The House resumed from February 27 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.
Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, to continue with my speech, I was comparing the spending habits of the government to that of Paris Hilton but at least Paris Hilton has the virtue of spending her own money, money she did not work for but inherited, just like the government. The present government inherited a huge sum of money. It is not the government's money but it is spending it like crazy drunks.
When we look at the commentary in the Globe and Mail yesterday, it reads:
|| After two years of free spending and big tax cuts, [the Minister of Finance] has now produced a finance minister's version of Old Mother Hubbard.
|| In the nursery rhyme, Mother Hubbard can't find a bone for her poor dog in her bare cupboard. In hard-pressed Ottawa, where 2008-09 revenues are expected to fall below 2007-08 levels, [the Minister of Finance] is facing the consequences of almost emptying his own cupboard in last fall's economic statement, especially with his one-percentage-point cut to the GST.
|| Now, as the economy slows markedly, he has to scrounge, pinching pennies and dodging the very real and continuing risk of a deficit.
In Ontario, we have seen this movie before. It was a horror flick then and it is a horror flick now. The Minister of Finance, along with Mike Harris, reduced revenues substantially in Ontario. When the people of Ontario gave them the exit sign, the cupboard was in fact bare and Mr. McGuinty inherited an almost $6 billion deficit.
However, there were a few tricks in-between times. In one budget before the election, the Ontario government wanted to ensure it would not show a deficit so it sold off some rather valuable assets to cover up its profligate ways, the main asset being Highway 407. It sold the highway for about 25% of its value. The eventual purchaser flipped the highway two or three years later and made a handsome little profit.
The Minister of Finance has no money left so what does he do? He creates a diversion and has this taxpayer savings plan thing. Most properly advised investors will invest their money in an RRSP, which will use up a fairly substantial chunk of money and they will get a tax break. They will have their interest and earnings tax free until they take it out. If they have any money after that, they can invest it in an RESP and receive government assistance with any moneys they invest. After that, which I am sure one or two people in this chamber might actually have money left over after that, they will put money into this taxpayer savings plan.
It is a wonderful plan for those who are in the upper 1% of earners in this country, but for the balance of the people in this country, it is virtually a useless plan. It is a great show about absolutely nothing. It will cost the treasury $5 million in foregone revenue in the first year. Do members know what the average person will get on a 4% return? He or she will get a savings of $92.
If I were to go to my local bank and ask that one of these things be set up for me, the bank would be delighted to do so. However, do members know what the bank will do? It will charge me a fee of $200 to run a $5,000 plan for which I will save $92. Therefore, if I were to invest in one of these things, assuming I have any money left over in the first place, I would be down $100 by doing it in the way in which the finance minister plans to do it.
The other huge contradiction on which the Conservatives have not quite picked up is that they do this monster cut in the GST, which encourages consumption and discourages productivity, and then they encourage savings with this pathetic little plan. Either they want consumption or they want savings. This budget is much to do about nothing as--
Hon. Garth Turner (Halton, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will follow up a little and continue on a theme about which my colleague has just talked. It is the tax-free savings plan. I have a few comments on that and then a few comments on the government's fiscal position at the moment.
The Minister of Finance put forward the tax-free savings plan as being the centrepiece of this budget. As we know, it will allow Canadians to put $5,000 into a tax-free account. There will be unlimited carry forward room. In other words, if taxpayers do not put in a certain amount of their contribution in any one year, they can carry it forward to another. Tax-free withdrawals can be made at any time.
It is in essence a glorified savings account. The minister made a point in his budget speech of saying that it was the first major investment vehicle that the government had introduced since the advent of the RRSP.
On the surface, there are some decent aspects to it, and in a moment I will go into what they are and where this came from. However, I will also make the point clear for Canadians who are watching, who may have read or heard a little about the tax-free plan and who may think this is a panacea for them and a useful financial tool.
In carrying on with what my colleague had to say, I want to ensure people understand this. This is no substitute for the RRSP. There is no tax deduction for contributions made to this plan. This is a very significant aspect that the Minister of Finance I do not think brought out clearly enough. There is no spousal plan involved with the tax-free plan. In other words, one cannot establish a plan for one's spouse and contribute in his or her name. The $5,000 limit is roughly three times less than that which is allowed by the RRSP.
Who benefits? This is the key point. The Minister of Finance, by putting this into the very first sentence of his budget speech, gave the impression that all Canadians would benefit from his new after tax savings plan. However, it is not the case. The only people who truly will benefit from the use of this new tax plan are those who are already fully invested in RRSPs. Why would one possibly invest in a tax-free savings plan, if one had $2,000 extra, as opposed to invest that $2,000 in an RRSP? If people put into an RRSP, they will get back up to half of their contribution amount, $1,000, which they can then deduct from their taxable income.
With this plan, there is no such tax advantage. Why would one do it? Why would people without money do it? Obviously they would not. As my colleague said a moment ago, the national savings rate today is zero, nothing. In fact, most Canadian families are spending more money than they take in. The average Canadian family today is $116 in debt for every $100 in assets.
That is a condemnation of the way the country is being run. We are being run on debt. Families are being forced into more and more debt to get through month by month to ensure they can gas up the minivan, send their kids to school programs and make the mortgage payment on very expensive real estate today. This is not a society in which the Canadians are gaining wealth. Why would they put money into a tax-free savings plan when they do not have it?
Most of my constituents are financially stressed. Not only that, when we take a look at this tax-free savings plan as opposed, as I said a minute ago, to the RRSP, we need to consider how much money people actually put into an RRSP today. It is 7% of the amount of money that they could put in. We are all allowed a certain amount. Ninety-three per cent of the amount of money overall collectively that Canadians could put into RRSPs every year they do not. Why, when there is such an advantage? They do not have the money. Therefore, what is the point of a tax-free savings plan?
We sat in the finance committee yesterday. I see my colleague from Burlington across the way. He sat at the table as well. This question was asked of an official from the Canada Revenue Agency. “How much money is it actually going to cost the tax collector of this country to run this new vaunted plan that the Minister of Finance has announced?” The official had no idea what the administrative costs would be. It could be hundreds of millions of dollars to set this up. We do not know.
Who pays for that? My constituents, constituents who do not have savings and cannot put money into an RRSP. Therefore, why would they put it into a tax-free savings plan? It may be a great idea for the Minister of Finance because it sounds good, but when the first sentence of his budget speech hits the ground, it means absolutely nothing.
Where did this plan come from? It has been around for a bit. In fact, I have an admission to make. When I was a Conservative member of Parliament, and I apologize for that but I admit it freely, I submitted to the minister of finance a report that I wrote. In the report, I talked about a tax-free savings plan and told the minister of finance that perhaps he should set one up, that it was not a panacea but did have some advantages.
In that prebudget report I recommended to the minister of finance that this might be a decent idea, not a panacea. However, I also said that we needed an income tax cut. That is the primary centrepiece of any tax reform that means anything to my constituents and certainly most Canadians.
This is a good idea. If I were, for example, a dentist making $300,000 a year, or a member of Parliament making $150,000, in other words, three times more than the average family income, I might think this is a great idea. If I had an MP's pension, indexed for the rest of my life, then I would say this would be a good idea. Actually, I probably will use this because I have an MP's pension, unlike most Canadians. When people have pensions it means their RRSP withdrawals will be taxed at the maximum marginal rate. Therefore, why would they put money into an RRSP if they are privileged, like members in the chamber, and have an indexed pension? They would not.
It is only for the people who have maxed out their RRSP, who are in the top 1% of the income tax bracket, who are rich dentists with a lot of income. Only those people will find that they can put another $5,000 of their after tax income in a plan, earn interest tax free and take it out any time. They are laughing at CRA because they have just reduced their taxable income.
Why would the government want to reduce the taxable income of the top 1% of wage earners in the country and call it the centrepiece of a budget for all Canadians? It is a shame. That is not benefiting my constituents because my constituents do not make what I make. They make the average Canadian salary, which happens to be $62,000 a year per family. For those people, this does absolutely nothing. It is shameful.
A couple of experts have looked at this plan. For example, Cleo Hamel, an H&R Block senior tax analyst, said:
|| All it means is that someone who can put money into a savings account won't get penalized for it. You have to find some kind of savings account that pays you anything...Where are seniors and the poor going to have a chance to save that kind of money?
Marc Lee from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, another senior economist, commented on it.
By the way, we are joined by one of Canada's pre-eminent economists who sits beside me in the chamber. The member spoke eloquently yesterday about the deficiencies of this plan. We must heed the words of these people who know what they are talking about.
Marc Lee said:
|| If you have an extra five grand kicking around, this gives you somewhere to park it for the rest of your life...It's something that will only be useful for people who've maxed out the RRSP room.
Economist Derek Holt of RBC said, “It's more about optics than it is about substance”.
If the government wanted to do something to actually benefit Canadians, if it wanted to give some tax relief, it would have cut income tax. If it wanted to get some justice, it would have restored income trusts to the previous pre-horror state they were in last October 2006. If the government truly cared about all Canadians, it would not take us to the knife's edge of deficit. I am not impressed.
We do not believe this budget is enough to bring the government down, but it is part of a collectivity of actions which will very soon, I am sure, result in its very well-deserved demise.
Hon. Chuck Strahl (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, we are off topic. Not only are we off topic, but the last two hon. members have repeated scurrilous accusations that are untrue. In fact, if they were to examine the record, which they probably will not bother to do, they would find that the honourable person, Chuck Cadman, when asked by a reporter after that vote if anyone had offered him inducements, he said, “Absolutely not. He said that was not the case, that he voted because he believed what he was doing was the right thing and he followed through on it, and good for him.
That is what he said. It will not make any difference to the Liberals. I expect a full court press again today on absolutely baseless accusations. However, this is not the first time they have been guilty of that.
However, what I am most interested in is this. The hon. member mentioned that the idea of a tax-free savings account was his. It is kind of like Al Gore being responsible for the Internet. However, he said it was his idea and the doggone Conservatives stole it. Now that they have stolen it, it is a bad idea. His constituents do not want it. They do not like it. It is an awful thing and only members of Parliament likely will take advantage of it.
How can he support this budget now? Is that not the question, really? It must burn him up. It was his idea and the Conservatives adopted it. That makes it a bad idea now. The Conservatives are scalawags of some sort.
The question is kind of bumbling. How is he going to answer that in a byelection? He said that when members crossed the floor, like he did, the honourable thing would be to stand in a byelection and stand for what they believe.
When he stands in that byelection, and I do not know when it will be, but soon I would think, will he be in favour of that tax-free account or against it? It was his idea, kind of like the Al Gore and the Internet, and different things. When it all comes down to it, because he is not going to stand in a byelection right now, how will he stand when the vote comes for the actual budget? That is really is the test. Does he believe it or not? I have some sneaking suspicion that because he is a principled man he will fold like a deck of cards and support the budget.
