House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, obviously we all understand the need for an energy security policy in Canada. What approach that will take remains to be seen because there is a vacuum on the other side of the House in terms of what that would look like.

I will tell the hon. member and I will tell the House what I am in favour of. I am in favour of a rigorous environmental assessment that makes sure we are balancing our economic needs with the needs for future generations to have a sustainable environment so we are protecting our wilderness areas, our coastal water areas, the air we breathe, the food we eat, so that not just Canadians today but future generations are protected. That is what is undermined by the changes, the one-third of the bill that is being proposed by the government.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Parkdale—High Park for very ably outlining the NDP concerns with the government bill.

The member did touch on the fact that this omnibus bill has all kinds of repercussions for Canadians. I think one of the real repercussions for Canadians is undermining the strength of our democracy.

I would like to ask the member to comment on what she feels this does to the role of parliamentarians, to the role of MPs, not only here in the House to be able fully debate every aspect of a complex piece of legislation, but also what it does to the committee structure in the country. Why would Canadians trust a government that has misused the public confidence with regard to the F-35s and with regard to prorogation?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, that really gets to the heart of the issue. I think it is fair for the Minister of Natural Resources to say there are changes the government would like to make in the area of building pipelines and that there are things Canadians should examine. These should be proposed in a proper separate bill, a bill that puts forward the government's goals in the area of energy and natural resources and the environment.

We have parliamentarians who have been elected to represent their constituents, the people of Canada, in their critic area. When we have a bill of 425 pages, a third of which is gutting environmental protections, that will go to the finance committee instead of the environment committee then we have to ask ourselves the questions: what are they hiding, how are Canadians served by this, and what is happening to our democracy?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always find it exciting to see the NDP members stand up to talk about protecting Canadian families and Canadian jobs. This is the same party that sent members down to the United States to protest Canadian jobs, to protest against Canadian families earning a living. They should be ashamed of themselves for that.

I am curious. They talk about how they stand up for Canadians, how they stand up for jobs, except I am wondering why they voted against the economic action plan, not once but twice? They voted against real jobs, against roads and bridges, against hockey rinks being built from small town Alberta to small town Quebec. Right across the country, they voted against training Canadians to take Canadian jobs. Why did they vote against those plans? It was the largest infrastructure investment in Canada's history and they voted against it.

They should be ashamed of themselves. Not only do they not stand up for Canadians when they have the chance, but they stand against them with foreign powers. They stand all the time against Canadians and Canadian jobs. I want to know why they would do that.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a little sad that we could not get some legitimate questions about the comments that were made so we could actually have a reasonable debate.

If the hon. member wants to talk about job creation, I raised in my speech that it was the Conservatives who paid consultants $90,000 a day to tell them where they should cut programs and services in the public sector, and guess what? They will not tell Canadians where those cuts will come from, so we do not even have the proper ability to defend Canadian services, to defend the programs Canadians want, because they are not coming clean with the Canadian people.

I think that is very telling. They are using stale talking points rather than dealing with this massive budget at hand.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the finance critic, for her excellent analysis of the budget. We are both members of the Standing Committee on Finance, and I would also like to commend her on her work.

I would like to ask her a question and hear what she has to say about the process that is being used. She spoke a bit about the fact that we have a 425-page budget implementation bill that throws in everything but the kitchen sink. We know that a third of this bill pertains to environmental issues, yet this bill will be examined only by the Standing Committee on Finance.

I would like to know whether the hon. member read Andrew Coyne's very eloquent Postmedia News column that unequivocally condemned the fact that the government was including all these issues in one bill.

What does she think is the committee's role? Does she think that the committee will be able to effectively examine this 425-page bill?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for that very good question.

Indeed, this is supposedly a budget implementation bill, but in fact, it is a mishmash of things. One-third of this bill has to do with changes that would eliminate environmental protection measures.

This bill undermines democracy and the ability of members of Parliament and Canadians to review its content properly. That is why we are asking that the bill be divided so that the clauses on the environment can be reviewed by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable, Development and the rest by the other committees with interests in this bill.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

That is all for questions and comments on this round. Before we resume debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for St. Paul's, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, National Defence; and the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Pensions.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kings—Hants.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-38, the government's budget implementation bill.

I would like to use my time to address four themes: namely how the Conservatives are, one, hiding the full impact of their spending cuts; two, breaking their election promise to protect old age security; three, using budget 2012 to ram through important changes to Canada that are unrelated to budgets; and four, failing to create good paying jobs and recognize the important issue of growing income inequality in Canada.

Later on in this debate, my colleague from the riding of Etobicoke North, the Liberal critic for the environment, will speak on how the Conservatives are using this budget bill to completely rewrite Canada's environmental laws. We understand that streamlining environmental laws and protection can be a meritorious objective and approach, but there is a difference between streamlining and gutting.

