House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 40th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economic.

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ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

November 28th, 2008 / 10 a.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

moved:

That this House take note of the Economic and Fiscal Statement tabled in the House on November 27, 2008.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, as many have done before me in this new Parliament, I would first of all like to welcome all members and express my gratitude to my constituents for providing me the honour to serve them for another term. We all know that this is a job that carries great responsibilities and I am very honoured to be able to stand in this House and represent the great people of the riding of Macleod.

I must once again remind all hon. members that I will argue with any member of this House that the riding of Macleod is one of the most beautiful ridings in this entire country. I am sure I have excited others to debate that, but we do have some of the most beautiful country. During the election campaign in the fall, I had the opportunity to travel around and visit most communities. We have about 25 different communities in that riding. I visited with a tremendous number of people and viewed some incredible scenery. I would invite all hon. colleagues to visit the beautiful riding of Macleod.

I could not have accomplished this task without many volunteers, those who worked tirelessly, hours and hours on the phones, driving, door knocking, answering calls, answering questions, connecting constituents with me so I could talk with them on a one to one basis. Those volunteers are what make democracy work in this country and I give a great thank you to those people.

Also I do need to acknowledge the patience and understanding of my good wife, Sandy. It is only because of her support that I can be here to serve the constituents of Macleod. I thank her for her support. I also appreciate the support of my family, which actually got larger this summer. My son got married and now we have two new grandchildren. We now have a full family with a complement of four grandchildren, and of that we are very proud. I just wanted to share that with you, Mr. Speaker, because I know how important children are to you.

Let me continue with my speech now that we have recognized why we are here and how we all got here.

I am pleased to highlight the economic and fiscal statement that gave Canadians a clear update of the economic and fiscal situation. I might pause here for a moment to remind hon. members that this was not a budget. The budget will be coming early in 2009. The budget is where we lay out the projected incomes and projected expenditures for this government.

It seems to me that the opposition parties got their hopes high that there was going to be some spending that they could criticize, but there was not; in fact, we did not set that expectation. We said that we would bring Canadians up to date on where the economy is now, and we did that.

Here in Canada and around the world these are difficult times that require difficult choices. Our Conservative government has responded to this challenge by taking decisive action to restrain spending, to protect Canada's hard-won fiscal advantage and to reinforce the stability of our financial system.

Today I would like to briefly review some of the statement's key measures and how they will help this country weather the period of global economic uncertainty. Let me begin by looking back for a moment.

Long before many countries responded to the deepening financial crisis, Canada acted early and decisively. No one could ever have predicted the rapid decline in world markets in the last several weeks. The scale is stunning in both its depth and breadth, and nowhere is that more evident than in the carnage we see among global financial institutions.

The jaw-dropping list of such institutions acquired, bailed out, converted, failed or nationalized in September and October alone demonstrates that. This list includes but is not limited to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, UBS, Lehman Brothers, the Royal Bank of Scotland, American International, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia, Goldman Sachs, Washington Mutual, Fortis, a once very impressive list, but a troubling list now.

Our government was well aware that difficult times may be ahead when the finance minister presented the 2007 economic statement. At that time we made choices to help put Canada in a stronger economic position, choices to lower the tax burden on Canadian families and on businesses in a significant way with pre-emptive and aggressive cuts from business, personal and consumption taxes, nearly $60 billion worth.

BMO economist Doug Porter noted earlier this year that the 2007 economic statement was “brilliantly timed. Just as the economy was running into serious heavy weather...we had some serious fiscal stimulant”. As the University of Toronto's Institute for Policy Analysis observed, “Helping offset the weakness in Canada will be 'fortuitous' injection of stimulus from the tax cuts...announced in the” 2007 economic statement.

Clearly, we took decisive action long before other countries did. Indeed we saw the U.K. just this week take the action that we took last year, in reducing its consumption tax, the U.K. equivalent of the GST, which is the value added tax. Just this week the U.K. dropped the VAT by 1.5%. I note that the U.K. only dropped it temporarily, whereas we dropped 2% in our GST over a two year period permanently.

