The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014, and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke to speak to Bill C-31.
In my previous remarks on the federal budget, I focused on the $117 million that was allocated to AECL to maintain operations at its Chalk River laboratories and prepare for the transition to a government-owned contractor-operated governance model.
Today, I intend to focus on the many other benefits of economic action plan 2014, as well as contrasting the difference between sound, Conservative, economic policy and the rash, disastrous policies being proposed by the opposition parties and their friends in the left-wing media.
The purpose of this legislation is to implement provisions of the federal budget of February 11, 2014, which in addition to the measures announced in our federal budget, amends existing legislation in order to carry out our road to balance, creating jobs and opportunities in Canada.
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the member for Whitby—Oshawa for his many years of service to Canadians as the federal minister of finance. Canada is recognized globally for our sound fiscal management. All Canadians owe a debt of gratitude for his fine work.
At the same time, I congratulate our new Minister of Finance, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence. Having worked with our finance minister in his previous role as minister of natural resources, I know Canadians can continue to have confidence in the sound economic policies of our Conservative government.
It is important for Canadians to take note of who is providing economic leadership in Canada. Only a Conservative government, led by our current Prime Minister can be trusted with our nation's finances.
The wacky ideas of the loony left would quickly bankrupt our nation. Look how quickly the Liberal Party of Ontario turned the province that used to be the economic engine of Canada into a have-not province, reduced to begging Ottawa to pay for its bad decisions, like ORNGE, eHealth, and the billion-dollar gas plant scandal. By its own admission, it will be the year 2035 before there might be any improvements if things do not change in Toronto, like a change in leadership.
Yes, it does matter who is in control of the nation's finances. This act proposes to legislate key elements of economic action plan 2014, which commits to a return to balanced budgets in 2015.
Let me remind the House that we are balancing the budget without raising taxes. Raising taxes is what is demanded by the Liberals and the NDP. Their so-called pollution tax is just another name for a carbon tax. A tax is a tax is a tax. A tax is just a way for socialists to spend our money in a way we would never do voluntarily.
We have moved to a position where the federal budget will be balanced by reducing spending, which is what Canadians have told us needs to be done. Only a socialist thinks taxpayers should pay more. The average Canadian family pays $3,400 less in taxes, thanks to this Conservative government.
The key elements in economic action plan 2014 include measures to help connect Canadians with available jobs and foster job creation, support families and communities, and invest in infrastructure, trade, and responsible resource development.
Let me be clear. Our economic action plan that was presented to Canadians on February 11 contains the provisions in this legislation that we have before us.
Budgets in modern, industrialized western nations are complicated documents. That the other parties do not understand the complexities of a modern economy only demonstrates that they are unfit to govern.
Canadians expect more than opposition for the sake of opposition. Unlike the opposition in Ottawa that opposes just to oppose before they even read the legislation, I encourage all Canadians to read what we have proposed. I am confident Canadians will understand and like what they see.
Canadians understand what it means to have a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state. It means having a job and being able to afford to buy the products from the countries we sell to. That is called trade, and it is something our Prime Minister takes very seriously, because we know trade brings prosperity.
Highlights of the economic action plan act no. 1 include connecting Canadians with available jobs and fostering job creation by investing $11 million over two years and $3.5 million per year ongoing to strengthen the labour market opinion process to ensure Canadians are given the first chance at available jobs, providing $14 million over two years and $4.7 million per year ongoing toward the successful implementation of an expression of interest economic immigration system to support Canada's labour market needs, and providing apprentices registered in Red Seal trades with access to interest-free loans of up to $4,000 per period of technical training.
We would cut red tape for more than 50,000 employers by reducing the maximum number of required payments on account of source deductions.
Canadians recognize that people, not bureaucracy, create employment. When it comes to financing a G7 economy, it is not a matter of budgets balancing themselves, which is what Canadians hear from the trust fund child who relies on his name and not his ability to pursue power for the sake of power. His reliance on the former advisers of the disgraced Ontario Liberal leader, Dalton McGuinty, is dangerous to the financial health of all Canadians. Their policy of forcing communities to accept industrial wind turbines that enrich the pockets of wealthy Liberal Party insiders like Mike Crawley has created a new term in Ontario: energy poverty.
Mr. Crawley went from being the president of the Ontario Liberal Party to being the president of the federal Liberal Party. He now sits, along with Gerald Butts, who co-authored the so-called Green Energy Act of Ontario that is causing electricity prices to skyrocket, as one of the Liberal Party's most senior advisers.
Mr. Butts is another example of replacing economic common sense with some wacky left-wing ideology. He was the principal adviser to the provincial leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario in Toronto. These Liberals use Hollywood accounting. Ontario electricity consumers paid over $1 billion to American border states last year for them to take unusable electricity from industrial wind turbines. The money to pay for that foolishness is taken out of the pockets of seniors and others on fixed incomes, who are now faced with monthly electricity bills that are greater than their incomes.
Worst of all, Mr. Crawley received a $475 million 20-year contract from the Liberal Party of Ontario, paid with taxpayer dollars, to build those wind turbines. They are wind turbines that nobody wants and that generate power we cannot even use the majority of the time because of when the wind blows.
That is Liberal economic policy.
We can be thankful there is a Conservative government in Ottawa and a firm, responsible hand on the finances of Canada. We use common sense in supporting families and communities by encouraging competition and lower prices in the telecommunications market through capping wholesale domestic wireless roaming rates, thus preventing wireless providers from charging other companies who may be their competitors more than they charge their own customers for mobile voice, data, and text services; introducing a search and rescue volunteers tax credit for search and rescue volunteers who perform at least 200 hours of service per year; increasing the maximum amount of the adoption expense tax credit to $15,000 to help make adoption more affordable for Canadian families; exempting acupuncturists' and naturopathic doctors' professional services from the goods and services or harmonized sales tax; expanding the list of eligible expenses under the medical expense tax credit to include costs associated with service animals that are specially trained to assist individuals with severe diabetes, such as diabetes alert dogs, as well as amounts paid for the design of an eligible individualized therapy plan; and enhancing access to employment insurance sickness benefits for claimants who receive parents of critically ill children compassionate care benefits.
We are investing in infrastructure, trade, and responsible resource development by reducing barriers to the international and domestic flow of goods and services.
