Mr. Ed Komarnicki (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to present Bill C-50 at third reading, a bill that proposes to implement certain measures from budget 2008.
This year's budget further illustrates the responsible leadership of this government. This is a budget for uncertain times when a strong and steady hand and focused leadership is needed.
Building on the government's 2007 economic statement, budget 2008 is balanced, focused and prudent in order to ensure that Canada remains strong and secure amid global economic uncertainty.
To that end, budget 2008 continues reducing debt and taxes, focusing government spending, and providing additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of uncertainty.
Today I would like to touch upon some of the key measures in the budget that are included in Bill C-50, including as it relates to citizenship and immigration and specifically as it impacts on my constituency of Souris—Moose Mountain. In doing so, I will demonstrate how the government is providing strong and responsible leadership.
I will also demonstrate that our priorities accord with those of Canadians. We are reducing debt, strengthening Canada's tax advantage, investing in the country's manufacturing heartland and investing in priorities that matter to Canadians.
By carefully managing spending and continuing to reduce debt, the government is ensuring that its programs provide value for money, are sustainable and keep the tax burden to a minimum.
We are also ensuring intergenerational equity. This means that we should not ask our children and our grandchildren to pay the freight on the spending excesses of the past, such as by the previous Liberal government in the March spending madness that took place where budget surpluses were used for continual and additional spending.
That is why we are reducing the federal debt by more than $37 billion, including $10.2 billion in 2007-08. As a result of our aggressive debt reduction plan, by 2009-10 personal income tax reductions provided under the tax back guarantee will amount to $2 billion, which will continue to grow into the future.
Our government is also working to create a tax advantage for Canada. The measures we have introduced since taking office will provide almost $200 billion in tax relief over 2007-08 and the following five years. That is $200 billion left in the pockets of Canadians to further increase their business and their initiatives, which will produce more jobs.
As the Minister of Finance has said, our government is meeting the challenge of global economic uncertainty with a plan that is real, a plan that is responsible and a plan that is working.
Budget 2008 builds on past action by proposing what is the most important, federally driven, personal finance innovation since the introduction of the registered retirement savings plan, and that is the tax-free savings account. This flexible, registered, general purpose account will allow Canadians to watch their savings, including interest income, dividend payments and capital gains grow tax free. Yes, tax free.
As a new general purpose savings account, the tax-free savings account will provide an additional tax efficient savings vehicle for Canadians that complements existing registered savings plan, such as the RRSP and the registered education savings plan.
In other words, Canadians will have access to a complete set of tax efficient savings vehicles to meet their various needs: for their children's education, for their retirement and for their own immediate use purposes during life.
An important point to emphasize is that a tax-free savings account will provide greater savings incentives for low and modest income individuals. Neither the income earned in a tax-free savings account nor withdrawals from it will affect eligibility for federal income tested benefit credits, such as the Canada child tax benefit, the GST credit, the age credit, the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement benefits.
In fact, in the first five years it is estimated that over three-quarters of the benefits of saving in a tax-free savings account will go to individuals in the two lowest tax brackets.
The government has taken another action to help those who need it, including Canadian seniors, for example.
Many seniors live on a fixed income. They often find it difficult to make ends meet. That is why our government has provided significant tax relief for seniors and pensioners. This includes a doubling of the pension income amount to $2,000, with an increase in age credit amounts by $1,000.
The tax relief also includes increasing the age limit for maturing RPPs and RRSPs and, for the first time ever in Canada, pension income splitting for seniors and pensioners. For a one-pension working family of two, the savings will be incredible, into the thousands.
However, we can and must do more to support our seniors. Budget 2008 therefore proposes to increase the guaranteed income supplement exemption to $3,500 from the current maximum of $500. This will benefit seniors with low and modest incomes who choose to continue working. We must also remember that the interest they earn on their tax-free savings account will continue to help them. Moreover, this initiative will help these seniors live their retirement years with dignity and the respect they deserve.
Our government is also investing in Canada's manufacturing heartland. It is committed to helping Canadian communities in need. Just this past February, members will recall, Parliament passed the government's $1 billion community development trust to support communities and workers suffering from economic hardship. Among other things, this funding could support job training to create opportunities for workers, community transition plans that foster economic development and create new jobs, and infrastructure development that stimulates economic diversification.
Budget 2008 also demonstrates responsible leadership by helping to create the conditions for our businesses and entrepreneurs to invest and thrive at home and abroad. To that end, budget 2008 takes targeted action to help important Canadian industries. For example, it proposes to provide $250 million for an automotive innovation fund. This initiative, being led by the Minister of Industry, will help Canada's automotive sector adapt to the challenges of the future and remain a key component of Canada's economy.
Budget 2008 also proposes to extend temporary accelerated capital cost allowance treatment for manufacturers and processors for three years, on a declining basis.
This government continues to invest in the priorities of Canadians, one of these being a desire to live in a safe and secure community. This government takes seriously the responsibility of protecting Canadians. Budget 2008 provides funding to protect Canadian families and communities, building on the important investments this government has made in previous budgets.
Bill C-50 proposes to implement a measure from budget 2008 that will provide funding to provinces and territories to support them in recruiting 2,500 new front line police officers. The bill proposes to set aside up to $400 million in 2007-08 to be paid into a third-party trust for provinces and territories, allocated proportionately, to meet this objective.
There is little doubt that the environment is another priority for Canadians. Canadian participation in the earth hour event in March was strong evidence of that. People, not only across the country but around the world, turned off their lights to make a statement about helping find new ways to reduce their impact on the environment.
One of the budget measures contained in Bill C-50 is a proposal to set aside $250 million for a full scale commercial demonstration of carbon capture and storage in the coal-fired electricity sector and for research projects to accelerate the deployment of the technology. Carbon capture and storage presents an opportunity for Canada to develop and benefit from world-leading technology that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On March 15, the Prime Minister of Canada visited my constituency of Souris—Moose Mountain to formally announce the budget provision of $240 million to the province of Saskatchewan for carbon capture and storage and clean coal technology. The province of Saskatchewan confirmed plans to use the funds at the Estevan Boundary Dam, located just south of my home city of Estevan, Saskatchewan.
This federal funding will help leverage an estimated $1.4 billion of investment into clean coal technology and carbon capture and storage. This project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated one million tonnes per year.
I wonder if NDP members realize that by voting against the passage of Bill C-50 they are voting against this critical investment that will result in the equivalent of removing millions of cars from the roads. This project has the potential to provide a solid base for enhanced oil recovery, more jobs and significant economic spinoff.
SaskPower is developing what it is calling one of the first and largest clean coal and carbon capture demonstration projects in the world. This commercial demonstration of state of the art carbon capture and storage technology will make Canada a world leader in clean energy production. Benefits from this project will extend to enhanced oil recovery initiatives.
At the premiers conference in Prince Albert, the premier of Alberta stated in the Saturday, May 31 issue of the Leader-Post that the carbon capture and storage technique is “the quickest, most rapid way of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.
In the same article, Premier Wall said that Saskatchewan already is a centre of excellence in terms of carbon capture and storage, with the Petroleum Technology Research Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan, and its Weyburn-Midale pilot project, the largest carbon dioxide storage in the world.
Encana's facility located near Weyburn, Saskatchewan is Weyburn's flagship project, with a seven year record of demonstrating CO2 storage on a commercial scale. At this time, Encana receives CO2 from Beulah, North Dakota, using it for enhanced oil recovery, and is presently touted as the world's largest CO2 sequestration project and the largest commercial scale carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery project in Canada.
The Petroleum Technology Research Centre in Regina is actively involved in the Weyburn project. The potential for southeast Saskatchewan is phenomenal. CO2 can be compressed and piped to storage locations. The geological formation for CO2 storage exists in southeast Saskatchewan. It is waiting for expanded, innovative thinking and brave initiatives on the part of all affected parties.
Budget 2008 provides a capital cost allowance rate for compression and pumping equipment on CO2 pipelines of 15% and an increase in the rate from 4% to 8% on CO2 pipelines transporting CO2. It is this type of initiatives that the NDP would be voting against.
It sounds exciting. It sounds invigorating. It is the kind of action and leadership that are required of a government, that enhance and encourage the enterprise, the initiative and the ambitions that Canadians possess and that partner with others like the province of Saskatchewan, SaskPower and industry to ensure projects such as this can take place.
Kevin Hursh, a consulting agrologist and farmer based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, stated in a National Post article on May 31, 2008:
|| In a lot of small and large towns, [in Saskatchewan] you can hardly find a house to buy and if you do, the price has increased dramatically. Older houses that no one wanted a few years ago are being gobbled up and renovated. Even houses in old farmyards are in demand.
He added that there is an optimism in the agriculture and grain industry sector that has not been seen before. He stated:
|| People are moving back to Saskatchewan and it isn't only the cities that are benefiting. Rural Saskatchewan still has problems, but there has been an amazing reversal of fortunes. Local governments are scrambling to switch from survival mode to a growth mode.
Our economy and its continued growth will depend on a flexible and responsive immigration system to ensure we have the skilled workers and the tradespeople that our country needs. Neither Canadians nor prospective immigrants benefit from an immigration system that, due to its dysfunctional nature, forces prospective immigrants to wait for up to six years before their application is looked at, let alone processed.
The current system is especially problematic, since in a few short years all of our net labour growth will come from immigration. That is why changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act were included in budget 2008. “Advantage Canada” in 2006 identified that Canada needs the most flexible workforce in the world, an issue that is critical to Canada's future.
A new and more efficient processing system is desperately needed, a system that is responsive both to the needs of newcomers and the needs of Canada. Canada faces serious international competition in attracting people with the talents and skills we need to ensure our country's continued growth and prosperity.
Compared to the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, Canada is the only country that does not use some kind of occupational filter to screen, code or prioritize skilled worker applications. Compared to other countries, Canada's system is just not flexible enough.
The legislative changes that we propose will prevent the backlog from growing. With the growth of the backlog halted, the government also has allocated additional resources to reduce the backlog. Among other things, our government has committed over $109 million over five years to bring down the backlog.
Part 6 of Bill C-50, when combined with these non-legislative measures funded in budget 2008 and beyond, will act to control and reduce the backlog and speed up processing. The government will be required to consult with provinces and territories, industry, and government departments.
These consultations will include getting assurances that if the regulated professions are prioritized, commitments from provincial regulatory bodies will be obtained, to ensure that individuals brought here will be allowed to work in their chosen fields soon after arrival. The instructions must respect our commitments to provinces and territories regarding the provincial nominee program and the Canada-Quebec accord.
These proposed changes are part of a vision that involves creating a more responsive immigration system, one that allows us to welcome more immigrants while helping them get the jobs they need to succeed and build a better life for themselves and their families. Their success is our success.
Urgent action is required. Part 6 and all of budget 2008 delivers this much needed action.
