Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join this important debate on the government's budgetary policy. I will be focusing my remarks on certain areas that I have not had a chance to discuss yet in previous speeches on the government's budgetary policy.
There is an evidence sense of unreality to the discussion coming from government members on this. We hear a lot about what the budget aims to do. The budget aims to do this and it aims to do that. Our complaint is not with the intentions of the budget. Our complaint is with the provisions in the budget. There are many cases in which there is this obvious dissonance between high-minded claims about what the budget aims to do and the substance of the provision. We just heard a good example of that. A member talked about small business in his riding and the important work it did, but then supported a budget that would raise taxes on small business and eliminate the hiring credit for small business. There is this evident dissonance here.
I had an opportunity to question the finance minister in committee of the whole last week. I asked three times, consecutively, if he believed that the government should eventually balance the budget at some point in the future. We did not get an answer to that question.
When the finance minister, who should know better, cannot even answer a direct question about whether it is important for a country to balance its budget at some point in the future, then we have a real problem with the seriousness of the plan. It is not a problem with intentions necessarily, but it is a problem with the seriousness of this so-called fiscal plan.
I want to talk about three specific things today. I want to talk about where economic growth really comes from. I want to talk about the impact of the budget on families. I want to speak about the impact of the budget on indigenous Canadians, specifically in the context of indigenous education.
We hear a lot about economic growth, and this comes back to the good intentions here. We hear the word “growth” used over and over again. Like so many of the words the government uses, especially in the context of budgetary policy, we have not ever heard it clearly defined. We do not hear the Liberals explain what they mean by growth and what exactly they plan to achieving in growth.
Economic growth is produced when there is an increase in the ability of society to provide for itself, when society grows in its economic means to provide for itself in terms of its wants and its need. Therefore, it is very closely linked to the concept of economic productivity, productivity being the rate of output given the input.
We often talk for example about labour productivity. As labour productivity increases, the amount of output that can be produced in a given hour of labour increases. That is really what creates economic growth. Economic growth is about finding ways of more productively using our time and our resources to produce more things that we can use to satisfy our wants and our needs. Fundamentally, foundationally it is about growth in productivity.
When the government thinks about trying to encourage economic growth, it should focus on productivity. The current government talks as if all that is required to increase growth is more government spending. Looking around the world, it is easy to see how there is no linear relationship at all between government spending and economic growth. Some countries do much better than others that have much lower levels of public spending. That is not to say the government does not have a role in identifying areas where productivity growth can occur, but it certainly is not in any sense linear.
From my perspective, there are a number of different things that facilitate increases in productivity, which is important for economic growth. One would be a more educated workforce, specifically though a workforce equipped with job-ready skills, and a marketplace that is well-equipped to commercialize knowledge that is produced.
That was why in 2007 our government came forward with a science and technology strategy that looked at ways of more effectively encouraging commercialization of knowledge. It was why we put an emphasis on encouraging the trades as well, because of the needed to have a workforce that was equipped with job-ready skills. That was important for productivity and economic growth.
Efficient transportation infrastructure is obviously an important part of that as well, both in education and infrastructure. These are areas where government spending can play a positive role. What is disappointing about the budget is the total abuse of the word “infrastructure”. The government redefines infrastructure to mean almost everything.
The minister confirmed in our discussion in committee of the whole that he believed child care was a form of infrastructure. Well, it is certainly not in the sense that economists traditionally define it. Transportation infrastructure obviously has a positive impact on productivity when it is well placed, well designed, and when it helps people get to and from work more quickly.
Productivity growth requires an economic system that provides significant returns on business innovation. Business innovation creates improvements in productivity, and therefore we need a system that creates incentives for that business innovation, things like relatively low business tax rates and benefits accruing to companies that choose to hire more people. That is why this budget would negatively impact productivity by effectively increasing the tax on small business by eliminating the hiring credit. These types of measures are not good for economic growth.
Economic growth requires a stable and predictable economic environment as well. People will invest in an economy that they have a reasonable expectation will do well over the long term. When we have extended periods of large budget deficits and we have the government going into deficit with no plan to get out of it when we are not in the midst of a recession, that clearly damages confidence and reduces the reason for investments in things that produce productivity growth.
We hear a lot about growth from the government, but we do not actually hear any discussion of those foundational constituent parts of growth, things like how we increase the productivity of our economy and how we increase the productivity of labour. These are things that the government should be thinking about in a more serious way, but the Liberals repeat this mantra that more government spending is somehow, absent of any clear connection or specificity in investment, going to lead to economic growth. That is a major concern I have with the plan of the Liberals.
I want to speak as well about the impact of the budget on families.
I believe in a simple principle with regard to family taxation. If two families are earning the same amount of money, then they should pay the same amount of tax. It would seem arbitrary and unreasonable, and therefore unfair, that we would have two families each earning the same family income but happen to pay different amounts of tax, simply by virtue of which people in the family are earning the income. That is why we brought in income splitting. It was an important tax cut, but it was also a measure to ensure tax fairness.
However, the government does not seem to agree with this principle of tax fairness. The Liberals would eliminate income splitting, having the effect of raising taxes on many families, but also now ensuring a system of unequal taxation where we have families that are earning the same income, yet paying different amounts of taxes, simply because of how they decide to divide child care responsibilities. Our view has always been that it should be up to families to make their own child care choices, and families should not face some kind of direct or indirect fiscal penalty because of the financial choices they make.
Of course, the Liberal changes would also remove universality of child care benefits. We think that is a problem. We think a universal taxable benefit made good sense. Of course, a taxable benefit is inherently more progressive because the more money one makes, the more tax one pays on it. It had that built-in progressivity to it, but it was still designed to ensure that everyone had something to benefit from.
I want to speak briefly about the impact of the budget on indigenous Canadians. This budget would spend a significant amount of new money, but it does not come with the kinds of measures that are necessary to ensure the success of those investments, especially as it pertains to education.
We have a core problem when it comes to education in aboriginal communities. Unlike in every province across the country, on-reserve first nations education does not have legislated educational standards and a legislated mandate for core curriculum. It does not require that schools award a recognized provincial diploma. That is a problem. It is a problem when we do not have those structures in place to ensure that there can be a seamless transition between a school on a reserve and a school off a reserve. These are the kinds of measures, the kind of collaborative structuring of the system, improvements to accountability, that would make a real concrete different. We think those kinds of changes should, and could, be accompanied by increased investment. However, the government has put in new money but does not actually have an effective plan to improve the system at all.
Those are a number of reasons, and there are many more I could list, why I am very concerned about this budget, and I will be opposing it.