House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for my colleague on the government side. Employment insurance is intended to protect against loss or termination of employment. Both the employee and the employer pay premiums. The federal government does not contribute a cent to the employment insurance program. The only role it plays is that of employment insurance fund manager. The Liberals were accused of siphoning off $58 billion from this fund at the expense of seasonal workers.

Moreover, 60% of people who pay into the employment insurance system are women and young people. We need a government that is prepared to have an independent fund established and run by those people who contribute to it, a government that will deliver genuine insurance by enhancing the employment insurance system.

And yet what is the Conservative Party doing in this budget? It has announced up front that it intends to siphon off $17 billion from the employment insurance fund over the next five years. My remarks are therefore directed at those voters who are watching us today. They will have a choice to make. It is our hope that they will vote in Quebec for the Bloc Québécois because its members are the only ones who stand behind workers, the unemployed and seasonal workers. They are here in Ottawa to condemn the misuse of the employment insurance fund by both the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague brings up a very important point, especially when he noted that Liberals made very liberal use of this particular fund and moved the funds into general coffers.

One of the first things our government did was to create an arm's-length group to manage this fund. We made it arm's-length but also recognized that it was important for people like the self-employed to have access. Single mothers who have businesses now have access to this particular fund.

We believe things like job sharing are absolutely critical. We made important changes to make work sharing better, but we certainly do not believe in a 45-day work year.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said that there was a lot of consultation done on this budget. I have listened to a lot of British Columbians and they have told me they absolutely do not want the HST. They want affordable housing, quality child care and help with affordability issues of all types that are not addressed by the budget. Seniors have said that they need more than $50 a month given to 50% of seniors living in poverty.

I am wondering if the member heard any of those voices when she did her consultation.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad I have the opportunity to respond very directly to this question.

Since the 1990s, the federal government has always had the role of facilitating what the provinces wanted to do in terms of the HST and we have done that. We have also stated very clearly that British Columbia is going to have a referendum and we are going to respect the decisions made at that time. The member is being very misleading when he talks in terms of British Columbia.

I would also like to talk about the economic action plan and what it has done for affordable housing throughout British Columbia. The member complains about the signs, but perhaps he has not read the signs because there are many signs throughout British Columbia with respect to affordable housing projects. We have made significant progress both urban and rural in terms of where we are going with affordable housing.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Mount Royal.

I rise today in the House to take part in the debate in response to this government’s very disappointing budget.

The media, the business and academic communities have all reached the same conclusion as we have on this side of the House. This is a lame duck budget and we give it a failing grade.

This budget is being called “a kind of half-hearted effort, incremental in nature, designed for political effect”.

These are not my words, these are the words of Christopher Dunn, an academic at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. He went on to say that there was some nominal social spending targeted at specific voters to “leave an impression of a government that hadn't forgot about average voters without actually doing that much for them”.

The official opposition leader put it very succinctly in his question to the government yesterday when he said:

Mr. Speaker, spending billions of dollars on stealth fighters, corporate tax cuts and mega prisons means the Canadian family has to be shortchanged.

There is nothing in the budget on affordable housing. There is nothing in it on child care. There is nothing to support our health system. These are the priorities of Canadian families.

Why is the Prime Minister out of touch and out of control?

How does the government fail to support Canadian seniors? On page 109 of the budget document, low income seniors are expected to get a guaranteed income supplement of $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. Single recipients with an annual income, other than old age security and guaranteed income supplement, of $2,000 or less, and couples with an annual income of $4,000 or less will get the full amount of the benefit.

What is shocking about this is that the government is not making these increases permanent given that the benefit will be clawed back when the annual income level reaches $4,000 for singles and $7,360 for couples.

Residents in my riding of Laval—Les Îles pointed out to me that in real dollars, eligible seniors would receive exactly $1.20 per day. Obviously the Prime Minister has not gone grocery shopping for a long time. Otherwise, he would have noticed that milk costs $3.79 and sometimes up to $5.00. So, $1.20 will not even be enough to buy a quart of milk.

Let us imagine the Prime Minister or any of his cabinet members trying to live on that type of income with bread an average $3 a loaf; eggs, $2.69 a dozen; apples at $3.34 a kilogram; canned salmon at $3.15 for 213 grams. These were average prices in 2010.

What is the government's real commitment to supporting families and communities? The budget documents says:

The Government recognizes the contributions seniors have made and is committed to ensuring that they continue to have a good quality of life.

