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Liberal MP for Kings—Hants (Nova Scotia)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 39.60% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I remember when the Prime Minister referred to Atlantic Canada and Atlantic Canadians as having a culture of defeat. He said that as an opposition leader. Since then he has gone from contempt for the region to neglect. It is a region that is struggling, particularly the Maritimes. Newfoundland and Labrador are fortunate that, based on natural resources, they are seeing some progress. That is a good thing. However, the Maritimes are struggling. It is not just the cuts to EI benefits and changes that have been negative for the region, but it is a real lack of leadership on issues where traditionally federal governments played leadership roles in our region.
On the issue of immigration, the Maritime provinces have a terrifying demographic trend before us whereby our populations are teetering on decline and are aging rather significantly. As a result, we will see a diminishing of the labour pool and the productive capacity of our region. We need immigration. When provincial governments and the Maritimes came to the current government, they were told that it would not raise the cap and it would not enable them to bring in more immigrants.
In our region we ought to be working on a future Liberal government that would work with the provincial governments. For instance, we would look at the Manitoba model for immigration. We would ask ourselves if we could do that in our region, if we could work with the federal government to change our immigration strategy to have perhaps even a unified immigration strategy among the maritime provinces, so that they would have a greater capacity to attract and retain more new Canadians to our region.
There is a lack of vision in the federal government for Atlantic Canada, which reflects a lack of creativity in terms of public policy. It also reflects a lack of compassion or real interest in moving our region forward. Most importantly, it reflects a lack of understanding of the potential of the maritime and Atlantic Canadian people and the capacity through leadership for us to harness that innovation, which could do so much to create jobs and prosperity for our region.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, we heard from a number of experts at committee who told us quite clearly that this represented a demotion. It is not surprising that the individual who was being demoted, appearing before a parliamentary committee, might feel somewhat intimidated in speaking truth to power.
I do not know when the thumb screws come off these public servants before they are put before a parliamentary committee to testify. The reality is that it is very difficult for senior public servants to speak truth to power to the current government. There is a significant list of public servants who have been moved out, demoted, or simply quit. It started within weeks of the current government forming or taking office, or within months, when it removed the chief science advisor to the Prime Minister, Arthur Carty. It continued, and it continues.
The government's attack has been well documented; the attack on science, on internal and external research, and on the people who actually provide the kind of independent voice that we need. In this case, the changes actually make it more difficult for the Chief Public Health Officer to speak directly to Canadians. It is a continued trend of the muzzling of senior public servants because the government does not want them telling Canadians the unvarnished truth and information.
In the area of public health, it is particularly important that Canadians have direct access to the Chief Public Health Officer and that it not be impeded or reduced in any way.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the question.
Unfortunately, that is the case. It is true that the government did not conduct an analysis; there are no facts or figures. The government decided to spend more than $500 million on a program that will not create jobs. That is nonsense and bad policy. It may be good policy for the Conservatives before an election, that much is true, but it does not reflect the principles of good governance.
When the government is considering implementing a policy, it needs to do research to understand the potential results. That is not what the Conservatives did, and this is not the first time. The Conservatives always do the same thing.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, as I rise to speak to the government's budget implementation act at third reading, I regret that we are debating, yet again, another massive omnibus piece of legislation.
This legislation contains many specific flaws, but I would like to start by addressing its conceptual failure. It covers too many subjects which are non-budgetary in nature and therefore not suitable for inclusion in a budget implementation act.
This legislation is frankly a smokescreen designed to ram through a multitude of changes without allowing for careful scrutiny and rigorous analysis. It is 460 pages long, with 400 separate clauses amending countless different laws. Bill C-43 represents a continued abuse of power, disrespect for Parliament, and plain bad judgment on the part of the government.
I would like to review a few of the specific laws in this legislation.
First, there is the small-business job credit. The Minister of Finance conceded, in his appearance before the finance committee, that his department did absolutely no economic analysis of this measure before allocating more than half a billion tax dollars to it.