The bill we are debating today illustrates just how our government is prepared to meet the challenge of global economic uncertainty. We have a realistic plan for Canada, a plan that is working. There is no way we are going to slide back to the days of high spending, high debt and higher taxes, as some would have it. Canadians do not want that and neither does this government.
Rather, as reflected by the measures proposed in Bill C-50, our plan is taking us down the right road, a road that requires focus, prudence and discipline, yet at the same time it is a road that is very refreshing, exciting and invigorating, a road that will point the way forward for Canadians for years to come. To all Canadians, it will be like a breath of fresh air.
Hon. John McCallum:
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the third reading debate on the budget implementation bill. I will divide my comments between the budget per se and the immigration provisions.
On the budget per se, our leader said at the time the budget was presented that this was not a very significant budget and it certainly was not worth going to the people in an election on such a minor budget. Most of the money had been spent in previous actions, but there were a number of items in the budget with which we took exception.
First of all, we had recommended that rather than pay down $10 billion in debt, the government pay down $3 billion in debt and devote $7 billion to an infrastructure fund. We were highly conscious of the fact that Canada faces an infrastructure deficit in excess of $100 billion. This would be an investment in the future not only for ourselves but for our children and our grandchildren. As an important byproduct, it would have created many jobs across the country. Sadly, the government chose not to take this advice and this opportunity has now disappeared.
I also have some reservations about the EI enterprise. First of all, it is an exercise in bureaucracy. Experts have told me that to set EI premiums according to some formula, we do not need to set up some vast new enterprise which is a waste of taxpayers' money. It can be done in a much simpler and more expeditious way.
I am also concerned about the fact that the surplus in that new enterprise is only $2 billion, which will force the agency to increase EI premiums by a substantial amount just at the moment when the economy may be going into a recession. This is a counter-cyclical bad policy. As actuaries and others have said, there should be a larger surplus so that the EI account is balanced over the cycle rather than year by year.
Coming now to the immigration provisions, we on the Liberal side are strongly opposed to these provisions. First of all, the government is simply saying, “Trust us”. It does not tell us anything about what it is going to do. All of the power rests with the minister to do whatever she wants to do. The mantra of the government is, “Trust us”. Our view is that given the record of the government, there is no reason that any Canadian should trust the Conservative government to do anything, let alone make very important decisions on immigration.
One of the other concerns I have with the immigration provisions is that the government put virtually no more money into the immigration budget. Any serious attempt to deal with backlogs, waiting times and processing times is empty if there is not more money to hire more people to do the interviewing and the processing.
When the government effectively puts no more money in and it says that certain groups will be fast-tracked, that automatically implies, logically speaking, that some other groups will be slow-tracked. The Conservatives do not admit to that. They do not fess up to that point, which is fairly basic. In saying that they will fast-track the economic immigrants, they are implicitly, while not admitting it, saying that they will slow-track the family reunification immigrants.
We on this side acknowledge the importance of the labour shortages and the economic immigrants, but at the same time we believe in balance, which the government does not believe in. We do not think that fast-tracking of economic immigrants should be carried out on the backs of family reunification immigrants. In brief, I think what we are seeing is the commoditization of immigrants, that immigrants are seen not as people but as commodities by the Conservative government.
Therefore, we oppose these provisions. If we oppose them in large numbers, there may be an election. If we oppose them in small numbers, we are sending a message to the people of Canada that when a Liberal government is in power, we will replace these immigration provisions with a better policy which will certainly involve a certain amount of funding and which will certainly involve policies that address both family reunification immigrants and economic immigrants, and do not favour one group at the expense of the other.
The next issue I would like to address is the stewardship of our economy by the government. Not so long ago on May 12, the finance minister said, “The factors behind the current American malaise are not likely to be duplicated here”. Then he went on to describe how Canada was doing so terribly well compared with the United States that was doing so terribly bad. He talked about our financial institutions being strong. He talked about us not having a subprime mortgage crisis. He talked about us not having a housing slump. He probably mentioned the resource-based nature of our economy which is causing a boom in western Canada and other parts of the country.
How is it then that the most fundamental indicator of the health of the economy, the indicator that tells us whether we are in recession or not, that is to say the growth of the gross domestic product, that in the first quarter of this year Canada's GDP went down and the U.S. GDP went up? That shocked everyone because some people believed the finance minister that the Canadian land is strong and the U.S. land is weak. How come it went up and we went down?
Not only that but Canada had the weakest first quarter of this year of any G-7 country. These are facts. These are not government spin. So Canada had the weakest first quarter of 2008 of any G-7 country. We are technically half way into our first recession in some 15 years. Yet, the government blathers on about the land is strong and everything is fine.
We have the weakest first quarter of any G-7 country. Consumer confidence, it was reported yesterday, has plummeted to the lowest level in seven years and business confidence is weak. Only today 1,000 jobs were lost in Oshawa, thanks in terms of the General Motors plant. Maybe that will wake up the Minister of Finance because a lot of those people actually live in his riding.
What is the answer? Yes, the Minister of Finance is right, Canada has these advantages. We do not have a subprime mortgage crisis. We do not have a housing slump. We do have a strong resource sector. Then why is Canada doing so badly relative to the U.S. and other G-7 countries in the first quarter of 2008? I will give the House the answer. It is the bad stewardship of this economy carried out by the Minister of Finance.
First of all, he said that Ontario is the last place to invest. It seems this morning General Motors was listening. General Motors announced today that it will not be investing in Ontario. It is closing that plant. I think it is the height of irresponsibility. Whatever the differences in policy view between the federal government and the provincial government, it is the height of irresponsibility for any finance minister to trash the business climate of any province, let alone his own province, telling people that it is the last place to invest.
People are starting to listen. It is irresponsibility, irresponsible on his part, and he should retract that comment. He should apologize for that. He should say the truth which is that Ontario is a great place to invest, not the last place to invest which is what our Minister of Finance said.
He is ideologically rigid. We have hemorrhaging jobs in manufacturing. He is ideologically opposed to any government investment in or support for the manufacturing sector. We saw the consequences of that this morning. We will see many more consequences of that down the road. He is not in the pothole business, so he is not wanting to put money into infrastructure. We disagree with that.
We have hemorrhaging jobs in manufacturing. His laissez-faire policy, ideologically motivated, is not to provide any direct support for the manufacturing sector and we are seeing the consequences of that today.
Last but not least, the minister inherited a $13 billion surplus, the biggest inheritance in Canadian history and in just over two short years he has taken Canada to the verge of deficit. Some say we are in deficit. He spent like crazy during the two first years when times were good to the point where Andrew Coyne, hardly a Liberal hack, labelled him the biggest spender since Confederation. Having spent like crazy--
Ms. Martha Hall Findlay (Willowdale, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, before this budget, we Liberals had in fact recommended a few things, one of which was a recommendation to lower corporate taxes. I have to say we are glad the Conservatives took that good Liberal advice. Unfortunately, we had also recommended a number of other things, among which were some recommendations to deal with infrastructure.
The prior Liberal government had allocated $10 billion to debt reduction. Do not get us wrong, we are all in favour of reducing debt, but not when the walls are cracking and the roof is leaking.
Liberals had recommended that of that $10 billion, $7 billion would go to infrastructure. We had also suggested that $3 billion go into a contingency, which would have been a continuation of the Liberal prudence of keeping a few billion dollars as an annual contingency. Unfortunately, the current Conservative government did not take that particularly good Liberal advice.
The rest of this budget, in large measure, does in fact reflect past Liberal initiatives, albeit what we see is extremely watered down. I would, however, like to highlight a significant concern, notwithstanding all of the finance minister's rhetoric and recent efforts to, quite frankly, mislead the Canadian public. Only two weeks ago, in fact, he was quoted as saying that the Canadian economy is growing in every region of this country, yet we have now learned that the Canadian economy in the first quarter of 2008 has declined.
I would like to remind the finance minister that two quarters of shrinkage makes a recession. Therefore, notwithstanding the finance minister's rhetoric, false support, and statements encouraging the view that somehow the government has been a strong economic steward, the opposite is true.
I will go back to the infrastructure deficit. In this country we have an infrastructure deficit of $123 billion. That is a lot of money. In fact, two cuts of two points in the GST over the course of 10 years and one point a year would have been worth $6 billion. That is interesting math. Adding interest to that, $6 billion a year per point is $12 billion. That would have meant the ability to reduce and eliminate the infrastructure deficit in this country over the course of the next 10 years, but no.
What we desperately need in this country are the initiatives to encourage a strong economy. Virtually every economist has acknowledged investment in infrastructure is critical. It is critical to enhance productivity and I will add that productivity is critical to global competitiveness in the growth of our economy.
Productivity does not mean working harder. Canadians work extremely hard as it is. However, productivity does mean working better, more effectively and efficiently. It is absolutely acknowledged everywhere that in order to encourage productivity, we must in this country address the infrastructure deficit. The current Conservative government has not done so.
The government now faces a challenge given the cuts in the GST, the imprudent management of the current economy, and the fiscal situation in this country. Not only has the economy shrunk in the first quarter, and not only are we in danger if it happens in the second quarter of officially being in a recession as we have not invested in the critical infrastructure and other investments in innovation and research and development that are so critical to enhance a Canadian economy but we have also seen that the economy as a whole is now suffering.
Notwithstanding all of the rhetoric, the government has simply not done what it should have been doing, what we have been asking it to do, and what this country deserves.
Mr. Jean-Yves Laforest (Saint-Maurice—Champlain, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, today I would like to repeat, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, the position we have maintained since the budget was introduced. The Minister of Finance asked to meet with the opposition parties, and we met with the finance critics and deputy finance critics to inform them of the Bloc's positions and demands concerning the budget. But we were extremely disappointed to discover that the budget presented by the Minister of Finance did not contain a single measure that would truly address the demands of the Bloc Québécois and, in particular, of the people of Quebec. The Bloc Québécois members in the House of Commons represent the majority of ridings in Quebec. The Quebec nation and the people of Quebec expected much more from a federal budget.
I will remind members of the conditions we set for supporting this budget. We called for direct and immediate assistance for the manufacturing and forestry sectors. I will go into a bit more detail later, but there was nothing of note in this budget for these sectors. The budget does not offer adequate and fair assistance for the workers and communities affected by the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. It does not provide for any measures to reimburse the seniors who were swindled out of the guaranteed income supplement. The Conservatives made a promise about this during the last election campaign—yet another promise that was not kept. The Conservative government keeps breaking promises from one session to the next. It continues to take a polluter-paid approach, instead of adopting a polluter-pay approach. It refuses to do a 180-degree turn on the environment. The environment is very important to Quebeckers.