Mr. Terence Young (Oakville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to have this opportunity to speak today regarding budget 2015 and this new budget implementation bill because I think their significance is so easily understated.
In this budget, our former finance minister and our current Minister of Finance, with the support of a highly principled Prime Minister, a dedicated caucus, and a hard-working civil service, have brought Canada within a hair's breath of a very significant goal. That goal, a balanced budget, will be achieved next year.
This has been accomplished with many tough decisions by our government, such as saying no to many requests for funding and ending programs that were not necessary. It includes a three-year wage freeze for members of Parliament, a change that will demand that civil servants pay half the cost of their own pension plan, and a demand that MPs, who serve an average of less than six years, also pay half their own pension plan moving forward in 2015. That means an additional $1,733 will be taken off the paycheque of each MP every month at that time, so we cut our own benefits too.
My point is that balancing a budget requires sacrifice and principled leadership. It is very difficult to do. It is no fun. That is why most countries in southern Europe could not do it year after year for decades until their debts overwhelmed them. Every member of this House knows what happened there.
Economists who have never been in government say that balanced budgets are not that important. They themselves are a very well-paid group who can afford more taxes, but what about ordinary Canadians? What about the people who spend most or all of what they earn on daily life, because life is just expensive? They are trying to pay a mortgage or save for a house or a family vacation or save for post-secondary education for their children. What about them?
I do not think most economists, who work for banks that earn tens of millions of dollars on interest from loans to governments or for universities or corporations where they have generous pension plans, feel it so profoundly if their taxes go up year after year. It will not affect their lifestyle very much. For everyone else who is taxed out, three or four levels of government are taking too much, and no one believes most governments spend all that money wisely.
Balancing a budget means that the government is spending the same as it takes in. It is not creating more and more debt that working people will pay their entire lives, plus interest. Balancing the budget also means that the federal government can start paying back the $619 billion it has borrowed in the taxpayer's name.
Bill C-31 is the track to this reality. It means that families can truly plan their own future with less fear that some future government will get its hands on more of their paycheque, before they even get it, for something that no one really needs.
Balanced budgets mean we are not mortgaging our children's future or saddling them with debt that they will pay for over their entire lives. Balanced budgets mean we pay our own way.
Balanced budgets mean investors worldwide want to invest in infrastructure in Canada because they know that they will get their money back with a return.
In February the Liberal leader, who has no economic policy to speak of, implied on a party convention video that the Government of Canada does not have enough debt and should take on more. That should get the attention of every Canadian, especially our young people, who will pay back any new debts created by a Liberal government, if elected, for the rest of their lives, and who will have a diminished quality of life because their paycheques are smaller because of high taxes.
The Liberal leader, who, as everyone knows, has always had the benefit of an inherited trust fund, is trying to convince the middle class that he is their new best friend. All he talks about these days is the middle class. It is as though he is trying to join it. He wants to help us. All of a sudden, ordinary working people are his priority.
On the other hand, we have a track record. Our government helped ordinary middle-class people and low-income people by reducing the GST by 2%, by enhancing the working tax credit, and by providing the universal child care benefit of $1,200 a year for each child under six years of age.
We have also taken one million low-income people off the federal tax rolls and provided a whole raft of tax credits to help low-income people who work to keep more of their own money. Conservatives care about low-income people and the middle class and are acting to make their lives easier. Most Conservatives are in fact low-income and middle-class people.
In a video prepared for the Liberal convention, the Liberal leader said, “while the middle class is tapped out, the federal government has room to invest”. He also said that the government of Canada needs to step up. He supported a party resolution at the Liberal Convention that the Liberals should spend 1% of GDP a year, which would be $18 billion that must be borrowed on infrastructure. Therefore, in four years, that would be $72 billion plus interest that our children and grandchildren would have to pay back, for their entire lives.
The Liberal leader is preparing to convince Canadians, as his father did, a former prime minister, that debts do not matter. Someone else will pay, not them. We have lived through this before, in the 1970s, under that former prime minister. Since Pierre Trudeau resigned, subsequent governments have achieved operational surpluses of $634 billion. Yet, during that time, Canadians have paid over $1 trillion in interest, all due to the debt that Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals left us with.
I have a rhetorical question. Who said this:
|| We were caught in a trap of our own making – a vicious circle in which our chronic deficits contributed to economic lethargy, which in turn contributed to even higher deficits, and then to greater malaise.
That was the former Liberal finance minister and prime minister, Paul Martin, the last Liberal finance minister to balance Canada's federal budget, years ago. He was right, and the Liberal leader today wants to do it all over again: promote the illusion that borrowed money does not have to be paid back, at least not by them.
In 2015, we will begin paying down debt again. We will reduce the interest we pay out and get more for our money. Canada will increasingly decide its own fate and never be beholding to banks and foreign leaders to direct our nation. We will never be ordered to cut back pensions, health care, or education funding by banks because we are near bankruptcy, like most of southern Europe has been. This is our solemn commitment to the people of Canada.
This budget is the step just before the top, the last step. We will get out of the borrowing paradigm. We will not turn around and head back down. Canada will control its own destiny, and this bill would take us one step closer.
Mr. Ryan Cleary (St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I stand in opposition to Bill C-31, the budget implementation act. My opposition comes on two fronts, content and process. The budget bill is not just about the budget; if it were, how simple and straightforward our opposition would be.
The bill is what is known as an omnibus bill. It contains everything but the kitchen sink. It is massive. It is more than 350 pages. It contains almost 500 clauses. It amends dozens of bills and includes a slew of measures that were not even mentioned in the former finance minister's budget speech. The bill touches on tax measures, veterans, railway safety, hazardous materials, temporary foreign workers, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, a new bridge for the St. Lawrence, new Canadians, and access to old age security and guaranteed income supplement. It goes on and on.
Oh yes, it also mentions the budget. The bill is all over the map. It is a monster bill that undermines Parliament because it denies members of Parliament like me with the ability to thoroughly study the bill and its implications. That is because it is so big, so far reaching and all-encompassing.
