House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.

Topics

Parliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-United States Interparliamentary Group respecting its participation in the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, 2006, economic leadership forum, Whistler, British Columbia, November 16 to 18, 2006.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

March 20th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 38th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding membership of committees of the House and I would like to move concurrence at this time.

(Motion agreed to)

Visitor Visas
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 it is my privilege to present a petition signed by 244 concerned Canadians that was collected and signed by readers of the Polish-Canadian Independent Courier and members of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada.

The petitioners demand that Parliament pass and the government adopt private members' Motion No. 19 calling for the lifting of visitor visas for the following EU member states: Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary. These countries are European Union members and the same visa regime should apply to them as they do to other EU member countries.

Canada's burdensome visa regime is a throwback to the days of the cold war and should be modernized to reflect new geopolitical realities. The Iron Curtain has come down. It is time for Canada's visa curtain to come down as well.

Taxation
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table two petitions today. Let me begin with one from the building trades. This petition was circulated by two community leaders in my riding of Hamilton Mountain: Joe Beattie, who is the business manager for the Hamilton-Brantford Ontario Building and Construction Trades Council, and Geoff Roman, the chair of the Political Action Committee of UA Local 67.

They have lobbied successive governments for over 30 years to achieve some basic fairness for their members. They want trades persons and indentured apprentices to be able to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable incomes so they can secure and maintain employment at construction sites that are more than 80 kilometres from their homes.

It makes no sense for trades persons to be out of work in one area of the country while another region suffers from temporary skilled labour shortages simply because the cost of travelling is too high. To that end they have gathered hundreds of signatures in support of my bill, Bill C-390, which allows for precisely the kind of deductions that their members have been asking for.

I am pleased to table the petition on their behalf and share their disappointment that this item was not addressed in yesterday's budget.

Inflation
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition I am pleased to table today builds on the questions that I have been raising in the House about fairness for ordinary Canadians who were shortchanged by their government as a result of an error in calculating the rate of inflation.

The petitioners call on Parliament to take full responsibility for this error and take the required steps to repay every Canadian who has been shortchanged by a government program because of the miscalculation of the CPI.

The petition is signed by almost 100 seniors who live in the Swansea apartments in my riding of Hamilton Mountain. They are people who have worked hard all their lives, played by the rules, and are now finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. All they are asking for is a little bit of fairness. I am pleased to table this petition on their behalf.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from March 19 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, Liberals will vote against this budget for two reasons.

First, the budget does little for average Canadians. It offers much less than claimed and much less than meets the eye. Indeed, never has a finance minister done so little with so much.

Second, the government has no plan to build a better Canada for ourselves and future generations of Canadians. Instead of doing what is best for Canada and Canadians, the government has done exclusively what is best for the Conservative Party in full re-election mode.

This is a shotgun budget. It is as if the finance minister shut his eyes, held a shotgun into the air, pulled the trigger, and hoped that he hit as many targets as possible. It is an unfocused budget. It is a directionless budget.

The only time the Conservative government has engaged in broad based tax changes it moved in the wrong direction.

In budget 2006, the government increased the income tax rate on the first $35,000 of income from 15% to 15.5%. One of the biggest disappointments of the budget is that despite its enormous surpluses, the government saw fit to maintain that higher income tax rate. It offered nothing in the form of broad based tax relief in any other area.

John Williamson, president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and traditionally not a great friend of Liberals, put the point as follows, and I quote: “The fellow working the line or anyone with a salary income and no children will receive no tax relief. That's disappointing. Ottawa's running huge surpluses”.

Or, in the words of Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: “We would have preferred to see some broader tax relief which would have had a real impact on the economy and instead we saw small, little targeted breaks for everybody from lacrosse fans to truck drivers”.

Similarly, Clément Gignac, vice-president of Banque Nationale du Canada said:

These tax cuts are a drop in the bucket compared to the federal government's total revenues.

It is true that the government offered a new child tax credit worth a maximum of $310 per child. It turns out that the cost of this tax credit, at $1.4 billion per year, is almost exactly equal to the cost of the income tax hike that the minister left intact. We can say that these two measures cancel each other out.

