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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
Madam Speaker, let me say, as I probably rise for the last time in this Parliament, how honoured I am to represent the good people of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, how much I have learned from my colleagues here, but also how invigorated I am by the greatness of this country and my commitment to work hard for the people I represent.
As I join this debate today, I feel compelled to make a few observations. To be clear, Canada did not ask to be put in this position. However, as we know, the U.S. election resulted in a new administration, with a mandate, among other things, to renegotiate NAFTA. That is where all of this started.
I think we can all agree that this particular renegotiated agreement resulted in an outcome that is less than ideal, but of course, it could have been much worse. Many concessions were made, and we still have unresolved issues, such as the lack of a deal for Canadian softwood lumber, something that is critically important to my riding.
Ultimately, it is not a secret that the official opposition will be supporting this deal. Unlike the third party, we do believe it is better than no deal. However, that does not mean that there are not some lessons to be learned here.
To me, it is deeply troubling that the Prime Minister went into these negotiations with his usual theme of demanding things that are all about building his brand and appealing to his base of supporters. In other words, the Prime Minister thought he saw an opportunity to score some political points and feed the brand. This is not unlike what he tried to do when he approached China.
In both cases, he failed miserably. Why would he not fail miserably? Would we as Canadians accept another leader trying to push his or her own values onto us? We simply would not accept that. What nation would? However, that is precisely what the Prime Minister attempted to to. Some may call this arrogance. Whatever we call it, it was easily foreseeable that it was a path to failure.
However, the Prime Minister did not care and went about his virtue-signalling anyway, so we ended up on the sidelines: Canada, a world leader, on the sidelines. There we were, on the sidelines with our biggest trading partner, while Mexico was in the driver's seat, getting the deal done.
Here is the thing. Mexico did get it done. Let us look at its approach. Mexico did not use the trade negotiations as some sort of domestic political opportunity to score points. Mexico did not use this as an opportunity for virtue-signalling. Mexico did not have a lead minister giving a speech within the United States of America that took veiled potshots at the U.S. administration. Mexico discussed issues related to trade and did so professionally. It is easy to see why that approach worked so well for it.
Our approach, led by the Prime Minister, was a complete failure. It did not have to be that way. I can tell colleagues that, on this side of the House, we would have taken a much different approach. I am actually quite confident that there are members on the government side of the House, whom I have worked with at various committees, who I suspect would have also taken a much different approach. I believe it is important to reflect on these things so that we can learn from them.
Canada should never again be in a situation where we are sitting on the sidelines with our greatest trading partner, while Mexico is driving the bus. I hope that is one thing we can all agree on. Perhaps that is why we are now hearing the name of Mark Carney, because there are other Liberals who feel the same way.
Now we have a new deal. Whether it is called the new NAFTA, NAFTA 0.5, USMCA, CUSMA, or whatever, there is something we should all think about. Recently, Jack Mintz wrote a very good piece on investment fleeing Canada. Members who have read the article would know that it debunks some Liberal talking points that had been carefully cherry-picked.
As an example, yes, investment in Canada was up in 2018. However, that sounds good until we consider that it was up from 2017, and 2017 was an absolute disaster of a year. Even in 2018, it was still below where things were in 2015. Yes, I mean that 2015.
Yes, investment in the U.S.A. is down, but that is outside investment. There is a large increase in U.S. domestic capital now staying in the United States. This means it is not coming to Canada.
Why should we care about that? Let us look at our automotive sector. Yes, there is still some investment in Canada, but there is considerably more occurring in the United States and Mexico. Mexico, in particular, has been a hot spot for automotive investment. Let us think about that. Mexico has no carbon tax. It has no new and enhanced CPP causing premiums and payroll taxes to increase every month. Much of its industrial power is cheap, and I would even say it is dirty.
CUSMA does more to address some of those issues than the NAFTA deal it replaces, but we also have to recognize that foreign investment in Canada is not the rose garden the Liberals are trying to suggest it is. This is a deal among three countries. If we become the most expensive, most regulated and most inefficient country to do business in, we lose collectively as a country.
The Prime Minister can continue to be virtuous. He can continue to ask people to pay just a little bit more. He can continue to lecture others for not sharing his values. However, at the end of the day, none of those things are going to attract the investment we need to make the most of this deal.
While we are on the subject of trade, I note that last week, during question period in this place, the Prime Minister vilified former prime minister Harper close to a dozen times. As the Liberals' good friend Warren Kinsella recently pointed out, the Prime Minister is looking “for an enemy to demonize”.
