Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and participate in the debate on the budget implementation act today. I might start just by saying that I am wearing this flower to mark MS Awareness Day, as many members, indeed perhaps all members, were doing today in the House, which I think is a great thing.
We are discussing the budget implementation act at a really challenging time for the country. This will not come as news to members in the House, just as it will not come as news to people across the country who are living that very experience, but I think it is important to talk a little more about some of the issues that people are facing. As we come, hopefully, out of the pandemic, our lives are still very much affected by what we have gone through and what we continue to go through.
If we look at our health care system, for instance, the effects of the pandemic are still very real and very much at work, even for those who are not in hospital as a result of the pandemic or with COVID-19. A lot of Canadians, either themselves or their family members or friends, are trying to access medical services and are finding it difficult to do so. Our health care professionals are simply exhausted after having spent the last two years working so hard to try to save the lives of Canadians who have been affected COVID-19. They are now trying to address the backlog of medical procedures, diagnostics and other types of care that have accumulated over the course of the pandemic, while our hospitals were full with extraordinary numbers of people sick with COVID-19.
We are facing real challenges on the health front, not only trying to figure out how to deal with the problems that still exist, but also, I hope, and it is certainly the case for New Democrats, how we can create a silver lining in all of the pain, hurt and challenge in health care. We are trying to figure out how we come out of it with a stronger public health system that would serve Canadians well into the future and be run more efficiently in terms of finding ways to save money, not by cutting services to people who need them but by exploring new ways that contain efficiencies in them to deliver services to people who need it.
I am speaking, of course, of pharmacare and having a proper national pharmacare plan that could save money while serving more people. There are a number of studies to show that this is very much possible. When we look across the world, we note that Canada is one of very few countries with public health care on a national level that do not have a national drug policy and a national drug insurance plan. I do not think it is a coincidence that we also pay among the highest costs for prescription drugs. It is because we are not mobilizing our purchasing power through the power of a national prescription drug plan. That is one example.
Another example is investments in things like dental care. We know that good oral health helps prevent other kinds of health issues that could occur down the line. Investing in something like a basic dental care plan means investing in the future and heading off health problems that would not only make a difference in the lives of Canadians by increasing their health and reducing their sickness, but would also help avoid human tragedy and cost less in the long run. We know that when we allow health problems to get to the point of crisis, they are far more expensive to fix. That is happening in health care.
In the economy, we are facing a whole other set of problems. We have talked a lot over the last couple of years about people being out of work, as they were, and about their needing support from the government while they were out of work. Now we are in a phase in which there are still people struggling to get into the workforce. We could go out and talk to them.
There are people who are trying to maintain their business. I am thinking of folks like the independent travel agents, an industry that is made up of about 80% women, who are still trying to hold their business together and deal with their clients, and who are not getting paid because they do not get paid until well after the trip has been taken. There is still a lot of uncertainty with travel rules, and not just in Canada but across the globe, that are still making it difficult for people to travel and therefore difficult for people in that industry to make their money.
The tourism and hospitality industry is a really important industry in the Canadian economy. The numbers from before the pandemic show that very well, and the people who have the skills and the training and the networks to be able to deliver good service to Canadians within that industry are people we still want to have available to work in that industry when the pandemic is truly behind us.
They are going to need some ongoing support to be able to do that, just as people in the arts and culture industry need help.
In December, the government spoke about arts and culture workers. A solution was even negotiated with the Bloc Québécois.
However, we have yet to see a program that provides financial assistance to people working in the arts and culture sector, just as we have yet to see financial assistance for those working in the tourism and travel sector.
There is still a lot of work to do, coming out of the pandemic, for people who are still suffering negative economic consequences.
At the same time, unemployment has gone down significantly. We hear from employers that they are looking for people to work. We have this awkward situation of some people being in very difficult personal economic circumstances because their kind of work, the kind of work they are trained for and have experience with, has not come back, even as there are employers in very different industries who cannot find people to work in their business.
