House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pension.

Topics

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by referencing the previous member's comments about the economic action plan.

No one on the Conservative side of the House should deny that the job loss figure that we saw in the month of October of 72,000 full-time jobs should not be a source of worry. That eviscerated the Canadian economy, yet Conservative members have been patting themselves on the back.

The reality is that the jobs that have been created over the last three years under the Conservative government's plan actually pay much less than the jobs that the Conservatives lost. Tragically, we are now seeing an acceleration in the number of jobs lost. Some 72,000 jobs were lost in a single month. That is more than 2,000 jobs a day and we are seeing a continuation of that in the month of November.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer talked about 100,000 jobs evaporating out of the Canadian economy in the coming months. The Governor of the Bank of Canada talked about a huge slowdown. The government must be looking through rose coloured glasses and pretending that everything is just fine. That is simply not true. Conservatives who doubt it should talk to small business people and to workers right across this country from coast to coast to coast.

Canadian families are worried. They are dealing with historic debt loads that we have not seen in our country's history. We are talking about the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the last few weeks. Nearly two million Canadians are looking for work across this country. One million Canadians have to rely on food banks to make ends meet. Maybe everything is fine and rosy in the Conservatives' Ottawa bubble, but the reality is that Canadians need action. Our role in the House is to put forward powerful solutions to deal with the economic malaise that we are experiencing.

I need to comment on the government's actions around Bill C-13. The budget bill is a 650-page document. It is not the same budget bill that was presented last spring, even though the government does have ways and means orientation on it. We are talking about a 650-page bill and the government's refusal to accept any amendments.

Beyond the government's refusal to accept any amendments, last week it invoked closure. The Conservatives will rise and say it was not closure but time allocation. It is the same thing. They should not try to play with Canadians in that respect. They invoked closure before one second of debate could happen in the House on amendments that had been brought forward.

The Conservatives did allow some discussion on one amendment and then they used their sledgehammer and removed any possibility of even one second of debate on other amendments on a 650-page budget bill that most Conservative MPs have not read.

The government has refused to allow the kind of debate that has been a democratic tradition in this country since well before 1867, even prior to Confederation, but certainly in the House of Commons since 1867. We have not seen closure used to this extent. The government has used closure 7 times in 35 sitting days. It is a record that even the Liberals, at the height of their arrogance, were unable to match. It is appalling.

To tell Canadians that they have no right to hear debate on a 650-page budget bill and that they have no right to hear what amendments were brought forward on the budget bill is doing a disservice to Canadians and showing profound disrespect for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That really is the setting of what the government has done around Bill C-13.

When the Conservatives campaigned last spring, they put on their sweater vests and talked about moderation and about listening to Canadians. They said that they would be a moderate government.

What has happened since May 2 is absolutely the contrary. The Conservatives use closure in a way that we have never seen in the long democratic tradition in this country. They shut down debate not only on a wide variety of bills that could have been better served with more debate and discussion in the House of Commons, but on budget bills as well.

It is a very disturbing development. Last spring the government promised moderation and respect for democratic tradition. However, now that we are getting into the crux of the matter with a vigorous debate on behalf of the 102 members of the NDP official opposition, the government resorts to closure every single time. Why is that?

The government is resorting to closure because it loses the debates. As we bring forward our ideas, we talk about the content of what is being brought forward by the government. The Conservatives realize that their arguments, the talking points from the Prime Minister's Office, simply do not hold weight. The government could extend sitting hours or use a number of alternatives to allow for a democratic debate to take place, but it chooses the sledgehammer of shutting down that debate.

I just came back from British Columbia and I certainly heard great and growing concern on the part of Canadians that our debate and our rights as democratically elected representatives in the House of Commons are systematically being shut down. It is something that is increasingly worrisome to Canadians.

Let us examine the context of the bill that the government refuses to debate and has invoked closure on. As well, any discussion at the amendment stage and debate at third reading will be shut down within a few hours.

Before the government brings the sledgehammer down at the end of this afternoon, the reality is that this is an austerity budget brought forward at a time when we are experiencing economic slowdown. There were 72,000 full-time jobs lost in the month of October alone--this at a time when nearly two million Canadians are looking for work.