At the Standing Committee on Finance, we heard from experts who say that this tax credit has a serious design flaw. It creates a perverse incentive for employers to lay off workers or reduce their hours of work in order to qualify for the tax savings.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer told us that this so-called job credit would create only 800 jobs over two years, at a cost of about $700,000 per job. Obviously, it is outrageously expensive and ineffective as a job creation measure. We know that there are better ways to manage half a billion dollars in tax dollars and at the same time better ways to create jobs. There are other measures or potentially better-designed investments that could do more to bolster the economy and create jobs cost-effectively.
We offered a focused alternative. The Liberal plan would create a two-year EI premium holiday for businesses that create new jobs, that actually hire and add to their payrolls. This would be a true incentive for employers to do more hiring. Our proposal would fix the design flaw in the government's tax credit. It was endorsed by Canadian employer organizations, such as the CFIB, Restaurants Canada, and the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
Second, I would like to address the government's latest attack on refugee claimants. Having been overruled by the courts on their previous attempt to deny claimants proper medical care, the Conservatives now wish to make it easier for provincial governments to deny them social assistance. It is a harsh and punitive policy that certainly should not be buried in an omnibus budget bill.
Third, there is the restructuring of the Public Health Agency of Canada. The government would demote the position of chief public health officer, a move that would carry potential risks for the health of Canadians. At the finance committee, we heard from experts about how the Public Health Agency was created in the aftermath of Canada's SARS crisis. They told us that the chief public health officer was deliberately, at that time, made a deputy head so as to have the necessary power and autonomy to work with the provinces and effect change. The omnibus bill would undo much of that good work.
This omnibus bill also attempts to clean up the mess and correct some of the errors contained in previous Conservative omnibus bills. For example, in the last omnibus budget bill, Bill C-31, the Conservatives forgot to include a tax credit for interest on Canada apprentice loans. In the same bill, they forgot to include foreign money-service businesses as foreign entities in measures under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act.
The Conservatives also forgot to introduce a refund for duties paid on destroyed tobacco products when they hiked these duties in Bill C-31. As well, they forgot to subject pooled registered pension plans to the same GST rules as registered pension plans in previous legislation.
There is a litany of forgetting, and it is an unfortunate result of not just a lack of competence and attention to the detail, the nitty-gritty of government or economic management, but also the design flaw of the overall approach of putting all these changes in a budget omnibus bill and denying the appropriate committees of Parliament to both review and vote on measures pertaining to their area of public policy and expertise.
In this litany of forgetting things, the government may actually be forgetting about the needs of Canadians. However, I do not think Canadians will forget about the failings of the current government come the next election.
Principle among those failings is a lack of consultation, which is clearly evident in this omnibus bill. The government did not consult with aviation groups when changing the rules around aerodromes. It did not listen to Canada's only international cable-laying company when excluding cable laying from the definition of international shipping. It did not listen to the provincial governments when pressing ahead with measures aimed at denying social assistance to refugees.
The Canadian people have made it clear that they need economic growth and employment, and they need growth and jobs to be an absolute priority for the government. Unfortunately, the government is out of touch with Canadians' needs and aspirations, and it is certainly doing nothing to create growth and prosperity.
For example, consider the government's new income-splitting scheme, which will cost $2.4 billion this year. It benefits only 14% of Canadians, the most privileged of Canadians. The measure completely overlooks single parents and parents who happen to both make similar incomes.
The late Jim Flaherty had doubts about it, and he expressed them clearly. These are the words of the late Jim Flaherty:
I think income-splitting needs a long, hard analytical look...to see who it affects and to what degree, because I’m not sure that overall, it benefits our society.
If the Conservatives followed his advice and took a long, hard look at income splitting, they would see that it does nothing to really create growth and prosperity, and does nothing to help a lot of the Canadian families that need the help the most. It also puts the government more deeply in deficit this year. The government would already project a surplus, or be close to a surplus this year, if it were not for this income-splitting scheme, which actually puts us back into a deficit situation.
