The House resumed from February 9, 2009 consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on January 27, 2009 and related fiscal measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee and of the motion that this question be now put.
Ms. Monique Guay (Rivière-du-Nord, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this bill. Because this is the first time I have made a speech since the election, I would like to greet my constituents, who, for the sixth time, gave me a mandate in this House with a wonderful majority. I cannot thank them enough. They can be proud of the job I will do, and I will work very hard for them.
We all know that an economic crisis like the one we are going through affects not only companies and municipalities, but all the men and women in Quebec and Canada. We asked that the budget include exceptional measures that we considered imperative and that all Quebeckers wanted. Instead, the government cut these measures.
The government cut $1 billion from our equalization transfer payments. Imagine how that will affect job creation, assistance for businesses and families and help for our day care system in Quebec. All that money from equalization transfers would have helped carry on all the wonderful work that has begun in Quebec.
But that money has been cut this year, and it will be cut in the years to come. The government is going to do everything it can to chip away at Quebec, in any event. Quebec will always be penalized, and that is unacceptable. The National Assembly had reached a consensus on this. The government has written Quebec off. I cannot wait to see how the Conservative members from Quebec are going to react during the next election campaign and how the Liberal members from Quebec are going to boast about this budget they voted for.
The securities commission is also a priority for the Bloc Québécois. There again, there is a consensus in Quebec. The government wants to create a pan-Canadian securities commission. Once again, they want to duplicate the work that we have already done. We do not need it in Quebec. We already have a solid structure in place; we have our own commission. Henceforth, we will be dealing with a commission to be headquartered where? Probably in Toronto; certainly not in Quebec. That is another budget item.
These are the two main reasons why we will vote against the budget implementation bill. But that is not all. There are a number of other factors at issue that are of grave concern to me as a woman.
There is the matter of pay equity. My colleagues in this House and I are not the only ones to have fought for it. There are so many groups of women who fought for pay equity. My mother fought so that one day we would have equal pay for equal work. That is not too much to ask. And now we will be unable to appeal to the courts; we will be prevented from having the same salary. In this House, as my colleague said yesterday, men and women receive equal pay. But that is not the case elsewhere. I have been in that situation several times. I have seen cases in my riding. You just cannot imagine. Women come to me to ask what recourse they have. They do the same work as a man but are not entitled to the same wages. Sometimes they have to work even harder.
This is an injustice that should no longer exist and one that the Conservative Party, once again, did not pay any attention to. It is unacceptable to take us back in time, unacceptable for women. With such a position, there will be fewer and fewer women in all spheres of elected activity—I mean municipal government, boards of directors, and at the provincial, even the federal level. Fewer and fewer women will want to get involved, because women are not recognized as equal to men. The battles will begin again, the same ones as 40 or 50 years ago, because our government is moving us back in time instead of ahead.
I can tell hon. members that my recent discussions with some women were in that vein. They were not interested in getting involved, because they would never achieve pay equity. This is an aberrant situation and one we will challenge.
There are some that say that people in the arts are living high off the hog. That is wrong, totally wrong. There is plenty of artistic activity in my riding. There are plenty of musicians and painters, and they do not have an easy time of it. They are really just living on the poverty line. What is more, they have just had funding taken away from them. These people travelled abroad often and I myself have travelled to Japan with a delegation of artists. I did this at my own expense in order to give them a chance to gain recognition and meet with Japanese artists. Now they will not be able to do this any more. Foreign artists will be encouraged to come here but our artists will not be encouraged to travel elsewhere. This is another aberrant situation. Are we going to just close up like an oyster?
There is another point I want to make. This Conservative government is taking a piecemeal approach. It has no vision for the future. There is a budget for two years but the measures it contains will not be renewable. I will not even address the Kyoto protocol. We can see that there is nothing in the budget to encourage sustainable development or the measures already in place.
In my riding, CEVEQ has been conducting studies on electric automobiles for 10 years, which is fantastic. They are studying vehicles from California and electric buses, things that we could eventually use here. The government is showing no willingness to make the environment a priority in this House.
I look at youth today—my daughter is studying architecture and the environment and is looking at the current potential to build green buildings and homes. We have extraordinary possibilities ahead of us, but the government is not doing anything to actually implement them.
Geothermal must also be studied. I was not very familiar with it, but my daughter explained to me exactly what it is. It is the future and so we must seriously consider it. It does not pollute. There are a number of products that do not pollute, such as solar and wind energy. Why are we not investing in these areas instead of, once again, investing in oil companies?
I was reading an article this morning in which the Conservatives said that Bombardier did not need the government's help. Ottawa is saying that Bombardier does not need the government's help. It is unbelievable. They just laid off 1,300 people. Bell Helicopter laid off 600. And yet we are being told that these businesses do not need help. We have to take a serious look at reality and react accordingly. The government has a role to play and it must do so immediately.
To conclude, we are against the implementation of this bill.
Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Bramalea—Gore—Malton.
I stand to speak to this budget bill with some reluctance. I have many concerns that this budget may have come too late and may be too inadequate to deal with a rapidly worsening economic recession.
However, there are some positive elements in this budget, such as the infrastructure programs, the child tax benefit increase, funding for universities, housing for seniors and aboriginal people, and the availability of credit for troubled businesses and for some people who may need to look at home ownership or mortgages, and an investment increase in regional development issues. Those elements, which are Liberal elements, prompt me to swallow hard and hope for positive results.
At the same time, I am concerned. I am concerned about pay equity and the bill that would take away access to justice for those people who seek pay equity. I am concerned about promises to provinces on equalization that have been broken. I am concerned about inadequate changes to employment insurance that would not address the escalating job losses. I am concerned about the lack of a national housing strategy when we know that in every municipality in this country there is a huge housing deficit.
I am concerned that this is a lost opportunity to invest in green investments, in new technologies that would bring about green investments. I am also concerned that there is insufficient money for research and development. In fact, there is a cut to the major granting organizations for R and D in this country.
This is not a time to tip Canada's already precarious balance, and it would be irresponsible for us to play politics and call an election now. Therefore, as I said, I am speaking to this budget with reluctance.
I will discuss some of the things that concern me about this budget. This is why we put the Conservative government on notice and on probation. There are many elements in this budget that we are concerned about simply because they were elements in past budgets which never materialized. In other words, promises were made and there was never any money for implementation and none of the things actually occurred. There is also some smoke and mirrors, which is repetition of old programs that have been rejigged so that they sound like new programs but they have not changed at all.
That is why we are going to keep tabs. That is why we are saying that come March, come June and come December, we will not only look at accountability from the government but we will look at outcomes and results. Did the government achieve what it said it was going to achieve? Was this a good enough stimulus package? Did that money flow? Were the investments actually made?
I will give an example to show why I am concerned. There was an announcement in past budgets of $33 billion in infrastructure over seven years. In year one the money never materialized. In year two we only saw $80 million of that money materialize, and 78% of those infrastructure projects were in Conservative-held ridings.
The question is, do we trust the government not to play patronage games, not to pork-barrel in some of the ridings? Is this really helping? Are they good infrastructure projects? What happened to the $33 billion over seven years? Has that gone? Is it being replaced now by something new? We are waiting to see whether this money will flow.
On EI, up front it looks like there is going to be more money for more people to get EI, but is it going to happen? The government promised that it would deal with maternity benefits for women who are self-employed. Now the government says it is going to study it again. We have been studying these things for quite a while. The question is, what are the results going to be and is it adequate enough?
I come from B.C. The three major sectors that are impacted right now are the manufacturing sector, the automotive sector and the forestry sector. Most of the forestry industry in Canada has been hit hard by an American dollar that was lower than we expected, by a softwood lumber deal that left $1 billion on the table and was completely inadequate, and by a recession in the U.S. where building is not occurring so we cannot sell our wood.
There was one other big thing that happened to make B.C. worse off than any other part of Canada with regard to forestry. That is the pine beetle which we could not stop. It is there eating away at 75% of the pine forest. In 2006, the government promised $200 million toward the pine beetle issue, for restructuring, job retraining and new economies. In 2006, the government promised another $200 million. We are talking about $400 million promised over two years. One hundred million dollars of that has been seen. Where is the other $300 million? Now we see in this budget that there is going to be $85 million a year for two years for the whole of Canada. Is that in addition to the $300 million that is missing?
These are the questions we want to ask. What is happening to that money when whole towns and communities in British Columbia are closing down? People are walking away from their homes. What is happening with the B.C. forestry industry? Are we going to do anything to help British Columbia survive? It is losing more jobs than any other province in Canada at the moment.
These are real people that we are talking about who are walking away from their homes, whose kids cannot finish college. This is a real problem.
There is trade and the gateway coming from British Columbia. We saw Mr. Chrétien and the Liberal government build relationships with China and with Asia because at the moment we do 80% of our trade with the United States. This is nice, but who does good business with only one client? We cannot put all of our eggs in one basket, however, we did. Now that our client is in a recession, and we hear the IMF saying possibly a depression, we are losing business. We are not selling. About 45% of our GDP depends upon trade. What are we doing about this?
We could have continued the relationships that Mr. Chrétien started. We could have built the gateway that Mr. Martin talked about under Liberal governments. That has not happened. Now we find that the relationship has gone backward because the Prime Minister of Canada has instead actually created negative relationships with China.
We are putting money into tourism. The biggest middle class today that is spending money as tourists are the Chinese. Canada is not a most preferred destination because China and Canada have lost a relationship that was so strong dating back to Bethune, and this Prime Minister has created a problem in the relationship.
What are we really going to do here? How are we going to make a difference?
I want to talk about arts and culture. This is an industry that brings $84.6 billion into the gross domestic product. This is an industry that creates 1.1 million jobs. This is an industry with $5 billion worth in trading and cultural products. Instead, we see smoke and mirrors again.
The minister did put in new money. The minister put in money for cultural spaces, which is a one-time boost of $30 million a year. We see him put $25 million into awards, which is a new program, and we see him put new money into festivals, but that is not all that arts and culture is about.
We see him repeat the things that are already there. He called them something new but it is not new money. It is the same thing reiterated in this budget, for instance, $100 million to the Canadian Television Fund. That has been there forever. There is $15 million for magazine publishing. That is what we have been putting into that every year for the past 10 years. There is $15 million for the Canada music fund. That has always been there.
We are wondering about the smoke and mirrors. We are wondering whether the government will do something about the cancelling of the trade routes program because for every dollar lost in those programs, $5 is lost to the GDP in Canada, and thousands of jobs have been lost.
Let us talk about some of the things that will cause an economic stimulus.
Finally, there are jobs, jobs, jobs. This is the saddest cut of all.
I came into politics in 1992 as a physician because I had no pill to help the people who came to see me who had just lost their jobs or their homes. There was the 55-year-old man who had no other job but the one he had worked at for 30 years and did not know what to do. He had to take his kids out of college. There was the young couple who overextended themselves to get a mortgage and now have new baby. One of them lost a job and they do not know what to do.
These are real people. We are told that there were 71,000 jobs lost in December and 129,000 jobs lost in January alone. That is a nice statistic. That is a scary statistic, but real people are hurting. It is real people who have nowhere to go.
It is at this time when government should come to the rescue of its citizens. It is when citizens have to depend upon their government to be there for them. When I came here in 1992, the government had abandoned its people. I am suggesting now that we cannot stand by and watch government abandon its people again. Those real people are somebody's kids and somebody's parents.
