Hon. Kevin Sorenson (for the Minister of Finance)
moved that Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures, be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be back here again this week with the opportunity to speak to Bill C-59 after a busy weekend in the riding of Crowfoot, having been in Camrose and Stettler for their art walk, as well as the rodeo and parade, and a number of other events that were held throughout my riding. I know all of us are busy on weekends. A great way to start Monday is debating Bill C-59.
This morning I would like to outline some specific features of the bill that would support families, seniors and rural Canada, as I represent predominantly a rural riding.
Let me begin by reaffirming that under the bold leadership of our Prime Minister, our government's top priority has been creating jobs, and focusing on economic growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians. That is why our government brought forward a number of measures to do that, such as cut taxes for job-creating businesses, invested in research and development, expanded markets for Canadian businesses abroad, committed unprecedented support for job-creating infrastructure, and established the framework for responsible development of our natural resources, despite global economic fragility, geopolitical uncertainty with what was happening in Europe, Ukraine and the Middle East, and also volatile oil prices.
Make no mistake that our economic action plan is working. It is the plan that has steered Canada out of the great recession and created over 1.2 million net new jobs, overwhelmingly in the private sector, full-time and well-paying jobs. According to KPMG, total business tax costs in Canada are the lowest in the G7 countries and 46% lower than our closest ally and trading partner, the United States. Bloomberg has ranked Canada the second best place in the world to do business.
However, this success does not just happen. It does not occur overnight. It requires tough decisions, sound judgment and a focus on priorities. Supporting small business has been one of those priorities. It is also a central element in the budget that we are debating here today, the economic action plan. the budget implementation act. We have delivered substantial ongoing tax savings to small businesses and their owners. This enables them to take those savings and reinvest in their businesses, which helps create more jobs for those businesses.
We already reduced the small business tax rate from 12% to 11% earlier, and in 2015 we propose to take it from 11% to 9% by 2019. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has strongly endorsed this measure and agrees with our plan. Many of the small businesses that benefit from our tax relief are from rural Canada.
Our government recognizes the important role that farmers play in our economy and communities. Canadian farmers have always been among the best producers, the best farmers in the entire world. For generations, they have fed Canadians around the globe, while providing jobs and opportunities across Canada. My grandfather moved to Canada in 1905-06 with the hope of homesteading, breaking the land and starting a family farm. That story has been told many times throughout the west and throughout Canada.
As someone who has owned and operated a farming business, I can say first-hand that to ensure these operations succeed, it demands hard work, focus and discipline. A farmer's budget does not simply balance itself. Our government firmly believes Canadian farmers should be strong and profitable, and able to capitalize on market opportunities. We believe Canadian farmers deserve support from their elected officials, not the mistreatment and high taxes that Liberal Party elitists imposed for 13 long years. Those high-tax measures and bloated government policies burden our agricultural sector and set our farmers back.
By contrast, our Conservative government stands with farmers. We are working to provide them access to millions of new customers. Through our free trade agreements, through expanding our customer base, we have an opportunity to get into countries that we have never been in before, and we have lowered tariffs so we can have trade with many of those countries.
Let me remind members that last year we simplified the tax rules relating to the lifetime capital gains exemption and the intergenerational rollover for many Canadian farmers. To accomplish this, our government passed legislation to generally treat the taxpayer's combined farming business the same as perhaps a separate farming business conducted by the same taxpayer. This will ensure consistent treatment for taxpayers who conduct various farming activities.
Economic action plan 2015 would build upon the work we have been doing since 2006 to foster a strong, stable, sustainable and prosperous agriculture sector for all of Canada.
I was pleased to join members of the Saskatchewan farming community and our Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster, to announce new federal supports for agriculture. What we announced was to allow farmers to maintain more of their capital for retirement. Economic action plan 2015 would bring forward the measures to provide funding to increase lifetime capital gains exemption for farmers and fishermen, but certainly for farmers, up to $1 million.
This was welcomed by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. It said:
|| The CCA appreciates another measure of practical importance to producers, particularly those wishing to retire or transition from the industry.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture also praised this measure. It said:
|| The Lifetime Capital Gains exemption is an important tool for helping farmers manage the tax burden associated with the transfer of farm assets. The CFA is pleased the increase to $1 million is effective immediately, as it will assist farmers in their transfer of assets to the next generation by providing greater flexibility for both the retirees and new entrants.
That answers a lot.
Farmers realize they may be living poor, but they have some savings in their farm assets. When they retire, they need those to help them through their retirement so they may have a secure, dignified retirement.
I would like to now turn to parts of the bill which deal with improving the quality of life of Canadians, in particular, the health of Canadians.
There are measures in the bill that would continue our government's proud record of being a champion for persons with disabilities. This is an area where the former finance minister was a very strong advocate. As we shaped economic action plan 2014, I was pleased to witness this commitment by former Minister Flaherty first hand at the budget table. His legacy includes the landmark registered disability savings plan, which helped to ensure the long-term financial security of Canadians with severe disabilities. Since becoming available in 2008, more than 100,000 Canadians have opened a registered disabilities savings plan, and with that has come a great deal of confidence and security.
To ensure this program continues to serve Canadians who need it most, today's bill proposes an extension of the federal temporary measure that allows a qualifying family member to become the plan holder of a registered disability savings plan for an adult individual who might not be able to enter into a contract on his or her own. We are also introducing a new home accessibility tax credit for persons with disabilities and for seniors. This non-refundable credit will provide tax recognition for the cost of improvements that allow a person who is eligible for the disability tax credit, or is a senior who wants to stay in his or her home to be more mobile, safe and functional within their own home. These measures will assist Canadians who face the daily challenges of living with a disability or who are in their seniors years in leading a much better quality of life.
Let me also highlight how today's legislation builds on our government's support for families and communities across our great country of Canada.
Since Canadians gave us our first mandate in 2006, this government has taken significant action to support and protect Canadian consumers by reducing taxes time and time again, including cutting the GST twice. Keeping taxes low and putting more back into the pockets of hard-working Canadians to spend in the way they decide is essential for jobs and growth.