I would say, even though I am still trying to give a bit of an overview of some of the problems we are facing, that there is definitely a role for the government there. It is why the reforms to employment insurance are so important right now. They are important, in part, to be able to provide financial assistance to people who are still struggling. I think we need some supplementary income assistance programs beyond employment insurance reform, but certainly those reforms are very important to have in place, just as they were over the last number of years, in order to support people.
There is also a role for government to get involved in hooking up those people who are struggling to find work with the employers who are looking for workers, and to provide the training that has to happen to transition people from one sector into another.
That is true because of the ongoing economic consequences of the pandemic, but it is already true and it will be more and more true as the changing climate changes and affects our economy and the workers who are at the front end or on the front line of that transition. They are the people most at risk of falling through the cracks. I do not think we really believe, and I certainly do not believe, and I do not think my colleagues in the NDP believe, that the banks are going to somehow slip through the cracks, or that big, multinational investors are going to get forgotten and not know what to do and be left on their own to figure out how to find their place in a changing world.
They will be well served. They are well served, in fact too well served, by institutions that should be looking to serve all people, including the workers who are on the front line. That is why we are going to continue to be a voice to say we cannot just be happy that the banks and the big institutional investors are taken care of, thanks very much. We have to make sure that the people who work for them and who produce the wealth that those companies enjoy are also taken care of in that transition. That is not just because it is morally important, and it is, but also because that is how we are going to help those other employers who also want to have successful businesses and who also represent Canada on the world stage of business, who need talent to be able to carry on their enterprise successfully.
There is a real role, and I think there always has been, but ever more so now, for the government to get involved in training and making sure that the right kinds of training are available to particular workers for particular employers and making that strong connection, so that we are not just saying to workers, “Well, let us wait until you lose your job to help you find a solution. Then we are going to direct you to some general training where there are some signals that there is some promise and hope for you in a particular sector, and then you will do the training and if you do not get hired, that is your problem.”
What we want is a government that identifies the employers who are really looking for work, who have a promising work forecast and a good business plan, and says we are going to work with them to find the workers they need for their business to succeed.
We are going to have them do the training knowing that there is a good job on the other end of that training, so that both employers and workers can transition. Whether that is transitioning out of the pandemic or transitioning through the economic challenges of climate change, we are going to make sure that Canadian businesses are successful and that Canadian workers have the opportunity to share in that success.
That is part of the economic challenge. That is what we call the workforce issues that we are facing as a country, but we are also facing those challenges in the context of high inflation, which is really putting the pinch on households. I talked about the importance of supporting workers through that transition, both with training and with income, so they are not leaving their family in the lurch while they try and get that training for the promise of that new job. It is all the more important because inflation is eating into the household budgets of Canadians even as we try to navigate these very challenges.
I do not think I need to talk a whole lot about the inflation problem in the sense that it has been and no doubt will continue to be very well examined in this place. I will not go over all of the issues that have to do with inflation, but the point that I want to try and add, and I feel a duty to do so because we do not hear much about it except from this side of the House, is the role that corporate profiteering has been playing in inflation as well.
There have been some studies out in the last month that suggest up to a quarter, 25%, of the inflationary pressure that Canadians are experiencing in their household budget, has to do with price increases that go above the increase in costs that companies are experiencing. It is not just a matter of companies passing on the increased cost to their customers. We are talking about huge profit growth.
The general number prepandemic was around 9% for profit booking overall in Canada. It has gone up to 16%. That is the profit, which means that is what is left over after costs are subtracted from revenue. That means that in some industries, some companies certainly are making a lot more money. It is not just that they are passing on their costs. It is that they are spying an opportunity to make more money on the backs of Canadians who have already been through hell in the last few years and are still going through a really difficult time.
That should also be the focus of people in this place, not just the actions of government and not just what government has done that may have contributed to the problem, but what government has not done to get a handle on the situation.
