House of Commons Hansard #139 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
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence. I would like to remind the parliamentary secretary of something and put a question to my colleague at the same time.

The more I hear the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister speak, the more I am reminded of my great-grandparents who used to work for a well-established, old lumber baron from the Ottawa Valley. It sounds like the government is pursuing a 19th century strategy of hewing wood and drawing water instead of focusing on what this country needs and what this budget should be reflecting. We do not have an innovation strategy, our venture capital money is fleeing the country, and there is an energy efficiency race on around the world and we do not even have our sneakers on yet. Professor Porter from Harvard tells us that better environmental performance is absolutely consistent with enhanced competitiveness. The changes that are being brought in this budget would actually erode those standards and our competitiveness.

Could my colleague comment on that?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

I would absolutely love to, Mr. Speaker. The analogy of going back to a 19th century economy is apt.

In 1999, among all of Canada's exports, 60% were finished products. In just the last decade, we have gone from exporting 60% finished products to only exporting 33% finished products. The other 66% is now unfinished or partially processed products. We are hindering the value-added sectors of our economy with this unbalanced approach that the Conservative government is taking. It is absolutely the wrong way to go.

With respect to innovation, we are looking at the Jenkins report and nothing as of yet is being implemented. There now are massive changes to the Investment Canada Act, where three times the previous limit is now going to be subject to review. All of the incubator companies and industries, the real innovators and productive companies, are now going to get gobbled up by large foreign companies. We are going to lose the benefits from them.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of RADARSAT, the government has not responded. There is a very important satellite investment decision that is going to take place within the next few months on whether we are going to have it or not. Could the member comment on that? It is important for all of Canada, our security and investment.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, this was raised in the industry committee and was blocked by the Conservatives, like just about everything else.

RADARSAT is one of the crown jewels of Canada's innovation and science and technology companies. RADARSAT has a multi-mission that is very diverse. It will monitor icebergs on the east coast and oil pipelines. I would like to hear the government's answer about oil pipelines right now. It will monitor potential spills on the west coast, as well as Arctic sovereignty. The funding for this program is running out. I would absolutely love to hear what the delay is, what the timelines are and when the government is going to stop passing the buck and fund RADARSAT.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to speak about the bill to implement our budget, because it is a great bill. It is a plan that has not only the economic present at heart, but also our economic future and the future strength of the Canadian economy for generations to come.

Before starting on my substantive remarks, I would like to address some of the comments that were made by the previous speaker and some of the previous questioners.

We would not be doing our job here as parliamentarians if we did not present facts. The Jenkins report was mentioned. The previous speaker claimed that it has not been implemented in any way in this budget. As Canadians well know, members of the Jenkins commission have already acknowledged that the government has gone a long way toward adopting and implementing important conclusions from that report and that this is absolutely vital to the future of innovation and productivity in the country.

Second, the member in the corner, representing one of the ridings in our nation's capital, mentioned hewers of wood and drawers of water. I do not think that term was even fairly applied to the Ottawa of 19th century in a country that was leading the world in the production of timber and lumber. He, with his family background, should know that.

We were already at the cutting edge of productivity, at the cutting edge of the export market for this valuable commodity in the 19th century. To term even the workers of that time as hewers of wood and drawers of water, to use that Biblical language referring to them, is absolutely insulting. It represents the irrelevance of his party to economic debate in Canada at the moment.

This is a country that is leading the world in high-quality research and development, in the creation of new enterprises, in attracting new investment for manufacturing, for high technology, for the creation of jobs across the board. We are leading the world in resources, as well as leading at the very highest level of technological innovation and productivity, and the member opposite knows that.

My remarks will focus on three aspects of the budget and the implementation bill. The measures contained in it are complex but absolutely necessary and predictable, given our government's stated objectives in our platform on the budget earlier this spring, the goals of driving forward jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for the country.

The first point I would like to touch on relates to the whole issue of debt.

We are living in exceptional times. They are times of great opportunity globally, and not just for Canada but for the whole world. The global economy now represents, depending on whose statistics one believes, about $61 trillion. Estimates go as high as $70 trillion.

Canada's part in that is less than $2 trillion. Our estimated GDP for 2012 is $1.7 trillion, $1.8 trillion, but we need to keep in mind what kind of growth that represents. In only 1990, as the Cold War was ending, as the Berlin Wall had just fallen, as the Soviet Union was about to break up, global GDP was $27.5 trillion. Therefore, we have seen more than a doubling, maybe a tripling, of growth in global GDP in that time.

Why? It is because almost all the countries of the world, including large countries like Russia and Brazil, those that are among the leading emerging economies today, have adopted a set of rules based on market discipline and democracy. That has driven a phase of growth that is in many ways unrivalled. I think the only period that compares with this period is the 1950-1970 period, when recovery from the terrible Second World War was taking place, but in spite of the great recession we have had in recent years, this period in some ways surpasses that earlier period of absolutely stunning growth for the world.