I cannot shake the feeling of déjà vu, as if I have stood in this very place before and made the very same point. That is because I have. I stood in this place in early December and called out the government for introducing an omnibus bill, the fourth omnibus budget implementation bill. That omnibus bill, back in December, amended 70 laws or regulations in a single bill. Ramming that much legislation into one bill is an easy way to get one past the electorate. It is also an easy way to make a mistake. It is irresponsible. It is bad governance. It is poor management. It is a slap in the face to democracy. We debate legislation in this chamber for a reason. It is to make legislation the best that it can be. We cannot do that with an omnibus bill. We cannot do that with the Conservative government.
Another point is that one day soon in the House, a Conservative member of Parliament will take to his or her feet and criticize Her Majesty's loyal opposition for voting against a particular piece of legislation. However, there is a good chance that legislation was rammed into an omnibus bill, which undoubtedly has some positives guaranteed.
For example, there is a measure within this bill that reverses the Conservative government's previous attempt to tax hospital parking, to tax the poor. That is gone. That is undeniably a good thing. However, the bill also includes horrible legislation that rips into the very fabric of Canada, and we will vote against it. Therefore, when a Conservative MP or minister accuses us of voting against a particular measure in a piece of legislation, there is a good chance that it was in an omnibus bill. There is no way that we can vote for those because they are horrible.
Let me quote columnist Andrew Coyne from the National Post. He had this to say, in 2012, about omnibus legislation, about transparency and accountability. The quote from two years ago is just as relevant today. He said:
|| Not only does this bill make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill.... It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We've no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet. But there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government's whole legislative agenda at one go.
Yes, it is quite alarming, but it is also old hat for the Conservative government. It is its go-to trick, its old reliable.
I will tackle some of the meat of this budget implementation act.
First, in terms of the economy, this is a do-nothing budget. It basically bides time until 2015, an election year, when the government purse will reopen and the Conservatives will attempt to buy the electorate with their own money. They will try to swing the election in their favour with the changes in the unfair election act and then use taxpayers' own money to sweeten the deal.
I am the official critic for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. It has been a very busy file, with more Conservative patronage than we can shake a stick at.
Where can one start to simplify the issues about patronage?
To simplify and to borrow a description from The Guardian about a story in the Halifax Chronicle Herald: “...hiring rules at ACOA have been twisted into pretzels to accommodate Conservative Party loyalists”.
Awful-tasting pretzels. Patronage at ACOA. And it has been blatant and it has been steady. Patronage at ACOA walks like a duck. It looks like a duck. It quacks like a duck. It even tastes like a duck. But the Conservatives, who use science more as a political art that science, say that the duck that has been feeding out of the Conservatives' hand right in front of us is a figment of our imagination. Maybe the duck is invisible to Conservatives, the same way that climate change is invisible to Conservatives, or the unemployed, or veterans.
While patronage has run rampant at ACOA, what would the budget implementation act do about it?
Let us see. Instead of increasing accountability and addressing patronage, the Conservatives are gutting it. The act would eliminate the need for the president of ACOA to table a report to Parliament every five years showing the impact of the agency's work on regional disparities. In other words, there will be no more report card. ACOA's board of directors would also be out the door. In theory, the board of directors could have blocked ACOA patronage. Only it did not do that.
I asked the federal Auditor General last year to investigate the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, a branch of ACOA, after it gave a $4.8-million grant to build a controversial marina. The Auditor General agreed to investigate.
What did the Conservatives do in advance of that report from the Auditor General? They folded the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation into ACOA. How convenient.
So, to tackle the blatant, out-of-control patronage, the current government actually gives more power to itself.
The budget should have been about making life more affordable and reducing household debt. The budget should have been about making credit rates reasonable. It should have been about capping ATM fees, cracking down on abusive practices of payday lenders, and providing services that Canadians rely upon.
Instead, the budget is about sidestepping democracy with yet another omnibus bill, the Conservatives' fifth attempt to evade parliamentary scrutiny.
I will end with a series of two questions posed by the current Prime Minister in 1995 when the Liberals pushed through an omnibus bill:
||...in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
|| We can agree with some measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?
That is a good question.
So what is the answer?
The answer is that we cannot represent our constituents in dealing with such massive omnibus legislation.
What is the solution?
The solution is to show this arrogant, entitled, out-of-touch Conservative government, a government that has forgotten right from wrong, a government that is trying desperately to cling to power by changing the rules in its favour, the door.
Mr. Bob Zimmer (Prince George—Peace River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak on economic action plan 2014. This budget will bring enormous benefits to my riding of Prince George—Peace River and to all of Canada.
Natural resource development is critical to the economic prosperity of British Columbia, and a great deal of that is in my riding. We have an abundant amount of natural gas in the Peace River region and northern Rockies, coal deposits further south, and lumber operations spanning northeastern B.C. I am encouraged by our government's commitment to supporting responsible resource development, which will continue economic growth in northeastern B.C. and create jobs across British Columbia.
Our government is also working hard to encourage investment in other areas of natural resource development as well. There are vast coal and mineral deposits in northern B.C. and in the territories, and these projects need proper investment and a system that will ensure that those resources are extracted responsibly.
I am encouraged by our government's plan to extend the 15% mineral exploration tax credit for flow-through share investors. This will further bolster investment in mining operations in the north.
The district of Tumbler Ridge has seen the benefits of proper investment incentives in the mining sector. In 2000, there were fears that the town would turn into a ghost town after the Quintette Mine closed. I had worked on the original site with my father and it would have been a shame to see Tumbler Ridge go, but it is still here.
For years, Tumbler Ridge has struggled with low coal prices, and low demand attracted little investment. That began to turn around in 2011 as market demand grew for the high quality metallurgical coal present in the southeast. Now Tumbler Ridge is once again a vibrant and prosperous community.
Mining companies in the area provide crucial financial support for mining activity, which has yielded significant archeological discoveries and ongoing research material on dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals in the southeast. The revival of the economy of Tumbler Ridge would not be possible without incentives to invest and the ability for mining companies to seize market opportunities. The motto for Tumble Ridge is the Latin for “invitation to prosperity”. That is a motto that we as Canadians need to encourage.
Through our government's investments in our budget, we are inviting continued prosperity for my riding and the rest of Canada. This budget invites prosperity by extending that 15% mineral exploration tax credit. This budget invites prosperity through $40 million in strategic investments in northern economic development. This budget invites prosperity through investing $90 million in the forest industry transformation program. This investment will advance cutting-edge technologies to enhance the competitiveness of Canada's wood products in the pulp and paper sectors.
