House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was million.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Valley Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague talked at length about tax cuts and I would explain to him that in northern Ontario we need more services. We do not need tax cuts because there are very few job opportunities left.

We know budget 2008 provided some money for retraining. I think I could give him a suggestion. The government should also have provided a moving allowance because it will remove all the workers from northern Ontario where there are no forestry jobs left.

However, I do have a direct question for the member. Could he explain to the House and all the workers in northern Ontario, who do not have jobs, the value of a tax cut to someone who does not have a job?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member comes from communities that are facing challenges. I have communities like that in my own riding.

In the fall economic update we put a billion dollars out there to help communities. I am sure communities that he represents will also receive part of Ontario's share of that billion dollar fund to help communities in transition.

One industry towns are in trouble, certainly in the forestry sector because of the challenging times and because of booming production in Asia. We have a mill in British Columbia being dismantled and reassembled in Asia.

We know that our communities are struggling, but it is not the role of government to try to restructure every industry. We are trying to help our communities find the solutions that work for them and help people. We are providing more money for retraining, as the member pointed out.

By providing tax breaks, what we are doing, in lowering the corporate tax structures, is providing an opportunity for our businesses to be competitive, to keep a competitive edge. We are also providing incentives through the accelerated capital cost allowance to help industry invest now to stay competitive.

I know his concerns for his communities are very similar to my own. We are doing our best to help those parts of our industry, but I remind him that in spite of the challenges, unemployment is at an all-time low in Canada and employment is at an all-time high. In spite of the challenges that some sectors are having, overall things are going quite well in Canada.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, in listening to my hon. colleague's speech, we get more and more the sense that this is a budget for winners and losers. Lowered tax cuts for corporations help corporations that are winners. That does not help the corporations that are losing right now. It does not provide the kind of investment in things that will bring them to a profitable state.

When we talk about the tax-free savings account, for somebody who has maxed out his credit card, which in Canada right now many people have, there is no opportunity for saving, so what we see once again is measures put in place for those who are the winners in the system.

We really have a responsibility in this Parliament to represent all people, to try to find ways in which we can bring equity to what we are doing in the country, to allow the opportunity for those who are less advantaged, whether they are corporations or individuals, to pull themselves up.

The latest budget, I would point out to my hon. colleague, seems to do none of that. How is the government being responsible to people in society? How is it being responsible when it puts forward a budget that so clearly identifies winners and losers?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what it is about the NDP, but it always tends to support the workers and always want to support the lower end people. Frankly, the government cannot employ everybody itself. We have to set the environment for businesses to prosper.

That is what we have done in this country. When we talk about lowering corporate taxes from 22%, one of the highest in the G-7, by a full percentage point now and by 2012 to 15%, we will become one of the lowest corporate tax structures in the G-7, in the entire western world. That creates opportunities.

The government has invested $33 billion in our building Canada fund to build bridges, roads, tunnels, rail and port infrastructures. It is the kind of infrastructure that builds an economy. Ask the people in Prince Rupert, a town that was struggling with forestry changes.

We have invested a huge amount through the gateway initiative getting rail products in and out through an Asia-Pacific gateway. That has reduced the rail time for delivering goods to the heartland of the United States through that port. It just received its first shipment a short time ago. The new infrastructure allows products to hit the rails once they arrive in Prince Rupert and down into the Chicago area in 92 hours.

That is unbelievably shorter than Los Angeles. That is about creating an economy that helps employ people in Prince Rupert and in rural areas. It is infrastructure that drives an economy. That is what we are trying to provide.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I happily share my time today with my colleague, the member for Victoria.

Back on October 17 in front of the Parliament Buildings there was a rally to make poverty history. A number of groups from across the country are fighting diligently every day to try to raise the spectre of this terrible blight on our society. I saw a banner which read, “Poverty is a government policy”, testimony to decades of neglect by consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments making other choices than to make poverty history here in Canada.

Then the next day in the House I said we should make fighting poverty a government policy. We in this caucus believe that we need to make fighting poverty year-round work with action, funding and a real plan.

Here in Ottawa, poverty remains government policy and the official opposition refuses to stand up to this agenda and defeat a budget that in fact abandons the poor.

