Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have been left out in the cold by the government and by the budget.
A budget is supposed to be a government's declaration of priorities. If that is true, then budget 2014 makes it clear that the only jobs the government is interested in protecting are their own.
We have heard for weeks that this would be a do-nothing budget, that the Conservatives had no intention of taking real action on the issues that matter to Canadians, because they wanted to wait until an election year to propose anything.
In this sense, and in this sense only, the budget did not disappoint. There is nothing to help Canadians save and invest for retirement. There is nothing to help create the next generation of middle-class jobs, and there is nothing to make life more affordable for Canadians.
Instead what we have is the most cynical budget in years. What little so-called new spending there is will not get out the door until years down the line, after the next election.
This budget is chock full of empty words and half-measures that will help absolutely no one. With this budget, the Conservatives seem to be telling Canadians: “Sorry, but if we help you now, are we really going to have a better shot at getting re-elected next year?”
Canadians cannot afford to wait until next year. They need help now. Canadians deserve better.
Of course, this should come as no surprise. This is a government, after all, that has repeatedly missed the mark when it comes to responding to the priorities of Canadians. Take last year's budget, for instance. It introduced nearly $8 billion in new taxes, increasing the price of thousands of goods and services that Canadians rely on every day.
Budget 2013 promised what the Minister of Finance called the largest and longest federal infrastructure plan in Canadian history. However, it took just a few days for the Parliamentary Budget Officer to expose that this so-called investment was a sham. The PBO found that the budget was nothing more than a shell game, that it delivered $5.8 billion less for infrastructure funding over five years. Instead of increasing funding at a time when our cities and towns are in dire need of support, the Conservatives actually cut it.
Who can forget the dead-on-arrival Canada job grant? It was a $300-million cut to provincial skills training that still has provincial leaders up in arms. I hear from community organizations in my riding about this, and I am sure members are hearing about this across the country. Instead of listening to provincial ministers' recommendations, the Conservatives steamrolled ahead with their own agenda, more or less like they do in Parliament. A year later, what do we have to show for it? There is nothing more than a $2.5-million advertising campaign for a program that does not even exist.
This is the Conservative economic record. What a waste of taxpayers' dollars: reckless cuts, missed projections, and utter mismanagement.
Budget 2014 continues down the same path. It fails to tackle Canada's stubbornly high unemployment rate, which is especially high for young Canadians, who are graduating with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. It proposes to balance the books on the backs of workers and employers by raiding the EI fund to pad its surplus. Now, Canadians know this story. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have stolen $57 billion from the EI fund to pay for corporate tax cuts and to mask deficits.
The budget also continues the attack on public servants, by cutting billions of dollars from retiree health benefits. These are benefits that people had planned for. They had retired hoping that they could count on them. However, once they are out the door, once they are retired, suddenly the rules of the game are changing. This is a disgrace to the public sector. It is a disgrace to working people.
The budget also delays billions of dollars of procurement spending to boost Conservative fortunes.
The fact is that 320,000 more Canadians are unemployed now than before the recession. Those who have found work are often left juggling two, or even three, part-time jobs. Others are working contracts, split shifts, often with barely enough time to see their kids as they head from one job to the next, especially with the gridlock in many of our big cities. Speaking of which, in Toronto alone, a staggering 50% of people cannot find full-time stable work. It takes them hours to criss-cross the city, often for low wages. There is nothing in this budget to help them.
There is nothing to tackle household debt. Despite the fact that the Bank of Canada calls it the biggest domestic risk facing our economy today, there is nothing to tackle this household debt.
Last month, the Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz warned that our economy will continue to struggle for at least the next two years. He suggested there is little else that the bank can do to help. That is because the current Conservative government has presided over the largest expansion of household debt in Canadian history: 166% of disposal income. From Surrey to St. John's, household bills are piling up, and household budgets are stretched like never before.
We learned just this week that consumer debt is up by more than 9% in the last 12 months alone, to a staggering $1.4 trillion of household debt. With already historic low interest levels, the Bank of Canada is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and yesterday's budget will not help one bit.
This budget has absolutely no proposals to stimulate the growth of small businesses. It has absolutely no provisions to help seniors retire in dignity or to help veterans deal with the closure of nine Veterans Affairs offices.
There are no proposals to deal with tax evasion; no proposals to deal with social inequality, which is reaching levels we have not seen since the great depression; and there are no proposals to help the 1.3 million unemployed Canadians get back into the job market.
Instead, this government has chosen to continue along its road of austerity, even though more and more economists are coming together to tell us that it is doing us more harm than good.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, by 2017 direct federal program spending as a percentage of Canada's GDP will have fallen to its lowest level since 2001. At this pace, federal spending will have been slashed a whopping $90 billion between 2010 and 2017. These are services; things that people want to count on. These are safety inspectors. These are the people who staff service counters, whether it is Service Canada or veterans services. These are the people who help us access government programs.
As Tim Harper wrote Monday in the Toronto Star:
|| Continued government austerity has thrown into question whether Ottawa can, or more importantly, wants to continue to provide services Canadians expect.
I guess that is still an open question. We are talking about services and benefits that Canadians have relied on for generations, that we have come to think of as defining us as a nation.