While the Conservatives are borrowing to benefit a small and relatively well-off segment of the population through income splitting, they are neglecting a vulnerable group that has served Canadians with true patriotism and valour; that being our veterans.
In addition to closing Veterans Affairs offices, the government lapsed $1.1 billion that was earmarked to invest on behalf of veterans. Instead of following Parliament's direction and using those funds to take care of our veterans, the government clawed that money back for the federal treasury.
Meanwhile, the government skimped on much-needed mental health services for our veterans. In his recent report, the Auditor General found that 80% of veterans had to wait nearly eight months to find out if they were even eligible for long-term mental health services, and the other 20% had to wait even longer than that.
This is callous treatment by a government that likes to lionize the military, but will not treat individual veterans or their families with care and respect. The Conservative government is even trying to argue in the courts now that it does not have a sacred obligation to those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces.
A Liberal government would have a very different agenda than the current government, economically and socially. We believe that members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans should have nothing less than the best of care and support from a grateful nation and government. Our goals would be fair treatment for all members of society and the strengthening of Canada's middle class through an agenda of jobs and growth.
We would grow the economy in a way that would benefit all Canadians, investing significantly in infrastructure, innovation and trade. We would partner with the provinces and Canadian municipalities. We would work with progressive investors, including, potentially Canada's pension funds, to invest significantly and massively in infrastructure. We would follow some of the lead of countries like the U.K. and Australia. This year, Australia is investing $13 billion of federal money into infrastructure. It is leveraging with the state governments and with pension funds to create $60 billion of new investments in infrastructure.
We have the capacity, through a forward-thinking and innovative infrastructure agenda, to create jobs and growth in the short term during this time of secular stagnation and slow growth and soft employment. We can create jobs and growth in the short term, but we can also render our economy more competitive in the long term by addressing Canada's crumbling infrastructure needs.
The reality is that we probably have the best opportunity in our lifetime to actually invest in infrastructure. We have bond yields at historic lows, real interest rates actually negative, a crumbling infrastructure and soft employment market, and a slow growth economy. Put those factors together and there is little wonder why people like David Dodge, or the OECD or the IMF are saying that countries like Canada ought to be investing significantly in infrastructure.
This is no time for the government to do what it did in the last budget; that is, cut planned infrastructure spending by 89% in order to achieve a notional surplus on the eve of an election.
Infrastructure spending needs to be significant, it needs to be consistent, it needs to be long term in nature, not just around electoral scheduling.
We would invest, as a government, in getting better labour market information to provide a clear understanding of the skills mismatch to the situation of jobs without people and people without jobs, address labour shortages and, at the same time, give opportunities to young Canadians who need work.
There are 200,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians today than before the downturn. One of the things we need in Canada is better labour market data. We need to invest in organizations like Statistics Canada. We need to ensure that young Canadians and their families know more about what the jobs of today look like and what the jobs in the future will look like. We need to get better data and we need to make that data available in a user-friendly format for young Canadians, starting in junior high school, such that they can start thinking long term, not just what they want to do but what those jobs actually pay so they can get a job that will provide them with the means to have a place of their own. There has never been a time, in recent history, when we have seen more young Canadians living at home, on the sofa in the basement, because they simply cannot get work to financially sustain themselves.
One of the drivers of high levels of personal debt for Canadian families right now is the direct financial subsidization of adult children who cannot get a job or cannot get jobs that will actually financially sustain them. Canadian families today are seeing record levels of personal debt—$1.65 for every $1.00 of annual income—as parents and grandparents directly financially support young people who have skills, who have good educations, but whose skills do not match current labour market needs. We need to close that gap and part of it is simply providing good information to young Canadians as they are planning their career and their lives, and informing them as to the types of jobs, professional trades, that can provide them with the capacity to support themselves into the future.
We need to work with the provinces to restore the honour and respect paid to professional trades. We have seen a diminution in the respect for professional trades over the last 30 years. We need to reverse that because we know there is a shortage of skilled trades and an opportunity for young people, if they are given the correct information, to choose paths in skilled trades, I think we will see more young people doing that.