The only other major tax measure was the working income tax credit. It is a program to put money into the pockets of the working poor and help them climb the welfare wall. This is an excellent measure that was borrowed from the previous government, albeit in watered down form.

Indeed, we always supported this program. We introduced it, but the government watered it down. Indeed, the government's maximum benefit for a family is $500 a year. I am not sure that is enough to scale the welfare wall, but at least it is in the right direction.

Other than that, the budget contains a hodgepodge of small targeted tax measures amounting to $700 million, or less than $50 per taxpayer per year.

My problem with the tax relief for ordinary Canadians is twofold: it is small potatoes and it continues in this government's tradition of narrowly based, politically motivated tax credits, rather than tax relief for all.

Despite its attempts to appear centrist, even liberal, the government's meanspirited ideology revealed itself in who it decided not to help. There is no direct assistance for undergraduate students. Sure, the budget has some money for Canada's top 4,000 graduate students, but the vast majority get nothing at all.

Perhaps most shameful of all, there is only a pittance for Canada's aboriginal people. As National Chief Phil Fontaine put it: “We're extremely disappointed, frustrated, because it's obvious that those that did well today are those that are considered important to this government. Those that are viewed as unimportant did badly, and we did badly.

There was no mention at all of the homeless or social housing. Critical for working families, in 2006 the Conservatives promised 125,000 new child care spaces over five years. Fourteen months into its mandate, Canadian families are realizing this promise was not worth the paper it was written on. There have been zero spaces created in the past year. Since this 2006 plan was a total flop, why should Canadians believe the government's so-called new strategy will work any better?

Tax relief and other assistance for ordinary Canadians has been minimal in amount and highly selective in its direction. Phil Fontaine put it well: “Those who are potential Conservative voters do well. Others do badly”.

In my opinion, the main difference between the leaders of our two parties is simple. The Liberal leader would govern with an eye to the future by making what he felt to be the best choices for our country and current and future generations.

The Conservative leader, on the other hand, governs according to his sole purpose: winning the next election. The budget makes this difference very clear, and it is because of this difference that the Liberals oppose this budget. When the Liberals came to power in 1993, they had to clean up a $42 billion deficit inherited from the Conservatives. The strategy they were forced to adopt to deal with that mess was not necessarily a vote-getting strategy, but it was in this country's best interest, and Canadians got on board.

The Liberal strategy produced excellent results. Among other things, it paved the way for the budget surpluses the Conservatives inherited when they came to power in 2006. Armed with the biggest budget surpluses a new government had ever had at its disposal in Canada's history, the Conservatives had a golden opportunity to create a new national plan that would open a lot of doors for this country, a plan that would look nothing like the one the Liberals implemented when there were huge deficits, a plan that would give Canada plenty of momentum for the 21st century, a plan focused on creating on a stronger, more competitive economy, a more just society and a healthier planet.

The government wasted its first year in power moving Canada in the wrong direction on all counts. Rather than build a 21st century economy,the Prime Minister raised income taxes, reduced the GST, and cut 70% of funding for research and higher education. In international trade, the government took the wrong approach by giving China the cold shoulder and brushing India aside. They have been in power for 15 months, and not one minister has yet been to India. Is that not remarkable?

In terms of social justice, the Prime Minister's meanspirited cuts affect the least fortunate members of Canadian society: aboriginal people, citizens who rely on literacy programs, children who need affordable care, and women. As for the environment, he began by slashing $5.6 billion from environmental protection programs, before the polls spurred him to bring back weak facsimiles under new names and with much less funding.

Yesterday, the government had a second golden opportunity. With the coffers still overflowing with Canadian taxpayers' hard-earned money, the Prime Minister could have learned from his past mistakes and taken action to move Canada forward. Well, I guess not, since what the Prime Minister offered to Canadians is a real con job, right out of The Sting. He claims that he is moving Canada forward in terms of economics, social justice and environmental protection. In reality, however, the support he is offering is symbolic, at best. He continues to waste budget surpluses by funding a number of measures that are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, rather than focussing on a reliable plan that would guarantee Canada's future.