Today, because of the measures introduced by our government, a typical two-earner family of four will receive up to $6,600 in tax relief and increased benefits in 2015. Economic action plan 2015 builds on the government's record of support for Canadian families by keeping taxes low and helping them save.
We are focused on helping 100% of families with children with policies like the family tax cut, and increased and expanded benefits through the universal child care benefit. Unfortunately, the opposition parties, both the Liberals and the NDP, would scrap the universal child care benefit and cancel income splitting for families.
Our government is also providing tax support for seniors and persons with disabilities, as well as measures to help students pay for their education.
Whether they want to purchase a new home or a car, start a new business or save for retirement, Canadian families have many reasons to save. That is why our government introduced the groundbreaking tax-free savings account, or TFSA for short. This savings measure is a flexible, registered, general purpose savings vehicle that allows Canadians to earn tax-free investment income. They can watch compounding interest grow in their favour. That gives them a much more secure, dignified retirement.
Canadians get it. Canadians understand. Canadians have embraced the tax-free savings account for their savings needs. It is unfortunate that the members opposite have all but rejected it. Let me remind them of some important facts.
Eleven million Canadians have opened a tax-free savings account, and half of those earn less than $42,000 a year. Sixty percent of those who have contributed to the tax-free savings account and who maximize their account earn less than $60,000. Six hundred thousand seniors, aged 65-plus, with income below $60,000 a year are currently maximizing their tax-free savings account.
Due to popular demand, today's legislation proposes to increase the tax-free savings account annual contribution limit from $5,000 to $10,000, effective 2015 and subsequent years.
While we are making it easier for Canadians to save money, at the same time we want seniors to feel confident that their savings will always be there, or that it will be there for them while they are enjoying their golden years. Seniors are already benefiting from important money saving measures, such as pension income splitting and taking advantage of the tax-free savings account.
The fact is that Canadians are living longer than ever, and we want to ensure that they have a secure, dignified retirement throughout their most senior years. That is why the bill that we debate today, Bill C-59, will reduce the minimum withdrawal rate for registered retirement income funds, or RRIFs.
As some members may know, the rules concerning registered retirement income funds and registered retirement savings plans dictate that RRSPs must be converted to RRIFs by the end of the year in which the RRSP holder reaches 71 years of age. A minimum amount must then be withdrawn. Alternatively, the RRSP savings may be used to purchase an annuity.
Economic action plan 2015 proposes to adjust that RRIF minimum withdrawal rate that applies in respect of ages 71 to 94 to better reflect more recent long-term historical real rates of return and expected inflation. The seniors advocacy group, CARP, says its members welcome this measure. As a result, the new RRIF factors will be substantially lower than the existing factors. By permitting more capital preservation, the new factors will help reduce the risk of outliving one's savings, while ensuring that the tax deferral provided on RRSP and RRIF savings continues to serve a retirement income purpose.
Our government has been consistent in advancing innovative options to allow Canadians to save and manage their finances for a secure and dignified retirement, and our work continues. Currently, 96% of pension plan assets in Canada are in a defined benefit plan, as compared to 71% in the United Kingdom, 42% in the U.S., and 15% in Australia.
That, in part, is why we began consultations on the framework for target benefit plans. These innovative plans would allow businesses to offer a third option, a middle ground between defined benefits and defined contribution models. At the same time, employees would receive a pension with a high degree of retirement income certainty.
Let me be clear. Current pensioners and retirees should be assured that it is not our intention to convert any pensions to target benefit plans without the explicit consent of that individual. A retired person's plan would not be converted unless that individual expressed a desire to convert the pension or agreed to do so. In the interim, those who are retired or saving for retirement will benefit tremendously from targeted tax relief and new optional savings methods, such as the tax-free savings account.
However, while we keep Canada's retirement system strong, I must inform Canada's seniors about a possible new threat to CPP benefits. The Liberal leader has announced that if given the chance, he would fund his favourite infrastructure projects with “...alternative sources of capital, such as pension funds.”
I regret to inform the House that it gets even worse than that. The Liberal leader has confirmed that he would implement the Ontario Liberals' dramatic payroll tax increase on every worker and small business in Canada. For a worker who earns $60,000 a year, the Liberal leader's plan and the Liberals' policy would mean a $1,000 tax hike. It would cost a two-worker family up to $3,200 more per year, whether those workers like it or not.
This mandatory payroll tax increase would kill middle-class jobs and force small businesses to cut hours and wages. According to the Meridian Credit Union, the majority of Ontario's small business owners believe this type of payroll tax would the greatest challenge that they have ever faced. According to a CFIB survey, 69% of employers in Ontario indicated that they would have to freeze or cut salaries. This is even further evidence that now is not the time for untested leadership and Liberal high-tax policies.
In closing, while I have touched on only a few of the measures in today's legislation, they are measures that would help create jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity for all Canadians. Through this legislation, we will maintain and strengthen our advantages by continuing to pursue those strategies that made us so resilient in the first place: responsibility, discipline, and determination. That is what it is going to take.
I appreciate this opportunity to serve with a government that has steered our nation out of the great recession and brought Canada back into the black. Our balanced budget and low-tax plan for jobs and security will strengthen businesses, families, and communities across the country. I urge all hon. members to give their support to this bill.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is really something to hear what the Conservatives are saying.
It will come as no surprise when Canadians reject this government's platform and policies, since the economy has been very weak for nearly 10 years now, and the government has done nothing to fight climate change and poverty here in Canada.
This is another omnibus bill that is over 150 pages long and has over 270 clauses. Not only is the Conservatives' lack of leadership affecting their popularity in the polls, but it also represents a wasted opportunity to stimulate our economy and help families. Families need a government that understands the economy and the current reality.