Time and time again, the government has told Canadians that we have to accept less and that our children have to accept less. When it comes to health care, employment insurance, old age security, and services for veterans, we all have to accept less, even though our country is richer than ever before. All these services have met the government's axe.
Budget 2014 fails to strengthen any of these services or reverse any of these disastrous cuts. Instead, once again, it chooses ideological dogma over common sense. It is future generations, our kids and our grandkids, who are going to pay the price.
Clearly, some are sheltered from the Conservatives' budget cuts and inaction. Like the Liberals before them, the Conservatives are continuing to give tax handouts to business. While the middle class is being told to tighten its belt yet again, friends of the Conservatives and the Liberals are helping themselves to the goodies. It is clear who they are working for.
We New Democrats on this side of the House know who we are working for, and Canadians know it too. They know that New Democrats, unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals, are working for them, for all Canadians.
Just last week, the International Monetary Fund warned the government about the very same reckless austerity that we saw in yesterday's budget. The IMF stated that, “fiscal policy should strike the right balance between supporting growth and rebuilding fiscal buffers”.
It went on to highlight some serious threats to our economy, from skyrocketing household debt to continued fragility in the U.S. and Europe. Those are the very sorts of risks that unchecked austerity leaves us exposed to; in other words, we are not getting the right balance. We now see that the government has ignored that warning.
That is not all. The government has ignored the fact that Canada's economic outlook has been repeatedly downgraded by the IMF and others. According to the Conference Board of Canada's report last month, our fledgling dollar is a sign of Canada's lack of growth prospects.
Despite all this, despite the warning from financial experts and the struggles of middle-class Canadians right across the country, the government has chosen to introduce a do-nothing budget.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. We must remember that this is the same government which insisted in 2008 that there would be no recession in Canada, even as the global economy teetered on the brink of collapse. This is the same government that refused to act until it was forced to act by the opposition, and thank goodness for that. It helped get the country out of the recession.
Canadians are tired of waiting for the government to get its act together. We do not have to accept less. We can and should strive for more. New Democrats are ready to do something about it.
While the Conservatives continue to twiddle their thumbs and ignore the concerns of Canadians, we New Democrats are proposing practical and specific solutions to help Canadians.
We know that Canadians work hard and that they deserve a break. This is why New Democrats have established a clear plan to protect consumers and make life more affordable. We plan to limit the ATM fees that Canadians have to pay each time they want access to their own money.
We plan to fight the abusive practices of payday lenders, who are charging interest at rates that can go as high as 1,000%. We plan to put an end to scandalous gas prices and to ensure that all Canadians have access to low-interest credit cards.
These simple measures would help to alleviate Canadian household debt and would not cost the government a cent. All across the country, Canadians have told us that measures like that would have a very positive impact on their family budgets. However, just a few weeks ago, the Conservatives voted against an NDP motion that would have limited ATM fees to 50¢. The Conservatives voted against a motion designed to make the lives of Canadians more affordable, while bank profits continue to rise.
The Conservatives can talk about being more consumer-friendly, but when it comes to taking real action, Canadians know where they stand.
New Democrats have also called on the government to reverse the disastrous cuts to old age security, and to take immediate action to strengthen retirement security. Far too many seniors in this country are going to be facing a retirement crisis. In the past two years, the current government has really broken faith with Canada's seniors, seniors who have built this country and who now deserve to retire in dignity.
The Conservatives have hiked the retirement age from 65 to 67 years; they have turned their back on a plan to expand the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan, Canadians' best and surest hope for a secure retirement; and as many as 5.8 million Canadians, nearly one-third of our workforce, will see a sharp drop in their standard of living when they retire. This is the retirement crisis so many people are referring to.
Provincial governments, labour unions, and pension experts have called on the Conservatives to move forward with plans to increase our public pensions. Even the chief executive officer of CIBC has spoken out about the need to involve government in finding a solution to this retirement security crisis. However, as we saw once again yesterday, the Conservative government still refuses to act.
Unlike the Conservatives, New Democrats also focused on creating good middle-class jobs right here in Canada instead of shipping them overseas. We have put forward ideas to help small and medium-sized businesses create high-quality jobs. We know this is a priority for Canadians, and the current government is letting them down.
We have called for a youth employment tax credit to help make sure that we give the next generation of Canadians the same opportunities that our parents gave us.
Canada is among the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, and more and more businesses are being started by young people. Even through the recession, Canadian small businesses continued to thrive and multiply, but for far too long, too many of our small businesses have stayed small. Since 2006, the number of small businesses in this country has grown by more than 44,000, but the number of medium-sized businesses has actually shrunk. That is a trend that cannot continue, and that is why we are going to work together with Canadian businesses, especially small businesses, to help them grow and prosper in the 21st century. We want to see them grow and to be the best that they can be so that they are investing and creating good-quality jobs right across this country.
These are the kinds of solutions New Democrats were hoping to see in this budget. They are the kinds of solutions Canadians were hoping to see.
While the government has failed Canadians once again, I can tell members this. These are exactly the kinds of solutions that Canadians can expect from the New Democratic government in 2015.
