibi‑Témiscamingue region accounts for roughly 2% of the population of Quebec, so it should receive around $120 million in recurrent funding every year. The problems we are having, in obstetrics for example, could be solved with permanent funding from the federal government through a transfer to Quebec.
As I see it, the federal government's categorical rejection of the provinces' demands is nothing new. A lot of ink has been spilled on this subject. However, people now have a better understanding of the significance and consequences of Ottawa's inaction. People are seeing how worn out, inert and craven the Liberal government is.
Let us not forget that ordinary people, our heroes, are the backbone of the health care system. I commend the leadership of Caroline Roy, CEO of the CISSS of Abitibi‑Témiscamingue, and her entire team, as well as the nurses and all the health workers in Abitibi‑Témiscamingue and elsewhere. I thank them for their work and encourage them to keep going.
People are wrong if they think they will never understand what a fiscal imbalance is. The pandemic crisis has exacerbated problems in health care, and the on-the-ground impact of underfunding is very real. I am sure my esteemed colleagues will agree that the money should be in the provinces' hands, not in the federal government's coffers.
Now, where is the investment the government promised, the tens of billions it was going to spend to lay the foundation for a strong recovery and create wealth without falling back on the oil economy of the last century? How about accelerating investment in aerospace, green energy and forestry? Those sectors are important to Quebec.
I have asked myself the same question my colleague posed about the utility of the new tax and its impact on unoccupied buildings owned by foreigners, and I recognize that this overheated market needs cooling.
What the Liberals are serving up now are measures that were announced in the 2020 economic statement, in budget 2021 and in a public consultation carried out last summer that, may I remind the House, did not attract much interest.
It is worth noting that this is the first time the federal government has stuck its finger in the property tax pie. It is all part of the Liberal pattern of interference. The federal government should work with the Government of Quebec and the City of Montreal rather than encroach on their jurisdiction.
The government should not be allowing property owners to leave their units vacant and unoccupied during a housing shortage. This measure does nothing to help regions like Abitibi‑Témiscamingue, which is also experiencing an unprecedented housing shortage. The solution is investments in affordable housing and transfers to the provinces. Once again, the federal government is infringing on an area of provincial jurisdiction.
I would also be remiss if I failed to mention the needs of Abitibi—Témiscamingue residents. I live there, and it is a region blessed by nature. However, in order to live there and develop the area, we need to act now and make sure it is developed in a sustainable way. We will never succeed in solving our labour shortage issues if we choose to be content with strategies that do nothing meaningful to ensure the vitality of our region and our homes. That does not reflect the strong economy that we have in Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
We are in a position to capitalize on the emerging critical mineral economy, but I have some concerns. We want to process our resources close to where they are extracted. The current paradigm needs to shift. No more plundering our resources and sending them elsewhere in the world to be developed. We want these resources to be processed close to where they are extracted, in the mining regions.
The government needs to respond to our strategies to revitalize the forestry industry and develop new forest-based products.
We also have the right to promote our agri-food industry, what we process locally, and to make it easier to get our local products to market and ensure they can be competitive. What can be done to get more of the local products that our agri-food industry produces into the hands of a wider public?
Access to high-speed Internet is very important for SMEs and is critical to helping them go digital and claim their share of the market. There are apps available to them now, but they need access to high-speed Internet to use them. Some business owners are unable to access the tools to market their products.
According to the Agri-Food Innovation Council, small and medium-sized businesses in the industry cannot adopt some new technologies as quickly as their competitors in the United States and Europe because technological advancements rely on high-speed Internet access. GPS and videoconferencing are just two examples of this. People in urban areas take these things for granted, but people in many rural parts of Quebec and Canada do not yet have that luxury.
I think everyone understands what I am talking about. The government can make a real difference for the thousands of people in rural communities by adopting policies and measures that will enable economic undertakings to succeed.
On December 9, I spoke to the House in detail about the affordable housing shortage. The regions need money to build desperately needed housing. This is an unprecedented crisis.
The current housing situation in Abitibi‑Témiscamingue, in Quebec and in Canada is a perennial one caused by the chronic housing shortage, among other things. That is why building new homes is key.
We know that the need and the demand for housing will very likely continue to increase in the coming years. The government should therefore learn from the mistakes made in recent years and find innovative ways to stimulate the construction of housing, especially social, community and truly affordable housing.
I will now address one of the items in this budget statement. I believe that we need to get rid of fly-in, fly-out work and stop thinking of commuter workers as a magic bullet that will solve the labour shortage in remote areas. This system causes capital flight and does not attract new residents. I am really worried about this measure. Are we going to be able to let people develop resources in Abitibi‑Témiscamingue and then spend their wages elsewhere? Are we going to go so far as to pay for them to do that?
I think we need a new paradigm, one that encourages people to move to the regions and to settle in the area where the work is found. This measure seeks to expand the travel component of the northern residents deduction by giving them the option to claim up to $1,200 in eligible travel expenses. I am concerned that it will encourage specialized tradespeople to deduct their travel expenses from their income when they work in remote areas. In other words, this measure would cancel out much of the efforts being made by elected officials in remote areas.
This phenomenon is occurring at a time when the regions have a high birth rate. What kind of future will young families have in remote areas? Instead, should we not encourage people to move to the regions permanently to promote settlement and promote special status for Abitibi‑Témiscamingue in particular?