I mention that because the former Conservative government of Mr. Harper concluded more free trade agreements than any prime minister in the modern era. It is not as if the Liberals, or the Prime Minister, would be unaware of this, because they sat in this place during the last Parliament and voted in support of all those new trade agreements, yet the Prime Minister turns around and vilifies the former prime minister, who has a demonstrably more successful record on trade agreements.
However, perhaps that is preferable to talking about the lack of progress on Canadian softwood. I looked up on the Open Parliament website how many times the Prime Minister has even mentioned the word “softwood”. The answer is 18 times since 2016. The vast majority of those times were only because he was answering questions on softwood lumber asked by the opposition.
How many times has he referenced Stephen Harper? It is 190 times, and it will probably be more than 200 after today's question period. With the Prime Minister's priorities so focused on vilifying Mr. Harper instead of focusing on softwood lumber, is it any wonder he has made zero progress on this file?
Why do I point this out? I point this out because lumber mills are closing all across British Columbia at an alarming rate. My riding has lost lumber mills. I know first-hand what that does to a small rural community. It is devastating. However, there is complete silence from the Prime Minister regarding softwood lumber unless he is asked about it by the opposition in this place. Why? Maybe it is because he is too busy vilifying Mr. Harper.
In my view, that is not acceptable. B.C. forest workers deserve better. They deserve to know that they have a prime minister in Ottawa working to reach a softwood lumber deal.
I sometimes wonder whether, if Mexico had a vibrant softwood lumber sector, we would now have a deal done by extension as well. It is clear that Mexico has a more effective track record in these negotiations than the brand-first approach of the Prime Minister.
To summarize, we did not ask to be in this situation, clearly. However, I believe the approach taken by the Prime Minister to try to use this as a political opportunity was deeply flawed and made a bad situation worse.
Again, as evidence of that, I say to look no further than the approach taken by Mexico and the success that it had while we sat on the sidelines.
I have raised this point with ministers of the Crown. They told us that the meetings between the United States and Mexico were simply on bilateral issues that had nothing to do with Canada. However, they came out with a trilateral agreement, and Canada had a take-it-or-leave-it moment.
Despite the many concessions that the Prime Minister has made on this file, we can still make the most of it, but only if we recognize that we need to be more competitive. We have a regulatory environment in which things can get done in Canada. Many people have raised alarm bells, particularly the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and not just about the lack of investment but also the ability to get things done.
The Leader of the Opposition today clearly asked the Prime Minister several times for the date for the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Prime Minister promised the Trans Mountain pipeline, one of the most important projects on the deck and one of the only ones on the deck, would go forward to help build the national interest, but the Prime Minister cannot give a date.
Originally, the Liberals said that it would be operating this calendar year. Again, I would submit that one need to look no further than the Trans Mountain pipeline as evidence as to where the challenges are. It has been four years, and still there is not a shovel in the ground. The fact that the Liberal government had to buy the project to save Kinder Morgan from the embarrassment of not being able to build it in a timely manner is all part of the problem. The fact that today even the government has serious challenges in trying to navigate the process to get it done is telling. Does anyone seriously believe that Bill C-69 and Bill C-48 will make it easier to invest in Canada?
The Prime Minister says that tankers can operate totally safely in one part of British Columbia and in other parts of Canada, but are so dangerous in another part of British Columbia that they must be banned. Does anyone seriously think that makes sense? In fact, a number of the senators in the other place have commented on the lack of scientific evidence on Bill C-48. The committee that studied it in depth recommended that the bill not proceed.
The approaches of the current government do not reconcile. These are the types of mixed messages that are just not helpful. However, I remain hopeful that we can become more competitive and that as we move forward, we can ultimately try to fully capitalize on this agreement despite the many concessions.
I would like to close on a more positive note, and I will add a few positive observations.
As we have established many times and in many areas, Canada and Canadians can compete and succeed against the very best in the world. As legislators, it is our job to ensure that they have a level playing field and unrestricted market access to do so. Therefore, I will vote in favour of this agreement as, ultimately, it will provide these opportunities.
However, I must say one more time that until we have full, unfettered free trade within Canada's borders, we are, as a country, not owning up to the promise of Confederation, and that falls on us. It falls upon the provinces that have not allowed Canada to become not just a political union but an economic one.
This will be my last speech in the 42nd Parliament, and I would like to share a few words on a personal note.
We all share the collective honour of being elected members of this place, and our families all share the sacrifice for the many times that we cannot be there for them. It is my hope that our families, particularly our young ones, understand that in this place our collective desire to build a better country starts and ends with them. I would like thank all families of parliamentarians for their understanding and support.
