The House resumed from April 2, 2014, consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to limit my speech to just 15 minutes because this is a huge bill—it is over 350 pages long. It is hard to cover and explain everything in it. It is complicated and huge and fundamentally anti-democratic. I have plenty of quotes from the Prime Minister and other Conservatives who used to say that omnibus bills like this one were disastrous and tragic for Parliament.
We have learned to call these “ominous” budget bills because, while technically omnibus in nature, what we see in these 350 pages, with over 500 clauses and 40 laws being changed in this one act alone, is the Conservatives continuing down their very anti-democratic path of fundamentally disrespecting Parliament and the institutions. We see it in the unfair elections act, and we also see it in the next omnibus bill, Bill C-31, which contains so many aspects that it is difficult to cover in the short time we have.
Before politics, I was a small business owner. The riding I represent in northwestern British Columbia is both rural and resource sector based. I bring those experiences to bear as the finance critic for the official opposition. Therefore, my orientation toward matters of the economy, financial affairs, and the budget is based on those small and medium-sized businesses, which are at the very heart of our economy, providing more than 70% of all new jobs. At the heart of our economy lies the resource sector. Virtually 80% of the equity traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange relies on the resource sector of Canada, that natural wealth and endowment. Therefore, one wonders, while casting through the hundreds of pages in this omnibus bill, exactly what the government has done to help the resource sector, small and medium businesses, and the overall fragility of the Canadian economy.
Canada right now sits at a crossroads. Four hundred thousand manufacturing jobs have been lost and not replaced since the government took power. Three hundred thousand net jobs have been lost since it took over that have also not been replaced. Personal household debts are at record highs.
The trade deficit hitting $45 billion is now seen as a casual event; a country like Canada having massive trade deficits with our trading partners presents no problems or concerns to the government. We are a trading nation. We are not trading well right now, and the government seems not occupied with that. The Bank of Canada, the IMF, and the former finance minister have decried the half-trillion dollars of dead money sitting in our economy that is not being used by the private sector. It is simply because, when the government hands over its corporate tax cuts, they come with no strings attached. Its ideological drive, that all tax cuts must directly and implicitly lead to job creation, has shown not to be true in this case.
According to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 85% of the jobs created last year alone were created in short-term, temporary, part-time jobs. These are not our numbers. These are numbers gathered by the business community in Canada. We have seen the government blow open the temporary foreign worker program. More than 300,000 temporary foreign workers went to work this morning in Canada. That has a dual effect. It replaces Canadian workers who were training to do those jobs. I had a phone call from a young woman this morning. She is fully ticketed. She has gone through all the programs, has taken out student loans, is ready to work in the resource sector, and cannot find work because the contractor working on the gas pipeline operation has hired temporary foreign workers from all over the world. She is frustrated. She is trying to pay the bills, and the government turns a blind eye. We saw it with the HD Mining case in British Columbia. Two hundred workers were needed to work in the mine. The way the company got around the small barriers that the Conservatives put up was to say workers must be fully ticketed to work in a mining operation and fluent in Mandarin. That was a requirement that was somewhat difficult to meet in the Canadian labour force market. The employer said they could not find 200 fluent Mandarin-speaking miners in Canada, so they would need a temporary foreign worker licence permit, which the government happily granted with no conditions attached, until it became public; then there was obvious backlash. Then the Prime Minister went with the ethnic media in Vancouver. We have all sorts of criticisms about the temporary foreign worker program, but just to one section of the media; it has never since repeated those criticisms out loud.
Royal Bank of Canada laid off workers and replaced them with temporary foreign workers. We have seen 300 welders recently laid off in Alberta and replaced with temporary foreign workers. The resource wealth that we are endowed with deserves to be respected.
Let us review the six principles of how to properly develop the oil wealth in Alberta, put forward by that lefty radical, former premier Lougheed. Let us review what this radical had to say.
The first principle is “[act] like an owner”. Is the current government doing that when it comes to resource wealth? Not at all.
Second, he said, is “[get] your fair share”. Particularly when it comes to natural resources, like oil, which cannot be replenished, one only gets to do it once. If they do not collect their fair share, it is a missed opportunity.
The third principle is “Save for a rainy day”. Can members imagine what former premier Lougheed would have said about Conservatives, who have not only accrued the largest debt in Canadian history, but they also have the record for our two largest deficits and adding to our largest national debt ever?
The fourth principle that former Premier Lougheed talked about is “[adding] value” to the resources. What do the Conservatives push? They are pushing raw bitumen pipelines. What do they allow? They allow raw log exports. What they allow for is not adding value to the mineral wealth of this country. We know that is where the greatest gain in jobs can be. For those Conservatives who represent parts of Saskatchewan and British Columbia and Alberta, one has to wonder about all those jobs that have been foregone by their policies. All of those jobs and opportunities are lost, and all those families who could be paying the rent and helping to raise kids on those value-added jobs are lost.
Fifth, former Premier Lougheed also said “Go slow”. Why? Because we see what the boom can do; it always leads to a bust. The former MP for Fort McMurray, Brian Jean, on his way out the door of this place, said that the main problem in the oil patch in northern Alberta is that we are going too fast. We see that those are wise words and correct, if one visits Fort McMurray and talks to the workers and the municipal leaders there. It is a bit of a shame that he only found that conscience when he was leaving Parliament and the Conservative caucus. He did not say it when he was here. I know that many Conservatives also share his views.
The sixth and last thing that former premier Lougheed said was “Practice statecraft”. What do we have from the current government when it comes to developing our economy and natural resource wealth? The Conservatives encourage conflict. They yell and scream at opponents and call them enemies of this state if they do not agree with Conservative ideology. They say that they must be foreign-funded radicals. They get into their “grassy knoll” theories over there in the Conservative Party, saying that this must be the problem.
However, here is the result of all that conflict and tension among Canadians and between first nations and the Government of Canada, which the current government has exacerbated time and again. It leads to uncertainty. Whatever the sector, whether the resource sector or the banking sector, uncertainty is a serious problem. It is impossible to plan if people within companies and industries do not feel they have any certainty. What the Conservatives have ironically and tragically done through their abusive and bullying approach to the conversation in Canada has increased the level of uncertainty and conflict.
Let us look at Bill C-31. Let us deal with what is in it. I can quickly walk through some of the positive measures because there are not many of them.
The government has finally reversed its policy on charging the GST on parking when visiting a hospital. It was something that the Conservatives put in the budget. We told them to take it out, and they listened for once. The Conservatives have also extended some tax credits for families who are seeking adoption. We think this is a very positive thing. They have also introduced another proposal that we put forward to allow for a tax credit for volunteers conducting search and rescue. We think that is very important. It is a small measure, but for those who risk their lives to protect Canadians, we think it is a good measure.
Now, let us get to the bad things that are in Bill C-31.
