Mr. Stephen Woodworth:
Mr. Speaker, I am gratified that my remarks at least sound like a speech. That is what they were intended to do and I thank my friend for that.
The second point I want to make is that the statement is an evolution of a plan that our government began with an update a year ago. If there are no surprises, it is because we are already pursuing appropriate measures. If there are no flashy new proposals, it is because the plans we have already made in the last year are coming to fruition. If there are no panicky new responses, it is because we have laid out solid preparedness and panic is unnecessary.
Instead of criticizing the government for failing to introduce new measures for 2009, the members of this House should praise the government for having already put in motion stimulus measures for 2009. For example, as a result of the government's stimulus plan, Canadians and businesses will pay $31 billion less in taxes in the coming fiscal year alone. This is almost 2% of our gross domestic product. It is a larger percentage of GDP than anything that has been implemented by our neighbour to the south. Even president-elect Obama is only proposing a temporary 1.1% economic stimulus in 2009. In the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., Italy and Australia, none of them have proposed anywhere near the 2% of GDP stimulus that our government has arranged.
Some of our tax reductions were planned to come into effect only in 2009 for staged stimulus. These include raising the amount every individual can earn without paying federal income tax from $9,600 in 2008 to $10,100 in 2009. Also, effective January 1, 2009, Canadians will be able to benefit from the tax-free savings account, a flexible, general purpose account that will encourage investment. Corporations will also benefit from a reduction in the general corporate income tax rate, which will fall from 19.5% to 19% on January 1, 2009 and will fall further to 15% by 2012.
As another example of fiscal stimulus already planned, available federal funding for infrastructure projects rose by 40% this year and will rise by another 40% next year, hitting a record of $6 billion in that year alone. This is double the amount spent in 2007-08.
These measures provide permanent, sustainable, structural fiscal stimulus, unlike the temporary stimulus measures taken by some other countries. Taken together, these tax reductions and infrastructure investments represent a substantial fiscal stimulus.
The government could have waited. It could have held off any increase in this past year and not planned ahead for any increase in the next year, and then the government could have announced in this fiscal and economic statement the whole doubling of infrastructure spending, some $10.5 billion in one year, but while that might have satisfied the thirst of some for sensationalist measures, it would have done no more for the economy than planning ahead has already done.
It is not a coincidence that the U.S. has just determined it has been in a recession for over a year, whereas Canada is only now reaching that point. Does anyone in this House believe that it is just good luck that our success has been noticed around the world? Ordinary Canadians know that it is because of the hard work our government has done.
I understand that some in the media do not like old news. It is natural that newspeople want to report new initiatives, but do some members of this House really believe their own rhetoric? Can they really close their eyes and wish away the 2008 and 2009 stimulus measures the government has already put in place?
It is as if critics are saying, “We know that you've planned ahead. We know that you've had the foresight to arrange in advance all this stimulus. We know that, as a result, our economy has already been buoyed by that and will continue to benefit next year, but we don't care”. It is as if critics are saying, “Because you didn't wait until now, we are going to ignore the fact that you've already dealt with the problem”.
It is a bit like someone giving his or her spouse a birthday present a month before the birthday because the person knows how much the spouse needs that present, only to be criticized for not having a second present ready when the birthday arrives. How unfair is that?
As it is, with the stimulus plan in place since last year, the Prime Minister has been able to meet with other first ministers already and work with them to identify by next month, just a few short weeks from now, specific infrastructure projects. He has secured their commitment to tackle barriers to these specific projects. This is really amazing planning and foresight. This is careful, considered planning and foresight that was set out in the throne speech already approved by the House. This is planning and foresight that Canada needs most in uncertain economic times.
Consider the alternatives. If this economic and fiscal statement does not pass, what will happen to our government's carefully laid plans? Will these plans simply be abandoned by whatever government emerges? Will the implementation of these measures at the very least be delayed while a new government scrambles to forage a new consensus? Or will the country be plunged into yet another election mere weeks after the government's carefully laid plans received the support of the largest number of Canadians of any party in the last election?
Every one of these alternatives would inflict further damage upon our economy. The fact that we are even forced to ask these questions means that the members of this House have foisted a higher level of uncertainty and anxiety upon our nation. This is an entirely unnecessary and damaging thing to do to the economy and to our fellow Canadians.
Also, if this statement is defeated, the many needed fiscal measures it proposes will be lost or at least delayed. RRIF withdrawal relief for seniors will be lost or delayed. The $1.5 billion increased credit capacity for Canada's export sector, most notably in auto-related and other manufacturing, will be lost or delayed. An increased borrowing limit to protect insured depositors will be lost or delayed.
The $1.5 billion of increased credit and loan guarantees for small and medium-sized companies will be lost or delayed. Eliminating tariffs on imported machinery and equipment to encourage capital investment and increased efficiency will be lost or delayed. I could go on. These measures and others in the statement are all measures the House should neither abandon nor delay.
What will happen if we do take note of this economic and fiscal statement? Will the sky fall in? Of course not. First, all of its beneficial measures will proceed immediately. Second, the work of detailed budget planning will be allowed to proceed unhindered. First ministers will identify priority infrastructure projects by next month. Finance ministers from across the country will be consulted in a week or two. The usual prebudget consultations with stakeholders will occur.
Third, several important new pieces will fall into place to complete the picture. Economic variables have been changing with lightning speed. Remember that long ago era when gasoline prices were hitting $1.35 per litre? That was just six short weeks ago. Within a week or two we will receive the detailed funding plan that the government has prudently insisted upon from the automotive sector, which affects 10% of our economy. Within a few short weeks the Americans will decide both their economic plan for auto sector and their broader stimulus package.
Because so much of our economic ills are made in the U.S.A., our largest trading partner, its medicine will have a beneficial effect on our economy too. Is it not simple prudence to have this information before finalizing our budget?
Finally, there is some merit to keeping some of our powder dry. If this economic downturn is prolonged, we will be ill-served by using all of our fiscal ammunition now at the outset.
