Mr. James Rajotte (Edmonton—Leduc, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to stand and address budget 2013. I will be sharing my time with the wonderful member for York Centre, a very hard-working member of our finance committee.
It is my pleasure to speak to budget 2013. At the outset, I will outline for observers some of the processes that occur with respect to the preparation of budgets.
As members of this place know, the finance committee, which I chair, starts its hearings going back even to the spring and summer prior to the presentation of the budget. We receive submissions. Typically we cut off submission dates in the summer and we prepare all those submissions for members; members then hear from witnesses from across the country in the fall. Last year, we heard about 800 submissions. The committee tried online submissions for the first time in its history; we received those submissions, and the members heard some oral testimony as well.
We present our report to Parliament in December of each year, so we presented our pre-budget report in December. The budget is typically presented in February or March of the following year. We then follow with two budget implementation acts, one that we expect this spring and one that will occur in the fall.
That is just to give people some context in terms of the actual budgetary process.
I highlight that because there are numerous recommendations that our committee suggested in December in the budget itself, and I will refer to them as I go through the positive aspects of this budget.
In terms of the overall budget plan, the government would continue its increase in transfers to the provinces for health care, education and social assistance. For health care, there would be 6% increases until 2017, and then it would be based on nominal GDP after 2017. It would increase support for provinces for education and social assistance at 3% per annum until 2017 as well.
With respect to transfers to persons, those would increase, as obviously more people are receiving seniors' benefits each and every year. Family benefits would also increase going forward. There is an excellent graph and accompanying figures in the budget that reflect that increase. In terms of transfers to provinces and to persons, these transfers would continue to increase, as they have since 2006.
The area of federal spending that the federal government more directly controls does not affect these areas. As members know, there was a program put in a place, a deficit reduction action plan, which examined about $70 billion of federal government spending, and it realized nearly 7% of savings, which is about 2% of what the federal government would spend over the course of the next few fiscal years.
That was very much based on a lot of the pre-budget recommendations we made. Recommendations numbers 2, 3 and 4 all asked us to maintain transfers for provinces and persons, to restrain our own federal government spending and to balance the budget in the medium term, which was echoed by many business groups and other organizations before the committee. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce strongly recommended that we continue to move toward a balanced budget in the medium term, so I am very pleased by that.
However, these organizations and other individuals before the committee also strongly recommended certain areas that did require investments and said that we ought to continue to make investments.
I will relay some of the stories, challenges and issues from my own riding of Edmonton—Leduc, including the southwest part of Edmonton, the city of Leduc, the town of Devon, the industrial heartland of Nisku south of Edmonton and the Edmonton International Airport. It is a very dynamic and diverse riding, but we have some very strong challenges.
The number one challenge that business people in that area raise with me is with respect to access to all types of labour, skilled and unskilled. I have taken visiting members of Parliament through my riding, especially through areas like Nisku where there are signs saying that if people are in one of six or seven listed professions, they should please stop in, because they need people.
I recall that when I took the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism into a company, Tenaris, in the riding, one of its shifts was not working. We asked why the shift was not up and running, and the plant manager simply said that the company did not have enough people to operate that shift, that if it had enough people the shift would be operating and the company would be producing more, paying more tax, supporting more services and employing more Canadians. They simply could not find enough people. That is on the skilled side.
PCL also has a huge centre in Nisku. It could use engineers, welders, boilermakers and all types of skilled trades. Hospitals, hotels and restaurants will say they need skilled and unskilled people. They are simply short-staffed.
One small business owner from the area with a restaurant chain and a drive-through service said at certain times he has to close down the drive-through, because people getting their lunch order would ask employees how much they were making an hour, and when they found out how much, they would give out business cards and say, “Call me tomorrow; we would like to hire you.”
This is the labour situation and the labour challenges we are finding in our area, which is why it is the number one issue raised with me. That is why I am very pleased by things like the Canada job grant, increased support for apprentices and acting on the disability report recommendations in the budget.
The reason I am such a big supporter of the Canada job grant is it actually engages employers and employees at a very direct level. A lot of the training done in the past by the provinces and the federal government has been valuable, but this is special in the sense that it engages employers and employees. It ensures that an employee is receiving training that will directly lead to a job and it matches employers and employees very directly. One of the common phrases used to describe our labour challenge today is “jobs without people and people without jobs”. That is a mismatch we have to address. That is exactly what the Canada job grant is trying to address.
I will refer again to our pre-budget report recommendations 8, 9 and 10 through 16, which all deal with the need to address this labour challenge and ways in which to do it. That is what this budget does.
Next is infrastructure. People often think a province like Alberta, which has seen relatively modest to strong growth over the last number of years, would not have a challenge with infrastructure. The reality is that we do, because when communities in southwest Edmonton or west Leduc or south Devon grow by 5% to 8% a year in the industrial sector, it puts a lot of challenges on our infrastructure.
The municipalities all asked for a long-term infrastructure plan. They worked with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, an excellent organization. The current President, Karen Leibovici, a city councillor from Edmonton, did an excellent job in negotiating with the government a 10-year plan in terms of addressing infrastructure needs going forward. Obviously this will start when the building Canada fund expires in 2014.
There are also things like renewing the P3 Canada fund, the new Canada building fund of $14 billion over 10 years, the community improvement fund at $32.2 billion over 10 years, and the gas fund tax payments and the GST rebate as well. With respect to the gas tax funding, municipalities say this is funding that they can count on and that they know is a certainty. They can then make investments and take out loans against the funding because they know it will be there. The fund can be used to access capital for the light rail transit developed in south Edmonton.