We also need to invest more in training and apprenticeships. We need to track unpaid internships, for instance. We have asked the government to mandate Statistics Canada to track unpaid internships. We have been told that there is more use of unpaid interns today than ever before. It is kind of a supply and demand issue.
There are a lot of young Canadians who are desperate for work, desperate for the experience they need to start off their careers, who simply cannot find work. The issue with unpaid internships is that it can deepen inequality of opportunity significantly because only children from privileged families can afford to work for no pay. In other words, it is more likely a child from a privileged family will actually get a good start and get some work experience.
This has tremendous long-term impacts on equality of opportunity. We have learned from a recent report of the IMF that in fact inequality of opportunity is not just a social issue; it impedes economic growth. That is why issues like unpaid internships and income inequality are important and why we should, at the very least, not make the situation worse with a tax change that has the capacity to deepen inequality, like income splitting.
We also need to recognize that over the last 30 years the nature of work and training has changed, not just in Canada but throughout the industrialized world. The old days where one could get a degree, or a diploma, or trade and be set for life and never have to go back to school, university or college, are over, in the same way that working for 30 years, retiring with a gold watch and defined benefit pension plan is largely behind us.
We need to update and modernize our Canada student loans program as part of a suite of support for not just young people as they graduate from high school to get their education, but as they move forward through multiple decades of their careers and lives. There is nothing really there for people in their 30s who have young families, who find that their skills do not match the current job market. It is very difficult for them to finance the education and training they need to get a job to support their families at that time. It would be good for productivity and competitiveness, and jobs and growth, if we worked with people throughout their careers and life cycles to help them get the skills they needed during that entire period.
We also believe it is important that we go back to evidence-based decision making, as opposed to the Conservatives' decision-based evidence making, when we are crafting public policy. What we may think, based on an ideological perspective, is the right thing to do, when exposed to the bright light of fact and information, we may be surprised. It is important that we get the best possible information and data, whether scientific or statistical.
We live in an age of big data. Smart companies and smart governments are investing massively in knowing more about their customers and the demographic trends and how to prepare for them. There is only one organization I can think of globally that has deliberately chosen over the last 10 years to both reduce the quality and quantity of data it collects, and that is the Conservative government. It is an ideological perspective that is wrong headed.
Instead of dividing Canadians with ideologies, a Liberal government would unite Canadians with ideas, based on fact, creativity, imagination and innovation, to create the jobs and growth that Canadians need.
The Environment December 5th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have hurt Canada's international standing. Now we hear that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scolding us. He says that Canada needs to stop stalling on climate change and that we need to start thinking about others.
Even if the Conservatives do not believe in climate change science, do they not know that their failure to act on climate change is hurting our economy and risking Canadian jobs? Do they not understand that their hostility to the environment is the reason that important projects like Keystone XL have not been approved?
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 2nd, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate my colleague's question as well as the opportunity to work with him on the Standing Committee on Finance.
It is clear that the Conservative government has once again imposed a policy without consulting the provincial governments. It is ridiculous to develop policies of this kind without consultation. In the past, Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments met frequently with provincial governments in order to develop common approaches to such issues. This is another example of the Conservatives' regressive policies. Attacking refugees is not in keeping with Canadian values. That makes no sense from a social or economic standpoint.
In future, when the Liberals form the government, we intend to reverse such policies.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 2nd, 2014
Mr. Speaker, income splitting will only benefit the top 14% or 15% of Canadians, but all Canadians will be forced to pay for it. Look at the choices of what we could do with that $2 billion per year.
The income splitting policy would make our tax system less fair. It would actually deepen inequality. We should listen to the IMF, which is telling us that inequality actually hurts growth. At a time when we need jobs and growth, a policy that deepens inequality is bad socially and economically.
Instead, we should be investing in infrastructure. One hundred per cent of Canadians would benefit from infrastructure. We would create jobs and growth in the short term. We would also create a more competitive Canadian economy in the long term. We would have increased productivity, a more prosperous future, and more livable communities.