We must also remember that if the waters we are in really are uncharted, they may turn out to be less dangerous than everyone fears. Let us act accordingly.
I am glad the government has withdrawn parts of the statement that the opposition found wanting. This demonstrates a willingness to work together with the opposition, and I sincerely hope this will encourage a mutual effort.
In passing, however, I want to take strong issue with those who describe this flexibility as a sign of weakness or a sign of lack of credibility. In fact, the ability to change course is a sign of strength. My admiration for our Prime Minister has only deepened from this and has never been greater.
If we are to mature in our deliberations, we have to learn to consider the ability to compromise, as our Prime Minister is doing, to be a virtue. It is not too late for my Liberal friends across the aisle to embrace their own strength and to draw back to a compromise also.
I am glad our government has shown flexibility in withdrawing its proposal to eliminate the subsidy to political parties. This demonstrates a willingness to work together with the opposition, and I hope this will encourage a mutual effort.
In passing, however, I want to take strong issue with those who describe eliminating the subsidy as undemocratic. In fact, the subsidy itself is an attack on democracy.
Democracy should be a level playing field where all citizens have equal opportunity to make themselves heard politically. State-funded parties are more associated with totalitarian dictatorships than with democracies.
A subsidy to any party discriminates against those citizens struggling to compete without a similar subsidy and it is therefore elitist and undemocratic. Replacing corporate and union subsidies with government subsidies simply replaces one anti-democratic elitism with another.
I hope the day will come when all Canadian political parties will rise or fall based solely upon their support among citizens and not upon unequal government subsidies.
Democracy also works best when elected parties deliver, as nearly as possible, the leader and the policies they promised to voters. A vote for a party or a candidate is the voter's consent to that party or candidate's policies and leaders. Violating that consent in any significant way is a violation of democracy.
No Liberal supporter voted for a government that would include a coalition with separatists. No NDP supporter voted for a government that would sign an agreement with a separatist coalition. I do not think a single voter in my riding of Kitchener Centre voted for any government that could be held hostage by a veto of a party that insists Canada does not work and that has no interest in making Canada work.
I have had many friends who once supported the Liberal Party. I can only imagine how they feel about a once strong federalist party being reduced to begging the permission of the separatists to govern. We all know the agenda of the separatists has nothing to do with the economic survival of Canada. The separatists will not even enter this chamber until after we finish singing O Canada.
Many Liberal voters would never have given their consent to this. No party in Canada today obtained the consent of any Canadian to abdicate to the leader of another party. No party in Canada today obtained the consent of any Canadian to govern in a coalition. This would be a government for which no one voted. It would be a government that simply usurped power.
No circumstances in Canada today are so extreme as to justify such a violation of voters' consent. This is a bad time to experiment precipitously with new and uncertain measures.
These are not just my views. Canadians all across our great land are appalled by what the Liberals and the NDP have done in the House. To quote my citizens own Waterloo region Record:
|| The entire coalition will be propped up by the Bloc Quebecois, a party dedicated to destroying Canada. For the proposed 2 1/2-year life of this experiment, this would-be nation killer gets a veto over every single act of government. Ordinary Canadians helplessly watching all this can have no faith that the Bloc will give a damn about them or Canada's well-being.
These are not my words. These are the words of the people in my riding of Kitchener Centre. A deal signed with the separatists can only be bad for Canada. To quote again:
|| As sincere as the NDP's beliefs may be, their reflexive vilification of business as well as their ingrained penchant for heavy government spending could be disastrous in a recession.
These are not my words. These are not the words of a Conservative leaning newspaper, believe me. These are the views of people in my riding of Kitchener Centre.
The Liberals themselves said during the election that we could not have a coalition with a party, the NDP, whose platform is bad for the economy.
Another quote is:
|| In its hour of need, Canada is being asked to make do with a guy whose expiry date is set for May. This will hardly bolster the trust of Canadians—or investors both foreign and domestic looking for a safe place to park their cash.
These are not my words. These are the convictions of people in my riding of Kitchener Centre. If the opposition wants to do this, it should have the integrity to take the deal to the voters. However, the better course for ordinary Canadians and the better course for Canada is to let our government govern with the strengthened mandate it gained in the last election.
In a letter to the editor, one of my constituents, Sherri Helmka, put it very succinctly when she said the following, “My message is to all politicians in this country: Put your differences aside and deal with the future uncertainty facing all candidates. In other words, do your job!”.
We can do that by taking note of the fiscal and economic statement as an outline of direction and by waiting a short seven weeks or so from the conclusion of this debate for the government to propose its detailed budget.
Despite the events of this past week, I again invite each member opposite to walk this path through the forest of economic peril with common focus on the needs of ordinary Canadians. It is not too late.
Mr. Jim Maloway:
Mr. Speaker, I am dealing with the economic and fiscal statement. I recognize the diversions of the hon. member. I have been around Houses for a number of years, probably more years than he has been, and I know the tactics that he is alluding to here.
I am dealing with the economic statement and I will continue to deal with the economic statement, as presented to this House last week.
Paragraph two of the letter to the Governor General reads, “We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as a constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.
“Your attention to this matter is appreciated”.
The leaders were asking the Governor General for a chance to form a government, which is exactly what is happening right now. That points to the hypocrisy of the current Prime Minister, that he would deal with the Bloc in good faith in those, in his view, good times, but now that things have turned against him, he changes the story. Now the Bloc are evil and attempts at coalitions are evil, when they are common throughout the world. It was okay to try to replace the Paul Martin government but now it is not okay to do the same to him when the shoe is on the other foot.
The language that those members are using borders on the ridiculous. They talk about overthrow, seizing power and staging coups but those were the same types of tactics that they were trying to use with the Paul Martin Liberals only two years ago. What short memories those people have. It is just beyond the pale to listen to this every day.
It is time for the Conservatives to look at admitting their defeat, to give up power gracefully and, as our leader has suggested, let nature take its course.