Let us start with the first one, FATCA. What a great deal it is that is buried in this bill. One would think that something like a major tax treaty with our most significant trading partner would have stand-alone legislation and its own debate. That is not so with the Conservatives; they bury it. When they bury something and they release it, as they did on a Friday afternoon when they released this bill, one can anticipate that there is something they do not want to talk about. We estimate that more than one million Canadians may be affected by this tax treaty. They are Canadians who do not even know they may be implicated by this by being married to an American or former American. They are Canadians who were born to American parents. Canadians who were born here may be implicated by this.
What this deal would do is to tell the banks in Canada to release the private personal banking information of those Canadians to the Canada Revenue Agency, which then ably and quickly would pass it along to the IRS in the United States. Passing the private banking information of more than one million Canadians to the U.S. government somehow does not seem to bother the Conservatives. There were no consultations with the Privacy Commissioner. They told the Privacy Commissioner it was happening, but did not bother to find out if it went against privacy laws in Canada.
We do not know if this is even charter proof. Constitutional lawyers have said that this is a mistreatment of Canadian citizens and it will face a charter challenge. Again, there were no charter questions. The banks have estimated that to collect this information may cost upward of $100 million. Some have already spent tens of millions of dollars; it is hard information to get at. We asked the government how much it would cost it to wade through these millions of documents and pieces of banking information, and the government said it had no estimate, that it does not know what it is going to cost. The banks have said it would cost upward of $100 million per bank.
The federal government signed this treaty and did not bother to find out what it might cost the Canadian taxpayer. In addition, there is no reciprocity. There is no agreement with the U.S. to have some sort of equal treatment of Canadians. Canada is not a tax haven for American money. It has never been described as such. Why institute a tax treaty to go after tax cheats and tax havens that do not exist? Why forego the privacy of so many Canadians?
What fight did the Conservatives actually do? The Minister of Finance wrote an op-ed. He did, and it was strongly worded. He put it into a couple of papers in Washington, and that was it. Compare that with the government having spent millions of dollars toward lobbying the U.S. government on Keystone. It has spent millions on a full-scale frontal attack. The Prime Minister said that if the U.S. does not agree, this is a no-brainer, and we will wait the president out. Was this all that could be done in diplomacy?
We spent millions, and are spending millions of dollars on diplomats running around Washington trying to convince the Americans to create 40,000 jobs in the U.S. to add value to the bitumen coming out of the oil patch in Alberta. Who came up with that number? The Canadian government did, when trying to convince American legislators. Compare that full-on assault in trying to convince people in Washington to do something, to an op-ed, when they were standing up for Canadians' rights. It is a no-brainer. This is bad policy to sell out Canadians at such a cheap level. There is so much more in this bill.
What is not in this bill is the consumer protection that the government so often talks about. The fact that people have to pay to get their bills from companies is not in this legislation; it was in the throne speech. It said it would go after payday lenders because it is extortion. It was talked about in the throne speech, but it is absent in Bill C-31.
On the passenger bill of rights, do members remember that one? The Conservatives had the industry minister talk about the passenger bill of rights. It is not in the bill. There is the small business hiring tax credit, something that New Democrats proposed in 2011 and the government incorporated into two subsequent budgets. According to small and medium-sized businesses, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, it works as an effective tax measure in creating jobs. Unlike the government's broad, blunt attacks on tax, it works, and the government left it out. When asked why, it did not respond and continued.
Last, on temporary foreign workers, there is a piece in the bill that is meant to punish employers who abuse the temporary foreign worker program. The government has a blacklist. It has had a blacklist, for two years, for employers who abuse the system. Who is on the blacklist? There is nobody, not a single employer. The Alberta government has cited over 100 employers who have abused the program, and the government cannot find one.
In summation, I will move the following amendment. However, allow me to say this. In the process that the government is using, this is fundamentally anti-democratic. It fundamentally does not help the Canadian economy, and it is more bad news for the Canadian people. I move:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
||this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures, because it:
||(a) amends more than 60 Acts without adequate parliamentary debate and oversight;
||(b) does nothing to create quality, good-paying jobs for Canadians and fails to extend the hiring credit for small business;
||(c) fails to reverse devastating cuts to infrastructure and healthcare;
||(d) hands over private financial information of hundreds of thousands of Canadians to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service under Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act;
||(e) reduces transparency at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency;
||(f) imposes tolls on the Champlain Bridge;
||(g) jeopardizes the independence of 11 federal administrative tribunals; and
||(h) enables the government to weaken regulations affecting rail safety and the transport of dangerous goods without notifying the public.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31. This is the Conservatives' first bill to implement budget 2014. It is again another massive omnibus budget bill. It is 359 pages in length, with almost 500 separate clauses.
This bill includes a host of measures that have nothing to do with a budget bill in an effort to limit debate on important issues. Completely unrelated measures are grouped together in a single bill. The Conservatives chose this route in order to adopt these measures quickly and avoid having them reviewed by Parliament.
The inconsistency, and some would say hypocrisy, that the government is demonstrating is exemplified by the Prime Minister's own words as an opposition MP. I heard my colleague for Skeena—Bulkley Valley refer to this quotation a few minutes ago.
In 1994, the Prime Minister, as an opposition MP, said in this House:
||...in the interest of democracy, I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
|| We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?
He went on to say:
|| The bill contains many distinct proposals and principles and asking members to provide simple answers to such complex questions is in contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House. ... I would also ask government members...to give serious consideration to this issue of democracy....
The Liberal omnibus legislation that the then opposition member, now Prime Minister, was talking about at that time in 1994 was 21 pages in length and altered 11 pieces of legislation. That is a far cry from the 359-page document that lies before us today.
I cannot for the life of me understand how the Prime Minister, and others who were part of that Reform movement at that time, could live with themselves today when what they are doing goes far deeper against the principles that they articulated at that time.
The Conservatives are continuing their reckless abuse of power by using these huge omnibus bills and underhanded procedural manoeuvres to force these policies through. They are ignoring public outcry from coast to coast to coast. They are also potentially creating bad public policy, because the committees, wherein greater expertise lies and which ought to be considering and ultimately voting on these pieces of legislation, are being cut out of the discussion. Perhaps there is some level of engagement of committees when it comes to the evaluation of the legislation, but not at the critical points at which we vote at committee to pass these pieces of legislation.
We are being asked to consider measures, for instance, of compassionate leave, sickness benefits, search and rescue volunteers tax credits, expansion of the adoption expense tax credit, and medical expense tax credits. We would actually be quite supportive of many of these measures as individual measures, and it is unfortunate that these positive measures are being lumped together with some very unreasonable and harmful and regressive measures that we cannot support.
The bill also includes new rules around FATCA, the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Under the bill, Canadians effectively are going to be doing the dirty work and becoming tax collectors for the IRS. Canada-U.S. dual citizens are going to be punished if they do not provide their U.S. tax number to the CRA.
If these Canadians provide their U.S. tax numbers, the Canadian government will hand over all this information, together with information on the Canadians' bank accounts, to the U.S. This will help the U.S. collect tax on registered Canadian savings accounts, including RDSPs, registered disability savings plans; RESPs, registered education savings plans; and tax free savings accounts.
