Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, Liberals will vote against this budget for two reasons.
First, the budget does little for average Canadians. It offers much less than claimed and much less than meets the eye. Indeed, never has a finance minister done so little with so much.
Second, the government has no plan to build a better Canada for ourselves and future generations of Canadians. Instead of doing what is best for Canada and Canadians, the government has done exclusively what is best for the Conservative Party in full re-election mode.
This is a shotgun budget. It is as if the finance minister shut his eyes, held a shotgun into the air, pulled the trigger, and hoped that he hit as many targets as possible. It is an unfocused budget. It is a directionless budget.
The only time the Conservative government has engaged in broad based tax changes it moved in the wrong direction.
In budget 2006, the government increased the income tax rate on the first $35,000 of income from 15% to 15.5%. One of the biggest disappointments of the budget is that despite its enormous surpluses, the government saw fit to maintain that higher income tax rate. It offered nothing in the form of broad based tax relief in any other area.
John Williamson, president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and traditionally not a great friend of Liberals, put the point as follows, and I quote: “The fellow working the line or anyone with a salary income and no children will receive no tax relief. That's disappointing. Ottawa's running huge surpluses”.
Or, in the words of Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: “We would have preferred to see some broader tax relief which would have had a real impact on the economy and instead we saw small, little targeted breaks for everybody from lacrosse fans to truck drivers”.
Similarly, Clément Gignac, vice-president of Banque Nationale du Canada said:
|| These tax cuts are a drop in the bucket compared to the federal government's total revenues.
It is true that the government offered a new child tax credit worth a maximum of $310 per child. It turns out that the cost of this tax credit, at $1.4 billion per year, is almost exactly equal to the cost of the income tax hike that the minister left intact. We can say that these two measures cancel each other out.
The only other major tax measure was the working income tax credit. It is a program to put money into the pockets of the working poor and help them climb the welfare wall. This is an excellent measure that was borrowed from the previous government, albeit in watered down form.
Indeed, we always supported this program. We introduced it, but the government watered it down. Indeed, the government's maximum benefit for a family is $500 a year. I am not sure that is enough to scale the welfare wall, but at least it is in the right direction.
Other than that, the budget contains a hodgepodge of small targeted tax measures amounting to $700 million, or less than $50 per taxpayer per year.
My problem with the tax relief for ordinary Canadians is twofold: it is small potatoes and it continues in this government's tradition of narrowly based, politically motivated tax credits, rather than tax relief for all.
Despite its attempts to appear centrist, even liberal, the government's meanspirited ideology revealed itself in who it decided not to help. There is no direct assistance for undergraduate students. Sure, the budget has some money for Canada's top 4,000 graduate students, but the vast majority get nothing at all.
Perhaps most shameful of all, there is only a pittance for Canada's aboriginal people. As National Chief Phil Fontaine put it: “We're extremely disappointed, frustrated, because it's obvious that those that did well today are those that are considered important to this government. Those that are viewed as unimportant did badly, and we did badly.
There was no mention at all of the homeless or social housing. Critical for working families, in 2006 the Conservatives promised 125,000 new child care spaces over five years. Fourteen months into its mandate, Canadian families are realizing this promise was not worth the paper it was written on. There have been zero spaces created in the past year. Since this 2006 plan was a total flop, why should Canadians believe the government's so-called new strategy will work any better?
Tax relief and other assistance for ordinary Canadians has been minimal in amount and highly selective in its direction. Phil Fontaine put it well: “Those who are potential Conservative voters do well. Others do badly”.
In my opinion, the main difference between the leaders of our two parties is simple. The Liberal leader would govern with an eye to the future by making what he felt to be the best choices for our country and current and future generations.
The Conservative leader, on the other hand, governs according to his sole purpose: winning the next election. The budget makes this difference very clear, and it is because of this difference that the Liberals oppose this budget. When the Liberals came to power in 1993, they had to clean up a $42 billion deficit inherited from the Conservatives. The strategy they were forced to adopt to deal with that mess was not necessarily a vote-getting strategy, but it was in this country's best interest, and Canadians got on board.
The Liberal strategy produced excellent results. Among other things, it paved the way for the budget surpluses the Conservatives inherited when they came to power in 2006. Armed with the biggest budget surpluses a new government had ever had at its disposal in Canada's history, the Conservatives had a golden opportunity to create a new national plan that would open a lot of doors for this country, a plan that would look nothing like the one the Liberals implemented when there were huge deficits, a plan that would give Canada plenty of momentum for the 21st century, a plan focused on creating on a stronger, more competitive economy, a more just society and a healthier planet.
The government wasted its first year in power moving Canada in the wrong direction on all counts. Rather than build a 21st century economy,the Prime Minister raised income taxes, reduced the GST, and cut 70% of funding for research and higher education. In international trade, the government took the wrong approach by giving China the cold shoulder and brushing India aside. They have been in power for 15 months, and not one minister has yet been to India. Is that not remarkable?
In terms of social justice, the Prime Minister's meanspirited cuts affect the least fortunate members of Canadian society: aboriginal people, citizens who rely on literacy programs, children who need affordable care, and women. As for the environment, he began by slashing $5.6 billion from environmental protection programs, before the polls spurred him to bring back weak facsimiles under new names and with much less funding.
Yesterday, the government had a second golden opportunity. With the coffers still overflowing with Canadian taxpayers' hard-earned money, the Prime Minister could have learned from his past mistakes and taken action to move Canada forward. Well, I guess not, since what the Prime Minister offered to Canadians is a real con job, right out of The Sting. He claims that he is moving Canada forward in terms of economics, social justice and environmental protection. In reality, however, the support he is offering is symbolic, at best. He continues to waste budget surpluses by funding a number of measures that are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, rather than focussing on a reliable plan that would guarantee Canada's future.
With respect to social justice, the Minister of Finance wants to appear sympathetic by offering a mini-version of the plan developed by the Liberals to encourage Canadians who receive social assistance to regain control of their lives.
If he really wanted to help Canadians who have the greatest needs, he would have restored the funding that aboriginal peoples were supposed to receive under the Kelowna accord. He would have taken effective measures to create child care spaces and he would have put an end to the budget cuts that have afflicted our most vulnerable citizens. He did none of those things.
On the economy, I note that this is a tired 20th century budget when what we needed was a budget allowing Canada to compete and prosper in the highly competitive world of the 21st century.
We needed a budget containing an economic thrust as outlined by the Leader of the Opposition in a recent speech to the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Club. Such an economic thrust must include policies to make Canadian taxes internationally competitive, as well as policies driving research, commercialization, access to higher education, and a push for greater access for Canadian goods in overseas markets.
What did we get? While competitor countries like Australia have forged ahead with broad based reductions in personal and business taxation, yesterday's budget had no broad based tax cuts at all. What it did do was maintain last year's broad based income tax hike.
While countries like the United Kingdom set ambitious targets for research and development backed by powerful tax credits, yesterday's budget provided only token support on this front while slashing support for universities.
While other competitor countries provide generous funding for students and pursue talented immigrants aggressively, what did we see in yesterday's budget? Nothing at all for undergraduate students and nothing significant on immigration.
While Asia-Pacific countries have no fewer than 186 bilateral trade agreements in force or under negotiation, yesterday's budget had nothing significant on this front, and the Harper government shows no sign of emerging from its domestic or, at most, continental cocoon.
Hon. John McCallum:
Mr. Speaker, I guess I am not allowed to do that even when I am reading. I will refrain.
Sadly, the government does not get it or does not care. Maybe the government thinks the rest of the world owes Canada a living. Or maybe the Prime Minister does not understand the need to invest in an uncertain future when times are relatively good. Or maybe he simply does not care because such investments require a time horizon extending beyond the next election.
This budget also does not contain a long-term plan to protect the environment. It decreases our financial commitment to the clean and sustainable production of renewable energy by reducing it from 5,500 to 4,000 megawatts.
Tax breaks for new tar sands development projects are maintained until 2015.
Improving the water quality of our lakes and rivers is slowed down.
Assistance to compensate citizens for energy retrofits is replaced by mere tokens that bring the cost of reducing our consumption to thousands of dollars per tonne.
Funding for our provincial partners is cut in half.
And to top it off, the budget does not contain a single measure to force polluters to pay when they discharge pollutants into the atmosphere. In the absence of a comprehensive plan, the incentives for cleaner automobiles do not go very far.
We already knew that our Prime Minister is about the only economist on the planet who believes that cutting the GST is more beneficial than reducing income taxes.
Is he also the only economist who does not recognize the need to put a price on carbon so that polluters will no longer be able to consider the atmosphere as a public dump they can use for free?
We will have the answer to this question when the government finally unveils its plan to fight global warming. But given the Prime Minister's record—he denies climate change and has made draconian cuts to environmental protection programs—until the polls lead him to think about it, I would not advise the House to expect much from this plan.
Budgets are not usually high on humour, but yesterday there was at least one humorous moment leading me to nominate the finance minister for the 2007 naivety award. Two days ago the finance minister declared, “We are going to resolve once and for all this continuing problem we have had, this bickering between governments in Canada about fiscal imbalance”. Only yesterday he said, “The long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over”. Well, not quite.
This new golden age of perfect harmony and bliss in federal-provincial relations lasted about one hour after the budget, at which time a red-faced angry finance minister was seen on national television in bitter debate with Premier Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador. Said Mr. Williams in one of his milder passages, “Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are feeling an intense sense of betrayal here by this government”.
Saskatchewan's premier called the budget a betrayal of the Conservatives' promise.
Not that betrayals of promises are anything new to the government. Think income trusts. Think capital gains tax reductions. Think health care waiting times guarantees. And now there is another one: think Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Within minutes or hours of the budget speech three other provincial governments, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, made comments that can charitably be described as unflattering.
So much for the finance minister's much vaunted era of peace. If this were another age, the finance minister's peace messenger would likely have returned to finance headquarters strapped to his horse and riddled with bullets.
More seriously, does not this near instant evaporation of harmony in the face of the government's restoration of so-called fiscal balance reflect the failure of the policy? Balance connotes peace and stability; balance as opposed to imbalance; peaceful, stable. But a fiscal balance instead brings anger and unhappiness. Maybe what was achieved yesterday was something other than balance, or maybe the concept itself is without meaning.
The finance minister hopes that his failure to keep his election promise that no province would be made worse off could be masked by embellishing his increases in other transfers to the provinces. He took $250 million from the billions of child care money he decided not to give to the provinces and called it an increase in the Canada social transfer. He cancelled the $3.5 billion that was intended to go the provinces for labour market partnership agreements last year but brought back $3 billion to the exact same program and called it a solution to the so-called fiscal imbalance.
He has extended the gas tax money for Canadian cities, a measure that the Canadian Alliance originally opposed when the Liberals made it law, and claimed it was $2 billion in new money for the provinces. He did similar things with other programs including those aimed at clean air and climate change. All told, over half of the $39 billion claim is nothing new, and this from a government that promised a more open and transparent budget process.
Let us look at spending. I am pleased that after seeing this budget we can all expect that Conservative members of this House will stop griping about the spending habits of the previous Liberal government. Andrew Coyne, again not traditionally a great friend of Liberals, said in the National Post that with this budget, the member from Whitby “officially becomes the biggest spending finance minister in the history of Canada”. He went on to say that the Conservatives have now raised spending by $25 billion in two years.
This is made worse because it is yet another broken election promise. The Prime Minister promised to limit the rate of the federal government's growth to population growth plus inflation. That is about 3%, or approximately $5.5 billion per year, not $25 billion over two years.
