Madam Speaker, I apologize.
The Liberals spent so freely before the pandemic that instead of being prepared for the possibility of an economic downturn, and economies are always cyclical, the cupboards were bare long before the first case of COVID–19 was known.
The pandemic has demanded more spending, but it should also demand transparency and explanations as spending priorities are rolled out. Workable solutions that benefit the most needy and support the survival of Canadian small businesses, new and established, should be at the top of the list.
The Liberal government racked up a $381-billion deficit in 2020. This deficit equalled 17% of our GDP, which made for a higher debt-to-GDP ratio than we realized in World War I, the Great Depression or the great recession.
With the addition of this $381-billion deficit to our balance sheet, our national debt recently surpassed a tragic milestone, a debt of $1 trillion, which is a first for Canada. That is $1,000 billion for those counting. This all from the party whose leader famously stated, “The budget will balance itself”.
While these numbers may seem too big to comprehend, let me speak plainly. This is money that we, the taxpayers of Canada, collectively owe. It is debt that accrues interest each and every day. It is money that we have an obligation to repay, that our children will be on the hook for, and in all likelihood, that our children’s children, such as one-year-old Avery, will be paying off decades from now. Is this to be our legacy? We can and must do better.
What does all this debt really mean for Canadians? It is not just a number on a balance sheet somewhere. It means that Canadians could face higher taxes to pay down the debt and its interest, taxes that could further stifle the economy. It means the social supports and programs that many Canadians rely on could falter. It means that we could face another economic crisis with decreases in the value of homes, a declining stock market, loss of people’s savings, reduced pension values and the rise in unemployment lasting far longer than was necessary.
I hope members on both sides of the aisle recognize the human toll that another financial crisis would have on mental health, substance abuse, depression, domestic violence and homelessness. These are tragedies that are unfolding around us, which have already increased at alarming rates this past year. They are issues that my constituents and I feel deeply about, and that we are already studying at the justice committee, of which I am a member.
That takes me to where we are. Finally, at the end of 2020, after months of calls from our side of the House for a comprehensive budget to show Canadians where their tax dollars, and all this debt-financed spending, is being spent, the Liberals gave Canadians a “budget lite” and a “budget really lite”, which they called their fiscal update. That fiscal update included a proposed $25 billion in new spending measures and a $100-billion stimulus plan, but again, few details about how the money would be spent, or how and when it would be paid for.
The day after it was presented in the House of Commons, the deputy minister of finance, the highest-ranking bureaucrat in the government’s finance ministry, abruptly announced his resignation. We can add this to the growing list of high-profile resignations under the government, which now includes the following: Julie Payette, the former governor general; Bill Morneau, the former minister of finance; Jane Philpott, the former president of the Treasury Board; the member for Vancouver Granville, who served as the minister of justice and attorney general; Michael Wernick, the former clerk of the Privy Council; Gerald Butts, the former principal secretary to the Prime Minister; and the member for Mississauga—Malton, who served as the minister of innovation, science and industry.
To replace the deputy minister of finance, the Liberals appointed Michael Sabia, an architect behind the GST, which was introduced in the 1990s. That tax was later lowered by the Harper-led government, thanks to sound financial management. Does Mr. Sabia's appointment signal to Canadians that the Liberals plan to raise taxes? Will the government really start taxing the equity in Canadian home ownership, as is being widely reported? Only time will tell.
One thing I know for certain, as an MP and as the former minister of national revenue, is that the lack of a federal budget is simply unacceptable. The budget is not just a planning tool for the government. It is the means by which the government announces in detail to Canadians from coast to coast to coast what it plans to do with billions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
According to the government's own website:
The Budget is a blueprint for how the Government wants to set the annual economic agenda for Canada. And it's the job of the Department of Finance to prepare it.
The last federal budget was presented on March 19, 2019. That was 686 days ago. So much for an annual budget. So much for promised transparency.
As for some of the specifics Canadians were given, the most troubling part of the bill before us is the amendment it proposes to the Borrowing Authority Act. This amendment seeks to increase the government's maximum borrowing authority from $1.1 trillion to $1.8 trillion, a new maximum limit on the nation's credit card. This sets another record, as it is the biggest increase in borrowing authority ever sought in our nation's history. I ask members to let that sink in for a moment. It is more than in World War II or past global recessions.
At this point, why should Canadians trust the government? We have all seen the headlines, which include: “CRA admits ‘unclear’ CERB communications led to mistaken applications”; “CERB repayment frustration continues”; “More than $636M in CERB benefits paid to 300,000 teens aged 15 to 17, documents show”; “Troubled pandemic rent subsidy program expires today – and there’s no replacement ready”; “Exclusive golf course books $1 million surplus, aided by federal COVID-19 relief”; and “$150 million more to SNC-Lavalin.” Really? The SNC-Lavalin that is mired in scandal and ethical challenges?
Conservatives want to help Canadians make ends meet. They recognize that the virus has affected millions of Canadians in a variety of ways, my family included. I know far too many constituents who have been laid off in the hospitality sector, tourism industry and retail businesses. I have heard from countless South Surrey—White Rock business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open. Throughout the riding, our once bustling restaurant and shopping scene, including many shops along our picturesque White Rock Pier, are enduring catastrophic drops in patronage and revenue, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Our airline industry, which employs many in my riding, is hemorrhaging. Of course I am in favour of the emergency response benefit, the wage subsidy, and the emergency business account, but we need to ensure these programs are rolled out correctly, and that funds are timely, spent effectively, and spent in Canada to help Canadians.
We need to ensure that through these billions of dollars in spending, no Canadian is left behind. So far, that is not what we have seen. There are many new businesses in my community whose investments were all made before the pandemic hit that are not eligible for current subsidy programs because they opened their doors after March 2020. Who is looking out for them?
Given the astronomical size of our country’s debt, we really cannot afford to get this recovery wrong. We need to spend, but to spend responsibly. We need transparency and we need a true, comprehensive budget. More than anything, we need to get Canadians back to work and a clear roadmap to recovery.