The approach of the government to use an omnibus bill, the kitchen sink bill, to put all of these measures in the same legislation is to deny Parliament and committees the opportunity to subject this legislation to suitable scrutiny and enable us, as parliamentarians, to be both responsible and accountable.

I will first speak about the full impact of the government's spending cuts. The Conservatives are trying to hide the full impact of their cuts from Canadians by only talking about half of them. Allow me to illustrate that with a couple of examples.

We know the Conservative cuts will ramp up over four years until they reach $10.8 billion in ongoing cuts to the annual budget. However, budget 2012 only provides details on $5 billion of the $10.8 billion in ongoing cuts.

As we try to make sense of this budget, we must be mindful that the information the government released in budget 2012 applies to just under half of the overall cuts. That goes for the 19,200 federal public servants who will be laid off. Those positions that are being eliminated stem from just half of the cuts.

We hear about the ongoing cuts of $688 million to Public Safety, $153 million to Transport, $310 million to Agriculture and Agri-food and $378 million to international aid. Once again, those cuts are the result of just half of the overall cuts that are projected by the federal government. For the other half of the cuts we have precious few details.

From budget 2010, we know there will be an ongoing cut of $1 billion to National Defence and an ongoing cut of more than $1.8 billion to international aid. I do not know how the government can afford $16 orange juice, six star hotels, and several thousand dollars in limousine bills in that context, but that is another story. The only other person I know of who has stayed at The Savoy is Conrad Black, but that too is another story.

We read in the newspaper that Canada's foreign aid is being cut by $378 million, but that is not even close to the full story. When we add the cuts announced in 2010, we know the ongoing annual cut to foreign aid is at least $2.2 billion, which is roughly 50% of Canada's foreign aid budget.

We know the ongoing annual cut to National Defence is at least $2.1 billion, not the $1.1 billion introduced in budget 2012.

We know the ongoing annual cuts to the Government of Canada will be $10.8 billion, not the $5.2 billion announced in budget 2012.

What we do not know is the impact that these additional cuts will have on the programs and services offered to Canadians. We do not know how the other departments and agencies will be affected.

We do not know how many federal public servants will be cut in addition to 19,200 positions that were announced in budget 2012.

The government cannot cut an additional $5.6 billion without cutting programs and services.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that in addition to the 19,200 positions being eliminated in budget 2012, there will be a further 6,300 jobs cut as a result of the government's previous strategic reviews that have yet to be implemented, and a further 9,000 cuts as a result of the government's budget operating freeze. That creates a total of 34,500 federal public service job cuts.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer agrees that the 19,200 public service jobs that are being cut do not represent the full number. In his words, “Additional job losses will be required.... we're actually talking about cuts on top of cuts.” How many more federal jobs will be eliminated? The government is not telling Canadians or the public service the truth.

We do not know why the Conservatives are hiding the real figures. We do not know why they are not explaining to Canadians the cuts that are going to affect them. We do not know why the Conservatives refuse to give Canadians and Parliament all the information they need to have an informed debate.

As Liberals, we recognize the government is about choices and some spending cuts are necessary, even in good times. It was in that context that we, as a government--and I remember when the member for Wascana was minister of finance and the member for Markham—Unionville was the minister responsible for the expenditure review committee of cabinet. I served on the expenditure review committee of cabinet at that time. It is important to realize, to put this in context, that we were actually in surplus at that time.

It is important to also recognize that we agree, in principle, with reviewing government expenditures on an ongoing basis in surplus or deficit to ensure best value for taxpayers, to ensure that programs and services reflect actual need, not need that may have lapsed in the past.

It is also important to realize and to recognize the context of the surplus that the Liberal governments were delivering. The Liberal government had inherited a $43 billion deficit that was left behind by the previous government. Under the Liberal watch, Canada went from a $43 billion deficit to nine consecutive years of budgetary surplus that paid over $100 billion down on the national debt. And it was during those good times, during surplus, that we did expenditure review, but we did very differently from the way the government is doing it now.

In fact, we also cut Canadian taxes while maintaining a balanced budget and we introduced the largest personal income tax cut in the history of Canada. We also cut corporate taxes when we could afford to when we were in surplus. We cut payroll taxes.

However--

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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5 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Thirteen consecutive times.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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5 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Thirteen consecutive times, I am reminded by one of the greatest finance ministers we have ever had, the member for Wascana.

However, in terms of the way we conducted expenditure review, we identified savings very differently from the way the Conservatives are doing it. We were careful to provide detailed information to Canadians long before the cuts were implemented.

In fact, we can get all that information. It is still available on the Internet, at www.expenditurereview.gc.ca. I do not know how much longer the Conservatives will leave that up. But if we go to that website, we see, line by line, a description of which programs were being cut, where, when they were being cut, why it was being done and by how much. That was provided before the cuts were implemented. That is the level of detail that Canadians expect from their government in a functioning democracy.