This could offer a long-term response to the labour shortage.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill . It is my first time giving a speech in the House in the new year. It is not my first time on my feet but my first time speaking at length, so it is my first time speaking in the House since the omicron wave seriously took hold. I want to take a moment to recognize what a punch in the stomach it has felt like to Canadians across the country, many of whom had some hope that we were getting beyond the pandemic. When this wave came, I think many of them felt all of those many feelings we have been feeling over the past two years kind of condensed into a new wave of the pandemic.
I want to give special thanks to all the frontline workers we talked about at the beginning of the pandemic, who never went away and never stopped doing those important tasks even though the limelight shifted away from them.
Health care workers continue to labour in really difficult circumstances, and they are overworked, tired and under-resourced.
Teachers and child care workers have had to face the pandemic all the way through. In this particular wave, and I will speak to my own experience in Manitoba, they were having the challenges of remote learning and are now having to deal with full classrooms and students and colleagues who are getting sick, or they are getting sick themselves.
Grocery store workers are putting themselves at risk once again. As my colleague from has rightly pointed out, some of the big grocery chains said that when another wave came they would bring back hero pay to recognize the risks workers are taking in order to help Canadians, but they have not stepped up to reinstitute that pay.
All of these things together are leading to a lot of outrage, and I am going to talk a bit about some of the things I find particularly outrageous today and that inform my work.
I am outraged when I get emails, as I did today, about another senior who has lost their life, not because of the pandemic directly but because they took the government at its word when it said it would be there to have their backs, would support them through the pandemic and told them to apply for help when they lost their job. They did. They applied for CERB.
Because the government could not figure out its own rules, and that is probably the most charitable interpretation, or because it did not care, it decided to claw back those benefits that were supposed to be for working seniors in need through the guaranteed income supplement. Not only did the government do that and not catch it before it happened, but the government was advised at least as early as May of 2021 that it was happening and it chose to do nothing about it. The government chose to do nothing about it.
One could say that the government did nothing about it until it happened, except that it happened in July and it still did nothing about it. The Liberals called an election and did nothing about it. They came back from the election and did nothing about it. It took weeks of persistently raising this in the House of Commons to get an announcement, and that announcement did not solve the problem because that money still is not in the pockets of seniors who are in dire need.
The money is not in the pocket of the senior I heard about today, the senior with type 2 diabetes who could no longer afford the food and medication they needed to be healthy and passed away. I have an email open in front of me about a couple from Mississauga who are in dire straits. The two of them are trying to live on $1,300 a month because their GIS payments are gone.
The government says not to worry and that it has a solution with a one-time payment in May or June. There are already seniors who are no longer living and who cannot receive that payment, and there will be more by May or June. That outrages me. It outrages me on the substance of the matter, because Canada should do better. It outrages me because it breaks the promise the made to people in this country that the government would be there for them.
Instead, on a principle of bureaucracy, the Liberals are not, because they could not figure out their internal systems, or they did not have the right lists or they were not sure about this or maybe needed to do that. This is after just proving to the country that when the political will exists they can roll out a program to millions of Canadians almost overnight.
Liberals expect us to believe that, for those seniors who were already receiving money from the government, already on a list, already in a system where we were paying them, they cannot find a way to get money into those seniors' hands so that they are not dying in the cold. It is not believable and it is shameful.
I am outraged about that. I am proud that people in Elmwood—Transcona sent me here to relay that message to the government. I am going to keep doing that until that money gets into the hands of seniors who can then get back into their homes and out of the jeopardy they are in because the government cannot be bothered to take on its own bureaucracy, which is telling it something that needs to be done cannot be done, when we all know that is not true.
That outrages me.
I am outraged that people during the pandemic were dying in personal care homes because of years of cuts, at the federal and provincial level, to health care. We know our system has been under-resourced. Those cuts did not come because Canada could not afford to do those things. Over the years that those cuts came to our health care system, the corporate tax rate in Canada went down from 28% to just 15%. That is a huge decrease. That is almost a 50% tax cut to the largest corporations in Canada, while our government was telling us it could not afford to pay its fair share of health care to the provinces.
That is shameful.
What is more shameful still is that we are two years into this pandemic and there has hardly been a long-term care centre in Winnipeg that has not had a COVID-19 outbreak. There has been no work done by the federal government to convene the provinces to talk about better national standards and funding those standards.
I am not talking about the federal government telling the provinces what to do. I am talking about convening them so they can talk about best practices, so that every Canadian can benefit from the best things our provincial governments are doing to serve Canadians in long-term care, and then ensuring the federal government is at the table to help resource those things.
That was the power of—
Mr. Speaker, I suspect that may have something to do with the shouting, but I did say I was outraged and I suppose that has some technical consequences.
Here we are. We are two years into the pandemic. We have not made significant progress on long-term care. It is not like the experts that have been advising governments on how to handle the pandemic were caught off guard that there was another wave of the pandemic. Even early on, they were saying there would be probably at least four waves. We know that these are problems that need to get fixed, even if somehow magically the pandemic were to end tomorrow. We hear certain members in the House, even today, suggesting that somehow the pandemic is a function of public health restrictions or something. If we end the public health restrictions, we do not end the pandemic. I wish that were true, but we are fighting a virus. We are not fighting each other. We need to bear that in mind.
The way to get through this is with a lot of care and resources to be sure. As we were cutting those taxes for big corporations and telling people that we could not fund the health care that they needed, that was also being done by a lot of governments provincially. We are seeing it in Manitoba, Alberta and around the country because we have people in the government who do not believe in public health care in the first place and would rather see it privatized and would rather give tax cuts to big corporations instead of ponying up the funding that we know is necessary to have proper health care.