This is why this party is putting the government on notice. We are watching it. We are monitoring its results. We are making sure it does what it said it was going to do. We are going to see if it makes a difference. We are going to see if instead of reacting constantly, there is a proactivity, there is a keeping track of what is happening, and there is change made so that we can help real Canadians to get back to work and to move this economy again.
Hon. Gurbax Malhi (Bramalea—Gore—Malton, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to address some key points that were outlined in the budget presented by the government.
The Minister of Finance introduced a variety of initiatives that the government feels would benefit Canadians while stimulating our economy, and creating and maintaining jobs. The Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister have been telling Canadians and Parliament conflicting stories about the record of the finances of this country. Little of it was actually true.
In September the Prime Minister told Canadians it was a good time to buy stocks and he was wrong. The Prime Minister said Canada should not run a deficit and said that if we were going to have a recession, it would have happened by now. He was wrong again. The Minister of Finance further confused the matter by saying a deficit was the only way to get through these challenging times.
Then came the economic update delivered last December. In a statement by the Prime Minister, after convincing the Governor General to prorogue Parliament, he said that over the coming weeks the government would begin consultations and focus on the budget. I am very concerned about what was being done leading up to the financial update.
Since then, Canada has lost 213,000 jobs and we are into the most severe recession since the 1930s. In January alone, another 129,000 jobs have been lost and more than 71,000 of those jobs in the last year in Ontario. Canadians reluctantly gave the Conservatives another minority government. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance were busy denying the obvious fact that the country was headed into a recession and failed to plan for imminent job losses.
It was not until the threat of losing power that the government started to take any action on the economic crisis that was right in front of their eyes. Only after pressure from the opposition and proroguing Parliament did the government actually get to work on preparing a budget and stimulus plan.
Three weeks ago the Minister of Finance delivered Canada's economic action plan designed to provide just the right amount of economic stimulus, while attempting to spark more spending by banks and Canadians. The Liberal opposition felt there was still more that could be done and, as a result, we have placed the government on probation to ensure that the necessary spending by the government will actually happen this time and not be just another series of empty promises. We will demand that the government shows us exactly what it has done in three separate intervals in March, June and again in December.
While much of the budget could be considered acceptable, the need to protect jobs was overlooked. The Liberal caucus has repeatedly stated that we need to protect the jobs of today while creating jobs for the future.
Every day we are getting more reports of job losses in every part of Canada in almost every industry. More Canadian companies are expected to lay off workers with the recession worsening. We know that reports of dismal earnings often go hand in hand with job cuts and economists are telling us that it will only get worse before it gets better.
After careful review of the budget labelled as Canada's economic action plan, we have discovered some critical omissions in the action portion of the plan. For example, the Minister of Finance is telling us that the government will invest millions of dollars in more opportunities for workers.
We were told the government will increase funding for training delivered through employment insurance and invest in strategic training. When we read the fine print, we discovered that the funding would only make its way through the system and into the hands of Canadians over two or three years and, in some cases, as long as five years.
In my riding, Formulated Coatings Ltd. laid off 60 workers two weeks ago when the company announced it was bankrupt. The employees did not get any severance or financial packages and were asked to leave with only 10 minutes notice.
In most cases, there is little to no notice given, other than a meeting in the employee lunch room and being told that they no longer have a job.
The Chrysler plant in my riding also announced it would suspend production and temporarily shut down for about a month to save money.
For these men and women, losing their jobs could not come at a worse time. It is difficult enough dealing with the loss of employment and the stress of trying to find work in a crumbling job market, but the budget did little to address the minimum six weeks before these workers would see any money from EI.
Based on the way the looming economic challenges were dealt with, is it fair to think that the government will take the same foot-dragging approach in delivering the EI funding and training as well as the education and retraining so desperately needed by Canadians?
Statistics Canada suggests that our unemployment rate is at 7.2%, and even if all the measures in the budget were implemented in the next few months, it will not see a return to a 6% or lower unemployment level until sometime in 2013 or 2014, 2014 being a long time to wait for workers who have mortgages and payments and families. Five years is a long time to wait for assistance from the government.
The Conservative budget proposes to create 190,000 jobs over two years when Canada has lost 213,000 jobs in the last three months alone.
This is why the Liberal Party has put the government on probation and will carefully monitor the actions of the government. The country depends on a strong plan and a government that can deliver on its promises, and we will ensure the government keeps its promises to Canadians.
Canadians need our support and assistance to weather this financial storm. They want all parliamentarians to put aside partisanship and make a principled decision on the budget.
This is the Conservatives' budget, but it is our responsibility to ensure that the job of government gets done and that Canadians are well-served.
The mismanagement of the economic crisis and failure to act has rightfully given Parliament and Canadians a reason to question the credibility of the Conservative government on economic matters.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, which is an important document. Canadians have been looking for leadership from the government to deal with today's economic climate and the problems we face.
It is important to point out, as I start this discussion, that the New Democrats do not support the bill for a number of different reasons, but we are doing our job. We are showing leadership on what we should have in the country. The country should have a more balanced approach with regard to a budget that not only deals with the economic crisis, but deals with some of the systemic issues the country faces with previous legislation and lack of action as well.
We have an interesting case with regard to democracy. Last year, when the Liberals consented to the Conservative budget changes, the Immigration Act was changed. We have to remember that with the passage of the budget bill last year, the immigration minister received a blank cheque to change the immigration system, without going through the normal, democratic process in the House of Commons.
The normal process is the minister introduces a bill which then goes through a reading in the House of Commons. Then it is vetted at committee and comes back to the House of Commons. If passed, it goes to the Senate and if there are changes, it comes back here. Now we have avoided that consultation process under our immigration policy, which is truly unfortunate, because there is economic opportunity. It is a social justice issue to ensure Canada does the right thing with its immigration policy. There is also an opportunity to engage the public and the private and not-for-profit sector about how our immigration policies work of do not work for our country.
By agreeing to that, the Liberals gave the government a blank cheque to change it. We have seen the effects, and it has not been an improvement in our immigration system. We have seen greater lineups, greater delays and it has reduced our capacity to respond in this global climate.
There are a couple of issues. Interestingly enough, through Bill C-10, the government is changing the Investment Canada Act. It also changing other legislation with regard to pay equity, for example, which will unfairly hurt women. Women will no longer be able to go through the court system to challenge pay equity. They will have to go through another process that will not be as fair. It takes away from the judicial system, which is the appropriate process.
It is important to note that this sends a message across the country that women's issues are secondary. It can be done on a one-off, with no problem at all, by the government. It sets the mandate for how it feels and how it goes forward to deal with serious matters.
Avoiding our legislative review process is truly unfortunate. Members of the House of Commons collectively are supposed to review bills. We are supposed to have input. We are supposed to garner the witnesses. We are supposed to go through a process to improve a bill.
Often we find common ground. Sometimes we get amendments put forth and avoid some unintended consequences. Since 2002, I do not know how many times I have been in committee reviewing a bill and our party or the government has found errors in it, whether it was the Liberals in the past or the Conservatives currently. We go through the legislation to fix those errors. Instead we have legislation being rammed down our throats, which is unacceptable.
With respect to the budget implementation bill, it is ironic. After the G20 summit, the Prime Minister talked with other world leaders and said that he would come back with a package for Canada. Instead he set off a political crisis by cutting the provinces and a number of different services and putting in some other elements, which still cannot be explained today, for example, billions of dollars for sales of public buildings. The Conservatives cannot even name the buildings or what they will do with them. That really set up a firestorm in the politics. Hence, the government took a time out.
The Prime Minister went to the Governor General and told her the Conservatives needed a time out because everybody was upset with them. The Conservatives misled the world by saying they would do something, but did nothing. Apparently they thought nobody in Canada was paying attention to the international news, or they did not have access to the Internet or something else. Canadians quickly realized that the Prime Minister said one thing and came home and did another. However, the Conservatives had their time out. In that timeframe one would have thought they would have come back with a plan.
I come from the automotive sector and I have spoken many times in this House of Commons about a plan for the automotive sector. One would have thought the government would come back with proper legislation that would actually address the issues. It decided to go to Washington. The Minister of Industry went down to Washington, but nobody would meet with him.
The Americans are going to do something for the automotive sector to assist in filling the gap caused by the economic crisis and liquidity issue. There is a difference between what is happening here and what is happening in the United States. The United States had two sets of public hearings on the auto sector. Last year the U.S. had a series of hearings on the energy act and created a $25 billion low interest loan program for the auto industry to get new technologies and cleaner vehicles. Then there was the actual bridging legislation for the loans. Whether or not one agrees with the loan program, at least the Americans went through the process. The United States passed its legislation. There were hearings and input was received. It made a lot of news. The Congress and the Senate had the opportunity to vet the legislation. The legislation went through that process and was actually delivered to the public. What do we have in Canada? We only have promises from the minister. There has been no input at the industry committee. We have not had that type of vetting process.
When one looks at the plan that the United States passed, it is a plan with different rules and things that are changing. The document, “A Call for Action: A Canadian Auto Strategy”, was produced by the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, CAPC, back in 2004. The auto industry, unions, suppliers and many other auto industry components warned the then Liberal government of the potential failure of the auto industry in the future if we did not lay out a plan. It put forward a simple and straightforward plan where results could be measured. It had a series of strategies calling for action. What have we done since then? Nothing. We have not done anything on it. That is unacceptable, because this plan could have been tabled with the budget bill. It could have been more extensive. The government had the time to do it.
What has happened in between is quite astonishing. We have seen the collapse of the auto industry, not only here but also in other parts of the world. There have been success stories. I reference the United States and its $25 billion low interest loan program which was passed last year. The U.S. is already seeing results. General Motors is going to build the Volt in Detroit, Michigan. The state of Michigan recently signed on to assist in the battery procurement policy. The battery for the Volt will be produced in Detroit as well. Despite the challenges of the industry and where it is going, the Americans have already laid out the game plan.
What have we done on the Canadian side? In the last budget, money was cut from the auto sector. On top of that, the government imposed a new tax on vehicles. It kept the tax component of the eco-auto feebate program. For those who are not aware of that program, it was an unbelievable disaster. There was about $116 million in that program. Most of that money went to vehicles produced overseas. That is the irony of what the Conservatives did in their first budget. They created this incentive program to buy certain vehicles. It did not work. On top of that, they ended up sending money to Japan, China, Korea and other areas where vehicles are produced. It is not acceptable in terms of a policy.
The Conservatives also brought in a tax on vehicles. They kept the tax, which represents around $50 million a year in revenue for the government. That is the estimate from the industry. The United States laid out a plan that is very progressive, and which is focused on cleaner new vehicles, production, manufacturing and low interest loans that are recoverable for the taxpayers. Here in Canada, the government added a new tax. It put some of that money into a new program of $50 million per year for five years for a total of $250 million. Basically, the industry had to go through h-e-double-hockey-sticks just to access it. That happened leading up to an election.
The government is sending the message that Canada is closed for business and partnerships to revolutionize the industry and that if people want to take advantage of one of the government programs, the Conservatives are going to make them squirm, beg and crawl. They are going to punish people pubically for wanting some type of a procurement element.
