The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise this morning to offer some reflections with respect to Bill .
I would like to start with some points I appreciate in this bill. Specifically, I think we can all agree that, in the midst of a pandemic, adding more ventilation and more supports is a good thing. In this bill is $100 million to improve ventilation in schools. There is also a refundable tax credit on taxes payable for up to 25% of ventilation expenses for small businesses.
In addition, I really appreciate that the bill includes $1.72 billion for provinces to allocate rapid tests to expand school and workplace testing. In the Waterloo region, for example, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce shared last month that it was short on 200,000 rapid tests. This is the kind of support I know businesses in my community will really appreciate.
When it comes to housing, house prices in Kitchener went up 35% last year alone. In 2005, the average house price was around three times the median income. In the last year, it rose to 8.7 times the median income. There is no doubt that house prices are skyrocketing out of control. Young people are concerned they might not ever be able to purchase homes of their own. Seniors on fixed incomes in my community are anxious about whether they will be able to stay. I spoke to a nurse last summer who shared that her rent is going up too, and she wondered if she would be able to stay in our community at all.
We need policies that address this crisis head-on. Homes should be for people to live in, and not commodities for investors to trade. One of the problems we have in this crisis is the number of vacant homes across the country. A recent study showed that 1.34 million homes across the country are sitting empty because speculators bought them with no interest in ever living there. They were simply speculating on the value. That is 8.7% of the housing stock. At our current rate of construction, it would take us six years to build the housing supply we already have in vacant homes.
Now, we have solutions that work. For example, Vancouver has gradually raised its empty homes tax to 3%. In doing so, it has reduced the number of vacant homes by 25%. It has added at least 18,000 units back onto the market, and generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue for new, affordable housing.
If we turn back to this bill, there is what is called an underused housing tax. It is set at 1%. For speculators who are earning returns well over 8%, my concern is that this level will not meaningfully discourage the speculation from investors we are currently seeing in the market. Not only that, but almost everyone is exempt from this tax. Canadians are exempt. Permanent residents are exempt. Every corporation is exempt. It applies only to a small fraction of non-resident, non-Canadian-owned vacant homes.
It feels to me like we all know the house is on fire and someone has called the fire service, but the fire service arrived with a bucket of water. I wonder why the governing party will not move more quickly to bring on the variety of tools we know we need to address this crisis, such as new investments in non-market public subsidized housing and co-op housing.
I noticed that there was a promise in the platform of the governing party to consider introducing an end to the blind bidding process. There are so many tools we can and should consider, and I strongly encourage the governing party to look into doing so.
If the Liberals are serious about addressing the housing crisis and they are looking to set the priorities, I would encourage them to at least look at the tax in this bill to consider if we could be more serious about ensuring that this is a tool that would address the reality of the crisis we are facing across the country. Certainly in Kitchener, it is hitting home across our community.
I am also disappointed that there were two other opportunities in Bill that were not addressed. I would like to bring those forward here.
The first is with respect to the crisis in long-term care. This past summer I spoke with a woman whose mom had been waiting in a hospital for three months. She was in tears as she shared with me that she wondered if her mom would make it to long-term care before she passed.
She was one of 52,000 people on the wait-list, as of this past summer, for a spot in long-term care. The solutions are self-evident. Last year, the former MP for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, Paul Manly, introduced Motion No. 77. That motion offered a number of potential solutions, including national standards for long-term care and an end to for-profit care; ensuring that personal support workers were not providing four minutes of care a day, but four hours of care a day; eliminating the wait times altogether, and ensuring adequate pay so that PSWs would not have to run from one care home to the other in the gig economy.
Thankfully, the Parliamentary Budget Officer costed the plan out. The good news is that for less money than we currently offer to oil and gas companies every year, $18 billion, we could be taking better care of our seniors.
Finally, another disappointment for me that I would encourage the governing party to consider prioritizing, if not in this bill than in another, the introduction of a national pharmacare program. We have been hearing promises about pharmacare since 1997. It has been 25 years.
This past summer, I spoke with a woman who shared with me that, given the cost of her medications, she needed to intentionally take less than she required every day so that her medications might last longer. This is in a country where we claim to be proud of truly universal health care. Obviously that is not the case.
Because we have had this many years of study, we know that currently Canadians are spending $24 billion a year on pharmaceuticals. We also know that we would save money by having a national program. Not only is it more compassionate and a moral imperative, but economically, we would collectively save $4 billion a year by introducing a national pharmacare program.
I would encourage the governing party, and all parliamentarians, to continue to advocate for Canadians across the country who deserve access to truly universal health care. One element of that is ensuring we have a national pharmacare program.