All across the country, those in the middle class are having to tighten their belts like never before. They deserve a government that is committed to focusing on their priorities. At the moment, they have to put up with a government that tells them that they have to go it alone and that they had better get used to it.
This is not the Canada that our parents left to us and it is not the Canada that we want to leave to our children. That is why the New Democrats will vote against this budget and why we would like to propose the following amendments:
I move, seconded by the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
|| this House not approve the budgetary policy of the government as it:
||a) Fails to take any meaningful action to create jobs while 1.3 million Canadians are unemployed;
||b) Refuses to work cooperatively with the provinces on federal transfers, skills training, and infrastructure funding;
||c) Does nothing to cap ATM fees, crack down on payday lenders or rein in credit card rates;
||d) Does not introduce a youth hiring and training tax credit to combat soaring youth unemployment;
||e) Threatens to unilaterally impose the Canada Job Grant over the unanimous objection of the provinces;
||f) Pushes ahead with office closures and cuts to veterans' services;
||g) Repeats previous governments' misuse of EI funds; and
||h) Slashes billions of dollars from the health care plans of Canadian public service retirees.
Hon. Jason Kenney (Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the hard work of my colleague opposite. I used to have her role as the official opposition finance critic and I know it is always challenging. She certainly gives great credit to her assignment.
I have three questions.
The member suggested that this is an austerity budget. That is a term in Europe that has become associated with governments that are significantly reducing their program spending, often by 10%, 20%, or 30%, to deal with massive fiscal calamity.
However, in this budget, program spending is actually relatively flat. There is actually no reduction, because transfers to persons and provinces continue to grow at a very significant pace.
Would she not agree that it is inaccurate to characterize that as extreme austerity when, in fact, we continue to see massive increases in transfers to province--an increase of $65 billion over the past seven years, for example?
Second, she suggested criticism of one of the most exciting elements of the budget, from my perspective, that being the new apprenticeship loan. This is a measure that apprentices, the polytechnics in Canada, the career colleges, the community colleges have long asked for. Because apprentice training periods are typically about eight weeks, they were excluded from access to the Canada student loan program. Why would she and the NDP be against giving apprentice students access to the same financing option, if they choose, that regular post-secondary students have? Why should they be treated as second-class students? Why does she disagree with all of the colleges and the apprentice organizations themselves, which called for precisely this measure?
Third, in question period the other day, one of her colleagues opposed our shutting down of the current investor immigrant program, which effectively gives away Canadian permanent residency to people who provide a five-year fully-guaranteed $400,000 loan that they get back after five years, which very typically results in no real investment in Canada.
To be clear, the average investor immigrant pays in federal taxes, over the course of 20 years, $200,000 less than the average immigrant who arrives as a federal skilled worker and $100,000 less in federal taxes than someone who arrives as a permanent resident through the live-in caregiver program.
Why would she support giving away Canadian social benefits to wealthy foreigners, many of whom continue to live in tax havens abroad while their dependants use Canadian social programs, and do not pay their fair share of taxes?
With respect, the NDP should have demanded years ago that we shut that down.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to budget 2014, tabled yesterday at about this time in the House.
Last night on CBC's The National, Peter Mansbridge asked the Minister of Finance, “Are there those who are going to lose as a result of today's budget?” The minister's response was quite telling. The minister said, “That's an interesting question. I hadn't thought about it that way, Peter, and I can't think of any, actually”.
The Minister of Finance cannot think of any Canadians who will be hurt by the budget.
He tried to sell us the idea that it was a boring budget. However, this budget does nothing to help young Canadians who cannot find decent jobs, and it does next to nothing to help middle-class parents.
However, when we read the fine print of the budget, and I must assume that the Minister of Finance is aware of the details of his own budget, we see that this is a budget that actually does hurt many Canadians. In fact, it hurts one of our most vulnerable groups, a group to whom we owe so much, and that is Canada's veterans.
The Conservatives' latest budget actually hits our veterans squarely in the pocketbook. It hits them when they are at the medical clinic or at the drug store. For Canadians who bravely served this country and who are now retired and living on fixed incomes, the budget doubles the amount they must pay each month for their medical plan. Yet these cuts to our veterans did not get any coverage in the news last night. Perhaps it is because some of the language in the budget is so cleverly deceptive.
The change the Conservatives are making to the public service health care plan for retirees is one of the single largest items in the budget. By doubling the amount these retirees must pay for their health plan, the Conservatives hope to save roughly $7.4 billion over six years. That is $7.4 billion that is being taken from retired Canadians living on fixed incomes.That is not pocket change.
For a measure as big and as important as this, Canadians expect that there should be a lot more detail in the budget to explain who will be affected and by how much, but Conservatives left those details out.
For example, there is no information in the budget about who qualifies for the public service health care plan as a retiree. However, if we go to the website of the public service health care plan, it has a list of who qualifies for this plan as a retiree. That list includes retired members of the Canadian Forces, our veterans, and retired members of the RCMP. It includes their dependents and their survivors.
