Mrs. Shelly Glover (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to begin debate at second reading on the Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada's Economy Act. This act would implement key measures from budget 2011, the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, a low tax plan for jobs and growth.
Without a doubt, our government is on the right track for job creation, economic growth and keeping Canada among the best economic positions in the industrialized world. Let us simply look at the facts.
In the first quarter of 2011, Canada's economy grew by 3.9%. This is the largest level of quarterly economic growth in the past year. What is more, Canada has now seen seven consecutive quarters of steady economic growth. Additionally, in May, we once again saw positive job numbers, with over 20,000 net new jobs created. Overall, since July 2009, Canada has created over 560,000 net new jobs, the strongest record of job growth among all the G7 countries. Even better, over 80% of those 560,000-plus net new jobs have been full-time positions.
Similarly, recent findings published in the CIBC Canadian employment quality index have demonstrated:
|| Not only is the Canadian economy continuing to generate jobs at a healthy pace, but those jobs are gradually getting better....As of April 2011, this measure is roughly back to the pre-recession levels....The improvement in our measure of employment quality reflects a much stronger pace of full-time jobs...
However, there is more. For the third straight year, the World Economic Forum rated our banking system the best and the safest in the world. Also, both the OECD and the IMF have recently forecast Canada's economic growth will be among the strongest in the G7 for both 2011 and 2012.
In the words of the independent Conference Board of Canada:
|| Canada’s economic fundamentals – fiscal policies, tax policy, monetary policy and management of the exchange rate – are arguably in the best shape in the developed world.
Listen to the words of a recent Toronto Star editorial, which reluctantly admitted that:
|| Canada came through the Great Recession comparatively unscathed. As many of our competitors wilted, we rose in stature and relative prosperity.
While all of this is positive news, we must remain cautious and focused on the economy, for we all recognize that too many Canadians are still looking for work and the global economic recovery still remains fragile. Now is the time to stay focused on the economy and on supporting job growth.
That is why we need to stay the course with the Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada's Economy Act.
The bill before us today is an important aspect of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, as it implements key measures in the recent federal budget. As hon. members know, budget 2011 addresses the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, a plan that seeks to keep taxes low to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. We must ensure that this plan is not derailed.
Under the plan, we will ensure that taxes are kept low. We will make other targeted investments in order to support economic growth and create jobs. We will improve quality of life for seniors, families and children. We will control government spending and we will stay the course in order to eliminate the deficit.
Implementing the next phase of Canada's economic action plan will preserve Canada's advantage in the global economy, strengthen the financial security of workers, seniors and families in Canada and garner the necessary stability to secure our economic recovery in an uncertain world.
The supporting vulnerable seniors and strengthening Canada's economy act contributes to the successful and swift implementation of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan by proposing to legislate into law several of its key measures.
Prominent among such measures include the following: help for vulnerable seniors by enhancing the guaranteed income supplement, also known as the GIS, for seniors who may be at risk of experiencing financial difficulties; support for provincial front line delivery of health care and social programs by extending the temporary total transfer protection to 2011-12, representing nearly $1 billion in support to affected provinces; encouragement for Canada's young entrepreneurs by providing $20 million to help the Canadian Youth Business Foundation; enhanced federal assistance for part-time students by reducing the in-study interest rate to zero, bringing them in line with full-time students; improvements to the registered disability savings plan, also known as the RDSP, by increasing flexibility to access RDSP assets for beneficiaries with shortened life expectancies, and ensuring that individuals can appeal in every single case a determination concerning their eligibility for the disability tax credit; support for Canada's veterans by providing tax relief for Legion purchases of Remembrance Day poppies and wreaths; support for Canada's leadership in genomics research by providing $65 million to Genome Canada to launch a new competition in the area of human health, and sustain the operating costs of Genome Canada and genome centres; strengthened oversight of Canada's mortgage insurance industry to ensure the continued stability of Canada's housing finance system; and much more.
Before continuing, let me inform Canadians and this Parliament that the supporting vulnerable seniors and strengthening Canada's economy act includes the most pressing time-sensitive measures from budget 2011 that require legislative approval. Rest assured, as is standard, we will introduce additional legislation this coming fall to pass into law outstanding budget 2011 measures before the end of the calendar year.
I would like to take the time to provide a few details on some of the key measures, especially those concerning Canadian families, workers and businesses.
I will begin by underscoring the improvements we are making to the guaranteed income supplement. Although Canada's retirement income system has helped reduce the incidence of poverty among seniors in Canada, some are still living in poverty. For example, seniors who rely almost exclusively on old age security and the guaranteed income supplement may be having financial difficulties.
What is more, women who contributed significantly to supporting their family, their community and society as a whole by working hard at home may find themselves in a precarious situation and might not have other sources of income. The Conservative government recognizes the contributions of seniors and is determined to ensure that they maintain a good quality of life.
In the Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada's Economy Act, we are proposing a new top-up benefit to the guaranteed income supplement for our most vulnerable seniors. Beginning on July 1, 2011, seniors with little or no income other than old age security and the guaranteed income supplement will receive additional annual benefits of up to $600 for a single person and $840 for couples. This measure represents an investment of more than $300 million per year. It will improve the financial security and well-being of more than 680,000 seniors in Canada. These improvements have been well received by Canada's seniors since they were announced in the 2011 budget.
The C.D. Howe Institute has said that the new guaranteed income supplement top-up for low-income seniors is a significant increase in benefits.
The Service Employees International Union was very enthusiastic about the measure, saying that the increase in the guaranteed income supplement is a victory for all Canadian seniors who are living in poverty.
Even the Canadian Labour Congress, which is also excited about the measure, stated that the CLC had been calling for an increase in the guaranteed income supplement. It said, “Minister Flaherty has made a modest improvement to the GIS in this budget. This is a win for every senior living in poverty in Canada.”
The FADOQ network said the following:
|| This budget represents significant progress for seniors in Canada, but there is still plenty left to do.
|| For the FADOQ network, which has been fighting for improvements to the guaranteed income supplement (GIS) for years, the government's proposed increase is a step in the right direction.
Without a doubt, Canada's most vulnerable seniors have welcomed and are now really counting on the GIS top up to come into effect on July 1 as promised in budget 2011.
However, let me be very clear, the only way that this can happen is with swift passage of the supporting vulnerable seniors and strengthening Canada's economy act before Parliament rises in the next few days.
For all they have done to build this great country, that is the very least we can do for those Canadian seniors most in need of our support. I implore all parliamentarians to act quickly to pass this act and to not let our seniors down.
Another key measure from today's act that I would like to highlight is the support we are providing Canada's veterans through tax relief for Legion purchases of Remembrance Day poppies and wreaths. The Legion's poppies and wreaths hold a special place in the hearts and minds of all Canadians as symbols of the contribution, courage, and sacrifices of those who served in the Canadian Forces, the brave men and women to whom we owe the freedom and opportunity that we enjoy today.
Each fall the Royal Canadian Legion begins its poppy campaign, which is the foundation of its remembrance program and a main source of financial support for the great work the Legion does in communities across Canada. I know how hard the Belgian Club and the Norwood Legion in my riding work to ensure that their poppy campaign is a success.
We all know how important the Legion is, not only in serving our veterans but also promoting remembrance of their sacrifices along with the countless other contributions they make to communities across Canada.
That is why our Conservative government is taking a small but important step to assist the work of the Legion and its poppy campaign through a 100% rebate for any sales taxes paid on their purchases of Remembrance Day poppies and wreaths. This is the right thing to do, and the least that we can do for our veterans and their families.
As Dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Patricia Varga, recently declared:
|| [This measure] will mean that the funds raised by the branches for their Poppy Trust Funds will not have to go to the governments involved but will go to help veterans across Canada. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be saved by this move and those are funds that will go to help our veterans.
A third key measure from the supporting vulnerable seniors and strengthening Canada's economy act that I would like to highlight is the crucial financial support it provides to several provinces through the temporary extension of the total transfer protection program.
As members know, our Conservative government restored fiscal balance in Canada through long-term and fair transfer support to the provinces and territories, while the previous Liberal government radically and, frankly, shamefully slashed transfer payments to provinces and territories. The next phase of the plan reinforces our Conservative government's long-standing rejection of the old Liberal government's legacy of balancing the federal budget on the backs of provinces and territories through deep transfer cuts to health care and education.
Indeed, total federal support is now at historic levels, approximately $57 billion, and will continue to grow in the years ahead. What is more, federal support for health, education, and social services has increased nearly 40% since we formed government in 2006.
In today's act, we are building on that record of strong transfer support by providing extraordinary protection to ensure several provinces have the stable support they need during the fragile global economic recovery by extending the temporary total transfer protection program to 2011-12.