Over the last few years, we have seen a steady erosion in the quality of jobs available in the Canadian economy. We reference this point in the House continually. Conservatives can deny it, but Statistics Canada is very clear that the jobs the Conservatives lost paid more than the few jobs they managed to create.

The Conservative government created less than 200,000 jobs over the course of the last three and half years, since May 2008. This was at a time when the labour market grew because our population grew by 450,000. The government created barely 200,000 jobs, but lost 72,000 full-time jobs last month alone. The Conservatives were a quarter of a million jobs short even from just maintaining the level of employment that we had in the labour market back in May 2008. We have seen an erosion both in the quantity of jobs and in the quality of jobs. It is a doubleheader.

Also, the Conservatives like to make stuff up. They will throw out a figure from the back of a napkin and say that they have created hundreds of thousands of jobs. These arguments thrown out by the Prime Minister's Office, as happens so often, do not hold water. When we go to the actual Statistics Canada figures since May 2008, we see quite the contrary. Fewer than 200,000 jobs were created, but the labour market grew by 450,000. The employment percentage has gone down by 2% since May 2008. In terms of quality, the jobs created paid $10,000 less than the jobs the Conservatives have thrown away through what I can only call economic mismanagement.

That is the context of the budget, the 650 pages that the Conservative government does not want Canadians to know about. The context of Bill C-13 is that it is a time of economic slowdown.

The Governor of the Bank of Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and many economists agree that we are in a slowdown. The Conservatives can deny the Statistics Canada figures for the month of October, but they have been disastrous. There is no other way to put it. For Conservatives to rise in this House and say that everything is fine and rosy and not to worry about a thing simply belies the reality that is happening on the ground and across this country.

What did the Conservatives then bring forward? They brought forward an austerity budget that, aside from a few small tax credits, will continue massive, significant and ongoing corporate tax cuts. What it means is that for middle-class and poorer Canadian families from coast to coast to coast is that there would be significant cutbacks in the services that they enjoy.

On the one hand, we are talking about billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts for this year, and then, on January 1, even more corporate tax cuts going forward. The Conservatives' only economic strategy is shovelling money out to what are very profitable industrial sectors, but for middle-class and poorer Canadian families, it is cutbacks in services, getting less and having less support. We can talk about a whole range of things, but the reality is that it is an austerity budget.

Was that appropriate last spring? I do not think so. The government promised that it would be listening to Canadians. It is profoundly inappropriate in the fall, as we go through a profound economic shutdown with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, for the government to say, “That is quite all right; we're just going to continue and give more corporate tax-cut spending. We're going to spend another $4 billion on January 1, but we're not going to address the fundamentals underlying the Canadian economy”. Nothing in this budget does that.

What are the fundamentals? We have talked about the job loss. We have talked about the poor-quality jobs that the Conservative government has shepherded in to replace the better-quality jobs it lost. The government has lost family-sustaining jobs and replaced those with low-wage jobs, often part-time, often temporary, though we will never hear Conservatives rising and actually talking about the fact that most of the jobs they are creating are part-time or temporary. They try to put the temporary jobs in with permanent full-time jobs, and that way, on the back of a napkin, they try to mislead Canadians about what is actually happening. However, Canadians are aware of what is happening, because they see the economic slowdown occurring right across the country. They see the layoffs and they see the small businesses having to struggle now.

In British Columbia, one of the biggest problems that our small-business sector has had to contend with over the last few months was the HST imposed by the Conservative government on British Columbians. Thankfully, British Columbians rejected handily the HST in the summer referendum that we forced. We can be thankful for that, because the HST imposed by the Conservatives was just another nail in the coffin for the B.C. economy. As a long-time member of the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce and as a proud member of the Burnaby Board of Trade, I can tell members that this single action led to significant job loss in British Columbia.

The Conservatives' imposition of the HST should never be repeated; however, it is in the same context. They refused to consult with British Columbians in the same way that, on this budget bill, the Conservatives are refusing either to consult the opposition or even to consult Canadians on an austerity budget that is profoundly inappropriate.