With respect to social justice, the Minister of Finance wants to appear sympathetic by offering a mini-version of the plan developed by the Liberals to encourage Canadians who receive social assistance to regain control of their lives.

If he really wanted to help Canadians who have the greatest needs, he would have restored the funding that aboriginal peoples were supposed to receive under the Kelowna accord. He would have taken effective measures to create child care spaces and he would have put an end to the budget cuts that have afflicted our most vulnerable citizens. He did none of those things.

On the economy, I note that this is a tired 20th century budget when what we needed was a budget allowing Canada to compete and prosper in the highly competitive world of the 21st century.

We needed a budget containing an economic thrust as outlined by the Leader of the Opposition in a recent speech to the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Club. Such an economic thrust must include policies to make Canadian taxes internationally competitive, as well as policies driving research, commercialization, access to higher education, and a push for greater access for Canadian goods in overseas markets.

What did we get? While competitor countries like Australia have forged ahead with broad based reductions in personal and business taxation, yesterday's budget had no broad based tax cuts at all. What it did do was maintain last year's broad based income tax hike.

While countries like the United Kingdom set ambitious targets for research and development backed by powerful tax credits, yesterday's budget provided only token support on this front while slashing support for universities.

While other competitor countries provide generous funding for students and pursue talented immigrants aggressively, what did we see in yesterday's budget? Nothing at all for undergraduate students and nothing significant on immigration.

While Asia-Pacific countries have no fewer than 186 bilateral trade agreements in force or under negotiation, yesterday's budget had nothing significant on this front, and the Harper government shows no sign of emerging from its domestic or, at most, continental cocoon.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member referred to the Prime Minister by name.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The member knows he is not supposed to do that.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

It was inadvertent, Mr. Speaker, so I will withdraw it if that is your wish.

In any event, as I was saying, the government led by this Prime Minister shows no sign of emerging from its domestic or, at most, continental cocoon and seriously engaging the rest of the world.

These elements of our leader's economic plan were endorsed by a number of commentators, including an editorial from the Globe and Mail, from which I will quote briefly:

So far, the Tories have sent out precisely the wrong signals on the tax system. To pay for their flashy promise to trim two percentage points from the GST, they cancelled Liberal cuts that reduced the lowest personal income-tax rate to 15 per cent from 16 per cent.

Instead, the Conservatives hiked that rate to 15.5 per cent and reduced the GST to 6 per cent from 7. Income-tax cuts would be a far more effective tool for economic growth. At a time when Ottawa should be encouraging savings and investment instead of stimulating consumption, it would wrong-headed to cut the GST further to 5 per cent. Mr. Dion would rightly defer that plan, reduce income taxes, allow businesses to take faster writeoffs on equipment and introduce a tax benefit to ease the transition from welfare to work.

The editorial concludes by saying:

His economic prescriptions are welcome.

Sadly--

The Budget
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. member mentioned the Prime Minister by name and he did mention his own leader by name. He cannot do indirectly what he is not able to do directly. He has been corrected twice. I hope we do not have to do it a third time.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess I am not allowed to do that even when I am reading. I will refrain.

Sadly, the government does not get it or does not care. Maybe the government thinks the rest of the world owes Canada a living. Or maybe the Prime Minister does not understand the need to invest in an uncertain future when times are relatively good. Or maybe he simply does not care because such investments require a time horizon extending beyond the next election.

This budget also does not contain a long-term plan to protect the environment. It decreases our financial commitment to the clean and sustainable production of renewable energy by reducing it from 5,500 to 4,000 megawatts.

Tax breaks for new tar sands development projects are maintained until 2015.

Improving the water quality of our lakes and rivers is slowed down.

Assistance to compensate citizens for energy retrofits is replaced by mere tokens that bring the cost of reducing our consumption to thousands of dollars per tonne.

Funding for our provincial partners is cut in half.

And to top it off, the budget does not contain a single measure to force polluters to pay when they discharge pollutants into the atmosphere. In the absence of a comprehensive plan, the incentives for cleaner automobiles do not go very far.

We already knew that our Prime Minister is about the only economist on the planet who believes that cutting the GST is more beneficial than reducing income taxes.