This is what these changes will mean for our veterans. For veterans who receive the most basic health care coverage, their annual contributions will go from $261 to roughly $550. That is double. Veterans with the most basic family coverage will see their annual contributions go from $513 to roughly $1,080. That is an additional $567 per year these pensioners on fixed incomes will have to pay to cover their prescriptions. That is an extra $567 retired veterans will have to find so that they and their spouses will not lose their medical coverage.
Yesterday we saw members of the government rise to give the Minister of Finance a standing ovation, over and over again, for his budget. Those members ought to think back to last Remembrance Day, and they ought to think about those brave veterans of World War II, our veterans who still show up each year on November 11, in smaller numbers, and who are still so valued and so worthy of our nation's undying gratitude. I ask them to think of an 88-year-old veteran of World War II who is struggling with diabetes and a heart condition, a grandfather who still cannot talk about what he witnessed in that war. Do the Conservatives actually think this man is living so high on the hog that he ought to be forced to pay double for his medical benefits?
How about the brave men and women who have come back from Afghanistan, veterans who have been medically discharged against their wishes and now find themselves veterans instead of current members of the Canadian Forces? Should the government be making it harder for them to receive the care they need?
What about the survivors, Canadian widows and widowers who are grieving for soldiers and police offices who are no longer with us? Why are the Conservatives balancing the books on the backs of these widows and survivors?
The Conservatives know the hardship these cuts will cause. In fact, an internal audit by the government in late 2009 showed that some veterans were actually having difficulty paying for their health benefits. That audit said:
|| [Veterans Affairs Canada] staff interviewed noted the importance of this health care coverage for both clients and their families. However, the cost of monthly premiums and deductibles was stated to be an obstacle for some clients.
Instead of listening to this audit, conducted by the government, of Veterans Affairs Canada, the government actually doubled those costs, and now it wants to make it even tougher and more expensive for veterans to get the medical coverage they need. The way the Conservatives are treating our veterans is beneath contempt. It is reprehensible.
Last night, the finance minister actually went on national television and told Canadians that he could not think of any person or group in Canada that would lose as a result of this budget. Clearly he is not thinking, and the Conservatives are not thinking, about our veterans. He also is not thinking about current members of the Canadian Armed Forces. He is not thinking about the brave men and women who stand on guard for Canada.
The Conservatives are actually slashing the budget for military procurement by $3.1 billion in the next few years. They say that our brave members of the Canadian Forces will have to wait for the equipment they need to do their jobs, as if they have not been waiting long enough. The Conservatives have been bungling military procurements for years, and now they have given up on these major purchases until well after the election; so much for the Conservatives supporting our troops. The government simply will not put its money where its mouth is.
This budget is a no-growth budget at a time when Canadian families need growth, jobs, and opportunity. This budget does nothing to help Canadian middle-class families. Too many Canadians are struggling right now under the crushing weight of personal debt. For some, it is because they have lost their jobs. In other cases, it is that they have lost full-time jobs and are struggling to replace those jobs with part-time work, and they have lost benefits such as supplemental health insurance and pension plans. They might have found new jobs, but they simply do not have the same benefits as the old ones.
However, the bills keep coming in. The mortgage still needs to be paid, and these people have taken on more debt to make ends meet. Some Canadians are approaching retirement with adult children who have not quite left the nest, because they cannot afford to. Their children may have college or university educations, sometimes both, but they cannot catch a break. They cannot get jobs that enable them to sustain themselves economically.
Young Canadians have been excluded from the recent economic recovery. There are 262,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians than before the downturn. Many middle-class families have taken on extra debt just to financially support their adult children who are living at home. Some parents take on more debt to help children go back to school. It is also to help them with rent, or in other cases, to renovate the basement or pay for extra groceries until these young people can get a good start.
These Canadians do not know how they are going to pay the bills today. In many cases, middle-class parents, and in some cases grandparents, have delayed their retirement saving and have taken on more debt. They are struggling to get by today, when interest rates are low, and are petrified of what will happen in the future as rates inevitably rise.
These Canadians need a break. They need a government with a vision and a plan to create jobs, growth, and prosperity, but the finance minister was not thinking of them when he wrote this budget. He failed to provide Canadians with the plan they need. Instead of creating jobs, growth, and prosperity, the latest Conservative budget includes no new jobs, low economic growth, and more debt for Canadians than prosperity.
Canada's job market completely stalled in 2013. Only 5,300 net new full-time jobs were created last year for the entire country. A whopping 95% of last year's net new jobs were part-time. As I mentioned before, young Canadians still have 262,000 fewer jobs compared to before the downturn. It is clear that the government needs to change course and provide a credible plan to stimulate job creation. The status quo is not working.
Instead of introducing a new plan to create jobs, the budget would actually cut provincial programs that today are helping Canadians find work. Instead of working together with the provinces, the Conservatives have decided to go full steam ahead, to go it alone, on the Canada job grant, damn the torpedoes. To pay for it, they are actually taking money from the provinces, money that is currently being used to deliver skills training to some of our most vulnerable citizens, some of the Canadians who need the help the most.
This decision, for instance, endangers programs like BladeRunners, a program in B.C. that the OECD has called “one of the most successful programmes in Canada to support transition to employment of disadvantaged youth”. That program was funded through the labour market agreements that would be dismantled under this budget.