The other night when we were at the briefing by the Finance Canada public servants, they could not answer a very simple question, and that was whether the contributions made to RDSPs and RESPs by the Canadian government as matching grants would be considered taxable by the Americans. They could not answer that basic question.
It was never the public policy intention of RDSPs and RESPs to subsidize the American treasury. They are for helping Canadian families with members with disabilities and for helping young Canadians get good educations. Yet the Conservatives are incapable of answering that question. They have not stood up for Canadian interests during these negotiations.
The budget bill would also change rules around rail safety, food safety, and hazardous products.
It would centralize control over regional development in my part of the country and ACOA. It would take away the authority of regional boards in ACOA. It would dissolve those boards and move all the decision-making to Ottawa. It would dissolve ECBC without real consultation with communities, again centralizing decision-making in Ottawa on matters on which Atlantic Canadians, frankly, may have greater expertise and understanding.
The bill would also change the number of federal judges. We would think the government would have learned something from the Nadon fiasco. Ultimately, one of the casualties of previous budget implementation bills was the government's credibility when it came to the appointment of Supreme Court justices. Members will recall that it was in a previous budget implementation act that the government changed the legislation, the Supreme Court Act, with regard to the appointment of judges to try to facilitate the appointment of Justice Nadon. We know how that ended up. It did not end well. The Supreme Court refused to go along with the government on that.
That is the kind of bad public policy outcome we have when we force all these unrelated measures through the House in an omnibus budget bill of this scale.
I want to talk a little bit about what is not in Bill C-31. There is very little in this piece of legislation to address some of the most serious concerns facing Canadian families today. There is little in the bill that would actually help struggling middle-class families who are having difficulty making ends meet. Conservatives have failed to recognize that large groups within the Canadian economy and society are being left out of this so-called economic recovery.
In my part of Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley, Stats Canada, which tracks unemployment and employment and labour figures, gives some very telling data. I represent Hants County, Kings County, and Annapolis County. Hants, Kings, and Annapolis are represented by me and the member for West Nova.
Since the recession, residents in this part of Nova Scotia have seen good-paying, full-time jobs replaced by temporary and part-time work. That data is laid out for us by Stats Canada. We have seen part-time jobs increase by 1,700. In the same period, the region has lost 9,800 full-time jobs. The percentage of residents in the area who are of working age and have a job, which is labour market participation, has plummeted from 61.6% to 54%.
This is what is happening in my part of Nova Scotia. We are seeing it in families. We are seeing it in small businesses.
We are seeing real economic challenges. The government seems out of touch when it talks about this recovery as if it were a monolithic recovery that is affecting and helping people in all regions of the country, because there are groups that are simply being left behind. A lot of families are struggling just to get by.
These Canadians are tired of the uncertainty. They are tired of struggling to find work to try to make ends meet when they have lost full-time jobs and have had to replace them with part-time work. They are facing record levels of personal debt. The average household in Canada now owes a record $1.66 for every $1 of disposable income. Instead of using this budget to help address some of these challenging needs of middle-class families, Conservatives continue to ignore them.
In the previous four Conservative budgets, the Conservatives actually raised taxes on hard-working Canadian families. Budget 2013 actually raised taxes on imported goods, everything from household goods to wigs for cancer patients. Sadly, the Conservatives raised taxes because they needed the money to cover for their waste and mismanagement. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, and millions to advertise a jobs program that did not even exist. Meanwhile, the middle class is struggling under record levels of personal debt, and the Conservatives are raising taxes on it just to support its own profligacy and wasteful spending on advertising.
Canadian youth are struggling. This bill ignores the unemployment and underemployment challenges of young Canadians. Due to Conservative inaction on youth unemployment and underemployment, we risk losing a generation of potential. We will feel the economic consequences of this disinterest in young Canadians for decades.
For young Canadians, there are 265,000 fewer jobs than there were before the downturn. TD Economics has estimated that prolonged high levels of unemployment and underemployment among young Canadians will cost the Canadian economy $23 billion.
For those who like to argue that youth unemployment is always bad following a recession, it is time to look beyond the simple unemployment rate and examine the whole story. For example, the gap between Canada's youth unemployment and adult unemployment has recently reached an all-time high. Our young people are simply being left out of this so-called recovery.
What is more, the unemployment rate does not reflect the fact that some young people are so discouraged that they are not even looking for work any more.
Students are having a harder time finding summer work. Many of them are taking unpaid internships just for work experience. A lack of paid work means that students are graduating from university with high levels of debt. The need today for government intervention and summer jobs, post-recession, is actually greater than it was before the downturn, yet the Canada summer jobs program last summer created half the number of summer jobs it did back in 2005.
The need is greater today, and the government is doing half as much to create jobs for students during the summer.
This is not just affecting young Canadians. It is affecting parents, and in many cases grandparents, who are footing the bills. According to TD Bank, more than half of baby boom parents are providing financial support to adult children who are no longer in school. It is nearly half, and 43% have allowed their adult children to live at home, rent-free, for extended periods of time.
Helping adult children make ends meet is actually leading a lot of middle-class families into greater levels of debt. They are dipping into retirement savings. It is also one of the reasons Canadian parents 55 years of age and older with children are more likely than those without children to refinance their mortgages. Their average household debt is actually twice that of their childless peers. They are more likely to take on higher non-mortgage debt, such as higher credit card debt and lines of credit, which is one of the reasons non-mortgage debt in Canada continues to climb. The average Canadian owes $28,000 in non-mortgage debt today. That is a record high.
There are too many young Canadians looking for work and there are too many middle-class Canadian families struggling under crushing levels of personal debt. The bill would do little to help Canadian youth or middle-class families and offers no real vision for the future.
I would like to speak again about something in this budget implementation act, and these are the measures regarding FATCA. The Conservatives want to actually turn Canadians into American tax collectors through this budget implementation bill. Earlier this year, when the Conservatives signed an intergovernmental agreement with the U.S. to implement FATCA, we had hoped that some of the concerns we had would be addressed.
Canada and the U.S. had previously achieved an agreement to exchange information on suspected tax cheats, but FATCA goes a step further than any other tax-sharing legislation has. It requires Canadian banks to give the CRA the account information of every U.S. citizen living in Canada. The CRA will then give this information to the IRS, and those U.S. persons will have to file taxes in the U.S.
The problem is that there are many U.S. citizens living in Canada, and they do not even know that they are considered Americans for tax purposes. These include any person born in the U.S. or born to an American parent, even if they have not lived in the U.S. since they were toddlers. The Canadian government has agreed to help the IRS find these individuals.
This will also affect Canadians who are not even U.S. citizens but are married to one, because their joint accounts will now be reported to the IRS. This is a remarkable breach of Canadians' privacy by their own government. Not only will the CRA provide the IRS information with tax identification information and the account balances of U.S. persons without their knowledge, it will impose a $100 penalty for each instance of non-compliance. Why are Conservatives prepared to do Uncle Sam's work in this case and potentially penalize Canadians with dual citizenship or their Canadian spouses?
