House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I received an email from one of my constituents, Glen. He talks about meetings with the Prime Minister and the premiers. He says:

—I give our Prime Minister...full credit for providing this necessary leadership.

I have followed politics for many years, and...observed past Federal-Provincial meetings as being a waste of time. (I have to tell you that I even felt sorry for Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien when the 10 Premiers “ganged up” on the Federal Government.) In short, I observed meetings and premiers that were not committed to problem solving. Instead these meetings provided an opportunity for self promotion and the display of ultra egotism. As a taxpayer, I felt these meetings were a waste of time and money.

When meetings are deemed necessary, the Prime Minister should call meetings--not the premiers....

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, the Prime Minister must be vigilant against the “bozo explosion.” The constant whining and bickering of our provincial leaders is getting to be a little tiresome.

Would the member for Wascana like to comment on that?

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is undoubtedly true that political leaders, whether they be prime ministers, premiers, mayors, reeves or heads of municipal governments, all have their partisan axes to grind. That is an inevitable part of the political process.

I do not think the federation is improved by giving partners in the federation the back of a hand. Unfortunately, that is the impression a lot of the premiers have with respect to the current Prime Minister. From time to time he will speak to one or two of them privately, but there is something to be said for the strength of our federation for all the leaders to come around the table every now and then and to be seen to be acting in concert together.

The burden of proper behaviour needs to be on all of them, not just on one side or the other. Canadians are watching and they need to demonstrate to all Canadians that they are actually achieving something constructive and not just trying to pass the buck.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague, the member for Wascana, on what I thought was an absolutely excellent outline of Canada's fiscal history. He was, in many measures, front and centre in some very critical decisions on Canada's fiscal history in the last number of years. We in the Liberal Party recognize his contributions. I do not know if some colleagues across the way quite appreciate him in the way that we do.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

An hon. member

That's a fair comment.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Hon. John McKay My hon. colleague says that's a fair comment.

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by talking about an article I read in The Globe and Mail this week by Brian Lee Crowley and Robert Murphy. Mr. Crowley is a well-known Atlantic Canadian. I would describe him, and I hope he would see the description the same way, as very much a fiscal conservative. In fact, he has been working with the Department of Finance. He wrote a book which talks about what the U.S. could learn from Canada's recent fiscal history, particularly the period of time in which the Liberal government was in power.

The article states:

Canada faced an even larger fiscal crisis in the mid-1990s than America does today, and our achievement dwarfs anything being proposed in Washington. By acting decisively, Canada resolved its crisis quickly and with surprisingly little pain. Since the memory of this momentous achievement is fading, or is unknown to the younger generation--

--and may I say colleagues opposite--

--it is worth recalling how it unfolded.

In the mid-1990s, the Canadian federal government had been in budget deficit for two decades. A third of all federal revenue was being frittered away on interest on the debt. A Wall Street Journal editorial from Jan. 12, 1995, declared that the country “has now become an honorary member of the Third World in the unmanageability of its debt problem … it has lost its triple-A credit rating and can’t assume that lenders will be willing to refinance its growing debt.”

May I add as a parenthetical comment that my predecessor in Scarborough East had a lot to do with trying to keep Canada's AAA credit rating in some of the worst part of the 1995-96 crisis.

Deliverance came the following month when the centre-left Liberal government tabled its historic budget. This document was a defining moment in Canada’s fiscal history.

More astonishing than the bold plans for a massive rollback was the fact that Ottawa actually did what the document said. Total spending fell by more than 7 per cent over two years, while program spending (excluding interest) fell by almost 10 per cent. As a share of the economy, federal spending fell from almost 22 per cent to 19 per cent during the same period. By January, 1998, federal employment was down 51,000 – about 14 per cent. Ottawa ran 11 consecutive budget surpluses beginning in 1997/98. With the federal government paying down its debt and the economy expanding, total public debt plummeted over the following decade.

The article went on in effect to prescribe medicine for the U.S. economy.

I do not pretend to, nor want to, engage in that debate, but it is worth remembering that Canada was there and we are no longer there. I want to point out again that there was an enormous political price to be paid by prime ministers Chrétien and Martin, the Liberal caucus and the Liberal Party. I came here in 1997. We came within four or five seats of actually losing a majority. Part of it had to do with the difficulties of the fiscal medicine we had to impose.