What is the other context of what we are going through as a Canadian economy? Far from the pretensions we have heard in the few minutes of debate we have had thus far today on finance and budgetary matters, the IMF has actually said that Canada is among the worst among all industrialized economies--doing worse than Spain and Italy, the economies that are in trouble--for the current account deficit on balance of payments. As members well know, that deficit means that we are importing finished goods, job-creating goods, and exporting raw materials. In their so-called economic management, Conservatives have made a hallmark of shipping raw resources out of this country like there is no tomorrow. They would just ship them out and import finished goods.

Now our current account deficit on balance of payments, which is a key indicator of the health of the Canadian economy, is going to be among the worst in the industrialized world. It is because the government does not understand that shipping raw resources out and importing finished products, value-added products, means over time an erosion in the strength of the Canadian economy. It is worse than Spain and worse than Italy.

Not a single Conservative will address the issue, because they are scared about Canadians finding out the truth about their shipping out raw materials and what that has meant to the overall health of the Canadian economy. In this bill, nothing addresses that fundamental weakness. There is nothing that addresses the fundamental weakness of industrial sector after industrial sector.

I come from British Columbia, where the softwood lumber industry hemorrhaged tens of thousands of jobs after the government signed the softwood lumber agreement, which we have called the softwood lumber sellout. What that did was, again, give priority to the shipment of raw logs out of British Columbia and other regions right across the country. When we look at the forest industry generally, we see that raw log exports have increased substantially. That has happened because the government signed, yet again, an agreement that would facilitate the shipping out of our raw materials. What that means, again, is that our ongoing current account deficit is getting worse and worse.

When we look at the overall economic health of the Canadian economy on the eve of the government's invoking closure in just a few hours on Bill C-13, we see that we have hemorrhaged tens of thousands of jobs in the last few weeks, we have millions of Canadians looking for work and we have poorer quality of jobs. Every job the Conservatives lose, if they replace it, is replaced by one paying much less: almost $1,000 less a month, almost $10,000 less a year.

We have a crisis in exports. The Conservatives love to stand in this House and say that they signed a bunch of agreements and did some ribbon-cutting. That is not an export strategy. They have clearly failed. When we look at the current account deficit on balance of payments, we see that they have clearly failed, and failed worse than any other industrialized country.

Those are figures that tell the truth about what the government has done and what it has not done in dealing with the financial and economic challenges that the country faces.

What is in the bill, what we have, are austerity measures that are not in keeping with our current economic situation at all and that will hurt middle-class and poor Canadian families.

What we have includes the one big initiative that the government has not chosen to reference so far: the elimination of the democratic voting subsidy. As we all know, this per-vote subsidy was a tool in the hands of every single Canadian. They could choose the party that they voted for, and one dollar per vote would basically go to the party of their choice between elections. It is a very democratic, very pragmatic approach to democratizing our political system.

There are also a huge range of tax credits and supports that exist, and the Senate is used as a home of patronage. The Conservatives are not cutting any of those elements. What they are doing in this bill is bringing an end to the one element of political subsidies that actually is democratically distributed. The cost is $30 million, but the government is continuing with nearly $400 million in subsidies that mainly go to the Conservative Party. For shame.

I imagine that is why the government is invoking closure. It is because the only significant budgetary measure that it has is the elimination of the per-vote subsidy. There are a few measures that we support, but the significant one, the elimination of the per-vote subsidy, is another nail in the coffin of democracy under the Conservative government. That is why we are speaking against and voting against Bill C-13.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was quite a list of accusations. I am impressed when I hear all these plans and solutions to the problems.

At the outset I want to say that we in the Conservative government never said that we were not immune to what is happening in the world. However, if we look at the figures, we have 600,000 net jobs of which 80% are full time. I challenge the hon. member to compare that to our closest trading partner, the United States.

The member also talked about the need to increase corporate taxes and the need to address those problems by taxing the corporations.

We sit on the same committee and have heard from a number of these organizations, small and medium businesses from the mining sector, the extraction sector, the banks and the insurance companies. Does the member know of anyone within those sectors who would support the NDP's job-killing plan of raising taxes? Does he have the support of those people who he claims he would be helping by doing these things?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, given that 72,000 full-time jobs were lost in the month of October, one can only say, when looking at Bill C-13 and at the Conservatives' strategy, that they are job-killing plans.