U.S. persons living in Canada would be required to report and pay taxes to the U.S. on their RDSPs and RESPs. These accounts are supposed to help Canadians pay for education or help disabled Canadians avoid poverty. The Canadian government money was not intended to be used to subsidize the U.S. treasury. Why are the Conservatives allowing this to happen, when it so clearly is inconsistent with the objectives of RDSPs and RESPs?
The other night, as I mentioned earlier today, we asked the public servants at the briefing whether Canadian government contributions, the matching grants to RESPs and RDSPs, would be considered taxable by the Americans, by the IRS. They could not answer the question. The idea that we would sign an agreement when we do not know something as basic as this speaks to the way the government has lost influence, power, and authority in negotiating with the Americans.
The FATCA agreement is very important, and it should be a stand-alone piece of legislation. We should be doing a more thorough evaluation of the agreement the government has signed, and it should not be part of a budget implementation bill, an omnibus bill. Constitutional law experts such as Peter Hogg have raised concerns about whether the agreement violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are real issues around this that will be given short shrift through the process by which a budget implementation act, which is such a massive omnibus bill, has been given to Parliament.
There are also provisions in this budget implement act for demutualization. I have heard from insurance providers in Nova Scotia who worry that these changes potentially will hurt rural Canadians. Even the government's own report on demutualization tells us, quote:
|| Concerns were expressed that demutualization could lead to consolidation, reduce competition, access to services, and weaken ties to rural communities in which most mutual companies are based.
Again, measures on demutualization are something we need to consider more thoroughly.
What is clear is that this tired, out-of-touch Conservative government is devoid of vision and ideas. It is not just anti-democratic; it is totally out of touch with young Canadians and struggling middle-class families. Canadians deserve better.
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-31, economic action plan 2014, no. 1.
I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook.
As the bill's short title would indicate, this piece of legislation would implement some of the measures passed in economic action plan 2014.
I have noted through the years that my opposition colleagues take exception to the term “economic action plan”. They are welcome to. While they are concerned with titles and labels, we on this side of the House are concerned with action on jobs, long-term growth, and continued prosperity for all Canadians. We have focused on reducing taxes for all Canadians; lowering government debt; increasing competition in the Canadian marketplace; creating the best educated, most highly skilled, and flexible workforce in the world; and building the modern infrastructure that we need to compete abroad and enjoy living in livable communities at home.
These priorities were outlined in our first mandate in a document I would encourage all MPs to read. All Canadians would benefit from doing so. It is called “Advantage Canada”. It is available on the Department of Finance website. That document was written in better times, before the global recession. While times have changed, our priorities have not.
In the intervening years we have weathered the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression, but we stuck to our priorities, the priorities that Canadians elected us to address. Our commitment to that course has paid dividends for Canada. In every way that Canadians pay taxes, whether sales tax, income tax, or customs and tariffs, this government has lowered them.
We are now poised to return to a surplus fiscal position. I cannot over-emphasize how important it is that we return to this balanced budget and reduce our long-term debt charges.
We have reduced unnecessary regulations. We have made progress in cutting red tape. We have concluded major free trade agreements. We have invested an unprecedented amount in our post-secondary institutions and the skilled trades. Right across this great country, Canadians have seen their local infrastructure renewed, from wastewater facilities to community centres. Locally, this has meant unprecedented investments in Wilfrid Laurier University, my alma mater, as well as the world-renowned University of Waterloo and Canada's top polytechnic institute, Conestoga College.
New computer science and engineering facilities provide students the best environment to learn. Many of these students will become graduates who want to start one of the high-tech businesses for which Waterloo region is so well known. When they do, they can take advantage of the federally supported new Communitech Hub, which offers the latest technologies for their use as experts in building high-tech businesses.
When we talk about high-tech businesses, what we will build is beyond our imagination. Quantum computing and nanotechnology are just two of the bleeding-edge fields now being pursued thanks to significant support from this government. When I say it is beyond our ability to imagine, I clearly remember, when I was a school board trustee back in 1978, that the computer housed in the school board offices was huge. It occupied almost a full room. Today we can compute far more than that on these little devices we hold in our hands, which each one of us in the House is privileged to use. Not only will those kinds of technology advancements from 1978 increase again, but they may also possibly double or triple in quantity.
Community centres from St. Clements to Kitchener have been built or renovated. Highway 8, our connection to Highway 401, has had its capacity increased to handle the increased volume that comes with our region's explosive growth.
We have done all of this during the worst times the world has seen since World War II, while reducing taxes for Canadians, and without cutting support for health care or education like the previous government did.
Canada has outperformed every other G7 country in job creation thanks to this government's commitment to long-term prosperity, as identified in the five priorities I listed earlier. Canadians have also experienced the strongest real per capita growth in the G7.
As chair of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, I am especially proud of the key investments our government has made to protect and preserve our natural habitats. This government has invested over $17 billion in clean transportation initiatives, renewable fuels, clean air, clean energy, energy efficiency, and green infrastructure. This bill would build on that legacy, making it easier and more affordable for Canadians to donate ecologically sensitive lands for preservation.
As I mentioned earlier, this budget would put us within a hair's breadth of a return to surplus. In our party, this is important. The leader of the third party claimed that budgets will simply balance themselves. While Canadians of a certain generation will remember that Pierre Trudeau had a similarly cavalier attitude toward budgets, many more Canadians will remember the painful actions it took to clean up the mess that Trudeau left. The truth is that it took decades for Canada to dig itself out of the hole that Trudeau left. If budgets balance themselves, why is the United States unable to do so; why is the Wynne government in my home province of Ontario unable to balance its books? Deficits and debts out of control, that is Pierre Trudeau's fiscal legacy.
Now, the leader of the third party wants to bring us back to that. We on this side of the House are preparing for a brighter future, not a return to the dark days of deficits and debts spiralling out of control. Not only were they spiralling out of control, but they were also followed by very drastic cuts to health care and education, which many people in this room and many, especially in Ontario, will still remember with a great deal of pain.
On this side of the House, and among a few members on that side—not today but usually—we believe in fiscal discipline. A balanced budget allows us to spend more of the tax dollars that we collect to serve Canadians, and means less for the bankers and bondholders who fund that debt. When the government borrows less, interest rates drop for Canadians who are seeking to borrow for a home or a car, and for provincial governments like my own that seem addicted to spending the money they do not have. That is our vision. Unlike the third party, we will not mortgage our children's and grandchildren's future in a vote-buying exercise.
We focus instead on the fundamentals. This act would make it easier for small businesses to grow and hire by reducing the amount of time and resources they must devote to administrivia, allowing them instead to focus on their business.
This act would make life a little easier for Canadians struggling with health issues, by making the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act more flexible for employees, and allowing compassionate care leave for employees with critically ill children.
As well, this act addresses an issue that has so infuriated Canadians of late. We have seen senators accused of serious irregularities being suspended by their peers. They have no staff, no offices, no responsibility, but they are still accumulating pensionable service. To average Canadians, the middle-class Canadians the third party struggles so hard to define, this does not reflect any reality they have ever experienced.