Is he also the only economist who does not recognize the need to put a price on carbon so that polluters will no longer be able to consider the atmosphere as a public dump they can use for free?

We will have the answer to this question when the government finally unveils its plan to fight global warming. But given the Prime Minister's record—he denies climate change and has made draconian cuts to environmental protection programs—until the polls lead him to think about it, I would not advise the House to expect much from this plan.

Budgets are not usually high on humour, but yesterday there was at least one humorous moment leading me to nominate the finance minister for the 2007 naivety award. Two days ago the finance minister declared, “We are going to resolve once and for all this continuing problem we have had, this bickering between governments in Canada about fiscal imbalance”. Only yesterday he said, “The long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over”. Well, not quite.

This new golden age of perfect harmony and bliss in federal-provincial relations lasted about one hour after the budget, at which time a red-faced angry finance minister was seen on national television in bitter debate with Premier Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador. Said Mr. Williams in one of his milder passages, “Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are feeling an intense sense of betrayal here by this government”.

Saskatchewan's premier called the budget a betrayal of the Conservatives' promise.

Not that betrayals of promises are anything new to the government. Think income trusts. Think capital gains tax reductions. Think health care waiting times guarantees. And now there is another one: think Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Within minutes or hours of the budget speech three other provincial governments, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, made comments that can charitably be described as unflattering.

So much for the finance minister's much vaunted era of peace. If this were another age, the finance minister's peace messenger would likely have returned to finance headquarters strapped to his horse and riddled with bullets.

More seriously, does not this near instant evaporation of harmony in the face of the government's restoration of so-called fiscal balance reflect the failure of the policy? Balance connotes peace and stability; balance as opposed to imbalance; peaceful, stable. But a fiscal balance instead brings anger and unhappiness. Maybe what was achieved yesterday was something other than balance, or maybe the concept itself is without meaning.

The finance minister hopes that his failure to keep his election promise that no province would be made worse off could be masked by embellishing his increases in other transfers to the provinces. He took $250 million from the billions of child care money he decided not to give to the provinces and called it an increase in the Canada social transfer. He cancelled the $3.5 billion that was intended to go the provinces for labour market partnership agreements last year but brought back $3 billion to the exact same program and called it a solution to the so-called fiscal imbalance.

He has extended the gas tax money for Canadian cities, a measure that the Canadian Alliance originally opposed when the Liberals made it law, and claimed it was $2 billion in new money for the provinces. He did similar things with other programs including those aimed at clean air and climate change. All told, over half of the $39 billion claim is nothing new, and this from a government that promised a more open and transparent budget process.

Let us look at spending. I am pleased that after seeing this budget we can all expect that Conservative members of this House will stop griping about the spending habits of the previous Liberal government. Andrew Coyne, again not traditionally a great friend of Liberals, said in the National Post that with this budget, the member from Whitby “officially becomes the biggest spending finance minister in the history of Canada”. He went on to say that the Conservatives have now raised spending by $25 billion in two years.

This is made worse because it is yet another broken election promise. The Prime Minister promised to limit the rate of the federal government's growth to population growth plus inflation. That is about 3%, or approximately $5.5 billion per year, not $25 billion over two years.

To conclude, this is a budget without merit, a budget which the Liberal Party is proud to oppose. Therefore, I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That”, and substituting the following therefor:

this House condemns the government for a budget that does so little with so much, failing to look beyond the next election to the next generation and failing to tackle Canada's 21st century social, economic and environmental challenges by ignoring the difficult circumstances of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens; by paying only lip-service to Aboriginal peoples; by providing no broad-based income tax relief for ordinary middle-income Canadians, and particularly by not reversing the personal income tax increases imposed in last year's budget; by not pursuing greater Canadian economic competitiveness and innovation; by offering no direct support to post-secondary undergraduate students and only a pitiful amount for early learning and child care; by ignoring the imperatives of a clean and sustainable environment, including the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, advancing no significant new measures to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental priorities in a coherent manner; and by resorting to misleading presentations of budget figures, including gross exaggerations of increased federal transfers to provinces and other orders of government.