I like the hon. member, and know that he is not preparing the notes. It is the Prime Minister's Office that puts out a figure and then pretends that the government has created x number of jobs.

StatsCan states that from May 2008 the Conservative government has created less than 200,000 jobs and that the labour market grew by 450,000 job seekers. That is not a line from the Conservative Party or the NDP but from StatsCan, the judge that is right. Therefore, the number of job seekers, the unemployed, grew. The reality is that the government was a quarter of a million jobs short from just treading water, from just standing still.

Rather than more corporate tax cuts, we need an intelligent approach that does not cut services to the middle-class and poor Canadian families. That is what we stand for on this side of the House.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about the corporate tax cuts for a second.

In the year 2000, the corporate tax rate was 38% and the Americans' was 36%. Under the Paul Martin government, it was lowered from 38% to 20%, which put us in the middle of the G20 and, in fact, in the middle of the G7 among tax rates.

The present government has dropped it from 20% to 15%. That is taking $16 billion a year out of the fiscal capacity of the government to address the problems that we have today and the problems that I see every day relative to seniors.

We made the proposal to cancel the January 1, 2012, tax cut. We hear all this talk about tens of billions of dollars in costs. Companies are already paying that $3 billion to $4 billion right now. This is not a new tax. Let us talk about the present time. The present time says that we should cancel that because there are things that need to be done.

The government needs a manufacturing strategy going forward to address the infrastructure alone of $130 billion.

I ask the member to comment on that.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek has been a strong advocate for seniors in the country. I commend him for all of the work that he has done on behalf of seniors.

What the Conservatives are saying is that the tens of thousands of seniors living in poverty in the country need to continue living in poverty because it wants to bring in more corporate tax cuts. It is saying to the one million Canadians who rely on food banks just to get through the month that they will need to keep going to food banks because it wants to bring in more corporate tax cuts. It is saying to the 72,000 Canadians who lost full-time jobs in the month of October, almost half of whom will not have access to employment insurance, that it needs to cut their benefits so that it can bring in this further corporate tax cut.

I could go on and talk about prisons and the F-35s.

Speaking as a financial administrator, which is what I was before I came to the House of Commons, I have never seen such appalling bad judgment on spending as we have with the Conservative government. It is more prisons, the F-35s that are untendered and the massive corporate tax cuts.

It is the middle-class and poor Canadian families who are paying the price for the government's irresponsible attitude when it comes to fiscal policy in the country.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want the House to know that the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster is from the city and I am a member for British Columbia from the interior. I have the fifth largest lumber company in the world in my constituency. I constantly speak with the CEO of that company and he tells me about what our government has done to benefit his corporation to be competitive and also all that we have done to help it find new markets for its products. Where it used to send 70% of its product to the United States, now it is sending it to China, with $170 million that our government put forward to help the lumber industry in British Columbia.

The lumber industry in British Columbia right now is at a peak. All the mills are up and running with more than one shift. How can the member say that our policies are not the right policies for British Columbia when that is happening?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am just flabbergasted. The member should know that we lost 50,000 jobs after the government signed the softwood lumber agreement. The exports to the American market have plummetted. For the member to stand and say that everything is rosy in the B.C. forestry industry, I am absolutely amazed that he is that out of touch with his own riding.

I will tell the House about my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, which he referenced. I am very proud to represent the riding. There were 2,000 jobs lost in Burnaby--New Westminster as a result of three mill closures that occurred right after the member's government sold us out and signed the softwood lumber sellout. There were 2,000 direct jobs which means thousands of additional indirect jobs lost when the Conservatives signed the agreement. We told them that would be the impact and just the same they threw away tens of thousands of jobs in the softwood lumber industry. That was probably one of the most irresponsible acts of what has been a very irresponsible government.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member earlier say something in relation to value added to jobs. I want to talk particularly about refining and upgrading capacity in our country. He mentioned that he had ideas and thought that we should add more jobs to Canadian industry. As he knows, refining and upgrading is one of the most unprofitable sectors of the oil and gas industry. In fact, most of the technology today found throughout North America is 50 years old or more.