However, this growth has been characterized by financial crises. Let us not forget that this week, of all times, when we are debating Greece and the Leader of the Opposition is calling for Canada to throw good money after bad into a cause that is neither ours nor historically a role that Canada has played, given the internal dynamic of the European Union and the European community.

This whole period over the last 20 years has been characterized by successive financial crises beyond our borders. We had a Scandinavian banking crisis in the early 1990s. We had a crisis in the European exchange rate mechanism in the early 1990s. We had Mexico in the mid-1990s. We had Southeast Asia and massive devaluations of currencies in the late 1990s. We had a Russian financial crisis, which I saw first-hand as an official in our Department of Foreign Affairs at the time in 1998. Then there was Turkey, Argentina, the dot com bubble, followed by the granddaddy of them all, the financial crisis in 2007, and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, which we have seen since 2010 and which remains unsolved.

We in Canada have had to protect ourselves from these crises. We have to had to keep our economic fundamentals strong in spite of the pressures for indiscipline, the pressures for spending our way out of trouble in a way completely unjustified by common sense or prudence, and on the whole we have succeeded. We have the strongest record of currency stability and price stability among advanced nations. We have one of the lowest rates of debt. Members know the story: for our economic fundamentals, we are in many ways the envy of the world.

However, in recent times it has become harder than ever to maintain this record, to pursue fiscal consolidation and deficit reduction, in spite of the absolutely manifest evidence of some of our closest partners and allies going in other directions, often at great cost to their own economic fundamentals.

It is our view on this side of the House that one of the great achievements of this budget is to continue the course of setting an example, not just for Europe but for the whole world: an example of what moderation represents, an example of commitment to spending on an even keel and an example of spending not beyond one's means.

It has been harder, but we are managing it. We feel, along with many on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, that this is the best role that Canada can play.

There are examples in Europe itself of what, on a smaller scale, Canada has been doing. Sweden has implemented fiscal consolidation on a grand scale. I think the members opposite would be surprised to know that with its social democratic tradition, Sweden, with a right-of-centre government, recently has consolidated its finances and won the highest praise from the IMF, independent analysts and experts around the world for its fiscal record in the past few years. It has gone down the same path as Canada.

The same goes for the small country of Latvia, buffeted terribly by the financial crises of 2007, 2008 and 2009, but now, thanks to a 15% cut in terms of its budgetary spending in relation to GDP over several years, it has put itself back on course.

Nothing so dramatic is required in Canada's case, but we have done what is necessary to continue that record, which is exemplary and which is going to be a lodestone for many of those in Europe and Asia who are struggling to find a course forward.

The second point that we have accepted on this side, and that the other side has clearly not, is that more efficient, more effective government is the order of the day. I myself, as a former public servant, am the first to subscribe to the view that government can always be done better. Government must keep itself productive. It must keep itself modern. It must stay up to date with current practices, with technology, with innovations in management and organization.

That is exactly what this budget sets out to do by reforming environmental review, by focusing the Fisheries Act on the fisheries and by making labour market reforms through immigration and through employment insurance policies that will actually help Canadians—new and old Canadians—to get the jobs they want and for which they are increasingly qualified.

We are living in extraordinary times. Canada has an opportunity. We have an economic plan.

I often find myself asking myself and others what the NDP would have done in earlier phases of our history. When this country was being established as a series of colonies of European powers, would the NDP have considered the fur trade and the fishery in the 16th and 17th centuries as diseases? Was that what natural resources were to the NDP, even at that stage?

Would the timber and lumber industries, engines of our growth in the 19th century, have been cancelled by the NDP, had it been in power, because private enterprise was essential to their development, because they relied on natural resources?

I like to think they would not have, but reading the NDP constitution, listening to the Leader of the Opposition and listening to the members and critics opposite, I am afraid I am skeptical on that point.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague opposite.

He wants to know what the NDP would have done in the past. In my opinion, the members opposite are completely out of touch with reality.

I listened carefully as he praised Canada. As a Canadian, I too am very proud of Canada and its international reputation. However, I am skeptical when my colleague talks about modernization and being at the cutting edge of research.

Bill C-38 trims the Auditor General's oversight powers, eliminating mandatory audits of the financial statements of a dozen agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

I would like to know what my colleague opposite has to say about these issues.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think that the hon. member opposite knows very well that most of the changes to the role of Auditor General proposed in this bill are there at the request of the Auditor General himself.

Let our statements in the House be sincere and precise. We are strengthening this government's reputation when it comes to transparency.