This temporary program recognizes the short-term economic challenges several provinces and territories face as they emerge from the global recession by ensuring none receive less in 2011-12 than in 2010-11 from the major federal transfer programs, specifically from the combined equalization, Canada health transfer, and Canada's social transfer programs.
As such, this act authorizes nearly $1 billion in payments to the affected provinces. That is $368 million to Quebec, $275 million to my home province of Manitoba, $157 million to Nova Scotia, and $157 million to New Brunswick.
This will ensure those affected provinces have the support they need to budget for the health care, educational, and other services that Canadian families depend on. In the words of New Brunswick Finance Minister Blaine Higgs, expressing his appreciation for the temporary extension:
|| I'm pleased that our transfer payments will continue as they did last year, so that helps us with our budget planning purposes for 2011 to 2012
A fourth key measure that I would like to highlight is the financial support that the act proposes providing to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation to encourage Canada's young entrepreneurs.
The Canadian Youth Business Foundation is a national non-profit organization that was founded in 1996 to help grow our economy by encouraging and supporting young entrepreneurs with mentorship, learning resources and start-up financing. Since 2002, the foundation has helped young Canadians start more than 4,000 businesses, creating close to 18,000 new jobs.
Today's act would allow the foundation to continue its excellent work with an additional $20 million in support. According to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, this proposed investment alone will enable young Canadians to launch more than 1,000 new businesses. Even better, these businesses are expected to generate more than 6,700 new Canadian jobs. In the words of the foundation, that means:
||—we will be able to continue growing the next generation of entrepreneurs, talented young people who create jobs for themselves and for others, strengthen our economy and nourish the entrepreneurial spirit of our communities.
|| This new contribution will support many more of the brilliant business ideas that young Canadians generate every year
A fifth and final measure in the act that I would like to highlight today is an important improvement to the RDSP program. Essentially, it came to the finance minister's attention last fall that the Tax Court of Canada had recently held that existing income tax law would not allow an individual to appeal a ruling concerning an individual's eligibility for the disability tax credit unless that affected the individual's tax payable. What that meant was that individuals with incomes too low to pay tax were effectively barred from establishing an RDSP, or their eligibility for the disability tax credit had not been accepted by the Canada Revenue Agency.
To promote the fair and equitable treatment of Canadians, our finance minister took swift action to allow individuals in every case to appeal a determination concerning their eligibility for the disability tax credit.
A CIBC tax professional, Jamie Colombes, observes:
|| This is very welcome news. Many people with a disability have very low income, and therefore have no tax owing. So, without this change, they might never have been able to open a Registered Disability Savings Plan if the CRA disagrees with their claim for disability.
Little wonder this proposal and the minister's swift action have been rightly applauded. In fact, the Toronto Star heralded that:
|| [The] Finance Minister...has come to the rescue of the poor and disabled.
These are just some of the key measures in the Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada's Economy Act.
I believe that this important bill deserves the support of the House of Commons. Moving forward is the right thing to do—the only thing, in fact—for Canadians and our economy.
To conclude, I encourage all members to continue supporting the implementation of the next phase of the economic action plan and to back the Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada's Economy Act.
Ms. Jean Crowder:
Madam Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-3, but since this is the first time I am rising to speak and give a speech here, I would like to send out special thanks to the constituents of Nanaimo--Cowichan who once again sent me back to the House. This is my fourth election and I am very appreciative of that support from my riding.
Mr. David Christopherson: And so are we.
Ms. Jean Crowder: I want to thank the member for Hamilton Centre for that.
Bill C-3 is an important piece of legislation. New Democrats have indicated that they will support the bill at second reading and get it to committee and then we will determine whether we will continue to support it.
I want to spend my time today focusing on what is not in the bill.
An article from the Star in a report today by Stats Canada says that:
|| The recession stopped progress on poverty in its tracks, according to new data from Statistics Canada that indicates almost one in 10 Canadians is considered poor...the agency says the poverty rate edged up in 2009 to 9.6 per cent--the second straight year that poverty has grown after more than a decade of steady declines. About 3.2 million people now live in low income, including 634,000 children.
Today in question period we heard from the minister who agreed that poverty had edged up.
There are no significant measures in the budget to address poverty in this country, whether it is families living in poverty, whether it is children living in poverty or whether it is seniors living in poverty.
People would argue that there is an increase in the GIS, but that increase does not go nearly as far as what New Democrats had asked for prior to the election. We recognize that doubling the GIS for seniors would have some impact on the poverty they face.
New Democrats have done some significant work on suggesting what we can do to address poverty. I want to mention Bill C-545 from the previous sitting of the House, which was introduced by Tony Martin, the former member for Sault Ste. Marie. Anybody who knows Tony knows it has been his life's work to raise the consciousness in Canada around poverty and the impact that it has on our communities and our families. He worked with a number of organizations to introduce his bill called an act to eliminate poverty in Canada. We have a template here for the government. It does not have to go out and reinvent it.
I will not read the whole bill of course into the record, but I am going to talk about a couple of things.
What is poverty? As described in this act:
||--poverty is the condition of a human being who does not have the resources, means, choices and power necessary to acquire and maintain economic self-reliance and to facilitate their integration into and participation in society--
It also says:
||--the federal government, through constitutional and legislative amendments has direct involvement in the reduction of poverty and plays a central role in programs providing social protection and income security, including pensions, the Canada Social Transfer, the Old Age Security Program, child benefits and employment insurance benefits--
It also talks about the fact that there are many provincial governments and municipalities that either have poverty reduction strategies in place or are working toward implementing them.
The purpose of this act is to impose on the federal government the obligation to eliminate poverty and promote social inclusion by establishing and implementing a strategy for poverty elimination and consultation with the provincial, territorial, municipal and aboriginal governments and civil society organizations. It was specific.
Then it outlined what this poverty and promotional social inclusion strategy would include. I am not going to read them all but there are a couple of key points. It includes the measures necessary to prevent people from falling into poverty, reduce the incidence, depth and duration of poverty and improve the situation of all people currently living in poverty, including those living in deep poverty or poverty of long duration and those who have multiple needs.
It says it includes measures to provide income security and access to housing, includes measures to promote the involvement of Canadians in determining and implementing the solutions to poverty, determine an acceptable measurement of poverty for Canada and sets out targets to eliminate poverty in Canada in the short term of 1 to 3 years, the medium term of 4 to 7 years and in the long term of 8 years or more. There are many more points under this.
It is distressing when we hear members talking about the fact that the 634,000 children in Canada are living in poverty. I have to remind us all that when we are talking about children, we are talking about children and their families. It is not just children. They do not live in isolation. They live with mothers, or fathers, or brothers, or sisters. So it is important.
In 1989, we had Ed Broadbent's motion in this House to eliminate child and family poverty by the year 2000, and many of us of course have worked with campaign 2000 around the fact that we have missed that target consistently since 2000.
Once again, this budget implementation act and the budget that was introduced by the government was an opportunity to take some steps, some measurable steps, toward eliminating child and family poverty in this country and the government has failed to do that.
Just in case people think that there has not been substantial work done on this, I want to refer to the “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada”, produced by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I only wish I had the time to read in all of the good works that are in this report. The report is the accumulation of numerous committee meetings, numerous testimonies by organizations that worked with people living in poverty, by people in poverty themselves, by aboriginal organizations. Many organizations came forward to talk about what the reality is for Canadians who simply do not have enough resources to pay their rent, to feed their children, to clothe their children, to even dream of being able to save money so that their children could have a university or a college education. Many of those stories were heartbreaking.
In my former role as aboriginal affairs critic, I am very familiar with the poverty that is facing first nations, Métis and Inuit in this country.
Sadly, I cannot read all of the recommendations in the report, but I will mention two. Recommendation 3.1.1 says:
||...the federal government immediately commit to a federal action plan to reduce poverty in Canada that would see, during its first phase, the implementation of the recommendations in this report.
|| This action plan should incorporate a human rights framework and provide for consultations with the provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal governments and organizations, the public and private sector, and people living in poverty, as needed, to ensure an improvement in the lives of impoverished people.
I specifically want to cite Recommendation 6.2.5, which could have been included in the budget and in the Budget Implementation Act, which states:
|| The Committee recommends that the federal government increase the budget for social economy initiatives and that this increased funding be used to promote job creation among low-income individuals, especially those who face serious barriers finding and securing a job.
The work has been done. The studies have been done. In fact, the legislation has been written under the old Bill C-545 . It is troubling when we see a lack of response to the serious poverty issues in this country.
I want to turn to a report by the Citizens for Public Justice because this puts some numbers to it. I know sometimes numbers put people to sleep, but I think these are important numbers.
