House of Commons Hansard #19 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great opportunity to speak to a budget that serves the needs of Canadians. The budget addresses the critical needs in my province that were ignored for too many years.

The budget will be remembered most for one of the largest tax cuts and broadest tax relief in the history of our country. In total, the budget will cut 29 different taxes. What is even more remarkable is that over the next two years we will return $20 billion to taxpayers and pay off $3 billion of debt each year. That is more tax relief than in the last four budgets combined.

Better yet, 90% of the tax cuts go to individuals and families. This is clearly the good news budget that Canadians have been waiting for and it certainly is good news for British Columbians.

Over the last week and actually as recently as today, I have listened to the Liberal members of the House crow about how this is their money and that they are the ones who solved Canada's financial problems. It is only fair that taxpayers ask them why it has even got to this point. Why is it that today we are returning $20 billion to the pockets of hard-working taxpayers? The answer is quite obvious. For too long Canadians have been overtaxed and the Liberals have hoarded our money.

Let us take a closer look. Do members of the House remember unemployment insurance now called employment insurance? That is money collected from hard-working Canadians to provide some insurance against the loss of employment. What have former governments done? Since 1994 the balance in the EI fund has steadily increased to $46 billion, which is actually three times higher than what the chief actuary said was necessary to fund future EI claims. Did the former government ever pay it back to the employees? Of course not.

Then there were the federal cuts to transfers to the provinces in the late 1990s. I remember those days well. My community of Abbotsford was faced with the burden of finding an additional $6 million to $7 million because the previous government chose to pass the buck. Over 13 years, a total of $6 billion was downloaded to provinces and municipalities so that the previous government would not have to take the heat for overtaxing Canadians.

Finally, let us not forget some other tax increases in past Liberal budgets. We saw more taxes on family trusts, increased federal capital taxes, surtaxes, increased cigarette taxes, a 1.5% increase in gasoline taxes and, of course, even a temporary reduction in the contribution limit for RRSPs.

In the meantime, the previous government increased spending far beyond the rate of inflation. In fact, in this past year alone, government spending increased by almost 15%, more than five times the rate of inflation. How many Canadians received that kind of salary increase? That is why the present government has brought runaway spending under control.

I am especially proud of the fact that the government has worked hard to reduce spending increases in the budget to 5.4% this year and 4.1% next year. For every new dollar in spending for which the budget provides, we are returning $2 to taxpayers.

Over the last 13 years the previous government hoarded and hid billions of dollars from budget surpluses. Canadians were told on one occasion that the surplus was $1.9 billion and then, after the fact, and perhaps the previous government was dyslexic, we discovered it was actually $9.1 billion.

Canadians are justifiably angry when their hard-earned tax dollars are hoarded and then wasted in scandals such as the sponsorship program, the costly gun registry and the HRDC boondoggle.

Fortunately, today we have a new government that actually keeps its promises, a government that is focused and a government that has a plan and that plan includes tax relief for all Canadians, not just a select few.

This is a budget that, unlike previous Liberal budgets, does not pick winners and losers, pitting one taxpayer against the other. It provides broad tax relief. This budget delivers on the promises that the Conservatives made and I made to British Columbians.

Let us have a look at that. B.C. alone will see a total tax cut of some $1.2 billion. We are providing truly universal child care benefits of $1,200 per child under age six. We are providing the gateway funding of $591 million. There will be $53 million for health care in B.C.. We see tax relief for the fishing industry, seniors, students and apprentices, and millions more to keep our streets and communities safe, more money for post-secondary education and infrastructure funding.

I want to talk about one specific issue in my community, which is immigration and providing some support for new immigrants. Approximately 25% of the residents in my community represent recent immigrants, let us say over the last 25 years. They needed help and it was not there. We are providing that help now as new immigrants come in to build our country, to integrate into our communities and to build the social fabric of our communities.