In my home of Waterloo Region, business people tell me that they cannot access the talent they need. This act would make it easier for Canadians to pursue a skilled trade by offering financial assistance to apprentices. These business people also tell me that the current system of training is broken, focused on filling seats and not on producing results. I was especially pleased when members of the Ontario government finally agreed to participate in the Canada jobs grant program.
We are focused on jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity. The budget this act would implement will move us further toward those goals. By every measure, under this government Canada's economy has outperformed the world.
I know that the members opposite are screaming from the rooftops that this budget is the end of the world. They have been sticking to that Chicken Little routine every budget since Canadians first gave us the responsibility of governing, but they have been wrong every year and are wrong again. They are again wrong this time, and the evidence is that our approach is working. I ask the members opposite, especially those who have served more than one term, to listen to themselves, review what they predicted about previous budgets, and then review what happened, to see how wrong they have been year after year. I do not have time to go into all of the evidence, but maybe during the questions I will.
Under this government, Canada has led the world. That may be an uncomfortable fact for the opposition members, but it is a fact they cannot deny.
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West—Glanbrook, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to highlight several features of budget 2014. Each year we bring out a new budget with new particulars but with the same steady principles and long-term priorities. We have looked at our economic circumstances and listened to Canadians and we know that they support our government's continued efforts to secure jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity.
This government is proud to serve Canadians in both domestic and international affairs. On the domestic side, I would like to speak to specific job-creating and economic measures as well as our low-tax plan on the road to balance. Moving to international issues, I hope to address economic immigration, free trade agreements, and Canada's relationship with the United States.
Allow me to start with an issue that is near and dear to all Canadians: jobs. Our government knows that Canadians are willing to work hard to get ahead, but we recognize the gap between the demand for skilled work positions and our current graduates and trainees. We are taking action to address these challenges. We would encourage students to enter the skilled trades by making interest-free loans available for Red Seal apprentice programs. Apprentices would be able to get interest-free loans of up to $4,000 per technical training period.
Our government is committed to workers who have lost their jobs and those who need retraining. Economic action plan 2013 introduced the Canada job grant to address this very issue. The grant would go toward training Canadians for jobs in high-demand fields and will be fully implemented in fiscal year 2017. The plan is to invest $300 million in the new program from the existing $500 million labour market agreements with the provinces. Budget 2014 would continue this implementation process.
In addition to training Canadians for available jobs, we are making it easier for businesses to hire them. As a member of the Red Tape Reduction Commission, I am pleased to say that this government would now implement another one of its recommendations. We would cut the administrative burden on more than 50,000 employers by reducing the maximum number of required payments on account of source deductions.
Despite these and other measures, the Canadian economy will experience periodic labour force gaps. Companies can address these gaps with temporary foreign workers if there are no Canadians available to do the work. Our government sees the value of the foreign worker program and its ability to help businesses in need, but we strongly believe that Canadians should always get the first shot at available jobs. To that end, we would commit $11 million over two years and $3.5 million each year going forward in reforming the labour market opinion process.
In addition to training, cutting red tape, and filling labour gaps, our government continues the trend of keeping corporate taxes low. Low taxes encourage more start-ups and attract more international companies to move here. Our steady course on corporate taxes works nicely with our reduction in personal taxes, but I will speak more on that later. To supplement these direct measures, budget 2014 includes several less direct approaches that would encourage economic activity by creating a more conducive climate.
New inventions, ideas, and methods give Canada an economic edge over international competitors. Our government helps to foster these innovations and discoveries by funding research and development projects throughout the country. In 2014, we would continue the trend of increasing annual R and D funding, with the total proposed spending now at $1.6 billion over five years.
We all know that sometimes brilliant ideas come from surprising sources and that the Internet is the single greatest advance in knowledge sharing in generations. Getting more people online increases the chances of new ideas coming to the fore. Budget 2014 proposes to spend $305 million over five years to extend and enhance high-speed broadband access to roughly 280,000 households in rural and northern Canada.
Of course, information flowing online is not the only thing that needs to move in Canada. People and goods require quality roads and rails to navigate our vast country. We have set aside $53 billion for the building Canada plan. Among other things, this plan would fund transfers to provinces and municipalities and would accept applications for the building Canada fund. It would also renew the P3 Canada fund to find new ways for state and private actors to co-operate on projects. It would contribute to on-reserve infrastructure, and much more.
Canadians know that governments pay for these kinds of infrastructure projects through taxes. However, if taxes get too high, it can actually slow the economy down. With that in mind, since 2006, we have introduced over 160 tax-cutting measures. The average family of four's yearly taxes are now around $3,400 lower.
Building on that solid record, budget 2014 includes many individual cuts. For example, we propose increasing the GST exemption measures, such as exempting training in coping tactics for people with disorders and disabilities. One of my personal favourites, due to the exciting technology element, is the exemption for eyewear specifically designed to electronically enhance the vision of people with impairments. Along with a host of other cuts, these measures would continue to make life just that much easier for Canadians.
Governance is about trade-offs, such as tax relief versus deficit elimination. Our government is doing both, which brings me to my personal favourite part of budget 2014: staying on track to balanced books and surplus.
Canadians trust our government to protect the nation's finances, to tax wisely, to rein in spending, and to respond to crises. Responding to the great recession of 2008 took a heavy toll on the budget. However, I can proudly say that the budget is on track to balance for the next fiscal year, and the sooner the better. As a small businessman, I can say first-hand that I understand the occasional need for borrowing, but I also understand the immense joy and relief of being in surplus again.
We are eliminating the deficit in two ways: by increasing revenue and by cutting spending. By fostering a healthy economic climate, our government has helped the GDP rise, which increases tax revenue without raising taxes. Unlike what the inexperienced Liberal leader thinks, budgets do not just balance themselves. Unlike what the reckless New Democrats may hope, a carbon tax on everything depresses GDP and lowers tax revenue.
The second way we are tackling the deficit is by making concerted efforts to reduce the size of government through attrition and modernization.
Growth in GDP and population brings me back to the matter of immigration I introduced when speaking of the LMOs earlier.
Along with most Canadians, our government believes that our immigration system should benefit Canada. As such, we have taken several important steps to reform the system, including proposing replacement of the immigrant investor program by the immigrant investor venture capital fund. The new program would ensure that this class of immigrants would make substantial contributions to our economy.
Immigration is just one way that we interact with the wider world. Canada also trades extensively, and trade is good for economic growth.
As I mentioned, we have managed to grow GDP without raising taxes; in fact, we have grown our GDP by cutting taxes over 160 times.
Increasing resource development and increasing trade are two of the best ways to increase our GDP. With the signing of the Canada-European trade agreement late last year and the Canada-Korea trade agreement a few weeks ago, Canada has secured new opportunities for growth.