In the B.C. interior, I believe we all appreciate how much the mountain pine beetle has hurt the forestry sector. New technologies will develop new uses for the wood and open new markets for Canadian wood products. This kind of investment is vital, as saw mills in the B.C. interior are being consolidated due to the spread of the pine beetle throughout the province.
This budget also invites prosperity by ensuring timely reviews for pipelines. Canada's natural resource sector supports 1.8 million jobs across the country, which is a massive number. It is a vital sector for our economic development and our position as an energy superpower. As the sector grows, it will create thousands of skilled and well-paying jobs.
However, in the oil and gas sector it is not a matter of if one builds it, they will come. Our resources need to be able to get out to port and form markets to meet demand. In emerging markets like Asia, we are not the only player in the natural gas game.
Lengthy delays and protracted environmental reviews can cost us valuable market share and hurt our reputation as a reliable supplier of energy. This is why our government's $28 million investment in the National Energy Board is so crucial. I think everyone understands the importance of the environmental review process and how important it is to keep that independent. However, that process needs to be both timely and fair. I believe that these additional funds for the National Energy Board will do just that.
In order to invite prosperity, we as a nation must to be prepared to supply the needs that prosperity brings. That is why our government has worked to invest in skills and trades training and is continuing on that path of developing the skills and jobs for the future.
Since 2006, our government's top priority has been job creation and economic growth. Canada has the best job growth record in the G7, but we must maintain that resolve in order to continually invite prosperity.
Our Conservative government's budget would create a new apprenticeship loan for Canadians working toward certification in 50 trades, including my own, which is carpentry. These trades range from carpenter to pipefitter, from electrician to millwright. Our government is making over $100 million available for interest-free loans for Red Seal apprentices across Canada.
These trades are currently in high demand in my riding. Businesses in Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, and Prince George are in constant need of these skilled tradespeople.
It could take weeks for a homeowner in northeastern B.C. to find a plumber or a roofer. The oil and gas industries are constantly hiring, as there is a constant shortage of people with the applicable skills.
There are many jobs in businesses looking for people who fit very particular skill sets. New graduates, on the other hand, are finding that the job market is more competitive than they expected. That is why our government is championing the new Canada job grant, which would create a new class of students who will graduate with skills tailor-made for waiting jobs. The employers would have recruits with the skills they need, and the students would be working toward secure employment.
While finding a job is important, finding the right job is equally important. Employees working in their fields have a better sense of job satisfaction and are more productive in the workplace. That is why we would launch an enhanced job matching service. This would allow qualified Canadians to find the jobs that suit their skills and experience and would allow employers to identify candidates who meet their needs. We would invite prosperity by facilitating an employment landscape that would make the most of a worker's ability and that would encourage students to train for jobs that will be in demand.
Another way to invite prosperity is to give credit where credit is due. Our government introduced a $450 tax credit for volunteer firefighters, and in this budget, we would extend that credit to search and rescue volunteers. Search and rescue volunteers provide an essential service in rural areas across Canada. These services require expensive equipment and require volunteers to go into dangerous or remote areas to save lives and keep people safe.
I was proud to recommend this initiative to the Minister of Finance on behalf of my constituents and all search and rescue volunteers across Canada.
The reason we, as a government, work so hard to invite prosperity is to maintain our way of life in a financially responsible manner. We have fulfilled our promise to continually increase health care funding across the country. Despite what the opposition says, we have maintained that increase at 6% nationally and continue to work with the provinces in ensuring that health care dollars are spent wisely.
We have delivered on our promise to veterans as well. Our government has increased funding to nearly $4.7 billion to enhance benefits, programs, and services for veterans and their families. We have expanded Veterans Affairs services to more than 600 Service Canada locations across the country so that rural veterans will no longer have to travel long hours to receive the service they deserve. In my hometown of Fort St. John, veterans can find a place to receive service, where they could not before.
We have invested heavily in rehabilitation for injured veterans and in transition programs for soldiers preparing for a return to civilian life. Unlike the opposition, we believe that our veterans remain skilled and capable people, even after a serious injury. That is why our government has committed more than $3 billion per year in direct support for veterans, with a focus on physical and psychological rehabilitation and vocational training.
We continue to support our aging veterans and to help them remain independent and lead full and active lives.
Even as the number of veterans in Canada has decreased, financial support for veterans services has increased by $1.9 billion since our government took power in 2006. We are working across all sectors to create new opportunities in Canada and to offer support for those who are willing to make the effort in order to succeed.
That is how economic action plan 2014 invites prosperity.
Mr. Matthew Kellway (Beaches—East York, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-31, a budget implementation act. As always seems to be the case, the government, using its majority for purposes that are less than democratic, has limited debate on this bill. For the fifth time, the Conservative government has done its best to evade parliamentary scrutiny of what it puts forward as an economic agenda through time allocation.
I am lucky enough to get my thoughts on the floor today just before debate closes. My thoughts on this bill are not kind ones, and of course, the conduct of the government and its approach to the business of the House does not incline any of us to be particularly charitable. Some have described the budget and Bill C-31 as substantially irrelevant documents. That is not so. Parts therein are quite stunning. I am not sure whether they are stunning in their audacity or stunning in their timidity, but they are stunning nevertheless.
What Canadian could have imagined the surrender of sovereignty and betrayal of citizenship that is bound up in the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, FATCA, as it is known, buried deep among 500 clauses in over 350 pages? As I just found out from my colleague from Timmins—James Bay, it is on page 99 of a 350-page document.
What characterizes this bill as a whole is incoherence. One might argue that it is the nature of omnibus bills. They are certainly fundamentally undemocratic beasts, but I think there is something else going on in addition.
This bill betrays a government bereft of any understanding of this country in its complicated entirety in this century, much less in this year, 2014. It is eight years into power, and the government still does not see the urban fact of this country, the fact that over 80% of Canadians live in urban communities, from downtowns to suburbs and the places in between. It still governs like this is not true of Canada.
It does not understand the relationship of Canada's cities to the rural and resource economies that surround them and the opportunities that flow from that relationship. It still governs as if these are separate and unrelated economies, separate and unrelated environments, separate and unrelated societies. It still governs, in fact, as though urban economies, environments, and communities do not exist, much less have their own peculiarities and needs and present their own great opportunities for this country.