In closing, there are elements of good propositions in this bill. I am glad for those, specifically around rapid tests. Those will really help in my community.
However, if we are going to be serious about the housing crisis, and we are going to follow through on promises that have been made over many years, I would encourage all parliamentarians to continue not only to advocate for improvements in long-term care and a national pharmacare program, but also to meaningfully address the housing crisis that we find ourselves in.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill , even though it is not exactly my favourite subject. I would like to talk about health transfers, and I hope this subject does not get overlooked.
To begin my speech, I want to come back to the subject of the emergency funds and programs the government put in place. The wage subsidy and the rent subsidy in particular come to mind, because flexibility was a huge problem with those programs. Anyone who started their businesses after March 2020 is ineligible.
In my riding, Daniel Bolduc, the owner of Auberge Les Deux Tours, meticulously follows all public health rules. He purchased an inn that was already an existing business, but is getting zero support from the federal government.
I find it quite ironic that there are other entrepreneurs who sometimes post some rather questionable things on social media with respect to compliance with public health rules, yet they still get support from the government. Sadly, some folks who follow the rules scrupulously are left with nothing.
Mr. Bolduc invested his life savings in this inn and now he is in a difficult situation. I know he appealed to the through the Association Restauration Québec. Dominique Tremblay, director of public and government affairs, sent a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister on this matter.
I want to take a couple of seconds to encourage Mr. Bolduc. We speak frequently. I know he is motivated and wants to resolve this situation. I wanted to indulge in a little aside here to tell him that I support him.
I would like to talk about Bill and, especially, about what is not in Bill C‑8. In the economic update, which we could describe as pretty anemic, what I think is most surprising, especially in the context of a pandemic, is the fact that it contains nothing for health up to 2027.
An hon. member: That is true.
Mr. Mario Simard: That is true, Mr. Speaker, as my colleague from just said. It has nothing for health up to 2027, and that is a disaster.
I would like to look into the origins of the Canadian federation's biggest problem, health care funding. For that, we have to go back to a key concept, which is the fiscal imbalance.
I know that federalists do not want to talk about the fiscal imbalance, but we have to look at it again. This concept has been extensively studied, and not by sovereignists.
For example, we have Quebec's Séguin report. I am not talking about the Mr. Séguin from the fairy tale about a goat, but about the former Liberal minister who was anything but a sovereignist. In his report, Mr. Séguin clearly states that there is a fiscal imbalance between the two levels of government.
According to the literature on the tax system of the Canadian federation, there are two types of imbalances. There is the horizontal imbalance, which is addressed through equalization, or what my Conservative friends call oil subsidies, and there is also the vertical imbalance, which means that the federal government's tax base is far greater than that of the provinces.
Year after year, the government has far greater capacity, but, unfortunately, fewer expenditures. That is where the fiscal imbalance comes in, with the provinces struggling with crushing health care costs and meagre financial resources.
To convince members of the House, I will refer to Jean Chrétien, a man I really like. Jean Chrétien had two—or maybe more—moments of lucidity in his life that I truly appreciate. The first was when he said that if he had invested as much in Quebec as he invested in the oil sector, Quebec would have been a Liberal province until the end of the 2000s. I love that Jean Chrétien said that. The other enlightened moment was when he said to G7 members that the miracle solution for balancing budgets was to cut transfer payments to the provinces without paying the political cost.
Jean Chrétien told the G7 countries that there is always this option of cutting transfer payments to the provinces to balance the budget. The beauty of it is that there is no political price to pay.
All the premiers stumbled over this. In 1996-97 and 1997-98, the federal government made successive $2.5‑billion cuts to health transfers, which led Lucien Bouchard to make the shift to ambulatory care, for which the Government of Quebec paid the political price. The federal government's responsibility is clear. Even though I am not a fan of Philippe Couillard or of austerity, he has also paid the price for the federal government's underfunding of health care.
I am not making any of this up. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's reports since 2013 have all observed that if the government does not invest more in health care, the provinces will rack up deficits year after year, while the federal government posts surpluses.
In case that is not enough to convince members, I will inform them of a Leger survey released this week. A couple of days ago during question period I asked the whether he would step up and address health care, the big issue for 2022. The Prime Minister said yes and then repeated his hallmark phrase, “we will be there for Canadians”.
However, Canadians clearly do not feel the Prime Minister has been there for them, since 85% of Canadians surveyed by Leger said that the Prime Minister does not provide an adequate amount of funding for health care. Furthermore, when Canadians were reminded that in the late 1950s and early 1960s the federal government paid 50% of health care costs, 90% of respondents then said that the federal government is not doing enough.