Instead, what they are following a scorched earth policy. They are trying to increase divisions within the country. They are ramping up a campaign against the coalition trying to cause all sorts of divisions within the country. That is not what a prime minister should be doing and not how a prime minister should be acting.
Hopefully, a defeated and a humbled PC Party will be replaced with a leader who has some humility and will be back in this House in the near future and be prepared to even join a future unity government. Over the last few days I have offered the members that opportunity and have suggested that they should be joining the coalition when they--
Mr. Bev Shipley. With the separatists.
Mr. John Baird: Causing great stomach upset.
Mr. Jim Maloway: They clearly will fit into a coalition at this point, but I am talking about a future time, during the life of this Parliament, when they have a new leader, a more moderate leader, a leader who is progressive like the old Progressive Conservative Party used to be. Who knows what sort of combinations and permutations will develop at that time. However, at this point, they are headed for disaster and they have very little time left.
I now want to deal with an infrastructure project in the Elmwood—Transcona constituency. The federal government has made money available for infrastructure projects across the country. As a matter of fact, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, my colleague and neighbour to the north, is in the House. She is very aware and very supportive of the need to avoid the closure of the Disraeli Freeway, which runs from my constituency to downtown. The traffic comes up into my constituency and into her constituency and affects over 100,000 people.
What the city is trying to do is shut down the bridge for rehabilitation for a year and four months, something it would never do in other parts of the city. We question why it would want to do it this way. Residents are outraged that the mayor would do this.
There are currently 5,000-plus people who have signed petitions for the addition of a two-lane span to the structure, which could be built for approximately $50 billion. That cost was suggested by the City of Winnipeg transit report three years ago. Page 12 of that report suggests that the two lanes are required--they will be required in 20 years anyway--and that they should be cost shared by the three levels of government, approximately $17 million from each level. Once the two-lane span is built, the existing four-lane span could be closed and rehabilitated.
In spite of the traffic chaos this closure will cause, the mayor has charged ahead and refuses to ask senior governments for financial help. What we have suggested is that the local elected officials get together, agree and request that the federal government and the province of Manitoba make an offer to the city and put the money on the table. The mayor in the past has indicated that if the money was made available, he would certainly be prepared to do this. Regardless of whether the current government or a coalition government is in office, the elected officials at the same level represent all parties and we are united in our efforts to help out.
As I mentioned, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul is supportive; the provincial member for Transcona, Daryl Reid, is supportive; MLA Bonnie Mitchelson of the Conservative Party in Manitoba has been extremely supportive over the last six to eight months; Bidhu Jha from Radisson is supportive; and area city councillors are supportive. Russ Wyatt from Transcona is supportive. Jeff Browaty, who is a well-known Conservative, has been very aggressive on this file and wants to see this job done. My good friend Lillian Thomas from Elmwood has also been doing an excellent job pushing this whole issue at city hall.
We hope that in the next little while we will be able to come up with some sort of a conclusion. I might point out that the Prime Minister announced in June, a $70 million contribution as part of a three-way cost share project with the city of Saskatoon and the province of Saskatchewan to construct the Saskatoon Circle bridge. As a matter of fact, this announcement stayed on his website for the entire duration of the campaign, .
By the way, the plan is that the bridge in Saskatoon will be six lanes and is only going to carry 20,000 cars a day. The old Disraeli bridge carries 42,000 cars a day and has just four lanes. The federal government had money for a brand new six-lane bridge in Saskatoon for 20,000 cars a day, yet we in Winnipeg have a four-lane structure that is carrying 42,000 cars.
In terms of the costing on the main bridge, which it has been decided will be made into a triple P project, the city has really inflated the cost. We have compared the cost of the new Minneapolis bridge which was built only 500 miles away and the cost for the Saskatoon bridge. If we adjust the Winnipeg structure to the same size as those in Saskatoon and Minneapolis, we find that both of those structures could be built for around $190 million, yet the city is suggesting that somehow this triple P project is going to cost about $300 million to $350 million.
We have questioned the costing. We have given up the fight about whether it should be a triple P project or conventionally financed. It could proceed on a triple P basis. What we are asking for now is a separate project, merely adding these two lanes to avoid the closure at a cost of around $50 million. I am hoping that we can work out the details of that, whichever government happens to be in power, in the next few months.
I talked before about the issue of the common securities regulator but I never managed to finish my thoughts on the issue. Historically the provinces have resisted the issue and they are going to resist the issue again,. Whether or not we should have a national regulator is open to question. I think probably we should, but the reality is that the provinces will argue provincial jurisdiction.
If the federal government is able to negotiate with the provinces and have a regulator set up, we would want the regulator to have teeth, not to be the docile organization that many of these organizations are right now. The Ontario securities regulator would really be the main regulatory body. I mentioned that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, between the years 2002 and 2007, convicted 1,236 white collar criminals. In Ontario there were only two convicted.
Conrad Black was committing his white-collar crimes in Canada and it took the American regulators to put him in jail. It was not the Canadian regulators that did it.
There is hardly much point in setting up a national securities regulator that is simply going to act like the Ontario regulator does right now, which basically ignores and does not prosecute white-collar crime. I would make the observation that sometimes just setting up new structures and new legislation does not produce the wanted results unless there is an enforcement program and people in place who will do the enforcement.
The problem with this organization is that the people who are doing the enforcement are all hired from inside the industry. What we need are retired police investigators running the operation and not people from the securities firms that they are supposed to be regulating. There is not a lot of regulating going on from what we can see.
I have a number of other comments that I want to make, but I know my time is drawing to an end. The economic update that the Conservatives announced last week missed some very important issues. It missed employment insurance issues which we in the NDP caucus are very concerned about. It did not talk about increases in pensions and protection of pensions for our seniors. We would like to see the OAS increased by $100 a month.
What did the Conservatives talk about? They started out on page 3 of the document saying how terrible things were, how the economy was falling, dropping like a stone, and that we needed immediate action. We were sitting here in anticipation of some action to follow. What did they do? They never offered any of the changes. There was no stimulus package, which is needed to kickstart the economy. Instead, they talked about selling off crown assets. That is a real smart idea. They put it in their books as sales, but they did not identify how much they are going to get at fire-sale prices and what they are going to sell. Are they going to sell the CBC? Are they going to dismantle the Wheat Board and sell off the buildings?