I know the NDP always suggests that it stands up for environmental concerns, but if we are going to add more jobs to what is the number one industry in Canada right now, which is oil and gas, we need to do so by upgrading and refining. I wonder how we can do that being that it takes 8 to 10 years to build one of these facilities at a cost of $8 billion to $10 billion and they are simply not profitable. That is why in North America very little upgrading or refining capacity has been done in the last 50 years.

I wonder what rules the member would suggest we bend, where he would put these refining and upgrading capacities and how we would encourage companies to build them through tax credits or through ACCA. How would he suggest we do that?

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the member asked me that question. What we have seen over the last seven years is the increasing number of New Democrats on this side of the House because we have been talking about a green economy and the development of green jobs. We have put together very specific proposals.

What has happened is that more and more Canadians voted, first 19 seats, then 36 and now 103 ridings are represented by New Democrats, in part, because people have responded very positively to what we have said we will do, in building a green economy and putting those green jobs together that many other countries around the world are already prospering from.

However, what we would not do is put in place and try to fast-track in the way the government has the Keystone pipeline. That would lead to a net loss, as the member well knows as he did an economic evaluation of it, of 18,000 jobs that would be shipped over the border, and that is not even the environmental impact. When we look at that, people can see that we stand for green jobs and a green economy and the government stands for shipping jobs across the border.

Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-13, the second implementation bill for budget 2011.

I want to speak to some of the unfair elements of this bill. We think it is wrong that the Conservatives continue to exclude the lowest income Canadians from budget measures that are designed to help Canadians by introducing programs, like the tax credits for family caregivers, volunteer firefighters and children's arts activity, and then only making them available to some Canadians while completely leaving out those who are most in need: low-income Canadians who will not qualify for these measures because these tax credits are non-refundable. We think that is wrong and that it will weaken Canadian society by increasing the already growing gap between the rich and the poor in Canada. It will contribute to a reduction in the equality of opportunity that is so fundamental to Canadians and Canadian values.

I will speak today to some of the economic challenges facing Canadian society and how measures introduced by the Conservatives will actually serve to reduce economic opportunities for some Canadians who are already disadvantaged during these difficult global economic times. I then will provide some examples of how a Liberal government would do things differently.

There is a rising income gap under the Conservative government. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing in Canada. A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada shows that income inequality is rising even faster in Canada than in the U.S. The Conference Board's July 2011 study helps to provide some context by discussing why growing income gaps are a problem. It pointed out the following:

—high inequality can diminish economic growth if it means that the country is not fully using the skills and capabilities of all its citizens or if it undermines social cohesion, leading to increased social tensions. Second, high inequality raises a moral question about fairness and social justice.

Again, that quote was from the Conference Board of Canada's July 2011 study.

Lower incomes can also lead to shorter life expectancies. A 2010 report from McMaster University found that the life expectancy of someone living in the wealthiest neighbourhood in Hamilton, Ontario, is 21 years longer than someone living in the poorest neighbourhoods of Hamilton, as an example. Rising income inequality, in terms of economic output, will increase costs in health care at a time when we already have a demographic bubble, or time bomb as some refer to it, in terms of the aging of our population and the commensurate increases in health care costs that will bring.

In 2008, in terms of economic output, a group of economists, including Don Drummond, estimated that poverty costs Canada between $72 billion and $86 billion per year in higher costs for health care, the criminal justice system and lost economic productivity.

One of the largest contributors to growing income gaps in Canada is the persistently high levels of unemployment and underemployment facing low-income Canadians. The reality is that we have almost 600,000 fewer full-time jobs than three years ago in August 2008. There is a significant gap geographically in Canada in terms of how individual economies are doing. If people happen to live in Saskatchewan or Alberta, resource rich provinces, provinces where people had the vision, foresight and wisdom to put oil and gas under the ground and, in some cases, smart enough to put potash under the ground as well, their economic situation is very different from that of places in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

We are seeing In this global economic restructuring the type of recovery in Canada that does not benefit all Canadians. In fact, a commodity led recovery, which is driving the Canadian dollar, for all intents and purposes, increasingly an oil and gas or commodity-based dollar, higher and, at the same time, as a result of that higher dollar, crowding out value-added jobs in other regions. While high commodity prices can disproportionately benefit some parts of Canada and some sectors in Canada, it is driving out a lot of manufacturing jobs, value-added jobs.