Of course, trade requires goods and services to exchange. Canada is blessed with abundant natural resources, fertile soil, and the workforce needed to translate those assets into exports. I am particularly pleased to note that budget 2014 continues funding for agricultural development through the Growing Forward 2 framework. I also appreciate the proposed expansions to the types of livestock qualifying for tax deferral on sale by farmers dealing with drought or excessive rain.
Measures like these clearly show that our government is pursuing a sound strategy of diversifying our economy through developing our resources, opening new markets with new partners, and drawing closer to old friends and allies.
The great thing about trade is that it is not a zero sum game. Seeking out new trade opportunities in the Asia-Pacific zone and in Europe does not diminish our existing trade with the United States. The fact is that the United States is, and will continue to be, our closest ally and greatest trading partner. Our government is determined to increase that trade through improved cross-border infrastructure, such as the new international trade crossing between Windsor and Detroit. Budget 2014 proposes to provide $470 million over two years on a cash basis for the procurement and project delivery parts of the new bridge project. Since the Windsor-Detroit corridor handles 30% of Canada-US trade by truck, and since that trade is forecast to increase, expanding our infrastructure is an obvious choice.
Whether it is implementing direct job-related measures, cultivating a high-growth economic climate, cutting taxes while balancing the budget, or launching new trade initiatives, our government is taking solid steps for the good of the country. All Canadians can benefit from the sound governance budget 2014 demonstrates and from the prosperity to which it contributes. That is why I am looking forward to seeing the budget implemented.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-31. This is the fourth budget implementation bill that I have had the opportunity to discuss and debate in my tenure as deputy critic for finance and international trade for the official opposition.
A fairly obvious trend has emerged with these budget bills that I have debated. There is a pattern or a modus operandi, if you will.
I am going to do something that the government rarely does when debating the budget bill: I am going to discuss the budget bill. The last two speakers did not talk about it. In fact, they used the precious time of this House to talk about the budget and initiatives and also to pat themselves on the back, while ignoring the most negative aspects and this government's often poor record on the economy.
I was saying that there is a trend that has emerged with these budget implementation bills. I have noticed that the government routinely adheres to eight criteria when it introduces such bills.
The first concerns size. Budget bills are always mammoth affairs. As my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley mentioned, the English version of the bill is 350 pages long, and the French version is even longer, at 380 pages.
Not only is the size—380 pages—absolutely incredible, but what the bill covers is absolutely incredible because it talks about a lot of things.
Size is one of the criteria. There are 380 pages in the French version. In the past, some bills have been 700 to 800 pages in length. One budget bill even reached 920 pages, if I am not mistaken. That seems to be one of the government's criteria in its attempt to confuse and expedite a complex process. It wants to get through it as quickly as possible and with as much confusion as possible. However, the government should tread carefully in this process.
The government's second criterion is that a budget implementation bill should create, eliminate or amend at least 10 laws. In this case, more than 50 laws are amended or created with a single bill.
At the end of the process, the House will vote on a series of measures. We can give only a single yes or no, not including the votes that took place at the reading stages or during committee work, which I will touch on later.
The third criterion that the government seems to adhere to in drafting its budget bills is that the bill must include several elements that have nothing to do with the budget or fiscal matters. For example, this bill will amend the Judges Act and add four judges to the Quebec Superior Court and an extra one in Alberta. All of that is in a budget bill. Why does the government not want to introduce a bill to amend that act on its own, so that it can be studied independently? That is not the case here.
Using budget bills as a catch-all seems to be one of this government's tactics and a criterion for drafting such bills. People have spoken out against it. Many opposition speeches in the House quoted comments the Prime Minister made when he was in opposition and he strongly criticized the approach that he is now using on a regular basis.
The fourth criterion is that not only must the bill include several elements that have nothing to do with fiscal matters or the budget tabled, it must also create, not amend, laws that have nothing to do with the budget or fiscal issues. For example, the last three divisions of part 6 of the bill create three different laws, including one about the Champlain Bridge and one about the management of administrative tribunals. Those are extremely important elements that should, if we are talking about creating a law, be studied separately from a budget implementation bill.
The government seems to be favouring a fifth criterion. We have seen this a number of times in previous bills, and we are seeing it again here. The government thinks that a budget bill should put and concentrate new powers in the hands of various ministers. Last year, we saw bills that gave unprecedented powers to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to the Minister of Finance, and to various ministers, in fact.
This time is no exception. Indeed, in the Hazardous Products Act amended by this bill, derivatives in securities will be amended by giving much more discretion to the ministers in question. Obviously, we can only engage in minimal discussion on the matter, because the bill is 350 pages long, and the government will push it through as quickly as possible. If the government stays on trend, which it usually does, it will start with a time allocation motion that is likely to come some time today or maybe tomorrow.
The government is using a sixth criterion. Actually, criteria 6, 7 and 8 are a lot alike. According to this sixth criterion, at least one legislative amendment should be in a bill like this one to restrict the rights of workers. This was systematic in previous bills and it is this time, too, since changes are being made to the Hazardous Products Act. The bill will amend features relating to occupational health and safety, as in previous bills that also restricted the rights of workers. These bills not only restrict the rights of workers, but they restrict the rights of immigrants as well.
Two specific clauses in this bill will affect them significantly by taking away rights and things that immigrants in Canada have access to. Those clauses will therefore limit access to social programs—or the restrictions may even be related to eligibility issues.
Finally, there is an eighth and final criterion. It seems that this budget bill, like previous budget bills, absolutely must contain at least one measure related to the government's so-called law and order agenda. Why is such a measure being included in a budget bill? The reason is that the government thinks it can get away with including this measure without providing any real reasons for doing so.
The government does not take the role of the House seriously. I do not think that it takes the essential democratic nature of the House seriously. It has never done so and continues to disregard it. As I mentioned, the Conservatives plan to move a time allocation motion. They have done so systematically with every other budget bill and with all of the legislation they introduce. The Conservatives seem to think that debate in the House is a trivial matter. Right now, they have a majority and they can do what they want. They can vote how they want and use their majority to pass the various bills that they, as a government, have deemed to be a priority. What is left for us as the opposition in the House? What remains of the role of the House if the government ignores the specific nature of the House of Commons when debating bills?
The specific role that MPs play, regardless of whether there is a minority or majority government, is to debate the essence of the government's bills and proposals. That is the real value of the House. We do not debate for the fun of it or to fill the pages of Hansard but to determine what the strengths and weaknesses of the government's proposals are. We do not debate bills just so that we, as MPs, can get informed but so that the government can learn about any inherent weaknesses in its bills. It is only natural that there will be problems, since we are all human. The people who propose and draft bills are human. Some factors may have been overlooked or may not have been considered.
It is our role as the official opposition and as MPs on the other side of the House to point these things out to the government, whether it be through debates in the House or through the discussions that take place at meetings of the Standing Committee on Finance, which is where budget implementation bills go to be examined.
The government is bypassing the entire process. At second reading, instead of allowing many members to participate in the debate, the government is limiting the number of speeches to 15 to 20 members, depending on the government's time allocation motion, or the gag order, as it is known in Quebec. The government is doing itself a disservice. With this approach, the government is hurting itself and the good governance of the country.