There are two ironies that exist within this one bill, and in a sense, they are going to be the Conservatives' legacy when Canadians finally throw them from office. The first part is their shutting down debate. Just last week, we saw the Conservatives more than triple the previous record of any government in any Parliament in Canadian history for shutting down the democratic process in here by shutting down debate on something like the budget bill, as they have done with so many other bills, like Bill C-51 and all the other controversial bills they have brought in.
That is the first part of the government's legacy, and that is what it will be remembered for.
The second part will be its horrible economic management. More than 1.3 million Canadians are out of work today. The government has added more than $150 billion in debt to the national debt. That is more than $4,000 for every man, woman, and child. We can ask what we got for it. According to the Governor of the Bank of Canada, who, like most bankers, is hardly one to use such strong language, called this Canadian economy and the circumstances we are in right now “atrocious”.
We would have thought that on the eve of an election, with an economy that continues to shed jobs, the government would have brought forward some sort of, dare I say, action plan. I am not talking about the action plan the Conservatives refer to in the $750 million in self-promoting ads they constantly shower Canadians with. I am talking about an actual action plan. I know that it is hard to imagine that the spin could actually match some reality, but that is what we were hoping for. Canadians, from all the polling the government has done, have grown increasingly cynical about its advertising scheme, because it has met so little with the reality.
Canadians are waiting for action, hoping for action, and demanding action. Let us see what they actually got from the government in the most recent omnibus bill. Again, the government has moved thousands of pages of omnibus legislation through the House. In all of that omnibus legislation, there was virtually not a single amendment or change.
What typically happens, and it is true with this bill, is that an omnibus bill goes in to fix the mistakes of the last omnibus bill, which was fixing the mistakes of the omnibus bill before that. If we look up “incompetence” in the dictionary, we will now see a picture of the Prime Minister, and under a subheading, all of his legislation.
Let us look at the Canadian economy right now. It is shedding jobs in retail, manufacturing, and the energy sector. As I said, more than 1.3 million Canadians today are out of work.
There was the fiasco of the temporary foreign worker program. The Conservative government created a loophole so big someone could drive a truck through it. It put more than 300,000 Canadians out of work and brought in temporary foreign workers, with absolutely no provisions to protect Canadian jobs or even the temporary foreign workers in the job conditions under which they were going to work.
The Canadian economy has lost more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the government took over. That is more than half a million manufacturing jobs since 2000. What is the reaction? What is the response? These are the jobs we built up over generations. We built the Canadian middle class on this. We built the strength of the Canadian economy on this. Meanwhile, these guys are fiddling while Rome burns. We have lost more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs, and the Conservatives pretend that there is no problem and that there is nothing to address.
We have also seen, according to the CIBC, that job quality in Canada is at its lowest level in a generation. It has never been this bad. The work has become more precarious, jobs are becoming more part-time, and there are fewer and fewer benefits, like pensions and true protections through the employment insurance program. That has been under the Conservative and previous Liberal governments' watch, with no addressing of it. Canadians know this experience. Their jobs have become more precarious and less certain.
This is a strange contradiction for the Conservatives. They continually stand in this place, as my friend just did, and talk about families and family-supporting jobs, yet in their policies, they go about destroying the very jobs that support Canadians and Canadian families. That is the great contradiction of Conservative policy. On the one hand, we get the talking points that say how important it is to build Canada and Canadian communities and Canadian families and all that Leave It to Beaver talk. They would like to go back in time it seems sometimes. On the other hand, the very jobs that support our homes, our communities, and our families are the very jobs the Conservatives have watched disappear, without any hint of concern whatsoever.
Child care one would think would support Canadian families. Does it not seem like something logical to take a step toward? It is so important that this Conservative Prime Minister promised Canadians in the last election that he would create 125,000 child care spaces in Canada, somewhat recognizing that there is an actual need out there. How many have they created? They have created zero spaces. When we have asked them about it, they seem to have no shame and in fact now call child care spaces institutionalizing children. Is that not a fascinating turn of phrase? Somehow the public contributing to a system like a national child care program would be institutionalizing our kids. Do they refer to our medical system that way or our public school system? When I send my children to public school, are they being institutionalized? This is rhetoric that is unfitting for any government, yet here we have it.
On pensions, this is going from bad to the bizarre. We saw the Conservatives unilaterally raise the retirement age for Canadians from 65 to 67, with no consultation. In fact, the Prime Minister stood in a roomful of billionaires in Europe to make the announcement. He decided that it was the best place to tell Canadians that the entire pension regime was changing.
It will cost seniors as much as $24,000 per senior in lost pensions across the board. Low income or high income, it does not matter. For Conservatives, going after pensions was their primary goal. We said this was a concern, because we thought the provinces would then follow suit and raise the age, thereby costing seniors even more. We found out just this past week that the Government of Quebec has made such an announcement to raise its retirement age in Quebec as well.
The consequences of the Prime Minister unilaterally making this policy decision have hurt seniors. The Conservatives know this, but they do not seem to care much for poor folks or the general population at large if they do not happen to vote for them. However, this is a moment when the Conservatives are now suddenly concerned, because seniors do in fact vote in our country, and lo and behold, there is an election coming soon.
What do the Conservatives do? Realizing they are losing support among Canadian seniors, they roll out a scheme, they float a balloon, saying, “Maybe we will have a voluntary system to contribute to the CPP”. This is something the Conservatives themselves looked at not that many years ago and that Jim Flaherty pronounced upon. He said that they had consulted with the experts and the provinces and that such a scheme would not work. Now the Conservatives are saying they know better than the pension experts and better than their dearly departed friend Jim Flaherty. Now they are going to go to a voluntary system, undermining the basic foundation of what the Canada pension plan is.
When we ask Canadians if they would like the ability to contribute more to the CPP, along with their employers, because that is how it works, upwards of 82% of Canadians are in favour of it. Conservatives are not in favour of that. They call contributing to one's pension a tax. When Canadians take some of their salary, and that contribution is matched by an employer, they call that a tax on Canadians. My goodness. People paying into their own pensions so they can live with some dignity when they retire the Conservatives have somehow morphed into a tax.