To conclude, this is a budget without merit, a budget which the Liberal Party is proud to oppose. Therefore, I move:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That”, and substituting the following therefor:
||this House condemns the government for a budget that does so little with so much, failing to look beyond the next election to the next generation and failing to tackle Canada's 21st century social, economic and environmental challenges by ignoring the difficult circumstances of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens; by paying only lip-service to Aboriginal peoples; by providing no broad-based income tax relief for ordinary middle-income Canadians, and particularly by not reversing the personal income tax increases imposed in last year's budget; by not pursuing greater Canadian economic competitiveness and innovation; by offering no direct support to post-secondary undergraduate students and only a pitiful amount for early learning and child care; by ignoring the imperatives of a clean and sustainable environment, including the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, advancing no significant new measures to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental priorities in a coherent manner; and by resorting to misleading presentations of budget figures, including gross exaggerations of increased federal transfers to provinces and other orders of government.
Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, exactly five years ago yesterday, on March 19, 2002, this House refused to recognize the existence of the fiscal imbalance by voting against a motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois.
Since that date, we in the Bloc Québécois, with the Parti Québécois government of the time and the entire National Assembly of Quebec, have fought hard to achieve progress on this issue, one that is fundamental for Quebec.
Yesterday, for the first time, by proposing a first step toward resolving it, the federal government has supported recognition of the fiscal imbalance by taking concrete action.
This is the unequivocal proof that a strong Bloc Québécois presence in Ottawa pays off for Quebec. This is especially true when there is a minority government. It also illustrates the difference between the Bloc and the other federal parties.
While the Liberals and Conservatives fight over who will take power in Ottawa, the Bloc is fighting to get powers back for Quebec. That is what makes all the difference. This is not an easy job; it has taken us five years to get the first step—and this is just the first step—toward a resolution.
This first step toward a resolution is why we are going to vote for the budget. We are going to do this because Quebeckers are the ones who will benefit from the progress made, and they have already been waiting a long time for it. As usual, we are going to be responsible and pragmatic.
Reality, however, demands that we say that there is still a long way to go to eliminate the fiscal imbalance.
The government and the Prime Minister have not honoured their commitment.
When the senator and Minister of Public Works and Government Services said on Sunday that the fiscal imbalance was going to be resolved once and for all, he was trying to deceive the public and his allies, Mario Dumont and Jean Charest.
When he said in his speech that the case had been heard and it was over, the finance minister was deluding himself. He has shown himself to be completely disconnected from the reality of Quebec and the reality of the facts. He was in fact immediately contradicted, not only by André Boisclair, but also by Jean Charest and Mario Dumont.
We are therefore not going to give up the fight. We sovereignists will never give up. We are going to continue our work to have the transfers for post-secondary education increased. We are going to continue to call for an equalization formula that takes 100% of natural resources into account, that is, all natural resources.
Most importantly, we are going to continue to fight for the essential thing, a fiscal transfer. Yesterday, on that essential point, no concrete progress was achieved.
The fight against the fiscal imbalance has been led by sovereignists. In 1977, René Lévesque was the last premier of Quebec to get a fiscal transfer. Lucien Bouchard fought at every opportunity to restore transfers to Quebec after Jean Chrétien's Liberals slashed them in the 1990s. It was Bernard Landry who created the commission on fiscal imbalance and who was successful in creating a very strong consensus on this issue in Quebec, but also in Canada. Here in Ottawa, were it not for the Bloc Québécois, the fiscal imbalance would not even be an issue.
We have made this an issue and we are very proud of this. Some people might be surprised at sovereignists working so hard to solve problems that are created by Canadian federalism, but there is nothing surprising about it. Quebec sovereignists believe that what is good for Quebec is good for the sovereignist plan. Sovereignists do not believe that the worse things are, the better it is. We act responsibly, in the best interests of Quebeckers.
There is nothing surprising about this, because eliminating the fiscal imbalance means giving Quebec its freedom. Because the only real, lasting solution to the fiscal imbalance is a fiscal transfer of the GST and tax points. What Quebec wants is its own revenues.
Yesterday, we were only paroled with conditions. Yesterday, the government only granted conditional revenues to Quebec, subject to Ottawa’s goodwill. The past has taught us that Quebec is at the mercy of decisions made here. Everyone remembers the brutal cuts in transfer payments that took place in the 1990s, the cuts to equalization payments made since 2000, and the agreement on child care that was torn up by this government. No new independent source of revenue was granted to Quebec.
In choosing to present his budget in the middle of the Quebec election campaign, the Prime Minister of Canada decided to intervene and to influence the citizens of Quebec. We can not say strongly enough how callous and unacceptable it is for the Prime Minister to try to buy the votes of Quebeckers in this way.
Government members may think, in light of the remarks of Mr. Dumont and Mr. Charest, that Quebec has abandoned its demand for fiscal transfers. They are wrong. Because of the election, Mr. Charest kept a stony silence yesterday on the essential point: transfer of the GST and income tax points. He was trying to save face with six days left until the election.
However, we should remember that when he was leader of the Conservative party, he never stopped saying—quite rightly—that the solution lies in the transfer of tax points.
During the 2003 leaders’ debate, he swore, hand on heart, that in his heart, in his gut, in his mind, he was firmly convinced that the solution was the transfer of tax points.
That was still the case a few months ago. Yesterday, his silence on this question was painful. He folded his arms and kept silent for campaign reasons. In doing so, he no longer qualifies for the position of Premier of Quebec.
The behaviour of Mario Dumont is more troubling. Yesterday, he, too, was silent on the matter of fiscal transfers. That is extremely troubling for a sovereignist leader, because a transfer of the GST and tax points would translate into independent revenues for the Government of Quebec, which Mario Dumont refers to as own-source revenues. I am certain that Mr. Dumont would not contradict me on that point.
More troubling still, Mr. Dumont demonstrated a selective recall of history on the issue of federal spending power. He called for a re-opening of the Constitution to entrench limits on that power.
I am very eager to hear the government’s and the Prime Minister’s answer to Mr. Dumont’s request. The demand in the Séguin report was very clear: counter the federal government’s spending power with an unconditional right to opt out with full compensation. That is our solution.
The government has refused to do so. I can understand how embarrassing this is for Mr. Dumont. It is sad to see these two leaders of Quebec parties backing down because the Prime Minister has cornered them.
As we know, the Prime Minister wants to choose the questions reporters may ask. He wants to choose the judges and the immigration officials. Now he would like to choose the Premier of Quebec. I have news for him: it is Quebeckers who choose their premier.
I have more news for him: on March 26, there will be a new Premier of Quebec, the only one who did not back down yesterday, the only one who did not give up, the leader of the Parti Québécois, André Boisclair. But he will not be alone. All of us in the Bloc Québécois will be there for Quebec. That is how Quebec wins: with sovereignists who stand up for it.
I want to finish by emphasizing that the Prime Minister did not keep his promise to eliminate the fiscal imbalance in the budget. He did not keep this promise, just as he broke his promise to offer Quebec a seat at UNESCO similar to the one it has in the Francophonie. Quebec does not have a seat at UNESCO; it can sit in and speak only when it agrees with Canada. When it does not, it is told to go away. That is not showing respect for Quebec.
When the government’s Quebec members say that the fiscal imbalance has been eliminated, they are just showing once more that the interests they defend are their own and those of their government, not the interests of Quebec.
I therefore ask the Prime Minister and his government to cease their pre-election games and get down to work. It is time to do some real governing. Now is the time. There is a lot to do. The government needs to get back to work on the fiscal imbalance by proposing a tax transfer to Quebec and by increasing transfers for postsecondary education. It needs to re-balance the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. It needs to come up with an environmental policy based on polluter pays along with a territorial agreement and a carbon trading exchange in Montreal.
The government should also provide accessible employment insurance for workers and create an independent employment insurance fund. It should transfer moneys to Quebec and the provinces for social housing. It should institute an income-support plan for older workers to ease their way to a decent retirement. There is a lot to be done. We for our part will continue to provide solutions and to speak out responsibly every time and on every issue on Quebec’s behalf and with its interests alone in our hearts and minds.
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, NDP):
Before I begin my speech, may I offer you, Mr. Speaker, some words of appreciation from those of us back home in Winnipeg and Manitoba for your 28 years of service to our country and to express our sadness that you have made a decision to leave this place, to leave federal politics to pursue other important endeavours. We know, after 28 years of service, that you have every right to make this decision and pursue other dreams, but it does leave us sad and wondering who will fill your big footsteps, who will serve as dean of the House in a way that commands the respect that you do, who will offer us the leadership you give to all of us in terms of political issues, spiritual matters and just sheer human compassion for everyone in our society.
We offer to you, Mr. Speaker, our sincere thank you, gratitude and appreciation for your years of service.
Let me start off this very important budget debate by indicating that I stand here on behalf of all of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party as proud Canadians determined to make a difference, to keep our country together, to pursue an agenda that ensures unity above all founded on the principles of human compassion and concern and to build a nation of sharing and caring to ensure that the principles of equality of opportunity and condition are spread and enveloped everywhere across the country.
We stand very much today out of grave sadness and concern with the budget. We had hoped that the present administration would have learned from its first year in government, that it would have read the pulse of Canadians, that it would have found the real priorities of Canadians and reflected this in the budget. I know with the first budget Canadians were prepared to give the government leeway, to be somewhat patient in terms of results, but they are not prepared, after a whole year, to see such a wasted opportunity.
Canadians, without question, are being left more and more on their own and are feeling less and less secure.
It is interesting that 49% of Canadians believe they are just one or two missed paycheques away from poverty. It is an incredible statistic for a country as wealthy as Canada. Despite a growing economy and despite the fact that this is a land of wealth and possibilities, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is growing.
The point of the budget should have been to close that gap, to make life more fair and affordable for all Canadians. It should have dealt with the embarrassing situation of so many in this wealthy country living in absolute abject poverty and homelessness. It should have dealt with the fact that so many low and middle income Canadians are feeling a deep and profound sense of worry, fear and insecurity.
The average earnings of the richest 10% of Canada's families raising children is now running at 82 times that earned by the poorest 10% of Canada's families. This is up from only 31 times, 30 years ago. The after tax income gap has never been this high in at least 30 years and it has grown faster than ever since the late 1990s.
Let us look a little further. Only the richest 20% are making real gains from Canada's economic growth, with the majority of those gains concentrated in the top 10%. That means the vast majority of us, middle income and lower income Canadians, are being left out and left behind.
In some interesting research done lately, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives tells us that ordinary Canadians are aware of this widening gap and that 85% of us want to do something about it. Canadians want their government to take action to close the gap to keep Canada and Canadians together.
Over the past decade when this gap was allowed to fester, widen and grow, we have had consecutive governments that have ignored this very fundamental issue. Whether we are talking about 10 years of Liberal governments or now a year and three months of Conservative government, the result is the same.
Governments have avoided the problem. They have closed their eyes to the realities around them, turned away from people in need and ignored the most vulnerable among us. They took the easy way out, passed legislation and brought in budgets that tinkered with the situation, dealt with the fringes of the issues and touched the edges of the situation, but they never came to grips with the real economic and social realities happening in this country.
Governments failed to realize that in fact we were on a path in this country that was contrary to everything we know about our history, contrary to what built this great land, what kept us together and what urged our pioneers to go through such hardship in order to build this land.