These things are not foreign to North America. Germany is the second largest auto producer and Japan is the third largest. Japan is a major exporter. Germany has major exports too, but it also does a lot more domestic. Germany and Japan have procurement policies that actually work for their industries. That element is out there. If the government wants to assume that a free market economy with no actual incentives is some type of carrot with which to approach the industry, the Conservatives are alone in the world in that. Even the United States does not do that. Nobody does that. If the Conservatives want to change that policy, then great, let us engage the world about that practice.
Until that time, if we keep our current automotive policy, we will see that what is happening will continue. We have gone from fourth in the world in assembly to eighth. What does that mean? It means that not only auto workers and their families are losing out on economic development, but so are those in the mould-making industry and the tool and die industry.
The tool and die industry has made an appeal to the Minister of Industry. That industry is owed about $1 billion. The industry needs that money to prevent bankruptcy from happening.
There are other victims in this mess if we do not have a viable auto industry and one of the most value-added industries will disappear. It is going to cost money for things such as the United Way and skills training.
It is also important to think outside the automotive box. If all that industrial development goes into new technologies, they can actually revolutionize other industries, especially looking at some of the new technologies in the use of battery and other elements. It is an exciting time despite the challenges. Some new and interesting products are coming on line that will meet new customer desires. It is also going to provide an opportunity to have a greener, cleaner industry, which is really critical because we put so much faith in that.
It was interesting to see the minister, when it came to the budget, make a big to-do about the shoes he was going to buy. We saw him on TV when he bought some workboots. He came to work that day and decided that they did not fit right and they hurt his feet. It is ironic, because it is the same with this budget. It hurts a lot of Canadians and it does not fit right for what we need to do.
It is not even a question about how much money we are or are not spending. It is also about the way we actually spend. That is why it is important to recognize that this was an opportunity that was wasted.
I will point to one of the more interesting cases we have had recently and what could have been in the budget bill but is not. Today the New Democratic Party introduced a bill to respond to that. A procurement policy could have been part of it. I know that some people will say that the NDP wants to put up trade barriers and do something that would set off a trade war and create all kinds of problems, but that is a bunch of nonsense. Since the Great Depression, the United States has had a procurement policy in place. I would have liked to see one in this bill. What we could do openly and accountably is a percentage of that could go into Canadian manufacturing when there is a government procurement policy. That is done all over the world. Our partners do it. I do not regret that the United States does some of that. It is a challenge in some respects.
The most important example that has recently shown how poor we are in Canada in terms of strategy is the Navistar truck contract. I have spoken extensively about that, and I am going to keep talking about it because it is a great example of a missed opportunity and the lack of leadership.
Navistar, for those who are not aware, is in Chatham, Ontario. It produces trucks. A number of years ago, I and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh fought along with the CAW to get a modest investment from the federal government in that plant. It was saved, and it has paid back its worth. It is a windfall, not only with regard to the tax revenues to the nation but also to the workers and their families who have been contributing taxes.
What has happened is the government is not dealing with procurement policy, which is totally legal and which many municipalities endorse across the country right now. They back it because they understand it. We understand the rules. We can do this. The United States will not get upset with us for doing it. The Americans have a policy in place that has similar elements, and we accept that.
The Navistar truck plant in Chatham could produce the next load of defence vehicles, trucks that are necessary for our military. Ironically the government tendered it out, and what ended up happening is that Navistar International won the bid and the truck building component is in Texas. Texas is getting 300 million dollars' worth of work from the Conservatives, supported by the Liberals, and at the same time the workers in our communities are losing their jobs. Those are good paying jobs, jobs that this country invested in. The trucks we make are the best and we are going to lose out on that opportunity because of the ideology of the Conservative government.
The government is going to award a $300 million contract to Navistar in Texas when that contract could have gone to our own community. The excuse is that there was $800,000 of retooling necessary for that facility in Canada, but Canadians would have been doing that retooling. The value-added components would have been manufactured in Canada. There would have been economic benefits for Canadians who would have been paying taxes.
That investment would have been understood by the United States. The Americans would understand that Canadians want to build Canadian trucks for our Canadian men and women who are serving in our military. They would understand that. We understand when they do defence procurement for the same reason.
The Conservatives are allowing this to continue and are not cancelling the contract. It is unacceptable. Sending work down to Texas is not a solution for this country. It sends a message to all the others concerned with defence procurement. The government is saying that Canadians cannot be the ones who build for our men and women who serve in the military. That is the message the government is sending to people in Chatham, that they are fired and they are not going to be the ones who produce the vehicles for our military, that Texans can do it. That should have been in this bill. We could have done it.
What is also important in connecting the dots on this is that this country needs to have a manufacturing capacity for its sovereignty so that it includes components for shipbuilding, trucks, airplanes and other elements that are important for national infrastructure. A country needs to make sovereign decisions about what it does. The United States does that. I do not begrudge the Americans for that. If they want to build their military trucks in Texas and not in Chatham, I understand that because it is part of a plan for their country.
What do we have in Canada? We have no plan. Other contracting is being looked at right now. The plane contract is being examined. The Department of National Defence is eyeballing a single source contract that would exclude all Canadian aerospace manufacturers. It would be created and assembled in Italy. How is that possible? How can we have single source contracting for companies outside Canada?
What does that tell those companies that actually cluster and try to build around our manufacturing bases here in Canada? It tells them that if they invest and make that type of commitment to the Canadian people, if they do the training that is vitally necessary for the post-production development, they may not benefit from it, that we will simply have it built in Italy. That is the wrong message.
It is important that the government reverse the Navistar decision. It would send a message that we are serious. I expected that to be in the budget bill.
I spent a lot of time talking about Navistar and the auto sector, but I want to touch on one thing in the bill that is symbolic and important to me because of my background in developing programs for persons with disabilities with respect to employment and home services. Ironically in the bill there is a new program for home retrofit. Those who do some work on their houses get a 15% tax break on the first $10,000 spent on their homes. It includes some really interesting things, such as, sod and decks. However, those who rent are excluded from this. Twenty-five per cent of Canadians rent their accommodations. I think about seniors in my riding who have rented houses or apartments for a long time. They are not eligible to upgrade their bathrooms or other areas to make them accessible. Meanwhile, those who want to put new sod on their lawns or expand their decks in Muskoka are going to get a tax break. Ironically those people are the ones who have to subsidize that program with their taxes in the first place. It is wrong. That is why the budget needs to be defeated.
Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, I think one of the first things the government needs to identify is the need for a national auto strategy, something we have been advocating for a long time.
Interestingly enough, it was this party that worked with Greenpeace and the CAW a number of years ago to come up with a green auto strategy, one of the first of its kind in the world. It is important to note that even a number of years ago, we could see the writing on the wall in terms of where the industry needed to go and the challenges that were there.
We believe in that strategy to this day. It is one that would be very important. Also, “A Call for Action”, the CAPC report, is still viable in many respects, so we would like to see it implemented as a national auto strategy.
It is interesting, because I remember that when David Emerson was a member of Parliament and a minister sitting with the Liberals, he said that if the Conservatives ever came to power, they would destroy the auto industry. How ironic is that? He then flip-flopped across the floor and became a Conservative, and he has certainly fulfilled that prophecy.
Right now in the United States we see a whole series of initiatives being supported. The Americans are not attacking their system right now. They are actually trying to work with it.
We have to change our attitude here on a national auto policy and look at the CAPC implementation levers that are there. Once again, that was done with a lot collaboration.
A second important front that we have to support is the parts, tool and die, and mould-making sectors. They are owed a lot of funds right now. They need to be supported with some low-interest loans that will pay back.
To those who are critical I can say that I understand the complications of supporting this type of initiative, but I want to remind the general public that when Chrysler was in hardship back in 1985, there was a small loan package at that time. Not only did Chrysler pay it back, but it paid it back with interest and profits for the country. Since that time we have had a very successful manufacturing facility, the minivan plant in Windsor, which is arguably the best one in the world since World War II.
Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her work as well as the question.
I have actually written the minister. We have had interventions, and we can tell that the Conservatives are clearly uncomfortable about this because they know what they have done is wrong. They know it, but it is time for them to fix it. They can no longer hide and run away from it; they need to fix it.
Canadians can build for their men and women of service. They can do that. They are competent, capable and able to do so. Why does the government fail to see the value of its own workforce, a workforce that could actually procure and develop this? That is not acceptable. It needs to be reversed.
People really need to understand that this issue is not only about Windsor and Chatham-Kent—Essex, but about our entire country. We look at the potential for some new ships being built, often described as rowboats or tiny boats because they are small craft. Where are they going to be built? Everything counts at this point in time.
The rules are very clear. The United States does a lot of its own defence procurement, and we respect that. As a nation, we have not challenged the Americans. We have not taken them to court. We have not tried to renegotiate these elements. We have accepted it as a country, and they would accept the same from us, because that is part of a partnership. What is good for one is good for the other, unless we want to engage in a wider discussion. If we actually had the policy, maybe that would happen with the United States, and we would engage in discussion and go down that road. However, simply doing nothing is not acceptable.
How we can tender a $300 million contract to a source company outside this country at the same time that trained people are being handed pink slips to go home? They are trained and doing it right now. They are doing truck production. In fact when Navistar tried to move some production down to Mexico, where it had been doing some of this, for a period of time it had to send those vehicles back to Chatham to be fixed, because Mexico was not doing the right job.
The people have the qualifications and experience. They want to produce the trucks for our men and women in military service. They want to be part of the procurement, not just because it is a job but because it is a mission for our country. It is about the connection and the bond of people being able to do procurement for their own military and having pride in a nation. Why the government does not understand that is beyond me. Why can it not just say that it made a mistake and is going to fix it, and that Canadians are the ones who are going to be doing the procurement?
In terms of actually retooling the facility, $800,000 is nothing. Interestingly enough, we would then have the capacity to increase the volume if necessary, to fix vehicles with additional parts, and to service the vehicles. All those things would be done here. The United States would simply understand that, because they have it in their system, and we respect it.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, once again I am honoured and humbled to serve my beautiful community of Etobicoke North and raise the issues of my constituents in this, their House of Commons.
Five women--Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Nellie McClung--contested the notion that the legal definition of persons excluded women. In 1929 they took their quest to the highest level of appeal, the British Privy Council, which ultimately pronounced women as persons. It was a remarkable victory for equal rights, and as a result, the five courageous women were immortalized on Parliament Hill in 2000.
At the unveiling of the bronze statute in their honour, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson said she hoped that the monument would inspire people to continue the work of the famous five. “Never retreat; never explain; never apologize”, Clarkson said in repeating a quotation from Nellie McClung, or in Emily Murphy's words, “We want women leaders today as never before, leaders who are not afraid to be called names and who are willing to go out and fight.”
Many of us walk past the statute of the five determined women each day on the way to this very House. Each year on October 18 we celebrate Persons Day, and on March 8 we recognize International Women's Day.
Recently December 10, 2008, marked the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a time to take action on the urgent human rights violations which continue to exist today.
Instead of waging a war on Canada's gender pay gap, which violates article 23 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the government instead chose to narrow legal options open to women and to take aim at a woman's right to use the courts to obtain pay equity.
The government says that the present system of using the courts for pay equity is long and costly, so it wants to modernize it by removing the right of women to use the courts to achieve pay equity. If the government achieves its goal, pay equity will be settled at the bargaining table, and not in the courts.