I am quoting the finance minister's own words.

Let me congratulate the finance minister and his team for co-opting my private member's bill, Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age), which was reported to Parliament last Monday, as one of their priorities within the budget.

The budget indicated that the government clearly supports my bill, since the Minister of Finance wrote on page 112 of that document that:

The government proposes to introduce amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to prohibit federally regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age unless there is a bona fide occupational requirement. This would allow Canadians to choose how long they wish to remain active in the labour force. The government will review other acts to further this objective.

If the government truly believes what it says, why does it want to introduce a new bill when my private member's bill has already gone through committee?

Why the delaying tactics? I strongly urge the government to pass the legislation through Parliament and the Senate as quickly as possible, instead of waiting to create a new piece of legislation. Let me take the opportunity at this time to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour, members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and my colleagues on both sides of the House for their support in getting this bill as far as it has gone in the legislative process.

I want to remind the government that the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, on which I am a member, undertook a major study on poverty in Canada. The report, which contained 59 recommendations, was tabled in the House on November 17, 2010. How did the minister respond? The government's response was to refuse every recommendation the committee proposed and it is a government that purports to value families.

The budget could have been a golden opportunity to state clearly that the government would immediately implement recommendation 3.1.1 of the standing committee's report and put in place a federal action plan to reduce poverty in Canada. Instead, we have a budget that ignores families and a budget that ignores children. Canadian parents are still waiting on the promised 250,000 child care spaces for their children, which have never materialized.

A Liberal government will return corporate tax rates to 2010 levels and tackle the deficit while strengthening Canadian families with investments in the following measures: a real family care plan, with a six-month family care EI benefit, and a new refundable tax benefit for working families worth up to $1,350 per year.

The Conservative budget provides no EI benefits, but rather a paltry tax credit that does nothing for low-income caregivers and is worth only $300 a year.

We are also proposing improvements to public pensions, by strengthening the base Canada Pension Plan with gradual increases to benefits and creating an option for topping-up savings with a new supplemental CPP, instead of just a modest GIS benefit that works out to only $1.20 per eligible senior a day.

The Liberals are also proposing support for learning and training, so that all Canadians who get the grades can get the skills they need to get quality, full-time jobs, instead of the paltry $34 per student that the Conservative government is offering. We are proposing quality, affordable early learning and child care, to give our kids the head start they need by offering working families a real choice when they need to find child care spaces for their kids.

What does the Conservative budget propose? It is offering just $75 per year for art classes.

My colleagues and I fully intend to vote against this budget.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have the privilege of working with the member on the human resources committee.

I would like to ask the member how she will explain to the people of Saskatchewan and across Canada that she is voting against $1,182 per Saskatchewan resident. She will be voting against $2,000 for caregivers. That is $13 million for Saskatchewan families. She will be voting against a $500 per year art tax credit for middle-class families. That is $19 million for Saskatchewan families.

In my riding, no Liberal candidate has been named. Does the member care about Saskatchewan? Do you care about what you are voting against for Saskatchewan? What will your answer be—

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. I would remind all hon. members to direct their comments and questions to the Chair rather than to one another.

The hon. member for Laval—Les Îles has the floor.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

March 24th, 2011 / 4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member to our committee. I say “our committee” because I have been sitting on it for a long time and I hope that she will have the chance to sit on it because it does a great deal of work. The report on poverty, to which I have referred, is the first of its kind in the House of Commons. It took a long time to produce it. We met with hundreds of people right across Canada.

Although I care a great deal for the people of Saskatchewan, we all need to look beyond one province and look to the population of all of Canada from sea to sea to sea.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, for several years, the Bloc Québécois has been talking about its pre-budget consultations. It is asking the Minister of Finance for an increase in the guaranteed income supplement, which should be given automatically. If someone files a tax return and does not apply for the guaranteed income supplement, the government will not pay it. When the Bloc Québécois raised this issue, thousands of people who were entitled to the guaranteed income supplement were not receiving it. It should be automatic.

As well, the federal government should raise old age security. Seniors are increasingly being asked to stay in their homes as long as possible, with their families. Those people pay the same price for a pound of butter and a quart of milk, as the hon. member said, as everyone else. The Fédération des travailleurs du Québec has a program called “Une retraite à l’abri des soucis”—worry-free retirement—which the Bloc Québécois supports. My union representative on the north shore, Bertrand Méthot, will definitely be happy with my speech today on the budget.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, income security is an extremely sensitive issue. We have made representations to several ministers. I have done so myself, to enable all Canadians to have access to this program automatically.