No budget is ever presented in a political vacuum and in 1997 it was a very difficult environment for us. The rewriting and reinventing of political history by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance is all part of a misinformation campaign by the Conservatives. The Conservatives inherited a $13 billion surplus and in a few short years turned it into Canada's largest deficit in history, having run deficits ever since. They even brag that this year they will have less of a deficit than they had last year, or they brag about how we compare to other countries. Certainly we are doing terrifically compared to Greece, Portugal, Spain or Italy. The Conservatives do not mention that maybe we are not quite so hot when we compare ourselves to Germany, Sweden or Norway, which is of course a better economy.

There is a good reason why this is studied as a political economy, because political decisions can be good and they can also be bad. The political courage shown by former prime ministers Chrétien and Martin and the Liberal caucus has brought Canada into a relative state of fiscal health and the Prime Minister has been dining out on it ever since. Gutless political decisions such as cutting the GST have, for the foreseeable future, killed any chance of ever going into a fiscal balance.

Politically gutless decisions such as ignoring Confederation partners and refusing to meet with them creates Confederation chaos, with premiers fighting with each other and with policy incoherence. Gutless political decisions that cater to the Conservatives' 35% base and ignore the rest are simply that, just creating anger and apathy.

How can a government say it knows how to manage the economy when the number of unemployed Canadians has risen 34% during its mandate? These 1.4 million unemployed Canadians are not impressed by the so-called management of the economy by the Conservatives. How can the Conservatives say that during the last four years there are more unemployed people in agriculture, construction and manufacturing trade and still say they know how to manage the economy?

Of course the answer is tax cuts. If people are unemployed, it is tax cuts. If they have just had their pension lopped off, the answer to that is tax cuts. If they are bankrupt, tax cuts are really going to work for them. If their industry has been devastated, tax cuts are going to be the answer. If they have cancer, that is tax cuts. For unrest in the Middle East, tax cuts. It is simply the Mitt Romney robo-answer to all our ills. Tax cuts will save us from everything. Do they never ask themselves the fundamental question of how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place?

So Crowley and Murphy are right in the sense that the U.S. could look to Chrétien and Martin for inspiration, but I am perfectly prepared to admit that the political and economic contexts are quite different.

This motion should be supported. However, it would be more supportable if its author did not go around creating his own chaos. Calling the premiers the Prime Minister's messengers and remaining mute on various issues that are of great national interest erodes his credibility when presenting a motion such as this. In his own trips, refusing to actually meet premiers again erodes his credibility with respect to the presentation of his motion. As the Conservatives rightly say, the NDP has opposed every free trade agreement. One cannot be a credible economic leader unless one deals with various opportunities to create trade in this country.

The Prime Minister does need to consult with the premiers, and he does need to do it much more quickly. He does need to do it, and therefore we in the Liberal caucus will be supporting this motion.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I like the member for Scarborough—Guildwood very much. I respect his time in this House and his observations on many issues. He used some pretty strong language, though, suggesting that our government was “politically gutless”. “Politically gutless” is perhaps something that would be better attributed to a political party that got elected saying it would scrap, kill and abolish the GST and then did none of those things, versus a political party like ours, which said we would reduce the GST and then actually followed through on our platform commitment.

However, one has to wonder, and I will give him an opportunity to respond, that if our record of economic management is so appalling and so awful and so “politically gutless”, why did the Liberal Party and the member opposite vote for Conservative budget 2009, Conservative budget 2010 and all the Conservative ways and means motions to put those budgets in place? If it is so awful and so terrible, why was he so politically gutless in voting for it?

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, only a Conservative could take what is an awful economic situation and say this is wonderful.

They have taken $90 billion out of the fiscal framework and said, ”Look what good boys we are. Haven't we done a terrific job? We are now running endless deficits and we know how to manage the economy”.

A politically gutsy prime minister would in fact get himself back into fiscal sustainability sooner rather than later. However, at this point, there is no hope that we will in fact achieve balance.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments, and I thank him and the previous speaker from his party for their support for our call for the federal government to meet with the territorial and provincial leaders at the upcoming meeting this fall.

I also want to recognize that during a previous government led by his party, it was a period of very dramatic spending cuts, some of the deepest social spending cuts in the history of the country. A former prime minister bragged they took us back to the spending levels of the 1950s, and pollution increased to unprecedented levels under that government.

However, my question for him is this. Does he support the position of our party and the position of the leader of the official opposition in matters concerning the environment? Does he support the basic principle of polluter pay? Does he support that principle in that motion?

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, members will remember that one of the former leaders of our party actually put this forward in the context of an election. There is absolutely no doubt that we have to price carbon. There is no issue about that. We felt that was a particular approach that could be taken, to price carbon.