In my own riding of Kings—Hants, groups like the Valley Community Learning Association receive critical funding through the labour market agreements. This association has helped 91 Nova Scotians get their GED since it started receiving funding from the labour market agreements in 2010. It is giving those people a chance to get an education and to further themselves and their families. It helps apprentices with their math so they can pass the academic portion of their programs. It helps people prepare for aptitude tests so they can get through the screening processes in the military or for work at the local Michelin plant.
There are many vital groups in my riding that rely on labour market agreement funding to help vulnerable Nova Scotians. I am talking of groups like Community INC, PeopleWorx, Hants County Community Access Network, and the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association.
Vulnerable Canadians who are out of work rely on these programs to find jobs, and these vulnerable Canadians will be hurt by the budget. Once again, last night the Minister of Finance was unaware of who he is hurting with his callous budget that is so out of touch with these Canadians who are struggling.
On the jobs front for young Canadians, the budget announced $70 million for youth internships, but that is the same money that was announced in last year's budget. This is a déjà vu budget. It is a Groundhog Day budget. It does not actually do anything to really address youth unemployment and youth underemployment. The minister has not been thinking of our youth who need a government that does more. Instead, this is just another area of the budget where the Conservatives have been cleverly deceptive. When it comes to growth, the budget actually downgrades the Conservatives' own expectations for the Canadian economy established in the fall economic statement.
In the lead-up to the budget, we knew that the Prime Minister already had the worst record on economic growth of any Canadian prime minister since R.B. Bennett in the depths of the Depression. Canada's economy is actually growing more slowly today than the economies of the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and 11 other industrialized countries. Next year, Canada's growth is projected to fall below the OECD average.
The IMF has said that Canada's growth is at risk due to “high household debt and house prices”. The fact is that the finance minister's reckless introduction of 40-year, zero-down-payment mortgages in 2006 helped fuel a Canadian housing and personal debt problem that continues to endanger our economy.
The only thing that seems to be growing in Canada's economy these days is household debt. In 2013, Canada's household debt hit a record high. The average Canadian household now owes $1.66 for every dollar of disposable income.
In terms of the fiscal debt, the federal debt of the country, the Conservatives will have added $161 billion to the federal debt before the next election. That is according to their own numbers.
Canadians know that debt equals future taxes, because we will have to pay down that debt at some point in the future. An extra $161 billion in debt means that the average Canadian family will have to pay over $18,000 more in future taxes to pay off the debt racked up by the Conservative government, and that is not counting the interest.
With all of this debt, too many Canadians may have to delay their retirement plans. They are putting off saving for tomorrow because they can hardly make ends meet today. However, everyone has to stop working at some point; we cannot put off the cost of retirement indefinitely. The government does not seem to get it.
That is why the premiers are proposing a way to strengthen the CPP, to make sure that Canadians are better prepared for retirement. However, when the provinces proposed increasing the CPP, the Minister of Finance shut them down. He called it a job-killing payroll tax. What hypocrisy because this is the same Minister of Finance who is keeping EI payroll taxes artificially high.
According to this budget, the EI account is set to balance in 2015, yet the minister intends to collect an extra $5.2 billion in surplus EI revenues next year and use that to pad his books to create a surplus before the election. The minister could lower EI premiums. That would give Canadians business and workers a much needed break. Instead, he is keeping these EI rates artificially high. He is charging Canadians billions in extra EI premiums to pad his books.
The logic of the minister goes like this. When the provinces proposed an expanded CPP, it is a job-killing payroll tax. However, when the Conservatives keep EI premiums artificially high in order to create a phony surplus on the eve of an election, it is fair game.
The Conservatives are not just relying on bloated EI taxes to pad their books and create a phony surplus, but are also using one-time asset sales. Ontarians have seen this show before from the minister. During the Harris government, the same Minister of Finance in his previous position orchestrated the failed Highway 407 asset sale to pad his books and cover up his deficit. The minister held a fire sale and sold the highway to Spain at billions of dollars below market value. In Ontario, the same minister left Ontarians with a $6 billion deficit when he had promised a surplus. Today, here in Ottawa, the minister is again creating a phony surplus on the eve of an election for his political gains and misleading Canadians.
This budget would hurt too many Canadians. It punishes veterans, ignores the struggling middle class and struggling Canadian youth. It creates a phony surplus on the eve of an election, built on artificially high EI premiums, defence cuts, and asset sales; and it tries to balance the books on the backs of the most vulnerable Canadians, including aging veterans and marginalized Canadians who rely on provincial training programs to get themselves ready for the job market.
For this reason, the Liberal Party stands opposed to this budget. Therefore, I move the following:
|| That the amendment be amended by deleting all the words after the word “services”; and substituting the following:
||g) Slashes billions of dollars from the health care plans of veterans, RCMP officers and of other Canadian public service retirees.
||h) fails to offer a real plan for long term economic growth that would help middle class families;
||i) takes money from workers and employers by keeping Employment Insurance premiums artificially high;
||j) fails to revoke the Budget 2013 tariff hikes that increased the cost on everything from wigs for cancer patients to tricycles; and
||k) fails to fill the $3 billion infrastructure hole that Budget 2013 created in the Building Canada Fund.