At the time, we were told it was too complicated. I never understood that answer. It seems to me that today, in the 21st century, we can work miracles with computers. I firmly believe, as my colleague does, that when it comes to income security, the people who are entitled to it should receive it automatically.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Pursuant to Standing Order 38, I must advise the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie, Champlain Bridge; the hon. member for Malpeque, Agriculture and Agri-Food; the hon. member for Western Arctic, Air Transportation.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise on behalf of the residents of my wonderful riding of Mount Royal, my remarks anchored in their values and visions, their principles and priorities for the budget, for the riding, for Quebec and for this great country, Canada. A budget is not only a financial statement, it is a statement of values. It is not only a balance sheet, it is a set of priorities. As the Minister of Finance himself put it, it is a matter of balancing the needs, in effect, identifying the priorities and of making choices.

These needs and these priorities were shared with me by my constituents on February 10 of this year on a prebudget consultation and then again at a second town hall meeting on March 17. They spoke to me and shared with me the importance of the needs of health care, to use the Minister of Finance's words, a cross cutting concern across this country, of the needs of early learning and child care, of the needs of access to higher education and of access to justice. They spoke of the concerns of seniors, a disproportionate number of whom inhabit my riding. They spoke of pensions and poverty, of the fact that 700,000 seniors in this country are living in poverty. They spoke of the need of a clean environment, of the need to invest in green technology. They spoke of the need for jobs, for social housing, for social justice, and always is the test of a just society is how it treats the most vulnerable in its midst.

What then do we find when we look at this budget? We find a budget that is disconnected from those needs that I have just shared and that my constituents shared with me. We find a budget of trinkets that has a kind of electoral orientation to it, but without a comprehensive strategy for health care, without a comprehensive strategy for environment protection, without a comprehensive strategy for early learning and child care and without a comprehensive strategy for jobs and for taking care of the poor. It is a budget, in a word, that is out of touch with the needs of not only of my constituents as they shared them with me at a prebudget consultation and which I then conveyed to the Minister of Finance on their behalf, but with the priorities of Canadians, as well as of my constituents.

When we look at the budget, what do we find? We find $30 billion that is part of fiscal planning for an untendered contract for the purchase of F-35 jets. I must say, and it is a matter of interest and note, that at the prebudget consultation on February 10, I then shared with my constituents that the cost at that time, as it was conveyed to us, was $16 billion. I then said that I thought it was much higher, probably $21 billion. We learned last week from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, after an international peer review, that it is $30 billion, confirmed just yesterday out of the Pentagon.

The issue is not whether or not we need fighter jets. I have respect for the needs and the security of this country. The question is whether we should be spending $30 billion and rising in an untendered contract that even the Pentagon has said that the costs are rising and where an international peer review itself suggested that we need an open, competitive contract with respect to this particular budget item.

I have more. Some $15 billion have been set aside for the building of megaprisons at a time that crime is declining. I have to say, as a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, that I, too, was concerned with the question of crime. However, I knew that one of the ways to address the question of crime was to address it in terms of crime prevention. However, at the same time as there are $15 billion for megaprisons, which may be even be more but we do not have the full disclosure of the costs, we find that the budget with regard to crime prevention is declining.

We have $6 billion of corporate tax cuts for the very rich at the very time that we have 700,000 seniors who are living in poverty.

In a word, to borrow the Minister of Finance's own statement in terms of what are the relative needs, what is the basis of comparative need, I put this to the House on behalf of my constituents and Canadian citizens, to look at in terms of the Minister of Finance's prism and ask these questions in terms of comparative need.

This budget spends one thousand times more on fighter jets than it does on post-secondary students; one thousand times more on megaprisons than it does on youth crime prevention; more for a single day of the G20 than in a year for seniors given a paltry sum of $1.20 a day; more on partisan advertising than on family care; and regrettably nothing for child care.

Yet we are asked to support a budget that has $6 billion of tax breaks for the 5% rich. I was part of a government and I sat in a cabinet that reduced corporate taxes from 29% to 21%. I am not saying we do not reduce corporate taxes. I understand the validity. However, we did it at a time when we had eight successive budgetary surpluses. We did it at a time when we bequeathed to the Conservatives, when we were defeated, a budgetary $14 billion surplus. We do not do it at a time when we have the highest budgetary deficit of $56 billion and we do not do it with respect to the very rich 5%, while those in need are in fact given paltry crumbs. That is the point.