What would this mean to Canadian women who work outside the home and do not have a union? What would it mean to women who, as we know, fare poorer than men in the bargaining process? What would it mean to the 23% of families that are single-parent and headed by women in my riding of Etobicoke North, the women who scramble every month just to make ends meet, yet lose almost a quarter for every dollar a man is paid? What would it mean to the children who are poor because their mothers are poor, and to child care, and to early child education?
Today one in six Canadian children grows up in poverty. Research shows that for every dollar a country invests in giving children a good start in life, the country saves seven dollars in spending on health and other problems that arise when children's basic needs are not met. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and UNICEF place Canada last among industrialized nations when it comes to availability and public funding of child care services.
What would it mean for a woman's pension? Let us remember that women lose on every pay and on every contribution toward retirement.
The government is also planning to pass legislation that would limit annual pay increases in the public sector at a time when women are still catching up after years of discriminatory pay practices.
This attack on equity should come as no surprise. Canada fell from 18th place in 2007 to 31st in 2008 in the latest gender gap rankings released by the World Economic Forum last November. Canada's performance went unacknowledged in Ottawa.
A person's pay, particularly in this fiscal crisis, is critical to family, community and national prosperity. Women control 68% of consumer spending in Canada and are, in fact, the keepers of the household budget. Sadly, women are concerned about the current crisis and leery to spend. Sixty-five per cent of women plan to cut spending, compared to 58% of men. Forty-one per cent of women feel they are too much in debt, compared to 27% of men. Thirty per cent of women are insecure about their finances, compared to 19% of men.
Those statistics have tremendous implications, as consumer spending is the largest contributor to Canada's economic health. It accounts for 55¢ of every dollar of national productivity.
If the government's economic stimulus package does work for women, it will not work for Canada. In order to keep cash circulating, the government needed to address women's anxieties, such as EI eligibility and equal pay to put food on the table, to pay for their children's education and to save for their retirement. Investment in child care helps women and their families participate in the economy.
Canadian researchers calculated a 2:1 economic and social return for every dollar invested in child care. American researchers demonstrated a 3:1 or a 4:1 return for low income families and showed that childhood development programs could have a substantial payoff for governments, improve labour skills, reduce poverty and improve global competitiveness.
How can the government claim to protect the vulnerable when it provides nothing? In terms of the national child benefit supplement for families making $20,000 and for families living on $25,000 to $35,000, it provides only $436, which is the equivalent of 12 days of rent for a one-room apartment in my Etobicoke North riding.
While the government was working to undermine pay equity in Canada, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act, recognizing equal pay as an important economic issue that affects not only women but entire families. It was the first piece of legislation to be signed into law in the new presidency. The new president said, I intend “to send a clear message that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone, that there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces, and that it’s not just unfair and illegal — it’s bad for business — to pay somebody less because of their gender....
Last week I met with our riding youth group. A young man wanted to know, “why the government was launching an attack on women”. He said, “I just want the same as a woman; nothing more, nothing less”. I did not have the heart to tell him that when he graduates university he is likely to make $5,000 to $6,000 more than his female counterpart and that this gap will accrue week by week, year upon year.
The government should be working tirelessly to ensure that this economic crisis does not create further inequalities.
The future of Canada depends considerably on investment in women as their economic health and social well-being determines the health of their children who are the adults of tomorrow. As the first step to protecting the next generation, the government needs to fight for pay equity, so long overdue. Next time parliamentarians walk past The Famous Five, we should all be inspired to do the right thing.
Mr. Robert Carrier (Alfred-Pellan, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the budget passed last week by the Conservative government and its Liberal allies is totally unacceptable to Quebec and the people of Quebec who are entitled, in times of economic crisis, to expect appropriate action on the part of the federal government.
Just two years ago, the Conservatives had the House agree to recognize the nation of Quebec in a spirit, they said, of openness. The bill we are discussing today shows that this openness has suddenly disappeared.
Last January 15, the National Assembly of Quebec voted unanimously in favour of a motion demanding that Ottawa provide assistance to Quebec to help it get through the economic crisis. It is obvious that Quebec will lose a lot of money as a result of the tabling of this budget, especially in regard to equalization. The changes to equalization will cost it a billion dollars in 2009-2010. In addition, the bill sets the stage for the establishment of a Canada-wide securities commission and reiterates the government’s intention to trample over Quebec’s jurisdictions in this regard.
The Prime Minister is choosing once again to ignore his past promises to respect Quebec’s jurisdictions. It would have been good if the Quebec Liberals had been allowed to vote against this budget in order to oppose the loss of a billion dollars to Quebec, just as the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals were allowed to do. Right now, among the Quebec contingent, only the Bloc Québécois and the NDP member are opposing this loss of a billion dollars.
When I meet people in my riding, I am ashamed of our government because it does nothing to help them. People see it helping big corporations, like automobile companies, oil companies and banks, but they themselves are left by the wayside in an exercise based more on ideology than compassion for the people who are hurt most by the current situation.
The affluent people in our society will manage to get along fine despite the shaky economy. The tax cuts benefit people earning at least $81,000 a year, which is well beyond the middle class. Older people, retirees, the unemployed and middle class families will not benefit from this budget as the rich people will.
As for seniors, the Bloc Québécois has often raised the issue of the guaranteed income supplement and the fact that seniors have not been getting their fair share. According to FADOQ, the Quebec federation of seniors, the 2009 budget is most certainly not the route toward improving the lot of low income seniors. Despite numerous urgings to do something, the federal government has neglected to provide any additional support to the least well off of seniors, the guaranteed income supplement recipients.
Thanks to the mismanagement of the federal government, seniors who receive only the old age pension and the guaranteed income supplement will not even have the opportunity to get up over the poverty line, because their income is so limited. The government is therefore keeping them poor.
Yet, during the recent prebudget consultations, FADOQ called for improvements to the guaranteed income supplement, specifically through automatic enrolment—not the case now—along with improved benefits and full retroactivity, as called for in a bill introduced by me in the last Parliament. We are not talking riches here, just a minimum income that should be guaranteed to everyone in a society that claims to respect its seniors.
Incidentally, that adjustment to the guaranteed income supplement would dovetail with the recovery plan. If seniors had a little more money, that money would be spent in the immediate community, thereby creating an economic revival with the activity that would be generated. That money would not be going out of the country.
As far as employment insurance is concerned, this past January the Quebec National Assembly called upon the government in Ottawa to improve the employment insurance program by loosening the eligibility criteria and enabling workers in training to continue to draw benefits. Turning a deaf ear to the requests from the National Assembly, the government responded by increasing the duration of EI benefits by five weeks for the next two years.
According to the statistics, only 10% of workers eligible for employment insurance use up all the period of benefits they are covered for. Since we know that less than half of people are eligible for EI, of that group only 10% use up all their benefits and would therefore benefit from what is in this budget. If the government had instead abolished the two week waiting period for workers who lose their jobs, all workers who lost their jobs would at least have been able to benefit from one provision in the budget, by immediately drawing EI benefits.
With regard to social housing, there are measures that affect people, and people want their government to come up with solutions. The current budget includes $2 billion for social housing, but only $400 million will be used to build new housing units.
It is estimated that Quebec needs 52,000 social housing units. In Laval alone, 1,062 needy people are waiting for social housing from the municipal housing bureau. This program is administered by the cities, and demand is high. In fact, demand is so high that people come to my constituency office to ask us to support their application for social housing.
It is difficult to step in at the federal level. We have to refer people or try to convince the municipal government to provide them with housing as soon as possible. But the government lacks the will to build new units.
In my riding, there is a federal penitentiary that was decommissioned 20 years ago. For 20 years, the penitentiary has not been used for anything. It was built by the federal government in 1978, and people moved into the surrounding area. Most of these people worked at the penitentiary, which explains the construction all around it. Now that the penitentiary is no longer used for its intended purpose, the government is dragging its feet on converting the building so that people can use it.
I have represented this riding for four and a half years. I have had access to studies the government has conducted into how the penitentiary could be converted or repurposed. I have always stressed that plans should include affordable social housing for the local community. People currently have to leave the neighbourhood because there is no space available.
The recovery plan was a perfect opportunity to act on this proposal, which previous governments had considered. I have been calling for this for four and a half years. Of course, it would have taken political and financial will. This government's recovery plan, which includes investment to stimulate employment, was a golden opportunity to use federal facilities to benefit people and to provide the social housing they need so badly.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am happy to discuss Bill C-10, a very large bill. If any members from other parties are slouching back in their seat and waiting for the bill to pass because it simply would implement the budget, they had better look twice at the bill.
It is 444 pages long, with 471 clauses. A lot of new things are in it, things that we never heard in the budget. How many MPs knew that a whole rewrite of the Navigable Waters Protection Act would be it? It is not even mentioned in the budget. Pages 291 to 306 deal with those changes, and I will talk about those later.
Other major changes in the bill affect the Competition Act. I refer to the comments by the member for Pickering—Scarborough East, who is an expert on the Competition Act. He said that these were the most drastic changes to be act since 1986, that they were not based on the broad consensus of the Red Wilson and that it was too broad to be swept under the rug quickly, which is what is happening at this time.
It is amazing that no Conservatives are speaking to the major changes to those two acts and to a number of changes to other acts. These were not mentioned at all in the budget. It is also amazing that members from the government say they want quick passage of this bill. Why would they add all these complications, things that should have significant Parliamentary debate, into a budget implementation act? That slows the process if members are to do due diligence and deal with these other items?
I want to spend my time talking about items in the budget and future budgets, based mostly on the feedback I have received from people in my riding. A lot of changes will have to be added or made in the future.
First, I received a number of comments from first nations on infrastructure. They make the point that they have different infrastructure needs. They do not normally build convention centres, but they have all kinds of particular needs and they want to be eligible for those funds. They want to ensure they have access to the infrastructure programs and they want clarity on the specific funds available solely to first nations.
Second, they want to ensure they have an important role in the new northern agency. Because they are half the population north of 60°, this is very important. They have a different world view, different opportunities and different challenges. There are 23 governments in my riding of which 22 are first nations and municipalities. How will they be involved in the establishment of the new agency?
The administration of housing funds is a particularly upsetting point. The northern housing funds are a very excellent allocation in the budget. However, last time the minister, who is now the Minister of the Environment, had hoped all that money would go to first nations, but it did not. It was not specifically given to self-governing first nations to deliver it. Now $400 million is set aside in the budget for on reserve first nations in the south. However, it is not specified how much of the $200 million north of 60° is for first nations, nor how it will be delivered. Once again, the first nations are furious about the repetition of this problem.
It speaks to a bigger problem. The new governments we have created, which, in some areas, have equal to more power than the provinces of Ontario or Quebec, have not been treated like governments. The funds they will be delivering end up being run through other governments.
With regard to housing money, the bill specifically says “social housing” units in the north. For aboriginal people in the south, it says “on-reserve housing”. A chief in the north spoke to me about this. He wants his people to be self-sufficient. The people want to build housing and charge rents without it being solely limited to social housing units. With the new economic development plan, they have their own world view. They want to ensure they are recognized for that and have their views respected.
The biggest item for first nations is the financial transfer arrangement. The nine year review has been going on for a number of years now.