When the only attack they have is to call everything a tax, then I guess everything starts to look like a tax, whether it is or not. I wonder if the Conservatives are walking around their ridings asking Canadians if they are contributing to their RRSPs and telling them that they should not do that, because they are self-imposing a tax, and that they should fight to get rid of their CPP contributions at work with their employers, because that must be a job-killing tax as well.
That is such stupidity. That is ludicrous. It comes from a government that is desperate, obviously. The Conservatives are getting to the point now where they are starting to cling and grasp. They will bring up any debate they can to stir up a little more in donations and perhaps a couple of more votes. However, the plan is not working, obviously.
We also see a government that is in the midst of global concerns and a lack of job growth in Canada. In fact, in the last 16 months, job growth was at its lowest level in Canada, outside of a recession, in four decades.
One would think that if the Conservative plan were working, it would be working, but it is not. One would think that the Conservative strategy of giving billions away in corporate tax cuts to the largest, most profitable corporations, without any strings attached, would be creating those jobs, but it is not. The lowest job growth, outside of a recession, in 40 years is the Conservative legacy. The Conservatives are busy pulling muscles patting themselves on the back. They think this has been a job well done, that it is mission accomplished.
Let us look at the new programs the Conservatives are now going to launch. They actually ran a debt on them. Many Canadians do not know that the Conservatives ran a debt of $2 billion is year. The cost of their income-splitting scheme is, lo and behold, about $2 billion. They are going to borrow money to retroactively apply an income-splitting scheme that benefits only 15% of Canadian families. There is nothing for single parent families. That might not sit in the Conservative world view. I was raised by a single mom. Many Canadians are being raised by single parents. The Conservatives' income-splitting plan does nothing for them or for couples who happen to earn similar amounts of money or for individuals who sit in the middle- or lower-income bracket.
Two billion dollars has been rushed out the door by the Conservatives, who say that this will provide great help for Canadian families, yet the bottom 20% of income earners, families who might actually qualify, will get nothing, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
They reject the NDP proposal for up to $15-a-day affordable, quality child care across the country. We know, from TD Bank and other economists who have studied this, that for every $1 we put in, $1.50 to $1.75 goes back into the economy. This has worked in Quebec, which is largely where our child care model is based.
We understand that there is value in helping women, if they choose, to get back into the workforce. Every industrialized country in the world looking to improve its productivity needs to help women in particular get back into the workforce. We need to do that here in Canada. We have the lowest female participation rate in the Canadian economy since 2002.
The Conservatives might think they want to do a little social engineering and turn the clock back to 1950 and that all will be well. However, this is the reality for Canadian women working today: they want access to affordable child care. They want to make the choice. When the average cost in the GTA is $1,600 per child, there are Canadian families going to work today who are spending more on child care than they are on their mortgages. That is a reality, and that reality often keeps incredibly qualified, talented people out of the workforce, because they simply cannot afford child care.
It is no wonder the private sector economists have said that this is an investment, but not in the way the Conservatives use the term when they talk about income splitting being an investment. It is not an investment. It is a scheme. Child care is an investment that would pay back into the economy.
The Conservatives also have no evidence that the TFSA shows an increase in investments and retirement security for Canadians. There has been no increase in contributions toward retirement vehicles. It has mostly been an exercise in people taking their retirement money and moving it from one vehicle to another. That is fine, but the Conservatives should not pretend that this is suddenly going to make retirement security better in Canada, because it will not.
The Conservatives now want to double this program. Who has $10,000 burning a hole in his or her pocket at the end of every year? Is it the middle-class families and individuals the Conservatives are talking about? Maybe they are in their world, but they are not the people I deal with. They are not looking through their books at the end of the year and finding an extra $10,000 sitting around and wondering what they are going to do with it, until they see an ad, which they paid for, on TV to help them figure out what to do with all that extra money. Canadians are having a hard time making ends meet.
The current personal debt rate in Canada is at an all-time historic high. Canadians owe more personal debt right now than they ever have before, and there is a reason for that. Job quality and job security have gone down, yet the cost of living has continued to rise.
Every once in a while, the Conservatives have stumbled across, almost by accident, a program that could work and help Canadians and help create jobs. Does anyone remember the home retrofit program? This was an interesting program. The Conservatives announced it once, killed it, announced it again, and killed it again. What did this program do? It helped Canadians deal with the rising cost of heating and cooling their homes. It also created jobs in the small business sector, in the localized sector. It also helped us deal with climate change. Earlier my friend talked about the drought conditions and the concerns about the weather and the increase in the intensity of storms.
It did these three things, the Holy Trinity. There it is. The program helped Canadians reduce costs. It helped small businesses get some work and provide jobs. It helped us deal with our climate change commitments. Conservative and Liberal governments made these promises but had no plan to follow through on them. They killed the program not once but twice.
We are going to bring it back and actually run the program and let Canadians enjoy the benefits of dealing with climate change, because the Conservatives constantly try to pit the economy versus the environment. However, we know that not to be true. The most productive, most efficient, most prosperous countries on earth right now are doing both. They do not trade one off for the other, because anyone foolish enough and ignorant enough to think that he or she can simply drive an economy through the environment, through the ecological footprint that we bear, that there is some other virtual reality that he or she can create that is not constrained by our environment is a dinosaur and should do what dinosaurs do and have always done, which is to just go away and move along so that we can actually evolve the Canadian economy into something much more fair and much more prosperous.
We on the NDP side believe in clean technology. We saw last year globally for the first time that contributions into the clean tech sector exceeded all of the investments into the oil and gas and carbon economies. We have seen the globe moving this way, not just the so-called advanced countries, but also China, India and Brazil. Where is Canada? We have a Prime Minister who can barely utter the words “climate change”, who stands up and the only promise he is willing to commit to is something that would happen at the end of this century. When we ask him how we would get there, he says that is not for him to worry about because he will not be around.