We just had an announcement of a permanent closure in my riding of the Fundy Gypsum Company. Part of the reason for that was the higher Canadian dollar in recent years that made its exports to the U.S. less competitive.

We have seen a lot of manufacturing jobs lost in my riding, food processing jobs, such as at Canard poultry and Larsen, close to my riding. We have seen a lot of losses in jobs in my riding. I latest information if have if that in Kings county, Hants county and Annapolis county, which is my riding and part of the riding next door, have 6,400 fewer jobs than in August 2008. The unemployment figures for Annapolis, Kings and Hants counties reached 7.8% in October 2011 compared to 5% in September 2008. That is almost a 3% increase in unemployment in my riding and half of the next riding, the riding of West Nova.

We are seeing it in our communities. We are seeing it in the small business community. The owner of a restaurant in Windsor, Nova Scotia told me recently that it had the worst year in 20 years. When people have lost their full-time jobs and have seen them replaced with part-time work, they cannot afford to take their families out for breakfast on a Saturday morning or for supper on a Friday night.

We have a responsibility in the House of Commons to evaluate how the economy and families are doing across Canada, not just look at the macro numbers, but look across the country and consider the plight of families in some of the regions. One of the realities is that during this technical recovery, this statistical recovery, many Canadians are still facing a deep human recession.

The other thing to realize is that before the markets tumbled back in August 2008, 17,366,000 Canadians had jobs. In October 2011, and these are the latest figures available from Stats Canada, that number stood at 17,402,300 jobs. However, that includes almost 600,000 net fewer full-time jobs lost in Canada over the last three years.

This issue has contributed as well to the growth of household debt. We are now at record levels of household debt in Canada, largely because Canadians are trying to replace their lost income from losing their full-time jobs with income from part-time jobs. They are having a lot of challenges making ends meet. They are seeing their costs going up on an ongoing basis and their pay going down as they are replacing full-time work with part-time jobs.

The reality is the household debt levels in Canada is $1.51 for ever $1 of annual income in Canada right now. That is actually higher than the family indebtedness in the U.S, record highs for Canadian households.

Canadians are worried about how they will pay the bills next month and they are petrified about what will happen at some point in the future when interest rates start to rise, which they inevitably will.

Within the context of rising inequality, the Conservatives have gone ahead and introduced a number of tax measures in budget 2011 that will actually worsen the situation by deliberately excluding low-income Canadians. We have repeatedly asked, both at finance committee and in the House of Commons, that the Conservatives make a family caregiver tax credit, the volunteer firefighter tax credit and the children's arts tax credits refundable so all Canadians can qualify, but the Conservatives have steadfastly refused.

I want to be clear. We support a family caregiver tax credit and a volunteer firefighters tax credit. In reality, it was the Liberal Party that proposed both of those before the Conservative Party. We proposed those tax measures because we felt a lot of families were struggling with aging and ailing loved ones, trying to keep them in their homes, and they needed the help.

Many communities, including my own communities in places like Summerville and Brooklyn, Hants county and Wolfville and Kentville, have a lot of volunteer firefighters. It is harder and harder to attract volunteer firefighters. Frankly, they are paying a financial cost. They are risking their lives and struggling to keep the fire departments viable.

We believe very strongly in a family caregiver tax credit and a volunteer firefighters tax credit. In our platform, we had both of those, but we had made them refundable. The reason they need to be, and ought to be, refundable is that by making them non-refundable, as the Conservatives have done, it perversely means that the lowest-income volunteer firefighters and family caregivers will not receive benefit. There is no way we can defend, economically or morally, that the lowest-income volunteer firefighters and family caregivers would not benefit from these measures. It is fundamentally wrong. I see families struggling to take care of loved ones now.