Could he comment on that?
Mr. Mike Wallace (Burlington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member of Parliament for Niagara West—Glanbrook. He has been a mentor to me, as I am a new member of Parliament who was elected a couple of years ago. The member for Niagara West--Glanbrook has done an excellent job of helping me understand my role as a member of Parliament and I am very happy to share my time with him.
Today I am here to talk about the 2008 budget that was presented by the finance minister. It is called “Responsible Leadership”. It is somewhat difficult for opposition members to understand what that means, but that is what the budget is all about. It is about leadership; it is about balance; it is about prudence; and it is about making a difference for all Canadians.
In my 10 minutes I want to talk about a number of things that are in the budget that deal directly with my constituents in Burlington and why I think this budget is good news for them and how it will affect them not only locally, but nationally.
The first thing I want to talk about is the announcement in the budget that we will continue our work on cutting the debt. Canada's debt is almost $455 billion. That is a mortgage that not only I will be paying, but my kids, their kids and their kids will be paying as well. It is our responsibility as government to continue to pay down the debt, the same as any family would have the responsibility to reduce its debt.
In his speech, an opposition member talked about how important it is to try to get Canadians to reduce their debt. It is just as important for this government, when it has the cash, to reduce the debt aggressively. I am proud of this government for reducing the debt not just this year, but in every year that we have been in government. That is important.
Advantage Canada will help people in our ridings. Every interest dollar we save by reducing the debt will be returned to individual Canadians and businesses in tax cuts. We are reducing debt and saving people taxes at the same time. It is a great plan. I am very much in favour of our continuing along this line.
The budget also announced the concept of the tax-free savings account. We heard briefly about the tax-free savings account from my colleagues on the finance committee. This will be a great opportunity for Canadians to save money.
We have all identified that saving is an issue. A new vehicle is needed. The last real vehicle was the RRSP and it was developed before I was born.
Mr. Omar Alghabra: How old are you?
Mr. Mike Wallace: I am 44, I think.
We have waited over four decades to get a new financial tool for people to save money to invest in their future. The difference between the tax-free savings account and an RRSP is that money will be available to families, to seniors, to the working poor, when they need it, and it will be a way for them to save on paying taxes on their hard-earned money.
I am in favour of the tax-free savings account. Some work has to be done to put it on the ground, but it will be there within the year. I am happy that we have taken the initiative to give this vehicle the opportunity to exist in Canada.
It exists in other parts of the world. We should take note that we are not experimenting with people's money here. We know it works in Great Britain. We know it works in the United States. We know it works not just for the wealthy, as the previous speaker said, but it works for all income levels. It is a vehicle for people to save taxes, to save their money, and then decide, based on those savings, what is important to them, whether it is a house renovation, whether it is education, whether it is to supplement their retirement income when cashing in their RRSPs. This opportunity does not exist now but it will exist in the future and I am very excited about that happening.
When I am back in my riding, I try to tour one plant a week. I visited one last week. The accelerated capital cost allowance, which has been in place for two years and was announced as a two year program, has been very well received by business people in my riding. I am chair of the marine caucus. I am chair of the interparty steel caucus. I am part of the auto caucus.
Everywhere I go, people in industry are telling me that the accelerated capital cost allowance is a good thing, but they want it extended. We are extending it. I promoted the extension of it in the prebudget consultations. We heard from a number of Canadians who wanted it to happen. We are delivering.
It will be a great stimulus for companies to invest in and develop new technologies, buy equipment and create jobs. Government does not create jobs. Companies create jobs. They are not big evil entities. They are people. Every company is made up of people. We are helping those people create jobs for other Canadians through this program. I am very excited about it.
In my riding of Burlington, we are fortunate that we have a really good educational system. I am very proud of the educational system there. My daughters are both teenagers in high school and have gone through it. One is about to finish in the next couple of years.
We need a better system for student loans and student grants. It is too disjointed at present. I made that argument at committee. I had an opportunity to make that argument in front of the finance minister. I have made that argument in front of the student groups who have come to see me. In this country, for those who do not know, there are two schools of thought in the students' groups. They do not get along. I think there should be one plan for loans and grants.
I am very proud that this budget adds a tremendous amount of money to that program. We are reconstituting the Canada student grants system with $350 million, going to $430 million by 2012. In addition we are going to have $123 million in the student loans program.
We are providing students the opportunity to improve their education, to develop themselves so they can be more productive, so Canadians can be more productive. We compete in a global marketplace, as we all know. Education will be a key component of how we compete in the future as a country. I am very happy that we are spending a tremendous amount of money in that area and focusing on an improved system to make sure that it is easy, efficient and effective for students to further their education.
I have heard a lot from my constituents. There is a large contingent of seniors in my riding and they are not shy to come and talk to me, or send emails, or phone me on issues that face them. An issue facing a large number of them, and which, to be perfectly frank, I did not know about until I got elected, is that the amount that people are allowed to earn and still get the GIS supplement has not changed in years. That amount was $500. In this budget we are increasing it to $3,500. Seniors who are interested can supplement their income. They have been asking me for it. The finance minister in this budget is delivering on it.
There are many good things in this budget that I need 20 more minutes, but I am sharing my time so I will go through the last few things quickly.
There is the automotive innovative fund of $250 million. Burlington is beside Oakville where Ford's head office is. A tremendous number of Ford workers live in my riding. This fund will help Ford become more innovative and develop new technologies that will be better for the environment, better for our country and make the company much more competitive.
Regarding the gas tax, I used to be a municipal councillor. We are making the gas tax a permanent fixture for municipalities. It was asked for and we delivered.
People have been asking for a 10 year passport since I was elected. We are delivering on a 10 year passport in 2011.
People are asking for more security on the streets. We are spending $400 million with the provinces and territories to recruit 2,500 new police officers.
Finally, a big issue for me is transit. I am a big supporter of public transit. This government has committed $500 million to new transit programs. I am very proud of our commitment. I am hoping to see it continue. That is all I have to say at this point.
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West—Glanbrook, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today and speak to budget 2008 as introduced by the Minister of Finance on Tuesday. This is the government's third balanced budget in a row. It is balanced, focused and prudent. I can say that not only am I excited by it but I am encouraged by the direction this government is taking.
It is a pleasure for me to speak on this budget because it not only will assist the residents in my riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook but it will indeed benefit all Canadians.
Responsible leadership is an appropriate title for this budget. It is a document that reflects the strong and responsible leadership that this Prime Minister, this Minister of Finance, and indeed this Conservative government continue to demonstrate with the public finances of Canada.
Canadians are guided by the values of compassion, kindness and generosity. In keeping with that mandate, our government is providing significant support for our individuals, families, workers and our seniors.
To date our government has taken actions that will provide nearly $200 billion in tax relief over this and the next five years, $140 billion of which will be for individuals, families and seniors.
This past summer I had the special honour of hosting the hon. Marjory LeBreton, the Secretary of State for Seniors, in my community where she toured numerous seniors facilities and spoke with the residents.
I have also had the privilege of hosting numerous town halls, round table discussions and meetings with hundreds of constituents where I have heard firsthand what was important to them. It is from these discussions and others like these through some of my colleagues, other members of caucus, and that other government officials had across the country that led to many of the actions that our government has taken on behalf of Canadians.
Let me for a moment highlight some of the milestones that this Conservative government has introduced. For the first time in Canadian history we introduced pension income splitting for seniors and pensioners.
We are providing $60 million to fully exempt the first $3,500 of earned income from the GIS calculation to extend further benefits to seniors. This is up from a current maximum exemption of $500.
We are giving older workers the choice to stay in the labour market by permitting phased retirement. We are increasing the age limit from 69 to 71 for converting their registered retirement savings plans to strengthen incentives for older Canadians to work and save.
We are doubling the amount of pension income eligibility for the pension income credit which benefits nearly 2.7 million pensioners.
We are significantly enhancing the flexibility to withdraw funds from life income funds to ensure that holders of these funds will have the flexibility they need to manage their retirement savings according to their circumstances.
We are providing $282 million over the next two years to expand the veterans independence program to support the survivors of veterans.
We have introduced a new $1,000 Canada employment credit for all working Canadians.
We are increasing the basic personal exemption to $9,600 retroactive to January 1, 2007. This basic personal amount will be increased to $10,100 on January 1, 2009. We have decreased the lowest personal income tax rate to 15%. We have decreased the GST by 2%, resulting in total savings to Canadians of approximately $12 billion alone in 2008.
We have provided a universal child care benefit which provides all families $100 a month, regardless of income, for each child under the age of six.
We are providing a new $550 million per year working income tax benefit of up to $500 for individuals or $1,000 for families. This will reward and strengthen incentives to work for an estimated 1.2 million low income people, helping people over the welfare wall.
We are helping parents and others save toward long term financial security of persons with severe disabilities with a new registered disability savings plan.
We are providing a new $2,000 child tax credit that will provide up to $306 per child of tax relief to more than 3 million Canadian families.
We are ending the marriage penalty by increasing the basic spousal amount to provide up to $300 of tax relief for a supporting spouse or single taxpayer that is supporting a child or relative.
We are strengthening the registered education savings plan by eliminating the $4,000 limit on annual contributions and increasing the lifetime contribution to $50,000 from $42,000.
We are also providing $350 million for a new Canada student grant program beginning in 2009 and increasing it annually to $430 million by 2012-13.
This budget is indeed balanced, focused and prudent. Here are a few comments from organizations with regard to the budget. The Canadian Association of Retired Persons which works on behalf of Canadians seniors said, “CARP commends the [...] government for listening to many of its recommendations over the years and taking steps in the right direction for the 50 plus Canadians”.
The Investment Industry Association of Canada states in its press release, “The IIAC commends the federal Minister of Finance on his responsible budget in difficult and uncertain times that preserves fiscal integrity and builds on the government's pro-growth productivity agenda”.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business which represents over 100,000 business owners applauded the government's pledge to slash the federal debt.
The reason for such praise of the budget is well warranted. Specifically worth noting in budget 2008, which has been talked about some of my other colleagues, is the introduction of the tax-free savings account.
This is the most important federally driven personal finance innovation since the introduction of the registered retirement savings plan. This flexible, registered, general purpose account will allow Canadians to watch their savings, including interest income, dividend payments and capital gains, grow tax free by allowing all Canadians age 18 and over an investment vehicle that will allow them to build their savings tax free and investments in principals of up to $5,000 a year.
While an RRSP is a tax-free account designed for retirement years, this account is one that Canadians can use to build their savings tax free and that can be used to meet the sudden demands for money that we have all faced.