We have policy incoherence in this country because there are provinces that actually price carbon.

However, again, on the theme of gutlessness, the party opposite will not approach this and actually spreads misinformation about my colleague's party on this very issue.

We have to price carbon. If we do not price carbon, then we will continue on with the political incoherence that currently exists. That is regrettable. It certainly is something that should be taken up at a leaders' conference.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague would comment on the vacuum of strong national leadership that emanates from the government benches and from the New Democratic Party?

On the government side, they see no value in terms of having first ministers' meetings.

From the New Democratic Party, there seems to be this divisive attitude and dismissive attitude of premiers and the roles they actually play.

Because he has been a part of a majority government, I wonder if he would comment on the value of actually having a first ministers' meeting where we have the federal government sitting down, working with provincial premiers.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to paint a contrast between how prime ministers Chrétien and Martin handled things and how the current Prime Minister handles things and, frankly, how the NDP leader handles things.

I remember very clearly, in the old railway building across the street, the then prime minister sitting down with the premiers and negotiating, over a number of days, the transfers, particularly health care transfers and social transfers, and setting out a 10-year timeframe so that the premiers could understand and would recognize that this is the amount of funding that would get transferred to them.

That settled Confederation issues for many years. That is the way to do things.

It is wrong to dismiss the premiers and it is wrong not to meet with them.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for London—Fanshawe.

I rise today in the House to voice my strong support for the motion at hand. I also want to thank our leader for introducing this motion, which speaks to the top concern of so many Canadians, the future of our economy.

The Canadian economy is indeed facing unprecedented risk and uncertainty. A country as small and economically open as Canada, of course, is not immune to the problems of those around us. The weakness of the American economy and the ongoing crisis in Europe are serious concerns.

Already Canada's export of value-added products is steadily shrinking and our overall trade deficit is growing dramatically. In July, Canada ran the worst merchandise trade deficit in history. In fact, since the Conservatives came to power, Canada's trade balance has gone from a $26 billion surplus to a $50 billion deficit.

We are aware of how weak the American economy is and of the ongoing crisis in Europe. Canada's exports of value-added products are steadily declining, and our trade deficit is skyrocketing. In July, Canada experienced the worst trade deficit in its history. Actually, since the Conservatives came to power, Canada's trade balance has gone from a $26 billion surplus to a $50 billion deficit.

The high value of the Canadian dollar is further hampering demand, rendering many of our exports uncompetitive and making imports more attractive to consumers. New Democrats believe in trade that works for Canadians and Canadian business, and the Conservative trade agenda clearly is not fitting the bill. At the same time, the record high level of household debt is suppressing demand and hurting our economic growth.

Over the summer I took the opportunity to travel the country and met with Canadian businesses, finance ministers and chambers of commerce. I heard from them about the difficulties they face and saw clearly that while the Conservatives use a lot of rhetoric on the economy, the facts tell a very different story.

The Conservative plan to stimulate the economy through corporate tax cuts has failed to stimulate economic growth. Corporations have not reinvested their excess cash into their businesses and instead they are now sitting on more than $500 billion.

Unfortunately, it is Canadians who have to deal with the negative effects of weak Conservative leadership, including the job losses that have already plagued many regions and industries across Canada. Some 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed, and this number has remained virtually unchanged over the last year.

Unemployment and economic growth has been highly divergent across the country. For example, over 43% of Canada's unemployed live in Ontario alone. In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, there are 10 unemployed people for every vacant job compared to 2 unemployed people for every vacant job in Saskatchewan.

As Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, recently noted:

These broad shifts in demand for and supply of labour are contributing to rising inequality. Over the past 20-plus years, incomes in Canada have increased nearly twice as fast for earners in the top 10 per cent as for those in the lowest 10 per cent. The share of the top 1 per cent is now the third highest among member-countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development after the United States and the United Kingdom.

That level of inequality is growing. Just to put it in comparison, the last time inequality in the U.S. was as severe was during the 1920s. Moreover, labour's share of the national income is now at its lowest level in half a century across most advanced economies, including Canada.

Peter Jarrett, Head of Division for Canada in the OECD economics department, argues that:

Canada is blessed with abundant natural resources. But it needs to do more to develop other sectors of the economy if it is to maintain a high level of employment and an equitable distribution of the fruits of growth.

The major drivers of GDP are not spending in Canada. Canadian households are facing record high debt levels, significantly hampering consumer spending.