I am outraged at the Liberal Party, which promised as long ago as 1997, and the government has said again and again until their most recent Speech from the Throne, that they were going to make progress on pharmacare. Why am l mad about that? It is because I understand that people are really getting hit hard in the pocketbook with the inflation that is happening. I know there is no magic wand in the desk of government and some of the factors driving inflation right now are beyond their control. However, what is in their control? They could certainly help with the cost of prescription drugs because a national pharmacare program would do that. It would save money. It actually costs less to have such a program than Canadians are spending right now on prescription drugs.
We are going back a couple of years now to the PBO study, but the PBO was very clear. Right now Canadians are spending about $24 billion a year on prescription drugs with the many provincial systems that we have and the many private plans. One national system would cost about $20 billion a year. That is a way to save money and serve people better and help bring down some of those costs that are making things so hard for Canadians right now. It is something the government absolutely needs to do and would help.
The NDP has long proposed taking on telecom companies. Canadians are paying among the highest rates for cellphone and Internet. That is not a luxury anymore. It is not a “nice to have”. If people want to participate in the labour market, good luck finding a job and keeping a job if they do not have access to the Internet or to a cellphone. That is something that the government could do. It could take a regulatory approach to bringing down prices and making sure that, at the very least, there is a genuinely affordable plan for basic access to something as important as cellphone and Internet rates.
What is in Bill ? There is nothing particularly offensive, but not a lot of the things that we really need. I think that is the dilemma. Certainly there are many Canadians who are frustrated, in this time of real difficulty and real challenge with the pandemic but also with, for many of us, a real looming sense of challenge when we look at what is happening to the planet and all the extreme weather events and we look at the economic disruption and the displacement of people that it is going to cause, that we are just not rising to the occasion. Yes, absolutely we should be helping businesses improve their ventilation systems. That is the right thing to do in the context of the pandemic and these measures make sense as a way of contributing to that.
We ought to be helping schools improve their ventilation systems. It is not a real answer to reimburse teachers for some of what they are paying out of pocket, because I do not think teachers should have to pay out of pocket. Until we have governments that are willing to fund education to the extent that it needs to be, so that every student has what they need, I am thankful to teachers who are willing to go above and beyond, and I am willing to support a measure that gives them a little relief for doing things out of compassion for their students that they really should not have to do because that is a compassion that we should have collectively. We should work collectively to fund the things that students need, instead of leaving it to their teachers on an individual basis.
I am glad in principle that the government is looking at having some kind of tax for underused housing. However, I think it will be important to interrogate that seriously at committee, because initial analyses suggest that there are loopholes that we could drive trucks through in this legislation. There is a lot more we need to do to tackle the problems of the housing market, some things the Liberals themselves promised in the last election, like banning blind bidding. That was a platform commitment of the Liberal Party.
Why is that not here? What could they possibly be waiting for? Are house prices not high enough? Do they need to escalate faster for the Liberals to make good on their own election commitments? Give me a break. That stuff should at least be here.
We also know that we need a serious plan, not the national housing strategy they love to tout, because it is inadequate. We need to get more real units, and I am not talking about so-called affordable housing, which has a technical definition that really just means “high rent” for most people, rent they cannot afford.
We need to build housing with rent geared to income, and we need to explore non-market options, like co-ops and other things like it, so that we take the speculation out of enough of the housing market that people really can access housing. That would also help relieve cost pressures among people for whom home ownership is a real goal. It would be a larger group if prices came down, as it was not that long ago. That would help them out too by relieving demand in the housing market and helping to lower prices overall.
These are things that we really need to be doing. I look forward to having an intensive study at committee of this new proposed underused housing act. I think that is a good piece of parliamentary work. However, we are kidding ourselves if we think it is really going to change the fundamental trajectory of the Canadian housing market, not just in the last two years, as the Conservatives would have us believe, but over the last 20 years, during which prices have been going up consistently because we have had federal governments that, since the mid-nineties, have not come to the table with enough funding to build enough non-market housing to relieve serious pressure on the market. That absolutely needs to happen.
There is more money proposed for things we need, particularly rapid tests, and we are quite supportive of that. There are some questions, though. I did ask the about this earlier, and I was somewhat dismayed that he did not have an answer. In Bill there are proposals for money for rapid tests, and in a stand-alone bill, Bill , the government proposed to spend money on rapid tests. Bill C-8 asks for $1.72 billion for rapid tests and Bill C-10 asks for $2.5 billion for rapid tests, and the Associate Minister of Finance and the government could not give a clear answer to whether it is asking for $4.2 billion combined, the $2.5 billion in Bill C-10 or the $1.7 billion in Bill C-8.
I think Canadians should know, and I think Parliament should expect to have some reliable reporting on those numbers as we go, because as we know, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, not that long ago, said the government, when it came to tabling its public accounts, was considerably late and was an outlier among other G7 countries. I think the government really needs to get with the program. There has been a need for a considerable amount of public spending, but the fact that we need to spend is not a reason not to report well on what the money is being spent on and not to do it in a timely way. In fact, it becomes that much more important that the government reports well and in a timely fashion on its spending when so much money is going out the door and so quickly. There are certainly things to talk about in that regard.