It has not grasped the relationship between our cities and the rest of the world to the global economy. It still governs as though the federal government is our only interface between Canada and the global economy, failing to grasp that what defines the global economy is a network of urban economies, a network into which our cities from coast to coast to coast are connected, and increasingly so.
This is a budget and a budget implementation act that contains no plan for Canada, through its cities, to succeed in a global economy.
Let me talk about what my city of Toronto needs to succeed, at a minimum. Toronto grows by 100,000 people every year. We add to the population of that city—and by “city”, I am speaking about the city region, not the municipality per se—a city the size of Calgary or Ottawa every decade. According to the Conference Board of Canada, an economic growth rate of 2.5% annually is required just to keep up with that pace of population growth, and that growth rate must also be distributed evenly, but it is not. Says the Toronto Region Board of Trade:
|| The 21st century city-region economy is creating a new kind of urban social structure. It consists on one side of well paid highly qualified professional and technical workers, and on the other, an increasingly precarious and growing proportion of low-wage service-oriented workers.
Recent studies by the United Way and McMaster University, the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity, the Martin Prosperity Institute, and the Metcalf Foundation, all of which I have referenced in the House before, point to the growth of precarious employment in Toronto's labour market and confirm the emergence of this polarized labour market and consequent social structure in Toronto.
Even closer to my home and to my riding of Beaches—East York, a recent study entitled “Shadow Economies: Economic Survival Strategies of Immigrant Communities in Toronto” captured the extent of the shadow economy. Half of the respondents in that survey reported getting paid less than minimum wage. Over one-third of respondents did not get vacation pay, statutory holiday pay, or paid holidays of any kind.
We are witnessing a city once admired for its mixed-income neighbourhoods dividing into a city of low-income neighbourhoods and high-income neighbourhoods. In 1970, two-thirds of Toronto's cities were middle-income neighbourhoods. As of 2005, 29% were middle income. Extrapolating that trend out to 2025, it is the story of a sharply polarizing city where less than 10% of Toronto's neighbourhoods will be middle income just over a decade from now.
Long before we get there—in fact, now—we now have a critical housing challenge that needs to be addressed. In those low-income neighbourhoods where the shadow economies thrive, such as some in my riding:
|| Inadequate housing and the risk of homelessness are almost universal among families with children living in high-rise rental apartments....
says a March 2014 study by Paradis, Wilson, and Logan for the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto.
|| Almost 90 percent face major housing problems that may place them at risk of homelessness. ... One family in three is facing severe or critical risk of homelessness.
says the study.
According to the Toronto Region Board of Trade:
|| The state of good repair bill for the city's housing units is $750 million and growing by $100 million a year. Meanwhile, the city's accumulated state of good repair backlog in 2012 was $1.7 billion.
There is an enormous challenge here that the government is shrinking from, or is blind to, as it continues down the path of extricating the federal government from affordable housing in this country.
The same holds true of public transit. I asked the minister of infrastructure just yesterday why the government is refusing to invest in public transit. The answer, and I quote from Hansard, was that “our government respects the jurisdiction of provinces, and transit is under provincial jurisdiction”. That is the response of the government to the key economic challenge of Canada's global cities: it is not our responsibility.
Study after study points to the economic costs of underinvestment in transit in Toronto and the consequent stifling gridlock. The Toronto Region Board of Trade says:
||...overstretched transportation networks are the most serious barrier to economic growth in the Toronto region, costing our regional economy $6 billion per year.
The C.D. Howe Institute pegs the current economic costs at closer to $11 billion.
Either way, the economic costs of underinvestment in transit are enormous. They compromise the competitive position of Toronto, and they are expected to go up. They are a stinging indictment of the government's blindness to the needs of cities and to the opportunity to grow our urban economies, an opportunity waiting there for a government alive to the urban fact of this country and the reality of a global and increasingly globalizing economy.
It is very simple: the success of our cities is vital to our national interest. Canada needs a national agenda that is alive to our urban reality, to how cities work, to their needs, their vulnerabilities, and their potential. Getting our cities right opens up the possibility that what we hope for—for ourselves, for our families, and for Canada—can be made real.
The only thing that is clear about Bill C-31 is that the government does not get that.
Mr. Dan Albas (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-31, our government's economic action plan for 2014. I understand that the member for Burlington will be speaking after me, which I think is wonderful, because what I lack in eloquence and possibly content I am sure he will more than make up for.
There are a number of measures in Bill C-31 that would be of benefit to my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla and elsewhere in Canada.
One measure I am particularly proud of is further amendments to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. I know the member for Kootenay—Columbia spoke to this measure earlier. I am glad to have his support, as well as that of many other members of this place, for that amendment through my private member's bill.
This amendment in the budget implementation bill actually builds on the Free My Grapes movement, which was very important not just to my riding but to all Canadian wine-producing regions. It was passed unanimously by all members of the House, opening up new Canadian markets for Canadian craft brewers and artisan distillers. It will help both producers and growers.
We must not overlook that alcohol, in many cases, is a value-added agricultural product. For microbreweries in my riding, of which there are several, this is very exciting news. I am told that Saskatchewan and Ontario are also home to some very well-regarded craft breweries. However, let us not overlook our growing number of artisan distillers. These industries collectively support farms, provide direct and indirect jobs, and in many cases raise significant revenues that support important government services.
Bill C-31 also proposes a tax credit for search and rescue volunteers who perform 200 hours or more of volunteer service. Last fall I joined with a local group of volunteers in a search and rescue effort to try to locate a missing father. Sadly, we were not successful in our efforts. However, it was a heartening experience that so many citizens came together to help a family find closure. I also know from my activities, as do many members who often get an opportunity to speak with our constituents, that the people who participate in these activities often spend incredible amounts of time in training and then retraining, so it is important for the government to support this measure. We know these services are of incredible value to many of our communities across Canada. I am grateful that these individuals are being recognized in the bill.
Another measure in Bill C-31 that is important to my riding is the extension of a 15% mineral exploration tax credit, which was touched upon by the Conservative member who spoke previously.
There are mines in my riding that operate outside of Merritt and in Logan Lake. Mining remains a major employer and provides very well-paying jobs in my riding. In Okanagan Falls and in Penticton, there are employers that manufacture specialty mining equipment. Recognizing the importance of mining and supporting the mineral exploration tax credit is important to my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla and also to other resource communities across Canada.