I have a solution to share. Our leader came up with a brilliant idea to hold a public summit on health where this issue could be debated, using the provinces' demands as a starting point.
Earlier, I mentioned how, year after year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's reports have shown that the situation is untenable. The Conference Board also issued a report indicating that the best way to put an end to this situation would be to increase transfers from 22% to 35%. If the federal government would agree to do that, it would be a good start. It would represent $28 billion more for health care.
Another critical component involves covering the costs of the system by increasing the federal share from 3% to 6%. The Conference Board's report also mentions that. We definitely want this done with no strings attached.
One thing surprises me. At the start of the 44th Parliament, we learned that the federal government was going to create a department of mental health, but I believe health care falls under provincial jurisdiction. What would the federal government have done if Quebec decided to create its own department of national defence? The federal government would have thought Quebec was crazy, and rightly so. However, the federal level decided to create a department of mental health, which is a waste of public funds. Since health falls under provincial jurisdiction, the solution is to increase health transfers to 35% of expenses. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing about that in the economic update.
The situation is so untenable that 43% to 47% of Quebec's total budget is going to health care. That means there is not much left for all other areas, such as education, family services, child care and economic development. The federal government's paltry contribution to health care is leading to underdevelopment in the provinces and creating an untenable situation.
I will end my speech there. I would be pleased to respond to any questions or comments, particularly those of my colleague from Winnipeg North.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today to a bill that would implement certain measures of the November economic and fiscal update. Although these are trying times for our country, I have every reason to feel hopeful, but it is not because of this legislation. On January 25, I stood at the side of the road in Whitewood, Saskatchewan, as truckers drove away from their families toward Ottawa. By now, every member of Parliament, and I am sure almost every Canadian, has seen and heard what these peaceful protesters are asking for. They are in our capital because a whole two years into the pandemic, the has decided to put our supply chain at further risk with a punitive vaccine mandate for our cross-border truckers. These are the same truckers who have been going above and beyond to keep our grocery and retail store shelves stocked over the past two years with no issue.
At the start of the pandemic, politicians of all stripes, including the , encouraged Canadians to thank truckers as some of the unsung heroes of the pandemic. Now, a whole two years into the pandemic, his vaccine vendetta will disrupt supply chains further and raise the cost of everyday goods more, impacting our economy and quality of life.
Already feeling the pinch of what bills like Bill are doing to our economy, these truckers are losing their means of providing for their families. They are joining doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, teachers, lawyers, members of our armed forces, miners, factory workers, public servants and so many others whose income has been or will be cut off because of their medical choices. They are not encouraged by bills like this one, which promise even more money for proof-of-vaccination requirements across the country. It sends completely the wrong message to our economy, to our trading partners and to Canadians. That is why they are standing up.
This convoy has exposed many of the frustrations truckers, farmers and hard-working families are feeling with the and his government. They are tired of overburdensome taxes and reckless spending. They are tired of heavy-handed limits on their ability to provide for their families. They are tired of a government that is intent on driving Canadians apart.
I am pleased to see that the convoy, which was initially focused on ending a punitive vaccine mandate for truckers, has evolved and bloomed into a voice for all Canadians who fundamentally believe in personal freedom. To see people standing up for their rights and freedoms makes me so proud to be Canadian—
Mr. Speaker, I certainly will, and I think we need to take all aspects into consideration when we are talking about Canadians and their tax dollars. Fortunately, I was at the last sentence before moving into why this impacts our truckers and others so extensively.
Truckers gave me more hope for the future of our economy than we have received from the government in almost two years, so why should truckers and all Canadians be fearful of our economic outlook? Look no further than the likes of this bill. The economic and fiscal update increases new government spending by $71.2 billion. Since the start of the pandemic, the Liberals have doled out $176 billion in new spending that is unrelated to our COVID response. That is according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who says, “It appears to me that the rationale for the additional spending initially set aside as ‘stimulus’ no longer exists.”
The PBO, Canadians as a whole and, I would even wager, the ’s own staff know that never-ending and extreme deficits contribute greatly to inflation. We started off the year on the wrong foot, to be sure. Inflation has hit a 30-year high of 4.8%.
What does this actually mean for Canadians in everyday terms? Let us look at housing. When the took power, the typical home cost $435,000. The cost has almost doubled since, to $810,000. Young Canadians looking to buy their first home are facing a perfect storm of runaway inflation and a lack of supply. As a means to combat the housing crisis, this bill proposes to add an annual tax of 1% on the value of vacant or underused residential property directly or indirectly owned by non-resident non-Canadians. I argue that this is completely insufficient. In our 2021 platform, we proposed a ban on foreign investors not living in or moving to Canada from buying homes for a two-year period, after which it would be reviewed. The Conservatives would have also encouraged foreign investment in purpose-built rental housing that is affordable for Canadians.