If we are going to be buying assets, now is the time to be buying them at a very depressed price. The worst time for a government to sell off its assets would be during a downturn in the market. What kind of thinking goes on over there on the government side? That is just typical, normal Conservative ideology running its course--
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, we in Canada are living in a period of unprecedented challenges to the very foundations of our democracy and parliamentary institutions. The Prime Minister has by his actions and rhetoric undermined our national traditions of fairness, dialogue and unity.
He has used tactics and strategies that are beyond confrontational. Discourse and challenge are part of our parliamentary system, but the Prime Minister has gone beyond that. He has tried to undermine the sustainability of the opposition parties. He has adopted a style of governance not before seen in Canadian history and he has nurtured a rancorous style of governing that is completely inconsistent with our Canadian values.
Canada is in a period of significant economic and political uncertainty. Across the world, nations and their citizens are contending with unprecedented economic challenges. As a result, unique political challenges require bold and innovative solutions. We are at a profoundly significant turning point in our nation's history. People in nations around the globe are looking to their governments for assistance, direction and assurance that in times of uncertainty and need, their voices will be heard.
I understand the Prime Minister has a particular historic interest in the Punic Wars. This may account for the actions he has taken in recent weeks, but we must all remember that the Punic Wars were the largest in the history of the ancient world and lasted over 100 years. They were costly and were in essence about only one issue, power between Rome and Carthage, and their goal was unchallenged dominance. Is this what the goal of the Prime Minister is, unchallenged dominance? He needs to remember that we are living in a democratic society, not in the ancient world.
We have only to look at the recent presidential election in the United States to understand the desire of people to have a better future for a change. The election of president-elect Barrack Obama was about change, as we have so often heard. It was about choosing a government that was prepared to be activist when times called for it and supportive when the people needs such assistance.
The finance minister and the Conservative government had a unique opportunity last week to embrace the goodwill of the opposition in this Parliament when the fiscal update was delivered. For weeks, opposition members posed questions and made statements in the House reflecting the voices of their constituents, calling for real, meaningful action with respect to our economy. Simply put, the Prime Minister had every opportunity, as he had promised, to take the high road and to bring a greater measure of civility to the way in which his government operated in the House.
Instead, he chose to bring forward an unseemly partisan document that was more a political testament than in instrument to address the business of Canadians.
The fiscal update was a political document that contained almost no financial measures, but rather sought to undermine the fiscal viability of the opposition parties. This is hardly a demonstration of parliamentary civility and it is certainly inconsistent with Canadians values.
In addition to this measure, there was also the attempt to remove the right to strike for three years for public servants, which was a red herring simply because the collective agreements did not expire for three more years. Add to this was the undermining of the pay equity process, which was a clear assault on equal pay for equal work within the public sector.
From these attempts to its cancellation of the court challenges program, the government has consistently taken the wrong course. Despite all the rhetoric from the Prime Minister and his government members, the reality is the current situation is absolutely of his own making.
It is still somewhat incomprehensible to any rational person that the government could be so oblivious to the needs of Canadians while pursuing its own narrow political agenda. Canada is not about that. Time Magazine, in describing Canada, once published this statement, “Canada is one of the planet's most comfortable and caring societies”. This is the kind of country we should strive to build, and it is for this reason that we on this side of the House have chosen to act.
The decisions taken by the opposition parties subsequent to the delivery of the fiscal update are the actions of those who recognize that our country is in need of help during this troubled time. Action had to be taken.
It was Winston Churchill who once said, “It is not enough that we do our best: sometimes we have to do what's required”.
What is required is directly relational to what is going on in our economy outside the walls of this Parliament. It was reported yesterday that the November employment report would likely show upwards of 40,000 lost jobs in Canada. Behind that statistic are thousands of families that will now have to determine not how they will celebrate Christmas, but how they will simply meet their bills and put food on their tables.
The automotive sector is facing unprecedented pressure. As the United States government prepares to directly assist them during this time, there is little but indirect and uncertain assurances from the government. Words will not save auto industry jobs in Canada, only action will.
We hear of the loss of jobs within the arts community, from ballet companies in British Columbia to festivals right in the nation's capital. Manufacturing jobs in a variety of industries are being lost almost every day, as employers struggle to contend with new economic realities.
The truth is Canadians and the business community are under pressure. In countries like the United Kingdom and a variety of European nations stimulus packages have already been launched with more to follow.
However, in Canada the government maintains Canadians must wait for the budget originally slated for February, or March, and now, under pressure, moved to the end of January. Clearly even this decision demonstrates the government is not prepared to act.
In the absence of clear and meaningful action, the opposition parties have done what is required of them. The agreement announced on Monday to create a coalition government was a decision taken not out of opportunity but rather of necessity.
I would also point out that the Prime Minister's position is entirely inconsistent with what he maintained only four years ago when he wrote to the Governor General stating, “We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority”.
The “we” the Prime Minister was referring to was his party, the New Democratic party and the Bloc Québécois.
In resorting to the creation of a coalition government, the opposition parties have acted in a manner that is completely consistent with history and operation of a parliamentary democracy.
We have also clearly demonstrated the fact that no election is required. We are prepared to govern.
I would point out that constitutional experts have said that the Governor General's primary responsibility is to determine, with or without a vote, whether the current government retains the confidence of the House.
Based on the documents signed on Monday, based on the public comments of members of the opposition and in the view of the conduct of the government, it is quite clear the government does not in fact enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons.
Constitutional experts further agree that should the government lose the confidence of the House of Commons in a vote, either on a confidence motion or a financial matter, that it would be inconsistent with constitutional practice for the Governor General to grant a request for dissolution.
This is based on the fact that an election took place in the country less than two months ago and therefore constitutional practice would dictate that the Governor General would invite the Leader of the Opposition to form a government if he had the confidence of the House.