We are also providing $1.5 billion for farmers. As I have said before, my community's lifeblood is the farming industry. Farmers need help. They needed a review of the CAIS program and we are now delivering on that promise. We are also providing $400 million for B.C.'s strapped forest industry that has been devastated by the pine beetle infestation.

Ordinary British Columbians have reason to applaud. For a moment, however, I would like to speak about a group of people within my community who often have no voice and very little influence on decision makers. These are the homeless, those who, for whatever reason, have difficulty finding housing for themselves. My community of Abbotsford has experienced this problem firsthand.

As we know, housing prices on the west coast have sky-rocketed, placing incredible pressures on the poor in communities around B.C. In recent months the problem has become so acute in Abbotsford that a number of homeless have taken over a tract of land owned by the city and established temporary makeshift shelters. The area is known as compassion park. I want to commend the mayor and council of my community for their patience in holding off evicting these residents in order to seek a more permanent solution.

In fact, I am pleased to report that, together with numerous non-profit groups and charities, local churches and many caring residents, we are addressing the situation of the homeless in Abbotsford. I had hoped that as a federal government we would make our contribution to solving this problem. I am grateful to the Minister of Finance for specifically targeting British Columbia with an additional $106 million for affordable housing.

We made a promise and we delivered. Will British Columbians be better off because of this budget? Absolutely. In fact, a family earning between $15,000 and $30,000 per year will be better off by almost $300 in the year 2007, and those earning between $45,000 and $60,000 will save almost $650. More important, this budget marks a distinct culture shift in Canada, as my colleague earlier alluded to, a shift from entitlement to accountability, from overtaxation and uncontrolled spending to a government focused on priorities and fiscal prudence.

On January 23, Canadians voted for real change and this budget delivers the goods. Canadians finally have a government that takes its hands out of their pockets and delivers real tangible results.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the member for Abbotsford who talked about tax relief. If the member were an honest person, he would recall that in budget 2000 the largest tax relief program in Canadian history was rolled out of $100 billion. It was a four year program ending in 2004. In 2006 there would have been an additional $50 billion.

The member talked about EI, which is very significant. I would remind the new member that when the Liberal government took over from the Conservatives in 1993, 12.3% or 12.4% of people were unemployed in Canada. Just as the Conservatives took over, because they are fairly new, it is down to 6.3%.

What am I driving at? The EI rate at the time of the previous Conservative government was $3.05 per $100 of earnings. We reduced it year after year to what it is today at $1.95. What does that mean? It means Canadians were paying less premiums but over three million of them were in secure jobs.

I want to ask the member to really be honest and just call a spade a spade.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would never suggest that the hon. member is dishonest as he has to me. It is very clear, however, that over the years that the previous government was in power, it accumulated $46 billion worth of EI premiums that did not have to be paid out. The Chief Actuary confirmed that there had been overcharging of premiums, money that was never needed to satisfy potential claims. We are returning $20 billion to taxpayers in this budget. That is real money, addressing real changes for Canadians.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to avail myself of this first opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as the Acting Speaker of this House.

I listened attentively to the presentation by my colleague from Abbotsford. I would like to speak about the fiscal imbalance, as did my colleagues recently. It is very important for this matter to be resolved in Canada, given the difference between the revenues of the Government of Canada and those of provincial governments.

In addition, I would like to raise the issue of employment insurance. At present, the employment fund surplus totals about $48 billion. Perhaps this surplus will be considered when examining the issue of restoring fiscal balance. Could the government not have immediately retained the idea of establishing the independent employment insurance fund? Thus, the surplus would not continue to grow and to be seen as a hidden tax on a specific category of citizens only. Why did the government not immediately decide to create an independent employment insurance fund?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is suggesting that somehow we should prejudge the process that the Prime Minister and this government are going through right now to address the fiscal imbalance. Our number one focus in this budget was to return money to taxpayers' pockets and we have done that in spades.