In relation to the P3 project, I am very pleased that there was a recent announcement on the light rail expansion in southeast Edmonton, in the constituency of the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont. It is a very large P3 project between PPP Canada and the City of Edmonton. Both organizations should be applauded for their work in making this happen.
With respect to housing, again based on recommendations 52 and 53 in our pre-budget report, the housing investments over a long-term period were very good as well.
In terms of investments in manufacturing, I am very pleased that we have continued the accelerated capital cost allowance for the manufacturing sector. I am personally very proud of that, as this was in an industry committee report that we produced in February 2007. The finance minister included it in the budget of March 2007, and it has continued since that time. I am very pleased because of the investments in there.
There are also the investments in post-secondary education, based on recommendations 28 and 30 in pre-budget consultations. There is support for the federal research granting councils, for the Canada Foundation for Innovation, by working with excellent organizations like the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, an excellent organization in terms of putting forward its recommendations for the budget.
The last point I will finish with is that we are following up on some of the recommendations we have been hearing at committee with respect to the charitable sector and encouraging Canadians to give more, following up on the member for Kitchener—Waterloo and all of his initiatives, and also with respect to increasing the ability of the Canada Revenue Agency to deal with tax evasion, something we are studying currently before the committee.
I encourage all members of this House to support the budget and I look forward to their questions.
Mr. Mark Adler (York Centre, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Edmonton—Leduc. He is one of the finest, most skilled chairs of the finance committee in the history of the House of Commons.
I want to congratulate our Minister of Finance on tabling his eighth budget. The budget certainly reaffirms that our government is on the right track to balancing the budget by 2015. It also shows that our government is focused on what matters most to Canadians, and that is jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. Notwithstanding what the opposition would have us do, which would be to engage in reckless spending schemes and increase taxes to the tune of $56 billion for starters, we on this side are determined to position Canada to be the great success of the 21st century in the global economy.
Economic action plan 2013 builds on the strong foundation that was first laid in 2006. It bolsters the fundamental strengths and resilience of the Canadian economy. This is very important. Our global reputation is strong. We have the best job creation record in the G7. There have been 950,000 net new jobs created since July 2009. We have the lowest debt to GDP ratio of any country in the G8. We have the highest possible credit ratings from Moody's, Fitch and Standard and Poor's. We have the best financial sector in the world, as rated by the World Economic Forum, and we are the best place to be doing business according to Forbes Magazine .
John Chambers, the president of Cisco has said that Canada is the best place to be doing business. Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said Canada is not a miracle, but they are doing all the right things. Canada is a model of economic success.
However, let us not forget that Canada is not an island. Therefore, economic action plan 2013 strengthens this stellar record in Canada by the following measures: one, connecting Canadians with available jobs; two, helping manufacturers and businesses succeed in the global economy; three, creating a new building Canada plan; four, investing in world-class research and innovation; and, five, supporting families and communities.
Let us drill down a bit into the budget. My riding of York Centre is home to Bombardier Aerospace, one of the great Canadian success stories and one of the most prominent companies in the entire world. It is also home to Downsview Park, an area famous for its rich aerospace history.
The aerospace industry in Canada is of utmost importance because it directly employs about 66,000 people. I am proud that with the 2013 economic action plan our government has committed to supporting Canada's aerospace industry so it can remain competitive and relevant in the rapidly changing world. The new budget is investing almost a billion dollars in strategic aerospace in the defence initiative to enhance the competitiveness of Canada's aerospace and defence industries. The budget also encourages new innovations in Canada's aerospace sector by creating the aerospace technology demonstration program. The government will invest $110 million over five years beginning in 2014-15, and $55 million in each year thereafter. These new initiatives will be incredibly useful to thriving companies like Bombardier.
Before the budget, I consulted with numerous businesses in my riding and across the country. During one budget consultation that I hosted in York Centre, I spoke with the Retail Council of Canada, and over 20 big businesses, ranging from Walmart to Costco to Cineplex to Kitchen Stuff Plus to Home Depot. The common theme I heard in their suggestions was that the price disparity between Canadian and U.S. stores makes it difficult to compete. Our government listened and thoroughly studied the Canada-U.S. retail price gap. In response to our study, the economic action plan 2013 will eliminate tariffs on baby clothing, sporting goods and athletic equipment. This will represent a total of $76 million in annual tariff relief for Canadian families and the goods they need. Our government expects wholesalers, distributors and retailers to pass these savings on to consumers.
This Conservative measure is completely opposite to the NDP's proposed $21 billion carbon tax that would raise the cost of everything, from baby clothing to food to gas.
Our government has been consistent and effective in its approach to keeping taxes low. Since 2006 we have cut taxes more than 150 times. The typical family of four will save more than $3,200 in tax savings this year alone.
Our government has cut the personal tax rate to 15%. We have reduced the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. This saves the average Canadian family approximately $1,000 a year.
We have also reduced the small business tax rate from 12% to 11% and lowered the general business tax rate from 21% to 15%.
I am the proud father of two young children, twins, so I have to buy everything twice. I can say these savings mean a lot to Canadian families.
Overall, our government has removed more than one million low-income Canadians from the tax rolls.
However, that is not all our government has done to help low-income Canadians. Our government is going to invest more than $1.25 billion in affordable housing in Ontario and across Canada. This funding would go toward different initiatives, including new construction, renovation, home ownership assistance, rent supplements, shelter allowances and accommodations for survivors of family violence. Between April 2011 and December 2012, more than 136,000 households benefited from our investments in affordable housing.
The new budget would also introduce a homeless partnering strategy and would invest nearly $600 million in the strategy using a housing-first approach.