That is similar to the Conservatives' commitments on the tax-free savings accounts. When the finance minister was asked how he was going to pay for these things, because it gets expensive really quick, he said that it was not really a problem for him to worry about, that it was a problem for the Prime Minister's hypothetical granddaughter to worry about. That was a moment of insight, almost a bit of a Freudian slip, when he said he was not concerned with it, that the Conservatives are not concerned with the huge cost of a program they hope would just maybe get them enough votes in the next election because the real costs would be paid down the line by our grandkids. “So be it and so what,” say the Conservatives, which is so similar to their approach on climate change.
Since the Conservative government's coming to office, how many years have we been promised regulations in the oil and gas sector, which by the way, is the most expensive way to deal with climate change according to the oil and gas sector. It would much rather have a price on carbon that actually meets the reality. That is why the major oil companies in this country are calling for such a thing. Do members think that the Conservatives are running into the offices of Suncor and Syncrude and yelling at them about their carbon tax policy and how they want to kill the economy? Of course they are not. We understand that businesses need certainty. They also understand that pollution costs and that the polluter pay principle should be based in law and based in science. What do the Conservatives do with science? They muzzle it.
We have also seen $14 billion in cuts to government programs, austerity programs in the midst of this fragile economy. What the IMF, the World Bank and the EU all are suggesting right now is that we need to move our economies forward, not try to cut them to some prosperity. However, we have seen time and again where the Conservatives, and before them the Liberals, try this ideology, which is not new; it is as old as Reaganomics. The ideology is that if they simply cut $650 billion in corporate taxes, which the Conservatives did, as did the Liberals before them, companies would just magically reinvest in hiring more people, in manufacturing, and all of the rest of that. Mark Carney said for years that there was $650 billion of dead money sitting in corporate bank accounts in Canada right now not being invested. Therefore, the philosophy of the Conservatives has failed.
With the Conservatives' recent infrastructure announcements and the announcements for transit, we have seen time and again that all of it is to come years down the road. What the Conservatives most care about is themselves and trying to get themselves somehow re-elected despite all to the contrary. It seems to me that the Canadian people and the Canadian economy have called for real action, not ads, not another scam, not a bit more spin. They want something that will actually help the Canadian economy.
Two suggestions which we made, and the Conservatives voted against, would have helped the manufacturing sector and the small business community. The Conservatives voted against them one month and then put them in the budget. Let us give them a bit of credit at this moment of hypocrisy where they vote against something and then drive it into the budget the next week and suddenly think it is a good idea because it is painted blue.
Canadians need and deserve a lot more than what they are getting, but the good news is this. There are only a few months to go until this tired and worn-out government will be tossed from office. To that effort, I move:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following:
||“this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures, because it:
|| a) introduces income splitting and super-sized Tax-Free Savings Account measures that will primarily benefit the wealthy few while wasting billions of dollars;
||b) does not introduce a $15 per hour minimum wage or create a universal, affordable childcare program, both of which would support the working and middle class families who actually need help;
||c) leaves Canadian interns without protections against excessive work hours, sexual harassment, and an unending cycle of unpaid work;
||d) sets a dangerous precedent for Canadians' right to know by making retroactive changes to absolve the government of its role in potential violations of access-to-information laws; and
||e) attacks the right of free and fair collective bargaining for hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise with pleasure to address an important piece of legislation that we have before us, which I believe distinguishes the difference between all political parties inside the chamber.
It is important for me to recognize right at the beginning that today we hear a lot about Canada's middle class, as well we should. However, I would suggest that since the leader of the Liberal Party became our leader a couple of years ago, when he first raised the level of debate on the issue of middle class, we have seen other political entities in the House adopt what we believe is a very important issue; that is, the middle class of Canada. Even though the leader of the Liberal Party might have been the first to raise the profile of the issue, today we see that all political parties are trying to come to grips with what they now believe is an important issue also.
The difference is that we truly do believe that the answer to many of Canada's issues and problems we have today is to strengthen Canada's middle class. If we recognize that the greatest asset in terms of potential economic growth for our country is to invest in our middle class, we give strength to our middle class. A healthy, strong middle class equates to opportunities in a strong Canadian economy.
This is the 10th budget given by the current government. What we have noticed is that this particular budget gives the most to Canadians who need it the least. It is time for a better plan, investing in jobs and growth for the middle class and those working very hard to become a part of it. We recognize that under the current government, middle-class Canadians have had to work longer and harder to make ends meet. We would argue that this is just not right.
We talk about a plan of fairness. Here today looking at the budget, we see it is all about priorities. I will give a sample of the type of fairness that the Liberal Party of Canada is talking about.
A Liberal government would make the tax system fairer, and cut the middle-class tax rate by 7%. That is a $3 billion tax cut for those who need it the most. The Liberal plan would also provide a bigger, fairer tax-free monthly cheque to help families with the high cost of raising their kids. Let me give a specific example. With the Liberal plan, a typical two-parent family with two kids, earning $90,000 per year, would get $490 tax free every month. With the Prime Minister's plan, that same family would receive $275 after taxes.
We get ministers and members from the government standing up and saying that the Liberals would take away that tax break, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the Liberal Party's plan compared to the government's plan would see middle-class families with children receiving more dollars every month. That is the truth.
We would also ask Canada's wealthiest Canadians to pay a little more so that the middle class can pay less. The Liberal Party would in fact cancel the Prime Minister's income splitting and other tax breaks for the wealthy. We would introduce a new tax bracket for the top 1%, on incomes over $200,000.
Members will be no doubt be very much aware of the income splitting plan. This is a $2 billion plan that the Conservative government put into place, where hundreds of millions of dollars are going to be taken out of the middle class every year to support less than 15% of Canada's wealthiest people. It is a very costly plan, which is just not necessary. Even the former minister of finance, the late Jim Flaherty, agreed that it was a bad idea, that it was not fair. Yet, the Prime Minister has seen fit to bring forward an income splitting program at a substantial cost.