Suffice it to say, while I am not impressed by the extent to which many of the things we need to do to rise to the moment are not in here, whether they are in facing the pandemic or the climate challenge, I am not of the view that this is a reason for things not to proceed. However, I really think the government needs to figure out how to rise to the occasion and move forward with a sense of urgency, particularly, to reiterate it one more time, the extent to which is has to internalize the sense of urgency required when it comes to seniors who have had their benefits clawed back by the government. They are not just losing income; they are also losing access to provincial programs in many cases. They were part of their support network and kept them housed, fed and alive. All of that has been called into jeopardy because of the government's refusal to act swiftly in May of last year when it knew that this was going to be a problem. This is something the government absolutely has to act on with urgency.
It also has to address all the people who are still out of work because of the pandemic. Let us not kid ourselves. We all know somebody, at least one person if not more, who is struggling to get back to the job they had or to get enough hours in a new job and who cannot support their family. The 40% cut to pandemic benefits was bad enough, going from $500 a week to $300 a week, but in addition to that, with the Canada worker lockdown benefit, the government made it way harder for people to access help. My office is hearing from people in Elmwood—Transcona and from people across the country who are trying to access this benefit at a time of incredible need and cannot access it. They are being told that it should take a matter of days for a response, but they have waited weeks and still have not gotten a response. The government had a system that was providing income support for a lot of people, and when it ended, the government was still providing support to about 900,000 people. What it was replaced with is not adequate to the task, both in terms of how much it delivers and in terms of the criteria that people have to navigate to access it.
As I said, Bill can certainly go to committee and there are things worth looking at, but this is not the kind of leadership we need at the moment. The government has to do more to rise to the occasion. I will continue to be here, as will my New Democratic colleagues, to press the government to rise to the occasion.
Mr. Speaker, I am so happy that our ridings share a border.
Today we are debating Bill , which contains a series of legislative measures that the presented during the economic update in December.
I will use my time today to talk about the economic update as a whole, including what the government did to prevent the worst economic impacts of the pandemic, the legislative measures in the bill, and the important role of economic growth in ensuring the financial viability of our country and its ability to provide major social programs in the future, especially in certain areas that I think would be beneficial for the government.
When we are discussing this bill, it is important to take a step back to look at March of 2020. We were faced with one of the biggest economic challenges of our time. Indeed, it was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. At the time, as we were learning more and more about this novel virus COVID-19, the government really had two options. The government could intervene and help support the economic stability of the country by supporting individuals, businesses, provinces and territories, or it could take a bit more of a laissez-faire approach and say that there would be some economic harm, but the government would hold back some of its spending. It would be what it would be.
I compare those two strategies because, although the economic crisis of 2008-09 was different, the approaches that those two governments took, the Harper government then and our government now, are completely different. I say that because we saw the economic scarring at that time. The Harper government did not intervene with the necessary liquidity at the time, and it took years to return to our economic prosperity, to where we had been prior to the challenge.
Let us compare and contrast that to this government. Yes, it is a different crisis, and we intervened hard and put money on the table to make sure that people were taken care of.
As we will see here today, as we go through the different measures the government introduced, we have now returned to our prepandemic GDP and we have returned to having more jobs than were lost at the height of the pandemic. I want Canadians and parliamentarians to think about that as we discuss this bill here today and reflect on where we are now and where we have come from.
I remember it. I remember being at home in my riding of Kings—Hants as a new member of Parliament, recently elected in 2019. Actually, you and I both were, Mr. Speaker. I remember wishing and wanting to be here, but being privileged to have the opportunity to represent my constituents in a virtual manner. I remember how quickly the government moved to put measures in place, whether it was the Canada emergency response benefit, which made sure that individuals who were losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic could take advantage, or the wage subsidy, which was provided to businesses as their economic situation changed.
It was a very uncertain time, as we can all appreciate as parliamentarians. I have countless stories, whether about the CERB benefit helping a family get through that difficult period or the wage subsidy. Businesses owners have said their businesses would not be here today if it were not for that government intervention.
I was in Windsor last week to see Mermaid Theatre. For Canadians watching who may not know, Mermaid Theatre does tremendous work. It is a puppet show. It goes around the world plying its trade right out of little Windsor, Nova Scotia. If we had not been there with those wage subsidies, Mermaid Theatre company would not exist today.
Instead, it has been supported through the pandemic. It is now pivoting to online learning and the ability to put their puppet shows in a digital format because of the support our government gave to get it through that period. It is using innovative technologies to provide their work around the world because it is limited in its ability to go to theatres and have 3,000 people in the audience. That is just one example.
I want to talk about the Canada emergency business account. Again, it is another tool to help provide that liquidity for businesses. Members will recall that 25% of it is a grant contribution if businesses are able to pay back that amount. We have now extended that deadline to December 31, 2023.
I like to call it as I see it in the House. The government is not perfect. The government on this side is not perfect, but we headed programs that were by and large meeting the needs of Canadians. There were some businesses that did not meet the criteria of what we put out. That is why we focused on the regional relief and recovery fund. This was administered through the regional development agencies. In our area of Atlantic Canada, that was done through the CBDC, the Community Business Development Corporation.
The CBDCs worked with businesses. Perhaps a business did not need $40,000 worth of loan and it only needed $10,000 to see it through. The CBDCs could work with businesses that were not otherwise meeting the criteria in the programs. It is an extremely beneficial program.