I would also like to share a word with other members of this place. It is so unfortunate that much of the work we do here is often summarized by many Canadians as what transpires in question period. Much of the most important work that we do collectively happens at committee.
On that note, I would like to sincerely thank the many members I have worked with on various committees. Everyone I have worked with shares the same commitment to help ensure that the federal government provides the best level of governance possible. We may disagree on programs, projects and approaches, but I have found that we share a commitment to making these programs work best for Canadians.
A final point I would like to make should not be lost by any of us. The former Conservative government introduced a program to provide supports for kids directly to their parents. At the time, the Liberal opposition mocked it, ridiculed it, and suggested that parents would simply blow the money they received on beer and popcorn, but when the Liberals formed their majority government in 2015, they did not kill that program. Liberals saw the merits of it and saw that it was working so they made improvements to it, and now it is working even more effectively. I wish to commend them yet again for that.
That is an example of two very different governments coming up with a program and finding ways to improve it to ensure that it helps support Canadian families.
Trade is similar. After all, we are a nation of traders. We need to have these things that make us collectively prosper, that allow us to build stronger ties and relationships and provide the security and the sense of certainty that it takes for someone to start a business or for a country to get behind a new program. These are great examples of the work that we do when we are here on behalf of Canadians.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the time you spend in the chair. I am sure there are many different ways you would rather spend your time than listening to me, but I do appreciate the work you do and I am sure my constituents do as well. I look forward to the challenges in the upcoming months and in the questions and comments I will hear from my fellow colleagues.
View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to rise in this place to speak on behalf of the good people of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, as well as to bring forward some of my concerns.
Obviously these tax treaties have existed for a long time. In fact, two of the tax treaties I looked at earlier were dated back before I was born in the late 1970s. These tax treaties have existed for a long time. They have developed over the years. It is important to note that double taxation should be addressed.
Canada, as an open economy where we try to attract foreign direct investment, should do all it can to provide certainty so that monies from other countries can come here to make many of the important projects go forward in places like Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola. In my riding of Princeton, we have the Copper Mountain mine development. It is a very popular mine because it is one of the larger private employers in the area. That mine was the beneficiary of foreign direct investment.
When I did door-knocking in the 2015 election and introduced myself to the good people of Princeton, because the riding had changed, people pointed out that when the mine had originally closed for an extended period of time, the economy in Princeton had suffered greatly. The people benefited greatly from that mine both in terms of taxation, because now the community gets a share of the taxes that go to the provincial government, and from the employment and the services that the community is now able to have.
The same goes for the Highland Valley Copper mine just outside of the great town of Logan Lake. On a per capita level, Logan Lake and Princeton are some of the largest contributors to the net GDP of the area.
Before I go any further, I plan on sharing my time with the hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill and l am sure she will be giving a much more informed view on things.
However, when we talk about foreign direct investment building certainty through international tax agreements, it is important we talk about the benefits we have.
A new flotation facility was put in Highland Valley Copper about four or five years ago, easily half a billion dollars worth of investment. Those kinds of investments do not happen in countries unless there is a stable framework and the rule of law, including tax treaties. Again, the Nicola Valley has prospered as has the Similkameen Valley prospered because of these large developments. The amount of capital it takes is not always possible to be raised here.
Sometimes Canadians ask me why we have foreign direct investment, why can Canadians not simply invest in our own projects. The answer is that there is so much opportunity in the country that we cannot on our own resources alone expect reasonably to see many of these projects go forward. Having that foreign direct investment, having that stable presence in terms of the rule of law is incredibly important.
Bill S-6 is an act to implement the convention between Canada and the Republic of Madagascar for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income. To be very clear, these are not new. Under the previous government, led by former prime minister Stephen Harper, we saw the renewal of the New Zealand agreement and also the agreement between Canada and France was updated.
Consecutive governments of different political stripes have sought to put these things in place. Not only does it relate to double taxation, it also makes life a little easier. For example, students are covered and it defines what a student is. If those students are drawing income from the other country that is part of the agreement, they will not have to pay taxes in the country where they are studying. These things are important and they eliminate a lot of red tape for individuals. I think we can find some common ground on that.
I have talked about two things: first, the importance of certainty, because business, development and investment cannot happen without that certainty; and second, opportunity, meaning people have to feel if they put a dollar in, they can expect that money to come back with even a return on that investment.
I am fearful that while the framework of Bill S-6 is here, the government has eroded some of those areas of certainty and opportunity.