We have ignored the fundamentals of cooperation and community, of compassion and concern, in order to let a few accumulate wealth and receive all the benefit. We have let governments cater to that sentiment. We have let governments build on this notion of survival of the fittest, this notion that perpetuates the idea that life is a jungle, that all we need to do is work hard and we will make it, and that everyone is given an equal chance.
That does not fit with the reality, does it?
I want to tell the House about a young man in my constituency, Jordan Scott, who recently wrote an article that has been acknowledged as an important essay and a contribution to the fabric of our community. He is 18 years old. He lives in my community, Winnipeg's north end. He lives in a community that is low income and primarily urban aboriginal, close to the heart of downtown Winnipeg.
He says there are a lot of problems, but first off we have to recognize that:
||--the residents of the North End are hard-working, upstanding citizens who, through no particular fault of their own, are marginalized because of race and ethnic background. Many of Winnipeg's urban Aboriginal people have moved here from Northern reserve communities, where unemployment reaches staggeringly high proportions in excess of 80%. Once here, they are unable to find jobs because of a lack of skills or education. Lack of work results in high poverty levels, which lead to frustration and despair. Often people turn to drugs and alcohol to escape the frustration in their lives. In turn, paying for these negative supports can and does lead some people to the criminal path, as the lack of work means of a lack of financial resources to pay for the bad habits they turn to as an escape. It is truly a vicious cycle, and once a person is caught up in it, it is very difficult to get out.
Let the words of Jordan Scott be a lesson to everyone in this place, particularly the government of the day, which likes to pursue matters of crime on the basis of absolute punishment and nothing else, without recognizing the root causes of this despair that leads to crime.
That is not to say we should not be doing everything possible to crack down on criminals and to punish those who have victimized others, but it also means that we have an obligation to understand what leads to such actions and what causes despair. And here we have Jordan Scott, 18 years old, who goes to Children of the Earth High School in my constituency, giving advice that is worth all of the rhetoric in this budget and all of the ink in the Minister of Finance's address yesterday.
In very clear language, Jordan Scott points out a path that we must take. It is so self-evident and so obvious that somehow all the powers that be have missed the point. He says:
|| Firstly, I would look for ways to improve education for children within the community.
|| Secondly, I would develop partnership programs with post-secondary institutions, and business and industry to target Aboriginal people....
|| Thirdly, I would work with community based programs to provide adequate facilities for drug and alcohol treatment and counselling.
He gives us a road map and ends by quoting Joseph Brant, who said:
|| No person among us desires any other reward for performing a brave and worthy action, but the consciousness of having served his nation.
Jordan Scott ends his essay by saying:
|| I believe that any action taken to help a community, or a nation, is rewarding in and of itself, for when the community prospers, all of us who are part of that community prosper. By helping others, we also help ourselves.
We can see what Jordan Scott is asking of government. He is not asking for a handout. He is not asking for government to give something to people who are down and out. He is asking for the means and the tools by which he and others can help themselves to be prosperous members of our community, to be contributing citizens in our society and to be responsible adults in a very complex world. He is asking government to take the scarce resources that we have by way of this budget and invest those resources in education, training, literacy, child care, counselling, and supports for youth at risk and single parent moms who are struggling to make a difference.
He will be very disappointed with yesterday's budget, because the government chose not to make those strategic investments that would actually make a difference. It chose instead to tinker around the edges, to scatter the money, and a lot of it, in a hundred different places, to sow the seeds over a vast territory but not on fertile ground. It chose not to concentrate that money in areas that would produce the biggest bang for the buck and reap the greatest rewards.
That should be the role of government. Is that not the job of government? To make a difference, to plant the seeds and to give money where it actually can produce other results? Is that not what we should be talking about here today? Should we not be talking about taking the money that is now going to corporations, $9 billion worth of it, started by the Liberal government, $9 billion in corporate tax cuts, and instead investing it in child care and education and housing?
As for this budget, what everybody is asking us is this: how can we not support a budget that has so much money? Let me tell members how. We cannot support a budget that does not make a real difference in the lives of Canadians.
The Conservatives can point to this tax-back policy after they have put all of the available flexibility and all of the surplus dollars against the debt, basically, without coming back to this place for any kind of input, which is something they demanded when in opposition. We remember how they belittled and belaboured the point about lowballing, a concern we shared.
The fact is that the Liberals continually lowballed the surplus and then, without due consideration for parliamentary process or checking with the people of this country, just let that money go against the debt. It was pretty galling to sit here and listen to the Liberal critic for finance talking about vision, long term planning and ideas and imagination when he was part of a government that for 10 years took every bit of flexibility and surplus and put it against the debt without checking to see what the priorities of Canadians were.
Today the Liberals talk about the short-sightedness of the government. The Liberals, over 10 years, took $80 billion in unanticipated surplus, which is beyond money that goes against the debt, I remind members, and put that against the debt. Even though it is raining in this country, they would not fix the roof. Even though people are suffering, they would not help Canadians to help themselves, not at all.
In this budget, as we know, the gap is at its biggest when it comes to aboriginal people. I have talked about Jordan Scott and his pain at seeing a government that does not recognize what is staring it in the face: the obvious way to help people help themselves so they can reap all kinds of benefits down the road.
This budget is invisible when it comes to women. It is a perfect example of the government going forward one little step and then going back two. What did the Conservatives do? They took money from the women's program. They put a bit back. They added a little to it but nothing that would make up for what they did to destroy a program that actually advances the equality of women in a country that should be embarrassed by the fact that the average woman in this country makes $24,000 a year.
I ask them to tell me how that woman who is in the first tax bracket is going to get any of that money for the child tax credit. Is that woman going to get any of the supposed advantage from any of this tax-back policy? Nada. Nothing. No way. This budget does not address those who need it most.
That money, that $310 per person that goes to all families, including those making a million dollars, could have been pooled and invested in a program that would actually create real child care spaces for all those working parents who are desperately trying to find secure, quality places for their children.
An hon. member: We would have had it if you hadn't brought down the Liberal government.
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: That is something we are still focusing on after 10 years of broken promises by the Liberals and now they are hollering because they brought it in at the last dying days of their government and are blaming this on us.
I am sick and tired of Liberals blaming other people for their mistakes. It is time they recognized that I am not their mother. I am not responsible for their deficiencies. They ought to recognize the fact that they caused this problem, and they have a great deal of explaining to do to Canadians for breaking a promise four elections in a row.
The other invisible group in this budget is obviously people with disabilities. The minister has brought in a tax credit. We do not deny that a tax credit makes a bit of difference. The tax credit promised in this budget is a tiny step in the right direction, but the vast majority of people living with disabilities do not have that kind of income to invest in a plan to draw on at some time in the future. They are dealing with the here and now. There is nothing in this budget that provides any kind of national income support program, or even hints at it, to deal with the real issues facing people with disabilities.
When we are talking about new Canadians, again, this budget pretends to deal with it by setting up an office regarding foreign credentials, but does it deal with the prosperity gap between new Canadians and immigrants and refugees coming into this country, the gap that is growing between them and those who have been here for a considerable period of time? Or the gap between them and immigrants who came to this country 30 years ago when in fact the gap was much narrower?
Statistics Canada has released a study on the growing income gap between new immigrants and Canadian-born people. The report examined the financial situation of immigrant families, assessing their economic condition and the extent of their chronic low income and impact of changes in education and skills, and found in fact that low income rates among immigrants during the first year in Canada were “3.5 times higher than those of Canadian-born people”. There is a gap here that has to be addressed.
When I look at my constituency, which is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country, and when I talk to the Punjabi community or the Filipino community and hear their frustrations at not being able to get jobs and decent incomes in the areas for which they have training, experience and commitment, it drives me crazy that after 13 years of Liberal and Conservative governments we still do not have a way to recognize their experience and their credentials and ensure that they have access to good paying jobs.
From start to finish, the budget does not address the prosperity gap. It does not build a nation founded on the fundamental principles that built this land: cooperation, compassion, caring and sharing. In fact, it is very heavy on rhetoric. It has a lot of ink about families and working people but when it comes to actual expenditures and budgetary measures, the prosperity gap widens.
As my time is up, I would move:
|| That the amendment be amended by adding immediately after the words “orders of government” the following:
||and this House further condemns the government for increasing the prosperity gap between very wealthy and ordinary working families by continuing the previous government's obsession with corporate tax reductions and failing to address the increasing costs that working families face every day.
Ms. Diane Ablonczy (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to echo my colleague's comments about this House's respect for your contribution both to Parliament itself and to the democratic process, and to tell you that you will indeed be missed; thankfully, it will be many, many months down the road, but just to let you know that we do think so highly of you.
I am very pleased to lead the debate on budget 2007. This is a historic budget. It puts us firmly on the road to achieve a stronger, safer, better Canada to which we all aspire.
Budget 2007 addresses the priorities of Canadians. It restores fiscal balance with the provinces and territories. It protects and preserves our environment. It reduces taxes for hard-working families. This budget is about helping our country achieve its full potential. This budget is also about the principles and beliefs that make us uniquely Canadian, principles and beliefs that this budget will help us to preserve and instill in our children and in the generations to follow.
Last fall Canada's new government introduced advantage Canada, our long term economic plan to improve our country's economic prosperity and secure for all our citizens a quality of life second to none. Budget 2007 sets that plan in motion. The result is a strong Canada today and an even better tomorrow. It focuses on delivering positive practical and real results for Canadians and their families.
Advantage Canada commits to create five distinct advantages for Canada: a fiscal advantage, an infrastructure advantage, an entrepreneurial advantage, a knowledge advantage and a tax advantage. It is on these advantages that I wish to devote the bulk of my time today before turning briefly to other important parts of budget 2007. Budget 2007 proposes to take concrete action on all five advantages.
First is the fiscal advantage. Our goal is to create a strong foundation of good management on which to build sustainable prosperity. That means continuing to reduce debt, to do our part as the federal government to eliminate Canada's total government net debt in less than a generation. Budget 2007 will take us closer to this goal.
Canada's new government plans to reduce our national mortgage by $9.2 billion this fiscal year. Added to last year's debt reduction of $13.2 billion, that means a total reduction of $22.4 billion in the first two years alone under our government's watch.
This government means business about tackling Canada's debt. As a result, the federal debt to GDP ratio will fall to 30% by next year, 2008-09. We are firmly on target to reach our objective of 25% by 2012-13.
In advantage Canada we promise that because lower debt will mean lower interest payments, we will use interest savings to lower taxes for Canadians. We call this the tax back guarantee. Budget 2007 proposes to make the tax back guarantee the law of the land. It will also lead to some $1 billion per year in further personal income tax relief for Canadians.
Advantage Canada also pledges to achieve an infrastructure advantage for Canada. We will create a modern, world class infrastructure that facilitates a seamless flow of people, goods and services across our roads and bridges, through our ports and gateways and via our public transit.
Budget 2007 makes a historic investment of more than $16 billion over seven years in infrastructure. Including the funding provided earlier in budget 2006, federal support for infrastructure will be a total of $33 billion over that period. By any measure, that is a tremendous commitment.
Let us look at some of what that investment will deliver. To help fund municipal priorities such as roads, public transit and water, budget 2007 will transfer $2 billion per year to municipalities from 2010-11 to 2013-14 by extending the gas tax fund. This is a total of $8 billion toward municipal infrastructure. In addition, budget 2007 allocates $6 billion to the new building Canada fund, investments in gateways, border crossings and public-private partnerships.
Turning to the creation of an entrepreneurial advantage in Canada, budget 2007 takes action on several fronts to build a more competitive business environment, especially for small businesses. We will continue our efforts to reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape by significantly reducing the number of tax remittances small businesses must file each year.