The people of York Centre benefit greatly from the affordable housing initiative. Just this past September, I was proud to represent our government at the official opening of a new housing project in York Centre at 485 Patricia Avenue. This brand new building accommodates 237 residents, including low-income seniors and people with disabilities. I am glad that the 2013 economic action plan would allow affordable housing initiatives to expand.
In addition to affordable housing, our government will continue to help Canadian seniors. We recognize that our senior citizens have helped make our country the great place it is today. Now is the time for us to give back to our seniors by ensuring a high standard of living and a healthy retirement.
The 2013 action plan would expand tax relief for home care services.
We are also going to work with banks and financial institutions to ensure that seniors are better protected when using financial services.
Furthermore, we are going to support palliative care services by providing $3 million over the next three years to support training for front-line health care providers.
Our government would also assist in the construction and renovation of accessible community facilities by investing $15 million per year in the enabling accessibility fund.
I am so proud to represent York Centre, because it is one of the most diverse ridings in our country. There are so many different cultural, religious and ethnic groups that make our society so much richer. It is these new Canadians who make our country famous around the world for being strong, pluralistic and an ethnocultural mosaic.
I was happy to see that economic action plan 2013 introduced a number of new initiatives to support new Canadians. The new budget announces the government's intention to test new approaches to attracting immigrant investors to Canada through the start-up visa pilot project to attract immigrant entrepreneurs. Canada is a land of opportunity, and this new business immigration program would attract bright minds from around the world.
Every year more than one million temporary residents come to Canada. That is why economic action plan 2013 proposes to invest $42 million over two years to enhance the capacity of the temporary resident program.
My favourite responsibility as a member of Parliament is to go to citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. These are very emotional times. I am a first-generation Canadian. People come to Canada to get away from oppression, racism and persecution. Many of them have young children. These people are coming here for hope and opportunity, not so much for themselves but for their kids. We all know there is talent all over the world, and we are lucky in this great country of Canada to be able to attract that talent. These people are coming here for opportunity and for hope.
Economic action plan 2013 reaffirms the government's commitment to Canadians and to new immigrants coming to this great country. I hope all members will support the great measures contained within economic action plan 2013.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to express my profound opposition to the budget that was tabled last week. Not only is this budget almost completely lacking in substance and content, the government has also used it primarily as a branding opportunity. At the end of the day, it contains a number of measures that are useless and, in many cases, downright harmful to Canadians.
Unfortunately, the budget is lengthy simply because the government added image-boosting measures. I only have 20 minutes to speak, so I would like to get to the heart of the Conservative government's budget 2013 and explain why it goes against Canadians' interests.
I will begin by speaking about the measure that has probably been the most controversial, particularly in Quebec, since 90% of the money allocated to this tax credit goes to labour-sponsored funds in Quebec. I am talking about eliminating the tax credit for labour-sponsored venture capital corporations. The government is looking to eliminate the 15% tax credit by 2017, thus saving $335 million.
Why is the government taking this approach? We are hearing all sorts of reasons and excuses. When the question was put to the parliamentary secretary on Friday, she said that it was not working. The government consulted the OECD, which said that labour-sponsored venture capital was not bringing in sufficient returns, so it is time to move on to something else.
Others are saying that it is because the funds now have sufficient capital and are effective. Depending on who you talk to, the funds are either working or they are not. The parliamentary secretary says one thing and the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism says another.
The fact is that labour-sponsored funds work. This model for economic development has worked well in Quebec in the past and is still working. For example, I would like to mention Quebec's Fonds de solidarité FTQ, which was created 30 years ago. Since then, the Fonds de solidarité FTQ has invested more than $10 billion in Quebec. The money has been invested in start-up companies and in businesses that are having difficulties and need an infusion of capital to get back on track. Since 1990, the Fonds de solidarité has created or maintained 500,000 jobs in the province. The Conservatives are putting that template for success in danger by eliminating the tax credit for venture capital corporations.
Furthermore, 60% of the fund's assets are invested in Quebec. This came out nowhere. There was no justification or preparation. It was only a few paragraphs, somewhere in the middle of the budget. No justification is given, and if there is any, it is contradictory.
Nonetheless, what is interesting about this budget is that on pages 204 and 205, there is a section on enhancing Canada’s venture capital system. I would like to read part of that section:
|| Recognizing the importance of the venture capital industry to Canada's future productivity growth, Economic Action Plan 2012 announced resources to support Canada’s venture capital industry, including $400 million to help increase private sector investments in early-stage risk capital, and to support the creation of large-scale venture capital funds led by the private sector.
What does this mean? This means that the Conservative government hopes to save $335 million by taking away a tax credit that benefited all Canadians, and especially Quebeckers who invested in the fund. The government is taking it back, only to turn around and give it to the private sector, to perform the same function. Budget 2013 renews 2012 provisions that allocated $250 million to establish new, large venture capital funds of funds, led by the private sector; $100 million to recapitalize existing large private sector-led funds of funds; and $50 million invested in three to five existing high-performing venture capital funds in Canada.
How can the Conservative government justify ending a measure that does so much to help Quebeckers' and Canadians' ability to save, and taking that money only to give it to the private sector to perform the same function, but less effectively?
Indeed, with the Fonds de solidarité, the 15% allocated to tax credits served to recognize the fact that the fund did not perform as well as private funds.
The reason is quite simple. Labour-sponsored funds, like Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Fondaction CSN, quite often invest in local economies, in industries and in businesses that are of no interest to the private sector because such investments offer high risk and a low return over the long term.
The purpose of the tax credit was not just to build these two funds, but also to recognize the different mandate that labour-sponsored funds have in terms of investing in and supporting local economies. In that sense, the Conservative government is missing the boat.