Why did the U.K. follow our lead? Listen to the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the U.K. just a few days ago when he announced these measures:

[W]e...need to take action to put money into the economy immediately.... [T]he best and fairest approach is a measure which will help everyone. To deliver a much-needed extra injection of spending into the economy right now. I therefore propose to cut VAT [the value added tax].... It will make goods and services cheaper and, by encouraging spending, will help stimulate growth.

For the opposition members who have opposed, mocked and derided our GST cut, I ask them to reflect on those words. However, while our pre-emptive actions gave us an early advantage, these measures did not insulate us completely from the rest of the world. Unfortunately for all of us, global conditions have continued to deteriorate.

That is why, for example, we have had to take further extraordinary steps in the financial sector to respond to a global credit crunch that originated outside our border, yet which threatened to engulf us if we failed to act. And act we did. We acted to maintain the availability of longer term credit with the purchase of mortgage pools through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. This innovative measure is allowing Canadian financial institutions to continue lending to consumers, to homebuyers and businesses at an affordable cost.

We also created the Canadian Lenders Assurance Facility. This offers insurance on a temporary basis on wholesale term borrowing by Canadian financial institutions. This backstop offered on a commercial basis, at no cost to taxpayers I might add, ensures that our financial institutions are not at a competitive disadvantage internationally.

Our recent measures have received widespread praise. As the Globe and Mail declared:

[U]nlike most jurisdictions, Canada is ensuring liquidity in financial services without taxpayers footing the bill.... [This] helps restore trust. It also encourages competition in financial services.... [I]t keeps Canadian financial institutions competitive with [their] global peers.... It doesn't involve billions of dollars in bailout money. It's just smart policy.

We have also increased the borrowing authority of Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada to provide more lending choices for Canadian businesses. We announced new rules for government guaranteed mortgages this summer to prevent a U.S.-style housing bubble. These rules are in place today.

Faced with threats outside our borders, we answered with leadership from within. The result is ours is among the best fiscal positions of the G-7 countries. This fact is underlined by an OECD report released this week which showed that while global growth will be lower in the coming year, Canada will lead the way in the recovery with the strongest growth among G-7 countries in 2010.

Unfortunately, Canada is clearly not immune to the ongoing financial crisis nor to the weakening in the economy of the United States and elsewhere. That brings me to the economic and fiscal statement. Its measures build on a strong foundation of this government’s action over the last year and point the way to the additional activities we will take shortly.

Allow me to cite a few examples of its key initiatives, which focus on maintaining strong fiscal and financial management. The government is firmly committed to managing spending responsibly. For example, the economic and fiscal statement includes a commitment to eliminate the taxpayer subsidy for politicians and their parties. Political parties receive a generous amount of funding support from taxpayers, from reimbursements on election spending to tax credits to those who donate. We should not have our hands out for more, especially when times are tough.

As the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has pointed out, “We're in tough economic times, so this is exactly the place to start tightening the belt”. Indeed, if we are to ask for frugal expenditure management of public money, we must lead by example. The member for Markham—Unionville said just this week, “I do think that ordinary Canadians are having a difficult time, so I think we should set an example and tighten our belts. I personally favour that, and I suspect most of my colleagues would, too”. We thank the hon. member for Markham—Unionville for reflecting early on that this is a good move.

My hon. colleagues should put the money where their mouths are and support this measure. In absence of that, it is clear the opposition has just been sweeping empty rhetoric about, showing little understanding of the plight of Canadians.

We are also pledging to ensure sustainable federal public sector wage rates and to modernize the pay equity regime. The government is committed to ensuring effective management of taxpayers’ dollars and is taking concrete action to keep spending growth on a sustainable track. As part of the new expenditure management system, the government is continuing strategic reviews of departmental spending. In the statement, we have recorded an estimated amount of savings from the round of reviews that is currently under way.

I would like now to consider some of the statement’s provisions that address transfers to the provinces. The government is committed to ensuring the continued growth of federal transfers in a way that is fiscally responsible and yet sensitive to the volatile global economic environment. The equalization program will be adjusted within the principle-based structure set out in budget 2007 by putting it on a growth path that is in line with the growth of the economy. Major transfers will continue to grow. The Canada health transfer will grow at 6% a year and the Canada social transfer will grow at 3% a year.