We will lower taxes to unlock business investment and open new market opportunities through a new global commerce strategy. We will work with the provinces and territories to eliminate interprovincial barriers and promote a freer flow of people and goods within Canada.
Creating a knowledge advantage is another key to our success as a nation. Canada's new government recognizes that our people are our greatest asset and it goes without saying that human capital is critical to a successful national economy. Accordingly, budget 2007 will help create a workforce that is the best educated, most skilled and most flexible in the world. It invests $1.3 billion to chart an ambitious new course for establishing scientific and technological leadership for Canada. It increases federal funding for post-secondary education by a full 40% and it invests $500 million a year in training.
For families saving for their children's education, budget 2007 makes registered education savings plans, RESPs, more attractive by eliminating the $4,000 limit on annual contributions. The budget also increases the lifetime RESP contribution limit from $42,000 to $50,000. The budget also increases the maximum Canada education savings grant annual amount from $400 to $500. That is our contribution to each family saving for their children's education. And there is more for families.
Families will also benefit through the actions in budget 2007 to create a tax advantage for Canada. As the finance minister noted yesterday, Canadians pay too much tax. They know it. We know it. We are doing something about it.
Budget 2007 proposes to reduce taxes for Canadian families and to make the tax rate on new business investment more internationally competitive. The working income tax benefit announced in budget 2007 will reward and strengthen incentives to work. More than 1.2 million low income Canadians will benefit from this measure.
Budget 2007 also proposes a new working families tax plan. This plan will end the marriage penalty, so-called, for single earner families. The budget proposes a new $2,000 child tax credit that will provide parents up to $310 in tax relief for each child under 18. More than three million Canadian families will benefit from this credit and 90% of those families will receive the maximum amount of relief.
Over 80% of relief provided by the working income tax benefit and the working families tax plan will go to Canadians earning under $75,000. Some 230,000 low income Canadians will be removed from the tax rolls. That is in addition to the 655,000 low income Canadians removed from the tax rolls as a result of tax reductions in our 2006 budget. What this means is that many more low income Canadians will be better able to meet the needs of their families through this government's recognition of the challenges they face.
We will enact the tax fairness plan we introduced last year to provide over $1 billion in additional tax savings for Canadian seniors by increasing the age credit amount and allowing pension income splitting.
On the business side of the ledger, budget 2007 will reduce the tax rate on new business investment to encourage investment, job creation and assist Canadian businesses to compete globally.
Manufacturing and processing businesses are a particular focus of budget 2007. They have faced difficulties of late given the strong Canadian dollar and rising challenges from international competition. To help them make the major investments needed to overcome these difficulties, budget 2007 proposes that they be provided with a special two year write-off for their capital investments and machinery and equipment from now until the end of 2008. We also propose to increase the capital cost allowance rate to 10% from 4% for buildings used in manufacturing and processing, and to 55% from 45% for computers.
We will improve tax fairness by tightening the rules that apply to the foreign source business income of Canadian companies.
We will also strengthen the Canada Revenue Agency's ability to deal with international tax evasion. We want a fair tax system for all Canadians.
Achieving these five advantages will make Canada a stronger country. However, we also need to make Canada safer. To that end, budget 2007 significantly enhances Canadians' security at home and ensures Canada plays an even more effective leadership role in world affairs in three key strategic areas: defence, public security and international assistance.
In the area of defence spending for example, budget 2007 proposes to increase environmental allowances for men and women of the Canadian Forces who are serving Canada in army field units. It proposes to create several new operational stress injury clinics for members of the military and their families.
The budget also makes significant investments to ensure that veterans get better services, including through the establishment of a veterans ombudsman.
Canadians want to live in safe and secure communities. Budget 2007 proposes important measures to help prevent crime and ensure public safety. Among other important investments, budget 2007 proposes to allot $64 million over two years to establish a new national anti-drug strategy with an emphasis on youth, prevention and treatment, and $14 million over two years to combat the criminal use of firearms.
As Canadians, we take pride in our role of reducing global poverty and promoting international peace and security. Budget 2007 will increase the resources Canada's new government has already devoted to this international assistance. It starts with the establishment of a three point program to enhance the focus, efficiency and accountability of Canada's international assistance efforts.
Further, this year's budget confirms the Prime Minister's announcement of $200 million in additional support for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan with the focus on new opportunities for women, on strengthened governance, enhanced security and combating illegal drugs.
The budget also invests an initial $115 million in the innovative advance market commitment led by Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom to create a pneumococcal vaccine that could save millions of lives in Africa and developing countries throughout the world.
A stronger Canada, a safer Canada will help us build a better Canada. Budget 2007 proposes to invest in the things that make Canada great and reflect the values and beliefs that define us as a nation.
On the environment, Canadians want their government to ensure that we have a clean and healthy environment in which to raise their children. Budget 2007 takes action to preserve our country's natural beauty, clean our air and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A key initiative is the Canada ecotrust for clean air and climate change which will provide $1.5 billion to the provinces and territories for projects that result in real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.
Budget 2007 provides a rebate of up to $2,000 per vehicle to encourage people to buy new fuel efficient vehicles. The budget also introduces a green levy for gas guzzlers. It provides $36 million over the next two years to help get older polluting vehicles off the road.
Canadians also want their governments to help members of our society who need it. That is where Canadian values shine through.
Budget 2007 focuses on initiatives to help and protect those Canadians who need it most. As I mentioned earlier, this includes the working income tax benefit of up to $1,000 per family or $500 for individuals to help people get over the welfare wall and strengthen incentives for obtaining and keeping a job.
The fact is, for a single mother struggling to get by, getting a job can mean losing 80¢ on the dollar through higher taxes and reduced benefits. We want to help people over the welfare wall and help them achieve the dignity and independence that comes with a job.
Canada's new government also recognizes the challenges faced by those raising a child with a severe disability. Budget 2007 introduces a new registered disability savings plan to help parents and others save for their child's future when they are no longer able to care for their child.
As Canadians we are proud of our universal health care system and Canada's new government has committed to sustaining it. The Canada health transfer will increase by $1.2 billion this year to bring to $21.3 billion federal support of provincial and territorial delivery of health care as part of our ongoing commitment to the 10 year plan to strengthen health care.
Budget 2007 takes further action to strengthen and modernize the health care system: an investment of $400 million for Canada Health Infoway to support the development of electronic health records that will reduce the chance of medical errors resulting from incomplete information and up to $600 million for provinces and territories which have made commitments to implement wait time guarantees.
Finally, fiscal balance has been the subject of much debate over the last while. Budget 2007 takes action to restore fiscal balance in Canada through a comprehensive and historic plan.
This plan also restores fiscal balance between taxpayers and government by cutting taxes and implementing our tax back guarantee so that the government only raises the revenues it needs to fulfill its responsibilities. It restores balance between governments by providing long term, equitable and predictable funding for shared priorities.
This plan will renew and strengthen the equalization program. Payments to receiving provinces will grow to almost $12.8 billion in 2007-08, $1.5 billion higher than in 2006-07. It will also strengthen and renew the territorial formula financing program.
It will deliver greater fairness through a commitment to equal per capita cash allocation for the Canada social transfer and the Canada health transfer, and increase federal funding to the provinces and territories for things that matter to Canadians, priorities such as post-secondary education, child care, infrastructure and the environment.
It provides long term, predictable funding for infrastructure with more than $16 billion in new funding over the next seven years.
It will make governments more accountable by clarifying roles and responsibilities and respecting jurisdictions. It will strengthen our economic union by acting on the Advantage Canada plan.
In short, it builds a stronger federation in which all governments come together to help Canada reach its full potential. That is what budget 2007 is all about, making life better for Canadians and their families.
As the Minister of Finance put it yesterday: “It is time to unleash Canada's full potential...Let us aspire to a stronger, safer, better Canada”.
Mr. Lui Temelkovski (Oak Ridges—Markham, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laval—Les Îles.
Once again this year I am pleased to speak to the Conservative budget. Last year I raised many concerns with the budget and I have the same concerns this year. This budget, once again, fails to provide an overarching vision for Canadians.
The budget fails to provide any measures for medium or long term sustainability for Canada. It seems to be a budget that is catering only to the partisan interests of the governing party for a federal election campaign, which Canadians do not want.
I am familiar with the issues that the finance minister addresses in the budget. My background for over 20 years was in the financial services industry. I have sat at the kitchen and boardroom tables with families struggling to make ends meet and families looking to maximize their investments. This background and awareness gives me a unique perspective on the Conservative budget.
The budget does not really do much to help most Canadians in an effective way. This is certainly one budget that tries to be all things to all people and is nothing to anyone in the end.
Before I begin commenting on the budget today, I want to provide some context. Last year's budget increased taxes. Beginning in July, Canadians found that they were paying more in income tax because of the marginal tax rate increase and the basic personal exemption decrease. Not only do we find a budget that is high in spending, but we find taxes for individual working Canadians are still excessively high. This makes the finance minister's second budget a tax and spend budget.
Many of us were optimistic and hopeful that the Conservative tax increases would be rolled back and with very high income tax revenues and large surpluses, Canadians might even find their taxes lowered significantly. This did not happen. The tax relief that the minister pretended to deliver yesterday is very little when last year's increases are factored in.
The first item I wish to address today is child care. It was with great fanfare that the government shelved the national child care program, which the previous Liberal government put in place with the provinces. Instead, Canadian families are receiving, after tax, less than $100 per child per month. On the news last night, a family in Ontario was profiled and the parents said that they were able to buy a few packs of diapers with that money. This is not good enough for Canadians. How does this help single parent families? How does this help families that are struggling to make ends meet?
The government says that the budget is about families, but it has eliminated one of the best social programs in 50 years in terms of truly helping families. My daughter works part time at a child care centre. She witnesses first-hand the struggles families are facing and how they struggle to bear the great cost of child care.
Seniors were certainly one of the groups that was looking for some help from the minister yesterday. I often hear from seniors in my riding who are concerned about the sustainability of public pension plans, which they depend on for making ends meet.
To be sure, some seniors will benefit from the measures in yesterday's budget, but let us remember that hundreds of thousands of single seniors, many of them women, will not benefit at all from the policies of the government. The Government of Canada's tax plan for seniors should be one that benefits all seniors equally.
Closely related, another matter that has greatly concerned seniors is the government's income trust decision of October 31. The decision to tax income trusts has wiped out more than $25 billion in savings overnight and reversed the key Conservative campaign promise. Many seniors invested their money based on their promises and their faith in the Conservatives cost them thousands of dollars of their hard-earned savings.
I have repeatedly heard from many constituents that they are concerned about the state of Canada's environment. As I have mentioned before, residents in Oak Ridges—Markham have a particular interest in environmental matters for a couple of reasons.
First, my riding is the home of the beautiful Oak Ridges Moraine. This natural preserve is held dear to many in my riding and those who visit the area. Another reason why constituents are so concerned with the environment is their residency in the GTA. We seem to experience more and more smog days every year and longer and longer commute times to work in the city.
My constituents are disappointed. There is very little in the budget that will truly make a difference to the environment. The tax break on environmentally friendly vehicles is a good idea, along with corresponding tax penalties for large vehicles, but most important, there is no overarching vision or plan for how the government will address this serious issue.
I recall in last year's budget the minister announced that the government environmental plan was under development. Let us bear in mind that the environment was not an original priority for the Prime Minister, but as public opinion polls started to report that Canadians were increasingly concerned about this issue, he changed his tune. Still we have not seen any results and the legislation the Conservatives unveiled last fall went over like a lead balloon. In fact, the legislation was so bad it had to be sent to a special committee for improvement.