That is nowhere more true than in the housing market. That is true in the housing market over the last two years, but it is also true in the housing market for decades. Under governments of both stripes, both Liberal and Conservative, we have seen incredible increases in the cost of housing.
I heard a Conservative MP in response to another speech I made in this place not that long ago try and downplay that. They said there have always been increases in the cost of housing, that it is quite normal and it is not that bad. I would call that “goldfish politics”, and I think it is important for Canadians not to buy into it.
Canadians are well served when they and their politicians have long memories about what has happened. If we look at the trend line for house prices, they have increased significantly in this century year over year. That has accelerated in the pandemic and there are reasons for that. Some of those reasons have to do with those very companies that I was talking about, which have been amassing a fortune and trying to figure out how to put that money to work for themselves by making more money, finding that the real estate market is a great way to do that.
That is why it makes sense for the government to step in and say that when we are talking about the residential housing market, we can treat it that way only up to a point. Individual Canadians are not well served; our economy, as a whole, is not well served, and we are not well served as a country when we allow the places that we depend on for shelter and to build our homes to be treated as an asset commodity. More and more, that is what has been happening.
The numbers tell the story. Something like 25% of CMHC mortgages in the last year or so were for investment properties. That is a record number. It has never been like that before, and it calls for a response from government. It is the government that sets the rules for the CMHC around its mortgage insurance policy.
I think we have to ask why, in this context, we would be content to allow investors to get the same treatment to de-risk their mortgage investment as somebody buying their first home. That does not make sense. I do not think it was captured 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago, because investment activity did not play the same role that it is playing in the market today.
Given what has changed in the housing market, we have to be asking those questions. We have to be asking why it is that somebody can produce the same amount of cash up front for a down payment for their eighth home as they do for their first home, and whether that makes sense or whether we are going to ask them to do more in order to temper the effect in the market. It is hard to move housing prices down. It is a difficult policy area, but it is why it is that much more important that we get to work on it.
We are seeing the role of real estate investment trusts grow in the market. It is fundamentally unfair to say to Canadians that if they are going to buy their first home they are not just going to compete with the family down the street, or somebody from across the city who is thinking about changing neighbourhoods, or maybe somebody who just got a job in their city who is coming from another Canadian city. They are going to compete with some corporate entities in Canada that have some of the deepest pockets, that want to beat them on the bid and then that want to rent it back to them at extraordinary prices. That is not a fair competition. It is not a competition at all, in fact. Canadians cannot be expected to compete with deep-pocketed corporate investors to buy homes. That is ridiculous, so we have to find ways to change the rules of the market so that Canadians are not put in this impossible position anymore. It is getting more and more impossible.
The good news is that these things are doable. Whether we are talking about changing the terms and conditions for CMHC mortgage insurance for investors, escalating the amount that people need for down payments on subsequent properties, or having a moratorium on real estate investment trust activity in the market, these are all things that do not cost the government a dime. They are not going to be enough on their own because we have to address the supply side of housing, but targeting the investment activity that has been driving up those prices is a thing that the government can do to temper the rise in house prices over time, and that does not require spending money. That is a real virtue. Governments should be looking for solutions to problems that do not just throw more money at them. There are enough problems where we do need to invest in order to get to the solution.
On the supply side, we need to invest. There is no way to augment housing supply in Canada without significant investment. When it comes to climate change, we are going to have to make some serious investments. There are regulatory things we can do that do not cost money, either, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we are not going to have to make substantial investments in Canada's infrastructure in order to successfully transition to the low-carbon economy that we need.
There are times when public expenditure is part of the answer, and there are times when the government can pursue policies that can make a real difference and do not cost money. There are times to pursue policies that save money. Pharmacare, as I said earlier, is an excellent example of that: It is not about spending no money. It is about spending out of the federal government's budget, instead of other governments' budgets and Canadians' own pockets, to spend less overall. However, there are things we can do to combat the financialization of the housing sector that has created a completely unfair competitive landscape for Canadian families bidding on homes that will not cost the government money.