Even if they are not able to buy a home in today’s market, every Canadian is also feeling the pinch at their local grocery store. Chicken is up 6.2%, beef is up 11.9%, bacon is up 19.1%, bread is up 5%, cooking oil is up 41.4% and white sugar is up 21.6%. This is just over the course of one year. Sixty per cent of Canadians are finding it difficult to feed their families. That figure has increased 36% from when the same question was asked in 2019.
These prices affect every normal Canadian, but maybe not the , so I want to put the concerns of some average Canadians on the record. Lindsay tells me her grocery bill for her family of four was once $200 a week and is now $400. She thought she was overbuying, but confirmed that it was the same items and the same quantities. Robin, a tattoo artist, says the nitrile gloves he buys were nine dollars per box two years ago and are now $27. Carol reports the price of groceries, clothes, medicine, gas and everything one needs has shot up. Susan believes absolutely everything has increased in price. The gas tax on her power and energy bills is $100 dollars before she even begins to pay for the usage. Dennis has found that the price of groceries, especially eggs and produce, has gone up, but also sees increases across the board, including, of course, for lumber and fuel. Noel sees everything has gone up and notes utilities are through the roof.
Inflation creates a dangerous spiral. Increased costs borne by the service industry, utility providers and large corporations are passed along to the consumer. Just as the carbon tax is a tax on everything, the inflation tax punishes hard-working Canadians the most. It is important to remember that added pressures like the carbon tax and inflation occur directly because of the poor choices of the Liberal government. The government chose to introduce a carbon tax at $20 per tonne and said we were misleading Canadians when we predicted it would be raised to $50. Now we know the government plans to raise it to $170 per tonne. That is a choice the government has made, and Canadians are literally paying the price.
The “Justinflation” tax is hitting families hard at the grocery store, the garage, on the farm and when they sit down at night to pay their bills each month. Rather than address the highest inflation in over 30 years, this bill would be adding another $70 billion of spending as fuel for the fire. As a result of these choices, two in five Canadians believe they are worse off than they were last year. Adding to their fears, the Liberals have not provided a plan for our way out of this pandemic and to get public spending under control.
In yesterday’s Calgary Herald, Chris Nelson warned that endless deficits and a weakening dollar will drive up the cost of imports, making inflation even worse. He says “a rock and a hard place” does not come close to describing the spot Canada is in.
He suggests a surefire way to prevent this would be to invest in our innovative, productive and export-driven oil and gas sector. It provides a bump of $68 billion in our exports each year, and despite that, the is determined to eliminate it outright in 18 months. This is a perfect example of why the Liberals are doing far more harm than good when it comes to our economy, job growth and the impact on the environment around the world. Canada should be playing a leading role and we are not.
Rather than passing the bill and aimlessly spending more, what are the common-sense solutions to get our economy moving again? My mind is immediately drawn back to the truckers and how we can keep them all moving safely. The government should respond quicker than it has to the need for rapid tests as a means of better controlling the spread of COVID at the federal level, the Liberals' responsibility. Instead, they want to further restrict mobility rights.
The Liberals have limited Canadians' ability to fly or take a train without proof of vaccination. They argue that these measures are motivated by scientific recommendations to control the spread of the virus, but they are contradicting what medical officials of health have stated: that those who are fully vaccinated are also carriers and spreaders of the virus. I believe that the more appropriate measure would be to require all passengers to provide a negative rapid test prior to travel, respecting the mobility rights of all Canadians.
Let us safely but permanently restore Canada's spirit of hard work, free will and unbridled innovation. Let us defeat the bill, which only serves as a discouraging reminder of unending economic malaise and heavy-handed control. Let us provide all Canadians with the ability to work and contribute to our postpandemic recovery no matter their medical status.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking for the first time at length in this 44th Parliament representing the citizens of Chatham-Kent—Leamington.
Before I go on to make some comments on this specific legislation, I want to congratulate two of those citizens, my parents, as today is their 61st wedding anniversary.
With respect to Bill , it should come to no one's surprise that I will be opposing this legislation and these additional spending measures. Why? It is because they are adding more fuel to the inflationary fires. The recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer states that more stimulus spending will only stoke these inflationary fires, resulting in an inflation tax. Asked at the finance committee if government deficits contribute to inflation, the PBO stated very clearly that, yes, they can.