For example, we had an opportunity today. We had Kim Moody talk about the changes the government had made to the Income Tax Act, specifically around small businesses and Canadian controlled private corporations. I asked the Canadian Federation of Independent Business about this. The government likes to talk about lowering taxes for small business, but when I spoke to the CFIB, when I heard some of the testimony of Mr. Moody today, I found that the government had made it so difficult for many families to utilize a legitimate tax regime that was available to them in previous years. Because there is such a grey zone by the layering of rules, they do not have any certainty.
If we ask Canadians or people from other countries to invest in this country and if they find there is not the same certainty or opportunity they once had, they may choose not to invest. They may choose to not grow their business because they do not see the opportunity there.
Bill S-6 does add a little more certainty for people to come from Madagascar to invest in Canada, knowing the rules that would be applied to them under law. There would be a tax treaty to share information between jurisdictions to ensure they would not double taxed. However, when someone sees the absolute mess the government has placed our country in on responsible resource development, there is no certainty.
Look at the visiting convoy we had the other day. Those people want certainty. They want opportunity. They do not want bills like Bill C-69. They do not want to see foreign investment chased away.
While we are talking about chasing away investment, the government, through its failure to create a stable regulatory state, has allowed the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to languish. Private dollars were going to build opportunity for the people of Merritt. I am not sure I mentioned this before, but the community of Merritt was promised, under a community development agreement, that it would get certain funds to use for flood mitigation. However, because the company did not have that certainty and did not feel there was an opportunity, it decided to use its money to fund pipeline development in the United States. That is a real shame.
It is not just having the framework like Bill S-6 in place. There also has to be a sense that the rule of law will always be followed, that we are bound by the rules that have been put in place, that our word is our word, that there is no political interference once the Governor General has given the nod to a piece of legislation and it is the law of the land.
Mr. Speaker, earlier you raised the issue of you wanting all of us to talk about Bill S-6. However, the elephant in the room is we find out that cabinet confidences have been broken. We find out that caucus confidences have been broken on the Liberal side. It is all over the papers. When people find out that someone is allegedly trying to interfere in an independent prosecution case, they start to ask themselves if this is a country that follows the rule of law. That erodes confidence. That makes people say that perhaps they will not invest in Canada, that they instead will go to Australia, or the United States, where they have certainty and opportunity.
As a Canadian, this is so important for us. We have bills, like Bill S-6, that put forward proper frameworks. However, even if those frameworks are in place, if people do not feel that officials will follow those laws, both elected and bureaucratic officials, that dissolves or erodes the sense of rule of law. May we never find ourselves in such a state where people question the Canadian government or the Canadian people on our commitment to the rule of law.
I call upon the government to have that public inquiry. I call specifically for the Prime Minister to waive client-solicitor privilege for the former attorney general. Why? Because I am all about certainty, opportunity and feeling proud of our country and telling people that I am a proud Canadian. I am sure the people on the street are saying the same thing. It does not look good. It does not make us feel good. That needs to change.
View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Speaker, let me first publicly congratulate the member opposite for her appointment to parliamentary secretary. That is a big achievement in this place.
I would like to go right to the subject of base erosion and profit sharing. The hon. Jim Flaherty put this in budget 2014, on consultations. It was a subject that the G20 looked at. I am happy to see the government pursue this strategy, because it is important for us to tackle.
The other part of this is, while we can worry about base erosion and profit sharing outside, what I am worried about is our tax base being eroded right now from a lack of investment, where we see the uncertainty that the government has allowed to continue by not being able to negotiate a successful NAFTA negotiation, when Mexico has. At the same time, it is introducing carbon taxes, extra payroll taxes, which ultimately would make us less competitive.
The member's portfolio specifically mentions youth employment. These things will harm the economic ability for young people to get employed in this country if this continues.
This legislation is welcome because it continues the great work of the previous government.
What is the parliamentary secretary going to do to ensure those young people have those opportunities and do not go down to the United States?
View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I certainly can appreciate that many people probably want to hear the previous speaker more than me. I will try to do her justice as I move forward, and I will appreciate listening to her speech later.
As members know, it is always an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the constituents of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola. It is a very important debate for me and for all of us for different reasons. I will highlight one of the reasons that is very important to me.
As some members will know, I come from one of Canada's premier wine producing regions. Other members of this place represent regions that are also renowned for producing fine Canadian wine and, increasingly, craft ales, even artisan spirits. A few even have large-scale breweries that are huge employers in their home ridings. I mention these things as Canada's wine, beer, and spirit industry is an important one for many regions of our country.
There are some very serious concerns from this industry as it will be extremely impacted by some proposed measures in this bill. In short, let us call it what it is: the escalator tax. For the benefit of those watching or who may not be old enough to remember the last time an elevator tax was used, it was by the former Pierre Elliott Trudeau government.