In this report, called “Bearing the Brunt: How the 2008-2009 Recession Created Poverty for Canadian Families”. It says, under the heading “Poverty and child poverty rate”: “After the last recession, it took 14 years for the poverty rate to return to its pre-recession level”.
We are not only dealing with the current poverty in this country, but we are looking toward many years of this playing out.
It also states: “Without a poverty elimination strategy, the poverty rate in Canada will continue to rise and fall with the economic cycle. It will take a concerted effort to eradicate poverty in Canada”.
I know many on the New Democrat side come from social justice backgrounds and we think it is important, that Canada has the resources and it should have the political will to develop a poverty reduction strategy.
Let me just touch on the heading “Unemployment and Employment Insurance” for a moment. Under the subheading “Unemployment”, it states: “Job losses during the recession disproportionately affected those most economically vulnerable, as 1 in 4 workers making $10 an hour or less lost their job”.
It went on to talk about the erosion of the social safety net, how:
|| The recession revealed the inadequacy of EI as a social safety net.
|| Despite a rise in EI coverage, almost half of the unemployed did not receive benefits.
|| Canadians who did receive EI benefits were living in poverty unless they had another household source of income.
|| As many as 500,000 Canadians have exhausted their EI benefits without finding new work.
Of course we hear the job creation numbers touted in this House. What people fail to talk about is many of those jobs created were part-time, seasonal contract jobs.
Although we will be supporting this to go to second reading, it is a sad comment that we did not take this opportunity to address the poverty issues and develop a national poverty reduction strategy in this country.
Mr. Malcolm Allen (Welland, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate.
As this is the first time I rise in the House, I will take this opportunity to thank the great folks of the Welland riding, which of course is a great misnomer. We know that the Welland riding includes St. Catharines, Thorold, Port Colborne and Wainfleet, as well as the great city of Welland and all those in between.
As well, I would like to thank all of those great volunteers, specifically my family who were a great help in supporting me during the election and, indeed, during the many endeavours that my family has allowed me to participate in.
I want to follow-up with my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan in talking about seniors and the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. He did great work in the 40th Parliament, when the House unanimously adopted a motion that talked about how we could bring all seniors across this country out of poverty.
I do not think there is a member in the House who could honestly say to themselves that they think there is a senior in this country who should live in poverty. I do not believe there is a Canadian in this country who would think that a senior should live in poverty. If we all agree that there should be no senior living in poverty in this country, then where is the will to actually lift them up?
If one asks the unemployed in Welland, as I have, or the unemployed in any riding, if they think we should lift seniors out of poverty or if they should have a job first, they would say that they want seniors out of poverty. If one asks a senior living in poverty if they think they should come out of poverty or do they think their kids or the people who live down the street should get a job, those seniors would say with all sincerity that those people should get a job. That is the remarkable character of Canadians who want to help one another.
There is a difference between a young person who is unemployed at the age of 24 and a senior who is 84. Obviously, it is age. It is the number of years they have left. The 24-year-old, judging by the lovely tables the insurance companies give us, would probably live another 60 years. The senior in poverty at 84 only has a couple of years left. Now that we have a government that says it took a step, the seniors in poverty might think that they may not have time to wait for the second step.
Why would we allow one more senior to leave us permanently who was not taken out of poverty? We owe it to them. We all stand in this place and say that we owe it to the seniors who came before us and built this great place, but those of us who are new like me and others who have been here for multi generations, we say we owe it to them and yet we cannot fulfill the promise.
One may say that we do not have the resources to do this. Seniors would understand that as they came through the Great Depression and post-World War II. They understand the sacrifices they have to make and they would continue to make them.
We all know we have the resources to lift every senior out of poverty, yet the government's recommendation in this bill is to say, “We are going to take a step”.
I implore the government to find the other shoe and take the other step. It would simply cost $400 million more, by rough estimates, to bring every single senior across the country out of poverty. What a glorious thing we could all say if every one of us stood in the House and said that we together, all 308, said that no senior should live in poverty and we accomplished it. However, what are we going to say? We are going to say, “We took a step”.
A step is not good enough. It is not good enough for the seniors in my constituency who may lose their house because they cannot pay the property taxes. They choose between rent and hydro, heat in the winter or food on their plate. What is left are the property taxes, which continually go up. If they cannot afford to pay, they will lose their house. Yet, we continually say that we took a step in the right direction.
It may well be in the right direction, but the step is not big enough, it is not long enough, and it really needs to be all of the way there.
I say to my friends on the government benches that they have an opportunity to take this bill to committee because we are going to help them get it there. This is the government's opportunity to say to all seniors in this country that we will lift them all out of poverty. We will not take a step, a half measure, but will literally lift all seniors out of poverty. That would be the success of this House in its early stages.
I heard the parliamentary secretary talk it out, saying we need to get it done by July 1 because we have to have those cheques in the mail.
If the government had listened to my good friend from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, it had the money last year. If we want to talk about getting it done quickly, then it should have listened to that member when he brought it forward two years ago. Seniors would be receiving the cheques today. They would all be out of poverty and we would all be proud of our accomplishments.
That is what it takes when we show initiative. That is what it takes when we mean what we say. As they say in the street, “You either walk the walk or you talk the talk.” I am afraid that my friends on the government benches are still talking the talk.
There is an opportunity here. Do not lose it. I implore the government to not lose this opportunity. The reward is greater than just simply a good piece of legislation. The reward is that every time we walk down the street and we see seniors that we do not know, we can look them in the eye and without opening our mouths or moving our lips our minds can say that we were part of that House that lifted all of those seniors out of poverty.
Just think for a moment how joyous a thought we would have when we walk past those seniors and we once again see the light in their eyes brighten rather than that dullness that we see today because they do not know where their next meal will come from or whether they can keep their home or buy a small present for their grandson or granddaughter because they live in poverty. Think of the light we can put back on the faces of those seniors.
My colleagues, that alone is worth $400 million. That alone is worth it and we have the wherewithal to do it from a resource perspective. We have the ability to do that. We have an obligation to do it. We owe that obligation to them and we ought to fulfill that obligation as our duty as MPs to all Canadians across this country.
There is an opportunity, my friends on the government benches, to do right by seniors. I ask the government to amend its implementation legislation when it comes to second reading and lift all seniors out of poverty.
When the parliamentary secretary talked about poppies and wreaths, I was absolutely thrilled to hear her do that. Let me just say that in 2009 I actually presented a private member's bill that said that is what we should do. I am glad to see that the government is finally following through on that. Albeit the bill got lost because we dissolved Parliament and we did not get to it. I am not ungrateful from the perspective that it will happen, except we could have done it last year. We could have passed that bill. I was happy to let the government move it forward if it wanted. Therefore, I am pleased to see that, indeed, we will do what is right.
I want to thank Mr. Hank Nikitczuk, a member of Branch 4 in Welland. At that time we only paid GST on the poppies. By the way, all poppies are made in Toronto. They are actually not made across this country. So are the poppy wreaths. It was Mr. Hank Nikitczuk who brought the idea to me. He said, “Do you know we pay GST on poppies?” At the time I thought it could not be so. How could we possibly charge tax on poppies when they are being sold to raise money for veterans? It turned out to be so. When I actually informed the government that it was so, it told me it was not so until it actually did its own research and figured out that it was so. Of course, by the time it came to the realization that it was the case we had the HST. Therefore, not only did we have the GST, we also ended up with the HST.
I have a question that is somewhat rhetorical and I will ensure that it gets asked at committee. I heard the parliamentary secretary say that all tax will come off for poppies and poppy wreaths. When she says that what I am hoping is that it will be the HST. In response to questions from us, I have heard that the HST does not belong to the government any more as it is provincial. Therefore, I hope that when the parliamentary secretary said that all taxes would come off poppy wreaths and poppies, what that really meant was the HST and that all of the money will go back to the veterans.
Let me just end with EI. The EI provisions that allow the premiums to go up will outpace the amount of benefits. In the province of Ontario, 44% of claimants actually get benefits. These are the folks that we represent. That is a crime. They need and deserve benefits like everyone else across this country. That rate must go up if indeed they will be paying more.
Hon. Geoff Regan:
Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleagues.
I will begin by thanking the people of Halifax West for their confidence in me in re-electing me. It is a great honour and a privilege to serve them in this House and to work on their behalf.
I had an interesting election night. In fact, another candidate was declared elected at one point by CBC News in my riding. I consider that, what I would call, a near political death experience. I am all the more happy to have made it back to join colleagues here.
An. hon. member: It was a Lazarus-like experience.
