Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to explain to the House why the Liberal Party voted in favour of the first budget bill but will vote against the bill that is now before the House.
If we go back to the budget last January, we will recall that the Canadian economy was at the height of fears of recession and that the G20 had agreed that all countries should do fiscal stimulus to help to protect and save jobs. Moreover, unlike what it did last November when it had an absolutely disastrous economic statement that actually cut spending, the government in January at least proposed to expend many billions of dollars on infrastructure and other measures to support the economy and save or create jobs.
Given that we were at the height of fear and concern about the economy, it was our view that while the budget was highly imperfect, it would nevertheless have been irresponsible to provoke an election by bringing the government down, thereby delaying fiscal stimulus for at least a couple of months. That is why, notwithstanding some flaws in the budget, the Liberal Party decided to support it.
If we flash forward 10 months to today, why does it appear that we have changed our minds and decided to go against the budget? It reflects a triple-failure in implementation of this budget on the part of the government.
First of all, there is a failure to get the money out the door. This is important. We can have a stimulus of $50 billion or $500 billion, but if we do not get the money out the door, we stimulate nothing and create or save zero jobs. Therefore, the first failure is that the government did not get nearly enough of this money out the door to actually save or create jobs.
Second, and this point has been emphasized by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the government failed in its responsibility to be accountable to Canadians for how taxpayer money is spent.
The third failure is the government's failure in managing the nation's finances.
Let me take each of these three failures in turn. At the time of the finance minister's budget, he said that to be effective the stimulus had to be out the door within 120 days. We are now approximately 300 days since the budget. The construction season is coming to an end. Therefore, one would have hoped that the vast majority of funding for infrastructure would long have been out the door and at work for months in terms of shovels in the ground and the creation and saving of jobs.
Far from it, the fact of the matter, thanks to research done by our infrastructure critic, is that only 12% of this fiscal stimulus is out the door and put to work in the form of actual jobs, actual shovels in the ground, and actual jobs being saved or created. Only 12% of the money is out the door some 300 days after the budget, despite the finance minister having said that the money had to be at work within 120 days.
That is entirely unacceptable. That is a big, fat juicy F for failure. The recession is now. The job losses may still increase in the future, but they have occurred in large numbers in the last 12 months. The fact that some 300 days after the budget only 12% of that money has been put to work illustrates and proves a lamentable failure of execution and implementation.
The second failure is one of accountability. This government makes a big deal about accountability, but it has been extraordinarily unaccountable in explaining to Canadians how their taxpayer dollars are being put to work. The government uses words like “implement”, but their website and their reports say nothing about money actually out the door and put to work.
That is why our infrastructure critic had to get the information directly from the mayors. The government refuses to provide this information to the Parliamentary Budget Officer. It has pulled off a stunt of dumping some 5,000 pages of information in his office as if we were in the 19th century rather than the computer age. Day after day, the government has stonewalled and refused to give the most basic information to Canadians on what it is spending Canadians' money on.
Compare this with the United States, where citizens can go onto the U.S. government website and find out, in huge detail, in exactly what states and regions and on which programs the stimulus money is being spent and how it is being put to work. It is unclear to me why Americans are deserving of so much information, accountability and transparency from their government while Canadians, it would appear in this government's view, are undeserving of the kind of information our neighbours to the south are being provided with.
The third source of failure amounts to the government's management of this nation's finances. One year ago, at the time of the November statement, the government actually said this country would run nothing but a long string of surpluses. Then it was $34 billion. Next it was $50 billion. Then it was $56 billion. I do not know what it will be next, but the reliability of the government's deficit forecasts is about the same as the reliability of its statements on the timing of H1N1 flu shot deliveries; in other words, totally unreliable.
In conclusion, yes, we supported the first budget bill because it was urgent to get the money out the door, but now, with the passage of some 10 months, we have seen this triple failure: failure to get the money out the door when it was needed, failure to be accountable to Canadians, and failure to have competent management of the nation's finances.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-51 especially following my colleague with the Liberal Party.
This gives me a chance to point out to my other friends in the House of Commons what an odd and strange thing it is that after voting for the Conservative government 79 times in a row, the Liberals should choose this bill on which to vote against the government when this bill contains a number of features in which we in the NDP find enough merit in to warrant our supporting the bill. It is an odd set of circumstances to find the Liberals arguing against a populist initiative like the home renovation tax credit.
We can criticize the home renovation tax credit. We can point to lots of things that we might have done differently. But no one can deny the fact that the general public is enjoying it, using it, and in fact renovating their homes as we speak so that they can get in under the wire and get the deduction in their income tax.
We are mystified that the Liberals would now be voting against the initiatives in Bill C-51 that deal with drought and flood relief for farmers.
Granted, Bill C-51 is an omnibus kind of a bill, a ways and means motion that acts like an implementation act for the budget. I cannot imagine the political sense in voting against some of the initiatives in this bill that are clearly popular and clearly in demand across the country.
One of the other initiatives in this bill, which we can support in some measure, is the provision that would provide first-time homebuyers with that much more access to the home ownership market.
It is just hard to fathom the reasoning, if there is any reasoning, or logic behind the Liberals' position to date, in supporting the government 79 times on all kinds of initiatives with plenty of reasons not to support them and then doing this 180-degree flip-flop and voting against the government on Bill C-51.
With what little time I have for this speech, I would like to tell the House some of the things that we in the NDP would have done differently with respect to the home renovation tax credit for example.
We suggested to the Minister of Finance during a prebudget consultation that there should be a home renovation initiative, but it should be geared toward energy retrofitting, not toward anything one could imagine in terms of redecorating a house.
We did not really agree that it was necessary to provide a tax incentive for people to redo their sundecks at their summer cottage for instance, but we did agree that there would be merit in providing a tax incentive so people could replace their energy-inefficient windows, put in a new furnace, insulate their homes, change their lighting ballasts to more energy-efficient lighting, or put computerized thermostat controls in their homes. Any initiative that had a green lens would have had a lot more merit.
A lot of us feel that the work that needs to be done to save the planet is the work that could be done to get us out of this economic slump. In other words, the economic stimulus money that we put forward should have had, and could have had, a transformative effect on the way that we conduct ourselves with our finite energy resources.
I remind members that a unit of energy harvested from the existing system is indistinguishable from a unit of energy created at a new generating station except for a few key considerations: first, it is available at about one-third the cost; second, it is available and online immediately to sell to some other customer. The moment a light switch is turned off in a room, that unit of energy can be reused somewhere else without the lag time necessary for building a new generating station. Third, and perhaps most important in this environmental climate, a unit of energy harvested from the existing system instead of being generated at a new generating station would create as much as seven times the person years of employment. We could accomplish all of these virtuous things at once.
We could harvest energy out of the existing system. I would remind members that the largest single untapped pool of energy in North America is that being wasted out of our inefficient homes, buildings and smokestacks. If we could reclaim that energy, it would be available at one-third of the cost; it would be online immediately, and it would produce three to seven times the number of person years of employment. That would have been a win-win situation that we could have enthusiastically supported instead of being tepid as we have been in our support for Bill C-51 with a number of provisos and our very qualified support.
Another thing we should have seen in the home renovation tax credit is an emphasis on removing asbestos from our homes. We know that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known, and yet it was the federal government from 1977 to 1984 that subsidized and paid for the installation of Zonolite asbestos insulation in over 350,000 Canadian homes. The government promoted it and said it was a miracle product that people should put in their attics to make their houses warm and to save money. What it did not tell people was that asbestos kills. Zonolite insulation was loaded with the most virulent type of asbestos known to man, tremolite. The government contaminated and stripped away the value of 350,000 Canadian homes at the minimum. That is just counting the ones that were directly subsidized by the government, never mind the ones where some innocent homeowner went to Beaver Lumber and got a couple of sacks of Zonolite and spread it around in their own attic. We do not know how many homes were contaminated that way.