An RRSP is primarily intended for retirement but the tax-free savings account is like an RRSP for everything else in one's life, Whether that demand be for renovation, a new vehicle or a well-deserved vacation, the withdrawal can be made without penalty and paid back at any time. No wonder this announcement has garnered so much wide praise.
The Council of Chief Executives stated, “The introduction of the tax-free savings account creates a flexibility of a new vehicle for encouraging savings and investments and has a minimal impact on the treasury”.
Our government already believes that Canadians know what is best in managing their own personal finances and the TFSA is another tool that we are giving them to ensure greater choices, greater flexibility and most importantly, greater rates of return.
Another important aspect of the budget that I wish to draw to the attention of members is the importance of the long overdue changes the budget brings to the employment insurance program.
For too many years there have been huge surpluses that were arbitrarily deposited in general spending and this was a sign that employees and employers were paying too much money. Instead of fulfilling the original plan for the EI program that was to be an insurance policy, it had become a huge tax revenue program placed on the backs of Canadian employers and their hard working employees.
In 2007 our Speech from the Throne committed the government to correct this unacceptable situation and I am pleased that in budget 2008 it does just that.
By setting up a new independent crown corporation, the Canada employment insurance financing board, the employment insurance program will become what it was designed to be, a revenue neutral entity in the long term that is there to help employees deal with employment loss and to help them return to gainful employment.
By having a separate account, there will be transparency that has been sorely lacking. Any EI surpluses going forward will be held and invested until they are needed for EI costs.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association said, “It is significant that this inappropriate practice is coming to an end, and with a sound governance structure for the new crown corporation, this announcement should result in EI premium savings for both employers and employees”.
This budget has many merits indeed. I congratulate the finance minister and his staff on a job well done. They have continued to balance the many important and varied needs of Canadians with the necessity for continued fiscal prudence.
Our government has accomplished much in the last three budgets including reducing debt, returning billions of dollars back to hard working Canadians through tax cuts, and increasing transfer payments to provinces to deal with infrastructure investments.
Going forward, the outlook looks bright. While it is true there are many uncertainties on the horizon as global economies that we are linked to have begun to slowdown, our own economy continues to perform remarkably well.
Given the prudence and the sound choices of the Minister of Finance, I am confident that we are prepared to meet and overcome future challenges. Our government continues to provide clear direction, fiscal foresight and welcome tax relief. Our government continues to provide responsible leadership, not only for the people of Niagara West—Glanbrook but indeed for all Canadians.
Mr. Jean-Yves Laforest (Saint-Maurice—Champlain, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
I was listening to the Conservative colleague who spoke just before me and he said that the budget, presented by the Minister of Finance, will help Canadians. I would like to finish his sentence by saying that it might help Canadians, but it will not help Quebeckers. This budget completely ignores Quebec's traditional demands, which have been expressed by a number of stakeholders in Quebec.
In reaction to this budget, the Leader of the Bloc Québécois said that it does not provide any significant gains for Quebec. That is why I am saying it gives absolutely nothing to Quebeckers. There is no reason for the Bloc Québécois to vote in favour of this budget. Through its budget, the Conservative government is truly showing its right-wing ideology, which does not reflect the interests and values of Quebec. We really see that in this budget.
Yesterday morning, a number of newspapers in Quebec reported on the general sentiment about this budget in Quebec. Alain Dubuc, from La Presse, summed up this sentiment quite well:
|| This lack of vision can be explained by the conservative philosophy of the [name of prime minister]government, which does not believe in the role of the state and avoids economic intervention like the plague. It is an outdated conservatism that is not found anywhere else in the west.
We feel that it is Quebeckers who will foot the bill for this ideology. This budget utterly lacks vision. The crisis in the manufacturing and forestry industries is getting worse and thousands of workers are paying the price. I know all about it because if there is a riding that has depended on the forestry industry for years, where the economy for the most part is centred on forestry and manufacturing, it is my riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain.
For years now we have felt like the Conservative government is completely absent from any sort of “aid” process. We can feel it. People expected this government, which had a $10.3 billion surplus at its disposal, to allocate that money to help companies and workers, but it did not. People are dismayed and desperate.
This budget utterly lacks vision. It will not help families. Entire regions are in crisis, families are in crisis, and elderly people living below the poverty line feel that the federal government has abandoned them, even deceived them. During the last election campaign, the Conservatives promised to grant full retroactivity to those who had been cheated out of their fair share of the guaranteed income supplement, or who did not have access to it for various reasons. The Conservatives promised fully retroactive reimbursement, but they did not keep that promise even though they had $10 billion at their disposal. That is incomprehensible.
Things are happening. Education should be public priority number one, because we know there will be a shortage of skilled labour. Institutions are also chronically underfunded. There is nothing in this budget to suggest that the government is planning to increase transfers for post-secondary education. It looks as though the Conservative government missed the boat on this issue.
When it comes to the environment, humanity is struggling with one of the greatest environmental challenges in history. Everyone knows this. Increased greenhouse gases are having a negative impact on all human beings. Canada produces a lot of greenhouse gases, especially in the west and Alberta. Those emissions raise our national average. Quebec produces far less greenhouse gas emissions.
Quebec loses out on that score.
And now, to culture. The Quebec nation is a francophone nation that accounts for less than 2% of the population of North America. The government is well aware that the survival of the Quebec nation depends on cultural development, but there is nothing in the budget to improve the cultural system despite the benefits to be had from promoting francophone and Quebec culture more energetically.
It is clear that the challenges are great and the needs desperate. Yet we have a government full of dinosaurs that wants to use $10 billion to pay off the debt. Nobody in Quebec agrees with that. It is a crazy thing to do. This must be some kind of budget fanaticism. Whether the Liberals admit it or not, this kind of fanaticism is very bad for Quebec and for Canada, I am sure. Many Quebec commentators agree. Here is what Messrs. Dupuis and St-Maurice of the Desjardins group said:
|| Considering the massive needs in terms of urban infrastructure, environment, health and education, and the difficulties many provinces have balancing their budgets, we suggested that the government use any surplus beyond that objective to improve our competitiveness, help the provinces struggling to balance their budgets or help municipalities address their growing infrastructure needs.
The Conservative government listened to no one, blinded by its own ideology. It turned a deaf ear to Quebec.
I would also like to share some remarks made by Quebec's finance minister, Ms. Jérôme-Forget. She said that the Conservative government makes choices that do not reflect Quebec's priorities. She went on to say:
|| I am disappointed because there was a $20 billion margin in the context of an economic slowdown. We were hoping the government would do more for older workers and for the manufacturing and forestry industries in Quebec.
The leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, a friend of the Conservatives, also said that the aid for the manufacturing and forestry industries was not enough. As well, he mentioned the $1 billion shortfall in post-secondary education transfers. He was of course alluding to the issue of the fiscal imbalance, which is nowhere near resolved, if only because of this major oversight by the Conservative government in its budget.
The day after the budget was tabled, the president and CEO of the Quebec Forest Industry Council said:
|| I have no doubt that the Harper government has just thrown in the towel and wants market forces to clean up the forestry industry, instead of providing support that could have prevented some of the problems.
That is the reality. Soon, there will be more problems, and more businesses in Quebec's manufacturing and forestry industries will shut down. Once again, there will be more completely senseless human tragedies, when the government could have intervened.
All things considered, the worst injustice of all is being committed against our seniors. When he was in opposition, the Prime Minister had promised to pay back seniors who had been cheated out of the guaranteed income supplement, as I mentioned earlier. The Prime Minister broke that promise. He turned his back on our seniors and the most vulnerable among them. Those who receive the guaranteed income supplement are indeed vulnerable people. The only thing they are being promised is that they can go to work to earn $3,500 instead of $500. These people, at 68, 69 or 70 years old, who have very little in the way of a support network and are often physically unwell, are being told that, if they need more money, they can work for a pittance at Wal-Mart or some other such place. That is the only way the government wants to help them. It is absolutely unbelievable.
I have talked about culture, the environment and our seniors.
Everyone knows how often the Bloc Québécois has repeated that the government also abandoned the Kyoto protocol and that it absolutely must reinvest to ensure that we can one day do our share. Quebec is doing its share. We expect the same thing from the Conservative government, so it can help us continue.
Mr. Jean-Yves Roy (Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain for his speech, which, incidentally, was excellent and effectively summarized our position on the budget.
I listened to the budget speech and was astounded by the measures announced by the Minister of Finance. I was awfully surprised, I must admit. I felt I absolutely had to contact some citizens in my riding, to hear what they thought of it.
The first person I contacted was Ms. Beaulieu, who is 82 years old and lives in low income housing. She receives her modest pension and the guaranteed income supplement. I told Ms. Beaulieu that this fine government decided it would help her. I told her that the government just decided to increase the tax exemption to $3,500, if she has any other income. She replied that she has no other income. I told her that if she has no other income, she will have to work to receive her $3,500 exemption. She answered: “Yes, but I am 82 years old.” I told her that, even though she is 82 years old, if she wants to benefit from the exemption the government is offering, she will have to go to work. She does not have a choice. That is what the government is offering. She told me that, for years, the government did not pay her the guaranteed income supplement. She had sent in the form, but never received a reply. I told her it was because she made a mistake on the form. Since she made a mistake, government employees threw out the form and did not call her. She replied that she received only 13 months of payments. I told her that the Prime Minister had explained this to her, that he had said that it was too complicated to pay her back in full. So she asked me if she could do the same thing if she owed the government money. I told her no, that if she did that, I am quite certain the government would find her and that it would not take long.
This lady was so happy to learn that she could go back to work at 82 and that it would take her 15 weeks at minimum wage to qualify for a $3,500 deduction. She was so happy that if the Minister of Finance had been standing right there in front of her, the minister might not have survived. I have to say that she was really not very happy.
I then got in touch with Mr. Lecours. Mr. Lecours lost his job nearly a year ago. Soon he will no longer be entitled to employment insurance, and he will have to go on welfare. Mr. Lecours is 59. He comes from a large family, and he began working in the bush at 16. His father could not afford to send him to school, and he was forced to quit before he had even finished elementary school.
Mr. Lecours worked for 43 years. Today, he has no job because the little sawmill where he used to work closed. I told Mr. Lecours that our fine government was going to help him. That is what the government said in the budget speech. “Really”, he said. I told him that it was true and that from now on, he was entitled to training. He answered that he had not even finished elementary school. I told him, “That does not matter, Mr. Lecours. The government is going to send you back to finish elementary school. You are 59 and you may have made it only as far as fourth grade, so you have at least two years of elementary school to make up. After that, the government is going to send you to secondary school for five years. That makes seven years in total. The government is also going to send you to CEGEP for three more years to get a technical diploma”. We added it all up, he and I: two years plus five years plus three years makes 10 years. He is 59. I told him that he would be proud to have a diploma at 69, that he would be educated. This man was so happy that if the Minister of Finance had been standing right there in front of him, I am not sure the minister would have survived.