Across Canada, manufacturers and their employees have faced significant challenges in recent years. These challenges have been amplified by the turbulence in the financial markets.

Make no mistake, the government will continue to implement its plan, “Advantage Canada”, particularly, our commitment to building a competitive advantage for Canadian businesses, including those in the manufacturing sector, and securing the prosperity of Canadians.

To that end the government will provide a total of $700 million in additional capital to Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada to expand their credit capacity by up to $3 billion, and to enable the introduction of new products to better serve the needs of Canadian businesses during a period of constrained credit availability.

In addition, going forward the government will continue to look at additional fiscal stimulus measures that would contribute to a more viable and competitive manufacturing sector. Canadian manufacturers and exporters heralded these announcements as, and I quote:

--good measures...The government recognizes that liquidity is a major concern for manufacturers and exporters in every sector across Canada.

Our Conservative government is also creating a competitive tax environment through broad-based tax reductions that support job creation, support growth, and support investment in all sectors of the economy, including manufacturing and processing.

In addition, tariffs on imported machinery and equipment would be eliminated as soon as possible in order to encourage capital investment and increase efficiency in our manufacturing sector.

The government's actions in support of manufacturing will also benefit the automotive sector and in particular the automotive parts industry. For example, the government has committed to provide additional funding for the automotive innovation fund to support investments in the long-term viability of the automotive sector.

We are also open to the possibility of providing further assistance to the automotive sector. The situation is fast moving. The Minister of Industry is engaged in discussions with the automotive companies and is monitoring developments in the United States.

Seniors are understandably concerned about the impact of the sharp decline in markets on their retirement savings and in particular, their registered retirement income funds. We have listened and we have supported them in the past. We have supported seniors by raising the age limit for converting a registered retirement savings plan to a RRIF from the age of 69 to 71, which by the way, the House will recall from that particular vote that the Liberals and the NDP voted against that.

We are doing so again by addressing their concerns about the drop in the market value of their assets and their worries that their assets and RRIFs must be sold to meet withdrawal requirements.

In yesterday's statement, the finance minister also proposed a one time change that would allow RRIF holders to reduce their required minimum withdrawal by 25% this tax year. That would mean that individuals otherwise required to withdraw $10,000 from their RRIF in 2008 would see that required withdrawal reduced to $7,500.

Let me now turn to consider the statement's measures to accelerate infrastructure spending.

In budget 2007 the government announced a seven year, $33 billion plan to boost Canada's public infrastructure. As a result, the amount of federal funding available to provinces, territories and municipalities for infrastructure projects is forecast to hit a record of $6 billion in 2009-10, double what was spent in 2007-08.

We need to accelerate this activity. This would provide a significant stimulus to the economy and improve infrastructure that is vital to improving our long-term economic performance.

We are working with the provinces and the territories to expedite infrastructure projects, and accelerate the uptake of federal funding as well as addressing regulatory and administrative barriers that slow down project implementation.

While the government has already taken major actions to strengthen and preserve the competitiveness of Canada's world-leading financial sector, this statement takes further measures, measures such as supporting the financial system in extraordinary circumstances, providing solvency funding relief for federally-regulated private pension plans, and enhancing credit availability through crown agencies for Canadian businesses affected by the global credit crisis.

In addition, the government will consult with provinces and Canadians to develop responses to short-term economic issues while continuing to implement its long-term economic plan. The immediate priorities are to accelerate infrastructure projects, improve opportunities for workers and sectors affected by current economic conditions, strengthen our world-leading financial system in line with our G-20 commitments, and improve the competitiveness of the Canadian economy.

Since the earliest days of the global liquidity crunch, the government has taken important steps to strengthen the position of Canada's financial system, which is ranked among the soundest in the world. Our Conservative government stands ready to take whatever further action is necessary to protect the stability of the Canadian financial system.

Accordingly, we are proposing that the Minister of Finance be granted additional flexibility to support financial institutions and the financial system in any extraordinary circumstances. The proposed powers will include additional options for resolving difficulties in financial institutions should they arise.

The proposed powers are a continuation of the responsible leadership that the government has exercised to ensure that Canada's strong financial system is not put at a competitive disadvantage by developments in other countries. They are precautionary and intended as standby authorities that will bring Canada's regulatory tool kit in line with international best practices.