I would like to quote what Marcel Côté, from SECOR, a consulting firm in Quebec, had to say about Quebec's Fonds de solidarité in particular, since that is the best known fund. He said:
|| [The fund] has played a very important role in Quebec's economy and has served its purpose quite well. The fund has boosted savings and encouraged people to save for their retirement.
Quebec's Fonds de solidarité has been criticized by the Montreal Economic Institute and the Fraser Institute—the usual suspects, as it were. According to them, the fund is not effective enough and does not perform well enough, and not enough assets are being invested.
Quebec's Fonds de solidarité commissioned two studies to see whether the criticisms were founded, and one of those studies was conducted by SECOR, which, believe me, cannot be accused of having New Democratic leanings.
One of the things SECOR wanted to determine was how long it took for the provincial and federal governments to recoup their initial investment. When money is invested and a business grows, more revenue is generated, either through the economic growth of the community or through the taxation of businesses that are making a profit. SECOR came to the conclusion that every dollar invested by the fund, every dollar of the tax credit allocated to local businesses or initiatives, was fully recouped by the federal government in three years.
There is no net loss for the federal government. What the government does not recognize is that these are investments and that the tax credit represented an investment.
Another measure that seems ridiculous to me is the phasing out of the additional deduction for credit unions. This measure affects credit unions and caisses populaires in Quebec with taxable capital employed in Canada of less than $15 million. Under this measure, the differential tax rate for small credit unions or caisses populaires will be eliminated by 2017.
Why does the government not mention this? The individuals we spoke with on the government side once again gave contradictory reasons.
However, as is the case with the labour-sponsored funds, we must recognize that the lower tax rate for small credit unions was in place as a result of their specific mandate, which is different than that of other banking institutions. An example that I am very familiar with is the caisses populaires in Quebec's rural communities. Very rarely is any trace of a bank found in communities of less than 1,000 people. In Quebec, these small communities have caisses populaires, and in other provinces, they have credit unions.
The measure that the federal government wants to implement does not put everyone on a level playing field since it places credits unions and caisses populaires at a competitive disadvantage compared to major financial institutions, and for no good reason.
I would like to speak briefly about infrastructure because we have talked about this in very broad terms. Although we would have preferred for the deadline to be even longer, we are satisfied with the longer deadline for predictable investments in infrastructure, whether it be through the building Canada fund, the community improvement fund or any other measure that was announced. The infrastructure plan will be carried out over 10 years, which is a good length of time, even though we would have preferred that it be carried out over 15 or 20 years. As the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Union des municipalités du Québec mentioned, at least this provides a predictable timeframe during which investments will be made.
The government says a lot of things in its budget to enhance its image and its brand, but it has been very quiet about the fact that, during the first four years of the program, it is going to invest $4.7 billion less than the trend for the past four, five or six years suggested. There will therefore be much less money for the next four years, and municipalities will suffer as a result.
I was shocked to see that one of the federal government's priorities is to help with workforce training and, as it so often mentions, to match job seekers with available jobs.
No one would deny that that is a laudable objective. We have to do something about the shortage of skilled workers in many places across the country.
However, the government is talking about a new initiative and new funding, while it is taking back the funds and mandate already allocated to the provinces. The government gave the provinces this mandate because it fell under their natural jurisdiction. Now the government is taking the money and the mandate back and saying that it will now manage things from Ottawa. Not only will the government not give more money than what it was giving before, but it will also ask the private sector and the provinces—without negotiating or asking for their consent—to contribute dollar for dollar what the government contributes.
Once again, the money that the federal government will invest is the money it was already giving to the provinces to manage this program. This money is being taken away from the provinces and they are being forced to invest the same amount if they want to take advantage of the program. The government is not considering the provinces' budgetary restrictions.
The government is offloading the deficit onto the provinces. Although the government denies it, it is doing the exact same thing that past governments did when struggling with a deficit. This includes deficits under their government and under the Liberal Party.
Once again, it is shocking to me that the government claims to respect the provinces' jurisdictions.
The Supreme Court's ruling made it clear that the federal government was wrong to try to create a Canadian securities commission. The government can be involved, but this falls under provincial jurisdiction.
We know that the provinces, with the exception of Ontario, have established a passport system, a single-desk system, to compensate for the lack of centralization or to compensate for too much decentralization in the securities system.
If the government created a Canadian securities commission, it would be completely unconstitutional. Some provincial commissions, such as the Autorité des marchés financiers du Québec, are working with commissions in other provinces, except Ontario. We hope that Ontario will join the group. They are looking to remove the barriers facing Canadian—and foreign—investors because this commission does not exist.
What is the government doing? Despite the Supreme Court's decision, the government is sticking to its guns in the budget, saying that Canada needs a Canadian securities commission. The government is interpreting the Supreme Court decision as it sees fit and is continuing in that direction.
By continuing down that path, the government will hit the same wall, because the provinces reject Ottawa's determination to interfere in this area. The government will hit another wall at the Supreme Court, which was very clear in its decision.
On this side of the House, we have a lot of difficulty understanding why the federal government persists in going in this direction, which seems to be a waste of time. This government would do much better to work with all the provinces to establish this passport system, which is a single desk for securities authorities across the country and for financial market authorities.
The government is claiming that it does not want to increase taxes. It is accusing us of talking about completely hypothetical and fake tax increases, when we are not even in power. They are the ones who form the government.
The Minister of Finance and the hon. member for York Centre did not brag about it, but a massive tax increase will affect all Canadians. It will take more than $1.5 billion out of Canadians' pockets over the next five years. It is an increase in customs tariffs that, once again, came out of nowhere.