Every year the tax rate on most wine, beer, and spirits sold in Canada will be subject an annual tax increase, linked to inflation, an annual tax increase that will not be linked to a budget that must be passed and debated in this place each year. Rather, unelected bureaucrats will hike the tax based on the consumer price index, locked in, potentially for who knows how long, all from this one budget.
Why is that a concern? Let us start with the obvious.
As parliamentarians, we should always be concerned when, in effect, we see stealth taxation, where a tax will increase every year without debate or scrutiny as it does not have to be signed off by the finance minister in each budget. It just automatically happens whether we, as parliamentarians, whose job is ultimately to scrutinize government spending, especially with taxes, and authorize it. This is a big concern.
Is this truly a precedent that the Liberal government wants to set? Where will the line be drawn? How many more stealth tax increases via an escalator tax will it sneak in?
We all know that the use of escalator taxes was halted in the 1980s by former finance minister Wilson, because it was the wrong thing to do in the economy. We heard from the spirits industry that it devastated many Canadian success stories when the government linked inflation to an annual escalator for taxes.
Now maybe some on the Liberal side of the House think this is a good idea. I do not profess to know how they can defend this escalator tax. When I did a report on this topic to my constituents last week, all were universally opposed. Even those who generally supported Liberals were clear that this would lead to a form of taxation without representation. One individual made a very interesting comment. Canada was once known as a nation of savers. These types of stealth escalator taxes attack those principles.
However there is another consideration, which is the literally hundreds of small, medium, and even large-scale business that collectively produce wine, beer, and spirits. As we know, the Department of Finance estimates this new escalator tax will suck an extra almost $500 million dollars out of the Canadian economy and send that money to Ottawa over the next five years. Of course this is all about that.
The Liberal government knows, fiscally, it is in serious trouble. Every single fiscal promise from the “modest” $10 billion a year annual deficits to a return to a balanced budget in 2019 has been broken. The finance situation is so severe the finance minister actually spiked a report from his own department claiming not until 2056 would Canada possibly return to a balance.
Seriously, try to even get the finance minister to utter the words, “balanced budget”. Not even Liberals on that side of the House, although they can try, can achieve that.
This is a blatant tax grab with absolutely zero consultation whatsoever on how an additional half a billion dollar tax grab on this industry might impact it. To many of my constituents, this is really the offensive part.
The Liberal government is happy to give a $327 million loan to help finance a carbon-burning aircraft to a company that openly stated it did not need the money. Owners of wineries, craft breweries, and distilleries get $500 million in costs downloaded to them and their customers. What impact will this have on the industry? Does the Liberal government even know? Better yet, do the Liberals care?
Many in the industry feel abandoned, and that is the problem when a government decides to pick winners and losers in the private sector. In fact, one winery owner recently commented that if only that winery had bottled a pinot supercluster, maybe it would have fared better treatment from the Liberals.
We also have one other problem. A large segment of our domestic wine, craft, and spirit market is made up of products from outside of our country. This is in large part because we lack the domestic capacity in many cases to serve our own market. The upside of this situation is that we have room to grow and expand for Canadian producers. At least we did have that opportunity until the Liberals decided to tax them out of existence.
The other challenge is that foreign producers, for a variety of reasons, could have a case now to present a trade challenge. The finance committee actually received a letter from the European Commission outlining that it had grave concerns about it and planned to challenge it in an upcoming trade challenge as some products were becoming more expensive now and, in some circumstances, in a manner that 100% Canadian-produced wine did not.
Let me be clear. Right now, the policy is that if producers make Canadian wine using 100% Canadian grown produce, which helps our farmers, they are exempt from excise. However, those who use products from outside of the country or who import from places like Chile, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the United States also have to pay excise, so they will also be on this automatic escalator, every year their prices being higher. As we know, a trade challenge can be very harmful on an industry, much as we are seeing now with softwood lumber.
That is why it is so deeply concerning to see the Liberal government implement these draconian charges with zero consultation and no thought as to how it may adversely impact an import industry that then may cause us trade grief.
I would like to make it clear that I am not trying to fearmonger. These are real concerns that can be factually verified. As the elected representative for a region that may be adversely impacted by these changes, it is my responsibility to illustrate these serious concerns here. It is my intention that all members ponder them and ask serious questions of the Liberal government.
Before I close, I would like to point out today that seven out of 10 bottled wines sold in Canada are made outside of Canada. We know we are entering some of the most unprecedented new trade opportunities. However, if the cost of doing business in Canada continues to increase through new escalator taxation, higher payroll costs, increased CPP, and more, we very well could see examples of where companies like Procter & Gamble move production into lower cost regions outside of Canadian borders. With Procter & Gamble, 500 well-paying, middle-class jobs were lost. Not even the Liberal government, using borrowed money, can afford handouts to all of them.