I want to credit our former minister of economic development, who now serves as the . There was a provision that allowed for the equity the CBDCs were earning to actually stay with them. Those monies would be returned and will be available for small initiatives for businesses across the country.
We have had a lot of conversation about seniors here in the House. It is a very important topic. In my riding of Kings—Hants, we have a large proportion of seniors. I want to highlight that during the pandemic, notwithstanding that there remain challenges, we were there for them.
We gave a $300 top-up to those recipients under old age security. We gave a $200 addition for those who were under the guaranteed income supplement. We have increased the old age security by 10% for those who are 75 and up, and we are pledging to increase the guaranteed income supplement by $500. It is part of the platform commitment of the government. Of course, as was highlighted in the economic update, there was also an important measure to reduce and eliminate the clawbacks for those seniors who were being impacted because of the pandemic benefits.
We were also there for essential workers with some of the benefits that we were putting on the table. There is a lot in it. Parliamentarians in this House collectively passed these measures. I know with some members of the Conservative Party, I found something frustrating. I will go on the record and perhaps some members who are in the House today can have a back and forth with me when we get to questions on this.
In one breath, the Conservative Party of Canada would say that Liberals were doing too much and putting too much water on the fire, saying we were helping Canadians too much. Then we would hear, literally the next question in question period, that our government was not doing enough. It was that inconsistency that members on this side of the House have asked members of her Majesty's loyal opposition to pick a lane and decide what they stand for as it relates to economics. Perhaps we can engage in that later.
I want to talk about what the government's efforts have resulted in for Canadians who are listening at home. I mentioned before that 108% of the jobs lost at the height of the pandemic have been returned. We have actually created more jobs than were lost during the pandemic. We can compare that to the United States, for example, our cousin to the south, and they stand at 84% right now. We are doing well in terms of the returns of jobs. In fact, as I will get to in my remarks, we have to do more to bring Canadians here to fill our job vacancies because of the economic success we are having right now.
The economic update has projected a return to prepandemic levels of GDP. I believe the answered a question yesterday stating that is the case. Notwithstanding, we know there are challenges with omicron. We have maintained the best net-to-GDP ratio in the G7. Of course, the Department of Finance is projecting a declining debt-to-GDP ratio over the next five years. Importantly, Canada has maintained a strong credit rating throughout this entire pandemic.
The has said to this House, and I believe publicly, that the best economic policy is a strong health response. We will talk about the measures in the bill, but I could not agree more with that. Members will remember the government and its work on procuring vaccines and boosters, and we will remember the rush that was happening globally to make sure those were available.
I want to give a tip of the cap to the former Minister of Public Services and Procurement, and of course I could give a tip of the cap to our current , with regard to the tests and good work that she continues. To my colleague for who has ties to the riding of Kings—Hants and grew up in Kentville, she did tremendous work. Our government was there to make sure that those vaccines and boosters were available.
On rapid tests, the work continues. This legislation lays out $1.72 billion that can go from the consolidated revenue fund to help support the acquisition of rapid tests for the provinces that are distributing those in their respective jurisdictions.
There have been billions for personal protective equipment. Again, perhaps it is a lesson learned and a conversation for all parliamentarians about the need to improve domestic supply chains. This government worked hard to make sure that we utilized the assets and tools in Canada to make sure that PPE was available for health care workers, but also leveraged relationships internationally as well.
There are other elements around billions of dollars in health-care-related direct support during the pandemic. The COVID-19 resiliency fund was really an opportunity for provinces and territories to look at the infrastructure bilaterals that exist, pull up to 10% out of that and put it exclusively toward health-related COVID resiliency projects. I know that there have been some in my own riding. For example, Port Williams Elementary School received about $1 million for ventilation programs. There were other initiatives across the country. These are the work of our government.
I want to make sure that I also talk about the legislative measures of the bill. There are seven of them. I am going to go through them quickly, because I think they are extremely important.
First is the small business tax credit for businesses that are making investments in ventilation. We know that this is important. We are working with the provinces. That tax credit is available at up to $10,000 per location, or $50,000 for a series of organizations that might be owned by one beneficial owner. These are important investments that we are making. This pairs with some of the tax credits that were in budget 2021 around digitization that small businesses can use, particularly vis-à-vis the changing consumer behaviour of not necessarily going to the business itself but shopping online. I think that is extremely important.
We have a new refundable tax credit for farmers in the backstop jurisdictions of Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and New Brunswick. This is extremely important for the competitiveness of Canadian agriculture. It is a $100-million commitment that was in budget 2021, and I am very pleased to see it come forward.
We have expanded the travel component for northern residents' travel exemptions. We know that this is extremely important in terms of their ability to get a refundable tax credit on their tax returns, and these are good measures. Especially as a rural member on the governing caucus, I can appreciate what this measure will mean.
Let us talk about the underused housing act. We know that housing is a top issue in this country. We have moved the yardstick on this particular piece of legislation to introduce a 1% tax on the actual overall valuation of property. This is not for Canadians. It is for non-residents: non-Canadians who own property that is not being used for the purpose of housing someone. It could perhaps be speculative property. This is but one of the measures the government intends to introduce in the days ahead, but I certainly give it a tip of the cap because I applaud what it could mean. Is it going to solve the issue? It absolutely will not, alone. I really think that some of this lies in the municipal jurisdiction, and in ways we can work with municipalities to expedite their development processes to give more certainty so that developers who are building houses perhaps are not delayed for a number of years. That adds costs that end up going onto the housing that, of course, all Canadians are seeking to buy.