Clearly, in this instance, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has the support of the majority of the members of the House to form a government.
This is standard constitutional practice within our parliamentary system. The decision of the Prime Minister and the members of the government does not change the fact that under our system the eventuality I have just laid out is fully consistent with our laws, our precedents and our parliamentary traditions.
In the past four years I have contested three elections. I can assure the House that, like the Canadian people, I do not want or believe we need another election.
Indeed the reference we have heard mentioned around Parliament over the past few days is that of the situation in 1926 when the then Governor General of Canada refused the dissolution request of Prime Minister Mackenzie King. We need to remember that the basis of the decision was not that the government had been in power only a short number of weeks, but that the previous election was eight months prior to the request. Clearly the precedent would support the notion that calling an election now, so soon after the one we just had in October, would be inconceivable and imprudent.
This is most especially the case in view of the fact that we have an alternative government ready to assume office with the guaranteed support of the majority of the members of the House.
The government must remember that in our system we do not elect governments, we elect Parliaments from which governments are formed. Governments are required to secure the support of the majority of the members of Parliament, and clearly the government has lost the confidence of the Parliament.
It should also be remembered that it is not the role of the Governor General to determine the viability of a government, but rather to allow Parliament to make such a determination. Should the Leader of the Opposition inform the Governor General that he has the majority support of the House that should then result in an invitation to form a government.
This would then be followed by the confirmation of support in a vote of confidence in the new government in the House of Commons.
The questioning of the viability of the coalition governments nothing new. In fact, the coalition government of Prime Minister Robert Borden in 1917 met with many questions about its ability to survive. That coalition government operated for several years and was a pivotal point.
Coalition governments in Canada pre-date our nation's Confederation. From 1864 to 1867, the then province of Canada was governed by a coalition government that would ultimately lead to Confederation in 1867. It was known as “the great coalition” and it included the Conservative Party, the Clear Grits of Canada west, and the Parti Bleu of Canada east. This coalition of what we now know as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec brought together the various political parties and interests in a common cause to break the legislative deadlock that had overcome the legislature.
Similarly, from 1917 to 1920, we had the Union coalition which included the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and independents.
We have also seen multiple coalition governments at the provincial level in this country, including in my home province of Ontario in 1985.
In the United Kingdom, upon which our parliamentary system is based, coalition governments are often referred to as “national governments” and governed from 1931-40. That government had three different prime ministers from 1931-40. Coalition governments served as well during both world wars, in other words, in times of great necessity and challenges. In the case of the British coalition government of 1931, this was the direct result of the economic turmoil that had lingered since the 1929 financial crash, and the need for united and effective action by a government.
The current financial situation across the world has been described by many economists and political leaders as being even more perilous than the situation in 1929. Although the economies of the world are more complicated than in 1929, the reality is that ordinary Canadians are losing their jobs, find it hard to manage financially, and they are clearly concerned about the future.
By taking the position of waiting to see what other governments are going to do, the government is adopting a shortsighted and completely unacceptable position. Leadership is about taking action for the best interests of our citizens and if there were ever a time for decisive leadership, this would be the time.
The coalition government we are proposing to the Governor General is one that is committed to act to address the very real and pressing needs of Canadians and one that will take action where the current government was clearly unwilling.
Among other things, the coalition would commit to a $30 billion stimulus package with assistance to the auto industry and the forestry sectors, two areas of our economy under enormous pressure. The coalition agreement is reflective of a genuine desire to make Parliament work in the best interests of Canadians, and to provide them with assistance they need and deserve in these difficult times. What this proposed coalition government is committed to do is simply the same kinds of policies that governments across the world have undertaken in order to assist their citizens in these difficult economic times.
Governing is about choosing and the choices made by the current government have necessitated this action by the majority of the members of this Parliament.
The terms of our agreement mark a new spirit of co-operation and dedication to the needs of Canadians that have been absent from the Government of Canada for too long. The time to act is now and the action needed is bold and unique to the times.
As former Prime Minister Lester Pearson once said, “No other country is in a better position than Canada to go ahead with the evolution of a national purpose devoted to all that is good and noble and excellent in the human spirit”. Let us embrace this noble concept and move forward to build a better Canada.
Mr. Larry Miller (Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to rise in the House for the first time in this 40th Parliament. The good people of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound have elected me for the third time. I am very humbled and honoured by the trust my constituents have once again shown in me and I sincerely thank them very much.
Madam Speaker, I would also like to congratulate you on your recent appointment. You will do a great job.
Constituents ask me from time to time about the pins that we all wear on our lapels. The top one represents the honour it is for each and every one of us to sit in this great House and represent our different ridings.
Even more important than that pin is the one below it. It stands for everything that this country is all about. Right now there is a lot of sadness in people's hearts across this country, and certainly in my riding, about the potential for this so-called coalition to rip the heart out of Canada. That bothers me deeply.
The Speech from the Throne and economic update we have heard in recent days were very welcome news for the people of my riding. The speech made it very clear that this government recognizes the international financial woes that threaten the livelihoods of hard-working Canadians and their families.
In my riding there have already been signs of an economic downturn. Some of my constituents have already been negatively affected by it. While my constituency is one of the largest agricultural ridings in the country, especially when it comes to beef production, my constituents also rely on a number of manufacturers and on the tourism industry for their livelihoods. It is because of these industries that the actions of this government are so deeply felt in my riding.
It is also why I am proud to be standing on this side of the House representing a government that truly understands the challenges ahead and has been working to protect Canadians from an economic crisis since October of last year. It is why I am proud of the policies that flowed from our throne speech and in last week's economic update by the Minister of Finance.
I want to thank the minister for his careful stewardship of Canada's finances during these troublesome economic times around the world. It is thanks to this government, led by our current Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, that Canada is well prepared for the rough waters ahead. In fact, Canada is in a better position than any other G7 nation to weather this economic storm, all because of the actions and changes implemented by this government in the last year or more.