Once again, there is nothing in this budget to address that. It does not provide for any major investment in culture, nor does it do anything about the ideological cuts already announced by the Conservative government. Worse yet, it reiterates the government's plan to set up a single securities commission, an idea that has met with strong opposition in Quebec. Hardly anyone supports the idea of setting up a single securities commission. It is clear that the Minister of Finance and the Conservative government have chosen to give market forces free rein even though market forces are working against people in Quebec.
With their laissez-faire policy, the Conservative government and the Minister of Finance have slashed funding for many programs, suspended others, and encouraged cheap imports by leaving loopholes in trade laws and not acting on the recommendations of the trade tribunal. Everyone is talking about globalization nowadays, and this House's failure to do anything has given competitors the window they need to gain strength.
Quebec's economy is becoming less and less competitive, and job losses are piling up. There is nothing in this budget to help Quebec. That is clear. For example, Quebec's manufacturing sector, which used to be one of the province's strengths, has been turning into one of its weaknesses since early 2003. In Quebec, 148,000 jobs have been lost, 35,000 of those in 2006 and 43,000 in 2007. Some 78,000 jobs have been lost since the Conservatives came to power. That is significant. Those 78,000 jobs were lost in Quebec's manufacturing sector, one of our key sectors. The budget offers nothing at all to support this sector.
Rather than do something to alleviate the crisis, the Conservatives are making it worse with their laissez-faire approach. All they have done is lower corporate taxes. Cutting corporate taxes for companies that do not pay taxes because they do not make a profit is meaningless. That is the truth.
Overall, in 2007, businesses in Quebec did not turn a profit, so the tax cuts do not apply. One of these days, the minister is going to have to admit that these corporate tax cuts have not put an end to the devastation in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. At the same time, these cuts have enabled the oil companies to save millions of dollars.
A major share of the $14.1 billion in tax cuts the Conservative government announced in its economic statement last fall will go to the oil companies. Once again, by not taking action or by bringing in measures designed solely to reduce corporate taxes, the government is not helping a truly fragile sector in Quebec.
The banks are another sector that has received generous treatment from the Conservative government in this budget. While the oil industry in western Canada is rolling in dough, the manufacturing industry in Quebec is going through a serious crisis. High-quality, well-paying jobs with attractive benefits that created wealth in the manufacturing sector are being lost in favour of unstable retail jobs and self-employment in Quebec and Ontario.
According to the TD Bank, laid-off manufacturing workers will lose an average of $10,000 of income annually if they take jobs in the service sector.
I can give a striking example. In my riding, in Shawinigan, the Belgo pulp and paper plant, which employed 550 well-paid workers, closed last fall with almost no notice. The company closed a plant that paid very good wages. I am convinced that the Toronto Dominion Bank's statistics are accurate for the workers who found other work. They found new jobs, but at much lower pay.
The region's whole economy is suffering, and the same scenario is being played out all through Quebec. Well-paying jobs are being replaced by jobs in the service sector that often pay minimum wage or very low wages.
Meanwhile, after bringing down a budget that does nothing to help industries in trouble, the Conservative government is telling us that jobs are being created. But these are poor-quality jobs that pay much less, with the result that Quebec is becoming poorer.
The minister must stop spouting his Conservative propaganda and admit that the employment shift from the manufacturing sector to the service sector, to retail for example, has cost Canadian families more than $1 billion in revenue in 2007. That is a lot of money.
In addition to the strong Canadian dollar, which is bringing down the Quebec manufacturing sector, the financial crisis affecting the global economy will reduce Quebec manufacturing exports, thereby exacerbating the crisis they are already facing. The proof is in the numbers.
In the first three months of 2008, Quebec exports fell by 6% compared to the same quarter last year. Statistics therefore clearly show that the manufacturing sector is really suffering.
This Minister of Finance, who advocates economic Darwinism, says again and again that his government did what was needed by lowering corporate taxes. This drop in Quebec exports means lower profits and lower taxes, but lower taxes do not help a business that is not making any profits.
As I was saying earlier, the Conservative government's economic laissez-faire approach with this budget does nothing to help businesses that are not turning a profit—and that is generally the case in Quebec at this time. We definitely do not see how anyone could support this budget.
Yet the minister had the means to do something. Instead he chose to let things take their course, once again. Instead of allocating $10.2 billion to pay down the debt, the Minister of Finance could have put forward direct assistance measures to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors survive the crisis. This was a true error in judgment. Good judgment seems to be quite rare in this government.
The manufacturing sector needs a boost from the government in order to overcome the extremely rapid rise in the value of the Canadian petrodollar. The Canadian dollar is currently at par with the American dollar.
It is no coincidence that it has reached that level. It is in fact because of overproduction, the production of oil and the extremely generous help the Conservative government is giving that industry. That is what is behind the rising dollar, but, in the meantime, the adverse effect of all this is that the manufacturing industry in Quebec is suffering. The industry has a much harder time being competitive when our dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar and it is therefore less able to face international competition. Again, the government helps the oil industry, which harms the manufacturing industry in Quebec. What is more, the government is not doing anything in particular to help that industry.
The federal government, through the Minister of Finance, preferred to lower taxes rather than to help businesses make the necessary investments. For a long time now, we have been calling on the government to help by providing loan guarantees or doing something to support businesses, whether through subsidies or loan guarantees, in order to help them become competitive. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology had listed the conditions that would enable the manufacturing industry to survive, but the Minister of Finance ignored them all.
The Conservative government continues to allow the oil companies to benefit from major tax breaks through accelerated capital cost allowance. The minister said they would gradually abolish that measure. He gave himself until 2012 or 2013. If nothing is done for Quebec by then, what will remain of its manufacturing and forestry industries?
The minister has to take his blinders off and acknowledge that instead of adopting this laissez-faire attitude and focusing on the debt, he could have taken $3 billion or, at most, $4 billion out of the $10.2 billion to truly help the manufacturing industry. The hon. member who spoke before me said that when we are on the brink of bankruptcy, it is time to take action. When the roof is leaking, it is time to plug the holes. That is what the Conservative government is refusing to do.
Currently in Quebec, I cannot say that the roof is leaking, but it does not look good. It needs good support for some renewed vigour. This laissez-faire attitude and focus on the debt used by a government full of dinosaurs—those are not our words, that is what journalists called them the day after the budget was brought down—is causing the de-industrialization of Quebec and Ontario. The government could, for once and for all, adopt the real industrial revitalization strategy the Bloc Québécois has been advocating.
While the manufacturing sector is reeling from rising energy costs, oil companies reap record profits and the minister continues to subsidize them. Had he demonstrated a minimum of leadership, he would have immediately abolished the tax benefits given to oil companies and proposed real strategies to encourage research and development, particularly by introducing refundable tax credits. Will the minister wake up one day and abolish the tax incentives for oil companies and replace them with refundable research and development tax credits for the manufacturing sector?
At present, this government is a menace to the Quebec economy. By giving significant tax incentives to oil companies, failing to put in place a real plan to fight greenhouse gas emissions and introducing an equalization formula that only takes into account one half of oil and gas revenues, it has added more measures that favour the oil sector. These actions, which are irresponsible in terms of the economy and the environment, inflate Canada's petrodollar, and that, in turn, dampens the considerable efforts made by Quebec and its manufacturing sector to weather the economic disruptions affecting global markets.
Once again, could the government and its minister consider the interests of the Quebec nation rather than concentrating solely on quenching the thirst for oil of its Republican friends in the U.S. and encouraging Canada's bad environmental behaviour? It is not too late to take action. In spite of this budget—dubbed the dinosaur budget—the government could establish a plan to truly support the manufacturing sector.
The Government of Quebec has allocated $620 million—I will move on to another topic shortly—to support the manufacturing and forestry sectors, while the federal government injected $2 billion over three years for all of Canada. In light of the Government of Quebec's enormous effort, how can the federal government contribute so little?
It is very disappointing that the federal government allocated just a billion dollars over three years when it had a $10.2 billion surplus that it could have used to provide real support to the manufacturing sector.
As if that were not enough, it turns out that the $1 billion trust, which will subsidize jobs lost between 2005 and 2008, adds up to about $2,275 for each job lost in the manufacturing and forestry sectors in Quebec. In Alberta, that same amount over three years adds up to $20,000 per job lost. Clearly, that is not fair.
The government made a big show of announcing its $1 billion trust, but the trust is completely unfair to places where the manufacturing sector is really important. Alberta will get $20,000 per job lost, while Quebec will get $2,200. That is really unfair. Add to that the fact that industry is flourishing in Alberta. With an industry in such good shape, they do not need $20,000 per job lost.
How can the minister justify such an under-achieving, poorly designed plan? He has completely failed to understand the economic situation in Quebec.
I would also like to talk about another budget issue: the fiscal imbalance. The Conservatives pride themselves on having resolved the fiscal imbalance. However, the Séguin report in Quebec, which all Quebeckers agreed with, identified three major, specific deliverables with respect to resolving the fiscal imbalance.
The first was a new equalization formula that took into account total revenues of all provinces, which is not in this budget.
The report also recommended eliminating federal spending power in areas under provincial jurisdiction. We were expecting a bill during the last Speech from the Throne. Will this bill be introduced before the end of the session? This was a promise from the Conservative government. Will we see yet another promise broken? They talked about this in the House yesterday.
The federal government is having a hard time understanding real needs when it comes to its spending power. We need to talk about more than just shared-cost programs—there are none anymore—as it announced. It makes no sense. The Quebec government made it clear that it would not support the bill that we are waiting for. Will the government introduce the bill? It is important that the government keep its promises, or at least try to.
Now back to the fiscal imbalance. I was talking about the Séguin report. It also recommended replacing cash transfers with equivalent sales tax and income tax points.
If we talk about the manufacturing and forestry sectors or the fiscal imbalance—which the Conservatives committed to resolving and claim to have resolved—we are still nowhere near the point where the Conservative government has truly thought about the needs expressed by Quebec, specifically in terms of a key component of its economy, the manufacturing sector, and in terms of the fiscal imbalance, which is still far from being resolved. There is nothing about this in the budget. The Bloc Québécois will vote against the budget, that is obvious.
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak in the third reading debate on Bill C-50, the budget implementation act.
It is not without some disappointment that I rise this morning to speak in this debate, largely because of what happened last night at the report stage votes on Bill C-50.
Last night we had the opportunity to show our displeasure with two key components of this legislation, the changes that it would impose on employment insurance and the immigration measures that are included in the bill.
Last night we were voting on two series of amendments that the NDP strongly supported. I know the Bloc also supported them; in fact, they proposed some of the amendments that we voted on, and the NDP proposed the other set. The amendments would have made significant changes to the legislation that we are debating this morning. They would have deleted the problematic sections pertaining to immigration in this legislation. They would have changed the provisions dealing with employment insurance in this legislation.
Unfortunately, we were robbed of that opportunity by the Liberal Party. Twelve members of the Liberal Party voted against the legislation last night, despite their protestations that they strongly oppose these provisions and that they are speaking up for Canadians who are concerned about immigration policy. Unfortunately, that was not enough to affect the outcome of the vote last night.