I mentioned the CEBA extension, and I certainly mentioned some of the other elements in the bill.
I want to talk about where we are going. As a member of Parliament, I think it is extremely important that we focus on economic growth. We have taken on a lot of money during the pandemic, no doubt. The spending was there to prevent the worst economic scarring. If we are going to maintain a fiscal balance in the days ahead that has to be a key element, and I know that it will be.
There are a couple of perhaps stormy clouds on the horizon that we all need to be mindful of as parliamentarians. One is omicron. When this was tabled before the House, omicron was not something that was necessarily prevalent at the time, and it is going to have an impact on of course the economic forecast into 2022. It is also going to have a cost, and the government will be focused on the amount of money.
We have heard about additional health care funding. The government promised it in its electoral platform, and premiers are calling for it. We have to be mindful of how we make sure that spending remains sustainable over time.
We are in a protectionist global economy. We saw this before the pandemic with the Unites States and China and the tariff wars being undertaken at the time. Brexit was certainly more than an economic decision, but had the economic consequences of splitting up the European bloc vis-à-vis the U.K. and Europe. Also, with respect to the Appellate Body being able to handle appeals under the WTO, it has been been sitting and unable to move forward for a significant period of time.
We now have a government in the United States that is very consumed with its own domestic affairs. We have seen elements of the Buy America Act, EV vehicles and some of the proposed Senate legislation with COOL, the country of origin labelling, which would have impact on and perhaps concern, if it ever moved forward, our producers and ranchers in the west. We need to be mindful of that. It could have economic consequences. Our government has been there to work with challenging governments in the United States. We share strong economic ties. We will continue to do so, but we need to be mindful.
I will quickly move through the areas I think this government needs to focus on as part of what I believe to be a comprehensive economic growth strategy. The 's mandate letter includes words around that. I really think now is the time to pull together to perhaps work with, most importantly, the private sector, as well as different levels of government, non-profits and indeed indigenous leaders to see how we can create a growth strategy that will support the prosperity of this country in the days ahead.
We need to be focused globally with respect to our competitiveness and providing what Canada can provide to the world. That includes, as I have heard other colleagues say, agriculture, forestry, the Canadian oil and gas sector, and mining. Those are going to be major areas that we need to continue to focus on. We need to focus on allowing small and medium enterprises to think globally and leverage the trade agreements we already have.
We also need to be focused on internal trade and harmonizing barriers to increase economic efficiency. We have a Senate report that was prepared by a series of senators known as the prosperity action group. They suggest there is about 2% to 4% of GDP that sits on the table because of interprovincial trade barriers.
This is a well-trodden subject. We have been down this road before. If we look at measures in my own riding, we have a world-class wine industry and my producers say it is easier to get a bottle of wine to France or the U.K. than it is to New Brunswick. In today's society we need to be able to move that forward.
We have had tremendous co-operation with the provinces as it relates to the health response. Let us use that to also drive economic barriers that can create success as well.
Let us also talk about the regulation of professions in a way that we can harmonize them. Whether it be health care, labour, trades or mobility, those are really key areas where the government needs to go.
My predecessor Mr. Brison introduced regulatory reform in the 2018 budget. We have a good start, but we need to continue. With respect to innovating the Canadian economy, there is important work being done on the superclusters. There is more that can be done.
I will finish with SMR technology. There is more that I could say, but unfortunately 20 minutes, although I am very privileged to have it, is not enough. Canada's oil and gas sector will play an important role in the economy in the days ahead, perhaps not to the extent that it has in the past, but we need to work at leveraging SMR technology, small modular reactors, to bring down emissions in Canadian oil and gas. This is so we can continue to provide that product, which the world will need in the decades ahead. Working with the industry and innovation, is a key synergy that we should be focused on as a government.
Madam Speaker, it is a real pleasure to be speaking tonight.
I am going to be totally honest with members: Given all the great and wild events of today, I am going to be doing this speech extemporaneously and sharing my time with the hon. member for .
When I look at the bill, Bill , in the context of where we are today in Canada, I have a number of key concerns. Bill C-8 in itself is not necessarily the worst bill, but the concern is the context in which we are looking at Bill C-8 in Parliament today and all of the other things happening in our great nation. Part 1 of Bill C-8 talks about changes to the Income Tax Act, including a new refundable tax credit for improving air quality. Paragraph (b) of the summary talks about a new tax credit for travellers in the north. Paragraph (c) talks about the school supplies tax credit and increasing it from 15% to 25%. Paragraph (d) of the summary talks about a new refundable tax credit in the backstop provinces for fuel on farms. All of these measures, in and of themselves, are not bad measures.
Furthermore, the Underused Housing Tax Act taxing foreign buyers in this country is not necessarily the worst thing. The part 3 six-year limitation on the loans offered to small businesses in Canada to be in line with the student loan program in Canada is not the worst measure. Part 4 would authorize payments to be made from the consolidated revenue fund to put new ventilation systems into schools. Part 5 has more money for vaccine- and COVID-19-related initiatives. Part 6 has $1.72 billion from the consolidated revenue fund for COVID tests. We have actually been asking for those for a long time, and even despite all the money being spent, the government still has not brought them to us. Part 7 has changes to the Employment Insurance Act.