The biggest item for first nations is the financial transfer arrangement. The review has been on going for a number of years now. We need a mandate from the federal government. We need to get on with it quickly, conclude it and implement it. Before the election, the minister said that he would do this quickly. There are benefits for everyone, for Arctic sovereignty, for economic development, for governance in the northern strategy. Let us get on with it and get it done.
Hopefully the government will continue its support on interoperability of our first responders in emergencies. I am happy with what it is doing so far. Police, health responders and ambulance operators are working together to ensure communications are interoperable. This will save lives, both the responders and the victims. Lives have been lost because of a lack of interoperability. I hope this gets due attention in Parliament.
President Obama has already brought it up, and the U.S. governors have a good understanding of it.
Another item that could have been put back in the budget was the GST tourism rebate. Once again, this is an obvious stimulus. Virtually every other major country in the world does it, yet the government cancelled the rebate for individual tourists. That hurts our tourism industry.
Once again, the municipalities would like infrastructure funds to flow through a system like the gas tax, so it can be done quickly. The member for Willowdale brought this up, as have our municipalities. They want the funds to flow quickly.
Related to the northern agreement, we hope the government will ensure it is streamed individually. Each of the three territories in the north are totally different and have different needs. That needs to be respected. There is also talk about oversight of such a fund by major leaders in the north. They do not want too much money spent on the administration. I have no problem with putting enough in to do the administration properly, while ensuring they have the programs to deliver it. That would make the percentage of administration small.
Millions upon millions have been allocated in the budget to help the vulnerable. We have said over and over that it is not enough. The Department of Finance has calculated that it would only be $900 million to cancel the two week waiting period for which we had asked, and it could be allocated from other items in the budget.
On the RCMP rollback, and I have mentioned this before in the House, a number of RCMP officers in my area are very upset that the government made a deal with them. Now it has gone back on its word. This is a critical service for our nation and it is a dangerous occupation in which to be.
Related to the credit card increases for individuals and business, there is good news and bad news. There is nothing related to businesses in the budget. Related to individuals, there are provisions that will make for more transparency. If the credit card companies want to increase fees, if payments are missed, they will have to announce the increase before implementing it so people will know it is coming.
I have had two phone calls today from people who very upset with the heritage minister for suggesting he has no opposition to commercials on CBC. Across the country, everyone is still very upset with the heritage minister for cancelling programs for the international marketing of our artists. These programs were cancelled in the last budget, but were never reinstated.
The navy league approached me about the building of boats. The Prime Minister promised three icebreakers and has now cancelled two of those. The ice-strengthened supply ships seem to have been cancelled. The aircraft for Yellowknife seem to have been cancelled. The search and rescue planes for the north are nowhere to be seen.
On the infrastructure program, which we called for last October, we recently found that the terms and conditions for the program are not even ready. It is not that the projects are not shovel ready, it is the program is not ready yet.
The bill proposes major changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I am not saying that some of those changes are not needed, they are, and Parliament agrees, but this is not the place to do it. It will not speed up projects.
A lot of the problems that people are complaining about are in the Fisheries Act, not the Navigable Waters Protection Act. If an inspection needs to be done of an airplane before it takes off, the inspection is not cancelled because it will take too long. More inspectors need to be hired to get it done more quickly.
Finally, the elimination of the regulations from the statutory instrument review in the Navigable Waters Protection Act is not something--
Mr. Robert Vincent (Shefford, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to discuss the key issues in the recent Conservative-Liberal budget. The new Liberal Party leader's about-face sets us back to square one. Once again we clearly see that no federalist party is capable of understanding Quebec's real interests.
During his first term, the Conservative Prime Minister appeared to show some openness with the supposed recognition of the Quebec nation, but we know what happened next: cuts to not-for-profit organizations, to economic development and to culture. It is all well and good to talk about nationhood, but a nation without culture is not really a nation.
Let us turn our attention to employment insurance. The Prime Minister requested that Parliament be prorogued. One might have hoped that he would use the time to find solutions to meet the needs of Quebeckers. Rumours propagated by Quebec backbenchers and ministers suggested that the Conservatives would be more sensitive to the demands of our unemployed workers. We had two minimum demands to help them: eliminate the two week waiting period and make the employment insurance system more accessible. In response, we were told there would be no changes. Unemployed workers, in the midst of a crisis, are faced with the stress of surviving for two, four or even six weeks with no income, that is, if they even qualify. In a burst of generosity, the Conservatives decided to add five weeks. How can people benefit from those five weeks if they do not even qualify? Nevertheless, we support that measure. It is a small step in the right direction, but we will continue to demand major changes to the employment insurance system.
If we want to make major changes to employment insurance, we have to think of the unemployed. The government has never given a moment's thought to the unemployed. Let me explain. The government says that it will allocate a billion dollars to retraining workers, but we have to be careful here. For who can say, today, what the jobs of tomorrow will be? I do not think that the government knows that right now. Last September and October, the government did not even know that there was going to be a deficit. So I do not think it knows exactly what kind of jobs will be available in two years. The Conservatives are about to spend a billion dollars on something they do not understand. They are about to spend taxpayers' money without a real plan in mind.
When the last budget was tabled, and even when we came back after the election campaign, the only political party that had a costed, balanced budget to propose was the Bloc Québécois. The other three parties, the federalists, had no budget. The government in power had to submit two economic statements and two budgets to come up with a concrete plan that was able to satisfy the Liberals, who leapt at the opportunity to support it.
Still we are talking about people in need, particularly workers. That reminds me of the program for older worker assistance that the government flatly rejected. It would have been a big step forward in helping people 55 and older who lose their jobs because of plant closures or massive layoffs. Such a program would have enabled them to live with dignity until retirement. But the government has no interest in helping these people find new jobs, so they have to go on welfare. They still have kids in university and house payments they can no longer make. Take, for example, a 58-year-old with a grade nine education who loses his job. I would really like our Conservative friends to explain how that person can be retrained, how they plan to find him another job, or what kind of training they can give him. I still have my doubts.
This program would have accomplished two things. First, as I mentioned earlier, it would have bridged older workers to their retirement at age 65. It would also have freed up jobs for younger workers. With economic recovery, there would be more jobs available. However, the government ignored this and I am extremely disappointed to see that they think only of themselves.
Then there are tax cuts. Does anyone benefit other than those who do not need them? The tax cuts should have targeted workers with the lowest salaries; instead, they benefit workers with the highest. The government wants to help people but they are not being practical.
Furthermore, they have again overlooked our seniors. What tax cuts were they given? To benefit from a tax cut, you have to pay tax. If you do not pay tax, you cannot use a tax cut. That is obvious. The majority of people who live below the poverty line get nothing, not even one dollar. Seniors received a mere two to three additional dollars. Some people in my riding said to me, “Rather than increasing pensions by $2, they should have kept that money and given it to those who need it even more.”
There are even more serious issues with this budget. Agriculture is mentioned. That is another problem. I have been here four and a half years. Every year, over the past three or four years, there has been talk of how to eliminate supply management. I think they have found a solution and I will read a passage about this. It refers to tariffs on milk proteins: “The federal government is issuing these regulations to comply with a ruling of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, the CITT. Upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal, it is a very serious ruling that could negatively affect the supply management system.”
How did they manage to do such a thing? This came about following a misunderstanding between the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canada Border Services Agency. The two had different classifications for milk protein concentrates with more than 85% concentration. The result was that a Swiss business, Advidia, was able to take its case to the Canadian International Trade Tribunal and challenge the regulations that classified its Promix 372B products under a tariff line which is tariff free as well as under the more expensive tariff line 0404. The Tribunal and the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the business, creating a dangerous precedence and shaking the very foundation of our supply management system, which relies on rigorous protection of our borders.
The Bloc Québécois cannot oppose these regulations because they are intended to bring us into compliance with a ruling from the Canadian International Trade Tribunal and the Federal Court of Appeal. But I can guarantee that the Bloc will continue to fight to fully protect the supply management system by pressuring Canada's lead negotiators at the WTO to not make any concessions that would undermine, in any way, the supply management system.
As we can see, the Conservative government is not responding to Quebec's expectations, be it in terms of employment insurance, agriculture, the forestry and manufacturing sectors, tax reductions or the unilateral creation of a Canadian securities commission.
Basically, the Bloc Québécois is not satisfied with the majority of the points mentioned in Bill C-10. Consequently, the Bloc Québécois will vote against the bill.
Mrs. Bonnie Crombie (Mississauga—Streetsville, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the residents of Mississauga--Streetsville to speak to the budget implementation bill and to ensure the Conservative government is held accountable to implement the stimulus measures promised.
For Canadians, the crisis is not about structural deficits or the cyclical nature of the markets. It is about the nest egg they have worked hard to build over their entire working lives but which was cut in half almost overnight. They worry about how they will pay for their children's educations, their mortgages or rents and how they will put food on the table for their families.
We are living through unprecedented times brought on by an economic crisis and exacerbated by the Conservative government's poor fiscal management during these times. Canadians need a government they can trust. They require political stability and economic certainty to weather this economic storm. Canadians need to know that the government in Ottawa is fighting for their jobs, their savings and their pensions, but most of all they need hope, which is why the Liberal Party has put partisanship aside and has supported this budget.
After consulting with Canadians, Liberals are willing to support the budget on the condition that the Prime Minister and his government are held accountable for their actions. We have placed conditions on our support, such as the delivery of mandatory progress reports to be tabled in March, June and December where the Conservative government must demonstrate that the money promised is flowing to Canadians in a timely manner.
The Conservative government has mismanaged the economy for three years, squandering the $13 billion surplus created by the Liberal Party through a decade of sound fiscal management. The Conservatives recklessly spent the $3 billion contingency fund left to them in good faith by our party. They did not put money aside for a rainy day when times were good and they did not plan for the future. Now the Liberal Party has put them on notice that this is not acceptable. We have put them on probation.
In truth, this budget is filled with numerous measures that would not have been possible without the pressure put on it by the Liberal Party over the past three years. Some of the measures we fought for include new investment in social housing and infrastructure, targeted support for low and middle income Canadians through the expansion of the child tax benefit and working income tax benefit, additional funding for skills training and enhanced employment insurance, and investment in regional development agencies throughout the country such as the Southern Ontario Development Agency, SODA, which will benefit the auto industry and the manufacturing sectors that have been so devastated.
Our support for the budget is not unconditional. It recognizes that the budget is significantly flawed. It does not protect the most vulnerable. It does not protect the jobs of today or help create the jobs of tomorrow. It does not go far enough to protect Canadians who have lost or will soon lose jobs. Two hundred and thirteen thousand jobs have been lost in the past three months alone, 71,000 of them in Ontario. That is 55% of the job losses in this country.
My riding is not immune. I have heard from many of my constituents about the hardships they now face because of the downsizing and layoffs.
This budget opens the door for attacks on pay equity for women. It also breaks the Conservatives' promise to all Canadian provinces on equalization. It also missed an opportunity to invest in clean industries of tomorrow and to kickstart the green economy to make Canada a world leader. Finally, it lacks a clear plan for getting us out of the $85 billion deficit the government will lead us into over the next five years, a number that will rise as the projections grow worse.
Despite these substantial deficiencies, the Liberal Party has decided to support the budget to ensure that the money flows to those sectors and those individuals who need it most. Let me be clear. We want to see the money getting into the hands of municipalities where it is needed most. That is why our party has made regular progress reports a stipulation for our support.