Hon. Geoff Regan: My colleague from Scarborough suggests that it was Lazarus-like because he recalls that I had a different experience previously in 1997 when I took, what I sometimes call, an involuntary sabbatical when I was defeated and then returned in 2000. So, it is a great honour and privilege to be here again and I am delighted work on behalf of the people of Halifax West.
I will turn now to the bill before us, Bill C-3, the budget implementation bill. The government has certainly jammed a lot into this one piece of legislation. We have many things being dealt with, such tax exchange agreements, Genome Canada and the amending of the Auditor General's Act to provide that he or she can serve beyond the age of 65. It also deals with interest on student loans and mortgage insurance contracts in cases where companies are being wound up. It even deals with kayaks and canoes. As the owner of a couple of kayaks, I am pleased to see that the Conservatives are paying attention to us kayak owners.
Mr. Gerald Keddy: That got my attention.
Hon. Geoff Regan: I am delighted to see that the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's has noted that and is interested in that issue. I think he is probably also interested in the issue of small crafts, a little larger than kayaks and canoes, as there are lots of fishing communities in that riding, as I well know.
However, there was also a lot left out, unfortunately, of this bill. A few months ago we heard from the government how important it was to pass the budget immediately, that it was to provide immediate assistance to firefighters and caregivers through a tax credit. These things were so important to the government that they did not really make it into the budget implementation bill, and that is rather strange. The Conservatives were so anxious to get those things done and it was so important to pass the budget a few months ago and yet where are they in the bill? Where are those measures that they promised?
Maybe that is why the government is ramming this 55-page bill through and using the absolute minimum time for scrutiny of it. That is an odd thing. It probably hopes that we do not actually notice what else is missing from the bill, like, the home energy renovation program. That is a program the Conservatives killed twice before. They killed it when they became the government in 2006, and then a year ago they let it go again. Even though it was in their platform and in the budget, it is not important enough, apparently, to be in the budget -implementation legislation that is before us now.
I can say that my constituents in Halifax West and the businesses in my area will be disappointed at this because these are important measures.
During the election campaign, I had the opportunity to knock on thousands of doors, as I am sure everyone here did, and to talk with countless residents to hear about the issues that are of concern to them, the things that preoccupy them and that they are worried about from day to day when it comes to the Government of Canada. Obviously, sometimes they raise issues that are dealt with by other levels of government. However, people did raise concern about the home renovation program, which has been very important to people over the years. It was started by the Liberal government previously.
Many people who work in the energy and audit industry, the people who work on installing better windows or more insulation and doing the various things that could make homes more energy efficient, the small contractors who work in this field, were very concerned.
Seniors, who relied on and benefited from this program, were very angry with the Conservatives when they quietly killed this program a little more than a year ago. Many of them are anxious to have it back. They are anxious to see it again. It is too bad that it is not in this bill, and I would like to know why.
I hope colleagues on the Conservative government side will tell us why it is not in this bill. It is too bad, as well, that the government is not committed to long term, stable funding for this kind of important program. The Conservatives talk about how they have a stable majority Conservative government and so forth. Why can they not provide, with that majority, stable funding for the home renovation program? Why are they only funding it for one year? What is it about this program that makes it only good enough to fund for one year? Why is it not good enough to have in the bill?
I also heard from firefighters and caregivers who wondered why the Conservatives would not provide refundable tax credits so low-income earners could qualify. That is what we have been talking about in question period and in the House in general.
In fact, one volunteer firefighter called my office just the other day. This is a young student who does not make enough to even qualify for the tax credit. Is the Conservatives' view really that students should not get the benefit of that, even though they are giving the 200 hours or more required as volunteer firefighters in their communities? Do they not think those people's service is important to the community? Can they really say that it is not important enough that they should receive the benefit of this program?
If it had been refundable, this student, who is struggling to pay his way through university, would have received a $500 rebate. Under the Conservatives, he will get nothing. People like him wonder why the Conservatives have programs for rich Canadians and corporations but nothing for low-income earners.
We have seen the government's fiscal plan for corporations. We know that it is lowering taxes for the country's largest corporations but it is doing nothing for small businesses. They already have a tax rate of 11%. The government has dropped the corporate tax rate for the largest companies in the country, from 18% to 15%, when they were already competitive internationally and 25% below American rates. Why? It is because the Conservatives are not concerned about the little person. They are concerned about their friends, apparently, at least that is what it looks like.
In my riding of Halifax West, people told me during the election campaign and since that we need to do more to support families. They are concerned. They are having a tough time making ends meet these days. They need help finding child care spaces and affordable education. They need help looking after their aging parents, finding high quality jobs and reuniting with family members abroad.
I have a riding that is very diverse. Many people who live in my riding of Halifax West were not born in Canada or in Nova Scotia. They were born elsewhere in the world. There are probably more newcomers to Canada in Halifax West than in any other constituency east of Quebec City, perhaps even Montreal.
People are telling me that they are having difficulty with the rising cost of living. They are having trouble making ends meet and they are not seeing concern or getting assistance from the government, whether it is buying groceries or paying for a tank of gas, and of course we are seeing the cost of that rising. They also want to ensure that we leave a clean environment for their children and grandchildren. It is not something we see as a priority at all by the Conservative government.
I look forward to raising these issues during the 41st Parliament, along with my colleagues. We in this party will also be watching to ensure that the government keeps its promises in other areas, like the one to fund the undersea cable from Newfoundland and Labrador to bring Muskrat Falls power to Nova Scotia. We will be looking as well for Ottawa to be at the table with the Province of Nova Scotia and the municipality for the new convention centre in Halifax, and many other issues.
There are a few good things in this bill but there is so much missing and so much more the government could have done, especially if what it says about the economy and its ability to spend is true.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-3.
Before doing so, I must first thank and express my deep admiration, appreciation and respect for the very good people of Etobicoke North. Many in our community have become real family and friends. I thank the people of Etobicoke North for the privilege of humbling serving them. I promise to raise their issues in this great House and to fight for what is important to them.
Today I will tackle jobs, health and the environment.
Etobicoke North is one of thirteen priority areas for the city of Toronto. The people in my riding want jobs. Our youth want jobs. As a result, I spend many constituency days meeting fathers, mothers and young people who are unemployed, correcting covering letters and resumes, providing job interviewing skills and, most important, finding placements and work for our community members.
Last Parliament I was able to lobby the government for a new jobs program for our community, but my community needs more help now. It needs a real plan for job creation and a plan for youth employment. How many jobs will the next phase of the government's plan produce? How many of these jobs will come to Etobicoke North?
Going forward, I believe health care will be a defining issue of the next four years. My constituents, like Canadians across the country, want their health care system to be there when they and their families need it most.
During the election, family after family told me they wanted federal leadership on hospital wait times. A 2011 study from the Canadian Institutes for Health Information shows wait times for priority procedures vary widely across the provinces. For example, in some provinces more than half of cataract and knee replacement patients wait longer than the recommended time frames for their procedures. Currently no pan-Canadian benchmarks exist for CT and MRI scans, both necessary for diagnosis.
Let me highlight the importance of diagnostic imaging. One Canadian patient, 77 years old who was in growing pain, losing weight and becoming steadily more ill over the course of many months was told to wait for five months for an MRI, despite the fact that her doctor suspected she had cancer. As the result, her family paid more than $11,000 U.S., out of pocket, for a trip to the Mayo Clinic. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Canadians want better results from their health care system, particularly at a time when our aging population is putting pressure on the system's ability to deliver. I believe Alzheimer's disease and other dementia are among the most significant and critical health care issues in Canada, and we cannot ignore them.
Today 500,000 Canadians suffer with some form of dementia. The impact on those with the illness, and on their families, is profound, as is the cost to society, $15 billion today, $150 billion in 30 years.
Where is a national or federal strategy to cope with the rising tide of dementia? Existing federal programs, research funding, support and income assistance pale in comparison to the enormous and rapidly escalating health, economic and social impacts of this devastating disease.
In the last Parliament I introduced a bill to establish a national Alzheimer's office within the Public Health Agency of Canada to develop, in conjunction with provincial health departments, a comprehensive national plan to address all aspects of Alzheimer's disease and related dementia and specifically to improve the lives of persons with dementia and decrease the burden on society.
My last point regarding health is the need for evidence-based policies. The government has been made aware that over 12,500 treatment procedures for chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, have now been undertaken worldwide in over 50 countries and that some MS patients report improved quality of life, including reduced brain fog, fatigue, improved circulation and motor skills following the procedure. Sometimes we ignore the obvious at our peril.
In 1982 Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, Australian physicians, identified a link between an ulcer and a bacterium and it was 1994 before the medical system recommended treating that bacterium with antibiotics.