In the next fiscal year, the federal government will start increasing customs tariffs on over 1,200 products from 72 different countries. The increase represents nearly $350 million a year on various products, from table fans to umbrellas to cornstarch. All these products will be taxed.
It will not be the federal government that pays. Even though the government is arguing that it subsidizes these countries with a lower preferential tariff—an argument that makes no sense—it is Canadians who will pay more because of these new measures. It is hypocritical for a government that claims it is not increasing taxes to tax Canadians in this way.
Although it has tried to use all kinds of tricks as a distraction—such as eliminating tariffs on some sports equipment—the increase in customs tariffs will amount to 10 times what Canadians might save on a few small items. This measure to close markets is totally hypocritical on the part of a government that claims to be interested in opening up international markets.
What is more, this could be justified by saying that the government is reclassifying countries that were previously considered to be developing countries and have now become industrialized, such as Hong Kong and South Korea, which are similar. However, it is increasing tariffs for countries it considers to be fully developed and in this group is including Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Kazakhstan and many other countries with economies that are not at all like those of South Korea or Hong Kong. I cannot understand this decision by a government that boasts about opening our country to international markets. Implementing this measure is completely ridiculous.
I would like to talk about one last element. I spent some time looking at the economic indicators used by the federal government. Once again, they show a certain degree of incompetence. The Minister of Finance botched his latest forecasts for revenues and the Canadian deficit. He was mistaken by a margin of more than 35%. I have the impression that the same thing will happen in the next two years. The Minister of Finance is forecasting real growth of 2.5% and 2.6% for the next two years.
Obviously growth is important since it leads to increased revenues that will help determine whether the government will achieve a balanced budget. This past year, economic growth was only 1.6%. For the next two years, the federal government expects the economy to grow by roughly half as much again. I understand that that is what private sector economists are saying, but they were way off in their predictions in the past two years.
If the Minister of Finance really wanted to pay attention to the Canadian economy and not fixate on balancing the budget by 2015 at all costs, then he should consider the fact that private sector economists have been wrong in the past and that their predictions have been far too rosy. This will have an impact on the total increase in revenues. This past year, revenues increased by $4.7 billion, and the government predicts that revenues will increase by $7 billion and $11.8 billion in the next two years. This will have a significant impact on the government's objective to balance the budget.
Another interesting thing is to see what impact austerity measures might have on the budget. A 1% decrease of real GDP will result in $13.7 billion in lost revenues over three years. That is rather significant. A 1% decrease in real GDP is exactly what the Parliamentary Budget Officer and other economists following the Department of Finance's model said would happen as a result of the austerity measures the federal government has adopted since 2012.
The government is clearly incompetent when it comes to economic management. Its ideology is getting in the way of its attempt at sound economic management for Canada. From where I am standing, the Conservatives are not running the country driven by the well-being of Canadians, their families and their communities, but by an ideology that would eliminate any positive role that the federal government might play in the economy and in the daily lives of Canadians.
Services are being cut, the most vulnerable are being attacked and the most affluent are being rewarded.
This budget smacks of economic incompetence. This budget is more about image and branding and less about substance and content. That is why we will be opposing this budget.
Mr. Erin O'Toole (Durham, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be dividing my time with my friend, the member for Etobicoke Centre.
It is with great honour that I rise today in the House to speak to the budget delivered by the Minister of Finance last Thursday. Economic action plan 2013 builds upon the work from previous budgets and the government's impressive track record guiding Canada through the worst global economic slowdown. We are now in a leadership position amongst the countries of the G8.
The focus of the 2013 budget is clearly upon jobs for Canadians. It is about leveraging the jobs we have now in Canada through our leadership in financial services, resource development and technological innovation. It is also about securing the jobs of the future and reorienting our skills training and lifelong learning programs to ensure we provide Canadians with the tools they need to maintain our strong position in the world. Finally, economic action plan 2013 makes key investments in areas of priority for Canadians: families, seniors, veterans and our first nations. These investments are important and are being made in a budget premised upon two fundamental principles.
First is the government's laser-like focus on getting Canada back to a balanced budget by 2015. This is to ensure we maintain our quality of life and maintain one of the strongest credit ratings in the world for the purpose of financing our debt. Second is the critical commitment we make to seniors and families across Canada to balance our budget without resorting to raising taxes.
At a time when government revenues are somewhat flat, these two fundamental principles are not easy. The opposition suggests billions in new spending on almost a weekly basis. The Leader of the Opposition has suggested that the government should not stick to our timeline of balancing the budget. Mere days before the budget, he went to New York to tell the business press that he would raise taxes on Canadian employers if the NDP were in power.
Following the release of economic action plan 2013, which was very careful to maintain core entitlement program spending and increase transfers to the provinces and territories, the NDP leader said, “You cannot 'austere' your way out of a crisis”. The NDP leader's cute turn of phrase and commitment to runaway spending and higher taxes reminds me of the Winston Churchill quote that compares a nation trying to tax its way into prosperity to a man standing in a bucket, trying to lift himself up by pulling the handle.
The challenging global economy and shifting labour realities requires the type of strong leadership that our Prime Minister has shown from the doldrums of the global economic recession to the present day. Economic action plan 2013 is about setting priorities that will maintain a focus on jobs for Canadians and a plan to ensure our prosperity for decades to come.
Our government is proud of its record of 950,000 net new jobs having been created since the depth of the recession in 2009. This leads the G8 nations and has helped maintain our quality of life when other areas of the world are in turmoil. Our government is, however, committed to a relentless pursuit of higher employment, particularly for young Canadians, aboriginal Canadians and in areas of the country experiencing a higher than average rate of unemployment.
