House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me first congratulate the member for Papineau on his re-election. We look forward to working with him and all members on the issues that he has just now identified.

He will know that the New Democratic Party is the only party that has submitted legislation to the House of Commons that would address the very issues of which he has spoken. I believe that is legislation that would have wide support across the country. Therefore, I would hope he would be supporting our initiatives in that area which would really help to tackle the crisis of student debt and ensure that post-secondary education, working with the provinces and understanding fully the constitutional framework within which we operate in that area, is able to be addressed by our national government in the appropriate fashion.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the other day I met a man at Tim Hortons who told me he was going back to work underground at the mine at age 68 because his pension was not sufficient for him and his wife to live on. He said, “I paid into this system my whole life and I thought the government would be there for me”.

I see the budget and I see the government is there for the CEOs. I see the government is there for the big banks.

I would like to ask the leader of our party why he thinks the budget is not there for the millions of working Canadian people who do not have a proper pension so that they can live their lives in dignity?

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Timmins—James Bay on his re-election. His tireless representation of the workers in northern Ontario and the first nations communities there is well known across the country. We are glad that he is back.

I have a short answer to his question and it is that it boils down to blinders on ideology. The economic policy of the government essentially is predicated on the notion of sink or swim. That is too bad for someone who decides to go back to work after having worked all of his or her life in the mine. It is too bad for the individual and his or her co-workers who have to go back to work at age 68. Why not 75? Why not 85? The government's philosophy is that it is a tough world out there and one just has to make his or her own way.

We have a different view. We believe that together we can actually create instruments of policies, programs and strategies that can give us a dignified and secure retirement. Seniors are not looking to live high off the hog. I do not know any senior who wants to be able to live the life of luxury. All they are looking for is to be able to cover their housing and their food costs and be able to enjoy a little recreation and have something left over to give a gift to a grandchild every now and again.

We need to have a properly functioning Canada pension plan so that we are not held for ransom by the gamblers who want to roll the dice and take their bonuses and too bad if we lose money. They win either way.

That is the philosophy that the government is bringing to the issue of retirement security. It is wrong. We should make sure that the Canada pension plan is strengthened. We have a golden opportunity to do that in the next number of months with most provinces onside for this idea. We should make that a top priority for the House of Commons.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse
Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here for a third term, thanks to the support of my constituents in Lévis—Bellechasse and Les Etchemins. I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition recognizes the excellent measures in our budget, particularly for our veterans with the helmets to hardhats program, as well as sales tax harmonization, which is an important issue for many Quebeckers.

However, he now has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of 680,000 seniors by increasing the guaranteed income supplement by $600 per year for single seniors and up to $840 per year for couples. The people of my riding have been waiting for this measure for weeks and months, if not years. We have seen this budget before. We, the members of this House, have the opportunity today to pass this budget before the summer recess, in order to deliver real change that will help our seniors and to adopt measures that will stimulate our economy.

This budget contains measures concerning energy efficiency. It also contains an important project for the Quebec City region: the National Optics Institute or INO.

Will the Leader of the Opposition support measures to give our most vulnerable seniors extra income, to improve energy efficiency and to support the INO in Quebec City?

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the Minister of Veterans Affairs. We will work with him to improve life for our veterans and their families. It is a priority for us.

As I was saying in my speech, there are indeed some positive initiatives in this budget. I mentioned in particular the non-partisan helmets to hard hats initiative. It is a fine example of how the various political parties in the House of Commons can come up with positive ideas that are widely supported. We support this program.

We want to help seniors. We have proposed initiatives to help seniors get out of poverty. The measures proposed by this government will not achieve that goal. They will leave quite a large number of seniors in poverty. How can the minister justify that? How will he explain to seniors in his riding that they have to remain in poverty because of the inaction of their government?