It is one of the issues I hear from constituents on an increasing basis, as we have an aging population, and the rural communities in the Maritimes are aging disproportionately. We have lost a lot of young people who have gone to other parts of the country for work. Therefore, in many cases, we have fewer young people to help out mom or dad, or granddad or grandmom stay in their homes. The burden on the people who are left behind, the family members and the caregivers, is immense. The VON does an extraordinary job helping a lot of people in my riding in Nova Scotia, but it can only do so much.

My mom and dad have a home care person who comes in a couple of times a week. She does remarkable work in helping my parents stay in their own home. My dad is 88 and my mom is 82 and she has Alzheimer's. I see how hard the home care workers are working and the difference they are making.

I see the sacrifice my sister makes. She is, for all intents and purposes, the family caregiver to my parents. There are three sons and then there is my sister. I can tell members that, disproportionately, the burden goes to the daughters in a family when it comes to these situations. That is unfair, but I see it. I know my sister would qualify, based on her income, for the family caregiver tax credit. However, it is not fair that some other person's sister or some other person's daughter, who takes time away from her work to take care of an elderly mother or father, would not benefit. That is fundamentally wrong.

I would like to see other family caregivers benefit from this measure, particularly, low-income caregivers. In my sister's case, she has taken time off work so she can help mom and dad in their home, so she is seeing a decrease in her income. That is happening to a lot of families across Nova Scotia and Canada. It is wrong that the caregivers in those lowest-income families would not benefit from this program designed to help caregivers and to help seniors and people who face long-term illness stay in their own homes longer.

Frankly, it would take a lot of burden off the provincial health care system if we could help people stay in their own homes. In most cases, the cost of putting people in nursing homes or long-term care families is a lot more than keeping them at home. Therefore, from the perspective of long-term fiscal policy, it is important for both federal and provincial governments to do everything they can to help people stay in their own homes.

I focused a lot on the disparity and unfairness of making these tax credits unavailable to low-income caregivers and volunteer firefighters. It is unfair, but it is also nonsensical from an economic perspective. It makes no sense socially, economically or morally.

Susan Eng, vice president of CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, has said:

We...encourage (the government) to put forward a refundable tax credit, particularly for the more narrow segments of caregivers who perform 24/7 care. Those are the people who have had to quit their jobs...to look after families. They are not going to be in a position to benefit from a non-refundable tax credit.

That is from one of the largest organizations representing senior citizens in Canada.

Nadine Henningsen, president of the Canadian Caregiver Coalition, told the finance committee:

—convert the non-refundable credits to refundable credits, so that all Canadians with caregiver-related costs, regardless of income, will benefit from these tax measures.

Again, there is broad-based support for making these credits refundable from the people who understand caregiving the most, the Canadian Caregiver Coalition, and from the biggest organization representing Canadian seniors, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

At some level the Conservatives must recognize that there is a moral imperative to make these tax credits refundable so they are available to all deserving Canadians.

In their last election platform the Conservatives promised to make the Canadian fitness tax credit refundable so that low income Canadians could also qualify. However, they have only promised to include low income Canadians once the budget is balanced.

We know from the minister's latest oops moment, kind of like Governor Perry, with his budget number that it is going to be 2015 or 2016 by the time the budget is balanced. That is based on their latest numbers, but the minister has missed every target he has set. In fact, he inherited a $13 billion surplus and spent Canada into a deficit even before the downturn. He increased spending by 18%, three times the rate of inflation, and put Canada into a deficit even before the 2008 crash. He promised a balanced budget in the fall of 2008 and a few months later delivered a record high $56 billion deficit.

Therefore, it is hard for us to count on the minister's projections, but for low-income Canadians who are being promised some tax relief once the budget has been balanced, it is very hard for them to count on or wait for that inevitable balancing.

I also want to speak on the EI payroll tax increase of January. The minister confirmed that EI premiums would be increased by $600 million in January. With stubbornly high unemployment in many parts of the country, it makes no sense for the government to be increasing payroll taxes at this time. That is why we called for a payroll tax freeze and EI premium freeze at this time. It does not make sense to increase what is effectively a job-killing payroll tax at a time of high unemployment.