We have spoken in the House before about budgets being visionary documents, setting out priorities for a country and its people. This budget represents more of a nightmare than a vision for the three million people on low incomes and the many more millions who find themselves squeezed and often but a paycheque or two away from joining either the ranks of the poor on social assistance or the 650,000 working poor in this country who work full time all year, often at two or three jobs, and are unable to make ends meet. Is this not crazy?

How can the government be satisfied that there are people who go to work day after day, week after week, all year long, and find that their pay still does not cover the necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter? There is nothing for them in this budget.

When we look at this budget and its poverty measures, we discover that the budget delivers to individuals earning $15,000 per year an expected mere $215 in reduced taxes in 2008-09 and those earning $150,000 will pay $3,265 less in taxes.

We hear the government members speak to the budget and their only initiative to respond to any of the challenges that we face as a country is reduced taxes. That is what it does for the less well off, the marginalized and the at-risk in this country.

There is no recognition in this budget of a national poverty reduction strategy. There are no measures to significantly reduce poverty in Canada. There is no strategy. There are no targets. There is no investment in affordable housing or child care. There is no expansion of the working income tax benefit, which does not even help those working full time at minimum wage the way it is right now. There is no expansion of the national child tax benefit. There is no concrete assistance to our first nations communities where poverty is particularly rampant.

Listen to the commentary from those working to make poverty history in our country.

KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives said, “The 2008 federal budget provides help to those who don't really need it and little help to those who do”.

Robert Arnold, president of the National Anti-Poverty Organization, NAPO, stated:

As in 2007, the word 'poverty' in the Canadian context is mentioned once in the budget. Contrast that with dozens and dozens of references to 'tax burden' and 'tax relief'. It is as if the Harper Conservatives believe that poverty is non-existent in this country. They would appear to care more about padding the fortunes of the wealthy than offering immediate and lasting support to the poor.

From Campaign 2000, the national coalition of over 120 partners working to end child and family poverty in Canada, we heard:

The federal budget passed up the chance to offer the almost 800,000 children living in poverty in Canada a shot at a better life.

Ann Decter, national coordinator of Campaign 2000, said:

It's another missed opportunity. There are provinces on the move on poverty reduction. They'll be much more successful when our federal government also steps up to the plate with a comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategy. The time was right for a bold move.

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association said that the budget leaves one and a half million Canadians in a housing crisis:

When [the finance minister] stood to deliver the Conservative Government's 2008 budget today he left 1.5 million Canadians in desperate housing need on the outside looking in. These are the families living in housing they can't afford, isn't safe, isn't healthy and is bursting at the seams due to overcrowding. The budget also ignored the desperate plight of 200,000 people experiencing homelessness.

And this is one of the harshest winters in a long, long time. Doug Currie, Prince Edward Island's social services and seniors minister, said:

Finance Minister...budget offers little to Prince Edward Island in terms of funding to support affordable housing, catastrophic drug programs and poverty reduction.

It is not just members of Parliament in this party who are saying this, and as important as they are, the organizations working valiantly to reduce and eliminate poverty, but Canadians from coast to coast to coast are saying this as well.

As an MPP in the Ontario legislature, I remember the days of the so-called common sense revolution and its architects, including the current finance minister and Premier Harris. Anyone disagreeing with their narrow ideology was dismissed as a “special interest”. Well, that puts 93% of Canadians at odds with the minister and his budget with respect to poverty reduction.

A Globe and Mail/CTV poll asked: How important is it that the federal budget help the poorest Canadians? Fifty-eight per cent of the respondents said it was very important; 35% said it was somewhat important; only 4% said it was not too important; and 2% said it was not at all important. Some 93% of Canadians said it was very important or somewhat important to help our poorest citizens.

I want to recognize that there were but a few good measures in the budget, crumbs unfortunately, when it comes to the challenges facing our country vis-à-vis social inclusion. There is $110 million for mental health demonstration projects and an exemption to allow seniors who collect the guaranteed income supplement to retain more of their earnings if they are in the workforce.

The NDP has called for a comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy including raising the national child benefit to $5,000 a year; investing $1.2 billion in not for profit child care; building 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years; increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour; boosting the working income tax benefit to $2,400 a year; fixing the employment insurance system so the unemployed get the support they need.