Again I come back to the point that the work that needs to be done for environmental remediation or greenhouse gas emission controls is the very work that we could have launched into to get ourselves out of this economic slump and put the country back to work. God knows there is enough work to do. There are environmental disaster areas all over the country from the Sydney tar ponds to the place where I had a job, in Canada's Arctic, flying around in helicopters picking up all the old barrels of jet fuel left behind by the American military which are rotting into the tundra today. There are mine sites and tailing ponds, and there are Canadian homes that are unfortunate enough to have Zonolite in their attic. That would have been a very good target for the home renovation tax credit if we could have used it to make our homes more energy efficient and less dangerous by getting Zonolite out of attics so it will not take away from the value of homes.
We support Bill C-51 when it comes to a vote, partly because we believe in some of the issues such as the revenue-sharing agreement with Nova Scotia. The newly elected NDP government of Nova Scotia is anxiously looking forward to a $175 million transfer payment, the enabling legislation for which is Bill C-51. We can support that, and I cannot believe that my Liberal colleagues in the House of Commons are not supporting something that the province of Nova Scotia has been waiting for and looking forward to so anxiously.
One of the things that also could have been done, if we were really serious about getting money into circulation quickly, and that should have been contemplated more thoroughly in these enabling measures is expanding eligibility for EI. As an aside, leading up to other comments on Bill C-51, when the Liberals gutted EI in the mid-1990s, and they made it so that virtually no one qualified anymore, the impact in my federal riding of Winnipeg Centre alone was a loss of $20.8 million a year. That was just in my riding of Winnipeg Centre, not in all of Winnipeg. Federal money in the amount of $20.8 million a year that used to flow into a low-income riding was now sucked back out by the federal government. Liberals did not use that money to provide income maintenance to other people in other places. They pulled that money back and used it to pay down the debt, pay down the deficit, give tax breaks to corporations, give tax breaks to the wealthy. They robbed Peter to pay Paul. It was like some perverse form of Robin Hood. They robbed the poorest people in the country, in the inner city of downtown Winnipeg, and they sucked that money out and gave it to their friends for political partisan purposes. That is what happened. That was the experience of EI during the 1990s.
Can anyone imagine the impact that had? The eligibility for EI was one thing but the amount per week under the new rules was another. The amount people were allowed to collect was reduced.
If we put a dollar into poor people's pockets, they will spend it the same day on the basic needs to support their family. Had the Liberals made the EI system fair so that eligible people actually ended up getting the benefits that they paid into all their lives, it would have had a dramatic impact on the amount of money that was in circulation in our communities and certainly in my riding of Winnipeg Centre.
As a carpenter by trade, one of the things that has always bothered me about the EI system is that for tradesmen on the tools who go to community college for apprenticeship training, the six weeks of school every year for four years, there is a two week waiting period. It is as if they have been laid off or lost their jobs. A lot of apprentices are struggling to get by on apprentices wages. I had two kids and a family when I was an apprentice. They cannot afford to have that two week interruption in their incomes. Many of them know it is their turn to go to community college now but they wait until they can save up some money.
There is no reason to penalize apprentice carpenters just because they are going to community college. They did not quit their jobs. They are not unemployed. Why are they being penalized? That would be one way to keep more people in the apprenticeship system with more income maintenance coming into our communities to apprentices and in the best interests of everybody concerned.
I am finding it hard to see any coordinated effort to address many of the social problems in my riding that stem from chronic, long-term poverty. I am not proud of the fact that my riding of Winnipeg Centre is the second or third poorest riding in Canada, depending upon what measurement we use regarding the incidents of poverty or the average family income. As a low income community, we have many of the predictable consequences that stem from chronic, long-term poverty and many of the social conditions that are not desirable in any way, shape or form.
The only response that we have seen from the Conservative government to date to address many of these social conditions is getting tough on crime and building more prisons. In the absence of a national housing strategy, the government seems to have a new housing strategy. The choice will be minimum security, medium security or maximum security.
Let me say how critical we are of this, not only because of the appalling lack of understanding of the social conditions that are the root causes of crime, but also the disproportionate impact this has on the aboriginal people in my community.
Twenty per cent of the people in my riding self-identify as first nation, Métis or Inuit. This is a statistic that will shock members, but 66% of all the inmates in the province of Manitoba's correctional institutes are aboriginal, first nations, Métis or Inuit. My riding has the highest concentration of aboriginal people in the province with 20%. Overall, only 8% or 9% of the population is first nations and aboriginal and yet they are 66% of the people in prison. They are going to jail at a rate that is nine times higher than the general public.
When we start putting in mandatory minimum sentences for property crimes, such as theft over $5,000, substance abuse or drug offences, we will exacerbate what is already a national disgrace in terms of the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in those prisons and we will exacerbate it to the point that it will go from national disgrace to social tragedy.
Members can mark my words that this is so wrong-headed that we can find no one anywhere in the community of social development and social welfare who thinks for a moment that getting tough on crime by putting more people in jail for a longer period of time will do anything to make the streets of Winnipeg safer. If longer jail sentences resulted in safer streets, the United States would have the safest streets in the world. Let us face it. It locks up people at a higher rate than any other country in the world, and going that way is folly.
I said that as an aside to talk about Bill C-51 and some of the initiatives that the government has undertaken and some of the situations that it is trying to address. No one is denying that the world experienced an economic downturn but I suppose the only place we differ is in how we deal with it and the best way to stimulate the economy.
Mr. Speaker, I think you would be interested in the witnesses we are having tomorrow at the committee on government operations and estimates. We were unable to find out how many person years of employment are in fact being created by these stimulus proposals, infrastructure proposals and the spending put forward by the government so we decided to go to the industry itself.
In the absence of any other concrete way to measure job creation, we decided to invite the Canadian Construction Association to be our witnesses and the Building and Construction Trades Department, which is the plenary organization for the building trade unions. They monitor and keep very careful track of the people working in the industry mostly because they run dispatch union halls with job boards. They can tell down to a person how many people have been dispatched out to these jobs and they can also track the number of hours worked by each employee because of the dues check-off that comes into their building trade union offices.
We might be able to measure the efficacy of the infrastructure spending strategy of the federal government by using management and labour, the two actors in the construction industry. If we cobble those two together, we should be able to get an accurate picture. We are not convinced at this point in time that the type of infrastructure proposals and spending committed to by the federal government to date are the best bang for the buck that we will get from our tax dollars to stimulate the economy.
In fact, in many regions of the country, the construction industry was already quite busy. My home province of Manitoba did not feel any appreciable drop in the jobs in that industry's sector. There were jobs lost in light manufacturing, but the stimulus spending associated with new construction will not affect the light manufacturing sector. The same could be said for the province of British Columbia and regions of Quebec where there were terrible job losses in forestry and in light manufacturing.
However, if a bridge is being built in that community, it will not necessarily put the unemployed loggers back to work. This is where there may be a disconnect. Even though billions and billions of dollars are flying out the door at breakneck speed with very little accountability and true tracking of the efficacy, and even where the money goes, we would like to be able to measure with some degree of certainty that these dollars are being spent wisely.
Let us talk about the elephant in the room here. We now have a structural deficit of tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars that we will need to somehow find a way to cope with when the economy begins to recover. We have spent a bundle of money.
I am as guilty as the next in saying that the government needs to do something to help us through the economic downturn but was the money spent wisely? Did we get the best bang for our buck? Did we achieve any secondary objectives that would have been beneficial, such as a transformative shift in our energy policy, as I made reference to before? The work that needs to be done to save the planet could have been the work to do that would get us out of the economic recession in which we find ourselves.
Those are some of the flaws that we find in Bill C-51.
However, the House will note that the NDP is in support of the economic recovery act because it would put into effect things such as the home renovation tax credit, the first-time home buyers' tax credit and the revenue sharing agreement between Nova Scotia that will result in $175 million of federal money being transferred to the newly elected NDP Government of the Province of Nova Scotia. Darrell Dexter is a happy guy because of this and so it is no big surprise that we are voting for it. It is a big surprise that the Liberals are voting against it.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-51, which is before the House today.
It is no surprise that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill. I say it is no surprise, because it contains a number of elements that the Bloc itself proposed in the two recovery plans it released a while ago now, even before the last election.
For example, the home renovation tax credit was inspired by the measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois; I will come back to this in more detail. We would have liked to see this credit primarily for renovations that aim to improve energy efficiency, but overall, we are satisfied with the measure.