With regard to the hon. member's comments on the NDP's point of view, in the past, on our natural resources, my skepticism was related to the preamble of the NDP constitution. The preamble states that production should be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people and not to the making of a profit.

According to the preamble of its constitution, the NDP does not accept profit, private ownership, in the true sense of the word. That means—

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but time is limited.

The hon. member for Ottawa South.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will pick up on my colleague's comments and recap for a second.

Let us see where we have come from.

In 1995, Canada balanced its budget. For 10 years, we had 10 consecutive years of surpluses. In 2006, the Conservative government was elected with a $13 billion surplus. Even before the recession hit, which the government denied, the government increased spending by 19%, the single largest increase in spending in Canadian history, making it the biggest-spending and biggest-borrowing government in Canadian history. The Minister of Finance rejected a bailout of the car industry, but had to because a pistol was put to his head by the Premier of Ontario and the President of the United States.

The record now is we see two sets of books on the F-35 and the PBO cannot get members to actually disclose the facts. We certainly have had the biggest billboards in Canadian history, with $30 million spent on 9,000 billboards across the country to advertise the budget. Now we are left with a $128 billion increase in debt.

It is the same old same old. These republican reformers are the same. They cut taxes, they increase spending, they borrow the money and they compromise public services.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, the effrontery of the member opposite reaches new heights.

First, I did not think it was appropriate here or anywhere else to suggest that premiers should be wielding pistols in making policy, either literally or metaphorically. Second, it is absolutely clear to everyone outside of that member's immediate personal space that Canada has the best debt record of the G7, that it has the most stable financial sector in the world, that it is the best place to invest, as rated by a myriad of agencies, and that it is moving faster than its peers to reduce the deficit and address the debt, unlike the Premier of Ontario, of whom the member has a passing knowledge, and certainly unlike his interim leader, who put Ontario's economy into the ditch for a generation.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, it is very interesting to listen to the debate tonight in the House of Commons on Bill C-38 and to hear our Conservative colleagues tell us that Canada is the best of the best as they reel off their speaking points.

I want to begin my remarks tonight on Bill C-38 by pointing out what needs to be said, which is that the real threat of the budget bill is how it would contribute to income inequality in this country.

There is no question that over the last two decades we have seen a widening gap between wealth and poverty in this country. It is mainly because of public policies that we have seen a drain on things like affordable housing, eligibility for employment insurance, high day care costs and the cost of education. When we look at the record of the Conservative government, it is a terrible record of the growing inequality in this country.

What I find offensive about the bill is that it is completely out of balance. On the one hand, it does nothing to redress things like corporate tax cuts. The government has now given I think it is more than $60 billion to corporations that were profitable and actually did not need a break. On the other hand, the government has been cutting away at the bare essentials that Canadians need.

In a riding like mine, Vancouver East, we have a very low-income community. People struggle day by day to make ends meet. When we look at the bill, we should ask one simple question: What is in the bill that they could hope for that would improve their quality of life?

When we go through this massive budget bill, into which the government has thrown everything but the kitchen sink, and examine it clause by clause, issue by issue, it is very bad news for low-income and middle-income Canadians. On employment insurance, people cannot even get their phone calls returned, and those who are eligible cannot get on EI simply because the services are not being provided.

I do not fault the front-line workers at Service Canada for that. They are struggling to keep up with the call demand. I fault the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the federal government who have deliberately arranged the services so that they are now so difficult to access it makes it almost impossible to have a query answered or to get onto employment insurance. This is something we hear about in my community office every day as people phone in.

One only has to look at pensions. I recently held a pension forum in my riding of Vancouver East. People are very worried. It is not just the older folks who might be approaching the age for OAS who are worried, but also the younger generation of Canadians who understand that the government will be cutting out their income security in the future. These people do not rely on RRSPs. They do not rely on the pooled registered pension plan that we have debated in this House. These people have paid into the Canada pension plan and need old age security. These are the people who will be hurt.

One of things that I find to be the most offensive in this budget is that it does absolutely nothing to address one of the fundamental crises we face in this country, which is the lack of affordable housing.

In metro Vancouver, which is the whole of the Lower Mainland, there is an organization called the Rental Housing Supply Coalition. The coalition includes renters, co-ops, social housing, rental apartment owners and managers, building owners and managers, as well as metro Vancouver officials. It is a very unusual coalition of people who do not often work together, but they have come together because they are so concerned about what is going on in metro Vancouver. There are approximately 31,000 households, which represent probably close to 100,000 people, spending so much on rent that they are just one cheque away from homelessness.

Unfortunately, we know about homelessness in our city, but this crisis is affecting working people now. It is affecting people who will never be able to afford a home. They are struggling to find an affordable place to live and are spending 40% to 60% of their income on rent.