In my time remaining, I would like to address the five key areas that are of specific concern for the residents of Mississauga--Streetsville: first, the critical need for infrastructure funding to flow; second, the lack of fairness in the employment insurance program; third, the vital need for investment in social housing; fourth, the serious lack of a universal child care program; and fifth, a fundamental lack of jobs stimulus for women.
First, on infrastructure. Municipalities, such as Mississauga, which have shovel-ready projects, have been disappointed in the past by the government's web of red tape. The legendary mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion, calls it “the glacial pace at which funding announcements turn into cash”. Mississauga is still waiting for its share of the $33 billion building Canada fund to flow for projects such as the $52 million rapid transit bus system, the $30 million for downtown revitalization, the $20 million for Sheridan College, the $10 million for Burnamthorpe Branch Library, the $8 million for fire halls and the $4 million for pathway lighting, just to name a few. Unfortunately, municipalities will be required to pay one-third of all the project costs and few will have the ability to do so.
As reported in The Mississauga News just last week:
|| Not only is the cheque not in the mail for Canadian municipalities, but the instructions for writing the cheque aren't even written yet.
|| Even though federal politicians trumpeted the billions in infrastructure dollars for cities in the federal budget announced Tuesday, municipal officials are still trying to determine just how the money will be dispensed.
|| It is unclear to what degree matching funds from the provinces and cities will be required, whether money will be distributed on a per capita basis or through applications, and exactly what kind of projects will be eligible.
Second, employment insurance. With the mounting job losses, more Canadians will face the prospect of applying for employment insurance for the first time. While the budget provides some additional funds for skills training and extends employment insurance benefits for an additional five weeks, many unemployed Canadians are ineligible because they work on contract, part time or in seasonal jobs that do not last long enough for them to qualify.
The problem is most acute in Ontario where the unemployment rate has now jumped to 8% versus 7.2% nationally. Unemployed Ontarians each receive an average of $4,600 less than those out of work in the rest of Canada. EI coverage rates are 43% for Canada and only 30%, or three in ten, for Ontario and even less in the greater Toronto area at only 22%.
With the five week extension, a worker in Mississauga must work 630 hours to qualify for a maximum of 45 weeks worth of employment insurance, whereas a worker in Regina or Winnipeg would only need to work 420 hours to get up to 50 weeks of employment insurance. This is unfair and must be addressed.
The government should reduce or eliminate the two week waiting period. It must also work to significantly reduce and standardize the number of hours of work needed to qualify for EI benefits, either permanently or for the duration of the recession. Those who have contributed to the EI system deserve to have access to it in their moment of need.
Third, social housing. The lack of availability and a high demand for affordable housing exists in Mississauga. The investments allocated in the budget are a good first step. However, within the region of Peel, there is a list of 13,500 households eligible and waiting for social housing, including more than 7,500 families, 2,200 seniors and 3,600 singles. Subsidized housing units typically have a low turnover rate and wait times for new applicants are in excess of 21 years for families and singles. Seniors and special priority applicants are waiting up to seven years. Those on the wait list represent the most vulnerable segment of our population: those at risk of becoming homeless if they do not get assistance soon.
Fourth, universal childcare. Women in Mississauga—Streetsville continue to ask me to advocate on behalf of an affordable universal childcare program. However, universal childcare is not a women's issue or even a family issue, for that matter. It is an economic issue. Allowing women the option of leaving their children in a safe, regulated environment so they can seek skills training or employment must continue to be a priority for all levels of government. Not surprisingly, the United Nations reported Canada dead last among developed nations when it comes to providing affordable quality day care.
Finally, job stimulus for women. The government has shown contempt for women in this budget. I use the word “contempt” because it has callously cancelled pay equity for women that provides a level playing field for employees of every gender. The government has not included a single job creation incentive for women and has ignored the plight that females in the workforce face each day. The stimulus package is largely infrastructure spending, leading to a multitude of construction industry jobs, while so-called pink collar jobs that are predominantly filled by women are ignored.
The Conservative government has shown a lack of respect for Canadians. In this time of economic crisis, it has turned its back, opting to play political games rather than providing assistance to those who need it most. It was the Liberal Party that stood up for Canadians, as it always has. Through tough opposition, we have held the government to account and forced it to take action.
Although this budget lacks clarity, it does contain some measures that we believe can help Canadians in the short term. We support the budget because Canadians expect us to be responsible. By putting the government on probation, we have stood up for Canadians so they can get the help they deserve.
Mr. Claude Gravelle (Nickel Belt, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin my statement by addressing yesterday's announcement by Xstrata Nickel that it would be laying off 686 permanent workers in Sudbury.
In July 2006, as part of Swiss-based Xstrata's takeover of Canadian owned Falconbridge mines, the company made a commitment to the Minister of Industry that it would not lay off a single Canadian worker for at least three years. Neither Xstrata nor the Minister of Industry dispute this agreement. In fact, a copy of the agreement can still be found on Xstrata's website.
Yesterday, when the hon. member for Sudbury and I asked the Minister of Industry if he was going to stand up for Sudbury and put an end to Xstrata's layoffs, we received a less than adequate answer. The Minister of Industry made comments regarding commitments to continue the operation of nickel rim by Xstrata. This is of small comfort to the hundreds of families who have found themselves with a pink slip instead of a paycheque this week.
For every job in the mining sector there are at least four spinoff jobs within the local economy that are lost. These layoffs will be devastating to the communities in Nickel Belt and greater Sudbury.
When a foreign company takes over a Canadian company certain commitments are made. These companies must be held accountable by the Government of Canada. What good are rules when they are not being enforced? What is to stop other foreign companies from reneging on their commitments? The government has set a dangerous precedent and Canadian workers will be the ones to suffer.
In the government's budget implementation bill, the government has set out to loosen foreign ownership legislation by amending the Canada Transportation Act. It would increase maximum foreign ownership levels by a whopping 49%. In this economic recession we need to protect Canadian companies from aggressive foreign takeovers.
As I was reading through Bill C-10, page after page, I became more and more shocked. Each new announcement was more meanspirited than the first. The Conservatives have held nothing back. As soon as they secured Liberal support, they filled the implementation bill with attacks on pay equity, the environment, collective agreements, debt burdened students, and employment insurance pilot programs.
I urge members of the Liberal Party to carefully read the full 551 pages, or at least the summary of the bill, before supporting it. I think many of them would be surprised to see what their leader is more than happy to let slide in order to prop up the neo-conservative agenda.
Under the guise of modernizing pay equity programs, the government is removing the rights of public sector workers from making pay equity complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. For decades, Canada has been moving forward on recognizing the rights of oppressed groups and now, with these measures, we are moving backward. Shame.
Women in traditionally female positions have been fighting to have pay equity recognized. They have educated employers, the government, and the public about the need for equal pay for work of equal value. The government is simply being meanspirited by going after this group of workers whose contributions are undervalued.
Next, the government has set out to allow certain projects to be approved without completing a thorough environmental assessment. Again, the government is using the guise that this will speed up infrastructure spending.
If the government was serious about speeding up infrastructure spending, it would abandon the flawed building Canada fund that requires municipalities and provinces to seek out private investments and match federal dollars. The municipality of greater Sudbury has a growing infrastructure deficit of $480 million.
Many municipalities are uneasy, and rightfully so, about partnering with private, profit-driven companies to build public infrastructure, like water treatment plants. Greater Sudbury has planned a Levack water treatment centre, but has been unable to secure adequate funding. This project is shovel-ready and legally must be completed. This water treatment centre is greatly needed in my riding of Nickel Belt.
A much more efficient and direct way for the government to invest in shovel-ready projects would be through increasing the direct gas tax transfer to municipalities. We have heard from municipalities throughout the country how appreciated this transfer has been. This transfer was secured through the negotiations of the 2005 NDP-Liberal budget.
This budget implementation bill goes after debt burdened students. I am not sure why the government has decided to go in this direction. There is no logic to it. Students and recent graduates are going to be the drivers of our new economy. As a country we should be encouraging post-secondary education. There are no measures to relieve students. The minister will only provide debt relief should a student die or disappear. I am sure students struggling to make student loan payments will be thrilled to learn this. This is truly shameful.
Could the government not provide more significantly relief for student loans especially during an economic recession? The government bailed out the banks that administer the loans. Surely, it can spare more than crumbs for our students.
One area in which I have several questions for the minister is in regional economic development. The government has announced in its budget the creation of the southern Ontario economic development agency which is expected to receive $1 billion over the next five years. The New Democrats campaigned on the creation of such an agency and we are pleased that it is included in the budget. My questions concerns FedNor and how it will be impacted by this new agency for southern Ontario? Will any of the workers employed by FedNor be laid off or transferred to the south as a result of this newly created agency? Will SODA be an independent economic agency or one that is hidden under many layers within the Department of Industry like FedNor? Will any of the infrastructure funding within the budget be administered through FedNor and will the application process be streamlined in response to the unprecedented need in northern Ontario for infrastructure projects?
During this recession the government has an opportunity to make FedNor a fully funded independent economic development agency similar to ACOA. This would increase its funding and mandate. Then maybe worthy projects like the centre for excellence in mining innovation and the long-term care facility in Chelmsford would finally receive the funding they deserve. Now is the time to make these changes.
The last issue I want to raise is the employment insurance program. The employment insurance program can be a great economic stabilizer. Unfortunately, after a decade of Liberal gutting of the program only 40% of workers can qualify for employment insurance benefits despite paying into the insurance policy for years.
The Conservatives had an opportunity in the budget to broaden the employment insurance program to help absorb some of the fallout from the economic recession. Instead, not one additional worker will become eligible for benefits despite a record 7.2% unemployment rate across the country.
Laid off workers will still need to wait two weeks before they become eligible for benefits. The government should know that the hydro bills and mortgage payments will not wait two weeks. Instead of treating laid off workers with dignity, the government has insulted them by refusing to reform the employment insurance program for fear that it may become lucrative for individuals to stay home and not look for work. Shame.
The government has also ended a pilot project that was examining the effects of extending benefits. I am not sure why it would do this except to punish laid off workers and their families.
Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, goes well beyond the budget and sneaks through the backdoor to bring neo-conservative measures that have nothing to do with stimulating the economy. The government and the Liberal Party should be ashamed of its contents. The attacks on women, students, workers and the environment have gone too far.
This bill is just another reason why we in the NDP caucus have lost confidence in the Conservatives.
The Liberals have given the Conservatives the very blank cheque Canadian voters refused to give them in October. The Liberals have sold out Canadians and their families in exchange for propping up the Conservatives. This budget fails to protect the vulnerable, safeguard the jobs of today or create the jobs of tomorrow.
As part of the real, effective New Democratic opposition I will be voting against this bill.
Mr. Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the budget implementation bill, a bill which for all intents and purposes summarizes the budget.
If the budget had been tabled a few weeks ago, it would have been one of the biggest compilations of misleading figures ever to be referenced in this chamber. Why do I say that? Let us go back to last year's budget, tabled only nine months ago, with a projected surplus of $2.3 billion for 2007-08. When the finance minister was questioned on this number, he repeatedly said that Canada's fiscal foundation was solid and that we would not see a deficit this year or even next. He stood by his numbers and statements in spite of the fact that most reputable economists were saying that the minister's projections were dubious at best.