The response I have been receiving from my residents in Abbotsford has been overwhelmingly positive. It is about time we got our hands out of taxpayers' pockets.

On the issue of the fiscal imbalance, the Prime Minister has made it very clear on numerous occasions in the House and outside that he intends to address that issue and is working very hard with the provinces to do just that.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is about child care. The government intends to give all families $1,200, which corresponds to a monthly amount of $100. Has the Conservative government tallied all the administrative costs of this measure, compared to the costs associated with the Bloc Québécois suggestion of a refundable tax credit which would be given once per year? What is the government estimate of the administrative costs of this monthly $100 payment?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is the beauty of our universal child care credit program. It gives money. It puts cash into the pockets of Canadian families. It goes directly to the families that are affected. It is not going to the provinces to develop additional bureaucracies. This is money that families across Canada will get the benefit of immediately with the least amount of administration possible. I hope that answers the member's question because that was the purpose of that part of our budget. It is child care funding that goes directly to parents.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. member for Labrador is rising on a point of order. I will hear him now.

Remarks Attributed to Member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin
Points of Order
Government Orders

May 9th, 2006 / 5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, following question period today the hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin raised a point of order emanating from my question.

Specifically, the hon. member said that I had attributed remarks to him respecting, in his words, “race-based sentencing”. The hon. member opposite denied making such remarks and asked that they either be placed on the record or that I or the hon. member for Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River retract our comments.

I wish therefore to clarify the member's request and draw the attention of all members to statements he made in this place on October 23, 2003, at approximately 6:05 p.m. concerning provisions of the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. He said:

Presently the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act include sections that instruct sentencing judges to “pay particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders”. These provisions can result in more lenient sentences for offenders based on race.

Furthermore, I would also like to hereby table for his information and for all members, and for the record, a true copy of a press release issued by the hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin on October 24, 2003, which is available on the member's website. It states:

The Liberal government sentencing reforms adopted in 1996 created a two-tier system of justice--one for aboriginals and one for non-aboriginals. These provisions can result in more lenient sentences for offenders based on race.

Having refreshed the memory of the member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin regarding his regrettable remarks on this topic and placed them on the record here, he may wish to withdraw his point of order.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to table this document.

Remarks Attributed to Member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin
Points of Order
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Labrador have unanimous consent to table the document he referred to?

Remarks Attributed to Member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin
Points of Order
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Remarks Attributed to Member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin
Points of Order
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for his intervention. I am sure it will be noted in due course by the hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin. If further submissions are required on this point, I am sure the Chair will hear them.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Welland.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, and of the amendment.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Given the strong fiscal record that the Conservatives inherited from the former Liberal government, it is surprising that the first Conservative budget lacks any substantive and real vision for Canada.

Never in the history of our country has any new government inherited such an excellent fiscal position that could have allowed the Conservatives to offer some very positive initiatives. It took our government three years to clear up the Mulroney Conservative deficit spending of $42 billion, followed by eight consecutive surplus budgets with a projection of at least three to five more to come under a Liberal government.

Let me first address some of the alleged tax cuts. Chortling over the reduction of the lowest personal income tax rate from 16% to 15.5% provided comic relief if it was not so serious when one realizes that the 2005 personal tax rate was 15%, and the 15.5% proposed for 2006 tax year will actually be higher. Some tax relief. The reality is that next year Canadians will be paying more.

When experienced economists panned the 1% cut to the GST, the Conservatives plowed ahead with their political bribe. Let us acknowledge that compared to other nations the GST is not that oppressively high. As a consumption tax its reduction will assist higher income citizens to buy more big ticket items while only marginally benefiting lower and middle income earners. Further, for pensioners on an indexed income, there will be little if any benefit because, according to the Bank of Canada, it will lower the rate of increase of the consumer price index by 0.6%. This impacts recipients of old age security and the Canada pension plan, seniors who can least afford it, and in fact they deserve more. Cutting the GST may mildly stimulate an economy that really does not need it. What trade-offs is the government actually making?