Why is the government refusing to undertake a nationally funded multi-centre clinical trial to determine if treating CCSVI will improve the quality of life for MS patients, 55,000 to 75,000 of them in Canada? Multiple treatment trials are under way in the United States. It is time for Canada to act.
The last issue I will tackle is climate change, one of Earth's most pressing challenges and perhaps a defining issue of our generation.
The floods that devastated Pakistan, Venezuela and Colombia this year are a wake-up call. The wildfires that gripped Russia are a wake-up call. There will be worse impacts, more wake-up calls and no country will be exempt.
Despite this year's extreme weather warnings, the government failed to even mention climate change in the throne speech. No wonder we keep winning fossil awards for being followers instead of leaders on the world stage.
In 2009 the government missed a real opportunity for a triple win, a renewable stimulus with positive impacts on the economy, jobs and the atmosphere.
In 2009 it invested $1 billion in a green infrastructure fund over five years to support projects like public transit, sustainable energy and waste management. In stark contrast, Germany invested $13 billion, the United States $50 billion and China $221 billion, or 220 times that of Canada.
Is the government missing another opportunity in 2011 with its clean air agenda?
Climate change is not a closed case. We can rise to the challenge, as in the past when major powers rose to the challenge. They built country-wide railways, they fought in World War I and World War II and they travelled to the moon.
If all current plans and pledges to cut or limit emissions were delivered completely on time, global emissions would still keep growing during the next 10 years. Canada has a responsibility to make progress on the 2020 target and not just one-quarter of the way.
More stringent actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cannot be postponed much longer. Otherwise the opportunity to keep the average global temperature rise below 2° Celsius is in danger and serious impacts are associated with this limit, including an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, shifts in growing seasons and sea level rise.
Climate change was missing from the throne speech and is wholly under-represented in budget 2011. Canada should honestly listen to the voice from the front line on climate change, should ensure that those impacted by climate change are meaningfully involved and that those who make the decisions must be accountable to those impacted.
Finally, it is important for the government to realize that individuals are making change in their own lives and that they want change on the national and international stage.
It is also important that parliamentarians ask this question. “Is this something my children would be proud of?”
Climate negotiations require sacrifice. We must negotiate for our children who are not here. We have to accept moral responsibility.
Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise again in the House in this Parliament.
I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon.
I want to commend you, Madam Speaker, on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. It seems all members have been standing in the House thanking everyone back home who has helped get them here and I would like to do the same.
I would first like to thank God for this remarkable opportunity to serve the people of Crowfoot. I want to thank my constituents and constituency for supporting me in the last election.
We all have supporters who help get each one of us elected. I would like to thank my wife Darlene for her unwavering support and love, and the help she gave me in the work that I do constantly. A supportive spouse in a place like this is absolutely imperative and I am very blessed to have the one I have.
I also want to thank my two children, Kristen and Ryan. This is about the only time I can do it. Both of them during the campaign helped out by their support and being there. Today is my daughter Kristen's 19th birthday and far too often members of Parliament are working here in Ottawa as our loved ones back home are celebrating some of the significant events in their lives. Dad wishes he was home today with her, but we will be celebrating on the weekend. I thank Ryan for his help around the farm and the ranch when I am not around.
I had a campaign manager who has campaigned with me for the last four elections, Steven Snider. I thank him for his expertise, as well as my official agent, Neil Thorogood. We all have those who have hung around for all of these elections over the years. My riding is quite extensive geographically and I have campaign offices set up throughout it, with many people staffing the offices in Camrose, Three Hills, Strathmore and others.
Throughout the years in opposition, Conservatives diligently worked toward the day where, as a political party, we could bring forward effective change through budgets and throne speeches or addressed during budget time. We wanted to see taxes lowered. We wanted to see a reduction in taxes.
We wanted a country, a government and a nation being able to pay down the debt load that every Canadian is faced with. We wanted to be able to spend federal funds effectively and efficiently. We wanted to stand up to those who would abuse our criminal justice system and to tell criminals there are going to be tougher sentences while supporting those who have been victims of crime. We wanted to be able to implement many other policies, including the Senate, over the five elections that I have been involved in and campaigned on.
Today, we have the opportunity to address this budget implementation bill, to discuss some of the issues, to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that hopefully we will be able to achieve some of what we have promised. I am proud to report to all the people I have mentioned, the campaigners and voters who supported me, that we will keep our promises and live up to our word.
The budget we are working on today is almost exactly what we introduced before the election. During the election campaign, we said we would bring back the same budget or many of the measures that were in it, and we kept our word. The budget includes some of what we campaigned on and the budget implementation bill that we are debating today keeps the promises we made.
In my riding of Crowfoot and the surrounding ridings in the province of Alberta, we are certain about a number of things. We are certain, first, about our political views. We know what works well in the province of Alberta, in our homes and communities, and we continue to push for the things that we value.
For the first time in my political career, the electors in my riding are enjoying a majority government. The Crowfoot riding has always been one of those ridings that has been fiscally conservative, most of it very socially conservative in that it is compassionate about those who need help.
In the 41st Parliament, the MPs from across Canada who share our views have been elected, elected to form, not just government as we have for the last five and a half years but government in a majority sense. We have waited a long time.
Today we are debating the budget implementation bill. The budgetary process is complex. Canadians have already heard the news that the next phase of Canada's economic action plan has been approved. It was approved last night by the House of Commons.
It is technically correct, the budget passed, but what the House passed is merely a general motion that approved our Conservative government's budgetary policy. What we debate today is needed in order to implement the provisions that we passed last night. This is standard procedure.
The budget implementation bill will be sent to committee now for hearings and then returned to this chamber for report stage and third reading, and then it will repeat this process as it goes to the Senate. Once the budget implementation bill is passed, we can move forward on the measures in the budget that will help hard-working Canadians and their families.
The measures in the bill focus on the Canadian economy. It contains measures that support hard-working Canadians and their families, and it will aid in the economic recovery.
We said it during the election campaign and we say it again, “We will keep taxes low”. We are targeting investments to support jobs, to support the creation of new jobs, and to also hold and keep the jobs we have already. We want to see growth. We are improving the quality of life for our seniors, our families and our children.
We said in the budget and in the budget implementation bill that we will control government spending and stay on track to eliminate the annual federal budgetary deficit with a plan to do it by 2014-15.
At a time when budgets are tight, our government believes that taxpayers should not be overburdened with an annual $27 million subsidy for political parties. We are freeing taxpayers from that yoke that was around their neck with this bill. We believe that engagement by individual Canadians is what empowers political parties.
I noted one day that the NDP member for Hamilton Centre spoke on this issue. We have a difference of opinion. We talked about democracy that day and the importance of democracy. The view, and I believe his is well-intentioned, is that taxpayers should fund this democracy in a way that we believe is not right. We believe that political parties are not entitled to taxpayers' dollars, but that we should raise those funds from within our own ranks and from our supporters.
As Canadians support a political party, I will approach my supporters, my volunteers, and those who vote for me and I will ask them to contribute to the effort. I will not simply say to the 45,000 who voted Conservative in my riding, “Don't worry about it. There will be $90,000 a year coming in to the political party”. No, we will ask for their support. It is not the entitlement any more. We should not be automatically going to the treasury of our country and asking for that type of funding.
Taxpayers, at least what they told me in the riding of Crowfoot, believe there are better things the government should be spending their money on. In fact, the default position of the voters I represent is, “Please, stop taxing me to death. Reduce my taxes. Stop spending my tax dollars on everything possible and instead, only spend taxpayers dollars on necessary and desirable programs and services”. Those were some of the quotes that I heard in the last election. One of the best ones was when an older gentleman from Hanna came to me and said, “Tell Ottawa to spend less so we can keep more”.
This budget does a lot for seniors and for Canadians. We look forward to being able to implement this, hopefully sooner rather than later. Hopefully we can do this in a short number of days.
Mr. David Tilson (Dufferin—Caledon, CPC):
Madam Speaker, everybody is thanking everybody and I would like to do that as well. I certainly congratulate you for repeating your position. I always admired your work in the last session, and I know I will admire your work in this session. Also, I have admired your work as chair of the all party arts caucus. I hope you will find the time to take that on again. You did a great job and we need that caucus.
I thank the people of Dufferin—Caledon for electing me for the fourth time. Of course it was four elections in seven years, but it seems like it has been forever. Certainly we need workers to get elected. We cannot do it ourselves. I thank all those people who have helped me. I thank my wife and family for the help they gave me as well.
Today, we are debating Bill C-3, which is the budget-implementation bill and which was proposed by the Minister of Finance. It is titled “Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada's Economy Act”, which will allow the government to support seniors in need and help provinces during the economic recovery, encourage young entrepreneurs in business and enhance federal assistance for part-time students, among other measures.