It is actually shocking that despite their protestations, the Liberals find it difficult to come to this place and express the opinion that they expressed to Canadians across this country and instead say, “Trust us. We will change it when we come to power”. We do not know when that is going to happen.
The reality is that last night was the opportunity for the official opposition, the Liberal Party, to exercise the power that it does command in this Parliament and to see that the legislation was changed, to see that the problems were fixed, to see the Liberals standing up to speak for those Canadians who are concerned about the changes to immigration, for instance, in this legislation. Instead, they chose not to do that. I think that is a very serious problem.
I do not think there is anything more important that I do in this place than rise in my place and vote on important legislation that is before the House. I take that moment very seriously. I wish more members of the Liberal Party would take that moment seriously. We have that opportunity in this minority Parliament. It is important that when we say we are going to seek changes, as the Liberal Party did, when we see problems with legislation that we exercise the power we have in this place, but that is not what is happening.
Sadly, the bill is at third reading now and we are debating the bill that the Conservatives proposed. We are debating again the immigration and EI measures that are so problematic and so significant, that imply such significant changes, and which we really do need to address.
I thought it was ironic this morning in debate that a Liberal member said that we could not trust the Conservatives to exercise the discretionary authority around immigration that is in this legislation, that we could not trust them to have that kind of discretionary power, and at the same time said that Canadians should trust the Liberals some point down the road to fix the legislation.
The opportunity is here now. The opportunity was here last night to make those changes. Clearly, Canadians cannot trust the Liberals to put their votes where their mouths are on this immigration issue in particular. That opportunity was lost last night. It is very serious. I think many Canadians will have something to say to Liberal members of Parliament about that.
With regard to the bill before us, one of the significant changes that is in this legislation is regarding the operation of the EI fund.
We have heard very strong language used, particularly from this corner of the House, about the implication of the changes in this legislation. Some members have said that there is a theft under way, that money is being stolen from workers and employers in Canada as a result of this legislation. I have to agree with members who use that strong language, because it is a very serious proposition that we are debating in this legislation.
In recent years there has been an accumulation of a $54.1 billion surplus in what is taken in in EI premiums over what is spent on EI payments and on training programs related to EI. That is money that has been collected in good faith from Canadian workers and from Canadian employers to run the employment insurance program.
The legislation is proposing that a new Canada employment insurance financing board be established. The board's job will be to set rates and cover payments for employment insurance. There is a significant change in all of this because the operation of the board will be more related to general economic trends rather than the needs of individual workers, which is the current bias of the operation of the EI program. That is a significant change.
The other significant problem with what is being proposed is that the reserve fund that is being established to cover changes in the economic climate and a rising unemployment rate will only be $2 billion. That is the reserve fund that is being established as a result of this legislation.
We know flatly that is just not enough. We have strong supporters in that opinion. The Auditor General has been very clear in saying that $10 billion to $15 billion at a minimum is necessary to ensure that any economic downturn can be accommodated by the EI fund. The former chief actuary of Canada has said that $15 billion is necessary to accomplish the same thing. Yet the proposal that we have before us only sets aside $2 billion.
When there was $54 billion collected from workers and employers over the years and we are only setting aside $2 billion, what is happening with that other $52 billion? That is a serious problem.That is why some members have been led to call this a significant theft and claim that that money is being stolen from workers and employers in Canada.
Rather than propose this kind of measure, there was a time when the Conservatives were in opposition when they actually proposed that the $54 billion should be repaid to the EI fund recognizing that this was money collected from workers and employers in Canada. Sadly, they have lost that impetus to do the right thing, to do justice to workers and employers in Canada to ensure that that money was used for the purposes for which it was collected. They have done a complete about face and are now willing to write off that $52 billion completely, and in doing so, make a very inadequate accommodation for the possibility of an economic downturn.
I think all of us are nervous about that right now. The Conservatives talk about people who are preaching doom and gloom. I do not think any of us want to preach doom and gloom, but I think all of us want to be aware of the signals that are out there. There are many people who are concerned about the possibility of recession and the possibility of an economic downturn.
Without a strong EI program we know that is going to make any downturn more problematic for Canadians. Many of us believe that the EI program that exists today is a mere shadow of what it once was. Many Canadian workers are finding it difficult when they are laid off to get by without the kind of EI program that we have had in the past.
The news today from Oshawa, the city where I was born and in which I grew up, is not good. The truck plant is being shut down and a thousand more auto workers are going to be out of a job. That is a very significant development. It is a real depletion of the operations of General Motors in Canada. It is a significant blow to Canadian workers, losing a thousand more well-paying manufacturing auto industry jobs, jobs that have great benefits, that have pensions attached to them. The shortcomings of the EI program are going to make it more difficult for workers in places like Oshawa who are losing their jobs today and in the coming months. It is a very serious problem. We should be using that $52 billion to ensure there are programs to assist workers as job losses happen and assist them with job retraining. That is not what is going on. That is not the direction the Conservatives are choosing.
If there is a reason to not support Bill C-50, that is one excellent reason. I put it to the member for Oshawa and the member for Whitby—Oshawa, who proposed this legislation, that I do not know how they could turn their backs on their constituents at this terrible time in their community. I do not know how they could not be taking every measure possible to ensure that programs are in place to assist them as these very difficult closures happen.
It is not just in the auto sector that this is happening. It is happening in the forestry sector in British Columbia.
We have seen many communities in British Columbia dramatically affected by the loss of forestry jobs, such as the community of Mackenzie, for instance, and many other communities in the interior of British Columbia, as well as communities on Vancouver Island and even communities on the lower mainland, where mills have closed. They all have seen the difficulties associated with the changes in the forestry industry, yet there has been precious little assistance from the government.
The EI fund is of less assistance than it might have been at one time because of the changes that have been introduced to it. That is a significant issue in British Columbia.
We know about the ongoing litany of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs that have been lost in recent years in Canada. Those jobs are gone. Gone with them are the high wage rates, the benefits and the pension plans.
The government says constantly that it has created many other jobs. We know that those jobs that have been created have been largely service jobs. They are largely minimum wage jobs or pay slightly above minimum wage. They do not have the same kinds of benefits. They do not have pensions associated with them.
There can be no substitution of those kinds of jobs with the kinds of jobs we are losing all across this country, the jobs that pay great wages and have excellent benefits and pensions associated with them. It is a very serious problem.
Our EI critic, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, has often described the situation of eligibility for employment insurance today. Only 32% of women workers are eligible and only 38% of male workers are eligible. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers are ineligible for EI benefits. These are people who are out there working in the economy and yet do not qualify for EI.
As well, any time there is the possibility of a downturn in the economy, localized or national, provincial or regional, we know how important having a strong EI program has proven to be over many years and decades in Canada. Sadly, we do not have the same commitment to that program today. This legislation is not going to help that at all.
We also know that when we are trying to address poverty issues in Canada, family poverty and child poverty, EI is a crucial piece of the grouping of policies and programs we need to see a decline in poverty in Canada. Sadly, when we do not treat EI with the kind of respect it deserves as a program central to that effort, it is actually an outrage. It is an outrage that we would not give it that place of importance in all of this.
This legislation also includes the controversial amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would give the minister, among other things, greater discretion in whether or not to accept immigration applications. There is a problem with the fact that this is here in the first place.
This change should not have been included in the budget implementation act. It is a serious change to immigration law in Canada. It should have been on its own. It should have been stand-alone legislation so that it could have had the direct attention it deserves because of the significance of the change it implies.
It should not have been buried in a budget implementation bill. I hope the Conservatives will reconsider that kind of tactic in future when they are bringing forward other legislation. It is not appropriate to bury something on a completely different topic in this kind of legislation.
This change the Conservatives are proposing is very important to people in my riding. I have a significant new Canadian and immigrant population in my constituency. Any change to immigration law is keenly watched in my constituency.
Giving these kinds of discretionary powers to the minister is inappropriate. We should not be giving the minister this kind of discretionary ability to ignore applications.
We fought long and hard to ensure that any immigration application submitted was considered. That change was a major victory for people who care about the exercise of immigration policy in Canada.
This legislation would undo that. Again, if there is a reason for not supporting this legislation, that is it. This turns back the clock on important gains that have been made in the past with regard to immigration policy and the immigration application process in Canada.
The reality is that this change is promoted as a way of dealing with the immigration backlog, which is at about 900,000 applications or more right now. This will not do anything to address the backlog because it does not apply to most of the applications in the backlog. It does not really do what it is being sold as attempting to do.
I think it is a bit of false advertising on the part of the Conservative government to say this measure is somehow going to improve the backlog, because it will not. It will not even really touch it. We need greater processing capacity to deal with the backlog. This bill does nothing to address that.
There are a lot of problems with where the Conservatives are going on immigration and this bill highlights all of those problems. The new emphasis on temporary foreign workers is a huge change in Canadian immigration policy. In the past, we have encouraged people needed in our economy to come here as permanent residents. We have put them on the track to becoming full citizens of Canada.
European countries, for instance, have relied on a guest worker policy. We have never gone in that direction. When we see some of the social problems that have occurred in Europe as a result of that kind of guest worker or temporary foreign worker policy, we are lucky that Canada has not gone in that direction.
However, that is where the Conservatives are going now. In fact, they are reducing the number of places in the overall immigration target available to economic immigrants for family reunification in favour of temporary foreign workers and students. They are encouraging them to apply for permanent residence instead.
That is not going to help the backlog either. We are not going to alleviate that backlog if we keep taking away places that could be considered for family applications in the system.
It is a real problem because family reunification has been one of the strong points of our immigration program. It has been one of the successful points of our immigration program. One of the reasons people have chosen to emigrate to Canada over other countries is that the possibility of having family members join them here was held out as a significant promise to them when they came to Canada.
We let that program wither at our peril, I believe, because in a world that is increasingly competitive with regard to immigrants, we cannot afford to give up any of the competitive edges that we hold over other countries when it comes to attracting immigrants.
I believe the government is bent on reducing the emphasis on family reunification. The first time the former minister of citizenship and immigration appeared at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, he left reunification out of the list of reasons why we have an immigration policy in Canada.
He talked about the economic needs of Canada, nation building and protecting vulnerable refugees, but he did not mention family reunification. It is significant when a minister fails to list one of the key objectives of Canada's immigration program over many decades. That was a significant indicator.
If people go to the immigration website, as I did a little while back, it is hard to find in any of the general descriptions of Canada's immigration policy a reference to family reunification. It has dropped off the opening pages of the website. Again, it is a very serious downgrading of the position of family reunification in Canada. The changes proposed in this bill will only feed into that.
I could have talked about some of the things that this bill does not address and should have. It does not talk about any new program for housing in Canada. We know that is a significant problem all across this country. Affordable housing and homelessness are very serious issues that Canadians want addressed and they are not in this bill.