After that I spoke to Mr. Ross. Mr. Ross is the father of an average family in Quebec. He earns an average income in Quebec, or $30,000 a year. That is what Quebeckers earn on average, $30,000 or $32,000. I do not remember the exact figure; it may even be a bit less than that. I told him that the Minister of Finance has just given him some good news. From now on he is entitled to put $5,000 into a bank account without having to pay tax on the income generated by that account. He told me, “Yes, but how do you expect me to put $5,000 into a bank account when I only make $30,000 a year. I have rent to pay. I have to pay for food and transportation and I have two kids. How do you expect me to do that?” I asked him whether he could put a little money aside. The Minister of Finance has told him it is important to save money; it is extremely important. He told me that he is not able to save. At the end of the month, he does not have any money left. I told him I would make an agreement with him. I suggested that next year, on January 1, 2009, he should try to have $1,000 in his bank account.
I told him that he was not to touch it before January 1, 2010, if he wanted to earn interest. And I told him that $1,000 would earn roughly 3% in interest, which would give him $30, which is good. He will earn $30 over the year.
I asked him what his tax rate was. He said that with his income and his children, his tax rate is roughly 20%. I told him that 20% of $30 is $6 if he does not touch his $1,000. Mr. Ross will get $6 to buy some shepherd's pie on January 1, 2010. He was so happy to hear that. He was unbelievably happy. Can you imagine?
After that I spoke to Mr. Saint-Jean—
Mr. Serge Cardin: If the Minister of Finance had been there—
Mr. Jean-Yves Roy: Indeed, if the Minister of Finance had been there, he might not have survived. I thank the hon. member for Sherbrooke.
The next person I talked to was Mr. Saint-Jean, someone I know who is not from my riding. Mr. Saint-Jean is a manufacturer in the lumber industry, and his business is struggling and on the verge of closing.
I asked him if he had watched the budget speech. He told me that, yes, he had. I told him that our good Minister of Finance had decided to help him by giving him a tax credit. Mr. Saint-Jean said that he does not pay any taxes because he is not making any money and is nearly bankrupt. I told him that it did not matter, he would be getting the tax credit anyway because that is what the minister said he would do to help Mr. Saint-Jean.
Mr. Saint-Jean was so deliriously happy that if the Minister of Finance had been standing right there in front of him, the minister might not have survived. Am I making myself clear?
After that, I placed a call to Rimouski. Not long ago, the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec went on tour in the region. He did not make any announcements, but that does not matter. The flight cost $5,000, but that is no big deal because at least he visited the region. He told the people in charge of the marine biotechnology research centre, which was created by dint of hard work and investment by the people of eastern Quebec and those involved in research, that the research centre would have to start making money within two years. Is that clear? He told them that the federal government can no longer help them—no longer wants to help them. The centre will have to turn a profit within two years.
But a research centre cannot turn a profit within two years because a research centre is not, by definition, a profit-making venture. No research centre in the world can claim to be profitable. Neither pure nor applied research is profitable. It is an investment. It can lead to business opportunities in a given sector. It cannot be profitable from the start. We all know that. It might not make any money for many years. Nevertheless, research results in new products, new solutions, and new business opportunities in leading-edge sectors.
The good Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec told the mayor of Rimouski that the government could no longer help him and that he would have to fund the centre himself. But the federal government's Minister of Justice is saying there is more money for research and development. Where is this money going? Primarily to the Ottawa region, because there are so many research centres in this region that we have to keep them going.
The mayor of Rimouski was so happy that if the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec had been standing right there in front of him, the minister might not have survived. Are you following me?
On a more serious note, this budget offers absolutely nothing to regions like mine. Not only does the budget not offer anything, but it also completely destroys all the initiatives we have made in our regions over the years to try to develop new prospects and businesses.
I would like to thank the Speaker for letting me know I have only one minute left. Fortunately the Minister of Finance is not standing in front of me, because he might not survive.
This budget does not address any of the expectations or needs of most seniors in my riding. These people would have liked to have seen a minimal increase in the guaranteed income supplement so they could at least live on the poverty line.
The budget in no way addresses the needs of the industries or of people who have an average income of $30,000 or less. Even if I were to give you a tax break, on a salary of $22,000 or $23,000, you would not be paying any taxes.
Hon. Loyola Hearn (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my pleasure to participate in the debate. I will say at the start that I plan to share my time, with your permission, with the member for Kitchener—Conestoga.
I want to compliment the Minister of Finance on a budget that has been widely accepted by Canadians and certainly by people in my own province. Over the last day or so we have seen a number of groups, agencies and individuals come out and publicly praise the budget, which we do not often see. They are praising the budget, in some cases elements of it and in some cases the budget generally, knowing that in relatively difficult times we have a fair, prudent budget but one which keeps in mind the needs of all people across the country.
Praise has been heaped upon the minister from student groups, truckers associations, tourism groups, boards of trade and chambers of commerce, et cetera. The only negatives are from the political people. One would expect that. It is a political game and it is not to one's advantage to praise the other, even though it certainly is consoling to see the opposition party in the House praising our budget in the form of supporting it. We are delighted with that.
As I mentioned, the only people against it are people with a political bent. Unfortunately, I saw some negative comments from the head of the fisheries organization, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, in Newfoundland. No group of people in our province has benefited more from this government than the people involved in the fishery, whether they be harvesters, processors, plant workers, et cetera.
One of the concerns raised was about the changes that would be made to the Employment Insurance Act. There, when we are talking about establishing an arm's length organization to manage the EI account, we are responding to requests from people in industry, requests that have been brought forward year after year. They saw major surpluses building up in the employment insurance fund that were not going back to the people who really should be benefiting from it, the people who pay in, whether it be the employers or the employees.
We committed to address that. It is not in any way taking anything away. It is giving money right back to the people who contribute to the fund, whether they be employers or employees. These are the very people who will benefit from the new move to eliminate this huge surplus and allow the money to remain in the pockets of those who have been contributing to it. That is a very positive move. People should not be playing games with this decision.
Having said that, there are two areas that I want to comment on in my short time. One of them relates to my department and the other my province.
In relation to the department, we, as we would say, did very well. There were major initiatives that we wanted to address, one of them being the Coast Guard.
When the Conservatives became the government two years ago, the Coast Guard was basically inactive and ineffective simply because we saw rust-out in relation to the infrastructure and a lack of funding to even keep the boats at sea. There was no work being done on surveillance simply because enough money was not being put into the regular maintenance of the boats, nor was there even enough money to put fuel in them in order to go out and do the work.
Last year we invested $750 million in the 16 new Coast Guard boats. This year we have in the budget $720 million for one new polar class icebreaker. Not only will it replace an aging smaller icebreaker, but the one we plan to acquire is a new state of the art icebreaker, bigger than ever, to ensure that Canada has a strong presence in the north and that the job can be done.
On top of the funding for the Coast Guard, we saw a major contribution in aquaculture. Aquaculture is becoming a major industry in this country. It is becoming a major industry in other countries in the world. Canada should be leading the way, but we are not. Our expertise is leading the way. Many of the countries that are doing very well have availed themselves of Canadian expertise. We have fallen behind, but we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future. We have to move forward.
An investment of $70 million in aquaculture is significant and with the private sector investment and involvement we are going to see an industry that will certainly be moving forward in this country. It is an industry that can co-exist quite easily with the wild fishery. If we combine both, the amount of employment generated certainly will be significant.
Many of the smaller communities that were devastated by the loss of groundfish, et cetera, have a new lease on life. They are being revived with all kinds of employment, and not employment for eight or ten weeks, but year-round solid employment.
We have made a major investment in our province. The big news coming out of the budget as it relates to our province is a new ferry and the approval of government for Marine Atlantic to acquire a new ferry, a huge ferry that will double the capacity of any boat that we now have.
This will enable the truckers to move goods to and from the island, the fish, lumber, et cetera, without having to worry about lining up on the docks in Port aux Basques or North Sydney wondering how long it will be before they can move. When one is moving fresh product it makes an awful lot of difference as to how long one is going to be parked in a yard somewhere.
This new ferry will also encourage more tourists. Again tourists now have to line up, or they do not even bother to come because they know they will have to wait and wait to get to and from the island. We will have a ferry with the capacity to move anyone who wants to visit that great island of ours.
I find it difficult to think that there are members here who have not visited the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the last great frontier of this country. It is great to experience the friendliness and hospitality of the people, to see the rugged scenery and the beauty. We encourage people to visit and now, as of this year, they will have no trouble getting there.
Some people criticized the fact that they did not see any money for roads. Recently we signed the $430 million infrastructure agreement. This year alone there will be over $100 million spent on roads in Newfoundland and Labrador. We will be starting the major Trans-Labrador Highway with a $50 million investment from the federal government. As this road is completed over the next five or six years, we will make sure that it ties in with the rest of the major highways in the country so that people will be able to travel right through this great frontier.
On top of that, we have money for more policemen in our country. We have money to enable more students of low and middle income to go to college, because 100,000 students across this country will be able to quality for scholarships more so than in the past.
One of the hidden things in the budget is the amount of money in research and development. There are a number of initiatives in this budget to encourage people with innovative minds and the new companies we see springing up to take advantage of science and technology and research and development. It will encourage the great Memorial University and the associated colleges to get into research and development in our fishing industry and other industries also.
I could praise this budget for hours, but I promised to share my time with my colleague and I will therefore end my speech.
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak today in support of budget 2008. It has been said before and it deserves to be restated: this budget is balanced; this budget is focused; and this budget is prudent. I would like to extend my congratulations and thanks to the Minister of Finance for his continued fine work on behalf of all Canadians.
We have heard from many sectors that are giving their strong support to this budget. Kevin Dancey, president and CEO of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, stated of budget 2008:
|| This is a prudent, steady as she goes budget from the government. Coming at a time when the Canadian dollar is strong and the U.S. economy is struggling, the federal budget follows through on the government's commitment to reduce debt while targeting program spending, job creation and encouraging savings by Canadians.
This is a budget that clearly demonstrates financial responsibility.
Mr. Perrin Beatty, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said this:
|| The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is pleased that the budget addresses a number of our recommendations in critical areas such as infrastructure, immigration, creation of an Employment Insurance Financing Board, and education and training.
|| The current and foreseeable Canadian and global economic climate dictates prudence and responsibility.
I would like members to please note those two words “prudence” and “responsibility”. That is what this budget is about. He went on to say:
|| The Canadian Chamber of Commerce supports the government's commitment to reallocate program spending to higher priority areas and to invest in productivity enhancing measures. Combined with last fall's Economic Statement, which addressed personal and corporate income taxes, as advocated by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the creation of a Tax-free Savings Account will encourage savings, a measure which the Chamber has sought for many years.