The proposals are also in line with Canada's commitment to implement the G-7 and G-20 plans of action to stabilize financial markets and restore the flow of credit. The current global market crisis underlines the necessity of having a first rate financial sector regulatory framework, which includes a common securities regulator for Canada.

Our current system of 13 regulators is far too cumbersome and unwieldy to provide the decisive, quick response that is often necessary. Indeed, in the words of a recent Montreal Gazette editorial:

The recent convulsions in financial markets...signal, more than ever, that sophisticated understanding of markets and their practices...are utterly essential...At a time when the world's main governments and institutions can't keep up with global markets, it's ludicrous that Canada speaks with 13 voices.

The benefits of a common securities regulator will include greater efficiency, stronger enforcement and clearer accountability.

I see that my time is up. I had so many more positive things to say about the statement, but I appreciate that there are many other members on both sides of the House who want to stand and support this statement.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I noted that my hon. colleague quoted with some enthusiasm economist Douglas Porter, who seemed to support his case many months ago. I cannot help but note that the same economist Douglas Porter was quoted in the press today. What did he say? He stated:

On balance, it's quite the opposite of supporting growth. Under the current circumstances, it's unusual, to say the least, given that almost every other major country in the world is moving to stimulate the economy.

The same Douglas Porter so approvingly quoted from months ago by the parliamentary secretary is saying today that these measures yesterday are not what we need because they do not promote growth.

When the parliamentary secretary speaks of past measures to stimulate the economy, I could say the Liberal $100 billion tax cut of 2000 is still stimulating the economy or the measures of 2005 are stimulating the economy, but it is totally irrelevant because the issue is the economy today and the Canadian economy is in trouble today. The OECD says we will have a quarter of a million more unemployed Canadians in 2010 and yet the government did nothing, zero fiscal stimulus yesterday, and moved in the wrong direction through cuts.

Why is Canada almost unique in the world when other countries are stimulating their economies by tens or hundreds of billions of dollars? Why does the government think it is the right time at this moment of crisis to enact cuts?

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, there was quite a bit in that statement, not all factual of course.

Speaking of changing one's mind, might I quote back to the hon. member for Markham—Unionville, after the Prime Minister in his year-end interviews warned Canadians that we were headed for some troubling economic times, that is leadership. We saw leadership in the fall economic update of last year with pre-emptive moves, and I will get back to that to address the hon. member's question.

However, when the Prime Minister warned Canadians with great leadership capabilities, he was not trying to frighten Canadians as the opposition members are trying to do, gleefully gloating that we are losing jobs, gleefully gloating that other economies are in trouble. We should not take pleasure in economic turmoil around the world.

This government is trying to do its best to not frighten Canadians, but when the Prime Minister publicly stated there will be some difficult economic times, let me read the quote from the hon. member for Markham—Unionville. This was somewhere around January 1. He said:

--the [Conservative] government is overstating the risks because many experts expect the Canadian economy to grow by up to 2.5 per cent this year--

It is shocking. We all change our minds, even the hon. member. When the hon. member talks about economic stimulus I cannot help but think back to last fall's economic statement, when in fact the Minister of Finance put in place measures that reduced Canadians' taxes by $31 billion this year alone. That is an incredible amount of money.

However, let us put it in perspective. When the hon. member mentions that it is a pittance compared to other countries, the IMF is encouraging all countries to provide an economic stimulus of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2%. If we do the simple math, the $31 billion that we left in Canadians' pockets, that we did not take to bring to Ottawa as play money, March madness money that some of the former Liberal governments did. We left that in Canadians' pockets and let them decide what to do with it. That $31 billion is 2% of our gross domestic product.

We did that a year ago and we would have loved to have the support of the opposition parties at that time but we also encourage them to support this. This is not a budget. The opposition should not misconstrue this to be a budget. I know it is disappointed. I know it is expecting spending that it could criticize. If we offered incentives to some industries, I am sure it would have found a way to criticize that too.