Hon. Peter Kent (Thornhill, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Kitchener—Conestoga.
I am delighted to speak today in support of economic action plan 2014.
Yesterday I was honoured to sit in this House as the Minister of Finance tabled his 10th budget. This budget confirms our government is on track to have a balanced budget by 2015 while creating more jobs for Canadians. I am proud to highlight some of the key elements of the budget.
Our government is clearly on track to balance the budget while keeping taxes low and protecting the programs and services that Canadians count on. As the opening words in the budget document, “The Road to Balance: Creating Jobs and Opportunities”, says, Canada's economic action plan is working.
The deficit is expected to decline to $2.9 billion in 2014-15, followed by a surplus of $6.4 billion in 2015-16, after taking into account $3 billion in annual adjustment for risk.
Since our government implemented Canada's economic action plan during the global recession, Canada has achieved the best job creation record of any of the G7 countries. It has the strongest income growth. As well, it has one of the best economic performances in the G7.
The Canadian economy has continued to create jobs with over one million more Canadians working today than during the worst of the recession. Canadian families in all income groups have seen increases of about 10% or more in their real, after-tax, after-transfer income since 2006.
Canadians at all income levels are benefiting from tax relief introduced by our government with low- and middle-income Canadians receiving proportionately greater relief. An average Canadian family of four now pays approximately $3,400 less in taxes than in 2006 due to the government's record of tax relief.
Canada is now one of only a handful of countries in the world that continues to earn a AAA credit rating with a stable outlook from all the major credit-rating agencies.
Economic action plan 2014 builds on this record of achievement with positive measures to grow the economy and to help create jobs.
Yesterday afternoon, after the finance minister tabled the budget, I was shocked by the first comment and characterization by the finance critic of the NDP, who said that there was absolutely nothing for young people or for jobs in this budget. I will just take a look at what exactly economic action plan 2014 will do with regard to jobs and growth.
It will implement the Canada job grant and job-matching service to help Canadians with available jobs. It will introduce, and this is no small matter, the new Canada apprentice loan to help registered apprentices in red seal trades with the costs of training.
Our government will invest to reform the on-reserve education system in partnership with first nations through the first nations control of first nations education act. An improvement of education on reserves and off will certainly improve and set up the graduates of secondary and post-secondary education programs, better suiting them for positions in a job market which is looking for appropriately trained graduates.
Economic action plan 2014 will invest in programs to help older workers and persons with disabilities across the labour market. It will create thousands of new paid internships for young Canadians entering the job market. It will make a major investment of $500 million in automotive sector support, investments in Canada's forestry and mining sectors, and so much more.
It will also provide $1.5 billion over the next decade for the Canada first research excellence fund for post-secondary education.
To support families and to support communities, this budget will stand up for consumers by encouraging competition and lower prices in the telecommunications market and introducing legislation to prohibit cross-border price discrimination. Certainly, this is front of mind for all Canadians living in proximity to our border.
Economic action plan 2014 will eliminate the practice of pay-to-pay billing. It will increase the adoption expense tax credit to help make adoption more affordable for Canadian families. It will expand tax relief for health care by exempting acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors' professional services from GST and HST. It will also strengthen food safety for Canadian families, with major new investments of $390 million. It will invest more than $300 million to bring faster broadband Internet to rural and northern Canada.
It will protect Canadians from the impact of natural disasters, with $200 million to establish a natural disaster mitigation program. It would create a new search and rescue volunteer tax credit to recognize the important role played by search and rescue volunteers who put themselves at risk while contributing to the safety and security of Canadians.
As we have already discussed several times in the House, it will expand the funeral and burial program so that modern-day veterans have access to dignified funerals and burials.
If I could reflect for just a moment on the benefits of economic action plan 2014 with regard to protection of our great natural places and spaces, it will provide funding for the sustainability of Canada's national parks, and the infrastructure, which has been neglected over the decades, in and around the national parks. It will double the funding for the recreational fisheries conservation partnership program, a program which has enjoyed resounding success and effectiveness in the first year of its application from budget 2013. It will also provide a way for Canadians with ecologically sensitive land to protect natural areas for future generations. It would expand tax support for green energy generation.
With regard to balancing the budget, unlike the Liberals who slashed health and social transfers to the provinces, economic action plan 2014 will advance our government's commitment to control direct program spending with proposals to ensure that overall public service employee compensation is reasonable and at the same time affordable. The government will work with crown corporations to implement fifty-fifty employee pension plan cost sharing, and to increase the retirement age for new hires.
Along with economic action plan 2014, our government issued a very important document yesterday, “Jobs Report: The State of the Canadian Labour Market”, which examines recent developments in the labour market. There are challenges, again, coming out of the recession. “Jobs Report” is an important document for everyone in the House and beyond to consider and digest. There are very relevant charts, graphs and information which will affect the way our country continues on a steady course out of the economic downturn. It also outlines actions that our government has taken to support Canadians in upgrading their skills and in the creation of high-quality jobs.
In closing, I would invite my hon. colleagues on the opposite side of the House to abandon partisan criticism and partisan politics and to support economic action plan 2014.