Accordingly, I would like to speak to three key areas of economic action plan 2013, premised upon securing jobs for Canadians.
The first area is the government's innovative approach to filling the skills gap in Canada, while also helping transitional industries retrain and re-equip their workforces. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, in its 2012 statistics, indicates that 34% of small to medium-size businesses face a skilled labour shortage. This means that while some Canadians are having a hard time finding a job, some Canadian employers are having a hard time filling a job. Finding a solution to marry these two aspects of our economy should be the overarching public policy goal of any government. Our government is making that the top priority.
The Canada job grant will address the skills shortage in Canada by assisting up to 130,000 Canadians each year with short duration training for the workforce. The $5,000 per person grant has the multiplier effect two times over, up to $15,000 with our provincial and employer partners. The Canada job grant will allow employers facing skills shortages or training facilitators in the industry to work with both the federal and provincial governments on a solution that will help them increase their productivity, while also helping more Canadians find long-term employment.
The skills deficit in the marketplace is the true determinant of where skills training investment needs to go. This will allow the federal government to negotiate transformative labour market agreements with the provinces and territories.
Our government recognizes that the largest skills shortage in Canada is in the skills trades and in the engineering and mathematics fields across the country. Economic action plan 2013 will work toward reducing barriers on apprentice accreditation and support the use of apprentices in all areas of national procurement and investment.
The government is also earmarking $19 million to promote engineering sciences and mathematics to young Canadians in an effort to help young people fill these critical roles in our economy. Outstanding schools like the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, which serves my riding of Durham, have world-class programs in these core areas that will help our young men and women find engaging employment right out of school.
The government is committing $241 million to ensure that young aboriginal Canadians have access to skills training to assist in raising employment levels on reserve through a realignment of the income assistance program.
I had the pleasure of joining 200 other Canadians at the Governor General's Canadian leadership conference last summer near months before my election to Parliament. It was an excellent opportunity to see some of the policy challenges facing our country. I was part of a group of 17 Canadians who toured the province of Alberta, meeting with business, political, social and aboriginal leaders. Every community we visited and almost every leader we spoke to described the labour shortage in Alberta as one of the most pressing issues facing the province. Indeed, it was placed as one of our key findings in our Governor General's Canadian leadership conference group. The economic opportunity in Alberta is of tremendous benefit to all Canadians and meeting the challenges this opportunity poses must engage all Canadians.
The second key area I would like to highlight from economic action plan 2013 is the building Canada plan. Nothing underscores the ability of this government to set priorities to secure our long-term prosperity better than this element of the budget. I would recommend page 171 of the budget to my colleagues to see this impressive plan represented visually.
The building Canada plan is an ambitious $53 billion 10-year plan to secure and enhance our nation's critical infrastructure and establish predictable long-term partnerships with the provincial and municipal governments across Canada.
The building Canada fund will inject $14 billion into our economy in priority infrastructure projects, with a national, provincial or local significance. First nation infrastructure is part of the building Canada plan and will see $155 million directed toward critical energy, road, bridge and civic infrastructure alongside investments in broadband connectivity to complement economic development efforts on reserve.
The relentless focus on jobs and supporting skills trades in Canada is built into the building Canada plan. As part of its consultation and planning with other levels of government, the federal government will directly encourage the use of apprentices in projects receiving federal funding.
The third area I want to touch on briefly in economic action plan 2013 provides for small business in the manufacturing sector in Ontario. On the same day that our Minister of Finance delivered the budget, the Scugog Chamber of Commerce in my riding celebrated its Business of the Year awards.
Small businesses are often the foundation of our local economies and have been an important focus of our government. We have kept taxes low for these businesses for many years and have assisted with the difficult challenge of whether to hire one more person or not through the small business hiring credit. This budget expands this hiring credit by providing up to $1,000 against the rise in EI premiums as a result of hiring a new person. We are also increasing the lifetime capital gains exemption to $800,000, which will also directly benefit small business owners.
While our government has shown its support for small businesses in Canada, I take this occasion to support Kenna Kozak from the Scugog Chamber of Commerce, Sheila Hall from the Clarington Board of Trade and Angela Horne from the Uxbridge Chamber of Commerce. These organizations in Durham, and others like them across the country, are the lifeblood of the small business community. They not only raise important policy issues to our government, they also serve to connect small businesses in a way to one another.
Finally, manufacturers will also benefit in southern Ontario with our government's proposed $1.4 billion toward an accelerated capital cost allowance—
Mr. Ted Opitz (Etobicoke Centre, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Durham and I are both veterans and I am delighted to be serving with him in the House now.
I am pleased for the opportunity to speak to our government's economic action plan 2013. I would like to thank the Minister of Finance for all of his hard work to present his eighth budget. Since 2006, he has presented budgets that have laid the foundation for creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for hard-working Canadian families. He is truly the best and most respected finance minister in the world.
When the global recession hit in 2009, our government acted quickly and took decisive steps to ensure our economic recovery. As a result, Canada created over 950,000 net new jobs since July 2009, which is the strongest job-creation record in the entire G7. Both the independent International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are projecting that Canada will have among the strongest growth in the G7 in years ahead. Canada even has the lowest overall tax rate on new business investment in the G7. For the fifth straight year, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada's banking system the soundest in the world. All the major credit rating agencies have affirmed Canada's rock solid triple A rating as well.
Canada's unemployment rate is at its lowest level in four years and it is significantly lower than that of the U.S., a phenomenon that has not been seen in nearly three decades. What a testament that is to the economic stewardship of the minister and this government. These past seven years have, indeed, belonged to Canada.