The same goes for the first-time home buyers' tax credit. Although the government's proposal does not go as far as the Bloc's, it is still a first step.
The bill would implement Canada's international commitments to the IMF, which were signed in 2008. This bill also amends the Canada pension plan, which Quebec is not a part of. So that does not affect Quebec.
I really want to emphasize that the Bloc Québécois supports the measures in this bill, many of which were in fact proposed by the Bloc. There is no poison pill in this bill. Unfortunately, many of the other bills that the government has introduced have contained interesting measures, but in many cases, they have also contained little measures that the government knew the Bloc Québécois or another opposition party could not accept. Unfortunately, people got caught up in political and partisan debates. That will not be the case today: we will vote for this bill because we are satisfied with it.
To those watching on television and the brave souls in the gallery, that might seem logical. We support these measures, so we will vote in favour of the bill. That sure makes sense to me. But apparently that is not always the case for all of the parties.
I want to go back to some of the things Liberal Party members have said. Last spring, the Conservative government introduced its budget. The new Liberal Party leader, the Leader of the Opposition, said that the budget was bad for Canada, that it was inappropriate, that it lacked vision and scope given the challenges we were facing. We agreed with the opposition leader that the budget was bad.
We had a hard time understanding what happened next. If they thought the budget was bad, then logically, they should have voted against it. However, the Liberals said that the budget was bad but that they were going to vote for it. And that is what happened. During the summer, the Liberal Party adopted a number of strategic positions. Then the government came back with Bill C-51, and the opposition leader said that his party supported the measures in the bill.
So supportive was he that, in the heat of new session of Parliament in September, when people thought the government might fall and we were all wondering whether there might be an election, the Liberal Party said that it was so supportive of the measures in Bill C-51 that if the government fell and the Liberals were elected, it would implement those measures.
So it was not only in favour of them, but it thought they were good measures. So they think they are good measures, yet they vote against them. So when they are in favour of something, they vote against it, and when they are against something, they vote for it. That is a strange thing to do, and I think they are increasing public cynicism. Such behaviour smacks of partisanship and political strategy. It discourages citizens, who think they cannot trust politicians, because no one knows where they stand.
That is why the Bloc Québécois has always, since its inception, made a point of voting in a very simple, logical and understandable way. If we think it is good for the people we represent, that is, Quebeckers, we vote in favour; if we think it is bad for them, we vote against. It is simple. We have been doing this from the beginning. It is not always easy or strategic, but people know they can count on their Bloc Québécois members to fulfill the most important and fundamental duty of a member of Parliament, which is to vote in the House, to pass legislation and to approve the government's budgetary measures. What purpose do the 308 elected members serve if they vote only strategically and not based on what they think is best for their constituents?
I say this because I am not happy about the behaviour of these political adversaries, who ultimately, are tarnishing the reputation of all politicians. This kind of behaviour unfortunately sometimes leads people to believe that we are all the same, that we say one thing before the election and do the reverse afterwards.
Even though technically this is a matter of confidence—a vote that could bring down the government and trigger an election—we will support Bill C-51, because it contains good measures. That does not mean that we have confidence in the government. When the Liberals proposed a motion of non-confidence, we supported it, because overall, we have lost confidence in this government because of everything it has done. When a motion says that, we vote according to our convictions.
But let us come back to the bill that is before us today and the best-known and probably most popular measure it contains: the home renovation tax credit. As I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois had been calling for such a measure for quite some time. We would have preferred that it be more specific and focus more on home improvements that help improve energy efficiency. Instead of coming up with a moderately generous program that applies to all kinds of renovations, the government could have introduced a more generous program that focused on certain areas or certain types of renovations to boost the energy efficiency of our homes.
We believe that this is important, because as a society and as individuals who want to leave the world in good shape for our children, we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, in Quebec and Canada, because of our climate, the energy efficiency of our homes has a major impact on our greenhouse gas emissions, especially if we really want to reduce global warming and the resulting climate change, which even the most conservative expect will be increasingly catastrophic. I am not talking about the Conservatives on the other side of this House, but about the most conservative, least alarmist scientists. Everyone agrees that we are headed for disaster.
We have to do this for the environment, and we have to do it for our economy as well. In the future, the best-performing, most prosperous economies will not be the ones that burn the most oil. If some members of this House do not believe that, then I am sorry to have to bring them back to reality. In 40 or 50 years, a country's economic performance will not be measured by the amount of oil it can burn and the amount of greenhouse gas it can spew into the atmosphere.
That is clearly a dead end since hydrocarbons such as oil are a non-renewable source of energy. Such a source inevitably costs more, is more difficult to find and will eventually run out. There needed to be a response at the turning point and we would not have been alone. A number of countries have devoted a significant part of their recovery plans to a green shift. I am not talking about the Liberals' green shift, but a true willingness not just to stimulate the economy or protect our planet, but to do both and position ourselves for the economy of the future, which will be based on sustainable development. When we improve our home's energy efficiency, we decrease our energy consumption, which is good for Quebec's society and economy.
In Quebec, we have a wealth of hydroelectricity. We can export it to the U.S. Nonetheless, if we do not want to harness every river in Quebec to export even more hydroelectricity, then we simply have to consume less. This will leave us with more to sell abroad and will allow us to become wealthier. Socially this is good. It is also a good measure for individuals. I do not know many people in this country who are truly excited when they receive their energy bill. Energy is expensive. It is a significant expense.
Speaking from experience, this summer the home renovation tax credit applied to my personal situation. Like anyone else who can afford to own a small home, I wondered how I could benefit from this program. I was true to the Bloc Québécois position and asked myself how I could improve the energy efficiency of my home. I decided to convert my heating system to geothermal. This is still a very expensive undertaking. For new homes it is not so bad, but to convert an existing home, it is rather expensive.
Let me explain to make this clearer. Geothermal heating or cooling, because this applies in the summer as well, works the same way as a heat pump. In a heat pump, there is a compressor with a radiator inside. A liquid circulates through a second compressor and a second radiator outside. In the winter, it draws heat from outside and brings it into the house and in the summer it does the opposite. It draws heat from inside and sends it outside. Heat pump systems are more affordable than radiant heating with those good old electric furnaces or hot water radiators in our homes. Using a little energy, it is possible to get more energy from outside to heat our home than we consume.
How does geothermal energy work? The energy comes from the ground. For example, near the entrance to my home, a 300 foot well was drilled in a U loop in which a liquid circulates. Depending on the season, there is a thermal exchange using the liquid to either heat or cool the house. At that depth, the temperature in the soil and rock is fairly constant, hovering at about 7oC throughout the year. That temperature may seem cold but an air-source heat pump would have to draw heat from the air when it is -10oC. It is obviously going to be easier to obtain heat from a source that is 7oC.
Conversely, in the summer, when it is time to cool the house, the heat from the house is sent into the ground, which is still 7oC. It is easier to put the heat into ground that is 7oC rather than putting it outside where the temperature could be 30oC. Geothermal systems have the advantage of using only one compressor. The second heat exchange is passive and simply uses a pump to circulate the liquid through the tubing in the soil.
Why am I explaining this? Because geothermal technology allows us to significantly reduce our energy consumption. That is but one example. I could have given others but I only have a few minutes left and I have personal experience with this system.
Depending on the model and specific applications, the energy savings can be between 50% and 70%. We can also save on hot water heating and air conditioning.
Geothermal is a good application for Canada and Quebec. In fact, it is rather unusual that it is used so infrequently and that we have done so little in this area.
The United States uses geothermal energy more for strictly air conditioning purposes than Canada does. But in Canada, it is useful for air conditioning and heating. We are behind. How can we explain this? Obviously, attitudes need to change. In the beginning, although the volume is not high, it is expensive. We need to introduce incentives to encourage people to make the transition. Unfortunately, that is not yet being done on the large scale. I must admit that there are grants to encourage this type of energy, but more could be done.
The program before us, the home renovation tax credit, could be used to help move this type of technology forward. This is not the only technology; there are many others, but this is the one I had the time to talk about and that I have personal experience with. This type of technology is becoming more common. We could significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and our energy consumption, make money and be more prosperous.