This is the reason business investment has declined in Canada every quarter since the Liberal government was elected. I will submit it will continue to decline if costs of doing business in Canada do not remain competitive. An escalator tax means that every year we become less competitive. We cannot afford this. That is why I remain opposed to these measures and will be supporting the amendments proposed by the member of Parliament for Louis-Saint-Laurent, with whom I have had the great pleasure of serving as his deputy finance critic.
I stand opposed for the people, not just those in Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola but for the many people who contribute to our economies right across our great country. The escalator tax will not serve the purpose. The government will see less revenue, fewer jobs, and trade challenges that will harm and decimate our industry if they are successful.
View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to rise and participate in debate, and more so in this case. However, if I might be indulged for just a moment, I would like to share a little news with this place.
First of all, about a year ago we had a vote in this place on whether or not the Supreme Court was the best body to hear a case out of New Brunswick, the Comeau case. Many might remember that it was the case of a man who bought both spirits and beer in Quebec and transported these items home to New Brunswick. He was fined for crossing a border with a Canadian-made product, and I and many people in this place have taken issue with these unfair and inequitable trade barriers.
I am happy to say today that the Supreme Court has announced that it will be hearing the Comeau case. I want to show appreciation for all the members who supported that motion and I do hope the Liberal government members will reconsider their opposition to it. I also hope they will argue for a restored section 121 of our charter, our free trade clause, because I believe it is a constitutional right. I believe we are one country, not just as a political unit but as an economic one, and I hope the Minister of Justice and associated ministers will take that position and argue for a liberalized opening of trade in Canada.
I am very happy to join the debate on this particular budget and the related implementation bill. Obviously, over on the opposition side of this place, there is an expectation that there will be some disagreement over measures proposed in a budget implementation bill. However, I also do not believe it is productive to re-fight an election, and likewise it is my view that it is counterproductive to oppose everything simply for the sake of opposing, as we often saw in the previous Parliament.
However, it is my intent today to raise a few issues that I have serious concerns with. For starters, let us all agree that this is, for all intents and purposes, an omnibus budget bill. From my own perspective, having sat on the government side of this place, I recognize that when a government is trying to implement a broad fiscal agenda, as much as it would be ideal to debate every measure on a stand-alone basis, that expectation is just not realistic, so I am willing to give some consideration for the Liberals to use an omnibus budget bill.
However, where I will call out the Liberals is on promising during the election to not use an omnibus bill, and yet here we are, debating an omnibus piece of legislation. This is exactly the type of hypocrisy that drives cynicism among Canadian voters in our political system, which ironically is yet another campaign theme the Prime Minister was all too happy to rally against during the election campaign but on which he now adds fuel to the fire.
Getting back to the budget, there is a very troubling aspect to this budget implementation bill, and that is the fact that this budget mentions items that are not actually budgeted for. Let me give a few examples.
The budget had a line item of “helping working adults upgrade their skills”. This sounds like something that most Canadians would support. However, how much actual money did the Liberals budget for in the 2017 budget? Zero. There is nothing in the 2017 budget to actually fund that item, nothing. There is only a promise to do so in the 2019 election year.
Another curious item in this budget is “investing in skills innovation”. Once again, it sounds like something most Canadians would support. Would anyone here like to take a guess at how much actual money the Liberals have budgeted to pay for this in the 2017 budget? How about zero? That is right: zero, as in nothing. Once again, there is a promise the Liberals might spend something in the 2019 election year, which I would say is no coincidence.
Another line item in this budget is “expanding the youth employment strategy”. Who would not support that, but wait—let us guess how much money the Liberals budgeted in 2017. Once again the answer is zero. There is not a dime. I cannot say, “Not a penny”, because of course there is no longer a penny, but let us guess what year the Liberals promised they might actually spend money on a youth employment strategy.
If members guessed the 2019 election year, they must have a crystal ball because, of course, that is the right answer.
Let just just think about that for a moment. Unemployed youth who need jobs today will have to wait until 2019, when the Liberals need to be re-elected. Let us seriously think about that. At the same time, we can ask why they even bother putting line items in a 2017 budget for measures not even budgeted within the 2017 budget. This is from a Liberal government that promised that better is always possible, just not until 2019, apparently, when it needs to be re-elected.
I recognize that this budget comes from the finance minister and not from the majority of members sitting on the government side of the House. I mention this because I believe that many would agree that fluffing up a budget with items not in the budget is not raising the bar in this place. Yes, we all know that a budget implementation bill will always be heavy on government messaging, but this budget takes it a step further by playing politics with the lives of Canadians.