Recently, the City of Vancouver issued a report which shows that homelessness has doubled in the last year. This is a city council that has put enormous energy, effort and investment into dealing with homelessness in our city. What has it received from the federal government? Zip, zero.

I feel angry that this budget which has been touted by the Conservative government is widening the gap and leaving so many people behind.

I will give another example in housing. There are over 600,000 households in Canada that are assisted under federal housing programs. There is a long record of social housing and co-op housing in this country. However, we are facing another crisis in that many of the long-term operating agreements are going to expire. We know that the number of assisted households has dropped by about 22,000 since 2007 and it is predicted that another 63,000 households will be affected by 2015. I have to point out that this is existing, stable, affordable social housing that we are at risk of losing because the Conservative government has been completely blind to organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the big-city mayors and housing organizations which have drawn to the Conservatives' attention that unless we—

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
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7:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

I hear them laughing, Madam Speaker. I guess that homelessness and housing is a laughing matter for the Conservative members. How outrageous and how insulting that is to the 1.5 million Canadians who are struggling to meet their housing costs. I find it reprehensible that the Conservatives cannot even listen respectfully to a debate that is based on bringing forward the real experience of people who are having difficulties in their local communities.

Whether it is housing, pensions, EI, or even something like the Coast Guard in Vancouver, this budget is disappointing. Recently, I was very happy that two of our members, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam and the member for St. John's East, came to Vancouver and held a very successful forum regarding the cutting of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. There is an uproar in our city about why this cut has to take place. There are attacks on environmental organizations. In British Columbia, environmental assessments and proper reviews are really important. People take them very seriously. One only has to look at the hearings that are taking place for the northern gateway pipeline to know that people are very concerned about how our environment would be placed at risk. What would this bill do? In one fell swoop it would completely gut our environmental assessment process, after years of developing it into a legitimate process.

No matter which way we look at this bill, when the Conservatives put out the line that somehow Canadians are going to benefit, really what are they thinking about? Are they so blind to what is actually taking place? They do not have to take our word for it. They can talk to any organization, whether it is the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, or environmental groups. Any organization will point out how this bill would have such a deep impact on people in this country.

I have not even spoken about the process we have gone through, but I will end by saying that besides the substance of the bill, the process has been completely appalling. Imagine a bill that is over 400 pages long. Imagine a bill that would change over 70 pieces of legislation. Imagine a bill that was rushed through one committee and a subcommittee. Even the Senate has five committees studying this bill right now, before the bill has even been sent to the Senate, assuming it is going to pass here after the Conservatives ram it through. Even the Senate has taken more time to consider Bill C-38.

In this place, the Conservative government only has one agenda. The Conservatives do not care about what anybody has to say. They are hell-bent on getting this bill through. It is a crying shame that we are at this point.

More and more Canadians are waking up to this. The Conservatives may laugh today. They may say they do not really care what people think, but I think they have a surprise coming. I think that people who maybe even voted for local Conservative members of Parliament, people who are living on pensions and people who are struggling are very upset about this bill and how it would impact them.

Tonight we are debating this bill. We are going to go to the very end and use all the energy we can to show that the amendments we have brought forward on this bill are a reflection of the opposition that Canadians have to it. We are going to do that as much as we can.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, we will, of course, continue to listen to those who are interested in actually discussing the provisions of the bill.

What is extraordinary about the hon. member's comments is that there was not a single reference to jobs and how they are created. That is what a budget does in advanced economies, in any economy. It sets the framework for economic activity that employs people and creates growth. The hon. member also did not care to mention that over six years we have built, thanks to a generous and necessary stimulus package, more social housing than any Canadian government in history. We are laughing at her inability to cite facts.

Will the hon. member acknowledge that in the housing sector, including affordable housing for low-income Canadians, one of the primary drivers of success is going to be the private sector, private ownership, private initiative, the construction industry? What does she have in mind to support those sectors of this country's economy, which, in her community, my community and all communities across the country, are absolutely essential to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, jobs are very important. I cannot think of a better way to stimulate the economy, produce a good investment and societal benefit than to build affordable housing in terms of creating good jobs, being good for the environment and using our own Canadian resources.

The fact is, if the member took the time to look at the metro Vancouver housing coalition, he would see that there are apartment owners and managers in that coalition. They are very concerned about the lack of attention and leadership by the federal government on this issue in our city. It is now a crisis. As I said at the beginning, it is a very unusual coalition of people who do not usually work together, but they have come together because they are so concerned.

To hear the member say that the government has built more social housing than any government in Canada is simply untrue. The government has been cutting social housing. Thousands and thousands of operating agreements are now at risk. There is a risk of losing existing social housing, and unfortunately, it is going to happen unless the government reverses its course.