These types of measures are lacking in the Conservative vision. Obviously, this government does not believe in the science of climate change. The Prime Minister once wrote to his constituents that the Kyoto protocol was a socialist scheme—and probably even a separatist scheme as well.
Do you really think that the people who signed the Kyoto protocol, that is, the leaders of governments around the world, have been manipulated by the environmentalists? I personally doubt it. The reality is that this government is largely controlled by the oil companies and that the Liberal Party also gives in to the blackmail used by the oil companies.
I would like to quote the leader of the Liberal Party. When he was in Montreal, he said, “The stupidest thing you can do is to run against an industry that is providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.” He was talking about the oil sands industry. According to the Alberta government, the leader of the Liberal Party is the best defender of the oil sands industry; he is even better than the Prime Minister.
There is a lot of work to do. The Bloc will support the bill, because it is a step in the right direction. However, we must continue to vigorously defend a greener economy and truly sustainable development.
Mr. Gerard Kennedy (Parkdale—High Park, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on the stimulus package, parts of it arising from the government budget, the implementation of a package that is really a mirage. The fact that the government of the day stands with a lot of audacity and pretends with fervour that it is doing something for ordinary Canadians does not make it any more substantial.
I am a bit surprised by the position my Bloc Québécois colleague took, which indicated he was somewhat satisfied with the approach and methods used by the governing party.
It is funny to see some of the opposition parties satisfied with the crumbs of the appearance coming from the government of the day, a government that would rather spend money on advertising than help unemployed people actually have substantive access to jobs at a time when they could sustain their dignity and their ability to work in the marketplace. It is a government that seems completely given over to the politics of pretending that it has taken on a role for government.
Let us just rehearse from where the present bill comes. It comes from a commitment by the government in budget 2009 to take “immediate” action. On behalf of the government, the finance minister said that it had to be measures that took place within 120 days. Did one member opposite stand behind that warranty? Did one of them apologize to his or her riding and other ridings across the country when in fact not one substantial measure of employment was ready by May 26, by the 120 days. The only thing that had started by then was an advertising blitz.
We have seen the depths of cynicism plumbed when a government first flip-flops on what it says is its philosophical position. It did that for what some people would credit pragmatic purposes. Whether political or genuine revisionist concern for the economy, it was acceptable if the government would actually take the action. However, it is frankly reprehensible when a government, in a calculated fashion, fails to create the jobs it said it would.
Look to the credibility on which the bill is built. The report of the Prime Minister was not made in the House, suborning the privileges of every member of Parliament. It was not made in the House because the Prime Minister could not warrant it as being factual. In fact, it does not say that jobs have been created. If we shake it upside down, if we look for the actual facts and figures, we see only a promise for jobs next year, and there is a reason for that. The jobs do not exist.
The bill is about committing further dollars. Only 12% of the dollars committed so far are even creating any jobs. That does not mean 12% of the potential jobs. We contacted directly over a thousand projects and posted on a website. The is the most comprehensive status available to Canadians because of step two of the government's mirage of an economic program, this economic inaction program, this excuse not to make government act when it should, when Canadians and communities out there need it. Step two is to be able to cover up, to actually change people's perception by trying to bend the reality, hoping that people will not be looking under the covers, will not be looking more closely. That is fundamentally what people have started to discover. The government has failed to divulge any of the information that it has collected. It has collected information. It knows its jobs creation program is a failure. It knows that in community after community it is making this recession worse.
The government has worked on a well orchestrated chorus of how this is a synchronized international recession. What it does not say is how it is a synchronized effort to camouflage its failure to put even a modicum of competence or effort behind being able to assist people. At 12%, that means fewer than 4,800 jobs at a time when the country has lost jobs at a rate of 5,000 per week. For 10 months, the government has held the reins of power, was given the benefit of the doubt by Canadians and by members in the House and failed utterly.
The other stuff in which it failed is this. It is one thing not to do well and it is one thing to say that this is the factors and the reasons for it. Then there might be a modicum of faith that the government might repair itself, might fix its problems, might actually bring things out, but no. Instead it has devoted a tremendous amount of effort in ducking even the smallest amount of accountability for billions of dollars, something in the order of $11 billion new dollars over two years. That is the context in which we have to see the bill today. Dollars are being requisitioned for suspect purposes.
In fact, a breach of trust with Canadians is what each member opposite wants us to go along with, a breach of trust with the unemployed, their very misery and their loss of jobs, which has deepened in the months since the budget. Notwithstanding some lightening in recent months, it is still tremendously worse off out there for those communities and families that have been hit hardest by the recession.
The government promised Canadians it would target communities and individuals most in need. This was the express commitment the Prime Minister and the finance minister said that they would uphold for Canadians, with the billions of dollars they borrowed on behalf of Canadians from the next generation. They said that they would deliver those results to people. We cannot match the grants. There are so few of them that have actually put shovels in the ground. There are so few that the government quakes in fear of releasing the data.
I challenge any member opposite to stand and enumerate, to release a list, to show anywhere where there is substantial job creation activity, paid for with federal dollars.
It was not until yesterday, 11 months after the budget was introduced, that the Government of Quebec announced the start of infrastructure projects in municipalities in Quebec. That is unbelievable. For most Canadians, that is unacceptable. But there is a problem: Canadians do not know the actual conditions.
The government thinks it is going to get away with a conceit, a camouflage, a misuse and abuse of government authority to conceal the failure of its job creation program. Instead of targeting communities and individuals most in need the way it said it would, it has taken out ads in the millions of dollars to conceal the fact that the only correlation between the dollars is with ridings it has chosen, not all the ridings that are Conservative but ones of certain cabinet ministers and of certain seats that have been recently acquired.
It is a political strategy that runs the gamut from 300% as much money in British Columbia to 40% more money in Ontario for the recreation funds, and huge piles of money for ministers like the Minister of Industry to have in his own riding for a variety of purposes which are not linked to the public interest. The members opposite in the government ranks stand united in favour of that kind of behaviour with public funds. They celebrate it in an unseemly fashion.
I would challenge each and every member opposite who held up cheques with their signatures on it to let the communities they handed it to cash that cheque. That is right. It is legal tender. If members' signatures are on them, they should stand behind them. It is not their money. Do they not realize it is not their dollars? It comes from taxpayers, hard-working Canadians, and it is an abuse to pretend it comes from their personal largesse or that of the Conservative Party of Canada. It is nothing less than an abuse.
The members opposite, who once upon a time advertised themselves as people who held forth a critique of government, now meekly go along with the public relations machine, meekly sell off their principles to hide from their voters this job creation failure because it is massive. Billions of dollars were spent and there is no yield. Nothing is happening for average Canadians. Average Canadians are being thwarted in their ambitions.
The Conservative government is full of itself at the moment because it thinks somehow it has gotten away with this. It thinks somehow that Canadians are not, in their instincts, starting to appreciate what is happening, that the Conservative Party is not looking after them, that some time ago the switch was flipped, and it has decided to look after itself, to maintain itself in power, to do whatever it takes.
There is no line on the principles that the Conservative Party used to talk about. The fact is that it has abused the apparatus of government, spent scarce dollars, all of it borrowed from grandchildren of members in the House and, more importantly, from people right across the country. That is when it is going to be paid back, with all this reckless advertising the government is doing.
Some of the members opposite spent $80,000 in five months last year bombarding their constituents with print ads, but that is just the beginning. Huge amounts are off that budget and have been used by the government in a propaganda play. It is not ethical. It is not moral, it is not acceptable when it is at the suffering and expense of families who are going without.
The government could have decided to distribute dollars in an arm's length fashion through the gas tax, for example. The Canadian Construction Association implored the party to do it and said, “If you want jobs and good infrastructure, do it that way”. The government, instead, took five months to set up a scheme, a system that it could control and identify the projects. A government that used to believe in communities reached right into those communities and chose the projects that it wanted, chose the communities it wanted to have them in, instead of actually helping the people and communities it said it would.