Does that mean we are going to be immune to any effects around the world? Absolutely not. I think ordinary Canadians understand that. However, if ordinary Canadians have to watch their spending, their government must also set an example. It cannot disrespect them by wasting their tax dollars. If businesses large and small must investigate ways to save money, then their government must do the same. I applaud this government for seeing the importance of this principle of fairness. I hope that everyone responsible for government budgets will ensure that the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars are wisely spent.
Yes, stimulus is needed, and the Prime Minister and the finance minister have been acting for the past year, as I said, to ensure economic stimulus, including targeted tax cuts and infrastructure spending to build Canada.
I and my colleagues on this side of the House were elected in part because of the policies put forward by my party, policies that were realistic and very helpful.
We did not threaten our economic stability in the last campaign, but instead focused on targeted spending for those who needed it most. We need to continue this process with carefully targeted infrastructure and stimulus spending that will actually benefit our Canadian economy.
I was happy to hear in the Prime Minister's speech last week a recommitment to increase slaughterhouse capacity for our livestock industry. I talked earlier about my riding, which is the second-largest beef riding in the country. I am a beef farmer by trade. After the problems in the livestock industry in recent years, particularly in beef and pork, and starting with the BSE in 2003, this announcement is welcome news. Our livestock producers will benefit greatly from increased slaughterhouse capacity, as it will assist them in getting their product to market.
Farmers from coast to coast know that this government is committed to cutting red tape and eliminating waste. Along those same lines, it is very important to dismantle the long gun registry. Farmers who own firearms are not criminals and should not be treated as such. I am both a farmer and a hunter, and farmers and hunters in my riding and across this country have for too long paid the financial and social costs for the crimes of thugs in Canada's large cities. The long gun registry is a prime example of wasteful bureaucratic legislation and a gross misuse of taxpayer money.
If this separatist-backed coalition were to happen, the gun registry debacle would not get dealt with, something we have indicated we will do in the next few months, and many law-abiding Canadians would become criminals in the new year.
I want to remind the House of some of the important steps our finance minister has taken in the past month and in his economic update to ensure stability in the Canadian economy.
To help maintain the strength and stability of our financial system, this government has taken steps to free up liquidity so that financial institutions can continue lending to consumers, homebuyers and businesses at an affordable cost. Our measures maintain the availability of long-term credit through the purchase of mortgage pools through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, at no cost to taxpayers.
We have created a backstop, the Canadian lenders assurance facility, to ensure that our financial institutions are not at a competitive disadvantage internationally.
To prevent a U.S.-style housing bubble, we have put in place new rules for government-guaranteed mortgages.
Building on previous action taken by this government to ensure the continued competitiveness of the financial sector, the economic statement includes measures to provide solvency funding relief to federally regulated private pension plans. That is something I have heard a lot about.
To help seniors cope, the economic statement proposes a one-time change that would allow RRIF holders to reduce the required minimum withdrawal by 25% for this tax year. Although most RRIF holders have only a portion of their assets in equities, the change recognizes the impact of recent market declines on those assets.
We are enhancing credit availability through crown agencies for Canadian businesses.
We are accelerating and doubling infrastructure funding this year in order to ensure stimulus for Canada's economy. I would like to thank and congratulate the minister for doubling this funding. Some people have no idea of the importance of infrastructure projects in my riding.
We are carefully planning other steps to stimulate the economy and fend off the economic woes faced by our neighbours. This is the largest investment in infrastructure in over 50 years. That is a long time.
In the economic statement, the government committed to consult with provincial and territorial leaders on the best way to accelerate infrastructure projects to help further stimulate the Canadian economy.
Again, if this separatist-backed coalition were to come to be, this initiative to double our infrastructure funding and get it out to municipalities in the first couple of months of 2009 would not happen. We need to make it very clear that it will not happen. That would be a travesty. My municipalities cannot wait any longer.
Since forming government, in this year we have taken unprecedented action to stimulate the economy, and here are a number things we have done since 2006.
We have reduced the federal debt by $37 billion. They want to wipe out $30 billion of that in the first few days of this so-called separatist coalition government.
We will have reduced taxes by almost $200 billion over 2007-08 and the following five years.
By 2010 we will have reduced the tax rate on new business investment to the lowest level in the G7. That is great.
We have made historic investments in job-creating infrastructure. We have invested extensively in science and technology and in education and training, which is something very dear to my colleague's riding of Cambridge.
As I mentioned, the government took early action to help stimulate the Canadian economy through tax cuts of nearly $200 billion over the next five years. It is the largest investment in 50 years.
Our plan strikes the right balance. We are restraining spending and protecting our economic future. I feel very confident that we will overcome the current economic turmoil and have a much stronger economy coming out of it.
I am also pleased to hear from the Prime Minister a recommitment to the banning of bulk water transfers or exports. I heard someone bring this up in the House today, over in the corner.
Canada's fresh water is one of our greatest natural resources. All of us must do all we can to protect it from speculation and abuse. In our country's history we have learned many lessons about our rich natural resources. We must put all those experiences together to ensure that our country protects this precious resource.
I live on Georgian Bay, which part of the Great Lakes. My grandchildren and my family are there. It means a lot to everybody up there. My riding's geographic location in regard to all the Great Lakes makes both the quality and the quantity of fresh water very important.
We must also ensure that Canadians are safe. We must ensure that communities have the tools they require to deal with the social and criminal problems of today.
We must work to ensure that drug dealers who infiltrate our schools and threaten our children are held responsible for their actions, and that those who innocently get caught up with the wrong crowd have access to programs that will change their lives for the better.
The difference must be clear. Those who commit violent crimes should not be met with handfuls of excuses and the comforts of home. Instead they should be met with a strong, efficient criminal justice system. One of my new colleagues from Manitoba is a former police officer. If there is anybody in this House who understands what I am talking about, I am sure she does.
The mandate of this justice system must be to hand down appropriate punishment for violent crime. It must not confuse help with leniency. Constituents in my riding have demanded this approach, and I applaud the recent Speech from the Throne for addressing this very important issue.