The number of positive initiatives in this budget will certainly take more than 10 minutes to outline, but I will do my best to at least start by highlighting some of the great news that this budget contains.
Budget 2008 builds on the success of the two previous budgets and economic updates. For example, the GST reduction from 7% to 5% means $12 billion in savings for Canadians every year from here on in. For Waterloo region with 500,000 people, that means more than $180 million in savings per year. For my riding of Kitchener--Conestoga, it means an additional $40 million is available to be reinvested in the local economy each year.
The current global economic uncertainty cannot be ignored. This government has acted responsibly, decisively and early to ensure that Canada is in the best possible position to weather the storm. Our pre-emptive action in the fall of 2007 and the winter of 2008 to lower taxes, provide targeted support to troubled industries and pay down debt has done just that.
As the father of three and the grandfather of seven, the last thing I want to do is leave those generations of Canadians saddled with the mistakes of the past. Despite 13 years of careless spending under the previous Liberal government, we are working diligently to ensure that we leave things in good order for generations of Canadians to come.
Debt reduction is the responsible thing to do. It helps cut interest costs and stimulates investment. It strengthens our ability to deal with economic shocks and it reduces the share of tax dollars devoted to interest payments. The money we save by paying down debt goes right back to Canadians through our tax back guarantee. Canadians deserve, and they now have been given, a direct benefit from debt reduction. Rather than squandering the surplus, as opposition members charge, we are doing the responsible thing in giving people back their hard-earned money.
Under the tax back guarantee, the government dedicates the interest we save from federal debt reduction each year to permanent and sustainable personal income tax reductions. By 2010 the reductions provided by this measure alone will amount to $2 billion. This makes a huge difference for all taxpayers, not just this year, not just next year, but for every year from here on in.
The current cost of our national debt is $33 billion per year. Imagine what we could do as a country without those huge interest payments.
We all know the relief and freedom we feel personally when a debt is paid off, be it a credit card or student loan or when we finally own our homes free and clear. Imagine the freedom of future Canadians if they do not need to pay for the debt that this generation has accumulated.
Another way this budget looks to the future is in its commitment to invest in public infrastructure. Of the $1.6 billion planned for infrastructure initiatives, my own province of Ontario will receive $515 million.
These initiatives have significant support under the building Canada plan, which includes the gas tax fund, the building Canada fund, the increased GST rebate for municipalities and the provincial-territorial equal per jurisdiction fund. In the Waterloo region these combined programs will result in approximately $63 million of investment in 2009-10 for infrastructure projects.
In their February 26 press release, the Canadian Urban Transit Association said it was delighted that the budget commits significant new support to invest in public transit infrastructure. The allocation of $500 million in 2007-08 dedicated to public transit is a major boost to future access and mobility in Canadian communities.
Extending the gas tax fund as a permanent measure is an excellent response to the ongoing needs for municipal infrastructure investment. “This is a good news budget for transit”, said Michael Roschlau, CEO of CUTA.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the new tax-free savings account. This powerful savings vehicle is another fine example of how this government is showing responsible leadership to Canadians. In the same way that debt reduction is a sound fiscal principle, so too is saving for the future. This measure will make it easier for all Canadians to save.
Through the tax-free savings account, Canadians will be able to deposit $5,000 to grow tax-free, and it will remain tax-free when it is withdrawn. This is a flexible plan, designed to reflect the realities of everyday life. The ability to withdraw money when we need it without tax penalty and the flexibility to reinvest will prove to be quite beneficial for those who choose to participate.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director John Williamson had this to say:
|| The new tax-free savings account is a pro-growth policy that will encourage Canadians to save, reward individuals and benefit the economy. This is an excellent policy proposal. Canada needs to reward people that save because their investments fuel economic growth and job creation.
For a moment I would like to focus on aboriginal affairs. I have the honour of serving on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, so this area is of particular interest to me.
Ontario will benefit from $660 million in federal investments aimed at strengthening partnerships with aboriginal Canadians through a new framework on economic development, enhanced education outcomes, better health and family services, and first nations water and waste water action plan.
“Advantage Canada” recognized that the most effective way to address the gap in socio-economic conditions faced by aboriginal Canadians is by increasing their participation in the Canadian economy.
In his book, Dances with Dependency, aboriginal author Calvin Helin warns against government initiatives which encourage aboriginals to become dependent on welfare and social assistance. In contrast, he offers this bright perspective:
|| The aboriginal business sector is expanding dramatically with the number of self-employed Aboriginal people in Canada increasing by 30.7% since 1996.
|| With the appropriate environment, Aboriginal business is poised to be a major contributor to the Canadian economy.
We know there are fantastic economic opportunities across the country. In particular, the mining and resource sectors could provide new and historic possibilities for many aboriginal Canadians to move out of poverty and dependency, and to become full participants in the labour force and the economy.
Budget 2008 takes another important step to help aboriginal people to make the most of these opportunities by committing to establish a new framework for aboriginal economic development by the end of 2008.
To continue our progress in providing access to safe drinking water on first nations reserves, budget 2008 invests over $330 million over the next two years to extend this plan of action.
I would finally like to touch on the money that has been allotted for international assistance in this year's budget. In my work with the Christian Medical and Dental Society and other international service organizations, I have had the privilege of visiting several countries, including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Honduras, Dominican Republic. I have witnessed firsthand the joy in a middle-aged woman's face when she received new eyeglasses and was now able to see clearly.
I have been able to personally use my dental training to improve the health of those who had suffered for years with chronic pain.
Canada is a blessed country and Canadians are world renowned for our generosity and compassion.
I am especially encouraged that budget 2008 provides the resources and direction required to enable Canada to reassert its influence in global affairs.
One of the hallmarks of leadership is knowing how to face challenges ahead with responsible and wise action. I urge all members of this House to give their enthusiastic support to this budget. This budget clearly demonstrates responsible leadership.
Mr. Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and speak on the government's recently tabled budget. I would like to inform you, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Brant.
From my perspective, as vice-chair and the former chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, the budget process has given me a unique insight into the importance of the federal budget and its effect not only on the daily lives of Canadians but on the long term prospects for Canadians as well.
As a member of the finance committee, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to hear from Canadians from all walks of life and all regions of the country in an unfiltered manner, be they non-profit, business groups, organizations or individuals.
The reason I bring up the finance committee is due to the fact that under the House of Commons Standing Orders the finance committee is obligated to prepare a report to Parliament on what it heard during its pre-budget consultations.
Therefore, since we do most of the leg work for the Minister of Finance before he tables his budget, the minister should be paying closer attention to what Canadians are saying.
Once again this year the finance committee held its pre-budget consultations and as witnesses spoke to us, actually to me, since I was the only member to be present at all the pre-budget consultation meetings. In fact, I even had to chair half the meetings while our committee travelled since the government was here in Ottawa trying to figure out how to get last year's budget bill passed in the House and moved to the Senate.
I listened to Canadians. They voiced their opinions and concerns for the Canada of today and shared with us aspirations for the Canada of tomorrow.
Canadians are passionate about the future of Canada. Like our Liberal leader says, “Canadians want the Canada of the future to be more just, to be fair, to be greener and to be economically sustainable”. That is vision.
This budget has no vision. It is nothing more than a hodgepodge of credits and spending of public money with no real vision or plan. Even the government's highly touted one year old “Advantage Canada” and money back guarantee plan has now been officially shelved based on its own 2008-09 estimates.
Therefore, how can I in good conscience support a budget that has no vision? The answer is simple. Being the optimist that I am, I am able to find a few elements that I genuinely like, but upon further analysis, I now realize the reason I say this is due to the fact that many of the Conservative proposals that have been adopted in the budget are actually Liberal initiatives.
For example, it is the Liberal Party that advocated that the gas tax transfer ought to be made permanent. It took a while but the Conservative Party has finally come around and done just that in the budget.
Even Quebec's finance minister applauded the decision to make the gas tax transfer permanent. She also liked another idea that came from the Liberal Party: investing an additional $500 million in public transit. Quebec would receive $116 million of that amount.
Another initiative that originated with the Liberal Party is the decision to extend the accelerated capital cost allowance for manufacturing companies for three years. This should promote investment in machinery and manufacturing equipment, and the extension makes it easier for companies to plan large purchases over the long term.
For my colleagues in Ontario, one positive budget proposal is the direct support to Canada's automotive sector. We in the Liberal Party for months have been highlighting not only the downturn in the automotive sector but the entire manufacturing sector in central Canada where it has suffered job losses.
That is why we immediately proposed that the Government of Canada should provide support to the manufacturing sector and not just the automobile sector in this difficult time.
It would appear that the learning curve for the government has shrunk considerably in recent days. The Conservatives seem to finally be grasping, ever so slightly, what the Canadian people have been telling them for two years, that a minority government is a mandate to work with its political opponents, not to try to run roughshod over them.
I do not know what they have started putting in the water at the Conservative Party's headquarters, but the next step is to increase the dosage and the frequency of consumption.
It comes down to vision. It is quite easy.
It comes down to vision. Some have it; others do not. The Liberal Party had a solid majority in the 1990s because Canadians saw that we had a vision to lead the country. The sound fiscal policies of successive Liberal governments turned record deficits into record surpluses. Liberal policies enabled Canada to begin paying down the national debt.
In short, it was the Liberal Party that did what had to be done and put Canada's fiscal house in order. When it came to power in 1993, the Liberal Party saw that Canada was being crippled by debt, and it set about addressing the debt problem. We can say proudly that, thanks to the efforts of the Liberals, the level of our national debt is the envy of the other G-8 countries. The Liberal Party understood that maintaining a budget surplus is a responsible way to govern.
We believe that any budget must contain a reserve fund of at least $3 billion to protect Canadians from unexpected economic shifts during a fiscal year.
That is one of the weaknesses of this budget. When the economy is healthy, this reserve is not used but is applied to the debt. It is a very simple concept.
As I said, we think it is necessary to have a reserve of at least $3 billion in the budget each year. Obviously the Conservatives do not agree, because in these times of economic uncertainty, they have left out the reserve and are predicting a surplus of only $2.3 billion for 2008-09, and $1.3 billion for the following year. This shows a clear lack of vision.
On page 214 of the budget—I know some people have not managed to read to page 213, because they fall asleep after the first few pages—the Conservatives themselves talk about the “Estimated impact of a one-year, 1-per-cent decrease in real GDP growth on federal revenues, expenses and budgetary balance”.
This means that if there is a 1% change in the GDP, it will cost our government $3.3 billion and show up on the bottom line. This means that if there is a 1% decrease in GDP growth, the government will have a deficit the following year. No reserve has been set aside. So we can comment on whether the government will be in a positive position next year.