This is not ambiguous. The facts are clear and not only by the research put forward by the Liberal Party but by the Halifax Chronicle Herald, by the Ottawa Citizen, by The Canadian Press, and by the Globe and Mail. Every single time they added up the dollars, there are two things absolutely clear: the jobs have not been created and the dollars have gone astray.
It may be that the people opposite somehow think they are immune, that it is not going to catch up to them, that their sanctioning of this behaviour is just how politics should be done and has always been done. I say to them that they sit here only at the pleasure of Canadians who are looking for something else from the House. They are looking for bipartisanship. They are looking for people to actually roll up their sleeves and get the job done.
Time after time in committee the minister in charge of infrastructure, this $11 billion trust fund, was asked on behalf of Canadians to expose what was happening, to prepare Canadians for problems, to let Canadians know about opportunities to improve. Instead, he covered up and hid the facts on behalf of all members opposite.
Some members opposite might think they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are bringing home the bacon. They are getting money for people in their ridings so therefore they are doing a good job. Members opposite know the difference. They know what is coming at the expense of the majority of Canadians who live in other ridings. They know there are hard-working Canadians who are being short-changed. Projects that could benefit Canadians, that could put them to work, that could help their neighbourhoods, are not being funded simply because the representative is from the wrong hue of political party. Those are tactics of the 1890s and maybe the 1990s. Canadians are not prepared to put up with those tactics today.
In 1991 and 1992 there was a government on its way out the door that the Conservative government would rather forget. The Conservatives really do not remember that a government that once rode high went low very quickly. The seeds of the same kind of arrogance that reduced the former Conservative Party to nothing are here now. To say it is a question of their just desserts in self-justification is for them to be doing the one fatal thing that brings down governments time after time and that is discounting the Canadian public.
This is a different age. The Conservatives cannot get away from the facts even if they wished to. The facts are there in black and white. Incredibly, the Conservative government thinks it can get away with spending money on advertising. It might help them win one or two byelections where that kind of firepower makes a difference, but when all Canadians are focused, when all Canadians are sitting in judgment, they will ask: At a time of difficulty, did the Conservatives look after me or did they look after themselves? Unfortunately, the government has passed the point of no return.
In province after province, in program after program, the Conservatives have tried to look after themselves even if the programs they pick take longer to happen, even if they could be coming for those who still have a shred of interest in the real economics of this, at the wrong time in the economic cycle.
What Mr. Flaherty said was actually based on a reasonably sound approach, that investments should be made--
Mr. Gerard Kennedy:
Mr. Speaker, I meant to refer to the august finance minister whose words in the spring indicated that the money had to be spent or it could be harmful to the economy. Now that same finance minister is trying to justify why none of the projects took place, why none of them are actually happening.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer applied a model from the United States. He looked to see if there was any economic evidence that the flattening out of the recession has anything to do with the efforts of the Conservative government. The answer is no. There is no evidence because the government has been so late in getting the dollars out to the field.
Yet, the government did not have to change administrations the way the Obama administration did. The Conservative government did not have to fight to get requisitions for dollars from the House. Those dollars were expedited. They were put on a platter for them. What did the Conservatives do? Did they live up to the finance minister's promise? They did not.
I am sorry, I am used to the finance minister in another context. I have heard some of these promises before in another House. We found out then that we had a $6 billion deficit. We now have ten times the range of that deficit.
Canadians were prepared to go with the government and the House and take on debt if it was for a worthwhile reason. What will Canadians do now when they find out that the basic objectives have not been met? What will Canadians do now when they find out that the government failed in its principle assignment to make Canadians more secure? The government's principle assignment was not to make the Conservative Party of Canada more secure, not to give away recreation grants to some people, not to stimulate construction in some areas because it is set with the Prime Minister's Office. That is not good enough. That is not the standard under which the Conservatives were sent here. That is not what the circumstances of this economy demand from each member of this House.
Which committee of the House is even bold enough to look straight at the facts of the stimulus package?
Some members from the other party, from the Bloc Québécois, refused to accept the results of the examination of stimulus spending. Why? Who is afraid of the results?
I unfortunately understand the government members' concerns here. But what about the other members?
Each member here has a responsibility to stand in this place. This $11 billion is a trust that has been broken and been replaced with the thinnest of gruel. This $100 million advertising program is a re-creation of reality that the government hopes will stand up instead.
I think the government does not realize that when people are not paying attention or are hoping for a better outcome, they extend that goodwill to the government of the day. They say that they will put it on better behaviour. They said that they did not want an election right now. They said that they would extend the full measure of goodwill. However, the government ought not to mistake that for the success of its policy of misleading Canadians.
It is a mirage. Not one member in the House, in defence of this bill or any other measure of the government, can point to concrete results such as the pouring of concrete, the lifting of shovels or the actual generation of substantial jobs. The Prime Minister made 16 announcements leading up to this session of Parliament and 14 of them were not about stimulus infrastructure. They were about the lack of spending of the government on regular infrastructure.
When the government was leading us and teetering into recession, did it put the money out the door more expeditiously? Did it move consistently with what it said? No, it underspent infrastructure spending last year by $1.5 billion, according to public accounts. Most of it was spent in the last two quarters and most of it was spent when Canadians could have been working. That is the choice the government made, against Canadians and, sadly, for itself.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise and speak on Bill C-51.
I know that some children come home from school and rather than watch Hannah Montana, they watch the Parliament of Canada and hope to learn something. Just for the youngsters at home, “No, you did not fall through the rabbit hole and you are not sitting and having tea with the Mad Hatters in the Liberal Party.”
We are talking about the implementation of a budget that was decided last spring. For the youngsters back home, I will just put it in context so that we are very clear about what this is about. The Budget Implementation Act that is being examined now includes some of the key elements that were in the Conservative budget back in the spring.
The New Democratic Party will be supporting this implementation because there are some key elements of the budget that we think will be very important for Canadians, for example, the home renovation tax credit. That was promised to Canadians in the spring. Canadians went out and spent money based on the belief that when tax time came around, they would be able to make the most of the home renovation tax credit.
Our colleagues in the Liberal Party, however, are telling Canadians “No. Do not look to the home renovation tax credit. Look to giving us government. If we are given government, then down the road we will implement the home renovation tax credit.” It is the Liberal Party putting themselves and their power ahead of average Canadians.
It is the same thing for the first-time homebuyers' tax credit. It was in the budget. Canadians who believed it would help them went out and bought homes. The leader of the Liberal Party said, “No, little people wanting to buy your first homes, you are not going to get that until we get government.”
We see the issue of income deferral for farmers breeding livestock in drought conditions. Anybody who represents a rural riding knows the crisis we are seeing in agriculture. That is something we in the New Democratic Party would support.
There are changes to the working income tax benefit.
These are elements that will help average Canadians. Again putting this in the context of last spring's budget, the Liberal Party supported the budget, and we are going to work through how it was that they supported the budget. The New Democratic Party at that time opposed the budget because we felt that the government was on a very rocky and erratic course in terms of Canada's economy.
I am going to go back to how that budget came about, but I want to say that at this point in the life of this Parliament there are elements in that budget, the overall vision of which we opposed, that will help average Canadians. Our job as members of Parliament, especially in a minority context, is to examine the various pieces of legislation and say, “What is the overall impact? Will it help or will it hurt?”
In terms of the overall implementation of these key areas, we support that. It does not mean we support a blank cheque to the Conservative Party to carry on as they have.
Let us go back for the youngsters at home who are watching, just so that they get a sense of how things unfolded here. Some day in a history lesson they will probably read about the famous finance minister's fiscal update when he came into the House soon after this Parliament was reconvened and said he was going to bring an economic update. Now, that economic update was happening as the world economy was melting down.
We had seen the warning signs in the U.S. for some time with the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market. We saw the U.S. market going south long before it happened in Canada. As the stock markets began to crash, and Canadians' private equity and savings were eaten up at a staggering rate last September, our Prime Minister was saying there were going to be lots of good bargains out there and that people should pick up some good bargains.
I am sure that if Canadians had taken the Prime Minister's advice then, they would have seen what savings they had disappear even further. This was the sense of bizarre unreality that the Conservative government had.