As the member of Parliament representing Dufferin—Caledon, I have an important role in ensuring our government delivers to the residents of my riding, as we all do for all our ridings. In the opinion of my constituents, certainly after going through an recent election, it is absolutely necessary for the government to help Canada recover from the recession. Bill C-3 and the budget we have introduced will make this happen.
The government remains committed to the economy, as it attempts to deliver on Canada's economic action plan. This economic action plan is working, as evidenced by the fact that in the first year alone almost $32 billion in stimulus spending and tax relief was delivered. With this budget, the government intends to deliver another $28 billion in support for recovery from this recession.
The implementation of budget 2011, through the supporting vulnerable seniors and strengthening Canada's economy act, will, I believe, make this happen.
The investments made over the last two years have been successful in shielding Canadians from the worst economic downturn we have had in years. The carefully researched and focused 2009 budget was prepared to respond the challenges of our time. As a result, over 28,500 projects have been completed or are under way, which has created over 480,000 jobs across the country. I believe it is now up to 560,000 jobs since 2009.
Of these projects, over 8,100 revolved around provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure projects. This includes over 4,100 infrastructure stimulus fund projects and over 2,000 recreational infrastructure Canada projects. Many of these projects, I am pleased to say, occurred in my own riding of Dufferin—Caledon. I think every member here could talk about the projects that occurred in all of their ridings.
Residents of Dufferin—Caledon are benefiting from this plan, as a result of the significant federal investment in projects, which range from road and water infrastructure to recreational facilities throughout the riding. Perhaps the largest the venture was the continuation of the Caledon community complex in the town of Caledon for which the town received $7 million. Other projects include the construction of a sewage treatment plant in East Luther Grand Valley and the renovation of the Dufferin County courthouse in Orangeville. Additionally, federal grants have been spent on water infrastructure in Shelburne, Orangeville and Peel, with road infrastructure occurring in Caledon, East Garafraxa, Orangeville, Mulmur and Peel.
Federal contributions also supported recreational facilities, such as the construction of a skate park in Bolton and the upgrading of trails at the Albion Hills Conservation Area.
In an effort to invest in a cleaner energy economy, federal support was given to the Mayfield recreational project to upgrade accessibility and energy initiatives. Over the course of the last two years, our riding of Dufferin—Caledon has received federal assistance in over 30 projects, reaching a grand total of $31,888,372.
The construction and renovations that occurred in Dufferin—Caledon helped to deliver an immediate boost to local jobs and incomes within the area and the completion of these projects will deliver benefits to the citizens of the riding for many years to come. These projects have all occurred as a result of the last budget. It is clear that the government has created an economic plan in which Canadians will feel secure.
The next phase is critically important. The next phase of Canada's economic action plan is intended to build on the success of the stimulus plan and create conditions for long-term economic prosperity throughout the country. It will support job creation, families and communities, invest in innovation, education and training and preserve Canada's fiscal advantage.
Our government has listened to the citizens of Canada and the residents of my riding of Dufferin—Caledon. The budget and the bill before us reflect the comments, suggestions, concerns, wants and needs of Canadian citizens, including those of my riding.
Budget 2011 and Bill C-3 will continue to support jobs and growth within provinces and territories throughout the country. The legacy of modernized infrastructure, enhanced skills training and lower taxes will continue to benefit Canadians.
The proposed bill will keep taxes low, which is a concern for Canadians throughout the nation, and it will control government spending, which will help to eliminate the deficit by 2015.
The bill reflects the priorities of the residents of my riding with an emphasis on the economy and the reduction of the deficit. The interests of our citizens are reflected as our government has remained focused on our citizens and on securing the economic recovery of our country.
We have a plan to achieve the goals of improving the financial security of Canadian workers, families and seniors and we must continue to focus upon this plan.
The next phase of Canada's economic action plan is dedicated to the continuation of this plan. The budget and the bill are dedicated to the creation of jobs. As we continue to recover from the recession, it is vital for the government to help our citizens find work. Our government has realized this and we have worked to ensure that job creation occurs throughout the next two years.
With the budget and Bill C-3, the Conservative government is ensuring that our citizens will find work that will help them support their families. Specific measures include providing a one-time hiring credit for small businesses, which will encourage hiring. Bill C-3 would provide $20 million over the next two years to help Canadian Youth Business Foundation in its support of young entrepreneurs.
Dufferin—Caledon is the home of a thriving business community, with many start-up businesses in various industries. These initiatives will help all those involved in the business sector in the area. It is vital that we support job creation as presented by the next phase of Canada's economic action plan and the bill before us.
The well-being of Canadians is important to the government and the budget and the bill will continue to support seniors, children and students. This budget is especially important to our country's seniors who have worked to build a great country for future generations and who deserve a dignified retirement.
The senior community represents a large portion of Dufferin—Caledon and I have had the privilege of hosting several seniors' expos held in the riding for numerous years. Through these events, I have had the opportunity to meet many of my senior constituents and listen to their concerns.
Budget 2011 and this bill protect our seniors and will increase their financial support. Through the enhanced guaranteed income supplement as stated in the supporting vulnerable seniors and strengthening Canada's economy act, eligible seniors would receive annual benefits of up to $600 for a single senior and $840 to couples. This action will improve the financial security of more than 680,000 seniors throughout Canada, including those residing in my riding.
I had a bit more to say, but my time is up.
Mrs. Anne-Marie Day (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.
I would also like to thank the voters in the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles and my family, my husband and my two daughters, Frédérique and Sarah-Alexandre. I would also like to thank my entire team of volunteers who made it possible for me to be here today.
On June 6, the hon. finance minister introduced his 2011 budget entitled “A Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Growth”. The budget, as introduced in March 2011, was rejected by the NDP. We are still not satisfied with this new, slightly modified version, which does not meet the expectations and needs of the voters who placed their trust in us.
Although the government is relieved that it has obtained its majority and will govern for four years, it should not forget that the majority of voters gave their vote of confidence to other parties, which have not formed the government. We are talking about 60% of the voters.
Not all Canadians said yes to the economic plan proposed by the Conservative government. This clearly indicates that voters want to have a say in what will be decided and implemented in Ottawa, and the government must take that into account. The government will also have to explain to millions of voters why some measures to support families are not in the budget.
It is this reality that the NDP is concerned about. There is nothing in the government's proposals to improve the living conditions of Canadian families. Poverty exists in Canada and increases every year. All experts agree that, for the past few years, the gap between rich and poor families in Canada has been widening. Inequalities persist rather than diminish.
However, there have been some small steps forward. In 1989, Canada's poverty rate was 10.2%; in 2008, it was 9.4%, a reduction of 0.8% in 20 years. In 1989, the poverty rate for those under 18 was 11.9%; in 2008, it was 9.1%, a reduction of 2.8% in 20 years. Canada can do much better for its people, and we cannot be pleased about such a small decrease in poverty.
Our youth are in a precarious position. In 1981, 31.2% of young workers between 14 and 24 had a low-wage job. In 2000, the proportion had risen to 45%, a sharp increase in 20 years.
Given the precarious situation facing young people, parents are being forced to provide for their children longer, since they do not have the means to start their own families. The only significant measures brought in to help children date back to 1990 and 1998—so over 10 years ago now—namely, the Canada child tax benefit and the national child supplement.
The benefits of those measures, which were meant to make things easier for families, have diminished over the years, because at the same time, employment insurance benefits have decreased and certain medical services have been delisted. Social assistance payments were lower in 2007 than in 1986. The employment insurance system was less generous in 2008 than in 1981. In 2007, the poverty gap was the same as in 1981. The average family needs an extra $6,700 a year.
Disparities also persist in the workplace. Canadians now have to work a lot more in order to provide for their families. The percentage of Canadians working 50 hours or more a week has increased. Disparities also persist in health care. More and more young people are reporting health problems that affect their daily functioning—things like memory, reasoning and mental health problems. In 1998, 80% of young people aged 12 to 19 said they were in good health. In 2005, only 67% reported the same.
The Canadian government needs to do something for the future of our children and youth and support all Canadian families that contribute to our economic development, even though some of these families are going through tough times, such as job loss, the death of a parent, illness or any other number of things that can happen in life.
All programs are needed in order to help Canadians re-enter the workforce and allow them to get by when they face an unexpected financial loss.
Any decreases or cuts to support for families undermine the many years of effort to combat poverty and inequality in Canada.
The NDP is asking the government to urgently consider measures that are not included in the budget but that would help families meet their basic needs, namely, decent housing, jobs with salaries that are commensurate with skills and experience, help for all children living at home, benefits to ensure that all families are able to eat a healthy diet every day, programs that give access to health care and programs to support young workers and those will less training.