The government says that it is a party that wants to get tough on crime. The Liberal Party has taken a strong position on criminal justice matters so far in this Parliament and supports seven of the government justice bills, and the budget finds some strategies that target white collar and drug crimes as well as more money for CSIS and corrections. It is my view that rather than rhetoric, the government should get down to business and truly implement justice strategies that will make Canadians safer.
The Liberal justice plan provides safer communities to Canadians and frees up time for Parliament and its justice committee to carefully study the other bills in the government's justice agenda with which we have serious concerns.
Why does the government not accept the Liberal offer to fast track justice legislation originally offered last October as an attempt to get effective criminal justice legislation passed through Parliament as quickly as possible to protect Canadian communities? Why is the government choosing confrontation and partisanship over safer communities? Canadians have not seen results now in two of the Conservative budgets.
I will continue to do what I can to bring the concerns of my constituents here to the floor of the House of Commons and pressure the government to act in the best interest of Canadians.
Ms. Raymonde Folco (Laval—Les Îles, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the citizens of Laval—Les Îles, whom I am honoured to have represented in Parliament for 10 years now, I rise today to discuss the budget presented by the Conservative government.
After a year and two months, this government is still calling itself Canada's new government. This government is no longer new.
It is a government that has tried to walk and even run before it could properly crawl into the hearts, minds and pockets of Canadians.
This government has preached responsibility. This government has preached fiscal responsibility and a competitive and efficient economic union. However, in this budget the government forgot about women, retirees and seniors. It forgot about our humanitarian commitments to the most underprivileged. This government did not present a clear vision for immigration and the role of newcomers to Canada in the building of our society, whose population is rapidly aging. This government has a hidden agenda.
The hidden agenda is the government's eagerness to please everyone while trying to steal a little here and there from the wallets of Canadians, without any thought to the real impact of these last-minute attempts to please.
This government has no vision of Canada's future, because it has not stopped to think about it. It is short-sighted. This budget does not unite Canada; it divides it.
In the newspaper headlines this morning I saw:
“Families frown on measures”.
It was in the Ottawa Citizen.
This not so new government tells us it is investing in Canadians, preserving and protecting our environment and improving the quality of our health care system for all. Yet it ignores the plight of seniors who are falling through the cracks of Canada's medical system without proper home care for the elderly.
I congratulate the government in seeing the values of the new horizons program, which was established by the former Liberal government, and for expanding it. Let us not forget, and sometimes corporate memory is lacking in this chamber, it was the former Conservative government that attempted to deindex the pensions of seniors. If it had succeeded, that measure would have worsened the plight of seniors. This is a piecemeal budget that lacks direction, sound policy and practical options.
Missing from the budget is a more thoughtful and cohesive plan to ensure that the system responds to the needs of seniors, seniors as caregivers, seniors who are less and less able to provide for their daily needs.
In my riding of Laval—Les Îles, over 27,995 seniors, 15,000 of whom are women, are between 65 and 74 years of age. Thirteen thousand people are over 75 years old, and slightly over 3,000 people are more than 85. Only 920 of them are men.
Seniors have told me that they have to choose between eating and paying their electricity bills. Furthermore statistics show that 16% of women, compared to 13% of men, live in food insecurity, this difference being related to household expenses and family structure.
The majority of senior citizens are women, we all know that, women whom this government deems to be equal, as the Minister of Canadian Heritage has said. The Minister of Finance should read the Ottawa Citizen to see just how equal senior citizens are in this fine country of ours.
Budget 2007 is certainly based on the Conservative government's unreal idea of equality by the creation of a partnership fund with a miserly $20 million so there could be real action in key areas such as the economic status of women and combating violence against women and girls.
Where has the government been? Out of one side of her mouth the Minister of Status of Women says that women are equal, and the budget says that something is wrong with our economic status. So the government said to take $20 million and go and partner, in other words beg other federal departments for top ups, to improve women's economic status and reduce partner violence. None of this makes any sense, not to me anyway, and I am sure not to the 52% of women who live and work in this country.
This budget further compounds insult and injury to women of this country. The government ignored the recommendations of the federal task force on pay equity created by our Liberal government. The task force recommended the expansion of employment insurance parental leave coverage. On September 18 last year the Conservative government said no.
The government in its last budget saw fit to cut $45 million from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation budget. Various studies emphasize the link between stable, affordable housing and women's personal safety and economic participation, yet the Conservative government went so far as to reduce by $200 million in federal contributions those moneys over the previous year that would have helped to create new affordable housing.
According to the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, abuse in the home can drive women and girls into the streets. The lack of housing puts women and girls at even further serious risk of physical and sexual violence and early death. That is Canada's not so new government. The Conservative not so new government wants women, single women, self-employed women, isolated women, women and girls who are sexually exploited, immigrant women, women who are seniors, to no doubt thank it for these handouts.
Minority linguistic communities also lose out in this budget. As the Liberal critic for la Francophonie and official languages, I feel that this government has constantly ignored Canadians in minority linguistic communities in this bilingual country.
By getting rid of the early childhood day care programs set up by the previous Liberal government the Conservatives have at the same time swept aside the principle of increasing the number of day care spaces in these communities, which was at the heart of our agreement.
This government does not see Canada as a bilingual country. These measures, even though they sound praiseworthy, do not go far enough to achieve language development results. And certainly not in two years.
As the studies show us, it takes a minimum of seven years for a language to be properly developed in a child. I am talking about language development in environments conducive to such learning. Does the government really intend to fulfil its obligations under the Action Plan for Official Languages?
In committee I heard complaints from minority linguistic communities that are worried about not being able to offer services to parents and their children in their mother tongue.
We have heard about children whose mother tongue is that of the minority—French obviously—who have to go to an English-language high school because either the provinces are not fulfilling their obligations under federal-provincial-territorial agreements, or they are not allocating the funding necessary to ensure that the programs are maintained.
Budget 2007 allocates $52 million over the next two years in preparation for the 12th Francophonie Summit, taking place in 2008. This budget is actually offering very little, indeed no incentive, for francophones in Canada who wish to move to minority linguistic communities or even to encourage newcomers from francophone countries to settle in areas of the country where French is the language of the minority community.
Thirty million dollars will not change the situation. Canada needs a strategy planned by its government that shows Canadians the importance of maintaining, promoting and developing pride in Canada, whose distinguishing characteristic as a nation is bilingualism.
That means that services and the possibility of learning both official languages should be accessible and available where Canadians are living and where newcomers choose to settle in this fine country of ours.
While there are some good initiatives in the budget, this is indeed a piecemeal approach to governing Canada. I was going to mention several of the good initiatives, but I see that my time is running out. I will just say that I will wait to see if the government does what it said it will do in the budget and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the provinces under the labour market bilateral agreements. This cannot be underestimated.
I hope that part of the Conservative government's discussions, which I hope will also take place with business, will ensure that organizations proactively plan--
Hon. Gerry Ritz (Secretary of State (Small Business and Tourism), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to speak to budget 2007, our second budget in a minority government situation. We have gone a long way in the past year and of course we are looking toward the future again and dragging along some political parties that are either embarrassed or too ashamed to vote with us on some of these initiatives. Today we have heard folks talk about supporting certain parts of it but that it is a piecemeal approach and so on. That is what budgets are all about. Of course, nobody can agree with everything.
Mr. Speaker, at this point I should also say that I will be splitting my time with the Minister of Labour.
It is a successful budget. We already know that. Endorsements have been coming in from people from coast to coast to coast on what they like in the budget. Of course, in a lot of initiatives there are things some would like to see fleshed out even more. We will get to those. I think people are just absolutely shocked at the distance we have come and the amount of ground we have covered as a minority government and in the short time that we have been in government.
I congratulate the Minister of Finance and his team, the chair of the finance committee, all the members who sit on that committee and of course the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, the member for Calgary—Nose Hill. They have done yeoman service in putting together another very successful budget.
As have many members, I have been inundated by calls from the media at home as to what I like, what I do not like and what people are saying about the budget. Everybody is saying that the budget is very successful, with the exception of the premier of Saskatchewan who is looking for a hill to die on in the next election. He cannot seem to get a disagreement going with the leader of the opposition in Saskatchewan so he is targeting us. He has decided that he needs a fight that he can take to the people of Saskatchewan. The unfortunate part for him is that there is commentary and polls ongoing over the Internet and on talk shows and without exception, 60% to 66% of Saskatchewan people are saying that we did the right thing.
We followed through on our campaign promise which was to remove 100% of the non-renewable resources. We did that. We also said building on that, that no province would be left behind. There would be no more one-off politically stacked deals which the former Liberal Party finance minister made with certain provinces in order to try to stack the decks at election time. There are no more of those. We also said that it would take a consensus of the provinces to move ahead with changes. We could not put it in last year's budget. We gave them a year to try to come up with some sort of agreement as to how they wanted to proceed along those lines. All of us in the House know that they could not agree.
When it comes to the removal of the non-renewable resources, there are only a few provinces that have them to any degree that would make a difference and the rest have hydroelectricity and different things like that. They are saying they want it left as it is. What we did is we came up with the best of all worlds scenario by giving provinces like Saskatchewan the option of 100% exclusion of non-renewable resources in their fiscal plan, or 50% inclusion. That allows Saskatchewan to make that choice on a year by year basis, whichever is better for the bottom line and the people of that province.
Knowing Mr. Calvert, the premier of Saskatchewan, as I do, he is more inclined to shut down the burgeoning resource sector, sit back, hold his hand out and say that somebody has to help him. That is the socialist attitude out there in that province.
Saskatchewan people are pioneer stock. They enjoy the fact that Saskatchewan is a have province now. We finally jumped over that glass ceiling, as it were, and we are now playing in the big leagues with potential, second only to Alberta and maybe even equal to Alberta, because we have not tapped the resources that we know are still there.
I have a real problem with the attitude in Saskatchewan that somehow we have to look to Ottawa to help us all the time. I for one am thrilled and I know most of the people in my constituency are thrilled to be part of that have movement, to start to open up those oil and gas reserves, the diamond mines, the uranium, the potash and everything else that we have going in that non-renewable envelope.
We know that we will be able to bring our kids home when we develop those jobs in Saskatchewan like we would and should under a different regime. I have been having a bit of a running battle with them. They are saying we betrayed our promise, that we out and out lied according to some of them. I am here to tell them it is absolute hogwash. It is all election jargon. It is all politicking. If the premier and his finance team and government relations folks want to die on that political hill in the next provincial election, I would be more than happy to help them carry the flag up that hill and plant it for them.
There are a number of other things that are just great for Saskatchewan. It is actually the largest winner when we break it down on a per capita basis. There is some $230 per capita in new spending for the province of Saskatchewan alone.There is a lot of talk about Quebec always getting all the money, especially with an election in Quebec. The new spending in Quebec amounts to $91 per capita. We can see the disparity. The problem is when we talk economies of scale. Of course the NDP does not want to do that; it wants to be very selective. It says we are not getting enough, but when we break it down per capita, we are doing extremely well. I know most people out there are thankful for that.
There is a huge movement in this budget on something for which we have been asking, which is the biofuel strategy. It is there and rolled out. Producers in my riding are phoning in asking when and how and saying that we should get rolling with this. They want to get shovels in the ground and concrete poured this summer to start moving ahead with ethanol and biodiesel.