In November the government came in with its economic update. Now, of course we put this against the threat of a complete global meltdown and what do we have? Well, it said we were in surplus and would remain in surplus. We now know that the government was already $10 billion in the hole because of its bizarre spending habits in terms of giving everything over to the corporations in tax cuts. So we were already in the hole, and the government said that in order to get out of any further holes, it would just sell off all our public buildings, which we know is a fundamental action of these free marketeers.
However, in terms of the November economic stimulus plan the government had four key elements. It was going to cut pay equity. How that was going to help the economic stimulus, I do not know. It was going to strip environmental protections on our river ways and waterways. How that would help the economy, I am not sure. It was going to cut the rest of Kyoto. We know that party basically exists to protect the tar sands. It was going to cut funding for the political parties of Canada.
For those back home who are paying attention, there were four issues the Liberals could have stood up on: cut pay equity; strip environmental protection of river ways; gut Kyoto; and cut funding for political parties. What did the Liberal Party decide to get up on its hind legs over? It was not about pay equity. The Liberals stood with the Conservatives and supported it. It was not about protecting the acts that were in place to protect our river ways. The Liberal Party said there was no problem with that. It was not about gutting Kyoto. The former leader of the Liberal Party almost had to put down his dog named Kyoto. The Liberal Party supported the government.
However, when it came time to rolling over about the funding for the Liberals as a political party, that is when the Liberal Party said no, that it would form a coalition.
The Conservatives were howling in outrage. I remember some of my dear colleagues over there said that I should be taken out and hung for providing an alternative such as a coalition. They were howling at the moon. They were pounding their chests. They were saying that this was unconscionable. However, we knew the Liberals were not going to follow through because the Conservatives rolled over and said that they would not take our electoral funding away. At that moment, it became okay for the Liberals to back everything that was in the budget. They were fine with that.
For the folks back home, I noticed all day long the Liberals have kept referring to themselves as the official opposition. Because branding is so important in politics, I think they are concerned people will forget exactly who they are. Seventy-nine times in a row, they did whatever the Conservative Party wanted until this last September.
Again, we will jump forward to another piece of very strange political history, about which I am sure the future Pierre Bertons will talk. It is that famous weekend in Sudbury, when the Liberals decided they were once again, and I do not know how many times they decided to do this, going to reinvent themselves. Going into that caucus meeting, they were saying that people did not want an election, that they had to get this thing through and that they had to stay stable. Nobody had heard from the great Liberal leader for some time. He had been off at his cottage, thinking great thoughts. He came out and said that from now on the Liberals would oppose everything. It did not matter, but they had to reassert themselves because they wanted the government.
Mr. Royal Galipeau: Your time is up.
Mr. Charlie Angus: He said, “Your time is up”.
I have to admit I thought it was a pretty bizarre and erratic piece of behaviour from the Liberal leader, but, no, his troops got their marching orders. When we came back to Parliament, the NDP said that we needed some action to help the unemployed. The Conservatives said that they would move forward with the 15 to 20 weeks extra. However, the Liberals said that the unemployed could wait. It was about them forming government.
Now we have a bill that would bring forward the home renovation tax credit. It would bring forward support for farmers in drought. However, the Liberal Party is saying, “You little people, you peons, you have to wait till we get government again”.
I find that absolutely unconscionable. However, it speaks to the erratic nature of our Liberal leader. There is this myth that the Liberals always used to put out there that they some how embodied the best of what Canada was, they were somehow the vision of Canada. However, when we read the writings and we hear the speeches of the Liberal leader, we wonder what the Liberals were they thinking.
For example, let us talk about arts. The Liberal leader, when he was a writer in England, was asked how he felt about state support for arts organizations. He said. “While the level of arts funding was miserly in Thatcher's Britain, the principle of weaning the arts of public subsidy to the greatest possible extent was surely right. After all, the moral independence of culture” itself depends on it.
Here is a man who quotes Maggie Thatcher about arts funding. This is the same man who was basically a front piece for George W. on the invasion of Iraq.
I have looked at our present Prime Minister. I have looked at all the crazy crackpot things that came out of the National Citizens Coalition. Even with him, I cannot find anything where he says that we should starve the artists for moral independence. I know some of his backbenchers probably believe that. That is red meat to some of the old Reformers. They go home to their summer barbecues and say that when they get a majority government, they will starve those artists and it will teach them to be morally independent. They could look to the Liberal leader and say that here is a man who has stood up to say it.
This is the kind of erratic nature of the Liberals. They elect a guy to be their leader who will say things that the Prime Minister would never have the guts to say in public. Maybe he would say it if he had a glass of sherry on his own, but the Liberal leader did.
I want to stay on this because this is about what happened with the budget and the erratic nature of the Liberals now coming in and flipping themselves inside out, saying that they have to stand up against the home renovation tax credit, that they have to stand up against EI. Why? Because they want to be government again. It is erratic. They have to call themselves the official opposition because people do not really know where to place them in any political panorama.
I would like to continue with a bit of history.
On the same day that the horrors in Abu Ghraib were exposed to the world on 60 Minutes, which was April 28, 2004, the present leader of the Liberal Party was being interviewed on Charlie Rose. The same day the stories of the horrors of Abu Ghraib were broken internationally, he was speaking about being able to draw clear lines between stress and sleep deprivation, not called torture. He said that it was okay, as long as some basic rules were set on how to mistreat these people, they would not be mistreated too much.
That same day that the story of Abu Ghraib broke, he talked about the need for target assassinations, as long as it was done in a democratic context. I am not sure what the backbenchers of the Reform Party might say at a barbecue function in the summer, but I have never heard the Prime Minister stand and say that as long as the government brings to Parliament a list of people to be shot, targeted assassination is okay. However, the man who is now leading the Liberal Party said that on Charlie Rose on the same day that the whole world was recoiling in horror, regardless of one's political stripes, of what was happening at Abu Ghraib.
In terms of a foreign policy vision, the same day that he was on Charlie Rose, he was trying to explain what went wrong in Iraq. He said that we should go into Iraq. He believed in it. He said that he thought the Iraqis would greet us as liberators. A lot of other people in the world did not think that, but he said that he believed the invasion was worth it. He tried to explain why there was a sudden backlash against America for the invasion of Iraq. He said, “America is deeply hated because we are supposed to have magical powers. The assumption is that the minute we take over a piece of real estate like Iraq, the lights are supposed to go on”.
The world was not angry at George Bush because he took over a piece of real estate. The world was justifiably outraged that the U.S. believed that a sovereign country, anywhere it was, regardless of whether it was run by a tinpot dictator or not, was treated as a piece of real estate. Yet this is the view of the present Liberal leader. I would think those views are very erratic. They have been proven very wrong and they are deeply out of touch with what average Canadians feel.
We are on Bill C-51, the budget implementation bill, and that party, which has never stood up on anything that I can recall, is now suddenly standing up to fight the home renovation tax credit. I wish those members good luck. How do they explain that to average Canadians? Good luck in telling farmers that the deferrals they are asking for after the drought can wait because it is more important for him to be leader than for them to get support.
Once Canadians begin to realize the erratic views, and frankly very outrageous views, they will think twice about accepting the piece of advice that we should vote down support for EI because it is inconvenient, because we should be supporting the Liberal return to power.
I will not gloat, but in the recent byelections the Liberals were fighting with the Green Party to get their deposits back in some ridings. I do not think average Canadians are falling for it either. What we are supposed to do if we are politicians and we have hit a dead end is to go back and revitalize ourselves. We need to start being honest. We need to look in the mirror. That is something the Liberal Party could do right now.
There are a lot of serious problems with the Conservative government. There is a serious lack of vision on the environment, of where we go with Copenhagen, of how we deal with the tar sands, of how we deal with the fact that we are now some $50 billion and climbing in structural deficit and how we get out of it. However, I do not think we can sell to the Canadian people that the best way forward is to oppose measures, which the Liberals have already supported, that will actually help them. That is not being an effective opposition. That is being erratic. We have to move beyond that.
The New Democratic Party, in terms of the House and this parliamentary minority situation, is continuing to look for the opportunities, regardless of political stripe or party, to move forward an agenda that benefits Canadians.