I could have talked about how the Conservative government, with this legislation, is lowering overall corporate tax rates but raising overall individual corporate tax rates. That is inappropriate as well.
I could have talked about the loss of income that Canadians have suffered since 1989 and how these budget measures do nothing to address that. It is only the very wealthy who are doing better in this time period. Everyone else is taking a hit, particularly those at the low end of the income scale.
I could have talked about gutting the fiscal capacity of government by over $200 billion, which the government is in the process of doing.
I could have talked about the funding cuts to the important programs that would have addressed some of the important social needs of Canadians. Those programs would make it possible for Canadians to collectively address some of the social problems that exist in this country.
There are a lot of problems with this legislation. We in this corner will be voting against this legislation once again. We will stand in our places to do that and to keep our promises to Canadians on what we think about this legislation.
Hon. Jim Karygiannis (Scarborough—Agincourt, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, as we are discussing Bill C-50, it is probably the last opportunity to really look at the bill and how it affects immigration.
Let me go back in history.
Last year, when we had problems with “Lost Canadians”, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration came to the committee. She asked us to produce a report, bring it to her and she would certainly move to ensure that we would get something through the House on “Lost Canadians” and ensure they would get their citizenship.
A unanimous report was written, although, personally, I had problems with the second generation. This report came to the House and the House moved very quickly to ensure that children and brides of our war people of World War II were given the citizenship for which they had been waiting for many years.
Therefore, I thought that in this context and in this period, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration would have had the fortitude and the backbone to come to the committee and say that there was a problem, that there were long wait lines and ask if could the committee take a look at it and get back to her with solid recommendations for her to go through and implement.
What have the Conservatives done? They put have included this under part 6 of the budget bill, saying to the rest of the House, “Do or die”. It is not a do or die situation. The citizenship and immigration backlogs are more serious than just a vote of confidence at the end of the day and who votes for it or who does not vote for it. There has to be a serious discussion on this item and there has to be serious consideration. It would take the citizenship and immigration committee to do a report, to give it to the minister and for the minister to adopt that report and move forward.
However, what happened? The citizenship and immigration committee was given less than two weeks to talk to people, come back and write a report to the committee of finance to tell it how bad this legislation was.
However, let us look what triggered this. It was triggered by waiting times and a backlog. Waiting times, when the Conservative government took power in 2006, went up by 20.79%. In 2007 they went up by 7%. Fifty per cent of our immigrants come from countries such as China, the Philippines, South Asia, being Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, and the Middle East, being Iran, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Therefore, although 50% of our immigration cases were from those area, in 2006 there was over a 10% increase in the waiting times.
Let us look at some specific examples. In 2006 the overall increase in waiting times was 40.78% for Beijing, 8% for Islamabad, 11.45% for New Delhi, 5.88% for Manila, 10.28% for Hong Kong and 20.83% for Colombo.
However, let us fast-forward to today. The minister put this legislation in Bill C-50. Even before the bill became legislation, the minister put out an advertisement about what a great piece of legislation this was. She went out to the ethnic press. It was the first time a government department had advertised in the ethnic press, and it spent well over $1 million.
When she came to committee, my question to the minister was, “will the minister come back to us with specifics, where the money was spent, which newspaper was bought, how much did it cost on advertising, all the details?” The minister said, “Yes, we will do that”. That was May 13. The minister promised she would come back in two weeks with specific details.
The minister appeared before the committee on May 28 and I said, “two weeks ago you made a commitment to provide this committee with a list of newspapers in which the department placed advertisements”. The minister answered, “We will be providing it very shortly”.
When I asked her again how soon, she answered, “Very soon, by the end of the week”. That was supposed to be last Friday. I also asked her, “And these will be an itemized, breakdown list?”. The hon. minister answered, “This will be a list that you requested”. We requested an itemized list of where the ads were place, how much they cost and the whole gamut.
I tabled in the committee and in the House an email that I received from a particular newspaper of Tamil background in Toronto. It said that it was encouraged by the agency on the record to charge three times as much. I gave the minister specific examples of how in some newspapers there were editorials that were favourable to the government. There were op-ed pieces by the minister. There were front page articles, and I would not say bought but maybe just encouraged, of how the Prime Minister was in Toronto touting and hollering about the immigration bill. This was in a Nigerian newspaper, and the Prime Minister went to a south Asian event.
I sat there and scratched my head. Why would the Nigerian newspaper carry on its front page something the Prime Minister said to the south Asian community? It is nice to see the diversity of our country and see different ethnic newspapers carrying news about another community. However, hardly ever do we see a newspaper of one ethnic group carrying front page news about another ethnic group unless it was encouraged to do so.
The newspaper in question is the Nigerian Canadian News.. I have in my hand its contract for a full page ad. It is a full page, black and white, 10X14.6 inside, at a cost $220. I am sure the department paid much more than $220. I also have the weekly AWAM,, $450 black and whites; the Urdu Times, $600; the Philippine Reporter, $315; the Shahrvand, $375; and the weekly Hindi, $500.
The minister was questioned and given the opportunity to do the right thing and provide the committee with information on where the ads were placed and how much they cost. At 4:52 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, knowing absolutely full well that the national media had gone home, that their stories had been filed and that everything has been done, the minister sent us the list. This is the garbage we get.
The list states the province, the city, the publication, the insertion time and the language. There is one thing missing, and that is the cost. It is not so much that the Conservatives have contempt for the House, that the government advertises before a bill is even law and is sugar coated, but they also have contempt by the minister. When she came to committee, she stated, “Very soon, by the end of the week”. I asked again, “And this will this be an itemized, breakdown list? She said, “This will be the list that you requested”.
Therefore, twice in committee, on May 13 and May 28, to specific questions, questions that were put forward to the minister, asking her if she would supply the committee with breakdowns on where the money was spent and the publications, she failed very miserably. Not only did she fail the committee, she failed the House and she also has failed Canadians.
Canadians want to know where the government spends its money. They want to know what we get as a result of that money. There have been many examples where in the past governments spent money before the bill passed and they were told that it was a no-no. Similarly in this situation the minister went out of her way to advertise in the ethnic press and tell the ethnic press and the diverse multicultural tapestry of our country what a great government it was and what it would do to take care of the backlog.
The Conservatives are saying that they will get doctors in before us. What hogwash. What a lie. They well know that when a medical doctor comes to Canada, unless working with the provinces and the provincial and territorial organizations, the Ontario Medical Association and the Quebec Medical Association, these people cannot get their licences, they cannot practise in that province.
The province of Ontario says that it will double the amount of medical people it takes from 24 to 48. That is great. It will now have another 24. There is a lack of doctors in northern Ontario. I am wondering if the minister will stand in this House and reassure the people in northern Ontario or the small territories that the legislation she is proposing will bring doctors to their community when she has done absolutely nothing to talk to the provincial bodies that legislate these folks. Has she asked the provinces to give licences to these doctors to practise if she brings more in?
We have hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals in Canada who have their credentials as doctors back in the old country. The minister can simply say that we have doctors and that she will talk to her provincial counterparts and to the medical associations about us getting them to rectify and acknowledge their credentials. Why would she say that the government will bring doctors into this country when we have hundreds, if not thousands of qualified physicians from other countries already in this country who are willing and able to practise?
The minister says that the government will expedite family class reunification, that it will expedite husbands, wives, children, grandparents and parents. What a bunch of hogwash.
The minister is looking to Bill C-50 to get the power to dictate from where and who comes forward. However, when she says that the government will expedite parents, we know very well that she is looking at categories that the provinces want, which are economical, and that business people go forth in the line. We will have two streams. We will have the old stream and we will have the new stream. In the new stream the minister will decide that we need bricklayers and then move forward to bring them into the country. In the old stream we still chug along with the applications that are there. Parents and grandparents are way at the back of the line.
How can the minister say that the government will expedite parents, grandparents, family class and bring them to the fourth of the line, when she knows very well that her new legislation would chug along? She will decide who is necessary and those people will come to Canada faster. Then we have the old stream, the 925,000 cases still pending, and parents and grandparents are way in the back. What total hogwash.
Why does the minister not have the fortitude to go to the committee and say that there are 900,000 cases in the backlog, that we have a problem and that we need a solution? Why is there disrespect from the minister when she comes to committee and is asked where the money was spent, which newspaper was bought, how much it cost and all the details? On May 13 the minister said that the government would do that.
I have many more examples of how the minister has misled the committee and the House and how the minister is hiding behind a list of close to 100 pages of rhetoric, with absolutely no figures on how much money was spent, where it was spent and how it was spent.
Where was the money spent? Who received the money? What favours did the Conservative government get in return for the $1 million-plus advertising that it did with the ethnic media?
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I wish I could say it is a pleasure to join this debate, but unfortunately, the process that we see existing between the two parties in front of us, the two that are nattering back and forth today and on previous days around such an important piece of legislation, does not allow one to have a lot of confidence either in the government's ability to manage prudently the affairs of the nation nor in the ability of the official opposition, in this case the Liberal Party, to oppose the mandate put forward by the government.
In order to have some balance and fairness, some sense of equity in our House of Commons, there must be the exchange of ideas, the to and fro of debate. That is what Canadians expect and it is what Canadians deserve. The government proposes various notions under a budget. The budget, as are all budgets, is the most serious and important piece of legislation a government provides in a fiscal year. It allows government agencies, corporations and individual Canadians to get a sense of the government's priorities and the direction that the government is taking. Has this been done in a thoughtful way or in a considerate way? Has it been done in a democratic way in this Parliament? I would suggest not and I will present some important reasons regarding that.
In a budget, choices are made. The government has only so much in funds available to it. It has only so much time and only so many powers. In those choices, it sends a clear and concise signal to Canadians at all levels, in private enterprise, the public sector and as individuals, as to where the government feels the most work needs to be done.
New Democrats oppose this budget and have consistently done so from the beginning. At its first instance this budget presented an unfair choice for Canadians, an unbalanced approach to our economy and the future direction of our country. Not only has the government chosen an unbalanced approach in terms of fiscal matters, the way that our tax regime is handled, but it has also rammed into a budget bill one of the most sweeping changes to immigration the country has known for some decades.
One would think that in a two and a half year mandate, and it is feeling longer every day, if immigration was a top priority for the Conservatives, they could have presented those changes in an immigration bill. It is logical. It would allow the minister of immigration to promote the changes. It would allow the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to debate those changes and bring the appropriate witnesses forward. It would give a clear and concise view of what the government's intentions are with immigration.
Instead, sensing a certain weakness from the official opposition benches and the current Liberal leader, the government chose a tactic known as confidence and placed the immigration changes into a confidence bill. The government has thereby upped the ante in this high stakes game of poker that it has been playing with the Liberal leader over the last number of months. The Conservatives have received, I believe, 22 consecutive confirmations of confidence from the Liberal Party. This is unprecedented in Canadian history. When a party presents itself, as the Liberals have, in opposition to some of the fundamental beliefs and ideologies of the current regime, the Conservatives, one would expect that that lack of confidence would show up when it came time to vote.