I still do not understand why it systematically acts in this way. Since it was elected in 2011, the government has imposed some 60 gag orders during the study of various bills. Why? What is the danger? We can debate those bills and find shortcomings, whether at second reading, at report stage or at third reading. This is an opportunity to rectify the situation and to prevent the government from doing itself a disservice.
The latest problems facing the government in its implementation of the provisions of the budget implementation bill are indicative of the weak position in which the government puts itself.
This budget implementation bill contains a major correction to a measure that we had denounced at the time and brought to the government's attention. Why did budget 2013 have to impose the GST on the parking revenue of hospitals? Hospitals were excluded from that measure. In 2013, when the government brought it in, we said that it was a mistake.
The government should not try to tax hospitals, since they play a specific role and parking is a source of revenue for them, but certainly not a source of profit. However, the government turned a deaf ear and decided to impose the GST on the parking revenue of hospitals. Then the Conservatives realized that we were right and they were wrong. Budget 2014 and this bill are reversing that measure. They once again exempt hospitals from GST on their parking revenue.
Not only are the Conservatives backtracking after ignoring the opposition's recommendations, but they are also trying to hide their mistake, claiming that this is a new tax cut. However, this is a tax that they themselves imposed.
Let us be honest and recognize that no party in the House has a monopoly on truth; no party can claim never to have made a mistake. Let us recognize that we should work together to improve bills. We can disagree on the government's agenda for the economy. We have made no secret of that; we talk about it and debate it all the time. However, when it comes to implementing specific measures that affect all Canadians, we should take our role much more seriously.
I would like to give another example of something that happened in budget 2013 and subsequent implementation bills to show that the government does not learn from its mistakes. My colleague mentioned this, and it is worth bringing up again. I am talking about the rules for appointing Quebec judges to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled on the appointment of Marc Nadon. The government tried to change the rules retroactively in a section of its last budget implementation bill, which we talked about. Over and over in the House and the Standing Committee on Finance, we told them that, first of all, it had nothing to do with the budget and should be studied separately, and second, that they could not change the rules retroactively, that they got themselves in trouble and that they should fix the problem without resorting to the budget or trying to pass retroactive legislation that would have no impact. We were right, and the Supreme Court agreed. We predicted the Supreme Court's reaction.
Are those the only elements? No. Other mistakes have happened because the government forces us to study such huge, complicated bills so quickly. Last year, the government passed a measure to eliminate an exemption for credit unions and caisses populaires.
This involved a lower tax rate for not-for-profit credit unions, which were benefiting from a special tax exemption. Although they were being taxed at 11%, the government wanted to tax them at the overall corporate tax rate, 15%. However, the bill and the wording of the amendment were so botched that in the end, the government did not take certain details into account that would have brought the tax rate for these credit unions and caisses populaires not to 15%, but to 28%. They would have paid 13% more than chartered banks whose primary objective is to make a profit and pay dividends to their investors and shareholders.
That was the result of a process that completely ignores the role of the House and our role as parliamentarians, MPs and representatives of our constituents. We must act in their best interest, always taking into account the common good and all the consequences our actions can have for laws and regulations.
I will take the few minutes I have left to talk about a final point that, I think, demonstrates this government's blatant disregard for the process. We often hear about a democratic process. The government should adopt a process of good governance specifically with respect to budget bills. I would like to talk about how these issues are dealt with in committee.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. When we have to conduct certain important studies, we take our time in order to do them properly. That committee is currently examining the highly problematic issue of youth employment. We will be dedicating 10 committee meetings to it. Last year, we dedicated 12 committee meetings to the issue of tax credits for charitable organizations, to determine whether we could improve the process and enhance Canadians' contributions to charitable organizations.
When a bill of 350, 400 or 500 pages that amends 40, 50 or 60 laws comes to the Standing Committee on Finance, we may have four or five meetings at most, including meetings with the people responsible and with government representatives. Four or five meetings to discuss complex issues, such as FATCA, which could violate the privacy of thousands—if not tens of thousands—of Canadians who could be considered by the U.S. government as American citizens who owe taxes. These people could have their personal file handed over to the U.S. government without their knowledge, and they could end up owing a considerable amount of money, even though they no longer consider themselves to be American, even though they were in the past.
This issue alone should take at least four, five or six meetings. We spent six to eight meetings discussing tax havens, and FATCA, which I just mentioned, was a key part of the debate we had at the Standing Committee on Finance. However, this will be just one of many dozens and dozens of issues we will have to discuss in that committee.
The very first time the government introduced an omnibus bill, we called on the government to separate the bill into parts so that the parts could be discussed in the relevant committees. The government separated the bill, but it sent the parts to the committees—such as the immigration, public safety or justice committees—for one meeting. These committees do not even have the right to propose amendments that could then go back to the Standing Committee on Finance.
This made the whole process a farce, and the budget implementation bill, regardless of what this government says, is also a farce. I urge the government to take these issues seriously, not only for the House, but also for all Canadians, whom we represent. they have the right to a competent and transparent government. The government has always claimed to be that kind of government, so it should demonstrate that right now by separating this budget into different parts to ensure that it can be carefully studied by the committees responsible for these issues.
Ms. Joyce Bateman (Winnipeg South Centre, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to discuss the bill on economic action plan 2014. I will be sharing my time with the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
It is a great honour for me to speak in favour of the economic action plan and its implementation.
As a chartered accountant, I am very impressed by the contents of the plan and the opportunities it creates for Canada's economy. As a mother, I appreciate that it makes Canadian families a priority, and as the member for Winnipeg South Centre, I am proud of the means it makes available to communities to improve infrastructure and services.
As everyone knows, our Conservative government is working to create jobs, ensure economic growth and secure long-term prosperity for all Canadians—not just our generation, but all future generations.
Our economic action plan 2014 includes numerous measures to promote our country's economic growth. I would like to talk about some of those measures.
For example, we are going to be connecting Canadians with available jobs, training people for jobs that actually exist, and providing new graduates with real opportunities. We are going to have more paid internships for young Canadians, investing $55 million to create paid internships for recent graduates in both small and medium-sized business and high-demand fields. We are going to be supporting job creation and innovation.
We will support job creation, innovation and trade.
Over the next decade, we will invest $1.5 billion in post-secondary research through the Canada first research excellence fund.
We will promote Canadian-made products, develop a “Made in Canada” campaign to promote high-quality Canadian products here and around the world, and work with our partners to reduce internal barriers to trade.
We want to ensure responsible resource development, conserve Canada's natural heritage and invest in infrastructure and transportation, specifically through the conservation of recreational fisheries and further investment in infrastructure.
We want to expand tax relief for health-related items and services, cap wholesale wireless rates to make telecommunications services more affordable, crack down on cross-border price discrimination, and much more.
We will establish a $200-million national disaster mitigation program to help communities prepare for natural disasters.