We all remember the 2008 election campaign ad in which the Prime Minister pulled on a sweater vest, looked into the camera and paraphrased George Bush and John McCain in telling us that the economic fundamentals of this country were strong, which implied that Canadians need not worry about the global economic crisis that was quickly approaching our shores, and that to this day, the course attitude was the correct course of action.
What the Prime Minister did not explain to Canadians during the election campaign was that while our economy was on solid footing thanks to 13 years of strong Liberal stewardship, only three years of Conservative rule emptied the government coffers at a time when the sheer enormity of the economic crisis that began in the U.S. would hit Canada and the government would have to react.
While the Prime Minister was extolling the virtues of inaction to appear strong and win an election, our economy was losing jobs and slowing to a crawl.
We Liberals repeatedly questioned the finance minister and the Prime Minister for over a year as to why they had not included a contingency reserve for economic downturns in their projections. They must have thought the request came from outer space, because the finance minister and the Conservatives claim that contingency reserves for economic downturns were only necessary when they were cooking the books. Well, the minister did not just cook the books, he threw them directly into the fire.
I even questioned the Conservatives' lack of a contingency fund due to the fact that in their own 2008 budget documents the government provided a table indicating that for each 1% decline in GDP growth, it would result in a direct hit of $3.3 billion to government revenues.
In June 2008, only three months after the tabling of the budget, the Governor of the Bank of Canada had already predicted a substantial decline in GDP growth.
Why mention this? Well, given the inaccuracy of the finance minister's figures last year, we have to question whether we can trust them this year. The question is an honest one. Unfortunately the only response by the minister was to deplore the rate at which the economy changed.
Had he taken the trouble to listen to the Bank of Canada and the Liberal Party last year, he would have known that an economic downturn was in the wings and that a contingency reserve in the budget would have given him more manoeuvring room to protect Canadians' jobs, investments and pension plans.
The minister cannot say he was not warned. In addition, when he and the Prime Minister say they are concerned about the current state of the economy, I can only conclude that they are demonstrating bad faith, incompetence or the inability to listen.
Only a few months ago, during the election campaign, the Conservative members spoke up to defend the government's figures and to say that the economic crisis would have no impact on Canada. The Prime Minister went so far as to tell Canadians to take advantage of the deals on the investment market. What is more, barely a few weeks ago, in an economic update, when the government should have provided the latest figures and adjusted its sights, it continued to refuse to recognize the facts.
Now I turn to this year's budget and the question becomes, how can we not support a budget that spends $60 billion over two years at a time when stimulus is needed? The problem with the budget is that the Conservatives cannot stop themselves from grandstanding simply because it is good politics.
However, when we look at the budget in detail, we see that the Conservatives are providing every man, woman and child with an additional debt burden of $1,000 each. In the case of my family, the Prime Minister is borrowing $4,000 on my family's back and is giving us back less than $500. Some families who earn less money are getting back less than $300. Good politics, bad policy; this is the story of the Conservative government over and over again.
What about return on investment in the case of services Canadians will enjoy? This is a different kettle of fish, because a conservative generally opposes this kind of spending. So, in order not to offend voters, who want good services and expect to benefit from them, spending must definitely not assist or support social programs.
The Conservatives have cut taxes, but have done so without a plan. They took symbolic action on behalf of workers and those having difficulty making ends meet instead of improving the income tax system to better suit the needs of a modern economy. They opted for the easy way out by putting forward a whole slew of clever tricks intended to do nothing more than fill the pockets of their supporters while running up the country's debt.
Governments must keep some funds in reserve in order to provide services. However, as the Conservatives do not believe in services, why bother with issues so annoying as retaining surpluses, when it is easier just to buy votes?
And there is worse. When the Prime Minister realized that he had emptied the piggy bank and the polls were still not giving him the majority he so coveted, he plunged into a spending frenzy, flinging a fistful of dollars wherever he thought he might be able to buy votes. There was no considered planning here. Pleasing came first and foremost. The result was fewer food inspectors to protect Canadians, crumbling nuclear facilities, failure to use infrastructure investment funds and the loss of Canadians' savings.
The problem is that we have reached a point where action must be taken immediately. Stimulus is needed and bickering among ourselves is petty and counterproductive.
This budget proposes $60 billion in stimulus over the next two years, which is a significant amount. I do not like how all of it is being spent and I do not agree with every line item in the budget, but I think it is a fair compromise. The Prime Minister has been given a chance by the Liberal Party to clean up this mess, but we will be watching. The Conservatives have one last chance. We are doing this for the sake of Canadians and in order to restore some sanity to this Parliament.
There will be the usual complaints from the NDP members that the spending in this budget does not go far enough, but I have come to expect that from them because, to them, too much is never enough. Our choices are simple. We could hold up the business of this chamber indefinitely by trying to get our way on everything; we could bring down the government, which would hold up business once again as a coalition is formed or an election runs its course; or, we could get down to business and propose reasonable amendments to the budget that demand nothing more than what is manageable at this time of economic crisis.
It is a minority government, so we will hold it accountable. The money the Conservatives are spending is my money, everyone's money, money that belongs to all Canadians. Now that we are satisfied with the overall direction of this budget, we Liberals only want to address the Prime Minister's credibility problem. There will be no more double-talk. The budget is a binding set of policy proposals which the government must implement effectively and in good faith. The Liberal Party will support this budget on the condition that the three fixed dates for the government to report to Parliament to review the government's performance in implementing the budget is respected. We will test the government on how it implements the budget, how transparent the process is and how the Canadian economy is reacting to the budget. Failure in any of these categories will result in the loss of confidence in the government.
The Prime Minister has to answer to Parliament and I am glad to say that my leader is now the head coach. No more tricks, no more deception; the rules are simple: listen to the coach, produce results, or get benched.
Mr. Robert Bouchard (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, BQ)
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to respond to Bill C-10 implementing the Conservative government's budget.
A number of hon. members have already voiced their opinions on the budget and have raised a number of concerns on various questions. With the budget implementation bill, the Conservative government wants us to approve the changes in equalization payments to the Government of Quebec set out in the budget, which would mean a loss of $1 billion by Quebec in the first year alone, and perhaps even $2 billion in the second. What is more, the budget implementation bill lays the foundation for the creation of a pan-Canadian securities commission, to which the Quebec National Assembly is opposed.
As well, there will be more unemployed people in the coming months. The bill offers no reforms of any kind regarding accessibility to EI nor does it abolish the waiting period. Worse still, the Conservative government is proposing lower taxes for individuals with high incomes, but in no way does it propose a true economic recovery plan.
The budget also proposes eliminating one provision of the Income Tax Act that prevents companies from using tax havens to avoiding paying taxes. This means that the government is encouraging companies to go outside Quebec and Canada for purposes of tax evasion.
The budget also opens the door to deregulation of foreign investment, which is liable to favour foreign takeovers and does not take the economic interests of Quebec and Canada into consideration. As for the funds allocated by the budget to social housing, they are poorly distributed because their targets are unclear, as evidenced by the community development trust. Finally, by imposing working conditions on employees, the bill ignores public sector salary negotiations and agreements.
For the Bloc Québécois, respecting collective agreements is of vital importance. Similarly, the budget has totally ignored a whole series of items of the utmost priority to numerous Quebeckers. Worse yet, the Conservative government has introduced an ideological budget, with no concern for its minority position.
Last October, Quebeckers asked us to continue our work here in the House of Commons, to represent them and to defend their interests and values here in Ottawa. They are worried about this budget.
In particular regard to the situation faced by the people in my region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the Conservative government has completely missed the boat. There are no promises to improve employment insurance or set up a program to help older workers. The forestry industry is getting only a few crumbs to deal with the ongoing crisis.
I want to take advantage of this opportunity to speak once again about the plight of the forestry sector in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. For years now, I have been constantly raising the awareness of the members of the House about the difficult situation facing forestry workers. Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean is one of the biggest forestry regions in Quebec covering 85,688 km2, which is 17% of the entire Quebec forest. More specifically, 23 of the 49 municipalities in my region depend on the forest economy and qualify as single-industry communities.
In all, more than a third of the jobs in the manufacturing sector are related to forestry. Several sawmills in the riding of the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) and hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean have ceased production. This is the case of Louisiana Pacific Canada Ltd. in Chambord, which closed down for two years and Arbec, which closed its sawmill. Several other companies are continuing with reduced workforces.
For many communities in my region and riding, the economic crisis arrived several years ago. However, the budget provides only a scant $170 million for the entire country, including Quebec, to come to the assistance of this hard hit industry.
The forestry crisis afflicting Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and several other areas of Quebec is far from being resolved. Many people predict that 2009 will be even more difficult than the last few years. Ever since 2006, the Conservative government has left the forestry industry to its own devices, endangering thousands of jobs. The budget tabled by the Conservatives does nothing to correct the situation, even though the Bloc Québécois has suggested some solutions that would really do something to help this industry.
First, the government should restore the forest economy diversification fund. When the previous minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec axed the $50 million diversification fund for regions affected by the crisis in the forestry industry, he really dealt it a hard blow. This program made it possible to assist the affected communities and the working people in the plants. It was clearly a mistake to cut this assistance. The government could have taken advantage of the budget to announce that it was going to reinstate this program with additional financial resources.
Second, the Bloc Québécois has proposed that a loan and loan guarantee program be created to help finance investments in production equipment. This would provide support for businesses that wish to update their production equipment or simply enable their businesses to expand. Once again, this measure is not included in the Conservative budget.
Third, the Bloc has suggested giving tax credits to companies in the manufacturing and forestry sectors to help them develop new technologies and to encourage hiring. Sadly, there is no such measure in the budget.
Lastly, the Bloc has for several years been calling for an income support program for older workers. These workers are in a state of despair because there has been no assistance for them. Entire communities are being affected by these lost earnings. The Government of Quebec has made efforts to help older workers, but those efforts will be inadequate as long as Ottawa does not do its part.
Employees over 55 have a hard time retraining. That is a fact. They are not getting the help they need. Yet this program would cost only $75 million a year for the entire country.
These four measures are aimed at helping the forest industry make the transition toward secondary and tertiary processing and promoting the use of wood in commercial and public buildings. This transition would lead to high value added manufacturing and make sure that every tree provides more jobs. This would increase the demand for wood on the domestic market in Quebec and Canada and reduce wood exports.
In closing, the Conservative government's ideological budget shows how little it cares about the 21,000 jobs that have been lost in the forest industry in Quebec since April 1, 2005, including nearly 4,000 jobs just in my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.
Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, in the past I have made a statement to the effect that the measure of a country's success is not an economic measure but rather a measure of the health and the well-being of its people. I believe that is the important issue in this budget and that, in this time of our country's financial duress, we need to keep our eye on the condition of our people, particularly the most vulnerable.
We bandied the term accountability around quite a bit so I thought the members would be interested to hear my definition of accountability. To me, it means to be able to explain and justify one's actions or decisions in a manner that is true, full and plain. That is a high mark for almost anyone to hit, but today, in this time of financial duress, it is time for our parliamentarians to step up to the level of accountability so that all Canadians have hope for tomorrow and for the future, rather than fear.
We need to deliver that hope, which is why this Parliament is sitting now and why many members have lamented that the House's business was disrupted by prorogation and by a fairy-tale November economic statement that was clearly not true, full and plain and did not reflect the reality.