While we present this very comprehensive national strategy, the Liberals today are walking around the House with their fingers in the air trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing. They say that poverty reduction is a priority for their party. They even had a photo op in front of the Parliament buildings at the rally to make poverty history last October, but when they are challenged to stand up and oppose this budget, the leader indicates there is nothing in this budget worth defeating the government on.

I challenge him and the official opposition to tell the three million Canadians on low income, the 93% of Canadians who want help for the poorest Canadians, to stop the Conservative ideology. Liberal politics are failing the poor and a poverty reduction strategy.

We in the NDP caucus are going to stand up and vote against not only this budget, but the whole strategy and agenda of the government, particularly where it affects those who are most at risk and marginalized in this country.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his discussion of the budget. I had the pleasure of visiting his riding with the steel caucus and discussing issues with him.

In my view and in the government's view, the best way to end poverty is through a job. I do not think the member would disagree with that. There are a number of things in our budget, which is entitled “Responsible Leadership”, that provide companies with the opportunity to invest, to create jobs and wealth. That is what will best help people out of the evil cycle of poverty in which many are trapped. We are working hard to try to get them out of poverty.

The member did say some good things about our budget which were nice to hear. He talked about aboriginal Canadians. I want to point out that we are dedicating $70 million over the next few years for a new aboriginal economic development framework. We are dedicating another $70 million to improve the first nations education outcomes. This government is investing money in aboriginal organizations around this country. Not only will today's generation, but future generations will be helped through the education system. They will be helped to get out of that cycle of poverty.

Does the member support the measures in the budget to help the education system for aboriginals and the economic development that is much needed in our aboriginal communities?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the comments of the member. In fact, I do want to recognize that he made the effort to visit Sault Ste. Marie to look at some of the industry there which I think presents a wonderful opportunity for not only my community but the country.

While sitting on the human resources committee, I have heard the Conservatives say many times that the best answer, and I think their only answer, to poverty is a job. I think a job is important and it would help a lot of people if they had one, but what does the member have to say to the 650,000 people who have a job, who are working full time year round, but still live in poverty in this country? Studies have been done in some of our biggest cities. The cost of living has risen and the minimum wage has remained stuck and those 650,000 people still find themselves unable to pay the rent and feed their kids.

He talked about the $70 million in the budget that is dedicated to helping our first nations in terms of their struggles and challenges in dealing with poverty. It is a mere pittance, a drop in the bucket, particularly when we look at the amount of money that was talked about around the Kelowna accord.

When we consider the fact that the government has now put $350 million into nuclear development and only has $70 million for our first nations communities, we begin to understand where the priority lies with the Conservatives.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is quite an honour to beat the member for Yukon to the punch on a question. It does not happen very often.

I have a great deal of admiration for the member for Sault Ste. Marie. Aside from his obvious problem of being a New Democrat, he is actually a pretty good fellow. I understand that in the not too distant past we might be related and that is something to be discussed over a pint of Guinness sometime.

I have a serious question for the member. We are members of the human resources committee. Poverty is an issue that matters to him and it is an issue that matters to me. There are many things that we could do. He has talked about poverty and some of the different organizations that have indicated that once again the poor have gotten pretty scant attention in the government's budget.

The human resources committee is looking at doing a study on poverty. The member is aware of some international and provincial jurisdictions that have actually been able to do some good things on poverty. What can we accomplish in that poverty study whenever we get to it in the HUMA committee?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question. He is in fact someone who cares about these issues. I say to him that my most fervent wish at this time is that we actually get to that study.

The committee has been studying employability, which is an important issue as well, for quite some time. I am hoping that within the next few weeks we will get to study poverty. Then we can look at jurisdictions in the world where there are national poverty strategies that are working, so that we might see in them something that we might bring back and then together put a strategy in place that will serve Canadians well into the future.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the 2008 budget reveals a lack of vision, and these are not my words. These are the words of Victoria's major daily newspaper editorial the morning after the budget was released. In fact, budget 2008 is just a lot more of the same, with winners and losers, a lot for the Conservatives' corporate friends and crumbs for the rest of us.

There is so much that could have been done to better balance tax cuts with social investments. Here is what we could do.