In my riding, health care remains the number one priority. Unfortunately, the budget confirms that it does not fall within the Conservatives' five priorities. Yes, there was the patient wait times guarantee, but where is the new money? We are still looking for it. What they have done is to rely on the funding of the Liberal 10-year, $41 billion health accord that created a $5.5 billion wait times reduction fund. The Liberals were on the mark, were they not?

Canadians across the country will soon appreciate that it was the Liberal government that worked with the provinces and territories to establish benchmarks for medically acceptable wait times, to set reductions for key medical procedures, to integrate foreign trained medical professionals, and to supplement shortages within the Canadian medical field. A stronger, better health care system is a priority for Canadians that the Conservative government continues to overlook.

All of our agricultural sectors are under financial stress and we all know it. What is essential is that in order to get our best value for our money, we must ensure that farmers in the most need will get the money now as we head into the planting season. They need a cheque to take to the bank now.

The Conservative budget commits no emergency funding for spring planting. In the last campaign the Liberals acknowledged that improvements were needed to the Canadian agricultural income stabilization plan, CAIS. The Conservatives pledged to scrap it.

It is most interesting to note that the Conservatives will now turn to CAIS to distribute the money the federal budget has designated for our farmers. Will the new government ensure that the distribution of money under CAIS will address the inequities in farm and rural communities across Canada? We have yet to hear the answer.

The government says it is providing $1.5 billion, but that money will go to inventory evaluation and reforming CAIS, not to producers who are in dire need of immediate financing.

The farmers need $1.6 billion over and above the existing program. Compare the Conservative approach to the Liberal government that provided $1.8 billion in emergency funding in 2005 which was over and above more than $206 million provided in the Liberal budget for Canadian producers. Canadians in the agricultural sector will soon appreciate that a Liberal government was a good government and they will want it back.

The tender fruit farmers and grape growers in my region of Niagara were disappointed that their request for assistance for a replant program to assist the industry went unheard. I will continue to lobby for this well thought out and doable initiative to assist Niagara farm communities.

Post-secondary education for our students and research and development for the institutions they attend are the building blocks upon which Canada and Canadians will compete in the highly competitive global economy. Welland riding is home to Brock University and Niagara College. How do they fare? On this the Conservative budget gets a failing grade, the results of which will be felt in the years to come. Yes, there was a pledge of $1 billion in much needed university infrastructure, but it is not new money at all. It was money committed by the former Liberal government under last year's Bill C-48.

Where is the money for research and development that until now has thrust Canadian universities and colleges into the forefront of the knowledge based, technology driven, skills intensive and highly competitive global economy? The lack of such funding will relegate us to the backwater of mediocrity in the G-7.

Removing the tax on scholarships is helpful to the minority of students who receive such awards, although few students pay income tax in any event.

What about the vast majority of talented and smart young men and women who do not win scholarships? Where is the relief for them? There was the expansion of the Canada student loans program which may be advantageous for some. However, the reality is that these students will still fall further into debt, a debt that must be repaid.

Then there is the $500 book credit that translates into 60 or 80 real dollars when most students must spend $1,000 to $1,500 on books annually. Compare this with the Liberal plan to provide 50% of tuition costs of a student's first and final year of a four year program to a maximum of $6,000. Those are real dollars addressing real needs for our university students.

The Prime Minister has revealed plans to slash $1 billion a year for the next two years on unidentified programs. What vital programs for rural communities will be slashed? Regional development agencies such as Ventures Niagara and the South Niagara Community Futures Development Corporation were shut out of this budget. Regional development agencies such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, ACOA, Community Economic Development Québec, CEDQ, the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, FedNor, and Western Economic Diversification, WED, have done much to help small towns and rural areas. Are we to believe that the Conservatives have turned their backs on this important part of the economic and social fabric of our country? Do they no longer fit into a Conservative Ottawa? The budget tells the tale. It looks too much like yes.