It is important to keep in mind that was almost seven years ago. The level of transparency, in terms of information for Canadians that is demanded by the public today, has actually increased. The Liberal government that I was proud to be part of and the expenditure review committee that I was proud to serve on that identified billions of dollars of savings for Canadians, was more open and transparent then, seven years ago, than the Conservative government is today.

I will add that our decisions were made by ministers working in concert with public servants. We did not have to pay a consulting company $90,000 a day. We did not have to outsource our decision-making on those difficult decisions at the time. However, it is important that that level of detail be provided to Canadians today.

Unfortunately, now the Conservatives routinely hide even the most basic information from Canadians and members of Parliament. They are not just hiding this information from the opposition in a partisan sense, they are also hiding it from their own members on that side of the House. Members elected in the Conservative Party have the same fiduciary constitutional responsibility as part of their jobs to hold their government to account and to demand the information that members on this side of the House have.

Last year, the Conservatives were found in contempt of Parliament for hiding the cost of legislation that was before the House. They hid the cost of their crime bills and the cost of their F-35s. They refused to provide the information that Canadians needed in order to make informed decisions. They refused to provide that information to parliamentarians representing Canadian citizens. By hiding that information, they were attacking the very democratic foundation of our country. For that, they were the first government in the history of the Westminster system to be found in contempt of Parliament.

The Auditor General has since eviscerated the government for keeping two sets of books on the F-35s: a real set that was kept hidden from Canadians and the Parliament of Canada, and a phony set the Conservatives used during the last election.

Now the Conservatives are at it again. On Monday, the government held a briefing for MPs and senators on this budget bill. The legislation would implement changes, for instance, to old age security and raise the age from 65 to 67. Government representatives were asked how much these changes to old age security would change the cost of the program for Canadians. The government refused to answer. Worse, it said that we would find this information out after the bill was passed and when the chief actuarial officer updates his report.

The Conservatives would not tell us this information prior to the vote on the bill. They insist that these changes to OAS are necessary in order to save money. They say that the system is not sustainable. In reality, as we have heard from several reports, including Finance reports, reports from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and OECD reports, that is absolutely false. In Canada's case, old age security is sustainable as is.

As well, the Conservatives will not tell us how much these changes will save the treasury. They will not provide this basic information that we, as parliamentarians, need to make an informed decision. Is the real reason because these numbers would show Parliament the truth, that in fact OAS is sustainable? That we do not have to make these draconian changes that would punish our most vulnerable citizens? These regressive changes would hurt, in many cases, the poorest of the poor.

We do know that the Prime Minister is breaking his election promise to Canadians by raising the age of OAS from 65 to 67. He promised he would not cut Canadian pensions. This is a cut on Canadian pensions and an attack on low-income seniors.

We also know that the Prime Minister is ignoring the advice of the OECD, Canada's chief actuarial officer and the Parliamentary Budget Officer who all agree that these changes are not necessary. We know that the Prime Minister is ignoring his own experts on this matter. The experts agree that it is sustainable. Even if OAS were not sustainable, if changes had to be made, there are changes that could be made that would be progressive. For instance, we could adjust the clawback threshold. There are areas we could look at.

Let us look at who gets OAS. Some 40% of Canadians who receive OAS make less than $20,000 per year and 53% of those who receive OAS make less than $25,000 per year. Older single women living in poverty are disproportionately affected by OAS changes. To qualify for the guaranteed income supplement that is received by the poorest of the poor, Canada's most vulnerable citizens, one would have to qualify for old age security. Those people will lose about $30,000 over a two year period.

Now the government is saying that people can work a couple of extra years. Well, that may be fine if one is a politician, journalist, accountant, lawyer or consultant. However, it is a little tougher if one is a pipefitter, welder, carpenter or a woman working in a fish plant in Newfoundland in cold, damp conditions on a concrete floor all day. We have to think of all Canadians. Those who are doing physical labour are some of the most vulnerable.

It is important to realize that with these changes to OAS the government is saying that it is giving advance notice so that people can save a little more. How can families making $20,000 or $25,000 be expected to save a little more? I think this shows the degree to which the government is out of touch with the realities of Canada's working poor, and the realities of income inequality in Canada.

Raising OAS is only part of this kitchen sink bill. The reality is that this bill is 421 pages in length, has 753 clauses and amends 70 laws. It includes a complete rewrite of our environmental laws, a unilateral cut of 3% to the provinces for health care funding at a time when our population is growing, the tearing up of 100,000 immigration applications that have been worked on for years, sweeping changes to EI, and the removal of several laws including the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, and the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. It includes the elimination of several government bodies including the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Council of Welfare.