I can cite many more examples of line items in this budget that are actually not budgeted for 2017. In those cases, surprise, surprise, there is money for those things, but guess when: 2019. Again, that adds to the cynicism.
Here is my other major criticism. As much as there are line items in this budget that we know are not actually budgeted for, guess what is missing from the budget. There is absolutely no time line, if ever, for the Liberal finance minister to return Canada to a balanced budget.
Let us recap. Here is a Liberal government that looked Canadians in the eye and said, “We will return to a balanced budget in 2019.” At some level, even the Liberals must realize why a balanced budget is a good thing to have. Otherwise, why did they bother to promise to deliver this to Canadians by 2019? No one ever forced the Liberals to make such a promise, yet they did. Here we are today, and I seriously challenge any member of this House, the government side included, to get the finance minister to even mention the words “balanced budget”, let alone in what decade he intends to honour the Liberal promise to deliver one to Canadians.
Here is what we do know. Back in October last year, the finance minister's own department projected that not until 2051 would Canada return to balance. What did the finance minister do? He intentionally withheld that information from Canadians until December 23 of last year. What kind of finance minister does that? Why has “balanced budget” become a dirty word to this finance minister? These are all troubling questions.
It is not unlike the fact that this budget proposes to run a deficit in 2017 that is almost three times larger than what the Liberals originally promised to get elected. Though I have sat on the government side of the House, it was never under a government that made so many promises to Canadians it clearly had no intention of keeping.
I can tell members that in my riding, even many who voted Liberal are seriously disappointed. They feel duped, betrayed, and beyond that. I am not going to use any unparliamentary language.
There are a few points I will mention about this budget. It is well known that the Liberal government has eliminated some of the targeted tax incentives enacted by the previous government. Let us call them what they are often called: boutique tax credits. Curiously, the Liberal government eliminated a tax credit that helped families with kids in fitness activities. It killed the tax credit that helped make public transit more affordable, and then it turned around and introduced a tax credit that helps teachers pay for school supplies.
It would be one thing to eliminate all targeted tax credits equally, but essentially, what the Liberal government is doing is sending a message that targeted tax credits are wrong if enacted by a Conservative government but okay if enacted by a Liberal one. That is just partisan politics at its worst.
Before I leave the topic, let me just say this. I have heard from some teachers, particularly those who teach at the elementary level, that this tax credit will help them, and that is a good thing. However, I have also heard from families and from those who are disabled that eliminating the children's fitness credit and the public transit tax credit will hurt them, and these are not good things. Some are actually shocked that the Liberals would cancel a tax credit designed to support public transit solely because of Liberal ideology, because we all know that increasing public transit use helps to decrease our carbon footprint. Of course, when it comes to doing that, we know that the present Liberal government only supports tax increases on carbon to make life less affordable for the same middle-class families it professes to want to help.
Another point I would like to raise is about the so-called infrastructure bank. This one, I will be frank, scares the heck out of me. I will explain why. We are hearing that the mandate for the infrastructure bank would be to fund only projects with a price tag of $100 million or more. There is not a single city in my riding, and I would submit, in the ridings of a large number of members in this place, that has the population base to support any project even close to that magnitude. About the only major cities in Canada that can support these types of projects just happen to be the ones that elected the most Liberals, and how convenient that is. The problem is that the small and smaller rural communities in ridings such as mine would have to help pay for them, and they are strongly opposed to that.
The Canadian Press reported that the finance minister admitted that global investors will only invest in large transformational projects that produce enough revenue from which they can earn a high rate of return on their investments. In other words, the Liberal government would be borrowing money it does not have, at reduced rates, so that Canadian taxpayers could finance and subsidize high rates of return for private international investors.
What is more disappointing about this scheme is that taxpayers in rural, smaller, and even mid-sized communities would be taking on this debt. They would be helping to pay the high interest to pay these private investors, and they would not even be eligible or able to afford the projects in question because of the pricey $100 million minimum price tag. Worse is that the Liberals would borrow roughly $32 billion to use as seed money for the creation of the investment bank. It is money that will not be spent on building infrastructure today in the very same municipalities that will not be able to participate in this expensive program.
The infrastructure bank, in my view, would be detrimental not just to my region but to many regions across this great country, and the person in charge of it is a finance minister who refuses to even say the words “balanced budget”. What could go wrong? Article after article I have read has come out opposed to the scheme. Comments range from it being not needed to being a disaster waiting to happen, but of course, the Liberals' attitude of “we know best” prevails.