Let me turn to the subject of early learning and child care and the cancellation of the agreements signed by the Liberal government with the provinces in favour of a taxable $1,200 payment to parents of preschool children. Twelve hundred dollars looks and sounds good but what it amounts to is a few dollars a day after taxes. That is more fluff and smoke and mirrors. It does not go anywhere near the daily cost of child care of $35 to $40 a day in my riding.

This is not a child care strategy nor a solution. It does little to help children in care and nothing to help those who cannot find affordable child care at this time. The government suggested this program will provide choice. Where is the choice if there are no places to care for one's child?

The Liberal program was not just about child care. It was about better care and development. It was not just the creation of spaces, but on giving our young children an intellectual boost, a head start which in the long run would help these children develop in primary school, secondary school, and at college and university. Not only would it help themselves but our country in an increasingly competitive world. This is not fantasy; this is reality, and it is what the Conservatives have turned their backs. on.

Many have suggested that the Conservative government has introduced a pro-pollution budget by slashing support for the environment.

Indeed, the Conservative budget has all but gutted every cent the previous Liberal government committed toward the protection of Canada's environment. This budget represents a 93% cut to environmental funding and a complete disaster for future generations.

It also represents a 100% cut in funding for climate change ensuring that Canada will be unable to meet its Kyoto commitments. With no money for Great Lakes cleanup, renewable energy, energy retrofits, energy efficient programs, brownfield cleanup or green innovation, the Conservative government is undoing the progress we have made. The citizens of the Niagara region are sensitive to these issues and will remember at election time.

I offer the foregoing comments in a critical but constructive way. I also wish to acknowledge some quasi-positive features of the budget. Although designed to court the favour of designated groups, most are really only veneer deep.

The $1,000 Canada employment credit recognizes the expenses related to employment responsibilities such as uniforms. It really does cost to work and a credit provides some relief, perhaps the cost of one pair of work boots.

The apprenticeship job creation tax credit will encourage individuals to enter the trades and the $500 deduction for the cost of tools will help them as well. Again, a credit provides some relief.

Reduction of the permanent resident application fee by 50% will assist our newest citizens to continue their integration into Canadian society.

The $500 tax credit to cover registration fees for children's sport programs will strike a chord with hockey and soccer parents, but what about the parents who cannot afford to put their children into sports programs? What about children who are attracted to other forms of recreation, such as music, dancing or drama? Are their parents not worthy of assistance as well? This credit will translate into between $60 and $80 a year, perhaps enough to buy a pair of skates or soccer shoes.

Do we see a pattern here? Most of these items are tax credits, tax credits, tax credits which look good on the outside but will reflect considerably less when people file their income tax returns on April 30 next. Smoke and mirrors and fluff. Do not worry. The taxpayers will catch on soon enough.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on one portion of my colleague's speech where he painted what I would suggest is a picture that is not entirely accurate.

I recall in the last federal Liberal budget there was a clause that forgave the loans of students who were permanently disabled or students who had died. Outside of that, the New Democrats in this corner of the House were shocked not to find any other substantive measure to help students directly with their student debts.

This is obviously something that has been identified in the chamber and in committees year in and year out. Over the 12 or 13 years that the Liberal Party was in government, one would have thought there would have been attention paid to that. Over those 13 years the average debt in this country went up $1,000 per year each and every year.

There is this growing transfer of debt burden from the government and the provinces to the students. It was shown in the numbers. It was not until the NDP pushed the government to find the money that everyone knew it had but which had gone into corporate tax breaks, that it finally showed up.

Now the Conservatives have come to power and are allowing students to take bigger loans. That is the Conservative solution.

Would the member clarify the actual history under the previous government and particularly with the last Liberal budget? In particular Bill C-48 finally put the money in that students, universities and colleges had been requesting for years, but their requests had been falling upon deaf ears.