Last night was very instructive. The government was faced with amendments to fundamentally change what it was proposing on immigration, to strip out the powers that the government is attempting to give to the minister of immigration. Certainly members of the New Democratic Party have railed against the government's proposal here in the House of Commons and all across the country. Members of the Bloc have also suggested opposition, as have members of the Liberals, but last night when there came the opportunity in the full light of transparency and democracy, there were 12 Liberals, and I am not sure how many Liberals are left, who decided to vote in a show of tokenism, in weak opposition, which therefore allowed the government bill to pass unamended, unchanged.
That is what occurred, after all of the protestations from my Liberal colleagues, and I am sure some of them are even sincere. They have heard from their constituents who time and time again have said that these proposed changes to our immigration policies, these changes to the fabric of our nation, an immigrant nation, are unhelpful and damaging and should not be supported. That is what my constituents have been telling me. That is what my industry partners have been telling me in my community. I am sure that is what is being told to many members of this House from all corners.
The question comes to that fundamental choice. When we ask Canadians to step into the ballot box, we ask them to make a choice. We ask them to determine who will go forward and represent them and their interests in this place, this most sacred place of democracy in which we all stand forward with various levels of courage and pride and attempt to represent in the best manner possible the interests of our constituents and our ridings.
The best way that is done is when the Speaker calls a vote. That is the determination. There has been a debate. There have been press conferences, public meetings and community gatherings. When the vote is called is the moment when each member individually makes his or her choice and describes his or her allegiance, to whom the member feels most indebted.
I represent Skeena--Bulkley Valley in northwestern British Columbia. The people in northwestern British Columbia have a very solid principle which they reiterate to me time and time again. On various decisions and votes they may have a difference of opinion, but their base expectations are twofold. One is that I listen and apply my thinking and my own prudence and judgment to what I am hearing from my constituency. The other is that I express that opinion here in the House of Commons when that opportunity is given to me. That is the moment of voting.
That is the moment when the Speaker calls for each member to stand in his or her place. At that time any given member of Parliament has a few choices available. One choice is to support the vote, as was done by the Conservatives, as was to be expected because it is their bill. The second choice is to not show up at all, which was done by the Liberals, unfortunately, lamentably. The third choice is to oppose, to push back against the agenda and ideology and present a different view on the future, hope and expression for our country.
The priorities that were represented by members of the Liberal Party last night showed more loyalty to their own party and their own polling numbers than to their constituents. That is a deep and profound shame. It is a shame in the sense that all of us come together collectively and present our own views, but the expectation at the end of the day is that we will have a fair, honest and democratic exchange and then go forward, because Parliament, in particular a minority Parliament, needs to be able to function.
Canadians have constructed for us a minority House. They have said to the Conservatives, “We will not give you the authority and absolute power to mandate what you will, as is the case under a majority Parliament. We are giving you part of the power. We would like you to share the power with the other parties, to work out the ideas”. The NDP has been consistent in trying to present alternatives to the government.
There will be a vote tomorrow night on the most important issue of climate change, on a private member's bill in the name of the leader of the NDP, the member for Toronto—Danforth, to put for the first time ever in Canadian law climate change targets. It is something that Canadians have talked to us about time and time again. We expect members of this House to present themselves either to support the bill or to oppose it. To simply not show up or to simply show up and then sit in their seats is such a tragedy and such a perversion of democracy, it is difficult to attempt to achieve the right pitch and tone of condemnation. To not show up, to not represent their constituents and still pretend that they are members of Parliament, to still pretend that they are representing the interests of anybody outside of their own party interests, is a falsehood.
Choices will be made in the future. I have great faith in the Canadian electorate to watch, to pay attention and to show some judgment. When they make a decision at the ballot box and a choice for the future, part of that decision will include the notion that whomever they choose will represent them. I am appalled that we have to stand on this most fundamental principle and point out first, the idea that we expect members of Parliament to show up here and vote. That that is even a point of contention and debate is incredible to me. We can debate all the other issues, whether they be immigration issues, fiscal measures in the budget or, environmental issues, but the fact that we have to encourage my colleagues and friends in the Liberal Party to show up to work is lamentable. In any other circumstance, not showing up to work has immediate and dire consequences for most Canadians. They are given a warning and then they are fired. That is the typical and natural course of events.
Let us take a look at what is actually in Bill C-50, now that we have established the tragic consequence of a weak official opposition and a government that has realized it and has received more than 20 consecutive supports of confidence from that party. An immigration bill has been rammed into a bill on the finances of the country.
When the Conservative government took office, there were 700,000 people in the backlog which is constantly talked about. They are waiting for some sort of hearing, for fairness, to be listened to and understood on their applications to come into this country.
As with many members in this place, my family was an immigrant family. My family had to go through that process, make and application and indicate what it was they wished to bring to the fabric and strength of Canada, hard work, determination and honesty, which is what the immigrant community has brought. Now we see this being perverted. We see this being taken down a different path for political expediency and for the interests of a very narrow few.
The backlog was 700,000 people. The Conservative Party decried it for many years. In the time between then and now, in two and a half years, the backlog has grown to over 900,000. Applications have actually been at a lower rate of acceptance under the Conservative government. It has jigged the numbers in talking about receiving more people from overseas. It has started to include temporary foreign workers as if they were in the same category as those who receive landed immigrant status.
That a temporary foreign worker is given a small piece of paper which allows the person to work for a short period of time but then must leave Canada is part of the immigration scheme of the government speaks very well to why that was included in a bill on the finances of the country as opposed to a bill on immigration policy. This bill at its essence is about a very narrow interest within the business community, which seeks to have temporary foreign workers come into the country at lower rates and lower rights than the average Canadian worker. They are removed from the country when they are no longer needed, when the projects are over, thereby contributing less to the Canadian economy and hurting the interests and values of workers who are already in the Canadian economy.
In the northwest of British Columbia, the unemployment rates in some of our communities are devastating economically and socially. Communities like Hazelton, Terrace and others in the far northwest have experienced rates of unemployment upward of 80% to 85%. It is devastating. The forestry industry is closing one mill after another.
Of all the wood produced in Canada and exported, British Columbia produced more than 50% of it. With all those trees of such magnificence, stature, strength and desirability on the marketplace, it is an unimaginable notion that British Columbia may no longer produce that wood. It certainly does not produce much in my region where the foundation of many communities was forestry and ecology.
Forestry lived with us and we lived with it and understood the measures, the to and fro of a sector that experiences the upward and downward trends of a resource based economy. Now we see a downward trend like we have never seen before. In the northwest there is a perfect storm. The minister of all things, of industry, foreign affairs and various other things, has been involved in the forestry sector, and understands that a high Canadian dollar, a bad softwood lumber deal and a softening U.S. housing market have contributed to this unimaginable convergence of events that has virtually shut down the northwest's forestry economy, a long and proud tradition that built up many of my communities.
In immigration the government is asking for a very unusual and significant proposal. Under this bill the Conservatives will give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the absolute power to reject acceptable applications, people who have applied through the process, ticked all the boxes, made sure their applications were strong. Under this bill the minister could reject those applications with no scrutiny or transparency whatsoever, and in the reverse, accept applications that do not meet the measure of our own immigration law, thereby sending further confusing signals to those who are considering coming into our country.
Canada has unfortunately gained the reputation, particularly from the professional sector, as an unwelcome place, a place where an application will take many years longer. The bill, in pretending to speed up that process, has unfortunately made it less transparent, less accountable, and therefore less reliable to that immigrant community. There is no certainty given. There is no ability for parliamentarians to petition on behalf of willing and able applicants who have met all the requirements. All people will get is a rejection from the minister and no indication as to why and no ability to find out why, to change their odds and get their application approved. This is a tragedy.
This speaks to an increasingly serious component, particularly in rural Canada, where we have been losing our brightest and best, our youngest. We have watched the brain drain. This applies not just to northwestern British Columbia but across our country. We are working hard to attract our young people back here. We are working hard to ensure that they have education opportunities, both within the region and without, but also that they have an economy and a community to return to. Immigration bills like this do nothing for us.
One important caveat that I need to throw in here in qualifying my expressions for this and in qualifying the interests of people from the northwest is that when I first arrived we asked the Library of Parliament to do a cursory study of all the money the northwest has sent to Ottawa's coffers over the previous 10 years. We also asked the library to make an estimation of all the money Ottawa has sent us back through all the programs and systems that the government can do.
It took the Library of Parliament some time. I thank the library for its work. It was diligent. That work was boxes high on my desk when it finally arrived. The ratio was 10 to 1. For every $10 sent from the northwest, from Skeena, from our mining, forestry and aluminum operations, from people earning money for their own behalf and paying those taxes to the Canadian economy, the Library of Parliament told us there was $1 coming back in services.
The most remarkable thing is that folks in Skeena and folks in the northwest do not necessarily hold a grudge about this. They do not mind contributing to the wealth and prosperity of this country. They understand that when they are doing well, when forestry is doing well or mining is booming, the boom and bust cycle means they are contributing. They understand that. They are proud Canadians and strong nationalists.
On the other hand, when the economy turns down, when the forestry sector goes through such upheaval, they have paid into an insurance scheme, not specifically just the employment insurance scheme but the insurance of what it is to be a country, to have a fabric, to be connected, so that when one part of the economy or one region slows down, the others that are doing well are okay and contributing their tax dollars.
The irreversible damage done in this bill is to attempt to permanently tilt what it is that the Government of Canada can and cannot do. In this budget, the government is stripping out some $200 billion of the government's fiscal capacity over the foreseeable years, the capacity to answer any question, whether it happens to be an economic downturn, the challenge of climate change, the need for affordable housing, the need for safe and accessible child care or any of those circumstances.
As members of Parliament, we have constituents and people in our offices all the time who are petitioning for certain bills and certain programs and showing the need, the proof and evidence of why this or that is important. I have been turning that back to them time and time again and asking how they can expect the federal government to do anything when the government is stripping away its own capacity to do anything at all.
More and more, the constituencies that work around Parliament Hill and within the Canadian diaspora as they push for various initiatives and efforts, for part of their vision for this country, are realizing that the real and irreversible damage going on, the real game under an ideology that is spoken to in this bill, is to change the very nature of the way federal government works, to devolve itself of its powers and its ability to affect the direction of the country, and to regionalize, to continue to fracture what it is that is Canada.
Someone once said that Canada works well in practice but not in theory, saying that a country so large, with so many unique and different histories all cobbled together, would be unimaginable in other parts of the world. It has been said that this would lead to inherent and conflictive tensions that would erupt into violence on a consistent basis and we would never be able to hold the fabric of the federation together.