There are many other reasons that I support Bill C-31. I would like to join the member for Vancouver Island North, who spoke so eloquently on the funding in budget 2014 that supports Lindsey's law. That is the creation of a national DNA-based missing persons index. I would also like to commend the member for Vancouver Island North for his work illustrating the need for such a DNA-based missing persons index from his work here in Ottawa.
On that same note, I would also like to recognize our Minister of Finance, who listens to the concerns of Canadians as represented by members of Parliament.
Here is another example of how our government listens to the concerns of Canadians in Bill C-31: the changes in how the GST-HST credit would be provided to qualifying Canadians. Those Canadians who qualify for the GST-HST grant but who neglect to apply would no longer be penalized for the oversight. Bill C-31 would ensure that eligible Canadians would automatically receive the GST-HST credit without having to apply.
That is a very good case of where this government recognizes that red tape should not prevent someone who is eligible for benefits to receive them. I think this will be warmly received in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla.
I would like to commend the Minister of National Revenue for also supporting these changes that will benefit many lower income Canadians.
Before I close, I would like to give an example of why our economic action plans are important to Canadians. Back in 2011, I spoke in this House in full support of Bill C-13, which was our government's economic action plan for 2011.
One of the reasons I spoke in support of Bill C-13 was the fact that provisions in the bill would help the value-added wood sector. In my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla, we are very fortunate to have many value-added wood producers. In my 2011 budget speech, I referenced North America's first large-scale, state-of-the-art, cross-laminated timber manufacturing production facility. This new plant created many vitally needed, well-paying jobs in Okanagan Falls, and measures in our economic action plan supported this innovation and investment to make this plant a reality.
As we know, the opposition voted against the government's economic action plan in 2011, just as it voted against all our economic action plans since.
Why do I mention this? Imagine my surprise when the Leader of the Opposition visited my beautiful riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla back in February of this year, and while in my riding, the Leader of the Opposition visited this very same value-added wood producer in Okanagan Falls. What did the he say after touring this facility?
|This factory is a great example of something that is succeeding, and that's great to see.
It is rare that I agree with the Leader of the Opposition, but on this point, I certainly do. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition described this innovative, value-added wood producer as a way we could create good jobs here in Canada, and I certainly agree.
However, we also have to recognize that the Leader of the Opposition, like his party, voted against our economic action plan in 2011. Yet when he actually witnessed the result of our economic plan in action, first hand, what did the Leader of the Opposition say? I will repeat, “This factory is a great example of something that is succeeding, and that's great to see”.
Our government's economic action plan, as the Leader of the Opposition himself observed, creates “good...jobs here in Canada”. That is one of the many reasons I will be supporting Bill C-31. I hope the members opposite will join our government in supporting the economic action plan that was presented in budget 2014 and that will be implemented through this act, so we can continue creating more good jobs right here in this great country of Canada, and help support Canadians in the many areas of day-to-day life.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to questions.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, over the last 10 years, I have always begun by saying what an honour it is to rise in this institution, and I am very honoured to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay.
However, I am not very proud of what I see in this Parliament, and I am not proud to see that the role of the Parliament of Canada is continually turned into an exercise in which we are the marionettes of some kind of dumbed-down political show. We see the use of time allocation again and again to limit debate, and we see the monkey-wrenching of committees, where reports are written by the government and basically brought forward, ignoring all manner of amendments. Traditionally, and when I was elected, the committees tended to work together as a general rule.
I see the relentless attack on the independent bodies whose job it is to give us the information we need, whether it is Statistics Canada or researchers. I see the vicious attack by the leaders in the Conservative government against the officers of Parliament whose job it is to maintain the integrity of the electoral system of Canada, and the absolutely shameful attack on Mr. Mayrand by the so-called minister for democratic deform.
The election fraud that is being perpetrated in the House with this act and the complete ignoring of every single expert makes everything that is happening in Parliament in 2014 a very unfunny joke. When the Prime Minister can stand up and not be able to name a single credible witness, yet he and his gang personally attack the witnesses who represent democratic integrity in this country, it is a shameful situation.
We have a piece of omnibus legislation that is being pushed through in this Potemkin Parliament. We will all stand up at the end of the day, and the Conservatives will say that democracy was heard.
However, what is not being heard is the analysis we need on the temporary foreign worker program, on hazardous materials, on railway safety, on the fact that people are going to have to pay at the Champlain Bridge in Montreal to go to work, and the fact that on page 99 of this bill, we learn that the government has signed a secret deal with the United States to share the personal data of tens of thousands of Canadians.
Canadians should look to Parliament to say that citizenship is something that is sacred, to say that the role of Parliamentarians is to stand up and defend the citizenship of Canadians. However, in this omnibus legislation that is being pushed through and this attempt to shut down debate, the Conservatives have decided to slip in the bill that will now make it possible and legal for the United States government to demand the personal financial information of Canadians who have lived their lives in this country, paid taxes in this country, and been excellent citizens in this country, all because they happen to have been born in the United States.
Is this the case for people who just came here a few years ago, moved here because they do not want to pay taxes? No, I will give a few examples.
In 1958, a family had to go to the hospital and their child was born in a hospital on the U.S. side of the border. Now, this person, in his or her 50s, finds that personal financial information is subject to whatever the United States government wants to do with it.
We see the case of a young woman who went to university in the United States almost half a century ago and had a baby. A year later, she returned to Canada and the baby grew up as a Canadian citizen. The baby paid taxes and is a proud Canadian citizen. She looks to the government and finds that it does not consider her to be a Canadian citizen. If the Americans want her personal and private information, they will get it.
An 80-year-old woman called me. She spent the last half a century raising her children in Canada. She is now being told that her life insurance, which she saved up and which is meant to be for her children, can be handed over.
What protection did the government bring forward when it negotiated the IGA, the intergovernmental agreement that allows this FATCA, or Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act? We do not know what it agreed to, because it is pushing it through. It is pushing it through without the scrutiny that belongs in Parliament.
What we are seeing is that the government is saying it will be compliant under the Privacy Act, but we see major problems with this. The United States government does not see itself as having any of the same commitments that the Privacy Act and PIPEDA are supposed to have to protect the personal information of Canadian citizens.