Right now there is deep unease in the country about pensions. People are worried. They are frightened and they are justified in being frightened. We need to move forward an agenda on pensions. We have been trying to do that. There is serious unease about EI reform. I believe the New Democratic Party has 12 bills that try to address the various shortfalls in EI. We recognize the importance of getting a win in one area, taking it and continuing to advance the cause. Our Liberal colleagues are saying that it does not matter. If there is one element of the government's offer for EI, they will reject it all unless they get the whole enchilada. They know very well they will not get it. That is not being an effective opposition.
We are continuing to work on the areas of pensions. We are working on the issue of seniors. Too many of our seniors live in poverty. We want a green strategy, so that at the end of this, Canada is not just like the hangover after all the wild spending by the Conservatives. There needs to be a plan to retool our economy, to rebuild our cities, our municipalities and our rural areas. That is where the green strategy is so important, the need to have a vision so what we are spending money on today, which is putting us into structural deficit, is going to create benefits down the road.
I would not be one to stand up in the House and say that I think the Conservatives have had this vision. I do not believe they do. They have made serious mistakes on how they have spent the money and how they will spend the money. We will continue to hold them accountable for that.
However, on the basic issues of what is in this budget implementation bill, the home renovation tax credit, the first-time home buyers tax credit, the revenue-sharing agreements with the province of Nova Scotia, which includes $175 million payment, and drought relief for livestock owner, these are elements we will support because they will help average Canadians.
As elected representatives of our people, how can we go back to our ridings and say that we are sorry, that we had the chance to get them help but we decided to take the advice of the very erratic Liberal leader and jump off the political edge with him. That is not our job. Our job is to fight for clear, winnable goals and we will continue to do that.
Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate because I certainly support the measures in Bill C-51 that we have discussed, particularly the home renovation tax credit. Many people in my riding have availed themselves of this tax credit. I will support it because these people have pursued it in good faith.
Unfortunately, however, this budget bill did not go nearly far enough. It was very limited in terms of its application. I regret that it did not focus on home retrofits, energy saving, money saving and environmentally saving our communities in terms of making a real effort to be practical, and retrofits would have done that. They would have also created green collar jobs. With home retrofits, we would have seen new windows, new doors, insulation and perhaps the installation of solar panels that homeowners could then utilize to save energy and even generate their own clean energy.
What was missing in terms of this bill was the increased investment in not just retrofits but in the technology around the new green jobs and the training for green collar jobs like computer control operators who can cut steel for wind turbines, mechanics trained to repair electric engines and manufacturers of solar panels. These are good jobs. They pay enough to raise a family. They are jobs with purchasing power that in turn create more jobs.
Another positive component to this is that these jobs are very difficult to outsource. Unlike the current corporate strategy of sending jobs to low wage jurisdictions with lower environmental regulations, these jobs stay in the community. A house cannot be picked up and sent to China to have energy efficient windows, doors or solar panels installed. It simply cannot be done.
That is unlike the Ford motor company. In the riding adjacent to mine, Ford Talbotville is closing down. We are losing 1,600 direct jobs and 8,000 indirect jobs because Ford is saying that it cannot make money or that it cannot afford to retrofit the plant. Meanwhile, it is spending $500 million to build a plant in China. These are jobs that are gone. These are jobs that we will sorely miss and that will impact our community. However, green jobs and retrofits would have helped and supported us.
Transportation costs are another consideration when one starts to look at all of this. With the decline in the supply of fossil fuels and the increasing expense associated with oil and gas production, it makes more and more sense to develop local industries that provide local goods and services; hence, back to these green jobs. Unfortunately, that is where the government missed the boat. With the help of the official opposition, it voted against my made in Canada bill. It deemed it protectionist and completely ignored the fact that we are the only G20 country without a local procurement policy.
When all Canadian businesses have been undermined by a government that ignores their needs and the needs of Canadian workers, who will be left to produce the goods that will be needed for the green economy? Who will be there to make those turbines locally? Who will be there to grow the food products locally? When we have cut off our own people and said that they do not matter and that we do not want to be protectionist but that their jobs are insignificant, who will be there to produce this green economy? Who will be there to save our environment? Who will be there to keep our communities strong?
There has been no interest from the government on that, nor has there been any interest in going to Copenhagen with something substantive. The fact is that the government is going empty-handed because it has refused to take any kind of leadership role when it comes to the environment. Instead, the Conservatives quietly tabled their so-called Kyoto protocol implementation act but it does nothing. It imposes no binding target, delays actions on emissions from coal-fired power generation and grants broad exemptions to industry.
The Conservatives could have brought forward the NDP's Bill C-311. That bill sets out a very clear path for Canada to help fight climate change. It provides greenhouse gas targets consistent with those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
One of the members of that panel comes from my city of London, Professor McBean, a University of Western Ontario professor and a very respected Nobel Prize winner. Unfortunately, he and the other Nobel Prize winners were ignored by the government.
At any rate, our bill is consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and would impose legally binding, tough but achievable, reduction targets. Instead the government is trying to stop our bill in committee and is refusing to acknowledge that this kind of inaction is no longer acceptable.
All of this is despite the urgent call for action from Canadians, from scientists, from environmentalists and from the international community.
We have lost our international reputation. We have lost our reputation as being progressive and a leader. There was a time when the world looked to Canada. Whether it was with regard to women's rights, children's rights, environmental protection, or the kind of services that we provide in our health care system, we were leaders. People looked to Canada as the peacekeepers, the peacemakers, the leaders. Now we are scorned. We are scorned across the globe for our inaction and our apparent complacency.
We need budget measures that are directed at environmental protection. We need a government to create budget measures that could and should create opportunities for a better economy, a green, strong, sustainable economy with all the dividends of energy conservation, job creation and environmental protection.
We did not get those and we are not likely to get them, but I want Canadians to think about what could have been.
New Democrats also support the first time-home buyers' tax credit. It is a very important step. There are a lot of young Canadians who would love to be able to provide their family with a home, and they cannot. Therefore, this is a positive thing, as is the income deferral for farmers breeding livestock in drought conditions.
It is interesting that this tax credit is here when, again, the government does not seem to understand that we need to have local procurement policies. We need to support our farmers. We need to support production in order for our communities to thrive, but that is beside the point.
As well, it is very good to see the changes to the working income tax benefit that increase the percentage of the tax credit and increase the top-up of the payment. This will help low-income families. There has been precious little to help low-income families from the government.
All of these are very important and all will have a significant impact on the lives of people in our communities.
However, we need to be cognizant about what is missing from this bill and I would like to go back to that. While the CPP adjustments are very good, providing an increase in security for seniors, some flexibility, and a reduced incentive for early retirement, these are still lacking. They are lacking because they do not provide enough security for seniors.
As CARP says, 30% of Canadians are still without retirement savings. The proposals that have been put in place are not grandfathered. They do not address the need for enhancement of the OAS and GIS, and there is no retroactive claim beyond the current 11 months.
In Quebec, the QPP allows for a five-year retroactive claim. I can tell the House that there are people who have come to my office who did not understand their rights and their pension benefits, and who were cheated out of a secure and decent standard of living and could not claim back any further than 11 months. That is simply not acceptable.
I would like to say that as acceptable as this is, what New Democrats presented to the government last spring and what we would still like to see is preferable, and that is the expansion of and increase to the CPP, OAS and GIS.
In fact, it has been shown that a 15% increase to OAS and a doubling of CPP would create the kind of income security that seniors absolutely deserve.
This country can afford it. Since 1996, $400 billion has been given away in tax cuts to profitable corporations. That is four hundred thousand million dollars given to profitable corporations, to those deserving banks and oil companies. Imagine if just some of that $400 billion were invested in those seniors who had invested their lives in the building of this country.
We would also like to see the self-financing of a pension insurance program to make sure that when companies fail or choose to abandon retirees, there is a plan in place to protect our grandmothers and grandfathers from poverty. It would have helped the people of Nortel. It would have helped if the government had thought of that.
It would have helped if the government had thought about violence against women and had invested some money in women to prevent the violence these women feel, instead of spending millions and millions on their campaign to undermine the very few protections we have.