We have proposed concrete solutions in our amendment to their budget. I hope the minister and his colleagues will study it and support it in order to achieve concrete results for all Canadians.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate. In doing so I also take the chance to thank the good people of Toronto Centre who have seen the wisdom of returning me to this place once again. This has been my 11th meeting with the voters, both federally and provincially, and I am very proud of the fact that I have managed to achieve this point in my life and have been able to receive the confidence of a great many people.

I think of my own constituency and we all do when we talk about budgets. I think of a constituency that probably has some of the wealthiest people in the country living in it; some of the most successful entrepreneurs, younger couples who are achieving great success, people who are doing very well in their lives and see great opportunities for themselves and for their families.

At the same time, Toronto Centre happens to have the largest amount of social housing in the country, as the Leader of the Opposition will well know because of his work municipally. It has a vast and considerable population of homeless people. It also has a number of people who fall somewhere into the middle of that group. So, we have the richest and the poorest and we have the people in between.

The essential message that I bring to the House and to the people of Canada about this budget is that it is not a budget for everyone. It is not a budget that brings Canadians together. It is not a budget for one Canada. It is a budget that focuses on a certain group of people. It does far more for those who are better off than for those who are not. In that sense, it is a budget that fails our vision in the Liberal Party, of being able to talk out of all sides of our mouth at exactly the same time, when we say that the search for prosperity for Canada is exceptionally important and the success of our businesses is exceptionally important.

We have learned the hard way, as a country, what I call the “Billie Holiday maxim”. When she was asked what was the big lesson she had drawn from her life, she said: “I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better.”

Canada needs to become richer. We need to become more prosperous. In achieving that prosperity, both for individuals and as a country, we become more successful, but we are also more able to share that prosperity and to ensure that everyone is included. Perhaps as much as any member in the House from my time in politics, I have learned a very simple lesson. That is that the water buffalo look at each other very differently when there is no water. We understand that is what can happen in a recession.

When I look at this budget, not only do I see the elements it contains, but I also see what is missing. The budget contains some measures, but there are measures missing. That is essentially the problem with this budget. I also see that this document is permeated by a sentiment that is not good for Canada at this time: complacency. I see complacency in the attitude of the government, which seems to think that, having won a majority, it no longer needs to talk about the needs of all Canadians and that it can concentrate instead on the interests of a few. That is the problem I see.

When we look at what is missing, let me mention three words: the first word is “poverty” and the second two words are “climate change”.

When we look around the world, we see a world that is far more unstable than the one the Conservatives are describing. We see a sovereign debt crisis taking place in Europe, a crisis that has now become infectious and threatens the economic balance of the entire world.

We saw just two years ago, and who among us needs to be reminded of it, that because of the degree of integration of the world financial system, a failure of the banking system in the United States from people making loans to people to whom they should not have been lending money created a world economic crisis that we can now all read about.

We are facing the same risk with respect to the failure, not of a few homeowners or a few thousand homeowners or tens of thousands of homeowners, but of entire countries. None of us should be unaware of this. None of us should be unaware of the difficulties facing our neighbour in the United States with respect to its economic growth and the challenges now facing Japan because of the tragedy of the tsunami.

Therefore, I find that the Conservatives are playing a game in this budget of what I call “let us pretend”. Let us pretend there is no continuing instability in the world economy. Let us pretend there is no poverty in Canada and no challenge of a shared prosperity, which we in the Liberal Party believe is the central challenge of our time. Let us pretend, on behalf of the Conservative Party, that we know what we are doing, that we have a plan.

The finance minister is asserting a very false certainty in his deficit projections. He is pretending that he knows what the deficit will be next year. He is pretending that he knows what it will be two years from now, and then he is pretending that he knows what it will be three years from now.

The trouble is that we remember the Minister of Finance. We remember that he was the one who came into this House in 2008, after the last election, and told Canadians, “Crisis? What crisis? Deficits? What deficits? Problems? What problems?” thereby causing a political crisis that dominated the affairs of this country for two full months, forcing him to a deathbed conversion of saying, “Aha, now we have to do the economic action plan. Now we have to start putting money into the economy. Now we have to start running deficits”.