Today, at this very moment, this Parliament needs to address a new issue, which is that Canada is now being crippled by crumbling and outdated infrastructure. The Liberal Party proposed using $7 billion out of this year's surplus to make a badly needed investment in Canada's infrastructure, but the Conservative government did not see fit to take this path, simply because it wants to appear to be the champion of debt reduction.
The Liberals wrote the book on debt reduction and we do not need a lecture on the subject. We simply recognize that the national debt is under control and Canada's next major challenge is addressing the infrastructure deficit that is sorely in need of an upgrade.
The Conservatives are not prioritizing properly and are throwing away a golden opportunity to invest in Canada, just so they can gain political advantage. Again that is a lack of vision.
The Conservative government introduced the Canada graduate scholarship program in this budget, which quite admirably attempts to attract top students from around the world. The problem is that there is no strategy laid out by the Conservative government to try to keep these students in Canada once their studies are completed. As it stands, these students will only be allowed to remain in Canada for a maximum of two years after they graduate. What is the logic behind investing in bright young students and then not providing them with opportunities and incentives to stay?
When it comes to education, the Conservatives have remained in the dark regarding the millennium scholarship fund. They have just decided to let it die, when it actually has an excellent track record of providing services, and according to the Treasury Board, its operating costs are only four per cent.
The long and short of it is that the government has in one instance created a program to attract good foreign students to Canada, but it did not have the foresight to provide avenues to keep these students in Canada in the long term, and in another instance, it is allowing a successful program that helps hundreds of thousands of homegrown students, many of whom have demonstrated a strong dedication to Canada already, to fade gently into the night. This is not a good vision.
Finally, this budget proposed by the government is hardly visionary. It is definitely a Conservative budget, a problem that repeats itself time and time again. When the government sets extremely low goals for itself, this is what we get.
Mr. Lloyd St. Amand (Brant, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to comment on the budget delivered by the Minister of Finance, a budget that sprinkles some minor benefits to a few sectors but, on balance, has done relatively little for any sector and nothing whatsoever for many sectors.
The task of government is to address imbalances and unfairness. Economically, the fundamental task of the federal government is to, however incrementally, narrow the gap between those who have enough and those who have too little; between those who have abundant resources and those, for instance, who are homeless; and between those who have abundant opportunities for employment and those who have lost employment through no fault of their own. On balance, the gap between these various groups has not been narrowed by this budget, or at least has not been narrowed to an extent which could have been achieved.
The Minister of Finance himself has conceded that Canada's manufacturing sector, particularly in Ontario, has been dealing with unprecedented forces, aligning itself against manufacturing; forces including the Canadian dollar, essentially at par with the U.S. dollar; the significant growth in manufacturing in other countries, including China, Brazil, India and Mexico; the difficulty in locating skilled workers; and, in addition, the reality that our manufacturers are forced to compete on a playing field that is most definitely not level.
The harsh reality is that manufacturers are in very serious difficulty and certainly the auto industry is in particular difficulty. In my riding of Brant, hundreds of high quality, well paying jobs have been lost as a result of plants closing their doors and relocating or simply closing their doors as they could no longer be profitable in light of the combination of factors which have confronted them.
I am referring to Canadian Blue Bird Coach, Easton Coatings, Genfast, Dura Automotive and others. Some of these plants were in existence for many decades and provided solid, well paying jobs for hundreds of individuals and, by extension, their family members. Certainly the city of Brantford and the surrounding area of Brant county benefited greatly from these jobs, which are obviously accompanied by spinoff benefits for entities such as retailers and restaurants.
Most important, it is obviously jarring and upsetting, to say the least, for an individual who has worked most of his or her adult life at the same plant to be told after 20, 25 or 30 years that the job is no longer there, that head office has decided to expand into South Carolina or has relocated to Mexico or Brazil. There is an obvious economic loss for these individuals who hoped for and counted on finishing their productive working lives at the plant or factory to which they had devoted their time, skill and energy.
Capital is the most portable commodity in the world but capital is not patriotic nor is it sentimental. Capital will be invested where it will receive the most yield and it is important for the government to understand that on occasion particular sectors of Canada's economy need assistance. The manufacturing sector, including the auto sector, needs assistance now and the budget does not provide the necessary assistance.
For companies that are showing large profits, a reduction in the corporate tax rate is of assistance. For companies that have the financial resources to purchase new equipment, the accelerated capital cost allowance is of some assistance. However, for companies that are not showing a profit and do not have the current resources to buy new equipment, those measures, although widely trumpeted by the Minister of Finance, are essentially of no benefit whatsoever.
Although the government seems to have an aversion to providing help to particular sectors, it has clearly forgotten the very beneficial effects that have been felt by communities such as Oakville, Woodstock and Alliston in Ontario.
In Woodstock, for instance, just outside of my riding, the former Liberal government saw fit to invest $60 million in Toyota's investment in Woodstock and the surrounding area. How tremendous has that federal government assistance been for the entire community? Growth is occurring at a rapid rate and well paying jobs are being provided all because the former Liberal government, in partnership with Toyota, saw fit to invest.
The $250 million spread over five years, as mentioned in the Minister of Finance's budget this week, is only $50 million per year. This sum will only very marginally help the auto sector. Would that the Minister of Finance understood that the sector is in real difficulty and needs help.
He continually talks about the number of jobs that have been created, but does not paint the full picture. The full picture would show jobs being created, yes, but a majority of those jobs are in the service industry, paying significantly less than the jobs that are being lost. The jobs being created are often accompanied by no benefits, no pensions and no security.
Quite apart from the auto sector, manufacturing generally is facing difficult times. I conversed recently with Dennis Hewko, the chief executive officer of Eagle Precision in Brantford. Mr. Hewko is an astute business person and is well familiar with the manufacturing sector, certainly familiar with the problems faced by the sector. He advances the thought that a decrease in employment insurance would have been of assistance, but unfortunately the Minister of Finance chose not to realistically assist the manufacturing sector. There ideally would have been programs available for manufacturing. Without federal government leadership, the sector will continue to deteriorate.
The government seems rather obsessed with the so-called free market, ignoring the fact that the market worldwide is not so free after all. It is well recognized, for instance, that governments in the United States, the supposed free market capital of the world, are providing substantial inducements to industry to locate in the United States. Governments at both the federal and state level are providing incentives. At a minimum, Canada's government should provide assistance to the manufacturing sector so our manufacturers can compete on a playing field that, if not perfectly level, is at least more level than would otherwise be the case.
I have some other points.
No mention was made in the federal budget of assistance for tobacco farmers, in spite of the comment from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in the House only two weeks ago that action would be taken sooner rather than later and that tobacco farmers should, in his words, stay tuned. Tobacco farmers have stayed tuned and there has been no show for them to watch. They have been left completely out of the budget and their disappointment was expressed in a tangible fashion by their demonstration yesterday afternoon at the office of the member for Haldimand—Norfolk.
Other groups have been left completely out of the budget. There is no support for arts and culture and local museums, no measures whatsoever to deal with the reality of physician shortage and no mention of incentives for companies and employers to hire persons who are disabled.
Last, there were $11 million per year to accelerate the waiting times for immigrants. There are 900,000 people waiting to come to Canada. Many of those are in the skilled worker category such as physicians and engineers. The wait time is 64 months to come to Canada.
If one is a 30 year old professional, an engineer for instance in Asia or another country, who wanted to go elsewhere to pursue a career, he or she could go to New Zealand in one year. One can be accepted into Australia in 18 months. In Canada it takes almost five and a half years. It is a problem that the government has not faced. It has done nothing except to provide a measly $11 million per year to accelerate the wait times, $11 million from a government that spends $240 billion a year. It is not enough. It is clearly inadequate.
Other sectors have also been left out.
Mr. Dave Batters (Palliser, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today and speak in favour of our Conservative government's 2008 budget. I will be splitting my time with the member for Nanaimo—Alberni.
I am especially honoured to support the budget for my constituents in the great riding of Palliser. Canadians like them will benefit most from the government's economic plan. I have already received a lot of positive feedback from my constituents about the budget. These constituents, like other Canadians who watched the unveiling of budget 2008 on television or who heard it on the radio, found something in our economic plan for them.
The budget offers all Canadians a reason to celebrate, regardless of age, income level, geographic location or marital status. Even though budget 2008 has something for everyone, it is also balanced, focused and prudent.
Aptly entitled “Responsible Leadership”, it lays out our Conservative government's blueprint for careful stewardship of the Canadian economy in the face of challenges presented by global economic uncertainty. The Regina Leader-Post stated in its editorial yesterday:
|| This was not a sexy, free-spending budget that saw the federal Conservatives buy Canadians' votes. It allowed them instead to say they are managing Canadians' hard-earned money well.
The budget builds on our decisive, pre-emptive action taken in the 2007 fall economic update and during winter 2008 to lower taxes for people and businesses, pay down debt and provide targeted support for troubled industries. We are building on a record of soundly managing Canada's finances.
Since the Conservative government came to office in 2006, we have reduced the overall tax burden in Canada to its lowest level in nearly 50 years. We have paid down our federal debt by $37 billion and instituted a tax back guarantee to ensure that any interest savings on debt repayment would returned to Canadians in the form of personal income tax cuts.
Under the Conservative government, Canada's unemployment rate is at its lowest level in over three decades. If we want to continue this economic success, it will require a steady hand on the rudder as we navigate the current volatility in world markets.
Our Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and our Conservative government have demonstrated our commitment to the required prudence in budget 2008.
In this fiscal year we will pay an additional $10.2 billion down on our national debt. By 2012-13, our Conservative government will have reduced the debt by $50 billion. We believe that future generations should not be shackled by the debt of previous generations.
We are taking the same responsible approach to federal finances that Canadians apply to their own family finances. In times of economic uncertainty, people do not overextend themselves by running up bills that will need to be paid later. Instead, they pay off their bills to give themselves and their families peace of mind and security in the future.
In budget 2008 we have also given Canadians an inventive new tool to allow them to save and also an incentive to save. Our new tax-free savings account is the most significant personal financial innovation since the RRSP. It will allow all Canadians over 18 to invest up to $5,000 per year for their own priorities. They can withdraw that money whenever they need it and any interest, dividends or capital gains will not be taxed. Any unused contribution room will be carried forward to future years and no amount earned in or withdrawn from the account will count against Canadians when determining their eligibility for federal income tested benefits, such as the child tax credit, GST tax credit or the age credit. This tax-free savings account offers all Canadians a powerful incentive to save for their individual future goals and priorities and watch their savings grow tax free.
Through the establishment of this account, our Conservative government has truly provided something for everyone. All adult Canadians can benefit from this measure: young people saving for their first car; couples saving for their first home or a wedding; families looking to fund home renovations; or seniors who want to stretch their retirement savings further or save for a trip south in the winter. This is great news for all Canadians who want to invest in their goals, their families and their futures.