There is a bit of a shortfall in Saskatchewan. Only the provinces of Alberta and Ontario moved ahead with their components on ethanol and biodiesel. Saskatchewan is sitting back. I heard the provincial minister of agriculture say the other day that as a province Saskatchewan cannot compete. What a defeatist attitude. I categorically deny and will not accept that ever.
The farmers in Saskatchewan are some of the best in the world, bar none. We know they are looking for a role outside the Canadian Wheat Board to move ahead with a lot of products, specifically high starch wheats for the ethanol industry. There is talk of some new barley development. There is also the whole canola industry feeding into biodiesel. It is a win-win-win situation.
In our budget we came forward with a 10¢ on biodiesel and 20¢ on ethanol production subsidy, if one wants to call it that. Once we get rolling on that, we are asking the provinces to kick in their share to get close to what the Americans do. We need to parallel their system to make sure the factories and plants are built on the north side of the border.
We have done our share. Alberta has actually topped up its share. Ontario has done the same. They are buying market share right now. Saskatchewan is saying that as a province it cannot compete. It is time to get past that ideology, move on and say that we have rolled up our sleeves and are ready to do it. I know that people in Saskatchewan are ready to tell the provincial government to lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way. We know that an election will take place there very soon.
We are seeing infrastructure problems across the country. A few years ago the Canadian Chamber of Commerce identified some $65 billion in round numbers of an infrastructure deficit, roads, bridges, sewer, water, all those types of things. We have doubled infrastructure spending in this budget. Last time we came up with a four year program that said we would spend $16 billion. We have now upped that to $33 billion, the largest input into infrastructure which we know is crumbling in this country. We are trying to head that off and slow it down. We have seen overpasses collapse in Quebec. We have seen boil water advisories in way too many communities on and off reserve across this country. We are addressing those things in this budget. Of course Saskatchewan will be a beneficiary of a big chunk of that cash as well.
The ecotrust turns the corner on getting on top of pollution as a whole, not just the Kyoto accord. I have always been one of the most outspoken folks saying that Kyoto does not get it done. It does not go far enough. It was good that it brought the environment to the front of our minds, but it did not get the job done. Even the Liberal wannabe leaders were critiquing the leader who did win, saying that as the environment minister he did not get it done. We are. The money is there.
The new Minister of the Environment, whom I am happy to sit beside in this great House, has done an excellent job. The minister before him started to lay it all out. I see the Liberals across are nodding their heads in agreement, saying it is great stuff. The member for Toronto Centre is enjoying public transit in Toronto. He takes the bus every chance he gets. I bet, if we were to check, he has bus tokens in his pocket right now.
Municipalities in Saskatchewan are quite concerned that the money has to flow through the province. The province of Saskatchewan is alone in charging a stipend, a percentage on these flow through moneys. It is a bit of a ripoff. The municipalities' only critique of this budget is why it cannot be sent to them directly. They are tired of paying the godfather in Regina and would like to see the money on their own desks so they could do more with it. That is the initiative we are looking to see.
We are seeing the parties in the House playing politics with it. NDP members are saying they cannot support it. Today I happened to be on a talk show before and after the leader of the NDP and he went on with his predictable rant. I cannot understand when he says there is nothing in the budget for seniors. CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired People, has endorsed it saying it is a great step ahead and that we are moving the right way. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is saying that it is great for small business and we are finally getting on top of that. That and tourism are my portfolios. I am happy to say those businesses are looking at this budget with a lot of favour.
There are credits for the disabled that have been a long time coming.
The former Liberal finance minister had to have help two or three times to get a budget done. It still did not cover off any of the things that Canadians wanted. Canadians gave the Conservatives a new mandate on January 23, 2006. I am happy to be here delivering the programs that Canadians are asking for in a way they can make use of today and tomorrow.
Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn (Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin this debate by talking about the current budget, which I would describe as responsible and credible. It is also a budget that strengthens both Quebec and Canada.
Why is it that we can say Quebec and Canada will be stronger after this budget? First of all, because we have resolved the fiscal imbalance issue. While the party opposite, the Liberal Party, refused to even recognize that notion, we of the Conservative Party, through the voice of our Prime Minister, recognize that a fiscal imbalance did exist in this country. Indeed, the federal government had a lot more money than the provinces, which was affecting their flexibility.
I am going to focus on the province of Quebec right now, since I am a member from Quebec. What we have just done today is hand over $4.1 billion over two years to Quebec, which is additional funding to correct the fiscal imbalance. What is most interesting about all this is the fact that the Bloc Québécois was asking for $3.9 billion over three years. They have approximately 50 members here in the House of Commons. For 14 years, they have been making all kinds of requests, without ever getting any results, without ever being able to do anything themselves, because they are always in opposition. All they can do is complain.
In 14 months, with our Prime Minister and 10 members from Quebec, we have resolved the issue of the fiscal imbalance with this payment of $4.1 billion over two years. I would like to be in Quebec Premier Jean Charest's shoes today. If $4.1 billion over two years had just been added to my coffers, I would be very proud of the federal government. Indeed, that would give me plenty of flexibility to better meet the needs of the province of Quebec and its citizens.
I would like to talk about a few other aspects of this budget that I also find interesting. There is the issue of families. To the Conservative Party—as a member of this party—family has always been very important to us. Last year, the Prime Minister granted $1,200 for children six and under, for child care. It is up to the parents to decide how to use that money, whether they prefer to have someone come into their home to care for their child or whether they want to send their child to a day care. It is up to the parents and they get $1,200 a year for that purpose.
This year, we approached this from another angle to address children 18 and under in one family. A $2,000 tax credit will be given for every child 18 and under to help families better position themselves to meet the immediate needs of their children. A $2,000 tax credit represents roughly $350 in cash that people will receive per child.
The other thing we are doing for families involves RRSPs. We know that we will increasingly need older workers since there are fewer and fewer people in the job market and there will be a labour shortage. In that context, if our seniors want to continue to work on a temporary basis, and want to continue to be active in society and become involved, the age limit for RRSPs is being raised from 69 to 71. People will be able to continue to contribute to their RRSPs and not have to withdraw from them until they are 71.
The other interesting aspect as far as family is concerned, has to do with workers. A $500 benefit will help support workers in the labour market. We realize that these people have expenses to get to work, that they invest and need more help. In this context, we are giving a $500 benefit to our workers.
Often little is done for truckers. We know that the previous governments decreased their help. When truckers are on the road and have to stop at a restaurant for food, only 50% of their meal expenses were deductible. We are going to raise this from 50% to 80%. This is another step in helping our truckers.
As for the environment, some have talked about it. All manner of grand proposals were made. But when it came time to take action, they backed off. Our government decided to show that it is taking all this seriously. What are we doing about the environment? First, there is the $1.5 billion Canada ecotrust established this year to improve our air quality and also to clean up our lakes, rivers and oceans.
We also have about $4.5 billion in global environmental initiatives for this year.
One measure that may have particularly impressed citizens yesterday is promoting the purchase of energy efficient vehicles in order to reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality. This will be accomplished by providing a credit of $2,000 for the purchase of such automobiles.
Why are we doing this? If we do encourage Canadians to choose these vehicles when making a purchase, and we contribute to improving air quality, this in turn will encourage businesses to carry out even more research into renewable fuels and improving the environment in Canada. This measure shows that we are serious and that we want to push companies to really work harder in this area.
There is also something that not many opposition members probably even noticed. That is festivals. There will be an additional $30 million a year for them. As a result of the sponsorship scandal, this entire area had been overlooked. People were asking us to do something to support festivals in the regions of Quebec. There are big events in Montreal, of course, but there are also festivals and other events regionally. These people were asking for government support. Thirty million dollars will therefore be earmarked for them. I know that a lot of people will be very happy to hear this. When we see the budget breakdown, we will see how it will all work out.
I am Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, and when a budget is introduced, I almost automatically look at what it means for the regions.
There are two aspects. First, there is the manufacturing sector, that is to say, the companies that produce goods and services.
We just told our companies—like those in the forest industry, for example sawmills, pulp and paper and various manufacturers—that they will be able to write off the investments they make in new equipment over the next two years more quickly and that they will be able to do so in just two years. If these companies do it in two years, it will mean a return on their investment. This will be attractive to them. If they take action—and we believe that they will thanks to this measure—the regions of Quebec are going to see new investment in sawmills, pulp and paper plants and other manufacturing. This measure should also make our companies more competitive on foreign markets, more productive, and therefore more profitable. It applies to small and medium-size companies, of course, but also to large manufacturers.
The other aspect to which I wanted to draw the House’s attention concerns our farmers. What are we doing more specifically for our farmers and for our fishers and small businesspeople?
The ceiling on the capital gains exemption had been fixed at half-a-million dollars per year for nearly 20 years. We have just raised that to three-quarters of a million dollars. As a result, our farmers will now have an opportunity to transfer a farm to their children or other people who could take over the business. The same applies to fishers, which is important, and also to small businesses.
Farmers were complaining about the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program. They wanted changes. We told them we would make changes; and we have done that. We will replace the program, so to speak, with a support system for farmers. This year, as a matter of fact, we are adding $1 billion in agricultural support.
Finally, there is the infrastructure program. People are more or less aware of what goes into an infrastructure program. First, there are big projects, such as major highways. We have set aside $16 billion for those; altogether, $33 billion over seven years to strengthen the infrastructure program.
In Quebec, more precisely, the federal government recently invested $40 million to support Phase III. At present, many regional projects are waiting to start. No doubt, shortly after its election, the new government in Quebec will match our investment of $40 million. That will enable us to support specific projects.
In substance, it is a good budget. It is not a show-off budget; it is serious and credible.
I understand very well why the Bloc Québécois has decided to support us. Indeed, they knew perfectly well that voting against this budget was not an option. At the same time, we have a right to question their presence here in this House of Commons, to the extent that, in addition, they confirm that they will support our budget.
Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate. It will allow us to clarify a number of things being spread around by the Conservatives and the other opposition parties about the position taken by the Bloc Québécois.
First, when the Bloc Québécois was created to represent Quebeckers in this House, it remedied a deficit, the democratic deficit that meant that the 45 to 50% of Quebeckers who had chosen the option of sovereignty for Quebec, who believed that they had no future in the Canadian federal system, were not represented in the House of Commons. This was an extremely significant crack in the democratic system. That is the primary source of our legitimacy. Anyone who does not recognize this is opposed to democracy and has no respect for the 50% of Quebeckers whose choice is sovereignty for Quebec.
The second source of our legitimacy is the fact that we are the voice of Quebeckers in this House. We are the only ones who have the independence that is needed so as not to compromise our principles as all the other parties have to do, setting aside the interests of Quebec, of Quebeckers, often to please lobby groups, and in particular those from Western Canada.
I believe that these two factors are a sufficient and complete explanation for the legitimacy of our presence here. Anyone who questions this might really wonder about what their democratic vision of a country like Canada is based on.
In 1993, we made a breakthrough on that democratic deficit when we came here to Parliament, for what is hoped will be as short a time as possible. Yesterday, we made a partial breakthrough on the fiscal imbalance by making a number of gains that—and we must be very clear on this point—are insufficient, but are nonetheless significant enough that the Bloc Québécois is comfortable in supporting this budget.
There is nothing new in this, and it has nothing to do with the present state of affairs. Our position has nothing to do with the election in Quebec or the fact that a federal election is imminent. Even though the Prime Minister is going around saying that he does not want an election, he is still trying to provoke the opposition into bringing him down.
We are ready for a campaign. Everyone knows that in Quebec, our party is the one that is ahead in the polls. Our party is ready to go into an election. We have done this based on our game plan, which has been common knowledge for a year.