I heard the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance talking for a full two years about how vital it was for Canada to run a deficit, how important it was for Canada to take on more debt, that this was a crucial act of national statesmanship. I only wish I had heard those words from the Conservatives around 1990, 1991 and 1992, but I digress.

The only thing missing in the government's statement and its description of the costs and challenges that we will face is the cost of certain key programs, one of which has been covered by the Leader of the Opposition in his comments, but one of which was not.

The Leader of the Opposition spoke a lot about the cost of the corporate tax cuts, which are in fact a significant bleeding of the fiscal capacity of the Canadian federal government to address the financial problems that all of the country faces.

Our view is that further corporate tax cuts at this time are unnecessary to achieve tax competitiveness, which is a very important objective of public policy but which has gone from becoming something that seemed like a wise course in public policy to becoming an indulgence that we can no longer afford.

However, I want to refer to one other item that is not in the list of things, because it relates to a major debate that we will be having in this country in the fall, and that is the cost of prisons. The government is about to take this country on a course with respect to the reform of the criminal justice system that will repeat every significant error made in the United States and made in Europe, particularly in the U.K., for which those countries are now repenting and seeing the folly and unwisdom of their ways.

The government is pretending as if the simple solution to every act of crime and every misdeed in our society is to simply throw the accused into jail and, essentially, to throw away the key.

The cost of that is going to be borne by every Canadian and the provinces and the municipalities. It ignores the fact that our correctional institutions are about to become the largest mental health institutions in the country.

It is a direction for Canada that is completely unnecessary and that is also going to have devastating impact on the overall economic and social health of the country. I can assure the government that we in the Liberal Party intend to fight these measures every step of the way.

The government speaks a lot about its majority. In fact, I think I heard the phrases “majority mandate”, “mandate” and “majority” at least a hundred times yesterday, and I am sure I will hear it a thousand times before the day is done and before this week or the next three weeks are done.

Let me just remind the House—

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Paul Calandra

Much more than that, for the next four years.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

I note the heckling. I am not listening to it.

Forty per cent of those who voted have spoken, but that still means that most Canadians are looking elsewhere for leadership.

We simply have to understand that reality.

I will come back to that point.

The majority of Canadians do not have the same priorities as the Conservative Party. That is important. We acknowledge the facts: the Conservative Party has a majority in the House, but it does not have a majority in the country. It is difficult for the Conservative Party to accept this reality. In fact, the Conservatives can do as they wish in the House, but they cannot shirk their responsibility to respect public opinion in Canada.

I would like to talk about the options available to Canadians. Throughout the country, a movement that is open to and ready for change recognizes that Canadians want a different kind of politics. This movement believes that the government is there to serve Canadians. It is a popular movement that understands the economic challenges, but that does not believe that the ideologies of the past will help.

We in the Liberal Party believe that public policy should be driven by facts and evidence, not by ideology. Every step of the way we will be challenging those policies coming forward in the House from wherever they come that are not supported by facts and evidence.

We also know that a great majority of Canadians know that poverty and climate change, words that we in this party insist on using, are realities that we want addressed. I would say to the Leader of Opposition that the problem is not just poverty among seniors but among all Canadians. It is poverty among children that is a problem and it is poverty among our aboriginal population that is a problem.

We in the Liberal Party know that Canada's prosperity cannot be taken for granted. We also know that this is no time for smug or self-satisfied complacency.

When we look at health care and at the issues of crime and social justice that I have talked about and at our tax policies, and, particularly, when we look at the importance of aboriginal issues that have still not been faced up to by the House and Canadians, we must recognize the real and present danger that we are dealing not with one Canada but with two, with those who are in and those who are out; with those who are benefiting from the good things in life and those who are not; those who have a stake, a position and security, and those who have none.