The NDP is also asking the government not to call into question assistance that has already been granted and not to reduce assistance for unemployed workers. The NDP reiterates its request that the government help people who are unable to work and who do not have the resources to meet their family or other obligations.
In a recent report, the OECD expressed its concerns about the high rate of unemployment in Canada. Young people and those with less training are still the most affected by unemployment. As a result, reducing or eliminating programs to help unemployed workers will make many families more vulnerable by depriving them of the support they need, or it might plunge them into long-term poverty.
The government is capable of adopting measures to support businesses in case of an economic crisis or recession. Why then is it so difficult to do the same for families who are also experiencing financial crises? Why ignore this reality that affects many families each day?
Immediate action must be taken to increase assistance. It will be too late for many families if we do not act quickly enough.
In another area, the decrease in the public service's budget will directly affect workers who will be under a great deal of pressure to get the work done in deplorable conditions. They will be asked to produce more and work longer hours for the same salary. They will be at risk of burnout, depression and psychological harassment.
The NDP believes that it is shameful and completely irresponsible to attack families once again; on the contrary, they need relief from their troubles.
In conclusion, Canada seems to have become a much richer country but, in reality, only the incomes, and thus the wealth, of the richest 20% of Canadians have increased.
Poverty in a rich country is not an inevitability; it is the result of poor policies. Therefore, the government must propose a real agenda to eradicate poverty and inequality.
Mr. Fin Donnelly (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, last week, the government released the 2011-12 budget and, once again, it falls short for Canadians. The government continues to give away billions of dollars to the most profitable corporations while moving ahead with $11 billion worth of cuts from programs and services that Canadians rely on.
Just recently, we heard of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans totalling $56.8 million this year alone. This means that habitat conservation and monitoring will suffer. Most disturbing was the announcement that the Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador search and rescue centres will be moved to Halifax, jeopardizing the lives of countless people who make their living on the sea.
As Fisheries and Oceans critic for Canada's New Democrats and the official opposition, I am very concerned that the budget does not even mention the word “salmon”, an iconic species in British Columbia that has faced many challenges over the last decade. I am concerned that with the cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, it will become more difficult to protect our salmon and other aquatic species.
This budget contains little for the people of New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody. This budget does nothing to address the $574 million funding shortfall for the Evergreen Line. Many in my riding have dubbed this desperately needed transit project the “Nevergreen Line” as, after 20 years of delays, this line still has not come to fruition. As completion has again been pushed back to 2015. It is now being speculated that this may be the most delayed transportation project in the country. These delays are ridiculous.
People in the tri-cities are calling for the federal government to come back to the table, to sit down with the province and TransLink, our local government authority, and hash out a new funding formula that puts shovels in the ground this month. The Evergreen Line is the most pressing transportation infrastructure project in the Lower Mainland and, at the very least, deserves a mention in this budget.
The government's strategic and operating review reveals that Infrastructure Canada is cutting $45 million of green infrastructure funding, even as it stares down a $123 billion municipal infrastructure deficit in this country. The green infrastructure fund is imperative if we are to move forward with transit and other green building initiatives. As a former city councillor, I know too well the lack of funding that cities face. It is an uphill battle and we must do more to invest in our cities. This budget fails to do that.
However, I am not surprised. This budget also does nothing to address the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. Canadians want the government to take action on climate change. The federal government needs to follow a path to lower carbon emissions. The government has consistently failed with regard to this environmental file.
Canada's New Democrats have proposed several initiatives that the government could take to demonstrate its commitment on this issue. The NDP has a plan to cap carbon, putting a price on carbon and establishing hard emission limits for Canada's largest polluters.
We have also put forward the climate change accountability act. In fact, it was re-introduced today by my hon. colleague, the member for Halifax. It would ensure that Canada meets the long-term target of reducing our greenhouse emissions to 80% below that of 1990 levels by the year 2050 and set interim targets between 2015 and 2045.
Canada's New Democrats also would like to see more emphasis on green and renewable energy. Canada could become a leader in this field if we dedicated the resources to developing it. Rather than subsidizing big oil, we should help businesses that are committed to making green investment. We could use the money that the government gives to large oil companies to invest in transit, household energy, conservation and renewable energy development.
One thing I will commend the Conservative government for is the renewal of the eco-energy retrofit program. I stood in the House in February of this year and called on the government to reinstate the program. The eco-energy retrofit program not only created jobs but helped working families make needed improvements to their homes. I am pleased that the Conservative government listened to the NDP and brought this program back. I think the Conservatives would do well to build and expand on this program.
When Canadians are asked what issue is most important to them, many say that it is health care. At the beginning of March, Canadians were horrified to hear of patients at the Royal Columbian Hospital in my riding being treated in a Tim Hortons donut shop. The Royal Columbian Hospital has been at the centre of several patient horror stories since it was forced to drastically increase its capacity in 2004 when Saint Mary's Hospital in New Westminster was shut down.
The federal government cannot sit back. It is time to act. It is time to protect our public health care system and provide adequate funding.
This budget does nothing to help front line health care workers. Too many Canadians are without a family doctor. I hear from people in my riding who cannot find a doctor who will take their family on and, instead, must rely on walk-in clinics with long wait lines, or use the emergency room, which is a very expensive way to provide health care.
Canada's New Democrats are calling on the federal government to invest in public health care and to invest in the training and hiring of 1,200 new doctors and 6,000 new nurses, which would lessen the load in hospitals and save millions in health care costs in the long run.
The health care system faces many challenges and New Democrats have proposed solutions, such as a national pharmacare program so that people can get the medication they need at an affordable cost; and appropriate home care service so that seniors can d stay in their home when they face chronic health care problems.
New Westminster--Coquitlam and Port Moody is a diverse riding, but one issue I hear consistently is that it is becoming more and more difficult to make ends meet. I am talking about affordability. My riding is home to many seniors and some live in poverty. Seniors living in poverty after working their whole lives building this country is unacceptable.
This budget provides only a $300 million per year increase to the GIS. That is only $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. This is less than half of what is needed to pull every Canadian senior out of poverty. It would not take much and it would go a very long way to help the seniors in this country to live in dignity. It is shameful that the government continues to provide corporate tax cuts and subsidize oil and gas companies when seniors in this country are living in poverty.
The Lower Mainland is one of the most expensive places to live and yet this budget fails to invest in affordable housing. Among all the world's major metropolitan areas, Vancouver has been ranked the third least affordable city. Residents across the Lower Mainland, including my constituents, struggle to secure safe, affordable housing. When will the government wake up and face the realities of the average Canadian, including the affordable housing struggle?
As we all know, the government made a backroom deal with B.C.'s provincial government to impose the harmonized sales tax, effectively shifting the tax burden from corporations to individuals. Hard-working citizens have been hard hit with this new tax, paying upwards of $800 in additional taxes each year. Many seniors in my riding have written to express to me their frustration at how the HST has affected their already strained pocketbooks.
Instead of acknowledging their role in implementing this much hated tax, the federal government has shrugged off responsibility onto the provincial government. British Columbians know better and deserve better from the government.
Mr. Jeff Watson (Essex, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Richmond—Arthabaska. While I am on my feet, allow me as well to congratulate you on your position in the chair. It is well-deserved, I might add.
Let me also take an opportunity to thank the good people of Essex, my riding back home, for what is now my third re-election to this chamber. I was the first Conservative MP in Essex in almost 50 years to have been elected back in 2004, and now the only Conservative MP since Confederation to be successfully elected in four consecutive terms.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
Mr. Jeff Watson: Thank you, to my colleagues.
Let me also thank and recognize that Canadians gave our Prime Minister and this government a very strong mandate. That includes a strong mandate from Essex as part of that.
I rise today in support of Bill C-3, our budget implementation bill, an act supporting vulnerable seniors and strengthening Canada's economy. It is a budget that was in large measure originally tabled in March. The budget this time around is nearly identical to that one, with many benefits for the Windsor-Essex region back home and, of course, important benefits for Canada.
Bill C-3 and its measures build on our government's impressive record, a record where, for example, our economic action plan has created over 560,000 jobs in the last two years; where we have been on a low tax track for businesses, both small and large; where, during the downturn, stimulus was temporary, as we wanted it only to sustain us and to stimulate the economy at that time, not to create long-term structural deficits; a record where we paid down debt before we went into the great recession and one that will balance the budget or better by 2014; and a record that includes a 33% increase in funding to support public health care.