In the last federal budget, my colleague at the time, Yvan Loubier, who was the Bloc critic, explained it clearly. We supported the budget in 2006-2007 because it contained a promise to resolve the fiscal imbalance in the present budget. Since then, we have made known exactly what our expectations are. They relate to three things. Unfortunately, our first concern has been addressed only partially.
First, federal transfers to the provinces have to be restored to the level they were before the Liberal cuts in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Yesterday, a step was taken toward this goal, but it is still not enough. Everyone has seen how the university and college community reacted, from the presidents of universities to university and college professors and student associations. Transfers for post-secondary education and social programs have not provided the money that everyone was expecting, including the provincial governments. On this point, there is a weakness that will have to be corrected and that will be corrected, because the Bloc Québécois will continue to dog the Conservative government's heels to have transfers for post-secondary education and social programs restored to 1994-95 levels, which will take $5 billion more for Canada as a whole and $1.2 billion for Quebec. What has been announced is barely a few hundred million dollars, and that is quite simply not enough.
This is our first concern. The second deals with the power to limit and eliminate spending power in provincial jurisdictions, particularly in Quebec.
In the budget it was merely given lip service.
I would like to read, on page 141, where it says, “Budget 2007 reconfirms the Government’s commitment to limit the use of the federal spending power to—” But no provisions were made. Will this be a law? As Mr. Dumont asked, will the Constitution be reviewed to eliminate this interpretation that the federal government has spending power in provincial and Quebec jurisdictions? In 2006, we had exactly the same sentence. We got absolutely nowhere on that issue. It is just lip service. But that is not a problem, the Bloc Québécois will use this to force the government, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to introduce legislation so that provinces that do not want the federal government encroaching on their jurisdictions can opt out with no conditions and with full compensation. This is what managing and limiting federal spending power really is. This is what the Séguin commission asked for, it is what the governments of Quebec have asked for, and it is what the Parti Québécois government will ask for as of March 26.
This is why we are prepared to support the budget, as I mentioned. We will continue to strive to settle this issue once and for all, but we must also have a partner that can stand up in Quebec City and who is capable of making his demands known clearly. Yesterday we saw the reaction of the three party leaders. Only one of them said what was actually one of the solutions to the fiscal imbalance, and that is to limit and restrict the federal government’s power to spend in the provinces’ jurisdiction. It was Mr. Boisclair, the leader of the Parti Québécois, who said that.
We want to continue the fight on the fiscal imbalance but we need a strong ally in the Government of Quebec. So we hope that on March 26, the Parti Québécois can take up the torch of Quebec’s traditional demands concerning the restriction and limitation—and elimination in a way—of the federal government’s power to encroach on the provinces’ areas of jurisdiction. I reiterate this because we know what the solution is; it is simple. All it takes is the possibility to opt out unconditionally, with full compensation, of a federal initiative in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This is our second concern. As may be seen, we once again get just two lines, as in the previous budget.
The third issue unfortunately is completely missing from the budget. Members must bear in mind that that was not a gift we got yesterday. It is our money which is finally coming back to Quebec, money that the Liberal government had unfairly used for other purposes—and my colleague from Chambly—Borduas mentioned it—in particular to pay down the debt when there are plenty of other concerns and priorities in Quebec and Canada. This is the fact that it is not at all logical for Quebeckers to pay taxes to Ottawa that are then transferred back so that Quebec can assume its constitutional responsibilities in health, education, post-secondary education and social programs.
We believe it would be logical—and I think that anyone with a bit of common sense and no particular biases, a federalist bias, will understand this matter of federal visibility in Quebec and in the provinces—that the part that corresponds to the transfers for health, post-secondary education and social programs should be returned to the provinces and to Quebec in the form of tax points. For example, transfer of the GST to Quebec was the suggestion made by the Séguin Commission. This would be simple to do because the Quebec revenue ministry already administers the goods and services tax as it does the Quebec sales tax. This should be transferred to ensure that Quebec now has the autonomy, the partial independence necessary to assume it own responsibilities in its own areas of jurisdiction without fearing that, as in 1993-94 or in 1995-96, a government, whether Liberal, Conservative or—why not dream—New Democratic, will decide to cut these transfers unilaterally and thus cause huge problems. You know how all the Canadian provinces are experiencing financial problems and have trouble balancing their budgets.
When I see them saying in the document, for example, that the provinces, overall, had a surplus of X, you realize that about 80% of that surplus comes from Alberta. That is distorting the reality of the situation. In fact, when Quebec does manage to balance its budget, it is often because it has been forced to sell some assets. Mr. Audet was forced to sell $800 million of assets last year to balance his finances. He is already forecasting a shortfall of $900 million in his financial framework for next year. We believe that Quebec must have its own revenue sources that are controlled by the National Assembly, and that are not subject to the sword of Damocles, which is the unilateral desire of the federal government to do whatever it wants, in the belief that it knows better than others what they need.
We had another example. One might have said that it was under the centralizing Liberals, and so forth. But no, when the Conservatives took office, what did they do? They tore up the agreement on child care. That deprives Quebec of $270 million as of this year. That is the reality of the situation. Once again, we are talking about an area of jurisdiction that belongs to Quebec.
The fight that we want to lead seeks not only to limit the spending power of the federal government; not merely to ensure that transfers are restored to the levels they were before the Liberal cuts—with indexation, obviously—but also to ensure that, within its jurisdiction, Quebec and the National Assembly can make decisions on spending, without having to account to anyone but the citizens of Quebec. As I have said, we will continue the fight.
As we heard this afternoon, the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Finance believe that it is a done deal. Well, it is far from it. Those who think it is a done deal are completely disconnected from reality. In any event, in my opinion, the Conservatives are disconnected from Quebec. They use a certain surface polish to try to show that we are a little different from the others; but when you scratch that surface, you realize that it is the same centralizing federal government. Red or blue, the national parties in Ottawa are all centralizing. When you read the budget carefully, it is full of intrusions into Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction. One need only consider the Canadian Securities Commission. There will be a major constitutional problem if the federal government wants to proceed. That is very clearly spelled out in the Canadian Constitution.
Those who think that it is over are mistaken. In fact, no one in Quebec said that it was over. Everyone may have said that the step is more or less of interest. However, no one asked the Bloc Québécois to vote against this budget: not the three leaders of the political parties who are in the midst of a provincial election, not the leaders of the labour unions, not the business associations or even the student associations. The latter could have said to the Bloc Québécois that there is almost nothing for post-secondary education and that the members should vote against it. They understood that there was something in the increased transfers for students. No one has asked us to vote against the budget. Yet no one believes that it is over and that the fiscal imbalance has been resolved and is a closed issue. Far from it. We will continue the battle. Quebeckers do not believe that the Prime Minister has kept the promise he made in the 2006 election.
Today, one step has been taken. It is a small step, but a step nonetheless. We must now continue forward. As I mentioned, in the coming months the government must make a commitment to increase transfers for health, post-secondary education and social programs. Not only do we need an increase in transfer payments but we also need a piece of legislation, a law, that will provide a framework for the federal government's spending authority. The government will also have to prove that it is willing to negotiate with the provinces—Quebec in particular—to transfer the tax room that corresponds to federal transfer payments for health, education and social solidarity.
For the time being, this small step is sufficiently valuable for the Bloc Québécois to feel comfortable in supporting the budget. However, we must realize that not only is it not over but that it is the beginning of a process initiated by the sovereignists. It is important to remember this. Personally, I had never before heard Mr. Dumont speak of the fiscal imbalance. Yesterday was the first time. However, it is true that Mr. Charest has pressured the federal government to resolve the fiscal imbalance.
While he did not use the expression "fiscal imbalance", Mr. Bouchard had also started talking about the problems caused by the unilateral cuts in transfers from the federal government to Quebec. However, it must be recalled that it was the Parti Québécois government of Bernard Landry that created the Séguin Commission, and that that commission achieved consensus in Quebec. I point this out because we are going to be hammering that theme. The Séguin Commission recommended three things: bringing transfers from the federal government back up to the level of before the cuts, taking inflation into account; circumscribing the federal government's spending power; and negotiating the transfer of tax room so that the Government of Quebec would have the independent revenues that it needs in order to meet its own responsibilities.
So it was Mr. Landry who took that initiative, and it was the Parti Québécois that took up the battle. Obviously, it was the battle of all Quebeckers, and all parties in Quebec clearly understood this, and there was one unanimous motion after another in the National Assembly demanding that the federal government respond to Quebec's expectations. Yesterday, we got a first step toward a response. However, and I repeat, I can assure you that no one in Quebec thinks that this case is closed.
If the Conservatives think that, they will have a serious surprise in the next election. I can assure you of that.
I would perhaps like to conclude my presentation by pointing out that we are not at all satisfied when it comes to equalization payments. Certainly, for this year, the figures are attractive. We are talking about $1.6 billion. That is not everything that Quebec had called for, however.
I remind members that Quebec had called for calculation of equalization payments to be based on the 10 provinces—which we have achieved—and on 100% of renewable resources. I do not understand why the federal government, with its new structure, with a two-tier equalization system, two choices, two options, has not given the provinces that want it the option to get amounts based on 10 provinces and 100% of revenue from the provinces, including non-renewable resources. That did not take anything away from Saskatchewan, Alberta or Newfoundland and Labrador, but it allowed Quebec to get its true share of equalization payments. Remember that equalization is not paid by Albertans or Ontarians, but by Canadians and Quebeckers. It is not a gift from the West. It is simply the concrete expression of what is written in the Canadian constitution.
You know that the spirit of equalization was distorted by the Liberals, but it is there in the Canadian Constitution. This is not something the evil sovereignists made up. It is a decision that was made by Canadians and Quebeckers in order to ensure, throughout the Canadian political federation, that for an equal tax burden, the revenue is equivalent.
That also needs work. There needs to be an equalization formula that not only takes into account the 10 provinces, but also 100% of revenues, including non-renewable natural resources. That is the work that lies ahead of us.
As I said in the beginning, a year ago we announced that our decision on whether or not to support the Conservative budget would depend on the response, or the beginning of the response, to the fiscal imbalance problem. Yesterday, as I was saying, we were able to announce our support for the budget because of that very aspect.
However, it is clear that a number of issues were forgotten in this budget and the Conservative government will also have to answer for that in an election campaign. There is a lack of assistance programs for older workers. We do not need a whole new series of studies, as the Minister of Labour was saying. I believe the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities has done a number of studies on this issue. There was even a motion passed unanimously in this House before the last election. We now have to take action. We are talking about a program that costs practically nothing, between $75 million and $100 million. When we consider that the federal government's income exceeds $230 billion, this is a drop in the bucket and yet necessary for decreasing the economic insecurity that a number of regions in Quebec are experiencing.
Take, for example, my own region. In my riding, in northern Lanaudière, there is a municipality called Saint-Michel-des-Saints. At one time, there were two big Louisiana-Pacific plants there, a sawmill and a waferboard plant. Louisiana-Pacific closed these two plants for reasons related to economic conditions, namely, the slowdown in residential construction in the United States. The unemployment rate in that municipality and the neighbouring municipality of Saint-Zénon is around 40% to 50%. Those people will be collecting the last of their benefits in August. If the Bloc's bill had been passed, they would have been able to collect for at least five more weeks.
Many of those workers are over 55. Their only option now, because there is no other employer, is to leave the region. This exodus of older workers, on the heels of the youth exodus, will happen because they will be forced to go somewhere else to try to earn a pittance. We could easily enable them to exit the labour market in a dignified manner with a certain degree of financial security that would allow them to stay in their communities. With just a little money, we could keep all of these communities alive. This is about dignity, a concept that has been thrown out the window.