We believe that is wrong. It is much like within this very same budget we are seeing the government double the TFSA contribution limits. Who is more likely to benefit from that tax initiative? Again, it is going to be some of Canada's wealthiest people. If I reflect on the residents of Winnipeg North, which I represent, I do not have constituents making between $40,000 and $70,000 as a household income who have an extra $10,000 sitting around so they can invest into the TFSA maximum. That very rarely exists.
I would suggest that demonstrates just how unfair the government is in terms of its taxation policy. Whether it is the TFSA or the income split, there is a significant difference in the way the Liberals would govern compared to what we are seeing in this Conservative budget.
The Prime Minister offers tax breaks for the wealthy. Liberals, on the other hand, believe in a country that works for everyone. Our leader has been very clear. We must strengthen those at the heart of our economy, middle-class Canadians, who have not had a decent raise in 30 years.
Liberals will continue to present solutions to grow our economy. Growth is very important. We all benefit when the Government of Canada gets its priorities right within the budget. We have seen that in terms of certain industries in the last number of years. Imagine the manufacturing industry, in particular in a province like Ontario, which has been hit very hard. We are talking about tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs being lost in the province of Ontario alone, good quality jobs in the most part, because we have a national government that has ignored that file. The jobs are not being replaced to the degree that they have been lost.
Understandably, Canadians are concerned. That is why they are looking for leadership from Ottawa in this regard. When the Conservatives say they created 1.3 million jobs, the reality is that the government has fallen short. In the last couple of years, we are maybe talking about a couple of hundred jobs. However, what kinds of jobs are they? They are not of the same nature or value as the jobs we have lost. The government continues to spread information to try to give a false impression, as if it is actually doing a good job on the issue of job creation when nothing could be further from the truth.
We see that in terms of the whole trade debate. Minister after minister will stand to say how wonderful and glorified they are to have signed trade agreements. Yes, they have signed a few trade agreements. However, the EU agreement, which is 28 of the 38 countries that the Conservatives often refer to, has still not been signed off. That agreement is not finalized. Our Prime Minister was just overseas. I suspect that there was very little progress on that file.
The President of Ukraine in was in this chamber. He made an appeal to all parliamentarians and, through the House, all Canadians for a trade agreement between Ukraine and Canada. However, again, the government has even let us down on that front. It could have been doing more. If we look at what the EU has done with Ukraine on the trade file and compare it with what Canada has done, we will find that Canada has fallen short.
The Conservatives might talk a tough line. They might espouse how wonderful we are. However, reality does not reflect what they say from the benches. In fact, when we talk about trade, the bottom line is whether Canada has a trade surplus or a trade deficit.
Under the Liberal administrations, we were always on the positive side. We always had a trade surplus. Not under the Conservative government. I believe it is up to 51 months of trade deficits. In fact, when the Prime Minister replaced Paul Martin, we had a $1 billion dollar-plus trade surplus. The Prime Minister converted that trade surplus into a trade deficit, and we have had it virtually ever since
The Conservatives can talk about how great they are at trade deals, but the bottom line is they have been a total and absolute failure, at a substantial cost. One wonders why we have lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Maybe we should start looking at the trade balance and the Conservatives' less than impressive performance on this file. When we do that, we start to understand that trade surplus versus trade deficit means thousands of jobs, thousands of opportunities that have been lost.
We can continue on with respect to the economics of this budget when we talk about trade surplus versus trade deficit and how poorly the government has actually done on the issue. Think of what the budget implementation bill would do. It would create what it calls a balanced budget type of legislation.
Imagine a government that has failed at getting a balanced budget now preaching as if it knows what it is like to have one. The only time it actually had a balanced budget was the one year that followed then prime minister Paul Martin. Paul Martin and the Liberals provided a multi-billion dollar surplus. When the Conservatives became government, they actually had a huge surplus. Within two years, they converted that huge surplus, and that was prior to the recession, into a multi-billion dollar deficit, They think they are financial managers. I think not.
We are now months away from an election, and the government says that it has balanced the budget. The government cannot fool Canadians. Take a look at the way in which it has achieved this so-called balanced budget. It sold, at wholesale prices, $2 billion worth of GM shares and then it went into a contingency fund, something some of the ministers said they would never do. They did this to generate a false balanced budget. It tapped into the contingency fund and sold GM sales for a few billion dollars to create a $1 billion surplus.
I do not believe this budget will in fact be balanced. I believe we will find out after the next election, when all the numbers start coming in, that this Conservative/Reform, pretend party, or government, failed at delivering a balanced budget in 2015-16 fiscal year.
It is amazing how the Conservatives can look at the Liberal Party and say that the Liberals do not know how to balance budgets. In fact, the only person in this chamber who has actually balanced a budget as the minister of finance is the member who sits in front of me, the member for Wascana, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party.
If we look at the period of governance between Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, we will find that there are numerous balanced budgets. However, we know for a fact that it is the Conservatives who have been unable to balance a budget. They are the ones off in fairyland, pretending or trying to give a false impression that they are good at balancing the books, when reality says that it is the absolute opposite. If there is any party with any credibility whatsoever on this issue of balanced budgets, it is definitely not the Conservative Party. The record clearly shows that the Liberal Party can and does balance its books.
At the same time, the Liberal Party knows what is important to Canadians, and we ensure the financing is in fact there. I will give a couple of examples on that.
There is the issue of pensions. A few years back, the Prime Minister, while on the other side of the ocean, announced that the age of retirement would be increased from 65 to 67. The Liberal Party recognizes the cost of that for Canadians. It is a cost that we are not prepared to accept. Through that policy, the Conservative government will put thousands more seniors into poverty.
The explanation provided from the Conservatives in justifying increasing the age from 65 to 67 is absolutely bogus. They have tried to create a crisis situation. There is no value to their arguments as to why the government has made that decision. The independent Parliamentary Budget Officer in essence is saying that, as are outside stakeholders.