We will get to that, but as the Minister of Industry stated in the House several times this week, we will not put money into an industry until we understand that is the best use of taxpayers' dollars, that it is coordinated with whatever our largest customer, that being the United States, is going to do in that same sector, or we could lose all those taxpayers' dollars.

I know it may not be that important to that side, but it is incredibly important to us. That is why we have put in measures to show leadership from this party. We are encouraging leadership from all members of the House to cut back on our spending: our spending as members of Parliament and our spending in our own budgets. In fact, we are planning on legislating caps on wage increases to the public sector.

The President of the Treasury Board will speak to that later today in more detail. That is leadership. That is the kind of leadership that elected the Prime Minister to lead this country. We expect nothing less from the opposition than support in a difficult economic situation. Let us not play partisan politics with the future of Canadians.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his response earlier, the member opposite said that this was not a budget. But it is not an economic statement either. It is a smokescreen intended to hide this government's inaction and lack of consideration for the economic crisis we are facing.

Of course, at the beginning of the economic statement there is an overview of the situation throughout the world. However, when we dig deeper and read further into what the government is saying in the economic statement, through the Minister of Finance, there is nothing. This government said it was ready to listen to the opposition and to the Bloc's interesting proposals.

All week long, the government appeared to agree that the Bloc had a precise and costed action plan for developing wealth and vitality to support the forestry and manufacturing industries, workers, regions and families.

There is nothing of that in this economic statement. There is nothing but Conservative ideology that wants to do away with any kind of opposition. It is clear: the government wants to muzzle the opposition parties, women and unions. That is what we see in this economic statement.

My question for the member opposite is very simple. Can he explain why there is not a single concrete measure to support all the people who will be in need of assistance during this crisis? All the economies in the world have decided to implement a tough, clear economic plan, so that they can emerge from this economic crisis strong and thriving.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members of the Bloc for some constructive suggestions. I do not think anybody promised that those would be in the economic update. I know the Bloc has not been in government. It takes a while to put these together. We certainly will take those into consideration when we develop the budget, and I again thank them for those comments.

As I have said before in the House, I encourage all opposition members to put forward constructive suggestions. Members owe it to their constituents as their representatives to not just criticize, but to provide constructive criticism. We will accept that on this side of the House. We want to do what is right for Canadians.

I sense a need to go back and repeat what I said in my first answer, and I know the hon. member for Markham—Unionville may have tuned me out as I spoke. We put a stimulus in place in the fall economic statement of 2007. The hon. member's question was about that.

That economic stimulus was equivalent to 2% of our gross domestic product, which left $31 billion in tax cuts in the pockets of businesses and Canadians. That provided them the flexibility to buy a new home or buy a new car. A reflection of that is car sales are up in Canada this year.

Canadians can choose what to do with their money more wisely than governments can. We tend to not respect, and I have sensed this many times in the House, how hard it is for taxpayers to earn that money. When we throw around numbers like we do and say that is only $30 million, only $30 million is a lot of money to Canadians, especially in difficult economic times. Therefore, we provided the stimulus.

Not only that, opposition members suggest there is nothing in the statement that addresses any industry. I beg to differ. There are $350 million to Export Development Canada, which will leverage $4 billion to the auto industry for exporting automobiles. There are $350 million, as well, to the Business Development Bank of Canada to leverage its lending capacity to provide credit to Canadians. It is a liquidity issue and I wish the opposition would remember that.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The time for questions and comments has expired, but I do want to issue an apology to the hon. parliamentary secretary. I forgot that on the first and second speeches on motions there is unlimited time. I was operating on a clock and cut the member off at the end of 21 minutes. I feel very badly that I did this, but I understand he was almost finished away. I do apologize. It was an error on the part of the Chair that I should not have made. We just do not have debates on motions like this very often when I am here.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure and honour for me to stand with the unequivocal opposition of all Liberals to the fiscal update of yesterday. We speak in one voice on this issue. It is entirely inadequate to the task at hand. I would characterize the fiscal update of yesterday with two simple words: it is pathetic and it is pernicious.

To give members some sense of where I am going, it is pathetic because it offers no stimulus. Canada, virtually alone, at a time of the worst crisis since the 1930s, offers nothing to help the economy, to help jobs, to help savers, to help people retain their pensions in their retirement years. It is pathetic in terms of a failed attempt to disguise the fact that the Conservatives are actually running a deficit. It is pernicious in its attacks on labour, on women and on the vulnerable.