There is nothing here about social housing. Many of the programs cut during the $1 billion round of cuts have not been revived or have been revived in a way we consider unacceptable.
So there is a lot of work to do, and I hope nobody gets the wrong idea about the Bloc's support.
The Bloc's support will be limited, based on what we announced a year ago—and therefore no surprise—and based on what we read in the budget concerning transfers to Quebec for next year.
As I said earlier, much remains to be done. The fiscal imbalance issue is not resolved. I would like the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to know that it is not over. This is just the beginning.
Mr. Brian Storseth (Westlock—St. Paul, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell.
I want to start by addressing the fact that I personally feel this is the best budget that the people of Canada, and particularly the people of Alberta, have seen for a generation.
For far too long, we have suffered at the hands of a Liberal government that chose the privileged class over hard-working Albertans who work 60 hours a week to keep our province prosperous. For far too long, we Albertans have had to deal with Liberal governments that chose to pit one region against another for partisan purposes. For far too long, Alberta has suffered at the hands of fiscal mismanagement from successive Liberal governments that promised everything and delivered nothing. At the end of the day, they just did not get the job done.
Turning the page, however, today is a great day for Canadians. With the release of budget 2007, Canadians will finally have fiscal balance. Thanks to Canada's new government, we have rectified Liberal negligence by providing a budget that has something in it for everyone. From families to farmers to seniors to military personnel, this budget leaves no rock unturned.
Canada's new government is giving back to Canadians. We are putting money back where it belongs: in the hands of hard-working Canadians.
In the province of Alberta alone, fiscal balance is being restored with over $3 billion in 2007-08. Our government is giving provinces the resources they need to deliver the front line services that matter to all Canadians.
Finally, we have a government that respects the role of the Constitution and the role of municipalities and the provinces.
During my first term in office, I have had the privilege of knocking on many doors. One such door I want to tell a quick story about was in Redwater. I was talking to a nice young lady by the name of Carrie Fischer. When I knocked on her door, I asked if I could go in and elicit her support. She said certainly, but she had a message she wanted to give me first. I sat down at her kitchen table, across from her three young children, and listened to her talk about how she felt she had been mistreated for years by the Canadian system of taxation. She felt that as a married mother who stays at home to look after her children she had been penalized because her husband goes off to work.
I am proud that our Prime Minister has listened to those people sitting around kitchen tables. Hard-working families are the backbone of this country and Canada's new government recognizes this.
Families in Alberta and across the nation will enjoy a new $2,000 child tax credit that will provide more than three million families with tax relief of up to $310 per child. In Alberta, parents will save an estimated $173.2 million.
Albertan families will also enjoy a new “working income tax benefit” of up to $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families. This will benefit Alberta workers, with over $55.2 million going back into their pockets.
That is not all. Alberta residents will save roughly $30.2 million with an increase in the basic spousal amount that will provide tax relief of up to $209 to a supporting spouse or a single taxpayer supporting a child or relative.
Alberta taxpayers will also save $13.5 million with an increase in the RRSP and registered pension plan maturation age limit from 69 to 71 years of age. This is well over $272 million back in the hands of Alberta families alone.
The buck does not stop there. Canada's new government is just getting started.
Farmers and homegrown biofuel producers will also have their fair share of what it means to have a government that not only listens to their problems but also acts on those problems.
One billion dollars will be committed to farmers for the improvement of national farm income programs. Of that commitment, $600 million will go toward contributory-style producer savings accounts.
This is exactly what farmers in my area are asking for. In Westlock--St. Paul, we have some of the most progressive, advanced, hard-working farmers in the world. They feel they need a system like this. They feel that we need to make some of these changes to help get rid of the CAIS program and move on to a new style of program. This is exactly what they are looking for.
While there will be an additional $400 million paid directly to producers to help address high production costs, Alberta farmers will receive roughly $210 million of these initiatives. That is $1 billion and $210 million more than the Liberals ever gave Canadian and Alberta farmers respectively.
Homegrown biofuels producers will also be able to put their hands on the money, given the $2 billion in incentives for renewable fuel production over a seven year span. A renewable fuels operating incentive program will bring stability, allowing the domestic ethanol and biodiesel industry to finally flourish and compete with national and international markets.
The program will provide 10¢ per litre for domestic renewable gasoline, ethanol, and 20¢ per litre for domestic renewable diesel production for the first three years. By bringing over 20 new world class biofuels facilities to Canada and creating over 14,000 new jobs in rural communities, this provides a new market for over 200 million bushels of Canadian grains and oilseeds.
I had the privilege this summer of going around my riding to many town hall meetings and talking to hundreds of different producers. All of them were very hopeful that we would not go just partway in the budget, that we would not just promise something, give a little bit of what was promised in the first year and 20 years later have it all doled out when it is too late.
Our producers wanted us to do it and to do it right the first time. I am proud to say that our Minister of Finance has heard that message loud and clear and our Prime Minister has endorsed it. These initiatives are exactly what our agricultural producers have been looking for.
I would be very remiss if I did not speak on one of the most pertinent issues in my riding: the men and women of our armed forces. It has been my biggest privilege as a member of Parliament in this first 14 months to serve and to have the opportunity to deal with many of the men and women from CFB Edmonton and from CFB Four Wing, Cold Lake. I have taken a lot of time to listen to what these men and women have to say to us and to what they have to tell their government.
I want to tell another quick story. When I was in Bon Accord during the campaign, I was knocking on doors. Like most politicians, I was a little nervous at the beginning. A man walked up to me and said, “Is that a politician coming up here? If it is, I've got something to tell him”. He happened to be a sergeant in our armed forces, with over 20 years' experience. He was very perturbed. He said that we send our armed forces over there and give them difficult missions, which they do not mind, and they do not mind being worked hard or being put in harm's way because that is why they signed up, but he said they do mind us not giving them the means, the tools and the equipment to do their jobs properly.
I am proud to say that I had the opportunity to go back this summer to talk to that same gentleman. He thanked me and wanted me to pass on the message to the Prime Minister or whoever is in charge of it, because at the end of the day the forces got what was most important to them: the tools and the equipment they need to do their job properly.
I am proud to say that we are putting in $60 million per year to level out the allowances paid to soldiers serving in army field units. This is very important for the men and women of CFB Edmonton. There is also $10 million for operational stress injury clinics, showing that we are concerned about the men and women not just while they are in theatre but also when they are out of theatre.
There is $19 million going to the veterans ombudsman to help ensure the enhancement of the veterans' bill of rights. Probably most important, as I have already stated, there is $175 million in budget 2007-08 for the Canadian Forces Canada first defence plan.
I am running out of time. The budget has so many tremendous things to talk about, but I will wrap up by mentioning municipalities. I served as a town councillor in the community of Barrhead and had the privilege of dealing with many of the concerns that come forward at the local level. One of the biggest concerns is that municipalities are never given the funding or the tools to do their job.
Once again, our Prime Minister and our Minister of Finance have listened to this. They have brought forward $16 billion in infrastructure over a seven year period. They have also brought forward $2 billion per year to municipalities from 2010 to 2013 by extending the gas tax fund transfer. Most important for Albertans, they have increased the transfer by $171 million by per capita funding. That is very important.
It is a privilege to speak to the budget. I look forward to taking questions.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to express my enthusiasm for a budget that will be recognized as one of the most beneficial budgets for Canadians. I say this as the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, which, like all ridings in Ontario, will benefit from this budget. This is true for all Canadians.
Our Minister of Finance had the courage to tackle the fiscal imbalance and to resolve this fundamental issue for all the provinces of Canada. Furthermore, the Ontario Minister of Finance, Greg Sorbara, recognized the importance of the measures taken by our government to restore tax fairness—something the Ontario government has been calling for for some time. He said:
|| Today's federal budget appears to make some considerable progress in addressing fairness in Ontario.
|| It is a step forward in addressing our long-standing position that our province deserves to be treated fairly.
The $39 million allocated to resolving this file represents a historic amount. For Ontario, this means more money—an additional $8 billion—for health care, and more money for social services and infrastructure.
Correcting the fiscal imbalance is an excellent step for Ontario, for all the provinces and for Canada.
However, our government is doing even more by addressing the deficit with its own citizens, which was another one of our commitments. With this budget, our government is clearly showing that we put workers and families first. Tax relief is well targeted and affects those who really need it.
Our Minister of Finance understands the difficulties facing families. He also understands what they want from the government. The $2,000 child tax credit helps families directly, by putting money in their pockets. Eliminating the marriage penalty is also proof that tax relief can effectively serve family values.
Additionally, I would like to emphasize that our achievements also benefit seniors who need our support. Measures that allow pension income splitting will bring invaluable financial support. Many seniors will also appreciate that they can stay in the labour market thanks to measures that allow them to retire gradually, without having to pay a penalty.
In keeping its commitment to guarantee that tax relief is proportional to the savings achieved by paying down the debt, the government will prove that transparency and respect for workers are fundamental values.
Our latest budget gives Canadians reasons to be proud of their country.
As the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, I am very proud that our government is serious about supporting culture, in particular by contributing to la Francophonie and to festivals celebrating our heritage.
In total budget 2007 also invests $4.5 billion for environmental initiatives. These include investing $225 million with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect up to 2,000 square kilometres of ecologically sensitive land, dedicating $30 million to safeguard the Great Bear Rain Forest on the central coast of British Columbia and strengthening enforcement of environmental protection laws by increasing the number of enforcement officers by 50%.
We promised to be tough on criminals, and this budget shows that we are serious. Considerable sums have been allocated to the fight against drugs and gang activity, two issues threatening the honest members of society.
We should acknowledge our government's unprecedented effort to give the Canadian armed forces the support and respect they deserve: more resources for those currently serving our country and also more services for veterans, whose sacrifices we will never forget.
For veterans, our Conservative government is committed to creating an ombudsman position, to ensure that their rights are respected.
Furthermore, in this budget our Conservative government is taking real action to support farmers. Since being elected, we have listened to producers across the country. They told us that the Canadian agricultural income stabilization, or CAIS, program did not address their needs. With our provincial and territorial counterparts, we have responded with significant improvements to the margin based program.
Agreement in principle has been reached on a disaster relief framework and we are working to expand production insurance to more commodities. With budget 2006, our government delivered on its commitment to provide an additional $500 million annually for farm support programs and, in addition, provided an extra $1 billion.
The passing of budget 2007 will solidify the Prime Minister's recent announcement of another $1 billion commitment to help address gaps in existing programs and significant increases in the cost of production. Through this budget, we are providing $1 billion in new direct assistance to farmers and we are replacing the top tier of the CAIS program with a new savings account plan. A farmer savings program is an important step forward in replacing CAIS with programming that is more predictable, bankable and better able to help producers respond to rising costs.
This new program, combined with a disaster relief framework, improved production insurance and an improved margin based program, is all good news for farmers.
The $1 billion in funding that farmers will be receiving through budget 2007 includes a $400 million payment to help with the high cost of production. Funds will be delivered through a direct payment to producers of non-supply managed commodities. Producers will receive a payment directly and will not have to apply.
An additional $600 million in federal funding, once an agreement is reached with the provinces and territories, will kick-start new producer savings programs. Moreover, in recognition of the importance of the contributions of farmers to the Canadian economy, budget 2007 proposes to increase the lifetime capital gains exemption to $750,000 from $500,000. Therefore, increased—