Through this budget, our government is also investing in the future. We know that one province with a very bright future is my home province of Saskatchewan. Budget 2008 introduced several measures that will help sustain that growth.
Our Conservative government is committing $240 million for Saskatchewan to develop one of the first and largest clean coal and carbon capture demonstration projects in the world.
According to the Government of Saskatchewan's announcement yesterday, the proposed SaskPower demonstration project is a seven year, $1.4 billion government-industry partnership that rebuilds and then re-powers a major coal-fired power generation unit at Estevan's Boundary Dam. I am very proud to say one of my first summer jobs was at Boundary Dam in Estevan, Saskatchewan, the sunshine capital of Canada, so I take particular pride in this investment.
In terms of carbon capture, there has been some very exciting work done in this field at the University of Regina. I am encouraged to see our government's commitment to this kind of endeavour for Saskatchewan and for our environment. The new Government of Saskatchewan has asked our federal government for funding of this nature and we are delivering. With this commitment, we see the dawn of an encouraging new era of cooperation between the Government of Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
Budget 2008 delivers for our communities in Saskatchewan and across Canada. We are making the gas tax fund a permanent funding measure for our municipalities to allow them to better plan and finance their long term infrastructure needs.
Also, Saskatchewan will receive $36 million through the community development trust to help vulnerable communities adjust to global economic uncertainty. It will receive $15 million over two years through the public transit capital trust 2008. Saskatchewan will also receive $64 million for infrastructure initiatives, $15 million for labour market training, and $10 million for the Canadian Light Source synchrotron.
Budget 2008 is also investing in the future of Saskatchewan's agricultural producers. Since 2006 our government has provided $4.5 billion to farmers. With this funding, we have put in place an improved package of farm income stabilization programs that are responsive, predictable and bankable.
In this budget, our Conservative government is providing funding of $72 million over two years for farm programs. We have also improved producers' access to $3.3 billion of cash advances, a move that will help our livestock producers in particular. In addition, Saskatchewan will receive $4.2 million through the cull breeding swine program to alleviate financial pressures faced by the Canadian hog industry.
This is all very good news for the agricultural producers in my riding, in communities such as Pense, Avonlea, Caron, Rouleau, Wilcox and Mossbank, who are so vital to Saskatchewan's economy.
The good news for Canadians does not stop there.
Our Conservative government has introduced new measures in this budget to assist our valued senior citizens. The budget provides for a full exemption of the first $3,500 of earned income from the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, calculation for seniors. This is up from a previous maximum exemption of $500, a significant increase that will make a difference for many seniors.
I am proud to have the military base 15 Wing Moose Jaw in my riding of Palliser. As such, there are many families in Moose Jaw and area who are survivors of war veterans. Budget 2008 will provide $282 million over this and the next two years to expand the veterans independence program, or VIP, to support those survivors. This is a move that I know will benefit many seniors in my riding.
Further, budget 2008 will continue this Conservative government's commitment to fighting the largely hidden problem of elder abuse. We will direct an additional $13 million over three years toward this issue.
I would like to congratulate Senator Marjory LeBreton, Secretary of State for Seniors, for ensuring that this important initiative was included in budget 2008. When Senator LeBreton recently visited my riding and with seniors in Regina, elder abuse was a key concern discussed at those meetings.
We are also funding other initiatives to keep our communities safe. In budget 2008 our Conservative government is giving the province of Saskatchewan $12 million to recruit frontline police officers to protect our citizens. In addition, we are providing over $60 million for crime prevention and prosecution nationwide. I could go on, but my time is almost up.
It is worth mentioning as well that we are investing in our Canadian Forces, providing stable and predictable new funding to ensure that our CF members--
Mr. James Lunney (Nanaimo—Alberni, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter this debate today, especially on the heels of the hon. member for Palliser and his great, enthusiastic presentation. I want to carry on and make a few comments about budget 2008.
It invests in infrastructure. It invests in people. It invests in knowledge. We want to talk about university research. We want to talk about the benefits for seniors and students. It invests in public transit. It invests in helping Canadians to save with a tax-free savings plan.
There is more money for police officers, some $400 million to hire 2,500 police officers across this country. This is going to help to establish the safe communities that we campaigned on and that we are trying to see re-established in Canada.
To begin, let me just say this about budget 2008. It is balanced, it is focused, and it is prudent. It builds on decisive, pre-emptive action taken in the fall 2007 and the winter 2008 economic update to lower taxes for people and businesses, to pay down the debt load, and to provide targeted support for troubled industries.
Budget 2008 contains more than 100 new measures, including the tax-free savings plan, a most significant personal savings vehicle. It is a powerful tax-free incentive for Canadians to save.
Unlike our opponents, we are providing decisive leadership. Four months ago in the fall economic update, we provided $60 billion in tax relief to strengthen our economic fundamentals, including historic reductions to corporate income taxes and a further reduction of the GST to 5%. That of course was a promise by this government when we were elected, to reduce that GST from seven to six and now to five, which we have done.
Budget 2008 prepares Canadians and Canada for the challenges ahead and continues reducing debt and taxes. It focuses government spending and provides additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of global uncertainty.
This budget is prudent. It is balanced and responsible. I would like to congratulate the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister for engineering a budget that is very prudent at a time of economic challenge, not only for Canada but for our neighbours to the south, the largest economy in the world, and for the entire world, where global economic uncertainty is a reality right now.
Taken together with the provisions of budget 2007 and the fall economic update, this budget positions Canada to do very well in these challenging economic times.
We have already taken action to cut taxes and every Canadian is going to be experiencing that. Here we are on February 28 in this debate today. Tomorrow will be February 29, which does not happen every year. It will be my daughter's birthday so I always remember a leap year as a special year, and happy birthday to my daughter.
As Canadians will be receiving their T4s and their charitable donation receipts and putting together their economic financial information to settle their taxes this year, they are going to find that every Canadian, unless they have had huge increases in their personal income in the past year, are going to be paying less tax. That is because we have already taken action to make sure that we lowered taxes for all Canadians. We lowered taxes for mid-size businesses, small businesses and for corporations alike.
There are some people who have trouble with that and see that as an economic giveaway. This is about protecting Canadian jobs. It is about insulating the Canadian economy. It is about providing protection for Canada as we go into economically challenging times around the world. This is prudent economic action.
We have paid down the debt, and there has been some discussion about that already today. This budget provides for $10.3 billion in debt repayment. When we have a positive economic situation, we have to deal with the debts that we have accrued from the past, because they saddle us. Debt repayment sucks money out of our economy every year and it is a mortgage on our children's future, so the responsible thing to do, when we have the opportunity, is to pay down that debt.
This government came into power a mere two years ago. We are setting a new record for a minority government every month that we survive here and we are grateful for the support of the members opposite in helping this government continue into the future. We are doing a job to help Canadians so we appreciate that support on this budget and I hope all members will support the budget.
We are doing the responsible thing. We talk about servicing our debt. We still have a debt of about $450 billion. Servicing that debt costs us about $37 billion a year, I understand.
That is more than the entire budget of the province of British Columbia, which is about $33 billion. British Columbia just tabled a $33 billion budget last week. That is more than we pay every year servicing our debt than the province of British Columbia, with four million people, spends on its entire provincial budget. That is a mortgage on our kids.
Paying the debt down is the responsible thing to do. When we pay down the debt, it reduces the share of tax dollars devoted to interest payments. It helps keep interest rates low and stimulates investment. It strengthens our ability to deal with economic shocks. It reduces our foreign indebtedness so taxpayers' dollars do not go overseas. It ensures that our children are not saddled with debt from the excessive spending of past governments. We have to pay that down and we are taking responsible action in doing so.
This budget invests in people and I want to talk first about students because they are the future. Students are the economic drivers and innovators of the future. We want them to be educated. This budget provides $350 million for a new consolidated Canada student grant program. That is expected to help 245,000 students. This is the grant portion. We are also providing $123 million over four years to streamline and modernize the Canada student loan program.
The grant program of $350 million is expected to rise to $430 million by 2012-13. That is an investment in helping our young people get their education. It will extend the reach of that program to about 100,000 students of low and modest income families. We are investing in the future of our students.
There is also enhanced flexibility for registered education savings plans. We have increased the time limits. They can remain open for 35 years from 25 years.
We are providing $25 million over two years to establish a new scholarship award for top Canadian and international doctoral students. This is in the name of former Governor General Georges Vanier.
We are providing another $21 million toward the creation of 20 Canada global excellence research chairs. This is about investing in our future.
Going on with investments in our educational institutions, we are putting another $80 million a year into Canada's three university research granting councils in support of industrial innovation, health priorities and social economic development in the north.
We are providing $140 million for Genome Canada to help give Canada a competitive edge in the expanding and exploding knowledge about our own genetic makeup as human beings.
For the automotive industry, that is struggling right now with the tremendous pressure on it, we are providing $250 million over five years going toward coming up with large scale research and development projects to help in developing innovative, greener and more fuel efficient vehicles. These are strategic investments in challenging times.
We are also investing in communities with traditional industries. For example, $90 million toward extending the targeted initiative for older workers to 2012 and a further $1 billion as support for Canada's manufacturing sector over an additional three years of accelerated capital cost allowance to invest in new machinery and equipment. Those are strategic investments.
That is on the heels of an announcement recently of $1 billion to help communities in transition because of an economic downturn. Forestry communities in British Columbia like Port Alberni, a community of 19,000 people, are undergoing tremendous economic challenges. That $1 billion will bring about $127 million to British Columbia to help those communities caught in transition with forestry challenges. There are other measures to help the forestry industry. I am pleased to note that we are providing another $147 million in the budget for innovation in the forest sector.
This budget is going to help seniors. We already mentioned pension income splitting, but additional measures for seniors are provided in this budget as well.
I would like to take the last minute to comment on something that I do not think anyone else has mentioned yet. It is a small item in the budget on page 167. It is about Canada's biospheres. There are 13 of them across the country. They are UNESCO recognized. They are about man living responsibly with the environment. There are 13 of these institutions, some of them going back to the 1970s when they were first recognized.
Two of them are in my riding in British Columbia and I am pleased to have been one of the members, along with the member for Leeds—Grenville, who encouraged the finance minister to make an investment with the support of the Minister of the Environment. There will be $2 million going to our biospheres to help our volunteers who are trying to promote responsible interactions between man and the environment.
It is not anti-development, it is about responsible development. It is a model that has been recognized worldwide with about 430 biospheres internationally. It is a model that needs support in Canada so our volunteers can get the message out and encourage responsible development.
Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I happily share my time today with my colleague, the member for Victoria.