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise not only to express my support for economic action plan 2014 but also to express thanks on behalf of the citizens of Kitchener—Conestoga to the Minister of Finance for his great work stewarding Canada through some of the toughest times the world has faced since the Great Depression.
I rise today not only to praise the road to balance he authored but also to share with my friends across the Waterloo region the very real difference budget 2014 offers to their lives.
I rise not only to talk about the creation of jobs and opportunities for Canadian families put forward in budget 2014 but also to highlight the opportunities it will create for the communities in which we live.
In order to put all of that in context, though, I need to quickly outline what we have done already and what roads we chose not to walk. A noted Canadian once asked, “Do you think it is easy to make priorities?” Apparently it is not. The previous prime minister seemed to make new priorities every day. I do not think Canadians judge politicians on the volume of their priorities, though. I think we are judged on the content of our priorities and the diligence with which we address them.
This government's long-term priorities were identified in advantage Canada. This document was authored in 2006, and it remains the best lens with which I evaluate our diligence and our ability to focus on priorities. These priorities were a tax advantage, reducing taxes for all Canadians and establishing the lowest tax rate on new business investment in the G7; a fiscal advantage, eliminating our net government debt within a generation; an entrepreneurial advantage, reducing unnecessary regulation and red tape and increasing competition in the Canadian marketplace; a knowledge advantage, creating the best-educated, most skilled, and most flexible workforce in the world; and an infrastructure advantage, building the modern infrastructure we need to compete abroad and enjoy livable communities at home.
Through the intervening years, advantage Canada has served us well. Through the good times and the worst times, our priorities have remained unchanged. Our focus on them continues. When I say the worst times, I am of course referring to the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. By sticking to the priorities outlined in advantage Canada, Canada not only led the world in economic growth but will now benefit from the strategic investments we made.
In my home of Waterloo region, we saw Conestoga College grow its capacity to train much-needed engineers, health care workers, and food processing technicians. We opened the Institute for Quantum Computing, the Canadian Digital Media Network, and the Communitech Hub to support the entrepreneurs who create tomorrow's jobs.
We enjoy new community centres, safer drinking water, and improved park lands, thanks to the federal government investments. With the strong partnership of this government, Waterloo region has become a better place to live, work, and raise a family. All of this came without raising taxes and without cutting our support for health care or education, as the previous government did. All of this positive action occurred during the worst economic times most living Canadians have experienced.
As chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, I am pleased to see the key investments this Prime Minister and this government have made. Well over $17 billion have been invested in clean transportation initiatives, renewable fuels, clean energy, clean air, green infrastructure, research, energy efficiency, and work to preserve our oceans and lakes.
Economic action plan 2014 builds on this legacy by expanding tax relief for green energy generation, investing in Canada's national parks, and further supporting conservation efforts and family-oriented conservation activities, and by making it easier and more affordable to donate ecologically sensitive lands for preservation. All of this was done while outperforming every other G7 country in job creation, while maintaining the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G7, and while Canadians are experiencing the strongest real per capita income growth in the G7.
Here we are debating budget 2014, the road to balance, the latest phase of Canada's economic action plan. While our neighbours to the south are tied up in debates about how much they are willing to increase their national debt, here in Canada we are coming to appreciate the fact that, thanks to the leadership of this Minister of Finance and this Prime Minister, Canada will soon enter a great national debate about how to allocate a surplus.
On behalf of the fine people of Kitchener—Conestoga, I thank the finance minister for all his work. I thank him for bringing us to this point where we are seeing the benefits of all these investments and where the end to deficit spending is in sight.
When the budget is balanced, a lower portion of tax dollars will be needed to pay interest on our debt. This signals our stability to the world and helps attract investment to Canada.
Most importantly though, ending deficit spending will lower the debt with which we burden our children and our grandchildren.
Speaking of our children, I would like to draw to the attention of the House a report authored by CIVIX, the student budget consultation. CIVIX consulted with students across Canada on their budget priorities. To a question about the most important step the government could take to help families, the answer was not to increase subsidies for post-secondary education, as we might have expected.
No, in fact, the most popular answer provided by students was to lower personal income taxes. When asked whether they agreed with the statement that the government should place a high priority on reducing the debt as much as possible, over 80% of Canadian students were onside. When asked what the priority should be for allocating the surplus, 46% of them said we need to pay down the debt versus a measly 9% who called for an increase in spending to boost jobs.
What does it mean when Canadian secondary school students have a better grasp of basic economics than the opposition parties? I think it means our future is in good hands. Even they know that budgets do not balance themselves. This road to balance ensures the future that these students will inherit will be a bright future.
Students pursuing a trade will, for the first time, have access to federal student aid. Youth looking for work will enjoy increased support for paid internships. Recent graduates and those in the workforce will find starting their own business much easier, thanks to the 800,000 payroll remittances or red tape that we have eliminated on small business.
For my home of Waterloo region I can be even more specific. The Canadian Digital Media Network and the Institute for Quantum Computing both receive support in budget 2014. CDMN will help entrepreneurs find commercial uses for what the industry calls “big data”. IQC will continue its work to develop the world's first quantum computer.