Here we are. We are in this time of transitioning, we hope, out of the pandemic and transitioning, unfortunately, into a far less certain future with respect to the climate and the economic uncertainty that will also generate. It is a time when we are going to need more public involvement in the economy, as far as I am concerned, to do that well and to make sure we do not leave people behind.
I have already spoken to the budget proper. I want to spend a bit of time talking to some of the measures in the budget implementation act: an act that unfortunately does not have sufficient ambition. There are a number of things in here that are good. They are a step in the right direction. I do not think the budget has an appropriate level of ambition, so it is perhaps no surprise that the budget implementation act also does not have the appropriate level of ambition, but it is certainly the case that it does not.
I was just getting to the act. I am sure that the member for is getting up for unanimous consent—
Madam Speaker, tonight I have the privilege of speaking to Bill , an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 7, 2022 and other measures.
Last week, I spoke about the budget and about the importance of balancing programs and spending to meet Canadians' needs while being fiscally prudent. I also spoke at length about the importance of the budget's housing initiatives. Today, I would like to touch on some of the areas I was unable to cover last time.
We have three indigenous communities in Kings—Hants: Sipekne'katik, Glooscap and the Annapolis Valley First Nation. Whenever I visit a community, the first issue raised by the chief and the council is the importance of increasing the housing supply and of funding renovations to existing housing. I am very pleased to see $4 billion in investments in this budget. This is historic and significant.
Kings—Hants is also Atlantic Canada's agricultural heartland. We have the largest concentration of farms, including the biggest supply-managed sector east of Quebec. Budget 2022 outlines the government's commitment to providing fair and equitable compensation to supply-managed farmers with respect to CUSMA in the fall economic update.
I want to compare that to those in the previous Conservative government who did not show consistent support for the system, including the member for , who has suggested that the supply-managed agricultural sectors and the system are responsible for food inflation. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of national capacity and we, on this side of the House, will support our supply-managed farmers.
I neglected to mention at the start that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I want to highlight the nearly one billion dollars' worth of initiatives for the agriculture sector, particularly through an environmental lens, that are being made available in budget 2022. There is nearly $400 million for the on-farm climate action program, and we are tripling the agricultural clean technology program.
I would be remiss not to mention the fact that the and his department are working closely right now on offset protocols. They will be available and will be a boon for our agriculture sector, particularly in the prairie provinces, which have done a really good job on soil sequestration. There is an opportunity to reward that work and continue to encourage farmers to apply those practices and do even more. I think this is going to be a really important program in the days ahead.
I also want to talk about the importance of some of the wetland preservation programs that were in budget 2021 and reaffirmed in this budget. We will continue to roll those out to reward farmers who are doing tremendous work in sequestering carbon through carbon sinks on farm. This is going to matter across the country and indeed right in my backyard of Kings—Hants.
We know that labour is a major issue across the country. This is a reflection of the fact that the economy is very strong right now and that we have been there to make important investments. Indeed, I believe Statistics Canada reported that in the last quarter of 2021, nearly 900,000 jobs needed to be filled.
This budget really focuses on the importance of immigration, and our and my colleague from Nova Scotia provided a levels report to the House earlier in the year. We are focused on making sure that Canadian businesses and our communities have new immigrants to drive the important economy that we are seeing right now. By and large, I think all parties and all members of the House support that. It is extremely important, but it is not necessarily the case across all western countries.
We in Canada need to continue to promote immigration as an important element for supporting not only community diversity, but also our economic growth. I give credit to the government for its focus in this budget on that element.
Specifically, the budget allocates money for an agriculture-specific labour strategy. This was part of the platform the Liberal Party had in the 2021 election. Whether it is the seasonal agricultural worker program or otherwise, these programs are going to make a difference. I know they make a difference in Kings—Hants, but in places such as southwestern Ontario and Quebec they will as well.
I believe I am running out of time, and perhaps—