Let me deal with each of these three points in turn.

As I just said, I feel that this economic and fiscal update is entirely inadequate. I am very pleased and proud that all Liberals will be voting against it. The fiscal update is pathetic because it offers no stimulating action by the government to help the economy. It is also pathetic as a failed attempt to disguise the fact that the Conservatives are actually running a deficit. And it is pernicious in ways that I will explain.

The Prime Minister sometimes speaks like Roosevelt, but he acts like Calvin Coolidge or R.B. Bennett. He made some comments that we had understood the lessons of the 1930s. In Peru he said that under the extraordinary economic crisis in which we lived, we in Canada had a need for extraordinary fiscal stimulus.

He also said something with which I agree, and it is another important lesson from the 1930s, that the world must never descend into protectionism. Those are good words and I commend the Prime Minister for them. The trouble is his actions are the opposite of his words. Rather than giving us extraordinary fiscal stimulus, which when he was in Peru he said was absolutely necessary, he has given us zero fiscal stimulus. He has given us even worse. He has given us cuts that he purports to be $6 billion next year. That is like negative fiscal stimulus.

When we look around the world, we see tens of billions of dollars of fiscal stimulus in the United Kingdom, in Japan and in the European Union. We see hundreds of billions of dollars of fiscal stimulus in the United States and in China. In Canada the Prime Minister talks about the need for extraordinary fiscal stimulus and we see nothing at all, or worse than that we see cuts and no stimulus.

Does he not understand that the Canadian economy is on the edge of the worst crisis since the 1930s, that the OECD predicts we will have a quarter million more unemployed people between now and 2010? Does he think it is not important for the government to act to help those unemployed people, to help critical industries that are in deep trouble and require urgent attention, to help Canadian savers and pensioners who have deep concerns about the ability to live out their retirement in dignity? I could go on. There are so many things but he does nothing.

Let me deal with two of the government's excuses. He talks about past stimulus, but that is irrelevant. Other countries have given stimulus in the past. When we were the government, we gave fiscal stimulus in 2000 and 2005. The point is the world needs stimulus now. The fact that the government had some measures some years ago, obviously has not done the job or else we would not be in a so-called technical recession. We would not be heading for a quarter million more unemployed people.

Whatever the Conservative government did in the past, whatever our government did in the past in terms of tax reductions, is inadequate to the task at hand facing the economy of Canada today. That is why countries like Britain, the United States and virtually every country in the world understand that we are in this economic crisis and therefore have taken action. The Conservative government has taken zero action.

Why should we believe that the government will give us a major stimulus in February or March, or even late January? First, why did it wait? The sooner it acts, the better. President-elect Obama is not even in office yet and he has in place an economic plan. Other countries, and I have named them, China, Britain, France and Japan, have already acted. The Conservative government has been in office approximately three years, so it has had plenty of time to put forward action plans, yet it has done nothing and it tells us to wait two or three months and eventually it might get the job done.

On this question of pathetic in terms of lack of stimulus is I do not even believe, I cannot have confidence, that the government is serious when it tells Canadians it will offer fiscal stimulus early next year. It has shown by its mind-set, by its ideology this time around that it does not want to do anything. I do not believe that in its heart of hearts it wishes to stimulate the economy.

While the Conservatives talk like FDR, they act like those great depression leaders, R.B. Bennett and Calvin Coolidge.

My second point as to why this fiscal update is pathetic, is the government's pretext of balancing the books.

They claim that there is no deficit. However, as Jeffrey Simpson said in this morning's Globe and Mail, there isn't one economist in Canada who believes that there will be a surplus next year. No one can believe that.

There are at least two reasons why no one can believe it. First, their assumptions about economic growth are far too optimistic in comparison to what economists said a month or more ago. And the situation has changed for the worse since then. The government is saying that we will see modest growth next year, yet a recent OECD report said that growth will be a negative 0.5%, which makes a significant difference when it comes to a deficit. The government, as many economists have said, is being completely unrealistic and far too optimistic in its assumptions when it comes to Canada's future economic performance.