How much money are we talking about? Another $71.2 billion in spending is referenced in the economic and fiscal update, and since the beginning of this pandemic, the government has introduced $176 billion in new spending that is unrelated to responding to the pandemic. Our interest-bearing debt is approaching $1.4 trillion.
I will borrow some descriptions my colleague from used yesterday when he outlined what that means. We understand what $1 million looks like. It is a one and six zeroes, but $1.4 trillion is $140 million millions. Folks should think about that. Yesterday during question period, the stated that 8 out of 10 dollars spent as a COVID response have come from the federal government, even if they have been delivered provincially, so the accountability for this spending lies with the government.
Let me mention two areas where Canadians would have been better served by a government being more proactive, which would have lessened the need to be so reactive to pandemic effects. The first is securing rapid tests. Conservatives supported the sourcing of rapid tests well before we had vaccines, almost two years ago now. Late in this pandemic, the government seems to have seen the light and now wants more rapid tests. After five waves of infection and the economic carnage that lockdowns bring, we are now finally seeing an effort being made.
The second is ICU capacity. Lockdowns have been invoked by provincial governments largely in response to the fear that critical care capacity will be overwhelmed during peak infection periods. It is not that often that my colleagues agree with opposition colleagues in this chamber, but on the point of increased health transfers, we do agree. In particular, while in some places we lack bricks and mortar in our health care system, we primarily lack doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners. It is the critical care capacity deliverers that we need so many more of.
While this is of course a provincial responsibility, in my federal role I have been closely monitoring the local health care capacity in my riding at Erie Shores hospital in Leamington and at Chatham-Kent hospital, especially because of the overlap of providing this care to our citizens combined with care for the guest worker community of the agricultural sector in my riding. I could spend 10 minutes just talking about the experience there in the last two years.
I did not realize that Canada only has one-third of the health care capacity of our neighbour to the south. I did not know that until we got into this pandemic. That is why such a low percentage of people who are critically affected by COVID so quickly overwhelm our health care capacity. These are the two areas where, especially early on in this pandemic, it would have been far better to respond proactively.
However, the cumulative effect of government spending in areas responding to, rather than preventing, the economic damage of COVID have led to a very predictable outcome: inflation. This form of taxation, and that is what inflation is, affects so many areas of our lives. It affects those particularly who can least afford it more than those with assets who can actually benefit from it.
Let me touch on just two areas. The first is housing and the crisis in housing inflation. The injection of so many printed dollars into our economy has exacerbated the rise in the cost of housing. While in Chatham-Kent—Leamington the average costs are not as high as national averages, the rate of increase, particularly on the lower end of the spectrum, is even higher. With the interest rate now below the rate of inflation, because it is rising, this provides a further incentive to bid up prices.
We have not yet seen the end of this inflationary housing bubble. The end is not written. The Bank of Canada has signalled that interest rates will rise. How many people will face an even greater pressure on their personal finances when it comes to renewing their home mortgage? The main solution of course lies in the basic laws of supply and demand. We need more houses built, not more taxes, and not more spending, which only drive the inflationary cycle.
Second is food inflation. Anyone who eats or, more specifically, buys groceries understands the rising cost of food in Canada. Prior to having the honour of standing in this place today, I actively farmed and produced food for most of my adult life. I also had the opportunity to be involved with the business of representing food producers at negotiation tables and in industry circles.
I understand that the broad inflation is not the primary driver of the cost of raw product of food prices in Canada. Weather events, geopolitical tensions and other trade issues impact the cyclical nature of these markets more than broad inflation, but, and this is a big but, I am speaking of raw food pricing. What the Canadian consumer experiences at the grocery aisle is only minimally impacted by the price of what a farmer receives. In most food stuffs, the percentage cost represented by the raw component is very small. The labelling, packaging, transportation, processing and preparing are cost components that dwarf the raw component, and of course, these are all cost drivers that are affected by inflation.
In conclusion, what would it take to get us out of this mess? First, the government needs to reorient its approach. It is encouraging to hear from our health care leaders, and in particular I want to point out Ontario's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, who support our need to learn to live and work with COVID. We need to move from a pandemic state of COVID to an endemic state. The vast majority of Canadians have done what we have asked of them. They got vaccinated and observed public health measures.
We have the tools, the vaccines and the rapid tests, or we should have the rapid tests. Now we need to learn to live with COVID, and we need to open up.
Second, we need to rein in government spending. We need to tamp down inflation, and we need to blunt the trend of rising interest rates, which inevitably result from inflation. It appears that the government's tax-and-spend approach, which resulted in inflation, is almost intentional. This is its way of inflating its way out of massive debt.
Lower taxes, less spending, leading to lower inflation and more economic growth is the only way out for all Canadians.