Lastly, I fully support the idea of making the Senate more accountable to Canadians. Changes to our upper chamber are needed to modernize the institution and to meet the democratic expectations of Canadians.
On this subject, in recent days we have heard more about this separatist coalition that is coming about. It is becoming clear that there is a distinct possibility that we are going to end up with six new senators from the province of Quebec, senators who will be separatists. Madam Speaker, can you imagine that? The people in my riding have not heard that yet, but they are going to go crazy. They are going to go ballistic. It is unbelievable.
The difference between success and failure for small businesses may lie with our votes in this House. The difference between a healthy family farm and a for sale sign may come down to the policies that we craft here.
With that in mind, I ask all hon. members to reflect on the importance of the work we do here and to remember to put Canadians first, and not our politics. We must all work together.
A strong message was sent on October 14. That message was not to have a separatist-backed coalition in this House; it was in fact to have this government.
Some of my colleagues and even some of the future members of this separatist coalition have told me they are getting a lot of emails. I am going to read some of the examples I am getting. I have received literally 200-300, and that number is climbing daily. Not very long ago I received an email from one of my staff informing me that I have received 255 new ones, and I have not seen her since two o'clock. That shows how fast they are coming in.
This email is from Barb of Owen Sound:
|| I'm usually one of the silent majority, but everyone who I know, had the same initial reaction as myself. VERY ANGRY! This is totally irresponsible. After... [a recent] election, these three idiots think the Canadian people will thank them for making our country, an unstable third world country
Remember, Madam Speaker, that I am reading this. I am not saying this.
Ms. Christiane Gagnon (Québec, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I think we need to take the debate a little more seriously, particularly on the question of the economic statement.
We know the position the Prime Minister has put this House in. The economic statement is really a statement devoid of democracy and respect for the people who are facing an economic crisis in which jobs will be lost. It was urgent that something be done. When the throne speech was delivered, I rose to speak and gave the Prime Minister an idea of the Bloc's position on the throne speech. The Bloc believed that it was uninspiring and, most importantly, devoid of any long-term vision to help the economy of Canada and Quebec. We urgently needed a stimulus plan. We told the Prime Minister that something urgently needed to be done. Instead, we were presented with an economic statement that contained no concrete plan to help the various sectors that will be or have been affected by the economic crisis.
Instead of laying out a plan to help people get through this difficult crisis, the Prime Minister decided to launch an attack on democracy, lashing out first at unions, women and political party funding.
Madam Speaker, I forgot to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Laval, who will speak after me.
The Prime Minister instead delivered right-wing ideology, rather than talking about the economy. Not only do we have to deal with an economic crisis, but now we also have to deal with a democratic crisis here in this Parliament. That crisis was quite simply created by the architect in chief, the Prime Minister. We were entitled to expect a detailed, concrete plan so we could know what the Prime Minister's intentions were.
The election cost $300 million. Instead of dealing with the crisis, we wasted time and we are still wasting time. While the other governments around the world are dealing with the economic crisis, the Prime Minister is dragging his feet. He says he wants to wait, when this is the time to act and choose a direction. We need only think of China. China has injected $700 billion to combat the crisis and stimulate the economy. Europe has injected $318 billion. The Americans, $850 billion. Us, what are we doing? Nothing. That is why the Bloc Québécois has made an agreement with the opposition parties. We decided to set aside partisan considerations to get concretely involved and find solutions to combat the economic crisis, unlike this government.
We are acting forcefully to support and stimulate the economy. That is the purpose of the agreement signed barely two days ago. People are aware—although not here in Canada—of the urgent need for action. The government is not taking the lead and is not demonstrating that it is dealing with the economic crisis. In fact, I wonder whether the Prime Minister believes there is an economic crisis. He has refused to prepare an emergency plan. He is stalling for time instead of buckling down to work with the other parties.
Obama has been mentioned. He is said to be very inspiring, but what did Mr. Obama do the day after he was elected? He sat down with the people who were his political adversaries. Why? Because he knows very well that he is taking over the reins of a country and he will have to make agreements with the various parties. It is much more difficult in the United States, because he has to come to agreement with the Senate. We wish him good luck. With all the opposition parties, with all of the opposition there is in the American administration, Mr. Obama has made sure he has a better chance of making it, and not disappointing his constituents.
In Quebec, 73% of the people voted for something other than this Conservative government. What did the Bloc do when it saw how urgent the situation was? It came up with an economic recovery plan. I encourage the voters who are listening to us tonight to go to our website at www.blocquebecois.org. They will see that the Bloc has been working on solutions and something to really help all the sectors affected by the economic downturn. The government, on the other hand, wants to slow its expenditures, in contrast to what the whole rest of the world is doing, which is to stimulate the economy and pump money into the system and into the various sectors.
What is this government doing? It is closing things down. It is afraid of a deficit. We may well run a deficit, but governments everywhere are prepared to run a certain controllable deficit to assist all the sectors that are in trouble.
We did not see any openness or willingness to compromise on the part of the government. We are asked why we did not negotiate with the Conservatives. It did not want to negotiate. It did not want to sit down at the negotiating table.
All the parties met with the Prime Minister and they all emerged disappointed. We, for our part, worked hard to come up with a plan. When we asked questions before the economic statement was released, the Prime Minister said we had some good ideas for countering the crisis. But when we saw the economic statement, there was nothing in it of what the Bloc wanted. How then can we believe in any good faith on the part of the Prime Minister?
He says he loves Quebec, but he wants to impose a federal securities commission contrary to the unanimous desire of the Quebec National Assembly. It is not showing much love for Quebec when he has no respect for what is being done there and wants to turn over a sector that could compete with it.
There was a way of approaching the securities issue, called the passport system, which gave the provinces that have a securities commission a certain amount of autonomy. Mr. Luc Labelle of the Chambre de la sécurité financière in Quebec said that in any case we will now have to refer to Toronto and not Quebec. This is another hard blow for Quebec's preferred policy direction.