This is an issue I plan to use at the door for my constituents. The Liberal Party has been very clear that it will revert that and maintain the age 65. We will not allow the Conservative government to get away with increasing the age of retirement from 65 to 67.
When we look at CPP, it is very clear the Prime Minister has in the past indicated that he does not support CPP. He would just as soon see CPP disappear. Now the Prime Minister is refusing to meet with premiers to work at improving CPP. It has become very clear that the Prime Minister does not care about the social safety net of Canada's three pension programs. The facts and the words from him clearly demonstrate that.
The Prime Minister does not recognize what Canadians hold close to their hearts and truly believe in, such as our health care system. However, the Liberal Party does believe in CPP. We do believe in health care. We do believe in the importance of a social safety net, which is something with which we cannot trust the Conservatives.
Mr. John Carmichael (Don Valley West, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, our government not only delivered a prudent, balanced budget, but one that also contains important measures to address the priorities of Canadians. I am pleased to take the opportunity to discuss a few highlights today, and I will be sharing my time with the member for Burlington.
Just as our government has worked hard to bring forward a balanced budget, every day Canadian families are also working hard to balance their budgets, and that is one of the reasons I am particularly happy about budget 2015: because it supports Canadian families in meaningful ways.
We have recognized that each family is unique. We are not attempting a one-size-fits-all solution, as some of the opposition members are proposing. One such example is the universal child care benefit, which would give families $1,920 per year for each child under six and $720 per year for children six through 17. This money could be used for the needs of children in whatever way parents choose.
As promised, our government implemented income splitting for families with minor children. This allows many families to be in a lower tax bracket, keeping more money in moms' and dads' pockets.
We have also increased the children's fitness tax credit to $1,000, helping to provide children with the opportunity to participate in the sports they love and build the habit of a healthy, active lifestyle. These tax measures and benefits provide relief for 100% of families, primarily hard-working middle-class families.
Our government's measures provide tax relief and benefits of up to $6,600 for an average family of four. That is almost $7,000 per family each year. I know from experience that raising a family is not inexpensive, and although my children are now grown, I can appreciate what these measures would mean to Canadian families with young children.
Statistics show that 11 million Canadians have eagerly made use of the tax-free savings account. Budget 2015 increased the annual contribution limit to $10,000 each year. I have had numerous constituents in my riding who are quite excited about this new saving opportunity.
I have just highlighted measures that benefit families raising the next generation of Canadians, but I would also like to talk about how budget 2015 benefits our seniors, those who have spent their lives building Canada into the proud nation that it is today.
The financial state of our seniors has seen great improvement. Canada's low-income rate for seniors has fallen from 21.4% in 1980 to 5.2% in 2011. That is one of the lowest rates in the industrial world.
Budget 2011 introduced the largest GIS increase in over 25 years, investing more than $300 million per year to further improve the financial security and well-being of more than 680,000 seniors across Canada.
Our government has also implemented pension income splitting for pensioners. In 2014, a single senior can earn at least $20,054 and a couple at least $40,108 before paying federal income tax. As a result of the actions our government has taken since 2006, approximately 380,000 seniors have been removed from federal tax rolls completely.
Over the last few years, many of the seniors in my riding have written to me about the need to adjust RRIF rules to bring them into alignment with the increased lifespan of seniors. In response to their letters and calls, I addressed this issue with the Minister of Finance. Budget 2015 significantly reduces the minimum withdrawal factors for RRIF, allowing seniors to preserve more of their retirement savings.
As well, budget 2015 introduces the home accessibility tax credit for seniors and persons with disabilities so that they can continue to live independently in their own homes.
Speaking of those who have contributed to building our nation, there are those who have put their very lives on the line to defend our nation's freedom and security: our veterans. In Don Valley West, we are proud to be the home of Sunnybrook, the largest veterans centre in Canada. I enjoy serving the veterans in my riding and I am thankful that our government continues to place their care as a priority.
The government has continually made important improvements to the new veterans charter to meet the needs of veterans.
Economic action plan 2015 further demonstrated this growing commitment. This includes implementing the new retirement income security benefit for moderately to severely injured veterans, expanding access to the permanent impairment allowance to help compensate disabled veterans for the loss of career opportunities, modifying the earning loss benefit to ensure that part-time reserve force veterans have access to the same level of income support as regular full-time reserve force veterans, and increasing the level of individualized care to veterans requiring regular support by improving the ratio of veterans to case managers.
In addition to the measures in the 2015 budget, we have also opened new front-line mental health clinics across the country. The new family caregiver relief benefit will provide veterans who have a service-related injury with an annual tax-free grant of over $7,000 to provide caregivers in the home with flexibility or relief while ensuring that the needs of the seriously injured veterans are met.
All these benefits build on our record of keeping our economy strong by defending Canada at home and abroad, enhancing national security, and standing up for our veterans.
I have spoken about various groups of people and what the budget means for them. Now I would like to take the opportunity to highlight what budget 2015 holds for an issue that I hear about from every age group and from many walks of life in my riding of Don Valley West: the issue of transit.
One of the most common complaints I hear from Toronto constituents has to do with congested traffic and gridlock. This year's budget held particularly good news for Toronto: the new innovative public transit fund will invest an additional $750 million over two years starting in 2017-18, and $1 billion per year ongoing thereafter.
Our mayor said of the new innovative public transit fund, “This is a major step forward for Toronto and for the country” and said, “The federal government committed to establishing a dedicated, national fund to invest in public transportation. This is good news for Toronto and for cities across Canada.”
This new transit fund is in addition to the ongoing funding already in place through the new Building Canada plan, which continues to provide $5.35 billion per year on average for infrastructure, and in addition to the gas tax fund.
I feel very few people know about the Building Canada plan and the gas tax fund, and even fewer understand how these programs have already impacted their cities and municipalities, and specifically, in my case, the city of Toronto. For example, since 2006, through the gas tax fund, the Government of Canada has invested more than $2.2 billion to support municipal infrastructure projects across the GTA. Our government doubled and extended the federal gas tax fund and made it permanent. This is a dedicated, predictable, and flexible source of infrastructure funding for municipalities.