For example, under the Canadian Privacy Act, financial institutions that collect personal information must only collect it for the purposes it was collected. The United States has not made any of those commitments.
Under the Privacy Act, we have businesses that develop systems, including technology systems and protocols, including the use of encryption. They have to use it to protect the data against outside scrutiny. We have no idea how this data would be used when it is handed over to the United States.
Principle 1 of schedule 1 of PIPEDA encourages accountability by mandating data collection responsibility for the personal information of a data subject, and the person has to be responsible.
There are no such provisions, that we know of, that were negotiated when the United States decided that it would come knocking on this compliant little government here to say, “We want to be able to gather information on any Canadian we want and you're going to give it to us”, and the current government said, ”Okay. We will. We'll just run it through omnibus legislation”.
Finally, principle 10 of schedule 1 of PIPEDA declares that an individual may bring a challenge to the organization that has his or her financial information if it is being misused.
However, none of those provisions exist, as far as we know, under the agreement that was signed. The reason we do not know is that we are not allowed, as parliamentarians, to debate it, because the government is going to push it through.
I asked my hon. colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, earlier on, about this. She said we were making things up.
It is obvious that the Conservatives have not even read their omnibus legislation because they are happy to play the role of the marionette. They are happy to stand to read the dumbed-down talking points.
It is a disgrace what is happening in the Parliament of this country. In this Potemkin parliament, we still have features of parliamentary tradition. For example, it is perfectly okay for the government to come in and misrepresent, to be mendacious, to be malevolent with the facts. It is just unparliamentary to say it is doing do.
So, we are engaged in this little facade that we are all the honourable gentlemen and gentlewomen carrying on the business of this country, when time and again legislation is being forced through without scrutiny.
So, for the Canadian citizens who served this country, who raised their children, and who paid their taxes, they can look to the current government and ask, “Where were you to protect the basic notion of citizenship, to ensure that basic rules were in place?”
We do not know if there are any rules in place because these will not be debated in Parliament.
I think it is a very shameful day for our so-called democratic system that we have allowed Parliament to be so incredibly debased. However, we see that time and again in the way that time allocation is being used with omnibus legislation that has nothing to do with budget implementation.
We do remember, and Canadians remember, that it was omnibus legislation that stripped water and lake protection from 99.9% of the waters in this country, to help expedite pipeline expansion, without any overview of the potential impacts on the various lakes and river systems in this country.
The Conservatives just threw it out, just like they threw out the researchers and the scientists who stood in their way, and just like they attacked the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's role in this House of Commons was to provide parliamentarians with credible knowledge. I am embarrassed to tell the Canadian people how few facts parliamentarians are given about the implementation of budgets. These are pushed through.
Go to committee and ask a minister come to committee to talk about the budget and how it would affect his department. It is not going to happen, because the government is protecting the frontbench marionettes, and they do their job
However, the role of Parliament is to ensure that basic issues, like the spending of taxpayer money, are given proper scrutiny, that international agreements that would affect the rights of Canadian citizens are debated in the House, and that we ensure that our Canadian citizens are given the rule of law.
Yet that is not happening here. What we are going to see for the rest of the day are the pompom acts and cheery faces of the Conservatives reading their dumbed-down notes while avoiding every key aspect of legislative change that would happen with this massive omnibus bill, just like the previous omnibus bill, just like with the omnibus bill before that, and we are supposed to stand here and pretend that this falsehood is somehow a real parliamentary process.
It is a Potemkin parliament. I think Canadian citizens need to know that the government is using the legislative process to ram through changes that would fundamentally affect their rights.
Mr. Mike Wallace (Burlington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand in the House today to talk about the budget implementation bill and a little about the process for budget 2014.
It seems that the opposition members have talked a lot about process in regard to this bill. They have talked about the number of hours being allocated to it, the size of the bill, and so on. I think it is important for the public, if anyone happens to be watching, to understand what is actually happening.
As we have for the whole eight years I have been here—and I do not know if it was any different before I arrived—the budget is presented, but it is not actually a bill because the budget has to be implemented. We have two implementation periods, one in the spring and one in the fall.
We try to get as much of the budget implemented in the first budget implementation bill, because it takes a while to get the bill through the system and for whatever changes that will be happening to be implemented. It is important that we do as much as possible in the first implementation bill.
I am fortunate to be speaking to this. It will go to a vote. I think the last speaker will be at about 5:05 p.m. I am the 69th speaker on this item. There have been five days of debate.
Members can talk to their constituents and say that the implementation bill is at second reading, that it has not gone to committee yet, and that there were 70 speakers addressing it, with opportunities for the different parties to have their turn. The bigger parties, like the government, obviously have more turns to speak. Then the official opposition and then the third party get a shot, and it is all based on numbers.
There have been 70 speakers. Then, after it is voted on, assuming it passes, which I believe it will, the bill will go to committee. I am not going to say what will happen there, because I do not actually know. However, a number of past implementation bills were broken up and sent to different committees. Different sections would go to different committees.
When I was on the finance committee, the whole bill came to the committee. We have changed that process a bit over the last number of times, and let other committees do a review.
There is an opportunity for any member of Parliament to go to committee to discuss the bill and to hear witnesses. That will take a number of weeks.
Then the bill comes back to the House, back to this fine place and its elected members. It will likely have approximately five days of debate. There could be another 70 speakers on this bill. In fact, if I do the math correctly, almost half the people in here will have an opportunity to speak to this particular bill. Not only will they speak to the bill, but members can also go to committee and talk to specific items that happen to be in this piece of legislation.
When members talk about time allocation and so on, that does not mean we are ending the debate. I have had to explain this to people in my riding. Time allocation happens because the House leaders of all the parties could not come together in agreement on how many speakers will be put forward.
My understanding is that is because there are parties in the House that believe that every single member should say the same thing over and over again. If members have listened to the Debate, as I have in the House and to the television in my office, the same things are being repeated over and over again. They are important items.
I am not belittling the points that people on both sides of the House are making. However, the same things are being said over and over again. The time allocation motion allocates a certain length of time; it does not end debate.
In this case, our House leader allocated five days to speak to this bill, which allows 70 members to speak to this one bill at second reading. Then we go to committee. If I am interested in a certain section, such as that dealing with tax credits for people with diabetes, I know that I can go to committee.