Another election was not in the best interests of the people. It was a partisan issue and that is why the opposition stepped forward after that economic statement which was unacceptable not only to the opposition parties but to Canadians as a whole.
The economic statement was very rosy. It projected surpluses throughout the five year period when all the private sector economists and all the pundits who had looked at the fundamentals knew that the country was facing some serious problems.
That is one of the reasons that an amendment was proposed to the budget and why it was adopted by the government. It is important to understand that the principles of protecting the most vulnerable in our society, those who are unable to help themselves, had to be included in the budget.
Unfortunately, I have heard far too often in this place that we would rather people just kept the money in their pockets rather than paying taxes to the government. What the budget does not take into account is that there are people in our society who are unable to care for themselves. They do not have the means and they do not pay taxes but they do need the government to assist them, whether it be a social safety net or with the goods and services that they need to sustain themselves.
That one proviso in the amendment protects the most vulnerable in our society and the growing vulnerable, those who will lose their jobs. Some 230,000 Canadians have already lost their jobs, more than are projected to be created by the budget.
The second two issues concern jobs. The challenge right now is jobs. The measure of success of the budget will include our performance on the job side: saving existing jobs or reducing the job loss in existing businesses and industry, as well as creating new jobs in the emerging and highest probability areas where new jobs may be created.
Finally, it is with regard to a plan for getting out of deficits. It is unfortunate that the government has squandered, through its reckless spending and fiscal imprudence, a $14 billion annual surplus that it inherited in 2006. It is gone.
I wrote down a few things that reminded me of the things that paint a picture of what the Conservative government has presented to Canadians since it took office in 2006. I remember statements by the Prime Minister about the cultural industry. He said that it was a subsidized whiner. When does a prime minister use that kind of language?
The first thing the Conservatives did in forming government was to develop a 200-page binder on how to make committees dysfunctional, which they were successful in doing in a couple of cases, the procedure and House affairs committee, as well as the justice committee.
The government taxed income trusts when it promised not to do that. The $25 billion of wealth, particularly of retirees, was wiped out. A 31.5% punitive tax is still there. It should be gone and replaced with something that protects Canadian investors. The government passes it on to offshore investors who are the ones getting the most benefit from income trusts.
The government sued the former leader of the opposition over the Cadman issue. It voted non-confidence in Elections Canada. It broke its own legislation on fixed election dates. Our election was not supposed to be last October 14. It was supposed to be October 19, 2009. Why was the legislation broken? It was broken because the Prime Minister thought Parliament was being dysfunctional so he called an election.
When the Prime Minister gave a speech on that bill he said that no prime minister would ever be able to use partisan objectives for calling an election, that every Canadian would know the election date. It did not happen. The legislation was broken and it was the government's own legislation. Go figure. It is amazing that it had to happen.
Everything that the government brought forward was made a confidence vote. It meant that if those legislative measures were defeated we would go into an election. How is it that everything is a confidence vote? It was politically motivated. The government was trying to take advantage of the political vulnerability of other parties. That is not the way to put the interests of the people ahead of partisan interests. It is quite the reverse and yet the government purports quite the opposite.
I could go on but I think people get the idea of where we are now.
Where are we today? Stock evaluations are low. Markets are down about 40%. Emerging markets have lost about 60% of their value. Notwithstanding the Prime Minister's assertions that our banks are strong, the credit crisis exists in Canada and the government itself is coming forward to take some of the pressure off by taking over asset backed mortgages.
Housing is not only stalled but prices have plummetted. Bankruptcies are up 50% year over year. We now have 230,000 jobs lost, more than the 189,000 that the budget purports to create.
Eighty percent of our trade was with the U.S. but now the protectionist rhetoric has put us on our heels again. The auto industry has been crushed. The forestry industry is dwindling. The shipbuilding industry is virtually dead. It paints a picture that Tory times are tough times, and that is the reality. With all of the signs of the past year, the government insists that the problem is elsewhere, that it is the U.S. and that we are strong and everything is fine.
That is not the case. When one is a trading nation and the other nations it trades with, particularly the United States, are in difficulty, the nation needs to recognize that fact and bring it into the reality of its fiscal management, policies and the way in which it governs.
In December, the Prime Minister said that there would not be a recession in Canada and that we were fine as long as we did not do “stupid” things like running a deficit. Look at where we are now.
In October, he suggested that the market represented some good buying opportunities for Canadians. The stock market has gone down a further 20% since he said that. In November, the government's failed economic statement promised us surpluses for the next five years. Twelve days later, the Bank of Canada announced that we were in a recession. In December, the Prime Minister admitted that the government would run a deficit of $20 billion to $30 billion. In January that was amended to say that it was closer to $40 billion. Once budget 2009 was tabled, we saw that the government was running a deficit even in the current fiscal year of 2008-09.
It goes back to the issues of accountability, credibility, being truthful, plain and honest with Canadians, not to create fear but to say that we understand what is happening. My concern is not so much about the economic measures and numbers but more about the condition of the people. I do know that when people lose their jobs and problems occur in a financial sense, it creates stress, depression, desperation and bad things happen. It affects a person's mental and physical health and it affects their families and interactions. It means that the cost of health care and social services programs will go up. It also means, as was shown in the 1990 recession, that there is a very positive tracking between the level of unemployment and the level of crime. I hate to say this but it shows that there will be a level of crime. It will mostly be property crime because people are desperate.
Many of those costs will be borne by the provinces but they have had no increase in terms of transfers to the provinces to deal with these inevitable areas. The government has not seen it far enough. On page 219 of the budget bill, members will see the government's minuscule plan to return to surplus. It is simply, “We hope”.
Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP):
Madam Speaker, since this is the first opportunity I have had to rise while you have been in the chair, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment and tell you how proud I am as a woman parliamentarian and a fellow British Columbian to see you in the position that you hold today.
I am speaking today on the budget implementation bill. A number of issues have been discussed already in the House around the inadequacies of the budget that the government has put forward. The budget does not adequately address the very desperate needs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast in this critically uncertain economic time. People are losing their jobs and families are very concerned about being able to hold on to their homes.
The government is also doing something else. The government had committed not to bring in unnecessary confidence motions, yet in the budget bill the government is adding items that have nothing to do with the budget. It is bringing in through the back door things that are more ideologically motivated and really have nothing to do with stimulating Canada's economy.
The Conservatives are taking away women's right to pursue pay equity under the Human Rights Act. They are opening up Canadian industry to more foreign ownership. They are almost putting a for sale sign on Air Canada. They are making punitive efforts to go after students who are carrying student loan debt. The budget overall totally fails to protect the vulnerable in our society, to safeguard the jobs of today or to create the green technology jobs needed for tomorrow. It does nothing to protect the vulnerable in society, the people without homes, women and children. There is nothing in it for child care.
Some of the things in the budget implementation bill which have nothing to do with stimulating the economy are the amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act to streamline the approval process. More authority is being given to the minister to allow construction without environmental assessments. Pay equity will no longer go through the Canadian Human Rights Commission. With regard to foreign ownership there are changes to the Investment Canada Act so that only significant investments will be reviewed. A new national security provision has been added, which is rather worrisome. Members will remember the debate we had last year in the House of Commons about RADARSAT-2. I have mentioned the Canada student loan changes.
Collective agreements are being cut. In fact, the government on that side of the House that always talks about crime and community safety is rolling back the increases that were given to the RCMP only in June. If the RCMP cannot trust the Conservative government, I do not know how other Canadians can.
Another issue is employment insurance. The necessary changes have not been made to the two-week waiting period. In my community people are waiting up to eight weeks for their first cheque. As we all know, less than 40% of working Canadians qualify for employment insurance and the government has made no changes to that.
I want to take a moment to talk about the process my community went through in the lead-up to the budget. We were asked by the government side and by Canadians to consult with them about what they wanted in this federal budget.
In my riding we sent out thousands of invitations to British Columbians to participate in a community forum. Large advertisements were placed in the papers and emails were sent. Each of the three city councils and councillors were invited to attend. A non-partisan facilitator who has a lot of experience, Ted Kuntz, was present, along with other facilitators.
On January 3 there was a snowstorm in my community. We do not get snowstorms in New Westminster—Coquitlam very often, but even then the room was full of people from the community, community organizations and interested people from my riding who wanted to have some of the hard discussions around what they would like to see in the federal budget. We broke down into small groups with the facilitators and came back with recommendations. I want to talk about the kinds of things that activists, city councillors and mayors in my community thought should be in the budget.
They noted that from 2005 to 2008, homelessness in the city of New Westminster has risen 53%. They noted that homelessness in the Coquitlam area, in the tri-cities had risen 157% from 2005 to 2008. They noted that average rents in New Westminster had gone up 28% in the last six years alone. All of us from B.C. and from the Vancouver region know how unaffordable ordinary housing is for families. They talked about needing a national affordable housing strategy, and of course we did not see that in the budget. There is a small tax credit for people who want to renovate their cottages and for people who want to put new grass around their homes, but there is no national housing strategy. Canada at one time had a housing strategy that was the envy of the world. Nations came from all over the world to look at how we developed our housing strategy, but no longer. That speaks to why we have so many people on the street today.
My community also raised the issue of transit. They would like to get out of their cars and get around our community and to downtown Vancouver with rapid transit that would be ecologically more sustainable. They talked about the Evergreen transit line which, by the way, is mentioned in the budget as the priority for British Columbia, but all it says in the budget is that it could be funded. There are no hard dollars attached, no real commitment at this point to the Evergreen line.
They talked about the desperate need in my riding for seismic upgrades to our schools. Madam Speaker, you know, because you live in the same province as I do, that we are in a very dangerous earthquake zone, the worst seismic hazard zone in all of Canada, in fact. Fifteen schools in my riding rate high on the need for vital upgrades to make those schools safe for our children in the event of an earthquake.
They raised the issue of public safety. They noted that Canadians had been promised in the 2006 election an additional 2,500 RCMP officers for municipalities across the country. We have not seen that either. My community in Coquitlam has one of the lowest ratios of police officers to population in the entire country. Instead of delivering on this promise, the government is rolling back an agreement on wage increases for the RCMP. I submit that could further demoralize the force and make it even more difficult to recruit the RCMP officers that we need.
Child care was a huge item mentioned because the demand far outstrips the supply in my community. Five hundred and twenty requests for child care placements were denied in the city of New Westminster in 2007 alone. Average full-time child care spaces cost families about $700 a month which is far too high.
They talked about the green economy. They talked about shipbuilding. They talked about salmon. Salmon is almost a cultural icon in British Columbia but is also very much a part of our economy. They also looked for promises on addressing the pine beetle infestation that has affected British Columbia. Douglas College tuition has increased by 78% in the last five years.
It was a terrific consultative process. Out of that process came the “Community Blueprint for the Federal Budget, New Westminster--Coquitlam--Port Moody, Economic Investment Considerations and Priorities”. We have heard over and over on this side of the House how New Democrats have not put any effort into what they wanted to see from the Minister of Finance. This document was put together by the community members, the community leaders and ordinary citizens in my communities of New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody and was delivered to the Minister of Finance in advance of the budget being tabled in the House. However, we did not see our needs reflected in the Conservatives' budget.
Therefore, today I would like to seek unanimous consent to table this document, the community blueprint for the federal budget from New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody, and have it added to the public record. There have been some discussions with different parties, indicating that I would be asking for unanimous consent, and I hope I have that.