The economic action plan looks to return to a balanced budget in 2015. As a chartered accountant and the member for Winnipeg South Centre, I am proud to be a member of the government that has made this commitment to taxpayers. Unlike previous governments, we will not do it at just any price. That is a very important point. We respect taxpayers.
For example, major transfers to the provinces for health care, education and other services that Canadians depend on will also continue to increase to record levels. While we are controlling departmental spending, federal support to Canadians, such as seniors' benefits, will continue to grow.
Our Conservative government is squarely focused on what matters to Canadians: job creation, economic growth and Canada's long-term prosperity. With the help of Canada's economic action plan, the Canadian economy has seen the best economic performance among all G7 countries in recent years, both during the global recession and throughout the recovery. In addition, Canada is the only G7 country that has received the highest possible rating—AAA—from all major credit rating agencies.
Canada's net debt-to-GDP ratio is, by far, the lowest in the G7. For the sixth straight year, the World Economic Forum has deemed Canada's banking system to be the most stable in the world.
For example, the International Monetary Fund, the IMF, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, have both projected that Canada will have among the strongest economic growth among all G7 countries in the years to come. That is a remarkable accomplishment.
Since the end of the recession in July 2009, over one million net new jobs have been created in Canada. Over 85% of them are full-time jobs, and close to 80% are in the private sector.
Unlike the high-tax NDP and Liberals, our Conservative government believes in low taxes and leaving money where it belongs: in the pockets of hard-working Canadian families and job-creating businesses. We are cutting every kind of tax: personal, consumption, business, excise and more. I have many examples of how we are doing that, but I do not think I have time to share them.
It is important that the people of Canada recognize that we are here for all Canadians. We are doing things for young Canadians and older Canadians. For example, the youth employment strategy, the YES program, would help young Canadians get the skills and work experience they need to transition to the workplace. It is an important investment of $330 million per year. To streamline and modernize the Canada student loans program, we are investing $123 million. This is among other previously established initiatives to support our young people.
It is also important to recognize what we have done to help senior citizens. They are the beneficiaries of our historic and landmark creation, the tax-free savings account, TFSA. It has been beneficial to senior citizens, as neither income earned in a TFSA nor withdrawals from a TFSA affect their federal income-tested benefits and credits, such as the guaranteed income supplement.
I am proud of this legislation. I am proud of our economic action plan 2014.
I look forward to taking any questions from my colleagues on this important budget.
Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, the economic action plan 2014 act, no. 1. It is not often that I rise during debates on legislation, but I want to share a few thoughts on this particular bill. That is because I believe this bill and our recent budget, which it would implement, are of particular importance to my constituents in York—Simcoe.
Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, our government has stayed true to our commitment to strengthen the economy for all Canadians and has remained determined to see our plan through.
Last Friday, I was proud to introduce this bill on behalf of the Minister of Finance. It constitutes our latest initiative, focusing on our key priorities: creating jobs and economic growth, supporting and protecting families, and returning to balanced budgets in 2015. This bill would implement initiatives to connect my constituents with available jobs, invest in infrastructure, and expand our focus on trade and responsible resource development.
My constituents are pleased to see action connecting them with available jobs and fostering job creation. York—Simcoe is a hard-working riding. People are proud to work with their hands to do real things to see a positive result at the end of a day of hard work. This is a budget for them and for their children.
Apprenticeship training plays an important role in Canada's education system, and is a key provider of the vital skills and knowledge necessary to power and grow the Canadian economy. Recognizing this, economic action plan 2014 no. 1 would provide apprentices registered in the Red Seal trades with access to interest-free loans of up to $4,000 for a period of technical training. I want to ensure that my young constituents are given real opportunities to find jobs and build careers. Many are doing so, getting jobs in Ontario or courageously striking out and moving west for opportunity. In either case, I want them to be given that chance.
In York—Simcoe, we are experienced with the use of temporary foreign workers. The country's most valuable market gardening in our fertile Holland Marsh muck soils depends heavily on temporary foreign workers from abroad who fill tasks that are impossible to get filled locally, but that has always been done carefully. Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen failures in the temporary foreign workers program elsewhere in Canada, where officials have approved foreign workers despite the ready availability of Canadians qualified and willing to do the work. Some of my constituents have been affected by this situation.
It is not acceptable. Our government remains committed to a temporary foreign worker program that operates in the national interest, so included in this bill are measures to ensure that Canadians would be given the first opportunity at available jobs by strengthening the labour market opinion process.
The bill also would continue our commitment to support families like those in York—Simcoe. In last year's Speech from the Throne, we committed to lower prices and greater competition in the telecommunications market. In this bill, we would make significant progress by capping wholesale domestic wireless roaming rates. Further support for families is included through a proposed increase, to $15,000, of the maximum amount of the adoption expense tax credit to help make adoption more affordable for families.
We would also make changes to ensure the tax system reflects the evolving nature of the health care system and the health care needs of Canadians. This includes exempting naturopathic doctors and acupuncturist services from the goods and services tax, or the harmonized sales tax, as it is in Ontario now. In York—Simcoe, my constituents increasingly rely on alternative health care providers, and this measure would help them in real and tangible ways.
The measures set out in economic action plan 2014 have one very important element in common with all of our previous budgets: they will produce results for Canadians and their economy.
In 2009, after the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression, our government introduced its first economic action plan. Since then, the economic policies that we have put in place through our economic action plans have been extraordinarily successful. The reality is that Canada is an economic leader among the major developed countries of the G7. While economic uncertainty is still a reality for many developed economies, our economic action plans have enabled Canada to recoup all of the jobs lost during the recession, and more.
Since our first economic action plan, our government has created more than a million net new jobs. That is the strongest job growth performance of all the G7 countries during the recovery. Nearly all of the jobs created since 2009 have been full-time positions, 85% are in the private sector and over two-thirds are in high-paying industries.
As well, Canada's real gross domestic product is significantly above pre-recession levels, the best performance in the G7 again.
Despite all of these accomplishments and despite what is obviously a plan that works for Canadians and their economy, the opposition continues to oppose our important economic initiatives at every opportunity.
Most important to York—Simcoe is the fact that this budget bill has us on track to eliminate the deficit and balance the budget in 2015. That matters to them because they understand that government debt is their debt, and they understand that when the opposition opposes our measures, it is because the opposition wants bigger government, higher spending, higher taxes, more deficits, and deeper debt. This is not what York—Simcoe residents want from Ottawa.
From my time as the Minister of International Trade, I can tell the House that our government's ability to propose concrete measures to complement our already sound framework and to steer them through Parliament in a timely manner makes Canada stand out among developed economies.
In contrast, in many other countries saw political paralysis rein and governments collapse. All the while those other domestic economies cried out for help. People abroad would say to me that they had confidence in Canada's government. Contrasting us with the U.S. and much of Europe, they would say that at least we can get things done in Canada.
Getting things done has been an important hallmark of this government. We have actively worked to facilitate a hard-working, orderly, and productive House of Commons. In York—Simcoe, constituents usually ask me why it takes so long to get things done in Parliament. They tell me that they elected us to make decisions.