We also believe that we have to take a serious look at the Conservatives' plan that they introduced to force the EI system to self-balance over a short period of time. What that means is that it perversely actually increases EI premiums at times of high unemployment. It makes no sense to increase job killing payroll taxes at exactly the time when we need to either freeze them or potentially even decrease them. We need to have a longer horizon for self-balancing.

I also spoke with Jack Mintz, who spoke to a group of us recently. Jack Mintz says that we need a focus on overall tax reform in Canada. We need to simplify and streamline the Canadian tax code. My leader, the hon. member for Toronto Centre, has called for the same. We need to have a long-term focus on building a fairer and more competitive Canadian tax system, streamlining and simplifying the tax system, not making it more complex with boutique tax credits that do not benefit the lowest income Canadians.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague was in the House when the infamous fiscal update was delivered at the beginning of the largest recession since the Depression. The Minister of Finance said that Canada was not in debt, but according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer we were already starting to slip into billions of dollars in debt. The Conservatives' solution to the threat of Canada joining a world depression was that they would sell off public buildings and have no stimulus. That, of course, precipitated the situation where the other parties expressed clear lack of confidence and the Conservatives were forced to turn around. Within a month, they came back and we were suddenly $30 billion to $50 billion to $60 billion in debt. I do not think anybody in history has spent money as fast as they have done.

Why should we have any faith in the Minister of Finance who one month said Canada was not going to be in debt at all, that we were going to ride out the crisis, and within two months the Conservatives were spending what they said was $10 billion but they wracked it up to $50 billion in about six months? The Conservatives still have not explained how they are going to get us back to an economically fiscal plan. Their numbers seem to be in contradiction to everything we hear from the Parliamentary Budget Officer or anything we hear from the private sector.

Could my hon. colleague explain?

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has been very active on the G8 and G20 spending file, perhaps one of the greatest misappropriations of public tax dollars in the history of the country.

I remember that now infamous fall 2008 economic statement where the finance minister claimed there would be a $100 million surplus. In a federal budget, $100 million is almost a rounding error. The only way he was able to reach that minuscule little baby surplus was to sell off $10 billion of assets. I remember day after day we asked the minister to produce a list of the assets that the government was going to sell. He never presented that list of assets because there was no list of assets. The government had effectively created this notion that there was going to be an asset disposal. It never created a list.

As a minister of public works in the past, I know it takes about two years to go from having a list of assets to actually implementing a sale. The government made up those figures to try to pretend it had a surplus and in fact it did not.

The member is quite right. It is very hard to have faith in the government's budget numbers or projections.

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed my hon. colleague's remarks because we actually heard some facts. The member expanded on the tax credits. We have long supported the firefighters' tax credits and other tax credits. The government continues the message on them as if they are going to benefit all people, when really they do not apply to low-income people who provide the same service.

I wonder if my colleague could expand on that. Just what does the government have against assisting people with lower income, and are there other examples?

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Malpeque also represents rural and small town communities like mine. He knows that a lot of the volunteer firefighters in rural and small town Canada are people who are not making a lot of money. They are people who are struggling barely to get by. They are people who, in a lot of cases, are raising families on less than $20,000 a year and will not benefit from these non-refundable measures.

Again, anyone in this House, regardless of the politics of his or her party, has to understand that it is fundamentally wrong that low income Canadians would get less of a benefit than middle class or higher income Canadians. This applies to the volunteer firefighters and the caregivers. It also applies to children playing sports. Let us think about this. We all know that the cost of hockey, soccer, and any other sport has gone up. Kids need to have good activities to have healthy minds and bodies and to have a good and productive life. These tax credits are designed to help kids in sports, music and the arts, but they will not benefit children of low income families. That is particularly wrong. It increases the inequality of opportunity that is so menacing to a lot of Canadian families.

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, regularly in this House we hear the Conservatives talk about the stable majority government. Some 60% of Canadians voted against the government. One of the reasons I think a fair number of them did was that in our election platform, and in the Liberal platform, there was mention of a $700 million increase to the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. In our case it would have applied to 300,000 seniors who take in less than $15,200 a year. The response from the Conservatives was $50 a month. That is about what the HST has taken out of people's pockets already.

I would like to hear a response from the member. Our suggestion was $200 a month to at least get these folks up to the poverty line.