All of these measures in this omnibus bill, in and of themselves, are not bad clauses. The problem, however, relates to accountability, transparency and the state of the nation. This afternoon, right before I ran into the House, realizing I was going to be speaking soon, I had a quick call with the Parliamentary Budget Officer. He reminded me of the report he provided to Parliament and all Canadians on the state of the government's finances and what they have reported to Parliament.
Since the election, this is only the fifth sitting week we have had, and I remember very clearly that the public accounts were finally tabled on December 14. This was six to seven months later than normal. In fact, the PBO report outlined that Canada was an outlier compared to other developed nations with respect to financial transparency and accountability. What is even more egregious is that two days later, with barely enough time for us to receive a copy of the audited reports from the various government departments to look at what the consequences of that spending were and how it actually materialized on line-item reporting in government departments across the country, the government tabled Bill .
In Bill , the government requested billions upon billions of dollars more, which it asked Parliament to approve to address the economy and COVID-19. How can the government ask parliamentarians to indebt future generations with more and more spending when we have not even had the time to review what was already tabled? We have to be more serious about how we are treating taxpayer dollars in the House.
I can also remember that in the early days of this pandemic, this official opposition was there for Canadians. We stood with the government to approve the necessary expenditures to make sure people did not lose their homes and that they were going to be able to be paid when the lockdowns came, but we are past that time now. The country has changed a lot in two years. In fact, on January 21, when I was driving into Vancouver for some meetings and I was listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry on CKNW, I was shocked by what I heard, because just the week prior, my son's day care had been shut, and my wife and I had to juggle a two-year-old at home while we were both trying to do our jobs. The school had to shut down because they were following provincial health orders. We agreed that was a great thing and that we needed to follow those protocols to keep children safe. No one is disputing that.
However, the week afterward, when I got out of the car after listening to CKNW and Dr. Bonnie Henry, I actually walked away feeling that things were going to improve, that the omicron virus was not having such a bad impact on people as Dr. Henry had originally anticipated. She said it was time to start changing our thinking about how we treated this virus and its mutations. She actually said we need to start looking at COVID-19 and omicron in the context of other respiratory illnesses like influenza and other viruses.
More recently, Dr. Kieran Moore from Ontario said, “We have let our lives be controlled for the last two years in a significant amount of fear and now we are going to have to change some of that thinking.” He goes to say that we cannot eliminate this threat and that we have to learn to live with it.
Here in Parliament, Dr. Theresa Tam recently said, “I think many experts believe that the so-called herd immunity may not be achievable with this virus because it undergoes constant evolution, so what you're looking at is this endemic state where people will get reinfected over time as immunity wanes”.
I interpret that to say, in other words, that versions of COVID-19 are going to be with us for a while and that our public health officers are telling us to start re-evaluating both the lockdowns and the way, perhaps, that governments are spending money in conjunction with this terrible virus that has had such a negative impact on all of our lives.
How does this relate back to Bill ? It starts back in our ridings.
On Saturday, I went by my office to pick up some materials before flying into Ottawa on Sunday, and there was a protest at my office. There were a lot of angry people who were not pleased with me. I went and spoke with them. A lot of people were ticked off that I spoke with them. The people at the protest were also ticked off at me because I am pro-vaccine.
I said to them they have a right to be angry right now. For two years, we have been living in a state of fear. For two years, our lives have been upended. For two years, my young children have not known anything different. My two-year-old son only knows the world of COVID.
What I am encouraging the government to do today is to start looking past COVID-19 now and to stop telling Canadians we still have to live with the same type of fear that we perhaps had to live with two years ago. We can start to move on.
That is why I am so displeased that the government is not giving Parliament and the House enough time to review expenditures, to understand the consequences of how we are spending money, the consequences of what lockdowns are doing and the consequences of not changing our thinking very rapidly.
People are angry. We see that outside today. People are looking for hope, and what all Canadians are looking for is a bit more transparency and a bit more openness from the Liberal government in terms of getting our lives back.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today, as at any time, and to address another bill from the government that deals with the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. I will get to some of the specific provisions of Bill , but I do want to start by talking broadly about the some of the issues that are very live in debates around the circumstances of the pandemic right now.
Two of the big areas of discussion we have are about the relationship between science and policy-making as well as questions about freedom and the importance we attach to freedom and how we define that concept in the country. I want to talk about those two concepts to set the stage for the rest of my remarks.
By most accounts, the history of modern science starts with that great figure of Galileo, who tragically ended his life under house arrest, persecuted for championing the simple idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Galileo's story is often presented as a clash between scientific rationalism and religious dogmatism, but I think the truth is not quite so simple. Galileo was a person of serious faith and Copernicus, whose heliocentric theory Galileo defended, was actually a priest as well as a scientist.
While having plenty of religious supporters, Galileo also had many scientific detractors. In many cases his critics opposed him on scientific grounds, arguing that his theories constituted bad science and should be suppressed because they involved misinformation. Regardless of their deeper motivation, both sides in the argument over heliocentrism claimed to have science on their side.
A better way of understanding the conflict between Galileo and his detractors is as a dispute within science and about the appropriate method of scientific inquiry. Galileo championed free scientific inquiry while his persecutors emphasized trust in established scientific authority and conclusion. Galileo was presenting new data and advancing new ideas, ideas that challenged an existing scientific paradigm and establishment.
He believed, rightly in my view, that the progress of science requires constant empirically grounded questioning. He did not believe that efforts to preserve public trust in established science justified the rejection or suppression of emerging empirical data. It was a dispute between empiricism on the one hand and the demand for trust in the cultural, religious and scientific authorities on the other.