The second reason has to do with asset sales. This is an old Mike Harris trick. They have $10 billion over five years in asset sales, including $2.3 billion this year, but when we were in the lock-up yesterday and asked the finance officials for a list, they said there was no list. This is an old Mike Harris trick, and they were caught out in 2003 in Ontario when they were running on a balanced budget. They lost the election. Dalton McGuinty called in the auditor and found that in fact they were running a $7 billion deficit. Part of the reason for that deficit was fraudulent accounting on the subject of asset sales.

The current finance minister was from that same gang. I do not believe for one minute that he has confirmed asset sales of that magnitude. I think he just put his finger in the air and chose the number that would show a balanced budget. That is his number for asset sales.

Let me make one other point on that subject. When we were in government, we did not record one penny in the budget of asset sales until we saw the money. We had to actually get the money before it was recorded in the budget as a sale. Not only has the government not received the money, it also does not even have a clue about which assets it plans to sell.

For at least these two reasons, and there are many others, the pretense that the government is going to balance its books next year is totally without foundation.

Finally, the budget is pernicious. It is enough to be pathetic--pathetic is pretty bad--but if it is pathetic and pernicious, that is even worse. It is mean-spirited. Let me give just a few examples.

The government needlessly attacked labour. Just days after public sector unions accepted a very modest wage settlement, the government felt the need to ban strikes in the public sector. Just days after the public sector union had accepted a multi-year wage settlement, why does the government have to ban strikes? One would do so only if one had a mean-spirited streak in one's thinking, which I think is characteristic of the government.

Why does the government have to attack women and pay equity? Again this is a mean-spirited, pernicious, ideological attack on the principle of pay equity.

The government also attacks the most vulnerable in our society.

It is an attack on the most vulnerable members of our society.

The attack on pay equity is an example.

The government has not told us what it is going to cut. It has told us it is going to cut a lot, but it has not told us what. We have to go on the Conservatives' record, and their record in the last Parliament was to make cuts in areas where people were most vulnerable, areas such as literacy programs, women's programs, and the court challenges program.

I can assure the House that we will be looking very attentively at where these cuts will be made. We have a suspicion they will be directed once again at the most vulnerable in Canadian society. I assure the House that we will be vigilant on that topic.

Finally, we see other governments working in the spirit of solidarity with their opposition parties to tackle the world's worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Mr. McCain, who lost the election to Barack Obama, has met with Mr. Obama to ask how he can help to deal with the worst economic crisis in the United States since the 1930s.

Would we not expect our government to reach out to opposition parties in Canada's moment of economic crisis to see if we could not work together to produce a package that would help to support the Canadian economy at its moment of great difficulty?

I would have thought that would happen. It happened in the U.S., and it is happening many other countries around the world. It would be normal to expect it from a normal government in this country.

The Conservative government has taken precisely the opposite approach through its attack on democracy and its attack on all the opposition political parties, just at the moment when parties need to work together for the good of the country.

I am proud to vote against this fiscal update. We Liberals speak with one voice when we believe something is not up to the task. This fiscal update is nowhere close to being up to the task of accomplishing what Canada needs as a result of our economic situation at this moment of danger and risk and uncertainty and potential crisis in the lives of all Canadians.

The statement is pathetic because it does nothing to stimulate the economy. It crows about past actions, which are now irrelevant. Everyone around the world agrees that what is needed now is action. There is no action now. I for one find it hard to believe, given the government's ideological mindset, that it is serious in its promise to provide significant fiscal stimulus down the road.

The statement is pathetic because every economist in the country knows that the Conservatives are not telling the truth when they claim a balanced budget. Even the finance minister yesterday virtually acknowledged that he was wrong.

The fiscal statement is not only pathetic; it is also pernicious in terms of its unwarranted attacks on labour, on women, and on vulnerable Canadians.

For all those reasons, the Liberal Party will speak with one voice, and proudly and definitely vote against this pathetic and pernicious fiscal update.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be able to thank the hon. member for his statement, but unfortunately I cannot bring myself to do that.

The hon. member talked ad nauseam about a crisis. Liberals like to manufacture crises and fear in the population of our country. That way they can ride in as the supposed great saviours of our nation.