These things are avoidable. As Canadians, we do not have to accept this fate. We can lead the way as a country by saying that we want to set a standard for our country in the world and that we want to be at our best in the world. Yes, we want prosperity. Yes, we want our businesses to succeed. Yes, we want to create a truly progressive entrepreneurial culture in this country. However, we understand full well that it will mean nothing if there are still millions of people unemployed and millions of people living in poverty, and if there are those who go to bed at night in a room with six or seven people who wonder, as the wind is whistling through the windows of an overcrowded house on Big Trout Lake, in their aspirations if there is not a better world and a better place.

We must recognize that despite all of our successes, Canada has the highest suicide rate in the western world. That principally is because there are far too many young Canadians, young teenagers, young aboriginal people in particular, who do not see a way out, who do not see hope and who do not see opportunity.

As we reflect on our budgets, they are not just about what businesses or the chamber of commerce think. A budget is not just there for taxpayers, even successful taxpayers, but a budget is there for every single Canadian, whether homeless or with a home, whether on the street or in the most comfortable place, whether living in rural Canada or urban Canada

The definition of a good politics is a politics that brings everyone together. When I look at the budget, I see a consistent politics that tries to divide, that tries to separate, that says the government is there for some but not for all.

One simple fact would demonstrate this, the tax credits the government has given. These tax credits only go to people with taxable income. It is very simple to understand. I was attempting to explain it to the media yesterday, because they were asking what the difference was between a refundable tax credit and a non-refundable tax credit.

Let me provide the simple facts. Last year 24.5 million returns were filed , of which 15.2 million owed net federal tax and 9.3 million owed no federal income tax after all the credits and deductions. The fact is that without net income, one will not get the benefit of the tax credits.

In my riding, who needs piano lessons but does not get access to them? It is the poorest kids in my riding. Who has problems taking care of their loved ones? Who has problems taking care of their mother or their father?

Who needs the tax credits provided by the Conservatives? They are not simply tax credits for Canada' middle class. They should be for everyone and not just for some. Quite frankly, that is the difference between the vision of the Liberal Party and that of the Conservative Party.

For those reasons, I will be moving an amendment to the amendment put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. I move:

That the motion be further amended by adding the following:

“and rejects the government's budgetary policy because it does nothing to improve the worsening living conditions and opportunity gaps facing aboriginal people, fails to present any plan that fosters long-term, sustainable prosperity and equal opportunity for all Canadians, deliberately excludes low-income Canadians from qualifying for new tax measures by failing to make them refundable tax credits, abandons the federal government's role in the development and maintenance of affordable housing, continues to display a lack of federal leadership on health care particularly by ignoring the need to begin negotiations with the provinces on the successor to the 2004 health accord and leaves Canadians in the dark as to which programs and services will be cut in order to meet the government's deficit projections”.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The amendment to the amendment is in order.

The hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Toronto Centre for his speech and on his re-election to the House. However, I note that, as I look across the House, my colleague has moved considerably to the right.

My colleague indicated in his speech that public policy should be driven by facts. However, it was ironic to me to notice that during his speech he ignored a number of facts. He ignored that more than 80% of Canadians voted against his party. He ignored the 540,000 net new jobs that have been created. He also ignored that on May 2, Canadians chose to elect a national, stable, majority Conservative government.

How can my colleague oppose a budget that has measures, such as providing this hiring credit for small business to encourage hiring? How can he ignore the work-sharing program extension that the budget includes and g the support for the manufacturing and processing sector that is here? All of these measures are key and crucial to increasing job creation. Not only will that increase the ability of families to provide for their needs, but it increases the sense of self-esteem and purpose that is so necessary in our society.

I would like his response as to why he opposes those great measures that are in this budget.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to say what I said to my friend yesterday, which is that the hearts and thoughts of everyone in the House are with him. We all owe him our respect for the tragedy that he is going through at the moment.

Given the fact that I am standing where I am, I have a pretty good sense of what happened in the last election. I may be slow but I am not that slow, and I can understand what has taken place.

I think it was the poet Kipling who said that triumph and disaster are both imposters. In my life, I have had to deal more with the second than the first, but I am certainly prepared to deal with it. Everyone will see us in good fighting trim in the Liberal caucus. We will continue to be noted for our good humour and our good ideas. I wish I heard more of either on the other side of the House.