The bill actually gives the Governor General a salary increase of $30,000, after taxes. I do not think our Governor General was pining for a pay increase. I am not sure if this kind of salary hike is appropriate at a time when government programs and services are being slashed.

The point is this is a very big piece of legislation. It covers a wide range of issues and areas of public policy. For example, included in the sweeping changes to EI is a change that would allow low-income recipients who find work to keep more of their income. There are some of us who may look at part of that and say, “Okay, that makes some sense.” However, we cannot support that when the budget bill also includes measures that would gut old age security for a lot of seniors, preventing them from receiving it at the time when they need it, or that potentially reduces Canada's environmental oversight and regulatory framework.

The Liberal member for York West has been championing, for a long time, changes to protect long-term disability pension plans. There are some of those measures in there. We could, if provided the opportunity, support some of those measures, but we are not given that opportunity because this is an omnibus bill. It forces us to vote for the entire kitchen sink bill and not exercise our responsibilities as parliamentarians to evaluate and support individual measures that may be meritorious while others would not be.

The general direction this legislation would take Canada is not something I would support, but there are measures in this bill that I could support. By bundling these different changes in a single piece of legislation, the Conservatives are denying Parliament the opportunity and the ability to fulfill its responsibilities to provide oversight and clear direction.

I would like to quote Andrew Coyne on this matter:

....the practice has been to throw together all manner of bills involving wholly different responsibilities of government in one all-purpose “budget implementation” bill, and force MPs to vote up or down on the lot. While the 2012 budget implementation bill is hardly the first in this tradition, the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated.... It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We’ve no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.

Over the coming days this House is expected to continue its debate on this legislation. A number of changes in the legislation will be discussed. No doubt a number of changes will fall through the cracks. I expect the Conservatives are counting on this.

Finally, on the issue of income inequality, this was not an ordinary economic downturn. It is not an ordinary recovery. We are part of a global economic restructuring. Canada's recovery is being driven by our natural resource wealth. As such, we are seeing a commensurate higher dollar and a very different effect of the recovery on different parts of the country. We are seeing the crowding out of a lot of traditional high-value manufacturing jobs. We are seeing an increase in the gap between rich and poor.

In several recent polls, Canadians have indicated that the issue of income inequality is one of the most important economic issues facing the country and in some cases the most important. There is nothing in this budget addressing income inequality specifically, but there are measures in this budget that actually make it worse. We believe that income inequality should be on the agenda of the Canadian Parliament and this budget, among other things, denies Parliament the opportunity to have a fulsome debate on one of the issues that is important to Canadians, and that is growing income inequality.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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5:15 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I found my colleague's presentation somewhat entertaining because there seemed to be a lack of understanding of what exactly is in the budget implementation act. I would suggest that my hon. colleague perhaps take a second look at it because there are many measures that help to deal with things like inequality. In fact, the best way to fight poverty and o deal with inequality is to ensure that Canadians have jobs, which is the main focus of this budget. It is the main focus because we are addressing jobs, long-term prosperity and, of course, economic growth.

I have before me pages and pages of good quotes from economists across the country and elsewhere who suggest that this budget implementation act is in fact the direction that this government ought to have taken. They applaud the fact that we have taken this direction and they suggest that if we deter from this path it would put our country at significant risk.

Could the member opposite address the fact that there are so many economists who agree with our position? How does he explain the fact that there are literally dozens of them who agree with the direction this government has taken?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are also a lot of economists who believe that income inequality is an important issue and that there are economic costs as well as social costs to ignoring income inequality. A lot of economists, including the Nobel prize winning economist Joe Stiglitz, have said that the economic costs of ignoring income inequality will be significant, that in fact growing income inequality is leading to a gap in equality of opportunity.

I know some rich people who are as concerned about the issue of income inequality as anyone else because they know it is bad for society and, while they believe in a free market economy, they do not believe in a free market society. They know that it is fundamental to social cohesion and to our communities that people have equality of opportunity. The only way this budget addresses income inequality is to make it worse. I am concerned about the growth of inequality of opportunity within Canada, between provinces and between rich neighbourhoods and poor neighbourhoods. It is an issue that we will--

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The hon. member for Sudbury.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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May 2nd, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking a lot about what is in the bill and what is not in the bill. One of the things that really caught my eye is this tiny piece in the bill that relates to foreign ownership when it comes to spectrum. The option the government put out does nothing to address rural areas in Canada. Rural Canadians do not matter to the current government because it is continuing to ignore them when it comes to broadband and wireless technology.

What the government put in here was foreign ownership. A company can come in here and buy any one of our small new entrants as long as they are below 10%. If they are below that 10% they can buy them up, opening up companies like AT&T to come in and maybe buy this and take over. We have seen too many examples of this in the past. In my riding of Sudbury, we had Vale take over Inco.

Has the member considered this? What does he think the implications will be when we have more foreign ownership coming into our country?