If the new Liberal-Conservative alliance had not squandered $14.8 billion to big corporations and big polluters last fall, we could have made significant strategic investments in the social, environment and economic priorities of Canadians.

If we invest just half of the $10 billion surplus, for example, we could restore a national affordable housing strategy, provide access to quality public child care and early learning for every Canadian family who needs it, retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes and start on the path to become a global environmental leader.

We could breath new life into our treasured health care system and get millions of Canadians family doctors, which they lack now. We could drastically reduce wait times. We notice in the budget that the Conservatives have abandoned their commitment to reducing those times. We could vastly improve home care, long term care and support for family caregivers.

We could tackle the real debt crisis in Canada that plagues a million students and graduates by reducing student fees and giving a huge boost to research and teaching capacity of our universities and colleges and create a thriving system of apprenticeship and training.

We could dramatically boost our economic and social well-being with a lifelong learning strategy for everyone, including the 12 million Canadians with literacy needs, making Canada the most literate and learned country in the world.

Our individual and collective well-being is not enhanced with corporate tax cuts. I believe the people of Victoria could not have been more clear in articulating our priorities for the budget, which have been ignored yet again.

For the first time in three years, the word “homelessness” is in the budget. However, it spends $110 million on demonstration projects in five cities and none in Victoria. Yet Victoria's task force on mental illness, addictions and homelessness has been hailed as the definitive report by homelessness experts across the country.

Our local chamber of commerce and then the national chamber of commerce has strongly advocated for federal action and funding for homelessness in this time of record surpluses. We do not need more studies. We have examined the best practices. We have a blueprint, but Conservatives are big on studies instead of action.

In the budget there is nothing, for example, for building affordable and rental housing. We know the high costs of housing are chasing away young people from our urban areas.

I realize the finance minister thinks that cities do nothing but fix potholes. However, while making permanent the federal gas tax to cities is a hard fought victory, it is an inadequate first step without the acceleration of additional revenue sharing or long term transit funding, for example, called by municipal leaders.

The Conservatives' idea of cost sharing forces cities to raise one-third of the money with only 8% of the revenue. Therefore, now our property taxes are bound to go up while corporate taxes go down.

The only budget item for seniors is getting them to work longer. The GIS exemption is insignificant compared to increasing the amount of GIS on which seniors rely. There is no core funding for struggling Victoria senior groups that have been pleading for more stable funding for years to provide services to seniors.

There is no fix for the government's CPP error. For example, it short-changed the pension of millions of seniors across Canada. There is nothing for long term care, home care or support for caregivers.

I want to talk a bit about heritage. Cities like mine have offered tax breaks for the restoration of heritage buildings. BC Heritage asked for the renewal of the commercial heritage properties incentive fund to support those efforts and to continue to support the conversion of heritage buildings into affordable rental housing. Its requests were ignored as were many other excellent ideas. Yet the Conservatives and Liberals can find $14.8 billion by 2012-13 for the big polluting and big gas industries. I cannot accept that.

As the post-secondary education critic, I see nothing in the budget to address soaring student fees or debt. The new Canada student grant program is, I will acknowledge, a step in the right direction, but it is grossly underfunded and filled with gaps that risk leaving many more students even further behind.

Despite the year long campaign to fix the student loan system, the budget does not reduce student loan interest, create a student loan ombudsperson, amend the flawed lifetime limit or create standards for the conduct of private loan collectors to rein them in.

The added support for the indirect cost of university is laughably short of the commonly accepted 40% target. Research for the social sciences and humanities is again disproportionately underfunded. Worse still, Canada's independent research granting councils are now being told what research they must support.

On the environment, I will leave it to Toronto Star business and technology columnist Tyler Hamilton, who wrote the following this week:

New subsidies for the coal, oil and nuclear industries and new handouts to major automakers. No mention of climate change. No extension of incentives for renewables. The cancelling of incentives for buying energy efficient vehicles....We're so focused on keeping dinosaurs alive...

I want to issue a word of warning for Canadians listening and for those in the gallery today and challenge every elected representative here. My local daily used the word “humdrum” to describe this year's budget. I caution all Canadians to take a closer look at what appears to be an insipid and meaningless budget. I ask Canadians to see the careful and deliberate pursuit of the corporate ideological agenda that the Liberals began and the Conservatives have accelerated.