Would I say that many of the initiatives that he has described are good ideas? I will mention two. He talked about work-sharing as a good idea. I have more days named after me in the province of Ontario than any other premier in the last 150 years because I pioneered the idea of work-sharing in the public sector at a time when it had to be done.

He also talked about tax credits for small business. Again, this is an idea that we championed on our side of the House. We campaigned very hard for it in the last election. The fact that it is in this budget is a good sign. We believe and want all these things. Our concern is that the budget does not go far enough. It does not take into account the precarious situation in which we find ourselves and it certainly does not take into account some of the deeper sources of poverty that continue to trouble the Canadian economy.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Toronto Centre on his re-election and his appointment as leader of the Liberal Party.

I have a question with regard to corporate tax cuts. For a number of years these tax cuts have been put in place and what is interesting is that the Liberal position on this has shifted in the last six months. I have been here since 2002 arguing for better responsibility for corporate tax cut reductions. In fact, Liberal after Liberal would literally light his or her hair on fire in this place and scream at us about the fact that corporate tax cuts actually create jobs. We never saw that result. We have seen a change of position in the Liberal Party. I would sincerely like to know when that change took place and why.

The Liberals continued to call for corporation tax cuts even when we were borrowing money to do so. The previous Liberal leader actually called for them to be deeper and broader than they are today. Why the change in the Liberal Party position? When did the Liberals actually realize that tax cuts do not actually create jobs? At what point in time and what specific thing changed their position, considering what was driving their ideology prior to that?

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am really glad for the question because it is a classic case of ideology on that side of the aisle driving the discussion.

We are very practical people in this party, as is, by the way, the Premier of Manitoba, as was Mr. Romanow when he was premier of Saskatchewan, and Mr. Calvert, the former premier of Saskatchewan. Governments need to make decisions based on the circumstances they face. These circumstances change.

What were the circumstances we faced before? Our tax rates were at risk of becoming uncompetitive, both federally and provincially. We were at risk of losing investment because of that lack of competitiveness. We had surpluses both federally and provincially and significant surpluses federally in order to deal with the issue.

When my hon. friend asks what has changed, I would say that a couple of things have changed. First, the last time I looked we were not in surplus. In fact, we are now in significant deficit, as are most of the provinces. Second, the challenge we face is to ensure that our rates are competitive, but only as competitive, frankly, as they need to be in the circumstances, as competitive as they need to be in order to attract investment and in order to ensure that there is a viable federal capacity to respond to the needs of the people.

We made a decision some years before the last election that the time for cuts was over. We look at it and say that we have come to a number that actually provides us with a reasonable return. There was an entire debate one day when the members of the New Democratic Party were objecting to that feature of the government's policy and kept on reciting numbers, which failed—

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. I am sorry to cut the hon. member off but some of his colleagues would like to ask a question.

The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Financial Statement of the Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I was so impressed by my colleague's speech that I wanted to nominate him for an Order of Canada medal but my colleague pointed out that he already has one. I will need to think of something else.

I want to touch on the first part of my colleague's speech concerning climate change. There is no doubt that the facts on climate change drive this debate. On the east coast of this country, specifically Newfoundland and Labrador, we experienced hurricane Igor which devastated hundreds of communities. In the aftermath of that, we realized that climate change is for real and the facts point that way.

The federal government is putting forward regulations for the smallest of communities to get in line with current environmental regulations. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities met over the weekend and discussed climate change. Eighty-four communities in Newfoundland and Labrador need to come up with millions of dollars to fix their systems when it comes to waste water management. Unfortunately, these smaller communities do not have the capacity to do that. Where is the federal government on this? Other than imposing regulations, it is nowhere to be found when it comes to the funding mechanism.

I wonder if my hon. colleague could point out how the current Conservative government has abandoned these smaller communities and how in the future it could help.