However, look at what we have done. For so many years, we have been providing peace, order and good government. Now we see a government intent on something else.
In the northwest, we have noticed the immediate effects of climate change. We have noticed the impacts and direct implications. That is not coming from me but from the chief forester of British Columbia. It is coming from industry and the mining community. All they are looking for is some level of certainty and understanding from government that it will take climate change seriously.
What do we see instead? A report released just last Friday afternoon late in the day, so that no one would read it, shows that the government's own plans on climate change are all being downgraded. The spending is all being downgraded.
The attempts to lower greenhouse gases in this country are all being lowered by the government at a time when people in the northwest are demanding otherwise. They are demanding a government that takes the issue seriously and will come forward in a forthright manner.
Last, in the balance and the choices that every government has in a budget, it is to be noted that revenue coming from corporations will go down by 14% in the foreseeable future and revenues from individual Canadians will go up by 12%. That is what the government has shown as its priority.
Hon. Joseph Volpe (Eglinton—Lawrence, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I, too, have been listening to the debate on the budget because I thought that was what we were discussing.
The budget is an opportunity for the government of the day to lay out a vision, to lay out a plan, to lay out a strategy for how it will expend the nation's resources; that is, the taxes that it collects, what it will give back to Canadians for the money that it takes out of their hard-earned paycheques and equally important, how it will deal with the economic stresses of the day, and the natural resources that are at the disposal of people in every province in order to meet the demands of everyday life.
That is what a budget is supposed to do. That is what a budget is designed to do in a democratic environment, so that a government can be accountable. It lays out a plan, it lays out a vision, and it takes responsibility for both vacuums; that is, what is not done and what is done insufficiently.
In this budget document, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to think carefully upon the following for a moment.
First, it has shown that the government is capable of spending money at a rate that no other government that has preceded it has been able to demonstrate. In fact, public expenditures have gone up by 14%. An increase of 14%, we would probably say, is money well spent, whether it is done through tax cuts or outright emissions of dollars, this is good for the country.
All of my constituents, like the ones from British Columbia, are asking: What do we have to show for that 14% increase? If we spent 14% more on a car we purchased, we would be able to tell the difference. If we bought 14% more groceries, we would be able to tell the difference. If we spent 14% more on our clothing, we would be able to tell the difference. What has been accomplished with that 14% expenditure increase? Perhaps the government members would like to tell us what impact that 14% increase has had on an auto sector in Ontario, primarily, but throughout Canada, that is completely collapsing.
Today, for example, General Motors announced that in Oshawa it will cut another 1,000 jobs. I am not a member from Oshawa. I used to be responsible for the GTA. I might, without undue humility, say I prevailed upon cabinet to do some things for the province, for the manufacturing sector, and for the auto industry, in particular, because so many jobs depend on the auto industry.
Mr. Speaker, were you aware that there are approximately 385,000 jobs that are directly or indirectly associated with auto assembly, the auto part industry and after market delivery? That is 385,000.
When we take a look at that number, we get a sense of how much of an impact that number has on Canadians everywhere. That is 385,000 families. Even if we were to take the average number of people per family and do the appropriate multiplication, we would see that it is a population that is in excess of the population of the province of New Brunswick. It is greater than the population of the province of Nova Scotia. It is almost greater than the population of Manitoba as well as that of Saskatchewan,.
We are not talking about incidental job losses. We are talking about the infrastructure of a people and the infrastructure of a province on which the people depend for sustenance, for wealth creation, and indeed, for the maintenance of the Canadian federation.
I do not see anything in the budget on that. It shocks me that the Minister of Finance, who is from the centre of that manufacturing industry, the auto sector, would have not a mere consideration for what would be involved.
He sees, for example, as the government must see, that the price of fuel, gasoline at the pumps, has gone to $1.30, in some cases more, and there is nothing there. Yet, we know that the government, when it was in opposition, was complaining intensely when the price of a litre of gasoline was at 80¢ and 85¢.
What does the government do now? What does it do to alleviate the increased costs of energy and the means of production, both of goods that are edible and goods that are consumable differently? What is in the budget that tells us that the government is seized of the crisis and is prepared to do something about it? Is the answer “nothing”?
I see government members in the House willing to support the initiatives of their Minister of Finance, but where is the action? There is none.
In fact, let us take a look at the transportation modes that are at the heart of the way that the manufacturing sector must operate, not only in Canada but, and let me be parochial for a moment and think about my province of Ontario, the north-south trade. In particular, the trade that we have with the United States depends so much on the access routes, specifically in Windsor and Fort Erie, but also in Sarnia, up in Sault Ste. Marie, and up north in Thunder Bay, and I dare say even as we get closer to Brockville and Kingston. However, none of those access routes were mentioned in this budget. There are no funds for a transportation system that would facilitate the flow of goods to our biggest market, our partner that consumes approximately $1 billion of our exports every day of the year.
Where are the funds for ensuring that CBSA, the Canada Border Services Agency, builds its efficiencies at these border points, so that goods can move across freely and quickly in a just-in-time environment, a just-in-time environment in a manufacturing sector that is collapsing as we speak today.
These are not inventions. General Motors and the CAW issued press releases today, probably at a press conference while we were here in the House, to reinforce it. The economy is collapsing because of these issues. Where is the government on this budget? It is absent.
However, I have to compliment at least one member in this House because the total amount of money that this budget apparently, although we do not see it definitively, talks about, in terms of transportation flow from the federal government to any province, specifically Ontario, has to do with a potential train between Peterborough and Toronto. Forty per cent of all of the moneys put in a transportation transit fund, $200 million, is for that one singular project.
If it is a city or a greater metropolitan area like the GTA, it is out of luck. Peterborough is not yet part of the GTA, although I imagine that some of the transportation funds and the construction associated with its expenditure might eventually build out in that direction.
I do not want to be too facetious, but the construction industry is collapsing. Where is the government on an issue where we are talking about the collapse of the construction industry? And it is collapsing for the usual factors that we would think of. There is a financial meltdown in the United States and its effects are being felt here in Canada, number one.
Number two, we have been talking about the lumber industry, its impact, the prices associated with it here in Canada, the production associated with it, or lack thereof, and the closing down of communities.
Where is this budget on these matters? It is a financial statement, a financial expression of the government's willingness to lay out a strategy for the entire federation, and the answer is nowhere. There is no strategy. There is no plan. There is no vision.
I take a look at where we have been going in the debate so far. People have started to refer to Bill C-50 as “the immigration bill”. Can members imagine that? We are talking about a budget.
One page has defined this budget, the importance of which has been magnified by the Minister of Finance who has said that it is of crucial importance to this country that we eliminate the backlog in the number of applications of those who would make Canada their home. That is the big crisis. The big demand for a vision statement that the government opposite is responding to.
Let us take a look at some of the figures. Government members and opposition members have now begun to accept the fact that there were 700,000 applications in the backlog when the Conservatives formed government. According to Conservative figures, that represented an increase in the backlog by 54,000 per year during the Liberal administration.
According to government advertisements, the 700,000 backlog in applications has jumped to 925,000. In two short years the government has managed to increase the backlog in applications by 225,000. The government has not told us how many people have actually applied but it picked this number of 925,000. The government is not going to do anything to solve the problem. In one page out of a 139 page budget document there is one little clause that says none of this applies to anybody who was already in the queue as of February 28, 2008. Imagine.
Canadians following this debate are thinking the government does not have a strategy for meeting this crisis of the day, but when it fabricates one, it does not have a plan to resolve it. The government is simply going to pretend the problem has disappeared because as of February 28 those 925,000 applications are still going to be there and the government is not going to do anything about it. The government's position is not to do anything. It is the same as the economic position on the crisis of the day.
Does the government treat immigration as an economic issue? Let us look at it for a moment. To meet the economic requirements of today, the government says people must be brought in who would satisfy the demands of a growing Canadian population. That is fine but consider this. Between 2001 and 2006, the five year period immediately preceding the arrival of the Conservatives to government, what happened? According to the government, immigration policies were wrong. Yet, over a five year period the immigration program produced 350,000 new immigrants between the ages of 25 and 64, people at their most productive. These individuals had a university degree or better. How much money does that represent in terms of investment?
If the budget were directed to 350,000 people in Canada with a university degree or better; that is, they were prepared to meet the demands of a changing economy, a knowledge-based economy, an economy of the future, how much would that cost us? The cost would start at $50 billion and climb, but we could not produce that kind of talent pool in five years because we would have to do it over a 22 year period.
Let me use our young men and women pages here in the House as an example. It takes about 22 years from the time they enter school until they graduate. A knowledge-based economy, a competitive economy, in the 21st century cannot wait 22 years to produce 350,000 people with a university degree or better.
Our immigration system, over the previous five years preceding the Conservatives coming to power, produced that many people. In addition to that, it produced an additional 70,000 people who had a college diploma or equivalent; that is applicable skills in the post-secondary environment. That is not bad. That cost a little less. Those immigration policies also produced an additional 30,000 people who had some form of training that went beyond high school. In other words, they had a skill set that could be applied in a hands on environment.
I know you have been following those numbers, Mr. Speaker. Of the men and women who entered our country between the ages of 25 and 64, 67% had better than post-secondary school education or training. Canadians probably are wondering what the comparative numbers are for born in Canada applicants to the job market. While 51% of immigrants had a university degree or better, only 23% of those born in Canada had a similar qualification. We go abroad for our talent.
Think about the kind of talent we need. Today provincial premiers are telling us we need more than university educated people. We need more than college educated people. Yes, we need people who have skills on the job. We need more of them, and we need more of those who have post-graduate degrees.
Canadians should think about this, that 49% of all Ph.D. degree-holders come through our immigration system. How many have a master's degree? The answer is 40%.
I know my colleagues opposite are saying where is this going? It is going precisely to this location. If Bill C-50, through the immigration changes, is designed to give us greater skilled immigrants, how much does the government expect to improve on those figures? How many more does the government expect to bring in who meet those qualifications? In fact, does the government want people with those kinds of qualifications?
Those numbers are available to the government. Statistics Canada reported them. I did not invent those numbers. Statistics Canada is giving the government those answers. Statistics Canada and Human Resources Canada is telling the government what we have as a basis for building a society and an economy and budgets therefore that will respond to that economy. Here is what we can do. Here is what we ought to do.
What is the government's response? On the economy, it is nothing. On immigration, it is less than that. Let us do away, is the government's response, with all those measures that succeeded in bringing to us, for us, for the development of a Canadian society for the 21st century the kinds of men and women who provide us not only with the skill sets we need today, but for the leadership that we must have tomorrow.
Are we up for it? We are. Are we prepared to go forward with the kind of change that will bring a new dynamic to our country? We are. Are we prepared to take those risks that say that immigration is as much a part of the economic policy of the nation as any other fiscal plan? We are.