Economic action plan 2013 benefits all parts of the country, but I would like to highlight what this budget has in store for my riding of Etobicoke Centre.
Experts have continually pointed out that Canada faces a skills shortage. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has identified the skills shortages as the number one obstacle to the success of its members. Our government has acted decisively by taking bold, innovative action and introduced the Canada job grant.
The Canada job grant will transform skills training by providing up to $15,000 per person to help people get the skills they need for in-demand jobs. That $15,000 will be funded by the federal government up to $5,000, with matching funds from the provinces and employers making the job offers. Once fully implemented, this grant will help nearly 130,000 Canadians access training at eligible institutions, like community colleges and trade union training centres each year.
The Association of Canadian Community Colleges had only praise for this initiative and stated:
|| Federal commitments in Budget 2013 will encourage a reduction in barriers to Canada’s economic success, while maximizing the talents and advanced skills of Canadians....
|| ACCC congratulates the government for making investments designed to address Canada’s skills gap. Budget 2013 acknowledges the role colleges and institutes play in ensuring that Canadian industry is prepared with the technology and skilled employees necessary to compete in the global economy.
For the first time, the Canada job grant will take skills training choices out of the hands of the government and put them where they belong: in the hands of employers with unfilled jobs and Canadians who want to work. The new grant will result in one essential thing for unemployed or underemployed Canadians, a new and better job.
Another initiative included in the budget that will create jobs is creating opportunities for apprentices. This will support the use of apprentices in federal construction and maintenance contracts in Ontario. Construction season will soon be upon us and in full force. It is encouraging that our government has a plan for apprentices to get more hands-on experience.
Another component of getting hands-on experience is internships. In support of more internships for recent post-secondary graduates, we will invest $70 million and an additional 5,000 paid internships for recent post-secondary graduates in Ontario and across Canada. Recent graduates have spoken to me in my riding about this and our government has listened. Our finance minister has also consulted with high school students. These kids will all be graduates in the next five to six years and we are helping to shape the job environment for them today. We are not waiting.
In order to fill the skills gap that we face in our country, we need students to undertake education in high-demand fields, including the skilled trades, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Promoting education in high-demand fields aims to do just that. I am working hard to help people in my riding look for these opportunities for their future careers.
While it is important to get unemployed Canadians into the workforce, it is just as important to ensure that we support our seniors. They are the ones who helped build and make our country great. Our seniors have laid the foundations that we all tread upon today, strong and lasting foundations, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
Since 2006, over $2.7 billion in annual tax relief has been provided to seniors and pensioners, including introducing pension income splitting; increasing the age credit amount by $2,000; doubling the pension income credit to $2,000; and increasing what GIS recipients can earn through employment without any reduction to their benefits from $500 to $3,500. A single pensioner, for example, earning $3,500 or more will now be able to keep up to an additional $1,500 in annual benefits. We have also increased the age limit for RRSP to RRIF from 69 to 71; established the landmark tax-free savings account, which is particularly beneficial for seniors; introduced the largest GIS increase over 25 years, which gave eligible low-income seniors additional benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples, helping more than 680,000 seniors across Canada, and, of course, removing 380,000 seniors from the tax rolls.
This government values our seniors. Etobicoke Centre has one of the highest populations of seniors in Canada. That is why economic action plan 2013 introduces new measures to improve the quality of life for Canadian seniors. That includes expanding tax relief for home care services to include personal care services for those, who due to age, infirmity or disability, require assistance at home; and better protecting seniors using financial services by working with banks and other financial institutions to ensure they develop and distribute clear information about powers of attorney and bank services targeted to the needs of seniors. We are also supporting palliative care services by providing the Pallium Foundation of Canada with $3 million over the next three years to support training for front-line health care providers; encouraging the timely implementation of pooled registered pension plans by working with the provinces to expand their availability across Canada; and assisting the construction and renovation of accessible community facilities by investing $15 million a year in the enabling accessibility fund.
This action would build upon our government's strong record of supporting Canada's seniors since taking office in 2006, and I believe that is an enviable record.
Economic action plan 2013 would take care of our veterans as well. These brave men and women have served our country valiantly and fought to defend the freedoms and the values that we as Canadians believe in. They deserve to be properly recognized. It pleases me greatly to see that this budget would enhance the funeral and burial program by simplifying it and more than doubling the current funeral services reimbursement rate, from $3,600 to $7,376. This would go a long way in helping ease the burden of funeral costs for families of veterans. We have heard these veterans, including those of us in the House with previous service. I am delighted that this issue has been addressed by our government. This government honours our veterans.
I would like to also bring to the attention of this House that economic action plan 2013 would include $8 million in funding for venerable Massey Hall to help support its restoration and revitalization. This is an important cultural institution in the heart of Toronto.
It is an exciting time for Toronto, as it gears up to host the Pan Am Games and the Parapan Am Games in July 2015. Our government has already invested significantly in these games, including renovations in the Etobicoke Olympian facility in my riding. I hope to see many youth be inspired by the athletes who attend those games.
Our government is making it easier for kids to get active and healthy. Economic action plan 2013 would eliminate tariffs on sporting goods and athletic equipment. By taking this action, our government fully expects wholesalers and distributors and retailers to pass these savings on to consumers.
The $33 billion building Canada plan launched by our government supported over 12,000 infrastructure projects across Canada. Economic action plan 2013 would continue to deliver, with a new building Canada plan. This would provide over $53 billion in predictable infrastructure funding for the next 10 years. This would be the largest and longest federal investment job in creating infrastructure in Canadian history.