There is a great deal that the government could have done and chose not to do. I regret that very much, because it had the opportunity. It has had many opportunities.
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Madam Speaker, there is not a lot left to say after hearing my colleagues from London—Fanshawe and Timmins—James Bay speak to this issue, but I would like to add a few notes.
I do not think the Conservatives are going to like my presentation as much as they liked some of the others about the lack of action and erratic nature of the Liberal Party. That is a matter of public record. Certainly the byelection results last Monday show that most Canadians agree. We saw a collapse of the Liberal vote across the country. In New Westminster—Coquitlam, as everyone well knows, the Liberals did not even get their deposit back. That is a seat they used to hold. Now, west of Toronto they have a handful of seats and east of the West Island of Montreal they have a handful of seats. Basically, they have been reduced to two areas of the country. I do not doubt they will be competitive in those two areas, but generally speaking, the Liberal Party simply does not reflect Canadian values and where Canadians want to go.
On the harmonized sales tax which is gouging Canadians in Ontario and British Columbia, the Liberals simply say that they are supporting it. Sure, they support it; it is a great idea to rip $500 out of the pockets of each and every person in Ontario and British Columbia.
Enough about the Liberals. I think the verdict from the electorate in four parts of the country was very clear. The verdict also was very clear in New Westminster—Coquitlam. The issue of the harmonized sales tax was front and centre in that campaign.
The Conservative Party dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars of partisan Conservative material into the riding. It spared no expense. It simply flooded the riding with partisan political advertising. The Conservative Party sent in its members of Parliament and ministers. It had a good local candidate. What the government was saying was that British Columbians should not be concerned about the HST.
The verdict from British Columbians was clear. In what was a very competitive riding, there was a landslide for the NDP. Fifty per cent of the vote went to the NDP. A split that was only 3% went to 15%.
If we apply the results of the byelection in New Westminster—Coquitlam across British Columbia, there are a dozen Conservative MPs in B.C. that would lose their seats. There is also a handful of Liberals left in B.C. and they would lose their seats.
My point is this. For the Conservatives to say that somehow the HST is not an issue and that British Columbians should just forget about it as it will be imposed come hell or high water would be a serious mistake, because British Columbians said no to the HST last Monday. That is something that will have an impact whether we talk about Abbotsford, Kamloops or any other riding in British Columbia.
The Conservatives, working with Gordon Campbell, trying to force the HST on people is simply not going to wash. I hope they will heed the very clear message from the byelection in B.C. and that they will step back from the brink on this because British Columbians do not want the HST.
I need to mention that the reason the NDP is supporting Bill C-51 is to try to save the government from itself. With a great deal of pomp and circumstance last spring, the government announced the home renovation tax credit and the first time homebuyers tax credit.
Particularly with regard to the home renovation tax credit, the Conservatives went out and picked up buckets of money from the Canadian taxpayers, ran off to build their signs and put up their Internet ads and all their partisan ads that are paid for by taxpayers, but they forgot one thing. They forgot the paperwork. They were telling Canadians to use the home renovation tax credit, that they would actually get their money back, but the Conservatives did not do their paperwork. They did not actually introduce the legislation for the tax credit. Can anyone believe that? Can anyone believe how irresponsible a government would be to tell Canadians to do their renovations and then the government does not do the paperwork to put the tax credit in place?
All of those Canadians who in good faith saw the buckets of money the Conservatives put into those huge signs that they love to put up everywhere, the Internet ads and all the other ads that they put in with taxpayers' money, thought that meant the Conservatives had done their paperwork, but they had not. If this bill does not pass, people will be left high and dry, having budgeted for the home renovation tax credit, having budgeted to make those renovations. Because the Conservatives did not do their paperwork, we would essentially be having people go even further into debt.
The average Canadian family over the past 20 years of Liberal and Conservative financial mismanagement has seen the family debt load double. That is a crisis. Many of the families who sorely needed renovations to their homes got them on credit. The NDP, because we are the conscience of this Parliament and often the only party that actually reads the legislation being brought forward, realized that if we did not adopt the bill, Canadians who in good faith went through the process would be stuck with the bill, and that is simply unacceptable.
On the home renovation tax credit, on the first time homebuyers tax credit, on the income deferral for farmers, on the working income tax benefit and on all those measures announced in pomp and circumstance, we are voting yes because we simply believe that Canadians need to see government keep its commitment.
We are appalled that the Conservatives did not do their paperwork, that they just ran off with their partisan advertising rather than do the first step, which most responsible Canadians would do, which is after they promised something they should introduce the legislation to make it real, but no, they did not do that. They spent all their time running off with buckets of money and putting up signs to advertise themselves. They got those big cheques with the big Conservative “C” logo on them and they ran around the country showing them, but they did not do step one, which was to introduce the legislation.
Of course, we will be voting for this in an effort to save the government from itself, but does that mean it has a blank cheque, as the Liberals have done 80 times? Does it simply mean we will let the Conservatives do anything they want? Certainly not. We have been very, very clear.
For example, the harmonized sales tax will have a profound negative impact on Canadians living in British Columbia and Ontario. The governments are in damage control. We saw the Conservatives and Liberals in Ontario announce that they are giving Timbits that are HST-free, but it is absurd to give back a few pennies when they are ripping $500 off the average individual, and $2,000 off the average family of four.
When they take all that money in a tax shift to appease the biggest companies in the country, the companies that love to offload their money and their jobs into the Caribbean, or Houston if it is an energy company, they are essentially saying to ordinary Canadians that they have to pay for this massive tax largesse that they are giving out for free. There is no performance required. The companies do not have to keep jobs. They can shed jobs; they can cut jobs; it does not matter. They will give those companies a gift in Ontario and British Columbia. It is a gift from the Conservative government to the biggest companies and there is a shift in the tax burden, because we always have to balance our books. As a financial administrator in the past, I know that well. The money has to come from somewhere. The Conservatives said that they would give all this largesse and ordinary British Columbians and Ontarians will have to pay for it.
It does not only impact the families. Two thousand dollars for an average family is a horrible impact. That is why the results in New Westminster—Coquitlam were so clear. Any time there is a byelection, or if there is an election in the spring, it will be the same verdict coming back to the Conservatives, unless they reverse engines and pull back from this phenomenal unjust tax imposition, this tax shift on the backs of ordinary Canadians.
We have said we will not support the HST. We will vote against it. Unlike the Liberals and the Conservatives who are working together on this, we will simply fight the penalty of the HST because of what it does to ordinary families, and also for what it does to community businesses.
In my prior life before coming here, I was very fortunate to be honoured with two business excellence awards. I have worked with the local Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade, and I have worked in the business community with social enterprise. I believe profoundly that community businesses need to have the tools for growth. The NDP's approach has always been to provide an educated population that provides that additional level of productivity to ensure that community businesses prosper, because when families prosper, community businesses do. We do not believe, unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals, that we offload money to Houston and the Caribbean and that somehow magically creates a strong economic development initiative here at home.
What we are saying is when there is more support for health care services, more support for social services, when people in the community have a higher quality of life, that has a positive impact on community businesses.
The HST does exactly the opposite. By ripping off ordinary British Columbians and ordinary Ontarians, there are people in the community who have less money to spend. I have not talked to a single small business owner in Burnaby or in New Westminster who supports the HST. I have talked with the hairdressers and barbers who are really concerned because, of course, there will be an increased tax on their products. I have talked to people who are involved in restaurants, not just in the Lower Mainland but also in places like Kamloops and Calgary. They are concerned that when we have an HST increase like that, essentially their clientele has less money to spend and it affects the community business and starts a vicious spiral downward.
For those reasons, this is not a blank cheque for the Conservative government. We are saving the government from itself on Bill C-51, but we are going to be fighting in this House to ensure that the HST is not brought in. British Columbians have very clearly told the Conservatives to stop the HST. British Columbians have told them to roll back this misguided, irresponsible attempt to give even more big business largesse and tax credits to the largest companies and to put the focus where it needs to be, on a better quality of life for Canadians and on more supports for community businesses. That is where we want to see this government going. We are going to vote yes on this bill, but the Conservatives are on notice that they have to start acting responsibly.