There are important new changes since the March budget. There is the beginning of the phasing out of the per-vote subsidy for political parties and also the beginning to set aside funds for the federal government's obligatory one-time transitional payment to Quebec for its impending decision to harmonize its retail sales tax with the goods and services tax. I am surprised, of course, that opposition MPs from Quebec voted against this measure when voting on the budget in principle. Such harmonization and the amount of the transitional payment, as I recall, were unanimously supported by the National Assembly in Quebec.
The measures in Bill C-3 that are important for Windsor-Essex and for our country are first of all the very specifically articulated increased support in our budget for the Windsor-Essex parkway. That is the extension of Highway 401, where it currently ends outside the city of Windsor, to what will be a new international border crossing, a bridge between Windsor and Detroit. Our commitment in 2007, of course, was to fund up to 50% of the eligible capital costs of that particular project, a project that will create 12,000 jobs for one of the highest unemployment areas in Canada.
If I could take a step back, budget 2006 established our borders and gateway crossings fund, about $2.1 billion. Budget 2007, which we termed “Advantage Canada”, laid out a five page vision statement on the border crossing at Windsor and Detroit and in that budget we made a $400 million down payment toward the Windsor-Essex parkway. As we see now in budget 2011, the current incarnation of our budget, we are promising up to $1 billion to be set aside from that fund. So, that is a very critical one.
As I talk about our government's support for this project, I am disappointed to see that New Democrat members are opposed, particularly the two New Democrat MPs from Windsor West and Windsor—Tecumseh. They profess verbally to support the DRIC, the new international crossing, and the Windsor-Essex parkway that connects Highway 401 to that important crossing.
I will remind members that this is no minor infrastructure project. We talked about 12,000 jobs from the parkway, up to 30,000 jobs to be created by the parkway and the bridge crossing. It is the top infrastructure priority in Canada, supporting a huge bilateral trade relationship with the United States. These New Democrat members should have been standing in their place and voting for it in 2006, 2007, and now on budget 2011, and actually supporting this project.
If they had the courage of their convictions, where they say they support it, they should actually be standing, even if it means breaking ranks with their party to support our budget.
Second, what is important about our budget implementation?
It is good for industry. The accelerated capital cost writeoff, for example, was begun in 2006 under our government and was extended again in a later budget to 2011. Now, Bill C-3 extends that, our budget extends that for a further two years. It is timely for the retooling for our industries, our manufacturers, increasing their productivity precisely at a time where the Canadian dollar is high. Couple that with previous budget measures where we created a tariff-free zone for machinery imports and we have a perfect nexus, the perfect opportunity for our industries, particularly the machine, tool, die, and mould sector back home which supports not only the auto industry but the aerospace and other sectors. It is a perfect time. It is a historic boost, allowing them to continue their retooling, increasing their productivity and their competitiveness.
The boost of funding for the industrial research assistance program, IRAP, is a huge one. Our economic action plan gave a historic boost during the stimulus period for our businesses. We are continuing that with increases to the IRAP this time around.
Bill C-3 is good for rural Canada. How about more rural doctors and nurses, a new firefighters' tax credit, and new funding for agriculture, especially to improve food safety? All are very critical for rural Canada.
Our budget is obviously very good for seniors with an immediate boost to the guaranteed income supplement. I understand we are working against a very critical deadline of July 1 to get that critical funding to our poor seniors. This GIS measure represents continued progress on retirement security begun by this government with improved rules around direct benefit, direct contribution pensions, RRSPs, RRIFs, our commitment with the provinces on a new pooled retirement pension plan and our continued ongoing talks with the provinces and territories over a modest enhancement to the CPP.
The opposition can join us in furthering retirement security by supporting our budget and this immediate boost to the guaranteed income supplement.
What else is in store from the government with respect to the budget?
How about an increase for Canada's summer jobs, an additional $10 million a year during the stimulus period. Guess what? Now it is permanent. It is ongoing. That is 3,600 student summer jobs. That is not insignificant when they are looking for valuable skills that they can later take into full-time employment and beyond.
These measures are built on our government's record. We have had a low-tax plan for jobs since 2006, especially in 2007, a $200 billion package over five years, not only for businesses but for consumers by lowering taxes, increasing disposable income for consumers to stimulate the economy and create jobs. We have our economic action plan, the stimulus that has created 560,000 jobs in the past two years. We are on a low-tax plan for our families saving $3,000 per year for the average family of four. Our move to balance the budget will create the room for us to implement a family tax cut. With regard to income splitting, we did it for seniors with respect to their pensions. We are now going to do it for families. That is an incredible thing.
Our record includes strong support for the auto industry. In 2008, we established a national automotive strategy and we backed it with money. The first investment went to the Essex engine plant down our way to increase and expand the footprint of the automotive industry. It includes our investments in health care.
I will be supporting this bill. It supports rural Canada, our manufacturers and farmers. It will allow the immediate and timely boost to the guaranteed income supplement for our poor seniors. It supports the single largest infrastructure project in Ontario, the DRIC crossing and the Windsor-Essex Parkway, specifically.
I call on opposition members to support Bill C-3 with their conscience and also with their votes.
Mr. André Bellavance (Richmond—Arthabaska, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Essex for agreeing to share his time with me. I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-3, An Act to implement certain provisions of the 2011 budget as updated on June 6, 2011, introduced on June 14. The bill consists of 12 parts, one of which is very attractive for Quebec. I am talking about part 8, which directly concerns Quebec and its government, since it provides a payment of $368.9 million for equalization.
That is just one more reason for me and my Bloc Québécois colleagues to support this budget, especially since it already provides $2.2 billion in compensation for our sales tax harmonization. Of course, we could not pass that up. I have been a member in this House for seven years now, and this will probably be the third time I have voted in favour of a budget. Every time, the only reason I voted for it was because it was in the best interests of Quebeckers. The people of Quebec have sent us to the House of Commons to represent their interests, to stand up for them. When budget 2006 provided $3.3 billion in 2006 for the fiscal imbalance, voting against it was out of the question. For the same reason, we will support this budget here today.
With any budget, we must be careful. The government will always say that its budget is perfect, that all of the measures are wonderful and that there are no shortcomings, while the opposition will find everything that is wrong with it, criticize the measures and always say that it does not go far enough. In the House, we must take stock and weigh the pros and cons of a budget before voting. In this case, there are a number of shortcomings in the budget, and I will perhaps have time to list a few of them. However, in weighing the pros and cons, members from Quebec cannot, in good conscience, vote against a budget like this. Members will recall the long battle waged by the Bloc Québécois and the Government of Quebec regarding the $2.2 billion for tax harmonization.
The Government of Quebec harmonized its sales tax with that of the federal government in 1992. However, only Ontario, the Maritimes and British Columbia received several billion dollars in compensation, while Quebec was left waiting, supposedly for administrative reasons. I am wondering why the federal government did not act before now, particularly since this measure was in the budget before the election was called; the Bloc Québécois would have immediately supported the budget. The Conservative government, a minority government at that time, would then have been assured that it would keep its place. We likely would not have had an election, as we unfortunately did over these past few months. Everyone was saying that an election costs a lot of money and that it was the fault of the opposition. The Conservative government had the opportunity to prevent an election. We can look back and replay the past but it does not do much good.
As a result of pressure from the Bloc Québécois and the Government of Quebec, an announcement was made during the election campaign that $2.2 billion in compensation would be allocated in the budget. I am not the type to be content with the answer that the cheque is in the mail. We therefore waited to see whether that money would be in the budget, in black and white. It is, and we are very happy about it.
However, like the hon. member for Essex, I question the reaction of the NDP MPs from Quebec who have decided to ignore the measure giving Quebec $2.2 billion in compensation. This measure will help not only the Government of Quebec, but all Quebeckers. The NDP MPs have decided not to support the budget. They will have to answer for their actions and explain to their constituents why they disregarded this measure by voting against the budget.
The hon. member mentioned some examples from his own region, where the MPs also decided not to support the budget. It is an entirely democratic choice, but I was rather shocked to see that many of the NDP MPs from Quebec decided to reject this measure.
There are other interesting measures, including some for seniors, namely $300 million to help seniors living in poverty. The measure having to do with the guaranteed income supplement is a step in the right direction.
That is another lengthy battle we waged in the House. The Bloc Québécois moved a number of motions to improve the guaranteed income supplement. The math is not hard: another $110 a month is needed to lift the least fortunate out of poverty. It is not going to make them rich. Now there is talk of $50 a month; the necessary amount has not been reached, but I have to say that at least this is a step in the right direction for the least fortunate seniors.
As the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, this also makes me want to vote in favour of the budget. That is not to say that the battle is over, that we can sit back and finally say that the guaranteed income supplement issue has been resolved. It is not resolved, especially since there is a shortfall of $60 a month and we also want—