It is worth noting that even though the quantum computer has yet to be developed, IQC is already an active commercializer of knowledge. To do its research, it needed to invent the required specialized tools. These tools are now being sold around the world.
Our initial investment in the Communitech Hub has exceeded every expectation, and this road to balance supports the creation of similar success stories by increasing funds for the Canada accelerator and incubator program.
I know the opposition will disagree with me on this, but frankly, I was most happy yesterday to hear that this government remains committed to the Canada job grant. Virtually every employer I have spoken to over the last year sees our current system of training as broken. Polytechnics Canada sees the current system as broken, too focused on filling seats and not enough on real results; and it is right. We can take the easy road, as has the Wynne government, and defend a failed system, or we can try to do better. I am glad we are not giving up on doing better for Canadians.
I read in the media that some politicians in my home province of Ontario are upset that they will receive less money this year in equalization funding. An improving economy means there is less need for equalization in Ontario than there was last year. To anyone other than the Wynne government, this should be a good thing. An improving economy is something Ontarians should celebrate rather than mourn. It brings cheerleading for the recession to a new, indisputably lower level.
If Ontarians truly want to continue receiving equalization funding due to poor economic performance, all they need to do is re-elect a Liberal government in Ontario, and I know they are better than that.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, if indeed I have eight minutes before I am interrupted, I will talk about the current economic situation, with a view to putting yesterday's budget into context.
To hear the Conservatives crow about the budget and the current situation, you would think that the recession is a thing of the past, that Canadians are working again and that the current situation is as good as it was before the recession. However, that is not the case.
In May 2008, before the recession hit the country, the unemployment rate in Canada was 6.1% while the labour force rate was 68%. Those figures are much more positive than today's. According to the most recent data available, the unemployment rate in January was 7.0%, almost 1% higher than it was before the recession. The labour force was down, at 66.8%.
That means that far fewer people are in the labour market. This is a major problem. Specifically, we are talking about 1.4 million unemployed Canadians, or 300,000 more than before the recession. No, the government should not be acting as if the recession were over and as if a balanced budget must be achieved in 2015 at all costs.
We will say it over and over again: achieving a balanced budget is important, but it must be done according to the economic cycle. The economic data clearly show that we have not come to the end of an economic cycle. The government should still be taking steps to stimulate job creation and economic growth.
In this budget, which the Conservatives themselves have called a “do nothing budget”, there are absolutely no measures along those lines. In upcoming speeches, we will hear them talk about measures that come out of this budget of almost 500 pages, so that they can feel better about themselves.
However, when you draft a budget, you have to make choices. The fiscal situation in Canada is important and the Conservatives' drive to achieve a balanced budget in 2015 is clearly a vote-getting goal. The Conservatives themselves are not even trying to hide that anymore. That poses serious problems for job creation and economic growth.
The Conservatives boast that Canada is leading the G7 in terms of job creation and economic growth. I have a little bit of news for them: Canada now ranks third among G7 countries and is continuing to slide below the other countries.
Within the OECD, that is, among industrialized nations, Canada is in the middle of the pack. Over a year and a half ago, the OECD predicted that Canada's slide would continue, so no, Canada is not really in such a great position and is still feeling the effects of the recession.
Drafting a budget means making choices. The Conservatives do not really understand the true cost of their cuts, of what many people call their austerity measures. Even though things are not as bad as they are in Europe, this is still austerity because the government is cutting its investments.
This is the fourth round of austerity measures, the fourth budget before the government starts handing out goodies for the election next year in an attempt to bribe Canadians.
Clearly, there is a price to pay for achieving an artificially balanced budget at all costs in 2015 rather than 2016 or 2017. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, because of all the cuts, the Conservative government's past four austerity budgets have undermined our economic growth potential.
Current economic growth, as represented by our GDP, is 1.6% lower than it would have been without the cuts. That means tens of billions of dollars in lost earnings for our economy. I know that the government does not hold the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer in high regard.
Perhaps they would be more inclined to believe the International Monetary Fund which, in its January report, indicated that federal government cuts will dampen economic growth by at least 10% to 15%. I will repeat this for the government: Canadian economic growth would be 10% to 15% higher without these cuts and austerity measures.
I was very surprised, taken aback in fact, by what the Minister of Finance said when presenting his budget yesterday. It is worthwhile quoting him:
||...our government remains committed to balancing the budget in 2015, but I must be clear. We did not do this on the backs of ordinary Canadians or Canadians in need....
I was elected in 2011 and, since then, I have been fighting against the Conservatives' cuts, which have a real impact on the everyday lives of the people in my riding in eastern Quebec. Whether we are talking about employment insurance, VIA Rail, Canada Post, Service Canada, veterans, science and technology or food inspection, to name just a few on a potentially long list, the Conservative government has made cuts to essential services. It claims to be cutting the fat when it is now cutting to the bone.
Front-line services for Canadians and Quebeckers have decreased because of the Conservatives' measures. That has an impact on economic growth and job creation, which they have not been able to sustain and which no longer seem to be priorities in this budget.
I know that my time is up. I will come back tomorrow to continue my speech, and I will talk about the measures in this budget, which, instead of promoting economic growth, will further hinder this growth.