Why is the government silent on its most fundamental defining document of both where we are going in the future and how we are resolving the problems of today?
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak, sadly, to Bill C-50, which is known as the budget implementation act.
Given the weakness of the Liberals, the Conservatives have rolled two other provisions into the budget implementation act, one that would simply gut our existing immigration system and give new powers to the minister, and another that would essentially take money that was set aside for Canadians in employment insurance and readjust that away, contrary, of course, to the advice of the Auditor General.
In my opinion, what we are considering today with Bill C-50 is the corporate handout act, the indentured servitude act and the legalized theft act. I would like to speak to each aspect of Bill C-50.
I will first talk about the corporate handouts. The Conservatives have not been speaking today. They refuse to defend their own budget, which is kind of interesting. However, when they did speak to it a couple of days ago, when they were actually willing to speak before they realized the inconsistency of the budget document, they said that they were spending a certain amount of money on this and a certain amount of money on that. They tried to say that the budget, overall, was a good budget because they would be spending some money on new programs that deal with the desperate situation that so many Canadians are in. I will say more on that in a moment.
It is important to note what the NDP has been saying in the House, even though the Conservatives are moving to adopt the budget, with the support of an incredibly weak Liberal leader who is essentially allowing the budget to pass, that for every $1 in new program spending, $6 will be going to the corporate sector in corporate handouts, in tax cuts to corporate CEOs. They are essentially shovelling money off the back of a truck to the corporate sector.
I call Bill C-50 the corporate handout act because it is a redistribution of income from hard hit Canadians to the wealthiest of Canadians.
We know the last 20 years have not been kind to ordinary Canadian families. Ordinary working families have borne the brunt of incredibly irresponsible and misguided economic policies conducted first by the Conservatives, then by the Liberals and now by the Conservatives. In fact, we have the same ministers sometimes crossing the floor once or twice. It seems to be the same group of people with the same economic policies.
It is helpful to talk a bit about what the actual impacts have been for ordinary Canadians since 1989. The portrait is a very disappointing one for NDP members who deal on a regular basis with ordinary Canadian working families. We can see the impact of misguided economic policies.
What has happened over the last 20 years? The wealthiest, the corporate CEOs, the folks who the Conservative Party love to give money to, now take half of all income in Canada. We have not seen that level of inequality in income since the 1930s, and that is essentially what the Liberals and Conservatives, working as some sort of weird wrestling tag team, have managed to produce in the Canadian economy. The wealthy now take half of all income.
What has happened to the other income categories? The upper middle class has seen stagnation, neither a rise nor a fall in their real incomes. However, it becomes much more sad and impressive when we look at what the income impacts have been as we move down the income ladder.
Middle class Canadian families earning between $40,000 and $60,000 a year, which is one-fifth or 20% of the Canadian population, have lost a week of real income for each year since 1989. It is like they are working harder than ever because the average Canadian family is working 200 hours more now than they were then. They have been working extremely hard but it is as if they do not get a paycheque for one week each year. They are working 52 week years and getting paid for 51 weeks, and that is because of the economic geniuses in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party.
What has happened in other income categories? What about the lower middle class, those families earning between $20,000 and $40,000 a year? They have lost two weeks of income since 1989. They are working 52 week years but it is as if they miss an entire paycheque. Under the Conservatives and Liberals, they have one paycheque taken away from them. They now work 200 more hours a year but they now have to skip a pay period of two weeks.
What about the poorest of Canadians, the families earning less than $20,000? Under the Conservatives and the Liberals, they have seen a catastrophic fall in income. They have lost a month and a half of income for each year since 1989.
It is no secret why it is estimated that there will be about 300,000 Canadians sleeping out in parks and on the main streets of our country tonight. It is because for the poorest of Canadians, it is as if for a month and a half a year there is no paycheque at all waiting for them and they need to scramble to make ends meet.
We have seen a catastrophic incomes crisis for most Canadian families. Since 1989, the real income of two-thirds of Canadian families has gone down. What do the Conservatives and Liberals offer in their budgets? They offer more corporate tax cuts to corporate CEOs, as if that is the only group of Canadians that exists. It is as if they are unable to see that on the main streets of this country there is a completely different reality from Bay Street. Bay Street seems to be the only place they are willing to listen to because those corporate CEOs now take in half of all income. We have seen a decline in real income for the vast majority of Canadian families but what do we get in the budget? We get the corporate handout act. It contains $6 in corporate tax cuts for every $1 in new spending.
We have a crisis in the health care system. We have record levels of student debt in post-secondary education. We have the collapse of the softwood industry brought about by the foolish and irresponsible softwood sellout that has particularly impacted British Columbia. Now we have other trade initiatives from the government. It enjoyed selling out the softwood industry so well that it is now moving to sell out the shipbuilding industry with the EFTA. It just seems to be serial sellouts from the government.
We have seen, time and again, all of those elements that Canadians are crying out for, such as a national pharmacare program, which the NDP has been pushing forward, and the adequate funding for our health care system and actually saving money in our health care system by redirecting the money toward bulk purchasing of drugs, for example, which would actually allow us to save money on the health care system and redirect it to primary care, but instead, under Liberal governments, like Conservative governments, it just seems to be the same old story repeating itself, one time after another.
An hon. member: It'll never happen.
Mr. Peter Julian: I hear some heckling from the Liberals and Conservatives. It is important to note that the Department of Finance did a long term study, the only time one has been done in Canada, on which governments managed money the best.
I think everyone in the House would agree that the people in the Department of Finance are the economic experts, supposedly. They did a long term study on the actual fiscal returns of NDP governments, Conservative governments and Liberal governments. They found that the NDP, while not perfect, managed money the best. Most of the time NDP governments actually finished their fiscal period returns, not the budget documents, not the promises and projections, but the actual fiscal period returns, and balanced its budgets or were in surplus.
What happened to the Conservatives? Two-thirds of the time the Conservatives were in deficit. We are not talking about the budget flim-flam, the budget documents and the promises. We are actually saying what happened on the bottom line. Two-thirds of the time Conservative governments were in deficit, which I think shows that they have some problems with fiscal management. In fact, Conservative fiscal management is kind of an oxymoron.
How did the Liberals do? It was the only party that was worse than the Conservatives. They were in deficit 86% of the time.
It is important to note that the federal Department of Finance, which I do not think anyone would say is a socialist hotbed, has looked at how the various parties manage money and it said that the NDP managed money the best.
Since I was getting some heckling from the Liberals and the Conservatives, I thought it was important for the people of Canada to know who manages money best.
It is true that the NDP would not be giving corporate handouts. It would not be providing $6 to corporate CEOs for every $1 in spending that touches vital and important issues like housing, health care, post-secondary education and getting the debt down, this mortgage on the future that we are imposing on younger Canadians.
We now have record levels of student debt, $26,000 on average. When these kids come out of post-secondary education they go into a labour market where the entry level wages are lower than ever before, which, unfortunately, has been accentuated by Conservative policies. I will come back to that in a moment. These people are also in a job market where most jobs that are created do not come with pensions or benefits.
We are looking at this apprehended incomes crisis where those kids, having finally succeeded in paying off their post-secondary debt, will retire, after a long working career, at a time when there is no company pension available to them. That is what has happened under the Conservatives and Liberals.
What has happened directly in terms of employment under the Conservatives? We saw that two weeks ago with the study that came out about the jobs we are losing in the manufacturing sector and the jobs that the Conservatives have managed to dig up for Canadians. They seem to be very proud. They talk about these jobs they have created but they do not mention what they actually pay. The jobs the Conservatives have lost paid over $21 an hour. They were good manufacturing jobs, family sustaining jobs.
We have lost hundreds and thousands of jobs in the softwood industry because of incredibly irresponsible policies, like the softwood sellout, and in a wide variety of other sectors, such as the auto sector and soon to be the shipbuilding sector because of another free trade deal that is a sellout. There is a complete lack of understanding of how the federal government can support key industries and put in place an industrial strategy to keep those industries, ensuring good jobs for Canadians.
We have lost the $21 an hour jobs. What have we gained? The same study indicated that the jobs the Conservatives have gained to offset that massive hemorrhaging of good manufacturing jobs are service industry jobs paying less than two-thirds of the salaries of the jobs lost.
Statistics Canada also tells us that most of the jobs created in today's economy are part time or temporary. We are not talking about family sustaining jobs anymore. A constituent in my riding told me that he guessed the Conservatives had created jobs because he had to take on three of them that are all part time jobs.
The Conservatives love to say that they have created lots of part time jobs but when a Canadian has lost a full time family sustaining job and has to take two or three jobs for $6 an hour for six hours a week, they are not better off. Their real income has catastrophically fallen. The Conservatives do not seem to understand that fundamental mathematics.
If people have a good job at $21 an hour and they lose it due to Conservative policies and then work at two or three jobs at $6 an hour, six hours a week, they have actually lost two-thirds of their income. They have not gained anything. The Conservatives continue to stand up in the House and pretend that there has been some kind of net gain. It is clearly not the case.
The extent of Bill C-50 is basically corporate handouts when support for health care, housing and post-secondary education were really called for.
What else is contained in the bill? The Conservatives, with Liberal compliance, have slipped in major changes to our Immigration Act as well. We call it the indentured servitude act because it would give the minister full powers to bring in temporary foreign workers, rather than ensuring the kind of family reunification that we used to have in Canada.
This has been put into place because we have seen, under the former Liberal government and the current Conservative government, chronic underfunding for the immigration system. The immigration system, like the health care system, has to be funded for it to work effectively, but we have seen cutbacks under the Conservatives and Liberals.
The result has been a waiting list that has ballooned to almost one million people. Seven hundred thousand of those came from the Liberal government which did not deal with the problem. Now because the Conservatives are not dealing with the problem, the list has grown even longer.
What is the solution? The solution is to invest in our immigration system. Instead, what we have is a reliance by the Conservative government on bringing in temporary foreign workers. Those folks are not subject to the health and safety regulations, nor the minimum wage laws that Canadians enjoy. This is to the advantage of a company, of course, because why pay a skilled worker from Canada a good, family sustaining wage when the company can bring in someone and pay below minimum wage?
No one objects to bringing in foreign workers when there is a skills shortage, but there is clear evidence that Canadians who could be in those positions are not being hired for those positions because the companies can bring in, with the compliance of the Conservative government, temporary foreign workers and pay them less. Then the companies send them home when their contract is finished. If the workers argue for a day off, or if they actually talk about forming a union, any of those reasons are good to send those temporary foreign workers home.
The Conservatives tucked this provision into a budget bill and the Liberals are saying that they are going to let this budget bill go through. As in Shakespeare's famous phrase, all sound and fury signifying nothing, the Liberals have stood up in the House of Commons and said that they are opposed to the immigration provisions. My goodness, they are opposed; they are opposed so much they are going to let the bill go through.