Investing in infrastructure makes a lot of sense. That is what David Dodge is telling us, that we ought to be investing in infrastructure. We are hearing that from the OECD and the IMF. Right now, interest rates being what they are, with bonds yields at historic lows and real interest rates actually being negative, and with our crumbling infrastructure and soft job market, we have never had a better time to invest massively in fixing Canada's infrastructure than right now.
Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 2nd, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the government budget implementation act at report stage.
Once again, this is another omnibus budget bill that legislates on far-ranging and diverse matters that have very little to do with an actual budget, and as such, many of the measures in this piece of legislation are ones that are not appropriate for review or voting at the House of Commons finance committee. They should be at committees more specific to their actual subjects.
However, despite its diverse content, one thing is true thematically throughout this bill: the Conservative government is imposing a regressive public policy agenda on Canadians. It is ignoring the needs of Canada's struggling middle class. It is ignoring the challenges faced by young Canadians, many of whom are facing significant challenges in the workforce, as we have a very soft jobs situation for young Canadians. As well, in terms of the long-term unemployed, the number of Canadians who are unemployed for over a year has actually doubled from 2008 till now. In fact, the government brings forward a measure in this budget implementation bill that actually creates a perverse incentive for employers to fire workers.
Overall, this is a continued attack on the social fabric of Canadian society, but it is also weakening the economic foundation of the country.
I want to talk about a few specific measures in this legislation and how I think we could do better.
First is the government's so-called small business job credit. The Minister of Finance admitted to the finance committee that his department did no economic analysis on this measure, zero, before committing over half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money. At the finance committee we heard from experts who testified that this tax credit has a serious design flaw in that it would create a perverse disincentive for employers to lay off workers or reduce hours of work in order to qualify for the tax savings. We have heard from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that this measure would create only 800 jobs over two years, at a cost of $700,000 per job. That is fiscally irresponsible. It is ludicrous from a public policy perspective. It is highly ineffective and very expensive. It is a failed public policy experiment. There are better ways to spend half a billion tax dollars, and there are better ways and better measures that would do more to strengthen the economy and create jobs cost-effectively.
The Liberal proposal that we have offered would work because it would only benefit employers who actually increased employment. Instead of proceeding with this flawed small business Conservative job credit, the government could adopt the Liberal plan, which would create a two-year EI premium holiday for businesses that actually grow and add to their payroll. This measure would be directly tied to job creation. It would be an incentive for employers to hire. It would be better for employers who want to grow their businesses and better for unemployed workers who want a job. The Liberal plan has been endorsed by the CFIB, the Canadian restaurant association, and the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
This omnibus bill does a disservice to unemployed Canadians, but it is actually even worse for another group of vulnerable Canadians: refugee claimants. Under Bill C-43, their access to social assistance would be jeopardized. Bill C-43 is just the latest instalment in the government's ongoing attack on refugees.
First the Conservatives tried to removed access to basic health care for refugee claimants, but the courts quashed the Conservative government's policy. They called it “cruel and unusual”. Now the Conservatives are trying to remove what little source of income refugee claimants have.
Refugee claimants have to wait for a work permit from the federal government before they can work legally in Canada. If they do not have a permit, they must rely on social assistance to survive. Now, however, the government would make it possible for provincial governments to impose residency requirements as an obstacle for obtaining social assistance.
None of the provinces requested this authority. In fact, the government has only talked to the Ontario government, and the Ontario government does not support it. It did not ask for it, yet the Conservative government wants to proceed with this measure regardless. If a province does make use of the authority, the burden of feeding and sheltering the refugee claimants would fall upon charitable organizations, which are already stretched too thinly in our communities.
Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Frankly, it is mean-spirited that the Conservative government has chosen to pick on them, first by trying to eliminate their health care services and now by attacking their ability to support themselves. Let us keep in mind that we are not talking about just the adult claimants but about their children as well. The children of these refugee claimants are being victimized by the Conservative government's mean-spiritedness and short-sightedness. We would reverse this punitive measure against asylum seekers.