In addition, the equalization ceiling is a threat to the financial stability of Quebec. According to a Toronto-Dominion Bank study, there will be an annual shortfall of $450 million. That is an awful lot of money for Quebec, which will have to be made up.
We know how the federal government offloads its problems. We have seen the same thing with other political parties in power here. When the federal government has a deficit, it is easy to offload the problem onto Quebec and the provinces.
The manufacturing and forestry industries have been completely abandoned, and that did not start just recently. We have not been doing very much for our manufacturers ever since 2005. Many industries have closed down and there have been massive layoffs.
What did the government do with employment insurance? There is supposed to be billions of dollars in the employment insurance fund. The government kept that money in the consolidated revenue fund. Meanwhile, workers were faced with a two-week waiting period after losing their jobs when companies closed. The government did not come up with creative solutions and did not provide adequate support for some manufacturing companies, which could have solved their problems by purchasing better equipment, being more competitive and diversifying.
Canada is currently selling less to the United States. The United States does not need to purchase as much from Canada. There are too many goods on the shelf. Meanwhile, what is the government doing to help? The economic situation is going to get worse in the next two or three years, but the government is doing absolutely nothing.
People are asking why we formed a coalition with the opposition parties. It is because we want to take action on this crisis. We do not want to engage in ideological partisanship. What did the Conservatives do? They took a purely partisan approach to the economic crisis, attacking women, unions and political party financing.
We are proud of what the Bloc Québécois has done. Once, we were asked to work together. That is what everyone else is doing They are working together to come up with concrete proposals so that people get the help they need and the public respects the members who sit in the House of Commons.
Ms. Nicole Demers (Laval, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I have to say I am a little embarrassed and a little ashamed to be in this House this afternoon listening to everything going on and everything being said. I am talking about the Quebec bashing, the disparaging of the Bloc Québécois and francophones. Personally, I find it very difficult to witness everything said today, everything said during and after question period. If find it personally very difficult.
We have had calls from people who live in Quebec and in other provinces of Canada. They are asking what is going on and why the government is displaying this kind of obstinacy, this kind of contempt for francophones in Quebec and Canada. Maybe the government is not aware of what is going on right now, but I can assure it that this may leave deep wounds that will take a long time to heal. People will remember this.
This so-called economic statement is really an ideological statement. It shows us how little respect this government has for the members of this House, and for the people of Canada, whether or not they voted for it. The entire voting population of Canada, in the last election, voted for a government to be serious and pay real attention to the economic and financial crisis we are experiencing.
It there is any doubt remaining in the minds of our Conservative colleagues, I can assure them that Stephen Jarislowsky, at least, a well-known billionaire financier and investor, said today at the Montreal Board of Trade that he supported a coalition government and that this was probably the most important and most useful thing at present in Canadian politics. At this point, a government has to make major investments, and he criticized the Prime Minister for not doing that in a crisis as serious as this. When a man as well versed in finance as Mr. Jarislowsky tells us something, I think we should listen, whether we are sovereignists or not.
When we chose to form an alliance with the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party to create a coalition government, we did it in good faith, as we have acted in good faith for the 15 years that the Bloc Québécois has been in this Parliament. The Bloc Québécois, a sovereignist party, as always shown scrupulous respect for the protocol, rituals and members of this House. The Bloc Québécois has always taken its role seriously and fulfilled it responsibly.
Today, we see members trying to lay their own strategic mistakes at the doorstep of the Bloc Québécois because they are incapable of getting traction for the right-wing ideas we do not want, and nobody in this country wants, either in Quebec or in Canada. They are arguing from weakness and condemning the parties that have done their job properly.
In the past, we have made a number of proposals to the Conservative Party to ensure that the people we represent could get the help they need and would be able to say that their government was genuinely concerned for their welfare. Now, the only thing they can say is that the government is extending its hand and going right for their pocket. It has forgotten about the welfare of the people. When they tell seniors that 25% of their retirement income will not have to be withdrawn this year, that is not very much. This will be a very hard year for seniors who have to live on their retirement income and have to withdraw money from their RRIF. We would have hoped that the government could have shown some compassion and raised the age when they would have to withdraw money from 71 to 73.
We hoped that it would understand that people who have lost their jobs over the past few weeks and those who will be losing their jobs in the coming weeks need immediate access to employment insurance benefits to support their families.
We hoped that the government, despite its incomprehensible right-wing ideology, would understand that women have the right to pay equity, not equal pay for equal work, but equal pay for work of equal value. Women in Quebec have had pay equity for 10 years now, and they do not have to worry about taking pay equity cases to court. It is a de facto right, it is non-negotiable, it belongs to us and we are entitled to it. Pay equity is one of our rights.
We also hoped that the government would understand that families that have to work, single-income families that need two incomes, need more than $100 per month to take care of their children. The government failed to understand that. According to its ideology, a woman's place is in the home. We have seen it do things for the sole purpose of sending women back home. Every woman in this country, like every woman in Quebec, has the right to a job, the right to work, and the right to earn an income that belongs to her, not a virtual income. Under the government's proposed new programs, a woman who stays at home could virtually receive a portion of her husband's income.
As I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois has always stood by its commitments to the people it represents. As I said earlier to the Conservative member, we want to build one country, but that does not mean that we want to destroy another.
Many of my family members live in the western provinces, many of them live in eastern Canada and many of them live in Quebec. Never would anyone in my family think that I bore them any ill will. Never would anyone in my family think that I want to destroy this, the most beautiful country in the world. That is not what we want, but like all people and all nations, we have the right to self-determination.
In closing, I truly hope that we will one day have a government that understands that the members in this House have a duty. They have a duty towards the people who elected them and not towards the government, which claims to have all the answers and to know better than anyone what Canadians want or what Quebeckers want. We must listen to our constituents more closely and we must—I hope the Prime Minister will take this into account in his address tonight—work together and do everything in our power to get through this economic crisis together, growing stronger, in order to really help our citizens pull through this crisis.