It is appalling that the Conservatives are asking Canadians to pay the big oil companies to clean up their own pollution. It is the institutionalization of public-private partnerships without any objective analysis of the value or whether they work in the public interest that is particularly worrisome.

Canadians may not have seen the $29 million allocated to pursue the corporate-led security and prosperity partnership, those secret negotiations that are irreversibly tying Canada's regulatory sovereignty to the United States. What little we know about SPP reveals a subversion of the public interest to private profit at the risk of losing control of our water, our resources and our collective ability to protect our own health and safety.

If all members of the House like the road that the Conservatives are taking us down, then they will support the budget. I do not support the Prime Minister's agenda and I cannot support the budget.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I will give the member an opportunity to expand on the three themes she talked about, which were health care, heritage and students.

With respect to health care, does the member not think it would have been a good idea to spend part of the $10 billion surplus on the doctor shortage given that five million Canadians do not have a doctor? I also wanted to give a deduction to medical students so they would not have to pay back their student loans until they went through their residency. They have very little earnings in that period.

In relation to heritage, I am delighted she brought up the commercial property heritage fund, which we would like to put back. Would my colleague not agree with me that the government should rescind the cuts it made to museums, especially small museums in our small communities, and the travelling museum display program?

With respect to students, the program that provided the most student grants to low income students was the millennium scholarship fund. I hope my colleague will join our campaign to have that fund renewed. Will she support us in our campaign to renew the millennium student scholarship fund for low income students?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises three important questions and I will start with the last one.

The question of student financial aid is very important. Many students, young people, and I see some of them in the gallery today, are completing their studies and are burdened with debt. That is unacceptable.

I do not think the question should be whether it is the millennium fund or not. The real question should be an increase upfront to have a needs-based grant system in Canada for students at the time they need it, not four years down the road with the patchwork of tax credits that has been created in the past. That is the first part of the answer.

On the issue of health care, which is very important and I am glad he raised it, more than five million Canadians do not have family doctors. The budget did not spend any money on health care to train doctors and nurses, or to reduce wait times guarantees.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about education. I want to ensure that those who happen to be tuning into this know that we will invest $80 million to three university granting councils, additional money for research in industrial innovation, health priorities and social-economic development in the north, which we think is important. There will be $15 million per year in indirect costs for research programs, building on Canada's knowledge, and for people in genomics, with an additional $140 million for Genome Canada. That is just the small list.

My question is this. Members of the NDP have a long list of things they want to do, but have they it priced out? Does the member have any idea how much it would cost the taxpayer to form that bureaucracy? Does she have any sense of what those additional costs would be?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to go back to the question of research. There is money allocated to research, but there is a worrisome trend by the government to tie academic research, which should be independent, its own priorities.

In terms of whether any of these things have been costed, with the government's corporate tax cuts of $14.8 billion to the largest most profitable companies in Canada, we could have built 1.14 million child care spaces and 74,000 hybrid transit buses. With the government's tax cuts for corporate give-aways, we could have 12.1 million units of non-profit affordable housing, annual health services for 10 million patients, undergraduate tuition for 11 million students, forgive student loans for 2.1 million graduates. That is the amount of the corporate tax cuts the Conservatives have given away to the biggest polluters and big financial institutions, which are already highly profitable.

Member for Calgary Northeast
Statements By Members

February 28th, 2008 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, last weekend, the riding of Calgary Northeast identified its new Conservative candidate, Mr. Devinder Shory.

As my time in Ottawa draws to a close, I want to thank the many people who have made my time in Parliament so memorable.

Since coming here in 1993 as a Reformer, my goal has been to represent the people of Calgary Northeast with integrity. I came armed with a desire to strengthen criminal justice, protect innocent victims and preserve the traditional values that have made this country great. I thank God for giving me this opportunity.

I spoke plainly and directly, often polarizing those who supported me and those who vehemently disagreed, but that is the way I liked it. There is no greater reward than reaching an outcome after a heated debate. Democracy is stronger for it and so is our country. I am proud to have played a role in that process.

I want to thank my colleagues and dedicated staff for their wise counsel. I also want to thank my constituents for their trust. I also send a heartfelt thanks to my dear wife, Margaret, for her love and support.