I would be very curious to know how many Liberal MPs from smaller rural areas think the infrastructure bank is a great idea, because the citizens they represent would pay for it but would not benefit from it. As one senior citizen in my riding pointed out, the federal government used to sell Canada savings bonds to raise capital for things like building infrastructure and paid the interest to Canadians, so those returns stayed in Canada, but not anymore. Now the lucrative interest financed by Canadian taxpayers would instead be paid to big-league international players. I suppose that is helpful when one is a celebrity Prime Minister throwing taxpayer-financed parties in Davos with global elites. I will leave it to the Liberal members in this place to explain why they think that is a great idea.
There are other areas of concern I have with this budget implementation act. Yesterday morning, the parliamentary budget office issued its latest report. We know that the Liberal government is not happy with the PBO, who caught and exposed the Liberals for trying to hide the fact that they did indeed inherit a balanced budget from the previous government. Let us not forget that it was also a recent PBO report that revealed that the Liberals' promised infrastructure spending to date has largely been smoke and mirrors. What are the Liberals doing? In the words of the PBO, the Liberals are limiting “the PBO's ability to initiate reports and members' ability to request cost estimates of certain proposals”. Basically, the current so-called transparent Liberal government is going to restrict what the PBO can and cannot investigate.
It is no secret that the PBO has been a thorn in the side of government since the Conservatives created this critically important office. The former government had battles with the PBO, but unlike the current government, it never changed the rules to muzzle it.
A government is free to disagree with the PBO as much as the former government did, and it was justifiably scrutinized and held to account for doing so. However, we know that the Liberals realize that the optics of battling the PBO are not sunny enough. They are not sunny ways. The Liberals are, instead, muzzling him and limiting the scope of what can be scrutinized and who can authorize said scrutinizing.
The Liberal government has, increasingly, become known for saying one thing, typically in flowery language, but quietly doing the opposite. It is a sad state of affairs to see the Liberals being so sensitive to criticism and scrutiny that they resort to muzzling and manipulation.
It was quite something to recently see a former leader of the opposition point out that the former prime minister gave answers to questions without using platitudes and non-answers, as the current Prime Minister does. The muzzling of the PBO will only further destroy transparency and credibility, again fuelling the cynicism people have about our political system, something the government had promised to do differently.
It is important to recognize when we are actually becoming part of the problem. I understand that politicians will try to present in the best light, but they should, in presenting in the best light, actually shine on substance and then let the people decide.
The bottom line is that this Liberal budget implementation act is sending Canada in the wrong direction. We have massive amounts of new Liberal-created debt on the way, with no plan whatsoever for how and when it can be paid for. At the end of the day, all this newly created Liberal debt is going to have to be repaid, and it will be our kids and grandkids stuck with those bills, all at a time when we know that our demographics in Canada are changing. This was revealed yesterday. There are more older people than younger people in Canada, and we all know that many people are expecting to be supported by their government as they age. We are adding more debt for the very same people we are going to be asking to help those individuals as they age.
This is not something that just showed up. This is something we cannot put a positive spin on. We have this problem. The Japanese are ahead of us on this. We have to ask ourselves if we can continue to push our economy in a direction where we cannot pay the bills and will be pushing them onto fewer and fewer people.
The fact is that the fastest-growing segment in our society is those aged 65 and over. We know that in Canada, the ratio of those still in the workforce versus those who are retiring is changing and that 20 years from now, the number of those working is going to be much smaller than the number of those who are retired. That is why all expert evidence says that Canada needs to raise the age of eligibility for old age security, precisely as the previous government did, yet this so-called evidence-based decision-making Liberal government overturned that.
Briefly, I am looking for answers. I like accountability, but if the Liberals do not like the ideas of the previous government, they should put forward something, not just platitudes. That is why I support the Supreme Court case going ahead. It may be a chance for us to become not just a political unit but an economic one. It will help us offset these challenges as we age.
This is a great country, and it needs to stay great. It needs to stay great by remembering the founding principles of the Fathers of Confederation. They said that this country is built on hard work and sacrifice. Sacrifice should not be political sacrifice, where a good policy is eliminated just to get elected. Sure, all parties will dance close to that edge, but as a group, we need to start taking responsibility for where our country will be and what country our kids and grandkids will inherit.
I will be part of the solution, but I also need other members of Parliament to work with us to propose those solutions.
I will not simply oppose. There is lots to oppose in here. There are also some good things. However, we are going to have to do it in a way that, at the end of the day, gives us that solid footing to move forward. The government has yet to show it wants to take that step. In many ways it has taken us back.
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