We are asked again for a $30 billion fiscal planning in an untendered contract for the jets when, at this point, $30 billion would be an annual cost for health care. We are asked for some $15 billion for megaprisons at the same time when not only is crime declining, but the proposed budget with regard to crime prevention also has been cut. As someone who has served as a former minister of justice and attorney general, these are wrong priorities. These are inverted values. This is disconnected from the needs of our country. This is disconnected from the needs of my constituents.

Moreover, the cost of the government's core spending priorities, these megaprisons and untendered contracts for fighter jets and corporate tax cuts for the very special rich, were not even included in the budget, thereby further undermining the very credibility of it. In fact, it is a stealth budget. It may not be surprising that it is a stealth budget that has $30 billion that we cannot see for F-35 stealth planes. This came the day after a damning parliamentary report that recommended the government be found in contempt of Parliament for hiding this information.

It is not just a matter of not sharing the cost and not making a full disclosure so Canadians can make an assessment of the validity of the costs in the budget. Not to share that information is to show contempt for Parliament, for my constituents and for the Canadian people. That is why a parliamentary committee found the government in contempt, without precedent in that regard.

What we need and what we do not have in the budget is a comprehensive strategy on what Canadians care about, namely health care; a comprehensive strategy on what Canadians care about, namely early learning and child care; a comprehensive strategy with regard to access to higher education; a comprehensive strategy with regard to jobs and combatting poverty; a comprehensive strategy with regard to the needs of Canadians in terms of social justice, affordable housing and the like. We do not have these things in the budget.

I regret that the government had an opportunity to look after the real authentic needs of Canadians. The Minister of Finance spoke about the fact that this was a budget based on needs. However, the tragedy is the authentic needs of Canadians are ignored and it is a budget disconnected from Canadians.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I encourage the member opposite to read an article that just came out at one o'clock today with regard to the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, which is supportive of budget 2011. I encourage him to read that as he spouts off a need to do something for health care.

The member brags about his time in cabinet and his time as a justice minister. It is unfortunate that I have to bring up the Liberal record yet again. While he was cabinet, there was a commitment made that led to the disappearance of $1 billion in an HRSDC boondoggle. As well, $363 million were taken during adscam. Yet we still do not know what happened to $40 million of it. I ask the member if he could possibly help us find that and put it further to the poverty issues that he says need to be addressed.

There was also a commitment by his cabinet, $2 million for a gun registry, that ended up costing Canadians over $2 billion, $2 billion that could have been used more wisely.

This government has done enormous things to ensure that poverty-stricken Canadians are going to live a better life. I would implore the member to answer this question. What does he plan to do in answer to those Canadians, particularly the seniors, who are begging to see this budget go forward?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to respond to the questions and comments of the hon. member.

First, with regard to medicine, if we speak to people in medicine across our country, and I have, with regard to the questions of tax credits for doctors who will go into the rural areas, which we support, they will tell us is that the document lacks a comprehensive strategy with regard to health care. I spoke to that.

What it lacks is a comprehensive strategy with regard to early learning and child care. What it lacks is a basis of assessment on comparative need.

There are $30 billion for fighter jets, when the annual budget with regard to health care is $30 billion in our country. We are talking about that. We are talking about comparative need. We are talking about whether one cares about the needs of Canadians.

I did not brag about what I did as a minister of justice. I just said that a minister of justice, and every other cabinet minister, as well as every MP, has a constitutional responsibility for oversight. Whether one is a government MP or an opposition MP, members have a constitutional responsibility to disclose the information that is needed to make an informed judgment and a constitutional responsibility to get up and hold the government to account.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question, through you, to the speaker who just spoke about homelessness and social housing.

I urge the government to leaf through the books of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which is a federal crown corporation. It will see the billions of dollars in surplus that the corporation is raking in. That money could be invested in society and in building social housing.

I also urge the federal government and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to work with the Société d'habitation du Québec (SHQ), which works in turn with the municipal housing offices.

When I was a municipal councillor in Hauterive and Baie-Comeau, the municipal housing office’s waiting lists were extremely long. The people on those lists are people with low incomes.

Personally, I think that the 2011 budget does not meet the expectations of low-income families when it comes to housing for seniors and people with disabilities.

I would like the speaker who spoke before me to answer this question. Could the money that is lying idle in the government be invested in society, through investments in social housing?