It is not only the health of refugees that the government has played fast and loose with; it has put all Canadians at risk with the demotion of the Chief Public Health Officer and the reduction in his ability to promote and effect needed change. At the finance committee, we heard from experts who told us that the Public Health Agency of Canada was created in response to Canada's experience with the SARS epidemic. They told us that the Chief Public Health Officer was deliberately made a deputy head at that time so that he or she would have the necessary power and autonomy to work with the provinces and the ability to speak truth to power and effect change.
The omnibus would undo some of that good work. It would demote the Chief Public Health Officer and reduce his authority and ability to effect change. We think this is an unhealthy move. We also think that it is very much in keeping with the government's ongoing disrespect for, and attack on, the scientific community. There was a time when governments were guided by evidence-based decision-making; this government seems to be guided by decision-based evidence-making.
It is not just the Conservative policies that are wrong-headed, but also the process that leads to these policies. In many areas of Bill C-43, the government has ignored key stakeholders affected by the policies. When the government changed the rules applicable to aerodromes, it gave the minister overly broad powers and failed to consult the aviation groups that are affected. When the government changed the definition of “international shipping” to exempt cable laying, it failed to work with the only Canadian company that does cable laying, thereby jeopardizing its business and jobs. It showed contempt for the public by implementing new and possibly harmful policies without consulting the constituencies and stakeholders that had the most to lose as a result of these policies. That is not just undemocratic by nature; it also leads to bad public policy and to mistakes.
Another aspect of the process that troubles us is the use of an omnibus bill to effect changes to policies that have, as I said earlier, no relationship whatsoever to the budget. What do the bill's measures on aerodromes and the Chief Public Health Officer have to do with the fiscal framework? Nothing. Why should they be reviewed and voted on by the finance committee, instead of by individual committees that have the expertise to deal with them?
I can assure members that a Liberal government would follow a very different course in terms of both process and policy. The public's top priority is economic growth and job creation. This requires more than simply expensive advertising of non-existent or unimproved programs. The Conservatives' proposed measure on income splitting would only benefit 15% of the wealthiest Canadians. We agree with the late Jim Flaherty, who said:
I think income-splitting needs a long, hard analytical look … to see who it affects and to what degree, because I’m not sure that overall, it benefits our society.
A Liberal government will pursue an agenda of jobs, growth, and investments that benefits all of society.
Questions on the Order Paper November 28th, 2014
With regard to the Prime Minister’s “24 Seven” videos: for each video work posted to date, (a) who owns the copyright in the video work; (b) does anyone, apart from the copyright owner specified in (a), own copyright in any individual image, video clip, audio clip, musical work or other work which constitutes part of the larger video work; (c) if the answer to (b) is affirmative, (i) who is that copyright owner, (ii) when and how was their permission to use the content secured, (iii) what is the duration of the permission which was granted, (iv) if permission was granted for valuable consideration, what was the dollar amount of that consideration; (d) who owns the moral rights in respect of the video work; (e) does anyone, apart from the moral rights owner specified in (d), own moral rights in any individual image, video clip, audio clip, musical work or other work which constitutes part of the larger video work; and (f) if the answer to (e) is affirmative, (i) who owns these moral rights, (ii) when and how was their permission to use the content secured, (iii) what is the duration of the permission which was granted, (iv) if permission was granted for valuable consideration, what was the dollar amount of that consideration, (v) were the moral rights waived?
Taxation November 27th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, apparently, the minister did not listen to the late Jim Flaherty, who questioned whether income splitting would benefit society. Apparently, the minister does not listen to the C.D. Howe Institute, which says that it will do nothing for 86% of Canadian families.
They are all warning that income splitting will increase inequality, and the IMF and the TD Bank have told us that rising inequality is bad for growth. Even if the Conservatives do not care about the unfairness of inequality, why are they going ahead with income splitting when it is bad for jobs and growth?