As a student growing up and hearing the story, it was very easy to feel superior to Galileo's establishment-perpetuating persecutors. However, in the context of the current pandemic, it may be a bit easier to understand why some people thought that the propagation of scientific ideas outside of the scientific consensus was dangerous. The questioning of scientific authority in any time can lead to distrust, confusion, unrest and the drawing of erroneous conclusions. Galileo's ideas could have turned out to be wrong, but despite its risk, this process of reasoned and empirically grounded questioning of received wisdom has always allowed the society to draw new conclusions and soar to new heights, figuratively and literally. Our commitment to questioning old ideas and seeking new discoveries has the potential to push ourselves still further, despite the friction that we may experience along the way.
During this pandemic, the public has been encouraged to trust the science, but in practice this has generally meant trusting the established public health authorities, rather than holding public health authorities accountable through rigorous empirical critique. Public health authorities deserve our thanks for their incredible efforts during immensely challenging times, but they have also gotten some things wrong and given health advice that has been contradicted later or was being contradicted by public health authorities in other jurisdictions.
Points of dissidence have generally been explained on the basis that the science has changed. In many cases though, such as with masking at the beginning, public health advice changed quite independently from new empirical evidence. Public health advice on masking seemed to be much more a function of the available supply of masks than it did of actual new evidence on mask effectiveness.
Even so, science can only ever move forward if it is first questioned and put to the test. The process of inquiry of advancing hypotheses that are initially regarded with skepticism is not anti-science, rather it is fundamental to science. There would never be any scientific progress if people were not willing to question established ideas or patterns of thinking.
There are many potential examples of the seeming disconnect between official scientific advice and emerging empirical evidence. Many people are asking why the scientific advice in different jurisdictions around the appropriateness of lockdowns is very different from public health authorities in other countries, looking at the science or coming to very different conclusions than some public health authorities in Canada.
I have spoken in the past about some of the evidence around the relationship between low vitamin D and COVID-19. A systematic review of scientific literature published in January 2021 found the following:
Most of the articles demonstrated that vitamin D status in the blood can determine the chances of catching coronavirus, coronavirus severity, and mortality. Therefore, keeping appropriate blood levels of vitamin D through supplementation or through sunshine exposure is recommended for the public to be able to cope with the pandemic.
About half a dozen meta-analyses conducted since have come to the same conclusion.
This is an interesting example, because in response to a question about vitamin D asked here on April 22, the former described recommendations for vitamin D supplementation as emerging from “the myriad of fake news articles that are circulating around the Internet”. While the former I am sure would like to be thought of as being proscience, her approach to new empirical information has many of the hallmarks of the Inquisition, that is, an approach that defends conventional wisdom even when that conventional wisdom is contradicted by emerging empirical evidence that is clear throughout the scientific literature. If we falsely equate a proscience position with a proestablishment position, we are then undermining the process of questioning an analysis that is vitally necessary for any kind of scientific process.
I encourage this kind of open-minded re-evaluation to be applied to all aspects of COVID-19 policy. This applies not just in the natural sciences but also in the social sciences. Our policy responses to COVID-19 need to continually grow and change in response to new evidence. We will not be able to grow and change if the necessary process of challenging pre-existing conclusions with emerging evidence is suppressed.
On the subject of freedom as such, we can see how what is true for science is also true for other domains of human action, including the freedom and the capacity to ask questions, to present unpopular opinions and to live according to one's sincerely held beliefs while respecting the rights of others to do the same. The ability and the character competency required to do this are what make the process of human progress possible.
On these issues, John Stuart Mill points the way for us. Mill did not argue that freedom was necessarily natural or that freedom was some a priori human right. He did not need to make those arguments because he was able to show that freedom is good because it is useful. This seminal thinker of what we used to call liberalism argued persuasively that when people are able to challenging existing norms and practices and to live in different ways, society is furnished with empirical data that helps others understand what actually leads to human happiness.
If I live my life in one way and the Speaker lives her life in another, then others are able to see the degree to which these modes of behaviour contribute to human flourishing or not, and are therefore able to shape their lives, at least partially, in response to that information. Mill used the term “experiments in living” to describe this process of learning from the choices of others and their consequences. That applies to experiments in science and also applies to experiments in living. Greater variation and a willingness to buck established trends help to furnish a broader range of data points from which we can then draw useful conclusions.
Unfortunately, modern progressivism deviates from liberalism in its lack of humility. Modern progressives assume they know the right path and therefore can impose it. They assume that an inevitable trajectory of history makes every step they take necessarily right and good, so they easily justify any action that moves things along toward their chosen ends.
Concretely, the government's agenda includes highly coercive policies. For instance, it is imposing vaccination on the unwilling. We can also talk about draconian new Internet regulations and a planned new values test for charities. That is just what we know so far.
True liberalism is about saying that people should not go to jail, should not be penalized and should not lose their jobs just because they hold views or want to make choices that I personally do not agree with. A person can be anticoercion while still being provaccination. A person can be for free speech without liking everything that gets said as a result.
We see clearly from its agenda that the government is not a liberal government in the classic sense. It is an illiberal government. It is a government that has turned its back on classic liberalism and is instead embracing an authoritarian progressivism. It is a government that values being woke over being free. We need to re-engage, in our response to the pandemic, with classic wisdom around the importance of honest scientific inquiry and the importance of human freedom.