I have diabetes. I am fortunate that I am able to control my diabetes through diet and exercise, but there are many people I know who are severely affected by diabetes. In fact, there is a tax credit in this bill that would help with the cost of services that go with severe issues due to diabetes. People would be able to use those tax credits to help pay their medical costs because the tax credit for medical costs has been enhanced in this implementation bill. As was mentioned and discussed in the budget, it is actually implemented through this bill. If the bill is sent to the finance committee and I am available, I may go to the committee to talk about that section and find out what people are saying about it. There will be witnesses available at the committee to talk about the different sections.
This bill is thick. Members in the House say that this is an omnibus bill. I looked it up, and it is about 486 pages. Let us round up, for arguments sake, because there are appendices and so on; let us say it is a 500-page bill. People have to understand that it is 500 pages in English and in French. It is actually 250 pages of English, and it may be a bit longer in French because the language has more words in it. In length, it may be a little longer in French than it is in English. That is not always the case, but I believe that is the case here. Therefore, it entails the reading of 250 pages. I know that Canadians have confidence in the members of Parliament they have elected to read 250 pages.
Let us be frank: we have a lot to do as members of Parliament. There is a lot of reading and information. At the front of every single bill, there is a summary. The summary itemizes different parts of the bill and then summarizes, in point form, what the different items are. I am not a lawyer, and some of this is legalese, but after eight years, I am getting used to the reading and understanding of it. Granted, at first, for people who are not used to it, it is a bit of reading. However, the summary in this 486-page bill is five pages long. That is in French and English. One side is French and one side is English, and we can read it.
There are some tax measures in here, like the mining tax credit that my colleague mentioned earlier, the flow-through tax credit. It is interesting to me. I happened to know about it from my previous days on the finance committee. I read in the budget that we were renewing that tax credit. I do not need to go to page 265 to see exactly what we are doing because the summary tells me. I understand what we are doing. I read it in the summary. We are implementing it. I do not need any more than that.
There are certain sections that I am not as familiar with, so I looked in the summary, found out which pages they are on, and read them. If I do not understand them, guess what else happens? On our side of the House, the minister holds an information session that is open to all members of Parliament and their staff to ask questions about specific sections. The minister goes clause by clause, not with political people there, but staff from Finance and the different departments, to explain the changes and why they are being implemented. The bureaucratic staff, who do an excellent job for this country, are not there to say whether they agree or disagree. They are there to explain what is being implemented in the budget implementation bill.
There are plenty of opportunities to discuss the issues and get information. What we need to do as a country to continue moving forward is to keep implementing change and the things we would like to do to see this country move forward from an economic perspective.
Mr. David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, seven minutes is an appropriate amount of time. I am reminded of my contracts professor at law school who once said that it is very important to remember, unlike my colleagues on the Conservative side, that verbosity is no substitute for content.
I am going to focus on two themes today, which I think are important for citizens right across the country. The first one is infrastructure. We know that we have to invest in the next generation of infrastructure, that we are standing on the shoulders of previous generations who invested heavily in our water and waste water systems, our road systems, and our bridges. We know we are going to be dealing with even more challenges on the infrastructure front because of the realities of adapting to climate change. That is something that the government still refuses to address.
On the infrastructure side, we know that the minister regularly talks about large sums of money being available. However, here are the facts. As of April 1, there is an 87% decrease between last year and this year in terms of the build Canada fund and the amount of money available for the entire country. The government is not denying that. It is exactly $210 million for the entire country this fiscal year. We are not talking about gas tax. We are not talking about HST rebates. We are talking about the build Canada fund. For example, when it comes to my hometown, the City of Ottawa would hope to receive $65 million from the Government of Canada to help improve our water and waste water systems, so we can protect our incredible Ottawa River, the source of our surface drinking water. It would like to be able to invest in the system before the 2017 anniversary of the country, to be able to actually strengthen that infrastructure.
We know that by not investing in that infrastructure now we are compromising jobs. We are compromising giving rise to new technologies and processes for the global market that we ought to be able to do very well in. At the same time, by not investing in infrastructure, we are compromising the support for our middle-class families, who would benefit not only from the infrastructure investments, but the economic spinoffs that follow.
When the government says otherwise, we are hard pressed to believe it. Here is a letter dated yesterday, on Canada-Nova Scotia Infrastructure Secretariat letterhead. Let me quote from it. These are the opening two paragraphs. It says:
|| You are no doubt aware that the federal government announced on March 28, 2014 that the New Building Canada Fund...is “open for business”. Nova Scotia, like all other Provinces and Territories, was surprised by this announcement.
It goes on to say:
|| The Province has not signed an Agreement with the federal government for the NBCF and no details have been released to us on the application process.
It lends credence to the notion that it is a shell game; it is a card trick on the infrastructure side.
We know in the last instance of the infrastructure investments made by the government that it forced every municipality in the country to put up a total of 9,000 vanity billboards. Canadians recognize them because it infuriates them. Then it stuck the bill to the municipalities where the billboards were actually mounted. In the case of my home city of Ottawa, former mayor Larry O'Brien confirmed, in writing, that $50,000 was spent by the City of Ottawa in putting up the vanity billboards for the government in different infrastructure settings across the region.
The second issue I want to raise is the transportation safety issue. We have seen in the budget a cut to road safety investments, marine safety investments, airline safety investments, and a marginal increase in rail safety of about a million dollars. This is a very important issue for Canadians in the wake of Lac-Mégantic. If we look at the real numbers on rail safety, we know that the government is spending more money on economic action plan advertising, $42 million this year alone, than it is spending on rail safety in the entire country.
This is at a time when the Auditor General has told us that only 26% of the planned audits for rail safety were performed; that Via Rail has not been audited in three years, when it is carrying four million passengers a year; and that only nine inspectors are in place, when we need 20.
We are seeing massive increases in diluted bitumen being transported by rail. We are going to have one million barrels of excess oil that cannot go in pipelines in the next decade, but the government finds the money for the vanity advertising and the “24 Seven” show, which is a joke. It is a show of the Prime Minister at work, paid for with taxpayer dollars.
I look forward to coming back to these themes and others when my time comes for my next speaking opportunity, but I did want to get these two issues, infrastructure and transportation safety, on the record and juxtapose both against some of the foolish spending by the Conservative government.