Despite all contrary claims, since 2006 our investment in infrastructure has been at the highest level and length ever seen in Canadian history. Being a businessman, I like solid numbers without the spin. The facts cannot be clearer. I am proud of our government's record investment in infrastructure.
Another issue that I often hear addressed by all age groups is health care funding. The administration of health care is carried out by the province, but the federal government contributes to the funding. This year the Province of Ontario will receive record high transfer payments from our government to support health care, education, and social programs. Ontario will receive $20.4 billion in federal transfers this year alone. This is an increase of 88% from under the old federal Liberal government, which radically slashed transfer payments to the provinces. We will never do that, nor will we allow it.
Our government's balanced budget and our low-tax plan for jobs, growth, and security are just further demonstrations of our strong leadership for Canada, leadership that has been consistently demonstrated and carried out through action. This year's economic action plan 2015 is no exception.
I look forward to seeing the bright future of our growing, beautiful country, one that we are all proud to call home.
Mr. Mike Wallace (Burlington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for sharing his time with me. This probably will be the last time I am on my feet making a speech in the House in the 41st Parliament, but I am hoping to be back in the next Parliament. I think the Speaker was hoping that this was a going away speech, but it is not. I want to give a shout out to my grandmother who watches the House of Commons on television every day hoping that her grandson will get up to speak, so Mr. Speaker, allow me to say hello to Grandma Wallace.
Today we are speaking to Bill C-59, which is the budget implementation bill. I explain to my constituents all the time that the budget itself is a policy document that needs to be implemented. We have a couple of opportunities throughout the year to implement what is in the budget. The budget was actually passed by the House and now we have to implement what was in the budget through a ways and means motion and this bill we are debating today. Normally we would have one in the spring and one in the fall, but we will be active on the campaign trail in the fall, so we are addressing Bill C-59 now, which has a lot of very important pieces that were in the budget and which will be implemented immediately.
I also heard today that our colleague from Edmonton—Leduc is retiring and is not seeking re-election. That member of Parliament has done an excellent job for a number of years as the chair of the finance committee. I want to thank him for his efforts and all he has done on the financial items.
We heard some really good speeches last week. I was in attendance both Tuesday and Wednesday nights last week for the speeches of those who are not seeking re-election in the fall. I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the House who made some excellent speeches about why they ran for office, the accomplishments they made and why it is important for us as parliamentarians to continue this work. I want to thank those individuals who are moving on either to retirement or to other career opportunities.
The budget implementation bill we are dealing with today has a number of key items which I and other colleagues have advocated for over a number of years.
The first item is the changes to the plans in terms of withdrawal rates for RRIFs.
I have been told that in my riding of Burlington, the statistics are that 50% of my constituents are age 55 and older. I do not represent all of Burlington. I represent a portion, but the area I represent tends to have a fair number of seniors.
I have been here nine years and there were a number of issues where I had a response from constituents. On the issue of withdrawal rates for RRIFs, there were 40 individuals who came to see me. They were not related to each other. They were not connected by any organization. Forty individuals expressed the need for a change to the RRIF plan. They explained to me why it is important.
People in my riding are living longer, as people are across the country. I still have a grandmother. When RRIFs first came to be, there was an understanding based on what the average lifespan of an individual was. In Canada, because of our quality of life, the health care provided and the environment, people are living longer. They need to be able to stretch their retirement dollars longer as the average age is increasing.
The other point that is important is that once people turn 71 years of age, their RRSPs have to be converted into registered retirement income funds. The Conservatives moved the age from 69 to 71 years.
Those funds are normally invested in the marketplace, and there were some challenges in the marketplace in 2008 and 2009. Those retirement nest eggs that those people worked all their lives for and saved for suffered due to the economic downturn that happened at that time. At the same time, we were forcing individuals to take money out at a minimum level even if they did not need the cash flow because they had other cash flow opportunities, whether that was a pension plan or funds from other sources. The requirement to take that money out meant that those individuals felt a loss twice: once in the marketplace and once in having to pay taxes on money that earned less than they had anticipated it would earn.
With the help of many of my colleagues on this side of the House, we advocated that the Minister of Finance reduce the minimum amount that had to be drawn from a RRIF. I am very happy to see that in the budget. It is a win for seniors across the country, including in my riding of Burlington. I am happy that it is part of this implementation bill so we can have it in place before this Parliament is done.
The next item is something that I had talked about and advocated for. This was actually a bit of a surprise. Often, we backbenchers are asked how much influence we have. On two points in this budget alone, I can say we backbenchers were advocating for change.
One change allows people who are caring for a sick loved one to collect EI for six months instead of six weeks. That is a significant change and an important piece for my riding. As I said, we have a number of seniors in my riding and, as we know, when people age, their health care and support needs increase. It is natural for that to happen. In this budget there is the opportunity for caregivers to increase the amount they can collect in EI if for some personal or family reason they need to be at home to look after someone who is in need. That change from six weeks to six months will have an important impact on someone being able to afford to stay at home with a relative who needs that support. It will also help build the community. It will help the family because at whatever stage of the illness the individual is experiencing, the caregiver will be there and will not have to worry about the financial aspects of missing work for that six-month period.
The other thing I would like to talk about is that in my riding we do not have one big employer. We are not a one industry town. Our largest employer employs around 800 people, which is fairly large. That is a good-sized company. Members should know that the unemployment rate for Burlington is in the range of 5% to 5.6%. The majority of our employment base is small businesses, the job creators in this country. Our change to the tax rate from 11% to 9% will make a significant impact on the small businesses in my community. They will be able to pay more people to come to work for them. The tax burden will be less. They will be able to use the money that will become available to reinvest in their businesses. Reinvesting in their businesses means either buying more equipment or having more employees, which creates employment and wealth and makes this country a better place.
It was my honour to speak to Bill C-59.