We all know that Liberals are only here in the best interests of Liberals. We saw that when the Gomery inquiry enlightened us about the sponsorship scandal. Now they are running in fear from the proposal. If they cannot steal money blindly from Canadians, now they cannot even bring themselves to admit that in a time of economic instability they cannot cough up a bit of money that would otherwise be going to political parties.

The member talked about vulnerable groups. One of the most vulnerable groups in our society is Canadian seniors.

In this economic statement we have offered an opportunity for all parties in the House to stand with one voice and say that we are going to help seniors with their RRIFs so that they can keep more of their hard-earned money. That member is only too happy to stand with a united voice and slap seniors in the face when they need an opportunity to keep their hard-earned money in this global economic situation.

How can the hon. member justify that to his constituents?

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would contend that one gesture on RRIFs is like a breath mint at a garlic festival. It will help, but in view of all the other smelly stuff in that fiscal update, it hardly comes to the top of one's mind.

I do not know why it took the Conservatives forever to get to the subject of RRIFs. Our leader proposed these very measures during the French debate in the middle of the election campaign, and seniors groups such as CARP have been pushing it. Every opposition party has been pushing it, but the government stonewalled. Eventually we dragged the government to a modest measure.

Given the odiousness of the rest of the package, I suppose I have to congratulate the government on having at least one little piece of mint in a garlic festival.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, for once, I agree with the member for Markham—Unionville. We all agree that the Conservative government's economic statement is a direct descendant of the party's Reform roots.

It is now clear that, for two and a half years, the Conservative government has been managing the country's affairs not in the interest of Quebeckers and Canadians, but in its own partisan interest.

I would like the Conservative government to explain how it can possibly believe that the opposition parties will not band together on this, and I hope that the Liberals, too, will speak out against the Conservative government's utterly abominable behaviour.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. There is an unusual spirit of cooperation among the three opposition parties these days. Such cooperation is rare, but it is inspired by the appalling statement the government presented yesterday. I have already laid out my arguments, but I would like to emphasize the lack of economic stimulus measures to address the current economic crisis in Canada. Canada is just about the only country in the western world—and that includes China and Japan in Asia—that is doing nothing to address the economic crisis.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, I can assure my colleague that there is no doubt the Liberals are united on this issue. Yesterday, our leader made that very clear, as did two of the three leadership candidates. There is no doubt that the Liberals are united on this front.

ECONOMIC AND FISCAL STATEMENT
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

About five minutes remain in the time allotted for questions and comments, but since it is almost 11 o'clock, I think I will save those five minutes for the commencement of the debate at the end of routine proceedings a little later today. Accordingly, I suggest we move on to statements by members.

Violence against Women
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, December 6 marks 19 years since 14 young women were murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal, targeted because of their gender.

In the lead-up to December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, and throughout the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, it is important to remember that one of the groups most vulnerable to violence is senior women. The rates of family related violence are significantly higher for senior women than for senior men and the perpetrators tend to be their adult children. Many senior women live alone, in poverty and in poor health. We must protect senior women from violence and the threat of violence.

The Government of Canada is working hard to address the problem of violence against senior women. In budget 2008 we invested $13 million over three years in a multi-departmental initiative to help seniors and others recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse.

Let us resolve today to work harder for social change and an end to violence in all its forms.

Seniors
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, senior citizens in my riding of Davenport are telling me how difficult they are finding it to survive financially. I am sure the situation is the same across Canada.

Due to these pressures, it is hard for them to remain in their homes. They are finding it difficult to pay property taxes, meet the costs of food and simply pay their bills. At a time when world oil prices are going down, seniors continue to pay inflated prices for their home heating fuel. Why is this?

When a previous Liberal government created the Canada pension plan, it was to help seniors in their retirement. It is time to increase the amount that seniors are receiving under this program. It is also time to increase the old age security supplement.

We need to help seniors meet their property tax burden by allowing them to deduct this amount on their income tax returns.

We need to do whatever it takes to make sure that their private pension plans are secure.

Senior citizens across Canada helped to build this country. As we face so much economic uncertainty, we must do everything possible to help our seniors meet these challenges.