Businesses are not reinvesting their profits in the economy, and government is pursuing austerity, which economists have told us will have contractionary effects on the size of our economy.

What all this means is that more and more Canadians are struggling from paycheque to paycheque while the Conservatives cut services they rely on and corporations sit on half a trillion dollars in cash. Yet rather than taking action to correct these imbalances, the Conservatives are stubbornly pursuing an austerity agenda that has only exacerbated them.

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC, recently argued for infrastructure investment, noting that:

...if growth falters, Canada's Plan B can't depend on monetary policy, given how low rates [in Canada] already are. Trying to squeeze more growth out of housing and debt-financed consumer spending might not be the best option given longer term risks associated with excesses on both those fronts. Instead, the push to growth should come on the fiscal side...

Canada's premiers have agreed that maintaining a strong and growing economy is their top priority. They are concerned about weak economic growth among our traditional trading partners and recognize the need to adapt to the growing economic strength of several emerging economies.

However, the premiers understand that intergovernmental cooperation between provincial, territorial, and federal governments is essential to these concerns. They themselves have argued that to fully engage all the economic forces in the country, the two orders of government must be working together. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's approach to federal-provincial relations is marked by disengagement, division, and lack of negotiation.

Jennifer Wallner of the University of Ottawa's school of political studies has noted, “Despite the call for open federalism...the government has developed a policy agenda with considerable implications for the provinces and territories without bringing them to the table”.

In fact, it has now been three years since the last meeting between the Prime Minister and Canada's premiers, and despite his rhetoric about focusing on the economy, the Prime Minister has refused to join our premiers at the Council of the Federation's National Economic Summit in Halifax this November. Especially at a time of economic fragility and unbalance, the Prime Minister should be meeting with our premiers on a regular basis, not refusing to meet with them even once in three years.

Canadians should be wary of a government that prefers unilateral action over intergovernmental cooperation, that prefers ramming legislation through Parliament over proper due diligence, and that prefers stubbornly pushing forward with failed corporate tax giveaways over making strategic investments in programs that will help Canadians and promote growth.

A strong, balanced economy will not be created by a small group of hardline Conservatives in Ottawa. Canada's most prolonged period of sustained growth was marked by investment in innovation and an influx of value-added jobs.

New Democrats believe that the federal government has a commonsense role to play in making strategic investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure to provide an economic climate where business and households can thrive. We believe that the government should ensure that Canada remains a country with a well-balanced economy that does not leave any part of our country behind. That is why we are asking our colleagues here in the House of Commons to support this motion and to get this country moving on the right track.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

September 20th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague a question, but first I will give her some new information that perhaps she was not aware of.

The Prime Minister meets regularly with the premiers. In fact since 2006, he has met or telephoned the premiers nearly 250 times. I wanted to share that, because obviously members opposite have not done their homework.

I want to ask my colleague a question, because I think it is an important question. The Leader of the Opposition did speak to the carbon tax in the platform of 2011 when he mentioned it in his speech. In fact, he tried to hand us the highlighter on this side so that we could highlight in the platform where that carbon tax is. Of course, I did so, and it is a $21 billion tax on families.

I will read a quote from a caucus colleague. I would like my colleague to answer whether or not she feels the same frustration that her colleague, who is the natural resource critic, has in his quote. This is the quote where he expressed his frustration, “...the federal government seems to completely reject the policy...which allows us to put a price on carbon.”

Does my colleague from the NDP share this frustration of her colleagues with regard to this question?

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, I am not interested that the member has perhaps been reading a Day-timer of the Prime Minister.

We are calling for the Prime Minister to assume the responsibility, as leader of the country, to meet with the provincial and territorial leaders across Canada to discuss the pressing, urgent economic needs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That is what we are pushing for.

Rather than campaigning on cooperation, debate, and discussion, and then trying to ram through a hidden agenda in a massive omnibus budget bill that erodes the services that Canadians across the country rely on, we are calling on this Prime Minister to have the confidence, as the Prime Minister, to sit around the table with the leaders across this country and have an open and honest discussion about the well-being of Canadian households and businesses across the country.

Opposition Motion—Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Parkdale—High Park for her comments and for what she has brought to this discussion.

The Conservatives often talk about the net new jobs that have come to light over the years. They even reference that many of them have been full-time jobs. It leads us to think that there are many more people working in the country. I am wondering if the member could comment about the unemployment rate. Has the unemployment rate correspondingly gone down or has it gone up? Could she comment about the unemployment rate that currently exists?