I hope that the opposition will support creating jobs, support funding for infrastructure, support our seniors, support our veterans and support our students and apprentices getting practical hands-on experience.
This government is committed to balancing the budget in 2015. I call upon the members of the opposite side to support economic action plan 2013.
Mr. Ryan Cleary (St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the latest Conservative budget is not a good one for Newfoundland and Labrador. With yet more cuts to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, at this point Conservatives are amputating bone. There is no more meat within DFO to cut. I will come back to that in a moment. The Conservatives are charging tax on hospital parking. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are already vicious with the fact that they are being charged to park outside hospitals, in other words, charged to see their doctors. By increasing the age of eligibility for old age security to 67 from 65, this budget is not a good one for Newfoundland and Labrador. It is not good for the fisheries. It is not good for the sick. It is not good for their families. It is not good for seniors.
It is not good for first nations. Workfare is to be introduced in this budget whereby aboriginal youth will be forced to work for their benefits. At the same time, post-secondary funding for aboriginal youth does not come close to meeting the need. This budget is also not good for the unemployed. The Conservatives are following through on their EI changes that punish workers by forcing them to take lower paying jobs or jobs outside of their communities, outside of their outports.
This budget is not good for the vast majority of students. There is nothing in the budget to tackle crippling student debt. The average federal student debt load stands at $28,000. There is a problem in this country with accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education from one province to the next, and there is nothing in this budget to address that.
This budget is not good for the vast majority of young Canadians. There are 240,000 more young Canadians unemployed today than there were before the recession. All this budget does for youth job creation is to re-announce $70 million in funding over three years for 5,000 internships. That is a start, but, again, it skims the surface of the actual need.
Closer to home, there is nothing in the Conservative budget to offset the 4% increase to Marine Atlantic fares that is due to come into effect on April 1. If that does not amount to a tax increase for all of Newfoundland and Labrador, I do not know what does. News flash for the Conservatives: Newfoundland is an island, and when the ferry rates are increased the cost of everything eventually goes up.
There is barely a mention of Labrador in the budget. The one mention there was for an old jobs program. For Conservatives, and I said this last week during question period, Labrador is just a place to pull puppet strings. If Labrador cannot get a decent mention in a federal budget that is released on the eve of a federal byelection in Labrador, well, Labrador will never get anything. Conservatives seem more preoccupied with winning the Labrador seat than actually doing something concrete for Labrador.
I also mentioned last week that back home they are saying “you either do it the right way, or the Penashue”. Conservatives choose to cheat Labradorians out of fair representation. That is the Penashue, and Conservatives defend it at every turn.
The Atlantic caucus of the New Democratic Party was in Labrador West this past fall. One of the chief concerns we heard in Labrador West was the desperate need for affordable housing. The mining industry, iron ore specifically, is doing very well but the vacancy rate is almost zero. The local college offers a mining course that practically guarantees employment, but classes are not full because there is no place for students to live. We heard stories about how women remain in abusive relationships because there is nowhere else for them to go.
There is nothing in the Conservative budget that tackles the national housing crisis in any real way. The Conservative government is investing $253 million in affordable housing, but that does nothing to address the lack of affordable housing in Canada through a national housing strategy. Throwing money at the provinces in the absence of a national plan is irresponsible. It makes no sense.
I should have said at the start that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.
I stood in the House in February to address the need for a national housing strategy, to talk about Labrador's needs and to talk about housing needs in the northeast Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland. What did every Conservative member, including Peter Penashue, do? They voted against a national housing strategy.
There is nothing in the budget for the people of Labrador. Let me reiterate. If Labrador cannot get anything substantive from a federal budget that is released on the eve of a federal byelection in Labrador, from what would seem to be an election budget for Labrador, then it will never get anything from the Conservative government. Newfoundland and Labrador MPs are supposed to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in Ottawa. They are not supposed to represent Ottawa in Newfoundland and Labrador. That is the Penashue way. That is not the right way. It is not the New Democratic way.
I mentioned DFO earlier in my speech. Newfoundland and Labrador may not be the great fishing epicentre that it once was. The Grand Banks of Newfoundland may not be what they once were, but that does not mean the Government of Canada should walk away from the responsibility for our fisheries that it took over when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949. However, that is what is happening. The latest cut has the Conservative government slashing the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans' budget by $108 million over six years. There is talk that regional headquarters, like the one in St. John's, Newfoundland, could close.
I would like to quote from the budget:
|| To complement these savings, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will also improve regional program efficiency by reducing management overhead and consolidating decision-making authority.
Does that say directly that regional offices will close? No, the wording never does, but the writing most definitely appears on the wall.
I also mentioned hospital parking earlier in my speech. This budget would require GST and HST be paid on all hospital parking. Currently, public sector bodies are exempt; the change would make parking spaces or facilities operated by a municipality or hospital taxable. Canadians, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians see the parking fees, which are most definitely destined to increase, as a financial barrier to health care. The Conservative government is going to charge people to see their doctors. That is what this would amount to. It is going to charge people for medical treatment. That is what this would amount to.
Let me sum up all the people that the Conservative government is leaving behind or so arrogantly neglecting in this budget: Newfoundlanders and Labradorians first; Labrador, or the big land, in particular; seniors; students; young people; first nations; low-income Canadians and fishermen.
Labradorians are lucky in a way. As I mentioned, a byelection will be called there soon, a byelection in which the people of Labrador will have an opportunity to send the message to the Conservatives that their way of governing by dictating from Ottawa, without a moral compass, is unacceptable. All Canadians should be so lucky to have that voting opportunity, because the Conservatives would find themselves out of office here and now and we would not have to wait two more long years.