Back on October 17 in front of the Parliament Buildings there was a rally to make poverty history. A number of groups from across the country are fighting diligently every day to try to raise the spectre of this terrible blight on our society. I saw a banner which read, “Poverty is a government policy”, testimony to decades of neglect by consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments making other choices than to make poverty history here in Canada.
Then the next day in the House I said we should make fighting poverty a government policy. We in this caucus believe that we need to make fighting poverty year-round work with action, funding and a real plan.
Here in Ottawa, poverty remains government policy and the official opposition refuses to stand up to this agenda and defeat a budget that in fact abandons the poor.
We have spoken in the House before about budgets being visionary documents, setting out priorities for a country and its people. This budget represents more of a nightmare than a vision for the three million people on low incomes and the many more millions who find themselves squeezed and often but a paycheque or two away from joining either the ranks of the poor on social assistance or the 650,000 working poor in this country who work full time all year, often at two or three jobs, and are unable to make ends meet. Is this not crazy?
How can the government be satisfied that there are people who go to work day after day, week after week, all year long, and find that their pay still does not cover the necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter? There is nothing for them in this budget.
When we look at this budget and its poverty measures, we discover that the budget delivers to individuals earning $15,000 per year an expected mere $215 in reduced taxes in 2008-09 and those earning $150,000 will pay $3,265 less in taxes.
We hear the government members speak to the budget and their only initiative to respond to any of the challenges that we face as a country is reduced taxes. That is what it does for the less well off, the marginalized and the at-risk in this country.
There is no recognition in this budget of a national poverty reduction strategy. There are no measures to significantly reduce poverty in Canada. There is no strategy. There are no targets. There is no investment in affordable housing or child care. There is no expansion of the working income tax benefit, which does not even help those working full time at minimum wage the way it is right now. There is no expansion of the national child tax benefit. There is no concrete assistance to our first nations communities where poverty is particularly rampant.
Listen to the commentary from those working to make poverty history in our country.
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives said, “The 2008 federal budget provides help to those who don't really need it and little help to those who do”.
Robert Arnold, president of the National Anti-Poverty Organization, NAPO, stated:
|| As in 2007, the word 'poverty' in the Canadian context is mentioned once in the budget. Contrast that with dozens and dozens of references to 'tax burden' and 'tax relief'. It is as if the Harper Conservatives believe that poverty is non-existent in this country. They would appear to care more about padding the fortunes of the wealthy than offering immediate and lasting support to the poor.
From Campaign 2000, the national coalition of over 120 partners working to end child and family poverty in Canada, we heard:
|| The federal budget passed up the chance to offer the almost 800,000 children living in poverty in Canada a shot at a better life.
Ann Decter, national coordinator of Campaign 2000, said:
|| It's another missed opportunity. There are provinces on the move on poverty reduction. They'll be much more successful when our federal government also steps up to the plate with a comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategy. The time was right for a bold move.
The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association said that the budget leaves one and a half million Canadians in a housing crisis:
|| When [the finance minister] stood to deliver the Conservative Government's 2008 budget today he left 1.5 million Canadians in desperate housing need on the outside looking in. These are the families living in housing they can't afford, isn't safe, isn't healthy and is bursting at the seams due to overcrowding. The budget also ignored the desperate plight of 200,000 people experiencing homelessness.
And this is one of the harshest winters in a long, long time. Doug Currie, Prince Edward Island's social services and seniors minister, said:
|| Finance Minister...budget offers little to Prince Edward Island in terms of funding to support affordable housing, catastrophic drug programs and poverty reduction.
It is not just members of Parliament in this party who are saying this, and as important as they are, the organizations working valiantly to reduce and eliminate poverty, but Canadians from coast to coast to coast are saying this as well.
As an MPP in the Ontario legislature, I remember the days of the so-called common sense revolution and its architects, including the current finance minister and Premier Harris. Anyone disagreeing with their narrow ideology was dismissed as a “special interest”. Well, that puts 93% of Canadians at odds with the minister and his budget with respect to poverty reduction.
A Globe and Mail/CTV poll asked: How important is it that the federal budget help the poorest Canadians? Fifty-eight per cent of the respondents said it was very important; 35% said it was somewhat important; only 4% said it was not too important; and 2% said it was not at all important. Some 93% of Canadians said it was very important or somewhat important to help our poorest citizens.
I want to recognize that there were but a few good measures in the budget, crumbs unfortunately, when it comes to the challenges facing our country vis-à-vis social inclusion. There is $110 million for mental health demonstration projects and an exemption to allow seniors who collect the guaranteed income supplement to retain more of their earnings if they are in the workforce.
The NDP has called for a comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy including raising the national child benefit to $5,000 a year; investing $1.2 billion in not for profit child care; building 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years; increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour; boosting the working income tax benefit to $2,400 a year; fixing the employment insurance system so the unemployed get the support they need.
While we present this very comprehensive national strategy, the Liberals today are walking around the House with their fingers in the air trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing. They say that poverty reduction is a priority for their party. They even had a photo op in front of the Parliament buildings at the rally to make poverty history last October, but when they are challenged to stand up and oppose this budget, the leader indicates there is nothing in this budget worth defeating the government on.
I challenge him and the official opposition to tell the three million Canadians on low income, the 93% of Canadians who want help for the poorest Canadians, to stop the Conservative ideology. Liberal politics are failing the poor and a poverty reduction strategy.
We in the NDP caucus are going to stand up and vote against not only this budget, but the whole strategy and agenda of the government, particularly where it affects those who are most at risk and marginalized in this country.
Ms. Denise Savoie (Victoria, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the 2008 budget reveals a lack of vision, and these are not my words. These are the words of Victoria's major daily newspaper editorial the morning after the budget was released. In fact, budget 2008 is just a lot more of the same, with winners and losers, a lot for the Conservatives' corporate friends and crumbs for the rest of us.
There is so much that could have been done to better balance tax cuts with social investments. Here is what we could do.
If the new Liberal-Conservative alliance had not squandered $14.8 billion to big corporations and big polluters last fall, we could have made significant strategic investments in the social, environment and economic priorities of Canadians.
If we invest just half of the $10 billion surplus, for example, we could restore a national affordable housing strategy, provide access to quality public child care and early learning for every Canadian family who needs it, retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes and start on the path to become a global environmental leader.
We could breath new life into our treasured health care system and get millions of Canadians family doctors, which they lack now. We could drastically reduce wait times. We notice in the budget that the Conservatives have abandoned their commitment to reducing those times. We could vastly improve home care, long term care and support for family caregivers.
We could tackle the real debt crisis in Canada that plagues a million students and graduates by reducing student fees and giving a huge boost to research and teaching capacity of our universities and colleges and create a thriving system of apprenticeship and training.
We could dramatically boost our economic and social well-being with a lifelong learning strategy for everyone, including the 12 million Canadians with literacy needs, making Canada the most literate and learned country in the world.
Our individual and collective well-being is not enhanced with corporate tax cuts. I believe the people of Victoria could not have been more clear in articulating our priorities for the budget, which have been ignored yet again.
For the first time in three years, the word “homelessness” is in the budget. However, it spends $110 million on demonstration projects in five cities and none in Victoria. Yet Victoria's task force on mental illness, addictions and homelessness has been hailed as the definitive report by homelessness experts across the country.
Our local chamber of commerce and then the national chamber of commerce has strongly advocated for federal action and funding for homelessness in this time of record surpluses. We do not need more studies. We have examined the best practices. We have a blueprint, but Conservatives are big on studies instead of action.
In the budget there is nothing, for example, for building affordable and rental housing. We know the high costs of housing are chasing away young people from our urban areas.
I realize the finance minister thinks that cities do nothing but fix potholes. However, while making permanent the federal gas tax to cities is a hard fought victory, it is an inadequate first step without the acceleration of additional revenue sharing or long term transit funding, for example, called by municipal leaders.
The Conservatives' idea of cost sharing forces cities to raise one-third of the money with only 8% of the revenue. Therefore, now our property taxes are bound to go up while corporate taxes go down.
The only budget item for seniors is getting them to work longer. The GIS exemption is insignificant compared to increasing the amount of GIS on which seniors rely. There is no core funding for struggling Victoria senior groups that have been pleading for more stable funding for years to provide services to seniors.
There is no fix for the government's CPP error. For example, it short-changed the pension of millions of seniors across Canada. There is nothing for long term care, home care or support for caregivers.
I want to talk a bit about heritage. Cities like mine have offered tax breaks for the restoration of heritage buildings. BC Heritage asked for the renewal of the commercial heritage properties incentive fund to support those efforts and to continue to support the conversion of heritage buildings into affordable rental housing. Its requests were ignored as were many other excellent ideas. Yet the Conservatives and Liberals can find $14.8 billion by 2012-13 for the big polluting and big gas industries. I cannot accept that.
As the post-secondary education critic, I see nothing in the budget to address soaring student fees or debt. The new Canada student grant program is, I will acknowledge, a step in the right direction, but it is grossly underfunded and filled with gaps that risk leaving many more students even further behind.
Despite the year long campaign to fix the student loan system, the budget does not reduce student loan interest, create a student loan ombudsperson, amend the flawed lifetime limit or create standards for the conduct of private loan collectors to rein them in.
The added support for the indirect cost of university is laughably short of the commonly accepted 40% target. Research for the social sciences and humanities is again disproportionately underfunded. Worse still, Canada's independent research granting councils are now being told what research they must support.
On the environment, I will leave it to Toronto Star business and technology columnist Tyler Hamilton, who wrote the following this week:
|| New subsidies for the coal, oil and nuclear industries and new handouts to major automakers. No mention of climate change. No extension of incentives for renewables. The cancelling of incentives for buying energy efficient vehicles....We're so focused on keeping dinosaurs alive...
I want to issue a word of warning for Canadians listening and for those in the gallery today and challenge every elected representative here. My local daily used the word “humdrum” to describe this year's budget. I caution all Canadians to take a closer look at what appears to be an insipid and meaningless budget. I ask Canadians to see the careful and deliberate pursuit of the corporate ideological agenda that the Liberals began and the Conservatives have accelerated.
It is appalling that the Conservatives are asking Canadians to pay the big oil companies to clean up their own pollution. It is the institutionalization of public-private partnerships without any objective analysis of the value or whether they work in the public interest that is particularly worrisome.
Canadians may not have seen the $29 million allocated to pursue the corporate-led security and prosperity partnership, those secret negotiations that are irreversibly tying Canada's regulatory sovereignty to the United States. What little we know about SPP reveals a subversion of the public interest to private profit at the risk of losing control of our water, our resources and our collective ability to protect our own health and safety.
If all members of the House like the road that the Conservatives are taking us down, then they will support the budget. I do not support the Prime Minister's agenda and I cannot support the budget.